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Mantherren had very quick hands, he noticed, not for the first time since the two of them had come together. He watched Mantherren as he completed the wiring of the bomb and held it up to the light so that they could both admire his handi work. Mantherren smiled his bright, pleasant smile and his teeth shone.
"Howís it look, Seth?" He pivoted his wrist to give his companion a full view of his device. Seth reached out and took the bomb in his hands, turning it over and observing it, minding the careful wiring that had taken Mantherren so long to complete . It was very small and fit almost in the palm of his hand, but was much heavier then it looked.
"Good," Seth told him, nodding approval. "Youíre sure about the charge?"
"Uh-huh," Mantherren replied. "Absolutely positive. I did all the calculations myself. Itís me, remember?"
"Whatever you say." Seth carefully opened a pouch at his belt lined with fur and slid the bomb gently inside, tightening it.
Mantherren cocked his head, noting Sethís tense behavior. "Is something wrong, Seth? You seemÖuptight."
Turning away, Seth shook his head. "No, itís nothing. Iím just a little nervous, thatís all."
"Thatís not like you."
"Sorry," Seth replied, a little too harshly. Mantherren spread his hands in a calming gesture.
"Okay, Seth, okay," he told him gently. "Sorry I asked."
ĎForget about it."
"Whatever you want."
"News from the Stronghold," Tigrelle reported when they met in the afternoon the day before the mission. "The Archlord doesnít want to compromise any aspect of the mission until the bomb goes off. He wants Seth and Mantherren on the shuttle. "
Mantherren nodded. "Weíre not going to Jump in to plant the bomb?"
"No. Evidently Lutz has awakened, so the Archlordís not going to take the risk of attracting undue attention."
Seth glanced at Tigrelle. She was obviously chafing under the control of the Archlord. As the three Disciples, they technically outranked Archlord Tesserin, but the Master had placed them under his control for the duration of this very sensitive mi ssion. No one doubted Tesserinís brilliance in terms of planning, so none of them complained outwardly. She lowered her voice. "Do you think you can handle that?"
Mantherren scoffed. "Sure," he replied easily. "Not an issue. People are stupid. They wouldnít noticed if we walked up the central aisle carrying the bomb."
"We need to be careful, Mantherren," Seth said, "so donít get cocky. Anything could happen."
Seth very rarely found beauty in things, but he had to admit that the Protector was a beautiful child. Fair skinned to the point of being pale, a wealth of uncontrolled blue hair, and wide, gentle blue eyes.
He and Mantherren sat directly across from the Protector Ė Mantherrenís idea of daring, he supposed Ė and Seth couldnít help but continually toy with the pouch at his belt. He and Mantherren had designed the bomb themselves, just like they did with many of the technological device service of the Master required. Not the strongest in magic by a long way, Mantherren and Seth had often offset their lack of magic with their practical skills, so often lacked in the upper echelons of the Chosen.
Mantherren glanced down and checked his watch. "Itís time," he told Seth. "We have a five minute window here, or everything goes awry. You got it? Five minutes. Letís go."
With the casualness of skilled con men, Mantherren and Seth rose from their chairs and walked down the aisle towards the cockpit. A little illusion, and a lot of skill, and they looked so at home that no one gave them a second glance. Not even the Protector.
Mantherren opened the door to the cockpit and motioned Seth inside, then followed and closed the door. The co-pilot spun in his seat and looked at them. Seth quietly began weaving a field of magical silence over the cockpit. No sound would penetrat e.
"Iím sorry, but we donít allow passengers in the cockpit."
"Oh," Mantherren replied, "sorry. Weíll just go back to our seats." His hand came free of his pocket and raised the gun and shot the co-pilot in the head. His head snapped backwards and blood and brains splattered across the main window, marring th e panorama of Palmís upper atmosphere.
Before Mantherren had even pulled the trigger, Seth was moving, wrapping his hands in a field of magical energy and moving towards the captain. He pressed his hands to the manís temples as Mantherren slew his partner. All of the captainís synapses fired at once as Seth released the energy into his brain, and he slumped in his seat.
"Get the controls, Mantherren," Seth commanded, pulling the bomb out the pouch and ripped the covering panel off of the navigational computer. Mantherren shoved the captain out of his chair and sat down. "Iím correcting our course. Three minutes, S eth."
Three minutes to perfection.
"Seth! Get on it!"
Seth shook himself and quickly pushed aside the wires and circuitry obscuring his view. There it was, the central control and processor for the entire nav-system. It detected obstructions in front of the ship and performed course corrections, calculat ed the flight plans, and held the course. Only the first and third functions meant anything to Seth.
The charge was perfect. It would destroy the processor but once the ship crashed the damage would be so small that no one would notice the processor had been bombed, rather then crushed like everything else.
"Two minutes," Mantherren reported. Seth attached the bomb.
Come to me, he whispered, tossing out the thought.
"What?" Mantherren asked.
Seth shook his head. "Nothing, keep flying." The commuter space shuttle Drake is being bombed. It is going to crash into the commuter space shuttle Discovery in approximately ninety seconds. Hurry.
