Rites of the Spring Horn

Game 33: Round 1 (Marcella and Fianna Conquer)

Summary

The group watches the exhibition matches that are part of the opening of the Games, and then Marcella and Fianna have their first team match against Boris and Prism.

Log

Last time, a man in the stands had just explained the Rites to the group.

Marcella just looks thoughtful, and is assessing the mood of the crowd in the wake of the last match. Hank looks slightly uncomfortable at the level of violence potentially involved, and also is still uncomfortable about the issue in the Rite of Injustice having been them. Iris seems surprisingly apathetic; she doesn’t appear surprised in the slightest. Amy looks very determined.

The crowd’s overall reaction is whispers, cheers, and lots of talking. After about five minutes, during which someone has tidied the sand, a group of changelings and hobs come out and begin setting up a series of horse jumps along one side of the arena. A minute later, the announcer says. “Ladies and Gentlemen! The Exhibition Matches of the Aachen Summer Games! These eight warriors represent the best that the Summer Court and Heimdalzunft as a whole have to offer! They will fight to protect our LOVELY Queen with the last breathe in their bodies! Are you ready!?”

The crowd roars and surges to their feet. Marcella joins in the cheering, but stays seated. Hank claps, but stays seated in deference to the people sitting behind him. Fianna claps, excited to see what the summer court is made of. Amy claps, and watches intently. Iris watches quietly. She stays seated, clapping silently more out of politeness than anything else, her eyes riveted onto the contestants.

The announcer says, “And now, I give you the Summer Chosen! Put your hands, paws, claws, curious metallic thingies together for the Suuuuuuumeer Chosen!” The drums start up again. The crowd is roaring.

Hank leans forward, interested to see who the Summer Chosen are.

“I give you the renowned Murderous Max! Stalking the mortals in preparation for stalking the True Fae, he brings to our court the determination and willpower needed to one day bring down the Fae from their lofty feathered thrones!” As the crowd roars again, a tall slender darkling dressed simply in summer colors that seem … oddly grungy slinks out onto the sands. He reaches the center of the sand, put his hands above his head and turns them into long thin blades.

Hank leans back very suddenly. Amy whispers to Fianna, “Why are the thrones feathered?”

Fianna shrugs. “I have no idea. I never saw any thrones, just a giant telescope. And it certainly wasn’t feathered.”

Amy giggles at the mental image of a feathered telescope.

“Have you heard of him, Hank?” Marcella asks softly, still watching the man down in the arena. Hank shakes his head, but he has a frown on his face. He is not pleased by being represented by someone named “Murderous Max”. Neither is Marcella.

“That’s some name,” Marcella mutters, shaking her head. She looks unimpressed.

Iris doesn’t look happy precisely, but she is too absorbed with what is going on down there as well as her own thoughts to pay much attention to anything else. Zia claps politely, but is not particularly drawn in by the pageantry.

As the cheering dies down, the announcer continues, “Our next Summer Chosen comes to us from the moment the air becomes full of ozone, the blue skies begin to cloud. She brings storm wherever she goes and boy, can she fight! Give it up for Summer Knight Shuria Stormcloud!!!!” A tiny woman, wearing full armor that seems oddly translucent, flows onto the sand. Her hair, skin and eyes are constantly changing, the blue of a summer day melding into the gray-green as a storm rolls in. Her hair cracks with ozone. She holds a long tapered metal pole and has a sword strapped to her back.

The crowd cheers unequivocally for her and the motley hears one group chanting ‘SHURIA SHURIA SHURIA SHURIA’.

Amy goes back to watching the fight, images of feathered telescopes forgotten. Marcella looks more interested in this Chosen than the last one. Iris looks a little less displeased. Hank claps for Shuria. He generally has a pretty high level of respect for the Knights. Zia comments, “a+ for her outfit.” Hank nods.

“Very thematic, and probably enchanted,” Marcella agrees.

The cheering doesn’t die off for Shuria, particularly not from her fan club. After about a minute, the announcer says, “Cutting beauty is not merely a phrase with this lovely Summer Chosen. One of most loyal knights of Queen Kenna, her jeweled beauty and sharp claws are renowned for taking out both suitors and the Queen’s enemies. I give you Summer Knight Ryujiin Jewelblade!!!!!!” The crowd erupts and right near the monarchs box a trio of young men hoist up a sign saying “Cut to the Quick! And We Liked it!” A tall woman of truly striking beauty walks onto the sand. She is covered in jeweled scales and the angles of her body are sharp and defined. Her armor trends towards the “does this really cover me” kind, but is quite lovely and seems to be made out of scales she had shed. She has twin swords on her back and her hands have delicate claws on them, as do her feet.

Hank delicately and deliberately does not examine her armour in too much detail. Marcella continues cheering for the Chosen, though she’s still keeping an eye on the crowd, who seems to be cheering for what Chosen, etc. She does take a critical look at Ryujiin’s armor, assessing all the weak points it may have. Zia makes a nod of appreciation for the showmanship of the armor.

“You’ve seen flashy, you seen sneaky, you’ve seen pretty. But this woman comes in a package that makes no promises, tells no lies. The veteran of thousands of fights both in and out of Faerie, The Pirate of the Hedgemeadow, the general of madcaps, I give you, Therese Hightower!” A compact, muscled woman in practical armor with touches of decoration walks out onto the sand. She wears a helmet and has an array of weaponry on her person. She doesn’t look that … changeling, until she flips up her visor to pump her fist in acknowledgement of the changelings around the arena who are pumping their fist at her. Then they see the scars that cut across her face.

Fianna whistles. Marcella shows the most interest in this Chosen of all those they’ve seen so far, looking impressed by her clear battle experience. She claps and whistles. Hank claps for her at the same level he clapped for the other knights. He does learn towards Marcella and comment, “Now that is real armour.” Hank continues to be politely not looking at Ryujin if he can avoid it.

Marcella nods approvingly. “I’d always go for functional over flashy, myself.”

Iris looks at Ryujin a little more than strictly speaking necessary.

“No knight of Winter has ever been so honored! Has ever served the Court of Winter for so many years with such dedication. His heart runs so cold, not even the embrace of Summer’s hottest Flameheart could melt it. Armed with ice and snow and a stiff upper lip, I give you Winter Knight RITTER Rime Icefall!” the announcer said with glee. The knight identified as that “stuffy bag of winter air” by Varecia stalks onto the sand. He wears full armor that drips with ice and skins is visible is almost blue. He carries a greatsword that seems translucent and made of ice. As he comes to the center of the sand, he raises his greatsword high into the air and as if on cue, about 20 people sitting near the edge of the arena chuck massive icicles onto the sand in his honor. The crowd roars, though a few people yell, “Stuffed shirt!”

Marcella chuckles a bit at the crowd’s reaction. “Good to see some non-Summer representation,” she says. Hank gives a cough that is not quite successfully hiding a chuckle at the people shouting stuffed shirt.

The announcer continues, “My amazing spectators! I give you the one, the only, changeling to ever return to his Keeper of his own volition, hurt him a grievous wound and returned to tell the tale! One of the most skilled warriors of our generation, the man who killed giants, ogres, what makes you wake in the night in fear and showed no fear, no remorse. A man whose cap shall never stop bleeding as long as his desire for revenge against those who would take our lives burns strongly. Let’s hear it for Weaponsmaster JONTY the Everbleeding!!!!!!!” Jonty walks out onto the sand, an arsenal on his very large frame. His clothing is nice by virtue of lacking obvious holes. A good third of the arena chants JONTY JONTY JONTY JONTY. The crowd is going wild.

Amy looks surprised, “He did what?” She stands and claps. “Wow, Jonty. Wow!”

Hank jumps to his feet to cheer for Jonty, adding a quite loud bear-like roar to the wildness of the crowd. Zia rises as well, seeing as it is for a friend. Marcella looks like she’s gotten a punch in the gut when the announcer says that Jonty had returned to his keeper and lived to tell the tale, but wipes the surprise off her face almost as quickly as it came. She too rises for Jonty. Fianna pumps her fist in the air and gives out a loud whoop. “Get on with it, you blessed madman!”

“Speaking of the things that go bump in the night, that fits this man perfectly. He ran with the Hounds of Hell, hunted the darkest parts of human and Fae imagination, destroyed the terrifying Man of War in the Battle of Avalanche. As the right hand man of the Autumn King, he has used the deadly fire he holds within him to keep order for longer than I recall. I give you the Autumn Master of the Hedgewall, Nodons!” The dark skinned man from the bus walks onto the sand. He has a sword across his back. His skin is rich black of dog fur and his eyes glow with green flame. Near the monarchs box a group of people dressed in Autumn colors chant various things, “Sweetongue! Baron Hound! Nodons!” The crowd is crazy with cheering.

Marcella claps, but has sat back down now that Jonty is no longer the focus of the crowd. Amy does the same. Hank continues to stand out of respect for Nodons, but he’s just clapping, not cheering the same way he was for Jonty.

“Our final Summer chosen is a princess of battle! Armed with only her claws and wits, she savaged her Keeper in her escape. The Tiger of Summer, the Devourer of Despair, the Protector of Summer’s Rage. I give you the renowned Summer Master of the Hedgewall Mauritania!” The tiger skinned woman they first saw at the trial walks onto the sand, moving gracefully, dangerously through the sand. She is wearing full armor and armed with a spear and a sword on her back. The crowd goes absolutely crazy, and a horde of fans with tiger stripes painted on their faces scream her name.

