Rites of the Spring Horn

Game 52: Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

Summary

Vogelfrei returns from the Arena after the True Fae attack and finds the freehold frazzled but recovering. Marcella talks to Maria for more information about the attacks, and also to Hank about how he knew the escaped changeling. The team also attends an information session about the X-Men hosted by Hank, and then a movie night with Hank’s new “lonely friend,” King Alter.

Log

The team arrives back at the freehold in a bus of changelings in a variety of emotional states. The bus pulls into the courtyard, and people pile off and go off in various directions. Some huddle in the courtyard.

Hank is clearly in a hurry to be off of the bus, but he restrains himself from trying to get off sooner and lets everyone else file off first, in deference to his size. Zia waits with Hank, since he was so upset back at the Arena, and gets off when he is ready to get off the bus. Back at the arena, Hank hank had vaguely recognized Shomyo from his durance as someone who survived experiments run by someone else and was put to use elsewhere in the demense. He doesn’t know her very well, having never really interacted with her personally.

Fianna positions herself by the gates at the entrance to watch for more incoming groups or approaching undesirables. Amy stands quietly beside her. Marcella surveys her team to make sure everyone is doing okay, then goes over to the huddled changelings to reassure the ones who look the most freaked out.

Once she is done talking to the most freaked out changelings, Marcella goes back over to the team. “I’m going to go check in with Maria, see if there’s anything else I can do to help. But first … how are you all doing?” She looks at Hank especially when she asks that.

Hank shrugs, and looks away. “Would you inquire if they know how she got here?”

Zia just gives Marcella a quick nod of, ‘I’m just fine.’

Amy just nods and says, “I’m ok.”

Fianna replies, “It takes, on average, twenty minutes to get from the Arena to the freehold on foot, slightly longer or shorter if the Hedge is feeling cheeky at the time. The buses take half that time. Groups left at approximately ten minute intervals. So far it looks as if everyone has arrived back here within those guidelines, but I’m going to keep track in case.”

Marcella claps her on the shoulder and says, “Thanks, I appreciate it, Fianna.” She nods, gives everyone another reassuring grin, and heads for the main desk where Maria sits.

Hank finds a corner and leans against it with his arms crossed over his chest, looking around at everyone else arriving back. Zia asks Hank if he would like some actual alone time or she should keep him company.

Hank shrugs again. “I am all right, if you need to be somewhere else.”

Zia shakes her head, “I don’t really have anywhere to be, but you seem pretty shook up. Just, don’t go home for a bit? I’m not sure being alone alone is a great idea.” He nods. That agreed upon, Zia goes upstairs to her room to change.

Maria is not sitting at her desk, rather she is standing and on the phone in one hand and typing on the computer with the other. As Marcella comes in, Maria’s eyes flash, and Marcella senses a strange assessing feeling. “Marcella, can this wait?” Maria says shortly.

“I just want to know if there’s anything I can do to help right now,” Marcella says quickly.

“You can help by staying within the freehold until I tell you and listening to the thrice-cursed dagger. If it talks, tell me right away.” Marcella can sense agitation rising off of Maria. Marcella also realizes that she can feel that Anya is awake and also incredibly agitated.

She nods, gives a quick bow, and heads back to the rest of the team. When she gets back, she says, “Things are pretty hectic in there right now, so I think we should all just try and take some time to relax for now, until everyone’s back from the Arena. Maybe we could organize some board games and a football match, and see if anyone else wants to join in?” Marcella is already looking around, assessing the suitability of the courtyard for an impromptu soccer match.

Amy nods and walks over to Marcella, “That sounds like a good idea. I’ll help.”

Hank’s mouth twists, “I would prefer to stay here and ensure that nobody requires medical assistance.”

Fianna turns away from looking down the road to give Marcella a skeptical look. “Having something to do is infinitely better than sitting around and worrying,” Marcella says firmly.

“…contact sports?” Fianna says dryly.

“And board games, for those less inclined to moving about,” Marcella says cheerfully. “I think there’s sports equipment down in the gym.” Marcella goes about trying to distract the changelings in the freehold.


Marcella waits to try to talk to Maria again until things have calmed down around the freehold. Before she goes back, she tells the rest of the group that she’s also planning to ask how Shomyo, the newly-arrived changeling, is doing.

As Marcella heads back towards the entrance to talk to Maria again, Hank breaks away from the wall and follows her. “Are you planning on seeing her?” He asks. “Shomyo?”

Marcella hesitates. “If I can. I don’t want to completely overwhelm her, when she’s just escaped and come to a new place, but if I get the chance I’d like to welcome her and make sure she’s okay.”

“I…” he trails off, unsure of his phrasing. He sighs, takes a deep breath, then says in a rush, “She may recognize me. Though, given the circumstance, I do not know if that would be helpful.”

Marcella searches his face. “So the two of you escaped from the same place, then? I wondered if that was it. Do you want to talk to her?”

Hank grimaces, “I am not sure. We did not have very much contact, but…” He looks away. “Marcella, I am not proud of what I did there. Seeing me may hurt more than it would help.”

Marcella reaches out and clasps his shoulder for a moment. “I think there are very few of us who are proud of what we did there, Hank,” she says quietly. “If you think it’s best to keep your distance for the moment, I can completely understand that. I’ll let you know how she’s doing.” She gives him a smile and releases his shoulder. “If you want to talk about it at any point, let me know. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it can be nice to have the option if you want it.”

He gives her a lopsided smile. “Thank you.”

She nods, and adds, “And I’d imagine the rest of the team feels similarly, if you feel comfortable talking to them about it.” Then she continues on her way to find Maria again.

Once Marcella reaches her, the office is in a similar state of business, but now there are about five people attempting to talk to Maria. One of them is yelling at her about how Aachen must have known this was coming, how dare they endanger all the others, and so on.

She sees Madoc standing quietly, waiting his turn. The others she vaguely recognizes as being from other freeholds. Marcella glares daggers at the yelling guy, but since Madoc isn’t stepping in, she won’t step in unless it looks like Maria’s in danger. She’s seething a bit at the idiocy, though.

Madoc spots Marcella and waves her over. She towards him. “Hey.”

“Marcella, you and your team deserve congratulations for your performance in the games. I was hoping to speak with the secretary to inquire whether my team could stay the night in the freehold instead of our lodgings, but … others seem to have lost their tempers,” he says quietly.

Marcella nods. “Thanks, I appreciate your kind words.” She glares over at the guy who’s yelling again. “Some people don’t seem to understand what the word ‘crisis’ means.”

“No, I don’t know that they do, but they are scared. People do stupid things when they are scared. I imagine Maria will have very little patience for this, however,” he says.

Marcella grins. “That’s the only reason I haven’t stepped in yet,” she agrees.

Sure enough, about two minutes later, Maria slams down the telephone and says crisply, “Be silent or I will make you so.” The yelling man continues yelling. Maria takes out a gavel and smacks it into the desk. There is now no sound in the room. Marcella feels a slight tightness in her throat. “Now, for the next 60 seconds or so, only I can speak. Mr. Wellington,” Maria says to the yelling man, “It is unfortunate what occurred, but the Hedge is the Hedge, and you of all people should know that. We have taken efforts and will continue to take efforts to strengthen our defenses. You have an appointment to share your concerns with Master of the Hedgewall Mauritania for 6 days from now at 10pm. Please leave my office, or you will discover what else I keep under this desk for idiots.”

Marcella looks very satisfied with these events. Mr. Wellington proceeds to leave shakenly.

“Roia, you and your group have permission to stay in the freehold for two more nights in light of recent events. Please condense yourselves into rooms 102A and 102B so that we can make space for others.” A tiny changeling bows and leaves.

“The rest of you except Madoc and Marcella, get out of my sight.” They scram.

“Marcella and Madoc, how can I help you? The effects should wear off about … now,” she says, still angry, but less ‘I shall kill those who speak.’

Marcella gestures for Madoc to go first. He quietly explains his request, after which Maria manages to find him a room for all of them, but they’re sharing. He thanks her, and with a wink for Marcella, heads out.

“Sorry to bother you, I just wanted to see what a good time would be to get more information about what happened back there. Both with the defenses,” Marcella fingers the dagger, “and to see how the escaped changeling is doing now.”

“Not much to tell, unfortunately. As far as we can tell, Shomyo was following her way home through the Hedge, which happened to intersect with the Arena, and Epicuria was close on her tail. It sounds like she had help getting out of Arcadia, and a small vine creature was leading her through the Hedge, but then she was attacked by something, dropped the vine and took off on her own initiative, following her heart instead of the vine. Epicuria shouldn’t be able to get back, as we changed around the sections of the Hedge she used. Shomyo … is not in the best of mental health, and hasn’t really accepted that she is out of Arcadia,” Maria replies.

Marcella nods. “I’m sorry to hear that she isn’t doing well. I’m sure she’s in capable hands, but if there’s ever anything I can do to help, please let me know.” She hesitates a moment. “Is there anything that needs to be done to strengthen the freehold defenses now?”

“Anya and I have already upped what we can. Queen Kenna is looking into setting up another layer of defenses right now,” Maria replies.

Marcella nods. “Thank you. And again, if there’s anything I can do to help that effort, please let me know.”

“Of course.” She turns back to her computer, grumbling.

Marcella updates the rest of the team with what she learned.


Hank has been contacted by one of Alter’s people with the details about a movie night. It is to happen in the evening in one of the smaller rec rooms in the freehold. There will be snacks, and others are welcome.

Hank sends Mountain Man, one of their opponents in the first Lambswool match, an invitation. He then asks Marcella to assemble a team meeting somewhere with a projector, prior to the movie night date.

He arrives early, laptop and pastries in tow. When the rest of the team arrives, he is already there with his laptop set up and connected, but the projector screen off. The pastries are on the little cardboard plate from the to-go box on one of the tables.

Zia arrives a little bit early, carrying her craft bag, and settles herself with a pastry and some embroidery. Marcella is just a minute or two early, and grabs a pastry when she arrives. Amy comes in with Petey right after Marcella. She walks over and begins looking over the pastries. Marcella reaches over and starts petting Petey. Fianna sits backwards on a chair and stuffs a pastry in her mouth when she arrives.

“If you pick something with chocolate, Amy, do not share it with Petey,” Hank cautions. “Chocolate is toxic for dogs.” Amy’s eyes widen, and she nods very seriously, choosing a pastry without chocolate.

“Okay,” says Hank, once everyone is settled. “I wanted to invite you all to an event the day after tomorrow. There is a … friend, I suppose, that I have been making in the freehold. We found ourselves to have mutual cultural interests after the Lambswool matches.”

Marcella smiles. “Oh, that’s excellent! One of our opponents?”

“We have both missed a lot of recent developments in our genre, and he suggested a movie night to catch up!” Hank continues, “I think he may be inviting a few others, as well. I was hoping you all might want to come? He seems very lonely.”

“Ok,” Amy says, “Friends are good. It sounds fun.”

Zia smiles, “Well, I’m always happy to make new friends!”

“Definitely, sounds like fun. What kind of movies are we talking about?” Marcella asks.

“Ah,” Hank says, with relish. “I am glad that you asked!” He turns on the projector, and the screen comes to life on the first slide of a powerpoint presentation which reads, ‘A Brief Introduction to the X-Men,’ with the much smaller subtitle, ‘A presentation by Dr. Henry Brunner.’

“Is this related to that Maneuver Seven thing you and Fianna did?” Marcella asks.

Zia giggles, “American comics? Well, carry on then.”

Fianna bursts out laughing, but it is not a mocking laugh.

Hank proceeds to give everyone an introductory presentation about comics, Marvel, and the X-Men franchise. It includes a slide explaining Maneuver Seven/the Fastball Special, and several slides just for Fianna on Jubilation Lee. Overall it focuses on the concept behind X-Men, why they are awesome, and what one needs to know before they see the movies. But it also has a few more serious slides on its connection to various cultural and political movements and the usefulness it has had for outcast or isolated people. It is mostly introductory, and he’s trying not to go too overboard, but he also is clearly very enthusiastic about it. All of his slides have markers for endnotes, and the last slide is a bibliography.

Zia smiles during the presentation and does try to process the information, while mostly thinking Hank is kind of an adorable geek.

Marcella’s head is spinning a bit. She had only a vague understanding of X-Men before this night. She knew there were some movies and some comics, and that’s about it. She is doodling in her sketchbook as she listens, but is paying attention.

Amy smiles at Hank’s enthusiasm and listens closely.

Fianna flatly states that it wasn’t her fault the convenience store cherry picked random issues to put on the racks. She knows why those slides are there.

Hank smiles at her comment, and seems pleased that people are generally following and enjoying the presentation. It’s also evident to anyone familiar with academia or oratory style that Hank does have experience presenting to large groups.

By the end of the presentation Marcella has a rough sketch of Hank looking very animated in front of a projection screen.

Hank is happy to answer questions if anyone has them (really, he will stay for hours and discuss or explain X-Men if anyone else actually has the patience for it), and says “So will I see you all at the movie night?” He gives them the time and room number.

Fianna is good with any movie she doesn’t have to sneak into. Marcella is also happy to come to movie night. She approves of team bonding. Zia agrees. Then she says, “So Hank, would you say there is a market for handcrafts on this theme?”

“Ohhhh,” Amy says, looking excited at the prospect.

“Oh,” he says, “Absolutely! There are whole conventions for comic book lovers, and many of the vendors are people who make themed crafts.”

“The world is an incredible place,” Marcella mutters under her breath.

Hank makes a note in his notebook to point Zia to several of the more prominent crafters in the Marvel world.

“Hmm … Amy, we should consider if we want to introduce some more … geeky lines to our Etsy,” Zia says quietly to Amy.

Amy nods at Zia, “But we should see the movies first.”

“Of course, we should.” she replies.


On the actual movie night, Hank arrives early to help get things set up, and to make sure he can diffuse any potential tension (or at least not get killed by his teammates for coming upon Alter unawares without Hank there).

Alter is there, finishing the projector set up. An entire wall has been devoted to the movie projection. There is a table of very nice quality snacks – much fancier than typical movie-watching fare – and he smiles as Hank comes in. “I have just about everything finished here.” He holds up several DVDs. “Which should we start with?”

Hank looks the DVDs over, “Well, I do not believe that most of my teammates have seen even the first X-Men movie, so perhaps we should begin at the beginning?”

“Sounds excellent.” Alter pops open the case and begins queuing up the film. At that moment, William (also known as Mountain Man) walks in carrying a plate. He initially does not see Alter, and cheerfully greets Hank. Then Alter moves, William notices who’s standing next to Hank, and the color drains from his face. He frantically looks from side to side, then thrusts the plate out in front of him and stammers, “I made chocolate chip cookies Jillian helped me I hope they’re good!”

Hank grins at him, “I am glad you could make it!”

William nods and darts over the table to find a place for his cookies. Alter is chuckling under his breath.

Marcella gets there a couple minutes early. “Hey Hank – Your Majesty!” She gives Alter a quick bow, looking accusingly at Hank. “I, ah, didn’t expect to see you here.” Hank smirks mischievously.

Alter smiles. “I expect that to be much the tenor of the next twenty minutes or so of conversation. Hank apparently is a bit of a jokester. Please, take a seat, Marcella, is it?”

She nods, recovering quickly. “Yes, that’s right. Ah, thank you.” She sits.

“I did not want them to treat it like a formal occasion!” Hank protests, but he is clearly amused. Marcella raises an eyebrow at Hank, but doesn’t say anything further for the moment.

Zia comes in, a notebook for sketching and some handcrafts to work on in her hands. As she comes in and scans the room, she spots Alter and laughs quietly to herself. “King Alter, a pleasure to see you again. I did not realize you were so lonely,” she says conversationally. Hank shoots Zia a look. Zia smiles back at Hank.

“Miss Ziazan, I am sure you are familiar with the phrase, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown?’ A true statement, even if mine has not yet deigned to show itself this year. Please, make yourself comfortable.”

“Thank you, King Alter. I hope to learn much regarding this genre from you and Hank,” Zia says a bit stately-like, then settles herself in a comfy chair.

Hank has gotten himself some snacks, and makes sure to take one of William’s cookies. Marcella pulls herself together enough by this point to go get snacks.

Fianna walks in about a minute before the appointed time. She stops short when she notices Alter, but instead of saying anything, she marches over to Hank, gets as high up on tiptoes as she can, and cuffs him on the ear. “Brat,” she says, but there’s no anger in her voice. Back on her feet, she throws a salute in Alter’s direction and flounces off to get snacks. There’s a quiet murmur of ‘ooh, cookies!’"

Marcella looks around. “I thought Amy was coming? Hopefully she’s on her way.”

“Perhaps she is running a bit behind?” Hank suggests.

“I’m sure she will be here shortly. Movie nights are generally fairly informal events after all,” Zia says.

“Yes!” Hank agrees. “Informal events, indeed.” Marcella shoots Hank another skeptical look. Hank grins back at her.

Zia pulls out a cross stitch of Wolverine she had been working on and calls Alter over. “King Alter, what do you think of this cross stitch? Does it express Wolverine properly?”

Alter smiles. “My fabrication skills sadly do not lie in the same realms as your own, Miss Ziazan. However, I believe I can confidently say that it is an excellent piece.”

“Excellent,” she says to Alter quietly.

Amy arrives a few minutes late, having spent some time trying to decide whether to bring Petey or not. Eventually, she decided to bring him. Looking for Hank’s friend, she notices William right away, and waves, but does not immediately see Alter. “Hello, everyone.”

As she heads over to the snacks, she spots Alter and freezes. She curtsies clumsily, “Hello, Your Majesty. Um …” She awkwardly gestures at Petey, who she is now very glad she put on a leash for this event, “This is Petey.”

Alter smiles. “Hello Amy.” He holds out his hand for the dog. “Hello Petey.”

Marcella smiles. “Hey Amy. Glad you made it.”

Hank gestures to the table, “Grab some snacks! Now that everyone is here, I think we are ready to start the movie?” Hank has made sure he sits towards the back and isn’t going to block anyone’s view.

Amy grabs a couple of cookies and sits down, making sure Petey doesn’t get any, because of the dangers of chocolate. Zia settles in to watch movies and take many notes for merchandise. Alter thumbs the play button on the remote and the previews start. Zia thinks it is cute that Alter did not skip the previews.

Marcella has her sketchbook again, but still seems a little stiffer than usual. She makes sure to greet and chat a bit with William at some point, though. William is also sitting near the back, still looking a bit confused, but he accepts quiet conversation with Marcella.

While watching the movie, Fianna is both pleased and embarrassed with how many characters she remembers and how many OPINIONS she seems to have.

Marcella enjoys the action and gets very into the movie, though the themes about mutants and alienation from regular life also hit a little close to home. She just stays quiet during the parts that are particularly upsetting for her.

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Game 51: The Closing of the Summer Games

Summary

Hank, Zia, Amy, and Iris all make it out of the Labyrinth, and Amy receives an invitation to tea from Anastasia. Later, Vogelfrei attends the closing ceremony of the Summer Games, where Marcella and Fianna pledge to the Summer Court. Shortly after, an escaping changeling appears in the middle of the stands, with her True Fae Keeper (who is also Hank and Iris’s Keeper) close behind. The True Fae leaves quickly, but strews chaos in her wake.

Log

Hank is in the violet water and surrounded by mist. He sees ahead of him in the rapids that there are many places with rocks and places where the bottom is much deeper suddenly. He can move forward in the violet only about ten feet before there is a DEEP sinkhole.

Hank shifts forward in the violet, but angles back towards indigo as he approaches the sinkhole. As he goes into the indigo, he feels less dexterous, but feel mystically more powerful. He adjusts the snorkeling mask securely over his face, to be prepared to swim if needed.

About five feet into the indigo, the water gets very very rough, but he doesn’t fall. He gets about another twenty feet, and then there is a rock that is massive and very jagged blocking the violet and rising up above the water. The water is flowing quite hard in the violet. To Hank’s right in the blue and green, it is fairly clear.

He is trying to move rapidly, so he ducks through the blue as quickly as he can, and proceeds at the edge of the green and yellow. Hank proceeds forward with determination, trying to keep a hand or foot in the border of yellow so he can have those benefits as well.

In front of him are true rapids. The water is running quite fast. The edge of waterfall is about sixty feet ahead of him. In general, the orange and indigo have the least obstacles, green and blue are middling, and in the rest are lots of holes and sharp rocks that look dangerous if he were to lose his footing.

Hank wants to get through this as quickly as possible, so he chooses orange. He rationalizes that it really only cancels out the benefits of Zia’s uniform, and he is used to being less dextrous. He moves quite quickly through the orange, but as he moves so quickly, he is a bit clumsy. Hank doesn’t lose his balance, though he comes close. At a few points he is almost pushed over by the strength of the rapids.

As Hank gets closer, the strength of the water starts to overwhelm him and he starts to be pulled over. He frees the tumbleglass from his pocket, and as he feels water pull him sideways, he folds himself up and smashes it with his foot. He goes over the waterfall.

Hank tries to go towards the violet water on the way down, the tumbleglass shielding him from a few dings on the way down, but he ends up rocketing between blue and indigo most of the way down, then cannonballs into the pool at the bottom.

At the bottom, the colors are getting narrower, as the pool is narrower. Hank barely fits in one color. He comes rocketing out of the water, gasping after his splashdown. He takes a moment to catch his breath, looking around. Although he took no damage, he did fall about sixty feet into water, and he feels a little bit squashed.

On the other side of the pool is a door labeled in spidery writing, “The End.” Seeing the door, he fits himself into violet and indigo and swims towards it, using the snorkel to breathe through and allow him to move faster.

He reaches the door and treads water for a moment, examining it. He wants to be sure he understands what is going on, so he shifts to be partially in the blue stripe, since he thinks he understands things better in the blue stripe. The door is lovingly carved with symbols of summer, is made of seasoned oak, and has a handle made of obsidian.

Hank pulls open the door, and the bright, summerish hedgelight blinds him slightly. He throws up a hand to shield his eyes, but steps through the door. There is loud cheering and the people in the stands are quite excited. Alter is in the middle of a dramatic retelling of his deeds.

In the stands, Marcella and Fianna jump up and cheer for Hank.

He sees that Prism, Lucien, Satsuki and Anastasia are all out of the maze, clapping for him. Hank makes a brief bow to Alter, and goes to join the other contestants.

He examines the other contestants, seeing whether they are wet, and which token they brought. He also checks their badges, trying to remember if they went into the maze before or after he did. Everyone currently out went in before Hank.

Examining the badges, he remembers that Prism went in first as Cicero, and then Lucien as William the Conqueror. Iris went in third, but she is not yet arrived. He hopes that she is managing in the maze acceptably, and he recalls Anastasia’s comment about Iris attacking her.


Zia continues to run onwards, avoiding obstacles. The space has started to have periodic clumps of statues, in addition to the random pits covered by mist, which Zia realizes are various members of the Summer Court. She successfully runs through the clumps.

At one of the final holes, she hears, “God dammit … this is what I get for not looking where I am going.” She looks down into the hole, and Samantha is in there. Zia tosses her some rope and moves on. After being in the mist for about ten minutes, she comes to the lighted door. As she walks through the door, there is cheering, and Zia puts on a big smile. Hank goes to greet Zia as she emerges.

“Hey Hank, how did the fast rainbow of death work out for you?” she asks him.

He shrugs, “Eh, surprisingly well, really. Very little death, in the end. And the slow and steady path?”

“It treated me quite well. Hopefully Samantha comes through shortly. I gave her some rope to get out of a pit,” she replies.

He nods, seriously. “I think that you are the latest to begin, of those of us currently emerged.” He peers around, attempting to see if there is a leaderboard or a standings chart anywhere.


Iris and Amy each see ahead of them rapids where the rainbow water continues. There are many rapids, sharp rocks, and deep pits.

In red, it is smooth sailing for about twenty-five feet, so Amy charges ahead. After a bit, she comes to a deep, deep pit. The water is quite strong, and she gets pulled across the pit and loses her footing. She is pulled about fifty-five feet to the edge. In the process, she ends up in the orange water. She goes over the edge just trying to stay hanging onto her branch and not land on anything sharp.

Directly ahead of Iris, only about ten feet away, there is a DEEP sinkhole. She shifts out of her colour to avoid the sinkhole and readies her rope and knife. In the indigo water, she feels mystically stronger, and is suddenly convinced that supernatural forces are the cause behind everything in her life and everyone’s lives. The entire world is a supernatural conspiracy theory, and if she don’t do certain things to appease the supernatural forces, BAD THINGS will happen. She’s not too surprised about this and carries on.

The indigo is straight sailing for about fifteen feet, and then there is a high sharp, jagged rock. She moves from indigo to blue. The water is strongest here, and she gets pulled off her feet. She lets herself get carried and looks for a way to utilize her knife and rope. Ahead are a clump of sharp rocks spanning the blue and the green. She moves into indigo again, and then is carried over the waterfall. Iris just tries to keep a hold of the branch and not get hit.

Amy manages to keep herself more or less in the orange, going into yellow sometimes, and only hits one thing on the way down the waterfall. She hits the water at the bottom and exhales with the shock. In her shock as she hits the water, Amy drops her branch. She dives down to retrieve it, although it is a bit difficult. She is in a narrower pool of water. There is a door labeled “The End.”

Iris goes down the waterfall, meandering across a few colors, hitting two rocks separately, and then smashing into the water. However, she makes it to the bottom in one piece, branch in hand, and can see the door labeled “The End” about twenty feet ahead after the pool.

Amy wades across the pool as quickly as she can, clutching the branch to herself tightly, trying to avoid dropping it again.

Iris puts all of her things away and wades through more leisurely, really starting to feel the exhaustion now. She doesn’t expect to have any chance at winning.

Amy reaches the door first. She hesitates for less than a second, then opens the door and goes through. As Amy goes through the door, there is a lot of cheering and Alter says, "Amy! Congratulations on making it through the maze!”

Hank turns as the door opens, and grins broadly as Amy steps through.

Iris make it to the door after Amy, but before it is closed. She walks through right behind Amy, and the crowd cheers for her.

Marcella is yelling like a maniac for her team.

Amy goes to curtsy to Alter, realizes she isn’t wearing a skirt, bows instead, and then goes to join the other contestants.

Hank beams as Amy and Iris walk through the doors. “Fantastic!” he says, cheering with the other contestants.

Iris just sort of sighs. “Well this wasn’t too bad I suppose. I’m glad you’re all alright as well.”

“Not too bad?” Hank echoes, incredulous. “This was /excellent/.”

Zia chimes in, "Yes, this was quite enjoyable!”

“Sorry, exhausted. Great puzzles, I just wish it didn’t involve as much exercise. I’ll probably like it better when I’ve had time to rest,” Iris replies.

Amy nods, “I had fun.”

Over the course of the next half hour, people trickle out of the maze. The only people remaining to come out are Erik and Brooke. Amy looks more and more amazed as more people trickle out, having thought she would be much closer to the end of the group.

The board currently shows that this is the standing based on people coming out:

Anastasia
Prism
Vlad
Lucien
Amy
Zia
Hank
Satsuki
Phthonos
Iris
Mircalla
Samatha

Amy is looking at Anastasia with clear admiration. Iris congratulates Anastasia, though she doesn’t understand why she got the wall yet.

Hank begins to look concerned when Erik doesn’t emerge. “I ran into him during the Rise of Communism puzzle,” he comments to Zia. “I hope that he is all right … it did not really seem to be his sort of thing.”

Now that they are out, they can see that there was a screen focused on each of them while they were in there. They can see that Erik keeps messing up the puzzles and being flung to random parts of the maze. Brooke just has bad luck.

Marcella, having finally sat down when all her teammates emerged, leans over to Fianna. “And see, that’s why I didn’t do this event. Puzzles are not my thing.”

Finally, Erik makes his tired, triumphal way through the rainbow waterfall, having at least chosen the scuba mask. He looks very happy to be done. Alter congratulations him and offers him a towel. Amy giggles at that.

About ten minutes later, Brooke makes her way out of the door Zia came out of. She nods to the crowd. Alter congratulates her persistence.

Now that everyone is out of the maze, Alter clears his throat. “Ladies and Gentlemen!!! Please, a round of applause for these contestants who tested their minds and bodies against this old man’s acumen!”

The crowd cheers for everyone. Hank claps for the other contestants. Iris claps as well, feeling much better. Amy follows the example of Hank and Iris, clapping for the others.

“Now, before officially announcing who won the labyrinth, I just want to acknowledge that today there was an unprecedented degree to which contestants helped each other. The maze was an enjoyable game, not a competition to them, and perhaps that is the way it really should be. Now, onto the winners! Third place! Vlad! Second place! Prism! First place! The reigning Labyrinth champion! Anastasia!” The crowd cheers crazily.

Hank cheers for the winners. He attempts to calculate how the timing all worked in his head, given when he and Anastasia both entered and how close behind her he thought he was at the end, but it just gives him a headache, so he gives up. Amy cheers for the winners, bouncing up and down in excitement.

After a few minutes of cheering, Alter comes around, collects their badges and congratulates each of them.

Shortly, the ceremony bit is over and people start coming down to congratulate the contestants. Anastasia dodges her well-wishers and comes over to Amy. “Hey, Amy, good showing in the maze.”

“Thanks!” Amy beams, “Wow, you won again.” She is clearly very impressed.

Anastasia smiles at Amy, “What can I say, I’m good at what I do! I got your letter a few days ago. We should talk sometime. I’d really like to meet Petey.”

Almost impossibly, Amy’s face lights up even more, “Yes! I would like that too.”

Anastasia smiles back and says, “Great, want to come to my house for tea in a few days? I’ll pick you up.”

“Ok!”

Anastasia nods, “Great, I’ll send you a note to make sure of the time.” She nods to the rest of Vogelfrei and walks off, to be engulfed by admirers.

Marcella enthusiastically congratulates all the Vogelfrei Labyrinth participants when she reaches them.


It is August 11, 2013, about six days after the Labryinth. (It is also two days after Marcella’s birthday. She mentioned it to the rest of the team, but didn’t do much to celebrate the day.) It is about noon. The schedule for the day is: awards, oaths, championship match, championship award. Anyone who won something, including all of Vogelfrei except Hulda, has been carefully lined up on the sands.

Zia offered everyone much fashion advice for this event. Amy took the advice to heart, even allowing pastels and/or ruffles, for the sake of the ceremony. Marcella also accepted Zia’s fashion advice. Hank pretty much just accepted whatever Zia told him to wear. Fianna managed to wheedle pants out of the deal. Iris also managed to make a point for pants, although she is now wearing a tuxedo. Zia was restrained, but Marcella and Fianna in particular are clothed perfectly for making their oaths.

A dais has been erected in the middle of the field in front of all of the assembled, and Kenna is standing there with all the awards. “Thank you for an excellent showing this year,” she says. “It was one of the best in memory, with old favorites and new surprises. Our freehold and those of our sister freeholds across the continent are truly blessed to count on the skills of such exceptional people such as yourselves. But you are not here to listen to me blather like a proud momma,” she grins, and there’s a loud wave of laughter from the spectators, as if this is an old joke, “so let’s get to the prizes!”

The awards for the judged skill competitions are quick as there were not many participants. A tiny middle-aged woman Wizened takes the gold for judo, and then Kenna announces the last category, “For most inventive use of a Contract, we have elected to grant this award to pair this year, for proving that are abilities are at their strongest when we help each other. For their excellent showing in the Labyrinth, Dr. Henry Brunner and ZiaZan!”

Marcella whoops and cheers loudly. Fianna cheers. Amy jumps up and down, cheering and clapping. Hank looks like someone slapped him across the face with a trout. Zia starts a bit, then looks at Hank, “Well, I guess we better go up there …” Hank allows Zia to tow him to the stage. Zia tows him delicately, such that only Hank is truly aware he is being towed.

Zia smiles and waves and is in general in quite good spirits. This is a prize she can get behind. Hank and Zia are each given a gold pin about two inches across with a sparkling scroll on it, with their names and the year engraved in the borders. Hank eventually manages to snap out of it and wave to people, though he also makes gestures indicating that it was mostly Zia. Marcella looks fairly bursting with pride at her teammates.

Kenna moves on to the individual events. Iris is given a bronze pin with a bullseye and a bullet for the sharpshooting competition, and another bronze pin with a shattering clay pigeon for skeet. Her name and the years are engraved on the borders as well. Iris isn’t exactly content, but it’s something. She isn’t complaining; it’s not like she’s any good at anything else anyway. She puts the pins on her jacket and smiles, even if she is blushing and has never been one for much exuberance.

Fianna and Amy take twin gold pins with alligators and a swinging rope for the Obstacle course, and Fianna takes a bronze with a pair of crossed knives for placing third in the throwing knives. Amy is thrilled to receive an award, and hugs Fianna as they go up on stage. Amy looks startled after the hug. Fianna hugs Amy back, and pins both pins neatly on her jacket, grinning widely.

