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Childermas Surprise: (Come One, Come All)

   
Childermas Surprise: (Come One, Come All)

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“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”

Matthew 2:16

“Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.”

Italo Calvino

“I have come to believe that the whold world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

Umberto Eco

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December 28th was Childermas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents in Christian calendars. Coming as it did three days after Christmas, Childermas was by and large a forgotten holiday, in no small part because it was a bloody one. It commemorated the Massacre of the Innocents, when Herod murdered newborn children by the hundreds, making them the very first martyrs. The holiday was symbolized four mirrors.

A holy day draped in blood and embodied by reflections, it was unsurprising that the Jack-of-Crows had decreed that Childermas was his Birthday.

Everyone knew the Jack-of-Crows, even if he had been some years out of power. He was the Patchwork King of Autumn, the mad, frightful monster who ruled the Unseelie Court with a tyrant's fist and a sorcerer's will. He was erratic, intelligent, evil, and yet he had ruled the Unseelie justly and well for thirty years, and had handed off power to a chosen successor. Such matters as the near-war that had marked the succession or that the Jack-of-Crows had occasionally dismembered enemies and had miscellaneous body parts bob up in the river were quietly swept aside in the interests of amity.

The Jack-of-Crows was no longer the Patchwork King, and his word was no longer the law of the land. But it was still December 28th, and it was still his Birthday.

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December 28th, 2006



The Jack's Birthday Party was held in his Hollow, a frightful little place on the borderland between nightmare and wakefulness, where reality held a loosened sway. Inaccessible but for those who knew their way through the Thorn-laded path for three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, tonight the Jack's Farm, the Corpse Farm, was open to all who wished to come. One needed but to ask the crows, and say to them, "Hey, bird-of-black, murderous raven or unkind crow, hie you to the Jack-of-Crows, and show me the way to the Corpse Farm." And then one but followed the birds into some darkened alleyway, into the shadows, and turned around and they were there.

The Corpse Farm looked ripped straight from some ghostly story by Washington Irving or an early Hudson painter’s dream. Deathly dark, the sky was overcast but for the gleaming moon, and a frigid wind howled through the barren farm. The Jack-of-Crows grew goblin fruit here, and no one asked what things he buried here. It was a frightful place, made worse by the ever-wheeling crows that gathered singly or in black clouds above the farm, and by the many scarecrows that hung crucified from their posts.

Tonight though, the Jack-of-Crows had given his domain a more festive mien. There were jack-a-lanterns placed upon the ground, providing flickering candle-light for the Party. Rough-hewn wooden tables had been dragged out into the field, and food placed upon them, thick-cured hams and pumpkin pies and endless bottles of hard, strong cider. Wolves, huge, shaggy monsters with chill yellow eyes played with meatbones between the tables, tussling like overgrown pups. Ghostly music played through the air, and someone sang, though you knew not who or where they came from.

The Jack-of-Crows sat on a throne of wood and wicker, and he was a daunting figure himself. He was tall and muscular, with deeply tanned skin and straw-colored hair, and two curving horns of obsidian rose up from that hair. He was clothed in a russet-brown frock coat, complete with gloves, but frayed and patched so many times he seemed like a scarecrow. Indeed, the Jack's skin was patched in places, scraps of multi-colored material sewn into his flesh with large stitches. He had wings. Black wings, like a crows, that folded behind his back.

He sat on his throne, toying with a black wooden flute in his hands, while a wolf curled up at his feet. He grinned, a sharp little smile. It was the Jack-of-Crow's Birthday Party, and it was time to celebrate.


Erin was sitting in on the kitchen counter, by a jack-o-lantern, sipping hard cider. She'd come early to help with the decorations and cooking, and thus was here when most people arrived. The little moth was dressed oddly tonight, in honor of the occasion - a black coat with bone epaulets, with a skull emblazoned on the back. Beneath it was an ocher frilled shirt, with tight black pants and knee high riding boots. The wings on her back, death-head hawkmoth wings, hung behind her like a velvet cape, the golden inner sides standing out in striking contrast.

