Table of Contents
The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: December 2003
Name: Jonah Cohen
City Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy, Ekrit
Title of Post: Exhuming McCarthy
Sent: 9.27 pm - 12/4
Cynystra, some time ago...
"So what's the word?" Corrado Dilaurentis said, uncharacteristically nervous.
"I have it," Alexander Raymond said, characteristically nonchalant. "It required an unfortunate toll in blood, but I have it."
"Unfortunate? What do you mean?"
"Unfortunate for those who got in my way."
"Heh. I'll tell you what's unfortunate. If this had happened six months ago, we could have made this play on Ekrit and gotten a really big payoff. As is, we may have to wait a year or two."
"Still, once we turn this over to the authorities, he's out, we're off the hook on this regrettable incident, and eventually profits will follow. I saw McCarthy, by the by."
"Really. What was the unlucky s.o.b. like?"
"As bad as they were saying. It was fascinating, really. His brain was like a moldy sponge."
"Not like he had used it all that much anyway."
* * * * *
Jimmy was still reeling, trying to figure out what this meant, trying desperately to figure out a way out of this mess. What would Mary do? Trying not to panic about whether the rest of the Silver Bullets were still alive. Or whether they really thought he was in on this shitstorm.
"Do you believe in fate, boy?" Ekrit said.
"Fate. Destiny. That our lives are ruled by invisible forces, shaping the events that effect us in ways we can neither control nor comprehend. Do you believe that?"
"Can't say I do." Keep this bozo talking.
"I do. I most definitely do. You see, it's a series of amazing coincidences that have brought the two of us here, to this room right now. Far too many to be mere chance. Do you know what they called your father, in his less official business capacity?"
"Dead Meat Dilaurentis," Jimmy muttered.
"That's right. It was purely by chance - or rather fate, as I now prefer to see it - that caused he and I to cross paths and enter into a partnership, those many years ago. It was fate that led a minor deal to fall through, causing your father to try an ill-advised penny-pinching tactic. Do you know what happens to those who feed upon their own kind, to cannibals?"
"Again I'll have to say no."
"It can be a blight, something that marks one with an evil taint. Even animals. Say, for example, cows that dine on feed made from their own kind. And if humans then eat the meat from one of those cows... the results can be grotesque."
"I'll make a note not to do that. I don't see what it's got to do with me, though."
"When the results of this accidental occurence came to light, when the bullshit hit the fan, if you will, the authorities came looking. Your father hadn't planned to screw me over. That was the part that confused me at the time. You see, had he wanted to do so, he had a chance to do so, and far more profitably, some time earlier. No, he just needed a convenient scapegoat to cover his own ass. And with a little evidence planting, it seems that the local wizard would do. I didn't learn this until later. I was lucky to escape. I think I might still be on the most wanted list back home. And so I came here. I dreamed of revenge, but had no opportunity. Then this came into my possession."
Ekrit held up what looked to Jimmy like just an old book. Rissa probably would have found it fascinating. Oh God, what if she's not alright?
"But this, too, seemed like it would be of no use to me. Its magics are very specific, its requirements quite precise. I had no illusions about obtaining them. I was ready to sell it to the highest bidder, and I'd have gotten an excellent price indeed. Then, out of the blue... who should come to Hanaman but you. By some path no doubt as long and complicated as my own. Really now, could all this be the work of chance?"
"Look, I know my old man's a prick, and I'm sorry he screwed you over. You wanna do something about that, cheerio. If you just let me and my friends leave, I promise we won't do anything to stop you."
"Stop me? Quite to the contrary, young Dilaurentis. You're going to help me."
Name: Kristin L'Kar Andersen
City Coming of Age
Title of Post: Rising Above It... or Is That Flying?
Sent: 10.49 am - 12/5
Rissa looked down into the pit, staring at the green goop in horrified shock. That just nearly ate Jason. Oh my gods. The near miss was as good as having a pail of cold water dumped over her head. She closed her eyes and took a deep, slow breath, tightening every muscle from the ground up as she inhaled, then forcing each one to relax as she exhaled-- as if the shell of her skin had filled with the tide, and when it withdrew, all of her tension and agitation were swept away with it.
