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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Rat King Archives
Cat and Mouse, Part VI

Character(s):: Endicott and More Minions of the Dead College
Author:: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline:: Down Amongst the Dead Men
Title of Post:: I've Had Fun Before-- And You Aren't It

Any hopes Endicott had of figuring out where he had been taken were dashed. Greymalkin led him down a dimly-lit series of corridors without windows, and down several flights of rough-hewn stairs. There was a strange smell in the motionless air that he couldn't place, try as he might. It was obvious to him that they were underground-- but where?
Greymalkin opened a heavy wooden door, blackened with age, and "Iellan Tach" winced slightly as light streamed into the hallway. Beyond the door was a large room, brightly lit with candles and oil lamps. Furniture in the styles of many countries was scattered around it. Fine carpets and bookshelves did a great deal to hide the unfinished stone of the room from a casual observer.
Standing near one of the bookshelves was a woman in a clinging pale grey gown, head bent gracefully to study the tome she held in her hands. Her hair shone a luminous silver in the lamplight, but her figure was emphatically not that of an elderly woman. Greymalkin led Endicott inside, and the woman set down her book with a polite expression of interest. Smoky grey eyes set in an exquisitely shaped face widened as they fixed on "Iellan Tach". "We have a new member," Greymalkin said to her. He smirked a little. "I am sure you remember this gentleman."
Rose-painted lips curved in a mildly rueful smile. "It was quite some time ago... but yes. Welcome to the Dead College, Iellan." She glided forward, her translucent dress fluttering gently around a body that seemed to be all soft curve. There wasn't a straight line anywhere in the woman's makeup. Endicott's silence didn't seem to surprise Greymalkin, or the woman, for that matter.
"See that he's properly settled in," Greymalkin instructed her, that same strange smirk on his face. She nodded gently, her eyes still resting on the newcomer's face. The door closed behind the old man with a dull clang. His steps could be heard fading away beyond it.
"I see you still disapprove of me," she said, flashing him a slightly impudent smile. "I will show you to your room so you may be rid of my offensive presence. This way." Endicott marched silently behind her as she led him through a small archway in the far wall, and down a short corridor. He had fixed a faint look of disgust on his borrowed face, for Iellan Tach, if he had indeed ever met this woman, would have hated her. This was Silverlace, the infamous courtesan from Tobrinel. Beautiful, talented, and unbelievably hedonistic; her parties had been a regular feature of gossip columnists. The news of her sudden and violent death had put every rich man in northern Ataniel into black armbands, a few months before the Madness. She was humming quietly to herself as she walked ahead of him, apparently undisturbed by "Iellan's" disdainful silence. Endicott placed the tune as something he'd heard a few years back in a dockside tavern. Iellan would have had a fit-- if he'd known the lyrics. Still humming, an improbable expression of innocence on her face, she opened a door and waved him through. The room beyond it was a bedroom, fairly bland and with a distinct air of disuse, but comfortable enough. The door closed behind him with a soft click, and a moment later, the throaty soprano humming stopped as well. "Iellan" turned with an outraged look on his face, to launch an appropriate tirade at the doxy and evict her from the room.
She stood leaning against the door, one finger delicately tapping her lower lip as she smiled at him. Endicott paused, alerted by something in her bemused expression. Her eyes skimmed over the enchanted likeness of the fundamentalist standing before her, and she shook her head gently. "You," she said in dulcet tones that rang with certainty, "are not Iellan Tach."

Character(s):: Skitch and the Rat
Author:: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline:: The Rats of R.U.M.I.
Title of Post:: Rats of One Kind and Another

Skitch edged gently forward, holding out the severely squashed half of a club sandwich. The smell of pocket-warmed bacon, mayonnaise, and bread drifted towards the rat. The rat looked up from his agitated cleaning and sniffed the air. Skitch saw the purple mark on the rat's stomach and his eyes widened. He didn't move or do anything to startle the rat, though. He made calming *squeak-and-chitter* noises at the little critter, and fixed the weird sign in his memory. Maybe the godd-- Khyrisse would know what it meant. It made him feel funny when he looked at it, a creepy sort of shiver scrabbling between his shoulder blades. It had to be magical. The rat crept forward, nose twitching eagerly, beady eyes fixed on the food nestled in the palm of Skitch's long-fingered and slightly grubby hand. As it moved away from the shelter of the sewer wall, however, it hesitated. Sniffing the air in a much different fashion than before, it backed up again, short black fur sticking straight out all over its body. Skitch blinked at the faint purple glow coming from the rat's belly. He started to move towards the rat... and a rotting hand clamped onto his shoulder with an acidic hiss.
A boy's high-pitched scream echoed through the sewer tunnels.

Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: More questions left unanswered

"Skitch!" screamed Khyrisse. Ebreth caught her as she threw herself into the sewer, spun her, and put her down facing the noise. She tore off furiously; Ebreth fumbled for a light and loped along after her, catching up easily just as the sewer opened out. Someone had the kid by the throat. "Hey, you!" he yelled. The guy turned his head and Ebreth wished he hadn't.
"Holy shit," he said, "CLERIC!"
The undead thing threw the boy aside and, improbably enough, went for the rat.

Character(s):: The Rat, Ebreth, The Collector
Author:: Jeff Hersh
Storyline:: What the Rat Saw
Title of Post:: Walk like the undead

The sigil on the rat's chest glowed a deep purple as the undead abomination approached it. Small pools of acid ate away at the stone floor, as it slowly walked forward with a *scrape, shump* sound.
Panic filled the rat. "Get away!" his mind screamed, but he couldn't move.
Ebreth tried to intervene, but he found he couldn't move as well. "What the....?!?"
Slowly, as if it had all the time in the world, the man-thing's hand moved to grab the rodent. Suddenly it stopped and sniffed the air. The man-thing, flesh dripping off its frame, then did the last thing Ebreth excepted. It laughed. It laugh was like that of a man drowning in pus. A liquidy and bubbling sort of sound. Ebreth shuddered. He hated undead.
Then, without warning, the thing looked at the rat, then Skitch, and then at Ebreth. It raised one of its rotting limbs and pointed a finger at Ebreth.
"You will be next," it said in its hissing, bubbly voice.
Then, the thing turned insubstantial and disappeared like a fetid mist.

Character(s):: The Collector, ???
Author:: Jeff Hersh
Storyline:: Interlude
Title of Post:: Mechanizations

The hooded figure stood impatiently in the torture chamber. Screams, both human and non, filled the room like bizarre music. The figure hated waiting. The Collector should have been back by now. Then, almost as if it was summoned, a greasy, fetid mist coalesced in the center of the room. The horrible form of The Collector stepped out from the fog.
"Well?" the hooded figure asked impatiently. "Were you successful?"
The Collector nodded. "Yes," it said in thick, liquid voice. As it spoke maggots spewed from its lips and fell to the ground where they dissolved into a small pool of acid. "I placed the mark on the boy as you asked."
"Good. Were there any problems?"
"It just went as you said. The companions of the rat showed up. I marked the boy and placed my curse on the merchant."
"Excellent! What about the mathematician?"
"I didn't see him."
"That is for the best. Remember, mark him last. Now I need your help. Go to the hall of rodents and get me subjects for a new Rat King."
The Collector nodded slightly and shuffled off down the hall to fulfill its master's request.


Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: Sewer of the Living Dead

The rest of the group emerged tentatively into the cesspool. Ebreth looked decidedly shaken. "Are we all here?" he said. "Can I suggest that we stay together from now on? We've already lost one and we're very lucky we didn't lose another." Skitch shook against Khyrisse. "Listen. Can anyone tell me who that assassin we met earlier was?"
"Why?" said Jack, pointedly. "Do you know him?"
"Well, it is a possibility." Ebreth shrugged and smiled crookedly. "I certainly don't know the undead thing, do you?"

Character(s):: The Rat
Author:: Jeff Hersh
Storyline:: What the Rat Saw
Title of Post:: The Rat Returns

The rat was terrified. But through the terror it understood. For the first time that it could remember it understood. Now it had to tell someone.
The rat sniffed the air. Yes, almost all were here. The rat rushed forward and ran up Jack's pants leg, made his way over the shirt and into the satchel. This was a safe place. It was also a place for sleep. Yes, it would sleep; then it would try to tell everyone what it knew.

