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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Things Can’t Get Worse So They Gotta Get Better



“Jack?” Val said numbly, the rest of the Hotel blurring into a dim roaring sound in her ears. “Jack, you--is that really you?”

“I, uh, think so,” he said.

“But we thought you were dead,” she cried. “What happened to you?”

“That’s the part I don’t really, uh, remember,” he mumbled. “I came to in a cornfield in Darwood... I didn’t remember anything. But it’s been starting to, uh, come back.”

He looked away with such characteristic Jackish awkwardness that Valende literally had to pinch herself to keep from decompensating any further. “Jack,” she managed, her frayed nerves straining with anguish, joy, and a terrified disbelief. “Do you--do you remember me?”

“Uh, well, yes,” he said. “Not everything, but--yes. I remember you.” He looked at her with a strange expression, somewhere between wistful confusion and nausea, and had to steady himself on a nearby boulder. I probably look the same. So help me Sehanine, if this is another test, I am going to show every Sidhe in the building the meaning of the word ‘fairy-nailing’... “I’m married,” Jack said very abruptly. “I mean I--I have a wife, in Darwood.”

Valende was surprised how like a punch in the stomach it felt. She hadn’t been all that interested in a romantic reconciliation with Jack in the first place, and certainly wouldn’t have thought of one now; but the way he felt like he needed to tell her that hurt more than anything had in a very long time, and she just wasn’t in a state to absorb blows right now. “This is remarkable!” Vas rescued her from having to answer by exclaiming. “All this time, and you’ve been just under our noses in Nylevia? Why on earth didn’t you come looking for us?”

“I didn’t know who you were,” Jack said. “Just... a half-memory here or there... sometimes a dream. Not even your names, not until I came here. I wouldn’t have known where to look.”

“I think if I woke up without my memories, Jack, I would at least go to a few of the more major cities and ask around to see if anyone was looking for me.”

“It--it didn’t really occur to me that anyone would still be looking for me, I guess.” He sat down on the rock, and looked across at the rising sun with a dizzy sort of look.

“Yeah, well,” said Ebreth. “Some of us have a longer attention span than you give us credit for, Jack.”

It was the straw that snapped the camel’s back; Valende turned on him, her thin veneer of calm joining the Sword of Corellon in pieces on the ground. “As opposed to?” she faintly snarled.

He looked a bit taken aback. “I don’t--”

“There is nothing wrong with my attention span, and there is nothing wrong with the caliber of my friendship either, thank you very much. If you want to brand me a slut that’s your business, but I did my damndest to save him and I have never forgotten--”

“--I never said you were a slut,” said Ebreth.

“Val,” Rani said through her teeth. “There’s gonna be su-monsters soon.”

Valende knew it was true, but she didn’t care. She’d been through too much in the past twenty-four hours, too much in the past year, and dammit, she was tired of holding it all in, tired of being the mature one. “I have never forgotten him, never stopped hurting over the circumstances we parted in... and it wasn’t all my fault, and I have had it with everyone from you to Mina to my own brother to Shilree the Fucking Diarian telling me how unfairly I treated him, so will you all just--”

“If I’m, uh, causing trouble, I could just go now,” Jack said timidly.

“No,” said Khyrisse. “It’s the Hotel. The same thing happened to me earlier... this place is a sinkhole for negative energy. Pull yourself together, Val. It’s just the Hotel.”

“I don’t want to blame this on the Hotel,” Valende barked at her friend. “For once in my godsforsaken life, I want to be angry. Maybe you were all better friends than I was, but I tried my best, I gave it everything I could, didn’t hear word one out of any of you about the fact that he left me for the damnable Remnant and then when I turned to someone else it was--”

“Please leave me out of this,” Rani said into her hands.

“I never said she was a slut,” Ebreth said to no one in particular.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

It was the one sentence Val had no strength left to defend against; she broke into tears and collapsed, weeping, to the ground.

“Dude,” said Marty, after a moment, “not to, like, change the subject or anything, but I thought there weren’t undead things on Ataniel anymore?”

“RRRRRRRRaaaaaaWWWWWrrrrrrr,” said the undead thing, pushing its other arm out of its shallow grave.

“Oh, fuck,” said Skitch.

Her body shaking with uncontrollable sobs, Valende nonetheless managed to reach for the hilt of her undead-slaying sword.

Which, of course, she didn’t have any longer.

Could this fucking day get any fucking worse if it fucking tried?

***

“My lady.” Aithne bowed to Rhiannon of the Fens. “What is your wish?”

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