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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty-Seven


City of Shusoran, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia

"I don't think we'll need the chains," Alec mused, holding up a length.  "Your robot friends would break them in less time than it would take me to put them on.  But you won't be able to escape the prison.  It's sealed with one of Gart's fire spells.  Nothing too extreme, but even your most powerful water technique will be able to break it.  It will hold you here in Shusoran until it's all over."

Bran had been holding his wrists out for shackles; he dropped them.  "There's no need for spells, Alec.  We came here to talk to you.  We'll wait as long as necessary."

Alec shook his head.  "Very noble.  But the Layan army is preparing to march."  He held up a stone, a gem, that glittered in the torchlight.  "Do you see this?  It's a kind of key.  It's what I used to open the seal on the prison.  Pretty soon, seals like that will be going up all over Alisa.  On the tunnel mouths.  Your desert base has hindered us long enough.  I hope your friends there enjoy their deserts, because they won't be leaving them.  Not without one of these keys, and I'm afraid they're for Layans only."

Bran shook his head.  "Nice.  Very nice.  And with your moons, you won't have to depend on the tunnels to get where you want to go.  But what's the one you're wearing for?"

Alec pocketed the stone he was holding, lifted a similar one on a thin metal chain around his neck.  "This?  Call it a backup system.  Something your friends understand, I imagine."

A backup system? Bran wondered.  The only new weapon the Orakians had come up with was Orakio's scheme to neutralize the moons by pushing them to opposite sides of the planet.  He hoped the pendant wasn't some way to counteract that scheme.

"Gart!" Alec said.  "Assemble the commanders in the throne room.  We need to get back to planning."

The dark-haired sorcerer gave an ironical bow and melted away into the corridor.  Alec turned back to his prisoners.  "He doesn't trust me."

"Can't say I blame him," Kara said.  "Loyalty isn't your strong suit, is it?"

Alec nodded.  "Kara.  Nice to see you again.  And you must be Thor.  I'm afraid we've never formally met, but we've faced each other a few times."

The hunter snorted.  "Not across a sword, or the Layans would be short one leader."

"No," Alec said.  "I'm afraid face to face combat was never my style."

"Alec, I don't know what happened to put you on their side.  Maybe it's my fault for driving you out like that.  Maybe they've got some hold over you.  But you're an intelligent person.  Not one of those crazed fanatics from Aerone," Bran continued.  "You should be able to see that Laya isn't cut out to rule this planet.  You saw the way she treated us.  Like we were...just something to watch.  She's not fighting for you, she's fighting for herself."

"And the Orakians?" Alec asked, his eyes suddenly intense.  "What about Orakio?  Doesn't he treat you the same way?"

Do you not feel somewhat obligated?  Am I fighting for you?  Sometimes he did, Bran had to admit.  Perhaps the difference between the two was only in their relative subtleties.  Orakio was more of a manipulator than the straightforward Laya.  But he thought of their trip through the desert together, and the battles they shared, and how Orakio was willing to listen to his plans.  "Maybe he does," Bran said.  "Yes, I guess he does.  But he's the one who's been running our world, and it's not right that an outsider should come in and take over."

"Doesn't it ever make you angry, Bran, that Orakio has been running our world?  Don't you realize that we haven't made any progress on our own?"

"He saved us when we were lost without Mother Brain."

"But we're self-sufficient now.  Don't you think his time has passed?"

He'd never thought about it like that before.  He tried to do what the voice had talked about, to really think about things.  He tried to put aside his respect for Orakio and his loyalty, as a Palm person, to robots.  And he saw, grudgingly, that Alec had a point.  He remembered how he had felt when he heard about the habitats.  How they had been arranged so artificially, so each one would be a completely unique world.  He remembered how angry he got when someone implied that Mota was not the Palm people's true home.

"I don't know, Alec," he said, honestly.  "I never thought about it like that.  I was angry at him at first, when he told me he'd been controlling our world.  I'd always been proud of the achievements of our society.  When he told me it was all just a lie, that he had paved the way for us, I got angry.  But it didn't last.  I know him too well, I think.  He's a friend now, and I can't hold what he's done against him."

