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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Trial and Error Archives
Chapter 3

They Can't All Be Highschool Cheerleaders

The rain was falling harder, and Tamsyn pulled her hood up over her head to keep her hair dry. She was already cold from spending the last hour sitting on the marble steps of the crypt. The robes of her sisterhood were designed by men, so they didn't do much to keep out the cold. The clouds obscured the dying rays of the sun, so Tamsyn couldn't even tell how much longer it would be until the night finished falling. She sighed and brushed back a wet strand of her long grey hair. The things one does for duty, she thought to herself.

Her reverie was interrupted, however, by the slow small scraping of stone against stone. Tamsyn jumped to her feet and pulled the night-seeing goggles down over her eyes. The first vampire had risen from the loose wet earth of a grave marked "Yarvin Reeves." Tamsyn took two wooden daggers from her pack.

"You!" the vampire hissed. "We were warned about you!"

"Good," said Tamsyn. "That might make this almost even." She flung one of the wooden daggers at Reeves, who caught it easily between his two clawed hands.

"Ha!" he cried, right before the other dagger, thrown immediately after the first, thudded into his chest between his outstretched arms.

"Learn to multitask," she said as Yarvin Reeves crumbled to dust.

Tamsyn turned around and came face to face with fifteen redeyes.

"You were ssspeaking of multitasssking?" the leader hissed. "Ssspeaking to our bait, I mean?"

"Oh. Gee. A vampire trap. How... shocking," said Tamsyn, her long knobby fingers wrapping around her ancient holy symbol.

"Even for as... aged... a slayer as you," the leader smiled. "You cannot kill all fifteen of us."

Tamsyn wiped the rain out of her eyes with her free hand. "I suppose not," she said. "An old woman like me, fifteen vampires... I could probably only get four or five of you before you got the jump on me. If I wasn't going to cheat, that is," she said, clearing her throat. "Lord," she cried out, "purify this water with thy holy spirit and wash away this world's sins. In nomine patres, et cetera, amen."

There was a sudden howling from the vampires as the newly sanctified holy rain began to burn.

"You... bitch!" the leader screamed as large chunks of his face dripped off his skull.

Tamsyn bent down, her bones creaking, and picked up the umbrella she had set down earlier. She hadn't minded getting wet just so that she could make a nice statement at the end.

That was when the Sight took her, bowling her over like so many twigs.

Tobrinel, it said. Danger, moreso than you have ever faced. Seek the one named Madeleine.

Tamsyn got up off her knees. "Feh," she sighed. "I was really hoping for a vacation."

Tobrinel... the Sight echoed, fading in her mind.

"Well, Cloak," Tamsyn said to no one in the area, "it looks like it's time for round three."

Culture Clash

"Tarrin!" Ebreth grasped the Diari psychiatrist's hand firmly. Khyrisse and Skitch had visited him in Diaria last December, but Ebreth hadn't seen him since the adventure in Salagia, and it was good to. A cheerful, practical man, Tarrin, much more willing to give new things a try than most Diarians. "Come on in. Khyrisse! The Illiesiri are here!"

"I'll be right down," called Khyrisse.

"Please meet my wife and childrens," Tarrin introduced. "Coyri, Lorrini, and Sajhir."

"My pleasure," Ebreth said in polite Diari, bowing to Coyri.

She just looked down, like she was trying not to cry, and didn't say anything. Tarrin frowned at her, and she shut her eyes. He guessed communication was going on he wasn't privy to. Ebreth moved away from the door, gesturing them towards the sofa. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Ale!" beamed Tarrin, remembering the name of the Dalencian drink with a visible effort.

"Do you want a drink, Mom?" Sajhir translated into Low Diari for her. She must not know Dalen at all. "No, thank you," she whispered in the same language.

"Balasri, Lorrini!" Skitch called joyfully from the stairs, waving over the banister.