Someone grabbed his shoulder and spun his around. Seth made a warding gesture, but Mantherrenís punch penetrated his guard and slammed into his jaw. Seth staggered backwards against the computer and, raising his leg, kicked Mantherren in the gu t. Mantherren fell backwards and grabbed at the captainís chair for support.
"You sold us out to Lutz!" he snarled.
Mantherren lunged, grasping for Sethís throat. Sidestepping, Seth drove his fist into Mantherrenís stomach. The other Chosen lurched forward a got a firm grip on Sethís hair and brought Sethís head down, hard, onto his knee. Seth cried out in pain as he fell to the ground. Mantherren locked his hand into Sethís hair once again and pulled his head back. "Iíll deal with you later," he whispered, and Seth felt his magic take hold.
The sword pivoted on an invisible axis and the universe danced. The note rang out, an endless chorale of voices that seemed to be drawn from the limitless depths of eternity, and then he heard itÖ
That one, discordant harmony, buried somewhere deep within the endless echoing sound, the one jarring paradox that destroyed the perfection.
"My lord," an urgent voice said somewhere close to his head. "My lord, the latest group has returned."
Consciousness returned. Seth turned his head to regard Morovin. His bands slowly darkened. "Where is Morgan?"
Morovinís worry seemed to dissipate somewhat. "She is here, Disciple."
Looking around, Seth took in the large, rectangular throne room. Chaz and his shadow, Carlam stood nearby, and Morovin stood near him on his throne. Near the doorway, Morgan stood rigid, garbed in her combat armor still.
"Report, Morgan," Seth ordered, already shrugging away the lethargy which still clung to his body like a shroud. What had he been dreaming about?
He hadnít known he could dream.
"I achieved all directives, Archlord," Morgan reported, walking towards him down the length of the throne room. "Molcum was destroyed."
"You have him?"
"Bring him to me."
Morgan gestured and two Chosen Espers escorted in a limp figure in chains. At first glance the captive seemed unconscious, or even dead, for he didnít stir. Seth looked at Morgan, his bands turning red. "I ordered him not to be harmed."
"He has not been," Morgan replied quickly. "He has been almost catatonic since we seized him."
"Lantamaral Lain," Seth intoned. He saw Chaz jerk out of the corner of his eye. "I addressed you, Lantamaral." He waited for another moment. "Look at me!"
"Disciple," Chaz said quickly, stepping forward. "Perhaps, if you unchained himÖ"
Sethís bands grew even redder, a blazing scarlet. "I am not going to set him free in my throne room, General. Lantamaral Lain is like the rest of your familyÖvery dangerous to me."
Though Sethís eyes were on Chaz, he was watching Lantamaral where his prisoner lay motionless on the ground. The conversation had attracted his attention, and Seth saw him glance to see who had spoken. Now it was Lantamaralís chance to jerk in surp rise.
Chaz continued on as if his brother had not spoken. "I know my brother, Disciple. If you unchain him he will not fight. He is a pacifist, Disciple."
Seth shook his head. "It does not matter, General. In the world I will create there is no place for Protectors such as your brother. I have brought him here for his execution." He gestured and the two Chosen Espers came forward, one drawing a tí santari sword. Lant began to struggle as they seized his arms and pushed him to the ground, then ripped away his shirt. The guard touched the blade of the sword to Lantís neck, then raised it high above his head.
"Disciple!" Chaz cried, moving forward. Carlam reached forward to place a restraining hand on Chazís arm, but Chaz brushed him off.
"You overstep yourself, General," Morovin said dangerously. Seth raised a warding hand.
"Speak your mind," Seth commanded.
"My lord, my brother is neither my mother nor my sister. I know his values, the way his mind works. He is too firm in the beliefs he adopted after the Alisian War to oppose you physically. My brother does not disdain violence Ė he fears it. Please, Disciple, he is no danger to you. Let me be his keeper. I will teach him our ways as Carlam has taught me. Perhaps he can be turned, Disciple, as I have."
The dark red bands lightened to an almost violet hue. "And if he cannot be turned?"
"I shall kill him myself, if you so desire," Chaz said quietly.
Morovin stepped forward urgently. "My lord," he said quickly, "I must object."
"Very well," Seth told Chaz. "I will have him dressed and cleaned and taken to your quarters. Be sure you fulfill your promises, or I will hold you to your vow."
Chaz nodded briskly, and stepped back. He and Carlam quickly engaged in a whispered conversation. Seth looked back at Lant, and saw that he had slumped, helplessly, back to the floor.
* * *
Chaz reached for the door to his room, but Carlam caught his arm and pulled it back. Chaz gave the other Chosen Esper a quizzical glance.
"Are you sure that what you did was wise?" Carlam whispered. "Your brother, if he becomes desperateÖ"
"He wonít hurt me," Chaz said, sounding absolutely sure. "I know him. Even if he becomes desperate, heís tooÖchanged to attack anyone. Believe me."
Carlam shrugged. "I hope you can fulfill your promise, General."
