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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: October 2003

Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming Of Age
Character(s): The Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Night Moves

Alderon staggered out of the dimensional portal onto 7th Avenue, a contorted greenish tint to his face. "That... was... horrible..." he groaned.

"Look," Alexke sighed, "it's not like I brought you through Hell, or something."

"But the pop-up ads... the garish colors... Stephanie's naked body..."

The teenager rolled her eyes. "You'd think you never saw a dimension hijacked by porn spam before."

"I think you just put me off sex for a month," moaned Alderon, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes to drive out the images.

***

Michael Dean walked back from the GR3 Hotel in the moonlight, lost in a variety of thoughts.

He'd had dinner with Thalia, sat up chatting in front of the fireplace for a few hours after. It was enough time to ascertain that she was not only the most beautiful girl on Ataniel, but smart, charming, and with a good sense of humor too. She was also clearly attracted to Michael, which was both good and bad; it would have been devastating if the feeling wasn't mutual, but on the other hand, he might have had a chance at going on a bender for a few days and forgetting the whole thing. As it was, it was looking more and more like the gypsy had been right. True love. Goddammit. Not what Michael needed right now.

And then there were her friends, who were still trying to track him down in connection with the hit on that old fart in the New Trade bar. Everything Michael had learned in his four years as an assassin--hell, in his twenty-one years as a cambion--told him to get out while the getting was good. But there were those eyes. And Michael had to admit it, he felt good right now. Really damn good.

Maybe he could just ditch the Mitchel Ewens identity. The passport they had from him was a fake anyway. Get a new working name for Edimon, seed everything all over again, wouldn't cost more than 500 coin. Michael could make that back in two, maybe three kills. He'd just about pay that for another evening in front of the fire with Thalia.

Then the job rock started vibrating in his pocket. Michael stepped back into the nearest dark alley, slipped it into his ear, and flipped the needle. "Ready 'n willing," he said.

"Got something a little different for you," Blackbird's chilly voice transmitted into his ear. "Care to broaden your horizons a little?"

"I don't do crop reports," said the young assassin.

"No paperwork, fear not. You know those kids who've been following you around?"

Michael's blood ran cold. Blackbird was going to ask him to whack Thalia, he just knew it. Which would fucking suck. Michael liked his boss, and he wasn't sure he was up to the task of betraying him yet anyway. "Yeah, what about 'em," he said, keeping his voice neutral.

"They're going to be leaving for the Hanchu peninsula soon. A client has given us quite a payload to see them there safely."

Michael paused a moment, parsing that. Ordinarily, he would have snapped something derisive about not being a fucking bodyguard. He almost did it anyway. But if he didn't accept the job, how long would it be before he saw Thalia again? And who would go if he didn't? Did he really trust Louie or fucking Chuck out alone in the wilderness with her? What if one of them tried something? "All right, I'll take it," he said. Besides, he'd get brownie points with the boss, he rationalized after the fact. "Where's the Hanchu peninsula?"

"Somewhere up north. It doesn't matter. Your job is merely to keep them alive en route; at minimum the halfbreed girl with the amulet. If she doesn't make it there alive, well, let's just say you want her to make it there alive. Capiche?"

"Yeah, I got it," he said. "Can't be any worse than some of the planes I've hitched through. Have Amy get me together some supplies, I'll be there in a couple hours."

"Glad I can count on you," said Blackbird, and crackled out.

***

Alexke walked into the Silver Bullets' suite. Thalia was curled up in one of the armchairs, reading a book with a dreamy expression on her face. Jason had a number of pins in his mouth and was carefully darting together a simple but unmistakeably feminine A-line dress around the anxious Melissandra. Sashami was wearing a t-shirt and sweat shorts, shadowboxing in the corner. Alexke liked how she kept herself busy. Berryn was sitting crosslegged on the floor, having an apparent conversation with himself. Maybe with someone else. "Okay... thanks anyway, Hillary," he said. "Take care of yourself."

"A communication spell?" Alexke asked, putting down her backpack.

"Uh, well, augury, actually. When Arawn was less perfect I used to use it to get plot clues from him... now, I usually get His secretary." The young priest frowned at Alderon. "Hey, are you all right?"

"Don't wanna talk about it," Alderon muttered. "Did you find anything out about Chloe?"

"Sort of. She's confirmed alive, and apparently being held captive on the Hanchu peninsula--"

Melissandra gasped, causing three darts to fly out of the seam Jason was doing. "That was the title of the book that tried to kill Rissa!"

"Now there's a sentence I bet no one's ever uttered before," Sashami offered.

"--unfortunately, I got zippo on her captors. Did you guys get anything?"

"Yeah." Alderon waved the file he'd stolen half-heartedly. "Paramon Developers paid the Edimon assassins' guild four hundred and fifty coin to kack that innkeeper."

