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CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

McCanoc pounded at the invisible walls of his prison and snarled at the two women.

"Fix me!" he demanded from his seat on the ground. All of his injuries had been healed, save one, and now he couldn't get higher than the perch afforded by propping himself up with his arms. He hammered at the force shield again and screamed. "FIX ME!"

"Tough job," Daneh said, maliciously. "Lots of damage there."

"I tell you what, Dionys," Sheida said with a smile. "If you turn over the proxy for the Wolf terraforming project, I'll think about it. Or, if you don't, I'll give you to Edmund."

"Oh, no," Daneh said, supporting the weight of her stomach, a glint in her eye. "Give him to me. I know just exactly where all the nerve endings are. And how to keep them alive for a long time, even after they've been . . . damaged."

"You wouldn't," McCanoc said, then gulped. "You're a doctor!"

"Or, if you give me some power, I'll change him into a woman," Daneh continued. "We captured a fair number of his orcs. And they're awfully bored."

"I've got an idea," Sheida said. "Why don't we go think about some other things we can do to him while Dionys thinks about what we're thinking about. And our offer. Which is, we'll let you live your full natural life. That's it."

"What about my legs?" Dionys snarled. "What about them?"

"I don't see why you'd need them in solitary confinement," Sheida answered as the two women walked out of the shed.

The building was on the far side of the Hill, far away from the prying eyes of the town. Most of the inhabitants of Raven's Mill, and the surrounding areas, had come into town for a serious party after being relieved of the threat of Dionys' attack. And the rumors of his capture, imprisonment, and the revelation that Baron Edmund was none other than Charles the Great of Anarchia had been swirling and being increased, if possible, in the retelling.

As the two women walked up and across the wall, nodding at the Council guards that kept prying eyes away, Daneh shook her head sadly.

"I didn't enjoy that as much as I thought I would," she said stopping to catch her breath.

"That's because you're a good person," Sheida agreed. "And no matter how much you hate him, torturing him, even mentally, goes against your grain."

"But if we can get the power, I can heal Bast," Daneh said, as much to herself as to the woman at her side. "And Herzer; he basically doesn't have a hand anymore. And it would be nice to have some medical backup when this happens," she added, rubbing her stomach.

"I know," Sheida replied. "The shield is tied into the power net and proof against just about anything Paul can throw at it. I hope. And, hopefully, Chansa won't even realize he's in trouble until we make him transfer the proxy, after which we'll just bury McCanoc somewhere deep, safe, and impossible to escape from. I'm thinking, the middle of a mountain. Maybe a magma bubble."

"But . . . I still don't like it."

"No, you wouldn't," Sheida said with a grim snort. "I think we should let him stew for a couple of hours and go enjoy the party in the meantime."

"That's one way to forget, I suppose," Daneh said, looking at her sister. "Tell you what, you play the beauty and I'll play the brains this time."

"Watch out. You know what happened the last time we did that!"

"Yep, I ended up marrying Edmund . . . Charles . . . Damn it, a woman should know the name of the man she's in love with!" She stopped dead in her tracks and cracked a grin. "Forget the damned party, let's go find Edmund. He's the best party in town."

"I'm with you."

* * *

Rachel was wandering disconsolately through the crowds in the street when she heard her name called. The town was packed with revelers, many of them victors of the recent battles. There were militia in their motley armor and a spray of archers and Blood Lords. None of them needed to buy a drink as carefully hoarded liquor was dragged out and the entire town decided that this was a good time to do Faire.

For Rachel, though, there was no one. Her mother and father had just been acting . . . sotted all day and when she'd gone to visit Herzer in the hospital he'd moved himself, completely without authorization, over to the bed by Bast. The two of them were deep in conversation when she went in but they welcomed her and tried to get her to stay. Herzer's hand had had to be amputated, but her father had already offered to make a prosthetic that would work well enough to hold a shield. Deann, however, hadn't been as lucky; she had died on the horse cart back to town despite everything that Rachel could do to save her.

She wanted to stay and talk with the two of them, her best friends that she had in the town. However, she could tell when three was a crowd and finally wandered off to find someone else to be with.

She stopped and looked around and then saw a white, somewhat travel-stained unicorn, coming through the crowd.

"Barb?" she asked.

"Rachel!" the unicorn squeaked. "It is you! Oh, I'm so glad to find you, I've had such a terrible time!"

"Really?" Rachel asked. "How bad of a time could a unicorn have? I mean, you can browse, right?"

"I was captured by that horrible McCanoc person," the unicorn cried, her eyes brimming with tears. "And, oh! It was just terrible. The things he made me do!"

Rachel's brain shut down at that point and her mouth managed not to ask Barb to reiterate her experiences. But if she knew McCanoc her . . . friend had not had a good time.

