Something Old And Something New; Something Borrowed, Something Blue
“God,” said Tila, looking at all the guests milling on the pavilion, chattering over morning hors d’oevres. “How long has it been since we’ve all been together like this?”
“Year and two months,” Luthien said deadpan.
“Not the whole ‘Tour, though,” Tila persisted. “Schneider wasn’t there then.” Schneider sighed heavily, like he didn’t need to be reminded of where he was during the Madness. Tila cleared her throat awkwardly. “Or Rhynwa,” she said. “Or--Palmer!” She leapt up delightedly as she caught sight of the screwball ex-gladiator sauntering through the topiary arch, wife and little boy in tow.
Flicker watched her go. “I hope she’s not going to reminisce about that weird affair the two of them had,” he said to no one in particular.
Luthien gave a dry chuckle at that. He should know, Flicker figured; Tila had certainly made enough off-color comments in front of his own son. “That reminds me,” said the necromancer, poking the uncharacteristically quiet Schneider in the shoulder. “What are you doing for a practical joke today?”
“Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to, uh...” Schneider cleared his throat. “I, uh, actually didn’t have anything in mind, believe it or not. Got any ideas?”
“Oh, come on,” said Luthien, his mouth quirking. “This from the man who got me drunk and dumped Threnody half-naked in my bed?”
“That was a long time ago,” sighed Schneider, stirring his Mai Tai with the little plastic umbrella. “Though I gotta admit, I did think about setting up a ventriloquism spell to make Khyri yell my name out in bed one of these nights... but I just know too much about frailty of the human Y-chromosome to think I’d get out of that one in one piece, know what I mean?”
“Y-chromosome?” Flicker rolled his eyes. “You don’t know anything, do you, Schneider?”
“What are you talking about?” Luthien gave his friend a quizzical look. “You’re saying Tor wouldn’t paste the shit out of him for that? You’d better believe I would if it was my wife.”
“You wouldn’t get the chance, and neither would he,” said Flicker. “He’d be a grease spot on the floor before either of you ever had a chance at him. Believe me. I’ve been female.”
“Who was talking about Tor’s Y-chromosome anyway?” said Schneider. “I meant mine. Self-deprecating myself with a little joke about the girl that got away, that’s something I’m willing to lump in the name of good humor; setting it up to hear her tell me exactly how she doesn’t feel about me afterwards?” Luthien and Flicker looked at each other, and then they both shrugged and gave concessionary nods in tandem. “I may be crazy,” said Schneider. “I sure ain’t that crazy.”
“We could always just TP the carriage,” offered Flicker.
“Gee, that’s creative, Red.”
“That was a long time ago,” he said quietly, “too.”
“This one is most sorry to hear of Lord Haito’s passing,” the ambassador from Kyoko-Ra was saying in strongly accented Shikinti. In fact, Praxis knew, his Shikinti was perfect; he maintained an accent to maintain his distance. Whether he was genuinely sorry about Haito’s death was anyone’s guess. Praxis sometimes missed the vivid directness of Brytannwch. The government sucked? Overthrow it. Been wasting your life? Stand up and change it. Can’t stand your boyfriend anymore? Kill him. Love them or hate them, at least people back home said things the way they meant them.
“Thank you,” he told the ambassador now.
“The empire of Kyoko-Ra looks forward to its new trade relationship with Shanghai province,” the man returned, with a slight bow. “This could be a most beneficial turn of events for us all, provided that our markets complement, rather than undercut, each other. There are many details still to be worked out, yes?”
Praxis had stopped listening. He was looking over the ambassador’s head--not a difficult task, as Praxis stood half a foot taller than the Kyoko-Ryan--into the crowd. “Yes,” he said, not entirely sure what he was saying yes to. It would be the right answer anyway, in these circles. “Yes, I’m sure. We’ll talk more later. Excuse me.”
He gave a slight, stiff bow and took off, first slowly, and then at a jog.
“Well,” said the ambassador in Kyokota, to K’Mar. “How rude.”
“Shikinti,” shrugged K’Mar, with an apologetic grin.
“Mina,” Ebreth said quietly, locating her.
