The Hell and Back Archives
Down In Jungleland, Part III
Character(s): Jack, Skitch, Ebreth Tor
Author Laura Redish
Title of Post: Skitch, Doofus-In-Training
"You're sure you're okay with this?" Jack conferred with Khyrisse as they walked through the jungle.
"I don't like it," said Khyrisse, "but there are worse places than the Plateau, really. The Plateau didn't even make my runner-up list for places I wanted to go least." She sighed. "And we don't have to go all the way up, either. It'll be okay."
"Good," said Jack, relieved. At least it felt like they had a sense of purpose now. Jack knew that was important to a group dynamic. Ebreth stumbled a little, shaking, and Jack caught him by the arm to steady him. Marty was giving him the evil eye. Jack added a chat with Marty to his list of things to be dealt with. "Are you okay?" said Jack. Ebreth nodded, bringing his breathing under control with visible effort. He seemed to suffer from small seizures periodically, apparently randomly, but they never lasted very long. "Here," said Skitch, "let me try and help, Ebreth." He reached up to put his hand on the pirate's face, scrunching his eyes up. "I only have five fingers," he apologized. "I don't know if it will work."
Ebreth blinked a few times, woozily. "Oh, that's much better."
"Really?" said Skitch, wide-eyed.
"Really," lied Ebreth.
"Tarrin! Tarrin, I'm psychic!" Skitch bolted off.
"Should you really be encouraging that?" frowned Val.
"Aaaaah, it makes him happy." Ebreth rubbed his forehead, wincing. "What's the harm?"
Character(s): Khyrisse and Ebreth and Valende (oh my!)
Author Kristin L'Kar Andersen and Laura Redish
Title of Post: Communication Difficulties
Khyrisse covered her mouth to stifle the laughter. She didn't want to disappoint Skitch, but she was both touched and amused by that little conversation.
Ebreth's going to be fighting, she thought suddenly, the laughter dying. I don't think I've ever seen him do that willingly. Only that kid in the Rimbor sewers. --I still have another stoneskin spell...
Khyrisse went over to Ebreth and touched his arm. "Ebreth, I have an extra stoneskin spell. If there's going to be fighting, you may need it. Shall I?"
She cast the spell, trying to ignore the discouraging tone of his voice. She realized as she did so that they hadn't found a weapon for him before leaving the mansion.
Well, we don't have a spare anyway, I don't think... "Ebreth, what kind of blade can you use?" she asked, looking up into his face, hand still on his arm.
"Pretty damn near anything, really," he said, quietly.
"Anything you use best?" she said, also quietly. "Or are you like my brother, who can use anything the gods created that's shorter than his arm?" she added, with a little smile.
He didn't see the smile. If he heard it, he gave no sign of it. "Whatever you've got, Khyrisse."
With an internal sigh, she held her hands out, palm up, using her major creation spell to create a twin of her longsword. Holding it suspended between her hands, she murmured another spell, enchanted weapon, that made its edge gleam. She then held it out to Ebreth soberly. "It'll only last for eighteen hours, but it's enchanted. Not quite as well as mine, I only memorized the one spell."
Ebreth took the sword. "Thank you," he murmured. "Do you have something for me to sheath this in?"
Khyrisse blinked at him for a moment, then looked over her shoulder at the Rat Pack as it continued down the slope of the Valley. She unbuckled her sword belt and gave him the sheath, keeping her sword. "Here. We're going to the Plateau... and the fact that no animals will live here is making me nervous. I think I'll carry mine unsheathed today."
Ebreth thanked her quietly and took the sheath. He still wouldn't look at her. He looked off to the side, and the expression on his face was an odd one.
Khyrisse blinked, puzzled for a moment, and a snippet of her dream last night flashed in front of her eyes-- her Godmaker self, with that frightened and shamed look in the painted black eyes. What on Ataniel...?
