Wonderland, Scene V (Daphne, Erin, Underwood)

   
Wonderland, Scene V (Daphne, Erin, Underwood)

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'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

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April, all anyone could say for certain.

The night passed uneventfully, and in something rather resembling comfort, given the presence of Marie Tempest and Harvey. The Maestro disappeared for what seemed to be quite nearly thirty seconds, only to return with a very large number of huge, squishy lavender sleeping bags. These were provided to anyone who wanted them. Cinder took one look at them and politely declined, and instead spent the night turned into a large, russet-furred wolf, curled nose to tail.

Breakfast was cold left-overs and the miscellaneous oddments from Erin's handbasket, and then it was time to set out. This was initially difficult, given that you were in a featureless cavern with optional gravity and no way out, but then, this was the Hedge. And it was deep in the Hedge as well. So Black Huiarnviu played you a path.

The Púca took his lute of bone and wood and ice, and he strummed three notes upon it. At the first, the cavern shook. At the second, the air charged like lightning, and Erin's hair stood on end. At the third, nothing happened, but the Púca smiled, and strode to the nearest wall. He whispered something to it, and then pushed.

Where there had been nothing before, was now a door, out into the dim twilight of the Hedge. You stood on a broad, open path, laid with cobblestones that gleamed in the half-light with a coppery sheen. The road split, a dozen feet from the door, into two broad boulevards that continued out of sight. There were signs. Several, as a matter of fact.

To the right, from a hooked thorn, hung a sign that said Fortune. Beneath it was a smaller one that said, Fame. Hanging from the bottom of that sign was a third, barely more than a scrap of cloth. On it was written, with what smelled like a recent sharpie marker, Beetles.

To the left, on a stout, weathered post that looked like it had been there for forty years, in fire-charred letters, was written Othello.

"Well, that's been fun." The Maestro said -- shouted, to be precise -- and clapped Underwood on the back with a somewhat metallic ding. "Wish you luck. Don't forget to write." She picked up a large carpet bag and set out for the right-hand path.

"Excuse me." This was a voice that hadn't been doing very much talking. Namely, it was Isengrim. The big wolf-troll leaned against his trusty elephant gun, and there was something oily about his matter. "Excusing me be if I'm wrong, but would this be a High Road? Of the Arcadian variety?"

"...Arcadia..." Sasha said, and looked at Sergei, who looked rather sheepish just then.

"How should we know?" Erin replied, blankly. "Why ask us? Wouldn't you know better?"

The fact of the High Road ought to have given pause, for the Gentry often traveled down such paths. But Erin knew Cinder would make it to Arcadia, because she had to die there. And since Cinder had promised the safety of her guides, presumably everyone else would make it there too. It didn't mean they'd get there with minds intact, or wouldn't be dragged there in chains. But did it matter? Was there any point in caring?

Erin set down the path, not caring who chose to follow her. But she glanced back at Sasha - and Sergei - and turned back, though she paused for a long time, before doing so.

"Well, Miss Pleasant, I'd recommend you find some smaller trail, off this path. At least, if you want your companions to still be functional, at the end of it," Erin said, her voice airy, weary. "If not, I'd suggest you be as fast and quiet as possible, and ready to pretend we belong here, should we meet anyone on the road. It should be doable. Yon Venatores often deal with the Gentry, we shall pretend to be with them. But should it come up, you may do well not to look so mighty."

After all, what would they be but merchandise.

She walked away from Cinder, and stood in front of Sasha and Sergei, lifting her arms slightly as if to try and hug them, but letting them drop limply. <I would prefer it if you two and Heather and Mary went home,> she murmured in Russian. <I acknowledge and understand this isn't my decision.>


Underwood was looking in relatively fine fettle today, having had his night undisturbed by impromptu werewolf therapy, and having had the foresight to bring along a second suit along with the pajamas. Black with pinstripes seemed to strike the appropriate balance of somber and action-ey. Also, there was the new ink ribbon: after fifteen minutes of what appeared to be hand-mirror-assisted elective self-surgery, from what you could see of it while Underwood was ensconced in his corner, he was printing blacker than ever.

Also, he had apparently brought his own set of hand tools. So that could be useful if you ended up enslaved in some kind of labyrinthine hell-prison. You guessed.

