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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: November V

Author: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age: An Edimon Epilogue (for now)
Character(s): Det. Brock, Brubeck, Blackbird, Michael Dean, and Chloe Paris
Title of Post: Scary Monsters (and Super-Creeps)

Brubeck was taking a leisurely stroll home from the club when he noticed the man following him. He was unsure how long he had been followed, but suspected that it was long enough for this particular tail to have killed him. It was a rarity in both cases for Brubeck. Another rarity - he was not concerned about this. All he could do was tip his hat to the man's skill. "And a good evening to you," he said.

"And you. How was the music tonight?"

"Splendid. The monk is simply one of the most gifted performers I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. But I trust you're here on business? The boy made the delivery, and I gave him the papers you provided. He seemed pleased."

"Excellent," Blackbird replied.

* * * *

"Well," the DA said, "I have never in 20 years seen two perps fall all over each other so quickly and completely in an effort to finger each other. These boys aren't exactly Mensa candidates. You look troubled, detective."

Brock paused from sipping his coffee long enough to grunt.

"Are you still convinced that this teenager was involved?" the DA asked. "Because Ellis Lowe would have had a field day with us if we'd tried to challenge a Blood Signature in court."

"No, I'm 90% sure the girl is clean. It's just... Do you think these guys were on the level? About this 'Blackbird' character, some new assasin's guild setting up shop in town?"

"I don't know. Anything's possible, but it seems unlikely. Edimon hasn't seen an organization like that since the Sewer Tour shut down the previous version. Still, lowlifes like to tell stories about it. Most likely these two just hired some punk who decided to puff up his rep with a cheesy name and claims of representing some shadowy group. Our boys are dumb enough to fall for it."

"A cheesy punk wouldn't be able to get his hands on a Blood Signature."

"I suppose not. But look at it this way. We missed the hitman, this Ewens character, but the two assholes who hired him to kill an old man so they could make some coin are as good as convicted on Murder One. Two out of three, the case is on the board in black, detective. We've had worse days."

Brock said nothing. He was too busy worrying that his city had more bad days ahead of it.

* * * * *

Michael watched the team of young adventurers walk into the Society of Science. Watching Thalia mainly, but also the elf he was ostensibly going on the mission to protect. And Tyler frickin' Lord joinerd up with the group now. He couldn't decide if that was fitting, or absurd.

They should be safe in there, Michael thought, the only danger was that of death by boredom. A trip to the Hanchu peninsula would require a bit of specialized gear that he had to pick up, should only take a...

The call rock buzzed. Michael answered, and Blackbird's voice came on. "I trust all's going well?"

"Should be departing with a day, boss."

"Good. A heads-up for you: the heat is on one Mr. Ewens." Michael had suspected that this might happen. Thalia's bratpack was no doubt screaming the name to the cops.

"No problem," he said. He had prepared with alternate identification, and could get Brubeck to bury Ewens' identity when he returned.

"Have a nice trip."

* * * * *

Blackbird sat, analyzing his own actions.

Once Brubeck and his sources in the Edimon PD had informed him of the situation, he'd faced a decision. His new, weirdo, cloaked contractor wanted Rissa Minarye in the Hanchu Peninsula, but she wasn't going to leave town while one of her comrades was facing a homicide charge. He suspected that Mr. Weirdo was not the patient type, and might cause trouble if the elf-girl didn't set off soon. Blackbird feared few men in confrontation, and with good cause. Still, he'd had no opportunity to assess weirdo, and couldn't honestly say who would win. More to the point, he was certain that such a struggle would be highly detrimental to his nascent organization.

So the girl, Alexke, had to be cleared post haste. An aopportunity had fallen into Brubeck's lap, and Blackbird decided to take it. A Blood Signature was by no means inexpensive, but with the money he'd been paid for custody of Chloe Paris, it was pocket change. He'd solemnly gone to those moron Paramon brothers, gotten them to "grant their approval to the plan" (all part of his "customer service") and they had signed cheerfully. Idiots.

So now, the Hanchu job was on track. Repurcussions? Michael would have to sacrifice his 'Mitchel Ewens' persona, but that was probably inevitable, and would be no real problem for the young planeblazer. Word of his own existance had also certainly been leaked to the cops by the brothers. He had planned for this - a slow and gradual build-up of whispers and rumors, as a way of building the guild's rep and business. This was a bit ahead of schedule, but nothing too bad.

