“So how did you manage all those times in Rimbor City when we saw the two of you together?” Mina curiously asked Rani over breakfast.
“Can’t tell you that.” Rani threw back her screwdriver. “Sorry.”
“Oh... well, it’s good to know you had a plan, anyway. Sometimes you seem like you, well, like you’ve given up on anything ever getting any better, or something. But I guess that’s all part of the secret identity, in retrospect.”
“Uh, yeah,” lied Rani. “So what the hell do you have a secret identity for, anyway? It’s not like you need one. Aren’t most of the underworld criminals you interact with on your side?”
“Well, sort of, I guess... but that’s kind of the point. I wanted to show people you didn’t have to be rich or well-connected to make a difference... that anyone could be a hero. You see, I was talking to Khyrisse about how people find help when they need it...” Mina was starting to warm to her topic. “And she said now that the beacon in the Mithril Dagger is gone, you pretty much have to know somebody who knows somebody. And I was just thinking about how many people must fall through the cracks... if there were more small heroes, everyone could find someone to help. I thought maybe I could serve as kind of an inspiration, a hero for a post-Madness world...”
“So why a man?” Rani interrupted.
“A man. Why is your alter ego a man?”
Mina blinked. “So is yours.”
“Yeah, but I’m trying to keep my identity hidden, remember? You’re just trying to be a role model or something. So what’s with the traditional big-male-with-a-sword shtick? I’d be more inspired that a muffy suburban girl like you was kicking ass than that somebody named Justin Moore was.” Rani took another slug. “No, uh, offense.”
“None taken,” Mina said, though she did look a little daunted. “Well, not everyone can afford a magical apprenticeship like I’ve had... or has the, uh, aptitude for it, even if they could. But anyone can pick up a sword and use it. And if I can use my magical talents to make myself into that kind of Everyman, at least on a part-time basis, then I can really show them the true potential in everyone!”
Rani shrugged. “Well, whatever floats your boat,” she said. Rani thought it was sort of a waste for people not to be utilizing their true talents over silly philosophical beliefs, herself, but she wasn’t about to get into it with the girl. “Just don’t go ratting me out, all right? Not even to the other Parises.”
“Not even to Jack,” swore Mina, raising her right hand in promise.
But Not Forgotten
“He said... what?” Jack’s brow furrowed.
“I’m not sure,” admitted Ebreth. “I thought it was something about a bumper shot. He seems like he’s telling me to take bumper shots. I was wondering if maybe you could ask him what he means.”
“Well,” said Jack, “I can try, but if it’s a prophecy, he’s probably already expressing it along the most parsimonious metaphysical trail... I mean, if he could just ask me to tell you what he wants, don’t you think he would already have done that?”
“He’s been poring over all my spellbooks, too,” Khyrisse contributed. “Like he’s looking for something, but he always comes up disappointed... I even got out my old books of cantrips for him, but he’s just not finding what he’s looking for, and I don’t understand him well enough to help.”
“Why don’t we take him to the magical library?” suggested Jack.
Khyrisse coughed. “Because my personal library is, ah, more complete than the one in New Trade,” she murmured.
“How about Tobrinel, then?” said Ebreth.
“Or Diaria,” offered Jack.
“I am not going to Diaria to research magic.” Khyrisse pushed the pram around a crack in the sidewalk. “And Grendel only knows what Omeria would make of all this. I wish Liratyn was still here. That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to Val about.”
“What about Aithne?” asked Jack. “Her magical interface is significantly disjunct from yours.”
“That’s--a possibility, actually.” Khyrisse frowned, contemplating it. “Though she doesn’t keep her spells written down. I don’t know how the Rat would go about examining them.”
“Maybe Jack could get her to make kind of a list.” Ebreth slowed down in admiration as they neared the emerging new temple, the white marble of its nearly-finished first story gleaming in the Northlands sun. The Mistral was industriously laying support beams, and Val was helping Aithne set a facade in one of the front niches. “Hey, that looks great, Jack.”
“Oh, I just helped with some of the, uh, structural layout,” Jack said modestly. “Is something wrong, Khyrisse?”
