The Hell and Back Archives
Down In Jungleland, Part I
Character(s): Khyrisse, Valende, Garal
Author Kristin L.K. Andersen and Eric Gasior
Storyline: Ashes to Ashes
Title of Post: Even Dead, Arawn Keeps His Own
Valende gasped something in Elven and rushed over to Ember. Khyrisse, unable to speak even to curse, was there before her. She screamed mentally at the lump in her throat for what felt like forever, until it loosened enough to let her gasp out a spell. Ember's life force was already fading. The trollish fortitude refused to take, skittering away like a marble on a polished floor and dissipating in a useless burst of energy. Valende took her place. Khyrisse stared at her bloodied hands and found she could not weep. I have a Death's Door ... I have a Death's Door, held in Contingency. I can save my own life but not my daughter's. What the hell good--
"It's not working," Valende gasped. "She-- it's too much, Khyrisse." It hardly needed saying. Ember's body was a shattered flask, contents flung outwards from the point of impact. No one that beautiful should die in such an ugly way, a corner of Khyrisse's brain commented, rather stupidly.
"No!" Garal rushed over to help, but the elves had gotten to her first. They could heal, but he knew she was gone.
He looked for the lich's escape route, but it had teleported, or done something very like it. The trace was too faint to follow.
The halfling settled on revenge. Garal didn't know Ember well, he didn't even know who she was, but the lich lord had taken... He wasn't sure what had been taken, but she was important to Garal. He would see the creature die.
Valende's prayers slowed, then stopped. "I can't heal her enough," she sighed, her shoulders slumping. Khyrisse pushed past her, and hesitated, trembling hands suspended over her daughter's body. I have to try. I'm sorry, she thought, not knowing who she was apologizing to, since the gods were dead. Throat burning, she cast the only spell she had left. The spell sought for Ember, threads spinning outwards-- and Khyrisse gasped, her stomach lurching violently as the summons refused to latch on to its target. The magical energies flew apart, momentarily stunning her.
There was a heavy silence. Valende reached forward once more, and Khyrisse stopped her.
"No," she whispered gently. "That was a reincarnation spell. It refused to take. I've never known that to happen. She's gone beyond anyone's ability to bring her back."
Khyrisse then put her head down on her clasped knees and sat there for a long time, silent and motionless.
Valende laid a hand on her shoulder, and she shook it off. "I'm all right," she said hoarsely. "I'd like to take care of Ember, if no one minds. Please, just... just leave me alone for a bit."
Character(s): Jack Paris, the Rat Pack
Author Douglass Barre
Storyline: Bungle in the Jungle
Title of Post: The Gradual Disintegration of the Rat Pack
"Nothing to see here, move along," Jack said to no one in particular as he stood watch at the top of the narrow road down into the Valley.
Khyrisse had taken the body of, well, her daughter, however time-tossed, to bury it in peace. Jack was determined to give her that peace. Garal had gone off by himself as well, and Val was tending to Skitch. "Let me know when she's ready to talk," Cori said to Jack, putting her hand supportively on his shoulder. "I know where she's at right now. Losing a family, I mean."
"I know you do, Cori," Jack said. "and I haven't forgotten Hari, either."
"One crisis at a time, Paris," she said. "More than that, you'll start wanting me to lead again."
"I'll let her know," Jack said, knocking his fist on Cori's outstretched one. Cori did the same.
Tarrin raced up. "You wanted to talk to me, Jack Paris?" the Diarian asked.
"I know that we must seem like a strange crew to you, Tarrin..."
"There is no strange to me, Jack Paris. I am a doofus."
"Uh, right. Well, anyway, I wanted to ask you how you... you do know that 'doofus' isn't the right word for 'psychologist', don't you?"
"Yes," Tarrin admitted. "But it makes the Skitch so happy."
Jack grinned. "I wanted to ask how you dealt with things like this... deaths, and uh, other really stressful things."