Underwood nodded soberly at Erin's speech, agreeing. "We go in. We go out. We do this quick, and for Chrissakes, we keep morale up. Miss Lamothe, Miss Espinosa, and myself, we've been here before, and we speak from experience. If we lose sight of what makes us people -- of what separates us from those soulless things on the other side of the hedge, who don't know anything but their own moment-to-moment joy or anger… If we give in to despair, we die. Remember that."

The reporter could understand Russian, too. After the speech, he followed Erin, giving her a pat or two on the shoulder and a sympathetic look.

<There, there, sister.>

There wasn't much to say.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"How should we know?" Erin replied, blankly. "Why ask us? Wouldn't you know better?"
"Erin lass, privateers who meet with the Lords and Ladies themselves don't last all that long." Isengrim explained patiently, as if this should have been obvious. "We've been in Arcadia, what, twice since our escape? And only the safe parts, the grand markets, the public realms."

"This is a High Road. This is the road to Arcadia." Isengrim said softly. "The damned cat is in Arcadia."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"Well, Miss Pleasant, I'd recommend you find some smaller trail, off this path. At least, if you want your companions to still be functional, at the end of it,
"Then let's find another trail." Cinder said simply. If she understood the significance of Arcadia, she didn't say. Her face was set, and her nails were longer, almost claws.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"We go in. We go out. We do this quick, and for Chrissakes, we keep morale up. Miss Lamothe, Miss Espinosa, and myself, we've been here before, and we speak from experience. If we lose sight of what makes us people -- of what separates us from those soulless things on the other side of the hedge, who don't know anything but their own moment-to-moment joy or anger… If we give in to despair, we die. Remember that."
"Good for you." Isengrim said, and very gently, he spat a gobbet of blood into the muzzle of his rifle. Runes glowed along its length, swirling designs in crimson. "Sorry Alice lass, but our contract covers Freeholds and the Hedge. Not Arcady."

Cinder narrowed her eyes, and then she looked to the sides. She had seen the way the mortals fought, and the vampire was dangerous. With her spirit, and with the Venatores, she was confident enough of victory. Without the Venatores...

"I'll kill you if you leave." Cinder said calmly. She smiled, and it was a terrible smile.

"No lass, you won't." Isengrim said sadly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
<I would prefer it if you two and Heather and Mary went home,> she murmured in Russian. <I acknowledge and understand this isn't my decision.>
"<We'll go... if you'll come with us.>" Sasha said simply. He glanced at the Venatores and Cinder. "<I like this idea. A lot.>"

"<But it won't actually happen, will it?>" Sergei said.

"English please." Heather said, poking an elbow into Sasha's side.

<It won't,> Erin said, shaking her head with a sad smile. <I am sorry.>

"It's not important, sis," she said, obligingly switching into English for a moment. "Just saying I would be happier if you all would go home. And the rest of you would be happier if I went home. You too, Mr. Underwood. This hasn't got anything to do with you. You shouldn't have to come. But I suppose there was no point to saying the words. We all know how this argument ends."

<But this is where she goes home,> Erin said in Russian, mostly to Underwood, looking at the confrontation between Cinder and Venatores. <Our deal with her is void as well. I've no reason to guide her one step further, not with her bloody motives, not with knowing she dies at the end of this road. Not one step further, 'til she's gone, and put away somewhere she can't follow us.>

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Lamothe
"Just saying I would be happier if you all would go home. And the rest of you would be happier if I went home. You too, Mr. Underwood. This hasn't got anything to do with you. You shouldn't have to come. But I suppose there was no point to saying the words. We all know how this argument ends."
Underwood looked down at Erin, steadily. "With all due respect, Miss Lamothe, like hell this doesn't have to with me."

A glance down the road. <…Because this has become a rescue mission. And the day I leave an okay Joe to rot in some castle dungeon, and let a sweet kid go in after him without backup, is the day I might as well sign back up for my old job.>

A stolen look over the shoulder at Cinder. Then back to Erin. <There isn't going to be somewhere she won't follow us, though. She'll keep coming, until she kills Othello, or she dies, or both. If she can't find us, odds are she'll run to him anyway, and she'll still die. And I'm not sure I'd like that, either.>

A look at the group. <If we can't hold her back, we have to defuse her. Help her get her pain out some other way. Some better way. And for a fighting chance at that, we've got to keep her close.>

He shrugged. "My two cents. If that's not consensus, I'll do what is."

