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The Book of Ataniel

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The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, Part II



Character(s): The Rat Pack Remnants/Four Patient People and a Bitch
Author: Laura Redish, Evan Haag, Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Like a Bat Out of Hell
Title of Post: Talking About Hell (And People Who Do Or Do Not Belong There)

"Visitors, sir," said Luthien's spectral majordomo. Khyrisse came through the front door, followed by Vas and Skitch.
Flicker took one look at Khyrisse. "What happened?"
"Ebreth is in Hell," she said, calmly.
Flicker put his hand over his mouth.
"Thank you," said Luthien, softly. "I know this must have been difficult for you."
Khyrisse winced and closed her eyes. “You have no idea,” she murmured, wrapping her hand around her left wrist. She opened her eyes again after a moment. “No, I didn’t kill him. Ariath backstabbed me, and while I lay paralyzed in the mud like an idiot, she threatened to slit my throat open if Ebreth didn’t go back. She’d made a deal for her freedom or something.” Khyrisse shrugged shakily, and swallowed hard before continuing. "So Ebreth went to Hell."
Luthien’s eyes widened a little. For an instant, he looked ever so slightly ashamed of himself.
"The Slaver King?" said Norna. "Surely that is his proper place."
Flicker put his drink in her hand and tossed it back, so that she had to either drink it or spill it down her tabard, and while she was busy with it, told Khyrisse, "I'm sorry."
"Thank you,” Khyrisse whispered.
"I'm going to kill you, Ragnarokkr," coughed Norna.
The spectral servant stepped between them. "Violence may be taken out-of-doors," she said, firmly.

"Is everyone else okay?" said Flicker.
"Yes, I think so. More or less,” Khyrisse said. Luthien looked at Vas suspiciously, then raised an eyebrow at her. She ignored this, and asked Flicker, "Do you remember the dream you had the other night?"
"I... do.”
"You told me that I would be able to get to Hell by finding the Eye of Worlds, and you said it was in the place I least wanted to go. Do you happen to know what you meant by that?"
Flicker looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry, Khyrisse. If I knew that, I... wouldn't have known what I did. Prophets are all insane."
"I heard that, Messala!"
Khyrisse sighed. "I was afraid of that... I guess I’ve got to run down the list, then. Can you tell me anything about Hell, then? The elves don’t even have a Hell, so I’m a little short of information...”
"You’re going to Hell?” Luthien asked incredulously.
"Yes,” she replied, very firmly. "I have to rescue Ebreth. It’s my fault he’s there now.”
"And Tarrin!" Skitch tugged at her tunic. "Don't forget Tarrin!"
"You can't do that," interrupted Norna, surprised. "It's divine law. Souls consigned to Hell are Hell's forever."
"I'm not divine any more," said Khyrisse.
"I didn't mean you were morally obligated, elf. You won't be able to do it. You can't just break into Hell and steal damned souls. It's impossible."
"It is not," said Flicker, crossly. "Several demon lords have done it."
"Any mortals?" Norna wanted to know.
"That's not the point. It's not impossible. It's just-- difficult."
"How difficult? Do you know how?” Khyrisse asked, with real animation on her face for the first time since she’d arrived.
"Khyrisse, I have no idea," said Flicker. "I've never done it, I've never tried it, I've never even known anyone who's done it. Tarrin and Cori aren't damned souls, so you can legally take them if you can find them, and you could even pull the Treaty of Souls on them; Ebreth, if he started in Hell... you would have to get off the plane with him as soon as you found him. Unless you wanted to make a very unsavory deal for his soul. That's all I know."
Khyrisse paused. "What about bargaining for it, or buying it?”
"Well, you could, Khyrisse, but you'd have to do something as horrible as Ariath did. This is Hell. They don't deal in money, they deal in evil."
"What if Ebreth isn’t evil anymore, though?”
Flicker sighed. "In Hell, technicalities count."
Khyrisse sighed back. "I was afraid of that, too.”

