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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Hell and Back Archives
The Abyss Looks Also Into You, Part I



Character(s): The Rat Pack: Shirts and Skins
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen (with lines gleefully stolen from Doug and Laura)
Storyline: The Abyss Wouldn't Leer So Much If People Didn't Wear Underwear Like That
Title of Post: Everybody Pick One Or The Other, Dammit!
Once the Rat Pack actually got underway, getting to the front lines wasn't much trouble. The damn bugs wouldn't let Khyrisse get any altitude with the Carriage, but even skimming the ground, it didn't take long. Ailonwy gave Khyrisse increasingly terse directions, looking for the officer she'd left in charge of this army. "There he is," Ailonwy said. Khyrisse pulled up short, and Ailonwy jumped down from the driver's seat. She wouldn't want to be that officer, Khyri reflected, staring absently after the demoness.
"Hey!" a familiar voice cried happily. "Khyrisse!!"
Khyrisse and Valende both turned around in startlement. Khyrisse leaped from the Carriage and met the elegantly dressed but rather worse-for-wear boy halfway. "Skitch!!" Khyrisse hit him with a hug fierce enough to be a tackle, and nearly did knock them both over.
"You're okay! Nobody attacked you while I was gone, did they? Is Kit with you? Is he all right too?"
"Gods, look at you, kiddo, you're a mess. I was so worried about you. I have no idea what happened. No, I'm fine; so is Kit!" she reassured him, laughing a little. "Skitch, you'll never guess-- we found Tarrin!"
Skitch just stared in astonishment for a second. Khyrisse, grinning, turned him slightly so he could see Tarrin getting out of the Carriage. Skitch whooped and raced over to the Diari priest. Khyrisse, summarily abandoned (but not really minding much), looked around eagerly for the rest of the Rat Pack. Val had gone to Jack and was having a happy reunion (if the fact that she was kissing him was any measure)... and next to Jack was Ebreth.
Khyrisse closed her eyes, and bit her lip hard enough to taste blood. You knew he was in that condition when he was lost, she told herself through the ringing in her ears. Did you think that wandering around in the Abyss was going to improve matters any? She trembled a little, suddenly chilled, and took a deep breath before opening her eyes again.

***


Valende descended from the Carriage behind Khyrisse and rushed over to Jack. Jack was, to put it mildly, surprised when Val kissed her, in front of a greatly entertained audience of demon troops. "Jack, darling! I'm so glad we finally found you!"
Jack was scarlet. "Um... Val... there's something--"
Valende looked attentively at her, arms around her neck. "Yes?"
Vas was on the ground, helpless with laughter. Jack would have kicked him if she were a little less polite.
"Um, ah, I don't know if you noticed, but... uh..."
"Oh, I noticed," Valende said, smiling impishly. "You make a very cute girl. The blush, in particular, is adorable."
The elven priestess sobered abruptly. Jack thought she was taking pity on her until she said, in an uncharacteristically hesitant fashion, "Jack... we-- we found Cori."
"Is she all right?" Jack asked, alarmed by Val's tone.
"Oh, yes," Valende said, blushing a little herself. "She's fine. Um, Jack?"
"Yes?" Jack paused, looking at Valende. Vas also gasped to a halt and looked at his sister, alerted by her tone.
"We're going to need to talk."
Something obscure in Valende's facial expression, apparently, set her brother off again-- worse than before, if anything. Valende, equally polite but possessing the rights of sisterly abuse, did kick him.

***


Khyrisse counted everyone quickly on her way to Ebreth, coming up with the proper number of people-- but she barely registered it. She put her hands gently on Ebreth's arms and looked up into the vacant eyes. "Ebreth, it's Khyrisse," she said softly. "We got lost somehow, I'm sorry... I was-- very worried about you. But we're all back together now and we'll get out of here."
Ebreth didn't even blink. Khyrisse bit her lip again, and turned a little to speak to Jack. She was looking mostly at Ebreth, with a great deal of concern and unhappiness.
"Jack," she demanded, interrupting his conversation with Valende. "Has there been any change? Does he respond to anything, has he spoken at all?"
Jack made an uncomfortable sort of sound. "Um, well, no, not really. But he seems to be all right, except for, um--"
"Except for not registering anything," she said hollowly. "Does he sleep at all?"
"Um, yeah. If he's tired and, you know, sitting down. He doesn't just fall over or anything."
Khyrisse looked at Jack with burning eyes. "Does he dream?"
Jack blinked. "No..."
Khyrisse closed her eyes, her whole posture caving in on itself. Valende put a gently sympathetic hand on her arm. After a long moment, the archmage shook herself out of it and looked at Jack. "Is everyone else all ri--" She stopped dead and stared. "Jack?" she repeated, incredulously.
"Yes?" Jack said miserably, knowing what was coming.
"You're a girl! What on Ataniel are you wearing??!"
"Apparently," said Ailonwy from behind her, in a dangerous voice, "a very ill-thought disguise."

