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SERIES: Part 7 of BGC Blues.

By The Datajunkie


From the journal of Priscilla Asagiri Stingray…

I never thought I'd be the kind of person to write in one of these things as my music has always spoken for me in the past, but here I am. My music is dead. Or at least so deeply buried that I can't find it.

Anyway I figured that at least somebody should get this down, so that the truth will survive. There's so many rumors and theories of why this happened that the real truth has been buried along with the identities of the culprits. Our identities. The Knight Sabers. That's right, this is our fault.

Oh we didn't realize it at the time. We were celebrating our victory over Quincy and the recovery of what was left of Sylia's father. We had won. We never realized that Quincy, besides being a megalomaniacal madman, was also a sore loser.

Mind you, it started small. The big things usually do. A signal into space. Or rather, the lack of a signal into space. When the boomer run outpost on Jupiter failed to receive this signal it launched all of its missiles.

Now I know you're wondering, what's the big deal? The particle satellite weapons could take them out before the even cleared Venus right? Wrong. They weren't heading toward earth. They had been fired at the sun.

Now I couldn't see what the problem was until Arashi 'explained' it to me and once she had... well, I wish she hadn't. I would have been happier in ignorance.

The upshot was this: Solar flares. Massive, massive flares, that no amount of shielding man could devise would stop. The earth was about to be broiled and there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it.

Some people would try to out run them in space but there is even less protection out there and they'd die so quickly that they would never realize their mistake. Every space station and outpost would be incinerated and it was only a matter of time before they reached earth. Sylia, Kuraki and Mackie did the brain thing and figured that we had less than a year. Seems like long enough to figure out a way to stop it huh? It wasn't but then, that wasn't what we were planning anyway.

No, after much discussion (and some rather hostile shouting matches) it had been decided that we would find a way to survive the coming holocaust. Not an easy task, even with bodies reinforced with nanotechnology.

The problem was that while the solar flares would pass within days, the effects would be shaking the earth up for the next several hundred years. Okay, that's unclear. Sylia's tentative guess was 1200 years. Minimum.

At which point I asked why bother? We had a good run. Why try to cheat death of its prize since we were the ones who triggered all this?

Sylia got that patient look I hate and explained that since we had caused this then we should try to help whatever remnants of society rebuild in the ruins of whatever was left.

Sounds noble doesn't it?

Yeah, right. That's what I thought too. Sylia's nobility only went so far and we both knew it but I figured that if she did survive to come out on the other end of this then somebody had to be around to make sure she played by the rules. Might as well be me.

The first thing to do was find a location to build a hiding place. It had to be deep and it had to be stable. That left MegaTokyo way the hell out. After many boring hours of geological scans, Sylia decided on the Black Forest area of Germany.

Then the construction started. The boomer only workforce insured the secrecy of the project and Sylia made a considerable dent in her fortune as the project progressed. Which was just bizarre when you think about it. Business was going on more or less as usual around the world. Having been informed of the coming event and the almost zero chance of survival, man had decided to take the turtle approach.

If we don't think about it, maybe it won't happen.

Christ. I never knew denial that strong existed. And speaking of Christ… have mercy! Every Johnny on the spot with a bible or vaguely religious text was promising survival if the lemmings would only join them in their cult, church whatever. The end of the world was great business for the religious.

We just kept our heads down and concentrated on perfecting the cryogenic process. We'd all be screwed if that failed. Redundancy system after redundancy system was devised. That was me and Sabishii's job. Since we had the most medical knowledge, we were elected to learn even more….ugh.

Not that we were the only ones with the idea of going underground. No, everybody was digging holes to hide in at the end. But Sylia was so adamant about certain specifications that it made me wonder if the others were wasting their time.

The Pit, as I came to call it, was getting deeper all the time and I wondered if we'd hit magma before Sylia was satisfied. Then there was the weird concoction of cement she was having everything lined with. I figured she knew what she was talking about and left her to it. I had my own hands full.

I was preparing the Chosen. Those fortunate few that we had grabbed to freeze along with us. Housed in the level above ours, they had been sedated to keep them calm. Sounds peachy doesn't it? I was not happy with this decision but Sylia had convinced me that it was better for them this way. If they knew that there might be a way to survive this then they would be begging us to save everybody they knew and loved. And we just couldn't. We randomly chose 100 healthy single men and women. No kids. I know, I know! We were playing God and I never felt more guilty and sick than now. No wonder my music fled. I'd leave me too if I could.

With less than a month to go, we began to stock the Pit with anything we thought might be useful. Nene and Linna collected information. About everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Not taking the chance that the sum total of human knowledge to date would pass out of existence, they made indestructible copies of everything. You never know when the wide screen version of Rocky Horror Picture Show might come in handy, right?

In truth, I think Sylia gave them the task to take their minds off of the baby. Oh yeah! I didn't tell you about that did I?

Well you see, in the aftermath of our victory, Nene and Linna got a little carried away with the festivities and their enclaves, seeing no reason not to, helped them create a child. Yep, Nene was pregnant. With a little girl, of course.

We were all excited by the news and I was having a blast teasing Linna about upcoming fatherhood. It was a wonderful time and that should have warned me. That goddamn itch at the base of my neck started and I never had another peaceful night of sleep after. Sylia said I was borrowing trouble, but I knew. The other shoe was about to drop.

And it did, but I didn't say I told you so. I think that was pretty good of me, don't you?

So here we were, with a pregnant woman on our hands that wasn't due to give birth until after the flares….. Can you say panic? I knew you could.

It would be impossible to cryogenically freeze Nene while she was pregnant. One or both of them would be lost. So we did the unthinkable. We constructed a new enclave for the baby and began to accelerate the pregnancy. The baby would be full term in just under seven months. Nene was a rock through all this. Linna was a basket case. And not a damn thing I could tease her about either.

Which brings me to today. This morning at 8:32 am, Nene Romanova gave birth to a healthy 7 pound baby girl with me and Linna assisting. They named her Ayden. Only time will tell what the effects of her having an enclave from that age will be.

I came above ground for a final look around and to write this. I'll be too busy to come up again.

In three days we will enter the deepest levels of the Pit and go into our individual cryotubes. Mackie and his wife Kyouki. Sabishii and Kuraki. Nene, Linna and Ayden. Then Sylia and finally, myself. In a way, I'm glad for the coming sleep. I feel so tired, so overwhelmed by all this that the oblivion of a thousand years of sleep seems like heaven.

The sun is setting and as I watch the colors blaze across the sky, I try to remind myself that we have done all we can. We may have inadvertently started this chain of events but we were going to do our damndest to salvage what we could. And if there is a higher being out there… well… how about throwing a little luck our way? We sure could use it.

-Priscilla Asagiri Stingray, 2040

Part 1: In Quest of Survival

The hatch slid back and Priss lurched up out of the pool of cryogenic fluid, falling out of the capsule as she retched. Her body was expelling the thick fluid from her lungs and Priss could only wait until it was done.

Oh shit. She brushed at her face, trying to clear her eyes and nose. Light seared her vision as she opened her eyes and stared at her surroundings uncomprehendingly as her body tried to acclimatize itself.

The sun felt good against her chilled skin and Priss absently wiped at the fluid that covered her. The colors around her were painfully bright to eyes that had been closed for centuries and she rubbed them with a shaking hand.

<Sylia? Arashi?> Muscles trembling, Priss pushed herself into a sitting position.

= Right here Priss. I don't think Sylia is awake yet.= Arashi was scrambling to get Priss' body fully functional as she kept up a steady stream of chatter. = Just sit still for a few minutes and let your body recover.=

Her mind was reeling, images from the past and half remembered dreams trying to surface at the same time. Rather than try to make sense of them or focus on anything in particular, she let her mind drift until the bombardment of information began to slow. Priss leaned back against the cryotube and focused bleary eyes on the grass around her.<Arashi?>


<Why is there grass around my cryotube?>

=What?!= Arashi activated the scanners within Priss' arm and then cleared up Priss' vision. =Um. Because your tube is outside… in the woods.=


Priss reached up and opened the hidden space in her left bicep, removing the wedding band she had concealed there so long ago. She slipped it onto her right hand and watched the light play across its platinum surface. A slight breeze drifted over her, reminding Priss that she was wet… and naked. Bracing a hand against the smooth metal at her back, she pushed herself to her feet.

The world spun wildly and she held on to the tube until things began to right themselves. A few minutes later, she began to feel better as her body got used to being upright again. Priss looked around but there was nothing familiar about the terrain. She was in a small gully of some kind, with rock walls on three sides and a thick stand of trees filling the other. She looked up and saw that the walls were only around twenty feet tall. Sunlight slanted into the gully, striking the opposite wall and Priss could see signs of what she thought were water marks. <Where are we?> Where's the Pit? Where's Sylia?!

= No idea. I can't detect any kind of electrical signal. No satellites. No radio. Not even an energy reading.= Arashi saw Priss' blood pressure begin to soar and all of her stress indicators began to spike. =Calm down Priss. You know the cryotubes could be separated from the mother unit and still function perfectly. We just have to find out where the other tubes are.=

Pushing her fears aside, Priss took a few cautious steps, pleased when things stayed more or less still. <I think the suspension process is playing hell with my emotions.>

=A good guess. Try and relax until you've been up longer. You know how you are without your coffee.=

Taking better stock of her surroundings, Priss pushed through the tall grass towards the nearest cliff face.

=What part of 'sit down and rest' did you misunderstand?=

Priss didn't answer, focusing instead on the shadowed wall under the overhang. =Look at this Arashi.=

Stick figures danced across the rough surface, silent story tellers of the cryotube's fate. "Amazing." The sound of her voice startled her, making Priss jerk.

=Looks really primitive.=

"They dragged the tube here. Set this place up as some kind of shrine or something." She traced the fading paint with a finger. "Wonder how far away we are from the Pit?"

There was no indication of the passage of time, but several drawings she assumed were mountains had been drawn along the stick people's path.

=Scan the paint. Maybe we can get an age.=

Priss laid her cybernetic hand over the pattern and let the scanners work. Arashi analyzed the findings, dismayed at what she found. =Christ! Best guess the scanners can give me is about 2000 years old Priss. I'm going to access the cryotube's controls and see how long we were in suspension.=

A moment later Arashi had her answer but she could scarcely believe it. = Total time in suspension was 13,637 years, 2 months, 23 days, 18 hours and 17 minutes.=

Priss felt her knees fold and found herself back on the ground.

Two hours later Priss was dry but still naked. After trying in vain to wrap her head around her current situation, Priss had given up, deciding not to think about it until she was clothed. Which gave her a whole new set of more immediate problems to worry about. The Pit had food, clothing and tons of other supplies. Unfortunately she had no idea where the Pit was now. That left her with the contents of the cryotube.

She had pulled the tube apart as much as she could without tools and now had several long lengths of wire, two, three inch screws, one tritanium access panel twelve inches square, a handful of synthetic insulation and a short bundle of fiber optic cable. Within her arm, she had her claws, scanners, palm plasma cutter, energy blade and the compression barrel that fired explosive rounds. Or did when I could get explosive rounds.

"Why didn't I put an emergency kit in the individual tubes?!" Or some basic tools in my arm?

=Hmph! Because we hadn't planned on anyone removing the tubes from the Pit.=

Priss went back to the cryotube and checked the interior. "Almost dry." She had not cut up the metal interior of the capsule despite its possible usefulness. With night approaching, Priss could feel the temperature beginning to drop. "Guess I better start gathering wood."

The fire burned cheerfully in the cool dark and Priss tossed another branch onto the blaze. She had built the fire around one end of the capsule, hoping that it would help warm the interior. After collecting what she hoped was enough wood for the night, Priss had considered what clothing options were available to her. While she could probably fashion something out of grass, the result would hardly be warm or comfortable. In truth, other than modesty, there was no urgent reason to cover herself.

As she lowered herself into the chamber Priss decided that tomorrow she would hunt and possibly solve two problems at once.

The small deer grazed peacefully, unaware it was being stalked.

Priss had been watching her intended victim for a while now, trying to decide the best way to do this. Images from some of her more disturbing dreams flashed through her mind and she grimaced. <Well I'm not about to bite its throat out...>

A fact for which Arashi was fervently grateful. = Just use your claws. What's the problem?=

The problem was… Priss closed her eyes. The problem was knowing that this act would change her life forever. Even now she could feel the beast within her stirring, its interest peaked by hunger and the sense of blood about to be spilled.

=You had no trouble with Kutsuu.=

Priss' eyes flew open and she clenched her teeth around a snarl. <That was different and you know it! This animal has done nothing to me, Arashi!>

Arashi consoled her by pointing out that while killing this creature was barbaric, it wouldn't be in vain. Food and clothing waited for her at the foot of the hill. Her survival versus the deer's. Priss extended her claws and felt the beast stretch within her, filling her completely.

Under Arashi's guidance, Priss began the gruesome task of tanning the hide. "I did not hear you say that."

=Priss... Trust me on this okay? It's necessary.=

After having scraped the hair, fat, flesh and membrane from the hide, washing it and then drying it, Arashi wanted her to mush the brain and fat into the shallow bowl she had made from the access panel and heat it.

<Then you're going to rub the paste into the hide.>

"The hell you say!" Priss tried very hard to block the squishy sounds that were surrounding her. "Arashi, how do you know this is the way to do it? You're making this up aren't you?"

=Nope. My imagination isn't that good. And I know how to do this because all of the enclaves got together and decided that in a worse case situation it wouldn't hurt to have some basic information on hand.=

"On how to make a bad situation even worse?"

A few days later Priss donned a rough made top and what was little more than a loincloth. Two pieces of leather bound around her waist with strips protected her modesty and little else. <Gotta get a bigger deer next time.>

As Priss had labored over the task of clothing herself, she and Arashi had been discussing their options.

=We can pick up on the other cryotube's signals but we have to be within a 2-3 mile range.=

Priss turned the meat she had hanging in the fire's smoke. "And since we can't assume that mine was the only tube removed, we have to consider that they could be anywhere. 14,000 years is a long damn time." Too long, what if they didn't-NO! Can't go there. Can't think that way. If I made it then they made it…she made it.

"Actually I shouldn't have made it at all. Why didn't the cryotube breakdown?"

=Good grief Priss! Think about all the redundancies that went into those things. Self recharging power cells generating enough energy to run up to four cryochambers and nanobot repair systems for anything that they could be put into.=

"But it wasn't supposed to be for this long. What if the others..."

=Enough! You can't keep thinking like this Priss. The only way to know what happened to the others is to find them.=

"So I guess we need to start searching. That means making some sturdier clothes and something to carry stuff in." Priss watched the wind rustle through the trees around them. Their color was beginning to turn, indicating the rapid approach of fall and bad weather. "Since the weather is cooling off, I suggest we go south."


A roll of thick fur that Priss had chosen to act as a bedroll was tied onto the just finished leather backpack. She tied the pack closed and stood; looking around the place she had called home for the last three weeks. Cold wind blew through the clearing, brining the smell of rain with it and Priss was glad she had taken the time to waterproof her pack and cloak.

Despite the threatening bad weather, she was relieved to finally be starting on her quest. She slung the long strap across her back, settling the axe into place. She had cut away the interior of the cryotube, fashioning several crude knives and tools with the plasma cutter. Unfortunately the cutter was a huge drain on her arm's energy cells and they took time to renew. Priss was reluctant to overuse them for fear they would fail or rupture. I'm pretty sure that they were never meant to last this long. <Have we got everything?>

Arashi ran down her list and answered yes.

<Then I guess we're off.>

She slid the hatch closed on the cryotube, sealing it from the outside. Even the plasma cutter couldn't scratch its case and only one of the enclaves could open it again. She had left a message inside, just in case one of the others found it before she found them. Priss chuckled as she thought of her words, now burned into the metal.

Gone south for the winter.

She shouldered her pack and began to walk south, towards warmer weather and hopefully, her family.

It took her several weeks to work her way to the base of the mountain range as bad weather and rough terrain had slowed her progress, but as she stared out over the wide prairie in front of her, Priss couldn't help but feel pleased with herself. She, who had been born into an age of push-button living, was doing quite well in this primitive world she'd found herself in.

The sun was falling to her right and she began to make camp for the night. Despite the fact that she could see perfectly well in the dark with Arashi's help, Priss had decided that it would be more prudent to travel during the day. A nighttime encounter with a very large, leopard-like cat had taught her that lesson as well as giving her another fur for her growing collection.

<You know what I can't figure out? Priss carefully bored through the tooth she held with the fine point of one of her claws. <If that thing was a leopard…well, they weren't that big were they?>

The creature had been almost twenty feet long, counting the tail and only the carbon mesh that ran under Priss' skin had kept it from slicing her into pieces.

=After this much time, anything is possible. Obviously earth wasn't completely burned in the flares. There's no way to know what effect the radiation had on the animals that survived.=

<True, but answer me this: Almost 14000 years have passed. Looking at the same amount of time from the era we left, a hell of a lot of things happened. Civilizations rose and fell. Mankind expanded across the world. Technology advanced. But I look around and see absolutely no sign of anything like that. Surely there would be ruins of some type?>

=Only if mankind survived.=

"Ah, but we know it did. The fingerprints and hand prints in the paintings were made by humans."

=Yes they were.= Arashi considered this briefly then ventured, = The designs were also very primitive, perhaps a developing society?=

<If a civilization had risen and fallen in the last 14000 years then shouldn't there be some sign?>

=We may not have reached it yet, Priss.=

<And why didn't they figure out how to open the cryotubes?>

=Perhaps the tubes weren't discovered until later, after the fall?=

Priss strung the tooth onto the thin strip of leather and picked up another tooth. <Lots of questions. No real answers.>

Two days later she emerged from the forest beside a small river. She began to follow the water, moving south. Hours later she got a pleasant surprise.

Priss grinned when she spotted the man near the river. <Guess that's one answer.>

The man was dressed in roughly woven garments and was throwing a net into the swiftly moving water.

Priss moved closer, taking her time and giving him a chance to see her. <Wonder what language this guy speaks?>

=Actually it wouldn't matter if he spoke something you know. After this much time the language would have evolved into something completely different.=

<Hmm. Good point. Maybe I can draw some pictures or something?> The man had seen her now and was waiting for her to reach him. Priss held up a hand in greeting which he returned. <Okay, that's good.>

When he spoke Priss realized that the language didn't resemble anything she had heard before. <Oh well. Let's see if a picture will help.>

She knelt and began to draw in the dirt by the man's feet, flipping her cloak out of her way.

A horrified gasp escaped the man and Priss' head jerked up at the sound. He was staring at her artificial arm as if it were the most frightening thing he'd ever seen.

Priss rose to her feet and held up her hands as she spoke soothingly. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."

The man had lost all color and with a small scream, he turned and ran, leaving his net behind.

"Well damn. That could have gone better."

Priss flexed the fingers of her metal hand and sighed. "If this is the kind of reaction that I'm going to get from people then we're in trouble."

Priss hiked back into the woods and found a spot to camp for the night. She had hauled the man's net in and released the fish, taking enough for her own dinner first, before laying the net over some rocks to dry. It was a well-made and cared for net and she hoped the fisherman would return for it.

After dinner, Priss laid out the large leopard pelt and cut it into pieces. Building the fire up, Priss began to sew a cover for her arm.

It was another three days before she reached a small village and by that time she had finished the glove. Fur covered her from fingers to shoulder, with straps stretching across her back and chest before tying under her opposite arm.

<Man, I hope this works.>

=Nothing like wasting your time to make you feel silly.=

<No help, please.>


Priss had also sewn a tunic and trousers from the remaining hide, hoping that the rest of her clothing would overshadow the oddity of her arm covering. <Have you had any luck in translating their language?>

=Some. The more I hear, the easier it becomes.=

She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and tied it with a thin strip of leather before tying a last band of leopard hide around her forehead. Picking up her pack and the bundle of furs she had collected, Priss headed for the village.

Once inside the village Priss saw that the huts formed a loose circle around a larger hut in the center. Wondering if that was the leader's hut or some kind of community place, she wandered closer. From the doorway she could see several areas that looked like seating surrounding a large fire pit. <Wonder if I should introduce myself to the boss or..?>

Priss saw the large man coming towards her and paused. <Or maybe I get myself into trouble for just standing here.>

The man was well over six feet tall, and from the size of his arms and the numerous scars on his face and body, Priss concluded that if he wasn't the boss then it wasn't for lack of trying. <Oh boy. Please work quickly Arashi. I really don't want to piss this guy off.> Somehow she just knew that having to beat this guy up wasn't going to score her any points with the rest of the villagers.

The man spoke but Priss shook her head and answered in Japanese. "I'm sorry. I don't understand you."

Whispers raced through the gathering crowd when they heard the stranger's words.

Priss slowly knelt and drew a group of mountains, pointing over her shoulder from the way she had come before making two circles, one on either side of the mountains. Priss waved her hand at the village around her and then tapped one of the circles. Then she touched her chest and tapped the other circle before pulling her finger across the mountains to their circle.

The headman nodded and Priss smiled. <Thank God for that.>

Priss spent a week at the village, in which time she learned their language and some handy tips for survival in this new world she found herself in. She had traded the furs for a good pair of boots and a woven shirt along with what information they had about their past. They called the cryotube in the mountains a 'metal stone of the gods' and they considered it very taboo to go near it. They had heard stories of other stones but didn't know where they might be found. The headman, Doran, suggested that she try the coastal tribe to the west.

As Priss set off, she remarked to Arashi <Well at least we know which side of the continent we're on. Now we just have to figure out which one.>

=You do realize that the land masses could have radically altered?=

<You know Arashi, for someone who shares my head you don't seem to know much about it.>

=You know what I mean.=

<Oh sure. I was just trying to make conversation. Be polite, ya know?>

=Since when?=

It took another three weeks to reach the coast and Priss had collected another bundle of furs along the way, as well as carving some of the bones and antlers into things that the villagers might take in trade.

Inspired by what she had seen in Doran's village, Priss had even managed to carve herself a long thin flute from a deer bone. It had taken several tries to get the tone right but at last she had an instrument she could play. The fine points of her claws made excellent carving tools and she had put them to good use.

The music was a welcome distraction to her at night, when the fire and Arashi were her only company. Thoughts of Sylia would rise and at times they were too much for her to bear. She missed her wife. She missed her friends. It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were all supposed to be together.

Instead she found herself alone in a world that was the same, yet radically different. The landscape was unfamiliar; the animals had changed, other species stepping into fill holes left by the solar flares and their aftershocks. Even the plants were different, not that Priss had paid that much attention to these things before, but one did expect apples to be white inside, not bright green. <What was up with that anyway?>

=High chlorophyll content maybe.=

<You mean you don't know? Amazing.>

=Don't be a smartass. There could be several reasons for that development but it would take time to research.=

"We have lived by the sea for over ten generations. Those that first came here were fleeing the Overlords."

Priss sipped the strong ale that the villagers made. "Overlords? Who are the overlords?"

Everyone in the large hut paused at her words and Priss smiled weakly. "I'm afraid that not much of my village's history is known."

"The Overlords walked the earth, leaving ruin in their wake. They were shaped like us but made of metal and had terrible strength and powers." Shamas, the leader of the Bear tribe, paused his eyes cloudy. "So much was destroyed by their hands. Fields burned, homes crushed or torched. Only structures like you see around you were allowed to stand. They ruled the people and used them for their amusement."

Priss kept her expression neutral. <Boomers, of all the things that had to survive.> "I have heard a little of these overlords, but in my village they were called boomers." Her eyes swept the room, easily reading the fear. "Are there still Overlords?"

"Not so many now. Stories say that the Overlords went to war with each other and most were destroyed. There has never been an Overlord in this village but to the south they are said to still attack occasionally."

Deciding a change of subject was in order, Priss brought up the cryotubes. "In the mountains my people found a metal stone. Have you heard of such a thing?"

Brock, Shamas' second in command spoke up. "We have heard of the god stones, though I thought they were a myth. You have seen one? Truly?"

Priss nodded, adding, "Yes, my tribe believed that there are nine stones in all. I am hoping to find each of them."

Brock was leaning forward now, his expression earnest. "It is believed that the gods sleep within them. The one you found…?"

Gods? Oh boy. Shaking her head, Priss lied. "I found no way to open the stone. Perhaps once I have found them all."

Brock seemed disappointed. "Perhaps. I know nothing of where the others might be, but there is a tribe to the east, near the great forest that has much knowledge."

"Well I guess I must go east then." She drained her cup and stretched. "But until then, is there anyway I can repay you for your hospitality?"

Shamas shook his head. "Visitors are very few to our lonely tribe and you have gifted us with your presence and your tales of the north. It is we who owe you."

Priss spent the next few days helping the tribe with their daily tasks, pointing out ways that they could do things better or easier when she could. Brock had followed her around, wanting to hear more of her village and finally Priss had to concoct a story to stop his questions.

"My tribe is gone, Brock. A firestorm swept through the village, killing everyone. I had already started on my journey when it happened. That's why I'm searching for the god stones."

Brock nodded solemnly. "You wish the gods to return your people."

Priss laughed outright. "No. Several others of my tribe had gone in search of the stones. I'm hoping that if I find the stones, I'll find them."

The next morning, Priss went to the fields the tribe tended further inland. Small trenches irrigated the carefully laid out rows and Priss was relieved that they seemed to be doing well.

Brock was at her heels again and she stopped by a vine like plant, recognizing what she thought was tomatoes. "What are these?"

Brock told her, but the word was unfamiliar. "They're very good. Try one." One of the workers called out a greeting and he waved back.

The sharp flare of pain in her hand surprised Priss and she dropped the fruit she was trying to pick. "Damn!"

Brock turned at her exclamation and saw her trying to pull a thin green snake from her hand. He paled when he recognized it. "Oh no! Get Shamas quickly!" The others in the field bolted for the village.

Priss tossed the tiny snake away muttering, "Goofy thing wouldn't let go." <I'm guessing that the carbon mesh isn't that fine?>

=Nope. =

<Figures.> She felt Brock at her side and noted his expression. "What's wrong?"

Brock took her arm, guiding her across the field and toward the village. "Oh Priss… I'm so sorry."

He looked so miserable. "It's just a scratch Brock, take it easy,"

=Um, Priss? Sit down. Right now!=

Priss sat down against one of the trees surrounding the village's perimeter and looked at the mark on her hand. The flesh around the wound was turning black. <What the fuck? Arashi?>

Shamas was in a full run and the sound of his feet striking the ground alerted them to his arrival. He slid to a halt beside them, going to his knees. "Priss! Gors said you were bitten by a death asp."

She held her hand out for his inspection and he gasped. Shamas clasped her shoulder, looking her in the eyes. "I promise you my friend, I will make sure that your tribe knows of your fate and that you were looking for them."

Oh this is not good. <Arashi?>

=This is going to be rough. The poison is extremely fast spreading and it's killing everything it touches. I'm working on it but you're going to go out for a bit.=

Shamas was still speaking. "You have helped our people greatly Priss. We will honor you in our songs and history." Priss' ears were buzzing and her vision was clouding. As she felt consciousness slip away, she heard Shamas final words. "We will never forget you Priss."

Arashi began to bring Priss out of the coma state she had been in for the last 16 hours and continued to repair the damage caused by the venom. As she worked, she realized that she could hear drums through Priss' ears. They sounded low and mournful. =Sounds like a funeral.=

She brought the arm's sensors back online. =Hm. Lots of heat signatures surrounding us.= Priss was slowly waking and Arashi continued to study what the scanners could tell her. The arm was lying on organic matter. No surprise there, but now one of the heat signatures was coming closer. Arashi realized that the temperature was way too high to be a human at the same time the ambient temperature began to rise. The toxins found in smoke began to register on the scanners and Arashi realized that they had just set her and Priss on fire. She sent a flood of adrenaline through Priss' body. =GET UP NOW PRISS!=

Priss' eyes flew open and she leaped from the funeral pyre she was on, landing hard on the ground. The villagers moved back in shock as Priss rose to her knees and began patting herself to make sure she wasn't aflame.

Shamas fell, pressing his forehead to the ground and the others did the same.

Still trying to orient herself, Priss ignored them and shakily got to her feet. I feel so weak. <Arashi? What's going on?>

=It took a lot to counteract the venom's effect Priss. You were in a coma for a while. =

Priss looked down at herself, realizing that her clothes were different. Her leopard tunic and trousers had been replaced with almost black buckskin. The material was really soft and fitted her closely, the dark leggings tucking into equally dark boots. <Nice.>

She glanced at the villagers who had yet to move and stopped when something flashed at the edge of her vision. Priss touched her hair and felt several small braids. Black feathers had been worked into the braids and she sighed. <Nice of them to give me such a send off.> The leopard skin cover for her arm was still in place, however she noticed a beaded band was now around her upper arm. Now all I have to do is explain to them why I'm not dead.

Priss crouched down beside Shamas and touched his shoulder. "Shamas? It's okay, I'm not dead."

Shamas slowly raised his head, not meeting her eyes. "Of course you aren't Divine One. We are yours to command, my Goddess."

No way in Hell! "Shamas get up. I'm not a god." She pulled him to his feet and glared at the rest of the villagers. "I am not a god, understand? I wasn't dead, I was just unconscious."

Shamas wasn't buying it though. "The bite of the death asp is fatal. There is no cure."

Priss rolled her eyes. <Well? Any suggestions?>

=Um, no. They have a point.>

<Arashi.> Priss saw the gleam in Shamas' eyes and knew that more than thinking that she was a god, he wanted to believe it. What the hell do I do now? Tell him the truth?

=Sure, just tell him that you're 14000 years old and that you don't age, have metal claws, incredible strength, speed and stamina. That you have more knowledge than anyone currently walking the Earth and can do things that no one in their world can.=

<Put it like that and it does sound like I'm a god.>

Priss exhaled forcefully. "Somebody bring me my things." Several people ran off and Priss resisted the urge to groan. "Shamas, I am not a god. I can't explain why the bite didn't kill me, but if you and your people can't accept the fact that I'm as human as you are then I'm going to have to go."

Alarmed, Shamas held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Please D..Priss. Stay with us."

Priss didn't miss the slip. "I can't." She took her pack from the winner of the race to it and thanked them before turning away.

Shamas didn't know what to do. He could hear the people beginning to grumble, their unhappiness with Priss' departure obvious. How could she deny what she was? She had turned away death itself. Shamas paused. Perhaps this was a test? A test of his faith. If he truly believed that she was a god then she could not be killed and he could prove it. If he had doubts then he would do nothing. Shamas squared his shoulders and drew the knife at his side. He would not fail this test.

Priss heard the running steps but didn't turn, not realizing the danger. She felt the impact as someone tackled her and then another, duller hit.

Shamas plunged the blade into Priss' back with all his strength, feeling the blow vibrate through his arms. He pulled the blade back and stared at the bloodless metal. It was true. The world turned over on itself as he flew through the air.

Priss stood before him, her fury terrifying. He held the blade up. "As human as we are? Not so, Divine One."

Glaring at the man, Priss fumed. "Why couldn't you leave it alone? Are you that desperate to blindly follow a myth?" She ripped the cover from her arm and the sun's fading light glinted off the mirrored surface. "Is this what you wanted to know?" She reached down and gripped Shamas' tunic, lifting him into the air with her cybernetic hand. Raising her human hand to his face, Priss extended her claws. The metal was as brilliant as that of her arm the points wicked sharp. Rage had the beast rumbling free in her chest and she growled. "I am not a god!" The tip of one claw pricked the flesh beneath Shamas' eye. "You don't have a name for what I am." She thrust him away and he landed several feet away.

Priss stood before the villagers, radiating anger. "I only wanted to help you." She picked up her pack and sprinted from the village.

Sheer temper kept Priss at a swift run throughout the night. Miles rolled away under her pounding feet and she didn't let herself think about what had happened. There was nothing she could do about it now, anyway. She had to keep moving, keep searching.

Two months passed as Priss traveled on. She had begun to wonder if Brock had been telling the truth about the eastern village when she saw the first signs of humans. Cultivated fields stretched out over the hills and Priss could see spirals of smoke rising lazily into the sky beyond the trees. Finally.

She increased her pace to a slow jog, wanting to get there before the sunset. As she drew closer, Priss heard the first scream. She dropped her pack and ran, charging into the center of the clustered huts, expecting the worse. She wasn't disappointed.

The boomer was a far cry from the sleek machines of her time, but as it tossed the fleeing villagers through the air, it showed that it had the same capacity for destruction. Stained metal and exposed wires aside, Priss knew that the machine was dangerous and she wasn't in a hardsuit. <Let's see if I still remember how to do this.>

She unhooked the axe from behind her back and leaped forward, bringing it down in a sharp blow to the machine's knee. Surprisingly, the boomer's armor gave way and it fell. The machine howled and Priss couldn't help but smile at the familiar sound. Some things never change.

Priss didn't hesitate. She swung again and watched the axe blade sever the head from the boomer's shoulders. The boomer trembled for an instant and then with a hollow popping sound, collapsed.

"Hmph. Wonder why it didn't blow?" She knelt beside the machine, scanner active, but the machine was dead. <Or deactivated as Sylia says.> Which reminded her of something else Sylia did. <Hey Arashi? Is there anything in this sucker we can use?>

=I'm not sure. It's definitely worth a look though.=

Priss proceeded to rip the machine's arm off, watching the yellow fluid saturate the ground beneath it. "Man I hate boomer guts."

She continued to dismantle the boomer, tossing things they might be able to use into a pile. She was aware of the villager's cautious return, but she didn't look up from her task. "Its okay, the machine is dead." Priss pulled the brain from the casing and winced. "What the hell is this mess?" Wires, circuits and what looked like actual organic brain matter merged together in a nightmarish tangle. <Any ideas?>

=It's possible that they've lost the ability to create certain parts.=

Priss removed the back panel and blanched as she looked at the human spinal column before her, realizing why the boomer had been attacking the village. "Sonofabitch."

Several hours later, Priss had buried the flesh parts of the boomer and was now cleaning up the remains. The villagers had yet to approach her, terrified by the woman's cheerful butchering of their most dreaded enemy and the death colors the woman wore.

