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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: Coming of Age

Part 4

Name: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): The Alchemist, Jimmy D, Michael Dean
Title of Post: Three to Get Ready

Afternoon...

"Monster!"

The Alchemist sipped his coffee and watched as a phalanx of locals hurled insults and trash at two women. One was a blonde, and a nice-looking piece of ass at that, he had to admit. The other appeared to be a troll in a ball gown. She looked like some kind of parody of a high society 'risto lady, and was weeping at the taunts of the crowd, like a little girl being teased on the playground. The Alchemist watched, unmoved, as the two women fled.

So, this is what the once proud city of Edimon had come to? The odd freak inspiring the citizenry to a yokel-like outbreak of witless, pointless mob violence?

Father, he thought, you and your friends really did burn this town to the ground, didn't you? And soon, I'm going to be pissing on the ashes. He chucked his coffee cup to the sidewalk, then headed back towards his home in the sewers. Blackbird's thugs would be impatient for their potion.

Night...

"You know jazz, kid?" Brubeck said.

"I know swing," Jimmy replied.

"Eh. Not bad for party music, I guess. But lacking subtlety and art. Listen. Now this is music. Pure poetry."

Jimmy sat and listened. A sultry blonde with long legs and a husky voice took the stage, starting with a number called "The Night We Called It a Day". He and Brubeck listened through a few numbers. Then, when the lull seemed right, Jimmy said:

"I don't do wetwork."

"I can dig that. This job I require of you will be completely dry."

"What do I need to steal?"

"Nothing. I don't need you to take anything, just leave something." He took out a slender envelope, sealed with an elaborate wax mark. Jimmy instinctively checked, but found that it bore no resemblance to Rissa's amulet.

"All you have to do is enter a location, and leave behind that envelope somewhere where it will be found. The kitchen table will do."

"Is this thing gonna explode or curse me or something?"

Brubeck laughed merrily. "Nothing of the sort, my young friend. Just see to it that the seal stays unbroken, or... let's just say, don't break the seal, eh? And I'd advise against being noticed by the resident."

"Defenses on the target?"

"Some, to be sure. Nothing an experienced burglar like yourself should have trouble with, especially since they center of the house's valuables, which you can simply leave be. Drop the note and you'll have your good Mr. Ewens. Are you the cat who can help me?"

Jimmy looked at the envelope for a long time, then took it.

Later that night...

Michael knew he was supposed to report back immediately after completing an assignment, but now he had one quick stop to make.

Maybe he had imagined it. Yeah, some weird quirk, some small charm the girl had. Now that he was out of her presence, it would be gone. He'd never again think of her sleepy eyes, the way they sat like jewels in the porcelain sculpture of an angel---

Stop! One sure way to get a woman out of his mind.

"Heya, mister. Lookin' for a good time?"

"Not you." He looked around, then pointed at a blonde one. "You. Let's go," he said, passing her the cash.

"Mmm-hmmm!" she said happily, noting that he'd inadvertantly forked over a lot of gold. "So you'll be wanting the deluxe---"

"Right here's fine," he said, pushing her against the wall of an alley. About halfway through the act, he made the mistake of looking into the whore's face, and she was nothing - nothing, that is, compared to the girl at the GR3.

"Ah, forget it!" he muttered, zipping up and making a hasty retreat into the shadows.

"Looks like someone's having trouble leaving his closet," the hooker told her companions.

Back at home base, he issued his full report to Blackbird. Dean's planeblazing abilities were his own, but he had learned all he knew about being a hitman from the Bird. He wouldn't describe him as a friend, but Blackbird was his mentor, someone with whom he could discuss anything. Until now.

"A job well done, Michael. And yet, you seem... out of sorts."

"It's... nothing."

"Nothing. And yet...?"

"Just --- just something with a woman."

"It happens to everybody. Don't worry about it."

The boss was, as usual, uncannily close, but for once had missed the bullseye. Best to play along. "It ever happen to you?"

"Of course not. But don't worry. More importantly, I would advise you to not let your dick become a distraction on the job."

A day late and a dollar short, boss.

Still later...

Jimmy sat and listened to the torch singer, and thought.

He was quickly approaching out of his depth levels. He had been looking to join up with a group like the Silver Bullets because... well, because he needed to belong. And after a good samaritan had saved his life, he'd felt a strange attraction to this "adventuring" lifestyle, a desire to pay it forward. He wasn't sure if this errand was a good step towards helping anyone, maybe quite the opposite.

