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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Negotiations and Love Songs: Part 3



Don’t Mess With Belle: Priorities

Shilree put her finger to her lip to tell Edyric to be quiet. She then removed a thin piece of jade from her pouch and snapped it in two. A soft, high-pitched squeal filled the room, then faded beyond normal hearing. “Now we can talk without being overheard or spied upon.”

“Whatever,” said Edyric. “What do you want?”

“That crystal gives you the basics of what I know. Lotus might still be alive up on Bane, but... I don’t want to mislead you Edyric. What I saw may have been nothing more than a Gilan mind game.”

“And you’re telling me this why?”

Shilree looked down at the table. “Honor,” she admitted. “I--owe her one. I made an attempt to locate her but was captured by Gila. Maybe you will be more successful since Gila is not on the lookout for you.”

Edyric frowned. The Diarian’s body language seemed sincere. “Your letter mentioned a job.”

“Yes. The information about Lotus is free, but I may be able to offer more. I--have access to a means of transport to Bane.” Edyric raised an eyebrow. Diaria was notoriously anal about controlling its technology. She wondered if the government knew Shilree was cutting this deal. “I’m willing to provide it to you if you take the assignment encoded in the crystal.”

Edyric sighed and lifted it to her forehead. “I hope there’s not some lame-ass psionic attack in here,” she said. “Not like it could get past my psi-defenses or anything, but I like the beer in the Dagger, and I’d hate to get kicked out for killing someone back here.”

“Don’t worry Edyric,” smirked Shilree.

She concentrated on the crystal, which lit up as it conveyed its contents. When the light dimmed, she looked up and smiled at her oft-adversary. “You have yourself a deal,” she said.

***

The mission before her wasn’t the kind she was usually proficient at... she was an archer, not a detective. Still, she mused that she was perfect for the job.

“I suspect Belle of planning to kill the Emperor,” Shilree’s message had said. “As she is currently occupied outside Diaria it is likely that she will hire an assassin. I wish you to use your contacts Edyric to find this assassin and stop him or her.”

Edyric laughed. “Easy enough,” she smiled.

“Also I wish you to ascertain that Belle does not attempt to return to Diaria herself to complete the assassination.”

“I know she’s not,” Edyric sighed to herself, “but if all it takes to fulfill this mission is a vacation to Sturtevant, I’m there.”

She headed through the rebuilt town square and began her journey north.

A Rocky Reintroduction

“You told him you were going to switch the baby off with him?” Ebreth frowned.

“Well, or something,” Khyrisse said. “We don’t have to decide this yet... we have months to figure something out.”

“Who exactly does this “we” include?”

“Ebreth, don’t. Not now.”

He acquiesced, but not happily. She probably should have given him more warning before inviting Schneider and Roxy over, but she didn’t know how much longer they were going to be in New Trade, and she was hoping the visual evidence that she and Schneider already belonged to different couples would help reassure Roxy and Ebreth that they weren’t after each other.

Unfortunately for her plan, Schneider showed up alone. “Roxy couldn’t make it,” he lied. This probably meant he hadn’t quite gotten the nerve up to tell her about the baby yet. “That’s too bad,” said Khyrisse. “Come on in.”

“Good morning,” growled Ebreth, like there wasn’t anything he found all that good about it.

“Hiya Skitch,” said Schneider, passing the boy. Skitch didn’t move from the model ship he was building. “Hi,” he said, minimally. “Morning, Eight,” Schneider said with forced but moderate cheer, sat at the table with Ebreth, and took a donut from the basket. “How ya doing?”

Ebreth’s eyes were narrow and blue over his coffee. “Been better,” he finally said, very softly, “been worse. How about you, Three?”

Schneider gave him a really weird look and opened his mouth to say something witty, but his curiosity won out. “Three?” he said. “Why three?”

“Got me. Why eight?”

“You’re the eighth life I’ve saved since the Madness,” the jester said without balking.

Ebreth Tor put down his coffee cup and stood up.

“What?” Khyrisse shook her head dizzily. “Look, can we just--”

“How dare you class yourself with the people who saved my life,” hissed Ebreth, “you self-indulgent, hubristic, pathetic excuse for--”

“You’re the one who asked,” Schneider pointed out.

“Please?” said Khyrisse, tightly.

“After I say this.” Ebreth leaned across the table, his teeth together. “He was a mean man, that last Ebreth Tor. I don’t know what he did to you, but I’ll take your word for it it was bad. He did a lot of evil things, and I’m sorry for that. But. For all that he did. Evil as he was. He never. Once. Asked a man to thank him for leaving him alive. Not killing someone is the default, Schneider!” Khyrisse could hear each syllable as it fell from him, a rising, staccato bark. She felt suddenly ill. “You don’t get. A prize for that. I don’t care if you kill me, I am damned if I will let you pat yourself on the back for not doing it. Not killing a man. Is the default. Don’t you EVER. Tell ANYONE. You saved. My. Life. Again.”

