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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

We'll Always Have Paris Archives
Ties That Bind, Part VII



Character(s): Val and Rani
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris: Tests
Title of Post: Degrees Of Cooperation

Rani and Valende were moving more easily through the forest with each passing minute. "Rani?" asked the older woman, after a beat. "Have you been reading my mind?"

"What," said Rani, "you mean now, or ever?"
"Both."
"I gave you a scan when the Remnant rolled in back on Paris Island," she said, "and again when we appeared here. That's why I'm pretty sure you're not a psychic projection like the rest of this place."
"But you haven't been--in contact with my mind, while we've been walking?"
"The whole time?" she said, incredulously. "You'd know if I had been, because I'd be passed out on the ground. I can't monitor thoughtwaves for more than a minute or so. Why?"
"Your stride is in perfect sync with mine," said Val. "I speed up, you speed up. I slow down, you slow down."
"Huh," said Rani. "I hadn't been noticing. Just physical attunement, I assume. I've been in contact with you for a couple hours now, and you are a physical entity." She shrugged the shoulder further from Valende.
"You're physically attuned to me," said Valende, "does that mean you could control my body?"
"Maybe if you were unconscious," said Rani. "No way could I override someone's conscious brain."
"Forgive my curiosity. I'm--quite familiar with magic, but before this year I'd never really known any psionicists. Now I've suddenly met four."
"Four?" said Rani. "What did you, go to Diaria? My sympathies."
"No, they just kind of keep popping up," the priestess murmured, and paused a moment. "Are you from Diaria?"
"No, I'm from Rimbor City. Ever been there?"
"A few times," she said quietly. "Last time we were there we had a backstabbing, a bomb, a turf war over a sewer, some thugs tried to rape Khyrisse in our hotel room, and someone kidnapped her son."
"That's the place," said Rani.
"It didn't make the best impression on us."
"It's an ugly city," Rani agreed, an unapologetic acceptance of that sounding a strange nostalgia in her caustic voice. "It's a bitch trying to find a safe place to sleep there. They'd try to kidnap me now and then when I was a girl, and the rapist thugs are just everywhere."
"It--must have been lucky, having psionic powers."
"It would have been a lot luckier if I'd had Psychic Brain Explosion or something. 'Back off or I'll read your aura' doesn't have that zing. I spent a lot of time sleeping in dumpsters." Valende was managing not to look too horrified, but her maternal instincts were flaring a bit despite herself. "I could attune with them well enough for the smell not to bother me. But I overslept a few times and got dumped, which wasn't a lot better than getting raped. Once I went all the way in the compacter. That really bit. Now I have a flat on the harbor. Leave it unlocked when I'm away so no one breaks in, clean it up and use the deadbolt when I'm in town. That's the best way." Rani squinted and shielded her eyes with her free hand, while Val was still trying to decide what to say. "Hey, what's that up there?"
"I--don't know." It looked like a dark gap between the trees. "It's probably our test."
"Is it just me, or is it drawing a blank to heat vision?"
"I'm not getting anything either." Valende frowned at it as they approached. "I think it's a portal. It's dark on the other side, but I can make out some shadows."
"It looks like those Leviathan ribs." Rani put her hand out, and it passed through the gap. "Is this a portal back to the temple?"
"It could be a trap," said Val.
"Well, do you want to try it?"
Valende exhaled. "All right, on three. One, two--"
The two elven women blinked across the courtyard of the ruined temple, their eyes adjusting swiftly to the dim light. "Greetings," said Amatsu, and bowed. "Hi Rani!" said Marty, waving, and dropping his egg-rock as he did. "Oops!"
"That was it?" said Val, surprised.
"Maybe we were just supposed to cooperate," shrugged Rani, removing her unstuck arm from around the priestess' waist.
"What tests did you have to face?" Valende asked.
"I had to, like, touch some fish," said Marty. "It was awful, man. They were totally wet."
"This one needed to put aside his pride and follow another," said Amatsu.
"I understand," chirped the rat, cheerily.
"So if these tests are so easy," said Rani, "where are the others?"

***


"Is there anything down here we could build a raft or something out of?"
"I don't see anything but rocks."
"Crap," said Skitch.

