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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: November 2003

Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Rissa, Berryn, Sashami, and other assorted Silver Bullets
Title of Post: In the Society of Science (You're welcome, Jonah)

As promised, Tyler's connections had gotten the Silver Bullets into the Edimon Society of Science. It was a small complex of buildings in the castle district, and it gave Rissa the general impression of a cross between a university, a secret society, and a country club. Ye gods, I haven't been in a place this snooty since Duke Eric and Lady Shannon's wedding reception when I was six years old...! The Society lounge was wood-panelled, crammed with brown leather furniture, obscured by a thin haze of cigar smoke (none of the Cynystran scientists smoked like this), and festooned in a seemingly random array of geodes, animal bones, priceless artifacts from far-off places, and carelessly dog-eared journals with broken spines. There were spittoons. Rissa was simultaneously fascinated and a little appalled.

"Can I help you with something?" yawned a supercilious elf in rather foppish-looking Liratyni clothes.

Okay, so maybe I never fit in at the high society functions Mother brought me to; academic posturing I should be able to handle! "Rissa Minarye," she said coolly, without extending her hand. "I'm a student of Dr. Theodorus Hayak, at the University of Najika." No reason to point out she was a summer student, rather than a scholar at the university. No one could ever place a half-elf's age that accurately. "I'm here to consult with Dr. Senna. I've been told she's an expert on the Hanchu Peninsula."

The elf blinked. "Well, let me see if she's in," he said. He gestured at Sashami and Melissandra. "Do you think you might ask your bodyguards to wait outside?"

Oh, dear. Rissa snuck a look at her compatriots. Luckily neither seemed offended by that relatively benign misassumption. Good thing they hadn't mistaken Melissandra for a genetic experiment or something! "They're not bodyguards," she murmured. "They're part of my team."

"Oh!" said the elf. "You're on an expedition, then?"

"That's right," Rissa seized on it. "To Hanchu."

"Naturally. Well, Senna will only be wanting to meet with the researchers, of course, but the rest of you can make yourselves at home here in the lounge. Some of the chaps are always interested in hearing about world travels. Hold on and I'll go have a look for her." He ambled off through one of the back exits.

"Is there anything you don't know how to do?" whispered Jimmy to Rissa, with a grin.

Rissa blushed.

***

"Berryn?" said a young man in a smoking jacket, doing a double take.

"Sylvan? What are you doing here?"

"I live in Dalencia. What are you doing here?"

"It's a long, long story," he sighed.

"Luthien Greyspear's apprentice," Sylvan explained to a couple of his mates. "We knew each other back when Luthien and Aloreth were in SPECTRAL together."

"Luthien the necromancer?" said a woman with an unblinking stare and a hard line of a mouth. "Wow. What's he like to work for?"

"Well, I could tell you stories..." Berryn began.

***

Tyler and Rissa followed the elven scientist up the spiral stairs of the Society tower, trying not to seem too winded by the long climb. The elf opened the door and showed them in, but they both froze in the doorframe for a few seconds, because seated behind the desk was the single most beautiful woman either of them had ever seen before. She had long, flowing auburn hair in perfect waves, secured by a single silver circlet; her eyes were large and limpid, her complexion perfect, her slim form encased in a purple velvet dress. Ty stood frozen a few moments longer than Rissa, who reflexively tried to smooth her flyaway hair. It's not fair. Even the scientists on Ataniel are drop-dead gorgeous. "Are you... Ellen Senna?" Ty finally recovered.

"I? No, my name is Margot Larris... I'm one of Senna's students." Her voice was melodious and low. "I hear you're traveling to the Hanchu peninsula?"

"You wouldn't be interested in, you know, guiding us there, would you?" Ty said a little too hopefully.

"I've never been there before," she said in dulcet tones, "so I wouldn't be much use. I've contacted Senna, though, and she's definitely interested in the journey. She's one of the premier anthropologists on Ataniel and one of three I know of who've done extensive work on Hanchu. She's currently in Shanghai, but she's willing to meet you in Bisak... that's the closest Shikinti city to the isthmus that connects Hanchu to the mainland. The Trade Carriage will take you that far, but from there I'm afraid it'll be overland. She's told me to warn you the isthmus can get quite cold. If you like I can wire her to tell her to meet you there?"

"We'd appreciate that," Rissa said, painfully aware of the non-movie-star quality of her voice.

***

Sashami sat quietly, her thoughts far away. She wished Anna were here. For most of their childhood all the two had talked about was becoming pledge sisters, but as Anna hit puberty and the boys started going crazy over her, her interest in war had waned. She was married to a neighboring lord's son, now, and probably had a child already. Sashami was on her own.

