I've also changed how data is loaded when the sheet opens.
ISSUE FIXED. PLEASE REPORT ANY ISSUES IN SITE DISCUSSION
The Mistress Shear-Fingered Mistress of Twilight and Fate
Type: The Gentry Changelings: Erin Lamothe, Othello, Form, Bat, Glow, Horus, Aurora(?)
Virtue: Justice. The Mistress is fair. If you earn something, she will give it to you. If she gives you something, you know you've earned it. Vice: Pride. The Mistress is perfect. Her servants are perfect. Her castle is perfect. And if not, she will make it perfect.
Story: He was in a long, ornate corridor, stretching down into darkness. Nothing was lit, here, no lamps, just the occasional candle, and a strange sort of half-twilight that suffused everything. There were statues and columns going all the way down, small busts, delicate horses, elegant women. In between each of these was a large, full length mirror, each with an ornate golden frame. But there was something wrong with the reflections, for they didn’t seem to reflect the hall. They were obviously reflecting something in this castle, for the look of the surroundings was the same, but the room was larger, and there were stairs.
Erin was reflected in the mirror as well, though there was no sign of her in the hall. Still tiny, now kneeling on the floor, with her face cast straight down. And the person she was kneeling before… Sasha couldn’t quite see her face. She was turned slightly away from the face of the mirror. But what could be seen could still take a man’s breath away.
She was tall, taller than human, towering over the tiny moth-girl. She was dressed in twilight, and her hair fell down her back like shadow. Her eyes were black marble, glinting with the hint of a single star within. Her fingers were shears, silver and sharp, and her lips were black as velvet.
And she was perfect. Every single strand of hair on her head was perfect. The way her eyes twinkled, the way her shear-fingers shined, they were absolutely perfect…
The glass cracked, crystal spiderwebs splitting down the surface of the mirror, but it didn’t break yet. The metal backing kept the glass in place, leaving the scene fractured and distorted.
“Are you a thief, Moth?” the Mistress asked, almost sounding amused. Her voice echoed through the hall, low, beautiful, enough to send shivers down the spine.
“N-no, mistress!” Erin protested, still staring at the floor. She was shaking, though she did her best to keep it still.
“You have stolen from me,” the Mistress corrected, reaching down with those shear fingers, and dragging something out of Erin’s hands. Sasha could catch a flash of floppy dog ears. “And you must be punished.”
“B…but it is not fair! You were going to throw it out! You didn’t even want it!” Erin suddenly burst out. She was still young, still had spirit left, still whole enough to rage against the injustice of it.
“You work to earn your food, and board, and clothing, little Moth,” the Mistress replied, putting a shear finger beneath Erin’s chin, lifting it up. “You have done nothing to earn this. That makes you a thief.”
The shear fingers closed, slicing the toy into ribbons. Behind Sasha, three of the reflections of the Mistress turned, looking straight at him. Her face could stop a man’s heart…
“You are entitled, Moth,” The Mistress said, still almost tenderly. “You think you deserve to have anything you want, so long as no one else is using it. But I do not give charity, and you will learn to work for things. You will work twice as hard, to pay for this transgression, until you deserve to return to your current privileges.”
The Mistress in the cracked mirror turned to look as Sasha, and smiled. And then the glass broke, the metal backing gone as if it had never been.
Style: Most powerful of the quartet of True Fae that make up the Court of the Twisting Accord, the Shear-Fingered Mistress of Twilight and Fate has devoured many lesser Faerie in her time, flaying their names from their bones and taking them into herself. The Court of the Twisting Accord is not her first gathering of True Fae, and perhaps it will not be her last. Certainly, she is among the more dedicated members of the Twisting Accord, the most thoroughly engaged in their games of competition and collection. Unlike certain Feud-groups among the True Fae, the Twisting Accord rarely descends to the level of brute violence or crude romancing, though both do occur. Rather, the Twisting Accord competes by displaying the capabilities of their Lost and brutalized slaves, however these capabilities are defined. For the Mistress, skill is paramount, the perfection of art and craft, though sometimes she meets her fellow Fae on their own terms.
Certainly, many of the Mistress's escaped changelings have proven to be unusually potent in the mortal world. Erin and Othello have both achieved significant power in the Wyrd, and the little girl Aurora, if she truly is one of the Mistress's, is the Seelie Queen. Her 'children' are becoming worthy of respect -- and personal attention. Perhaps some of them will one day walk the Twisting Accord as near-equals.
Among the other Signatories of the Twisting Accord, the Mistress reserves her especial dislike for the Sunset Princess, who may be daughter, former slave, rival, or some bizarre combination of all of the above. Her conflict with the Collector is a more genteel thing, of subtle jabs and competitions for status. Old Red is an uncouth parvenu, unfit to dine with his betters, but distressingly unavoidable. The Board is quite simply alien in its present manifestation.
Two other facts are worthy of mention. For close to a decade, as mortals measure such things, the Mistress had vanished from her realm, to what end and what purpose, none know. Perhaps it was a journey, or perhaps it was some mortal occultist who managed to contain her name for some short span of years. But the Mistress is still putting her affairs in order from this absence. Similarly, the Mistress has a deep interest, as True Fae measure such things, in the workings of the Grigori, the captive idiot-gods entombed in the mortal world. Why is an unknown question, but her agents are ever searching for anything or anyone connected with them.
Known Avatars and Agents: When the Mistress appears in the mortal world or in the Hedge, she most frequently takes the form not of a woman (or woman-shaped thing), but rather of some unholy place. Most likely, she considers playacting as some insipid human to be beneath her, though she is perfectly capable of it if pressed.
Virtue: Charity No matter how low you sink, Old Red's always ready to lend a hand. Vice: Envy It is a source of constant annoyance to Old Red that to be truly debased, truly malign, takes that spark of human creativity. It galls him to no end.
Story: Take a litle walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms,
like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires,
in the humming wires
Hey man, you know
you're never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge,
past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand
He'll wrap you in his arms,
tell you that you've been a good boy
He'll rekindle all the dreams
it took you a lifetime to destroy
He'll reach deep into the hole,
heal your shrinking soul
Hey buddy, you know you're
never ever coming back
He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand
You ain't got no money?
He'll get you some
You ain't got no car? He'll get you one
You ain't got no self-respect,
you feel like an insect
Well don't you worry buddy,
cause here he comes
Through the ghettos and the barrio
and the bowery and the slum
A shadow is cast wherever he stands
Stacks of green paper in his
red right hand
You'll see him in your nightmares,
you'll see him in your dreams
He'll appear out of nowhere but
he ain't what he seems
You'll see him in your head,
on the TV screen
And hey buddy, I'm warning
you to turn it off
He's a ghost, he's a god,
he's a man, he's a guru
You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand
Style: Old Red has a plan, and he's been working on it for give or take a thousand years. It's a very big plan with a whole lot of little pieces, but Old Red's a clever enough devil to keep track of the whole thing. He's a devil of sin and iniquity, and he's a colloquial sort of devil at that. He's not the majestic Satan of high society, but rather he's the folk-tale devil with the horns and the forked tail, striking a deal with a peasant or signing a crossroads contract with a rising music star. Sometimes they get the better of him -- those stories are true -- but even so, Old Red has got himself a lot of contracts and a lot of changelings this way, and his plan's edging every close to fruition.
Just what the plan actually is, well, that's a different story. Old Red never actually says what it is. Maybe he's plumb forgotten what the point of it all was. Or maybe it's something that only makes sense to a True Fae. Or maybe it's to end the world. Hard to say. But it's a very big plan, and it doesn't make a lot of sense, but the little pieces seem to intersect in a lot of weird (or Wyrd) little ways.
He's part of the Court of the Twisting Accord, parading the very accomplishment of his contracted changelings before the others. They don't much like him (too crass, too boorish), but he's a useful devil. He spends a lot of time in the mortal realms, as such things go, and he's usually got a web of deals set up. He's fond of music and venality, and anywhere there's a jazz band or some heavy metal, or even just a bit of a tune while sin is on the prowl, he is there.
