The Hell and Back Archives
As We Take Our Stand, Part III
Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland: Out Of The Frying Pan, Into The Fire
Title of Post: Taking Stock
Jack and Valende climbed down from the parapace together, Kerouac slinking sheepishly along behind them at a distance he hoped would keep the cute cleric babe from kicking him anymore. The battle was mostly winding up. The strangely bad-ass Dr. Swank lay dead. The metal golem had started shaking strangely and fallen over on its side, repeating "pointer error divide by zero Nick was here Nick was here, pointer error divide by zero Nick was here Nick was here." Kong and Hot were down; Slug and Spike were struggling free of the shadow sundew. Malat'k and the air demon had fled, and the saurian troops were pretty much disposed of. Captain Tres, his Teutonic face twitching strangely from the evil scientist's device, picked up the talking caterpillar. "Now is the
time on Sprockets venn ve daaaance," he intoned in a strange voice.
"Just get us out of here!" squeaked the worm, and they took off flying.
Khyrisse was beating the snot out of some guy with goat horns. Jack, now de-Vicked, was a little shocked by her violent ferocity. He still thought she really should have gone on that vacation. "Val," he said, "shouldn't we, uh, go stop Khyrisse from doing that?"
"Aaaah, that guy deserves it," growled Valende.
Jack didn't really get it, but he went over and tapped Khyrisse on the shoulder anyway. She turned with blood rage still in her eyes. "Uh, where are Skitch and Kit?" he said.
"Skitch and Kit?" Khyrisse blinked and looked around wildly. As she did Scapegoat crawled quickly away into the jungle. Slug and Spike caught up with him, and Spike whacked him in the head. "It's your fault we're stuck together!" he cried. "Let's just get out of here," beseeched Slug.
Jack looked around. Skitch, Kit, and Garal were missing. Vas was trying to bring Ember to. She didn't look very well, but her leg was moving, so she wasn't dead. Ebreth was collapsed on the ground, breathing shallowly. "I think we're okay," he said, "we just need to find--" Garal emerged from the jungle with the two kids and a cat. "Everything all right?" shouted the halfling.
"Now it is," said Jack, relieved. "Val, uh, why don't you go take care of--" Val already was, of course. Jack sighed. He was such a redundant leader. "Anyway, we defeated the villains!" he said, trying to sound cheery.
"What was that tornado?" Garal asked, pointing after Whas'sha.
"The last of the evil spirits," said Alphred, really depressed. "All have been freed. We have failed."
"Not till Malat'k summons Ta'al, though, right?" said Jack, hopefully.
"I know allies that can help us," Portobello repeated.
"We are doomed," said Alphred, dejectedly. "I think I need a drink."
Character(s): Kit, Garal
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: A Kid and Her Rock
"Don't tell anyone about this!" Kit hissed to Garal as soon as they got back.
Garal opened his mouth, but shut it again. Kit was canny enough to use the stone, but he was way too young to deal with the consequences.
"And don't tell anyone about Fidget either."
I've got to get some wax for these ears, Garal thought. Still, he was a planeblazer of the second rank. Finding loopholes was second nature to him. Even the Greatest Thief in Ataniel couldn't keep him from helping her forever.
Character(s): Fidget and Kit
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Dance With The Devil
Title of Post: Kit's New Pet
"Meow meow meow," said Fidget. "You've got no heart, kid. They're going to love you in Hell."
"I'm not going to Hell," grinned Kit. "I'm too sneaky."
"Keep smiling, kid."
Character(s): Shilree (duh!)
Author: Jeff Hersh
Title of Post: Shilree on Vacation
Sweat poured from Shilree's brow as she meditated in the temple of Rekzyr. Normally the smoky room would be filled with those who wished to honor the Diari god of knowledge and learning. However, being the newly appointed Western Regent had its advantages. Shilree, cloaked in the garments of a pilgrim, kneeled in the temple with only the high priest as company.
"Zhaje ray. Zhajran rho," she chanted over and over.
After her return home Shilree has spent a month with her family. She kept her youngest sister up late into the night with tales of her adventures in the outside world.
"You must have been so frightened," said Salani with wide eyed glee.
"I was, but my faith let me do what I had to."
"Enough," said Shilree's mother. "It is way past your bed time Salani. There will be more stories tomorrow."
Salani protested but went to bed.
"You really shouldn't fill her mind with those stories Shilree," half scolded her mother.
"Now Lyana, calm down," said Ridder, Shilree's father. "They are just stories after all."