She had swayed dizzily, supporting herself on the handlebar of the baby carriage. Ebreth put his hand on her elbow, frowning his concern. “The Weird Sisters,” she whispered, very pale. “It looks just like the temple of the Weird Sisters.”
Lissa raised her voice in a thin and wavering cry.
A Thundering Silence
Skitch walked gingerly along the Dyaromn inner harbor.
He’d never felt so nauseated in his life, but the scientists were pleased with the results of the gene therapy so far, and his death didn’t seem imminent. Lorrini was elated to see the money Vas had given him, too. Skitch felt like he was taking advantage of the elf a little bit, accepting so much coin when he wasn’t really even a minor anymore under Diarian law. On the other hand, paying an inappropriate amount of child support clearly made Vas feel less guilty about the whole thing, so Skitch guessed he was getting what he paid for. And they certainly did need the money. Lorrini was hopeful that if they could pay Sherren off for the rest of the semester, she could put an end to the whole thing over fall break. Lorrini’s Aunt Elree knew Sherren’s mother, and there were social pressures that could be brought to bear. Skitch sure hoped it worked, because the alternatives were far from pretty.
Lorrini enthusiastically pointed out seabirds as they walked. Her best friend, Kalara, was from Dyaromn, and the two had come out from Irla for the weekend to visit Kalara’s family and see how Skitch was recuperating. It was fun to see them, though Kalara’s favorite thing in the world was apparently shopping. Skitch felt like he’d made the acquaintance of every shoe store and mini-mall in Dyaromn over the past two days. He’d started privately thinking of Kalara as “Diari Price.” Skitch used a little of Vas’ blood money to buy himself a blazer and a couple of shirts and some new pumps, an autumn shawl, and a long skirt for Lorrini. That ought to hold them through October, anyway. He tried not to resent the entire new wardrobe Kalara was cheerfully picking out. It wasn’t her fault her parents were high-caste, and it certainly wasn’t her fault she didn’t have any thuggish ‘friends’ blackmailing her. Skitch wondered, briefly, whether the Diari mafia would whack a twelve-year-old if Ebreth asked them to.
His train of thought was interrupted by the sounds of a scuffle down by the pier. Two men seemed to be kicking a third one and hitting him with a stick. Maybe it was a mugging. Skitch had seen enough combat in the Rat Pack not to be frightened away by that, so he shouted “Hey, what’s going on here?” as he headed down to the waterline. Lorrini and Kalara followed, a little more nervously.
Being loudly noticed was often enough to scatter a couple of bullies, but these two barely glanced up. “Everything’s fine, kid,” said one of them, and Skitch realized with a shock that they were police officers.
“Leave me alone,” groaned their victim, apparently a kiljhac dockworker.
“Shut up, punk.”
“Hey!” protested Skitch, tugging at the sleeve of one of the policemen. Lorrini made a strangled noise and tried to catch his arm. “Hey, don’t hit him!”
“Friend of yours?” said the cop, pointedly, and poked his nightstick towards Skitch’s chest.
“No... but you’re not supposed to beat people! That’s police brutality--it’s illegal in Diaria!”
“Skitch, be quiet,” Lorrini said in a frightened whisper. “You’re going to get us all killed!”
“You a law student, son?” the other cop said dryly.
“College kids,” the first cop snorted to the second. “They’re always fucking protesting something, you know? ‘No war with Cynystra.’ ‘Don’t harpoon dolphins.’ ‘Be nice to the migrant workers.’ Go write a letter to your councilmember or something, all right, boy?”
“You don’t want to make me tell you twice.”
“Skitch!” pleaded Lorrini, pulling at his arm. “Come on!”
He let her drag him away, his stomach twisted in a knot. It seemed like he could hear the migrant worker crying out behind them long after he actually could. “But they shouldn’t do that,” he said, tightly.
“My father shouldn’t have to be in exile, either, but he is.”
“It was just a kiljhac,” said Kalara, with a quizzical little shrug.
The road back to the House of Rekzyr felt somehow very long.
