Wonderland, Scene III (Daphne, Erin, Underwood)

   
Underwood, too, had watched the exchange -- for his part, with a certain degree of wary bewilderment. While an investigative reporter by trade, and not unintelligent, this particular kind of academic riddle was not his specialty.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Espinosa
"It means she's right."
The reporter fanned himself once or twice with his hat, clearly relieved, but still puzzled -- thankfully, the scene transition had somehow removed the worm detritus from his clothes.

“We know she’s right, Miss -- and thank your lucky stars it wasn’t me doing the answering. But I’m with Morozov, here. Dreams...they’re all metaphors. We just faced one down, and we just won...but I’ll be blamed if I can figure out just what kind of metaphor we won against.”

He looked down at Erin, concern on his face. “Miss Lamothe...ahh, I know you don’t want to dwell on this any more than you have to. But d’you have any ideas?”

"There are things in the dark," Erin replied, blank and distant. She tried to take a step toward the bookshelves, but feeling Sergei's hand holding her back, she stopped.

"No one ever sees them, but we all knew they were there. You can hear them, the sound of their wings. They take whomever comes, in the blink of an eye. One minute there, one minute gone. Never to be seen again," she said. "But not if you stay in the light. They don't come in the light."

"Beware that our beacon does not go out." Her eyes glinted in the half-light.

"We should go!" said Erin suddenly, whirling to grab Sergei's arm with both hands. Her deadened emotion from before melted away into sheer panic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"But I’m with Morozov, here. Dreams...they’re all metaphors. We just faced one down, and we just won...but I’ll be blamed if I can figure out just what kind of metaphor we won against.”
"A metaphor, or a test... that we need to be cunning? Or clever?" Sergei said, frowning as he tried, tried very hard, to parse the mystery. "We are in Arcadia. Brute force fails here... or did it? Something killed the Worm. Who or what?"

"But still. We have to be cunning." Sergei said, putting the mystery of the worm aside for the moment. "And if we are cunning then we... what?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"We should go!" said Erin suddenly, whirling to grab Sergei's arm with both hands. Her deadened emotion from before melted away into sheer panic.
Erin turned, and there was someone already behind the four. Another changeling, how long she had been there, no one could say. Small, and plump, with tiny bat-wings spreading from her shoulders, and two tall ears poking through brownish, mousy hair. She wore black, but it was a dustier sort of black than the scarab-woman had worn. She had a book, which she marked the page of with her finger. Really more of a pamphlet, but she opened it, and she began to read.

"Three men fled from Gethsemane, and they found a boat, and they fled over the water. And across the water, they met one of the Old Gods, who asked them whither they fled. To Persia, they answered." The mousy-haired woman with her tall ears said, reading in a soft, tremulous voice. "And the Old God was furious, and he shattered their boat, and all three men fell into the water. None could swim, and none wore anything but coarse tunics, certainly not anything that would let them float. Yet when the Romans came two hours later, they found all three men un-drowned and alive, and all three lived to be tortured. Why did they not drown?"

Underwood turned to look at the new riddler -- on the one hand exasperated that people kept throwing this sort of challenge at them, and on the other, grudgingly sympathetic to the bat-girl. Dream-vision or no dream-vision, she seemed to be having a rough time of it.

He listened. He didn’t expect to figure it out. But, visibly, he did. Underwood leaned down slightly, so as to be on the bat-girl’s level, his tone midway between irritation and understanding.

“Miss, I’m not much partial to trick questions, but I guess that isn’t your fault. I also guess that those three gentlemen had their boat out in shallow water. No boat, no problem -- if you can just stand up and walk away.”

"The Dead Sea lies between Persia and Gethsemane," Erin added, averting her gaze. She seemed grateful for Underwood engaging the girl, taking the girl's attention away from the moth who had once worked in this dark castle. "A man would not sink in the Dead Sea."

Underwood nodded once, not taking his eyes off the bat-girl but throwing a "yep" hand gesture at Erin, as if he had also figured this answer out several weeks ago.

"That too. Good one, sister."

The bat-girl read the answer to the riddle in her book, and then she nodded once. "You're right. Both of you." Then she closed her book, but unlike the scarab, she didn't fly away immediately. Instead she looked to her left and to her right, and glanced behind herself, before staring off into the darkness. It was an easy-to-understand gesture, the perpetual watchfulness of the fearful.

