Notices


Changelings, Fetches, Hobgoblins, and True Fae

   
The Mistress
Shear-Fingered Mistress of Twilight and Fate

Type: The Gentry
Changelings: Erin Lamothe, Othello, Form, Bat, Glow, Horus, Aurora(?)



Virtue: Just (The Mistress is fair. If you earn something, she will give it to you. If she gives you something, you know you've earned it.)
Vice: Arrogant & Cruel (The Mistress is perfect. Her servants are perfect. Her castle is perfect. And if not, she will make it perfect.)

Story: He was in a long, ornate corridor, stretching down into darkness. Nothing was lit, here, no lamps, just the occasional candle, and a strange sort of half-twilight that suffused everything. There were statues and columns going all the way down, small busts, delicate horses, elegant women. In between each of these was a large, full length mirror, each with an ornate golden frame. But there was something wrong with the reflections, for they didn’t seem to reflect the hall. They were obviously reflecting something in this castle, for the look of the surroundings was the same, but the room was larger, and there were stairs.

Erin was reflected in the mirror as well, though there was no sign of her in the hall. Still tiny, now kneeling on the floor, with her face cast straight down. And the person she was kneeling before… Sasha couldn’t quite see her face. She was turned slightly away from the face of the mirror. But what could be seen could still take a man’s breath away.

She was tall, taller than human, towering over the tiny moth-girl. She was dressed in twilight, and her hair fell down her back like shadow. Her eyes were black marble, glinting with the hint of a single star within. Her fingers were shears, silver and sharp, and her lips were black as velvet.

And she was perfect. Every single strand of hair on her head was perfect. The way her eyes twinkled, the way her shear-fingers shined, they were absolutely perfect…

The glass cracked, crystal spiderwebs splitting down the surface of the mirror, but it didn’t break yet. The metal backing kept the glass in place, leaving the scene fractured and distorted.

“Are you a thief, Moth?” the Mistress asked, almost sounding amused. Her voice echoed through the hall, low, beautiful, enough to send shivers down the spine.

“N-no, mistress!” Erin protested, still staring at the floor. She was shaking, though she did her best to keep it still.

“You have stolen from me,” the Mistress corrected, reaching down with those shear fingers, and dragging something out of Erin’s hands. Sasha could catch a flash of floppy dog ears. “And you must be punished.”

“B…but it is not fair! You were going to throw it out! You didn’t even want it!” Erin suddenly burst out. She was still young, still had spirit left, still whole enough to rage against the injustice of it.

“You work to earn your food, and board, and clothing, little Moth,” the Mistress replied, putting a shear finger beneath Erin’s chin, lifting it up. “You have done nothing to earn this. That makes you a thief.”

The shear fingers closed, slicing the toy into ribbons. Behind Sasha, three of the reflections of the Mistress turned, looking straight at him. Her face could stop a man’s heart…

“You are entitled, Moth,” The Mistress said, still almost tenderly. “You think you deserve to have anything you want, so long as no one else is using it. But I do not give charity, and you will learn to work for things. You will work twice as hard, to pay for this transgression, until you deserve to return to your current privileges.”

The Mistress in the cracked mirror turned to look as Sasha, and smiled. And then the glass broke, the metal backing gone as if it had never been.

Style: Most powerful of the quartet of True Fae that make up the Court of the Twisting Accord, the Shear-Fingered Mistress of Twilight and Fate has devoured many lesser Faerie in her time, flaying their names from their bones and taking them into herself. The Court of the Twisting Accord is not her first gathering of True Fae, and perhaps it will not be her last. Certainly, she is among the more dedicated members of the Twisting Accord, the most thoroughly engaged in their games of competition and collection. Unlike certain Feud-groups among the True Fae, the Twisting Accord rarely descends to the level of brute violence or crude romancing, though both do occur. Rather, the Twisting Accord competes by displaying the capabilities of their Lost and brutalized slaves, however these capabilities are defined. For the Mistress, skill is paramount, the perfection of art and craft, though sometimes she meets her fellow Fae on their own terms.

Certainly, many of the Mistress's escaped changelings have proven to be unusually potent in the mortal world. Erin and Othello have both achieved significant power in the Wyrd, and the little girl Aurora, if she truly is one of the Mistress's, is the Seelie Queen. Her 'children' are becoming worthy of respect -- and personal attention. Perhaps some of them will one day walk the Twisting Accord as near-equals.

Among the other Signatories of the Twisting Accord, the Mistress reserves her especial dislike for the Sunset Princess, who may be daughter, former slave, rival, or some bizarre combination of all of the above. Her conflict with the Collector is a more genteel thing, of subtle jabs and competitions for status. Old Red is an uncouth parvenu, unfit to dine with his betters, but distressingly unavoidable. The Board is simple crass, a cheap, mass-produced knock-off of the Mistress's tailored perfection, though they do display occasional sparks of brilliance.

Two other facts are worthy of mention. For close to a decade, as mortals measure such things, the Mistress had vanished from her realm, to what end and what purpose, none know. Perhaps it was a journey, or perhaps it was some mortal occultist who managed to contain her name for some short span of years. But the Mistress is still putting her affairs in order from this absence. Similarly, the Mistress has a deep interest, as True Fae measure such things, in the workings of the Grigori, the captive idiot-gods entombed in the mortal world. Why is an unknown question, but her agents are ever searching for anything or anyone connected with them.

Known Avatars and Agents: When the Mistress appears in the mortal world or in the Hedge, she most frequently takes the form not of a woman (or woman-shaped thing), but rather of some unholy place. Most likely, she considers playacting as some insipid human to be beneath her, though she is perfectly capable of it if pressed.

The Lady of the Eventide (Actor)She is perfect. There is no other word that can possibly be used to describe her, but perfect. Her face can, and does, stop a man's heart just to look upon it. It's usually cloaked by gloaming light, allowing people to look upon her without dying of her heart-breaking beauty. Her fingers are shears, silver inlayed with gold, and her eyes are pitch black, with just a hint of a star flickering in each one. Her lips are as black as velvet on a pale face, and her hair falls down her back like shadow. She never even attempts to play as mortal, coming with evening on her heels. She dresses in the blues and blacks of twilight, with just a hint of violet, and just a hint of stardust. The Lady of the Eventide is rarely seen outside of Arcadia, but when she comes, she takes what she wants, and no one dares gainsay her.


The Castle of Twilight (Realm)An Escher-like Castle of twisting stairs, mirrored hallways, and exquisite rooms with artworks beyond compare. The Castle of Twilight is the Mistress' favored intrusion into the mortal world, the realm overlaying itself onto an earthy building, and then retreating once it has snatched up whatever prize it was seeking. It can only really intrude into places compatible with its nature - libraries, museums, old-fashioned houses or exquisitely tasteful ballrooms. The shadows grow darker, the books older and yet more valuable, the room becomes more beautiful and yet somehow more lonely. Things start lurking in the darkness and the mirrors, and these things are perfectly capable of snatching someone up, dragging them back to Arcadia along with the rest of the Castle.


The Perfect Moment (Prop)A bronze and glass hourglass, bigger than a man, filled with glowing golden sands. There are actually two hourglasses, but the second is filled with silver and hidden inside, and even the True Fae cannot see it. The premise of the Perfect Moment is simple. Only one person can use the Perfect Moment during a single day. The person tips over the hourglass, and while doing so states a goal. It must be a single goal, no conjunctions, not even an adjective to further clarify. When the hourglass is active, it will not let the day progress unless that goal has been met - at the stroke of midnight the sands run out, and the hourglass resets time to the moment where it was first activated. However, it does not otherwise assist the person who activated it, merely resetting time to give the person another chance at their goal. It likewise will only reset if the goal has not been met, so if the day has otherwise been a catastrophic failure, the person activating it cannot use it to undo the damage done. The third caveat is that the person activating it only gets seven chances to accomplish their stated goal. If they have not done so by the seventh turning, the hidden inner hourglass' sands run out, and time moves on without them. They are left behind and vanish from the timestream, trapped in their final day, repeating it over and over, knowing their goal will no longer affect reality but attempting to accomplish it simply so they can get out. The Perfect Moment is a very very powerful artifact if used carefully, and believed by many to by why the Mistress is as strong as she is. However, it is exceedingly easily to set an unrealistic goal, and be devoured by the hungry sands.


Fateweaver (Prop)It doesn't look like much, though like everything touched by the Mistress, it's exquisitely made. It's a black and silver loom about the size of a lap-harp, already strung and with fuzzy caterpillars crawling about on the strings. The user states a person, and then states a specific fate - the one exception is that this is a weaver of fate, not the shears, and the fate named cannot end anyone's life. Once stated, the caterpillars begin to spin the fate into the loom, and three things happen. One, the user and the target become intertwined by destiny, up to and including the Destiny merit. Two, the fate named by the user is weaved into the pattern of the Wyrd, and will come true. Three, the karmic imbalance left by this act results in a second fate being woven into the Wyrd, to counterbalance the first fate. If the user asks for a good fate, something bad is likely to happen as well. If the user curses an enemy with the Fateweaver, that enemy may get something good as well, or likewise manage to curse the user back. It's a complex system, and no one can ever say for sure what the second manifestation will be. It isn't always, or even usually, a straightforward backfire, but fate will balance itself. The Fateweaver will not work without the caterpillars, so if they are somehow killed or removed, the user will need to provide some manner of silk-spinning worms as replacements.

