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The party enters Rip's Time Dome, which shows signs of a break-in and a struggle. Flicker gives a notebook concerning Timrin Dalliar to Rhynwa and asks her not to tell him details therein, for continuity reasons. Shilree introduces Alexis, who scans the notebook and saves it to hard disk. Flicker attempts to track Rip's assailant, and does a lore check on the Oroborus. Rhynwa skims the notebook for pertinant information. Shilree checks Rip's jacket. Schneider and Tila attempt to break into all Rip's drawers (Schneider is particularly looking for a diary, log, or monitoring system, and Tila for something tempting.) Max takes and examines Rip's weapon. Also, Flicker asks Zzenith to consult the wisdom about pursuing Rip's assailant through the time portal.
The trail of blood led from the portal marked "Final Journey" to the floating chair Rip often jaunted around in when he wanted to remind people he was considered a god. The shattered remains of a pitch black metal sword lay to its side, also immersed in Hunter's blood. There were three long char marks along the console in front of the chair, presumably from the odd hand weapon Rip often carried. The weapon itself had slid into the corner of the viewscreen room.
C.J. was nowhere to be found. Neither were any other of Rip's usual coterie. A small piece of yellow parchment hung, as if by magic, to the main viewscreen. Inscribed upon it were the words, "Rip, Found the x-ref you wanted on the S problem, meet you then. C.J."
There was a small clear area on the console beneath the viewscreen, next to the board of runes Rip used to access it. Piles of various colored papers were piled haphazardly under a notebook distressingly coincidentally (if that) titled "Interview Notes: Timrin Dalliar".
Rip's leather jacket hung relaxedly over the corner of his chair.
The door labelled "Time Portals" hung open, swinging off of its top hinge. A sign that had once hung on the doorknob had fallen to the floor. Beyond the door, the glow of Rip's time portals almost hummed audibly.
Most prominent, however, was a new sign (at least, new to those who had been here before) that had been beautifully carved in a large block of wood over the primary viewscreen. It simply read, "Resist Temptation".
The portal shut behind them.
Flicker picked up the interview papers, opened them, shut them, paused deeply, and then handed them to Rhynwa. "See if there's anything pertinent in here," he said. "Don't give me details. I don't want to get any deeper in time paradoxes than I already am." He ran a finger along Rip's jacket with some sorrow and squatted to examine the floor. "We don't know what time it was when he died, or where he'd already been afterwards. We may still meet as planned, and the last thing I want to do is fuck him up any more."
"Can I see that for a second?" Rhynwa nodded, and Shilree took the notebook. "Before any psychodramas start I think we should lay some ground rules. Between my association with Magnate and my seat on the Council, I've managed to gain a few advantages. Let me introduce you all to Alexis." She flicked a small ivory slab out of her pocket and selected a purple crystal from her belt pouch. "Alexis, I need you."
A wisp of smoke floated up from the slab and materialized into a three-inch-tall female figure in a business suit. "This is Alexis, my personal Trade spirit."
"Pleased to meet you, Alexis," said Flicker gravely.
"A pixie? You have a *pixie*?" howled Schneider.
Shilree gave him a withering look. "She's not a pixie. She's a Trade spirit. She has many functions and uses--"
"Yeah, I make great coffee..."
Shilree scowled at the spirit in her hand. "As I was _saying_, she has many uses. One of the best is this." Alexis put on a little pair of glasses and zipped through the notebook; as she did, the crystal began to glow. "Hey, who's the babe?" said Fred's voice, and whistled. "Hey, good-lookin', what are you doing tonight?"
"Oh, Fred, this is Alexis," said Schneider, with total seriousness.
She looked up as she turned a page. "Tradeswoman," she said, without stopping work, "do you have an associate here that I am unable to detect?"
Shilree rolled her eyes. "No. It's a stupid, childish kiljhac cantrip."
"I'm not a cantrip!"
"That's right," Schneider explained. "He's just totally invisible and intangible."
