"Hello, Kevin," Michelangelo greeted them in his heavy monotone.
"Hi Mike," smiled Kayla.
In Flicker's opinion, the blind dishwasher's inability to tell Kayla and her brother apart had long since migrated from "funny" to "annoying". Part of his irritation had to do with his own ambivalent feelings about the clone, though, and Flicker did have enough wisdom to concede it. Michelangelo didn't really have anything of Alain MacLir left about him but a bit of genetic code: Kayla had gotten him polymorphed in deference to Flicker's discomfort, his personality, such as it was, had never borne any resemblance to the dead orator's, and he'd even been renamed in a name-the-clone bar contest. (The winning entry had been the incongruous "Michelangelo," despite Schneider's attempts to stuff the raffle box with all manner of truly appalling clone jokes.) He was for all intents and purposes a golem created by the Mad Doctor Swank.
So why did Flicker feel this strange sense of obligation to the creature?
He shelved it with a sigh, and went to embrace Siobhan.
The Mithril Dagger had been a disappointment in terms of jumpstarting Schneider's soul quest. Kevin and Kayla hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary recently. The jester disturbed patrons on several occasions by saying in a phony stage whisper "Boy! I sure hope I'm not dragged into any adventures to find a soul or anything!" To no avail. Flicker came in and was sympathetic, offered to help, but didn't have any ideas. Then Praxis came in, and Schneider high-tailed it out the back. He wasn't really afraid of the bald brain freak, who was about as Good as good got, but he sure didn't want to have to talk to him, not after the last time they'd seen each other. Besides, the Mithril Dagger was starting to turn into a big party Schneider wasn't invited to. In the olden days, he might have disguised himself as a Brytanni fishwife and crashed the thing. Now he didn't even have a soul, and if he did, he would have been too depressed.
Disheartened, Schneider headed back to the inn. "Ey!" a voice called out to him from a darkened alley. "Wouldja be lookin' fer this?" Schneider turned to see an outstretched arm holding--
"My soul! Where... how did.." He stopped in midsentence as the person attached to the arm stepped out of the shadows.
"Aye, it tis," Coomara said, unsmiling. "So, laddie, give me one good reason I shouldn't just take this to the bottom of the sea wi' me where ye never shall see it again."
Schneider swallowed. The millennia-old creature literally held the jester's soul in his hands. "Well," he offered, trying to sound meek rather than panicked, "it's not really very nice to take other people's souls."
"A thousand pardons, laddie! Ye appear to have confused me with someone who gives a damn."
Not a good sign. "Okay, you seem to know more about this soul business than me, but I'm pretty sure it's something that doesn't look good on your resume in the end. I've seen where the souls of evil folks end up--and no one wants to get anywhere near there."
"Speakin' of Hell, eh? Not a concern of mine. Me people and Lucifer's have a long-standing pact, and anyway, I've been around a right long time. Don't think I'll be visitin' Davy Jones' locker anytime soon. That's two strikes, laddie. Ye got one more shot, or yer soul's off to a cold an' watery resting place."
The night in New Lianth was deathly silent. Schneider looked into Coomara's eyes and said "Because you want to give it back to me."
The sidhe bellowed with laughter. "And what in the name o' the sea gave ye that idea?"
"You've already got it," Schneider pointed out. "You didn't have to come find me. You could have left with it days ago, I can't do anything to stop you. You're asking because you want me to give you a reason to give it back. You're threatening me, but you don't really want to carry through. I've--been there."
"You've been nowhere, mortal! You know piss-all for what it was with the souls I had to tend to, all gone now," he said bitterly. "You know what it's like when the home you live for disappears off the face of the bloody world? Bah!"
"I'm sorry," Schneider said quietly. "I didn't know. But I do know what it's like to lose something that matters to you."
"Oh, you do, eh?"
"You're the one holding my soul, you tell me." Coomara narrowed his eyes at him, then looked down at the unspeakably beautiful sphere that was a human soul.
