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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Trial and Error Archives
Chapter 15

What Child Is This

Coyri hated being poor. Tarrin's religious vows forbade him to charge his patients for his services, and there was no Church here to see to their needs. Tarrin's kiljhac friends had been paying their way, Coyri knew, and the idea of being a charity case in the barbarian lands drove her to distraction. She was from a privileged caste back in Diaria, but here that mattered for nothing. It would almost be better to get a job herself. But she didn't know the language, and besides, who would look after the baby? She and Tarrin had already quarreled twice over accepting psychiatrist's fees, but Coyri could never ask him to give his calling up entirely, either to stay home with the children or to get a more practical job. It simply meant too much to him.

She looked at Sajhir, reading a comic book on the floor. He was almost nine now. Maybe he could be sent to work. Something light, bagging groceries or maybe working at the library. He was already falling behind academically; some work experience might make his college applications look better. And they wouldn't be so dependent on the kindness of kiljhac then. She would have to mention it to Tarrin when he came home. He was away for the weekend, trying to get some word of Lorrini. Coyri shuddered, thinking of her only daughter's desertion.

Then she shuddered again, and realized it wasn't because of Lorrini.

***

Schneider walked down the street, whistling a risqué bar song and a simple hymn to Tal simultaneously. The first was going a little better than the second. He'd been off the comedy circuits since the mess with Roxy went down, and he was out of shape. Had to get back on that. The orphanage had been built already, and kids would start arriving in a couple weeks. Schneider wanted to be ready for ‘em.

A kid came out of one of the flats now, turning his head back and forth like he was looking for someone. Diarian kid, looked about Skitch's age. "Can I help you, son?" Schneider asked.

"I need a lady," the boy said urgently. "My mom's having a baby. Like right now."

"Holy dilation and effacement, Batman!" Schneider hit himself in the forehead. "Let me, uh, see if I can find a friend of mine..." Unfortunately, Schneider's magic mirror showed Sister Jane to be back in Edimon at the moment. "Well, never fear, my young friend," he said, with more confidence than he felt. "It just so happens I'm a certified midwife."

The boy looked dubious, but pointed the jester into the building. There was a light-haired Diarian woman groaning on the floor. "Put some water up to boil," Schneider instructed the boy, who ran to do so. There hadn't been any Diarians at the Nylevian Midwives' Guild. Schneider hoped they weren't significantly different from humans in this respect. "Easy, ma'am. I'm, uh, here to help you."

She cut loose with a stream of Diari words that Schneider, all things considered, was just as glad he couldn't understand. He remembered the kind of thing Rhynwa'd had to say about the male gender just about now. "You're doing great," he encouraged, and tried to put his hand up her skirt. She slapped it. "Uh, hey, kid, do you think you could, uh, come tell your mom a couple things for me?"

"Like what?" called the boy, fussing with the stove.

"Like she can't deliver a baby with her clothes on?"

"Nasandi rita carajh mitaldae, mama," yelled the boy. The woman wept. "I don't think she wants a man to touch her down there," he added, coming out of the kitchen with the steaming teapot. "In my country ladies do that."

"Tell her I'm a really ugly woman," Schneider suggested. The boy gave him another dubious look, and Schneider sighed. "Tell her I'm a medical professional. I'm here to help her."

The boy said something soothing, taking his mother by the hand. She screamed, her body contracting visibly. It looked like her labor had progressed very rapidly, the way it sometimes did with women who'd already had a few kids. Schneider licked his lips. He'd never actually delivered a baby by himself before. He hoped there weren't going to be any complications or anything. The woman didn't slap him any more, but she sure looked like his presence was distressing her a lot more than it was reassuring her, and that wasn't good. She needed to relax. "Okay, breathe," coached Schneider. "One, two, three!"

"Lassi, mama," facilitated her son, mimicking Schneider's puffing faces for her.

He could see the kid's head starting to crown already. If he could just keep the poor woman out of hysterics for ten minutes, it'd probably be all over. "You're almost there," he said encouragingly. "Just take big breaths, get ready to give me a great big push, okay?" Schneider wondered if Khyri was going to let him in the delivery room in October or not. He sure hoped so. It would be too awful to miss the birth of his first child over personal politics. "Okay, push!"

