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The Book of Ataniel

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



Character(s): The Rat Pack: Pants
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Road To Ataniel
Title of Post: I Was Rooting For A Stuckey's
"Jack, why haven't you turned back to a boy yet?" Skitch asked.
"Man," Val corrected.
"Um, hm..." Jack pondered. "I guess it's the same reason that I don't change back in Khyrisse's mansion... until new planar constants are imprinted into my equation, it maintains the old ones, even in null-zones like the astral plane."
"I love it when you talk math," Val said.
"Um, thanks," Jack blushed. "Can I go change out of this?"

***


"Are you sure that they'll be here?" Alphred asked.
"I am never wrong," the glowing being said. "All those who come to my domain are known to me."
"Really," Alphred nodded. The being who had rescued him was something of a braggart. Alphred hoped that he would find the Rat Pack soon.
"So tell me more about your allies," the godlike being asked.
"Well," Alphred said, "we are led by the Rat and the Goddess Who Fell."
"Vox?" the being asked.
"No, Khyrisse. And we also count Nur'ur, the Living Number amongst our people."
"You are indeed an epic band," the being said. "I shall join you."
"What?" Alphred asked.
"We are here! Your friends are within!"
Alphred looked up at the tavern. Ignoring the annoying being who had rescued him, he pressed through the doors. "Khy'ri'sse! Nur'ur! I have returned!"
"And I have rescued him!" the glowing being behind Alphred cried. "I, Zerthimon! Angel of the Dead God Morvon!"
"Oh, fuck," Asinus muttered.
"I have come to join you!" Zerthimon cried.
"Like hell!" Khyrisse started. Unfortunately, Zerthimon had already chosen his Avatar. "Hi there," he said inside the head of his chosen one.

Character(s): The Rat Pack: Pants
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen (thank you, Laura!)
Storyline: The Road To Ataniel
Title of Post: Strange Reactions and Terrible Puns
Khyrisse turned around and looked at her adopted son for a moment, surprised.
Something in her frozen face shattered. She flung her arms around Skitch and buried her face in his shoulder, bursting into a noisy, helpless bout of tears.
"Hey, M--Khyrisse! Come on, I'm okay! Everything's all right now!" Skitch said; his skinny arms tightened fiercely around the sobbing archmage. "You-- you're messing up my tunic!"
"Skitch," she hiccuped into his shoulder, sounding as if she were laughing through her tears, "don't look now, but this tunic is ruined. Trust me, a little salt water can't hurt it any."
"Aw, man..."
"I'll make you a new one," she reassured him, smiling.

***


Khyrisse's head snapped around, at the sound of someone proclaiming "I, Zerthimon! Angel of the Dead God Morvon!"
"Oh, fuck," Asinus muttered.
"I have come to join you!" Zerthimon cried.
"Like hell!" Khyrisse started. Unfortunately, Zerthimon had already chosen his Avatar.
"Hi there," it said... from Asinus' head.
Khyrisse stared at him with bloodshot eyes-- and said what was probably every curse word she knew, in five different languages. The Impish alone took over thirty seconds. Skitch was on the floor by the end of it, howling, despite not understanding most of them. So was Vas. "I... am definitely not sleeping with you now," Khyrisse finished, breathlessly. "No. It was out of the question before, and now it's a total impossibility. Don't even ask."
She spun around and walked away, shaking violently with what looked suspiciously like laughter.
"Where are you going?"
"To get a drink! Avatar of Morvon, my ass!!"

