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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
In The Arms Of The City: Part 23

Nothing Stops A Man Brooding Like The Sudden Entry Of Six Tipsy Women With Charismas Ranging From 16-18

Jack had won all three sets, of course, but Ebreth had come damn close on the second one. He read the same paragraph of Crime and Punishment for about the seventh time. Ebreth really liked just hanging around with Jack, but he always felt vaguely guilty about it now, like he ought to be taking the guy out midnight surfing at Kerr’s Point or to a topless place or one of the other ten thousand things he hadn’t had a chance to do yet. Being dead made him tired and pensive, though, and he doubted he would have been a lot of fun out on the town. I’m not doing a very good job teaching you to be reckless and impulsive, Ebreth thought, watching Jack work through equations with Garal and the Rat. It bothered him. He felt like he was letting Jack down somehow, and at the same time he wished he himself could be a lot more like Jack, and knew in his heart that it wasn’t ever going to happen. So what do I do now? Ebreth read the same paragraph of Crime and Punishment for about the eighth time. I barely know who I am. How do I go about changing that and not risk losing the things I do right?

There was something ironic about it, Jack trying to take more chances, Ebreth trying to be more responsible. He wished he had the sense, any sense, that there was something the two of them were gaining from all of this. Right now all thinking about it did was constrict his windpipe in dilute and unspecifiable terror that he was doing everything wrong, so he forced himself not to think about it, to breathe, and to read his paragraph in Crime and Punishment again, as if this would be the time it would change.

It wasn’t, but it was the time that the front door swung open and the females of the species swarmed colorfully and noisily into the living room: Vickie and Aithne, who appeared to be having a fine old time, barely supporting the even drunker Rani; Valende walking alone and unsteadily, her arms around herself; and Mina and Khyrisse carrying a passed-out man Ebreth didn’t recognize.

And that was really as close as Ebreth could have hoped for.

“Garal?” said Khyrisse, handing Sennett her satchel. There was a bit of mist in her hair. It must have been drizzling out. “Rani says this man’s from the Positive Material Plane?”

“What?” The halfling joined the half-dozen women in various stages of intoxication bending over the unconscious stranger. When he woke up, Ebreth thought with some amusement, he was going to think he hadn’t. Kingfisher wasn’t much to look at, but the rest of the Rat Pack women were an impressive array of female beauty side by side like that. Ebreth thought Khyrisse looked rather the best tonight, which gave him an irrational little kick. “He’s certainly not a positive entity...” Garal was saying.

“Thas’ where he came from,” Rani mumbled, sagging against Vickie, who barely kept her balance. “Maybe he knows how the planes are involved in this. Maybe he can help us.”

Vickie and Aithne, Ebreth noticed, were having more trouble keeping a grip on the detective than they should, no matter how much they’d had to drink. Rani’s arms seemed to shift in their grasps, her feet not falling quite right on the floor. Vickie and Aithne deposited her heavily onto an armchair and she sank into it an inch more than she should have, murmuring to herself in an uncharacteristically soft voice. Aithne sat promptly on the floor, smiling broadly at no one in particular.

“I’m out of healing spells,” Val slurred. She did not look like a happy woman. “It’ll have to wait till morning.”

“Are we sure he’s a good guy?” said Ebreth, putting his book splayed-open on the end table. “Should we really be keeping him in the Mansion overnight?”

“No problem, Vally!” cried Vickie, a little too loudly, and gave the new girl a hearty clap to the shoulder that nearly sent her sprawling to the floor. “Frecklesh here can handle it!”

“Dún na crúiscin limh,” Aithne giggled, clapping her hands in some waifish delight.

“You know, we’ve only known her for one day too,” Mina whispered to Khyrisse. “You may want to have Sennett put watches on her and the new man.”

“Grendel, has this all been the same day?” Khyrisse crawled wearily onto the sofa and put her head down on Ebreth’s lap. “Take me home, mother, I’m through.”

“The adventuring days are always pretty long,” agreed Ebreth, stroking the back of her neck with his thumb.

“Aithne?” Jack facilitated. “Can you help man?”

“Aithne can!” She scooted across to the stranger crabwise and fluttered her fingers at him, beaming. He stirred immediately. “Charmed!” cried Aithne, and thrust her hand in his face.

He pushed it weakly out of the way. He was a rugged, ill-shaven man, lean in a way Ebreth Tor knew belied strength.

“wh... whiskey,” he rasped.

“I beg your pardon?” said Vastarin.

“Whiskey. Strong. Please.”

Vas looked at Khyrisse in startlement. She just shrugged. “Sennett,” she said, “bring a bottle of the Yellow Jack from the bar.”