It could help Chloe Paris, he reminded himself. And how sinister could the envelope possibly be. Most likely he was signing on as a low profile courier for some guild business. Yeah, a new-in-town guy would be perfect for that. Just case the address Brubeck had given him, slip the note inside and then bring on Mitch Ewens.

Simple, right?

He wished desperately, and not for the first time, that Cuz or Avery or... yes, or Mary was there. They'd help him figure out what to do.

Could he tell the others what he was going to do to find Ewens? Did they really need to know? Could he count on them for advice? Would Berryn cuss him out for wasting time - go find the bastard who took his girlfriend? Would Sashami literally remove his head for being dishonorable?

He'd known the Silver Bullets what - 36 hours? And here he was already dealing with planeblazers - whatever they were - and lost civilizations and disappearing corpses and every time he stopped to think about it he was nervously hoping that a woman he barely knew was alive and alright. And it mattered to him what they thought of him.

"So, what do you do now, farm boy?" he muttered.

"Pardon?" said the man next to him at the bar.

"Uh, nothing." And I'm starting to talk to myself. He headed back to the GR3 to catch some sleep. Things would be clearer come morning.

He hoped.



Name: Alyssa Gulledge and Kristin L'Kar Andersen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): the Half-Human Ladies contingent of the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Sobs in the Dark

Melissandra sat in the corner with tears running down her face, making no noise at all. A lady doesn't give great groans and wails of pain. But then, according to the mob, today she was a monster. But now in the dark and quiet of the room at night, with the soft whispers of sleeping people, she could be a lady.

She couldn't fathom what had happened to her. In her hometown, she was loved by all. Well not Natalina, but that had to do with the whole cheating thing when they first started school. But no one had ever talked badly about her coloring, her nails, her skin or any of her other qualities she shared with her father. During the end of summer, her tanning turned her a rich green. ("She looks like a wild and lovely forest spirit," said Janissy the Baker.). In winter she was at her palest, a very light gray with a hint of green. She had been compared to the rocks of the mountains. ("Stark and pale but beautiful and rugged," said Granal the Innkeeper.). All of Mother's friends envied her her nails. ("So strong and long! What I wouldn't give!" they gabbled.) Her strength was admired. ("Stronger than a bull, and maybe as strong as me," said Brodan the Blacksmith.) And everyone spoke of her beautiful, long, blond hair ("Only her Mother's is finer," said Hildara the Midwife) and her bright, blue eyes ("Like sky trapped in pools of water," said James, whom she had a crush on).

So what had happened? She whimpered very quietly and put her weeping eyes into her hands.

She looked up quickly at the first sound.

"Melissandra? Are you okay?" Rissa had pushed her blankets aside and was whispering in her direction. Yet another legacy from her father was night-vision. She watched Rissa approach, willowy and delicate in comparison. Melissandra still didn't understand what was wrong with herself. "No," she sobbed slightly. "I don't think I am okay."

Rissa, wearing some odd sort of cowled silk pajamas, knelt on the floor next to Melissandra and placed a hand gently on the half-troll's forearm. Without her gloves, Rissa had the long-fingered, graceful hands of a lady; but ink stains, stubby nails, and calluses on her fingertips rather ruined the effect. "Can I help?" she whispered sympathetically. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Melissandra looked at her, and snuffled quietly. "I have tried so hard to be a lady. A proper lady. When I lived at home, I was treated like a lady. Everyone in town was polite if not friendly to me. My mother loved and cuddled me," she paused for a deep sigh, "and nobody thought I was a monster or a freak. Or any of the other awful things they said today."

"I know that I am different. It is rare for a troll to fall in love, let alone seek a wife outside his lineage. But my parents loved each other very much. So as a child of love, why do these city people hate me?"

Rissa's chestnut-brown eyes were sad. "I... don't know if I can explain it in a way that will make sense to you, Melissandra." The bard sighed softly, absently tugging on her own sharply pointed ear. "Some people, particularly very sheltered or ignorant people, just don't like people that are different. They don't know what to expect... or they hear stories and leap to wrong conclusions... They get scared when they have to deal with something unexpected." Her mouth twisted wryly. "And nobody likes to be scared. They get angry. They defend themselves. They drive the difference away or shut it out, so they don't have to think about it."

She squeezed Melissandra's hand, with surprising strength for such slender fingers. "People are just DUMB sometimes. And those people were all strangers, and didn't know you or your parents. It's your responsibility as a lady," she smiled encouragingly, "and you ARE one, to show them that they're wrong. I think if your parents loved one another, that's beautiful. YOU'RE beautiful."