“Hi, Ebreth,” said Mina. “Whoa, you’re sure decked out. What’s the occasion?”
Ebreth frowned at her. He’d never quite figured Mina out, and he got the impression she liked that a lot. “Do you know where Khyrisse is?”
“You can’t see her now, silly!” Mina gave him a look. “You’d jinx everything.”
“I don’t need to see her,” he said. “I just want to know if everything’s... all right.”
“What,” said Mina, “if she’s coming, you mean?”
“If she’s all right,” Ebreth said. “You’re the one who was with her last night. How’s she doing?”
“Nervous, but great,” said Mina. She paused. “Of course, I’d tell you that anyway.”
“Just slit my wrists, why don’t you,” sighed Ebreth.
“Oh, go on.” She swatted at him playfully. “I’ve been waiting for this longer than any of you. I think you can make it another half hour.”
The one who had been waiting longest, actually, was Skitch, who wasn’t even here today. He’d asked Khyrisse if she was going to get married way the hell back in Rat Kings. But Mina had probably still been thinking about it as a possibility before either Ebreth or Khyrisse had dared to, which was undoubtedly what she meant. “I’ll make it,” he said.
“Bill!” called Praxis, ducking around waiters proffering trays of little mushroom things. “Bill!”
He turned like it was a tai chi move, fluid and unhurried. “Praxis,” he said, smiling. “Hey, I hear you’re running Shikintu now. Are any of the old Trade Heroes not in politics these days?”
Alain, Praxis thought, was not in politics anymore. He didn’t say so. “Just Shanghai,” he said instead. “What are you doing here, Endicott?”
“You didn’t really think I’d miss the media event of the year, did you?”
“I mean,” said Praxis, “where have you been, Bill? It’s been a year. I haven’t even been able to reach you psionically. People have been saying you were dead.”
“Just undercover,” said Endicott. “Journalism is a demanding master.”
“Well,” said Praxis, gripping his arm, “I’m... glad to see you again, Bill.”
“Get a room, boys!” Tila crowed teasingly, on her way past them for the bar.
“Some party, hey, Matsie?” Vickie did a double take and missed the ninja’s hand with the wine cooler she was trying to hand him. “Ian! Whoa! Blast from the past!”
The Tobrinese swashbuckler made a noncommittal noise of greeting, accepting without returning her exuberant hug. Amatsu, master of perception, could not help noticing what Vickie did not, namely, that Ian Jardin looked like he would rather be almost anywhere else right now. “How’ve you been, you old rake?” Vickie continued, cheerfully oblivious to his discomfort. “I haven’t seen you in, like, how long?”
“Three years,” Ian said a little too politely. “Excuse me, I think my sister’s calling me.”
“See ya later,” Vickie called after him, waving as Ian Jardin escaped across the pavilion in Inez’ direction. “Me and him,” she explained to Amatsu, “had a thing going, once.” That much Amatsu could hardly have failed to notice. The ninja was too experienced at staying out of others’ business to wonder, exactly, but he couldn’t help being curious: what could have happened between them to leave the chivalric Mr. Jardin so visibly embarrassed by their relationship, while leaving Vickie Dare thinking fondly of it? “Man,” Vickie went on, “I haven’t had so many old lovers in one place since Pluv’s fiftieth birthday bash. Hope that’s not a precedent. Bounty hunters from Limbo attacked that one.” She ruffled Amatsu’s hair, grinning. The straight-laced Shikinti was still rather astonished by how little he found he minded being one of the many names in Vickie Dare’s black book. “So speaking of secret identities,” she said.
Vickie waved it off with her free hand and leaned in close to confide. Her breath was faintly fruity with drink, but she was far from intoxicated, Amatsu knew. “Octavian,” she said in a stage whisper. “This is our chance to find out who he really is!”
“You found out who he was,” Amatsu pointed out. “You took his mask off in Rimbor City.”
“Revealing nothing. You expect me to buy that he’s some boring guy none of us has never even met before, Matsie? That’s not how these mysteries work. He’s someone important, bet on it.” She gave him her broadest grin. “And almost everyone important is here today... thus eliminating them from contention!”
“Unless Octavian’s here in secret,” Amatsu agreed.
