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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Hell and Back Archives
From The Churches To The Jails, Part I

NEW CHAPTER (churches)

Character(s): Malat'k, Kong, Dr. T.B. Swank
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: Jungle Boogie
Title of Post: The Unholy alliance
"Yessss," Malat'k hissed. "Yes!" He looked down at Alphred's totems. "Your friends have done well!"
"I prefer to think of them as minions." Most mammals looked rather strange to Malat'k, but this human was especially menacing, black trenchcoat, goatee and dead eyes.
"Ah, yes, well, thank you for your help, doctor. Your minions were quite effective. As was the toxin you concocted."
"Of course it was."
"Yes, er... I am grateful for your assistance, of course, but... might I ask-- what exactly is your interest in my plans?"
"Oh, that. Well, I calculated soon after my arrival that this is some 'alternate' version of the world of Ataniel. I thought maybe about heading back home, but my slavishly loyal little toadie Eric can keep things running for a while. This Ataniel seems so drab, so full of angst and psychodrama. So I decided, what the heck, I think I'll spend a little time here and conquer it. I decided to start here in Salagia to make things more interesting. See if I could take over the world, starting in its most primitive backwater."
"Gee, boss, " Kong said, "I thought we came here for the bananas!"

Character(s): Swanks Across Ataniel
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: The Monster Society of Evil
Odn looked up as the worm crawled into his study.
"What is it?" he asked. "I'm busy."
"I have learned something you may find of interest, Lord Odn," the worm smiled. "There is a dimensional anomaly at work."
"This is Ataniel, Swank," Odn sighed. "When aren't there dimensional anomalies at work?"
Swank frowned. "But this is a special anomaly!" he cried.
"What's so special about it?"
"It's centered around me!" the worm wiggled with joy.
Odn looked up at the worm with an expression that Swank recognized as wizard sight. "You show no traces of dimensional energy, Swank."
"No," the worm said, working up to a dramatic intonation, "but my alternate earth version does! I've tracked him as far as Salagia with some of the new mental powers that your experimentation has given me."
Brag, brag, Odn thought. I never should have used the Diarian Activator on a worm... I was just so sure his head would explode... "And I presume that you want to investigate this doppleganger?" Odn asked.
"Oh, yes..." Swank grinned evilly.
"Very well," sighed Odn.
"I, ah, was wondering if I could borrow... Mister Adam?" Swank asked tentatively.
"You want to borrow my ultra-powerful imperturbium golem? The product of years of work? The only self-actualized artificial intelligence in Ataniel?"
"I am a worm, Odn... it'd take me a long time to get to Salagia."
"Fine, fine," Odn sighed. Maybe you'll be eaten by a monkey. "Take it."
"Thank you, Odn... believe me... you'll be glad you gave me this chance!"

Character(s): Princess Kristin and Vas
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: OUAT 813
Title of Post: The Parting Gift Of Pointing Out The Patently Obvious
Vas came down the stairs of the mansion, packed and ready to leave, and found Princess Kristin in the foyer. She, too, was packed and ready to leave, wearing the same battered clothing she’d been wearing in Hell. She looked around the foyer with a faintly wistful expression.
“Sorry to be leaving us, your highness?” Vas asked. She turned to look at him, surprised, but smiling. “You’re welcome to stay, you know.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “I really have to check on my family, though. I wouldn’t feel right about letting it wait, but then I wouldn’t feel right about diverting you all, either.”
“Well, the Rat Pack, as I understand it, will be going to the Montas Archipelago after Salagia,” Vas offered. “If we don’t get diverted along the way, of course. Which is like asking the Rat Pack not to breathe,” he added, with an amused look.
The blonde psionic smiled and tapped a fingertip against her temple. “I’ll be able to find you,” she reminded him. “How fast I’ll be able to catch up with you, I don’t know,” she admitted, “and it does depend on what I find out at home... but you’ll probably see me again.”
“I, at least, shall certainly be looking forward to it,” Vas told her, with a flirtacious smile. Now, what is wrong with me lately that I can flirt with anyone except Ember, damn it all?
Kristin saw the shadow cross Vas’ face in the wake of his flirtacious look, and smiled. “She’s not safe,” she informed the elven archer.
Vas blinked at her in astonishment. “I beg your pardon?”
“Ember,” the princess explained patiently, still looking amused. “I’ve seen something like this before. You have clever things to say to any other woman in the world, but not her, because her reaction will mean something to you. She’s not safe.”
“I have plenty of clever things to say to Ember, I assure you,” Vas said, chuckling. “It’s only that I don’t dare say them.”
“Why not? What can it hurt?” Vas sighed and said nothing. Kristin sighed also. “Well obviously it can hurt something, but I don’t know about it. Look at it this way, then, O chivalrous flirt. Ember doesn’t have long, by her own words. Why not make her last days pleasant ones?”
While Vas stood on the stairway looking utterly surprised, Princess Kristin swept pack and bow onto her shoulder. “Give my farewells to everyone, won’t you?” With a little wave and a mischievous smile, the princess vanished out the door.

