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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 14

Scorpion’s Nest: Unfinished Business

“I really shouldn’t be drinking,” Schneider said, finishing off his Mai Tai. “It’s not even noon, and sometimes I’m not a nice drunk.”

“I hear ya, stretch. Look, I know you’re down on your luck, but you can’t just throw in the towel.”

“I prefer to think of it as reassessing my goals at a more reasonable level. You know, I used to want to make people happy, wanted everyone to like me. Now I’d settle for them not hating my guts.”

“No one hates your guts, Schneider,” Vickie sighed. “Except maybe a ten-year-old kid, and, well, consider the source. When I was ten I hated my next-door neighbor because he had a Big Wheel and I didn’t.”

“You... may have something there,” Schneider conceded.

“Pluv didn’t pick me for my good looks, y’know. Although that is why he--”

“Oversharing foul! Two drink penalty.” Vickie happily ordered them up. “Personally,” confided Schneider, “I’ve sworn off this whole sex thing.”

“Is that a challenge?” grinned Vickie Dare.

“I’m serious,” he insisted. “I’ve done the ol’ horizontal mambo with a lot of women. Most of ‘em were meaningless sex and I have no idea where they are now, even what their names were. Of the other three, one’s married and the other two loathe me like Vastarin loathes turning away from a mirror.” Vickie chuckled, and Schneider, feeling the effects of the drink a bit, continued. “I mean, when life was busting my chops the worst, Roxy woulda been there for me if we were just friends. Instead she tossed thirty pieces of silver my way. Khyri, she was the staunchest friend in, like, the world, right up till she took a ride on the baloney pony. Never the same after that. Then we did it again, and I’m lucky if she notices when the bad guys torture me anymore. One more boot-knocking and she’d probably be doing it herself.” He drained his drink morosely. “I mean, things are much better with, like, Tila. You know, had plenty of good times, stole stuff from twits together, a zillion laughs I tell you. Sex woulda ruined that. Haven’t you ever known a guy who was, like, too good a friend to hop in the sack with?”

Vickie paused. “Is, uh, that rhetorical?”

Just then their attention was arrested by a large, green-haired man with a fish tail--as was the attention of everyone else in the bar. Greenie was in the process of draining an entire bottle of PGA in one long gulp. “Keep ‘em comin’, laddie,” boomed the fishman when he finished, in the thickest brogue Schneider had ever heard, and slammed the empty down on the bar. “Till the tides stop movin’ or I do!”

This was a mighty enough display of drinking to put a hush over even a Rimbor City bar, but there was something... else... making the hairs on the back of Schneider’s neck stand up. “Can you keep that guy distracted for a little while?” Schneider whispered to Vickie.

“A drinker like that? No problemo.” Vickie leaned across the bar and plucked an empty tumbler from the row of glasses, flashing such a charming smile at the bartender that he apparently couldn’t object. From her bag she took a metal thermos, whose bubbling contents she emptied into the tall glass. “Hey, big boy,” the secret agent grinned, sliding onto the barstool beside Coomara. “Come here often?”

“Nae more than I can help it, lassie.” He wasn’t looking particularly distracted. Schneider found himself wondering if Vickie knew what she was doing. He’d been hoping she’d start a bar brawl or something, not try to flirt with the guy.

“I hear ya,” Vickie said sympathetically. “I mean, the drinks they serve here...” She gestured at the bottle Coomara had just flicked open. “Well, they don’t exactly pack a lot of punch, know what I mean?”

Some of the other patrons were gaping at her, but the fishman seemed unfazed. “Aye, lassie, I’ve been thinkin’ much the same thing.”

“That’s why I B. my own B. when I’m out on the town.” Vickie indicated the thermos. “It’s the only stuff strong enough for me.”

“Indeed?” Coomara was suddenly a bit more interested. “Well, give old Coo a nip, then, and we’ll see if it’s all you claim.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Vickie demurred. “It’s much too strong... it’d lay you right out.”

“A challenge!” cried Coomara, thumping a big hand on the bar. “Give us a taste, lassie, and I’ll show ye how we hold our liquor back home!”

“If you insist,” Vickie sighed, the picture of unwillingness, and let the fishman snatch the tumbler.

“To yer health, then!” he cried, and chugged the entire drink.

“And to yours,” replied Vickie, grinning, as Coomara slumped over on the bar, quite passed out.

She’d succeeded in distracting greenie, no doubt, but the rest of the bar was paying more attention to them than ever. Schneider flashed her the thieves’ signal for ‘leave’ three times before she finally noticed it, hoping none of the other thieves undoubtedly in attendance sensed his desperation. “Pretty smooth, huh, stretch?” she grinned at him as they left the bar.

