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Chapter 18

What Friends Are For



“Ebreth,” Khyrisse said, frowning at him a little as he came in, “have you been giving Tarrin money?”

“Yes,” said Ebreth, putting his bag down.

Khyrisse pinched her temples. “Why, Ebreth?” she said. “He’s a perfectly healthy, intelligent, capable man. Is there some reason he can’t get a job?”

“He has a job,” said Ebreth. “His religion doesn’t let him charge for it.”

“Then maybe he should move to a theocracy,” said Khyrisse. “This is the city of New Trade, Ebreth! If he wants to live here, he’s going to have to deal with the filthy lucre now and then...!”

“Fine,” said Ebreth. “Then call it back pay. If it wasn’t for Tarrin, I’d probably still be curled up in a corner somewhere.”

Khyrisse sighed, unable to hold on to her irritation in the face of that. “All right,” she conceded, “Grendel knows I owe him for that one. And the money’s as much yours as mine anyway. I just want to make sure everyone knows these are personal gifts, okay? New Trade isn’t a welfare state. This is very important to me.”

Ebreth wasn’t completely sure why, but the administrative workings of a city-state weren’t part of his inherited political expertise. “I’ll make sure of it,” he promised, gave her a kiss on the hair and changed the subject. “So you’ll never guess who I saw in the square today... Grayson Mer.”

“Grayson Mer?” Khyrisse boggled. “Your... friend from Hell? Does she need sanctuary?”

“Not per se,” said Ebreth. “I asked her over to dinner tomorrow night, is that okay?”

Khyrisse looked into the hall mirror and sighed. “Sure,” she said. “What the heck. I’ve been feeling a little too good about myself lately anyway. Dinner with a new rival while I look like a hippo with gas should fit the bill just nicely.”

“Rival?” Ebreth said drolly, giving her a crooked look. “You haven’t even met the woman and you’re already insecure? For all you know she’s butt-ugly.”

Khyrisse rolled her eyes. “This is Ataniel,” she said.

“Besides,” said Ebreth, “didn’t I just pledge my undying love to you, what, eight days ago? You must not think much of my attention span.”

“I trust you,” sighed Khyrisse, folding her arms and sitting down heavily. “Should I trust her? You did rescue her from Hell, didn’t you?”

“Well, sort of,” said Ebreth. “We both had to go back.” He paused. “But,” he added, shaking off the heaviness of that moment, “if she has designs on me, I’ll eat my boot. I was thinking about giving her a hug this afternoon, when we were talking. Just to comfort her, you know? I decided against it, because I thought she’d probably kick me in the balls.”

Khyrisse tried and failed to muffle laughter. “Well,” she said, her eyes dancing, “I can’t say as I think much of her taste, then...!”

“I don’t think she’s in a mood to be touched period,” said Ebreth. “She hasn’t had good experiences lately.”

Khyrisse bit her lip and nodded. “Is there--anything we can do for her?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Just be a friend, I guess.”

She sighed, and touched his jawline. “I guess,” she said quietly, “what I’m really worried about is--I feel like there’s part of you she probably understands better than I do.”

“There... probably is.” Ebreth looked out the window. “But it doesn’t mean I want to go to bed with her. There are parts of me the other guys understand better than you do.”

Khyrisse laughed ruefully. “I guess that’s true...!”

“So don’t worry about it.” He ruffled her hair. “You’re cute when you’re jealous, but really, enough’s enough.”

Why They Call It A Blind Date



“You know what I hate?” The Arawnite crammed two shrimp in his mouth at once, using the butt end of his fork to shove a few strands of his stringy, dyed-black hair back out of his face. “Bands that sell out. Man, that is the worst fucking thing. You know?”

“I can imagine,” Thalia said, trying not to look at his mouth as he ate.

“It’s like the girl who goes down on half the town and still tells everyone she’s a virgin.” He rolled his eyes and took a swig of beer. “Not that there’s anything wrong with sex,” he added, moving his fork expressively. “I mean, Arawn isn’t some celibacy freak or anything. It’s just, you know, truth in advertising, right? Don’t say you’re what you’re fucking not. I hate that.”

“Naturally,” said Thalia, pushing her dinner around with her fork.

“That’s just the kind of guy I am,” he continued, spearing another couple of shrimp. “I’m just naturally honest, I guess. It’s probably my biggest flaw. What would you say yours is?”

“Probably letting my friends talk me into doing things I shouldn’t,” sighed Thalia, glancing again at the restaurant clock.

“So have I told you about my new scrotum piercing yet?”

Rat Math



Ebreth padded lazily down the hall, brandy in one hand and the new David Baldacci in the other. Khyrisse had some calls to make, and he figured he was due for some down time. His attention was diverted by some kind of muffled scrabbling sound, though, and he followed it frowning to the game room and leaned in the open door.

“Thank you,” the Rat squeaked at him, nudging a couple of Ebreth’s new billiards closer to the center of the pool table.

Ebreth stood in the doorway blinking for a few moments. The rat went back to the well for another ball. “Do you... want to play pool?” Ebreth asked, a little surprised.

“Thank you!”

