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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 V



Character(s): Tarrin The Traveling Doofus
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Dissociative States
"So how are you going to help us defeat Ta'al, Portobello?" said Skitch suspiciously, as the Rat Pack followed him through the jungle.
"I can't tell you yet. First you have to come with me to my allies."
"That's good enough for me!" said Khyrisse, happily.
"Good enough for Kerouac, too!" supplied the berserker, keeping out of kicking distance from Val.
"Don't look at me," said Ember. "I'm just here for the lich lord."
Tarrin could tell the mushroom man was some sort of demon, but he was too polite to say anything about it. Fred had turned out well, after all. And these foreigners were in an unusually good mood, and it seemed to make them very cranky when he used his psionic powers on them, so he'd been trying to keep it a secret that he could sense certain things about their minds more or less automatically. Like the fact that Jack didn't have a brain. He'd been keeping that one to himself since Rumi. Tarrin didn't really understand these people, but he liked them, and he didn't want to hurt their feelings. Ebreth buckled again but did not give, staggering into a tree. His arm shook and his face was drawn, his mouth an anguished line. "Uh-oh!" shouted Marty. "Math dude! We've lost the tao!"
Tarrin had no idea what that meant. Maybe he would ask Skitch later. The kiljhac was clearly in great psychic distress, so Tarrin put all six of his fingers on his dark temple and concentrated on easing his pain. -You are in Salagia with your friends,- he supplied directly into the man's mind. -What you are experiencing now is in the past. Do not be afraid.- Ebreth slumped to the ground, shuddering, as the Diari psychiatrist healed him. "Memory is unkind sometimes," Tarrin explained to Jack. "When there is the big trauma, sometimes the mind will keep to fall into it. Instead of remembering only, the person lives it again. I have seen this in the Diaria. One woman she could have all the sensations of her bad experience for hours. Very tragic. Usually that only lasts the few minutes. Tell him it only is a dream. It will pass."
"So what you're saying is, like, satori is about centering yourself totally in the present, right, and not letting bad karma from the past get you off balance?"
Tarrin looked at Marty. "Dalen is not the native language for me," he apologized. "I don't know what you are talking about."
"Dalen doesn't help much," Skitch assured his hero.
"It couldn't have been that bad!" Khyrisse said sunnily. "You just need to cheer up!" She gave Ebreth a quick hug and bounded off down the path again.
Ebreth leaned on his hands, breathing heavily, and closed his exhausted eyes.

Character(s): Ælwyn, the Remnant
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: Old Friend Week
Ælwyn sat in his citadel, watching the world through the Orbs of Kenru.
On Paris Island, Rauvin had been welcomed back to the family Paris with open arms. None suspected that he worked for Ælwyn now. Unfortunately, Rauvin had only been able to give him some of the magical structures of the Passage. The location of X Isle and the mathematics needed to use the Passage were still beyond him.
"Lord Ælwyn," came a voice from one of the orbs. It was Alverado.
"I was curious if I would ever hear from you, Alverado," Ælwyn said. "The word on the street is that you have... how would you say it... gone straight?"
"If you mean I don't kill for money anymore, then yeah," Quint Alverado said. "I've found something... more important."
"A shame," Ælwyn frowned. "I know that you and the donkey have... a history."
"That's why I'm taking the contract," Alverado sighed. "One last hit."
"Excellent," Ælwyn said. "Then you'll get your money when I get the head of Asinus Paris."
"Don't remind me," Alverado sighed, and broke off contact.
Ælwyn clapped his hands together with a sadistic glee. Quint Alverado had gained the reputation as "the most dangerous man in Ataniel" for a good reason. Ælwyn was pleased to work with such a man, especially if it kept him on the path towards Hell that Ælwyn himself had chosen so long ago. Now he just needed to take care of the mathematician. Reaching his bony fingers out, Ælwyn activated a different orb. The image of the Remnant ship Vichy appeared. "Captain Torvis," Ælwyn said. "You have many of the newest members of our little crew aboard your ship, do you not?"
"Yes, Lord Ælwyn," Torvis said, his dead pallor brightening with the attention from his master.
"Put a call forth. I need one of your men... one to kill the mathematician, Jack Paris."
"It will be so," Torvis said, and he shouted out words in a language that no one on Ataniel had spoken in millenia.
Finally, a huge man strode forward and bowed to Torvis and the image of Ælwyn. "I will kill him for you, lords," the man said.
"Give me your name, then, so I can grant you freedom to walk the land again."
"Crandall," the man said.
"Then come to me, Crandall," Ælwyn grinned. "Together we shall kill Jack Paris."

