You Know What This Chronicle Needs? More Explosions!
“Ready...” said Ralchar.
Kit squinted around the boulder, Crandall bracing her from behind against the kickback from the Wand of the Ram. The bombs did have timers, but setting them involved hexadecimal calculations that were way beyond anything Kit had the patience to figure out. They were full of explosives, though, so igniting them with her wand should have pretty much the same effect.
“Steady...” said Ralchar.
Araiji huddled against the stone’s flank, whispering a prayer to some god long gone. Dexy’s face was long and drawn, and then his hand suddenly came down.
“Go!” yelled Ralchar.
Kit had never seen such a bright light. Crandall did manage to grab her and wrestle her rocket-propelled trajectory down into the dirt behind the boulder before the blast hit, but the heat was so searing even the immense stone couldn’t block it all, and Kit screamed despite herself. Then it had subsided just as quickly, and the young thief popped breathlessly up to see what had happened, rubbing green and white afterimages desperately from her stinging eyes.
A planar gate stood in ruins, a crumpled mass of pulsing stone bellowing thick, greasy blue-black smoke. There were three or four seconds of silence, and then the rubble stirred and through the smoke strode a tall figure in a silver mask, and behind him another figure pushed through the ruins, and a third. “Engillac de sebetekh,” thundered the tall figure.
“Oh, fuck,” groaned Kit, and pulled out her lucky dagger.
“Rissa,” said Eric, formally and rather distantly. “You look very nice. You’ve met Roxana, haven’t you?”
He pronounced it more like “Rossana,” smearing the hard “k” sound in her name in the same Cynystran fashion that had caused them both to abandon “Khyrisse” in frustration, so many years ago. “Of course,” Khyrisse said, with a socially tentative smile for the woman whose relationship with Schneider she’d accidentally tanked. “We were Sewer Tourists together.”
“Those were days,” said Roxy, returning a similar smile.
“Good luck,” Eric said to Ebreth, smirking a little. “You may need it.”
Ebreth laughed. Khyrisse, still no closer to determining how much malice was actually contained in any given one of Eric’s smirks, decided to ignore him. The Cynystran ruler was already moving down the receiving line for Derek anyway, a startlingly genuine grin splitting his cold and handsome face. “Congratulations, you old madman. What, no purple weasels?”
“I thought about reprising that,” Derek admitted, returning his embrace, “but I wasn’t sure she’d appreciate it...”
It sort of annoyed Khyrisse that her father still had such a friendly relationship with her abusive ex-husband, but she guessed it wasn’t any more annoying than her continuing friendship with Schneider must be for Ebreth, and she was so giddily relieved right now at the whole wedding being safely over that she couldn’t work up more than a perfunctory irritation. “The King of the Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiings is deaaaaaaaaad!” cried Fred, pumping his fists as he approached the bride and groom.
“Stop that, honey,” said Janice.
Mad Sallie’s eyes went even narrower than they had for Eric. “Are you a pit fiend, young man?”
“Yep,” Fred said proudly, puffing up his chest. “Thanks to Khyrisse and her Rat Pack, I should say. What a ride!”
“It’s, like, not all it’s cracked up to be, y’know?” Janice confided to Asinus. “He has, like, sooooooo much work to do now. It’s a bummer, you know?”
“I should never have given her that Zaptian fur,” Asinus said to no one.
“Congratulations, Khyrisse,” crowed Vickie, coming up and throwing her arms around her one-time leader. Whether it was the couple of weeks that had passed, the couple of drinks she’d had, or just the festivity of the occasion, she seemed to have forgotten that the last words she’d exchanged with Khyrisse were calling her a Nazi for demanding she cooperate more with the other team members. Her short-term memory was oddly infectious, actually. Khyrisse hugged back. It wasn’t like she was asking for another job, or anything. No reason not to be pleasant. Khyrisse was still getting periodic little starbursts of elation somewhere inside her each time she realized that it was actually over and Ebreth’s hand was still in hers, that nothing awful had happened and the twenty-five-year-old ghost of her first marriage had finally been exorcised. She would just about have given Wyvern a hug right now.
And then Tarrin came down the receiving line.
