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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Hell and Back Archives
Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose, Part V



Character(s): Khyrisse and Ember
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen and Laura Redish
Storyline: Ashes to Ashes
Title of Post: Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose
Khyrisse marched out into the common room of the Mithril Dagger, still angry and trying not to be.
"What's it like traveling into the past?" she heard Garal asking Ember.
Ember gave him a little Mona Lisa smile. “Confusing.”
Khyrisse leaned up against the bar and glared at the counter.
Oh, gee, Marty, you’ve had a rough life. I’m so sorry. Please, by all means-- batten yourself on a group of people who have enough to worry about and make them take care of you while you stare into space mindlessly. Sanctimoniously lecture people twice your age about their violent natures while you expect to stay in their rooms and eat their food and be transported by their vehicle.
Khyrisse looked down and realized that her hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists. She also realized that the larger portion of her coffee drink was still all over her tunic. I’m really losing it. I need to calm down or I’m going to murder someone. With a sigh, she cantripped her tunic clean again and ordered another drink. Ignore him. You have enough to worry about. Khyrisse picked up her coffee and sat down in the corner nearest Garal's table. “Ember?” she said hesitantly. “Is it all right if I ask you some questions about your timeline?”
Ember looked her up and down. Khyrisse flushed a little, and her mouth twisted wryly. “Well, that depends on what you want to know.”
“Why were you looking for me? It’s kind of obvious that you weren’t sure who would be with me, just where I’d be.”
"Oh, that's easy. You're going to cross paths with the lich lord plot at some point. If I follow you, I'll make the rendezvous I need. I don't know too many details about your quest or your companions because prophecies are vague."
"Damn prophecies again... What turned Luthien into a lich lord, anyway? Here, he's a perfectly respectable necromancer. He hates the undead. He's married to a priestess of Arawn, for crying out loud."
"That's-- very hard to explain. There's a lot of cross-temporal stuff going on, and a huge paradox is involved. The important thing for you to remember is that my timeline is not the true future of your world, so the things that are going on there don't have to make a lot of sense to you. With a little luck they'll never come to pass for our analogs here anyway."
Khyrisse sighed. “All right, what about the Novem Potentis?”
“What about them?”
“They’re the Septum Potentis, here. Where did the other two come from?”
"Hey, this is Ataniel we're talking about. Things change." Ember shrugged.
“Some things stay the same,” Khyrisse complained quietly, and drank her spiked coffee.

Character(s): Rat Pack: The Quiet Part
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Zen and the Art of Being Comatose
Title of Post: The Marty and Ebreth Show
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty said nothing.
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty said nothing.
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty said nothing.
Ebreth said nothing.
"Huh..." Marty breathed.
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty said nothing.
Ebreth said nothing.
"Man, this is hard," Marty muttered to himself.
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty said nothing.
Ebreth said nothing.
Marty got up and wandered over to the door. Master Ebreth would be disappointed with him, no doubt, but Marty still needed to eat, and the grumpy wizardess didn't seem inclined to help him with his studies. "Catch you later, Master Ebreth."
Ebreth said nothing.

Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Spiked Coffee In Bed
Title of Post: More Followers of Ebreth than You Can Shake a Stick At
Jack returned to the Mithril Dagger with a large bag bearing the Barns and Nobelle logo. He had tried to get an eclectic selection, not having the foggiest idea what Ebreth liked to read. He figured he could start with Treasure Island and work up to Infinite Jest.
Strangely enough, the Mithril Dagger was silent. Not empty, but silent.
Khyrisse, Ember and Garal were all sitting at one table, apparently asleep. Their drinks were empty.
Neither Kayla nor Kevin were around.
The only sound in the room came from the snoring dwarf in the corner who smelled like three-day old fish.
Val! thought Jack, racing to the stairs. Ebreth!
Bursting into the room that he and Val shared, he found Skitch and Kit, also asleep, huddled over a spilled pitcher of chocolate milk.
He ran next door. Ebreth and Marty sat on the bed, but Jack couldn't tell if they had fallen prey to whatever it was that had somehow afflicted the others.
Val and Vas were still missing. So was Alphred. It couldn't be one of them, could it? Jack thought.
Then he was hit from behind with something really really hard, and all went black.