Priss opened the housing of the boomer's arm, surprised to find it weaponless. <Usually there's a gun. Guess they don't have the ability to create those either. Strange.> She stacked the armor pieces, then began sorting through the circuits she had found. <Could we build anything from this stuff to help find Sylia and the others?>

Arashi studied the jumble of parts. =Possibly. The big problem would be a power source.=

<My arm wouldn't work?>

=Maybe, if we deactivated the scanners, sensors and weapons. Of course it may not work and if the device was lost or destroyed then you would never be able to power your arm again.=

Priss sighed heavily. <So I need to take the next boomer out without destroying the power core.>

Sounds a lot easier than it will be I bet.

She bundled up all of the parts and wrapped them in a fur, before turning to the few villagers that had been brave enough to venture closer. "Hello. I am Priss, of the Nightsaber tribe." <God I hate this meet and greet crap. The others are better at this kind of thing.>

An older woman, her hair streaked with gray, stepped forward. "I am Mace, the leader of the Red Fox tribe."

<So leadership isn't gender based. Nice.> "Can you use some help rebuilding what this thing destroyed?"

Mace was at a loss. "You… how did you do that? You killed an Overlord."

Priss sneered at the damp stain that was all that remained of the boomer. "It was easier than I thought it would be."

"Don't you fear their wrath?"

How to answer that? Truth is not an option. Obviously the boomers are still causing problems in places and a good healthy fear of them would be wise but… they think the boomers are some kind of higher being…that's bad. Now if I can get them to see that and not think I'm a higher being.

Sylia's methodical insistence on research sprang to mind, giving Priss her answer. "In my tribe, our elders," Sylia would have something to say about that remark, "have spent many years learning about the Overlords. It is said within my people that knowledge gives strength. They learned that the Overlords can be killed and how to do this. They learned what the Overlords are."

"They are gods." Mace sounded unsure.

"No." Sylia's voice rang through her mind, making Priss smile. Illustrate your point, put it on their level. She looked around and spotted a wooden rake lying next to one of the huts. She picked it up and faced Mace. "You use this in the fields, yes?"

Mace and several of the others nodded.

"It's a tool. You made it to make your work easier." Priss pulled the boomer head from her bundle and held it up. "Long ago, these were created by people like you and me. They were also tools. Not so different from this rake really. Now suppose that this rake," She held up the item in question. "One day decided that it was better than man. That it should be in charge, should rule over man."

Priss tossed the wooden implant down and gripped the boomer head with both hands. "That's what happened. These tools, these machines, decided that they were better than man. They were stronger and in some cases smarter. Why should they take orders from such weaklings?" Shaking her head, Priss dropped the metal, watching it roll a few times before stopping at Mace's feet. "Maybe they shouldn't have to, but that doesn't give them the right to attack us either. They're not gods, they're not invincible and they sure as hell aren't better than us."

Mace smiled a little and kicked the head back to Priss. "I guess not."

Seeing that she had reached her audience, Priss gave a mental cheer. On to business then. "How often is your village attacked like this?"

"Perhaps four times a year."

Priss scowled as she picked up the bundle of parts and swung it over her shoulder. "How many people did it take at a time?"

"Two. It was always two." Mace followed as Priss walked back to the edge of the village and retrieved her pack. "Why?"

"There's a saying among my tribe: Know your enemy. The more you know, the easier they are to predict."

Later that night Priss sat in the small hut she had been given and sorted through the parts again, more carefully this time, trying to devise a remote scanner. <It needs to cover a lot of territory, be able to send the information back to us and if possible, be controlled by you.>

The sarcasm was heavy in Arashi's reply. =Sure, no problem. I'll get right on that.=

<Come on Arashi. I know we don't have much to work with but I think we can do this.>

=You sure are in an optimistic mood tonight. What's up?=

Priss triggered the plasma cutter in her palm and began chopping the boomer's armor up. <What? Just because I'm not moping you think something's up?>

=Hah! I got it. You got to kick ass today. That always puts you in a good mood.=

Not being able to argue the observation, Priss said nothing, but began humming as she worked.

Priss saw the boomer head go rolling past as the village children kicked it along and had to laugh. "Now that's a nice sight." She finished lashing the final roof beam into place and swung down, landing easily beside the half repaired hut. "Okay, Reda, it's ready for thatching." She saw the young man she was working with nod and then headed for the well. The water was cold and clean, and Priss drank several dippers full before filling a skin to take back to Reda.

It had been two days since the attack and the village was quickly recovering. Priss had been helping them rebuild, learning a lot from them at the same time. In return, Priss had been giving them a crash course in boomer biology, teaching them where and how to strike the machines. Careful manipulation of the metal she had collected from the boomer had resulted in spear tips and arrowheads that should pierce the boomer armor.

She was very careful to explain that this knowledge came from her tribe, wanting to make sure that no one else got the wrong idea about her. Making it sound like everyone knew how to destroy the overlords, Priss continued to encourage the villagers not to fear the machines.

The weapons were now spread out around the village, readily handy in case of attack and Priss couldn't help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction. The monsters in these people's lives weren't of their creation, but they had to deal with them all the same. She watched the children come running back, laughing and playing catch with the head.

Arashi knew what she was thinking. = It will take longer to find the others that way.=

Priss shook her head and began to hand bundles of thatch up to Reda. <Yeah it will, but I can't look Sylia in the eye and know that there were people I could have saved but didn't. They're being hunted for parts Arashi. From the looks of the deterioration of that spine, the replacements don't last long, so the boomers need to keep harvesting… I can't walk away from that.> Everything that the Knight Sabers stood for, all that Priss believed was right and true was in danger.

The afternoon wore on and as the hut's roof neared completion, Priss saw Mace walking towards them. She jumped off the roof, bouncing lightly to absorb the force. "Afternoon, Mace. What's up?"

"The scouts you sent out found signs of an Overlord to the east."

There was no censure in her eyes, but Priss winced anyway, knowing she had taken a liberty. "I'm sorry about that. I wanted to ask you first but you were out with the hunting party."

"I only wonder why you want the information."

Priss shrugged. "I found pieces of a human inside that boomer, pieces that were breaking down. If I'm right then the Overlords are attacking to get the parts that they can't build themselves. If it was taking two people each time, then the odds are good there's another one out there somewhere. And it's going to come looking for its buddy."

She leaned back against the hut she had just repaired and crossed her arms over her chest. "I need to move on, to keep looking for what's left of my tribe. I can't do that until I know that you and your people will be safe from the boomers."

Mace's expression was bewildered, "Why should that matter to you? We are not of your tribe."

The laugh that escaped Priss was soft. "I know it seems strange to you, but in our tribe… it is not honorable to abandon those in need. I guess you could say I would be shamed in the eyes of my people. Besides, I happen to enjoy kicking boomer ass." Her grin was just this side of feral and Mace blinked.

"What do you propose to do about the Ov.. boomer?"

"Oh, I have some ideas."

For weeks, Priss drilled the villagers in the basics of hand-to-hand combat. As they progressed, she taught them new ways to use the spears they had previously used only for hunting and showed them the advantages of a skillfully wielded staff.

Mace had not protested Priss' teaching and had instead eagerly participated. As the day's classes ended, she waited until the others had left before approaching Priss.

"Would you take your evening meal with me, Priss?"

"Um, sure." Priss blinked at the seriousness of Mace's tone. Why are all the hairs on my neck standing up?

Priss entered Mace's hut, unsure of the leader's motivation and hoping that she was simply being polite. I really hope that she wants to talk more about boomers.

Once they were seated, Mace explained why she was there. "I'm getting old Priss and that's not good for the tribe. We need a younger, stronger leader that can guide us."

Seeing where this was going, Priss began to protest. "Mace I can't-."

"Please, hear me out. I know that you are committed to finding what's left of your tribe, but once you've done that, once you've finished your quest, I want you to return here and become our tribe's leader."

Priss was astounded at the offer. She didn't speak, trying to sort this new development out in her mind.

Mace was contented to wait, knowing she had caught the younger woman by surprise.

"Mace, I'm honored by your faith in me, but my search may take years to complete."

"And I will rule in those years. Perhaps another will be chosen as leader before you return, but all I would ask for now is your promise that you will return."

"Alright. I'll return here when I'm done, but I can't promise anything more."

Mace nodded and held out her arm, which Priss took, sealing the promise. "Then that will have to be enough." She smiled suddenly, dispelling the seriousness of the moment. "Now, about that boomer that the scouts have been following…"

The boomer was moving west, in the direction of the village. Priss and the group of hunters she had chosen were following at a safe distance. They had taken turns getting close to the machine and then falling back, using the boomer as a practice target. Priss held up a fist and the warriors stopped behind her.

She motioned them to her and spoke quietly. "Okay, its time to take this thing down. Remember what I told you and you'll be fine. It's okay to be afraid but if you feel like you can't do this then fall back so you don't get in the way." She could see the outrage in their expressions and knew she had ticked them off. "Don't confuse bravery with stupidity. There's no shame in admitting that you can't do something. But if you let pride push you into a situation you can't handle then others could get hurt. Be very sure before you attack." If Sylia could hear me now.

=She'd be laughing her ass off.=

"You three go to the left, you three to the right. Reda, Mace and I will come up from behind. When I give the signal we'll feign an attack and keep it distracted. Then the rest of you move in and finish it off."

Priss gave a low whistle and then she was running, bursting from the bushes and yelling wildly. The others were right behind her and together they began throwing stones at the boomer, keeping its attention on them.

The other groups rushed in, spears ready and drove the weapons into the machine's back. It howled in surprise and perhaps pain before a spear thrust through its neck, severing the head. The boomer fell forward.

The village was celebrating and Priss watched them, unaware of the almost maternal expression on her face. <They did good and more importantly, they learned that if they work together then they can do anything.>

Drums were rumbling throughout the village and Priss sighed, remembering her last performance. <Miss that.>

Arashi chuckled. =So what are you waiting for?=

<I think my music is a little out of date here.>

= Really?= Arashi quickly translated one of Priss' songs.

Priss had to laugh. "Okay I see your point. Maybe things aren't that different." She left the shadows of the trees and went to join the celebration, to forget for a time, her own loneliness.

In Quest of a Sign

Priss sat by the water's edge, staring out at the crystal surface the small lake that danced from the overhead sun. "Nice view."

=Yes. You okay?=

"You know how I am, stop asking silly questions."

=Well, I know how you're doing physically but mentally? That's a bit of a guessing game these days.=

Leaning back against the bank, Priss chuckled. "Then in that case, I'm feeling pretty stupid right now."

=Ah come on, Priss. You had no way of knowing that boomer still had a working plasma canon.=

"No, but I never should have assumed that it didn't either." She pulled the piece of hide she had pressed against her thigh away and winced. "How's the bleeding?"

=Stopped. It burned right through the carbon mesh though.=

"Muscle and nerve damage."

=Yeah. Think of it as a vacation. Scenic view, fresh water, and lots of fish.=

Priss covered the wound again, tying the bandage in place, before lying back on the bank and focusing on the sky above her. "If I haven't mentioned it, then let me do it now. Thank you Arashi. I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for you. I also wouldn't be sane."

=Um, no problem. Could we drop the sappy stuff now, cause you're starting to scare me.=

Sighing deeply, Priss rubbed her face. "I'm sorry Arashi. Feeling a little-" She stilled. <Someone's nearby.> She slowly sat up, scanning the trees and bushes around her. All of her senses were alert and she could hear the sound of light footsteps. Priss' eyes narrowed and she glared at a nearby tree. "Come out."

A hooded figure stepped from behind the tree. The hood blew back, revealing the delicate features that made up the girl's face. Short spikes of gold hair ruffled in the wind and Priss was inexplicably reminded of Nene.

Priss stopped scowling and let her body relax a bit. "Who are you?"

The young girl stepped closer and knelt beside Priss. "I am Tia. I've been looking for a member of the Nightsaber clan, called Priss."

"What do you want with her?"

Tia wasn't put off by the gruff tone. "Shamas, the leader of the Bear clan, said that y-she could help me."

Priss laughed harshly. "Oh really? Shamas was mistaken."

Tia's voice was soft. "He said that you were a god."

Anger blossomed on Priss' face and was ruthlessly hidden again. She forced herself to calm, knowing that this girl was not to blame for Shamas' tales. Priss pulled the hide away from her leg and grabbed Tia's arm, pulling her close. "You see this?" The wound was deep enough to see the bone in places and Tia blanched. "If I'm a god then I wouldn't have this now would I?"

She shoved the girl away and got to her feet, cursing at the pain the motion caused.

=Hey, hey, hey! What happened to sitting quietly and resting? Damn it Priss!=

Priss ignored the silent rant and limped up the bank and into the shade of a tree. "Stupid fools." She sank down and fired a furious glare in Tia's direction, but the girl was gone.

Pulling the edges of the wound together, Priss pushed the needle through the flesh. Careful shaping of one of the metal shards from the cryotube had resulted with a thin length of steel with a large enough hole to thread one of the fiber optic lines through. While fibers weren't the best thing for stitches, they had the redeeming quality of being strong and Arashi could break them down fairly easily. They were also a lot easier to sterilize than some of the other options available. Priss had been working on the injury for hours, trying to help Arashi by putting things back were they were supposed to go. Nerves, veins and muscles had all been more or less scrambled in the blast and in the back of her mind she could feel the need to retch that Arashi was probably suppressing. "I really, really hate this stuff."

Incredible amounts of medical knowledge had been ruthlessly mapped into Priss' brain long ago when Sylia had been lying in her arms, dying from wounds that were unsurvivable. Though she had kept Sylia alive until they had reached a hospital, Arashi had been unable to remove the knowledge. So Priss had by default, become the team's medic. The problem wasn't the blood: it was the other bits and pieces that made up the human body that gave Priss the creeps. She tied of the last stitch and snipped the thread. "Finally. It's all yours Arashi. Do what you can."

"Is Arashi your god?"

Priss yelped involuntarily. Tia stepped into the firelight and sat down across from Priss. "What are you doing here?" Christ! I didn't even smell her. What's wrong with me?

Tia shrugged. "I didn't finish what I came to do."

"Oh good grief! I told you! I'm not a god!"

"I understand that. I still need your help."

"Wait a minute. You understand what?"

Tia leaned out and took one of the many fish hanging over the fire. She laid it on the edge of her cloak and broke off a piece. "I understand that you're not a god. Shamas was wrong." And that I will do anything, even lie, to help my people.

Priss considered this. While the girl seemed sincere, Priss couldn't help but be wary. "What do you need help with?" She was rewarded with a bright smile that made her blink. I've seen that smile before.

"My village is under the rule of the Overlords. Every season change they demand sacrifices from us and we wish to be free of them."

Sacrifices. Shit. "What kind of sacrifices?" Like I don't already know the answer to that one.

"Six lives."

"That's a lot of people. Your village must be pretty big."

Tia shrugged again. "We do what we must to survive. The spring sacrifice will be called for soon. Can you help us?"

Priss looked down at her leg and nodded. "Yes. But I won't be able to travel for a few days."

"I will wait here then and travel with you."

"You can also tell me more about the Overlords and your village while we wait."

Tia agreed and then glanced at Priss. "So, is Arashi your god?"

Priss choked on her fish and it was a moment before she could respond. "Arashi? Where did you hear that name?"

"I heard you thanking Arashi for your life earlier today. And a few minutes ago you asked Arashi to heal you."

=Heheh.= Arashi's was tickled at the thought.

<Oh shut up.> Priss looked at the expectant expression on the blonde's face and summoned a wane smile. "Um, it's not… what I mean is… Arashi isn't a …"

Tia saw her hesitation and rushed to reassure her. "Please don't speak of it if you cannot. He must be a wrathful god."

"Arashi's a she." Priss blurted out and immediately clapped a hand over her mouth. What the hell is wrong with me?! "Um, What I mean is…well, do you ever ask yourself what you should do about something? You know, weighing the choices in your mind?

Tia nodded.

"Well it's like that. Arashi is.. me." Priss could see the disbelief in the girl's eyes and couldn't blame her. <Help me out here Arashi!>

Tia smiled suddenly. "Oh I see. You speak to yourself, as I have seen the mindsick do."

"Yes! Like the…mind…sick?" Priss blinked. "You think I'm crazy?"

The outrage in Priss' voice was obvious and Tia hurried to pacify her. "It is all right. You cannot help yourself."

Priss glared across the fire. "I am not crazy," she bit out through gritted teeth.

=I wasn't asked for an opinion on that.=

"Shut up Arashi, you're not helping." Priss flinched when she realized what she had done. <What's going on Arashi? I'm babbling my head off here!>

=I have no idea what's lurking in that tangled mess you call a subconscious.= Though privately, she did wonder if perhaps the months they had spent traveling alone had begun to take their toll.

Priss gripped the sapling and swung her ax, neatly severing it at is base. She heard the surprised murmur from Tia but didn't acknowledge it. If Tia was going to travel with her then she was going to see a lot more amazing things and Priss had no intention of explaining any of them. She cleaned the branches from the trunk and then shortened it to a useable size, before taking a few steps with it. The added support felt good on her still healing leg and considering the weight of the staff, Priss figured it would be pretty good for conking heads as well.

She made her way back to the small camp they had set up for the night and checked the rabbits that were currently hanging over the fire. Tia had caught them earlier as they walked and Priss had been impressed by the skill with which she hunted. The nagging sense that she knew the girl was still bugging Priss but the closer they drew to Tia's village, the less important it seemed.

Tia had told Priss that the overlords had ruled their village for many generations, though demanding the sacrifices had only begun in the last four.

<Makes sense. The older boomers were probably constructed with better materials. Each generation of boomer would have less and less to work with.> But that brought up another question in itself: Why make new generations of boomers at all?

=The more advanced boomers all believed that they were alive. What better way to prove that than by procreating?=

Involuntarily shivering at the thought, Priss grumbled, "Baby boomers. Ugh."

Tia heard the comment but said nothing. She had grown used to Priss' one-sided comments though she had begun to wonder if the strange woman would be able to help her people after all. Priss was incredibly strong and seemed to know a great deal, but she also seemed unstable. Tia remembered the heated argument Priss had gotten into with 'Arashi' the previous day.

"Damn it Arashi! I said it's healed enough to travel! Just because you want more time to make it look pretty is no reason to wait."

The outburst had come after several minutes of silence, in which Priss' face had grown progressively angrier. Tia had jumped at the explosion of words, but quickly realized that it had not been directed at her.

Priss saw the knowing look in Tia's eyes and grimaced. <I am really not liking this.>

=Well at least you're not having to fend off unwelcome advances.=

<Funny.> Priss removed the meat from the fire and divided it between them. They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

The afternoon sun was warm against Priss' skin and she yawned mightily. She wanted a nap. Badly. But her sleeping schedule had been thrown into a spin with the addition of Tia. The young girl's insistence that they hurry was understandable but Priss missed her little catnaps. The extra sleep she required was something she had learned to live with and had even grown to enjoy. A lot. Priss stabbed the ground with her staff and walked on.

Tossing the staff aside, Priss stood up and stretched, before sprinting to a large tree and back. The wound had healed but she could still feel a lingering weakness. "That's better." In truth she hadn't actually needed the support for a while now but figured it would help keep Tia's suspicions at bay.

Watching the speed at which Priss ran Tia had to agree. "This is good. We will reach the village tomorrow."

It had taken them over six weeks to make their way to Tia's village and now that they were so close, it was time for Priss to address the things that Tia had not told her. She sat down across from the blonde and spoke. "So why don't you tell me more about the sacrifices?"

Tia paused. "I have told you."

"Bullshit." Opening her pack, Priss removed a tightly bound pouch and untied it. She handed the girl some of the smoked meat before taking some herself. Further rummaging in her bag revealed some apples and she tossed one to Tia. "You're village doesn't have enough people to support that many sacrifices Tia. So that can only mean one of two things: Either you're lying about the sacrifices or your people have been getting their offerings from somewhere other than themselves. So, which is it?"

From the paleness of Tia's face, Priss figured it was the later. "So they've been snatching people. From other villages?"

Tia nodded, her disgust readily apparent. "My clan is not evil, Priss. But the demands of the Overlords… They could not meet them."

Priss nodded in understanding. "Okay, then I guess I'll just have to stop the overlords."

Tia blinked at the calm announcement. "You sound so sure that you will succeed."

"Heh. Let's just say that I believe in thinking positive."

Tia winced at Caldos' glare. "But she's a mighty warrior and I think she may even be a goddess, though she denies it."

Caldos shook his head. "There is only one living goddess. And she lives in the far south, as you know. I can not risk our people on the skill of one warrior. The overlords will punish us severely. You should not have left the village, Tia. You will have to be punished."

Priss watched the disbelief and anger on the tribal elder's face from her position across the council hut and knew that Tia was not having any luck convincing him to stop the sacrifice. She rolled her head, feeling the muscles in her necks stretch and sighed. <Okay, reason isn't working Arashi.>

=No, it isn't. Guess you'll have to jump in here and stop them.=

"Yeah. Oh well, can't be nice to everybody all the time." Priss stood up in a movement so quick that a few of the villagers gasped. She approached the leader, casually shoving the guards who tried to stop her away. They sailed through the air, crashing into and in some cases through the thatched walls, causing everyone else to dash out of her way.

Tia said nothing as Priss reached her side and winked. "Are we having a problem here?"

Caldos stood, anger darkening his face. "How dare you! You are not welcome in this village. Get out before I have you taken to the Overlords!"

The words rang with righteous fury and Priss supposed that his stance and appearance might be considered threatening… to anybody else.

Caldos watched in confusion as Priss threw back her head and laughed long and loud.

"Is that supposed to scare me? Overlords? Please! You'll have to come up with something more frightening than that Caldos. I have killed so many overlords in my time that I cannot recall their numbers." Priss pulled a boomer head from her pack and held it aloft. "This is one of the two overlords that were attacking the Red Fox tribe. I gave the other head to the village children as a toy for them to play with."

She tossed it at his feet and smirked. "There will be no more sacrifices to these pathetic machines."

Bright red with fury, Caldos clenched his fists and took a step forward, much to Priss' delight. "Oh please give me a reason to knock you on your stubborn ass." He hesitated and Priss shook her head. "I thought as much."

Turning to face the remaining villagers, Priss deliberately presented Caldos with her back, as if he were no threat. She could hear his strangled exclamation at the insult, but ignored it. Her eyes swept the room, staring down its occupants. "I'm going to release the people you have taken and then I'm going to go and kill the overlords."

She sidestepped Caldos' lunge easily, leaving him to fall in the dirt at her feet. Priss placed a boot on his throat and held him there. "I was willing to give you and your people the benefit of the doubt but now I see that you are way too willing to serve the overlords. You have no right to hunt the other villages for your sacrifices!"

Tia cautiously placed a hand on her arm. "Please don't hurt him, Priss."

Surprised, Priss glanced at the young girl and then down at her captive. The resemblance she had missed before was now obvious. "Damn. He's your father."

Tia's nod was unnecessary. Priss moved her foot and Caldos rolled away and got to his feet. "You have bewitched my daughter, but your death will set her free."

The arrow's cry was very loud in Priss' ears and she saw the razor point as if it were in slow motion. Endless microseconds slipped by as she considered her options. She could duck, she could deflect or she could…

The slim shaft splintered in her hand and Priss let the pieces fall as she chuckled. "That was your best effort to kill me? Sorry to disappoint you but there is no one and nothing in this village that could kill me. So if you're through playing games, I'm going to go release your prisoners and escort them to safety." She strode across the hut, pausing at the entrance to look back at Caldos. "Don't worry though. There will be no retribution from the overlords. Because when I return, I'm going to kill them all." Priss grinned evilly and disappeared into the darkness.

Tia looked at her father and then in the direction Priss had gone. She shook her head in disappointment and followed Priss.

"Tia! If you leave with her, then do not return."

Her pace never faltered.

Priss disarmed the guards and left them laying unconscious against the hut's wall before entering. A low fire burned in the center, casting an eerie glow on its inhabitants. "Hi. I'm afraid the sacrifice has been called off. If you'll follow me, I'll escort you to safety."

There was a long uncomprehending pause and then the would-be sacrifices were scrambling to their feet.

Tia caught up with Priss in time to watch her toss several warriors across the center of the village. The rest were reluctant to near the outsider who could lift grown men as though they were children. Silently Tia agreed with their choice.

At the edge of the woods, Priss looked back at the motionless tribal members and smiled, the faint glow from the torches making her seem even more wild and dangerous. "For those who would follow me?" Priss held her ax aloft. "My blade has not drawn blood today. It's thirsty and is looking for dinner."

And with that, she melted into the shadows.

"You're not going and that's final." Priss' glare stopped the protest that was forming on Tia's lips. "I can stop the overlords, but if I have to worry about you it's going to slow me down and make me sloppy."

Seeing the hurt on the young girl's face, Priss tried to soften her words. "If this was an out in the open fight then I wouldn't have a problem with you coming along, but it's not. Underground and probably in tight quarters, it's going to be hard enough keeping myself from cutting off my own foot, much less trying to keep from hitting you. Besides, I need somebody to guard the entrance in case any of the villagers decide to 'help' the overlords."

The morning light was soft and mist filled, the pale wisps clinging to the forest like a lover unwilling to depart. Priss' breath swirled into clouds as the moved through the woods and the sting of cold made her cheeks numb. =Not that anybody would be dumb enough to leave their beds on a morning like this. Damn its cold.=

The opening to the boomer's lair erupted from the earth in a jagged slash of stone and twisted metal. It was the metal that interested Priss. The thick bends of steel were obviously forged and they were the first sign she had seen of the world she had left behind. <Those are tracks, like a train or subway.>

=Yeah, looks like. If it is, then the tunnels could run for miles underground.=

Priss grimaced, but gamely hefted her axe. Moving silently, she approached the edge of the opening and peered into the darkness below.

A metal hand exploded from the shadows and grabbed the front of her tunic, yanking her down into the darkness.

The impact with the ground stunned Priss for only a second and she rolled aside, feeling the rushing strike of some kind of bladed weapon pass over her. Her eyes adjusted to the gloom in time to see the next attack and Priss' axe blocked the blow, sending a shower of sparks around her and her opponent.

Blood pounded in her ears and she took a calming breath before letting her instincts take over. "My turn."

Gripping the weapon with both hands, she swung with all her might and was rewarded with another shower of sparks as the axe found a home in the boomer's side. A quick jerk freed the axe and she wasted no time in striking again, higher this time. The tunnel was filled with a short cry and the sound of something bouncing across the floor. Priss reached out and shoved the headless overlord, causing it to topple with a clatter.

She flexed her hands around the axe's handle and stepped deeper into the shadows, kicking the mechanical head aside as she passed. "One down, five to go."

Blood poured freely from numerous wounds, but the smile on Priss' face belied any pain she might be feeling. The last boomer was on the run, heading deeper into the tunnels and from the amount of fluid it was spilling it was only a matter of time before this mission was over. As she jogged after the fleeing mechanoid, she could feel the bloodlust that had clouded her mind begin to lift allowing her to hear Arashi's muttering. <How's every little thing Arashi?> Her amusement at the enclave's ire was not appreciated.

=Oh just dandy! If you're through playing mighty hunter then perhaps you'd be interested in knowing that I'm picking up a signal from one of the cryotubes.=

Priss' even stride was broken as she stumbled. "What?!" Her words echoed around her hollowly, but she didn't hear them.

=One of the cryotubes is in these tunnels somewhere.=

Try as she might, Priss couldn't get the words to make sense. She had been searching for so long, and had in truth been beginning to lose hope that any of the others had survived…

The boomer howled as it attacked, but Priss didn't falter, her focus now on something much more important. Her movements were automatic and the head that fell at her feet went unnoticed as she stepped over the body and descended further into the earth.

As Priss emerged from the tunnel, she could feel the area around her widening. She drew the torch from her pack and lit it with a quick burst from the plasma torch mounted in her artificial arm. The wane light was reflected back at her from piles of junk and she realized that this was why she hadn't seen any relics of her time. Bits and pieces of technology had been hoarded here by the creatures that had been born from it. "Guess they were saving for a rainy day."

Arashi silently agreed. It explained a lot. If other boomers had done the same then there must be stockpiles like this all over. =The signal is coming from the left.=

Priss flipped a car door out of her way and shoved what looked like a child's bicycle off of the cryotube. Thick dust covered the surface and she brushed at it with a trembling hand. Stupid. It's not her, Asagiri so get a grip.

"Is," Her voice broke and she stopped, then tried again. "Are the systems all functioning?"

=Yes. I'm activating the resuscitation process now.=

"How long?" Priss frowned at her own words. She knew how long it took.

Arashi answered her anyway. =An hour.=

The lid slid back and Priss felt her throat seize with emotion. She reached out and lifted her from the cryofluid, holding her as her body expelled the liquid that had helped keep her alive for the last 14,000 years.

Priss was moving automatically as she opened her pack and grabbed the rough woven cloth she used as a towel. She began to dry off the woman with efficient motions, trying very hard not to look at the face that was now staring at her.

Rusty from disuse, the voice was still achingly familiar. "P-Priss?"

Priss closed her eyes and let Sylia's voice slide over her for one glorious moment before tearing the illusion away. She raised her eyes.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Kuraki."

Kuraki ran her hand across her hips again, the strange feeling of buckskin adding to the unreality of the moment. Priss handed her a water skin and showed her how to drink from it before returning to her task of building a fire. Arashi had been transferring information to Rihi, bringing the enclave up to speed on the current situation. Priss knew she should do the same for Kuraki but was finding hard to talk to the clone.

Realizing that something was bothering Priss, Kuraki watched her for a few minutes before speaking. The warmth from the flames felt wonderful and Kuraki knelt beside it, holding her chilled hands out. "So, I'm guessing that the primitive clothing isn't a fashion statement."

A snort escaped Priss and she shook her head. "No, afraid not."

Kuraki looked at the rusting remains around them. "Well this isn't the Pit so where are we?"

"About three miles north of the White Cat tribe."

"Oh." Priss' cryptic answers were beginning to get on her nerves. On a hunch she fired off a volley. "Right, well when you forgive me for not being Sylia, let me know."

Priss flinched at the accusation and slowly nodded, acknowledging the truth. "I'm sorry. I'm being bitchy and it's not fair to you."

Kuraki shrugged. "So, what's going on?"

Opening her pack, Priss removed the water-proofed hide she kept her travel rations in. She handed Kuraki a piece of jerky and grinned. "Well, for starters..."

Tia was waiting by the entrance when the first boomer head came flying out of the tunnel. She yelped and scrambled away from it which was good since five more heads came hurtling out one at a time to land beside it.

Priss pulled herself out of the hole and waved cheerfully. "Hi there. Sorry I took so long. Ran into an old friend." She reached back down into the shadows and helped Kuraki up.

Rihi and Arashi had given Kuraki all the information that Priss had learned since her own awakening so Kuraki was able to greet Tia in her own language. "Hello."

Tia didn't know what to make of the tall woman and glanced uneasily at Priss. "I don't understand."

Priss laughed lightly. "Its okay, this is Kuraki. She was being held prisoner by the overlords. She's a friend." With that Priss turned and headed for a cluster of saplings. She began cutting them down and trimming the branches away until she had six long staves.

Watching but not commenting, Kuraki and Tia stood nearby silently as she worked. Priss sharpened the ends and drove the poles into the ground around the tunnel entrance before shoving a boomer head onto each post. "There we go. What do you think Tia? Will this warn the villagers away?"

Tia nodded solemnly. "I know of no one in the tribe who would cross such a symbol. But why do this?"

Priss rubbed her hands together, feeling the sticky sap trying to glue her fingers together. "There are things in that hole that could hurt them, things that need to be destroyed by somebody who knows how." The stack of missiles that they had uncovered made Priss shiver. Even though the nuclear material inside was probably too old to detonate, there was still that risk. No one in this world could survive the radiation that could be unleashed. "Kuraki is going to stay here and make sure that it's safe for your people."

She was also going to sift through the tons of scrap and see what she could salvage before moving on to begin her own search for the remaining cryotubes. Priss glanced at Tia, her smile thoughtful. "You know Tia. Kuraki could use some help here. You think you could handle it?"

Part 3: Quest for a Friend

The dancing flames threw their warm glow onto the walls of the cave, holding back the chill and illuminating the still figures sleeping neat its warmth.

A carefully placed stack of furs made a comfortable bed and Priss stretched lazily, enjoying the brush of fur against her naked flesh. Her sleeping companion shifted towards her, draping a bare leg across her. Never one to miss an opportunity, Priss trailed her hand down the silken expanse before delving into the tempting shadows that were so welcomingly exposed.

The sound that emerged from her lover was part sigh, part moan and she watched the familiar eyes flutter open as she continued to explore.

Sylia smiled at Priss' devilish grin. "Have I ever told you how much I love your hands?"

"Not in this century, no."

Any response Sylia would have made was forestalled by Priss' firm breaching of her center. The strangled gasp pleased Priss to no end and she bent closer to capture the tip of Sylia's breast between her teeth.

Priss jerked upright, frantically searching her surroundings. Her heart was pounding both from her release and from the dawning knowledge that it had only been a dream.

Grabbing her hair, Priss let out a small scream of disappointment. She tossed the fur covering her aside and stripped off her sweat soaked clothes before walking to the edge of the lake that stretched out before her.

The chill of the water made her swear but it was automatic. As Priss slipped beneath the surface, she forced the last traces of the dream from her mind. Deeper and deeper she swam, perhaps in an attempt to outrun what she was feeling but you couldn't outrun what you took with you everywhere.

Sylia. Damn this isn't getting any easier, love. I've got to figure out how to search faster. Priss touched the bottom of the lake and then flipped over, rising quickly. Her lungs were burning when she reached the surface and she gulped air as she slicked her hair away from her face. The faintest hint of dawn was appearing to the east and Priss kicked slowly, keeping herself afloat as she watched the coming day.

"Arashi, I need a faster way to move."

=Well you can't grow wings so unless we can find something man-made….=

"Can't we build something? I mean, surely we can make something?"

=It's easier said than done Priss. Knowing about cars, airplanes and motorcycles are one thing. Building them is another.=

Priss swam back to shore, her mind mulling over the possibilities. "How about something simple? A hover board?"

Arashi laughed sarcastically. =Oh right. That's much easier. Get real Priss! We would need a power source and an anti grav unit. And even if we could find them, after 14,000 years I seriously doubt that either would work.=

Priss ignored the silent berating she was getting and focused instead on rebuilding the fire. After a time she grinned. "I'm not talking about a conventional airboard Arashi. Why couldn't we use the flight boosters from a boomer?"

