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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Days of Light and Darkness: Chapter 2

"Look," said Sunny, "here comes a swan."

"Swans don't fly this far from water," said Rhynwa.

"No, I think she's right," said Max. "It's too big to be a goose."

"If Kerouac was here he'd shoot it," said Signet.

"It's coming towards us," said Rhynwa, startled.

"It heard you, Signet," said Shilree. "It's going to kill you now."

"Maybe it's attacking us. Shoot it, Shilree."

"Killing swans is very bad luck," said Shilree.

The swan alighted a little awkwardly, as if it wasn't used to ground landings. Sunny's dogs growled, but the swan began changing shape before they could attack. It twisted into a nymph with feathered blond hair and white clothing, staring wildly. Stalker was on his feet before she had finished transforming. "Good afternoon," he said, taking off his hat with a flourish. "Can I help you?"

She looked at him, looked down at herself, looked back at him, and screamed with total abandon, flinging her arms out in anguish.

"Are--you in some kind of distress?"

"Put your hand on me," she said, "and I'll rip your balls off, Stalker." She dropped to her knees and put her pretty face in her hands, a gesture somewhere between exhaustion and despair. "I'm a girl!"

"I'm not going to hurt you," said Stalker, and squatted by her without touching her. "Have we met?"

She slugged him in the chest and he fell over onto his butt. "I'm Kerouac, you moron!" she bawled.

"Kerouac?" said Rhynwa, incredulously.

"The first one to say anything about it dies!"

There was a long, uneasy pause. "Welcome back," said Rhynwa, finally.

"Here, have some whiskey," said Sunny.

She accepted it gratefully and drank from it for about a minute before coming up for air. When she did she howled like an animal, a raw, wordless lament. That got Sunny's dogs going. "Maybe we can find a mage to polymorph you," suggested Max.

"I'm a woman!"

"It isn't that bad," said Sunny.

"How the hell would you know?"

She blinked at her a few times. "I--am a woman, Kerouac."

"Yeah, but you've never been a man. It probably feels normal to you." She took another long pull of whiskey. "Believe me, you'd rather be a man."

"There's nothing wrong with being a woman," said Rhynwa, annoyed. "It's just--different."

"I don't even want to think about it."

Book Divider

"Ulmo joined our order in Neporris," explained the monk. "He swore an oath to a code of morality there, which he has indeed been following, but he has been very lax in tithing to our holy sect. The matter is now rectified." He smoothed his gown. It seemed to be made out of velvet. "However, Brother Ulmo informs me that the rest of you do not have consistent codes of morality to which you adhere."

Sunny turned to stare at him. "He said what?"

"I'm a priestess of Arawn," said Rhynwa. "Of course I have a code of morality. Give me a break."

"If you can prove to us that you have moral codes," said the monk, "then you are free to go with our apologies. But Brother Ulmo has acknowledged that you have no rules that bind you, and we will not suffer the uncivilized and lawless to roam our lands. You will have to swear fealty to a code of moral laws if you have none."

"I want to talk to Ulmo," said Sunny. "Where is he?"

"Brother Ulmo is in the initiates' lounge. You may not have additional contact with him until the issue of moral conduct has been resolved."

"Under what circumstances did he "acknowledge" all this information?" said Shilree, pointedly.

"My personal code of morality forbids the forcible extraction of information," explained the monk politely, "and it was I who interrogated Ulmo, so you may rest assured he is well."

"Does it forbid you from lying about your personal code of morality?" said Shilree.

"No Red-Purple Hawk may ever lie about his code of morality," he said patiently.

"Let me talk to him," said Sunny. "I want to talk to him."

The monk folded his arms. She tried to get by him and collided with a static forcefield. "You may not see him," said the priest, smiling tolerantly. He had windswept blond hair and bronzed pectorals just visible through the open collar of his purple-red robes. "The lawless are not permitted to leave this room and violate our sanctums."

"You look like a Ken doll!" yelled Sunny, throwing out her arms in frustration.

"Then how did you get us in here?" asked Stalker, curiously.

He ignored both of them. "If any of you can prove your moral standards to me, you may join your companion and see to his well-being for yourselves. Otherwise, you will need to be bound to a code before you can leave."

"Kerouac will see to his well-being," growled Kerouac.

"You look like you came out of a cookie cutter! Do you really believe this?"

"Sunny, calm down," said Rhynwa. "How do we prove to you that we have ethics, sir? Is there some kind of test?"