When she opened her eyes again, she was much calmer... although a faint blush hinted at her embarrassment over letting her friends down by flipping out. The fact that truly awful things would happen if someone read the book suddenly seemed less important next to the fact that one or more of her teammates could get killed in the next five minutes.
"I second the not-splitting-up vote," Rissa said firmly. "Aunt Khyrisse told me that things go straight into the dustbin when you split up." The Cynystran bard eyed the gap in the floor. "And I hate to bring this up, but Locate Object only lasts so long. We need to be more careful, and we need to be quiet-- but we also need to hurry if we're going to find Jimmy and our gear."
She looked around questioningly as she walked over to Melissandra. "Should we put the more sharp-eyed and stealthy people in front? That way we can avoid finding traps and guards by bumping into them." She hesitated, studying the members of her group. "I guess that would be me, Alderon, and Alexke... unless other people have some skills in that arena?" She aimed an inquisitive, almost amused look at Tyler for a moment, then continued more seriously, "I would stay in back-- and I will, if people think I should-- but I can also try to lull the guards to sleep from a distance."
Rissa held out both hands to Melissandra. While there were people in the Silver Bullets that she wasn't quite sure about, her trollish comrade-in-ladyhood had never been one of them. "I certainly can't jump that, but if you can get me across, Melissandra, I think I can land just fine," she said with an open, trusting smile. "Toss me."
Name: Lora Redish
City Coming of Age: Sins of the Father
Character(s): Sashami and the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Air Melissandra
Sent: 12.06 pm - 12/5
"I really see no reason to assume Jimmy would be imprisoned in the same place as our belongings," Sashami pointed out. Unless he were dead, of course, but Sashami didn't want to think about that. "We'll have to recover them before Rissa's spell runs out, and then try to think of some way to locate him. He may be in better straits than we, if he escaped from that gas trap... he is the stealthiest of the group, after all. Besides, if he is in need of rescue, we'd surely be more effective with our weapons."
"I--can't actually promise that our weapons are with my book, either," Rissa admitted ruefully. "I can only focus this spell on one object at once."
"Well, we'll find it all eventually." Adrenaline had helped focus Sashami's mind, too. "We also need to find out who captured us and why. Your suggestion about marching order is a sound one. I'm not used to dungeons, I guess." She took a running start and cleared the pit with room to spare, scrambling up quickly to make sure nothing else terrible was going to happen, like the walls closing on her or something. Nothing did. "All right, Melissandra... I'm ready if you are."
"Hey, d'you hear that?" said the younger of the two guards.
"Hear what?" said the older guard, dealing cards boredly.
"Kind of an irregular thumping sound. Sounds like a cyclops taking some target practice or something."
"Well, who knows what kinda weird monster the boss might've put down here this week," sighed the older guard, picking up his hand and surveying it.
Rissa and Alderon were as light on their feet as they promised, and with Alexke the main problem was catching her before she hit the ceiling. The girl couldn't have weighed more than ninety pounds. Jason and Thalia were no problem. Tyler's glasses fell off, but Rissa managed to snatch them out of the air before they could shatter on anything. Berryn landed harder than the others, his shoulder thumping hard into the wall. Melissandra's breastplate made it over okay, though it knocked Sashami over as she tried to catch it. It was unbelievable how strong the troll warrior was. Alderon's mithril mail landed and skidded, throwing up a couple of tiny sparks. It was Sashami's armor, unfortunately, that took a bad bounce off of Alderon's outstretched arms and went caroming down into the green slime with a plop and a fizz. Sashami sighed. Her bad luck, she assumed, for succumbing to claustrophobia and stress earlier. "Don't worry about it," she said resignedly. "It's just scale mail, I can buy a new one anywhere."
Melissandra looked relieved, and bounded over the pit in one oddly dainty leap, without taking a running start or anything. "I am so terribly sorry, Sashami..."
"Nah, it was my fault," said Alderon. "That was cool, Melissandra, really. Like being in the circus or something."
"Uh, guys," Alexke said, pointing at Rissa. Pointing to the wall just behind Rissa, actually. The bard turned her head and jumped just about out of her skin; there was a human skeleton manacled to the wall about four inches away from her face, pieces of skin and ligament still sticking to it. "That, uh... that wasn't Jimmy, is it?" said Alexke, her voice uncharacteristically worried.