Character(s):: Jack Paris
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: Sewers is da bomb!

Jack hated dirt. He especially hated wet dirt. The sewer beneath Rumi seemed to be made entirely of wet dirt. He wished that Robinson hadn't left him so type A about these sorts of things. After lagging behind the party a bit, trying to find some way to maneuver through the sludge without ruining his pants (impossible), he heard Skitch's scream.
"Shit," he muttered. "Oh, sod the dirt, this is a job." He ran forward, coming into the cesspool as Ebreth suggested they all stay together.
"Listen," Ebreth said, "Can anyone tell me who that assassin we met earlier was?"
"Why?" Jack asked, figuring that Ebreth would've known any competent assassin. "Do you know him?"
"Well, it is a possibility," Ebreth shrugged and leered at Jack. "I certainly don't know the undead thing, do you?"
"Unless it's the reanimated corpse of Darian Mandelbrot, rumored never to rest until he finds the last number in his sequence, uh..." Jack realized he was digressing. "No. No I don't."
"His name is Charlie," Ariath said quietly. "Charlie Of-No-Matter. He, uh..." She glanced around, as if looking for help, finally settling her gaze on Jack. "He killed my cousin."
"Some of us could be so lucky," Jack muttered.
The rat suddenly ran under Jack's clothes and out his shirt into the satchel.
"Well, now this is interesting," Pieret chimed in.
"What?" Jack asked.
"Well, you pick up a lot as an anarchist," Pieret said. "One of those things is you learn to recognize bombs."
"So?" asked Jack obliviously.
"Well," Pieret continued. "Someone seems to have left a lit one here in the sewer. Closed fuse, to prevent tampering. I'd guess we had about ten seconds."
Jack could only imagine how much wet dirt he'd get over himself when that went off.


Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: Reflexes

Ebreth stared at the bomb. "Holy sh--" His instincts kicked in then and he dove for it. The room whirled around him; his wrist flicked violently as he rolled and the canister went hurtling perfectly through a drainpipe about a foot in diameter. There was a tremendous boom and a very unpleasant roaring sound. Ebreth Tor sat up as brown sludge started rushing through a widening crack in the wall. "Oh, fuck!" He whipped out his grappling hook and whipped it around a pipe overhead, yanked at it hard, and swept up Khyrisse and her terrified apprentice as if they were one person. The next thing he knew they had ricocheted off a larger drainpipe and were pressed against the sewer wall on an outcrop above the foul waters, breathing. Ebreth looked dazedly at the rope in his hand, looked at Khyrisse in his other arm, and quickly smiled at her as if it had been what he'd intended to do all along. "By the way," he said, "my name is Ebreth."

Character(s):: Power Forward Jack Paris
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: What a Load of Shit

Jack watched as the tsunami of fecal sludge came rushing towards him. With his last moment, he calculated the trajectory and mass/acceleration to toss the satchel, sleeping rat and all, onto a foot-long outcropping above the cesspool.
The satchel landed like a feather, sliding onto the small ledge. The rat didn't seem to wake.
"Science Johnson, eat your heart ou--" Jack said before a mountain of crap washed over him.
Ebreth Tor was really going to pay for this.

Ariath screamed, "Help, someone save me!" directly at Vas.

"Beliath," Greymalkin said to the masked man. "We've got a situation. Ebreth Tor has been sighted in Rumi."
"Has he?" the leader of the Dead College said, a grin evident in his tone. "Ebreth Tor, you say? Well, this should be mightily interesting. Oh, very interesting indeed..."
"Shall I send a retrieval squad?"
"No, this one I think I shall handle myself, Greymalkin. Bring me the Cabinet of Lives." Greymalkin left the room. "Ebreth Tor, hm?" Beliath said to himself. "This I've got to see."

