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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

When It Was My Turn To Be The God



Khyrisse pressed her hands into her eyes so hard she saw stars. I am not going to screw this up again. NononoNO. Details, dammit. More information. Merde, I’m going to be sick. “You’re telling me,” she forced herself to say, “that I can prevent the Madness? Go back in time, stop it all from happening... erase this past year and a half and just, start over?”

“Of course,” Marlukin said. “If that is your destiny.”

Dinna go trippin’ down roads yer not prepared to live with thinkin’ it’s just some pointless test, Khyrisse dizzily remembered the Concierge warning her. The choices here are true choices, whether ye understand them or not. The consequences are real. “And my husband,” she said tightly, “our daughter...?”

“Will never have existed, of course,” Marlukin said. “There will be other good things lost as well. That’s all part of the nature of the universe, ¯. Every timeline has its positives, and every time you make a choice you’re closing the door on some of them. That isn’t really the issue here.”

Yes, it is, Khyrisse wanted to cry, but she didn’t. She clenched her fingers into fists and forced herself to think, as rationally as she could. What would Ebreth say, if she asked him? Tell her to go, probably... so many people died in the Madness, he wouldn’t put his own life above that. Lissa couldn’t answer if she wanted to, though. She was only just born. Could Khyrisse unmake her own child? I’m a hero, she had the sudden flash memory of Ember. Sucks to be me. It wouldn’t be the first time the girl had been altered right out of a timeline, would it. She’d done it to herself, the last time.

Khyrisse buried her fingers in her hair, shuddering. “Would,” she said in an even littler voice. “Would I--remember them?”

“That is not your decision,” Marlukin said. “Your husband is in this Hotel too, and his legacy to the world is his place to determine, not yours.” His voice was severe and gentle at once. “I’d say you have enough on your plate as it is without worrying about other people’s destinies, Khyrisse, wouldn’t you?”

“You--could say that, yes...” Khyrisse gave up on not crying. “Dammit, why does everyone always make me choose between my heart and my head?”

“Is that what I’m doing?” Marlukin said. “Strange. I could have sworn I was offering you your choice of second chances.”

“You’re offering me the chance to save half a million innocent people by sacrificing the one moment of happiness I ever--”

“You weren’t happy as a goddess, then?”

“I--” Khyrisse swayed in place. “I was,” she whispered. “I--I don’t know what I--”

“Then think about it,” Marlukin said forcefully. “Your concern for other people is one of your admirable qualities, ¯, but it is not the point this time. Yes, the Madness was a terrible disaster, but there will be others, and there will be those that would not have occurred if you stayed in the timeline you’re in now. Do you understand yet? Some will suffer less with one choice, and others will suffer more. You will drive yourself mad making decisions that way. Even the Danae cannot see all of the infinite worlds at once, much less use them to perfect the universe.” He put his hand down onto her shoulder, at once an admonition and a comfort. “Do not fall into the trap of weighing others’ lives, Khyrisse. You are not here to decide the fate of others. To a small extent, you are here to decide the future of divinity on Ataniel, whether there are to be gods on this world or whether men are to reach up to the primal forces themselves. But even that should not be the grounds for your decision. You are here to determine your own destiny, ¯. Are you to be a goddess, or a mortal? You complained your hand was forced the first two times you were asked. This is the last time, and your hand is not forced. What do you want to be?”

“I--” Khyrisse’s head swam with visceral, yearning images. Nursing her infant. Her wings unfurling. The pulse of the cosmos in her veins. Her face nestled safe against Ebreth’s chest. She couldn’t bear thinking that the kiss she gave her daughter last night was the last she would ever give, that the last “Good night” Ebreth had given her before the Hotel swallowed him up was the last time she would ever hear his voice. But she couldn’t bear thinking she would never see those achingly beautiful patterns of the universe again, either. Since her fall Khyrisse had been privately imagining that if she did a good enough job with New Trade she might somehow, some way, become its goddess again. A silly dream, she knew. This was the real thing. And this was final.

Her whirling mind belatedly informed her of the sharp pain in her right hand, and she glanced down to see that her fingers were clenched so tightly that the Godmaker Ring had cut into them. She watched a bead of blood roll down its side, hypnotically. Another flash series of images: the night she had taken the ring from the wedding finger it had occupied for twenty-five years. Ebreth bringing her scarred hand to his lips. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. The black-red stone winked up at her. If Marlukin thinks I’ve finally gotten my shit together, that’s--that’s at least half Ebreth’s fault. Am I really going to kick him to the curb now so I can take the credit for it? She closed her eyes. He didn’t do that to me when Hell was staring him in the face. “I can’t do it,” she said aloud. “I--I’d give anything to be a goddess again, Marlukin, but--not the kind of goddess I’d be if I had to get there by stepping on the heads of people who love me.” Her voice was surprising her by strengthening, and she opened her eyes. “I couldn’t live like that,” Khyrisse said. “That’s not who I want to be. I earned the happiness I have. I went through so much to get it and I made changes in myself that were really hard and I’m a better person and I earned it. I won’t sacrifice that to ambition. I--I’d rather be a mortal who gave up her dreams for love... than a goddess who spent the rest of eternity hating herself.” She fetched the lantern where it had fallen. “And I--and I miss Trade, and I wish I could save it. And I miss you, Marlukin.” She looked at him. His expression was unreadable. “And I wish I could bring you back. But I just can’t do it. Not without becoming somebody I wouldn’t want in a position of power. Not without becoming somebody I wouldn’t want to be.” Khyrisse unshuttered the lantern. Her hands were surprisingly steady. “I choose mortality,” she said. “I choose my family. I’m sorry, Marlukin.” She couldn’t bear to look back at him again. “I choose love,” Khyrisse said, and ran barefoot over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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