"That's what I thought," Alec said, sighing.  "That's what I thought.  And that's why I can't let you leave.  Why I can't let you live.  You, you five, are the ones that make Orakio strong.  Without you we'll have the advantage.  Orakio must be destroyed.  I believe that as much as the most devout Aeronian does.  I wish you'd help me."  His voice hardened.  "But if you won't, than you'll stay here.  When I see you next, I'll kill you.  I'm sorry."

He walked out, and closed the door.  It glimmered fiery red, betraying the power locked inside it."

Bran felt a hand on his shoulder.  Kara had come up beside him.  "I'm sorry, Bran," she said.  "I know you were hoping you could get through to him.  But it doesn't look like you did any good."

"It's what he said, Kara," Bran replied sadly.  "He's right.  But the Layan way isn't any better than the Orakian one.  It's worse.  Better the master we know, right?  But I've been an Orakian for so long, I forgot that it's better to have no master at all."

"There's only two sides," Kara said.  "You have to pick one."

"There's the Rysel way.  They chose to stay out of it entirely.  And who can blame them after that attack."  A strange expression came over Bran's face.  "That Layan attack."

"The Layans will attack everyone," Kara said.  "It's hard..."

"No, no, wait.  It's the Layan attack, remember?"

"Of course I remember.  The Layans ambushed you."

"Right.  That means they had the whole thing planned out."

"Right."

"That means Alec planned it out.  That's why they got him on their side."

"Right."

"So why would he stage an attack like that that lost the city to both sides?  If he was staging the whole thing form the beginning, couldn't he make it so that we'd look bad and they'd look good?"

"Hmmm.  I see what you mean.  But couldn't that have been the plan?  And Lune messed it up?  Cille claims there was rivalry between the two of them.  Maybe Lune deviated from Alec's plan."

Bran's face fell.  "Of course.  You're right.  Well, I thought I had something there.  But I still have a feeling we don't know enough yet."

"Well we're not going to learn anything more here," Thor said.  "Especially if we're waiting around for him to come back and kill us."

"I agree," Bran said.  "It's time for a jailbreak.  Any ideas?"

Mieun stepped up to the door and unleashed a devastating rain of blows and slashes on it.  But it glowed a brighter red and burst into flames.  The heat would be enough to force a Palman back, but Mieun bore it without flinching.  Yet the door was resisting her attacks.  She altered her aim to the walls on either side of the door, but the red glow melted through the wood and countered her wherever she attacked it.  While she assaulted the front wall, Siren unlimbered his powerful gun and fired on the back wall.  It didn't help.  The room's magic was proof against any of their physical attacks.

"Siren," Kara said suddenly, "Can you contact Lord Orakio?  Now that we know the location of their base, we could have an army over here in a few hours."

"No good," said Bran as Siren nodded.  "We may not have a few hours, and in any event remember this place's defenses.  It's designed to hold out against an army.  And we'd probably be held for their good behavior, anyway."

"You are all extremely slow," Siren said, abruptly.  "The Layan has already revealed to us this place's weakness."

Thor looked up at the android.  "Care to repeat that?  I heard him say that it was fire magic.  But I also heard him say our water techniques can't beat it.  Maybe you missed that."

"Cool down, you two.  Siren might be right.  If we could combine our powers, maybe we could break through."  Bran looked inquiringly at the other Palmans.

Kara smiled wryly.  "Not me, I'm afraid.  I only learned healing techniques."

Thor looked embarrassed.  "That's more than I know.  I never could see the point in all that stuff."

"Great," Bran said.  "Sorry, Siren.  Looks like Alec knew what he was talking about."

"He did not, any more than you do.  I told you that the latest Wren technology is incorporated into my design.  Summon your power, Bran."

Looking at the robot curiously, Bran rummaged around in his memory for the mental key to the Wat technique he'd learned when he was a child.  He felt the energy build up, like when he went into battle.

And a powerful gush of water surged outward from a spot just in front of Siren, and slammed into the door.  It twisted like a waterspout somehow suspended horizontally in midair, its relentless grinding action working like a drill.  The ruby light on the door guttered and winked out.  The door itself, shorn of the strengthening magic, gave way beneath the pressure and bits of wood floated out into the corridor.  The water cut off instantly.

