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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Hell and Back Archives
As We Take Our Stand, Part IV



Character(s): Fidget
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Mephisto Isn't A People Person
Title of Post: One Stone To Rule Them All
"Hey, kid," said Fidget.
"Go away! I told you to leave me alone!"
"You also told me to follow you and give you advice, remember? Once you tell people to do something, they're going to keep doing it, you know. That's another reason you have to be careful. Can I jump on your shoulder?"
"Okay," sighed Kit, "I guess."
Fidget did. He had been expecting a confrontation with the child's teammates to make her realize she was messing with forces beyond her comprehension, not make her get upset and run away. Fidget made a feline little sigh. He knew a lot about how to twist men's minds and break them into thousands of little pieces. He didn't know very much about putting them back together again. "You know, your friends were just trying to help you, kid. They were worried about you."
"No, they wanted to take my artifact! Just like you do!"
"It's Lucifer’s artifact," protested the cat. "It belongs in Hell. It's not a toy."
"I don't want to talk about this anymore. Stop talking about this."
"Okay," sighed Fidget. "Where are we going?"
"Home."
"You know, I can't go home. I lost Lucifer's stone of command. I'm in more trouble than you're ever going to be in in your life. And I'm never going to be able to go home again without that stone."
"Stop trying to make me feel guilty."
The cat shook his head. "Your wish is my command," he sighed.
It wasn't making it any easier that Fidget was really starting to like this little thief.


Character(s): Magic Barbie and the Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Come On Barbie, Let's Go Party, Ooo, Ooo, Ooo
"Vas flew off somewhere," Val said, her hand still shaking in Jack's. "He doesn't know what was going on with Kit. He doesn't know it was a compulsion. I've got to tell him. I've got to--"
"He'll come back," Khyrisse said sunnily, and offered her s'mores from a tray.
"Life sucks," groaned Alphred.
"Have a s'more!"
"We must go find my allies to defeat Malat'k," said Portobello again.
"We will!" Khyrisse gave him a little peck on the fungal cap. "Just as soon as Vas comes back. Would you like a s'more!"
"No, thanks, I parasitize rotting plant matter."
"That is so wonderful!"
"Khyrisse," hissed Skitch, tugging at her sleeve. "Shouldn't we be careful? We don't know anything about that guy!"
"People are nice if you give them a chance, Skitch," she beamed.
"But, but what about people like Ariath? She wasn't nice."
"I'm sure she meant well."
"Okay," sighed Ember, "this is just a little too much."
"She's not going to be like this forever, is she?" Skitch asked Tarrin.
"I do not know, little Skitch. But I think the Khyri is happier this way."
"Well, but--" Skitch hesitated, watching his adoptive mother bob through the Rat Pack proffering s'mores with a bright, ingratiating smile. She looked like a stewardess. "Isn't that demeaning or something?"
"Serving people makes me happy!" said Khyrisse.
"Maybe I should go look for Vas," offered Ember. "I can fly too, and I can probably find him."
"That'll make it worse," snapped Val.
"Hey, give me some credit," said the time-traveler, and rolled her eyes.
No one else seemed to want s'mores, so Khyrisse sat down and ate one herself. When Vas came back, they would go defeat the evil Ta'al. What fun! Khyrisse finished her s'more and decided to use her message spell while she was waiting. Dear Eric, how are you? Let's not fight any more, it's so stressful. We had good times together, didn't we? I still think about you sometimes. You were so smart and sexy. Let's be friends. Love, Khyrisse.
This time it took Eric less than eight seconds to get back to her. Are you drunk? Should you be casting spells now? Khyrisse giggled. Eric was so silly.
"I'll be back!" Ember took to the air in a swirl of dark curls.
"Can you change her math?" Skitch asked Jack. "Like you do with Vic? I liked her the way she was."
"I, uh, don't think that will work on Khyrisse," hedged Jack.
"Math is hard," commented Khyrisse blissfully.