"Hi, Skitch!" She waved back. Ebreth wasn't sure if the expression on the girl's face had to do with relief at having a friend her age in her new, strange home, or a requital of Skitch's crush. He poured Tarrin some ale. "Lorrini and Sajhir brought their swimmings suits," Tarrin explained, embracing Khyrisse as she came in. "Maybe Skitch can teach them the Marco Polo while we talk about... serious matters."

"Yes, why don't you, Skitch?" Khyrisse grinned wickedly at him, winking at Ebreth.

Skitch paled drastically and his feet seemed to dig in a little bit. "Uhhhh..." he said.

Khyrisse frowned at him. "Skitch? Is something wrong?"

"The, uhhh.... the pool is broken. I broke the pool this morning."

"You broke it?" said Khyrisse, incredulously.

"Yeah." He gave her a pleading look. "I'll explain later, Mom. We can't go swimming in it right now."

Khyrisse paused. "Okay," she said. "Why don't you go play in the yard, then?"

Lorrini was looking strangely at Skitch. "You have Diari hair," she said, reaching out to touch a piece of it. The boy's dirty blond hair was oddly metallic in this light, where, now that Ebreth thought about it, it had once been more sandy. "Th--anks?" said Skitch, clearly not sure what to make of that.

Tarrin frowned and bent over to him, running his fingers through his hair. "I think this is the side effect of the bitchin' crystal I used to resurrect the little Skitch," he said, with interest.

"Am I turning into a Diarian?" cried Skitch, breathless with excitement.

"No, no. This is just some side effect." Tarrin frowned when he saw how crestfallen it made the boy. "You could turn into Diari boy if you want to," he said. "All you need is the polymorph spell. Maybe when the Diaria ceases her dorkage, you can even study at the university with the my daughter if you do that."

"Oh, Tarrin!" Skitch shouted. "Can I, Khyrisse? Can I? Please?"

Khyrisse looked like she was counting subvocally.

Can I Get A Tattoo, Mom? Huh? Can I?

Khyrisse took a deep breath. Saying �no' on the grounds that the Diari are horribly conceited and xenophobic would be unforgivably rude. Tarrin and his family are surely miserable enough right now without me sniping at their culture, too. "Ummmm. I don't know if that'd be such a good idea, kiddo."

"Oh, come on, Mom...! Why not?"

"Well," she said evenly, "for one thing, I don't know if anything like this holds true in Diaria, but I know that people who polymorph into elves aren't considered real elves. Sometimes they're rather snubbed by us because of it. And to tell you the unvarnished truth, they aren't real elves. They can't use our abilities, and they still die at human ages. Probably just as well, or people might be bothering mages for polymorph spells left and right." She looked soberly from Skitch to Tarrin. "My point is, I might be able to turn you into something very like a Diari--but I don't think I can give you the mind of one, Skitch."

"Oh, he would not be the real Diari," Tarrin readily agreed. "But he would look like the Diari, so he could go to the university and use the same restroom with the other childrens and the things like that."

"He couldn't use the same restroom?" said Khyrisse through her teeth.

"I want to be a real Diari," whined Skitch, looking at Lorrini out of the corner of his eye.

Tarrin apparently didn't catch the glance. "No one can change your mind and heart but you, Skitch," he said seriously, and thought. "But the Temple of Rekzyr can alter the Diari peoples with genetic defects. If you do a service for them, maybe they will do an operation on you so you can be the genetic Diari. But your heart they can not change."

"They don't need to change my heart," Skitch promised. "I'll be the best Diari boy in the world! Can I, mom?"

"I think he will be a very nice Diari boy," Lorrini complicated the conversation sweetly.

Khyrisse counted backwards from ten, in Impish. I think you're the best boy in the world now, Skitch.

"We'll talk about it later," she said, with as much of a smile as she could summon. Something wicked gleamed in her eyes for an instant. "I'm sure Tarrin and Lorrini like you fine just the way you are," she assured her son confidently, and rumpled his hair.

Interlude: Fairy Tales Read in a Lightless Room

Jane Crow sat in a dark room. An oil lamp rested on the table beside her, but she did not light it. Instead, she read The Tome of the Bloom...

Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom far away, lived a young sidhe called Eruza. This was, in point of fact, not her True name, merely the most pronounceable string of letters within it. Eruza lived with her seven brothers and sisters on the green isle of Brytannwch, and it was a merry and joyful life, for the Weird Sisters had made the land ripe for the magic of the fey. Eruza and her siblings had much fun with the mortal inhabitants of Brytannwch, making the humans foils for pranks, torment, matings, and occasionally food. The mortal young were especially succulent.

Then with the rise of the young god Lugh and his mortal druids, the three Weird Sisters were defeated and entombed deep within the earth. This bothered Eruza and her kin little, at first. But the mortals had taken steps to protect what they now considered their island, and one night, as the sidhe family was preparing its Dance of the Snapdragons, into their glade stormed a mob led by a hunter who was by no means mortal. Eruza shrieked as two of the hunter's hounds shredded the flesh of her brother. Missing her by inches, the hunter's chariot sped past her, grinding the bones of her eldest sister beneath its wheels.

Tears burning her face, Eruza ran and ran and ran. She ran from the island of Brytannwch and never returned. She lived for a long time, but in a way, she never stopped running.

Eruza came to settle in the land that would one day be named Talaria. She lived in fear at first, not yet knowing that the hunter could not follow her beyond the shores of the green island. She hated him, hated the humans who had led such a creature against her family.

Then, Eruza fell in love with a mortal. This alone was not what changed her soul, however.

The mortal's name was Baran. He was a young war chieftain who had just succeeded in uniting the clans of Talaria under his rule. Perhaps it was his eyes that caused her to fall in love with him, for they were a beautiful green that reminded her of her beloved glade on an island to which she could never return. Perhaps it was his body, which was also beautiful. Perhaps it was his irresistible prowess in battle, or his leonine spirit. Or perhaps none of these things. As the fey folk well knew, True Love might strike anyone at any time, with no reason under the stars at all.

But fall in love she did. Using her enchantments to remain unseen, she spied on him in his private moments. She played petty tricks upon the nobles who (in her opinion) were not deferential enough to King Baran. And she visited him at night, always out of sight. As he was just on the edge of sleep, all but under the spell of the Shaper of Stories, she would profess her love to him.

Eruza had never shown herself to Baran, and he was not aware that she was quite real, not a dream at all. But he was aware of her declarations, and the sweetness of her voice created a longing, an emptiness in him that he knew he must fill or die.

In the court of King Baran was a general's daughter named Allecia. Allecia was pretty by mortal norms, a strong and spirited girl. More and more, the king found himself drawn to her. On his eighteenth birthday, he called her to his throne room. "I wish you to marry me," the King said. "I am now eighteen and it is right and sensible for me to marry, and you would do well to be my wife."

"How does thou mean?" Allecia said, rather impudently.

"Why," Baran said, "I am the ruler of all the land. I have conquered a mighty kingdom." Feeling uneasy, Allecia shifted, moving a bit further from the King.

"I am the greatest warrior," Baran said, "none can stand against me." Allecia scooted an inch further away. "I am wealthy beyond imagining," the King continued, and now even he could not help but notice Allecia move away. "I am wise and just. All seek my mediation." She was now against the wall.

"I am very lonely," King Baran said, "I do not know what I shall do with my life, only that I do not wish to do it alone, but instead with someone I love. And I have fallen in love with you, Allecia."

At that she strode across the floor, and embraced him with her arms, and her heart. Together, King Baran and Queen Allecia founded the dynasty that rules the land of Talaria to this day.

Eruza wept even more bitterly than she had over her siblings' death. She imagined terrible vengeances for Allecia, but she could not bear them out. For she could see that the King did indeed feel True Love for Allecia, and Eruza, who did indeed Love Baran, could not bear to cause the King pain.

And so, she cursed the two of them and their family. "As True Love has spared you from my wrath, so shall your seed be safe and unharmed by me--so long as they marry by the age of eighteen, an age by which it is right and sensible. But ruin and woe upon those who remain unwed, as the object of their desires shall become the object of their destruction. So shall it be for all the descendants of Baran and Allecia, for any born within the number of my days."

