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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

We'll Always Have Paris Archives
With A Little Help From Our Friends, Part VII



Character(s): Khyrisse, Lora
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: Pleasant Conversation

Khyrisse was wandering down one of the myriad hallways in the Paris estate looking for the dining room, when she passed Lora Paris in a sitting room. Lora looked up and smiled.
"Khyrisse!" Lora called. "Hello!"
Khyrisse wandered into the room. "Hello, Mrs. Paris," she smiled.
"Please, call me Lora."
"Lora, then."
"I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you, actually," Lora said, putting her book down on a small table and folding her hands in her lap. "Do you have a minute?"
"Certainly," Khyrisse said.
"The Word is that you were a merchant by trade before becoming an adventurer... accompanying Jack must not give you much time to get back into the market... how do you travel about like that while still keeping up with things?"
Khyrisse sighed a little. "Well, to be perfectly honest, I haven't been keeping up with things. I'm so behind on my schedule for New Trade..."
Lora nodded. "Yes, Asinus mentioned something about that, but he didn't know much detail."
Khyrisse waited for a moment, but it seemed that Lora wanted her to elaborate. "Most of the planning I've been able to get done on the road, thank goodness. Would you like to see some of it?" Khyrisse gave Lora an impish smile. "I warn you, give me half a chance and I'll talk all night about this."
"Believe me, It'll be nice to hear about something other than the Remnant for a while." Lora looked over the notes, nodding occasionally. Finally, after a moment of thought, she looked up at Khyrisse appraisingly. "So, what exactly are you planning to require of the composite city/states? Will New Trade require a political compact or is it open to economic powers having representation?"
Khyrisse smiled, being pretty sure of which economic power she was wondering about. "No," she said, "economic powers can also be represented, although some of the arrangements would be different. Many of the problems I have to guard against in dealing with a political body wouldn't apply." Khyrisse flipped to the specs on the Trade Carriage that she'd been preparing recently and showed them to Lora. "Actually, I'm trying to keep New Trade out of the political machinations that Trade fell into, in the later years of its existence. I want New Trade to be a strictly mercantile and educational center, with the sole exception of supporting diplomatic efforts. So merchant houses and the like will be more than welcome."
Seemingly satisfied, Lora abruptly changed gears. "So what proscriptions would you try to place on the political units, if you had your way? I mean, you're certainly right about politics having a deleterious effect on a free market."
Khyrisse nodded. "Well, the first problem I can foresee has to do with espionage. The Trade Carriages will not be used to transport spies or intelligence across international boundaries. Transport of any kind between countries at war will not be made available, period. I can foresee having problems enforcing that, but we'll do what we can. I'd also like to forbid the placement of international tariffs, although I think I'll have to settle for placing an extremely low ceiling on them."
Lora looked at Khyrisse amusedly. "Couldn't you use Trade itself to act as an arbiter for tariffs among its constituents?"
Khyrisse frowned thoughtfully. "I could, I suppose...! Some of the countries already have tariffs in place for dealing with each other, and that's going to be a problem; but for many combinations there was no trade between them before Trade came into being. And a lot of those same combinations have had trade between them cut off since Trade's destruction because of the impossibility of shipping across the mountains. But you may be right... I bet I could get away with that," she decided, with a smile.
"Do tell me if I'm being an insufferable buttinsky, but dependent on the level of opportunity you offer with Trade, they may be willing to accept a universal tariff or tariff review in return."
Khyrisse nodded. "I've been dithering over this for a while-- I'm in a somewhat precarious position. If there are too many restrictions on governments, they'll figure that they can simply do without what New Trade can offer them; if there are too few, New Trade gets sucked into that political nonsense again. I'll have to see how high I can drive the price before I sell." Khyrisse smiled an impish grin.
Lora laughed. "That's the way to do it! But then, that's all in the future..." Lora's eyes lost focus momentarily and she pursed her lips, as if she wasn't certain of exactly how to phrase something. Finally, she smiled. "You know," she said, "if you intend on helping us with the Remnant, we could, in return, offer you our services n setting up a foundation for this... You have the plan and ideas, but not the time or workforce. And it's been a long time since I've gotten a chance to work on something that didn't require a lot of time on boats..." Lora grinned as if to some private joke.
Khyrisse couldn't help but grin back, but beneath her congeniality was a honestly surprised archmagess. "What kinds of services could you provide? I've got an enormous list of tasks that I either have to do myself with magic or that would require some very expert craftsmen..." Not wanting to insult Lora's offer, she smiled and added, "Although from what I've picked up from Jack and Asinus, the Parises seem to have a lot of those."
