The Hell and Back Archives
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, Part IV
Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Ain't Got No Body
Title of Post: Waiting Makes The Heart Grow Fonder
After his adventure in the future, he was used to it.
Still, he wished that Robinson was here to help Khyrisse. She was a great wizard, but it took a mathematician to work it all out. Even Gabriella would have been a help. Well, if she wasn't trying to destroy him still, that was.
"Jack?" Valende asked.
"She's taking a long time, don't you think?"
"Um, yeah, I guess so."
"You want to go somewhere... and talk?"
Jack would have blushed, had he a face to do so with. "Sounds great," he said.
"Call us when you're done," Val smiled to Khyrisse.
Character(s): Khyrisse, the Rat, Skitch, Valende, Jack
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Hell in a Handbasket/Ain't Got No Body
Title of Post: All Right, Already!
Khyrisse threw her robe on, scrubbed her hair with a towel, and went back to her study. Clean, finally. I think I can get Jack corporeal again before midnight, if no one interrupts me again.
“All right, Rat,” she sighed, falling into her chair. “Have we figured out that last bit yet? I wasn’t happy with that last run-through. This is Jack we’re talking about here... I don’t want the slightest chance of anything going wrong.”
Khyrisse massaged her temples, a while later, and tried to sit up straighter. “Sennett?”
Sennett appeared in the doorway. “Yes, milady?”
“Where are Jack and Valende?”
“I believe the young lady is in the jacuzzi.” Sennett got a wry little smile at the corner of his mouth. Khyrisse knew that look. She imagined that other people had once seen it quite often.
Khyrisse winced a little and sighed. “When it’s ...convenient, tell them that we’re done, and have them meet me in the ballroom, would you?”
Sennett bowed and vanished. Khyrisse closed her eyes and stayed where she was for a moment.
"Hey, Ebreth isn't running away!"
"Maybe I'm not."
Strong hands had closed gently around her shoulders as she removed the blindfold. “Khyrisse is peeking!”
The hollow ache in her chest drove her up out of the chair, and she swallowed hard, blinking stinging eyes. The Rat looked up at her from the stack of notes, and made an inquiring noise at her. Khyrisse determinedly shoved the memories of the Marco Polo game (and the hour or so that followed) into the back of her mind, and went to make Jack corporeal again.
Skitch jumped up as she came out of the office, and scampered to her side, face lit up. Khyrisse hadn’t seen that expression for a long time, and the pain in her heart eased a little. “Khyrisse! Have you got a second?”
“Sure, kiddo... what’s up?”
“You’ll never guess who I found. Well, who found me. Anyway, guess who’s here?”
Khyrisse giggled briefly at Skitch’s animation. “Who?”
Khyrisse blinked at him for a second, eyes unfocusing as she searched for who this might be. It didn’t take her long to snap out of it, this time. “Kit Branagh?” Khyrisse started to add something, tripped over her own tongue, and finished, “How did he escape the destruction of Trade?”
“I dunno, but he’s outside. Can he come in, please?”
“Absolutely,” Khyrisse said, with a smile that Skitch hadn’t seen since Lianth. “Go get him. Give Kit the grand tour, in fact. I’m going to be fixing Jack; but as soon as I’m done, I’ll catch up with you.”
Humming softly, Khyrisse sat crosslegged on the hardwood floor and reviewed her notes one last time. The Rat reviewed them too, from its perch on her shoulder.
“Are you certain this will work properly?” Valende said, looking worried.
The Rat looked up at her from his perch and squeaked reassuringly. “I understand! Math fix Jack’s body! All fine!”
“There you have it,” Khyrisse murmured, and went back to humming her odd little tune. The Rat rocked back and forth in time to it.
Khyrisse finally nodded. “Okay. Valende, put the headset in that clear spot, would you?” she said, pointing to the center of the intricate diagram drawn on the floor. Valende held up the headset one last time and kissed the air next to the microphone, very quietly. “Good luck, darling.”