Coyri Illiesiri screamed on the floor, a long, miserable cry of shame and despair and hate for the world at large.

Cry Wolf

"The team from New Trade left by way of the Nataal consulate," K'Mar reported. "They met with Jardin last night, then with Silverlace, and they took off for the eyebrow this morning." He gave Omeria the divining gem back. "They didn't have any of the missing passcards, and they didn't go anywhere near the palace. From what I could overhear, they're looking for some chick Arturian captured. I don't think they have anything to do with us."

Hotspur cleared his throat very uncomfortably.

Omeria turned on the dwarf, frowning. "Do you have something to say, Hotspur?"

"Look," said Hotspur, "you know I ain't got nothing against any of you, right? You're like a family to me, always have been."

Omeria's frown darkened. "Spill it, Spur."

"And I wouldn't be saying something like this if I had any other option."

"You have thirty seconds."

"It's Ari." He looked down. "She and her boytoy from New Trade were in the passcard zone of the dungeon last night. I don't know how they hid it from us as long as they did..."

"What?" said K'Mar.

"...but Mordecai's gone," finished Hotspur.



"Hey, Merry," said Ariath, looking up from her toilette with a little grin. "Consider the Medici officially in your pocket."

"How nice for them."

Ariath turned all the way around at the archmage's tone, half-puzzled and half-concerned. "Trouble?" she asked. Omeria had two guardsmen with her. She didn't usually travel with bodyguards internally. Marhault had mentioned that there'd been some kind of flap about a couple of Khyri's people showing up unexpectedly yesterday, but no one had seemed to think it was very serious.

"Trouble," said Omeria, quietly. "Care to explain it, Ariath?"

"What?" said Ariath. "Explain what?"

"The hour's a bit late for that, little blade. If you have something to say for yourself, it would be better to drop the ingenuous act and do it, while I'm still listening."

Ari blinked in confusion, her mind racing. She'd slept with Antonio Medici... would that bother Omeria for some reason? The day before that she'd been in negotiations with Carmela the vampire, but they were still in the early stages, so she hadn't thought there was any reason to go over it with Omeria yet. "I didn't make Carmela a real offer yet," she volunteered. "We were just talking over some possi--"

"To Hell with Carmela. What were you and Vastarin Windbourne doing in the palace dungeon last night?"

Ariath squinted one eye up. "I... was... what?"

Omeria folded her arms rather coldly. "You do that very well, don't you? In the palace dungeon, Ariath. With Vastarin Windbourne. Hotspur picked you up on a security scan."

She shook her blond head. "It must have been an ill--"

"--an illusion," Omeria finished, "so Hotspur recorded it and tried to put a trace on it, to no avail. He turned it over to me this morning. My sorcerous arts were quite unequivocal: there was magical cloaking, of a still-unidentified nature, but no illusion magics at all."

"A doppelganger, then," said Ariath.

"Or someone under the influence of shape-changing pills," agreed Omeria, "or even someone who'd been polymorphed. So I ran a complete background check." She took a folder out of her cloak and dropped it hard onto Ariath's vanity table, her eyes narrow. "You were in New Trade two days ago. Without telling any of us. K'Mar's plant in Starshadow's cadre confirms this, but says it wasn't really you but your sister Ariath. The one whose name you took."

"My... sister?" Ari had to sit down, her face ashen. "But... but I don't have a sister!"

"Do you think I don't know that?" Omeria looked down at her best friend, half-sadly and half-angrily. "Could you at least have used a lie I hadn't heard before, little blade?"

"Khyri must have set this up," said the little thief. "I gave her that story back when I--"

"And the passcard zones?" Omeria interrupted. "Did you tell her about those then, too?"

Ariath shook her head. "Merry, it wasn't me," she said. "I haven't been near the dungeon in weeks. I had dinner with Antonio Medici last night. He'll vouch for me."

Omeria's angry eyes hardened to full black. "How convenient," she said. "Since Antonio Medici was killed in a vampire attack later that evening."