Khyrisse was quiet, and let him congratulate Ebreth first. She’d admitted to herself some time ago that it wasn’t Tarrin’s fault what Skitch did, but knowing something logically was different from feeling it in your heart, and it was so much easier to hate Tarrin than her own lost son. Besides, no matter what had happened with Skitch, the poisonous Diarian xenophobic racism was something that made her sick to the stomach regardless. She settled for a polite handshake. I guess even true joy doesn’t cure all ills, she thought with a little pang, watching her ex-friend shuffle sadly away across the pavilion. Or mend all fences.
Then Warp was there claiming to be the most eligible divinity of Ataniel now that she was taken, and the moment was swept away in grinning and hugging again.
The Other Shoe Drops At The Sewer Tour’s Table
“Roxy’s pregnant,” commented Tila.
Rhynwa spewed her drink. “How the hell do you know that?”
The thief tapped one finger under her eye. “I have contacts of true seeing. I was just waiting for Schneider to peel off before I said anything. Man, I thought that guy’d never go to the bathroom!”
“Oh, no!” said Max, hitting himself in the forehead. “Is this one maybe his too?”
“Anything’s possible, I guess,” shrugged Tila. “But I doubt it, since they broke up in February and she’s only three months pregnant.”
“I think maybe we’d better not tell Khyrisse about this till after the honeymoon,” said Luthien, looking introspectively across the reception at Eric and the contortionist. “Or Vas, for that matter.”
“Do I look suicidal?”
“Throw the bouquet!” cried Mina, clapping her hands delightedly. “Throw the bouquet!”
“I wanted ‘em to do that garter thing,” groused Asinus.
Khyrisse might have been more inclined to hitch up her skirt in front of the assembled dignitaries of just about every country of Ataniel if she wasn’t eight months pregnant at the time. “Sorry, Asinus,” she said, giving him a ruefully saucy grin. “Maybe at our ten-year anniversary.”
“Vas,” Valende said warningly, “don’t.”
“But sister, you are single...”
“And must remain so regardless, as you well know. I will stand where I am; do not push me on this.”
“It doesn’t really matter anyway,” said Tila. “I caught Inez’, and am I married yet?” She stuck her tongue out in Inez’ direction.
“Don’t peek!” Rhynwa admonished.
“I’m not,” Khyrisse lied, and threw her bouquet at Kayla.
Before it could reach the smiling waitress, though, Aithne, who had apparently slightly misunderstood the nature of this ritual, made a cornerback-style lunge for it and collided with Vickie. “Whoa!” yelled Vickie, a little tipsy already. The bouquet went hurtling up into the air, just over the outstretched arms of the petite Roxy, and into the seated crowd. Men scurried out of its path with comic haste, but unerringly, implacably, the flowers arced for a young woman no one had seen before, a brunette in dark glasses and a head scarf, and landed neatly in her lap without losing so much as a sprig of baby’s-breath.
“That was pretty cool,” marveled Alderon.
“Aughhhhhh!” cried Thalia, bonking her disguised head down onto the table in despair.
Superman, Where Are You Now
“You have been claimed,” the towering figure said dismissively, and brushed Crandall’s mace aside and the ex-revenant entirely off the slope of Day of Judgment Mountain in one careless backhand. He did not bother to look back.
“This sucks!” Kit shouted, frustrated tears stinging in her eyes as the Sebetekh followed their leader down to the world they now called their own. “This is Ataniel! Where the hell are all the heroes?”
“This has got to be against my code somehow,” muttered Ulmo Glub.
“If tacky was against your code, Signet,” Rhynwa said deadpan, “the Significants might still be together today.”
“You just need to loosen up a little,” coached Max. “Bend your knees. Get into it. One, two, now flap your wings!”
“Bawk bawk bawk!” crowed Siobhan, shaking her ass.
“At least it’s not the Macarena,” Warp consoled.
The Oddest Things In Common
Eric Tremontagne offered his perfectly horizontal palm to Khyrisse, some indecipherable smile quirking at the corner of his mouth. “May I have the honor of this dance?” he said, in a voice Ebreth suspected would keep both its dry humor and its cool command of the situation regardless of whether Khyrisse hugged him or threw her drink in his face. She did neither; she locked up, or started to, and then made a rueful noise and expelled the tension from her shoulders. Then she looked at Ebreth, for permission or reassurance he wasn’t quite sure. “Go on,” he said, grinning. That seemed to be all she needed, and she put her hand in her ex-husband’s with a sigh. “Try not to step on my feet this time, will you?” she said as she stood.
