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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Negotiations and Love Songs: Part 13



Than I Do For The Bottom Of The Sea

There was a shimmer in the darkness beyond Otter’s bubble, and then a winglike fluke, pale yellow with brown mottling, curved gracefully into her field of vision, and then the rest of the creature it was attached to. This one was no more than three feet long, its underbelly waving in overlapped flounces of skin like a cuttlefish’s tessera. Stiff feeding arms protruded from the front of its strange armored head. It circled the bubble again, training its strange curved eyes on her.

Otter frowned at it. I am the ocean; you are the ocean. I don’t know where I am, or what you are, but I do know how to find out. “Where is this place?” she said, slowly and with resonance, letting her will disperse through the water.

-The Sinthis Trench,- lisped a soft voice in her mind.

Otter wasn’t sure which was stranger: that the cuttlefish-creature was psionic, or that she had never heard of the Sinthis Trench. “Why am I imprisoned here?”

-The Fallen Ones put you here for safekeeping.-

“Who? Why?”

-I can’t tell you.- Its tessera fluttered nervously. -They would be angry.-

“They can be angry with me. Tell me.”

-No.-

Otter blinked rather stupidly at the creature. She could feel its anxiety, faintly--whether it was the creature’s nervousness that was slight, or her own ability to sense it, Otter didn’t know--but it did not yield. What is this thing that it can disobey me? “What,” she said, slowly, “can you tell me?”

-You will be released when the Fallen Ones have finished their work. Then you can go home. No one will hurt you. I am here to ask you: what do you eat?-

“What do I--eat?” Otter felt a little disoriented.

-I hope it will not be me,- confessed the creature, rippling its flukes.

“I don’t even know what you are,” said Otter. “I eat fish. Small fish. Or clams. Who are you? What do you want with me?”

-My name is Callie. I’m just to take care of you until the Fallen Ones are ready to leave.-

“Leave,” she said, “leave where?”

-I can’t tell you that. Please. I must go now.-

Callie was gone in a pale flip of color.

Otter put both her palms on the wall of the bubble almost as if to steady herself, a strangely topside gesture.

Don’t Mess With Belle: Fruition

Shilree and Anjra sat around a low table in Shilree’s office in Dyaromn, having tea together. Shilree was recounting the story of how she first met the Significants. For some reason Anjra was getting much more amusement from it than Shilree thought the story warranted.

“He really thought you were going to cook him?” laughed Anjra.

“Well, he looked that way,” Shilree said, missing the joke. “But then again, who knows what goes through Signet’s mind when he’s hanging upside down from a tree?”

“Kajari, you are terrible!”

Shilree just shrugged and took another bite of the coffee cake.

***

Outside Shilree’s office, Jari--or to be more precise, the copy of Jari--sat busily calligraphing a letter to Mayor Eljhan about the grain market. As she was writing, a small, tinny sound chirped at her from inside the desk. The doppelganger’s expression registered surprise for no more than a second, and then her eyes went blank and she took a strange silvery object from the desk drawer, pressed a concealed button to silence it, and attached it to her temple.

She would never know who had tampered with her program disk so drastically, and neither would her Gilan masters.

For now, it was time to kill the Emperor.

***

The Diari battalion had finally cornered Blackbone’s cult of personality in the grey stone keep that had, thousands of years ago, been the home of the Warrior King Steelclaw. Actually, the cult had been dead for days, but Belle’s newly-activated Zaptiocalionaziokoosbiliarthan abilities to affect others’ perceptions of reality had kept the battalion in siege mode until everything was ready.

Today, everything was ready.

The final response had come from Don Alliejin, and Belle folded it symmetrically and placed it down on the book of Diari folklore that sat on her desk.

“Edyric?” she asked as she stepped out of her tent. The archer was sitting nearby whittling some splinter arrows. “It’s time.”

Edyric nodded and picked up her bow. “How many people?” she asked. “I don’t want to waste time stopping to find another quiver.”

“One hundred and forty-four, of course,” said Belle, holding her fingers up. “I need them killed over the span of five minutes. That’s a hair shy of twenty-nine a minute. Any problem there?”

“Hardly,” said Edyric.

