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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 19

A Rescue, Of Sorts

Ebreth Tor didn’t actually have the healing proficiency.

It was one of those skills he got the idea every competent hero really ought to have. That last Ebreth Tor hadn’t been a hero, though, and so his nonweapon proficiencies were mostly either things like naval strategy and seamanship or gambling and massage.

He wasn’t on a ship, though, and he didn’t have any dice, and that untreated backstab was starting to make him a bit light-headed with blood loss. He wondered if he ought to mention it to the guards.

That was when Jack, Aithne, and Rani materialized in the cage with him, though, so he put it back on the bottom of his stack.

“Hey!” said one of the guards, turning around.

Aithne moved her hand and they both turned into pigs.

“Jack?” said Rani, through gritted teeth. “What are we doing in a cage?”

“Ebreth!” said the mathematician happily. “How are you?”

“Really good.” Ebreth gripped Jack’s arm.

“Congratulations.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Wouldn’t,” corrected Jack, smiling.

“Jack?” said Rani. “This isn’t a very large cage, Jack. Can we get out of it first and you can have your incomprehensible small talk second?”

“Oh,” said Jack. “Uh, right. Uh, how do we do that?”

“You all squash very, very hard in the other direction and let me through to meld with the lock.”

“No, I’ve got it,” said Ebreth, drawing a long pick from his inside pocket. “You know this means it’s your turn now, Jack.” Jack blushed. “A deal’s a deal.”

“Can we, uh, talk about this, uh, later?”

“Seconded!” said Rani, and frowned at her sleeve. “Tor, you’re bleeding on me.”

“I will heal,” said Aithne.

Usually magical healing gave you the sensation of something happening, sort of a warm building glow. Aithne touched Ebreth’s back and the dull pinching pain between his shoulder blades was just gone. The faint dizziness was gone, too. “Thanks,” he said, and clicked the door open.

As the four of them piled out, one of the pigs came over and started chewing on Aithne’s skirt. “What is that?” the girl asked Jack, pointing at it.

“Pig,” said Jack.

“Bad pig,” said Aithne, and smacked its nose.

“She can turn men into pigs?” said Ebreth.

“It’s too easy,” said Rani, “I’m not going to say it.”

“Ebreth,” said Jack, “you forgot your lockpick.”

“Leave it. I’ve got another one.”

Jack looked confused. “Why? Is there something wrong with that one?”

“Naah,” he said, looking back at the swinging door of the cage, the thief’s tool still jammed in the sprung lock. “It’s just a little constructive criticism.”

A Woman After Jonah’s Own Heart

-Rani here. ... Yeah, same to you, you little creep. Look, we found Tor. ... Yeah, he’s fine. Tell your mother. ... Yeah, everything’s fine. We’re investigating the Tucson complex now. ... Tell her I’m always careful. ... No, I most certainly will NOT tell him she loves him. Monas H. Lucifer. ... Tell her she can blow me. Waste your own message spells if you want to ship treacle back and forth. Rani out.-

Soul Mates

“She said something I’m not allowed to say,” Skitch informed Khyrisse.

The archmage was too relieved to be pissy. “How about it, Garal?”

“It’s good,” he assured her, standing on top of the altar of Scala to reach the rift in the abandoned temple. Khyrisse looked a little sadly at the tapestry of the stately golden-haired goddess in full plate mail. None of the other gods had been close enough to her that she would have called them friends, exactly, but they had been her colleagues, and their destruction still hurt her heart. “This wormhole goes through Kersten. That’s right across the strait from Rimbor. We can get back from there in no t--”

“Khyrisse Starshadow,” interrupted a quiet voice.

She turned; it was a priest, and from the insignia a priest of Scala at that. “We’re not looting anything,” Khyrisse said hurriedly. “We’re trying to close--”

“A message,” said the priest, still quietly, and handed her a scroll tube. “From a friend.”

She hesitated, but took it. “Who--”

He was gone as quickly as he had arrived.

“Is it me,” grumbled Khyrisse, “or are there far too many people in this city who can do that?”

Schneider cleared his throat. “Uh, Khyri?” he said quietly, still not quite meeting her eyes. “Not to complicate matters or anything, but this kind of slipped my mind a bit in the big combat back there...”

He held up the glowing bloodstone sphere that was John Tucson’s soul.

***

“Not a problem,” said Weasel smoothly, and took his briefcase from the wall. “I’ll need you to keep his people out of my way for at least five days, though. True practice of the art takes time, and--hcckkakh!”

