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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Trial and Error Archives
Chapter 8

Schism

Her nails ripped the paper as her fingers spasmed. For a long time, Khyrisse simply sat there, looking down at the letter, her muscles locked and trembling. My son... has stolen the weapon Eric used against Diaria in their last war... and given it to the priests of Rekzyr... to bribe them into turning him into a Diarian.

"...people like you aren't allowed there."



Vas touched down in Khyrisse's backyard, arrow on string, scanning the area. Everything was silent. The only sign of disturbance was the remnants of what looked like a bonfire in the middle of the patio.

He searched the garden warily before slinging his bow to crouch beside the charred pile. Recent. Probably last night. With the arrow, he lifted the edge of a burnt scrap of fabric. The underside retained its original color in patches, a bright turquoise Diari silk. Vas' eyes widened.

There was a soft clicking sound behind him then, and he whirled on it... to find Khyrisse standing in the French doors, her pistol pointed at his chest.

She uncocked it with an aggravated sigh. "Vas," she said, without any warmth.

"Milady," said Vas, inclining his head. "You look rather... formidable... today." Her appearance was uncomfortably reminiscent of their foray into Hell, harsh alabaster stoneskin contrasting starkly with the black and red leather of her armor. Her hair had been raked back into a severe braid and plastered down.

"Do I?" She holstered the gun. "To what do I owe your rather unorthodox arrival this morning?"

Vas tilted a smile at her. "Perhaps to the fact that you're not answering the door?"

She had the grace to look slightly embarrassed, though her face looked as if the expression might crack it. "Oh. Yes. Well, I'm on my way to work now, so everyone can stop panicking on my account." She turned back towards the house without further explanation.

"Khyrisse." She stopped, a look of vague irritation on her face. Vas moved his hand at the pile of rags and ashes in the courtyard. "What happened back there?"

"A fire," she replied, in a tone that called him an idiot for asking.

"Weren't those Skitch's things?"

"What he left of them." She lifted the hood of her cloak and went for the door.

"Khyrisse." Vas caught her arm and turned her to face him. She narrowed her eyes coldly at the familiarity. "I would hope that you would tell me if something had happened to your son," he finally said.

A conflagration seemed to happen inside her, without the slightest twitch of a muscle. Tightly suppressed pain, grief, and an unutterable, unquenchable rage burned in her eyes.

"I have no son," Khyrisse Starshadow said. "Never speak to me of this again."

More Riffing Off Mario Puzo

"What have you to report on this man and his offer?" the Don asked.

"He's a minion. Professional, reasonably smart, looks tough." These matters were important to the Godfather, who was fond of saying that a man could often be judged by the company he kept.

"And the product?"

"Salozzo reports it to be top-rate and likely to create high demand among users. It took her longer than usual to shake of the effects." Her use of the Gift to accomplish this had taken place at sea, thus remaining respectful of Emperor Yyrkie's ban. The Don was, after all, a patriot, who paid at least token obeisance to his country. "She was unable to identify its composition," Hassan continued, "but I see no reason for us to produce it ourselves. Importing from Tucson still leaves us with a good profit margin."

"I'm a little concerned about these kiljhac narcotics," Jendar Alliejin spoke up. "They may generate a lot of revenue, but we all know what kind of social chaos there is in Rimbor. I'm afraid that in the long run, they might prove too difficult to control, and we could see some of that in Diaria itself. Infamita!"

"I think it's an opportunity we can't afford to pass up," Relan countered. "With the increasingly open economy these days, if we don't handle the distribution of such goods, someone else will."

"This is my decision," Don Alliejin pronounced, instantly commanding the attention of his family. "We will begin purchase and distribution of Mr. Tucson's narcotic in selected cities. We will ease them in slowly and watch carefully for their effects. If these are not too great, we will gradually expand the sale."

At the same time the Alliejin family was debating the matter, a young man elsewhere was looking for Cane customers. After all, making money was the highest of virtues in his city, the city of New Lianth.

