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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 13

New Math

“I understand!”

“Shhhhhh!”

“I understand!”

“Will you be quiet, Rat? She’s sleeping.”

The Rat jumped up onto the bed and delivered right into Ebreth’s ear. “I understand!”

“Ow! Rat!” Khyrisse stirred in his arms, murmuring something drowsy, and he stroked her hair reassuringly until she was still again. “Is this an emergency?” he hissed at the Rat. “Because I’m not getting up unless it is.”

The Rat hung his little head and looked soulfully up at Ebreth with his oil-drop eyes.

“Okay,” sighed Ebreth, after a beat, “all right, hold on.” He reached across to the nightstand, holding Khyrisse to his chest with his other arm as he flipped open his paperback Dostoevsky and tore a blank strip from the title page, then pulled the pencil he’d been using as a bookmark out of its place.



1 + 1 = 2. ET



He showed it to the Rat, who got a silly rat grin on his little face. “All right then,” said Ebreth softly, holding the slip of paper out to him. “Go on.”

The Rat took the message gingerly in his teeth, taking care not to smudge it, leapt to the carpeted floor with a little chirp and scurried down the hall to find Jack.

***

Khyrisse fumbled with the dream-apple, trying to peel it in one long strip without getting juice on her stupid skirt. “Why am I doing this again?” she inquired of Miyrr crossly.

Miyrr sat carefully on the bench next to the younger girl and gave her a waifish little smile. “Because it’ll tell us who you’re going to marry!”

“Gah! I’m not marrying anyone!” The knife slid, notching the strip close to severing about a third of the way down the side. Alarmed squeals went up from the other girls gathered around her, and even Khyrisse caught her breath, but the apple peel didn’t break. She laboriously cut the peel from the rest of the apple, hiked her skirt up over her knees, and hopped onto the bench.

“Okay,” she said, covering her eyes with her free hand, her doll cradled in the crook of her elbow. It kicked and burbled happily, its rainbow-rag braids swinging. “One, two, three!”

She threw the spiral of apple peel hard over her shoulder at the arboretum floor.

There was a communal, indrawn breath.

“What?” Khyri said, and turned around. On the path beneath her, the peel had broken into three pieces--the tight curlicue of the first third or so off by itself, and then the widening curve of the rest in two vaguely straight pieces, the shorter lying across the longer.

“What?” she repeated.

“E.T.!”

“I knew it! Did you see how he was looking at her?”

“My brother told me she was swimming in the fountain at Tremontagne. Swimming!”

“Khyri,” Miyrr said faintly, staring down at the peel. “You’re going to marry the Grand Duke.”

“I am not!”

“You have to if he asks!”

“Why would he ask her?”

“I’d rather be Grand Duke,” Khyrisse said sulkily.

“Girls can’t be Grand Duke. Duh.”

“I think,” Karel said, pushing himself lazily back and forth on the swing with one foot and grinning, “that E.T. stands for Ebreth Tor.”

“The pirate?!?”

“That’d be kinda cool,” Khyri agreed, grinning back at her brother. The doll went off into a carol of baby laughter. “He’d better not steal my stuff, though. I’m going to be a merchant.”

“It figures Khyrisse would marry a pirate.”

“She’s such a tomboy...”

***

Jack was putting the finishing touches on the equation adjustment he had been working on. It had taken him all night to read the book on magical principles, and he was sure he didn’t understand half of it. Fortunately, he did know enough about his own magical nature to be able to make the mathematical adjustments necessary. Now he just needed to see if Khyrisse would give it a shot... and if Amatsu would be interested in trying it out.

He was about to head over to Ebreth and Khyrisse’s room when there was a skritching on the door. Jack opened it to see the Rat, jumping up and down with a scrap of paper in his mouth.

It didn’t seem to be chewed into any sort of topological analog Jack immediately recognized. The torn edges didn’t seem to follow any particular mathematical curve, either.

It was a few more seconds before it occurred to Jack to read the paper.

“Yes!” he shouted

“Thank you!” the Rat agreed..

This certainly precluded Jack going near their room until they came out of it. “Maybe he’ll let me be an usher,” he said happily to himself, taking the pencil from behind his ear and correcting the equation.

“Thank you?” the Rat said as Jack handed the slip of paper back, as if to ask the mathematician what he was supposed to do with it. Jack pointed back down the hall. The Rat got the idea.