After what seemed an eternity of reflection, Coomara tossed it to Schneider. "Never in the old days would've dreamed of it," he muttered.
"Thank you," the jester said, and meant it. "Look, you were talking about Brytannwch before, right?"
"Aye. Poor little green isle."
"Come with me..."
Coomara tipped back another shot of whiskey and rocked on his stool at the Mithril Dagger. "Ey, didja know Jack Dogherty was sneaking spices out of yer pantry?" said Duncan MacAlpine.
"Oho! I surely did!" Coo replied. "That Dogherty was quite the rascal, he was. Yet ye couldn't help but love the old sailor, such a fine man was he."
"I know the feeling," said Siobhan.
Missing in Action
"Morning, Miz Paris," Stan Plumley smiled, rummaging through his bag for the official mail.
"How's everything, Stan?" asked Lora.
"Oh, busy as usual, Miz Paris," said Stan, bobbing his head. "Twice as much mail these days now that Miz Starshadow's back."
"Well, I appreciate your coming upstairs to drop it off here. Sometimes I'm so busy I go days before I remember to go down to the post office for it."
"Once we get enough people hired," Stan said proudly, "we're hoping to offer delivery services to all the buildings in the city."
"Well, I know at least one person who would appreciate having someone else deliver messages," she chuckled, remembering the story of Jack's misdelivered message to Val. "In fact--"
Lora stopped speaking suddenly.
"Everything all right, Miz Paris?" asked Stan.
"Thanks again, Stan," she said dismissively. "I'd better take this in my office."
"No problem, ma'am... I'll take Miz Starshadow's up to her office."
Lora headed to her desk. She had a code key for encrypted messages there. It took Lora a few minutes to get through the ciphering, but she was finally able to read the message from Pluvious Sturoster.
TO: Lora Paris, New Trade Administration
FR: Pluvious Sturoster, Head, P.E.A.N.U.T.B.U.T.T.E.R.
RE: Victoria Dare Status
Request any information you have of current whereabouts of agent Victoria Dare. Aware
official dismissal from Rat Pack occurred, but she insisted on returning to help solve R.C.
problem. Have not heard from her since. Is she with your people? Please respond ASAP.
Lora frowned. Vickie hadn't returned from the Land of the Little Folk with the Rat Pack. Lora had assumed the young woman had gotten involved with some new adventure after being ejected from the team. Still, even though Miss Dare was persona non grata, her disappearance might be a matter that would concern people.
Lora scribbled a copy of the decoded message and hurried outside to the lobby. Stan Plumley was still there, chatting amiably with Colleen Tamarisk, the office intern.
"Return message?" Stan asked, as if he had been waiting for one.
"Actually, just a memo to run over to the Rat Trap if you could."
"Not a problem, Miz Paris." Stan nodded his cap to the two women and headed off down the hall.
The Cruelty Of Kindness
"Is everything all right?" Tarrin said a little anxiously, looking from Skitch to his mother. "I hope I did not cause a quarrel between you by leaving so quickly yesterday... My wife, she was freaked."
"No, it's no problem, Tarrin," said Khyrisse. "But I think the three of us need to have a little conversation about Rani."
Tarrin frowned at Skitch, figuring out where this was going. "Little Skitch," he said, "did you say bad things to that poor woman?"
Skitch looked down and fidgeted, a surly look on his face. "My mom already yelled at me about that," he mumbled.
Tarrin nodded in agreement. "It is sucky to be mean to an inferior creature," he said. "That is like
kicking a dog. It is not her fault she is a sranjhac."
"I know, I know," muttered Skitch. "I already said I was sorry."
"Tarrin?" said Khyrisse, as nicely as she could. "Why, exactly, is Rani is an ‘inferior creature'?"
"That is genetics," he assured her. "She can not help it. Her wicked parents are to blame, not her." Tarrin looked sad. "She should have been put to sleep when she was born, and spared this bad life. The Diari society failed her. I am very sorry. Sometimes, even the bitchin' Diaria makes mistakes."
