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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Look Into The Light: Chapter 4

"I claim this city for Magnate the Immortal," Rigg blurted.

"You do *what*?" said Rhynwa, turning on him.

The floating city let off a faint rumble and seemed to solidify in space. The little warrior whooped uncharacteristically, pumped his fist in the air, and threw himself into Janther's arms. "Woo-hoo! We did it!"

Janther spun him around and put him down. "Is this a good thing?"

Rigg appeared to consider it. "Well, it's better than a fascist Dalencian regime, isn't it? Capitalism's cool. I'll tell you all about it one of these days." He gripped Janther's arm. "Listen, I'm sorry I've been such a jerk. I didn't know you were you, and then you didn't know I was me-- these things happen."

"I've had some encounters with capitalism," said Janther. "A responsible leader is required."

"Magnate's very responsible. You'll see." Rigg popped a wrist panel open and took out a disk. The blank countenance resolved into Shilree's. Max gasped loudly. "This is going to be a good thing. What were you going to do, run this city yourselves?"

"No *way*," said Tila. "You couldn't pay me enough to be an administrator."

"One of these days you stupid kiljhacs have got to stop going in without a plan."

"Shilree," said Rhynwa, "Gdeon, Kyv, he turned out to be an alien space dragon--"

"Yeah, I know." She twisted her other wrist, and her strange bodyarmor retracted in articulated haste into the gauntlet. She was wearing a business suit with a short skirt underneath it. "I'm sorry for leaving him with you, but I had too much to do and I couldn't have taken care of him. Listen, I need to discuss some things with Magnate. I'm sure you understand. Sorry about, you know, pretending to be dead. It was a need-to-know situation." She pointed at Janther. "Except you. I'm not sorry to you. You started it."

"I wasn't pretending to be dead."

"Sure you weren't. Janther Moria."

"I *died*."

"Yeah," she said, "so I can do things a little more subtly than you can, Sunfighter. I'm sure everyone's just shocked." She took off the gauntlet and fluttered her fingers cheerily as she evaporated.

Rhynwa stared after her. "Shilree is *smiling*!"

Book Divider

"King Rowan," said Shannon smoothly. "There's somethin' I need to talk to you about."

"No," he said, "there is something you want to talk to me about. That isn't the same at all." He got up to leave.

"*Wait*. Rowan. It's about Brytannwch." He walked out. She puffed up her cheeks and exhaled. "Stubborn bastard. Now I'm goin' to have to make Eric tell him about this."

"Oh, good *luck*," said Khyrisse.

"Yeah, well he's already sleepin' on the couch tonight, believe you me. There's one or two little details of this job he neglected to tell me." She clapped Janther on the ass on her way out; he whirled around angrily but she didn't look back. "She didn't know anything about the attack on Diaria, did she?" said Tila.

"She *must* have," said Max. "Why wouldn't he tell her?"

"Because he's a *dick*," said Khyrisse.

"Because the Lord High Diarian is psionic," said Tila. "Janther, do you think she's bitten off more than she can chew, or does she know what she's doing?"

"Both," he said, "probably."

Book Divider

Praxis ignored Max and walked up to Janther, staring dumbly. "You--say something."

"I'm sorry?"

"It *is* you!"

"Do you guys know each other?" said Max.

"I don't think so," said Janther, apologetically.

"You're Alain MacLir."

Janther looked a little surprised. "Yes," he agreed.

"I would recognize that voice anywhere."

"Your memory is better than mine. Have we met?"

"Only--not in--no. What are you *doing* here? Everyone thinks you're dead!"

"I was," he said. "It's a long story. You're from Brytannwch?"

"Yes. I was with the rebellion. I--I read the man's mind myself. He had stabbed you through the heart. There was no--your girlfriend was involved. It was a big scandal." Janther touched his heart. "Why did you leave?"

"The Sidhe kept me from dying," he said, "but I couldn't stay. Rowan said the revolution succeeded. That things are good there."

"Things are much better," said Praxis.

"That's good."

"My name is Praxis. I--it's an honor to finally meet you."

Book Divider

"Aaah! Kimmy!" Trissia vaulted over the drums and whacked Iellan Tach across the chest with her battleaxe. "You self-righteous *prick*! She's a *cellist*!"

"Give up your evil ways," said Tach, and bopped her with the mace.

