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The Book of Ataniel

The Hell and Back Archives
Fatal Attractions, Part IV



Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen and Evan Haag
Storyline: Hell To Pay
Title of Post: Ixhriy Gets Us In Trouble, Part I
Ixhriy led them around the Palace, shushing the Rat Pack every five feet, keeping them all in the shadow of the wall around it despite their invisibility. By the time Ixhriy stopped, Khyrisse was a hair’s-breadth from screaming her head off. The entire trip had taken them right under countless victims. Towards the end she was starting to think she recognized some of them. The alabaster effect of her stoneskin wasn’t nearly enough to account for the pasty look to her face.
“Why are we stopping?” she hissed at the imp, trying to ignore the desperate, whimpering gasps of pain coming from above. She was certain they’d be screaming their heads off too, if they still could. “Where are you taking us, Ixhriy?”
“Ixhriy taking Retty to back door! Only way to not get caught, other ways in guarded!” he hissed back. He peered around the corner of the bloodstained wall and then flew around it, pulling Khyrisse after him. Khyrisse stared incredulously at where Ixhriy was pointing, and covered her mouth.
Ixhriy was fluttering in front of a drainage pipe, the pipe itself over twenty feet across, but the inside of it so coated in refuse that the size of the actual opening was only half that. A stream of slimy, clotted, reddish-brown ran constantly from it, down the hill into the river. Occasionally there were ribbons of bright arterial red liquid, and black silty patches of ash, and larger, solid bits that... didn’t bear close inspection.
Khyrisse waved frantically behind her. “Keep-- keep the kids back. Ixhriy, you can’t be serious,” she said in a choked voice. “I am not climbing through Hell’s sewers! I was a Tourist, but the line gets drawn somewhere!”
“Ixhriy keep safe! Nothing icky touch Retty, Ixhriy promise! Retty cast flying for everybody, Ixhriy lead through-- very fast!” Khyrisse stared for a long moment, and went back around the corner. She pulled out the Trade Sigil and snapped the Carriage silently into existence, willing the windows opaque.
“Guys... don’t ask, just get in,” Khyrisse whispered. Ixhriy stared over her shoulder at the vehicle, eyes huge. “Oooooh!”
“Small enough to fit through?” she asked him.
“Yes! Ixhriy show the way!”
“I’m driving, Vas. Everyone inside.” Several people looked like they wanted to protest, the two boys among them. “No. REALLY.”

***


Valende wound up outside with Khyrisse by virtue of her bodyguard status, a strong stomach, and her immunity to Ixhriy’s poison. As they clambered onto the seat of the Carriage, she turned to Ixhriy and said, “Excuse me for asking, little impling, but what sort of place is the Palace that Fell to Hell? I know from all the legends that nothing exists in Hell without purpose.”
Ixhriy hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, then spat out an answer. “Palace for nasty people who are mean to little people, like Big Mean Devil. They spit on little people when living, so they gets spitted on here when dead.”
Khyrisse looked at him thoughtfully. “Do you mean people like courtiers and bosses and stuff?”
“Yes, yes! Retty smart, figure out! People who are evil to anyone not big enough to stop them, like some of Nasty Master Stupidhead’s people!”
“Amen,” Khyrisse murmured, in conscious imitation of Vas. Valende gave a breath of a laugh.

***


The invisible Carriage emerged from the tunnel in a spray of substances too disgusting to contemplate, in a cavernous room full of tables. The Carriage’s unseen servant enchantment frantically cleaned the vehicle, and Khyrisse opened the door. True to his promise, Ixhriy had seen to it that nothing touched Khyrisse or Valende.
Valende was looking around the room. “Gods, this is a banquet hall...” she said with a hint of a moan in her voice, contemplating what they’d flown through. Khyrisse flashed a look around, eyes wide, and turned positively green. She mechanically tucked the Sigil back into her tunic. The walls of the room were decorated similarly to the outer walls, with tortured victims nailed to the walls like macabre artpieces. Unlike the outer walls, however, these bodies had their mouths sewn shut with wicked looking wire.
Vas looked disgusted. “I guess the beasts in charge here don’t like their meals interrupted by moans or screams.”
Most of the tables were bare, but it was obvious from the refuse in the room as to what the meals usually consisted of. The furniture itself was a disgusting collection of fused and broken body parts. Some were easily identified as human, while the rest were totally alien to all except Ixhriy and perhaps Garal. The stench matched the scene before them, and Vas quickly cast a spell to clear the air for the party.
As the air cleared and the party looked around, Kit tugged on Skitch’s sleeve and pointed. “Hey, look at that!”
The party all turned to look, as the figures on the walls started pulling themselves down from their fastenings. The sound of ripping flesh almost echoed through the chamber. Khyrisse’s stomach lurched violently at the repeated wet snap, the same noise the Good Blue Fairy’s wrists had made. Blinking nauseated tears out of her eyes, she suddenly realized that Ixhriy was nowhere to be seen.