"No, that's a female specimen," Berryn said reassuringly. "Pelvic bones are built a little differently." He pointed his fork at the skeleton's groin instructionally. "See?"
Rissa did, actually, but a rack-and-wire skeleton in an anatomy workshop was proving to be an entirely different matter from a human corpse chained to a dungeon wall. She put her hand to her racing heart, keeping calm by force of will. "Well, we... we'd better get going then," she managed, in only slightly shaky tones.
"Lemme give her some last rites first." Berryn reached into his inside jacket pocket and sighed. "Dammit, I forgot. No holy water. This equipmentless thing sucks."
"Rissa's spell has a time duration, remember?" Alderon reminded everyone impatiently.
"Dear Arawn, welcome this lost soul to you in the bosom of death." The apprentice necromancer glared at his friend in annoyance. "Amen."
"Beautiful. Come on guys, let's blow."
Name: Kristin L'Kar Andersen
City Coming of Age
Character(s): Rissa, Alderon, Alexke
Title of Post: Please Do Not Shoot the Overeducated and Impractical Bard
Sent: 9.43 pm - 12/5
Rissa walked quietly down the corridor behind Alderon and Alexke. The back of her neck was still crawling from seeing that chained up corpse, and she tossed her head sharply, trying to shake the memory off.
Alexke peered around a bend in the hallway up ahead, then came back to Rissa and Alderon. "Come take a look at this," she whispered. "The hallway just sort of ends."
Rissa crept forward and peeked around the corner. The corridor took a sharp turn, and then seemed to end at the threshold of a very large, oddly shaped room.
"Is it safe?" she whispered to the others, after a long pause in which she strained every sense she had at the shadowy doorway.
"I don't hear anything in there," Alderon offered under his breath.
"Alexke?" Rissa looked hopefully at the planeblazer.
She shrugged. "It's more of that stone that I can't force my way through, but other than that, I don't sense anything wrong with it."
"Well, it's either this or go back over the green goop," Rissa sighed, and tiptoed towards the doorway.
The chamber was empty. A whole big lot of empty.
The cavernous room that the corridor emptied out into was in the shape of a pentagon, with a large column placed at each point. The bottom of the pentagon was the side that they came in on-- a rather blocky opening like an unrounded archway, with no doorframe or ornamentation. The columns were set close to the junctures of the walls, making it impossible to see into the shadows behind them, and each column bore a detailed carving of a dragon.
"Do you think there might be exits behind the pillars?" she whispered to Alderon, who had come up behind her and was now peering over her shoulder. "Should we go in?"
"Only one way to find out," he said, grinning, and stepped into the room. Nothing happened. Rissa breathed an audible sigh of relief, and he chuckled, stepping back out again. "I'll tell the others to come on ahead. Just don't wave that amulet at anything."
Rissa puffed at him with indignant amusement and went in, making her way around the room to study the carvings.
The pillar to the left of the entrance was graced with a rather whimsical creature, spiraling smoothly and skillfully around its pillar, looking back at her with an almost compassionate air. The pillar to the right of the entrance was decorated with a creature jarringly different from its neighbor; the dragon glowered arrogantly at her, its gaze piercing and relentless, its claws and scales and tail stabbing at the air in sharp spikes.
Halfway into the room, on the left, the third dragon peered at her with respectful but intense curiosity, coiling around its pillar in a complex knotwork of smoothed angles. Its counterpart across from it was a much more straightforward sort of creature, its gaze calm and direct and without hostility, its body scrolling up the pillar in heavy, precisely placed loops.
The final pillar at the far end of the room had a lithe, quick-looking creature winding up it, glaring at her with a blatant challenge in its eyes. The fifth dragon was undeniably a thing of beauty, with long, curving spines, but it looked as if it were terminally short on patience.
Each dragon's eyes were of a gemstone of some kind, but whatever their colors may have been, they had all peculiarly faded to an identical ashen grey. Each dragon's mouth was open and set at about lantern height, as if they were meant to hold something.
