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Praxis shook his head. "Jarth couldn't have done this. This isn't poison. It's ilsinjhi."
Belle reacted. "What makes you say that?"
"Take a whiff."
Belle folded her arms tightly. "Look, don't tempt me with that shit--"
"Don't drink it. Just smell it."
She edged in, her lip tight, leaned over and took a quick sniff and had already backed away again. "I--don't smell anything."
"Precisely," he said.
"Are you stupid? Do you know how many odorless poisons there--"
She looked at him. "You--do know how many odorless poisons there are, or you do smell something?"
"Both," he said, "actually."
"What is ilsinjhi?" said Tila. "I've never heard of it."
"Contraband *city*," said Threnody. "That's all *I* know. Diarians *kill* over that stuff."
"It awakens psionic power," said Praxis. "In about ten percent of the population. It irrevocably destroys the rest."
"I didn't do this," said Belle.
"Those without latent psionic powers have no chance of survival. And that certainly included Tollial Seeford."
"I didn't do this. Why would I do this?"
"There's more," said Praxis. "It's about us. 'The Eye of Morvon has corrupted the heroes of Trade to his service. They have become little more than peons of law now.' "
"That's me," said Tila, "peon of law."
"Well, she *likes* you," Jarth pointed out.
" 'If I do not do something about this soon the balance may be lost forever. Oh, my beloved Dorick, blah blah blah.' " Praxis turned the page.
"Don't skip any sexy parts," said Tila.
"March 2," said Praxis. " 'I know what I must do. I must destroy Sway. My lady, give me strength.' "
Tila jumped up. "We've got to get out of here. This could be a trap--"
"If she wanted us dead, we'd be dead," said Jarth.
"March 6," said Praxis. " 'I have killed the man at the heart of Sway.' " Threnody closed her hand slowly. It was very quiet. " 'I--pray that without him the group will splinter or at least lose direction, I have no stomach for further killing.' "
"Wait a minute," said Tila, "wait a *minute*, that can't be right. He killed himself. I was there. This doesn't make any sense."
"I'm reading," said Praxis.
Jarth shook his head like he was trying to clear it. "Does she mean *Janther*? Janther wasn't *lawful*. Lawful people don't overthrow the government."
"They do if the government is corrupt and *evil*," Praxis retorted.
"No, they don't. They declare war or they form opposition parties. Neutral people overthrow the government, and chaotic people become terrorists. Look, if Rhynwa says someone is dead, I don't argue with her. This is my religion. Janther was not lawful."
Tila coughed. "Neither is this angel incarnation she keeps complaining about. She's not very good at this."
"An opposition party was not feasible," said Praxis. " 'I gave to a fundamentalist group a powerful weapon to exorcise Trissia Maddyx--' "
"Yeah, what about *me*?" said Trissia. "I was possessed by a fuckin' *demon*. Two demons, a freakhead illusionist from outer space, a thief, a rock singer, now we've got a drug smuggler--"
" '--I distorted its aura to persuade Sway to use it upon Janther Moria instead. Now the deed is done.' "
Zzenith perked up. "Wisdom wrong *reason* for was a!" he exclaimed, triumphantly, and then, more sternly, "Wisdom use to lie to bad is."
" 'I find myself unable to sleep. Though I know I acted for the preservation of the balance, I have killed a good man, and it disturbs me. Under other circumstances this might not have been necessary. I am sorry it has come to this.' "
"Not as sorry as you're going to be," said Threnody, low.
" 'I fear he will not be the last, and I can only pray I have the strength to do what must be done. If you were only here to reassure me that what I am doing is right, Dorick. Dorick Dorick Dorick.' " Praxis turned the page. "March 18. 'How can this be? Now a second avatar of Morvon has appeared! What am I doing wrong? Oh, my Lady, guide me! What does that bastard Morvon think he's doing?' Lots of ranting about Morvon."
"Read that part," said Tila.
"You can read it later." Praxis skipped a few pages. "March 24. 'I did it. I killed the high priest of Morvon.' "
"No!" said Jarth, shocked.
" 'This is the second time I have killed a good man, and in a horrible way. I was not ready for this, Dorick. My advisor cannot take your place; he can counsel me, but not give me faith. But for your sake and that of my Goddess I shall carry this fight against the excesses of Morvon as best I can and I shall not falter.' March 27. 'I have planted evidence that implicates the Eye of Morvon in the murder. Perhaps in this way I can remove his influence from the remaining members of Sway, who continue to be an annoyance. I do not wish further bloodshed.' "
"This is a little bit convenient," said Tila, skeptically. "Next she's going to confess to summoning Tiall and starting the demon wars. How much of this are you guys buying?"