"Yeah, I'll show you evil--"

As Janther took a step his foot struck something that gave way. The ground tilted beneath him, though the fairy goggles showed it flat as ever. Fully disoriented, he fell; his shoulder hit the ground at least a second before he saw it hit the ground, and when he saw it, he felt nothing. He was rocking, slightly. The ground was curved here but it appeared flat. Janther had a piercing headache and he felt sick. Before he could think about which was right he had taken off his goggles. He felt the curve of the ground before him, to the side, pivoted slowly on his knees and felt it behind him, smooth as stone. He pushed and felt it rock just slightly, forward and back. He was inside something. He took a deep breath and put his goggles back on. Max and Luthien were fighting with some of the Demon Brigade in front of the stage. Behind them, the remaining members of the audience moshed frenetically, violently, as if their lives were depending on it. Janther found a coin and tossed it up in front of him, watched it slide down along an unseen curve. He was inside an invisible sphere. He pulled his sword and stabbed it but the blade skimmed off it without a noise. A forcefield of some sort. Janther stood up, slowly, and took a step. The ball rolled beneath his foot but he had his bearings back and did not fall. On the stage Trissia Maddyx, fighting with Tach, threw back her head and screamed as a masked assassin stabbed her suddenly from behind. Janther put his sword away. The mage seemed to be preparing another spell; Janther took bigger steps to gain momentum and then launched into him from behind. There was a crunch and a scream. The world was upside down for a dizzying moment. When Janther came round again the sphere slammed into a tree. The impact was very dulled. The Demon Brigade mage sat partially upright and shouted "Tach, help me!" His entire left arm appeared shattered; the sphere must have rolled directly over it. Tach turned and Trissia breathed fire all over him. "Sikhatti!" she roared, in an unnatural voice. Someone screamed. A stoned kid in the front of the mosh pit stared up at her, enraptured. "I love you, Trissia," he said. She kicked the drums over on top of him. "Jarth!" shouted Janther. "She's possessed! You have to heal her." Jarth did not seem to hear him. "I'll handle this," he announced. "Meet Zerthimon, greater angel of Morvon!" Jarth exploded into a huge, furry tentacled thing, dressed in a kilt. There was more screaming. Some of the Demon Brigade broke away to confront him. "Hello," he said, "hi, greater angel coming through, yes, excuse me."

Janther cupped his hands around his mouth. "Heal her!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. No one responded. The sphere must be holding in sound. He heard a voice in his head then, suddenly: -Alain, are you trying to say something?-

"Yes," he said. "Trissia is possessed. Someone needs to heal her for her to regain control. And keep them away from her."

"Zerthimon!" shouted Praxis. "Alain says to heal Trissia, so she can regain control."

"H-eal her. Yeah. Sure. Yeah, I can heal her. Excuse me." He backpedaled away from one of the fighters advancing on him and pointed at Trissia with his four-fingered hand. "Zap!" he yelled. "You are *healed*, sister!" Trissia ignored him and swung at Tach. "Hey, Trissia, I said you were *healed*!"

"Oh, for--"

"Tach!" screamed the mage with the crushed arm. "Tach, you've made your point; get us *out* of here!"

"You have not heard the last of us," intoned the battered cleric, and the Demon Brigade disappeared as quickly as they had come. Trissia flung herself into the mosh pit, roaring. Just then Syndy reached her and sprinkled something on her head; the bard collapsed immediately. "All right," shouted Luthien, jumping up onto the stage. "All right, pass her up here, please!"

"My work here is done," said Zerthimon, and reverted into Jarth. "Well, I see the mighty Zerthimon has saved the day!"

"Oh, *right*," said Tila. "Get your butt up here and start healing people. And dispel Janther's Hamster Ball O' Death."

Book Divider

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm *fine*, except that fuckin' fundamentalists killed my cellist and unleashed my fuckin'--" Trissia threw back her glass. "Thanks for you guys' help. This is the most counterproductive bunch of fucks I've ever met. It only even comes *out* when somebody knocks me out."

"It's time-sharing," said Janther. "It isn't strong enough to override your conscious mind. That's the weakest level of possession." She looked at him funny. "I--am a demon too."

She moved her head back, looking at him narrowly through the corners of her eyes. "Listen," she said, "if this is about some kind of perverted demon coupling thing, you tell your demon to take a long walk off a short pier."

"I--*what*?"

"I said stay away from my demon. I don't want it doing anything disgusting with my body and I don't want it talking to other demons. Got that?"