“It’ll be fine, Val,” Jack said, trying to sound confident, for her sake. “Don’t worry.”
Valende reached out and set the headset carefully in the center of the cleared area.
Using her tune to keep her focused, Khyrisse set up the Major Creation spell, and twisted it carefully in the proper directions, braiding in the other necessary spells as she went. Grendel, this is like trying to weave a tapestry while balancing on one foot, she thought dizzily. Damned higher math. Damned rodent Boolean. A shimmering mist coalesced above the headset, spinning from Khyrisse’s hands, turning three dimensional, gradually becoming opaque. Just before it took on a definite identity, the Rat squeaked softly. Khyrisse made a final twisting gesture, and clenched her hands... there was a bright flash... the headset blinked out of the circle and back in at the edge of it, Khyrisse’s hands closing around the two broken halves. Valende gasped, briefly horrified by this.
Jack stood in the center of the scribbled circle of mathematical equations, blinking. Same old Jack, right down to his clothes.
Valende looked at him apprehensively, eyes huge, arms wrapped tightly around herself. “Jack?”
Jack cleared his throat. “Val? Wow. I don’t believe it. It worked.”
“‘It worked’, he says. What am I, incompetent? Incapable of following directions or something?” Khyrisse said, grinning in relief. The Rat did a little dance on her shoulder. “Go ahead, Val, ruin the scribbles, it can’t hurt him now.”
Valende rushed into the circle and kissed Jack so vehemently that he briefly misplaced a decimal point.
“Thank you!” the Rat said happily.
Character(s): Kit, Skitch, Khyrisse
Author: Douglass Barre (with kvetching by Kris)
Storyline: Hell to Pay
Title of Post: Kit Joins The Rat Pack
"Khyrisse!" Skitch yelled, running into the mansion without wiping his feet on the mat. "Khyrisse! Guess who I found!"
Kit waved at Khyrisse from behind Skitch. "Hello, ma'am," he said.
"Kit Branagh, as I live and breathe," Khyrisse grinned. "I'm so glad that you survived Trade!"
"Aw, 'twas nothing for the Greatest Thief in all Ataniel!" Kit beamed. Khyrisse thought of Tila. Someone might dispute you there, she thought.
"I thought that Kit could join us in the Rat Pack!" Skitch said. "Seeing that he's an orphan like me and all! He can stay in my room, and we can practice stuff together..."
Khyrisse looked over Kit appraisingly and smiled. "I remember you from my time as a goddess," Khyrisse mused. "Kit Branagh," she repeated, trying to hide her amusement.
"I'd be happy to offer my services, ma'am," Kit said. "Skitch tells me you're short a thief."
Khyrisse put the first thing that came to mind aside. "I'd love to have you, Kit. We'll work out the... the details... later. And please, call me Khyrisse."
"Yes, ma'am!" Kit beamed.
"Let me show you around!" Skitch said, grabbing Kit's hand and dragging him off.
Khyrisse watched the two go. Would that everyone who came along was from Trade. Knowing their secrets ahead of time made it a lot easier to trust them. And she would keep Kit's secret. For a while, at least.
Character(s): Kit Branagh
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Hell to Pay
Title of Post: The Greatest Thief In All Ataniel Practices
Kit sat with Skitch on the carpet of the living room. "No bedtime, even?" Kit asked.
"Nope. Only when I get tired."
Kit's fingers closed over a small crystal egg on the endtable. The egg disappeared into Kit's sleeve.
"So how'd you survive the fall of Trade?" Skitch asked.
"Wasn't there," Kit said, using his arm muscles to slide the egg up the sleeve and into the pouch sewn into his tunic. "I was with a caravan for a few weeks. They all went ballistic, and I kinda threw myself into a pit in a rage. Broke m' leg and all!"
“How’d you get out?”
"I'm the Greatest Thief in All Ataniel!" Kit cried. "No pit can hold me!"
"You're nutty," Skitch grinned.