"She is very, very powerful," said Jarth. "All these things are within her power. But it--it's out of character. She's supposed to keep law and chaos from destroying each other, not create lots of chaos when she sees something lawful! This is--this has got to be a sign--"
"Or someone's trying to frame her," said Tila, "or someone's using her, or else she really is just very young and doesn't have all the information. Are you *sure* she's as powerful as you think she is, Jarth? It's not that we don't act like a bunch of lawful pricks most of the time, because we do, but how could she miss all these demons running all over the place?"
"Well, she *has* a point, you know."
Threnody wheeled on her suddenly. "You know something, Tila? I don't give a flying fuck about law and chaos. Everyone can wake up tomorrow worshipping Morvon for all I care. *I'm* sick of people murdering my ass to hurt the people who care about me, *I'm* sick of being used as a chess piece by every entity above fifteenth level on the planet, and *I'm* sick of powerful people imposing their fucking codes of morality on things they don't understand, *that's* what *I'm* sick of."
"Oh, come on, how--"
"And I'm sick of *you*."
"How is that any different from what we're doing? We don't have all the information either, but we go around doing what *we* think is right, and sometimes we kill people over it. She believes in keeping the balance, and that's what she's doing, any way she can."
"Fuck moral relativism," said Threnody. "Wyvern believes he should rule the universe, too, and that's what *he's* doing. You want to let him?"
"Fine, we're not letting them. I just think she's kind of cool."
"Maybe," said Threnody through her teeth, "if you'd ever lost anything in your fucking life you would have a different fucking perspective."
"Will you calm *down*? I think she's cool because she called Morvon a male chauvinist order freak, that's all. You read so much into things. I'm just saying that she had a legitimate reason for seeing us as law flunkies, because that's the way we've been behaving."
"Chaos-ass Wyvern is taking over the world. Chaos-ass Brionwy is destroying it. Since when does the great scheme of things hinge on whether we turn in a criminal to the police? I'm a lot more concerned with *evil*, and there is plenty enough of that without Iolleil sticking her big fat butt into this."
"She's not evil. She's neutral. She's no more evil than we are."
"*We* don't destroy people's souls!"
Threnody sat down.
"All Iolleil did was have some people killed. Janther was one of ours and so it pisses us off, but it's no more than we've done to our enemies. It's the demon that fucked up Janther's soul, not her. And Tollial is just dead."
"Tila, that wasn't necessary," said Praxis, a little sharply.
"It's true," Threnody whispered.
"Look, I'm not defecting to Iolleil. I'd rather other people's friends died than mine, and I'll fight for that, but other people aren't going to feel the same way and there's no need to get self-righteous about it. We were being too lawful and Iolleil tried to stop us. Iolleil is fucking with our lives and we're trying to stop her. That's all there is to it."
"Since this argument doesn't affect our actions at all," said Luthien, "why don't we table it till we're someplace, oh, safe?"
"Hear hear," said Inez.
Threnody stood up, ashen. "I'll make it up to you," she whispered, "my poor, my dear, I swear to you, it will not be in vain."
"Don't be mad, Thren, I don't mean it personally."
"I have to believe in moral responsibility."
"Like the world's going to end if we have a philosophic disagreement."
"I have to. Oh mother, the things you've made me do."
"Can we get *out* of this stupid country, please?"
The sky lit up just brilliantly, and metal streaked like falling stars. Luthien had Fleegle by the throat. "Trissia. Where's Trissia."
"Uh, safe, yeah, she wasn't on the ship, she's safe."
"She had *better* be, you bastard, she had a baby in there!"
"Good thing most of my stuff was in Trade," Tila observed.
Luthien started to smash Fleegle's head into rocks.
"I'll keep this short," said Timrin. "The longer we talk, the greater the chance of causing a temporal disturbance."
"There's a type of creature found only on Diar Island whose larval form, growing in your head, should leach off enough energy to start a psychic feedback loop in the sixth incarnation. The creature is 'mentatit corianus', or the 'mind eater'."
She bit her lip. "And you're *positive* this will work."
"I certainly hope so. It would have been optimal with Janther, but I was unable to contact him."
She met his eyes, but the infinite reflections made her dizzy and she had to look away. "You know I'll do it, guy, but what's a psychic feedback loop? I mean, what's going to happen to us? Do we just shatter and go back to Annwyn? In pieces, and what about Tjekanefir? Or do we all fuse into one mass and explode, making one dead entity?"
"According to my calculations, the balance between demon and souls should keep our final incarnation alive indefinitely."
The papers slipped to the floor. Threnody stared. "The sixth incarnation," said Timrin. "As Lee says, the sixth of those who are five."
"We're leaving for Diaria tomorrow, Max," said Threnody.
"Yeah," said Max. "I still can't believe it."
"We're going halfway around the world to face destinies we don't understand. We may not make it back."
"Yeah," said Max.
