Chapter 45 Hat

        At least the Messenger would be seeing them both together. Roween had been fretting for Conley, imagining pressures that Giqus could subject her to, the kind of drugs, magic, he might employ. Physical abuse? Sexual? Not his style. Or perhaps a psychological approach. Final Delivery?
        She felt nervous. She'd been waiting for, what, two minutes? The door in front of her was tall, white-painted, gold-handled. She'd looked over her shoulder once, but one of the guards had used his gauntlet. She didn't try again.
        She could hear footsteps behind her, four or five pairs maybe, mailed, in step. Also, metallic heels, sharp, like the noise her own boots had made when she was marched here from her cell. Two guards drew up in front of her, over to the left. A shadow appeared behind them, next to her. She spared a glance - Conley. Magnificent, dressed like her but a class apart, a league apart. Seeing Roween, she winked. Roween nodded back, paid for it with another cuff that jarred her head, pulled at neck muscles.
        Giqus walked past Conley, turned, addressed them both. "Ladies, I want this to be brief. You both know your parts. Play them, and you will be out of there in ten minutes, with perhaps another five before I join you. Make a mistake, and Roween at least will be very dead, very quickly. And remember, don't look at his eyes. It's especially important." He smiled. "Are you ready?"
        "Ready," said Conley, smartly, holding a clenched fist in front of her. Roween registered it as uncharacteristic, realised it was to show her there were no chains. And... Good girl, Con.
        "Why," she asked, "shouldn't we look at his eyes? Is he about to lose his lenses?" He'll know it veils a message, but not its content.
        "Because if you do, I cannot save either of you." He bowed, and faced the door. The guards in front stepped aside; Roween felt something sharp in her back. Giqus knocked, pushed at the golden handle. The sharpness jabbed: follow.
        She watched Giqus walk, head bowed, into the vast, sparse chamber. She and Conley followed, eyes down. Giqus stopped, they did likewise. Roween listened, waited for the door to close behind her, looked up.
        Seated before them on a raised, ebony throne, sat a pallid man, lean, hair tousled in uneven curls, bony face, lips thin and drawn. She could have laughed. His eyes diverged.
        "You!" he shrieked, voice shrill, pointed at Roween. "You dare to view the eyes ... of a god!" Strange, lilting pause.
        Giqus had turned, was staring at her in disbelieving anger, confusion.
        "Enough, half-brother." Play-act. "Your vanity betrays the profoundness of your degeneracy." Confident, be confident. "I am Loneskh. Your mother is the spress of my mother. Our father is the one- god, Lon. He is angry with you. Very angry."
        The Messenger's eyes were darting from side to side as one, then the other, lined at her in a lunatic fury. "You lie! You blaspheme! You are not Loneskh! You have seen ... my soul! You shall die .... mortal, you ... shall die! Giqus!"
        Giqus was surprised, turned to face his god, avoided eye contact. "Messenger?"
        "No!" shouted Roween, before he could be ordered, so loud, such a scream as it pierced the echo of his question. She ignored the mage, pointed directly at the Messenger. "You recognise me, Lonalon. You know who I am. You came here against our father's will. He allowed you to stay, hoped you would mature, return of your own volition. But you have spread evil, you have corrupted the Message!"
        She waited, gave him chance to make reply, he said nothing. Was he staring above her? Yes - like there was something there, something he alone could see, and it was talking to him.
        She continued. "You have told impressionable humans that things exist to change. A debasement! Your `message' is the folly of Lona's world. But this is Eskh's world. Things do not exist to change, they exist to be changed. Your mother sent you here, to reclaim this place from my mother. Lon knows her frail deceit, and it is time to end it."
        Giqus had moved to one side. Roween didn't dare switch her gaze away from the Messenger, but could tell he was flicking, two-handed, couldn't make out the gestures.
        "I deny you!" The Messenger was standing, but didn't leave his pedestal. "You ... do not exist!"
        "Loss comes for you, Lonalon: you will century in Wul's otherworld." She extended her left arm, pointed at Giqus without looking, watched as the Messenger glanced over to him. "Your servant seeks my death by magic. Shall I make it easy for him?" She withdrew her hand, formed a focus. "He cannot harm a goddess."
        "You foolish..." Giqus growled, his once-grandfatherly de- meanour now consumed by vengeful rage. "You've holed everything! But now, you've made," he checked as he made the final gestures, "a mistake!"
        He held the palm of his left hand towards Roween.
        In a comsphere-3 in Taltu, Porett lost consciousness.
        "I am Loneskh," Roween announced. "You, half-brother, have renounced your godly name. You call yourself `Messenger'. So be it. You are no longer Lonalon. You are mortal, now." She turned her back on him, closed her eyes with joy when she saw Conley, right hand immobile, pointing to the ground.
        "Messenger! I must have miscast, a simple error, I, my eyes are - "
        "Kill her! Kill ... her!" The Messenger flailed out an arm, held his head, moaned. He stretched wide as Roween nodded to Conley, screeched out "Guards!" as she ran to the left, and froze, gripping his chest, as the door flew open, Roween threw herself into a corner, and Conley spat him the seventeen hundred and eighty-sixth gesture of a remote binder.
        The soldiers slid to a halt as their god-emperor staggered towards them, wide eyes bulging, face sheet-white.
        Giqus sprang at him, caught him as he swayed. "They don't have your focus! Wrist your way out of it! Do this," gestured, "keep doing it - no, do it, you mad - it's a motive releaser!" The Messenger was sobbing, just sobbing. Giqus snatched his hand, "like this, again, again..."
        Roween had walked quickly to the throne, calmly as she could; she seated herself in it. The guards were transfixed by the Messenger, could only watch. He was crying, silently, as he slid from the arms of his mage, like a melting snowman. He stopped at his knees, turned, held out his hand to Roween, then smiled strangely for a moment, collapsed. For the first and last time, Giqus looked into his master's eyes. He coughed a short laugh, glanced behind to Roween, then back to the body on the floor. He laughed again, longer.
        "I am Loneskh. Lonalon, your Messenger, is dead. Leave us. Tell the people of Lon's Grace. When you return, I will be gone." The guards didn't move, she rose. "You have witnessed the death of a god, little men. It is your function to speak of what you have seen to others. Do so, and you will live a hundred years. Fail, and join your misleader in the otherworld. Now go!" They glanced at one another, dropped their spears, fled.
        It seemed to echo silence.
        Giqus spoke. "Fires of hell, Roween Sage. You planned this."
        "And more besides, wise one." She smiled.
        At once, he turned to Conley, began a sequence, both hands flicking with blurring speed. Immediately, she copied, cutting a spell of her own. He grimaced, caught she was using his technique, realised she was the faster. Slowly, helplessly, the ex-chancellor looked over to Roween, despair of the inevitable in his eyes. And yet...
        Suddenly, he wasn't there. Conley was so surprised she almost didn't clap out, remembered in time. "Ro, he's - a secret door? My vision, I couldn't see his -"
        "No, it was magic, there's a tang, I don't recognise it, it's not quite right..."
        Conley was looking around, a lever or something. "There was a bang, maybe he threw random, hoped to take me too?"
        "Gods, Con, let's begone!"