"You can say that again," Khyrisse muttered under her breath, trying to decide what to say next. "Are relationships between Diari and non-Diari wicked, then?"
"No..." hedged Tarrin. "Diari and non-Diari can have very good friendships, but they should not--" He looked uneasily at the eleven-year-old Skitch, "--make babies. That is very wicked for both of them."
"So what if a Diari and a non-Diari love each other?" Khyrisse said combatively.
"Then they should use prophylactics," Tarrin said unhesitatingly, clearly unbothered by the concept. Khyrisse started to relax a little, until the Diarian continued. "If a woman is pregnant with such a creature, she should end that pregnancy immediately. That is very irresponsible, to create a baby that is deformed."
Khyrisse paled, and her hand fluttered over her stomach without her intending it to.
"I know this will seem strange to you," Tarrin hurried to add, "for humans and elves are more similar to each other, so a half-breed does not seem bad to you. But Diari and non-Diari are more different. The child will be defective. It can not help to have bad character and a weak will, and it will be unhappy all its life, just like Rani. A Diari man can have a good baby with a Diarshi nomad. Or, an elf can have a good baby with a human. But elves and humans are too different from Diari and Diarshi."
Skitch nodded sagely. "That makes sense!"
"But character and will are molded by a child's environment. Only the body is formed by genetics."
"No, no, genetics plays a role in the mind, too," said Tarrin. "I am a doofus, so I know. Many mental illnesses run in the families. Mental weaknesses will happen in the half-Diari people."
"Rani is smarter than most of the people I know. I don't see any mental weakness there." Khyrisse folded her arms. "If you had tried to convince me that Rani's heart condition was due to her being half-Diari, I might have believed it. But genetics does not play a role in the soul. I was a goddess, so I know."
Tarrin looked sad. "Ah, she has heart troubles, too? Probably she will die young. Her life will be much suffering, for no reason. It is a big shame." Khyrisse bit down on the rude response that came to mind, with difficulty. It would have been a lot easier to blow up and have done with it. "Maybe she seems intelligent," continued Tarrin, "but she certainly has many mental deficiencies. According to the research, sranjhac have no self-control. They easily become violent and do not have the ability to socialize normally. That is genetic. Deficiencies in the brain cause that." Pedantically, he added as further explanation, "Rarely, a boy is born with two Y-chromosomes. That boy has mental deficiencies such as this too."
"I read about that in Rauvin's book!" Skitch said, excited.
"People who are abused also easily become violent and do not have the ability to socialize normally. That is not genetic." She fixed Skitch with a look. "What does Rauvin's book have to say about that?"
Skitch balked and looked at Tarrin. Khyrisse winced; that gesture alone made it patently clear which of them had more influence with Skitch's opinions. Tarrin, as usual, was oblivious. "Yes, people can become the mental case either by their blood, or by bad experiences. Both ones are possible."
Skitch jumped in quickly. "So you're both right!" He looked hopefully back and forth between Tarrin, who looked earnest and morally certain, and Khyrisse, who looked like she was about to explode.
"Maybe," she said flatly, "maybe not. Skitch, go get the dictionary. Look up the word abomination."
"Abomination is not the right word? Maybe I mean ‘monstrosity'?"
Khyrisse shrugged wryly. "They're equivalent."
Skitch came back with the book, his finger moving across the page. "A-bom-i-na-tion. 1) Something worthy of or inducing hatred or loathing, 2) Something revoltingly unnatural."
Tarrin nodded. "That is the right word. Revoltingly unnatural. Like a deformed creature. But I think it is more charitable to feel pity, not the hatred. After all, it is not that woman's fault that she was born badly."
"It still seems like a pretty strong cultural reaction to a baby who can't think straight." She took a deep breath. "I still don't see that there's anything mentally wrong with Rani. Emotionally, yes, probably. But you can't prove that that is caused by genetics. If someone thought I was an abomination before I could talk, I doubt I'd grow up very well adjusted either."