***


The sub-devil scampered towards the front gate, eager to please the Palace commander. He had been sent to deliver the news of mortal invaders, and he would not-- could not-- stop until his duty was done. So intent was he on reaching the gate, that he paid no mind to the castle’s other denizens. He was on a mission-- who would dare inhibit his progress?
The last sound he heard was the swift and gentle rustle of feathered wings, before he plummeted from the drawbridge into the Lethe and was, quite literally, forgotten.

***


Princess Kristin, in the back of the party near Vas, suddenly gasped in pain. She raised both hands to her temples, eyes shut. At the back of their minds, the Rat Pack heard a spiraling, grotesque shriek-- one voice seemingly composed of many, united in a hoarse and vicious disharmony. The mental noise stiffened the spine of everyone subjected to it, and they had to suppress an urge to run screaming from the room. Fortunately, the “sound” faded quickly as the Princess’s face tensed in fierce concentration.
“Shaizephon,” she said to Vas, as the shambling wreckage from the walls neared the Rat Pack. “He knows we’re here.” She gasped out a brief laugh. “I think it might be fair to call him displeased.”

Character(s): The Rat Pack In Hell
Author: Laura Redish (with one line from Eric Gasior)
Storyline: The Horrors Of Hell
Title of Post: What She Should Not Have Said
Skitch was desperately trying not to barf. Bad things happen to everyone, whether you're nice or not, he amended his lesson about life. Skitch imagined the face of Eric of Cynystra on every hanging body. It only helped a little.
"I was promised this only happened to souls who broke the laws of Hell," whispered Garal, his face ashen.
"Souls who break the laws of Hell much worser," Ixhriy assured him.
"Worse--than this?"
Alphred looked around blankly. The land of Hell was a very strange place, he concluded, and things were much better in the jungle.

***


"Ixhriy?" said Khyrisse, a little nervously. The damned souls shuffled out of the dining hall in strangely orderly single file, their wrists in tatters. "Ixhriy, where are you?"
"Shaizephon," said Princess Kristin to Vas. "He knows we're here."
As the Princess spoke the name, a cold hush slipped through the room. The curtains flew, fear swept into the stomachs of the Rat Pack, and they turned to face Big Mean Devil.