"Yes and look what your stories did to Shilree."
"Lyana, I don't think this is the time…”
Shilree's mother looked like she was about to argue, but then calmed down. It was obvious her parents were going to have a very long talk in the near future.
"Why don't you get to bed Shilree," said Lyana. "I will wake you in the morning."
That was how most of the month went by. Both her and her parents were happy to be reunited, but there were some undercurrents. Nothing anyone felt comfortable talking about yet, but they were there.
At the end of the month, Shilree decided to go on a pilgrimage to the High Temple of Rekzyr in Ekyarn. Ever since her mental collapse by Gila and reconstruction by the Lich Lord Shilree had felt the need to cleanse herself. Plus it would give her an opportunity to see Anjra. She had been missing
"Zhaje ra," she chanted.
Her knees ached from kneeling on the stone floor.
"Zhajran rho," she continued.
She tried to empty her mind of all that had plagued her over the last few years. It was a heavy burden to release.
"Zhaje... Oh flarg!" she said in frustration.
"What is it?" said Harraj the High Priest.
"This is not working," she said standing up. Her bones popped as she straightened up. "I have been chanting for hours and I just cannot let my mind empty."
"Maybe you should go to the baths and relax. After you can come back and start again."
"Thank you, but no. I have been putting off what I have to do if am I to run the Western Provinces.”
Shilree pulled back the hood of the cloak and wiped her brow.
"I think I will go back to my room. Thank you for your help."
"As you wish."
Shilree got up and walked back to her guest room at the palace.
Later that night Shilree and Anjra lay together half asleep.
"Mmmhmm," she replied sleepily.
"I need six Pysyri crystals and couriers to carry them. Could you supply them?"
"Sure," Anjra said still half asleep.
"Thanks." Shilree gently kissed Anjra's forehead and drifted back to sleep. "I love you," Shilree whispered.
Anjra mumbled a reply.
The six couriers were each given one of the crystals. Shilree had encoded them that only by the proper recipient’s touch would the message stored within be revealed. One of the couriers was destined for Dalencia, specifically for Knighthawk. The other five crystals were to be carried by a single courier to the Mithril Dagger in Lianth.
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Dance With The Devil
Title of Post: Fidget's Agenda
Fidget bided his time. The good news was that, not being mortal, he couldn't really be commanded by Kit, and the girl didn't know that. The bad news, of course, was that he was bound by contract (blast that donkey lawyer!) not to harm her. Fidget made a feline sigh. He didn't want to hurt the kid anyway. All he wanted was Lucifer's stone. Lilith needed him, he knew. He was the only one who could count. If he could only recover the Light-Bringer's stone she would probably settle for beating him to a bloody pulp once, and that would be that. No, he didn't need to hurt the girl. He just needed to convince her the stone was too dangerous for her. And since she thought he was bound to help her use it wisely, that shouldn't be too hard to do. "The second thing you have to remember," he continued, switching his tail, "is never, ever tell anyone to die or sustain an injury. You could do that, but it's much too dangerous for mortals to be able to do. Right?"
"That does make sense," she agreed.
"So instead, if anyone's bothering you, you need to order them to do something that will distract them, but not cause any permanent damage. The best way to do that is to tell them to kiss each other. That keeps them busy, and it's pretty harmless."
"Ha ha!" laughed Kit. "Okay."
"Look, here come Val and Vas. Try it on them."
"What do I just say, 'Kiss each other'?"
"Hey, Val! Vas!" she hollered. The two elves turned around. "Kiss each other!"
They grabbed each other by the face and did.
"See?" said Fidget. "Guaranteed to keep grown-ups out of your hair for about five minutes, without invoking any dangerous magic mortal kids shouldn't have."
"This is so cool," said Kit, admiring her stone.
Val and Vas broke apart with a strangled noise. Vas took off flying, his manga hair whipping in alarm; Val put her hands over her face and ran.
"She looks kind of upset," worried Kit, a wrinkle appearing on her forehead.
"Sometimes kissing in public makes people embarrassed," said Fidget, smoothly. "But that's okay, because when you see her again, you can tell her not to be embarrassed, and she won't be."
"That's good," she said, relieved.
"Now the third thing is, you can use your powers to make your friends happier," said the cat.
"Tell me more!"
Fidget purred. With his guidance, Kit was going to alienate the entire Rat Pack before they even left Salagia. Then he'd see whether she still thought Lucifer's Stone of Command was a toy.
