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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Ragnarok: Chapter 5

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" screamed Khyrisse. "You brought me back to life! I *specifically* told you not to bring me back to life in this goddamn temple!"

"I'm sorry," said Luthien. "Khyrisse, if we find your father, you're the only one who can talk to him."

"My father has *not* been here!"

"You don't know that."

"Khyrisse," said Flicker, "Luthien used a limited wish to save you. Stop shouting at him."

"It's okay," said Luthien, "she has the right to be mad. Khyrisse, it was important."

"Get away from me!" she yelled at Zzenith. "I have got enough slime on me!"

"Heal unhappy Khyrisse friend only wanted to Zzenith."

"Why? I'm just going to *die* again!"

"Zzenith heals if Khyrisse, less likely is she again to die."

"Trill," she cried suddenly, and whirled on Siobhan. "My God, what were we thinking? She could be anything! We never *questioned* her!"

Siobhan kind of looked at her. "Is she always like this?" she said to Praxis.

Khyrisse's hand was shaking. "She could be here to free her sisters. Read her mind. Read her mind!"

"Now what exactly are you accusing me of," said Siobhan hotly.

"Just *do* it, Praxis!"

"Fine, but whatever it is you're doing to me, I want you to be doing it to her too!"

"All right," he said, "all *right*! Calm *down*!" He paused. "Siobhan is fine."

"And her too!"

He paused again. "Khyrisse needs a vacation," he said, gently.

Book Divider

"Will someone *heal* him?" said Khyrisse shrilly. "He's a walking time bomb! He's going to kill us all!"

"I'm not one of Shilree's soul spheres, Khyrisse," said Flicker.

"Healing spells two has only Zzenith left."

"Well, use them on him!"

"I'm *fine*," said Flicker. "Save them for an emergency. Khyrisse, stand a couple of feet away from me and you'll be fine. My explosions are very self-contained. I didn't even kill Kerouac."

"*I* killed the evil Kerouac," said Signet, puffing out his chest.

"And I used her head as a spell component," said Tila. "Ha!"

"You *are* in pretty bad shape," said Praxis, "and you're the only one we can't raise from the dead, in a pinch."

"I'm also the only one who comes back on my own," said Flicker. "So don't worry about me excessively. I'm doing my best not to die on you, but if I do, I'll meet you back in Trade."

"Flicker," said Luthien, "I hate to bring this up, but you know, people in Trade *are* getting insane and evil, and the last thing I really want to deal with right now is a fairy-nailin' member of Spectral who knows everything about us."

Flicker rubbed his neck. "I don't talk about this much," he said, "because we're so intertwined. Because we need each other. But the truth is, Luthien, if push came to shove, Tjekanefir has every precedence. I am a major demon lord. And if it came down to it, we would help you. I wouldn't like it. But we would help you."

Luthien paused, very deeply. "I--didn't know that about you."

"Have you noticed how Lotus never tries to dominate me?"

"Tjekanefir--is in *charge*?" said Khyrisse.

"No," said Flicker. "We are. Together. But if it became necessary, he would be." He was quiet a moment. "When we're finished saving the world," he said, "remind me that my next project is doing something about your badly limited pronoun system."

Book Divider

"I don't know. She's stuck. The Mindnet's still up but I'm getting nothing."

"Could she be held?" Max pushed the end of his hammer in. It met with a lot of resistance.

"Hang on. I've got a net."

"You've got a *net*?"

"What?" said Luthien. "It's a *gladiator* weapon!"

"R-ight," said Waterloo.

The net froze in space as Luthien tossed it into the hallway, and he struggled with it but couldn't pull it back out. Max had to help him haul it back. "We are *totally* out of dispels," said Khyrisse.

"Maybe I can reach her. She's not far in." Luthien forced his arm into the hallway. It was obviously a great effort and his arm started, horribly, to blacken. Max grabbed him and wrenched him back. "Luthien!"

"OW!" Luthien shook his arm, painfully.

"What the *hell*?"

Luthien shook his head. "Temporal distortion," he said, through his teeth. "Heart in here, blood vessels in there. Not healthy. Don't recommend it."