Lora seemed unfazed. "Dear, we build over a hundred ships a year, and that's just for our illegal activities. No, I was thinking more in terms of acting as an infrastructure for you... you determine what contacts and arrangements you need done, and I could put the Paris machine to work for you."
This was not what Khyrisse had expected. "Grendel." She smiled a rueful grin, unsure of what to make of such an offer. "Hmm. That's an interesting idea... though Jack has never told me exactly how far the Paris network extends."
Lora opened a small folder and read from a piece of paper within. "Her tomato crop is not doing very well, but as one might guess from her heritage, she has a full larder of potatoes."
Khyrisse raised an eyebrow, questioningly.
"Shannon of Tremontagne," Lora smiled. "It seems that bland food is to be her lot this winter."
Khyrisse blinked at Lora for a long moment, her eyes as wide as they would get. "Mabye I'll stop by there after all," she whispered absentmindedly, and sat down, with a dazed sort of grin. "Well, the first thing I'd need is an update on who's been in charge of the various countries since the collapse. I lost six months in the Lower Planes; not to mention that I still don't know who might have died in the Madness."
Lora nodded as if receiving an expected answer. "I can have a full geopolitical overview put together and brought to your rooms after dinner... would that be soon enough for you?"
"That'd be great, thank you..." After a moment, she added, "The Rat Pack would have helped the Parises with the Remnant anyway, you realize. It was never in question."
Lora laughed. "I wouldn't offer this much otherwise, dear. Besides, both Jack and Asinus speak so well of you..."
Khyrisse looked a little surprised. "Really?" She shook her head, smiling. "Poor Jack... he had to take over the leadership of the Rat Pack and everything. I've wondered at times." She suppressed a rueful grin. "And I must confess that I was not always terribly polite to Asinus. But he asked for it."
"Tell me about it!" Lora laughed. "I had to grow up with him. But he's a good man at heart... if you can ever find it." She closed the folder and replaced it on the nearby table. "Anyway, if you could at some point write up for me a list of optimal conditions for Trade status, I could give you a once-over on them, and maybe help to work out a viable contract. If you're willing, I could even have Asinus look at it. He's a lawyer as well as an ass. If that isn't redundant."
Khyrisse chuckled. "No, I trust Asinus in that respect, at least! If he can't make a contract airtight, I don't think it can be done. Sure." Khyrisse looked away for a moment, nervously. Finally, she turned back and faced Lora. "You know, I'd like to ask you something about Asinus, but I don't know if it's the sort of thing I should be asking him instead."
Lora shrugged the serious mood off. "What are sisters for if not to gossip about their brothers behind their backs?"
Khyrisse burst out laughing. "Oh, is that ever true!" Khyrisse frowned, searching for a way to put her question, but finally gave up. "I was curious about what happened to him... I used a dream spell to talk to him the other night, and..." Lora didn't say anything at first, and Khyrisse fidgeted in her chair. "You can't tell me that he started out as a donkey. I can see Asinus' mannerisms--the Asinus I saw in the dream--in the shape he's wearing now. But all I've figured out is that it probably had something to do with Arturian."
Lora nodded. "Well, he did start out as an ass, and that was really what led to his becoming a donkey. Suffice it to say that when he was twenty-one, he got it into his head that he could trick a certain mage out of a certain artifact. The sad part is--well, the sad part other than being permanently changed into a donkey--is that Asinus' prize brought him more sadness than the punishment for his hubris did. I'm sure he'll tell you the whole story some day. It happened over thirty years ago, so we've all sort of gotten used to it, but I can see how it might be disconcerting."
"Yeees, you could say that... I'm more used to the notion of imposed changes in shape than most, but I have to say--I've never been goosed by a donkey before." She gave Lora an amused look.
Lora sighed and covered her eyes embarrassedly. "Yes, well, I've been trying to change him for years, and I've had about as much luck as the family mages who tried to re-polymorph him."
Khyrisse smiled. "Men are stubborn that way. My mother never cured my father of an atrocious color sense. Ask one of the Parises that spent time in Dyved to describe Cantrip Cottage to you. If they saw it, they'll remember it. My father's idea of camouflage was to paint it every color he could think of-- just in case."
Lora laughed. "You'll have to meet Renner sometime. By far the most pastel pirate in the archipelago." Just then, a bell rang in the distance. Lora looked up at a grandfather clock. "Oh! Looks like it's time for dinner... I really have to be off... think on what I've said, Khyrisse... it would really be my pleasure to help you get this together."
"I will! Thank you," Khyrisse replied, with a warm smile.
She sat in the sitting room for a few minutes more, wondering why she hadn't visited here years ago.