As J Approaches 0: Sidhe Shells
“Temples can’t be evil, Khyri,” Val assured gently. “Only the people who worship there.”
Aithne listened anxiously. She wasn’t completely following this conversation, but it seemed that Khyrisse had sensed something wrong with the temple the young priestess was building. Aithne had not noticed any ill omens herself, but the matriarch’s power was much greater than her own. She hoped they wouldn’t have to tear it down and start over.
“I guess that makes sense,” said Khyrisse. She touched the stone altar, shivering slightly, and ran her fingers along the rim until she found the recessed sheath of the ceremonial knife. “What... were you planning to sacrifice here, Aithne?”
“You mean, for dedicate this temple?” Aithne bit her lip. She didn’t exactly have an appropriate offering lined up yet. “Maybe, if you have some prisoner you don’t need anymore... or I could just use a goat. I am only small magic, still.”
Khyrisse nodded a little too hard. “Stick with the goats,” she said, and put the dagger back where she had found it, her arm slightly unsteady. “Human sacrifice isn’t permitted in New Trade.”
That was just fine with Aithne; Khyrisse was the most powerful magic-user in the city, so the Goddess would naturally bend toward her path. Besides, this way Aithne didn’t have to worry about finding a viable offering at the last minute. “Animals will be fine,” she said. “Or I can find some monster before a big festival, maybe. Maybe I even can catch the vampire that attack that girl.”
Khyrisse nodded, half an expression on her face. “Val,” she changed the subject, turning her back on the altar with a shaky deliberateness, “we’ve been getting some... strange feedback from the Rat. About Jack I mean. About his... finity problem.”
Aithne hoped this wasn’t a new problem. There were enough, with Jack. “Finity?” she said.
Val gave Khyrisse a panicky look. “It’s all right,” said the older sorceress. “She knows.” She turned to Aithne. “The problem with Jack... ending in September.”
“The wheel will turn,” nodded Aithne. “That is the way for all Sidhe.”
“Uh,” Jack put in, after a couple of seconds of awkward silence. “I’m, uh, not a Sidhe, Aithne.”
“No, you are a he,” she reassured him. “I know that. The problem is same sounding words. In your language she means girl, but in my language sidhe means person who is an idea.”
“I’m math,” said Jack. “Not a, uh, fey.”
“It is the same,” shrugged Aithne. “Human people live in lines. We have birth, we live, then we die. Idea people live in circles. Not circles. What do you call it when it is a circle that moves every time?” Aithne demonstrated with her finger.
“A spiral,” said Jack, his brow furrowing at her.
“A spiral. Ideas live in spirals. You will end, then you will begin again. Different, but in same.” Aithne nodded like it all made sense, and folded her fingers together neatly.
Khyrisse looked at Ebreth, Ebreth looked at Jack, Jack looked at Val, and then they all looked at Aithne. “But we want to stop that from happening, Aithne,” said Val.
“Yes,” said Aithne patiently. “When you do a thing once, then later you do again, what do you call that?”
“Iterations?” said Jack.
“Iterations,” Aithne repeated. “A new iteration will be the same Idea. Always, there will be Jack Paris.” She nodded with the rightness of that. “But, we will like to keep this iteration, because a new one will not have these friendships with us. So we must stop the wheel from turning for some while longer. That is the way for Sidhe.”
Valende cleared her throat. “I really don’t mean to be a wet blanket,” she said, “but Jack couldn’t possibly be one of the Sidhe, Aithne... he didn’t even exist until Robinson created him.” Jack nodded his agreement with that, apologetically. “I know it’s hard to reconcile with your belief system--trust me, it has been for us too--but Jack is a math equation, and we need to accept that if we’re going to find a way to keep him with us.”
Aithne didn’t back down. “Many times your beliefs do not make sense for me,” she charged. “But I listen to them because they explain the things I do not understand. Now, I can explain this thing you do not understand. Maybe you better listen to my beliefs. Though it is many years ago, still we are not stupid. I know about Sidhe better than most of you maybe. You should listen.”
There was a beat, and then Khyrisse sat down slowly on the ancient Celtic altar. “We’re listening,” she said.