"You are not an abomination," Tarrin said firmly. "You are a kiljhac. Kiljhac are not abominations. Some Diarians think so, but that is only because they never talk to them. Sranjhac are genetic aberrances of nature. That is a bad reason to be cruel to one, but it is a very good reason to abort a fetus like that instead of causing it to have a bad life full of suffering and animal rages."
Khyrisse covered her eyes, utterly nauseated. "All right," she said, as calmly as she could. It's a poison; it's invaded the entire culture. It's not entirely Tarrin's fault that he swallowed it whole. I will not blow up at him. I certainly won't win any points that way, either. "At least I know where the problem between us lies." Without looking up, she said, "Skitch--go home."
Skitch's jaw dropped. "But... MOM!"
Khyrisse lifted her head, and fixed her son with a look that told him argument was seriously unwise. Ember, had she been there, would probably have ducked. "We'll discuss this when I get home."
Skitch shut up and left.
But he also slammed her office door so hard that the glassteeled pane rang.
Where The Dead Men Lie
-We are not like the people of the shallows,- confessed Callie, as Otter ministered to her broken feeding arm with unsentimental precision. -We do not have souls.-
"They're not good for much," said Otter. "If that's what your Fallen Ones are bitter about, tell them they're not missing out on much."
-I dare not speak with them again!- Callie's tessera rippled in consternation. -I have endangered their very existence. They are right to be angry with me.-
"Well, they don't have to worry about it, and neither do you," said Otter. "Even if we make it back to Ataniel--" Otter wondered, dimly, how she knew they were somewhere else. A change in pressure, perhaps.
A lightness of water. "--I'm not going to get them in any trouble. I work with a lot of people who like to have secrets kept. I know how not to endanger anyone."
-Your existence endangers theirs,- sighed Callie, flipping her tail. -The Fallen Ones are the very essence of the ocean. Theirs is a fragile and mighty balance. The release of your souls is too volatile for them to tolerate in proximity. They can be destroyed.-
"Then it was stupid of them to take me prisoner," Otter said succinctly. "Obviously it doesn't destroy them when one of us dies in the reef, or topside."
-That's just the problem,- said Callie sorrowfully. -The Fallen Ones are on the brink of extinction now. Too many spirits were killed at once last year. There are but a handful of our masters remaining now. Even a lesser catastrophe in the shallows could mean the end of them entirely. They chose to open the seal to the Labyrinth, where they will be cut off from the spirit peoples. They took you prisoner to protect the secrecy of their migration. But now I have brought you here, and if you were to die before I could lead you far enough away...- Callie hung her head. -I could be responsible for the extinction of my gods.-
"Well, fortunately," Otter said drily, "I plan on hanging onto my soul for a while yet. Look up." She flexed the arm she had just reattached to the young anomalocaris, and nodded as it held. "That should do. What's this Elder Oceans we're heading to?"
-I don't know. My ancestors came from there, many shifts ago. I know many legends, but no facts.-
"We'll figure out the facts as we go along." Otter straightened in the strange water and felt for her weapon and then her pack. Both were secure. "Do I assume that if I get killed while we're still in the Labyrinth, and some of the Fallen Ones survive it, that's all she wrote for you?"
-To the extent that I understand your unfamiliar idioms,- transmitted Callie humbly, -yes.-
"We're in this together, then." Otter turned her hard, plain face upward, contemplatively. "Let's see what we can do with it."
Nature vs. nurture, racialism vs. self-determinism, the specter of research bias, and other adolescent mysteries
Skitch was pacing in the living room when Khyrisse got home. Poor kid. All this tension between his two parent-figures has got to be stressful... and it's going to get worse before it gets better. "Are you and Tarrin still fighting?" he blurted out before she could say anything, lines of anxiety on his young face.
Khyrisse sighed. "We're not fighting, Skitch," she said. "But we do disagree. Tarrin is a good man and I respect him very much, but I do not respect this opinion. In fact, I think it's very dangerous." Khyrisse took a deep breath. "And I need... to know what you believe, Skitch."