The Labyrinth awards grant gold to Anastasia, silver to Prism, and bronze to Vlad.

Zia cheers for everyone as they get their awards. Hank cheers for the team, and generally claps politely for everyone. He reminds himself to ask Alter to see if there are recordings or other records of the Labyrinth. Marcella looks thrilled at all of her team’s awards.

The fighting awards are what seems to get most people in the stands excited. Anastasia takes another gold pin with closed eyes on it for the dream battles, and Marcella and Fianna as well as another team of two take bronze pins for making the semi-finals of the no-holds-barred doubles, which have crossed pairs of arms bearing the weapons (or lack of, in Fianna’s case) that each team used. Marcella and Fianna’s have a sword and a fist.

The last awards are the Lambswool awards, and when Vogelfrei is called for the 4 on 4 championship the audience cheers. The gold medallions have a figure in sheep’s clothing front and center, flanked by three figures dressed as wolves. Zia looks much less pleased about the Lambswool award, but wow, the crowd is quite excited. Their game was quite the upset. Marcella holds her head high and waves to the crowd when she accepts her awards. The sharp look in her eye is daring anyone to come and suggest she doesn’t deserve them to her face.

There are a few lingering rude comments from the crowd, but Vogelfrei might have a bit of a following, because a brawl starts in the stands where the rude comments came from. Marcella notes the brawl and resolves to find out who was on each side of the fight if she can. She wants to know who her friends and enemies are in the court. Hank looks a little dubious about the award, and even moreso about the ensuing brawl. Amy cheers for her teammates, not really acknowledging the brawl. Iris claps for them, but is rather disconcerted by the violence.

The only award left is the large necklace medallion to be awarded to the Champion of the Games, the deciding fight of which will be fought in a moment. The ushers start escorting people off the field, until just Fianna and Marcella are left. Two other changelings enter the arena to stand beside them, a doe-eyed rabbit girl, and a towering man, a darkling of some sort, but also something else.

Kenna gestures to her left, and Mauritania enters solemnly, and brings forward a massive spear, at least twelve feet long, tipped in iron. The shaft is carved with scenes of battle, of Fae falling before brave changeling armies. The spearhead is engraved with a rising sun inlaid with ribbons of red, orange, and yellow gemstones, and the crossguard is wreathed in a garland of summer berries and fruits. The entire arena hushes, as everyone knows this means oaths are about to be given. Mauritania bows and hands the spear to Kenna, who has descended from the dais to stand in front of them.

Nothing of this is a surprise to Marcella and Fianna, who have been instructed what to do beforehand. Marcella also knows that there is a part of this ceremony that has been causing Fianna a lot of stress, and that is the part that involves the speaking of one’s true name.

Kenna surveys them all for a few moments, then nods, and begins speaking. “The Court of the Iron Spear recognizes these who have come forward to join its ranks. The summer season looks kindly on those who would so swear, whether they come to us new, or have found the calling of other Seasons not to their liking.” A nod at the rabbit girl. “Who so, named by what your old lives have called you, comes forward to take this pledge?”

She steps forward and leans down towards the rabbit girl, who whispers something in her ear. She leans down to all of them in the same fashion. Marcella quietly says her birth name in Kenna’s ear when she leans down. Fianna whispers her name, but she’s clearly very awkward about it.

Kenna nods. “Remembering the old is important, but we are here to celebrate the new. I accept your devotion in the spirit it is offered. Speak the words that will bring you home.”

In a strong, clear voice, Marcella recites the pledge she has memorized. “I will be as a shield to the Lost, a spear to the empty hearts of the Gentry, and a voice of remembrance of the days we have lost. I am the strong arm, the sharp wit, and the silent shadow that brings retribution to Arcadia. I pledge my strengths to the Summer Court, to aid my Queen and my brothers and sisters in arms, and acknowledge my weaknesses to be aided in turn. My skills and self for Summer, to aid the interests of my chosen season, or may I be forsworn and denied my day in the sun.” Fianna’s speech mirrors Marcella’s own in strength and firmness as she repeats the same words.

“The Court of Summer welcomes these new brothers and sisters, comrades in arms and friends. May the warm light of our season bring fire to your hearts and purpose to your lives. The oaths are accepted!” She bangs the butt of the spear hard against the sand, and although the sand is soft, the spear still makes a clear ringing sound.

Fianna and Marcella are filled with an enormous wave of heat that slowly passes, leaving a wellspring of warm, powerful energy at their core.

The audience cheers for the new summer courtiers, and Kenna reaches forward to shake all of their hands. She then hands Mauritania the spear back, and gestures that all four of them should come aside. As she walks, she yells to the crowd, “And now what you’ve all been waiting for! Our championship fight: Nodons, our very own Autumn Master of the Hedgewall, versus one of Berlin’s best, Adan Hielo, the Storm’s Icy Blast!” Nodons walks calmly out on to the field. A tall, ice-pale lithe man carrying two swords whose very steps chill and frost the ground steps forward to meet Nodons. Marcella eyes Hielo, wondering which Berlin court he’s from.

Kenna leaves them at the arena tunnels to watch the match, and returns to the Monarch’s box. Marcella and Fianna return to the stands. Once in the Monarch’s box, Kenna raises her hands. “For the championship of these Games! Begin!”

The fight that ensues is titanic. Green balefire meets icicle shards. Nodons shifts shape to dart behind and hamstring him, but Adan is quick, and meets him at every turn. Nodons appears to have more pure strength behind his attacks, but Adan is much quicker, his twin swords flickering like silver light. Even the youngest changeling in the arena can feel the sheer volume of power being thrown into the attack. It lasts a full ten minutes, each competitor seeking to find an opening, before Nodons manages to trip Adan and knock him unconscious, finishing the fight with point blank blast of green flame. The arena erupts in screams and cheers.

Fianna jumps to her feet. “Bloody hell, that was fantastic!” Zia claps, mostly for it being over, finally. Hank cheers for Nodons, but is more subdued than he was during Nodons’ fight at the beginning of the games. Amy does the same as Zia. Iris is equal parts intrigued and feeling ill.

Marcella is nothing but impressed by the level of skill displayed in the fight. “I can’t believe they lasted that long with such a high level of power,” she says with a whistle.

As the cheering for Nodon’s victory roars across the stadium and Nodons stands tall, fists on poisonous green fire, first Kenna, then the other monarchs tilt their heads suddenly. Kenna gestures Jonty forward and whispers in his ear. He makes a bow and walks, very calmly, off the sands. The crystals of the arena are blinking green, a color they have not seen before, in a fast pattern. The blinking seems almost in sync with the rise and fall of the crowd’s cheering.

Marcella’s dagger is screaming in her head, telling her that something is ripping the balance apart. Marcella looks around wildly.

The technicians and arena workers seem quite busy. All of them are rushing about with quiet, hurried steps.

“Marcella?” Fianna hisses. “Something’s going on. Do you have an idea?” She stands up preemptively, not wanting to be surprised.

Iris just stares. She knows something is very, very wrong but still hasn’t got a clue what’s going on.

Marcella has a hand on the hilt of her sword. “Something’s wrong. The freehold defenses – something’s out of balance.” Her hand moves to the hilt of her dagger. Hank looks shocked at Marcella’s comment, leaning forward trying to see better.

“What do we do now?” Iris asks. Zia looks quite worried.

Marcella says quietly, sounding frustrated, “I don’t know.”

After about five minutes of cheering, Nodons gestures for silence. Queen Kenna stands upon the dais, the champion’s medallion on a thick gold chain in her hands. She seems slightly nervous about something. Nodons moves to stand in front of her. Kenna takes a deep breath and begins, “Nodons! Autumn Master of the Hedge! I hereby proclaim you the champion of the Summer-” She stops suddenly as a loud ruckus starts in the middle of the stands, about halfway across the arena, in the closer stands that one needs to pay for.

A truly lovely changeling who appears to be some kind of elemental, with fiery hair and strange blue skin that has tiny flames coming off of it, has run into the stands. She is clearly running from something, and she is TERRIFIED. People in the stands are trying to speak to her, but she screams over and over, “Please, please, let me go back to reality, why can’t I find my way back!!!!!”

“Oh, fuck.” Fianna says. Iris leans forward to get a better look, then jumps back, shocked. But something inside her says that sort of thing just had to happen.

Vogelfrei are all seated in the unpaid seating about four sections away from the ruckus, so they are not in easy distance to get there. Marcella stands and tries to start making her way over anyway. Amy jumps up from her seat and starts clambering over. Iris is already standing anyway, and cautiously follows.

Hank curses in French, leaning around to try to see what is going on. He looks unhappy about his teammates trying to leave the group, but has not said anything yet.

Iris turns around again. “I’m not sure there’s anything we can do. At least nothing they can’t do better.”

Amy is frantically trying to reach the panicked changeling. Fianna follows, mostly to grab people if she needs to. Marcella is jumping over knees and pushing through people so she can try and do /something/ to help.

Hank looks at Zia. He feels like maybe they should all stay together, but he definitely is not going to leave her in the stands while the rest of the group goes haring off. Zia looks at Hank. “I don’t know that we can do much, but I’ll go If you want.”

Up on the stands, the changeling’s screams suddenly intensify, as a small, tidy woman in robes covered in complex mathematical diagrams and equations walks out onto the stands. “Shōmyō, who freed you? You knew you were not to leave; you were bring summer to my lands,” she says calmly, but her incredibly precise voice booms across the Arena. Iris and Hank recognize that voice, Hank in particular at a visceral level. It is their keeper.

Iris freezes up and ducks out of sight immediately. She looks white as a sheet and isn’t moving. Amy abruptly stops in her path, frozen at the sight of a True Fae. Hank, who has been leaning forward trying to see around the moving crowd, throws himself backwards so violently that he slams into Zia. Fianna, Zia and Amy realize that the woman is in fact a True Fae. Marcella, not realizing this, continues pushing towards the panicked changeling.

“Hank, are you alright?” Zia asks. Hank has gone white as a sheet under his fur, and his mouth shapes the word ‘Epicuria,’ but no sound comes out. “Hank!” Zia maneuvers herself so she is front of him and pulls out the trusty tool in large knife form. Iris unshrinks her rifle and is holding onto it.

On the sands, Kenna and Nodons exchange glances, and then as one, Kenna, Nodons, and her guard begin to move quickly towards the disruption. Nodons transforms back into the black dog, and Kenna leaps on his back.

Fianna stops short. “Ok, no. We’re done here.” She speeds up, because Marcella is clearly not slowing down and she’ll be damned if she lets her go alone. She turns to Amy on her way. “Go back, Amy. Grab Iris, and go back.” Amy shakes her head, and summons her colorful balls of acid to hand. She gets 15 of them, and they look particularly real and deadly this time.

Shōmyō replies to the Fae, “No, please Epicuria, no, I didn’t, I didn’t, I’m sorry, but I … I did. I had to, you were so angry with me that summer never came, that it is still winter, and the door was open. The vine led me. The mirrored passage smashed. But summer is not coming, it isn’t I…”

Epicuria looks at her calmly, “I dispense the fault, I know the faultlines. You are at fault because I have decreed it. The lack of summer is your fault! Yours and that damn man of the ivy! Now, come with me, you are needed.” She reaches her hand out to the changeling, who swipes at her with fire. “Now, that is not the way to do things my—” she cuts off as poisonous green fire shoots out of the rapidly-approaching Nodons’ mouth. The fire hits her, but just dissolves away.

“Amy …” Fianna turns and glances at Iris. “Iris is practically catatonic. I don’t think Marcella realizes … exactly what’s going on here. I’m going to get her. We’ll do better if we’re together. Please, Amy.” She lunges after Marcella.

Hank activates Transfigure the Flesh and shrinks down, hiding behind Zia, trying to avoid notice. When Shōmyō talks about the vine and the mirror passage, he gasps, and sticks his head around, startled.

Epicuria says, “Very well. I see that a strategic retreat would be best. But rest assured, my dear, that damn meddler cannot keep summer from all who he is displeased with!” With that she leaps high into the air, and is suddenly in the form a great eagle who appears to have been stitched together. She flies away, dodging many projectiles. A few hit, but none seem to do much. Quite shortly, she is above the shield that protects the arena, and the attacks hit the shield and melt away.

Fianna reaches Marcella and grabs her firmly by the arm as the True Fae sails away. “Oh thank bloody Christ,” she mutters.

Iris is still frozen in place, hugging her rifle. Any sits down where she is, cradling the plastic balls, “They found us.”

Zia is standing firmly in front of Hank and has every intention of protecting him. Hank is staring up at the spot where Epicuria left the arena.

Meanwhile Kenna, riding Nodons, has leapt up to the level of the stands where the changeling is. Shōmyō is hyperventilating and finds Nodon’s massive doggy self with tasteful flames, well … less than tasteful. Nodons turns back into human shape and is supporting her. Mauritania says something quietly to Kenna and then grabs half the guards and heads out of sight.

Marcella looks back at Fianna. “We have to help that poor woman,” she says, tugging towards the escaped changeling.

“I’m not letting you go anywhere, right now. That was a bloody dyed-in-the-wool honest to God True Fae, Marcella. Kenna and Nodons have it covered. In the meantime, we have two terrified members of Vogelfrei back there that could probably use a pep talk,” Fianna says.

Marcella does a double-take when Fianna says it was a True Fae, but then is distracted when Fianna says that there are two terrified members of Vogelfrei. For the first time, she looks behind herself to see where her team is. Her dagger is quiet now.

Seeing Amy, Iris, and Hank all in varying degrees of panic or distress, Marcella finally stops moving towards Shōmyō. She runs a hand over her face and mutters a curse under her breath. “Fuck. You’re right. I’m sorry. I should have looked to the team first.” She heads back towards Amy and the rest. “And thanks,” she murmurs as she passes Fianna.

“You would have stopped me,” is all Fianna says quietly, and follows.

Iris is very slowly calming down inside her head, but she still looks frozen.

Amy stands up when she sees Marcella approaching, “They found us,” she repeats. “Now what?”

Marcella puts a hand on Amy’s shoulder. “Just because one of them found the Arena doesn’t mean they all know we’re here, Amy. The city itself has stronger defenses than this outpost in the Hedge. There are still protections in place to keep us all safe.”

Kenna turns to face the center. “Changelings of Heimdalhzunft, please stay calm. The Fae Epicuria has left the arena. I’ve sent some of the best trackers to make sure that her direction continues to be going away from us. Thank you for your efforts in bringing her down. Unfortunately, the very defenses of the arena meant to protect you, the audience, from the pyrotechnics of the fights below, protected her from our efforts. Rest assured that we will ensure that the defenses she took down to get in will be put back up, and stronger. For now, please stay calm and stay here. No one will leave here until we have verified that the way back to Aachen is safe. If you would like to volunteer to guard one or more parties back to Aachen, please come down to the sands. Thank you.”

Marcella pauses to listen to the announcement, then starts moving towards Iris and Hank. Iris is only half paying attention. She still looks even paler than usual and sees absolutely no point in moving even if she trusted her legs. She doesn’t.

Amy nods, processing Marcella’s words. She turns around to return to the group, trying not to leave any of the dangerous objects that are, for some reason, still there behind her.

Hank starts at Kenna’s announcement, but her saying Epicuria’s name out loud makes the whole thing more real, and he starts vibrating slightly, looking wildly around him.

Zia listens to Kenna, then turns to Hank. “Hank, are you alright? Can I help you?”

“How did she find me?” Hank says, though it’s not really a response to Zia as much as under his breath to himself. The packed stands of the Arena seem unbearably full of people, and he starts pushing his way towards an aisle, going in the opposite direction from where Shōmyō is still standing.

“Hank, wait!” Zia follows after Hank with some difficulty, but manages to stay fairly close behind him.

He stops once he reaches the aisle, since it is wide enough for him to feel less claustrophic and agoraphobic. Hank makes his way down to the barrier wall between paid and unpaid seating and puts his back against it. Zia walks over to Hank and leans against the wall next to him, giving him about two feet of space between them. He shrinks down another size to be smaller than the barrier when seated, sits down, and folds his knees up.

He takes several deep shuddering breaths and rolls up his (now way too large) sleeves. Around the time Zia sits, he reaches into his jacket and pulls out his notebook and pen and begins making rapid-fire notes in a shorthand Zia doesn’t recognize, handwriting spidery and uneven. Zia sits quietly with Hank, just making sure he is not alone

“Come on, Iris,” Fianna says quietly. “You’ll feel better with everyone else, instead of here on the floor.” She offers a hand.

Iris shakes her head but doesn’t say anything. The floor is feeling very comfortable right now. Not to mention that she would probably fall if she tried to stand.

Fianna looks awkward. “I could … uh … carry you … if you don’t want to walk.”

Marcella makes sure that Amy is still behind her and keeps moving towards Iris, not far behind Fianna. Amy is still behind Marcella, and is focusing now on Iris and Hank.

“Can’t. Probably. Don’t know.” Iris is speaking very quietly, but slowly regaining at least some colour. She’s quite proud of herself not to be shivering. Iris isn’t asking herself how the Fae found her. She knows it could have been an accident, but it does strip away any illusions of security she built up.

When she reaches Iris, Marcella kneels next to her and puts a hand on her shoulder. “Hey. Iris. The Fae is gone now. We’re here for you. It’s going to be okay.”

“No, it’s not. It’s never going to be okay. They’re always there. They’re going to find us. They’ll always find us. And we didn’t even hurt it!” Iris says.

“They can’t have you,” Amy says when she catches up, “They can’t have any of you. And … and we would have hurt it, I’m sure. Queen Kenna said we couldn’t because of our own protections; that’s all.”

Marcella squeezes Iris’ shoulder. “Queen Kenna said that was because of the defenses built into the Arena. Things would have been different anywhere else. The freehold has many defenses against the Fae. Just because one of them followed one of us doesn’t mean they all know where we are.”

“Here.” Amy attempts to press a blue ball into Iris’s hand. “Don’t squeeze it too hard.”

Iris doesn’t sound entirely lucid. She shivers once and grips her rifle even more rigidly, but finally moves. “It followed her. Don’t think they know. I just … I NEVER want to see it again.” She sighs and shudders once more. “Just give me a minute.”

Marcella claps her shoulder. “‘Atta girl. You’re gonna be okay.” She glances behind Iris. “I’m gonna go find Zia and Hank. Do you think you can come, or do you want Fianna and Amy to wait here with you?”

Iris shakily stands back up. She still refuses to shrink the rifle back down. “I can walk. I think.”

“You can lean if you need to,” Fianna offers.

Marcella gives her an encouraging smile. “Great. Let’s go find them.” She heads towards where their original seats were, scanning for Zia and Hank.

“Hank’s got the right idea.” Iris slowly starts making her way over.

Amy is still struggling to keep a hold of all fourteen balls she has left. “Will you help me with these?” she asks Fianna. “I don’t want them to break on anyone we like.”

“So what you’re saying is we should be looking for Phthonos, then,” Fianna says dryly, gathering an armful of them.

Hearing Amy, Marcella offers space in her sword bag. “Here. It’s bigger than it looks, and I don’t need it for my swords right now.” She’s currently got two of her swords out and strapped on.

Amy is relieved to unload all but one of the balls into the bag. She frowns at Fianna. “I don’t want them to break on any other changelings,” she clarifies carefully.

After a few minutes of searching, Marcella and the others find Zia and Hank. As they come down the aisle, Marcella gives Zia a questioning look, trying to assess how Hank is doing. Zia gives Marcella a little ‘shoo shoo’ motion.

Iris sits down next to them. “Hank?” Other than the fact that he is two sizes too small, by the time the rest of the group arrives, Hank is no longer shaking and is writing steadily in his notebook. He looks up when Iris says his name, expression blank.

Marcella settles against the wall on the other side of Hank, a few feet away.

Iris is rationalizing and holding on to her rifle. She doesn’t try talking to him again. For her, trying to get a grasp of the situation and planning always helps.

Meanwhile, various members of the summer court are helping keep the crowd calm. A very large woman none of them have seen before seems to be marshalling an army of formerly hysterical people into carrying trays of food and passing out food and drink to everyone.

Marcella sits for a minute or two near Hank, reassuring herself that Vogelfrei is safe, but before too long stands and assesses the situation across the arena. She’s pacing and fidgeting with her dagger, but stays near the team. She sees that the crowd is overall calm. Kenna is very visible and visibly calm, sitting on the dias. Alter and Scitalis are not in sight. Eostre is walking around the the arena keeping people calm. Slowly a group of about twenty-five people have gathered on the sands, volunteers for the escorts.

A tiny sparrow-beast changeling comes up to Vogelfrei. “Would any of you like some food? It’s free, on the summer court.”

Amy accepts some, gratefully. Marcella takes some for Hank for later, smiling and thanking the changeling. Hank, who has gone back to writing, gives her the same blank stare he gave Iris, and then returns to his notebook. Zia accepts the food and takes out her stitching. Iris grabs some, still sitting down. She takes a bite without even looking, suddenly feeling quite starved. “Thanks.”

“Did you want to volunteer for escorts?” Fianna murmurs to Marcella. “I feel like we should be doing something, but I’m not sure we should be leaving those two just now.”

“I can stay with them,” Amy says, “I don’t think I’d be a very good escort, but I want to help my friends.”

“Not sure I’m of much use right now,” Iris says.

Marcella grimaces and murmurs back. “I want to, but my first priority is the team. If you want to go, I can stay with everyone else.” Marcella is trying to keep her tone low enough that the group can’t easily hear her, but she isn’t whispering.

Hank looks up, startled, when Fianna and Marcella talk about leaving. He watches their conversation intently.

Fianna shakes her head, and replies in a similar low tone. “No. I’d rather stay together, to be honest. If we escort anyone, it’ll be ourselves.” Marcella nods in agreement.

About forty-five minutes later, Mauritania returns and whispers in Kenna’s ear.

Kenna announces, “The True Fae left directly and has left the area. Mauritania and her team managed to speak with the hedge, and we are moderately sure that the way here has now changed sufficiently that it will be difficult for her to find her way back. At this time, we will be having people leave the arena in an organized fashion in closely spaced groups of fifty. Each group will either have at least five fighters within it, or have escorts assigned. Please stay where you are, and each group will be made up by arena section.” Groups of people are organized to leave, section by section. One unpaid, one paid, back and forth, starting with the sections directly behind Kenna.

Marcella settles cross-legged on the ground in the aisle, holding her dagger loosely in her hands, eyes closed.

Hank looks up, seemingly more with it. He looks around at their position in the aisle, with a slightly perplexed expression on his face. He visibly shakes himself, and then says, “I am not sure we are really, per se, in a section at the moment.”

Zia looks around, “I don’t think that that will be a problem. I am sure that we will just be added to the one to the left or the right.”

Hank tips his head to the right, acknowledging her point. He caps his pen and closes his notebook.

Amy looks dubious. She is still standing just within a section, next to the aisle. “Maybe you should come over here, just in case. It would be bad if you couldn’t go home because you were standing in the wrong place.”

“When we see people coming to this area, we can move over a little bit, but, I think that Kenna just told people to stay where they are,” Zia offers.

At Amy’s statement, Marcella opens her eyes. “No one’s going to get left behind for being in the wrong place. They care more about helping people than about exact rules, I think, Amy,” she says.

Amy nods slowly, “Ok.”

The evacuation is slow but steady. Varecia, walking the stands, spots their group. “Hey, Vogelfrei! Think I can entice you guys to fill out a group that has no fighters? We are running out of escorts.”

Marcella glances around at their group, assessing how many fighters they really have right now. Finally she nods. “Sure, we’d be happy to. That alright with everyone else?” She looks at the rest of the team for confirmation. Amy nods. Hank nods, dropping his contract as he stands to return to his normal size.

“I can fight.” Iris actually gets up at that. Somehow she manages to look calmer than she started out as.

Zia sigh, but nods, “I’m in, if we all stay together.” Marcella nods in agreement.

Varecia beckons them to follow her, and in short order, Vogelfrei and fifty others are joining the line of people walking quickly and carefully away from the Arena.

Marcella spreads their group around the pack of civilians, trying to keep at least two of them together. She is at the head, and Fianna has the rear. Iris joins Fianna, looking around far more carefully than usual. They make it safely back to Aachen without incident.

View
Game 50: The Center of the Labyrinth

Summary

Zia and Hank, working together, make it through many 20th century-themed puzzles, get to the center of the Labyrinth, and choose to go their separate ways at the end. Amy makes it through several ancient history puzzles. Iris ends up jumping from 20th century puzzles to the ancient history path, and catches up to Amy. The two of them make it to the center, slightly after Zia and Hank, and both choose the same path out as Hank.

Log

The corridor after the polio puzzle weaves to left and then makes an abrupt turn. Hank and Zia go around a few sharp turns until they come around the bend and their path is blocked by intricately carved prayer screen. In front of it is an intricate model of a church. A sign says:

“One true faith’s practice revised, revitalized.
Bring the church forward and you can continue.”

The model looks roughly like this:
50_churchlayout1.jpg
50_RomanDiagram.jpg

Behind the altar (1) a priest stands with the Eucharist in his hands facing away from the congregation. Two altar boys stand near the window (5). There are pews and people figures sitting in the pews. Small models of saints’ altars are along the walls of the transepts and naves. A single person is in the narthex, more detailed than the rest. Above the door (8) is a small block with writing in Latin.

Hank tries to read the Latin, but it’s not a language he speaks, and he doesn’t get much. Zia examines the model and the verse. Hank makes a face at the model, “I think I was more at ease with Communism,” he mutters.

As they examine the model and the verse, they notice that parts of the model appear to be movable, and both recall that at about the point where they are in the timeline, the Catholic church had a big meeting and changed a lot of things. Zia vaguely recalls this was the Second Vatican Council.

Hank squints grumpily at the church, trying to figure out if things are in the places he remembers them being as a child. (He’s Acadien, and his family was Catholic.)

Zia looks at the model. “I find this better than communism I think, at least after they’ve gone to some effort to update.”

Marcella squints down at the puzzle Hank and Zia are working on as well. “Man, they have church puzzles in this maze? Now I’m especially glad I didn’t do this event.”

Fianna shakes her head. “I’m going to be honest, this is probably what the next six months are going to feel like. Confusion.”

Marcella sighs gloomily. “Yeah, probably.”

Upon interacting with the puzzle and touching it some, as well as recalling what changed, Hank and Zia both realize that the place on the wall where it has Latin can flip. Hank flips it to say something in German. Zia turns the priest holding the Eucharist to face the congregation. She also removes the ornate vestment from the priest. Hank remembers the old ladies in his church complaining about “We don’t honor X saint with their own day anymore, harrumph!” and he takes out some of the saints from the calendar.

As the last piece is taken from the calendar, the prayer screen folds open, and they hear a man’s voice blessing them in German. Hank narrows his eyes at wherever the voice seems to be coming from, and hurries through the screen, making sure that Zia is following. Zia follows Hank, with an admiring gaze for the lovely carved prayer screen. Hank gives a grumpy sort of snort.

The path makes a turn to the left, then another turn to the right. Hank pick up his pace, hurrying along the path. He knows Anastasia is ahead of them. Zia picks up the pace with him, and they both quickly come to a rather strange scene: in front of them are massive spikes humming with circuitry coming out of the wall. A squirrel could get between them, perhaps, but not a human. They block the way completely. On the wall to their right is the following verse, and below it a circuitry puzzle. There is a small bucket on the ground labeled “pens” and filled with pens the same color as the circuits.

“In everything now, but so revolutionary then,
The computing power to change the world,
Circuits make the world run.”

They each realized that it is circuitry puzzle in which they need to connect the dots of the right color with the right colored pen in order to get through. Zia actives Instant Expertise on the puzzle, touching it and talking to it, one hand in the bin of pens. She says to Hank, “I think we can both work on this at once, I’m connected to the puzzle now.”

Hank connects three of the colors the right way. Zia and Hank, working together, solve the puzzle very quickly. The scary spikes whirrrrrrrr and withdraw into the hedge walls. Hank laughs as the spikes are retracting, “Ziazan, I believe we may be close.This puts us in the 80s, most likely.” They rush forward.

“We are heading to the future, alright!” Zia looks excited.

Ahead of them, they hear solemn music and the American national anthem. As they come around the corner, there are two MASSIVE pictures of a space shuttle taking off. On ground in front of them in the style of a memorial monument is a large stone plinth carved with: “Science leaps forward, Time can’t leap back, The Challenger exploded for just one mistake. Find the differences between these futures.”

“I recall this!” Hank says, “Liv cried for hours…” he trails off, and suddenly makes himself very, very busy inspecting the two space shuttles. Zia gives Hank a gentle pat and observes the pictures.

Both them find one difference. Hank finds that in the picture on the right there is a TON more smoke on the right wing. Zia finds that there is a small bird in the right picture that there is not in the left. Zia says to Hank, “I found that bird that is different, what about you?” She points to the bird.

“The right wing is smoking more here.” He touches the picture with more smoke. As Hank touches the picture, the whole space wobbles.

Zia says, “Was that good or bad? Maybe we should touch both of the differences at once?”

“I do not know,” he calls back. “Perhaps?”

Zia comes forward, a little disoriented by the way the pictures and the space are sort of winking out, reaches up and touches the bird. The whole wall and the pieces of ground that they are standing on flips and then they are on the other side. The path curls onward ahead of them.

Zia lets out a breath and takes her hands off of the picture. “Onward then?”

Hank looks disoriented. “Yes, onwards.”

Hank and Zia quickly come to strangely grungy part of the maze. Blocking their path forward is a wall of ice thick enough that they cannot see through it. Engraved in the stone arc above the ice is the following, in German and English:

“Riddled with the past, barrier to the future,
What was one then two must now be one again.
Break the wall and exult in two made one again,
But beware the iron we faelings must fear.”

Zia notices that some parts of the ice seem much darker than the others. The darkness is in various shapes and sizes, some very tiny, some up to plate sized.

“We may be past the parts of the world I actually experienced,” Hank admits to Zia.

Zia says to Hank, “I think that the verse refers to cold iron … and the Iron Curtain coming down, ha ha ha …” Zia is not actually amused.

“Oh,” says Hank, surprised. “I was here for that!”

“So, probably the Berlin wall coming down? 1989 as I recall,” she adds.

He looks more closely at the items in the ice. He can’t really make out shapes through the ice, just that they do come in many sizes. “Yes,” he confirms. “We watched it on television.”

Zia says, “I think … we just need to break through the ice and avoid the cold iron, which will, I hear, hurt us quite a lot.”

Hank activates his cestus and punches what appears to be a clear area of wall. “The trusty tool could become a chainsaw,” Zia says just as Hank punches the wall. The ice cracks a bit. It clearly had an effect, but will need quite a few more hits.

Zia turns the trusty tool into a chainsaw. Hank continues to make the cracks bigger. In a passable American accent, he calls, “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and slams his fist into it again.

In the stands, Fianna cracks up. Marcella doesn’t get the reference.

As Hank takes this hilarious action, Zia attacks a separate section of the wall with the chainsaw. The wall of ice now has the lower half of it rather destroyed. Hank is almost hit by a large piece of iron that had been in the ice right above where he was punching, but it misses him.

Zia says, “Hank, let’s get through fast, before more of the iron falls.” She dashes through the hole they have made, still holding a chainsaw trusty tool, which is crowing at its success. Hank follows after her.

Hank and Zia quickly come to another puzzle. Anastasia has just solved it, and they see that the strange metal plate has a silvery white euro. As she solves it, the darkness behind the puzzle envelopes her and she is gone. Then they watch as the puzzle resets itself … all by itself.

Ahead of them is a deep, deep darkness. Floating towards the front of the darkness is a metal plate with deep engravings, set up as a slide puzzle. There is also a basket filled with silvery white carved bone pieces. As they step closer they hear a solemn voice say,

“In 1957, the union began for better or worse,
A Europe united to stand together.
Then a dream for a new century was born,
One currency for one Europe was decreed.”

“Well, we know what it looks like at the end, eh?” Hank examines the bone pieces.

Zia nods, “That we do.”

Hank and Zia realize that they need to first arrange the metal sliding pieces and then put the bone pieces in. They arrange the metal pieces correctly. Once that’s done, it takes them a good several minutes, but they get all the bone pieces in. Before putting in the last piece Zia says, “Maybe we should both be touching it when we put the last piece in … given that the darkness seemed to envelope Anastasia and then she was gone.”

Hank nods and puts his hand on the puzzle, indicating that Zia should put the last piece in. She puts the last piece in, and darkness folds over them. It is disorienting, and they are whisked somewhere. When the darkness dissipates, Zia looks visibly shaken and a bit upset. “That was … reminiscent of things in the past,” she says quietly. Hank puts an arm around her shoulder in a comforting fashion and steers her forward.

