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Wonderland, Scene VI (Erin, Underwood)

   
Well. This was unexpectedly convenient. As per usual, Underwood began to focus on the many myriad ways in which this situation was not convenient, could in fact go horribly wrong, and provided ample reason to be healthily paranoid about everything.

Okay. For one, three current residents of the Castle were here with Othello, which meant potential stool pigeons. Gone was the opportunity to smuggle the cat out of Dodge without witnesses -- or, for that matter, any opportunity to talk about doing so just now.

…For two, Cinder was here. Odds were both she and her father had some unfortunate ideas about how this meeting might go. Time to remind some people of their commitments.

"Easy, chief." This was directed at Othello, though Cinder was implicitly included too. "We're on cease-fire -- means when we say 'we wanna talk,' we're not being metaphorical."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"Easy, chief." This was directed at Othello, though Cinder was implicitly included too. "We're on cease-fire -- means when we say 'we wanna talk,' we're not being metaphorical."
Cinder hissed at him, and it was a sound to chill the flesh. One was forcibly reminded of the fact that the last time Cinder and Othello had met, she'd nearly ripped his throat out. Normally calm, her father was the one person capable of reducing Cinder to inchoate rage in the course of a few words. But... she didn't strike yet. Something kept her back, either all the talks with Underwood, or the pledges, or simply cold calculation that she was outnumbered (could Cinder kill Othello before everyone dogpiled on her? Excellent question). So, even though her flesh rippled, muscles appearing and disappearing, patches of fur manifesting, nails lengthening and then retracting, Cinder maintained self-control.

"Why?" Cinder said, her voice tightly wound.

"I really did think it was for the best. I was young and I was a fool, but I really was trying to do right by you." Othello said quietly, his shoulders hunched together, looking down somewhere in the vicinity of Cinder's feet. He wouldn't meet her eyes. "I wanted you to be strong, I wanted you to be special..."

"You succeeded." Cinder said, and then she lashed out -- not at Othello, thankfully -- but at an inoffensive shelf of book-binding materials. Her claws sizzled as she drew five, perfectly parallel burning scars. Then she breathed out, and when she spoke, her voice was level and cold. "Beyond your wildest dreams."

Heather shifted uneasily, looking to Erin or Underwood for suggestions on what to do here. Mary Mack, for her part, just stood in the corner and sang to herself. "She cannot breathe / she cannot cry..."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"Is it really you, sir?"
"Perhaps it is." The old worker said, smiling a small, knowing sort of smile at Erin. It turned to coughing, though, in short order, a damp sort of cough that boded poorly. When he smiled again, it was with a distinctly sickly tinge to it. "Mostly it is, I would like to think so."

"And you, child, how are you?" The old worker said, looking at Erin with a tilt of a head and a languorous wave of his knobby antennae. "Refresh my old memory, but are you... you were here once."

"I said, hold it." Underwood stepped in between Othello and Cinder, putting a steadying palm-out hand toward each. When he spoke, though, it was towards Othello.

"We are going to be on the same page, here. We are going to be absolutely transparent. My associate here claims that you are her biological father, that you were directly and knowingly responsible for her becoming a werewolf -- and that you left her and her mother shortly after doing so. Now. She has told me, in no uncertain terms, that she would like to kill you. The reason that she is not killing you, right now, is partly because we are where we are, and partly because she would like you to explain why you did, or did not do, those things she alleges. Because I don't like seeing people get killed, and because I do like seeing guys face the proper authorities if they deserve it, it is my fervent hope that your explanation makes her reconsider."

"So. Here is what we're going to do. You are going to man up, face my associate straight on, and answer the why and how of her claims, taking full responsibility when it is appropriate. You are going to go into detail. My associate is going to -- calmly, verbally -- follow up. We're going to go back and forth. We are going to reach a reasoned conclusion. And, so help me, we are going to do this like civilized people if it is over my dismantled body."

Underwood inhaled. "Are we clear."

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeoTiamat View Post
"And you, child, how are you?" The old worker said, looking at Erin with a tilt of a head and a languorous wave of his knobby antennae. "Refresh my old memory, but are you... you were here once."
"I was," Erin admitted, finally. "I never saw you after... after a certain age. I thought maybe you were gone, or... you didn't want to see me any more. Because of what I did." She moved forward to take his hand.

"You are sick, sir," she said, dismayed. It wasn't a question.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NeoTiamat View Post
Heather shifted uneasily, looking to Erin or Underwood for suggestions on what to do here. Mary Mack, for her part, just stood in the corner and sang to herself. "She cannot breathe / she cannot cry..."
Erin felt this was not going so well as Underwood had hoped. She made a slight gesture at Heather - the pair had the same powers, and Heather had a far greater chance of grabbing Cinder - if it all went south, the faux-fey could knock the werewolf out. Instead Erin stared at Othello when he spoke, her gaze running through his eyes and finding something deeper. It was a betrayal, of that there was no doubt. It was a terrible betrayal, but it was the only thing Erin could think of that would make a difference.

