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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
In The Arms Of The City: Part 17

First Impressions

Jack Paris finished picking up the shards of the mirror. “It looks like I’ve recovered 98.102% of the glass, plus or minus .05. It’s likely the rest was ground into dust in the, uh, combat.”

“Thank you, Jack,” murmured Valende, kneeling with her half-dead brother in her arms.

“Well, I’m the obvious one to touch the stuff,” Jack said modestly. “I’m a finite set, and you can’t mathematically duplicate me without it, uh, being me.”

“I have yet to have too much Jack Paris,” chuckled Val softly.

Khyrisse finished her death’s door and left Vas to the ministrations of his priestess sister, standing to face the third form coalescing slowly amid the shattered fragments of the fairy mirror.

It didn’t look like any of them.

It looked, instead, like a particularly confused brown-haired girl, wearing a strange and simple dress that reminded Khyrisse uncomfortably of the contorted woman they had found in Trillarillia’s tomb. She said something Khyrisse understood not at all, blinking at them, and made no move to attack.

“Pleased to meetcha!” said Vickie.

The dazed young woman looked at Vickie, and then she bowed her head, raising both her hands in some formal gesture no one in the group had ever seen before. “Aithne,” she said.

“Thank you!” said the Rat.

***

“So, like, how come you’re evil?” Marty asked, swinging his sword to clang against Camaro Pearl’s bracer.

“Easier, mostly,” she said, delivering a punch to Marty’s stomach that threw him across the alley. She reached down and picked up a dumpster, which she tossed at him.

“Aaah! Garbage!” Marty cried, cleaving the metal dumpster in twain with the Sword of Light.

“Ah, you can wash up after we kick your ass,” Camaro sighed.

“So, like, is your hair really that color?” Marty asked, focusing the light from the sword into a powerful beam of energy, which pushed Camaro back into the wall.

“As real as the rest of me,” the punk smiled, pulling herself out of the silhouette she had made in the brick. “Why? You like it?”

“Purple’s cool,” Marty said. “I had a pet purple once.”

“You are one weird-ass guy, pal,” Camaro said, pulling the brick wall down into the alley.

***

Aithne watched the strange people who had released her from the faery mirror cleaning up the combat site. Wherever she was, it was apparently someplace tidy. It didn’t take long to identify the leader, a small plump elf with greying temples and a wealth of magic items. She had a consort with her, the most unusual man Aithne had ever seen: a tall, powerful human man with skin as dark as wet earth. She also had a son, a light boy who must have been sired by one of her other consorts, and Aithne, trained in midwifery, was fairly sure she was pregnant again. An elven chieftess, she decided, probably a sorceress.

There were two other elves with her, possibly her kinsmen or honor guard. Aithne couldn’t tell whether the man was another consort, for he seemed to have fallen in combat. The woman appeared to be murmuring some elven magic over him. A healing spell, Aithne guessed. There was also the thin and thoughtful looking human man who was picking up the pieces of the mirror that had imprisoned her, and the red-haired woman with the infectious grin wearing the strange hat and boots. That was the woman who had said something to her. Aithne immediately liked her.

The one she had no sense of was the one in the shape of the rat. Aithne didn’t know the language they were speaking, probably Elvish, but it was clear to her that what the rat said had been in the same language, so it couldn’t be an ordinary rat. Perhaps a priestess, or a shape-changer, or a magical creature. Aithne was a bit nervous about it, and about the elves, but they had delivered her from the faery enchantment, and they weren’t looking hostile. Aithne wondered where she could possibly be. This couldn’t be Liratyn; she could smell the ocean. “Thank you!” the rat called again, and darted back through the wrought-iron gate into an obviously eldritch place.

It had been messing with exactly this sort of thing that had landed Aithne in this predicament in the first place.

A tingle of excitement ran up her spine, though, and she wiped her hands on her skirt and stood waiting to see what her rescuers did.

She would follow their lead. Wherever she was, Aithne couldn’t wait to learn more about it.

Rani MacGyver

Mina and Rani had improvised a compass from a pencil and a hair ribbon. It was inaccurate enough to give Jack Paris hives, but the psionicist really only needed a general approximation. It looked like Mina was right: the wormholes they’d found so far made five points of a fairly even hexagram. The only one that was off was the Pyramid, and Garal pointed out that since the Pyramid was on a hill the distance to it was probably a little further than it looked like on the map anyway.

The sixth point looked like it ought to fall somewhere in the warehouses, if the hexagon was a legitimate pattern. “Amatsu wonders if they might be ritual,” Garal offered. “The angel incarnations are warring up in Heaven, he says, and it’s possible one of the hosts is marking some territory.”

“Maybe the Negative Material Plane’s trying to overthrow Rimbor the way it’s overthrowing Heaven,” frowned Rani..

“I don’t think so,” said Garal. “That’s not what Mr. Smith said.”

