Passing Ava on the way, Eric knocked on Helena’s door.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m Eric. I was sent to see you about a thing from a guy with a history and some magic?”

He looked around the room. “You know, if all this clutter is a problem for you, I know a guy with a truck. Hauls stuff away, no questions asked.”

“I’m going to assume you’re being facetious,” Helena said to Eric, with a look that was not unlike that of a school-marm. “What do you have, and more importantly, where didyou get it?”

“I never joke about guys with trucks,” Eric said, sitting down. “They’re so important.” He took the tin whistle out and showed it to her. “It came from this creepy shop in north beach, guy named Salazar Crato gave it to me. Or … well … I don’t … okay, I don’t actually know if he gave it to me. All I remember is that when I left the place, I had it. The whole incident is kind of … fuzzy … with me. I assume it’s a long story, but, I don’t actually know …”

“Oh dear,” she replied, “that doesn’t sound very auspicious. I hope you saw the trauma counselor… Have you, actually? I wouldn’t want to do a reading if you are in a precarious state…”

“Yeah, I saw her Friday,” Eric said. “Found out that there’s no real memories left for me to recover, cried it out, climbed a bridge, hung around a grave sight, had slow and meaningful sex with a beautiful girl … you know, worked it out. Now it’s Monday and,” he shrugged. “I’ve still got a flute.”

“I suppose we should take a look at the flute, then, huh?” She took it from him, rotating it and examining closely. “Huh…interesting. Did you notice the inscription around the mouthpiece?”

The antiquarian held it out to him, pointing out an almost-worn-away script that seemed to be in Latin. “Absit Iniuria. That’s curious.”

Eric looked at it carefully. “Absit Iniuria,” he said. “Yes … yes …” he stroked his chin. “This confirms my longstanding hypothesis that I don’t speak Latin. Pretty conclusively, I’d say.” He grinned at her.

“Fortunately, I do,” Helena replied, school-marm patience in place. “It means ‘let injury be absent.’ Which is a dreadfully curious thing to put on a flute.”

“It’s a good sentiment though, right?” Eric asked. “Hey, have you noticed that mottos and slogans always sound better when they’re in Latin or a translation? Because every time I hear something like that in Latin, I picture it above the door of an awesome party.”

She stared at the flute for a moment, then shook her head. “I’m not oracle, but I’d say it’s good odds that this isn’t the sort of saying that you’d want heading up a party. I’ll do a reading…do you want me to show you, or shall I just summarize? The Cliff Notes version, if you will.”

“Not ‘let injury be absent?’ Man, and I thought I was harsh … ah …” Eric considered. “You can always show me later if it’s important, right? So let’s do the Cliff Notes.” He shrugged. “I was never all that good in school anyway.”

“Fair enough. This will take a few moments, though.”

She settled back in her seat, closing her eyes and gripping the flute with both hands. Once more, a ripple of magic moved through the room - something akin to a wave of static electricity that prickled at the skin and left hair standing on end.

A soft whimper escaped her lips, and her face contorted as the moments ticked past. At times, it seemed as though she was barely breathing and her face grew tight.

“Uh … hey …” Eric whispered. “You all right?”

She didn’t reply for another moment or two, but finally, she sighed, her body relaxing a little, and opened her eyes. “That,” she murmured, “was not precisely a party, no. Not at all.”

“So …” he looked concerned. “It’s a lying flute? It’s lying about the no harm thing?”

That required a moment’s consideration. “No, actually,” she said, finally, though it seemed as though it pained her to say that. “The no-harm thing is sort of the point of the flute, as odd as that sounds. Listen, do you remember the story of the Pied Piper?”

Eric hesitated. “Sorta? Played an instrument, made rats follow him, and … and … I don’t actually know what he did with the rats. Drowned them in the river? Started a petting zoo? Is this the same guy?”

She snorted. “Yes, a medieval petting zoo. Step up, folks; get your plague right here! Hesold them, okay? Only I think there’s something that’s been lost in translation over the years. You know how they call homeless kids ‘street rats’ sometimes?”

Eric coughed. “I … am familiar with the term, yes. For the record, we preferred ‘rats of street descent.’”

“Uh huh. Well, our little piper here was tasked with ridding cities of their pesky little street rat problem.” Her lips twisted into a grimace and she sighed again. “I always forget how awful the middle ages really was, in some ways. This seems to have been a common occurrence - city officials selling off the urchins to…well, there’s really not a better word than slavers, though technically, I suppose the children would have been considered serfs, rather than slaves.”

“Still,” she continued, sourness creeping into her voice, “our little prodigy decided that the typical methods of keeping one’s little herds of ‘rats’ in line were excessive, and caused him indigestion, so he went to an…an alchemist, that’s what he called the man, anyway, and had him make this little flute.”

She looked down at it, rolling it back and forth in her fingers. “It was meant to mesmerize the children…to keep them quiet and happy, to keep them well-behaved so that he didn’t have to keep them chained, or whip them…and so that they were bought by merchants or nobility who might treat them a little better.” She shook her head and laughed, though without much humor. “He was, by his own standards and the standards of the time, quite the philanthropist, I suppose.”

“Oh …” said Eric, gaping. “Oh … I … ah … this … isn’t a joke? This was designed to kidnap children and keep them docile? You’re not fucking with me? Chesa isn’t watching this whole thing on camera laughing her ass off?”