The only thing that had given him pause was that he was blatantly throwing a contractor to the wolves. They were highly unlikely to have the juice to do anything in retaliation (both were likely to soon be lifers if not at the end of a noose), but... The assasin's code (more of a set of guidelines, really) was that you held the identity of anyone who hired you in confidence, come death or come cops. Bad for business to be known as someone who would squeal on those who hired you.

Still, on balance, the rewards of the Hanchu contract looked to be greater. The brothers weren't well connected enough by half to spread much bad buzz, and financially, the new Dalencian Assasin's Guild was far ahead of projections.

Blackbird slept well that night.

* * * * *

The resident of #4 Kensington Park came home to more than expected. Upon entering the dining room, there it was - so small, yes speaking volumes. A little broken glass on the floor - and there... A slim piece of the window cut out. We've been robbed!

But wait, several objects in the room itself were tasteful and palpably expensive. Nothing any thief would pass up.

Running up the stairs, three at a stride. The real valuables were upstairs. Yanking the heavy painting down, placing a hand on the obsidian surface, speaking the magic word, and then... everything still in the safe. The complex series of cards on top of the papers still in the correct pattern. Nothing taken or disturbed.

What was with the window? Aborted attempt at a theft? Prank by some local kids. Upon reinspecting the dining room, there was the answer. It was a somewhat clumsy delivery - an envelope lay on the floor. Quick scan for explosive runes... none. Quick opening, eyes darting over the latter inside. Then a smile.

"A legitimate heir to the throne? Legal firstborne of the former Emperor Laran Raimonde? Well, well, this could certainly complicate matters for the Empress." Plans starting to form.

Across town, the Alchemist worked in his dungeon, carefully titrating his latest potion.

* * * * *

The silence was the worst part.

There had been other terrible things about her captivity, to be sure. The hole in the floor for a toilet, the floor itself to sleep on, the stink of the dungeon, the gruel and water she was given twice a day. She had dreamed one night of ice cream sundaes. And worse, the uncertainty. She had lost all track of time. Days, I've been here? Weeks? The worry about whether Berryn and the others were alright. Whether she would any moment now be killed or raped or tortured for information she surely didn't have.

But Cloe Paris had simply been left in her cell and ignored, and the silence was the worst part. Meant to keep her from casting any spells, no doubt, the enchantment in the room was driving her nuts. It lent a surreal quality. No one to talk to, not even herself. She vowed that if... no, when!... she got out of this, she would do good works to help the deaf. But at least they saw or touched other people. Silence in solitary confinement was a nightmare she prayed heavily to wake up from.

Eventually, the cloaked, towering gray figure came. It unceremoniously opened the door, walked in and reached for her with a horrible, slimy hand. Chloe recoiled, but was weak and struggle was useless.

Then it dragged her out of the cell, and sound returned like a hurricane. Every drip of water in the distance a cymbal crash, every footfall a smack. "You will come with us to the Hanchu Peninsula," the cloaked being said. "The Messenger will follow."

Its voice made the silence seem not so bad.



Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Rissa, Sashami, and a brand new villain
Title of Post: Out of the Frying Pan

"Boy, I'll be glad to get out of Edimon," Alderon sighed to Berryn as the Trade Carriage to Hanaman pulled in to the station. "I've never seen a city with such a stick up its butt in my life."

"No kidding." Berryn was still kind of shaken from his weird seizure and hoped it might have been an isolated incident, something to do with the Society of Science somehow. Something they were leaving behind.

"Hopefully Hanaman will be more... polite," Melissandra agreed, smoothing her golden tresses with her huge green hands.

"I'll feel better once we're away from here too," sighed Thalia. I can't risk being in the same city with Michael even one day longer. I couldn't bear being his destruction... why couldn't we have met each other last year, darn it? There's got to be some loophole in this stupid curse somewhere...

Rissa cleared her throat a little self-consciously. "Tyler?" He looked up, startled, and jammed a spiral notebook into his pocket like he hadn't been expecting anyone to say anything to him for some time now. "I'm sorry... is this seat taken?"