Unfortunately for the Mistress, Fateweaver was stolen by an escaping Othello years ago, possibly as a backfire to one of her own weavings. She has no idea where it is or where to find it - the Fateweaver escaped Othello's grasp as well, and it's currently lost somewhere in the mortal world.


The Celestial Apples (Prop)A triplet of apples: one is golden, one is pale white, and one is a softly glowing black. The only trouble is that no one is quite certain which apple is which - it's possible they switch colors every time they're used. They all look very appealing and smell sweet.

The Apple of the Moon looks enticing enough that even those who don't normally eat are tempted to take a bite. As soon as they do, of course, they are stricken down as if poisoned. It doesn't end there, however, as the "dead" body isn't quite as dead as it looks. It begins to draw everything and everyone around it into the Hedge, as the Thorns start covering everything. Destroying the "dead" body halts this process, though it proves easier said than done, as the Hedge almost immediately acts to protect it - trapping it in a tower, encasing it in impenetrable crystal, sprouting wicked briars around it. Once the Hedge has devoured the surrounding area, it sits patiently, waiting for the body at the center of it to "hatch". In essence, the poisoned person is a proto-Keeper, the realm surrounding it slowly morphing to fit their personalities and their vices, figments of their minds forming into Actors, Wisps, and Props. In time, one of the figments will become dominant, and they will become one of the Gentry and awaken. The process can be reversed, however: legends tend to name True Love's kiss, but what actually needs to be done is to make the victim feel their own empathy or humanity again. This dumps both the stolen realm and the (now living) victim back into the real world, alive and none the worse off... mostly. If the victim was human, they are now a changeling... or possibly a Charlatan.

The Apple of the Sun brims with knowledge, too much knowledge for any one mind to take. Anyone holding the apple instinctively knows what will happen if they bite into it. A mortal who bites into it immediately gains a template (usually Exceptional Mortal). A supernatural who bites into if immediately gains exp that they can spend on any supernatural powers they desire. The catch comes in that the character's sanity and innocence plummet like a stone, quite possibly driving them mad.

The Apple of the Stars doesn't require the owner to bite it to get the effect. Simply holding it does. So long as someone is holding it, everyone loves them. Former enemies come by to apologize, authority figures are subtly biased, and no matter how much the user abuses someone, they'll still be friends. The catch is, this doesn't work on someone that already genuinely cares about the user, and will never work, even if that love turns to hate - and indeed, the way most people holding the Star Apple start to act makes love turn rancid quickly. Even if they don't meet a messy end at the hands of a former admirer, people holding the Apple of Stars often forget that love is no better than the lover. "Love" can manifest as stalking, controlling behavior, or even desperate bouts of violence ending in murder-suicides.

Old Red
The Tempter and Troubadour Incarnadine

Type: The Old Gods
Changelings: Tommy Lynch, Lobsterback Bill



Virtue: Generous (No matter how low you sink, Old Red's always ready to lend a hand.)
Vice: Jealous (It is a source of constant annoyance to Old Red that to be truly debased, truly malign, takes that spark of human creativity. It galls him to no end.)

Story: Take a litle walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms,
like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires,
in the humming wires
Hey man, you know
you're never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge,
past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand

He'll wrap you in his arms,
tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
it took you a lifetime to destroy
He'll reach deep into the hole,
heal your shrinking soul
Hey buddy, you know you're
never ever coming back
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand

You ain't got no money?
He'll get you some
You ain't got no car? He'll get you one
You ain't got no self-respect,
you feel like an insect
Well don't you worry buddy,
cause here he comes
Through the ghettos and the barrio
and the bowery and the slum
A shadow is cast wherever he stands
Stacks of green paper in his
red right hand

(Organ solo)

You'll see him in your nightmares,
you'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
he ain't what he seems
You'll see him in your head,
on the TV screen
And hey buddy, I'm warning
you to turn it off
He's a ghost, he's a god,
he's a man, he's a guru
You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand

Style: Old Red has a plan, and he's been working on it for give or take a thousand years. It's a very big plan with a whole lot of little pieces, but Old Red's a clever enough devil to keep track of the whole thing. He's a devil of sin and iniquity, and he's a colloquial sort of devil at that. He's not the majestic Satan of high society, but rather he's the folk-tale devil with the horns and the forked tail, striking a deal with a peasant or signing a crossroads contract with a rising music star. Sometimes they get the better of him -- those stories are true -- but even so, Old Red has got himself a lot of contracts and a lot of changelings this way, and his plan's edging every close to fruition.

Just what the plan actually is, well, that's a different story. Old Red never actually says what it is. Maybe he's plumb forgotten what the point of it all was. Or maybe it's something that only makes sense to a True Fae. Or maybe it's to end the world. Hard to say. But it's a very big plan, and it doesn't make a lot of sense, but the little pieces seem to intersect in a lot of weird (or Wyrd) little ways.

He's part of the Court of the Twisting Accord, parading the very accomplishment of his contracted changelings before the others. They don't much like him (too crass, too boorish), but he's a useful devil. He spends a lot of time in the mortal realms, as such things go, and he's usually got a web of deals set up. He's fond of music and venality, and anywhere there's a jazz band or some heavy metal, or even just a bit of a tune while sin is on the prowl, he is there.

Known Avatars and Agents: Old Red's a True Fae that likes a personal touch. After all, he's hardly going to give the Power of Attorney to someone else, now is he? Whether he appears as a slick salesman or seductive serial killer, of course, is a different question. Old Red wears a lot of faces.

The Man with the Red Right Hand (Actor)He strives for charm and he gets sleaze. But that's okay, because the Man with the Red Right Hand has something that you want. A tall, handsome man in with black hair and an ingratiating smile, he wears a dusty old suit, with a contract in his pocket and a fountain pen in his hands so you can sign in blood. He always seems to know exactly when to appear, popping up with just the right thing to say.

It's Old Red's favorite manifestation, and it can be anywhere. It's not a violent manifestation, though no True Fae is really 'safe'. Usually, he's there and he's gone, but sometimes the Man with the Red Right Hand sticks around, finding a job, insinuating himself into his target's life. He's the Devil's Advocate, he's the Manager from Hell. He's the Man with the Red Right Hand.


The Bloody-Handed God (Actor)Sometimes, subtlety fails. Sometimes, the only real proper response to a situation is blood and gore. Old Red can do that too. No one ever said that the Devil was nice, now did they? The Bloody-Handed God is just that, a brutal, savage incarnation from some long-ago pre-modern past, whether a mad, woad-tattooed Celt or a brutal Iroquois hunter, his hands always dipped to the wrists in blood that never stops dripping. He's a master with all weapons, past and present, a psychotic killer who can be anywhere. He's the Old-Time Religion, slit throats and torn-out hearts and sacrifice on the stone, and if you give him enough offerings, he'll make things happen for you.


The Monkey's Paw (Prop)The Monkey's Paw isn't always from a monkey, nor is it always a paw, though it always takes the form of a hand - maybe a claw from some unknown monster, maybe a golden hand from a Pharaoh's sarcophagus. The premise behind it is always the same: Make a wish, one wish per finger, and hope you don't live to regret it. Because the Monkey's Paw can never create anything from thin air, it always has to take from somewhere else, and it isn't very subtle about doing it. You might wish yourself rich, but that money came from a bank, and spending that money is going to attract unpleasant attention. Wish for legitimate riches? Be prepared to lose something a lot more dear than money, and receive the funds as reparations. Try to wish yourself out of the repercussions? Well, that's the fast track straight to Arcadia, and Old Red's personal attention. The consequences of your wishes will never find you - they'll instead find what's left of your fetch, with the Monkey's Paw clasped around it's throat.

The Collector
The Grasping Beast with Golden Hide

Type: The Keepers
Changelings: Marcus, Rebecca, Gao Xianfang, Gao Xiaoming, Lizard



Virtue: Patient (One must restrain oneself from enthusiasms. Specimens tend to be very... breakable.)
Vice: Greedy (Collection is not a question of want. It is a question of need.)

Story:

--Excerpt from the Instructions for Collectors--

Living Treasures

While inert treasures often require special care to retrieve, most can be managed with thorough knowledge of safe packing techniques. Living Treasures are often the most rare and rewarding of finds, and can be easily damaged without proper handling. Since a living treasure is far more valuable and entertaining alive, the collector must be careful not to inflict undue harm during collection process, and cause the treasure to be downgraded to "Inert". In some cases, however, the treasure must be stifled and preserved to be properly displayed.

One of the most important things to remember when collecting a treasure is to maintain accurate records, including when and where the treasure was collected. By keeping this information on record, you can provide valuable information and legitimize the treasure's value to other collectors. Without the information, the treasure is not as high grade as a properly recorded example.