"So she's frozen in time?"

"She's moved a little since we've been here," said Flicker, frowning in at her. "She's turned, just a bit."

"She couldn't be on Ataniel time, could she?" said Praxis.

"This is a *lot* more than seven times slower," said Luthien, still shaking his arm.

"It's just a few *feet*," said Khyrisse. "Max, can't you knock her back here with your hammer?"

"Not if I can't stick my hands in there."

"It could take her all *day* to get back."

"Shilree could use the Staff," suggested Flicker.

-I can't see!- she shouted.

"Alexis can guide you. It's just a few steps. All you'd need to do is get Tila in the armband, turn around, and come back. Tell me you couldn't do that in the dark."

Shilree blipped in, moving her fingers on the staff compulsively. "Where are you?"

"I'm right here. I'm going to put the armband on you."

Praxis cleared his throat. "May I suggest joining the Mindnet, Shilree? It wouldn't have to be permanent."

"No," she snapped, and put her hand on her face. "Listen, I'm already blind. I already can't use my spells. I'm not giving up my psychic protection."

"I'm just going to point you in the right direction, Shil. Get Alexis ready and set it to maximum speed. Okay?"

"You had better appreciate this!" she hollered ahead at Tila, flicked Alexis on, and rocketed into the hallway. She seemed to freeze up in mid-air, but her motion, unlike Tila's, was plainly visible. "You know," said Signet, "this is our big chance to--"

"Signet," snapped Luthien, "*you're* the one we'd leave."

"Oh," said Signet, a little crestfallen.

Book Divider

Khyrisse held her knees and rocked. "I don't want to sleep in the evil temple of the Weird Sisters!"

"We don't have a *choice*," said Praxis. "We've got no way to dispel those fields. And at the rate Shilree is moving it would still take us a day or more to reach the end of that hallway. If we camp here we'll have dispels, we'll have healing again, Shilree will have her vision back--"

"I like her this way," said Signet.

"All humbling aside," said Luthien, "we could have used her in that fight."

"They're almost--"

Shilree suddenly came barreling out of the hallway with roughly the speed of a cannonball, exploded into Flicker and knocked him entirely off his feet and onto the flagstone. "What are you doing in my way!" she screamed at him.

"Keeping you from smashing your head into that stone wall at full speed."

"Oh," she said, awkwardly.

Tila blipped in. "Well, that was weird."

Book Divider

"Khyrisse," said Flicker, gently. "Go to sleep. It's my watch."

"I can't sleep." She paced. "What if Eric's in league with them? What if this is all a plot of his?"

"Then we'll handle it tomorrow. You need rest."

"You don't *know* him. He's capable of anything."

"So is Wyvern," said Flicker. "There's only so far we can second-guess these people. Eventually we just have to push forward."

"We're wasting so much *time*," she cried. "Even if Luthien's right about the time difference, that Baniac has reached Quell by now. He's probably dead because of us."

"Maybe they won," said Luthien, rolling over. "Maybe they kicked the Baniac's ass. I bet Shannon is having sex with him right now. How long has she been alone on that island?"

"That's almost *worse*!"

Flicker blinked a few times. "No... Now wait a minute, no it's not."

"We left him locked up in a hut with a psychopath for two days!"

"Five hours," Luthien reminded her.

"Hey, come on now," said Flicker. "She's not *that* bad."

"She did kill you," said Luthien.

"Well, yes. But talking to her for a few hours isn't a fate worse than death here. She's not Wyvern."

Khyrisse shuddered. "*That's* not saying much."

Flicker rested his chin in his hands. "I hope you won't be too insulted," he said, "but one of the reasons Janther liked you so much was because you reminded him of her." Khyrisse looked at him. Her eyes were very fragile. "In--certain ways, of course. I mean, you didn't try to kill him."

"I tried to kill Eric," she whispered.

"He deserved it a *lot* more," said Luthien.

"She's just, she's suffered enough. Let her be."

"Well, *I* don't hate her," started Khyrisse, and stopped. "Yes I do. She was awful to me at the summit. That was the worst day of my life and she was mocking me. What did she have to do that for?"

"Don't--ask me to explain her," he said.