Melissandra exhaled slowly. "Is this what my mother was talking about when she said that I was going to find hard people in the world? She always called my Father a softie, despite his actual... um... texture. She said the people of our town had a soft spot for her and me, especially after Father was caught by the sun. But she told me before I left that the world was full of cold, hard people. I just didn't understand. I am just grateful that there are some softies like you and Thalia, and the rest of the Silver Bullets."

She sighed again. Slowly tears welled up. "Rissa, I don't think I am quite ready to be a STRONG lady yet. I still hurt from today."

She sobbed quietly, and Rissa gently stroked her shoulder. "Hurting's allowed, even for strong ladies," Rissa whispered soothingly, blinking moisture from her own eyes. "That's just fine."



Name: Jonah Cohen (with a quick nod to CS)
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Chloe, Jimmy & the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Wake-Up Call

"Morning," Alderon said, stretching and getting out of his bed. "You must have gotten in late. Any luck last night?"

"Yeah, I think so." He paused, thinking on how to phrase the next part. "Alderon, look, I know I'm the new guy of the team and all, and I'm not totally sure how y'all run things. But I thought should tell you before I did anything. I've got a real solid lead on Chloe, but to follow up on it I have to hel---" Jimmy never finished the sentence.

A scream came from the first floor. The two Silver Bullets grabbed their weapons and raced for the stairway. Jimmy vaulted over the railing halfway down, and ran straight for the sound of loud piteous wailing. When they burst into the room, a terrible sight was laid out before them.

Young Johnny Gold was on his knees on the floor, tears streaming down his face, hugging himself and rocking back and forth. He alternated between shrieks and incomprehensible attempts at speech. In the bed beside him, his father lay, eyes closed, the sheets stained crimson.

"Oh God," Jimmy said, finding himself momentarily frozen.

A crowd of people soon followed in their footsteps - most of the Silver Bullets, several other hotel patrons. An old woman fainted dead away and Jason had to catch her. "Please let me through, I'm a cleric."

Berryn made his way in, leaned over the body, then took out his holy symbol and administered last rights, as Thalia tried to console Johnny. When Berryn stood up, he walked over to Jimmy and Alderon, saying quietly: "He died quickly and painlessly. Throat cut in one quick blow while he was asleep. He's been dead for at least a few hours."

Ewens! Jimmy thought, reflexively. It has to be. He's trying to... to... No, that made no sense. Even if they were closing in on the assasin, why on earth would he kill an innocent old man?

Someone in the crowd was saying "We... we'd better summon the police."



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami and the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Alexke In The Hot Seat

"Aaaaaah!" screamed Leesa, distracted from the measurements she was dubiously taking from Melissandra. "A dead person! I knew it! I knew there'd be a catch! Ooooooo, Mama is going to kill me for getting involved in all this..."

"You're not involved in anything," said Rissa, trying to hide her own shakiness over the senseless murder enough to be calming. "Run and get the police, Leesa. They'll handle this."

Alderon winced a little at that excessive faith in the ECPD, but the young seamstress was already off and running. Sashami stared at the innkeeper's body with a certain amount of shock as Berryn pronounced him perfect as perfect could be and began last rites. "Who... would kill an old man in his bed?" she said. "If this was burglars, he posed no threat to them."

"People do all kind of fucked-up things, sometimes," sighed Berryn. "All I can tell you is he died a few hours ago, and the murder weapon was a dagger with a wavy edge--kris knife, or maybe a serpent blade."

Sashami looked reflexively at Alexke, and caught Alderon and Jimmy doing the same. "What?" the teenager said defensively, putting her hand to the hilt of the kris knife her new teammates had not failed to notice she carried. "Plenty of people have daggers like these! I was in our inn room all night, wasn't I, Rissa?"

Rissa, who had been occupied with her weird dream last night, didn't quite know what to say.

"Did your father have any enemies?" Alderon asked Johnny Gold, still watching Alexke out of the corner of her eye.

The boy was too distraught to answer. Alexke had seen assassinations before and even gotten peripherally involved in some of their aftermaths, but never directly implicated. Now, it seemed, it was time to see how much she really had learned in the past eight years after all, for she had checked her dagger before any of the others had, and there was dried blood crusted around the sheath. Alexke was impeccable about cleaning her blade, and the stain had not been there last night. Someone was up to no good around here.