Arashi ran the possibilities. =I don't know. It's remotely possible I guess. It would be heavy. And hard to control manually.=

"So we don't control it manually. Couldn't we, I don't know, rig something up so that you could help control it?"

=Yeah. We could do that. But you're missing the point Priss, first we have to find a full functioning boomer. Then we have to get the thrusters and control circuitry from it INTACT! Then we would need something to make the deck out of...= The enclave continued to list things that they would need but Priss was no longer listening. She had turned her attention to the approaching dawn.

=You're not even listening to me, are you?= Arashi was irked. =You could at least have the common courtesy to listen to me grumble, damn it.=

Priss ignored her, watching the warm light spread over the ridge. A sharp spear of longing made her flinch and she forced back a howl of frustration. A year. A god damned year and she had only found one tube.

=Priss! What's wrong with you?=

<Don't you know what today is?>

Arashi knew very well what the day was. =Yeah.=

<Then cut me some slack.> Priss poked at the fire and then fell still, lost in her thoughts.

Three weeks later found Priss on the beach, struggling to land what she hoped was dinner. The beast had been fighting hard but she was determined. And hungry. Those things tended to tip the odds in her favor. With a final great heave, Priss hauled the fish onto the beach and stared at it. "What the hell is this thing?"

Almost three feet long, the brilliant yellow and green fish weighed almost 40 pounds. Long spines dotted the emerald fins while jagged teeth filled an oversized mouth. Priss grimaced and ran her artificial hand across the body. Her sensors revealed that while it was edible, the spines were filled with a neurotoxin. "So what's the effect Arashi?"

=Looks like temporary paralysis. Shouldn't be fatal though.=

Priss cleaned the fish carefully and after a momentary debate, wrapped the spines in hide for possible future use. "You never know."

It was almost a week later that Arashi heard the signal. Priss had gone down to the sea to fish and as they neared the water, Arashi realized that the sensors in her arm were picking up an energy signal. =Priss! I think we've found one!.=

Priss kept walking, into the water, not feeling the cold. She began to swim, feeling the signal grow stronger the further she went.

Waves buffeted against her, pushing her back, but Priss powered through them as Arashi guided her.

=To the left. A bit more. There. We seem to be right over it, but its deep Priss.=

"Can you activate the cryosystem?"

=It's already active. It must have been triggered by the scanners. Still can't tell who it is though. Priss, you remember how weak you were when you woke up. There's no way they can swim out of there.=

"I know. I'm going down to get them." It's not her. I bet its Linna. Figures she'd make me work for it.

Priss dove, knowing that what she was doing should be impossible. Thank god for Arashi. I'd be a dead popsicle right now.

She couldn't see at that depth so she used her arm and Arashi to guide her. The tube was buried under several feet of silt and Priss cleared it away as best she could.

=Okay, the reanimation sequence is finished. The hatch should open any second.=

But it didn't. Priss felt the surface of the tube blindly and realized that it was upside down. <Shit. It has to be Linna!>

She swam down to the bottom of the cryotube and began to push it over, glad that they had made the things round. Her lungs were on fire, despite Arashi's help and she knew she was running out of time. A final shove and the metal lid was free, sliding back as Priss reached in to grab its occupant. Inji's voice filled her mind and Priss grinned. <I knew it.>

They rose swiftly to the surface and Priss greedily drew fresh air into her starved lungs. <That was closer than I would have liked.> She held Linna upright and thumped her back a few times, until the unconscious girl began to cough.

"That's it. Cough it out."

Linna drew her first painful breaths in centuries and tried to focus on the person holding her. "Priss? Where the hell are we?"

Priss chuckled. "Long, long story. Let's get to shore first."

Linna tugged the thick fur closer and watched Priss build a fire with amazing efficiency. "So how long have you been awake?"

Priss finished her task before answering. "A year." She shook her head ruefully. "Takes a long damn time to get around this world. I really miss my bike." Priss knelt beside Linna and began unrolling her stock of furs. "Hmm, let's see. What would fit an ex-stockbroker-mercenary-dancer?" She selected a pale hide that had faint stripes and nodded. "Perfect."

Linna could see the humor dancing in her friend's eyes. "You're in a good mood."

Priss looked at her seriously and then reached out and cupped her cheek. "Of course I am. I have my friend back after 14,000 years. You beat the hell out of the last person I thawed out." She pulled several small blades from her pack and began to cut the hide.

"So you've found one of the others? Who was it?" Linna kept the hope put of her voice with difficulty.

Priss sighed. "Kuraki." She ignored Linna's muffled snort. "I know. Figures doesn't it?"

Linna looked around. "So where is she?"

"I left her near a little village further north. We found a stockpile of technology that she was going to sort through and see what she could salvage. I decided it was best that I keep searching."

Shifting, Linna moved closer to the fire. "So what are you doing?"

Priss grinned. "Come closer. It's time for sewing class."

"You? Sew? Get out."

"You'd be amazed at how handy a surgeon's knot is."

They had finished Linna's clothes by the next afternoon and Priss started work on a travel pack like her own as she let herself enjoy this rare companionship. "… so the guy took one look at my arm and then ran for the hills. So I knew I was going to have to cover my arm or get nowhere." She pointed to her own pack. "There's a bundle of leather strips in my pack, toss it to me would ya?"

Linna dug around inside until she had three small bundles. She opened the first one: teeth of various sizes. Um, right. She opened the next one. Bingo. Linna threw it to Priss and looked at the last package. What the hell. She unwrapped the contents and gingerly picked up one of the ten inch spines. "What are these f-"

Priss glanced up and blanched. "Oh shit." She was at Linna's side in an instant but the damage had been done. Linna was staring at her hands, unmoving. "Linna?" <Linna?>

<Priss! What the hell is going on?! I can't move!> There was a definite edge of panic to her words.

Priss took the spine from unresisting hands and dropped it back with the others. <The spines are filled with a neurotoxin Linna. It's not permanent. Inji? How long until you can counter its effects?> Absently, she noticed that Linna had literally frozen in place.

=I don't know, Priss. I'm working on it.=

Priss stood up and Linna screamed into her mind. <Don't leave me!>

"God no, Linna. I'm not going anywhere. I'm just going to get something to keep you warm."

A moment later a thick fur was wrapped around her stiff form. Linna felt herself being eased back into Priss' arms. <Just don't let go okay?>

"I won't. I swear." Priss' oath was breathed into her hair. Gentle fingers brushed her eyes closed. "Just relax Linna, I've got you."

Fear clawed at the edges of Linna's mind and she could feel the scream trying to escape her. <I'm not liking this new world.>

A rumble of laughter echoed through her back from Priss. "Yeah, it does take some getting used to. I'm sorry Linna. I had forgotten about putting those in my pack."

<Why did you?>

"Well, sometimes these things can come in handy. I've kind of made it a habit to hang on to anything I might be able to use later."

<Priss… Since we're kinda stuck here for a while, I was wondering….> Linna trailed off and Priss realized that she was upset at more than being paralyzed.

<What's wrong?>

<I don't … damn. I don't want to take off on my own Priss. I know that Arashi has told Inji everything you know about this world but I…>

Her frustration at trying to find the right words was obvious, but Priss believed she had figured out what was wrong. Linna's fear of being alone was something that she hadn't had to deal with since she and Nene had gotten together but it was clearly still there. Priss couldn't blame her. Linna had lost her family in the Kanto earthquake at a young age like she had and it had damaged something within the woman who was sitting motionless in her arms.

Linna was silently bitching at herself for not being able to just tell Priss what she wanted. This is stupid! I'm acting like a child. A soft kiss was pressed to her forehead and her mental rant stopped.

<Why don't you travel with me for a while, okay? I'm getting tired of being alone anyway. Besides, it probably would be a good idea to keep an eye on you for any long term effects of this toxin.>

Equal parts relief and embarrassment filled Linna, but she didn't protest.

They passed through several fishing villages as they followed the coast but no one had heard of the god stones. Linna had been surprised by Priss' insistence that they take the time to teach the villagers anything they could to help them with both daily life and how to deal with any overlords that might threaten them. So it was almost two months later that they made a rather startling discovery.

As they crested the top of a hill, Priss slowed to a halt, taking in the huge valley below her. The sea was crashing against the shore in the distance, waves washing across a flawless beach. The sight was beautiful except for one thing: the strange mountain that was sitting on the very edge of the water.

Priss thumped Linna on the arm and pointed to the anomaly. "What's that look like to you?"

Linna peered at the symmetrical shape a moment. "No way!"

"Yeah, that's what I thought it was too." Priss dropped into a sitting position and opened her pack, pulling out various food items.

Linna was astonished. "You want to have lunch NOW?!"

Priss chuckled at her friend's outrage. "Sidown. I'm not going anywhere near that thing until we scout it out. No telling what's still crawling around in there."

Seeing her point, Linna joined her and opened her own pack. "We have any apples left?"

Priss tossed her one and uncorked the waterskin. "Doesn't the color bug you?"

Linna crunched happily into the green/green fruit and laughed. "Nene likes shrimp on her pizza Priss. This is tame in comparison."

Shuddering at the image, Priss focused on the structure in the distance. "So how would you like to do this? Together or separately?"

"Well, I think we're going to have to split up once we get inside anyway. Otherwise it will take forever to search."

"You've got a point." Priss leaned back on her hands and continued to stare at the building. She hadn't seen any movement since they had been sitting there but that meant nothing. "Let's hang around here for a little longer and then head down that slope to the east."

Eyeing the bramble covered hill Priss wanted to take, Linna grumbled. "Gee, Priss. Wasn't there a hill covered in porcupines, or spears you could find?"

Linna hissed as the needle pierced her skin and she looked away from the wound on her arm as Priss sewed it closed. "That was unexpected."

Priss grunted. "Damn Doberman. I can't believe that thing was still active."

"I can't believe that you beat it. Without a hardsuit." Amazement colored Linna's voice. "Look at all these wrecked boomers. That thing has been protecting this place since the flares. And you just lopped its head off."

"Come on Linna, its what we used to do remember? It's a little harder without the suit but the weak spots on those things haven't changed." She snipped the last stitch and put her things back in her bag. "All done. Let's have a look inside."

They moved cautiously through the entrance, and Priss handed Linna one of the rough torches she had fashioned and a long knife. "Try not to poke me with that, will ya?"

Linna rolled her eyes and followed Priss into the darkness.

They explored the abandoned tower over the next week, rousing a few stray boomers, but nothing that wasn't easily dispatched. Time had ravaged most of the equipment but they did luck out with the discovery of two almost working hovercycles. The computers were inaccessible without power but Linna noticed the helpful 'Property of Genom: Paris' that had been stamped into each unit. So now they knew where they were.

Armed with that knowledge and Arashi's careful record of their travels, they were able to draw out a fairly accurate map on a pale square of buckskin. Priss ran her finger over the lines and stabbed a circle. "So the Pit must be here. When we do split up, I'll head south towards Spain and then circle back up."

"Why not go there now?"

A sigh. "Because I really don't think there are any cryotubes there now. And probably not a lot left in the way of equipment either."

Linna leapt back as the hovercycle shot past, narrowly missing her. "Damn it Priss! Cut it out!"

Priss brought the bike to a halt and waited for it to settle to the floor before climbing off. "Sorry Linna. Forgot how fast those things can go. I can't believe it still works though."

Linna shook her head at Priss' antics and turned her attention to the cycle she was currently working on. "I've almost got this one finished. Did you find anything else that we could use?"

In answer, Priss began pulling stuff out of the bike's storage compartments. "Yeah. I think we can build a stronger scanner with this stuff, but it's what I found upstairs that rocks." She pointed up. "There's a plane up there in the hanger."

Linna blinked. "Seriously?" Her mind instantly filled with the possibilities. "We could cover a huge search area…" She shot Priss a grimace. "There's a but in here somewhere isn't there?"

"Yeah. It needs some work."

"Figures. How much?"

"Well the wings need to be put back on and the bird's nests need to be cleaned out of the engine." Priss smiled reassuringly. "But you should be able to handle it."

Linna groaned. "Of course." She had known that it wouldn't be long until Priss left. She could feel the restlessness building over the last few days. "Well I guess you'll be leaving soon then?"

"Yeah. I wish I could stay but…"

"You need to keep looking. I know. I'll follow as soon as I finish the plane, okay?"


Three days later…

Priss stored the last of her things in the hovercycle and turned to Linna. "I could stick around for a little longer if you need me to?"

Linna shook her head. "Naw. I'll be okay. I've got the twins to protect me." She glanced at the identical security boomers that Inji and Arashi had activated. Inji had completely reprogrammed them and they were now under her control. Linna snapped her fingers as she remembered. "Here. I forgot about these."

She handed Priss a pouch and Priss opened it to find bullets. "I found the stuff to make them in the armory. Inji had a recipe for the propellant. They don't explode on impact like the ones you're used to but they will tear through these new boomers." She patted the weapon tucked into her own belt. "I thought they might come in handy."

Priss laughed and popped the ammo slot in her arm open, sliding five rounds into place. "Thanks. Guess you're adapting to this new world, huh?" She hugged Linna close and let herself drink in her friend's scent.

Linna returned the embrace. "Yeah, well. I had a good teacher." She watched Priss turn to go and teased, "So when you open the next tube and its Sabishii or Nene, send them back this way will you?"

Priss glared at her and then her expression softened. "I will. Take care Linna. And watch out for death asps." She climbed onto the bike and it rose into the air, hovering for an instant before zipping off over the sand and down the beach.

"Death asps? What are death asps?" Inji explained and Linna glared at the distant figure. "Snakes?! Priss! You know I hate snakes!"

Part 4: In Quest of Memories

Priss studied the city below, a soundless whistle perched on her lips. This was not a large village, but an actual city, the first she had seen in this new world.

A stone wall encircled dozens of adobe-type buildings some of which appeared to be as high as four stories. Priss couldn't tell what the walls of the buildings were made of from this distance but the faint patterns she could see suggested stone blocks or some kind of brick. Either way they were the most advanced structures she had come across so far.

A large reinforced wooden gate guarded the southern entrance with another, smaller gate to the north. The gates were open at the moment as people moved in and out of the city. Some carried packs while others pulled carts or led wagons being pulled by oxen.

At least that was what Priss thought they were. They sort of looked like what she remembered but she took nothing on face value these days.

Just beyond the south gate, Priss could see rows of tables and stands filling rapidly with goods. <Cool. A market.> Her eyes searched the growing crowds, easily picking out the dark armor of what had to be the local army or law officers. More guards walked the tops of the walls and patrolled the cities entrances.

Sunlight glinted off metal spear tips and Priss smiled a little. <Guess I won't have to teach anything to these guys.>

=No, they seem to have their own protection well in hand.=

Priss stood and went back to where she had hidden the hovercycle. She took out her pack and filled it with what she thought she might need before starting down the hill towards the city.

The sights, sounds and smells of the market flowed over her and Priss absorbed them all happily. While not the modern massing of humanity that she had known in her time, the crowd was still a chaotic place that offered its own anonymity. For once all eyes weren't on her and Priss could move about freely.

Almost giddy with the knowledge, Priss went about securing some of the local currency with the sale of some furs and instruments. The small discs were silver and stamped with what she assumed was the city's seal. Priss flipped one over and paused, staring at the familiar face in surprise.

<Wild. It looks a lot like Linna.> Unsettled, but not sure why, Priss shrugged it off as a coincidence, tying the money pouch to her belt.

A few hours later, Priss was still wandering the city, munching contentedly on what she believed to be chunks of lamb that had been skewered on a stick and roasted. A wine skin was now slung across her chest and she sipped from it occasionally as she explored.

Hopping over a small ditch filled with moving water, Priss realized that the ditches were part of the city's sewer system. Water sluiced though the channels, carrying away the waste and keeping the city clean. <Smart. These people seem so advanced compared to the others we've met. I wonder why?>

=Could be any number of reasons.=

<You know Arashi, there used to be a time when you were a lot more helpful.>

Arashi grumbled silently at the poke at her abilities but refused to reply.

Priss chuckled at the enclave's silence but her attention was drawn to a stall at the end and the gleam of light on metal urged her closer and Priss' grin turned feral. <Look! Sharp stuff!> Ignoring Arashi's exasperated groan, Priss approached the weapons with glee.

Neat rows of spears lined the back of the stall along with long swords that were almost as tall as Priss herself. Various shields, helmets and chestplates were hung to the right while a multitude of bows were grouped to the left. Laying in neat rows on the table in front of the stall was a selection of small knives and daggers.

A contented sigh escaped her and the man running the stall smiled knowingly. The large ax Priss carried had told him all that he needed to know about his soon-to-be-new customer. "Wonderful aren't they? Prisana herself would take these into battle."

Priss tested the razor edge of a long knife and smiled. "Prisana? Who's that?"

The man blinked in surprise and then laughed. "Ah! You're new to Tokio then?"

The name struck Priss with a surprising force and for a moment she was speechless.

"T-Tokio? That's the name of this city?"

"Yes, gifted by the living goddess Ninani herself."

The uneasy feeling she had felt before was back in full force and Priss shivered despite the warm day. "Ninani?"

"Our patron goddess. She who lights the world with her laughter."

Alarm bells were ringing through Priss' mind and she swallowed against the bitterness that was rising in her throat. Please tell me I'm wrong. Let this just be a huge cosmic joke. Pulling a coin from her pouch, Priss held it out to the merchant. "Is this Ninani?"

Puzzled at the stranger's reaction, he hesitated before answering. "Um, no… That is Linai, the Goddess of Grace and Wealth."

Of course. Priss' fingers clenched around the coin and she laughed humorlessly. "And Prisana?"

Worried now, the weapon master glanced around hoping there was a Knight Guardian nearby. He chose a shield from his collection and turned it so she could see the elaborate carving on its front. "Prisana is the Goddess of War and Music. To bear her image on your shield is a great sign of her protection." He watched the woman pale even more and looked at the image himself. He gasped as realization dawned. "My Goddess!" Falling to his knees, he bowed until his forehead touched the ground.

After a moment he risked a quick peek, but the goddess was gone.

Priss slipped through the crowds, her head low and her pace quick. The anonymity she had felt before was gone and now she imagined all eyes upon her. Questions raced through her mind but there were no answers.

Jesus! What the hell is going on!? Priss risked stopping at a stall and purchased a long hooded cloak. She swept the dark material around her and stepped into the shadows of an alley. The shortcut brought her to the entrance of what appeared to be a temple and she hesitated but an instant before entering.

Candles lit the interior and the sweet smell of incense filled the air. Priss searched the people sitting around the large alter at the end of the building and then slid unnoticed into a small alcove that seemed to be for private worship. She was unsurprised to find that her hand was shaking.

Leaning back against the cool stone, Priss stared sightlessly at the flickering candle in front of her. <Okay. Let's see. Somehow the people of this city have come to believe that we're gods. Now how could that have happened?>

=I don't know for sure but I can take a guess.=

<I'm not going to like this am I?> Priss looked at the walls of her alcove for the first time. <Damn.> A familiar face stared back at her and she studied the painting of Sylia. Pictured sitting on a large throne, the divine Sylia was surrounded by kneeling boomers. Priss closed her eyes.

=Nope. The merchant said that the city's name was a gift from the living goddess Ninani. That suggests a lot.=

<Yeah. That Nene's alive which is great, but is letting herself be worshipped? Nene? And the only way they could know about the rest of us is if Nene told them about us. And told them that we were gods. Which makes no sense because Nene wouldn't do that.> She traced the shape of her wife's face and sighed.

=We need to find Nene.=


Priss left the temple and started walking. <So where would a living goddess live?>

A few discrete questions had pointed Priss in the right direction and soon she found herself in front of another temple in the center of the city. Only this one was heavily guarded. Figures. Four guards stood at attention at the top of the marble steps, protecting what appeared to be the only entrance to the building. <Well that falls under the last resort category.>

=Seriously. So what now?=

Priss eyed the position of the sun, calculating. <Now we do a recon from the hills above the city until nightfall. Then we sneak back in.>

Priss scaled the wall silently, pausing only an instant to make sure the way was clear before slipping down the other side. She jogged quickly through the alleys and deserted streets until she approached her target. Stopping, Priss let the night fill her senses, using her arm's advanced scanners as well as her own unique abilities. Two at the front now. No one else in the area. Her ears twitched. Music from inside.

She moved within the deep shadows surrounding the building until she reached the back and then uncoiled the thin rope from around her waist. Now the tricky part.

Priss tied the rough grappling hook she had made to the rope and then swung it several times to build up speed. With a mighty toss, she threw the hook over the roof of the temple. The sound of it striking the roof seemed to explode in her sensitive ears and Priss remained motionless against the wall until she was sure that it was clear. A gentle tug secured the hook and another tested it for strength. She gripped the rope and placed her foot against the wall, pulling herself up. Hand over hand she climbed, careful to keep the extra rope coiled with her as she rose. Once on the roof, Priss tied the rope to an ornate stone and left it laying there in case she needed a fast getaway.

Soundlessly moving across the roof, Priss crouched at the narrow opening she had spotted earlier from the hills. Faint clouds of smoke rose from the chimney and Priss could see the flames at the bottom. <This is going to be hot.>

She swung her legs over and lowered herself into the chimney, using her arms to keep herself from falling. Rather than choke on the smoke, Priss held her breath as she descended, feeling sweat begin to drip down her face as she got closer to the fire. <Tell me again why I thought this was a good idea?>

Arashi didn't answer, her attention on Priss' condition.

Priss could feel the heat searing her feet and smell the leather of her boots beginning to scorch. She could just see the opening of the fireplace that led out into the temple. Priss let go and fell into the burning logs for an instant before leaping out of the fire and rolling to her feet.

The music halted abruptly and Priss saw a small figure on a raised platform move. She grinned. "Nene!" Her joy was short lived.

"Guards!" The diminutive redhead was glorious in shimmering cobalt robes and Priss had an instant to appreciate that before she was surrounded.

Priss held her hands up in the universal gesture of surrender and stared at Nene. "Nene it's me, Priss."

Ninani swept down the stairs and came closer, allowing Priss a good view of her face for the first time.

She inhaled sharply, "Nene! What happened to your eyes?" Black orbs stared back at her with a remoteness that was frightening coming from the usually effervescent girl.

"Who are you that speaks to me so casually?"

Priss spoke in Japanese. "Nene. It's me Priss. Don't you recognize me?" <Arashi where the hell is Seiki?>

=I can't detect Seiki and there's no response to my signals.=

Ninani seemed surprised at the language. "How do you know this tongue?"

"Dammit Nene! I know this language because I come from the same time that you do. Please Nene. Don't you remember me? Or Linna or Sylia? The Knight Sabers? Come on Nene!"

Ninani stared hard at the strange woman, easily picking out the pieces of metal within her body. The mechanical arm was familiar and she scowled faintly. "You are part Overlord?"

The guards tensed and Priss felt the press of several spear points. "No. I have a cybernetic arm. Sylia made it for me remember? After mine was destroyed fighting the boomers?"

"Sylayla. The Mother and the Creator."

Priss made a quick decision. "Yes. I am Prisana. Surely you remember that?"

"You dare claim to be Prisana?"

The scorn in Ninani's voice was a cutting sound and one Priss had never heard from the gentle woman she remembered. "I am Priss, but you seem to remember me as Prisana. I don't know what else to say."

Ninani made a quick gesture and Priss was brought to her knees by a series of hard blows. She could feel several of the spears snapping against her and she rose quickly, glaring at the shocked guards. "Your weapons can't harm me." She met Ninani's dead eyes. "My death wouldn't change the truth, Nene."

"If you are truly Prisana then prove it."

"How am I supposed to do that? Tell me Nene," She stressed the name. "What makes you a god?"

Brittle laughter escaped the petite redhead and Priss flinched at the sound. "I see all without sight. I have walked this earth for centuries, never aging, never changing. No mortal weapon can slay me, no disease or poison can harm me. I… am… eternal."

<Seeing without sight? Any guesses Arashi?>

=Well the artificial eyes that Nene received were Genom standard. Its just a guess but I'd say they were never designed to last as long as they have.=

<Wouldn't the nanos fix them?>

=Not without Seiki. They were never programmed for maintaining these types of implants. Without Seiki directing them then they would have done the best they could.=

<Which brings me to my next question: Where the hell is Seiki?>

=I don't know. I would have to try and directly access Seiki's logic circuits. That's going to take time and I would need to be in physical contact with Nene.=

Eyeing the circle of guards, Priss hid a smirk. <Easier said than done.>

Priss cleared her throat. "I have also lived centuries. I can remember when the earth was filled with people and machines. When the overlords were called boomers and were our servants. No one ever thought the world could change so drastically. But it did. So Sylia and I created the cryogenic capsules and we all prepared for the solar flares that would burn away our world."

"You and Linna, your wife, along with Ayden your newborn daughter, entered the capsules with us to try and survive. We slept for thousands of years and when I awoke, I was alone." Figuring the clones would only confuse things more, Priss didn't mention them.

Ninani seemed to be staring through her. "Ayden."

Priss smiled. "Yes. I've been searching for the other capsules for almost a year. I found Linna's in the sea a few months ago. She stayed behind in a place that was once called Paris. I went south west to here, what was once Spain. She's alive, Nene. She's working on rebuilding an airplane so that she can search faster for you and Ayden and the others."

Ninani shook her head and turned away. "Lies! Linai is dead."

Priss stepped forward, ignoring the jabs of the spears. "No. Nene I swear to you, Linna is alive."

"Take her away. I will hear her lies no more."

"No wait! Nene please, listen to me!" She was being dragged from the room and for a moment she considered breaking loose and fighting her way back. But she had seen the distress in Ninani's face. Perhaps a little time to think would work in Priss' favor. She stopped struggling and meekly allowed herself to be led away.

After a long night spent in a metal cell, Priss was more than a little irked at her current situation. <Maybe I should have just bashed some heads huh?>

=Well, that would have had a pleasing short term effect, but I doubt that it would have made Nene any more willing to listen to you.=

The high pitched screech of metal against metal echoed through the cell as Priss continued to draw on one of the walls with a claw. Sylia's face stared back at her and Priss smiled at it ruefully. "You're missing all the excitement love."

Footsteps echoed in the distance. Priss rose from the narrow pallet and stood facing the heavy door. <Company's coming.>

The bolts were thrown back and the door swung open. Several guards clustered around the doorway and Priss grinned recklessly. "Good morning. Any chance of some breakfast?"

"You will come with us. The goddess wishes to test you."

Test? Somehow I don't think this is going to be a written exam. Priss shrugged and once again went with the guards without a struggle. <This playing nice crap sucks.>

=Don't worry. I'm sure you'll get to kick some ass eventually.=

<Now you're just trying to cheer me up.>

Priss soon found herself in a large sunken circle. She instantly spotted Ninani sitting on a throne among the rest of a gathering crowd and raised a hand in greeting. "Good morning, Nene. Sleep well?"

Murmurs of surprise rose from the crowd at this casualness with their goddess. Ninani stood and glared down at Priss. "You have claimed divine powers. If you are truly a goddess then you should have no problems passing a series of tests."

<Damn, I bet this is going to be a long day.> "I am ready for anything you care to throw at me, Nene."

A large door slid open and Priss tensed as two boomers emerged. <Not wasting anytime with the niceties I see.>

"A goddess should have no trouble dispatching these overlords."

Eyes pinned on the advancing machines, Priss corrected her. "Boomers. The only thing these hunks of rust were ever 'over' was 'rated'."

Priss cleared her mind and got down to the business of boomer killing. Arashi was busy analyzing their opponents but did spare a passing comment. =See? Now you can work off some of that pent up energy.=

With a feral grin, Priss agreed. <Always a silver lining Arashi?> She ran straight for the boomers and dove between one's legs, coming up behind it. A familiar howl of pain and fury filled the arena as Priss' claws plunged into the armor covering its spine. "Let's see how well you walk without your strings." A tangle of synthetic cables emerged in her grip and Priss sliced through them cheerfully. "Wow, you must be a really old model if you still have all your parts." She felt the other boomer approaching and dodged out of the way of its blow at the last second. The armored fist struck its companion instead and Priss watched it fall forward with a pathetic sizzle. "Oops.

Priss flipped backwards, keeping her distance from the pursuing machine. "Come on you tin-plated nightmare, I don't have all day."

Ninani leaned forward, watching a battle that seemed all too familiar. She could see the metal overlord's shape, she could even see deep within them, but she could not see Priss' face. The curse of her vision was such that while she could see the very bones inside of a person, she could not see what she most longed too. The fast moving conglomeration of bones, muscle and metal was moving with motions that seemed to stir something deep inside her.

Priss laughed in delight as the boomer shot past her and slammed into the wall behind her. She had darted aside at the last possible instant and its momentum had been too great to turn. The boomer crawled out of the hole and roared at her. Priss raised an armored hand and gestured for him to try again. "Come on, don't give up now. The fun's just started." It sprang forward and again Priss nimbly dodged, letting it fly past.

A cry of surprise from the crowd jerked her attention back to the arena. Ninani could see a long thin blade slice through the overlord's neck and the machine's head rolled away as the rest of the body exploded.

Priss let the energy blade slip back into place and approached Ninani's throne. "So did I pass?"

Ninani didn't answer, but instead nodded to the servant standing beside her. The doors the boomers had come through opened again and Priss watched as the remains of the machines were carried out of the arena. A small stand was placed in the center of the ring and an ornate goblet set upon it.

Ninani's voice carried easily to Priss though she spoke quietly. "The cup is filled with the deadliest of poisons. If you are who you claim to be then drink."

"No problem." <Arashi?! Please tell me this is not a problem.>

=Um, well… it might be.=

<Arashi! No teasing damnit! I'm serious.> Priss lifted the goblet and stared down into the murky contents. <Can I do this and survive?>

=I am serious. I'm not sure. In theory, yes you can.=

<Theory. Christ. Well, I hope you're theory is sound.> She brought the cup to her lips and winced at the bitter smell. The liquid was sour and burned it's was down Priss' throat. She drained the cup with a shudder and set it back on the stand. Nausea roiled her stomach and for a moment she thought she would not be able to keep the poison down. Gradually the nausea began to fade and Priss met the goddess' eyes. "Not exactly a milkshake."

Ninani said nothing, watching the woman sway as the poison began to work.

Arashi's cheerful voice cut through the ringing in Priss' ears. =Good news! The poison is actually death asp venom. Outside of a little dizziness, it won't hurt you.=

Relieved at the news, Priss searched the crowd of faces surrounding her. Their shock was obvious and she couldn't help but sweep into an arrogant bow. "So is this it? Or do you have any other little tasks for me to perform?"

The goblet and stand were removed and another servant approached, carefully carrying a wrapped object. The cloth was removed and Priss blinked in surprise. She gingerly took the offered instrument and eased the woven leather strap around her neck.

"Prisana is the goddess of war and music. Only she would be able to play this."

Priss ran her hand over the smooth surface of the guitar. "H…How do you have this?"

Ninani could hear the emotion in the stranger's voice and for the first time she began to believe. "A story for another time. Can you play this instrument… Priss?"

Priss grinned and quickly checked to make sure it was in tune. A little adjustment and she was ready to go. Damn! This thing should be dust by now! "Oh yeah. I can play this."

Her fingers found familiar chords and she stroked the strings with a confident touch. Something she might remember.

The last notes faded away and Priss saw that the aloof goddess she had been trying to reach was now in tears. "Nene?"

Ninani wiped her eyes and forced a laugh. "Rejoice my people, for Prisana has been returned to us!"

Not sure she agreed with that, Priss remained silent as the crowd erupted in cheers. <Tell me Arashi, is this better or worse?> The crowd was chanting 'Prisana!' and making Priss extremely nervous.

=Well look at it this way: at least you have a shot of getting close to Nene now.=

<Yeah, but at what cost?>

Priss sipped her wine as she studied her surroundings. The ornate dining hall could have held several dozen people but at the moment there was only her and Nene. Servants came and went without speaking, their eyes never daring to meet those of the two goddesses. Priss grimaced faintly at the thought, now knowing that Nene could not actually see her facial expressions. She looked again at the stone likenesses of the other knight sabers that were positioned throughout the room. "If you can't see faces, then how did the stone statues of all of us come out so accurately?"

Ninani smiled and stood, moving to the nearest one. She reached up and touched the cold surface of Linna's face. "I can't see through the stone. It's the only thing that looks exactly like what it is to my eyes. So I shaped the faces of my memories."

Priss cleared her throat and stretched her neck a little. The high collar of the tunic was restrictive and she wished Nene hadn't insisted that she change for dinner. Elaborate designs in silver wove through the deep blue material and to Priss' surprise, she recognized them. She traced the outline of a hardsuit helmet. "Okay, but why gods? Nene we aren't gods."

"I am the Goddess Ninani. Why is that so hard for you to accept? We are eternal, never aging, never changing." She resumed her seat and focused on Priss. "I have very few memories that I'm sure of Prisana. There is a darkness that clouds my mind. A sense of something missing, but I remember enough to know what I am. What we are."

The frustration in the other woman's voice was obvious. <Crap. I'm only making her mad.>

=So back off for now. Be a goddess for a little while.=

Priss leaned forward and her voice lowered. "I'm sorry if I upset you." The servants appeared to clear their meal and Priss fell silent.

A young woman knelt next to Nene. "Who do you require from the harem this evening, Mistress?"

Ninani stroked her head lightly. "No one tonight, Rasa." She glanced at Priss. "Unless you would care to…"

Startled, Priss floundered a moment. "Um, that's a very kind offer Ninani, but… Sylayla is my only mate and her fury isn't something that I want to provoke."

Clouds raced across Ninani's face and then were gone. "Yes. I remember the darkness of Sylayla. You may go Rasa. There is much that Prisana and I must discuss."

Whoa. Priss watched the beautiful young woman leave and closed her mouth with a snap. "I never pegged you for the harem type." Linna is going to freak.

Ninani stood and left Priss to follow her. "A thousand years is a long time to be alone."

A thousand years. God. I guess I can't blame her. Priss joined Ninani on the low platforms overflowing with cushions and leaned back with a small sigh of contentment. "So this is what? Your living room?"

