"You'll have to excuse my behavior," the god said apologetically. "It's difficult to act sane when you carry the whole Past inside your head . . . things get–how shall we say it–noisy. Wars and such." He gestured vaguely, and for a moment Reuben saw a depth of grief and torture greater than any before––but then it was gone and the god was smiling brightly. "Come, I've been told to cure you; no need to waste time about it." He began walking toward the yawning blackness from which he had come and Reuben followed slowly, then quickly, for the god did not seem interested in making sure Reuben could keep up. "That's the one thing I don't have," the god continued, "time. Fhhraëe, yes, but then that's his domain. He's got nothing but time." He laughed violently and abruptly stopped. "Sorry, bad joke. It was funny a few hundred years ago . . . But that was–well, a few hundred years ago."
They were now in a much smaller room, though the ceiling was still too far up to be seen; an enormous table rose from the floor, carved in one piece; and there was a bench, and a nine-foot fireplace with a hearth as big as Reuben's entire room back in Synnq, and cupboards on the walls, and shelves, and a strange, sprawling face done in high relief over the mantle–really, it looked less like the furniture had been put into the room and more like the room had been chiseled around the furniture––indeed, Reuben could see that the table grew up out of the floor without separation. The god walked to the table, still talking.
"There's a lot of good jokes that just aren't funny anymore. It's a shame. Seeing humor die is like––" He suddenly cut the sentence off and, turning, stared pensively at Reuben. "Tell me, Dreamer: how much does your master tell you?"
"My–? . . . I don't know. As much as anyone, I suppose–I mean as any Dreamer––as much as he tells any Dreamer," Reuben spluttered.
"I understood the first time," Mmsynno said, still staring at Reuben. After a moment, he said, "Do you know about Qrreuias?"
"No, poor question," the god said to himself, waving his hand like the question was a bit of smoke and he was flagging it out of existence. "Tell me–Dreamer–tell me: have you ever heard a god laugh?"
"Here in Deëchnn?"
"Since that's where one can find them."
Reuben thought. "You know, I don't think so. Not recently, anyways. Maybe when I first came . . . No, wait! I heard you laugh. Just now, today, when the goddess brought me."
"I don't count. Well, I do, but–you know what, I just don't count. So besides me, you've never heard another god laugh?"
"And has Paag ever told you–well, do you know why?"
Reuben shook his head.
Mmsynno chewed his lip thoughtfully. "When were you Brought?"
"I was thirteen."
"How old are you now?"
The god scratched his head and muttered growlingly to himself; Reuben caught the words: "No, you're not; you wouldn't be forgetting if you were–"
They stopped, and Reuben found his wrist caught in the god's hand; the firelight shone through the holes that the fire-spit's talons had made, sending a strangely light-spotted shadow flickering against the wall.
Mmsynno had gone completely white.
"So it's you," he whispered. "A Son of Paag . . . "
Reuben shivered at the words; no good could come of such mad nonsense as that–Lÿhhraa's insanity would be safer.
And high above, a little spit of red was circling, circling, circling . . .
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