Known Avatars and Agents: Old Red's a True Fae that likes a personal touch. After all, he's hardly going to give the Power of Attorney to someone else, now is he? Whether he appears as a slick salesman or seductive serial killer, of course, is a different question. Old Red wears a lot of faces.
Virtue: Temperance One must restrain oneself from enthusiasms. Specimens tend to be very... breakable. Vice: Greed Collection is not a question of want. It is a question of need.
--Excerpt from the Instructions for Collectors--
While inert treasures often require special care to retrieve, most can be managed with thorough knowledge of safe packing techniques. Living Treasures are often the most rare and rewarding of finds, and can be easily damaged without proper handling. Since a living treasure is far more valuable and entertaining alive, the collector must be careful not to inflict undue harm during collection process, and cause the treasure to be downgraded to "Inert". In some cases, however, the treasure must be stifled and preserved to be properly displayed.
One of the most important things to remember when collecting a treasure is to maintain accurate records, including when and where the treasure was collected. By keeping this information on record, you can provide valuable information and legitimize the treasure's value to other collectors. Without the information, the treasure is not as high grade as a properly recorded example.
Vampires are the recommended treasures for beginning collectors, as they are both easy to collect and preserve. Since vampires are nocturnal, it is recommended the collector hunt during the day, when the treasure is disoriented and cannot easily flee. A simple wooden pin through the heart is enough to paralyze the vampire, at which point it is easy to transport and display. If the collector wishes to revert their treasure to "Vital" grade, the stake can be removed once proper restraining equipment is in place. No further preservation methods are required, although when displaying the collector must be certain not to allow sunlight to touch the treasure. Sunlight can cause color distortion or irreparable damage to the treasure. The collector must also be careful no to cause undue damage when retrieving the treasure, as it will not heal while the vampire is pinned.
If the vampire is unduly damaged, steps can be taken to repair the treasure. Restrain the vampire with weights and heavy chains on all four limbs. Remember that vampires can be stronger than they appear, and be judicious with the weight. Cover the vampire's eyes and mouth with cloth as seen in the diagrams on the next page - ensure that the vampire's tongue is forced down, so that its throat is open but it cannot speak. Remove the wooden pin. Drip blood through the cloth and down the vampire's throat. The treasure should begin to retain its high grade appearance. If the vampire does not appear to be healing itself, it is best to re-pin the vampire rather than risking the treasure escaping.
Werewolves are often considered attractive treasures for beginners, as they rapidly heal any damage inflicted, and thus do not need to be treated as delicately as other treasures. However, investment in special silver equipment is required for any aspiring werewolf collector. They are also quite aggressive, and can bite if the handler is not careful. If the collector is unwilling to invest in the proper equipment for handling and keeping werewolves, it is recommended that they be stifled and displayed.
Werewolves are difficult to take by traditional means, as they do not respond to alchemical pacifiers. Faerie wine is recommended for those attempting to take the treasure alive. Werewolves are unaware of its potency and will drink it in large volumes, soon becoming intoxicated. Alternatively, trickery is recommended if possible, for easy transport and handling. If the collector wishes to stifle the treasure, it is critical to know that werewolves become humanoid once stifled, thus ruining any display of the pelt. The pelt must be collected while the treasure is still alive, after which point it may be released or stifled for other use. Some collectors have attempted to collect pelts from all five forms of the same treasure, but results from this have been mixed.
Humans and Changelings
The choice of treasure for the true collector, humans and changelings are very delicate and must be treated with care to avoid damaging them. There are many ways to collect these treasures. First, alchemical substances may be applied to render a treasure unconscious. While these can be applied via a rag to the nasal and throat passages, it will take several minutes for the treasure to be incapacitated, and it may damage itself in its struggle. Administration via food or drink is a preferable method, as it causes less stress to the subject. If the treasure needs to be caught in the field and the collector is without proper tools to do so, it is recommended to put pressure on both sides of the treasure's neck. This will stun the treasure long enough to place in a proper holding place. Be careful not to put pressure on the front or back of the neck, or use excessive force, as this will render the treasure inert and may cause damage. If the collector wishes to stifle the treasure, the use of poisons is suggested. The treasure may also be stifled via an iced enclosure, though this may cause discoloration.
Living Treasure Quality Designation
To provide a reference point whereby any trader, seller, or collector may visit and use the grading system for use in determining how to grade a treasure by comparison and description. Later in the book is also section on Mounting Tips and Ideas for Inert Treasures once they have been stifled, to best keep quality and high grade for mounted treasures.
The treasure is alive, undamaged, lacks any marring scars, and is possessed of superb liveliness or talent. This designation is considered 'the ultimate' pristine treasure. Such a specimen is virtually flawless and an above average example of the race. The treasure is perfect in every way. Such a stated condition is unusual and should be used with discretion.
The treasure is alive and has very light damage, or is a pristine treasure but without any exceptional talent or markings. Treasure should be as close to 'Vital Supreme' as possible, but not quite. Only the most tiny hint of wear is allowed. Such minimal wear does not detract from treasure in any way.
Only the most tiny of imperfections are allowed such as very minor scars. Missing fingers or toes are permitted as long as they do not detract from appearance.
<end of excerpt>
Style: The Collector is the only member of the Twisting Accord that is of a level with the Mistress for raw power. He is a dragon, and not in the sense of 'large angry lizard' but 'immortal, elemental force of nature'. He is, even by the standards of the fickle fae, erratic, and possesses a host of bad habits. He is vain, lazy, gluttonous, holds grudges for millennia but otherwise has a very short attention span, wrathful and very violent, and above all else, he is Greed incarnate. The Collector is greedy and grasping, and it's not an elevated or refined kind of greed. In a word, he likes shiny and pretty things, the more polished and perfect the better.
Where the Mistress prizes power, the Princess passion, the Tempter skill, and the Firm modernity and technique, the Collector elevates physical beauty above all else. He is pitiless and exacting in his specifications, and is perfectly willing to melt down a hoard and have it sculpted and minted once again -- and to do the same to one of his luckless changelings. He has an unhealthy enthusiasm for perfecting his 'prizes,' and has an attitude towards them rather like that of a particularly gruesome butterfly collector scaled up. He discusses their decay and demise calmly, as regrettable facts, and often times kills them before they lose their perfect beauty to age. After all, what point beauty if it is not preserved?
All told, compared to the other members of the Twisting Accord, the Collector comes off as somewhat comic, but this ignores that he is an elemental force. He is Man writ large, all his vices and all of his powers upon the scale of mountains and valleys. He is cunning, and possessed of irresistible words, and when the Collector takes flight, he is the kind of monster that levels cities and renders them desolate for generations.
Type: The Fair Folk Changelings: Todd White, Dana the Tall, Reynarde
Virtue: Hope No one can feel unhappy for long when Sunset is around. Vice: Lust She will take your breath away.
"I wish that you would visit me one day, in my house.
There are such sights I would show you."
My intended lowers her eyes, and, yes, she shivers.
Her father and his friends all hoot and cheer.
"That's never a story, Mr. Fox," chides a pale woman
in the corner of the room, her hair corn-fair,
her eyes the grey of cloud, meat on her bones,
she curves, and smiles crooked and amused.
"Madame, I am no storyteller," and I bow, and ask,
"Perhaps, you have a story for us?" I raise an eyebrow.
Her smile remains.
She nods, then stands, her lips move:
"A girl from the town, a plain girl, was betrayed by her lover,
a scholar. So when her blood stopped flowing,
and her belly swole beyond disguising,
she went to him, and wept hot tears. He stroked her hair,
swore that they would marry, that they would run,
in the night,
to his aunt. She believed him;
even though she had seen the glances in the hall
he gave to his master's daughter,
who was fair, and rich, she believed him.
Or she believed what she believed.
"There was something sly about his smile,
his eyes so black and sharp, his rufous hair. Something
that sent her early to their trysting place,
beneath the oak, beside the thornbush,
something that made her climb the tree and wait.
Climb a tree, and in her condition.
Her love arrived at dusk, skulking by owl-light,
carrying a bag,
from which he took a mattock, shovel, knife.
