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Wonderland, Scene I (Daphne, Erin, Underwood)

   
Wonderland, Scene I (Daphne, Erin, Underwood)

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The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.

'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'


Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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April 11th, 2007

It was 4 AM, and there was a party going on at Home, Sweet Home on occasion of the first rainbow of the year.

In the old days, when Queen Alexandra Merill had been in charge, the Spring Court had been a more serious affair. Whispered words and aside glances, desire and misdirection weaving every which way. Alexandra had been raised in a more formal age, and she had kept it all throughout her long career. She was a true Queen of Spring, of that there was never any doubt, but desire took many forms, and forbidden desire was sweetest of all.

The new Queen, Aurora, was an altogether different sort of creature. She was young, and she was free, and she was very much in love. And so her parties were more like childish, girlish frolics with energy and enthusiasm. Nothing serious was said, nothing serious was done, nothing but fun, fun, and fun.

They'd seen the first rainbow yesterday, after a brisk April rain. And on that occasion, Aurora had proclaimed that they would sing and dance and feast till the dawn. So all of the Seelie -- and quite a few people not of it -- had come down to Home, Sweet Home, and taken over the candy store for the night.

Home, Sweet Home was smaller than the Streatham Ice Arena which the Unseelie called home. A candy store run by Mr. Lawrence Martin, who took good fortune and didn't ask questions. Any of the Seelie could enter, so long as they had a green leaf pin. It was a sanctuary, and it was a place to have a very good time in.

Aurora sat at the far end of the store-room, grinning like a schoolgirl and clapping her hands as J. T. Underwood finished one song and began another. There were no chairs, but boxes of sweets had been shuffled about to clear a dance floor, and Aurora sat daintily on those boxes, resting her arms on bags of M&Ms.

Erin's watch ticked instead of tocked, and the moth-faerie glanced at it. It was a curious sort of watch, a pocket-watch in the old style, but rather than numbers, it had but three hand, twelve numbers, and three messages. There is Still Time said the first. The Moment of Truth was the second. The third merely said, Too Late. At the moment, third hand pointed to There is Still Time.

Wear white.

In New York of the 1940’s, a hard-hitting City Desk reporter could maybe break out into song at an obliging dinner party or two – or an office get-together, if he was drunk enough. In the New York of the mid-2000’s, a Winter Court member in Information Services could also scratch this particular itch with the vocal tracks on Rock Band or Guitar Hero – which usually left him arguing vociferously about point totals with an Xbox 360 – or, more often, at a hole-in-the-wall Korean karaoke joint in the West 30’s, surrounded by ten or so Spring Courtiers who would rather be hearing Mariah Carey.

In the London of 2007, an Ambassador to New Jerusalem had somehow managed to stumble into a semi-regular lounge act, by virtue of getting to know a moth in a van. And he couldn’t have been happier.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, ladies and gentlemen! Be sure and try those peppermints, now.” Underwood grinned like Cary Grant on a good day, leaning into the microphone. To celebrate the good weather, the reporter was decked out as if for the track at Hialeah, in a spotless linen summer suit and silk tie; the matching Panama hat had been checked at the door. A leaf pin, darkened to silver-grey, rested on his lapel under the emblem of Hudson’s Rest – thankfully, to mortal eyes, the badge of entry had looked just green enough to get him past Mr. Martin.



Behind him, Sparky – clad in a rubberized white PDA sleeve, to match his partner – scuttled around on a mixing board balanced between two crates of licorice. The little phone was loosely attached by an electrical cord to a set of speakers behind the makeshift stage: the full band may have been artificial, but it had one skilled DJ pulling the levers.

Your Winter Court Reporter and Entertainer for the night surveyed the audience with an air of satisfaction, and launched back into his patter.

“This next little number’s an old favorite of mine, and maybe yours too – whichever way it is, I want to see all you cats out on the dance floor and having a good time, capisce? Here’s to the rainbow, here’s to our lovely hostess, and here’s to that greatest desire of all: good old-fashioned L-O-V-E. Hit it, little buddy!”

Point at the DJ, grab the mike, and flash a grin – and there was the music.

Erin applauded cheerfully as Underwood's song ended, sneaking an M&M into her mouth as she did so. Aurora was her kind of Monarch, Erin had to say. Currently, Erin was creating a complicated mandala out of different colored M&Ms - Mr. Martin had more than just the normal ones, varying into exotic shades like lavender and the much missed tan. Of course, every time Erin ate an M&M, the whole pattern had to be redone. It was a symbol for the transience of life, or something. She'd read of monks who spent weeks making delicate mandalas of sand, only to blow them all away and start anew. It reminded people to seize the moment. Or something. Maybe Erin just liked playing with candy.