Ari's jaw dropped. "Then... then it must be Cloak," she said, the wheels whirring in her mind. "Maybe he--"

"Maybe he was trying to cover your nonexistant alibi for you?" said Omeria. "At which he might have succeeded, had Bloodscar not been rather quicker than his undead minions and one of them rather... forthcoming... with information?"

"You're trusting vampires over me?" wailed Ari.

"Do you really think I think so little of you that I would have come here before I was fully sure of the truth, little blade?" whispered Omeria. "The vampire was under compulsion. Cloak had sent her out to cover the trail of you and Vastarin, with whom he had spoken, and both of whom she had seen together with her own eyes. Hotspur's scrying, K'Mar's mole, my own divinations, and the mystic spoor I traced from Starshadow all back it up, with the exception that Starshadow's traceroutes claim the individual was a sister we both know doesn't exist!"

Ariath put her shaking hands over her face. She wouldn't put something like this past a vengeful Khyri, but the sorceress didn't have an inside card here to play. It must have been Hotspur or K'Mar. Why would either of them sacrifice her like this? "Merry," she cried, "why would I do this? Why would I capture Mordecai for you only to bring him back for Khyri? That would just piss you both off and gain me nothing. Give me some credit, I'm not that stupid!"

Omeria was quiet for a long, a very long moment. "Mordecai?"

"What?"

"How did you know Mordecai was missing?" she said very quietly.

"I--" Ariath blinked. "I don't--"

Omeria walked out the door of Ariath's room. "Make it quick," she told one of the two guardsmen, her voice soft and cold with pain. "I don't want her to suffer."

"Merry!" gasped Ariath.

The dark sorceress did not look back.

"I'm afraid you'll have to come with us, ma'am," said one of the guards, almost apologetically.

Ariath was too stunned even to start plotting an escape.

How the fuck did I know that?



"A pleasure doing business with you," Cloak smiled, the points of his canines glinting in the darkened mansion.

"Likewise." The Mistral twiddled his wrist in a clicking crystal salute. "If you ever want to get together again, buddy, you know where to find me. There's never enough evil beings around to do this kind of thing with, know what I mean?"

"There is... a third," said Cloak.



"Marhault?" Ariath sat up in her prison cell. "What are you doing here?"

"Saving your life, what do you think?" He hit the pad and the forcefield dissipated. "I don't know what you're up to, Ari. But I still..." The tall gaunt guy hesitated. "...care for you, too much to let her kill you." He reached through the bars of the cell and pressed a gunnysack into her hands.

She regarded him in confusion. "You--you don't really think I betrayed you too... do you, Marhault?"

"Yes, but I don't care," he said. "Open it."

She opened it. A dagger, a map, and a glowing golden needle.

"Pierce yourself with that needle and you'll appear in the Abyss," said Marhault. "Plane 464. The map will lead you to a gate back to Ataniel. It'll look like it's demons you've been in collusion with. If you still have a heart in that body of yours you'll keep it that way, because if Omeria finds out I'm the one who let you go she'll kill me in your place."

"But... but where will I go then?"

"New Trade?" shrugged Marhault, a little coldly.

"Are you crazy? She'd kill me!" Ariath gripped the bars. "Marhault, I didn't sell you guys out to her! Why would I do that?"

"Well, I don't know what you're up to," said Marhault. "I was never the brains in this organization. Go find whoever you're working for now. You'll be all right."

Ariath slumped her head into the cell wall. "Who did this to me?" she wailed.



Dee climbed a little hill to look out over the Tobrinese countryside. Bloodscar would find her if she stayed here long, she knew. But she... wasn't going to be here long. Dee shivered as she wondered how she knew that, her outline wavering a bit as the internal reality she represented slipped, then recovered herself and looked back up at the sky. They were going to execute Ariath soon. Dee wondered if there was anything she could do to stop it. She was still her sister, after all. No matter what she'd done.

And then there was a little ripple through the mental substructure that made up Dee, and with her last moment, a puff of a glad sigh, the relieved thought She's escaped! They won't kill her after all!

