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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Negotiations and Love Songs: Part 2



Don’t Mess With Belle: Distracted

Edyric crushed the scroll in her hand, the paper cutting small rivulets into her palm.

The missive had been waiting for her in her room at the Calling Owl Inn in the small Nylevian town of Farway. She wasn't sure how it got there, but that didn't matter. What mattered was what it said in its spidery script.

Edyric,

I know you have every reason in the world to distrust and hate me, but I feel I owe you.

I will be straight with you: I am not one hundred percent certain, but Lotus may still be alive.

Meet me alone in the Mithril Dagger Inn on January 15th. I will tell you all I know and more if

you agree to a job which I think you will enjoy.

Shilree, Regent of Diarni

It was probably a ruse. The illusionist had likely learned about Edyric’s attack on Dr. Yarleen, and was using this half-assed Lotus story to draw her out.

Damn her, but Edyric had no other choice.

“Fine,” she sighed to herself. “I’ll be there, Shilree. But if this is a trick, your whole inbred family goes on the damn list.”

Edyric slung her bow and slammed the door behind her.

Red-Handed

“You wrote graffiti on the foundation of the Federal Building?”

“Ha ha ha!” chortled Skitch. “Go, Ebreth!”

“Who, me?”

“You initialled it, Ebreth!” she yelled, exasperated.

“That wasn’t me. It was, uh, Eric Tremontagne.”

Khyrisse lost it totally.

“He’s really got to get over you, you know.”

“What am I going to do with you,” said Khyrisse, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

Trade Federation: Degrees of Faith

“Heya Khyrisse.” Rhynwa breezed past the spectral butler and into the archmage’s living room, Gordon in tow. Khyrisse stifled a bad case of the giggles: the boy was wearing a little white priest’s collar. “When did he get ordained?” she asked, with something of a straight face.

“Yeah, well, you know how short-handed we are now that Corinna-that-bitch opened the Necropolis...”

The six-year-old climbed up onto one of the easy chairs and bounced there, watching Ebreth with preternaturally bright eyes. “My da can beat you up,” he announced.

“I better stay out of his way, then,” said Ebreth.

“Yeah, you better! Are you a pirate?”

He thought about it for a few seconds. “Yeah.”

“How come you don’t have earrings? Pirates in stories have earrings.”

“You know why they do that? It’s harder to get an earring out of someone’s ear than it is to pick his pocket.”

Gordon contemplated that. “So how come you don’t have any?”

“Because no one dared to pick my pocket.”

“How long are you in town for, Rhynwa?” asked Khyrisse. “Can you join us for dinner?”

The death priestess shook her head. “We just popped in to do some errands, really--”

“How come Khyrisse lives with you?” Gordon asked, drumming his heels on the chair. “Did you kidnap her?”

Khyrisse sputtered laughter. Rhynwa smirked maternally. Ebreth just blinked a few times. “Did I--kid, this is her house.”

“Pirates in stories kidnap ladies,” explained Gordon.

“Naaaaah, we just sweep them off their feet.”

“All right, that’s enough,” said Khyrisse, trying to get her composure back.



“Well, if I can counter-kidnap you for a few minutes,” said Rhynwa, “you’re kind of on my errands list, actually.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Luthien says you’re starting a trade federation. I know Annwych’s not very large, but--”

“Do you make people walk the plank?” Gordon continued his interrogation.

Ebreth really had to think about that one. “When--I was young, I guess, a couple times.”

“Pirates are badmen. You know what happens to badmen?”

“They go to Hell?” said Ebreth.

“No! My da kills ‘em! Then he casts spells at ‘em and he cuts their arms off and cuts their heads off and he kills ‘em again!” Gordon jumped off the chair and flailed his arms around triumphantly.

“Gordon, honey, could you keep it down a little? Mommy’s trying to make an economic alliance.”

“Why don’t you join me in the library?” Khyrisse suggested. “He could wait out here and play with the sextant.”

“Uh...” Rhynwa’s eyes flicked to Ebreth and back. “I’m sorry, Khyrisse, Luthien’s just not comfortable...” Her voice was really apologetic. Khyrisse gave herself a mental smack for not seeing that one coming. “Plus, you know, he might beat me up if you’re not here to protect me,” Ebreth added, apparently not too hurt by the necromancer’s lack of faith.

“Yeah, I might!” Gordon karate-kicked the chair a few times, making growly noises.

“What did I tell you about kicking furniture, Gordon?” Rhynwa got between her son and the hapless chair. “Do you think you could just draw up a contract for me on the quick, Khyrisse? I really don’t think we need a lawyer for this.”

“Ariath’s still alive,” Khyrisse apologized.

“Yeah, bugger me. Gordon, get down from the bookshelf.”