Marcella cheers again, and notes that this is someone she recognizes, but doesn’t have any other reaction. Hank stays standing and continues to clap but sits down after a bit, since this is the last one. Iris has just been watching and taking in information so far, she seems unnaturally still if anything.

“And now, the summer games will begin their exhibition matches! Ladies and oddments, these are not fights, but lovely lovely examples of what our abilities can be!” The crowd quiets and the 8 standing in the center of the field exchange smiles and nods. Rime walks off the sand. Music begins to play. Without warning Ryujiin and Therese begin to fight. It is clearly a planned stylized fight, but not a joke of a fight. Therese is clearly wielding some of the less flashy fighting contracts, dodging, knowing what comes next. Ryujiin is making full use of her claws and her armor seems to flow to where it is needed. Meanwhile Mauritania and Razorhand are fighting, quick fast fighting that almost cannot be followed. Nodons stands smiling, waiting. Rime suddenly bursts onto the arena, riding a horse that is truly a monster. They start taking the jumps, but about three in, the jumps levitate getting higher and higher, held by Shuria. Rime creates pillars of ice to help the horse reach them. The crowd is screaming. Then Rimes is finished and raises an icy eyebrow at Nodons. Nodons scoff and walks to the jumps, then he flows into a massive hellhound and begins taking the jumps, adding a flip which he uses to spit sickly green fire out of his mouth and set the jump on fire. The jumps come down and Shuria presses air onto all the of jumps, making flames lick higher Rimes takes the jumps again, deftly avoiding the fire.

Marcella is trying to keep an eye on all of the fights, impressed by the level of skill and showmanship all of the combatants are showing. Amy cheers for the combatants, especially those doing the jumps. Hank is also trying to watch all of them, but quickly gives up on following Mauritania and Razorhand. He focuses on the jumping, and Therese’s fighting. He’s also looking around for Jonty, who he doesn’t see yet. He cheers for Nodons when he outperforms Rimes, but quiets a bit when Rimes also makes the jump set.

After this, all eight of the Chosen engage in a carefully coordinated fight that has contracts carefully and dramatically used to best effect. Rimes fills the Arena with snow and ice, much to the displeasure of Mauritania and Nodons. Jonty piles what is left of the horse jumps together throws the snow on them to put it out and in about ten seconds constructs a wall of sorts. Dividing into two teams, they fight over the wall, not able to see each other. Despite this, no one is hurt. Jonty eventually destroys the wall and the fight seamlessly falls into pairs fighting pairs. After about 20 minutes of truly fabulous contract and physical fighting, the eight stand at the center and bow.

Marcella pokes Fianna again as she cheers. “Okay, now we really probably should head down.” Fianna nods, an excited grin on her face, and stands to leave.

Amy stands and cheers. Hank cheers for Jonty in particular, over the course of the fights, and stands and cheers for everyone at the end of the exhibition. He pauses in his cheering to clasp both Marcella and Fianna on the shoulder and wish them each luck.

The announcer says, “Give’em a round of applause. Come on, that was awesome! Now! The first competition in this year’s games, the first set of the singles no holds barred matches!” Changelings and hobs come out and clean off the sand.

“Let me know how these matches go, we’ll see you guys in a little while!” Marcella says cheerfully, and heads down the stands towards the place where she checked in before.

As they walk down, Marcella asks whether Fianna is using a second name. She says that she may, at some point in the future, but she doesn’t want to attach one yet until she’s sure she knows what she wants to identify as.

At the check-in point, there is a large crowd milling about, slowly moving inside in pairs. The changeling at the desk doesn’t look up as Fianna and Marcella approach. “Names for confirmation?”

“Marcella Boneblade and Fianna,” Marcella replies. Fianna raises an eyebrow at Marcella’s new name. Marcella winks at Fianna’s surprise.

The changeling waves them through the door. “You two should be on relatively soon … newer competitors usually are. Stay near the gates at the far end of the staging area, and when your names are called, enter the arena. Good luck.”

Marcella waves in thanks and leads the way towards the gates.


About two minutes later, the announcer starts announcing who is coming out. The only name the group in the stands recognizes is Varecia’s. Varecia is fighting against a changeling from Belgium who appeared to be made of chocolate. There are five fights going on at once on the sand.

The fights go on for various periods of time. Varecia finishes her fight covered in chocolate, but victorious. Two ogre changelings who seem determined to beat each other into the ground take a full half hour for one of them to go down.

Amy doesn’t pay much attention to the singles matches, fidgeting in her chair and craning to try to see where Marcella and Fianna went. Hank cheers for Varecia, but gets more and more fidgety as the matches progress, waiting for Fianna and Marcella’s match to be called.

The cheering dies down at the singles matches for the day end. “We will now be moving on to to doubles matches,” the announcer says. “Four pairs will fight it out for honor and glory at a time.” There is a pause as presumably the arena is tidied. “Without further ado, our first pairs!” The announcer begins rattling off the pairs who will fight, until finally: “And in the southwest corner, we have Boris the Mighty and his partner Prism, fighting against two newcomers, Marcella Boneblade and Fianna!”

Amy cheers wildly, leaning forward and coming precariously close to overbalancing, but not seeming to notice. Hank also jumps to his feet to cheer, grabbing the back of Amy’s shirt as he does so. Amy turns around, startled, stares and Hank for a second, then resumes cheering from a more reasonable stance. Hank lets go as soon as she seems stable, but keeps an eye on her.

“Welp,” Fianna says. “Let’s go.” Marcella takes a deep breath and leads the way out.

The pair that faces Fianna and Marcella across the sand is curious. One, a man larger than Hank with rough pebbled skin and two sharp protrusions extending off his nose, carries a greatsword made of black metal in one hand. The other is an androgynous changeling who appears to be made entirely of opaque, frosted glass. They are carrying a short spear.

Iris stands to clap. Cheering isn’t really in her nature, and anyhow it would have come out weird with the knot forming in her insides. Zia claps as their names are called. “Now don’t be idiots,” she quietly admonishes the people who can’t hear her.

“And with that we have all our pairs for this round! Let’s have a good clean match, everyone! You know the rules: now … BEGIN!”

Prism immediately couches her spear and lunges towards Marcella, and the spear tip scrapes Marcella’s ribs.

Hank hisses and tenses with the first strike, eyes darting back to his ever-present messenger bag that he has tucked under his seat. Zia makes a little gasp as Marcella takes a hit in the first few seconds of the match. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea…” she says quietly.

Fianna responds by yanking two stars from her hair, setting them between her fingers, and landing a right cross on the glass elemental’s face.

Amy sees Marcella get hit and rises her volume, “Go Marcella! You can do it! Yay, Fianna!”

“There’s a reason I didn’t sign up for those,” Iris grumbles. Her expression is even more serious than usual.

Boris unlimbers his greatsword and aims a downward strike at Fianna. It barely misses.

Marcella isn’t slowed down by the hit to the ribs, and brings her bone broadsword in a swift, brutal slash across Prism’s front. Marcella’s skin also seems to thicken into bone plating.

After getting over the stress of the first hit, Hank returns to his seat. In addition to monitoring the fight closely and cheering on Marcella and Fianna, he also begins to keep an eye and ear on the crowd to see how they are reacting to the fight.

Prism looks quite unhappy, and their skin is cracked in several places, but they aim another strike, at Marcella again. The spear goes through the top of her right foot.

With every hit, the crowd roars. As Marcella hits, everyone in the stands notices that the crowd is very focuses on the various matches (all four are going simultaneously in this round). As Marcella makes her first hit, someone shouts, “Queen’s Toady!” then is shushed.

Iris’ knuckles turn white. Hank glares in the direction of whomever shouted that, and cheers loudly for Marcella. Amy yells, “Shut up, you jerk!” in the direction of the person who insulted Marcella, then keeps cheering. A moment later she covers her own mouth. “Oops,” she says through her hands.

Fianna takes a deep breath and her muscles seem to tighten and gain definition. She then lands another punch to Prism’s solar plexus. The glass changeling doubles over and then lays prone on the arena floor.

As Fianna takes out Prism a Fairest yells, “Yeah! You show them Starlady!”

Hank switches from monitoring the crowd, which is kind of loud and vast for him to be able to pinpoint things anyway, to keeping an eye on the other matches in the breaths between strikes in Marcella and Fianna’s match.

Boris lets out a roar, and then swings his greatsword horizontally at both Marcella and Fianna. The sword hits Marcella and Fianna both. Fianna seems to take a slightly worse hit than Marcella, but with the damage Marcella has already taken, she is starting to look pretty badly off.

Zia hisses at the wounds.

Marcella growls and comes up swinging, driving her sword into his chest. She is fighting flat out now, no wasted motion or awareness of the crowd. She is focused on the opponent who is still standing.

Hank tenses in his seat.

Fianna sidesteps around the back of the large man, jumps, and lands two star-clad fists hard on Boris’ shoulderblades. He staggers, and one shoulder appears dislocated.

Zia grabs the hand of whoever is next to her. “This is such a bad idea…” Iris startles, then refocuses on the match.

Roaring in anger, Boris swings around, trying to hit the target at his back that he can’t see. He manages to take Fianna high on the leg, but only barely. While he’s distracted, Marcella goes for a slice to the ribs, and hits. He is looking really bad. Fianna jumps again, this time to crack the back of his head. Boris suddenly stiffens, and then falls like a giant tree, landing with a resounding boom! on the floor of the Arena.

Marcella straightens, standing still for a moment to make sure he’s down, then plants her sword in the sand and raises a fist, looking weary but triumphant. The crowd celebrates as he goes down. Theirs is the second match to finish. Marcella and Fianna know that etiquette has everyone stay on the field who doesn’t need immediate medical attention.

