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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
In The Arms Of The City: Part 18

The Rat Pack Vaudeville Troupe

“So, who put her in that thing anyway?” Vickie asked Jack.

“From what I can understand, sidhe did.”

“Herself? That was pretty dumb of her.”

“Not her, sidhe.”

“No, no,” Vickie said. “I’m pretty sure of this one. ‘She’ is nominative, ‘her’ is accusative.”

“I, uh, mean that she didn’t put herself in the mirror.”

“You just said she did.”

“They did.”

“No, that’s plural, Jack. Are there more than one of her?”

“I don’t think so,” Jack said, starting to lose the train of the conversation.

“Ummm,” Aithne said, smiling to Jack.

“Mirror,” Jack said, holding up a shard of the reflective glass. “You,” he pointed at her. “In mirror.” He gestured again to the glass.

“Who did it?” Vickie asked, tilting her head to the mirror in Jack’s hand.

“Sidhe,” Aithne said, nodding to Jack.

“No, he’s a he,” Vickie said. “You, she.” She pointed at Aithne. “Me, she.” She pointed at herself. Then she shook her thumb at Jack. “Him, he. Trust me.”

“You sidhe?” Aithne gasped.

Vickie looked in her shirt. “Yup. You she too.”

Aithne blanched.

Khyrisse coughed, and the three looked up to see the archmage frowning at them. “Is this what happens when we don’t have Marty around?”

***

Marty slowly dug himself out of the rubble of the building that had collapsed on him during the whirlwind. There was no sign of the purple haired babe. “Aw, man, I dented my, uh...”

Marty looked around for Kingfisher. She was standing at the end of the alley, muttering to herself. “I see Grendel delivered you too,” she said.

“Yeah, uh, what part of the armor is this?” Marty asked, pointing to his codpiece.

“The dented part.”

“Yeah, I gotta find a armorer. This thing is too tight.”

Schneider was still working on standing up, rather shakily and with Orlen’s support, but he couldn’t let such a perfect straight line go unused. “If you didn’t stuff it so much, you’d be okay.”

Marty reached under his armor and pulled a large crumpled piece of paper out of his codpiece. “Whoa, dude. How’d this get in here?”

“I’ve got to... go over there now,” Kingfisher said.

“Marty, have you ever thought about show business?” said Schneider.

Marty was busy reading the piece of paper.

“Anything good in the comic section?”

“Dude, what’s a rendezvous?”

The Problem With A Four-Word Vocabulary

Aithne was watching Vickie very carefully as they proceeded through the mist. She had learned little of soul magics back at home, but as best she could tell her own was still intact despite the red-headed girl’s claims to the contrary. Vickie herself seemed entirely mortal as well. She must have meant something different by ‘sidhe’. Aithne sighed. All of this was very confusing. Perhaps it would make more sense as she figured more of their language out.

For now, Aithne was trying to think of how to explain to her new friends what the eerie moss-covered stone structure they were approaching was if the word “sidhe” meant something else to them.

“Mirror,” she tried, plucking at the chieftess Khyrisse’s sleeve in the most deferential way she could and pointing at the domed cairn through the low fog. “Aithne mirror. Hi, Coomara!” She pointed again at the fey tomb. Everyone looked at her blankly except the rat.

Aithne thought the rat looked a little sympathetic, actually.

“I understand,” he chirped at her, and ran towards the dolmen.

Aftermath

Ebreth walked quietly alongside Khyrisse. He could tell how much it bothered everyone to see him backstab the fairy changeling, more than it did seeing the changeling cut down him and Vas or the magic-addled Vickie try to strangle Jack. A raw nerve. Buried fears they’d been trying to pretend weren’t there anymore. Ebreth wanted to tell them it was all right, all right to feel that way--Valende looked ashamed--and all right to trust him anyway, but he didn’t really know where to begin, so he just put his hand on Khyrisse’s shoulder and worked the knot between her shoulderblade and spine with his thumb, gently, and just let people forget about it again, as best they could.

***

“They seem to have made quite a mess of things, don’t you think, Mr. Sebastian?”

The short man knelt over a small, needle-thin shard of glass.

“Seven years bad luck, Mr. Ward.”

The tall man with the awkward accent frowned and cracked his knuckles.