"Me too. Look, Carlam, if you donít mindÖ"
"I understand," Carlam replied, backing off. "You probably want to be alone with your brother. Shall I come by tomorrow, General?"
Carlam sketched a quick bow and disappeared down the hallway. Chaz quickly opened the door, stepped in, and started in surprise.
Lant sat on his bed, completely naked, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head in his arms. His eyes were closed. There was a pile of black clothing on the bed next to him. Chaz saw the pale scars crisscrossing his chest, stomach, thighs and l egs and felt a pang for his brother.
"What are you doing, Lant?" he demanded. Lant looked up. He had grown into a man since the Alisian Wars. Chaz hadnít seen him much in the last eight years, not more then two or three times, but he knew the changes in his brother ran deeper then jus t appearance.
"I remember what they had done to me, Chaz," Lant murmured quietly. "I still have the scars, and the nightmares. I wonít wear their clothing."
Chaz felt distinctly uncomfortable, for a reason he wasnít quite sure of. Not looking into his brotherís penetrating eyes, he quickly crossed the room to a chest at the foot of his bed and pulled out a suit of blue clothing. "Then wear this." He to ssed it at Lantís feet.
Bending forward, Lant picked up the clothing and examined it. "Esper," he noted. "Was this yours?"
"Yes. Wear it."
Chaz shook his head and didnít reply.
"It looks a lot less heavy then what youíre wearing now," Lant said significantly. The hidden meaning was not lost on Chaz.
"Just put it on," he snarled through clenched teeth. He sat down in the simple, hard chair set in the corner and watched as his brother got dressed. "Iíll need to have another bed brought in," he began, but Lant cut in.
"Donít," he said, pulling the blue Esper tunic over his head. He was considerably more slender then Chaz was, and the Esper clothing hung loose about him. He was holding up his pants with one hand as he reached for Chazís old belt. He met Chazís ga ze. "Iíll sleep on the floor."
There was silence while Lant finished dressing. The younger man sat down on floor with his back against the wall. Chaz didnít speak.
"Why are you here?" Lant asked suddenly, and Chaz could hear the pain in his voice. "Chaz, whatís going on?"
"IÖ" Chaz suddenly wanted to cry. "Iíve found the true path," he said defiantly. "I realized that you, and mom, and Rika and I, and the Espers, that we were wrong to fight the Alisian Wars. The Dark Espers are right, Lant. Youíll see it too, in tim eÖ"
"Or youíll kill me. What happened to you, Chaz? What convinced you? Look me in the eye and tell me that your place isnít in Aiedo, or with the Espers. Donít I deserve an answer?"
"No!" Chaz snapped, suddenly angry. "Canít you see Iím trying to save your life, Lant?"
"Donít do me any favors." Lant pulled his knees up again and leaned his head back against the wall, his eyes closed once more.
"Leave me alone."
"Fine!" Chaz snapped, rising. He strode for the door and ripped it open.
"Chaz," Lant said suddenly, and he paused, looking at his brother, who hadnít moved. "Were you expecting a happy reunion in a place like this?"
Chaz stepped through the doorway and slammed it behind him. The key turning in the lock echoed down the hallway. Angrily pushing the key into his belt, Chaz walked down the hallway, not caring where he went.
* * *
"Morgan," Morovin called out, seeing her farther down the hall. She stopped, and the Archlord approached her. "Have you received your orders?"
"Yes," Morgan replied, idly playing with her tísantari amulet. She smiled in a manner that was paradoxically both playful and murderous. "The Disciple wants Zema secured, not leveled as we had originally intended. I am to lead the strike for ce."
Morovin nodded. They did need a power base on Motavia from which to strike out in full force against the powers amassing at Aiedo, and Zema had the advantage of position and size to adequately contain a garrison of their forces. "New orders, Morgan ," he told her. "The Archlord would also like you to take General Lain and Shar with you. He is placing the General in the position of your advisor for the duration of the conquest."
Morganís smile faded momentarily, then returned. "I see," she replied. "Will the Generalís entourage be joining us?"
"You mean the brother?"
"And his wet nurse."
"Ah, Carlam. No. Both of them will be remaining here. The Disciple believes that Chaz has received all of his training now."
"That was brief."
Morovinís brow furrowed. "It was, yes. But I refuse to question his orders. If I had not chosen to make use of his knowledge, I would not have brought him back from the void."
"True. And Lantamaral?"
"He is our guest for the time being," Morovin replied. "He will remain in the Generalís quarters. We will bring him two meals a day. No contact."
Morgan gave him an appraising stare. "You sound unsure."
"I am. I believe that the Disciple may be stretching the limits of my enchantment. It may need reinforcing."
In an unusual gesture, Morgan reached out and clasped his shoulder. "Weíve won," she assured him. "It doesnít matter now."
"True, true. Additionally, the Disciple is aware of your expertise with magical object, and also that youíve been studying the artifacts of the Arcanium?"
"He desires to make use of my knowledge?"
"After a fashion. Are you familiar with the concept of the chaos bubbles?"[an error occurred while processing this directive]