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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 49

Foreshadowing: The Woman From Tobrinel

She rode into the small town by night, her stolen horse exhausted from the day’s ride. It had been imperative to put some distance between herself and Tobrinel. She wouldn’t be missed, of course. No one even knew she’d been there in the first place. No one but those she was fleeing, at least, and they wouldn’t miss her either, not as long as the Duke kept to her policy of the last seven months.

The inn was a small one, but it would be good enough for the night. The woman had ample gold with her, there was no lack of that where she’d come from. Unfortunately, she was limited to what she could carry, and it wouldn’t last long after she spent it.

“Help you, ma’am?” said the innkeeper, a young man with curly red hair. “You look like you’ve ridden quite a ways today.”

“I need someone to shelter my horse and rent me a room,” said the woman, a flirt she could hardly control in her eyes.

“Well, it’s a good thing you came when you did, then. There’s going to be a fair up north in Johnstown next week, and we expect to be full up by then.”

“I’m not going to be in town that long,” the woman said, absently flipping her blond hair with one hand. “I’ve got to get to New Trade.”

“I heard of that, I think,” the innkeep said. “Isn’t that down in Nylevia somewhere?”

“Northlands,” the woman corrected him.

“We had some people heading out there a few weeks ago. Said there was a lot of opportunity there. You going to get a job?”

“I’ve got a friend there.” The woman frowned. “Well, I hope she’s a friend. Khyrisse Starshadow.”

“Wow,” the young man said. “The Mithril Dagger hero?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I need her help with a... mutual problem.”

“Well, I’d wager if she couldn’t help you, no one can!” the man said cheerily. “Here, I’ll get your horse, and Anne will get you to a room. Anne!”

A pregnant woman with long brown hair tied up in a loose bun walked into the room from the back of the inn. “Yes?” she asked, but upon seeing the woman, headed towards the desk.

“We’ve got a guest!” the innkeeper said, smiling at his wife. “I’m going to go stable her horse, can you give her a key to room two?”

Anne didn’t answer, but just dangled the key, which was already in her hand. The innkeeper smiled, and headed out front to handle the horse.

“Thank you very much,” the woman said.

“Our pleasure, dear,” said Anne, walking slowly towards the woman. She looked to be about seven or eight months along. “I’m sorry, my husband didn’t tell me your name.”

“It’s...” The woman seemed to think about it for a moment, like she wasn’t sure what to say. “Dee. Call me Dee.”

“Room two, Dee,” smiled the innkeeper’s wife, handing the woman the key.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Mina had assumed the archmage’s distress had to do with her burden of responsibility for the group--fearing she’d stranded them in a strange dimension with no way home. But though she seemed pleased with the younger sorceress’ plan, she still looked distant and disturbed. “Is everything okay?” Mina asked as the rest of the Rat Pack converged.

“It’s... fine,” Khyrisse said. From Ebreth’s expression Mina could tell that all that could be done was being done.

“We think we’ve got an idea for how we can get home,” Mina explained to the others. “It has to do with the shadows.”

“We’ve... noticed the shadows,” Schneider said shortly, looking at Aithne. Mina couldn’t read his expression, and hoped this wasn’t going to be a prelude to more trouble. Aithne’s shadow just looked like Celtic art to Mina.

“Anyway,” continued the young Paris, “I suspect the shadows here are somehow connected to our lives, to our histories... that’s how they can take the shape of our inner natures.”

Ebreth frowned a little at that. Mina didn’t even try to look at his shadow. “So, Khyrisse and I were thinking that since Rani’s powers are working again, if she can use them to link Garal to the shadows, then maybe he can follow that link back to Ataniel.”

“You’re too modest, Mina,” Khyrisse left her brown study to smile at her. “It was your idea completely. You really have a tremendous talent for putting magical concepts together in new ways.”

Mina blushed.

“It... could work,” said Garal.

***

The halfling found himself floating through darkness. It was unlike any dimensional space he had been in. One thing about traveling with the Rat Pack: he certainly was expanding his horizons.

Garal tried to focus on Ataniel. On Ti’Ashentes. His home. The link to his shadow (which fortunately no one had looked carefully at, lest they know what he hid about himself) was there. He could feel the moonlight reaching into him, tracking back along his lifeline to find his past. To find where he came from. Using his planeblazing abilities, he reached for that link, sensing the familiar planar constants of Ataniel.

And then, the light of the moons were replaced by the more familiar sun.

The Rat Pack found themselves in a grassy field.

“Ti’Ashentes,” said Garal. “We’re home.”

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