Wonderland, Scene VI (Erin, Underwood)

   
Wonderland, Scene VI (Erin, Underwood)

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The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said, without even looking round.
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Time lacks all meaning

The path, the bridge, went down into the darkness. It was an ornate sort of thing, covered in tiles of a peculiarly geometric cast. Each shimmered a golden color, and there were words there if one chose to read them. And if one did not value one's sanity particularly highly. But the words were there for the reading. The bridge was suspended from slender, silvery threads, stretching off too high for the ends to be seen, and the bridge itself stretched away into the darkness.

The only break in the darkness were the bookshelves next to you. They stretched along one side of the bridge, and they stretched above, and they stretched below, and to either side for as far as the eye could follow. They were paperbacks and pamphlets, hefty tomes and folders with dissertations, and one and all had titles printed in neat English. Underwood glanced at a few of the titles, and found them eerily familiar.
  • An examination of the adolescent dreams of Martin Suggs, mechanic, West Woolwich.
  • The movements of aphids in the garden of Theresa West, Brynmill, Swansea.
  • Exegesis of a domestic contretemps between Mr. and Mrs. A. Scott, High Street, Durham.
  • Reader-response criticism of the book Iris Page (Pennycross, Plymouth) never managed to write.
  • The dreams of pop idoldom of Jade Wright, nine year old, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

It was easy to believe, in the darkness, that you were the only things in the world. That all of reality had limited itself to a few yards of bridge, and a length of bookshelves. Everything else was perfect darkness, and it was a heavy darkness, thick and cloying and close. It was a living darkness, and it was pregnant with meaning and with life. You didn't care to think of just what manner of creature dwelled in the darkness. You couldn't see them. You couldn't hear them. But you knew they were there all the same.

In the distance, there appeared a single light, and soon you saw a shapely, round-faced woman with two black antennae appear from the darkness on the bridge, holding a lantern.

"Beatya," Erin whispered to the camera in Sergei's pocket. "Try to find us Othello. Alright?"

She regarded the bug-girl with a rather blank stare, and then whispered to Mary and Heather, "Stop her if she tries to run. Whatever you do, though, don't leave the light, and don't make her drop her light. They'll take you, the moment you leave the light. No one ever comes back, when they take you."



Erin stopped hiding for a moment, waving her flashlight so as to be spotted, and not startle the girl into running. It wasn't so uncommon to run into others down here. Never in such large groups, though. It would have been helpful to have held her own form at the moment, but that had other drawbacks, that Erin didn't want to face. The book delvers rarely left their mission to raise the alarm, and few wanted to find the Mistress to warn her anyway. But just in case, Erin started to weave some magic about her, to ensure the girl stuck around for a bit. Stay, stay here, stop what you're doing, just for a moment.

"Hello, Form," she whispered. "I need your assistance. What book are you looking for, this evening? Let me help you find it. The faster we get done, the faster we can get out of this pit."


Underwood did not look like himself, which was a good thing. He also did not look like one of the Mistress' servants, which was less of a good thing -- but when one is stealing a disguise from the mind of a vampire, one works with what one has. In this case, Underwood looked as if he was from a colorized version of Leave it to Beaver. His hair was dark and greying at the temples, his face was friendly but quietly authoritative, and he was wearing a cardigan. He was also pretty sure that his cigarettes had been replaced by a pipe somehow, but as this was too distressing a possibility to contemplate, he chose not to reach into his pocket to find out for certain.

He still had the Zippo lighter, though, and thus was flagrantly obvious in any situation short of turning off the light and being devoured by nameless terrors. Come to think of it, he would be flagrantly obvious in that case, too. Thus: time to make the best of a poor situation.

The reporter walked up behind Erin, catching the ant-girl's name and running with it. "Yeah, Form, you scratch our back and we scratch yours, right? You know how keen the kid here is with the old catalog system -- we'll have things done in no time, don't you worry."

2 Successes on a Manip+Persuade (Fast Talk)

The ant-girl -- Form -- twitched her antennae as she stared at Underwood. It wasn't exactly that he was unusually weird or anything by the standards of Arcadia. If anything, he was really the most normal thing Form had seen in a very long time. But he just wasn't in theme. He certainly didn't look like one of the library staff, not being a small, meek, nocturnal creature.

"The... The Unexpurgated Travels of Sir John Mandeville, sir." Form said meekly, clicking her tongue against her teeth. It sounded a little bit like the snap of an ant's mandibles, in so much as that was a sound people often heard. The lantern bobbed as Form curtsied obediently. She didn't question why everyone was here. "What can I do for you, sir, ma'am?"

Erin rubbed her hands together. It had been a long while since she had done this. The darkness, the ever-present fear. "Let us find it, then," she said, licking her lips. "Tell me, in your time down here, have you ever come across the Theogoria Hekate Kleidouchos? Scriabin's Thirteenth (Threshold) Sonata (Op 76)? The Jinji Fojing?"

Dice Roll: 8d10s8e8
d10 Results: 10, 1, 9, 2, 9, 7, 6, 6, 3, 9, 10, 1, 6 (Total Successes = 5)
researching for bug girl

"Tell me, does the old master worker with the spiral skin still live here?" she asked after Horace as she looked. In truth, she had no memories of the man after she'd reached a certain age, and she'd long wondered if he'd died from age.

