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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 6

Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami, Alderon, and the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: A legal drama? Okay, here goes...

Alexke looked at the warrant Brock had handed her. She was being arrested by the Dalencians. Her mother was going to laugh her ass off.

"Wait," said Rissa, "You're not just going to drag her off to jail, are you? Doesn't she get a trial?"

"Yeah, yeah, she gets a trial," sighed Brock. "What do you think we are, some kind of banana republic?"

"Now that you mention it..." said the lawyer who'd come in with him, not looking up from his folder.

Brock ignored him. "But that won't be for at least a week, so she gets a nice little vacation in the Edimon City Prison till then."

"You have the right to post bail," said the lawyer.

"Christ, Lowe, like these kids can afford that. Give the bulldog litany a rest, will you?"

"Here," said Thalia, handing the police officer a purse of gold coins.

His demeanor changed sharply. "Where did you get this kind of money?" he demanded.

"Fr--om my father--"

"Not in the hotel business by any chance, is he?"

"No, he's the King of Talaria."

Detective Brock made a mental note to pick up more aspirin on the way home. "And does his royal highness know you're spending his cash to get juvenile delinquents out of the pen?"

"Technically, I'm not spending it," Thalia pointed out. "I get it back at the time of the trial, don't I?"

"Assuming Mallory Wilson Knox over there don't skip town on you."

Alexke looked bored. "Name's Lowe," said the lawyer, leaning across Jimmy and Alderon to hand her his business card. "Ellis Lowe. Edimon City public defender. Let me start by informing you you're not required to tell the police here anything without your lawyer present."

"Thank you, Mr. Lowe," said Rissa.

Detective Brock sighed. "While we're crossing our t's and dotting our i's here, let me inform you that helping a suspect flee our jurisdiction is a felony. See to it the girl stays in Edimon till her case comes up, or I'll have all of you up as accessories."

"We get the point," said Berryn.

"And stay out of this investigation. We don't need a bunch of amateurs clogging up the gears. Especially not ones with questionable motives." Detective Brock stomped off, followed by the other policemen.

"Is he always like that?" Alderon asked.

"He was born like that," said Lowe. "You want to give me your side of the story, short version? As your court-appointed legal representation nothing you tell me can be used against you in trial and yadda yadda yadda, so you might as well give me the truth."

"Somebody stole my knife, killed the innkeeper, and planted it back in my room," Alexke said succinctly.

"Any idea who'd go to so much trouble to frame a fourteen-year-old?"

"We do have an enemy we believe is in town," said Sashami. She didn't trust lawyers, but there didn't seem to be any risk in telling him; Ewens knew they had followed him here already. "An assassin going by the name of Mitchel Ewens. He kidnapped a friend of ours recently, and we've been trying to get her back."

"Never heard of him," the public defender said drily. "The hardcore assassin-kidnapper types don't come through the justice system much."

"I thought Edimon was a little more first-world than this," Rissa said. "No offense."

"It's gone downhill since the Empire fell. This didn't use to be such a shitty job." Ellis Lowe snapped his case folder shut. "Call me if you turn anything up. I'll be doing some nosing around of my own. I'll let you know your court date as soon as I learn it... don't miss it or they'll have you over a barrel. And whatever you do, don't say anything to the cops till you run it by me first."

"Thank you." Sashami waited until he left to turn back to Jimmy. "This letter business bothers me. We know nothing about the thief who gave it to you."

"It's just a letter," shrugged Alderon. "Even if it is ugly business, it's not like we'd be taking part in it ourselves."

"I'm more concerned about what's waiting for Jimmy on the other side. For all we know that thief could be in league with Ewens. It could be a trap, or another set-up."

"It's our only good lead on finding Chloe," Berryn objected. "We have to show up."

"We have to show up," agreed Rissa, "but there's no harm being a little--careful--about how we approach it. And I'm not sure how well it would work... but I did have another idea."

"We're all ears," said Alderon, grinning at her.



