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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
In the Arms of the City: Part 1

The Rat Signal

Kingfisher stood looking at the memorial wall of the Rat Trap. Two of the portraits on the wall were those of vile traitors to the group, a thin anarchist named Pieret who had already been killed and a curvy assassin named Ariath who seemed to be still at large. Kingfisher had no idea why such villains were memorialized with the others.

Two others were missing in action. They were a plain pair, a non-descript Shikinti man in black and a hard-armed woman with a long brown braid. Amatsu Mikaboshi, read the man’s plaque, Order of Redemption. An honorable man. That was interesting, as he was patently a ninja assassin. Missing since January 814. The woman’s read Otter, naiad and sailor. Still waters. Missing since March 814. Kingfisher offered her routine petition to Grendel that these two still lived.

The dead were four, two men and two women. The first was a woman in samurai armor, her helmet off, leaning on her katana and smiling. Cori Yashida. Unswerving friend, devoted wife, last of the Silver Crane clan. At peace. This told the avatar-in-training little.

Second was a muscular man with a proud smile, wearing nothing but a loincloth, standing on a branch in a verdant landscape. Alphred. We never quite understood him, but he saved his beloved jungle. That was something, Kingfisher conceded, though the man did look a bit ludicrous.

A beautiful, dark-haired elven woman stood against a starscape in the next portrait. Ember. A beacon of hope. Died to defeat a lich lord. That was a worthy way to go.

Finally, a lanky young man with a shy smile, the mirror image of the mathematician who had disabled the World Automaton. Jack Paris. More than human. She knew the story of this one. The Rat Pack should be proud that one of their founders died in such a magnificent way.

She stood, thinking about life and death, as the Rat Pack gathered for their next adventure.

“Salutations,” bowed Orlen. “I got Khyrisse’s message. What’s up?”

“Master Ebreth’s spirit guide says we have to, like, go to Rimbor City.”

There was a brief pause, as if Orlen was waiting for further comment.

None came.

“I’ll go, uh, ask someone else,” Orlen said.

“This is Kingfisher,” Jack was introducing the grim-visaged avatar of Grendel to Ebreth and Khyrisse. “She was a big help in the Tower of Wax.”

“And she has a spiff weapon, too,” Vickie winked.

“You would do well not to touch it again, lest its aggression unleash upon you.”

“That was the Monkey King,” Vickie said cheerfully, waving it away with her hand.

Seeker of Places scrabbled up Jack’s arm to his familiar perch on the mathematician’s shoulder.

He knew it wasn’t the same Jack Paris who had been his first humanoid friend, of course.

Still, the air of the true math around him was extremely pleasant, and there weren’t a lot of people, even in the Rat Pack, who had such nifty nestable satchels.

“I understand,” the Rat explained, and dropped the folded paper pyramid into Jack’s hand.

“Oh no, not that stupid pyramid again!” yelled Khyrisse.

“You’re the one who suggested this as a vacation,” Ebreth reminded her.

“Your hair looks nice,” Jack said.

“Thanks,” said Mina, smiling. “I just thought it was time for a change... and I always did want to see if it was true about blondes having more fun.”

“Whoa!” said Marty. “You must be Mina’s, like, identical cousin--but why is your hair yellow?”

“It’s like a blonde joke in reverse,” commented Skitch.

The halfbreed detective thunked one of her boots down on the coffee table across from Jack, who was admiring Mina’s new blondness. “Hey, Romeo, you lost something.”

“What?” Jack blinked.

Rani waved a folded piece of parchment at him. “Your mash note, particle boy. Val doesn’t check my box anymore, you know.” She made a loud, raucous Rimbor City laugh, and broke it off abruptly. “You don’t get it, do you?”

“My letter to Val?” Jack paled.

“Unless you meant to tell me ‘Jack’s feelings for you haven’t completely died with him,’ I think that’s what it is, yes.” She jerked the letter out of the way of his horrified grab at it, grinning. “The cute little heart with her name in it was a pretty good clue too. Write it down, Hu.”

“Whoa, like, okay!”

“Give me that!” Jack made an overly obvious grab at the letter; as she pulled it away from him he snatched it away with his other hand.

“Anyway,” Rani continued, “I spared Valende the grade-school romanticism and just told her you wanted back with her.”

“That’s not what the letter said!”

“I know.” Rani grinned at him. “I just like it better that way.”