"There is no one way, Jack Paris," Tarrin said. "Only through making a bond of closeness, can we see what will help the individual pain."
"Hmm," Jack said. "Do you think that you could... uh, see what you could do for Khyrisse?"
"Are you requesting my services? She is not fond of all of my methods."
"Can't you do stuff without psionics?"
"Of course. And I will try, Jack Paris."
"Thanks, Tarrin. I'm not very good at this sort of thing, I'm glad there's someone around who is. You, uh, wouldn't want to be leader, would you?"
"Why do you ask? You seem quite adept at matching the group member to the problem. Delegation is not an easy thing."
Tarrin wandered off, leaving Jack wondering if he had just been complimented.
Luthien the Lich Lord, Jack thought, adding him to the list of responsibilities that was growing longer each day. I haven't had to face a lich since Sirian, almost ten years ago. God, I hope this team does better than last time.
Jack was worn out. He'd help Khyrisse when she got back, but perhaps now was a good time to make camp.
He closed his eyes, and listened to the silence of the valley. Despite the losses, despite his fears, Jack knew that there was nowhere to go but forward.
Character(s): Asinus, Lora
Author Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris
Title of Post: Waiting for G... D'oh!
Asinus stood by the docks, feeling the lilting of the float beneath him.
He had stood there every morning for the past week.
Lora wrapped some biscuits in a napkin and pulled her shawl around her. The wind over the quay was cold this time of year. Strolling across the dock with the balance and grace of a ballerina, she whistled a tune she was working on to set Milamber's Ballad of St. John Rector to. Asinus perked his ears, but said nothing. "Biscuits, Asinus."
"Any word from Jack?" Asinus asked grumpily. "It's been one week already."
"No word, brother," Lora said.
"I can't believe the boy," Asinus said. "No respect."
"You're not mad at Jack, Asinus," Lora said. "And you know it."
"The hell I'm not!" Asinus said, turning his donkey head to meet her eyes.
"You can fool everyone else, but you can't fool me. I've known you since you were just a foal. What's really bothering you?"
"Nothing," Asinus said. "It's this Remnant business... they're getting closer to X Isle... and Caimen is talking about bringing Margo into it..."
"Blah, blah, blah," Lora said. "You are such a bad liar."
"I am an excellent liar, I'll have you know!" Asinus cried in mock offense.
"Not to me. What is it that's been on your head since you got back?"
"We should have come here. Salagia could have waited."
"It's not Jack. I know it's not."
"It's..." Asinus let out a long donkey sigh. "It's me. I shouldn't have let them go off without me. I should have stayed."
"You feel like you abandoned them?"
"I feel like I abandoned her."
Lora nodded slowly. "You know, you can't do everything, Asinus. We needed you here, too. Without you, we might never have found Rauvin."
"What if she's hurt?" Asinus said. "I've had the nastiest feeling all day that something's gone wrong."
"If Jack doesn't get them here in a week--and I consider that about as possible as you stopping leaving those nasty cigar butts in the bathroom--then you can go after them. You know, you're never going to win her heart being clingy?"
"I'm a flarkin' donkey, Lora, I'm never going to win it period. The most I can hope for is to do the best by her that I can."
"You sell yourself short too often, brother dear. But if you ever mention I said so, I'm disavowing this entire conversation."
"A week, huh?" Asinus asked.
"I can wait a week."
"Good. Eat your biscuits."
The walk back across the dock seemed somehow less chilly.
Character(s): The Last Mithril Dagger Heroes
Author Laura Redish
Storyline: Ashes To Ashes
Title of Post: Sucks To Be Us
Kitreyla leaned intently across the table, her eyes wide and opaque as clouds. "She shoots," she whispered. There was unbearable silence for a few moments. The thief closed her hand and tapped her wrist against the rim of the table, radiating nervous energy, and then leapt up, knocking the whole table over. "She scores!"
Stalker screamed and threw his arms around her. Kyria pumped her fist silently. "Oh, Lissa, I knew you could do it!" shouted the bard.
