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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Cause Cheap Is How I Feel

Khyrisse stepped through the glass-and-silver door into yet another room, this one apparently some kind of museum of elven art. Trying to navigate this place was near-impossible, Khyrisse was realizing. It was comforting to know Ebreth was all right, and since Jack was with him, the equation was less likely to get lost in the psionic shuffle than Khyrisse had feared. The bigger worry occupying her mind right now was gathering the formidably large team and getting them out of here before anything dire happened to one of them. If my... experience... with the voices of Trade is any indication...

The wall rippled like liquid, and then Rani fell right through a mural of Corellon Larethian’s triumphal march and caught herself, barely, on a marble sculpture display. “I’m all right,” she wheezed, waving away Marty Hu’s helping hand. “Did I lose anyone?”

“Vastarin, Skitch, Marty and myself,” Val counted. “We’re looking good.”

“Oh, Rani can manipulate the Hotel space!” Khyrisse was profoundly relieved. Then I was right to bring her...! “Listen, I’ve found Ebreth and Jack, and they’re--”

“Uh...” Skitch interrupted awkwardly. “Khyrisse, your, uh... clothes...”

Khyrisse looked down at herself. She was wearing fishnets and a few feathers and not much else. “Oh, for the love of--”

The sorceress concentrated impatiently until she was wearing her full suit of leather armor. “I thought this was why we left Garal home, people!”

“Don’t look at me,” Rani muttered. “Tackiest lingerie I ever saw. It was probably Vas.”

“Why not,” Vas said bitterly. “Everything else I do is small and cheap and plastic; might as well blame me for the existence of sleazy underwear as long as I’m here.”

There was a slight pause. “I, uh, didn’t mean it like that,” Rani said.

“Are you okay?” Khyrisse ventured, her eyes flicking questioningly to Val.

Valende bit her lip. “Rani, dear, do you think it would be all right if my brother and I took a moment... privately?”

“Yeah, sure.” The psionicist was already looking steadier. “I’m starting to get the hang of this. Just don’t leave the room and I should be able to keep a bead on you. I’ll be ready for more travel shortly.”

Khyrisse looked after Vas worriedly as his sister drew him behind a nearby statue for a talk. “Do you know what happened to him?” she asked her other teammates in a low voice.

Rani shook her head. “Didn’t figure it was my business,” she said.

“He told me his girlfriend was never coming back,” Skitch volunteered. “I don’t know what she said to him, but he--” The boy spoke in hushed tones, looking over his shoulder. “He said he wanted to die. You’ve got to try to talk some sense into him or something. He’s really starting to scare me.” Khyrisse sighed. “I just don’t get it--how could anyone care about a relationship that much? You didn’t even kill yourself after Eric Stupidhead threw you out the window.”

“Doesn’t mean I didn’t wish I were dead, sometimes,” Khyrisse murmured ruefully. “I doubt Vas is going to kill himself either, Skitch, he’s just... trying to express how bad he feels, I think.”

“Well, I hope you’re right,” Skitch said, and rubbed his temples in a disconcertingly Diari way. “I also don’t understand--I thought Vas didn’t believe long-term relationships were important. He never cares when he leaves anybody else. How can he be this upset about someone else leaving him?”

“I think you may have your cause and effect backwards, kiddo,” Khyrisse said, subdued. She’d known her friend was still in love with the departed goddess, of course, but as usual hadn’t realized the emotional consequences until it was too late. Khyrisse wished she had a proficiency skill in the Insides of People. “None of his recent relationships have been serious. When people--get hurt--sometimes they pull in. Reject intimacy. Avoid putting themselves in vulnerable positions.” Gods know I’ve done enough of that. “Haven’t you learned about any of this from your psychology department?”

Skitch shook his head. “Relationship counseling is an upper-level class,” he said.

Khyrisse couldn’t argue with that. “Well,” she said, “anyway, Vas has been going out with people like Ieshala and Vickie, Skitch. They’re looking for the same thing out of a relationship that he is, right now. It’s not like he’s trying to make himself feel better by taking advantage of people... he’s not going around breaking hearts.”

“He broke one,” Skitch said quietly, and folded his arms.

Khyrisse stood still for a few moments, half-paralyzed by the rush of patterns coming suddenly into focus. How many of them were part of this machine--convinced of their own valuelessness, running away instead of risking more rejection, withholding the things they needed from each other rather than exposing another weakness? “Well Vas is an idiot,” she heard herself saying before she could think about it any longer, “but I wanted you.”

Skitch’s cool didn’t even put up a fight; he burst right into tears and buried his face in her shoulder. Khyrisse sighed and stroked his hair with her fingers, her own vision blurry, and all she could think of was Eric: so callous he advanced a minor agenda by first romancing and later abusing a teenage girl he cared little for, so perfectly guarded he couldn’t even call Shannon and ask her to come on home. Who had done that to him, somewhere in the lost recesses of the past? “I love you, Skitch,” Khyrisse confessed ruefully. “No matter how pissed off you make me, no matter how far apart we grow... you’ll always be my kid. When I said otherwise in June, I was lying.” She looked up at the mural, the imperious, pure faces of the elven gods who had left Val and Vas behind. “This legacy stops here,” Khyrisse said.

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