“Which we’ll easily be able to tell by seeing whether Octavian was mysteriously absent from Rimbor City during the wedding festivities!” Vickie said triumphantly. “And if he isn’t, then we just need to figure out who in Khyrisse’s social circle wasn’t here today. Octavian knew her already, if you’ll recall.” She took a swig of her wine cooler. “So far, the only people I’ve identified as suspiciously absent have been Duke Omeria, Trissia Maddyx, Kieran Talbot, Rip Hunter, and Ariath. Oh, and Otter, but I’ve seen her and Octavian together.”
“This one feels fairly confident that Duke Omeria has been otherwise occupied during at least some of Mr. Octavian’s activities,” Amatsu said tactfully.
“See? We’re narrowing it down already!”
“I’m telling you, Gracie, it’s like a whole different religion now.”
“Jarth,” sighed Chief Averdale, “I am not joining the Church of Morvon.”
“Okay, I know at first he seems like he has a big stick up his butt,” said Jarth. “That Law thing and all. But he’s a cool guy once you get to know him, really. You should see him drunk. He’s like another God.”
“Jarth, he’s dead,” said Grace.
“And it’s loosened him up unbelievably!”
This was not, of course, the first time Jarth Averdale had tried to convert his stubbornly atheistic cousin, probably the third or fourth time he’d done it at a wedding. But it was certainly his strangest attempt to date. They said the Essence of Morvon he’d drunk to prove himself the god’s avatar had really crossed up some wires in his head somewhere. Grace didn’t usually pay much mind to who the Morvonites thought was off their rocker or not, but in this case, they seemed to have a pretty good point. “Jarth,” she sighed, “I’m a career police officer. The law was the part I liked about Javinese religion, remember? You couldn’t pay me enough to get drunk with Morvon of the Mountains. Even if he was still alive. Which he’s not.”
Jarth was going to say something else, but was distracted by his younger son tackling him from behind. “Aughhhh!” yelled the priest, rolling to the floor of the pavilion in exaggerated defeat, then flipping the eight-year-old suddenly over to tickle him. Whatever midlife crisis he was going through, Grace conceded, this was certainly a good side effect of it. Jarth had married his wife, a mousy Seeford daughter, for purely political reasons, and once his boys were born returned home only for critical social functions every year or so. It was probably too late to repair his relationship with the older one, but Jarth Junior, wrestling happily on the tiles, seemed reconciled, and the Seeford girl, whose first name Grace couldn’t remember for the life of her, had lost the plain sadness in her eyes. If Jarth wanted to pretend he got sloshed with dead gods, Grace couldn’t see the harm of it in the greater scheme of things.
“Chief,” came Kingfisher’s clipped voice over the radio link. “We’ve got a situation.”
“So how’s the new enterprise going?” Waterloo asked perkily.
“Going strong,” said Marie, swirling her margarita. “Tila gave me a start-up loan... if everything keeps going well, I’ll have it paid back by next year. Edimon hasn’t had a really premier escort service since Luanda, if you can believe that. How about the adventuring business?”
“O, here and there,” Siobhan said cheerfully. “Couple jaunts with Max I did, an’ one with the werewolf Noyarc. Nothin’ so excitin’ as our epic last year.”
“I went with Ulmo and Taryth to hunt down the Render of Souls,” offered Waterloo.
“What is the deal with you and ‘Ulmo’, anyway?” Marie wanted to know.
“I’ll never tell,” grinned Waterloo.
“Whoa,” Marty interrupted in a stage whisper, “could you girls, like, keep it down?”
The three women blinked at the paladin in the overly frilly shirt a few times.
“Shhhhhhh,” Marty explained, putting his finger to his lips. “Like, keep your voice down.”
“Why?” Waterloo whispered back. “Are they gonna make a toast or something?”
“Toast?” Marty paled. “Here? Master Ebreth promised there’d just be, like, donuts...”
“The donuts are over there,” Marie said helpfully, pointing.
“Who is he, anyway?” Siobhan asked Waterloo.
“Yeah!” nodded Marty. “I am! Have you, like, heard of me?”
“And what is he doing here?”
