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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 1

Second-Level Busybody

Skitch watched the scenery whiz by as the Trade Carriage sped back towards Rimbor. Thalia, sitting across from him, seemed entranced. Skitch liked her. She wasn’t as spunky as Kit or as, well, wonderful as Lorrini, but she was pretty cool in her own right. Girls, Skitch had decided, really didn’t have cooties after all.

“How come you call Khyrisse, Lady Starshadow,” Skitch asked his shadow curiously, “but you call Val Miss Valende?” Dave Thermador was riding on the roof, and Jack wasn’t sure how the magic of the carriage would affect shadows up there, so Amatsu was hanging out in the cabin for now. He’d never spoken much with the boy in the past, or anything, but Skitch was still glad to know he was okay.

“The Lady Starshadow is a divorcée,” Amatsu said in his hollow whisper.

“Oh. So it’s like Mrs.?” Skitch thought about that. “Then why is Jack Mr. Paris? He’s not married.”

“If he were he would be Lord Paris.”

“Oh.” Skitch himself was just ‘Young Skitch’ to the ninja, which he didn’t like too much, but Tarrin called him ‘Little Skitch’ and Sennett called him ‘Young Master Skitch’, so he guessed that they were different translations of the same general idea. “We use those words differently,” he offered. “In Dalen Lord and Lady mean high social class.”

“In Shikintu as well,” said Amatsu. “That is why it is polite to refer to any wedded couple in this way.”

That didn’t make much sense to Skitch. “Why isn’t Garal Mr. Tinderhook?”

“Garal is my best friend.”

“What if you had a girlfriend?” Skitch swung his legs, looking out the back window at the secret agent doing loop-the-loops behind the Carriage. “Would she be Miss Dare, or Vickie?”

“I think you have been spending too much time in the company of Mr. Vastarin, young Skitch.”

Vanunu: Meanwhile, Back In New Trade

“I need to speak to the Mithril Dagger Hero,” Mordecai said, out of breath. He had been on the run for days from the vampire minions of the Duke. It seemed the rumors he had heard about the vampires becoming more docile of late were untrue.

“She’s not in New Trade at present,” explained the secretary. “May I ask what it concerns?”

“The wild magics,” wheezed Mordecai. “Tobrinel is experimenting with the wild magics. The world must know what they are doing. They must be stopped.”

An older woman in elegant business dress appeared in the office doorway behind them. She wasn’t a large woman, but her presence was a formidable one, and from the look on her face, she had heard what Mordecai just said. “It is not the position of New Trade to interfere with the sovereignty of its constituent nations,” she said, though her voice betrayed appropriate concern to the panicked visitor. “But New Trade is not without its resources. I am Lora Paris, head administrator of internal affairs.”

“My name is Mordecai,” said the wizard. “I request sanctuary.”

“I grant it. Phoebe, see what you can do about finding Mr. Mordecai some quarters.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the secretary.

“Now, my friend.” Lora returned her gaze to Mordecai. “Come with me, and tell me what you know.”

Are You A Good Witch Or A Bad Witch?

The Rat Pack had stopped on the Nylevian mainland just across the strait from Rimbor to set up camp. If one could really call a twelve-bedroom mansion a “camp,” anyway. Khyrisse sighed and waited for Val to finish her tongues spell, her eyes flicking to the library door to check that the three of them were alone. “Aithne,” she said, “there are some questions I need to ask you.”

Aithne blinked. “Okay,” she said in Dalen. “You ask.”

“You can speak in Gaelic, dear,” said Valende. “The spell works both ways.”

“How long will it last?” Aithne asked her over her shoulder.

“Ten minutes.”

Aithne nodded and folded her fingers together, turning her head back to look directly at Khyrisse. “What would you like to know?”

It was odd to hear complete and unhesitant sentences from her. It made her seem less young, less foreign, less lost, and, to Khyrisse’s discomfort, more powerful. She also found that she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to ask anymore, now that communication was no longer a hurdle and diplomacy was. “Do you--know the Temple of the Weird Sisters near Dublin, Aithne?”

The young witch shook her head. “I’ve never been out of Luimneach,” she admitted. “Until now, that is. I’m only twenty-two.”

“Have you been to any temples in Luimneach?”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “I was a priestess there.”

Khyrisse was glad she was sitting down. “You--were a priestess--of the Weird Sisters?”

Aithne paused uncertainly, and her eyes flicked to Val and back again. “The Weird Sisters were priestesses,” she said carefully, like she didn’t entirely trust the translation. “I was a priestess. What do you mean by a priestess of theirs?”

“Who did you worship?” Valende rescued Khyrisse.

Aithne blinked at her. “The Goddess, of course.”

Khyrisse had recovered most of her composure. “Which goddess?” Aithne just looked at her, the blank, lost look creeping back across her face. “Brigit?” Khyrisse guessed.

“Who?”

Khyrisse pressed her forehead. “She must predate the rise of the Celtic pantheon,” she muttered.

“What?” said Valende.

“Nothing. Something I learned in god training. Now I wish they’d placed more emphasis on dates there. Flarking immortals. Aithne, you worshipped the goddess, did Trillarillia also worship the goddess?”

“Of course,” said Aithne, looking only a little less confused.

“Grendel on a pogo stick,” Khyrisse whispered to herself.

“Why do you always ask about Trillarillia? Isn’t she dead?”