"This *is* a pass, if you were wondering."
"I have no sympathy for you, Mr. Syndriannia Who," said Tila, and flipped her page.
"HEY." Threnody pointed at her. "You stay out of that. He would have died for her."
"Uh..." said Max, coloring.
"What's *wrong* with you, Max?" said Luthien.
"Janther would have died for a fly on his butt," said Tila.
"Don't you *make* me kick your ass."
"Hey Edyric," said Threnody. "I want to talk to you."
"I'm taken," said Edyric.
"Yeah, I know. This is about Jonni."
"What about her?"
"Let her go. She's a little girl. This isn't her problem."
"In case you hadn't noticed," said Edyric, "there's one of me and ten of you. I don't like those odds. Maddyx Junior will help me sleep at night. And you wouldn't like me when I haven't had enough sleep."
"Come on, Edyric, she's a *child*. What if we all get killed? You are a woman under there, aren't you?"
"Hey," said Edyric, "I didn't just leave this kid in a closet, okay? She's not going to die. But if Lotus and I don't get out of this alive, Little Miss Big Mouth isn't going to see her again. It's as simple as that."
"You don't need her," said Threnody. "Look, we're a bunch of stupid *heroes*. We would probably rescue Lotus from the Nazi doctors anyway, and we're certainly going to do it now that we've promised to. I give you my word. Forget the kid."
Edyric rubbed her eye. "Well, since you're the heroes, and we're, for lack of a better contextual term, the villains?"
"You're a mercenary," said Threnody. "I'm a pirate captain. *I* just don't kidnap babies."
"Well, I do." Edyric shrugged, languidly. "Listen... Threnody? If you're who I think you are, your word might mean something to me. But I'm not about to trust the ugly babe with the hide-in-shadows-and-backstab attack. So, you don't need to lecture me on the value of, ah, sisterhood. The kid is safe. In fact, I saved her life, you might remember."
"I remember," said Threnody, softly. "That would have been enough."
"Gratitude hasn't gotten me where I am today," said Edyric. "We both have something to gain now. So let's all survive, and the punk gets her daughter back, and everyone's happy."
Threnody looked at her for a long moment. "Then do not expect me to take your part," she said, "if things don't work out as you plan. Where I come from, we have a saying. There's no more certainty in a geas than a favor. The loopholes are just harder to see."
"There's something out there."
"Threnody, don't leave camp," said Max. "There are ten zillion psychic monsters out there."
"I'm *looking* for a psychic monster, remember?" She moved along the edge of the clearing, pushing back a branch of the strange tree. "I saw something flash. I won't leave your sight. I need to know--" She retreated four steps into the clearing with her mouth open as an aristocratic human woman advanced, like a dream sequence, dressed in white with her purple hood cast back.
Tila leapt up. "Iolleil," she said breathlessly. "Listen, you need to listen to me. You're being used. The angel of Morvon who travels with us? He's not an angel. He's a space alien. And our friend that you killed was really a demon. The chaos is increasing. Someone has tricked you into--unhhhh!" Tila cracked her head on one of the Diari trees as the priestess gestured with her hand and some strange force exploded into her. "Well, fuck you too!"
"You have interfered with the balance," she said. "I must right what is wrong."
"*You're* interfering with the balance," said Threnody, breathing irregularly. "This is *your* fault."
"Did you hear a word I said?" said Tila. "The chaos is *increasing*. Look at us, look at the evidence."
"What is the matter with you?" said Jarth. "You're supposed to keep law and chaos from destroying each other. Instead you're fomenting them."
"Time and again I have tried to disable you without destroying you completely," she said. "Now I know that I have no other choice." Edyric nocked her bow behind her back; the priestess flicked her fingers at her and she dropped the weapon entirely and buckled over convulsing as electric light arced into her. Luthien released a lightning bolt at her as she moved but she flashed out and flashed back in four feet to the side and the bolt whizzed by her. "You cannot fight me," she said. "I will destroy the rest of you as I destroyed your friend."
"You're destroying every force for *good*," Threnody cried. "He had done nothing wrong. He had nothing to do with you, nothing to do with your gods."
"He was standing in my way and in the way of my god and he needed to be removed," she snapped back at her. "I had hoped it might give the rest of you pause if I crushed one of you with enough force, but I see now he was not even useful for that."
Tila stood up and looked at her, strangely. "Who are you?"
"I am Iolleil Oyello," she pronounced, "and I--" Threnody lunged for her as soon as she turned her head to Tila; she blinked out but Threnody blinked out with her, her hook snagged in the chainmail links of Iolleil's skirt, and when they flashed back in the momentum slingshotted her around the priestess' ankles. Her arm snapped like a twig and Iolleil fell backwards onto her, shocked. She started to raise her hand but Threnody had seized her head in her hand and slammed it into the ground. She disentangled her hook, stood, and stamped on Iolleil's throat. The priestess made a strangled scream. "Stop!" Threnody kicked her in the head. "Mercy," she choked. Threnody kicked her again and again.