Janther opened his mouth and shut it. He shook his head like he was trying to clear it. "Your demon wouldn't listen to mine," he said.

"Oh," she said, and filled her glass again. "Well, if this is just about you and me, that's different. You look pretty good."

"This isn't about sex at *all*," he said. "I just wanted to say-- listen, I know it's not easy."

"Yeah, *no* kidding." She exhaled through pursed lips. "It didn't kill anyone, did it?"

"I don't think so."

"That's good." She opened an envelope and tapped powder into her drink. "Hey, I'll let you in on something. Cyanide puts the kick back into alcohol."

"How--did you discover that?"

"You probably don't want to know."

Book Divider

"I'm sorry, Syndy," said Janther. "We should have come earlier. I should have come earlier."

"I didn't know," she said. "I didn't think it was so urgent. I-- didn't know." She looked like she was going to cry.

"I'm sorry," he said. "None of us realized. Syndy, if I had known, I would have come. You have to believe me. I would not have let this happen."

She looked up at him. "I believe every word you have ever said," she whispered, with terrible simplicity.

Book Divider

He was a tall, shadowy figure, indistinct in form and dressed entirely in black. The sharp lines of his face cast his eyes and cheeks completely in shadow. When he moved his body rippled. "My lord," said Syndriannia, quavering a little.

"Not at present." His voice was soft and dry, like the wind. Syndy started to cry. "I don't understand. How could all this happen while I was in the human lands?"

"Who controls time," said the king, "controls Tirnanog."

"It wasn't her fault," said Janther.

"Of course not." He put his thin hand on her head and looked across to the orator. "You are the boy who closed the rift between Coramh and Duira Tun?"

Janther looked down. "I--am."

"Weren't you mortal then?"

He jerked his head up. "I *am* mortal. I am--I have been joined by a force of Sidhe. But I'm mortal."

The king looked at him. "No matter," he said. "It would seem you have your own alliance to forge, and your own war. What of you, little one, where will you go?"

Syndy shut her eyes. "My allegiance is always to you, my lord."

"But I am going into exile," said the king, "and I will not be requiring the services of a messenger. The yellow king sits in the castle now." Syndy put the heels of her hands into her eyes. "You will surely be accepted in his court."

"After siding with you?" blurted Trissia. "You can't send her--"

"We are aspects of each other," said the king, turning his shadowed countenance on the bard. "The wheel has turned. She will be safe there."

"As you wish," whispered Syndy.

"She doesn't want to go." Trissia jerked on Janther's arm. "Why aren't you *saying* something? She doesn't want to go!"

"Trissia," said Janther, softly. "She can't leave. She's part of the Sidhe."

"She can leave." He removed his hand from Syndy's head. "But if she leaves, she can never return."

Book Divider

"You're not really Zerthimon, are you?"

"It's that obvious, huh?"

"Yes," said Tila. "What's your real name?"

"You wouldn't be able to pronounce it," he said. "It's George."

"*George*? Why wouldn't I be able to pronounce that?"

"Oh. I guess you can pronounce it. Well yeah, like Jarth, I suppose. Anyway, hi, I'm George."

"Right. Well, I had one other question for you."

"Shoot!"

"What have you got under that kilt?"

"Uh... same as you, I guess."

"The--same as me, or the same as Max?"

"Why, what's the difference?"

Book Divider

"Look," said Trissia, "we're not interested, so just take your lunch and get the fuck out of our way, all right?"

"Touchy, touchy," said Wyvern. "What an aggressive girl you are, Trissia. What are you trying to hide behind that attitude? A forbidden vulnerability, a rape, an unwanted child?"

Trissia was blown back a step, suddenly quite pale. "I--that's none of your business," she stammered.

"But you're wrong, you see." He sprawled across the throne, the bloody arm dangling carelessly from his hand. "You are all my business, and I daresay I am yours. Even disregarding that, there's a certain... arrogance... involved in placing the source of your tantrums off-limits, don't you think? When you start taking your helplessness and rage and your own failure as a mother out on the people around you, it becomes their business. You are everyone's business, Trissia Maddyx. Why don't you curse about it a little. Maybe it'll make you feel a bit more in control." He turned his head from the staring bard, who for once didn't seem to have much to say. "George, George, George. Still hiding your true nature from your unsuspecting host?"