Character(s): Luthien, Luthien, and the Skeins
Author: Evan Haag
Storyline: Skeins of Fate
Title of Post: Will The Real Luthien Please Stand Up?
All heads turned to face the newcomer. What greeted them was a surprise to all but two of them. Stepping out of the shadows from behind the curtains came Luthien, wearing a long black robe cut in the old Brytanni style. He looked more sallow-faced than usual, and his mouth was thin and tight.
He continued. "Or rather, that," as he gestured towards the Luthien that came in with the rest of them, "would be me. If things had been different." The original Luthien stiffened at the inference. The reverse was equally true.
Norna looked from Luthien to Luthien, then back again. "What in Hela's accursed name is going on here?! What have you done, necromancer?!"
The new Luthien laughed coldly. "I, or rather we, have done nothing. You have ruined everything. Lord Kyber was my best ally in the search for my father. She was my backer and my protector." He looked from face to face, avoiding his counterpart. "You owe me."
Norna snarled at the second Luthien. "We owe you? Don't be ridiculous. We owe you nothing. You're lucky we don't kill you where you stand, except that I want to know what the hell is going on."
Luthien II glared hard back at her, and both Flicker and Luthien could see the rage boiling up in him. It was a lot like when Luth was with the Tour, but not nearly so... restrained.
He began to whisper a spell beneath his breath, but before he could get it out, he was cut off as a dagger's point suddenly poked out of the front of his throat. He gurgled for a second, then dropped to the floor. Shilree cackled for a few seconds over the body, as drops of blood dripped from her blade.
Berryn wrinkled his nose up in disgust, and said, "Oh great, the nut has to kill him in one of the most untidy ways possible. Do you know how difficult it is to clean a body that's had its throat cut or perforated?"
Norna whirled and cut him off with a gesture. She concentrated for a second, then shook her head. "I don't think the strand has changed at all. Dammit!" She spun back around to face Shilree. "Why the hell did you kill him?! I wasn't finished talking with him!"
Luthien stepped forward at this point. "It doesn't matter, Norna, so stop squawking. Ulmo, can you get all of us to a place where we can talk undisturbed? You seem to know your way around this place."
Ulmo Glub looked nervously at the necromancer, then mumbled, "Sure. Follow me." He then turned and led Flicker, Norna and her thralls, Shilree, and Luthien upstairs to Lord Kyber's quarters.

***


Flicker waited for everyone to settle down as best they could, considering the fact that Shilree had not only stabbed the person that Norna was talking to, but had shot Norna as well. Once that miracle occurred, he said, "Okay, Luthien, you've got our attention. Shoot."
"We were all brought here because Shilree said that Rip Hunter had told her that she had to hunt down the Lichlord and stop him before he could do any Trillarillia-sized damage, correct?"
"Yeah, so far. She said that we had to destroy a temporal nexus, an anomaly of some sort."
"Unfortunately, my counterpart downstairs has just confirmed a suspicion that I have had for a little while now. We were all tricked into coming here. The only 'temporal anomalies' that I can think of on this world are us. Specifically, me."
Norna sat forward now as well, and Shilree started eyeing Luthien like he was a game bird. Flicker moved forward to break up any fights, but Luthien waved him back.
"Oh, stop it, you two. I swear, you're worse than I hear Kerouac was. As I was saying, we were tricked into following Shilree across the temporal boundaries. I have a feeling that the Lichlord wanted me out of our own timeline, so that I wouldn't be around to counter him."
Norna scoffed at this notion. "What makes you so sure? What do you have that he could possibly be afraid of?"

Luthien stared at her with a 'you-must-be-a-flaming-idiot' look on his face. "Well, aside from the fact that I have control over some of the most powerful undead-destroying spells on Ataniel, I happen to know exactly how he thinks. He is me, after all. That gives me a decided edge in figuring out what he might do, or what he might react to."
Flicker nodded, knowing how that was. After all, he had just done the same thing with Shalini. "So, you think that he got Rip Hunter to send Shilree back here to lure you off Ataniel? I find that a little hard to believe. I mean, Rip has sensors to keep an eye on that sort of thing."
Shilree shook her head. "All of Rip's equipment was destroyed by the Lichlord. All he had left was a few pieces of old, obsolete tech that he used to make this." She held up the time-travel device.
"There you go," Luthien said. "All he had to do was plant the idea in Rip's mind that no one could stop him, unless they eliminated certain temporal nexuses. You know Rip; he'd have to send somebody back to try and destroy the Lichlord, while he fixed his Time Bubble."
Berryn whistled. "That's a pretty good yarn, boss. So, what do we do now?"
"Obviously, the Luthien here knew some small bit of what is going on. I'm going to talk to him and see what he knows. After that, we'll figure out our next step."