He worked with a will, beside the thornbush,
beneath the oaken tree,
he whistled gently, and he sang, as he dug her grave,
that old song...
shall I sing it for you, now, good folk?"
She pauses, and as a one we clap and holloa — or almost as a one:
My intended, her hair so dark, her cheeks so pink,
her lips so red,
The fair girl (who is she? A guest of the inn, I hazard) sings:
"A fox went out on a shiny night
And he begged for the moon to give him light
For he'd many miles to go that night
Before he'd reach his den–O!
He'd many miles to go that night, before he'd reach is den–O."
Her voice was sweet and fine, but the voice of my intended is finer.
"And when her grave was dug—
A small hole it was, for she was a little thing,
even big with child she was a little thing–
he walked below her, back and forth,
rehearsing her hearsing, thus:
-Good evening, my pigsnie, my love,
my, but you look a treat in the moon's light,
mother of my child-to-be. Come, let me hold you.
And he'd embrace the midnight air with one hand,
and with the other, holding his short but wicked knife,
he'd stab and stab the dark.
"She trembled in her oak above him. Breathed so softly,
but still she shook. And once he looked up, and said, —Owls, I'll wager, and another time, fie! is that a cat
up there? Here puss... But she was still,
bethought herself a branch, a leaf, a twig. At dawn
he took his mattock, spade and knife, and left
all grumbling and gudgeoned of his prey.
"They found her later wandering, her wits
had left her. There were oak leaves in her hair
and she sang,
'The bough did bend
The bough did break
I saw the hole
The fox did make
'We swore to love
We swore to marry
I saw the blade
The fox did carry'
"They say that her babe, when it was born,
had a fox's paw on her and not a hand.
Fear is the sculptress, midwives claim. The scholar fled."
And she sits down, to general applause.
The smile twitches, hides about her lips: I know it's there,
it waits in her grey eyes. She stares at me, amused.
"I read that in the Orient foxes follow priests and scholars,
in disguise as women, houses, mountains, gods, processions,
always discovered by their tails— " so I begin,
but my intended's father intercedes.
"Speaking of tales — my dear, you said you had a tale?"
My intended flushes. There are no rose petals,
save for her cheeks. She nods, and says:
"My story, father? My story is the story of a dream I dreamed."
Her voice is so quiet and soft, we hush ourselves to hear,
outside the inn just the night sounds: an owl hoots,
but, as the old folk say, I live too near the wood
to be frightened by an owl.
She looks at me.
"You, sir. In my dream you rode to me, and called, –Come to my house, my sweet, away down the White Road.
There are such sights as I would show you.
I asked how I would find your house, down the white chalk road,
for it's a long road, and a dark one, under trees
that make the light all green and gold when the sun is high,
but shade the road at other times. At night
it's pitch–black; there is no moonlight on the White Road...
"And you said, Mister Fox — and this is most curious, but dreams
are treacherous and curious and dark—
that you would cut the throat of a sow-pig,
and you would walk her home behind your fine black stallion.
smiled, Mister Fox, with your red lips and your green eyes,
eyes that could snare a maiden's soul, and your yellow teeth,
which could eat her heart— "
"God forbid," I smiled. All eyes were on me, then, not her,
though hers was the story. Eyes, such eyes.
"So, in my dream, it became my fancy to visit your great house,
as you had often entreated me to do,
to walk its glades and paths, to see the pools,
the statues you had brought from Greece, the yews,
the poplar-walk, the grotto, and the bower.
And, as this was but a dream, I did not wish
to take a chaperone
—some withered, juiceless prune
who would not appreciate your house, Mister Fox; who
would not appreciate your pale skin,
nor your green eyes,
nor your engaging ways.
"So I rode the white chalk road, following the red blood path,
on Betsy, my filly. The trees above were green.
A dozen miles straight, and then the blood
led me off across meadows, over ditches, down a gravel path,
(but now I needed sharp eyes to catch the blood—
a drip, a drop: the pig must have been dead as anything)
and I reined my filly in front of a house.
And such a house. A Palladian delight, immense,
a landscape of its own, windows, columns,
a white stone monument to verticality, expansive.
"There was a sculpture in the garden, before the house,
a Spartan child, stolen fox half-concealed in its robe,
the fox biting the child's stomach, gnawing the vitals away,
the stoic child bravely saying nothing—
what could it say, cold marble that it was?
There was pain in its eyes, and it stood
upon a plinth upon which were carved eight words.
I walked around it and I read: Be bold,
but not too bold.
"I tethered little Betsy in the stables,
between a dozen night black stallions
each with blood and madness in his eyes.
I saw no one.
I walked to the front of the house, and up the great steps.
The huge doors were locked fast,
no servants came to greet me, when I knocked.
In my dream (for do not forget, Mister Fox, that this was my dream.
You look so pale) the house fascinated me,
the kind of curiosity (you know this,
Mister Fox, I see it in your eyes) that kills cats.
"I found a door, a small one, off the latch,
and pushed my way inside.
Walked corridors, lined with oak, with shelves,
with busts, with trinkets,
I walked, my feet silent on the scarlet carpet,
until I reached the great hall.
It was there again, in red stones that glittered,
set into the white marble of the floor,
it said: Be bold,
but not too bold
Or else your life's blood
shall run cold.
"There were stairs, wide, carpeted in scarlet,
off the great hall,
and I walked up them, silently, silently.
Oak doors: and now
I was in a dining room, or so I am convinced,
for the remnants of a grisly supper
were abandoned, cold and fly-buzzed.
Here was a half-chewed hand, there, crisped and picked,
a face, a woman's face, who must in life, I fear,
have looked like me."
"Heaven defend us all from such dark dreams," her father cried.
"Can such things be?"
"It is not so," I assured him. The fair woman's smile
glittered behind her grey eyes. People
"Behind the supper room was a room,
a huge room, this inn would fit in that room,
piled promiscuously with rings and bracelets,
necklaces, pearl drops, ball gowns, fur wraps,
lace petticoats, silks and satins. Ladies' boots,
and muffs, and bonnets: a treasure cave and dressing room—
diamonds and rubies underneath my feet.
"Beyond that room I knew myself in Hell.
In my dream...
I saw many heads. The heads of young women. I saw a wall
on which dismembered limbs were nailed.
A heap of breasts. The piles of guts, of livers, lights,
the eyes, the...
No. I cannot say. And all around the flies were buzzing,
one low droning buzz.
-BŽelzebubzebubzebub they buzzed. I could not breathe,
I ran from there and sobbed against a wall."
"A fox's lair indeed," says the fair woman.
("It was not so," I mutter.)
"They are untidy creatures, so to litter,
about their dens the bones and skins and feathers
of their prey. The French call him Renard,
the Scottish, Tod."
"One cannot help one's name," says my intended's father.
He is almost panting now, they all are:
in the firelight, the fire's heat, lapping their ale.
The wall of the inn was hung with sporting prints.
"From outside I heard a crash and a commotion.
I ran back the way I had come, along the red carpet,
down the wide staircase—too late!—the main door was opening!
I threw myself down the stairs-rolling, tumbling—
fetched up hopelessly beneath a table,
where I waited, shivered, prayed."
She points at me. "Yes, you, sir. You came in,
crashed open the door, staggered in, you sir,
dragging a young woman
by her red hair and by her throat.
Her hair was long and unconfined, she screamed and strove
to free herself. You laughed, deep in your throat,
were all a-sweat, and grinned from ear to ear."
She glares at me. The color's in her cheeks.
"You pulled a short old broadsword, Mister Fox, and as she screamed,
you slit her throat, again from ear to ear.
I listened to her bubbling, sighing, shrieking,
closed my eyes and prayed until she stopped.
And after much, much, much too long, she stopped.
"And I looked out. You smiled, held up your sword,
your hands agore—blood— "
"In your dream," I tell her.
"In my dream.
She lay there on the marble, as you sliced,
you hacked, you wrenched, you panted, and you stabbed.
You took her head from her shoulders,
thrust your tongue between her red wet lips.
You cut off her hands. Her pale white hands.
You sliced open her bodice, you removed each breast.
Then you began to sob and howl.