“Still, we seem to be in luck, Mr. Sebastian. Traces of the archmage herself. And elfin blood, if my nose does not deceive me.”

“I could cut it off for you and check that out, Mr. Ward.”

“Unnecessary, Mr. Sebastian.” Mr. Ward lifted the strange curved luminescent lamp and squinted around. “This trip seems to have been quite the windfall for our principal.”

“No trace of the samurai, Mr. Ward. Nor the mathematician.”

“Yes, we may be unfortunate enough to be too late for those. You know how these people have such a nasty habit of expiring prematurely, Mr. Sebastian.”

“I rather liked that habit, Mr. Ward.”

“Well, let us take what we have back to our employer, Mr. Sebastian. Perhaps if it becomes necessary, we’ll return to take some samples first hand. After all, you can’t make an omelet...”

“...without killing a few people,” Mr. Sebastian finished.

***

The dolmen loomed ominously as Khyrisse and the new girl conferred about it, or tried to. It cast a dark shadow in the fading sunlight.

Ebreth Tor had hidden in shadows far too often to be afraid of them. He had also done it enough to notice other people who were involved in the same thing.

“Excuse me,” he said to Jack, who was trying to get more information out of the Rat. “Be right back.”

Ebreth Tor slipped away to double back on the figure watching from concealment.

From behind, the stranger was unremarkable, a red-haired man in a long brown leather coat. There was something odd about the way he stood, but Ebreth couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “You’ve been following us since the sewers,” he said coldly. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“I’ve been following you far longer than that, Ebreth Tor,” the man replied without turning around. “As for my name, it isn’t really important.”

“People who tell me that are almost always lying. I’m not going to call you ‘the mysterious stranger’. Give me a name.”

“Call me Coyote Jay.” The man turned and Ebreth saw that his eyes were an unpleasant shade of yellow around the black pupils. His features seemed too long for his face, and the skin was somewhat greyer than it ought to be.

“What do you want with us? Did Tucson send you?”

“I couldn’t really care less about your little Rimborese antics, Mr. Tor. Though it might interest you to know you’re attracting much more attention here than you suspect.”

“Look, I don’t have time for games.”

“No, no, of course not,” Coyote Jay made an exaggerated sigh. “No time for small talk, must get back to the little lady. No time to wonder what your ex-lieutenant Alden Mandrake is up to. No time to ponder the repercussions of your little planar escape from down below. No time to wonder why they’ve really stopped coming after you. Perhaps later, then. When you have more time.”

“Wait. What have you come to say?”

“Beware the waters of old Eire, Ebreth Tor. And trust Tamerlane, for he, like you, is one of mine.”

“I’m no one’s but my own,” Ebreth growled.

“We’ll talk again. Be seeing you.”

Ebreth blinked, and Coyote Jay was gone.

P assage Grave

“I understand!”

“That makes one of us,” Khyrisse told the rodent, frowning at the dolmen through the slight butterfly pattern of her true sight. “I don’t see anything here. It’s just a stone lean-to over a burial mound.”

“Should we dig it up?” Vickie said. “I’ve got a folding shovel.”

“I understand!” The Rat took a deep breath and darted through the mist and into the mouth of the dolmen.

And disappeared.

“I guess that answers that,” sighed Khyrisse.



It wasn’t as if no one had ever lurked in the darkness to give Ebreth Tor an ominous message before. It was just usually, well, a lot more comprehensible.

Ebreth had been expecting one of Tucson’s people, hinting that if he didn’t stay out of something or other he’d be very sorry. Or maybe an informer with a tip: “Follow the money,” or something like that. Foreshadowing was something Ebreth Tor had a lot less experience with, and it was much more unsettling somehow.

Khyrisse was examining the dolmen with her true seeing; the Rat wasn’t anywhere in sight. “What did you find?” said Jack.

“Guy tailing me around giving me weird threatening prophecies.”

Jack blinked. “Seriously?”

“When I make things up, Jack, is this the kind of thing I make up?”

“Shouldn’t--the Pack go investigate this, then?”

“Nah.” Ebreth shook his head. “Nah, I don’t want to worry everyone. It’ll catch up to me eventually.” Usually, prophecies find you, he remembered Jack translating a bunch of technobabble about prophetic tautology for him. “I’ll deal with it then.”