Character(s): Vas and Ember
Author: Kristin L'Kar Andersen and Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: The Day Vas Gives Up Flirting You Can Bury Him
Ember found Vas fairly easily. He was sitting in the upper branches of the tallest tree to be found for miles, studying the clouds with an unnaturally sober expression. She flew up next to the tree and hovered there gracefully.
“Yes?” Vas said, perfectly politely, but not looking at her.
"Valende sent me to tell you that you guys were being mind-controlled when you did what you did."
That got his attention. He turned to look at her in surprise, and thought about it for a moment. "Oyster totem?" he finally guessed.
"No, actually Kit had an artifact of Lucifer's that she activated--it's a long story. But it's not your fault. You should see what's happened to Khyrisse."
For a moment, the anger showed on his face, but only briefly. It was replaced by a look of immense relief, which also vanished. He ran a hand through his hair and looked at Ember, his face finally settling into a weary sort of surprise. "What happened to Khyrisse? And how did Kit get an artifact of Lucifer, anyway?"
"She stole it while we were in Hell. Don't be angry at her, Vas, she didn't know what she was doing. But it wasn't your fault, or Val's. The artifact mind-controlled you. And it mind-controlled Khyrisse into being happy. She's saying nice things about Eric and Ariath and feeding everyone s'mores. You've got to see this. Come on back. It really wasn't your fault."
Vas burst out laughing, and Ember smiled a little, pleased with his reaction. After a moment, he forced himself to stop, but he couldn’t quite manage to wipe off the grin. "Ahem. That wasn't very kind to Khyrisse, was it...?" The sentiment was ruined by the fact that he began chuckling halfway through it. "She's going to murder somebody when she snaps out of it. I hope it's not Kit." He suddenly looked a bit alarmed. "She is going to snap out of it, isn't she?"
"We all hope so. If she doesn't we'll take more active measures. Come on back, Vas. If Khyrisse calling Eric her 'nice ex-husband' doesn't convince you this had nothing to do with your nature, I don't know what will."
Vas blinked at her for a second, looking very surprised, and then chuckled again. "All too true." He got up from his perch in the tree and stepped out into the air next to Ember. "We'd best keep Kit out of her reach until we know it's over... Milady has a wicked temper, but it cools down quickly enough."
"Kit has left," explained Ember. "But she wants us all to leave her alone, and I think we should."
Vas stopped and looked at Ember for a moment, surprised and thoughtful. "Is anyone with her?"
“Only Mephisto. But she turned him into a cat and is forcing him to obey her. She's got it under control."
"I... see. Would it be all right with everyone if I kept an eye on her, do you think? Not bothered or impeded her at all, simply made sure she reached her destination safely?" Vas watched Ember's face carefully.
"We don't know where she is." Ember shrugged. "She left, and she said not to worry about her and to leave her alone, so I'm going to respect her privacy. Kit's a resourceful person."
"Well then... I believe I have an urgent need to speak with my sister. Valende is surely still upset by today's events." He sighed, with a note of irritation in his voice. "It's become a frequent state of mind for her, of late."
"I don't think she likes me," murmured Ember, flying alongside the older elf.
“Mademoiselle,” Vas said, neatly avoiding the issue, “surely it is not the first time that another woman has resented the competition of your presence.” He slanted her an impish grin. “No one likes to fight a losing battle.”

Character(s): Magic Barbie, Jack, and the Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Role Reversals
"I'm the worst leader ever," moaned Jack.
"No, you're not!" said Khyrisse. "You're great, Jack! This is the best adventure ever! I love you all!"
"That's like getting a Steven King endorsement on your dust jacket," muttered Jack. "You probably think Knighthawke is a great leader."
"Knighthawke's a sweetie pie!"
"I can't believe I botched that so badly," Jack moaned. "Anyone could have handled that better than I did. Now I've driven away an eleven-year-old girl with an artifact she can't control. She's probably going to get hurt, or wipe out a small country. I'm the lousiest leader in the world."
Val, wrapped up in her own problems, didn't notice. "Excuse me," she said, and let Vas draw her to one side.
"No, you're a good leader, Jack!" insisted Khyrisse. "We won that big battle under your leadership!"
"She's right," added Skitch.
"I got us ambushed!"
"Right in a great position to kick their butts!" said Khyrisse, enthusiastically. "It was brilliant!"
"It was dumb luck!"
"Jack," said Ebreth, very softly.
Jack turned around, startled. "Did you just--"
"I'm sorry." He closed his eyes, made a long, exhausted shudder, and did not say anything more.