"She was jealous," said Luthien.

"Jealous? What the hell did she have to be *jealous* about?"

"You weren't married to Eric," said Luthien, "and she was."

It caught her so totally off guard that she laughed, aloud, putting both hands over her mouth as if she was shocked at herself for making such a noise.

Book Divider

Max blinked, thoroughly disoriented. "Where--where are we?"

"Ataniel," said Flicker, looking up at the night sky, "somewhere in the middle of the continent." He touched his ears. "Way above sea level."

"Bane," said Praxis, "is getting very close."

"Or someone wants you to *think* so," said Signet.

"That was definitely the portal we saw Paninaro go through," said Luthien. "They must be around here somewhere. Maybe that's even the way they got to Brytannwch in the first place."

"I'll scout ahead." Shilree polymorphed into an eagle and flew up.

Praxis blinked a few times. "We--we're on the Plateau. We're on top of the Plateau."

"Hot *damn*!" crowed Siobhan. "No one's ever been on top of the Plateau, have they? This is *so* cool."

"Not and survived," said Luthien. "We haven't survived yet, either."

"Actually, one of the Mithril Dagger Heroes did once," said Flicker, "Torin."

"Torin?" said Max. "Any relation, Tila?"

"Uh..." she said. "I don't know, really. My parents always said we were descended from heroes. But they would have said that anyway, you know."

Shilree came spiraling weakly down from the sky, an arrow speared through one of her wings. Max caught her. The arrow was black. Shilree fluttered her good wing piteously; Max yanked the arrow out, and Shilree abruptly resumed Diari form. Max managed not to drop her. "Ow!" she screamed. "Max, don't *do* that!"

"I'm sorry," he said, sheepishly. "I--I don't have a very high wisdom. What happened to you?"

"I have *no* idea. There's a camp up ahead, and somebody in it can hit a bird from a quarter mile."

"Edyric?" said Tila.

"Not on the best day of her life," said Flicker. "Can I see the arrow?"

"This is why Luthien should be doing the scouting, Shilree, if you won't let me keep in psychic contact with you. What if they had trapped you?"

"Could it be the elves?"

"Absolutely not."

"That was *not* a natural shot," said Shilree. "You can't even fire a pistol that high in the air."

"To be traveling fast enough to pierce a bird's wing after a quarter mile of gravity acting on it..." said Luthien. "Well, you'd have to ask someone even nerdier than I am, but the point is, that's damn fast. We're talking serious magic or something."

"All right," said Signet, "all right, give me the armband and I'll move in invisibly, but you guys have to *promise* to keep it down in there."

Book Divider

Marie was doing Syndy's hair. -How did she get loose?- said Luthien, with some alarm.

-Have another crust of bread, Marie,- said Tila.

-Marie is teaching me to make braids,- said Syndy.

Luthien put his hand on his head. -Syndy, you *do* know better than to untie Evil Philip, don't you?-

-*I'll* teach them *kissing*,- said Philip, and put his tongue out of his mouth.

Syndy giggled behind her hand. -I already know how to kiss,- she said.

-Me too,- said Marie.

Book Divider

"Come in," said the Baniac, looking straight at him. "Come in."

Signet gave up and took off the ring. "Excuse me, sir. I am a traveler, a, uh, lost traveler. Where the heck am I?"

"What are you doing here?"

-On three,- said Praxis.

"I was, uh, trying to teleport. And teleports just aren't working right anymore--"

"Then that is the last mistake you will make." The Baniac jetted fire into Signet just as the rest of the team flashed in and Luthien put up a wall of force around the tent. There was no expression on the Baniac's face but his body language was surprised. He pulled out a huge black sword but Tila backstabbed him before he could take two steps. He whipped the sword around at her, off-balance; with his foot he pushed the heavy desk over into Max and Nora. Nora's water elemental uncoiled from her arm and struck like a snake. -No magic,- Praxis reminded everyone, and took a swing at the grey warrior with his staff. As it connected his eyes went wide. -No!- he broadcast, panicked. -NO!-

Flicker shot the Baniac in the face. Praxis fled wildly but hit the wall of force. Soldiers had started to gather out there and were banging on the wall; Praxis banged on it from his side, an irrational look Flicker had never seen him with on his face. "Let me out!" he cried, aloud.