“Uh, yeah. Listen, I think we need t--” Schneider shook his head and gave in to it. “What was that stuff, anyway?”

“Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster,” she whispered, and winked. “I only pretended to drink it back on Starcross. I’ve had it ever since.”

“R--ight. Uh, anyway, Vickie, we’ve got to get back to the mansion after all. Looks like I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of.” He held up the object he had filched from Coomara. It was a small, glowing bloodstone sphere.

“That’s the spirit!” Vickie said, linking her arm through his. “C’mon, let’s go. I’m sure back at HQ they’re having a really boring time.”

Targets Acquired

Ebreth Tor stepped out of the shadows to save the Rat from a fate worse than death with a downward slash that severed the elf’s hand at the wrist. The Rat fell to the ground and fled squeaking in terror; Nox caught his own severed hand in his other one. “Even better!” he cried, looking at it rapturously as his wrist gushed blood. “I can combine autoeroticism and object fetishism!”

The five seconds or so that Ebreth stared at Nox in disgusted disbelief was long enough for Stump to stab him in the back. “Mahoney!” yelled Stump, as the pirate staggered and missed him high with his backhand. “Tor’s here!”

“I’m coming,” called the gladiator, bringing his spear around.

Ebreth smashed Stump back into Nox with a fierce check of his rapier. “Pull your pants up and cast some spells, you point-eared pervert!” the halfling barked over his shoulder, pushing Nox violently out of body contact with him.

“Always work, work, work,” moped Nox, fastened his pants, cast a quick healing spell on the stump of his right hand, and flew off to intercept Vas.



“Hey, you!” Camaro smiled at Marty, tackling him.

“Whoa, are you guys attacking us?” asked Marty.

“They are. I’m hoping to drag you off to neck.”

“Uh, shouldn’t I fight your friends? They are, uh, attacking us.”

“Look, muffin,” said Camaro, “if you keep me busy, then I can’t join them, so you’re more than holding your own against us.”

“Oh. Well, that makes sense, I guess.”

“You got a jacuzzi in this place?”

“Yeah! I’ll show you!”

Marty led Camaro off by the hand.

“I’ll kill you, Marty Hu, you mighty swordsman!” Camaro called out for anyone listening as she raced offstage.



“Hello, brother!” Nox smiled at Vas. “Why fight against us? Indulge yourself and join us.”

“Gee, no one’s tried to turn me to the dark side since St. Augustine,” Vas said. “Should I be impressed?”

“Impressed, no... but admit you’re a bit... aroused by the thought. You, me, a bottle of chianti, this rabbit wriggling around in our orifices...”

“You’re sick!” Vas shouted at the one-handed elf who was waving a half-flayed bunny at him.

“Ah, you’re from that end of Liratyn, then... the sexually repressed end. Come, let me liberate you! It’s culturally sensitive, not to mention...”

Vas punched the elven mage in the face.

“Ooh, you like it rough, huh?” said Nox. “You’re getting my nipples hard.” He pursed his lips to spread the blood like lipstick.



“Hey, guys,” Jack said, walking into the main room, “I think I’ve figured out a way to... wah!” Jack ducked as a dwarf sailed by him, steel claws slicing at his face.

“Get down, Jack!” Ebreth called from across the room. Apparently the mansion had been invaded. Another dwarf bit Jack on the knee, and Jack felt some sort of toxin release. Fortunately, he had no bloodstream to speak of, so it had no effect. Jack shook his leg to try to remove the dwarf.

“You’d think a magical construct like this would be resistant to being breached,” Jack mused. Orlen did something, and the biting dwarf’s jaws telekinetically released. Jack moved behind the divan. “Especially one cast by an archmage Khyrisse’s level...”

“Jack be careful,” Aithne said, suddenly appearing next to him. A third dwarf had lunged at Jack’s head from behind, but the temporally displaced sorceress had somehow transformed it into a pig which was now squealing around in circles.

“And if they had the capability to breach the spell, why wouldn’t they have the capability to...” Jack looked up at where Rani was animating the furniture against the evil looking halfling.

“Jack okay?” Aithne asked.

“Everybody! We need to get out! It’s a trap!”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Rani said. “We’ve got ‘em on the...”

That was when Stump activated the small device he had brought with him and all hell broke loose in the mansion.



“Whoa, what’s going on in there?” Marty asked, still fumbling with Camaro’s bra.

“Just a little dimensional manipulation the boys cooked up. We’re okay in here, though.”

“And you’re still not attacking anyone, right?”

“Only you, loverboy,” the punk storm giant grinned. Tired of waiting for Marty to unhook it, she grabbed the two cups of the brassiere and tore it apart.

“Uh...” Garal said from the door, “I’ve got to get myself into combat sooner.”

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