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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 24

Memories

“Some psychic clue that was,” Toleski was muttering. “Could of got a better dream sequence out of a drunken minotaur. ‘The visitors have given us great secrets’? How vague is that?”

“It’s likely Shilree doesn’t know enough to be more specific,” mused Praxis. “Either that or the actual identity of the Gilan allies is buried deeper than we’ve gotten yet. This is her reality. I think we need to play by her rules.”

“I hope she’s gonna be okay,” said Kit, uneasily. “Which one do we trust? Green Shilree, or the disembodied voice that told us not to trust her?”

“Anjhirae,” murmured Flicker, looking off.

“Silk?” said Praxis.

“Silk,” said Flicker. “Anjra.”

“Her fiancée?” blurted Jason. “I thought she was dead...”

“Well, she was a priest of Pysyri,” said Praxis. “I suppose it’s possible she could have left a psionic program here to try to guide Shilree.”

“Either that or she’s Shilree’s own mental manifestation of the woman she loves,” said Flicker, “either way she’s likely to be the best Shilree has to offer us in here.”

Praxis nodded thoughtfully. “There are a lot of possible interpretations,” he said. “These different personas might be representing the Freudian portions of Shilree’s mind. Or possibly the beginnings of multiple personality disorder--but that psychosis is generally physiologically based, not brought on by mental trauma alone. And I suppose we don’t even know for certain that that scene with the beholders was something Shilree witnessed. It could be a manifestation of her fears of...”

“We ain’t in here for your dissertation, Brainboy,” growled Toleski. “Find them Gila implants, delete ‘em, and let’s get the hell outta here before we have to watch your fingergirl lose her virginity or somethin’ we’d all sleep better without.”

Praxis coughed. “Ah, right,” he said. “Anyway, let’s be wary of Green. She could be Shilree’s evil side, or at least her id. Or she could even represent Gila. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can’t flash us a few more years forward.”

***

The passage ended at a braced and engraved wooden door.

“These engravings are Dalencian,” said Inez, surprised. “Why would she have such an obvious non-Diari artifact in her mind?”

Before anyone could answer a woman’s scream echoed through the door.

“Maybe we found the torture part,” said Kit, a little uneasily.

Another scream. Then there was a second voice, also female, with a Dalencian accent. “Come on,” she said. “You are almost there.”

“Flazhnae!” screamed Shilree. “Get this over with already!”

“Well come on! Let’s rescue her!” Kit took out her lockpick, but stopped in confusion. There wasn’t even any doorknob.

Shilree screamed again. “You are doing perfectly,” said the Dalencian woman. “Now give me a big push.”

Xiang was bracing himself to batter down the door when Flicker put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t,” he said quietly. “That door is there for a reason. This isn’t where we need to be.”

“Shouldn’t we help her?” asked Jennifer.

“She doesn’t need any help with this.”

There was a third voice from the room behind the door: a tiny, gasping cry.

“Take that thing away,” said Shilree’s hoarse, exhausted whisper. “I will give you my instructions in a few hours. Just... just take it away.”

“But--”

“I said take that thing AWAY! I don’t want to see it! I don’t want to hear it! Do you understand me kiljhac?”

There was the sound of a door opening, footsteps, a baby’s cry and a door closing. Then there was silence again. But soon the silence was broken by sobs.

“Come on,” said Flicker quietly, touching Praxis’ sleeve. “This was related to Gila, but it’s seven years too early. We need to find another path.”

“First,” said Hsin, frowning, “I fear we must find young Kit.”

Indeed, the Greatest Thief on Ataniel was nowhere in sight.

***

The office was more opulent than even Kit’s father’s office had been. It was newly built and furnished, and it looked out on a city that Kit remembered all too well. A city that no longer existed.

The door to the office opened, and Shilree entered. She looked a few years younger than when Kit had met her, though the lines of pain were already on her face. “I’ve got it Magnate,” she said. “The real one, not the duplicate I passed to you in front of the Tour.”

From her pouch, Shilree pulled out a glowing golden stone.

The chair behind the mahogany desk turned around. Sitting in it was a man that Kit recognized... the man who had met her all those years ago, on the road to nowhere!

“Magnate,” Kit whispered from her hiding place.

“I’m glad the deception proved not to be necessary,” Magnate said. “The Sewer Tour is as noble as I’ve come to believe them. And the Mithril Dagger Heroes took their defeat... well...”

“I half expected Knighthawke to go for it. He looked ready to.”

“Paul Knighthawke is far too savvy to waste an opportunity like the one I proposed to him.”

Shilree looked surprised, an expression Kit didn’t think she had seen on the Diarian’s face before. “You mean you cut a deal with him?”

“Remember who you’re talking to, Shilree. Deals are my lifeblood. I offered him a no-lose situation, he took it.”

“And he gets what? A seat on the Trade Council?” Shilree pulled back the stone.