Character(s): Asinus, Caimen, Lora
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: Zerthimon and the Pirates
"That's not like Jack," Lora said. "Are you sure he was fully recovered from the Abyss?"
"Yeah, yeah," Asinus grumbled. "I think he's just p-whipped. He's dating some elf chick."
"It's not important, Asinus," Caimen sighed. "There's been relatively little activity from the Remnant over the last month. Two weeks shouldn't hurt us."
"Is she nice?" Lora asked.
"Oh, right... ask the donkey," Asinus grumbled. "I didn't see her naked, so I can't tell you."
Lora playfully whapped Asinus' ears.
"So tell us more about this power that you gained," Caimen said. "The way you describe it, it could be of great assistance."
"Ah, it's just some flarkin' angel come on some sorta slumming junket."
"The Word says that Zerthimon is still leading his sect in Javin," Lora mentioned.
"That's just a stupid alien from Zaptiocalionaziokoosbiliarth," Asinus grumbled.
"What?" Caimen asked.
"Never mind. I'll deal with him eventually."
"What are you talking about?" Lora asked, a look of concern on her face.
"Nothing, sis... don't sweat it."
"Well, don't get caught up in whatever agenda the thing has, Asinus," Lora warned. "If you need help, we can always get Rauvin to help out."
"If we can find him," Caimen added. "He's still among the missing."
"Remnant?" Asinus asked.
"They've gotten two more since you left."
"Flark," grumbled Asinus. "Two weeks... the boy needs to learn some responsibility."

Character(s): Marty Hu
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Marty Saves The Day
Marty tried really hard to have no reaction as the gorilla planted his knuckles in the back of the geeky guy's head and sent him and his bag of paperbacks sprawling across the floor. One with the universe. One with the universe. The ape inspected him and Ebreth with a narrow eye. "Yeah, these three are out!" he yelled over his shoulder. "You boys find that jungle-man yet?"
"We're still looking, Kong!"
"Well, hurry up! Malat'k wants us to steal the guy's totems and get them back to Salagia, and the drugs we teleported into the drinks at this inn aren't going to last forever!"
The gorilla exposited a lot, Marty noticed, keeping his eyes willfully unfocused.
"Oh, here he is!" yelled another voice. "Spike found him."
"Good! I'm on my way!" The gorilla smashed through what was left of the door and stomped downstairs, so hard the chandelier rocked.
Marty jumped off the bed and scrambled around to the fallen man. Strangely enough, he wasn't bleeding, but Marty couldn't seem to get him to revive. He shook his head and crept downstairs, peeping anxiously over the banister. Bad karma, man. There was no sign of the gorilla. A guy in a loincloth was lying unconscious on top of the bar, and people were sprawled all over the bar in various sleeping positions. Marty took a deep breath and shook the cranky woman awake. "We've, uh, been attacked by a big gorilla," he said, a little lamely, as she blinked the sleep from her lashes. "And I overheard his whole plan, so don't like redirect all your negative energy at me, okay?"

Character(s): Ebreth Tor
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Failure
Ebreth Tor watched as a giant gorilla punched Jack in the back of the head and the mathematician fell like a ton of bricks. He watched as the gorilla crashed out of the room and down the stairs of the Mithril Dagger. He watched as Marty tried fumblingly to check Jack for a pulse, vacillated, and then sneaked ineptly through the shattered doorframe, visible as a crow on white sand. He watched Jack's body resting crumpled on the flagstone, unmoving. And Ebreth Tor watched.

Character(s): Jack Paris, Schneider
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: Jungle Bungle Boogie
Title of Post: As long as I'm still in the neighborhood
He was trying his best to avoid going to bed, but it was getting very late. Not much use anymore.
Walking the streets of Lianth aimlessly had served little purpose-- no one whose life needed saving. It was only a sad reminder that he didn't belong back here yet. He didn't really belong with Khyri's bunch either, even tho they were mostly cool. Time to just get it over with and move on. Still 48 left.
The Mithril Dagger was certainly closed by now, so Schneider just lazily climbed the outer wall to his room. He was looking for his toothbrush, when instinct kicked in and he knew something was wrong.
Everything's just too still...
Cautiously, he stepped out into the hallway and saw the splintered remains of a door. Ready to point, he charged into the room to see one of the Rat Pack lying face down on the floor. Eight sat on the bed, impassive as ever.
Schneider quickly knelt beside Jack and rolled the man over. Still a pulse-- good-- but hurt somehow. The former jester drew a dagger from his belt and plunged it into Jack's chest.
The mathematician stirred. "Uh... wha...?"
"Paris! Are you all right? What the hell happened?"