Character(s): Schneider
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: Counting to 56
Title of Post: Just rewards (?)
The man's name was Ole Hank.
That was what everyone at the farm called him anyway, and Schneider hadn't even figured if or how he was related to anyone else there, but he was the defacto patriarch of the group. He managed to look older than he probably was better than anyone Schneider had ever seen, save perhaps the pictures of Derek the Deranged.
He hadn't actually saved anyone's life here - except for some of the animals. The people were all safely out of the burning barn when he arrived (the horses, sure enough, damnit, had charged back inside) and Ole Hank and crew were desperately trying to put it out. It had been a little too easy, just a quick application of a first level spell, and the farmers had been a little too grateful. He'd stayed on with them for a week since, figuring he ought to at least help.
Maybe it was time to be moving on. If he stayed too long, they might wonder why, and he got the vague feeling he might have handled things better with Elizabeth Lewis, though it had helped save Timothy's life. Besides, Schneider had become quite aware that he really had no idea what he was doing when it came to anything involving agriculture, so he mostly fed the animals and such.
It had been a bit of a relief, though, from some of the things he'd had to do while trying to reach 56.
There had been the family plagued by that pesky fey who refused to leave until Schneider had beaten it at the question game. He was nothing like Syndy.
More jarring had been the man who, since the Madness, had fallen into a self-destructive fit of alchoholism. It had taken a month until Schneider felt confident that the guy was going to be all right - as confident as he could be anyway. He had absolutely no experience at shepherding people through detox, and had just locked himself in a room with the guy for two weeks, forcing him to dry out. That had had more than a few harrowing moments.
It was a lovely night out, the harvest mostly in and festival coming in. It might be more muted than in previous non-Bane years, but it looked like maybe people were getting back to normal life. That was nice.
As he lay back on his bed, Schneider suddenly thought of Luthien, and Rhynwa and Gordon. Wondered how they were doing. Or Roxy, and Tila. All his friends. He suddenly felt extremely lonely. And for the first time, a bit weary. What was all that noise, anyway? .... ....... ......
With a thunderous clang, Maxwell Silverhammer went flying end over end. He landed right on top of Palmer Khan, who fell back down again. Defiantly but weakly, Janther Moria pulled himself to his knees and glared at the man who had sent Max flying with a mighty blow from his huge mace.
"You haven't... won yet... damn you," he stammered.
"Wrong!" Algol Demonstar shouted triumphantly. "You're too late to save your friends, Moria! Your lives belong to me!"
"Wrong yourself, Hornyman," Schneider said.
"Jester! You've mocked the Web for the last time, you ill-dressed buffoon!"
"Oh really? Well--- hey, I think you've got a mustard stain on your breast-plate. Right there." He pointed.
"Where?" Demonstar looked down, and just as he heard the word "gotcha!" he was lifted off the ground, spun around like a majorette's baton and hurled somewhere over the horizon.
The crowd cheered in overjoyed approval.
Schneider looked out over the footlights at the audience. Everyone in the auditorium was standing, laughing and smiling, and applauding. Roses, and a few bras showered the stage. "Thank you!" he said, and did the pratfall routine while bowing. Big laughs (the classics still got em!) The crowd cheered again. "Thank you, you've been a great audience. Remember to tip your waitresses. Thank you, pax."
As he walked off stage right, trying to remember, idly, if that was where the treasure was, Roxy was waiting for him, clad in something that left next to nothing to the imagination. And Schneider had a pretty good imagination.
"You were great, sideshow," she said, beaming at him.
"Thanks, legs."
"The way you make people laugh, it's just so... so sexy." She wrapped her body around his and kissed him with incredible passion. With that uncanny triple-jointed dexterity, she quickly had both of them disrobed without breaking the kiss.
He reached for her
chink!
Schneider opened his eyes. He was in bed, still naked, but Roxy wasn't there. He tried to sit up.
chink!
His hands were handcuffed to the bed behind him. Cute, Roxy, you mischievous little girl, he thought, smiling. Like he hadn't gotten out of lots of sets of handcuffs in situations like this. Zero sweat!
chink!
Something was wrong here. There was only one pair of cuffs in the world Schneider had been unable to slip. The magic pair belonging to----
"Hiya, Schneider."
The jester looked up with a start. "B-b-boss!"
"Long time no see," Duke Faraker said.

