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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 48

Tricks of the Light

Rani was talking quietly with Valende, smiling a little, and then she ran one of her gloved fingers along the slender scar across her forehead and it seamed shut. “I didn’t know you had healing powers,” commented Thalia.

“I don’t,” said the half-Diarian. “Totally cosmetic. I have complete control over my hair and skin and stuff like that.”

“Neat,” said Thalia. “Was that a fairy gift?”

“Naah, some straight people can do it too.” She made her noisy Rimbor City laugh. Schneider noticed, offhandedly, that her shadow was that of a child. Before he could make anything of that, though, his attention was indelibly arrested by the shadow of the young woman approaching the other three.

For the bold, stylized lines of Aithne’s shadow looked exactly like the bas-reliefs of the Three Weird Sisters.

“Hi!” she said brightly, and waved.

***

“Have you noticed something weird, Jack?”

“Where do I begin?” Jack smiled at his cousin.

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice people’s shadows here are a little... off,” said Mina. “Like Rani’s is a little kid, and in mine, I’m wearing my hair up in a ponytail, and yours...”

“I don’t cast a shadow,” Jack reminded her.

“You do now,” said Mina.

Jack whirled around. He did have a shadow. Strangely enough, he had two shadows. One seemed normal, a parallaxed image of himself holding his cheese. The other shadow seemed a bit stockier, a bit more solid, and strangest of all, was holding a carpenter’s level.

“Does anyone else have two?” he asked.

“Not that I saw.”

Marty and Jane had wandered over, and the cousins looked at their shadows reflexively. Hers was that of a bird. His seemed oddly triumphant looking, noble and strong and upright.

“You’ve got a pretty attractive looking shadow there, Marty,” Mina said.

“D’oh!” cried Jack, remembering. “That reminds me... Marty, can we talk?”

Jack took Marty by the arm and started leading him away from the two women.

“He’s going to save all our lives,” Jane mentioned.

“Jack?” said Mina. “He’s been known to do that from time to time.”

“No, Marty. He’s the only one. Without him, everyone here will die.”

“Oh, Jo, we’ve got to work on your small talk,” Mina sighed.

The Shadows Of Memory

“Everything all right?” said Ebreth quietly, as the three of them walked out of the empty house.

“Fine,” lied Khyrisse, crinkles of worry in the corners of her eyes, and then very suddenly, almost involuntarily, twisted her head to look behind them. It was enough to send Ebreth’s hand to the pommel of his sword. She made a strangled sound, one hand flying over her mouth. “Ebreth,” she said grainily. “You--you don’t have a shadow.”

He looked behind him. “Is that good or bad?” His voice trailed off a bit as he caught sight of hers. “Khyrisse?”

“I had them when I was a goddess,” she said. “I--don’t suppose you ever really got a look at me, in any of my dream spells--” The line of her throat trembled a bit. “I have them there, too.”

“Really,” he said, looking at her shadow. The wings were so diaphanous the shimmer they made on the ground was more like the sun through water, or through smoke. “Maybe it’s a reflection of how you see yourself,” Ebreth said. He looked over his own shoulder. “Maybe I’m not so sure how to see myself,” Ebreth said.

She was so consciously avoiding letting her eyes drift to Octavian’s shadow that Ebreth didn’t look until Mina had called across to them that she thought she had found a way home and Khyrisse had jogged ahead to confer with her. He looked at it and then he looked at Octavian, their eyes locking on each other for what felt like a very long time, and then he smiled.

Octavian didn’t.

It was the first time they had ever embraced.

***

Vas was whirling through the whispering tree-tops in a deserted corner of the rose garden, laughing softly. The woman dancing with him wasn’t wearing much, only a net with tiny seashells caught up in it as accents. Vastarin, how do you do this? thought Val, amused. I think we left you to your own devices for a lousy half an hour.

She caught sight of the woman’s face as they spun past overhead, and did a doubletake. Oh, Vas, no... Oh, you poor thing.

She waited out the set, watching the two spin gracefully through the night sky. The Actress’ resemblance to Vastarin’s first real love was too complete not to have come from his own memories, and Vas, for all his loveable featherheadedness, was far too intelligent not to know it himself. He seemed to have given himself wholly and willingly to the fantasy anyway, pressing against her as they danced with his eyes half-closed as if in reverie. Valende’s eyes stung with sympathy.

Finally they stopped near her, and the glow of the Actress’ eyes gleamed briefly at Valende from behind the wind-combed waves of her hair. Vastarin, oblivious to the presence of his sister, caressed the curve of the woman’s cheek and murmured something to her.

“Vastarin, I’d love to,” she replied, and the hush and sigh of the ocean was in her voice. “But your companions are waiting.” She nodded to Val, and he turned to look at her, startled.

“Her love, Vas. Always,” whispered the Goddess of Loneliness, and removed her Mask, and walked quietly into the street, her true face soft with sorrow for him and for all the world.

Valende struggled to catch up with her brother, who was striding back towards the waiting Rat Pack as if stung by an invisible lash. “Vas. Vas!”

He stopped with a painful sigh, and turned back towards her, his eyes on the ground.

“She knew, didn’t she?” she asked, suddenly at a loss for what to say. “About Aerdrie.”

Vas nodded mutely. “...I miss her, Valende,” he finally said, very softly. The dancing sapphire eyes were dull for once, dimmed like a rain-filled sky. Val squeezed his hand gently. “I miss her.”

***

Jack was half-walking, half-floating in an odd little circle, peering back over his own shoulder. “What are you up to, Jack?” asked Ebreth.

“I’m watching my shadow,” he said. “It seems completely unrelated to the direction of the light source.”

“You have a shadow now?”

“I have two, actually. One at 162.45 degrees--” He pointed over one shoulder. “--and one at 197.55 degrees.” He pointed over the other.

“Maybe you’ve got mine. I don’t have any here.” Ebreth walked around Jack to inspect them. “They both look like you.”

“I think our shadows here may be reflecting our mental images of ourselves,” said Khyrisse quietly, “not our physical forms. My shadow has wings, just as my dream self does.”

“Or our true natures,” offered Val.

“So either I’m schizophrenic, or there’s really two of me?” Jack joked.

“There used to be two of you.” Ebreth contemplated the two shadows for a moment. “Jack, if your, other, still existed somewhere, would there be any way for you to tell?”

“Uh,” he said, “since I’m actually a subset of his equation, then if that equation still existed, I would have been absorbed into it the first time I tapped into the math. Which didn’t happen.”

“Even if he was on another plane?” said Ebreth. “Or trapped in the Passage somehow?” He looked at the two shadows again. “Maybe he’s still out there somewhere.” It had never actually occurred to Ebreth before. He wasn’t sure why not.

Jack was thinking about it. “Well,” he said, slowly, “maybe.”

“Hnhh.” Ebreth uncrouched from the sidewalk, his eyes a bit distant, and then shook it off and gave Jack a grin. “Try not to tap into the math any more than you can help, then, okay?” he said, closing his arm around his friend’s strange, misty shoulders. “I don’t want you getting absorbed and destroyed or anything. We’ve got three months left, and I want to use them.”

“Hey, guys!” Skitch called, waving. “Mina and Khyrisse have a way home now!”

Ebreth and Jack followed him across the courtyard, two shadows stretching out behind them on the grass.

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