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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth.

“Women,” said Asinus.

“Women,” Vas agreed glumly. He turned over his shot glass.

“Can’t live with ‘em.” Asinus turned over his.

“Can’t live without ‘em,” Vas sighed, as the tavern wall rippled and the Rat Pack came barreling through. “Sister. Milady.”

“Well timed,” Asinus said. “I was just about to drink flyboy here under the table.”

“You and what army,” muttered Vas.

“Still need Mina, Skitch, and Tor, do we? One of you got the Rat?” Khyrisse and Jack checked their pockets reflexively. “Guess not. So who’s the new guy?”

“New guy?” Khyrisse said blankly.

“Yeah. You.”

“Oh, I’m just paladin-boy’s ride,” Geryon said, nodding his chin at Marty. “I’m not coming with or anything.”

“Damn it!” screamed Khyrisse, jumping back from the archdevil about a foot. “Stop sneaking up on me or I meteor swarm, you pkhahsat!”

“Your pronunciation sucks, kid.”

“I’m going to save you all,” Marty interjected proudly. “At least, I, like, think I am... that was what it said when I opened the scary cookie.”

“How do you put up with him on a daily basis?” Geryon asked Rani behind his hand.

“Piss off,” she said.

“Friendly lot you are. Haven’t they invented Midol up above yet?”

“Rani’s rather tired of having her will imposed on by the Sidhe,” Khyrisse explained, in a far-too-sweet voice that left no question as to whose side she was on in that conflict. “I, on the other hand, just happen to hate you.”

“Hey, if there’s one thing there’s never enough of in this world, it’s a burning hatred of people you’ve never even met,” Geryon shrugged. “That’s what Lilith always says, anyway, and she pays me not to disagree with her, so.”

“I know everything I need to know about you,” the sorceress hissed, her left fist clenching despite herself. “I’ve seen.”

“You know nothing.” He turned on her finally, his cat eyes glinting in the amber light of the tavern. “What do you think you know? You think you could keep order among the damned? I’d like to see that. You can sit there wringing your hands about how mean we are till Lucifer rises from the dead, but the fact is you couldn’t keep five of them under control for five days. Marlukin tried it. Twice. Morvon tried it. One of those Diarian guys whose name I can't remember tried it. They all came crawling back to us. No one in heaven or on earth has ever been able to keep these people in line, because you don’t have the stomach for it. No one’s escaped from Hell in the last two thousand years, Khyrisse Starshadow, and after what we did to Blackfeather and Tor, no one’s going to try it for another two thousand, either. If you don't like it, you don't have to watch.”

Khyrisse’s desire to argue with that and her desire to beat the bastard to a bloody pulp deadlocked, and she wound up kind of standing there for a moment in stunned silence. “But you are lying,” Tarrin blurted over it. “Diari souls are reincarnated into the gestalt... kiljhac sin-gods have no power over us!”

“Man, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times,” Geryon sighed. “It’s like you all have a little pull string in your extra finger. “I can’t be in Hell! Kiljhac sin-gods have no power over us! I want to talk to my lawyer!” Shyaaah. Rekzyr doesn’t want these fucktards any more than Arawn does. The fact of the matter is being locked up with thousands of other sociopaths is going to be Hell anyway, and we're the only ones who know how to keep them in line. The elves don't want ‘em reincarnated, the Diarians don't want 'em incorporated into their gestalts or whatever, the humans don't want 'em making everyone in Annwyn miserable, nobody wants 'em back on Ataniel, and we're the only ones who have ever been able to keep more than about 100 of 'em subjugated at once. Ever.”

Khyrisse found her voice then, and came down hard on the side of talking. Ebreth, after all, wasn’t here to make a show of defending, and her desire to exact vengeance on a phantasm was a peculiarly hollow one. Arguing with a phantasm, though, was a different story. I’ll be damned if I won’t take a stand on this one. “You want to explain to me just what the point is, then?” she demanded. “Are these people ever going to be not-evil enough to send elsewhere, or are you just some kind of--of glorified trash dump? All I'm seeing is a lot of effort and a lot of pain just to keep these people under control, and for what? What the fuck kind of deterrent system is that supposed to be?”

“I'm not in the business of rehabilitation,” Geryon said. “In case you'd forgotten, I'm an evil archdevil. I don't really care about deterring anyone in your realm from anything. This is the society I belong to, and I do my part to keep it pleasantly non-anarchic, just as you do with yours, I assume. The members of my society just happen to take a stronger hand to keep in line. So I have one. And they stay there.”

“I see,” Khyrisse said sharply. “And that makes it all worth it to you. All the--the suffering, the brutality. All the cycles of abuse. This must have happened to you when you first got to Hell, right? Do you even remember that?”

“It makes it all worth it to all of us,” Geryon said. “Look at what happened to Ataniel when, what, 50,000 people went fairy-nailin' for a few days? We've got almost 200,000 souls in Hell, they're all at least as bad as that, and they're more experienced at it. You want them wandering the earth? No, you do not. Keep your criticisms to yourself, lady, because you're part of this machine. What we do makes what happy endings there are on your world possible. You want us to keep 200,000 of the worst men and women of the past few millennia out of your hair without crushing their spirits? You have no idea what we're dealing with down there. What we do makes your freedom possible. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” He backed off, looked at Marty again. “So enjoy your heroic destiny thing,” he said. “How fortunate for you that there’s people like me doing the dirty work so you can have that luxury. Be seeing you,” he added in Aithne’s direction, and then he wasn’t there at all.

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