Author: Laura Redish
Title of Post: Not Ember's Best Fight Ever
Khyrisse held Ember's hand. Val and Vas had gone off, presumably, to quarrel about her. Jack and Portobello were trying to cheer Alphred up. "You're sure you're okay?" asked Khyrisse, anxiously, for the twelfth time.
"I'm sure," groaned the time-traveler. "All right. All right. You were right."
"Illusionists are feebs," she sighed, and laid her ringing head back down.
Khyrisse almost laughed up a kidney.
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Dance With The Devil
Title of Post: Topsy-Turvy World
"Hey, Miss Starshadow!" The sorceress looked up from Ember. Kit looked at her pale, drawn face, the greying hair at her temples. "Um, cheer up. Like, be happy about things. Don't have any more stress or anything."
"Okay!" said Khyrisse, brightly, and bounded across to Alph, Jack, and Portobello. "Hey, guys, let's go thwart Ta'al now! No problem!"
"Kit, what are you doing," groaned Ember.
"Nothing! Don't worry about it!" The Greatest Thief on Ataniel scooted away from her backwards. "Wow! That worked great! She's much happier! How long will that last?"
"Emotional states? Six hours. But you can always tell her again when it wears off."
"Wow! Can I heal Mister Tor?"
"Uh, you can't heal people, but you can tell him to be calm, and he'll be calm for six hours."
"Wow! This is a great way to help people!"
"Well, you seem to be in a better mood," said Jack, clearly relieved. "What happened between you and that villain you were fighting, anyway?"
"Oh, it's the silliest thing!" Khyrisse giggled. "For some reason, I thought he was my ex-husband, and I wanted to hit him. Why would I ever want to hit my nice ex-husband?"
Skitch gave her a really funny look. "Are--you okay, Khyrisse!"
"I'm great! Let's make s'mores!"
Val came running across the battlefield, crying, and threw both her arms around Jack.
Jack hoped his crappy leadership wasn't causing all this chaos.
Author: Eric Gasior
Title of Post: Pain Relief
Garal sat down next to Ember and asked the time traveller how she felt.
"Try these," he said while taking two white pills out of a bottle. "Willow extract. They'll help with the pain."
He needed to take Khyrisse, Ember and eventually Jack to a place Kit couldn't hear them, but right now he just wanted Ember to feel better. He stayed saying sympathetic things while the Kit induced chaos unfolded.
He also wrote a letter:
Kit has something called the Stone of Command. It comes from Hell and makes people do what the possessor wants. The cat is really the archdevil Mephisto. Don't let Kit know that you know. He can be very dangerous.
"Ember, would you proofread this for me?"
I'll just continue not telling anybody.
Character(s): "Ember", copy editor
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Dance With The Devil
Title of Post: And I Can't Tell You Why
The time-traveler made a little puff of a sigh. "Well, I find myself strangely unable to worry about it," she said, "but just as a matter of proofreading, I'd change this--" she took out a slender pencil and drew a line through Khyrisse-- "to this." She wrote Jack in bold letters. "Just a suggestion."
Character(s): Jack Paris, Kit
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle, One Stone to Rule Them All
Title of Post: You Wanted Psychodrama, You Got Psychodrama
Jack sat next to Val and read the letter.
Garal shuffled back and forth nervously. Ember stood behind him, looking concerned. "This is way too much to be a coincidence," she muttered to herself.
"Well, this explains that whole Signetland thing," Jack said.
"Among others," Val said quietly.
"I wonder if that's why Kerouac kept gluing himself to you," Jack mused, leaning his head to indicate the berserker elf tied to the tree.
"I figured it was just stupidity," Garal offered.
"Well," Jack said, thinking, "I wondered about the Signetland thing, but didn't have any compulsion. Maybe it doesn't work on me."
"It doesn't," Ember offered.
"Why don't I go talk to her, then? Where is she?"
"He," Garal corrected. "Kit has the stone."
"Oh. Okay. Right." Jack looked a bit confused, but nodded.
"He is with Skitch and the devil cat, over by what's left of the obelisk. He just told Marty to be at peace."
"Well, I'll, uh, put an end to all that," Jack said, but no one seemed to notice it was a joke. Val stared at her feet, Garal stared at Ember, and Ember kept staring at Kit.
I can do this, Jack told himself. She's just a kid. Kids like me. Besides, I'm sure she'll do the right thing.
"Kit?" Jack asked, shuffling up to the two kids. "Can we talk?"
"Sure," Kit said. "What's up?"
"We need to talk about... uh, your... rock."