She glanced at Beat to see if she'd gotten a lock on Othello yet.

Form hesitated before answering these questions, but before she could pause to think about it very long, Erin had already delivered the Travels of Sir John Mandeville into her hands. Form blinked, her antennae twitching, and then clicked her tongue again.

"The Mistress asked me to get Scriabin's Threshold Sonata for her once, when she played it for some guests." Form said with melancholy pride. "But it's not down here. It's in a small, locked cupboard in her bedroom. Maybe the Birth of Hekate Keybearer was there too."

"The Master Worker is here, miss." Form added, clicking her tongue. She looked around, then nodded quickly. "In the secret place."

Beat, meanwhile, was showing an arrow pointing back the way Form had come.

Erin nodded.

"Let us leave the darkness, then," she said, guiding the bug back the way she'd come. "The Mistress will not expect you back for a while." Sometimes, when Erin had found a book earlier than expected, she would stay in the darkness, devouring knowledge. Other times she would flee to the twilight as fast as possible. Now she opted for the latter - following Beat's directions toward Othello. If their path lead them from the Library, they could hide in the shadows, rather than fear them.

She did not touch Form, but kept an arm hovering almost around her shoulders, knowing the girl was so socially broken she would be afraid to leave the phantom embrace that was guiding her along.

Underwood's strategy throughout the past several minutes was best summarized as "nod, watch Erin absently, and pretend you understand whatever mutant version of the Dewey Decimal System they use in malign extradimensional archives." He would have whistled, if doing so hadn't been far too pleasant for circumstances.

Besides, now looked like a very good time to let Erin take the lead -- seeing as she actually knew what she was doing. The reporter faded into the background as she and Form walked on, walking a few steps ahead of the larger party but hanging back a bit from the two women.

"Yes Miss." Form said meekly, and she clutched the book to her body as though it was a talisman. She checked to make sure that her lantern was well lit, and then she scurried back to the darkness. Somewhere back that way was Othello, and the end of your quest.

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Form led you through the strange, M.C.Escher-esque walkways of the library, following directions that made no sense at all. You would take four left turns, and yet never cross your path. You would double back, and find that what was behind you was not where you had been. And all throughout the trip, the darkness pressed down close, ready to consume you if ever the flames sputtered. Mary Mack had the worst of it, the open candles and lanterns setting her on edge, yet knowing that what lay in the darkness was worse. The vampire was as keyed up as a cat by the time Form reached her destination.

It was a trap door in the middle of the walkway. You were certain, in so much as you could be, that there was nothing beneath the walkway. And yet, Form knocked twice, then once, then three times, and the trap door sprung open. Framed in the burning glow from below was another changeling, a round little woman with softly-furred features and small bat-wings sprouting from her shoulders. "Quick, quick, come down, come down." She squeaked.

Down the ladder, you all filed, Cinder transforming back into something with opposable thumbs for this journey. It was a very long climb, but with time, you reached the bottom. There was a tiny chamber, small enough that when the entire group was down there it became markedly crowded. It had no decorations, and in fact bore a certain resemblance to a closet, with shelves full of book-binding material on all sides. There was an oven, and if nothing else, at least it was warm.

In the corner of the room, looking at the rest of you with rheumy eyes, was a very old man nestled in a bed of rags and tatters, his skin a brownish grey, his body covered with reddish spirals not entirely unlike Rakesh Morgan's tattoos, with two snail-like horns jutting from his head. He smiled as you entered, though somehow, he didn't seem surprised. Certainly he had the presence of mind to keep playing the card game he was engaged in, and even win a trick from his opponent.

Of course, given that his opponent's eyes were bugging out of their sockets, this was understandable. Here of all places, Othello didn't expect you to reach him.

"Hello father." Cinder said quietly.

"We need to get her out of here," Erin murmured quietly so Form wouldn't hear. It was more than simply her angelic pretensions speaking - it was a need, for absolution, for some kind of penance to this girl that she'd wronged. She silently begged Sasha, Underwood, the men who spun words and made up into down, black into white. "But I do not know that she will come. She cannot comprehend that she deserves better. That there even is better."

-----

Erin stared at Bat for longer than she should. In the visions of prophecy, there was no way to tell what was real, and what was metaphor, and what was nothing at all. She'd no way to know if the little bat-girl was dead. Even now, was the vision of her death nothing at all? A premonition of what would happen if she was left here? Or perhaps what would happen if she tried to escape?

Erin looked petulantly at the floor as the cat recognized them - even though they were all disguised, who else could they be? Othello hadn't needed them in the slightest. Bringing Cinder here seemed even more like total folly. Even after he had sacrificed so much to prevent Erin from following, here they were, complete with his murderous daughter. Feeling like a failure, Erin left this to Underwood, instead merely signalling Heather and Mary. There was no truce here. If Cinder tried to kill her father she was going to get socked.

Erin herself merely slunk toward the snail-man, looking suspicious. He had to be a trick. Didn't he? She hadn't seen him in so long, she'd forgotten his face. Had the Mistress prevented him from seeing her? Had he not wanted to see her after her promotion? Why hadn't he escaped when the Mistress had vanished?

"Is it really you, sir?" she asked, despite being disguised, despite the fact a trick would lie to her. She didn't say his name. They both knew better than to speak each other's name.




 

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