Kit shrugged, and the egg hopped out of the pouch and rolled down his arm. He caught it in his hand and invisibly replaced it on the endtable. "Yeah, but I'm great to have around!"
Author: Laura Redish, trapped in Tucson
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: A Matter Of Timing
"Well," said Vas, "going by what your demon friend said--"
"Fred?" interrupted Skitch.
"No, the other--"
"Pieret was a priest of Lucifer, dear," said Val, dreamily.
"No, I mean--"
"Will you let me finish my sentence?"
"Count to ten," suggested Skitch.
Vas did. "Flicker said if we can find Cori and Tarrin in Hell we're within our rights to take them, since they were never really damned, but if we find Ebreth we'll need to get out of Hell with him immediately. So I think we should find out if Cori or Tarrin is there first, because we may not have time to find them once we've got Ebreth."
Character(s): Cori, Tarrin and Ailonwy
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Hell to Pay
Title of Post: Hell Is Where Your Heart Is... Peanut!
"You know," Cori said to Tarrin, "I thought that Hell would have more fiery pits."
"What?" asked Tarrin. "The blood leeches aren't enough for you?"
"And what's with all the twisted architecture? I was expecting something a little more gothic and Occidental."
"The better to torture you with, my dear," Ailonwy grinned.
"Well, you're the devil," Cori shrugged.
"Close enough," Ailonwy muttered.
Character(s): Norna, Hronmir, The Third Friend
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Skeins of Fate
Title of Post: Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave
Norna looked at the mess that was quickly becoming all too common in Ataniel. The skeins were tangled beyond anything even Brunhilde could have deciphered.
The revelation that the skeins she needed to trace didn't even pass through this timeline just made her head hurt. She wished that she had Chosen Paris as opposed to the necromancer's apprentice. Messala was right, she'd need a mathematician for this.
"Norna?" came a whisper from the other side of the room.
"I should have explicitly told you not to disturb me, Silent-Voice. I am busy with the skeins."
"I have something to say," Hronmir said.
"Then say it and begone with you."
"I believe you to be correct about the Myriad."
"What changed your mind?" Norna scoffed.
"I did," said a voice from beyond Hronmir.
Norna turned and looked into the face of Shilree. Or what was left of it. One eye was missing, replaced with a great jewel. The long hair she remembered was cut unfashionably short, and there was a long scar tracing one side of her face. "What--" Norna began, then her eyes fell to the strange device in Shilree's hand.
"I'm from the same future you're aiming to prevent," Shilree frowned. "I was visiting Sunny... Tim-- ah, the Sunfighter... when she died. That was when Luthien stole the time sphere from Rip Hunter."
"Get Messala," Norna ordered Hronmir.
Moments later, the Skein Team was gathered around the campfire. Luthien seemed even more shaken by Shilree. Ragnarokkr showed no emotion, even by the mention of his future death. The tale Shilree had told, of three old friends, of Luthien the Lich Lord, even of Timrin Dalliar's death (omitting the name and details for Sunny's sake) was a grim one. "Rip gave me this," Shilree said. "It's a rewired version of the device that opens portals to the Time Sphere. He said that we'd need it."
"We?" Norna asked. "I don't remember inviting you."
Shilree turned with blood rage in her remaining eye.
Flicker stood and moved between them.
"We're all needed for this," he said to both of them. "Do it for Lian," he added to Shilree in a whisper.
"I don't know what times Rip meant for me to take you to," Shilree continued, glaring at Norna. "But he said that you'd be able to direct me somehow."
Norna smiled. "That would be me."
"A thousand gold that one of them kills the other," Luthien whispered to Flicker.
"Sucker bet," Flicker sighed.
Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish, back from He--Tucson
Storyline: Like A Bat Out Of Hell
Title of Post: Twas The Night Before Hell
"Maybe Garal could take us to Hell and back," suggested Val. "We did find him in Trade. Could he be Khyrisse's eye of worlds?"