“Have you gotten any less clumsy with them over the past twenty years?” Eric rejoindered wryly.
Ebreth watched the two make their way across the dance floor, a strange lightness in his heart. Maybe, then, this was a psychodrama that had finally been laid to rest. Ebreth liked that idea a lot. He shook his head to clear it and offered his arm to the patiently waiting Lady de la Metrie. “Nice to meet you,” he said. “Roxy, right? Khyrisse speaks highly of you.”
“Yeah, we had some good times back in the Sewer Tour,” said Roxy, deftly avoiding the issue of how she felt about Khyrisse these days. Ebreth could hardly blame her. Being nasty about it made things worse, and being big enough to admit it really wasn’t anyone’s fault was too much work for small talk. He drew her around the table and onto the dance floor, being careful of her light shawl, and put his hand on her back. “How’re you holding up?” he said quietly, below the strains of the party.
“Better, thanks,” she said. “Much better. How about you?” She glanced around the pavilion. “Is there anyone here who doesn’t know?”
“Ah,” said Ebreth, “probably not.” He gave her a sheepish half-shrug, grinning his resignation. “It’s all right. It’s probably just as well. I’ve got way too much pride; I know it.” She laughed a little, lightly, and he paused. “Hey,” he said, “you do know--”
“Ah ah ah!” Roxy raised one hand stallingly. “You’re not about to go ruining a perfectly good moment between the only two people in the room who understand each other on this damn Oyster thing by trying to warn me or anything, are you?” Ebreth rubbed his neck. “You want me to tell Khyrisse what the Baroness Lancaster has to say about you?”
Ebreth looked blank. “The Baroness Lan...?” His hand moved quickly to his mouth then. “Marianne.”
“Oh, lord.” He passed his hand over his eyes, laughing. “She still remembers me?”
“Well, I’d stay out of Wyndar if I were you.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“Yeah,” agreed Roxy, “probably doesn’t have much to do with your current relationship, or anything.”
“Your point,” he conceded, grinning.
She tapped him playfully on the shoulder with her silk-gloved hand. “So look,” she said, a hint of seriousness in her voice, “tell Khyri not to worry about me, okay? I can take care of myself, just ask Tila. There’s no scheme here. We were both just lonely, coming off painful betrayals by people we--well, people we cared about a lot. And we understood each other, and we wanted a break from psychodrama. Just one man, one woman, and one normal kid with no strings attached. I’m sure you can understand that.” Ebreth nodded gravely. “Tell her I’m fine. Really. And--” She hesitated. “You can tell her, you know, I don’t--”
“It’s okay,” Ebreth interrupted her, quietly. “You don’t have to feel like it’s not her fault. We all know it.”
“Thanks,” Roxy said sincerely. “Take care of her, you know?”
A Friend In Need
“Okay,” Schneider said half-heartedly, “shaving cream?”
“Hey,” said Val, wandering over. “You guys aren’t going to decorate THAT carriage, are you?”
“Uh...” Schneider wrinkled his brow at her. “Yeah, we were, uh, planning on it... why?”
“Because it’s not the one Khyri and Ebreth are taking, that’s why.” She pointed across the circle to a graceful Cinderella-style white carriage. “They hired a special coach for tonight.”
“Oh,” said Flicker. “I didn’t know that.”
“Thanks,” said Schneider. “Boy, that would have been embarrassing.”
Val strolled back to the pavilion, smiling, as the men set about their task with renewed vigor. Tila joined her after a few minutes. “Hey,” she said, pointing, “is there some reason the brain trust back there is painting “Just Married” on Max and Valleri’s carriage?”
“Couldn’t let a jester go a whole wedding without a decent practical joke,” smiled Valende, “now could I?”
For Whom The Bell Tolls
Brett hummed an atonal little song to herself as she walked down the road from New Trade.
She didn’t like weddings much, truth to tell. Brett had nothing against happy love affairs, but they were few and far between, and the awkward spectacle of less-happy guests forcing themselves to enthuse over someone else’s good fortune was a painful thing to watch. Brett knew people too well to really enjoy these things anymore. Coyote Jay had wanted someone at the ceremony, though, and Brett was the only one of his with an invitation. Tor did seem to be coming along nicely. If he could make it through the Hotel, now, that would be a happy ending worth writing about. And Brett had a good feeling about it.