She had a plain parcel wrapped in brown paper, tied with twine, tucked under her shoulder. She was also surrounded by an unusual posse.

To the right of her was a thin, unprepossessing man, hair dark and slightly wavy, his eyes hidden behind glasses of etched-onyx. His ears were not human, but small rabbit ears, swept downwards from where they should have been, peaking out from the dark-brown curls. He was wearing a white collared shirt with a winged lion printed on it, sweeping down from his shoulder to his left breast, and over that was a long, black, wool coat. He wore black gloves, black pants, and black boots.

To the far right of her was a larger man, big, strong, sinuous as a dragon and powerful as a tiger. Not tall, but solid, and muscled like a Greek god. His face was broad, his cheeks rounded, and there was something dark and dangerous in his eyes. His skin was dark and smouldering, with orange coming through, patterned like the stripes of a tiger, but in reverse - dark where it was orange and orange where it was black. There were gold markings around his mouth, like teeth, and when he smiled there were fangs. He was wearing charcoal slacks, a wine shirt and an orange sweater, and somehow managed to look great in them. It really wasn't fair.

Sitting directly next to Erin was a girl who looked almost like her. She was prettier, certainly, with her hair pulled back in a braid, and her athletic, trim figure. And she had horns, and a swath of black across her face, like a mask. Her skin was a brownish-red, with patterns visible on its soft suede surface. Her legs and mouth were cream colored, with golden markings on her thighs. She was wearing high heels, a low cut jacket and tight t-shirt, and a skirt that was modest but barely. She was eying the wolves with a peculiar expression.

Daphne was one of the first to arrive. Hand it to her prudery to show up unfashionably early. Still, she'd managed to throw on a costume that would suit the evening. Not like she really needed to, considering her associations and appearance.

A red-and-gold underbust corset, a brown blouse, and striped stockings that itched liked mad against her personal foliage. (Prudery only happened in the mental area. She had no particular qualms with her own body, other than the very obvious hindrances.) All in all, she did very well at looking like popular fairy art.

It was supposed to be a joke, sort of, but it would probably be lost on others. Daphne's eternal facial expression might not have hinted clearly at "look, I made a joke," unless spied upon by someone who knew the Apothecary very well.


Daphne made a bee line for the booze, so naturally she went to the kitchen. Or, kitchen-like area. Jack-of-Crows had a weird home. Besides, what good party didn't start in the kitchen?

Once booze was acquired, she leaned on a counter and sipped out of her cup (Solo cup or no). There was a creaking of branches, possibly a scrape against cabinets.

"It's always Samhain at Jack's, isn't it?" she casually jested in the general direction of the moth girl.

“Now this...this is something else.”

The Winter Court Reporter-in-Residence and Distinguished Envoy to New Jerusalem looked around the hollow, clearly very impressed. This being a formal occasion – albeit an outdoor one – Underwood was dressed to the nines. The jet-black trenchcoat was well-pressed, its hem perpetually fluttering in some unseen breeze. Beneath it, a sharply tailored black suit, complete with vest – the white shirt showing a geometric flash of chrome where the tie should be. Thin black-leather gloves and a matching fedora completed the ensemble – apart from what looked very much like a PDA with mechanical spider legs clinging to the top of Underwood’s shoulder. Its display was showing the old “smiling Macintosh” icon, though appropriately enough, the graphic had an eight-bit black bowtie.



Next to the reporter was a dapper-looking figure, short and slim, with a handsome Edwardian ulster over a matching three-piece tweed suit. A thin gold watch-chain was at his chest, a dark red bowtie at his throat, a pair of circular gold-framed spectacles at his eyes, and a Homburg hat on his head. There was not, however, very much else left of him. Like a three-dimensional shadow or an Invisible Man, the Tenebrous King of Autumn had a human-shaped mass of semitransparent shade where his body should have been.

