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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Gauntlet



The last three doors Khyrisse had tried opening were all locked.

This was turning into a significant problem. Khyrisse hadn’t wasted a slot on the knock spell in eight years: there were always Tila and Schneider, then Ebreth and Rani, and in between she had been divine and capable of being in two places at once. She did have disintegrate memorized, but only once, and she wasn’t about to waste it on a random door that might or might not be useful.

Damn that Concierge, anyway, Khyrisse thought shakily, trying not to glance at her butt in the long hall mirrors as she went past. Here she thought she’d been doing so well with the confidence issues lately, and one well-placed salvo by a bitchy fairy was enough to leave her in emotional disarray. It didn’t help that practically every female she or her husband ever interacted with looked like a flarking movie star. Khyrisse was a pretty woman, but in constant comparison to Valende and Mina and Aithne--or, for that matter, Shannon, Silverlace, and Omeria--she felt like a short, awkward, disheveled, and rather boring frump. With greying hair. And a big scar across her belly. He wouldna be the first man to find his eyes strayin’ a bit here. Khyrisse shook her head forcefully. Of all the idiotic things to be worrying about. But the damned Sidhe had juxtaposed things as trivial as the state of Khyrisse’s ass with things as deep-seated as her total lack of distinction as a goddess, and all in Shannon’s sly brogue; keeping things in perspective right now was really beyond what meager store of patience she had. Finding Ebreth and Jack, she reminded herself. Making sure no one gets left behind. Locking myself in the bathroom with a bottle of Dyved wine and having a good old-fashioned bawl over being ultimately forgettable can... wait.

The sorceress took a deep breath and tried the next door, and this one opened. Well, there was a start, anyway. The room beyond was round and its only exit, she saw immediately, was on the second story. The ramp up wound around the perimeter in three tracks, sort of a terraced labyrinth. Khyrisse’s mage-trained mind lent itself well to spatial puzzles, and one slow rotation was enough for her to plot the route from entrance to exit. All right, there. I’m not totally useless...!

Shhh-shhhhh-sh-shhh, something whispered.

Khyrisse blinked a few times. What the flark was that? She stopped as still as she could to listen; nothing but vague fluttering, that and the thumping of her own heart. Did I imagine it? It had been almost like words, and... almost in a voice she knew.

A few more moments of silence, and Khyrisse sighed and started up the ramp. This place had her on a razor’s edge. She’d never felt so many butterflies in her stomach before, not even on the run from Eric, not even lying awake in the Temple of the Weird Sisters during Ragnarok, not even waiting that excruciating day for Ebreth to propose to her in Rimbor. Despair and die, she thought, and stopped cold. What the-- why did I think that?

“Despair and die,” whispered a voice at her right elbow. Khyrisse jumped back with a gasp. Nailed to the wall beside her was--oh, gods, it was Briet Macauley. With a terrible sinking feeling the former goddess suddenly realized what those butterflies in her stomach were: the fragmentary memories of her former citizens, the ones she’d been intermittently trying to coax back into her little mortal corner of reality for the past two years. Working free, taking shape. Oh, fuck, have I dragged them here? “You abandoned us,” Briet whispered, her face blank and emotionless as a ghost’s. “I believed in you. I prayed to you as I lay dying. You were nowhere. Now you think you can just pull me out of your pocket like some kind of metaphysical cheerleader any time it pleases you?”

Khyrisse’s mouth fell open. I wanted to honor you, little flame. I wanted to learn from you. I wanted to fulfill my promise to you... I wanted a second chance. “I,” was about all she could manage.

“When I gave part of myself to you,” whispered the apparition, “I thought you would know what to do with it. I thought you deserved it. I want it back.You let us die and now you use my memory to amuse yourself until the next time you feel like reveling in violence. You let me down, goddess.”

“Despair and die,” whispered an echoing chorus of voices, and Khyrisse saw to her horror that the ramps were now ringed with the bodies of Trade.

“I’m sorry,” Khyrisse managed, her heart almost beating out of her chest. “I tried to save you. I did my best. I’m sorry it wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry.” She wanted to turn and flee this hellish room more than she’d ever wanted anything in her life; but there was Ebreth, somewhere in here, and he needed her. Khyrisse might have let down the people who believed in her as a goddess, but she was damned if she was going to repeat the performance as a mortal. “I’m doing the best I can,” she told Briet’s ghost, her voice choked with tears.

Then she pushed past her former worshipper and started shakily up the ramp.

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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