Shock And Dismay In New Trade

Father and Mother, read the letter, in Lorrini's looping Dalen.

Skitch and I are going back to Irla. Neither of us has the Gift, so we should be safe there. You know that if I do not start university this year I will fall behind academically. My future is too important to throw away over political concerns. I am sorry to disobey you but this is too important to me.

Please take good care of yourselves and the new baby when it arrives. Perhaps the political situation will straighten itself out soon and you can join us here. If it does, I will write to you. If it does not, I will return to you in six years an educated daughter.

Please do not try to change my mind, because my mind is made up.

Love, Lorrini (and Skitch sends his love too.)




Coyri's voice rose and fell in a desperate ululating lament as Tarrin, rather stupefied, read Lorrini's letter for the third time. "My little girl!" screamed Coyri, half-fainting against the sofa back.

"Peace, Coyri, peace," he begged in Diari, smoothing his six fingers over the parchment.

He didn't know what else he could do.

***

"Gone," Vas said soberly. He handed the squalling, miserable ball of cat over to his sister. "As if he had never existed. All of his belongings burned to cinders."

"Oh, Corellon," moaned Val. "Not again... she was doing so well. Why? Won't she tell you why?"

"She refuses to discuss the matter at all. The rumor mill has it that he either stole something from Khyrisse and ran away... or committed treason on the behalf of Diaria and escaped... or kidnapped Tarrin's daughter and eloped with her. I have no idea what's going on--and Khyrisse threatened, calm as you please, to blow my head off if I didn't stop asking. I think she actually meant it."

"Oh, Corellon," Valende said again, sadly. The cat yowled in chorus, and the priestess petted her distractedly. "It's all right, Melissa. You're welcome to stay with us. You can have Vas' salmon."

"The day lacked only that," sighed Vas.

***

"Khyri," begged Tarrin, wearily. "There is nothing I can do. You have to understand, my Church has been closed. I have no more influence over the Church of Rekzyr than you do." He held his head. "You must ask your friend Shilree. She was Regent of Diarni. Maybe she can help you." Coyri was wailing hysterically on the sofa, her voice so raw she had obviously barely stopped crying to catch her breath. Khyrisse tried to care and failed. "I should have done something," Tarrin said helplessly. "There were signs... Lorrini was distant, unhappy, she kept talking as if we would be returning home soon enough for her to start school... the Skitch complained to me that he felt like the Rat Pack was made up of people he barely knew..."

"I don't want to talk about that, Tarrin," said Khyrisse, rather coldly. She studied the psychiatrist for a long moment. "If you can't do anything, you can't do anything," she finally said. "I am not yet out of options." Khyrisse turned to go, and then hesitated in the doorway, glancing back at Coyri. In a tone that indicated a rational exercise of mercy rather than any present sympathy, she remarked, "I am sure your daughter is in no real danger. The Trade Route to Dyaromn remains in operation, so you should be able to stay in contact with her via international mail, if you wish." Her eyes shifted back to Tarrin. "I have no intention of allowing this incident to pervert my original purpose in creating New Trade. Anyone seeking sanctuary from the current upheaval in Diaria will find it. But perhaps you would be so good as to warn your fellow refugees..." her expression grew icily remote again, "and your foster son... that discrimination and harassment on the grounds of racial inheritance, among other irrelevancies, is now illegal in New Trade."

Fountainhead, Crackhead

"Rochester!" Carson exclaimed as he looked up and saw Schneider. "I thought you were dead!"

"Reports of my demise were almost as exaggerated as my own reports of my sex life. Good to see you again, Carson."

"Yeah, you too." The merchant lowered his voice. "Look, just between us--you were the Joker, right?"

"Was it that obvious?"

"Let's just say I know people pretty well. Is it even safe for you to be here?" I was impotent to stop the slave trade, Schneider. For the love of Pete, don't screw around with those killers.

"Not really, no," the jester said. "But I'm on my way back to New Trade tonight. I should be safe there. How's everything going in the big L?"

"Just peachy, actually. I sold that antique Parcheesi set yesterday..."