She had already decided that there was nothing she could do about a true betrayal, save for keeping vigilant herself. If the Silver Bullet with the dangerous secret meant the group no ill, however -- as Sashami felt in her heart must be the case -- then perhaps she needed to put herself in a position where they would be comfortable confiding in her, asking her for help. Sashami was naturally slow to make friends; she'd known Berryn, Jason and Thalia for six months now, and still didn't know them all that well. Perhaps what the marten was trying to tell her was that she needed to be more extroverted with her new friends if she was to stop their secrets from bringing them to harm. She'd had a good talk with Rissa the night before, felt she knew the bard better already. Maybe she should ask Jason what had happened to his lover, the one he mourned so. Maybe she should try to find out what was bothering Thalia about Michael. It was not in Sashami's nature to intrude on such private matters, but sometimes people wanted to be intruded upon, and if she went on at her own pace then by the time the person destined for trouble needed help, she might not be close enough to them to give it. She would have to be proactive. She had never really sat down and talked to most of her teammates at all, really.

Sashami got up determinedly and walked over to Jimmy, who was examining the skeleton of a centaur with a certain awe. She knew little about him; he was from the rural north of Cynystra and had a criminal background. He seemed nervous around her most of the time. Perhaps he thought she was going to take him to task for his past. She should try to seem less intimidating. It was a longtime character flaw. "Strange place, don't you think?" she said.

"You can say that again. Do you think that thing's real or, you know, jackaloped together?"

Sashami didn't know what 'jackaloped' meant. "I think it's real," she said. "There are centaurs living in the hills of Tharr, and they look much like that." She studied the bones uneasily. "They are intelligent creatures, if a bit wild. Should their corpses really be on public display?"

Jimmy scratched his head. "Well, I guess it would depend on--"

The bones twitched, jittered a little, and then stepped down brokenly from the display stand, some strange fire burning to live in the skull's eye sockets. "The Messenger must not reach Hanchu," rattled its empty throat.

"What the hell?" said Jimmy, and then Sashami bodyblocked him out of the way as the centaur skeleton seized a Salagian spear off a nearby wall and tried to impale him on it.

"Incoming!" shouted Alderon, drawing his sword as a fossil T. Rex skull broke free of the wires suspending it from the ceiling and swooped down on him and Melissandra.



Author: Jonah "Oh, thank you Laura!" Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy + some bad bones
Title of Post: Wild Horses

The Society of Science was more along the lines of what Jimmy had expected for a 'risto kind of place... except that it was much weirder. Every nook and cranny seemed to hide something strange. Jimmy couldn't help but muse that probably no one would want to steal anything from the society - who would you sell any of it to? Other than the guys you'd ripped off in the first place?

After Rissa and Tyler had left to see the Hansolo expert, the rest of the group mulled about, checking out some of the collection. Jimmy was looking at a skeleton that was half human, half horse, wondering if it could possibly be real. Then, to his surprise, Sashami came over and started talking to him.

He'd gotten the impression that the teen warrior didn't really like him, and spent more than a little time trying to figure out how to change that. But now, here she was, just talking. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe she just didn't truck much with thieves guilds, or assasins, or cities. She seemed to know what she was talking about with these 'centaur' things... maybe, like them, Sashami just felt more comfortable in her own element. Somewhere that was Wild.

The next thing he knew, the bones started moving and great-day-in-the-morning!, started talking, too. An enormous, monster skull with teeth like serrated steak knives swooped down at Alderon and Melissandra. "Now there's something you don't see every day," he mumbled. Sashami hit him with a pretty good cross-check.

Trying to protect me.

Jimmy had no idea how one was supposed to fight a piule of attacking horse bones. He foze for a split second, amazed that he was actuaqlly considering the issue: I'm being attacked by freakish, hybrid, talking horse bones. Sashami was wearily circling the skeleton, which reared up a little, menacingly. "You will not assist the Messenger!" it said in that creepy voice.

Jimmy knew a bit about horses, but would that be of any use here? The orange glow in the creature's eye sockets made it clear that this was no ordinary equine. Inspiration suddenly seized Jimmy.

Grabbing one of the dusty throw rugs, he moved up behind the skeleton - easy, with its full attention on the girl with the axe before it. Jumping up, he tossed the rug over the centaur's head, and wrapped his arms around its neck, holding the carpet in place.

Never would have been able to that if this thing had flesh on it he thought. He held on for dear life as the creature bucked and blindly tried to claw at him with its human digits.

"Horses are helpless if they break a leg!" he called out to Sashami, hoping that was good advice. Hoping that she could take out Nobody's Friend Flicka before he fell off and gor trampled.