"Okay!" yelled Waterloo. "You have got to overcome-- your fears. Fear is not the master. You--are the master. Take control--of your fears." Flicker shot the Baniac again; Nora stabbed at him with her halberd but it deflected off his armor; Max hit him in the head with his hammer and his neck snapped back. He crashed to the ground. "You see?" said Waterloo. "If we work together, and adapt to our circumstances, anything--is possible."

"Help," sobbed Praxis.

"Hide in the armband, Praxis," suggested Luthien. "They can't get you in there."

"Give the armband to me," said Shilree. "Luthien can let down the wall of force and I'll be out of here with the staff before they know what's happened. Signet, can I borrow your ring of invisibility?" He balked. "Signet, it's your butt too."

"Okay, do you, like, swear on your Diari ancestors you're going to give this back to me?"

"It's got your filthy germs all over it. I just want it so I don't get shot again while we're escaping."

"Tila? Are you done looting?"

"Well, obviously," she said. "I'm standing here, aren't I?"

Book Divider

Khyrisse slithered under the door and solidified. "Papa!" she cried. "Papa!"

"Khyrisse?" he whispered, hoarsely. "Honey? Is that you?"

Luthien blipped in. "Oh, dear God," he said, looking at the horrific contraption engulfing what was left of Paninaro.

"Help will Zzenith."

"I--I don't know where to start. We've got to get these needles and tubes out of him."

"Khyrisse," said Derek, "where--what happened to your mother?"

"Papa," she sobbed.

"Paninaro," said Max, blipping in. "Paninaro, we're here to help you."

The god rolled his head blearily. "Do you have any-- alcohol?"

Flicker blipped in, taking out his flask of brandy, and then paused. "Are you--going to drink this?"

"Well, that *is* what one... normally does with alcohol, isn't it?"

"It's not very high quality."

"Beggars can't be choosers, hey?"

Praxis blipped in. "Paninaro," he said. "Sir. I'm the one who tried to contact you earlier. Four X's. I don't understand."

"What?" said Paninaro. "That's who--who's doing this. Destroying us. Destroying you."

"Forix!" screamed Khyrisse.

He nodded his head at her. "You--you got away?"

"I'm not a god anymore. They don't care. Oh, fuck, it's Shadow! Right in front of my face! Marlukin was right, I can't see four feet--"

"God?" said Derek.

"We've got to get him out of here," said Luthien. "We're making too much noise."

"Of blood Paninaro god drained has been," said Zzenith. "Right all ought he to be for now, but blood return to body his we can unless, die will he surely."

"Bring the blood," said Luthien. "Maybe we can do something."

Khyrisse seized up a crystal sphere with shaking hands. It was swirling strangely. "This must be my father's magic. This is what we saw in the scry. They've taken it from him. My father is free."

"I don't really remember," Derek whispered.

"Please hurry," Luthien implored.

Book Divider

Praxis stood on the cliff, looking down. "If this doesn't work," he said, "this is going to be a bumpy flight."

-It's our only chance,- said Luthien. -We know there's an anti-magic field, and we'll never make it down in time by foot.-

-I have never heard of a field that blocks both magic and psionics,- said Shilree. -They're fundamental opposites.-

"I was more worried about the Traveller," said Praxis. "If you all pop out in mid-air there's going to be nothing I can do."

-The artifact just ensures passage and communication,- said Nora. -No anti-magic field can collapse a dimensional space!-

-We don't know,- said Luthien, quietly, -but it remains our only chance.-

"I know this may sound strange," said Praxis, "under the circumstances, but now might be a very good time to pray."

Book Divider

The side of the mountain rushed by in the viewscreen. -The Spiral Path,- said Paninaro. He was fading visibly. -You must find the way to banish Shadow. Use the Spiral Path.-

-What about Trill?-

-I don't know anything about her,- said Paninaro. -What I know is, someone's got to banish Shadow. And it doesn't... look like it's going to be me.-

-Paninaro.- Luthien was shaking. -Paninaro, don't do this. You've got to help us.-

He shook his head weakly. -I am... so sorry,- he whispered, and died.