Vampires
Vampires are the recommended treasures for beginning collectors, as they are both easy to collect and preserve. Since vampires are nocturnal, it is recommended the collector hunt during the day, when the treasure is disoriented and cannot easily flee. A simple wooden pin through the heart is enough to paralyze the vampire, at which point it is easy to transport and display. If the collector wishes to revert their treasure to "Vital" grade, the stake can be removed once proper restraining equipment is in place. No further preservation methods are required, although when displaying the collector must be certain not to allow sunlight to touch the treasure. Sunlight can cause color distortion or irreparable damage to the treasure. The collector must also be careful no to cause undue damage when retrieving the treasure, as it will not heal while the vampire is pinned.

If the vampire is unduly damaged, steps can be taken to repair the treasure. Restrain the vampire with weights and heavy chains on all four limbs. Remember that vampires can be stronger than they appear, and be judicious with the weight. Cover the vampire's eyes and mouth with cloth as seen in the diagrams on the next page - ensure that the vampire's tongue is forced down, so that its throat is open but it cannot speak. Remove the wooden pin. Drip blood through the cloth and down the vampire's throat. The treasure should begin to retain its high grade appearance. If the vampire does not appear to be healing itself, it is best to re-pin the vampire rather than risking the treasure escaping.

Werewolves
Werewolves are often considered attractive treasures for beginners, as they rapidly heal any damage inflicted, and thus do not need to be treated as delicately as other treasures. However, investment in special silver equipment is required for any aspiring werewolf collector. They are also quite aggressive, and can bite if the handler is not careful. If the collector is unwilling to invest in the proper equipment for handling and keeping werewolves, it is recommended that they be stifled and displayed.

Werewolves are difficult to take by traditional means, as they do not respond to alchemical pacifiers. Faerie wine is recommended for those attempting to take the treasure alive. Werewolves are unaware of its potency and will drink it in large volumes, soon becoming intoxicated. Alternatively, trickery is recommended if possible, for easy transport and handling. If the collector wishes to stifle the treasure, it is critical to know that werewolves become humanoid once stifled, thus ruining any display of the pelt. The pelt must be collected while the treasure is still alive, after which point it may be released or stifled for other use. Some collectors have attempted to collect pelts from all five forms of the same treasure, but results from this have been mixed.

Humans and Changelings
The choice of treasure for the true collector, humans and changelings are very delicate and must be treated with care to avoid damaging them. There are many ways to collect these treasures. First, alchemical substances may be applied to render a treasure unconscious. While these can be applied via a rag to the nasal and throat passages, it will take several minutes for the treasure to be incapacitated, and it may damage itself in its struggle. Administration via food or drink is a preferable method, as it causes less stress to the subject. If the treasure needs to be caught in the field and the collector is without proper tools to do so, it is recommended to put pressure on both sides of the treasure's neck. This will stun the treasure long enough to place in a proper holding place. Be careful not to put pressure on the front or back of the neck, or use excessive force, as this will render the treasure inert and may cause damage. If the collector wishes to stifle the treasure, the use of poisons is suggested. The treasure may also be stifled via an iced enclosure, though this may cause discoloration.

Living Treasure Quality Designation

To provide a reference point whereby any trader, seller, or collector may visit and use the grading system for use in determining how to grade a treasure by comparison and description. Later in the book is also section on Mounting Tips and Ideas for Inert Treasures once they have been stifled, to best keep quality and high grade for mounted treasures.

Vital Supreme
The treasure is alive, undamaged, lacks any marring scars, and is possessed of superb liveliness or talent. This designation is considered 'the ultimate' pristine treasure. Such a specimen is virtually flawless and an above average example of the race. The treasure is perfect in every way. Such a stated condition is unusual and should be used with discretion.

Vital/A1
The treasure is alive and has very light damage, or is a pristine treasure but without any exceptional talent or markings. Treasure should be as close to 'Vital Supreme' as possible, but not quite. Only the most tiny hint of wear is allowed. Such minimal wear does not detract from treasure in any way.

Vital/A1-
Only the most tiny of imperfections are allowed such as very minor scars. Missing fingers or toes are permitted as long as they do not detract from appearance.

Vital A2
<end of excerpt>

Style: The Collector is the only member of the Twisting Accord that is of a level with the Mistress for raw power. He is a dragon, and not in the sense of 'large angry lizard' but 'immortal, elemental force of nature'. He is, even by the standards of the fickle fae, erratic, and possesses a host of bad habits. He is vain, lazy, gluttonous, holds grudges for millennia but otherwise has a very short attention span, wrathful and very violent, and above all else, he is Greed incarnate. The Collector is greedy and grasping, and it's not an elevated or refined kind of greed. In a word, he likes shiny and pretty things, the more polished and perfect the better.

Where the Mistress prizes power, the Princess passion, the Tempter skill, and the Firm modernity and technique, the Collector elevates physical beauty above all else. He is pitiless and exacting in his specifications, and is perfectly willing to melt down a hoard and have it sculpted and minted once again -- and to do the same to one of his luckless changelings. He has an unhealthy enthusiasm for perfecting his 'prizes,' and has an attitude towards them rather like that of a particularly gruesome butterfly collector scaled up. He discusses their decay and demise calmly, as regrettable facts, and often times kills them before they lose their perfect beauty to age. After all, what point beauty if it is not preserved?

All told, compared to the other members of the Twisting Accord, the Collector comes off as somewhat comic, but this ignores that he is an elemental force. He is Man writ large, all his vices and all of his powers upon the scale of mountains and valleys. He is cunning, and possessed of irresistible words, and when the Collector takes flight, he is the kind of monster that levels cities and renders them desolate for generations.

Known Avatars and Agents: The Collector is not, overall, a very subtle beast. He can be cunning, certainly, worming words of greed and hunger into others souls, but overall the Collector prefers the direct approach. Enough force, and no one and nothing can stand against him.

The Dragon of Golden Triumph (Actor)"My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath, death!"

In ages past, the Dragon of Golden Triumph flew forth from his faerie-cave to ravage the north of the world. He sank ships and flew off with caravans, smashed castles with his bulk and dueled in the skies with wizards and heroes. But those days are long past, and the Dragon stays within his Arcadian cavern, luring mortals to him with cunning traps and hired henchmen. What was once a monster to challenge armies can now be destroyed with mortal jets and missiles, and the form of a dragon is not a subtle one. Dragon ventures forth into the mortal world only once or twice a decade now, though he still flies above the skies of Arcadia and the Hedge. In the West, he is called Valrauth the Grand, in the East, Jianlong the Crocodile Dragon. His nature remains the same.

The Dragon of Golden Triumph is an absolute monster. A long, lithe dragon with golden scales, the Dragon is somewhere in the mid-point between a European and an Asian dragon, serpentine (or perhaps feline) rather than lizardlike. His body resembles nothing quite so much as an enormous, scaled hunting cat. He stretches a good 85 feet from his jaws to the tip of his tail, though most of that is neck and tail. He has a wingspan of almost a hundred feet, and weighs eighty tons. His central body is just a bit bigger than a city bus. Despite his bulk, however, the Dragon is surprisingly fast and nimble, and stealthier than one would expect something of his size to be.


The Priceless Army of Ten Thousand (Wisps)The Collector's legion of gold-armored soldiers, the Priceless Army is a force of destruction, but also of greed. The Dragon of Golden Triumph might burn a city to the ground, but in his carnage lose whatever treasure lies within. The Priceless Army, in contrast, invades, raids, sacks and pilfers. To the victors go the spoils, and the army has carried away thousands of tons of books, weapons, artifacts, gems, and gold in its time. It bears a resemblance to the Clay Army of China, but even the first emperor's army proves too poor for the Collector - the Priceless Army is made of precious metals and gems, armed with ornate spears and swords.


The Lion-Toothed Lord of Earthen Riches (Actor)At his heart, the Collector is a conservative beast, leery of the modern world - but as Tolkien once wrote, wherever there is gold and greed attracts dragons. The criminal underworld, running with untold wealth and blood, served as an irresistible lure to the old wyrm. The Lion-Toothed Lord appears as a Chinese man in his forties or fifties, sharp faced and fierce-looking, dressed in an impeccable black suit - his hair is a thick black mane run through with grey and bleach blond tips, he sports an elaborate tattoo of a dragon on his back, his eyes are gold and his teeth are sharp, and he has a long, thin mustache, much like a dragon's whiskers. He's not savvy or manipulative, but that's alright. He's proud, fierce, violent, and wealthy, and that attracts followers. He lurks Chinatowns all over the globe, often serving as muscle for his true people on the ground, though those who fail to recognize their true place and give due respect tend to meet a nasty end.


The Dragon's Vault (Realm)There's always rumors of Dragon's Vaults, hidden and secretive tombs that are dangerous to body and soul, but hold priceless treasure within. And the treasure inside is always the grand prize to man's ambition. Fortunes beyond compare. Magic artifacts of ancient power. Immortality. The perfect lure to bait the traps for those cunning, skilled, and knowledgeable to suit the Dragon's tastes. These are traps, and the hard earned reward for getting through them is to be dragged into Arcadia, a fetch left behind in place. If the fetch is lucky, it gets to go away with the prize it was seeking, just so it can spread more rumors about more Dragon's Vaults. If it is less lucky, it wakes up without any memories of what happened in the tomb, left to dismiss the strange changes in itself as consequences of its harrowing escapade. If it is very unlucky, it gets to be the moral to a morality tale, finding the waters of immortality are nothing but poisonous mercury. Of course, to the real person, now a changeling or worse, this is all rather immaterial.

