The One With The Ex-Girlfriend Telling The New One What The Right Way To Behave Is
Aithne was intent on her new artifact, her eager face shining in its pale evil light. "Aithne, dear," said Valende, a bit uneasily. She looked up, startled, and bobbed her head in a cute little bow. "Hi, Val!" she said.
"Aithne," said Valende, "I need to talk to you."
"Okay!" Aithne didn't put the gem away. "What you wanna talk about?"
"Well, I couldn't help but notice you're evil, dear," said Valende.
Aithne's little smile didn't dim. "What is evil?"
"Evil... well, it's bad, Aithne."
Now her face fell. "I am bad?" she wailed. "What I did that is bad?"
"No, no," Val hastily assured her, "you didn't do anything bad, Aithne. But your, culture, is different from ours... and there are probably some things you think are okay that we don't. So I need to ask you a couple of questions."
"Okay." Aithne put her square face up in determination. "You ask."
"You swore your loyalty to Khyrisse," said Val. "Did you mean that?"
"Yes, I mean," she said. "I am a loyal girl. I promise by my mother's heart. I will obey."
The detect lie backed her up. "Then you won't turn against her?" she said carefully. "Even if you find another, matriarch?"
"I can not find other matriarch while she lives," said Aithne. "I will protect and help her and do everything she will tell me until one of us is dead."
That was pretty unequivocal, Valende had to admit. "What about the rest of us?" she said. "What about Jack, would you hurt Jack?"
A shadow passed over Aithne's face. "Khyrisse want me to hurt Jack?" she said sadly.
"No!" said Val hastily. I don't even want the answer to that. "I just want to know. You won't hurt Khyrisse, right?"
"I won't hurt Khyrisse," she said, her brow creasing with attempted understanding.
"Will you hurt us?"
"I will do what my matriarch will command me," she said, and paused a second. "But this... is not a real question, right?" she asked.
"No, it's not," said Val.
Aithne nodded, relieved. "So," she said, "I will do what she tell me. But, I hope she will not tell me hurt Jack. I like him."
So far, so good. "What if she doesn't tell you to do anything at all? What will you do then?"
Her brow furrowed again. "I... will protect my matriarch," she said, "I will protect her family, I will protect her country."
"Okay," said Val, "but Aithne, there are things we don't want you to do. We don't want you to do evil things to protect us." Aithne smiled at her blankly. "Listen," said Val, leaning her head in, "you don't always understand the culture, Aithne. Maybe you will think you are protecting her, and you will hurt her."
"I try to learn," said Aithne humbly.
Valende paused. "All right," she said. "Why... don't you come out for a drink with me? Maybe you can tell me about your culture, and I can tell you what's different--so you don't make any mistakes we'll all regret?" She smiled what she hoped was a universally maternal smile.
"You will tell me what is right and what is wrong?" Aithne asked.
"Sure," said Val, relieved. "Come with me."
"Okay," said Aithne.
Valende wasn't sure if it was uncertainty she heard in the girl's voice or not.
Shilree B: Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Posthumously
"How long did you say this has been here?"
"About two weeks, my lord."
Warning! Danger Will Robinson! Mind screamed in Praxis' head.
The sentient earring was not given to such alarmism often. "Hou-Hsieh? Can you see what's inside this thing?" The sorceress took out a small crystal ball... but found the package blocked from scrying. Praxis studied the handwriting, not quite right for Shikinti. Hello! Huge danger! Don't open! Mind repeated.
Screw it. The package disintegrated.
George Biblio was frantic. He had looked everywhere, but they were nowhere to be found. All that was left in the box was the Diari crystal surrounded by the strange psionic force field.
Suddenly, after two weeks, the force field dissipated.
George peered into the crystal and opened his mind to it. "George Biblio," the voice of Shilree said coldly. "You are, perhaps, wondering where your complete collection of rare Playzaptian magazines is."
"Dang straight, woman!" George cried at the recording.
"Well, in vengeance for your assistance in the assassination of the Emperor of Diaria, I have--" Shilree cleared her throat. "--sent them in a threatening looking package to Praxis. You should only be able to access this recording when they have been destroyed."
"NOOOOOOO!!!" George screamed.
Getting The Ball Rolling
It was safe to say this was not the best assignment of Officer Rakirna's career.