Character(s): Ebreth Tor
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Zen And The Art Of Catatonic Stupor
Title of Post: in dreams i stand frozen
Ebreth Tor watched as the masked man charged through the splintered door, watched as he pulled out a dagger and stabbed it into Jack's prone form. There was, somewhere, a dull and heavy echo, the movement of wind through an empty space. There was a dimming of the light. And Ebreth Tor watched.

Character(s): Nick
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Walkabout
Title of Post: Nick the spy
Nick was enjoying himself. Whoever the gorilla and the two small dinosaurs were, they had given him a way out of his bargain with the Jungle Lord. He was no longer in his presence, therefore he could cause as much mischief as he wanted.
Nick changed form, from the onyx cat to a bone figurine much like an Easter Island statue. This was going to be fun.

Character(s): Jack Paris, Marty Hu
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: Gorilla My Dreams (Oh, come on... someone was going to use it sooner or later...)
"Man, my head hurts," Jack muttered. "Feels like a gorilla smashed it in."
"Yeah, that's likely in Lianth," Schneider grinned.
"Could you go downstairs and make sure everyone else is okay?" Jack asked.
Khyrisse, thought Schneider. "On my way," the jester said, cartwheeling down the stairs.
Jack looked up at Ebreth. Thank goodness they didn't try to hurt him, Jack thought. Maybe this "peace through coma" isn't such a bad idea...
"You okay?" he asked the silent figure anyway.
Ebreth said nothing.
"Well, don't worry about it," Jack comforted. "I'd rather that you keep yourself safe than that you come out of it just in time to get pulped by whatever got to us."
Ebreth said nothing.
Jack pulled the books out of the bag and placed them on the bed next to Ebreth. "I got some new books for you," he said. "I don't really know what you like, so I got a whole bunch. I'm going to go make sure everything's okay, but I'll make sure that someone comes by." Jack watched Ebreth's face, but nothing had changed. He gave the ex-slaver a thumbs-up and headed out of the room to check on Val.
Marty finished describing what he had seen to the grumpy sorceress and her friends.
"Gorillas," Schneider said with a hint of irony. "I've got to keep my mouth shut."
"Well," Khyrisse said over her cottony-feeling tongue, "it looks like Salagia. Alphred, are you sure they took all of your totems?"
"All but one," the Salagian said, pointing to Khyrisse's pouch.
"NO," Khyrisse said.
"Um, you aren't taking Master Ebreth into the jungle, are you?" Marty asked. "Or is this some sort of test of his will?"

Character(s): The Rat Pack: The Noisy Part
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Too Many People Still Missing
"Um, you aren't taking Master Ebreth into the jungle, are you?" Marty asked. "Or is this some sort of test of his will?"
Khyrisse blinked at Marty for a second. Ebreth. Skitch. Kit. She blinked harder. Schneider came down here putting a knife away. Oh ye screaming gods no. “Um. I-- I don’t know. Pardon me,” she said, still blinking dizzily, and bolted for the stairs.
She ran full-tilt into Jack, who was on his way down.
"Oh, there she goes again,” Ember said, rubbing her eyes groggily. “That woman is going to give herself a heart attack."
Khyrisse swayed in place on the stairs, grabbing onto the railing. “Woulda happened years ago, trust me...” she said to Ember shakily. “Sorry, Jack. Is Ebreth okay?”
“Um, he seems to be--”
“When did you check?”
Jack blinked at her urgent tone in confusion. “Just now.”
Khyrisse closed her eyes and sagged against the wall in momentary relief. “Okay... What about the kids?”
“Aren’t they down here?”
“No.” Khyrisse ran past him to the second floor.
Skitch and Kit were very, very hard to wake up. As soon as she had one sitting upright, the other was dropping off to sleep again, head back on the table. Well that settles it, we were drugged. The kids got a proportionally stronger dose. Where’s Valende? Maybe she can cure this... “Jack!” Khyrisse shouted. When he appeared in the doorway, she said, “Do you know where Val is? I think we were drugged, the kids won’t wake up.”
“No, I can’t find her...”
“What about Vas?”
Jack shook his head.
“Both of them are missing?” Khyrisse thought furiously through the fogginess remaining in her head. “Has anyone checked the third floor?”
Valende sat up groggily from her awkward position on the observatory floor. “Darling? What is it?” she said, once Jack’s worried face came into focus. “What am I doing on the floor?” She rubbed the back of her head, and winced. “Ow! Jack, what happened?” she asked, in a far more alarmed tone. A flare of golden light outlined her hand, as she quickly healed the swelling bruise on the back of her head.
“Some people broke in and took Alphred’s totems,” Jack explained. “Khyrisse says that all of us were drugged.”
“Well that explains why they hit me...” Valende murmured, with a pained look. “I can’t be poisoned. Most sleep toxins count... Is everyone all right?”
“Khyrisse is having trouble waking Skitch and Kit.”
“They must have had too much of whatever it was. Vas, wake up!”
Vas struggled out of unconsciousness next to Valende, a tipped-over glass near his hand.
“Urmph. Quiet, sist’r mine... I think I have a hangov’r.”
“Oh, dear...” she sighed.