Character(s): Norna and the Skeins
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins Of Fate: nexus
Title of Post: The Skeins Of Fate Are Never Straight
Luthien sat with his hand on his analog's dead head, concentrating. "He-- he says that he was the nexus. That now that he's goaded us into killing him, my--his--father's plan will never come to fruition. Now he's laughing. He--he's totally insane."
"Fits right in," laughed Shilree.
"Shut up," said Norna, crossly. "Listen, he must be lying. This Luthien's skein has not changed."
"That shows what you know, Valkyrie." Shilree tapped the gem in her eye with a hollow click. "My future has."
"I tell you his skein hasn't changed," snarled Norna.
"Well, I tell you my timeline has!"
"Maybe Luthien's skein isn't related to Shilree's timeline," suggested Flicker.
"Shut up!" shouted both deranged women.
"I'm afraid it is," said a quiet voice behind them, "but not in the way you expect." The entire company turned to face the blond bard. "He is the anomaly," she said, nodding her chin at the Luthien who had come with Norna. "Not our Luthien. Not any of the others. He is the one that will trigger the lich lord's future."
Norna narrowed her eyes at her. "How--do you know that?"
She sighed and rubbed her neck, where Luthien had broken it not too long ago. "Would you believe I saw it in a dream?"
"Then we don't need to go to the alternate futures?" said Berryn.
"We must!" shouted Norna. "One of these timelines must contain the lich lord's inception. Such is the nature of the Myriad!"
"Killing this Luthien worked," Shilree agreed, harshly. "We must go to the other timelines and kill all the others."
"So what you're saying," said Berryn, "is whenever there's a temporal anomaly, the answer is to kill Luthien?"
"Wait a minute," frowned Luthien.
"This is the Luthien that will start the lich lord on his path," insisted Lian.
"Then we'll just have to kill this one, too," said Norna.
"WAIT A MINUTE!"
"You know that isn't how it works," Flicker reproached the Valkyrie.
"We shouldn't go to those other timelines," said Luthien. "We should return to ours immediately. My absence may be what's allowing the lich lord."
Norna shook her head, dizzily. "How can the lich lord's future have changed without his skein changing?" she demanded, pointing at Luthien. "I traced the lich lord's skein back to Luthien with that mathematician. Now Luthien's skein won't trace forward to the lich lord!" Flicker was on the other side of the Luthiens, so Norna hit Berryn. "This is impossible," she shouted, in frustration, music ringing in her ears. "The Myriad says one of these timelines is responsible for the lich lord. The prophet says Luthien is responsible for the lich lord. The lich lord's skein said he was Luthien, and Luthien's skein says he's not the lich lord! The Diari and the alternate death mage both say that killing him has weakened the lich lord's future, but his skein hasn't changed. What the hell is going on here?"
"We can't all be right," said Shilree, glaring.
"Theoretically," sighed the newly incarnated Lian, "we could."
"We're going on," said Norna, pressing her head. "We are following the Myriad, and we are destroying the Luthien analogs until the mad Diari sees her future recede. The Myriad is the only one of us that cannot be deceived and cannot lie. If the Myriad says the lich lord was spawned in one of these timelines he must be. Even if he is crying havoc on Ataniel now we can destroy him at his source. The skeins are tangled and the pieces do not fit. We must follow the Myriad."

***


Back on Ataniel, Luthien the Dead lay in wait. He knew the piece that made all the others make sense, but he had no intention of revealing it until it was too late. Luthien the Dead lay in wait for the body he needed to return and set his future in motion, for Luthien the Living to change the timeline that would become his own. Luthien the Dead lay in wait.

***


And in the Mithril Dagger Inn, a dark-haired elven woman in a green dress slowly materialized. "Khyrisse Starshadow?" she asked the woman serving drinks.
"Haven't seen her in a long time," replied the waitress.
"Too much to hope for," sighed the traveler, and headed for the door.