"Shut up," snapped Shilree, and then winced at her own reaction. The glow subsided as the spirit shut the notebook. "Seeya later, Alexis," whispered Fred. She ignored him, and Shilree pretended to. "Thank you, Alexis. Security lock level two on the crystal."
"Easily done. Anything else?"
"Nothing now, Alexis. You may go." She disappeared in a puff of smoke, and Shilree pocketed the piece of ivory. "All the information in that notebook is now stored in this crystal. The security only allows me and Alexis to read it. Not that I don't trust you all, but none of you could read a psi crystal anyway." She put the crystal back in her pouch. "Much more efficient than notebooks. It's the only way for a historian to travel."
"Immortality and a good memory works, too," said Flicker, leaning around the chair.
"Shut up, Sunfighter." She picked up Rip's jacket and shook it out. "Let's see what's in here."
"A cow died for that jacket," accused Tila.
"The cow is in Annwyn," said Rhynwa reassuringly.
"Tila, you're wearing leather armor!"
"I know. It just seemed like the thing to say."
Max picked up Rip Hunter's fallen weapon and turned it in his hands. "What a mess. Hey, does anyone know who Timrin Dalliar is?"
Flicker looked up, surprised. "He's me from the future. Remember, you met him the same time I did, after--no, never mind, that wasn't you, was it. He's a future incarnation of mine. He and Rip worked, will work on the Destroyer curse. I hope."
"Can I see that when you're done?" said Max.
"Whatever." Rhynwa had started skimming the notebook. "What did you do to Rip the first time, anyway, Max? When he said you did it to him again?"
"Jumped through a time portal and fucked up the timeline," said Flicker, from the floor. "Just like we're about to do now."
It gave Rhynwa pause. "Oh," she said.
"Do you think we shouldn't, Flicker?" Max said in a worried voice.
"I don't know. It may be worse to do nothing. Schneider, please be careful where you step. I'm trying to track here."
"Sure thing. Where do you think he kept the secret liquor stash, Tila?"
"Oh Arawn!" said Rhynwa, as though she had only just realized it. "I'm in a party of _thieves_!"
"In a very general sense," said Flicker.
"So what?" said Tila.
"I would keep the insults to a minimum if I were a priestess of Death," said Shilree.
"This reminds me of a joke. There were these three thieves--"
"Zzenith thief not is," Zzenith reminded everyone. "Priest of wisdom is Zzenith."
"Zzenith," said Flicker, "would you please consult the wisdom and tell us if this is a good idea or not? It would make me feel a lot better."
"After the last time I can't imagine why," said Tila.
"Still sorry that about is Zzenith, friend Janther."
"You were just taking a broader view, Zzenith. In the end it worked out fine."
"Check this out." Tila pointed to the wood carving. "Resist Temptation. Huh. Well, as my mentor used to say, I can resist anything except temptation. And seeing how Rip Hunter ended up, I say we go for it all."
"I think he put that there for me," said Max unhappily.
"With good cause. You could use more temptation in your life." She patted him affectionately on the butt as she passed him on the way to the console (on her left, of course.) "Let's find some temptations to test my theory."
"I'll sue, Beld! I'll sue!" Nazarath W. Bell shouted from the floor. A slight trickle of blood ran from his nose.
"Nazz," Flinthand muttered quietly, "I wouldn't suggest selling tickets to 'Death of a God' again. We, uh, heroes tend to take things like that seriously."
"Damn f-ing straight," Darion Beld added, wiping his (slightly) blooded fist on a bar napkin.
"Well, if you all are so serious about this matter, why haven't any of you followed them through the portal?" Danq Fel, self-appointed Grendel of Trade and Protector of the Blood sternly said.
As if invoked by Fel's mention, the shimmering doorway blinked shut.
"F-," Darion Beld muttered, punctuating his swear with a sneer and a spit.
"Well, I think you lost most of the really _good_ heroes, Kay," Kimberly muttered.
Danq Fel pulled his tri-fork from his back and swung it around into Signet the Significant's face.