"She's back Moth." The bat-girl whispered, and her voice was a whispered squeak. She stared at her one-time fellow captive, eyes wide as dishes. She lifted a hand to the collar of the greyish turtleneck she wore, fingering the edge nervously. "She's back, and she remembers you and she remembers the Moor."

"Please... please..." The bat-girl pulled the collar of her turtleneck down, and the four dream-travellers could see that her throat had been slit open. Blood dribbled down her neck, and her head wobbled a bit. The jugular had been severed cleanly, a grotesque parody of a second smile. "Don't come back, or she'll catch you..."

And the bat-girl collapsed, falling backwards slowly onto the path. Her eyes were wide, and empty, and staring, and she was dead. Then you woke up.

****************************************************************************

The light never changed in the Hedge. But as you woke up, it felt like night-time. You lay, breathing, unmoving. Aware of the world, aware of the silence that engulfed you. A silence broken only by the smallest of sounds. Heather's gentle snores, Reynarde's footsteps pacing through the night, a crunch of a twig.

Erin opened her eyes. She was lying on her stomach, much like Daphne, for much the same reason. She stayed there, staring into the thorns, her head pillowed in her arms. There was nothing to distract her from herself now, just the rhythmic sounds of her companions.

Riddles, it was all riddles. But the important ones, the ones that mattered, didn't have answers. "There was once a Keeper that never left her estate. One day she vanished and never came back, and one of her changelings left the castle. When the changeling came back, the Keeper was there as if she'd never left. Why is this?"

Here is a riddle, hiding in the words: A girl in a dream begs you, "Please... please... Don't come back, or she'll catch you..." A man you loved and thought you knew begs the same. "Get out. Promise me. I'll break the pledge right now, whatever she has you in. Please... Save yourself. Don't follow me."

The answer is, the man knew where he would be going. But that was just another riddle.

"A man flees to a Keeper's castle, and she remembers his name. Why is this?" He'd met her before, perhaps tricked her, perhaps even been a servant, though Erin had never seen him there, and didn't even know how old he truly was. "A man goes willingly back into his own hell, against a Keeper who remembers him, but he is in no danger, only his daughter. Why is this?"

"Why? Why do it?" "Because... I wanted to help." Another meaningless riddle. Riddles without the clues, riddles without answers.

Erin gently pulled herself upright, drawing her legs up to her chest. She didn't feel scared. She didn't feel anything.

Well, that didn’t make a lick of sense.

Underwood relaxed back on his bedroll, looking silently perplexed. There was a reason why the reporter had never much been one for dream travel: it took a lot out of you, and without the proper context, things could get impenetrable fast. He’d make a point to ask Erin about it in the morning, when murderous fox-people weren’t wandering around outside.

For now, he intended to sleep. That sounded like a good idea.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
Erin gently pulled herself upright, drawing her legs up to her chest. She didn't feel scared. She didn't feel anything.
A moment later, next to her, Sergei shifted. He stared at the strange, starless sky of the Hedge, and then he sat up as well. For a moment, the Russian said nothing, his thoughts paralleling Erin's. Then he reached out and put an arm around Erin's shoulder.

"<Is she really his daughter, do you think?>" Sergei said, his voice quiet. "<Or is she like you and Mary? If she's really his daughter... Othello's been part of the Freehold for at least twenty years now. But he might have been out for longer. I think he has been. His character is too fully-sprung to have only appeared then.>

"<He's fifty-one years old, he once told me.>" Sergei said, talking for the sake of talking. He breathed out, and then said the question that was preying on him. "<What do you think?>"

****************************************************************************

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
For now, he intended to sleep. That sounded like a good idea.
Slowly, Underwood drifted back into slumber. The twilight sounds made for a queer lullaby, but when one is tired, one sleeps. Perhaps in the morning -- or such as it existed in the Hedge -- things would make more sense. But before Underwood could fall fully into sleep, he felt a feather-light touch on his shoulder.

It was Cinder. She was wearing those same jeans and that sweatshirt she had before -- Underwood didn't think she had other clothes -- and her scarlet hair was swept forward over half of her face, hiding her scares from view. She smiled at him.

"Care for company?" She said with a gentle smile, and then reached out to ruffle Underwood's hair a little.




 

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