"Waugh!" said the duck.
"Dude," the young man said nervously, "I'm, like, totally afraid of rakirnas. Do you, like, suck blood?"
"Those are remoras, Marty," said the PI from out of town, rearranging the duck on her lap and concentrating on it like a medium at a seance. "The duck-man you saw... was he just in your imagination, or was this a real duck-man?"
"Whoa," he said, "how would I know the difference?"
"Did anyone else see him?" The duck let loose his bowels all over her pants then. "Fucking duck!" she shouted, smacking its feathered hiney.
The four shuriken whizzed through where his head had been, chunking solidly into the wooden wall.
Officer Rakirna was up and to the source of the blades in a matter of seconds, but there was nothing there, no possible alcove or mechanism from which they could have come, much less an assassin. A magical portal of some sort must have opened, which, given the restrictions on teleportation these days...
"What the fuck is going on here?" barked the detective.
"Waugh!" added the duck.
Rakirna pulled out his scanner and cased the area, his other hand on his wand.
That was when the ceiling dissolved into a writhing mass of snakes.
Jack Paris moved a few beads on the incredibly complex abacus before him. Amatsu understood that Jack had intended to leave town for a much-deserved vacation today, but postponed his leaving until he had made this attempt to construct a vessel for the ninja's disembodied spirit. Amatsu was more impressed with the mathematician's generosity of spirit every time the two interacted. Khyrisse was here as well, casting the spells Jack's reconstruction called for. Amatsu himself understood little of it, only that he owed the two of them a debt that would not soon be repaid.
"Okay, I think we're set," said Jack, nodding his head. He had admitted to Amatsu, once, that he was somehow not exactly human. Amatsu had observed, trying to see in what respect this was so--and seen nothing. Jack did not sleep. This was the only difference Amatsu had been able to put his finger on, and it
meant little. He was also immune to certain magics, Amatsu remembered from their adventures against the
Remnant. This was of little import as well. Khyrisse and her henchmen Valende and Vastarin were immune
to some magics as well. And though they were not human either--Amatsu had actually never met an elf until
Inez Jardin committed him to Khyrisse's service--for all practical purposes they were close enough. Jack seemed to believe he was fundamentally different.
And he wondered. Jack had said that the body he was creating would be similar to Jack's own. Was this some kind of attempt at... procreation? It was an amusing, yet sobering notion. Perhaps Jack had been implying that he was sterile, denied the immortality of a family, and he was giving life, in a sense, to Amatsu. In the Red Crab clan, Amatsu had learned the significance of adoption. If this was the role Jack intended, he would be honored to fill it for him.
The lights in the room dimmed as Khyrisse's hushed voice murmured the words to the complex spell Jack had devised for her, then flickered back to life. Shadows swirled, and began to coalesce in the center of the room into the three-dimensional shape of a man. At first it was jet black, the outline of a person who'd been dipped in black paint. With surprising swiftness, features slid over the humanoid shadow.
Then a nondescript Shikinti man looked around, felt his torso tentatively, reflexively checked the sword at his side... and bowed deeply. It may have seemed a somewhat impersonal to an easterner, but Jack had learned from Cori that this was a particularly intimate gesture. "How do you feel?" he asked.
Amatsu smelled the air for the first time in half a year, then gave a small smile. "I feel... great."
"Okay, that was some pretty snazzy work there, Jacko," said Schneider.
"Uh, thanks," Jack said. "It wasn't much, just using some of my code."
"So you can make a new body for Amatsu, but this is the best you can do for a decoder ring?" He held up the fist-sized bauble. "I could hang curtains with something smaller than this."
"filGe3y ra14sm y00," Jack said.
"Huh?" said Schneider.
"Code 14, shift 3."
Schneider frowned and started turning the dials.
"Well now," said Ebreth, smiling. "I like the backbone. What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything. I just figured he'd keep going until he got something."
"There's hope for you yet, Paris," grinned Ebreth.
"Snakes," Rakirna muttered under his breath. "Why did it have to be snakes?"
"Can someone give me a good reason I'm still in this city?" grumbled Rani as she leapt for cover.
"Augh!" cried Marty. "Worms!"
The snakes fell on top of the young paladin, burying him in the writhing mass. "Oh, fuck me," sighed Rani, grabbing a snake-whacking stick. "What is it that keeps me saving him?"