***


Lora raced down the hallway to the kitchen, slightly annoyed at herself for getting so distracted by pleasant conversation that she left the dinner in the servant's hands. Fortunately Rauvin was putting the final touches on the capons.
"Everything okay?" he asked of Lora, breathless in the kitchen door.
"Perfect," she said. "Everything is... just perfect."
Lora stepped back, bumping into the person she had just come looking for.
"Well?"
"I talked to her," Lora said. "I got the information you told me about, and I have a pretty good idea of just what to do with it."
"You'd better. A lot rides on this."
"Don't worry. You deal with your end, and I'll deal with mine."

Character(s): Khyrisse and Ebreth
Author: Laura Redish and Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: Khyrisse Starshadow, Friend Of The Family

Khyrisse sat at the edge of the beach after dinner and pulled off her boots, her head bent over the task even though it didn't require that much attention. She didn't want to look at the sky until she was ready for it. Feet bare, breeches rolled up past her knees, hair flying loose, she wandered down to the water. Foam curled around her toes, surprising a yelp out of her. I keep forgetting, it's winter. Of course the water's a bit cold. Khyrisse sighed and looked up. Moonlight danced over the water from two different moons-- one a crescent forever, one a tainted shade of white that reminded her of a black pearl. She stood there for a long few moments looking at the play of light, the water crashing into her ankles. Eventually, she began walking along in the surf, hands in her pockets. The ocean sounds like it's a little sad, but less so than I expected, she eventually decided. I wonder if it sounds like whatever mood you're in? The pier loomed up out of the darkness, and as she walked towards it, she could make out a person sitting at the end of it. She smiled a little. I think I see a fairly good person to ask.
"Hi," she said, stepping up onto the boardwalk. Ebreth opened his eyes and turned his head towards her a little. He looked so damn tired all the time now. He must have been sitting out here for some time now; his clothes were quite wet with the spray. Not that they didn't look good that way. Khyrisse blushed a little in the darkness and decided against asking him about his mood. "Was the tide always like this?" she whispered instead, looking out.
"Since Bane," he said.
"Are you all right? You weren't at dinner."
"I'm doing some thinking, that's all." He looked up at her. "What's on your mind?"
"Lora has offered the services of the Paris 'machine' for getting New Trade off the ground."
Ebreth nodded. "As mafiosi go, the Parises are a pretty friendly bunch for you to get your citystate in with, really. Especially since you're tight with one of their inner circle."
"Mafi--" Khyrisse sighed. "I don't know that I wanted to get involved with any mafiosi at all."
"Well, they're not involved with the slave trade, if that makes you feel better. If you have ethical problems with drugs, though, you'd better not ask. Or protection fees. Or overprotectiveness of certain monopolies at the, ah, expense of others. But they're pretty much all right."
"The--expense of others?"
"Think robber baron. They don't have people murdered, at least not often enough to make the underworld news, you know, but they certainly use their sizeable influence to maintain certain monopolies by hook or by crook." Ebreth paused a moment. "I shouldn't be gossiping. Put it this way, I don't think people go to Hell for unscrupulous business dealings, right, but the Remnant is no accident. It's made up of the shades of people whose lives the family has destroyed, either your straight piracy or the kind of economic sabotage they don't teach you in business school."
"Depends what business school," she said wryly. "I ran Cynystra's finances and international trade for four years. I've seen plenty of political machinations I wouldn't teach Skitch. This is why I want New Trade to be neutral." She drummed her fingers. "You don't think I'm making a mistake?..."
"I don't care," he said. "Everybody on these islands has run a few drugs, broken a few laws, destroyed a few lives. The Parises are just a little more organized than most." He looked at his hand. "Less thorough than some."
"Ebreth, he paid for it. You're not the same man." She paused. "If they keep it in their own territory, I don't care, either... but it will have to be firmly discouraged in New Trade. I run my city, no one else. New Trade must be neutral, politically and financially, or it won't work."
"You're a friend of Jack's. I can't imagine they're going to torpedo that. You're not going to get an international port without organized crime anyway. You may as well invite in a civilized family you can trust. It'll help you keep things in check."
"I'm so bad at that part," she admitted. "It's why I didn't notice--why I don't notice a lot of things, really. I'm--going to need some help spotting this kind of thing." She gave him a sideways glance, her fingers fluttering nervously.
"Well, maybe I could keep my eye out for you," he said, softly. "I've got a lot of experience with this sort of thing. If--you want me to, I mean."
"If I want you to--" She shook her head in disbelief, smiling a little. "Would you? Really? Do I owe you my first born?" She smiled harder, blushing a bit. "That would be a very big help. Not to mention that I'd enjoy the company. Yes, please."
"I don't know how good an advisor I'd be, but this hero thing's been new too. I'm willing to give it a shot." He laughed a little, shakily. "If Caimen intends for me to survive this mission, that is."
"He better," Khyrisse retorted. "Or this business agreement is going to be more like dealing with Cynystra than I'd planned."
Ebreth laughed a little, but it passed quickly. "Look, whatever you do, though," he said, "once you make this agreement, stick to it, no matter what happens, right. I don't care who they kill, don't go back on a business deal with the Parises. You'll live to regret it. I'm really serious about this."
She thought about it for a long moment and then sighed. "If I can deal with Eric after what he did to my life, I can deal with the Parises no matter what happens. If the deal is an honest one, I'll stick to it. I can promise that much."
Ebreth nodded. "Thank you," he said. "That matters."