"Do you know why your father is what he is? Do you understand why changelings are changelings?" Erin began to speak, quiet words that nonetheless had magic behind them. "The Masters take us, because we are pretty or skilled or for no reason at all. The Mistress takes you away, and she decides, you aren't good enough, you would look better with ears like a cat. So they take you away and slice your ears from your face, and give you new ones, and you are not even allowed to scream. And you must hold back the tears, because you've seen what happens to the ones that cry. She takes out their eyes, then, because they're ugly when they cry. And the ones who talk back to her, well, she fixes their minds. You are not allowed anything without her permission, not even a name. She takes away everything you have, slices it to ribbons. You are her slave. You perform your little jokes and plays for the Mistress, and if you are boring, or ugly, or if she thinks it would be funnier to hurt you, you are punished. She tells you every day how worthless you are. She points out every flaw in everything you do. And you know it is true, because she is perfect. She is the most perfect, beautiful thing you've ever seen. But it's worth it, after all, because when she tells you you have done well, you know you have earned it."

"And she takes you to be her lover and toy, sometimes, and her fingers are like knives, and she enjoys slicing you, flaying you, and you have to be put back together when she's done with you, and she never asked you if you were even willing. But it doesn't matter, does it? Because she is perfect. Who couldn't love someone like her? Who could turn away such a privilege, such a sign of favor? Trash like you should bow down at her feet and be grateful for any word, any glance, any favor she pays upon your personage. Only eventually you begin to finally... finally accept, to realize, that there's no course of action to take, that will stop you from being hurt. There are no rules you can follow, that will keep you safe. There is nothing you can do that will make her love you back. Because eventually she will become bored, or you will misstep, or her tastes will change with no warning. You finally realize... she is killing you. Bit by bit. You have to get away. It kills you inside, because you love her. But one day, on an impulse, you run."

"And when you get out you realize... slowly, or quickly, that you're not worthless. You're not trash. You find things worth living for. And one day, you have a little girl who is the most precious thing in the world to you. But you're frightened. What if something happens to her? What if something like the Mistress comes back and takes her? The Mistress took everything you ever had, and you know she's still out there, searching... What if she finds out? What if she sees your baby? You want to make it so your child, your little girl, never has to suffer like you did. You'll make her strong, and special, and she'll never have to be afraid like you were, or have to let someone tell her she's trash. You'll never, ever, let her feel as powerless as you were."

"Can you understand?"

Dice Roll: 10d10s8e
d10 Results: 3, 2, 2, 3, 6, 4, 4, 1, 1, 9 (Total Successes = 1)
songs of not-so-distant arcadia
Dice Roll: 11d10s8e
d10 Results: 4, 5, 6, 2, 2, 6, 6, 4, 10, 3, 4, 10, 7 (Total Successes = 2)
omen
Dice Roll: 11d10s8e
d10 Results: 2, 7, 1, 5, 3, 5, 3, 6, 1, 6, 8 (Total Successes = 1)
verdant spring
Dice Roll: 11d10s8e
d10 Results: 9, 4, 7, 5, 4, 6, 6, 3, 10, 8, 3, 3 (Total Successes = 3)
omen
Dice Roll: 16d10s8e
d10 Results: 6, 9, 9, 8, 2, 3, 6, 8, 2, 9, 4, 8, 1, 5, 6, 7 (Total Successes = 6)
manipulation+expression

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"And, so help me, we are going to do this like civilized people if it is over my dismantled body." Underwood inhaled. "Are we clear."
Cinder's expression took on a rather mirthless smirk. Possibly the thought of fearsome Underwood standing between her (a ferocious berserker werewolf) and Othello (one of the Seelie's more mindbending courtiers) was just too adorable. But she tilted her head, accepting it all for the moment.

"It was... nearly thirty years ago now. How old I've grown..." Othello said, looking down at the floor. His voice was curiously warm, almost nostalgic. "I was a little past twenty, and I had such powers, such magics. I could buy hope, sell fear, make destiny and cut fate. I passed through a town, and there was Phoebe Pleasant, beautiful, vibrant, and she enchanted me. I was fresh from this Castle, and I was starved for affection."

"She was married, which was awkward. And she had my child, which was more awkward." Othello looked up, a small smile on his face. "And you were a wonder. My own flesh and blood, amazing though the thought was. I couldn't stay... I didn't want to intrude any more, and I was still young, I still had wild oats to sow. But I made sure to give you a gift. My patrimony. I bought you a destiny, and it seemed such a wonderful thing. You'd be special, you'd be strong, you'd never hurt..."

