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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel


Ebreth struggled to one of his forearms on the metal floor, trying desperately to block out the extraneous noises and sensations he knew damn well weren’t really there. It was a useless piece of knowledge. He might as well have been trying to ignore a heart attack. Somewhere between one breath and another, Khyrisse and the others seemed to have disappeared, but then that wasn’t necessarily reality either. Ebreth didn’t have the emotional energy it would have taken to worry about them right now anyway. Every fiber of sentience he had was tied up in battling his subconscious mind, trying not to slide into a full-blown hallucination of Hell. Anything in this Hotel would be preferable to that.

There was an irregular light, and then a blond woman in a white dress stepped through it into the white metal cubicle Ebreth couldn’t help constructing for himself. Not Khyrisse; not Brett. That was as much thinking as he could do about it right now.

“Why do you keep returning here?” she said. There were gold and scarlet feathers tied in her hair.

“What?” said Ebreth.

“Why do you keep returning here?”

“Are you all right?” Flicker repeated.

“I--I don’t know,” said Tor, looking through him with wide, haunted eyes. He must be having one of his flashbacks. Flicker didn’t have much experience with that sort of thing. There had been old Olaf Halfbeard back in Ringebu, who’d fought in the second Jotun War and would sometimes break down and see missile fire that wasn’t there. Flicker was just a child then, though, and couldn’t remember anything anyone had been able to do for the old veteran besides keep telling him the war was over. “The war is over,” Flicker said. “It’s all right now. You’re safe.”

“I don’t--I don’t understand,” said Tor.

“The Wall of your Memory will Echo your Sorrow,” the woman said, and touched the back of her hand gently to his head. “These Pictures of Sadness are not what they Seem.”

“I don’t--I don’t understand,” said Ebreth, trying to bring her into focus.

“Why do you keep returning here?”

“Is there something I can do to help?” Flicker asked.

The ex-slaver lost whatever internal battle he was fighting and collapsed with a wordless cry, his body wracking spasmodically.

“Apparently not,” Flicker sighed, and stood up from his side. “I guess I’d better see if I can find Tarrin.”

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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