* * *

        The red glow beyond the ridge was Elbienau as it burned, smoke rolling across the gazing moon. Roween and Conley had ridden hard, left that wailing city to purge itself of grief.
        Their clothes carried a significance, people had shied away as they'd run down corridors of the Messenger's great temple. The horses were black, too, Conley had found them, ready-saddled; she'd released the others in the stable, thought to delay their intended riders.
        Roween had led the way. West, through grimy streets, dark with the rot of poverty, out into the fields, across open country, anywhere but Elbienau, Lon's Grace that was. They stopped at a barn, packed with hay from the recent harvest. Roween didn't even tie her mount, she just scurried up a ladder, buried herself atop the stack inside. Conley followed, threw herself into the hay, rolled over to Roween's side.
        "Hot, Ro, you were so convincing, you almost had me believing!" She chuckled, excited in her security.
        "I almost believed myself! When I saw his eyes, it was so perfect, there's probably a prophecy somewhere foretelling all this!" She giggled, Conley joined her.
        "When you began to run, I could hear the guards opening the door, but I had to hold back, let you cover distance so you wouldn't knock my spell."
        "When I saw you holding that point, I was so relieved, I couldn't look round earlier, I was just hoping you knew what I was going to do." She began to laugh.
        "I didn't know, I hadn't any idea, I only made the gestures because no-one was watching me!" More laughter, tears. "They told me they were going to kill you, Ro, if I..."

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif45.htm