Character(s): Omeria, Ariath, Bloodscar
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Omeria Agenda
Title of Post: The Vote, Part II
Ariath preferred to remain anonymous when possible, but Omeria's plan had called for her to be here, standing on stage in front of thousands of people, the Chief Mourner, the Victim, the "Widow of Tobrinel." These people had seen her at Deveaux's side all throughout festival. Even those who didn't know her name knew who she was. And right now, she was all that was left of their most beloved Duke.
Omeria stood at her side. Her presence there, supporting Ariath as a beloved cousin, was doing more for her political career than a hundred speeches.
Ariath spoke the speech that Omeria had written for her.
"We come here today not to mourn a man," she began, "but to mourn a country." Omeria stepped forward imperceptibly. Ariath continued. "Deveaux was not just a man who loved this country... though he did. He was not just a duke who did everything in his power to improve all of your lives... though he did. He was not just the voice of the people of Tobrinel... though he was! "He was a man," her voice dropped. "One whose only fault was that he loved... too deeply. I... was fortunate enough to have felt that love, if only for a short time."
Ariath paused for effect. "I am doubly saddened," she resumed, "that his death was brought about by the people he sought to serve. The people that for years he has served... and served well. The people... he will no longer... be able to... ser--" She burst into tears. Omeria stepped forward and embraced her "cousin" sympathetically.
Looking out over the people, Omeria stepped forward. "I think it best that we allow the Widow of Tobrinel to mourn in peace. Return to your homes! We should all think tonight of what we have done... and how we can honor Duke Deveaux's memory in the future .. for we are all responsible, and I know that I will bear the guilt for what happened this night to my dying day."
Which, Omeria thought to herself, was seven years ago.
Putting her arm around the grieving Ariath, Omeria led her off. The crowd dispersed in silence.

***


Making it back to their headquarters, Omeria found Bloodscar waiting. "Get to bed, little knife," she said to Ariath. "I've still got work to do."
Ariath nodded and waved, before heading off to her room. She hoped that Khyrisse would come tonight. The day's events had gotten her all wired, and she could use a nice talk to unwind.
Meanwhile, Bloodscar related his experiences with Jardin and her allies. "You were right to leave me without mental protection," he growled. "I wouldn't have been able to let them get away. Though you are responsible for my honor being satisfied."
"I promise, Bloodscar. When all is said and done, you'll have what you want. Did they get the information we had planted?"
"I believe so," Bloodscar said. "I kept the mental sigil in my mind."
"Then they know who is behind all of this."
"I am certain of it."

***


"What did you learn, Mind?" Praxis asked.
"The person who sent Bloodscar... who's holding Mr. Jardin."
"Out with it, brainboy!" Body bellowed.
"A high ranking minister of Tobrinel!" Mind cried. "Someone who might be elected in tomorrow's election!"
"You're just doing this for suspense, aren't you?" Body grumbled.
"A man named Jale Harcourt!"

Character(s): The Prax Pack, Jale Harcourt, Beliath, Endicott, Silverlace, Silverblade, and the vampires
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: The Omeria Agenda
Title of Post: Bloodsport
"Tea, milord," the vampire bodyguard said.
"No, no. Where the hell are the latest election returns?" replied Lord Jale Harcourt. Things just did not seem to be going as planned. What was wrong with Blackblade, damnit?
The undead man was not enjoying himself either. Assigned to butt-boring grunt duty guarding this prig. He'd love to just make a meal out of him, but the boss would've raised a stink. Wasn't being a vampire supposed to be more fun? Being sexy and tragically hip and stuff? Being--
*SMACK!*
The door hit him square in the face as it suddenly flew open. Then he felt his body contort in pain when the holy blades were drawn, then the burning, then he was dead. It was existentially angstful.
With a blindingly fast swipe of her katana, Inez knocked the main gauche out of Harcourt's hand and said to him in Tobrinese: "Sit. Your. Stupid. Ass. Down." He quickly complied.
"Wh-who are you? What do you want?"
"My name," she said calmly, leaning right into his personal space, "is Inez... Jardin."
"Jardin... ohmygod..."
"There's some information we want from you," the tall one said.
"You don't know what you're dealing with. Don't know what they'd do to me! I'll tell you nothing!"
"And who said anything about telling me?" The freaky-looking bald man silently stared at him.

