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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 30

Another Step Along The Path

“Thanks, Rani,” said Mina, shaking the Diarian’s gloved hand. The young sorceress didn’t seem at all discouraged by the whole affair, Rani noticed. If anything, Mina seemed more chipper after being in jail than before.

“No problem,” Rani said suspiciously. She distrusted people who didn’t act the way that made sense. They were usually hiding something. And that seemed so... out of character for the young mage.

“I hope Khyrisse wasn’t too worried,” Mina continued. “I didn’t expect to get all entangled in the time I was off.”

“We hardly noticed,” said Rani, “what with everything else going down.”

“Yeah, we’re like that... nothing happens for days then it all hits the fan at once.” The sorceress turned at the entrance of the precinct to wave back at the sullen policemen milling about.

“You seem cheery,” muttered Rani.

“It was... an education,” Mina said seriously. “I’ve been through worse, sort of... but this was different. I got to see what these people go through... why they haven’t got much trust left.”

“Not to mention much gold,” said Rani, patting her empty pouch. “You owe Khyrisse forty.”

“Not a problem,” said Mina. “Can I ask you a question, Rani?”

“Shoot.”

“You grew up here... how did you get through things without ever losing hope?”

Rani thought back to just hours ago when she had been comparing herself to John Tucson. Comparing what they had each accomplished. Mina Paris was more innocent than Rani had thought if she didn’t think that part of Rani had given up hope long ago.

“I smile and nod a lot,” Rani said. “That fakes it.”

Mina’s laughter was honest and heartfelt.

Naked Truths

It took Kit ten minutes to get out of the chains, which was a testament to the thoroughness that the Gilans had taken in binding them. They had taken the Fruu Glove as well as her pouch of baubles, but Kit found that the stone she had snagged in Shilree’s mind was somehow still there. Cool, she thought.

“Hey, guys,” she said, dusting herself off and letting the chains fall around her. “Which one of you wants to go first?”

***

Jason hadn’t really expected the day to get much more awkward than wandering around in his party-leader’s brain, discovering deeply personal information that she never would have revealed knowingly to him.

But then, he hadn’t expected to wind up buck-naked in front of his inappropriate crush object.

Jason found himself absurdly glad of Praxis’s clothed state, and focused resolutely on his own kneecaps. Please, please, please tell me this is not a common adventuring practice. Because I really think it’s going to take some time for this to seem funny.

“Are you all right, Jason?” Jennifer asked.

“Just not particularly used to being kidnapped by Gilans, I guess.” Which is close enough. Didn’t they torture Shilree when they had her last? Somehow, he doubted the day was going to take a dramatic turn for the better.

***

“Kit?” Shilree blinked at the young thief. “You’re a girl?”

“So are you!”

“Well I--” Shilree stopped. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“A good thief should try not to make assumptions,” grinned Kit.

“I will have to remember that.” Shilree smiled despite her obvious stress.

***

“Give me a boost up this wall, city girl,” Toleski demanded. “I’m gonna see about bustin’ our bare arses on outta here.”

“Could, uh, you ask somebody else?” said Shilree, covering her eyes with a reflexive wince.

***

“Um...” Jason tried to think of a good way to ask this. “So, Kit... are you a boy, or a girl?”

Kit gave him a look that made it clear he hadn’t succeeded. “Boy, you’re dumb,” she said. “I knew about that stuff when I was, like, five.”

“No, I mean, I can see you’re a girl, but I mean...” Am I ever going to stop putting my foot in my mouth with these people? “I mean do you want to be a boy or a girl? I mean, you spent all this time making like you were a boy and having us treat you like a boy. Do you want us to, still? I mean is it a secret you want us to keep or something?”

“Oh,” said Kit. “Well no, not really. I just kinda like seeing if I can psych people out or not.”

***

“Hey, you. Ginsu boy. Yeah, you. Could you gimme a boost up this wall so’s I can see about gittin’ us outta here?”

“I am sorry, Mr. Toleski. I am otherwise occupied.” Shaolin returned to his mumbled prayers over his unclean reaction to seeing Hou-Hsieh naked, using the steely will of a paladin to avoid looking in her direction again.

***

“It just looks like a solid metal box,” sighed Kit. “If I still had those gloves I could punch a hole in the wall.”

“How come you’ve still got all your stuff?” Jennifer asked Praxis.

“Immovability,” he replied. “One of my psionic abilities. What about you, Kit?”

“Me? Uhhh...” Kit crammed the dream Heart quickly in her mouth. “Ah ohn’t ‘ave a’yhing.”

Shilree turned to look at the girl, examining the uneven lump in her cheek. “Kit, do you have something in your mouth?”

“Naw.”