Ninani took a long thin pipe from a servant and drew on it deeply before answering. "Living room? This is where I meditate." She handed the pipe to Priss, who gamely inhaled.

Her head swam suddenly as the drug raced through her and Priss' exhale was more of a gasp. "What is this stuff?"

Ninani laughed and took the pipe. "Dreaming herb. Sometimes I can see more of that which is hidden from me with it."

"I bet." Okay, this is so not like Nene.

= A harem and drugs? Sounds more like you.=

<Shut up. We need to find out what happened to Seiki.>

Priss refused another turn with the dream pipe and moved closer to Nene. "Ninani, do you remember Seiki at all?"

"Seiki? The name is not familiar."

Oh boy…

Nene swept into the room and tossed something at Priss, who barely caught it as her attention was completely focused on what the redhead was wearing. The polished armor gleamed like silver fire and almost overshadowed the long sword the goddess was carrying.

Priss looked at the helmet in her hands and saw the matching armor pieces being carried in by servants. She fingered the blackened metal and met Nene's dark eyes. "What's this?"

The servants began to undress Priss despite her protests and soon she found herself preparing for an obvious battle.

"An army of overlords is marching on the city. We must defeat them or the people will die and Tokio will fall."

"Right." Priss untied the strips holding her arm covering and pulled it away, revealing the cybernetic limb underneath for the first time in months. The servants didn't even bat an eye at the oddity of the appendage. "Guess you've told them about this, huh?"

"The story of your battle with the overlords and the loss of your arm is a favorite among the people."

Which left Priss wondering just how much Nene did actually remember. Surely she knows then that we aren't gods, right? Priss tightened the bracer around her right forearm as a servant did the same for the ones now covering her thighs. "Okay, when you say army… how many are we talking about?"

"Five hundred perhaps."

"Five-! Damn." Five hundred… Priss' mind reeled at the thought. "Ne…Ninani. Do you really think that you and I can defeat five hundred boomers?"

Ninani laughed at the absurd suggestion. "Of course not, but then it will not be just you and I. The Knight Guardians are well trained to fight the overlords."

"Oh yeah. I forgot about them. Okay then, what do you want me to do?"

Ninani held out a sheathed sword. "You have only to be yourself, Prisana. I'm sure that will be more than enough."

A heavy chest plate was lowered over her head and buckled into place, leaving Priss to wonder at the perfect fit. A resplendent phoenix rose at its center and Priss realized that the people considered this mark the sigil of the Goddess Prisana. "We need to talk about what you remember and what actually happened, Ninani."

"Perhaps later. For now we must fight."

Yeah. She picked up the helmet and eased it onto her head only to pull it off again. Seeing Ninani's look, she explained. "I can't hear. The helmet muffles my senses too much."

There was something knowing in Ninani's smile. It made Priss a little uneasy. She ordered a guard to bring Belgran and the Kijin. His eyes widened and he hurried away. "In the meantime, let us view the coming battlefield." Ninani swept from the room, leaving a bewildered Priss to follow.

Priss studied the detailed model of the city before her, committing it to memory. "I hadn't realized that the city was this large." The model was laid out across the floor of a huge room. More specified drawings covered the walls. Intricate physiologies of several types of boomers.

Ninani stood at the knee-high gates to her city, pointing at the bare hills beyond. "We keep the surrounding terrain clear so that we have fair warning of any approaching trouble. When the overlords attacked a hundred years ago, they came down the cliffs to the east. A fact that made it fairly easy to pick them off. However I doubt he will make that mistake again."


"The Overlord king."

"Whoa. The overlords have a ruler? I thought they were just scattered bands."

"Most are. The army coming is led by Malcor. He builds his army and attacks us periodically. We have defeated him each time."

"How many times has he attacked?"

"This will be the sixth time in the last five hundred years."

"Sixth? Why does he keep trying? Wouldn't it make more sense to cut his losses?"

"He wants something within the city."

"What could be that important to him?"


Priss blinked. "You? But why would…" She trailed off, an idea forming.

Ninani merely nodded. "Yes. He wants to steal my powers."

It made sense. The leader of the city hadn't changed in centuries, remaining timeless, unaging. If Malcor was a post-flare boomer then he too would need to harvest biological parts. Ninani's never aging body would be the ultimate prize.

Priss cracked the knuckles of her right hand. "So where do you want me?"

Ninani laughed. "I would not presume to direct the Goddess of War in the practice of her craft."

Inexplicably, Priss blushed. "O…kay. But it's your city and you've fought this guy before. You know where the places that need to be protected the most are located." Priss leveled her friend a wry look. "Why don't we set aside our roles of Goddesses and discuss this as simple soldiers?"

"Excellent advice."

They hashed out a battle plan, bickering amicably over certain points but without rancor. As the meeting drew to a close, a wizened little man entered, carrying a cloth covered object.

He started to go to his knees before the goddesses with difficulty only to be stopped by Ninani's hand on his arm. "No Belgran. If anyone has earned the right to stand in our presence then it is you. Prisana, may I present Belgran, our master armorer."

Priss nodded in greeting, curious at Ninani's warm tone.

Belgran cleared his throat. "Divine Prisana. Your helmet is prepared." He pulled the cover aside and extended the piece to Priss.

She took the helmet gingerly, pleasure dancing in her eyes. Light from the torches and candles flickered over the metal, illuminating the intricate workmanship.

Shaped like the head of a large leopard, the fanged jaws were open, meant to surround the wearer's face. Priss noted that the width of the mouth would leave her ears uncovered and nodded absently in approval. Ears flattened against the sleek head, the lips curled into a fierce snarl.

Delighted beyond words, Priss slipped her helmet on, not surprised to find it fit perfectly. "I have no words Belgran."

The old man blushed. "It has waited long for you Divine one. I am glad I lived long enough to see it in your hands."

Priss shot Ninani a questioning look. "For me?"

Ninani clasped Belgran's shoulder and guided him gently from the room before turning to Priss. "Belgran crafted the helmet when he was only twenty years old, an apprentice himself. He was inspired by tales of Prisana and her fierceness. I had the helmet placed in your temple to await your arrival."

I have a temple? "Wow. Seventy-some years? He had a lot of faith that I would show up."

"300 years."


"Belgran is 322 years old."

"How is that possible?"

"He is my son."

Priss was floored. Her mind reeled at this new knowledge and her surprise was obvious even to Ninani's eyes. She laughed. "Is it so strange to think that I have had children?"

"Children? Plural?"

"Yes. Belgran is my youngest. I have had five other children since I awoke so long ago. Why does this shock you so?"

Priss hook her head. "It shouldn't. As you said, a thousand years is a long time. I guess in my mind, it hasn't been that long since we were all together."

"Ah. Well we shall talk later of the centuries that have past. But now we must prepare for the coming battle."

Prisana's ferocious growl rang over the field as her sword finished its upward swing, cleaving the boomer in half. She immediately turned to the next opponent and dispatched it just as thoroughly. The sounds of combat filled the air, but she didn't hear it. Adrenaline and what was once called battle lust clouded Priss' mind and she was moving on instinct alone. Slash. Slash. Thrust. Block. Kick. Thrust.

Boomers fell beneath her blade with a frightening ease and the soldiers near the goddess had quickly learned to stay out of her way.

Ninani saw her captain approaching and finished off the overlord she was playing with. "Kal. How goes the battle?"

Kal wiped the sweat from his face and grinned. "The enemy is fading my Goddess. Prisana's blade is sure and deadly."

"As I remember." She scanned the chaotic surroundings. "Keep your men to the right flank. Prisana and I will handle the left."

"I am yours to command."

Ninani turned back into the fight, working her way forward until she was next to Prisana. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

Prisana's only answer was a feral grin and a grunt of satisfaction as another overlord fell at her feet.

Ninani's delighted laughter echoed over the battle and her soldiers drew strength from their goddess' joy.

The last boomer was destroyed and Priss stood atop a small hill of the machines she had dispatched. Drenched in sweat and the various fluids that boomers tended to spray when punctured, she eyed the empty field with something akin to disappointment. Gradually the haze receded from her mind and she tugged her helmet off with a deep sigh. Priss sat down on top of the decimated machines and wished that she had a cigarette.

The soldiers around her were staring, awed by the sight of the goddess resting atop a hill of overlords that she had slain. It started small, gathering in numbers and volume until it swept over the bloody field like a wave. "Pris-an-a! Pris-an-a! Pris-an-a!"

Priss grinned. <Kinda like the crowd after a concert.>

=There's less blood here.=


Priss stood and waved her ax at the cheering soldiers before striding across the field towards those that were collecting the dead and wounded. "Make sure that you bring anyone alive into the hospital no matter how serious it is, understand?" She ran through the city gates to the hospital, shedding her weapons and armor by the door before entering. Priss hadn't had much time before the battle to consult with the healers, but she had made one thing perfectly clear: If a patient was beyond their help then they were to be brought to her.

She quickly scrubbed the stench of battle from herself and donned a plain tunic and britches. The area she had requested was ready, her bundle of medical tools already laid out and waiting. Priss arranged several needles that had been threaded with gut before waving the first patient to her table.

Through the night and into the day, Priss worked. Saving those she could and grimly accepting those she could not. As the sun began its descent, Ninani appeared in the hospital, causing a ripple of murmurs to flood its inhabitants.

Priss was oblivious as she trimmed the final suture closing up a belly wound that had taken her hours to repair. She dropped her needle into a bowl to be boiled later and then gave the healer beside her instructions for care.

Ninani approached, laying a gentle hand on Priss' metal arm. "You have done well Prisana, but the battle is won and the wounded have been treated. It is time to rest now."

Priss agreed entirely, stretching her back as she tried to ease muscles that had been standing for too long. "Sounds good." She looked down at herself and grimaced. The white tunic and pants were now crimson. "A bath would be good too."

"Already waiting."

"Great! Now if I had a cigarette then I'd be set."

"Will this do?" Ninani gave her a leather wrapped bundle.

Priss untied it as they walked back to Ninani's temple, delighted to find a long, thin pipe and a small pouch of tobacco. "Wow! You really are a goddess!"

"I believe I mentioned that before." She led the way to the bathing chamber where waiting servants quickly helped Priss shed her bloody garments and Nene her armor.

Priss sank into the huge marble bathing pool, sighing in pleasure at the heat. "Thermal spring?"

Ninani took a glass of wine from a serving girl and nodded. "Yes." She smiled as another girl slid into the water next to her and began to scrub Ninani's back with a sponge.

Priss jumped as she felt someone at her own back and glanced back to meet a pair of shy brown eyes. Unnerved, Priss turned back to Ninani, trying to ignore the brunette currently washing her.

Ninani's smile showed her amusement at Priss' reaction. "You are more bashful than I remember."

"Ah, well what do you remember about me?"

"Watching you in battle on countless occasions. Seeing you and Sylayla tangled together in emerald sheets." Priss choked, making Ninani giggle.


Ninani moved closer to Priss. "I remember wondering what it would feel like to kiss you. How you would taste."

<Christ! Gotta defuse this now!>

=No. Kiss her.=


=I'm filling your saliva with nanos programmed to find and awaken Seiki.=

Priss' mind flinched. <Saliva!! Damnit! Can't you do this another way?>

=Yes. You can beat her until you're both bleeding.=

Priss stared into the elfin features of her teammate and knew that wasn't going to happen. <This stays between us Arashi>

She moved closer, slipping her arms around the diminutive redhead, whispering, "One kiss. That's all."

Ninani smiled hugely. "And all the more precious for it."

Priss bent nearer, pressing her lips to Nene's. She ran her tongue over the soft lips, urging them to part. Tongues dueled in an erotic tangle and Priss felt her body responding.

=Okay, that's enough.=

Nene had managed to latch onto Priss' breast and was massaging it with skilled fingers.

=Priss! You can stop any time.=

Dimly aware of the voice in her head, Priss acknowledged the need to halt. She ended the kiss, slowly easing away from Ninani. "Sylia's going to kill me."

Ninani caught her hands and kissed the palms before releasing them. "Not if she doesn't find out." She winked and moved back to the waiting servant.

Christ! Why does that sound worse somehow?

Priss rolled over and saw Ninani sitting at the foot of her bed. "Ninani? What is it?"

"What have you done to me?" Her voice was high and strained.

Priss sat up and reached for her hand. It was trembling. "What's wrong?"

"Voices in my head. Make it stop!"


=Priss! Thank god! What's going on? Nene's being really weird.=

Ninani jerked her hand away. "You can speak to it! You did this! You put her in my mind!" She tried to stand but Priss caught her around the waist, holding her still.

"Stay Nene. It's all right. The voice you're hearing is part of you. She's only been asleep."

"I will have you in chains for this! Guar-." Priss clamped a hand over the redhead's mouth.

<A little help here, Seiki?>

=Her mind is in a mess. It's going to take time to straighten out.=

Priss cursed as Nene bit her, but didn't let go. <Then knock her out damn it!>

Nene slumped against her and Priss eased her down to lie beside her. She pulled the cover up over Nene and began to fill Seiki in on the situation.

Nene watched the morning light creep closer to the bed and glanced at Priss' still sleeping form beside her. The night had been filled with awakening memories and she was still trying to reconcile her lives. So much has happened. So much time. She rubbed her face and felt her eyes fill again. Linna. Can you forgive me? Nene slipped from the bed and stepped into the window's light. She looked out over her city and felt her face flame in embarrassment. I've led these people into thinking I'm a goddess. How could I have done that?

=They wouldn't have accepted your help any other way.=

Seiki had been struggling to return Nene's memories and to return her sight. =Damned nanobots. I can't believe they didn't fix this stuff.=

Nene wasn't listening. Ayden. How could I have forgotten you?

=You're mind was damaged, Nene. There must have been a malfunction in the cryotube. There's nothing to feel guilty for.=

Nene was surprised. <Guilty? I don't feel guilty, Seiki. I was doing all that I could do at the time. But I am a little worried about how Linna will react to this. According to Priss she's only been awake for a few months. Our life together was only a moment ago to her.>

=And to you?=

Nene sighed. <I still love her of course, but I've lived many lifetimes since we were last together. I'm not sure she's going to be able to accept the things that I've done. I've been married twice, I've had six children. And I've created a civilization and I've destroyed others.> "I'm not the Nene she remembers."

Priss snickered. "No shit."

Nene turned to find Priss sitting on the foot of the bed, watching her. "Good morning."

Priss met her eyes, searching. "Is it a good morning?"

"It's a new morning. Good is only a matter of opinion."

There was an ancient knowledge in Nene's bright blue eyes that Priss could not miss. "So you remember everything, huh?"

Nene stepped closer and wrapped her arms around her old friend. "I remember Priss. Thank you for filling in the holes in my mind."

Priss exhaled a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "I have to admit that I was a little worried."

Nene pulled back and grinned. "Just a little?"

The smile was the one that Priss remembered but there was now a sadness that the grin couldn't dispel. "Nene? You seem…"

"Ah, Priss. Don't worry. I just need some time to sort through all this."

"Okay. You want to hang around here until you feel more steady?"

Nene realized that Priss expected her to leave with her. "Priss… I can't leave. This city, these people, they need me. If I just disappeared on them then they would be vulnerable."

"But Linna….Sylia. We need to find the others."

Nene moved back a pace. "I can't Priss."

Irked, Priss stood and began pulling on her clothes with sharp, angry movements. "You sure you're not just jazzing on the whole goddess trip?"

"To these people I am the Goddess Ninani. I can't change that overnight." Nene was resolute. "It will take time to move them towards self government. Time to prepare them for my eventual departure. You can't ask me to leave them, to leave my grandchildren and great grandchildren at the mercy of Malcor's attacks."

Priss dropped her pack back into the chair beside the bed. "Jesus. I'm sorry Nene. I had forgotten about that." She stared down at her hands. "I'm being a bitch."

Nene chuckled. "Yeah, but you're really good at it."

Priss stuck her tongue out at her diminutive teammate. "Smartass. So if you're staying here then you'll need this." She pulled a small electronic device out of her pack and handed it to Nene. "I'd put this on top of the temple if I were you. It's solar powered and its set to a frequency that Linna will be looking for once she gets the plane airborne."

Nene took the signal unit and smiled a little. "I can't believe that she's alive."

Priss grinned. "Believe it. I'd go back to Paris myself to tell her but it would take me so long that I would probably pass her." Priss shouldered her pack and caught the diminutive ex-goddess in a bear hug. "I'm going to miss you."

Nene allowed the embrace, but grumbled, "So that's it huh? 'Here's your memories, gotta go?'"

Priss released her. "Nene…" She saw the familiar twinkle and sighed. "You brat. Seriously though. Do you need me to hang around for awhile?"

Nene shook her head. "I think Seiki and I can handle it. Besides, I know that you're anxious to find Sylia." She squeezed Priss' hand. "But if you find Ayden..."

"I'll bring her back here as fast as I can." Priss tucked a stray strand of burnished hair behind Nene's ear. "And when I've found them all, we'll throw a party the likes of which this town has never seen." They walked together through the temple, ignoring the excessive amount of bowing that was taking place.

"Oh I don't know about that. You weren't here for my second wedding celebration."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, half of my temple maidens ended up pregnant and a bull wound up on the temple roof."

Priss was nonplused. "Um.. right. Well maybe it won't be that exciting." She paused at the door and then looked back at Nene. "How did… never mind. I bet I don't want to know."

In Quest of…the End

It was a dark and stormy night…

The wind cut through the trees with almost malevolent intent, driving the snow it carried against the land as if it were trying to harm it. The snow filled the crevices of tree bark and then was blown away moments later as the wind seemed to snatch it back up and throw it at a new target.

The first snow of the winter season was certainly kicking things off with a bang. Tucked into the sloping feet of a mountain, lay a small hole. A faint, golden light could be seen within and try as it might, the wind could not reach the cave's inhabitant. As if in fury, its roaring cry increased and the snow began to fall more heavily.

Inside the tiny cave, the woman threw another branch onto the small fire and went back to her silent contemplation. Priss turned the wedding ring between her human fingers and paused when the low light revealed the inscription inside. Itsumademo 12-1-2038.She let the sigh that was weighing upon her escape and pressed her lips to the cool metal. "Forever, Love." She slipped the ring back on and pulled the heavy fur tighter before settling down with the hope of actually sleeping. The fire's light threw long shadows over the cave walls, but did little to chase away the cold. Outside the wind continued to howl, hurling more snow across an already buried landscape. "We'll move out in the morning."

Arashi grumbled. =You're nuts ya know?= Still she began preparations for the next leg of their journey. =This is NOT a good time to be traveling.=

Priss shrugged. "It can't be helped." And it couldn't. As the winter had approached, Priss was overcome by the need to return to the Pit. To find out once and for all what had happened. Arashi had been against heading north into the rapidly cooling climate but Priss had been adamant. So using the known location of the Genom Tower in Paris, Arashi had plotted a course for what used to be Germany.

Linna eased the plane into place over the large circle of stones that had apparently been set up specifically for her arrival. She wasn't sure she was happy with the gathering crowd, but the beacon's signal had been clear: Land here.

So when the plane touched down, she shut the engines off and let her eyes sweep the people who were standing outside the landing circle. Linna grumbled a little. "She could have at least come out to meet me."

=Let's give her the benefit of the doubt, shall we?= Inji's calm suggestion made Linna smirk. "Right. I'll remind you that you said that when-." She broke off as the crowd parted and a small, redheaded woman stepped forward. Linna's heart threatened to come out of her chest as she focused on the beautiful apparition before her. She found herself standing without realizing it and then she was moving, dashing through the back of the vehicle and slapping at the door controls. She didn't wait for the ladder to descend, but jumped the last few feet to the ground.

Linna turned and found her arms full of ecstatic Nene.

"Linna!" Nene gripped the other woman's rough tunic and pulled her down into a searing kiss.

Linna lifted her into her arms and settled in to enjoy the long, passionate kiss.

But eventually the cheers around them began to penetrate her consciousness and Linna began to wonder what the fuss was. <Nene? Not that I want to stop this, but I'm beginning to feel a little odd here.>

Nene, who was busily nibbling the lips of her long lost lover, took a moment to answer. <They're just happy that we're back together again.>

<Oh. That's nice.> Linna could feel Nene's hands sliding under the edges of her tunic and while she heartily approved of the move, she would rather that it didn't progress any further until they were somewhere a little more private. <Let's move this inside.>

Nene nodded, breaking the kiss and then grabbed Linna's hand and tugged her after her. The crowd parted and Linna was disconcerted as they bowed at the couple's passing. A little girl ran forward and shyly offered Linna a bouquet of flowers. Linna took them with a bemused smile. "Thank you?"

The girl bowed and ran back to her beaming mother. Linna trailed after Nene, wondering what all the fuss was. <I take it that they know you here?>

Nene's laughter rang clearly, even through the noise of the people around them. Linna saw several people reach out and seem to clasp the air to them, their faces filled with delight. <You could say that.>

Nene pulled Linna up the steps of an ornate building and then turned at the top, waving to the mass below them. "Thank you my children. Go tonight and celebrate. I declare a festival of thanksgiving. Let no one be sad. Let no one be alone. Celebrate the joy of friends long lost and of those yet to be met. Under the circumstances, I'm sure you'll understand that Linai and I plan to celebrate in private."

A roar of laughter and what seemed like approval swept through the crowd and Linna found herself blushing at the knowing grins she was receiving. <Nene!>

Nene waved to the crowd again and pulled Linna into the temple.

Once inside, Linna had expected them to be alone. She was wrong. People raced to meet them, taking Linna's bag and cloak. They were then ushered into a huge room with a sunken bath and Linna flinched as helpful hands began to undress her. She glanced at Nene, who seemed supremely unconcerned. "Um, Nene?"

Nene, whose eyes had not left Linna's tall form since they'd entered the temple, merely grinned. "What's wrong? You don't want a bath?"

Linna hadn't had a true bath in 14,000 years. "Of course I do, but..." She flinched as the fastening of her top gave way and fought the urge to cover herself. "But some things I like to do for myself."

Nene thought about this as her own robes fell to the floor around her in a cobalt pool. "Sorry. I guess I've just gotten used to it." She smiled at the servants. "I think we can handle it from here. If you could make sure everything else is ready, we'll be along in a little while." Nene looked back at Linna, who was standing there dressed only in a short hide skirt. Her eyes never left Linna's as she spoke again. "Make that a few hours."

The women giggled and bowed as they left. "Yes, my Goddess. As you desire."

Linna's pleasant daze as she stared at Nene's naked body was interrupted when she realized what the servant had said. "Goddess?"

Nene shook her head and reached out to run her hands up the tanned arms that were in the process of encircling her. "Later. Much later."

The moon hung in the sky, a glowing celebration of the night. Priss lay on her back and stared up at the silver orb, feeling her heart ache with the fullness this moment. Tears fell from her eyes, sliding into her hair, but she didn't notice. There had never been a moment as perfect as this one. The warm night breeze flowed over her skin, carrying the night's scents. A soft hand trailed up her side, gently cupping her breast.

"You're smiling."

Priss turned to the woman curled up against her side. "I'm happy." She brushed a strand of hair away from her lover's eyes and then stroked a pale cheek. "I want to stay here, in this moment. Forever."

Sylia smiled and caught Priss' hand, pressing her lips into the palm. "Fine with me."

Priss' eyes flew open and she stared at the dead ashes of the fire. God Damn it! She threw the thick fur that was covering her aside and sat up, the cold bite of the air bringing her fully awake. I really wish my dreams weren't so… real.

She got to her feet and went to the opening of the cave. There was a little more light now and she knew that it would be dawn soon. The snow was still falling steadily but the wind had died down. Priss stared out at the bleak landscape and felt a similar bleakness within herself. <Let's go.>

The morning light crept over the foot of the bed and Linna watched its slow progress as her mind ran through the previous night's events. If she had been surprised to find that Nene was worshipped here as a goddess then she had been shocked to find that so was she.

The bedroom door peeked open and Linna saw a familiar face. She waved the girl in and replayed last night's incident again.

After a delightfully long and energetic bath, they had moved into the dining hall for dinner. Linna had gotten the shock of her life when the young Tebiki had bowed to her and said, "My Great Goddess Linai. Welcome home."

Linna had been so taken aback that the girl had feared she had offended the goddess. She threw herself at the goddess's feet and begged forgiveness for offense. At a complete loss, Linna had turned to Nene.

Nene had gently encouraged the girl to stand and assured her that there had been no offense. "My Lady Linai is merely surprised that she is known so well to the people of Tokio. She has been sleeping for many generations and is not familiar with our ways."

Tebiki had smiled warmly at Linna and bowed again. "You have only to ask my Lady and I will see that you have any answers that you might seek." The young servant had been serious. She had attached herself to Linna and been there with a quiet word whenever Linna had seemed puzzled or confused by something.

Tebiki approached the bed and Linna could see that she was upset. "Are you alright?"

Shaking her head, the young girl looked at Nene, who was still sleeping, her arms wrapped around Linna. "I bring news…." Her voice broke and she bit her lip.

Linna was alarmed at the tears spilling from the girl's eyes. "What is it?"

Nene stirred and focused sleepily on Tebiki. "Tebiki? Speak."

"My Goddess…. Belgran…. He… passed over in the night."

Nene sat up, pulling out of Linna's arms and running a shaking hand through her tangled hair.

Linna reached out and rubbed Nene's back, "Who's Belgran?"

Facing her lover, Nene met her eyes. "My son."

Surprisingly the entrance to the Pit was easy to find. Strange markers and statues lined the entrance and Priss took a moment to study them before moving into the entryway. "Looks like warning signs. I wonder why?"

Arashi was monitoring the sensors in Priss' arm. =Radiation.=

Priss froze and focused on her arm. "Sonofabitch." She knelt by the sealed door that led to the lower levels and touched it with her cybernetic hand. "What do you think?"

=Simplest answer? The reactor was damaged somehow. Or somebody dropped a nuclear missile down there. Either way we can't get any closer.=

"So now what? We have no idea if there are any more cryotubes down there and no way to find out."

=I can try to tap into the security system. It was on a separate power source.= Arashi reached out, trying to connect with the decaying system. =A lot of damage, probably from the radiation.=

Priss blinked as a grainy image appeared in front of her eyes. She realized that she was looking at the main section of the first level, which was positioned right below her. "Nice work."

=Thanks but there are gaps.= They worked there way through the system, checking each level.

"It's been stripped. All the supplies and equipment are gone."

=Yeah. Hey! I got the cryochamber camera working.=

The image change and Priss flinched. There, towards the back of the chamber was a lone cryotube. "Damn it. Please tell me that's empty."

Arashi fiddled with the signal a moment, trying to clear up the image. Priss' involuntary cry alerted her to her success.

"No!" Priss closed her eyes against the sight but the image was burned into her mind. The tube was open and she had just been able to see the skeletal hand hanging across the edge. She curled up into herself, small animal sounds of pain escaping her. Arashi was speaking, trying to offer some comfort but she was beyond hearing.

The tube was still in the same position that it had been placed in so long ago when Priss had kissed her wife goodnight and sealed the lid shut.

=The tube must have opened… then the radiation…=

Priss staggered to her feet and out into the snow.

She was running by the time she cleared the entrance. The snow made it difficult but Priss was past caring. Faster and faster she ran, leaping snow covered rocks and trees that had fallen to the great white weight. She was oblivious to the sharp stings of the branches against her skin. Her heart was pounding furiously in her chest, her lungs burning with the strain she was putting them through. But still she ran. Arashi's voice was lost in the dark swirl that filled her mind, memories, pain and despair roiled within her and Priss did the only thing she could… she ran.

"Your son?!" Linna stood staring at Nene. Her mind filled with images of what Nene would have to do to HAVE a son. "You… slept with…."

Nene sighed deeply and motioned for Tebiki to leave them. Once the girl had gone, she spoke. "It's not how you think Linna. We should have talked about this last night I guess." She rose from the bed and pulled a robe around her. "You might want to sit down. This could take a while to explain…"

Snow blew heavily, clinging to the damp cloak that surrounded the still form. Only the faintest hint of the coming light was visible, but the slitted eyes had no trouble seeing. They were focused on a motionless hand, watching the snow flakes cover its fingers.

Stay low.

Soft, dark, and dreamless,

Far beneath my nightmares and loneliness.


I hate me,

For breathing without you.

I don't want to feel anymore for you.

=Come on, Priss. Talk to me.=

Grieving for you,

I'm not grieving for you.

Nothing real love can't undo,

Deep within herself, Priss could hear Arashi's call, but felt no desire or need to answer it. The cold earth was thick with the snow, making her body temperature fall that much quicker. She couldn't really feel the rest of herself and in a small corner of her mind she was glad. She hoped that the numbness would spread, taking the unbearable ache from her as well.

And though I may have lost my way,

All paths lead straight to you.

I long to be like you,

Lie cold in the ground like you.

=Damn it Priss! Sylia wouldn't want this!=


Blinding wall between us.

Melt away and leave us alone again.

Humming, haunted somewhere out there.

I believe our love can see us through in death.

The cold was making her sleepy. Maybe that was a good idea… sleeping through the cold. Priss decided that she would lay here and sleep. Let the winter come and claim her.

I long to be like you,

Lie cold in the ground like you.

There's room inside for two and I'm not grieving for you,

I'm coming for you.

A burst of energy through her metal arm had her flinching away in pain.

=Answer me damn you!=

Priss blinked slowly, shaking her head as if waking from a dream. "Arashi? What the hell?"

=It's about time. Priss you need to get up now and dry off.=

Priss sat up and brushed the snow from her. "What am I doing on the ground?"

Arashi froze. =What do you remember?=

Priss shrugged and got to her feet, groaning as her body protested. "Um, it's kinda fuzzy. I think I had a nightmare?"

Arashi swore silently. How I wish it was. =Priss. Sylia is dead.=

Priss flinched and hunched over, falling to her knees and wrapping her arms around herself as the memory came rushing back, overwhelming her again.

=No! Priss! Stay with me Priss!=

The thin blade slipped out and Priss brought it up to lay against her throat.

You're not alone,

No matter what they told you, you're not alone.

I'll be right beside you forevermore.

It sprang up from where it had laid waiting inside her and seized its chance, wrenching the blade away and stripping Priss of control.

Arashi had a brief instant to panic and then she was silenced.

Shakily she got to her feet and looked around. The snow was deep and the cold bit into her, a silent warning to find shelter. She closed her eyes and felt the other, sleeping inside. Their mate was dead and Priss wished to join her. But she had no desire to die. She was saddened at the loss, but every instinct was screaming at her to survive. To live and maybe even find another mate. But how to stop Priss?

It took awhile but she figured out how to plant an idea in the woman's mind. When she was sure that she would be safe, she relinquished control and slipped back into the dark… for a little while.

Priss opened her eyes and stared around her blankly. The cold was making her shake, the body's attempt to bring her temperature back up. She rubbed her arms and asked Arashi to help. "We need to get out of here." She staggered away from the snow drift she had fallen into and continued through the forest. One foot in front of the other.

Linna rubbed her eyes and looked at Nene. No. The Goddess Ninani. A thousand years…

=Kind of hard to blame her.= Inji's conversation with Seiki had been enlightening to say the least. =She woke up thinking that you were dead.=

Get over it Linna! She wasn't in her right mind. Linna was embarrassed at the low banked jealousy that she was feeling. She shook her head and moved to Nene's side. "I can hardly imagine what it must have been like." She hugged the smaller woman firmly and let her doubts and jealousy drift away. Linna pulled back to meet Nene's eyes. "I'm truly sorry about your…son. I would have liked to meet him."

"He would have liked that too. He was so thrilled that he got to see Prisana. I think he'd been holding on so long so that he could."

"Prisana huh? Bet that went over well."

"About like you'd expect. She played along until she got close enough to kiss me and then-." Linna's scowl interrupted her.

"Kiss you? She kissed you?"

Nene laughed, delighted. "Yes, but it was purely out of necessity. Arashi had to get enough nanos into me to trigger Seiki."

Grumbling, Linna graciously decided to let Priss live. "God, what a tangled mess this has become. Everybody split up. The cryotubes not opening on time. And now we're gods. Could things get more confu-?" A small hand clapped over her mouth, stopping her.

"Careful. Let's not tempt the fates anymore than we have."

The snow crunched underfoot, its thin cover of ice crackling in the dark as the frost crusted figure approached the small ring of huts. Pale light from the fires within cast long shadows over the clearing and the figure paused at its edge, breathing the cold air and tasting burning wood and roasting meat.

Across the clearing there was another shadow watching the tiny village and when it had located a likely target, it moved swiftly. The sound of splintering wood filled the air and screams quickly followed. Villagers erupted from their homes, some bearing axes and crude farm tools. As the boomer tore through the other side of the hut in pursuit of its prey, the other stranger dropped their cloak and ran into the light.

In the chaos no one saw her at first. But when she leapt in front of the overlord, they couldn't miss her. Priss' axe flashed as she swung it into the machine's middle, letting just a fraction of her grief and rage loose on the construct. The machine fell into two pieces and then lay still. Priss lifted her ax again and cleaved the head from the beast, determined that it would not move again. The axe lifted again and fell again. Over and over until there was an even dozen pieces littering the snow covered ground, the sickly yellow fluid staining the pure white. Priss shouldered her axe, turned her back on her victim and retrieved her cloak. Slipping it back on, she ignored the gaping villagers and walked back into the darkness.

The funeral was not what Linna was expecting. Once the funeral pyre had been lit, the city seemed to break into a party. It was only as she started listening to the conversations around her that she realized that they were all telling tales of Belgran.

Nene sat at the top of the temple steps, a small red-haired girl of about three on her knee. Linna smiled at the picture and felt her heart ache. Ayden. She met Nene's eyes and saw a similar knowledge. <I wonder….> Linna sighed.

Nene gave the child back to her mother and made her way to her wife. <I know. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her… miss her.>

Linna studied the child's mother a moment and then grinned. "One of yours?"

Nene laughed and nodded. "My great granddaughter and my great great granddaughter."

Linna shook her head. "Must be hard to keep all that straight at holidays."

"It has its moments."

After retrieving the hovercycle, Priss began working her way south, hunting. Day after day, night after night she searched for the remains of the nightmares from her time. She stopped at villages only for supplies and information, never lingering more than a few hours. Her mind was consumed with her hunt and the need to finish what was started so many thousands of years before. She would finish Sylia's work. She would destroy all the boomers. And then she would stop. Priss smiled grimly as she raced through the melting snow, following a fleeing boomer. Then she could join Sylia. In death.