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami and the Silver Bullets; Blackbird, Michael, and a mysterious visitor
Title of Post: In Deeper

"This is pointless," Sashami muttered dejectedly, looking around the intersection Jimmy had indicated on her map. He and Rissa had gone to deliver the letter, Alderon and Alexke to investigate Paramon Development; the rest of the team, out of leads and out of sneaky members, had gone back to look around the area the assassin had fled to. It looked like any other intersection in a big city. "If Alexke's planar senses were unable to trace him further than this, there's no way my outdoor tracking can."

"He must have picked this spot for a reason, though," said Thalia. "Maybe he has his hideout in one of these buildings."

"Kind of a nice part of town for an assassins' guild, don't you think?" said Berryn, peering through the window of a posh boutique.

"Well, it's got to be a pretty high-paying job."

***

Alexke watched Alderon rifle through the file cabinet in the back room of Paramon Development. She'd wanted to go with Jimmy again, but Sashami had pointed out that the developers could be more dangerous than they seemed on the surface, and the young planeblazer was the most reliable escape route. She had an exit from the office building prepared and ready to go, but she hoped they wouldn't have to use it. Alexke wasn't sure how welcome Alderon would be on the Fifth Plane of Pain. "Hey, check this out!" he said, pulling a form from a file labeled Tax Records, June 817. "A payment for 450 gold to a Mr. Blackbird for 'services rendered'."

"So?" said Alexke.

"So, 'Blackbird' is the guy from the Underground Dolly told me to see if I was looking for a planar mercenary, that's what. Wonder if he's our Mitchel Ewens... or at least connected to him."

Just then the door opened.

***

"So what do we do now?" Melissandra inquired. "Start asking around at some of these shops, perhaps?"

"I don't know what we'd even ask," sighed Sashami. "We don't even know what the assassin we're searching for looks like."

"We could always just pop the manhole cover and check out the sewer," Jason offered. "Flicker said the Dalencian sewers are where everything important happens in Edimon."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

***

"Hey boss," said Louie, leaning into Blackbird's office in the sewers. "I got a buyer for the Paris girl on line eight."

The assassin frowned. "I wasn't looking for one."

"Yeah, I know. He just sorta showed up."

Blackbird sighed and motioned his henchman to let him in. When he did his appearance gave even the hardened guildmaster pause; the man had to be seven feet tall, thin, his face lost in a long grey monk's hood, but his spidery fingers more unnerving somehow than his eyes could have been. "The girl will come with me," he said, in a soft, dry voice that was not a question. "Her companions will follow. All will be as foretold before the Silencing."

"Hey, buddy, keep the plot information to yourself, all right?" Blackbird opened his desk drawer, fidgeting warily with the booby-trap controls within it. "Because if this is about the destruction of the world or something, I don't want to know, see? You pay me, I do a job. The consequences are for heroes or someone to sort out."

"I will pay you." The disquieting hand dropped a beaded bag onto the desk. Several gems spilled out. "You will turn the girl over to me and provide me with two of your men to escort her."

"Escort her where?" said Blackbird, though the pouch looked full enough to make 'Hell' an acceptable answer.

"The Hanchu peninsula."

"Never heard of it."

"That is of no matter. I know the way."

Blackbird fingered the gems. He'd been wanting to unload Ms. Paris before her relatives caught wind of her location anyway; there was nothing like getting an organized crime family pissed off for dampening the prospects of a young guild. "You've got yourself a deal," he said.

Now he just needed to decide who he could trust to escort them.

***

Michael Dean watched the young adventurers from inside the boutique.

He couldn't believe he was actually about to do this. Practically the Prime Directive of life as an assassin was keeping a low profile, and interacting with friends of a hit without a disguise was about as stupid as stupid got in his line of work. But the one time they'd encountered each other he'd been wearing the Cloak of Shadows, so there was no way any of them would recognize him now. And there was something about the idea of... her... seeing him hiding behind anything other than his real face that he just rebelled against.

It was stupid, and he knew that it was stupid. The old gypsy woman had warned him about this. There wasn't anything he could do about it, though. He was going to die if he didn't talk to her.

***

"Hi," said a voice behind Thalia. She turned her head to see a young man with curly hair and laughing green eyes, smiling at her and extending his hand to be shaken. Their eyes met for what felt like a very long moment. "My name's Mike. You look lost--is there something I could help you with?"