Jack turned back into his room, smiling broadly. Suddenly a thought hit him, and he felt chills run down his simulated back. Oh, flark... now I have to ask Aithne out!

Jack sat down, biting his lip nervously. Maybe I can perfect this a few hours more, he thought.

The pencil went back to perfecting the bodyform simulation, but the mind operating it was miles away...



The message the Rat left outside the door to Ebreth Tor and Khyrisse Starshadow’s room now read “1 + 1 = 1.”

Scorpion’s Nest: You Snooze, You Lose

Outside the mansion, Nox was busy peeling the skin off a rabbit.

“You’re sure they’re in there?” Camaro said. “All of ‘em?”

“The Joker and the tedious heterosexual slut headed off somewhere, and I haven’t been able to ascertain the mathematician.”

Camaro frowned for a quick moment.

“You think we’ll be able to take them?” asked George.

“If my friends are all they were promised by the Trade Assassin’s Guild,” said Stump, gesturing over his shoulder at the team of seven surly looking dwarves, “we should be able to take ‘em easy. Remember now, save Tor for Tucson.”

“And leave the elves for me.” Nox licked the inside of the rabbit skin and frowned. “I hope it’s big enough for the male. I wish I had a chance to measure him before experimenting.”

“Leave me the paladin,” Camaro said.

“Look,” sighed George. “Can we stop taking dibs and just blow out the entrance already?”

“My pleasure,” said Nox.

Camaro Pearl cracked her knuckles. If she was lucky, the mansion had enough rooms to get lost in. She figured five minutes was all she needed.

There was an explosion as Nox cast his spell, and the dwarves started streaming forward, hatred and death in their eyes as they whistled.

Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho

“A thousand pardons, milady,” said Sennett. “But we’ve been breached.”

“What?” Khyrisse threw herself out of bed, the last vestiges of her shattered dream trailing off into nowhere, and charged furiously into the hall.

“Always something,” sighed Ebreth, unable to be more than perfunctorily annoyed with the situation just now, and grabbed his sword.



With a roar of magic and a splintering crunch, the door blew in and nasty-looking dwarves began storming into the living room.

“That’s impossible!” exclaimed Mina, leaping to her feet. “Magically partitioned pocket dimensions shouldn’t be subject to--”

Aithne whipped her arm around and frost enveloped the angry little men. There were five of them in the foyer now, and they all turned and whipped out crossbows, all trained on Aithne.

This is not good, she had the chance to think.

The floor reared up in a bizarre wooden wave then, between the women and the dwarves, and all five crossbow bolts thunked into it.

Rani stood with both gloves pushed into the wall behind her, her eyes very dilated. “God,” she said, “I wish more monsters would attack me inside a fucking magical construct.”

An easy chair went galloping across the living room into an unctuous-looking elf as he pushed through the blasted doorway. “Animate furniture!” he cried in delighted abandon, unbuckling his belt.



“And he called me a liar because I said my mom whapped me when I said something mean to someone I don’t like,” said Skitch, hunkering under his coverlet fort. “But she did! I called Rani a bomination, and Khyrisse smacked me.”

“What did you call her an abomination for?” asked Thalia.

“Oh, well, have you noticed how she’s really rude to everyone?” said Skitch. “Tarrin says it’s because she’s got bad genes. She’s half-Diari, and half-Diari babies don’t come out right.”

Thalia was going to say something to that, but then there was an explosion from the front of the mansion, a scream, and a really creepy chorus of whistling.

“What in Corellon’s name!” cried Val’s voice, in the hall outside the library.

“We’re under attack,” called back Vas’, whizzing past.

Skitch crawled out of his fort. “Well, that’ll make Khyrisse happy,” he said philosophically. “Displaced aggression really works for her.”

Where The Sun Don’t Shine

The living room was filled with the chaos of battle. Taken entirely unawares, most of the Rat Pack hadn’t even made it into combat yet; the dwarves were still trying to get to Mina, Aithne, and Rani, who they could presumably have made short work of, but the sofa kept pouncing on them. “Fuck with me in my element,” muttered Rani.

Nox, in his deviant manner, was running after an animated table with his pants down to his ankles. He had just cornered the shivering piece of furniture when he saw the Rat up on a shelf.

“Now that is something I haven’t done in a while,” he said licking his lips. “Come here, little rat.”

As the elf grabbed for him, Seeker of Places bit his hand hard enough to draw blood. Nox didn’t seem to notice. “Now, my little furry one. Now for some fun.”

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