Character(s): Magic Barbie and the Rat Pack
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Skitch's Nightmare Comes True
"I understand," chirped the rat. He scooted off Skitch's shoulder, where he had been riding, and made a beeline for Jack. He ran across Marty's foot along the way, and the young paladin screamed and jumped back, flapping his hands. "Thank you!" said the rat, sarcastically.
"It's just our rat," reproached Skitch. "Don't be such a fraidy cat, Marty."
"Oh, man, I'm not ready for tests like that, man!" Marty thumped himself on the chest, breathing hard.
"What's wrong, rat?" said Jack, as the rodent burrowed into his satchel. Just then a bird shit on his head. "Flark," he muttered. "This is so typical."
"It's very good luck to have a bird poop on you," Khyrisse enlightened him cheerfully. A bird shit on her too. "Oh, neat! What a lucky day this is going to be!"
"This is the land of Birds That Crap On You," said Alphred, in a depressed monotone. "While they are not as dangerous as Plants That Eat You, I see nothing fortuitous about this day, spirit maiden."
"That's because you're not looking hard enough, Alphred!"
"I hate the jungle," moaned Skitch.

Character(s): Garal
Author: Eric Gasior
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: They Must Be Pigeons
"Ember, this might help." The planeblazer handed the time traveller the folding umbrella that he kept in his travelling gear. Then he put on a floppy brimmed travelling hat, in time for a bird to crap on it. "Good thing it's wash and wear."

Character(s): "Ember", Khyrisse
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Magic Barbie and the Birds
"Oh, thank you, Garal," said Ember softly, holding the umbrella as if it were a parasol.
"Bird plop keeps falling on my head," sang Khyrisse, skipping. "But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red, crying's not for me, no..."

Character(s): "Ember"
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Cooperative Hunting
The ravens overhead continued to caw violently and drop their bounty onto the Rat Pack. Skitch was getting crabbier by the passing minute. Suddenly, a wild dog blipped in and sunk its teeth into Garal's leg. "Ow!" shouted the halfling. It was gone before he could bring his staff around. Another materialized on Khyrisse, knocking her to the earth. "Good doggy!" she said, in a friendly voice. It went for her throat. "Blink dogs and ravens often work together," said Alphred, dully. "Ravens will call a pack of blink dogs to prey, then scavenge the carcasses the dogs leave behind."
"Thanks for the nature lesson," said Val, pulling her sword out. "Why didn't you tell us this earlier?"
"I was too depressed."
"You people all need medication," muttered Ember.
"Oh, poo!" exlaimed Khyrisse. The dog worried the arm she had thrown across her throat and then blipped out. "I think I must have used all my combat spells against that villain that reminded me of Eric! How silly of me!"
Ebreth watched dispassionately as a blink dog ripped a piece out of his leg, as if he had barely noticed it had happened.
"Kerouac will kill them! Untie Kerouac!"


Character(s): Valende, Khyrisse, the Blink Dog Pack
Author: Evan Haag
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: For Once, We Don't Have To Kill Them
“Nobody’s killing anybody, you imbecile!” Valende shouted at the berserker. She bounded over to Ebreth to check quickly on his leg, but Marty was already there trying to bind the wound closed. As she watched, she could see the wound actually begin to seal up. She smiled at Marty, and thought, I knew I liked him for a reason.
The blink dogs were still appearing and disappearing, and several other members of the party were bleeding now as well. Valende had to put a stop to this.
She started chanting loudly, and after a few moments the entire clearing was filled with a diffuse amber glow. A blink dog appeared in the center of it, prepared to take a chomp out of Kerouac’s kiester, but he paused. He had a confused look on his face, and just shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.
Val came over to him quickly. As she knelt beside him, she cast her spell of speak with animals. The blink pooch looked at her and said, Hey, what’s going on? Why don’t I want to bite him anymore?
Because we’re not your enemies, my friend. We’re just trying to stop the evil spirits which are destroying the jungle. As she spoke to him, several other blink dogs had also appeared in the area, but they were holding their attacks as well. Some of them padded over to Valende and their packmate, eager to join in the conversation.
We thought you were with the evil spirits. They have caused our kind pain in the past, and we vanishing hounds are their enemies. When you entered our hunting grounds, we thought you were coming to kill our pups.
Yeah, said another one. My sire has told me of your kind. He said never to trust the apes who carry sticks and wear the skins of other animals.
Valende shook her head, and pulled out some trail jerky for the dogs to eat. I’m afraid that’s not always true. We are hunting the evil spirits and their lizard-servants, so that we may protect all of the jungle, including your hunting territory. We had to cross it to follow them. We’re very sorry.
The first blink dog dropped the meat he was eating to reply. That’s understandable. We too have been forced to cross the territories of other packs to chase our prey, on occasion. Now that you have shown yourselves to be intelligent, sentient beings who know the proper tongue, we will no longer hunt you. He looked around at the rest of the party, who still had their weapons drawn. That is, provided that you apes do not attack us or our pups.
Valende turned and motioned for the rest of the party to put their weapons away. Khyrisse bounded over to her, and said cheerfully, “Hey Val, what are they saying?”
“They say that if we don’t hurt them or their young, they’ll stop attacking us. We’re sort of negotiating a peace treaty.”
Khyrisse looked cheerfully indignant. “I wouldn’t hurt puppies, silly. Can I pet one of them?”
Valende blinked, then turned to the pack leader. Can my friend here show you a gesture of friendship? I promise you, she’s harmless, even though she doesn’t speak the language.
The blink dog eyed Khyrisse warily, then gave the canine equivalent of a resigned shrug. If she wishes. Remind her, though, that my teeth are the strongest of my pack.
Valende turned back to Khyrisse. “He says it’s all right. Just don’t get too affectionate. He has a reputation to protect.”
“Okay!” Khyrisse squealed happily. She knelt down in front of the large dog, and started skritching him behind both his ears. As she did so, Val noticed his tail start wagging uncontrollably, and she smiled.
Tell your friend that I like her gesture of friendship, he said.