Name: Sylvia Rudy
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Thalia, Michael, and the shopping Bullets
Title of Post: Destiny is a Bitch

Thalia turned her head to see a young man with curly hair and laughing green eyes. She stared into them, as something jogged in her memory. He said something... his name... something...

A girl could drown in those eyes, feeling safe and protected. There was something so very familiar about him... The object of your desires shall become the object of your... "... destruction ..."

Melissandra turned. "Destruction? What about des-" She saw Thalia's dazed expression as she stared at some young man she'd never seen before. "Hey! What are you doing to my friend?"



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Michael and the shopping Bullets
Title of Post: Love Is Worse Than Demons, But Not Much

"What? Me?" Michael was shaken. "I didn't do anything to her... did I?" Destruction? Have I fallen for some kind of weird seer chick? My father would be laughing in his grave... "No, I just wanted to know if I could help, and..."

Friends of the Messenger. Michael turned his head. A gargoyle had come loose from the facade of the bank behind them. You will not live to assist her further along this path.

"What path?" said Sashami.

"What are you people involved in?" said Michael.

Then the other gargoyle joined it in the attack.



Name: Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Michael and the shop..er...FIGHTING Bullets
Title of Post: Girl fight tonight (boys too)

Melissandra hesitated for a moment. It seemed clear to her that this Michael person had cast some kind of 'charm' spell or bewitched Thalia. This made him an enemy. However, he seemed genuinely surprised when accused of harming Thalia. As Melissandra was debating what to do about this, the gargoyles began to move.

"Friends of the Messenger. You will not live to assist her further along this path."

Two huge stone gargoyles pulled themselves free of the building facade, and lumbered toward the group. Melissandra decided that these were obviously a greater threat than Michael at the moment. She stepped up beside Sashami, blocking access to the rest of the party. Michael stepped in front of Thalia, who was still staring at him in a preoccupied way. Berryn began casting something.

The first gargoyle strode to Melissandra, and backhanded her. Hard. She flew backwards, landing with a thud and an "Ooofff!" Sashami stepped in to slice at the other gargoyle. At the last moment it flapped it's enourmous, stone wings hopped over Sashami, and landed just behind Berryn. Berryn was able to duck the huge stone fist swinging at him, but lost his spell. Michael adjusted his location to stay between Thalia and the gargoyle. Thalia, trembling just a little, turned her back to Michael to face the other gargoyle lest it come from behind.

Sashami slashed at the first gargoyle from the side, chinking some stone dust from its wings, but not stopping its forward charge. Berryn decided to dodge as the huge stone fist came swinging again. Michael took the opportunity to drive his dagger at the things back. He managed to crack free one wing, and part of the back, but it did not fall. Rather, it turned to face him.

Melissandra stood up and stared. These thing were stone. She could be stone hard too if she wanted. She usually didn't want to; she wanted to be a normal woman, not a Troll. But the situation didn't look good. She thought about her father, her uncle, their tribes. She thought about blood oozing between her toes, gore dangling from her claws, yes, CLAWS. She thought about destroying her enemy and protecting her own. Then she charged. She screamed a wordless cry of rage and slammed into the gargoyle that had hit her. She drove it to the ground, pinning its arms and wings. She head butted it, cracking its head far worse than her own.

Sashami didn't lose a moment. She turned to the gargoyle now menacing Michael, and swung. She fractured its arm at the shoulder as it began it's swing at Michael; the arm fell to the ground, its momentum carrying it into Thalia's ankle. She cried out, and stumbled back. Michael twisted around and caught her before she fell. Berryn drew its attention by shouting and waving; with its limited awareness turned, Sashami landed a final blow rendering the gargoyle into dust.

Melissandra was pummeling her gargoyle with punishing blows, slowly powdering its chest. Its wings had cracked due to the downward pressure, but it was still struggling. Sashami stepped over "Melissandra. Lean back." Melissandra looked up at her with nearly glowing red eyes. A bit of sanity crept back in, and she leaned out of the way, so that Sashami could decapitate it.

After being sure that there was no more danger, Sashami looked around. Melissandra was staring down at her hands, nails stripped of polish and chipped. "I... I... I have to go!" She looked at them, with big fat tears rolling down from her blue eyes. She turned and ran off, before any of them could stop her.