None of the pillars had exits behind them. Frowning, Rissa turned to the others. The party was milling about, investigating the almost starkly empty room, many of them looking as bemused as she felt. "I think we might have to go back," she said reluctantly. "Unless we can find a hidden exit or something, this looks like a dead end."
Unfortunately, as the last of the Silver Bullets stepped into the room, a thick stone wall crashed down from the ceiling and sealed off their only way out.
Name: Lora Redish
City Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami, Alderon, the Silver Bullets
Title of Post: This reminds me of playing a classic CRPG, somehow...
Sent: 11.45 pm - 12/5
"What the--" Berryn turned around and shoved at the giant stone slab that had sealed them in. It didn't budge. "Dammit!"
"We're trapped," Alexke sumemd up succinctly.
"Well, there must be another way out of here," Sashami pointed out, "or else Rissa's spell wouldn't have led us this way. Who's good at finding secret doors?"
"That would be me," said Alderon. "Which way are we supposed to be going, Rissa?"
"That way." Rissa pointed towards the northeast wall, between the impatient and calm dragons. "I--I hate to tell you this, though, but my spell duration just gave out."
"Well, no biggie, if we can get out of here we should be golden, right?" Alderon started scanning the wall.
Rissa was looking at one of the dragon statues, the curious one. "It--looks almost like its mouth is meant to hold something," she said aloud.
"What kind of something?"
"I don't know." She put her hand into its mouth tentatively. Nothing happened. "About the size of a fist."
"Or a human heart," offered Berryn. Pretty much the whole party stopped everything they were doing to turn around and look at him. "What? It's true. I wasn't suggesting anything."
"We don't have anything that would fit in there," Sashami said.
Alderon was casing the pillars now, looking for secret compartments that might be holding convenient fist-sized globes or something. No dice. "Well, what about those eye stone things?" he offered, taking out his bread knife. "Maybe if we could pop those out and put them into the mouths, something would happen."
"You think I'm gross, yet you think feeding dragons their own eyeballs is a good puzzle solution," said Berryn.
"Bite my ass." Alderon struggled with the knife, but the eye stones were in good and tight. The impatient dragon face seemed to be smirking at him. "Wait a second. Berryn, could you bring that light over here, please?"
The young necromancer complied, and Alderon squinted at the statue. No, he wasn't imagining it. "This is a jacinth," he said.
"I've never seen a gray jacinth before."
"I don't know what's wrong with it. It's smudged somehow." He scraped at the gem's surface with the knife edge. "And it's uncut, but trust me, it's a jacinth. I've been smuggling gems around the Montas Archipelago since I was about seven." He tapped the knife blade on the gem's surface. "Look."
Indeed, there was a reddish-orange gash where the knife had scraped the surface. "What does that mean," said Sashami flatly, choosing to once again ignore Alderon's glibness about his pirate past. She already knew he hadn't done half the things he liked to imply he had, much less anything genuinely despicable.
"Beats the hell out of me." He moved from statue to statue, scraping a little bit of the residue off of each. The whimsical dragon's eye was apparently made of white pearl, the calm one's of green jade, the curious one's of amber, and the arrogant one's of hematite. "Well, great, if we had some nice fist-shaped gobs of semi-precious stones on us we'd be set."
"There must be something else we can use, though," murmured Rissa, thinking. "Do you think it might help to match colors?"
Alderon obligingly took off his boot and crammed the toe into the black-eyed dragon's mouth. It looked even more pissed-off than before with a boot stuck in its mouth, but nothing useful happened. "That doesn't exactly fit," Berryn pointed out.
Alderon sighed. "Well, I'm out of ideas," he said frankly, and looked around the room. "Anyone else?"
Name: Jonah Cohen
City Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy, Ekrit, Wenro, Jason
Title of Post: Touch
Sent: 5.38 pm - 12/6
"Well," Jason said slowly. "There's five of these creatures. And there are five key terms in Kung Fu-Tzu's philosophy." He examinined the carvings. I suppose this one could be seen as Jen - that means benevolence. And that arrogant-looking one might represent Te, or power. But, uh... the rest don't quite seem to fit. Plus I've got no idea how that would correspond to the colors in the eyes. Or to how that helps us get out of here," he added.
