The waves were crashing on the shore; it was a lovely sight. Italy is now my favorite country; in fact, I plan to spend two more weeks there next year. If I don’t like something, I’ll stay away from it; before this past visit, I hadn’t been to Italy in a decade.

The memories of those waves were just too near.

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“Of course.” the words echoed up the elevator shaft, creaking and sepulchral. “What else but for the building, my building, to be my flesh? The furnace beats as a heart, the elevators pump as blood. But as any body, sustenance is required.”

The doors cracked open invitingly, bleeding light into the hallway–an alluring, otherworldly light.

“Come.”

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“What, exactly, is Rat Schism?” said Taylor, looking at her vandalized MERRY CHRISTMAS letter blocks.

“It commemorates the 1054 split between the brown and black rats,” said Chris, “when the Rat Pope excommunicated the Rat Patriarch and vice versa. Centuries of strife followed, and only now are the first embers of reconciliation stirring.”

“I think it means you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.”

“Fair enough.”

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“Looks like he broke the lock and had been living in here,” the detective said. “Makes sense. The substation’s a lot warmer than outside, and it’s not checked unless there’s a problem.”

“So you think…accidental electrocution?” said the officer/

“I think we were meant to believe it was,” said the detective. “But there’s just one thing that doesn’t add up. The electricity clearly entered his body here, and left here. There’s no conceivable way, based on how he was found that it could have entered his body through the small of his back.”

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“This sacred document has been handed down in my family for a century. Now I come before you to demand that you make it right.”

The CEO of PowerCo squinted at the fine print. “Summon the Battery Council,” he rumbled. “We have our first claim on the 100-year guarantee.”

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You didn’t stiff your bill at Miss Scarlet’s Boudoir.

Miss Scarlet, always elegant and dressed in the color after which she’d named herself, kept a repeater behind her desk and a shopkeeper’s six-shooter in her bustle, but she rarely needed either, thanks to the Art. Even though guns could kill a man quicker and with less exertion than the Art, many people still held mages with the same awe and reverence they had before the war, when the price of disrespecting one might have been enthrallment.

You didn’t stiff your bill at Miss Scarlet’s Boudoir.

Pearl Highwater had only been an employee for about six months, but in that time the young elf from back east had seen deadbeats with their ears blown off, their palms and worse seared by sudden flames, and a few of the more intransigent ones brought low with a few enthralling whispers. Everyone paid up eventually, though Miss Scarlet reacted indignantly to the suggestion that they ever paid a cent more than they had been offered in services. For the treasure hunters flooding into Smokewood had their needs, had their desires, and she paid her taxes. Deputy Sheriff Missy Ferguson was not exactly on warm terms with the Boudoir, but she knew the law and didn’t let things slide.

You didn’t stiff your bill at Miss Scarlet’s Boudoir.

But in her time at the Boudoir, Pearl and her friend Melish, an orc girl of around the same age who had joined two weeks before, had quickly became the favorites. Miss Scarlet steered the best customers to them, and trusted them with the “delivery jobs” around town. Until Melish had been badly burned by some hotshot pyromancer from back east–before got himself gunned down by the deputy sheriff for continued idiocy–and a customer from out in the wilds locked himself in one of the Boudoir’s many rooms with Pearl inside.

He wasn’t interested in his bill at Miss Scarlet’s Boudoir.

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“Why the edor?” said Eggebrecht.

“She liked us edor, said we reminded her of herself,” said Father Zelten. “Rare, and a thing you could only find in this land. It also cut down on the number of people she had to speak to. Not one for small talk, Highclaw.”

“And why gold?” Feris said, eagerly. “Why did she want something she couldn’t spend?”

“Now that, I don’t know. We wild folk didn’t really work much with metal before the easterners came, so soft gold and silver were basically all we had. But Highclaw did say something once, when I was just a boy. She told my cousin that a trinket he had made especially for her was ‘beautiful but worthless.’ It had to be, she said, ‘something used, something worn, something loved, something steeped in the memory and soul of they who wore it.’ It struck me as being awfully poetic when she said it, and I’ve never forgotten.”

Eggebrecht was scribbling furiously in his notebook. “I have many, many questions for you, Father Zelten,” he said. “But I should, I suppose, lead with the obvious one. Why did Highclaw fail to take action on behalf of the wild folk when the settlers first came? He–er, she–could easily have wiped them out. Even the army didn’t have weapons that could take a dragon down back then.”

“Highclaw asked a high price, one we couldn’t pay,” Father Zelten said. “If it were just us, we would surely regret being so cheap! But Highclaw asked for as much tribute as we had ever given in living memory. She said that without such a sum, she could foresee no way forward. Her time was coming to an end either way,and she could not risk her greatest treasure.”

“A curious way of putting it,” said Eggebrecht, still scratching out messy lines of shorthand. “What do you suppose Highclaw meant by it?”

“I think…I think she foresaw that she would perish at the hands of your people,” said Father Zelten. “How, I can’t say, other than some powerful magic known only to her kind.”

“And why, if she could foresee her death, would she go out to meet it anyway?” Feris said.

“Ah, now that is a question,” laughed Zelten. “But I have a solution, or at least a supposition.”

“What’s that?” Eggebrecht said.

“I believe that she was pregnant,” Father Zelten said.

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