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"He's getting worse," said Sunny, fretfully. "Rhynwa, can't you do something?"
"I don't know anything about dogs, Sunfighter!" She touched the wardog's throat tentatively. The animal whined. "I tried a cure disease. It didn't work."
"Well, don't waste another one on it," said Signet. "I feel awful."
The Sunfighter frowned on him. "Signet, all you ever care about is yourself."
"It's a dog, Sunny! Find it a stupid vet!" Signet moaned and rolled over. "It's probably pregnant."
"Signet, it's a boy dog!"
"Maybe you're pregnant, Signet," suggested Rhynwa.
"Ohhhhhhh," said Shilree, dragging out of her sleeping bag. "Now I don't feel so good. Signet, you moron, you're contagious."
"It wasn't me," said Signet. "That dog started it. We probably all have rabies."
"Lian!" He hurried over. He was a particularly non-descript fellow, with a round face and mussed brown hair; he was a little out of breath, and he was wearing a suit. "Lian, where have you been?"
"I don't understand," said Sunny.
"Don't understand what?" He spread his hands and leaned over to look into her face. "Don't you recognize me? What happened to you?"
"I think you're confusing me with someone else," she said gently.
"Someone else? Who do you think you are?"
"I am the Sunfighter."
"Hey," said Signet, coming over. "Is this guy bothering you, Sunny?"
"Bothering her?" said the man, dazedly.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not who you think I am. There's been a mistake."
"Come on, Lee!" He grabbed her wrist. "Don't play this game. Come on, talk to me."
"The lady said you made a mistake," said Signet.
"The lady is my wife." The man turned, frowning. "My name is Gordon Tweedy. Who are you?"
"Your wife?" said Signet. "Sunny, is that true?"
"No," she said. "I'm sorry."
"No," said Gordon, "no, I don't believe it, it's out of character. You would have told me; you wouldn't have left in the night. At the very least you would have left me a note. There is something wrong with you. Lian, are you in there?"
"There's nothing wrong with her," snapped Signet.
"I've never met you before," said Sunny.
He paused for a long moment. "You don't have a twin sister or something, do you?"
"I have no family."
"Yes, you do."
"Look, she obviously doesn't want to talk to you," said Signet.
"I don't mind," she said.
"Who are you?" said Gordon, turning on the thief. "What have you done to her?"
"Done to her?" Signet was indignant.
"What's going on over here?" Rhynwa sat down next to Sunny and put her hand protectively on her shoulder. "Signet, are you getting us in trouble again?"
"How long has she been travelling with you?" said Gordon.
"Why do you want to know?" said Signet.
"Because if it's been more than seven months there are two of them, that or I'm losing my mind."
"It's been just about seven months, actually," said Rhynwa.
"Why are you talking to him?"
"Sunny, where were you before you met us?"
"I am a wayfarer," explained Sunny.
"You are Lian Lithanden Tweedy," said Gordon. "You are a poet and a travelling bard. You are twenty-six years old. We've been married two years."
"I have no name," said Sunny, with finality.
"Sunny, if you don't remember your past, this could be true," said Rhynwa. "Aren't you even curious?"
"You disappeared on the way home from a gig seven months ago," said Gordon. "We couldn't find you anywhere."
"I am the Sunfighter." Sunny stood up. "I do not have a past, and I do not need one. I'm sorry. I'm not who you're looking for."
Gordon threw out his hands as she turned away from him. "You have a beauty mark on your butt," he said, with exasperated desperation.
She turned around. "What?"
"You have a beauty mark on your butt. You have perfect pitch. You know Diari. How do I know these things, Lian?"
"Maybe you're a mind-reader," said Signet, hostilely.
"Maybe I'm telling the truth. Why would I make this up?"
"How should I know? She says she doesn't know you. Do you really think I'm going to let you walk off with her because you can identify her butt?"
"Can we stop discussing Sunny's butt in public?" said Rhynwa.
"I don't mind," said Sunny, just as Gordon said "She doesn't mind." She looked at him, and he smiled a little sheepishly. "We can get past this, Lian. We can work this out. What happened that night?"
"Come on, you disappear without a trace, you reappear halfway across the world with weird eyes and you don't know who I am. Something happened."