A roar of triumph echoed through the forest, terrifying all those that heard it. Soon Sylia… soon.

I'll be right beside you forevermore.

The reports were coming in faster now. A lone human was attacking the city. A fact that had first amused Malcor but now… The latest news was that she had slain a full third of his army and showed no signs of stopping. He readied his weapons and went out to meet this strange enemy.

Linna had found herself drawn to the market place and the merchants had been more than happy to see their goddess. She'd visited with them, discussing the current rules that governed the market and listening to their suggestions and complaints. Tebiki had been tagging along behind her since Linna had come to the city and since she was there, the goddess decided to put her to work. The temple maiden dutifully took notes and quietly offered information when Linna was presented with something she was unfamiliar with. As the sun reached its high point, Linna left the market and walked back through the city at a leisurely pace.

Along the inner wall of the city, near the main gate, a large mural was nearing completion. A battlefield stretched across the expanse, slain boomers covered the ground and made up the small hill on one side. Atop the hill, sat the Goddess of War, her armor covered in blood, her axe resting beside her. She was staring out over the remains, a small thin pipe held in her right hand and the legendary helmet, Kijin gripped in the other.

Just past the wrecked boomers, there stood the soldiers that had followed Prisana into the battle, their swords raised aloft in salute to their goddess.

Tebiki told her of the battle that had taken place, how Ninani and Prisana had defended the city. And how Prisana had then fought Death itself for the lives of her soldiers that had been wounded. Linna studied the picture for a long time before turning to continue her walk. The temple in the center of the city was her destination. She stared at the towering stone figures that graced its entrance and felt the odd sense of unreality that she'd been experiencing since she'd come to this city. The four goddesses of Tokio. The Temple of Justice held all the knowledge of not only the city, but of everything, thanks to the Scribes. She climbed the steps to the huge doors and met her wife coming out.

"So are you done for the day?"

Nene smiled at the sight of Linna's shadow and nodded. "Yes. But they would like you to attend court next time."

Wrinkling her nose, Linna complained, "Jury duty?"

"No, you get to be the judge." Stunned, Linna struggled to form an adequate response.

The approach of a scribe interrupted them and Linna had to smile at the image she presented. The scribes of Sylayla followed the dictate that knowledge was power. And to that end they traveled all over, collecting information from everyone they met. Many isolated villages had never heard of Tokio, but they had been visited by scribes. The distinctive livery was a familiar sight across the land. A dark blue tunic that bore an open hand in white. Within the palm of the hand was an open eye.

The young woman bowed formally and then handed Nene a scroll. "My Goddess Ninani. Several reports have come in from some of the northern villages. I thought you would want to see them." She looked at Linai and paused when she saw the temple maiden standing beside her.

Nene read quickly. "You're very right. Thank you, Tadashii." She started back towards her temple. <Priss is on some kind of rampage. She's hunting boomers. It sounds as if she's trying to clear the entire world of them.>

<I thought she was hunting for the other cryotubes; why would she stop?>

<I don't know.>

Priss ignored the blood flowing into her eyes, focusing instead on the trio of boomers facing her. "Come on freaks! I've got a date to keep!" She swung forward and heads flew into the air. As she turned to face the next opponents she realized that the enemy was falling back. The clusters of machines parted and Priss took a second to wipe her face and then hefted her axe again as a single boomer approached.

He was taller than the others… and very familiar. Priss grinned. "A fucking Doberman. Why am I surprised?"

Malcor heard her and stopped. She knew his model designation? Only Ninani, the so-called Goddess of Tokio knew that. "Who are you and why are you attacking us?"

Priss snorted. "I am not explaining myself to a damned machine." She flipped forward and swung the axe upward, splitting the armor-covered chest of the boomer leader. He fell back and brought his arm up to fire but Priss was swinging again. The arm hit the ground and he stared at it blankly for a moment before looking up to see the blade rapidly approaching.

The surrounding boomers fell back as the top of their leader's head landed at their feet. Priss rained blows down upon the broken body, not stopping until there was nothing that could be salvaged. She rested her axe on her shoulder and smiled widely at the remaining machines. "Who's next?"

Tadashii bowed her head as she entered the Temple of Ninani and slipped onto one of the benches. There was no actual alter, but rather the statue of the goddess Ninani. The room was meant more as a place of peace and contemplation rather than any organized ritual of worship. She didn't have to wait long. Tebiki came through the inner door and crossed to her, sitting down next to her. "How have you been, Tadashii?"

The scribe shrugged. "I'm well, Tebiki. I was surprised to see you outside the temple today."

Tebiki nodded. "I have been helping Linai. She has been asleep for so long that a lot of our ways are strange to her." She tucked a strand of her auburn hair behind her ear. "I've requested that I be allowed to join her temple."

Tadashii was truly shocked. "But… I thought that Ninani was your path?"

Tebiki shook her head. "It was. But I feel that I'm really helping Linai. I like that."

They had been friends since childhood. They'd played together, dreamed together and that bond was still strong between them. Tadashii hugged her, ignoring just how much she enjoyed the feeling. "You must be true to your path. I hope you get what you want." She pulled back and smiled. "I'll watch the records for news of your transfer. So I'll know which temple to visit you at."

Tebiki watched her go and felt a moment's regret at the loss of what might have been.

Nene read the report again and looked at her spy. "You're sure that's what she said?"

The woman nodded gravely. "Yes my Goddess. 'I have to kill you all before I can join my wife."

Frowning at the words, Nene glanced at Linna. "Doesn't sound right, does it?"

Linna took the paper and read it. "I'm not sure. Why would she have to kill the boomers to be able to join Sylia?" She shrugged. "Then again it is Priss. She has a really odd sense of humor."

Thoughtfully Nene nodded. "Yes, that's true." She looked back at the woman who had been brave enough to volunteer to spy on Malcor's camp. "Shinobi. I thank you for this information. With the destruction of Malcor's forces your skills as a spy are no longer needed at this time." She stepped down from her throne and went to one of the small chests that were scattered around the room. Nene dug a moment and then closed the lid when she found what she was looking for. She returned to the kneeling woman and carefully laid a heavy gold medallion around her neck. "I hereby elevate you to Knight Guardian Elite. Let all here bear witness and mark. Shinobi of Elgar has served her goddess well and I am very pleased." She kissed the woman's forehead and stepped back, but kept a steadying hand on the woman's shoulder as she swayed a little.

<I wonder if she'd be willing to go keep an eye on Priss?> Linna raised a brow in Nene's direction.

Nene considered it and then grinned. <Why don't you ask her?>

Nonplused, Linna stared at Nene. <You're not serious?> But from the look on her face, Nene was completely serious. Linna sighed and then turned to Shinobi. "Shinobi. I have a favor to ask of you. Please feel free to say no."

Shinobi straightened her shoulders even more. "I am yours to command, my Goddess Linai."

Linna resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Do you think you could find Prisana again?"

Shinobi hesitated. "She is moving very quickly but yes, I believe I could."

Linna nodded. "Okay then. If you are willing then we would like you to return to Prisana. Follow her. See if you can find out anymore about why she is doing this. If she gets into any trouble that she can't get out of or if she seems to need our help, then send word back to us."

Shinobi nodded gravely. "I will do as you command, my Goddess. Or die in the attempt."

Cursing the loss of the hovercycle in the boomer city, Priss hiked through the forest, senses and scanners searching for any signs of boomers within the area. In the distance she could hear the footsteps echoing her own and smelled the scent of woman on the air. Familiar. Her shadow had found her again. Priss released a pent up sigh. "They've sent a very persistent babysitter."

=This surprises you?= Privately Arashi applauded the decision by the others. =You should at least return long enough to tell them that Sylia's dead.=

Priss froze and closed her eyes against the fresh wave of pain. <Yeah. I guess>

Shinobi watched from a nearby stand of blossoming trees as the goddess of war dropped her backpack and stretched. Stopping again so soon? She blinked when the goddess disappeared before her eyes. A feeling of movement behind her and Shinobi found herself on the ground staring up at the impassive features of Prisana. "My Goddess!"

Priss bent close and growled, making the woman flinch. "Tell them that I'll be back in Tokio before the next full moon."

And then she was gone.

Shinobi searched for hours, trying desperately to find any trace of her trail but there was nothing. Defeated, she turned towards home.

On the eve of the full moon, a ragged, travel weary form walked towards the city. Tattered leathers hung on a body that had gone too long without proper meals and the face was colored with a thin layer of road dust. The guards at the city gate recognized her of course and they let her pass unchallenged. But the bedraggled form was a far cry from the goddess that they were expecting and the agony in the divine one's eyes was plainly visible. They sent word to Ninani that Prisana had returned but wasn't well.

Ninani and her consort Linai met her in the center of the city. They caught her as she collapsed and bore her exhausted body to the temple of Ninani. The maidens wasted no time in stripping her of her soiled clothing and getting her cleaned up, while Ninani and Linai contacted Arashi.

"What happened?"

=We found the Pit. It had been flooded with radiation… Sylia's dead.=

Nene covered her mouth to strangle a sob, burying her face into Linna's chest.

Linna held her tightly and closed her eyes. "So that's what she meant."

Nene sniffed and raised her head to search her wife's face. "What?"

"What she said. 'I have to kill you all before I can join my wife.' She's finishing Sylia's work."

Nene paled. "And the 'join my wife' part… she wants to die."

Grimacing, Linna nodded. "Yes."

"Well we'll just have to stop her." Nene's face set into a determined scowl. "We're not losing both of them. I won't allow it!"

Tebiki straightened the stack of papers on Linai's desk and then picked up the book she kept Linai's notes in and went to find the goddess. She'd been surprised when the goddesses had called her before them and asked her why she wanted to move to the other temple. When she'd explained, Linai had shaken her head, causing the temple maiden's shoulders to slump. The goddess' next words stunned her.

"I don't need another temple maiden, but I do need an aide. There's so much to keep track of and there's so much history that I'm not aware of. I need someone to help with all that. So while I'm refusing your request to become a handmaiden in my temple, I'm making my own request that you become my personal aid." She smiled at the girl's stupefied expression. "Tebiki?"

She'd stammered, "I, uh, my Goddess. Yes! I.. I would be honored."

The advantage of her position had become clear the first night. Instead of Linai's temple, she would be staying at Ninani's. Wherever Linai was, she was to be. So she hadn't had to leave her friends after all. It was a relief to her and she wished there was someway to send word about this to Tadashii.

In the Temple of Justice, Tadashii read the report of the Goddess of Grace and Wealth's new aide and smiled. Way to go, Tebiki!

Nene threw open the doors to Priss' room and then marched to the window, throwing the shutters wide and letting the light stream in.

A muffled groan of protest emerged from the bed's occupant and Nene took that as a good sign. "Okay Priss. Enough of this. It's time to get up and rejoin the world." Through fast talking, threats and a copious amount of tears, Nene had managed to at least delay Priss' planned suicide. However now the former singer had slipped into a depression so deep that even Arashi had been unable to snap her out of it. They had let her mourn, figuring that she would gradually come out of it on her own. She hadn't. Now Nene was going to force the issue and drag Priss, kicking and screaming if need be, back to the land of the living.

"Fuck you."

Nene grinned. "There she is! Come on Priss. You've been in here for almost three weeks. Haven't you hidden long enough?"

Priss threw the covers back and glared at Nene. "Leave me alone, Nene."

Nene planted her fists on her hips and glared back. "No. And do you know why? Because Sylia would kick my ass if I let you get away with this." She held her ground, hiding a wince as Priss' face paled. "Please Priss. Come have dinner with us. We miss our friend."

Priss rubbed her eyes, knowing the small redhead was right but resenting the hell out of it. "Okay."

Nene clapped excitedly and then wasted no time in grabbing Priss' arm and pulling her out of the bed. "But first things first. You need a bath."

Priss stared into her goblet, oblivious to the concerned looks being sent her way. She drained her wine and set the empty cup on the table with a snap.

One of the maiden's slipped forward and refilled it with a trembling hand. Prisana's silent form walked the halls at night, as if searching for something lost. They knew she was mourning the loss of her wife, Sylayla, but her expressionless face made them nervous. Hirani had been unhappy to find out that it was her turn to serve the silent goddess this evening but she was determined to do her best.

When Priss reached for the goblet before Hirani was finished filling it, she flinched, her hands bumping into the vessel and sending it tumbling… into Prisana's lap.

Hirani blanched as the wine drenched the goddess' clothes and she stammered, "My Goddess! I'm sorry! I, it, I'm sorry!" She set the wine jug on the table and snatched up a cloth, torn between wanting to help the goddess and being terrified of touching her.

Priss felt the cold wine seeping though the seams of her britches and looked down at herself. She could hear the girl's voice, hear the fear and embarrassment. Priss stood up and glanced at her. Hirani froze as Prisana's eyes caught hers. She was terrified.

Nene and Linna were both trying to talk to her through the enclave link, but Priss was ignoring them.

Priss released Hirani from her gaze and gripped the bottom of her tunic, pulling it up and off. She stripped off her boots and pants, tossing them onto her chair. Then she turned and walked out of the dining hall, completely naked. Hirani swayed in relief when she realized that she was not going to be struck down by the Goddess of War's wrath. She braced herself against the table and glanced at the others. Ninani and Linai were staring at each other, their expressions and body language indicating that they were talking to each other, but they were silent. Hirani had heard that the gods could speak to each other through their magic but she had never seen it before. She hesitantly reached out and picked up the soiled clothes. Maybe I can clean them? She tucked the bundle under her arm and bowing to Ninani and Linai, she left the hall.

Hirani worked the rest of the night on the clothes, determined to return them to their former condition. Unfortunately there was one spot that would not come out. It had just been a small splash over the left breast of the tunic but the cloth would not release the stain, no matter how hard she scrubbed.

Hirani sat with the garment in her lap, her eyes wandering around the room, searching for a solution to and unsolvable problem. Her eyes landed on the small box that contained her personal keepsakes and she blinked. "Of course!" She retrieved the box and opened it, stirring through the contents until she found what she was looking for. The necklace was from the coast to the east, a gift from her grandfather who had been a fisherman. The beads had been cut from shells and polished to a bright shine. She ran her fingers over the gold and black pattern and thought about Prisana.

Priss lay in the bed, the covers pulled over her head to block out the day's light. She had no desire to rise and saw no reason she should despite Arashi's grumbling. Apathy held her tightly in its embrace and had no intention of letting go without a fight. Unfortunately Priss had no desire to fight.

A great sucking hole lay where she had once loved and now there was nothing to fill it with. On the edges of her consciousness a presence crouched, waiting. It shared the grief of the loss of their mate, but was more practical. If she would do nothing then it would.

The door of her bedchamber eased open and a small face peered around the edge. Priss stayed motionless. She recognized the girl from last night and was only slightly interested in what she was doing here. Hirani slipped into the room, her arms gripping the clothes to her like a shield. Priss recognized them and wondered what the girl was up to. Hirani moved quickly to the table beside the bed and set her bundle down, before turning away. Her eyes met Priss' and she paled. "My Goddess?!"

Hirani started to back up, but Priss was curious. She swept the covers away with a sharp motion that made the girl stumble back. Priss stood, reaching out to grip Hirani's arm and keep her there. Once her captive was secured, she turned to the table. Priss picked up the tunic and shook it out until she could see it clearly. She stared at it in silence and then focused on the terrified girl in her grasp. Hirani was shaking, her face pale and her eyes filled with tears. The sight of which triggered something inside of Priss. She dropped the tunic back onto the table and pulled Hirani closer, holding her upper arms firmly, in case she tried to bolt. "I like it."

Hirani blinked, "My Goddess?

Priss reached up and cupped Hirani's face with her right hand, brushing away an escaped tear with her thumb. "I really like it. Thank you." She smiled. It was small and sad, but it was a smile.

Hirani was beginning to realize that she wasn't going to be punished and her trembling began to lessen. "I, I'm sorry about last night."

Priss shook her head and shrugged. "I've been soaked with worse things." Priss could feel something stirring, deep, where she had thought everything was dead. "What's your name?"

"H-Hirani, my Goddess."

"That is a pretty name." She stared down into the gentle face and let her hand slide up into the auburn hair that fell in soft waves around Hirani's face. She caught Hirani's chin in her left hand and tilted her face up to hers. Priss bent slightly and touched her lips to Hirani's.

Hirani's heart was pounding so hard they could both hear it. Prisana had kissed her! Then the dark head was bending again and Hirani felt the touch again, firmer this time, longer. Prisana's mouth brushed hers again and again, moving slowly but with purpose.

"Open your mouth."

Prisana's husky command raced through her, and she felt herself sway unsteadily even as her lips obeyed.

Priss seized the opportunity and dipped her tongue into the waiting warmth.

Arashi was silent. In truth she had no idea what she should do. Priss was more or less in her right mind. And it wasn't like she was cheating on Sylia. She pushed her own unresolved emotions regarding Taisei to the back of her mind and considered. Was there any real reason to stop Priss?

Hirani felt the goddess' tongue touch hers and slumped forward, into Prisana's arms. Priss wrapped her arm around the girl's waist and held her securely against her as she taught the handmaiden how to kiss.

After a time, Priss stepped back and sat on the edge of the bed, leaving Hirani standing in front of her. She traced the delicate features of the girl's face, which made Hirani sigh and close her eyes. Then Priss stroked her fingers down Hirani's neck and under the shoulders of her dress. She pushed the material off one shoulder and tugged Hirani closer before ducking her head and kissing the smooth skin she had bared. Within moments the material had been pushed away and off, pooling around Hirani's feet and leaving her naked before Priss.

Hirani trembled as the goddess' eyes claimed her and she could feel her body responding to the visual caress. Priss moved back onto the bed, pulling Hirani up until she was straddling her lap. Priss ducked her head and sucked the tip of one perfect breast into her mouth. Hirani's startled cry turned into a low moan as Priss began to suckle and nip at the flesh. Priss' human hand slipped down and began to stroke the length of Hirani's thigh, her fingers moving ever closer to her goal.

It was too hot. Hirani's mind was fogged with sensation and she tried to make sense of what was happening, but all that she could think was that it was too hot. Somebody should open a window. Then Prisana's fingers were touching her where she had only ever skimmed with a bath cloth and all rational thought was lost.

Priss eased Hirani down onto the bed and covered her body with hers. Hirani looked up at her, her eyes wide and filled with confused arousal. Capturing her lips once again, Priss slid her fingers deep inside Hirani, filling her, claiming her.

Hirani felt a brief flash of pain, but it was lost within the multitude of other sensations that Prisana was wringing from her body. When Hirani felt Prisana's mouth on her most intimate place, she was overwhelmed and then there was only waves of sensation and light and the sound of someone crying out.

Priss tucked Hirani into her side, letting the girl's head fall onto her shoulder. Then she reached out, picked up the tunic from the table and studied the beadwork. The leopard's head was beautifully done and Priss was touched that Hirani had gone to such trouble.

Something wet plopped onto her chest and she looked down at the tear in surprise. Priss touched her own cheek in shock. The tears were falling freely, but she had not realized. Had not realized that she had shut herself down to such an extent. Sylia won't be happy. Priss froze at the thought and then it was too late. The grief washed over her, engulfing her and she let it come. Burying her face in Hirani's hair, she wept for the dead.

Kira knelt at the goddess's feet and waited for permission to speak.

Since she had regained her memories, Nene had become more and more uncomfortable with all the formality but she knew that it was expected. So she let the head of her temple's acolytes wait a moment before speaking. "Yes Kira?"

"My Goddess… I am unable to find Hirani."

Nene's frown was puzzled. "When was she last seen?"

"Night before last, in the dining hall."

"Has her room been searched?"

"Yes, my Goddess. But her bed has not been slept in." Kira hesitated. "There was one thing, my Goddess."


"Well, I found these on the floor." She held her hand out and showed Ninani the stray beads she had found. "I recognize these. They were from a necklace that Hirani loved more than anything. She would not have parted with it easily."

"You believe she's been harmed?" Ninani summoned the captain of the temple guard. "Search the temple, the grounds and the city. One of my acolytes is missing. Hirani was last seen in the dining hall two nights ago." She showed her the beads and told her to alert the city guards as well. "I want her found, and quickly."

Nene dismissed them and spoke with Linna. <I have a problem here. I'm going to have to skip lunch, sweetie>

<What's wrong?>

Nene explained and Linna said she would be there shortly. Linna had taken to spending her free time in the marketplace, working with the community and moderating simple disputes.

Nene tried to speak to Priss, and was abruptly cut off by Arashi. =She's a little busy at the moment. It's been a long couple of days. I'll have her get back to you.=

Nene scowled. <Fine. Tell her when she's done feeling sorry for herself maybe she can help us find a missing girl.>

Arashi's tone was now cautious. =What girl?=

Impatient, Nene was sharp. <One of my acolytes has gone missing. Not that Priss would care, I'm sure.>

=Um, what's an acolyte?=

<An acolyte is a handmaiden in training.> Absently, Nene wondered at the enclave's interest.

=So that's different from a handmaiden how?=

<An acolyte begins training at age ten, learns the duties and responsibilities of a handmaiden but doesn't actually perform those duties until she's of age.>

=Of age?! Um, so how old is the missing girl?= There was a decidedly nervous tone in Arashi's voice.

<16. What's wrong with you?> Nene had stopped walking and was standing in the entrance of the temple proper. "What are you so nervous about?"

The guards heard this of course, but they were used to their goddess' discussions with the unseen ones.

=16?!= Arashi was pretty sure that Priss had thought Hirani was older.

"Arashi. What do you know?"

So Arashi told her. Nene ran the entire distance to Prisana's chambers.

The doors flew open and Nene stormed into the room, causing the bed's occupants to jerk awake unpleasantly.

Priss glared balefully at Nene. "God, Nene. Do you ever knock?"

Nene ignored her and went to Hirani, pulling her from the bed and examining her for signs of injury. "Are you all right?"

Priss stared at the girl, her mind a little fuzzy as to how she came to be in her bed. Images slowly began to surface and she was stunned by what she was seeing. I didn't… I couldn't have.

Hirani was frightened and shaking. She knew that she had broken her vows as an acolyte to the Goddess Ninani. She knelt before her goddess and bowed her head. "I have broken my vow, my goddess." Her voice broke, but she forced the words out. "I await your punishment."

Priss leapt out of the bed and scooped Hirani up into her arms. No way would she let this girl be punished because of what she'd done. "Punishment? No way in Hell!" Priss scowled, remembering Nene's harem. "Nene what are you so pissed about?" She set Hirani on the bed away from Nene and wrapped a sheet around her.

Nene was furious. "What am I pissed about? You seduced a child under my protection!"

Priss blanched. "Wha- a child? What the hell are you talking about?" Oh just kill me now!

"Hirani is an acolyte of my temple. She's only sixteen years old Priss. The age of consent within Tokio is seventeen." Nene drew a deep breath. "All acolytes take a vow of chastity while in training. Hirani broke that vow. By temple law she could be executed." Nene shot her a furious look. "So could you."

Stunned didn't even begin to describe Priss' expression. 16?! Straight to Hell, Asagiri! Straight to Hell! One way ticket on the express train! Wait a sec… Executed? "Executed?! But, you made the laws, Nene! Have you really killed young girls for breaking your freaking laws?"

Nene was boiling mad. "No! Of course not! That's why the punishment is so harsh! No one has ever broken that law!!" Nene pointed at Hirani, an action that had the girl cringing. "I set that law in place to protect my acolytes. Now I have to figure out how to defuse this situation that you created." She jabbed a finger into Priss' chest and glared up at her. "For god's sake Priss! What were you thinking?"

Priss shoved her hand away and loomed over the shorter woman. "Don't touch me."

Nene punched her. Prisana's head snapped back and then a low growl filled the room. Priss grabbed Nene's upper arms and lifted her off the floor. "Do not hit me again Nene. I will hit back." Her words were the rolling rumble of a large cat and too late Nene remembered the darker side of Priss' nature that had come to light before the flares. She forced herself to relax in Priss grip, and schooled her features into a mask of calm. "I'm sorry Priss. I shouldn't have struck you."

Hirani sat motionless on the bed, horrified at the scene unfolding before her.

Priss pulled herself under control with difficulty. She carefully set Nene down, released her and then stepped away to the window, trying to put some distance between them.

Nene ignored the throbbing in her arms, knowing that without Seiki's help she would be badly bruised. "We need to resolve this and quickly. The guards are searching for her now. Her friends are worried and they will send word to her family that she's missing."

Priss dug her fingers into the window frame and stared out at the peaceful city below. "What happened was my fault, Nene. If someone has to be punished then it will be me."

"Well I see that your romantic, broody, self-destructive streak is still alive and well."

They turned to watch Linna glide into the room. Nene hugged her and then looked at Priss. "I can't execute you Priss. If I did then those in Tokio that worship you would start a war."

Priss grimaced at the thought that there were people out there that were that devoted to her.

Seeing the look, Linna grinned. "Come on Priss. You didn't mind having tons of screaming fans worshiping you. What's the difference?"

"Now is not the time for humor, Linna." Priss' frustrated growl was understandable, but she regretted the look of fear that now marred Hirani's pretty face. She forced herself to calm down and approached her. "I'm sorry Hirani. I didn't know about the law or your vow." I also don't know what the hell I was thinking…

Hirani was at a complete loss for words. She was sitting (and that was against everything she had ever been taught) in the presence of three gods and now the goddess of war was apologizing. To her. She opened her mouth to speak, but what could she say? Hirani drew a breath and looked at Nene. "I am sorry that I broke my vow, Ninani." She met Prisana's eyes. "But I am not sorry that you chose me."

Priss reached out and took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

Linna sighed deeply. "Is there anyone who can resist Priss' charms?"

Nene's eyes widened and she stared at Linna. Who promptly paled. "Nene? You don't think I meant me, do you? Cause Priss is like a sister to me, you know that right? Nene?"

Priss laughed at Linna's panicked expression. "But I thought you said I was irresistible?"

Nene waved her hands at them. "Be quiet!" She began pacing, muttering. A moment later she stopped and stared at Priss, beaming.

Now it was Priss' turn to look hunted. "Um, Nene?"

<Linna and I are leaving. When we're gone, you and Hirani are going to get dressed and go straight to your temple. Get settled there and be ready when I come tomorrow to demand that you return my acolyte.>

<But how will that help?>

<Because it will remind people that you are a goddess and we need that reminder.> She saw the disgusted expression on Priss' face and ignored it. <No one would expect Hirani to be able to resist the powers of a goddess, Priss. She can't be blamed for what happened this way.>

Priss reluctantly agreed and watched her friends leave. She glanced at Hirani over her shoulder and sighed. How do I explain this to her?

The temple of Prisana was in an uproar. Servants and handmaidens were scurrying about, racing to make the already perfect temple… well, perfect. Their goddess had finally come home and they were determined that there would be nothing she could find fault with. It had been a terrible blow to them when she had first returned that she hadn't come to them, but they had understood that she had been needed on the battlefield. But when she returned again, with news of Sylayla's death, they had thought she would seek refuge with them. But she hadn't. And once again they were left wondering if they had done something to displease her.

But now, now she was here! Fusha, the high priestess was welcoming her and the girl with her.

"Welcome, my Goddess. We await your pleasure."

Prisana was decidedly uncomfortable. When she was treated like this at Nene's temple she could shrug it off and tell herself that they were only doing this because of Nene. But she couldn't ignore the fact that these people had devoted their lives to worshipping… her. "Um, thank you for the warm welcome." Hmm, kind of like a concert. "I'm... very happy to be here." She shrugged. Enough of this. "I need to talk to you and whoever else is in charge; can we do that over a meal?"

Fusha bowed gracefully. "Of course my goddess. A banquet has been prepared."

Priss barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes and followed the high priestess down the hallway.

She had never felt so out of place as she did sitting at the head of the long table. Hirani was right beside her and Priss squeezed her hand reassuringly under the table. There had been a dicey moment when the high priestess had asked if Prisana wanted Hirani sent to the handmaiden's quarters with the others. Hirani had gone pale and Priss had not liked the tone in Fusha's voice. Her own voice had rolled out in a low ripple that had terrified everyone who heard it. "Hirani stays with me." So now they sat together at the head of the table, with the high priestess on their right and the captain of the temple guard on the left. There wasn't much in the way of conversation.

Priss waited until the meal was coming to an end before dropping her bomb. "Ninani will probably discover that I've kidnapped one of her acolytes soon."

A pindrop would sound like an avalanche in the silence that followed her statement.

Priss leaned back in her chair and raised Hirani's hand to her lips. She winked, a gesture that only Hirani saw. "As I am not about to relinquish my prize, she's going to be very angry with me." Priss directed her words at Toku, the captain of her guard. "But I am not about to start a fight with her. So no matter how angry she is when she storms in here, I expect her to be treated with the respect she deserves. And under NO circumstances will any weapon be drawn, understand?" At her nod, Priss continued. "Ninani has the right to be angry and I intend to let her vent a little when she gets here." A small grin. "It always makes her feel better."

It had gone better than they had hoped.

Ninani had stormed into Prisana's great hall and demanded the return of her acolyte. Prisana had refused and told Ninani to take a hike. After much threatening and name calling, Ninani had demanded that Hirani be given the right to choose what she wanted.

Prisana had graciously allowed this, secretly pleased when Hirani had chosen to return to Ninani's temple. She still couldn't figure out why she'd done what she had…it was so unlike her.

The redheaded goddess had left, taking the acolyte with her, promising Priss in private that the girl would not suffer in any way from this incident.

Once there, Priss found it impossible to leave her temple. Her… followers… were so thrilled she was there and so eager to serve her that Priss knew they'd take it the wrong way if she went back to Nene's temple. So she'd bitten the bullet and stayed, and yes, part of the reason was that she was not in any hurry to run into Hirani again.

So now she found herself sitting in her great hall on her throne... throne, for God's sake…letting her followers bring matters before her to be decided. She leaned back in the ornate chair and studied the room. Wooden panels stained a dark red covered the walls, and each bore a variety of weapons and shields. She had to admit, the person who decorated this place had taste. A resplendent phoenix carved from red stone rose behind her throne and the torches on either side cast its shadow across the floor in front of her.

<So Arashi… why have you been so quiet lately? I would have expected hours of lectures after what happened with Hirani.>

Arashi was slow to answer and when she did Priss sensed a deep sadness from the enclave. =I…yeah. I can't… its hard to explain.=

Priss rested her chin on her fist and waved a hand at the empty room. "Got nothing but time old friend."

=Not anymore.=


= I'm not your friend. Not anymore. Not with that…. Thing taking you over!=

<Whoa! Arashi what's wrong with you? What are you talking about?>

=It locks me out! When the cat takes over it cuts me off from you… completely! I can't see, I can't hear. I don't even have contact with the other enclaves. Or even the low-grade nanos inside of you. It's like being trapped in a prison cell!=

The pain in her 'voice' shook Priss. "I'm sorry Arashi. I didn't know." She rubbed her eyes. <How do we stop this from happening again?>

=I don't think we can.=

<No. We have to find a way. Even if we have to get rid of the cat.>

=Like I haven't been trying to figure out how to do that for centuries.=

Priss thought about the enclaves, how they were constructed, how they interacted with their hosts. <I thought you guys were irrevocably tied to our bodies… how can you be blocked? I mean, where in the process is the break occurring?>

Arashi studied what data she had collected. =It's like the cat pushes me back into the logic circuit and keeps me pinned there. The primitive elements that make up that part of you can't be interpreted by them.=

The logic circuits had been a failsafe that had been implemented after Arashi and Taisei's personalities had become fractured, one by drugs, the other by a blood clot in the brain. At the moment the logic circuits were activated, the enclaves had more or less taken an 'image' of their host's personality and used that as their template. Priss frowned. <You're still using that first image of my brain as your template, right?>


<That's the problem then. You can't change or adapt as long as you're using that image. If you were still truly part of my personality then you wouldn't be cut off. You didn't make a refuge, you made a prison.>

=So I what? Shut down the circuit? There were very valid reasons for creating those circuits. What happens if they're needed again?=

Priss shrugged. <We deal with it.>

Arashi was hesitant, mainly because she wanted this so badly. She was so tired of being trapped inside Priss' mind. =I… are you sure Priss? There's no telling what could happen.=

Priss smiled. <Don't be afraid, Arashi. We won't let anything happen to you.>

=Can I think about this?=

<Take all the time you need.>

Priss saw her high priestess coming towards her and muffled a sigh. The woman just doesn't know when to quit. "High Priestess Fusha. What can I do for you today?"

The pale-haired priestess bowed and then met the goddess' eyes. "Your festival of victory is in three days. I assume that you will perform the ritual sacrifice?"

Priss' expression was… not pleased. "What the hell are you talking about? What sacrifice?"

Fusha began to list the animals that were annually slain in her name. "Four bulls, ten cows, four calves, two rams, four ewes, six lamb-."

Priss held up both hands in a stop gesture. "Are you telling me that you guys have been killing all that every year?"

Fusha nodded. "It's tradition."

"Fuck tradition!" Priss scowled. "What do you do with them after you kill them? Have a huge feast?"

"No. The bodies are cremated."

Priss began to swear long loud and in Japanese. "This stops now." The city can't afford such a waste! What are these people thinking!?

Fusha blinked. "But you can't just…" She trailed off and blushed.

Priss smirked. "Oh yes I can. What other things are you guys doing in my name?"

Fusha was looking decidedly uncomfortable now. "Um, the holy rites are listed in the book of Prisana."

"Show me."

Fusha had stopped trying to be respectful of the goddess and was now yelling at her. "You can't stop the spring fertility rites! It's the people's favorite!"

Priss gleefully ripped the page from the book and crumpled it. "I don't care. You guys want to auction off women as brood mares then you do it without my blessing. I can't believe Nene hasn't cracked down on this deal."

Fusha groaned as the paper joined the others on the floor. "It's not like that. The women are bought by their betrothed. There hasn't been an unwilling woman in centuries!"

Priss shook her head. "Fine. But I won't condone it. And where exactly does all the money from these little festivals go?"