"<You make it sound so easy.>" Sasha said dryly, tipping an imaginary hat to Underwood. "<I think we've just been handed a gift from on high -- no offense, Sergei -- get free of the pledge, bid the fox and wolf a fond farewell, and then we'll handle Cinder somehow. Shoot her a bit, maybe, she'll heal.>"

The subject of this conversation, Cinder, was presently having a low-voiced argument with Isengrim, which Cinder was not winning.

"<Underwood is right, though. Look at her... bloody motives or not, angel, she has them buried deep in her. If she's alive, she'll go after Othello, and after what I saw Rakesh do...>" Sergei said, stroking the rifle slung over his shoulder. "<I do not know how we are to hold her back, shy of killing her, nor do I know how to defuse her.>"

"<Let our silver-tongued fair folk at it?>" Sasha said with a smirk. He'd noticed the interplay between Underwood and Cinder, certainly, and he had a very high opinion of Erin's ability to persuade people to listen to their consciences.

"I'm going to go and sit next to the rest of the monoglots." Heather said grumpily. She clapped Erin on the shoulder, momentarily forgetting just how tiny and light Erin was. "Far as I'm concerned, I'm staying with you and Sashka. You guys keep going, I'm going. You guys go home, I go home. Simple as that. But..."

"I like Othello." Heather said, with a grin. "So let's go drag him back?"

<I, too, would like to defuse her. But you seem to prefer to do it with a time limit, while on a rescue mission she is directly impeding,> Erin said dryly. She raised her hands up to forestall any comments. "I concede. The consensus is against me. I will leave the details to you, Mr. Underwood. I do not know it can be done, but so it is."

"I won't offer, though," she said, somewhat grumpy. "You may. I will not protest. But I shant unless she asks. I do not think I shall be making the effort to pretend she is in control any longer." <She really does not have a clue, does she.>

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeoTiamat View Post
"I'm going to go and sit next to the rest of the monoglots." Heather said grumpily.
"Mary is here, so unless you want to stand next to Miss Pleasant, you will have to stay here too," Erin teased her twin. "Get Sashka to teach you."

"I am sorry. I simply figured some of our conversation would not do well to be overheard at this stage."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Lamothe
"You may. I will not protest. But I shant unless she asks. I do not think I shall be making the effort to pretend she is in control any longer."
Underwood nodded slowly. "I'll take it. My idea, anyway."

The reporter turned and ambled over to Cinder and her argument, even-keeled as as a German-built canoe. He crooked a finger, and tilted his head towards the corner of the cave where they had discussed the song last night.

"Miss Pleasant. A word."

Presuming Miss Pleasant was interested in hearing the word, she soon found herself in a rather familiar huddle configuration. This time, Underwood had more on his mind than musical selections.

"Was just talking with the guys over there." A jerk of the thumb at "the guys." Underwood looked as if he was going to continue, then sighed. "Stop me if I'm assuming. You planning to go in there, backup or no backup?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"Mary is here, so unless you want to stand next to Miss Pleasant, you will have to stay here too," Erin teased her twin. "Get Sashka to teach you. I am sorry. I simply figured some of our conversation would not do well to be overheard at this stage."
Mary Mack smiled at this mention of her name, though she'd been sitting crosslegged on the cavern floor. She'd go wherever Erin told her, quite careless of her own self-preservation. Of course, the number of things that could endanger the vampire was a relatively short list.

"Hear that, Sashka, you're turning language tutor." Heather said with a smirk. "Start with the swearing, then move on to less practical things."

"But fiiiiiine. Just someone let me know where I'm going, all I ask." Heather said with a pout.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"Stop me if I'm assuming. You planning to go in there, backup or no backup?"
Cinder had come away, and watched Underwood with cold, hard eyes. The werewolf was bristling, and while it may have been Underwood's imagination, she seemed faintly bigger now, an inch taller than usual. The crackling sheathe of multi-colored light was upon her like a cloak, and there was something else, that mantle of authority that Cinder sometimes drew about her.

"Yes." She said without inflection, watching Underwood to see what he was going to say.




 

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