***

"It's like Randall always says," Elaine explained, as they went for an early evening stroll. "You have to work to live up to your full potential. Anything less would be immoral. So I've decided to be an inventor."

"What are you going to invent?" said Carson.

"Lots of things!" she answered, with an enthusiasm that worried him. If it wasn't for the great sex, he'd cut things short with this babe. Too wifty. It wasn't like he cared all that much, or caught himself thinking about her all the time, night and day. No sirree bob. Nothing like that!

Carson stopped walking then suddenly, his eye caught by a non-descript fellow in a leisure suit, conducting a business transaction with a local teenager.. "Car?" said Elaine. "Something wrong?"

Carson Delaney had neither the temperament nor the affinity for violent confrontations, and he looked it. Still, leisure suit's eyes widened in fear as the mild-mannered merchant strode over and grabbed him by the lapels. "Whoa! What'd I do? Don't hit me, dude!"

"What'd you do, dude?" Carson reached into the suit jacket and forcibly extracted a glass vial full of yellowed, chunky powder. "Nothing but pawning off the devil's dandruff!" The teenager bolted and ran.

A crowd was starting to gather. "What's going on here?" came Joe Reardon's big voice. The blacksmith was eyeing the pusher suspiciously, as were most of the others. Carson Delaney's words and actions--trusted by the populace in New Lianth. They don't even know I practically invited the Scorpion to send this poison peddler into town. "This guy is selling drugs," said Carson, loudly. "Lethal drugs."

"It's not lethal!" the pusher protested, straightening out his jacket. "This is something new. It's called Sugar Cane. It's just, you know, party stuff. Like wine or ale or something."

"Party stuff that's addictive, and turns normal people into dope fiends who'll do anything to get more. Just, ‘you know', a tool for taking people over body and soul."

"Geez, no need to get so melodramatic. You musta had some bad experience or something. Uh, sorry. Not my business." Doing a good job of hamming it up for the crowd. "I won't deny it people, too much Cane is bad for you. I tell all my customers that. Too much booze is bad for you, too. But that doesn't mean I think we should go shut down the Mithril Dagger or anything like that."

"Nice speech. But last I checked, Kevin doesn't work for a Rimbor City crimelord." Fear in some of the faces. Was a time, not too long ago, when Lianth wasn't afraid of Rimbor. Not now.

"Neither do I." Lie. Liars know liars, punk. "I work for myself. I sell my goods at a fair price that lets me earn a profit. I live my life for no one, I don't try to live anyone else's life for them, and I don't expect anyone to do so for me." Quoting Thrayn directly. Crowd nodding. "Look, I'm sure this man means well, he's probably seen some scary stuff in Rimbor City. But this is New Lianth. What my customers decide to do is their business. Otherwise, it's the start of a slippery slope that means the end of everything we worked to create here. Today, one man is trying to stop me from selling Sugar Cane because it might be harmful. Tomorrow it's booze. And after that? Who knows? What do you do for a living, sir?" he asked Joe Reardon.

"I work with iron."

"So maybe after it's no more Cane, no more booze--for peoples' own good, of course!--someone decides your job is dangerous. Molten metal, swinging big hammers. Maybe they say you can't work as a smith unless some government group checks to see if you meet safety standards, you'll need to get a license. And of course, you'll have to pay some of your hard earned money for that, to finance the bureaucracy that does no real work, produces nothing. Then it's governments, taxes, welfare, the death of New Lianth and all it stands for." He spared a glance for Carson then. His words had been making a real impression on the crowd, and most of them turned to Carson too, waiting to see if he had a rebuttal.

For pretty much the first time in his life, Carson didn't.

"Well, it could happen," the pusher shrugged. "It all starts with good intentions, one person deciding something is too dangerous for someone else. Me, I say if my product is bad, people won't buy it."

As the crowd dispersed, a few people even stopped to shake the pusher's hand. He was, one guy said, a model citizen for New Lianth.