To their right is a door heavily carved with Greek style carvings, and straight ahead is a quick turn to the right. Zia looks at the door. “Oh! Athena Parthenos? Oh, Hank, this is … Alter is a such a history geek.”

Hank grins, “He really, really is. But why Greek carvings now? We should be in the 2000s, no?” He takes a few steps and sticks his head around the turn to the right, just to look. Around the corner, the maze makes another quick turn.

Zia frowns for a moment. “You are quite right, though honestly, the Greek and Roman influence is everywhere in the modern world. I did a lot of artwork on that actually.” Zia looks closer. “Hey Hank, I think … we are on the other side of this door, from the way it opens, everything looks to be backwards and … the pieces on the upper side seem to be moving. I think someone is solving this from the other side.”

“Then maybe we should continue down this path instead, no?” He gestures around the turn.

“Yes, I think we should,” Zia replies. They hurry on.


Upon going straight, Amy quickly must choose between going straight (with quick turn to the left) or turning right. Amy chooses to go straight and then left. After a few twists and turns, she comes to the choice to go down a dead end or turn right. The dead end has a vase of flowers in it.

Amy goes towards the flowers to look at them more closely. They are truly lovely and appear to be made of carefully-made metal. Amy is delighted by the metal flowers, and removes one from the vase. As she pulls the flower out, there is a quiet chink noise, and a door with a rainbow and black metal border appears to her left. She walks over to the door, tucking the flower in her hair as she goes.

As she steps through the door, she feels a moment of disorientation, then emerges in a long narrow hallway that is incredibly dim because of a great cloud pressing into the top of the maze. As she walks forward, a man’s voice shouts, “I am the god of the thunder! The Celts worshipped me before they came here and they worship me now in the grave! Make me an offering or YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” There is a small basket of metal votives. It contains a variety of metal objects: a candlestick, a pair of scissors, a small sword, a wheel, a sewing needle, and a mug.

Amy takes the sword, puts it through the basket handle, lifts the basket to above head height (but not directly over herself) and dumps it out.

FOOLISH MORTAL! I am the god of thunder! Who are you to think that Taranis would accept the offerings of other gods as well!” Thunder bolts begin to come down in the hallway. None hit Amy, but they are close. After about thirty seconds, the thunder bolts cease.

Amy blinks, shrugs, puts her flower down with the rest of the metal items, and tries to continue down the hallway. Adding the flower makes a rumbling laugh come from the walls. She cannot continue, because thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening, et cetera et cetera. And this time they come closer.

Amy scowls, puts the items back in the basket (including the flower), takes the flower out again, and lays it down on the ground. Thunderous laughter rolls through the hallway. “I accept flowers, but they are not MY offering.” Thunder bolt happen again, but gently somehow.

“Well then, I’m keeping it,” Amy says, picking up the flower and putting it back in her hair. She looks back and the basket of items. “Hmm, thunder thunder…” She picks up the wheel and places it down.

“Your offering is accepted. Speak my name and the storm will let you pass,” the booming voice says.

“Taranis,” Amy says, remembering the voice yelling it angrily a few moments ago.

“I am named and honored. Pass, mortal, and dream of thunder,” the booming voice says, and the hallway lightens a bit. Amy can now walk forward without thunderbolts. She does so, feeling pleased with herself.

She comes to a door after a few turns that is massive and made of marble, carved intricately with Greek-style carvings. As she approaches, a carved snake animates and says, “Honor Athena Polias. It is time for a new peplos.”

Upon closer inspection, the door has multiple sliding pieces, and at the center is a more carefully carved piece that is a statue of a women with a helmet and a shield with a medusa head on it. Amy notes that in the bottom corner is a woman holding a cloth in her arms that seems to be made of a different stone than the rest of the door.

Amy tries to move the piece that is different. She sees that it appears to be a sliding puzzle, and she will need to move other pieces before moving this one. She understands that the piece can move, but she thinks the best way to get it to move is to start sliding pieces all the way at the top. Amy starts moving the pieces at the upper part of the door. She continue solving the puzzle, but slowly.


As Iris lines up the final pieces in the zodiac door, it clicks open with a lot of steam hissing and parts whirring. The door opens and she sees a hallway. Her choices are straight (and then take a quick turn to the left) or go to the left.

She hears rushing water from the path to the left and footsteps going away. Iris is in no mood to get wet as well, so she investigates the other path. She follows the path as it twists and turns for a bit, then comes to a fork. The right path is clearly a dead end. She takes the path to the left. After a few more steps, she hits another dead end. Iris is forced to turn around and go toward the rushing water instead.

There is a deep, deep pool, with a waterfall about 100 feet to her right. This chamber, long and narrow, is entirely the pool. The narrow width is only 20 feet wide. In order to get to the next path, she will need to swim across the narrow width. To her left, inset in the ground, still within the path she is on, are five taps, with a cup under them. Words in the ground say:

“The water is cold, remembrance of the Iron Lung,
One will bring you across, another death unsung,
Upstream is the cure to the right of naught,
The middle path cannot cure the children’s cough.”

Iris is feeling reminded of biology lessons and polio. She touches the taps to check for any difference in temperature, but they are all the same.

After thinking about the riddle, Iris knows that the one all the way on the end is probably the ‘death unsung,’ and the one all the way towards the right is null and won’t do anything. She figures out that the correct one is the second one from the right. Iris drinks from the second cup on the right, thinking that in the worst case, they’ll just have to drag her out. She doesn’t feel anything from the drink.

She sighs, tucks everything away as well as she can, and attempts swimming across. As Iris hits the deeper water, she has to pause a bit to brace against the current.

Marcella sits up straighter when she notices Iris foundering in the water.

Iris spends another minute or so treading water before slowly beginning to move forward. She is reconsidering her participation. Puzzles are nice and all, but she’s really not sure it’s all worth it. She needs to pause again for a short while, but keeps moving slowly forward. Eventually, after a very slow swim and lots of pauses, Iris pulls herself up on the other side. There is a single path in front of her.

After a few twists and turns in the path, the path is blocked by intricately carved prayer screen. In front of it is an intricate model of a church. A sign says, “One true faith’s practice revised, revitalized. Bring the church forward and you can continue.”

The model looks roughly like this: http://holycrossrumson.typepad.com/.a/6a0120a4f88a1c970b0120a5d26c2a970c-pi and http://www.waupun.k12.wi.us/Policy/other/dickhut/religions/27%20Catholic%20Church.html

Behind the altar (1) a priest stands with the Eucharist in his hands facing away from the congregation. Two altar boys stand near the window (5). There are pews and people figures sitting in the pews. Small models of saints altars along the walls of the transepts and naves. A single person is in the narthex, more detailed than the rest. Above the door (8) is a small block with writing in Latin.

She has a look at the Latin, despite not knowing the language, and is idly pondering when services were switched from Latin to other languages. She then has a look at the person. She realizes that parts of the model are removable or movable, and it seems to want her to rearrange things in a particular order.

Iris starts rearranging, trying to recall as much about churches as she can from school (she’s never been particularly religious). Though she has begun rearranging things, nothing has clicked yet. Eventually, things click into place. The prayer screen opens, and there is a man’s voice speaking in German. She listens. German is still much easier for her than English would have been.

The path twists and turns a couple more times before coming to a stop once more. In front of her are massive spikes humming with circuitry coming out of the wall. A squirrel could get between them perhaps, but not a human. They block the way completely. On the wall to her right is the following verse, and below it a circuitry puzzle. There is a small bucket on the ground labeled “pens” and filled with pens the same color as the circuits.

“In everything now, but so revolutionary then,
The computing power to change the world,
Circuits make the world run.”

Iris investigates the circuits and pens, to see how they might fit together. She realizes that the different colored pens need to match together the correspondingly colored circuits, and that the lines of the circuits must not cross any other lines. She attempts to solve the puzzle. She slowly connects some of the circuits. After another six minutes or so, Iris finally correctly puzzles out the last few connections and continues on.

A short distance ahead of her, she hears solemn music and the American national anthem. As she comes around the corner, there are two MASSSIVE pictures of a space shuttle taking off. On ground in front of them in the style of a memorial monument is a large stone plinth carved with, “Science leaps forward, Time can’t leap back, The Challenger exploded for just one mistake. Find the differences between these futures.”

Iris vaguely remembers that one space shuttle exploded, but she’s not quite certain why. After a good deal of investigation, she notices that there is far more smoke coming off the wing of the shuttle in the right picture than the one on the left, and that the left picture has a bird that is not present in the right.

She looks at the bird picture to see whether any damage could be done by said bird, as well as attempting to discern whether the smoke indicates damage. She has seen differences but isn’t sure what to do about them. The bird is not doing any damage, it is just there. The smoke could either be damage or simply exhaust from the rockets. She picks the picture with the smoke, pondering what to do with it.

As Iris pokes the picture, the entire world goes swimmy. When it clears, Iris is in another hall, with exits to the right, straight, and left, and nothing to indicate what’s down any of them. She goes left.

After a short while, there is a dead end to one side, and another left turn. Iris goes straight down the left turn, takes another left, and reaches a dead end. She turns around and takes the straight path instead. She is slowly getting less annoyed at being wet and unable to use her notepad anymore.

After a short time, Iris has the choice to continue straight or go right. She goes straight. After a few turns she comes to a split where she can either go right or left. She goes left so she won’t have any holes and can just go from left to right until she finds something interesting.

After another turn, Iris comes to a place where off to one side there is what appears to be a vase of flowers, and on the other side the path takes a right and continues.

Iris has a look at the flowers. They don’t look dangerous, so she she picks one up and sees that they are carefully worked metal flowers. Picking one up causes a rainbow and black metal door to appear to her left. Iris goes through the door.

The hallway inside is very dim because there is a great cloud pressing into the top of the maze. As she walks forward, a man voice shouts, “I am the god of the thunder! The Celts worshipped me before they came here, and they worship me now in the grave! Make me an offering or YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” There is a small basket of metal votives. There are a variety of metal objects-a candlestick, a pair of scissors, a small sword, a wheel, a sewing needle, and a mug.

Iris also has a metal flower and a metal knife. She attempts to offer the flower. A bolt of lightning streaks down near her, but it is not terribly close. “A flower is an offering for ALL gods, child! Taranis will only accept ONE offering for passage, and that is HIS offering!”

She attempts to pick up the candlestick and use it as an offering, since it is technically his offering, and out of the items there she might not know which fits best but she likes that one best. A harsher thunderbolt strikes near Iris. “I AM A GOD OF THUNDER! I provide my OWN light!”

She tries the wheel. “I accept this offering. Now, name me, and be given right to pass.”

Iris ponders for a moment. “Taranis?”

“I am named and honored. Pass, mortal, and dream of thunder,” the booming voice says, and the hallway lightens a bit. The path is now clear. She walks past ahead, vaguely wondering whether thunder would be an improvement over her usual dreams. Probably.

After a short while and a few turns, she comes to a door that is massive and made of marble, carved intricately with Greek-style carvings. As she approaches, a carved snake animates and says, “Honor Athena Polias. It is time for a new peplos.” Amy is solving the puzzle on the door.


As Hank and Zia come around the corner, they see a long wide corridor. About ten feet down the corridor the floor disappears, and its place are stars, open blackness dotted with light. Suspended in the darkness are stones shaped like half a piece of DNA. They are in red, yellow, green, and blue, as well as stones which are shaped slightly differently, face outwards and are an intensely mottled green flecked with silver and gold. In front of the blackness is a panel set into the ground.

“More than human, less than fae, what are we anyway?
Arcadia is written in our DNA.”

Hank and Zia both think that they should be making a DNA shape, but a bit different. They are not yet sure how to accomplish this. “Hank, I am pretty sure that that we should be making a DNA path, but … not quite …” Zia says. She closes her eyes and puts her hands on the panel. “Hank, I’m going to commune with the puzzle to see its past uses, unless you would prefer to riddle it out.”

“Be my guest, I will try to puzzle it out while you talk,” he replies. From his medical studies, Hank recalls the exact appearance of DNA and notes that the colors are how they are commonly represented. He knows that they should arrange it to so that the same two colors of the normal colors are opposite each other each time. He also vaguely recalls a comment one of the doctors during the Games had made, that for many changelings, Arcadia literally changes their DNA. He starts to set up the normal DNA sequence, while thinking about how it might be changed for Arcadia.

As Hank realizes this, Zia is completely zoned into the panel. She sees Anastasia and before her Lucien moving the panel into a pattern. They each do a slightly different panel, but initially Lucien did not include any of the fae pieces, and the walkway would not solidify. As Zia lurches out of it, she says to Hank, "We need to include one pair of the strange looking ones in the ordinary DNA sequence, at least at one point, more is fine.”

Hank swaps a strange pair for his current set and the continues with the DNA strand, and then another set a little further down again, but keeps the rest of the strand in human colors. As Hank completes the path, the pieces seem to solidify. Zia nods at Hank, "I believe it is safe to cross now, but carefully, I would imagine.”

Zia and Hank make their way across the path. As soon as both of them cross, the path resets. They take a turn to their right, and reach the center! As they turn the corner, they are in a large circular space. To the right is a massive rainbow door that glows with the following verse above it:

“Capricious Iris rules here
Gifts are granted, few without price
Choose a path of boons and banes
Lose something but gain something
Choose the path that suits you best.”

To the left is a door that exudes a greenish light. Above it is written:

“Who wins in the end, the tortoise or the hare?
Slow but steady wins the race, right?”

At the center of the courtyard is a small platform with a sign above it that says, “Choose one item as proof of your victory, hold it tight, for without it you have not won.”

There are two bins on the platform. In one bin are short twisted branches with thorns about a foot long that seem to have a lightbulb in them. In the other bin are snorkeling masks. Hank stares at the snorkeling masks and starts cracking up.

Zia looks at the rainbow door. “It seems that the rainbow door will be the more dangerous choice perhaps? But we have reached the center Hank! We are close!”

“Indeed,” he says. “One choice is more dangerous and one slower, I expect?” He considers for a moment. “Do you wish to stay together? Or shall we each choose one?”

Zia looks up at Hank. “I think we should each choose the one we wish to take. If they match, then obviously, we should continue together.”

In what can only be described as a fit of extreme pique, Hank selects a mask, fits it over his head, and goes to stand next to the rainbow door. He stands in front of it, considering it very seriously, and then stares over at the green door, clearly torn.

Zia sighs. “Well, I was really planning on the other door, rainbows are … not actually my favorite, especially if they might be hurting me somehow.” She selects the twisted branch, as it is seems a bit less silly, and goes to the green door. “Good luck Hank!” she calls.

“Je te dis merde!” he calls back, and steps through the rainbow door.

Hank walks through the door, and in front of him is a wading pool with rainbow water. The colors, in rainbow order, are steady in the pool. Red is to the far left, violet to the far right. He can hear very loud rumbling ahead, but cannot see past the rainbow mist ahead.

He shrugs, says, “May as well hang for a sheep as a lamb”, and decides to take a slightly longer path starting on the near red corner and progressing diagonally to the far purple corner.

As Hank lowers himself into the red water, he feels a burning sensation and feels a bit panicked all of a sudden. Despite this, he continues with his scientific exploration of all the colors.

As Hank moves through the orange, he suddenly moves much faster, but becomes clumsier. However, the panic from the red water has disappeared. As he moves through the yellow, he suddenly can see the rocks at the bottom MUCH better. As he crosses over into the green, he feels something in his wyrd snap shut.

As he crosses over into the blue, he suddenly feels much more calm and composed but moves a bit slower. Indigo makes him feel mystically stronger. Finally, in Violet he feels quite dexterous.

At the border of the mist, Hank steps forward still in violet. The cloudy air around him makes it harder to see, but he realizes that he is in rapids, approximately 150 feet of them, and the thundering noise is likely a waterfall. There are definitely rocks and holes in the bottom.


Zia opens the green door and comes out onto a mist-covered moor. In the far distance she can see a faint light. She clutches the lightbulb branch tightly, cursing slightly when a thorn bites her hand. As that happens, the lightbulb goes on, cutting through the mist and illuminating a deep pit about 15 feet ahead and slightly to the right. “Damn. Blood magic, really!” Zia sigh and starts moving quickly, looking out for any more pitfalls or similar traps. She continues onward, running deliciously fast for her, and avoiding the several pitfalls she encounters. She has gone about a quarter mile.


Iris sees Amy at the door. She seems to be working on solving the puzzle, which Iris understands to be a sliding puzzle. It seems that the center piece has more detail, and that it is where she should be moving the puzzle towards. Amy is making slow, but steady progress on the puzzle. She seems to making it so that there is a procession of people.

Iris is still damp, hair sticking to her, with a small chicken statue at the opening of her bag. “Hey Amy, what’s that?”

“Oh!” Amy startles. “Hi, Iris. I’m solving this puzzle.”

Iris peeks over her shoulder. “I figured, but what type is it? Do you need any help?”

“Um, I think I almost have it.”

“Alright. Mind if I tag along?” Iris sounds exhausted.

Amy frowns thoughtfully, then nods. “Yeah, ok.”

Iris tries to help with the puzzle. It’s slow going, but they are making progress.

Fianna stares at the field. “I have no idea what’s going on. I like thunder dude though. He was fun.”

Marcella chuckles. “He seemed friendly enough. I’m glad he liked Amy.”

The piece bearing the peplos reaches Athena at the center. As Iris pushes it into place, the two pieces animate. The cloth, still stone, but temporarily … more, unfolds and settles onto the Athena statue. The snake at the side animates again, “The goddess has been honored, the promises renewed, the city is safe once more. Pass into your own time and do forget the past.” The door creaks open and they can either go left or right. To their right is a quick turn, to their left, darkness.

Iris shrugs. “I have no idea why she needed a new dress, but alright, let’s go I guess.” Amy heads towards the quick turn. Iris walks into the darkness and it immediately feels like her entire body is stinging. She reconsiders her choice and follows Amy instead.

As they come around the corner, they see a long wide corridor. About ten feet down the corridor the floor disappears, and its place are stars, open blackness dotted with light. Suspended in the darkness are stones shaped like half a piece of dna. They are in red, yellow, green, and blue, as well as stones which are shaped slightly differently, face outwards and are an intensely mottled green flecked with silver and gold. In front of the blackness is a panel set into the ground.

“More than human, less than fae, what are we anyway?
Arcadia is written in our DNA."

Iris starts looking for any way to complete the dna piece.

“Um,” Amy looks at Iris. “I don’t know. Maybe I could just hop across?” Amy walks up to the edge, judging the distance to the first stone, and if she could make the jump. It looks like it’s about five feet away.

“Considering how bad I am at anything athletic? I’d rather not. Besides, I like the puzzles.” Iris replies. There are the four colors that she vaguely recalls being standard to DNA models, as well as the sparkly ones which supposedly would represent the Fae DNA. She also vaguely recalls DNA strands generally come in pairs.

Iris attempts to match the pieces together and see whether they fit shape-wise, never matching one to another of the same colour. She realizes that the pieces need to be put together with the colors in consistent pairs and that the green shiny stones must be included somehow.

Amy takes a deep breath, lets it out in a laugh, then backs up and tries a running jump to the first stone. She lands neatly on the next stone, and immediately starts sliding through, as the stone appears to be made of some sort of jellied substance. She is steadily falling towards the blackness.

“Amy!” Iris calls, trying to work faster.

In the stands, Marcella makes an abortive move as though she’s going to stand up, then sits back into her chair and grips her knees very tightly. Fianna swears creatively.

Amy tries to summon something soft from Iris’ dreams to land on. She summons a biting pillow, and is able to use her momentum to grab onto the ledge surrounding the pit of blackness. She pulls herself back up as the pillow plummets into darkness and makes her way back to the beginning of the puzzle.

Iris is still puzzling. She is certain how to solve the puzzle, but it will take her a few minutes to assemble it. “Are you okay?”

“So, that didn’t work,” Amy tells Iris. “I’m ok.” She leans in to see if she can figure out what Iris is doing so she can help.

“Do I even want to know what happened to that pillow?”

“Well, it seemed more real than usual, so I think it might be around for awhile. Maybe it’s still falling?”

“I think I’ve figured it out, just help me out putting this stuff together.” Iris explains what she intends to do and gets started. Amy starts following Iris’s instructions.

“I wonder what would have happened if one of us fell. I mean they’re not exactly trying to kill us, but still,” Iris ponders.

“Probably land, eventually. I bet it would take a lot of magic to make a real bottomless pit,” Amy says.

“Exactly. But where?”

“At the bottom,” Amy looks at Iris, oddly. Not sure if she understood the question correctly.

Iris just rolls her eyes. “I’m wondering what it might look like down there, that’s all. Just speculating,” she shrugs. “I don’t really want to find out badly enough to jump though.”

The final piece of the DNA puzzle clicks into place and the path solidifies.

“Come on!” Amy runs across the path full-tilt. Iris huffs, but follows, invariably slower.

Once they cross the path, the pieces reset. There is a turn to their right. Amy slows a bit so she can see around the turn before she runs down it. Iris slows down once she reaches Amy and takes the turn in stride.

When they turn the corner they are in a large circular space. To the right is a massive rainbow door that glows with the following verse above it:

“Capricious Iris rules here
Gifts are granted, few without price
Choose a path of boons and banes
Lose something but gain something
Choose the path that suits you best.”

To the left is a door that exudes a greenish light. Above it is written:

“Who wins in the end the tortoise or the hare?
Slow but steady wins the race, right?”

At the center of the courtyard is a small platform with a sign above it that says, “Choose one item as proof of your victory, hold it tight, for without it you have not won.” There are two bins on the platform. In one bin are short twisted branches with thorns about a foot long that seem to have a lightbulb in them. In the other bin are snorkeling masks.

Amy takes one of the branches without hesitation, and heads through the rainbow door.

“Well I don’t think we can still win, but I’ve got enough of water.” Iris takes a branch. “Should we go together, or?”

Amy shrugs, “I’m going this way.” Iris shrugs as well and follows just in case either of them needs help.

They both walk through the rainbow door, and in front of them is a wading pool with rainbow water. The colors, in rainbow order, are steady in the pool. Red is to the far left, violet to the far right. They can hear very loud rumbling ahead, but cannot see past the rainbow mist ahead.

Amy jumps into the red, holding her branch tightly. She suddenly feels moderately panicked, and wades across as quickly as she can, wanting to be out of the water.

Iris is relieved that she can wade and doesn’t have to swim. She doesn’t hesitate to give it a shot, though not quite as enthusiastically as Amy. As Iris jumps into the violet she feels incredibly dexterous and coordinated She grins slightly and starts wading through.

They both reach the edge of the mist.

View
Game 49: Through the Labyrinth

Summary

Hank, Iris, Zia, and Amy continue through the Labyrinth. Hank and Zia encounter puzzles that are based around a 20th century history theme, while Amy seems to to be working her way through ancient history. Iris’ puzzles and traps don’t seem to have a particular theme. Hank and Zia eventually join up and start working together.

Log

In the Labyrinth, Hank has just reached a statue that seems to be pointing for him to go a certain way. He looks at the way that is being pointed, looks skeptical at the car noises, and takes the first left instead. He comes out into a small courtyard. As he enters, a small cloud of birds flies upwards. The courtyard has no apparent ways out.

He takes a short few seconds to examine the courtyard, especially where the birds were. He notices that it is perfectly square. The birds had been in a small tree in the center of the courtyard. It appears to be a normal tree. Hank hears footsteps behind him, and turns around just in time to see Erik dash past in the corridor that Hank just exited.

Hank sighs and steps back out into the corridor, picking up his pace. He sees Erik go straight, walking right through the lady. Hank follows him, thinking that he doesn’t trust a path that you’re being told to follow in this kind of labyrinth.

Erik is moving quickly, and even as Hank passes through the lady, he is coming back. As he comes back toward Hank, he says, “No luck, dead end,” and runs towards the cars.

Hank runs forward, wanting to confirm it himself but not wanting to lose any time. He has no expectation of winning this, but is more interested in getting to explore the nooks and crannies. The passage goes straight briefly, then makes an abrupt turn and ends. There are two lamps on the walls and a tea set sitting on the ground. Hank examines the lamps and the tea set. “Dead end?” he scoffs.

Hank notices that the tea set is actually two tea sets, as they have distinct patterns. They are currently mixed together. Hank begins separating out the tea sets. He checks and sees that the lamps have patterns which match the tea sets. He clusters the teacups around the lamps that match their patterns, putting the two pots in the small indents under each lamp. Once Hank has put all the pieces of the tea set in place, a door opens between the lamps, revealing a rather strange sight.

Hank sees a long wide corridor straight ahead, approximately twenty feet across. It is filled with a deep pool. Small boats, each just big enough to carry a large human, move clockwise from the far end of pool to his end of the pool, then back again. There is a small hutch on the right hand side (where the boats are coming towards him) that all the boats go through. The explosions occur as boats are apparently randomly hit by a cannonball. Once the burning ships go through the hutch, they look perfect again, as if they had not ever been on fire.

Hank marks this on his map and examines the boats to see if he can find a pattern in the explosions. He notices that all the ships are the same style, but have the flags of different countries. He notices that a French ship, a UK ship and a Russian ship are exploded, but that an Austria-Hungary ship is not exploded. Hank jumps onto the Austria-Hungary ship when it comes around the next time. As Hank comes to the end, he nimbly hops off the ship onto the far bank.


Meanwhile, when it is Zia’s turn to enter the maze, she smiles and marches delicately in. She notices the mist and the sound of the cars. The trusty tool mutters about how he is going to be abused during this stupid game. She decides to go towards the sound of cars. At the choice with the lady, she walks up to her, pats her, and notices that she is an illusion. Zia decides to listen to her, what the heck.

At the car puzzle, Zia reads the riddle, then looks at the ramps, noticing that the ramp with the model T seems to be more used. She mutters herself, “Ephemera themed, are we?” and gets into the model T.


In front of Iris, the maze stretches on. She can either go straight or turn left. Directly in front of her is a column of flame that disappears at random intervals. To the left, there’s no indication.

Iris watches the flame to try and discern a pattern, seeing if the breaks are of consistent length and long enough to sprint through. She notices that it flickers out every 5 seconds, stays gone for 2 seconds, then on for 1, then off for .5 seconds.

Iris gets through, if barely. The column of flame whooshes back up behind her. She takes a deep breath, checks for her ghost chicken, and continues on ahead. The ghost chicken walks forward. It looks unperturbed by the column of flame behind her. In front of her there is a passage which quickly dead-ends and a passage to the left. There’s nothing in the dead end, so she goes left.

The passage makes an abrupt turn, and then has another abrupt turn where the tunnel goes into complete darkness. The ghost chicken walks right into the darkness confidently. Iris listens for sounds and follows the chicken.

Even in the complete darkness, she can still see the chicken, which leads her around a bend, and suddenly it is light again. Iris is rather unperturbed, if slightly blinded, and looks around while still walking. She is presented with a few quick turns, then the choice to go straight, turn left, or turn right. All of the passages look pretty normal, and there are no differences between them.

Iris marks the darkness trap and the turns on her map as best as she can. The chicken wants to go left, so Iris shrugs and goes left. To her, one passage is as good as any other, and she’d rather have some company.

To the left, Iris quickly comes to a sign that says, “Four hang, four sprang, two point the way, two to ward off dogs, one dangles after, always rather dirty. What am I?” Ahead of her is a gate with a empty square space where the lock would be and five figurines on the ground in front of her. The figurines are a house, a person, a cow, a chicken, and a television.

The chicken immediately pokes at the chicken figurine expectantly. Iris puts the cow figurine into the empty space. It fits perfectly, and the gate opens. The chicken looks offended that she did not choose the chicken.

Iris marks this puzzle on her map and peers through the door. She also picks up the chicken figurine to carry with her. She pets the ghost chicken and continues on with the chicken figurine in her hand. The chicken fluffs its feathers out and looks perturbed, but is slightly mollified by the pets.


Alter announces with giddy enthusiasm, “Sigmund Freud! Amy! Please enter the maze!”

Amy walks into the maze quickly, only not running because she can’t see due to the fog. She has two choices: to go straight or to go right. Straight seems to be where the mist is coming from, and to the right are car noises. She goes straight. The path quickly takes an abrupt left turn and then upwards (to the left of where she just entered).

Amy sees a deep bank of hot rocks, roiling with steam generated by a small waterfall. She notices that there seems to be a path through the center of the rocks generating less steam, and hops across that path.

About forty feet further on, the path dead ends. Amy pokes the wall experimentally. Nothing happens, so she turns around and goes back, taking the other path towards the sounds she heard before.

Amy follows the sounds to a large courtyard with a pair of massive ramps, each which has a different car at the top. The cars are these:
PresidentFirstCar.jpg

tbig.jpg

Amy looks at the cars, giggles, and hops into the first car. Her car goes roaring to end of the ramp, and her path goes to the right. In front of her, about ten feet down and just as the path turns, appears to be a lovely dress on a dress form.

Amy takes the dress down from the form and folds it over her arm. As Amy removes the dress, it dissolves in her hands, revealing a massive spike giving off electricity. It isn’t touching her, but it looks dangerous. She carefully squeaks by it without brushing it.

Her her only choice is to go straight, then right, then straight for a bit. Then the path narrows, and there is a small disassembled doll. Ahead of her is a door with a doll shaped hole in it. Amy attempts to reassemble the doll. It takes a bit, but she succeeds.

Amy tries to push the doll through the hole. The doll clicks into the door slot, and the door swings open. It almost immediately starts swinging closed again. Amy gets through the door just before it clicks shut behind her. She takes a quick left, and then a short ways on there are three ways to go: right (which looks like it has another slight right turn almost immediately), left, and straight.

Amy hums and takes the right turn. Amy doubles back on herself several times, but soon comes to a dead end. She retraces her steps and take the left path, instead.

There are couple of very fast turns, and then she come to a point where there is a deep pool of water, and sticking out of it are various statues of various shapes and sizes. Beyond the pool, there are two otherwise blank walls, one of which has a horizontal cut about six inches across, the other with a handprint. There is a riddle: “Two ways forward, one way back. Will you take up the old king’s slack?”

Amy notices that among the statues are: a naked man the Vatican never got to, a bunny, a man with his hand outstretched, a woman’s delicate hand holding up a sword, and a buddha.

She looks at the hand and sword statue, considering. It is fairly small, and she will need to swim in the water or jump from statue to statue to see whether she can lift it. She tries jumping from statue to statue, and successfully gets to the lady’s hand with the sword. As Amy touches the sword, the woman’s hand lets go.

Amy takes the sword to the wall with the slit in it and tries to slide the sword through and along it. The sword fits perfectly in the slit, and the wall fades away. She can now see a long straight passage ahead of her.

She still has the hand part of the statue, but it is tugging away from her. She tries to put it against the handprint, but nothing happens. Amy goes through the door she just opened.


Meanwhile, Zia is choosing between the whooshing noise and the explosions. She resolutely chooses to go away from the explosions. At the very turny door, she decides to go further on to explore what other choices she has before risking that door.

Zia reaches the contrast door that Iris faced before. The glass is broken, but there are keys there now, and the door appears to have been fixed. Zia figures out that she needs the purple key to contrast with the lock, and opens the door. Out of consideration for the other players, she puts the key back and shuts the door behind her.

She chooses to go away from the fire, and is then presented with the choice to go forward or to the right. She choose to go right, and sees a portion of the wall rotating slowly. She observes it, determines its pattern, and jumps through to other side.

Zia comes out into the darkness. She walks resolutely forward and follows some curves, comes to the three way Iris came to awhile ago. She goes straight.

She takes a quick turn to the right, then walks down a long hallway. About halfway through, as she walks by the vines start to come towards her to grasp her. She ducks around them and barrel rolls to the end of the hallway. Once she reaches it she glares back at the vines. “You just see,” she mutters, “I’ll be nice and not burn this maze.”

She goes straight and then comes to a riddle: “Can you find me? I am not like the others and I will bring you back to future’s path.” Inset into the walls are a variety of heraldic coats of arms.

Zia looks at the arms. Initially, they all seem to be moderately historically accurate for what she vaguely knows about heraldic arms, but they are already all different. Zia uses Knowing Touch on the wall the riddle is on. She now knows that it is the shield third from the left, and that pushing it will open the door to the right path. She pushes the appropriate shield, and the vines shift out of her way and snap shut behind her.

She comes out where she can either go forward or right. She takes a few steps to the right and sees what looks like a puzzle she was in the middle of. She decides to straight. She makes a quick turn and comes to a long, low-ceilinged hallway.


Hank’s path now goes directly to the left. He follows it, marking the turn on the map, as well as a note about the boats labeled ‘WWI?’ He follows the path to the left, trying to gauge how far into the circle he’s come. This is hard to do because he’s not actually sure how large it is. He estimates that with all the twists and turns, he has gone about 600 feet and is near the edge of the maze.