"I was a young idiot. I have no better excuse." Othello sighed, and hung his head. "Young, proud, stupid, too clever by half."

"But... what have you done to yourself." The cat-fey said, his voice choking as he looked up. "You were so beautiful once..."

Cinder watched him, with cold eyes. She knew this story. If not all of it, then the larger part of it. She'd learned it from her mother, after all, and other songs and tales as wells. This recitation was, above all else, for Underwood's benefit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"Can you understand?"
There was a silence in the room as Erin finished her short speech. Othello stared at Erin, with a sickly look on his face -- just then, he seemed more ill than the old crafter. Form and the bat-girl sniffled, and stared at Erin's mentor with wide, round eyes. The old master-worker smiled, and nodded. He alone was perhaps not surprised by this recitation, but then he remembered Othello from old, when the cat-fey was just a young, lithe youth who passed through the workshop like a good-natured whirlwind, all perked ears and large, bright eyes.

Cinder stood, in the center of the room, the others pressing back away from her despite the limited space available. She was taller than she had been, and her hands were turned to claws, black and diabolic. But she looked at Erin, and then she looked at Othello, and then back at the little moth who whispered in her ears.

"Damn you." Alice Pleasant said, and her shoulders slumped, like a marionette who's strings Erin had just cut. She gave up, then and there. "Just... damn you. My mother died because of this. You don't know the things I see... I burn myself because it gives me focus."

"I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you, or Phoebe. I only wanted the best." Othello looked down and waited for the inevitable. He had nothing else to say.

"Damn you." Cinder repeated, and then she sighed. "Fine. What's the point. It's done. Let's get out of here. This place sickens me."

Othello, still sitting next to the old master-workers, still gazing resolutely at the floor, snuck a confused, frightened glance at Erin. He'd been running from this, at one level or another, for decades. He'd run all the way to Arcadia to avoid confronting the extent of just how enormously he had screwed up in his youth. And now it was here, and now... Othello didn't know what to do, except wait. He was, well and truly, Lost.

"I am sorry," Erin said to Cinder. Empathy was a terrible curse. There was a small, rather cautious note of pride, however, or perhaps satisfaction. The pain spirit had been right, when they'd spoke in the clearing. In the end, Alice Pleasant wasn't a bad person - just a young girl who was lost and hurting and had no other way to deal with the pain.

Erin walked over to Othello with a slightly more resigned note, kneeling down by him, and putting her arms around him. "I am so sorry," she said, hiding her face against his shoulder. "Forgive me..."

"In the end, it seems we Lost can never run from these things," she murmured beside him. "No matter how hard we try, how far we run, they are always waiting to catch up. We have to face our loose ends eventually. But it is over now. You have been caught and bloodied, but that is the worst of it done, I hope. Come on, let us take you home. There is no reason for you to hide in this place, anymore." Erin pulled back, trying to gesture toward Mary, summoning the vampiress over to their mutual friend.

Erin herself retreated back to the Old Master, biting her lip as she took his hand again. "Oh sir... you're sick. We need to get you out of here. All of you."

Underwood exhaled, again. It had occurred to him midway through Erin's monologue that, no, Othello hadn't had a stellar excuse for what he was done, and -- more to the point -- that Underwood was still standing between him and Cinder. And -- even more to that same point -- that he could not move out of the way, or reveal his mounting concern, without it being taken as an implicit show of faithlessness.

Thus: Underwood exhaled. Against every single indication to the contrary, this situation had not gone as unilaterally pear-shaped as he had expected. For some reason.

Of course, they were all still in Arcadia. So there was that.

"Good. That's good." Time to play Cinder out. As Erin took Othello aside, Underwood guided the werewolf a few steps away: speaking in low, sympathetic tones, and putting a hand on her back if it looked like she could stand to be touched. "Not much I can say to you that you don't know yourself. But…thank you. If we wrote off everyone who's young, cavalier, and dumb as a box of hammers…well, we wouldn't have a lot of people left."

He nodded. "You're going to be okay. I'm going to personally see to it that you're going to be okay. I want you to hold me to that. And the first step to you being okay is us getting out of this sorry hole with our--"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Lamothe
"All of you."
"Come again?" Underwood perked his head up, mildly alarmed. The reporter was Winter Court, and thus favored stealth whenever possible: the idea of breaking an additional troupe of wrongfully imprisoned changelings out of the impenetrable fortress was not something he had even bothered considering.

On the other hand. You could now see Underwood saying the phrase "break some wrongfully imprisoned changelings out of an impenetrable fortress" in his head. It was, by rights, a ludicrous phrase -- but by virtue of being both staggeringly righteous and ridiculously nifty. Underwood was not a crusading reporter for nothing, and he had been raised on adventure magazines besides.

"All of them…"

You could also see him realizing how likely everyone was to die anyway, Erin's idea notwithstanding.

