“What is so delicate about a sandwich place?” Rayya asked me as we entered the deli.

“Is this a riddle or the set-up for a joke?” I asked.

“Neither.  The word delicatessen has delicates in it, and the ‘sen’ would indicate ‘son of,’ meaning there is some discernment in the subject. Perhaps they were places frequented by assassins or courtesans or spies?”

“I’m betting it actually comes from ‘delicacies,’ or something of the sort. I know, I’ve got the internet in my pocket and could look it up, but hey, there’s my sister!” I waved an arm in response to her waving hers from where she and Roberto sat, sharing a large pastrami sandwich.  Okay, I would give him the pastrami appreciation point.

Rayya and Nen had both elected to join me. There was some kind of conversation I wasn’t privy to prior to the decision, but apparently my protection detail was still a consideration.  Spriggan Secret Service.  If they got tired of the building of a library dimension (shades of Wizard Pratchett there) maybe they could source out as bodyguards. Diminutive Detail.  Significant Sibling Security. Fey FBI.  Fey-BI?

“You’re thinking instead of walking again,” Nen noted, passing me. He slid into the booth across from Eve and her squeeze.  “I’d like a pastrami, on rye, toasted, swiss cheese, no lettuce, no tomato, mayonnaise and vinegar.  Side of chips.”

“Sounds delicious,” I said, catching up.

After we got our sandwiches piled with meat and fixings, and some of the delightful (another potential source of the term ‘deli’) bites had been chewed, swallowed, and well on their way to providing necessary sustenance, I looked around. For a busy place, we’d come somewhere between lunch and early dinner. It was still fairly light out, although starting to turn that golden orange that suggested the cool blue shadow of the mountains would soon extinguish the afternoon.

“The plan is?” Eve asked.

I finished my bite and shrugged. “Go to where he was, try to find out where he went.  Unless you have a better one.”

“Because finding one human in a city of 750,000 or so is so easy you could have done it at any time,” she suggested, her sarcasm as thick as the steak fries.

“I feel like I would know if I were around him.  If I’m wrong, we’re no worse for it. In fact, we’re better because we had a great meal.”

Eve considered the crumbs Roberto was currently eyeing with an indulgent smile. “I guess there’s that.  You took the bus?”

“Still haven’t bought a new car,” I admitted.

“Yeah. You and the kids can ride in back. Where are we going?”

Rayya frowned at being called one of “the kids,” but didn’t argue it.  Nen just grinned.  I guess if they were used to me, they were fine with my sister.

“Find somewhere around the mall to park, and we’ll take the shuttle.”

I couldn’t remember offhand where Janet had said she was besides “the mall.”  And Rivendell, which I would always think of Imladris first, and never Karningul. But despite Rohana having Rohan in her name, I never thought of horses with her. I never actually really thought of horses.  I wasn’t a horse girl, after all. Or a brony.

I knew it as we got near, and not just because of the way Rayya and Nen reacted. It was like a cramp in my stomach. It was like smelling something incredibly foul that had been left in the sun, and then hearing someone pounding on piano keys randomly and while scraping the bench across a metal stage.  I reeled, grabbing onto a railing while the bus came to a stop. “Here,” I managed to breathe.  I caught a nod between Eve and Roberto that mirrored one between the Spriggan Sibs before I stumbled off the shuttle and over a trash can, holding on to the delicious delicacy of the delicatessen through manly gulps of air and a reminder that it was magic, not reality.

Well, when magic is your reality, well, it didn’t matter. One’s brain worked the details, with probably lots of input from visual and chemical cues.  There was some amount of disagreement with my gut and my conscious, but I maintained the equilibrium.  My party of adventurers spread out, looking for clues.

“I don’t see anything,” Eve complained.

“This would not be something you see with your eyes, but with the heart.  It is like you explaining how we used to find planets, with the flickering of shadow between the candle flame of a star. You are feeling the cold chill of lack of light, the absence of a loving God, and the presence of evil. It fills your breath with the miasma of abandonment, the disappointment of a child to an absent parent,” Roberto spoke poetically and with a soft religious fervor. Or so I heard it, but I had to admit I felt the capital letter in the invocation of deity, so I might have considered it a little more zealous than he expected.

“Or like a wind through an open door,” Nen said.

I felt Rayya’s hand on my back. “Come, let us follow the wind, then, secret caller.”

“Huh. You haven’t called me that in a while,” I said, swallowing for a moment.  The wind actually picked up for a moment, bringing a cool breeze that refreshed slightly. “It’s ahead of us,” I said. “If it’s this strong when he’s far away, how will I handle it when he’s close?”

“You won’t,” Eve said. “We will.”

“That sounds so final,” I said. “It’s my quest. I’m not the kind of person who steps back and does all the strategy stuff. I generally play tanks.”

Eve rolled her eyes. “Don’t give yourself airs. You’re a support.  Roberto will tank. I’ll do DPS, and your weird friends will do whatever your weird friends do.”

“Protec,” Nen said. “And also Attac.”

“Oh goodness, that’s an old meme,” Eve chuckled. “But I guess it comes back around.”

Roberto and I shared a Look that basically agreed that maybe ignorance would be bliss.