Of a sudden,
clutching her head, which you carried by the hair,
the flame red hair,
you ran up the stairs.
"As soon as you were out of sight,
I fled through the open door.
I rode my Betsy home, down the White Road."
All eyes upon me now. I put down my ale,
on the old wood of the table.
"It is not so,"
I told her,
told all of them.
"It was not so, and
it should be so. It was
an evil dream. I wish such dreams
on no one."
"Before I fled the charnel house,
before I rode poor Betsy into a lather,
before we fled down the White Road,
the blood still red
(and was it a pig whose throat you slit, Mister Fox?),
before I came to my father's inn,
before I fell before them, speechless,
my father, brothers, friends— "
All honest farmers, fox-hunting men.
They are stamping their boots, their black boots.
" —before that, Mister Fox,
I seized from the floor, from the bloody floor,
her hand, Mister Fox. The hand of the woman
you hacked apart before my eyes."
"It is not so— "
"It was no dream. You Creature. You Bluebeard."
"It was not so—"
"You Gilles de Rais. You monster."
"And God forbid it should be so!"
She smiles now, lacking mirth or warmth.
The brown hair curls around her face,
roses twining about a bower.
Two spots of red are burning on her cheeks.
"Behold, Mister Fox! Her hand! Her poor pale hand!"
She pulls it from her breasts (gently freckled,
I had dreamed of those breasts),
tosses it down upon the table.
It lies in front of me.
Her father, brothers, friends,
they stare at me hungrily,
and I pick up the small thing.
The hair was red indeed, and ranks. The pads and claws
were rough. One end was bloody
but the blood had dried.
"This is no hand," I tell them. But the first
fist knocks the wind from out of me,
an oaken cudgel hits my shoulder,
as I stagger,
the first black boot kicks me down onto the floor.
And then a rain of blows beats down on me,
I curl and mewl and pray and grip the paw
Perhaps I weep.
I see her then,
the pale, fair girl, the smile has reached her lips,
her skirts so long as she slips, grey–eyed,
amused beyond all bearing, from the room.
She'd many a mile to go, that night.
And as she leaves,
from my vantage place on the floor,
I see the brush, the tail between her legs;
I would have called,
but could speak no more. Tonight she'll be running
four–footed, surefooted, down the White Road.
What if the hunters come?
What if they come?
Be bold, I whisper once, before I die. But not too bold...
And then my tale is done.
-------------------------Neil Gaiman, The White Road
Style: The youngest of the Twisting Accord, however the True Fae measure such things, the Sunset Princess of Stolen Desires is a creature of brief infatuations. Unlike True Fae such as the Mistress or the Board, Sunset very much prefers a personal touch, granting a single changeling her direct and constant attention until such a point as her interest wanes. She takes few of the Lost away, but she is hard on them, and those that survive her are usually broken, emotionally-damaged shells of what they once were. Only the fact that her interest fades after a time allows her enthralled slaves to ever escape. She is in some strange way counterpart and rival to the Mistress, the perfect abusive lover to the Mistress's perfect abusive parent. The two True Fae have a keen competition, Sunset championing the passion of her toys against the Mistress's cold, technical skill.
Sunset is also quite willing to extend her personal touch in the mortal realms. She appears as the Girl With Russet Hair, most often to pursue some brief infatuation, but also to spread her own personal brand of chaos. Sunset adores emotional drama, the more tragic and violent the better. She thrives on betrayal and love-turned-to-hate, using her subtle wiles to drive such little stories of indiscretion and broken promises until they turn into tales of suicide and murder right out of Arthurian myth. They called her Morgana, once, Morgana le Fay.
Known Avatars and Agents: Either for reasons of weakness or personal preference, Sunset rarely employs the vast entourages or legions of servitors that others of the True Fae prefer. Instead, she goes abroad in the mortal world cloaked in her own skin.
Virtue: Faith Xianfang believes implicitly in an orderly, well-reasoned universe. And if it doesn’t exist, well then it’s other people’s fault and he’ll just have to fix it. Vice: Sloth Everything has to be just so, even if that means taking three times as long.
Background: For most of his mortal life, Gao Xianfang was a customs official in the city of Guangzhou (called Shang-Sheng back then) in the Guangdong province, during the middle of the Ming Dynasty. He came from an old, respectable family, not fabulously wealthy but certainly well-off enough to ensure that the studious Xianfang managed to make his way through the imperial examinations and then provide him with a comfortable sinecure inspecting cargo manifests and stamping papers. It wasn’t the most prestigious of appointments, but it was profitable, and it allowed Xianfang to indulge his rather dangerous hobby – for Xianfang was a political philosopher.
Had Xianfang stuck to Confucius’s Analects, he probably would have been fine. But Xianfang was one of those people who learned for the sake of learning, and as a customs official of a major port, he was able to procure political treatises from all over the world. Xianfang was one of the few people in China as familiar with the Arthaśāstra of Chāṇakya and The Republic of Plato as he was with the works of Confucius, Mencius, and Mozi. Nor did Xianfang limit himself to political works, dabbling in the natural sciences and in the arcane texts as well, plucking interesting books out of the great network of trade over which he presided.
Quite likely, Xianfang would have lived out his life in comfortable obscurity, had it not been for the advent of the Portuguese to Guangzhou in 1514. Xianfang watched dumbstruck as within a matter of years, the Portuguese and their big, ocean-going ships managed to secure a near-monopoly on trade coming out of Guangzhou. Xianfang, who like most amateur students of politics had strong opinions, was mortally offended by this intrusion. So he gathered up his choicest books, took a leave of absence from his wife and his work, and went to Nanjing, the southern capital of the Ming Dynasty.
In all of the millennia-long history of China, the court of the Ming stands out as one of the most subtle and one of the most poisonous. Xianfang was a worldly man – he was a customs official, people tried to cheat him on a daily basis – but the courtiers and eunuchs of Nanjing listened carefully to his suggestions for reforms and new regulations and decided that he ought to be removed. Over the course of one humiliating year, Xianfang found himself fined for most of his wealth, accused of corruption, demoted to a petty magistrate, and banished to a nameless village in the northwest of China, thousands of miles from home with no one but illiterate peasants and Mongol raiders to keep him company. They made one mistake. They let him keep his books.
As well as being a philosopher, Xianfang was something of a sorcerer. He was bright and he had access to a lot of books, and so it was only natural for him to start summoning his ancestors for consultation and drawing astrological charts of the heavens to determine the course of the future. But in that nameless village, Hsien’s magic took a darker turn. He started calling on more and more potent spirits, seeking a way to free China from what he saw as its corrupt leadership. Finally, Xianfang invoked that which he could never put down -- the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong.
While a false-Xianfang of wicker and stone lived his years in that silent village, the true Gao Xianfang was taken to Jiaolong's underground palace. For seven years, Xianfang was the lowliest of servants in that great palace of jade, cleaning the pools and caring for the hot springs that served for Jiaolong's comfort. For the next seven years, Xianfang was a student of elder spirits, learning that they too had once been human but now were changed, all through the glory of Jiaolong. And for the final seven years, Xianfang was a student of the mighty Dragon himself, discoursing on matters of the soul and the body, on the future of China and on the future of Xianfang himself. And at the end of those twenty-one years, Jiaolong returned his apprentice to China.
Under the cover of darkness, Xianfang returned to his home city of Guangzhou and formed a new secret society, the Fei Yu Dang (the Leaping Fish Society), out of his family and his close retainers. Jiaolong had explained matters most cogently. During these benighted times, the Great Crocodile-Dragon could return to China only briefly -- but if Xianfang was willing to collect the proper materials, the scrolls and treasures and yes, people, that Jiaolong required, then the dragon's power would grow, and together they would rejuvenate China and rescue it from its tainted and corrupt leadership. But this would require a great deal of effort and a great deal of time, and so until then, Jiaolong bid that Xianfang never die, nor would his chosen followers, the ones that were sent to Jiaolong's underground palace to be taught and transformed as Xianfang himself was.
