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Infinity Blade: Redemption (Page 16)

“Solitaire!” The Soulless put another severed finger into its mouth and chewed at the flesh. “Don’t you see? Different game entirely! Different pieces? We’re the pieces! We aren’t playing against him.”

“It is hard,” Siris said, lowering the Infinity Blade, “to realize you are not what you thought. I understand.”

“Wait.” The Soulless stopped laughing, then focused on him more directly. “Ausar?”

Siris nodded.

“I should probably kill you,” the Soulless said. Instead, it turned away from him back to his mirror, spitting out a fingerbone with the flesh chewed free. “It’s hard to decide. What is my allegiance? Do I resent my prime, the real Raidriar? Or do I wish him to survive, so at least one of us can. Of course, he’s a copy too . . .”

“A copy?”

“Not of anyone specific,” it said. “But this whole world is a copy, you see, just like me . . .”

“Why did you kill the daerils?” Siris asked, looking at the fallen fingerbone.

“Killed everyone. I couldn’t let them see my face, and my helm was getting stuffy. The fingers are disgusting, I realize, but I need to eat something. Stops those damn corpses from scratching the ground, too. Yes, I’m quite mad. Combined effects of an unstable Q.I.P. and an existential crisis, I suspect. Dagger?”

“What—”

The Soulless spun and lunged for Siris in a fluid motion, carrying a dagger, lips wide and bloodied from its gruesome meal.

Siris took a step forward and rammed the Infinity Blade into the copy’s chest. The poor creature’s knife skidded ineffectually across Siris’s armor. It might have once had Raidriar’s skill—the dead daerils indicated that was likely the case—but by this point, the copy had fallen too far to fight with any real skill.

The Infinity Blade flashed briefly. Not as it would for even a lesser Deathless, and the corpse slipped off the Blade.

Siris shook his head, stepping up to the mirror that the Soulless had been inspecting. He read in silence for a moment.

Then he gasped.

ISA RESTED her fingers on the machine.

This cursed machine . . . it was the source of everything wrong in the world. It was the source of them.

She almost went back to her drinking. She’d only had one mug so far, not enough to really even notice. Perhaps if she were more drunk, this decision would make more sense.

Don’t be stupid, she told herself, walking around the device.

She should destroy this machine. Stop Siris from being able to change any of her soldiers into abominations like he was.

But she didn’t. She stopped beside the control mirror instead and stared at it for a long, long time.

She wanted to fight them. She knew, deep down, there was only one way to do that. She’d rescued Siris because of that single fact—that without Deathless of their own, they had no chance.

It’s going to come to this, she thought. I can either make the decision myself, or I can be pushed into it.

That, in the end, was the deciding factor. She had always been, and always would be, the master of her own destiny. She would not let another make this choice for her.

She made it herself, and began working on the machine, pushing the buttons she’d memorized as Eves worked earlier in the day. It was time to become one of the things she hated most in the world.

She’d just have to see if she could live with herself after it was done.

DEVIATION

THE NINTH

“YOU ARE fortunate,” Galath said as his scientists prodded at Jori’s limp body. “He is not quite gone. His Q.I.P. can still be associated with this form.”

Uriel knelt beside the table. “You’re going to destroy the world.”

“The world will destroy itself,” Galath said. “It does this periodically. I simply intend to ride that wave of destruction, to shape what develops next.”

The room was dense with monitors, beeping equipment, and metallic surfaces. Galath had built one of his bunkers beneath the offices where Uriel had worked each day.

Uriel felt tired, drained completely, soaking wet. Was that really . . . really his son, there? That pale body, not breathing, even though the scientists spoke of him as if he were alive.

“Sir,” one of the scientists said. “We are ready. But . . .”

Galath glanced to them. “Speak.”

“A youth?” the scientist said. “Not even through puberty yet? Will this really aid our empire?”

“A youth,” Galath said. “With no preconceptions. Yes, this will be good. And I am not to be questioned.”

“Yes . . . Yes, sir.”

“You will make him a king,” Uriel said, still kneeling beside the table. He rested his hand on his son’s arm.

“Those who survive will all be kings,” Galath said. “And more. But I will not give it to him. Each will find his or her way.” He nodded to his people.

Uriel stepped back as the process began. Injections. Organ scans. Tissue embedding. Radiation. All made by devices he did not recognize and probably could not comprehend. And yet, despite the wonder of it all, he thought he heard Galath whisper, “So primitive . . .” as they worked.

At the end of it, the scientists withdrew, congratulating themselves. Galath moved to leave as well. Jori remained on the cold metal table. He still seemed dead to Uriel.

“I will not repeat the process for you,” Galath noted from the door. “His father living into immortality would only serve to hinder him. I will not have the gods of the new world running at the whims of their daddies.”