He comes to a place where there is small path going to the right that appears to dead end and be empty, or he can go straight. Hank examines the path to the right first. He is wary of ‘dead ends’ since the interaction with Erik. Hank does not notice anything special about this dead end. He marks it, goes back to the branch, and goes forward.

Hank’s path makes a quick turn to the right, then goes straight briefly before a dead end is visible ahead, or he can go to the left. To the left he hears cursing.

He runs forward to check the dead end. He is attempting to find a balance between picking up his pace and checking everything out. It’s a regular dead end, so he turns to the cursing.

Hank comes around a bend and sees a place where the path branches in three directions. There is a cage-like structure surrounding a dias that is in the center of the intersection. It has two openings, one facing towards him and one currently pointing to the path to the right. In the center is a table with figures on it. Standing in the structure is Erik, cursing quite fluently.

Hank steps up the the table with the figures and examines it. “In a bit of a bind, eh?” he asks Erik conversationally while he examines the puzzle. As he step onto the platform, a voice says the following, first in German, than in English:

“What is the law, what is right?
Who owns the work, the workers who work into the night?
Choose what brings us forward, ever forward to the war.”

There are three paths going forward that he can see. The one to the right appears to dead-end almost immediately. The one straight ahead is difficult to tell, as there is a thick red leafed vine hanging and moving restlessly in that direction. The path to the left looks to then be a choice almost immediately to go right or left.

On the table is etched a simple T chart with three columns. The columns have small rectangular holes where one would fill out the chart. The columns are headed with the following pictures:
1) 49_normal_ian-symbol-government-1.png

2) 49_people-talking-on-the-phone-clipart.jpg

3) 49_people-md.png

Sitting to the side of the etched chart are five blocks, which appear as though they would fit in the holes. The top portion of the blocks are shaped like a mill, a factory, a sheaf of grain, a person, and a stack of coins. It is a chart with an equal number of holes in each column.

Hank will examines the puzzle, trying to figure it out. He knows that Erik is British, so he definitely speaks English. From what Hank remembers, his German is passable, but at a little kid level of comprehension. Hank mutters to himself in French as he looks over things.

Erik looks pleadingly at Hank, “Man, I got no idea here…”

Hank re-reads the passage and begins humming L’Internationale.

Up in the stands, Marcella is chortling a bit at Erik’s apparent difficulty with the puzzles, especially in comparison with her teammates.

Hank realizes that this puzzle is about the rise of communism, and that the headers represent government, businesses/corporations, and the people, respectively. He investigates the pieces more closely, continuing to hum L’Internationale. He looks at the pieces and thinks about the riddle and what he knows of history. Without the rise of communism, lots of the 20th century wouldn’t have happened, so he realizes he should put the pieces where the would go in a communist society.

Hank begins sorting the pieces, putting them in production order, starting with the grain and the mill, then the factory, then the money. He tries to figure out where to put the person, and settles on starting with them at the top, with all five going in the workers column. Erik is watching what Hank is doing, totally lost. Hank begins singing under his breathe, “C’est la lutte finale! Groupons nous, et demain…”

As he puts the last piece in, the whole structure shudders. Erik looks at Hank with a bit of terror. The structure turns so that the two open holes are facing the straight path and the dead end. A voice whispers, “Onward history, onward the march of fate.”

Erik takes a deep breathe and dashes forward, straight. He shouts, "Thanks buddy!” behind him.

Hank starts forwards to the opening, singing “L’Internationale sera le genre humain!” He narrows his eyes at Erik a bit, but picks up his pace, following after. He marks the puzzle in his notes, with the annotation ‘communism, industry.’

He can go straight, but that appears to dead end fairly quickly, or he can turn right into a broad hallway. Hank runs forward to check the dead end. He has gone back to humming under his breathe, but L’Internationale is firmly stuck in his head.

There is a small flower, but otherwise the dead end is bare. He examines the flower, and sees that it is a crocus. Hank picks the flower, tucks it into the breast pocket of his uniform, and then proceeds down the other path.


Behind Iris’ door is a quick turn to the left, then a small courtyard with an exit to the left. Iris has a look around the courtyard, then heads out the exit. She sees two paths: one that goes straight, the other bears right. There are strange rustling noises coming from both directions.

Iris attempts to discern the rustling noises. They sounds like plants being moved by the wind. She has a look at what the chicken is doing, and sees that it wants to go right.

Iris goes right, marking the progress on her map and still pondering just how much space she has crossed between all of those turns. She very quickly reaches a place where the path is crossed by large ropes of wickedly thorned vines. There is a small sign that simply reads: “Blood feeds the thorns.” She steps closer and experimentally pricks her finger on one of the thorns. The thorns move out of the way of the path. She shrugs, very much used to things requiring a drop of blood or two, and walks on, marking that on her map as well.

Iris comes around a few bends and sees a curved apparent dead end and the option to go straight. The straight option seems quite cold, and the vines in that direction seem a bit withered. She pokes the far wall of the dead end and looks around, becoming certain that it is really a dead end. Iris then turns back to the straight path.

She walks forward a short ways, takes a left turn, and then comes upon a sheer, thin wall of ice. There is no riddle. The wall is very smooth, but quite thin. Iris steps back a safe distance and takes a shot. The wall shatters where the bullet pierces it, enough falling away to allow her to get through. She steps through, marks it on her map, and continues on ahead.

From up in the stands, Fianna observes Iris and mumbles, “I would of just punched it.”

Marcella snorts, “Well, punching things is sorta your default mode, right? I don’t think Iris does much punching. Though with ice or glass or whatever that is, maybe even she could have gotten through.”

“I could also have melted it,” Fianna says dryly.

Iris goes around another turn and then finds herself at an intersection. She can go left, straight, or right. All the paths appear the same. Iris ponders her paths, then decides to follow the chicken, which seems to want to go right. Iris continues along the right path and marks her progress on her map so far.

Iris takes a quick turn to the right, and a bit of a walk straight, when suddenly! BEES! Iris is surrounded by a swarm of bees. She has no idea how to react and stands still, trying to figure out anything unusual about the bees. Luckily, she’s not allergic. Iris realizes that the bees seem angry and charges ahead, leaving most of the bees behind.


Amy continues down her passageway. It turns to the right, and then there is a warm-toned stone engraved with hieroglyphs. There is also English and German written to the side, “Unite the two kingdoms.” As she looks more closely at the wall, she sees that there are movable parts, with various bits of hats to place on the pharaoh’s head. There is a round white tall hat, a rectangular green hat piece, a larger red hat piece with a twirly bit coming out the front, and a skull cap. There is also two twirly bits. Examples include the following:

49_Atef_crown.png

49_474px-Deshret.png

49_424px-Hedjet.png

Amy uses Sense Element to see if any of the pieces of the puzzle are clay-based, and senses that all the pieces are carved sandstone. She slides the tall white piece into place. Nothing happens yet, but as she handles the pieces, she realizes that they can be layered. Amy adds the checkered pieces, but nothing happens. She frowns, and adds the two swirly bits. Still nothing, but she does get the sense that the wall liked the first piece more than it like the other two pieces.

She takes the other two pieces off and adds the skull cap instead. Nothing happens. She takes that off, too, and adds the red piece. As Amy puts the red piece on, it seems to meld together with the white, and there is a hissing noise, and then water pushes through a crack that is rapidly opening. The water increases as the wall splits, but never enough to push her backwards, though she is now damp. She goes forward, as the tiny river carved into to the ground is no impediment.

Amy has united the upper and lower kingdoms! And now she is presented with some twisty turns that lead to a long narrow passageway that is abnormally warm. She just continues on.

She follows the warm passageway until she comes to a small open area. The walls of this room are full of hamsters that appear to be on fire. When they see Amy, they start chattering angrily and begin moving out of the walls towards her. Nearby, there are several baskets full of different kinds of foods.

Amy’s eyes widen in alarm, and she runs over to the food and spreads it on the floor. The hamsters cease advancing towards her and concentrate on the food. She can now slip past without getting gnawed to death by incendiary rodents. She continues on, looking slightly unsettled.

She walks forward for about twenty feet, then the passage goes left. After about ten seconds, the choices are a left into a small courtyard or straight to a path which then offers a choice between left or right. Amy goes into the courtyard. It seems to be is a nice place, containing a willow tree and a bench and some flowers, but nothing else. The tree is not anywhere near as tall as the walls, so she goes back down the path.

She goes through a couple of twists and turns until she comes to a long hallway. At the end, she can take either of two lefts. The second left has a quiet growling coming from it. She takes the left without the growling, but after a couple of turns, the path dead ends. There is a small spout of water fountaining out of the wall.

Amy places her palm over the hole the water is coming out, trying to block it. The water fights back, still trying to get out, spraying out under high pressure under her hand. It spatters all over her clothes.

Amy shrugs, and turns back the way she came, deciding to take the route with the growling instead. She runs down the part of the path that she’s already traversed, trying to make up for lost time.

The path is long and narrow and large growling wolf is right in the middle of it. Before the wolf are two cloaks, one with a wolf with two children suckling, another with a wolf with one child hugging the wolf. The riddle on the wall says, “The son of Rhea Silvia would know no fear.”

Amy puts her hand over the cloak with the child hugging the wolf. She hesitates for a moment, looking at the other one, but stays with her choice and puts it on. As Amy walks down the path towards the wolf, it lunges at her.

Amy tries to hug the wolf, and it chomps down hard on her shoulder, drawing blood. She quickly backs back down the path. She switches cloaks, and tries the path again, glaring at the wolf, now. The wolf lets her walk by, and even gives her a nuzzle with its nose as she walks by. When it nuzzles, her Amy says, “No. Bad dog,” and keeps walking.

Just past the wolf, Amy has the option of two different right turns, one right after the other. There is no indication of difference between them. Amy takes the farther right. She now has the choice of going left, straight with an immediate turn, or right with an immediate turn. Amy goes straight, because she hasn’t tried that as a first option yet.


Zia walks down her passageway, which gets smaller and smaller as she walks down it. Eventually, she has to crawl in order to continue, but she makes it through.

She comes, after a series of quick turns, to a set of thornless vines over some really gross water. “Ugh, really…” she mutters. Then she squares her shoulders and starts going across. She gets across with one moment of eeeeeeep.

Zia comes to an apparent dead end. Ahead and to her left the vine walls seems to shiver, moving constantly, showing sharp thorns, some already bloody, rustling. On the ground ahead of her is a wide variety of objects: mugs, broken pottery, a ball on a string, a harp, a figurine of a dancer, a box of matches, and others. Written in silvery writing in English and German is: “Tut tut U.S., breaking an agreement, but M.52 did it despite the data that was never sent. Swing high, swing low, swing ’em fast to summon the way.”

Zia reads this in a bit of confusion. “M.52 … I have no idea what that is … Okay, walls, tell me your secrets!” Using her contract, Zia now knows that the walls need to hear a high pitched noise to try to break the sound barrier. “Okay … high pitched noise …”

She looks at the objects presented to her with care. She notices the ball on a string, picks it up, and spins it faster and faster until the path to the left opens up. She dashes through, looks down at the ball in her hand, and throws it back so the next person can use it.

After going through, Zia sees a path that has an apparent dead end, and a slight right. She takes the slight right, which loops around to the right, and she sees another dead end and a path to the left which quickly turns.


Hank comes around a corner and suddenly there are lions. Erik is not in sight. Hank notices that the lions’ feet are not quite touching the floor and that they seem a bit fuzzy around the edges. He looks around for other indications about what might be going on here. “It is too late in time period for the Colosseum…” he mutters.

He notes that there does not seem to be any indication that the lions have damaged this section of passageway. They also seem to be moving quite regularly. He observes their pattern and slips by them with no problems.

After a few quick turns he comes to three paths with a rainbow colored mist behind each one. Above the path to the right is this flag:
49_218px-Flag_of_the_Kingdom_of_Yugoslavia.png

Above the path going forward is this flag:
49_220px-Flag_of_Poland.png

Above the path to the left is this flag:
49_220px-Flag_of_German_Reich__1935_1945_.svg.png

Hank growls at the swastika, and takes a minute to grumble over everyone having such similar flags. Once he takes a few steps forward, he hears a child’s voice whispers in his native language: “One choice made, another to come, take us to war, run, run.”

He shudders slightly, because creepy. The flags appear to be affixed quite firmly above the passage above their respective doors. Hank vaguely thinks that the first flag might be the Netherlands, which means that they were invaded second. He steps through the opening under the Polish flag.

Hank steps through and comes to a hallway with a low ceiling after a one turn. He shrinks down another size and steps through the hallway, which is getting smaller and smaller as he keeps going. Hank is not 100% sure he picked the right passageway, because of the ‘one choice made’ comment. That could indicate they wanted a second or later invasion, or an invasion that sparked the war. But he also thinks that the first country the Nazis invaded was Germany, personally.

He gets through the rest of that tunnel like nobody’s business. He even widens it just a bit at the end, and finally squeezes out of the end of the tunnel. Hank comes to a series of twists and turns. He takes a second to mark down his general progress and moves on.

Hank comes to the trap Zia came to earlier. The vines are unthorned, the water super gross. He slowly makes his way across the pool.

His path takes a right, then another right. Ahead and to his left, the vine walls seems to shiver, moving constantly with sharp thorns, some already bloody, rustling. On the ground ahead of him is a wide variety of objects: mugs, broken pottery, a ball on a string, a harp, a figurine of a dancer, a box of matches, and others. Written in silvery writing in English and German is: “Tut tut U.S., breaking an agreement, but M.52 did it despite the data that was never sent. Swing high, swing low, swing ’em fast to summon the way.”

Hank uses Instant Expertise on the riddle itself, but doesn’t get anything. He begins examining the objects more closely. “Swing high, swing low…” he says, and picks up the string. He begins to swing the ball back and forth like a pendulum, but nothing happens. He tries spinning it in a circle. He starts slower, getting the hang of it, and then spins it faster and faster. He is feeling impatient. He really feels like he is on the right track now, though he is not actually sure what M.52 is. Hank spins the ball and string in a circle, and the wall to his left shimmers and disappears. He drops it back on the pile and steps through the wall.

Hank sees a path that has an apparent dead end and a slight right. Hank examines the dead end, then backtracks and runs down the other path.


Iris dead ends at a wall with moving vines on it. At the top of the wall is a small, person-sized hole. She has a look at whether she might be able to climb the vines or get the vines to move her up the wall. She decides to climb, and very slowly makes it up the wall, slipping a few times. Iris is feeling very exhausted but still determined when she scrambles over the top. Now she has to climb or jump down the other side.

She puts her knife away and uses her rope to get down as best as she can, more sliding than climbing. She cuts part of the rope off at the bottom, keeping as much of it as she can, then looks to see where the hell she got herself now. She marks her path and continues. After a short period of time, the path dead ends.

Iris is frustrated. She pokes at the dead end and investigates her path closely, but it is clearly a real dead end. She turns around and uses her rope to climb back up the vine wall a little more easily, as it is already fastened at the top. She flips it to get back down on the other side.

Iris then goes running back and takes the straight path. Iris makes it back through the swarm of bees and takes the straight path. After a short period of time it curves and dead ends.

She heads for the left path, wishing she had brought something to set the damn hedge on fire. Iris notices that a small section that had looked like a dead end is strangely shimmery. She goes closer and has a poke with her knife. Her knife goes right through the shimmer, so she tries walking through.

Iris walks through and finds herself in a very small space with a clockwork door and Anastasia busily manipulating the levers. Anastasia raises an eyebrow at her and keeps working. Iris has a look at what she is doing to see whether she can figure the thing out. She notices that Anastasia seems to be linking up pairs of images. The images are the zodiac symbols, and pictures of angles marked with the degree in intervals of 30 degrees. The door itself has the zodiac symbols spread throughout a space about one foot by one foot, and they are immovable. Anastasia is matching the degrees to the zodiacs. Once she notices Iris looking, she shifts so it is harder for her to see. Iris tries to see more details about the puzzle, but Anastasia is blocking the way.

Iris steps a bit closer, still kind of impatient, annoyed and holding a knife. Anastasia is ignoring Iris, other than pointedly blocking her from sight of the puzzle. “You know, if you let me help, we might get through this faster,” Iris says.

Without looking back, Anastasia makes a gesture, and a gigantic wall appears between her and Iris, stretching from one side of the courtyard to the other. It slowly but inexorably begins moving towards Iris, heading back towards the open space Iris entered through.

Iris is mostly nonplussed and just keep standing there, being slowly pushed back. She’s already exhausted the other options, and there’s no way she’ll climb anything again. She checks, but she can’t move past it on either side.

The chicken walks through the wall. It’s gone for a few seconds, then sticks its head through like it’s confused as to why Iris isn’t following. She tries walking through the wall, but cannot, as it is effectively real.

She hears the door open and then close, but the wall is still there. She tries having a shot at it. Right before the bullet hits the wall, it begins to fade away, dissolving into mist. Iris can see the door. She punches the wall, then goes to check on the door.

The door has apparently reset itself from where it was when Anastasia was working on it. The zodiac pieces are set to the side, and the slots are all empty. It looks like the zodiac pieces need to be slotted in in a specific order.

Meanwhile, Fianna is in the stands shaking Marcella. “I know that one! That makes sense! Haa!”

It takes Iris a while, but eventually she slots all the pieces into place, and the door clicks open.


Hank comes to Zia examining the dead end. “Oh, hi Hank! Enjoying the labyrinth?”

“Yes, rather! How is it for you so far?” He also begins to examine the dead end.

Zia replies, “Fairly well I think. I believe we are on the correct path for the future, but I could be wrong, I got off track for awhile. I believe this dead end has nothing to offer. Shall we move on together?”

“Everything I’ve been doing has seemed sequential. And yes, let us.” He checks his book quickly and they move forward, “Tea, the Great War, Labour, the Second War … Did you get that last one? I have no idea what M.52 was.”

“I am not sure, but the wall told me the puzzle was about breaking the sound barrier," Zia replies. They go around a curve and see other side of the zodiac door Anastasia and Iris are at. On their side, they can see the pieces that Anastasia is moving about.

Hank draws up short. “Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?!” He looks at Zia, “I think we are about to converge with others, yes?” He begins examining the door on this side.

“I do believe you are right. The door seems be moving rather irregularly.” As Zia says that, the door pops open and Anastasia comes through. She shuts the door rapidly behind her. As she does so, all the pieces move back to random positions. There is another path, to their right.

Hank looks at Zia, dubiously, then back at Anastasia as she turns from closing to door. “’Allo, Anastasia, ca va?”

“Dr. Hank, ZiaZan, I hope the Labyrinth is going well for you. Excuse me, but I don’t have much time to chat! Good luck!” She walks away, down the direction they haven’t taken yet. “Oh, I left your friend on the other side of the door, but I don’t think she’ll be able to get through the wall. She pulled a knife on me!”

Hank looks at Zia, concerned. Zia looks back at Hank, “She can’t have hurt Iris or Amy or they would have taken her out of the maze. They must be alright.”

Hank nods, “Shall we, then?” and begins to hurry after Anastasia.

Hank and Zia hurry after Anastasia and they see a deep, deep pool, with a waterfall about 100 feet to their right. This chamber, long and narrow, is entirely the pool. The narrow width is only 20 feet wide. In order to get to the next path, they will need to swim across the narrow width. To their left, inset in the ground but still within the path they are on, are five taps, with a cup under them. Words in the ground say:

“The water is cold, remembrance of the Iron Lung,
One will bring you across, another death unsung,
Upstream is the cure to the right of naught,
The middle path cannot cure the children’s cough.”

Anastasia is in the water, but clearly struggling to get across. Hank and Zia hear a gunshot a ways behind them.

“Ah, ouais, vaccinations!” Hank offers to Zia. “This is a thing I know.” He kneels down next to the riddle and the taps.

“Excellent, I am fairly decent at puzzles as well. It appears we need to figure out which tap has liquid which will help us get across,” she replies.

Hank nods. “Not the center.” He points to the last line. “And to the right of a tap that does nothing, so not this one.” He taps the one all the way to the right. Hank figures out that they need to drink from the tap second from the left.

Hank cranks on that tap and cups his hands beneath it, offering the liquid to Zia first. She drinks the liquid and shivers at the strange feeling that pervade her body almost immediately. Hank drinks next, then moves quickly towards the water. Anastasia has just gained the other side and is panting a bit.

Hank does pretty well, but Zia has a lot of difficulty getting through the water. Hank helps her when he notices her struggling. They make it together about a third of the way across. Zia’s head tips under the water as the current pulls her under. Hank rushes to help her, letting go of the Transfigure the Flesh contract so that he is full sized again. He successfully pulls Zia up, sputtering. Once she has air, she thanks Hank profusely.

The pair are now about halfway across. Hank is confused. He is sure they took the right tap, but it does not seem easier. Unbeknownst to him, they did choose the right one, but this is one of the most dangerous puzzles in the labyrinth.

They reach the other side without further incident. Anastasia gives them a wave and moves on.

Zia happily gets out of the water and takes a deep breath. “That was not fun. Thanks for the help, Hank!”

“But of course!” Hank shakes himself vigorously, and looks around at this side of the pool. Meanwhile the trusty tool is VERY GRUMPY.

View
Game 48: An Invitation from the Queen

Summary

After winning the 4×4 Lambswool final, the four members of the Vogelfrei Lambswool team are invited to join the Summer Court by Queen Kenna. Marcella and Fianna accept, and Zia and Hank politely decline. Three days later, Iris, Amy, Hank, and Zia all participate in the Labyrinth event. Iris and Hank both begin the maze and encounter several puzzles and traps.

Log

Hank has just carried the opposing team’s Lamb over the center line, and Vogelfrei has won the game. Zia asks the bamboo hut to go away and walks to the center. “Wow … but you know, let’s not do this again, alright?’”

Hank laughs a little, breathless. “Yes, let us rather not.”

Marcella grins at both of them. “Aw, where’s the fun in that?”

Zia raises an eyebrow at Marcella. “Ample fun can be found outside this Arena, I am quite sure.”

Marcella waves Zia off and looks around for their opponents, making sure they are getting the medical care they need, then waves to the crowd again.

Iris is just trying to keep her heart from jumping out of her chest. Amy is standing, wide-eyed. “Oh, wow. I think they won. Did they really win, Iris?”

“Yep. I don’t quite know how they did it, but they won. I just hope I never have to watch this again,” Iris replies.

Marcella leads the more injured party members to the medical bay. Hank insists that everyone get checked out. Zia, despite being perfectly fine, goes to the medical bay to wait for Benoît-Martin to wake up. Hank shrinks back down to his normal size as they walk off the field.

“Phthonos is going to be so pissed,” Marcella murmurs happily to the rest of them as they leave the field.

“Shame that,” Fianna says conversationally. Hank laughs. Zia smiles at Phthonos’ potential displeasure.

Hank, Marcella, and Fianna receive care. Zia is waiting patiently for Benoît-Martin to wake up. Marcella sits patiently while she gets her medical treatment. Hank is vaguely grumpy about his bite marks, but relatively patient about the medical treatment.

After about 15 minutes, Queen Kenna sweeps into the medical bay. Hank jumps to his feet and bows. Fianna stands up abruptly. Marcella looks startled, then jumps up from her seat and bows. Zia makes a respectful curtsey. The doctors, except the team still working on Lucille, make their courtesies.

Smiling widely, Kenna sweeps into the room, acknowledges the courtesies, and says, “I was most pleased with your performance today, Vogelfrei! Let no one say that you cannot carry your own weight! I shall stand surety on this!”

Marcella bows to Kenna again. “You honor us with your praise, Your Majesty.” Hank nods.

“I need do you no honor, for each person generates their own honor. And indeed, over the course of this Lambswool competition, each of you have proven your mettle, your determination, indeed your honor. Should you wish it, each of you are invited to join the Summer Court. Should you wish to join the Summer Court, then you will swear at the conclusion of the Summer Games ceremonies,” Kenna says quietly, but earnestly.

Marcella’s eyes widen, and she quickly bows her head again. “Speaking for myself alone, Your Majesty, I would like nothing more than to join your Court. Thank you for this opportunity to show my dedication to my new home in such a public manner.”

Hank looks like the proverbial deer in headlights.

Fianna wobbles on her feet slightly, like someone just hit her over the head. “I … would be incredibly honored to do so, Your Majesty. I had no plans to return to where I originally came from, and this just confirms that this is where I should stay.” She turns to Marcella. “I guess I need to start working on my German for serious then.” Marcella chuckles quietly at that.

Zia says formally, “Thank you for your gracious invitation and acknowledgement of our particular skills. I am honored by the invitation, but I am afraid I must decline. My skills, and indeed, my own views of the Fae, are not ideal for the trials and honest wars of Summer, otherwise, any court run by such a noble lady would be my first choice.”

Hank shakes himself out of his paralysis and finally says “You do us a great honor, Your Majesty. However, when I first emerged here, I was instructed that the Freehold had developed this system with a specific eye to allowing each new Changeling the opportunity to spend a season in each Court. This would give them the time and experience to see where they would best belong. With your permission, I would like to complete that experience before I pledge to any Court.”

Kenna smiles at each of them in turn. “I accept your initial commitments, Marcella and Fianna, and look forward to taking your oath at the end of the games. Hank and ZiaZan, although it would be my pleasure to welcome you both should you choose.” At that she turns and leaves. Fianna flumps back into her chair heavily.

Benoit-Martin struggles his way to consciousness about two seconds after she leaves and asks the room, “What happened? Why is everyone so….quiet?”

The doctor attending him says, “Ah, well, Queen Kenna was just rather dramatic.” Marcella doesn’t respond to Benoit-Martin, still looking a little stunned. “Oh and … I don’t think you saw, but um … your weapon …” the doctor trails off as he offers the poor man the bits of his sword. Benoit-Martin looks sadly at it.

Zia pops in, “Umm … sorry, that, was necessary at the time … but I’ll fix it!” He nods sadly at her and Zia sweeps out of the room herself with the sword bits in hand.

Hank is very quiet after Kenna leaves. Marcella says quietly, so only Fianna and Hank can hear, “Well, that was unexpected.”

Hank shakes himself again. “What will that mean for the team? We are supposed to process to Autumn Court shortly.”

One of the doctors says, “That’s fine, won’t affect the team at all. Just means that two members have already pledged to a court. Autumn will still do their thing.”

“Oh … that’s good,” Marcella says to the doctor, not having quite thought of that.

“Even if the leader of one of the groups under their aegis is already pledged to a different court?” Hank seems dubious.

Another doctor pipes in, “Most groups who work together—motley or no—are usually made up from members of multiple courts anyways.”

Hank sighs, “That is good to know.”

The first doctor adds, “In other places it might be a problem, if the courts are antagonistic to each other. But here, the courts trade primary power each season and mostly work together.” Marcella wonders about the “mostly,” but doesn’t ask right now. She also tells Iris and Amy what happened with Kenna once they get out of medical.


On August 6th, the Labyrinth takes place in a separate place in the Hedge. Contestants are allowed to bring whatever items they wish with them. The event begins at 2pm.

Iris brings herself, clothes, her rifle, a rope, a knife, and an umbrella, as well as a mirror, pencil, and notebook. She is wearing black trousers, a black jacket, a violet shirt, and black and violet shoes. She has no magic items apart from armor and rifle. Amy just brings her knife and her new and improved bracelet (and clothes of course). Hank checks in on time, kitted out with all of his magic bits and bobs, in case they might be useful. He decides to wear his uniform from the Lambswool match, since he might as well keep the boost from it. He also brings a coil of rope, a piece of mirror, his notebook and both pens and pencils. Zia has her normal equipment, the hunter’s compass, and an updated version of her Lambswool outfit. Fianna and Marcella are looking forward to being spectators.

The contestants arrive at the maze area at 1pm. The maze is carved out of the hedge and the entrance is next to a massive set of stands set high enough that people sitting there can get a vague sense of the maze. None of the contestants are allowed up there. Like in the dream matches, there is an old fashioned projector, but this time there is a one large screen and twenty smaller ones. About twenty feet from the entrance are two exits, each with a ribbon suspended across it. The contestants can’t see much of the maze, other than that it is made of viney hedgewalls. There is a thin mist just inside the entrance.

Amy is peering as far into the entrance as is allowed, curious. Iris has pencil and paper ready.

King Alter walks out to where the contestants are gathered. He smiles and announces, “Ah, the Labyrinth, the nod to those of us less inclined to cutting people up! Not that this event is for the faint of heart, of course! My court worked with Summer to give this maze the appropriate difficulty, and I do hope you enjoy it! The theme this year is Finding Your Way to the Future, and you will know that you are on the correct, established path when you continue to work your way forward in chronological, time-themed traps and touches. However, as usual, there is more than one path you can take and there is more than one single way to complete most of the paths which will work.”

Hank grins at Alter’s explanation, finally letting himself be excited by the event.

Alter continues, “The goal of the maze is to reach the center, pick one of two objects to be your proof of reaching the center, then choose one of two ways to exit the maze. Please make sure you do not drop, destroy, chuck, or otherwise damage the item you pick. You must have it on your person when you cross the finish line or you will have to go back and pick it up again.”

Iris is pretty sure this was a bad idea, but she did sign up. She really hopes she won’t have to do anything too athletic, even if she did bring a rope. Hopefully at least her history knowledge will help her out, even if she’s not sure asking dead people will be of any help whatsoever.

Several of the other contestants are familiar to them. Erik is there, looking as cheeky and cheerful as ever. Phthonos is brooding in a corner, and if he noticed them, he’s certainly ignoring them. Anastasia Bleakness is there, elegant in a lovely practical overjacket and skirt and having some sort of conversation with Lucien, the gravewight whom she defeated in the dream matches. Nearby, Mircalla, Amy’s opponent, seems to be running through a mental checklist of sorts. An androgynous changeling made of glass turns out to be Prism, one of Marcella and Fianna’s first opponents. Satsuki Paperweaver and Vlad Warbeck, the paper elemental and beast combo who were so deadly effective in the pairs match, are also there, talking to each other quietly in a corner. The woman with mouse features who won the sharpshooting competition is checking her equipment, and Brooke, one of the willow tree Salix sisters who fought Iris and Marcella, is looking a little out of her depth.

Amy looks excited to see the other dream competitors, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Iris waves at the willow sister, but looks a little out of her depth too, apart from the usual nervousness. Hank’s eyes narrow a bit at Phthonos, but he nods amicably at several of the others.

“Each of you will be given a badge with a historical figure on it, which we will use to track your progress through the maze and rescue you if you should truly require it. You can request to be rescued at any time by pressing the red button on the badge,” Alter explains. “Now, on to the rules! One: you cannot harm any other contestants on purpose. If another contestant is hurt, potentially by your actions, we will adjudicate it, losing you about one minute in time.”

Hank is hoping that the history does not get too close to present day, as he is still catching up. He shoots another look at Phthonos at the comment about not harming anyone.

“Two: you may use whatever you wish – abilities, contracts, items – except the first Dream contract, as that would make this faaaar too easy. Three: the first person out who is carrying their item from the center wins. Prizes will also be awarded to the second, third, and the person determined to conquer the maze in the fashion most pleasing to the audience.” Alter also lets them know that the badges will serve to accelerate their glamour acquisition from the Hedge, as this is potentially a glamour intensive event. They will regain one glamour per minute. “Does anyone have any questions?” he asks.

Amy and Hank shake their heads. Iris doesn’t speak up. She’s certain she’ll never win, but it sound harmless enough so far, and she won’t have to shoot anyone either. Just watch her step and not get lost. Zia nods and smiles. She thinks that this sounds like fun and winning, well, that isn’t that important … though … she would like to win … but working her way through this will be awesome.

As no one has questions, Alter says, great! Let’s pick our badges shall we?" He picks up a box that was at his feet. “Who is first?”

Phthonos pushes his way to the front. Alter picks a badge out and hands it to Phthonos. He gets Adolf Hitler.

Iris is next and she gets Michelangelo. She’s happy enough with that, examining it closer as she walks away. Amy is next and she gets Freud. Amy has no idea who he is. Hank explains who Freud is to Amy in a whisper. Hank gets Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He is quite pleased with his badge, and smirks at Phthonos. Zia gets Queen Victoria.

Erik gets James Cook, Anastasia gets John Locke, Lucien gets William the Conqueror, Mircalla gets Phillip II of Spain, Prism gets Cicero, Satsuki gets Charles V, HRE, Vlad gets Ronald Reagan, Samantha gets John Calvin, and Brooke gets Oscar Wilde.

The badges are simple, with a label and picture of the historical figure, a richly colored stone that seems to glow slightly, and a red emergency button. They attach firmly to their clothing, and Mircalla, who has participated previously, tells everyone that the badges will not fall off short of stripping off their clothing.

