“Move the sensiball closer, Billy” said Kratia. She stared into the crystal at the body of Drake positioned atop the funeral pyre six hundred miles away. She ordered Billy to take the sensiball closer still until Drake’s face seemed to fill the entire hollow sphere. Every detail matched that of her memory of him.
“Open one of his eyes, Billy, and press the sensiball against it,” Kratia commanded.
“What the hell for?” he hissed. “Do you have some magic spell to bring him back from the dead?”
“Just do it!” she snapped. Really, she was getting tired of his attitude. Soon it would need a serious adjustment.
Billy opened Drake’s left eye and pressed the glasslike sphere against it. Kratia peered intensely into the dead eye, then illuminated it for an even better view. She studied it for over a minute; she also studied the brain and internal organs of the corpse.
“The retina pattern matches Drake’s,” she said. “And the lack of blood flow and brain activity confirm death. You said that he was killed by a Rauder. Explain it to me again.”
“Not just any Rauder. The chief of the tribe.”
“Of course,” said Kratia. “Tell me the story again. All the details.”
“Kratia, I’ve told you what happened three times already! Give it a break; your mercenary bought the farm, and that’s that.”
“I grow impatient. Tell me the story again,” she said. “In detail. Each second you delay will cost Nexus one of his fingers.”
“You better not harm him, Kratia! We have an agreement!” Kratia saw Billy staring up at her, knowing that from his perspective, he was staring down at her. Ah, wonders of the sensiball. She smiled, but turned her eyes totally black, knowing that it made her gaze unnerving.
“Thank you so much for reminding me! Perhaps I should go check on him now; I’m not sure that he’s had anything to eat during the last few days. And it’s so cold in my dungeon; I hope he hasn’t taken ill with some dreadful disease.”
Billy clenched his teeth, and took a deep slow breath. “Drake was celebrating with the Rauders. He was enjoying the local beverage a bit too much, and his natural belligerence started to come out. He started making fun of their local legends.”
“The Taka Shema legend,” said Kratia.
“That’s right. He said the Taka Shema was a wet dream that the Rauders cooked up to justify their lust for killing. Said a race of real warriors were stupid to believe in fairy tales. And they were twice stupid if they thought I was the Taka Shema, same name or not, because he could whip my ass any day of the week, even drunk. Well, the chief was there, and told Drake to shut up. Drake laughed and told the chief to make him. Drake was really tanked by then.”
“Take me to the chief,” Kratia interrupted.
“But I haven’t finished telling you the story for the fourth time.”
Kratia’s fixed him with a cold stare and Billy quieted. He carried the sensiball to Rangee without further comment.
Rangee stared disdainfully at the face inside the sensiball on the ground in front of his crossed legs. “So you are a Lord of the Circle,” he said, chewing on a few JuJu berries. “Very brave of you to face me, with only a few hundred miles between us.”
Rangee spat out the seeds of the berries onto the sensiball. Kratia flinched involuntarily as the seeds hit the sensiball, seeming to explode upward towards her face before splattering in a reddish brown smear than slowly slid down the inside of the curved glass sphere.
“Rangee, you are a fool to try my patience. Or is it some barbaric custom of yours that makes you court disaster by angering me?” Kratia made no effort to hide her feelings. The communication link was secure, and her preferred course of action was to goad the chief into a more vulnerable position.
“I am Chief of the Snow Wind!” thundered Rangee. “I am supreme here! I choose to speak to you only at the request of my guest, Billy Takashema. But I will not suffer threats of insults from anyone, Kratia. You must show me respect.”
Kratia snorted. “Billy tells me that you killed Drake.” Rangee stared stonily at her but did not answer.
After a few seconds, Kratia continued. “Well? Tell me about it!” The silence persisted, with Kratia’s tension growing more evident each second.
Finally Billy said, “Kratia, you must address Rangee formally, and with respect. Do not issue him commands, only requests. You will be ignored until you comply.”
“He is a bigger fool than I thought. Does he think me to be some charlatan? Some weak‑willed dreamer without power to act?” Kratia’s voice grew more shrill. “Listen to me, Rangee, Chief of the Snow Wind! I am Kratia, Lord of the Circle! Obey me or face my wrath!”
The chief stared impassively at the image of Kratia. Kratia glared at the image of the chief. After several tense seconds, Kratia began to laugh. “Okay, Chief. I respectfully request that you tell me what you know about the death of Michael Drake.” The chief smiled.
“Kratia, I am honored to meet an acquaintance of Billy Takashema. I shall answer your question. Drake was intoxicated with some of our local beverages; too strong for his unaccustomed system. He made remarks about our local legends and beliefs; insulting, degrading remarks. When I warned him to be silent, he first refused, and then challenged me to force him to comply. I do not shirk from challenges! But Drake was not my equal. He was too drunk or stupid to yield. Perhaps both. So I killed him.”
The chief was still smiling. “You have been answered. You may leave me now.” Billy reached for the sensiball.
“No!” said Kratia suddenly. “Leave the sensiball where it is, Billy. I think the chief is lying and I intend to get to the truth.”
Rangee stiffened. “You dare to call me a liar?” he asked, leaning close over the sensiball.