Bewildered, she blurted out, "Ebreth, I know this is a stupid question, since you have the right to have half a million things bothering you right now, I figure-- but what's wrong? Why won't you look at me?"
"It's just easier that way," he whispered. "Please don't make this any harder."
Khyrisse paled. "I'm sorry," she whispered back. "I don't know why you're upset, but I don't want to make anything harder for you. I'm sorry." She whirled and hurried after the rest of the Rat Pack.
"Khyrisse." Khyrisse stopped in her tracks as if someone had jerked an invisible chain, and turned back to look at him. "This isn't your fault. I'll be all right, I--" He rubbed his head. "It's all right," he said, painfully. "You don't owe me anything, Khyrisse. Please just, I'd rather not talk about it now."
"All right," she whispered shakily, after a moment. She turned back around and caught up to the others.
Valende gave her a curious look as Khyrisse fell into step beside her, the expression on her downturned face extremely unhappy. "What's the matter?"
"I don't understand anything anymore," Khyrisse whispered. "Ebreth won't look at me, and he doesn't seem to want to talk to me, and I don't know why. I was afraid of him not wanting anything to do with me, after what happened, but--"
Khyrisse realized that she was babbling to someone again, and clamped her mouth shut with desperate suddenness.
Valende sighed. I need to talk to this girl, soon. "I'll ask Jack if he knows anything about it," she murmured to Khyrisse with a comforting smile, as Ebreth caught up with Jack and Marty. Khyrisse flashed her a grateful look, and did not reply.
Character(s): Jack, Cori, Marty, the Rat Pack
Author Douglass Barre
Title of Post: A Good Old Forced Cliffhanger
Jack was counting the length of the Valley of Bones. He knew how long each stride was, and kept a running tabulation of steps he had taken. So far the valley had been two-point-seven-eight-two miles, and thankfully, nothing had happened.
"Jack?" Val said, putting her hand on his shoulder. "We should talk about Khyrisse and Ebreth sometime soon."
"Oh god," Jack sighed. "Please don't ask me to give anyone romantic advice."
"No, dear," Val said smiling. "I was thinking more along the lines of offering a buffer for communications. It can be hard sometimes to share feelings when you're as hurt as they are."
"Don't you think they'd do better working it out themselves?" Jack asked, before remembering who they were talking about. "Right. Sorry."
Val squeezed his hand. "You're doing fine, you know," she said.
Striding behind them, Cori continued to mope. Despite the fact that he had travelled to Hell itself to rescue her, Cori knew that Jack Paris was beyond her reach.
It was a silly infatuation, anyway, she realized. A rebound, coming short on the heels of Haroshi's death.
Time to move on, she thought to herself. Leave Jack to his happiness, he's waited long enough for it.
Cori smiled to herself. She had had her chance with Jack, those years ago when he had mooned after her. We were such kids, then, she mused. Jack loved me, Reena loved Jack, I loved Crandall, and Crandall... well, no one ever really figured Crandall out. When Gabriella had come, the whole thing had fallen apart, but back when they were four... those had been the days. Now that the Rat Pack was down to a smaller number, maybe some of that family feeling could start rubbing off on her. It was time to stop hiding in the back moping and fretting and time to start living life again.
Cori skipped up to Ebreth and Marty, taking their arms.
"Hey, guys," she said.
Both men looked at her quizzically.
"I thought you didn't like men," Marty said bluntly.
"Wow, I must have been depressive," Cori said.
"Hmh," Ebreth muttered.
"Hey, we've got a nice quiet valley walk ahead of us, what's the chance we could actually talk?"
"Slim," murmured Ebreth.
"Whoa, aren't we already?"
Marty distrusted the samurai's sudden interest in him. He wondered if she suspected his cunning plan to free Ebreth.
"I've been way too quiet, kid," Cori said. "I'm trying to rejoin the human race."
"Aren't we all?" Ebreth sighed.
"Not me, man. I know the truth of satori... the suppression of the self, the eschewing of the material world."
