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Chapter 11

Mingling



“Greyspear!” Luthien was shouting at the reporter, fixing him with his trademark I’m-going-to-kill-you-and-raise-you-as-a-zombie-just-so-I-can-kill-you-again glower. “For the last time, my name is not Mageson, it’s Greyspear. My mother’s husband was named Greyspear, and he legally adopted me. That makes my name Greyspear.”

“It’s in the society ledger as Luthien Mageson, sir,” said the reporter.

“Would you like me to change it to Luthien Journalist-Slayer?” said Luthien. “It wouldn’t take more than, oh, two minutes.”

“I’ll change it to Greyspear for the article,” the reporter lied. “Hey, is that Princess Nikita? Princess! Princess, can you spare a moment!”

Luthien sighed in aggravation as the reporter turned his back to the most powerful necromancer of Ataniel to clamor for the Dalencian princess’ attention. “No one’s frightened of me anymore,” he grumbled.

“I’m done with this gum, so I’m just going to stick it in your pocket, ok, daddy?”

***

“Roxy, isn’t it?” said Val a bit frostily, draping her arm quite intentionally over Schneider’s shoulders. She was far from a possessive woman in real life, but she had a point to make.

“That’s me,” smiled Roxy, no hint of malice on her face. “Valen, right? You used to run with Schneid and Luth in the Chain Gang?”

“Valende,” corrected Valende.

“Oh, right. Hey, that’s great that you found someone so quickly,” she added up at Schneider.

“Uh, yeah,” Schneider said, managing to keep his face in some semblance of composure.

“Anyway, things sure were a real mess, but it looks like the three of us are all, you know, moving on with our lives now. I’m happy with where I’m at right now, and I’m glad you are too. Good luck with the, uh, baby and all that. You always did want kids...” Her voice trailed off. “Anyway, don’t mean to intrude. Enjoy the wedding. You too,” she said to Val. “Good luck catchin’ the bouquet.”

Roxy winked, and was gone.

Val watched her go uneasily, her green eyes flicking back to the very still Schneider.

This would have been a lot easier to help with if the girl had been a queen bitch or something.

***

“I am the angel Zerthimon, o mortal imposter,” said Zerthimon.

“Oh, you are not,” said Jarth. “I must have been through this seventy-three times. I drank the Essence, I’m still alive, I’m the avatar. End of story.”

“You are an alien from Zaptiocalionaziokoosbiliarth named George Biblio,” frowned Zerthimon.

“So maybe that’s Zaptian for ‘Zerthimon’, ever think of that?” said Jarth. “I beamed down from the sky, didn’t I? Into the body of a priest with the proper qualifications, right? And I’ve been leading the Church in a new direction, right? So I must be the prophecied angel Zerthimon! I want my wings, dammit!”

“You are not Zerthimon!” shouted the angel, frustrated. “I am Zerthimon!”

“Mud wrestle ya for it.”

“All right!” shouted Asinus, breaking through Zerthimon’s control. “That’s enough! This donkey don’t mud wrestle with nobody who ain’t nubile, naked, and a girl.”

“We could throw some of those in too,” offered Jarth.

“This is an outrage,” cried Zerthimon, as his angelic essence was sucked back into Asinus’ head.

“False prophet,” teased Jarth.

“Bite me, ya berk.”

***

“Pssssst! Jack!”

Jack looked around. There was no pssssst-er in sight.

“Down here!”

Jack bent awkwardly over to look under the table. “Fancy?” he said. “What are you, uh, doing under the table?”

“Hiding from the bouncers,” whispered the Price Girl from the floor. “We’re not really supposed to be here, you know--”

“We didn’t have an in-vi-tay-shunnnn,” sneered Nasty Price, marking quotes around the word with her vivid-nailed index fingers.

“But,” Fancy continued, “we have a wedding present to give Ebreth and Khyrisse... and despite how things may have ended between us and the Rat Pack, we’d really like you to help make it work, Jack!”

The three girls nodded vigorously. They looked even less dressed than usual on their hands and knees the way they were, and Jack had a bad feeling that this was going to turn out to be another one of those things whose appropriateness he just wasn’t going to be able to gauge. “Where are Chipper and, uh, Soldier?” he asked uneasily.

“Oh, they’re just out securing the perimeter for us,” Cinnamon said impatiently. “Get to the part about Uncle Schneider, Fancy!”

“Right-oh,” said her teammate. “The situation is this, Jack: the Dalencian paparazzi are here, and we happen to have received intelligence that they’re working up a story on Khyrisse’s baby and who they think the father is, in light of the wedding and all that.”

“And they’re going to pester the bride and groom with all kind of cheeky questions,” Cinnamon said indignantly, “and Schneider, too! It’s a social disaster!”

“Oh, crap,” sighed Jack. “This is not what we need. I’ll go talk to security about removing them.”

“No!” Nasty grabbed urgently at his ankle. “You can’t do that!”

“If you try to throw them out they’ll cause such a row you’ll never get the wedding off,” Fancy explained. “They’re absolute professionals, Jack. Even the Cynystran secret police can’t keep them away.”

Jack sighed. “Then what do you propose we do?”

“Tell them we’re in the Silver Hammer,” Cinnamon whispered.

“You’re... in the Silver Hammer,” Jack repeated, trying to figure out why this wasn’t a non sequitur.

“All five of us are in the Silver Hammer,” Fancy elaborated, “having a big fight, and Cinnamon’s going to leave the group.”

“And Nasty’s pregnant,” Cinnamon added.

“And Fancy has an eating disorder,” Nasty added.

“That’s... not all true, is it?”