Character(s): Skitch and Marty
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Unexpectedly Painless Resolutions
"Well, that was easy," commented Marty.
"Too bad nobody had Speak With Plants," agreed Skitch.

Character(s): "Ember"
Author: Laura Redish and her Virtual Y Chromosome
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Garal's Good Day
Now that the blink dogs had accepted the Rat Pack, however warily, their allies the ravens had stopped crapping on them. "Khyrisse?" said Skitch, tugging on her sleeve. "Can you fix my tunic?"
"Oops!" said Khyrisse, and giggled apologetically. "I seem to have used all my cantrips to give that villain jock itch this morning! Silly me!"
Ember cantripped the boy's tunic into some semblance of cleanliness and gave Garal back his white-stained umbrella. "Thank you," she murmured at him, gave him a little kiss on the forehead, and took to the air.
Garal watched her creamy dark legs flashing from her skirt and tried not to be too psyched Vas had left.

Character(s): Shilree B, Luthien etc.
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Lost at Sea, the end
Title of Post: Maybe the boat should be the Titanic?
And that was it. No flashes of energy. No vengeful spirit rising from the corpse. Luthien the Slaver was dead. Luthien, breathing heavily from the battle, looked at his doppelganger. He cast a few more spells just to make sure of the slaver's demise and then let down the force wall.
"Well, that was fun," he said sarcastically.
"Time to go," said Flicker. "Shilree, get us out of here."
As if to emphasize his point the ship lurched violently. It would only be a few short minutes before the ocean swallowed the vessel.
Shilree was over by one of the dead pirates, looting him of his clothes.
"One sec," she said, half cursing as she clothed herself. The pirate gear was a remarkably good fit.
"Umm, Shilree..." said Luthien, as the ship pitched violently again.
"I'm coming. Ok, ready?"
Shilree activated the time travel device, and worlds changed.

Character(s): Khyrisse Barbie And Some Really Polite Natives
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: Returning To An Abandoned Jungle Cliche
There was an apologetic cough from the overgrown jungle. "Excuse me," a large gentleman with tribal tattoos and a wicked-looking barbed spear said to Khyrisse. "I do appreciate how last-minute this is, but a volcano has just mysteriously opened up in the valley, and we need a virgin to toss into it." He gestured at the ring of warriors that had slipped out of the jungle around the Rat Pack. "We were wondering--"
"Oh, gosh, you just missed me!" said Khyrisse, sympathetically. "I just had sex a few weeks ago. Even that would have been a technicality, really, since I haven't been a virgin for twenty years, but you see, I just got a new body, and--"
"Okay!" yelled the tribesman, putting his hands over his ears. "Spare us the gory details, please! It was a yes-no question!"
"How about the rest of you?" asked one of the others, pointing with his spear.
"I'm sorry," said Ember, demurely. "I can't help you."
Val just busted up laughing.
"I am a widow," said Cori, with dignity.
"Back to square one," sighed the native.
"Are men okay?" said the younger tribesman hopefully. "Some of these guys are virgins."
"No, the fire god is really, really heterosexual," sighed the chief. "He only likes virgin girls. Oh, well, we're bound to find one somewhere in this jungle. Thanks for your time, ma'am."
"No problem!" said Khyrisse, cheerily.
"Aaaaah!" said Skitch, remembering, as the tribesmen melted back into the jungle. "KIT!"
"Kit can take care of herself," said Ember, with all the blissfulness of a divine command not to worry.