"Must be love," Rakirna chuckled.
Rani whacked Rakirna in between a scoopful of snakes.
"Look, flatfoot," she said, secretly pleased to actually get to call someone ‘flatfoot,' "This is your job, babysitting the muffinhead. I'm just here because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The duck seemed to be enjoying eating some of the snakes.
Finally Rani and Rakirna had stunned, removed or kicked most of the snakes away from where Marty had been covered. There was no sign of the paladin. There was, however, the residual glow of a teleportational portal like the one that had summoned the snakes.
"Waugh," said the duck.
New Trade looks really nice from the air, Marty thought. A few hundred feet below him, he could
even see the Rat Trap. Rani and the remora and the duck were running out onto the porch. I wonder if they
can see me? he thought, and waved down at the building, which was approaching him faster and faster...
Catch Me Now, I'm Falling
Truth to tell, Aithne understood about one word in ten of the simplified explanation Jack was giving her about how he had created a new body for the disembodied spirit Amatsu. For some reason Aithne
couldn't understand, his account had something to do with numbers. Maybe Val was right, she thought. Maybe everything really is different here. "You are very smart man," she said, as Jack wound up his incomprehensible explanation. That much, at least, was obvious.
"Oh," said Jack, self-consciously, "it was just, you know, some really basic code replication."
Aithne was going to have to learn some of this new jargon, now that hers was millennia obsolete. "So," she said, twisting one of her hands in the other, "you will leave the city now?"
"Uh," said Jack, "well, yes... I mean, I was planning to..."
"You are not angry me?"
"Angry at you," corrected Jack. "No... no, not at all. I just, uh, I really need a vacation."
"Angry at me," repeated Aithne, and paused. "I liked our date," she said. All of this was so much clumsier in a second language. "I had good time."
"Um," said Jack, "me too. Really."
She put her hand on his shoulder and then she leaned over carefully to touch her lips to his.
This time, he didn't startle and knock anything over.
Valende did come in the door, though.
"Um," Jack ummed, visibly wishing the floorboards would open and swallow him up.
"I... don't mean to be interrupting anything," murmured Val, not meeting either pair of eyes, "but there's something I, really do need to talk to you about, Jack. Alone."
"That's when she told me Aithne was evil," Jack confided in Ebreth.
"Hnhh," said Ebreth. "Maybe she does want you."
"What?" said Jack. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Well, when your ex-girlfriend tells you the girl you're seeing is evil," Ebreth pointed out, "it's usually a clue."
"I miss my temple," moaned Jack, burying his hands in his hair.
"Most men would kill to be having this dilemma, you know," Ebreth said with a straight face.
"Thanks a lot."
"Hey," he said, "Two women is better than none."
"Unless I, uh, missed the part where I do something successful," said Jack, "I am at none, Ebreth."
"You could have Aithne if you wanted her," Ebreth said certainly. "You could maybe have Val, that one's a little dicier. You just need to decide what you want." He paused. "You can think about what that is this week," he said. "Fishing's good for thinking. Or for not thinking. Whatever it takes."
"Is it always this complicated?"
"Pretty much," said Ebreth. "I don't think she really is evil, Jack. I don't think Val's right about how that gem worked. It's probably just witch magic and so only witches can handle it safely. That just makes so much more sense."
"Well," sighed Jack, "she wouldn't be the first evil sorceress I've dated, either."
"Speaking of that..." said Marty, falling.
Birds Of A Feather
Vas strolled out of the Rat Trap, his arm in Ieshala's. Ieshala was technically an ambassador, but her
people, the Firisaka, were a tribe of about a hundred hunter-gatherers in remote Salagia and didn't need
much diplomatizing. What Ieshala really was was an entrepeneur, and a damned good one. The biweekly Carriage trip to Lake Firisaka brought more rainforest products out of the deep jungle than had ever hit the markets before, and they were proving wildly popular. Everyone wanted a rainstick, as it were. And the
Firisaka were rapidly becoming the wealthiest and most powerful tribe of central Salagia. Ieshala was not their leader, but she certainly was the one responsible for the position they currently enjoyed. Her shamanic magic was quaint, but intriguing. She was also, mused Vas, a more than capable lover.