Author: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Lord Charles Gresham, Alexke
Title of Post: A History of Science Education Pays Off

Charles Gresham wandered the back halls of the Society that morning looking into archive and artifact rooms that had no interest to his peers. They thought him eccentric - anything before the last few years of modern sentient history was taboo. Precisely because of this he found the quiet he wanted in those parts of the building for reflection. There was much in his past to reflect on.

Occasionally he would find a visiting researcher, either a student finding a topic to make a name with or someone closer to his age looking back over their own disregarded work. He only ever saw the students once. The invariably found something that disturbed them from a few years ago or that the topic would limit their careers. Sometimes he would stop in to talk to them, but more often not.

Finding a teenage girl down here was a surprise. She was studying a map of Dalencia and looking puzzled.

"Hello, miss." He startled her, she jumped slightly in her seat.

"Oh... hello." The girl replied. "I was just leaving."

"There's no need to rush. These aren't restricted items or any such thing." He couldn't place her accent and at least wanted to keep conversing with her until he could. Even if he couldn't, he hadn't had a student in years and anyone looking into the past should be encouraged. "You seemed like you had questions."

"Yes," she said slowly, as if she was deciding if she could trust him. "What is this area scratched off the parchment near Edimon?"

That was a question he was not prepared for. "Hmm... where are you from?"

"Da... Around."

"Hmm..." he inferred her real answer from her quick cover up. No one from Dalencia, no matter their age, would need to ask that question. Yet it was her first reaction. "That is the site of Trade." She shuddered a little. "It was scratched off the map shortly after the events that destroyed it. I can show you some artifacts if you like. I am Charles."

If he was a few decades younger, and she were male, the offer would have had additional intent. As it was he wanted to encourage her interest without disturbing her too much and satisfy his curiosity about her background.

"Uh, sure. Thank you. I'm Alexk--" Just then something crashed and they heard the call Incoming! from upstairs. "Oh, no." Alexke was out of her seat and running before he realized where the noises come from.



Author: Lora Redish, at Jonah's behest
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Margot (a minor NPC of mine from elsewhere, btw; use at will)
Title of Post: Meanwhile, in the ivory tower... "So what brings you to the land of Hanchu anyway?" Margot asked curiously. "It's not a region that sees a lot of study."

"We were investigating a mysterious untranslateable amulet I found in an archaeological dig in Cynystra," Rissa explained, "and then one of our friends got kidnapped. We're trying to rescue her and track down the amulet's origins."

"Do you mind if I have a look? Linguistics is my field of study."

"It sort of stuck to my neck when I put it on," Rissa said, and held the medallion up for the unnaturally beautiful scientist's inspection. "But it doesn't seem to be cursed, either."

"How odd," murmured Margot, bending in for a closer look. "That's certainly not an Ataniel script. Not Gilan, either. Perhaps it's interplanar. You've tried translation spells, I take it?" Rissa nodded. "Then I'm as much at a loss as Dr. Hayak. It's too bad you don't have a longer sample... it's hard to decipher anything from twenty words."

"You know, I have that scroll the old man at the bar was carrying," the young bard remembered, and rifled through her pack. "There isn't much written on that either, though. Here it is."

Margot glanced at it. "That's not the same script."

"It... isn't?"

"No, definitely not. I'm not sure it's an alphabet at all, really." She held the scroll up to the light, squinting at it to see if there were hidden lines connecting some of the printed ones. Jimmy had done the same thing, when Rissa showed it to him. "See how the runes on your amulet all have about the same ratio of width to height, and some of them are repeated more than once? The marks on this scroll are just bent lines of varying length. It's an easy mistake to make," she added, suddenly realizing the younger scholar's pride might be wounded by her off-handed correction. "It takes years of study to recognize unfamiliar writing systems."

Rissa made a little puff of a sigh. "I guess I just jumped to conclusions," she admitted. "Comprehend Languages didn't work on the scroll, either."

"Something very odd about it," mused Margot, holding the vellum close to her face to squint at it.

Just then, there was a distant, thunderous crash and a cacophony of shouting from downstairs.

"Oh, dear," said Margot. "Why don't you two go down and see what's going on. I'm going to run a few tests on this scroll, if you don't mind. I'll let you know what I find."



Author: Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Melissandra, Alderon
Title of Post: Don't Talk With Your Mouth Full Melissandra saw Alderon go for his sword before she even heard him shout. She was drawing her sword, even as she looked up to where Alderon staring. She barely got her sword up in time, when the enormous skeleton with too many teeth descended on her. It shouted “No messenger!” as the great jaws opened wide. She was able to shatter most of the front teeth, but wasn’t quite fast enough to get away as they snapped down.