"Oh... no, not at all. Please." She held her hand up to him and he pulled her a bit awkwardly up to the bench on top of the coach. "I didn't know if anyone else preferred the wind in their hair, as it were. Get a bit antsy cooped up for too long. You know how it is."

Rissa nodded, and fingered her amulet. "So what brings you here, Tyler?" she asked conversationally, as the carriage started to move. "I mean... it looks like there are supernatural forces trying to kill me. Why on Ataniel do you want to get involved in all of this?"

***

"So," said Jimmy, as they settled in for the ride to Shikintu. "You said you were training to be a war woman? Is that different from a regular fighter?"

"Somewhat," said Sashami. "A War Woman is a leader of other warriors... one who inspires them by her own prowess, and also commands them in battle. Only men are rulers in the Tharric tribes, and I would not be suited for a Warlord even if I were male, but I can still prove myself as a War Woman. There are many honorable professions in life, but that would be the highest for me to aspire to."

"I take it being a thief is not honorable?" Alexke asked.

She didn't say it in a challenging or hostile way, but straightforwardly, as if she was trying to make sense of it. She was feeling out the older girl's worldview, Sashami realized, trying to determine whether it was dangerous to her. Much as Sashami was doing in the other direction. "It's not--dishonorable in and of itself," she hedged a little. "The two of you have used your rogue skills to bring an evil crime to justice... any ability should have honorable applications, or dishonorable ones." She hesitated, unsure whether to continue. Alexke had asked a question, and evading it did neither of them any favors. "I--must say that I see few honorable applications for stealing, especially as a source of income."

"It demonstrates your skill," Alexke said. "It's a way of impressing your enemies. Like winning fights, only less bloody."

There was sense in that. "If you're stealing from your enemies," Sashami conceded. "Most thieves seem to prey upon helpless strangers, which is why they have a bad reputation among my people. It's cruel to hurt innocent people for financial gain."

"Well, there's good thieves and bad thieves, I guess," Jimmy said. "Even back in Saginou, there were some guys who had real mean reps, beaning old ladies in the back of the head to take their purses and that kind of thing. Me and my mates stayed away from that kind of thing. I mean, money's just money. It's not really hurting anyone to lose some, especially not the kind of people we went after."

"You don't know that, though," Sashami said. "You never know what's going on in a stranger's life. If you steal from a wealthy woman with a cruel husband, perhaps he might beat her for losing the money. If you steal from a wealthy young man who's trying to collect the dowry for his even wealthier sweetheart, perhaps her parents might marry her to someone else. For that matter, if you steal from a wealthy family they might blame a servant for it and fire him. You could be ruining someone's day, if not their life."

Sashami stopped awkwardly. It occurred to her that she had probably talked too much again. "I--I don't mean to be judgmental about anyone's past," she said, hoping she hadn't offended either thief. "I don't know the circumstances involved, after all... you might have been in worse situations than I could possibly imagine." Sashami liked to think that she would behave honorably even if she was starving, but she knew she couldn't be sure of that. "I--would hope, though, now that we are brothers-in-arms... that neither of you feel you need to resort to that kind of thing again." She looked out the window, watched the scenery blurring past. "We have each other to turn to, now," Sashami said.

The Trade Carriage rumbled northwards a few more miles in silence.

***

"My lord?" Wenro made a half-bow before the foreign wu-jen he was bonded to. "Is something wrong?"

"No," said Lord Ekrit, and snapped the silver mesh casing on his crystal ball shut with a definitive click. "No, something is quite right, Wenro."

"Is it meant for this one's ears, my lord?"

"My revenge will be coming to us here in Hanaman, Wenro. Very soon." The sorcerer folded his fingers together intently. "The one responsible for my banishment. He has a son."

"Who is coming here, my lord? Does he mean to confront you?"

"I doubt he even knows I exist. He's coming here for some other reason, one irrelevant to me. But his coming is far from irrelevant." Ekrit got up and looked out the window, his eyes hard and flinty. "It's been a long time, DiLaurentis. But I will repay."



Author: Douglass Barre
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Ty Lord and Rissa
Title of Post: Roof Time

Tyler ran through the laundry list of reasons that had brought him along on this ride, and selected the most vague and least needing of extensive revelatory exposition.