Fusha rolled her eyes and took another book from the shelf. They were in the temple's library and Priss had been tearing apart centuries of history as happily as a child making paper dolls. "Everything is accounted for here."

Priss rapidly read through the information and with Arashi's help, realized that money was being skimmed from the budget. "Yeah. You're being robbed blind by," She checked the entries again. "By Sozuko. He's taking ten percent off the top."

"That can't be!" Fusha was glaring at the shorter woman. "He's been the temple's treasurer for twenty years!"

Priss shrugged. "If you don't believe me then get Linai in here. There's nothing about money she doesn't know." Priss grinned. "Yeah. Let's do that." Her eyes narrowed. <Linna? You got a minute?>

Across the city, Linna continued what she was doing but answered. <Yeah just one. What's up?>

Priss explained and Linna promised to be there as soon as she finished giving Nene her massage.

Chuckling, Priss looked at Fusha. "She'll be here as soon as she and Ninani finish making out."

Fusha's expression was puzzled. " 'Making out'? What is that?"

Priss leaned close and her voice went husky. "Fucking."

Fusha blushed and then frowned, spinning away from the goddess and putting some distance between them.

Linna closed the book with a decisive snap. "Yep. He's definitely taking money."

Fusha closed her eyes and nodded. "I will inform the guard. He will be punished accordingly." She moved to leave only to find her arm held in an iron grip.

"What exactly constitutes 'accordingly'?" Priss' voice was suspicious.

"Execution, of course. He dared to steal from the Goddess of War. It would hardly be expected to slap his hand and send him on his way." Her derisive tone had Priss' blood humming.

"Look, don't you think death is a little harsh?"

Fusha shot her an incredulous look. "Are you the Goddess of War or of sheep?"

Linna bit her lip. Hard.

A low growl filled the room, growing in fury until the very air seemed to vibrate. Priss' eyes were ablaze and Fusha cringed back in fear, realizing that she had gone too far. Priss carefully released the priestess and pointed to the door. "Get out before I need a new High Priestess."

The door closed behind her and Linna let loose. Her laughter filled the room, replacing the primitive growl. Priss glared at her a moment and then slowly smiled.

Later that night, Priss found herself at odds with more of her temple staff. She had been ducking the temple maidens for days, refusing to allow them to serve her but tonight they had gotten sneaky. She had returned to her rooms to discover the large tub had been filled with steaming hot water and a determined temple maid was waiting with a washcloth in hand. "Everything is ready, my Goddess." She had then begun to strip Priss of her clothes, ignoring her protests.

So Priss had come to find herself in the water, with the girl washing her with a determined zeal.

Priss watched the young woman as she bathed her, her mind curiously blank. As the warm cloth swept over her breasts, Priss felt something stir to life deep inside her. She watched as her own hand lifted and cupped the girl's face. She brushed her thumb over slightly parted lips, once, and then again. "What's your name?"

Trembling at her goddess' touch the girl's voice was a mere whisper against Priss' fingers. "Aika."

Priss' eyes were dark and she slipped her artificial hand through the thick mass of auburn hair to cup the back of Aika's head. "That's a pretty name."

=What are you doing Priss?! Have you lost your mind?!= Arashi flinched from the mental assault that followed, overwhelmed by the emotions that Priss was bombarding her with. The door slammed shut and Arashi screamed in frustration as she was once again sent into the darkness.

Priss ignored the enclave and gently tugged the girl closer. She caught those soft lips with her own, slipping her arms around Aika's waist and settling her across her body. The warm weight was like a balm to her raw nerves and Priss deepened the kiss, tasting and claiming this new treasure. She ran her tongue across Aika's lips and then bent to kiss her way down the girl's neck. Small gasps were escaping her prize and each one only added to her growing arousal. Priss reached the neck of Aika's ceremonial gown and growled softly before gripping the damp material in both hands and tearing it away. Aika flinched at the sound and the action but any thoughts she had to protest were pushed away as Priss dropped her head and began licking her breasts. Aika's head flew back and she let out a startled cry of pleasure.

Priss suckled the flesh with abandon, craving the sensations like an addict. Her hands cupped her prize, lightly squeezing and caressing her, until whimpers of need filled the room. Priss surged up out of the water and lifted the maid, carrying her to the bed and laying her down. She moved Aika so that she was straddling her, leaving the girl's body open and accessible from her position below. Priss stroked her hands down Aika's sides and back up along the insides of her thighs. Using her thumbs, Priss pulled the outer lips of Aika's sex apart and leaned forward, using her lips and tongue to explore and taste.

Aika's whimpers became cries and shouts as Priss continued to pleasure her. The sounds drew some of the other maidens and they stared in awe as Aika was taken by their goddess.

Overcome with the sensations, Aika's release came quickly and she collapsed on top of Priss, shuddering.

Priss eased the girl off of her and onto the bed beside her, running her hand down the length of her body, and then pushing her legs apart. Aika's eyes flew open as she felt her goddess' body settle on top of hers. "My Goddess?"

Priss kissed her again, letting her hand slip between the girl's legs and then upward. Aika tore her lips away from Priss' and cried out as she felt her body being breached in this most intimate manner. "Please! Prisana, my Goddess!"

A single finger was joined by another and they began thrusting gently, delving deeper each trip until they touched a barrier they were not expecting to find. Priss hesitated and looked down at the flushed face beneath her. Aika met her eyes and saw the question there. She boldly wrapped her arms around the Divine One's shoulders and pulled her close. "For you alone, my Goddess." Then she thrust her hips forward and pierced herself upon the fingers of the Goddess of War.

Priss felt the barrier give way and groaned as her own body responded to the heady knowledge that now filled her. She began to move, rocking her hips against the hand that was buried inside Aika. She let herself go, let herself forget.

Aika lay beside her, sleeping peacefully, but Priss was wide awake. She was far from sated but the girl was too tender for another round this soon. She sat up and dragged her hands through her hair. "Well hell."

A slight rustle of movement had her up and across the room, sweeping back the drapes to find more of her maidens hiding. "What the hell?"

The four women knelt before their goddess and their leader spoke. "Have mercy my Goddess. We meant no disrespect."

Priss gripped the girl by her arms and lifted her to her feet. "What are you doing here?"

Unable to meet Prisana's eyes, she ducked her head, letting her blond hair fall forward to hide her face. "We… We were curious."

Priss growled low in her throat and the girl began to tremble. She could smell her fear and something else. Leaning forward, Priss inhaled deeply, easily detecting the scent of the maiden's arousal. "What is your name?"

"Shikima, My Goddess."

"We had a saying in my time little girl: Curiosity killed the cat." She snapped her teeth together near Shikima's ear and the blonde let out a tiny yelp. The sound curled through Priss like a hot wave and she felt her arousal begin to build again. She let the girl go and stepped back, trying to clear her mind. "You shouldn't be here. It's not safe for you."

Shikima knelt at Prisana's feet and began to rain kisses across them. "I am yours, my Goddess."

Priss growled again and glared down at her. "Don't you understand? If you don't leave then I will take you!"

Shikima stood and shrugged off her gown, leaving her gloriously naked in front of Priss. "I am yours." She repeated. Priss glanced at the others and was stunned to see that they too were now naked. Desire, hunger and need snaked through her, making her dizzy. "I can't… I shouldn't…"

Shikima stepped closer and her voice was a husky plea. "Please Prisana. Claim us… as you did Aika." Her eyes were shiny with emotion and Priss realized that she had been growling continuously for some time.

Priss reached out and swept the maiden into her arms, striding across the room to the huge bed and setting her down away from Aika's still form. Priss wasted no time, she crawled over Shikima's body and latched on to her breast, sucking and rolling the imprisoned nipple between her teeth. Shikima cried out and surged upwards, her eyes wide as she experienced the storm of sensations flooding her now. Priss teased and caressed her breasts for some time, until Shikima was writhing upon the bed, begging for Prisana to touch her, to take her. Dimly Priss was aware that the other maidens were standing beside the bed, watching and the thought almost made her come right then. But she held herself in check and moved so that she was lying between Shikima's legs. The maiden felt the hot wash of Prisana's breath against her soaking core and arched up off the bed, begging incoherently for the goddess' touch.

Priss held her down with an arm across her hips and then spread her wide with her free hand, using her tongue to push inside. The keening cry that escaped Shikima made Priss smile and she slipped her fingers into that hot chasm as her mouth began to suck the tiny nubbin above it. The barrier parted as Shikima orgasmed, and Priss was almost thrown off by the enthusiastic bucking. Priss continued to stroke, turning her hand and curling her fingers up to stimulate Shikima's already drenched passage. The blonde's head was tossing wildly as her body was pushed towards the edge of what it could stand. This time when she came, the spasms of her inner muscles clenched tightly around Priss' fingers, making it impossible for the goddess to withdraw until the shudders had eased.

Priss smiled down at Shikima's stunned face and began to work her fingers loose. Once free, Priss met the eyes of one of the nearest maids and held her gaze as she lifted her fingers to her mouth and began to suck them clean. "So… what's your name?"

The girl's breasts were flushed, her nipples hard as diamond points. "T-Tereya, my goddess."

"Hmm… that's a pretty name too."

Nene contacted Arashi. "So how's she doing today?"

=Um, she's fine.= Arashi was busy preparing the logic circuits for final shut down. She was never going back into that darkness again.

"That's good. Think she's up for visitors?"

Arashi sighed deeply, knowing she would have to tell them. =Not until she finishes deflowering all her handmaidens.= The cat and Priss were sleeping, allowing her this very brief window to accomplish her goal.

Nene blinked. "I'm sorry. Did you say-"

=Deflowering? Yes. Yes I did.= Arashi's tone was a combination of disgruntlement and disgust. =The orgy's been going on for two days now.= At least it seemed that long to her. Time was meaningless inside.

Nene could not believe it. "I don't understand how Priss could… she wouldn't…"

=In her defense I must admit that they've been throwing themselves at her since she got here. And once she had taken one of them, the rest more or less begged for the…um, honor.=

Linna, who had been silent during all this, ventured a question. "How… How many handmaidens does Priss have?"

Nene shrugged. "The high priestess of the temple was in charge of that. I believe it was ten at last count though."

Linna blanched. "And Priss is just… working her way through them? That's… It's just wrong!"

While Arashi was in agreement, she couldn't help but point out, =If you interfere now it's going to cause a minor riot. There's already been three fights about who's turn it is next.=

Covering her face with her hands, Nene asked, "How many are left?"


Fusha slid into the room and surveyed the wreckage. The bed covers were on the floor but the bed's occupants were far from cold. She scowled as she counted heads, realizing that not one of the handmaiden's had escaped Prisana's touch. By the goddesses! What do I do now? They never covered this in my training.

She shook her head and stepped to the bed, intending to wake the girls and send them back to their rooms.


Fusha froze and slowly turned to the dark corner the voice had come from. Prisana leaned forward slightly, letting the light from the room touch her face. Fusha's hand flew to her mouth and she stepped back.

Priss chuckled darkly and left her chair, stretching mightily for a moment before padding towards her high priestess on bare feet.

Fusha swallowed hard as she watched her goddess' naked form approach. Training didn't cover this!

The goddess kept coming, moving into Fusha's personal space and causing her to back up until she was against the door. Priss reached out and slid her hand through the long white-blonde hair, her fingers tugging slightly, urging Fusha's head back. "So why are you here? Hmm?" Priss traced the girl's lips with the tip of a metal finger.

Fusha stammered, "I.. the handmaidens… I'm responsible for their safety…"

"Ah…I see." Priss glanced over her shoulder at the sleeping girls. "They appear unharmed to me."

Fusha scowled. "They are not! They… you shouldn't have…!" She paled as she realized that she was on the verge of scolding a Goddess. And that had gone so well the last time!

This one is different. Priss' smile was feral and Fusha couldn't stop the whimper that escaped her. Nostrils flaring, Prisana moved closer, her body pressing Fusha into the door. "I liked that sound." She ducked her head, sniffing along her skin. "Make it again."

Arashi felt the wild tangle of the cat's emotions and for the first time realized how the cat had been circumventing Priss' will. Priss is so depressed that she's blocked off her emotions. She can't stop her because she doesn't care… about anything. Arashi watched Fusha through the cat's eyes and agreed with its decision that she was the one they had been looking for. Rational thought blurred and shifted into scent and sound, touch and taste. Arashi had a brief moment to reflect that this was not what she had expected before she was swept away with the cat.

Fusha shook her head slightly but yelped when a hot tongue stroked across the flesh below her jaw. A rumbling purr began to emanate from Prisana's chest and Fusha pushed against Priss, struggling to get free.

Priss scraped her teeth playfully against the pulsing vein under her mouth and growled, pleased with the fight in this female.

Fusha slammed her foot down on top of Prisana's and shoved, pushing her away. She fumbled with the door and fled, racing down the darkened hallway.

Delighted, Priss followed, easily tracking her prey through the strong scent of arousal tinged with fear.

Fusha stumbled into her quarters and sank onto the bed, wrapping her arms around herself, wondering what she should do now. She knew that she was expected to provide the goddess with her every wish, but something in Prisana's eyes terrified her.

Priss moved silently into the room and stared at her prey. Fusha shook her head violently. "No… please don't do this. Just leave me alone!"

Sensing the fear and liking it, the cat cocked her head and smiled as an idea came to her.

Fusha was startled when Prisana began to sing.

Is this real enough for you

You were so confused

Now that you've decided to stay

We'll remain together

The click of the door locking made her flinch. Priss stalked closer, her eyes raking over Fusha's trembling body.

You can't abandon me

You belong to me

Priss leaned down and buried her face in Fusha's pale hair, inhaling deeply.

Breathe in and take my life into you

No longer myself only you

There's no escaping me, my love


Priss caught the girl's hands and brought them up, placing them on her breasts. She could feel them shaking and smiled again.

Darling, there's no sense in running

You know I will find you

Everything is perfect now

We can live forever

Priss pushed her back onto the bed and pinned her there.

Fusha looked up into feral eyes and whimpered. Prisana growled, the sound shaking them both. She gripped the cloth of Fusha's robes in her hands and ripped them away, baring her body to the goddess' fiery gaze.

You can't abandon me

You belong to me

Fusha stared up into the strange eyes and froze, realizing what she was seeing. Prisana's eyes had changed. Long diamonds of black split the deep brown and Fusha bit back a scream when Priss smiled at her, revealing sharp canines, top and bottom.

The dark head dipped and Fusha shivered as she felt the rasp of Prisana's tongue sweep along the skin of her throat. The goddess was determined to taste every inch of the delicious flesh that was spread beneath her and she felt her own desire build as Fusha's cries of protest became weaker.

Priss slipped between the high priestess' legs, pressing her aching heat to Fusha's. She began to rock, gripping the girl's hips and holding her in place.

Fusha's hand reached up to grab Priss' upper arms and gasped at the heat she found there. It was as if the goddess was on fire within. Without realizing it she found herself arching up to meet Prisana's body. She clutched at her, urging her to move faster. Prisana growled again and complied, the fire inside of her blinding her to the bruises she was inflicting on tender skin.

So close. Fusha's skin was covered in a sheen of sweat, her body burning with need, burning with the goddess' fire. She felt Prisana's lips at her throat and as the fire overwhelmed her, she felt the sharp flare of pain as teeth sank into her flesh. Her mind screamed at the assault, even as her body exploded in sensation.

Somewhere in a small corner of Priss' mind she knew that something was going to happen. The forces in her body were building to some great climax that she was powerless to stop. She felt her teeth part flesh, tasted blood and her mind disappeared into a haze of pleasure.

Fusha dimly heard Prisana's shout of release above, but was too caught up in her own turmoil to notice the odd rush of fluid heat that surged into her body.

Morning light streamed across the bed, slowly creeping closer until its warmth could not be ignored. Fusha shifted slightly, her eyes fluttering a moment before opening. Morning. Hmm. The vague aches and pains she became aware of were suddenly overshadowed by the sharp ache of her throat. She touched the place in question and frowned when she did not find smooth skin. Tracing the edges of the wounds, she let her mind wander, trying to recall how she had hurt herself.

A low purr reached her ears and she froze as memory returned in a wild rush. Fusha made to leave the bed, but was halted by the strong arm wrapped around her waist.

A rumbly growl admonished her. "S'early. Go back to sleep."

Fusha turned her head and stared at the naked form next to her. Her mind filled with images from the night before and she let her eyes wander down the lean form. Strong shoulders led her eyes to the narrower waist and over the rounded buttocks to shapely legs; one of which was thrown over her own. I should be furious. What was all that last night? So much had happened that she didn't understand. She was hesitant to ask Prisana but who else was there? Priss moved closer, turning onto her side to face Fusha.

Priss nuzzled at the warm breast she found and drew it into her mouth, suckling lightly. A low moan rewarded her and she grinned around the flesh she held. Pulling away she looked up into puzzled green eyes. "Good morning."

Fusha blushed and averted her eyes. "G-good morning Prisana."

Priss stretched, feeling her muscles ease and the blood began to flow to the body parts that had fallen asleep. Blood. Her head whipped around and she pushed Fusha down, crouching over her.

Fusha cried out and her hands came up to steady herself against the goddess' body. "My Goddess!"

Priss cupped her face, tilting her head to one side and stared in shock. At the bend between neck and shoulder, there was a perfect set of wounds that could only have been made by her. Priss ran her tongue over her teeth and froze when she felt them. Leaping off the bed, Priss glanced around and picked up the mirror from the dresser. She bared her teeth and flinched as the elongated fangs came into view. "Oh God…" <Arashi? What the hell is going on?!>

Arashi was slow to answer. =I… I don't know Priss.=

<You're in charge of my body! How the hell can you not know?>

=I'm not. Not anymore.=

Priss went completely still. <What?>

=I deactivated the logic circuits…= Arashi could feel the cat now, and knew that now it was part of her as well. =We're all one entity now.= Mostly.

Priss met Fusha's terrified look and forced herself to calm down. "I… I'm sorry that I hurt you."

Fusha saw the remorse and confusion in her goddess' eyes and nodded slowly. "It's… it's alright."

Prisana shook her head. "No it's not. I don't know what happened last night. I've never done anything like that before."

Considering this, Fusha didn't speak for a moment. "Then perhaps we should forget this ever happened." She pulled the sheet tighter around herself, trying to regain some semblance of her normal composure. "Perhaps you should leave?"

Priss felt herself shiver as the tone of Fusha's voice triggered something within her. "Oh no." It crawled up from the darkest part of her, pulling itself into place with a comfortable snap that made Priss sigh in both pleasure and surrender. Purring filled the room again and Fusha's eyes widened at the sound.

Moving across the room with an unnatural grace, Priss locked eyes with her new mate and climbed up onto the bed, stalking her on hands and knees.

Breathe in and take my life into you

No longer myself only you

There's no escaping me, my love


Fusha saw the dark slits form and shuddered. She knew now what that animal gaze meant, knew that she couldn't stop her and couldn't outrun her. Fusha willed tears away and resigned herself to what was about to happen. She let the sheet she was clutching to her chest fall and raised her arms to welcome her Goddess.

"Damn it Priss. Why do you keep doing this?!"

Nene's voice roused Priss from her dreams and she scowled fiercely at the diminutive redhead standing at the foot of the bed. "Why in 14,000 years haven't you learned how to knock?"

Linna was standing at her wife's side and she scowled suddenly at Priss' current playmate. "What the hell?" She moved to the edge of the bed and took Fusha's arm, pulling her closer to inspect the wound at the girl's throat.

Priss saw the action and exploded across the bed, tackling Linna. As she rose above her, the claws of her human hand extended as she drew back to strike. "MINE!" She slashed at Linna, opening four deep wounds across Linna's chest. Nene didn't hesitate. Her kick caught Priss in the side of her head and sent her spinning across the floor. Linna got to her feet and clenched her fists, bracing herself for the next round.

Loyalty was a funny thing. While part of Fusha wanted the goddesses to continue with their attack, another was screaming at her that they were attacking her goddess. To whom she had sworn loyalty to. Leaping from the bed, Fusha threw herself over Prisana's prone form and began to kiss and stroke the furious goddess. "Shh. I'm yours. I belong to you and no other." She stroked her hand down Prisana's hair and curled her free arm and legs around her. "My mate. My Goddess."

Priss buried her face into Fusha's long hair and inhaled deeply, letting the scent sooth her rage. It took a few moments but eventually Priss' eyes returned to normal and she lifted her face from her mate's neck. She looked at her friends and flinched at the sight of the damage she had caused. "Damn it… I'm so sorry, Linna. I… I didn't mean to… Damn it." Priss eased out of Fusha's death grip and lifted her. "I'm sorry." She sat on the bed, keeping the high priestess in her lap, hoping her presence would keep her calm. "Something's happened to me over the last few days… we haven't really been able to figure out how or why."

Arashi's quiet explanation caused Nene to groan. "Oh for pity's sake! Can't things stay stable for more than five minutes?!"

"So Arashi can't change this? Can't stop you?" Linna's face was tense and Priss couldn't blame her. She avoided looking at the bloody slashes in the other woman's shirt.

"No. Not before and certainly not now."

"I am so afraid to ask."

"Arashi destroyed the logic circuits. We are whole again." The words seemed odd as she said them but Priss felt the rightness of them deep inside. Seeing her friend's shocked expressions, she elaborated. "She was being trapped inside them every time the cat took over. Completely cut off from me. Total sensory depravation." Priss grimaced. "There's a reason that's such an effective torture method. We couldn't let it go on."

Nene frowned at Fusha and then at Priss. "You didn't act like this with Hirani. You had no problem with her leaving you. What's different?"

Priss shrugged. "Maybe it's just me." But she knew it wasn't that. Or rather it wasn't just that. Fusha had fought her. Had challenged her. The other's had instantly submitted to her. But Fusha had made her work for it. What that suggested unsettled her.

Linna was watching Fusha. There was more to her than meets the eye. To throw herself at an angry Goddess of War took some serious guts. She remembered the scene in the library and suddenly it fell into place. Linna's eyes widened. "Oh man. That's… well hell."

Nene glared up at her wife. <Spill it.>

Linna smiled sheepishly. <Dominance and submission. That part of Priss that's more animal than human? It hasn't been looking for sex these last few days. It's been looking for another mate.>

Nene blinked. <Another? But who….> She blanched and turned to Priss. "Sylia? Sylia knew about this?"

Priss blushed and ducked her head. "Yeah. At least part of it. It wasn't this bad back then."

"So bedding all of your handmaidens wasn't a midlife crisis after all." Nene ignored Priss' glare. "But why her?"

Linna cleared her throat and shot Nene a look. <She challenged Priss. Priss said that Fusha had been on her case since she got here.>

Nene's brow furrowed. "I just can't see it." She saw their blank looks and elaborated. "I can't believe that Sylia would… that she could ever be submissive to anyone."

Priss blushed again and hid her face in Fusha's hair. Linna saw the blush and grinned widely. "I'll be damned. Sylia really was the top bitch wasn't she?"

Priss groaned. "Can we please change the subject now?"

"But Priss, I haven't had anything this good to tease you about for ages!" Nene giggled.

Fusha cleared her throat and made herself meet Ninani's eyes. "Perhaps Prisana and I could have a few moments to dress?" Hearing her new mate stand up to the diminutive goddess pleased some deep part of Priss and the familiar purr began to emanate from her chest again.

Fusha blushed at the sound and bit her lip as Priss began to nuzzle her neck. "Um, now?"

Chuckling, Linna took Nene's hand and led her from the room. "How about you guys come to our place tonight for dinner? We can talk more about this then."

Nene's bewildered questions were heard through the closing door, "What? Why do we have to leave? Stop laughing and tell me!"

It was several days later that Linna met up with Priss as she toured the marketplace. They walked along, chatting about the growth of the city, the current information that the patrols had brought back and how well the city's new food storage system was working. After awhile though they both fell silent, but continued to walk, leaving the market now and as they stepped through the open gate that led to the nearby river, Linna told Tebiki she could return to the temple. The girl hurried off, leaving them alone and they resumed their walk.

Priss let the silence between them stretch for a few moments more before speaking. "There's something you guys should know."

Linna nodded, encouraging her friend to continue. The evening light made the waters of the river Yuu dance in the distance and they nodded in greeting at the returning fishermen who bowed as they passed. Priss waited until they were out of earshot to speak again.

"Fusha's pregnant."

"Whoa!" Linna took a moment to let that sink in. "How do you know? It's too soon for the traditional signs."

Wincing, Priss muttered. "Nanos. Inside Fusha."

Wide-eyed, Linna stared at Priss. "But… how?!"

"I bit her." She was not explaining anymore than that. The memory of that moment still had the power to make her blush.

Hearing the distress in Priss' voice, Linna decided not to push. Instead she returned to the pregnancy. "So she's pregnant."


"On purpose?"

Priss shook her head. "I didn't… it was the cat."

"The cat?"

"I don't know what else to call her."

Linna realized what Priss was saying and sighed. "I see. How bad is this getting, Priss? How much control does the cat have?"

Priss grimaced. "Sometimes? Complete control. But only since Sylia…"

"I think we need to know how dangerous you are Priss. If we can't trust you…."

"I don't know Linna."

Arashi was hesitant. =Excuse me for interrupting, but from what I have felt while… the cat is awake, it seems to be driven by primal instincts alone. There's no malice in any of our, um, her actions. She was looking for a mate. She has that now. She will defend that if she feels threatened but she won't actively look for someone to hurt.=

"Yeah. That makes sense. You… She jumped me because I had grabbed Fusha."

=I would advise treating us like any large, feral cat. Very carefully. No fast, threatening motions. Try and keep calm around u- um, her and do not make any move towards Fusha. Especially now that she's with child. I'm afraid that the protective instinct is even stronger.=

Linna realized that Arashi had truly merged with Priss and the cat. They were all one being now. <You can stop correcting yourself Arashi. I get it.>

Priss rubbed her face and turned to stare out at the churning surface of the river before them. "I'm so tired of these changes. I just want things to be normal again."

Linna's snort was derisive. "Change is unstoppable. We more than anyone know this." She gripped Priss' shoulder in support. "I know that this is deeply disturbing to you, Priss. I remember how wigged you were when the enclaves first contacted us. But remember. Without them… You'd have died from the virus. Or in that torture room. So many times we've survived only because of them. Who's to say that the cat won't have the same benefits?"

Priss' smile was grim. "She's part of the reason I got out of that torture room. And I know that getting past what was done to me was easier because of her."

"See? What I find interesting is that while it's a primal part of you, it's learning, getting smarter about non-primal things."

"What do you mean?"

Linna reached out and tugged Priss' lip up, revealing a fang. "This. She figured out how to direct the nanos to do this without Arashi knowing. She's causing them to physically manifest your subconscious self." Linna picked up Priss' human hand and touched the fingertips that hid the metal claws. "And how long has she been doing it? Were these really all your idea? Or was this her doing?"

Priss pulled her hand away and wrapped her arms around herself. "Gee Linna. Way to make me feel better."

"I'm just saying, she's been there working in your subconscious for a long time. But nothing she's done has hurt anyone, not really."

Priss paled and turned away.

"Priss?" Linna touched her arm. "What is it?"


Linna blinked. "You killed her. We knew that."

"I tortured her, Linna."

Paler now, Linna tightened her grip on Priss. "Can't really blame you for that. I would have wanted a little of my own back as well if that bitch had tortured me."

Priss whirled, glaring at Linna. "I gutted her and then I reached inside her and ripped her heart out. And then Linna? You know what I did then? I licked the blood from my hands! I felt no guilt for any of it. I still don't. But now I wonder if it was even me that did it."

Eyes feral, fists clenched, Priss' body was screaming menace. Linna absolutely refused to let herself step back. To do so would hurt Priss more than anything Kutsuu had done to her. "I'm sorry Priss." She moved forward and hugged her friend, holding her tightly. "But if the cat is the reason that you escaped that monster's clutches then I'm damned happy that she's part of you." Linna pulled back and planted a sloppy kiss on Priss' cheek. "Besides. Nene's right. The teasing possibilities are endless."

Fusha ran her hand over her flat stomach for what had to be the thousandth time that day and tried to focus on the paperwork that had piled up on her desk in the past few weeks. Prisana had been very demanding of her time, wanting her close at hand. She seemed unwilling to let her out of her sight and Fusha wondered if the goddess knew that she would flee given the chance. Even as she considered the logistics of such a flight, the door to her office opened and Prisana appeared.

Warily, Fusha studied the goddess, relieved to see that her eyes were human. "My Goddess?" Internally she winced as she realized that there was no joy in saying those words anymore.

Priss perched on the edge of the desk and picked up a stack of paper. "Ouch. What is all this?"

Fusha shrugged. "There's a great deal of work involved with the running of your temple. I… I have fallen behind."

Realizing why, Priss gave her high priestess a sheepish smile. "Sorry. I'll try to be better."

Fusha just nodded, knowing now that what the goddess said one moment could change with the next. At times she felt as if she were dealing with two beings and not one. "I would appreciate that." She dipped her quill into the inkwell and went back to her work.

Somewhat surprised to find herself dismissed, Priss stood. "Well I guess I'll go find something else to do then."

She left the temple, disturbed, but unable to figure out why. Something in Fusha's tone. Had she done something to anger the priestess?

Her musings were interrupted by the sound of a crash and a scream. Priss ran towards the sounds and found the source at the edge of the market. There was a crowd gathering around her target and Priss pushed past them. The street was littered with rolling apples and a man was trying to lift a broken cart from the legs of a woman pinned underneath.

The ox that had been pulling the cart was calmly stepping down the street in her direction. To her surprise, when she reached out to grab its halter, the animal shied away and made an unmistakable sound of fear. Ignoring the looks she was getting from the people around her, Priss pointed at a guard who'd just arrived at the scene. "Get that thing secured." Priss went to the wreck and gripped the wagon, lifting it up easily and shoving it to the side. She knelt by the woman and frowned at the twisted bone protruding from her left shin. "That's bad. Let's get you to the hospital." She lifted the woman and carried her towards the small building.

Once inside she had intended to turn the woman's care over to the healers, but they immediately began talking about amputating the leg. Priss was shocked. "What?! You can't just whack her leg off because it's broken!"

Familiar with the Goddess of War's medical abilities, Isha, the head healer explained. "We do not have your skills, my Goddess. Wounds such as this become inflamed and the whole body is consumed." He shot her a calculating glance. "But if you were to have mercy upon her…"

Priss didn't hesitate, she called out a list of things she would need and sent for her medical bag. <I am such an asshole. I didn't even think about what I could do to help them here at the hospital.>

=Hey, despite the massive medical library in your brain, you're not a doctor Priss. You just aren't wired to think that way.=

<Well that's got to change.> Priss helped them prepare the woman for the surgery and began making mental notes about what they did and did not know.

Two hours later the leg was repaired and the woman was sleeping, thanks to an herbal sleeping drought Priss had concocted. She took Isha aside. "I want to start teaching you and the other healers what I know about medicine. How would be the best way to do that?"

Isha was stunned; both at the offer and that she was asking him. "I think I know a way, my goddess."

Over the next few months, many changes began to happen around Tokio. Priss began to teach classes on medicine to the local healers and anyone else who was interested. Fusha's pregnancy progressed without incident and gradually, she became resigned to her fate. Priss' pain at losing Sylia lessened.

Nene and Linna were thrilled to see the old Priss returning and now that the boomer army had been destroyed, they could focus on slowly moving the people towards self-government.

Priss revoked the temple rule that all of her handmaidens must be virgins, but offered them the chance to leave her if they felt too uncomfortable to stay with her after what had happened. To her surprise they had all stayed. She had also created a few new rules to allow them greater liberties and let them have lives outside the temple.

The three goddesses ordered the other temples to follow her example and ease the restrictions that they had placed on their handmaidens.

Tebiki looked around the tavern curiously, having never been inside. She saw Tadashii sitting in a corner and went to her, weaving her way through the people and the tables. The scribe looked up at her approach and was shocked to see her there. "Tebiki! What are you doing here?" She stood and took her arm, attempting to pull her out of the tavern.

"It's all right, Tadashii. The rules have been changed. The temple maidens are free to come and go where they like when they are not serving the goddesses." She grinned up at her friend. "It's my day off." She waved a hand at the simple tunic and pants she wore. "See? Just Tebiki today."

They sat back down and Tadashii bought Tebiki her first ale.

Word had come in from the outer sentries that a mounted group of warriors was approaching the city. The riders were armored but did not appear to be overlords.

The lieutenant in charge had turned to the soldier standing beside him, "Go quickly! Alert the Master Guardian and the Goddesses that a group of armored warriors riding strange beasts is approaching the gate. Move!" The young soldier had scrambled to obey, secretly relieved that he would not have to face the strange and terrifying group. Yet.

Now they waited tensely for their arrival. On the horizon a cloud of dust was moving steadily towards them and the soldier silently urged his goddesses to hurry. A hand clapped down on his shoulder making him jump. He turned and paled as the Goddess of War stared out at the cloud, the afternoon light causing her dark armor to gleam. Her legendary helmet was tucked under her arm and he shivered as he realized he was standing in her divine presence.

"Sorry we took so long. Linai was down at the orchards recording the fall harvest." He blinked at the apology and then blushed furiously as he realized that she must have heard his thoughts. "My Goddess. We have never seen such beasts and do not know how to proceed. We await your command."

"They're called horses. Very strong and very fast, but when handled right they make excellent mounts." As the strangers grew closer, she realized that of the twenty or so horses, only five were carrying riders. Prisana set her helmet upon her head and stepped back a pace, out of view. "Let's keep a few surprises. Ask them what they want."

The lieutenant nodded slightly and then yelled out to the warriors who had now come to a halt below them. "Who are you and what business do you have here?!"

A heavily armored figure maneuvered the beast between their knees closer. "I would speak with the Goddesses of this city!"

Ninani and Linai came up behind Prisana, their armor clanging softly. "Should we give her what she wants?"

Priss smirked at Linna's question. "Oh yeah. I hope they're prepared for it." She stepped to the edge of the wall and jumped off, tucking into an easy flip to bleed off the momentum. Linna and Nene followed. Priss strode forward, her body language screaming 'Toughest Bitch on the Block'.

The rider dismounted her animal and moved to meet them. When they were within fifteen feet of each other, they all stopped.