***


“They’ll be fine,” Valende reassured Khyrisse, as the archmage pulled the covers up over a sleepily protesting Kit. “What little is left in their systems will be gone by morning.”
“I want to cast my mansion and spend the rest of the night in there,” Khyrisse said. “If we can be drugged and attacked in the Mithril Dagger, it’s the only place we’re going to be safe...” She blinked suddenly. “Has anyone seen Kevin or Kayla?” Khyrisse asked, turning an alarmed look on Valende. Val also blinked in surprise.
“I don’t think so...”
“Watch the kids, would you? I know this place better than any of us-- I’ll see if I can find them.”

Character(s): Alphred, et al.
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Walkabout
Title of Post: A Jungle Lord without totems
Alphred was actually scowling. "This must be Malat'k's work. It is his style."
"Great," said Val sarcastically. "I hope this is not going to be another 'ambush us until we drop' enemy. I had enough of that with Odn."
Alphred shook his head. "No, Malat'k is much more subtle. In fact, I am surprised he was this bold. He must be really desperate, or under a lot of pressure."
The Rat poked his head out from under the bar.
"There you are!" said Jack, "I have been wondering what became of you."
The Rat crawled up Jack and perched on his shoulder. He sniffed around, then whispered something in Jack's ear.
"I understand. Ummm, folks, the Rat says that he saw the joker who did this. You are not going to believe this. He says it was a gorilla."
"Sounds like Malat'k," said Alphred. "He always had a bizarre sense of humor. Let's move, I need my totems back."

Character(s): "Ember", the Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Don't Tell Us The Compact Doesn't Extend To Folks From Other Timelines...
"I just told you the gorilla said he was working for Malat'k," said Marty. "You, like, don't listen very well, do you, loincloth dude?"
"The Rat also says there was, uh, a giant slug, and a cactus." Jack was starting to feel dumb conveying all of this, and wondered if the Rat had been drugged too.
Ember made a low moan and put her head back down on her arm, her rich dark hair pillowing out around her. "Well, this is an inauspicious start," she murmured.
Vas quickly picked up her stylish cloak, which had fallen to the ground, and put it back around her slim shoulders. "Par for the course," he quipped, grinning at her, realized he was leaving his hands on her shoulders that instant too long, and jumped back, biting his lip. Ember, massaging her forehead with her fingers, didn't seem to notice his turmoil.
Khyrisse came skidding down the stairs, her heart thudding out of her throat. "That's everyone. Everyone's accounted for, except, except where are Kevin and Kayla?"

Character(s): Kevin and Kayla
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Blame Doug, Of Course
"You must take us to your house of refuge, spirit maiden," said Alphred, grimly. "This city is not safe."
"We can't leave till I find Kevin and K--"
Just then, the door to the Mithril Dagger opened, and the bartender and waitress walked in, chatting in low, relaxed voices. Kevin was carrying a grocery bag. "Hi!" said Kayla. "We're back with that ice cream Kit wanted!"
Khyrisse swayed. "Kit--sent you for ice cream?"
"Rocky road," said Kevin, and handed her the bag. "Could you take it to h--" He stopped and stared at his sister. "Oh my god. We left the Mithril Dagger unattended!"
Kayla's hand flew to her mouth and she hurried into the back room.
"Have you noticed how all the strange occurrences in this party are usually related to Kit?" Vas noticed.
"Some things are just constants of the universe," said Ember, with a low chuckle.