“What did it say?”

“Keep an eye out for Alden Mandrake, trust a guy called Tamerlane, and look out for Irish water.” Ebreth shrugged, and didn’t mention the parts about Hell, because he didn’t want to think about them right now. “So I figure I’ll stay off whiskey for a while.”

“You know, the odds of that being what he meant--”

“--are as good as any,” grinned Ebreth. “So what’s with the rock pile?”



Val crawled back out of the dolmen, a puzzled look on her beautiful face. “I don’t see the Rat anywhere,” she said. “I don’t know where he could have gotten to... it’s a simple Celtic-style passage grave, nothing more. I’ve been over it for secret doors twice.”

“Sidhe are known for conditional doorways,” mused Khyrisse, looking at the entry carefully.

“She is,” Vickie corrected. “Sheesh, can’t anyone speak Dalen anymore?”

“Don’t give up the day job, Vickie. Vas, will you pull some mist through this opening, please?”

Vas made a flourishing half-bow in Khyrisse’s direction and crooked a finger at the nearest bank of fog. A faint breeze sprang up, wafting a scarf of pale grey over to the dolmen. The sorceress stuck her hand into the midst of it as it passed through, and her arm disappeared halfway up to the elbow. Aithne watched with open awe. “Thought so,” said Khyrisse, a little smugly. “The Rat hitched a ride on the mist. We’ll just have to do the same.”

“Where does it lead?” Valende said dubiously.

“Someplace chilly and humid.” Khyrisse removed her hand from the gate and rubbed it absently; her skin was clammy from just a few moments in its air. “On the bright side, though, nothing bit me.”

“Thank Corellon for small favors,” said the priestess wryly. “Shall we?”



Valende found herself in a place distinctly different from the inside of the passage grave this time: someplace oddly dark to her elven eyes, chilly, echoing, cavernous. She blinked, slightly disoriented by the abrupt change of environment and the odd dim light dancing over the stone.

Water, she identified both light and echoes after a moment. Somewhere far away. Water dripping into a pool. Her eyes narrowed as she studied the cold greenish-blue tint of the reflected illumination, moving randomly over outcroppings of the cavern before her. That’s definitely not sunlight.

She drew her sword and stepped silently forward onto a narrow ledge. The light glimmered from somewhere far out of sight in the shadows below, reflecting off the dark walls as if they were wet. Carefully, Valende reached out with her free hand and felt the wall next to her. Her fingers slid over cold, slightly damp stone as easily as if it had been polished, though the surface was anything but flat. The ledge beneath her feet circled the rim of the cavern like a balcony, a spiral ramp winding down from it along the walls and into the darkness. This place isn’t natural. I think this is a landing, not a ledge.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she turned back to look at the hollow she’d crawled out of. There was a low archway of grey stone set into the darker wall of the cavern... leading nowhere.

“Thank you!”

Valende looked down to see the Rat. “You seem to specialize in guiding us to trouble, Seeker... I hope for Jack’s sake that this isn’t extraplanar trouble.”

The Rat cleaned its whiskers at her and squeaked.

“That doesn’t help,” Val retorted, smiling, as the rest of the Rat Pack followed them through.



“Cooooooooool,” said Skitch, looking around the dimly glowing faery landing.

“Don’t touch anything, dear,” Val reminded him gently.

“I’m not. Are we in fairyland? This is so cool!”

“Cave,” Jack told Aithne, gesturing around them.

“Cave,” she repeated, but there was a worried look on her face as she ran her hand across the empty archway they had stepped through.

“Well, let’s see what we can find down there first,” said Khyrisse, gesturing down the ramp from the stone landing. “We don’t want to go back till we know what we’re here for anyway.”

Aithne looked dimly reassured, which was odd considering she couldn’t possibly have understood a thing Khyrisse said. Ebreth cleared his throat. “Listen,” he said, “let’s be careful with water down here, okay? I can hear some dripping somewhere, and I got a weird prophecy to beware the waters of old Eire.”

“You did?” said Khyrisse. “Where?”

“A mysterious stranger, where do you get weird prophecies from? Just don’t drink the water, okay?”

Khyrisse grinned back and let him gloss over the subject. “Noted. Ebreth, Vickie, will you two go first and check for traps?”