Fianna chucks her stars at the Arena floor, burying them in the sand, and then slings an arm around Marcella’s shoulder, grinning widely. Marcella leans down slightly to make this easier for Fianna, and starts grinning too.

Iris stands back up to clap again, but she still looks worried and perhaps weary. Hank jumps to his feet and cheers for them.

Zia stands up and cheers. “Vogelfrei, Vogelfrei, Vogelfrei! Marcella and Fianna!”

Amy, already cheering, starts jumping up and down. “You did it! Go, Marcella! Go, Fianna!”

“Well, that wasn’t so bad, right?” Marcella asks Fianna, her usual cheerfulness slightly dampened by the pain in her voice.

Fianna whispers to Marcella: “Are you going to be able to walk off with that foot injury?”

“Yeah, I should be fine,” Marcella whispers back.

“Yeah, well, foot injuries are dumb about healing. Don’t do anything stupid. I won’t carry you off, but you can at least lean on me if you need to.”

Marcella squeezes Fianna’s shoulder gently. “Thanks.”

The other matches end within the next five minutes, and the announcer proclaims the victor’s names to the entire Arena. There’s a thunderous cheer, and then the gates are opened to allow the fighters back inside, where medical attention awaits.

Marcella does her very best not to limp as she leaves the Arena, head held high. The two of them head towards the medical staff on standby. Fighters are prioritized based on the time of their next event, and gotten as close to full health as possible. Since Marcella’s next match is tomorrow, she will be healed most of the way by the medical staff on duty. She is left with only a residual ache in her foot, and decides to ask Hank for his assistance when she gets back up to the stands.

Marcella keeps an eye out for Prism and Boris, and goes shake hands once they are revived. They accept her handshake. Boris turns out to be a terribly jolly man, and is happy to have had a good fight. Prism comments that they hadn’t wanted to be there in the first place, and Boris nods. “I owe a favor now.”

Marcella thanks them for a good match, as does Fianna, who also apologizes for the whole ’forceful dislocation’ thing.

Boris laughs and comments that he was not expecting such a tiny Fairest to make such a deep impression. And then he rubs his newly-relocated shoulder with exaggeration.

Marcella laughs and claps Fianna’s shoulder. “Our Fianna is puny, but she’s feisty,” she says with a grin.

The look Fianna gives Marcella could start a fire, and her hair starts smoking. This elicits another laugh from the big man, and even a quirk of the mouth from Prism. “It is a good thing to be unexpected,” the large man says. “Me? Everyone sees a big man, a fighter. They expect me. They expect you too, Boneblade. Your partner, my partner…” he throws an arm around an exasperated Prism. “They are our wild cards in this game.”

Prism pushes the big man off and finally speaks. “Trust you to pick a partner who’s only held a weapon a handful of times, Boris.”

Marcella ruffles Fianna’s hair, mindful of the stars, and lets her go. “I sure am lucky I had her out there, it’s true,” she agrees, still grinning at Fianna. “I’d have been done for between that spear – not bad for a non-weapons-specialist, Prism – and that sword.” Fianna is kind of at the I AM OLDER THAN YOU STOP THAAAAAAT stage.

Boris cradles his sword in his arms. "I am very proud of her. She came from Arcadia with me, and we have fought many battles together. He looks at Prism. “That’s it! We just need to find you a proper weapon!” The look Prism shots him is a devout “FUCK NO.”

Marcella lifts her sword in acknowledgement. “So did Ivory Promise. I hope she serves me as well as yours has you.”

Boris smiles. "And such a good name! You understand, then.” He rises. “I think I shall be returning now. Do you fight in any other events these games?”

“Yes, I’m competing in the one-on-one singles, as well as the weaponry singles and doubles and the Lambswool four by four. What about the two of you? And are either of you from Aachen? I don’t think I’ve seen you around.”

Boris shakes his head. “No, we come from Dresden. I came there from the Ukraine. I do the Games circuit this year. You sound to me German, but your partner I am thinking is a long way from home.”

Fianna snorts and simply says ‘Glasgow,’ and Boris laughs.

“Scottish! No wonder you have so much fight!” he shakes his head. “I fight the weaponry singles as well, and Prism is in the marathon. Perhaps we shall meet again!”

Marcella says goodbye and, once she is mostly healed, heads back up to the stands. There are no other planned events for today, and members of the group can stay or leave as they please.

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Game 32: Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Games

Summary

The group heads to the Arena for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Games, where they watch Kenna fight two opponents who challenged her during the Rites of Challenge.

Log

On July 14, 2013, the first day of the long awaited summer games begin. Everyone on the team has signed up for all of their events, which they did by going to the games office in the freehold and telling the nice people there so. Marcella, Fianna, Zia, and Hank have signed up for the 4 × 4 Lambswool Capture game.

Zia needed to be talked into why she would even be useful in the 4×4 Lamb game.

“Because we need at least one ranged fighter, and the Trusty Tool is so powerful! Plus if you have any contract-based attacks, that could be an area where our team could use a lot of help,” Marcella says. “We wouldn’t let anything happen to you, Zia. Don’t worry, I’ll protect you!”

Zia raises an eyebrow. "I don’t know whether I truly qualify as a ranged fighter … also this makes me the bait in this little game … doesn’t it?”

“But the whole point is that they can’t hurt you! And besides, you’re the bait to bring them into our cunning trap,” Marcella illustrates this with a hand-in-fist crushing motion.

“Don’t you think Iris or even Amy would be better for this? Amy did that thing with the acid balls she summoned … Also, this means you better get a cunning trap plan in mind. I have no intention of being hurt for a stupid game.”

“Neither of them was interested. And … you don’t have to if you don’t want to … we don’t have to compete in the Lamb game … I suppose I could always see if Faron will help us out …”

“Fine. I’m in,” Zia says quickly. “But if any of the other teams touch me, I’m going to destroy their weapons! I don’t care if they are lovely enchanted weapons,” she retorts.

“Sounds perfect,” Marcella says happily.

Zia grumbles, then perks up. “OH! and we will wear team uniforms!”

“I am sure we will out-style any other team by miles,” Marcella agrees.


Hank also needs to be talked into it … he’s not really that interested in combat.

When she approaches Hank, Marcella says, “Hank, are you by any chance interested in joining me, Fianna, and Zia on a Lambswool Capture team?”

“That is one of the Arena games, yes?” he replies. “I do not believe that I am particularly familiar with it.”

“Right. Basically, each team has a member who is essentially the flag in capture the flag. Each team is trying to capture the other team’s Lamb without hurting them, and also defending their own Lamb. I think Zia’s agreed to be our Lamb, but only because she gets to make us outfits,” Marcella grins.

“I see,” he says, with a little trepidation. “What type of physical regulations are there?”

“As far as I know it’s pretty free-for-all. You can use physical attacks or magic, just no contracts that will kill or purposefully disfigure. It’s okay to say no,” she adds.

“Do you have someone else who can participate instead?” he inquires.

Marcella looks considering. “Weeell … I suppose I could ask Faron …”

Hank recalls that his former Summer guide said “Well, I guess he is a good fighter?” of Faron.

She sighs. “He is, just not very … social.”

“I was under the impression that he was also needed elsewhere for a time,” Hank continues. “You are eager to participate in this ‘Lambswool’?” he asks.

“I think it would be fun, and Fianna seems really into it, so if you’re comfortable participating, it would be great to have you.”

“I haven’t seen you in action, yet!” Fianna says to Hank. “I’m curious! Besides, if we’re going to be working together, getting into more scraps on missions, I want to know what you can do. Helps me fight better.” She shrugs. “Maybe helps Marcella plan better. I dunno.”

Hank thinks this logic over. He doesn’t really seem that happy about it, either the enticement of violence or the suggestions that we’re going to ‘get into more scraps’ on missions, and his brow furrows when she mentions planning better. “Okay,” he replies. “I suppose if you do not have someone better or more interested, it is probably a necessity.”

“As long as it’s really okay,” Marcella says, giving him a long look.

He shrugs, “It is acceptable.”


The final list of events the team is participating in is as follows:

Elimination events:
One-on-one no holds barred duels in the Arena (leads to the Champion of the games): Fianna, Marcella
Pairs no holds barred duels: Marcella and Fianna
Contract based duels-singles: Fianna
Weaponry only duels-singles: Marcella
Weaponry only duels-pairs: Iris and Marcella
Dream battles: Amy
4 on 4 Lambswool Capture Game: Fianna, Marcella, Zia, and Hank
Boxing: Fianna

Contained events:
Sharpshooter (rifle): Iris
Skeet: Iris
Throwing knives: Fianna
Obstacle Course: Fianna, Amy
Labyrinth: Hulda, Zia
Scavenger Hunt: Hulda, Zia


The group knows that today is the opening ceremonies, as well as the start of the one-on-one no holds barred duels singles and doubles. They have been told that a bus will leave the freehold every 45 minutes during the summer games to allow for transportation. Both of the hallways most of the group lives on have been bustling the past few days as changelings from all over Germany and Europe come to Aachen for the games.

The group has heard that all the freeholds that follow the seasonal court structure—which is the majority of Europe—have their own iteration of the Games. All the freeholds in the country have their own designated time during the summer season when their games are held. The largest freehold—one of the Berlin freeholds—traditionally holds theirs at Midsummer. Since many changelings make a name for themselves on the Games Circuit, the staggered time periods allow for people to travel and attend more games. The Aachen games are considered some of the best in Europe, and the best in Germany outright. Many old participants have been talking proudly about this fact over the past week or so. It’s also why the Aachen games are so long.