Prisana planted her hands on her hips and glared at the woman. "I am Prisana, Goddess of War and Music. Who are you and why are you here messing up my afternoon?" Something tickled her senses, but she ignored it.

Nene swallowed a snicker and stepped forward. "I am Ninani, Goddess of Love and Harmony."

Linna joined her wife and fought a blush as she spoke the formal words that Nene had insisted they had to use. "I am Linai, Goddess of Grace and Wealth." She glanced at the others. "Why are you here?"

The figure was silent for a long moment. "I have heard many stories about you all. Your followers are increasing across the land. It made it much easier to find you." She loosened a buckle at her chin and then lifted the helmet off. "I guess I am Sylayla, the Mother and the Creator."

Priss stared into achingly familiar eyes and felt her world tilt. Her hair was longer, falling to brush her shoulders and as the wind played with the dark strands, Sylia smiled. A thousand emotions exploded through Priss and she was paralyzed by the rush. But then the wind shifted and Sylia's scent filled her nostrils. A low growl erupted and then she was moving, dashing across the short distance and whipping off her helmet. Priss grabbed her and held her tightly, her lips smashing into Sylia's with a desperate need that was inescapable. She plundered the sweet mouth, groaning at the familiar taste and felt herself begin to shake as her senses swam in Sylia's presence. <Sylia. Sylia. My Sylia. My Mate.>

Sylia sank into the kiss, feeling for the first time in years that she was home.

It was long minutes later that they paused for a much needed breath of air and then Priss was nuzzling Sylia's throat, purring so loudly that even the guards atop the wall could hear her. Sylia rubbed her back, whispering softly, "I love you."

Kal approached Ninani. "My Goddess. Is it truly Sylayla?"

Nene nodded, crying happy tears. "Yes it is, Kal. We are going to celebrate like this town has never celebrated before."

Sylia cupped Priss' face in her hands, tracing the familiar planes with trembling fingers. She tugged on one of the small braids that fell in front of Priss' ear and laughed. "I like the braids."

Priss sank her hands into the lush fall of her wife's hair and shuddered. "I know what you mean." They kissed again, falling into each other and quite content to stay that way forever. But after Linna informed her that she was having trouble hanging onto Nene, they parted a little and turned to the other goddesses. Sylia's voice went serious and sharp. "Knight Sabers!"

Linna and Nene jolted to attention, as did the guards behind them. Beside her, Sylia felt Priss stiffen as well. She burst out laughing.

Nene squealed and ran forward embracing Sylia and kissing her soundly on the lips, much to the older woman's surprise. Nene grinned impishly. "I've always wanted to do that! I thought I'd never get the chance."

Linna reached out and hugged Sylia, crying quietly.

Nene met Sylia's questioning look. "We thought you were dead. Priss found the Pit and it had been flooded with radiation. There was a skeleton in your cryotube."

Sylia shook her head. "I awoke from suspension almost five years ago. When I realized that the rest of the tubes had been removed I started searching. I headed east, towards China."

Nene sighed. "Our tubes had been taken west, north and south. We hadn't looked east yet."

Priss was only vaguely aware of the happy reunion taking place in front of her. Her mind was still dealing with the fact that her mate was alive. She blanched when Fusha's face flashed before her eyes. What have I done? How do I explain this? Sylia's going to kill me.

The other horse riders dismounted and cautiously approached. Sylia waved them closer. "Let me introduce you to my traveling companions." She explained that she had run across stories being told about the four goddesses of Tokio and one of the story tellers had recognized her from a statue here in the city. He had insisted on providing escort and as they had traveled several others had joined them. They walked as they talked and as they entered the gates several trumpets exploded around them, heralding Sylayla's return. Soon the street was filled with people, and Sylia was showered in flowers and enthusiastic followers. She was gracious but mentally she was grilling Nene about how this had come about.

Nene shrugged and explained. <It's not my fault Sylia. I wasn't in my right mind.>

Sylia gave her a look of affectionate exasperation. <I can't wait to hear the story behind this.>

Since it was Sylayla's triumphant return, they decided to gather in her temple. Sylia paused at the entrance and studied the statue of herself that stood in front of it. The stone deity stood with her arms slightly outstretched, hands lovingly cupping the stone earth within their grasp. The statue's expression was positively benevolent. Sylia shot Nene a curious look. "This is how you pictured me?"

Nene blushed a little. "Well, I… my memories were a little scrambled. It made sense at the time. I was confused."

Sylia smirked and entered the temple. Inside, the servants and temple maidens were fairly vibrating with their happiness. Only their high priestess' iron will held them in check. Shukan was the picture of calm as she bowed before her goddess, even if her insides were in huge knots. "My Divine Goddess. We await your command."

Sylia shot Priss a look. <You actually put up with this?>

Priss blushed. <Well, you know. They need to be eased towards self-rule, not have it shoved down their throats.>

Nene gave her a fast briefing on protocol and Sylia met Shukan's eyes. "Thank you Shukan. If you could have someone show the men to the guard's quarters? They'll be joining the city's guard."

Beaming with pleasure that the goddess had known her, Shukan sent the men off with her apprentice. She took in the goddess' travel worn appearance. "Perhaps a hot bath, my Goddess?"

Sylia's smile was wide. "Now that is an offer I simply cannot refuse."

The mammoth sunken tub was full. Between goddesses and handmaidens, there was very little room to move but everyone was too busy catching up to notice. Sylia leaned back against the warm marble and exhaled in satisfaction. "It's been too long since I've had one of these."

Nene tipped her head back and let the girl behind her rub soap into her hair. "Where were you, Sylia? What happened? Who's in your cryotube?"

Sylia chuckled. "I've missed you Nene. Let's see… I awoke from suspension about five years ago. I was alone in the Pit and everything was gone. Once we figured out how much time had passed, Taisei and I realized that we had to find the other tubes. So we headed east."

Linna winced. "We had been taken north, south and west. Figures."

"Ah! You all had, but Mackie and Kyouki had been taken west."

"Mackie! You found him?" Nene was delighted.

Sylia nodded. "Yes. About six months after I had started my search. A few months later we found Kyouki. We continued east, eventually reaching what was once China. We began to search for the other tubes, assuming that they had been taken east as well. We spiraled outward, covering the Middle East, parts of Russia and about a third of China." She paused and winked at Priss. "You're about to become an aunt again by the way."

Priss blinked. "I am? You mean Mackie and Kyouki are… well I'll be damned."

Laughing, Linna tossed a soggy cloth at Priss. "Guess everybody's biological clocks went off."

Priss didn't laugh. Instead her expression stilled and she looked at Linna. <Don't. I can't do that to her yet.>

Sylia didn't miss the undercurrents around her. She took a glass of wine from a servant and sipped the cool liquid. "I know it's been awhile Priss, but I thought we agreed not to keep secrets from each other."

Priss flinched and growled, "Everyone who's not a goddess get out. Now." There was a rush of naked, wet bodies and the water churned as they fled from Prisana's wrath.

Sylia watched her wife, knowing that this was going to be another hurdle to cross for them. "So what are you all trying so hard not to tell me?"

Groaning, Priss sank back into the water and met her wife's eyes. "I went to the Pit, to see if there were any cryotubes there. The place was flooded with radiation, but Arashi was able to tap into the surveillance system. Your tube was there and there was a skeleton inside." She closed her eyes, because the excruciating grief she had felt still echoed within her. "I went a little nuts."

Linna jumped in, "She did. She started hunting boomers. Ruthlessly, methodically. She cleared every boomer between here and the Pit. And then she found the boomer king and took him and his army out." Linna looked at Nene.

Nene shrugged. "I had a spy watching Malcor's city. She saw Priss and came back to tell me what she was doing."

"I was trying to finish what you had started so I could join you." Voice flat, Priss stared at Sylia. "I wanted to die, but I didn't want to feel like I had just given up, so I set myself a task: Destroy all the boomers. Joining you would have been my reward when I was done."

Sylia shook her head and moved closer to Priss. "I'm sorry you had to go through that." Their eyes met. <I know exactly what you felt, Priss. God help me I wish I didn't but… >

Priss nodded. "There's more."

Sylia tilted her head and smiled. "With you there always is."

"I came back to the city to break the news to Linna and Nene. They convinced me to live but I wasn't… well… after that."

"She was terribly depressed. She wasn't sleeping, wasn't eating. She walked the city and temples night after night. Scared the hell out of the temple maidens."

Linna trailed off and blushed.

"I started to blank out. Periods of time that I didn't remember. It was during one of these times that I… seduced one of Nene's acolytes." Priss dragged her hands through her wet hair. "It was then we started to realize that the primitive part of me had grown and gotten stronger."

"Couldn't Arashi stop it?"

Priss grimaced. "No. Arashi was trapped inside the logic circuits every time the cat appeared. It got so bad that she destroyed the circuits and merged with me and the cat rather than be a prisoner."

"But what if-."

Priss held up a hand. "I know. It's a risk, but Arashi was suffering. There was nothing else we could do."

Sylia set her glass on the side of the tub. "So I'm guessing that there's more to this story?"

Reluctantly nodding, Priss continued. "After the mess with Hirani, I had to go to my temple. I butted heads with my high priestess right off the bat, but I couldn't leave because I would have disappointed the rest of the servants." She blushed furiously and Sylia's brow rose in question.

"I slipped further into depression and the cat was able to take over for longer and longer periods. She…" Priss' voice dropped. "She seduced all of the temple maidens."

Sylia was nonplused. "All of them? Just how many are we talking about?"


Sylia was surprised by the urge to strike out at Priss. Rationally she knew that Priss had only reacted to the situation she found herself in and the echoes of the grief Priss had felt at her 'death' was still strongly coloring the Goddess of War's emotions. Add the fact that she wasn't actually in control of herself at the time and Sylia knew she should be more understanding. However….

Priss could see the fire flaring in Sylia's eyes and ducked her head. "Um, that's not all."

"Oh please, do continue." The sarcasm was thick and bitter in Sylia's voice.

"The uh, high priestess came in after… Well she challenged me… well the cat really and the cat…. Ah hell. The cat took her."

"There's a special emphasis on that word, Priss. Explain."

"The cat was looking for a mate. Fusha had challenged me at every opportunity and the cat liked that. It claimed her and…" Priss swallowed hard and forced herself to meet Sylia's eyes. "She's pregnant now."

The glass shattered in Sylia's hand and then the Mother of the Gods was moving, climbing from the water and striding from the room.

Priss stared at the shattered glass and felt sympathy for its broken state. She was now in pieces too.

Sylia paced. She marked off the length of her throne room and then the width. The servants stayed well back, fearing the darkened expression on their goddess' face.

She had been looking forward to this meeting for five years. When word had reached them of the four Goddesses of Tokio she had been overjoyed. A little disturbed that she had been deified, but happy that her family was still alive. She had packed a backpack for traveling and had bid Mackie and his family goodbye, leaving him to look after the small circle of villages in the area that they had been protecting.

Weeks turned into months and she had, literally at times, fought her way back to Priss. When that dark-clad figured had stepped off the wall, she had known instantly that it was Priss. The familiar posture and fluid motion was inherently hers and Sylia had felt her heart begin to hammer painfully as she realized that she was finally home.

And then she found out that Priss had betrayed her.

=I really don't think that's fair.= Taisei gingerly tried to offer a voice of reason.

Sylia didn't want one. "I don't care! My God! She slept with twelve women, Taisei! Twelve! How on earth am I supposed to accept that?!" And gave one her child…

=How did she accept your sleeping with her clone… after she came back from the dead?=

Flinching, Sylia stopped pacing. <That's different.> But even her silently voiced defense was uncertain.

=I've been talking with Arashi. She's changed a lot since she merged back with Priss and the cat.= So much so that Taisei felt she was meeting her for the first time. =Priss wasn't the one that took those women, Sylia. She was and still is horrified that this happened. Her plan was to die and join you, remember? Not find another mate. That was the cat.=

Sylia snorted. "Please. How much control could it have?"

=Enough to physically alter Priss' appearance without her or Arashi knowing it.=

"What do you mean?"

Taisei explained the new additions to Priss' features that Sylia had overlooked.

Sylia rubbed her temples and tried not to scream. <I don't know what to do.>

Taisei was impressed by this admission. =I think you need to sit down and talk to Priss. You didn't even ask her if this woman means anything to her.=

"She doesn't."

Sylia whirled and stared at Priss who was leaning against the door. "How can you say that Priss? She's carrying your child." The sharp pain that struck her was surprising. She ignored it and summoned a glare. "I should kill you for this."

After several moments of internal struggle, Priss nodded sharply. She has the right to kill me. She straightened and took a sword from the display near the door. Priss went to her knees in front of Sylia and held the blade up to her wife, bowing her head.

"Go ahead." Priss could almost taste the pain radiating from her wife and she hated knowing that she was the cause. While a human wouldn't be able to drive the blade through the protective mesh under her skin, Sylia would. "I'm sorry Sylia. If I had been able to stop it I would have. But I couldn't and now what's done is done. If it will bring you peace to take my life then it's yours. I can't ask you to forgive me Sylia. But I will ask you to be merciful and spare the lives of Fusha and the baby."

Sylia inhaled deeply and then exhaled. Temper Sylia. Must keep it in check. Again the primitive urges that she was fighting surprised her. Kill the intruder! Kill the child. NO! She forced the thoughts back into the dark and reached out to take the sword. As her hands wrapped around the hilt the anger she was feeling fled. She could no more hurt Priss then she could sprout wings and fly. They had gone through too much to be together. This was just one more twist in the tangled tale that was their lives. The blade swept up and the point snagged Priss under her chin, lifting her face. <Priss, if you can forgive me for all the things I've done to you over the years, then I can forgive you for this.>

Their eyes locked. <But remember: You are my mate. And I don't share.> She tossed the blade aside and pulled Priss to her feet. "This is not how I pictured this reunion." She put her arms around Priss' neck and leaned her forehead against her wife's. "Can we just skip all the talking now and go straight to the make-up sex?"

Priss swept her up into her arms and carried her from the room. "Your wish is my command."

Once in the bedchamber, Sylia slipped out of Priss' arms and turned to face her. "Strip."

Blushing, Priss did as she was commanded, wondering why she felt so nervous.

Sylia walked around the now naked woman, possessively staking her claim with her eyes. She took Priss' right hand and brought it to her lips, pressing a kiss to the metal band. "So you didn't forget me completely."

Priss' eyes slid closed at the pleased tone of her wife's voice. "I never forgot you. I wasn't trying to replace you with Fusha. The cat… I was… just trying to deal with the pain."

Sylia's eyes narrowed. "And the child? What part of your grief did that assuage?"

Sighing, Priss shrugged. "That wasn't my idea. That was the cat. But I admit that I had thought about having a child with you before. When Nene and Linna had Ayden. Maybe the cat picked up on that."

"Really. That's interesting, because I thought about the same thing." Sylia lightly raked her nails down Priss' back, making her shiver. Her hands slid around to grip Priss' breasts, eliciting a low groan.


Sylia continued to tease and torment Priss, until the other woman was literally shaking in her arms. She stepped back and stripped off her robe clothes before moving close again, pressing her naked length against her wife. Priss cried out at the sensation and turned, sinking to her knees in front of Sylia and pressing her face into the naked flesh of Sylia's belly. "My Goddess!"

Sylia smiled down at her and then brought her to her feet, leading her to the bed. "Now that we have that straight, let's see if you remember how to worship me."

Priss' grin was wicked. "I am aching to show you how devout I am, my Goddess."

Sylia contemplated the tangled knot of bed sheets that was wrapped around them and sighed. Priss stirred at the noise, peering at her blearily from one eye. "S'wrong?"

"Trying to organize my thoughts I guess." She lifted her head from Priss' shoulder and met her eyes. "Shouldn't you be more upset about this whole goddess thing?"

Priss stretched lazily and pulled Sylia closer. "Probably. But it does have its uses."

"Like what?"

"Nobody argues with me. If I see something wrong I can just order it stopped or stop it myself. Saves a lot of time and bureaucracy."

"Dangerous, that level of power."

Priss sat up and looked down at her wife. "Yes. Very dangerous. It scares the hell out of me; having that kind of power." She bit her lip for a moment. "I… Sometimes I realize that there's the possibility of liking it too much." Priss brushed Sylia's hair back from her forehead. "I don't want to fall into that trap."

The next day Priss had to go to the Temple of Justice. She had promised the law council that she would help them with this month's criminal court cases.

The inside of the temple was cool and dark, and the smell of ink, parchment and candle wax hung heavy on the air. She looked around, noting the numerous doors, before striding confidently towards the most elaborate one.

Hours later she was wishing she'd played hooky. "Look! I don't care what the law said in the past, I'm telling you now what it will say in the future." Prisana sat at a large throne at the far end of the huge room, glaring at several people clustered around her. "To kill someone for stealing a cow is just wrong."

Prisana considered this for a few minutes. "An appropriate amount of community service." She grinned at their puzzled expressions. "The guilty party shall be made to work for an amount of days comparable to twice the worth of the animal, or property in question. This way the city can compensate the victim for any loss they suffer. The city is large and growing; there's always something that needs an extra pair of hands."

The council seemed happy with her pronouncement and set about entering the new law into record.

Prisana leaned back and sighed deeply. She really hated this part of the whole goddess thing. Not that there was much she did like but the bureaucracy really sucked. The door to her left opened and she smiled a real smile for the first time since the session started. Fusha was coming towards her, and the low rumble that began in her chest was loud enough that even the people in the back of the chamber could hear it. Priss leapt off the throne and met her mate. "Fusha. What's wrong?" She reached out and rubbed the rounded shape of her mate's belly, purring as the baby kicked.

Fusha rested her head against Priss' shoulder and explained. "Your child is missing you. She won't stop kicking."

The goddess' laughter filled the hall as she dropped to her knees before her mate. Priss pressed her forehead to Fusha's bulging stomach and growled softly to the baby. Within moments the baby had calmed and Fusha sighed in relief. "Thank you. She's been like this all morning."

Priss stood and gently kissed her. "Next time don't wait, just come find me."

Sylia stood in the back of the hall and struggled to bring her temper under control. She failed. She began moving forward, seemingly unable to stop herself. Sylia knew she had to calm down, but the scene before her had filled her with rage and her mind wanted only blood.

The blade whipped through the air and would have struck the goddess in the back had Priss not felt its approach. She whirled, moving in front of her mate and catching the blade. "Who dares?!"

She knew that the blade wouldn't have actually hurt Priss, but she had had to do something with this fury churning inside her. Sylia mounted the steps of the dais and moved forward until Priss was forced to look up at her. "I dare."

Priss was in turmoil. The cat was confused. Sylia was her mate. Fusha was her mate. Why was Sylia upset? Priss gripped the front of Sylia's white tunic and pulled her down into her kiss. The rumbles that emerged were pleased right up until Sylia tore loose and shoved her, sending her crashing back into the throne. Fusha stepped back, terrified that the goddess' rage would turn on her next.

"Stop that! Damn you, Priss! How could you do this?"

Priss growled and got to her feet. "What?"

Sylia jabbed a finger in Fusha's direction, making the high priestess cringe. "Why are you touching her again!?"

The cat looked at Fusha and then back at Sylia. "She's mate. You're mate."

Sylia looked into slitted eyes and realized that she wasn't talking to Priss. It really is taking over. Knowing that further conversation would be pointless, Sylia sent a glare at Fusha and then stalked out of the temple.

The cat shrugged and took Fusha into her arms, sensing the woman's distress.

Hours later Priss recalled the whole scene as if it were a dream. <I can't keep doing this Arashi!>

=No, Sylia's not going to stand for this much longer. But Fusha is our mate now. We can't ignore that.=

Priss left her temple and slipped out of the city, walking towards the river. The sun had set and the light was fading fast. She felt her eyes change and realized that she could see even better than before like this. No wonder she keeps trying to change them. Stepping off the well worn path, Priss began to run, moving through the trees and brush as if they weren't there. The smells and sounds of the night surrounded her and she inhaled deeply, taking it all in. She felt like she was almost one with the forest and it was the almost that was bugging her. Arashi had joined back with her mind, had joined with the cat and embraced that part… but she was still fighting it. Was that the problem? If she accepted the cat, truly made it part of her… would she have more control?

=I remember everything the cat does. I can even get her to calm down when she's angry.=

Priss slowed, coming to a stop on a small rise that overlooked the river. <I feel so out of control. I don't want to lose anymore of myself.>

=But are you losing a part or gaining one?=

She sat on the ground and stared out at the glistening water. "I want to be whole again." Closing her eyes Priss began to pull into herself. She heard the sound of the water and moved deeper. The wind and the insects around her faded into the background as she sank into the depths of herself that she had not been to since Kutsuu's torture. Time was meaningless now as she worked her way through the layers, seeking the cat. As she journeyed, she realized that she could hear music. Priss strained to hear the words, somehow knowing that they would lead her to the cat.

Hear me

Hear me

You gotta be out there

You gotta be somewhere

Wherever you are

I'm waiting

Priss could feel the cat's pain and confusion. She realized that she had stopped 'moving'. The darkness around her seemed to breathe and she knew she was within the cat.

'Cause there are these nights when

I sing myself to sleep

And I'm hopin' my dreams

Bring you close to me

Are you listening?

Priss opened her mind and dropped her guards. The emotions swelled over her and she let them come.

Hear me

I'm cryin' out

I'm ready now

Turn my world upside down

Find me

I'm lost inside the crowd

It's getting loud

I need you to see

I'm screaming for you to please

Hear me

Hear me

The darkness seemed to surge and then engulfed her, merged with her. And the cat was finally free.

Priss opened her eyes and saw the first rays of dawn peering over the horizon. She could feel the earth beneath her, felt the life that surrounded her and knew true peace for the first time in her life.

In the distance she could hear the sounds of the city as it awoke and she could feel Sylia, knew that her wife was looking for her. Her worry was clear and Priss got to her feet. As she made her way back to the city she stretched out her senses and found Fusha. Her mate was sleeping, but not peacefully, their child was restless again. Priss soothed the infant and then touched Fusha's mind. {Sleep my mate. You have nothing to fear. I will always protect you.} Fusha sank into a more restful slumber and Priss slipped through the city gates, greeting the morning guard with a small nod.

Sylia met her in the great hall of Priss' temple. She was glaring and Priss knew that she wanted to continue their argument from before. But Priss was tired of arguing. She caught Sylia in her arms and reached out with her mind.

Sylia swayed unsteadily as Priss' emotions engulfed her. Love. Solid and pure, it swept through her, taking her breath away. To the deepest parts of her soul she knew... knew that Priss loved her. She felt the regret about what had happened with Fusha but also the determination that Priss would not let Fusha suffer for having loved her. Sylia felt the affectionate love that Priss felt for the woman, but now she could see that it really had nothing to do with how Priss felt for Sylia.

Through Priss' eyes, Sylia saw what had happened between them and felt sympathy for what the high priestess had had to deal with. In the few moments that Priss touched her mind, Sylia learned a lot about Fusha and a grudging respect began to form. God knows she had had her hands full with Priss. And Fusha had dealt with it all; despite her instinctual fear of the Goddess of War.

Finally Priss released Sylia, both physically and mentally. "I love you, Sylia. But I love Fusha as well and I won't make her suffer for my actions.'

Nodding, Sylia reached out and ran her hand through Priss' hair. "I know. I'm sorry I was such a bitch." She looked closer and frowned. "Your eyes have changed again."

"Yes. They will stay this way now." Something in her tone made Sylia stiffen. "Why?"

Priss wondered how to explain and then realized that words were useless. There were better ways. She touched Sylia's mind again and her wife gasped as she saw the change. "My God!"

Priss pressed a gentle fingertip to her lips. "It's all right. I'm at peace."

Sylia saw the truth in Priss' words. Her body was relaxed and a small smile was playing on her lips. "You're whole."

Priss closed her eyes, feeling them fill. "Yes. I'm so glad you understand."

She sought out the best craftswoman in the city the next day. Explaining what she wanted, Priss commissioned her to make her a copy of the guitar in Ninani's temple. To the woman's surprise Prisana had stayed and helped with the construction. Takumi had been amazed at Prisana's skill with the metal claws of her hands and had learned much from the goddess during her daily visits. With her help, the instrument was done within a week and Takumi had refused any form of payment, saying that the knowledge she had gained was more than enough payment. Not satisfied, Prisana paid her in advance to make another guitar, knowing that someday they would find Sabishii.

Priss took the new instrument back to her temple and sat staring at it for a time. She had made other instruments only to sell them. She'd played them only enough to make sure the sound was right but beyond that she had not been able to really play. Somehow all that she had gone through had fractured her and only now did she feel whole again. The feeling was indescribable and the urge to give her emotions voice was strong inside her once again.

Priss strummed her fingers over the guitar and for the first time since Nene's trials began to sing.

Hear me

Hear me

You gotta be out there

You gotta be somewhere

Wherever you are

I'm waiting

'Cause there are these nights when

I sing myself to sleep

And I'm hopin' my dreams

Bring you close to me

Are you listening?

Hear me

I'm cryin' out

I'm ready now

Turn my world upside down

Find me

I'm lost inside the crowd

It's getting loud

I need you to see

I'm screaming for you to please

Hear me

Hear me

Hear me

Can you hear me?

Hear me

I used to be scared of

Letting someone in

But it gets so lonely

Being on my own

No one to talk to

And no one to hold me

I'm not always strong

Oh, I need you here

Are you listening?

Hear me

I'm cryin' out

I'm ready now

Turn my world upside down

Find me

I'm lost inside the crowd

It's getting loud

I need you to see

I'm screaming for you to please

Hear me

I'm restless and wild

I fall, but I try

I need someone to understand

Can you hear me?

I'm lost in my thoughts

And baby I've fought

For all that I've got

Can you hear me?

Hear me

I'm cryin' out

I'm ready now

Turn my world upside down

Find me

I'm lost inside the crowd

It's getting loud

I need you to see

I'm screaming for you to please

Hear me

Hear me

Hear me

Hear me

Can you hear me?

Hear me

Hear me

Hear me

Can you hear me?

Oh, oh, oh, oh...

Hear me

Hear me

Hear me

The last line faded and Priss moved immediately into another song. Endlessly she played; her songs, songs she remembered from the past, songs that she had heard since awakening. The great hall of her temple slowly filled as she played, but Priss was lost in the music. Lost in the rapture that it had once brought to her.

Fusha sat at Priss' feet, her hands holding her belly, feeling the baby's enthusiastic response to the sounds. A large cushion appeared beside her and gentle hands urged her to move onto it. She did so and looked up into the eyes of Sylayla. She flinched, but Sylayla smiled and shook her head. The goddess bent close to her ear. "I'm sorry for how I acted. You have nothing to fear from me. I swear it."

Fusha nodded and hesitantly turned back to watch Prisana. To her surprise, Sylayla sat beside her and encouraged her to lean against her for support.

Hours later when Priss finally stopped, she opened her eyes and saw a minor miracle. Fusha was fast asleep, curled trustingly in the arms of Sylia. Priss realized that Sylia's hand was resting on Fusha's distended belly, and she could see the bemused expression on her wife's face. She held up her finger to her lips to keep the gathered crowd quiet and then set the guitar down and went to her mates, kneeling beside them. She cupped Sylia's face and touched her mind, unable to form words to adequately convey what she was feeling. Sylia blushed and shrugged. "I can't help it. The way you feel for her is still echoing inside me." She had no other way to describe the odd resonance that she could now feel. She was beginning to think that Priss was permanently connected to her now.

Pleased, Priss kissed her wife and then lifted the sleeping woman into her arms. "I need a nap. Care to join us?"

Startled, Sylia hesitated only a moment. "Yes, actually I would love one."

As they left the hall they could hear the murmur of voices begin to grow louder.

Once in her chambers, Priss laid Fusha on the bed and began removing her clothes. The handmaiden came forward and took them along with Sylia's. Priss smiled at Tereya, her eyes warm. "Thank you Tereya. We're going to take a nap now. See that we're not disturbed?"

Tereya nodded, her face flushed. "Yes Prisana."

She slipped out of the room and leaned back against the closed door. Aika saw the look on her face, the clothes in her arms and grinned knowingly. "She undressed again, didn't she?"

Tereya nodded and watched her lover come closer. "She's just so…" She sighed and reached out to take Aika's hand. "Divine."

Knowing exactly what she meant, Aika kissed Tereya's forehead and held her. "Yes, she is."

Striding quickly down the hall, Nene pushed past Priss' handmaidens. "Where are they?"

Tereya glanced at the closed bedroom door. "They said they were not to be disturbed."

Ignoring that, Nene opened the door and moved into the room. She faltered as she realized what she was seeing.

Priss was lying naked in the center of the huge bed, glaring at her. Sylia was curled against her left shoulder, fast asleep. But what absolutely floored Nene was that Fusha was curled up in a similar position on Priss' right shoulder.

<Nene! You wake them and I'm gonna kick your ass.>

<Sorry! I, um, need the Goddess of War.> She looked at the sleeping women again and shook her head. <How about you meet me at my temple in an hour?>

Priss nodded and settled back, pulling the women closer.

Nene slipped out and leaned against the door, taking a moment to recover. She opened her eyes and met Tereya's amused gaze. "Well, you tried to warn me."

Nene glared at the missive, as if she could set it on fire if she could only focus her fury enough. "How dare they! The treaty between our cities is centuries old! I kept Malcor's army from them! How dare they demand my surrender!"

Priss rolled her eyes and snatched the page from her, ignoring her protests; she read it and the shrugged. "Okay, asshole with an army. We kick his ass and throw a party."

Nene yanked the paper back and glowered at Priss. "Excuse me if I'm a little more cautious about throwing the lives of my soldiers away."

Priss blinked. "Soldiers? Why on earth would we need them?"

Nene waved the paper. "Um, hello? Army approaching?"

"Nene, I destroyed Malcor's entire boomer army… by myself. These are humans… do the math." Indeed the idea of the coming battle coiled within her and she felt anticipation build.

"Yeah, you did take out his army…. All one hundred and three of them. Even I could have handled that many, Priss!" Nene scowled suddenly. "I just wish I had thought to send a spy to his city ages ago. I never realized that he was depleting his forces to such an extent when he attacked Tokio. We could have taken the fight to him and finished this centuries ago!" There was a definite tone of self-disgust in her voice.

Hearing it, Priss' face softened. "Hey, hey! You can't beat yourself up for that Nene. You did an amazing job keeping these people safe and helping them advance. So one little thing didn't occur to you, big deal." She rested her hands on the shorter woman's shoulders. "Spies are a tactical tool. As I recall, Sylia was the tactician on our team. You were our in-field tech and communications guru. How many times did your voice in my helmet lead me right were I needed to be? Told me right where to strike? How many times did you keep the boomer's communications so scrambled that they could never send any data back to Genom? How many times did you watch my back while I was running around shooting stuff without paying attention to my surroundings?" Priss bent down and kissed Nene's cheek. "You're a good leader, Nene. Don't let anyone tell you different."

Nene hugged Priss hard, making the taller woman gasp. "Oxygen, Nene! Still… need… air!"

The redhead giggled and let her go. "Bitch, bitch, bitch."

"Yeah well. Do what you're best at." Priss smirked, rubbing her ribs.

With an eye roll, Nene raised the paper again. "We still need to gather more data."

"You're starting to sound like Sylia." Priss shook her head. "You gather data. I'll go stop these jerks."

It hadn't been that simple of course. Sylia was adamantly against it and it had taken her a solid hour of arguing to convince her stubborn wife.

Sylia had finally agreed, but insisted that Priss ride one of the horses to cut the trip time in half. Which led to the confirmation of a long held suspicion of Priss'.

Animals were terrified of her.

When they entered the new stables, the horses began to stir restlessly. As Priss got closer, they grew more agitated and began nickering and snorting, stamping their feet in warning.

Priss just shrugged at her wife's questioning look. "At a guess? They think…" She smiled ruefully and corrected herself. "They know that I'm a predator."

Sylia nodded thoughtfully and went to the back of the stables. She opened a stall door and brought out a large, black beast of a horse that was fighting her every step of the way.

Alarmed at the thought of Sylia being hurt, Priss started forward and the stallion reared, tearing loose from Sylia's hold. The deadly hooves slammed into the hard packed earth next to Priss, but she didn't move. Instead she reached up and grabbed the reins, pulling the horse's head down and holding it still. "Enough. You don't want to fight with me. I'll kick your ass up around your pointed ears." Despite the threat, Priss' voice was a soothing croon.

The horse tried to rear again and found to its shock that it couldn't. It tried to kick out, but was easily sidestepped.

"None of that." She reached up and awkwardly patted its head. "I don't think this is going to work, Sylia."

Sylia joined her at the horse's head. "Don't be so sure. Bishamon is high-strung but he's well trained. He just has to get used to you."

Priss stared at her in surprise, not noticing that the stallion had begun to calm down. "Bishamon?"

"Well look at him. What else could I name him? It took me weeks to break him and all I could think of was that he would be perfect for you." She grinned suddenly and the sight made Priss' heart melt. "Imagine my surprise when I found out that you had actually become the War God."

"You broke him? I didn't know you knew anything about horses, much less how to tame one."

Sylia shrugged and picked up a brush. She began stroking it over the horse's neck and shoulder, knowing how much he liked that. "St. Mary's School for Girls."

Priss literally stopped breathing as an image of a teenaged Sylia rose into her mind. Girl's school. Girl's school uniform. White shirts, cute little ties and those deliciously short skirts… The pain as Sylia's hand struck the side of her head brought her out of her little fantasy. "Ow! Wha-." Priss blushed at Sylia's knowing glare. "Sorry."

Sylia just shook her head and pointed to the horse. "He seems to have settled. And you seem quite comfortable with him." She shot a pointed look at the way Priss was leaning against the beast. "Let's see if he'll let you ride him."

"Oh joy," Priss muttered as she watched Sylia walk to where the saddles were stored. The tunic and pants she was wearing faded before her eyes, replaced with a school uniform. A happy little grin formed.

Sylia turned around and saw Priss' face. "I swear, Priss. You're even more oversexed now then you were before the flares."

Priss blinked. "Huh?"

Sylia sighed and hefted the saddle at her. "Let's get this over with."