“Very good, ma’am.” The spectral butler materialized with a three-quarters-full bottle on a silver tray, inclining his head in his stiff Cynystran fashion. The guy didn’t respond to him at all, fumbling for the bottle like he smelled it rather than saw it. He uncapped it with his teeth. From his raincoat he pulled, with obvious difficulty, a vial filled with a bluish powder, which he emptied into the bottle. Ebreth eyed him a bit warily as he took a long drink. The last Ebreth Tor hadn’t been much interested in the company of junkies, but you didn’t spend twenty years in the criminal underworld without getting some passing familiarity with drugs, and some of them could be dangerously unpredictable. The color returned to the guy’s face, and his eyes refocused. “That’s better,” he said, recapping the bottle. His voice was still raspy, but no longer a whisper. He sat up and sent a gold coin spinning across the floor. “For the whiskey,” he added. “I really don’t think you’ll be wanting it back now.” The coin fell to its side. It was heads. “Nice mix,” commented the man, looking around. “Cynystran and Elven, I believe.”

“What?” said Khyrisse.

“Architecture,” he said. “Middle Cynystran mixed with Dyved Elven. Could be worse. At least it smells better than Rimbor.” He grinned a wolfish grin. “Thermador. Dave Thermador. Doer of deeds for those who can afford it. Who are you folks?”

“We’re the Rat Pack,” Mina said pointedly. “Doer of deeds for people who can’t afford it.”

Khyrisse covered her obvious desire to cheer with a forced coughing spasm. “Khyrisse Starshadow,” she supplied, sitting up on the sofa and extending her hand out to Thermador. “Khyrisse Paris Starshadow,” she added after a beat, smiling at Mina. “You can keep the whiskey. Rani here says you came in from the Positive Material Plane?”

“Perceptive girl,” the mercenary commented. “Well, it looks like it might be my lucky night after all, Khyrisse Paris Starshadow. You’re just who I’ve been looking for.”

Khyrisse waited but he didn’t elaborate, glancing instead at Garal. “The Positive Material isn’t a very hospitable environment for mortals,” the halfling said. “Are you a planeblazer?”

“Hah!” snorted Thermador. “A planeblazer! Are you crazy?” Garal looked a bit insulted. “I have, however, done work for some of the major players in the inner planes, and that buys me a lot of hospitality.” He took another swig from his bottle. “Right now I am on a job for the... well.. let me just say for folks who are very interested in turning this city around from where it is going.”

“And where would that be…?” Khyrisse prompted.

Dave Thermador made an exaggerated yawn. “Let’s talk about it in the morning. I think I can be of use to you, as I know you can to me… but not till I sleep off some of this planar fatigue.”

Khyrisse looked surprised at that evasion, but not actually angry. It might, Ebreth conceded, be a good point. He was certainly in no mental shape for negotiations himself, and half the rest of the people in the room were drunk. “All right,” said Khyrisse. “Sennett, please prepare two guest rooms.”

“My apologies, milady,” said the butler, “but the rooms are full.”

Khyrisse blinked repeatedly. “The rooms are--how the flark did I wind up leading such an army that a twelve-bedroom mansion isn’t big enough for us?”

“More people used to sleep together in the old days,” Skitch said, too innocently for Khyrisse to do more than frown at him.

“Aithne can stay in my room,” Mina offered.

“And Mr. Thermador in mine,” nodded Vas.

Skitch was right, actually. In the early days of the Rat Pack, it seemed like the Mansion was bursting at the seams with attraction requited and unrequited. Now five knockout women were hanging around the place single, and Vas was letting Dave Thermador crash in his room. Aside from Ebreth’s own established relationship and Vickie’s occasional one-nighters, the place had the feel of a corporate boardroom these days. It was less volatile, but also somehow less energetic. Ebreth shrugged it off effortlessly. Not any problem of his if no one else was getting laid.

“Whoa!” said Marty, hustling into the room. “Sorry I’m late, guys. I, uh, got lost on the stairs...”

Ebreth squinted at his purported apprentice. Ordinarily, he would have believed that in a heartbeat, coming from Marty, but damned if there wasn’t lipstick on the paladin’s collar.

Maybe the Rat Pack wasn’t quite as far from its roots as Ebreth thought.

Interlude: What A Gross Mood You’re In Tonight, Jeffy

Shilree arrived in her dark lab a few hours after Tallen’s death. She rapidly collapsed onto her bed. She was tired but high from the hunt and the kill. What she felt best about was seducing Tallen first, actually. She couldn’t get it out of her mind. It was strangely liberating; in her mortal life she would never have done such a thing. Melding had opened her eyes to new avenues of revenge. In fact, being able to seduce Tallen before killing him had really turned her on.