Only Marcella and Fianna will be competing today. Hank has checked for two other names on the rosters. He only expects to find one, but he’ll check for both. In case it ever is relevant in any of the games.

The day before the Games, Marcella goes around to ask everyone if they want to head over together. She’s planning to get there on the early side, in plenty of time to people-watch in the stands before the ceremonies start. She emails Hank if he’s not at the freehold that day.

Hank would have checked in with the rest of the group over the past two days, to see if there was a plan to meet up and go to the games together. He’s probably spent the last few days working a lot of shifts, unless people needed him for anything, because he’s trying to take extra time off around the games.

Marcella picks one of the early busses from the freehold and tells everyone to meet her at that bus, so they can all go over together. Fianna arrives at the bus almost half an hour early. Marcella is there about 20 minutes early. Zia reluctantly agrees to go on the early bus, primarily since she had arranged with one of the vendors to sell a box of her and Amy’s wares at their stall and they wanted it early in the day. Hank will show up a few minutes early, but not that much so. Amy shows up about five minutes before the bus is supposed to leave.

As each of them arrives at the back courtyard, they continue to notice complete strangers walking around. Fianna is so excited that she gets to the courtyard and no one is waiting and the bus is not there. By about 15 minutes before the bus there are about ten changelings waiting. By the time Amy arrives, the bus is there and is already about 2/3rds full. Fianna, Marcella, and Hank are there. Marcella waits to get on the bus until everyone is there.

Amy runs onto the bus, and looks around to see who is already on. If there are any people she knows, or who she doesn’t know, but look interesting.

A variety of other changelings they haven’t met are there, as well as many they have seen around the freehold. The Muse, who came out of the hedge with Zia, is on the bus. Marcella greets the Muse when she sees her, and chats with other people she recognizes. The Muse nods solemnly back at Marcella and does not speak.

Zia comes about a minute after Amy, a large box in her hands. She walks up to Amy, “The fruit of our labors, what of it isn’t listed on Etsy, is in this box! Only reason I’m here.”

“But don’t you want to watch the opening ceremonies, Zia?” Amy is practically bouncing in her seat from excitement.

Hank greets the group, and nods at the people he recognizes, but mostly he is sitting fairly quietly, crammed into a bus seat and apologizing every time someone has to squeeze past him.

“Yeah, sure, I do, I guess … just don’t want to be there so early! But! I brought you and me something to do while we wait!” Zia says excitedly and moves to sit down.

“Ohh, what did you bring?” Amy asks.

“I brought you some clay and a box to keep your creations safe once you’re all done and me an embroidery hoop and some nice linen! I was thinking we could make things inspired by the Arena and the games while we wait,” she replies

“Oh, good idea,” Amy says.

A bus filled with changelings is never a boring place. It is clear that someone with an emotions something or other is very excited, b/c excitement seems to literally coloring the air green and orange. You hear a, “Boyo, you cut that out or I cut you!” and then a “Hey, he can’t help it” from the back of the bus. Before anything can get started, a tall man with black skin stands and says, “The Queen of Summer will have no trouble.” And then, the colors left the air and mumbled apologies are had. Hank knows that the person who just spoke is the Master of the Hedgewall for Autumn.

Hank whispers to whoever in the group is sitting closest to them about the Master of the Hedgewall, since he’s reasonably important and Hank the court will rotate to autumn next. Marcella looks at the Master of the Hedgewall thoughtfully when she learns this.

The bus arrives and everyone files out and starts walking to the door in the gate of abandoned diamond, saying “one please” and disappearing into the Hedge.

Amy hurries inside, “One please.”

Marcella leads the rest of their little group over. “Hank, have you ever been here before?”

“No, I have not,” he replies.

“To enter the Hedge from here, just copy what we do. Go through that gate and say, ‘one please,’” Marcella explains, and then demonstrates. Hank follows. Zia follows, having talked what looks like a nice young man to carry her box. She has only nodded at the Muse this whole time. Fianna goes through the gate, saying with glee, “One please!”

As they enter the Hedge, they are met by about ten stalls crammed into a space where really maybe six should be. The vendors are doing a brisk business, selling both what one expects to see in the Hedge and some more … shall we say Aachen summer games specific items. The space is a milling mass of Changelings and hobs, some they know, some they’ve never seen. A wide array of languages are being spoken and most people are heading towards the Arena.

Marcella glances at the stalls, but moves over toward the path to wait for everyone. Zia takes her box back from the nice young man and thanks him. Hank is looking around a lot. His ears are also twitching a bit as he hears various bits of speech in languages he understands, so he’s definitely kind of distracted. Marcella leads the way down the path once everyone has made it past the stalls.

Zia follows, lugging her box. Seeing that she is having some trouble with it, Hank pauses until she is next to him. “Would you like me to carry that for you?”

Zia nods. “Thanks Hank! I appreciate it!” She hands him the box. Hank does not appear to have any trouble with the box. Marcella continues to be friendly and chatty and watch all the other travelers with interest. Fianna walks along with everyone else. One the Arena comes in sight, Amy carefully looks at the ground until they are inside.

As the team approaches the Arena, the Arena looks the same as usual, except incredibly full of people. The creepy statues are still creepy, the building is still eerily impressive. However, the open space in front of the Arena is filled with stalls and in the distance, they can see a space where a small sea of tents are set up. Once inside the Arena, they can tell it has had a thorough cleaning and decorating. The red, yellow, orange, and green of Summer are everywhere, as are various posters advertising anticipated matches and schedules. There is a very harried looking person standing at the first arch to enter the stands, who is clearly answering questions and directing people. There is a large sign that says, “Contracts will be used in the Summer Games. Please be aware of any effects, but know that no harmful contracts to spectators are permitted.”

Hank is waiting on everyone else, because he has very little idea where he is. Marcella glances up at the living statues on the Arena when they enter, but doesn’t react to them otherwise this time. Once they are inside, she leads the way to the place they entered the stands last time. Zia follows Marcella.

Amy runs ahead, and looks to see if she can see opening ceremony preparations. As Amy reaches the stands she pushes through with some difficulty to the front. The sand is gleaming and clean. The Arena fully decorated with summer’s colors in banner form. The grand Monarch’s box is the only place where all court’s colors are present in the decorating. It is a busy anthill as equipment is being carted here and there and people are filling up the stands slowly. They are already about a third full.

Amy returns and walks up to Zia, “Do we have to go set up our stall, now?”

Zia smiles, “That is the best part, we don’t have to. I contracted with a vendor to sell it for us! Once we have found seats we can go drop it off. Marcella, where are we sitting, oh great leader?” she asks.

Marcella leads the way to the best seats she can find across from the Monarchs’ box, in the upper tier, which are the unpaid seats. If Marcella points Hank in the right direction, he can help with crowd parting. Which is to say, he’ll very politely say “Excuse me, beg your pardon, oops! Yes, coming through here. I am terribly sorry” as Fianna or someone pushes through the crowd. Marcella leads the group to prime seating in the upper tier, first row of that tier very slightly off centered. Fianna joyfully pushes through the crowd at Marcella’s direction. Amy follows Fianna. Everyone arrives safely in the stands.

It is approximately 9:45, and they have about two hours and 15 minutes until the ceremonies officially start. Marcella settles to happily people-watch. Hank takes out his notebook and starts making notes on the festivities and the various people in the stands. Although he will also happily carry the box to the vendor, if Zia and Amy would like the help. Amy takes some of the clay and starts playing with it, not yet sure what to make from it.

Zia says, “I’m going to go drop this off, be back in a few.”

“Do you require assistance?” Hank asks.

“If you wish, though, I can handle it if need be,” she replies.

“I do not mind, but only if you wish the aid and company,” he replies.

“Then by all means, come along.” She hands him the box. "I think we are going down a tier and over a big column or two. He follows. They make their way down a level and over a column to the stand of Hedgespun for the Ages. There they drop off their package, Zia has a last quiet haggle with the vendor and they go back to the stands.

Amy is happily sculpting. Some of the detail work will have to wait until she has the proper tools, of course. Though to some degree she can improvise. Amy makes a truly lovely sculpture. It is tremendously detailed and eye catching, and depicts Queen Kenna holding her sword.

Zia is embroidering various symbols of summer onto linen. They are the loveliest embroidered cloths.

Hank is content to people-watch.

A little while later, Marcella goes downstairs to check in for her and Fianna’s team match later in the day.

When Marcella gets downstairs, the little check-in cubby is manned by a Fairest dressed as a traditional knight. “Can I help you?” he asks.

“I’m participating in the one-on-one duels. Just checking in to let you know I’m here,” she says.

He replies, “Good to hear! You’re one of new ones, you testified against Leon? Marcella is it?”

“That’s me,” she says cheerfully. “Marcella Boneblade.”

“Boneblade huh? That name is shiny and fresh out of the box,” he says as he shuffles paper.

“Figured two names are better than one,” she shrugs.

He checks her name off. “Oh, you’re fighting the pairs today, not the singles. Is your partner here?”

“Yep, Fianna’s here too. Do you need me to go grab her?”

“Nah, we can take your word for it. Both of you need to be down here about half an hour before your fight, so in your case, right at the end of the exhibition matches. Come with anything you are bringing into the Arena so that the judges can get a look at it,” he says.

“Understood, thanks for your help!” she says.

“My pleasure! And Boneblade? Don’t become a Queen’s lady without establishing yourself first. Just a bit of advice from an old timer,” he calls after her.

She turns back and salutes him. “I appreciate the advice!” She then heads back to the stands.