“Only a linking of the minds can ensure that the truth is transferred,” Kratia replied. “Unless the Chief of the Snow Wind is too fearful to join minds with a Lord.”
Rangee lashed out with his fist, striking the sphere and making Kratia blink as the image of the fist seemed to hurl at her face. “I am afraid of nothing!” cried out the chief. “I have faced all manner of dangers; creatures that make you pale into insignificance! Let us join minds, witch!”
Rangee gripped the sphere in both hands. Kratia felt him lower his mental defenses as he formed a spell to send his own mind through the sensiball to link with hers. Kratia allowed his mind to slip past her defenses into a carefully constructed maze of false but coherent memories and personality traits. As he began probing these Kratia went deep into the chief’s mind.
She deliberately ignored the memory sectors, going first into his sensory processing center. She carefully and methodically isolated all possible pain inputs, building up effective temporary barriers of which the chief was not even aware. Then she pulled back a bit, checking her own mind‑brain status. Rangee was still inside the false construct, though he had finally realized that it was false.
Kratia allowed herself the mental equivalent of a smug smile. Rangee was good. He had figured out the basics of her fabrication in record time and almost determined how to proceed to Kratia’s real mind brain centers. But the party was over now, and he would not be getting any points for ‘almost’.
Kratia noted that the chief’s heaviest defenses protected the deep beliefs in his religion; next were his ethical beliefs; then the physical control over his body. Typical mental defenses. Recent memory was not protected at all, being open for her review.
Kratia began to erase memories, and replace them with near opposites. A kiss to his wife Lollanna became a slap to her face; her smiles became tears of pain and humiliation. Kratia did these adjustments slowly, and without finesse. She wanted him to know what she was doing.
In an instant, the chief’s awareness was back in his own brain, forcing Kratia out of the memory sector. Kratia resisted, drawing on the vast energy of her wands. As the chief tried to compensate by shifting his internal defensive arrangements, Kratia seized and isolated the center of his brain that could feel fear.
Well, not completed isolated. Kratia allowed inputs to continue to feed the fear center; but any output was blocked. In a sense she allowed the chief to be afraid, but not be aware of his fear. Even the surge of adrenaline was blocked.
Rangee, caught off guard and now suspecting that he had fallen into a subtle trap, tried to break off the spell. Kratia easily kept it intact. Her mind was fused into his, and now she began to work in earnest. She would probe harshly at his religion, and as he fortified it she would digest, erase, and alter another memory.
As he scrambled to hold on to a particularly touching thought, she would reach in and insert some nagging conflicts between his religion and his personal ethics. As he tried to resolve the conflicts, she would eat still another memory. Rangee was making the proper decisions but not nearly fast enough to keep up with the damage.
In seconds she reduced the chief to an empty husk of contradictions and distortions. His awareness was trapped inside a vicious nightmare; in the end, she even destroyed his knowledge of who or what he was. She allowed only the fear to exist, walled up tightly inside the barriers she had erected.
Kratia maintained the chief’s body in a sitting, trancelike state as she reflected on what she had learned. Drake was dead; killed by the chief exactly as described. A pity. But she had expected as much; these fools were at least smart enough to know that she could not be tricked. One gratifying bit of information pleased Kratia. The old fool really did believe the Taka Shema legend and had thought of Billy as the true Taka Shema. She had hoped for as much, but there was no way until now to verify that facet of Rauder religion. Or to factor it into her plans.
Kratia returned to her own body. She saw Billy jump as her laugh resounded from the sensiball. “The former chief not only believed that you were the Taka Shema, Billy. He believed that you were a messiah to free the souls of the Elves and unite the Rauder tribes into a mighty nation!” Kratia laughed again. “You haven’t even been in our world a month! You can barely cast spells we teach our children! You have no conception of our political, economic, and social structure! Taka Shema indeed!”
Billy stared at Rangee, still sitting immobile and glassy eyed. “What have you done to him, Kratia?”
Kratia stopped laughing. “He dared to stand against me, Billy. No one stands against me. No one. Observe and remember!”
Kratia dissolved the barriers to the fear and the pain, and withdrew her life support. The chief jerked to his feet uttering a howl of primordial pain and fear so intense that Billy clapped his hands to his ears. The sound was mirrored by the pain and fear in the chief’s eyes; agony flared there, and terror. The howl faded to a whine then a whisper. It carried an eerie hollowness into a silent aftermath. Kratia thought perhaps it was the sound of one who has lost his soul.
The chief slumped over, muscles slack, eyes black empty pits. Kratia saw Billy shudder and a tear run down his cheek.
“You killed him, bitch,” he said.
She laughed again then severed the connection.
Almost immediately there was a knock on her door.
“What?” she shouted.
“Lord Kratia,” said Sarral. “Icon has called for a full meeting of the Circle, tomorrow morning, eight AM. When you did not answer his message immediately I intercepted it and told him that you were in the lab with Nexus.”
“Good. Very good,” she said. “But now we must move up the schedule for Icon. Have the team in place and ready for tomorrow evening.”
Sarral nodded. “It will be done.”
“And I want you there, too.” She handed him the white box. “Take this with you, but do not open it! It must be opened by me only, unless you want to spend eternity in the company of demons. Understand?”
“Yes, my Lord.”