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The Book of Ataniel

The Art Of Losing Archives
Men Without Souls: Part 50

To Have Loved and Lost

Flicker watched as Praxis drew Kit aside, a serious expression on his broad Celtic face. Praxis, Flicker decided, could handle it. “Shilree,” he said, pulling the faintly pulsing crystal the clone had given him out of his shirt. “The clone of you gave me her taj a bezhay before she died. I’d been going to bring it back to your family, but under the circumstances...”

“Hmm, yes, I see.” Shilree frowned briefly at the crystal, then shook off her hesitation and lifted it to her brow. “She should not be forgotten. I owe her that.” The Diari politician’s eyes fluttered shut and saccaded rapidly back and forth beneath her lids as the crystal lit up. “Ah,” she finally said. “Anjra.”

“I’ve found,” said Flicker, “that it usually is better to have loved and lost.”

“Maybe,” said Shilree, and put the empty crystal in her pouch. “I’d rather have a live friend than a dead fiancée. Hold still.” She slapped the elf across the face, and he blinked at her. “What was that for?” he said.

“Stealing the Gem of Dimensions.” She caught his collar and kissed him, tonguelessly but rather intensely. Flicker blinked again, as close as he came to showing surprise. “And that?”

“Stealing the Gem of Dimensions. There, I think we’re all caught up.”

Flicker laughed, and then stopped. “Shilree,” he said, “there’s actually one more thing.”

“Flazhnae,” she sighed. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“V’nos,” said Flicker. “I was there when he died.”

Shilree looked surprised. “Wow. I did like it.”

“I don’t think he’s the one who killed Anjra, Shil.”

“Sunny you can’t believe a word that liar says,” Shilree said. “My clone was there when it happened and I just saw everything. I literally found a dead doppelganger on the floor with the knife that had killed her still in its--” Shilree paused. “Oh.”

“I mean,” said Flicker, “since they’d replaced you with a clone anyway, why would they want to--”

“Two steps ahead of you Sunny,” said Shilree, waving her hand. “But who?”

“Well,” said Flicker slowly, “I hate to seem ungrateful, but have you considered Shalak? He is--”

“--the one who wanted the clone on Gila,” finished Shilree, her eyes unfocusing a little. “Oh, he wouldn’t have. He seemed so...” Her voice trailed off.

“Just because a villain’s charming to you,” said Flicker, “doesn’t mean he won’t do something you’ll want to kick his ass for. Trust me.”

“I’d been going to say ‘honorable’.” Shilree buried her slender fingers in her metallic red hair. “Great. I don’t even know where to begin finding out if that’s true, or who’s responsible if Shalak isn’t.”

“Why not just file it away for now and go on with your life?” suggested Flicker. “Not every piece of information requires immediate ass-kicking. There’s been enough revenge. I’m very glad to have you back, but other than that all we’ve gotten out of this Gila ordeal is a new lich lord.” Shilree sighed, heavily. “I think it’s time to go home and plant,” said Flicker. “What we know will wait until the time is right to do something.”

“That doesn’t sound very Viking,” said Shilree.

“That’s just because you don’t know much about Vikings.” He tilted his glass at her and smiled. “Skoal.”

***

“Kit, we need to talk.”

“About how twisted it is to make cute penguins tools of evil?”

“Er, no. About something even more important. About the City on the Edge of Forever.”

“The what?”

“You’re good a keeping a straight face. Valuable talent for a thief. But I think you know what I’m talking about.”

“Really, I don’t!”

“When we were inside Shilree’s mind you must have run across her memories and taken it. Look, Kit, I’m not trying to rain on your parade. But I can’t stress enough how lethal the Heart could be. The last one is what brought Bane. It nearly destroyed the whole world, and as it was it did bring the Madness. That can’t be risked again. We’ve got to destroy it.”

“I, uh, I left it in her brain,” said Kit.