"Nothing that formal," said the monk. "You just need to tell me your code of moral behavior. The amulet of the Hawk will let me know if you are lying or not."

Sunny was shaking with fury. "How dare you? Do you really expect real people to be able to conform their belief systems into a list of rules?"

"Kerouac can," said Kerouac. "Kerouac protects his friends and tries to kill his enemies."

"And she always refers to herself in the third person masculine," added Stalker. Kerouac kicked him viciously in the shin. "Ow."

"A--crude code, but an honest one," said the monk. "Except that you do use the pronoun "I" sometimes."

"That's not a moral rule anyway," pointed out Max.

"It is not my place to judge the value of other people's moral systems," said the monk, a little regretfully. "I can only require that people have them."

"Kerouac feels obliged to inform you that you are one of his enemies."

"I feel obliged to inform you that I am a seventeenth- level monk who knows three kinds of martial arts and powerful spells," said the monk.

"Then everyone has a moral code," said Rhynwa. "Sunny, calm down. This is easy. My moral code is that I always obey my god, and I perform rites on solstices and funerals, and I celebrate death as the cornerstone of life and the pivot on which it turns, and I take care not to send anyone to his death untimely, and I pray every day."

"I try to help people when they're in trouble," offered Max.

"That's not acceptable," said the monk, and frowned. "You cannot simply describe your usual behavior. You must have tenets of behavior to which you adhere at all times. The priestess and the simpleton may pass."

"Who's a simpleton," muttered Kerouac.

"I will not," said Sunny, with anger. "You will have to kill me."

"Sunny," said Rhynwa.

"No, I won't," pointed out the monk. "There's a forcefield over the door."

"Let's all just think of something that governs our behavior. Okay? If Kerouac can do it, we can all do it. We can talk philosophy another time."

"Forsooth," said Oethnar, in apparent agreement. "For I never wasteth and never wanteth, lo. In the forest, we take only what we need. Furthermore, we do not wasteth other people's time in foolish mind games." He looked sternly at the monk, who coughed. "Strange are thy ways here."

"How complex do these need to be?" said Stalker. "Is it all right to say that I never kill people unnecessarily?"

"That is acceptable," said the monk.

"You didn't rap it, Stalker," said Max.

"You don't need to rap," said the monk.

"Yes, he does," said Max. "It says so in his code."

"Oh, all right. Accompaniment, please."

"No, it doesn't," said the monk, annoyed. Max started to make rhythmic mouth noises into his hands, very geekily. "Sunny, give me a beat?" said Stalker.

"I will not be a part of this!"

"We're just screwing around," Stalker pointed out, and lowered his sunglasses. "Well I'd never kill, unnecesSARily, cause it takes away a personALity. And it wipes them out of reALity, and that's my funky code of morALity. Pp-pp-PP!"

"My code of morality does not require me to listen to your childish antics," said the monk, his patience starting to thin audibly.

"You guys," said Rhynwa, and smacked Farstalker in the back of the head. "You're going to get us all killed. Max, I'm surprised at you."

Max looked a little sheepish. "This is such a dumb contest," he said, by way of an apology. "Okay, that's my morality too. I don't kill people unnecessarily either."

Shilree rolled her eyes. "Who thinks it's unnecessary when they kill someone? Give me a break."

"The guy said it was good enough, Shilree," said Rhynwa. "Just say it and let's go."

"Maybe it's a good enough rule for kiljhaci." She turned to the monk. "I follow the Diari code of honor."

"You have a code of honor that lets you kill unarmed unconscious people?" said Stalker.

She glared at him. "I don't break my word," she said, with exaggerated enunciation.

"Very good," said the monk, who seemed to have regained his supercilious composure. Ralchar looked nervously at Shilree and then at the monk. "Uh..."

"You have morals, Ralchar," said Shilree. "He doesn't care what they are."

Ralchar really appeared to be thinking about it. "I would never purposefully hurt anyone I love," he finally said, carefully, sweat glistening on his brow. Shilree appeared touched. "Oh, me either," said Max. "I forgot that one."

"Come on, Sunny," cajoled Rhynwa. "You don't kill people unnecessarily either. Just tell this guy what you keep telling Kerouac and we're out of here."

The Sunfighter folded her arms. "It's not because of a rule," she said. "It's because of love."

"Sunny, look at this guy," said Shilree. "Rules are as close as he's going to get."