Character(s): Lian Lithanden Tweedy
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Ties that bind: epilogue
Title of Post: Good Girl Bad Girl
"Lian!" cried Ulmo.
She winced and turned her shoulder on him, putting her whole face into her left hand. "Ulmo, we--need to talk."
"We--do?" he faltered. "Why?"
"You're giving me a headache," she pleaded. "Please don't touch me just yet."

Character(s): Jackie Paris vs. Ailonwy
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Abyss Chalks Also
Title of Post: The Woman With Vectors In Her Eyes
"Back, impostor!" one of the particularly obsequious demons shouted, stepping between Jack and Ailonwy. "Queen Mistress is here now! Lead us in great, uh..."
"Attempts?" Jack offered. She knew she was in deep shit. She hoped Fred was watching.
Ailonwy raised one eyebrow. "Impostor, am I? I am the true Ailonwy, Queen of the Abyss!"
"Uh, no, I am..." Jack offered weakly.
"Me! Pick me!" Skitch shouted before Khyrisse slammed an alabaster hand over his mouth. They were in enough trouble as it was. Apparently Jack had been posing as Ailonwy, allowing Ansakir's forces to gain a stronger foothold on plane 213.
"I will prove myself," Ailonwy said. "I challenge you, impostor, to a duel of honor."
Jack looked to his teammates. To Val. Most all of them were shaking their heads vehemently. There was no way that Jack Paris could defeat a demigoddess... even a lesser demigoddess like Ailonwy. "I, uh..." she started.
"See!" Ailonwy cried. "The impostor refuses even a duel of honor! I won't even soil my hands with her foolish blood! Demonslayer, come forth and take care of this mortal for me!" Ailonwy turned to Cori, who blanched.
"I..." Cori started. "I won't fight the true Ailonwy!" she cried, racing over to Jack's side.
"This isn't a good idea, Cori," Jack muttered.
"I've spent some time with her. I think we can pull this off."
Taking Cori's lead, Kit ran over as well. "All hail the one true Ailonwy!" he cried.
"All hail the one true Ailonwy!" the Rat Pack cried in unison. Jack felt all choked up. She hadn't expected such support.
"Okay, I'll, uh, take the challenge," she said weakly.
"Excellent," Ailonwy grinned. "Bring me my weapon. Topless whip fighting... to the death!"
Jack looked despairingly at Cori.
The samurai stepped forward. "We all know that there is one skill in which Ailonwy is unsurpassed of all beings of the Abyss," she cried.
No one is going to believe this leather dominatrix is a crack mathematician, Cori, Jack thought. This is going to blow the whole thing!
A demon stepped forward. "You are wise, mortal bane..." he said. "As Ailonwy's advisor, I have long known of her secret skills. It will be as you suggest."
"Pooh," Val moped. "I wanted the topless whip fight."
A cadre of demons moved forward, carrying a large covered object. "What do you expect me to do better than a demon queen?" Jack hissed to Cori.
"Something I found out from getting drunk in the bath with her," Cori offered.
The demon advisor pulled the covering off and revealed a dark wood table, covered in green felt. "Remember what they called you in Amherst?" Cori grinned.
"The man with vectors in his eyes," Jack whispered.
"Your cue, Lady Ailonwy," one of the demons said, handing Jack a long wooden stick.
"She's a pool fiend," Cori said. "Undefeated."
"So am I," Jack said.
"Come on, everyone!" Kit yelled. "Let's hear it for the true Queen Ailonwy!"
The cheer went up amongst both mortal and demon.
"You'll pay for this when I've defeated you, mortal," Ailonwy hissed.
"Is it me, or did Ebreth cheer too?" Skitch whispered to Tarrin.
Jack stepped up to the table.
"Twelve ball in the side pocket," she said.