"The monks of my country take vows of silence," Cori offered. "And shave their heads and wear sackcloth."
Silence, Marty thought. It was brilliant. If he was completely silent, no one would be able to figure out his plan from his occasional slips. "I'll try it," Marty said. "It'll help me keep my plan secret."
"Uh... huh." Cori nodded. "So, Ebreth... Did Jack read you any Ishoshiro?"
"Nope," Ebreth said uninvolvedly.
"Then pencil me in."
They were pressing closer around Master Ebreth. Marty would have to move, and move soon.
Character(s): Flicker and Norna
Author Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Trade Wars (Or, what ARE we doing here, anyway?)
Title of Post: Top Bitch Defends Her Title
Norna steadied herself on the cellar wall as the two Diarians confronted each other. Her Asgardian regeneration was working overtime, but she was still bloody, burned, and missing an eye, a grim-looking sight indeed. "You lost your weapon in my service," she said, much too nicely. "You may have this one."
Flicker put his teeth together and bowed his head slightly, but he took Tor's black sword from her without a word. "Ragnarokkr took on an enemy that had already defeated you to buy you time," said Silent-Voice, in his near-whisper. "He does not deserve your dishonor."
"I don't recall asking for your advice, Hronmir."
"We have come in pursuit of a lich lord," Flicker said to the alternate Shilree, quietly, not meeting any of their eyes. "Unless you like undead kiljhacs, our quarrel is not with you."
"I'm just along for the ride," Ralchar added, flashing her a smile.
"I don't know what I'm doing here," said Noyarc. "I think it was so I wouldn't drown."
"We're trying to defeat a lich lord," Berryn explained to him helpfully.
Character(s): Norna and the Skeiners
Author Douglass Barre
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Trade Wars
Title of Post: Diari in their Place
There was suddenly a loud pounding from upstairs and the Diarians who had found them suddenly looked fearful.
"Pulgin, Genorg, go upstairs and see who it is," one of them shouted. The two raced up the stairs.
"Who do you serve?" the leader of the Diarians asked. "Which state?"
"We are not from your world," Shilree said in Diarian.
"Dalen," Norna said menacingly.
"And I should believe this why?" the leader asked. "You are likely Paris spies, come to squelch our revolution... it will be in vain! Diaria will rise again!"
Screams came from upstairs. Norna smiled. "Or not," she said.
The basement door burst open, and a large figure stepped onto the stairs.
"Look, guys, you know your revolution isn't going to work. Don't make me have to pound you, okay?"
"Prelate Silverhammer!" the Diarian leader cried. "Have mercy!"
"Wow," Flicker said to Luthien. "Even evil versions of Max are kind of nice."
Character(s): Khyrisse, Valende, and Skitch
Author Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Title of Post: Kris Has Been Reading Too Much C.L. Moore
Khyrisse found herself walking closer and closer to Skitch as the morning wore on. Lost in her own miserable, tangled thoughts, she hadn’t been paying much attention to her surroundings. Not consciously, anyway. But the farther they progressed into the Valley of Bones, the more she found herself distracted by the sounds around her. Which was strange, because there weren’t that many. The hissing roar of rapidly moving water, mostly; sometimes loud, sometimes sounding far away. Every once in a while, the wind would rustle through the tops of the trees. This became more frequent, rather than less, as they descended into the ravine.
Is that right? Khyrisse wondered. Shouldn’t the air in a valley move less often, since it’s sheltered? Or does the river at the base of it change the air currents? Vas would know, I wish he were here...
The tops of the trees moved restlessly as she stared fretfully up at them, a cool breeze sweeping across her skin. The wind’s voice and the river’s voice roared in the unnatural stillness. Khyrisse sensed something like a chord lurking in that combined noise for an instant, her nerves vibrating to it in a odd way that combined hearing with touch. She shivered suddenly, hard.
“Are you all right, Khyrisse?” Valende asked.