Book Divider

Trade was basically burning. Dead and dying men were nailed along the length of the city walls, some of them moaning. Khyrisse's hands shook. -My city. Look what she did to my city!-

In the Traveller they could hear Shilree's heart, unnaturally fast. -Listen,- she thought rapidly, in Diari. -We're not ready for this.-

-Dalen,- yelled Luthien.

-Praxis is drained. I'm exhausted. We need spells. We've got to rest.-

-We can't waste any more *time*,- cried Khyrisse. -We've got to push on.-

-I'm tired,- said Tila, crossly. -We can't beat up a witch queen and a shadow lord when we're half awake!-

-Sure we can!- said Siobhan. -I'm for it!-

-Not to mention without healing,- said Nora, touching Siobhan's arm gently.

-What? I'm fine!-

-And without our psionicist,- said Luthien. -Shilree's right. Find us someplace away from the city. I can shield us from scrying again.-

Book Divider

"Luthien," said Flicker. "Would it endanger us too much if I put those people out of their misery? I don't need to sleep."

"*No*," said Shilree. "Flicker, you'll be killed."

"Who would notice? They'd just die a little quicker."

"I don't like to see them suffer either," said Luthien, "but we can't risk this now."

Flicker nodded, slowly.

"Well, *I'm* going to let them down."

"*Signet*!" yelled Shilree.

"*That* they're going to notice," said Luthien.

"Not if I'm careful."

"You think they're not going to notice you pulling people off the wall!"

"Look, I'm willing to take that chance," Signet said.

"With our lives?" shouted Shilree.

"You won't be able to save them," said Flicker.

"With my life!"

"For God's sake, let him go!" shouted Tila. "You're giving me a headache! If they kill Signet, that's *his* problem."

"It's *our* problem," said Luthien. "He knows where we are and he knows what we're planning. They can find that from him even if he's dead."

"Why should I listen to Shilree and Luthien? You guys are the *evil* ones."

"This isn't evil!" said Shilree. "This has nothing to do with evil! We're trying to save thousands of people, and we need your *help*, Signet. We *need* you. Would I say that if it wasn't *true*?"

"Those people need help too!"

"Signet, what are you going to *do*?" said Flicker. "You can't just rip these people off the wall. You'll kill them."

"He will not," snapped Tila. "Crucified people die of suffocation. I was just reading about this."

"Or of exposure," said Flicker, "or even starvation; it depends on the position, but I assure you, if he tears them off the wall, it will be shock."

"Didn't you see the Blue Fairy?" said Khyrisse. "She fell apart in my *hands*, Signet. It's too late for those people."

"At least they'll have a chance!"

"No, they *won't*," said Luthien.

"If this sphere is annihilated because of you, Signet, they aren't going to care," said Shilree. "We have greater responsibilities."

"Uh! Shut up!" said Tila. "Shut *up*!"

"Signet." Flicker leaned forward. "If you pull those people down you will rip the heads of those nails through their bodies and you will cause massive damage. I *died* this way once."

"Listen to someone who knows," said Luthien.

"Even if they survived they would just bleed to death," said Khyrisse. "You can't heal them."

"They'll have a better chance than they will on that wall!" Signet stood up. "Look, I'm going, and you can't stop me!"

Luthien stunned him. "Oh, *fuck* this!" screamed Tila, and slammed into the armband.

"Luthien." Flicker stood up. "I'll go with him." The necromancer looked at him. It was quite quiet. "I have healing proficiency. Signet can use his pliers to pull out the nails and I can try to staunch the bleeding. We'll take the Traveller and we'll carry them away from the city. If we run into trouble I promise you we'll flee. And." He put his hands into his pockets. "If worst should come to worst, I will self-destruct and destroy the evidence."

"We can't afford to lose you," said Shilree.

"You won't. Regardless."

Luthien's eyes flicked reflexively to Praxis' unconscious form, but there were no answers there. "Promise me you know what you're doing," he said, low.

"I know what I'm doing. Let him go."

Go on to Chapter 6
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