About five minutes before noon, a low drum roll has started, so quietly that most people have not yet noticed it. It gets louder and louder until the rich sound of the drums fills the Arena, settling everyone into their seats. The sound of the chatter of hundreds of people slowly dies away, leaving only the drums beating, pulsing, the sound seeming to hit some invisible ceiling on the Arena and bounce back.

Zia does not put away her sewing, but pauses to look at the sand in front of her. Amy puts her creation away. “I think it’s starting,” she says. Hank nods, and tucks his notebook into his jacket, sitting up a bit straighter. Marcella sits forward, looking interested. Fianna is also very interested. All of her attention is on the Arena.

In among the drums is now the sound of a gong, somehow louder than these drums that strikes 12 times. It is noon. As the sounds of the gong die away, the drums continue, joined by a thumping noise, double time that of the drums. Approximately 40 warriors, dressed in the colors of Summer, banging spears into the ground, which is what is creating that double time noise, file out into a double line and proceed to march in intricate patterns for approximately five minutes. They recognize many of the Knights of Summer in the group.

Marcella watches how they move with interest, wondering how many of them will be competing. Hank watches, mentally trying to see if he can spot the various knights he has met. He can identify Varecia, as well as several others. He is also generally crowd watching, looking for the interactions and such. The crowd is primarily watching. There are a few people who are taking a, eh, we’ve seen it all before attitude.

The drums, the spears, the warriors, all are speeding up and up and up and then, Darkness coats the auditorium. A gasp sounds from the audience and there is one scream. Amy sits up straighter when the darkness falls, but otherwise keeps watching. Hank freezes, very, very still when the darkness cuts in. Fianna’s pale skin is vaguely luminous in the dark, though not near enough to see by. Mostly, she just grumbles. Marcella puts her hand on her dagger hilt, but doesn’t say anything. Zia nods calmly and waits for what happens next.

Then at the center of the Arena, a small flame begins to burn. A flute plays quietly as the flame burns brighter and brighter and brighter. The drums and the spears begin again, softly, slowly. The flames seem to form the shape of a person and then a rich deep voice they recognize as Kenna’s fills the stadium. She begins quietly, mournfully, “Everything was taken from us. What we valued, what we loved, what we needed. But we followed what was left of our souls, of our strength back home! Here to Aachen. And we found ourselves armed with abilities, with strength. And we promised that we would never stop fighting, resisting those who destroy all that they touch.” At this, her voice grew louder, stronger and she flung her arms out and the fire roared out across the Arena. “But we will not be silenced, we will not be destroyed, we will survive! Together we will prepare! We will train! We will rejoice in the strength of our hearts and arms. Let those who once held us against our will, shudder to know that today we celebrate what it means to be alive! To celebrate our strength where they left us with none.” The fire roars through the Arena once more and the Darkness is banished. Queen Kenna, wearing full armor and aflame, her sword in hand stands in a chariot. Around her the warriors are arrayed such that they form flames and their spears have streamers that seem to be actual flame.

The crowd is cheering, some stamping in time with the drums. Fianna is cheering as well. Marcella joins in the cheering, caught up in the mood. Hank will cheer as well, though he’s definitely a half-beat behind anyone else joining the cheering, as if he’s not entirely sure what to do. Amy cheers because everyone else is cheering, and because she is excited, more than because of what Kenna said. Zia is watching quietly, though she smiles and seems to take heart from the response as a whole. When Hank notices that Zia is not cheering, he will sort of trail off awkwardly.

The warriors, begin to move through shapes, a sun, a fist, a heart, a pen trailing ink, a sunflower and others. All move with great grace and coordination. They finish in the shape of a sun once more, then tap their spears to the ground and all the spears catch afire at once. Kenna, on her chariot at the center has eyes closed and when she opens them, the fire burns brighter, not burning the warriors, but the staffs are gone, the metal fallen to the ground, the streamers disintegrated. “I declare the Summer Games of Aachen open!” A cheer fills the stadium.

Marcella nudges Fianna. “We should probably head down.”

“Well, that was kind of short. Fun, but short,” Amy says. She perks up, “Good luck, Fianna and Marcella!”

Kenna stands as her chariot is led away, and the crowd below hushes immediately, expectant. Kenna merely says one sentence, but it is formal and dripping with ritual meaning. Marcella sits back down.

“Who before me will exercise the Rite of Challenge?” Her voice rings out, steely and challenging. The entire Arena hums with magic, and they can tell that there is something augmenting the volume of spoken words.

There is a murmuring and movement near the ringside opposite the box in which the monarchs sit. A tall, muscular man, dressed as a knight in Hedgespun armor and carrying an impressive sword with a strange sheen to the metal jumps into the middle of the Arena. He strides towards Kenna, speaking in ringing tones.

“I, Madoc, do so Challenge!”

Kenna nods, and begins descending to the floor of the Arena, all confidence and fire. “And by what right do you Challenge today?” she demands.

“By the Right of Honor!” Madoc replies. There is something very formal about this speech.

Kenna smiles as she reaches the floor of the Arena, standing opposite her challenger about twenty paces distant.

“The Right of Honor has been called!” she shouts to the Arena at large. “Do those present acknowledge this man’s right?” A thunderous cheer echoes around the Arena. Kenna nods. “Your petition is granted by season and the people.” She draws her sword, and flames lick down the edge. “May you acquit yourself well. Begin!”

The two swordmasters both lunge forward in a clash of metal and fire. Madoc’s blade seems to slide right off the Queen’s sword, and he recovers unusually quickly. It is clear that Kenna is not the only one with enchanted weaponry. Kenna smiles, and presses on, and Madoc rises to meet her.

A second time the combatants join, and a third. To those who understand such things, Madoc is indeed fighting well; matching the queen for a full five minutes. Neither lands a blow that draws blood. Kenna is smiling; she appears to be enjoying herself.

And then, suddenly, it is over. In between the space of one second and another, Kenna begins a relentless press, her skills suddenly overwhelming Madoc. A few stunning strikes hit him hard and unbalance him, and then suddenly he is on the ground, with the tip of the flaming sword at his throat. Madoc raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I yield.”

Immediately, Kenna steps back, and offers a hand to help the man up. After he stands, she raises his arm above her head.

“Honor has been satisfied!” she yelled, and the crowd goes berserk with happy cheers. “Let all assembled know that this man has Challenged in Honor, and is found worthy!” Releasing his hand, she offers her own in a handshake. Madoc gladly accepts, smiling happily. Afterwards, he bows, retrieves his weapon, and returns to the crowd, where several changelings are waiting to congratulate him.

Marcella is impressed by the skill both combatants display.

Everyone hears the trio sitting behind them say, “Madoc? I feel like I almost recognize him….” and her friend says, “Madoc of Spreezunft, one of the freeholds in Berlin you dummy! You watched him fight in the Berlin summer games not a month ago!”

Hank overhears the next quieter comment of the third person, “I heard he came to see what the Aachen freehold was made of, what they let into their Courts nowadays.”

Hank cocks his head at that, thinking back to the conversation he and Marcella had before the trial, and the other indications that Aachen has been gaining a lot more Changelings than other freeholds for no apparent reason.

Amy looks at Hank, “What is the Right of Honor?”

Hank shrugs at Amy in response. “I do not actually know. My apologies.”

“Oh. Ok,” Amy says. Hank looks slightly disgruntled that he doesn’t know. Zia sewed through the match, though she paid attention. She shrugs her shoulders, having no idea what the whole honor thing was.

Again, Kenna steps forward.

“Are there any here remaining that exercise the Rite of Challenge?” Kenna demands of the crowd.

There is a moment of silence before an angry voice rings out. “I, Lycaeus, do so Challenge!”

Moments later a changeling strides to the center, a wild looking man with dark eyes and silver frosted skin. He stands in front of Kenna, with two knives at his belt, and his posture screams anger.

Kenna’s eyes narrow as she surveys her would-be opponent. “And by what right do you Challenge today?” she repeats.

“By the Right of Injustice!” the man practically spits.

The Arena suddenly goes deathly quiet, as if the man’s words had sucked the breath out of all watching. A quick glance around shows shocked faces and some confusion.

Kenna nods, as if this does not concern her. “The Right of Injustice has been called!” she says to the crowd.“Do those present acknowledge this man’s right?”

The response from the crowd is weak, only a few voices raised in affirmation. The rest just watch.

Turning back to the challenger, Kenna speaks, but it is not to begin the contest as before.

“Let this man speak his grievances, before battle is joined.” She then gestures to the changeling before her to speak.

The man raises his head, speaking loud even for the magical amplification and turning so that he sees all of the assemblage. “I so speak under the eyes of compatriots and honored guests alike: that our Summer Monarch has done wrong by us. Too much of our resources go to the newcomers who pour out of the Hedge weekly. These are untested, and unsworn to our causes! They may be spies for the Gentry, or endanger us in the mortal world with their ignorance. By the Right of Injustice, I demand the rescinding of this policy.”

Marcella looks at the other monarchs as the second challenger states his grievances to see their reactions. As Lycaeus makes his statements, Scitalis just raises his eyebrow and settles in to see what will happen. Alter looks a little bit angry, but mostly patient. Eostre looks openly displeased, even angry.

There is a large amount of murmuring and upset noises coming from the stands by the end of his speech. Kenna holds up a hand, and all is silent once again.

“The grievances have been shared,” she says in a steely voice. “Your petition is granted by season and the people.” Once more is her sword drawn. “Prove the truth of your words with action. Begin!”

