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Ebreth crawled out from under the dead mass of the dragon, hacking at the overwhelming brimstone smell the corpse was releasing. This thing was far too realistic. “Are you all right?” asked Brett.
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” He straightened, feeling his ribs. “Have some bruises tomorrow I guess. That was one hell of a monster.”
“Looks like a subadult to me,” she said, touching the corpse with her foot.
“A what?” Ebreth demanded.
“Juvenile, pet. A full-grown dragon is a good eighty feet long, you know. This one’s barely half that.”
“Well what did you want me to do, throw it back?” He flung his bloody arms out. “I just killed a fucking dragon! You drag me out of bed without my coffee, send me to some other dimension, and sic a dragon on me; now you’re going to ride my ass because it’s too fucking small? Let me out of here!”
“Peace, Tor,” Brett murmured. “You’ve come a long way to go to pieces over a wounded male ego, now, haven’t you?” Ebreth frowned at her. “That wasn’t really a dragon, as you should probably have guessed by now; it was a manifestation of an internal demon of yours, some shadow you find yourself boxing with. By its size I can guess it wasn’t one of the more powerful ones. So I would gently suggest, with no insult intended toward your combat prowess, that you find some way of externalizing these things besides physical violence. Things don’t have to get especially gruesome in here; but if that’s how you’re going to be coping with things, I should warn you that that dragon was merely the tip of the iceberg.”
“I--see,” said Ebreth, looked at his hand, and dropped the sword to the ground. “Well, all right then; what do you suggest?”
“Getting to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible, pet. You can get lost in as many digressions as you have unresolved issues, but it won’t help your case a bit.” She gestured up at the night sky. “Do you see the stars up there?”
“What?” Ebreth jerked his head around dizzily. They were standing on the beach together. No sign of the dead dragon. “What the-- where are we? What happened to the Hotel?”
“You don’t understand at all, do you?” said Brett, shaking her light head. “I am the Hotel. You are the Hotel.”
Ebreth almost wished he had another dragon to fight. He stepped forcefully on that thought before it could do anything he’d regret. “This metaphysical stuff is not my forte, Brett,” he said. “Can you just give this to me straight, please?”
“All right,” Brett said. “What do you want Ebreth Tor to mean? In fifty, two hundred, three thousand years; how do you want the world to remember you?”
“I think it would probably be better if no one remembered me at all,” said Ebreth.
Brett cocked her head to give him a look. “Is that what you want, Tor? Is that really what you want?”
“Look, I committed a lot of serious crimes, my last lifetime,” Ebreth sighed. “I figure if I can get the world to just forget about that, I’ll call it a win. Why, how did you want to be remembered?”
“Not as one of those bitches that ruins children, mostly,” she murmured, her eyes even deeper and sadder than usual. “But this isn’t about me anymore, pet. I’ve made my choices and my sacrifices, and I have my place in those stars now. For the rest of time, whether they know it or not, whether I know it or not, there will be a woman haunting the edges of men’s dreams, and that woman will be me. Defining yourself by what you’re not... well, you wind being something you are anyway, Tor, whether you mean to or not. You’d be better off striving for what you would choose to be remembered for in the first place.”
“Then as a, a father,” he said, “and a friend. I can’t believe this is what this is about, Brett. You dragged me onto another plane at three in the morning to talk about how I’m going to go down in history?”
“This is where it all comes from, Tor,” said Brett, or the face that looked like Brett’s. “There are no gods. There is no fate. There is Ataniel, and there are the people traveling to get there. This is just the place we stop along the way. Who will you be when you reach that sky, Tor? We are our own gods. We are our own legends. You are part of it; which part do you want to be, or do you want to be the part that lets someone else choose for you?”
There was a beat. “I want to be the one who turned, turned it around,” said Ebreth. “I want to be remembered as someone who showed that it’s never too late to stand up and turn it around.”
“Good answer,” said Coyote Jay’s dry voice, behind him. “Now the million-dollar question: what are you willing to give up to get it?”
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