Character(s): Majji
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Reclamation
Title of Post: Rebirth

Majji rode her battle cat hard. The wind bit into her like thousands of small knives. Majji quickly reached her destination and dismounted. Closing her eyes, she concentrated. Her mind drifted out and felt the six markers that the Diarshi scouts had planted under the broken soil of the Shadowlands.
Majji then broke her concentration and turned back to her mount. She tugged at one of the saddle bags and opened it. Inside were hundreds of small seeds, each the deepest purple and each emanating a calming aura. Majji took one of the seeds out and tied the satchel closed. She then planted the seed in the ground at her feet.
Once that was done she removed another object from a different satchel, a black crystal. Majji held the crystal to her chest and focused her will into it. The crystal turned from the deepest black to the lightest green as the crystal focused and redirected her thoughts. A burst of ethereal energy rocketed from the crystal into the seed she had planted. The ground hummed with the influx of energy. The battle cat growled with trepidation at the sound. The hum increased in intensity then blasted out towards each of the planted markers. Once the force reached its target it joined up with the others forming a hexagon six miles across. Inside the hexagon the ground swelled with energy. The broken and blackened land crumbled into a fine loam. Then, as if time itself had been put into fast forward, plants grew. The land was quickly turned from a blasted wasteland to a open grassy field.
Majji slumped once the transformation was completed. Wearily she packed away the crystal, mounted her battle cat and rode back to camp. The Reclamation had truly begun.

Character(s): Chal Emni, Tosh Vryn-Elba
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Reclamation: The Invisible Empire
Title of Post: The Dreamer Stirs

Nestled in the rural countryside of Oranda, there is an invisible tower. The locals know that something is there, and shy away from the site. The feudal lords of Oranda understand that it is at the sufferance of the tower's denizens that they rule. Even the animals in Oranda, inured to years of servitude and fear, do not venture near the place where the tower juts from the earth. Inside the tower, Chal Emni, Lord Prelate of the Invisible Empire, curses in a language not heard in Ataniel in over a thousand years. "The fools," he mutters, "the sightless fools." There is a knock on the door to Chal Emni's chambers, a sound unlike flesh on wood.
"Who is it?" Chal snaps.
"Lord Emni," a voice from outside says, "it is I, Tosh Vryn-Elba. I come with new reports."
Chal crosses the room and opens the door. The familiar face of Vryn-Elba, his seneschal and sometimes-lover greets him with grim visage.
"They have moved again," Tosh says.
"I know," Chal says, touching Tosh's hand. "I could feel the disturbances."
"Lord Protector Tyrlit has put a motion forth to awaken them."
"The intruders, or the whole race?"
Tosh looks down. "The whole race, Lord."
"Genocide. It always comes to that, doesn't it?" Chal asks rhetorically. "We should never have let him deal with the Fulsiphron Empire that way. It gave him a taste for blood."
"The Pentad will be calling for a council soon, Chal," Tosh says. "I have been asked to relay your response."
"I will be there," Chal says quietly. "If only to try to sheathe the Lord Protector once more. The Diarian problem will need to be dealt with. I felt it this morning. The Dreamer is beginning to stir."
"Then it might already be too late!" Tosh cries.
"No, dear Tosh," Chal says. "They may yet turn back from this course."
"You don't mean..."
"The Invisible Empire has not lasted this many years by acting rashly. I mean nothing. Nothing that you need report to the Lord Eye."
"I would not--" Tosh begins. Chal cuts him off with a finger to his lips.
"I know all, Tosh," he says. "And I accept it. You should relay my answer to the Pentad now."
"Yes, Lord," Tosh says, his eyes downcast.
As the door closes behind Tosh Vryn-Elba, Chal Emni, the Lord Prelate of the Invisible Empire turns once more to the map of the Shadowlands upon his wall. Slowly, he reaches out and moves a green stone slightly to the north. Closer to a strange polygonal glyph in the center of the barren area. Closer to the Sleeper, Chal thinks. Closer to the end of all things.