Iris attaches hers to her sleeve. Amy puts hers just under the neckline of her shirt. Zia fastens her badge with a smile for who will be representing her in this game. Hank puts his on the breast of his uniform, where a badge or team symbol would typically go on a footie jersey.

After everyone has picked, Alter smiles at everyone, “Good luck! The game will begin in about half an hour, please feel free to take a seat over here.” He gestures at the simple set of about twenty chairs in front of the stands.

Zia takes a seat at one end of the rows of chairs. Amy sits in a random chair in the middle. Iris gravitates towards Zia near the end. Hank looks surprised to see Zia and Amy sitting in different places, but goes to sit with Amy, since Iris is with Zia. The other contestants wander over to the chairs willy nilly.

Marcella and Fianna arrive in the stands, and Marcella climbs the stands as she examines as much of the maze as she can see. Fianna whistles as she gets a good look at it. “Impressive.”

“Seriously,” Marcella agrees.

Everyone, including the contestants, can tell it is a circular maze. Marcella and Fianna can see that the maze is fairly complex, has sections that are entirely roofed over in vines, that there are waterfalls, fire, ice, pits, and lots of things they can’t quite make out. The maze walls are hedgevines, and about twenty feet tall. The stands are starting to fill up.

Hank takes out his notebook and draws a circle as large as the page, marking the entrance and two exits at the bottom. He uses the next four pages to draw a quarter of a circle on each, so he can mark things out it more detail if needed.

Iris does much the same. She also draws a grid on her page and checks on her gun periodically. She works on refining her grid and trying to estimate how large the maze is overall.

Hank uses an extra page to draw a series of concentric circles, but he cannot really tell how deep the paths will be, so he gets annoyed with trying to estimate. He is definitely fidgety, given too much time to wait. He turns to another page and proceeds to write down everything he can observe about the labyrinth (not much), every historical period he can think of in order (missing some, dramatically Euro-centric), and finally, just for something to do, everything he can think of about Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Zia waits patiently.

Iris activates her ghost vision. She sees two hobgoblin ghosts haggling over a brooch. There are also about five ghost chickens pecking and walking about. One of them walks up to Iris and sits at her feet. Iris is just bored enough to pet the chicken, while scrutinizing the hobs. The ghost chicken makes a contented clucking noise. The hobs are not doing anything special aside from clearly both trying to out-cheat the other. They look very much like the hobs that Vogelfrei fought during one of their earlier missions – traditionally goblin-like.

Out of spite, and given the opportunity to regather his glamour so rapidly, Hank activates Witches’ Intuition on Phthonos. He learns the Phthonos fears losing the armor between himself and the world.

Their friend the announcer’s voice comes over the speakers. “Good afternoon ladies and gents, children and goblins, WELCOME to the Labyrinth 2013!!!!!!! The theme this year is Finding Your Way to the Future, and we have quite a few contestants ready to match their minds and bodies against the maze designed in no small part by King Alter himself!”

The crowd cheers wildly.

“The contestants will enter one by one, spaced by about one minute, but will be timed to ensure that this will not disadvantage anyone in terms of being the first one out. The contestants will go in by who has the oldest historical figure on their badge.”

Hank begins rapidly mentally sorting the contestants by their order of entry. He gets tripped up trying to figure out if he is before or after Erik. Iris has no clue who everyone else got, but thinks she might be in the earlier half to third, maybe even be second or third. In the end she settles on probably third, maybe fourth.

“I will be assisted today, thankfully, by none other than his majesty, King Alter of the Autumn court,” the announcer adds. “Without further ado, let us begin! Cicero!”

Prism steps forward, takes a quick assessing glance at the entrance, and then disappears into the mist of the entrance.

“Contestants, please come and stand forward near the entrance, so that we may turn on the screens, but not spoil you!” the announcer requests. Alter gestures for everyone to stand and move towards the entrance. Zia stands and walks elegantly to about ten feet from the entrance. Hank takes up a position at a similar distance. Amy walks forward. Iris gives the chicken one last pet and moves towards the entrance with considerably less grace than Zia. The chicken follows, and in fact moves out in front of Iris. It looks excited, for a chicken. She kneels down and keeps petting it, seeing as she has little else to do, even if she’ll be up soon enough. It’s soothing somehow.

The rest of the contestants move forward, and they hear an “oooh, aaaah” from the crowd as the screens flick on.

“Next up! William the Conqueror! Lucien!” the announcer calls. Lucien steps to the entrance, gives the crowd a quick bow and Alter a nod, and enters the maze.

About one minute later, “The great artist, Michelangelo! Iris of Vogelfrei!” The chicken squawks excitedly and runs before Iris into the maze. Iris gets up and steps into the entrance uncertainly, bringing up her notepad as both a shield and tool, ready to start marking a path and counting steps.

Once Iris gets through the initial wave of mist, she can see that she has two choices: to go left or straight. The mist seems to be heavier going straight. To the left she can hear what sounds like a motor revving.

Iris turns right, and from there she proceeds very evenly, carefully but not too slowly, until she spots a fork or anything unusual, marking any turn she meets and putting down step numbers. She keeps her eyes open and makes sure she avoids stepping on anything unusual.

After Iris turns, she comes to a point where she can either go straight or take one of two lefts. Standing in the middle of the straight path appears to be a woman in grey robes pointing to the second left path. The first left path looks to open on a small courtyard, the second left path to a larger courtyard in which is a massive pair of ramps, and at the top of each is a car.

Iris moves towards the cars, marking her movements on the makeshift map. Emblazoned on the ramps are these words: “Two cars, two futures. Your choice, your future. Try to leave the maze.” The cars are these: PresidentFirstCar.jpg

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She moves toward the second car. The first car is on ramp facing left and the second on the ramp facing right. There are steps up to the cars. She walks up to the car and has a look whether there’s anything inside, if she drive it, and what is at the bottom of the ramp. Iris sees that the inside of the car is a normal car. At the bottom of the ramp are more vines and hedgewalls.

As Iris is contemplating this, Satsuki rushes past her, reads the riddle and picks the first car. She sits in it, hits the pedal, and goes to the left.

Iris shrugs, gets into the other car, and goes right. At the bottom of the ramp, she goes about ten feet and comes to the choice to go left or right. From one direction she hears occasional explosions, from the other a strange swooshing noise. It sounds like a rotating door but with vines involved.

She tries to drive the car towards the explosions, but it stops moving at the bottom of the ramp, and does not fit down the path. She walks towards the explosions instead.

The chicken looks sadly and pecks at her as she goes towards the explosions. She actually turns around because she really isn’t sure, and heads towards the swooshing noise, a bit faster.

The chicken perks up and walks a little ways towards the swooshing. As they walk through a few switchbacks, the swooshing noise gets louder. As Iris reaches one of the switchbacks, she finds the source of the noise. A section of the walls are rotating very rapidly. There are two small sections and one large section, and it looks much like a rotating door, but hedgy. She can also choose to walk past them to the right.

Iris can tell that that door is rotating waaaay too fast for her physical abilities. Nothing is obvious to stop it – no levers or funny vines, etc. She walks past examining it closely, but doesn’t see anything new.

There is one more switchback, and then Iris comes to a small door and a panel with three colored keys behind glass. The door is engraved with the words, “The world is dull without some contrast. Am I right?” The handle and lock are yellow. The keys are behind glass, which looks breakable. They are orange, blue, and purple.

Iris step back a few paces and takes a shot with her rifle. She breaks the glass, but also destroys all the keys (the panel was very small).

She shoots the lock on the door and smashes it entirely. However, the door does not open, and seems to be magically held shut. She tries rubbing the lock with her hand, but the door continues to be magically shut. Nothing is clearly holding it in place. She rubs the sleeve of her violet shirt over the remains of the lock in frustration, and the door opens.

She’s a little pissed off and confused, but steps through. Iris makes a mental note that not everything inanimate can be shot with impunity. The ghost chicken hops through behind her, glaring at the rifle. It makes bang noises. Once she steps through, she closes the door behind her.

Marcella chuckles a bit at how Iris got through that puzzle. “That’s one way to do it,” she comments to Fianna.


The announcer calls, “Next up! Rousseau! Dr. Hank!”

Hank walks deliberately into the maze. He’s got his notebook out and is counting paces in his head. He’s not walking slowly, though, just in a measured way. Hank can see that he has two choices: he can either go straight (into more mist) or turn right towards the sound of motors revving.

Hank pauses to quickly note the right hand turn, but decides that motors are potentially not right if they’re starting in the past, so goes straight.

The path quickly takes an abrupt left turn and then goes upwards, essentially to the left of where he just entered. Hank sees a deep bank of hot rocks, roiling with steam generated by a small waterfall. He draws a line that attempts to be approximately to scale as he continues on the path, and draws a circle where he thinks the rocks are. He also notices that there seems to be a path through the center of the rocks that is generating less steam.

Hank moves forward and tries stepping onto the path. It is hot, but bearable. The path is slightly too small for Hank to be comfortable, but it seems passable. Hank uses Transfigure the Flesh to shrink down one size and maneuver the path more easily.

Hank gets through the rather hot rock path, which is about five yards long, and breaks free to a heavily misted corridor. He takes a few seconds to make a few quick notes about the path and proceeds down the corridor. After about forty feet, the corridor comes to a dead end.

Hank quickly puts an X at the end of the path, about-faces, and crosses quickly back. He comes to the starting point in the maze again and goes to the right. His choices are then to go straight (past the lady in grey pointing left), to take the first left into a small courtyard, or to take the second left into a larger courtyard where the motor noises are coming from.

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Game 47: The Lambswool Final

Summary

Team Vogelfrei competes in the four on four Lambswool finals against the Fighting Fish of Normandy. After a strong start from Fianna right out of the gate, they win the match handily.

Log

Four days after Fianna’s dramatic defeat in boxing, on 8/3/13, the team reassembles at the Arena for the final Lambswool match of the Games. The final had previously been scheduled for two days prior, but the doctors pronounced Fianna unable to compete—despite protests from the subject of the discussion—and the game schedule was shuffled to make allowances. The Lambswool team, as always, have been allowed a small room to prepare and plan for a short period.

Amy, in the stands, is trying to determine whether she is going to watch or not. Iris isn’t participating, but feeling weird at the sidelines. She is still going to watch though.

Fianna is there early. She looks none the worse for wear—she has no scars or indications of massive trauma. She is carrying a biscuit for Hank. Marcella is looking tense but excited as she gears up. She also has some food “borrowed” from breakfast for Hank. Zia looks determined, grumpy and a bit worried. She hands Hank a chocolate. As the girls get dressed, she fusses over their uniforms.

Hank has brought pastries for the rest of the teams. He shrugs about it, but it’s clear he feels a little awkward about the catch on his contract. Marcella happily eats a pastry. Zia takes a pastry as well. Fianna takes a pastry, but she isn’t speaking.

Hank changes rapidly when the dressing room is free, tucking his bracelet, and coin into the pockets and pulling on the cestuses.

Zia asks, “So, do we have a strategy this time?”

“They’ll be expecting that throw maneuver, Fianna. We shouldn’t use it this time,” Hank replies. Marcella nods in agreement. Fianna nods.

“Fianna, I think you and I should charge forward together to try and get to their Lamb. Hopefully I can engage anyone who tries to stop us while you push through. Hank, we may need you to come engage attackers with us, depending on their strategy,” Marcella suggests. “Zia is quite well protected by the bamboo sword and her guns.”

Hank has researched their opponents, and knows that they are facing the Fighting Fish of Normandy of the Mont Saint-Michel freehold, the French team that was incredibly fast and had their three offensive players changing roles quickly and on the fly. He knows that the team’s Lamb, Gilles, is highly skilled at participating in combat from his circle, wielding a whip and throwing knives. There is something a little off about the info about him, like Hank is missing something. The other members of the team are a Moonborn with the ability to give other temporary madness, an Airtouched who is fast and hard to hit, and a scorpion Venombite who often takes more actions than it seems can be accounted for.

Hank relays what he knows to the group. “Watch out for the Moonborn’s abilities, in particular,” he says. “But somehow I think that our main problem is going to be Gilles. It does not matter if they cannot get to Zia, if we also cannot take him, no?”

Marcella cracks her knuckles and grimaces. “It’s true, he sounds tricky. Then again, I thought the same thing about Cloata, and look what happened there.” She grins encouragingly around the circle. “Whatever happens, this is our last Lambswool match, so let’s give it everything we’ve got!”

Hank is finding the entirely situation oddly surreal. He shrugs, “Mais, oui.” He still thinks they’re all going to die. But he also recognizes that this was true last time and they didn’t. He’s also got it in his mind to keep an eye on Fianna, he wants to make sure she’s actually all the way okay to compete. He actually looks more relaxed than he did last time.

Fianna flexes her hand into a fist briefly but doesn’t say anything.

Zia sigh, “All of you, just…don’t do anything stupid, alright? And I’ll be shooting explosives all over the field at them, don’t worry.”

Marcella grins. “That’s the spirit! Let’s go get ’em!”

They hear the signal to get ready to enter the arena.

“Allons-y,” says Hank.

Marcella stands ready by the entrance. Zia sets her shoulders and thinks to herself, “When in doubt, revenge towels.” She mutters a prayer under her breathe.

“Gooooood afternoon ladies and gentleman, hobs and hobgoblins, children and babysitters. Are you ready for a match between one of the best teams in all of France and our up and coming, homegrown team? I am so excited, let me tell you! Will Vogelfrei be crushed or will the Fighting Fish find that they have bitten off more than they can chew? This is the finals, yes, the FINALS of the 4 on 4 lambswool match for the year! The winners will be crowned the champions of this year’s competition,” the announcer says, with so much bubble in his voice, oh dear god.

Amy decides that she is going to at least start off watching, since it is such an important match and all.

Hank’s face is somewhere between a moue and a snarl. He likes the announcer less and less. Marcella still looks excited and tense. Fianna’s face is unreadable but very intense.

“First! I give you the Aachen Vogelfrei! The newcomers who have stunned the Arena with their impressive successes! Individuals have had a few rough days, thus the slight delay of this match. First, I give you their leader! Her ivory crown names her the Queen of Fighters, the ivory blade that seeks your heart! I give you Marcella Boneblade!”

Marcella strides out onto the field, grinning fiercely and waving to Iris, Amy, and any particularly loud sections of cheers.

“Next, please welcome the fast and furious star of punching your face right off! She is lovely, but don’t even think of commenting on it! I give you FiAAAANA Starfist!”

Hank actually snorts a laugh at that, despite himself. Iris stands up cheering a little awkwardly as they enter the field. She still has a pencil clutched in her fingers and feels very out of place. Amy cheers from her seat. She has a small bag at her feet, and the corner of a sketchbook is peeking out.

Fianna walks out on to the field, eyes blazing, no smile on her face, to join Marcella. She does not even acknowledge the announcer.

“Please put your paws together for the good doctor of Vogelfrei! With his strength, size, and speed, this man can pull anyone over that line! I give you Dr. HAAAAAANK!”

Hank walks out. He’s smiling, and he nods to the monarch’s box and where the team is sitting, but otherwise doesn’t really interact with the crowd.

“Finally, I give you the fiery scintillating princess of Vogelfrei. She is angry, she is crafty, she is going to joyfully explode her enemies. Let’s hear it for ZiAAAAzAAAN!!”

Zia stalks out onto the sands and lines up next to Hank. She doesn’t acknowledge the cheers or the crowd at all except to wave at Iris and Amy’s general direction.

“And now for the other team. Please welcome the Fighting Fish of Normandy! The team that took down the Crown Team of England, the Hyderabad Hurricanes and the Dancing Queens of Stockholm!”

Hank hums ABBA under his breath.

“First, please put your hands together for the poisonous grace of the Scorpion leader of the Fighting Fish. Raised on Mont-Saint-Michel, she didn’t quite absorb the monkly concept of peace … but she did absorb an Inquisition-like view of having the last word. I give you Lucille Abbadie, Desertkiller!” the announcer says.

“The Inquisition was in Spain, you dolt,” Hank mutters. Fianna actually smirks a little at that.

A scorpion Venombite with sharp nails and a short tail with a little spike on it stalks out gracefully onto the sands. She is of moderate size and her hair and skin are shiny, hard and a mottled brown color. Her punch daggers are already in her hands. She walks to stand in front of Marcella and gives her a look up and down. Marcella gives Lucille a curt nod and looks her up and down as well, arms crossed.

“Their next member is an infamous seer and her renown as a fast, dirty fighter cannot be discounted! Please welcome Julienne Mossé, Caller of the Colors!” he says.

A slight woman wearing black leathers and carrying a scythe comes out. Her strangely purple-white eyes seem off and she has a smile on her face as she walks out onto the sands. She walks up to her appointed place opposite Fianna, and as she comes into place, laughs just a little. “Ah, Starfist, do your injuries still pain you?”

“I don’t know, do yours?” Fianna says flatly. “Oh. I’m sorry; I must be thinking about later this afternoon.” Julienne’s face twists from a mocking smile into a snarl, and she fingers the pole of her scythe thoughtfully. Fianna pointedly ignores her.

“Cassé!” Hank says, just loud enough for Julienne to hear. Marcella smirks at Fianna’s commentary.

“Breeze is a fickle friend, unlike all of you of course, but this young man’s friendship with the wind is unparalleled! A man of his word, he is the strong support for his more volatile teammates, please give a scream for Benoît-Martin Jacquard, Breezechild,” the announcer says.

A man, a boy really, who seems so slight that any breeze would blow him away, walks out onto the sands to stand opposite Hank. He seems supernaturally drained of color except for complex blue and green tattoos that flow on top his skin with the breezes around him. The contrast between Hank and Benoît-Martin is quite intense. Hank gives Benoît-Martin a polite nod, as if he had not just been riling his teammate. He returns the nod respectfully.

Iris has sat back down, scribbling without looking at her paper.

“And our final contestant for this match is the Lamb of the Fighting Fish. A lamb so skilled he has only been pulled over the line 4 times in all of their official matches. I give you Gilles Batteux the Determined!!!!!!” the announcer says with glee.

A tall man with wild fiery hair and red fluff covering him walks out onto the sands carefully, without much sense of the dramatic. He carries a whip in his hands and throwing knives in a harness on his torso. He walks to stand opposite Zia.

Once all of their opponents are on the field, Marcella draws her onyx sword, thickens her bone plating armor, and adds her wyrd to her health. Hank figures it is not a surprise anymore, so he takes Fianna’s hat and activates his mirror contract in advance of the battle starting. He grows to the size of a bear.

Ritter Rime comes onto the field. He looks at both teams carefully. “This is the finals. We expect you to behave with the appropriate decorum due the match. Do both teams promise to fight a fair fight and not harm the lambs?”

Marcella nods. “Vogelfrei makes this promise,” she says formally.

Lucile says carefully, “Indeed, we do.”

Hank cocks an amused look at Gilles, and thinks, “I think we should be more worried about him harming us, non?”

“Then take your places!” Ritter Rime commands.

Marcella moves to her now-usual spot at the front of Vogelfrei’s side of the field. Hank is arrayed a little further forward than he has been in previous matches, as is Fianna. Zia stands in her spot, unfolds a stand from her belt and put the guns in it so she can pull them up without bending over, and puts the bamboo sword in her hands.

Gilles moves to the Lamb’s circle. Lucile moves to stand at the exact center, just over the line. Julienne and Benoît-Martin move to stand about 1/3rd of the way down their side.

Ritter Rime says, “Go!” and a bell rings.

Zia starts the match by summoning her bamboo hut. This time it has three little holes for her to shoot through, and it can take 9 damage and will heal 1 damage per 3 turns.

Fianna starts the match by activating her strength contract and launching herself with a punch straight at Julienne. Fianna’s fist slams into Julienne’s face with an audible impact and cracking noises. Julienne is thrown back several feet onto the ground.

Martin moves, and quickly dashes past both Marcella and Hank and a fair ways past, well on his way to Zia.

Gilles does nothing, but he is tense and watching the action in front of him very closely.

Lucille slashes her sharpened fingernails across Marcella’s cheek, and the cut starts throbbing mercilessly. Marcella very shortly does not feel well.

Marcella reaches up to her necklace and activates her bone shard contract, then lunges forward and slices a shallow cut across Lucille’s side.

Hank bowls into Lucille, attempting to knock her down. Lucille tumbles to the ground.

Julienne spends her turn getting up. She is scarily angry.

Zia shoots Benoît-Martin with the explody gun. The explosive sticks to his chest firmly.

Fianna activates her strength contract again and delivers a gut-punch to Julienne. Julienne drops to the ground, her scythe clattering as it hits.

Martin, having seen what the sticky bombs do, does his best to try and wrench the sticky bomb off. It does not come off, and now his hand is stuck to the bomb. He moves closer to Zia, right next to the bamboo hut.

Gilles is still observing, and not doing anything. Lucille stands up.

Marcella bulks up under the effects of the strength contract, then lunges for Lucille again. Lucille takes a nasty cut across the ribs and stumbles a bit.

Hank attempts to knock Lucille down again, and she falls down again, looking very frustrated.

As Zia readies herself, the bomb on Benoît-Martin goes off, and as he is on top of the bamboo hut, it takes damage as well. Zia shoots him with the laser gun, as he is now so close. Martin looks very hurt, but starts attacking the bamboo hut furiously. The hut begins splintering and cracking and crumbles to the ground. Zia is now exposed.

Fianna starts sprinting for GIlles. He aims a throwing knife at Fianna, and it strikes her shoulder.

Lucille stands up … barely. Marcella goes for Lucille again, but barely gets through her armor. Lucille drops.

Hank lifts Marcella, who’s directly next to him, and throws her at Benoît-Martin’s back. As he lifts Marcella, he grabs her little cap as well. Hank is now bigger than a polar bear with two tiny tiny hats perched on his head. Then he runs towards Fianna and Gilles.

Marcella looks slightly surprised, but goes with it. She lands on Martin in a heap, knocking him over and pinning him to the ground. His breath whooshes out and he sighs as he falls unconscious. Hank looks startled. “Oops?” he says as he starts to run.

Marcella grins up at Zia. “Hey. Told you we’d keep you safe.”

There’s a shout from the crowd. “That’s not very docterly!” It seems to be in good humor.

Zia smiles at Marcella, a smile that morphs to something a little meaner as she reaches over, touches Benoît-Martin’s rapier and the blade falls apart as it rusts rapidly.

Fianna continues running. Gilles throws another knife. It misses, but only just. Hank continues running towards Gilles, and is now just behind Fianna.

Marcella stands up, brushing off the sand. Zia summons her bamboo hut again. It can take four damage this time, and has three holes to shoot through.

Fianna runs some more, and arrives just outside Gilles’ circle. He pulls out his whip and lashes it at Fianna’s feet, tripping her up and knocking her to the ground. Hank is running as well, and is just outside the circle now. Fianna stands up. Gilles attempts to hit her with the whip again, but she sidesteps it.

Marcella takes off running towards Gilles’ circle as well, but Zia yells, “Marcella, come here and let me touch your sword!”

Marcella turns around and runs back to Zia. “You’re not going to rust my sword too, right?” she asks suspiciously, but holds it out anyway.

“Marcella, no, I am not. This sword will be stronger for the rest of the fight,” Zia says, and lets go of the sword. It somehow looks much sharper and sturdier.

Marcella examines the blade appreciatively. “Nice.”

Hank attempts to grab Gilles, but instead over-balances and falls over, narrowly missing squishing Gilles.

Fianna uses her strength contract and tries to grapple Gilles. She manages to get her arms around him and drag him a short ways outside the circle. Hank gets up.

Marcella heads for Gilles again. Zia is waiting to see what happens.

Gilles tries to get out of Fianna’s hold and doesn’t manage it. Fianna starts dragging him across the arena floor. Gilles bites Fianna and crunches down on her shoulder. Fianna grimaces as she starts bleeding heavily, but does not let go.

Hank runs over to Fianna and Gilles, scoops both of them up, and turns to run back towards the line. Fianna squawks in indignation but tightens her hold on Gilles just in case. Gilles struggles, biting deep into Hank’s arm and wrenching it with his teeth.

Marcella and Hank both run towards the center line. Hank is nearly to the middle. Gilles tries to pull free, but can’t manage it. Fianna also keeps her arms wrapped around Gilles. Gilles tries to bite Hank’s arm again, but his teeth snap on empty air.

Marcella keeps running, though she has slowed slightly seeing that Hank has it well under control.

Hank runs as hard as he can, and gets over the line. He sets Gilles and Fianna gently on the ground.

A bell chimes and Ritter Rime comes out to the center of the field and waves a flag. The crowd gasps and cheers. In among the cheers, there are a few “Queen’s Dogs” yells, but also the response of “Shut up!”

Marcella is grinning triumphantly and offers high fives all around (once she dismisses her bone shards). Fianna takes her up on it. She’s grinning fiercely.

Zia asks the hut to go away and walks to the center. "Wow … but you know, let’s not do this again, alright?’

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Game 46: The battling continues

Summary

Over the course of several days, the members of Vogelfrei fight in several matches. Marcella wins a weaponry singles match against Erik Layton, then she and Fianna barely defeat Vlad Warleck and Satsuki Paperweaver in a bloody no-holds-barred match. Amy gets very upset that Marcella is grievously injured in that match. Marcella loses a weaponry singles match to Gladius, Margrave of the Brim, and she and Fianna defeat Lila Lacewing and Acorn Bramble in no-holds-barred doubles. Fianna places third overall in the knife-throwing competition, and then is almost killed in her boxing match.

Log

This is 7/26, the 12th day of the games. Hank has given up on watching in the stands, and has instead gotten himself assigned to the medical teams for all of the remaining matches. Marcella’s weaponry match is in the late morning.

“Welcome, once again to the field of battle! Today we’ve got our weaponry singles – always a nice showing here – and a great pairing to boot! Today we have one of our newest up-and-comers, Marcella Boneblade! She had a bit of a rough patch yesterday, let’s see what she’s got to give today! Fighting against her is another of our young ones, Erik Layton!” A slight, rangy young man with disheveled hair, and easy smile, and a monkey tail strolls onto the field, wearing armor that appears to be made of wooden slats and carrying a long, metal-tipped pole.

Marcella nods to him, assessing his equipment and appearance. Erik uses his staff to tip an imaginary hat at Marcella and gives her a dazzling grin. She raises her eyebrows and gives him a small smile back. He looks pleased, and then twirls his staff and settles back into a lazy-looking crouch. Marcella draws her sword, and her skin thickens into bone plating. She also adds her wyrd to her health for the battle.

“Begin!” The announcer’s voice rings out.

In the stands, Zia is working on a set of towels on making a set of revenge towels. They are coming out very well.

Using his staff as leverage, Erik springs up, and then sweeps at Marcella’s legs with the heavy metal tip, cutting into her leg. Marcella grabs her necklace and activates her bone shard contract, gaining another point of armor. She lunges forward and gets her sword in past his staff.

Erik’s eyebrows rise at the cut, but he does not stop smiling. Dancing back, he twirls his staff and whispers something – she’s not sure what – and then leaps forward once again in a quick downward strike at Marcella’s head. It connects hard.

Amy is watching the fight, looking curious. She gasps at the head strike. Zia harrumphs and mutters something about handsome men. Hank paces.

Looking unfazed, Marcella’s sword darts back towards him, but it doesn’t seem to want to hit him. Marcella bulks up under the influence of the strength contract, but still only gets in a scratch. Erik is still smiling, actually laughing a bit as the strike connects. He flips back into range and strikes at Marcella’s ribs, again cutting deep.

Amy says to Zia, “He’s fun, but I still want Marcella to win.”

“Of course! Marcella should always win when possible, if she must engage in this …. farce,” Zia agrees

Marcella looks pissed as hell, and growls, using the strength contract again. With a yell, she gets through his defenses, scoring a deep cut down his leg.

He looks … less smiley about that hit, and his next shot is almost desperate, and aimed at her throat. It connects, but doesn’t do a lot of damage.

“Ooh, nasty shot,” Fianna murmurs, leaning forward. Zia gasps at the shot to the throat and stabs her needle through the stretched fabric in the hoop. Hank mutters.

Amy frowns, “I don’t like how he aims…”

Marcella feels nauseous, but still aims another thrust at him, looking determined. She punctures clean through his shoulder with a small, precise stab.

Still grinning, though it’s a slightly nauseous, pained grin, he topples, the blade sliding out of his shoulder as his weight descends. She hears a faint, “Nice strike you got there, luv,” before he lapses into unconsciousness.

Marcella blinks down at him, grins faintly, then raises a fist in victory. The audience cheers, as the announcer … announces … Marcella’s victory.

Fianna lets out a whoop as Marcella’s opponent falls. Zia cheers, in a sudden, oh it is over way and says to herself, “Well, I guess he doesn’t need one of these.” Amy takes a closer look at Zia’s towels, curious about what she means. She sees a towel embroidered with Aachen Summer Games and a lovely flame pattern, nothing suspicious.

The medical team dashes out, complete with a Hank. Hank has already discussed with the rest of the team that he’s going to be leading triage on his teammates, so he’s in the group that splits off for Marcella. Marcella waves cheerfully at Hank when he comes up to examine her.

Hank notices that Marcella has heavy bruising in the hollow of her throat and is bleeding from a scalp wound. The scalp wound is messy and large, but thankfully not too deep, and the throat wound looks very nasty, but Marcella is still breathing fine, which indicates that there is likely no damage to her windpipe that would be irreparable.

Marcella insists on walking off the field. Hank allows it, since she doesn’t have a damaged windpipe or artery/vein. She does keep her conversation with Hank to a whisper for the moment to avoid hurting her throat. She is taken off the field, largely supervised by Hank. He is very much in ‘doctor mode’, talking mainly in medical jargon (his third language) to the rest of the team, but simultaneously keeping close track of Marcella’s status/health situation.

Once Erik and Marcella are settled in their respective beds, Erik flirts at her, Marcella flirts back, and Hank is uncomfortable. Hank fidgets and ‘hem haw’s his way through the entire exchange, mostly attempting to ignore them.


The next day (7/27), no one has any events in the morning, but the first part of the duel-by-night matches start. That afternoon, the group has the worst seats they have had the whole Games. They are in tippy top back row.

“Welcome back to the fights, my bloodthirsty friends! This afternoon we are returning to the no-holds barred doubles, for some fun and violent~ combinations! In the one corner we have force and grace combined as a team, but which one’s which? The ever surprising Vlad Warleck and Satsuki Paperweaver!” A large beast man with bear, wolf, and boar features wearing an impeccably tailored outfit steps out, followed by a willowy, grainy-skinned woman dressed in an elaborate outfit that appears to be made entirely of paper.

“And now, the pair that have been tearing up the arena floor with their wins, losses, and certainly their personalities, Vogelfrei’s Valkyries, Marcella Boneblade and Fianna Starfist!” The look Fianna gives the box is pure venom, and they swear they can hear a muted chuckle, as if someone has their hands over the microphone.

Hank is finding himself less and less pleased with the announcer. The rest of the medical team sees him launch a baleful stare at the announcer box and mouth “Vogelfrei’s Valkyries?”

Zia starts work on another set of revenge towels. Amy looks confused. “What’s a Valkyrie?” she asks Zia, “and why does it make Fianna mad?”

Zia tells Amy, “Warrior women of Norse mythology who choose who dies in battle.” Now Amy looks even more confused.

Marcella snorts and glances at Fianna, amused at the strength of her reaction. “He’s got to just be fucking with you, at this point,” she mutters out of the corner of her mouth. When they reach the center of the arena, she nods to their opponents, sizing them up.

Vlad offers a bow, almost courtly, and produces a telescoping metal wand of sorts. Satsuki nods respectfully. Marcella draws her sword and activates her bone armor and seeming ability.

The match begins, and Fianna activates her strength contract and makes a strike for the bigger target. Her fist lands in Vlad’s gut, and a whoosh of air comes out of the larger man’s mouth.

Satsuki gracefully lifts her hand, and the paper that makes up her right sleeve lifts into the air, and levels itself like many floating knives at Marcella. The pieces of paper dart through the air like knives, slicing at Marcella relentlessly. A few of them fall to Marcella’s sword, but many others get through. Marcella is too busy trying to intercept Satsuki’s attack to act herself this round.

Zia gasps, “Oh dear, I don’t know that this will be a good match.” Hank, despite himself, is impressed with the paper thing.

Vlad whips out his telescoping wand and it lights up, crackling with electricity. He makes a strike at Fianna, and brushes across her forearm. Fianna winces. She responds by striking a fist against his cheekbone with the same arm he tased. Marcella hears something crack.

Satsuki spends her turn darting behind Vlad, pulling an actual knife from her other sleeve as she runs. She aims and throws at Marcella, but it goes wide.