Exhausted but fulfilled, Eruza retired. Over the following years and centuries, there were a few times when Eruza's curse did come true for members of the royal house of Talaria. These occasions and the fruition of her curse were so wicked that Eruza was beside herself with guilt and self-loathing, for her love for a mortal and mercy for his beloved had caused her to see the humans and their kin in a new light. She remembered with regret now the tortures she had put to them gleefully in her youth.

She began to help the mortals in ways first small, then greater. She came to be known in Talaria as the Blue Fairy, later the Good Blue Fairy. Whether she atoned for the many evils she also committed is a matter we shall not address here, save to say that doing so was Eruza's greatest wish.

After countless years, one of the Weird Sisters was freed from her prison, and unleashed her own curse upon mortal-kind. It was under the influence of this curse that one of the descendants of Baran and Allecia led the mob which seized Eruza and nailed her to a wall with cold iron spikes, killing her.

And so the curse on the royal house of Talaria was brought to a close. Save, perhaps, for one last member born within Eruza's lifetime, on the cusp of her eighteenth birthday.

Jane Crow closed the book. "Yes, little Bloom. Perhaps..." She turned on the light.

Blueberries For Sal

"Where are you going, Sallie?" Ebreth tried to steer her back towards the caf�. She didn't struggle, exactly, but she didn't stop trying to follow her new trajectory, either, and Ebreth didn't want to be forcible with her. He let her lead him across the town square, muttering to herself. The fountain spurted as they walked by it and she shrank back from its spray with a hollow cry. "Hey!" said Ebreth, catching her. "Are you okay?"

She was staring at the ebbing fountain with wide, wild eyes, and she whimpered something in Elvish. "You don't like the fountain?" Ebreth said. She shook her head. Washed and brushed out, her hair did remind him a little of Khyrisse's, the way it fell if not the color. "Do I know how that is," he sighed, and gave her a grin as he turned her back the way they had come. She pulled away from him and plodded stubbornly on past the fountain. "My baby," she said, as if by way of explanation. "My baby."

"Khyrisse?" he said, following her. "She's in some meetings. She'll be back tonight."

She finally came to a stop in front of an ice cream cart. The middle-aged gnomish peddler behind it was grinding a tinkling tune out on her hand organ, and Sallie stood entranced, swaying a little. "Do you want ice cream, Sallie?" said Ebreth. The gnome stopped turning the crank, and Sallie looked into her face, disoriented. "Samanal!" she cried. "Samanal, your gutters run red with the blood of the children!"

"Uh, excuse me," said the ice cream vendor, "could you please bring her somewhere else? She's going to scare off my customers."

"Don't you talk to my boy that way!" screamed Mad Sallie.

Ebreth blinked at her. "I, ah, I'm not your son, Sallie." He fished in his pants pocket for some coins. "Your son is Karel. Do you remember Karel?"

"Karel?" she asked him, tremulously.

"You'll see him soon." He gave the vendor some money and she gave him an ice cream cone, which he gave to Sallie. She looked at it. Ebreth didn't know if that's what she wanted or if it was just because the music had stopped, but she let him lead her away. He gave the fountain wide berth. "He's got two kids now."

"Do you have children?" she asked, looking unsteadily into his face.

"Not yet," he said.

She looked at the ice cream cone in her hand. "Is--this for me?"

"Yes," he said.

"You're a good boy, Karel," she sighed, squeezing his hand, and licked her ice cream carefully.

Lianth Shrugged: Coda

The bell above the door jingled as Elaine came into The GameMaster. "Carson Delaney!" She glared at him and placed her fists on her hips. "Did you try to face down some crazed gangsters from Rimbor who might have killed you?!?"

"That's not exactly what happ--"

"My God! I have never been so drawn to anyone in my life!"

"Mmmph! Uh, should we be doing this right here? What if someone walks in?"

Someone walked in. It was Sajhar, the Diarian merchant. "Oh! Pardon me," he said, blushing a bit.