***


"...stop worrying. I'm telling you, we can pull this off."
"I'm just not looking forward to-- Bill, what's wrong?" Silverlace whispered.
"Trouble." He slipped into the shadows, and she followed him invisibly. Bill was right-- the door to Jale Harcourt's house had been forced open. Was this it? Was the jig up? She took comfort in knowing that Bill was with her. Just the sweetest man she'd ever met...
From inside the house, she could hear a voice, strange accent. She strained her ears to listen. "--tie him up. The police will deal with him."
She slipped silently into the house. Harcourt was being bound to a chair by one of the foreign looking quartet. All of them looked loaded for bear. What on earth are we going to do now?
...Boss, trouble at 7:00! Mind called out.
The biggest of the bunch suddenly spun around to face her. Great, here goes nothing... she thought.
Bill stepped out of the shadows, hands up, and called out, "Wait! It's all right."
"What on earth??" the big bald galoot said.
"It's okay," Bill said to her, "you can come out." Cautiously, she let herself become visible.
"Silverlace???" Inez said, when she saw the stunningly beautiful woman fade into view. She looked from her to Endicott incredulously.
Holy Cow! Mind and Body said, in unison.
It's not what you two are thinking. I think...

***


Two days later, Jale Harcourt hanged himself in his prison cell. With a small piece of stone, he had scratched a two word suicide note on the side of his cell: "Forgive me."
It remains unknown to whom this plea was addressed, or if said forgiveness was granted.

***


The cell door opened with a groan of protest, and two vampires walked in. The man in the cell gave them a contemptuous glance, then went back to staring at the floor.
"And how are we this evening, Mr. Jardin?"
"Go fuck yourself, Blackblade."
Beliath and his companion laughed. "But that's my job," protested Tamira, doing a grotesque parody of innocent surprise. "Once you come over to a better way of looking at things, maybe I'll do the same for you." The former sorceress leered at him and his skin crawled.
"I'd sooner die than copulate with your disgusting undead body. And if it weren't for these chains, you'd be the one who was dead now."
They both laughed again. "Really," Tamira scoffed. "How did a mortal such as you ever give the children of the night so much trouble?"
"Oh, but pardon my rudeness!" Beliath said. "I knew I had forgotten something! It's been, what? Three days since you were given any sustenance? Dear me, I'm sorry. Withholding food-- that's a barbaric torture, and I don't want you to think me uncivilized. I want you to like me. To serve me with a... willing heart."
"That'll be a cold day in Hell."
"Will it now?" Beliath whispered. He leaned in closer to Silverblade. "Did you know that your sister is in Tobrinel? Ah, I see that you did not. I'm afraid something will have to be done about her. But perhaps if you could be a little less... obstinate, I might be persuaded to be merciful. I'm not some kind of homicidal maniac, you know."
Inez. My God...
"I see you need to reflect. Oh, Tamira! Mr. Jardin needs some food!" She produced a chalice. Beliath took out a jet dagger and sliced down the length of his forearm. *drip drip drip*
"Come, my dear. I shall be back to see you later, Silverblade."
When they had shut the door behind them, Tamira asked, "You're not really planning on sparing that samurai slut are you?"
"Of course not! Do I look like I've been lobotomized?"
Inside the cell, Silverblade stared at the cup for a very long time. Trembling. He tried to fight it, but he was starving to death.
The blood-- damn it all-- tasted good.

***


"I've been thinking," Praxis said, "that we really ought to talk."
"All right, I'm listening," Endicott replied.