Character(s): Schneider, Faraker
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: Counting to 56 (conclusion, for now...)
Title of Post: Don't dream it's over
"Boss, I --- uh..."
"Good to see you, too." The Duke flashed that killer smile and took a slug from a long-necked bottle of IBC.
"It's great to see you, boss. Uh, like, how're ya doing?"
"Not bad, not bad. Death hasn't been quite as cool since Jenny left us."
"I heard. I'm sorry."
"Oh, it's still perfect and all, Rhynwa knew what she was talking about, believe me."
"That's good to know. Things haven't been as cool down here since, y'know, since you died."
"Hey, thanks."
"Boss, I don't know if I ever told you, but---"
"Of course you told me, fool. A zillion times."
"Really?"
"I don't mean to burst any bubbles, my old Hawaiian-shirt-wearing buddy, but you've got the subtlety of the Tarrasque. Speaking of which, I understand that things have been pretty rough since that cosmic nimnol from the dark side and the bitch who did me in teamed up a while ago."
Schneider wanted to hide. "Uh, yeah, hasn't been so great."
"I understand you're caught up in some kind of self-imposed geas? Been there myself, I know that can be difficult. So I'm here to help."
"Really? Thanks. Er, how?"
"Well, you're working on finding people who need serious help with their lives. Majorly serious help, yah? Well, I happen to know of someone who'd be the perfect candidate."
This got Schneider's attention. "Who is it?"
"Someone I met back when I was Duke. Pretty smart customer, did a lot of business around Lianth. I think it might be... beneficial if you checked in on this one. Let's just say her life has been... hellish of late."
"Okay. Er, who is she? Where can I find her?"
"Hey, I've got to leave some of the quest thing up to those nigh-legendary wits of yours. But I think you met her. Lemme think. Elf merchant. I seem to recall inviting her to join this little group of envoys I was putting together..."
"Oh god, no..."
"Oh god yes!" Faraker replied, cheerier than he really should have been.
"Boss, I, god. I don't think I'm ready for that. You don't know what I tried---"
"Newsflash for ya, buddy: tough shit! You think I was ready to become duke? Ready to deal with sleazy merchants and stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and weasely nobles and crop reports??? Not to mention a certain employee who constantly substituted the fine coffee we normally served at Castle Lianth with Folgers crystals?"
"And yet, our guests couldn't tell the difference."
"I kinda think they did when you used the Super-Caffeine (tm) version. Look, Schneid, my point is... I think it would be beneficial for you to do this. Maybe even life-saving."
Schneider was silent. Finally he said: "She's really in trouble?"
"Let me think... Yeah, I'd say her life has been, mmm, a slight bit hectic of late."
"Okay. I'll find her."
"Good going! Once you've taken the bull by the horns, the rest is just those devilish details!" devilish details..... devilish....... details..........
Schneider sat up in his bed. It was very early in the morning. Still dark, before even Ole Hank or any of the farmers had arisen. Good. Time for a suitably enigmatic exit.
Schneider took an ornate, bejeweled mirror out of its case and cast a spell over it. The silvery surface fogged up. This one worked best if you had personal knowledge of the subject, and a full name didn't hurt. No problem on either count.
The fog in the mirror swirled patiently.
Quietly, he spoke the name aloud for the first time in memory. "Khyrisse Starshadow, Traitress of Cynystra."
The fog began to part, as Schneider mumbled "And a darn good thing too...."

Character(s): Ixhriy and Shaizephon (*ducking*)
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Hell To Pay
Title of Post: Not Completely Evil-- Sucks To Be Me
Ixhriy cowered under the table nearest the Rat Pack, so he could stay partially protected by the psychic fortress the not-evil-but-damn-scary-you-bet witch had erected over Retty and her friends. Unfortunately for Ixhriy, it wasn't enough. Ixhriy, said a acrid, whispering voice in his head, in a tone of disgust and anger. The background disharmonics shrieked down Ixhriy's spine; he shuddered and wrapped his wings more tightly around himself. I was right all along about you, you maggot-brained little freak-- you're responsible for these mortals in my Palace, aren't you?
Ixhriy whimpered and tried hard not to reply. Shaizephon exerted its authority and wrenched horribly at Ixhriy's mind, peeling away the uppermost thoughts like the skin from a carrot.
"Retty", Shaizephon said finally, and the slow smile in its voice carried to Ixhriy's mind, curdling his blood. Your favorite deity... This is she? This idiotic, trusting creature? Oh, Ixhriy, you could not have provided me with a better means of punishment... When I am tired of you, I can resort to her.
Ixhriy, contrary to popular belief about the denizens of Hell, had a heart. He knew he did-- it was twisting and struggling inside him like a man just-hanged. Something inside Ixhriy shrieked with rage at the idea of Shaizephon hurting Retty; it shrieked louder and more angrily at the idea that Shaizephon would use his oh-so-stupid-wild-magic-cursed heart to torture him further.
The commander stepped on him, mentally holding Ixhriy pinned under the table like an adult would a newborn kitten. Ixhriy gasped pitifully for air, feeling that cold hand close around his mind, shivering as if he would fly apart. I could make you fly apart, Ixhriy. You'd shake so hard in fear that you'd dislocate every extremity. You'd rip your own muscles to shreds. Your heart would explode in your chest-- but only after a very, very long time.
There was a silent pause. Ixhriy held his breath.
But I think destroying your favorite toy will be much more fun, Shaizephon laughed, like rustling leaves. With luck, she'll last even longer.
Ixhriy wailed and buried his head.