Character(s): Portobello of the Fungus People
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: The Lost Valley
Portobello knew he was in trouble.
Not only had the silver bird flying overhead been a bad omen, but the guardian of the Lost Valley had been shattered. The giant stone monkey that previously held the Great Fiends within had split right down the center. That must be how Ta'al walked the jungle. Portobello hoped that none of the other Fiends had escaped. If Fiends they truly were.
He wandered up close to the cloven monkey.
"Who comes to the Lost Valley?" moaned a voice from within the darkness beyond the statue.
"I... I am a representative of the Fungus people," Portobello muttered in fear. "We seek help against Ta'al!"
"Ta'al?" the voice laughed. "You fear Ta'al?"
Portobello didn't quite know how to answer. "Yes, of course," he finally said.
"Then you know not the meaning of the word," the voice giggled.
A long black vine shot out from behind the statue, wrapping itself around Portobello. The Fungus Person screamed as he was dragged into the Lost Valley.
An hour later, what was left of Portobello... returned.
Malat'k, it thought. I will start with you.

Character(s): Cori Yashida
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: Flashback: Cori's Nightmare
Cori was sitting in a chair in a large room walled with red curtains.
Across from her was a strange little man weaving back and forth on the zig-zag tiled floor.
"There is a mushroom that sings a sad song," it said to her in an odd voice.
"Where am I?" Cori asked. "What is this place?"
"Where I come from," the dancing dwarf said, "the monkey walks with the worm."
"What... what must I do?" Cori asked. This had to be a dream, perhaps it was a prophetic one.
Suddenly the dwarf was gone and Reena stood before Cori.
"Reena!" Cori cried. "But you're... gone?"
"I can feel all the little statues," Reena said. "I wear them under my skin."
"You're in Salagia," Cori said. "Is that where I am most needed?"
"Sometimes my head comes off," Reena said. Then her head did, leaving beneath it the hanging intestines of a penagglion. Like Chu-I Po.
Cori screamed.
She awoke in a cold sweat.
In moments, Jack rushed into the room, followed by Val.
Cori was too shaken to be concerned.
"Are you okay, Cori?" Jack asked.
"I'm... fine." she said.

***


Far away, Reena caught the scent of S'Zaal, freed by the Fiend Ta'al.
The hunt continued.