"So Alexke's off the hook, then!"

"Not really," said Alderon. "We've got no way of proving she doesn't work for the Edimon assassins' guild. It's enough to send Paramon Developers down the river, though. Maybe we can use it to twist their arms into exonerating her somehow."

"No, they must be punished for their foul crime," Sashami disagreed.

"Maybe both. I don't know. It will probably depend on what Jimmy and Rissa learn."

***

Jimmy inched closer to the target, a ritzy house on an estate on the east end of Edimon.

At least he had backup tonight. Not that he could hear Rissa as she tailed him at the appropriately discreet distance. Maybe it was her elven blood. Jimmy'd never actually met an elf before--they weren't exactly common in Cynystra, especially northern Cynystra--but he used to hang with a couple of halfling thieves, and they were especially good at night work, what with seeing in the dark and all that. Jimmy, on the other hand, was sure he was going to step on a clattering metal grille any minute and have guards all over him.

He probably didn't need to be so edgy about it, really. It would hardly be Jimmy's first B&E, wouldn't even be his first night in the slammer if he got caught at it. The letter was unnerving him more than he let on, though. He sure hoped it was something benign, a black-and-silver invitation to a reunion party that someone wanted to deliver in dramatic style or something. More likely it was framing someone up for something. But it just didn't feel right, in his gut. He wished Brubeck had just asked him to pinch something, for crying out loud.

No time for that now, though. Decision made, time to carry through on it. Chloe needed his help.

Jimmy cased the estate grounds one last time as best he could in the darkness. No sign of motion.

Move.



Name: Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Silver Bullets
Title of Post: A Map Might Help

“OK, Melissandra. The dress is done. Navy blue will play down your skin tone, but play up your eyes. Your nails are trimmed – remember sharp is acceptable, long is acceptable, but long and sharp say ‘monster’. Lets put your hair up in a nice coil, which is feminine, but practical in a fight. And then, we will be ready to show everyone.”

“Oh thank you Jason! I don’t know how you know all of these things but thank you!”

*****

“Since we will be obviously be going to the Hanchu Peninsula, and we don’t know exactly where it is, we need to go out and get a map.”

“But Berryn, what if the map leaps up and starts to smother you or something?” Thalia asked in a half-distracted way. “Maybe you should take someone with you.”

“Alderon, you’ll come with me, right?”

“Sur-“

“I was thinking more of Michael. I want him to come along with us, since he was so handsome… helpful when we fought those gargoyles. It would be a good way to make him a little more involved. Yes, you should invite him to go along to buy the map.”

Berryn looked at Thalia and just shook his head. He muttered to Alderon “Were Chloe and I ever this bad?”

Alderon glanced at Thalia, who had turned back to the fire. “I have never seen *anybody* this bad.”

Just then Melissandra stepped out of her bedroom. The rest of the Silver Bullets turned to look and surprised hubbub began.

“Wow! Jason, good job on the dress.”

“Melissandra, you look like a girl! Really!”

Melissandra smiled “Thank you for your compliments. I do feel more of a lady.”

Berryn cleared his throat. “Well, I am ready to go. Alderon and Sashami, if you’d like to come, I am off to find Michael” he rolled his eyes ”to protect me when I find the attack map. Melissandra, while you look loveli-”

“-er” Alderon muttered

“- I think your... um… profile would be… um… recognizable in the market place. So if you and the other ladies-“

“Ahem”

“- and Jason would begin packing up, then as soon as Rissa and Jimmy return, and we get the map -”

“And Michael!”

“- and Michael, we will be almost ready to go. Geez! What does a guy have to do to get an uninterrupted sentence around here?”

Sashami looked at Berryn. “Speak in shorter sentences. Let’s go”



Name: Douglass Barre
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Tyler Lord
Title of Post:Where There's Attack Maps, There's Fire

Tyler flipped the small pocket notebook open for the fifth time, his thumb sliding pages up by memory until he reached the page titled "THE PLAN, PART TWO-A." The subheading simply read "Heroes." Tyler skimmed the outline, reminding himself exactly what he was doing here at the cartographomancer's stall.

Heroes adventure. To adventure, they need to know where they're going. To know that... they need maps. Simple logic. If you want to find some heroes, hit a map store. Sure, some people like to go on about taverns, but you're just as likely to end up sitting next to some fat guy named Beezer talking about how he super-charged his horse and rode donuts around on the local tax collector's lawn at two a.m. Map store. That worked for Ty.

The young man straightened his tunic, drawing the subdued red cloak over his cursed arm. It wasn't so bad today, something with mottled red skin and sparse black feathers, but it seemed to convey some limited flight, which ought to make him seem promising to whichever band of adventurers came along. (Of course Ty wasn't going to just hop in with the first batch of adventurers that needed a map, but he figured that there'd be at least two or three teams coming by today, it being a Sunday. One of them would have the requisite potential to work The Plan.)