Both changelings also had a small pin tacked to their respective lapels – Underwood’s in silver and his friend’s in gold. It was a small, stylized radio tower, encircled by a laurel wreath: the emblem of Hudson’s Rest, New York City’s own freehold. This was official business as much as pleasure, after all.

Without taking his eyes off the venue before him, Underwood leaned in slightly towards the other changeling, speaking in a low voice.

“Herringbone, buddy…we need a new interior designer.”

"Hey, bird-of-black, murderous raven or unkind crow, hie you to the Jack-of-Crows, and show me the way to the Corpse Farm." Star made this into a sing song chorus and continued to hum the tune she had invented for it as Squick and herself followed their birdly escourt.

The two were extremly colorful, Star in a mesh of lace in pink and green. The changeling had managed to match it up with a rediculously tiny top hat in the same color, placed slightly slanted atop her blond loosely curled blond head. A choker necklace with some colorful madigras beads accented it all nicely, if not in a cheep plastic kind of way.

Squick, the poor thing, hadn't really had to worry about his clothing since earlier that day Star had rushed over to him with his suit in hand. It was purple, he was green. The color combo was actually very lovely on the eyes, colorful, but pretty. Wether a man wanted to be 'pretty' was another story but Squick hadn't seemed to mind.

They rounded the corner and entered the farm officially. Despite the look of the place and the over all vibe Star didn't seem to notice. "This is so exciting! I haven't been to a birthday party before! Ever! I read about them on TV though! You get to play Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey, you get to smack a fake animal with a giant stick until candy falls out and bob for apples. There's pizza and icecream and cake and presents! The best part is you get a goodie bag before you go home!" Star latched her arms around one of Squicks, if he payed close attention and concentrated he probably would be able to feel a slight vibrating purr coming from her chest area at the thought of all the happy fun things that happend at birthday parties!


Lauren walked slowly through the Corpse Farm, thinking this was the most realistic set for a Halloween movie she'd ever seen. It was a bit difficult to believe, and wasn't this just after Christmas? The weather certainly believed so, and Lauren found that this was one of the rare times she was grateful to be undead. If the cold affected her, she'd be rather uncomfortable right now. Her dress was black and clingy with a lace-covered neckline that plunged nearly to her waist. She'd chosen some simple silver jewelry and let her hair fall down in soft, reddish-brown curls. Lauren was more than a little proud of the look Oleander had given her when she showed him.



Oleander was looking rather nice as well, though he couldn't take credit for it. Lauren had chosen several outfits until they agreed on one that Lauren though looked good and that Oleander was comfortable wearing. The resulting compromise was a tie and dress shirt with a jacket and coat over it. He was carrying a medium-sized box wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.



Lauren had mainly decided to come to the party out of curiosity. Usually, the only parties she attended were thrown by high-ranking vampires, and she generally attended as "Moon's childe." This party seemed like more of a good time, if a bit creepy. Lauren wasn't sure if the wolves were always there, or if they were part of the decorations. She stepped aside as one moved past her, and bumped into someone.

"Sorry!" The man was strangely monochrome, and she blinked at him before moving away. Well, this was a faerie party.

Lauren moved close to Oleander. "Are these normal wolves? Or can you tell?"

Star

Quote:
Originally Posted by Star
"This is so exciting! I haven't been to a birthday party before! Ever! I read about them on TV though! You get to play Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey, you get to smack a fake animal with a giant stick until candy falls out and bob for apples. There's pizza and icecream and cake and presents! The best part is you get a goodie bag before you go home!"
"Don't think the Jack gives out lots of goodies." Squick said, giving Star a good-natured smile. He was a bit older than her, and he gave off the impression of being an amiable computer nerd at the best of times. This was true. Of course, most computer nerds were not long, lanky, boneless Tunnelgrubs with slash-faced smiles. His skin was olive green, literally olive green, slick and smooth looking always, and his hands and feet looked too big for his body, flat and shovel-like. He did not move, exactly, so much as he oozed from place to place. "Though he sometimes gives favors if he really likes a present?"