"Bygones," Carson replied, hastily sliding off of the counter. Elaine favored Sajhar with a look that could freeze seawater as she exited. "What can I do for you?"

"A new decree has come from Ekyarn. The Diarians who were assigned to posts abroad are free to return home." Sajhar paused. "Carson, when I came here to New Lianth, I came with a dream."


"Exactly. I thought, no offense intended, that I would be arriving in some wild, barbaric land, sell the natives a few shiny beads, make a huge profit and soon be home a bit richer. It's been a little different."

"We've already got a good supply of shiny beads," Carson informed him.

"Well, I have made a tidy profit. But it's been more... pleasant than I'd expected. Sanitary conditions weren't the nightmare I'd expected, and I've found you and your countrymen interesting and challenging to deal with. And there's more. I found I've enjoyed the mystique of being New Lianth's resident Diarian."

"Like that time you leveraged a deal with those guys from Wyndar by pretending you were psionic?"

"Heh. Yes. Stereotypes about my people and the Gift are most amusing. Back home I would still be successful in my business, but I would be, to use one of your charming metaphors, a small fish in a big ppnd."

"So, you're saying you want to stay in New Lianth?"

"I've noticed that you seem to play this game against yourself," Sajhar said, looking at the chess board. "Isn't it impossible to win such a game?" Carson nodded. "Would you teach me to play?"

"Could take years to learn it and get good at it."

"A sacrifice I'm willing to make," the Diarian said with a slight smile.

Heave Away, Haul Away

-Are you coming, Callie?-

-Callie wants to go through with the Fallen Ones,- teased Misa.

Callie flipped her tail at him sharply, sending little eddies fluttering through his tessera. -I do not. Aren't you curious at all?-

-Not curious enough to be anywhere near the bottom of the Sinthis when they open the seal. The whole thing's going to collapse, you know.-

-And then the entire Deepsea is going to drain into the Labyrinth, and we'll all dry up and blow away-, scoffed Foss, tossing her dark head.

-Fine, don't believe me.- The water rocked with the distant echo of a pressure wave. -We'll see who's right soon enough. Are you coming, Callie, or do you want to do a sand dollar impersonation?-

Callie's feeding arms clattered then, suddenly. -The spirit! They forgot the spirit!-

-It's all right, Callie,- said Foss, impatiently. -The forcewater will protect her even if the whole continental shelf falls on her head. Come on.-

-But she'll be trapped here! She'll starve to death!-

-By that time the Fallen Ones will be safe in the Labyrinth,- Misa pointed out.

-They said they would send her home!- Callie rippled in agitation. -I promised she wouldn't be hurt...-

-Now you're just making excuses, Callie.-

Maybe I am, thought Callie, as she banked away from her friends through the unnatural shuddering slosh of the ocean depths.

Gone Fishin'

Jack sat listening with rapt attention as the bait salesman showed the mathematician how to tie a proper loose thread lure. "Yep, they say he's twenty feet if'n he's an inch," the old fisherman said, "and dark black as the old nights were."

"And no one's ever caught him?" asked Jack, playing his role as storytellee to the hilt.

"Caught Black Peter? Not a chance. That fish is smarter �n meaner'n anyone who's ever taken boat out on the Vadril. Once a warrior out o' Margonal claimed he got �im, but the trophy was only twelve feet long, and after lookin' it over, I could see that it died o' magical enlargement."

"Oh, absolutely," Jack said, nodding. "You see, the square-cube law says that as a creature--"

"I don't care much about them Kingdom magic laws, I just know that fish weren't Black Peter."

"So he's still out there," Jack said eagerly.

"That fish ain't gonna die on �is own," said the bait merchant. "No, when he goes down, he's takin' somethin' big with �im."

Jack had been watching the man's nimble fingers, and had extrapolated the knot design for the lure. He leaned over and picked up the new bamboo recoilless fishing rod, the new bait and tackle box, the new ceramic floater and the new silver enchanted fish hook set. He jauntily placed the new fishing hat on his head. "Well, if Jack Paris has anything to say about it," he said confidently, "you'll hear one heck of a tale about Black Peter's final stand when we get back."

