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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 18

Shilree’s Brain, the Final Frontier

“I can get us in,” said Praxis. “Once we’re there I can’t really tell you what to expect, though. I don’t know how active a presence Gila is or isn’t maintaining in her.”

“We’ll wing it,” said Flicker. “She said herself that if things got worse you were the one she’d come to for psionic help. Things have gotten worse.”

The psionicist nodded. “Someone should stay and guard our bodies.”

Xiang and Shaolin held a conversation with a glance, then the former said “I shall stand guard, my lord.”

“Let’s rock and roll.”

***

Purple looked like she had been stampeded by elephants. She was battered and bleeding and her arms were in chains. A gag in her mouth prevented her from talking, but it wasn’t like she had much to say anyway. The chessboard was empty. Silk just sat next to the battered form of Purple not knowing what to do. “Shhhhh,” she said, moving her hand through Purple’s hair. “It’s going to be okay.”

A soft glow radiated from Silk’s hand, helping Purple’s wounds heal. She had tried to remove the chains and the gag, but they were much too tight.

“More guests,” said Black, scowling at the horizon.

Silk tried to ignore both her and Green. She was just at a loss for what to do with those two.

“I want to see their footprints,” said Green. “Those who wear boots must walk softly.”

“Why don’t you ever make any sense,” said Black. “It is very annoying.”

Green just shrugged in response.

“Well, let’s see what they do.” Black walked to a barren patch in the field of red lilies. When she got there a column of light appeared. “Maybe if they make it here we can finally finish our game.”

Black sat on the ground staring at the light. Green sat across from her.

“Well?” said Black, in a tone that showed she was annoyed. “Aren’t you going to watch?”

Purple, her face puffy and bruised, managed to stand up and limp to the column of light. She then sat down, never taking her eyes off the light. Silk just watched, dumbfounded, but there was nothing else she could do. She did not have the power to help or harm these interlopers, unlike the other three. All Silk could do was sit outside the circle formed by the three sisters, watch, and wait.

***

They were standing in the center of a cobblestone street. Along the street’s sides were houses on large lots of land. People walked up and down the street without paying any attention to them.

“Cool! Look at the sky!” breathed Kit. It was a deep and sunless red. There were no clouds, but there were dark, slightly luminous patches, limned with a halo of greenish light.

“Where the hell is this?” said Jennifer. “Bane?”

“It does look a little like Diaria,” said Flicker, “except--for the sky of course. I don’t know what’s with that. It’s not Gilan; I’ve been there.”

“The subconscious isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the real world,” said Praxis. “You should see yours, Flicker.” Flicker contemplated that. “I mean, look at that guy,” Praxis added, gesturing at a Diarian strolling past. His nose was about six inches long.

“Delin!” a small voice suddenly yelled as Kit was pushed to the ground. “Mahi si!”

Kit looked up at her assailant. It was a girl several years younger than Kit. She had silvery red pigtails and was clothed in shimmering light.

“What you do that for?” Kit asked.

“Mahi si! Mahi si!” the girl squealed with delight and ran off into the crowd.

“I think that was Shilree,” said Flicker. “At least Shilree as a child. She was speaking Diari.”

“What did she say?” asked Kit.

“Tag,” said Praxis. “You’re it.”

***

Little Shilree shrieked as Kit tackled her, and they both rolled in the dust a couple times.

“You cheated!” Shilree complained.

“I did not,” said Kit, a little indignantly. Hsin had cast tongues so they could all understand Shilree’s mental voices. “I’m the Greatest Thief on Ataniel, you know. And I was Trade champion at tag.”

“Where’s Trade?” Shilree said, and squinted at the older kid. “Hey, are you a kiljhac? You don’t look like they do in stories.”

“We’re your friends from outside your brain,” explained Kit. “But don’t get mad at us, cause we’re here to help you.”

The girl looked confused. “Help me with what?”

“Beats me. I don’t really understand this plot. But you’ve been passing out a lot.”

“Someone’s been tampering with your mind, Shilree,” added Flicker. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of it. Can you send us to a memory that could help us?”

“How come you know my name?” Shilree squinted up at him. “I can see myself in your eyes.”

“What do you see?”

“I dunno. Just me.” The girl twirled a piece of her hair around her finger. “I like your eyes. They’re nice. Do those hurt?” She pointed at his ears. “They look like they hurt.”

“They don’t hurt. You want to touch them?”

Flicker knelt down on one knee. Shilree, with great caution at first, touched the point of Flicker’s ear and squealed with delight.

“Do you know anything about Gila?” asked Kit. “Cause we’re trying to beat Gila.”

“What’s a Gila?”

“You are in the wrong place,” said Shilree’s voice from behind them. Kit and Flicker both turned. Shilree was also standing there, but this time as an adult. She was wearing a long green dress, and her silvery hair had green highlights.

“Shilree?” said Praxis, over Kit’s head.

“Yes and no and maybe,” said the green Shilree. “You must follow the line.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” frowned Kit.

“Can’t tell the players without a score.” Shilree smiled mysteriously and disappeared.

The little girl and her childhood street were gone.

***

Back in the field of red lilies Black, Purple, and Silk were waiting for Green.

“I wonder if they will follow your clue,” said Black. “It was a very bad clue. You never ever say anything useful.”

“That is my nature,” said Green.

“Still, I hope they find us. After all I would like to keep them alive for just a little bit longer.”

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” shrugged Green, and sat back down across the empty chessboard from Black. “Ready, set, wait.”

Purple, still bound and gagged, said nothing, but tears were rolling down her swollen cheeks.

Silk just watched. She wished she could do something, but then she had an idea. Maybe there was a way she could help after all.

Without showing any outward sign, Silk concentrated and sent a message.

***

The Sidewinders looked around the grassy quad. A group of impossibly hip and good-looking Diarian teenagers were playing with a frisbee. All their hair was perfect. “It’s Diaria 90210,” said Jennifer.

“It’s probably Shilree’s memories of her college days,” said Praxis.

Kit looked curiously at a few more of the Diari students, smoking a jay under a sycamore tree. “What did she mean, follow the line?”

“I have no idea,” said Flicker. “We were lost in Rhynwa’s brain once, though, and we needed to go forward in time to more relevant memories. If we’re looking for the Gilan stuff, that all happened last year.”

Then the world shifted as suddenly as thought and the nine of them found themselves in a closed room draped entirely in white silk. -I do not have much time,- said a female voice that was not Shilree’s. -You are all in terrible danger. There are forces at work here that you know nothing about.-

-Who are you?- asked Praxis.

-The room is my name, but we are wasting time. You must follow the path set out for you by Green. But do not trust her. She is full of deception. And most of all do not listen to Black. I must go before they find I am gone.-

The silk room vanished, but there was no sign of the college campus. Instead the dreamscape was split by an otherworldly canyon packed with beholders. “The alliance is formed!” shouted one, hovering in front of the crowd. “The visitors have given us great secrets and technology beyond our wildest dreams. Now we must use it to fulfill our destiny! All worlds shall fear us! All worlds will be ours!”

A terrible cheer ushered forth and the party was hit with a hurricane force wind. They tossed and tumbled, adrift in Shilree’s mind.

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