So, with sorcery and cult and the support of the Great Crocodile-Dragon, Xianfang turned to his task. Unfortunately, Xianfang was a better philosopher than a leader, being a perfectionist in matters of doctrine and an idealist with regards to politics. Jiaolong's aid, meanwhile, never seemed to be quite enough. Hsien's first effort to take power, a provincial rebellion in the late 1500s, ended in an absolute disaster. The peasants ignored him, the Ming cut down his few soldiers, and Xianfang was forced to flee to the mountains with a few loyal retainers.
This would set the pattern for Xianfang and the Fei Yu Dang for the subsequent centuries. Time and time again, Xianfang would prepare for a glorious revolution that would save China. He would send gifts and servants to Jiaolong, searching the length and breadth of the world for things to strengthen the Great Crocodile-Dragon. Xianfang would summon supernatural allies, suborn officials, gather weapons, prepare speeches, do all the things a proper revolutionary leader must do. And he would either be found out before time, or his uprising would fizzle, and Xianfang would be forced to flee and rebuild.
It’s happened a bit less since Hsien’s many-times great-granddaughter, Gao Xiao-jie, took over day-to-day command of the Fei Yu Dang, but it still happens. Most recently, 1949 saw Xianfang and the Fei Yu Dang forced to flee mainland China altogether to avoid being murdered by the Communists, and since that time they’ve been centered in Hong Kong.
Xianfang is getting just a little bit desperate. At heart, he’s an idealistic man who truly, honestly believes that he knows best how China should be run, and that all the other leaders of China have been corrupt, murderous fools (to be fair, he may be onto something there). He strives to be a virtuous man, honorable and courteous and kind, but over the long centuries he’s been forced to make so many compromises… Xianfang has stolen and kidnapped, killed soldiers who came to arrest him, has bargained with creatures from the foulest hells, has looked the other way as Xiao turns the Fei Yu Dang into just another criminal cartel.
After five hundred years, there simply aren’t very many lines that Xianfang hasn’t crossed in order to achieve his goal. He hates it and he tries to avoid it, but Hsien’s idealism – and his sanity – are hanging by a slender thread indeed.
Not that anyone would know this from speaking to him. Xianfang is a perfect gentleman, polite and self-effacing, a head-in-the-clouds scholar who seems completely harmless. He’s cripplingly shy, and relates better to ideas than to people, who exist as sort of airy intellectual constructs in his head that are much neater and more organized than actual people are. Really, he’s just very nice, and it’s only occasionally that people see just how far Xianfang can go while shrouded in his air of abstraction.
Xianfang is a small Chinese man in his middle-forties, with a neatly trimmed black beard and wide, open eyes of a peculiar brownish-green color. He’s a little on the chubby side from lack of movement, and he usually smiles at people in a nervous fashion that makes him quite endearing. He looks a bit like a mid-level bureaucrat, really. He still tries to wear Ming dynasty robes whenever he can get away with it (he believes it conveys the proper image of dignity and respect), though more and more often he finds himself stuffed into Western suits that his descendants give him.
To those whose sight can pierce the Mask, Xianfang’s skin takes on something of the aspect of a tortoise, serpent or toad, with a heavy, jade shell covered in depictions of the Celestial Court and the constellations, and greenish, wrinkled skin. His throat swells or expands when he speaks, rather like that of a frog, and his hands are very long and sinuous. He speaks with a forked tongue, and his eyes glow an eerie yellow color. The air about him smells like brackish, stagnant water, and tiny drips of quicksilver fall from his shell, poisoning the ground around him.
Background: Xiao’s earliest memories are of fleeing Guangzhou as a seven-year-old girl, while her family’s estate, the compound of the Fei Yu Dang, was burned by Qing soldiers behind her, her parents still inside. Xiaoming spent most of her girlhood in the Nanling Mountains of southeastern China, herding goats while Grandfather Xianfang tried to figure out what exactly had gone wrong with his latest abortive revolt. This was not an environment designed to inculcate in Xiaoming a respect for her elders.
By the time the Fei Yu Dang moved back to Guangzhou, Xiaoming had grown up into a vigorous, athletic, and thoroughly unfeminine young woman. Her relatives had tried to turn Xiaoming into a proper young lady, but she had a deplorable tendency to prefer clambering over mountainsides after lost goats over listening to Grandfather Xianfang's lectures on the correct ordering of the family.
Of course, she learned quite a few other things from Xianfang instead. She learned the rudiments of conspiracy and sorcery, how to run a secret society, and how to navigate the hidden pathways of the world. To Xiao, this was all completely and utterly normal. Other people had family business and family traditions, didn’t they? Hers were simply a little more esoteric than most, and included a sojourn in the underground palace of the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong, where Xiaoming spent her days training with the greatest spirit-warriors that the dragon could gather. Nothing all that strange there.
Xiaoming was perhaps the most enthusiastic scion the Fei Yu Dang had produced in close to two hundred years. She took to the expansion of the secret society like a duck to water, because quite simply she enjoyed it. She found the lies, the seduction, the murder, the sorcery, quite simply exhilarating, and she loved every moment of it. And somehow, by the end of the 18th century, Xiaoming found herself running the entire conspiracy, master of the Fei Yu Dang in all but name.
It wasn’t like Xiaoming had planned it, really. But she was always enthusiastic and friendly and willing to lend a hand, and after a while people started coming to her for practical advice on how to handle cult matters. Similarly, being decidedly less squeamish than Xianfang, Xiaoming had forged contacts with underworld of Guangzhou, and so when other members of the Fei Yu Dang had a problem, Xiaoming could often help. She knew which officials could be bribed, how one could earn some extra money, and when the Qing were going to do a sweep of the slums. One day, Xiaoming suddenly realized that even if she wasn’t the senior-most member of the Fei Yu Dang, even Jiaolong-blessed cultists twice her age were going to her for advice. They still sat for Xianfang's lectures, but they listened to Xiao.
Starting around 1820, then, Xiaoming began to take more direct control of the Fei Yu Dang. Her primary goal was to make it more stable, and to do so, she moved the cult into the underworld more fully, turning it into one of the fabled Triads of Chinese criminal society. She recruited other criminals into the organization, grew their numbers, and spread out to other cities. The core of each branch of the Fei Yu Dang remained the descendants of that handful of families that had been Gao’s earliest retainers and relatives (all much-intermarried by now), all of whom knew of the supernatural world and at least some of whom were sorcerers or Jiaolong-blessed in their own right, but who were now surrounded by networks of thugs, gangsters, and corrupt officials.
Today, the Fei Yu Dang is based out of Hong Kong, where the main branch of the Gao family has lived since the Communist victory in 1949. Other branches of the Leaping Fish Society are located in Guangzhou (the second largest) and London, with smaller branches in Shanghai, Macau, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and San Francisco. Their core business is smuggling antiquities, moving precious objects (sometimes supernatural) out of China and Southeast Asia and selling them to various patrons around the world -- after sending the skim of their crop to Jiaolong in exchange for his continued favor. They’re also involved in the smuggling of opium – heroin nowadays – into China, and serve as occasional assassins for other crime groups. The Fei Yu Dang has a reputation at being very good at killing people (it helps to be supernatural monsters), and so other Triads, and the Japanese Yakuza, often subcontract hits out to them. The entire group consists of about a dozen people who are supernatural in some way, a further thirty or so who know of the supernatural, and several hundred footsoldiers who haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on. Xiaoming herself presides over this criminal network like a dark queen, letting Xianfang believe that he is still in command but making all key decisions herself.
In some ways, Xiaoming hasn’t really grown up. She comes across as a vibrant, work-hard-play-hard personality, though she has a pragmatic (or rather, a ruthless) streak a mile wide. Most of the time, she treats her life as a game, one long competition where if you’re not having fun in the process, why bother? Yet unlike Grandfather Xianfang, Xiaoming is not an idealist. Somebody has to do the actual hard work of keeping the Fei Yu Dang running, and somebody’s got to solve the problems if anything’s going to get done around here. And sometimes, those problems are people, and Xiaoming is quite willing to ‘solve’ them too.