Character(s): Khyrisse and Flicker
Author: Laura Redish and Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: A Finished Conversation

The three former Sewer Tourists finished comparing their notes on what had happened to them in the past few days. The confusing part was Odn, who seemed to have been a busy gentleman yesterday, but they shelved that part for later. "So Jack's still with you," said Flicker.
"Yes, but he's a disembodied soul." This seemed to keep happening to people Khyrisse knew.
"Please remind him that his father said he might be destroyed if he leaves this plane," he said. "Robinson was a personal friend and Jack is his only child. I'd really rather you didn't take him to Hell."
"It's up to Jack, of course."
"Well, of course." He paused. "If you waited a few weeks Luth and I could come with you."
"I can't do that," she said. "I'm on vendetta. I took a blood oath."
Flicker started. "That's not what we call 'binding' in the Abyss, is it?"
Skitch poked Khyrisse. "See, he’s a demon, and you don't mind him. What's wrong with Fred?"
"Fred would sell us all to Wyvern if someone would turn him into a pit fiend," she told him. "I don't know what 'binding' is. Vendetta obligates me to complete my task. I must keep trying until I succeed."
"But you won't drop dead if you fail or anything."
"Uh... no, nothing like that."
"Good," he said, seriously. "Because you have quite a task ahead of you."
"You--drop dead if you fail?" said Luthien, surprised.
"Probably not permanently," he said, smiling a little, "in my case. And I'm exempt if I'm prevented from completing the task, so no bright ideas."
"Could I bind a demon to bring me to Ebreth?" said Khyrisse, slowly. "Or mabye an imp?"
"Only if they willingly agreed to be bound. You'd have to spiritwrack them, or promise them something in return, or lock them in the bathroom naked and threaten to let the unrequited love of their life in--"
"You deserved that."
"If you bound someone, you'd be guaranteed he'd do what he'd sworn to, but he'd also twist it in every possible way and probably try to kill you as soon as he was done, so I don't know that it's worth it."
"Great," sighed Khyrisse.
"Enough," snapped Norna. "We have much to do, and little time."

Character(s): Bloodscar
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: BFYR
Title of Post: Sleep Deprivation

"Couldn’t you just apologize to her?" suggested Marhault.
"Oh, like she'd accept that."
"Use those puppy dog eyes. Like the time you stole my ring of free action and Rhynwa fucking held me."
"Bwah-hah-hah!" Ari wiped her eyes.
"You could assassinate her," suggested K'Mar.
"I'm not doing any more assassinations," said Hotspur, and turned the page of his magazine. "Mercenary stuff's okay. No more assassinations."
"Spur, you're a wuss," said Omeria.
"I don't want to go back to Hell. I don't have to be good; I just have to be like Darius. Darius didn't have to go to Hell. No more assassinations, no more torture, and no more kicking dogs. It's straight kills for me from here on in."
"I just hope Merry's plan works," said Ariath, depressed. "I am going to be so sleep-deprived."
"You’re sleep-deprived?" said Marhault. "Spur, Bloodscar and me were playing Cosmic Encounter all night."

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: Places I Remember

"Hey," said Skitch, suddenly, "maybe you could trade Mister Augustine's soul for Ebreth's! You don't want his old soul anyway."
"Skitch, dear," said Val, "selling people's souls to the devil isn't very nice."
"If he curses his foul mouth off at me one more night I may do it anyway," muttered Khyrisse.
"He never--talks to you about me, does he?" whispered Vas.
"Nothing but trash talk, Vas. Certainly nothing worth repeating."
He looked at his sister, somewhat stricken. She put her hand over her mouth. Khyrisse missed the exchange. "Unfortunately," she said, "our next stop is the place I want to go the least. I can think of several contenders, and by definition, I'm not looking forward to any of them."
"Liratyn?" said Vas, trying to look light-hearted.
"Trade?" guessed Skitch.
"Rimbor City?"
"Eric Stupidhead," said Skitch.
"The Doomlands."
"Bane."
"Diaria."
"Hey, what's wrong with Diaria?"
"My bedroom, apparently," groused Asinus.
"Everyone should be quiet and let the spirit maiden choose her path," said Alphred, sternly.