Berryn was looking at Thalia's ankle, with Michael still holding her up. "Well, it is sprained. I healed what I could but you will still be limping for a few hours." "Only a few?" she asked, sounding disappointed. "I mean, great! Only a few." trying to cover. Michael's mouth twitched into the slightest of smiles "I could help you get back to your hotel." "Would you?! Thanks!" Berryn chuckled to himself and began following them.

Sashami looked around again, not sure of all that occurred. Were these gargoyles a distraction so that they would quickly accept this Michael character? Was what they said about 'friends of the messenger' just more smoke and mirrors, or real and important? She sighed and shook her head. The more immediate question was did she try to go find Melissandra, or did she follow this potential enemy shepherding her friend back to the hotel...



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Michael, Sashami
Title of Post: Two Attempts

Michael was cursing at himself internally for his sorry-assed performance during that fight. Balking at using his planar powers or high-level assassin skills in front of people who would probably want him dead if they knew who he was, he was reduced to a low-level, and less than competent, fighter. Now he'd let her get injured. It just looked like a sprained ankle, true, but thinking about her being hurt at all made him ache inside. He wished it had happened to one of the others.

She was kind of smiling at him, though, in a dazed kind of way. He wanted to ask her what she meant by this 'destruction' business. There weren't too many people out there Michael Dean would really have minded destroying, but she was one. The Paris girl's boyfriend was hovering over them, though, so he had to watch himself especially closely. "Are you all right?" he said instead. It sounded unbelievably lame.

Then the troll tore off like a bat out of hell, making a sound almost like a sobbing child.

***

"Melissandra!" Sashami hesitated a moment, and then shook her head and ran off after the distraught debutante. This 'Mike' character was probably just being your typical horny male, and even if he wasn't, the others could handle it. She didn't think any of them had a chance of keeping pace with Melissandra.

Sashami gritted her teeth and ducked her head, measuring her breathing to give herself the best possible sprinting power. The troll had left her in the dust once before, but she was a ranger of the Tharric tribes, by training if not by birth, and she hadn't gotten as slow a start this time. "Melissandra!" she shouted, skidding a bit around the corner. The troll seemed to pause for an instant at her name, and that gave Sashami the chance she needed to catch up. "Melissandra, wait!"

She was crying hard now, and half-collapsed against the wall of the alley to weep. Sashami didn't get it. She'd seen Melissandra kill before, so it couldn't be that she--as Sashami suspected Rissa was--was shaken by it. It had just been a gargoyle anyway. "There's no reason to be upset," she tried, wheezing a bit herself from the exertion of following. "You fought most honorably."

"You just don't understand," sobbed Melissandra, disheveled.

"No," Sashami admitted. "I don't. Where I come from, battle prowess is a source of much pride. You single-handedly defeated that monster and successfully protected your friends from harm. Why do you act as if you did something shameful? Everything I know says you should be proud of yourself... but it doesn't seem that you are."



Name: Alyssa Gulledge and Laura Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Melissandra and Sashami
Title of Post: The Lady and the Tiger

Melissandra sniffled. She took a deep breath and sighed. "It's a troll thing. Trolls have the strength of the earth, and the needs of a wild animal. And more. They are cruel and bloodthirsty. This is not a cultural thing either. It comes with the blood." She stopped, and sniffled again. "The blood that I have in me."

Sashami looked at her. "I am not sure that I understand. You have utilized the warrior spirit you inherited, and you did so in a honorable and skillful way. Why are you grieved by this?"

Melissandra looked down at her hands, a tear beginning to trickle down one cheek as another one welled in her eye. "I had to become a troll. I had to let the earth, and the rage, and the cruelty take over. I had to shed all hints of propriety, of civilization, of humanity. I had to forget friendships, and loyalty and honor. I had to become a mindless monster." Her tears started flowing freely now as she looked Sashami in the eyes, and her voice cracked as she continued. "Everyday, I have to remember that I am a proper young lady in the human world. I go to great lengths to show it, live it and BE it. It comes naturally to Rissa and Thalia, and yourself--"

"Me?" Sashami made a startled laugh, shaken out of her intent listening. "No... no, I'm not really the same social class, Melissandra. I truly am trying to understand, though."

