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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 25

Showdown

Green frowned at Praxis. “You are not as clueless as I thought,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter. One can’t delete what has already happened.”

“Four minutes,” said Praxis. “If you have information that really is more important than Shilree’s sanity, now would be the time to convince me.”

“Unfortunately for you we are not as clueless as you thought either.”

The mental attack lanced into Praxis in a beam of sizzling green. This did surprise Praxis: psionic programs in a non-psionic host shouldn’t be able to enter psychic combat. He put up his shields, though. “Three minutes.”

“Six of one, half a dozen of the other,” said the psionic construct, and the attack arced past Praxis to the other nine adventurers.

Praxis frowned as his friends reeled with pain. Very not good. Praxis wasn’t going to be able to shield ten minds from a concerted psionic attack. “Fine. You had your chance.”

The plug didn’t pull.

A psi-blocking field had popped up around Green. Now this is just getting ridiculous. Psionic scripts just can’t do that. “This is an illusion,” he said aloud. “Hou-Hsieh?”

The little sorceress forced out her dispel through gritted teeth. It didn’t work.

“Now what?” yelled Jennifer, slipping to one knee under the mental assault.

“Now?” said Green. “Why now I become.”

***

“Yeah, well, become this!” Toleski spat through the pain. He pulled out his six-shooter and plugged Green right through the head.

It seemed to have no effect.

He fired again, two shots, one in each eye.

Green laughed, mental ichor floating from where the two eyes were.

“Confound it all,” Toleski muttered, and fired twice more, this time at Green’s glowing hands. The energy just flowed more powerfully even as Green’s hands hung from the wrists, broken.

“You cannot stop me/us,” Green said. “Here we are all.”

“Ah, shut the hell up, ya durned brain spook.”

Toleski fired off his last shot, which missed Green entirely.

“You missed,” Green sneered.

“I do not think so sister,” Purple said from behind, where the final shot had shattered the chain that bound her.

“Missed,” Toleski chuckled. “That’ll be the day.”

***

“Ah the beauty of irony!” Green laughed. “Like a rotting peach.”

“That doesn’t even mean anything, you ghlakzh!” Purple got in Green’s face. “This is my mind. Now get the hell out!”

Green kept laughing. Purple suckerpunched her and she fell backwards. She didn’t stop laughing, but the green aura of pain that had fallen over the Sidewinders dissipated.

“Really?” Green said, ignoring the greenish ichor that was oozing from her lip. “Your mind? Now isn’t that the greatest of all lies.”

“Shut up!” yelled Purple kicking Green in the ribs. The hit was accompanied by the sound of more than a few ribs breaking. “I am sick of your games. Get the flazhnae out of here!”

Green degaussed at the edges. “It doesn’t matter,” she said in a staticky voice, grinning a badly distorted smile. “I got what I wanted.”

Her form flickered once like a very bad reception on an illusion spell, and winked out.

Praxis stood behind her with his hand closed, calmly but firmly, into a fist. “Thanks for the distraction,” he said.

Purple wasn’t looking at him, but at the empty chessboard, which was starting to glow. “Shit!” she said. “Get back to your bodies right now! We’ve been captured!”

Praxis hesitated a second, looked at her and then back at the others, and then sighed and gestured.

They were, in fact, all in the back of some metal vehicle, chained up and stripped naked. Praxis still had his clothes on, but he and Shilree had strange pulsing collars around their necks. Xiang, chained like the rest, seemed to be unconscious.

“Shit!” said Shilree, again.

There was the drumming of a motor from somewhere.

“Thank you for getting rid of the Gilan program Praxis,” sighed the Diarian, “but I’m afraid it delivered us right into their hands.”

***

“Damn her!” Purple kicked over the chessboard. “I was winning fair and square!”

There was no answer.

With a pissy sigh, Purple moved the tea table.

Beneath it were the still bound and gagged Purple and a newly bound and gagged Silk.

“All right you two,” said the first Purple, her colors darkening and melting into black. “This is my show now. You do exactly what I tell you to, and we might all get out of this in one piece.”



Purple and Silk had no answer.

***

Go ahead and think we’re dancing on your little strings, Praxis thought, only to himself this time. I know you’re there, and I’m not leaving till she’s free of you, Black. I’ll be waiting.

Reunited (or “Reuntied”, as the case may be)

“Hi, Khyrisse!” Aithne waved energetically as the three groups converged on each other in front of the Augustine Arms.

