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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Girl Troubles

“Uh,” said Jack, backing away from Aithne’s fire-limned hands with his own arms up in the air in what he hoped was a harmless-looking posture. “Couldn’t we, uh, talk about this?”

“There is nothing to talk.” The pretty witch jetted two more gouts of flame out at the carpenter, and he barely ducked out of their way. “You are no Sidhe. So you must be a bad imposter, and I will stop you from taking place of my Jack. Hold still and I will kill you now.”

“Uh,” said Jack, and ducked behind the nearest big rock.

“Hey, toots, did I mention I come from an unbelievably wealthy family?”

“Tongo houla,” replied the native, and poked him with her barbecue fork.

“Ow!” yelled Asinus, and his lit cigar fell into the soup he was cooking in. “Oh, flark it, that was a forty-crown Cynystran cigar! I’ll have you berks know I’m a lawyer--”

“Aaaaaaaaa-AAAA-AAAAA-aaaaaaaaaaah!” Alphred of the Jungle came swinging down out of the trees in full throat, brandishing the totem of the striped skunk. The natives, understandably, broke and ran. Asinus would have done the same if he wasn’t tied up in a big cauldron. “Ah, flark,” he wheezed instead, his eyes tearing. “Put that thing away before I really ruin this soup, will ya, jungle boy?”

“Its purpose is served.” Alphred solemnly palmed the skunk totem, and the ungodly odor was gone as if it had never been. “I see it has not taken you long to get yourself into trouble, Asinus Paris.”

“Yeah, what else is new.” Asinus accepted the Salagian hero’s help out of the cauldron. “What the flark are you doing in here, anyway?”

“I am an archetype of savage nobility that will inspire pulp fictionwriters and B-grade-movies for generations to come, oh lord of donkeys. A better question is what you are doing here.”

“Taking care of my own. I may not be much of an archetype, but I’m sure as hell a Paris, buddy. You got a cigar on you?”

“Certainly.” Alphred produced one from out of his loincloth somewhere.

Asinus hesitated a long moment. “Aaaah... second thought, why don’t you keep that for yourself.”

The jungle lord complied. “I have come to represent your future to you, Asinus Paris.”

“You’re serious?” Asinus blinked at him. “Why you? Do I have a serious dearth of vine-swinging skills in my life or something?”

“We often serve as avatars for those who need our personal wisdom least, oh lord of donkeys. Many are those who might offer leading advice, and bias another’s destiny. In my case, your subconscious mind has chosen my image to talk to you about something I know nothing about whatsoever.” Alphred put a big hand solemnly on Asinus’ shoulder. “Women.”

“Oh, flark,” Asinus sighed. “This is going to hurt, isn’t it?”

“I really don’t have any bad intentions toward your, uh, Jack,” Jack Yearlate called out, scrambling from cover to cover as each lit up in flame behind him. Luckily the Ebreth-summoned terrain was particularly rugged and there was plenty to hide behind. The witch had the fire-summoning thing going for her, but Jack was faster on his feet, and as long as he could keep a rock or hill between the two of them she couldn’t get a straight shot at him. “I don’t want to replace him or anything. I have my own life. Really.”

“Be quiet, you bad trickery!” Aithne had reached the top of the highest plateau now, which was bad news for Jack’s campaign of staying out of her line of fire. She was remarkably powerful as well as beautiful. Jack had a dizzy swaying memory of Gabriella Hu, smiling over her shoulder at him as she walked away. “Run away from me will not help you,” said the witch, slightly out of breath and looking angry about it. “Soon you will be dirty pig too.”

That was when the boar crashed into her from behind, knocking her ass-over-backward off the plateau and onto the rocks below. “That’s ‘25th-level pig’,” said Ebreth. “To you.”

Vas hurried down the hallway, adjusting his collar and muttering to himself. He was a hard man to embarrass--really, why focus on the negative aspects of a situation rather than the enjoyable ones?--but a sleazy reality show was pushing the boundaries even for him. Valende was never going to let him hear the end of this, either. I certainly hope our good Jack and Ebreth appreciate what we’re going through for their sakes...

“Hello, Vastarin,” came a dulcet voice beside him, and Vas’ heart stopped. “What in the Nine Spheres have you done to your hair?”

“M--milady,” gasped the elf, all else forgotten. “I--I’m sorry, I wasn’t expect--”

“I am but teasing, Vas.” Aerdrie fluffed her fingers whimsically through the shorn remnants of his blue-black locks, a flutter of a touch from what seemed like an aeon ago. “It has been some time, hasn’t it?”

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