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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Arrival



“All right,” said Garal, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. In the middle of the Rat Trap lounge, the otherworldly outline of a disconcertingly ordinary-looking blue door. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep the connection open... if you’re going to go, it had better be now.”

Mad Sallie held the sleepy baby out to Khyrisse for one last kiss, while Val ran through a quick and businesslike head count. “Milady, Vas and I, Skitch; Flicker, Tarrin and Karellion; Rani, Marty, Asinus, Aithne, and Miss Paris. That makes twelve.”

“Thank you!” protested the Rat from Mina’s breast pocket.

“Thirteen,” Val corrected. “Sorry, Seeker.”

“Isn’t that an unlucky number?” Skitch said uneasily.

“Don’t look at me!” Garal raised his hands defensively. “I’ve been drafted into three parties that way, and it’s not funny anymore!”

“It’ll be fifteen once we find Jack and Ebreth,” Mina smiled. “One more reason to find them!”



***

Khyrisse alighted on the sanded floor of the Hotel lobby with an unearthly hollow click. Her senses were screaming at her as they hadn’t in years: here was Power. Khyrisse had been a goddess, once. The butterfly pattern of her true seeing spell flared to life around her eyes as her friends and teammates filed through the door behind her. Yes; the whole room a lattice of energies in flux, time bending, light redshifting subtly. The pulsing web of energy behind her was somehow as visible as that in front of her.

Then the fifth-level spell overloaded and crashed, and there was nothing to see but the incredibly mundane-looking hotel lobby once again. But Vas, as her magic-dilated eyes came to rest on him, abruptly flickered and winked out, then Aithne. Khyrisse jerked her head around rapidly, a bit wildly. Val, and Flicker, and Karel, blinking out like fireflies in the night. For a moment she thought she saw Vas again, at the periphery of her vision, but when she turned her head to try and bring the elf into focus, he was gone. “What the-- flark--” Khyrisse shook her head and closed her eyes tightly, wondering if the problem was with her, but when she opened them again, she was alone. “Uh... guys?” she said a little lamely. “Val... Karel? Can anyone hear me?”

“Not bloody likely,” said the woman in sharp green and gold uniform who had suddenly materialized behind the front desk. “Is it a package tour ye thought ye were takin’ then?”

“Shannon?” Khyrisse rubbed her eyes disorientedly. “What--what are you doing here?”

“I belong here, lassie. Unlike some people I could mention.” She sniffed and tossed her hair. “But to answer the question, I’m not precisely Shannon, not the way yer meanin’ it. That’s just the interface yer brain’s settled on so as not to explode. Ye can call me the Concierge if it please ye to, and miserable lot o’ gatecrashers or not, I’m here to help ye.”

“You...” Khyrisse wrinkled her forehead. “You’re the Sidhe?”

“If ye like things in one syllable. Consider me an avatar--an impression, if ye will, left behind from Shannon’s visit to us. What I really am is the one who does the admittin’ around here.” She put her hands on her hips and gave Khyrisse a glare that was all Shannon. “Now, just what in the bloody hell do you think yer doin’ bargin’ in here as if we were some kind of pissant alternate universe fer yer adventurin’ enjoyment?”

“I--” Khyrisse said, and shook her head dizzily. “I’m looking for my husband--Ebreth Tor.”

“Did he not take the garbage out before he left or somethin’?”

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