"About Rani?" Khyrisse nodded, and the boy looked down and scuffed his foot on the carpet. "I guess you and Tarrin are right and I shouldn't call her names," he mumbled. "I probably hurt her feelings or something. I'll write her a letter saying sorry."
Thank the gods for that much. He's still a good boy under there. "I think that would be a good idea, Skitch. And I'm proud of you for realizing that." She hesitated. "But... what do you believe about Rani? Do you still think she's bad?"
"Yes," Skitch admitted frankly.
"Because of her genetics?"
"I guess so." Skitch squirmed. "I think it made a lot of sense what Tarrin said. I guess I don't really know for sure till I read the research myself, but I trust what Tarrin says about it."
Grendel, that's it all right. "Then I'm sorry, but you're not allowed to play at Tarrin's anymore."
"No!" Skitch grabbed at her arm in a half-belligerent, half-supplicating way. "Please don't do that! Look, let's just get the research and we can all look at it together! Then we'll know, right?"
"Skitch," sighed Khyrisse, "how will we be able to tell if these are correct results or not? What do you imagine they did with the test subjects after they were done?"
"Why's that matter?" said Skitch. "The experiment was over."
*Slap!* went Khyrisse's hand across Skitch's face.
"OW!" he yelled. "I mean, why would that make the results not correct? They'd still be the same correctness no matter what happened afterwards."
Khyrisse covered her face with a shaking hand. "I'm sorry," she said in a little voice. "I thought you meant it didn't matter if they killed them. Skitch, the researchers didn't care about these subjects. How could they not be biased? Maybe the scientists found those results because that's what they wanted to find."
Skitch stayed warily out of smacking distance. "If they're right, though," he said, "then wouldn't it be good to put the babies to sleep? If their brains are deformed, I mean?" He rushed on quickly, before she could answer. "I mean, if Tarrin's wrong, it wouldn't be good, but if he's right it would, wouldn't it?"
"I don't know what to tell you, Skitch. I don't think so." Khyrisse sighed. "A lack of intelligence or self-control isn't a good enough reason for me to kill babies. Marty isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer... I have a lack of self-control. Nobody's running around saying we should be put out of our misery."
"No, but you don't have deformed brains," said Skitch. "Tarrin says sranjhac do." He twisted one hand in the other. "I mean, he's a psychologist. That's his job. If he says that's what the research says... I trust you when you tell me about magic. Shouldn't I trust him about psychology?"
Khyrisse plowed her fingers into her hair. "Look, Skitch," she said. "I don't want you to stop trusting the people you love. I just don't want you to believe everything they tell you without even thinking about it. I'm not infallible, and neither is Tarrin. What does psychology tell you about believing you're superior to other people? What does it say about loathing and hatred? Are those positive, healthy emotions?"
"Hatred's bad," Skitch said slowly, after a moment. "But Tarrin said that too. That doesn't mean he's wrong. Rani could be inferior and I just shouldn't be mean to her anyway." He sat on the sofa and swung his heels. "I don't think it's necessarily bad to think you're superior to someone else anyway," he added. "I can think of a lot of people I'm better than. I'm better than Nox. Did you see what Nox tried to do with the Rat?"
"Yes, I saw," said Khyrisse, wearily. "Skitch, deciding you're better than someone because of who they are is one thing. Deciding you're better than a whole bunch of someones you've never even met because of who their parents were--that's completely different, Skitch. That's not who they are, that's WHAT they are." Skitch didn't give the impression of appreciating the difference. Khyrisse moved her hand in the air. "I'm female. To some people that automatically means I'm not as strong, not as smart, not as
capable of surviving a crisis, not fit to make my own decisions. Would you say that's true?"
"Of course not," scoffed Skitch. "Everybody knows girls are as smart as boys. That's a stupid rumor. And women are less strong than men. You're not as strong as men. So what? You can cast a spell. That's a dumb example. Girls aren't deformed."
Khyrisse smiled a little despite her prevailing mood. "No, of course not. But girls are genetically different than you are. So why do you think Rani is deformed because she's genetically different? Race isn't any more of a deformity than gender, kiddo."