Character(s): Ebreth Tor
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: A Tale Of Two Cities

Ebreth Tor padded silently from the bath in a white Montasi bathrobe, shut the door gently behind him, and sank into the bed. The night was mercifully clear, no rain driving on the ceiling like pins into his nerves, and a hot bath had done him good. He didn't feel relaxed, exactly, but he didn't feel tense, either, and it was a start. He took A Tale Of Two Cities down from the nightstand, looked at its spine, and opened it. There was a vague gnawing in his stomach, but nowhere near strong enough that he was going to bother Lora. Ebreth turned the lamp up and started reading, running his finger down the page as he went.
There was a tap at the door about ten minutes later. Ebreth closed the book around his thumb, then remembered that it wasn't his book and fumbled for the bookmark. "Come in."
It was Khyrisse. She looked vaguely relieved, damned if Ebreth knew why. There seemed to be something intrinsically random about Khyrisse's emotions, at least of late. "No reading night tonight?" she said.
"Jack's catching up with his family," said Ebreth. "He lent me this." He raised the book. "You can read it with me if you want. I'm only on page six. I'm kind of a slow reader."
"What's it about?" Khyrisse approached the bed hesitantly.
"War. Jack says it gets to be a love story, though."
"Really." Khyrisse sat down.
"Yeah. I can start over if you want."
She bit her lip. "Do you," she said, "would you mind if I, just put my head on your shoulder?"
He looked at her, and then at the book. "Sure," he said, quietly. "Sure, that would be okay."
She pressed the side of her face into the terry of the robe, shivering a little, and he hesitated, then put his arm gingerly around her. She closed her eyes. "It was the best of times," he read, quietly, "it was the worst of times."

