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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 21

Rock My Soul

“Look familiar?”

John Tucson eyed the weird black rift. “Looks a little like something that was growing in the back of my fridge once, but I drowned it in Cheese Wiz.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Rani. “When did you get funny, Tucson?”

The crime lord looked a little confused. “No,” he said, “no, I’ve never seen anything like it. What any of this has to do with my soul is beyond me. How do I know you aren’t making this all up just to get me off your back?”

“Because I can confirm the truth. Rimbor is to be destroyed.”

Ebreth started at the sudden voice and whirled to meet the five eyes of the Fiend. “Who are you?” he said exasperatedly. He had almost gotten his scorecard caught up, but this guy was new to him.

“Aegh eater!” cried Aithne.

“I come in the spirit of assistance,” the Fiend said. “You seek your soul, John Tucson, and I can tell you both where it is now and what you must do to regain it.”

“Tell me, then!”

“What does this have to do with Rimbor?” Rani demanded.

“All things have a price,” said the Fiend. “I shall tell you both in return for one of your souls.”

“No way,” Ebreth said.

“No aegh to you, eater,” Aithne agreed.

Rani frowned. “How do we know you even know what you say you do?”

“I’ll do it,” said Jack.

“Jack, no!”

“Tt,” Jack said, waving Ebreth away. “You can have mine, uh, Fiend. But only after I die.”

“Of course,” the Fiend agreed.

“Jack aegh you no take,” Aithne sneered, her fists clenching.

“Guys, trust me,” Jack insisted.

“Last time I heard that you joined the Remnant, Jack!”

“Look, Fiend, tell us what you know. Let’s get this over with.”

The Fiend with Five Eyes reached out and touched Jack’s hand. “Our contract is sealed.” He paused and turned to Tucson. “Your soul has been attached to the dimensional substructure of Rimbor. Until it is released, it can be used against the city. Seek the one called Coomara. He can tell you how your soul came to be lost, and how it returned to Rimbor.”

Rani had pulled out her casebook and was jotting furious notes. “How do we release the soul?”

“Coomara knows. Look in a bar, he craves your soul at the expense of his liver.”

“Does he have it?” Jack asked.

“No. It is now with the scarred jester.”

“Oh, this just gets better and better,” Ebreth grumbled, holding back his anger.

“The Joker?” Tucson cried. “He has it? Fuck!”

“Who attached it to the city in the first place?” Jack asked, keeping his gaze even with the Fiend as best he could at a two-to-five ratio.

“Coomara knows. Ask him how the soul returned to Rimbor.”

With that, the Fiend was gone.

“Coomara...” Tucson muttered, but the emotion behind the words was lost.

***

The Fiend with Five Eyes stalked silently through the Rimbor drizzle. Things were going well. If these adventurers could succeed at loosing Tucson’s soul from its bonds, it would be simple enough to take it from them and return it to Coomara. The jester’s soul would provide him enough sustenance for a few months, and perhaps by that time the Fiend would have a comfortable cycle going again.

Just then a dwarf with four finger-streaks of blood across each grim cheek slipped out of the shadows. “You buy souls,” said the dwarf, low and simple.

The Fiend was surprised. Usually he approached mortals, not the other way round. “I buy souls,” he agreed. “What do you want?”

“Revenge.” Happy’s eyes glittered in the sodium light.

***

“Jack, you idiot!” Ebreth cried. “I thought we’d been through this already. You can’t keep sacrificing...”

“Boy, what a maroon.” Jack looked back to his friends with a combined triumphant and goofy grin. “Suckered him, huh?”

“Suckert?” Aithne asked.

“I’m a math equation,” Jack smiled. “Strict function graph of a personality. I haven’t got any soul!”

“Boy, remind me not to invite you to karaoke,” Tucson chuckled. Rani gave him a weird look.

“I can’t believe you tried to sell your soul for a couple pieces of information!” yelled Ebreth, exasperated. “What if you have one?”

“I’m, uh, pretty sure I don’t, Ebreth. I’m a math equation, remember?”

“How would you know if you have a soul? I’ve never seen mine, and apparently I have one!”

“Metaphysics definitely weren’t covered in Robinson’s notes,” said Jack, sounding just a little less sure of himself.

“Well, it was a stupid risk!”

“Oh.” Jack’s face finished falling. “I--thought it was kind of clever and useful.”

Ebreth

felt suddenly and incongruously bad about ruining how pleased Jack had been with himself. “Well, it was,” he admitted, forced himself to grin, and shook his friend by the shoulder. “And it’s done now, so if it screws you up we’ll just have to deal with it when the time comes.” Three months, an unwelcome part of his brain reminded him. He ignored it. “All right, so the good news is, we’ve got a lead. The bad news is, do you know how many bars there are in Rimbor City?”