“Good.” Belle looked down from the small hillock they had climbed at the Diarian battalion. “I’d do it myself,” she said, “but I need a kiljhac for this to work.” She looked at the small pocketwatch she had stolen three years ago from Robinson Paris. “Count to fifty, then start.”

Belle turned her back to Edyric and started down the hill to where the battalion was still undergoing their morning training regimen.

“Commander!” she shouted to the tall male Diari with the odd pock marks. “Are your troops ready to face the enemy?”

“Yes, ma’am!” the commander said.

“Good,” Belle said. “She’s up there.”

“Wha--” the commander started, turning to where Belle pointed. The arrow whizzing down from the hillock was the last thing he saw.

Diari screams filled the air.

Great idea, Emperor, Belle mused. I would never have known the effect of a Diari murder by a kiljhac if you hadn’t told me through your big gloat. Enjoy them.

Belle calmly strolled back to her tent to watch her plan come together.

***

In Diaria, Shilree and Anjra were still laughing over the story when Anjra felt the first wince of pain. However, rather than subsiding after a second, it got worse. And worse.

Her people were dying at kiljhac hands by the dozens, and the pain was worse than anything she could possibly imagine.

“Anjra!” cried Shilree. “What is it Anjra?”

At just that moment, Jari stepped into the room, Gilan program disc on her head and the ritual knife in her hand. Shilree whirled to see the doppelganger of her secretary.

Then she felt a hand touch the back of her neck and Shilree fell unconscious.

Tallen the Red, or at least one of the remaining members of the clone brotherhood of assassins, replaced the glove over his poisonous hand and pulled Shilree’s dagger from her belt. “You must be the Gilan,” Tallen said. “The plans have changed again, m’dear. But thanks for the distraction.” Tallen stepped over the unconscious Shilree and threw the knife between the secretary’s eyes.

Taking her knife in turn, he turned to the whimpering Anjra. “Well, if that don’t beat all,” he laughed. “Empress, more like. And not very old, neither. Too bad the pain of your people gave you away. Almost a disappointment,” he sighed as he slit her throat with the doppelganger’s blade.

He took a moment looking around the office to make sure that the proper fingerprints were on each knife, then took a pinch of dust of obscurity and sprinkled it along his path in and out. Climbing out the window, he looked one more time at his handiwork. Belle would most likely want to get this particular image directly from his mind.

Then Tallen the Red was gone.

***

Belle looked at her watch. Four minutes and thirty seconds. From the slit in the tent, she could see that a few of the Diarians had actually made it almost halfway up the hill. She was impressed. Right outside her tent, she could see the agent the Emperor had sent to spy on her, face down with two arrows in his back. Belle hadn’t felt a thing, but whether it was due to Praxis’ cure or the fact that someone other than Blackbone had done the killing, she neither knew nor cared.

Tallen should be out of the palace by now, she mused. The Don’s people had been in charge of getting the outsider into and out of the palace, and Belle was certain that they had performed the task with their usual cold efficiency. The scroll of false vision she had commissioned would have blocked any attempts to scry the area, leaving the truth of the assassination a mystery for the ages.

Belle looked outside again. Apparently Edyric was done. The training field was littered with Diarian corpses. Belle gave Edyric the A-OK sign, and turned back into her tent. There was one loose end to take care of.

She walked over to the large chest she kept her battlefield maps on and slid the papers to the side. She opened the trunk and within, bound and gagged, was Marcus Blackbone. Belle had captured the killer over two weeks ago, and kept him in the small chest without food since then.

“Well, buddy,” she smiled at the killer. “Now that that’s taken care of, I do have a job to do for the poor late emperor.”

Belle slammed her fist into Blackbone’s nose, driving it through his skull. She pulled her fist out and tasted the blood.

How sweet it was!

One Art

“Peace,” soothed Flicker, in Diari, “peace.”

“To work so hard,” sobbed Shilree, “try so hard, get so far and then keep--keep losing everything. How do you do it Sunny?” Shilree shook in her friend’s arms. “How do you take it?”

“I just do,” he said simply, a little helplessly. “I just roll up my sleeves and go on. What else can we do?”

“It’s too much,” she wept. “Oh Anjra.”

Flicker held her head against him, and after a moment, quoted softly:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master:
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, an hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master,
though it may feel like (Write it!) like disaster.

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