Helena blinked. “What? A joke? Why on earth would you think that…? A point of clarification, though. He didn’t kidnap them…it was all quite legal.”

“Why is it more likely that you’d be making something like this up as a joke than that there were legal child kidnapping rings in the Middle Ages?” Eric shook his head. “What a terrible world you live in. But … but … okay … so …”

He was quiet for a moment. “Is there a conclusion I’m supposed to be drawing from this? A next logical step? Because, I’m drawing a blank.” He wiped his forehead. “Man, I did not see this coming.”

“There is certainly a spirit in this thing,” she said, offering it back to Eric. “Why don’t you hold the thing, just…take it in and get a sense for it and the spirit within. That might help you decide what you’d like to do with it…”

Eric took it back gingerly. Held it. Closed his eyes because, hey, that’s what you do, right? Pressed on the funny looking valve. Suddenly looked at Helena. “It’s warm!”

She nodded. “Just focus a little, try to relax… I know, I know,” she added, “easier said than done.”

Role 1d6 = 5

Eric closed his eyes again, took a deep breath. Took another … tried to keep his mind clear … which he’d never been good at while holding still. Not until he was tired, or had worn himself out. Then it was easy. But this … no … if someone said ‘go empty your mind,’ what he’d really want to do is climb. Or jump. Or dance … dancing, free to move, just existing in the moment, glorious, surrounded by rings of children … dancing children … laughing and whirling and throwing themselves into the next steps, having the time of their lives, which was a blessing, surely, because they had so little to smile about, such wretched lives, and their path was ordained - they had no choice but to follow it, whether it was with their heads held down, broken, or at the point of a sword, bleeding. What a joy, heaven sent, to bring laughter and merriment to their lips, to turn this burden into a festival, a memory they could cherish … a party to cure all ills …

Eric opened his eyes and realized that he had put the flute to his lips, and his hands were held over it, perfectly positioned.

He gaped at Helena. “I … I … think he likes me,” he whispered. “Lots.”

Helena’s eyebrows nearly hit her hairline. “That’s…interesting. I suppose what’s more important is, how do you feel about him?”

Eric shook his head. “We’re … we both think that the cure to every problem is an art party … we’re both kind of organizers and kind of provocateurs and like looking for loopholes that make people happy … we’ve got a lot in common …”

He leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. “And he trades in child slaves. He … Jesus Fucking Christ …” He bit his lip. “You know, I thought I hated myself before I came to work here. I … I really thought my self-loathing was set all the way up to 10. I did.” He snorted. “Then I discovered I’m a human rape drug, with a body trail, who has a lot in common with a merchant in chattel slaves. FUCK.”

He looked back at Helena. “Because this?” he pointed at the flute. “This? This is a great idea. Just brilliant. Like, the best thing ever. For everybody. Except for the whole slavery part. Except for the WHOLE FUCKING POINT. And … a week ago, I was a guy who had no idea that he was sometimes doing this exact same thing to people - kinda - and … and …”

He ran out of breath. “How do I feel about him?” He shrugged at Helena, his eyes desperate. “I don’t know where to begin.”

She nodded slowly, taking in his avalanche of emotion and trying to process it, herself. “It seems to me,” she said, tapping a finger on her cheek in thought, “that you’re receiving the sort of knowledge that…well, it’s difficult to take, and understandably so, but without it, how could you change and grow? Perhaps this…this thing offers a chance to delve further?”

“Yeah,” Eric sighed. “Yeah. I guess … yeah. It’s that or throw it away. I just …” He shrugged. “I guess I have to study medieval history or something now. So I’ll know what he’s talking about.”

Her lips twitched. “There are worse fates, you know.”

“I guess … just … it kinda goes against every promise I made in 10th grade. But, okay. Can you, like, recommend a book? I think my library card still works …”

“Tenth grade promises were made to be broken,” she said, her face impressively solemn. “You might, perhaps, start with a book called The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, and branch out from there. Medieval Lives is a nice starter, as well. And once you’ve made your way through those, you know we have a bit of a specialized digital library here, too. There may be items of interest.”

“Of course…” She paused, giving him a thoughtful look. “Yes, I think you should go back to the gentleman who gave the flute to you. I suspect he has some…personal knowledge of the thing.”

Eric blinked. “Him? Crato? Oh … no … no … I … I tried to stab him … it wasn’t good … and … what do you mean personal knowledge?”

“I think that’s the sort of thing he needs to tell you,” was her diplomatic reply. “Though, to be fair, if you tried stabbing him, perhaps that line of inquiry is already closed.”

“Wellllllll,” Eric said carefully, “you’d be amazed by the shit people have forgiven me for … I mean, this is a big one, but, there was this one time, we’d taken over a car garage that was about to be demolished the next weekend, and threw a party where … ah … nevermind … actually. Nobody needs to hear that.”

He took another deep breath and gave her a questioning look. “So, ‘Time Traveler’s Guide … Medieval Lives … talk to the guy I tried to stab … child slavery has a fun side. Is there anything else I can do or should know?”

“Only one thing.” She reached over and touched his arm. “Try to remember - we’re all works in progress, yes? Have a little patience with yourself…you’ll be happier and live longer. Or at least,” and she smiled, “that’s what I hear, anyway.”

He chuckled. Flashed her a smile back. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll let you know how it goes. I really appreciate it.”