Character(s): The Rat Pack, in deep kimchee
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Hell To Pay
Title of Post: Dear Praxis-- Wish You Were Here... Sorta
A cold breeze blew through the room, whispering oddly like dried leaves and old papers. Vas, in particular, got chills running up his arms as the wind carried the smell of dust and rotting spices and old, old decay to him. They turned to face the source, a figure standing in the shadowed doorway. It morphed weirdly in the dim light, creating an eerie sensation of familiarity in the minds of everyone who looked at it. To Khyrisse, for a moment, it looked like Eric standing there. It blurred, as a small glow began behind her, and then it looked like... Syndy? Syndy with a ratty hairdo. Oh gods no! The glow flared again behind Khyrisse, accompanied by a tiny gasp of effort, and Trill's form went out of focus again. The shadows around the fairy-form became larger, more tangible, nearly filling the doorway.
-That's Shaizephon!- Princess Kristin called out, her mental voice hinting at a severe amount of strain. -Whoever it looks like to you, ignore it; it's trying to look like the person you most fear!-
The indistinct figure turned, the shadow turning with it, to glare at the Princess at the back of the group. For a moment, the Princess saw her own face staring at her from the depths of a cowled hood, and shivered hard. Pouring the energy of her fear into her attack, Shaizephon's illusion wavered and broke.
A large figure stood in the doorway, twice the size of a mortal man, but manlike. Dry, taut skin stretched over long thin muscles, and bones that were put together in a subtly wrong and inhuman way. Its oversized head stared venomously at the group's psionic, eyes pupilless and glowing a putrescent green. Its mouth was full of sharp teeth, but was oddly insect-like, giving the impression of mandibles that closed the wrong way. The base of its spine continued on into a pale, scorpion-like tail. Faintly luminous smoke wisped from the stinger, and from its mouth when it opened it to speak.
"I... will attend to you when I am done," it told the Princess in a whispering voice. "There are unique torments that can be inflicted on a psionic... as I'm sure you know."
"I'm not dead yet," she murmured, eyes still closed.

Character(s): Shaizephon, that big bully
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: Role Reversal in Palace That Fell To Hell
Shaizephon turned slowly, an unusual sensation beginning under his mummified skin. His magic resistance--didn't seem to be effective. His psionic defenses weren't helping. No, Shaizephon--itched. Bad.
Alphred held the totem of the flea aloft as the devil swiped out unevenly at Khyrisse, staggering with sudden itching. "Behold," he said solemnly, "the small laying low the large."

***


Schneider gaped at the mirror. His dream hadn't been kidding. Khyrisse was in Hell. And a big ugly devil was trying to do something horrible to her. Schneider had to do something...

Character(s): Two Krises, Big Mean Devil, and the ever-cool Vic Paris
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: The Truth About Bullies
Princess Kristin coughed, trying to maintain her psychic defenses. "Don't bother with physical attacks!" she cried aloud, trying to conserve her psionic strength. "He can't be harmed by them!"
Shaizephon, scratching himself with one of his horrible hands, seized Khyrisse by the face with the other with lightning quickness she had never expected from something so undead-looking. "You are mine now," he said, smiling cruelly. "How nice of my little buddy Ixhriy to bring me a new plaything. Especially such a pretty one." Ixhriy shook under the table, miserably. Ixhriy should never have brought Retty here. Khyrisse looked more disgusted than shaken. She cast a lightning bolt into him, but it seemed to absorb into his wormy body without impact. He slammed her into the wall by her face. It hurt. "Feisty girl," he said, and grinned at her evilly. "Maybe I'll keep you for a while."
"Magic-resistant!" gasped Khyrisse. "Kristin, it's all up to you!"

***


Vic Paris frowned at the devil that had just come in. He was around Ixhriy's size and had glasses. Khyrisse had half-leveled him with a lightning bolt, and what was more, the little guy was spastically itching himself. Yet for some reason, Vally was acting as if he was gazillionth level and about to stomp her pretty little behind, and she was the calmest-looking of them.
"He must have magic resistance!" shouted Vas, desperately.
Vic Paris just didn't know what the matter was with his friends recently.

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