Detect Penguin

"Mrrrrrrrao!" cried Melissa. "Mrrrrrrrao!"

"Poor thing, she misses Skitch," murmured Val.

"Mrrrrrraaaaaaaaaoooooooooo!"

"Go to sleep, kitty," said Val, and put the pillow over her head.

Melissa jumped from the bed to the nightstand and from there to the headboard, where she stretched up on her hind paws to the crescent window there. She butted it with her little grey-and-white head until it creaked open and squeezed her slender body, almost half hair, out into the moonlight.

It was a quick jump down to the gutter and from there straight down to the garden. She landed with barely a sound. "Mrrrrraoo," she said softly, looking up at the penguin in the garden. He looked at her for close to a minute in the light of Bane, and then waddled off in the direction of the Rat Trap.

It would be up to them to save the world, then.

Melissa followed.

Ripples In The Ocean

Ebreth frowned at the fairly grim visage of Khyrisse that presented itself in her contact spell. "Khyrisse? Is--everything okay?"

"Everything is as under control as it can be and I don't want you to interrupt your vacation or worry Jack or anything like that, all right?" she said, all in one breath.

Ebreth frowned deeper. He didn't like the sound of that. "What are you calling about, then?"

"There's an extremely dangerous magic item that belongs to me in the Temple of Rekzyr in Irla. Shilree could probably get it back for me, but I have no idea where she is now. So do you think it's better to send in a strike force, or squeeze the government by the balls politically until they find it for me?"

Ebreth paused a moment. "I think it's better to call in your favor with the Alliejins," he said. "Who stole it in the first place?"

"A rogue Diarian agent," she said flatly.

"Khyrisse? Are you all right?"

"I've survived a lot of things," she said, harshly, "and I'll survive this. Thank you for the advice. I'll contact Relan tomorrow."

"Khyrisse!" he said. She paused, the edges of her spell flickering. "Look, this... wasn't Tarrin, was it?"

"It was Skitch," she said, very simply, "and I don't want to talk about it."

"Skitch..." Ebreth blinked a few times. "Defected to Diaria? Could we--"

"Do nothing," she interrupted, hard. "I wash my hands of him. All I want is the weapon back, Ebreth."

He paused several seconds at her tone. "Okay," he said. "I won't mention it again. But listen to me. Okay? I want you to talk to Lora Paris."

"Lora?" Confusion interrupted the sharp lines of her face a little. "Why Lora?"

"Just--trust me, Khyrisse. She's the one you need to talk to." He paused. "Look, I love you, honey."

"I know," she sighed, her voice softening just a little. "Enjoy your vacation, Ebreth. I'll handle this."

The spell cut out. "Trouble?" said Jack.

"Isn't there always?" Ebreth sighed and skipped a pebble into the Vadril. It made it four hops before being swallowed by a wave. "I'm sure she'll make it through," he said, and believed it. He weighed sand in one hand and faith in the other. "I believe in her," he said, very softly.

A seagull screamed.

How the Rat got involved

"Waugh!" honked the Duck, bumping into the closed door. "Waugh!"

The Rat observed this fruitless duckish behavior for several minutes before concluding that the Duck was simply too stupid to operate the elegant trapezoidal pet flap Jack had installed for the two of them. With a sigh, the Rat got up from his comfortable nest to nose the door open for the squalling bird.

"Peep!" said Aithne's chick, who was standing outside in the hall, her tiny legs lost in the pile of the carpet. She hopped off down the hall toward the stairs, and the Duck waddled mindlessly after her.

This was enough to pique the Rat's curiosity. What could those avians be up to? He scurried after them, down the stairs and into the lobby. There, in the slightly ajar doorway, stood a tall, sleek penguin.

Seeker of Places was impressed. He had never actually detected a penguin before. So impressed was he, in fact, that it took him a good thirty seconds to notice the CAT curled by the penguin's feet.

*SQUEEEEEEEEK!* shrilled the Rat, tensing to run.

Then he paused. But what a nice cat.