Interlude: And You Were Only Joking

“...and it worked pretty well. All the slavers and pimps and pushers and other scum were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out who was trying to shake down who. All because of the Joker.” Schneider was feeling pretty proud of himself, all in all. It was Luthien’s story about his crimefighting alternate self from the Skeins that had inspired him to try the scheme out, and it had been really gratifying to see the fear that the scum trying to feed off of Lianth registered when he went ‘on patrol’ as the Joker. No wonder Alrek had liked the whole Onyx gig.

Roxy wasn’t as thrilled as he’d expected. As he told his story her body grew tenser, and she said nothing.

“Hey, what’s the matter?” He put his arms around her, trying to be reassuring. It didn’t seem to comfort her.

“You, Schneider,” she said, finally. “It’s not good to do that. Manipulate people like that. It’s dangerous.”

Schneider was stunned. “What do you mean? I was just---”

“I know, I know. You were just trying to help people. But it’s scary, to know you’re good at that. It’s not just dirtbags from Rimbor who can get jerked around that way, you know. Anyone can. I... don’t want to look at you and think you’re someone who screws people up, just by pushing their buttons.”

“Roxy, I don’t do that. I mean, I did this time, but that’s--”

“Back when it came,” Roxy interrupted, “the Madness?” She bit her lip. “I did the same thing. And it was so easy, once I had this terrible kind of revelation, that I could... that we can... play with people’s feelings, and make them...”

This time she didn’t resist as he held her. “That was--” he had trouble speaking the name-- “it was Bane. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know that, so why does it still scare me?”

***

Polly Reinhoffer and her team were assembled on the edge of town. Her dogs milled about, wagging their tails. “A few months more,” the bounty hunter said, “and Lianth will be a different place. Closer to being a real city again.”

“What then?” one of her men asked.

Polly shrugged. “We just adjust our business tactics. The city won’t be so ripe for plunder, but other opportunities will arise.”

“Speaking of which,” said her second in command, “anyone get any whiff of this guy the Scorpion’s offered the bounty on?” Heads shook.

“Patience,” Polly said. “This Joker fellow will resurface sooner or later. And we’ll be waiting.”

Coming To Terms

“There was a doctor in my building whose job was keeping us conscious,” Ebreth said quietly, looking out the window, “a bored, exact old devil with no facial expressions, who did nothing more and nothing less. He was so obviously thinking about something else, his golf game or something, and I’d try to make him think I was hurt more badly than I was, so he might ease my pain a bit by accident, or maybe less, hoping he might misgauge and let me pass out, but there was no fooling him. He must have been doing this for years.” Ebreth watched the white snow fall. “Healing is a weapon,” he said, “all the things I thought were gentle, even uplifting, they’re the most terrible weapons of all. If I could have kept just one of them away from me, I think. I think it would have been that clockwork old doctor with his merciless bored hands.”

Happy Unbirthday

Melissa yowled piteously as Skitch gave her an unwanted and rather determined bath. “No, hold still,” the newly eleven-year-old told her. She paid no attention at all. “What’s your birthday, Ebreth?”

“Hmm?” said Ebreth. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know when your birthday is?” Skitch said incredulously. “When were you born?”

“768,” he said, after a moment.

“But what day, I mean?”

“I don’t know.” Ebreth shrugged.

“How can you not know your own birthday?”

“He never knew his parents,” he said, “that other Ebreth Tor.”

“Neither did I, but I know my birthday.” Skitch frowned at the pirate over the soapy cat. “You should pick one. Otherwise you won’t get any presents or anything.”

“Yeah, I can see how that would be a problem,” he said, with a straight face.

“Everyone needs a birthday,” said Skitch, firmly.

“All right, why don’t we say May 26th.”

“Are you nuts?” demanded Skitch. “That’s Memorial Day Weekend! That’s the day Trade blew up!”

“Well, it’s also the day I--became who I am today, really.”

Skitch shook his head definitively and took the very sorry-looking Melissa out of the basin. “That’s a terrible day for a birthday. Everyone’s gonna be all depressed.”

“Well, bad things happen, good things happen,” said Ebreth. “They don’t always come apart.”

“Unless you want to spend your birthday getting sobbed on by Khyrisse, I’d pick another day.” Skitch wrung the cat out sagely with a towel.

Don’t Mess With Belle: Meetings

“So, you have confirmation?”

Belle sighed and smiled. “Yes. Edyric’s taken the job, just as outlined. I got a white orchid from the Don and I’ve got meetings with both Praxis and Biblio.”

“And I’m in,” the man across the table said. “You won’t hear from me again, so everything better be in place.”

“It will be,” Belle said.

***

Edyric walked into the Mithril Dagger and strode to the back room, knocking the “100% Wyvern Free” sign off its hook.

“Okay, Vestrin,” she said, pushing aside the curtain. “You have five minutes. After that, someone dies.”

Shilree pulled a thought crystal from her pouch.

“I think we can make a deal Edyric,” she said.

***

Belle watched as the tavern emptied.

The gears were turning. People were in motion. Now all Belle needed to do was watch the pieces fall into place.

Just as she had planned.