"I'm afraid you're right. Especially the cute Norse one."
ManTec warns the party that there are bonds weakening. Tila's attempt to reach the time portals is prevented by some sort of force field. Shilree's attempt to download the notebooks is unsuccessful, apparently due to the intervention of a future Sunfighter. The time cube begins warning of an imminent meltdown. Schneider attempts to leave a message for Rip and/or his associates, and Zzenith attempts to consult the wisdom. The time cube undergoes something it calls "paradox deconstruction," and the party finds itself back at the Mithril Dagger in extreme confusion. It is once again largely agreed upon to go to Riklandir, albeit with heavier misgivings.
"The bonds here are weakening, Lord Max." ManTec stood looking at the chair.
FZZZZAAAAASH! "Yow!" Tila shouted, landing on her behind. The doorway marked "Time Portals" seemed to have some sort of field in front of it, leaving no exit from the main room. "How the *hell* did anyone get through that? Even with the door busted down like that..."
"Temptation resist, friend Tila."
"I don't resist," Tila reminded Zzenith. Schneider muffled a laugh poorly.
"Tradeswoman Shilree?" Alexis appeared and inquired. "There seems to have been some data loss in transfer."
"What's that? What data loss?"
"Well, the notebook seems to have been enchanted. Whatever was in it has all translated into a single sentence, repeated over and over again."
"And that sentence is?"
"`Remember, I was here when you tried that, Shilree.'"
"Here, look at this," said Flicker quickly, pointing out the tracks by the chair. "There are scuff marks here, even on the material of Rip's floor. This was a big guy, and he was wearing heavy armor."
"So how'd someone in metal armor get through that door of electricity?" Tila asked, glancing up from the wall storage compartment.
"Maybe not electricity door then it was," said Zzenith.
"Guys... I'm serious."
"Two minutes until paradox," a voice intoned. It sounded like Rip, only more mechanical.
"Excuse me, I've got to go mumble at a wall," Schneider said.
"It looks like this is organized as a series of memos." Rhynwa looked up from the notebook. "Notes to Rip. Most of them begin with a "Do not read before..." date."
"Zzenith, what does the cosmic wisdom say?"
"Consult it shall I."
"There's one with today's date," said Rhynwa. "It's addressed to me."
"One minute until paradox."
"Shouldn't we be doing something about this?"
"There are flecks of blackened metal here."
"Hey, does anyone know how to work this thing?"
"You've got to hear this, guys..."
"Thirty seconds until paradox."
"Wisdom danger says!"
"I'd like you all to meet Alexis."
"Wasn't that door just broken?"
"Paradox deconstruction of time cube at..."
There was a flame so white and brilliant it was almost beautiful
"What the *hell*?" said Tila.
"Didn't you guys all just disappear?" Kayla asked.
"Place not is... never was," Zzenith concluded. "Wisdom difficult answering is when paradox involved is. Our choice path of is path follow we must. Reliable less is answer than if temporal anomaly was not."
"I *said* that the bonds were weakening."
"Manhunter," said Schneider, rubbing his head, "the next time you think something's unkosher, remind me to believe you."
"I will, and that's ManTec."
Kayla waved at Jace to bring over another round of drinks. "When you disappeared through the portal, you cleared out most of the clientele."
"I'm sorry," Flicker mumbled.
"No problem, cutie. As Kimberly said, forming adventuring parties is part of the public service expected from the Mithril Dagger."
"We've still got the stiff behind the bar if you want 'im," Jace said, putting drinks on the table.
"Siegfried, wasn't it?" Don held Signet's limp body up from the floor. The thief stirred to sudden life and yelled "No, it is Signet, Signet the Significant, Benefactor of the Hill Giants, Beloved of Alsinon, Savior of Neporris, Crystal Hand, Wielder of the Rapier of Power, Master of the Elements, Demon Slayer, Defender of the Hibernian and Lord of Auvers!"
"He must be drunk," Shilree muttered, her lip curling with disgust. "The kiljhac can't even keep his names straight."