Caught up in contemplation of a female of the species, Vas didn't notice the policeman until he had already collided with him. "Apologies," he said, bowing. The policeman didn't answer. Rani was on the patio as well, looking distracted and concerned. Vastarin wondered what in the world could be troubling the two of them.
A man in plate mail was plummeting from the sky. Perceptive, Vas added to his litany of Ieshala's talents. "To the rescue!" the elf said with a flourish towards the Salagian, and took to the air, his thinning hair whipping dramatically around him. The falling man was Marty Hu. It wasn't surprising, Vas supposed, to find the mentally challenged paladin falling from a height; Vas just wondered how he'd gotten up this high in the first place. He called out the words to a feather fall just in the nick of time, and Marty drifted the last couple of yards to the ground and settled harmlessly. At least Vas supposed it was harmless. Marty was screaming like the Tarrasque was after him, and he got up and hid behind Rani (amusing, since he was significantly larger than she, particularly in his plate mail). "Is something wrong?" he asked chivalrously.
"Help! It's Vas! He's here to kill me!"
Vas didn't understand the leap of logic there at all. "Actually," he said politely, "I just saved you from the precipitous effects of gravity, Marty."
"Then why did you cast a spell to turn me into a feather?" Marty accused. "I, like, heard you! Whoa, am I lucky I have good saving throws."
"Feather fall," corrected Vas. "It doesn't actually turn you into a feather, Marty; it just uses the elemental powers of air to..." He trailed off. Even Vas could see this was a pointless time for expounding on it. "...Curses," he said, shrugging whimsically. "Foiled again."
"Yeah, so like, stay away from me, hair band dude!"
"Thank you," Rani said for him, sighing.
"Turning him into a feather might be something of an improvement," Ieshala offered.
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind
"You, ah, you're sure you're going to be all right?" said Ebreth, trying not to let it show on his face that the last time he'd left her alone for a week she'd slept with Schneider.
"I'll be fine," she said. "I can take care of myself, you know." She swatted at him playfully. "Go have fun. Maybe I'll even get some extra work done without you around distracting me."
"You better get enough rest," he threatened good-naturedly, swinging his pack up over his shoulder. "If you and Lora want to work on the wedding, anything you decide is fine with me."
"It's on my to-do list," said Khyrisse. "I really need to talk to Rhynwa."
"If you, uh, need help," offered Jack, "I could be an usher or something." He faltered as Ebreth turned around to look at him. "Maybe," he said. "I mean, if you wanted," he said.
"Well, I was hoping you'd be my best man, Jack," said Ebreth, then shook his head. "We can talk about it," he said. "I don't want to miss our coach." He wrapped his cloaked arm around Khyrisse and gave her a long kiss goodbye. "Don't forget me," he said.
"Oh, that's likely," smiled Khyrisse, letting go of his hand as he moved through the station. He gave her a jaunty salute from the platform and then slid into the coach, turning his fly rod sideways to fit across the cabin floor. Jack followed him and almost tripped over it. "Twenty feet long, you say?" Ebreth asked him.
"That's what the man said."
Ebreth watched introspectively as Jack lay his fishing rod beside his friend's. "I think," he said, "we may need a harpoon or something."
"Oh, we'll figure something out," Jack said cheerily, as the coach pulled away from the station.
Rani hosed the duck shit off her jeans in an improbably neat sheet. Some days I love my Gift. "Why
is your sister trying to kill you, anyway?" Rakirna wanted to know.
"Oh," sighed Marty, "I think it started cause I used to, like, take too much time in the bathroom? Either that or because I'm, you know, a paladin. I think she's a worshipper of Draize..."
"But why give you warning? Why not kill you some day you're not expecting it?"
"Obviously they're related," sighed Rani.
As Marty took the hose from her to wash the duck crap off his own shoes, Rakirna suddenly sprang into action, smashing the hose from the young paladin's hand with his billy club. "Help!" cried Marty, shrinking back from the veteran cop in terror. "A stick!" The sidewalk hissed and dissolved into slushy concrete as the water from the hose ran across it. "Holy shit," said Rani, crouching for a closer look.
"Oh, no! Gabriella sent a quicksand sidewalk to kill me!"