“Jack, Mina, Rani, Marty, Vickie, Orlen, Kingfisher, Ebreth, Skitch and I,” counted Khyrisse. “And the Rat, of course. Has anyone seen Flicker?”

“I think he went to Diaria after the High Priestess got kacked,” Vickie said. “Garry may show. He had to go to the Plane of Sensory Deprivation for something or other, but he said he’d be back soon.”

“Room for two more?” said a soft voice from the doorway.

“Hey, Val.” Rani broke off from her conversation with Orlen to greet her ex-girlfriend with a quick hug and a squeeze to the ass, giving Vas a curt nod over her shoulder. “Glad you could make it.”

Valende smiled wanly and returned the embrace. “Me too,” she said quietly.

The Rat cleared his little throat. “Thank you!” he said.

“‘I bet you’re wondering why I called you here today’,” coached Skitch.

“Thank you!”

Don’t Mess With Belle: Coda

“Anjra was the Emperor?” said Edyric, incredulously. “Pisser. I was going to do her last, just in case Shilree’s Bane thing came through.” She paused. “Oh, well, it’s no big deal. If she finds a way to get Lotus back, I’ll just get her girlfriend resurrected again.”

“I prefer a heart for an eye,” Belle said. “It keeps people from bothering you more than once every five years or so.”

“I know I’m sure leaving you the hell alone,” grinned Edyric.

“Smart move.” Belle cased the archer appraisingly. “Good look with your little revenge dance. I hope our talk’s been helpful.”

“Oh, it has,” said Edyric, “believe me, it has.”


She was all the way to Havre de Grace and had chartered a boat home already when the deep mist rolled around her and intoned “I warned you.”

“Shilree,” Belle sighed, “maybe you missed the point here somehow, but if you continue to mess with me, more people die.”

The mist coalesced into a figure, and Belle frowned, her heightened senses screaming an alert. It looked like Shilree, give or take a bad haircut and a red gem in one eyesocket; it even smelled like her, mostly, but something was definitely not right. Gilan doppelganger? Not quite. “What do you want?” stalled Belle, trying to keep it talking while she figured out what was going on.

“You couldn’t leave well enough alone,” said the Shilree-thing. “All you had to do was obey the Emperor and he would have kept his word and released you. But no. You had to prove yourself Ataniel’s biggest ghlakzh. Well congratulations Belle GA-4. You proved your point. For that, and some very personal reasons, I will see you slowly die.”

Necromancy, Belle put her finger on it. The thing had a necromantic aura. Definitely not Shilree, then. Shalak? Belle’s genetically enhanced brain was excellent at multi-tasking, and by this time she’d already finished breaking the creature’s neck. He’d had enough access to Shilree to possess her, or something, but what the hell would the Lich Lord care if some annoying Emperor got waxed?

Belle watched with some small astonishment as the necromantic Shilree-thing repositioned her own head and got back up to her knees, leering hideously. “Nice try bitch,” it hissed. “Remember to watch your back. I will be there. Always.”

A nightmarish winged shadow-creature materialized beneath her, and then they had taken to the air. Belle made no move to pursue. She stared at the space where the strange revenant of Shilree had been for a few moments, and then she began to smile. “Whoever you are,” she said, “you just made one major mistake. You only get one free shot. And now I know you’re coming.”

Belle turned down the pier and headed for the boat that would take her back to her island. Lich lords, illithids, and anyone else whose plans she might have fucked up by killing the Emperor before they had the chance to would all do very well to leave her in peace there.

But if they didn’t, Belle would be happy to destroy them too.

Fear and Loathing in Rimbor City

“I--don’t believe I understand,” frowned Vas, looking around at the assembled Rat Packers. “What exactly do you want our help with?”

“Me?” said Rani. “I just wanted some info about what Tucson was doing with the damn Diari. You’re the ones whose rat decided this was important.”

“Thank you!”

“The Rat’s, uh, major talent is a superhuman sensitivity to the mathematical reality matrix,” Jack explained a little awkwardly for the benefit of the newer Rat Pack members. It didn’t seem to be assuaging their skepticism much. “Being a, uh, rat, he thinks and exists on a micro level, in which things are linear in geometric patterning...”

“He’s a big ol’ plot device,” Vickie helped, grinning.

The rat made a pissy chittering sound in her direction.

“Well, so am I,” Rani said, and shrugged. “I wouldn’t have given this a second thought, believe me, but Jack said the Rat sensed some kind of entropy thing going on--”

“Not entropy,” corrected Jack. “Entropy is a natural force... what the Rat conveyed was more like a, um, black hole, which is, uh, sort of...”