"I spent all week," Melissandra whispered through her tears, "the whole time I have been here in the city, fighting to prove that I was NOT a monster. I have spent my whole life fighting to prove that I could be and AM a lady. And just now, I lost that fight. I have proven all those awful city folk to be right, and even Uncle ThrAAAggghhrrrr'ck when he said that I was just a troll in a slightly human skin. Well, not in words exactly but that is what his screams and growls meant." Melissandra buried her face in her clawed hands, shaking as she wept. "I tried so hard to be a lady. But I failed. I'm nothing but a troll."

Sashami thought about that for a little while, her brow furrowed. "These breakdowns you speak of," she said, "they're an internal thing? You feel a monstrous rage, but it doesn't cause you to do anything reprehensible--slay innocents, betray your friends, or the like?" Melissandra shook her head, shuddering. "Then it's a lapse of emotional control, but not of your behavior? Because I don't know about noblewomen, exactly, but that's not all that uncommon among humans either. Particularly not for younger warriors such as we are. Of course it is better to stay calm and focused even in the heat of battle... but that ideal is one few live up to without years of effort and training."

"It's more than that," said Melissandra, sniffling. "I... summoned it. I embraced it."

"You didn't become a bad person," Sashami pointed out. "You didn't sacrifice onlookers to your goals. You didn't abandon your friends. If your blood makes that more of a struggle for you... then you're that much more to be commended for keeping to the honorable path. I don't think it's anyone else's business if you think like a monster sometimes. If you don't act like one, then you deserve our respect."

Melissandra finally met Sashami's eyes. She let out a soul-weary sigh. "I guess so. It goes against everything my mother taught me, but it goes with my blood. If you say that it is ok to BE a troll sometimes, I believe you. Just so long as I don't ACT like a troll, right?"

"Yes," Sashami said firmly. "If you act with honor, then the source of your strength is not to be shunned."

Melissandra stood up, and brushed off her dress. She ran her fingers through her hair, straightening her disarrayed plaits. She took a deep breath, adjusted her posture and smiled towards the rest of the city. "It might be ok to be a troll sometimes, but that will not stop me from always being a lady." She gave a nervous sideways glance to Sashami "Right?"

Sashami held her smile back, "Always a lady, Melissandra." As Melissandra regained her smile, and began to walk back to their hotel, Sashami did smile, "Always an unusual lady..."



Name: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Alexe, Moe and Joe
Title of Post: Before We Escape

Alexke pulled Alderon down behind the desk. She put her arm around his waist to pull him out of the plane. Prudence said leave now but the risk was worth finding out something new. Especially if it helped find Chloe.

She noticed how well built Alderon was while she should have been preparing. And she realized Jimmy was more fun to spy with.

"I can't blame Ebbers," someone entering the room said. "Those kids are too nosy. They shouldn't be running around unsupervised like that."

"We can get Blackbird again," a second man said.

"That would bring too much attention," the first corrected. "Besides one of them's been name dropping heavy names. We're just gonna have to tear the place down fast."

"Yeah. Want a drink?"

One of them approached the desk. Alexke yanked Alderon closer and pulled them both away.



Name: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Alderon
Title of Post: Always Focus on the Important Things

Alderon had just picked up what looked like a promising document when he heard the two venture capital dorks coming. He was waffling between fight and flight when Alexke made the decision for him, wrapping her arms around his chest and yanking him down behind the desk.

Now, if he was to have his 'druthers, and was to be bear-hugged and wrestled to the floor by one of the female Silver Bullets, Alderon would have preferred it to have been Rissa or Thalia. Sashami would've been cool, too. Alexke, on the other hand... well geez, she was barely into her teens. He was almost old enough to be her father!

Still, better her than Chloe - who was a dear friend and a babe, to be sure, but Alderon was a follower of the Guy Code, and wouldn't want to be doing anything improper with a pal's girlfriend. (Plus Berryn probably would have have punched him in the face.) And as for Melissandra... He liked the half-troll debutante, and she was a good lady to have on your side in a fight, but not much of a looker - and in hugging someone she'd probably give them cracked ribs.

So the whole situation could be called a push. At least, that's what he thought before he saw where Alexke had taken them.

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