Estaven Doscompos was perfectly happy to be the lord of a mostly bronzed city. "All right. Only about two hundred people? No problem. But listen up. Nobody eats canned or dried foods. We've got to save them for the long haul. Right now, we raid empty apartments and stores and eat all the fresh food. Lots of folk got bronzed in the schools with their kids, so there's plenty of places that didn't get bronzed, but the people are gone. So get the word out. Eat your neighbor's fresh food. Those three stores that are still open, we'll control those directly. Make the food last. Marko? You're over on Highelay. Jimmy, the big store on Main at Bradley. Ramon, Garcio Plaza. Don't get drunk guarding the liquor store, got it? Any peeps come by, hand out veggies and milk." He broke off as Sissy bustled through the front door.
She was grinning. "The freezers are still working. The magic ones. I've got people freezing all the fresh food they can get their hands on."
"Ha! Guys, check your stores for freeze boxes. Take your guys and their wives along with you, the women can get to work freezing stuff, they'll know what to do. Just keep your eyes open, we may have competition, seega?"
They disbursed them, and he walked to where he could see the harbor, the bronzed ships. Sitting on the mud of the bottom, water lapping around them. Brackish, this close to the sea mouth. "Too bad we've got witches, instead of mages. A Compass could clear that water up in no time at all."
Sissy had followed him out. "Cisco says he marked the water level at the pier, so we can tell if the water is rising or falling."
"Good. Although I'm not real sure I want to know."
The witches returned to where they'd left off, and hiked the entire perimeter of the outer bubble.
Poking and prodding. The witches tried everything they could think of. Hudson joined them and tried everything he knew, but a weak wizard, he'd never had any training at all. Macy set out to correct that, making him join her Crescent Moon exercises.
They took a week, raiding empty apartments and stores for food, sleeping outside on their own blankets.
Hail snorted her amusement and made the three of them act like a triad. Once.
"It just won't work, with a man. Sorry Hudson."
He just grinned wryly. "It was an interesting experience. I could see how it ought to work. I don't understand why men always work in fours and eights, and women in threes."
"I thought wizards worked alone?"
"Yeah, well, that's because what we can do is mostly subconscious. And subtle. Think too hard about how to do it, and it stops working altogether. Being able to consciously make a simple light makes me powerful—for a wizard." He snorted. "We can join with Mages. We just usually don't, mainly because all we do is complete the number they need and try to hold up our compass point. They'd much prefer any half trained Mage."
Macy slumped down beside him. "It's been nine days. How long is that, out there?"
"About two hundred and fifty years." He titled his head back and stared at the dim bronze sky.
"So . . . I'm two hundred and sixty-two years old. That's pretty cool. How old are you?"
"Two hundred and sixty-eight. Funny, I don't feel a day over eighteen."
"You must have some of those God Genes." Macy told him, then shot a glance over at the older witches. Dropped her voice to a whisper. "The God of Virtue raped them, both. I think they're pregnant. Maybe one of the babies can open the bubble."
Hudson choked. "Yeah, maybe when they reach puberty and grasp power. I refuse to even think how old I'd be by then." He bit his lip. "I don't know if we can stay alive in here that long."
She paled and huddled closer.
When Hail checked a few minutes later, they were both asleep, still sitting up against a bronzed building.
Fair sighed. "I think she's right. Babies. In the middle of this mess."
Hail nodded. "I just hope she's wrong about us not being able to open the bubble sooner."
The next day they got back to the harbor.
The water was completely gone, so they tested the bubble out onto what used to be the seafloor.
With no better results.
They tried to break the bubble on a small building.
They concentrated on the bubble closest to the location of the god's mansion.
They tried the spot opposite of that.
A month passed.
Twenty-Seven Years ago
"Ambassador, get out the back door!" Oscar yelled. "All staff, run for it!"
The two triads of witches backed away carefully. "We've got a block up, but it's not holding, get _everyone_ out."
"What the hell is happening?" Brad yelled running in from the men's quarters.
"The Golden Boy appears to be trying to Travel the Gate Camp, we're right on the boundary." Oscar yelled back. _Marble buildings are not supposed to creak._
"Right." Brad ran for the kitchen, "Girls, we've got to run for it."
"Okay Brad," Risti started waddling out, Roboner and Dalphi hovering.
"You're doing great Dagni," Bran was half carrying the woman from the distaff side of the back rooms. "Oscar, go get Bali, And where's Selano?"
"Right here, damn it," the old mage grunted, carrying the girl's shoulders. Two women were hovering while the third carried her companion's feet.
"She's in labor," Mieri wrung her hands.
"Hurry!" the witches were backing out the door, "He's . . . "
The floor dropped sickeningly, and lurched.
Bran backpedaled from the back door.
Oscar took a look and threw up a shield, tried to expand it around the whole building. Selano slotted effortlessly into his west and Bran to the east, Gre backed him up from the north.
Gre whimpered. "I think I can . . . "
The building dropped briefly, thudding into the ground. The floor sloped and there were ominous creaks, and shiverings, but nothing that felt so abnormal as the earlier movements.
He opened his eyes to the normal sight and looked out the open back door. Dim lantern light shown on green plants. The tall grass around the bank building.
"We need to get out of this building, right now." Selano said, turning to help Bali.
"I'll get her, get out the door, I may need to drop her to you."
"Drop?" Bali whimpered, then clutched her belly.
"Hand you down to him, see, like Brad is doing with Risti. Everyone else first, so there are plenty of hands below." He backed up, dragging Bali. The women hesitated on the brink and Oscar, one ear tuned to the building's sounds heard a sharp crack, and shoved the woman ahead of him and dragged Bali with him as he jumped out the door and off whatever drop there was.
They fell, building, ground, people.
Hit. They all scrambled away as the bank disintegrated, the ground crumbled.
Oscar scooped up Bali and jumped slid skittered down an avalanche of dirt to an ordinary stone street.
Broad daylight had turned to a faint bronzy glow. Enough to see the bank building crumbling, but inward, not out at them. The inside lights snuffed.
Ocsar spoke in the not-quite-total-darkness. "I wonder where we are, this time?"