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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Out of the Loop



“That’s it?” Vickie looked at the lumpy grey miasma crystals with poorly veiled disappointment. “Aren’t they going to make the earth shake, lightning flash from the sky... at least glow and pulse a little?”

“No,” said Garal.

“Man, I was expecting something a little less... mundane.”

“Sorry you think my profession is mundane,” Garal muttered stiffly. “Maybe you should go adventure with some lich lords or something.”

“Ah, don’t be that way, Garry. You know we all love ya.”

***

Valende gave the nearest ghoul a roundhouse punch to the jaw. It wasn’t as cathartic as slicing him in half with the Sword of Corellon would have been, but it did make a nice satisfying *crack*.

Too bad Kerouac isn’t stuck to me, she thought. I bet he’d make a real good weapon right about now.

***

“Any luck?” Derek asked.

“Does it sound like it?” Sallie handed the wailing baby off to him wearily and lay down on the sofa. “Khyri wasn’t really this fussy, was she?”

“Well, not when you were around.” The ex-wild mage jounced the infant gently, making soothing noises. Lissa was not consoled. “I seem to remember a few rocky nights when you’d be away from the cottage for a week or two, now that you mention it...”

“Let’s hope that she’s not gone that long, then,” Sallie sighed, and put the pillow over her own head.

***

“Auuuuuugh!” yelled Skitch, fleeing sideways as a ghoul pawed at his tunic. It left a trail of gross yellowish slime across it. “Turn them, Marty! Turn them!”

“Uh, okay...” Marty stopped fighting to pick up the ghoul he was fighting by its shoulders, rotate it 180 degrees, and carefully set it back down.

“Give me strength,” muttered Rani.

***

“Vampires?” said Luthien, frowning. “Operating out of New Trade? What makes you say that, Schneider? Khyrisse said there were two attacks this summer... that’s hardly an epidemic. Especially compared to Nylevia or the Princedoms.”

“I know there’ve been vamp attacks across the board and everything, but I took the liberty of plotting some of ‘em out on that big world map Max gave me--”

“Not again,” Luthien groaned. “Must you plot everything out on that stupid map, Schneider? You’ve never solved even one mystery that way.”

“If you’d plotted the white roses out on the Edimon map, you would have noticed the letter ‘S’ I left for you,” Schneider said, a little miffed. “Anyway, the point is this. Except for some of the Tobrinese incidents, all the strange vampire attacks that have been reported this summer are in cities or towns serviced by the Trade Carriages.”

Luthien blinked. “Really?”

“No joke,” Schneider swore. “Though I might be imagining it, never can tell these days... I was wondering if you and the Chain Gang might come out and have a look.”

Luthien sighed. “I’ve been kind of avoiding telling you this, Schneider, but Val and Vas are the only ones left since the Madness.”

The jester winced. “Dead, or...”

“Some of both. It’s a long story.” Luthien rumpled his hair. “Have you spoken to Vas yet? He’s the best undead-tracker I’ve ever met.”

“He’s also got the biggest mouth of anyone I’ve ever met. I was kind of hoping you might be able to come over on the QT and kind of casually check things out without getting Khyrisse all worked up about it or anything.” Luthien raised an eyebrow. “You know how she gets.”

***

“I never called her a slut,” protested Ebreth, decapitating a ghoul on the backhand. “...Did I?”

“Not in so many words, dear,” murmured Khyrisse, blasting another one to pieces with a lightning bolt.

***

“Anyway, there are worse things on Ataniel than a boring macguffin,” Vickie continued cheerily, slipping it into her backpack. “I mean, just think of all the psychodrama we’re missing... the Rat Pack’s good people, but man, does stress follow them around like a big ol’ black cloud. Whatever angst poor Jack’s stepped into in there... well, I wouldn’t want to trade places with him, ya know what I mean?”

Garal didn’t say anything. He’d trade places with Jack in a heartbeat under just about any circumstance, actually; of all the taller men he secretly envied, it was Jack he was jealous of most. Sure, he wished he had Ebreth’s physical prowess, Vas’ success with the ladies, the respect accorded to heroes like Flicker or Praxis, but the fact of the matter was Garal was 3’8”, had an 8 charisma, had never saved the world from anything, and wasn’t likely to. He’d long since accepted in his heart that he wasn’t competing with the Maxwell Silverhammers of the world. Garal was a socially awkward geek... just like Jack. But everyone listened to Jack, worried about his feelings, sought out his opinions. For some reason incredibly beautiful women kept falling in love with him. And Jack had fifteen friends dropping everything to rescue him from the Hotel at risk of their own souls. Fifteen! Garal knew if it was him there would be two--only Amatsu, for that matter, if Vickie happened to be distracted by anything more interesting that day. The halfling could have rationalized away the fact that attractive, high-level guys like Vas and Ebreth had so much more influence on the others than he did, but with Jack there were no excuses. He was a kindred spirit to Garal, and he was just plain better liked.

“Sometimes,” he finally said, a little sadly, “I wish I was really involved enough to be part of all the psychodrama, Vickie.”

“Is there anything more psychodramatic than wishing you had more psychodrama in your life?” she asked philosophically, and gave him an affectionate slap on the butt.

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