Kit leaned into the younger man, breathing. "Course," she said, "this means now it's all up to Shilree."
"Oh God," sighed Kyria.
Author Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Ashes to Ashes
Title of Post: The Things We Think Of
Khyrisse sat next to Ember's body, her sword beside her, spellbook on her lap. Ember was restored to a close semblance of her normal self... but there was a shadow on the earth nearby, with nothing to cast it.
In the middle of learning the spells she wanted for Ember's passage, a line from The Last Unicorn fluttered through her head, and tears finally sprang to Khyrisse's burning eyes. She looked up and smoothed a curl of her future daughter's silken hair. " 'Don't look back,' " Khyrisse said softly, with an ironic little smile, wiping the tears away, " 'and don't run. You must never run from anything immortal, it attracts their attention.' "
Character(s): Skitch, doofus-in-training
Author Laura Redish
Title of Post: Skitch Tries His Best
Skitch shuffled from one foot to the other as Khyrisse cast mansion blearily on the white columns. "But it's, uh, okay that she's dead, right?" he said. "Because she wants to destroy her future, so she wouldn't be alive anyway. So it isn't your fault she's dead or anything. You don't have to be sad."
"I--" Please help me keep this a secret from Skitch. "I'm sad about Luthien," she said, which Grendel knew was also true. "He was my good friend. How could this have happened to him?"
"M-aybe we can save him," Skitch said hopefully.
"I hope so, kiddo. I hope so."
Character(s): Flicker and Luthien, NOT Bambi and Candi
Author Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Lost at sea (loose ends)
Title of Post: Filling In The Details
Flicker drew Luthien aside by the sleeve, still not meeting his eyes. "Luthien, the Slave Lord. He is going to stay--"
"Yes," said the necromancer. "I dispelled his contingencies and purified the body. I don't think he was counting on being killed by himself. "
Flicker nodded in relief and concentrated on binding his sword hand. The wounds Tor had given him were especially painful somehow, a dull burning shooting through them. Flicker hoped the damn thing wasn't poisoned. I am not using a poisoned weapon, Norna!
"I wish we hadn't had to leave so soon," said Luthien, frustrated. "We could have saved some of the slaves."
Flicker shook his head. "All undead."
Luthien grimaced. "What a bastard."
"I wouldn't have thought those ships could get much worse either--" Flicker broke off abruptly as Luthien's eyes rolled back in his head and his knees buckled. Flicker barely caught him. "Norn!"
"Do I look like a doctor?" the Valkyrie demanded.
Luthien started going into convulsions. Berryn pushed one of his eyes open with his thumb, and then cast cure poison. The necromancer's shaking slowly subsided. "Are you okay?" said his former apprentice. He nodded, leaning heavily on Flicker, and caught his breath in gasps. "What happened in there?" said Flicker, low.
Character(s): Luthien Greyspear, Luthien the Slaver Lord
Author Evan Haag
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Lost at Sea
Title of Post: Flashback: Two Luthiens at War
The Slaver Lord steeled himself for the vicious combat to come. He knew that he was no match for the other Luthien in a straight fight, since he was unable to stop him from casting his Tenserís Transformation. He did have one advantage, though. This was his domain, and he had tricks hidden all over the cabin.
It was time to use them, too. Luthien Greyspear lunged forward with blood in his eyes, attempting to skewer the pirate through the stomach. Only a quick parry saved the pirate, and then another. Finally, the Slaver Lord got an opening. As Luthien thrust hard at his face, the pirate sidestepped and then leapt back over his desk. Pulling a small sphere from his belt pouch, he threw it to the deck. It exploded, and a sickly green gas suddenly filled the cabin.
As Luthien blinked his eyes, trying to keep the vapors from stinging them, the Slaver Lord grabbed a ring from his desk and put it on. Before the necromancer could avoid it, a bolt of magical force erupted from it, knocking the wind out of his lungs and forcing him to take a breath. In an instant, Luthien felt like he was going to retch, and tried hard to fight down his instinct to do so. His eyes started watering and tearing, as well, which made it even harder to find his quarry.