Character(s): The Army of the Reclamation
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: Reclamation
Title of Post: Joy and Worries

"This is a miracle," said Sheik Al'Qaraj looking at the newly reclaimed land.
"Yes it is impressive," said Sheik Al'Haran with concern in his voice.
"What worries you grim one?" asked Al'Qaraj. "This is a day for rejoicing. The land that was lost to us is now ours again!"
"Yes, but who did we take it from. Who or whatever lives here will not be happy."
"No one lives here," said General Talran who had walked up behind the two Diarshi. "The Shadowlands are a blasted wasteland. Nothing grows here. Nothing lives here. We are simply taking back what Shadow stole from us when they first invaded."
"See!" said Al'Qaraj, "we are making something from from nothing. A truly marvelous event!" Al'Haran said nothing. He looked out over the newly formed grassy plain towards the wasteland beyond. He hoped Talran was right, but in his heart he knew he was wrong and that they were in more trouble than he wanted to think about.

Character(s): Jack, Cori, Hari
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: We'll Always Have Paris: Midterms
Title of Post: We Should Have Brought Some Crib Notes

Jack frowned.
"Benthic," he muttered to himself. "A) A type of large animal native to Tatooine. B) Of or relating to being at the bottom of a lake. C) How cousin Earl relates cousin Ben's mental faculties..."
Jack would have been doomed if the test hadn't been multiple choice. Fortunately, standardized testing utilized fairly simplistic statistical systems. Jack guessed "B." He'd have to ask Val later.

***


"Hari, it's been so awful since you... left," Cori said, sitting on the picnic blanket with her dead husband. "At first, I was just lost... striking out at our enemies with no regard for my life. It was only thanks to Oshi that I regained my composure enough to seek out Jack for help."
"Wise. The Second Rider is far beyond your capabilities alone."
"The Second Rider?" Cori asked. "You were killed by Chu-I Po, Hari. A penagglion."
"Undead. A free minion of the Remnant. You didn't know?" Hari frowned. "No, of course not. Only Jack and I knew the truth."
"Jack... Jack never told me."
Hari looked down at his lap. "No, he... he couldn't have. It is a long story."
"We have time now," Cori smiled.
Cori leant in for a kiss.

***


"When did George Washington Carver invent peanut butter? A) Before he met Mrs. Carver. B) After he met Mrs. Carver. C) At the exact moment he met Mrs. Carver. D) None of the above."
The reading comprehension part was the worst. Jack guessed "D."

***


Cori hadn't been so happy in as long as she could remember. Hari was a miracle. After spending so long confused... pursuing Jack despite his obvious love for Valende... attempting to seduce Ebreth Tor... even the oyster-totem induced debacle with Valende herself... it was good to be home.
She and Hari finally awoke, curled together beneath the verdant trees, and she knew that she could never leave this behind.

***


Jack sighed, and put the answer sheet into the attached envelope, folding it perfectly in thirds.
"Cori? Hari? I'm done!" he shouted.
A moment later, the two wandered out of the woods. Jack knew at once that something was wrong. "Cori?" he asked.
"I'm staying, Jack," the samurai said. "Here, with Hari."
"This is a test, Cori!" Jack shouted. "It's not real!"
"I am as real as Cori believes, Jack. There are things in this temple that man cannot understand."
"Don't do this, Cori!" Jack cried.
"I can't, Jack. This is where I belong. I'm lost in a world without Hari. You've seen it."
"You've passed your test, Jack," Hari said. "You only needed to try. You may return. Alone."
"I don't accept this! You're stronger than this, Cori!"
"Go back, Jack. Tell them I'm happy."
"What about your lands? Your people? Your friends?"
"Chu-I Po is the Second Rider, Jack," Cori said. "When you defeat him with the rest of the Remnant, you will have avenged me."
"The... Remnant?" Jack asked, a memory sparking in the back of his head. "I seem to remember..."
"Good-bye, Jack."
The forest wavered, and Jack found himself back in the temple. Cori was nowhere to be seen.
"Whoa, dude!" Marty said. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Where is the Lady Yashida, Jack Paris?" Amatsu asked.
"She... failed... the test," Jack said. "I couldn't... she..."
The mathematician fell to his knees and began to cry.