“Ebreth,” Khyrisse whispered, strangled. There was an expression in the blue eyes that reminded her much too vividly of how he looked when he talked about Hell.

He turned on his heel and stalked out, his shoulders shaking with tension, and slammed the front door behind him.

His half-cup of coffee sat abandoned on the living room table. Khyrisse picked it up with faintly shaking hands. She thought back to Princess Kristin, telling her how Schneider had nearly killed Ebreth... to Sennett repeating for her the awful things Schneider had said to her broken lover... to the horrible, horrible day when Ebreth tried to kill himself in Skitch and Kit’s room.

Khyrisse shuddered, holding the cup over her mouth in clenched hands, as if she were praying.

“It’ll be okay,” Schneider told her soothingly. “He’ll calm down.”

The patronizing tone in his voice sparked Khyrisse’s fury harder than a counterattack would have. I thought he was getting better, and he wasn’t, and now he’s tried to hurt you twice. ...I’ll never let him anywhere near us again. “You shut up!” she screamed, stung to tears by her own broken promise and whirling on the startled jester with all her displaced rage. “I don’t want to hear it from you right now. I don’t even want to see you now!”

“Khyri,” said Schneider, after a shocked moment of silence, “you know, I didn’t say anyth--”

“Nothing except calling the man I love a number!” Khyrisse threw the coffee cup violently to the ground. It shattered there, and Sennett knew better, apparently, than to materialize and try cleaning it up right now. “You have no idea what he’s been through. I tried to understand what you did to him and why.” Her voice shook. “I tried to be patient. I didn’t want to drag it up when you were having such a bad time, I didn’t want to lose our friendship. Dad did some disturbingly crazy things too, after all...” She flung her shaking arm towards the door that Ebreth had just slammed. “But I thought it necessary to go to Hell for that man, I took a blood oath to save him or die trying, I told you he’s not the same Ebreth Tor and you said you believed me, and you still nearly murdered him twice and you STILL don’t believe me. CAN’T YOU TRUST ME FOR ONCE IN YOUR FUCKING LIFE?”

Khyrisse escaped out the front door, sobbing.

***

There was a heavy pause. “Twice?” said Schneider to himself, looking more bewildered than anything else.

“I think you’d better leave now,” Skitch said.

Not the Most Well-Adjusted Saturday Morning in Recorded History

Ebreth came back before Khyrisse did, looking exhausted and ashamed. Skitch was writing quietly in his workbook. “Where’s your mother?” sighed Ebreth.

“She lost her temper and then she went out for a walk.” Skitch traced neat looping letters. “You two have a lot in common sometimes.”

Ebreth laughed shakily.

She looked pretty awful when she came in. She’d clearly been really crying. “I’m sorry,” Ebreth said, tiredly. “I didn’t mean to start a fight, I just, I lost my temper. It won’t happen ag--”

“No, that’s not it at all!” Khyrisse half-screamed, pulling at her own hair in anguish, and fled back out the door, sobbing anew.

Ebreth watched her go in total confusion, and then he just poured the rest of his coffee down the sink. “I think I’m going back to bed,” he mumbled.

“This plotline stinks,” said Skitch.

Khyrisse crawled into bed without taking her boots off. “Okay,” she said, in a raw, weary voice, “I don’t want to discuss this now, Ebreth, but I’m not angry with you for defending yourself. Grendel, after all you’ve taken, you deserve that. I’m upset because Schneider... because he was my friend, before any of this, before I ever even slept with him the first time, and I hoped--I wanted things to go back to the way they were, so much. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.”

“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I won’t make you choose.”

“I don’t want to talk about this now!” she half-sobbed. “I just want to lie here in bed until I feel better about any of it. Please!”

He held on to her and didn’t say anything else wrong.

“You guys aren’t kissing, are you?” Skitch yelled around the corner, warily.

“No, Skitch,” sighed Khyrisse.

He pushed the bedroom door the rest of the way open. “I didn’t think so,” he said. “You weren’t making enough noise. Can I come in bed, too?”

“Mrrrrao!”

“Melissa?” said Skitch, sleepily.

“Mrrrrao!”

“Come on up, Melissa! There’s room for you!”

“Mrrrrao!”

Ebreth watched Khyrisse, her enfolded apprentice, and his damn cat drifting in and out of sleep in the circle of his arms. No more shouting, Tor, he half admonished and half pledged to himself. No more storming out. Keep your head on, this is going to be hard enough with you in top form. Just hold it together. He closed his eyes wearily. Somehow.

Don’t Mess With Belle: Motivations

There was a cry from the other room. “Anj?” Shilree said, alarmed. She charged into the room to find Anjra in tears.

