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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 12

Wednesday’s Child

Khyrisse sank down on the floor with her still-shaking son in her arms, rocking back and forth. “It’s okay, Skitch,” she soothed. “It’s all right, kiddo. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want his stupid stuff,” Skitch cried furiously into her shoulder.

“You don’t have to take it.” The boy was winding down into sniffling hiccups. “He’s overtired, that’s part of the problem,” she added up in Ebreth’s direction, then turned her attention back to Skitch. “You were out sneaking around again last night, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” he mumbled into her tunic.

“Hmm, I wondered why you were up so early.” She stood lifting Skitch, silently praising the strength spell that made that particular feat possible. “Come on, kiddo, let’s put you back to bed. I think we should all start this whole damn day over.”

“I don’t want to sleep in my bed,” mumbled Skitch, scrubbing at his eyes.

A look of pain flashed over his mother’s face, but she sighed and nodded. “That’s understandable.”

***

“Maybe I should have just stayed with Weasel,” Schneider said, nettled. “At least he bothered listening to me.”

“If I may, sir, I suggest discussing matters with Lady Starshadow in person, once she has had the opportunity to calm down.”

“No, no. Mea culpa, Sennett. Serves me right for opening my mouth when people start attacking me.” Schneider shoved his things angrily into his pack. “Serves me right for expecting anybody to have a little bit of sympathy for a guy in pain.”

“Most remiss of them, sir,” Sennett agreed blandly.

“Serves me right for trying to help. Considering someone’s feelings other than my own! What was I thinking! Jeez, when in Rome...”

“Quite unfortunate, sir,” said Sennett.

The tone of slightly bored accommodation in the spectral butler’s voice was the same one he used when Khyrisse was ranting meaninglessly, and realizing this did not improve Schneider’s mood. “Well it won’t happen again,” he snapped, slung his pack over his shoulder, and stalked out.

***

Khyrisse closed the door and leaned back against it, pressing her fingers against her closed eyelids. It’s hard work finding someone who cares about you in life, you’ll understand when you’re older. “Schneider, you bloody fool,” she whispered.

“Is he okay?” said Ebreth, quietly.

“Skitch is a tough little kid. He’s just shaken.” Skitch, who never had parents to lose. Skitch, left to a pair of spiteful old frauds who looked at his pointed ears and graceful build and hated him for them. Skitch, who spent years running from city to city, from one lowlife to another, desperately trying to keep himself alive without being used too badly in the process. He’ll understand when he’s older. “Funny how nobody thinks to ask me how a four-year-old managed on his own,” Khyrisse whispered, her eyes stinging, and let down the mansion blinds.

***

“Where the hell do you think you’re going, stretch?” asked Vickie, looking up from her whittling.

“I’m heading off on my own,” Schneider said grimly. “I’m not needed here.”

“You’re the most depressing jester I ever met,” Vickie grinned. “There’s got to be some way to market that.”

“Vickie,” Schneider sighed, “I’m not in a good mood right now, and--”

“And you need a beautiful woman to get you drunk and tell you your life doesn’t suck as much as you think it does?”

“Why? You see one?” he asked, momentarily going for the quick joke over the morbid sigh.

“There might be hope for you yet. Besides, if you ditch out, you’ll never find out what color underwear I’m wearing.”

“Clear,” said Schneider.

“Wh... how did you...?”

“Fine,” he said. “You’re paying.”

“What a fun date you are. By afternoon, I’ll have you doing Danny Kaye impressions.”

Take A Deep Breath, Pare Away The Psychodrama, And Just Say It

“And then,” sighed Khyrisse, “he said ‘We both know how easily your mother gets upset.’ While I was standing there!”

“Well, that part’s true,” Ebreth pointed out around the last of his scone.

She threw her hairbrush at him, laughing despite herself, and he ducked fluidly and effortlessly out of its way. “Stop that. I’m leading a flarking adventuring party. Does Schneider really think I’m going to have a miscarriage over Skitch failing to be seen and not heard? Let the boy speak his mind. Grendel knows he’s got enough on it.”

“And that was it?”

