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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 22

Foreshadowing: More Things in Heaven and Earth

Coyote Jay took off his cloak of humanity and hung it on the large golden hook near the door. The Man’s chambers were much as Jay remembered them--dubiously ornate and uncharacteristically useless. Knickknacks of all sizes and descriptions were strewn about the room in an obscene orgy of disorder.

“Corbin!” Jay called. “You around, Corbin?”

The Man in the Orange Cloak spun around in his chair, surprising Coyote Jay with his sudden yet obvious appearance. “How goes the grand plan, Jay?”

“Well,” Jay said. “It goes well.”

“I still contend that Tor isn’t going to be the one.”

Jay shrugged. “Someone’s got to fit the bill, and Tor’s my current favorite.”

“You sure know how to pick them. You thought Alverado had a chance, and look at what’s happening with him.”

Coyote Jay frowned. “Alverado was a... mistake.”

“Tor’s going to be one too,” the Man in the Orange Cloak said. “You can’t trust him. I’ve seen what’s going to happen to him in the Hotel. It’s going to shoot all your work down the drain.”

“There’s more to the future than what you see, Corbin,” Jay said dismissively. “I think my boy’s got what it takes.”

“He’d better,” the Man said. “You know what’s riding on this.”

“Yada yada yada,” Jay sighed. “Look, do you have anything useful for me?”

“Are you still planning on visiting the jester?”

This was a sore point. Schneider had been taking such a proactive path with his little redemption quest that Coyote Jay put off appearing to him until he was finished with it, and it hadn’t been a good choice. “Yeah,” he said.

“Well, you’d better do it soon. He might not be on your path for much longer. Ill news awaits him on his return from the island, and it might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

“I think you misjudge humanity, Corbin. You see what’s going to happen, but you don’t temper it with faith.”

“I see what will happen,” the Man said. “It is. Well, will be. It doesn’t need tempering.”

“Suit yourself,” Jay sighed.

With that, he retrieved his mantle of humanity and headed out of the Man in the Orange Cloak’s home and back towards the world of men.

Rat’s Eye View

The Rat sat on his haunches at the rim of the pool table, watching his humanoid friends play. He found the patterns in this game soothing.

“Side pocket off the ten,” said Jack.

The solid red ball hit the ten ball and landed neatly into the side pocket. The Rat, of course, understood implicitly that this was what had to happen. It was part of the larger picture of the game.

“Nice shot,” Ebreth said.

“Well, it’s all a matter of angles, force, and momentum really,” Jack responded modestly.

Angles, force, and momentum. Those words haunted the Rat because they were not quite right. This game was not just angles, force, and momentum. There was a fourth element to it as well. Unfortunately Seeker of Places didn’t have a name for this element, he just understood it.

“Two bumpers to the right corner,” said Jack.

“Tricky.”

“24.08%,” admitted Jack, “but if it doesn’t sink--”

The solid green ball came off the second bumper a bit acute and knocked one of the striped ones behind two others.

“--it’ll leave you with the impossible shot of the century,” Jack grinned.

“Ah, you suck,” growled Ebreth good-naturedly, and swung his cue up fluidly. “Ten bucks says I sink this one, wiseguy.”

“Save your money,” said Jack. “Do you realize the odds for that shot?”

“No, and I don’t care.”

“Okay, but I should tell you you have a better chance of being hit by lightning than making that.”

The ball bounced off another, two bumpers, three more balls, and sank neatly into the far left pocket.

“There’s more to this game than math, Jack.”

“I guess so.”

The Rat’s ears perked up with Ebreth’s statement. He’d pretty much written the big hairless man off as someone to talk to; he was loyal, friendly, and occasionally helped the Rat by scaring away men with meat cleavers, but he never seemed intelligent enough to actually communicate with. This, though, was definitely an avenue to try out.

Later.

Right now, the Rat wanted to continue watching the game.

Girls Just Want To Have Rum, Remix

“You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you, Freckles?”

Aithne smiled at Vickie Dare blankly.

“I want to cut you into our little gossip klatch here, girlfriend, but you’re going to need some more vocabulary. Look.” She took a good swig of her wine cooler and hopped off the barstool. “Sex.” She swung her hips back and forth evocatively, pumping her arms. Aithne gave her a very strange look but said “Sex.”

“Right!” She picked up her drink. “Like, I had sex with Vas last night. Me and Garal had sex too.”

“Vas sex, Garal sex?” she said tentatively.

“You’ve got it!”

