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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Rat King Archives
The Darknesses Love Can Transform, Part II

Character(s): Khyrisse, a fool twice over
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Rat Kings: Shoot Me Now, Please?
Title of Post: Continuing to Embarrass Ourselves

Khyrisse blinked at him. "Oh." A lot of things were suddenly making sense about Ebreth and the way he'd been behaving. "Um, no, that's not it at all," she said, with a wry little laugh at her own expense. "Ebreth, if you had been there on the dais with me when that spell hit, I wouldn't have stopped. They could have marched the Cynystran army through that room, and I wouldn't have cared." She grinned a little at the mental image, and ducked her head, pinching the bridge of her nose with her gloved hand. "What I've been afraid of isn't you at all. It's of getting hurt again. I feel rather more strongly about you than is comfortable, in a lot of ways, and it's been, what, a week? I admire you, I find it astonishing that you can go through what you have and still laugh-- not like you? You must be out of your everloving mind, Ebreth Tor."

Character(s): Jack and Valende
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Rat Kings: Calm Before the Storm/Ditty About Jack and Valende
Title of Post: Jack Makes A Promise

"Um," Jack said.
"I knew it. I never should have..." Val started.
"No, no!" Jack said. "I'm umming because I'm checking my math."
Val squinted and frowned. "I spill my ugliest secrets and you're thinking about math?"
"Oh. Right. No, I've actually had this theory, but I haven't really gotten a chance to check it. It's about the Madness."
Val continued to glare.
Jack continued. "Okay, look, I'm an artificial being, sort of, so I know what I'm talking about. There are certain... variables... that make up people's personalities. That's why people are, uh, different. From each other, I mean."
"Jack..."
"No, hear me out! What the Madness did was a direct mathematical inversion of a variety of those personality variables." Jack paused. "What I'm saying is, mathematically, the Madness only made people act as bad as they really are good."
"That's nice, Jack, but it doesn't explain things. I did the things I did."
"And you're punishing yourself for them... but you don't need to, Val."
"Yes, I do," she whispered.
"I don't think so," Jack said. "You've got one of the biggest hearts I've ever encountered, Val. But if the lesson you learn is that your passion is bad, then you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Your love for life makes you special, makes you able to do things that lesser spirits couldn't imagine, let alone achieve. Don't lose that just because it got twisted by someone else's evil. Am I making any sense or am I speaking Diarian here?"
"Oh, Jack..."
"Um, that wasn't exactly what I meant by passion, Val. You're really hurting right now, and that's not a good time to, um..."
Val folded her arms. "Of course," she sighed. "I knew things couldn't be the same."
"No, but we can try to keep moving on. They only stay the same if you hold on to your pain."
"Did Ebreth tell you that?"
"No, I read that on a matchbook once."
Val chuckled.
"Look, Valende," Jack said, taking her shoulders and staring into her eyes. "I can't promise to understand everything you went through, but I can promise to be here for you from this point forward. To listen, to share, to support you in whatever you need."
"Jack... I don't deserve..."
"You don't deserve to go on hurting, Val. No matter what goes on with us, I want you to know that you've always got a shoulder to cry on and a friend for whatever you need. Just promise me that you'll ask from time to time."

Character(s): Ebreth Tor
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Rat Kings: Pair Up Or Go To Hell
Title of Post: Much Less Poetic Than Jack Paris

"The Cynystran army," Ebreth pointed out, softly, his fingertips turning her wrist, "is not here now."

Character(s): Khyrisse
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Rat Kings: Pair Up Or Go To Hell
Title of Post: What This Says About the Value of Poetry, I'm Not Sure

 

Khyrisse shivered a little, and her eyes flew up to meet Ebreth's, for the first time that day.
She studied his face for a long moment, her expression serene for once; the strain that normally sharpened her features was oddly absent. Her eyes seemed catlike, taking up half of her face, violet and gold. She reached up and ran her fingertips lightly down the side of his face, from the corner of an astonishingly blue eye down to his jawline. Then she smiled a little, and pushed Ebreth gently back onto the sofa. "No," she said softly. "For once, nobody is."
She pointed at the door without looking at it, and it locked itself audibly in a flare of amber light.
"And nobody's going to be, either," she added with a quiet little laugh.
She knelt next to Ebreth on the sofa, one hand on his shoulder, and kissed the hell out of him.

