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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Better Think Twice On It, Jack

“Why won’t she just tell me what they want from me,” Ebreth growled, hoisting his way up the embankment. “I’m sick of all these intimations. Can’t she just lay this on the table and be done with it?”

“Maybe that’s part of the test,” Jack suggested, scrambling after him.

The pirate snorted. “We’re all doomed, then. I’ve never liked these mind games... and I’ve never been any good at them.”

“Well, what did you used to do in situations like these?” Jack brainstormed. “In your past life--the bad one?”

“Lost patience with it all and killed whoever kept talking in circles, usually,” Ebreth said.

“Well, maybe you just need to be more patient this time, then. You know, show her you’ve changed?”

“Hnh,” he said. “That would be easier than getting smarter, I guess.” He rubbed his mouth. “Do you ever think about your destiny, Jack?”

Jack frowned. “I’m not sure I have one,” he said slowly, trying to remember why not.

“That was what I always figured,” Ebreth said. “But now it seems like I’ve got one, or I could, anyway, and I’m not sure if I want it or not.”

Jack had a flash memory of swinging a samurai sword awkwardly into a sneering man in robes; the world around him pixellating, and going to white. He had to sit down on a nearby rock, shaken by it. “Do you think it matters?” he asked, not exactly sure why he was asking it.

“I don’t know,” Ebreth said. “I go back and forth on that. Mostly I just don’t want to screw anything else up. I’d like it if people remembered me after I’m gone, but I’ve got a vague feeling that’s mostly vanity on my part, or maybe insecurity.” He paused. “Maybe it doesn’t matter. I mean, you don’t remember me, do you, much?”

Jack wasn’t sure how to answer that. “I remember you’re a good person,” he finally said.

“I go back and forth on that too.” The air rippled and a young woman with a silver ponytail stumbled out of nowhere and into a nearby briar patch. “Heads up, here comes everyone.”

“Whoa!” said an anxious-looking man in plate mail, hurrying to her side. “Are those stinging nettles, or are they, like, the good kind?”

“Fuck!” screamed the woman. “All right, which one of you morons imagined the fucking pricker bush?!? Raise your hand so I can fucking kill you now!”

“Uh, cleric?” ventured the man.

“Coming,” sighed Valende, and Jack, who had been standing up to help the woman in the briar patch, had to sit back down again. She was even more beautiful than Jack remembered her, but her eyes were tired, her mouth thin-lipped, her grip too tight on the hilt of her golden sword. A sadness all her own...

Jack looked up dizzily. A few minutes had apparently passed. The silver-haired woman had been extracted from the bramble; a little Diarian boy was saying something to him in a strangely familiar voice, a blond elf in a purple lace bra was kissing Ebreth. Khyrisse, Jack remembered, in another mini-tide of memories. Marching grimly through Hell with him, her hair braided so tight it looked painted on. Leaning across the bar of the Mithril Dagger to inspect a rat bite on his hand. Weeping over her son’s body as Jack... stood up to leave. Pixellation. “Are you all right, Jack?” said Skitch’s voice.

“Sure,” Jack fibbed. “Just, uh, woolgathering.”

“Thanks,” Rani sighed, as the blue glow faded from her scratched-up arm. “Hey, Khyrisse, underwear check.”

“What is it now,” Khyrisse sighed, and looked down at herself. “You guys! This is like adventuring with a bunch of horny 14-year-old boys!” She scrunched her face up in exaggerated aggravation, and was suddenly wearing a completely shapeless gray robe. “That one was your fault, wasn’t it?” she demanded, scowling at Ebreth with a twinkle in her eye.

“I think it was yours,” he said. “That was quite a kiss.”

“I missed you,” she said elliptically. “I’ll explain later. Jack, I forgot to ask; how’s your mathematical integrity in here?”

“Uh,” Jack said, and squinted.

“I mean, we’re obviously not interplanar, but I can tell all the constants are off... is that going to be affecting your equation?”

All the words made sense, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out how they were supposed to connect. “I’m sorry,” he gave up. “I--I’m having some problems with amnesia.”

“Oh, dear,” Khyrisse sighed. “I suppose that explains why Aithne’s upset with you, doesn’t it... I’ll try to explain to her it’s just a math thing. In the meantime... well, what do you suggest, Vas, flowers?”

“Chocolates,” Vas said. “Tobrinese ones.”

“Khyrisse,” Ebreth said. “It’s not Jack, Khyrisse. It’s Jack.”

Khyrisse blinked at them a few times, the giddy flippancy on her face fading drastically. “Oh my God,” she said. “Jack?”

The sword dropped from Valende’s numb fingers and shattered on the rocks at her feet.

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