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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 24

Maybe I Think Too Much

“That’s ridiculous.” Khyrisse shook her head. “They stopped coming after you because they have no rights to you anymore. Asinus saw to that.”

“I know,” Ebreth said. “We’re lucky to have a friend like him.” He paused. “But the guy was right about the old Irish water. I ignored that and look what happened. It takes a fool to make the same mistake twice.”

“Well, he’d better not claim you belong to him again, then.” She nestled into his side. “Because if you belong to anyone, it’s me.”

Ebreth raised one eyebrow. “Well, if he asks me on a date,” he said, reaching across to shut out the light, “I’ll be sure to tell him to take it up with you.”

“You do that.” She pressed her face against his chest, shuddering a little. “You--have no idea what it was like,” she whispered, “not to hear your heart here. It was as if the whole world had gone suddenly... empty.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll try to be more careful.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I--” She found his hand and wound her fingers into his. “I’m glad you’re back,” she said softly, rather drowsily.

He paused just a beat. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”

She was asleep inside of five minutes, her eyelids glowing the faint pale color of her dream spell.

Ebreth Tor held her in his arms and thought far, far too much.

Don’t Flark with the Judge of Heaven

Surprisingly enough, Asinus was in his donkey form, not the handsome man Khyrisse had seen last time she had poked her head into his. He was standing behind a tall desk, wearing a strange white wig and a black robe. Seated around the table were a variety of angels, all wearing similar wigs and bowing and scraping before Asinus.

“Guilty,” Asinus said. “Ah, flark, give ‘im probation. But no more razing of sinful villages, got it, you berk?” That was when he noticed Khyrisse. “You don’t have a seraphic complaint, do you?” he asked plaintively.

“Only in that I don’t have any seraphim,” chuckled Khyrisse. “No rest for the wicked, huh?”

“Tell me about it. Where the flark do these idiots get off thinking I know what they should be doing? I have enough trouble trying to keep Fi and the damn bikers in line.” He shook his head, and the white curls of the wig bobbed comically. “So, you probably didn’t just come for small talk... is this business or are you finally going to admit you can’t live without my hot donkey bod?”

“Still playing hard to get, I see.” Khyrisse grinned mischievously. “Business, more or less.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured you had to be in the middle of something major when Tor showed up here. You need more firepower? I can spare a couple of idiots if you need...”

“I have all the idiots I can keep track of. No, I was wondering if you or your heavenly passenger might have any idea who would want to steal Rimbor City off the map, part and parcel.”

Zerthimon popped out of Asinus’ head for a moment. “Such a city of chaos should be eliminated from the world so that Morvon’s perfect order can--”

Asinus squinted and sucked the transparent spirit back into his head. “Don’t mind him, he’s a butt gumby. Hell, most of the villains I know of love Rimbor City... I’d have to go with some schmuck law and order type.”

“Hmm.” Khyrisse frowned thoughtfully. “Ripping holes in the dimensional fabric to steal the city seems a little not playing by the rules for the law and order type.”

“Trust me,” Asinus sighed, shaking his head at the angels. “They can rationalize like nobody’s business. If they wanted Rimbor kacked, they’d explain it so divinely that you’d wonder where the offering plate was.”

Khyrisse tsked at the angels. “But you can’t actually point a finger, huh?”

“I’m a flarkin’ donkey, remember?”

“A, uh, hoof, then,” sighed Khyrisse.

“I can point my tongue pretty damn well,” Asinus offered. “Wanna feel for yourself?”

Khyrisse laughed and covered her eyes. “Business, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah. Look, I can put the question out to my contacts, see what I can find.”

“Thanks, Asinus.” Her mouth sobered. “And... thank you for tonight. You don’t know--”

“--ah, flark, yes I do,” grumbled the donkey. “Stop it before I have to give you a celestial citation for sentimentality in a non-sentimental zone.”

Khyrisse was startled into laughter, and Asinus grinned at her. She dropped a kiss on the bridge of his nose, hopefully scandalizing the daylights out of the seraphim. “...That’s not a violation, is it?”

“Hell no. Wanna run through the list of other things that--”

Suddenly everything turned red. Khyrisse and Asinus were standing on a flat plain under a sunless, blood-red sky.

“What the flark?”

“Lilies?” said Khyrisse. “Whose idea was lilies?”

Indeed, they were standing in a field of red lilies.

“Don’t look at me, chickie. This is your dream spell.”

A figure appeared beside them. It was Shilree.