Character(s): Jack, Marty, Ebreth, Khyrisse
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: First Words
"Whoa," said Marty. "This must be bad... he lost satori on us! Have I failed you, master?"
"Ebreth!" Jack said. "Are you there?"
Ebreth didn't say anything, but Jack couldn't tell if it was from shame or "satori."
"Marty, go get Khyrisse," Jack said.
"Isn't she here?" Marty started, then noticed the ex-mean sorceress chasing a butterfly. He started off after her.
"Hey, pal... you there? There's nothing to worry about... we're just glad to have you back!"
Ebreth said nothing.
"Hi again!" Khyrisse said, bounding up. "What's so exciting?" she asked hopefully.
Ebreth said nothing.
"Um..." Jack started. "Ebreth... ah..."
"He achieved another level of satori," Marty said.
"I'm so happy for him!" Khyrisse said, giving Ebreth a big hug and running back to the butterfly.
"Thanks," Jack said. "I don't want to get her hopes up prematurely... she's under a lot of stress too."
"No problem, man."
"Maybe we should get going. You never know when someone's going to trap you in a temporal anomaly or something," Jack sighed.
"I'll let people know," Marty said.
"Come on, Ebreth," Jack said, taking his hand and standing him up. "Let's get going. Maybe you can tell me more along the way. I sure could use your advice."

Character(s): Fidget
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: One Stone To Rule Them All
Title of Post: Save Vs. Comfort Is At +8 Against Archdevils
Fidget's mind was racing. Well, when you want to crush someone's spirit, you make them think no one cares what happens to them. So logically-- "I'm sure your friends had your best interest in mind, kid. Remember how upset they were when the scientist was threatening to kill you? I know you matter to them."
"I thought I told you not to talk about this anymore."
"No, you told me not to talk about how Lucifer's dangerous Stone of Command belongs in Hell where no one but damned souls can be harmed by it."
Kit looked at the cat narrowly. "I think it's cheating to tell me what you're not allowed to tell me."
"Do you?" Fidget licked his paw.


