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.
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:
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.”
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.