“I’m ushing,” Marty explained. “I’m an usher. So, like, try to keep it quiet, okay?”
There was a moment of silence, and Marty smiled beatifically.
“Have you ever thought of joining the Significant Institute?” Waterloo whispered.
“I’m telling you, I’m Warp!” The superhero looked hurt. “Don’t you recognize me?”
“He doesn’t have an invitation,” Kingfisher said flatly. Khyrisse had hired on the devotee of focused aggression as a bouncer, and as with most things, she took her job seriously.
“I wasn’t on the dimension! How could she get me an invitation?”
“I’m sorry,” Chief Averdale said dispassionately, “but the guest list is restricted, Mr., uh, Warp. There are a limited number of table seatings.”
“So I’ll beam myself in a burger!” said Warp. “I’m not here to raid the buffet! I’m a demigod with powers over space and time, for Christ’s sake!”
“Then go back in time,” Kingfisher suggested coldly, “and get Khyrisse to give you an invitation.”
“Oh, for--” Warp adjusted his sunglasses to hide his embarrassment, pulled a shimmering screen of blue light in front of himself like a curtain, and then stepped back out of it. “I, uh, would have thought of that myself,” he said, handing Kingfisher the invitation.
“Wow,” said Tila. “This really is like old times. Even Endicott’s here. Now if only Flicker were Janther, I could have two more champagnes and forget what year it was.”
“That’s me,” sighed Flicker, “the human timestamp.”
“Son years seven old have friends Rhynwa Luthien and,” Zzenith pointed out. “Schneider taller feet by two is. And Khyrisse colors normal displays chitin without curse or and.”
“And I have better hair,” Tila agreed. “Little stuff. We’re all alive, right? We’re all the same people we were then, even Flicker, mostly. Seven years, and we all made it through. That’s pretty damn impressive.” She clinked her glass into Rhynwa’s. “To seven more.”
“More to seven,” agreed Zzenith, touching his drink to theirs with one of his longer eyestalks. “And happiness may find all friends our Khyrisse as has.”
Which was, of course, when Eric Tremontagne walked into the pavilion in a sharp black suit, Roxana de la Metrie on his arm.
“Whoa,” said Max.
“Deja vu all ovah again,” drawled Palmer.
The moment of stunned silence that had fallen over the crowd was broken, finally, by Tila jumping up and running across to her old charm-school buddy with wide-flung arms, squealing “Roxeeeeeeeeeeeee!” at the top of her register.
“If this doesn’t work out,” suggested Rhynwa, “let’s set him up with Savis.”
Schneider said nothing at all.
Valende, who was fussing with flower arrangements, made an audible gasp as Eric and Roxy entered the pavilion. “What...?” said Vas, oblivious as ever, and followed her gaze. His eyes went even wider than usual. “Oh, my,” he murmured. “Perhaps you should go back and inform milady, sister. It would be best if she did not first notice his presence from the altar.”
Valende shook her dark head. “No... no, she was expecting him, Vas. It’s just--” She broke off abruptly, realizing Vas was never going to understand this and she was wasting time. “I’ll be right back.”
“I--” started Vas, confused.
His sister was already tearing across the hall, her bridesmaid’s dress swept up in one hand.
Chin up, bucko! consoled Duke Faraker. There’s other fish in the sea. Like, get a load of that brunette Khyrisse has for an intern! Yowza!
Schneider didn’t even look.
Just then, Val came skidding into him, breathless, caught herself on the jester’s shoulder, and whispered into his ear, “I’m your date.”
Schneider scrunched up one eye. “Come again, Toucan?” he managed weakly.
“Your date,” she whispered. “You didn’t bring one, I didn’t bring one, I’m in the wedding party... who’s to know?”
“Uh,” said Schneider, “if you’re trying to take my mind off the cesspool that is my life right now, Val, I appreciate it, but I think I’ve just given up sex for the next 250 years.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Schneider. It’s not really a pass,” whispered Val, winking at him. “But if you think I’m just going to let her waltz in here thinking she’s one up on you...!”
Schneider actually only had to half-force a smile back at that. “Thanks,” he murmured, and squeezed the elf’s hand rather tightly.