"But you remember the gig, don't you? You were playing Toby's in Lavalier."
"You were walking back to the hotel. It was raining a little. You had my grey jacket. Your blouse was blue silk. I didn't want you to ruin it in the rain. You weren't wearing shoes."
"You were wearing a blue silk shirt at the Mithril Dagger," offered Rhynwa.
He caught her by the arm, gently. "It must have been three in the morning when you left. I went home early. I often did. At the time I wasn't worried. You had your sword with you. You had your harp. It was a twenty-minute walk. You never came back."
She closed her eyes. "No. Stop it."
"You have to remember this. It was dark. The rain was misting."
Her eyes shot open. "Leave us alone!" she roared, in an unnatural voice. Gordon released her and backed off three steps. Sunny put her hands in her hair and closed her eyes again. "I'm sorry," said Gordon, stunned. "Lee, it's all right. You don't have to talk about it. I'll get to the bottom of this. I promise."
"Get out of here!" said Signet, shocked. "Sunny, are you all right?"
"Oh," she whispered. "The sun is blinding in the early morning. Don't let it consume you, Signet, let fires that are over stay ashes."
"Okay," Signet reassured her.
"I'll be back for you," said Gordon. "This isn't your fault. Whatever happens this isn't your fault. I'll get to the bottom of this."
"She gets like that," apologized Rhynwa.
"Not if I can help it."
"My skin is peeling," wailed Signet. "I'm turning into a monster like Sunny's dog."
The dog beat the ground with its leprous-looking, partially scaled tail. "At least he's feeling a little better," said Sunny. The other dog looked duly wary of him. "Shut up," said Rhynwa. "I'm consulting my god already."
"I don't know," said Shilree. "This could improve your appearance a lot, actually."
"Laugh it up, Shilree. You're coming the same way I am."
"Signet and Sunny's dog were bitten by one of the reptilian monsters from the brotherhood of Gila," announced Rhynwa. "Now they're infected. They're becoming reptilian themselves."
"Cool," said Kerouac.
"How do we stop it?" said Signet.
"Hold on." She concentrated. "We need an antidote. We're going to have to find another one of those monsters."
"What about me?" said Shilree.
"Will you guys hold still?" She paused a moment, then opened her eyes and blinked. "Ask Ralchar? Ralchar, what's wrong with Shilree?"
"I don't know," said Ralchar.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhh," said Stalker.
Shilree stared at the priestess like an animal caught in the light, her eyes wide and terrified. "Rhynwa," she said, almost pleadingly.
"You don't mean--"
"Oh my God," said Kerouac. "She's reproducing. There's going to be more of her."
The Sunfighter looked out past everyone with particularly disturbed eyes. "Something wrong, Sunny?" said Rhynwa.
"I don't know. Draize... I think I had a dream about him."
"Oh, shit," said Shilree.
"Did I kill him?" said Signet.
"I don't think I like her having prophecies about demon gods."
"What was in the dream?" said Rhynwa.
"I think he's a fuckface."
"He's an evil god of destruction and maiming people, Sunfighter, you were expecting him to be a nice guy?"
She touched her cheekbone a little uncertainly. "Well," she said. "I--I think he's especially so."
"For this we need an oracle," said Kerouac.
"I don't really remember. I'm sorry."
Kerouac roared as if in great pain. "Kerouac is bleeding!"
Rhynwa looked at him quizzically. "You are? Let me see your arm."
"Not my arm, you idiot! I have my period!"
Shilree snorted. "Deal."
"Oh," said Rhynwa. "Uh, why don't we go shopping, Kerouac? You really need some more clothes, and I can show you how to use a tampon."
"Kerouac hates tampons!" shouted the swanmay.
"How do you know?"
The demon detonated as Max hit it, sending scalding black goo flying into his face. He screamed. The Draize priest snapped his fingers at Sunny and she seized up with a strangled noise, the harp slipping from her hands. "KILL," bellowed Kerouac, just starting to get into the battle. Her vision was starting to blur a little from the pain spell, and she felt blood coming from her nose as she pulled free her sword. Just as she got to the priest Signet appeared behind him and put his rapier between his shoulder blades. They both tumbled into her flailing and the hand in the red and black sleeve grabbed at her shoulder and like a dark fire and she screamed a shattering sound that almost seemed to interrupt the flow of time as his dark weight bore her to the ground and like terror thorns closing on her heart she thought she saw then something tore and she saw an immense black dragon laughing at her with a human arm and then an impossible light. She was kneeling with her palms trembling flat on the earth and blood coming from her nose. The priest was crumpled across the room at Kerouac's feet. When Rhynwa jogged over to slap a cure serious on her she just whispered "I think I had a vision."