Nor does Xiaoming share her grandfather’s goals. She listens politely to the political screeds of the Fei Yu Dang’s founder, but Xiaoming figures that the chance of Xianfang becoming emperor of China are about equal to those of Chow Yun Fat, so she’s more interested in getting her hands on as much money, power, and influence as she can. The relationship between the two is complex. Xiaoming has little respect for her ancestor, having watched him fail time and time again, yet has a certain long-suffering affection for him born of almost three-hundred years of being together. Xianfang, meanwhile, realizes the extent to which he has been usurped, and resents it, yet can’t quite shake the feeling that it’s really much nicer when someone else is doing all the grunt work and people leave him to his scholarship.
Somewhat peculiarly, Xiaoming also has a perfectly satisfactory relationship with their patron, the Great Crocodile-Dragon Jiaolong, probably because she's unusually efficient at delivering peculiar artifacts or interesting people to him. It's almost like the dragon doesn't care about liberating China from the Communists. Actually, Xiao's pretty sure that Jiaolong doesn't care, but this is something she has no interest in telling her honored ancestor.
Back when she was growing up, Xiaoming was a tall woman, though her five-foot-six height today leaves her at just a little over average height. She has a hard, muscular body, rather like that of an athlete, and she keeps her hair cropped short so that it can’t fall into her eyes. She has the manner of a predator about her, a sort of lazy, lethal tiger that might toy with you or might eat you at any moment. She usually prefers to wear black bodysuits that give her a distinctly futuristic appearance, or else a Western-style black suit, though in formal situations she dons a qipao.
Beneath the Mask, Xiaoming is covered in a strange medley of ghostly white tigerish fur (save that the stripes grow into arcane and unnatural symbols) and viciously hooked, plant-like thorns, while retractable claws appear on her fingers. The markings on her face are particularly elaborate, and seem to change each time one looks at them. In her full war-form, Xiaoming becomes an utterly enormous white tiger, with the same unnatural patterns to her fur.
Background: Anni Devika Ghosh's father abandoned her before she was even born, which just might explain something about the young woman. Her parents came over from Bengal in India in the late 1970s, and her father took one look at London, and before the year was out he abandoned his pregnant wife and fled back to India. Anni was three months later, and her mother worked herself to the bone, spending every hour of the day at a succession of jobs to give Anni a better life than she had. Anni was going to be a doctor, an engineer, she was going to be a someone.
Anni was smart enough to make it work, certainly. She had a cool, analytical intelligence that let her sail through the local comprehensive, get a raft of A-levels, and be on her way to a good university. She studied art history, and she had a job lined up at Sotheby's when she finished as a collections researcher.
She did all of it without making a single real connection along the way. It's not that she hadn't had people around her, certainly. She had acquaintances, friends, at school and at the university, people with whom she spent time and did things. She had the usual romantic fumblings at the university and she was dating her supervisor at Sotheby's, a cute young man three years older than her. It's just that to Anni, it never really meant anything. All around her, people were being best friends forever, swearing eternal love and devotion, having crushes and loves and emotional arguments, and she felt cool and unconcerned inside. When her first boyfriend told her he loved her, Anni felt nothing, and ended up dumping him a few months later.
Anni knew this wasn't normal. Normal people should've felt things, but Anni somehow... didn't. She just couldn't make that kind of deep, emotional connection to people, couldn't relate to them in some fundamental way. She envied the people who could, and she knew she was missing out on something that everyone thought was wonderful. But she couldn't grasp it. She was cold inside, cold and cool and uncaring.
She experimented some in the university, trying to find out what her own limits were, if maybe she just needed a sharper push to get that connection that came so easily to other people. She ventured into the Gothic and Steampunk scenes, but found nothing there but some fashion choices. She dabbled in BDSM, but pain didn't turn her on, though she did cut herself on and off for years as a form of release. She slept with a man thirty years older than her for money once, but other than buying herself a nicer computer, the incident left no marks on her psyche whatsoever. By the time Anni was twenty-five, she'd basically resigned herself to an empty life, going through the motions of relationships without ever really deriving much satisfaction from them.
Then came the Durance. It happened as she was walking home one evening, when the world became strange, and she heard the baying of human voices behind her. Normal people would have run away, but fear didn't touch Anni anymore than love did (it required more in the way of an instinct for self-preservation or self-worth than Anni had), and so she didn't run. And that intrigued the Huntress of Blood and Desire enough that rather than have her maenads tear Anni apart, she spirited the young woman away, to Arcadia.
Her Keeper decided that since Anni was cold, she would be cold-blooded as well. She cast the young woman into the water, and she changed her that very first hour in Arcadia, into something cold, and beautiful, and predatory. Where the Huntress's chosen were Amazons like so many wolves, Anni was a serpent, a predator in ambush, but in so many other ways she was like them, part of their circle of huntresses. She hunted beasts and she hunted men, and sometimes she hunted with sharp claws, and sometimes she hunted with promises of lust beneath the water. Occasionally, Anni would do both, taking a lover only to drown them, watching the dying breaths bubble from their lips as their flesh grew cold and slack, as passion turned to terror and then stillness.
It probably should have bothered Anni, but it didn't. They just died so easily, their thrashings fading so quickly. She saw them die, was the cause of their deaths, and felt precious little guilt. What bothered Anni, perhaps, was the fact that she wasn't bothered. It was her Keeper's will, but still, Anni thought she would have felt more conflicted over murder. Except she wasn't.
On the contrary, her Durance was the happiest time of her life, because here was the connection she had been searching for all her life. She felt with the other huntresses, felt the companionship of the wolf pack, a perfect connection that was far more sublime than anything Anni had ever felt before in her life. They were hunters, in violence and in lust, together. Anni never wanted it to end... yet it did.
Subjectively, Anni's Durance lasted seven years, though she aged not at all during it, and in the mortal realm only two years passed. Her escape was unexpected. There was an argument over prey. Anni lost, and in the manner of the maenads, those who had been her friends and lovers turned on her, casting her out. Frantic, furious, alone, she fled into the waters. A day and night later Anni washed up on the banks of the Thames, cold, shivering, and naked. The police found her before she died of hypothermia, and the Unseelie found her at Guy's a few hours after that.
That happened in 2005. Anni settled into her new life with an ease born of not caring what happened. She didn't bother looking up her fetch or her old life, and she found a niche in the Freehold quickly enough (no one likes to advertise it, but there's always room for remorseless killers in most supernatural organizations). She joined the Seelie Court. She claims, if asked, that it was because violence was something she was good at, and she wanted to give back. And that might be true, a little.
But the bigger truth is that Anni misses the old connection that she had with the other huntresses. For that timeless moment, Anni finally had the connection that she'd so desperately wanted all her life, but was never able to gain. And then it was taken away from her. Fighting with the Seelie, even with a fellow alumni of the Huntress of Blood and Desire like Chesire, is poor compensation for what Anni's lost, but it's all she has.
Physically, Anni is a small, pretty Desi woman with a muscular swimmer's build and a nose ring, looking to be about in her late twenties. She keeps her black hair cropped short, and her eyes are dark, luminous, and very bright. She's definitely attractive, and moves with a cool, fluid grace. Beneath the Mask, Anni actually looks much the same -- except her brown skin is now specked with tiny black scales, her eyes are larger and strangely liquid, her feet and hands are clawed and webbed, and sharp, fish-like spines emerge from her wrists, elbows, and knees, spines entirely capable of skewering a man. She usually dresses in form-fitting shorts and shirts, of the sort suitable for a quick swim, and her clothing has a decidedly goth or steampunk edge to it, particularly on the occasions that Anni bothers to wear a sari for a formal occasion.
Type: Changeling Court: Winter Seeming: Darkling Kith: Libran Apparent Age: Late twenties? (Probably older than this by a decade at least)
Virtue: Trustworthy Vice: Cruel
Background: In early 2011, an exceptionally pretty, white-haired individual of androgynous aspect and variable gender appeared in the Freehold of New Jerusalem. This was Veil, and Veil was a criminal, a thief, a spy, a lover, and maybe a little crazy. Why had no one ever heard of Veil before? Well, Veil was a very good criminal, thief, spy, and lover, and it wasn't immediately obvious that Veil was a little off.