Thor gaped.  "How did you do that?" he demanded.

Siren looked down at him.  "Orakio had studied the Palm techniques for some time.  He has not learned of a way to generate the energy they utilize, but he has learned to tap into it.  In the presence of that energy, I can perform certain techniques just as you can."

"Can't generate it," Bran said, his mind churning.  "So unless one of us were here you couldn't do it."

Siren shook his head.  "I must be near a source of power if I am to tap into it.  And it must be a cooperative situation - I could not tap into power wielded by an antagonist."

"That's too bad," Thor said.  "Otherwise we could just send an army of Sirens out against the Sages.  With your strength and techniques, you could do serious damage."

The robot said nothing.

"Let's go, people," Kara said urgently.  "Somebody's going to notice the lack of door, even if Gart doesn't know we broke his spell.  There's bound to be a patrol."

The five slipped out into the corridor, into the depths of Shusoran's palace.

"Allow me," Mieun said, her voice quiet but perfectly pitched to carry to her companions' ears.  She walked quickly but noiselessly back the way they had come.  Bran heard a muffled cry, then a gurgle.  Mieun returned.  "The patrol has been dealt with."

Bran sighed.  "I was hoping for something a little less permanent."

Mieun shrugged.

"Where do we go?" Kara asked.

"The throne room," Thor said.  "Let's not waste the opportunity."

Bran shook his head.  "Gart's in there, and he's more than a match for the five of us, even with Siren's boosted abilities."

"Let Mieun go in first.  Nobody's faster than she is.  She could take Gart out before he could lift a hand."

"He could have spells watching the room.  And that would still leave us facing Laya, Orakio's opposite number, and Alec, who's a better swordsman than he said, and maybe even Lune and Alair.  Plus whatever guardsmen they have there."

"So what do you recommend?"

"We're going to need one of those stones.  If we don't have a key for the tunnel seals, we'll just be moving to a bigger prison."

"I agree," Kara said.  "And one of those pendants, too.  Lord Orakio might be able to tell us what they do.  A little advance warning would be nice."

"The most important thing is to get out of here.  We've got to tell Orakio that the overspell is finished and that the tunnels are going to be sealed.  If we can't get back to Landen, everybody's going to die in their tracks."

"We know the way out," Siren said.  "Have no fear that you will get lost."

"Good.  Then let's split up.  Thor, come with me and Mieun.  Kara, you should go with Siren.  Thor doesn't know any techniques at all, but you should be able to provide power to Siren in case of an emergency.  You two take the left path, we'll go right."

The five took their paths, each leading deeper into the palace.

Mieun kept just a few paces ahead of Bran and Thor, every super sense alert for danger.  Bran was unconcerned, trusting in Mieun's abilities.  Thor, who trusted no one's but his own, was more watchful.

"I feel like I'm right on the edge of something," Bran said.  "Something big."

"Yeah?" Thor muttered.  "Puzzle it out in quiet."

"It's Alec again," Bran said, ignoring him.  "It's just not right.  Look, he told us the counter to the spell.  And he told us the stones were necessary to escape from Aquatica.  It's like he wanted us to know that information."

"Was that before or after he threatened to kill us all?" Thor demanded, fed up.  "This is not the act of a friend, okay?  If he was really some kind of double agent, the least he could have done was to actually let us go.  Not to mention not planning attacks against our towns.  He was overconfident, gloating, and he made a stupid mistake.  You overthink this and you'll wind up trusting him right up until he plants a knife in you.  Maybe after that.  I understand he tried it once already."

"He said Gart didn't trust him.  Maybe he was too afraid to let us go."

Thor threw his hands up in the air.  "What does it take to convince you?  He is a Layan, and that makes him the enemy!"

I wish I could see it that simply, Bran thought, falling silent.  Maybe it was just a crazy dream.  But one part of it was right.  I haven't thought the same way since I woke up.