Sunset
The Sunset Princess of Stolen Desire

Type: The Fair Folk
Changelings: Todd White, Dana the Tall



Virtue: Helpful
Vice: Lustful

Story:
"I wish that you would visit me one day, in my house.
There are such sights I would show you."

My intended lowers her eyes, and, yes, she shivers.
Her father and his friends all hoot and cheer.

"That's never a story, Mr. Fox," chides a pale woman
in the corner of the room, her hair corn-fair,
her eyes the grey of cloud, meat on her bones,
she curves, and smiles crooked and amused.

"Madame, I am no storyteller," and I bow, and ask,
"Perhaps, you have a story for us?" I raise an eyebrow.



I see her then,
the pale, fair girl, the smile has reached her lips,
her skirts so long as she slips, grey–eyed,
amused beyond all bearing, from the room.
She'd many a mile to go, that night.
And as she leaves,
from my vantage place on the floor,
I see the brush, the tail between her legs;
I would have called,
but could speak no more. Tonight she'll be running
four–footed, surefooted, down the White Road.

What if the hunters come?
What if they come?

Be bold, I whisper once, before I die.
But not too bold...

And then my tale is done.

-------------------------Neil Gaiman, The White Road

Style: The youngest of the Twisting Accord, however the True Fae measure such things, the Sunset Princess of Stolen Desires is a creature of brief infatuations. Unlike True Fae such as the Mistress or the Board, Sunset very much prefers a personal touch, granting a single changeling her direct and constant attention until such a point as her interest wanes. She takes few of the Lost away, but she is hard on them, and those that survive her are usually broken, emotionally-damaged shells of what they once were. Only the fact that her interest fades after a time allows her enthralled slaves to ever escape. She is in some strange way counterpart and rival to the Mistress, the perfect abusive lover to the Mistress's perfect abusive parent. The two True Fae have a keen competition, Sunset championing the passion of her toys against the Mistress's cold, technical skill.

Sunset is also quite willing to extend her personal touch in the mortal realms. She appears as the Girl With Russet Hair, most often to pursue some brief infatuation, but also to spread her own personal brand of chaos. Sunset adores emotional drama, the more tragic and violent the better. She thrives on betrayal and love-turned-to-hate, using her subtle wiles to drive such little stories of indiscretion and broken promises until they turn into tales of suicide and murder right out of Arthurian myth. They called her Morgana, once, Morgana le Fay.

Known Avatars: Either for reasons of weakness or personal preference, Sunset rarely employs the vast entourages or legions of servitors that others of the True Fae prefer. Instead, she goes abroad in the mortal world cloaked in her own skin.

The Girl With Russet Hair (Actor)The Sunset Princess's chosen form in the mortal world, The Girl With Russet Hair is an old hand at passing for mortals. She appears as nothing more than a striking young woman with soft, reddish-brown hair and a wild and mischievous smile. She can charm the birds from the skies and the fish from the sea, but hers is not an overt, sultry beauty. Rather, she's cute, and friendly, and simply fun to be around. Taking some mortal name, the Girl insinuates herself into her victim's life, enticing them and breaking them by equal measures, until the hapless mortal begs to be taken away. Sometimes, she does.


The Evil Exes (Wisps)Someone as beautiful as Sunset is bound to have them. Literal monsters and ogres who won't take "No" for an answer, and who take it personally if someone new is trying to edge in on "their" Princess... even if the poor newcomer never really asked to be her new flame. And what better way for aspiring suitors to prove their worth than to defend the poor, innocent lady from a constant stream of thuggish brutes? It's all a game, of course, a machismo-soaked script of half-promised whispers that defending the lady from entitled bullies instead entitles the savior to the "prize". Like all of the True Fae, it is rooted in the worst sort of narratives from real life, and Sunset encourages it heartily. She always reacts with wide-eyed innocence when they appear, and in the way of the True Fae, is probably genuine in it. The evil Exes don't even appear to all of her paramours. But it is an intrinsic part of her nature to throw fuel on the fire, to insinuate that beating off her suitors means getting her as the reward. At least, until she finds some other, new challenge for her unfortunate beau.

The Firm
The Honourable Corporation of the Ouroboros

Type: The Others
Changelings: J. T. Underwood, Miss Bell, Xerox



Virtue: Code of Behavior: Byzantine Rules (If by some miracle you fill out all the forms and avoid all the loopholes, the Firm will go along with it)
Vice: Stubborn (Just because it's stupid, counterproductive, and insane is no reason to stop doing it)

Story:
“You did what you were told or you didn't get paid, and if things went wrong it wasn't your problem. It was the fault of whatever idiot has accepted this message for sending in the first place. No one cared about you, and everyone at headquarters was an idiot. It wasn't your fault, no one listened to you. Headquarters had even started an Employee of the Month scheme to show how much they cared. That was how much they didn't care.”

The boy had come with two mismatched mugs of tea. One had an appealing little kitten on it, except that erratic collisions in the washing-up bowl had scratched it so that its expression was that of a creature in the final stages of rabies. The other had once hilariously informed the world that clinical insanity wasn't necessary for employment, but most the words had faded, leaving:

You Don't Have to Be Mad
To Work Here But It Helps

-Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

--Excerpt--

CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT
STATEMENT OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS
OMNES SUNT EFFICIENS, NEMO PRODUCIT

The Honorable Corporation of the Ouroboros, hereinafter “The Firm,” hereby confirms the appointment of XXXXXXXX, hereinafter “The Employee.” This document outlines the Terms and Conditions that apply to the contract of The Employee, and other information which is relevant to his/her employment.

1. The date of commencement of this contract, and of The Employee’s continuous service with The Firm or its subsidiaries, is XXXXXXXX. This contract operates in perpetuity.

2. Base salary estimates are available from the Department of Human Resources, upon submission of Forms 3A, 6W, 270PS, 599-Supplemental and all Forms 10088.22 through Magenta 5. At the discretion of The Firm, a personal consultation may be deemed necessary before base salary estimates are made available. The Firm reserves the right, with appropriate notice, to decrease The Employee’s base salary estimate as the needs of The Firm may dictate.

3. The Employee’s working hours will be SEVEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE per week. The Firm may require The Employee to increase the number of his/her working hours if required on a temporary or permanent basis, should the needs of the position require it.

4. The Firm’s leave year runs from 16 June to the following 15 June. The Employee is entitled to ZERO days of leave per leave year, non-inclusive of statutory and local holidays. The Employee is entitled to ZERO minutes of leave per leave day. The Employee is entitled to ZERO seconds of leave per leave minute.

5. The Employee is obliged to give The Firm SEVENTEEN THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN weeks notice to terminate his/her contract of employment. Premature violation of these terms will be considered in breach of contract, and will result in The Employee’s immediate termination. The Firm and its officers are obliged to give the statutory minimum FOUR POINT TWO SECONDS of notice before terminating The Employee.

6. This position is subject to the completion of a SIX MONTH probationary period. At the end of this period, if The Employee’s performance is of a satisfactory standard, his/her appointment will be made permanent. Unsatisfactory employees will be subject to immediate termination. (c.f. Condition 5)

7. The Employee is expected to comply with the Company dress code at all times. Code-appropriate clothing is available from the Department of Procurement, Subdivision 6, upon submission of Forms 0001.11 through 88-Reversible. Some wait times may apply.

8. It is a provision of this contract that The Firm must be satisfied with The Employee’s medical fitness to carry out his/her duties, conditional upon a satisfactory assessment from the Department of Occupational Health. Should it be deemed necessary during the course of The Employee’s employment, he/she may be required to attend a medical examination or other related procedure from the Department of Occupational Health or the Department of Research and Development. Failure to attend this examination or procedure will be considered a breach of contract, and will be subject to disciplinary action.

9. The Employee is prohibited from smoking, sleeping, drinking, eating, leaving the premises of The Firm, or submitting Form 599-Supplemental on company time. The breach of any of these regulations will result in disciplinary action or termination, at the discretion of the Department of Human Resources. A complete list of prohibited behaviors, utterances, and metabolic processes is available from the Department of Archives, upon submission of Forms [REDACTED]. Some wait times may apply.

--End of Excerpt--

Style: A military tribunal punishes a soldier for jumping the chain of command, despite the fact her direct superior was the person who was abusing her. Farmers can't afford the food they grow themselves, and starve to death after government trucks haul the crops away, despite growing more than enough to feed their families. A boy dies while begging for his inhaler, which had been confiscated by a school nurse, who refused to give it to him even while he was suffocating three feet in front of her. Thousands of situations, big and small, that an ounce of common sense dictates shouldn't happen - and yet they do, thousands of people going along with the insanity, because a twisted system of Byzantine rules somehow makes it seem reasonable, because they desperately need that paycheck, because the system will gleefully dispose of them if they dare to question it. And in every inch of human misery caused by bureaucratic incompetence, there lies the Firm.

