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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 9

Mina Paris, Valedictorian

“Ancient Celtic worships were one of the few true forms of hybrid magic, actually,” recited Mina.

“Really,” Rani said disinterestedly.

“Yes, actually, it’s commonly believed that they tap directly into the magical infrastructure, unlike contemporary magics... that’s part of why Trillarillia was able to exert such a great level of influence when most of the deific magics were cut off during the Madness.”

“What is Madness?” asked Aithne.

“Everyone on Ataniel temporarily acted like they lived in Rimbor,” said Rani.

“Bad old magic made everyone bad,” Mina said, slowly enough to be clear but not enough to be patronizing.

“Magic not bad,” Aithne said, confused. “People bad.”

“Sign this girl up for the NRA,” sighed Rani.

“Anyway,” Mina continued, “since no one nowadays taps into the energy used by the ancient witch magics, there’s a lot more available than standard spellcasting or deifics.”

“Do you understand a word you’re saying?” said Rani.

“Of course,” said Mina. “I did my senior thesis on alternative magic sources.”

“Of course you did.”

“So theoretically,” the young sorceress persisted, “Aithne should have access to a significant amount of magical potential, even if she can’t use more than a bit of it at a time. And because the Celtic worships connect directly to the magic of Ataniel, they should have particular effectiveness in metamagical circumstances--manipulating magic itself.”

“Mina,” Rani said slowly, “you’re not actually making a point here, are you?”

“Well, yes,” said Mina. “Our biggest problem this mission has been finding magic items to waste on each wormhole. What if Aithne could remagick the ones we’ve got?”

Both women turned to look at the cute little witch, who smiled blithely back at them.

“Worth a shot,” said Rani.

“I’ll get Jack and Schneider.”

***

“Can you, uh, put again magic in the ball?” Jack asked. Schneider waggled his fingers and pointed at the orb. Actually, Aithne understood Jack’s simple Dalen better than the male showgirl’s hand gestures by now, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings by saying so. “I can,” she said slowly, “but I think that ball is big magic for me. I am small magic,” she admitted. Aithne felt bad about it. Here was her chance to be useful to her new clan, and she wasn’t up to the task. “Mabye Khyrisse or Val must put.”

“What if we had a lower-level artifact?” Mina suggested. “Can you put magic in something smaller?”

She hoped she was right that they were asking her to recharge magic items, not create them. Aithne had never learned how to bind the Goddess to objects, but she could certainly reroute some minor magic through a path that had already been forged. “I think,” she said humbly. “I can try.”

Schneider cleared his throat. “How about this?” he said, producing a hand mirror from his bag. “It’s just got a couple of magic mirrors, nothing too bad-ass.”

Rani hit him in the back of the head. “Thanks for mentioning this before we go to Diaria, dildo!”

“I, uh, I didn’t want to wreck it,” mumbled Schneider, not meeting her eyes. “It’s saved my life a couple times. Thought it was better to rip off some Diarian bozo. But if witchy girl can put the shoop-boop-a-doop back in it when we’re done, I, uh, I’d be okay with it.”

Aithne didn’t understand that exchange, but she took the mirror obediently. It was clearly set up to channel simple communication spells. Aithne could handle that. “I can,” she said, “but mirror already is full of magic.”

“Not for long,” smiled Mina.

Trust Your Friends, and Pass the Dynamite

“Shilree,” said Praxis, in his most unthreatening voice, “did you have an idea there might be Iron Tyrants in there?”

“No.” She shook her head. “No I thought they were illithids. If I suspected beholders I would have cast some defensive spells first. Not that it made much difference in the end. But I think I will be memorizing a lot of dispels and protections from now on. We do not want to be caught unawares again.”

“Shilree.” She looked at the psionicist. “Why did you give Kit protection against beholders?”

“I--” A confused look skimmed across Shilree’s face. “I don’t know. I think I just gave it to him because I was giving him the headband already. If--if I sensed Iron Tyrants, why didn’t I protect myself?” She shook her head. “No, it must have been coincidence. ...Listen about that mine. The rest of you go on and pitch camp. I will go take care of it.”

“We should stick together, Shilree,” said Flicker. “This is no place to be wandering alone.”

“Look Sunny,” said Shilree in Diari, “this is a matter of Diari security. I can’t let an open mine of diantri go unchecked. If we get out of this alive it could be weeks if not months. Then I would have to send some agents back here. I really should take care of it now.”

“Alright, but I’m going with you,” said Flicker. “You could use someone watching your back--and someone who can call for backup if the mine isn’t fully abandoned yet.”

Shilree opened her mouth like she was going to argue, but she just sighed and said “Okay.” To the rest of the group, in Dalen, she said “Flicker and I will be back soon.”

Praxis gave Flicker a questioning look. Flicker’s stoic face gave him his reply. The psionicist nodded. “Right. You be careful.”

***

“What is with her?” Jennifer Toleski said.

“They’ve gone to collapse the mine as we discussed before,” explained Praxis, who had learned Diari several years ago. “Their government would want to seal it, to prevent a threat to those with the Gift, no doubt. So she wanted to do it herself, rather than send another group out here in the future.”

“Then why didn’t she just say so? Geez, talk about an addiction to cloak and dagger routine.”

“She’s simply acting on her duty as a Diarian governor,” shrugged Praxis. “She’s a bit of a loner by nature, and I’d imagine torture gives one a few additional trust issues. If you need to know something, just ask her politely but firmly. Shilree’s not prone to openness, but she is a team player.”