“And you trust Mr. Smith?”

“Mr. Smith...” The planeblazer hesitated. “Isn’t capable of making false statements. If he didn’t want me to know what was happening he just wouldn’t have said anything. Lying is too positive an action for true negative entities.”

“So anything that he said isn’t true, really isn’t?” said Mina.

“That’s right. I don’t know what he meant by lebensraum, exactly--it means ‘elbow room’, more or less, but it can be hard to figure out what negative entities actually mean when they describe their motives. But they’re definitely not invading Rimbor.”

“Right.” A peripheral movement behind her caught Rani’s eye then, and she glanced over her shoulder. “Mina,” she said, softly, “lightning bolt those trash cans over there.”

“What?”

“Just do it, Paris.”

She did. They made a wonderful metallic cacophony, and Rani smiled a grim and satisfied smile. “Good. Now keep walking.”

“Why did we do that?” asked Mina, in the polite and unchallenging tone that indicated she was never going to stop asking until she got a good explanation.

“We had some gang members on our tail,” Rani said. “Now they think you have third level spells to waste when you feel like getting some aggressions out. You notice random thugs don’t hassle Khyrisse much. A little reputation goes a long way.” Rani shoved her casebook in her jeans pocket. “They’ll go find some chick to roll who they know’s got nothing to kick their ass with. God, I hate this fucking city.”

Twist And Shout

The world was starting to fade in and out around Schneider. As he pointed at George Mahoney, he knew this was going to be the last time, unless something radical occurred. Oh, God, Roxy, if only... he thought blurrily, and activated the wand of wonder.



Orlen shivered and took several stunned steps backward as Nox--Orlen had mentally labelled the pouty leatherette-clad blonde “David Bowie,” but he had introduced himself between blows--got off a spell he said he called Otiluke’s Freezing Sneer. Orlen was thinking that between the puns and the sexual deviancy, this guy was a pretty good candidate for an archenemy.

Unfortunately, his team was not faring well against these villains. “Bruce Willis”--Orlen still belonged to the old-fashioned school of giving combat opponents descriptive names until they were properly identified--had managed to engage Schneider in hand-to-hand combat, and the jester was hopelessly outmatched and did not look long for this world. “Courtney Love” was bleeding from several wounds, but didn’t seem to mind. She was in better shape than Marty Hu, and especially Kingfisher, who was on her last legs, blades raised in final defiance. The punk giantess picked up a large chunk of masonry in each hand. “Let’s see if I can hit two at once,” she grinned.

Then came a magical whining that was so impossible to ignore that Orlen and Nox stopped fighting to turn around and look. “Bruce” had been pushed away from Schneider, and the air around the jester was starting to pick up into an unmistakable funnel shape. “Oh dear,” Orlen had time to say, before the tornado reached full force.



Grendel my Master, Kingfisher prayed, if I have failed as your servant on Ataniel, I ask only that I may die in a way that honors you.

Then the cyclone hit. Kingfisher assumed this was the Focused One’s way of answering her prayer.



Orlen quickly threw telekinetic shields around Schneider and Kingfisher. He hoped he’d be able to hold two shields that size, for neither the jester nor the avatar looked in any kind of condition to survive this storm on their own. He pulled his handkerchief out and pressed it over his own face, wincing as debris buffeted him. The windows blew out of the nearby buildings with crunching explosions of glass. There was a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach as the twister dragged Orlen upward, spun him around, and then spat him back out.



Schneider lay where he had fallen, concentrating on breathing. The tall Diarian was making his way over to him with a concerned look on his face, bleeding from one temple. “Are you all right?”

This guy’s gotta be the nicest Diarian in the universe. Never even heard him say ‘kiljhac’ once. “I’m fine,” Schneider exaggerated somewhat. “Thanks to you.”

“My Master must still have use for me,” coughed Kingfisher in a gravelly voice, extracting herself from some nearby rubble.

“Did anyone see where Marty fell?” asked Orlen. “We should get back to the others with all haste. We are wounded, and in great danger here.”

“Agreed.” Kingfisher stood to survey the damage. “Well,” she said, “that was a thoroughly humbling experience.”

“Excuse me,” said Schneider, and passed out.

Starting From Scratch

“I’m Khyrisse.”

“Khyrisse,” Aithne said perfectly.

“And my son Skitch.”

“Skitch.”

“That’s Vickie.”

“Hi!” said Vickie, waving.

“Hi!” Aithne waved back. “Vickie.”



“This is Ebreth.”

“Charmed,” said Ebreth, lifting her hand to his lips.

“Ebreth,” she repeated, and smiled up at him, clearly entranced. “Charmed.”

Khyrisse tried not to roll her eyes too much. “Vas.”

The elf kissed her hand too, with a very debonair flourish for someone who’d just been pulled back from the brink of death. “Charmed,” said Aithne.