The Firm is identifiable to all those unfortunate enough to enter it as some kind of company... despite the fact it appears to switch century every floor. Some portions resemble modern day businesses, with sleek copiers and state of the art computer servers - other portions of the company still rely on carrier pigeons to send messages to other portions of the company. Indeed, some sections are required, by company policy, to use the pigeons, despite the fact the office over has a perfectly functional smart phone. A great many time periods and nations are represented here, cherry picking from the finest instances of institutional stupidity on Earth. The Firm sometimes updates its technology in certain sectors, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. There is no rhyme or reason to anything in the Firm. A cross between the courts of Tsar Nicolas, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and the summer job from hell, the Firm is nothing more than straight up authoritarian insanity.

The surprising thing, really, is how banal it all is. The Firm is a place where a typo on a company form can lead to an employee being shot and run through a chipper shredder (proper disposal procedure for all employees, to guarantee they won't join a competitor) - and when the typo is discovered, the restitution will be an insincere apology in the morning announcements and a minor bonus to the dead employee's 401k. People have fired shots over staplers, employees have gotten away with murder due to filling out the proper forms first, corruption and nepotism is more rampant than in a long-running dictatorship, and many employees have set up petty fiefdoms based on an economy of office supplies or copier access. And yet the overall feeling of the Firm isn't terror or paranoia, though there is certainly the fear of punishment that keeps people going along with the system. The Firm is simply soul-crushing drudgery, caked five feet deep in a layer of cynicism. The demise of friends and coworkers is simply how things are, another eyerolling example of how all the higher-ups in the company are idiots. The madness and stupidity simply seems normal. That's the worst part.

Of course, there isn't much to be done beyond pretending it's all normal, as there can be no meaningful protest against the Firm. An employee can hardly quit, the Firm is unassailable, and figuring out the company policies to work within the system could easily take centuries (and the polices change on a whim). Most employees simply trudge along, following regulations, because they don't want to get punished for failing to do so. Of course, those who work there long enough begin to realize the Firm is too big to police, and their regulations are too many to follow. Everyone is guilty of something, which renders justice inherently random. Things generally go downhill from there.

Known Avatars: The customary manifestation of The Firm -- five grey men in five black suits, speaking in unison -- is far too attention-grabbing to be of much use in the mortal world. The Board knows this, and prefers to delegate its external operations to its various servitors. The following are the two principal classes of employee that can be found outside The Firm's premises, as well as what happens when the Firm itself moves in.

The Salmagundi Conglomerate (Realm)One floor is a dystopian nightmare yanked right out of the Communist Bloc. The office over is a literal Banana Republic. The copier machines are set in a cubicle that belongs to a serial killer. Gang wars are fought over paperclip black-markets. The Firm's corporate offices seem to be a highlight reel pulled from history's best cases of institutional dysfunction, outright insanity that survives because someone wrote it down on paper and the higher-ups will throw you in a chipper-shredder if you protest. It can't linger in the mortal world for long, at least, not under normal circumstances. Even the smallest ounce of common sense is enough to snap it's hold on reality. At least, until the rules get so twisted and Byzantine that everyone involved starts to feel like they've gone completely insane. That's when the Firm moves in. Once vibrant employees start to go home without that "vital spark" in them, their soul crushed by pointless authoritarianism - in truth snatched up by the Firm to live out an Orwellian nightmare back at the Salmagundi Conglomerate.


The Company Men (Wisps)The Board's most trusted direct reports, picked from the employment pool for their charisma, acuity, and unflinching loyalty. The Company Men are deployed wherever business sense, persuasion, deception, or other social talents are paramount -- generally on assignments involving mortals unaware of The Firm's true nature. They may operate as consultants for mortal businesses, spreading The Firm's "unique" organizational style; as political operatives, lobbying for The Firm's interests; as recruiters, tempting high-value mortal personnel into a contract and the Hedge with fabulous (fabricated) tales of The Firm's working environment; or in any number of other suitable roles.

There are exactly five Company Men at all times, one for each member of The Board; they are replaced as necessary. In person, they epitomize the ideal of the hard-charging, up-to-the-minute senior associate: clean-cut, power-suited, and equipped with all the latest accessories, while still radiating approachability, trustworthiness, and sales-rep charm. They, are, to a man, extremely convincing. While a reputed talent for disguise renders them difficult for escaped changelings to identify, it is also important to note that Company Men are not necessarily male -- though, given that the corporate culture at The Firm currently hovers somewhere around 1983, their demographic makeup is not exactly commensurate with present-day hiring practices.


The Department of Human Resources (Wisps)The Firm's in-house cadre of enforcers and secret police ranges in personality all the way from "sadistic and mostly cogent" to "sadistic and mostly deranged" to "sadistic and horrifying, Clarity One shell of a person." Justifiably feared within the premises of The Firm itself, HR also maintains a Retention subdivision to track down escaped employees or other Changelings within the mortal world. While HR members are a great deal less powerful individually than Company Men, The Board considers them more expendable: when a great deal of force is necessary, and the target is already aware of the threat that The Firm poses -- obviating the need for subtlety -- then they are sent out in swarms.

The Department of Human Resources, as noted, is not very subtle. Most often, they appear as pale, Stepfordian, deeply unsettling parodies of the protagonists in employee training videos, defaulting to The Firm's slightly anachronistic clothing and personal care milieu. Rictus smiles are common, as are monologues approximating an employee manual's "recommended team player behavior" section. When they are armed, it's with the sort of weapons you'd get if you locked Tony Stark in a Des Moines paper company's electronics supply room, instead of a terrorist training camp.

The Huntress
The Ivory-Throned Huntress of Blood and Desire

Type: The Kindly Ones
Changelings: Cheshire, Anni Icevein, Dominic Carlisle



Virtue: Loyal. Run with her, fellow sisters, and know the taste of power and freedom.
Vice: Violent. The huntress hunts, and it can have but one ending.

Story:
And so we ran away in fear & avoided being torn to
bits and eaten like deer by the bacchants; but they
attacked our cattle, barehanded, as they grazed
in the field, and you could see one grab and stretch
the legs of a young, pink-uddered calf, bellowing, as other
Maenads pulled and tore a full-grown heifer apart.
And you'd have seen ribs or cloven hooves thrown
up & down as they dripped, hanging from
fir tree branches, cover'd in blood.
The proud bulls, which moments before had been fully
ready to charge, dropped their body down to earth,
brought down by countless maidens' hands as they
stripped the poor beast's flesh right off like clothes
in the time it'd take you to blink your highness' eye.
And they danced off in a whirl, flittering like birds a-
cross the plains beneath their feet which, by the river
Asopus' streams, puts forth the Thebans' fertile corn.

And they fell upon Hysias, Erythrai, & the villages below
Kithairon's rocky peak like an invading army that
attacks everything before it, pillaging
high and low. They kidnapped children from their homes,
and whatever they placed upon their shoulders stayed
in place without bands or bonds to hold it there;
atop their curls were flames which did not burn. The men,
enraged at being plundered by the Bacchants, took to
arms, a terrible sight to see, my lord, as the
spears that they were throwing did not make the
women bleed, and neither did their implements of iron or
bronze pierce their fairwhite flesh. But
the thyrses that the women's hands hurl'd forth
injured the men so violently, that they did turn their
backs in fear & flee: this could not be done without some god.
Then they returned from whence they came, to the springs the god
sent up for them and washed the blood off of themselves
and the drops of blood still on their cheeks were licked
clean off their skin by serpents' darting tongues.

-Euripides, The Bacchae

Style: A Keeper of uncertain providence, some believe her to be related in some way to the Shear-Fingered Mistress or the Sunset Princess - a middle sibling, however the fae measure things, or perhaps even an unusual aspect of one or the other. If an aspect, it is not certain which of the two it would be, as she seems set between the two. She holds an authority the Sunset Princess does not, a vitality the Mistress does not, and an unabashed sexism that neither have. The Sunset Princess takes her lovers from whomever might strike her fancy, and while the Mistress treats men and women differently, she takes either without bias. The Huntress is attended by women and women alone. Men, if they are lucky, are dogs. If they aren't lucky, they are prey.

As the name would suggest, the Huntress hunts, and she hunts the most dangerous prey. Sometimes it is Hedge monstrosities, sometimes it is men. The Huntress and her servants use all the tools at their disposal - sometimes they run with spear and fang, chasing their prey in a frenzy to put the maenads to shame. Sometimes they use more subtle means, luring men in with half-whispered promises and enticing eyes. Sometimes they combine the two, reveling in the combination of lust and fear. She is a fickle beast, and her attendants can easily lose her favor, though the Huntress does not turn her once faithful into prey. They are simply cast out without a backward glance.

It isn't certain if she plays in the games of The Court of the Twisting Accord, and if she does, it is not clear what aspect of her attendant changelings she is espousing. Whatever it is seems limited to the Fairer Sex, though since both the real world and the fae one are rarely so clear cut, what that might be is an open question.