* * * * *
"Uh, yeah. That's great," Jimmy said. "But just so's you know, I haven't seen the old man in over three years. And it ain't like he trusted me with the secrets of the biz or nothing."
"I'm sure you can be of some assistance, lad," Ekrit said. He opened his book.
"And while we're at it, my friends and me are in the middle of something kind of urgent. I'm sure we'd, you know, be happy to help you once we straighten that out. Clear yourself of this crap my father got you into. With which I had nothing to do, I'll reiterate." Ekrit was reading now, and in a strange-sounding language. Weirder than whatever it was Jimmy had heard babbled in Shikintu. It was about as foreign-sounding as the gibberish Alexke has mummbled that one time.
"Ow!" Jimmy said suddenly. Something had painfully knicked the back of his hand. That creepy s.o.b. who'd suckered the Silver Bullets had walked past him, just barely grazing him. Jimmy hadn't even seen the blade the guy had used.
"A thousand pardons," Wenro said. Ekrit smiled.
* * * * *
"Damnit," Corrado Dilaurentis muttered, looking around. Must have been a wasp that had stung his hand.
Name: Lora Redish
City Coming of Age: Sins of the Father
Character(s): Sashami and the Puzzled Ones
Title of Post: Too Bad The Silver Bullets Don't Have Google
Sent: 10.40 pm - 12/6
Sashami stood quietly. She had no skills that could possibly be of any use here. There was no shame in that; different people had different abilities, which was why it was well to have brothers-in-arms in the first place. Still, there was part of her that longed to reach the Hanchu peninsula, where her wilderness skills might finally be of benefit to the group. Sashami didn't like feeling like a freeloader.
"There's got to be a simple solution to this," Rissa was saying. "If we were locked up on one side of this room and our stuff on the other, then Wenro must have passed this way recently, and probably even goes back and forth regularly. The answer has to be something relatively straightforward."
"Maybe we have to do something to the statues in a certain order," Thalia suggested. "Alphabetical order of the names of the colors or gems in Shikinti, maybe?"
"Shikinti doesn't have alphabetical order," Jason said apologetically. "They use calligraphic characters for each word. There are a lot of complicated word games based on which characters sound the same as other ones, but there's no way I'm familiar enough with the language to figure anything like that out."
Alderon had moved on to checking the dragons' mouths for hinges, and as he poked the back of the aggressive-looking one with his knife it suddenly roared to life, its eyes glowing like two black coals. Sashami sprang up ready for an attack, and saw Melissandra on the other side of the room doing the same; but the dragon statuette didn't uncoil from the pillar it was perched on, or bite Alderon, or anything else. In fact, as he withdrew his hand in startlement, its eyes faded back to gray. "I must have--hit a trigger somehow," he said, clearly not sure what he'd done. "Let's see if I can find it ag--"
As soon as he put his hand with the knife into the dragon's mouth, its eyes lit up again. He took the knife out, experimentally; the eyes turned off. Put the knife back in and left it there, and the eyes stayed on. "Well," said Alderon. "I--guess it likes the knife." He looked at the statue in confusion. "So much for the colors. The knife isn't black."
"Hm," said Tyler, considering the set-up. "Well, there are five elements in traditional Shikinti mythology, rather than the four most of us are used to... fire, water, earth, metal, and wood, if memory serves, and each of them is associated with a color. Unfortunately for that otherwise rather elegant solution, black is not the color for metal. It's the color for water."
"Are you sure?" asked Thalia.
"I'm, uh, I'm afraid I'm positive, actually. I'm quite the competitor at Trivial Pursuit."
Berryn sighed. "Maybe we should switch the eyeballs around till everything matches?"
"The eyeballs don't come out," said Alderon.
"So we're back where we started."
"Well, not quite," Rissa offered. "I mean... at least we know the dragon mouths do something, now. We just need to figure out what it is."
Tyler frowned like there was something else he had tucked somewhere in the back recesses of his rather eclectic mind, but couldn't quite put his finger on it. Thalia and Rissa seemed to be thinking hard too. Sashami sighed, leaned back against one of the pillars, and hoped her teammates were better at this sort of thing than she was.
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