“Yes...” she murmured, listening hard. There were no birds calling, no insect noises. “Val, my mother once told me never to go anywhere that animals avoided. She said that they could sense magic-- and if they didn’t like the magic, I certainly wouldn’t either. Is that true?”
Val listened for a second, then said, “They can’t quite sense magic, at least none of the animals that I’ve ever dealt with. They can sense when something is wrong, though; magic usually qualifies.” She drew her sword silently. “Make sure you have your own spells ready.”
Khyrisse nodded with an absent frown, and hurried to catch up to Skitch. I wonder if she hears it. I wonder if anyone hears it. I’m probably just so twitchy that I’m imagining things.
Skitch was glancing around curiously at the jungle. He didn’t look nervous, exactly... just a little confused. “Why’s it so quiet?” he whispered to her.
“We’re not sure,” she whispered back, and took his hand in her free one. “Stay alert, kiddo.”
Skitch twitched his wrist, and there was a brief wink of silver. “Gotcha!”
The wind spoke to the water again, and Khyrisse stopped short for a moment. She strained all five senses and that numbed sixth sense, the one she had used as a goddess. Her stomach tightened up into a frightened knot when she realized that it was the remnants of this sixth sense that was picking up that alien hum. The third note is missing... she realized, distantly. It’s not a finished chord yet.
“Skitch, what makes noise other than wind and water?”
Well, that’s probably why I keep having this bizarre urge to whisper... “There weren’t any, until we showed up.”
“Ummm...” Skitch shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Neither do I.”
The white stones we saw from the edge... the ancient ruins of a lost people, Alphred said. What kind of people tune their land into an instrument that only immortals can hear properly... and nothing but plants will tolerate?
Khyrisse was suddenly very grateful for the strong sunlight pouring down into the valley.
Character(s): Jack and Khyrisse
Author Douglass Barre
Title of Post: The Mathematics of Music
Khyrisse jogged up to the front of the line where Jack was striding purposely ahead.
"Jack?" she asked.
Jack stopped short, his feet remaining in stride. He looked a little precarious.
"3,295?" Jack asked. "I mean, uh, what?"
"Are you... okay?" Khyrisse asked.
"Just passing the time," Jack said. "What's up? Danger?"
"I don't know. I don't think so... Jack, do you know anything about music?"
"Technically or creatively?" Jack asked, sighing.
"Um, either, I guess," Khyrisse said.
"Technically, sure. Music is math, really. Chord arrangements, sympathetic tones and vibrations, rhythm... all math."
"Could you complete a chord based on part of it?"
"You want me to sing?" Jack asked nervously.
"Or hum, or whistle... I just need a note. There's something about this valley... it's like a giant woodwind, trying to play a chord... but not completing it."
"I don't hear anything," Jack said.
"No, I guess you wouldn't," Khyrisse sighed. "The parts I can hear are... mmmm..." Khyrisse started to hum the notes that hovered on the periphery of her senses. Jack responded by opening his mouth slightly and matching the tones perfectly. More than that he seemed to match all of the tones perfectly. At the same time.
"I didn't know you could sing!" Val said, catching up to the two.
"I can't," Jack sung in five notes simultaneously.
"What are you doing now?" Khyrisse asked. "You're perfectly on tune."
"I can match tones and stuff," Jack said, "but as a great bard once told me, I 'ain't got no soul'."
"Hey, is Jack singing up there?" Cori shouted from the back of the party. "Ask him to do 'Oh-Bla-Di'!"
"You know, I think I can get the missing third for the chord," Jack sang nervously. "It's like thiiiiis..."
The beautiful chord was suddenly broken by a terrible ripping noise from all around them.
"Oops," Jack said, as strange colored lights washed over the party.
Then the truth about the Valley of Bones became all-too evident to them all.
Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author Laura Redish
Title of Post: Well, That's Why The Wind Was Stronger Down Here
The earth shook and the white stones rimming the great valley began, inexorably, to bend upwards. From some point in the center emanated the celestial chord, as if in response to Jack. And the ground began slowly to tilt.