Character(s): Val and Vas
Author: Evan Haag and Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Val and Vas Have It Out
Vas led his sister to a comfortable distance away from the rest of the Rat Pack. He looked around, making sure they hadn’t been followed by any of the others, then leaned with his back against a (non-carnivorous) tree. He regarded his sister for a few silent moments, then said, “I’m leaving the group for a little while, and I thought we should talk before I did.”
Valende stared in shocked disbelief at her brother, then lowered her eyes. “Why are you leaving now? Didn’t Ember tell you what happened?”
He smiled slightly, and said, “Actually, yes. She did tell me. I know that Kit made us...do what we did earlier. That’s why I’m leaving. I hear from Ember that she told all of you to leave her alone. Well, I didn’t hear her, so I’m not going to.” He paused briefly, then continued. “I’m not leaving because of you, sister. Don’t think that.”
Valende sighed in relief and relaxed a bit. “Well, what did you want to talk to me about, then?”
He grimaced a bit before answering. “You and I have been going at each other lately like not-so-friendly rivals in a schoolyard, and I think it has to stop. I don’t much appreciate the daggers you’ve been aiming at me since Ember showed up, nor do I appreciate the way you keep second-guessing my judgement. I am your older brother, you know; I’ve been around long enough to take care of myself.”
“Your judgement got you involved with Ariath,” she responded coldly. “And from my point of view, it’s happening all over again. Khyrisse is spending a great deal of time in her company all of a sudden, and the only thing she offers as explanation is that Ember saved Skitch’s life-- hence she’s trustworthy.”
“Ariath took everyone by surprise, not just me. As I recall, even you vouched for her lack of evil intentions in the beginning. So don’t...”
“Which means my judgement on Ember’s lack of the same is just as suspect!”
Vas acknowledged her interruption with a small nod of his head. “Fair enough. However, by the same token, that means that your total trust in Jack’s honesty is also suspect. Or perhaps even Tarrin’s. Or even Khyrisse’s, for that matter. What do you say to that?”
Valende was taken aback for a moment, then waved it aside. “Whether she’s trustworthy or not, you shouldn’t be spending your life in her pocket.”
Vas looked genuinely insulted. “My life?!? What about her life, Val?! She is, in all likelihood, going to be dead in a few days, trying to stop an insane lich from destroying us all! I should think that you, of all people, would look favorably on showing kindness to her, especially given the circumstances!”
Val countered almost instantly. “How do you know she’s here to fight a Lich Lord, Vas?!”
“It’s called trust, Val.”
Valende sighed heavily and covered her eyes. There was a long silence. “Vas, if she is telling the truth, and she’s from the future,” she said finally, “has it never occurred to you that she bears a strong resemblance to you?”
He slapped his forehead in mock surprise. “By the gods, you’re right! Two eyes, two ears, a mouth, fluent in Elven, and a prediliction for flirtation! She must be my niece!” Val glared at him and started to speak, but he cut her off. “Think about it. There’s nothing that indicates that she’s my daughter, or yours, or Khyrisse’s, or even (gods forbid) Kerouac’s. I’m fairly certain she’s half-elven, besides. That actually puts you as the front runner right now. That’s assuming that she’s related to any of us. She may well be the child of... Maxwell Silverhammer, for all we know!”
“She can fly at will, Vas. Not many people can do that.”
He rolled his eyes. “Merde. Do you know how difficult it is to make a ring of flying? Or any of a dozen artifacts for flying? There’s nothing to prove that she can do it under her own power. Besides, given our family history, do you really think she’d flirt with her own father?!”
Valende glared right back at him, her anger unable to conceal the fear lurking beneath it. “And what if what happened between us during the Madness was due to an intrinsic flaw in our natures? Who is to say that our children wouldn’t inherit it, Vas?!”
He stopped short, taken aback by the thought. After a few minutes of thought, he said slowly, “If it were so intrinsic a part of our natures, we wouldn’t be nearly so scared about it happening again. You know me fairly well, Val. I’ve never been any good at denying my nature. And I can assure you, what happened between us during the Madness goes against everything I believe in. It’s not part of me. That much I know.”
Valende twisted her mouth wryly, but she looked a little amused as well. Most of her tension had drained away. “Well, considering that part of my grievance of late is that you aren’t denying what is obviously your nature, I can hardly argue with that, can I?”
He smiled a bit again, a bit relieved. “No, not if you don’t want to appear a hypocrite. After all, you yourself have been, shall we say, less than faithful to our oaths of late?”
“I have not!” Valende said, with unexpected force. It wasn’t guilt, however, that was motivating her reaction; Vas could tell that much.
“No?”
“No.“
He thought for a moment, then it hit him. Trying hard to conceal his smirk, he said, “Ah, well. That certainly explains your... higher degree of tension.” She turned her head away slightly, but it didn’t conceal her slight blush. “Still, you must admit that you have violated the spirit of our oaths, if not the actual letter.”
“I’m beginning to think it was a somewhat foolish thing to do,” she admitted softly. “I’m sure we weren’t the only ones to make rash promises, following the Madness, but...” She gestured, at a loss for words. “It doesn’t seem fair to Jack, does it?” Valende finally said, plaintively.
“Nor would my ignoring Ember be fair to her. You and Jack have potentially his entire life together. Ember has a great deal less time than that. To deny her some degree of happiness for that brief period would be a greater crime than to violate an oath that I’m sure the gods wouldn’t thank us for anyway.” He smiled wryly. “After all, we few elves here may be the only thing keeping our people’s memories alive in a few decades.”
Valende nodded. “All right. I withdraw my objection,” she said, smiling at her brother for what was probably the first time in several days. “When you come back, you may ...spend time in Ember’s company,” she hedged, looking innocently up at the sky for a moment, “without fearing my interference.”
Vas swept her a formal bow. “Thank you, gracious lady,” he said. He flashed her a taunting grin. “Not that you could have stopped us.”
“Oh, I could have,” she disagreed, amiably enough.
“We can both fly.” Mischief danced in her brother’s sky blue eyes.
Valende rolled her emerald ones, and decided that it was safer to change the subject. “There’s another thing that we need to discuss, if you’re leaving.”
“It’s not something else that I’ve done, is it?”
“No, no, no, nothing like that. It’s about Khyrisse.” Her tone became serious again. “Have you noted the way she’s been acting lately?”
He thought for a few seconds before speaking. “You mean the way she’s been... overreacting to everything? Or the way she’s been vascillating between optimism and abject depression? Or the way she’s been hinging all of her hopes on Ebreth’s eventual recovery? Or...”
“That’s enough, Vas. You have no room to be sarcastic about someone’s emotional stability or lack thereof. Particularly not their lack thereof, featherhead.” Vas just nodded amiably, acknowledging the hit. His sister continued, “Does it suggest anything to you?”
“If you mean to suggest that she’s formed a pasirel with Ebreth,” he said thoughtfully, “it does resemble that, a bit.”
“Forming, I think. Even that doesn’t fit all the signs I see in her, though,” she said, with a worried look. “But then, she has had other emotional strains in the recent past. It’s the only thing I can think of.”
“You may be right. What do you think you can do for her?”
Valende sighed. “There are rituals that can ease that strain, but I don’t know them. I can help her to stay calm, there are herbs that will smooth the ragged edges of her heart... and I think that spending more time in reverie would help her, were she guided properly. Frankly,” she added, gently but very firmly, “I think that Khyrisse needs to learn to discipline her emotions, rather than allow them mastery. This may provide her with the proper incentive to do so.”
Vas nodded his agreement. “Well, affairs of the spirit are your bailiwick. I’d best be on Kit’s trail before it gets too cold, anyway.” He made sure all of his equipment was secure, then said, “Look, just make sure you take care of yourself, all right? After all, we’re all we have left.”