"Hot dog…all of them. We're going to get all of them out of here. We may be a group of knocked-around misfits with issues here to Schenectady, but we're all people -- and God's my witness, not one person this room deserves to rot in limbo for one thin second more. We're getting out. And we're taking them with us."

He clapped a hand on Erin's shoulder, actually smiling now. "I like your Tabasco, kid. Now: what's our best angle on an escape?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"But it is over now...Come on, let us take you home. There is no reason for you to hide in this place, anymore."
"I always meant well. With you, with Mary, with... Alice..." Othello observed quietly, as he patted Erin on the shoulder. He seemed smaller than he had before, and colder, but there was a bitter note in his voice. "But the disadvantage of being brilliant is that your failures are as magnificent as your successes. I've turned the Freehold upside down and I've made it a better, a happier place... and I've ruined the life of my daughter and her mother."

"Where did she inherit that steel spine of hers. It must have been from Phoebe. Certainly wasn't from me." Othello said with a short, quiet laugh. "No, it's I who should be asking forgiveness from you. I've always been a fraud, but... I thought I was a better one than I turned out to be."

Mary Mack came over, and she knelt next to Othello and leaned up against him. She wasn't really as comforting a presence as Erin -- she was a dead thing, when all was said and done -- but she was what she was. And she sang quietly under her breath, and Othello gazed off into the distance, a bitter, twisted smirk on his lips.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"You're going to be okay. I'm going to personally see to it that you're going to be okay. I want you to hold me to that. And the first step to you being okay is us getting out of this sorry hole with our--"
Cinder gave Underwood a withering look. Werewolves with ambient spirits of pain and a great deal of bottled up rage were very good at being withering, but typewriters generally did not wilt. So Cinder moved onto the next part.

"What," She asked succinctly. "Are you going to do? I've been cheated of my fate. Fine. I can accept that. But if you're smart, don't rub it in."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erin
"Oh sir... you're sick. We need to get you out of here. All of you."
Quote:
Originally Posted by Underwood
"I like your Tabasco, kid. Now: what's our best angle on an escape?"
"I am indeed sick, but I think the time for escape has passed me by." The master craftsman said, with another damp cough. "Best take the others and not be weig---"

"Oh shut up. The only ones allowed self-pity at the moment are me and my daughter." Othello drawled. He stood up and stretched, and there was a feverish glow in his eye. "A mass escape. I approve. I approve wholeheartedly. Master Horus, is the elevator chute still in the widdershins wing? It hasn't collapsed or turned into a squid while I was gone?"

"It is still there." The master-worker said, and it was only when Othello was turned away that he gave Erin a small wink.

"Excellent. Now, I will have you know that cats get into everything." Othello said, a manic smile on his face. "There is a balcony that looks out onto Arcadia and the High Road that we can use, if one of our diligent worker bees can rig us up some rope. There is also an old elevator shaft for the carting about of food -- or the local equivalent thereof -- not a twenty minute hike through the soul-rending gloom from here."

"Excuse me." Form said, very humbly, her eyes large and wide. "We don't have any worker bees. And, uh, where are we going?"


Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Pleasant
"What are you going to do? I've been cheated of my fate. Fine. I can accept that. But if you're smart, don't rub it in."
Underwood winced. "I deserve that. I dunno, I'm not gonna presume anything. But if maybe right now, you feel like death warmed over, I'd like to try and make sure at some point you feel less like that. Maybe I can't do much but listen, but what I can do, I'll do. If I've got a friend, I like to make sure she's doing all right."

He raised an eyebrow. "What do you say?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Form
"We don't have any worker bees. And, uh, where are we going?"
"We, little lady, are going out." Underwood was grinning, now, the showman in him coming to the fore. Strictly speaking, the reporter did not go in for "just crazy enough to work" plans unless all other possibilities were exhausted, and then only when his surroundings were high-Wyrd enough to help things along. Oh, look.

"Out. You've been there, right? Sunlight? Television? Damn good hot dogs? 'Course, it doesn't really count as being 'out' if you're not between Jersey and Nassau County, but take it from a guy who knows: you're gonna like it just fine. Heck, we'll even take your friends along for the ride! And yes, that means you too, sir."

Underwood tipped a quick salute to the Master Worker, then looked back to Form. "Now, as for 'worker bees,' well, you've got two of them, because 'worker bees' is what we in the business call an idiom. In this case, it applies to me -- or the guy who looks like Ozzie Nelson -- and my buddy over here -- or the lady who looks like your grandmama's corsage." (A gesture at Erin.) "It also means that, when me and my buddy whip you up a rope, it's going to be the rope you bust out when the Queen comes to visit. So to speak."

He clapped his hands, looking around the room. "Now. What are we going to use for materials?"




 

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