***

Without warning, Belle felt a twinge in her throat. Then she couldn’t breathe. Her hands went reflexively to her neck, and something warm and wet ran over them, soaking into her tunic, flowing across her chest. Then the searing pain hit her head and she lost all sense of balance. She fell to the ground and felt her vision darkening, her life slipping away...

Some moments later, it was gone. She cursed the emperor repeatedly and checked to make sure her hands were dry.

***

Somewhere in Shikintu, Jhaeran lay in a ditch, his throat slit, his body quickly going cold.

“That’s one less of your kind to menace humanity.” Marcus Blackbone prepared another dagger.

Resolution, For The Moment

“I just wanted to get out of the house before I did something really counterproductive like take a swing at the guy,” Ebreth said. “Didn’t I tell you I wouldn’t leave you without giving you a chance to explain?”

“I told you I wouldn’t let Schneider anywhere near us again if you’d only trust me and get better,” said Khyrisse, more rapidly than he’d ever heard her say anything, “and I did!”

“Khyrisse,” he said seriously, “I’m not catatonic anymore. I don’t need to be protected from him. Just let me vent what I need to without sending you into hysterics, and I’ll be fine.” He paused. “What do you want?”

“I don’t know what I want.” She pressed her forehead. “I want to have the kind of relationship with Schneider that I used to. Where we could understand each other, and trust each other’s judgment--I don’t know if that’s possible, now.” Khyrisse dug her fists into her eyes, trying not to cry. “I don’t want him to go over the edge again, and I don’t want you to go away.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Ebreth.

“Hold me.”

Trade Federation: Dreamers

“Garal,” said Khyrisse, with a smile for the planeblazer as he led Keri into her New Trade office. “I haven’t seen you since New Year’s. Is this the friend you told me about in your message?”

“It’s, uh, good to see you again too,” Garal said, concentrating on not blushing. “Yes, this is the envoy I was telling you about, Keri Cloverleaf.”

Keri curtseyed halfling-style. “Pleased to meet you,” said Khyrisse. “Garal tells me the Land of the Little Folk is interested in the Federation?”

“We are,” Keri affirmed, “but not... just yet. We’re still in the exploratory phase. We need to be assured of economic stability before we can gather the popular support we need for the independence movement, and we need our independence before we can make any kind of treaty without Lord Eric riding herd on our behinds, if you know what I’m saying.”

“Well, I think I can sympathize with that situation,” murmured Khyrisse, bemused. “I’m--afraid New Trade is contractually bound to remain neutral in your independence movement, much as I might personally like to see it succeed.”

“We’ve got that part covered,” said Keri perkily. “What I want to know--on the qt, of course--is what our trade options are if we do go that route.”

“That,” smiled Khyrisse, “I should be able to help you with.”

Garal zoned out as the two women discussed economic details beyond his comprehension. Instead his attention wandered to the desk and then up Khyrisse’s arm. His eyes came to rest on the top button of her tunic. His mind wandered back to the time that he accidentally walked in on her and Ebreth. He smiled slightly as he remembered her kneeling on the sofa, golden brown hair cascading down her bare shoulder, the intense look on her beautiful face...

“Hello, Garal!” Keri’s voice snapped him back to reality. “Garal, are you with us?”

“Huh? Uh?” Garal turned beet red.

“Can you translate this for us?” asked Khyrisse, looking at him oddly. “It’s in Tobrinese.”

“Sure,” he mumbled, as he took the documents and buried himself in them.

***

“Okay, Garal. What was that all about?” Keri asked, as they left the Federal Building together.

“What was what?”

“Gimme a break, Garal. It’s me.” The blonde halfling shook him by the shoulder, grinning.

Garal lowered his voice. “I was, uh, thinking about Khyrisse, that’s all. I sort of walked in on her in November, and--”

“Naked?” anticipated Keri, sympathetically.

“Uh, well, mostly, yes,” blushed Garal.

“Getting it on?” said Keri. Garal just nodded. “Oh no, not again! Haven’t I told you to listen before you go opening closed doors?” Garal looked down in embarrassment, and she giggled. “I’m just teasing.”

They walked on in silence, towards the Rat Trap. Khyrisse had put a set of apartments in on the second floor, for the personal use of the Rat Pack, and Garal was staying in one temporarily. He’d been thinking about having his own little cottage constructed here. If Ti’Ashentes was going to declare its independence, though, maybe he should move back there. Maybe it was time to banish his old ghosts once and for all.

“Are you in love with her?” Keri interrupted his musing.

“What?” Garal turned scarlet. “With Khyrisse? No!”

“It’s okay if you are, you know. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Really, I’m not! It’s just, she was my goddess, and now she’s, uh, mortal... It’s just hero worship, really, and a little bit of, uh...”

“Blind lust?”

“Something like that,” mumbled Garal, blushing.

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