***


"So, how long have you and Silverlace been working on this?"
"A while, now. Beliath is a very slippery customer. We're still not certain where he is, or who."
The next words came slowly. "Why didn't you come to me? I'd have helped."
"We're doing fine. Thank you."
"I know that. I..."
Boss, maybe this isn't a line of conversation to pursue...
Yes it is. He's always said that openness with the truth will set you free. "Endicott, I always, I wondered if you didn't need any help. Or if you just didn't want any from me."
"That's ridiculous."
"Well, I'm not known as the most emotionally perceptive man ever, but it seemed like things were... tense between us. After what happened six years ago."
"I hadn't noticed anything of the sort."
"You know, I always have been a little better at knowing when people are lying. It's easy with you. Hell, it's painful, watching you struggling to try to be polite when you have to lie to do it."
"Look... you're right. It just wasn't easy. And I could tell that of the two of us, Sway needed you more. And then, when I found out about Wyvern, then there was Darkhawke, then Beliath... Once you start training yourself not to trust people, it's hard to get out of the habit."
"Can't say I blame you. Given who was involved, I suppose there was no reason to trust SPECTRAL."
"No, let me be honest. It was just, it was very embarrassing, and I could see it made you uncomfortable. And then..."
"You know... back in Dublin, people were always a little afraid of homosexuality. Not the sex itself. That was no big deal. It was just that it was considered a tip that maybe someone was really a fey. And they were definitely something to be afraid of. And when you asked me out, I knew that I couldn't say yes. That would have been dishonest, and you'd have hated that. But I felt, I dunno. Like I was being rude."
"You're thinking too hard again, McGee. Don't. It's very unattractive, and-- " he smiled broadly, "--you've already got a killer case of male pattern baldness."
Hey!!!
Quiet, Body. "So, wanna go grab a pint?"

***


"Thank you for coming," Praxis said. "As I've told you, we came here to rescue my brother-in-law. But now it appears there's another very, very serious problem."
He held up a sketch of the One True Bloodscar.

***


"There, there, have another drink." Beliath was pleased to see that Jardin was taking his blood with less protest now. "Very good. How was that?"
"Fine, m-m... sir."
"Good. I can see that soon you'll be able to come out hunting with me soon. Won't that be fun?"
"Inez, we're not going to--"
"Didn't I promise you I wouldn't kill her?"
"And not make her like... like me."
"Well, mortality seems a cruel fate to condemn family to, but if you insist. All right." Fool.

***


"We're going on a little hunt. I'm told that this mortal is pretty tough." Laughter met Tamira's words. "Indeed, we're talking a veritable hero of a mortal. Oooooh! Scary!" Uproarious laughter from the assembled mass of vampires. She held up a picture of their prey.
"I'm told his name is Praxis."

***


She moved quietly through the streets of Tobrinel, cloaked by invisibility. Still there?
Yes, don't be nervous.
Sorry, Hou-Hsieh thought back. Todd would tell her to stay calm and focused, so she resolved to do so. She approached the house-- ordinary enough from the outside-- where they believed Inez's brother was held. She slipped inside easily enough-- a trap?
Yes! There he was. The One True Bloodscar! He slowly turned towards her, drawing a massive sword. Need help!
It's here.

***


He walked through the deserted night streets of Tobrinel, a little fidgety despite himself. He was in mental contact with Inez and the others of course, ready to blink to their assistance at any second, but still. With Bloodscar involved...
It was one of the many lovely squares in Tobrinel. An elaborately carved fountain spewing water in the spacious center, ringed by flowers, shops lining the cobblestone street. Peaceful.
Boss, we are very, very far from alone, Mind told him. "Greetings!" Tamira said merrily, stepping out of the shadows. Her minions followed, one by one.
How many do you count?
Two dozen, maybe. I presume they're all vampires.

***


"You've done well, Silverblade. I'm proud of you. Time we spent a night out together. Good to be out of chains?"
"Yes. Thank you. Sir."
"Please, just call me Blackblade." Beliath laughed inwardly. "Now that you've drunk enough that I feel I can trust you, I see no reason you can't have these back."
"...Thank you. Blackblade." He strapped on his sword.
"My pleasure, thrall. Now, where would you like to dine?"
Ian Jardin had always been a strong man. He was al the stronger now, as a vampire. His last thought was-- Inez and Todd can handle themselves. I hope.
With one savage swipe, he nearly severed Blackblade's left arm at the shoulder. A second blow finished the job.
Beliath screamed in pain, then quickly drew his own sword. His face was aghast. Jardin was circling him--like a predator with all the time in the world.
"I'll bet you're thinking two things," Silverblade said. "First, you're wondering how anyone could resist the siren call of your stupid undead blood. I'm not going to tell you. Second, you're thinking you'll be able to regenerate the arm." He smiled a wicked grin. "Not from this sword you won't. And even if you could-- in a few seconds you're going to be dead."

