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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Storyboard of Ataniel Archives: October V

Name:Jonah Cohen
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Michael, Alderon, Jimmy, Melissandra
Title of Post: Enter Sandman

Michael Dean normally did not remember his dreams. He remembered much of the one he had that night - similar to the ones he'd be having for a long time to come, he suspected. He and Thalia. Together, care-free, happy...

When he eventually awoke, reality truly sucked in comparison.

* * * *

Alderon was walking down a crowded street, everyone giving him strange glances. Then, an orange, pointy-eared little imp *bamfed!* into existance in front of him.

"Greetings, Alderon Torrikin!" it cackled. "I am your inner demon. Welcome to your own personal nightmare."

"Huh. Doesn't seem so bad."

"Ah, but you've failed to notice - your wearing nothing but your underwear."

"Hey, you're right. Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do."

"And things only get worse - you're on your way to take a test you didn't study for!" The imp cackled some more.

"Which subject?"

"Trigonometry."

"Oh, well, no big there. I mean, when am I ever gonna need that in real life?"

"Uh, good point. Hold on..." The street was gone, and now they stood on a rocky coastline. "Behold the scene of your greatest failure! The wreck of the first and only ship you ever captained."

"That was a bummer. But it really was just bad luck, you know."

"Dagnabit, you're not getting scared! It's first week on the job as a nightmare demon and you're making me look like a screw-up."

"Sorry. It's just that in my family, we learned to, y'know, take things in stride. Makes life a lot easier. Besides, I think I'm a tough scare after recently surviving a dimension overwhelmed by porn spam."

The inner demon recoiled, looking horrified. "Lilith protect us," it muttered. "Did you encounter the dreaded ads for v1agra?"

"Loads of 'em. It's really your first week on the job?"

The demon nodded. "Well, a new job always seems stressful at first. I'm sure you'll be great at it. C'mon. I'll buy you an orange smoothie."

* * * *

Melissandra dreamed that she was a disembodied head, floating in an endless sky of similarly bodiless heads. Drifting slowly about, helpless to control their movement.

Her mother's head floated into view. "My darling. You must listen to me, while there is still time."

"What is it mother?"

"You are about to embark on a perilous journey. You must remember... to pack a towel!"

"But why, mother?" Their heads were already drifting further apart.

"For it is the most important item while traveling..." Her mother's voice faded away, along with her head.

* * * *

Jimmy had a letter to deliver. He walked up to a door and knocked. No answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. He decided to let himself in.

Even after he had walked through, he could hear the knocking. But it was something else. He had entered a white room where two people were sparring with quarterstalves. Clack clack clack. It was Rissa and Sashami. Both of them were naked to the waist.

Jimmy watched for awhile. Then the girls took a break. Sashami began to towel off, then turned to him and said "What do you think you're looking at?"

"They're pretty aren't they?" a familiar voice whispered in his ear. He nodded. "Not as pretty as me, though?" He shook his head.

Mary walked in front of him, casual and graceful movements. "They won't teach you like I did, will they?"

A quiet "No" was all he could answer.

"They won't protect you, won't love you like I did, will they?"

"No."

"Good boy." She leaned in to kiss him, and he awoke with a start.

"Hell," Jimmy muttered, wondering if he was losing his mind.



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami
Title of Post:As Long As Everyone's Dreaming

Sashami was sparring with her foster brother when she had that strange, queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach: the realization that this wasn't real, that she was dreaming. The tree, for example, was too green. Her brother didn't actually look like her brother. Sashami felt seasick, and put her hand on the inappropriate tree to steady herself.

Then a pine marten scurried out onto the branch. That cheered Sashami up immediately. The marten was her father Ahvo's crest of arms; its appearance in her dream could only be a sign from his ancestors that this was indeed destined to be the quest that would prove her worth.

Then the marten spoke.

"Sashami daughter of Ahvo," it said in a soft voice. "I bring a warning for you from the realm beyond. Things are not as they seem."

"Not as they seem," Sashami repeated.

"One of your companions keeps a secret that will cause you all much pain. You must protect your friends from this before it is too late."

"Before it is too--"

The dream ended abruptly, and Sashami sat bolt upright, breathing shortly. Melissandra and Thalia were still asleep, Thalia tossing restlessly, Melissandra snoring gently. Bane was still peeking through the window. One of your companions keeps a secret.

"Crap," muttered Sashami, rolled over and tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep.



Name: Alyssa Gulledge
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Melissandra
Title of Post: Hitchhikers Guide to Adventuring

Melissandra packed very carefully. First she packed away the oft-repaired dress that in which she first met the Silver Bullets. She could wear that when armor wasn’t needed. Dinner-time, perhaps? *Was* there a dinner time when you were camping in the wild?

Next were the books that Rissa had set aside for her. Before going to the science academy, Rissa was staring at her travel library, unsure if she would even be able to take some of her books (“What if I need them during the journey?”). Melissandra offered to take them (“I’ll take them Rissa. There are *only* 15 of them.”).

Then she packed the dress that Jason had made for her, careful to prevent wrinkles. She was wearing the padded under-tunic of her armor; the breastplate and sword waited next to her pack. She packed her toiletries, and looked around the room, wondering what else she would need on this trip.

What will I need? Mother didn’t tell me how to go adventuring. I’ve never stayed outdoors, let alone wander through uncharted lands! What if I bring the wrong things? What if I don’t have the right things? What if I have the wrong things? What if I forgot something? I don’t even know how to build a campfire, or find water or cook. Do I even need pots? Melissandra looked around the room again, with a slight hint of panic.