The Kenna that fights with the challenger below is not the same as the one who previously fought Madoc. Here there is no testing, no sport. The bout is over in less than ten seconds, as Kenna lands blow after blow on the blades of the challenger that cause him to stumble and fall. Two more blows knock the daggers from his hands to go skittering across the sand. Kenna brings her sword down once more, and knocks the man over the head with the pommel, laying him out unconscious at her feet.

She raises her sword above her head and addresses the crowd once more. “Let all who stand here today know that this man’s cause was proven false through action. Do you so witness?”

The crowd roars its approval. At Lycaeus’s defeat, Eostre is openly pleased. Alter nods and Scitalis claps for his fellow monarch as the cheers rise.

Hank, who had relaxed back after the darkness from a while ago, goes deadly still again when Lycaeus makes his anti-newcomers claim. When Kenna wins the fight, he slumps a little in relief, but does not join in the cheering.

Amy looks at her teammates for their reactions. “That’s us, isn’t it? Is he mad about us?”

Fianna says nothing, but her hair begins to smolder slightly. “Sounds like he is, Amy,” Marcella murmurs.

“I’m…” Amy scowls, “I am NOT a gentry spy.” Marcella puts a hand on her shoulder.

Marcella joins in the clapping when the challenger loses. Hank makes an abortive motion towards his notebook, but then freezes and puts his hand back down on the arm-rest. Amy joins in the clapping too, as hard and fast as she can.

Zia looks distinctly displeased by his accusations and says quietly, “No one ever likes immigrants.”

“Nope,” Marcella agrees, a hard edge in her voice.

Hank responds, equally quietly, “Or natives, really.” Amy has no idea what those three are talking about, but is now loudly cheering for Kenna.

Fianna says something incomprehensible, presumably a curse by the tone.

For a third time, Kenna turns back to the crowd. “Who before me will exercise the Rite of Challenge?”

This time, no one answers, and after a moment Kenna sheathes her sword.

“Then let all accounts be settled for the duration of the Games.” And she strides up to her place in the monarch’s box.

Hank seems to be recovering a bit. He mutters, mostly to himself, “If Queen Elizabeth had done that, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep during the Opening Ceremonies in Montreal…” Marcella looks at him quizzically, and makes a note to herself to look up Olympics dates.

Zia comments, “Queen Elizabeth done what? Fight duels? Now that would be lovely.”

“I saw the Olympics on TV once. We are talking about the Olympics, right? I’ve been thinking about that the whole time. This is just like it. Our own Olympics!” Amy says.

Marcella grins at Amy. “They are, a little bit! I watched the regular Olympics on TV too.”

Hank agrees, “Yes, it is rather. Though I suppose being in a Coliseum really makes it more like the Capitolian Games?” He realizes that Hulda is not within hearing distance, and trails off.

Over the speaker-equivalent system of the Arena, an announcement is made. “Welcome to the Summer Games! The exhibition matches will begin in about 5 minutes.”

A changeling sitting to one side of the group leans over during the cheers of the crowd. His face is dominated by large black eyes and his skin is dotted with fish scales. “You’re new, aintcha? You look confused. I’m guessing from your reactions you are not familiar with the Rites?”

“No, were they challenging for Kenna’s throne? Or something else?” Marcella says to the person next to them.

The changeling, who appears slightly passed middle age, though it’s hard to tell, holds up three fingers. “There are three Rites. Every Summer Monarch presiding over the Games opens their person up to those Rites at the beginning and the end of the Games. So this will happen once more. The first Rite, the one the lad from Berlin performed, is the Rite of Honor. Any changeling may challenge the Summer Monarch for a battle to prove their skill. Madoc acquitted himself well, therefore, he gained much prestige from his bout with the Queen. Second, there is the Rite of Injustice. If a changeling feels that they are being ill-served by the monarchs, they may state that they wish to challenge on the basis that, should they win, the policy that they disagree with will be changed. This type of Rite is more violent. Challengers have been killed. The Rite of Honor is never to the death, but Injustice challenges have caused serious injury in the past. Then there is the Rite of Challenge, which we did not have today. A Challenge Rite is a rare occurrence, and it is a direct challenge for the throne. It is the only time a changeling can take the crown of the season besides the traditional politics of the freehold. These bouts are ALWAYS to the death. There hasn’t been a Challenge Rite since the first Games Queen Kenna presided over as monarch. Little twit thought she was young and undeserving, and was quickly disabused of that fact.”

Marcella looks at Kenna thoughtfully, and with respect. “I see. Thank you for the explanation.”

“No problem, kid,” he says, rising from his seat. “Enjoy the games. I’m off for some snacks.” He strides away, whistling.

View
Game 31: The Trial, Part 2

Summary

Hank, Zia, and Hulda give their testimony. After a recess, Leon, speaking for the defense, questions Marcella, Fianna, and Amy. Anupriya interrupts him and bluntly admits to their crimes. Nanda speaks in his own defense. After a deliberation, Queen Kenna reads the verdicts and carries out the sentences.

Log

Hank gets a quiet tap on the shoulder. “Please come to the stand,” a knight whispers in his ear. He walks down to the stand.

Traugott announces, "“Hank, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.”

“Yes, Oathkeeper.” Hank does not have trouble following the ‘please project your voice’ request.

“Thank you. Please give a summary of your investigations,” Traugott instructs.

Hank describes the visit to the Iron Nail restaurant with Zia, giving an reasonably in-depth (mostly jargon free) analysis of the effects he saw on the other patrons. He also specifically mentions the chef who cut himself in the back not noticing, and lingers a bit over the interaction with Nanda about his desire to make people happy.

“I do feel like the intentions of Chef Nandakumar were good, but overzealous in a fashion that precludes secrecy.” He goes on to detail following the boy and father the next night. He discusses briefly the arguments that they were having and a preliminary analysis of the mobility problems that were being fixed. “It was clear that both mortals knew that something inexplicable was occurring. No medical or mundane explanation would allow for the return of that kind of mobility, given the boy’s medical condition. For that particular pair, they were clearly willing to maintain the secrecy in return for the benefit at the moment, but it was clearly causing significant stress between them, and I am uncertain for how long the father would have been willing to continue it. Additionally, the potential impact on the level of secrecy if the boy were to encounter others who knew of his condition could also be severe. And it was not without side effects or consequences.” He details the observations that he and Hulda made when the boy went running.

He also discusses the pair he and Hulda followed from the bar, who were extremely amorous and then suddenly had no memory of what had happened, and how he thinks that has an impact on the visibility and obviousness of the bar (which he will specify that he thinks is more egregious than the restaurant.)

He will also make sure in his testimony about the restaurant to be clear that none of the Changelings he observed who were dining seemed to be under the effect of any contracts, only the mortals.

During his testimony about the restaurant, he looks mostly at the Oathkeeper or Byron, who is up on the witness balcony. He seems a little uncomfortable about meeting Nanda’s gaze. During his testimony about the bar patrons, he looks directly at Leon.

He will generally try to focus his testimony on the things that he may be the only one who can report on, due to his medical knowledge, since he knows Zia and Hulda will also be giving details of the same stuff he is talking about.

“Please compare the atmosphere of the restaurant and the bar,” Traugott instructs.

“The atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasant. The decor and furnishings were clearly designed to enhance the feelings of comfort, health, and happiness that the Contracts were also creating. The restaurant was unusually full for the time, and the clientele was predominantly elderly. There was a clear anticipation in the air from many of the tables of regulars, particularly those who we saw affected throughout the evening. Some were tense or clearly in a great deal of pain at the beginning of the meal, and then content or comforted by the end of the meal.”

“And the bar?” Tragott asks.

“The bar was also well appointed, but the energy was much more intense. Many clients had clearly had several drinks, and there was a bustling, almost frenetic energy. There appeared to be many people in shadowy booths and on the dance floor that had behavioral indications of the types of Contracts my team had observed, creating a charged and more sexual atmosphere. However, I was in the bar for a much shorter time frame than the restaurant, as the couple that we followed left shortly after we arrived. They were definitely indicative of the type of energy that I am describing, acting giddy and unusually exuberant and amorous.”

“While you were there, did you observe any behavior that indicated the persons on trial asked consent of the people so affected, or if they were specifically pushing certain menu items that caused said effects?”

“My observations in the restaurant indicated that the Contracts were not linked to any particular menu items, but instead to particular patrons. Chef Nandakumar did exit the kitchen and make eye contact or interact at a distance with several of the patrons, which indicated to me that he knew exactly which effect was going to which patron, but I did not see specific evidence of direct discussions of consent. However, that rapport indicated that most of the affected patrons also appeared to have eaten at the restaurant before, as opposed to being affected for the first time. I did not observe any indication at the bar of requesting consent for those ordering drinks, and there was a specials menu of signature drinks. I did not stay at the bar for a sufficient duration to personally track different effects based on different drinks on the specials menu. Others of my team who spent more time in the bar can probably speak to that more directly.”

“Thank you for testimony. Is there anything more you would like to add?” he asks Hank.

“I do not believe I have any other pertinent testimony at this time,” replies Hank.

“Thank you, please leave the stand,” he says.

Hank will finally dart a glance at Nanda as he gets up, looking over everyone in the ‘defendants’ area while he walks back, and then returns to the balcony.

Zia has a tap on her shoulder. “Ziazan, you are called to testify.” Zia closes her eyes for a moment and nods. She stands, arranges her clothing and heads down to the stand. Traugott announces, “Ziazan, we call you to the stand.” Zia takes the stand gracefully, looking the monarchs and the Council full in the face.

Traugott says, “Ziazan, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.”

“I am. I will speak only the truth, as ever,” she replies.