Shilree lay on her cot going over the moments leading up to Tallen’s death like she was sipping a fine wine. Without really realizing it she was touching herself. As she relived the moment she plunged the dart into Tallen’s flesh she climaxed, climaxed hard.

Not At Her Most Deductive

“What’s with you?” Rani muttered at Marty as she got up to go sleep it off.

“Huh? Me? Oh, nothing, really. Certainly not, y’know, a secret affair with one of our enemies. Like, no way on that, you know?”

“You’re...” Rani squinted to look at the lower half of Marty’s face. “You’re smiling.”

“Whoa! You are totally such an awesome detective! I can’t fool you, can I?”

“Is that sarcasm?” Rani frowned.

“No, I’m allergic to those,” Marty said. “I’m just happy, I guess.”

“Hh. That must be it,” Rani muttered, and headed off to bed, not giving the paladin with the even dumber grin a second thought.

The Trouble With Scotch

The edge of Aithne’s buzz had worn off, and she was remembering that she was several thousand years in the future on an island between Naoileimhe and Diaria where no one spoke her language and everyone she knew was dead.

This took a bit of the fun out of her sails, so she passed her palm over her face and sent the alcohol skimming out of her system. Aithne had had an enjoyable evening celebrating with her new kinswomen--she guessed they were celebrating the revival of Ebreth, though she wasn’t sure--but she was still a stranger in a strange land, and she had much to learn if she intended to make of it a home.

“Jack?” She glanced around for Val, and found her on the other side of the room. Maybe they were estranged. Still, she would be careful not to hurt the pride of the chieftess’ sister, who already seemed to be in a bad mood. “You can talk me words tonight? I need many help.”

“Tonight?” blinked Jack. “Don’t you need to sleep?” He pantomimed sleeping.

“I can change need to sleep,” she explained. “I can change need to sleep you, too.”

“Oh, I don’t need to sleep.” Jack looked kind of happy to be asked. She hoped she wasn’t giving him the wrong impression, and looked nervously over her shoulder at Valende, who wasn’t paying any attention at all. “Sure, I’d be glad to help. I know what it’s like, being in a place you don’t really fit in...” Aithne smiled and nodded, and his voice trailed off. “Yes,” he said. “I talk you words.”

“Good!” she said.

“I can teach you the hundred words I’ve used most frequently myself,” mused Jack. “I mean, I can tally them...”

“Soon!” She bowed her head to him and ran across to Val. The dark-haired elf still looked drunk, and her body language was closed. Aithne wished she knew how to say ‘Excuse me’. “Hi Val!” she said, instead. “I can talk Jack tonight? No sex.”

Val gave her a very strange look. “Yes,” she said, “yes, that’s fine.” She smiled a bit bitterly. “You do learn quickly, don’t you?”

“Good!” said Aithne, brightly, wishing she knew how to say ‘Thank you’. “You can come, see talk, no sex. Aithne friend.”

“That’s... okay,” said Val. “No problem, Aithne. Yes. Go ahead.”

Aithne took the elf’s hand motion to be waving her on. Aithne felt happy to be trusted. “Good!” she said, and waved. She liked these people, and was looking forward to learning how to communicate with them a little better.

***

Valende leaned against the wall and pressed her fingers into her forehead, partly in an effort to suppress her headache and partly so she wouldn’t have to see Aithne leaving the room with Jack. We are going to have to find a spell to bridge this communications gap. I can’t imagine why Aithne thinks she needs my permission to talk to Jack. Or indeed, why she thinks she needs to reassure me that she’s not going to--Val’s mouth twisted bitterly--schtupp him. The priestess’ stomach did a sudden and precarious flip-flop at the uninvited idea that the girl might have divined the painful vestiges of her bond with the first Jack from somewhere within Valende. She shoved it desperately back into whatever dark corner of her mind had spawned it. Vickie probably just told her about the first Jack and I. And if she didn’t, my chatterbox of a brother probably did. Damn this gossipy Rat Pack, anyway. Val pressed fingers and thumb against her eyelids, waiting for everyone to leave the room, wishing she were miles away in the green and silent shadows of Dyved. She willed away the tears that the copious amount of scotch she’d imbibed had brought so easily to the surface. Why on Ataniel was I fool enough to drink that much hard liquor...?

“Are you unwell?” Vas’ voice said gently, behind her.

“You know that I haven’t been well for months,” she whispered bitterly. “Why bother asking?”

“The mere fact that you’re willing to say that much tells me you are indeed the worse for drink,” Vas murmured.

“Ieshala drinks you under the table two or three times a month,” she snapped. “So I don’t even want to hear it, Vas.” Part of her mind informed her that she was taking out her anger and unhappiness on someone who didn’t deserve it. The rest of her mind, however, was busy with the fact that Ieshala only piped him home through the square half-dressed; she didn’t air out his emotional irresponsibilities and personal failings as a lover at the top of her lungs in the middle of a gods-be-damned bar. If I never see any of those people again, I will be eternally grateful. I wish that doing the same with the Rat Pack wouldn’t be like cutting off a hand. Gods, how humiliating.