But she was happy. Home, Sweet Home had her first good memories, after she'd gotten out. And whenever she came here, she couldn't help but feel happy. Today she wore her normal brown pants, but was dressed in a long sleeved white shirt, with white fuzz about the collar. A rainbow outfit would have seemed tacky, and so she wore white instead.

Sergei'd been dragged out too, with his dark lenses and leather jacket, dressed flashier than usual in a red shirt and white slacks. He was hopefully more amenable to the candy store now, more than those first days when he was miserable and thought Erin was an angel. She'd dragged him to meet her here, because it made her happy and she'd hoped it would make him happy. But Sergei did not have much of a sweet tooth, nor much of a sense of fun, back then. She hoped he was enjoying himself now. She was currently considering pulling him onto the dance floor, and having a swinging good time.

There was a cute, sleek little camcorder tucked into Sergei's embroidered leather jacket, though it was just vaguely peeking out. It seemed to be watching the celebrations with its lens.



Erin was distracted from her proposition by the ticking off her watch, which had slipped backwards when she wasn't looking. But then, since the gears in the watch shouldn't have caused the third hand to move at all, she could only furrow her brow at it, staring at the clockwork with a great measure of concern.

She looked up, searching around the shop for anything strange.

Dice Roll: 7d10s8e
d10 Results: 1, 5, 6, 4, 1, 5, 7 (Total Successes = 0)
perception!

Daphne too was in the audience of changelings, perhaps 20 feet back from where the moth-lady stood.

She had to admit, this one was good. He had the personality and perfect anachronism (and accent) for Frank Sinatra covers.

What a world...

Undoubtedly, Daphne had only been invited because of the Jack-of-Crows. The Queen of Spring had never asked her for potions or favors. That she knew of.

Daphne wore one of the only white shirts she had; another camisole that let her branches be without much trouble. "Much" was relative, of course, since people in the crowd next to her had to shuffle back from a possible poking-out of the eyes.

At any rate, she tried to compensate for Spring looks with lots of green in her skirt, which was much easier to accomplish. And, perhaps, more appropriately and without her help, the buds at Daphne's branches were beginning to open their pink and white buds with the advent of the vernal equinox. Little soft leaves dotted the dark sticks at her back as well. So, all in all, she didn't have to do much dressing up.

While listening to the smooth vocals imitating Sinatra, Daphne kept an eye out for a particular whiskered smile, for she knew he was from this court and had his claws in it deep.

Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin; but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
“This next little number’s an old favorite of mine, and maybe yours too – whichever way it is, I want to see all you cats out on the dance floor and having a good time, capisce? Here’s to the rainbow, here’s to our lovely hostess, and here’s to that greatest desire of all: good old-fashioned L-O-V-E. Hit it, little buddy!”
"Well understood, goodman minstrel!" The Spring Queen said, her archaic words at odds with her youthful features. It made a lot more sense when one realized that Aurora pretty much grew up on romance novels and stories of chivalry. She stood, turning to the Summer Queen beside her. "What say you, Sir Knight?"

'Sir Knight' was in fact 'Lady Knight', and she happened to be Dana the Tall, the Amazonian ogress and consort of Aurora. Quieter than her exhuberant object of adoration, Dana smiled, and then took Aurora's hand to kiss it. "With pleasure, My Lady Love."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
She looked up, searching around the shop for anything strange.
"Is something the matter, angel?" Sergei said, putting a hang on Erin's shoulder and squeezing gently. He looked around, but there was nothing but dancers and revelers to be had, a good twenty or thirty Lost at all. Hardly the entirety of the Freehold, but a fair number of faerie nevertheless.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daphne
While listening to the smooth vocals imitating Sinatra, Daphne kept an eye out for a particular whiskered smile, for she knew he was from this court and had his claws in it deep.
Daphne searched and searched in vain, for there was neither hair nor whisker of Othello here tonight. Passingly peculiar, but not so very strange, for even cats need to sleep on occasion. On many occasions, it so happened. But either way, tonight there was neither the cat nor the grin.

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They came in the middle of Underwood's song, and they were not subtle about it.

The door to Home, Sweet Home's storage room burst open, as if kicked, and swung listlessly from side to side. There followed then a procession of six people, if, that is, one could call them people.

Three of them were men, or perhaps monsters, nearly seven feet tall, with bestial features and hair all over their bodies. They were dressed in loose clothing, and moved more like apes than like men, with long arms tipped with short, stubby claws. They were hardly friendly. Two more looked quite human, a greasy-haired scarecrow of a man dressed in a white wifebeater shirt and a pair of jeans, and a short, plump fellow with a tall tophat on his head and an elephant gun slung over one shoulder.

