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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Like A Rat In A Maze

Seeker of Places scurried down the steam tunnel in a traditional zigzag pattern. It did not seem to be fooling the pursuing terrier much.

Seeker was logical-minded enough to realize that the terrier probably was not real. Honestly, what would a dog be doing in an extra-dimensional space that was larger inside than out. It was just ridiculous once you thought about it. Still, the snapping teeth did evoke a certain fight-or-flight response that it was difficult to put aside. And besides, the Rat had learned by hard experience to be wary of closing your eyes and ignoring things just because they weren’t real. What you didn’t know could hurt you sometimes.

Unfortunately Seeker noticed too late that the tunnel he was in was going to end in a brick wall in another hundred rat-lengths or so. His mathematical route-projection mechanism rarely failed him, but nothing in this house of many rooms connected up the way it should. There should not, for example, be a window here. This wall was nowhere near the outside of the building. But there it was, more of a vent hole really, about three-quarters of the way up the brick face.

Too small for the terrier, the Rat thought, although who could really tell in this perspectiveless place. It was his only chance at this point anyway, so he leapt to one of the steam pipes, yelping at the heat beneath his sensitive toe pads.

The dog was right behind him, and to Seeker’s horror, he lost his footing on the pipe. He slipped nearly eight inches downward, caught himself on the nearest valve and tried desperately to scramble back up onto the pipe structure before the dog’s jaws could close on him.

Then a human man stepped through the brick wall and picked up the Rat in his hand.

The Rat breathed half a sigh of relief as the terrier barked and whined its protest. Only half a sigh, though, because the Rat didn’t recognize this man, and strange humans were as likely to perform bizarre experiments on him as they were to rescue him altruistically, in the Rat’s experience. “There you are,” said the human. He was older than the Rat’s friends, and dressed in long mage’s robes. This made the Rat immediately suspicious. Only NPC wizards ever dressed that way, and they were usually villains, like Aelwyn, Shalak, and the King of the Kings. “I have a message for you from Khyrisse.”

“Thank you?” the Rat squeaked in confusion, and then suddenly relaxed as he recognized the stranger’s reflective eyes. This was Khyrisse’s friend Flicker. The Rat wasn’t sure why he looked so different, but he wasn’t sure why a dog was chasing him through a steam tunnel, either, and he wasn’t about to look a gift human in the mouth. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” smiled the man, and put the Rat gently on his forearm. “We seem to have entered some sort of continuity matrix. How familiar are you with temporal mechanics?”

“*Squeak*,” the Rat squeaked modestly. His field was really spatial topology.

“*Grrrfff*,” muttered the terrier, and marched stiffly off down the corridor, unwilling to add insult to injury by subjecting itself to any further conjecturing about its nature.

“It doesn’t matter,” murmured the mage. “I’m not the one you need to talk to anyway. I’m just here to pass on a warning. You’ll have noticed that this place doesn’t conform to standard physical laws.” The Rat nodded his head. “Since it’s not physically finite in the proper sense of the word, it won’t be possible to leave physically. We need to use the same connection to reality our entrance caused in the first place.”

“I understand,” agreed the Rat. This made sense.

“Retracing that route will erase it. If we leave anyone behind when we go, they’ll be trapped here.”

The Rat’s guard hairs stood up in alarm. “*SQUEAK!*”

“Indeed.” The mage started back down the hallway, a pensive look on his face. The Rat held on tightly to the fabric of his sleeve. “The question now is how we’re going to get everyone back together so we can activate the return vortex as a group. I’m able to move freely within the Hotel, but I don’t have any power over it. And it seems that two or three souls is all the psychic fabric here naturally holds without temporally displacing one of them. I’m not really sure how we’re going to get around that, short of fusing them together the way I’ve done with mine, that is.”

“*Squeak,*” the Rat said thoughtfully.

“Yes, maybe Jack will have an idea.” The mage nodded. “Perhaps you had better try and find him.”

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