The question now was who... and whether to tell her new companions the truth or try to dispose of the evidence before the police got there. There were a few accessible planes where she could probably dispose of the knife, but then would the others turn her in? Things were so different here than back home. Alexke wasn't sure how the Silver Bullets were going to react to anything, really, or how the police would.

She didn't have long to make her decision.



Name: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Alexke and Friends?
Title of Post: A Matter of Trust

Alexke noticed Sashami looking at her belt. As the most "honorable" of the Silver Bullets Alexke worried most about her opinion.

She hoped that her companions would trust her. She hadn't told them much about herself, and she knew that would be an impediment. Back home trust beyond family was foolish, sometimes not even family members were trustworthy.

Alexke decided to keep the knife.

When she was little, before Bane, she believed the police always found the Truth and punished the bad people. Now she worried that they'd think she was the bad person. However well she cleaned her knife she knew the killing could still be detected magically.

She pulled her companions aside. "I know this looks bad," she said quietly, "but I did not kill the inn keeper. I found blood on my knife but I don't know how it got there."

The police had come in while she was talking. Before she could tell her companions she heard a woman say, "There's a girl with a wavy knife over there."

"Excuse me miss, we'd like to talk to you in private."



Name: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy D
Title of Post: Alexke 99?

"You all are with this woman?" said another cop. "We'd like you to wait in this room please. We're going to need to ask you all a few questions, too."

Melissandra looked scandalized at the very thought, but the alternative was starting a fight with the police, so the rest of the Silver Bullets filed into an office. Jimmy wondered if it was because the team welcomed a chance to talk. This might end up, he realized, becoming the first time he'd ever gotten arrested.

Why do I want to believe she's innocent? Because I don't want to think she could do something so grisly? Because another betrayal would suck the big one?

The room was deadly silent. "Alright," Thalia said quietly. "I suspect we're all wondering the same thing. Opinions?"

"It's bogus," Alderon said. "It's gotta be. She's just a kid. She couldn't have slit that man's throat. Right?" He sounded less than certain.

"Look..." Jimmy said, trying to gather his thoughts into coherance. I'm new to this whole 'adventuring' thing, but I know that groups like ours have gotten infiltrated by the bad guys in the past. And I know that none of us really knows her. And that she had the murder weapon on her. And she has no alibi. And God, I'm getting off message."

"What I'm trying to say," he continued, "is that she didn't do it. It just doesn't make sense. We checked in here on a whim just yesterday. Why on earth would she kill a total stranger. And she'd have to be pretty brain dead to check into a hotel, murder the owner, take the murder weapon back to her room and go back to sleep.

"And one other thing: Mitchel Ewens. When we were out scoping the city yesterday, Alexke found a place that might be where Ewens blipped into town with Chloe. We were hot on his trail, so he must've decided to get her off of it. and that sick fuck - sorry, pardon my french, Melissandra - he murdered an innocent man in his sleep to do it. That's gotta be how it went down."

He looked around to see if the others thought he was making any sense.



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami, Alderon, the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Stand By Your Girl

"I think Jimmy is right," Sashami said. The young thief blinked at the support from that unexpected quarter. "Why would she murder the innkeeper? Had he been slain interfering with a robbery attempt, I would surely suspect her. It's true we haven't known her long enough to vouch for her character. But sleeping in his bed? What could she possibly gain from that? Our group hasn't even been discredited by this; only Alexke herself. It would be senseless."

"I hate to bring this up," Alderon said reluctantly, "but she did sort of randomly show up at the Mithril Dagger about ten minutes before Ewens did. And it's kind of a weird coincidence that they're both planeblazers. There might be some connection between the two of them."

"That's possible," said Jimmy. "Of course, they could be enemies."

"It doesn't matter," said Sashami resolutely. "We owe it to the innkeeper to investigate his death anyway. If we find Alexke to be responsible, we will take her to task for it. If not, we will exonerate her. Until we have done one or the other, I think we have to give her the benefit of the doubt. Thief or no, she's given us no reason to question her word."

"Right," said Alderon. "So we add investigate Gold's murder to rescue Chloe and catch Ewens on our to-do list, then?"

"It is the only honorable recourse," Sashami said quietly, looking through the window at the innkeeper's sobbing son. "In my opinion, anyway."

On to the Coming of Age Archives, Part 5

'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

Picture 1800's Native American artwork * Abenaki Maine * Inday * Pit River California * Alabama Cherokee Indians

Check out Lora's Syberia and links pages
Check out Orrin's Indian baby name meaning and Y Guide article.
Walkthrough of the day: Cloud of Xeen