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The Book of Ataniel

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Men Without Souls: Part 5

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There was a light tap on the bedroom door. “Hey, Khyrisse?” Khyrisse’s heart crammed into her throat again at the sound of Ebreth’s voice, but the rest of his sentence was only “Garal thinks enough time has passed for us to safely shut another wormhole. Are you busy?”

“No, I’m coming.” She gave her face one last pass, smoothed out her rumpled tunic, took a deep breath, and opened the door as unshakily as she could. It wasn’t quite enough. “Are you all right?” said Ebreth.

Khyrisse sidestepped the question. “Ebreth,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes, “Jack--says he has three months to live.”

A tension Khyrisse hadn’t even realized was there flooded from Ebreth’s face. “He told you that?” he said, relief cracking his voice. “Thank God. It’s been hell keeping this to myself.” Khyrisse flinched hard; it wasn’t a phrase Ebreth used lightly. “Is there anything we can do about it?”

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “Believe me, if there is, I’ll find it.”

He nodded gratefully. “He doesn’t want us to drop everything over this,” he said. “If we could just work on this, in the background... He doesn’t want to dwell on it, but I’m damned if I’m going to take it lying down.”

“Oh, neither am I,” said Khyrisse, looking past Ebreth down the hall, her eyes intense.

She thought she had successfully changed the subject until he lifted her hand in his, gently, and uncurled her fingers from the mark on her palm where she had been crushing the Godmaker ring. She flushed unevenly, but he just touched his lips lightly to the angry rosette and closed her hand softly in his. “Let’s go save Rimbor City,” he said.

***

“This one is sorry to bring such incomplete news,” Amatsu whispered from Khyrisse’s shadow.

The archmage sighed. “I wish I’d followed my first instinct and left him at the goddamned bar. That’s not inconsistent with the story he gave me, though... he did say his employer was a positive material being, and it’s not that strange that they’d want to meet to talk things over. Is your cover blown?”

“I do not think so. Though the most... unusual... X!La seemed able to sense my presence, Mr. Thermador as yet has not.”

“Then keep watching him. Let me know if you learn anything else. And Amatsu?”

“Yes?”

“I really appreciate this.”

“This one lives to serve.”

***

“Well, the, uh, good news is I’ve found a fairly stable prime material location near a natural weakpoint... so I could lead us back to Rimbor pretty easily once we closed it, if no one minds the ethereal plane.”

“And the bad news?”

“Well, it’s in Diaria,” Garal admitted.

“My favorite place,” smirked Thermador.

“You and me both, Indiana Jones. Keep looking.”

“What’s wrong with Diaria?” Skitch wanted to know.

“Rani’s not allowed there, dear,” murmured Val.

The boy waved his hand dismissively. “She could stay here.”

“I really shouldn’t enter Diaria either,” Ebreth said, before a fight could ensue. “That other Tor had a rap sheet a mile long there.”

“You could stay and protect Rani,” Skitch suggested.

“If he wasn’t the one Tucson’s trying to kill in the first place,” said Rani, “that might be a nice offer, kid.”

“I am also in exile,” said Orlen.

“I, uh, went to Diaria once,” Jack said, a little uncomfortably, “and they, uh, tried to take me to a research facility to study me.”

“I’ll see you and raise you an execution after the experiment was over,” offered Rani.

Khyrisse sighed. “Stupid flarking country... all right, so that’s Ebreth, Jack, Rani, and Orlen to stay here, the rest of us to Diaria?”

“Is it near Irla?” asked Skitch. “Maybe Tarrin and Lorrini could meet us and help us. I bet Tarrin could get us an artifact we could close the wormhole with!”

“No, it’s in Srankaijhi, to the south,” said Garal.

“Oh,” said Ebreth. “Well, never mind then. We can all go.”

“Why?” said Khyrisse. “Where’s Srankaijhi?”

“It’s a big port city, like Tesin,” Orlen said, frowning, “but it’s in Eastern Diaria. Non-Diarians are not welcome there, or common.”

“Ever been to Srankaijhi?” Ebreth said quietly. “There’s non-Diarians all over the place. It belongs to the Alliejins,” he told Khyrisse. She put her hand to her mouth. “You could parade a two-headed woman down the street and everyone would assume she was there because the mafia wanted her there. The police aren’t going to bother us unless we start causing problems. That first Ebreth Tor was out there all the time and no one blinked. People assumed he was a slave a few times. They’re probably going to think we all belong to Orlen.”

“I’m not going to pretend to be a slave merchant!” said Orlen, aghast.

“You don’t have to pretend anything,” shrugged Ebreth. “No one asks too many questions in Srankaijhi. If someone asks if we’re for sale, just say no. It won’t get pushed.”

“I’m not going to like this place any better than Rimbor City, am I?” said Khyrisse.

“Little flaw in your logic,” said Thermador, taking a swig from his hip flask. “The police, the joes on the street may figure we belong there on account of the mafia. The mafia is going to know we don’t.”

“Actually,” said Ebreth, “the mafia is going to assume we do, and you can pretty much take that to the bank.”

“Another problem,” Orlen frowned, “is that it will be somewhat difficult to find the kind of magic item Garal’s looking for in Diaria. Could you use a psionic artifact, Garal?”

“M-aybe,” he said slowly. “But I’ve never done it before... I’d be running a bigger risk of screwing up.”

“We could ask Ebreth’s mafia friends for an artifact!” said Skitch. “I bet they could get one.”

“Ah,” said Ebreth, “I don’t think that’s really the best idea, all things considered.”

“Why not?” the boy demanded. “You said they wouldn’t hurt us... so maybe they’d help us.”

“Probably,” said Ebreth, “but Don Alliejin makes John Tucson look like Maxwell Silverhammer. I really don’t think we want to be getting into these guys’ debt.”

“I see your point,” Khyrisse winced.

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