Ty flipped the notebook shut again and pocketed it in another smooth motion. Time passed. Out of pocket, flip open. Flip flip flip. Check the page. Still in the right place. Flip shut, back in pocket.

Repeat.

Repeat.

It was Sunday, wasn't it? Where the heck were all the heroes? This was the best darn map store in town.

Patience, Tyler reminded himself. The Plan is long-term, and we're only on Part Two-A. If we just follow what the notebook says, everything we want will come.

Tyler figured one more check of the notebook wouldn't hurt. Flip. Flip.

Flip.



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami, Alderon, Berryn, and Alexke
Title of Post: Did somebody call for Heroes?

Sashami knotted her hair into a long ponytail behind her head as Berryn led them out of the GR4 Hotel. She felt strange sleeping there when the old innkeeper had been murdered just downstairs, but the police hadn't wanted them to leave surveillance. "He's staying at a place called the Snowy Egret," Berryn read sleepily from the note Michael had left last night. "On Grand Avenue off of 14th."

"Why did we have to leave this early?" said Alexke, squinting at the rising sun. "I wanted to wait for Jimmy and Rissa to get back."

"Then you should have argued with Thalia. I wasn't about to."

"What's with her and this Michael guy, anyway?" Alderon wanted to know. "He's not some evil mage who put a charm spell on her or something, is he?"

"He did seem equally smitten with her," Sashami said. "We have no more reason to distrust him than we do each other, really."

"Besides," said Berryn, "I didn't want to say this right in front of Thalia, but I used the third augury to ask if he was going to betray her, and Hillary said no."

"I thought you got four auguries with that spell," said Alderon. Berryn stepped on his foot. "Oh. Uh. Nevermind."

Alexke rolled her eyes. There were an awkward few moments of silence as the others tried not to look at her. "All right, fine, since our team is obviously destined to have the subtlety of a flock of mud hens," Berryn finally sighed. "Alexke didn't do it."

"Then our trust was well placed," Sashami covered a little lamely.

"Told you so," said Alexke.

"Is that spell admissable as evidence?" Alderon asked.

"I wish. I can only cast it once a month anyway."

They walked the last few blocks together in silence. "I hope Rissa and Jimmy are all right," Sashami finally said, as the team turned onto Grand.

"I'm sure we'll learn all about what happened to them very soon now," Berryn said, with one of his quirky grins. "Come on, let's go wake up loverboy and see if the map store's open on Sundays."



Name: Sylvia A. Rudy
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Thalia, Melissanda, the Bullets back at the inn
Title of Post: Whiplash!

Thalia stared at her book, not seeing a word. It was perfect. They'd have a long trip, practically alone with one another. He was so strong and nice and... The object of your desires shall become the object of your destruction.

She slapped the book onto the end table. "I've changed my mind!" Thalia announced decisively.

"About what?"

"We're not bringing Michael."

"We're not?" Melissandra looked confused.

"No. And if he shows up, send him away. I don't even want to talk to him." If I talk to him, I won't be able to do it. I can't bring him to destruction.

"I thought you liked Michael."

"That's got nothing to do with it."

"It doesn't?"

"No. Somebody has to go stop them before they bring him back here."



Name: Douglass Barre and Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Ty Lord and Ambrosio
Title of Post: No Loitering

Ambroso, cartographer of the highest degree, was getting tired of watching the lanky, blond guy standing in the corner. He wished the guy would at least make pretence of looking at his maps as opposed to flat out loitering. He kept flipping open his notebook, reading it and putting it away. Weren’t adventurers supposed to meet each other in a tavern? This was his retail emporium - not a common bar! And anyway, he wanted a mug of coffee and a bagel, but he couldn’t leave with this guy hanging around.

Ambroso cleared his throat. “Ahem. Sir. This wonderful arena of commerce is my exclusive stage for providing the finest art, calligraphy, information and, frankly, maps, that cartomancy has to offer. While appearing to be a patron of the highest calibre, you’ve been here for two hours, and haven’t once looked at my merchandise. Buy something or get out.”

Tyler, fearing that the plan could be compromised if he failed to find quality heroes, began “Mr. ah...”

“Ambroso”

“Mr. Ambroso, I am waiting for fate to bring the required elements into my hands to begin one of the greatest endeavors conceived by mankind. Of all the stores in this city, yours is the one I have rated as having the finest chance to attract heroes of the bravest heart and fortitude. As such, I cannot simply allow them to slip past me at this time. Surely a man as wise as yourself understands the needs of a GREAT Plan?”