“Yes. He does.”

“So where does this leave me? I’ve been working with you for a year now! And he’s been opposing you! Why should he get the same as me?”

“Because he needs to be on the council. He has a very specific role to play down the line, and his experiences here will temper him for it. If he weren’t on the Trade Council, Paul Knighthawke would never find the impetus for redemption that he needs.” Shilree frowned, but said nothing. “You know enough to keep an eye on him. You’re the only one here I can trust, Shilree. That gives you far more power than Paul could ever acquire here.” He put his hand forward again.

Shilree placed the stone in Magnate’s hand.

“Thank you,” said Magnate.

Shilree turned for the door.

“By the way,” said Magnate. “While it is you I trust, it is not your mind. Remember that.”

“Always the same Magnate,” Shilree sighed as she exited the office.

As Shilree left, Magnate and the office began to fade. Kit made her move.

She leapt forward, and grabbed the stone from the desk. It solidified in her hand just as the rest of the memory faded completely. She fell and rolled into a grassy mound. Another memory.

Carefully, Kit put the Heart of Trade into her pouch. When it didn’t fade in the subdimension, she smiled. That had been a risk that was far worth it.

“Kitreyla, Queen of Trade,” she whispered to herself. She liked the sound of it. Now it was just a matter of finding the rest of the crew before she got stuck in Shilree’s brain.

***

“What was going on in there?” Jason whispered uneasily to Flicker. “That sounded--like she was having a baby?”

Flicker was impressed by the boy’s awareness. Childbirth couldn’t be something he’d learned much about in Sturtevant. “She was.”

“Why was she so upset? Was her baby deformed?”

Flicker sighed, and put his hands in his pockets. “Her child’s existence was painful for her,” he said. “She had been raped by a Gilan doppelganger.”

Anger flashed on Jason’s face. “That’s terrible!”

“Yes,” said Flicker. Rape was Shilree’s word for the doppelganger’s impersonation of her dead lover, not the Sunfighter’s, but this was Shilree’s mind, and he would not argue with her here. Besides, it was no less terrible, and Jason understood now. Flicker was good at nothing if not simplifying. “Yes, it was.”

In the lily field a single tear ran down Purple’s face and was gone.

***

“Where have you been?” said Praxis. “Do you know how dangerous it is to wander off in someone’s head?”

“I thought I saw something and went to investigate,” said Kit, in a half-truth.

“Well, stick close from now on,” said Praxis. “This isn’t a walk in the park, son.”

“I will,” said Kit, innocently. Unless I see something else really interesting, her grinning face finished the sentence for her.

Flicker shelved it as a concern. The memory they had fallen into after their detour to find Kit was set in a broad sandy desert, presumably the Cebies, and there wasn’t much of anyplace for the child to wander off to. “This predates the last memory by a couple of years,” he said. “She came through here after her exile, but I don’t know exactly wh--” Flicker stopped. There was only one way this memory could be going to end. “Get us out of here, Praxis. Now.”

The psionicist frowned. “What is it?”

“Tarrasque.”

“Right.”



As if on cue the ground trembled and there was a monstrous cry. Due to the strange acoustics of the sand dunes it was hard to tell the direction of the cry, but the ground vibrations were getting stronger.

“Praxis...” urged Hou-Hsieh, glancing uneasily at the quivering ground.

“Working on it. There’s something fighting to keep us here.”

Small rocks fell from the ledges around them as the vibrations grew in strength. Rivulets of sweat covered Praxis’s face as he concentrated.

The sand started to break up like the world’s largest bulette was crawling out of it.

“Praxis, at this point anyplace would be good,” said Inez.

Flicker drew his blades with less than total optimism. Sway had done a very credible job against the illusion of the Tarrasque the Psi-Brigade had sicced on them, but they had had time to prepare and a more powerful cadre of fighters. The Tarrasque was entirely immune to both magic and psi, and this one, filtered through Shilree’s terrified teenage memories, was likely to be even worse than the real article.

The sand exploded.

“Got it!” said Praxis. “Hold on, this is going to be rough!”

The Sidewinders vanished having never seen Shilree’s memory of the most horrible monster on Ataniel.

***

It was a hot summer day on what looked like Rimbor Island.

The Gilans were putting the finishing touches on a stone edifice of some sort. Among the various reptilian races that were scurrying about there was, however, one humanoid. He was an average-looking, balding man with piercing blue eyes that seemed to look right into Flicker’s soul. The Sunfighter froze, and the man made a slight, a very slight smile, and turned away.

He was dressed in a Gilan uniform.

“Your report,” Wyvern asked the illithid overseeing the construction.

“Construction close to complete, sir,” said the illithid.

“And this facility will be suitable for the ultimate weapon I asked for?”

“Yes, this facility will be our best biomagical laboratory on this world.”