This was by far the prettiest cat Seeker had ever seen. Her small, delicate face was framed in silky fluffs of grey and white fur, and her build was very graceful. She looked friendly, too, and what nice eyes! And she was a little cat. The Rat was probably half her mass, actually. She probably couldn't eat him if she wanted to. And she certainly didn't look like she wanted to. Yes, thought Seeker of Places, he would give this inordinately nice-looking little kitty a chance. "Squeak," he squeaked, more politely.

"Mrrrrao," she answered, in a charming voice.

The penguin turned silently and waddled out the door and into the moonlight; after a beat, the slender cat followed, and the other three animals after her.

Moonlight Fading

Ian hated being a vampire. Hated the rotting-inside feel of his body, hated having to sleep for more than twelve hours a day, hated the fact that he was denied food or love, hated the unholy desire for blood. As he put on his costume, he mused that at least he had this, still. The fight for justice.

Tracks indicated that the tower in the northern hills, abandoned after Bloody Mary's defeat, was abandoned no longer. But where in the cobweb-encrusted structure was Donna Bellacio?

Silverblade ignored the large colony of vermin in the moldy basement. He rolled nimbly to avoid the rain of sharpened iron spikes that fell from the ceiling in the mezzanine. He lassoed the gargoyle head carving above a doorway and swung across the banquet hall, circumventing the floor which collapsed into a pit of acid. He made short work of the flesh golem guarding the master bedroom. Then, in the chamber beyond, Ian heard someone moving. He turned to gas and slid through the doorjamb.

Silverblade resolidified just as the vampire turned to face him, fanged mouth open in surprise, and drove a stake through the leech's heart.

He was already scanning the room before the vampire's body hit the floor. Ian had little time before sunrise, and an innocent victim might still be in danger. Examination of the chamber revealed that something was behind a section of wall. He pushed aside the tapestry and swung the secret door open.

It led to the roof. Here he found Donna Bellacio, bound hand and foot, drugged quite unconscious, but otherwise unharmed. He was about to untie her when his instincts crackled in warning. The stake just missed his heart, but struck him squarely in the shoulder.

"How delightful!" the vampire hissed. "The dread Silverblade, secretly one of us!" It had taken him a minute to pry the stake from his heart--his liver was now his vulnerable spot. "Your death will be a fitting start to the new era." He raked Ian across the chest with his claws, and was rewarded with a mouthful of fist.

The fight seemed to move in slow motion. It was difficult for Silverblade to fight with the stake in his shoulder, and his opponent wisely pressed on, not giving him time to remove it.

"I look forward to our next meeting," the vampire finally said.

"We will finish this now," replied Silverblade.

"Ha! You are as vulnerable as I to what approaches. You cannot battle me further and still have time to return to your lair."

"I can save this woman's life. That will be victory enough for me." The vampire suddenly looked alarmed, and chanced a look at the sky, whose blackness was fading. That was his fatal mistake. A blow knocked him down, then a silver katana severed his head from his body.

A wisp of gold appeared at the horizon. Silverblade yanked the stake from his body and slashed the ropes which held the unconscious Ms. Bellacio. Then he fell to his knees, his fortune run out.

It was true, your life did flash before your eyes as you were about to die. Ian realized that he had been wrong, earlier that night. Life had given him more than just his heroism. Inez and Todd. Alrek, Pluvious, Noyarc and Bill. The people of Tobrinel--the best people and the best place in all Ataniel. He watched the shadows recede below him and... suddenly realized... it was taking a long time. By now, he should be in excruciating pain, his flesh blistering and charring. Slowly he turned, and what he saw made him gasp.

For the first time in months, Ian Jardin saw the sun.

He checked--still fanged, still undead, most definitely--yet the remains of the other vampire were ash and smoke by now. He had no idea how this miracle could be. Silverblade knelt. Tal, thank you for sparing my life. I shall never waver in my efforts for justice and good. Then, he returned Donna Bellacio to her home. By the time she awoke he was gone. The sun had risen on a beautiful new day.

