Name: Jonah Cohen, Laura Redish, Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: The (belated) Ask Dr. Swank Show!
Character(s): Dr. Swank, Melissandra, an irate computer user, the creature commandoids
Title of Post: Of Mice and Very Old Men
"And so," Dr. Swank concluded, "while this ancient skull is a stupendous discovery, revealing much about human evolution, I have decided to bury it in a place where it will not be found until the leader of the free world is a complete imbecile."
"Come on, doc!" an audience member protested. "What are the odds of that happening?"
"Believe it or not, my calculations show trouble potentially arising on a peninsula. And I ain't talking about the Hanchu peninsula."
"Hanchu? He was Kerouac's favorite character in the whole series!"
"I thought it was super-lame when they had Greedo shoot first," Kong opined.
"Yes, doctor," said a put-upon woman in a Steelers t-shirt. "I've been having trouble with my computer."
"Take a number, lady."
"This is a rather unusual problem. It seems a virus kacked my computer's mouse of all things. I know a virus can mess with software, but how can it screw with hardware like the mouse?"
"Allow me to consult my Palm pilot," Dr. Swank said, looking at his hand. "Well, assuming it really wasn't a hardware problem, like the chips in your mouse or hard drive..."
"Chips in a mouse?" Slug said, astonished. "I thought Kerouac was the one who ate all the Pringles! But it was really a mouse? Geez, I'm sorry I put toilet water in your beer, Ker."
Dr. Swank made a note on his Palm pilot: After show, beat minions. Severely. "Anyway, it's possible that the virus affected the driver software that lets your mouse communicate with the rest of the computer. What OS are you using?"
"Not bad, though I prefer Geryon. In any case, you can avoid such problems in the future by using my new invention: The Rat. Like the mouse, but bigger and better. On sale now in the tavern lobby!"
"Er, thanks, Dr. Swank. I think."
A half-troll woman in a Versace evening gown arose. "Dr. Swank, I'm interested in xenobehavior. I'm aware that, well, birds do it. And bees do it. It's the part about the educated fleas do it that confuses me. Is this something they really need to be taught? Where do the fleas get so educated? Can you enlighten me?"
"But of course, young lady. First of all, fleas do not 'do it', to use your term for sexual reproduction."
"But, there seem to be so many of them! However do they reproduce?"
"The secret is in their aforementioned education. They reproduce by cloning. Fleas truly are the most educated of the invertebrates. As to where they get this level of education: they go to the Johns Hopkins University. Those guys'll let anybody in."
"I see. Thank you, Dr. Swank."
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."
Name: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Solely For Laura
Character(s): Kyria Vesper & Friend
Title of Post: To Everything a Season (and a Salary Cap)
"I can't believe you're really leaving."
"It was time."
"But the fans there are crazy idiots. And the turf on that field? They may as well play on a volcanic crater."
"No argument on the turf thing. But we had cap issues here, and Ahman's proven he deserves to be the man. Besides I've got good odds of seeing more playing time, what with Duce's injury history. And this McNabb kid's got moxy."
"I guess so. And they do hate Dallas there," the Sunfighter said, cheering up a little bit. "Make sure you write, Dorsey."
Name: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Alexke and the police
Title of Post: Interrogation, Part I
"Alexke," the girl answered.
"Full name," Officer Taylor stressed the first word.
"That is my full name."
The officer looked to Detective Brock, who just nodded.
"Where are you from?"
The officer looked frustrated. The girl spoke with a heavy accent and could not be from around here. "What town?"
"Kalemon" Alexke held her composure. This guy was nothing compared to the questioning she got when she snuck out, or when her mother's assistants wanted to know what their colleagues were doing.
"And your parents?"
"Since Bane came."
Officer Taylor winced. Most people called it The Madness, if they called it anything. With too much bitterness he spat, "Have some manners punk."
"Well, Alexke," the detective started, "as I see it you're the perfect suspect. You carry the right type of knife, which is suspiciously clean. You claim to be yet another orphan from an abandoned town. Obviously one of the teenagers who have been running wild for the last five years." The papers had been full of the stories. Citizens wanted someone to blame, a face to attatch to their anger. Detective Brock knew he had the face. He leaned in close. "Tell us how you killed Zachary Gold and why."
Detective Brock waited a moment and lied. "No one ever tells us the first time. Continue with your questioning Officer Taylor. I'm going to talk to the others, starting with the Cynystran girl."
Name: Alyssa Gulledge (with assorted approval)
Plotline: Shape of Things
Character(s): Rhynwa, Heart, Carter, Akron, NPCs
Title of Post: Rallying the troops
Rhynwa sighed. "OK guys, we need to stop drinking the water, as well as stop foraging AND eating anything fresh. We can only safely eat dried fruits and veges since they will be older than the contamination. More disturbingly, no bathing either."
"Hold yer breath, Toots...er...Rinnie. Ain't nothing in da world like a ripe goblin. Not dat we bathe DAT often, but I am coming due soon."
"Yes, Akron, we know. Indeed, we know. However, just the limited exposure over the past few days might affect us a little, and we don't know how much it takes to be contaminated. Heck, sleeping on the grass could be a problem. On the other hand, we haven't become walking turf mounds yet, so we should be at least humanoid for a while. On the third hand... we don't know if this is permanent. We are nominally heroes, but this is not what heroes normally face. If you don't want to gain a strange and potentially permanent disability with perhaps little to no hope of success, you should go back to the Mithril Dagger and await the next group." Rhynwa looked at her teammates with a wry smile.
Heart said "If I were afraid of magic, I would hardly have come to the Mithril Dagger seeking it out," and smiled.
Carter looked up and said "I am still in. This isn't what I was expecting, but heroes have to be ready for anything, right? I am a hero."
Akron piped up "Yer just tryin to get rid of me, ain'tcha Rinnie? It won't work. I'm braver den ya tink, and tougher too. I'm stayin!"
As Rhynwa, stuttered out "No, Akron! I'm not trying..." he gave her a huge stage wink, and Rhynwa relaxed.
"Well, guys. My only suggestion at the moment is that we travel upstream and try to find out where the tainted water begins. Probably, the source will be there. Now what it is or how we identify it, no idea. But maybe this will do it."
Carter looked around at the people shaped like barstools, clothes, walls and tables. "We have to help these people! We can't just run off."
Heart looked around the room and back at Carter. "I think that if this toxin is in the water, it must be spreading. It will seep into the land and affect everything and everyone. We will save more people if we stop the contamination now, than try to help individual towns."
Akron chimed in "Yeah, we gotta save da people. How else am I gonna get a decent beer dat won't turn me into somethin' I ain't?"