Jack hauled his shopping bag through the door, which swung a few times behind him.

"Maybe I should'a told �im about the curse," the bait salesman said. "Nah, anyone who's been fishin' for twenty years like he said, he'd already know..."

And She's Left Them All Behind

Otter pressed her palms to the surface of her bubble and strained to make anything out. She could feel the sea sloshing around her. It reminded her strangely, inversely, of the deck of a ship in a storm. A large rock struck the dome of her bubble, but it bounced harmlessly off.

Then another.

Is this trench collapsing?

It would take millions of tons of pressure to draw enough water through the trench to suck its walls inward, more than anyone could possibly generate. But another unnatural tremor rocked the seascape, and more debris was falling. Callie flitted into Otter's range of view then, her gills pumping manically, darting barely out of the way of a sinking rock several times her size. The displacement waves sent her ricocheting off the wall of Otter's bubble. "Callie," said Otter, pressing forward. "What is going on here?"

-The seal has been opened!- The anomalocaris girl plunged her bony feeding arms through the surface of the bubble, and Otter sucked water in sharply through her teeth. Callie knew how to inject matter through the wall, Otter knew, but not how to draw anything out. She was trapped by the bubble now as surely as Otter was, and not on the side that would protect her from the crush of debris. -We will have to pass through. It is our only chance!-

Otter jerked her head in a dizzy arc, but took in nothing but dark water and the occasional darker plummeting shape. "What?" she said. "Pass through where? What are you talking about?"

-No time!- Callie strained her head, visible threads of light twining in eddies away from her tail, and the bubble rocked, then budged.

"I--" said Otter, and then the bubble detached from the ocean floor and swept off in the impossible current.

Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Claude von Nuptialle, evil wedding coordinator, reined his horses in outside the Federal Building.

"Heh heh heh," he said, wringing his hands as he climbed down from the carriage. "I sense that I will be able to do my most evil work here! Surely someone in this absurd prefab town will have been bitten by the bug of romance... leaving me, Claude von Nuptialle, a clear chance to foster hatred where love once bloomed! Muahahaha!"

Von Nuptialle, mused Janus of the Five Elements as he slipped from the Void, was the kind of person who really gave etiquette a bad name.

"This town gets stranger every day," said Lora, peeking out at the ensuing mayhem from between the Venetian blinds of her office.

Clear Away The Track And Let The Bowjohn Run

"Com a swell mo'!" the watch boy hollered boredly from the crow's nest.

He was a sandy-haired kid from Rimbor, but like everyone else who rode the Montasi seas he spoke his own version of the Creole now. Most of them could speak Dalen if they wanted to, Mistifa guessed, but it just would have sounded wrong. Tradition was a hell of a thing to throw over when you were at the mercy of the waves. Mistifa muttered to herself in the language of her mother and scattered salt from her creased brown palm into the sea as the ship rose and fell again, an unsettling, unnatural motion in the still wind.

"Whassa matta, Mi Fa?" said Ruby, looking over the rail and squinting her eyes up like she was looking for something in the water. Ruby looked about twelve, a short, stocky Kyokota girl with a ponytail and no appreciable figure, but she said she was thirty-three. If she said she was eighteen Mistifa would never believe it, but who would make up thirty-three? "You done see some bad chi deh?" she said. Ruby spoke like she was firing syllables out of a cannon, and it took some practice to understand her. "I don' see nuffin'," Mistifa sighed, wishing she did. She felt like she had once, as a girl, in the stillness before a shark attack.

So she was the one who was not too surprised when the ship listed suddenly and improbably into what little wind there was.