"Don't worry about it," Kit said. "It's all okay."
"I kind of have to," Jack said. "I'm supposed to be team leader and all."
Kit blinked with astonishment. "Skitch, take Fidget and go play, uh, over by Alphred."
When they were alone, Kit looked up at Jack. "How'd you find out?"
"I'm a mathematician," Jack said.
"Wow. Math must be pretty cool," Kit said.
"Oh, it is!" Jack said. "Everything in the world is regulated by math. It's the cornerstone of reality! By understanding math, you can understand the way the universe works!"
"I only said pretty cool," Kit said. "How come it doesn't work on you? Are you a demon?"
"No," Jack said, looking nervous. "I'm... I'm something a little less than human. But that's not important now. The important thing is that the stone is dangerous."
"That's what Mephisto said. Then I turned him into a cat."
"See?" Jack said. "Dangerous!"
"How is that dangerous?"
Jack opened his mouth, but couldn't think of anything to say. Finally, he just muttered, "Well, it could mate with another cat and have, uh, demon kitties or something."
"But I'm doing good with it!"
"Why don't I hold on to it, and when you have something good to do, we'll discuss it and do it together?" Jack offered.
"You don't trust me!" Kit cried.
"It's not that," Jack said, "it's just that without thinking about it, you're going to hurt people."
"I'm not going to hurt anyone!" Kit screeched. "Especially any of you, because I won't be around!"
Kit ran off towards the jungle.
"Kit, come back!" Jack yelled, and started after her, but the Greatest Thief in Ataniel was too fast.
"Hey everyone! Leave me alone!" Kit screamed. Heads all across the campsite looked up at her, then turned away.
Then the jungle shadows enveloped her, and she was gone.
Jack rushed up to Val, Garal and Ember. "Come on, guys, we have to get after her!"
"I think we should just leave her alone," Val said.
"Don't you mean him?" Garal asked.
"Does it matter?" Ember asked. "Let's eat."
"One day," Jack said. "I've been leader one day, and I'm already losing teammates. Hey, Val, you want to lead?"
"Not right now," the elf said sullenly.
In the jungle, Kit sat in the top of a tree and cried. She had thought that she would be safe here, that these people could be family to her. Like they were with Skitch.
She should have known better.
Now Jack would be looking for her too. And probably Fidget. Such a powerful artifact would inevitably draw all sorts of people out of the woodwork looking for it. It was up to Kit to do what needed to be done before the stone was taken from her.
It was time to go home.
Kit looked to the sun, and getting her bearings, started heading to the east.
Above her, moving silently through the trees, a black panther with a white streak followed. She would protect the child. For Jack.
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Lost at sea
Title of Post: By Any Means Necessary
Flicker pulled his grappling hook loose with his left hand and whipped it up around one of the joists. This wasn't exactly turning into a battle for the sagas, mused the Viking, swinging feet-first into the animated corpse and caroming off the cabin wall, and hauled himself up the rope as quickly as he could. But defeating multiple zombies with his bare hands was really out of the question. Flicker twisted in the unnatural darkness, dead hands dragging at his ankles. He pulled one of his skis off his back with his broken right hand and battered at them, hoisting himself upward. He heard the distinctive creaking before his infravision registered the inexorable cold trickle below, and it sent shivers of memory along his spine. "Breach!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "All hands below, we've got
a--" He almost lost his grip on the rope as a zombie yanked on his boot. "Hull breach!" At least zombies weren't really active enough to jump much. Flicker kicked violently at the undead creature, and heard an unsettling splash as it fell back. He one-handed himself out of their reach, gasping; misgauged the joist as he lunged for it, caught it awkwardly and slipped. He came very close to falling back onto the undead, but a large hand shot through the burned hole in the ceiling and caught the hood of his cloak. Flicker coughed for air as the larger Riklander dragged him onto deck by the throat. "Ragnarokkr," he whispered. "What evil is down there?"
"Undead," he coughed, pulling the cloak back. "Find Norn, we've got to get out of--" He shook his head. "SHE TAKING WATERRRRR!" he bawled. There was a lot of activity among the pirates on deck. Maybe it would keep them distracted long enough to dispose of Pirate Luthien and get the hell out. "Find Norn," he hissed at Silent-Voice again, and slid across the listing deck. The two Luthiens were fighting in the Captain's quarters. He tried to put another arrow into the Slave Lord, but it deflected harmlessly off a force field blocking the cabin off. "The good Luthien just put that up," explained Ralchar, standing over the unconscious body of Palmer Khan. "Have you seen the cute Diari?"