John Tucson wasn’t actually all that high-level. Mahoney, at least, could probably kick his ass in a straight fight. It was his ruthless political maneuvering that won him the respect and fear of the city, not his personal combat prowess.

Weasel, however, was a zero-level craftsman. His neck snapped with a sickening crunch under the crime lord’s narrow hands.

George Mahoney watched with bland surprise as the torturer’s corpse hit the floor. “Why’d you do that, boss?”

“I’m--not sure,” the Scorpion replied.

***

“It’s from Octavian,” Khyrisse said, scanning the scroll. “He... Schneider? What’s wrong?”

The jester had teetered, looked like he was going to pass out for a moment there. “I’m--not sure,” he said, and put the soul back in his pocket. “Just felt... well, it’s gone now.”

RCSRTYR

“Looks like a library,” Ebreth said, pulling back out of the doorway. “No one there either.”

“A library?” Jack asked. “Maybe we should check it out. There might be clues there.”

“Look, book-boy,” said Rani, “we’re kind of in a rush here, remember?”

Jack frowned. “It just seems like kind of a waste to come all the way to Tucson’s headquarters and leave without learning anything. Shouldn’t we, uh, follow up on all our lines of inquiry?”

Ebreth sighed and smiled.

“Thank you!” said the Rat.

“Trust Jack ideas,” concurred Aithne.

“Fine!” Rani threw her hands up. “Five minutes. Then we get the hell out of here.”

Jack was already looking over the books spread out on the mahogany desk. “Ancient Brytannwch myths and treatises on soul magic,” he informed everyone else. “It’s obvious that he’s still trying to get his soul back... but I don’t see the Brytannic connection. Aithne?”

The ancient witch was peering at a book through squinted eyes. Jack turned it right-side-up.

“It has to do with the bastard who first claimed it,” John Tucson said from the doorway. “Hi, Rani. Long time.”

SWM Seeking DEF For Joint Butt-Kicking Endeavors. Reply In Print.

Khyrisse sighed and crumpled the scroll up. “Looks like you get your wish, Schneider. Octavian wants a meet.”

“He must have seen my rat signal!” Skitch jumped up and down in excited usefulness.

“Shouldn’t we close this wormhole first?” protested Garal. “It’ll hardly take any time at all, now that we have the mirror and everything...”

“Much as I’d like to hold Octavian to our schedule,” Khyrisse said a little crossly, “I somehow doubt he’s going to put up with it.” She paused. “Anyway, Octavian asked to meet with me. There’s no reason all of you have to come with me. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.”

Skitch stopped bouncing at that and frowned. “Hey... what if it’s a villain just pretending to be Octavian?” he said suspiciously. “It could be that loser Barry Spivot again!”

“Whoa,” said Marty, “I doubt it, little wizard dude. That plotline’s way abandoned.”

“Nonetheless,” Vastarin said gravely, “Skitch has a point, milady. We would be remiss in our duty as bodyguards were we to let you pursue this alone.” He paused a moment, and the mischief crept back into his eyes. “Not to mention your amirante might well box my ears for permitting it.”

Khyrisse scowled at him. “Who the flark decided a fourteenth-level archmage needed bodyguards in the first place...? All right, fine, you three come with me. I’m never going to be able to shake you anyway. Garal, take the rest of the team to close this wormhole, all right?”

The halfling’s jaw dropped at that unexpected statement of confidence in him. “Uh... uh, okay,” he stammered.

“I think I’ll tag along with you guys after Octavian, if you don’t mind,” Mina said thoughtfully, holding up a strange pair of spectacles. “I picked this up on my detect magic scan after that fight... one of them must have dropped it. It’s a disguise artifact. No one will notice me following you.” Mina slipped the glasses on and her form shifted into that of Harry Novoa. “I’m a cop. It’s my job,” she said, deadpan.

“That’s, uh...” Marty started, then realized he shouldn’t mention that Camaro used glasses like that to maintain her human-sized form. He vaguely remembered that he wasn’t supposed to know that sort of thing. At least Kingfisher and Garal hadn’t exposed him to everyone else. “Cool,” he finished, a little lamely. Luckily Marty Hu made so many lame statements that no one noticed anything amiss.

“Orlen,” said Khyrisse, “call if you need anything.” She sighed, and rumpled Skitch’s hair. “Let’s get something accomplished today, anyway.”

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