Character(s): Ariath the Distracting
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Rat Kings: Pair Up Or Go To Hell
Title of Post: One Down, Two To Go

"I am not prurient!" Vas protested. "I'm just concerned."
"Vas."
"I'm her bodyguard. And Val's in no state to guard her. What if an undead thing attacked them?"
"Vas."
"I know how to be discreet--"
"Vas." Ariath grabbed him by the hair. "Shut up and kiss me."

Character(s): Valende and Jack
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Rat Kings: Pair Up Or Go To Hell
Title of Post: We're Paired! We're Just Being Sensible About It!

Valende walked back into the room, shaking her head. Jack looked up from his Astronomy book. "Something wrong?"
Valende sat down near him and sighed. "Vas is... missing."
"Missing?"
"Busy and missing."
Jack thought about this. "Oh."
"Yes."
"What about Khyrisse?"
"She doesn't need bodyguarding at the moment," she said, in a much lighter tone. She smiled at Jack in an amused fashion.
"Oh." Jack blushed a little, but said nothing.
Valende leaned back on the bed and sighed again. "Vas still bothers me, I'm afraid. He never seems to base any of his behavior on things that have happened to him... he never sees any need to change his behavior," she said quietly, staring into the fire. "He just keeps making the same mistakes and laughing them off... Not even this last mistake fazed him..."
Jack blinked at her. "Ariath?"
Valende laughed and rested her head on his shoulder, still staring into the fire. "No, I have no problems with Ariath, per se, dear. I meant the Madness. That should have changed his behavior."
"You can't worry about what Vas chooses to do or not do, Val," Jack pointed out gently. "He has to make his own decisions. You should concentrate on what you want to do now."
Valende sighed again, but tilted her head back and smiled up at him anyway. "You have an excellent point. At least that way, when Vas gets in trouble again, I can help him get out of it," she said, with a chuckle, and sat up again. "Well, I have made one decision tonight."
"What's that?"
"I think," she said soberly, looking down at her hands, clasped in her lap, "that it would be best if I gave up men."
Jack looked a little depressed, but nodded firmly. "Well, if you think you should, then I'll help you do that, Val."
"Oh, I doubt it." Valende peeked up at him. "See, I find that mathematical equations are much more fun," she said, and grinned like a pixie.

Character(s): the Rat Pack
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Rat Kings: Calm Before the Storm
Title of Post: Bedtime at Rat Pack Manor

Hours later, people were in beds.
Khyri was still in the library with Ebreth, and even Skitch didn't know what they were up to.
Vas and Ariath had headed up to Vas' room, and the noises that you didn't need Tila to detect told the story pretty well. Ariath was, apparently, a screamer.
Asinus was snoring through a lit cigar.
Skitch was laying in a hammock outside the library, reading the same line in his spell book again and again, but not paying any attention to it at all.
Alphred slept uneasily in the arboretum under the totem of the sloth.
Fred dreamt of pools of fire and an imp who called him "sir."
Janice stared up at the stars, alone, and no one knew what voices ran through her head.
Somewhere, the Rat slept, with the prayers of several concerned people watching over it.
And the hushed voice of Jack Paris could be heard from behind the door of his room.
"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind," Jack read to Valende, curled up next to him in the bed.
"'Pooh!' he whispered." "'Yes, Piglet?'" "'Nothing,' said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. 'I just wanted to be sure of you.'"

Character(s): Shannon
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Interlude
Title of Post: Some Unique Maternal Advice

Shannon sighed. "Well, he swore to me he'd not kill Deirdre, and I did believe him. I knew he'd kill
Rowan--not that I'd care after the way that man's been treatin' me these days--I knew he'd take good care of the country, but Brytannwch is not Cynystra. After all I'd lost for our freedom. Could all that be in vain? And I did think, I had such a longin' to save him for her. I did think it might ease my heart. Beware of men, child. They'll always ask you for that one thing you wouldna sacrifice yourself to give them, and you'll end up destroyin' the both of you. Ah, baby." She struck an earthworm clean in half with her trowel. "The most effective spy on Ataniel and I'm tendin' vegetables in the dirt. Stay away from men, Siobhan. Find yourself a friend and never go back on her. Do you not let your hungers get the best of you."