"Can't you have them at night like normal people, Sunfighter?"
"I saw a black dragon with a human arm and he has no soul, Rhynwa, beware him."
"There's no such thing as dragons, Sunny."
"He was laughing at me." She blinked a few times and then said with a dizzy rush "They were all laughing at me I think."
"You are so weird, Sunfighter." She moved to examine Max. "It was just a nightmare. There's no such thing as dragons."
She nodded and got up, crying quietly to herself, and moved to find her harp.
Sunny burst through the undergrowth and stopped short, staring. Kerouac was kneeling on the ground, flaying her stomach with a knife in some kind of berserk rage and screaming. "Kerouac, cut it out!" said Sunny, horrified.
Max and Rhynwa crashed through behind her. "Help," said Sunny, high-pitched with tension. Max went running over and started wrestling with the knife. "Kerouac, Kerouac, we're your friends," he said. "We want to help you."
"Kerouac wants death," she roared, her voice raw with pain. "Leave me alone!"
"A body," said Sunny, throttled, "a body's just a body, Kerouac, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter."
Rhynwa healed her from behind. "It is not your time yet," she reproached her.
"Let me go!"
"You're still Kerouac," said Sunny. "It doesn't matter, the body. It's what's inside that counts."
"What the hell do you know!"
"No," she said, thinly. "Listen to me. A body--is just a home. There's something more than that. There's more to you than that. Oh, pull it together, Kerouac, please, won't you listen? A body is just a body, but a soul, a soul is a soul."
Kerouac flung herself into a tree in crazed furor, restrained by Max, hit her head into it again and again.
Rhynwa stared at him. "Ralchar, you bitch!"
"I'm not Ralchar, idiot." Ralchar's features began to blur. "A doppelganger," gasped Max.
"Better late than never," it said, drily. "Take her. I have no further use for her." It tossed Shilree's limp form down the stairs at them. Max yelled. Sunny saw the blade connect and pull free, connect and carry through, and then connect, as though the whole thing had not been part of the same fluid motion, as if the body falling were just the next link in a random chain of events. Sunny blinked three times, looking at her hand, and looked back up at the doppelganger, searching his face for something. Her sword was in its scabbard. Max was holding Shilree in his arms. "We will all be more than we seem," said the Sunfighter. The doppelganger turned from her and left.
"I'm a good god," said Paninaro. "I don't have to reward people for defeating demon avatars. You're supposed to want to do it."
"Oh," said Signet, disappointed.
"Well, can we at least have a big party?" said Max.
"Oh, sure," said the god. "My place."
"I assume you mean the one on this plane," said Kimberly, politely.
"Yeah, the temple." He looked at the Sunfighter. "I take it you're not going back to Draize."
She went back three steps and collided with Max, who caught her by the upper arms. "It's all right," he said. She didn't seem to notice. "Why would we give her to a demon god?" said Rhynwa, annoyed.
"Well, because she's a demon," said Paninaro.
"She is not!" said Signet.
"Please," whispered Sunny.
"A demon?" said Rhynwa, blankly.
"She was the first attempt," said Paninaro. "Kala was the second."
"I will never forgive him," said Sunny, with sudden violence.
"What?" said Rhynwa. "Who?"
"Leave us alone!"
"I wasn't planning on deporting you," said Paninaro. "But some things are better in the open, and demonic possession is one of them. No offense or anything."
"Maybe we can find someone to exorcise her," suggested Rhynwa. Sunny screamed then, a rending, brittle sound, and her legs collapsed like water; she would have fallen if Max hadn't had a grip on her arms. He held her up by them like a deadweight from behind. "That's not necessarily the best idea," Paninaro explained to Rhynwa. "It's likely to wreck her psyche. Although in retrospect, there may not be that much there to damage."