Aithne blinked into her bowl-shaped glass. Vickie was clearly inviting her to have sex with the clan males. Aithne was happy to be accepted so quickly, but she really didn’t want to sleep with either the halfling or the effeminate elf. She didn’t want to offend Vickie, though. “Ebreth?” she suggested. She was kind of curious about the dark man anyway.

“Ebreth has sex with Khyrisse.” Vickie indicated the sorceress.

“Ebreth sex, Khyrisse.” She should ask the chieftess first, but he was available. This was turning out to be a very informative evening. “Schneider sex, Khyrisse?” she asked, to confirm her interpretation.

“Yeah, Schneider had sex with Khyrisse too. How’d you know that?”

Both her consorts. Aithne had been right the first time. “Jack?” she inquired after her new friend.

“No, I don’t think Jack has sex.” Vickie frowned. “Though he might have with Val. I don’t know the whole story there.”

“Jack no sex.” That was important. He and Val certainly didn’t act like a couple, but perhaps it was a marriage of convenience. She would be careful not to give the chieftess’ sister the impression that her interactions with the unavailable Jack were anything but above-board. “Marty?”

“God only knows,” laughed Vickie, shrugging.

“Vas sex, Garal sex,” summarized Aithne, “Ebreth sex Khyrisse, Schneider sex Khyrisse, Jack no sex, Marty...?” She shrugged much as Vickie had.

“You’re getting the important Rat Pack information down pat, Freckles.”

Aithne beamed.



The city stank more than usual to Dave Thermador. He had been to most of the cities across Ataniel at one time or another, but Rimbor was still Rimbor. Even in the best of times he felt faintly nauseous here. This was not the best of times, and Thermador was in a constant battle to keep his last meal inside. Still a job was a job, and one never refused a commission from his current employer.

His instructions, just before he left the Court of Light and Life, were simple. Restore the balance, one way or the other. Thermador didn’t exactly have a plan in mind yet, but he believed in his luck, which had almost never failed him.

“Jeez, I need a drink,” he said to himself, fighting back another wave of nausea.

Luckily for him bars were more common than whores in Rimbor. So Dave Thermador stepped into the Sapphic Verses Nightclub and into the life of the Rat Pack.



“Don’t look now,” said Big Lillian to Rani, sotto voce, as she put another scotch in her glove, “but the ugliest butch dyke you ever did see just walked in.”

“Not what I need tonight,” sighed Rani. “Seat her somewhere else, will you, Lil?”

“They always go for her,” the bartender commented to Val, and turned away grinning.



Vickie tossed back another B&J wine cooler. “Y’know who I think is really cute?” she asked.

“Cute?” Aithne repeated.

“Cute... you know... a hottie. Good sex think.”

“Good sex think,” nodded Aithne. An appropriate and desirable consort.

“I think Max Silverhammer’s cute,” Mina offered.

“A-duh!” Vickie laughed. “Everyone thinks Silverhammer’s cute.”

“Oh, fine,” Mina sighed with mock exaggeration, “pick on the girl who’s only been out of apprenticeship for six months.”

“I think your cousin is cute,” she said, pointing at Aithne.

Aithne understood enough of the context to kindly turn Vickie’s arm to correctly point at Mina.

“How many of those have you drunk?” Khyrisse asked, amused.

“Jack no sex,” Aithne reminded Vickie.

“Yeah, well, Vickie sex!” she shouted. Five or six women turned and started paying more attention.

“Who’s the cutest guy you’ve ever slept with?” Mina asked.

“Well, Alrek was really hunky,” Vickie said. “MacFinn was pretty yummy, too. Kieran Talbot, of course, goes without saying...”

“Vickie many sex,” Aithne nodded. They had had women like Vickie Dare in her tribe as well.

“How many guys?” Mina asked with trepidation.

Vickie popped open a new bottle. “You expect me to count that high while drunk?” she asked. “I leave math for the... uh...”

“Mathematicians?” Khyrisse suggested.

“Where the hell are all the men in here, anyway?” Vickie demanded. “Can’t a guy buy a girl a drink around here?” she shouted.

“Uh, Vickie...” Mina tried to think of how to explain things.

“Men no sex here,” Aithne said. Feeling sympathetic, she offered Vickie another of her recently learned vocabulary words. “Hand.”



“So look,” said Rani, “I’ve got this friend I’d like you to meet.”

“No, Rani,” said Val. “I don’t want to be set up.”

“No, really, she’s cool. This isn’t a yobbo blind date, honest.”