Known Avatars: Given it is not at all certain if the Huntress is another Keeper's title, the Huntress is the only proven avatar of herself. Her servants, however, are easily spotted. They are vicious, beautiful, alluring, and they tend to come in packs.

The Huntress (Actor)The Huntress is sex incarnate, though it's not from any effort put forth on her part. Her wild chestnut curls are shot through with highlights of bright red, and it falls in an untamed mane around her face, a few thick braids running through it. Her figure is thick, powerful muscles that are softened into curves with fat, a classical physique that screams its strength and vitality. Her vibrant skin is flushed from exercise, and covered in swirling tattoos of blue and silver. Her eyes are bright red, the left one having a silver pupil instead of a black one. Two red-black antlers burst forth from just above her temples, her ears are that of a doe, and the nails of her feet are the ursine claws of a bear. She carries an ivory spear and a bow nocked with ivory arrows, each one carved with intricate patterns of beasts. If she wears anything, it is a simple red or green shift, clasped with a gemstone brooch. If on a hunt, she is often splattered with blood, though she otherwise is often found bathing and is enticingly clean.

Gao Xianfang

Type: Changeling
Seeming: Elemental
Kith: Waterborn
Born: 1478
Apparent Age: Mid-40s



Virtue: Righteous
Vice: Fussy

Background: For most of his mortal life, Gao Xianfang was a customs official in the city of Guangzhou (called Shang-Sheng back then) in the Guangdong province, during the middle of the Ming Dynasty. He came from an old, respectable family, not fabulously wealthy but certainly well-off enough to ensure that the studious Xianfang managed to make his way through the imperial examinations and then provide him with a comfortable sinecure inspecting cargo manifests and stamping papers. It wasn’t the most prestigious of appointments, but it was profitable, and it allowed Xianfang to indulge his rather dangerous hobby – for Xianfang was a political philosopher.

Had Xianfang stuck to Confucius’s Analects, he probably would have been fine. But Xianfang was one of those people who learned for the sake of learning, and as a customs official of a major port, he was able to procure political treatises from all over the world. Xianfang was one of the few people in China as familiar with the Arthaśāstra of Chāṇakya and The Republic of Plato as he was with the works of Confucius, Mencius, and Mozi. Nor did Xianfang limit himself to political works, dabbling in the natural sciences and in the arcane texts as well, plucking interesting books out of the great network of trade over which he presided.

Quite likely, Xianfang would have lived out his life in comfortable obscurity, had it not been for the advent of the Portuguese to Guangzhou in 1514. Xianfang watched dumbstruck as within a matter of years, the Portuguese and their big, ocean-going ships managed to secure a near-monopoly on trade coming out of Guangzhou. Xianfang, who like most amateur students of politics had strong opinions, was mortally offended by this intrusion. So he gathered up his choicest books, took a leave of absence from his wife and his work, and went to Nanjing, the southern capital of the Ming Dynasty.

In all of the millennia-long history of China, the court of the Ming stands out as one of the most subtle and one of the most poisonous. Xianfang was a worldly man – he was a customs official, people tried to cheat him on a daily basis – but the courtiers and eunuchs of Nanjing listened carefully to his suggestions for reforms and new regulations and decided that he ought to be removed. Over the course of one humiliating year, Xianfang found himself fined for most of his wealth, accused of corruption, demoted to a petty magistrate, and banished to a nameless village in the northwest of China, thousands of miles from home with no one but illiterate peasants and Mongol raiders to keep him company. They made one mistake. They let him keep his books.

As well as being a philosopher, Xianfang was something of a sorcerer. He was bright and he had access to a lot of books, and so it was only natural for him to start summoning his ancestors for consultation and drawing astrological charts of the heavens to determine the course of the future. But in that nameless village, Hsien’s magic took a darker turn. He started calling on more and more potent spirits, seeking a way to free China from what he saw as its corrupt leadership. Finally, Xianfang invoked that which he could never put down -- the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong.

While a false-Xianfang of wicker and stone lived his years in that silent village, the true Gao Xianfang was taken to Jiaolong's underground palace. For seven years, Xianfang was the lowliest of servants in that great palace of jade, cleaning the pools and caring for the hot springs that served for Jiaolong's comfort. For the next seven years, Xianfang was a student of elder spirits, learning that they too had once been human but now were changed, all through the glory of Jiaolong. And for the final seven years, Xianfang was a student of the mighty Dragon himself, discoursing on matters of the soul and the body, on the future of China and on the future of Xianfang himself. And at the end of those twenty-one years, Jiaolong returned his apprentice to China.

Under the cover of darkness, Xianfang returned to his home city of Guangzhou and formed a new secret society, the Fei Yu Dang (the Leaping Fish Society), out of his family and his close retainers. Jiaolong had explained matters most cogently. During these benighted times, the Great Crocodile-Dragon could return to China only briefly -- but if Xianfang was willing to collect the proper materials, the scrolls and treasures and yes, people, that Jiaolong required, then the dragon's power would grow, and together they would rejuvenate China and rescue it from its tainted and corrupt leadership. But this would require a great deal of effort and a great deal of time, and so until then, Jiaolong bid that Xianfang never die, nor would his chosen followers, the ones that were sent to Jiaolong's underground palace to be taught and transformed as Xianfang himself was.

So, with sorcery and cult and the support of the Great Crocodile-Dragon, Xianfang turned to his task. Unfortunately, Xianfang was a better philosopher than a leader, being a perfectionist in matters of doctrine and an idealist with regards to politics. Jiaolong's aid, meanwhile, never seemed to be quite enough. Hsien's first effort to take power, a provincial rebellion in the late 1500s, ended in an absolute disaster. The peasants ignored him, the Ming cut down his few soldiers, and Xianfang was forced to flee to the mountains with a few loyal retainers.

This would set the pattern for Xianfang and the Fei Yu Dang for the subsequent centuries. Time and time again, Xianfang would prepare for a glorious revolution that would save China. He would send gifts and servants to Jiaolong, searching the length and breadth of the world for things to strengthen the Great Crocodile-Dragon. Xianfang would summon supernatural allies, suborn officials, gather weapons, prepare speeches, do all the things a proper revolutionary leader must do. And he would either be found out before time, or his uprising would fizzle, and Xianfang would be forced to flee and rebuild.

It’s happened a bit less since Hsien’s many-times great-granddaughter, Gao Xiao-jie, took over day-to-day command of the Fei Yu Dang, but it still happens. Most recently, 1949 saw Xianfang and the Fei Yu Dang forced to flee mainland China altogether to avoid being murdered by the Communists, and since that time they’ve been centered in Hong Kong.

Xianfang is getting just a little bit desperate. At heart, he’s an idealistic man who truly, honestly believes that he knows best how China should be run, and that all the other leaders of China have been corrupt, murderous fools (to be fair, he may be onto something there). He strives to be a virtuous man, honorable and courteous and kind, but over the long centuries he’s been forced to make so many compromises… Xianfang has stolen and kidnapped, killed soldiers who came to arrest him, has bargained with creatures from the foulest hells, has looked the other way as Xiao turns the Fei Yu Dang into just another criminal cartel.

After five hundred years, there simply aren’t very many lines that Xianfang hasn’t crossed in order to achieve his goal. He hates it and he tries to avoid it, but Hsien’s idealism – and his sanity – are hanging by a slender thread indeed.

Not that anyone would know this from speaking to him. Xianfang is a perfect gentleman, polite and self-effacing, a head-in-the-clouds scholar who seems completely harmless. He’s cripplingly shy, and relates better to ideas than to people, who exist as sort of airy intellectual constructs in his head that are much neater and more organized than actual people are. Really, he’s just very nice, and it’s only occasionally that people see just how far Xianfang can go while shrouded in his air of abstraction.

Xianfang is a small Chinese man in his middle-forties, with a neatly trimmed black beard and wide, open eyes of a peculiar brownish-green color. He’s a little on the chubby side from lack of movement, and he usually smiles at people in a nervous fashion that makes him quite endearing. He looks a bit like a mid-level bureaucrat, really. He still tries to wear Ming dynasty robes whenever he can get away with it (he believes it conveys the proper image of dignity and respect), though more and more often he finds himself stuffed into Western suits that his descendants give him.

To those whose sight can pierce the Mask, Xianfang’s skin takes on something of the aspect of a tortoise, serpent or toad, with a heavy, jade shell covered in depictions of the Celestial Court and the constellations, and greenish, wrinkled skin. His throat swells or expands when he speaks, rather like that of a frog, and his hands are very long and sinuous. He speaks with a forked tongue, and his eyes glow an eerie yellow color. The air about him smells like brackish, stagnant water, and tiny drips of quicksilver fall from his shell, poisoning the ground around him.

