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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Colder



“Whoo!” exclaimed Vickie, stepping out of Garal’s portal into the snowy hills of Sunmei. “What is this, Matsie, global cooling? This place was sub-tropical last time I was here!”

“Shikintu is a very large country, Miss Dare. Sunmei province is considerably cooler than Shanghai.”

“Well, you could have warned me. I do have a winter coat. Somewhere.” Vickie grinned and poked Garal playfully in the shoulder. “Hey, Garry, remember the time we got stuck in that snowstorm out in the Northlands?”

Garal could hardly have forgotten it. The young spy had talked him, Jack and Ebreth into investigating some abominable snowman’s cave or something in the mountains south of New Trade, hours before the worst blizzard in three years struck. They’d gotten lost, and an avalanche knocked Garal unconscious and broke Ebreth’s leg; Vickie and Jack had to go on foot for help, and by the time Flicker and Jan Lifesgrip skiied out through the storm to drag the two men back to town, they were half-dead of cold and only the miracle of modern clerical magic kept them from losing any digits to frostbite. That Vickie seemed to remember the whole incident fondly continued to dumbfound Garal. His planeblazer’s humiliation at having to be physically carried to safety was bad enough, but unlike Jack or Ebreth, the halfling had no woman waiting at home to tuck him up in quilts and make a fuss over him all week, and so he wound up spending most of it laid up in bed alone, making himself chamomile tea and wishing Helena had married him instead of Kenny. Garal would have given up every domination fantasy he’d ever had in favor of a wife who would take care of him when he was sick and rub his feet after a hard day. Vickie had stopped by with Shikinti take-out one afternoon. It wasn’t exactly the same.

“Hello... Garry?” Vickie waved her hand in front of his eyes. “You still with us?”

Garal sighed. It wasn’t Vickie’s fault. She was what she was; wishing she was anything else wasn’t fair to her. That was the whole reason they were out on this snipe hunt in the first place, he reminded himself. “I remember.”

“We never did find the sasquatch,” Vickie explained to Amatsu. “We gotta go back up there sometime when the weather’s better. Maybe you can come with?”

“Perhaps,” said Amatsu, agreeably. Garal was thinking that there was no way in hell he was going back up there again, particularly since he didn’t believe there had ever been a sasquatch there in the first place, but he said “Maybe” anyway.

“It’s a date, then,” Vickie grinned. “Now, what were we looking for out here again?”

“High-density miasma crystals,” Garal mumbled.

“Is this something we find more like in the local bazaar, or more like on an abandoned pagoda along a cliff path guarded by flying monkeys?”

“Closer to the flying monkeys one,” murmured Amatsu.

“Beautiful.” She draped one arm around each of her sometime boyfriends. “Lead the way, Matsie, I’ve got your back.”

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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