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: Blame Me, But It's Ed's Fault...
Jack and Khyrisse sat outside Ebreth's room.
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable taking him with us to Salagia," Khyrisse said.
"I was thinking that maybe my Uncle Rauvin might be able to help... he's an expert on mind issues... but apparently we're both locked into Salagia as our next trip."
"I know someone I can trust to leave him with," Khyrisse offered.
Jack frowned. "I don't know... I kind of think he might be safer with us no matter where we end up. I mean, you're an archmage, Val's a powerful cleric... everyone here is pretty secure as far as protection."
"But dragging a comatose man to a jungle?"
"I don't think that having the people who care about him abandon him will do him any good either."
Khyrisse nodded. "I guess you're right. But if he gets hurt out there, I'll never forgive myself."
"He won't," Jack offered optimistically. "Not with you watching out for him."
Khyrisse smiled. "I never know what to expect from you, Jack Paris."

***


Kit was helping Skitch load their luggage onto the Trade Carriage. She still felt a bit loagy from the drug, but the exercise of carrying Khyrisse's bags was waking her up some. Then she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Kit," asked Valende, "can we talk?"
Kit froze. She knew, Kit thought. The urge to run was powerful.
"What is it?" Kit asked innocently.
"Skitch, will you excuse us?" Val asked.
Skitch grinned. "I already know, anyway," he said, and sauntered off.
"Something strange is going on around here, Kit," Val said. "And I think it has to do with you. First the trip to Signetland, then Kevin and Kayla leaving the Dagger... why don't you tell me what's happening."
"I dunno," Kit said, looking at her feet.
Val frowned. "If things keep happening, Kit, I may have to talk to Khyrisse about it..."
Kit bit her lip. "I really don't know anything about it! Don't send me away!"
"I wasn't going to..."
"I didn't do anything!" Kit yelled, running back to the Dagger.
Val sighed. One way or another, she was going to figure this out. She just hoped that nothing really dangerous happened before that time.

***


Marty Hu returned to the Dagger with a traveling bag. Since the grumpy sorceress had threatened to starve him, he had filled it with munchies. He had also, in a moment of divine inspiration, brought along something that he was sure would come in useful. That is, assuming they didn't kick him out first... Just in case, Marty left a small pouch of gold on the driver's seat, to cover his passage.
Master Ebreth was waiting in the Carriage.
"Hey, Master Ebreth," Marty said.
Ebreth said nothing.
"Oh. Right. Shh."
Marty shut his mouth and stared forward. He was going to get this satori thing if it killed him.

Character(s): The Rat Pack, Crescendo
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Damned If I Know Anymore...
Title of Post: We're The X-Men! You Can Always Tell Where We've Been!
Khyrisse sighed, looking around at the mess of the break-in, and piled a large handful of gold on the bar. "I'm really sorry about this, Kevin. Let me know if that doesn't cover the damages."
Kevin shrugged. "The Madness break-in was worse. Don't worry about it."
"They shouldn't be back, at least; we seem to be who they were looking for. I'm getting us out of here before they come back. Tell Kayla that I won't forget about looking for Flicker, would you?"

***


Khyrisse pulled up outside of Lianth, at an abandoned farm. The main house was a burned-out husk, but the barn was relatively untouched. Khyrisse hopped down and peeked inside. No bodies, no animals. Good.
"Why are we stopping, Spirit Maiden?" Alphred said, from the roof of the Carriage. His face was stern and worried.
Khyrisse pushed the barn door further open and jumped back up on the driver's seat. She drove the Carriage inside and replied, calmly and firmly, "Because it's the middle of the night, and I'm not tearing off to Salagia on no sleep to comb the jungle looking for enemies. I have children, and non-combatants, and people who weren't meaning to go to Salagia at all in this Carriage. We'll go on first thing in the morning, I promise."
She hopped off the Carriage and cast her mansion in the doorway leading to the tack room.

Character(s): The Rat Pack: The Quiet Part (Expanded)
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Zen And The Art Of Catatonic Stupor
Title of Post: One-One, Cranky Archmage vs. Zen Apprentice
Jack sat in a chair next to Ebreth's bed, reading aloud from Treasure Island.
Ebreth sat in the bed, eyes open, face blank.
Marty sat at the foot of the bed, eyes open, face mostly blank-- excepting the occasional resentful look he slanted towards the third occupant of the bed.
Khyrisse sat next to Ebreth, head resting on his shoulder, one slender arm draped around his waist; deeply in reverie, her eyes were open, her face serene-- excepting the hint of a satisfied smirk at the corner of her mouth.