The Diarian was dressed for battle, but the bags under her eyes made her look half dead. “Khyrisse,” she said, in a voice that was half Diari and half something else, “we need to talk.”

Asinus snorted, shaking off the white wig that hadn’t disappeared with the rest of his dream. “Whose flarkin’ dream is this anyway?” he demanded.

“I am Shilree Vestrin Regent of Diaria Asinus Paris.”

“So that makes it okay to interrupt my few moments of peace with my one and only?”

“Uh...” Khyrisse cleared her throat. “I’m not...”

“I am here on important business that supersedes your little trysts Asinus.”

“Look, I know you’re big shit in Fingerland, chickie, but you’re talkin’ to the flarkin’ head of the Paris Family here. You can’t just traipse in here and--”

“Asinus, it’s okay,” Khyrisse said.

“It is flarkin’ not okay! You’ve got a standing invite to my head, babe... Miss Coppertone here is trespassing.”

“I am contacting Khyrisse you ass,” Shilree said. “Not you.”

“What alignment is she?” Asinus asked Khyrisse.

“Lawful... neutral,” Khyrisse said kindly.

“Lawful. Perfect.” Asinus cleared his throat and spoke in a resonant tone. “I hereby remand your soul to Morvon Lord of the Flarkin’ Mountains no comma Shilree Vestrin.”

Shilree felt a strange internal twist that disappeared as soon as it had begun.

“Can you do that?” Khyrisse asked, startled.

“Damned if I know,” he whispered. “But it sounds good, huh?”

“You...” Shilree started to fume.

“Look, babe, you deal with Morvon’s Blessed here, and I’ll catch you when I’ve got something, ‘kay?”

Khyrisse just nodded, surprised by the tremendous amount of energy she had just seen flowing through Asinus.

Then the donkey was gone.

“Uh, what was it you needed, Shilree?” Khyrisse asked placatingly.

***

Asinus Paris woke up. The succubus had found him and was in bed again. “Damn,” Asinus muttered. “Women everywhere, and I still can’t get a break.”

He got up and started off for his third bedroom of the night.

Communication Gaps

Aithne woke up to sunlight streaming through the window of the magical house and across her cheek. It was the first time in thousands of years that she had actually awakened, and it was a lovely way to do it. Aithne knew that outside sunlight could not penetrate places, like this one, carved from the Goddess, so her new matriarch must have intentionally ensorcelled this sunrise. It said much for her taste and her comfort with the Goddess.

Aithne washed her face in the little basin of water beneath the mirror. She did not use Mina’s soap. Aithne didn’t know if that would be overly familiar or not, and she didn’t want to disturb the other girl’s studies by asking her permission. Jack had told her that Mina was in training to be a sorceress. He had not spoken of the chieftess’ sister, beautiful Val with the sad eyes, and Aithne had not asked him. Either theirs was an unhappy union or a purely political one, and either way Aithne didn’t want to bring it up. Of Jack himself, she had learned that he and Mina were distant relatives of Khyrisse from an island far to the east, and that he added sums for merchants. That didn’t strike Aithne as the most glamorous job in the world, but at least it was a manly one. If she had understood correctly, Schneider was an entertainer! Aithne hoped she was wrong, for she liked Schneider, and she couldn’t think of a more demeaningly effeminate pursuit. Small wonder he hid his face, poor man.

Aithne wandered into the main room, where Khyrisse’s halfling servant was examining overlaid maps with a critical eye. She didn’t know what he was doing. “Good morning, Garal,” she said, and he jumped a little. “I need more clothes.” She touched her sleeve illustratively. She had cleaned the dress, but it ill bespoke her station to be wearing the same one every day, lost or not, and she didn’t want to embarrass her new tribe.

The little fellow gave her a very odd look. “I’ll ask Sennett for you,” he said, though, and got up.

Aithne nodded gravely. Sennett was the sorceress’ magic butler. She would have guessed it would be Garal who handled the laying in of supplies, leaving the household management to the spectral butler, but perhaps the manservant found women’s clothing an inappropriate subject and such matters were usually handled by the sexless apparition. Khyrisse did not appear to travel with a maidservant. Perhaps Sennett, not being actually a man, filled that role for her. “Thank you,” she said, and sat gracefully on the sofa as the halfling scurried off. She doubted any of Khyrisse’s clothing would fit her, as Aithne was a good half-foot taller than the elf and quite a bit slimmer, but perhaps she kept an extra wardrobe in stock, as Aithne’s mother had, in the case of unexpected guests. If she did not, perhaps Garal could be sent out shopping. She wouldn’t think Sennett could leave the sorcerous house, though she wasn’t ruling anything out regarding the magic of the powerful Khyrisse, who could apparently bind and command men’s souls. That was a power not to be taken lightly.

