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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Line Where Dreams Are Found And Lost

Rani’s eyes were rolled back disturbingly in her head as she combed the Hotel for stragglers, leaning on the bar for support. “So,” Vas broke the awkward silence, “Valende, is that--true? That the wicked of our race are not reincarnated, I mean... that their souls are consigned to Hell?”

“Yes,” Val said simply.

“You never told me this.” Vas scratched his head. “No one did, in fact.”

“We don’t like to belabor the point,” the priestess said quietly. “It’s not our belief that threatening people improves their character. Those who are inclined to listen to religious teachings in the first place are not really the ones at risk of going to Hell.”

“Hm,” said Vas. “I’m... not sure if that sits right, to be frank. One likes to believe in second chances.” He shook his head. “Ah well. The world will not mourn it much if depraved souls like Nox don’t get recycled.”

Khyrisse said nothing. Her mind was still awhirl with all the rejoinders she could have, maybe should have, spoken to Geryon. A ringing defense of human rights standards, somehow. A defense of her husband’s morality, even though Geryon hadn’t called it into question. A brilliant plan Marlukin had somehow overlooked for how to deal wisely and justly with evil souls. Part of her wanted to offer to take them, at least a few of them, reincarnated as infants, maybe, try to teach them a better life. It had to be better than feeding the furnace of Hell. But what would she do when one of the devil children failed to take the lesson and attacked her own daughter, some time Khyrisse wasn’t there to step in? And with the world so full of shades-of-grey people so much more deserving of her sympathy, time and energy, would she really want to be saddled with the souls of people so bad all the other gods had already declared them lost causes?

Khyrisse sighed, and gave herself a mental smack. Face it, she told herself, this is personal. If it weren’t for the thought of Ebreth being tortured like that, and by extension Pieret, and by extension maybe somewhere back in the far recesses of her heart even Eric, she wouldn’t give a hang what a bunch of evil ratbastards did to each other in their afterlife. A cosmic waste, maybe, but not her problem.

And yet... and yet.

“Got it,” said Rani’s voice. “Hold tight!” Before Khyrisse could even finish looking up she felt Vas’ grip on her forearm, a rude jerking sensation, and then she was landing on top of him in a dark and dank sewer. Khyrisse had such a headache.

“Khyrisse!” yelled Skitch, running over.

“Thank you!” shrilled the Rat from his shirtfront.

“Marvellous work, Rani!” exclaimed Vas, helping Khyrisse to her feet with a dignity only Vas could achieve when there was open sewage flowing by not a foot away. “Only Mina and Ebreth left to go, and we can bid farewell to this gloomy place at last. Oh, and Flicker,” he remembered as an aside. “But he should be able to find us, or so he suggested.”

“No, we can’t go yet!” said Skitch, hopping up and down in agitation. “We have to find Jack!”

“Jack’s right here, Skitch,” said Khyrisse, pointing at him.

“Not that one, the other one! Aithne’s Jack... the one who lives in New Trade!”

Khyrisse boggled. “That Jack’s in here too?”

“How two incarnations of a same Idea can be same place in a same time?” Aithne demanded.

“Uh,” said poor Jack, looking more confused than Khyrisse had ever seen either of them.

“Oh, bugger me,” groaned Rani. “Skitch, he’s the one person I can’t track in here. Are you sure about this?”

“Yes!” Skitch said stubbornly. “We’ve got to find him! If we leave without him, he could get stuck here forever!”

“Please, we cannot remain here much longer,” Tarrin implored Khyrisse, true panic starting to crack his voice. “My wife--she is dying!”

“I know, Tarrin.” Khyrisse pressed her temples. I can only imagine what a wreck I’d be, in his shoes. “But we can’t risk abandoning Jack here, either. Let’s--let’s find Flicker. He’s not psionic, maybe he can locate Jack for us.”

“Or maybe we can find the nearest fairy and beat the truth out of ‘em,” muttered Rani.

“Whatever we do,” begged Tarrin. “Please make it fast.”

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