"This isn't about race," said Skitch. "She's a mutant, Mom."
Khyrisse looked at the ceiling. "Skitch... You know, there's another half-race out there that has been looked at this way, at times. They're supposedly clumsier, poor at magic, practically blind at night, have a psychotic fear of heights... And tragically, they die young; centuries younger than their parent race, due to premature aging or disease." She tilted her head to look at him, hard. "Sad, isn't it? Poor things."
"The elves think that?" Skitch rubbed his neck, thinking about it much more seriously than Khyrisse was entirely comfortable with. "I don't think elves are better than I am," he finally concluded. "I think those are just some more rumors. I can see in the dark, and I'm not scared of heights."
"Believe it or not, though, all of that has a basis in genetic fact too. I can show you our research." Khyrisse felt nauseated at the word ‘our', and didn't try to hide it. "What do you think of that?"
Skitch hesitated, his face contorting with confusion, and then quite suddenly resolved it. "Okay," he agreed. "I'll look at the research. Maybe it's true. We can look at it when we look at the stuff about sranjhac."
Khyrisse's jaw fell open. Grendel on a pogo stick. I logicked him into a corner and he backed out the wrong flarking side. "Skitch," she tried to redirect the conversation, hanging onto her temper with her fingernails. "Whole groups of people can't be superior to whole other groups of people."
"Why not?" Skitch shrugged. "I mean, Diarians are superior to us."
Khyrisse felt the blood rushing out of her face.
"I mean," he said hurriedly, "I don't just think I'm better than everyone else. Some people are better than me..." His voice trailed off. Khyrisse still didn't speak. Skitch was starting to look scared. "That's fair, isn't it? If I'm going to question whether other people are inferior, then shouldn't I do the same for myself?"
Khyrisse still didn't answer. "I don't think I'm really inferior," Skitch tried to dig himself out, his voice getting high-pitched. "Not like the way Rani is. The elves don't say half-elves have deformed brains... They just say we're less good with magic and our infravision is worse and stuff like that. So, even if they're right, I don't think I'm really inferior to them. Even if they're right, maybe humans and half-elves would just be a little less good at things on average, just like elves are a little less good than Diarians on average." Skitch faltered. "But we're not abominations or anything. Tarrin said."
"You are not allowed to have an unsupervised conversation with Tarrin again," said Khyrisse.
"Be... cause he said I'm not a bomination?" Skitch was so confused he forgot to be angry.
"No," she said, her voice finally raising. "Because you will hate anything and anyone he tells you to hate, sneer at anything and anyone he thinks you should sneer at. You'll turn into a racist little Diarian wanna-be, scraping and begging for scraps from their table and looking down your nose at everyone else for not doing the same and I WON'T HAVE IT IN MY HOUSE!"
Skitch ran upstairs and slammed the door, gasping.
Khyrisse sank back down into the easy chair, both her arms wrapped around her stomach. It was bound to happen, she told herself. He's just going through a phase. He doesn't really think these things about us. Tarrin hasn't really perverted his mind forever. He's just a boy.
Khyrisse tried so hard to believe it.
"So then," said Stump, rolling his eyes expressively, "the guy goes ‘I'd lay off the slave trade. That still rubs a lot of people raw'."
"Oh, yes," said Tucson, drolly. "As opposed to all the other coastal areas of Ataniel, who love it when we steal their children. Better leave Lianth alone. It rubs them raw."
"This sarcasm thing just doesn't become you, boss," said Mahoney.
"Shut up," said Tucson. "Anyway, he's right about the protection rackets. Whose idea was it to push that there?"
"Mitch Savoy's," said Mahoney.
"Have him killed."
"And the slave trade?" said Stump, boredly.
"Communist societies make perfectly good prey." Tucson leaned over and buzzed Nox in. "This had better not have anything to do with Jell-O."
"Visitor," said Nox, unctuously. "May we tie her up in Saran Wrap and introduce her to the goats, or would you like to see her now?"