Once Priss was gone, Sylia returned to the temple to check on Fusha. The young woman was still very nervous around her and she was hoping to change that. She stepped into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed where Fusha still slept. The evening sun was slanting through the windows across the room and Sylia realized that she'd been at the stables longer than she'd thought. Concerned, she looked down at the sleeping form. <Should she be sleeping this long?>

=Baby's take a lot of work to make.=

Sylia shook Fusha's shoulder. "Fusha? You need to get up now and get ready for dinner."

Fusha stirred sleepily and yawned. "Hmm? Sylayla?" She sat up and blinked at the goddess in confusion. "What is it?"

Sylia smiled. "It's almost time for dinner." She helped the high priestess to her feet and asked, "How are you feeling?"

Fusha's smile was slightly forced. "I am well Sylayla. Thank you."

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes with great difficulty, Sylia tried again. "Can I get you anything?"

Shaking her head, Fusha started for the door. "No thank you, Sylayla. I shall return to my room and dress for the evening meal." She took two steps forward and grimaced, clutching her back.

Sylia took her arm to steady her. "What's wrong?"

"I, its nothing, my Goddess. A small cramp." She gasped when Sylayla lifted her into her arms and carried her to the bed. "It will pass."

Sylia ignored her and lifted the loose tunic she was wearing up and off. Fusha blushed furiously but Sylayla was turning her onto her side. Gentle hands began to rub the muscles that had knotted, gradually deepening the massage until they eased. Fusha sighed in relief when the pain faded and started to rise. Sylia pushed her back down and continued her task. "You're whole back is tense. It's a wonder you're not one big cramp."

The door to the bedroom eased open and Aika stuck a cautious head inside. She paused when she saw the scene on the bed and started to back out again.

Sylia saw her. "Aika. Just who I needed. Could you bring me a bottle of body oil?" Aika nodded and went to the small chest in the corner. She took the stoppered bottle back to the goddess and waited for her next command.

Sylia poured some of the oil into her hands and smiled at the smell of jasmine. "Nice. If you could arrange for dinner to be brought here? Fusha's not feeling well." She placed her oil slick hands on the naked back and resumed her massage.

Fusha's face was flaming, both in embarrassment and something more that she didn't want to think about too closely. "I… this isn't necessary, my Goddess."

Sylia found a sore spot and Fusha's breath hissed out. "Yes, I can see that." She worked the stiffness out and then slid her hands down below the waistband of the woman's hips. Fusha felt her nipples tighten painfully and bit back a moan.

Impatient with the material, Sylia tugged the skirt off and tossed it aside. Utterly focused on the task, she didn't realize that Fusha might misinterpret her actions. Her fingers dug into the swell of Fusha's buttocks and she moved to straddle the girl to get into a better position.

Fusha's heart was pounding so hard she could feel it in the very tips of her breasts, in the throbbing heat between her thighs. She wanted to protest the goddess' actions. She wanted to beg her to massage her breasts.

As Sylia eased the high priestess onto her back and began working on her thighs, Fusha spoke. "My Goddess… what… why are you doing this?"

Sylia glanced up at her and saw the barely concealed fear. Her hands stopped moving. "I'm sorry. I just wanted… to help I guess." She stood and wiped her hands off on the bottom of her shirt. "This is a new situation for me and I'm still figuring out where all the lines are. I'm sorry if I frightened you, that wasn't my intention."

Fusha forced herself to smile. "It's… a new situation for me as well." The ache between her thighs was distracting and she shifted, reaching out to grab her tunic.

The scent of her arousal reached Sylia and she froze. Oh dear. No wonder she's so nervous. "I'll go check on dinner and let you get dressed." She left hurriedly and shut the door behind her.

Leaning back against it, she closed her eyes and became aware of the fact that Fusha wasn't the only one aroused. Oh my God! What on earth am I doing? Sylia Stingray, you're going to march yourself right back to your temple and stay there until Priss returns!

Once the door closed behind her, Fusha gave into the burning need heating her veins and slipped her hands between her legs, plunging two fingers into her dripping passage and sliding two more around her clit. She began to move, rapidly thrusting and stroking until she surged her hips upwards, her cry of release buried in a pillow.

Priss met the army two days out of Tokio. Four columns of men marched in deadly unison along the path leading to the city. Priss idly counted them and then sighed. "Two hundred soldiers? What do they hope to accomplish with so few men?" Behind the troops, two huge covered wagons were being pulled by soldiers. Supplies? Are they planning a long siege? Nah. Not with just two hundred men.

Astride Bishamon and wearing her full armor, she rode confidently towards the coming force. Once she was within shouting distance, she brought the animal to a halt and challenged the leader. "You there! You approach Tokio. You will turn back or be destroyed."

The leader came forward and spat in her general direction. "And who are you to make such grand statements?"

Drawing her sword, Priss moved the horse a little closer. "I am the War Goddess! Prisana!"

Arashi studied the readings she was getting and then checked them again to be sure. =Um, Priss?=

<Not now Arashi! Kinda busy.>

To her surprise the man laughed. "Good! We hoped we would be able to test our weapons on one of you. Bring up the wagons!"

The wagons were pulled forward and their covers removed. Priss stared at the contents in shock.

The enemy leader saw the look and felt his confidence swell. "Surrender now and we will spare your life."

Laughter exploded from the goddess, great peels of mirth that had the soldiers shifting uneasily.

As her laughter quieted to chuckles, Priss sheathed her sword and dismounted. "You think these are weapons?" She marched forward and shoved the leader so hard that he flew backwards several yards.

The leader got up and was staring at her in confusion. "But the stones…"

Priss laid her hands on one of the cryotubes and smiled. "The god stones aren't weapons that can harm the gods. Inside the stones are more goddesses. Thank you for bringing them home." Her smile turned dark and the flash of bared fangs caused several soldiers to gasp. "But they have felt my presence and will wake soon. You do not want to be here when they do. So go. You can keep your lives. Consider it payment for returning them to us."

The tube under her hands began to hum and while the leader might have doubted what she said the soldiers under him were not about to gamble with their lives. They fled back from the direction that they had come, followed by their still confused leader.

Priss watched them go and then sat down to wait.

Priss helped the girl from the tube and held her as her body expelled the suspension liquid. "There now. It's all right now. It's over now."

Shoving the hair back from her face, Ayden met Priss' eyes for the first time. "Aunt Priss. It's really you."

Priss hugged her. "You bet. Let's get you cleaned up. The other tube will be opening soon and then we'll be graced with the presence of the Queen Bitch of the Universe."

Ayden snickered. "Aunt Sab, huh?"

Priss laughed. "Yes." She returned to the cryotube and accessed the recessed panel in the base. Removing a lighted block, she triggered the power button and watched the energy levels rise with satisfaction. "Hello Kasuhito-sama."

[Hello Priss. I take it that all is well?]

Priss sighed. "Depends on your definition of 'well.'"

"You knew this would happen to Ayden?"

Priss nodded. "Her enclave was programmed to oversee her growth and education before activating the final suspension protocol. Kasuhito was tied into the system to help monitor and teach her."

"So that's how I know all about you guys, and everything else about the time before, for that matter." Ayden grinned at Sabishii's surprise. "Why so shocked Aunt Sab? Didn't Aunt Priss tell you that I would continue to mature in my cryotube?"

"No, she didn't." Sabishii stared at Priss. "Did Nene and Linna know?"

"No, I decided it was best that they didn't know."

Sabishii swore violently. "You bitch. What right did you have to make this choice? How could you lie to them?"

"How could I not? Tell me Sabishii, how could I look them in the face and tell them to enjoy the five minutes they had with Ayden as a baby because, she would be grown when we emerged? How would telling them do anything more than cause them pain? And it had to be done. There was no safe way to suspend a newborn child without causing irreparable harm. The human body is designed to grow a huge amount in just the first ten years. You know that. It couldn't be stopped."

"But you lied…"

Priss knew what Sabishii was getting at. "Yes. And I have a history of hating liars, don't I? But then, I've changed."

"Yeah, into something without honor." Sabishii found herself dangling off the ground, suspended in mid air by the iron grip around her throat.

Priss' eyes were diamond hard slits. "It is not your place to question my honor." She tossed Sabishii away like a discarded rag. "I left your better half disarming nuclear weapons about 700 miles to the north. Why don't you join her? Come back when you've grown up. We have no use for a child here." Priss turned away, her dismissal clear and began to pack up their camp.

Sabishii left, but only to avoid strangling Priss.

Ayden watched her go. "A little upset."


"I was wondering… my mothers. How do you think they will react to me?"

Priss looked into the beautiful face before her, a wonderful mix of her friend's features, and smiled. "They'll love you."

Priss rode through the main gates of the city, unsurprised to see Nene and Sylia waiting for her. She brought her horse to a halt and let Ayden slide off before joining her and handing the reins to a waiting soldier. She glanced at Sylia. <Give me a minute here. I have to turn Nene and Linna's world upside down.>

Sylia said nothing, but a single eyebrow rose.

Nene was smiling at Priss. "Hey there! I'm assuming you took care of everything?" She looked at the newcomer and smiled in welcome. "And who's this?" The young girl was tall and slender, her red hair braided down her back and the color stirred something in the back of Nene's mind.

Ayden met her mother's eyes and felt her heart slam painfully in her chest. Words that she had planned to say choked in her throat and she stared helplessly at the petite redhead she'd waited her whole life to meet.

Nene saw the half hopeful half fearful look in the young girl's eyes and felt an odd urge to reassure her. She moved forward and took her hands, looking up into familiar eyes. "Welcome to Tokio. I'm…" She trailed off and her eyes narrowed. Something about the girl's face…. Nene glanced at Priss and saw a reluctant confirmation of the impossible. Nene's eyes whipped back to the stranger's and she frantically studied her features. My God… It's… But how…

Ayden swallowed hard and offered a weak smile. "Mother?"

Nene's hands clutched Ayden's as the truth swept over her in an overwhelming rush. "A-Ayden?"

Her daughter nodded, causing the tears that had welled to spill over. Nene threw her arms around the taller girl and buried her face in her neck. In her mind she called to her wife, an urgent and joyful summons that was so strong in its intensity that Linna dropped the vase she had been considering in the market and ran as fast as she could to the front gate.

A moment later the pounding of her steps could be heard and Nene and Ayden looked up as she came hurtling over a wagon that was in her way. Linna skidded to a halt and took in the scene before her with a silent question to Nene. <Are you okay?>

Nene reached out and took her hand, pulling her close as their minds touched and shared. Linna blanched and stared at Ayden in shock. "B-but how? Wh…" She cleared her throat and tried again. "What happened?"

Priss winced and stepped forward. "I'm sorry. I made a decision not to tell you that this would happen." She opened her mind and showed them all that she had hidden from them so long ago.

Linna was staring at Priss as if she had never seen her before. "How could you do that?! You had no right!"

Priss grimaced. She had been expecting Linna to react like this. "I'm sorry Linna. But what else could I have done? It was hard enough for you two to be separated from her as it was. Would knowing that this would happen have done anything other than hurt you more?"

"Aunt Priss was just trying to help, Mom." Ayden spoke quietly, wanting to draw attention from Priss, but not wanting to anger her mother any more. "I'm sorry I'm not what you… wanted."

Shocked, Linna turned to her daughter and gaped at her. "Not want you? My God!" She swept the girl up into her arms and hugged her tightly. "You're my daughter… how could I not want you?"

Ayden let herself sink into the embrace, reflecting that the virtual hugs she had received in the cryotube had nothing on the real thing. <It's finally real.>

Linna blinked at the voice in her head and pulled back a little. "I take it that the constructed enclave is still active?"

"Yeah. Shugo has been with me as long as I can remember."

=It's a pleasure to finally meet you all.= Shugo's polite voice touched them all and the other enclaves wasted no time in grilling her thoroughly about Ayden, her time in suspension and whether or not the enclave had had a positive effect or a negative one.

Ayden rolled her eyes at the chatter and then ignored it, instead focusing on her mothers. "As happy as I am to stand here all day with you guys, is there somewhere else we can go?" She eyed the gathering crowd uneasily.

Nene grinned widely. "Oh yeah. I think we can set you up."

Sylia saw the look and hid a cringe. "Not another goddess to our pantheon?" The faint sarcasm had Ayden focusing on her other 'aunt'.

She embraced the older woman and grinned up at her. "I've missed you Aunt Sylia. And your sense of humor." Ayden kissed her on the cheek and turned to her mothers. "So, can I be the Goddess of Wild Parties?"

Priss reached out and tugged Ayden's braid. "Nope. Nene's got dibs on that one." She winked at Ayden. "Get her to tell you about the bull on her roof."

Nene's outraged denial would have been more convincing if she had not been blushing furiously. She barely resisted stamping her foot. "Enough!"

Ayden sat at the head of the long banquet table, her mothers on either side of her and the others of Tokio's 'pantheon' filling up the rest. She eyed the pale-haired woman at the far end and wondered who she was and what she was doing here. Sylia didn't seem to be upset with the way the woman was clinging to Aunt Priss. Shugo helpfully informed her that Priss had taken Fusha as a wife when she thought Sylia was dead and Ayden controlled her facial expression with great difficulty. Man! But why isn't Sylia kicking her ass?

Sylia stood and raised her goblet in Ayden's direction. "It's been a long time coming Ayden, but welcome home!"

They all drank and Ayden sipped from her goblet of wine, a hard won concession from her mom. She had thought that Linna and Priss were going to come to blows when the Goddess of War had filled Ayden's cup with the spirit. Linna's protest that she was too young was curtly dismissed and Priss reminded her that things were different in this world. Linna had subsided but sent periodic glares at the War Goddess.

As the evening progressed, more and more about Ayden's time in suspension came out and there were varying reactions from those assembled. Sylia seemed impressed with what had been accomplished but her mothers… they were anything but impressed. Linna's fists were clenched on the table, her eyes staring daggers into Priss. "You what?!"

Priss sighed heavily. "I had to do it, Linna. Ayden would have awoken with the body of an adult and the mental development of an infant."

"So you constructed a virtual world for my daughter to live in…. and it never occurred to you that Nene and I would want to have a say in what that world contained?"

Priss rubbed her face and then threw her hands in the air. "What is the problem? The world was an exact copy of MegaTokyo 2040. She would be living in that world if the flares hadn't happened."

Linna stood up, her chair flying backwards. "That world sucked!"

Priss snorted, leaning back in her own chair. "Oh and I suppose you would have created a perfect world for her to experience?"

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, if you want to make sure that she's miserable when she wakes up!"

Linna's confused glare made Priss sigh again. Been doing too much of that lately.

"All right Priss. Since you're all knowing. Why would she be miserable?"

"Because you would have created what would have amounted to heaven… a perfect world where everyone got along and there was no conflict, none of the dark aspects of human emotions, none of the trials that life brings with the living of it. And when she woke up she would not be prepared to deal with what she found!"

Sylia had to give Priss credit. She was right. Ayden would have been ill equipped to deal with this world. <Very true Priss.>

Priss sent her thanks back to her wife. "I can only apologize so many times Linna. But I honestly thought I was doing what was best." Sylia's dry comment rang through her mind. <Where have I heard that before?>

Ayden cleared her throat. "Um, excuse me? If I could interject something here?" They all turned to her and she summoned a wry smile. "I had a very happy childhood, just incase anyone's interested."

Nene shot Linna a look and silently asked her to sit back down. "Well I for one would like to hear about it."

Taking another sip of her wine, Ayden began to tell them of her life inside the virtual realm that Priss and Kasuhito had created.

Linna unsealed the plane's door and entered, Sylia close behind. In the back of the vehicle, secured to one of the bulkheads were two security boomers. "We found them in the Genom tower in Paris. Priss reprogrammed them to protect me while I worked on the plane."

Sylia began removing the straps holding one of the boomers in place. "Why did you shut them down again?"

Linna shrugged. "I didn't need them once the plane was ready and truthfully they were creeping me out."

Opening the small access panel in the back of the boomer's head, Sylia studied the ancient electronics. "I'm amazed that they're in such excellent condition. I would have thought that the overlords would have salvaged them for parts."

Rubbing her arm as she remembered, Linna grimaced. "Not if it meant getting past the Doberman guarding the tower."

Sylia reactivated the boomer and ordered it to follow them. The walk back to Sylia's temple created quite a stir among the populace. Sylia saw the fearful and fascinated looks and mentally shrugged. <Being a goddess isn't all that it's cracked up to be.>

<Tell me about it. I have to literally toss handmaidens out of the bedroom at night just so Nene and I can be alone. And even then they don't go far.> The knowing smiles that the girls tended to wear the next day still continued to make Linna blush. <And I have to spend time at my temple to make my followers happy, but that means being away from Nene. I hate that.>

<Perhaps we should discuss establishing our own version of Olympus when the time is right.>

Linna grinned. <Now you're talking.>

They took the boomer to the small room Sylia had claimed as her 'lab' and set about wiping the boomer's brain. Once that was done, Sylia reactivated the small cube that held her father. "We're ready to transfer you, Father."

They connected the two machines and Kasuhito merged with the boomer body. The boomer's eyes opened and he looked around, eyes settling on Sylia. "Finally, I can truly see you. You've grown into a very beautiful woman Sylia."

Smiling, Sylia patted a metal shoulder. "How are you feeling? Any problems?"

"None that I can detect so far." He stood, a good foot taller than Sylia. Looking down at the metal body, he shook his head. "I don't think that the people of this time are going to be comfortable with me roaming the streets."

"Yes, that's a problem. Unfortunately there's no way to create an artificial skin shell."

Linna was frowning, her eyes unfocused. "Maybe… maybe we could just paint him?"

Sylia blinked at the strange suggestion. "But what would that accomplish?"

"Well all of the boomers we've run across have been that gunmetal color. Or the red of the security boomers. What if we either, paint him white or somehow coat the metal with some other metal, like silver?"

"I still don't see what that would accomplish."

"Look, the people don't have a problem with Priss' cybernetic limb. It's shiny and pretty in a way and they just don't see it and think 'overlord'. Well not beyond the story of how she got it in the first place."

Sylia considered this, glancing up at her father. "What do you think?"

Kasuhito shrugged and that was a very strange thing to see in that metal body. "I'm willing to try it."

Ayden sat in a shaded corner of the inner garden, enjoying the feel of the winter sun upon her skin and the rich smell of the earth around her. Even though the flowers had faded, the plants were still green. The region Nene had chosen to build her city in was a temperate jewel. <Wasn't quite the same inside, you know?>

=While Priss did a remarkable job in her programming, it was impossible to be perfect.=

Acknowledging the truth of this, Ayden opened her eyes and blinked. A young woman was standing in the entrance, her body language uncertain. Ayden smiled. "Hi. Am I in your spot?"

Hirani drew a breath and made herself speak to the young goddess. "No, my Goddess. I do not wish to disturb you."

Patting the empty place on the bench beside her, Ayden winked. "You're not disturbing me. And I firmly believe that a beautiful day should be shared." With a beautiful girl. She had seen the dark haired temple maiden a few times before, and had wondered who she was. When the girl gingerly sat beside her Ayden resisted the urge to cheer with difficulty. "So, what's your name?"

"Hirani, my Goddess."

"That's a pretty name." To Ayden's surprise her words made the girl flinch and start to rise. She reached out and caught her hand. "Hey, wait. I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?"

Hirani looked down at their joined hands and flushed as memories of the last time a goddess had touched her filled her mind. "N-no. I have to go." She tugged against Ayden's hold but the young goddess wasn't giving up that easily.

"Please. Don't go. Talk to me. How have I upset you?" Ayden had both of her hands in one of hers now, and she reached out and brushed a dark strand from Hirani's face. "Please?"

Hirani ducked her head and stopped struggling. When she spoke her voice was low. "I shouldn't be here."

Ayden touched her chin and lifted Hirani's face to hers. "Hey. It's okay. I just wanted to talk to you. I don't have any friends here yet and I was hoping you could be one of them."

Hirani's head shook furiously. "I must go. The High Priestess will be angry that I spoke to you."

Information that had Ayden scowling. "Just a guess, but I'd say that I outrank the High Priestess."

Wishing the ground would swallow her, Hirani tried to turn her face away, but Ayden cupped her face, stopping her. "Please. I'll be exiled."

Seriously disturbed by this news, Ayden stroked the girl's cheek reassuringly. "No you won't. Not while I'm drawing breath."

Tears flooded the handmaiden's eyes and Ayden slipped her arms around her, offering what comfort she could.


The imperious voice made the girl jump and she tried to pull away, but Ayden stopped her and then glared at the intruder. "I assume you have a good reason for interrupting us?!"

Giku, the High Priestess of Ninani, glared at the wayward handmaiden. "She should not be here! She is forbidden to ever be in a divine presence!"

Ayden felt Hirani's cringe and fury filled her. "Are you telling me that you've forbidden her to see her Goddesses? Any of them? Ever?!"

The anger in the goddess's voice made Giku take a step back. "I, she… she broke her vows to the Goddess Ninani. She should have been executed but the Goddess spared her life." Her tone implied that she would not have been so lenient.

"Let me make sure I have this straight: Did Ninani say that she could not see or speak with the Goddesses?" No way Mother would have done that.

Giku looked uncertain. "Um, not… exactly."

Outraged, Ayden released Hirani and stood up, striding across the grass and grabbing the front of Giku's robe, lifting her into the air. "You had no right to do that! How dare you!" She tossed the woman aside, watching her land several yards away with satisfaction.


Nene had arrived just in time to see Ayden throw her high priestess. "What's going on here?!"

"Your High Priestess has forgotten her place! She thinks she's the goddess."

Nene looked at the woman in question and frowned. "What's this about?"

Giku got to her feet and brushed at the grass now staining her pale pink robes. "My Goddess. I wanted only to carry out your desires."

Ayden snorted and pointed to Hirani. "Was it your desire that Hirani be forbidden from ever seeing or speaking with the Goddesses again?"

Incredulous, Nene looked at Giku. "Is this what you've been doing? Keeping her away from us?" She had noticed that Hirani had been avoiding them but she had thought the girl was trying to stay clear of Priss.

Sensing that she was in trouble, Giku fell to her knees. "My Goddess! She broke the laws. She is unworthy to be in your presence."

The slumped form of Hirani drew her attention and Nene's heart went out to the girl. We keep putting her through so much.

Hirani felt warm arms wrap around her and she looked up into the eyes of the Goddess Ninani. "Hirani, I am so sorry. I didn't realize…" Nene kissed her forehead and Hirani fainted. Nene looked down at the unconscious girl and sighed. "I keep forgetting that they tend to do that." To her surprise, Ayden came forward and scooped her out of her arms.

"I got her, Mother. Just tell me that you're going to put a stop to this?"

Nene nodded grimly. "Oh, I certainly am. Take her inside. I'll deal with this." She turned to her former high priestess and her expression was as still as stone.

Trusting her mother, Ayden carried the unconscious handmaiden inside, and after a brief debate, she headed for her own rooms.

When Hirani opened her eyes, she found herself staring into the face of the Goddess Ayden. She blinked sleepily and rubbed her eyes. "I'm dreaming."

Ayden grinned and shook her head. "Nope." She tugged on a strand of Hirani's hair as her Aunt Priss was wont to do with her. Hirani blinked again and looked around. "Where am I?"

"In my rooms."

Hirani flew off the bed and towards the door at a full run. Surprised, Ayden was slow to react and the girl had the door open before she caught her. "Whoa! It's okay! Calm down." She kicked the door closed and held the girl's arms. "What's the matter? You're safe here."

Shaking her head, Hirani backed away, her body trembling. "Please! I cannot betray my vows again. Please my Goddess! Choose another."

Ayden scratched her head. "Choose another? Choose for what? Hirani what is that you think I'm going to do to you?"

The brilliant blush that filled her face gave Ayden a pretty good idea. "Oh for pity's sake! Hirani I'm not trying to seduce you! I…" She trailed off and considered. Her own cheeks colored. "Well… okay, I admit that I'm attracted to you, but I would never force you to do anything! I brought you here because I don't really know my way around the temple and I didn't know where else to take you."

Hirani nodded, moving towards the doors. "Of course. I will just return to my own room then."

Ayden couldn't help herself. She stepped in front of the door, blocking the handmaiden's exit. "Wait. What did you mean; you cannot break your vows again? How did you break your vows?"

Hirani paled and wrapped her arms around herself as if she were chilled. "Please. I must not speak of it. The goddesses have been very kind to forgive me. I cannot betray them again."

Ayden could see how upset the girl was and she nodded reluctantly. "Okay, I'm sorry if I frightened you." She opened the door and let Hirani slip past. "Will you be okay getting back to your room?"

"Yes, My Goddess Ayden." She bit her lip and met Ayden's concerned gaze. "Thank you."

Ayden caught her hand and raised it to her lips. "My pleasure. But I must ask that you do something for me." She winced when Hirani paled. "No it's nothing like that. Just… If anyone gives you any trouble or tries to stop you from seeing the members of the pantheon, then I want you to promise that you'll tell me. Okay?"

Hirani agreed and pulled away, and then she was dashing down the hallway. Ayden watched her go and then went to find her mother.

She found Linna inspecting the storage silos at the edge of town. "Hey Mom. Can I talk to you a minute?" They walked back towards the center of the city; ignoring the stir they created by their presence. "I ran into a temple handmaiden today. Her name is Hirani." She was watching her mother very carefully and as such couldn't help but see

the look that crossed her face. "What happened? How did she betray her vows?"

"Ayden," Linna wondered how to handle this. "I'm not sure this is anything you need or should know about."

"Mom, the high priestess had forbidden her from having any contact with the pantheon. What could she have done to deserve that?"

Linna scowled. "Giku's overstepped her bounds again."

"Yeah, Mother's handling it." Ayden decided to be honest with her mother. "I like her, Mom. I really like her."

Surprised, Linna stopped walking. "I didn't realize that you… had that interest in women."

Ayden shrugged. "Well is it really that much of a surprise?"

Linna chuckled, "I guess not." She pointed to the large building ahead of them. "Let's go to my temple. I need to drop in today anyway."

They entered the temple and were greeted by Linai's handmaidens. Linna led the way to the small office behind her throne and after they had been served to the servant's satisfaction, she sent them away. "Okay, if you're interested in this girl then you need to know what happened. It started when Priss thought that Sylia had died," Linna hesitated and then shook her head. "No, actually this all started 14,000 years ago, when Priss was captured by Genom and we all thought she was dead."

Ayden nodded. "I've heard the story."

Linna's gaze was serious. "I doubt you know it all. While Genom had Priss they tortured her. To the point that she would have died without Arashi. But somewhere in that period, something woke up inside Priss. Something… primal." She saw Ayden's confusion. "When you were growing up, do you remember Priss acting oddly at times?"

"Odd how?"

"Oh, growling, purring, overreacting to threats, becoming insanely protective of Sylia?"

"Um, not really."

Linna sighed. "She must have left that out of the program. Not surprising since she was still having problems accepting what had happened to her."

"So what did happen to her?"

"She tapped into a very primitive part of her mind and then the bitch torturing her began to play with her head, she gave her mind control drugs," Linna broke off and rubbed her temple. "She tried to turn Priss into an animal. What she didn't know was that Priss was already on that path. All she did was push her along."

"What do you mean by an animal?"

"Priss' senses are beyond human. And it has nothing to do with her enclave. Her strength, speed and near indestructibility are from Arashi but the rest… it's all her." Linna refilled her goblet with water and stared into it. "It got to the point that she couldn't wear a hardsuit anymore because her senses were so acute it was like being blinded. Her relationship with Sylia went through some rough patches but then Sylia seemed to figure out how to handle her and they settled down."

"So Priss has very primitive responses to stuff."

"Yes. Honestly I think of all of us, she was the best suited to survive in this new world. Ironic really, since Priss was a bit spoiled to luxuries in the past." Priss and her toys: Motorcycles and musical equipment. She may have dressed like a thug but the girl knew her stuff when it came to electronics.

"Yeah, I remember that. So what happened when she thought Aunt Sylia was dead?"

"She shut down her emotions. Completely. But a void like that can't stay empty and the cat slipped into it."

"The cat?"

Linna met her daughter's eyes. "It's what she… we call that part of herself. We've begun to suspect that a lot of things Priss has done weren't all her idea. You know the metal claws in her human hand?" Ayden nodded. "Things like that. And now her eyes and teeth have changed as well. But I'm getting ahead of myself."

"Once Priss had opened the door, the cat walked through it. While Priss was making plans to kill herself, the cat had other ideas. Priss decided that she had to finish what Sylia had started and then she could join her. She began hunting boomers. I doubt there's a boomer left within two hundred miles. But before she could carry out the second part of her plan, we sent word to her, asking her to come back here. She decided that she would tell us about Sylia and then die."

Ayden drained her cup and Linna refilled it. "My god. I knew she loved Aunt Sylia, but to kill herself…"

Linna just shrugged. "She wasn't just Priss' wife. She was her mate." Stressing the word, Linna continued. "Mate. And that was where the cat came in. Nene and I managed to convince her to hold off killing herself, but Priss fell deeper into depression. She was like a ghost. Walking endlessly, night after night, sleeping during the day, but not resting. So when the cat took control she didn't fight it, couldn't fight it. One night a few weeks later, we managed to convince her to join us at dinner. Hirani was serving Priss that night. She was so nervous that she spilled a pitcher of wine into Priss' lap."

Ayden shifted uneasily. "She got mad?"

"No. She calmly stood up, stripped naked and walked out. Nene and I were trying to figure out some way to reach her, but I did notice that Hirani had gathered Priss' clothes and took them away. I found out later that she cleaned them as best she could and covered the one stain she couldn't get out with a beaded leopard's head. Then she took them to Priss' room. I think she was just going to leave them but Priss was there…" Linna cleared her throat. "Well, actually Priss wasn't there… the cat was."

Hand gripping the cup tightly, Ayden gritted her teeth. "She seduced Hirani."


Ayden exhaled. "And that's against temple rules?"

Linna nodded. "Yes. The punishment is usually death but Nene figured out how to get around that."

Ayden nodded her understanding and then asked, "But if the cat seduced her, then why didn't Priss keep Hirani as her mate?"

"Because Hirani was too easy. The cat was looking for something very specific."

Scowling at the comment, Ayden muttered, "She's not easy."

Linna laughed, "Not easy like that. Hirani was swept away with the whole goddess thing. She couldn't refuse a goddess. The cat was looking for a challenge. Anyway, long story short, Priss took Hirani to her temple; Nene showed up the next day and demanded her back. Now as I understand it, Priss offered Hirani a place in her temple as a handmaiden, but Hirani refused."


"You have to remember, each of the temples setup their traditions and rules according to the path they thought their goddess followed. So while all of Prisana's handmaidens were virgins they were also trained warriors."

"And Hirani didn't want to be a warrior."

"Right. So Ninani declared that Hirani could not have been expected to resist the persuasion of a goddess and waved the punishment."

"Go Mother!" Ayden sighed. "So how does Fusha fit into all this?"

Linna groaned. "Please don't ask me that."

"Come on… You know I'm going to find out."

"Nene's going to kill me. Okay. Once in her temple, Priss wasn't able to leave. Her followers were thrilled she was there and they wanted her to stay. So to make them happy she did. But right from the start, Priss locked horns with her high priestess. There were some rituals and some rules that Priss found out about and changed. Fusha was upset that she was so blithely changing centuries of tradition."

"So Priss claimed her?"

Linna blushed. "No… not at first. Remember at this point none of us were aware that the cat was actually taking over at times. Not even Priss realized how bad it was. She… man this is hard… She… sorta worked her way through her handmaidens."

"Worked her…. Oh. Whoa."

"Yeah. Anyway, Fusha realized that they were missing and went to find them. And she did. In Priss' bed."

"ALL of them?!"

Linna ducked her head. "Yeah. Needless to say, Fusha was pissed. She got in Priss' face and when Priss tried to grab her, she fought back and ran."


"Hmm. But that sparked the cat's interest and then it was all over but the shouting."

Ayden grinned. "Who was shouting?"

"Your mother and I, a few day's later. But that was the first time we all realized that we weren't just dealing with Priss."

"I'm afraid to ask."

"Oh I saw blood on Fusha's neck and took her arm to see better. Priss freaked out. She tackled me, got a good swipe in with her claws." Linna shook her head, her expression rueful. "Boy was that a mistake."

Concerned, Ayden leaned forward. "What happened?"

"Your mother kicked her in the head."

"Get out." Ayden froze and she searched Linna's face. "I guess the years as a goddess really changed her."

"Nope. Nene's changed since then but not that much. I've had to pull her off Priss before."

"Okay, now I know you're pulling my leg."

"I swear. Back before the flares, before we realized how much Priss had changed, I pushed her too far and she had me by the throat. Within seconds Nene had her gun pressed to Priss' head."

Ayden scratched her head and considered this. "You know mom, I think you should stop playing with Aunt Priss."

"Believe me, that's one lesson I have learned the hard way."

"So the cat claimed Fusha. You said something about other changes?"

Linna picked up an apple from the bowl in front of her. She dew out the small dagger from her boot and began to peel it. "Yes. If you watch closely when she laughs, you can see fangs. And you saw the eyes of course. They used to only turn into cat's eyes sometimes but now it seems permanent."

"So you could tell when the cat was in control by her eyes?"

"I wish! No, it wasn't that easy I'm afraid. We weren't sure what triggered that change, but it seemed to happen independent of the cat."

Ayden accepted a slice of apple. "So it's a guess as to whether or not you're dealing with Priss or the cat."


"Okay. So the cat claimed Fusha. Then Aunt Sylia returned."

Linna winced. "Oooh boy, did she."

"But why is Fusha still around then?"

"Because she's carrying Priss' baby."

Nonplused, Ayden stared at her mother. "I'm sorry?"

Linna had to smile at her daughter's reaction. "Yep. Priss knocked her up that night. The robes hide it but she's expected to deliver in a couple of weeks. And Sylia was not amused to find out when she got back."

"Hmm. I kinda feel bad for Fusha. She didn't ask for all this to happen to her."

"No, but don't worry. Priss and the cat are very protective of her; they'll take care of her." Linna dropped her voice a little as if afraid of being overheard. "Truthfully? I think Priss really loves her."

Ayden leaned forward and spoke just as quietly. "I'm guessing that Sylia doesn't know this?"

Linna shrugged. "I don't know. She hasn't killed her or exiled her from Priss' temple yet, so who knows?"

Part 2

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