Marcella activates her bone shard contract, bleeding angrily from dozens of cuts all over her body. In a blur of motion, she dodges around Vlad, and her sword bites deep into Satsuki’s ribs. Satsuki stumbles to the side a bit, holding her side, and very much in pain.

Vlad whirls around to where Marcella is, and gestures sharply at her. An oozing, inky blackness covers Marcella’s field of vision. Fianna punches Vlad in the stomach again. Vlad falls over unconscious, but the darkness over Marcella’s eyes does not disappear.

“But Marcella doesn’t need to see,” Amy says.

Satsuki raises her hand again, the other sleeve of her paper dress rising into the air and pointing to Marcella once again. The paper knives hit Marcella. The number of cuts covering Marcella more than doubles, and she collapses. The paper keeps hitting her as she goes down, and the sand under her is quickly soaking red.

Amy is fine until the knives continue hitting Marcella after she is down, at which point she covers her eyes and says, “No, no. Stop stop stopstopstop.” Zia stops any pretense of crafting and just stares. She mutters a prayer under her breath and puts a hand on Amy’s shoulder.

Hank begins a furious conversation about whether or not to pause the match immediately as the alert light begins flashing in the medical tunnel.

Fianna screams, a primal, angry shout of rage, and tackles Satsuki, driving a fist straight into the other woman’s face. Then she stands up, sides heaving, and Satsuki stays down, face bloody. For a moment it looks like Fianna might do something drastic, but she raises a fist in victory, and almost immediately brings it back down and runs to Marcella’s side.

The announcer says, “Fianna Starfist and Marcella Boneblade are the victors!!! That was a fast and bloody match indeed!”

Hank runs out onto the field, and Zia immediately dashes down to the medical bay. Amy uncovers her eyes, gets up, and runs down to the medical bay.

Marcella is bleeding out from innumerable small but deep cuts, some of which have nicked arteries. Hank successfully stabilizes her, and he and the medical team get everybody off the field. Fianna is still seething. Once the wounded and Hank arrive in the medical bay, Amy and Zia are only a few seconds behind them.

About half an hour later, after extensive medical care, the other team and Marcella are just waking up. Zia has spent this time semi-hovering over Marcella and making sure Fianna is alright. Fianna has been pacing, her hair smoking in intermittent puffs. When she realizes people are waking up, she begins marching purposefully towards the beds. Hank is currently at the other beds, since Marcella is totally stable.

“Marcella! Are you ok? I was so scared,” Amy says.

Marcella blinks for a minute, then looks over at Amy. “Hey Amy. I – think I’m good now? What happened after I went out?”

“She kept hitting you! Then Fianna hit her, but she should have hit her harder,” Amy replies.

Marcella perks up a little. “Oh, did we win?” She looks around to see if she can spot Fianna.

Amy walks over to stand between the beds of the two teams, watching and waiting for the other team to wake up.

Zia dashes over to Marcella, “Your color is getting better! As much as it ever does.” Marcella sticks her tongue out at her. “You were a very strange color before and you had all these cuts and DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN. We can be done with the Games now, right?” Zia says in a blur.

Fianna stops by Marcella’s bed. There are small tongues of blue and purple flame licking throughout her hair, and her black eyes are glittering with rage. “Are you okay?” she grates.

Marcella grins disarmingly. “Hey, I’m fine guys. Hank and the rest of the medical team have already patched me up. Did you see what Paperweaver did? That must have been elemental control; that was so cool!”

“Half your blood ended up on the sand. That’s not cool,” Fianna says flatly, and then whirls and begins stalking towards the other beds.

“Cool! You get bled out by goddamn paper and you think it is cool! I don’t even know what to do with you fighting types,” Zia huffs at her. Marcella grins weakly.

Amy marches over to Paperweaver when she sees her waking up, “She was down! She was down, she fell down and you kept hitting her. You’re not supposed to do that! She could have died! Fianna should have hit you more and – and and I hate you!” At Amy’s words, Zia turns towards Amy.

Fianna marches over to stand by Amy, and just says quietly. “You are very, very lucky that I know Marcella would have rather I stopped when I did.”

Hank, who had snapped his head up at Zia’s shout, rises sharply to his full height when Amy starts yelling. “Arrêtez vous!” he growls at them all. “My medical bay will be restful or my medical bay will be vacant.” Hank very rarely stands at his full height, so he is towering over them more than usual. In the corner the doctor actually in charge of the medical bay raises an eyebrow, but figures that Hank has this in hand.

Fianna just looks at him seriously, then speaks in a quiet voice. “Níl neart air anois, I suppose.” Then she marches herself out of the medical bay.

Amy’s eyes go wide, and she looks more alarmed than is called for. She rushes over to Marcella’s bed and says, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Don’t make her leave because of me.”

Satsuki lies in the bed, just conscious, and says, “Rest … yes, I think that would be best.” She kinda shrugs herself into the corner of the bed furthest from the Vogelfrei contingent.

Hank sighs heavily, coming over. “Amy, of course I would not remove Marcella, or anyone else still in need of healing. But even people we are angry with still deserve a quiet place to recover from injury.”

Marcella pats Amy’s hand comfortingly. “I’m fine, really.” Amy calms down.

Zia says under her breath, “The better to take them out ourselves later.”

Hank shoots a narrow-eyed gaze at Zia. “I heard that.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll wait till they are out of your medical bay. And … physical harm is so … mundane,” Zia says in a joking voice.

Marcella looks suspiciously at Zia. “The whole point of these Games is for people to hurt each other, Zia. Don’t punish them for doing what we both signed up for.”

Hank raises a single, sardonic eyebrow, then nods in agreement with Marcella. “Can no one take a joke? Besides, what can I do to such accomplished fighters?” Zia demurs. Hank’s second eyebrow joins his first in his level look at Zia.

“But she didn’t just do that, Marcella. You were unconscious and she kept hitting you and hitting you and you’re not supposed to do that.” Amy looks at Hank, “You’re not supposed to do that, are you?”

Hank turns to Amy, “According to my observation of Satsuki Paperweaver’s combat abilities, a single contract was employed to create and throw each set of paper shards. It is unlikely that, once she sent them, she could have disrupted the contract rapidly enough to make the difference. If she could have disrupted it at all, yes?” Hank throws a glance back at Satsuki.

Satsuki says, “No, I doubt I could have reacted quickly enough.” She then goes back to her pointed huddling/ignoring. Hank makes his way over to check on her and her partner.

Marcella mutters, “I really ought to learn that contract.”

Amy looks slightly suspicious, but mostly mollified.

Marcella tries to make polite conversation with their opponents once they are slightly more mobile, and apologizes for her teammates’ outbursts. She also compliments Satsuki on her effective use of the control elements contract. Satsuki and Vlad make small talk, though Satsuki seems a bit embarrassed. Marcella makes clear that she’s not holding a grudge.


The next morning (7/28), the team’s seats are much better than yesterday, though still not amazing. Zia is crafting a lovely larger scene of the Games with the team in it.

“Good morning, audience! How are you this lovely morning? Let’s start the morning off right with some nice, violent fights! Would you like that? I thought so! We’re starting today off with the weaponry singles, always a good showing! One of our competitors you may have heard of over the past few years, as he’s been making a name for himself! Please welcome Gladius, Margrave of the Brim!” A shout goes up as an unfamiliar changeling enters the arena. He appears to be made of metal, and is dressed much like a gladiator, and carries the sword that shares his name. “Fighting him today is Marcella Boneblade, who has certainly proven time and again this season that she won’t stay down!”

Marcella jogs out onto the field, waving to her team and any particularly loud cheers. When she reaches the center, she nods to Gladius and draws her onyx sword. The ivory sword is on her back in case she loses this sword.

Iris sighs and picks her notepad back up. It is currently filled with scribbles. “I’m kind of glad I’m done with those things…”

Zia sighs, “I wish I was done…” Amy is carefully sculpting, and just as carefully not watching the match.

Hank whispers to the med team, “So, what this story on this guy?”

The slender woodborn, Atalia, replies, “Gladius? Oh, he is incredibly fast and he doesn’t hold back at all. He or the other person go down with a few minutes of the match starting. Pretty gracious opponent though.”

Gladius nods back at Marcella, all professional. There is a heartbeat of silence, and then the announcer calls: “Begin!”

Gladius makes a quick lunge at Marcella’s hamstrings, clearly aiming to disable her. He only strikes one, but it cuts deep. Marcella reaches up and activates her bone shard contract, then aims a hard stab of her own at his abdomen. Gladius seemingly ignores his wounds, though they are bleeding steadily. This time, he opts for a frontal attack. It is murderously effective, his sword sliding right between Marcella’s ribs.

Hank whips his head back to the combat, one eye on the alarm light.

Zia gasps and mutters a prayer under her breath. “Marcella, why do you do this to yourself!”

Iris has white knuckles, but still shrugs. “Well, since the injuries won’t last? For glory, obviously.” She sounds like that is in fact a terrible idea, despite having taken part herself. (Granted, she just wanted to see whether she could be useful in combat and get some practice, as well as maybe figure out a few tips or better ways to shoot.)

Marcella staggers back from that hit, wincing as every movement makes her bleed harder. However, she rallies for a solid hit to his shoulder, blade biting deep into muscle.

Gladius looks as if his wounds are actually beginning to bother him, and his stoic face becomes set in a grimacing mask. He strikes once more, a deep cut at the opposite side of Marcella’s torso. Marcella, with a hole on one side of her ribs and a huge cut on the other, topples soundlessly, bleeding heavily into the sand.

Gladius calmly wipes his blade and strolls off the field as the medics come to grab Marcella, not even really bothering to acknowledge the cheers from the audience.

The alarm bell rings in the medical tunnel, and Hank runs out onto the sands and begins trying to stabilize Marcella. She has two large wounds in her torso. One has come close to collapsing her lung. Hank stabilizes her so well she’s already awake before she gets back to medical bay.

Hank hisses, “If you try to move, I will actually perform a Vulcan nerve pinch, mixing characters or no.”

Marcella blinks up at Hank. “Hey. Ow.” She blinks some more as what he said registers. “… I guess I’ll keep lying here, then.”

Atalia gives Hank a look, but continues her efforts to get Marcella on the stretcher. Hank gives Atalia a ‘hey, it worked’ shrug. Atalia nods back.

Zia takes a deep breath. “I don’t think I watch this anymore….”

Amy is still not looking, “I’m not. Is it over?”

Iris just sighs and closes her eyes. Despite her earlier words, they can hear her whisper, “I hope she’s okay. I think I’d feel worse not watching.”

“Oh, it is over. Shall we go to the med bay…?” Zia asks. She walks at a sedate, definitely-not-panicking pace to the medical bay. Iris follows Zia, despite still trying to convince herself not to be worried. Amy goes to the medical bay, too. She is secretly glad Marcella lost, because that means she won’t be fighting anymore.


On 7/29, the group gets excellent seats! Marcella has been a little quieter than usual today.

“Welcome again,” the announcer cries. “We’re back from break with the no-holds barred doubles this time, and it’s a fun matchup we have right out of the gate. Let’s get started, shall we? In this corner, proof that one should never judge a book by its cover, we have some of the junior members of our court, Lila Lacewing and Acorn Bramble!” A pair of petite lovely women stroll out onto the arena, one of them thin and lithe and patterned after a dragonfly, and the other curvy with hair spiked and colored like a hedgehog’s. In their hands are a pair of wickedly sharp punching daggers and a spiked length of chain. “And in the other corner, those two powerhouses of our newbie contingent, Marcella Boneblade and Fianna Starfist!”

Fianna, at this point, is looking furious, but resigned. Marcella pats her shoulder cheerfully as they walk out. Both the women across from them give friendly smiles, though at close range they can see there is a lot more muscle and strength under the gentle demeanor than one might expect. Marcella nods and smiles back at them. Fianna nods in acknowledgement.

Iris keeps scribbling. She is getting ready to go back to the medbay. Zia is crafting a set of souvenir patches. Amy is making a passable statue, but it’s not as awesome as Zia’s patches.

The announcer’s voice comes soon after. “Begin!”

Fianna, knowing very well how much power can lurk behind a tiny, harmless-looking exterior, immediately activates her strength contract and lunges for Lila. Halfway there, her fists are coated in fire that burns white, blue, and purple. But she doesn’t punch Lila. Instead, she grabs her arms and holds on tight. Lila struggles, but cannot break free. She takes damage as the fire burns her.

Zia cheers for Fianna’s thoughtful start to the match, even as she cringes at the burns her opponent is accumulating. Iris is quite impressed, leaning back a bit, but still very tense. Those burns look nasty. Amy isn’t watching the fight at all.

Marcella has already added two points of armor and increased her health by her wyrd. She reaches up to her necklace and activates her bone shard contract, then lunges for Acorn to try and keep her away from Fianna. As she moves, her muscles bulk up, and there seems to be more power behind her swing than usual. However, Acorn’s armor is surprisingly tough, and the cut isn’t very deep.

Acorn responds to Marcella’s attack by swinging her chain around Marcella, in an attempt to trap her. It succeeds. Acorn wraps the spiked chain around Marcella, pinning her arms to her sides and digging the spikes in.

Iris just keeps tensing up more and more, but she doesn’t actually say anything.

Lila attempts to break free, but cannot. Fianna does not let go of Lila, one hand on each of her wrists. Instead, she brings her knee up into the woman’s stomach. Lila doubles over, wheezing, then winces as on top of that, her burns get worse.

Marcella tries to wrestle herself free from the spiked chain, and gets free.

Zia nods in satisfaction at Marcella breaking free. Iris relaxes a little. “Is it bad that I’m not so sure I really want them to win and go through this again? I mean I’d be glad if they did, but…” Amy and Zia both nod in agreement with Iris.

Acorn frowns, eyes her very hurt partner, and strikes at Fianna’s back. Fianna takes a hard strike right across her shoulder blades, but does not let go. Lila again tries to struggle free, and this time looks like she almost might, but in the end cannot. Fianna just holds on for dear life. Finally, Lila collapses after her burns become aggravated once more.

Marcella spins on Acorn, looking determined. She gets a solid gash along her abdomen. Acorn responds by attacking the more injured party. But this time, Fianna isn’t immobilized, and dodges out of the way.

Fianna responds to the attack by activating her stone contract, and landing a solid hit on Acorn’s nose. Acorn is looking a little wobbly. Marcella follows that up with another darting stab of her own. Miraculously, Acorn is still standing. She lashes out weakly, and does not even come close to hitting Fianna. Fianna responds with another punch, and Acorn almost gratefully drops into unconsciousness.

The crowd cheers, and the medics hustle on to the field to collect their patients. Fianna deactivates her flames. Marcella drops her bone shards and offers Fianna a grinning high five. Fianna smacks her hand.

“Well that wasn’t too bad …” Iris stands up to clap, despite the knot in her stomach, thinking about the next fight.

Zia nods with a sigh of relief. “I am happy that went well.”

The announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen!!!! I give you the victors! Marcella Boneblade! Fianna Starfist! Please give them a hand, they’ve had quite the victory after a rough string of matches.”

Hank rushes out, but will look after the other team first, this time. Since they’re both unconscious.


It is now 7/30, Day 17 of the Aachen Summer Games. The team has excellent seats today, right across from the Monarch’s box as far forward as they can be. Fianna will be competing in throwing knives and boxing today. Hank has rejoined the group in the stands for this match, since ideally nobody should get injured. He looks very tired. He muttered something about “night shift” on the bus before sleeping the entire way to the arena. Marcella is impressed that Hank is still able to work so hard while still being there for his teammates, but is still acting even more subdued than yesterday.

“Marcella, are you alright?” Iris asks.

Marcella blinks, as though she’d been lost in thought, and gives Iris a small smile. “I’ll be fine. I’ve just been thinking about the past too much lately.”

“Don’t do that, Marcella. It will only make you sad,” Amy advises. Zia pats Marcella’s hand and clearly has no intention of pushing it at this time. Marcella gives everyone a grateful look for their support.

“Good day to you all, and welcome to another day of the Summer Games! We’re starting things off nice and easy this morning with an enjoyable round of sharp flying objects! That’s right, it’s the throwing knives qualifier!

Fianna and several other contestants stride onto the field. An official hands each of them a packet of identical knives, as the announcer explains the rules of the qualifier to the audience.

“Each contestant will take it in turns to hit a series of targets, some harder than the others. Better shots are worth more points, and the five highest scorers will go on to the finals later today. Let’s begin!”

The first three contestants do well, but not spectacular. Fianna is fourth in the lineup. Her first two shots land perfectly, the third only going slightly wide of the mark. The last two are similarly well aimed. She is followed by a tall whisper-thin changeling who gets a perfect score, eliciting a burst of activity from the crowd, and a handful of others who range from doing quite well to abysmal.

Marcella cheers loudly for Fianna. Zia cheers for Fianna and seems quite happy that this match doesn’t involve fighting other people. Amy is actually watching this one.

Zia offers everyone snacks. Iris takes some and appears quite happy as well. No fighting, no one getting hurt. Marcella takes snacks too.

In the end, Fianna places third in the qualifiers, and moves on the finals. There is a three hour break, during which other events take place, between the qualifiers and the finals. Despite the activity occurring in the arena between the two phases of the events, Hank’s eyes droop. After shifting around several times, and a few mind-bogglingly contorted positions, he eventually uses his Mirror charm and shrinks down to the size of a child, curls up, and falls asleep. Zia takes a sheet of cloth from her bag and drapes it over Hank. Marcella looks amused and snaps a picture with her phone.

That afternoon, the finals are held, and the final five, including Fianna, are set against identical targets at an increased level of difficulty. Fianna is first in the lineup. She stands at the line, waiting for the judge’s call.

“Throw!” Her first knife lands dead on, but it was one of the closer targets.

“Throw!” The second knife goes slightly wide of its mark, but still hits the target.

“Throw!” The third knife falls much the same as the second.

“Throw!” The fourth knife hits dead on.

“Throw!” The last knife goes slightly wide, and Fianna finishes her round looking fairly pleased with herself.

The changeling with the perfect score from the qualifiers nearly repeats the feat, only missing the bullseye on the last target by a very slim margins. Another competitor does similarly well, only slightly missing two. In the end, Fianna places third, and accepts the bronze laurel wreath with a grin on her face.

Zia cheers for Fianna loudly. Amy is ecstatic, and cheers accordingly. Iris does cheer, far less tense than she had been in the past matches. Hank wakes up, and quite suddenly reverts to his normal size, blinking blearily and struggling to extricate himself from the position that he no longer fits into. He joins the group in cheering for Fianna.

The people in the stands are fairly excited, and the announcer has fun connecting her skill with knives to the cutting edge of a star’s light. Hank shoots bleary and baleful looks at the announcer, who is clearly far too loud and far too cheerful, in addition to being annoying.

“Welcome to another stirring event here at the Aachen Summer Games! Today we have one of our less-popular events, but that’s no excuse to take a dinner break! As always, our competitors will deliver the most scintillating of performances, even if there are only eight of them. Welcome to boxing! Now remember, Hedge boxing is a little bit different than its human counterpart, people. There’s only one round per match, first to drop loses, and it gets progressively harder, because there are only short breaks between rounds! Our medics will do some light patching of the contestants, but any serious injury they get in a match they’ll have to keep with them. This is endurance as much as power, to the person who lasts the longest. Let’s see who lasts, shall we?”

The first person to stride onto the field is Jonty, though it’s clear he’s not there to compete. He stands in the center of four marked rings, and he’s wearing a sash that indicates that he is the judge for this event. The competitors walk onto the field and are quickly paired off by Jonty. Fianna is facing a compact changeling with aspects of both a rhinoceros and a gorilla.

Zia makes a grumpy noise at the not getting healed in between matches part. Hank is not on the medical team this event. He went down and offered, and Atalia said something to the effect of, “For godssakes, man. Go sleep or something. It’s just boxing.”

“Shake!” Jonty bellows, and the competitors shake hands. “First to knockout or ring out, kids, we’re doing this nice and simple,” he continues. “Fight!”

Fianna gets the first strike out at her opponent, straight across his right temple. He returns a strike to her ribs. Fianna’s next strike staggers him, and he falls back, allowing Fianna to get in a second strike. He throws another punch and misses, allowing Fianna to lay him out flat on his back with her next attack.

Fianna is not the first to finish her fight, as another changeling laid out their opponent after two punishing strikes. Jonty calls a fifteen minute break to allow field medics to patch simple wounds and give the contestants a breather. Soon enough, the four remaining contestants are paired off, and Jonty calls the beginning of the second round.

Marcella is on the edge of her seat, hands clasped, watching Fianna’s match intently. Amy is sculpting again. Zia watches carefully and breathes out a little bit when Fianna gets through her match safely. Iris just keeps scribbling. Hank is definitely watching the match. Really. His eyes are absolutely open.

Fianna, who is still moving a little stiffly from that last strike to her side, is matched against the changeling who knocked out his opponent in two hits last round, a man with heavy stone plates all over his skin who looks like he hasn’t taken much damage at all.

Fianna still gets the first hit, but it doesn’t seem to cause much damage. She manages to dodge her opponent’s first attack, which leaves a noticeable dent in the hard packed sand floor of the arena. Her next attack strikes his face, and seems to do more damage than the last hit, but her opponent is unfazed. His next hit connects with the side of her head so hard it sends her flying almost out of the ring, leaving her flat on the ground and bleeding heavily from a large gash in her left temple.

Fianna staggers up, and her opponent politely waits until she is on her feet before attacking again. His next attack sends Fianna flying bodily from the ring. Jonty hurries over to assess her condition and announce a ring-out if necessary, but Fianna was clearly unconscious before she hit the ground. Jonty quickly checks her pulse and when the medics come out at the sound of the alarm bell, pauses the other fight to make sure she gets taken off as quickly as possible.

Zia gasps at how fast that knock-out happened, but is happy no sharp objects were involved. Marcella winces at the first hit that almost takes Fianna out, then hisses as she goes flying. Hank hisses. Atalia will be getting an earful about ‘just boxing’. Iris snaps the tip of her pencil. She cringes visibly and is even whiter than usual. “Hank, should we go down … or will we just be in the way?” Zia asks.

Hank sighs, “The format means they will be running in and out getting people off the field. We’d be in the way until the event is over.” He mutters grumpily under his breath. Zia hears something about “Marquess of Queensbury” something something “sportsman-like” something something.

Amy looks up. “Did Fianna lose? Is she ok?”

“Yes, she lost. They’ve already brought her to medical,” Marcella explains to Amy.

“… is she supposed to need that for boxing?” Amy asks.

The final round features the changeling who beat Fianna and another hulking ogre. They slug it out for a fair amount of time before the changeling that beat Fianna is declared the victor. As soon as the match is over, Hank is on his feet to head down to medical.

Having been told that going down wouldn’t be helpful, Zia closes her eyes and whispers a prayer. Amy, lacking knowledge of Arabic, recognizes it is not German. Marcella identifies it as Arabic. Iris definitely knows it is Arabic, and recognizes it as a prayer she has heard playing in the background of some newscast. She files the information away for further use. Marcella doesn’t comment on Zia’s prayer, but instead follows Hank down to medical to check on Fianna. Iris follows them to medical as well, very concerned. Zia decides that the medical bay is likely crowded and stays above, contemplating which revenge towel to give this man.

They find Fianna hooked up to a strange semi-organic machine. Her bed is also full of bags of ice. There are splints and bandages swathing most of her body. Hank knows that this machine is only used when someone is in critical danger. The ice is a surprise. He takes one look at her and immediately peels off in search of the head of the medical team on duty. The head of the medical team is over in the corner, directing workers to their stations in a snapping voice. Most of them are going towards Fianna. Hank lingers until triage stuff is clearly under control, keeping an ear on what directions are happening and what that means for her condition.

Amy gasps. “What happened? I thought boxing wasn’t supposed to be that bad!”

Marcella squeezes Amy’s shoulder gently. “She was up against the guy who won the event, and … he was a pretty heavy hitter.”

“How long until Summer is over?” Amy mutters.

“Understatement, Marcella. She went up against a moving mountain,” Iris says. Marcella gives a snorting laugh and stays close to the wall, out of the way of the bustle surrounding Fianna.

Hank finds out that the machine is basically pumping magic healing directly into Fianna’s veins, and that her system was actually burning it away completely before they manually cooled her body enough to let it last long enough in her system to do its work. They anticipate that she will regain consciousness within the hour.

Hank peels off with a nod to the medics, and heads back to update the team. “She will be okay, but she is pretty badly injured. The ice is because her system was burning the potions away before they could start working, since her core temperature is so high.”

Marcella nods, trying not to look too worried for Amy’s benefit. She hasn’t seen this setup in medical often, and so realizes that Fianna’s condition is unusually serious. Iris is just very rigid. She doesn’t say anything, and since being white as a sheet is fairly common for her, she hopes Amy won’t notice (or else thinks she’s just being her usual self). Amy is fixated on Fianna.

Roughly forty-five minutes later, Fianna’s eyes blink open blearily. “Oof,” she croaks. “Why’m I covered in ice?”

Hank wanders over as she starts to react. “You were burning off the potions before they could take effect,” he informs her.

“Mm. Sorry’ bout that,” she says.

Marcella walks up to the bed as Fianna awakens. “Hey, glad you’re awake,” she says. Iris moves a bit closer, but doesn’t say anything apart from looking very very relieved.

Fianna moves her head slowly so she can see Marcella better. “Oh, you know me,” she says softly, cracking a crooked smile. “I’ve had worse.” Marcella pats Fianna very gently on the hand.

“Stop getting hurt so bad, Fianna,” Amy says.

“But I’m so good at it!” Fianna chuckles weakly.

Iris mumbles, “That’s like telling water to stop being wet.”

“That’s a stupid talent. Stop practicing,” Amy admonishes.

“Don’t need practice, I mastered it a long time ago,” Fianna replies. Amy pouts.

“You’ve got plenty of other talents, too,” Marcella says gruffly.

Fianna gets very quiet for a moment. “Do I really?” she finally says. Then her eyes flicker close and she lapses into a deep sleep.

Marcella squeezes her hand for a minute. “Yes, you do,” she says fiercely. Amy makes a mental note to tell Fianna all about her talents when she wakes up.

While she’s waiting in medical with Fianna, Marcella makes a drawing of Fianna and Amy together, looking happy. She leaves it for Fianna when she goes. It shows the two of them walking Petey together. Her first few attempts fail miserably, but eventually she produces something passable. Because she’s not feeling particularly subtle, it says something like “you’re good at lots of things” at the bottom.

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Game 45: A Rough Day for Vogelfrei

Summary

Two days after the Lambswool match, Marcella and Fianna both lose their no-holds-barred singles matches (Marcella to Faust Flarebright from Vienna, Fianna to Mauritania). That afternoon, Iris and Marcella fight in a weaponry doubles match, and just barely get knocked out of the competition.

Log

The day of the Lambswool match was July 23rd, the 10th day of the games. It is now July 25th, the 12th day of the games. Today Vogelfrei has the following events: Marcella and Fianna’s one-on-one no-holds-barred matches, then Iris and Marcellas’ weaponry doubles. Marcella’s seat fu fails her today, and the group is seated at the far end of the Arena, but towards the front.

Hank was not around yesterday, since nobody had matches. He pulled a double shift at work. (He owes so many people at work favours for all of the shifting around of schedule.) There are other changelings at his work, so they understand.

Before Marcella’s match, there is one round of the weaponry doubles. Only two sets of pairs go, and they are quick and brutal. It is clear that one of the pairs is quite experienced with the longbow and halberd they fight with. Marcella is suitably impressed by the weaponry doubles pair, and spends most of that match thinking about strategies if she and Iris go up against them next.

When it’s time for her to check in for her match, Marcella stands and waves to the team cheerfully. Iris looks over and wishes her good luck, looking very worried. Zia nods at her, muttering, “Don’t die,” and turns back to her embroidery. She is making a very nice embroidered piece to inset in a bag. Hank nods at Marcella as well. She heads down to check in.

The normal man is sitting at the table. “Good to see you! Good to hear you all did so well in the Lambswool match! What are you checking in for? The singles?” he asks.

Marcella grins. “Thanks! We were as surprised as anyone. And yes, no-hold-barred singles this morning.”

He makes a notation on the paper in front of him, then raises an eyebrow. “Good luck today! You’ll need it.” She waves in thanks as she walks away.

“Welcome welcome welcome to this, the twelfth day of the Summer Games! However you feel about that superstition, today is bound to be unlucky for SOMEONE. Let’s hope, for the sake of our competitors, that it’s not too unlucky. We haven’t sent home anyone in body bags yet, but you never know!” The announcer’s voice is creepily cheerful. “And how bout we start it off strong today with everyone’s favorite, the no-holds barred! And this morning we’ve got quite the swordfight brewing. In the one corner, one of our freehold’s most prominent up and comers, Marcella Boneblade!” A significant cheer rises from the stands, and there are more homemade posters than there were before. Marcella walks out onto the sands confidently.

“And in the other corner, the current record holder of the freehold of Vienna, Faust Flarebright!” A tall, thin man with skin like burnished metal and hair ablaze steps into the Arena, carrying an oversized sword and dressed in shining plate armor. There are several cheers from what looks like a concentrated pocket of fans who have traveled to see him.

Fianna has already headed down for her own match. Iris is slightly confused, but definitely does clap for Marcella. She hopes it might help in not imagining the injuries she is about to see. Zia looks at the sands. “Oh dear, oh dear.” Hank claps for Marcella, and then puts a hand on Zia’s shoulder.

Iris smiles over at Zia. “They’ll patch them back up.” Iris sounds like she’s trying to convince herself.

Both Iris and Hank overhear Zia, muttering very quietly, say, “Al-hamdu lillaahi…” Hank blinks, startled, and turns his head slightly to stare at Zia. Iris looks even more confused and is staring openly at Zia.

Hank notices Iris staring openly, and very, very lightly kicks her foot. He then pointedly returns to his notebook. Zia looks at Hank and Iris with a raised eyebrow. Iris immediately looks back down and starts scribbling onto her own notepad. After noting that they are ignoring her eyebrow, Zia sighs and goes back to her embroidery.

Faust nods in acknowledgement as Marcella approaches. She nods back, rolling her shoulders.

“Let’s not dilly-dally,” the announcer says cheerfully. “We all know what you really want to see! Now … BEGIN!”

Instead of attacking, Faust gestures at Marcella. Her onyx sword begins to glow cherry red-hot.

Marcella, grimacing but holding onto her sword, rushes forward and slices his torso. She also adds her wyrd to her health for the rest of the battle.

Faust backs up a couple of steps, and looks impressed. He gestures again, and this time begins glowing with a searing white light. He moves quickly, slicing a cut across Marcella’s torso that mirrors the one on his own.

Iris winces and her knuckles turn white. She doesn’t actually say anything, but her whole body is tense and she can’t look away. Hank placidly takes notes on the types of magic that Faust is using. Zia stabs into the blue linen with her needle, muttering, “Idiot, complete idiot to do this lunacy again.”

Marcella drops her searing-hot sword, looking slightly staggered by her brightly glowing opponent. With a yell that is a quarter pain and three quarters anger, Marcella thrusts an open palm at her opponent. Out of her splayed hand grows a sword made from her own bones. Once it has emerged, she grasps it and lunges forward again. However, her hit glances off his armor.

Faust sidesteps and lands another cut to Marcella’s shoulder.

Noting Marcella’s rather dinged state, Zia gives up her pretense of embroidery and looks down at the sands with tight lips. Hank is in researcher-mode. Iris is just hoping it’ll be over soon. She doesn’t have Hank’s distancing ability, and just knows everything must be clenched, but doesn’t really care for the time being. She’s biting her lips in silence.

Reaching up to grab her necklace, Marcella activates her bone shards contract, which covers her entire body. She then seems to grow slightly, using a contract that is very familiar to Fianna, and attacks Faust again. This time, her attack penetrates his armor.

As the cloud of shards comes up around Marcella and she then scores a hit, Zia nods firmly. Iris relaxes slightly, but is still incredibly tense and focusing solely on the fight.

Faust steps back at the force of the attack, again looking impressed. Though he is hard to see, he gives Marcella a small bow before swinging his sword in another strike.

Staggering slightly, Marcella pauses, then straightens. She holds out a hand at Faust and shouts, “Freeze!”, but nothing happens. Looking frustrated, she instead darts forward again for another attack, which again makes it through his armor.

Faust is smiling now, a small smile of satisfaction. He brings his sword up one more time, but instead of cutting, brings the heavy pommel down on Marcella’s head. Marcella falls to the ground, unconscious.

Iris slumps slowly, breathing out. She doesn’t look sad or angry as much as relieved, and just grateful it’s over with Marcella still alive.

Zia gasped and drops her embroidery hoop. “I will destroy his weapons.” She stands up. “I am going to the medical bay.”