Two Men and a Baby

It was hard not to catch sight of Schneider immediately. Today was no exception.

Khyrisse plunked down across the café table from the jester in the garish hawaiian shirt, tweed jacket, and plaid pants. “Hi, Schneider,” she smiled at her old friend. “You look a lot more like yourself than when I saw you last.”

“Touché, butterfly. How’s things with you and your Oddfellows Local?”

Khyrisse frowned a bit, but let it slide. “Kicking butt while I get the city in order, mostly! Val’s been spending a lot of time with Luthien... and Skitch has a girl friend, of sorts. I hear you and Roxy are on tour together?”

“Sure are. We woulda scheduled a gig here, but we couldn’t find a nightclub.”

“Orlen’s starting one, but it’s still under construction,” Khyrisse said sheepishly. “You’ll have to do a special performance for us once it opens.”

“So Her Laziness claims she’ll be up in time to join us in a couple of hours,” Schneider continued, and grinned at her. “Of course, you can’t really blame a girl for being worn out after scaling Mount Schneider all night...”

“Ack! Too much information!” Khyrisse covered her eyes, laughing.

“You’re not drinking your coffee,” Schneider pointed out.

“Oh...” She took a small sip. “Um, it’s probably best that I have a chance to talk to you in private first, anyway.”

“Dare I ask?”

“Well...” Khyrisse twisted her napkin between her hands. “It has to do with the... incident in the Abyss, Schneid.”

“Uh, would that be the topless whip fight?” he said with faint and futile hopefulness in his voice.

“Grendel, I really hope not,” she replied, with an equally faint grin.

“Our little, ah, Oyster-induced bump and grind?”

He sounded only slightly less optimistic with that one. Probably hoping she wasn’t about to bring up what he’d done to Ebreth afterwards. “That would be the one,” sighed Khyrisse. “I can’t seem to get away from trouble with timing around you, can I?”

“Ask me what the key to comedy is.”

“Pardon?” Khyrisse said, blinking.

“Just ask me.”

“Okay... What’s the key to co--”

“Timing!” he broke in.

Khyrisse laughed, then propped her head on her hand. “Do you have any idea what I’m trying to get at here? This isn’t easy.”

“Well, I’d say either you want to get back together, or you told your squeeze toy bout our roll in the hay and it’s causing some problems. Am I getting warm here?”

“N-o, not quite.” Told him? I told him months ago. Does this mean you didn’t tell Roxy yet? Oh, this isn’t going to be pretty... “It’s just that it had some, uh, well, unintended consequences.”

It was, Khyrisse reflected as she reached for her napkin, the best spit take she’d ever seen him do.

“You don’t mean...”

She nodded, peeking ruefully across at him through her bangs. “I’m sorry...”

“Paninaro! And it’s... mine?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, furiously pink by now. “Luthien can’t, uh, tell.”

Schneider hit himself in the forehead. “Holy tortellini. Well, I, uh, I’ll be there for you. I mean... Geez, Khyri.” His eyes were almost Vas-sized. Khyrisse suppressed a half-hysterical giggle. “This wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured it, but it’s not like I didn’t want to, y’know, have a family someday...” He looked up suddenly, a bit wildly. “Crud, I didn’t even think. About you. This is a good thing, right? I mean you are going to have the kid?”

“Oh, Grendel, yes. Excepting the, um, awkward circumstances, I’m very happy about it.” Khyrisse’s smile was the most genuine one of the conversation. “It sort of gives me a good reason to be mortal--I never did get around to this bef--”

“Hey!” He suddenly pointed accusingly at her coffee. “Are you supposed to be drinking that?”

She jumped, startled. “Um... not really, Schneid, but I’ve barely touched--”

“Gimme that!” He snatched the cup away. “Garçon! OJ! ...Sheesh, I can see I’d better stick close to you.”

“I don’t need another person to look after me,” Khyrisse sighed, trying to be more touched by his concern than nettled by the implication that she was taking lousy care of herself. “I’ve been on herbal tea for months.”

“Okay.” He raised his hands in surrender. “Khyri... Look, I know you don’t like being butted in on, but if... junior... is li’l Schneid Junior, you know, I’ve got to be a part of that. And I don’t know how, but...” His voice trailed off.

“We’ll figure something out.” Khyrisse spoke with more confidence than she felt. “We could share time or something. My parents took turns raising me most of the time, and I don’t think I’ve turned out that badly... do you?”

Schneider was too lost in thought to answer immediately, and then he realized he was lagging behind and hurried out a “No!” Khyrisse couldn’t suppress her nervous giggles anymore. “No, no, you’ve turned out great, really... I’m just... wow. This is a big thing. I hope I make a good dad.”

“I’m sure you will,” smiled Khyrisse. “Look, Schneider... please don’t tell anyone but Roxy about this, okay? I’d really rather not answer any more snoopy questions than I have to.” She leaned across the table and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Keep in touch.”

She left him in the café, a dazed and slightly goofy smile still on his face.

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