Aithne sat on the sofa and watched the Rat Pack bustle through the early morning.

***

“We made the morning paper,” said Orlen. “Tornado kills twelve in Southside.”

“Great,” said Schneider, putting his head down on his arms. “Just when I’d finally gotten out of karmic debt.”

“The deaths of those people are the fault of the Scorpion,” said Kingfisher, unconcerned. “It was his enforcers who started a fight in a populated area. He is the one to blame.”

“Oh, man,” sighed Khyrisse, joining the three of them in the kitchen to cut herself a piece of coffee cake. “Is Shilree ever going to tear Asinus a new one.”

“Pulled her miniskirt up?” Schneider said sympathetically.

“Consigned her soul to Morvon.”

“Now that’s cruel. Couldn’t he have given it to a less annoying god, like maybe Draize?” Khyrisse snorted. “So hey, listen, Khyri, about these wormholes... I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we ought to tell Octavian what’s going on.”

“We can’t force him to be part of this plot, Schneider,” Khyrisse sighed.

“Well, no, but if there’s anyone who wants to protect this city, it’s him... don’t you think he might be interested in the news that someone’s trying to swipe the joint?”

“Schneider is right,” Kingfisher backed him up. “Octavian is a natural ally in this, and his network of hidden agents might be able to find out who is behind this scheme where we cannot.”

“It would sort of defeat the purpose of having hidden agents if I could contact them whenever I wanted to, wouldn’t it?”

“We could put a cryptic ad in the Rimbor City Rag,” offered Orlen.

“Or we could just set it up so he wants to contact us,” said Schneider. “I, uh, don’t recommend getting captured by the Scorpion, which was the last thing I did to catch his attention... but Khyri’s hot beef sandwich brought him around here just by palling around with some underworld criminals. Maybe if he gets in touch with them ag--“

“Aughhhh!” Khyrisse put her hands over her eyes, pinking. “Schneider, look! I know you don’t like calling him Ebreth, and I don’t like you calling him ‘Eight’, but unbelievably tasteless euphemisms are not a good compromise!”

“What do you suggest, then,” sighed Schneider, “the Artist Formerly Known As?”

“He’s--” Khyrisse pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay, you can call him my boyfriend, all right?” she relented. I hate that term, but it’s got to be better than hot beef anything...! “Just stop it with the crude sex stuff, please! Do you really think I’m that much of a slut that that’s my primary motivation for any of this?”

“Khyri,” said Schneider wanly, the faint hints of a suppressed smile around his thin mouth, and counted off on his fingers. “One... no, of course not, got nothing but respect for you. But two... don’t you know better than to give me perfect set-up lines like that by now?”

Khyrisse put her hand half-over her face and laughed despite herself.

***

“So what exactly happened to you up there, anyway, Amatsu?” Jack asked his shadow.

“I am still uncertain of the details.” The spectral ninja’s voice was a hollow whisper. “It has been a very confusing six months. It would be comforting to be able to meditate, but that is difficult without the ability to breathe. It is... disconcerting, to suddenly find oneself less than human.”

“You’re still human,” Jack protested. “You’ve still got a, uh, human soul... right?”

“My chi is still the same, if that is what you mean.”

“Well, then all you’re missing is a body,” Jack said comfortingly. “That doesn’t make you less than human. Trust me, I know. I, uh, I don’t think most people know this, but I’m... I’m an artificial being. A math equation, actually. I’ve got a body, but no soul. Or chi. Or, uh, whatever. Anyway, the point is, you’ve still got humanity I never will... so you shouldn’t go thinking less of yourself just because you fit in two dimensions now.”

“There is an old Shikinti saying,” Amatsu said thoughtfully, “that the advice one gives is always the advice one needs to heed himself. I think it is an equal mistake to slight yourself for lack of a human chi, Jack Paris. You exhibit loyalty and honor and compassion. These are traits of only the truly human.”

Jack grinned embarrassedly. “Look, I’ll make you a deal, Amatsu. I’ll keep you from forgetting it if you do the same for me. We’ll be the two people who won’t settle for less than human.”

“It shall be so, then,” Amatsu nodded.

***

“So you’re trying to stop this dimensional explosion too?” Khyrisse asked Dave Thermador carefully, her divinatory spells sparkling at the edges of her vision.