Character(s): Sorceress Barbie and the Rat Pack
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: The Elves Revert To Type... Sorta
Valende came back from the sibling conference, alone. Her eyes were wide and thoughtful.
"Val?" She turned to look at Jack. "Are you all right?"
"Ah... yes, I think so." She shook her head a bit, as if she were disoriented. "Um, Vas has gone to keep an eye on Kit, Jack. He won't be travelling with us for the time being." She shrugged slightly, in a long-suffering sisterly fashion. "I told him that she wanted to be left alone, but he seemed to think it was important."
"Oh. Okay. That's probably a good idea," Jack said hesitantly. I’ve lost another one. I must be the worst leader in recorded history. They’ll probably be scattered to all the points of the compass before we even get out of Salagia. "Um, Ebreth finally said something."
"He did?" Val looked at Ebreth in surprise. "Is he..."
"He's still, ah, in satori. But he came out of it for a moment."
"Does Khyrisse know?"
"No... she's... well..." Jack gestured to where Khyrisse was sitting at the edge of the clearing. She was all packed up and ready, as she put it, “to go kick mean old Ta’al’s butt”. A butterfly, vivid blue and violet patterns on velvety black, was sitting on her hand while she cooed to it, brushing its wings gently with a feather. Marty was watching this from his post near Ebreth, eyes wide.
"Ah. I see. No, probably best not to tell her," Valende said, and bit her lip. "Oh, dear."

***


“Mademoiselle,” said a voice from behind Ember, at the opposite side of the clearing.
Rather than starting, as he expected her to, she turned her head and glanced at him over her shoulder with a little smile. “Monsieur.”
“I am afraid that I am leaving the Rat Pack, temporarily,” Vas said, a muted twinkle in his eye. “I will be keeping watch over Kit, since she has chosen to go her own way for the time being.”
"You could stay with us until my mission is complete, monsieur. Kit will be fine; she said so."
“Hmm.” Vas smiled a little, ruefully. “Well, we shall see, in a very few hours, whether she will or not. I admit that I am sorry to go, however.”
Ember tilted her head at him. "You know, I shall probably be dead by the time you meet this group again."
Vas sighed. "If you are trying to make me feel guilty, you are doing a much better job of it than my sister did..."
"I'm not.” Ember’s eyes danced with amusement. “I'm trying to get a kiss."
"Oh, well then," Vas said softly, his impish smile reappearing. “That is a very different thing, mademoiselle.”

***


Khyrisse chattered happily as she walked next to Marty and Ebreth. The blue-violet butterfly fluttered around her head, occasionally hitching a ride by perching on her golden brown curls. She looked much younger somehow, far too young for the faint dusting of silver at her temples. Sixteen-- seventeen, maybe. “I have to remember to visit Shannon, after we stop that nasty Ta’al,” she said cheerfully. “We lost months down in the Lower Planes, she must be wondering where I’ve gotten to-- I’ll have to bring her some of those seeds I’ve been collecting for her garden... Oh, I should call Ariath, too. She’s probably wondering if I’m still mad at her...” She began ticking off a list of things to do on her fingers. Jack was figuring out where they needed to go, so she didn’t need to worry about that right now, thank goodness. She beamed at Jack from the back of the group. He’d know what to do about stopping Ta’al. “I have to remember to give Jack some time with Valende tonight, now that she’s not stuck to Kerouac anymore. They make such a cute couple,” she said to Marty, with a sweet smile, and marked this task down too.

Character(s): Skitch
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Art Imitates Life
Skitch trailed along at the back of the Rat Pack, staring angrily down at his feet as they shuffled along. Every now and then he glanced over his shoulder, back the way they had come. I don't believe she left. I don't believe she made me stay behind. Doesn't she trust me? Like I care if she has some stupid stone. She wouldn't hurt anybody with it. And now she's off someplace by herself with a devil cat and devils are really evil and sneaky! It's going to get her in trouble somehow, it'll trick her or something, and I'm not going to be there to help. He kicked at the dirt angrily. She used to get me out of trouble when I needed help. And now I can't help her. It's just not fair.
"What's the matter, kiddo?" Khyrisse said cheerfully, rumpling his hair.
And my mom has gone all silly. You can't even get her to think anything's wrong. I'm gonna whitewash Kit for that one, if we find her by the time it snows. "Everything," Skitch said crankily.

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