“Will the two of them be all right, doing it alone?”

“I’d trust Flicker with my life.”

***

Shilree walked to the edge of the mine shaft and looked down.

“Flicker,” she said, “stay here with the horses. When I say ride you’re going to want to ride like your life depends on it. This is going to be one big bang.”

Shilree took five ceramic and crystal ellipsoids from her trade pouch and laid them out one by one along the ground. “I didn’t want the others to see these,” she admitted. “They’re classified technology. But I guess if I can’t trust you, who can I trust?” She gave each egg-shaped device a half-twist around the midsection, eliciting a low click, and tossed it down the shaft. “Well get ready.” She took a flask of lamp oil out of her bag, lit it with a quick cantrip, and tossed it down after the explosives. “Ride!”

Shilree jumped onto the other horse and kicked its sides hard, not looking back. Flicker was already off. Behind them came a dull sound building to a deep rumbling. The ground around them shifted unsteadily, and columns of pulverized rock, dust, and flame erupted all around them.

“Shit!” yelled Shilree. “I think I used too much. Come on Sunny!”

The horses didn’t need any more urging as the hot cloud of destruction rolled along behind them. Then the shock wave hit and all four of them were thrown.

Flicker got up to his elbow and looked back. There wasn’t a crater, but the ground had collapsed, obviously sealing the tunnels of the mine.

“That is one less threat to Diaria,” said Shilree, looking very self-satisfied. “Unfortunately it means five less bombs for Gila, but I was careful to bring extras just in case. Are you okay?”

“That--was really pretty cool, actually,” Flicker admitted from the dusty, cracked earth where he’d tumbled, wiped the blood from his temple where a rock had struck him, and got up to check on his frightened steed, grinning.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

“Well, we do share a goal,” said Ebreth, stripping off his bloodied shirt. “Either that or he’s lying, but we’ve closed two wormholes so far and he hasn’t tried to interfere. Besides, Thermador has planar powers of his own. If he wanted to sabotage these things, what would he need us for? I think he’s on our side, he just--well, he’s a mercenary, Khyrisse, and probably an assassin, and he has a small-time tough’s notion of how to get what he wants.” Ebreth shrugged. “He’s going to be a pain in your ass, basically, but I doubt he’s a spy. He’s a soldier of fortune. He’d probably change sides if somebody paid him enough.”

“That’s reassuring,” muttered Khyrisse.

“We’ve teamed with unsavory people before. I’d keep him on a very tight leash, though. I don’t like the way he talks about Garal. Amatsu wouldn’t let him hurt him, of course, but--well, if he starts to get out of line, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for that.”

“Bonnie and Clyde,” said Khyrisse, with a wobbly grin.

“That’s us.” He leaned across to kiss her, then put his hand on the side of her face and looked at her seriously. “You want me to stay someplace else tonight?”

“No!” She flung her arms around his waist with something of a gasp. “No, don’t leave!”

He paused a fraction of a second. “I mean,” he said, “do you want me to go sleep on the sofa, Khyrisse. I’m not leaving, I thought you might want some time alone to, think.”

“So did I,” she said shakily, hanging on to him, “until I actually thought about you not being here tonight. Please stay. I can think with you here, I promise.”

“Well, if you put it that way,” he said softly, stroking the side of her head.

***

Ebreth Tor couldn’t sleep.

Not that he couldn’t sleep well, which he was used to by now. Nor that it took him a long time to fall into sleep, which it often did. No, he couldn’t sleep at all; he wasn’t even remotely tired. He sighed and sat up in bed, slipping Khyrisse’s arm from around him. Maybe he’d go read for a while. He wished he was in the middle of anything but Crime and Punishment. He slid his pillow under Khyrisse’s arm, where he had been. It was his way of saying he’d be back. He picked up the book, and then he set it down, slowly, and then he walked out of the room without it. “Sennett,” he said softly, as he shut the door behind him, “where is Orlen?”

Scorpion’s Nest: Compact of Souls

“Look,” argued the five-eyed fiend, “it’s no use to you this way, either. You can’t take it back to your watery domain while it’s bound to the dimensional fabric.”

“Coomara can wait.” The fishman threw back another slug of whiskey.

“But I cannot. I must feed, and soon. You need it for nothing more than your idiotic pride.”

“It’s all I have left in the world, now, isn’t it, laddie?”

“It doesn’t have to be,” the Fiend bargained. “I’m well-used to dealing in dreams, faerie. Give me this soul, help me liberate it, and tell me what you desire more. I tell you it shall be yours.”

Coomara hesitated a very long moment, and then he laughed. “Almost had me goin’, did ye, laddie?” He motioned at the bartender for another drink. “Nae, nae, we’re not in the habit o’ sellin’ off our own dear fates to the likes o’ ye. But I’ll tell ye what I will do. Give the soul back, find the way to loose it from this smelly shire, and I’ll catch a new one for ye.”

“How are you going to do that?” said the Fiend with Five Eyes, suspiciously.

“Oh, have faith, man! I know not yet, but I’ll find a way, on me mother’s wet grave I do swear it. It’s clare enough you can’t take a living soul your own self, after all, and I can. How about it then?”

“Will it be done within two weeks?”

“I so swear it, laddie.”

“That... might be satisfactory,” frowned the Fiend.

“Then bygod, I must celebrate with a drink!” Coomara shouted happily.

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