"Don't think he goes in for pizza either." Squick said, standing on his tiptoes to look out over the crowd. He was a tall sort of fellow, and the sight of the green Tunnelgrub in a purple suit would've attracted attention in quite nearly any other crowd but this. "But I see ice cream and I see sandwiches. Really good sandwiches. And pies."

"And I see a barrel of apples if you want to try bobbing for them." Squick grinned. He had a large mouth, full of sharp teeth. He had something of an unfair advantage when it came to bobbing for apples. "And some people are dancing. So what do you want to do?"



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Erin, Daphne

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daphne
"It's always Samhain at Jack's, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't know." This was the horned girl sitting next to the moth-girl, her near-twin. She was a changeling, the entire party of four was, but she regarded her surroundings with a wide-eyed expression of wonderment. "I've never been here before."

"Heather recieved a personal invitation from the Jack-of-Crows." The demonic, tigerish man said, grinning broadly. He had a trace of an accent, something faint and foreign. He also had a very nice smile, the kind of smile that could flutter a girl's heart even when you knew it was a bad idea. He didn't look the least bit trustworthy, but even Daphne would have admitted that he was pretty.

"I didn't know it was him." The horned girl, Heather, said, her voice coming out as a kind of desperate squeak.

"I am sorry." This was the third member of the little group, the tall, rabbit-eared man dressed all in black. He had a quiet voice, with a much stronger accent. Russian, Daphne thought, or possibly just East European. He hovered near the moth-girl, never leaving her by more than a step. "I have never been here either. What is Samhain?"

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Underwood

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
“Herringbone, buddy…we need a new interior designer.”
"Yes, the Sleepy Hollow vibe does work rather nicely." Herringbone said dryly, his voice rather higher pitched and more nasal than Underwood's, his shadowy face creasing into a bone-dry smile. The visiting Monarch regarded the surroundings with a clinical eye. Herringbone was a master of the Uncanny and the off, the mundane venue twisted slightly askew. His own museum in Brooklyn was a literal maze, doors and passages leading everywhere except where Herringbone wanted them. But it was a subtle kind of fear, and the Corpse Farm... was not subtle. "I wonder if the Jack-of-Crows has ever visited upstate New York. It has that air about it."

"A bit more blatant than is my preference." Herringbone said, watching a pair of shaggy, mammoth wolves tussle over what was unmistakeably a human thigh-bone. "But he pulls the scarecrow / serial killer / urban legend look off very well."

"Are you and Sparky planning to introduce me to the Jack, Ambassador?" Herringbone said, smiling dryly at Underwood.

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Lauren

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lauren
"Are these normal wolves? Or can you tell?"
"I... do not know." Oleander said. He ran a finger around his collar, looking at one of the wolves that had come to chew on a bone not far. It was, by any standards, a very large wolf. Bigger than most wolves, certainly bigger than Oleander's lupine form. Shaggier as well, and there was a strange gleam of inhuman intellect in its eyes. "I don't think so."

"That's because it isn't." An enthusiastic voice sounded behind Lauren. "They're the Jack's fetch-wolves."

Oleander and Lauren turned to be greeted by one of the more unique couples present at the Jack-of-Crow's Birthday Party. The man was a bit shorter than Lauren, a feline-looking man in his early thirties. Feline, by the by, was not metaphor. He was dark-skinned, some indeterminate shade of dark brown, and his hair was a light grey more like a cat's fur than a man's hair. He had cat ears, large, grey-furred and soft, and they swivelled independently of one another, and he had whiskers, and he had a lashing grey tail. By comparison, the old fashioned lime green waistcoat was quite nearly sedate.

"I have the honor of being the Marquis de Carabas." The dapper looking fellow said, smiling a cheshire grin. "And this is the lovely Mary Mack, all dressed in black."