"I'm sorry, Barb," Rachel finally managed to say. "Many people had a bad time with Dionys. But that's all done now."

"But he's still alive," Barb squeaked. "What if he gets away?"

"He won't," Rachel promised. "And if he tries anything, Dad will kill him."

"Okay," Barb replied. "But, at least I met a nice guy out of the whole thing."

"Oh?" Rachel squeaked back then cleared her throat. "Oh?"

"Yes, and I need a favor," Barb said. "Can you come help me with something?"

"Sure," Rachel said, weakly, following the unicorn through the crowds and out of the town.

They crossed the river and approached the horse corral, and Rachel grimaced as Diablo nickered and trotted over to the fence, whickering at Barb.

"I know what you're thinking, Rachel," Barb said sadly. "But he's kind to me and he doesn't try to take me out of season and he makes the other horses leave me alone. And, really, I just don't fit in anywhere else anymore."

"It's okay," Rachel said finally. "I understand."

"But . . . I can't work the latch on the gate," Barb pointed out. "And they threw me out this afternoon."

"I'll take care of it," Rachel replied, opening the gate just wide enough for her friend to slip through. "I'll make sure they know to . . . take care of you."

"Well, as long as Diablo is around, I'll be fine," Barb said. "Bye, now."

Rachel watched as the pair cantered to an out-of-the-way part of the field and stopped to graze. From time to time Diablo nibbled gently at his . . . mate and Barb would stop to run her horn along his neck. Finally, Rachel decided that love was where you found it.

"And where am I going to find it?" she asked herself sadly, walking back to the town in the darkness.

* * *

In the darkness McCanoc fumed and from time to time smashed a fist against the power screen, getting nothing for it but a bruise and a faint illumination.

Why were they after him for the terraforming proxy? Chansa had set that up before the Fall, but after the Fall he had assumed that the power had been dumped into the regular grid and locked out like all the rest. He certainly hadn't been able to summon so much as a genie.

But, maybe, the power was available. He hadn't tried to access it directly. And Chansa sure as hell wasn't answering his pages.

Finally he closed his eyes and held out his hands.

"Mother, as the sole surviving board member of the Wolf 359 terraforming project, I call upon the power stored for that project. Use all the power necessary to destroy this shield!"

Mother considered the call for a moment and then acquiesced.

* * *

The fireball lifted a section of the hill into the air and dropped it in every direction. Most of the power had been shunted to destroying the shield and Mother only intended to use the minimum force necessary. But some of it, equivalent to about a two kiloton blast, escaped. Chunks of rock and bits of tree rained down on the town, killing many of the revelers and injuring scores.

At the shattering boom, Edmund, Daneh and Sheida hurried to the front of the house in time to see the last of the debris rain down.

"Damn it!" Sheida cursed. "Mother, this is Council Member Sheida Ghorbani. Is Dionys McCanoc alive or deceased?"

"Dionys McCanoc is deceased," a voice answered out of the air. Daneh forever after wondered if it was true that there was a note of satisfaction in the voice.

"What of the power for the Wolf 359 project?" Sheida demanded.

"The power has reverted to hold status," Mother replied. "Until a quorum of the stockholders or their heirs can be gathered to elect a new board or a vote of twelve can be held on the Council to shunt it to other purposes."

"Bloody hellfire!" Sheida shouted, slipping away to examine the damage. The shields had drained a significant portion of available power when they were attacked, but none of the shields had gone down. This was mostly because the power being pressed against them had gone down at the same instant. It was clear that Mother had cut Paul's available power the instant that McCanoc died. Her face worked in fury for a moment and then she sighed in disappointment.

"Hey, look on the bright side," Daneh said, shaking her head ruefully. "Now I don't have to hate you for the rest of my life for letting him live."

"Very funny, Daneh," Sheida replied with a rueful chuckle. "Very effing funny."

"Well, whatever," Daneh shrugged. "I need to get into town. There are people who are going to need my help."

"Are you sure you should?" Edmund said. "You're getting close to time."

"I worked on all the injured from the battle," Daneh said. "I can work on those who come in from this. I would appreciate some help getting to the hospital, though."

"I'll come with you," Talbot replied, pulling a cloak off the stand and wrapping it around her shoulders. "If for no other reason than to make sure you don't kill yourself. Or our baby. Sheida?"

"I have to go," the council member replied. "There's a lot of picking up to do on my end as well." She looked out at the hill, which was now black again in the moonlight and sighed. "We were so close."

"Don't sweat it," Edmund replied, pulling down his own cloak. "I guarantee it wouldn't have mattered; history never turns on small items. And anybody who tells you different is selling something."

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