"Assuming we trust him." Vas was uncharacteristically crabby.
"Mabye," Khyrisse said slowly.
"Maybe we should sleep on it tonight."
"Now who's backsliding," muttered Vas, in Elvish.
"I, uh, agree with Valende," said Jack, blushing. "We can go to Hell in the morning."
"That's my boy!" bellowed Asinus. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we go to Hell." He nudged Khyrisse with his nose. "Hey, toots, Valende doesn't need to be the only chick to get nailed tonight."
"No thank you." She pushed the ass away. "I already have plans tonight."
"With who?" he demanded.
Ariath looked at the ceiling and sighed. Marhault would be back tomorrow, she told herself. Besides, the stuff Khyrisse came up with was still better than Hell.
Character(s): Garal, Valende, and Khyrisse (biggest workaholic on Ataniel)
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen and Eric Gasior
Storyline: Hell on Wheels
Title of Post: Garal Joins the Rat Pack
As the sun set, the lone halfling planewalker finished his loneliest task yet. He mourned the death of this city, his second home, much as he mourned his first home many years earlier.
"May all your souls find the peace they deserve," he said to the empty air, as he poured a flask of water onto the ground, "and may new life grow from your ashes."
When Garal returned to the park, Khyrisse was sitting by the edge of the lifeless duck pond, clear water in it now. She had a double handful of bedraggled duck feathers, but she wasn't looking at them. She was staring pensively at the reflection of the red-lit sky in the water at her feet, hands resting in her lap.
Garal stood next to the goddess. For a moment he didn't know what to say-- imagining that her pain was thousands of times greater than his. "I can only imagine how hard this is for you. I can't find any signs of survivors apart from those two boys. I'd like to ask them if they've seen anyone else."
She sighed and looked at the feathers in her lap. "There were a few who were either rescued, or who weren't here... I'm not sure where they'd be now, or if they survived after leaving the city. Skitch doesn't know of any survivors except himself, and now Kit. I understand that both of them left the city before the Madness happened."
"How did the Madness affect younger children?"
Khyrisse looked up at Garal. "Mostly fear and petty resentment, from what I can tell. I don't think that young children were as badly affected, probably because their personalities aren't fully formed yet."
Garal took the horse out of his pocket and sighed. "Are there matters that I can help you with? I can put off the next part of my trip-- the people I need to visit aren't going anywhere."
Khyrisse looked sadly at the toy in Garal's hands, but refrained from saying anything. "That's kind of you," she said quietly. "I don't know. I'm a little hesitant to involve you in our troubles, and... and frankly, we've had some problems lately, with people-- not being who or what they appeared."
"I have no objection to having my identity checked,” Garal offered. “If I'm possessed I'd like to know it myself." A half-smile formed on his face, but from Khyrisse’s glare, Garal realized that the joke had hit too close to home. "Umm... Anyway... You took good care of this city. Think of my help as a form of thanks."
Khyrisse had the urge to look incredulously around at the ruins, and forced herself to stop. He actually meant it, I’m sure. But how I can have taken good care of my city when it’s mostly ashes is beyond me. She got up, cradling the feathers against her stomach so they wouldn’t blow away. “Why don’t you come inside... we can discuss things there.”
“He’s fine, Khyrisse. He is who he says he is,” Val reassured her gently, after being introduced to Garal and a rapidly whispered Detect Lie spell.
“And I can see for myself that he’s not possessed or something.” Khyrisse heaved a sigh of relief. “All right, as long as he really is Garal Tinderhook, I know he’s all right. I think he might be able to help us.”
Khyrisse met Garal's eyes and sighed. "Garal, do you know how to get to Hell?" Her mouth twisted, and she added, "Without murdering a lot of people and then dying."
Garal thought for a moment and slowly said, "Yes... why?"
"We lost three of our people there, and I have to get them back."
"I can lead you across the planes. Negotiating-- I mean that both ways-- your way through Hell isn't easy. The path will be difficult, and there are too many lawyers. I assume you are up to it, but are your companions?"