Vas just grinned at her, utterly unfazed. “Indeed. And she will probably continue to do so. But somehow I don’t think that you’re upset about Ieshala, sister.”

Valende covered her eyes again and took a deep breath, shivering with the effort of restraining her temper. “Vas...” she said, in an extremely brittle tone.

Vas sighed. “All right, I’ll stay out of it...” He wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders briefly, then pushed her towards the door. “Go to sleep, Val.” He offered her a rueful smile. “You used to tell me that things would look better in the morning. I assume that’s still the case?”

“Really?” Rani will stop reminding me how much I let her down? The very sight of Jack won’t keep making me revisit how badly I messed things up? I won’t have to fight the urge to flinch every time Mina or Ebreth looks in my direction? Val smiled wanly, what remained of her good sense informing her that the alcohol was making her maudlin. I’m think I’m just going to go to my room, lock the door, and cry myself sick. It apparently works for Rani. “That would be pleasant. I’ll let you know.”

Scorpion’s Nest: City of Lost Souls

The Fiend with Five Eyes wondered why he had never come to Rimbor City before. Already three men had signed over their souls in return for the bliss and power that the Fiend could offer.

His problem now, though, was time. By his nature, the ethereal being had to wait for his charges to die before he could consume their life-forces. There weren’t any gods to punish him anymore, exactly, but the Fiend with Five Eyes still felt uneasy about tampering with the mortal world to speed the deaths of those he had bargained with. A promise was a promise, after all. But the Fiend needed sustenance. And of the fourteen reflections dangling in shimmers from his braided belt, none seemed likely to meet his final end this month.

It was do or die time for the Fiend with Five Eyes. And the soul of this John Tucson was his last best hope, for someone had already done the hard work of separating it from him, and the Fiend owed that man nothing. There was a hitch, though, as there always was: the damned thing had been attached, with what must have been laborious care, to some unraveled threads of the local dimensional fabric. The Fiend didn’t know why, and he didn’t much care, but he wasn’t going to be able to eat until he had teased the soul loose from its bonds.

So the Fiend with Five Eyes turned into an alley that led to a small hole-in-the-wall mortal tavern. The sign above read “The Rusty Nail.”

“Welcome, friend,” a figure in the back said.

The Fiend whirled around. No one could see him in his native form.

“Who addressed the Thane of the Impossible Marshes thus?” the Fiend demanded.

“Me name’s Coomara,” the figure said. “And I’m guessing you’re here for the same reason I am.”

The Top Hundred Words

“Okay, I’ve divided them into lists of nouns and verbs,” Jack said, flipping through the sheaf of papers he’d just compiled. “Uh, nouns are people, places and things. Verbs are action words. Just, uh, for reference.”

Aithne was looking at the top word on the first page. “Uuuu... hhhh... Uh. Uh,” she said.

“Oh, don’t look at that page,” Jack said. “Those are my, uh, interjections and stuff. Here, try this one. Add. Put together.” Jack pantomimed putting his two hands together.

“No sex,” Aithne said firmly.

“I, uh...” Jack started.

“Uh,” Aithne repeated.

“No. No uh. Uh... I mean, er... um...”

“Add is sex?”

“U--no. No. Add is putting things together.” Jack picked up a pebble. “One.” He picked up another. “Add one. Two.”

“Add. This is common word?”

“Well, it was in my top ten.”

“Aithne add word then,” she said, smiling.

“Maybe I should try something less, uh... mathematical,” Jack muttered. He skimmed down the list and pointed at another word. It was much easier now that Aithne could recognize the alphabet. She was really uncannily intelligent, Jack thought. It had taken him eighteen days after his birth to develop his full vocabulary.

“Sorry,” Aithne said, reading.

“I do something wrong,” Jack said, “and I feel bad about it, I say ‘sorry’.”

“What Jack did wrong?” Aithne frowned.

“Oh, don’t get me started,” Jack chuckled. “But if you feel bad about something, try saying that.”

“Sorry is common word?”

“For me it is,” Jack said.

“What is flark?” Aithne asked, pointing to another page.

“Oh, don’t worry about those,” Jack said. “Angry words.”

“Like sorry.”

“No, but I can see the connection,” Jack laughed at himself. “Let’s look at some of the nouns,” he continued. “Direction words could be useful...”

Jack pulled the page of nouns out and put it on the top of the pile, only momentarily frowning at the bottom of the list and wondering when he had used the word “Ramrod” so much.

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