"Oh crap!" yelled Skitch. "It's the biggest mouth in the world!"
"Is this a plant that eats you?" Kerouac wanted to know.
"We've got to get out of here," screamed Val, her hair whipping in the wind of its breath. "NOW!"
Author Laura Redish
Title of Post: Disaster Can't Stop A True Wise-Ass
"Too bad Alphred's not here," commented Skitch. "Now that it's too late, he'd be telling us all about this."
Character(s): Khyrisse and the Rat Pack
Author Kristin L.K. Andersen
Title of Post: What? Den Mother Again??
Khyrisse clapped her hands over her mouth, as if to stop the notes coming from Jack's. Oh, merde!! Jack, what in Grendel's name are you doing?! Her eyes were huge above the white-knuckled fingers.
She realized after a dazed second that Jack wasn't singing the chord anymore. It was coming from the valley itself. She could hear it humming in her ears. She could feel her ribcage vibrating with it.
The ground trembled and began tilting under their feet.
"Oh merde," she gasped, and shoved her way to the edge of the group huddled around Jack. She cast a rather wild glance over the foliage in front of her. Is that all stuff that will squish safely? It better be! She cracked the Trade Sigil across her hand, and the Trade Carriage appeared in front of her. Its team screamed and danced in place, plants folding under their hooves. The sudden sharp scent of crushed greenery filled the air around her.
The bells on the harness jangled as the horses shuddered in fear. She had to exert mental control over the team, for the second time since she'd enchanted the Carriage.
"Too bad Alphred's not here," she heard Skitch say. "Now that it's too late, he'd be telling us all about this."
She grabbed him by the back of the collar. "You can make smart remarks when we're out of here," she said, as she boosted him up onto the driver's seat. She raised her voice as loud as it would go, which was pretty damned. "Everybody get in, quick!"
There was a wild scramble for the Carriage, people piling in every which way while the ground shook beneath them. Khyrisse had to leap up onto the driver's seat to hold the frightened team.
Well, no worries about whether we can take off from here-- they'll make a Carriage-shaped hole in the canopy if they have to! “Skitch, let me know when everyone’s in!” she gasped, playing tug-of-war with the reins. She caught a glimpse of Valende climbing past her, onto the roof. Kerouac followed her. Khyrisse spared a brief moment to roll her eyes.
"All aboard!" Skitch shouted, bouncing on the seat next to her.
"Hang on!" Khyrisse cried, grabbed onto her adopted son, and let the agitated team take off-- almost straight up.
There was a violent lurch as the front wheels left the ground, followed by several muffled thuds and exclamations inside the coach; another yank as the team gave the rear wheels powerful incentive to catch up. A flurry of leaves slapped Khyrisse and Skitch in the face, branches scraping along the sides of the vehicle-- and the Carriage was streaking out of an expanding cloud of dust and debris into the clear blue sky, fast enough to draw some of it after them like the tail of a comet. Cursing, Khyrisse ignored the... whatever it was... beneath them and tried to get the panicked team back under control. What on Ataniel would scare spectral horses? They're not even fully on
this plane! --No, never mind. I don't want to know this one. I don’t need to know. We’re not fighting it, and we’re certainly not coming back her-- She gasped suddenly, and turned around in her seat. The reins were nearly jerked out of her hands, and she was forced to settle back down. Ember’s grave! Was it near enough to the edge, or did that thing just eat it? she wondered with a sigh.
Khyrisse touched down in a clearing several miles away, in the general direction of the Plateau, and sat back wearily. The horses stood with their heads down, breathing heavily. "Folks, that's it for me, for the moment," Khyrisse said. "And that's certainly it for the Carriage. I think we should get out and examine our bruises and have lunch. Jack? Sound okay?"
"Sounds fine," Jack said in a sheepish voice, climbing out. "Um, sorry about setting the trap off back there..."