And then Dee was gone, the mind that had created the fiction she rested on departed to another plane, as Siann wiped her hands on her shimmering dreamskirt, free again.

Breaking In

Ebreth slid his hand up the marble of the Federal Building for another handhold, his lips compressed in the deepening twilight. He was a second-rate cat burglar, but in the sense only a master thief could appreciate: Ebreth needed to concentrate. The window was open, confirming his intuition that this, not the house they shared, was where Khyrisse was likely to be this time of evening. She'd probably been eating takeout every night since he left. There was a marble ridge overhead, and Ebreth took hold of that to propel his legs through the open window. He landed in a fluid motion, his feet padding like a cat's onto the carpet. Khyrisse was at the file cabinet and hadn't heard him. "Anyone ever tell you you're beautiful when you're overworked?" he said.

She made a harsh gasp and turned on him, holding papers hard against her chest. "Ebreth?" she said sharply, the iridescent shimmer of her true seeing flaring around her eyes.

"Well, yeah," he said. "How many other lovers have you got scaling the wall of the Federal Building for you?"

Her paranoia subsided a little as the spell gave her the answer she wanted. "Well, there's K'Mar..." she said, putting her armful of papers on top of the cabinet. "Kynvelyn..."

"Hey, if you're holding out for something better..." Ebreth swung back out the window with a half-shrug.

"Wait!" She lunged for him with comic quickness, and he laughed, dangling from the sill by his armpits with his head and shoulders still inside. Khyrisse flushed. "You know, my office does have a door."

"And you'd never believe it was me if I just walked in it."

Khyrisse scowled, but her eyes were laughing. "You'd think you'd be glad I don't just throw myself at any man with an illusion spell."

"It'd have to be one heck of an illusion to duplicate my body well enough to fool you," said Ebreth. "Not to mention my natural wit and charm."

"And your wonderful modesty. Will you get in here, please?"

He did, grinning, spun her by the waist and pulled her up to him for a kiss. "ID check out?" he said in her ear.

"Confirmation incomplete," said Khyrisse. "Please present ID again."

He lingered over the second kiss. Her mouth was so soft, and he really had missed her. He set her gently in her desk chair and pulled back from her, put his hands on her arms on the armrests and looked into her eyes. "How's the baby," he said, quietly.

"Alive and kicking."

"And her mother?"

"Same, I guess."

"You going to tell me what happened?"

"There's not much else to tell," she said flatly, and looked away. "Skitch stole my father's wild magic and gave it to some Diarians in exchange for polymorphing him into one of them. Tarrin gave him the idea."

"Did you get the magic back?"

"Don Alliejin recovered it for me. It's..." She hesitated. "It's someplace safe now."

"You don't have to tell me," said Ebreth. "I didn't know where it was before and I don't have to know it now." She nodded gratefully, and he squeezed her arms. "What about Skitch, where's he now?"

"Last I heard he was in Irla," she said stiffly. "If you want more current information you'll have to ask Tarrin. ‘People like me' aren't allowed there."

"Tarrin's in contact with him?"

"Tarrin is in contact with his daughter," said Khyrisse, "and she and the boy are in university together."

"Oh," said Ebreth. This was making some sense now, though it would have made more if Skitch had been about five years older. "Tarrin approves of this?"

"I doubt it," said Khyrisse, "but far be it from me to fathom the mind of a Diarian. This conversation has gone on long enough, Ebreth."

He paused a moment, then took her tall glass of water from the desktop and looked into it. It was about half full. Ebreth held it out to her. "Try that again," he said. "I want to see if we get ice."

Khyrisse expelled air harshly. "I'm not angry with you," she said.

"Well, I certainly hope not. If that voice was meant for me I think maybe I'll just go on back to Hell." Khyrisse made an awful noise. For some reason she dealt with any mention of Hell less well than Ebreth did, and he realized suddenly that he had said it half to get a reaction from her, and felt terrible. "Khyrisse, I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't have said that. I just mean that it's hard to hear you like this. You sound like that last Ebreth Tor."