***


Omeria had cast Stoneskin on him, which he'd objected to, full of a warrior's pride, but she insisted. It stopped the first few sword blows, and he struck a mighty blow at the Dragon woman. Then she breathed on him. Then the volley of magic missiles from the short one. Then more fire.
So much for magics, the One, True Bloodscar thought, time to do this killing the old-fashioned way!
The Dragon-woman, Jardin's sister, had clamped her jaws onto his arm and clung like a pit bull. He was about to give her another good hack with the blade, when one of the others leapt into the way, and was slashed nastily for his chivalry.
He felt teeth grinding against the bone in his arm. The paladin ran forward and healed Jardin. Then the flames were on him again, and a polearm got in a decent shot at his side...
He could hear the bone snap. Broken, no doubt.
His enemies were bleeding and wary of him, but they were many, and he was one. There was a time when he would have happily gone down, taking four or five with him-- considered it a decent death even...
But now, he had family to think about.
Cursing, he managed to wrench a small rod free and faded out. The last thing he heard was a triumphant shout of victory.

***


Deciding that a straight-up fight was bad odds, Beliath turned to mist and leapt through the wall. Jardin followed in an identical manner.
How had Jardin done that? No one could resist the bonds of blood! Even Bloody Mary herself was supposed to have been some goody-two shoes-- while alive...
Silverblade was maybe 30 feet back, gaining. Then he saw his savior-- a pedestrian. Beliath solidified, and without breaking stride, sliced the man's throat as he ran past.
He kept running, and shouted, "He's alive still! But not for long! Not if you waste your time with our game of tag!"
Silverblade never hesitated. No choice at all. He pulled up to a skidding stop beside the wounded man. "Next time, I'm cutting off your damn head!!!"
Then he lifted the pedestrian into his arms, and rushed off for help.
Godamnit this hurts. What if he was right and it doesn't grow back?

***


"So, you're the great Praxis, eh?"
"Tamira and friends, I presume?"
"Yes indeed. But I hope you won't mind if I call you... lunch."
"Maybe I am. But not right away." The black night suddenly went gray.
Tamira ignored this and advanced on him, fangs bared. It was like moving underwater. Her fellow children of the night were moving similarly slothfully, looking around, uncertain what was happening.
"Nice trick, I'll grant you, but it won't help! Seems to have affected you, too."
"A small price to pay, for the chance of at least taking you all on one at a time, rather than en masse."
"Hah! That won't help you. I alone am more than you! And I don't have to waste time getting to you to kill you, mortal!" She cast lightning bolt, and stared in shock as it fizzled in her hands.
"Or perhaps you do." He stood, hands raised in a martial arts stance. "So, once you hurry your lazy undead ass over here, care to settle this like men?"
"YEEEAAAARRRRRGHH!" she screamed sat him, incoherent and enraged. The others were-- slowly-- moving closer, too, but all seemed ready to give their mistress first crack at 'lunch.'
Finally, she was almost upon him. "I know this is just some trick! You're just playing with my mind! We'll see how playful you are when I sink my teeth into your heart!"
"I'd no idea it upset you so, little undead girl."
Geez boss. I had no idea you were so into this distracting banter stuff!
Thank you, Body. "Since you don't like 'playing' very much, I'll stop in a moment. But I want to tell you one thing. It's not your mind I've been playing with..."
Praxis stopped. The gray dissipated.
The last thing Tamira, and two dozen other vampires, laid eyes on was the naked, unforgiving light of the Sun.
"It was time I was playing with," Praxis said.

***


Somewhere, in a very different skein, for no reason he could understand, Luthien cracked a big smile.

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