She looked down at her feet, which for the first time were quite visible without the long skirts covering them. While the rest of her skin was very smooth (“like silk” her mother would say), her feet were tougher than all but hobnail boots. And bigger. MUCH bigger. There were no boots that would fit her. Sashami is going to be mad that I don’t have proper footwear, isn’t she? Well, it is too late now. Ty and Rissa are getting our route planned. Everyone else is packing up, and by the time she notices, we’ll be heading out of town. Into the scary places of the world. She shuddered, and looked around the room yet again.

She picked up her pack, armor and sword, and began to head slowly to the main room. Just as she got to the doorway, she whirled around and ran back to the washstand. She grabbed up one of the imprinted hotel towels, and stuffed it in her bag. Not sure why she did it, she none-the-less felt comforted to know that she had a towel.

Mother would approve. I think.



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: The Shape of Things
Character(s): Heart and the as-yet-unnamed B group
Title of Post: Meanwhile, back in outer space...

Heart looked around the alien landscape. "This is not the way I'd envisioned my dissertation research going," she said to no one in particular.

"Don't worry, Forehead," Akron grinned. "I'll protect ya from the big bad aliens."

Heart ignored him. There was nothing wrong with an adventure on another planet per se, but she hadn't come to the Mithril Dagger to sign onto some outer-space adventure; she wanted to study magic use, and it was no secret that Ataniel was the mystical hub of the known universe. Trudging around some distant planet with the world's snarkiest goblin was delaying her studies, not furthering them. "So how do we get home," she said without enthusiasm. "You don't have a... teleportation spell or something, do you, Rhynwa?"

"No, I'm afraid not," the priestess sighed. "8T here said something about a 'sumcirc'?"

"That's how we got here," explained 8$R#WO*&^adOI&YBo8t, transmogrified into vaguely humanoid shape. "I was hoping one of you might have caught the coordinates on it. I was too busy trying to get away from your alien-eating furball over there."

Airhglen the aurumvorax burped.

"Unfortunately, I think we were all a little preoccupied at the time. Could we find another, uh, sumcirc around here?"

"Well, we'll have to find something. From the position of the stars it looks like we are on the other side of nebula 18A, which would make for a very long journey by starship, even assuming we could find one. This is not my planet, in case you were wondering. I've never been here before."

"That makes five of us," muttered Carter. "I should have stayed a hotel receptionist."

"Ah, stop bein' so depressive, Kurtie boy. We gots a whole new planet to explore. There could be riches untold stashed away here! Maybe even some cute alien chicks in silver spandex or--"

A shadow darkened the small group, and they looked up to see a huge black dragon gliding serenely past. They watched it together till it was no more than a dot on the other horizon.

"Or maybe we should get the hell out of here," Rhynwa concluded.

"I hate when youse guys are right."



Name: Lora Redish
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Sashami
Title of Post: Secrets and Lies

Sashami was quiet while the others prepared, going over last night's dream in her mind. One of your companions keeps a secret that will cause you all much pain. You must protect your friends from this before it is too late. That was bad on many levels, not the least of which being that Sashami didn't like intruding on other people's secrets. How would she know a justly private personal matter from a potential betrayal anyway? She had never been good at reading people. Alderon and Melissandra seemed like open books, but were they? Thalia's thing with Michael hardly seemed like a secret anymore. Jason and Berryn both had secrets they weren't sharing with her, Sashami knew, but she hadn't wanted to push. And now there was Rissa, who said she was being pressured to do something she thought dangerous and possibly immoral. Jimmy did seem sort of nervous around her; could that have anything to do with a secret from his thieving past? And who knew anything about Tyler Lord, who seemed nice enough but too twitchy not to be hiding something.

And then there was Alexke. Sashami wanted to like Alexke. She had spunk, and she was telling the truth about that innkeeper. But she was undisputable foreign and repeatedly evaded the question of where she was from; she had appeared on the scene at the same time as Mitchel Ewens and with similar powers--did she have some connection to him she wasn't sharing? What was she running from in the first place, and why had someone tried to frame her for a murder she didn't commit?

Sashami shook her head. She was going to have to be less passive and start asking some of these difficult questions, if she was to save her friends from the foretold disaster ahead.

But it didn't have to be today, anyway.



Name: Eric Gasior
Plotline: Coming of Age
Character(s): Alexke
Title of Post: Musings


Alexke didn't remember dreams. She didn't want to. The images and people were stressful, invovling either incomprehensible situations or people she couldn't quite remember. But the mix of comfort and discomfort she got from being around these new people, ones who may become friends, made her remember pieces. Not enough for coherence, but things that stirred memories.

That morning she recalled them. People spoke in Dalen, in the strange accent they spoke in New Trade, but it didn't seem strange. And the people who were like her, human and elven, outnumbered others. The comfort it provided disturbed her. She was happy at home, and her uniqueness was an asset.

On the other hand she enjoyed travelling, and she supposed adventuring, with these people. Rissa wasn't just Khyrisse Starshadow's niece and Berryn wasn't just Luthien's apprentice, they were interesting. She was grateful to Thalia, an emotion she hadn't felt in years, for providing bail. Alexke decided to thank her privately later. Melissandra was ok, being part troll didn't phase Alexke, but she didn't understand the larger girl's obsession with appearance. At a formal event or when there was someone to impress, sure, but in daily wear?

Jimmy was cute and funny but she would wait until she knew what Rissa thought about him before trying to get his attention. Alderon was cute enough, but she lost interest right before they entered the porn spam dimension.

Sashami worried her. The warrior had a code of honor, and that was dangerous. You could never tell where they set some invisible line beyond which they'd turn against you or even try to behead you.

Before talking to Thalia she needed breakfast. Before either one she had to send that Tiffany back to the porn spam dimension. Alexke didn't know how they were followed. The most important rule in getting rid of them was not to give themyour real address. Those buggers were sneaky, so she'd need to be careful.



Name: 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.



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