Character(s):: Valende and Vas, the Wonder Twins
Author:: Weasel-Boy of the Elven People
Storyline:: The Rats of R.U.M.I.
Title of Post:: Someone's Been Watching Too Much Anime

Vas watched silently, standing just in front of Ariath, as the Collector made his creepy appearance. Not that he had much choice in the matter, since she immediately huddled behind him when the thing appeared. His mind was racing, trying to identify the disgusting thing. He had heard tales of such a creature, but the rumors hadn't granted it intelligence and a voice. He looked quickly at his sister, and saw that she was as bewildered as he was. Unlike him, she was springing into action, her holy sword whipping out as she leapt to confront it.
Unfortunately, the Collector disappeared before her brilliantly glowing sword connected. "Merde!" she swore, spinning around to see if it had appeared behind her or anyone else. Seeing no threat anymore, she knelt down next to Skitch, and helped him to his feet. "It's all right, my young warrior. You're going to be fine. I even have something for that burn; hold still now." As she spoke softly, she went through the somatic passes of a healing spell, which caused the burnt flesh of Skitch's throat and shoulder to flake away, revealing healthier flesh underneath. Skitch just sniffed, choked out something resembling "Thank you," and buried his face in Khyrisse's shoulder, obviously in a bit of shock.
During all the commotion, Pieret had discovered something, and held it up for all to see. "Well, now this is interesting," Pieret chimed in. "What?" Jack asked. "Well, you pick up a lot as an anarchist," Pieret said. "One of those things is you learn to recognize bombs." "So?" asked Jack obliviously. "Well," Pieret continued. "Someone seems to have left a lit one here in the sewer. Closed fuse, to prevent tampering. I'd guess we had about ten seconds."
As the importance of that statement sunk in, Ebreth Tor leapt for the device. He hurled it with remarkable accuracy into a small drainpipe, just seconds before the thing went off. It destroyed the fragile drain, and a torrent of filthy sewer water (as well as some other disgusting things) came crashing towards the group.
Ebreth Tor, again, was the first to react. With another remarkable shot, he quickly reenacted the "Death Star Trench" scene, with Khyrisse (holding Skitch) as Leia. Ariath, meanwhile, used the opportunity to get Val's attention by playing the helpless ingenue, crying out "Help, someone save me!"
Val's first reaction was to see to Jack. He had just thrown his satchel with the rat in it up onto a ledge, and was about to be covered in a deluge of fecal sludge. She leapt to the wall next to her, sticking to it like a spider, and whipped a lasso from off of her belt. Uttering a command word in Elvish, she cast it into the smelly brown mass that had just crashed over Jack, and pulled sharply. The rope came out instantly, and was wrapped tightly around Jack's waist, pulling him out along with it. As he thudded into the wall, Val looped the rope quickly over a protruding pipe, keeping him hanging safely above the river of sludge. As he dangled there, calculating his rate of spin to keep his mind off of all the shit he was covered in, Valende leaned down to him and grinned lasciviously. "Well now, my dear Jack, it looks like we're going to have to get you out of those smelly clothes, aren't we?"
Vas, meanwhile, was seeing to the river bearing down on him. Smiling broadly, he said to Ariath over his shoulder, "Have no worries, fair child. I have experience in parting rivers." He then rose into the air, his hands gesticulating in a complex pattern. As he did so, the air around him became turbulent, and his hair flared out in a classic manga action style. Finishing his spell, he thrust his arms forward, causing the small windstorm around him to crash forcefully into the brown goop, forcing it down and to the sides of the sewer. It crashed against the walls of wind he had erected, but stayed low, and eventually the flow subsided to a gentle stream of smelly water. The wind itself raged throughout the upper portions of the tunnel, buffeting and bruising those clinging to the walls and ledges; fortunately, the wind also blew most of the crap sticking to Jack off of him. Ariath and Pieret, who were standing behind Vas, got nothing more than a blowdry as the wind lightly whipped their hair around.
As the water subsided, Vas let the winds subside too, lowering himself gently to the ground. He then turned and faced Ariath, saying to her with a grin, "Was that satisfactory? I'd hate to think that my performance wasn't up to your standards."

Character(s):: Khyrisse, Skitch, and Pieret
Author:: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline:: The Rats of R.U.M.I.
Title of Post:: Why Am I Always Leia, Anyway?