“Very well, then, please add any details you wish to add to Hank’s testimony,” Traugott replies.

Zia says, “In regards to my observations at the restaurant, I would like to note that it did not seem that Nanda was using any sort of contracts or other magic on changelings, however, given the dramatic effects upon the human patrons, regulars to the restaurant must have known to some degree what was happening. Furthermore, I second Hank’s assessment regarding Nandakumar’s intentions. He truly meant to be helping his patrons. I don’t know if it was also to keep the business good for the restaurant, but at least part of his intentions were to help them.”

Traugott asks, “Did any of the changelings you saw at the restaurant acknowledge what was going on?”

Zia replies, “No, not that I saw. I did not know them personally and we did not pursue asking them their views, given that we did not want to tip off the staff of the Iron Nail if one of them was their friend.”

“Very well, please continue with your summary.”

She pauses. “With Caesar, I followed a trio of people, two of whom were elderly and sick. Their son, the third person, seemed upset and uncomfortable with their miraculous recovery. The parents, however, were relieved that their bodies and minds could be so improved. I do not know how Nandakumar achieves these effects, but though they are obvious, they are not malicious as far as I can tell. Their very effect is the kind that lends itself to secrecy, to the person claiming it was a cure from somewhere else.”

Traugott asks, “What did the mortals attribute their healing to?”

Zia replies, “To the food that they ate, I think, or perhaps the restaurant itself. There was no specific connection to Nandakumar himself, but as the chef of the restaurant… Certainly they knew it was a kind of miracle. The online reviews of the restaurant did not mention the miracles precisely, but who knows if forums for the sick mention the restaurant or what conclusions they came to. If possible, a purge or reworking of such things may be advisable for the freehold.”

Traugott answers, “Thank you for your advice… Thank you, please leave the stand, unless you have anything to add?"

“That is all. Thank you for the opportunity to assist our community,” Zia replies. She leaves, gracefully, looking without fear at the defendants. Leon glares at her and she smiles back at him.

Hulda gets a tap on her shoulder. “Hulda, you are up.”

As Hulda walks down to the stand she seems very nervous. She takes some deep breaths and seems to be muttering under her breath as she is walking. Upon arriving at the stand she seems slightly nervous, but much more in control than she had been in the balcony watching.

“Hulda, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth?” Traugott asks.

“I do,” she replies. Marcella gives Hulda an encouraging smile from the balcony.

“Please give a summary of your investigations,” Traugott says.

Hulda gives a precise summary of what she observed, sounding very academic with her responses. In fact, she sounds very different from how she normally is talking with the group. She admits that she had been elsewhere for parts of the investigation, and so will only be describing what she had seen herself. She collaborates what Hank had mentioned about the man and his son, and includes that the son seemed to know that something was going to happen at midnight, as if he had experienced this before.

She then adds, "This implies that he was purposefully eating at the restaurant to receive the beneficial side effects of eating there, even though there was no logical, to mortals, reason for eating at the restaurant to have this side effect.”

“Do you have anything else you would like to add to summary Hulda?” Traugott asks.

Hulda then describes what she had observed with the couple at the bar, and the sudden change from a happy flirtatious couple to an argument and belief that the man had been stalking the woman.

“What made you think the man was stalking the woman?” he asks.

“After the presumed effects of the Contract wore off, the woman startled and started yelling at the man, wondering why he was following her around and stalking her.”

“What do you believe the couple attributed the effects of the contracts to?” he asks.

“From my observations, neither the man nor the woman were able to remember or figure out what had happened since they had little memory of what had occurred in the hours preceding the argument. They both decided to forget about the incident and part ways.”

“Thank you for your testimony. Do you have anything you would like to add?" he asks.

“I do not,” she replies.

“Thank you, please leave the stand.”

Hulda bows her head slightly to the magistrate and the monarchs as she leaves. Once she is out of sight of the monarchs, she takes several deep shuddering breaths. When she reaches the balcony, she seems very tired and slumps down into her seat.

Amy whispers, “You did great.”

Marcella reaches over and pats her on the shoulder. “Thanks Hulda, you did good.”

Hulda shyly and tiredly smiles at Amy and Marcella.

Hank also smiles encouragingly at Hulda.

Hulda looks much more tired than would be expected after giving a testimony like that.

Once Hulda has left, Traugott calls the Autumn Oathkeeper. The Oathkeeper states that she lead the investigation following up on theirs, including the interrogation of the defendants. She states that upon inspection of the bar, many of the drink components were heavily magicked, some from the Hedge. The servers, including Anupriya, knew full well what was going on, even if they didn’t know all the details. Leon and Christian were fully aware and orchestrating it. Leon was aware of the potential harm and Christian was … enjoying himself. In the restaurant, the system appeared to be set up for the good of the patrons, even if was too obvious.

Her investigations confirmed what Vogelfrei’s investigations had found.

Traugott asks, “I ask that the court will stand!”

Hank jumps up, slightly surprised. Marcella, Fianna, and Hulda all stand. Zia stands gracefully. Amy tries to stand, trips slightly on her chair, and straightens up. Hank catches Amy’s elbow to help balance her.

“Thanks,” Amy whispers.

“Of course,” Hank whispers back. His attempts at whispering are low in volume, but a little rumbly, as if the bear nature is a little more present when he’s minimizing his volume.

Traugott bangs his staff. “My Majesties, you have heard the testimony we have to offer. I now present the evidence for your inspection!” Five changelings come bearing the flask Anupriya offered Fianna and Marcella, various drink elements, a bag of spices, utensils and cups, and a pile of papers. The items are deposited ceremoniously in front of the Council. “Now, we will take an hour recess for the defendants to prepare their testimony and make their arguments.”

Varecia comes up to the balcony with a picnic basket. “Hey, any of you want something to eat?”

“Yes, please,” replies Hank. “Are we intended to stay here for the hour of recess?”

Amy shakes her head, “No thank you.”

Hulda shyly says, “A little snack would be nice.”

“Sure!” Marcella says.

“You are welcome to go if you please, but you must be present for the second half of the trial in case you are called for questioning by the defense,” she replies.

“That sounds … fun,” Fianna mutters.

Hulda tenses slightly.

“You sure Amy? I have these cool watermelon candies! I made them!” Varecia says proudly. Amy hesitantly takes one of the offered candies.

Marcella moves away from her seat and stretches, looking down below them to see what the rest of the Court is doing.

The defendants have left through a side door, presumably to prepare their defenses. Most of the court is moving around, some are pulling out snacks, others have left. The monarchs and the council are looking over the evidence.

Varecia smiles as Amy takes one of the candies and hands out sandwiches and drinks to everyone who wants one. When Amy puts the candy in her mouth it is the perfect watermelon, but in candy form.

Marcella eats what she’s given, keeping an eye on the overall mood in the room and chatting with the group.

Hulda slowly munches on her sandwich.

Amy seems to be enjoying the candy, but does not move to take another.

Hank makes his way through the sandwich fairly quickly. He’s more keeping an eye on how the group is doing and who’s around on the balcony than the rest of the space. Hank looks over at Byron to see how he appears to be doing.

Byron looks very upset and bit shaky. He isn’t eating anything, but he is holding the sandwich Varecia gave him and shredding it. Hank goes over and kind of awkwardly pats him on the shoulder.

“Oh, um, hi Hank. Thanks for looking into this. I … wish that Nanda wasn’t on trial right now, I hope he’s going to be alright. But … I couldn’t let people be hurt, couldn’t endanger the freehold and not say anything … " he trails off.

“You did the right thing, Byron. I also hope that he will be alright. Even the Oathkeeper agreed that he was intending to do good, just being a bit too unreserved about it.”

“Yes, I know, but what he did … the monarchs could still exile or kill him for it,” Byron says.

Hank doesn’t really have a response for that. He pats Byron’s shoulder again.

Byron nods and looks at the sandwich shreds. "I seem to have made a mess. I’ll clean this up … "

Marcella tries to get a sense of the general feeling on the balcony towards their group. People are doing their share of looking and whispering. There a few disgruntled faces, a few very pleased faces, lots of undecided.

Amy is mostly sitting in her chair, looking unhappy. Hulda is resting and eating. Hank eats one of the extra sandwiches.

Since Byron is still looking upset a little while later, Marcella also goes over to him and tells him he did the right thing. Byron responds similarly to Marcella as he did to Hank. She is slightly more articulate in her comfort, telling him that it’s in the Monarchs’ hands now, but she can’t really change the fact that Nanda did wrong.

At 12:10, Traugott stamps his staff and announces, “We will come back to order in five minutes!” Five minutes later, Traugott stamps his staff again. “All rise!”

Amy stands up, far more gracefully this time. Hank is still not graceful about this. Everyone else stands as well.

The Monarchs and the Council stand as the defendants reenter the room. Once they are in place, Queen Kenna sits and everyone follows her lead. Traugott stamps his staff. “The defendants will now make their argument before Court and Council! Who will speak for you?” he asks.

Leon is about to stand, but Nanda stands first. “I will speak only for myself,” he announces, his deep voice rolling through the room. Leon scowls.

Leon stands and faces the Council. “I will speak for … the REST of us,” he says pointedly. Anupriya nods at Leon’s statement that he will speak for her, but has a little bit of a secret smile going on.

Amy smiles for the first time all trial. Hulda looks slightly amused or pleased.

Traugott nods. “The defense may make their argument.”