His reverie was broken by a sudden series of loud clashes, metal on metal, and then a scraping sound of metal on stone as Mieun's limp body slid backward across the stones.  Bran looked up in shock and surprise at two men, one dressed like a Layan guardsman, the other all in blue, like a Sage.

Siren led Kara unhesitatingly through the maze of passages.  They investigated every room they came to.  She'd push open the door with the tip of her sword.  "Hey!" was about all the people inside had the time to say before Siren's blasts flung them against the far walls.  They opened door after door.  Mostly guardrooms.  The palace was complex but barren.  Most of the Shusoran people were probably elsewhere, fighting Orakians.

"Nothing here either," she said.  "Let's go."

Siren didn't move.  "We are not alone.  Sensors detect another presence."

"Very good, robot," said a voice.  Gart's form faded into sight.  "But not good enough."

He raised his hands.  Blue light started to shine around them.  Siren jumped.  Gart threw a hand out and a bright blue beam struck him in the chest.  The android went flying.  Kara raised her sword angrily.  The light around Gart melted briefly into a dull white and Kara felt an invisible sledgehammer strike her in the back.  She collapsed to her knees and found herself unable to move.  Iron bands seemed to be constricting around her.

"I knew you'd coming looking for one of these," Gart said.  His aura faded and he touched the teardrop stone hanging around his neck.  "I told Alec he was a fool not to kill you.  That spell could keep a child in but not the people who have enabled Orakio to resist us for so long."

"It's not us that makes Lord Orakio strong.  His power is far greater than yours," Kara gasped.  "The Layans are doomed.  You just don't know it yet."

Gart clenched his fist, pearly light spilling out of it.  Kara felt another band closing around her throat.

"Too bad," the Sage murmured.  "You are beautiful.  But I am no fool.  You can't trust Orakians."

Siren sprang up with a roar.  He slammed into Gart.  But the former Esper was well trained in his battle magic.  Surprised as he was, his concentration didn't wave for an instant.  He staggered back and retaliated.  The table in the room exploded into a cloud of splinters, which went flying into Siren's face.  This would have worked beautifully except that Siren was a robot and the wood pinged harmlessly off his armor.  It obscured his vision, though, which was all the distraction Gart needed to roll away and hurl a few more energy bolts at Siren.

Siren dropped his gun, useless in the close quarters.  His tunic ripped apart.  "Flare."

Kara's vision was starting to go in and out, but she remembered seeing this one before.  Parts of Siren's chest segmented and swung aside.  Yellow light lanced out again and again.  For a moment the sight gave her hope.  But Gart flung his hands up and a crimson barrier blocked Siren's shots.  The room was bathed in storms of power.  Kara writhed on the ground, coughing and choking.  A spasm shook her and she went limp.

Gart looked down at her motion, then back up at the android.  "Your friends have already been captured.  They've probably been executed by now.  Now you die too!"  He dropped his shield and wove his hands in a complicated pattern.  A bright blue design traced itself on Siren's chest.  The android collapsed, a look almost of surprise on his face.  Gart smiled.  "It works on robots, too," he said.  "Interesting."  And then he screamed.

Kara's sword was sunk into his side.  "You can't even trust an Orakian to stay dead," she said.  "Magic your way out of this one."

The Sage looked at her with pure hatred.  "We'll meet again."

The aura around his hands blazed up to cover his whole body.  He started to fade from sight.  Kara felt her sword suddenly freed.  Only one chance, she thought.  She flicked her sword across his neck.  It didn't seem to affect him, but it did part the chain around his neck.  The stone fell to the floor, and she scooped it up.  "Don't hurry back."

He disappeared, and Kara let her sword drop.  She went into a coughing fit, rubbed her neck.  "That was a close one.  Come on, Siren."  She looked over at the robot.  Something had gone out of him.  She could see that at once.  Whatever had animated the metal shell was gone.

Your friends have already been capturedSo I have to rescue them?  Anything that could take down Thor and Mieun wasn't something she wanted to deal with.  She looked at the pendant.  The most important thing is to get out.  She closed her hand around the stone.  It pulsed lightly in her hands, like a living thing.  They've probably already been executed.

Think again, Bran.  Looks like it's Kara to the rescue one last time.

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