Rani picked the nozzle up carefully in her gloved hand. It was running water again, she could sense with small effort. There was the fading matrix of another teleportation field within the nozzle itself. The sidewalk sizzled surreally with the runoff acid. "You know," she said, I never thought about it before, but an assassin with teleportation powers is really fucking dangerous."
"Damn straight," said Rakirna, something odd in his voice. "You know, since the Madness," he added, straightening and adjusting his belt buckle, "teleportation has been severely limited on Ataniel. Whoever's setting these traps has to be in town somewhere."
"Oh, no, Mr. Remora," Marty asserted, "Gabriella never actually comes to kill me herself."
"No, but she could have sent a magician after you," said Rani, running water over the melting sidewalk in an attempt to dilute the acid before too large a pothole ensued.
"Or a psionic," said Rakirna. Rani looked up at him quite suddenly. "You know, I couldn't help but notice that all the attacks on Mr. Hu have been while you were in the vicinity, Detective."
"What?" she said. "You don't think I--look, Rakirna, believe me, if I could open teleportation portals at will, I'd be somewhere much more interesting than this right now."
"As alibis go," said Rakirna, "that's a weak one, miss."
"I am not trying to kill Marty!"
Just then, the sidewalk blipped open beneath him and Marty went plummeting into the sewers.
Don't Screw With Bitches From Hell
Fat Tony Sanguinetti was one of the few vampires who had suspected something was wrong under the Beliath regime. It had been his efforts that allowed the real Cloak to reclaim power after his return. As a result, his position and prestige had grown significantly under the restored rule of the Lord of the Vampires.
"Oh, daddy!" cried Kara, hugging Fat Tony. "It's lovely!"
"And they match!" grinned Christy, her vampiric canines showing at the sides of her smile. She held up a platinum-mounted bloodstone necklace that matched that of her younger sister.
"What's the point of getting three percent of the incidental haul if a guy can't spend it on his daughters," Tony smiled.
Kara pulled herself off her father only to allow Christy her chance to embrace Fat Tony. The vampire lieutenant smiled. Unlife was good. "I swear," he said, "since your mother, bless her soul, died... I don't know what I'd do without you two."
That was when the wall overlooking the atrium dissolved. A glowing bubble hanging outside floated in through the hole and disappeared. Inside was a cold looking woman with a hyperthyroid bodyguard. Fat Tony recognized them immediately: Duke Omeria and Bloodscar.
"Guards!" called Tony, looking around panickedly.
Omeria smiled about two degrees more. "I'm sorry, Fat Tony," she said. "We seem to have broken them on our way up here."
"What is this?" Tony demanded. "Why are you here? We have an alliance!"
Kara and Christy were slowly moving around to the two sides of the vampire lieutenant. Fat Tony knew that it would look like an attempt to escape, but the truth was he kept an artifact behind his salon that
could take care of the most dangerous attacker. Even the Duke herself.
"None of that," Omeria said, magical light leaping from her fingers to envelop Tony's two daughters. Kara and Christy both froze, paralyzed, and hung in the air. "I'm afraid your lord has been a bad little
vampire," she smiled. "I need you to remind him who's Duke of this town."
"Of course!" cried Tony. "I'll relay whatever message you want!"
"Of course you will," said Omeria. "And my message is one of warning. I want him to see in your eyes what he risks by breaking our deal. Bloodscar?"
The Warrior King stepped forward, pulling a large black sword from the scabbard on his back.
"It took a long time to corrupt that holy blade to your service, didn't it, Bloodscar?"
"Months," said the warrior. "But its spirit was eventually broken," he grinned.
"Still," Omeria mused pedantically, "it retains all of its god-granted powers, doesn't it?"
"Every one," agreed Bloodscar.
"Needless to say, Fat Tony," Omeria said, turning once more to the vampire lieutenant, "such a blade would not only slay one of your kind, but actually destroy what's left of your soul in the process."
"Please..." Tony begged, afraid to even move. "Please don't kill us."
"Kill you all?" said Omeria. "What sort of woman do you think me? No, I think only one death is required here to impress the message I want. In fact," she added innocently, "I'll leave the choice up to you. How about that, Fat Tony? Which of your daughters would you like my associate to kill?"