“Wasn’t that enough?” Khyrisse sighed. “Then he ran away and left a magic mouth behind to lecture me. I really don’t think he used to be this patronizing.” She puffed her bangs out of her face. “Maybe he was just funny enough that I never noticed it before.”

“It was probably Bane,” he said.

“Probably.” She looked out the bedroom window, her mouth wobbling a little.

Ebreth rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “Khyrisse,” he said, softly, “listen, about--us.” She whipped her head around too fast, her eyes impossibly wide. She looked like a cornered animal, and Ebreth winced. “Look, Khyrisse, I just want to say--we don’t have to get married. I don’t know what Jack told--”

“You don’t want to?” she cried, like she was unable to stop it from tearing out of her.

He just stared at her for a few seconds, half in shock, and then he took the couple of steps across to her. “No, of course I want to--of course I do. That’s not what I meant at--look, all I’m trying to say here, this isn’t an ultimatum. If you don’t feel the same way about me, I’m not going to leave you or anything, that’s all I--”

“--wasn’t what I meant to say either,” she said, strangled.

“Of course I want...” His hand closed around hers, and he looked at them together there, light and dark, as his voice trailed off. “This is really sucking,” he said, starting to laugh. “Can I--start over here?”

She nodded shakily, laughing too, and wiped at her eyes with her other wrist.

Ebreth held her hand to his lips and then he went down on one knee, pressing it to his chest. “Khyrisse,” he said seriously, his other arm going around her burgeoning waist. “Mother of my child. Love of my life. Will you marry me? I’ll love you if you say yes, and I’ll love you if you say no.” He looked up at her, his eyes twinkling just a little. “...But please say yes.”

A Little Hands-On Therapy

Thalia stood inside the door to her room. She’d heard some of the louder parts of the fight, but didn’t feel she knew these people well enough to go out. Then it sounded like Khyrisse was putting Skitch back to bed. The archmage’s footsteps receded, and the hall was quiet, and Thalia was just about ready to forget the whole thing when she heard suppressed sobs starting from the room next door.

Thalia flinched. She knew that feeling. You could be in a whole castle full of people who were supposed to love you and still feel tiny and threatened and alone...

The princess grabbed a pile of blankets off of her bed. “Skitch,” she whispered, knocking lightly on the door. “Skitch, can I come in?” She took the answering sniffle as permission. “You know, Skitch, when I used to feel awful, I’d climb out onto the roof and make myself a fort. I, um, don’t know if this place has a roof, exactly, but...” She held up her armful of blankets. “I brought fort-building materials.”

The boy crawled out from under his desk after a moment, cat hair and dust on his normally immaculate clothes. After a long, wary look at Thalia, he suddenly gave her a slightly shy grin. “I don’t think there’s a roof--but we could use the library, downstairs. Books are good for making forts with.”

Thalia grinned back. “The library it is, then.”

Yes

Khyrisse’s would-be panic attack hadn’t gone anywhere, exactly.

It was just momentarily lost in a flood of delighted wonder.

So was just about anything she had any chance of saying in response, so she just stood there and stared at him, almost enraptured, feeling his heart beat beneath her hand where he held it.

“Breathe, Khyrisse,” Ebreth whispered after a long moment, the amused twinkle in his eyes strengthening. She went abruptly scarlet, with a shivering gasp of laughter.

What is it about that look of knowing mischief that hypnotizes me like this? Khyrisse lifted her free hand to trail her fingers over the side of his face, curving down from one sparkling blue eye. “You’re not helping, you rogue,” she finally managed, dazed. “I... I was going to ask you why you wanted to marry me, but ‘mother of my child, love of my life’ seems to be a pretty good reason, doesn’t it?”

“I thought so.”

“Ebreth, you know, you don’t--you don’t have to marry me.” Khyrisse shuddered, fear starting to reassert itself through her awe. “It’s not as if I’m going anywhere...”

“Khyrisse,” he said, gently. “You never talk about me more than two weeks in the future if you can help it. You talk about New Trade in four years and you say ‘we’ by accident and just about have a heart attack. Well, I--I want to be ‘we,’ Khyrisse. Tomorrow, and four years from now, and forty-five years from now.”