“Perfect.”

***

“I just don’t understand anything about this plot anymore,” sighed Inez. “Todd, that must have been a Gilan memory. Did you get it?”

“I can’t eliminate the memories from inside the memories themselves,” said Praxis. “I need to find her real memory of the Gilans implanting her.”

“Wyvern,” frowned Flicker. “This couldn’t have happened within the last six years, then--he’s been in Limbo.”

“Six to eight years ago,” said Praxis, “because he had Luthien’s father’s body. What would he have needed an ultimate weapon for? He was in the process of taking the sphere over politically then.”

“Maybe he was already in possession of Magnate’s book at the time of the vision,” said Inez. “Maybe he was thinking ahead and preparing to deal with the Shadow invasion.”

“Maybe,” said Flicker, slowly. “I--think he may have had another target in mind, though. The last time he tried to acquire an ultimate weapon, it was me. He meant to use me to destroy his homeworld. He manipulated Sway into destroying the Claw that could have summoned his people, too. I think he saw the other space dragons as the only long-term threat to his power here.”

“You’re the Wyvern expert,” deadpanned Praxis.

“Bite me,” said Flicker, and paused. “What if Wyvern meant to help Gila conquer the planet of the space dragons?”

“That’s--an interesting theory.”

“Follow the line,” said the green Shilree, materializing off to the side. “Follow the line.”

“Thank you,” said Praxis, “I think I will.”

The walls shifted and mutated. Green Shilree screeched in anger.

“Sorry for the snipe hunt,” said the psionicist. “I was really just waiting for her to show up again, but I didn’t want to risk warning her by clueing you all in.”

“Good to know you had some kinda plan,” grumbled Toleski.

The walls of memory dissolved, and the Sidewinders were standing in a field of red lilies. Before them was an empty chessboard; on one side of it stood Green Shilree, looking very angry indeed, and on the other stood another Shilree clad all in purple. Flicker couldn’t read the expression on her face. There was a chain wound around her body, binding her arms behind her back.

“Okay, Gila,” Praxis said to Green. “Give me a good reason not to delete your ass here and now.”

Dirty Dancing: Things Only Schneider Would Say

The Rat Pack’s wormhole division exited Madame Samitha’s Tobrinese Dance Parlor, the skank pit still a near-riot. “Well, a little messy,” Orlen said, “but successful.”

“Here’s your mirror back,” Thalia said politely, carefully avoiding eye contact with the jester and giving him a reassuringly meek social smile as she returned the spent artifact.

Great work, you dumbfuck, she’s scared of you. “Thanks, uh, Constance. Good work closing that wormy thing in there. You’ll go far in this biz.” Schneider’s head felt really heavy. This much hard liquor at midday did not agree with him; his gaunt frame rendered him rather susceptible to alcohol in the first place. Tila, for one, regularly drank him under the table. He was going to have to swallow his pride and ask Val for a neutralize poison. “Are the rest of the ratly crew OK, Orlen?”

“It would seem so,” responded the psibard. “Rani has succeeded in liberating Ebreth, who is apparently well.” Schneider was glad to hear that, honest. “And Khyrisse has located Octavian. Vastarin suggests we all meet in front of the Augustine Arms.”

“Maybe we’ll finally find out who he is,” offered Vickie optimistically.

“I, uh, have a hunch,” mumbled Schneider. Everyone turned to look at him expectantly, and he cleared his throat. “Well, he sneaks around in the shadows like a thief, but kicks butt like a warrior. He knows Rimbor City really well, knows who’s who, all the buildings and the sewers and stuff. And he really cares about it. Calls it ‘his city.’ Almost fanatical about it, you know? And he knew me, even said we’d met before.” Schneider cleared his throat again. “I, uh, I... think it’s Javert.”

“I thought Javert was dead,” said Kingfisher.

“Yeah, I know. But the Mithril Dagger Heroes were with him when he died, right? They could have resurrected him easy. Heck, maybe they even promised to keep it a secret for him.”

“Didn’t Javert have a major woody for the law, though?” said Vickie. “Guy like that as a vigilante?”

“Well, I thought of that. But, uh.” The jester looked down. “The Madness changed things for a lot of people. I dunno. I could be wrong. I just hope I’m not. I mean, I hope Javert is still alive. Be nice to tell him some things I was too stupid to think of saying when I had the chance. Hate to think he really.... Well. We’ll see I guess.” Schneider put the burned-out mirror in the pocket of his plaid-print parachute pants, and stopped. His head felt heavy, but not that heavy. He turned his pocket inside out. Then the other one. “Oh, shit,” he said.

Thalia discreetly maneuvered so Kingfisher was between her and Schneider, without letting up on her pleasant smile.

“The soul,” said Schneider. “I left my soul in Sam’s French disco!”

Vickie, Orlen, and Kingfisher all smacked him at once.

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