Khyrisse stared at him. "Lawyers...? Um, I don't know. We can discuss that in the morning. I don't know much about the place, really. You may be the only expert we've got. Lucifer's dealings with Arawn, those I know about. How to get to the corner alchemist's in Hell...?" Khyrisse shrugged helplessly.
Character(s): Jack and Valende
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Hell to Pay
Title of Post: Night and a Body
"You know," Jack said, "I've never done this before."
"It's a shame," Val giggled. "You've got a beautiful body."
"I'm glad to have any body at this point," Jack said.
"Mm..." Val sighed. "Move your hand lower."
"Perfect," Val purred, and licked her lips. She traced Jack's chest with long strokes.
"You sure I can't wear something? I feel kind of... naked."
"You are naked, dear," Val said.
"I know," Jack murmured, embarrassedly looking down at his thin body.
"I just missed you so much when you... didn't have a body... I want to know every bit of it," Val said.
"Just promise me that you don't hang this in the living room or anything," Jack said, holding his pose.
Valende dipped the brush into the thinner. "I promise. I'll keep it in our bedroom."
"I can see therapy in my future," Jack said, grinning at Valende over the canvas.
Author: Laura Redish
Title of Post: Ari Apologizes
"Khyri!" Ariath took a big breath. "Listen, I've been thinking about it, and I'm really sorry I had to involve you in this. I know I kind of, uh, took advantage of our friendship to stab you in the back, but I wasn't just pretending to like you, I really did like you. And once I'd gotten what I needed, I didn't, like, kill you to keep you from coming after me, right? I didn't even leave you there, I went and got Val. I wasn't in this to hurt you, and I'm sorry I did. Okay?" Ari watched Khyrisse anxiously. The sorceress vacillated weirdly between vindictive and sympathetic moods; if she'd caught her in one of the latter, maybe she would accept the apology and get on with her life. Ariath hoped.
Character(s): Khyrisse and Ariath
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Vendetta: Offensive Side
Title of Post: What Do You Want From Me
Khyrisse leaned back against the mast of the pirate ship. She was amused to see that Ariath had placed a figurehead of Oethnar on the ship she commanded. A Cynystran merchantman in the near distance was busy fleeing the pirates, now that their blonde captain was distracted. Ariath looked anxiously at her. Khyrisse looked back, appearing neither angry nor mollified.
"You know, if I could believe that, I'd be glad to hear it... but you're in a lot of trouble at the moment, and getting me to forgive you is in your best interests, isn't it?" she said.
"And in yours,” Ariath replied. “You've got a lot of pain inside, Khyri... I've heard you crying at night. You need to heal, not scar... don't let me have two victims from that night."
Khyrisse’s mouth twisted a little. "I must be crying in my sleep. I can count the times I've actually broken down and cried in the past decade on one hand. No, that's okay; I don't mind a little scarring. Why do you care how many victims you take?"
“Because some people deserve it. Some don't. You're in the latter category. Don't believe me if you don't want, but never say I didn't try to make peace.”
Khyrisse tilted her head at Ariath, suppressing her growing anger for the time being. "Which category was Ebreth in?" she asked calmly.
“Ebreth was judged before I got to him. If it wasn't me, it would have been something much worse. Ebreth Tor did things I'd never even consider. From my end, though... I liked him while we traveled together. I'm glad he got some time to walk the earth again. But Hell wanted him back, and they were going to get him.”
"Ari, you've been there. How can anything be worse than being sent back to Hell? And if Hell eventually came for him, he would at least have had more time than you allowed him. Nope, sorry; I don't think you really thought twice about it."
Ariath shook her head. “I didn't think twice about it. I never claimed I did. I'm just saying that he was an okay guy. I did what I had to do. All I was trying to say was that I'm sorry you got caught up in it.”
