Book 3/Page 93/Transcript

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It was a cold and limp thing, Charlie's hand. It felt like stiff dough, lightly dusted in flour. It did not move on its own. Not a twitch.

The hand was the only part of his body that Lilith had ever seen, and that only glimpsed for the second it had taken for it to cover her eyes. Fifinella adjusted the hand's position a bit, and the last little bit of light went out for the naked Archon upon the slab.

So Charlie could not move. He was incapacitated physically. She'd always wondered.

Her learning this thing, her seeing even his hand, meant that her life was forfeit and would soon be over. Charlie had no intentions of turning Lilith back to Charlescomm. He'd accept no deal for her release. She was a puzzle box for him to pry open. Her only Duty now was to be tough to crack, to do Mistress Wanda proud.

It wouldn't be boring, at least.

She said nothing more. Centering her mind, she thought of her life's path. She was glad now that she'd been netted at Spacerock, instead of dusted. This was good. Even though it was the end, it was good. This was a better way to go than her Decrypted sisters'd got. Some of them had still loved Charlie, she suspected. They would've come here and begged to be taken back into the company, and he'd have stripped them for parts just the same. Better it be her, to face him.

Sisters, I have been touched by the man himself, the very thing we shared all our whispered fantasies about. It is no big whoop.

Charlie also spared no more words, except for those of the spell he was muttering. His physical voice sounded feeble and congested. She'd also heard the noise of machinery, of cogs and locks. She smelled the aftertang of Shockmancy on Charlie's skin.

She couldn't make out the words of the spell, maybe something like, "Broca, Brodmann, Wernicke…" But then he spoke one word more distinctly and louder, "Trephine."

Juice flowed in through her forehead, and she was thrown into the blackness of thinkspace.

She was ready for it. She was an Archon, comfortable in thinkspace, and she had rehearsed this many times during her captivity. She made a bastion of herself, formed out of her mindstuff.

She was Castle Lilith.

---

In all directions, the inky sky rippled and spun with the blue-black wings of countless ravens, or perhaps huge crows. They dived at her soldiers, who stood upon her walls and tower. Her defenders had bright red mail to protect them, cold white steel to beat the crows back. And the birds were not serious. Not yet.

There was no landscape here, no lights but the balls and torches upon her own ramparts. The ten thousand crows circled in a vast but barely visible band of chaos. Their ceaseless caws blended together and formed a single, shrill voice.

"So," screeched the murder of crows conversationally. "How do you work?"

Castle Lilith lanced a bolt of Shockmancy out into the vast and circling flock, aimed more or less at random. A few birds, not many, fell like flakes of ash upon her battlements.

"Like that," said Castle Lilith, to the blue-black sky.

"I see," said the birds, somehow combining the raucous calling of crows with the detached tone of a scholar. And what is that, a motor control or an emotional regulation system?" The band of crows tightened their loop around the castle, flying in for a closer look. "I don't have your basic configuration down yet."

Castle Lilith's archers loosed four clean, well-coordinated volleys from the top of the tower. Only a very few crows fell, but the circle scattered, reforming at its former distance after a few moments.

"Keep talking," said the crows. "Keep doing things. I'm learning."

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