"No." Flicker already knew she must have blown a hole in the hull. At least she hadn't used an atom bomb. "Have you seen the Valkyrie?"
"No. Is it just me, or are we sinking?"
"Hmm. Then I'd better find the others."
Part of the deck collapsed, with a rumbling explosion from below. Flicker could hear Shilree's high-pitched giggling. Good thing all the slaves on this ship seem to be undead. We're not rescuing anyone this time. Luthien the master slaver staggered like a cornered bear, a hole through his hand, his collarbone shattered where Norna had struck it, as his otherworld analog suddenly lit into violent glory. "Who's winning?" said Berryn, hurrying over. The ship reared like a dying warhorse. Flicker smelled something burning. "Come on," Ralchar was shouting, dragging at Shilree's arm. She was naked and her wet hair was streaked across her forehead, laughing surreally in the shadows of golden smoke winding up from below. Ashes were everywhere. Luthien beat his evil counterpart back with one furious stroke after the next. "All the time in the world," screamed Shilree, sobbing laughter.
"Where is Norna!" Flicker shouted at her.
"I don't know! I don't know!"
Flicker splashed his waterskin across his scarf and held it over his face with his broken hand, holding the rail hard with the other as he skirted the collapsed and burning deck. She was still down there somewhere. Shilree had probably detonated a sphere right on top of her. He was just swinging down, the heat fierce against his face, when Hronmir emerged from the smoke flying, straight as an Aesir indeed, the bloodied form of the one-eyed Valkyrie spilling from his arms as if he were the one Choosing her. One of her hands hung almost to the ground, half-curled, like a dead woman's. The other still clutched the black steel blade of Ebreth Tor. "Seierrik," she rattled, through cracked lips. Victory.
It was at that precise moment that Luthien's spear drove into the Slave Lord's skull.
Character(s): Khyrisse and Marty
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen and Evan Haag
Storyline: Dancing With The Devil
Title of Post: Who Says The Happy Ataniel Game Isn't Any Fun To Play?
Marty, lying propped against a rock next to Ebreth's unconscious form, was surprised to feel himself gently and silently picked up and floated over towards the others. He debated momentarily, then cracked an eye open. It was his duty to keep Master Ebreth undisturbed so he could remain in satori... Marty carefully kept himself from reacting to what he saw. The violent elven sorceress was moving them over to the fire. She lowered Master Ebreth to the ground, placed him carefully in a reclining position, and checked his pulse and breathing. She then kissed him on the cheek and turned to Marty. Marty tried to keep a wary eye on her while still looking unconscious. From the little giggle she made after looking at him, he could tell it didn’t work very well.
“Hi, Marty. Are you okay?” she asked, smiling. Then she bit her lip. “Oops, satori. Um... okay, if you’re hurt, can you make some sort of sign? You can go right back to it after we fix you up.”
Marty sat for a few moments digesting this. Man, is she for real? She was never nice like this before, and she was just, like, totally berzerko a few minutes ago. It’s not like that guy didn’t deserve it, but still. Maybe I should just play along, so that she doesn’t go nuts again. “I’m okay,” he mumbled, trying hard not to move his lips too much.
Khyrisse smiled again and made a pleased little bounce. “Good! Thank you for protecting Ebreth while he was, um, in satori.” She looked a little shamefaced, She fiddled with her belt pouch and pulled out what looked like the original bag of coin that Marty had left as his “fare”, setting it down beside him. “I don’t think I thanked you for saving his life earlier, either. Here. You don’t need to give us money or anything. Thank you.”
Marty was stunned momentarily. Whoa, this is most unprecedented! Maybe she’s getting the drift of Master Ebreth’s perfect state... Nah. She’s probably just real mellow right now because she burned out all her negative vibes pounding that jerk’s face into jelly. She’s probably still really pissed at me. I better just play along for now; no telling what she’ll try to do to me or Master Ebreth later. Trying hard to maintain the semblance of satori, he slowly pushed the bag of coins back to her. “S’cool,” he mumbled. “Y’can use it f’r exp’nses ‘n stuff.”
Khyrisse blinked guilelessly at him in surprise, then picked up the bag. “Oh. Okay, I’ll keep it for now... If you ever need it, though, you let me know. I’ve got lots of money. And, you know, we’re not staying in inns or anything, so...” She shrugged, then smiled sunnily at him again. “Anyway! You want some dinner before going back to your, um, lessons?”