Character(s): Khyrisse, Skitch, Valende, Alphred, Tarrin
Author: Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Storyline: Jungleland
Title of Post: The Death of Sorceress Barbie
The sunlight was beginning to slant through the breaks in the jungle canopy when the Rat Pack reached the border of the blink dogs’ territory. The ravens that had been trailing them vanished into the trees and did not reappear.
They proceeded carefully onwards, surrounded by an increasingly eerie silence. There were none of the normal sounds of birds or insects in the jungle around them, only a faint roaring sound. The noise increased as they progressed, but never grew past a background murmur. Khyrisse, skipping ahead enthusiastically, ducked past a tangle of vines. Valende heard her gasp sharply and rushed after her. She also stopped and gasped, the screen of foliage pulled aside. Khyrisse reappeared in the opening, eyes wide. “You guys have got to see this.” Just past the hanging curtain of greenery, the ground dropped steeply away, providing a stunning view through breaks in the trees. For a moment, the eye was tricked by the combination of mist and an eeriely evocative pattern-- the Rat Pack saw the skeletal remains of a gigantic dragon. Long white bones curved upwards on either side of the ravine, forming the sides of its ribcage, with the small bones of the spine trailing along its shadowed green floor. Farther to the south, the remains of the serpentine neck seemed to turn sharply to one side, forming a secondary canyon where the dragon’s head must have landed. You could see the white base of its skull at the mouth of the valley, branching away to the southwest.
After a moment of astonished staring, however, the view coalesced into a wide, overgrown ravine, with a deep green river sweeping along the base of it. The white “ribs” of the dragon were the crumbling ruins of pillars, as if the river had changed course and cut right down the center of an enormous buried temple. More stones, probably the crumbled remains of the walls, dotted their way along the river bed, wrapped in white foam.
“Wow,” Skitch marveled. “That’s cool. What a neat trick.”
Khyrisse nodded and leaned against a tree, admiring the view. “Nature casts some of the best illusions. Alphred, what is this place?”
“This is the River of Bones,” Alphred said somberly, “which empties into the Mirror of the Sky. It is an evil place. No animal or bird will live in this ravine.”
“Alphred is right,” Valende said, frowning slightly at the view. “I hear nothing but the sound of the river. And I don’t see any birds.”
“Well what are we doing here, then?” Khyrisse demanded.
“Hey! You’re not happy anymore, Mom!”
Khyrisse blinked at Skitch for a second, surprised. Then she held out her arms and looked down at the white-spattered sleeves of her tunic in utter disbelief.
Ember glanced quickly at Khyrisse and ducked behind Alphred. “Fire in the hole!”
Khyrisse stared into the distance as she figured out what had happened, eyes wide, her arms falling back into her lap. Her face turned a shade of red so deep that it was surely painful, and every muscle in her body tensed. For a moment, she looked utterly furious. Skitch threw both arms over his head, in fear for Kit’s life-- not to mention his own.
Khyrisse’s sense of the ridiculous won out, however, and she burst into peals of laughter.
“Whew!” Skitch sat up and grinned at his adoptive mother. “You’re not mad!”
“Oh, I’m mad all right, I’m just too amused at my own expense to sustain it!” she said, still giggling wildly... and stopped, so suddenly that she choked on an unfinished laugh. The color drained out of her face as if it were paint, wiped away by an invisible hand. She inhaled sharply and exhaled with a shudder, clenching her hands into fists in a futile attempt to keep a grip on herself. She closed her eyes after a single desperate, unwilling glance at Ebreth’s eeriely composed profile, shivering as if she were feverish.
Khyrisse leaped out of her seat, burgundy skirts flying. Her chair went over with a crash, almost drowning out a softer sound of impact. Sound wasn’t needed. She looked down at her trembling white hand, pinned by Eric’s on the dinner table. Warmth crept up her arm from the long, clever fingers brushing the base of her wrist. The silver light of two wedding bands winked up at her, one with a sparkling red-black stone, one without. Her wide black eyes flew up to meet Eric’s in surprise. The silver flecks in their depths gleamed oddly in the flickering glow of the fire, subtly softening his expression for the first time. She stood as if hypnotized, staring into the growing truimphant light of his gaze. After a long moment, Khyrisse lowered her lashes with a sigh-- and saw the hideously twisted body of Pieret, crumpled beside the table. With a wordless shriek of denial, she wrenched her hand away and fled.
Khyrisse made an odd, muffled cry and dropped unconscious where she stood.
Valende leaped forward and caught the crumpling archmage. “What in Corellon’s name...?”
Tarrin hurried forward as Valende laid Khyrisse gently on the ground. “Has someone been hurt?”
“No,” Valende said, worried. “She just fainted.” Val slapped the delicate face gently. Then not so gently. Khyrisse's tousled blond head rolled slightly with the blow, eyes scrunching a bit, but that was all the reaction Valende got.
Tarrin looked from Valende to Khyrisse with an expression of mingled concern and confusion. “I cannot touch Khyri’s mind, she has locked it... but a moment ago I sensed her emotions.”
“What were they?”
“Anger and shame, both drowned out by a terrible fear.”
“Fear?” Valende blinked at him, stupefied.
Tarrin nodded firmly.
“What of?!”
“I do not know,” Tarrin said helplessly.