According to the court records, Jordan Townsend was an orphan raised in a succession of foster homes in London, a smart, pretty, tomboyish girl who was also moody, sullen, and a juvenile delinquent. By the time Jordan finally got out from under the thumb of the NHS at the age of eighteen, she'd been through eleven foster families and had spent a total of seven months in Juvie for theft and petty fraud. The progression to career criminal was pretty much assured.
To hear Veil tell it now, Jordan really should have known better than to pick the lock on that room in the old house that wasn't on the floorplan and couldn't have possibly fit between the rooms on either side. Curiosity, unfortunately, killed the cat, and it got Jordan sucked into Arcadia, where being killed was probably the nicest thing that could have happened.
Her Keeper needed a spy, and Jordan was to be that spy, and so the Black General threw her to the surgeons (or more accurately, to writhing horrors with too many tentacles, suckers, and scalpels who bore nametags identifying them as surgeons). They erased Jordan's identity, rebuilt her into a creature that could walk without making a sound, hear a cricket chirp across an empty field, and change shape from woman to man to other. It probably wasn't the most traumatic sex reassignment surgery ever, but it definitely rated an honorable mention.
Afterwards, the new individual, who was termed Veil in the military files of that Arcadian wasteland, became a spy for the True Fae. Forced to survive, Jordan embraced its new identity as Veil with a bit more enthusiasm than would be entirely healthy, all the while never ceasing to seek an escape. Which, eventually, Veil found. Really, the True Fae wanted to make a perfect, uncatchable spy, and then were surprised when they couldn't catch it? Veil figured they should've known better.
Back in the mortal world, Veil put those new talents to good use, going on a discreet but highly effective crime spree all over Europe (the Eurozone's open borders are the best things, as far as Veil is concerned, even if getting on and off the British Isles is trickier). False paperwork was procured, goods were fenced, and Veil put that money into investments that ensured that Veil was never going to have to work again. Then... Veil got bored.
There's just so much fun to be had from robbing mundane mortals, and Veil didn't really feel like stepping up to rifling the homes of billionaires or the vaults of national museums. So instead, Veil went back to London and offered those services to Todd White. According to scuttlebutt, the gorgeous international thief did not have a hard time getting an interview. Since then, Veil's become a Collector of Whispers for the Unseelie, breaking into places that can't be broken into, spying on the supernatural, and otherwise being a general nuisance to anyone who values concepts of privacy or secrecy.
On the job, Veil disappears into a role, becoming whatever a mission requires. Veil has the kind of acting chops that would guarantee a long career in theater and film if Veil ever tires of theft. Off the job, Veil is cocky, brash, mischievous, and maybe a trifle cruel, with a penchant for cutting wit, mind games, and getting into trouble. Veil can be difficult at times, but no one doubts the spy's skill, and Veil can be remarkably entertaining company when the androgynous changeling tries to be. Veil's highly intelligent and very well read, particularly on anything related to the Fair Folk (thievery is a job that requires a lot of preparation, but since Veil doesn't really have any expensive tastes, a successful job can give the changeling months of free time).
Most people who meet Veil just end up staring at the person. Veil is really pretty, in an androgynous, pale, white-haired bishounen sort of way, with plenty of short, curly white hair. Veil's a tall one, five-foot-eleven, with a slender, rather delicate build that suggests a fragility that is belied by the sheer number of scars Veil has all over the changeling's body (Veil claims they're mostly surgical scars, though some look an awful lot like claw marks). Veil's face is mostly feminine, yet with a strong jaw, and sharp green eyes. The changeling shows the secondary sexual characteristics of both genders, with a smooth voice that says nothing, a hint of curves, and a rather boyish appearance all over. Veil's proudest features are the changeling's hands, which have very long, slender fingers, perfect for picking locks or rifling through pockets.
Beneath the Mask, Veil's Mien actually looks much like the changeling's mortal form. The green eyes turn a shade of aquamarine not found in nature, and the hair looks even curlier, wispier, like feathery clouds that absolutely refuse to stay combed. Veil's a shapeshifter, and can look more feminine or more masculine with only a moment's effort.
Veil normally dresses in the least practical clothing the changeling can find when not on the job, possibly as a way of emphasizing the spy's individual identity. Frilly shirts with lots of lace, ridiculous hats (occasionally with feathers in them), uncomfortably tight pants (that's uncomfortable for other people, not Veil), and enough hidden knives to outfit a cutlery store. Somehow, Veil makes it work.
Lobsterback Bill William Ryder-Douglass, Crimson Knight
Type: Changeling Court: Spring Seeming: Wizened Kith: Soldier Born: 1981
Virtue: Determined Vice: Cowardly
Background: There was never any real doubt that William Ryder-Douglass would join the British Army. His father had served in the Falklands, his grandfather in World War II, his great-grandfather in World War I, his great-great-grandfather in the Boer War. Military service was a family tradition stretching into the murky past, and William was as proud as anyone at the chance to serve Queen and Country. At the age of eighteen he signed up, and after getting a solid technical education, William was off.
William spent most of the nineties shuttling from one conflict to another, pulling terms of duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, and he loved it. The things that other people hated about the military, the discipline, the hard work, William thrived under them. He found the discipline comforting, and the constant work gave his life a sense of purpose and meaning. He was doing something that mattered. But even more, he was doing it with other people, other soldiers who felt as he did. Theirs was a bond of brotherhood, forged in the flames of war.
But it was not until 9/11 and Britain's entry into the "Coalition of the Willing" that William got a true taste of war, on the front lines instead of pulling support detail. He would be among the first Commonwealth troops in Afghanistan, and between 2001 and 2009, William spent six years in Afghanistan and Iraq. It broke him.
Time and time and time again, William set out with his squad into the hilly wilderness or the blasted urban wasteland. Insurgents sniped at him from hiding, IEDs detonated without any warning, suicide bombers turned every civilian into a potential threat. Death became a constant presence, and though William survived, fewer and fewer of his fellow soldiers did. It got to him, and it soured what he had once loved about the military. The discipline was a sham when it couldn't save you, the brotherhood felt hollow when anyone could die, even the duty and purpose, Queen and Country, seemed tainted by being out here in the middle of nowhere. William began to dread every sortie, wondering each time if this one would be the last. He tried drink and drugs to soothe his mind, but the hallucinations frightened him, and the drink only turned him maudling and miserable and lonely. By 2009, William was desperate for release. If he weren't so terrified of death, he would have put a bullet through his brain.
Instead, William did something worse. He should have wondered about the Contractor, that smiling man in his red suit and red gloves and shiny red shoes, who offered William a way out of the war in exchange for a little mission. Frightened, desperate, William signed on the dotted line, and the Contractor shook his hand and opened the door to Arcadia.
There are wars in Arcadia, and they make the most senseless of human conflicts seem full of glory and great deeds. A casual insult between two Keepers can only be washed away with the blood of hob and changeling. A Lord of the Gentry spots a flower in a rival's garden, and launched a war to pluck it for himself. Something about the blood and the carnage pleases the True Fae, and where two Keepers went to war, there was the Contractor, offering the services of his soldiers, and there was William.
William lost track of the time, just taking each hideous day as it came. He was bombarded by balefire, sniped by elf-shot, bayoneted and burned and bloodied, he overran trenches of dead men and fought horrors from beyond sanity. His contact never seemed to end, the fine print getting finer each time William begged the Contractor to let him go. There was always one more clause, one more desperate sally into the breach, one more war to fight.
Escape came when the fear of living became greater than the fear of death. During a desperate retreat through a fetid swamp of copper-beaked birds and venomous leeches, William fell behind. He hid as the enemy forces swept across, with their guns and gleaming bone axes, and in the darkness that followed, he crept away. Through the Hedge, William skulked, until finally, he was free.
There wasn't really very much left of William's life when he came back, or of his nerve, for that matter. In the mortal world, he'd been gone for not quite nine months. His fetch had died in an IED in Afghanistan in early 2010, a few weeks before William came back. There wasn't anything for William to come back to, so he drifted, until the Freehold found him. He joined the Spring Court, a veteran of horrors too hideous to contemplate, and became one of the Crimson Knights.