She was trembling again, and she forced herself to stop, disbelief, elation, and raw terror warring in her heart. Ebreth made as if to let go of her, and she clasped his hands desperately. “No--don’t go--I, I’m just, scared,” she admitted, in a tiny and ashamed voice. “I know it’s not rational, but I can’t seem to help it... I’m horribly superstitious, all the more so now that I’ve seen from an immortal viewpoint how patterns try to repeat themselves.” She looked down, her voice dwindling to a whisper. “And I’ve felt so strongly about you for so long, now... Ebreth, sometimes it didn’t seem to matter if the deed was done or not.” You already have that much power over me, wailed a persistent and paranoid corner of her brain. My heartstrings wrapped around your hand, waiting for the day it clenches into a fist... Khyrisse shoved the nightmare image violently away, refusing to give voice to that part of her fear. Not Ebreth. He wouldn’t do that to me. Never.

“Khyrisse,” he said, as if he knew what she was thinking. “My love. Give me a chance, and I swear. I’ll make it all up to you.”

She closed her eyes, shaking, too terrified to give him the answer she would have liked to. With a sudden flash, she remembered then what Jack had said, when she told him she was afraid of being married: Wow, you must be if it’s a stronger emotion than your love for Ebreth.

Is it? she wondered, in a moment of welcome, fearless clarity. Here’s something Ebreth wants, something to show him how much I love him, that he’s worth loving, that being with him makes me happy. I have wished for a way to make him believe that... and here it is.

Patterns can repeat themselves in reflection, too. Say yes when you should have said no, and spend twenty years regretting it; say no when you should have said yes...

Khyrisse opened her eyes. With her heart pounding so hard she was convinced her ribcage was vibrating, she nevertheless leaned forward and kissed him.

“I love you, Ebreth. I’d be proud and happy to be your wife,” she said softly. “Yes.”

Interlude: Runaways

Dear Father,

You are no doubt livid by now, having discovered my absence. I wish to reassure you that I have chosen to leave of my own free will and am entering into no serious peril.

I know, Father, that you are only thinking of my best interests when you insist on executing my marriage by decree. I do not wish to disobey or disappoint you, but I cannot enter into such a contract, making at least two persons miserable, for no better reason than some arbitrary deadline.

Please understand that I leave Talaria now not only to assert my freedom, but also hoping that I may in my travels find the love that has not yet found me. However far they might take me, you and Telerie will always be close to my heart.

Your Loving Daughter,

Thalia

The King of Talaria read over her daughter’s note one more time. “I knew we should have told her about the curse.”

***

Elya Thapes, administrative aide to the Duke of Tobrinel, knocked twice and opened the door just enough to poke her head in tentatively. “Ma’am?”

Omeria looked up from the crop reports on her desk, almost happy at the interruption. “What is it, Thapes?”

“Ma’am, it’s... the news from New Trade.”

Omeria sighed and rolled her eyes. “What now? I sent them K’Mar... what have they got to have no sense of humor about this time?”

Elya Thapes didn’t answer, merely approached the Duke’s desk and opened the newspaper on it.

“TOBRINEL TESTING WILD MAGIC,” read the headline. The article below revealed far too many accurate details about project Tiamat to be coincidence. Elya took a step backwards as Omeria frowned and clenched her fists. “How did they get this information? We’ve had scrying wards...”

“I, ah, took the liberty of very carefully reading the article before bringing it to you, ma’am. All the information indicates they got information from the inside. The only possible leak could have come from a scientist who worked on the project, a mage named Mordecai. He escaped a few days ago.”

“And why was I not informed of this?”

Elya blushed. “Bloodscar... he asked me to give him a chance to recover Mordecai before bringing it to your, ah, attention.”

Omeria’s voice was cold. “You work for me, Thapes, not Bloodscar. I want to talk to him. Now.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Elya, backing away.

“And Thapes... Tell Ariath to see me as soon as she’s back from her ‘date’ with the vampire representative. I’m going to take charge of the recovery of this Mordecai myself.”

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