"Tell Mr. I-look-like-a-clubgoer-at-Stonewall-about-ten-years-ago that if he puts that hand and everywhere it's been on me one more time he's going to find himself trying to conduct perversions without any fingers," snapped Rani, pushing into Tucson's office.
"She says if you put that hand and everywhere it's been on her one more time you're going to find yourself trying to conduct perversions without any fingers, Mr. I-look-like-a-clubgoer-at-Stonewall-about-ten-years-ago," said Tucson, in a very credible impersonation of Rani. Mahoney cracked up. Rani frowned at him. "Are you making fun of me, Johnny?"
"Just great," muttered Stump. "Another ex trying to muscle in on us. How many of ‘em have you got, boss?"
"I'm not here to muscle in on you," said Rani, as Tucson said "She's not my ex." The childhood friends frowned at each other for a moment. "What are you here for?" said Tucson.
Rani wordlessly produced an egg-shaped piece of bloodstone.
John Tucson stood up. "Is... that..."
"Your soul," she said. "Good as new. ...Which isn't very good, of course..."
"What do you want," breathed Tucson.
"She wants a piece of the action," sneered Stump. "I could see this coming."
"No, she doesn't," said Tucson, his eyes still locked on hers.
"Money?" guessed Mahoney.
"We could beat her up and take it from her," offered Stump.
"Name your price," said Tucson, not looking away from Rani.
"So you can promise it to me and then have me kacked once I fork it over?" She threw it at him overhand. He barely caught it. "No, what I want is for you to put that back where it belongs so deranged fucking Diarians don't try to use it to suck my city into a dimensional warp again. Which is what happened, if you care."
"I'd been wondering," Mahoney admitted.
"Any plan that revolves around sucking is a good plan," sighed Nox, contentedly.
John Tucson cradled his soul in his left hand and looked carefully at Rani. "Thank you," he finally said.
"Boss?" said Stump.
Tucson shook his head at the halfling almost imperceptibly. "Take care of yourself, Rani," he said.
"I'm on it," she said, seriously.
"Pieces of ass," muttered Stump, moving aside to let the halfbreed detective pass unmolested. "You've got a real weakness for pieces of ass, boss. It's going to get you killed."
"When I want your opinion I'll tell it to you," said the Scorpion, frostily. "Get me a cleric."
One Shall Embrace What You Stand Against
"Mrrrrraoooo!" howled Melissa, pouncing on Khyrisse's ankles as she came in and winding herself around them inextricably. "Mrrrrrrao mrrrrao mrrrrraaaaaaaao!"
"Skitch!" yelled Khyrisse, trying to disentangle herself. "Did you feed Melissa?"
Skitch didn't answer. Still sulking, Khyrisse guessed, sighed, and moved to the kitchen to get the cat some food. She stopped suddenly, though, when she saw the folded letter with "MOM" printed on it resting on the coffee table. Oh my flarking Grendel... She snatched the note up and unfolded it with unsteady hands.
It was painstakingly written as neatly and legibly as possible.
Me and Lorrini are running away to university together. I'm not mad at you. I thought about it and I know your just trying to proteck me. One time you told me to always follow my dreams. This is my dream. I hope you understand.
So, I took the wild magic sphere from the Carriage to pay for my operration. I'm sorry, but its my only chance. I will give it only to the priests of Rekzyr, so I know they'll use it wisely. Lorrini says they're the wisest priests in the whole world.
Anyway, don't try to follow us, because we're going to Irla and it's holy, so people like you aren't allowed there. You've been very nice to me but now I need to follow my destiny and learn to be a real Diarian. Soon you'll have your own family so you won't be lonely. Please say goodbye to Ebreth and Thalia and Vas and Val and Jack, they were good friends. I'll always remember how nice you were. Maybe I'll see you all again some day.
P.S. Please take good care of Melissa.
"Mrrrrrao! Mrrarrao! MRRRRRAAAAAO!" wailed the cat, in the waning light of the day.