Character(s): Tarrin
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: Reconnoiter
Tarrin sat quietly meditating in his room. In this state, his senses were all increased to pinpoint accuracy. He heard the goodbyes from downstairs. He heard Ebreth's shallow, catatonic breathing and Marty's crude imitation of it.
Taking a deep breath, Tarrin let go of his body and entered astral form. His astral body floated up and out of the mansion towards Salagia.
Dawn was just breaking over the jungle. The monstrous plateau dominated the view. The jungles of Salagia were covered in morning mists. No, not all of them were mists. Some of it was smoke. Wide tracts of the jungle were burning. Tarrin decided to get a closer look.
At the border of one of the fires, animals were screaming and trying to get away from the flames. Many succumbed to the heat and smoke, but many more were getting away. The fire was having trouble spreading through the wet undergrowth.
Tarrin turned and entered the fire. Flames danced all around him in a tornado of activity. Trees turned to charcoal, bushes vaporized and animals were consumed beyond recognition.
-LITTLE MAN, WHY ARE YOU HERE?- said a voice like thunder.
Tarrin looked around but could see nothing.
-YOU TRESPASS ON MY DOMAIN, LITTLE MAN. LEAVE NOW.-
-Who are you?- Tarrin asked.
Laughter erupted from the fire.
-I AM DEATH. I AM DESTRUCTION. I AM CHAOS. I AM SZ'AAL, SERVANT OF TA'AL. HE KNOWS YOU ARE COMING. TELL THE JUNGLE LORD THAT I ANXIOUSLY AWAIT HIS ARRIVAL.-
A wave of heat blasted Tarrin, and he was thrown back.

***


Tarrin awoke back in his body. He had to tell Alphred and the others about this. The Diari priest got up, and dull pain raced through his body. Confused, he looked down. His entire body was burned, covered in blisters.
How strange, Tarrin thought, as the shock set in. He collapsed in a heap on the floor, knocking over the lamp, which crashed to the ground.

Character(s): Skitch
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Awimaway
Skitch was already sitting on top of the Carriage with Kit. She looked pretty upset about something. Skitch didn't push her. "In the jungle, the mighty jungle," sang Skitch. Kit giggled. "The lion sleeps tonight." He pounded on the Carriage with the heels of his hands. Kit laughed. "In the jungle, the mighty jungle--"
Skitch felt something on the edge of his brain, somewhere between a cry and a burning pain. Then he thought he heard something crash. "Tarrin, Tarrin!" He scrambled down from the Carriage and ran back into the mansion at full tilt.

Character(s): Kerouac, Scapegoat
Author: Jonah Cohen
Storyline: The Jungle paths are Notoriously Twisted
Title of Post: Typical situation
"SON OF A BITCH!"
"Freak!"
"Killer!"
"You're the one who freed Trill to let the Madness upon us!"
"It was you who killed my wife!"
"We'd have more food and money if not for you!"
"You're the one who gave the Fox network the idea for those 'When Animals Attack' shows!"
It may have been a different version of Ataniel (so the boss said, and the boss knew everything), but it was kind of a relief that some things remained reliably the same.
So Scapegoat thought as he ran down the street, chased by an angry mob, pelted with threats, insults, rocks... Someone dropped an anvil out of a window that hit him squarely on the cranium and knocked him to the ground.
The mob was on him then. Beating, stabbing, kicking him far too many times to count. One of the local yokels set him on fire and the crowd cheered. After they left, he sat up.
Not so bad-- he'd endured worse from his brothers in the Creature Commandoids. Now how far to this Salagia place?
"Excuse me," a frumpy housefrau said, "are you part of the children's puppet show of The Three Billygoats Gruff?"
"Uh, no, ma'am."
"Well, why isn't anyone doing anything for the children!?!?" She whacked him over the head with her purse and left in a huff.

***


"How bout a Bloody Mary, barkeep!"
"Marlukin! It's really you!"
"Kerouac is fairly certain that it is."
"Kerouac! Betrayer of the Significants!"
"Say what?"
"You foul killer! Maxwell Silverhammer and his companions saved my life once! Saved this whole city! Did you think your terrible act of death would be forgotten soon?"
"Uh, gee. Kerouac already forgot what started this drool-fest you're on!"
"This is for Silverhammer! And Signet! And most of all the Sunfighter!" The bartender pulled a gigantic crossbow (standard issue) from below the bar.
"Really? They're here?" With an excited smile, the elven berserker turned around, looking for his friends. He hadn't seen them since they had joined up to stomp the shit of Dr. Swank's latest bunch of stooges-- the Wet, or something like that.
The crossbow bolt hit him square between the shoulders.
"Siggy? That you?"
The bartender shot him again.
"Hey! Kerouac really thinks his tip for the last drink was big enough-- given how watered down it was!"
"Die, you scum!"
"Ohhhh! You want to fight! Kerouac can help you there! sssssssssss...."
This area was getting boring. He decided it was time for a change. Maybe somewhere warmer.

Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: The Road to Salagia
Tarrin seemed to be doing better. Val's tending and spells had restored him pretty much to health, though he had a worried look on his face. All he had said was that "indeed, we must follow the Jungle Lord to Salagia."
Jack was starting to worry himself. Cori had had some sort of nightmare, now Tarrin was having disturbing visions. Jack wished he wasn't needed here. He felt bad enough letting Uncle Asinus down... the Parises really were supposed to stick together. Still, wasn't saving the world more important? Jack hoped this wasn't a wild goose chase. Then again, he hoped it was.
"You okay, dear heart?" Val asked, rubbing his neck.
"Yeah," Jack said in his shucks-tweren't-nothing voice. "Just worrying."
"Well stop it. That's Khyrisse's job."
"I heard that!" Khyrisse cried from the driver's seat.
Val giggled.
Marty sat next to Ebreth. Neither of them had said anything. Kit and Skitch kept waving their hands in front of Marty's face, but the Zen disciple only flinched a little. Garal tried to make small talk with Ember, but the woman from the future kept looking at Kit oddly. Tarrin and Alphred seemed to be in some sort of whispered conference.
It was late afternoon before the carriage came to a halt.
The low wall that the Talarians had put up to keep the jungle contained was ornate and beautiful... and overrun with vines and creepers.
"Well, someone needs a new gardener," Vas said.
"I think Talaria was hit hardest by the Madness," Khyrisse said, remembering sadly the fate of the Good Blue Fairy.
"Yes, we are on the border of Al'x'toth, the realm of the earth-goblins," Alphred offered.
"Earth-goblins?" Jack asked.
"Others call them the Tribes of Dust or the Mudmen."
"I knew a mud woman once," Jack said. "But I think she was from outer space."
"Are they friendly?" Val asked.
"They have a treaty with the Vulture People to the north. They should not bother us."
"Fair enough," Khyrisse said, taking a quick head count. "If everyone's ready, we'd best go in. Two weeks'll go quick in a jungle this dense."
Jack patted Ebreth on the back and started following their leader into the jungle.
Somewhere, however, far to the north, their arrival had not gone unnoticed...

Character(s): Flicker
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: It's a wonderful life
Title of Post: Do You Have To Be So Nice?
"So then after Mattais and Tim helped me free Gordon from my family's curse," explained Luthien, stir-frying the shrimp, "we enrolled him in the gifted education program Lotus and Edyric founded here on Annwych. I swear, those two have mellowed so much since they had the baby."
"I'm getting straight A's," said Gordon.
"I'm still mad at Lotus for mind-controlling me that time when we were fighting the Web," grumped Rhynwa, hugely pregnant, from the couch.
"Water under the bridge," said Luthien, cheerfully.
"At least Ariath's still dead." Rhynwa straightened Gordon's tunic. "So what brings you folks here?"
"Uhhhhhhhh..." said Luthien, looking from his otherworld analog to his smiling family.
"We..." hedged Berryn.
"--won't be able to tell you for two days," sighed Norna, aggravated.
"Well, we have a guest room," offered Rhynwa. "You can stay with us till you're ready to do whatever you need to."