"All right." Endicott knocked her back from the priestess with his forearm. "That's enough. Get a hold of yourself." She swung at him blindly; he seized her arm and threw her over his shoulder onto the ground with a thunk. "I *said* that's enough." Threnody lay there on her back and put her hand over her mouth.
"What's your problem?" shouted Edyric, shaking her arms as if they had fallen asleep. "She was *winning*!"
Iolleil's form flashed and condensed into a spinning orange ball of light. Luthien yelled. "What the hell is *that*?"
"Sorry," said Threnody, from the ground, through her hand.
The ball of light bobbed twice and then careened off, flashing. "Was that a will-o-the-wisp on the rag or *what*?"
"I'm all right now." Threnody let Endicott help her to a sitting position, shakily. "I'm OK. Shit. That was *not* the psychic monster I was looking for."
Tila pointed. "What did it--what was it trying to do?"
"As a wild guess," said Threnody, "provoke and feed off of negative psychic energy." She patted Endicott's shoulder. "It's okay. I'm all right."
"Are you hurt?" said Max.
"My arm is broken."
"You know," said Tila, "if you had *told* me that creatures who want to be beaten up so badly they trick people into doing it existed, I probably would have guessed they were in Diaria somewhere."
"That was one hell of a ricochet move, though," said Luthien.
"Yeah, that was pretty cool." She let Zzenith engulf her arm with a long shuddering sigh.
"I look forward to many lovely evenings on watch with you, Threnody."
"Kieran," she said, "I only suggested it because neither of us sleeps."
"Ah," he said. "That wouldn't necessarily preclude our sharing a bed though, would it?"
She looked at him funny and pointed at the snoring thief. "I thought you were sleeping with Tila."
"Life is long, lass. What a shame it would be to limit its pleasures."
"Mmm," she said. "Thanks but no thanks. I'm working on a relationship." She paused. "Hey, aren't you incorporeal?"
"Not all of the time, lass."
"If you're curious--"
"No, I was just wondering."
There was a pause. "So did you love him?" asked Kieran, pleasantly.
"Fellow the priestess killed." Threnody closed her eyes, clearly taken off guard. "Was he your lover?"
"He was--" Threnody groped for a word, waving her hand vaguely in the air. "He was the best man in the world," she finally said, "a beautiful man, strong and full of faith in mankind, and there will never be another man like him, not ever. He gave me the strength to face myself and he taught me to heal. Demons understand love but only men can heal each other. He was the one that made me human." She put her chin on her knees, looking out across the horizon as if she was searching for something. "He died for me, and I--I live for him." Almost as an afterthought, she said "I loved him."
There was a great stillness, an extraordinary fragility of motion. Kieran did not believe either Luthien or Edyric was asleep, but neither betrayed it. "I'm sorry, lass."
Threnody said nothing at all.
The Touch opened her forehead cleanly and neatly, as if she had been a statue. Max's stoneskin spell afforded her the precision she needed but not the sensitivity; the grub was already in and wiggling before she realized how deeply she had cut, and, to her immense shame, Threnody found herself screaming on the ground half-blind from the little fucker worming its way along her cranium. Somebody yelled "What are you *doing*," distantly, she couldn't understand whoever replied and she meant to answer something but it was like a fire now behind her eye and her twitching fingers sought the sword they'd dropped desperately, almost crazed. They met another hand first. She saw swirling lights and felt hot. "Get back," she roared, but didn't hear herself say it; she stamped the earth with her boot, three times, in rhythm, her back arching, trying desperately not to explode on Max, and then abstract thought was back in a rush and pain subsided to pain and the thing turned once and was still. She blinked up at Max. There was blood on her eyelids, and she hoped she hadn't gotten any on Luthien's shirt. "Are you ok?" said Praxis, from somewhere, aloud. "Are you *insane*?" said Edyric. She blinked again. "I--don't believe I just did that."
"Hey. Edyric." She pushed her way over, jerked the arrow out of her shoulder, and shoved it in the archer's face. "What the hell is this, huh?"
She looked at it. "Blue-fletched number three. Light war arrow, standard head. Unbarbed."
"I noticed." She broke it in half. "Next time I'm mind-controlled you either take me down or you leave me alone. It's not an excuse to fucking wing me. You understand that?"
Edyric looked at her, and then nodded, a smile barely perceptible. "I'll remember that about you."
"You do that." She tossed the pieces to the ground. "Except that with the Psi Brigade defeated it's not happening again in *your* lifetime, and you can tell Lotus I said that."
Go on to Chapter 3
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