The sixth member of the group, though, was neither human nor monster, but something more than that. She was the only woman in the group, a tall, muscular woman with fire-engine red hair and cornflower blue eyes. Half of her face was freckled and open, a round, girl-next-door appeal to it. The other half was a nightmare, with skin charred and boiled, second-degree burns covering it entirely, the eyeball staring out of the ruined face. She shimmered, and wore a cloak of light and color and discordant noise about her very much like a cloak. She hurt to look at.

She moved like a queen, that one, or like a prophet. Calm fanaticism burned from every line of her body, that unerring belief that she is right, and not the moon and all the stars could convince her otherwise. She waited for a moment, until it was certain that every eye was upon her.

"I greet her Majesty, Aurora, the Ever-Loved Queen of Spring." The scarred woman said softly, her voice a bare whisper. "I have come to request a boon of your majesty."

"A... boon." Aurora said, looking over the small group. There were Summer Courtiers here, of course, but not so very many, and these invaders looked as though they had come ready to wreak havoc on a grand scale. "You may ask."

"I seek pledge-bound Hedge guides to lead me whither I may, for seven days and seven nights, no matter what else comes." The scarred woman said. "In exchange, I shall see them returned safely to this Court. I seek the Cat named Felix March, and also Edgar Chesapeake, and Blackjack, and Othello."

"I do not see a reason why we should grant this request." Aurora said, sinking back on her makeshift throne.

"No?" This was the fat man, the one with the gun. He fingered the trigger. "Lass, I see six o' them."

The air in the room grew a good deal colder.

Wits+Empathy
Anyone seeking to attack the scarred woman must roll Composure+Wyrd at a -4 penalty, unless it's self-defense.

Erin starts with
Dice Roll: 1d10z
d10 Results: 9
(9)+4 = 13 Glamour
Daphne starts with
Dice Roll: 1d10z
d10 Results: 5
(5)+4 = 9 Glamour
Underwood starts with
Dice Roll: 1d10z
d10 Results: 3
(3)+4 = 7 Glamour

Beat starts with
Dice Roll: 1d10z
d10 Results: 3
(3)+2 = 5 Glamour
Sparky starts with
Dice Roll: 1d10z
d10 Results: 10
(10)+2 = 12 Glamour

As a seasoned investigative reporter and occasional Two-Fisted Knucklehead from Queens, one of Underwood’s cardinal rules was as follows: Never antagonize a group of wiseguys with guns unless you also have a group of wiseguys with guns, or unless you would like your next of kin to spend the next three weeks picking typewriter parts out of the wall.

As a newly minted nightclub act, Underwood had just developed another cardinal rule: Any group of wiseguys with guns who interrupts one of your musical numbers should, ideally, go eat a barrel of dicks.

The music cut out. Within seconds, Sparky had detached himself from the cord, scuttling over the floor and up into Underwood’s breast pocket, behind his handkerchief. The reporter leaned over his microphone, gritting his teeth and gripping the stand – clearly centimeters away from a whole mess o’ haymakers.

“Lady…you will excuse my French. What has Othello done to you to make you a mobbed-up classless hack. Because I am starting to think that you were that way from the beginning.”

"Seryozha, your face," Erin whispered in a sharp hiss, putting a hand to his arm. None of these people had seen him before, and Erin intended to keep it that way. His black pooka ears came with an added perk of being able to shift his features, and the etched-onyx lenses he wore were more than a fashion statement. Perhaps she was willing to let him risk his life alongside hers, but she was unwilling to let danger follow him home.

The moth slipped back into the crowd, using her small stature to weave her way back to Aurora and her consort. On her way over she fished a white slip from her pocket, a business card, with Rakesh's number on it. Sliding next to Dana, she slipped it into the Summer Queen's hands, whispering several words in Aurora's ear. "Werewolves," was the first word - and it was quiet, because Erin knew werewolves could hear very well. It would have been better said to Dana, but Erin was just too short to whisper anything to her.

"Venatores," was the second. Erin recognized that accent, and she recognized that gun.

"I'll be your truth seer," were the final words. Erin doubted that the burned woman would lie, somehow - too proud - but she felt it should be done. Aurora was a young queen, and though Erin hated undue attention, she should not have stand alone.

Stepping out in front of the queen, Erin drew herself up into a being with more presence, her skin more like gold, her wings more like velvet, her eyes more like pearls, though for a moment they flashed gold as well. "There are observances to be made, for hospitality," she said, in a slight admonition to the not-terribly-veiled-threat. "Sit, drink, eat, and let us speak."