Character(s): Flicker and Luthien
Author: Laura Redish and Evan Haag
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: It's a wonderful life
Title of Post: A Way Overdue Talk Between The Strong Silent Types
"What are we going to do here?" said Flicker, quietly, in Gaelic. "This is your call, Luthien. You know I'm with you, not Norn."
Luthien grimaced a bit, then said, "If this Luthien is going to become a Lich Lord, then I'm a small South Diarian sea urchin. I say we do everything we can to stop Shilree from killing him and ruining what they have here."
"Shilree is... otherwise occupied," said Flicker, with some small amount of pain. "I'm more worried about Norna. She's convinced that the more alternate Luthiens we kill, the more we weaken the Lich Lord version. The lore of the Myriad seems to support her on that, but I'm not killing this man either. Do you think there's some other way we could displace him from this timeline? If we explained this to him, could he and his family emigrate to our Ataniel with us or something?"
"I don't think that would be very productive. They have a good life here, one that they deserve." Luthien paused. "One that I'll have to work years to come close to. I'm not going to pull up their roots and drop them into our fucked-up timestream."
"I like our timestream," said Flicker, mildly. He thought about it for a minute. "There's no way we're getting out of here while Norna thinks he's alive. Maybe we could trick her into thinking he's dead and taking us out of here. The problem is that she's a Valkyrie. It's not easy to fool her about things like that."
"Heh." Luthien smiled slightly. "We necromancers have dozens of tricks that I've never showed any of you for that sort of deception. There are ways around that."
Flicker nodded slowly. "I could go with that. Remember that Norna can see people's skeins, so you can't just fool her with physical cues." He paused. "And--the other problem is that if we're wrong, and something happens further in the future of this timeline to turn this Luthien into a lich lord, we'll have destroyed everything."
Luthien ran his hands through his hair, sighing audibly. "I know, I know. It's just that my life has been a hell of a lot worse than his, I have dozens more enemies that I would want to get my revenge on, even after my death, and I don't want to become a Lich Lord. Ever. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that he would."
"It's just so hard to second-guess these things, Luthien. Maybe it's because you've had adversity in your life that you're able to handle stress. Maybe some archvillain is going to kill his pregnant wife and he'll snap. I would never have predicted Shalini would be an evil overlord in some alternate reality. I hope we're not making a real mistake."
Luthien looked at Flicker and said, "The other fear I have is that watching myself get killed by, for all intents and purposes, my own hand, might just send me over the edge. I have nightmares about that sort of thing."
"You don't have to kill him," said Flicker, with certainty. "We will find a way other than that. I promise you that."
"The worst part about this for me is that, if we put it to him the right way, he might even volunteer to die for this sort of cause. I know that I would if my skills weren't better served actually fighting the Lich Lord's plans. It's just that I don't feel like I have the right to ask him."
"Would it be less horrible to ask him and his family to come home with us instead of dying? That would remove him from the timestream just as effectively as killing him."
"It wouldn't be horrible until the day that Lotus walks up to Gordon or Rhynwa and puts an arrow through their unsuspecting hearts."
That was Edyric, not Lotus, but Flicker didn't correct him. "We could brief them on things. It's just another idea to kick around." He paused. "It's a better plan than killing him, that's for sure. I don't know if it's better than tricking Norna and bagging this timeline or not."
"Thanks, Flicker. I hope we can get through all of these with less...fuss than this one." He grinned sardonically. "Hell, maybe my own life is the second best one of the bunch. Wouldn't that be a kicker?"
"You've got a pretty good one, all things considered." The Sunfighter smiled. "I mean, you've got the same wife and son, anyway."
"Yeah, that made me feel a lot better, actually. It's nice to see that I got at least part of the good side of life." Luthien paused a second in thought. "I wonder if it's possible to detach his lifeline temporarily? Sort of set him to the side of the rest of reality for a while, until the Lich Lord is defeated."
"Could we do that?" said Flicker. "I don't know much about temporal metaphysics. Er, yet."
"Well, Rip Hunter and his crew are proof positive of its possibility. We may be able to get a similar, if shorter lived, result if we apply ourselves."