"I resent that," said the monk, stiffly. "Our order is not celibate."

"No, but it's a female-selective society," said Shilree.

"Shilree, shut up," said Rhynwa. "Arawn's balls, we could have been out of here twenty minutes ago. Do you guys really need to make every damn thing difficult?"

"This time," said Sunny, "I do."

"I see Brother Ulmo was right," said the monk, raising one eyebrow. "Very well. The rest of you may join us in the initiates' lounge."

"Wait a minute," said Shilree. "Wait a minute, what are you going to do to her?"

"That is no longer your concern."

"Oh, yes it is."

"Look, Sunny," said Rhynwa, exasperated. "Do you believe in murder, or not?"

"Of course not," she said.

"You hear that?"

"Is this a code that motivates your behavior?" asked the monk.

She looked at him and folded her arms. "It's the truth," she said. "Some of us can handle it like that, straight up. Some of us wither in the light."

"That is not acceptable."

"Yes," she said, "it is."

"Look," said Shilree, "she's more moral than the rest of us put together. Ralchar, can't you do something about this?"

"I think we need to talk to Signet," said Ralchar.

"I will wait," said the Sunfighter. "Tell Signet I hope he's satisfied."

"I don't believe this," muttered Rhynwa. "Any self-respecting god would commit suicide over a challenge this bone-headedly simple. A two-year-old child could pass this test more gracefully. You guys are a bunch of chimpanzees."

"Hey, Rhynwa," said Kerouac. "Who has the hat?"

"IhavethehatDAMMIT!"

Book Divider

The Sunfighter stood terribly as Signet approached. "What--have--you--done?"

He looked really unhappy. "Sunny, this isn't my fault, Sunny."

"You sold me down the river, Ulmo Glub; now what are you going to do about it?"

"Can't you just take the oath? A code of laws, Sunny, it orders your life. It gives you structure. There's meaning in a code of laws. It's what separates us from the animals."

"It is what separates you from me," said Sunny, with frightening finality.

"Signet," said Ralchar, "What would happen to you if you broke your code?"

"He would be disciplined," the monk told him. "If any of our order break our oaths voluntarily and flagrantly, we are put to death."

"Come on, Sunny. I don't want to leave you here."

"Then you should not have brought me here. It is not your place to order my soul for me."

"All we ever do is argue," said Signet. "We can't agree on anything. Kerouac and Shilree wind up killing everyone we meet. We're in total chaos, Sunny. We need order."

Rhynwa slapped him in the back of the head. "Signet, you idiot, Kerouac and Shilree just took oaths that let them kill people. Laws don't bring order if we all have different laws!"

"Kerouac thinks Signet should take an oath not to steal from us."

Sunny turned her back. "Then find your order yourself, because I have nothing more to say to you."

"You're cutting off your nose to spite your face, Sunny," said Rhynwa. "So Signet did something stupid. You really want to die over that?"

"It's a question of principles," said the Sunfighter.

"It sounds to me like her principles won't let her answer the question," said Ralchar, with a slight smile. "That's a code of morality, isn't it?"

"She has to speak it formally," said the monk. "It's not binding otherwise."

"But if her code of morality forbids her from revealing her code of morality," said Ralchar, "then if she says it, it won't be true anymore."

The monk pressed his temples. "But," he said, "but if she doesn't say it, then I can't judge its truth."

"So in other words," said Ralchar, "you're going to keep her here whether she obeys her code or not. I thought that was against your code."

"Oh my God," said Signet, suddenly. "He's a lawyer!"

"Smile when you say that," said Ralchar.

"I don't see you doing anything useful," said Shilree, nettled.

"But if I--but if I let her go without testing her code, I will be breaking my code."

"But if you keep her without testing her code, you will be breaking your code."

The monk shook his head blearily. "I--"

"She has no way out, you have no way out."

"No."

"Or," said Ralchar, "you can claim that you *have* tested her code, and that her code prevents her from making the usual deposition."

"I do not have a code," said Sunny, loudly, "and I never will."

"You, on the other hand," said Ralchar, "can continue to deny the existence, or importance, of codified laws, thus adhering to the unspoken tenet and satisfying the monk's condition, or you can break the tenet to prove your non-adherence by stating a code, which would satisfy the monk's condition. So all things considered, you might as well stay quiet."

"Wait a minute," said the monk.

"If you'd like to turn yourself in for execution," said Ralchar, "over the breaking of your order's code, that is, I would be glad to carry this on with your superior. He may see more sense in it."

