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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel


"I was hoping..." Khyrisse twisted her handkerchief awkwardly between her hands, unable to bring herself to look Tarrin in the eye. "Well, it's like this. Ebreth is lost in some extra-dimensional soul crucible thing called the Hotel, and I'm worried he might--well, if he doesn't handle it that well, he--" She bit her lip. "Well, we might need a psychiatrist, is what I'm trying to say. And you're the only one who was able to do anything for him in Salagia. I--I know we didn't exactly part on the best of terms--"

"Khyrisee," the Diarian interrupted gently. "I'm sorry about all the culture clash, but I am still the same Tarrin. You don't need to build a case. I will help any way I can."

Khyrisse hung her head. "Thank you, Tarrin," she managed. "I'm just so worried... if he got like, that, again, I, I don't know..."

"I doubt it," Tarrin said reassuringly. "Ebreth still is having dissociative states, yes? So you can see, reliving his trauma does not send him into the catatonia. Probably it will not in this Hotel, either."

She made a long, ragged sigh. "Thank you, Tarrin."

When she opened the office door to show him out, Valende was already waiting outside. Her expression was a worried one, and the look on Khyrisse's face didn't improve it any. "Problem?" Val said quietly, glancing back over her shoulder at the departing Diarian.

"No..." Khyrisse sat back down at her desk and wiped her face with the handkerchief, trying to regain her composure. "No, that was just--harder than I expected. Nerves, I guess. Bad blood. That and I'm more frightened for Ebreth than I'm trying to let on." She gave a wry smile up at her friend and confidante. "How'm I doing with that?"

"Not too well," Val admitted ruefully. "Khyrisse... you didn't just invite Tarrin along on this Hotel business, did you?"

Khyrisse winced. "You think it was a mistake?"

"I think this whole thing is a mistake," Val sighed. "Khyrisse... I don't think this mission calls for the Rat Pack. Hear me out," she said, raising her hand to still the younger elf's knee-jerk retort. "The Rat Pack has many admirable qualities, Khyri, but psychological steadiness is not one of them. The last time we faced metaphysical tests Cori failed and we lost her. From what Asinus says this Hotel is much more serious. The more of us go in, the greater chance there is one of us might be harboring a weakness that will doom us. Would Jack or Ebreth thank us for that?"

"Asinus and Mina have secondhand information from hundreds of years ago," said Khyrisse, "and it's hazy at best, Val. I'm not abandoning them there on the basis of your speculations about such sketchy information, I'm sorry!"

"I wasn't expecting you to," said Val, a little sadly. "But listen to the voice of experience, Khyri, and don't bring the Rat Pack. Emotional instability could destroy someone, if not all of us."

"Look," sighed Khyrisse, "I wasn't going to ask Schneider, Val."

"I'm not entirely sure of myself," Valende said frankly, "or of you. I am certainly not sure of Aithne. I like her, but I just don't trust her, not in a situation like this. She would do very terrible things if she thought they were necessary."

"So would I," muttered Khyrisse.

"Dissuading you from going is something I already know is beyond my power." Val smiled ruefully.

"Then go try to dissuade Aithne. I'm not going to. She deserves to know what's going on, Val. She's Jack's girlfriend."

Khyrisse hadn't meant it to hurt, but Val looked down anyway. "And Rani?" she said. "Why did you call her? Her psyche is a painful knot, as you are well aware."

"She's the only one I know who has any reliable control over magical constructs!" Khyrisse stood up agitatedly. "Val, this mission is more likely to be doomed by your overanxious worrying than by weaknesses in our souls. If you're afraid you stay home!" Val flinched very hard, and Khyrisse blinked. "You are, aren't you?"

"Afraid?" Valende said softly. "Yes. I fear what I may find in myself. I fear what my friends may. I understand your concern for Ebreth in some sort of crossroads of the soul, Khyrisse, but if anyone's stable enough to give him help with it it's Jack. The rest of us... may not come out of confrontations with our dark sides as people they'd like to see."

"If this is about the Madness," said Khyrisse, with more than her usual astuteness, "nothing you did then has anything to do with your dark side, Val." The priestess didn't answer. Khyrisse sighed. "Besides. We don't know that this place has anything to do with confrontations with our dark sides. All Mina said was that we bring our own baggage. That could be anything. Stop second-guessing yourself." Khyrisse squeezed the older elf's hand. "Val... you really don't have to come. I won't hold it against you."

"Vas is going," she whispered, dully. "I can't persuade him otherwise. I have no more choice than you do, Khyrisse."

"Well, if someone's judging our souls," said Khyrisse, trying to be light, "surely the fact that we're trying to help our loved ones must count for something?"

"We can hope," said Valende.

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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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