"Nobody knew," she said, flexing her aching hands. “I probably shouldn’t have asked; I think I was the only one who could hear it.” She turned her left hand over and looked at the Godmaker ring.
The stone winked sunlight at her in a red flare. Her eyes left it to linger on the smooth black braid around her wrist, and she lifted her other hand to the rose-- possibly the last of its kind now-- still wound into her hair.
Khyrisse caught Jack’s elbow and drew him aside as the rest of the Rat Pack set up for lunch. “Jack, I need to talk to you for a second.”
Jack looked at her. “Um... Don’t you want lunch?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Jack, this is really easy and has nothing to do with who’s leading or whose fault that mess back there was, I promise,” Khyrisse blurted out, seeing the look on Jack’s face.
“Oh.” Jack blinked at her in surprise. “Okay, shoot.”
She let go of him and twisted her hands together. “Um, you’ve been spending a lot of time with Ebreth...” She sighed and made herself ask it, looking hopefully up into Jack’s face. “I was wondering if you knew why he doesn’t seem to want to talk to me.”
Oh, flarking hell... Well, Val warned me. “Um, well... Ebreth thinks you’re embarrassed by him,” Jack said, very quietly, glancing furtively towards the rest of the group. “That, you know, you won’t be interested in him now that he’s having problems. I think he thinks you’re just feeling guilty about him.”
Khyrisse stared at Jack in startled silence, mouth slightly open. She blinked, hard, then shook her head slightly. “You didn’t agree with him, I hope?” she whispered.
“That’s okay, Jack,” Khyrisse said, and patted his arm weakly. “Thank you. No, that’s not it at all. Um, would you go on ahead and make sure everyone’s all right from that bumpy ride?”
“Sure,” Jack said. He looked at her in concern as she sat down, rather shakily, on the driver’s step. “Are you going to be okay, Khyrisse?”
“Only time will tell,” she said, with a wry little smile.
Character(s): Blind Leading The Blind
Author Laura Redish and Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Title of Post: Second Chances
Ebreth was reading Jack's copy of The Sun Also Rises over lunch, running his finger down the page as he went. "Um," said Jack, "Ebreth, maybe you should wait to read that until you're feeling a little, uh, better about yourself."
"I don't like to leave things unfinished," he said.
"Neither do I," said Khyrisse.
"Bye," said Jack.
Ebreth's shoulder shuddered a little, and he closed the book, and waited. He had a look on his face like that of a dog expecting to be kicked. Khyrisse winced. "Ebreth," she said, "listen, I--" She took a breath. "You think I don't want anything to do with you. I've been thinking you don't want anything to do with me. It's making us both miserable, it's stupid, and I hate it. Can we do this some other way? I--" She gritted her teeth, defense mechanisms flaring. "I still feel the same way I did before you left." True, and safe. Evade. "I just don't know what to say. Or what to do. Or--much of anything. But it's not because I'm embarrassed by you; it's because I'm afraid of saying something wrong. Why would I possibly be embarrassed by you?"
He looked at her, just for the barest of instants, and then his eyes flicked away. "I've been ruined," he said, softly, closing his hand. "I can see it in your eyes."
"No," she said. "NO, that's not it at all, I-- I wish I could help. I feel awful that I ever let this happen, and I've been so helpless against what you're going through, and I can't do anything right, and, and it's the story of my life." Her eyes felt hot. "I hate to see you like this because I can't do anything about it. I'm too messed up to help anyone else. I can't even help myself. I don't know where to begin. I told you. I told you I was too messed up to have a relationship, damn it. You should have listened to me." She swallowed, and sat by him, looking up at him through the stray curls of her hair, her hands shaking. "But right now, right now, I'm-- just doing the best I can."
He put his arms around her slowly and they held on to each other tight. "We are two--badly damaged people, Khyrisse," he whispered. "Do you think maybe, maybe if we work together, we might--find those second chances, you and I?"