***


Khyrisse woke of her own volition a quarter of an hour later and sat up, running a hand through her rumpled hair. She looked oddly as if she’d been asleep for much longer. Skitch was there instantly. “Khyrisse!”
“Hey, kiddo,” she said, and returned his fierce hug. “What’s the matter?” She glanced down at the blanket covering her with a frown. “What am I doing lying in the dirt?” she asked, sounding genuinely puzzled.
“You fainted, Mom!”
“I what?”
“You fainted,” Valende corroborated, handing her a cup of tea. “Dead away.”
“Where are we?”
“Salagia.”
“I knew that,” Khyrisse said, with imperfect patience. “Where in Salagia?”
“At the River of Bones,” Skitch said, looking curiously at her face.
Khyrisse hesitated for a long moment, then puffed out air. “Okay.”
Valende studied her employer’s face, eyes widening a bit. “You don’t know what we’re talking about, do you?”
Khyrisse hid her face in her mug. “No,” she finally admitted. “The last thing I remember is kicking the crap out of that weaselly little bastard. Did he get away?”
Skitch scowled a bit at the memory. “Yeah.”
“Merde.”

Character(s): Luthien, Khyrisse, and “Ember”
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate/Ashes to Ashes
Title of Post: Rendezvous
As the Rat Pack descended into the River of Bones, they heard a voice behind them. "Khyrisse, wait."
"Luthien?" said Khyrisse, stunned. "What--what are you doing here?"
The necromancer sighed as he caught up with her. "I know how ridiculous this is going to sound," he said, "but Flicker, Shilree and I are traveling through alternate timelines trying to destroy a lich lord analog of myself."
"Less ridiculous than you think," whispered Khyrisse, with a little smile. "Believe it or not, that's what I guessed you might be up to."
"Really?" He looked surprised, but shrugged it off. "I don't have long here. I need the wild magic sphere. You know I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."
Khyrisse winced. I don't even like taking it out. But he's right, this lich lord situation is really serious. "You're not going to let Shilree near this, are you?" she said, unslinging her bag.
"Are you kidding?" he said. "Not on the sanest day of her life, and the version we're traveling with has bought the happy farm."
"Great," sighed Khyrisse, deactivating her magic sigil. She didn't even want to think about an insane Shilree. "Do you know anything about the lich lord's--"
There was a flash behind the necromancer, and as he turned it was Ember, bright magic in her hands, and backlit against it Luthien's face was suddenly clearly sunken and skeletal, one red eye glowing, the illusion of normalcy gone in a flare of light. Khyrisse didn't want to scream but she did anyway. Oh, Grendel, was he already dead? Had he and Flicker failed? Khyrisse had somehow assumed Ember had meant to contain the lich lord force that had escaped from her timeline, not that it would already have manifested here, not that it would already have taken her friend's body. "You dare!" howled the undead thing. Oh, God, Luthien. Her hand shaking, entirely out of attack spells, Khyrisse pulled out her sword.

***


"You dare!" Luthien howled at the time-traveler, furious. "I will destroy you as I destroyed your mother!"
Ember flashed in and out, whipping her cloak around. "You'll have to catch me f--"
The lich lord did, smashing her to the ground. As her body ruptured and she felt her viscera wrenching from her, her last thought was of Kitreyla's device, still clamped invisibly to the back of the Dead's nerveless shoulder blade where she had placed it, waiting.
And Laelissa Tor smiled.

***


Valende was drawing her holy sword. Luthien the Dead looked at her, and at Khyrisse. He would like nothing better than to kick the crap out of them, but he didn't have the power to defeat the entire Rat Pack alone. Not yet. Not here. There was much to do. Reluctantly, he backed away from the time-traveler's disemboweled body. "Be seeing you," the lich lord hissed at Khyrisse, and was gone.

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