"Well, I feel a little like him," she said, looking away. Her voice was brittle as thin ice. "I'm sorry you have to see me this way, but it's how I'm coping. If you want out it's not too late."

"Khyrisse," said Ebreth, "that's not what I--" He turned her face up by the chin, and her eyes met his involuntarily. "I'm not going to walk out on you because you're upset about your son running away," he said. "What do you take me for?" Her mouth twitched a little, and he put his other arm around her. "Listen, Khyrisse. You are not going to drive me away. I have my problems, all right, but there are some ways I'm solid, and this is one of them. Whatever else happens, I swear on my immortal soul, I will be with you. Okay? You never have to go it alone, you never have to look over your shoulder for me, I promise you that by everything I've got; just promise me that you aren't going to wall yourself into some bitter, hateful corner and never come out, because that scares the living shit out of me." He touched her too-white cheek with his thumb. She was staring at him with a numb sort of shock. "I'm here, Khyrisse, and you don't have to doubt it, not now, and not ever. Just let me in, promise me that no matter what happens once we've finished struggling through it you'll be there and you'll still be the woman I love. Okay? Do we have a deal?"

She stared at him for a few seconds longer, barely breathing, and then stumbled forward out of the desk chair and into him with a sound like a dying goose, clutching at his upper arms so irrationally hard it hurt a little. She sobbed incoherently and nodded her head against his chest in a repetitive, stuttering motion, like it was all she could do. "That's all I need," he soothed her, wrapping his cloak around them both as best he could with the death grip she had on his arms. "That's all I need. Baby, it's okay."

"You're the only thing I've got left, Ebreth," she sobbed, the harsh and remote facade that had held so well against Eric's snideness and Schneider's bossiness crumpled uselessly around her ankles. "Every thing I get, everyone I trust, Ataniel takes it away. This world is an endlessly breaking heart. And you wonder why I'm afraid? Ebreth, I couldn't lose you too. I'd be so alone. There would be nothing left."

"That's not true at all," Ebreth disagreed. "You have parents. One of them you didn't even think was alive till this month, but she is. You have a brother. You have so many close friends you're having trouble narrowing your wedding party down!" Khyrisse shivered, and he kissed the top of her head. "You have a citystate, and you have a ungodly huge extended family who'd kill for you." He turned her face up a little, gently. "And you have a man who loves you very, very much, but he's not the only thing in your life, and he's not going to be, and he doesn't want to be."

"It's--not that." She shook against him. "It's just--you weren't actually the first person I let into my heart since Eric, Ebreth, not really. Skitch was," she said, in a small, throttled voice. "And now that he, now that he's gone too, I--"

"I know," Ebreth whispered. "It's all right." He slid the pin out of her hair and tenderly unwound her tight braid, somehow more intimate a gesture than undressing her would have been. "You and me against the world," he said, "baby, it's all right, I'm here."

I Ain't Missing You

Rani hadn't stopped muttering to herself since the retrieval squad had arrived in Nataal. Apparently the dimensional subfolding of the microverse was playing hell with her psychometric senses. Amatsu himself had a bit of a headache, presumably from the interaction of his magically-constructed body with the environmental constants here. Garal and Thermador were either incredibly nonchalant about suddenly finding themselves smaller than a dust particle, or pretending to be in front of each other. Pigsy thought it was about time for a little something to eat again. Amatsu hoped they'd laid in enough supplies.

"At least Silverlace didn't come with us," Rani was muttering. "That would really have taken the fucking cake."

"I thought she was kind of cute," smirked Thermador.

"She's cute, I'm cute, even you're kind of cute if you're into scruffy jerks with penises, but it don't mean we ain't pains in the ass, spaceboy."

"Who's scruffy looking," muttered Thermador.

"I can't believe you couldn't get any of the others to come," she continued bitching, her arms folded tightly as if she were holding herself in somehow. "I bet we could have gotten three people together to go help John Fuckin' Tucson. Trust Vickie to insult half the people in the team two days before getting lost in another dimension. Where the hell is Mina Paris? She wasn't pissed at Vickie, was she?"

"I couldn't find Mina," Garal said humbly. "She went on a leave of absence."