Khyrisse held tightly to Skitch as Vas' spell erupted into the sewer junction. With a wry little mental shrug, she pressed herself against Ebreth's side and prayed that he wouldn't be blown off the ledge. The wind howled through the tunnel, tugging at her hair and clothing. Skitch shouted something that sounded almost gleeful before the wind whipped it away. She had a very bad moment when she could feel the two of them being pushed off the ledge, but Ebreth's arm tightened around her and it passed. Moments later the storm was over. Khyrisse disentangled herself somewhat and looked up to give him a wobbly but laughing smile. "Ebreth," she repeated. "You are proving to be quite the port in a storm. Thank you." She looked down at Skitch. "You okay, kiddo?"
"Whew," he replied, looking around with severely tousled hair. "Yeah, I'm fine!" He scrambled down from the ledge to go look at the damage.
Pieret waded over from behind Vas, slightly windblown but otherwise barely touched by all the chaos. He held out his hands to jump Khyrisse down from the ledge. "If we're quick," he said, "we might be able to catch whoever set the bomb. If," he added with a smile, "they were trying to bomb us and not the sewer. They'll surely check to see if they succeeded."
"Hey, I found a ladder," Skitch called out from the far side of the room, near the damaged wall.
"Is everyone all right?" Khyrisse asked, glancing quickly around the room from the higher vantage point before accepting Pieret's help.


Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: More enemies than you can shake a stick at

"Well, you did save my life." Ebreth released Khyrisse, holding her hand just a few seconds longer than he needed to, and then rappelled back down the wall, significantly more awkwardly than he had ascended. "You OK, Paris?" Jack muttered something under his breath, and Ebreth couldn't catch it. "All right," he said, raising his hands, "all right. On the bright side, we can all get through that crack into the sewage line now. If there's any reason to, that is. Which way, Pieret?" He frowned and rubbed his mouth. "You figure it's Of-No-Matter again?"
"Friend of yours?" said Jack, darkly.
"Never heard of the man," Ebreth admitted. "It sounds like an alias to me." He shrugged. "In my totally uninformed opinion, planting a bomb seems more in line with using a trapped sword to assassinate someone than cursing people and dripping maggots around." Ebreth shuddered a little, clearly involuntarily. "Buck up, Tor," he said to himself, "what's the worst he can do to you, kill you and turn you into a disgusting undead thing?" He flipped his wrist and retrieved his grappling hook.

Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: Ebreth Tor, team player

"By the way," added Ebreth, "you'll have to forgive me, I'm not used to working with a team like this--what are we trying to accomplish down here? Find the mad bomber and hold his head in the sewage, destroy the horrible undead monster before it destroys us, figure out what is up with the Rat, am I forgetting anything?"

Character(s):: Jack Paris, Human Outhouse
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings and Dead Villains
Title of Post:: How Come I'm The Only One Who Needs A Bath?

"You forgot to mention kicking your butt," Jack muttered to himself.
"Well, I think we need to get good Jack here a bath," Valende suggested.
"I don't know," Ebreth smirked. "I think the look suits you, Paris."
Takes one to know one? No. I'm rubber and you're glue? No. Sit on it? Definitely not. Jack decided to skip the snappy comeback and listen to the nice person who offered to get him a bath. For the first time, Jack noticed Valende's pleasant smile.
Nah, it's probably just my smell, Jack figured.
"There's an inn they kicked me out of just up the block," Tor said. "You can probably hose him down there."

***
Inside the inn, the woman sat. Flicker was taken care of. Now it was time to meet his comrades and see what she could find out. "Soon I'll know all I need about what you've been up to these past five years, Eren Messala," she whispered. "And Odin help you if I don't like what I hear..."

