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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

That Ain’t Got The Faith To Stand Its Ground



“I don’t know,” Khyrisse said, pressing her temples. Her migraine was so bad by now she was starting to feel nauseous; hopefully it wasn’t dulling her mental faculties much. All that we’ve been through in here, and I’m still stuck at the same point I was when I walked in the front door: finding Ebreth, finding Jack and getting out alive. Why can’t any of us focus, dammit...? “The Rat says he’s in here too, and Asinus doesn’t know which Jack the Word was referring to. Rani can’t locate him... I was hoping you might be able to.”

“Sure, I’ll see what I can do.” Flicker looked calm, praise the gods for that much anyway. Tarrin’s sanity had held out longer than Khyrisse’s would have, but right now he looked like a trapped fox getting ready to gnaw his own leg off, and the rest of the Rat Pack was obviously long past ready to crawl back into their bedrooms and take no visitors for the next few days.

“I’m afraid it would be a waste of your efforts,” said a gossamer-winged sylph quietly, materializing beside Flicker. Not Syndriannia, though Khyrisse did have the nagging feeling she’d seen her someplace before. “His fate has been bound to another’s, Sunfighter. You won’t be able to bring him with you.”

“And we should believe that why?” Val said belligerently.

“I’m afraid you’re just going to have to have faith, Valende.”

Khyrisse recognized her then, suddenly and sickly. “The Good Blue Fairy,” she blurted.

“You can call me Eruza,” she said in a soft voice, brushing a long strand of cerulean hair back from her face. Khyrisse’s stomach knotted; the only time she’d seen the sylph before was removing her tattered carcass from the Trade Gate in Talaria. It was not a happy memory. “Truly, we have nothing to lie to you about, mortals. You have chosen your destinies--” She did favor Rani with a frown, but didn’t slow her speech. “--and we desire your return to Ataniel now as much as you do. But this Jack Paris has no soul.”

There was a pregnant pause. “That’s it, then?” demanded Val, her voice cracking a little. “If you don’t have a soul, you just--don’t matter? He must have earned some kind of destiny, damn it!”

“Maybe he has and maybe he hasn’t,” Eruza answered, her gaze flitting to the other Jack, who looked awkwardly down at his shoes. “But if he has a destiny, it’s something he’s going to need to work out for himself. In this House, we deal strictly in souls... and the simple truth is, he doesn’t have one.”

“Fine,” Khyrisse said shortly, cutting off whatever Val’s retort was going to be. “We can worry about the metaphysics of this later, can’t we, Val?” The priestess acquiesced with a bitter silence, her eyes shooting daggers at the sylph. “The point is, he’s our friend, and soul or no soul, we aren’t leaving without him.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have that choice,” the Good Blue Fairy said apologetically. “His fate will depend on the archetype of Ebreth Tor.”

***

“You want to save my soul?” Ebreth said, squinting at Lita. “Why?”

“Well I know it didn’t exactly work out, Ebreth,” she sighed, “but you were my one True Love, if you’ll recall.”

“I didn’t mean why do you care,” he said, “I mean why does my soul need saving?” He paused. “No, wait, why do you care? I betrayed you and drove you to suicide in that other life, didn’t I?”

“That’s what I mean,” she said. “I failed. This is my chance to finally get things right. They’ve talked to you here--haven’t they? About the man you used to be?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But I didn’t understand a word of it, to be honest with you.”

“Are you sure?” said Lita. “Or did you just not want to understand it?”

“Now how the Hell would I know that?” He sighed. “I’m not a very insightful person, all right? Coyote Jay said I have to make some kind of decision about sorting my soul out, either going back to my old self or leaving that behind for good. Well, I’m all over leaving it behind, obviously, but he won’t just let me. There’s some sort of complication with Jack. I’m apparently the only one who can get him out of here, and if I--well, I have to make promises I don’t understand about my soul to make it happen, right, and I’m scared shitless about what that’s going to mean. I worked so hard to turn myself into the person I am now. I’ve been through Hell twice. I can’t just--” Ebreth waved his hand fruitlessly.

“--stake it all on some random game of chance?”

“Yeah,” Ebreth sighed, and sat down on the sand. “But I can’t just leave Jack here, either. Not after everything he’s done for me.”

“I don’t know how to help Jack,” Lita admitted. “I’m not an avatar here, or anything... I’m just a ghost from a distant past. But I do know Jack’s heart, and I know he wouldn’t want anyone to lose their soul for him. And... and neither would I. I’ve come a long way and waited a long time to tell you this, Ebreth Tor. The man I loved, the man who killed me. I forgive him. Let his shadow stand over you no more.”

***

“Goddamnit, boy,” growled Jackson’s father, as the two men grappled beneath the refinery’s glow. “You’re pissing away your future here. Why the hell do you gotta do everything the hard way?”

Jackson Cage didn’t usually raise his voice. “Cause they ain’t gonna do to me what I watched them do to you!” he shouted.

The Hotel walls echoed it, down through the empty halls.

***

“Forgive--” Ebreth shook his head, and stood up abruptly. “No. No, I’m not buying it. Look, I don’t know who or what you are--”

“I told you,” she said. “I’m the ghost of Lita Paris. This is the Hotel, Ebreth. There are no lies in this place.”

“Well that doesn’t mean there’s much in the way of truth. Coyote Jay gave me a choice back there between moving forward, and moving back. It doesn’t take a thaumaturge to see you’re trying to influence it.”

“Guilty as charged,” said Lita, “but do you really know which path is which, Ebreth?”

“I know there are some things that can never be forgiven,” Ebreth said. “And either you’re more naive than I thought, or you’re trying to trick me into letting my guard down against an evil I will not bring home with me.”

“Or maybe I’m telling the truth and I really am here to save your soul.”

“Then tell me how I’d know the difference,” he shot back.

“With your heart. Believe, Ebreth.”

“How can you forgive him?” he exploded. “Lita, he didn’t even care. I really hate to do this to you but he never loved you. If it wasn’t for Jack I wouldn’t have even remembered you.” She flinched, albeit in a ghosty sort of way. “There must have been hundreds of people he did things like this to, and he just didn’t care. You can’t forgive someone who wasn’t even sorry!”

“Yes, I can,” she said, with a wan smile. “That’s how forgiveness works. Forgiveness is like love, Ebreth. It’s unconditional--and it’s stronger than reason. Stronger than hatred... and even stronger than fear.” Lita looked directly into Ebreth’s eyes, and didn’t look away. “His crimes are over now,” she said, “but my love endures past death.”

“This is insane,” Ebreth said, after a beat. “He didn’t deserve your love in the first place, Lita.”

“You still don’t understand, do you?” She smiled up at him with the profoundest sorrow imaginable. “I loved him because I knew he had it within him to become you.”

Ebreth staggered and went to his knees, his face a brilliant mask of emotions under his shaking hand, and then he got up and went for the door.

“Where are you going,” Lita said very softly, like she already knew the answer.

“To get us out of here,” said Ebreth Tor.

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