“Sort of like nothing,” Rani cut in. “Which is what I’ve been sensing around the city since January: unnatural traces of nothing. I’m not really into rats, but when one sticks his head up with an accurate approximation of an impression I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to pin down for five months...”

“But what do you expect us to do about that, Ransa?” said Orlen, befuddled. “This doesn’t sound like a case on which we’d be much help at all.”

“I understand!” squeaked the Rat, jumping up and down in frustration.

“Good enough for me,” Ebreth grinned.

“I could, like, take notes for you again!” beamed Marty.

Rani refrained from commenting about the usefulness of his previous notes, and just added scratch notebook for Hu to her mental list of supplies she wanted to lay in before heading back. “There’s definitely something wrong in Rimbor,” she told Orlen. “Something aside from the slave trade, the drug trade, urban blight, violent underworld activity, ugly billboards, what have you. I don’t expect you to do anything about that. The psychic impressions on everything in the city have been off for months, though. And I haven’t been able to shake a vague feeling of impending doom.” Rani looked at Ebreth. “What I came here for in the first place,” she continued, “is that the big crime lord in town these days is a guy by the name of John Tucson. We go way back, me and him. Duke St. A was his hero. An okay kid, but he had a scary intensity about him. You could smell that if he got a little taste of power we’d be in a Francis Ford Coppola flick before too long. I could smell that, anyway.”

“I can smell ravioli,” Marty offered earnestly.

“That’s my lunch reheating, Hu-boy,” grinned Vickie.

“He always did say he was going to run that city one day,” said Rani, half to herself. “Anyway, I learned this week that he’s brought Diari slavers into Rimbor. That could have something to do with the impending doom thing I’ve been getting.”

“I doubt it,” said Ebreth. “Lucas had the Diari mafia in town, and it didn’t hurt the city any. I’m sure their prey is coming from out of town.”

“I’ll trust you on that one,” Rani said, snidely but not actually nastily. “My--concern is that he’s selling the city out, to be honest with you. And if it’s to fuckin’ Diaria, we could be looking at a fifth Rimbor War.”

“I don’t get it,” said Ebreth. “Why do you think he’s signing the city over just because he’s trafficking with the Diari underworld?”

“John Tucson has a secret,” said Rani, “and I know it. He’s not his own man. He lost his soul when he was fifteen years old.”

The Rat had gotten up on top of the mantle, and he blew the candle out in a wisp of silver smoke.

Scorpion’s Nest: Loyal Henchlings

“Look, Stumpy,” the purple-haired woman with the tongue stud said, “either you let me in to see Tucson or I squeeze you even shorter than you are now.”

Stump sneered at her. “You think just because you’re taller than me it’s gonna scare me? Lady, Stump don’t play that.”

“Yeah, only ‘cause you don’t know how much taller,” she muttered. “Look, just tell your boss Camaro Pearl is here. He can kick your ass himself when he hears you kept me waiting.”

“So you’re Pearl.” Stump grinned evilly. “Tucson’s told me about you. I’m his number two now. You even think about trying to sidle in on me and you’ll find more parts of your body impaled with things than you’ve already got.”

“You’re boring me, Stumpy,” she said, fidgeting with the end of her studded belt.

“Stump,” said the halfling. “You’ll get yours, lady,” he added under his breath as he headed to the back room of the Scorpion’s current HQ.

Camaro rolled her eyes and turned to Nox. “What’re you looking at, elfboy?”

“Is that your natural hair color?” he asked lasciviously. “Might I ask to check for myself?”

“Trust me, little man,” Camaro sighed, “you couldn’t handle me.” To illustrate her point, she lifted one of the daggers from a nearby weapons shipment and bent it in half.

“Camaro,” John Tucson said from the backroom door. “I wish I could say this was a surprise.”

“Sure, Johnny,” said Camaro. “You finally get a good gig and you want to leave your ex out to hang? Jah, right, as if.”

“I think I could find you a position here, my dear,” the Scorpion said, smiling ever so slightly. “But in return, you’d need to take care of something for me.”

“Always with the quid pro quo, Johnny. You’re no Wyvern.”