Character(s): Two Grumpy Men and, eventually, a Sleepy Woman
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: One Last Present

"You owe me, pal. Remember that time back in Lapuente? You told me that I had but to name a boon, and you were all over it?"
"I don't think those were the words I used."
"Yeah, I think something like 'I'll never forget this' and 'anything in the world' were more in your lexicon."
"Some of these terms are absurd. No self-respecting sovereign would cede rights like this..."
"Did I mention that we already have the intelligence report you wanted?"
"Damn you... you haven't changed a bit since the Undersea Wars, have you?"
"Not a flarkin' bit."
"It's not that I object to the idea, you know. I was planning on following up on it myself."
"Good. Do it on my terms."
"If I sign this, you put yourself on the line for our agreed-upon profit margin?"
"I don't do business any other way. If you don't see a three hundred percent return, my ass is yours. So to speak."
"I can't believe I'm doing this. We're completely even now, you know."
"Yeah, yeah. Glad to know your life's worth so much. And I'm holding you to that public promotion clause. Anyone asks about this set-up, you use that flarkin' silver tongue to sell it to 'em."
"Just don't call me again."
"Not a problem. You'll do all interactions with the council through our agreed-upon proxy. You won't have to set foot outside your hermetically-sealed environment."
"The file, then?"
"Here ya go. Makes for a good read... but if you really want to score points, I'd send some fruit."
"I'm not going to dignify that with a response."
The crystal pool went black, and Asinus Paris sat down and breathed a sigh of relief. Three and a half hours of negotiations wore him out more nowadays than they had in his youth. He just hoped that he wasn't going to find his own head in his bed tomorrow morning for doing this...

***


Khyrisse Starshadow woke up to a single loud knock on her door, as if something had struck it with great force. It took her a minute to identify it, as she had been out late last night, sympathizing with Sydney Carton.
Putting up her morning defenses, she approached the door.
Outside was a small wooden box of elaborate make. Engraved on the top were the words "Happy 40th".
These Parises, she mused to herself. Bend over backwards to make you feel at home.
Inside the box was a small sheaf of papers tied in a burgundy ribbon. She undid the knot and unrolled the papers.
"Contract of Allegience," it began. It was the words below that took her breath. "of Cynystra as a member nation of New Trade."
She skimmed the contract. It was beyond anything she could ever have imagined. Tariff restrictions. National moral accountability. Military support of Council decisions. Cynystra's burden for... New Trade advertising and public relations? This was insane. Eric would never sign such a thing. And there was even a liason already written in, "to act in proxy of member nation's monarch." The name was Derek the Deranged, General of Cynystran Special Operations.
At the bottom of the contract was a space for her signature, "Khyrisse Starshadow, High Tradeswoman of New Trade." The space for "Eric Tremontagne, Emperor of Cynystra" was already signed in Eric's flourished hand.
Khyrisse was agog.
At the bottom of the sheet, a small piece of stationery was affixed by a pin.
It simply read, "Happy birthday, Khyrisse." It was signed "A. P."
Flarking hell, she smiled to herself.

Character(s): Marty and Ebreth
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris: Breakfast
Title of Post: Chicken and Egg

Lora Paris was making omelets in the kitchen. "Morning, ma'am," mumbled Ebreth, and sat down. He didn't mind Caimen so much; Caimen was an old pirate and he knew more or less how he worked. Lora was a lady and Ebreth was rather at a loss. In this situation anyway. "How's the tao going, Marty?"
Marty had a carton of eggs in front of him and was turning one of them in his hands. "Which came first, master," he said, "the chicken or the egg?"
"The egg," said Ebreth.
"But then where did the egg come from," said Marty, "if there weren't any chickens?" He looked anxious, as if this had been bothering him for days.
"Chickens aren't the only animals that lay eggs," Ebreth pointed out. "Fish lay eggs."
"Whoaaaa," sighed Marty, contentedly. "Can my spirit guide be an egg, then?"
"I don't know how much guidance an egg is going to give you." Ebreth took the egg from his erstwhile apprentice and looked at it. "I'll tell you what, you can be the guardian of this egg. It can be kind of like your virtual pet or something."
"Whoa. Is this teaching me, like, Significance?"
"No, just responsibility." Ebreth took a felt-tip pen from the container on the end table and drew a smiley face on the egg. "Your job is not to let it break, right? You just carry this egg with you everywhere you go and keep it--" As he handed it to him the young paladin fumbled it and dropped it onto the slate tile. "Okay, let's try it with another egg."
"Oh no," wailed Marty.
"Don't give up, kid. You just keep trying. You'll get it right in the end."
Lora whispered something under her breath and flipped the omelet perfectly.

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