“I don’t care,” Uriel whispered. “Project Omega. It’s about much more than just the teleportation devices, isn’t it?”

“Obviously,” Galath said. “Now say goodbye. I want you out of my bunker in five minutes.” He closed the door, leaving them alone in the sterile room.

Jori stirred.

His breath catching, Uriel stepped up to the table. He took the boy’s hand in his own, and felt tears well up as Jori took a deep breath.

Jori opened his eyes. “Father?” the youth asked. Barely thirteen. How would he survive in a world of gods?

He will survive, Uriel thought. That is enough.

“Why are you crying?” Jori asked.

“Son, I am . . . sending you to glory.”

The boy started to look panicked. “Father?”

“The world is a broken, ruined place,” Uriel said. “I want you to make it better. Stop them from fighting, son. Take away their guns and their bombs. They don’t deserve what they’ve been given. Mankind had a chance to reach the stars—but all they did was use that abilty to cast down fire upon one another. Eyes always downward, never toward the lights above . . .”

“I’m scared,” Jori said.

“I know.” Uriel kissed him on the forehead. The only beautiful thing left in the world.

Uriel took off his wristwatch, including the datachips. “Take this. Look at the numbers. Understand them. Read what I have written. It is all you’ll have of me. Be a king, son. Be a king.”

“Father!” Jori said, taking the watch but reaching for him. He was still tied down, however, on the table.

Uriel walked from the room.

“Father!” Jori was weeping. So was Uriel. He passed Galath in the hall outside, speaking with one of the scientists. One of the guards moved to open the door for Uriel and escort him out.

“Where will you go?” Galath called after him, sounding genuinely curious.

Uriel looked back. “Does it matter?”

“No,” Galath said. “I suppose it doesn’t.”

Uriel stepped out into the metallic hallway, rode the elevator up to the main floor, and let the guard shove him out into the rain again. He started walking.

And did not stop.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

ISA’S EYES didn’t itch.

She walked along the rocky shore near the God King’s hideout, in awe. Ever since she’d been a little girl, her eyes had itched in the spring. It was just something that happened to her. She’d learned to live with it. She hardly noticed it anymore.

Except now it was gone. In its place was energy. She no longer felt the muddled drowsiness that sometimes struck in late afternoon. She didn’t feel lethargic after sitting for a long time. She didn’t sneeze. Her nostrils, both of them, were perpetually unclogged.

Heaven above, she thought, holding her hand up before herself. This is ecstasy. Not a false ecstasy, like the buzz from something narcotic. No, this was a thrill for life, a sense of really living that she’d never known.

Being Deathless was about more than just not dying. She felt as if she could run a hundred miles and barely break a sweat.

Boots on the rocks. She spun to find the God King strolling nearby, wearing his stolen armor. He stopped, hands behind his back.

Damn him. He knew.

“We have been . . . summoned,” he said.

“What?”

“To the rebel village. Your man wishes you and me to meet him there.”

“The original plan was for him to meet us back here.”

“So it was. He won’t say why we are to return, only that we are.” The God King did not make a move to walk away.

“Well, I suppose we should be off, then,” she said, turning and walking toward the dock, where a commandeered ship waited. It could get them near to the village in under a day, and a few hours more of riding would bring them to the meeting point.

“Finding it hard to despise,” the God King asked, “that which blesses you so?”

She said nothing.

“You are better than them now,” he said. “These lesser beings.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said, not looking at him as she walked past.

“Will you deny facts?” he asked, sounding amused. “Will you deny that you are superior? It is apparent what you are.”

“I have a stronger body,” she said, stopping. “That doesn’t make me superior.”

“And what does?” Raidriar asked. “Better understanding? Wisdom granted by eons of life? A perspective that no mortal can hope to understand.” He walked up beside her. “This is why we rule. It is simple, it is logical, and it is purposeful. Equality is a sham. There must be kings—so why not have them be men and women who are truly distinct—privileged not just by a fluke of birth, but by capacity, ability, and knowledge? Something to think on as you hate me.”

He walked on toward the ship.

SIRIS RODE his horse hard.

Harder than was wise. Harder than the beast would be able to take.

Hell take me, he thought. Oh, seven. Worker, no . . .

ISA AND the God King arrived at the village before Siris returned, so it seemed she would have to wait to discover the meaning of his cryptic message.

She walked among the people, returning their waves, but inside feeling a traitor. Not for what she’d done, but because of how much she enjoyed what she had become. Even food tasted better. She had slept soundly last night, and had woken wonderfully refreshed

At one point during the trip, she’d burned herself on the rope of the rigging. The wound had healed of its own avail within the hour. This was marvelous, this was wonderful.

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