He whirled around in the center of the cabin, keeping his trident moving in a defensive spin. As he did this, the pirate opened an engraved box and pulled out a set of finely crafted Diari dueling pistols. He hefted one, pointed it at the gladiator, and fired. Luthien felt the enchanted bullet rip through his abdomen, dispelling his stoneskin, and he spun around to face its source. He barely made out the Slaver Lordís form as he fired the second gun. The second shot also struck home, this time tearing through his left shoulder. Unfortunately, his trollish fortitude had run out some time ago, and he could feel the nauseating effects of poison as it began to run through his system.
Gritting his teeth hard, Luthien leapt at the pirateís hazy form, only to come down hard on the captainís chair behind the desk. It splintered messily under the berserk necromancerís weight, and he only just brought his trident up in time to block the pirateís next attack. Unfortunately, it was a sucker shot. As the rod of negation struck his weapon, all the magics that had gone into his trident were unravelled, and the head cracked and fell into two pieces on the floor. The slaver smiled, and extended the shaft of his own trident.
Luthien flipped backwards out of the way, looking for a new weapon with which to slaughter his opponent. As he landed, his hand brushed along something that felt vaguely like a spear or pole weapon. Good enough, he thought, Hopefully, Iíll be able to end this before the poison takes me down. Almost as if on cue, he felt his stomach tighten as the poison spread even more.
The smoke cleared a little, and the Slaver Lord could see now what Luthien had grabbed. ďPut that down, or die even slower than you would have, you bastard!Ē A darker blood lust shown in his eyes, and he pushed the desk out of the way to clear some fighting space.
As Luthienís eyes cleared as well, he saw it too. It was his fatherís spear. the one he had lost in the ruins of the Rimbor Arena. A pirate flag was hanging from it now, but that did little to detract from it. It felt like an old friend in Luthienís hands, and he turned on the Slaver with renewed passion.
ďHow dare you feign any loyalty to what this spear represents! You sold your birthright the day you signed your soul away to Ebreth Tor!Ē Luthienís will was renewed now, and he fought back the effects of the poison and the gas. He was going to punish his alternate self, and no force on Ataniel would stop him now.
The two of them, acknowledging the finality of the moment, gripped their weapons tighter, preparing for the final round. As if of one mind, they both lunged at each other ready to bury their weapons in the otherís heart. Luthien Greyspear, with the rage of the Tenserís Transformation still coursing through him, feinted low, then suddenly angled his spear sharply upwards as he ducked beneath his opponentís thrust. His spear (his spear, by Arawn!) buried itself deep in the Slaver Kingís throat, severing his spinal column and poking out through the back of his neck.
As the Slaver Lord died, he managed to twist his face in a sickly grin. As the last light of life left his eyes, he exploded in a furious fireball that whisked around Luthien like an inferno. Just as quickly, it was gone, and everything in the room except Luthien was on fire. He coughed a few times, letting the Transformation wear off, then felt the lurch of the ship as it was taking on water. No time to dally, it looks like. Why is it every time I kill a major enemy, I never get the time to properly confiscate their valuables?
He looked around for a moment, then quickly used Jantherís ring to drag an untouched and faintly magical chest to him. He cast an item spell, pocketed the now minature chest, and then TKíd the pistols, the trident, and the ring from the pile of ashes that was his alternate self to him as well. After casting one last glance around the burning room, he poured a vial of holy water onto the ashes, scattered them with his spear, then let the wall of force drop and ran out to help his friends.
Character(s): Shilree B, Luthien etc.
Author Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Skiens of Fate: cut to Trade Wars
Title of Post: In the basement...
They appeared in a dark room. From the smell of it, Flicker guessed it was a cellar.
"Everyone here?" asked Flicker.
"Hold it right there," yelled a voice from the dark. It was followed by the distinctive sound of weapons being unsheathed. They were surrounded.