Ebreth put down his book and unracked his cue from the wall, looking oddly at the rodent. He wasn’t sure whether to be more confused or flattered: the Rat didn’t usually seem much interested in spending time with humans other than Jack, and it was kind of nice to be sought out. “Here,” he said, putting the guide down around the loose balls on the table. The felt was a little pocky where the rat’s claws had caught it. Ebreth could always get it reupholstered. “Let me help you set up.”

Seeker of Places sat back on his haunches with grim satisfaction as the big human arranged the ten spheroids in an equilateral triangle. He was loyal and tenacious, Ebreth Tor, not unlike the large dogs Seeker admired from afar, but almost completely deaf to the mathematical harmonies that made up the Rat’s universe. It made him very hard to talk to.

He wasn’t completely deaf, though. He understood this. And here, on the fuzzy playing green, Seeker of Places would make his attempts to get through.

Jack’s life depended on it.

The Rat stared down the cue ball like Rip Hunter tracking a future.

Another Problem With Telepathy



The first thing Khyrisse noticed was that she kept banging her head on the doorframes.

This made a certain amount of sense. It was Garal’s dream, after all; why should it be human-sized? But Khyrisse wasn’t used to her unimpressive five-foot frame brushing the ceiling of anything, and it did arrest her attention.

The second thing she noticed was that Garal was nowhere in sight.

Khyrisse sighed and ducked through another round doorway into another twisty little passage. When she cast dream on Ebreth, or Asinus or Luthien or any of her other friends for that matter, the dreamer was pretty much front and center. What it said about Garal’s psyche that she was having to search for him in his own subconscious mind Khyrisse wasn’t entirely sure. “Garal?” she called uncertainly, catching sight of a silhouette up ahead in a green chamber. “Garal, are y--”

“Shut up, bitch,” said Garal’s voice. Khyrisse boggled; she would never have imagined those words coming out of the meek halfling’s mouth. His back was to her, though, and he seemed to be talking to someone else, so she made herself relax. Really, if Garal was going to leave Jack alone in the category of people she knew who never used the b-word even in private, it was no skin off Khyrisse’s nose. She knocked on the ceiling tentatively as she approached. “Hi Garal,” she said, “it’s me, Khyrisse... sorry to, um, interrupt, but I needed to ask you some questions about the Ti’Ashentes indep--”

Khyrisse’s sentence died an ugly death as she got a better look at the woman with Garal, because she, too, was Khyrisse Starshadow, albeit an embarrassingly tarted up dream version, and Khyrisse could have lived comfortably for decades without ever having seen Garal doing to her what he was doing.

“GARAL!” she screeched, clenching both her hands into fists. The dream dissipated with drastic abruptness, the leather-bound Khyrisse-copy vanishing into whatever godforsaken corner of Garal’s imagination it had come from. The halfling stood frozen in the sudden light, staring at her for a good thirty seconds in the kind of abject terror that looked like it could only culminate in a heart attack on his part. “Oh no! Oh no!” He grabbed a potted plant from out of the dreamscape shakily and held it in front of himself, trying to think of anything useful to say. He obviously didn’t succeed. “Oh no!”

Khyrisse was torn between wanting to comfort the distraught halfling, fireball him, burst out laughing, and run like the hounds of Hell were after her and never look back. In the end what she said, muffled, was “I... probably really shouldn’t be using this as my primary contact spell, should I?”

“Oh, no!” wailed Garal, visibly wishing the ground would swallow him up.

“It’s--all right, Garal.” Khyrisse passed her hand over her face, trying to get the image out of her mind. “You’re not the only one who needs to knock more, I guess... I’m amazed I haven’t walked in on more things I didn’t need to see, in retrospect.”

Rest Uneasy



“Ebreth?” Khyrisse poked her head into the game room, holding her bathrobe around herself a little unsteadily. “What the flark are you doing in here?”

“The Rat came over to shoot some pool,” Ebreth explained half-sheepishly.

“Thank you!”

Khyrisse was faintly surprised, in some meta sort of way, that this was an explanation her mind immediately accepted as valid. “Well,” she said, “are you almost done? I’d... kind of like to talk to you.”

“I understand,” sighed the Rat, and jumped down off the pool table.

Khyrisse watched him go, smiling to herself despite her shakiness. Ebreth put his hands on her shoulders from behind. “Something wrong?” he said quietly.

“Not... per se...” She sighed and shook her head. “I... told you I was going to call Garal tonight?”

“Tremontagne causing trouble?”

“Probably,” Khyrisse muttered, “but if he is I don’t know about it yet. No, it--it’s Garal.”

“Something’s wrong with Garal?”

“No...” Khyrisse covered her face with one hand. It was too bad forget spells didn’t work on the caster, really. Khyrisse wouldn’t have minded erasing the last fifteen minutes from her memory at all. “Something’s wrong with me. When I arrived in his, dream?” She sighed, not sure whether she was more shaken or just plain embarrassed. “He was... dreaming about me. A very... um, personal dream.”

Ebreth laughed aloud. “Yeah?” he said, looping one arm around her waist. “Him and every other sane man in the city.”