"Wyvern, Wyvern, Wyvern," said George. "Still condescendingly psychoanalyzing--erp!" He backed off a couple of alarmed steps as the thin man stood, some strange fire in his eyes. "That will do," said Wyvern, frighteningly soft. "You've already destroyed your friend Frank with your poor judgment, George; there's really no hope left for Jarth. Must you destroy the rest of them, too?"

"Frank?" said George. "What do you know about Frank?" "It's a little late for you to be demonstrating concern for him, don't you think?" Wyvern looked across at Praxis, and showed just the tips of his teeth in a smile. "The lonely psionicist. Todd, isn't it?"

"Praxis," said Praxis. "And far from lonely."

"The only one of your kind," said Wyvern. "If you are not lonely, perhaps it is because there are so many of Todd's kind." Praxis reacted just barely, his eye flicking up at Wyvern and his hand tightening. "Tell us, Todd, what were you doing three years ago?"

Praxis looked away. "Growing up," he finally said, softly.

"How charming. How many lives did you spend to finance the endeavor?" Praxis looked at the ground, flushed. "Or haven't you told your friends about your life as a gangland thug in Gwynedd?"

"It is not our pasts that make us who we are," said Janther. "It is what we make out of our pasts."

"Oh, yes." Wyvern turned to him. "The little demon that could. You'd better hope you're wrong, Alain MacLir. You have such a picturesque past, and it's an ugly path you're turning down now."

"Then I will walk it as best I can."

Wyvern shook his head. "You don't actually let him make decisions, do you?" he asked Max.

"With all due respect, Mr. Wyvern," said Max, "what exactly are we accomplishing here?"

"Not much," agreed Wyvern. "Humor me, Max; it's not every day I encounter such a group of delightfully messed-up individuals."

"You really should have caught us on a day Shilree was here," said Tila.

Wyvern dismissed her with a wave of his thin hand. "Spoiled, narcissistic runaway debutantes, now, obsessed with their own homeliness, those are a dime a dozen."

Tila looked wounded. "I'm not *that* homely."

"You had to mind-control Thurm into having sex with you," he pointed out.

Max was startled. "You *did*?"

"Oh, suck my left tit," said Tila, shaken.

"Max isn't very interesting, either," continued Wyvern. "Bastard children of marauding aliens: you've seen one, you've seen them all. Your mother never quite recovered from that, you know."

"That was my father's fault," said Max, "not mine."

"Of course it was," said Wyvern, almost soothingly. "It would have been much easier for her if you'd never been born, of course, but it's too late to do anything about that now. You just put it out of your mind and bury your head in heroics again." He turned to Endicott. "Ah, the conscientious objector with the bloodstained past. No wonder you find Praxis so attractive; you're birds of a feather."

Endicott folded his arms and looked at Wyvern with a wonderful contempt, not unlike the expression he might have had if the evil wizard had suddenly pulled down his pants and shit on the floor. He didn't say anything. Wyvern clucked his tongue. "So hostile. What was her name, the girl you beat that time?..."

"Amanda," said Endicott. "I have not forgotten her."

"Amanda. A lot of assassins turn down jobs like that, you know. You didn't have to accept anything quite so... violent."

"I am aware of that."

"She never did get her sight back in that eye, did she. At least the brain damage wasn't too severe."

"I have not forgotten," said Endicott. "Don't think you're reminding me of anything. You're wasting your time. The memory has not faded, and your repetition means nothing."

"You think you can solve any problem with enough discipline, don't you?" Wyvern smiled. "The problem with discipline is that it's never constant, no matter how good you get at it. There will always be those few minutes here and there where you let your guard down, every day, every few days. They're not going anywhere. Because your discipline is superimposed, and nothing has changed at all. One day you will forget at the wrong time. Your comrades should hope they are not in your way then." He smiled at Syndriannia with unpleasant pleasantness. "Hello, dear, and how are the Fairy lands?"

She looked at him dubiously. "They'll outlast *you*."

"I don't doubt it. I hope you enjoyed yourself in the mortal realms while they were getting into the state in which they will outlast me." She put her face in her hands. "And now that the damage is done, you've gone refugee. Don't you think it's a little selfish to abandon the world you destroyed over a schoolgirl crush?"

"Leave her alone," said Janther.

"I keep meaning to get back to you." He cocked his head at the orator. "The poster boy for the incurably naive. If you only had any concept of how easily I could break your psyche into a thousand pieces with the truth about yourself."