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: The Circular Path of the Spirit Maiden

Khyrisse leaned back against the cushions of the heavily shielded Carriage (if paranoia could prevent Ariath coming back and ending the vendetta herself, far be it from Khyrisse to hoard her spell slots) and thought furiously.
The Temple of the Weird Sisters...
Bane...
Cynystra...
Trade...
All right, I can't even get to two of those places, not yet, anyway. Cynystra or Trade? Which do I not want to go to more? I'd already decided to go to Trade, eventually... but I have my hatred to insulate me a little, in Cynystra. "Trade," Khyrisse sighed and looked out the window. "I think it'll have to be the ruins of Trade. We'll have to go secretly, though-- invisibility, sleeping in the Mansion, the works. Not only do I not want to be bothered by anyone in a place that... close to me," she said, her voice briefly dropping to a whisper, "Edimon is too near to Trade for my peace of mind. Grendel only knows what Malcar has been up to."

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: A Little Help From My Friends

"What are we looking for, anyway?" said Skitch.
"The Eye of Worlds. I don't know what that is, but hopefully it can get us to Hell--and back."
"Yes, that second part's pretty important there, chickie." Uncle Asinus chewed his cigar.
Alphred balked. "Will we be flying?"
"Please tell me you don't get airsick," said Vas.
"No, but I must commune with the spirits of the wind before I can entrust myself to the magic wings of the spirit maiden." Alphred climbed out of the carriage and sat down, cross-legged, right on the ground, his loincloth flopping.
Khyrisse sighed and climbed up to the driver's board. It felt very lonely up there without Ebreth or Ariath. After a moment Valende climbed out of the coach and sat next to her on the board, watching Alphred go through his solemn rituals. Val hesitated and then put her arm around her employer. "Jack says pain shared is pain halved," she said. "Would it help to talk about it? I know you haven't been telling us the whole story."

Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Ain't Got No Body
Title of Post: Good Thing There's Another Mathematician Around

It was driving Jack nuts trying to do all the figuring in his head.
Not that his memory wasn't perfect--it was. Jack just missed the actual feel of the pencil, the patterns that the math made on the paper, the slow revelation of grand mysteries before his very eyes.
"Jack?" Vas said into the microphone, "why am I talking to you?"
"Because Val wanted to talk to Khyrisse. She figured you might want someone to talk to who you didn't need to look at."
Shit, thought Jack, I wasn't supposed to tell him that part. Vas chuckled. "At least my sister cares. It's more than I've given her reason to do."
"Um, I know I'm not really good at this sort of thing," Jack said, "but it seems to me that you underestimate how much your sister worries about you."
"And well I warrant such worry," Vas sighed.
Jack frowned, or did what in a body would have resulted in a frown. "Look, Vas," Jack sighed. "You can't keep kicking yourself over this Ariath thing. From what everyone keeps telling me--and it's all anyone seems to want to talk about to me, apparently--it didn't have anything to do with you. It was all about Ebreth."
"And that should make me feel better?" Vas demanded.
"No, but it should give you some perspective and maybe give you the inclination to stop being so selfish with your pain."
Oh, shit, I'm getting grumpy, Jack sighed inwardly.
"I'm sorry, Vas--" Jack started.
"No, Jack, you're right. I haven't been thinking about others. I've been indulging myself over old pain and now I'm flagellating myself over new pain. You are wise beyond your years, Jack Paris."
"Um, okay," Jack said. "I'm glad you're, uh, happy..."
"Jack?" Vas said.
"Mm?"
"The Rat has brought me something. It looks mathematical."
"Man, I've got to get optical on this thing before I go bonkers," Jack said. "Can you read it to me?"
"Four... then a squiggly line... then a different squiggly line..."
"Can you hand me off to, uh... someone else?"
There was a pause.
"Hello?" came Alphred's voice.
We've got to get some more people in this party, Jack sighed.