A Little Favor

Khyrisse drew the blinds at her windows and door, signaling that she was in a private meeting, and locked the door. She had three options left where the sphere of wild magic was concerned, and the third was drastic. The other two involved trusting Diarians. Unfortunately Shilree--who had, after all, faced down Shadow with her--seemed to be shielded from contact spells, and Flicker didn't know where she was. Khyrisse had spent the rest of the morning trying to muster it up to trust a Diarian she barely knew, and eventually just put her faith in the fact that Ebreth had recommended it. "Relan, I have a rather awkward problem," she began. She gave the ambassador a very small, very wry smile. "I'm afraid I need a favor."

The Diarian glanced casually around the room, making sure there was no one else there, then took a little device out of his pocket and flipped it open. It made a low whine. "Psijammer," he explained. "Go on."

"It--involves the return of a magic item of mine. I have reason to believe that it has been taken, most definitely without my permission, to Irla. It was reportedly given to the Temple of Rekzyr. I need it back."

Relan Alliejin did not look fazed. "What kind of item?" he said, in a cool, businesslike way. Khyrisse was immensely reassured; she didn't have much experience with organized crime, but businesslike was something she could do in her sleep. "It's a crystal sphere about the size of my head, hollow, with... what looks like a multi-colored, swirling semi-liquid in it. Whoever is transporting it should cover it securely and not look at it--it's powerfully hypnotic and could cause dementia. Dropping or breaking it is a very bad idea."

He nodded. "Do you want anything other than the item back?"

She blinked at him. "Other than?"

"You know, do you want them to know you took it back, or not? Do you want them not to know where it is, or do you want them to think twice about messing with your things next time, capice?"

Khyrisse thought about that for a long moment. "I don't think they knew it belonged to me, actually," she finally said. "The Temple is a second-hand ‘owner'. If they don't already know not to mess with stolen items, they're not going to learn it now." She gave him a wry smile. "So let them wonder where it went."

Relan nodded calmly and got up. "Well, let me talk to some people who know some people," he said, with a smile that indicated he was being intentionally vague, and headed out.

Just When Garal Thought He Had Things Figured Out

Garal's attempt at convening a rescue party was failing on more levels than he wanted to think about.

Unfortunately, it was this very week that Vas' grapevine had finally alerted him that Vickie had been telling everyone Garal was better-endowed than he was, and the elf was in something of a snit. "I doubt Miss Dare is interested in being rescued by me," he huffed. "Apparently she determines her social circle with a measuring tape. Perhaps you had best go alone."

"But--"

The door slammed in Garal's face. This was a lot harder than it looked. Even Garal had figured out that other women didn't like Vickie much, and most of the important people in the Rat Pack were women. Khyrisse had looked too much like, well, like Ailonwy for Garal to even try bringing up Vickie Dare around her. Fortunately, after hours of running uselessly around New Trade, the halfling ran into Amatsu in the lobby of the Rat Trap. "Amatsu! You're corporeal again!"

"Jack Paris designed a magical construct to house this one's chi," explained the ninja. "What can I help you with, my friend?"

"It's Vickie. Pluvious Sturoster says she's in trouble, but no one seems to care but me."

"They do not care?" Amatsu looked shocked, not a familiar emotion on his placid face. "I knew she and the others quarreled while I was away, but to abandon a comrade in time of need?"

"Well," Garal amended, "I think they care, but no one wants to go with me on a search party."

"You must ask Jack Paris," Amatsu said astutely. "He will agree to go, and then Ebreth Tor will accompany him, and the Lady Starshadow will go where he goes, and from there the rest of the Rat Pack."

"Jack and Ebreth are out of town," sighed the halfling. "And Khyrisse is preoccupied with Skitch's disappearance."

"A most distressing episode for any parent," Amatsu acknowledged.

"Nobody else seems to think she's in serious trouble. But I've dealt with Sturoster before... he doesn't usually get alarmist over nothing."

"Perhaps she could be mentally contacted to determine if she is in need of help?"