Rank: 4
Mental 8; Physical 5; Social 2
Willpower: 1
Wyrd: 7
Notable Powers: A Proper Chinese Scholar; Obsessed beyond Reason; Knowledge Man Was Not Meant To Have


Gao Xiaoming

Type: Changeling
Seeming: Ogre
Kith: Farwalker
Born: 1736
Apparent Age: Mid-20s



Virtue: Adventurous
Vice: Violent

Background: Xiao’s earliest memories are of fleeing Guangzhou as a seven-year-old girl, while her family’s estate, the compound of the Fei Yu Dang, was burned by Qing soldiers behind her, her parents still inside. Xiaoming spent most of her girlhood in the Nanling Mountains of southeastern China, herding goats while Grandfather Xianfang tried to figure out what exactly had gone wrong with his latest abortive revolt. This was not an environment designed to inculcate in Xiaoming a respect for her elders.

By the time the Fei Yu Dang moved back to Guangzhou, Xiaoming had grown up into a vigorous, athletic, and thoroughly unfeminine young woman. Her relatives had tried to turn Xiaoming into a proper young lady, but she had a deplorable tendency to prefer clambering over mountainsides after lost goats over listening to Grandfather Xianfang's lectures on the correct ordering of the family.

Of course, she learned quite a few other things from Xianfang instead. She learned the rudiments of conspiracy and sorcery, how to run a secret society, and how to navigate the hidden pathways of the world. To Xiao, this was all completely and utterly normal. Other people had family business and family traditions, didn’t they? Hers were simply a little more esoteric than most, and included a sojourn in the underground palace of the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong, where Xiaoming spent her days training with the greatest spirit-warriors that the dragon could gather. Nothing all that strange there.

Xiaoming was perhaps the most enthusiastic scion the Fei Yu Dang had produced in close to two hundred years. She took to the expansion of the secret society like a duck to water, because quite simply she enjoyed it. She found the lies, the seduction, the murder, the sorcery, quite simply exhilarating, and she loved every moment of it. And somehow, by the end of the 18th century, Xiaoming found herself running the entire conspiracy, master of the Fei Yu Dang in all but name.

It wasn’t like Xiaoming had planned it, really. But she was always enthusiastic and friendly and willing to lend a hand, and after a while people started coming to her for practical advice on how to handle cult matters. Similarly, being decidedly less squeamish than Xianfang, Xiaoming had forged contacts with underworld of Guangzhou, and so when other members of the Fei Yu Dang had a problem, Xiaoming could often help. She knew which officials could be bribed, how one could earn some extra money, and when the Qing were going to do a sweep of the slums. One day, Xiaoming suddenly realized that even if she wasn’t the senior-most member of the Fei Yu Dang, even Jiaolong-blessed cultists twice her age were going to her for advice. They still sat for Xianfang's lectures, but they listened to Xiao.

Starting around 1820, then, Xiaoming began to take more direct control of the Fei Yu Dang. Her primary goal was to make it more stable, and to do so, she moved the cult into the underworld more fully, turning it into one of the fabled Triads of Chinese criminal society. She recruited other criminals into the organization, grew their numbers, and spread out to other cities. The core of each branch of the Fei Yu Dang remained the descendants of that handful of families that had been Gao’s earliest retainers and relatives (all much-intermarried by now), all of whom knew of the supernatural world and at least some of whom were sorcerers or Jiaolong-blessed in their own right, but who were now surrounded by networks of thugs, gangsters, and corrupt officials.

Today, the Fei Yu Dang is based out of Hong Kong, where the main branch of the Gao family has lived since the Communist victory in 1949. Other branches of the Leaping Fish Society are located in Guangzhou (the second largest) and London, with smaller branches in Shanghai, Macau, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and San Francisco. Their core business is smuggling antiquities, moving precious objects (sometimes supernatural) out of China and Southeast Asia and selling them to various patrons around the world -- after sending the skim of their crop to Jiaolong in exchange for his continued favor. They’re also involved in the smuggling of opium – heroin nowadays – into China, and serve as occasional assassins for other crime groups. The Fei Yu Dang has a reputation at being very good at killing people (it helps to be supernatural monsters), and so other Triads, and the Japanese Yakuza, often subcontract hits out to them. The entire group consists of about a dozen people who are supernatural in some way, a further thirty or so who know of the supernatural, and several hundred footsoldiers who haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on. Xiaoming herself presides over this criminal network like a dark queen, letting Xianfang believe that he is still in command but making all key decisions herself.

In some ways, Xiaoming hasn’t really grown up. She comes across as a vibrant, work-hard-play-hard personality, though she has a pragmatic (or rather, a ruthless) streak a mile wide. Most of the time, she treats her life as a game, one long competition where if you’re not having fun in the process, why bother? Yet unlike Grandfather Xianfang, Xiaoming is not an idealist. Somebody has to do the actual hard work of keeping the Fei Yu Dang running, and somebody’s got to solve the problems if anything’s going to get done around here. And sometimes, those problems are people, and Xiaoming is quite willing to ‘solve’ them too.

Nor does Xiaoming share her grandfather’s goals. She listens politely to the political screeds of the Fei Yu Dang’s founder, but Xiaoming figures that the chance of Xianfang becoming emperor of China are about equal to those of Chow Yun Fat, so she’s more interested in getting her hands on as much money, power, and influence as she can. The relationship between the two is complex. Xiaoming has little respect for her ancestor, having watched him fail time and time again, yet has a certain long-suffering affection for him born of almost three-hundred years of being together. Xianfang, meanwhile, realizes the extent to which he has been usurped, and resents it, yet can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s really much nicer when someone else is doing all the grunt work and people leave him to his scholarship.

Somewhat peculiarly, Xiaoming also has a perfectly satisfactory relationship with their patron, the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong, probably because she's unusually efficient at delivering peculiar artifacts or interesting people to him. It's almost like the dragon doesn't care about liberating China from the Communists. Actually, Xiao's pretty sure that Jiaolong doesn't care, but this is something she has no interest in telling her honored ancestor.

Back when she was growing up, Xiaoming was a tall woman, though her five-foot-six height today leaves her at just a little over average height. She has a hard, muscular body, rather like that of an athlete, and she keeps her hair cropped short so that it can’t fall into her eyes. She has the manner of a predator about her, a sort of lazy, lethal tiger that might toy with you or might eat you at any moment. She usually prefers to wear black bodysuits that give her a distinctly futuristic appearance, or else a Western-style black suit, though in formal situations she dons a qipao.

Beneath the Mask, Xiaoming is covered in a strange medley of ghostly white tigerish fur (save that the stripes grow into arcane and unnatural symbols) and viciously hooked, plant-like thorns, while retractable claws appear on her fingers. The markings on her face are particularly elaborate, and seem to change each time one looks at them. In her full war-form, Xiaoming becomes an utterly enormous white tiger, with the same unnatural patterns to her fur.

Rank: 3
Mental 2; Physical 6; Social 4
Willpower: 1
Wyrd: 5
Notable Powers: Triad Queen; Work Hard, Play Hard




Anni Icevein
Anni Devika Ghosh

Type: Changeling
Affiliation: Freehold of New Jerusalem
Court: Winter
Entitlements: Crimson Paladin, Knight of the Rose, Warden of the Silent Depths
Seeming: Elemental
Kith: Waterborn
Born: 1978
Apparent Age: Late twenties



Virtue: Courageous
Vice: Cold

Background: Anni Devika Ghosh's father abandoned her before she was even born, which just might explain something about the young woman. Her parents came over from Bengal in India in the late 1970s, and her father took one look at London, and before the year was out he abandoned his pregnant wife and fled back to India. Anni was born three months later, and her mother worked herself to the bone, spending every hour of the day at a succession of jobs to give Anni a better life than she had. Anni was going to be a doctor, an engineer, she was going to be a someone.

Anni was smart enough to make it work, certainly. She had a cool, analytical intelligence that let her sail through the local comprehensive, get a raft of A-levels, and be on her way to a good university. She studied art history, and she had a job lined up at Sotheby's when she finished as a collections researcher.

She did all of it without making a single real connection along the way. It's not that she hadn't had people around her, certainly. She had acquaintances, friends, at school and at the university, people with whom she spent time and did things. She had the usual romantic fumblings at the university and she was dating her supervisor at Sotheby's, a cute young man three years older than her. It's just that to Anni, it never really meant anything. All around her, people were being best friends forever, swearing eternal love and devotion, having crushes and loves and emotional arguments, and she felt cool and unconcerned inside. When her first boyfriend told her he loved her, Anni felt nothing, and ended up dumping him a few months later.

Anni knew this wasn't normal. Normal people should've felt things, but Anni somehow... didn't. She just couldn't make that kind of deep, emotional connection to people, couldn't relate to them in some fundamental way. She envied the people who could, and she knew she was missing out on something that everyone thought was wonderful. But she couldn't grasp it. She was cold inside, cold and cool and uncaring.

She experimented some in the university, trying to find out what her own limits were, if maybe she just needed a sharper push to get that connection that came so easily to other people. She ventured into the Gothic and Steampunk scenes, but found nothing there but some fashion choices. She dabbled in BDSM, but pain didn't turn her on, though she did cut herself on and off for years as a form of release. She slept with a man thirty years older than her for money once, but other than buying herself a nicer computer, the incident left no marks on her psyche whatsoever. By the time Anni was twenty-five, she'd basically resigned herself to an empty life, going through the motions of relationships without ever really deriving much satisfaction from them.