Kit likely didn’t know much about psionics, Praxis thought, so it was understandable that she tried to keep the truth from him. He still hadn’t recovered all his strength from the long journey, though, and knew that he’d need to get the truth from her quickly.. “How about in your satchel?” he asked, nodding to the pack slung over her shoulder.

“What? This? There’s nothing in here,” she said, thinking to herself that she couldn’t let him look in it.

Praxis held his hand out.

Kit begrudgingly held out the satchel, mentally repeating “please don’t look in it” over and over again. Praxis almost smiled. He could tell that she was repeating it for a reason, but apparently she didn’t know that psionic communication didn’t quite work that way.

He opened the satchel. In the bottom of the satchel was... sand. He reached in and pulled out some grains, letting them run between his fingers and back into the bag.

“What the--?” Kit asked in surprise. It’s sand! she shouted in her mind. It must have crumbled in the real world!

Praxis relaxed. He hadn’t known if a dream artifact could really be brought into this world, and it seemed he had his answer.

It’s sand, Kit repeated mentally. It must have crumbled in the real--

Praxis’ PSPs ran out as he looked up at the Greatest Thief in Ataniel. If he hadn’t known better, he’d think that the girl was using a repetitive script in her mind. He had only tried a surface scan, figuring it would be enough.

He shook his head. There was no way the girl would have been able to learn such advanced mental tricks. It wasn’t as if she had ever had some sort of mental power or anything, and such tricks took both familiarity and practice.

“Give me that!” Kit cried, tears brimming in her eyes. “I don’t go looking through... oh, just give!” She yanked the satchel back and looked inside it herself, touching the small pile of sand. Frowning at Praxis, she said, lying worse than usually, “I told you it wasn’t in here.”

Praxis nodded. If it had been, it was gone now.

She dug up the dream Heart the next day, after saying her good-byes to the Sidewinders. She had worried for a while that Praxis had seen through her staged disappointment, but he hadn’t said anything. The trick Mephisto had used back home to resist the Stone of Command had worked as well as he had said. She plopped the stone into the satchel on top of the sand she had scooped up in the Doomlands and put her pinky to the wind. It blew in the direction of Tobrinel.

Kit headed off.

***

“And you’re sure that was the end of it?”

“Well, yes,” he said, “but then, you know, I was sure Tila couldn’t be Venom, too.” Praxis shrugged. “All that really matters is Trade itself. Mind asserts there was nothing in a mile radius that could serve as any kind of extradimensional beacon. The Wisdom according to Zzenith says there is no City on the Edge of Forever left to be summoned. And when I confronted Kit, she either couldn’t or wouldn’t make an attempt to call the city then, which bodes well either way. The artifact either didn’t make it out of Shilree’s brain, or it has entirely different, dream-ascribed properties. There won’t be a repeat of last year’s debacle, and that’s all I need to know.”

Flicker nodded. “It’s probably still best if we don’t mention this to Khyrisse.”

“Do I look suicidal?”

“I don’t know, you’re the one who contacted Shalak. How’d that go, anyway?”

“A little worse than Arturian, not as bad as Paninaro.”

***

“I don’t know,” said Jason, frankly. “I was--sort of running away when you found me, not really to anyplace. I guess I was still grieving. I don’t know what I want to do with my life now.”

“You would be welcome at the Order of Redemption,” said Praxis.

Jason sighed. “I--appreciate that, Praxis, very much, but I’m--just not ready to go back to Shikintu yet. That’s where--where Cedric’s killers found us...”

“I can personally vouch for your safety in Shanghai,” said Praxis.

“It’s not my safety. It’s--” Jason moved his hand, vaguely. “Memories.”

“Do I hear that,” sighed Shilree.

“Let’s hit the Mithril Dagger Inn,” offered Flicker. “That’s where I usually go when it’s time for me to start over.”

“Indeed,” said Praxis.

“Sounds good to me.”

Someone Had To Say It, And Jonah Wasn’t Here

“So, Garal, how do we get to Ti’Ashentes from here?” Schneider asked.

“Well, just follow the yel... oh, ha ha. Very funny.”

“That’s why they pay me the big bucks!”

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