“Jack.”

Aithne, who clearly thought she was getting the hang of this, thrust her hand at him. “Ummm...” he said, and shook it a little awkwardly.

“Ummm,” Aithne smiled.

“And Val.”

“Val,” she said. “Hi!”

“Thank you!” squeaked the Rat from the other side of the gate.

“Thank you,” responded Aithne, and looked to Khyrisse for what to do next.

I Just Know There’s Going To Be Undead Things in Here

Ebreth was looking at the illusion of his fallen body introspectively while Val finished healing the battered party. “Hnh,” he said. “Did I really look that dead, or did you embellish it a little?”

“Pretty close to that,” sighed Khyrisse, studying it. “Though there--may have been a little fear-generated detail in there.”

“I’m a better actor than I thought. Damn, that doesn’t look good.” He grinned at her. “You want to get rid of that before one of the other groups comes through here and takes it at face value? I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.”

Khyrisse laughed wryly and dispelled the illusion with a flick of her wrist. “Okay, people, let’s be very careful about touching things in there, all right? I don’t want any more traps being sprung.” She looked sternly at Vickie. “Or unknown magic items wantonly destroyed.”

“Hey, it freed Mirror Girl, didn’t it?” grinned Vickie.

Aithne looked through the gate. “Sidhe,” she said, simply.

“Thank you,” said the Rat.

Khyrisse looked into the misty cemetery. “Aithne,” she said hesitantly, “do you want to come with us or not? It might be dangerous--”

The girl perked up at the sound of her name. “Khyrisse,” she said, happily.

Khyrisse sighed. “Val, you don’t have tongues, do you?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the priestess.

Khyrisse tapped her fingers together and tried to think of a way to express this. “Aithne?” She pointed at Seeker of Places. “The Rat.”

“Rat,” Aithne said immediately.

The archmage gestured in a half-circle around herself, indicating the entire group. “The Rat Pack.” She pointed at herself. “Khyrisse. The Rat Pack.” Then at Ebreth. “Ebreth. The Rat Pack.” Then at Valende. “Val. The Rat Pack.”

Aithne nodded. “Aithne,” she said, pointing to herself, “the Rat Pack,” and bowed her head to Khyrisse, raising both her hands palm-up.

Khyrisse blinked, impressed by the rapidity of Aithne’s comprehension; then smiled at her and nodded. “That was easier than I expected.” She flashed Ebreth an amused look as she followed the Rat through the gate. “Why do I have the feeling that that’s the last thing that’s going to go smoothly today?”

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In Celtia Anymore

Aithne followed Khyrisse The Ratpack obediently into the eldritch park. She still had no idea where she was, but she couldn’t possibly be anywhere near her own family, so she was glad she had pledged her allegiance to the elven chieftess’. She guessed now that the dark-haired elf Val must be Khyrisse’s younger sister, and the exotic man Ebreth her lord rather than her consort, for she had gone out of her way to identify the three of them as The Ratpack clan. The rest of them must be her consorts and henchmen. It was a little confusing, but Aithne was sure she would get the hang of things. Human nature was human nature, after all, and if there was anything Aithne understood, that was it.

She smiled, smoothed her dress, and followed her new liege through the faery mist.

Six

“Have you got something?” said Mina.

“I think so.” The warehouse was locked, and though the west end was a pretty sleepy part of Rimbor, the street it fronted on was still a little too busy for a discreet break-in in the middle of the day. Rani detoured around back. “There’s something extraplanar in there, that’s for sure. Cover me. If I start screaming, you’ll know it’s alien bugs or something.”

Rani could tell by the look on Garal’s face that he couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not.

She pressed one hand tentatively through the wooden wall and then phased after it. The warehouse seemed quiet enough. It didn’t look like it saw much traffic: storage, Rani guessed, more than cargo transit. There was one conspicuous gap amidst the stacked crates and barrels, and Rani’s detective instincts for a thing out of place had her heading there before her psychometric senses did. Without Garal’s direction, it took her a few minutes to conclusively locate the slit between planes, but it was there all right. The wormhole had probably opened and sucked in whatever had been stacked here, consistent with the others. Rani slid back through the wall to her teammates. “Same as the rest,” she said. “Looks like you were right, Paris.”

“Maybe the planar magic happened in the middle there,” suggested Garal, pointing at the map. “And the ripple effects tore the dimensional fabric around it.”

Mina frowned thoughtfully. “That would explain why all the wormholes are the same distance from the center... but not why they’re the same distance from each other. Wouldn’t they be randomly distributed around the circle then?”

“I don’t know,” sighed Rani. “I wish your geek-ass cousin was here. We can ask him tonight.” She looked at the map for a long moment, possibilities churning in her mind. “I think these were deliberately placed,” she voiced her hunch. “Let’s go to the center point. Maybe we’ll find a clue there.”

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