Khyrisse just blushed, unsure of where exactly to take the conversation. She didn’t dare get any more specific about the disturbing nature of the dream; Ebreth could get violent when his protective instincts were triggered, and the last thing she wanted to do was incite trouble between him and the hapless Garal. Khyrisse wouldn’t want her true intentions judged by her dreams, Grendel knew. “I just, uh, really didn’t need to see that,” she mumbled. “I don’t know how we’re going to be able to talk to each other about politics anymore.”

“Aaaaah, you should see what those Kyoko-Ryan guys are thinking about you when no one’s looking,” grinned Ebreth.

Khyrisse wasn’t sure if she appreciated how light-heartedly he was taking this or not. With the limited information she was providing she could hardly blame him, but Khyrisse had come down here hoping he would make her feel more valuable as a woman than Garal apparently deemed her in his dreams, and instead he was trying to reassure her she was a valid sex symbol. He meant well, but this just wasn’t helping. “I mean,” she tried, muffled, “I don’t want Garal thinking I’m a slut.”

“Ah, Khyrisse.” He put his arms around her gently, which was a little better. “He doesn’t think that. Men dream about women all the time. It doesn’t mean they think they could have them in real life.” Khyrisse nodded gratefully, and Ebreth stroked the side of her head with his thumb. “No one thinks you’re a slut,” he said. “Not if every man on Ataniel dreams about you tonight. It just means they wish you were theirs, that’s all.” He grinned down at her. “As well they should, in my entirely unbiased opinion.”

Khyrisse groaned and bonked her head into his chest, her ears pink with embarrassment over the whole flarking situation. “Just hold me, okay?”

***

“I’m coming!” yelled Rani, dragging her ass out of bed with a groan as the second spate of knocking started. “I’m coming already! Jesus fucking Christ!” She threw her pillow furiously at the door as she put her slippers on, trying to get her groggy mental faculties together enough for a working hypothesis on who the fuck could be bothering her at this hour. The best she was coming up with so far was the Rimbor City Slasher, thoughts of whom had been keeping her from sleeping well tonight anyway, but if Rani was going to get kidnapped or turned to the dark side or something, she was for damn sure not doing it in her bare feet.

Rani threw the door open crossly, so hard the doorknob banged another dent in her cheap wall. Garal was standing on the mat in the rain, looking even more woeful than usual. “Garal?” Rani blinked stupidly at the rumpled halfling. “What the hell are you doing here? It’s the middle of the fucking night!”

“I need to talk to someone,” Garal said in a raw voice, and Rani, after a beat, moved aside and stood back to let him in.

In A World Where The Dead Stay Dead



“So anyway,” said Rhynwa, glancing at her strangely stylish timepiece, “I’ve gotta go get us a hotel room and a sitter for the shareholders’ summit. Will you be representing Riklandir?”

“No,” said Flicker. “Riklandir has an ambassador. I’m really just a skiier, Rhynwa.”

“Yeah, yeah. Tila’s just a horny thief, and she has a country.” Rhynwa adjusted her son’s jacket as he squirmed. “Get with the program, Sunfighter.”

“I’ll think about it,” Flicker said deadpan.

The two men watched her go, the sun still working on rising over the rippling New Trade harbor. “So,” Luthien said after a few moments, turning to look directly at his friend. “Was Kayla supposed to be coming in this morning, or did you meet our coach for a reason?”

“Well.” Flicker cleared his throat. “Khyrisse has been worried about you. Since the NMP went down, I mean.”

“Why?” he said shortly. “I’m not undead.”

“Just because so many of your skills have been honed to hunting them, I guess... and they’re not exactly topical anymore.”

“Eh.” Luthien shrugged. “I don’t begrudge control undead the page it’s wasting in my spellbook. It’s not like I have to memorize it.”

“Has... your magic been working normally?” Flicker said hesitantly.

“Let’s see.” Luthien lightning-bolted the nearest streetlight. “Yup, looks normal to me.”

Flicker shook his head as actinic energy zinged crazily up and down the lamp-post. There was no one quite like Luthien. “I meant the necromancy,” he said. “Khyri hasn’t been able to get ghoul hand and stuff like that to work.”

“Neither could I,” Luthien admitted, “at... first. Some of it’s been, well, coming back. I should really talk to her about it.” He shook his head. “Anyway,” he said, “tell her she worries too much. I don’t miss the undead one bit. Besides, now I’ll never become a lich.”

“Thank God,” said Flicker. “You made the worst lich. Do you remember when you told me your whole nefarious plan before trying to kill me? What did you, forget I reincarnate?”

“Don’t remind me.”

“And when you actually taunted Shilree ‘You never ever have a very good plan’?”

“Do you think I wrote the lines for that feeb?” Luthien demanded.

“Or when Norn came up from behind and killed you while you were so busy standing there screaming ‘No, no, it cannot be, this is impossible’?”

“Don’t try to blame me for that lame Skeins plot, Flicker,” said Luthien. “Was I the one who came and dragged you into it?”

“No,” said Flicker, “but my alternate-future villain alter-ego wasn’t the one who foisted Insane Shilree on us, either.”

“Don’t make me see if I can get finger of death working, Sunfighter.”

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