Character(s): Octavian, Flanders, and some typical Rimbor cops
Author: Evan Haag and Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: "Octavian"
Title of Post: What Octavian's Been Up To Lately

It was closing time, and Flanders gave a sigh of relief. It had been a long day; better than yesterday, but that wasn't saying much. He shuddered at the memory of yesterday, convinced that taking money from Ebreth Tor would come back to haunt him.
He was about to close up and leave for dinner, when two gentlemen walked in. At least, he thought they were gentlemen, until he saw the Rimbor Police tunics they wore under their day-cloaks. As they closed the door behind them, the larger one put the "Closed" sign up in the window.
"Evening, Flanders," said the older one, in a mock-friendly voice. "How's business been today?"
Flanders swallowed hard. His till was just enough to get him fed for the evening-- and not very well, either. "Slow, actually," he said, trying hard not to sound nervous. He hoped they were just checking in, and that they wouldn't take anything.
"That's a shame. Guy like you, he needs business. Things are awfully expensive in Rimbor, these days." The officer smirked, as his partner wandered semi-aimlessly around the tiny shop.
Flanders groaned inwardly, knowing what was coming next. Looks like I'll be eating gruel tonight, or maybe shoe leather. He began to stammer out something as the cop grabbed his shirtfront, but was distracted by the front door opening.
The gentleman silhouetted in the doorway was wearing a heavy traveling cloak, and carried a walking stick in his left hand. His clothing was difficult to see under the cloak, and his face was concealed in the shadows of the hood.
"Pardon me, sir, but do you have anything in a fancy riding boot?"
The larger of the two officers moved toward the door, saying, "Can't you read? The sign said the place is closed. Now get lost, before we take you in for trespassing."
As he got close to the stranger, there was a brief flash of movement from beneath the cloak. The cop stopped short in his tracks, as he discovered the slim blade of a sword-cane scant inches from his throat. The older cop turned around, letting go of Flanders' tunic, and Flanders could see his hand slowly reaching for the dagger tucked into the back of his belt.
The stranger spoke again. "From the number of customers, I assumed that this shop was still conducting business. But of course, how stupid of me. Police in this part of the world don't bother with buying things." He gestured briefly towards the counter with the blade, which the cop in front of him ignored.
The older cop snarled at him, "Do you have any idea how much trouble you're asking for? If you're smart, you'll take off before you get hurt... or worse." His hand was still inching slowly towards the dagger, and he briefly flashed a menacing glance at Flanders. Flanders knew that if he said anything now, the dagger would be sticking out of him, and not the stranger.
"Worse? What could be worse than living in Rimbor, with our police force treating us like slaves? Oh no, my friend, I don't think you could do anything to me that I would consider 'worse' than that." He motioned again with the tip of his sword, and stepped closer to the big cop. A flick of the blade placed a the shallowest of cuts in the skin of his throat. Taking the hint, the officer started to move slowly towards the counter and his partner.
Suddenly, the older cop's hand whipped around from behind his back, neatly tossing a dagger at the stranger's chest. The stranger grasped the edge of his cloak and whipped it upward, shrouding his form. The dagger disappeared into the folds of the cloak, then clattered to the ground. The cloak settled gently back down over the stranger, who shook his head in disapproval at the two officers.
"My, my, officer; such ill-considered violence. Is that what they're teaching you at the station these days? That's more of an assassin's trick than a peace-keeper's." He stepped forward with purpose. "Let me show you the proper way to keep the peace."