Dice Roll: 6d10s8e10
d10 Results: 9, 5, 5, 4, 10, 6, 5 (Total Successes = 2)
Wits+Empathy
Dice Roll: 6d10s8e10
d10 Results: 6, 3, 1, 10, 3, 5, 2 (Total Successes = 1)
Wits+Intelligence on Tophat Guy

Daphne leaned on a hip. Well, so much for a nice time?

She eyed Underwood with some...curiosity. It might not be the best time for flying off the handle. He was a Yank, though, and that, to a British mind, usually meant "volatile."

The party crashers were unfamiliar. Except for the man with the top hat, she recognized him from Pike's place. It made her think of Megan with a strange fondness. Megan's palpable fear.

Fear, fear. What were they looking for in Othello? Daphne liked Othello, and the group's demand of his deliverance made her indignant enough to quake the leaves at her back.

Daphne peered at the group again. Maybe, maybe the one with the tophat would let her know what he feared, why they needed Othello to guide them...

Dice Roll: 7d10s8e10
d10 Results: 5, 2, 5, 9, 9, 7, 10, 7 (Total Successes = 3)
Witches' Intuition: Wyrd+Wits - 3 -1 + Willpower

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
“Lady…you will excuse my French. What has Othello done to you to make you a mobbed-up classless hack. Because I am starting to think that you were that way from the beginning.”
The scarred woman turned her attention to Underwood. This was a singularly unpleasant feeling, to be stared at by an image, half pretty, half horrible. Half of her face was wholesome, enticing, nice in some ill-defined way. The other half was a mass of charred and cracked skin, a ruin of flames.

But she watched Underwood, and two cornflower blue eyes bore into his own. Underwood could feel, in some deep-down corner of his machine-soul, that the scarred woman had his number. She knew everything about him, understood him in a way that no one else in this room did.

"Everything. And I was." The scarred woman agreed, her voice holding no rancour.

Erin's Truth & Lies = True

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"There are observances to be made, for hospitality," she said, in a slight admonition to the not-terribly-veiled-threat. "Sit, drink, eat, and let us speak."
"Is there a point?" The scarred woman said curtly. She smiled, or perhaps more accurately, she grimaced, pulling her lips back in a feral expression. "Give us what we want and we'll be on our way. I've made my offer already."

"Easy lass, there's a way to 'ow these things are' done." The man with the tophat said, making a move as if to lay a restraining hand on the burning woman's arm. But he forbore. "Patience."

The lanky-haired youth to the other side of the scarred woman sniffed. He was amused.

"Fine." The burned woman said, sitting down cross-legged where she'd stood. The werewolves did the same, and then Aurora made a gesture to her courtiers to bring out food and drink.

Aurora stood there, and Erin could tell that she was quivering slightly. This was the first great challenge that the Spring Court was confronted with (and make no mistake, a pack of werewolves was a great challenge). She glanced at Dana, at Erin, at Underwood, even at Daphne. Someone help her through this.

"Would you wish to explain why you need a guide to take you to Othello? Why has my seneschal caught your interest?" Aurora said after a moment's silence, reaching out to pat Erin's hand gently.

The scarred woman just sat and glowered at her. Social graces were not her strongest point, that much was apparent. The fat man with the top-hat sighed, and then took a breath.

"Milady Cinder has business of a personal nature with his Catliness." He said, bowing deep to Aurora. "Tis nothing between her and the Seelie Court. She's willing to offer a Pledge of safe-passage in exchange for a week's service, and no interference from the guides."

"I am." The scarred woman said, her voice as soft and cuddly as a nest of razor-blades. "If you want other things in exchange, I'll deal. But I'll have what I want before I leave here tonight."

"Negotiation's a troublesome thing, ain't it now?" The man in the top hat complained, to no one in particular.

Erin's Truth & Lies = True

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daphne
Maybe, maybe the one with the tophat would let her know what he feared, why they needed Othello to guide them...
The man with the tophat, he feared... the scarred woman. Daphne knew him, knew that voice, knew that gun, knew that obsequious way of talking, easy and wry and un-serious. He was not a man who scared easily -- except in a sense he was. Isengrim the Venator, he feared things, many things, but he mastered that fear and controlled it. Anyone who worked in his line of employment and had no fear was a fool, and fools didn't live to be mercenaries and privateers.

But he feared the scarred woman, Cinder. And he knew, deep in his prodigious gut, that no matter what went wrong on this mission (and it was a mission), Cinder's wrath would be worse. Daphne had an image of a spider-like hand, fingers too long, claws like flensing knives, black and burning and dripping with something unsettlingly caustic.

Dice Roll: 9d10s8e
d10 Results: 7, 8, 8, 6, 3, 6, 8, 5, 3 (Total Successes = 3)
cupids eye




 

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