"Maybe," Garal mumbled. He hadn't even tried approaching Rani, Orlen, or Val; they seemed the least likely to want to help Vickie after the big fight they'd had. And Rani and Orlen were the only psionicists Garal knew that knew Vickie. "I'll try that. Will you see if you can get anyone else to help us? Maybe they'll pay more attention to you."

"You underestimate yourself, Garal."

"Just try, ok?"

***

Garal stepped back into the plane outside a café in Rimbor. Rani had mentioned it before. He hoped this was where she'd be eating lunch and he was in luck. "Hi Rani! Can I ask you a favor?"

"You can ask," the detective replied, without putting her sandwich down.

Garal balked a little, but concern for his missing friend kept him from fleeing. "I'm, uh, uh, it's Vickie. She's, uh, in trouble... and I was, uh, I was hoping you could, uh, maybe help me find her?"

"Huh," said Rani, with her mouth full. "Well, anything for a friend."

Garal blinked. "Vickie is your friend?"

"No, fuckwit, you are." She concentrated.

"What?"

"Shut up, Garal, I'm trying to contact her."

Psychodrama Means Different Things To Different People

It had taken Aithne hours to learn what had actually happened.

By now she had figured out that Vas always knew all the gossip, but never which rumors were credible, and he cheerfully repeated nonsensical stories along with likely ones in such a useless barrage that there was no sense talking to him. Khyrisse was Aithne's matriarch and the person from whom she should be taking her version of events, but bothering queens in the kind of mood Khyrisse was in was a good way to lose your head in Celtia. Jack, her most reliably helpful guide to this strange future, was on a trip with Ebreth. And Aithne's last conversation with Val had ended with a discussion about sexuality which Aithne had felt obliged to pretend was entertaining girl talk, even though she couldn't have imagined any decent woman talking about such a thing. She was hoping to avoid getting into any more such excruciating situations.

Finally, the Shikinti man, Amatsu, had explained it to her. Skitch, he said, had disobeyed his mother and run away with a girl. Aithne hadn't thought he was old enough for that. Of course, Khyrisse had disinherited her son, a move that Aithne and Amatsu immediately agreed was the right one. Amatsu even thought the boy had taken a family heirloom of some sort from his mother's house. Against her wishes? exclaimed Aithne. Shameful, agreed Amatsu, a strong condemnation from the usually reserved warrior.

So Aithne had resolved to stay out of the sorceress' way for the next few days. She had lost face and would surely not want to be bothered by such a recent addition to the clan.

Aithne didn't know what other choice she had now, though.

So it was with great trepidation that she opened the door marked ‘Director's Office', bowing her head in obeisance as she slipped in. Khyrisse didn't look angry at the intrusion, exactly; she looked cold and busy. Her hair was braided very tightly. Aithne twisted one hand painfully in the other, terrified, as Khyrisse looked impatiently up at her. "Yes, Aithne, what is it?"

The young witch burst into frightened tears. "I lost Jack's chicken!" she cried, prostrating herself before the mercy of her mistress.

Let's Hope I'm Being Charged For Vickie's Level On This Contact...

"So what makes you think she's in trouble?" said Rani, reaching out for the brash adventuress' mind. "Aside from her basic personality, I mean?"

"Well, Pluvious sent Lora a letter saying she never came back from Rimbor," worried Garal.

"That's it?" said Rani. "Sheesh, I can see why everyone in New Trade was just dying to drop everything and organize a search party--hold on, I'm in." -Rani here,- she sent, with her usual unvarnished directness. -You OK, Dare? Garal's worried about you.-

-You've got the wrong number,- came a powerful male mental voice, with even less attempt at pleasantry than Rani had grudged. -There's no one you want here. Good afternoon.-

Rani blinked several times. -Is... this Vickie Dare?-

-Ms. Dare is busy.-

-And you are...?-

-And you don't want to talk to her,- said the voice. -Good afternoon.-

The connection severed without Rani's permission.

She sat there for several minutes. "Okay," was what she finally said. "I'll take the case."

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