Flanders ducked behind the counter, not wanting to become any more involved in this than he already was. He heard the sounds of fighting clearly, but it seemed like the stranger was doing most of the work. After a few moments the sounds stopped, and he could hear the stranger's voice call out.
"You can come out now, Flanders. The officers are... off duty." As Flanders poked his head nervously over the counter, he could see the two policemen piled on top of each other, unconscious. Both of them had shallow wounds criss-crossing their faces, and the older one seemed to be missing an ear. The stranger was wiping off his blade, and leaned on the counter facing Flanders.
"A-are they... dead?" Flanders asked nervously.
"No, more's the pity." From the sound of the stranger's voice, he wasn't even winded.
Flanders groaned and held his head. "Do you have any idea what they're going to do to me?" he said, before he could stop himself. "They're never going to believe I had nothing to do with this! I'm a dead man!"
"You would have been dead within days, regardless," the stranger said, sheathing the blade with a soft click. "It wouldn't have taken them long to discover that the Slaver King had visited this store, and there are certain parties in the police department that are very interested in that gentleman's activities. The only thing that has saved you from being taken in for 'questioning' thus far is their staggering incompetence."
Flanders swallowed hard, eyes like saucers. "How did you know Lord Tor was here?" he whispered. "Who are you?"
"I am Octavian." The stranger leaned forward over the counter, and Flanders was pinned by his intense gaze. The face under the hood was nondescript, but the eyes burned with an unnatural light. "What happened between you and Ebreth Tor, shopkeeper? Why was he here?"
"Nothing! He-- he bought a pair of boots. He had some people with him, this blonde elf and her kid--" Flanders stammered.
"He bought a pair of boots," Octavian repeated incredulously. Flanders looked terrified, and could only nod fervently. An undefinable tension drained out of the stranger's form, and he laid a hand gently on the counter. "Peace, Flanders," he said, sounding slightly amused. "That confirms certain things I have heard about Lord Tor of late-- I am convinced." Flanders exhaled noisily. "Now, there is still the problem of this offal behind me. They will return, you are correct... but you are no longer alone."
Flanders looked at Octavian in disbelief. Sure, he had been hearing stories from other merchants, and from a few of his customers, but he had never ever seen Octavian's work. Now, all of a sudden, he had Octavian as a protector! He opened his mouth to thank the mysterious vigilante, but he was stopped by a raised gauntlet.
"Before you say 'Thank you' or something like it, I would like to dispel any illusions that you may have. I will not act as your sole protector. While I have some concern for your property and your safety, you are but one merchant, and I am needed all across the city."
Flanders was stunned, and didn't quite know how to react. He decided to keep quiet as Octavian continued.
"When I said you are no longer alone, however, I meant it. You are now part of a growing...fraternity, if you will. It is now up to you as to whether you will be an active part of that fraternity. This fraternity is made up of citizens like yourself who are unwilling to endure the current regime's strongarm tactics any longer." At this point, he took a small slip of paper out of his belt. "Here is the name of one of them. He will be able to tell you what you can do, alone or with others, to regain your freedom. Don't even think of tipping this name to the police; trust me, I'll know."
Octavian then turned around to leave, whistling a popular tune. Immediately, two large men came in through the door and started to pick up the unconscious officers. Flanders was sure he recognized one of them as the bouncer at the Deflowered Damsel, the local bar.
As Octavian reached the door, he turned and flashed Flanders a slight grin. "By the way, I was serious about those boots. I prefer something with a subtle embossing, perhaps in a dark blue. Could you see about that for me?"
Flanders could only nod vacantly as he watched Octavian and his henchman vanish into the night.