Character(s):: Khyrisse, Pieret, Valende
Author:: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline:: The Rats of R.U.M.I.
Title of Post:: Cleverly Disguised as a Responsible Adult

Pieret caught Khyrisse around the waist as she jumped down, and lowered her to the floor. Khyrisse grinned up at him when he didn't let go as quickly as he might have. "Pieret, if it isn't like you to lower a woman to your level," she whispered mockingly, glancing around her at the sewer as she pushed his hands aside. Pieret chuckled appreciatively until Ariath's glare pierced his amusement. He then stared innocently at the ceiling. Khyrisse sighed. "While I'd like to find the mad bomber and drown him in sewage, I don't think we should make it our top priority."
Valende coiled up her lasso and looked at Khyrisse. "I should like to find the creature that attacked Skitch, personally."
"Yes, I think I would too," Khyrisse agreed, eyes narrowing balefully for a moment. She then shook her head. "But I think we need to be better prepared when we do." She pulled a heeled boot out of the muck and sighed at it. It was covered in things it didn't do well to dwell on. "Why don't I remember getting this disgustingly dirty in Lianth's sewers? Jack isn't the only one who'd like a bath," she muttered.
Pieret gestured to Jack's satchel, still up on its small ledge. "If we still have the rat, we could always adjourn to the inn and still accomplish one of our purposes," he pointed out. "The only reason we were down here, as I recall, was to find your messenger."
"The rat's the only reason we're in Rumi, much less the sewers," Khyrisse agreed. "It might even know who here would have a reason to set Charlie on Flicker. I'm worried about Flicker, although I don't think he's dead. Let's concentrate on the rat for now." She straightened her spattered tunic. "How do we get to this inn?" she asked Ebreth.
Valende reached up with her longsword and hooked it through the straps of Jack's satchel. Overbalanced, she reached out and put her other hand on Jack's shoulder. "Perhaps you have a change of clothes in your bag, Jack?"
Jack shook his head morosely, depressed by the squelching sounds her long-fingered hand was pressing from his clothing. "I don't think so."
"Good," murmured Valende with a smile, as the satchel slid gently down her sword.

Character(s):: The Much-Maligned Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: About Assassins

Get laid, Ebreth translated Pieret and Val's body language onto his list. Some things, at least, never changed. "Okay," he agreed, "We can go back to the inn. I don't know if they're going to let me in or not." He paused. "I wouldn't get my hopes up about finding your friend. People who get dragged off into the darkness by assassins don't have a high life expectancy. If he knows something important, we might be able to find him while he's still, uh, under interrogation."
"A different Ebreth Tor," said Paris. Apparently the attentions of a chick spilling out of her dress wasn't enough to mellow him at all.
"Assassins have been killing people for thousands of years," said Ebreth, "that's what assassins do. That other Tor didn't invent this either." He looked at Ariath. "You used to be an assassin, didn't you? Maybe ten years ago?"
"Me?" said Ariath, blinking innocently. "No, you must be thinking of someone else."
"I really doubt he's dead, people. " Khyrisse's eyes twinkled a little, bemused, perhaps, at finding herself the most experienced hero in the group. "We adventurers are a bit harder to kill than that."
"Nice work if you can get it, " grinned Ebreth. "All right, so do we try to track our bomber, or do we find an inn so Valende can give Paris a bath? What's your boss the rat say?" Paris glowered furiously. It was entirely too easy to ruffle that man.

Character(s):: Jack Paris
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings and Dead Villains
Title of Post:: Yes, But Where's My Rubber Duckie?

Jack trudged towards the inn with a squelching noise each time he put a foot to the ground. Something about the bomb was nagging in the back of his head, but there was a beautiful woman who was distracting him with innuendoes, and Jack was a sucker for that sort of thing. The inn that Tor had referred to was a nice looking place called "The Pudownier Arms" and the doorman sniffed with disdain as Valende strolled in, Jack in tow. However, it was when Ebreth Tor approached that he drew his sword and stepped forward. "I told you never to return here, cheat," the doorman said. "Now turn back or feel the wrath of my blade."
"See ya later, Ebreth," Jack said, being dragged up the stairs.
The woman in the dining hall watched it all.

Character(s):: Ebreth Tor
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Cat and mouse
Title of Post:: A dangerous female

She unfurled herself from the seat by the fire. "Let them in," she said.
The doorman paled. "But--"
"I only ask twice."
The doorman breathed and went out onto the stoop. She looked them over coolly and snapped the wooden flute she had been turning in her hands into two pieces. "I have been expecting you."

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