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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 22

Guardian Angel: Elemental, My Dear Watson

The two strange figures peered contemplatively up at the placard of the Augustine Arms.

“You don’t think the hotel staff will object to our intrusion, do you, Mr. Sebastian?”

“I doubt that, Mr. Ward. And if they do, we can always kill them.”

“A simple and elegant solution, Mr. Sebastian.”

Mr. Ward passed his strange curved lamp to the taller man.

“How many samples do you think we need, Mr. Sebastian?”

“One should suffice, Mr. Ward.”

“The elfin archmage, do you think, Mr. Sebastian?”

“The most likely candidate, Mr. Ward.”

Mr. Ward opened the door to the Augustine Arms.

“Only three of the others with her, Mr. Sebastian.”

“Our lucky day, Mr. Ward.”

“Expendable, do you think, Mr. Sebastian?”

“Isn’t everyone, Mr. Ward?”

“What you plan will not be countenanced,” came a resonant voice from the city street behind them.

“A catchphrase I have heard before, Mr. Sebastian.”

“I believe I am struck speechless, Mr. Ward.”

“It means what you’re about to do is bad,” the resonant voice explained helpfully.

Mr. Ward shut the door to the Augustine Arms and whirled in a sudden yet unhurried motion to face Janus of the Five Elements. “Interesting indeed, Mr. Sebastian.”

“A most formidable foe, Mr. Ward.”

“Or it would be, Mr. Sebastian, if the redoubtable elementalist hadn’t expired three centuries ago.”

“I think it was four centuries, Mr. Ward.”

“We could look that up, Mr. Sebastian.”

“Unnecessary, Mr. Ward.”

“Janus lives!” shouted the faceless figure. “And... I... will stop your evil plans!”

“Not so clever a poseur as the time-traveler, Mr. Sebastian.”

“Still a curious conundrum, Mr. Ward.”

“I find myself devoid of curiosity, Mr. Sebastian.”

“Then you won’t mind if we dispose of him without solving the mystery of his identity, Mr. Ward?”

“Or her identity, Mr. Sebastian.”

“His,” said Janus quickly.

“Is that a clue, Mr. Ward?”

“Of no consequence to me, Mr. Sebastian.”

“Of course, Mr. Ward.”

Mr. Sebastian put down the lantern and cracked his knuckles.

Janus, tired of nuance, jutted his fists out and a firestorm swept around the two villains.

“Elemental powers after all, Mr. Sebastian,” winced Mr. Ward.

“I would not have thought it, Mr. Ward.”

Soul Man

It’s going to be fine, Jack told himself. You’ve been through this a thousand times back in the temple. It’s mathematically impossible for you to have a soul.

Then why does Ebreth’s thinking you do worry you so much?

Jack bit his lip.

What’s done is done, he thought to himself. But maybe I can talk to someone just to be sure.

Val, Jack responded. Ask Val. She’ll... well, she’ll be able to tell you something.

That’s what I’m afraid of, Jack thought back. That’s what I’m afraid of.

***

The first three bars they had checked had contained no fishmen, although one of the patrons did think he’d seen a green man at O’Reilly’s on Blackwell Street. Rani didn’t usually make a habit out of taking green-men sightings by the sort of guys who were frequenting pubs in the mid-afternoon at face value, but in this case it seemed it was worth a shot.

“Let’s go,” sighed John. “We’ve got to do the right thing and save Rimbor.”

Rani was already feeling a bit dizzy, and this didn’t help. “What?”

“I said let’s go stop these Diari terrorists from taking over my city,” he snapped.

“That is not what you said, Johnny.”

“You still haven’t learned when to leave it alone, have--”

“--you said ‘do the right thing’. Since when do you talk that--”

He hit her with the heel of his hand, not hard enough to knock her down. “I don’t. Know,” he bit off. Tor glanced across at Rani, but she waved him away. “Johnny,” she said, low, “I can’t solve this case with you withholding shit from me. If you’ve got a secret moral streak going I’m not going to fucking tell on you. But I need to know if that’s what this is or something paranormal’s going on.”

Tucson paused a long moment. “The latter,” he said, quietly. “I’ve been having mood swings. It’s been getting steadily worse for weeks. I got irrationally violent this morning and killed a henchman of mine that I’d just spent a lot of resources raising from the dead. I’ve got to get my soul back, Rani. Believe me, you don’t want an insane crime lord running this city any more than I want to let what I’ve built here crumble.”

She looked at him as they walked and then flipped open her spiral notebook. “I’m on it,” was all she said.

***

“I hope Coomara no is still gonna be angry with me,” Aithne said nervously to Jack, fiddling with one of the buttons on her blouse.

“What did you do to make him angry?”

“When we go John Tucson house, we are in something. What is that?”

“Cage.”

“I open cage,” she said guiltily. “I want to know all things, see all things, so what am I?”

“Curious?” said Jack.

“I am too curious girl.”

“Curious is good,” Jack protested supportively. “You keep looking, so you learn a lot.”

“Then I go in mirror for three thousand years. I should have boring mind like my sister. With boring mind I be home now.” She smiled like a shrug. “Moon can no be sun. Many years gone now. Mabye Coomara forget.”

“You probably shouldn’t have let Khyrisse be the one to teach her that word,” Ebreth commented to Jack.

Dirty Dancing: What Happens When You Leave Garal In Charge

The Tobrinese dance parlor had erupted into the chaos of a ho-house brawl. Two men, one armed with a shattered chair leg and the other a half-full tequila bottle, charged towards each other at full speed, yelling like animals. Then they stepped on the marbles on the floor.

They skidded and landed at Schneider’s feet. The jester shook his head, these were some sad johns.

As he reached over the bar for another shot of whiskey, he dropped a card.

The pandemonium increased when a griffin appeared on the bar and roared.



“Uh, Vickie?” Garal called up at the secret agent. “Vickie, can we, uh...”

“Yeeeeeeeeeee-hah!”



Josie wandered out of the back rooms. There was a rip-roaring slugfest going on on the dance floor by now. Maybe one of the rival businesses had sent some thugs over to mess them up. That happened sometimes. Josie herself didn’t really care. Her shift was up anyway.

Josie collected her coat from the rack as one of her coworkers, dressed in a little red negligee, faced off against a man in plate mail. It was hard to say which of them looked more frightened. “I’ve got a bottle!” screamed Gigi, waving it around inexpertly. “Is there wine in there?” cried the man, backing away from her anxiously.

The prostitute shook her head, these were some sad thugs.

She closed the door behind her just as Bud sent some Diarian guy crashing through the plate-glass window, knocking the red lantern from the sill and rolling out into the street.



“Uh, guys?” said Garal. “Guys?”



Kingfisher rescued Marty from the bottle-wielding hooker by throwing two patrons onto her by the scruffs of their necks. All three seemed happy with that turn of events. “Are you all right?” she asked the paladin beneath the noise of combat, her voice intentionally low.

“Whew, I think so. That was way close.” Marty shuddered a little at the thought of all that wine.

“I understand,” said Kingfisher.

That wasn’t something people said to Marty very often. Even the Rat. “You do?”

She nodded. “I haven’t told the others. I didn’t know if you were ready to talk about it.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda confusing.”

“I’m sure it is. The trauma must be great. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that a compatriot of Nox is also a demented pervert. Together--with my Master’s guidance--we will triumph and destroy that molesting hag Camaro. Until then, we will keep this incident to ourselves.”

“Uh, okay.”



“Hi, cutie,” whispered a sloe-eyed woman in fishnets. “What are you doing after the fight?”

“Taking assertiveness lessons,” Garal muttered unhappily, watching the Rat Packers brawl.

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