"We have no fucking spellcasters, we have no fucking fighters--this is going to be some rescue. Nobody better notice us, or we're going to need Vickie to come rescue us." Rani stomped on across the weird yellow landscape, puffs of pollen mushrooming up around each footfall. "Couldn't you even find Marty Hu?"

"This one will be sure to tell him his presence was missed," Amatsu bowed.

"I didn't say I missed him, I said I wished he was here!"

Amatsu said nothing, but only smiled.

Spoils of War

Khyrisse scrubbed at her face and swallowed. "So," she said, trying not to rasp too much. "How was your vacation, anyway?"

"Oh, it was fun," said Ebreth. "We wound up in the Running of the Minotaurs. We didn't, uh, do very well at it, but we survived, which is more than some of the contestants can say, I guess." Khyrisse frowned at that. "Oh, and you know how I've been, ah, spending all your money these past six months?"

"Our money," Khyrisse said reflexively.

"Yeah, well, whoever's money, there's about 15 grand of it back in the Carriage, so we're even again."

Khyrisse boggled. "You... won 15,000 gold in the race???"

"No, we got it from this jabberwock's den..."

"You killed a jabberwock?"

"Actually, Jack slew it," Ebreth admitted. "So he got first pick, and I got a Carriage full of ugly gold cups and stuff. Man, I can see why people go for this adventuring thing. It would have taken that last Ebreth Tor a week of dedicated villainy to convert this much goods."

Khyrisse was still blinking. "The... treasure was the second pick?"

"Well, most of it's pretty tacky looking. I think the jabberwock must have ripped off some museum or something." Ebreth shrugged. "I figured we could always sell it."

"What was Jack's pick?"

***

"Man," said Jack, happily tinkering with one of the thousands of wheels that made up the small machine. ENIGMA, read the side plate. "Does this thing ever put my decoder ring to shame."

Omphalos

The waters of the Labyrinth were finally starting to lighten.

Not that a stray shadow of sunlight reached this place, for wherever they were, it was farther from the surface than Otter had ever been.

But there was a heaviness to the water utterly alien to her naiad senses; a heaviness somewhere between thick and ponderous, as if she were swimming through honey, or mercury. As if she were swimming upstream. Otter had no idea how long she and Callie had been pushing on through these dark and formidable currents, but they had paused five times for sleep, and not once had there been a need to anchor themselves. The sheer density of these waters held them in place. The last time, her body had not so much as swayed in the night, and Otter had dreamed she was on dry land.

And then just as she was starting to feel it impossible to force herself through its resistance even another inch, just as she was sure she was trapped in amber and here she would wait for the end of the world, the waters before her began to thin, barely perceptibly at first, but then more. Otter was moving.

And with this motion came a dizzying rush, disorientation she had never felt, not even under the spell of magic. Callie felt it too, for though she had been following behind Otter, now she fell into her, as if Otter had been the one nearer the surface.

-We have passed through the center of the world,- whispered Callie, her tessera trembling. -I had... not believed it was true.-

Otter looked down into the depths, and though there was nothing, no glimmer of light however faint, her sense of water was beyond anything mortal, and Otter knew that it was so, that the surface was beneath her somewhere and she truly had passed beyond the realm of anything she had once known.

Otter had the peculiar urge to sing a threnody, as the human sailors did for men overboard.

It was overpowered with only slight difficulty, and then Otter pushed on silently through the slowly loosening heart of the ocean's depths.

Stupid Sibling Tricks

"Dad tells me Ebreth's back in town," said Karel.

"Hmm?" said Khyrisse, glancing up from her papers. "Yes, he got back last night."

There was a silence. "How, uh, is he?" Karel finally said.

"Seems all right to me," she said innocently.

"Damn it, Khyri, did you say yes or didn't you?!?"

She couldn't keep a straight face any more. "Well, of course I did, Karel," she gasped through the slightly brittle peals of her laughter.

He sagged against the chair. "Hatch me backwards, Khyri, were you ever going to tell us about this?"

"Oh, did I need to?" She widened her eyes at him in exaggerated contrition. "I assumed you'd know already! Seeing as how you knew about the flarking proposal before I did..."