“Yeah,” said the scruffy mercenary, and took another swig of whiskey.

The level of alcohol, Khyrisse noticed, was nearly the same as when he first took the bottle. “Do you have any idea what’s actually going on here?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Thermador, glancing across at Garal.

Khyrisse’s detect lie tripped, which was both good and bad--it meant her spell wasn’t being eluded, and the soldier-of-fortune genuinely did share the Rat Pack’s goal in saving Rimbor City. On the other hand, it meant he was lying to her, and he knew more than he was letting on. “You said you were on a job,” said Khyrisse. “Who for?”

“I’m not really at liberty to divulge that.”

“Well, is there anything you can tell us?” said Khyrisse, impatiently.

“I just have a job to do,” said Dave Thermador.

***

Orlen had decided to ask Aithne’s permission to establish a psilink between them. It was a draining discipline, at least for one whose primary talent was telekinesis, but it would give her a continuous channel of communication to help compensate for her language barrier. Orlen remembered how distressing his exile had been until the woman who was to become his wife let him borrow Dalen from her mind.

He found Aithne on a sofa, making some simplified conversation with Jack as the Rat Pack milled about. Not, actually, unlike the earliest communications between Mayumi and himself. The bard in Orlen wondered where along the spectrum from fondness to outright interest the evident bond between the young couple fell. The widower in him just felt lonely.

-Greetings, Aithne,- he began, summoning a warm smile for the lost girl. -I would like to offer my services in establishing...-

Aithne’s eyes went almost Mina-sized, and then she snapped her wrist at Orlen and the psibard staggered back in a violent gout of flame.

***

“Aithne, no!” cried Jack, several seconds too late. Ebreth jerked reflexively back from the burning Diari with a ragged gasp of air, his hand twitching uncontrollably. Orlen hit the hardwood floor and rolled; Val was already at his side by the time he'd gotten the flames out. Khyrisse caught her breath and then she grabbed the girl's arm. “No,” she said, sharply. “Orlen, the Rat Pack!”

Aithne pulled her arm free, pointed violently at the burned Diari, hit her temple with the first two fingers of her other hand, made a circle out of her thumb and forefinger and jabbed her finger through it, her eyes flashing furiously.

“She says--”

“I can see what she’s saying, Schneider,” sighed Khyrisse. “Oh, you stupid Diarians!”

“I was--only asking her permission--” winced Orlen.

“Schneider, will you please tell her that he didn’t mean any harm and it won’t happen again?”

The jester and Aithne dissolved into gestural negotiation, and Khyrisse slipped her arms quietly around Ebreth’s waist. His breathing had relaxed, and he just looked a little ashamed now. She squeezed him gently. Val was already healing the burned, confused Orlen. Khyrisse remembered her own reaction to Tarrin poaching Dalen from her brain, and then, more violently, to Alphred using his flarking Oyster Totem on her. So Khyrisse did sympathize.

She only wished there hadn’t been something in the crackling immediacy of the young woman’s magical attack that reminded her so much of Trillarillia Carraria.

Battle for the Strings

“Why didn’t she stop him Sunny?” Shilree continued to stamp around the cracked earth of the Doomlands, her hands tight and shaking fists. “I thought she was a friend. I would never let a Psilord destroy her soul!”

“Shil, you told me yourself she didn’t realize the implications till it was too late,” sighed Flicker. “I doubt Asinus did either. I don’t know him well but he’s a decent man. We’ll get this straightened out. Look on the bright si--”

“A kajjhac donkey just ripped my soul away from me and destroyed everything I believe in as a PRACTICAL JOKE and you tell me to look on the flazhnikajh BRIGHT SIDE!”

“Well, that’s what I do when something bizarre happens to my soul.” Flicker gave her a gentle smile. “This may be a blessing in disguise, Shilree. If your soul’s been charged to the plane of Law, Gila’s going to have a hell of a time exerting control over it.” It did give her pause. “The ultimate fate of your soul won’t be an issue until you die, and I’m sure we can deal with it then. You have powerful friends. We’ll get it straightened out somehow. Trust me.”

Shilree made a long and ragged sigh.

“It’s not like I won’t be here.” Flicker put his arm around his friend’s waist, smiling at her.

“Sheji ne nizaiti kalas tan,” sighed Shilree.

“Oh, you’d get by. You’d just break a lot more things.” He shielded his eyes with his other hand, scanning the dusty horizon.

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