"Kid..."

Ty sighed. "If I buy something will you let me stay?"

"I'd rather have a bagel."

"How about that globe? The big one, with the wood stand? And is that onyx enamelling?"

"That globe is a one of a kind object! It was made for the court of Princess Nikita from semi-precious and precious stones with a mahogany base and gold inlay. Due to budget cuts and that whole recall thing they had to pass. It costs a thousand gold!"

"A thousand, you say?" Tyler fished in a small pouch on his belt and held up the small platinum rods marked with runes of authenticity by the Bank of Tobrinel.

Ambroso blinked "Um..."

Tyler dropped the bars on the counter. "And an extra hundred for the trouble."

"Would you like that wrapped sir? Shall I get *you* a bagel?"

"No, no. I'm just fine. If you don't mind I will admire my new globe, while I wait for the arival of your customers."

"Very well, sir. I hope I get the customers you're waiting for."

Tyler smiled, shook the shopkeeper's hand, and turned to his new globe.

Damn, Tyler thought. How the hell am I going to carry this thing?



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Various Silver Bullets
Title of Post: Doesn't Splitting The Party Always Result In Something Of A Farce, Really?

"She just changed her mind?" muttered Melissandra, stomping down the street as rude Edimonites snickered at her behind their hands. "I thought she was supposed to be the sensible, practical one!"

"I think maybe we still need one of those," Jason admitted, scurrying a little to keep up.

***

"Hello!" yelled Alderon, banging on the door of the Snowy Egret #14. "HellllooooooooOOOOOOOOO!"

"Maybe he's still asleep," Berryn yawned.

"Or maybe he's been murdered," offered Alexke.

"Please don't say that."

"Well, why don't we go get the map first?" Sashami suggested practically. "After all, how scary could a map store really be?"

***

Thalia sat in the hotel room by herself, looking miserably out the window at the strangers passing in the street. It was better this way, she kept telling herself. Safer for both of them. Besides... the Silver Bullets would really be mad if she changed her mind again.

***

"Hello!" called Melissandra, with a ladylike but extremely loud rap at the door of the Snowy Egret #14. "Yoo-hoo! Mr. Dean!"

"They must have already been here," Jason said. "Maybe they're all at the map store."

"Then we'll have to hurry if we're going to catch them before they head back to the hotel."

***

"We were looking for a map of the Hanchu peninsula, actually," Berryn explained to the cartographer.

"Cute, kids," sighed the cartographer. "Look, go play your scavenger hunt somewhere else, all right? I've got a business to run."

"No, really, we are," Sashami said. "We will pay you well for it."

"There are no maps of the Hanchu peninsula, girl. It's uncharted territory, and you could count the Dalencians who've even been there before on one hand. If I did have any information about the place, it would be primarily of interest to scholarly anthropological types, not a bunch of kids looking for a novel place to take spring break. What were you planning to do with this map, dare I ask?"

Berryn leaned across the counter, giving the cartographer his best imitation of Luthien's patented don't-fuck-with-the-necromancer glare. "Rescue my girlfriend from whoever's holding her captive there," he said. "Any more questions?"

There was a long pause. The sandy-haired guy in glasses on the other side of the store had perked up a little at that last bit, and came over now clearing his throat conspicuously. Berryn was too busy staring down the cartographer to attend to him. "All right, look," the merchant sighed, "I have a contact for you, but you had better be serious about this, because if you waste her time they'll never find your remains. Ask for Ellen Senna, at the Edimon Society of Science. How you get in there is your problem, not mine; I don't think they admit people without a letter of introduction from a renowned scientist."

"Believe it or not, I think Rissa actually has one of those," Sashami said.

"Excuse me," the awkward blond fellow finally vocalized. "Did I overhear you saying you intended to travel to an unknown wilderness land in an attempt to rescue a lady in distress?"

Alderon gave him an impatient look. "Well, sort of, yes--"

"Allow me to introduce myself..." He jutted out his hand in an awkward way. "Tyler Lor--"

"There you are!" Melissandra came bursting in the door just then. "We've been looking all over for--"

"What is that troll doing in my store!" the cartographer faintly screamed. "Get out--all of you! I've really had enough of this now!"

"Michael," huffed Jason, winded by the exertion of trying to keep up with Melissandra. "Where is Michael?"

"We don't know," said Sashami, frowning at her fellow Bullets. "Why?"

***

There was a tap on the hotel room door, jarring Thalia out of her blue funk. Oh. Rissa and Jimmy. Of course.

She opened it, and stood rooted to the spot as if she were a statue.

"Good morning," said Michael, almost shyly, his satchel slung over one shoulder. "I--couldn't really sleep. I wondered if you might want to join me for some breakfast?"



Go on to the October Archives, Part 2

'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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