Then a black chainmail gauntlet clamped around her mouth from behind. Brett’s eyes widened and she went for her shortsword, only to have the other gauntlet shoot around her waist and catch her wrist. Brett twisted in her captor’s grip enough to see a huge man in Doomlands armor, his face obscured behind a black metal helmet rimmed with spikes. “Brett Astra,” he said, in a gravelly voice. “You’ve been a bad, bad girl.”
She heard a strangely hollow ringing as the warrior slammed her head backwards into his own breastplate, and then Brett heard nothing at all.
The five Thieves sat in defeated silence, watching the obliviously cheerful flickering of the campfire.
“We’re still alive,” Ralchar pointed out, even his optimism sounding a little forced.
“For all the good it does us,” said Araiji glumly.
“Maybe we should call the Mithril Dagger Heroes,” said Kit.
“It is too late for that,” Dexy said quietly. “Ataniel belongs to the Sebetekh now, and the only thing that can defeat them is the sacrifice of a true gambler.”
“Well, maybe that means we just need to try a riskier gambit,” said Crandall. “What if we called in someone capable of facing off with them? The space dragons, or someone?”
“The space dragons?” yelped Araiji. “Are you mad, arsinjh?”
“Well, or someone else! You come up with something!”
“How were the original gods killed?” Ralchar wanted to know. “Maybe we could do the same thing to these guys.”
“Let’s not go there,” muttered Kit. “Look, couldn’t we just trap them in some soul gems or something? The Ti’Ar’Na was trapped in a soul gem for a long time, and she’s a true Immortal, right?”
“An... archmage of high enough level could cast Trap the Soul for this purpose,” Dexy said slowly. “Perhaps. But we have no more than a day, and even Arturian himself couldn’t cast more than one spell like that in a day.”
“So if we got six super-archmages to help us, we could do it?” pressed Kit.
“Arturian,” said Crandall, counting on his fingers, “Omeria, Khyrisse, Eric Tremontagne...”
“Is Aelwyn Paris a good archmage in your world?” Ralchar asked Kit.
“No,” said Kit.
“Maybe... Odn... is there anyone else out there who might be able to cast that kind of thing?”
“The Lich Lord Shalak?” suggested Kit, after a long pause
“There is no one of that magical caliber in Diaria,” said Araiji. “The Emperor-gestalt might be powerful enough to accomplish this even psionically, but our Emperor... has not been himself lately.”
“Who’s the wu-jen master of Shikintu?” Ralchar asked Crandall.
“Should I know?” said Crandall. “I think it might have been Chu-I Po, and we kacked him.”
“Look,” Dexy interrupted, sighing. “We have twenty-four hours. More than that and our fate will be signed and sealed. There is no time to scour the world for six master archmages not all of whom may even exist or be accessible to us if they do.”
“What if there was a way to trap all six of them at once?” brainstormed Ralchar.
“To trap six gods?” said Crandall.
“The Sebetekh are not exactly... gods... not as the lost pantheon of Ataniel were,” Dexy said, putting his thin fingers together. “They are more akin to the forces of Shadow. As powerful as the gods, perhaps, as able to command this sphere once they have taken it. But no immortality flows in their veins.”
“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I’m calling it a damn duck,” said Crandall. “What we need to do is call in someone capable of facing down the gods. What if we... what if we awakened the Invisible Empire?”
Kit went white as a sheet. “Invisible Empire?” said Ralchar, curiously.
“At that point,” said Dexy, “we might as well summon the space dragons.”
“But it does give me an idea,” Araiji said thoughtfully. “What if there were another place to trap them--a place stronger than any god?”
Crandall frowned. “Stronger than the gods?”
“There are three,” said Araiji, “in Diari lore. One is the Invisible Empire, though all history and legend of what that might have been have long been lost to my people. I would be very interested in hearing what you know of it, Crandall.”
“Just its name,” Crandall Lied.
“The second is known to Diarians as Minn Srajhan, House of Destiny. You humans, with your quaint propensity for irreverent euphemism, call it simply the Hotel.”
“I’ve never heard of that,” said Kit.
“I have,” said Dexy. “Useless for our purposes.”
“I know,” said Araiji. “But there is a third. Taraizh Thanal.”
“Please speak Dalen,” sighed Crandall.
“The Doomrift,” said Araiji. “The Swallower of Gods.”