"I am not afraid of the truth," said Janther, softly. Wyvern pointed at him with the finger of the severed arm. "I would really love to spend more time with you," he said, with heartfelt sincerity. "You would be a great deal of fun. No; learn your own dark secret, there's more suspense in it that way." He scratched Spots' head with the dead hand. Spots flicked his tongue. "Your second pet may be the sanest of the lot of you. Fine animal." Wyvern sighed and tossed the arm on the table. "Well, Luthien." He turned his own hand and contemplated it for a moment, smirking, then leaned forward on his elbow. "How are you, boy?"

Luthien stood very still.

"You don't mean to say you weren't *expecting* me?" Wyvern raised one eyebrow expertly. "What *are* you doing here?"

"That's what I was trying to say," interposed Max. "We've come for the claw of Andovin."

"You don't say." Wyvern cocked his head. "I rather thought Luthien was here to kill me. Coincidence is a lovely thing. Close your mouth, boy; you'll catch flies. I see you've decided to follow the trade."

"You," whispered Luthien.

"Come now, it hasn't been *that* long. I recognized *you*."

"You murdered my mother, you son of a bitch!" hollered Luthien. Max grabbed him from behind. "Oh, now don't go insulting *my* mother," said Wyvern, sadly. "I loved her, you know." He caught the younger necromancer's eye. "I even tried to protect her from my father, for all the good that did. And yet, when it got to be my turn, I found myself somehow--moved. Do you know, Luthien, almost every child of an abusive relationship grows up to be abusive. Which leaves us with a very interesting question." He extended his hand across the table, his eyes boring over its palm into Luthien like coals. "Is a curse an external force, or is it a convenient name for a rot much deeper in the heart? What do you think, Luthien?"

Luthien was breathing irregularly and deep. "I--will *never*."

"No?" Wyvern shrugged. "Well, wait till the baby comes. I made it two. How *is* your sister? I really should look her up."

"Leave. Leave her alone."

"You're not powerful enough to kill me and take my place yet, Luthien. And you're too young to understand why you might as well join me. We can discuss this in five or ten years, when you're ready. You may have a new perspective on things by then." He smiled. Luthien breathed. "The claw of Andovin." The archmage opened a drawer under the table and took out what looked like a gold backscratcher. "I suppose I am a bit behind in child support." He started to extend it, then stopped. "Can I trust you with this, boy?"

Luthien didn't move. "*Trust* us?" said Max.

"It's just that I have this sneaking suspicion that *I* might have tried to use it." Wyvern tapped the artifact against his own leg, smiling with pursed lips. "Maybe you'd better take it, Max."

Max released Luthien to catch the claw. Luthien stood like a statue. "Wait," said Max. "What..."

Wyvern was gone in a shimmering twist of light.

"I don't understand," said Max. Tila moved in to examine the throne. Luthien stood shaking, his gloved right hand clenched, his mouth ajar, his jet-black hair stuck with sweat to his death-white forehead. "Luthien, don't listen to him. You're not like that."

"He's a motherfucking asswipe," announced Syndy. Even Luthien turned his head to stare at her. "*What*?" said Janther.

She shrugged. "Trissia said it sounded stupid when I called people jerkfaces," she explained.

"Actually," murmured Trissia, distracted, "uh, I changed my mind, Syndy. It sounds less stupid when you say jerkface."

"Okay."

Tila squinted critically at the gnawed arm on the table. "Funny," she said, "how unnoticed another Nylevian psychic has managed to go."

Praxis cleared his throat, without looking up. "He's not necessarily psionic," he said. "Any thieves' guild could have come up with that level of dirt about us, not to mention a scry."

"You think so?" Tila sat in the throne. "Spoiled and homely, maybe, but I've got two eyes in my head, and that guy was hitting every note. He was only saying things he knew we'd be susceptible to. I get the distinct feeling he was just messing with our minds." She drummed her fingers together. "Interesting how concerned he was with our moral lapses for a guy who killed his wife. Do we have any evidence that he's really Luthien's father, except his own say-so?"

"You think he's *not*?" said Praxis.

"I think claiming to be Luthien's father would be the most direct way to attack Luthien," said Tila, "if you're not. And I think that if a psionic necromancer had been running around Nylevia all these years the Diari would have heard about it."

"You don't mean he's a Diari spy?" said Praxis.

"The possibility had occurred to me," said Tila. "I certainly see no reason to accept anything he says as true."

"He looked like my father," whispered Luthien.

"Whoever he is," said Syndy, "he's mean."

Book Divider

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