"You bitch!" Tony cried, anger getting the better of fear. He leapt forward at the raven-haired archmage, who raised one hand to her mouth in a combination of an arcane gesture and a yawn. Fat Tony was suddenly enveloped by the same energy as his daughters, frozen in mid-leap.
"Now then," Omeria continued. "I could just kill both, but I'm a merciful duke. Make your choice... or I will." Red tears ran down Fat Tony's face. Bloodscar rolled his eyes disdainfully. "Well, Tony?"
"I..." Tony started, his voice barely a whisper. "S... save Kara. She has her mother's eyes."
"You heard the man," Omeria said to Bloodscar.
The Warrior King stepped forward and swung the unholy blade through Kara Sanguinetti.
"No!" screamed Fat Tony. "You killed the wrong one!"
Omeria smiled. "You mean I killed your favorite and left the other to live, knowing that you sentenced her to death?" Omeria looked to Bloodscar, then back to Fat Tony. She shrugged. "My bad."
Fat Tony looked to his remaining daughter. Christy glared at him with a dark hatred he would never have thought her capable of. Tony screamed a long scream of pain from the bottom of his vampire soul.
"Tell Cloak that these attacks stop now. Another death at the hands of a vampire and he gets worse than you did." Omeria turned and walked towards the hole in the wall. "The paralysis will wear off in an hour or so. It should give you some quality time with your daughter," she laughed.
Omeria had cast another flying sphere, and the warrior king followed her into it. Wordlessly, the two flew out the missing wall and into the Tobrinel night.
The Old Man Of The Sewers
"Wow," Marty said to no one in particular. "These are some pretty clean sewers."
"They oughta be," said an old man. "They're new."
"Aaugh!" cried Marty. "Assassin!"
The old man looked around. "Where? Where?"
"Me?" the old man asked. "I'm an assassin?"
"Yes!" said Marty. "Gabriella sent you!"
"You know," the old man frowned, "you keep up jokes like that and you'll be struck dumb."
"Really?" Marty asked.
"Oh, yes," said the old man with certainty. "A person can only use a given joke fourteen hundred and sixty-two times before the universe strikes back." Marty started counting on his fingers. "Look, pal," the old
man said, becoming impatient, "these here are my sewers, and I've been doing just fine hiding from the Emperor here. So git, before you blow my cover."
"Oh. Uh. How do I get out of here?" asked Marty.
"If I told you that, you'd know where I'm hiding, you ninny!" the old man cried.
"Dude, I understand," Marty nodded solemnly. "You sure I can't hide here with you?"
"What? And face the wrath of the Emperor's alien minions when they arrive and come for me?"
Teleportational portals opened up on both sides of Marty. "Duck!" the old man cried.
"Where?" Marty asked, looking around.
From both sides, stone battering rams shot out, squishing Marty between the two of them before disappearing.
"Well, now," the old man of the sewers said. "A floor show. Must be my birthday."
The Night Unfettered: Born To Be Wild
It was the smallest of things, really.
Had Omeria been giving it her full attention, her sorcerous arts would probably have detected it, but there had been no reason for that. Every mage of Omeria's caliber knew full well the effect of a weapon of divine light upon a vampire. She was good at budgeting for the unexpected, but even Omeria of Gothspadin could not have thought to budget for the truly random.
And it was the smallest of things.
But the undead spirit of Kara Sanguinetti thrummed silently through the metal of Bloodscar's unholy claymore. Undestroyed.
And it waited.
Just Wait Till Next Year!
The stone battering rams left Marty a bruised, bloodied and barely functioning wreck. He started to lift his head to offer one of his trademark amusing quips, then realized it was too much effort to lift his head.
Another portal opened and an iron golem stepped out. "Still breathing, eh kid?" it said. "Don't worry, I'm here to fix that." The creature grasped the paladin's head and prepared to twist like Chubby Checker.
There was a soft beeping sound.
The golem stood up and looked at its wrist. "Huh! Midnight! The big day is over." He leaned over Marty. "Well, looks like you get to live another year, kid. I'm sure we'll get you next time."
Rani and Rakirna had rounded the corner at full slosh then, Rakirna's wand out and Rani's flashlight skittering irregularly across the sewer water. The golem was about to escape through the portal, then turned back to add: "Oh... happy birthday!"
"Thanks," Marty managed feebly. He decided to celebrate by taking a little nap in the sewer.