Character(s): The estimable Rat Pack
Author: Jonah Cohen (with necessary reworking by the HPB)
Storyline: Well, Now What?: The Morning After
Title of Post: Khyrisse Starshadow's "Faust"-- Happy Ending
The rest of the night had passed peacefully for the Rat Pack, amazingly enough, and no further mayhem had occurred.

***


Khyrisse had woken from her reverie early, but she was feeling better when she awoke. Jack's book lay with the page marked on the bedside table. Ebreth was still peacefully asleep. The warm bundle against her other side turned out to be Skitch. Marty was sound asleep at the foot of the bed.
Khyrisse carefully wriggled out from between Skitch and Ebreth, feeling restless. Skitch protested sleepily.
"Shhh. Stay here and watch Ebreth. I'll be back in a minute." Skitch yawned and subsided.
For some reason, she felt a great desire to go watch the morning dawn, so she strapped on her robe and crept out of the mansion. She stopped in the half-open door of the barn and watched the sunrise.
As gorgeous as any she could remember. Well, any she could remember seeing through mortal eyes, at least...
"Took you long enough," Schneider said.
"And good morning to you, too," she said, with a little smile. He was wearing a black tunic and pants, with matching cloak (his old suit had taken a bit of abuse in the lower planes-- she should really see about replacing it.) "You look like Luke in Return of the Jedi."
"Huh?"
"Nothing." She sighed a little. Marlukin always loved those stories. "What's up?"
"Well, what's up is that it's time for me to be moving along. Places to do, people to see, or whatever."
She froze. For a moment she forgot their current situations, felt an urge to tell him, please, don't leave.... She shook her head at herself, internally. "Why?" she said instead. "I mean, I hardly got to talk to you, and-- it-- it wasn't exactly the best of circumstances..."
And me sticking around any longer would make things even worse, thank you so much Princess Brainy Freak. I don't think you need that, and frankly neither do I. "I know," he said. "I wish I could stay, but I've got something important that needs doing."
"We could help you with it, once this Salagia trip is out of the way... Lord knows the list is long enough, one more quest won't matter. For Grendel's sake, Schneider, we followed a rodent! Following an actual human being might be downright refreshing for us!"
"I suppose it would, but it's something I have to do alone." That sounded awfully stupid! "Look, I don't expect you to really understand because you're one of the Mithril Dagger Heroes, but... well, for a lot of people, the whole shadow war is still going on."
Her blood was running colder by the moment. For some of S.O.L. it is, too. I understand more than you think, Schneider.... "Are you one of them?"
"I'm afraid so. But... I've got a plan."
Then, for the first time since the 96 hours of the Madness, he smiled.
Khyrisse smiled back at him, with a little sigh. I can't stay mad at him. I know why he did what he did, I guess; and if he's not staying, it's not going to happen again. We can talk about it when he's a little better able to deal. She hugged him tightly, and had to force herself to let him go.
"I'll see you around, ok?" Schneider said. "Look, you'd better get back on in. I think you're late."
"Huh?"
"Nothing. You be good to yourself." He looked back once... then twice... then was gone.

***


"You're late."
Khyrisse walked into the dining room and started. The entire Rat Pack was seated around the table. She looked over them, one by one.
Vas. Val. Jack, the Rat (perched on Jack's shoulder). Princess Kristin. Cori. Garal. Skitch. Kit. Alphred. Marty. And Ebreth... out of sight, but never out of mind.
"I told you she'd be late after making everyone get up for breakfast."
"Uh..."
"Shush," Val said. I thought the invitations were sweet. The roses were a nice touch."
"Good champagne, too."
"Hey! How come we only get cherry cokes?!?"
"Yeah?!?"
"Quiet, Kit," Vas said. "My friends, I propose a toast, and I can think of none better than what our fearless leader herself put on the invitations to this soiree:
"Long Live the Rat Pack."
*clink*
"Are you okay?" Skitch said, concern in his young voice.
"Yes, kiddo," Khyrisse said, wiping her eyes. "I think mabye we're all going to be all right."

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