“You!” shouted Tucson, leveling his arm at Schneider. “Give me back my soul!”

“It is to a ruthless thirst for power you have lost your soul, John Tucson,” said Octavian grimly, stepping out of the shadows behind Khyrisse. “Not to this man.”

“Octavian!” The crime lord fell back, paling a bit, and slipped his hand into his shirt. “You set me up!” he shouted at Rani.

“Oh, I did not.” She pushed between them irritably. “Look, we’re all on the same side here. Can we shelve the morality play until we’ve saved the city, please?”

Tucson looked at her like he was seeing her for the first time. “Rani?”

“Is that all right with you, your vigilanteness?” she said, not meeting Tucson’s eyes. “Can we all agree that Diari terrorists abducting the city is a bad thing, and deal with that first?”

John Tucson was looking at Schneider carefully. “You don’t have it,” he stated, turning his head from side to side. “It’s not here.”

“Diari terrorists?” frowned Octavian, momentarily distracted from Tucson. “You don’t mean Hajhizae Hasfur?”

“Well fuck,” said Rani, “I hope there aren’t two Diari terrorist groups in town!”

“We closed the wormhole,” offered Garal, and looked down at his shoes in shame. “But we lost the soul in a big bar fight. I tried to take charge, but no one listened to me... I’m sorry, Khyrisse. You probably shouldn’t leave me in command any more.”

“You lost it?” Rani hit her own head in frustration. “Well, we need it back. Lots of Locusts are either using it to open these wormholes or planning to use it to detonate them, and either way we don’t want them to have it.” Khyrisse flung her arms up around Ebreth’s neck for a thorough welcome-back kiss. “Hello, beautiful,” he grinned at her. Rani poked her finger in her mouth and rolled her eyes expressively, flipping her casebook open with her other hand. “What do you know about our twelve-toed locusts, Mr. Mysterious Crimefighter?”

“They have operations in the ruins of Drinajhi, north of the city. None of it’s been affecting my people yet, so I haven’t seen fit to--remove them.” Octavian pushed between Ebreth and Khyrisse, his eyes like flint and his hand closed hard around the pirate’s shirt front. “I warned you.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa whoa!” Ebreth raised his hands. “You warned me not to deal in slaves, buddy. Your letter didn’t say a damn thing about PDA. You don’t like it, look the other way.”

There was a moment, and then Octavian let him go, put his hand over his dangerously nondescript face, and laughed. Ebreth laughed too, drawing Khyrisse against him with one cloaked arm. Rani looked dizzily at the vigilante cracking up. “Ruins of Drinajhi,” sighed Khyrisse, relaxing as the moment’s crisis turned out not to be a crisis. “I should have listened to Shilree in the first place. All right, let’s go.”

“Ebreth Tor has a few questions to answer for me first,” said Octavian, his voice less cold but still firm. “Until we have spoken, we go without him or not at all.”

“Can we--back up a minute here?” said Khyrisse, smiling just a little too sweetly. “I’m very glad of your help, Octavian, and I do hope you’ll join us on this mission, but you don’t get to make personnel decisions for me.”

“Matriarch make decisions, secret man,” Aithne concurred.

“Can you teach her about Men’s Lib one of these days?” Vas asked Jack in a stage whisper.

“This is your team,” said Octavian, “and I wouldn’t dream of taking its command from your--capable hands, Ms. Starshadow, but it is my city, and in the end all personnel decisions here are mine, and the erstwhile Lord Tor is not going to Drinajhi until he has answered my questions to my satisfaction.”

“I hope you like long, weird stories,” sighed Ebreth.

“I don’t take kindly to threats, Mr. Octavian,” Khyrisse frowned at the vigilante. “To me or my husband.”

“Consider it more of a warning,” said Octavian.

Vas cleared his throat. “Khyrisse?” he said. “Did we, ah, miss something?”

“Besides the polite intimations about who’s going to catch hell if we cross each other?” snapped Khyrisse, looking at Octavian.

“Yeah, like, a wedding or something?”

Khyrisse blinked at Vas, then winced, then put her head in her hands.

“They’re not actually married yet,” Jack explained helpfully. “They just got engaged this morning.”

“Tell me again why the chaos of a large, freewheeling group is a good thing, Ebreth?” Khyrisse beseeched.

“Congratulations,” said Rani. “You know marriage is a tool of the patriarchy.”

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