“I don’t want anyone now.” Val accepted another round. “I’m finally celibate, painlessly so. What I was trying for in the first place.” The priestess laughed ruefully. “Vas thinks I’m totally insane.”

“I think you’re totally insane. You’re celibate? You’re not talking gone straight here, you’re talking absolutely nothing?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Val said. She smiled a little. “I’ve had consensual sex once in the last year, Rani--and you can say you were there.”

“That was it?” Rani drained her scotch. “Shit, now I really wish we’d done it more than once.”

Valende rolled her eyes.

“So you and Jack never, ah--”

“No, as a matter of fact, we did not.” Val drank heavily.

“Did you want to?”

“What if I did?”

“Well, there’s another one,” Rani pointed out. “You could always schtupp him.”

“I’m not interested in your suggestions about whom I should or should not schtupp, if that’s all it means to you, Rani,” snapped Val.

“Oh, don’t even start this tonight,” muttered Rani.

“Just leave me out of it. Maybe it was just a, a schtupp to you, but I--”

“--didn’t say it was just--”

“--don’t sleep with people I don’t love!”

“Bullshit!” Rani threw back her scotch and pushed it at Lillian for another. “You didn’t love me, Val!”

“Bullshit yourself, Rani!” shouted Val, her pent-up anger breaking out. “Don’t tell me what I felt!”

“About me? Excuse me, I think this is my business too!”

“Just because you’re shallow enough to--”

“At least I’m not as shallow as you are!” yelled Rani. “Maybe I’ll have sex with someone I’m not in love with yet, fine, but at least I can see a difference between--”

“Do you have to tell the whole damn bar you never loved me?”

“Do you have to lie to the whole damn bar that you DID?”

Valende slapped her.

“Listen to me!” Rani slammed her fist on the bar. “I didn’t say it was just a fuck, all right? But it wasn’t love. It was a, it was the possibility of love. I’ve been in love a couple times, all right? Love isn’t a moment of passion nothing comes out of. No, shut up and let me finish!” She buried her fingers in her silver hair. “Love is when you’ve grown together,” she said. “Love is when your girlfriend looks like shit with the flu and you’re bringing her orange juice in bed. Love is when you tell someone your worst secrets and she’s still there in the morning. Love is when you don’t feel happy and you don’t feel passion and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing there but you don’t leave anyway because you know that tomorrow you will. Love is when you know you’ve got someone who’s there for you no matter what.”

The room had fallen rather silent. “Tell it, sister,” said one of the women at the bar, softly.

“Love is--” Rani put her head down wearily onto her forearm. “Love is when you care about someone more than your own fucking self. Oh my God am I drunk. Listen, Val, we didn’t get there, that’s not your fault. We cared about each other. We still care about each other. But we never loved each other. Don’t tell me we did. I need to believe there’s more than that out there too much.”

“Okay, Rani,” said Big Lillian. “You’re starting to sink into the bar now. Rosie, take her back to the salon, will ya?”

“My city,” she slurred a little. “Fucking A. My city, my only home.”

Marty Sex?

Marty poked his head into the ice cream shoppe. The place was a good hour’s walk from where the team had headquartered in Rimbor City proper, but that was probably the only reason it was clean and respectable-looking. The man behind the counter was a plump and genial looking man with three hairs on his head and a dark black mustache, who smiled at Marty when the paladin entered. Marty might have been surprised to find such a cheery and sanitized place in the cesspool that was Rimbor City, but he knew neither the word “sanitized” nor “cesspool”. He had actually had to surreptitiously (not that he knew that word either) wrangle the definition of “rendezvous” from Master Ebreth.

Marty looked around a little nervously. He was pretty sure no one had followed him, primarily because no one seemed to pay much attention to what he was doing anyway. The place was pretty much empty, the rich kids in the Rimbor suburbs all having abandoned the place when they were about twelve in favor of heading into the city for some really nasty hangouts. In a secluded booth in the back, though, Marty caught a glimpse of bright purple hair. Meekly, he shuffled over to the booth.

“Hey, sword-boy.” The Scorpion’s enforcer flashed a grin at him. “I wondered if you’d show.”

“Well, like, once I figured out what a rendezvous was, y’know.”

She put her hand to her mouth to cover her smile. “Sit down,” she said. “I don’t bite.”

“Really?” Marty asked. “Like, how do you eat, then?”

She laughed. It was surprisingly devoid of mockery or malice. “I have a wand of chewing.”

“Cool!” said Marty, interested. “I had a wand of beating once, but it ran out of charges.”