Character(s): Khyrisse and Valende
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: Telling Tales

Khyrisse smiled a little, propping her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands. "Not many of us have been... and look where it got us. 'Jack says', hmm? Has Jack been telling the whole story?"
Valende looked rueful for a moment. "...He's told it to me. But I can't tell you."
"There's a lot of that going around, it seems." She patted Valende's hand at her waist as Val began to pull away, and sighed. "Sorry. I'm overtired... I'm not sure what to say, though. I never really trusted Pieret this time-- and he still screwed us over. I wanted to trust Ariath, so I gave her the chance. I figured I'd be able to take whatever she dished out, if I was wrong-- and she didn't go after me, she went after Ebreth." Khyrisse laughed shakily and put her forehead down on her knees. "If I start talking about Ariath or Ebreth, I'll be sitting here all day. You don't want to hear most of that, I'm sure. I know people must be puzzled about what's been going on, though."
Valende smiled. "That's an understatement."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather talk about getting Jack a body again?" Khyrisse asked, hopefully, but rather muffled.
"While such a subject is admittedly dear to my heart," Valende said, "I think it can wait a few minutes."
Khyrisse muttered something that sounded like cursing. "I guess I owe it to everyone left. Jack with no body, Vas on vendetta, half of us sent to Hell, other half going to Hell to get them back... Just-- please, Val-- use your discretion in what you repeat of this to some of us, all right?" she sighed, and began laying out what she knew (or what she had been told) about Pieret, Ariath, and Ebreth. Her voice got rather flat before the end, but Valende let her finish uninterrupted. Khyrisse did not mention how she felt about any of it, however, which was what Valende had been hoping to hear.

***

Valende put the headset back on and sighed. "Jack?"
"Val?" Jack said in her ear. "How did your talk go?"
"I don't think talking will help her, Jack," Valende said sadly. "She lost both best friend and lover in one blow, the one due to the other. She's in too much pain; I think this has happened to her before, somehow. She doesn't want to talk about it. All we can do now is help her fix things, as much as we can."
"Getting Ebreth back, you mean." Jack's voice sounded a little sour even to his ears, despite his best efforts.
"And Cori and Tarrin," Valende corrected him gently. "She's been trying to find or create a way to get to Hell for days now, it turns out. And she wants to talk to you about reconfiguring your body."
"Maybe she can read what the Rat wrote," Jack sighed.
Valende puzzled over the soot-smudged paper. "This is writing?" she murmured.

Character(s): Marhault, aka "Tall Gaunt Guy"
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Vendetta: Defensive Side
Title of Post: Ninety-five pages later, what's the first thing I want to do? Write some more, naturally!

Marhault looked at the Seventh Temple.
Damn place should have stayed buried, he thought to himself. The twisted and indescribable figures sculpted out of the volcanic stone seemed to leer at Marhault as he walked into the temple. "Siann!" he shouted into the wide, seven-walled room. "I come to collect on your debt!"
There was no answer. Marhault hadn't expected one, but he was disappointed nonetheless. He didn't like what Omeria wanted him to do here. After giving it another minute, he sat down in the center of the Seventh Temple and opened his pack. He pulled out a small, stoppered vial. Popping the cork out, he swallowed the entire contents.
Five minutes later, Marhault was fast asleep.

***

"Look, guys, -sssssst-" hissed a familiar voice.
"If it isn't Tall Gaunt Guy," Rhynwa sneered.
"Kerouac looooves fighting Tall Gaunt Guy!" Kerouac laughed. "-sssssst- He always comes back for more damage!"
"Siann!" Marhault called. "End this and speak to me!"
"Save me, Significants," cried a woman's voice from behind Marhault. "Bloodscar has captured me!"
"Fine," frowned Marhault. "Play it your way, bitch."
Marhault reached for his sword.
Kerouac leapt at him with a cry of berserk glee.

Character(s): Khyrisse
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: The Place She Wants To See Least Of All

Khyrisse looked at the blackened crater where her city had once stood, shining in the Dalencian lowlands. There was nothing but ruins now, twisted, scorched, and smelling faintly of an evil that had not yet been forgotten. Khyrisse remembered every street corner. The steel-jaw focus of her vendetta was strangely comforting; Khyrisse was too driven to break down now. But there was pain in her heart, and she couldn't stop the thought: Why don't I ever know what I've got till it's gone?