These days, William, or Lobsterback Bill as he's sometimes called, is a broken, twitchy, nervous wreck of a man. He's afraid of everything. He's afraid of True Fae, vampires, werewolves, mages, Summer Courtiers, Autumn Courtiers, Winter Courtiers, guns, fire, thunder, gang members, white supremacists, anyone strongly religious, wolves, snakes, spiders, heavy machinery, doctors, cats, blood, needles, heights, enclosed spaces, darkness... it's not a pretty sort of contained, manly fear either. When scared, William gibbers and meeps and squeaks like a trodden mouse, he shivers and stutters and cries. There's nothing glamorous about William when he's scared, and he's scared just about all the time. The way that Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, so William can divine a score or more different kinds of fear, from foreboding and dread to sheer, bowel-evacuating terror.
One might ask, quite reasonably, why such a man decided to become a Crimson Knight. The answer is two-fold. First, there's just not an awful lot that William is good for otherwise. He has a day job as a mechanic, cars being less temperamental than Arcadian siege engines, and also less likely to bite, this is a job he can do, but it just barely pays the rent. The other part is that fighting for the Freehold lets William maintain the smallest, tiniest kernel of his self-respect. If he's not a soldier, then why does he even exist? What's the point to his continued use of oxygen? And so, when the call goes out, William still goes and faces whatever the Seelie need put down, just so he can look himself in the mirror in the morning.
The thing is though, despite being as twitchy as a hyperactive squirrel, William's a good man to have around in a fight. Actually, it's probably because he is as twitchy as a hyperactive squirrel. Years of life on the edge of terrified breakdown have honed William's reflexes to a knife's edge. He's fast, he loves taking orders (having someone looking at the big picture means there's at least one thing William doesn't have to worry about), and he knows how to use every weapon in this world and the next.
Most of the time though, Lobsterback Bill's just a drudge in the Seelie Court, and happy with it. He's one of the people who keeps everything running in the background, because he's willing to do any work, and he's still got that Wizened touch with all things technical. He's easy to forget, Lobsterback Bill, but the Seelie try to keep him involved.
When not terrified, William's really a very nice guy. He might jump at loud noises, he stutters horribly when confronted with the more beautiful members of his Court, and he's not the fastest on the uptake, but he's nice. He thinks of others, and he's conscientious in his work, whatever it might be. Arcadia broke him of any vicious streak he may have ever had. He does seem a little sad, and most people tend to think of him as harmless and non-threatening, which is grossly inaccurate but still seems a common impression of the fellow. He does swear like only a soldier from Arcadia can, though his oaths tend to be a little on the odd side ("By Jehoshaphat's Teeth" is a common one).
William spent a lot of time in Arcadia, and it left him prematurely aged. On paper, he's about thirty, but he looks to be in his mid-forties at the very least. He's not an attractive man by any stretch of the imagination, with advanced male pattern baldness and a scraggly brown beard that's never as trimmed as he might wish it was. His eyes are a sort of washed out brown color. He's on the short side, but it's a compact shortness, as if he's dense and gristly.
Beneath the Mask, William bears the scars of the Other's idea of battle-field surgery. He's got sensitive, bat-like ears that poke out the sides of his head. His teeth look like shiny chrome bullets, and his loose, wrinkly skin is faintly mottled, not quite camouflage but certainly enough to break up his form. Most distinctive, however, are the huge metal plates that give Lobsterback Bill his nickname. Formed of some Arcadian metal, they were used to patch him up after battle and also as impromptu metal plating. They appear to be simply riveted to his form, the most prominent covering about half of his head -- despite his name, the plates are not red so much as a shade of puce though.
In the mortal world, Bill mostly wears overalls, but in the Hedge he wears his old uniform from the Arcadian wars, most notably a jaunty red, visored cap that looked like the reject from a marching bad. His blue and red coat, with its bandoliers and tool belts beneath it, seems similarly something out of a Napoleonic War dress uniform.
Rank: 2 Mental 3; Physical 5; Social 1 Willpower: 1 Wyrd: 3 Notable Powers: Professional Soldier; Knife's Edge Reflexes
Background: The Goblin Market at Picadilly Circus is rivaled by few outside of Arcadia. In its carnival-like atmosphere, one can buy or sell anything, from a shoe to a soul, from a cat's whisker to a submachine gun. Most of the market stalls are temporary, but a few merchants take advantage of its grand location to operate full time. And of these permanent shops, the biggest and best is Miss Judith Cecily Ponsonby's Accouterments and Paraphernalia for the Discerning Gentleman, Lady, or Squamous Individual more commonly known as Ponsonby's.
The staff of Ponsonby's (a motley mixture of eerie, bright-eyed hobs and hollow, zombie-like thralls, both dressed in double-breasted uniforms with rows of brass buttons) specialize in providing the customer with any kind of occult ingredient, artifact, or tome that the user can possibly require. Do you require eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, or tongue of dog? Ponsonby's wholesales them. Something more unique, a set of highly detailed globes of the Galilean moons, a candle made from human fat, bell, book, and candle that were used in an excommunication? Let the staff check the back room, they might just have something like that. Something particularly odd and outrť, Lewis Carroll's fountain pen, a grimoire containing a bound demon, a ruby the size of a man's thumb? Step into the office, sir, and let us discuss matters with the Proprietress.
That worthy individual is the titular Miss Judith Cecily Ponsonby, in her own words the daughter of a Suffragan bishop from York, graduate of Oxford University, and proud Lady Adventurer who after a long and fulfilling life has retired to a less strenuous position. People may find this difficult to believe at first, because Miss Ponsonby is hermaphroditic gastropod approximately five inches in length, a nudibranch to be precise. She mostly lives in an aquarium on the top floor of Ponsonby's, though she sometimes comes out, usually on the shoulder of a thrall, with a few hobs dancing in attendance. How she speaks is... uncertain, though she's clearly capable of using a host of Contracts.
According to Miss Ponsonby, she traveled all over the world during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. She was in China during the Boxer Uprising, and fought off two Boxers with her parasol. In Africa, she was adopted as the favored daughter of a cannibal king ("Dear Chief Nsonowa," she still refers to him as). In South America, Miss Ponsonby was within a hair's breadth of discovering a secret Incan city until her steamboat sprung a leak. She campaigned actively for the cause of Women's Suffrage, and was arrested for chaining herself to the fence in front of Number 10 Downing Street. She dined with Lord Kitchener in Sudan, danced with Tsar Nicholas II, discussed railroads with Cecil Rhodes. Miss Ponsonby claims to have visited numerous locations, met many interesting and historically significant people, and to have encountered a host of curious objects and creatures over the course of her travels.
How she did this while a nudibranch (and thus lacking certain important parts of the body, such as limbs) is an excellent question, but Miss Ponsonby seems unable or unwilling to confront the fact that she's a nudibranch. People who insist on this fact are politely asked to leave by her attendant hobs, at least until they can "get a hold of themselves." Nevertheless, Miss Judith Cecily Ponsonby is insistent on her version of events (while admitting that she may occasionally exaggerate them, just a trifle), and her apartment at Ponsonby's is filled with handwritten journals, collections of taxidermied animals, photographs (none showing Miss Ponsonby), and cultural artifacts that lend a certain amount of credibility to her claim, even as the fact that no records exist of a Miss Judith Cecily Ponsonby or any of her exploits detracts from it.
Most of the time, Miss Ponsonby affects a demeanor similar to that of one's garrulous, slightly tipsy maiden aunt, always prepared with a story. She adores milkshakes and seems to get drunk off them, and knows a lot of bawdy songs. That said, Miss Ponsonby has a strong sense of the proper, and she can be highly shrewd when business is being discussed. She mostly stays at Ponsonby's, but she does sometimes go out into the world, and has been spotted at the Ebon Engine, the Menier Chocolate Factory, and the Cat's Cradle.
Rank: 3 Mental 6; Physical 0; Social 6 Willpower: 1 Wyrd: 5 Notable Powers: Improbable Stories; Been There, Done That