“Sure thing, chief!” Vickie rummaged around in her bag and came out with a big funky bulls-eye lantern, which she lit. “I’ve got twelve metal spikes and some iron rations in here too, if anyone needs them. Man, I like dungeon-crawling! Hey, all you elves keep your eyes out for secret doors, okay? A creepy underground fairy dungeon’s got to have some secret doors in it somewhere.”

“My eyes are peeled, oh charming sparkler,” said Vas with a straight face.

“Too bad we don’t have Tila with us,” murmured Khyrisse. “She always knows right where the secret doors should be.”

Aithne watched Ebreth curiously as he and Vickie passed her and started down the ramp, the rest of the group falling in behind them. “Coomara cave,” she explained to Jack, “Coomara me mirror.”

“Uh, does anyone know what Coomara actually means?” Jack asked.

There was a prolonged silence.

“What Coomara?” Jack asked Aithne.

Aithne just turned and pointed across the cave.

The sound of water from deep within had turned into a roar, and from the opposite end of the cavern, a wall of water was rushing towards the Rat Pack.

“At least this isn’t sewage,” Jack sighed as the wave washed over the party.

Irish Waters

Ebreth turned his head just as a breaker that could have put over a five-mast schooner exploded into the pit they were descending.

He didn’t have a chance of keeping hold of the unnaturally slick wall, but he did have the presence of mind to get hold of Khyrisse and bow his body over hers and into the wave so it didn’t break directly over their heads like an unforgiving ton of bricks as it swept them off the spiral ramp and into the burgeoning maelstrom.

Prophecies suck, Ebreth decided, twisting surfaceward with his left arm still locked across her chest from behind. Useless fucking information. Like I couldn’t have figured out an onrushing tidal wave was a bad thing on my own. There was a vicious undertow, but he forced his way to the surface with short, powerful strokes and broke it just as the flood surged counterclockwise and even higher, bearing the two of them with it. The water was going to fill this entire cavern. Ebreth gasped air and shook Khyrisse, holding her out of the churning water as far as he could. “Khyrisse. Khyrisse!” She coughed some water, and he fumbled in the inner pocket of her tunic. “Listen,” he said. The swelling water knocked them into the wall. “Cast some spells or something. Get us a safe space in here before the whole place fills.” He pressed the cube of force into her hand, and she nodded, coughing. “Skitch,” she managed.

“I’ll find him. Go!”

She activated the cube and the forcefield hummed into place about her, the water crashing against it and breaking back. He couldn’t see any of the others. Jack didn’t need to breathe, Ebreth knew, but he didn’t even know if anyone else in the Pack knew how to swim.

Goddamn useless prophecy.

Ebreth kept his eye on her long enough to see that the forcefield was holding and then he filled his lungs and plunged back into the rapidly rising waters.

Eye of the Storm

Rani stood on the sidewalk outside the fish market on Ashe. To the best approximation she was going to be able to make without a mathematician, this was the point the six wormholes were centered around, and there was nothing at all unusual about it. Rani’s second attempt to reach Jack via Skitch had resulted in the characteristic burbling static that indicated the boy was in a magical construct. It was possible to send psionics in and out of magical constructs, but only for better telepaths than Rani was.

The detective sighed, and stripped off one of her red leather gloves to press her hand to the sidewalk. “Nothing,” she said, after a beat. “No major magic cast here in recent history, no extraplanar beings stepped here lately, there hasn’t even been a violent altercation on this sidewalk in months.”

“Is there anything important about this area from a political perspective?” suggested Mina.

“No.” Rani put her glove back on, baffled. “We’re in a completely bland commercial district about two miles southeast of the town hall. Not enough money passes through here for there to be much criminal activity, but there’s too much traffic for it to make a good hideout for anyone.”

“There’s nothing special about it at all?” Garal sounded a little dejected. They’d been doing a lot of physical walking today in their perambulations around the city, and Garal, used to planeblazing shortcuts, found it all quite tiresome.

“You can get some pretty good fish sticks here. Know any planar wizards who like fish sticks a lot?” Rani pressed her temples, aware that her frustration was starting to get the better of her. “We’re not getting anywhere at all,” she said. “I sure as hell hope the others are having better luck.”

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