Character(s): Omeria
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Omeria Agenda
Title of Post: By Demagoguery, I Mean Demagoguery, Of Course.
Omeria had never really had adulation. Fear, certainly, respect often... even honest affection from those closest to her. However, the cheers of the crowd were unlike anything she had ever experienced. Deveaux's speech of support had been invaluable. Omeria wondered at Ariath's ability to get whatever she wanted from others. Now Omeria stood before a crowd already prepared to like her.
Obviously, such a time as Festival and Election would be warded against magic... otherwise Tobrinel would have been a magocracy for years now. However, Omeria had learned more than mere spellcraft from her master in Hell. Besides, Beliath hadn't even noticed when Omeria had exchanged chests on him. The Armband of the Octem Potentis rested comfortably on her wrist. Thirty-five people were working the crowd for Omeria. They were out there stirring up conversation. The right conversation. The one that led people to believe that Deveaux's recommendation had been an appointment. That Omeria was the closest thing he had to an heir.
And of course, it helped that she was beautiful. That part amused Omeria the most.
"People of Tobrinel!" she cried out over the crowd. "Thank you!"
Cheers went up, some not even started by Omeria's moles.
"I come before you today in the spirit of your great and esteemed leader, Deveaux, Duke of Tobrinel!"
The cheers for Deveaux were even louder. Omeria maintained her presence, making sure that she was connected in all their minds to the good Duke.
"I thank him for his support and promise to follow his wise rule!"
Omeria planted the idea that she was already elected in their heads.
"Working with the Duke, I will be able to take great steps forward for all women everywhere!"
Women were notoriously absent from Election Time, but that was because few people ever courted them. There were two hundred volunteers going house to house even now, talking only to housewives, explaining how Omeria would be able to help them. Since this kind of talk didn't really endear her to men, as she discussed her support for women, she made sure to slide one shoulder of her dress off. Hell, after this, they'd elect her if she offered to outlaw beer.
In the front, she could see Ariath behind Deveaux. She was subtly massaging his neck, and he looked pleased. The ministers surrounding him thought that he was pleased with the speech, and Omeria could already tell that they were planning to court her favor from here on in. Without knowing it, Deveaux was making her the most popular new face in Tobrinese politics.
"Your streets will be safe at night," she continued. "I will destroy the vampire scourge that preys upon your city!"
Easy enough. Beliath had taken charge of the vampires in Cloak's absence. Keeping a low profile in return for greater power and fresh meat brought in through itinerant shelters, unmissed, would appeal greatly to the Vampire Kingdom.
As Omeria came to the end of her speech, her wards alerted her to the Shikinti warrior, Jardin's sister. The woman was approaching the Festival. Omeria signaled subtly with her hands to Hotspur, hidden in the audience. In moments, the One True Bloodscar was going to make himself obvious. That should keep them busy for a while, Omeria thought to herself. He'll make sure that they're on the right trail to find the foolish Ian Jardin... and the wrong trail to notice me.
Omeria finished her speech. The crowd roared their approval. To her pleasant surprise, Deveaux came back up on stage to take her hand in his and raise them in a sign of solidarity.
By tonight, Omeria would be the name on everyone's tongue.
And tomorrow... phase two of the plan would begin.

Character(s): Garal
Author: Eric Gasior
Storyline: The Abyss Leers Also
Title of Post: Blink and You Miss It
"I wanted the whip fight, too." Garal whispered to Val, "I've seen her fight before."

Character(s): Skitch
Author: Laura Redish, amended by Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Storyline: The Abyss Gazes Back: Pool Sharks
Title of Post: Everybody Wanted The Whip Fight
All the grown-ups and demons seemed really intent on the game of pool. Skitch just thought this had to be the most boring game anyone had ever invented. He poked Kit in the ribs. "Kit, look at Jack! Jack's a girl! Ha ha ha!"
"So?" said Kit, defensively, as if he was really trying to concentrate.
"So, he's got boobies! Ha ha ha!"
"You're such a dork, Skitch."
"And look at her underwear! Man, she's flossing her butt!" Skitch collapsed in helpless giggles, releasing much of the pent-up tension of the past few days. Skitch liked the Abyss. "Thank God boys don't have to wear things like that. I'm glad I'm not a girl."
"Yeah, me too," said Kit. "Shut up, you booger, I'm trying to watch the game."

Character(s): Jackie Paris vs. Ailonwy, Queen of the Abyss
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Abyss Racks Also
Title of Post: The Game Continues
It took Jack a few shots to get used to having the underwear so far up his butt, and by that point he was two shots behind. Ailonwy was really good. Still, despite having leather rideup and a strange center of balance, there were few things that Jack was better at than pool. The game was almost entirely mathematical. Vectors determined the direction of the balls, based on impact tangents and the topology of the table. As the game went along, Jack's topological map became more and more detailed.
And Ailonwy got pissier and pissier.
"Are you sure that she's going to keep to her word?" Valende asked Khyrisse. "Jack is really getting her upset."
"Good question... well, she's Brionwy's daughter... and Brionwy was the goddess of deception."
Val nodded. "We'd better have a backup plan."
"Aaaaachooo!" Ailonwy sneezed as Jack thrust his cue.
Jack glared. He was focused enough to ignore her, but poor sportsmanship didn't indicate a likely happy ending to this conflict.
"And we'd better come up with something soon," Val added.
Jack wished he remembered how Vic walked. It would have been perfect for pool.

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