"Let her alone," snapped Shilree, crossing to them. "Maybe she's a demon, but she's our demon."
"Nobody's going to hurt you," said Max.
"It was only an idea," said Rhynwa.
Sunny lifted her head, looked hauntingly through her hair and through Signet, suspended like a ghost. "I'm not gonna kill you, Sunfighter," said Signet, spreading his arms. She didn't seem to hear him. Kerouac stood off to one side, watching them with smoldering eyes. "Day is done," whispered Sunny.
"You came," said Kerouac, and let her in. "You're alone?"
"Of course," she said. "You asked me to come alone. Well, I brought my dogs. But they don't tell secrets." She took off her coat. "You wanted to talk?"
"I--wanted to talk." Kerouac shook her head a little. "Do you--feel something?"
She shook it off. "It's too late now."
"You're not angry at me," whispered Sunny. "For being."
"I don't give a fuck what you are," said Kerouac, loudly, and slammed the door. "What happened back there?"
"What's with Rhynwa using magic artifacts to tell me what to do?"
"I think," said Sunny, "I think she was trying to stop you and Kimberly from fighting, Kerouac. I think we needed to be a team this time."
"A team?" said Kerouac. "I'm your teammate, not Kimberly, and she attacked me. Is that supposed to be leadership, taking her side?"
"Rhynwa told her to leave you alone," said Sunny.
"And she told me not to kill anyone. Someone we don't even know says she's not gonna be our ally unless Rhynwa makes me conform to her belief system and Rhynwa does it. What the fuck kind of friends are you? No one even thought this was still going to bother me." She put her fist through the window.
"Kerouac," said Sunny.
"Well, it bothers me."
"Kerouac... She didn't mean it that way. I'm sure she didn't mean it that way. She just--she just wanted us to work together. She wasn't trying to change you. She didn't even know she could control you. She didn't know how it worked. She was just telling you, and it happened. Why don't you talk to her?"
Kerouac looked at her own bleeding hand and picked up the axe slowly with her other one, her eyes unfocused. "Because," she said. "Because Shilree isn't going to give a shit if I kill Rhynwa. Because you're the only one that will hurt them all."
She lowered her hand and looked out the broken window. "That's not a good reason," she whispered. The curtains blew.
Kerouac turned, breathing unevenly. "Kerouac," she said. "Kerouac hates reason."
"Something is cracking," said the Sunfighter, and turned her head suddenly to face Kerouac. "I'm not going to fight you."
"Then you will die quickly." The deranged nymph smashed the lamp from the nightstand with the back of her hand; it crashed into the wall and splintered, leaking burning oil down it in a thin orange sheet. In the irregular light their heads both burned gold.
"I'm not going to fight you," said the Sunfighter, like she wasn't quite talking to Kerouac. "Won't you listen to me? It was a dream I had once, something--like a bird. It was the Diari phoenix, the sun was so bright I could not see my hand." Kerouac hacked at her with a blind ferocity, her mouth open; the bard ducked out of the way without tension, flowing like the fire down the wall. One of the curtains caught like paper. One of the dogs whined. "And then the bird said "Look into the light." I wish. I wish you wouldn't do this, but you will." Kerouac swung at her again and the axe bit into her abdomen, threw her back into the wall like a paper doll. "Tell them," she whispered. "Tell them I died trying to understand." The huskier of the two dogs took a sizable chunk out of Kerouac's leg; she smashed him in the head with the butt of her axe. "Oh mother. Feathered like a bird. Where is that from?" She squinted like she was trying to see through the room. The oil started her hair burning, almost like a crown, but neither woman seemed to notice; the Sunfighter looked through everything with her arms down and her hands out, and Kerouac lifted her axe and charged with a wardog attached savagely to her shoulder and her sleeve on fire. Sunny looked through her like a dream. "And then I looked into the light."
Kerouac slashed the axe at her throat with both hands. The Sunfighter did not raise her arm. As the blade carried through her body exploded with a blinding white flash. Kerouac staggered back, holding her scorched forearm in front of her face. The charred dog fell to the ground. There was an irregular blast mark on the floor, like a star; there was a hole in the wooden wall. Wobbling, Kerouac collapsed into a swan, her feathers blackened and bloody, and with a hollow cry launched herself through the hole and into the summer sky.
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