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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Soul Crusaders



Aithne sat quietly in the lobby of the Rat Trap, her mind awhirl. This Hotel her matriarch spoke of was clearly an Breátha Mór, the judgment grounds of the Sidhe. This was not bad on its own merits--many heroes had been honored with the call to Breátha Mór, and Ebreth, formidable warrior and husband of a queen, seemed a good candidate. What made it worrisome was the involvement of Jack. Aithne knew his heart, and if he had followed his friend to Breátha Mór he intended to take his part against all the Host if necessary. That was the sort of person he was. What would the Sidhe do to a disobedient Idea?

Too, Aithne felt excited prickles up and down her spine on the prospect of belonging to the Breith herself, something her mother and grandmother had never achieved; but was she up to the challenge? Aithne was only twenty-two! Khyrisse clearly thought her ready, but the young witch had been overestimated before, her quick mind making her talents seem greater than they were. There were stories of Breátha Mór. Not everyone called before the Sidhe came back.

Her brown study was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Val and Vas, and the variety of startled noises the rest of the Ratpack clan greeted them with. Looking up, Aithne contributed a gasp of her own. Vas had cut his hair! What could the significance of that be? Back at home a man with long woman’s locks was a passive sort of homosexual, but Vas had made it painfully evident to Aithne that his was not that case. Was hair purely a matter of fashion here? If so, then why did Vas, his hair cropped crudely close about his head, have the look of a whipped dog? Could he be in mourning? Was it an expression of shame? Did his hair perhaps have something to do with his status as a mage?

Aithne found herself oddly disturbed by the prospect of being trapped forever in Breátha Mór without ever having learned these most basic of things about her new world.



***

“Ye gods, Vas!” said Khyrisse. “What did you do to yourself?!?”

“I think it’s kind of cute,” Mina lied weakly.

Rani was trying not to stare. She wasn’t a very visual kind of person, but the effect of the elf’s new ‘do was uncanny somehow. Before, he had looked like an effeminate but unmistakably male guy with girly hair. Now, he looked like a masculine woman with butch hair. This would probably interest Vas, who seemed to fancy himself more androgynous than he usually was, but Rani didn’t want him to think she was hitting on him. “Who’s the new guy?” she asked Asinus, instead.

“Beats the hell out of me. Hey, new guy, who are you?”

“Me?” said Karel. “I’m Karellion. You know, Khyri’s brother?”

Khyrisse blinked at them. “Didn’t I introduce you at the wedding?”

“Well, you were in kind of a haze at the wedding,” said Rani.

“Oh,” Khyrisse said quietly. “Well, this is Karel, my brother and first adventuring partner. I--wanted to bring people I knew I could really trust in the trenches. This mission may be uglier than it sounds.”

“Family of yours is family of mine, chickie-babe.” Asinus grinned at Karel around his cigar. “So what do you do, kid?”

“Me?” Karel made his most innocent face. “I’m a merchant.”

“Yeah, ain’t we all--”

“Aaaaaaah!” said Skitch, coming in at the front door. “Vas, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” the shorn elf snapped irritably, and stopped. “Skitch, what are you doing here? I thought you were in school!”

“I’m an honorable Diarian,” Skitch said. “Ebreth and Jack are my virjhacs. I have to help them.”

Khyrisse’s eyes met Tarrin’s for a moment, and then she sighed. “Well,” Vas finally broke the uncomfortable silence, looking round at Khyrisse, Skitch, Flicker, Valende, Tarrin, Asinus, and the Rat. “This is nostalgic.”

“Ariath or Pieret even thinks it,” Khyrisse muttered darkly, “and I do the Death Dance.”

“I understand,” commiserated the Rat.

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