Iris looks over. “Why destroy them? I’m coming with you.” She stands as well, perhaps a bit slower and ready to follow.

Hank very precisely finishes taking the notes he was working on. He then blinks in a disoriented manner, and shakes his head slightly as if to clear it. He jumps up and bustles off towards the medbay, not waiting for either Zia or Iris, and not really seeming as if he had heard either of them discussing going as well.

The announcer declares Faust the winner and Marcella is hustled off to the medical bay. The crowd roared for Faust, but a group of fans are still chanting Marcellas’ name.

At the medical bay, Marcella has been installed in a bed and there are two people taking care of her. Hank begins discussing Marcella’s status rapidly with the medical personnel. They assure him that she will be ship shape shortly, though not much before her next match, and ask him if he would like to assist. Hank would very much like to assist.

Faust is in a bed a few beds over. Zia glares at him initially, but after a moment walks over to him and says in a very nice voice, “Congratulations on your victory.”

Iris is more quiet, standing in a corner and smiling a little at Faust. “Congrats.”

Faust blinks at Zia’s unexpected presence, smiles, and says, “I thank you, Miss. It was a good match.”

“Indeed. It was. My teammate is quite skilled, if I do say so myself, knowing so little about swords and things. I do hope that the next match goes well for you, I have heard that most of the dead weight has been eliminated,” Zia replies, and flounces off to Marcella’s bed.

With Hank’s help, the treatment Marcella is receiving works much better than initially expected. She’s conscious almost immediately, and doesn’t feel as bad as she expects she should—though her head does hurt quite splendidly.

Zia looks over the doctors, sees that Marcella is awake, and says, “Marcella, are you alright?”

Marcella blinks and lifts a hand slowly to her head. “Ow. Did I get hit by a brick wall?”

“Ah, no, the pommel of the flameboy’s sword,” Zia says.

“Oh, right,” Marcella says, and looks around the room until she sees Faust. “Good match!” she calls, then winces and closes her eyes again. Those who are right next to her bed hear her mutter “ow” again under her breath.

“Very good!” Faust calls back. “You fight well beyond what I expected given your experience! I especially like the trick with the bones!”

Iris is immediately walking over to Marcella. “Are you alright? Stupid thing to ask really, but … er … you’re going to be ok?”

Marcella opens her eyes again immediately and grins over at Iris. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, Iris. Still looking forward to our match this afternoon.” She looks over at Faust, and says slightly louder, but not as loud as before. “Thank you, I appreciate your kind words. Your contracts were very well-placed, I don’t think I stood a chance!”

“I would not say that,” Faust chides. “You did well. Be proud of your skills.”

Iris looks relieved but is still watching them carefully. “I’m not too worried, I guess maybe I should put more trust in the healers. I guess I was just worried. Don’t mind me.”

Marcella grins at Faust’s words, but, showing how exhausted she is, doesn’t respond, and instead leans back against her pillow with her eyes closed. “No worries, Iris. I’ll be up and about before you know it.”

Hank, rather than returning to the stands, stays with the medical crew and watches Fianna’s match from ‘pacing anxiously just inside the medical entrance to the Arena’. Iris is feeling quite torn, but in the end does decide leaving for her fight to arrive back only just in time. Iris and Zia watch Fianna’s fight from the stands.

“We’ve got another great match for you this go ‘round,” the announcer cries. “And it’s up close and personal. Our very own Mauritania, of the honorable Knights of Summer—” a loud cheer comes from a large body of fans on one side of the arena at the mention of Mauritania, and her subsequent entrance, “—will be going toe to toe, or rather fist to fist with one of our newcomers, the adorable, irascible Fianna Starfist!”

Fianna walks out into the arena, and sends a sharp glance at the announcer’s box for the unexpected addition of the fan nickname.

Mauritania smiles for the crowd, and blows a kiss at her fans in the stands. Fianna looks vaguely irritated, but waves to the rest of Vogelfrei and plots at ways to get back at the announcer.

“Mauritania! But … Fianna … kick her ass!” Zia shouts the end of that with determination. Iris arrives out of breath and clapping.

Hank paces very nervously. Marcella restlessly listens to the crowd cheering from her bed in the medical bay.

“Good luck, hon,” Mauritania says cheerfully, as they meet in the middle. “I promise to not hurt you too much.”

“Don’t hold back,” Fianna says with a sharp grin. “And I won’t either.”

“BEGIN!” shouts the announcer.

Mauritania instantly dashes forward, a blur of movement, and she takes a swipe at Fianna. Fianna manages to avoid most of it, but the edge of Mauritania’s claws catch her shoulder, and she begins bleeding.

Iris, as per usual, starts tensing up again, chewing on her lip and kneading her eraser. Zia is stabbing the canvas with her needle precisely and angrily. Hank is still pacing.

Fianna returns with her own swing, and also just barely manages to tag her opponent.

They circle each other for a moment, and then Mauritania attacks again. This time it’s a leaping attack, hands to shoulders, and Fianna is knocked back to the ground, pinned under Mauritania, and Mauritania’s claws dig sharply into her shoulders.

Fianna’s response to this is to bring her feet sharply up into Mauritania’s stomach, using the force to launch her opponent back, and allowing her to get to her feet.

Mauritania hangs back this time, and instead of attacking, smiles cheekily, and suddenly erupts into flame.

Hank has been edging closer and closer to the field entrance, but jumps back, startled, as Mauritania burst into flames.

Iris starts squeezing the life out of her eraser, tapping lightly with her other hand, though she still looks just tense, but not fearing for the worst.

Fianna is only startled for a second. She’s familiar with fire. Her muscles flex as she activates her strength contract, and she sends a flying punch at Mauritania. It passes right through her, and Fianna stumble in surprise.

Mauritania whirls at near untrackable speeds, and sends claws wreathed in flames across Fianna’s back. Deep scores that cauterize instantly appear across her back, but are so deep as the have cut to the bone. The shock knocks Fianna to the ground, and Mauritania attacks again. After the second attack, Fianna ceases moving.

Iris slumps again. She’s not surprised at all, just happy it’s over, though she does worry about Fianna’s wounds and what might be in stock for her. Zia exhales. “Fianna … what is wrong with the people who participate in these games …”

Iris somehow manages a smirk. “Masochists?”

Hank is now holding position with the rest of the medical group, ready to run out as soon as the fight is called.

The announcer says, “And the winner is Mauritania!!!!!!!!!” The crowd goes wild (and does not explode).

Hank reaches Fianna in advance of the rest of the med team, and wraps his bracelet around her wrist. Fianna is fine, just barely unconscious. She hasn’t even lost a lot of blood, because the fire cauterized most of the wounds she took. Hank explains the diagnosis to the rest of the medical team, and lifts her onto a stretcher. The medical team and Hank carry Fianna back to the medical bay.

On the field, Mauritania gives Fianna’s unconscious form a nod of respect as she is carried off. The announcer begins to announce the next fight, Nodons vs Varecia.

In the medical bay, Hank and the rest are giving Fianna medical care. Hank makes sure that Fianna gets put next to Marcella. Zia considers that Hank is helping Fianna already, and decides her presence won’t be helpful. Iris doesn’t do much but ruin a notebook page.

Marcella watches Fianna come in with a wince. When Hank is less busy, she asks him about the match. He gives her an update on Fianna’s health status first, and then a synopsis of the match. The synopsis begins with “Fianna was matched against Mauritania…”

Marcella lets out a low whistle. “Oh. That explains a lot.” Hank nods, and then launches into the blow-by-blow. Marcella listens raptly to the explanation, wishing she had been able to watch.

Meanwhile up above, Varecia is putting on a good showing, but it is clear that Nodons is holding back enough to make it a good match.

Marcella is let out of sick bay just in time to suit up for the doubles match, which starts at 3:15. Marcella leaves and finds Iris, her bouncy cheer only slightly forced. At this point, Zia has finished the first embroidery piece and is moving onto the next.

Iris is suiting up as well, a little nervous but mostly just interested in getting in as good a showing as she can. “You sure you’re alright?”

Marcella grins. “I’m fine. The speed healing just takes it out of you, but I’m back up to par now.”

Iris shrugs. “I don’t think I got hurt yet … Maybe a scratch or two.”

Marcella pats her reassuringly on the arm. “If I have any say in the matter, it will stay that way. Come on, we’d better go check in.”

Iris smiles at Marcella and speeds up her step. “Wouldn’t want to be late.”

“Exactly!” Marcella leads the way down. Iris follows, clutching her rifle.

They are both checked in and all set. There are two weaponry duels before theirs. For this match, Marcella straps on both her usual swords, in case she loses one.

The announcer announces with glee, “My friends, it is a pleasure to introduce to you, Vogelfrei’s Iris Sharpshooter and Marcella Boneblade! This team has taken down their opponents with the great skill of Iris’ shooting! Please greet them!!!!” The crowd roaaaaaaars.

Marcella puts on a confident grin and strides out onto the field, nodding to the loudest sections of cheering. Iris walks out, trying not to look nervous, but with a death grip on her rifle. She only nods to where she knows Zia is located.

“And, it is my honor to introduce their opponents, of the Galway freehold, the brother/sister duo who bring the strength of their durances to every bout, Braden Bridgeguard and Colleen Promisemaker!” An incredibly stout man with lightly furred skin and hands the size of dinner plates with a sword as tall as he on his back walks out next to a slender woman who looks almost like a wisp of smoke and carries two knives in her hands.

Marcella inclines her head to them as they walk onto the field. Iris nods sharply and focuses on the guy’s sword. Colleen’s knives don’t look like the throwing type, and Iris is getting very nervous. And naturally hiding behind Marcella. Marcella gives her a reassuring grin.

As the other two reach the center, they both give each of the Vogelfrei pair a nod. Colleen smiles darkly at them both. Marcella smiles pleasantly back, and murmurs to Iris, “I don’t trust those knives.”

Iris replies very quietly, “Me neither, but I don’t think I can take out both at the same time.”

Marcella nods. “Well, do what you can, and I’ll try and stay between them and you.”

“Thanks.” Iris smiles again and naturally is already thinking of the best way to inconvenience the enemy. Marcella’s skin thickens with bone plating as she examines their opponents. Iris readies her rifle.

“AAAAAAnd BEEEEEEEEGin!” the announcer says.

Colleen leaps forward and slices one of her knives quickly across Iris’ arm.

Iris shoots her kneecap in retaliation. Colleen cries out and swiftly switches her weight to her unhurt leg. Iris is moving away as fast as she can, and gets about 15 feet.

With a roar, Braden charges the distance between him and Iris, swinging his huge sword. He slices downward across Iris’ torso with a deep cut.

With a roar to match Braden’s, Marcella goes after Colleen, hoping to take her out quickly. Unfortunately, Colleen’s armor is tougher than she expected, and she does no damage. Looking surprised, Marcella also reaches up to her necklace and activates her bone shard contract. Colleen responds by slicing her knives across Marcella’s side.

Iris is rattled and in pain, but determined. She goes for Braden’s kneecap this time, then moves the hell away from him. Braden roars with pain, and is too distracted to attempt attacking.

Looking slightly murderous, Marcella goes for Colleen again. This time, her hit makes it through the armor, though only barely.

Colleen grimaces as the attack hits, and again slices at Marcella with her knives.

Iris moves away from Braden some more and taking a plain shot at Colleen. Colleen goes down, but Iris suddenly feels VERY dizzy.

Braden uses a familiar looking contract, bunches his one good leg up under him, and makes a flying leap, sword extended at Iris. The sword blow lands, cutting deeply into Iris’ shoulder. Iris sways and goes down.

“Iris!” Looking well and truly pissed, Marcella charges Braden, swinging to do some serious damage. Braden turns and swings his sword at Marcella in response, doing some equally serious damage.

Marcella is looking chunked, but isn’t out yet. Suddenly, she sways, and clutches one of the knife wounds from Colleen. Shaking off her dizziness, Marcella grips her sword harder and swings at Braden again. She gets in a solid slice through the ribs.

Braden is barely standing. He makes one last heroic effort to hit Marcella, and knocks her over the head with his very heavy sword before overbalancing himself and sitting down hard in the sand, blinking.

Marcella crumples, looking surprised as she goes down.

Zia hisses and mentally adds another person to her personal hit list of fashion disasters.

The announcer says, “And our friends from islands of Faerie win!!!! It’s been a rough day for Vogelfrei.”

Braden looks around, stunned, then raises his sword in confused triumph. All four fighters are ushered off the field.

About half an hour later, when Colleen and Iris are both actually conscious, Iris asks her about the knives. Colleen tells her that her knives are dipped in an oil extract made from a plant from the Hedge called Mindblur. Once it enters the system, it causes dizziness, lack of concentration, and in extreme cases, nausea. However, it is not fatal, just unpleasant.

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Game 44: Drinks with the Destroyers

Summary

The Lambswool team gets through the rest of their time in the Monarchs’ box without horribly offending anyone. They meet the Destroyers at Elysion that evening. Phthonos is spoiling for a fight, but they manage to get through the first round of beer without starting a brawl. Madoc takes Marcella aside to rebuke her for her actions in Berlin several weeks ago, for which she apologizes profusely. Phthonos again tries to start a fight, which Hank seems to be ready to accept, but instead Madoc apologizes for his behavior and brings Phthonos back to their hotel.

Log

At Zia’s slightly flippant, but purposefully redirecting reply, Alter nods at her and commences a careful examination of the guns. “Yes, you used them most effectively on the field. And you and your friend managed to avoid -” he begins speaking technicalese about manufacturing guns. “The freehold may wish to commission a few of these. Always good to have on hand.”

Zia smiles, “I shall have to discuss with my partner if we wish to sell any of them. Thank you very much for your interest.”

Queen Kenna says to the whole group, “We were most impressed with your match today, and we commend the skills, planning, and,” she smiles, “luck that led to your win. You have given the Summer Court and the freeholds of Europe something to remember.”

Hank awkwardly half bows from his chair. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” Marcella answers, bowing her head. “We are honored to have been able to represent Heimdahlzunft with such a showing. It is thanks to this freehold’s generous support that we have been able to come so far in such a short time out of the Hedge.”

At the far end of the row, Scitalis gives a curt nod at Marcella’s comment about the freehold’s generous support. Kenna replies, “It is our pleasure and duty to support the changelings who come to our territory. Let it be said that Heimdahlzunft does its duty with diligence and joy.”

Hank’s eyes are darting between the Monarchs and their reactions to the group and each other, trying to follow the interplay between the different courts and their politics. Fianna is mostly terribly nervous and fronting like nobody’s business.

Marcella smiles. “Well, for those of us who emerged from the Hedge far from home, you have made Aachen feel like a second home. We are most grateful.” Zia smiles at each of the monarchs in turn, as if thanking them for their support.

Scitalis replies to Marcella, “It is good to hear that some of the changelings so recent from the hedge are aware of the great support that our freehold has lavished upon you. Many freeholds would not be able to do so. Only a freehold as unified, diverse, and economically sound as ours is capable of such of a thing.”

Hank really is not sure what to say to that, so he just nods. Marcella nods as well, and says, “From everything I have seen, Heimdahlzunft is well-regarded among its peers. These Games seem to have quite a reputation across the continent, for instance, at least according to the participants I’ve talked to in the past few weeks.”

Scitalis replies, “Yes, these … games do have a certain cachet I suppose, no offense, my dear Kenna. Now the Winter Masque! That is an event of true loveliness!” He turns to Hank, “I do hope that you and your team will attend it.” Marcella’s eyebrows rise slightly when Scitalis addresses that remark to Hank, but keeps her face smooth. Fianna wonders silently to herself what a ‘cachet’ is.

Hank bows in his chair again. “We would be honored, Your Majesty, particularly as it is my understanding that we will be in Your Majesty’s court for your season. I unfortunately emerged from the Hedge too late to attend this past year.”

Scitalis smiles widely at Hank, flashing sharp teeth for a moment. “Indeed! You will be within my court’s purview for that time! I am sure we will have much to teach you. All of our proteges will be required to attend the ball of course!” Hank smiles politely.

Fianna has a feeling of sinking dread and glances at Zia. At the other end, Eostre lets out a very quiet laugh. Zia smiles back at Fianna. Marcella smiles like it’s something she’s looking forward to. It’s unclear even to her team whether it’s a sincere smile, or just a polite one.

Queen Kenna, sensing a bit of tension, draws everyone’s attention to the 8 on 8 match below. One of them is a team they have watched before. Hank’s eyes dart to the Monarchs, trying to figure out if it would be impolite or not, before whipping out his notebook. Alter nods in approval of Hank’s notebook, as does Kenna after a moment.

At the end of the game, Kenna thanks all of them for coming and wishes them luck in the next match. Marcella bows deeply and thanks the monarchs again for the honor. Fianna bows awkwardly but serviceably. Zia makes a nice curtsey and waits for Alter to give her guns back to Varecia. Hank bows deeply as well, thanking Scilatis in particular for the honor of his conversation.

Scitalis informs Hank, “It was a pleasure meeting with you and your team.” Marcella smiles politely and neither rolls her eyes nor grates her teeth at the team being referred to as Hank’s.

Before they all leave, Varecia fetches their weapons and lets them know she will give them back once they get outside. Marcella leads the way out.

Once outside, Murderous Max and Mauritania supervise while everyone puts their weapons back on. Mauritania gives them all a nod, while Murderous Max gives a greasy smile to everyone but Hank. Marcella thanks the knights for their help.

Iris has meanwhile been somewhat bored and reading a book with a green cover on it. It looks like it has been taken from a library somewhere.

By the time the match is over, it is around 4:00. Marcella, looking pointedly at Fianna, suggests they all get some rest before they go out to the bar with the Destroyers. Before they leave the Arena, she sends a message to the Destroyers (who are still in the medical bay) with the address of the bar. She also suggests that Iris and Amy should come along to the bar. Amy agrees amiably. Iris agrees as well once she is found.

Hank comments that he will need to bike home to get changed into something bar-appropriate. He still has an enormous bandage over one shoulder.

Zia looks at him with a raised eyebrow. “I am sure we can find something for you here. You aren’t biking anywhere just yet.” Marcella nods in agreement. Zia then proceeds to locate several choices for Hank. He grumbles about being perfectly capable of returning home, but acquiesces.

Marcella changes into one of her slightly-nicer outfits before they go out. Zia recommends that Marcella wear the outfit she made her for the Iron Nail. Marcella gives her a hairy eye, but agrees, “Only because I know for a fact they don’t have any blacklights there.”

Amy looks confused, “Am I supposed to dress up?”

Zia smiles back, “I don’t understand why that would be a problem, but I am happy you like it enough to wear again. Just look nice enough to go to the bar, you don’t have to look toooo nice, don’t worry,” she says to Amy

“You can if you want to, Amy. It’s a nice place. You should wear whatever you feel comfortable in,” Marcella adds.

Amy looks down at her dress. “I think I need more clothes that are mine.”

Iris wears black, as usual, though she has a slightly nicer shirt and pair of trousers.

“I dunno why you’re all dressing up,” Fianna says. “It’s a bar. You don’t wear nice things to bars. You wear things that can survive having alcohol spilled on them. And maybe a fight.” Hank raises an eyebrow, and picks the most sedate of Zia’s options.

“Hopefully not at this bar,” Marcella mutters, but she doesn’t argue with Fianna’s fashion choices.

“Oh, we should definitely work on that!” Zia says to Amy. Then she turns to Fianna, “There will be NO fighting. We’ve had enough of that today! And my understanding is this is a bar which does not stand for this. Now, I believe we are meeting them at 8, so everyone who needs it should rest. Hank, you are welcome to use my bed if you wish. I will be working in the craftrooms,” Zia says with a mother hen organizing voice. She looks at Marcella and Fianna, clearly indicating that they too need sleep.

“I didn’t get a scratch on me today!” Marcella protests.

Hank very flusteredly declines Zia’s bed and say that he can find somewhere else to rest.

“Very well, Hank, I am sure the infirmary would let you take a rest there,” Zia says.

“Yes, right … the infirmary.” Hank bustles off.

Fianna mumbles something about sleep not happening because it never happens. Marcella goes to visit the chess pieces for a while, in lieu of strenuous activity like practicing. Amy takes her dog for a walk in the meantime, then does some more work with her reader. Iris goes back to the library, doing research.

Everyone convenes around 7:30. Once they all arrive, Marcella shows them which bus they’ll be taking to get to Elysion. At about 8pm, the team reaches Elysion. It is in a sleek, cream-colored building. Two slender ionic marble pillars frame a tastefully carved mahogany door. There are no identifying words or numbers. Marcella leads the way up to the door confidently.

“This is a bar?” Fianna says. “It looks like a law office.”

“Posh,” Hank comments. Zia smiles at the members of the group who are dressed appropriately. A little bit of dressup was clearly a good choice for this bar. Iris carefully gets out of the bus, but doesn’t quite share Fianna’s estimation. She gets in second to last, trying to attract as little attention as possible. She is looking around for other changelings. Amy follows the rest of the group in.

“It’s a Spring Court bar and club,” Marcella clarifies. “Not sure if you remember Amalthea, the Spring Elder from the trial, but she runs this place. I interviewed for a job here back before the Iron Nail.”

The door opens into a foyer. There’s a carpeted staircase in front of them and slightly to their left. On the ground floor there are two doors, one directly to their left and one to the right of the staircase. On their right are two larger double doors. All the doors are closed. Everything is wooden paneled, and the lights glow a warm amber. There are two leather armchairs, one on the landing at the top of the stairs, and another on the entry floor to the right of the stairs.

Iris looks for any interesting patterns or inscriptions as well as unusual materials or other inconsistencies. She sees no inconsistencies, but the quality of the materials in the room is very high.

Seated behind a small desk of lovely wood is a gorgeous young woman with rich black curls and a face off of a greek statue and golden eyes. As the group flounders for a moment as they come in, she says in a low voice, “Good evening, how can I be of service?” Amy looks at Marcella, not sure this seems quite right.

Marcella walks up to changeling at the desk. “Good evening. We’re meeting a group of four here. I think they may be in the back area?” She gestures to the door on the left.

The woman’s eyes sweep over them, taking in the changeling nature of the group. “An appointment with a party of four. They arrived only a few minutes ago. I directed them to the back area. Please enter and meet your party.” She gestures gracefully at that door to their left.

Marcella smiles, nods, and heads over to the door. “Thank you for your help.”

“It is my pleasure to greet Emil and young Faron’s friend,” she replies. Marcella grins back at her.

Iris is now looking for some mechanical or android influences, or else for marble patterns on the woman. She does, however, follow without a word when the group leaves the room.

As they all walk into the room, they see that it’s not as cavernous as the main room, but still fairly spacious, and it’s far more crowded and lively. The lights in this room are brighter; the entire area is very well lit. The bar stretches across the left side of the room and there are bar stools in front of it. The far corner has several booths, most of which look like they could seat about 6, and a few that could easily accommodate at least 12. There are also tables in the middle of the room, varying in size. There’s a clear space in the center right across from the bar, likely for performing or dancing. It’s not being used right now.

Madoc and his team are sitting in one of the largest booths, the one closest to the bar. Madoc looks elegant and quite handsome in a well-cut button-up. Phthonos looks unhappy to be there, but is dressed quite stylishly and is no doubt quite irresistible to those who are drawn to danger, etc. in a partner. Clota is taking up about three people’s worth of seat and has on a simple tunic that echoes the markings on her skin. Muriel wears a bronze dress that looks perfect on her and in the bar. As they walk in, Madoc waves at the group.

Marcella heads for the booth they’re in, waving back. “Glad you found the place all right,” she says as she walks up. Hank awkwardly hangs to the back of the group.

“This still doesn’t feel like a bar …” Fianna mumbles as they walk over. Amy stays close to the main body of the group, hiding partially behind the others. Iris is mimicking Amy, attempting to stay in shadow as well. Zia walks over the group with a smile, pleased that she is wearing the perfect outfit. She notes how well each of the other team has dressed.

Madoc stands and shakes hands with Marcella. “Please sit! The first round is on us, in honor of your victory!”

Hank and Fianna both sit. Iris takes a seat at the very edge, casually surveying the room for other exits. Zia takes a seat next to Clota and across from Phthonos.

Marcella smiles and grips his hand firmly. “Thank you, again, for your generosity in inviting us. We brought two of our other teammates, since we try and do things as a team in Vogelfrei. This is Iris, and Amy,” she says, pointing them each out in turn.

Madoc smiles, “A pleasure to meet both of you! I am sure your talents equal those of your teammates! I have watched both the weapons matches and the dream battles. Quite a good showing for such young changelings.”

Iris is trying to hide even more, but doesn’t quite manage now that the spotlight is on her. The somewhat androgynous woman waves instead. She looks a bit green again once the team battle is mentioned.

Amy perks up at the mention of the dream battles. “Thank you!”

Marcella smiles and slides into the booth as well. “We’ve tried out a pretty wide spread of the events at this point. It’s been so interesting to see what kinds of sports and competitions bring changelings all across Europe together.” Hank gives Zia an incredulous look at Marcella’s continued enthusiasm. Zia gives Hank the same look back, with a bit of resignation.

Once everyone is seating, a very tiny man with thick, pale-yellow hair with precise black streaks comes over in a bustle of energy. “Good evening! I am Florian and I’ll be helping you today! Though you are of course welcome to come up to the bar at aaaaany point!”

“Ah yes,” says Madoc to Florian. “Two pitchers of whatever you recommend, and glasses for all for starters. We are celebrating tonight!”

Florian jots it down. “Gotcha. That’ll be right up!” He bustles off to fill the order.

Madoc opens his mouth to speak, and Phthonos jumps in, “So, how did children like you get so good?”

He looks to be in his late 20s. Hank shoots Zia another skeptical look, and mouths the word “children?” Zia rolls her eyes and mouths, “idiot.” Fianna considers snarking that she’s technically 30 years old, but refrains.

Marcella gives Phthonos a disarming smile. “Well, frankly, I think we had a healthy dose of beginner’s luck. But we also had some help from Zia’s inventive crafting abilities, Hank’s tactical smarts, and Fianna’s brute strength. Heimdahlzunft has been generous enough to support us while we get on our feet, and that gave us time to practice and work as a team.”

“Beginner’s luck indeed. I heard some talk of cheating, or perhaps that your Queen allowed you an unfair advantage as a mark of her favor!” he says conversationally.

Madoc breaks in, “Phthonos! Enough, we are here to share a companionable drink with a group that did an amazing job. No slander.” Hank growls, but bites back an angry comment due to Madoc’s rebuke. Amy frowns heavily and pointedly in Phthonos’ direction.

Marcella’s smile turns sharp and pointy. “All unfounded rumors, unfortunately. I’m afraid we beat you fair and square.”

“Though not for lack of trouble,” Fianna says, almost blasé. She raises an eyebrow at Clota. “Seriously, major props on that hit. My ribs’ll remember that one for a long time.” Marcella tries and fails to smother a grin at that.

Clota nods and says in a refined voice filled with quiet pride, “I am quite good at what I do. One of the best Lambs in the circuit.”

“And I must compliment you on your use of the blindness contract,” Marcella adds to Phthonos. “If it weren’t for my elemental abilities, I would have been basically out of the match after that.”

Iris just gets more and more uncomfortable at his comments. If she were alone she would probably find some other feeling as well, but at the moment she is looking for escape routes again.

“It was quite unfortunate that you had a way around that contract. What a strange elemental ability you have, so many … disturbing potentials,” Phthonos replies with a bit of a bite.

Marcella’s smile dims just a fraction. “Yes, unfortunately, it has great potential for harm. Then again, many changeling abilities could cause great havoc if used for the wrong purposes.”

“I suspect the freeholds find few elemental abilities as disturbing as your own,” he replies. Hank, jostling the table slightly as he stands, steps heavily on Phthonos’ foot.

Marcella raises her eyebrows at his continued rancor, but keeps her voice level and doesn’t engage his anger. “Well, fortunately for me, they’ve decided to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

Zia jumps in at this point. “As if you are one to speak! Just the abilities you used in the match today are moderately disturbing and I have every confidence that many you held back are disturbing. It is the nature of changelings that our magic is disturbing quite often, do think of the source!” she says, in the tone of one lecturing a child.

“Excuse me, I need to see the washroom.” Hank walks quickly away, putting more weight on Phthonos’ foot as he steps off of it. Phthonos doesn’t react obviously to Hank’s action above the table, but does yank his foot away as soon as he can.

Iris quietly starts looking for ghosts. She sees first one lone ghost chicken, cluck clucking to itself quietly, then another and another and another. The four of them are industriously appearing to eat worms and other things with little regard to whether they are technically in a chair or in part of a table leg. In the far corner, there is also a young man who looks incredibly sad, nursing a ghostly drink. He is very slender, with a mat of tangled hair, wearing modern clothing.

Meanwhile, Madoc looks at Phthonos with great disappointment. Clota has a look of long-suffering on her face and Muriel has a careful smile.

Phthonos looks at Zia. “And what would you know about changelings truly at this point in your life?” he says condescendingly.

“Oh look, the drinks are here,” Fianna says flatly as Florian bustles over with two large pitchers and a stack of glasses. Marcella turns towards Florian with a relieved smile.

Florian busies himself giving everyone a glass and pouring servings for everyone. “This is Agatha’s Specialty, the house favorite. Everyone will taste something a little different based on certain preferences. It’s quite a clever thing. Enjoy!” And he bustles off again.

Amy hadn’t been planning on drinking, but now she’s curious, so she takes a careful sip.

Marcella grins and raises her glass. “I was hoping he’d bring out Agatha’s Specialty. I’ve had it before, and it’s amazing.” She raises her glass. “Here’s to the Destroyers, eventual victors in the 8 on 8 Lambswool!” Agatha’s Specialty reminds the drinker of their favorite time of day and their favorite fruit.

Madoc, Clota, and Muriel raise their glasses with alacrity. Phthonos follows a second later. Zia raises her glass with a smile. Amy raises her glass as well. On time, even. Everyone takes their drink for the toast.

Iris looks over to the corner curiously and ponders whether it’s worthwhile to try and shock Phthonos. She doesn’t touch her drink, though she does raise it. She also ponders whether tossing a drop of blood in his direction would be grounds for kicking her out, and whether she minds.

Hank arrives back at the table just in time for the toast. “Hear, hear!” he says, boisterously, clapping Phthonos (heavily!) on the back. “Do you know who your next opponents are?” he asks Madoc, as he slides back into his seat.

Clota replies to Hank, “Our next opponents in the 8 on 8 are old friends, the team from one of the other Berlin freeholds.”

“Cities can have more than one freehold?” FIanna questions, taking a small sip of her drink.

“Ah yes, I’d heard there were two freeholds in Berlin. I imagine you’re rivals, then?” Marcella asks.

Clota nods, “Oh yes, it is quite common for the largest cities to have multiple freeholds or in places where the freeholds are smaller, to have smaller freeholds with less organized structures.”

Muriel jumps in, “There are actually three freeholds in Berlin, of various sizes. Our next opponents are rivals of a sort, but largely sportsmanlike rivalry.”

“Interesting, that seems like so many. How do they compare in size to Aachen’s freehold? There seem to be so many changelings here, but I don’t know if that’s usual or not,” Marcella says.

“Aachen has always been an uncommonly large freehold for a variety of reasons, chief among them that there are few freeholds of any importance in this area. Certainly with the recent influx of changelings like yourselves, they have swelled incredibly,” Clota responds. Phthonos is sipping his drink grumpily.

“That makes sense,” Marcella says, nodding thoughtfully. She takes a sip of her drink, savoring the taste of sunset and apples. Hank samples his drink and gets a startled look on his face.

Iris is looking over to the young ghost to see whether she can gain his attention somehow. The ghost is studiously ignoring everything except his drink. Investigating her drink, she gets a whiff of a very strange smell. She decides to put it down for the time being.

Muriel asks Iris, “Do you not like the drink? Or perhaps you do not drink alcohol? I am sure this bar has something without.”

Iris snaps up and looks frozen for a second or so. “Er … I prefer not to, no. I, well … it smells quite strange to me anyway.”

“When Florian comes back, we can get you something different then,” she proposes. “Iris, where did you learn to shoot so well?” she asks.

She shrugs. “I’ve been from shooting before I got lost. A bit of hunting too, though I’m probably worse at it now. I guess it just reminds me of before, so I’m doing it a lot more now. I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be anyway.”

“Well, I think your skills are quite good! I imagine that if you were to use that weapon your teammate designed, you would be quite impressive,” Muriel replies.

“I might… there is an old German legend or song of sorts…” Iris says. “But, yes, I suppose a more unusual weapon would be fun to use. I just use mine to hit weak points or disable people though. I like to think it works alright for that.” She smiles a little. After all, she has yet to miss any shots in combat.

“Yes, I imagine most people that face you weapon in hand have to worry about replacing them before the day is out,” Muriel laughs. “You do not, from what I have seen, attack people directly, though. Personal preference, I assume?”