"I'm trying to make the world a better place?" he asked, more a question than he had wanted to make it.

Rissa gave him a look that Tyler immediately translated as "give me a break, pal." It was uncanny how some women simply refused to be snowed. Not that Tyler liked to snow people... he just didn't want to get into the Plan at this stage of the game. The Plan itself called for propriety. It still amazed Tyler how a good thing could be so hard to keep afloat.

"I... I've got some baggage," Tyler admitted. "You know, crappy past stuff?" He waited for a reaction. The look on Rissa's face confirmed what he had expected. Everyone had baggage, and the beautiful Cynystran girl--no, wait, the helpful heroic Cynystran girl who we need for the Plan and nothing else, remember?--was no different.

Oops. Rissa was still looking at him. Too much internal monologue and I forget to keep talking, Tyler reminded himself.

"...uh, so anyway, I figured that, (a) I could do some good finding some heroes to tag along with, (b) it'd distract me from too much reminiscing about things better left, uh, unreminisced... is that a word?"

"Sure. That's a word."

"Right. And, honestly, (c) it'd help me network some skilled associates in case anything old came up."

"How do you do that?" Rissa asked, a bemused look on her face.

"Do what?" Tyler felt nervousness rising up. Could she tell he wasn't telling everything? Was he that transparent?

"Talk with parentheses like that."

"Oh," Tyler sighed. "I picked it up when I was on the Tobrinel Debating Society."

"They only let Tobrinese titled gentry on the Debating Society," Rissa observed, her eyes both suspicious and intrigued--at least that was how Tyler parsed them.

"Uh, they made an exception," Tyler said. Which *was* true, though not quite as it implied.

"I'm going to figure you out, Tyler Lord," Rissa said.

"Really? Do you have to?" Tyler winced with purposefully-mocked worry and embarassment to cover his actual worry and embarassment.

"Well, I do now," Rissa smiled.



Author: Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Jimmy & the new bad guys
Title of Post: Kinder Words

Had it been anyone else...

If it had been anyone else, Jimmy might have passed them a beer and started a facetious debate about how one could ever know the ultimate consequences of anything, so why bother worrying about that crap? If it had been someone else, Jimmy would have waited until they were out of earshot, then given Alexke a 'right on' for her straight up defense of honest burgling, and snidely pointed out how a battleaxe didn't exactly seem like it was meant for encouraging harmonious coexistance.

But seeing as it was Sashami, he had a tough time focussing on any part of their discussion, save her final words. "We have each other to turn to now."

* * * * *

Wenro waited at the station where the coach from new trade would soon be arriving, complete with someone his master had need of. Elsewhere in Hanaman, Lord Ekrit read again through his book, and contempleted revenge.



Author: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): The Silver Bullets and their unlikely guardian angel
Title of Post: Deja Vu All Over Again

"Well?" Melissandra whispered to Rissa as she dismounted.

"I--I'm not sure." Rissa looked after Tyler, confusion in her large brown eyes. "I think he may be running from something... but I don't know what."

***

"Excuse me," said Wenro, bowing a bit stiffly. "Would you be the honorable Silver Bullets?"

"Y-es," said one of the DiLaurentis youth's friends, a suspicious frown on his face. "Why?"

"This one has been sent to request your presence at the pagoda of Lord Ekrit. He has received your name through the Order of Redemption in Shanghai."

They all met that statement with so-what faces except for the blond boy, who perked up as Lord Ekrit had predicted. "That's Praxis' order!" he said. "Flicker must have told him I was coming here." Chest all puffed up with the pride of knowing important people. The mistrust on the others' faces quickly giving way in the face of a plausible and flattering lie. It had been a long time since Wenro was young. "Do--do you need our help with something?"

"This one is afraid we may," Wenro said solemnly. "Would you do us the favor of an audience?"

The young heroes glanced at one another. "Well, there's no coach to Bisak till Wednesday anyway," the dark-haired woman pointed out.

Wenro bowed again, and turned to lead the way.

***

Sashami woke up sluggishly, her cheek cold where it pressed against the stone of the dungeon floor.