Character(s): Khyrisse, fallen divinity
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: The Ruins of Trade

Khyrisse drove the invisible Carriage over the blackened patch of ground that had once been Trade, silently.
"That's funny," she said finally, under her breath.
"What is?" Valende whispered back.
"There's nobody here. No looters, no guards, nothing. I know that there were looters; some of the stalls in Edimon had salvaged goods from Trade in them... and look there, to the left," she added. The Carriage skimmed past what looked like the remnants of a guard post, near where one of the physical gates to the city still stood, hinges empty, in the crumbling wall. A few bundles of supplies were torn open and scattered around it, and several tents had been overturned.
"It looks like they left in a panic," Valende said quietly, assessing the damage in their quick fly-by. "Or were attacked, perhaps. Do you think Luthien was right about what we might find here?"
"What a joyous thought," Khyrisse replied, and smiled ruefully. "The unquiet ghosts of Trade. Only one way to find out."

***

"There?" Skitch whispered in Khyrisse's ear, leaning over her shoulder.
"Yes, I think so," she sighed. A few moments later, the Carriage landed near an ash-clogged circle of mud that might once have been a pond, coming to rest in the stubby shadow of a ruined tower. Khyrisse dispelled the invisibility, and she and Skitch looked up at the tower, briefly. Without a word, Skitch jumped down, and held his hands out to Khyrisse, eyes big and worried in his tense little face. Khyrisse took his hands and stepped down from the Carriage, without flinching. Scorched grass and gravel crunched under her heels, and a small puff of grey ash sighed a plaintive welcome to the former goddess of the city.
"Where are we?" Valende said, descending. "I don't recognize it, but it looks... familiar, somehow."
"This used to be the park," Khyrisse said, turning to look at Valende, and her gaze had that numb emptiness behind it again. The purple in her eyes had dulled to charcoal grey. "Skitch used to live near here. I doubt any looters will bother with the remains of a bell tower-- I can use the inner archway for our Mansion, until we're ready to leave."

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: Fugue: Trade, Hell, and Arizona

Someone had obviously already been through here with wizard sight. The few glows Vas was able to perceive were all buried deep, and when the group got to them they were primarily personal items: a purse of holding, a magic waffle iron, some kind of ensorcelled dagger. Nothing that looked vaguely capable of taking them to Hell. Vas was exhausted, and his eyes hurt. This was not a step towards his vendetta and he knew it. He owed it to Khyrisse, in whose service he had already failed once, and to his three companions stranded in Hell, but delaying what he had promised was not pleasant and he could not do it long.

***

Uncle Asinus smoked his cigar and watched Khyrisse's cute tush bobbing in the ruins. She'd come around, he assured himself. They always did.

***

Alphred did not understand why these strange people wanted to dig in the dirt like children. Luckily, the digging power the totem of the mole gave him seemed to be helping him to win their admiration. For some reason Nur'ur had transformed himself into a bizarre crown that the large-mammaried elf was wearing. Alphred didn't understand these people. He looked around at the fallen city and wondered if this was Hell.

***

Skitch was hungry. It had been hours digging through the crumpled buildings. His tunic was a mess, and it was making him cranky. He watched Val suspiciously as she climbed behind Khyrisse. One could never be too careful, Skitch was learning.

***

"I wish you were here to read what the rat wrote, dear," sighed Val. "I feel like we're looking for a needle in a haystack. Maybe the rat's message would help us narrow our search down."
"If I could only work out a video link," sighed Jack. "I can hear you fine."
"Maybe we can find something useful in Hell."

***

The most disturbing thing they had found, so far, was a burnt children's toy that had belonged to Alex Keegan. It would have been so futile for Khyrisse to hope a child like Alex had survived somehow. Every escape from this place was a miracle. Khyrisse shuddered internally and wondered who had killed Alex Keegan. She wondered if the things people had done during the Madness were held against them when it was decided who went to Hell. It seemed so unfair. If Marlukin was alive, it was the kind of thing he would be crusading against. Khyrisse wondered whether Ebreth believed she was coming for him. She had never told him she would, and now she was afraid he didn't know. She knew he was suffering, but she couldn't bear to think of him in despair. Khyrisse shook her head and lifted a metal girder from the wreckage of the Trade Council building.

***

In a distant time, in a distant place, Laura Redish got on a plane for Arizona.

***

And behind them all, in the rubble of Trade, something moved.

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