Shilree looked at her oddly until the girl amended “Ust bubble-guh. Ohn’t ‘ave enough oo share.”

Praxis looked more than a little amused, but said nothing.

***

“Is the Mindnet down, Todd?” said Inez.

“The collar is interfering with my psionic powers,” he explained. “Kit, are you having any luck back there?”

“I wouldn’t try it,” said Shilree. “We have psi-dampers like these in Diaria, too, and they’re usually programmed to kill the wearer if they are tampered with.”

Kit put her hand up like she had just touched hot metal.

“Why did they put one on you, Shilree?” frowned Praxis.

“Perhaps because of her race?” offered Shaolin.

“Green was using psionic disciplines in there,” said Praxis, who didn’t miss much. “A psi-script shouldn’t be able to do that--unless it’s in the brain of someone with the Gift.”

Shilree nodded tiredly. “I am suspecting the same thing Praxis, but with this flazhnikajh collar on there is no way for me to test it.”

“And what y’all are suspectin’ is, for them as ain’t read the script already?”

“That I have Awakened,” said Shilree. “I think Gila has Awakened the Gift in me.”



***

“Tarnation,” muttered Toleski, banging his leathery knuckles against the metal roof as Xiang held him patiently aloft. “It ain’t a lid after all. One of them sides must slide--”

The constant, slightly queasy feeling of motion in the box stopped with a sudden jar of brakes. Everyone jerked a bit, and Xiang lost his grip on Toleski, who fell right on top of Shilree.

“Maybe that’s Gila coming to torture me some more,” said Shilree half-hopefully as the sound of footsteps approached the cell.

***

A panel on the side of the cell did, in fact, slid open from outside, revealing a cadre of lizardmen.



“Uniforms,” one said. “Wear.”

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Jennifer said. The guard tossed in a package of grey tunics and trousers through the bars.

“Maybe this day is looking up after all,” sighed Shilree, averting her eyes as Toleski put his pants on one leg at a time.

Pockets Full Of Posies

Rani and Mina seemed to have beaten Tor and Octavian back.

It didn’t take the halfbreed detective long to locate Vas, gabbing away merrily with Orlen. “So,” she said, directly. “Did we miss anything?”

“Milady is having a lively exchange of ideas with Vickie about the nature of teamwork,” supplied Vas. That would explain the volume. “Valende is discussing the theology of mathematics with our good Jack.” Less noise from that quarter, but no less intensity. “And Thalia’s talking to everyone about shower presents.”

“Put me down for a pool on something,” said Rani. “I suck at presents.”

“Rani?” Orlen caught a good look at her then and took a couple of instinctive steps back from her, his hand fluttering over his mouth, before getting a grip on himself. “Your eyes!”

“Care to be a little more specific, Belleri?” she said crossly. “Have they changed color, gotten bizarre-shaped pupils, sprouted weird alien growths, what are we talking here?”

“Jaundice,” he said. “Rani, I--take off your gloves. Please.”

She gave him a very strange look, but obliged him. “Crap,” she said, with more marvel than fear in her voice, as she peeled her left glove off. “What the hell is that?”

“Show me,” whispered Orlen.

She turned her hand to him, revealing the mottled rosette on her palm.

Orlen staggered back despite himself. It’s a blood-borne disease, he chastised himself. You won’t catch it just standing near her. “Ransa,” he said, switching to Diari, “you’ve got the Dialys fever.”

“Which is?”

Orlen kept forgetting she’d spent none of her childhood in Diaria. “The deadliest disease our people know of,” he said. “There’s no known cure.”

“Oh, bugger me,” she muttered. “Does it make my skin peel off or something disgusting?”

Orlen would never understand Rani’s reactions to things. “No, but it will kill you, Rani.”

“Am I going to infect everyone else?”

“Dialys fever affects only Diarians.”

“Yeah, I saw that coming,” she sighed. “Bunch of mangy inbreds. Am I going to infect you?”

“I hope not.” Orlen smiled wanly. “It’s a disease of the blood--I should stay out of bodily contact with you.”

“You should anyway, Belleri.” She sighed and passed her hand over her yellowing eyes. “I’m assuming from context that magic and psi healing isn’t going to handle this, huh.”

“I am so sorry, Ransa.”

“Hey, it’s not the first time I’ve contracted some weird curse on a case.” She rubbed her neck. “A plague snake. That’s a new one. Well, I’ll see if Val can keep this in check till we can find Lots Of Locusts. Nine’ll get you ten this is their doing, and sometimes there’s a clue about how to overcome evil biogenic weapons in the villain’s lab. And if not, it’s not like I was doing much with my fucking life right now anyway.” She touched the nearly purple rosette with one gloved finger, introspectively, and then put her glove back on. “And maybe I can infect them all before I go. Fuck with my city.”

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