"That wasn't my fault!" Karel protested weakly. "I wasn't spying on you this time! I was an innocent bystander!" Khyrisse was starting to hiccup from laughter. Karel sighed and passed his hand in front of his face. "Congratulations," he added. "I was starting to think I'd sent the poor guy to his doom, what with him vanishing and you decked out like the ice princess from hell..."

"No," she sighed, and then grinned at her brother, her eyes sparkling wickedly. "I just wanted to see how long it would take you to ask."

"You haven't changed a bit in some ways, you know that?"

Don't Mess With Women Who Gave Birth Less Than 24 Hours Ago

Coyri answered the door, puffy-faced and with a very small infant in one arm. "Hello," said Ebreth, in formal Diari. "Congratulations. Is Tarrin here?"

Coyri launched into a rapid-fire stream of language as if a cork had come out of her, apparently guessing from her visitor's poor command of High Diari that he didn't have a prayer in the world of following it. In fact it was Low Diari Ebreth Tor was fluent in, and Coyri, it turned out, could curse like a sailor when the end of her rope had been reached. What was he doing here? Did this look like a boardinghouse for dirty barbarians? It might be an ugly kiljhac flat that she wished would burn to its rotten foundation, but it was hers and it was clean and if he set one foot in it she was going to hit him in the head with a frying pan. What did he want with her husband? How dare he bother her husband? Hadn't his girlfriend's horrible son already corrupted Coyri's only daughter? And now her own son was speaking Dalen like a monkey and playing kiljhac games all afternoon with the disgusting little urchins in New Trade's miserable excuse for a park. What did Ebreth want now? Did he want her newborn baby, too? Fine, he could have the baby. She hated the baby. She hated this whole city. But if he didn't get out of her sight this instant she was going to kick his black ass into the gutter where it belonged and the consequences be damned.

"I'll, uh, wait on the stoop," said Ebreth, in Dalen. He didn't know how to say that in High Diari, and making Coyri lose any more face by admitting he spoke Low Diari at this point seemed likely to bring the actual frying pan out. He gestured at the wooden steps, backing reassuringly away from the door.

She slammed it violently.

Ebreth sighed and sat down on the stoop.

***

"I apologize for my wife's bad manner," said a very frazzled-looking Tarrin, joining Ebreth on the stairs. "She is having the post-partum depression, and it makes her a queen of hissy fits."

"I'm, ah, sorry to hear that." Tarrin's weird combination of psychobabble and ten-year-old slang was still kind of disconcerting. "Look, Tarrin, have you heard from Skitch at all?"

"Not exactly," the psychiatrist said sadly. "One virjhac of mine checked the enrollment at the University of Irla and their names are both in the freshman roll, so I guess the operation went okey-dokey, but that is all I could find out. Does the Khyrisee still blame me for him running away?"

"Well," said Ebreth, "I'd stay on the stoop, if I were you."

"I am one sorry guy." Tarrin shook his head. "I never thought the childrens would steal things and run away."

"Aaaaaah, you don't even want to know what I was doing at that age." Ebreth waved his hand. "They'll come around. What did Lorrini take?"

"All her mother's jewelry," sighed Tarrin. "For the rent and living money. Coyri writes her letters every day asking her to come home, but she does not answer."

"Maybe Coyri just needs some Diari friends," suggested Ebreth. "I mean, obviously she's not real comfortable socializing with us... You know, Relan's wife is in town a lot, and I bet she'd enjoy the company. Why don't I mention it to him, next time I see him?"

Tarrin nodded gratefully. "That is a killer idea," he said. "Thank you, Ebreth. You are a good friend."

The pirate didn't know quite what to say to that. "Aaah, it's nothing," he finally settled with. "This'll all sort itself out eventually. These aren't bad kids here."

"I think maybe they just do not realize how much they are hurting their families," agreed Tarrin.

"Congratulations on the new baby, anyway." Ebreth had been rather taken aback by how little it was. He'd thought babies were bigger than that, for some reason. "I'll see what I can find out."

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