"Hi." The Marquis's accompaniment for the evening said. She was younger than him, or at least so it seemed at first glance, a young woman in her late teens at most. A sad kind of face, dark eyed and with dark blond hair cut too long. She rather looked like she needed a haircut, as a matter of fact, the hair falling down into her eyes on occasion. She was dressed in a neat, plaid skirt and a form-fitting black jumper, a bit like the uniform of some unknown school. Admittedly, school uniforms were rarely black, and even more rarely this flattering to one's curves. And Mary Mack most definitely had curves.

Most interestingly for Lauren was the fact that Mary Mack was quite palpably dead. This close, Lauren couldn't miss the lack of the heartbeat.

"Nice to meet you." Oleander said, tempering his customary smirk into a friendly smile.


Quote:
Originally Posted by earthsprite View Post
"It's always Samhain at Jack's, isn't it?" she casually jested in the general direction of the moth girl.
"All nights but this night," Erin replied. She set down her cider and picked up an apple she'd been carving, hollowing out the top so that a small candle could be placed within. Others could be seen, scattered about the Jack's hollow, flickers of light over dark red.

"Would you care for something to eat?" the moth fey offered, gesturing to a plate. Erin, in perhaps a fit of macabre whimsy, had made a number of gingerbread children - along with other pastries, donuts and scones, similarly shaped. She herself took one, biting the head off and looking slightly guilty about it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeoTiamat View Post
"I am sorry. I have never been here either. What is Samhain?"
Erin fondly patted the rabbit on his arm. "The festival of the harvest and the dead. The end of the lighter half of the year, and the start of the darker one. These days, you might know it as All Souls Day," she explained. "But I think my Lady here could explain it better than I."

"My dear Mr. Morozov is from the east, and his ways are not our ways," she explained to Daphne, one set of wings shifting slightly below the other.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Darrow
"Sorry!"
The effect was something like elbowing a Formica countertop in a suit. Underwood smiled politely and tipped his hat. “Excuse me, Miss.”

Quote:
Originally Posted by Herringbone
"Are you and Sparky planning to introduce me to the Jack, Ambassador?"
“Me introduce you – I thought you knew the guy! You’re the Brit, buddy. Don’t you Autumn Court kids get together at conferences or something?” Underwood sighed in mock exasperation, fixing his collar. “…Gotta do everything myself.”

Sparky beeped.

“Yes, I’m sure he’ll like you, too.” Taking a deep breath and hefting the black leather briefcase at his side, Underwood gave Herringbone an ironic smile. “Come on, Your Majesty. Let’s go meet the man of the hour.”

The reporter strode across the yard towards the throne, dodging wolves, tables, and celebrating supernaturals – the picture of breezy confidence.

“Jack-of-Crows!” He smiled, doffed his hat, and bowed to what was probably the correct degree. “Good evening, merry Childermas, and happy Birthday – and thank you very much for your hospitality. The Freehold of Hudson’s Rest sends its deepest regards. I’m J. T. Underwood, Serial Number 6311438, your Winter Court Envoy and roving reporter, and this is Mr. Herringbone, our very own Tenebrous King of Autumn.”

Sparky popped up from behind Underwood’s hat and played the first couple bars of “Toccata and Fugue”

“…And this is my phone.”

Underwood lifted the briefcase up to his chest. “A gift, in honor of the occasion.” He undid the clasps, spun it to face the Patchwork King, and opened it, revealing an old-style audio tape player with a reel loaded.



“Found this in a hollow off of 50th and Madison: it must’ve been there for a long while. Think it might’ve been a rehearsal tape for The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show at one point – only in most of the episodes, the puppet doesn’t snap and murder the rest of the main cast with a flensing knife.”

He chuckled slightly. “It’s still pretty hilarious, though.”

Quote:
Originally Posted by the Marquis
"I have the honor of being the Marquis de Carabas." The dapper looking fellow said, smiling a cheshire grin. "And this is the lovely Mary Mack, all dressed in black."
"Good evening." Lauren nodded to each of them, though her eyes lingered on Mary longer than the Marquis. "I'm Lauren Darrow, and this is Lesley Oleander. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with your title, Marquis. And what did you mean by 'fetch-wolves?'" Her curiosity was getting the better of her yet again.




 

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