“Yes,” said Rani and Tucson, simultaneously.

“Khyrisse can get you soul back,” said Aithne, sympathetically, and patted Jack’s arm. “She have powerful aegh magic.”

“I wouldn’t have done it if I had a soul,” Jack said meekly.

“That’s an improvement,” Ebreth agreed, and laughed. “Jack, it’s a fucked-up world if Tucson, Schneider, and me have souls and you don’t.”

Jack shrugged and smiled.

Relative Levels of Patience

Khyrisse was getting as fidgety as Val had been hours before, and Val was getting tipsy. Most of the action in the admittedly nice Ducal Suite had been Vas’ bad jokes and slightly ribald stories. Mina had gone downstairs to case out the lobby for about the twelfth time.

Skitch sighed impatiently as he lost another hand of solitaire. The thing that was worst about all this was he felt like they were wasting their only chance to have some actual fun in days. They’d finally ditched the half of the party Skitch didn’t like, and here they were sitting around the hotel room drinking instead of taking advantage of it. By the time dumb old Octavian finally showed up, Schneider and Thermador and Vickie and all the other hangers-on would be done with whatever they were off doing. He considered pretending to be possessed by something and taking off for the nearest sewer just to see if he could induce a cool subplot, but Val would probably catch him at it.

Skitch made a big bored sigh. “I wonder if that clerk took you so seriously he won’t let Octavian up here for the meeting.”

“Skitch,” Khyrisse sighed back, sounding only slightly less impatient than her son, “if that clerk could stop Octavian from going anywhere he damn well pleased, he wouldn’t be afraid of me.”

“Oh.” Skitch shuffled his cards. “Stupid vigilante,” he muttered under his breath.

“I wish Ebreth were here,” Khyrisse murmured, drumming her fingers.

“After the last time?” Vas teased roguishly.

Khyrisse was too bored even to smack him one. “Octavian had better have something seriously useful for us when he finally shows,” she grumbled. “I do not take well to being stood up.”

***

Mina had gotten sick of waiting after the first three hours. She wasn’t about to put up with a bunch of pointless hotel-sitting in a city full of people who were under the thumb of criminals like the Scorpion. Placing her new mask over her face, she willed her image to shift to that of an old woman dressed in rags as she headed out into the street. An anonymous beggarwoman, she figured, would be able to blend in a lot better than a young blonde sorceress.

It didn’t take her long to find some trouble to interfere in. A young man came crashing through the front window of the Sleeslup Winery as she was just passing it, quickly followed by another. Mina made a beeline for the door, her form shifting to the scariest looking person she could think of quickly. Thus it was Ebreth Tor, larger than life, that entered the Sleeslup and came face to face with a gang of six thugs, armed with identical green blades, about to skewer a third well-dressed young man.

“Leave him alone,” Mina said in the deadly cold voice that meant the pirate was really angry. That stopped all six in mid-harass. “Leave him alone or face my, ah, wrath,” Mina repeated.

“Fuck,” one whispered, “it’s Ebreth Tor!”

“I thought he was dead,” another one responded.

“Look, buddy,” a third punk said, sneering and pointing his blade at Mina, “this is Monkeyman turf. Leave now, and we’ll letcha live.”

“Please...” the young man said, his face bloody. “Help me...”

“I’m afraid that gang rule in this town isn’t going to last much longer,” Mina said. She touched her thumbs to her pinkies and began to recite the words to paralyze the six thugs.

Unfortunately for Mina, there were seven thugs.

She hardly felt the blow that knocked her out.

“Get back to teachin’ the Carroly brothers their little lesson,” the seventh man said. “I’ll finish off the has-been.”

A large green sword swung down towards Mina Paris’ neck.

***

“Uh, like, I’ve never seen her naked,” Marty admitted to the rather insistent patron of Madame Samitha’s. “You, uh, might ask Garal.”

“Who is Garal?” the man asked eagerly. His fixation on Thalia seemed to be fueled by his inability to get her more than an actual interest in the girl herself, who had since gotten involved in other trouble.

“No, I’m Hu,” Marty said. “We’re not related.”

This could go on for hours, Vickie Dare thought from her seat beside the alternating sullen and Irish jester. It’s not even funny anymore.

What this place needs is a good brawl, the Monkey King offered.

Works for me! Vickie thought, but only for a split second before she grabbed a bowl of complimentary sweets and flung it, discus-style, into the back of the annoying john’s head.

“Uh, you seem to have been knocked out,” Marty said to the guy on the floor.

“What the--?” Madame Samitha demanded, looking up from her argument with Thalia. “Louis! Bud! I have had enough of these trespassers!”

“Oh, yes,” Orlen sighed, “we wouldn’t want to do something with diplomacy or tact, would we?”

By that point, Vickie was swinging across the room on the chandelier.

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