Character(s): Flicker, with undeniable input from Threnody
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate
Title of Post: Showdown

As the group approached the mountain fortress the air seemed suddenly to crackle, and a low, resonating laughter echoed around them. "I don't like the sound of that," said Berryn. Shilree's gem eye sparked.
"I have been--expecting you," Luthien's voice surrounded them, dry, cold, and far too amused at itself. Flicker found himself really missing Schneider. Boy, does this guy need a new scriptwriter!, he could practically hear the jester yelling. As it was no one spoke. Norna pulled her Asgardian greatsword out with a hollow whine, and Berryn started to softly invoke a spell. Flicker was trying to isolate the direction of the voice, and just as he succeeded in doing so and turning the lich lord materialized there, his skull-head thrown back in an evil laugh. Shilree was springing for him like an animal before the laugh was finished, but he threw out both bony hands and she froze where she stood. With a sinking feeling, Flicker realized he couldn't move his arm either. "Fools!" hissed the lich lord. His jet-black hair still hung from his skeletal head, giving him a very disconcerting resemblance to Luthien. His glowing red eyes were split by death's-head pupils. "Did you think I would not prepare for your arrival? You are lost now, and all the world shall be mine!"
"Okay," Nora sighed to Garal, "you were right."
"Can you turn him?" Ralchar asked Berryn, sotto voce.
"You have got to be kidding me!" said the young priest, incredulously.
"Stupid mortals," hissed Luthien the Dead. "I destroyed you in my future and I will destroy you again here. Poor, foolish Luthien the Living. Your goodness has made you weak. Now I will destroy you and take your place." Flicker rolled his eyes. "Do you have something to say, Sunfighter?"
"No," he said. "Yes. At least good people don't taunt their enemies by expositing their entire plan to them."
"Ah," said the lich lord, laughing drily. "But you see, that knowledge will do you no good, for you are in my power now. And though I shall enjoy seeing you suffer first, and feeding upon your energies, you may rest assured that none of you will leave this place alive."
"I don't need to," said Flicker, and paused, the barest of internal struggles. "Stupid mortal."
Magic crackled from the Dead's hand, and Flicker braced himself against the impending immolation, but instead the energy arced back upon the undead necromancer, sparking across his outline like lightning across a ground. White light limned some kind of device on the lich lord's back into visibility, and it whined violently as it absorbed the energy from his magical attack into itself. "Ember," whispered Garal.
Then the artifact exploded.
The lich lord whirled and fell to one knee, clutching at the metal shards still imbedded in his shoulder blade. Flicker felt the powerful holding spell he had laid upon them waver and then snap; Shilree was tackling the undead archmage from behind before he had even finished hurling the remnants of the disruptor device to the ground. "Not this time," she shrieked, pulling some evil-looking artifact, presumably something Arturian had given her, out of her Trade Pouch and beating him about the head with it. "Not this time."
"Pathetic fool," screamed Luthien the Dead, flinging her from him with violence. He did look wounded, but far from down. "Do you think I am so easily defeated, when the High Priestess Rhynwa herself could not destroy the darkness of my soul? Feel my wrath again!" He flung his arm at her in a spell, and this time there was nothing to interfere with it: the illusionist's body split open and her intestines flew out in a surreal spatter. But the distraction had been enough. Garal had slipped into a dimensional fold, and Luthien was already casting.

Character(s): Garal
Author: Eric Gasior
Storyline: Skeins of Fate
Title of Post: Eliminate The Negative