Cinnamon giggled. “Oh, of course not, silly!”

“But Vickie snagged a tabloid from an alternate universe for us once,” said Fancy, “and all those things were on the front page, so we know they won’t be able to resist.”

Jack paused, torn for a moment between being stupefied and genuinely touched. “Thank you,” he finally said. “I’m sure everyone will really appreciate this.”

Fancy flashed him her saucy grin and flipped the tablecloth back down.

“All right, girls,” growled Nasty Price’s voice from behind it, “let’s move out.”

A teacup jiggled off the tabletop and rolled to the ground as the three crept away from the party.

***

“I’d like you to meet my friend Rani,” said Flicker.

Shilree looked at the woman in silence for a few moments. Flicker had warned her, of course, that there would be a half-breed at the party. Shilree didn’t mind that as much as some Diarians, after all she had had intimate relations with a kiljhac once herself. Certainly it was unnatural, but then so was Praxis with his psionics, and so, for that matter, was Flicker with three dead souls grafted onto his own. Sometimes Shilree thought she preferred unnatural abominations to the natural ones like Talakan or the Gilans.

Flicker hadn’t told her the woman would be half-elven, though. The obvious elven features stood out on her face like mismatched pieces of a flesh golem. She was an attractive woman, this Rani, but attractive in a bestial way, like a centaur or a mermaid. It was very difficult not to stare. Still ugliness, or even ugly beauty, was not the worst thing in the world. Shilree had seen many of the worse things lately.

“Hello,” she said, and shook the sranjhac’s gloved hand firmly. The woman’s disconcerting arched eyebrows went up in surprise, but she didn’t pull away from the grip. Shilree almost wished some of the new Emperor’s pretentious courtiers were here, just so she could scandalize them. That was the problem with running in liberal circles. Nothing you did was scandalizing. “Shilree Vestrin. I’m... I used to be Regent of Western Diaria,” she said, trying not to be bitter.

“Too normal for ‘em, huh?” the woman Rani said sympathetically.

Shilree sighed. “Something like that Rani,” she said, wishing Anjra were still secretly in charge rather than that bloated nutcase Yykri-whatever-his-name-was. “Something like that.”

***

“And so by using a code of morality to order your life, you could truly join the ranks of Significance!” said Signet.

“Yes,” said Aithne, looking around for Jack.

“Living without a code,” Signet continued, “consigns you to mediocrity and chaos, even if you have the best of intentions.”

“Yes,” said Aithne, looking around for anyone she knew.

“But by adopting a code, you can mold that chaos into great deeds, just as I have! Have you read my inspirational biography, The Significance of Significants?”

“I can not read Dalen,” said Aithne, looking around for anyone she could pretend to know.

“Neither could I, until I used my code of morality to apply myself to the task! Here.” He handed her a book with his grinning face on the cover. “Let the lure of this significant story inspire you to the heights of literacy, just as the calling to tell it inspired me.”

“Yes,” said Aithne, took the book, and ran towards the nearest waiter.

“I think that went really well,” Signet said to Waterloo.

“Come with me, Ulmo. I’ve got this paladin I really wantcha to meet.”

***

“You,” stammered Jason, and dropped his drink. “You’re Lodwar!”

“Please,” said Warp, holding his hand up benignly. “Just call me Warp.”

“You--you’re real! I thought...” The boy passed his shaking hand in front of his face. “Just... just when I’d really convinced myself the Sturtevant pantheon was a cartload of nothing...”

“Sturtevant?” said Warp. “That’s up north of Dalencia, right?”

“You--you’ve never been there?”

“Well, Dalencia was really my old stomping ground,” Warp admitted. “The Mithril Dagger Inn, to be precise, though I moved that to Nylevia during the whole thing with the Wall...”

“That--really happened then?” whispered Jason. “You saving Tal’s faithful from the forces of Shadow by turning your body into an invisible wall of faith?”

“Well, I, uh, guess,” said Warp. “As close as any recount of heroism ever is two hundred years after the fact, anyway.”

“I asked the priests and never got an answer,” said Jason, trembling with his own boldness. “I’m going to ask you. Why does the Church persecute those who are different when the Book of Tal itself says that there are many paths to Tal?”

“Uh...” said Warp. “Because they’re a bunch of putzes?”

Jason squinted. He’d sort of been expecting to be struck by lightning. “You don’t really talk like a demigod,” he said. “Sir.”

“It’s more of an honorary title, you know?” he said. “Like being knighted by the Queen of England. That happened to me once too. Hey, are those cheesy poofs?”

***

“Vickie, Amatsu,” mumbled Garal, “this is my, uh, friend Keri.”

“This one is pleased to make your acquaintance,” bowed Amatsu.

“This one too!” Vickie grinned. “Man, I’ve heard so much about you!”

“And I you,” smiled Keri.

“Good, I hope?”

“You think Garal gives me details like that?”

Both women laughed uproariously. Garal turned redder than Keri’s dress. Before he had to come up with something to say, though, Marty wandered over, frowning sternly at the chortling women. “Like, shhhhhhhh,” he said.

“Oh, shhhh yourself, sword boy,” said Vickie, waving her hand playfully at him.

“No,” he said, emphatically, “like, really, shhhhhhhh.”

“It’s a wedding, Hu-boy!” Vickie hollered gleefully. “We’ll make all the noise we damn well please, won’t we, Matsie?”

There was the loud and very deliberate clearing of a throat behind her, and Vickie turned her head to see Rhynwa holding a six-foot scythe. “The ceremony is about to begin,” she said. “Find your seats. Now.”

“Yes ma’am,” said Vickie.

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