“I’m Camaro,” she said. “Camaro Pearl.”

“Marty Hu,” said the paladin, reaching his hand out to shake hers.

Camaro didn’t rise to the bait. “I ordered us a couple’a malts. You like chocolate?”

Marty tried to remember if chocolate was the stuff that came from the scary beans. He figured it couldn’t be, if the cute purple chick had ordered it for him. “So, like, you’re evil?” he attempted small talk.

“I like to think of myself as chaotic lawful,” she shrugged. “Alignment crap gives me hives.”

“I’m, uh, lawful something,” Marty said. “Good, I think.”

“Yeah,” she chuckled, “you’ve got paladin written all over you.”

Marty looked at his hands, like he expected to see the ink.

“You, Hu, are a fuckin’ riot,” Camaro grinned as the bald soda shoppe owner brought two chocolate malts to the table.

Marty unwrapped a straw and stuck it in one of the malts. Camaro followed suit, but stuck her straw in the same malt, then leaned over and started drinking from it.

“So, like, you’re pretty tough,” Marty said appreciatively. “Cool way you dropped that wall on us.”

“Ah, let’s not talk about work, studmuffin,” Camaro said. “We’re off duty, right?”

“Uh, I didn’t know I had a duty.”

“Well, then I don’t have to worry about you turning me in to your friends, right?”

“No, I’m only a paladin. Polymorph is a priest spell, I think.”

Camaro laughed loudly enough to elicit a fatherly smile from the shopowner, once again shining his counter. “I didn’t tell Tucson I was coming here, either,” she confided. “He’d kick my ass if he knew I was out on a date with one of Tor’s people.”

“Whoa, I could totally protect you!” Marty offered.

“Don’t sweat it, Hu. I like what I do. I just don’t see any reason I can’t use my off time to get to know you a little better, hm?”

“Makes sense to me,” Marty said, leaning in and taking a sip through his straw.

“Anyone ever tell you that you were fuckin’ cute?” Camaro asked, rubbing her nose to his as she met him over the chocolate malt.

Black and White

“Poor Valende,” murmured Khyrisse, with an involuntary shiver of sympathetic embarrassment. Poor Rani, she added to herself after a moment. Khyrisse knew what that was like too, being alone and bitter in a world that kept refusing to give you what you desperately needed to believe existed. Her third thought, much more guiltily, was gods, it’s nice being on this side of the fence for a change. She didn’t know if she should try to comfort Val or not. In her place, Khyrisse would want everyone to leave her the flark alone for the remainder of the evening. Mabye she’d try talking to her in the morning. For now, whatever emotions Rani’s impassioned drunken tirade might have evoked from anyone else in the club, it just made Khyrisse Starshadow want to go home, strongly enough to surprise herself all over again.



“Pathetic,” Kingfisher muttered.

Mina looked at her for a moment, then cautiously said “Have you ever been in love?”

“Never,” Kingfisher lied, “and it wouldn’t matter anymore if I had. After I committed myself to a higher purpose, serving my Master, I gave up on time-wasting emotions like that.”

“You think love’s just a waste of time?”

“Look at where it’ll get you,” she replied, making a convincing argument by gesturing towards Val, who looked a wreck.



Dave Thermador barely made it to the bar without collapsing. “Whiskey. Strong.”

“Can’t you read, buddy? This is a female establishment.”

Thermador didn’t even look up. “I said whiskey. Strong. Now.” He took a triangular gold piece out of his pocket and hit it hard against the bar.

“Rosie,” said the bartender. “We have a live one here.”

The bouncer sat Rani down in a chair against the wall and came to the bar. “Listen, fella. There’s another bar around the corner. Just do us the favor and leave.”

Thermador didn’t move. Rosie grabbed his trenchcoat. Then she was flat on her back, brought down by Dave collapsing. “Shit! Get this jerk off me!”

During this Rani, not totally incapacitated, managed to reach the bar. “What is that?”

“A crazy wino?” suggested Big Lillian, coming around to help Rosie haul his quite passed-out carcass out to the nearest gutter.

“No. No, there’s something... Khyrisse!”

“I’m right here, Rani,” the archmage murmured, trying not to be too bemused at the somewhat sloshed detective’s expense.

“We’ve got to get this guy to Garal. Now. There’s something...”

“More negative stuff?”

Rani shook her head loosely. “No. No, just the opposite.” She picked the man’s hand up and pushed back his sleeve, revealing a shimmering opalescent stain along his forearm. “This guy’s been through the positive material plane.”

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