"Port!" Per was bellowing. Jhini skidded down the deck as she hove up and smashed full into Mistifa from behind. Ruby was screaming something in her language, whether it was curses or a spell Mistifa didn't know, and then the surf exploded up over the side as the Blue Dolphin tipped against the wind like a drunken dancer. Mistifa shoved Jhini into the stanchion as the water bitch-slapped her in the side of the head. She felt salt in her nose, and the ocean dragging at her legs. Mistifa felt disoriented, out of balance with the world. The deck came up again. Jhini was still hanging on to the stanchion. Per was shouting, the sailors straining at the rigging. "Fo'get you da sail, mon!" hollered Mistifa, hacking, and scrambled along the rail to fore. "Dis ain' no storm! Get us a hell outta--"

The ship did about a 270 and smashed on her other side as Per tried to pull her to port. Mistifa's head hit the deck hard. "Holy fuck!" shouted Jex, pointing. Mistifa didn't need to look, but from where she was lying she could hardly miss seeing it: the Deepsea opening slowly into a terrible, yawning whirlpool. "Chiroc!" screamed Jhini, her skinny arms wrapped most of the way around herself around the stanchion. "Chiroc!"

"It ain' fuckin' Chiroc," the helmsman shouted at her. "We's off the coast of fuckin' Javin. Not everythin' is Diarian, all fuckin' right?"

"Haul up!" bellowed Per. "Heave up! Ruby!"

"I za need mo time, Peh!" Ruby's piercing shrillness split the thundering roar of the water.

"Gimme yo hand, Ru." Methele crawled down the half-horizontal mizzenmast. The ship listed like a toy boat. "Git me hand, girl!"

Mistifa got to the bow and punched her hand forward into the churning sea. Her eyes fairly crackled with energy; she'd never seen the sea so full of spirit. What the fuck is going on here? "Misan da fon, soza, misan ndula!" she cried out the animistic invocation over the disconcerting sucking wind of the sea.

The Deepsea groaned with her magic and split before them. Slowly, painfully, the Blue Dolphin wobbled upright. Methele hauled Ruby up bodily by one arm, spinning in the wind and shrieking out Kyokota syllables like some surreal children's toy. The Dolphin shuddered, and her bow lifted. The water roared violently against the schooner's flank as the energy Mistifa was channeling bowed to the deeper and more inexorable power beneath its surface, but it had been long enough; the ship rose into the sky on the wings of western sorcery, and Mistifa looked down into the maelstrom and breathed. Her left ribs felt cracked. "M-m-mon overboard," stuttered the Rimborese watch boy, tangled desperately in the rigging. "Timba..."

"Ain' nuffin' we can do fo Timba," Mistifa said, low. Jhini was bleeding from the head but still clinging to the stanchion somehow, which was good; Mistifa thought she'd lost her. "What de fuck was dat?" barked Jex, dropping to the deck.

"I don' know." Mistifa looked down at the sea as the Blue Dolphin made its aerial retreat back to the Islands. "Hole in de bottom a di sea," she said. "God only know."

Element of Surprise

Ebreth Tor moved silently through the steamy shadows of the New Trade arboretum with entirely unfair ease. Khyrisse was pruning orchids and never even had a chance. She shrieked violently as he pounced on her, whirling on him with the pruning shears, but he spun her past him and caught her in his arms from behind. "Hi," he said into her hair.

"Don't do that!" she screamed. "You know I don't like people sneaking up on me. Where's Sallie?"

"With Skitch." He turned her and grinned down on her. "And I wanted you to be surprised."

"I was surprised, all right. You're lucky I didn't kill you!" She shook the shears at him, trying to catch her breath. "My heart is pounding out of my--"

"Is that why," he said softly, and put her on a bier of tropical flowers.

"I was doing work," she protested faintly.

"You were doing work. Now you're lying in the peonies. Life's funny that way."

"Ebreth," she murmured, as he climbed up, "s'parde-vois, no, come on, let's go somewhere else. This isn't a good--"

"Why not?"

"Because we're crushing these flowers, that's why!"

"We'll plant more."

"The walls are made of glass!"

"Smoked glass."

"And flower petals and wet dirt are soaking through my good silk tunic," she hissed.

"Then take. It. Off."

"You're impossible," she whispered, and pulled him down to her.

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

Indian moccasins * Kodiak * Beaver hat * Used jeep grand Cherokee * Sacred pipe