Then came the Durance. It happened as she was walking home one evening, when the world became strange, and she heard the baying of human voices behind her. Normal people would have run away, but fear didn't touch Anni anymore than love did (it required more in the way of an instinct for self-preservation or self-worth than Anni had), and so she didn't run. And that intrigued the Huntress of Blood and Desire enough that rather than have her maenads tear Anni apart, she spirited the young woman away, to Arcadia.

Her Keeper decided that since Anni was cold, she would be cold-blooded as well. She cast the young woman into the water, and she changed her that very first hour in Arcadia, into something cold, and beautiful, and predatory. Where the Huntress's chosen were Amazons like so many wolves, Anni was a serpent, a predator in ambush, but in so many other ways she was like them, part of their circle of huntresses. She hunted beasts and she hunted men, and sometimes she hunted with sharp claws, and sometimes she hunted with promises of lust beneath the water. Occasionally, Anni would do both, taking a lover only to drown them, watching the dying breaths bubble from their lips as their flesh grew cold and slack, as passion turned to terror and then stillness.

It probably should have bothered Anni, but it didn't. They just died so easily, their thrashings fading so quickly. She saw them die, was the cause of their deaths, and felt precious little guilt. What bothered Anni, perhaps, was the fact that she wasn't bothered. It was her Keeper's will, but still, Anni thought she would have felt more conflicted over murder. Except she wasn't.

On the contrary, her Durance was the happiest time of her life, because here was the connection she had been searching for all her life. She felt with the other huntresses, felt the companionship of the wolf pack, a perfect connection that was far more sublime than anything Anni had ever felt before in her life. They were hunters, in violence and in lust, together. Anni never wanted it to end... yet it did.

Subjectively, Anni's Durance lasted seven years, though she aged not at all during it, and in the mortal realm only two years passed. Her escape was unexpected. There was an argument over prey. Anni lost, and in the manner of the maenads, those who had been her friends and lovers turned on her, casting her out. Frantic, furious, alone, she fled into the waters. A day and night later Anni washed up on the banks of the Thames, cold, shivering, and naked. The police found her before she died of hypothermia, and the Unseelie found her at Guy's a few hours after that.

That happened in 2005. Anni settled into her new life with an ease born of not caring what happened. She didn't bother looking up her fetch or her old life, and she found a niche in the Freehold quickly enough (no one likes to advertise it, but there's always room for remorseless killers in most supernatural organizations). She joined the Seelie Court. She claims, if asked, that it was because violence was something she was good at, and she wanted to give back. And that might be true, a little.

But the bigger truth is that Anni misses the old connection that she had with the other huntresses. For that timeless moment, Anni finally had the connection that she'd so desperately wanted all her life, but was never able to gain. And then it was taken away from her. Fighting with the Seelie, even with a fellow alumni of the Huntress of Blood and Desire like Chesire, is poor compensation for what Anni's lost, but it's all she has.

Physically, Anni is a small, pretty Desi woman with a muscular swimmer's build and a nose ring, looking to be about in her late twenties. She keeps her black hair cropped short, and her eyes are dark, luminous, and very bright. She's definitely attractive, and moves with a cool, fluid grace. Beneath the Mask, Anni actually looks much the same -- except her brown skin is now specked with tiny black scales, her eyes are larger and strangely liquid, her feet and hands are clawed and webbed, and sharp, fish-like spines emerge from her wrists, elbows, and knees, spines entirely capable of skewering a man. She usually dresses in form-fitting shorts and shirts, of the sort suitable for a quick swim, and her clothing has a decidedly goth or steampunk edge to it, particularly on the occasions that Anni bothers to wear a sari for a formal occasion.

Rank: 2
Mental 4; Physical 3; Social 2
Willpower: 1
Wyrd: 3
Notable Powers: Nixie; Ambush Predator; Seductress; Emotionally Hollow

Veil
Jordan Townsend

Type: Changeling
Affiliation: Freehold of New Jerusalem
Court: Summer
Entitlements: Mirror-Walker
Seeming: Elemental
Kith: Libran
Apparent Age: Late twenties? (Probably older than this by a decade at least)



Virtue: Trustworthy
Vice: Cruel

Background: In early 2011, an exceptionally pretty, white-haired individual of androgynous aspect and variable gender appeared in the Freehold of New Jerusalem. This was Veil, and Veil was a criminal, a thief, a spy, a lover, and maybe a little crazy. Why had no one ever heard of Veil before? Well, Veil was a very good criminal, thief, spy, and lover, and it wasn't immediately obvious that Veil was a little off.

According to the court records, Jordan Townsend was an orphan raised in a succession of foster homes in London, a smart, pretty, tomboyish girl who was also moody, sullen, and a juvenile delinquent. By the time Jordan finally got out from under the thumb of the NHS at the age of eighteen, she'd been through eleven foster families and had spent a total of seven months in Juvie for theft and petty fraud. The progression to career criminal was pretty much assured.

To hear Veil tell it now, Jordan really should have known better than to pick the lock on that room in the old house that wasn't on the floorplan and couldn't have possibly fit between the rooms on either side. Curiosity, unfortunately, killed the cat, and it got Jordan sucked into Arcadia, where being killed was probably the nicest thing that could have happened.

Her Keeper needed a spy, and Jordan was to be that spy, and so the Black General threw her to the surgeons (or more accurately, to writhing horrors with too many tentacles, suckers, and scalpels who bore nametags identifying them as surgeons). They erased Jordan's identity, rebuilt her into a creature that could walk without making a sound, hear a cricket chirp across an empty field, and change shape from woman to man to other. It probably wasn't the most traumatic sex reassignment surgery ever, but it definitely rated an honorable mention.

Afterwards, the new individual, who was termed Veil in the military files of that Arcadian wasteland, became a spy for the True Fae. Forced to survive, Jordan embraced its new identity as Veil with a bit more enthusiasm than would be entirely healthy, all the while never ceasing to seek an escape. Which, eventually, Veil found. Really, the True Fae wanted to make a perfect, uncatchable spy, and then were surprised when they couldn't catch it? Veil figured they should've known better.

Back in the mortal world, Veil put those new talents to good use, going on a discreet but highly effective crime spree all over Europe (the Eurozone's open borders are the best things, as far as Veil is concerned, even if getting on and off the British Isles is trickier). False paperwork was procured, goods were fenced, and Veil put that money into investments that ensured that Veil was never going to have to work again. Then... Veil got bored.

There's just so much fun to be had from robbing mundane mortals, and Veil didn't really feel like stepping up to rifling the homes of billionaires or the vaults of national museums. So instead, Veil went back to London and offered those services to Todd White. According to scuttlebutt, the gorgeous international thief did not have a hard time getting an interview. Since then, Veil's become a Collector of Whispers for the Unseelie, breaking into places that can't be broken into, spying on the supernatural, and otherwise being a general nuisance to anyone who values concepts of privacy or secrecy.

On the job, Veil disappears into a role, becoming whatever a mission requires. Veil has the kind of acting chops that would guarantee a long career in theater and film if Veil ever tires of theft. Off the job, Veil is cocky, brash, mischievous, and maybe a trifle cruel, with a penchant for cutting wit, mind games, and getting into trouble. Veil can be difficult at times, but no one doubts the spy's skill, and Veil can be remarkably entertaining company when the androgynous changeling tries to be. Veil's highly intelligent and very well read, particularly on anything related to the Fair Folk (thievery is a job that requires a lot of preparation, but since Veil doesn't really have any expensive tastes, a successful job can give the changeling months of free time).

Most people who meet Veil just end up staring at the person. Veil is really pretty, in an androgynous, pale, white-haired bishounen sort of way, with plenty of short, curly white hair. Veil's a tall one, five-foot-eleven, with a slender, rather delicate build that suggests a fragility that is belied by the sheer number of scars Veil has all over the changeling's body (Veil claims they're mostly surgical scars, though some look an awful lot like claw marks). Veil's face is mostly feminine, yet with a strong jaw, and sharp green eyes. The changeling shows the secondary sexual characteristics of both genders, with a smooth voice that says nothing, a hint of curves, and a rather boyish appearance all over. Veil's proudest features are the changeling's hands, which have very long, slender fingers, perfect for picking locks or rifling through pockets.

Beneath the Mask, Veil's Mien actually looks much like the changeling's mortal form. The green eyes turn a shade of aquamarine not found in nature, and the hair looks even curlier, wispier, like feathery clouds that absolutely refuse to stay combed. Veil's a shapeshifter, and can look more feminine or more masculine with only a moment's effort.

Veil normally dresses in the least practical clothing the changeling can find when not on the job, possibly as a way of emphasizing the spy's individual identity. Frilly shirts with lots of lace, ridiculous hats (occasionally with feathers in them), uncomfortably tight pants (that's uncomfortable for other people, not Veil), and enough hidden knives to outfit a cutlery store. Somehow, Veil makes it work.

Rank: 3
Mental 6; Physical 2; Social 4
Willpower: 1
Wyrd: 5
Notable Powers: Super Spy; Master Thief; Striking Looks 2 (Bishounen)




 

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