Garal opened a portal to the negative material plane. He never liked the place but it fascinated him. This was his first trip there that wasn't against his will.
He stared into a rectangle of darkness darker than anything that occurred on Ataniel. The portal was halfling sized -- it was best not to give the larger things from that plane a chance to enter Ataniel. In their sometimes innocent curiosity they could increase entropy and accidentally destroy a whole city. The planeblazer recited a formula that roughly translated to "I invoke the protection guaranteed me by Zixor, Lord of the Hosts" and stepped through.
As he closed the portal behind him Garal thanked the gods that were left for his protection being honored. Some of the beings here were careless and without protection any native of Ataniel entering this place would dissolve instantly.
Despite its destructiveness, the place was beautiful. The first thing the halfling noticed was the sound. He was surrounded by a sort of reverse wooshing that the BBC Radiophonic workshop would be proud of. As his eyes adjusted, what appeared as a black field surrounding everything resolved into dark red, green and blue shapes. He knew some were creatures and others were "weather" (that was the best term he could think of for it) but there was no equivalent of ground. Garal walked as if he was on solid ground, but a creature used to flying could be right next to him and think it was in the sky.
A voice resolved itself from the background noise speaking a language rarely heard outside this plane. "Who has come here?"
"Garal Tinderhook of Ataniel." He could not tell where the voice came from, so he addressed his answer to the "sky" in front of him.
"You are remembered. Why have you returned."
"I come to claim payment for a debt owed me, as promised by Zixor. There is a new lich lord on my world and he is drawing energy from this domain. I ask that you sever his connection." The background noise grew in volume and Garal waited for an unknowable amount of time.
"Such an action affects our plans too greatly. It can not be granted. Will you accept a temporary suspension of his link for one of your days?"
"That is satisfactory."
"Then it is done. Return now to your world. We anticipate our next meeting with you favorably. Perhaps we shall ask a favor of you. Go now."
As the planeblazer opened a portal back to his world, Luthien the Dead felt a wrenching in what used to be his stomach. The negative material plane energy he was using to sustain himself suddenly cut off.

Character(s): Norna, Flicker, Luthien the Dead
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate
Title of Post: Ride of the Valkyrie

As Garal stepped back onto Ataniel, a black nimbus flickered across Luthien the Dead's surface and was gone. "No!" screamed the lich lord, furiously, as the source of his undead power suddenly cut off. "How can this be?"
"Are never--" Norna looked at the Myriad and she looked at her hand. "Straight. Are--is it time?"
She turned her head like a wounded bull, eyes whirling. "Freyr," she said. No. No, it was Ragnarokkr. "Ragnarokkr," she said. "Give me your sword."
His face was white with anger. "I will not take any more from you, Norna," he shouted at her, his hair whipping in the evil wind. "I am a Viking warrior and I die with my sword, damn it. Stand back!"
"Please," she said.
He looked at her, his mouth half-open. An expression skimmed across his brow for an instant and was lost into the reflecting pool of his eyes. As he gave her the black blade she drew her arm up like a thunderbolt and brought the antimagic steel down into the Myriad with all of the strength of the Valkyrie.

***


There was a thundering across the sky as if of hooves.

***


"This is impossible!" screamed Luthien the Dead, his face contorted with mortality, as the connection between worlds collapsed in a shower of ultraviolet sparks. "I--I will destroy--"
A hand closed on his shoulder from behind.
Luthien put both his skeletal hands into Norna's chest and poured his last terrible spell into her with all his fury. She did not release her grip. "It is time," she whispered, and kissed the lich lord on the forehead. He threw his head back, gasping as if he were gasping for air, as Norna's life force flowed into him. She picked him up like a child. They flashed in the sky together, the rain battering around them. "NOOOOOOOOOO!" he screamed. And carrying Luthien the Dead in her arms, singing a children's song, straight and staggering and glorious, Norna stepped into death.

Character(s): Those Noisy Valkyrie
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Skeins of Fate: Denouement
Title of Post: It Ain't Over Till...

And as the host thundered triumphantly north across the stormy November sky, Flicker's incongruous thought was that Siobhan would really have gotten a kick out of this, because no mortal on Ataniel could ever possibly have heard so much ululating all at once.

Character(s): Shilree
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: ATYR (yes, you read that right, bunkie)
Title of Post: The Only Warning You Get

Shilree looked out from her tower as she reread the letter.
"My friend," it read. "I write this to you, breaking my self-imposed exile, and sacrificing much in the process. You know that I would not if it were not a matter of great importance. I trust you to have positioned yourself close enough to power to be able to do something about this. My warning is brief, and perhaps the only one of its kind you will hear, but I swear on my oath of trade that it is true. If your people do not stop their efforts to reclaim the Shadowlands, Diaria will be gone within ten years."
It was simply signed, "Nathan."

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