"What if he traveled with us until we'd defeated the lich lord, and then we brought him back here when we'd finished?"
"Too much risk of either Norna or Shilree whacking him."
"If we get him off this timeline, neither of them has a reason to whack him." Flicker sighed. "Except for their both being insane, I guess. What if we dropped him off on our Ataniel till we'd dealt with the lich lord, and picked him up again when we were done, and brought him home? Neither Norna nor Shilree will want to divert from our quest to harass him."
"Hmm. That would place someone that I could rely upon to guard Rhynwa and Gordon, in case the Dead One decided to attack them. And I know I can trust him to remain chaste."
"Maybe you should talk this over with him. Ask him if he'd be willing to come to our world and take care of your family for a little while until we have the temporal threat taken care of. He and Rhynwa could protect each other until we're able to bring him home." Flicker rubbed his lip. "Bear in mind, too, that once we've defeated that future, this Shilree will be eliminated from our timeline too--and Norna has foreseen her own death. Neither of them should be able to interfere with him afterwards, either."
Luthien smiled. "That's one of the few things that helps me sleep, lately. It's just that I already feel really bad about leaving my own wife and child behind for so long. I hate to ask it of him."
"I understand that. But at least this timeline seems pretty safe for them."
"I know. Especially if Edyric and Lotus are willing to help them. Gods, what a concept."
"It's no stranger than me sleeping with Signet." Flicker made an uncharacteristic face.
Luthien sighed again. "It looks like that's probably our best option, although I'm still a little leery of it.”
"Good." Flicker nodded. "The hard part will be talking Norna into it. Maybe we can convince her that if we bring him to Ataniel we could get it done tonight and go find Shilree, instead of waiting for her so we can kill him. Our way is faster. Besides, maybe then we can stop Shilree before she gets too far into this."
Luthien nodded. "Agreed. I don't trust anything she does anymore. Especially not this insane version of her. Okay, but you get Norna detail. It was your idea."
"Yeah, I guess it was, wasn't it. Damn it, this would have been easier with Janther." Flicker kicked the table leg. "Luthien, I think Shilree has gone to find out how she was destroyed in this timeline and do it to herself in ours."
Luthien blinked at that possibility. "She can't succeed. No matter how hard she tries. All she'll do is create another timeline branching off sooner. Who knows, maybe she'll even create this one."
"I know that, you know that. She's insane." Flicker paused. "She may just be planning to go back to our present and kill our Shilree." Luthien’s eyes flicked downwards, like it wasn’t an entirely novel concept to him. Flicker didn’t notice. "I didn't have a chance to talk to her before she left. It's bad enough for us seeing all these things we can't have. Combine that with her total absence from this world and her innate hubris... I think she thinks she's destroyed our timeline."
"Well, if that’s her plan, she'll return to us soon enough. She'll either be maniacally proud of herself, or she'll be maniacally depressed. Either way, she'll be even harder to talk to."
"I really hope she fails, then. I--know nobody likes her." Flicker's voice was very soft. "But she was there for Lee when she needed her and I love her, Luthien." Luthien was quiet. "Just because this timeline is better without her doesn't mean ours will be better if she kills her. It might be worse. Who knows what might go wrong. And I, she's really important to me. She screws up a lot but she's trying. Losing her would really hurt me. But it's--not as easy for me to make people understand, as it once was." He paused. "I wish I'd been able to get a word in before she left. Anything."
Luthien stayed silent.
Flicker shook his head. "But it's too late to do anything about that. You talk to this Luthien, we'll see what we can save here." He gripped the necromancer's arm. "Then I'll talk to Norna. Just the way to cap off this perfect day." He rolled his reflective eyes.
Luthien smiled slightly. "At least we get to eat well."
"Nice to know some things are constants," grinned the Viking. "You're a good cook no matter how you slice it. Good luck, Luthien. We'll get through this, I promise."
Luthien jogged off to talk to his dimensional analog, unaware that beneath the quiet Nordic composure his friend was feeling more impotent than he had since the Torch of Souls.
For his part, Flicker had no idea that the conversation had probably saved Shilree’s life.

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