Tucson ignored her jibes. “You may or may not know it, but I’ve been working on consolidating the slave trade into a unified Guild again. The unexpected return of Ebreth Tor to the living has been causing me no small amount of concern, but he’s been staying out of my business and I’ve been staying out of his. Now my source inside his little coffeeklatch tells me he’s coming to Rimbor.”

“I hate to be an I-told-you-so, but...” said Stump, leaning in the doorframe behind him.

“So you want me to step on him,” Camaro cut to the quick.

“However you deal with his people, I don’t care. Kill them, scare them off, send them on a wild goose chase to Sturtevant, just keep him out of my business.”

“And I get? Quid pro quo...”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tucson said absently. “You won’t succeed.”

“Yeah, I’m this easy to manipulate,” Camaro laughed. “We’ll talk about it when he’s flattened.”

Camaro Pearl turned and stormed out of the room, jarring the door from its hinges as she left.

“I don’t trust her, boss,” Stump said.

“I never asked you to,” answered Tucson. “But you might pay attention. You could learn some things from her.”

Preparations for War

Shilree didn’t answer when he knocked, so Flicker just opened the door.

She failed to whirl on him with a Diari oath, a drawn weapon, and/or the beginning of a spell, which was a very bad sign.

“Shilree?” he said gently. She didn’t even look up. She was still wearing the blood-red robes of mourning, even though the six-day funerary had ended yesterday. She looked like she hadn’t slept since Anjra’s death. She probably hadn’t. Part of Flicker wished he’d been able to be with her at the funeral, but Anjra’s body had been laid to rest in Irla, as befit a priestess of her station, and foreigners weren’t allowed in the holy city. He’d been hoping the funeral might have brought his friend some measure of peace. It wasn’t looking that way. “Shilree... the fasati is over.”

Nothing. Shilree was carving into her wooden desk with a dagger, over and over, long strokes. At least she’s not stabbing herself in the thigh with it. “So’s Memorial Day Weekend,” he said. “And your place is here, with the living.”

Shilree threw the dagger with a sudden violence. It whipped past Flicker’s ear and buried an inch of its blade in the hardwood wall, behind him. He didn’t flinch. “Gila,” Shilree said, flatly.


“Gila. That is the dagger of a Gilan assassin.” Flicker looked at it. “They killed my secretary and replaced her with a zhlargin doppelganger. They killed Anjra.” Shilree’s voice was as cold as the Sunfighter had ever heard it. “And now they are going to pay.”

“Are you sure,” Flicker said quietly.

“One hundred percent,” said Shilree. “The police found Jari’s bones buried in a compost heap. She’d been killed months ago, and we never knew. The cowards poisoned me, but I was apparently able to take one of them down before blacking out. No question about it, it was a doppelganger.” She raked her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know why they killed her. I sure as kajnay don’t know why they didn’t kill me. But they’ll live to regret it. I’m going after them Sunny.”

“We,” said Flicker, after a beat. “We’re going after them.”



Flicker wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but he had a nasty suspicion.

“Shilree,” he said quietly.

“Don’t worry about it Sunny.”

He shrugged and followed her into the classified area. There was a guard there, a powerfully built man with a scar snaking along the side of his head. “Kesar,” Shilree said crisply, and flashed her ID.

“Regent. This is... unexpected.” He frowned at Flicker. “And... that?”

“Goes where I go,” hissed Shilree. “Do you have a problem with that, soldier?”

Kesar saluted her, an odd look on his face, and moved aside.

Flicker frowned. Shilree was picking fights. This didn’t bode well, but maybe she’d calm down when they had a good proactive plan going.

The controlled area looked like an armory. Weapons, breastplates, and magic items were neatly arranged on the shelves lining its walls. Shilree emptied her quiver and refilled it with gold-fletched arrows, exchanged her shortsword for a new one, and then tossed a sheathed longsword at Flicker, who caught it without effort. “You’ll need that,” she said. “Sorry about the balance. It’s made for six fingers.”

Flicker knew Shilree couldn’t possibly be aware that giving the Riklander a sword was as much as calling him her thrall, but he couldn’t keep from bridling a bit anyway. Shilree must have noticed his discomfort, because she quickly added “It will help you against Gila Sunny. This blade is called Psi-Killer. If you wield it you’ll be protected from many psionic attacks, and it does extra damage against the Gifted.”

“Great,” sighed Flicker, and strapped it to his sword belt across from the antimagic sword. “If I go bad, the rest of you Mithril Dagger Heroes are in such trouble.”

“Everybody needs someone they can trust,” said Shilree.

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