Don laid him back down gently. "I'll let him sleep it off."
Flicker shook his head. "Something changed," he said indistinctly. "*Tell* us about it," grunted ManTec. Flicker shook his head again and touched his temple. "A dream I had five years ago has changed. I don't like this. Schneider--you were telling me you had a dream about a one-eyed gambler. I had that dream a long time ago, when dreams mattered. The dream has changed." He turned to Centia and spread his palms. "Please. What do you know?"
(This part will just have to be retconned, since Doug has neither spoken for Centia nor given word that she has lapsed into a mysterious staring coma. :/ )
Shilree flipped her crystal in her hand and shoved it half-heartedly into her pouch. "Sunfighter, you dipshit, we really could have used a clue here."
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sure I'll have a good reason."
"Waitaminute," said Schneider. "Something you said. The one-eyed jack. Bard Baa--, er, Trish, was telling me that the big enchilada god in Riklandir has only one eye. Just like that weirdo in my dream... or hey, just like Tec Man!"
ManTec finally got up and pointed his wand arm at Schneider. "You know," he said, "the bond that connects a man to his name, his nakhtra, is almost as strong as the bond many people have to their sexual organs. That would be a good thing to bond to your mind, don't you think?"
"ManTec, this is my friend," said Max. "We, uh, we have a bond."
The alien dwarf looked only slightly pacified. "I am unfamiliar with the information Temporis recited as he disbonded with his body," he said to Max. "But it seems apparent that he has laid a ramdahna, a bond of honor, upon us. While unwelcome, it is wrong to ignore ramdahna."
"Sorry wisdom unhelpful was. Suggest Zzenith we follow SunFlicker's ramdahna home Riklandir need."
ManTec lowered his wand arm. "Actually, the bond one has to their homeland and the people within it is called peldahnwik."
"Grasp language of little have. Apologies to TecMan."
"ManTec," ManTec growled.
Flicker shook off the uneasy tendrils with moderate effort. "Zzenith is right. We should go to Riklandir. While I doubt there's much importance in the number of eyes the Allfather, ManTec, and the gambler from our dreams have, I have a feeling there may be subtler connections, and as Rhynwa says, destiny is good at finding you when it wants you. Besides, I have unfinished business there." Rhynwa nodded solemnly, and Flicker frowned. "Guys, uh... I know we're kind of concerned about the possible imminent destruction of the world, and things, and I'm sure your memories of this whole episode are as hazy as mine, but did Kayla just call me "cutie"?"
"Uh, I think so."
"Excuse me a minute."
"She's really an illithid, Flicker!" yelled Tila, and then made a yelping noise as Max stepped on her foot.
"Some things never change," said Rhynwa placidly, as though her faith in the continuity of the universe had been slightly repaired.
"Look, can't we talk this over?" LaRue ducked the gleaming golden sword.
"My master wants what is rightly his, LaRue!"
"Here, give him this." LaRue thanked the goddesses of luck that the chamberpot in the corner was not only heavy, but appropriate. There was a clang of metal on metal and the gambler lept past the fumbling figure through the shattered door and into the streets of the city.
"How far did you say the ancient temple of Rip Hunter lies?" Flinthand asked the bulky warrior.
"F-ing far away. Now shut up before I have to cut your f-ing tongue out."
"I liked it better when we adventured with Onyx," Nora Ino whispered to her husband."
Ratatosk the squirrel ran up the familiar grooves of the tree's trunk. The dragon below had finished with its business, and Ratatosk had dutifully watched, to bear tidings to above. The great tree's branches flew below his feet, as he ascended the worlds. The hair on his fluffy tail had only begun to stand on end when the gloved hand grabbed him.
The voice from the shadows beneath the figure's wide brimmed hat was dry as death. "I am sorry, little one, but news of Hvergelmir may not reach the golden city. Not quite yet."
The grip tightened, and for the first time since the world began, Ratatosk feared his death.
Here ends the strange adventure that, perhaps, never was...
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