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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 29

Interlude: Law Man

“Crud,” muttered Schneider.

“Don’t sweat it, Stretch,” Vickie said. “Javert was a good guess.”

“It’s not that. It’s just... I was really hoping he was alive.”

“Pardon me,” said Thalia, “but who is this Javert you’ve been talking about?” Several members of the Rat Pack nodded as though they too had no idea. How on earth can I explain to them? Tell them who a man was? He knew he couldn’t do it--until he looked up and his gaze came to rest on one, large figure in the assembled crowd. The jester stood up.

“Javert?” he began. “Well, he was a cop. No, he was the cop. He lived for one thing: the Law. He loved the Law. You know how some swords have names? His was named The Law. His alignment? Lawful. His favorite football player? New England cornerback Ty Law.

“My point is, he was the Law, and he was the greatest cop ever. I met him, geez, nine years ago. He was working for Duke Faraker in Lianth when I started my gig as the court jester. Javert didn’t really smile or laugh much. At all, actually. I tried everything I could think of to get this guy to crack a smile. I tried banana peels. I tried Stupid Criminal jokes. I tried crashing the police union’s annual dinner to do a performance as a prima ballerina. None of it worked; in fact, that last one landed me in the slammer for three days, and got me a small part in Swan Lake. Javert was the ultimate tough room.

“He could seem like a real intimidating stiff sometimes, but that wasn’t really what he was like. See, Javert believed in the Law cause he thought it was right. He always found a way to make sure the Law and justice worked together. I remember back when the Sewer Tour first got to Dalencia. The whole country seemed hostile, and Faraker... Faraker got shot and was in a coma. It was rough going. We were getting our asses whupped every which way. But Javert, he was handling all the diplomatic stuff, and it was kind of reassuring to know that at least that was under control. And when Duke St. A kidnapped us all into that damned arena, Javert found out what had happened to us, put together a rescue team and yanked our tushes out of the fire. It was funny, you never felt really close to him, but deep in your guts, you knew you could always count on him.

“And he was good. The best. He took over Rimbor, and for awhile he actually brought the Law here. He put the leash on Rimbor City. That’s like... like being able to listen to a whole John Tesh CD without going insane! And now... I guess he really is dead. He helped the Mithril Dagger Heroes stop the moon, then he...” Schneider’s voice dropped to a whisper. “He killed himself. And all I can think is: I never really told him. Never told him how grateful I was for his friendship, how much I admired him. I tried to let him know he had a friend in me... but I guess I didn’t do a very good job. Why didn’t he know none of us would hold anything that happened in the Madness against him? Maybe he felt he had betrayed himself the most and couldn’t forgive himself.

“But we’ll never know, I guess. And if we’re talking about his life, not his being another casualty in a war everyone wants to forget... then Javert had a lot to show me. He was true to himself, true to his friends, great at what he wanted to be great at. I should only be so lucky that anyone could say the same about me when I’m gone.”

People had been looking and listening, and Schneider felt a little nervous. First time since Weasel he’d done anything for an audience. But he was glad--it was the least he could do for Javert, a man who deserved to be remembered well. He looked out past the crowd of the Rat Pack, at a tall man with shaggy black hair and large stone goggles, who smiled and walked away.

Springing Mina

Rani elbowed her way crossly between the beefy cops blocking the way to the pen, ignoring the crude comments they were making under their breath. She was starting to wish she’d brought Aithne with her. Some of these boys would have looked real nice with curly tails. “I’m here to post bail,” she said to Steroid Roy, behind the desk.

“Here to do what?” Roy asked her tits dispassionately.

“Give you some money and you spring one of my fucking friends. Dalen not your first language?”

Steroid Roy snorted. “Forty up.”

“Thirty,” said Rani, throwing the purse Khyrisse had given her on the desk.

The sergeant spilled some of the coins back out onto the desk and pushed them across to her, grinning. “Twenty and a blowjob.”

“Forty,” said Rani, after a moment, digging in her jeans for the extra. “Mina Paris. What the hell is she in for?”

“Disturbing the peace, using a false identity with an officer, and some procedural crap no one but Ass-Floss Novoa cares about.”

“Disturbing the peace,” muttered Rani, “that’s a rich one,” and pushed across to the bars to find the young sorceress.

Once Was Lost But Now Am Found

“Look, that’s all there is to the story,” sighed Ebreth.

“Very tidy.”

“Stories sometimes are.”

“Not very often,” said Octavian. “If you’re really a different Ebreth Tor, then tell me, what happened to your first soul?”

“I should know this?” growled Ebreth.

“Don’t you want to? Most people would be very interested to know whether they had the soul of a mass murderer, Mr. Tor. Your indifference isn’t doing much to convince me you don’t.”

“To hell with convincing you. Metaphysics isn’t my specialty. That last Ebreth Tor’s personality was destroyed in Limbo. I have no idea what that means for my soul, and I have no idea why you care.”

Octavian looked at him for a long, long moment. “Why did you go to Hell for Ms. Starshadow?”

Ebreth stiffened a little. “Look, that’s none of your--”

“You’re in Rimbor City, Ebreth Tor,” Octavian interrupted coldly, “you are my business. Why did you do it?”

“Oh, for--” Ebreth threw his hands up half-way and then slapped them against his pants. “Because I love her,” he said, with exaggerated enunciation.

“Half an answer. You haven’t gone to Hell today; have you stopped loving her?”

“Because a psycho bitch with a knife was going to kill her if I didn’t,” he amended impatiently. “Happily, that hasn’t happened today. Why are you giving me the fucking third degree over trying to save Khyrisse’s life?”

“Because I am separating the light from the darkness, Mr. Tor,” said Octavian. “Did she want you to sacrifice yourself like that?”

“No,” he sighed, after a beat, “but--”

“Then you can’t really say you did it for her, can you?”

“--but I didn’t know that,” Ebreth finished his sentence, his teeth gritted. “We didn’t exactly have time to make a committee decision.”

“If you knew,” said Octavian, “that she would have wanted you to say no, would you have?”

Ebreth expelled air. “No,” he said, frankly.

“Why not?” There was a moment where neither man spoke. “Don’t tell me you loved her, Tor. I’m not here researching a romance novel. I want the other half of the story. I want the part about you. If you had known she didn’t want you to suffer for her sake why would you?”

“I didn’t suffer for her sake,” Ebreth blew up. “I was a fugitive. They were already after my ass. It would have been using her to escape. I didn’t want her to pay the price for--”

“--things you’d done?” Octavian finished.

Ebreth Tor leaned hard on the windowsill, his face suddenly very grey.

“Then you are the same man.”

“Things I’d done,” whispered Ebreth.

“All right,” said Octavian, after a moment. “You claim you’ve reformed. If--”

“Forgive me!”

It was Octavian’s turn to stiffen, as Ebreth Tor stumbled forward and fell to his knees, clasping the crimefighter about the legs. “I--” started Octavian, dizzily, and shook his head to clear it. “It is not my place to forgive,” he recovered. “I exist to excise the evil from Rimbor, Tor, nothing--”

“Oh, God, forgive me,” wept the pirate, clutching at the cowled figure’s knees, his head bowed.

Octavian felt light-headed. “Please get up,” he said numbly, his moral framework slipping. He struggled to halt its slide, all too aware of the cavern that lay beneath it. “I--am not--a religious figure, Ebreth Tor. I am only--a person who sees, daily, the difference between good and evil. Please get up. I...” He put his hand on Tor’s shoulder and clenched it tightly, to steady which man he wasn’t sure. “Forgive you,” whispered Octavian.

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