“Yes, she’s dead.” Khyrisse took a breath. “I’ve been to the Temple of the Weird Sisters, Aithne. I saw pictures of how they--treated men. Do you know about that?”

“I’ve never been to Duibh Linn,” said Aithne, “and I’ve never met the Witch-Queens. I don’t think I’d want my brother to serve one of them, though.” She gave Khyrisse a charming little wisp of a grin.

The archmage exhaled. “Not all worshippers of your goddess behave that way, then?”

“The Weird Sisters were the queens of all Celtia,” she shrugged. “They did as they pleased.”

There were ancient kings elsewhere on Ataniel who had been pretty awful, Khyrisse acknowledged, and for pretty much the same reason. “Do you owe them your allegiance?” she said. “The Weird Sisters?”

“How can I owe my allegiance to the dead?”

“What if you could return them from the dead? Would you?”

“I--don’t know,” said Aithne. “Maybe.”

Khyrisse buried her fingers in her hair. Trillarillia’s soul has been eradicated. The other two are in stasis on Brytannwch and we don’t even know where Brytannwch is. Could you be any more irrational about this, Khyri?

Aithne was looking at her carefully. “Was Trillarillia your enemy?”

She blinked at it. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, she was.”

“I had heard elves could live a long time...”

“Not that long. Trillarillia was--awakened.” Khyrisse folded her arms.

“But now she is dead.”

“Yes.”

“And my allegiance is to you.”

“Until I’m dead.”

“Who can owe allegiance to the dead?” Aithne smiled her delightful little smile, shrugging her thin shoulders. “There is nowhere to go but forward.”

“Do I hear that,” Khyrisse sighed ruefully.

Which Brings Me To The Girl I Love...

“So, Jack.” Ebreth straddled a dining room chair backwards. “You and Aithne. Vas says she was in your room all night.”

Jack was so easily embarrassed he blushed even though nothing compromising had happened there. “I was, uh, helping her learn Dalen,” he said.

“She’s cute,” said Ebreth.

“Nothing happened, Ebreth. Really.”

“If something had, I wouldn’t be needing to have this talk with you, would I?”

“She specifically told me she didn’t want that kind of relationship with me,” Jack protested.

“On the first date?” said Ebreth. “That’s good, Jack. You’ve got her thinking about you already.”

“We just met each other. Come on, Ebreth, really. I just want to be her friend right now. She needs one.”

“Okay,” laughed Ebreth. “All right. For now. Don’t think you’ve heard the last of this.”

“Besides,” said Jack, “I think she has a crush on you.”

“Me? Did you tell her she’s barking up the wrong tree?”

“I, uh, tried to. It’s hard to get cultural nuances across with a 150-word vocabulary. Where she comes from, it’s apparently kind of friendly for women to share consorts.”

It was the kind of thing that would ordinarily get a big laugh out of the pirate, who really enjoyed female attention. Today, though, he looked away. “You know,” he said, “you have no idea how sick I’m getting of people calling me everything from Khyrisse’s consort to her squeeze toy.”

“Oh,” said Jack, a little confused, “That’s just how Aith--”

“I’m not just some guy she’s seeing.” Ebreth stopped abruptly. “I almost asked her to marry me last night.”

“Really?” said Jack, leaning forward. “I--why didn’t you?”

“Started thinking about it.” He drummed the back of the chair with his thumbs.

“Well, I think it would be a great idea,” Jack encouraged. “I’d love to see that in my lifetime.”

Ebreth put his forehead down on his hands on the chair back, and Jack couldn’t figure the expression he had seen skim across his friend’s face. “I don’t want to make her upset” was all he said, though. “You know how stressed this stuff makes her.”

“I know how good you are at reassuring her, too,” Jack pointed out.

“And I’m afraid she’ll say no,” he said, very quietly.

“Now you sound like me.”

“I do, don’t I?” Ebreth laughed at himself. “I--just really don’t know, Jack.”

“Well,” Jack said, thoughtfully, “are you unsure about this because you’re not sure how she feels, or because you’re not sure how you feel?”

“I know how I feel,” he said. “I want her with me for the rest of my life. I’ve known that for months. Khyrisse--I don’t think she likes to think that far ahead. Either that or it scares her too bad to admit she does. It was like pulling teeth just to get her to say she wanted me around in October.”

“I think,” said Jack, “you should be expressing your feelings based on how sure you are about them, not how sure you are about your guesses about other people’s feelings. That’s a good way to cause a feedback loop. You know... what you think she thinks about what you think she thinks you think?”

“I hear you,” Ebreth sighed. “Look, Jack, if I do this--and I haven’t made up my mind, right--if I do this... Will you ask Aithne out?”

Jack blinked. “I--uh, yes. Yes, I guess that’s fair.”

“All right.” He rubbed his neck. “It’s just,” he said quietly, “that if she doesn’t feel that way about me, Jack, I--think I’d really rather not know that just yet.”

“Well,” Jack said, “I could, you know, ask her. Khyrisse and I have actually been getting along pretty well... by which I mean that I think she thinks I’m okay.” Jack smiled.

“Bite me, Paris.”

“No, seriously. If you’re really worried, let me scope it out first, and then I’ll tell you to go ahead with it regardless. But you’ll think I know something useful, so you won’t be as nervous.”

“When did you get sneaky?”

“Math is explaining to the world how you want it to work. It’s not too much different.”

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