Khyrisse closed her eyes briefly. I can’t believe she just admitted to me that she didn’t even think twice about it. I really am dealing with someone completely without a conscience... "All right,” she said, opening her eyes again. “I'll take that under consideration. Thank you." Khyrisse looked over Ari's shoulder at the Cynystran ship, which began to show flickers of movement on its deck. "Ari, were you ever a victim? While you were alive, I mean, of course," she added, with a bleak little smile. "I understand that everyone's a victim in Hell."
“Sure. Lots of times. Mom... Dad... and you don't even want to know about my first love... makes Asinus look like the model of gentility. I just don't let myself take the victim mentality. I try to move on, and get on to something better.”
"At anyone's expense. No matter what it takes," Khyrisse murmured, very quietly. She closed her eyes again. ...you don’t even want to know about my first love...
Khyrisse went back through her memory and summoned up one of the worst periods of her life. Pieret’s overtures and their grisly result were less than two years in her past. She was on the southern coast of Nylevia, working herself to the bone to set up her own trading house, and she was finally seeing some success... And something had destroyed it all, waylaying her on her return from a buying trip. She’d been hounded back to her own town by faceless, secretive attacks on her purchases, her entourage, and her person. Late at night--
alone, spells exhausted, cargo abandoned by the wayside-- she’d finally reached her shop. Barricaded inside it, she was determined to salvage something from her efforts, rather than go through yet another blind, panicked, copperless flight across the countryside. She’d attempted to replenish her spells, to defend herself and her home. Ultimately, she hadn’t been allowed the time. Her own clerk had let her enemies in, a group of men led by one of Eric’s personal guard. Khyrisse shuddered, remembering his face. He had been part of the honor guard
at her own wedding-- and he was the last thing she saw, before her eyes closed from swelling bruises. She strongly suspected that it was he, angered by the loss of his eye, who had delivered the final blow that cracked her skull... but that was much, much later, and she was a little fuzzy on the details by that point. She’d come back to life and consciousness in a prison wagon hours later, just across the Cynystran border.
Khyrisse opened her eyes, feeding the helplessness, the desperation, the revulsion of those memories into the dream around her ...and let it spiral down into nightmare. A signal flashed from behind her, set off by one of Ariath’s officers, and the Cynystran ship turned sharply in the wind, moving back towards the pirate ship. The helpless prey of moments ago transmuted into something far more dangerous. Khyrisse let Ariath’s own fears supply the faces of the crew that was betraying her into the hands of her enemies. Ariath’s eyes widened as she looked into the smirking face of her trusted first mate, and Khyrisse vanished.
Khyrisse retched helplessly long after her stomach was empty, Vas holding her shoulders. She’d nearly thrown him across the room when he’d first touched her, trying to wake her. Skitch stood in the doorway, eyes wide, hand over his mouth.
Khyrisse didn’t know what had sickened her more: the original memories, or inflicting something like them on Ariath-- even if it wasn’t real.
She sent Ebreth to Hell. She’s not even sorry for it. Remember that. She didn’t even think twice about whether to do it or not, everyone’s just meat to her.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this,” she gasped, leaning back and trying to catch her breath. Vas sighed and squeezed her arms gently.
Character(s): Ariath and K'mar
Author: Laura Redish
Title of Post: For A Good Night's Sleep
Ariath sat up in the middle of the night screaming like a madwoman. K'mar rolled over in the sleeping bag next to hers. "Wake up, Ari," he said. "You're awake. It's OK."
The little assassin gasped for breath. "She's insane," she forced out. "She is totally insane. I've driven her off the deep end for sure. I've sent her to the happy farm and she's taking me with her. Holy fucking shit."
"Are we talking Kerouac here?"
"We are talking--what do they say here? Fairy-wailing." Ari thumped herself on the chest. She was sweating under her breasts.
"I don't think that's it, Ari."
"Whatever." Ari accepted a comforting embrace from the ninja, her eyes big as saucers. "Holy shit. I have just driven an archmage totally fucking nuts."