Then she realized she was lying on a dungeon floor, and sat straight upright. She surveyed her circumstances in a jumble; Melissandra was awake already and wringing her hands in distress, the other Silver Bullets passed out on the floor or shaking off their lethargy as she was. There was a solidly locked door and a table with food and water laid out on it. Sashami didn't seem to be bodily injured. Where the hell were they, and how had they gotten here?

She dimly remembered following that Wenro character into the pagoda. There had been an odd smell, but Wenro didn't seem to notice it, so Sashami had assumed it was a cultural thing: incense, or something. Apparently it had been something more sinister. Sashami was outraged. Of all the dishonorable tricks... and none of them had seen it coming.

"Where... where are we?" mumbled Rissa, shaking her head trying to clear it.

"We seem to be imprisoned," Melissandra said worriedly. "Thank goodness you're all okay... I woke up some time ago, but wasn't able to wake the rest of you at all. And Jimmy seems to be missing."

Sashami looked back and forth. Indeed, the young thief was gone. He... couldn't have betrayed them, could he? Sashami pushed that idea forcefully out of her mind. "And the door?" she said.

"Locked and barred, I'm afraid," Melissandra said. Sashami could see the dents where the half-troll had tried to break it down. If she hadn't succeeded, small point in Sashami even trying. "And our rude captors seem to have taken all our equipment, too."

Sashami noticed her missing gear for the first time. "My axe!"

"Oh, crap," sighed Alderon, rummaging through the food table. "Well, there's some bread knives here. Can you knife-fight?"

"I have a proficiency in weaponless combat. That's not the point." Sashami buried her hands in her hair. "I am so dead..."

"The book!" Rissa gasped, suddenly reminded, just as Tyler blurted out "My notebook!"

"I think we have more important things to be worrying about than our stuff here, guys," sighed Berryn.

"That axe was Ahvo's father's. The council would never accept me as a War Woman if I lost it."

"My book is... also a family heirloom," Rissa said obscurely.

Tyler didn't elaborate.

"Look, I'm sure they didn't throw them away," said Alderon, trying to shake Alexke awake. The shortest and by far lightest of the Silver Bullets, Alexke had apparently been the hardest-hit by the gas. "We'll find them around here someplace."

"Yes." Sashami concentrated on her breathing, trying to keep herself calm in the face of adversity as she had been taught. "There would be no honor in panic... nor in excessive revenge. We will recover Jimmy and our stolen items, discover what is behind this plot against us, and defuse it."

"You, uh," Berryn said to Rissa. "You don't think Jimmy and Wenro are in, uh, cahoots or anything, do you? What with Wenro knowing all that stuff about us, I mean, and Jimmy being the only one who's not in the slammer right now..."

"Oh, he wouldn't," said Rissa, unhappily.

"Perhaps he just managed to escape from Wenro's trap," Sashami suggested. "He could be searching for us right now." Rissa looked relieved at that idea.

"Well, it looks like Alexke's starting to come around," Alderon said, with his usual optimism. "Maybe she can planeblaze us through that door and we can start getting to the bottom of this."

***

Michael cursed silently as he scrambled up the hill to the sorcerer's compound. He had taken the scenic route through a plane of the Abyss he was especially fond of, keeping an eye on Thalia's group as he went, but by the time he had been able to find a weakpoint into Hanaman she had already gone off with a skin walker, a quasi-demonic spirit evil Shikinti mages used for familiars now and then. Willingly. She was so sweet and trusting. This bodyguarding detail was going to be one pain in the ass after another, Michael was realizing.

He tailed the group at a distance, and slipped into the ether once he got close. High-level mages were bad news. What this one wanted with the kids Michael didn't know, nor did he particularly care. He just had to make sure they made it out of this alive. The yappy street thief had gotten separated from the others. He was probably the most at risk, but he was also in the immediate custody of the skin walker, who was more likely than the mage to notice a cambion eavesdropping. Besides, Rissa was with Thalia. It was better if none of them died here, seeing as how they were going to be providing what passed for protection for the rest of the journey, but in the final count those two were the only ones whose lives mattered, and not in that order.

Michael hovered in the greyspace, waiting for his moment to secretly interfere.

***

"You have done well, Wenro." Ekrit put his fingers together ominously. "Bring the young DiLaurentis before me."



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