***
The police officers were not amused to find themselves stripped naked and dumped, still unconscious, on the steps of the RCPD Headquarters. They and two of their chortling friends were pounding on Flanders' door early the next morning.
"He's not gonna answer, you jerk," the older cop snarled, yanking his buddy out of the way. Their two companions stood nearby, obviously more there for the show than to actually help. He put his shoulder to the door and forced it open, breaking the lock. The four policemen moved into the store-- and paused, looking around. The store was empty, but undisturbed; the mess caused by the fight had been cleaned up.
"What gives? If I were him, I'd be halfway to the mainland by now," muttered the large man with the cuts on his face. He looked behind the counter. "The books're still here and everything."
A noise from behind them caused all four of the officers to turn in surprise. A crowd of men, armed with cudgels, pokers, shortswords, and daggers, had filed silently into the room behind them, and were now blocking the shop's only exit. At the head of the column was the fat cobbler, Flanders, holding a leatherworker's awl and hammer in his fists.
Flanders cleared his throat. "We don't much appreciate the way you thugs have been throwing your weight around. This is our city, too, and we're not gonna be treated like criminals and slaves any more." As he finished speaking, the crowd of angry citizens closed in on the four officers.

Character(s): Jack Paris, Rat Pack
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Rat Kings: Showdown
Title of Post: Rats In The Morning

The rosy sphere circled around the magical house for some time, unable to enter. Finally, as morning approached, the door opened. One of the marked ones came out.
"Get the hell out of my way, ya flarking Jeeves," the ass bellowed. "Unless you got some stables in here, you don't want me around for a few minutes."
A donkey bearing the sigil wandered into the street.
The rosy sphere flew at it, popping into its head. The ass' eyes glazed over, and he turned and wandered back to the manse.
"I need to get back in."
"I just let you out," Sennett said matter-of-factly.
"I have important business," Asinus said.
"Yes, and as you explained to me, it would be best if you did it outside."
The thing inside Asinus' head sighed. It wished the damn butler had been marked. Besides, there was a strange discomfort in the ass' hind end. "Tell Khyrisse I know where the Rat is now."
"Is that the whole message?" Sennett asked.
"And that she's got one hell of a cute tush, and she's missing out on the joys of hot donkey love."
The thing inside Asinus' head didn't know where that had come from.
"I'll... get her the gist of the message," Sennett said, and slammed the door.
Then the sphere realized what the strange discomfort was. Too late. This sort of thing would never happen if I was a lich lord, it thought.
It waited for the Rat Pack to come. It had a trap to lead them into, and not much time to do it.

Character(s): Khyrisse, Skitch, and Valende
Author: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline: Rat Kings: Showdown
Title of Post: Hell? Where's That?

Khyrisse sat in a corner of the breakfast room, studying her spellbook with a serene little smile on her face, drinking coffee. Skitch sat across a small table from her, studying his own spell book and kicking the table leg. Occasionally Khyrisse reached out with a muted grin and kicked the table leg on her side, knocking the abused piece of furniture back into place and prompting a chuckle from her apprentice. Valende smiled at the din coming from that corner of the room. "Are we almost ready to leave?"
"Yes, I think so," Khyrisse replied absently. "I don't know if everyone that wants it has had breakfast, though. Where's Vas?" Valende rolled her eyes and nodded towards the stairs. Sennett appeared and cleared his throat. "Yes?" Khyrisse asked.
"The elder Mr. Paris would like me to inform you that he knows where the missing Rat is. And it appears you have an admirer in the elder Mr. Paris..."
"I can just imagine," Khyrisse said with a mildly amused smile. "Just ignore the rest of it, Sennett, and see if you can find the rest of our guests. Time to 'rock and roll', kiddo," she added, kicking the table leg one last time. Skitch slammed his book closed, hooting. "Think we'll see Janus today?" he asked, leaning across the table and pilfering Khyrisse's remaining bagel.
"I'm supposed to know? I just work here."


Character(s): The Rat Pack
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Rat Kings: Showdown
Title of Post: Guess Where We Get To Go?

Everyone had gathered in the lobby.
Ariath and Vas looked a bit tired, but other than that, people looked eager to have done with this King of Kings once and for all.
"The King of Kings must die!" Fred cried, making sure that everyone knew his position on the matter.
"Asinus," Khyrisse sighed, "you say you know where the Rat is?"
"Oh, yes!" Asinus leered. "That knowledge has entered my head. But not like in an evil way. No, not at all."
"Uncle Asinus, are you all right?" Jack asked.
"I'm fine," Asinus said. "And I'm not possessed by the Collector, either."
The rosy sphere seemed to be having some trouble with this particular minion. The donkey's mind was so dirty and disorganized, it was hard to keep complete control without touching all sorts of things that the sphere's mother had warned him about.
"Val?" Khyrisse asked.
Val muttered a prayer to her absent god, and looked up. "I can't quite tell. That sigil interferes with my scrying."
"If we really want to be sure he's possessed, we could just give him Lucas," Ebreth suggested light-heartedly. The grimness that had occupied his face yesterday was gone.
"Not funny," Vas said, yawning.
"There is a storm drain outside of town. We can head in there, and it will lead to the King of King's magnificent stronghold."
"I like him better this way," Khyrisse whispered to Skitch.
"Follow me outside of the mansion, fools," Asinus said. "Then when we get home, it's orgy time."
Jack covered his face in embarrassment. He would almost rather face Gabriella than hang out with Uncle Asinus much more.
"Coming?" the ass asked.

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