Shilree smiled with mad excitement at the thought of more blood to be spilled. Flicker held her back with a simple hand on her shoulder.
"You have a lot of explaining to do," said the voice, which was oddly familiar.
Candles around the room were lit. They were indeed surrounded, surrounded by about twenty people in ninja garb. Their leader, a woman, came forward brandishing a blade of Diari craft.
"How did you get here?" she asked. "Explain quick or die."
Character(s): Ebreth Tor
Author Laura Redish
Title of Post: Turning Around
Ebreth stared through him like he was seeing something else, his hand shaking. His breath was especially short and his heart rate seemed to be accelerated. "Stay with me, Ebreth," said Jack. "We're in Khyrisse's house. I'm reading Murder on the Orient Express. There's no one here but me and Marty." He fell to one arm, shaking spastically. Maybe this book was too violent. Ebreth's hand groped blindly across the floor, and Jack took it. He looked directly at the mathematician then, his eyes dilated in terror. "It's me, Jack," he soothed. "You're safe here." Ebreth shuddered and then he threw his arms around the younger man and clung to him, weeping like a child.
She was looking into her brandy and thinking about Ember. My daughter. Grendel. Had she accomplished what she had come here for? Would there be any chance to save Luthien now, or would destroying him be the best they could do? Khyrisse shook her head heavily and took some more of the drink. "What is it, Jack?"
"It's Ebreth. He, his catatonia has broken."
She stood up slowly, any color that had been remaining draining from her face. "How is he?" she whispered.
"Not--too well. I mean, he's talking, but he's--kind of a wreck. Don't expect him to be like he was before or anyth--"
"Please let me talk to him."
He turned his head when she came in. "Khyrisse," he said. It was all he said, like it had tired him to say it. She inched towards him, her heart pounding painfully, many emotions vying for attention. She didn't know whether to touch him or not. "Ebreth?" she tried. "Are--are you--" It was such a stupid question she laughed, like a gasp. "I'm so sorry."
"You can't run forever," he said.
"You didn't have to do that."
"Yes," he said, "I did."
"You didn't have to. She couldn't have killed me. I wish I had trusted you enough to tell you. I wish..." Her voice trailed off.
"You can't just keep running," he said hoarsely. "Eventually, you have to say, 'Enough. I am not an animal. I am a man.' It was time to turn around." He paused. His eyes were very full of pain, but he was standing. "I--don't know if I will ever be anything more, than what I was. But now I know I want to be. It is not only fear that is driving me. And that--is a start." He looked at his hand. "I couldn't risk your life like that just to escape. There are things worse than Hell. And becoming. Becoming some--creature--that destroys the things he cares about to survive, that's one of them. Not again."
Ebreth came down one step at a time, like a child, holding on to the banister with both hands. "Jack," he said, swaying slightly. "There's something I--need to know."
"Uh," said Jack, a little alarmed, coming across. "Maybe you'd better just rest now, Ebreth. You can ask me about this later. You don't look so--"
"No," he said, "this is going to drive me crazy. That book you were reading. About the bullfighters. You never finished it. What the hell happens?"
Jack blinked at him. "Oh," he said. "Well, nothing very good, really. That was why I stopped reading it. I can lend it to you if you want to finish it."
"Yeah," he said, leaning wearily on the stairway post. "Yeah, I think I'd like that." Jack took his hand, and the pirate squeezed it hard, closing his eyes. "Thank you, Jack," he whispered.