Alderon hacked at the nearest structure of the beast, but his sword slid off of the ribcage. A muffled clanging noise sounded as the jawbones grabbed Melissandra at the bottom edge of her breastplate. With an even swifter movement, the monstrous skeleton tossed its head back, flinging Melissandra up into the air and snatching her entire form into its mouth. This, it found out, was a mistake.

“Melissandra, are you ok?”

The trollish woman with her armor weighed considerably more that it could hold. Its head began to descend towards the floor. With a mouthful of troll, all it could sat was a mumbled “mo me-en-er.” Melissandra, rather miffed at being eaten, pushed her sword arm out of the things ear openings, and began striking at the joint between the skull and the spine.

“Why yes, Alderon. I am doing just fine. Thank you for asking.”

Alderon was unsure if this was sarcastic or not. However, considering that sarcasm was probably impolite, and that Melissandra could probably eventually defeat this thing herself, her comment probably meant that actually she was just fine. Or so he hoped. He took a moment to glance at the other two, and saw Sashami striking the centaurs legs. He took the hint and began working on the back leg of the monster. The bones were too thick to break, although he tried. Then he tried swinging at the knee joint, but the monster was shifting its weight too much to aim well. Finally, he drove the point of his sword into the joint itself. He pulled down with all of his weight, levering the thighbone right out of alignment.

Melissandra was making headway. She had chipped away a large amount of bone away at the base of the skull. She very nearly had the head severed.

The monster, struggling with its meal had been ignoring the irritant at its hind leg. Once again it mumbled “mo me-en-er.” Suddenly, with a loud pop, it felt its leg give way, and it began to fall. Alderon got out of the way in time – mostly. He ran forward, but the falling monster didn’t topple as he expected, but simply collapsed straight down. Alderon ended up trapped inside the ribcage. The concussive shock snapped the head free of the spine where Melissandra had been hitting it. The skull spun off into a corner. With a strange creaking noise, the rest of the joints fell free, leaving a jumbled pile of bones.

Melissandra, still trapped within the skull, peered out towards Alderon, still trapped within the ribcage.

“Alderon, are you alright”

“Yes, I am fine, but a little inconvenienced at the moment.”

“Yes, I have a similar situation. Are Sashami and Jimmy alright?”

“Well Jimmy seems to be riding the centaur-skeleton with a rug over it’s head, and Sashami has broken a back leg. It’s still up, but they look like they are doing just fine.”

“That is good. When they are done - and you are sure that they are ok - Do you think you could get their attention? I am feeling a little confined, and I don’t seem to be able to get my arm out of this ear hole. A little help would be appreciated…”



Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami
Title of Post: Trilobitten Sashami circled the centaur skeleton, her greataxe at the ready. She'd never faced an opponent like this, and didn't know exactly how to go about it. There wasn't anything holding the bones together, per se. So how would she go about breaking them apart?

Jimmy was doing a credible job staying on the centaur's back. That was consistent with the roping she'd seen the young thief put on that winged bandit on the way to Edimon--he must have experience with animals. Unfortunately, though covering its head did seem to annoy the creature, it didn't really have eyes to speak of anyway and its spear thrusts were still aimed quite well. Sashami blocked one off with the stout heft of her poleaxe and sent the blade whistling cleanly between two of the monster's leg bones.

Unfortunately, as Sashami had feared, the bones carried on doing just what they were doing, that being trying to buck Jimmy and trying to skewer her. How did you sever what wasn't really attached in the first place? In her peripheral vision she could see Melissandra battling the much larger dinosaur, but if she stopped to take notes she'd be dead meat. Sashami lunged around behind the skeleton instead, a new idea forming. It went up on its front legs like a pissed-off donkey and kicked her, but the sharp hooves battered off her scale mail, and Sashami managed to keep her footing; slashed the leg in two at the knee, seized the forelock, and ran with it. She could feel the bone tugging in her hand, trying to reunite itself with the other bones, but Sashami was stronger than it was.

She ducked around Berryn, Sylvan and the dour-looking woman, who were busy trying to fend off a small flock of dive-bombing trilobytes, and threw the leg bone into the fire. It caught quickly, as dried bones were wont to. She turned her head to look for the rest of the skeleton--ill-balanced on three legs, it had apparently collapsed under Jimmy's weight, and lay in a pathetic heap Sashami had the irrational urge to bury with some semblance of dignity somewhere. Jimmy didn't seem much the worse for wear, helping Alderon try to break Melissandra out of the giant skull she'd gotten wedged in. Good and well. Another opponent defeated, her allies safe.

Sashami rolled back on her heel and took a swat at the nearest ricocheting trilobyte with her greataxe.



Go on to the November Archives, Part 2

'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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