"You go, lawyer," said Rhynwa, with some surprise.

Book Divider

"For Pete's sake," said Rhynwa. "Signet's got his hand; the Red-Purple Hawks let Sunny go; what is the problem here?"

"Tell Sunny I'm not speaking to her until she apologizes for holding my hand ransom."

"You had no right to expect me to get that hand for you," she said. "Not after the things you did."

"Tell Sunny that a real friend wouldn't use something that important to get back at someone for something he'd already apologized for!"

"You apologized for getting caught!" she yelled. "You didn't apologize for doing it!"

"Tell Sunny I'm not interested in talking to her." Signet chucked pebbles darkly at a nearby tree. Oethnar looked askance at him.

"Until the next time I can get something you want, or identify some magic item quietly, is that it? When I can do something convenient for you, you're interested in me. When you have a responsibility to me, it's out the door, Signet!"

"Sit and spin, Sunfighter!" he hollered.

"You identify magic items for everyone, Sunny," said Rhynwa. "Stop making such a big deal out of this."

"I mean his secret magic items. You've just been using me this whole time, haven't you, Signet?" Her hand was trembling. "I gave you money, I read your letters for--"

"What secret magic items?" said Kerouac.

"--lied to the thieves guild for you, identified all the things you squirreled a--"

"Will you shut up!" shouted Signet. "You're giving everyone a headache. Stop shrieking!"

"I thought you were my friend!"

"Kerouac wants to know about the magic items."

"I'm a thief!" said Signet. "That's what I do, I steal things! I don't tell her not to play her stupid harp!"

"You tell Kerouac not to rip your throat out," said Kerouac. "That's what Kerouac does. Especially to thieves."

"Oh, no," said Rhynwa. "Kerouac, we are not ready for the debate about killing people right now, can we take this one psychodrama at a time?"

"You sold me to a cult," screamed Sunny, with abandon.

"I already apologized about that! What do you want from me, blood?"

"Sincerity!"

"Sunny, calm down. You're going to give yourself--"

"I am sincere!" he shouted. "I cut you in because I liked you!"

"If you liked me you wouldn't try to force me to join your stupid cult!"

"She has got a good point there," Shilree said.

"It's not stupid. It's important."

"Well it's not important--to me." She swayed on her feet slightly and touched her face. "I don't try to make you be like me. How dare you try to make me be like you?"

"Because I believe it," he barked.

"I am not owned by you."

"Why would I want to own somebody as hysterical as you!"

"Look here," said Rhynwa. "Sunfighter, if somebody's asking you to identify stolen goods and lie to people, you really shouldn't expect to be one of their priorities."

"I resent that," snapped Signet.

"And as for you, Signet, you should know better than to take advantage of people with no common sense. Shame on you." Sunny pressed both her temples and rocked. "And stop stealing stuff from us. There are plenty of bad guys to steal stuff from. You're supposed to be on our side."

"I don't steal from you. I steal from people we've killed."

"That belongs to all of us. Knock it off if you want me to keep using healing spells on you."

"If you liked me," said Sunny, lower, shaking, "you would not try to make me what you want. You don't care about me. You only like yourself."

Signet threw a big rock at the tree. Oethnar stood up. "In the forest," he said, "we have no psychodramas. We have big snakes. We kill them, and make belts out of them."

Everyone stared at him. He sat down again. Sunny was the first to laugh, in breathless, velvet gasps, until she collapsed from laughing, her face blotchy and sparkling and shrouded in bits of her hair. "Th-ank you, Oethnar," said Rhynwa. "Oh," said Sunny, and touched her face with her fingers, on the ground. "I had a dream once."

"Why don't you surprise everyone and keep it to yourself?" said Signet.

She sat up and looked at him. He didn't meet her eyes. "Never mind," she said, turning away. "You wouldn't believe it anyway."

Signet turned then. "It was about me? Wait. Wait, what's going to happen to me?"

Sunny smiled beatifically.

"Okay," said Rhynwa. "Okay, the policy is this, all right? Signet can follow whatever laws he wants to as long as it doesn't hurt any of us. But we don't have to follow them. Is that a deal? There's room for both law and chaos. And, er, belts."

"First make her tell me what's going to happen to me!"

"Kerouac will kill Signet for you, Sun Warrior," offered the swanmay.

"But there's no room for evil."

"No, thank you," said the Sunfighter, softly.

Book Divider

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