Marcella smiles, pleased that the conversation is finally turning friendly, and turns to Madoc, keeping her voice quiet so as not to interrupt Iris and Muriel’s conversation. “I have to say, your duel with Queen Kenna during the opening of the Games was unreal. Your swordsmanship is truly inspiring.”

Madoc replies quietly, “Thank you Marcella, The Queen is quite an impressive opponent.”

Marcella shakes her head in admiration. “It must take guts to cross swords with her. I’m certainly glad to follow her, rather than face her in a fight. I’m pretty good, but I’m not that good.”

Madoc replies to Marcella, “I am sure if you continue working on it, you will be one day.”

Marcella bows her head and takes another sip of her drink. “I thank you for your kind words.”

Madoc smiles, “Lighten up! We are out drinking, no need for formality! Now, tell me, how did you assemble your team for the match?”

Marcella grins. “Well, it started with me and Fianna thinking that Lambswool sounded like fun. Hank and Zia … graciously assented to join our team, with a little persuasion. Zia preferred to be the Lamb if she was going to join us, which, as you saw, suits her best anyway, since she is more of a ranged fighter than a melee fighter.”

No other side conversations have started yet. Amy is mostly being shy. Hank is kind of zoning out on his drink, but he is keeping an ear on both conversations and a wary eye on Phthonos.

Iris shrugs at Muriel again. "I don’t really like hurting people if I can avoid it. I suppose yes, they might do. The last fight was… bad. " She shudders a bit and looks down, though it doesn’t appear to be from fear or concern for herself. Marcella is a little too involved in her conversation with Madoc to notice Iris’ discomfort.

Muriel decides not to push Iris. “Everyone has their own preferences dear, it’s fine. Goodness know that I prefer a certain amount of avoidance in my own style. I do not hit terribly hard, as you might have noticed.”

Iris smiles a little. “Well if the enemy can’t reach or fight you, it’s a win, isn’t it? You were very good as well though.”

Zia, overhearing Marcella, says quite clearly, “I’m no kind of fighter at all! I am a craftswoman and that is that!” Phthonos raises an eyebrow at that statement.

Marcella raises her eyebrows at Zia as well. “Well, you made a pretty good showing of it with those guns, Zia.”

Fianna, who is almost done with her drink, takes a sip, coughs some smoke, looks askance at her cup, and decides to put it down.

“I couldn’t very well be defenseless for that purpose, could I now Marcella?” Zia says.

Madoc looks around the table at the mostly empty drinks. “Marcella, would you care to come to the bar with me to obtain the next round of drinks?”

“Of course,” she agrees immediately, and slides out of the booth. Madoc follows Marcella over to the bar.

As they wait for a bartender’s attention, Madoc says very quietly, “You should know that your … misadventure in Berlin has attracted the attention of all three freeholds. It was not difficult to piece together that the two fetches in the house were yours and your brother’s.”

Marcella stiffens, clenches her fists, and gives him a shocked look. After a moment, she regains control of herself and looks away. “How … what happened to the little girl? To Gabby?” she asks quietly.

Back at the table, Clota asks Hank, “This … Maneuver 7, where is it from? It is quite effective for teams members of such different size.”

Hank chuckles, putting down his glass. “I don’t suppose any of you are familiar with Marvel Comics?”

Madoc looks back at Marcella solemnly. “She was in great pain for awhile, and there may be long-term minor damage to some of her joints, but we have ensured that she does not fully remember what happened. The fetch recognized us for what we were, I believe, but were easily convinced to tell a slightly different story to adults who asked.”

Marcella swallows and nods, looking unsurprised. “She knows what she is. He … the boy doesn’t.” She looks somber, but after another moment turns to look him square in the eyes. “I apologize for the inconvenience my rash behavior must have caused your freeholds. It is inexcusable, but I’m truly sorry that I lost control like that. It won’t happen again.”

“I would hope not,” Madoc replies. “What we have seen of you since would imply you are a more honorable person than the one who took such actions and ran away. The powers all changelings hold are quite dangerous, and using them to accomplish our own personal goals outside the hedge is always a risk.”

Marcella looks at the floor, jaw clenched, and nods. “I’m afraid I lost my head when I found a fetch in the place of my brother,” she says softly.

Phthonos huffs as if the idea of reading comics is beneath him. Muriel and Clota look at each other in mild confusion before Clota says tentatively: “is that Spiderman?”

Zia smiles at Hank’s comic book nerdiness. “Yes, Spiderman is one of the franchises!” Hank gives her an encouraging smile. “And Iron Man, etc… I hear there have actually been several popular movies, recently?”

Clota nods, and looks at Muriel. “There’s a bunch of younger changelings who keep going on about some sort of movie franchise.”

Muriel nods. “I have seen a couple, they are quite popular. is this what you are talking about?”

“Yes!” Hank says. “The term ‘Maneuver Seven,’ as well as the move itself, comes from the X-Men franchise, in which one of the main characters, who is small but pretty much indestructible, is launched across a battlefield by another character who is exceptionally large and strong.” He grins, “It’s also sometimes called the ‘Fastball Special.’”

“I am not, as you may have noticed, indestructible,” Fianna drawls.

“I see,” Clota says, then eyes the two teammates remaining at her table. Muriel responds with a flat ‘no,’ while Phthonos just sputters at the very idea. Iris has been listening intently, but doesn’t comment.

Over at the bar, Madoc nods to Marcella. “I am sure that was quite upsetting. I have a lot of sympathy for that, however, as an action, it was quite dangerous to keeping ourselves secret from the human population. I have been instructed to let you know that the freeholds of Berlin request that any visit you make to our territory be cleared through one of the freeholds, ideally the whose territory you will be in, until such time as it is determined you can control yourself in the same city as the fetches.”

Marcella nods. “Of course. I am happy to comply with their wishes, and I appreciate their understanding. Thank you for delivering the message.”

“I would not say it is my pleasure, but it is good that you accept the restriction so gracefully. Please know that if you enter Berlin without prior permission, it is possible that the Berlin freeholds will respond to you as a threat and take you into custody. Certain members are very displeased with your actions and may be exceedingly rough,” he warns her.

Marcella gives him a humorless smile. “I can’t say I can blame them, for the trouble I’ve caused. You didn’t need to warn me about that, and I appreciate that you did so. I don’t currently have plans to return to Berlin any time soon, but if it becomes necessary, I’ll give as much warning as possible.”

Madoc replies, “We will appreciate that.”

Phthonos, who has been drinking steadily, smiles at Fianna. “Indestructible? Certainly not. The only way a little thing like you, so fresh out of the hedge the gashes of thorns are still aching, could be indestructible is if your Queen gave you a bit more help than she should.”

Iris is very happy to have her shrunken rifle. She is considering unshrinking it. Hank, who had settled back, enjoying the conversation, and raised his glass to his lips again, brings it down to the table with a loud bang. Fianna initially doesn’t say anything, but her hair starts to flicker with colors of flame like an aurora.

“That,” Hank growls, “is quite enough. If your damaged ego is insufficient bruising for you, I would be more than happy to step outside with you and add some to your face and torso.” Zia looks at Hank and Fianna, a little worried that there may be an actual fight.

Amy puts her glass down overly hard on the table, “Fianna wouldn’t cheat!”

Marcella nods to Madoc again, then turns at the loud noise from their table. “Ah. Perhaps we should return to our companions soon.”

Madoc sighs, “I think perhaps that would be best.” Marcella heads back over to their table, ready to intervene should things get physical.

Fianna puts a hand on Hank’s arm. “No, that’s quite all right, Hank.” Her voice is far more even than they’ve ever heard it before, and ice cold. “I’ve had people telling me all my life that I shouldn’t be beating them at things. And yet somehow, I keep ending up in that position. I didn’t expect here to be any different than Glasgow. And,” she finishes. “I am happy to prove whatever you think I need to. I certainly don’t need to prove it to myself.”

Iris is pondering how accurate she would be at throwing drinks. Amy notices Marcella approaching. “Marcella, he won’t stop saying you guys cheated.”

Marcella raises her eyebrows. “Well, he can say that all he likes, but that doesn’t make it true. Everything all right here, ladies and gents?”

Madoc puts his hands at the end of the table. “Enough of this. Vogelfrei, my apologies for his behavior ruining your evening. Phthonos, come, we will go back to the hotel now. Muriel, Clota, please stay if you wish.”

Phthonos looks at Madoc. “I think I am going to take this Neanderthal up on his offer.”

Madoc smiles. “You shall not do so here, and if I have my way, not ever. Be happy I do not demand you apologize. Now, stand up and come with me, or I promise you, I will do my level best to beat the shit out of you myself. Surely you do not doubt my abilities?” he asks, a dangerous edge to his voice.

Muriel and Clota are watching the scene with similar expressions of resigned, familiar unhappiness. Muriel mouths the word “asshole” behind Phthonos’ back where he can’t see. Clota looks like she has a headache.

With a put upon sigh, Phthonos stands languidly. “Very well. I will leave this sad excuse for a bar. Let us go.”

Marcella stands aside to let him out. “Have a pleasant evening,” she says blandly. Her gaze shifts to Madoc, and she says more sincerely, “Madoc, it was a pleasure drinking with you. Best of luck in the 8 on 8 match.”

“Thank you. Good luck in your future matches. We will be watching your final Lambswool match.” The pair leave.

View
Game 43: The Penalty for Victory

Summary

The Lambswool team, having just unexpectedly won their match, is taken away for medical attention, but not before they are invited to the Monarchs’ box to watch an 8 on 8 Lambswool match in the afternoon. In medical, the Destroyers congratulate them on their win and invite them out for drinks that evening. Once back in the stands, Marcella has a brief conversation with Faron, and then the Lambswool team heads over to the Monarchs’ Box. They give up their weapons, though King Alter wishes to see Zia’s guns. The Monarchs congratulate them on their win, and Scitalis engages Hank in a discussion about Lambswool strategy.

Log

Previously, the Vogelfrei team had just unexpectedly won the Lambswool match. Ritter Rime and the announcer have announced the win. Zia and Hank are checking on Madoc’s health. Marcella and Fianna are next to each other. Phthonos has already been taken off the field. Clota is standing just over the center line looking a bit stunned, and Muriel is still sprawled on the ground, unconscious.

Up in the stands, Iris is just incredibly relieved. She cheers, but doesn’t really seem present. Amy cheers when the victory is announced, and runs down the stands to meet the team coming up or going to medical. Iris follows.

Fianna, as the adrenaline wears off, suddenly becomes increasingly aware that her ribs should not be doing what they are doing. She sways a bit on her feet, but manages to stay upright. She looks a little sick. Marcella still looks a bit stunned, but is hovering near Fianna and keeping a hand right next to her elbow in case she looks like she’s about to fall over.

Zia stands up from Madoc, confident that Hank will have it well in hand and acknowledging she was mostly just uncomfortable with the great success of the explody gun. She looks at Fianna and walks over, whispering, “Fianna, can I help?”

Hank pulls a bracelet out of his pocket and wraps it around Madoc’s wrist. Madoc’s injuries are not severe. He has a few deep cuts from where Fianna’s stars hit him, and several bumps and bruises, but other than that, he’s just unconscious.

“Just … you know … make sure I don’t pitch over like a faulty tent.” Fianna’s too tired to even attempt sarcasm. She glances down, where one rib is poking slightly through the skin, a dribble of blood streaming down her side. “Might have mussed your pretties a bit, though.”

“Okay, I can do that. And don’t worry, the outfit will heal itself a bit until I have a moment to launder and fix it,” Zia replies.

Ritter Rime is standing in the middle of the field, looking at all of them like they are supposed to be doing something other than medically attend to the people on the field.

“Fianna, can you walk?” Marcella asks, glancing towards the exit for medical attention. “We should get you to the doctors.”

“I will walk out of here if it kills me,” Fianna says grimly.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Marcella mutters, but she stays by Fianna’s side as she hobbles away.

A team of medical personnel are just coming onto the field. They split up and come for pretty much everybody except Marcella, Zia, and Clota.

Hank explains Madoc’s status to the med team and then rushes over to check on Fianna. Fianna grumbles and blusters, but does not actually refuse his medical attention, including the bracelet. All the ribs on her left side are broken in more than one place. The two largest have been wrenched out of position, and the lower one is pushing the higher one through the skin. There is no damage to any internal organs, and Fianna is not showing any other signs of internal injury, so that is unlikely to be the case. Injury appears to be isolated to the rib cage only.

One of the doctors Hank knows from working in the medical room is following him. “Hank, do you need anything before we get off the field?”

Hank shakes his head. “I’ll keep.” He is favoring his shoulder, which still has a crossbow bolt sticking out of it. The wound seems more significant now that he has shrunk down to his original size.

The doctor raises an eyebrow at him. “Well, I expect you to get yourself to the med room within five minutes, then.”

Everyone except Fianna, no doubt due to her medical condition, hears a few shouts of “CHEATERS!” “A crappy team like you couldn’t have beaten the Destroyers without help!” “Did Kenna help you?” etc.

Marcella ignores them, though her shoulder stiffen slightly. Iris just sort of sighs, but looks more annoyed and determined than actually sad. Zia glares at the stands. Amy pauses, looks angry, then continues down to meet the team. Iris follows Amy down.

Hank’s eyebrows furrow as he hears the shouts, but he’s bent over Fianna, and stays focused on that. “You are most definitely not walking out of here,” he hisses at her, and gestures to the staff member to whom he was just talking.

The doctor, happy to help someone, gestures at the person who was headed towards Fianna with a stretcher. “On you get!” he orders. Hank has a whispered conference with him, but all they hear are things like “thoracic trauma” and “multiple fracture” and things that seem like arbitrary numbers.

Fianna grumbles, but in perhaps the best display of how she actually feels, chooses not to argue. She gets on the stretcher, looking perturbed, and grumbles at Hank. “Just so’s you know, just because my ribs aren’t covered in unbreakable metal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep chucking me about if it comes to that. Kinda fun, actually.” And she gives Hank a weak smile before actually lapsing into unconsciousness.

Marcella looks relieved that Fianna is in good hands, and looks around to see if any of the other team needs to be carried into medical.

With Fianna having been talked onto the stretcher, everyone is in the process of being herded off the field, when Varecia dashes onto the field. Marcella turns to face her. Hank pulls up sharply at the Knight’s entrance. She goes to stand at the exact center of the Arena sand and declaims loudly, “The Monarchs of Heimdalzunft extend an invitation for the Vogelfrei team to the Monarch’s Box for 3:00pm during the next 8 on 8 match in recognition of their accomplishments. Queen Kenna wishes to announce her great pleasure at their showing.” Before she dashes off the field, Varecia hands a sealed piece of paper to the closest person on the team, Zia. The medical team continues their efforts to herd everyone off the field.

Hank blinks at her like he has absolutely no idea what she just said. Marcella glances up at the Monarchs’ box in surprise, then glances around the stadium before bowing in the Monarchs’ direction. Zia raises her eyebrows, but makes a nice curtsey towards the box and then hefts her guns at the crowd. She then proceeds elegantly to the exit. Hank is still staring vaguely in the direction that Varecia left, with a confused expression on his face.

Marcella follows Zia. “What did she give you?”

Zia waits to answer until they are off the sands. “I imagine it is an invitation. I was going to wait till we were slightly more private in case it is not.” She holds up the paper. It is good quality paper, sealed with the seal of the freehold in red wax. On the front is written, “Vogelfrei.” Marcella nods.

Everyone finally makes their way to the medical room. Those who require medical assistance receive it, and everyone including Zia is examined. Marcella waits patiently through her exam. Madoc and the rest of his team are in the same room.

Iris, once she gets inside, just looks relieved and a bit lost. Amy rushes over to Fianna, having not realized how badly she was injured, and alarmed to see her unconscious. Iris is by now fairly certain everyone will be alright, but all the blood still makes her feel ill. She walks towards the team but isn’t sure what to say. Marcella waves cheerfully to Iris and Amy.

Hank is hovering next to Fianna, while grudgingly allowing the doctors to work on his shoulder, but he keeps looking worriedly over towards the Destroyers.

Zia, being entirely fine, is allowing the doctors to do their job, however she is keeping a careful eye on everyone.

Phthonos has already been healed a fair amount and at this point is mostly resting and having the smaller details attended to. Muriel has come around and is looking at all of them with shock and surprise. Madoc is just beginning to receive care. Clota is keeping an eye on her teammates.

“Is she ok?” Amy asks Hank.

“Hmm?” Hank says distractedly, before refocusing. “Fianna? Oh yes, she’ll be fine. A number of healings are easier if you are unconscious.” He pats Amy’s hand reassuringly.

Iris shakes her head a bit. “I’m so glad we don’t have to rely on normal medicine.”

“Oh, ok. Good.” Amy pulls her hand back, then smiles at her team. “You guys did it!”

Marcella grins at her. “I know, I still can’t believe it!”

Zia nods. "Yes … and we have to do it again … "

Hank echoes vaguely, “Again?”

Zia looks sadly at Hank, "That is the punishment for winning … "

Marcella laughs. “What Zia means is, this means we get to move on to the next round.” Zia puts air quotes around “get to.” Iris is starting to wonder whether Zia and Marcella just like pain.

“Where’s the buggering horse that kicked in my side?,” comes a woozy-sounding grumble from the bed. Fianna’s eyes blink open unfocusedly. “Oh hey, I recognize this ceiling. We’re old friends. We’re all in med bay, then?”

“Yep,” Marcella agrees, having been in this situation several times now.

A bed away, Madoc says,“Yes, yes we are. It feels so homey.”

“We are,” Hank confirms, in a sotto tone. “And I would not call Clota that if I were you.” Hank turns to Madoc, “Oh, you are healed, then. Excellent. My apologies about your armour.”

“I know the doctors are pretty, but can’t you find a better way to visit?” Iris asks. Amy turns to look at Iris, confused.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Fianna says. “That was a sweet a hit as I ever saw. Good show that. My compliments!” This last bit is said louder and in honest admiration.

“Armour is for using, no worries! Your team did very well!” Madoc responds to Hank.

“Yes, apparently,” Hank agrees, scratching one ear. “Sorry about that.”

“And, Fianna, for a little bit of a thing, there is certainly more to you than meets the eye!” Madoc says. Nearby Clota nods in agreement. Phthonos is glaring at all of them. Hank looks at Phthonos apologetically. Marcella is blushing slightly at the praise to her team.

Fianna turns and looks at Hank, a long-suffering look on her face. “That’s it. Clearly I just need you to teach me that contract you used to go all BFG on everyone, and leave it on all the time. Then maybe the height jokes will stop.” She looks frustrated, but it’s said with good humor.

Zia laughs loudly, "Oh Fianna, when will you learn it is good for your opponents to underestimate you … "

Madoc smiles back at Fianna. “I suspect your freehold might know well enough that you are more than seem.”

BFG?” asks Hank.

“It’s true, you’re showing them now, Fianna,” Marcella says with a grin.

“There are currently like…six reasons, they’d do that, Powderpuff,” Fianna grins. “I’m just missing the six or so inches I lost.” She looks at Hank. “BFG? Big Friendly Giant? Children’s book? I know I didn’t finish school but I thought everyone knew whatshisname … Roald Dahl?”

Hank have no idea what she is talking about. Amy thinks that perhaps it the Bernstein Bears she is talking about. Iris, Zia, and Marcella recall the books, though they may not have read them.

Fianna, seeing that most people seem to have no idea what she’s talking about, gives a brief and not terribly informative summary. Hank shrugs, and then winces at the use of both shoulders. “I have been called worse, I suppose.” He shifts his gaze back to Madoc’s team. “Are you all doing all right, then? I really am very sorry about all that.” His gaze is particularly on Muriel, who he clocked in the back with a piece of exploding armour.

Madoc shrugs, “We’ve all been to this room and rooms like it across the continent many a time. We’ll be fine.” Everyone but Phthonos nods casually. Phthonos looks quite grumpy. “If you all are available, my team would love to take you to a good bar tonight, in recognition of your victory.”

“We’d be honored to share a drink with you, Destroyers,” Marcella answers. She hops up from her table, exam finished, and walks over to Madoc, hand outstretched. “Thank you for an exciting match.”

“I promise not to set the bar on fire!” Fianna calls from her bed.

Madoc shakes her hand, “It was our pleasure! Hopefully we will not lose similarly in the 8 on 8s with the rest of the Destroyers.” At Fianna’s comment, he raises an eyebrow. “Does Vogelfrei commonly set bars on fire?”

Zia interjects, “No, we most certainly do NOT, right Fianna?”

“It was a joke,” Fianna protests. “Mostly. You know why I don’t drink much, Zia”

“We also promise not to get the bar brought up on charges before the Queen,” Hank mutters, quietly enough that only Vogelfrei can hear. Zia nods at Hank and glares a bit a Fianna. Fianna starts laughing, but this quickly dissolves into pained gasps.

“I know a good place,” Marcella suggests cheerfully.

Madoc says, “Excellent! I was hoping you would! The last bar we frequented here … Clota was a little enthusiastic regarding the outcome of a soccer game. I believe we are not welcome there anymore.”

Clota smiles, "It was a good fight! "

Marcella grins. “That’s unfortunate, you’d think they’d be understanding at a bar. But I guess some places are more welcoming than others. I was thinking of Elysion, which is run by one of our Spring Court elders, Amalthea. Have you heard of it?” Hank looks at Marcella, vaguely surprised.

Muriel says quietly, “Yes, I have been there. A lovely establishment. Madoc, I’m sure you’ll like it.” Madoc nods, and says, “Ladies should always choose! Elysion it is! Shall we say 8pm?”

“Sounds perfect,” Marcella agrees.

Hank turns his gaze to Zia. “So … umm … what is that, precisely?” He nods at the letter in her hand. Hank has seemed a little bit out of it.

Zia turns slightly, so that none of the other team will be able to read the contents easily, and cracks the seal. She skims it, then hands it to Marcella. “Nothing much, pretty much what Varecia said, plus a few details,” she says. The letter says that, plus, “We are pleased to see such newcome changelings settling in so well. We look forward to speaking with you today.” In a different hand, smaller and very precise, “And bring those guns.”

Marcella waggles her eyebrows at Zia when she finishes. “Looks like you caught someone’s attention,” she says quietly. Marcella offers the letter around if any of the rest of the team want to read it.

Once everyone is all set medically, the Lambswool team goes and changes. Hank seems displeased with his clothing options, muttering about not being dressed for the occasion. Zia looks Hank up and down. “I might have a accessory you could add, but I don’t think I have anything else in your size. Fianna, I do have something you could wear!”

“Does it have pants?” Fianna says hopefully.

Zia smiles at her, “Most certainly not! But it is fairly low on frills. You’ll like that.”

“Of course not. What was I thinking,” Fianna replies blandly, but does not refuse. Shortly, Zia and Fianna are both dressed quite fashionably. Marcella puts on the same casual clothes she had been wearing before the match.

At about 2:30, half an hour before the team needs to be at the Monarch’s box, they regain the stands. Marcella wanders the stands to see if she can find Faron in the crowd, but keeps an eye on the time so she can be sure to come back in time for their trip to the Monarchs’ Box. She spots him in the stands. He clearly looks ready to leave. Marcella makes her way through the stands towards him, waving. Once she gets in hearing distance, she says, “Hey, you came! Thanks for coming.”

Faron shrugs. “Congratulations.”

She grins. “Thanks. I still can’t believe we won. The Destroyers are taking us out for drinks tonight, though.” She hesitates. “We’ll be at Elysion, looks like, if you want to meet us there. Around 8. I don’t think Emil’s working, but he’s welcome too.”

Faron’s eyes narrow. “Your idea?”

She shrugs. “It’s not like the Destroyers know many places around here, and that’s the one I know.”

Faron crosses his arms. “You’ve been to at least one other.”

“What, the one my team put out of business?”

Faron gets up. “No. I have to go anyway. Congratulations again.”

She rolls her eyes a bit, but nods. “Thanks. I should get back to my team, anyway. See you around.” She walks away.

At about 2:55, Varecia pops up to the stands and says, “Come on, Their Stuffinesses are ready for you! Zia, here let me help you with those guns.” Zia allows Varecia to take the laser gun. Iris is kind of jealous, though she prefers rifles.

“Thanks for coming to find us, Varecia,” Marcella says as she stands.

“Of course! Queen Kenna wanted to make sure you were timely. Couldn’t have Scitalis tut tutting at you right out of the gate! Come ducklings, we are off to see the Monarchs!” Humming to herself, she walks off, clearly expecting you to follow. Marcella follows, checking to make sure the rest of the team is coming. Zia follows, the explody gun in hand.

“This sounds promising,” Fianna mumbles under her breath as she walks. Hank follows as well, bringing up the rear.

As they reach the hallway outside of the Monarch’s Box, Varecia says, “Any of you bearing weapons must give them to Mauritania and Murderous Max. I’ll carry Zia’s guns in for her.”

“Uh … " Fianna points to her hair where her stars have completely grown back.

Standing at the door, Mauritania gives a quick nod and gestures for the first person to come forward. Marcella nods and unstraps her swords, but hesitates over the dagger. She isn’t sure whether to ask Varecia about it.

Murderous Max smiles in an oily fashion and steps up to Zia. “Pardon me, but must make sure you aren’t hiding any weapons.” Hank’s cestus were left behind with the uniforms. But he narrows his eyes at Max and steps forward towards him as he steps to Zia. Marcella steps up on the other side of Zia.

“Pardon me, as well.” Hank steps in front of Zia, and produces a coin from his pocket. “I do not believe this is typically determined to be a weapon, but I did not want to presume such when being brought before the Monarchs.”

Zia looks at Max. “I think my word is just fine, thank you.” Under her glare and Mauritania’s quiet mutter that no orders had been given to frisk them, as well as Hank’s offer of the coin, he settles for taking the coin from Hank and the bamboo sword from Zia.

Marcella turns over her dagger along with her swords.

Fianna looks somewhat in a quandary, then takes her hair out of its tie. Released, it pools around her feet and envelops her like a giant blue-black sparkling blanket, and she combs through it, grabbing all of the stars that were even close to finishing regrowing, stacking them somewhat haphazardly on a nearby end table. She then struggles her hair back into its tie—messily.

After all the weapons have been turned in (Mauritania did raise her eyebrows at the dagger and smothered a chuckle at Fianna’s stars), the team is allowed into the room.

Back in the stands, Iris is hiding from the crowd and looking for something inanimate to shoot.

The box itself is quite large, about 40 ft by 20 feet, and fitted towards the front with four larger chairs and an assortment of smaller ones. The back half contains a locked cabinet with weapons, which Mauritania is adding the team’s to, a table with food and drinks, and another wardrobe. Within the box are the four Monarchs, sitting in their chairs, several people they recognize as members of the Summer Court, and Nodons, standing at ease behind Alter.

As the team comes in, Nodons says something quietly in Alter’s ear and he rises. After Alter stands, the other Monarchs stand as well. Kenna is beaming at all of them. Alter looks curious and calm. Eostre looks positively giggly, and Scitalis nods formally at all of them.

Marcella bows as she enters. Fianna gives an awkward and clumsy but serviceable bow. Hank also gives a formal bow, though he steps out of the way of the door first, so as not to bar others’ progress. Zia makes her curtsey, a very lovely one.

Queen Kenna says, “Welcome, Vogelfrei, please, come and sit with us while we watch the next 8 on 8 match.”

“We are honored by your invitation, Your Majesties,” Marcella replies as she straightens and walks forward towards the empty chairs. Shortly Marcella finds herself seated next Kenna, with Fianna on Kenna’s other side next to Eostre. Marcella does her best not to show how intimidated she is to be sitting next to Kenna.

On the other side of Marcella is seated Alter, then Zia, then Scitalis, then Hank. Varecia stands behind Kenna, Zia’s guns in her arms. Once everyone is settled, they are all offered a glass of wine. Below, they are finishing the setup for the 8 on the 8 match.

Marcella accepts the wine, and sips it very slowly. Fianna accepts the wine, and takes a small sip. Hank accepts the glass, but initially holds it untouched. Zia takes her wine with a smile and sips at it.

Kenna says, “That was a very impressive match. I have to say, no one expected you to win, much less make such a good showing.”

“Ourselves included, Majesty.” Hank says, wryly.

Marcella chuckles in agreement. “Indeed, we were as surprised as anyone. I think the credit must go to Zia’s ingenuity with the weapons she designed, as well as our teamwork. We were able to play to our strengths, and I think that made all the difference.”

Alter says quietly, “Indeed, it was clear your team knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses quite well.”

Marcella nods. “Yes, we did quite a bit of training and planning before our Lambswool matches, since we hadn’t competed in this sport before.”

“Although really, this sport is just simply so bloody and destructive. I have only ever participated as a Lamb,” Eostre says. Hank gets an odd look on his face as he images a Monarchs-only 4 on 4 team.

Scitalis looks to Hank. “Perhaps you could elaborate on some of your strategy. I am sure the Court historians will want to catalogue it, as much of the Lambswool matches of note include such in our records.”

Hank, mid-mental image, freezes for a moment. “Erm … well, I suppose the bulk of our strategy is not significantly different than that I have seen by several teams in the games,” he begins, looking slightly terrified to be talking to Scitalis directly. “Marcella and Fianna are much more suited to offense than I am, and I have the ability to get Fianna to the other team’s Lamb more rapidly than they can reach us.” Once he actually starts talking, he seems more focused on strategy discussion itself, and calms down. “After throwing Fianna, typically my role is to prevent other comers from reaching Ziazan, while Marcella takes a more midfield role. My moving the Lamb, as occurred in this bout, is not typically part of our strategy. Of course, our Zia has shown herself to be more than capable of defending herself entirely without my aid.” Zia nods sharply at the defending herself part.

“I see,” Scitalis says. “And did you come up with this strategy, or rather, the adaptation of existing strategies, on your own, young man?”

“I … I suppose so, Your Majesty,” Hank stammers. “None of us had significant familiarity with the game, so I, being the most familiar with other more mundane team sports, took it upon myself to map the plays and existing strategies from the teams we had the opportunity of watching before our first match. Though, some aspects of our strategy comes from more … shall I say, unconventional inspirations.” Hank takes a large sip of the wine.

Alter tilts his head, “Unconventional inspirations?”

Hank coughs, “Yes, well … erm. I suspect that none of Your Majesties are particularly familiar with, erm, comic books?” His voice trails off towards the end of the sentence. They can’t really tell due to the fur, but he’s definitely blushing. He takes another sip of wine.

“Though only some of us have much battle experience, I think that fact worked to our advantage,” Marcella says, picking up where Hank trailed off. “Hank’s academic knowledge and other interests, and Zia’s understanding of how mechanical things work, allowed us to think outside the box, as with the maneuver Hank and Fianna created.”

Alter smiles, “Comic books, or rather their predecessors, were treasured in my household by all the boys, and the girls too, if more quietly.” Hank blinks, startled. Scitalis raises an eyebrow at Hank, while Eostre hides a smile. Fianna allows herself a grin.

Kenna says, “That is not where one typically searches for inspiration. My understanding is that their battle tactics are horrible.”

“Typically,” Fianna says, still smiling. “Fortunately for Hank, I actually enjoy getting chucked through the air.”

“It is a risky, but interesting tactic to be sure. With some teams that move could get you in a lot of trouble,” Kenna says.

“Indeed, now that we’ve used it twice, I’m sure our next opponents will be coming up with a strategy to counter it,” Marcella agrees. “It certainly gave us an advantage of surprise in our first match, however.”

“Wasn’t expecting it to work this time around, as it happens,” Fianna admits. “I was supposed to be a distraction. I … guess it worked?”

“Indeed,” says Hank. “I suspect we will retire it for the next match, and have, instead, the element of surprise when we do something else instead.”

“The element of surprise is certainly useful. Now, these guns, Zia, you designed them?” Alter asks and gestures for Varecia to hand them to him.

With a calm smile on her face, Zia replies graciously and carefully, “I worked on them with Branson, one of the craftsmen employed by the freehold. We worked together, as weapons are far from my speciality. However, the design and ideas are my own, as is the lovely decoration.”

Alter looks at the rainbow enameled guns. “Such coloring is … not very typical of guns,” he said. “They won’t hide or blend in very well.”

“King Alter, that was not the point. The point of these guns is to be showpieces. Now that everyone knows I can make such things and carry them when I please, I trust my personal safety will be far more secure. They are not for hiding,” Zia replies. Scitalis raises an eyebrow and looks disapproving, but says nothing.

“And was your personal safety at risk previously, Ziazan?” Alter asks in a level voice.

“A changeling’s personal safety is always a concern. The day I think otherwise is the day I am taken back. In any case, I am happy you like the guns. They were an interesting puzzle,” she replies.

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