Character(s): Khyrisse, still messed up dammit
Author Kristin L.K. Andersen
Title of Post: Flashback: The 2nd Least Zen Person On Ataniel (And #1 Isnít Ebreth)
Khyrisse clasped her hands together tightly. And then thereís the other end of the spectrum, she thought. Destroying yourself to save the things you care about. Did you teach her that...? Her mouth twitched a little, in what would have been a rueful smile. And here I am, stuck on the fence, as usual... ďI think I understand that,Ē she replied quietly. She lowered her eyes, then lifted them to his face again, forcing herself to watch his expression. No juggling crystal with your eyes closed, Khyrisse. You do too much of that as it is. ďI havenít always been able to keep myself from running away. I-- I think I know how difficult it was, to do what you did.Ē She hestitated, realizing that she couldnít pick out a single thread of the whole tangle of what she wanted to tell him. I canít handle this right now. Terrific. It feels like someone has been walloping my psyche with a tenderizer. Iím apparently in such bad shape that Iím having spells of amnesia again, and that hasnít happened in... She shied away from thinking about the last time sheíd blotted out part of her own memory. In a long time. Everythingís so muddled in here... She chopped that line of thought off, too. All right, I canít figure out what I want to say, fine. I can reinforce what I did say, I know Iím not sorry for any of that. And itís already been said. Hearing it again canít hurt him any.
ďEbreth, Iím-- kind of shaky right now,Ē she said, twisting her hands. ďIím... Iím in mourning for a friend. So Iím going to go to bed and probably have a good cry and try to pull myself together. But I wanted to tell you that I meant what I said to you, back in Helenaís inn. If... you donít remember, thatís fine; Iíll be saying it again, when Iím calmer.Ē
She looked up into his face again, reaching out helplessly to place a hand on his arm-- and hesitated, not quite touching him, when she realized that he wouldnít meet her eyes. ďIím glad youíre back, Ebreth,Ē she whispered passionately, and got herself the hell out of there.
Character(s): Jack Paris, Ebreth Tor
Author Douglass Barre
Storyline: Why do I keep calling it "Bungle in the Jungle" when "Jungleland" is not only more aesthetically pleasing, but also a Bruce Springsteen song?
Title of Post: Old Traditions Die Hard
Ebreth looked up as Jack poked his head in the room.
"I just finished the check," Jack said. "I, uh, like to make sure that everyone's okay before we go to bed. It prevents, uh... worrying," Jack shrugged.
"I'm making do," Ebreth said.
"Oh, I know," Jack said, smiling. "We're all just so glad you're back... No, I came by to finish Murder on the Orient Express."
"You don't have to, Jack," Ebreth sighed. "You've already done enough."
"I know I don't have to, Ebreth... but I sort of enjoy it. Maybe next time you can read me something."
"I'm not much of a reader."
"That's okay. I'm not much of a leader."
There was a knock on the door.
"Come in," Ebreth sighed.
Marty peered into the room, looking around. "Hey, Master Ebreth, that mouse isn't in here, is it?"
"Whew," Marty sighed, and slid into the room, closing the door behind him. "Those things give me the whim-whams."
Character(s): The Mystery Readers' Club Of Ataniel
Author Laura Redish
Storyline: I'd Really Been Wondering That Myself, Doug
Title of Post: Skepticisms
Ebreth made a long shudder. "Kid," he said, "I hate to tell you this, but I am not zen. I am fucked up. I am not even strong enough to handle being fucked up. I am more of a coward than you are, and I'm having trouble controlling my own mind. I am just about the least zen person on the face of Ataniel."
"Oh," said Marty, "well you know, the man who claims not to know the tao is the one who is upon it, you know."
Ebreth leaned his head back, both his hands over his forehead. "But," he said, "at least I'm not turning to broken-down convicts from Hell for inner peace."
"Are you, like, implying something?"
"Don't worry about it."
"Do you want to hear the rest of this story, Marty?"
"Oh, definitely. I think Princess Dragoniroff did it."
Jack blinked. "You do? Why?"
"Well, what kind of name is Dragoniroff? That sounds so totally fake."
"How about you, Ebreth?"
"I don't know," he said. "Some kind of conspiracy. There were a lot more clues in the last one."
"I never finished that one. Did you figure it out?"
"That's pretty good," Jack complimented him. "Most people don't entertain that possibility."
"Most people don't have twenty years worth of memories from the point of view of an evil narrator."