Leon turns so that he can see the Monarchs, the Council, and as much of the assemblage as possible. “What you have heard here today is entirely one-sided, meant to paint a picture of deliberate circumventing of freehold rules, and willful endangerment of everyone in this room. I ask you this: what could a cadre of newcomers understand about the way our society functions? Isn’t it quite possible that they were … overenthusiastic? That they wanted So Badly to do well, that they blew things out of proportion? I ask you this: in the years we have been operating the restaurant, who amongst you have encountered danger as a result of our operations? I wager none. It is my defense that the charges leveled against us are embellishments and elaborations, with no real substance.”

Marcella crosses her arms and sits back in her chair, watching levelly. Hulda’s eyes widen. As he says this, the court erupts in whispers. Many look pointedly at Vogelfrei, sizing them up and back at Leon. Amy leans forwards, looking furious. Outwardly, Hank raises a placid eyebrow. But anyone sitting within two seats of Hank can hear him growling slightly.

Traugott stamps his staff. “Silence! Leon, please call any witnesses you would care to.” Amy closes her mouth. She had just opened it, about to retort.

Leon turns to face the balcony upon which Vogelfrei is sitting. He gazes at the group for a short moment, then cracks a slightly disturbing smirk. “I call Marcella back to the stand.”

Marcella stands and walks calmly back down to the stand, head held high.

Traugott repeats his earlier spiel about telling the truth. Marcella swears again to tell the truth.

Leon looks at Marcella, his gaze unfriendly and calculating. “How long has your little proto-motley been out of the Hedge?”

“I’ve been out about a month and a half. All the rest are within about a month of that, except for Hank. He’s been out for about six months.” She’s standing tall and projecting to every corner of the court, as last time.

“And what is your role in … Vogelfrei, was it?”

“That’s right, we call ourselves Vogelfrei,” she says, a steely tone in her voice. “The Queen asked us to choose a leader among ourselves a few weeks ago. The group chose me. I’m our spokesperson and military leader, but we’re all equals.”

“Hmm,” Leon says, touching a finger to his lips in a thoughtful gesture. “A new leader, barely out of the Hedge. Tell me, Marcella, is it not possible that you were just looking for an easy victory? After all, you’re not dumb. You’ve likely figured out that people who make themselves invaluable to the court do well around here. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could hand your team a victory? Something to help your group gain confidence. After all, you said it yourself: only a month and a half. What could you learn in that time?”

Hank’s growling ticks up a notch. Hulda grits her teeth. Amy mutters under her breath. Fianna’s hair is starting to steam lightly.

Marcella raises an eyebrow. “Our mission was to investigate. I know that the most valuable teams are the ones that do their missions well, not the ones that are out for glory. We went into the mission hoping that no member of the freehold would choose to endanger their fellows.” She pauses, and glances at all of the defendants, then looks Leon square in the eyes. “Unfortunately, that’s not what we found.”

“Very well,” he continues smoothly. “Then lets consider this: how much do you actually know about the effects of alcohol? Have you ever even had any yourself? My guess is that you were pretty young when you were taken … what could a kid know about the pastimes of adults?”

Marcella smiles sharply at him. “You’re right, I was taken young. Fortunately for both of us, I’ve had several social engagements since I came out of the Hedge that included alcohol. I’ve been drunk before, and been around drunk people. I can give you references if you want,” she adds, spreading her hands.

Leon sniffs and raises an eyebrow. “In a month and a half, you have learned enough about how people act when drunk to be able truly judge the behavior of the people at the Iron Nail? I thought you were a responsible leader, have you done nothing but drink since you came out? I know many find the transition to the real world a rough one.”

Marcella’s smile vanishes, and she stares levelly at Leon. “I know that you usually have to drink something to feel the effects of alcohol,” she says. “And I know I didn’t drink anything my first night working at your bar, when I was magically compelled to feel an attraction I didn’t want. I know my team, and what they feel comfortable doing with and around each other when they’re drunk. I know Caesar and Amy wouldn’t have left the bar in the middle of an investigation with a stranger if they were in control of themselves. And I know the effects of alcohol well enough to see that people having complete personality shifts after one drink is a little out of the ordinary.”

Leon shrugs, an easy roll of the shoulders. “But did you see it? After all, we are under the geas of a truthfield right now, courtesy of the accomplished members of the Court. But did you know that the way this Contract works means that if you believe something to be true—regardless of the facts-it does not register as a lie? So really, who knows what you encountered?”

The court gasps at his statement. The Council and the Monarchs look impassive. Hulda thinks about what she knows about contracts to see if she knows if that is true, and it matches with what she knows about this contract.

“I am sure of what I saw,” Marcella says simply. “Many of the people in your bar were acting under the influence of more than alcohol. I know what I felt, and I saw the hurt and confusion those magical effects caused for Amy and Caesar.” She’s still staring straight at Leon.

Leon just gives a patronizing look. “That is what you think you saw, yes. No further questions.” He turns back to the balcony. “I call Fianna to the stand.”

Zia pauses in her translating for Amy and Fianna. She glares at Leon.

Fianna stands, fury blazing in her eyes, before making her way downstairs in as controlled a manner as she can muster.

Marcella walks back up to the balcony, jaw clenched. She claps a hand on Fianna’s shoulder as they pass each other.

Hulda pats Marcella on the shoulder when she gets back up to the balcony.

Hank is using mental mathematics practices to keep himself calm. Currently he is calculating the vectors that would be necessary to launch himself from the balcony in a trajectory that would allow him to take Leon in a full-body tackle. He squeezes Marcella’s hand as she goes by.

Marcella gives Hulda a grateful look, and squeezes Hank’s hand back. She sits down next to Amy when she gets back up. “Amy, he’s probably going to call you to the stand, try to confuse you or make you say things you don’t mean. Stick to the facts as best you can if he does, okay? I believe in you,” she whispers.

Hank leans forward to whisper to both of them. “Remember, if he tries to make you look incredible… we are not the only ones who investigated this. The Autumn Oathkeeper found the same results as we did, so he can not just say you are young and don’t understand.”

Marcella nods at Hank’s words, arms crossed, watching Fianna and Leon closely.

As Fianna takes the stand, Leon says, " You know you must speak the truth?"

“I do,” Fianna says frostily.

Amy nods seriously at Marcella. “I know.” She looks at Marcella with admiration. “He couldn’t get you, though. He kept trying, but he just ended up saying ‘well I think she’s wrong. Which is just stupid,” she whispers.

Marcella grins over at Amy. “Well, I knew I was right and he was wrong,” she says softly.

“Fianna, how long have you been out of the hedge?” Leon asks.

“A month and a half,” she says shortly. “As have all of us, except for Hank.”

“And at what age were you taken to Arcadia?” he asks.

A few gasps are heard from the audience at this very personal question.

Fianna’s eyes narrow. “Fifteen.”

“And at that time, did you have any experience with drinking?” he asks.

Marcella digs her nails into her palms and keeps watching Fianna closely.

Hulda looks ticked off by this point. Amy resumes glaring at Leon.

Fianna’s hands clench at her sides, her already preternaturally pale skin going even whiter around the knuckles. “No,” she says after a moment. “But when you grow up surrounded by people who drink themselves into oblivion on a regular basis, you learn more than you care to know.”

Hulda winces. Marcella’s mouth tightens, but she nods encouragingly at Fianna. Hank’s brow furrows. At this point he starts trying to analyze the mood of the audience, since this is clearly a character assassination process. As far as he can tell, if Leon’s going down, he wants to take Vogelfrei with him.

Leon smiles and replies, “You seem upset by the people in your past who drank. Perhaps you saw more in the tipsy enjoyment of my bar than you should have. I know it is hard for those who grow up around drunkards who lose themselves in drink to be … measured and careful around people who might do the same. Tell me, in your honest opinion, were any of my patrons as badly off as those in your youth?”

Marcella takes a slow, deep breath, looking like she sincerely wants to jump off the balcony and strangle Leon in that moment. Hank leans forward and shows Marcella his sketched page of vectors. Marcella lets herself be distracted by his diagrams for a moment, pointing out the best angle of attack for doing maximum damage to Leon upon impact. Hank does a second set of vectors under the first accounting for Marcella’s approximate mass, rather than Hank’s. Marcella indicates through hand gestures that perhaps they should crush him together.

Amy clenches her fists.

Hank indicates back through hand gestures that for maximum impact velocity, he could launch Marcella at Leon from here. Marcella indicates great enthusiasm for this plan.

Zia looks over at Hank and Marcella and raises an eyebrow, focusing on the action and translating for Amy.

When Fianna speaks, Marcella returns her attention to what’s happening down on the ground floor. She still looks pissed, but slightly less murderous.

Fianna does not say anything for a few seconds, but when she does, it is the most controlled, even speech anyone has ever heard in her voice. Gone is the dramatic way of speaking, the colorful twists. Her voice is dead even, flat, and controlled. “I do not fault anyone I knew for drinking as they did. I know why they did it. And I have since been around people who drank responsibly. You seem to be under the impression that I had drunkards for parents, or other relatives, and that their actions colored my opinions. You are mistaken. But as for your … establishment, I will tell you this: that of those clearly affected by the drinks at the Iron Nail, almost none of them had the same self-aware honesty that my experience has shown me that most drinkers show. Your patrons were lost, and confused, and the feelings they experienced were the opposite: dishonest.”

“And, how would you know that with your limited grasp of German? I am really not sure how you managed to take orders. Certainly I noticed errors in your orders. With your understanding of German how would you judge if my patrons felt lost and confused?” he asks.

“Here’s the thing about language,” Fianna said. “There’s more than one kind. Body language is ever so telling if you know how to read it—it’s saved my life more than once. And the tone of someone’s voice can tell you as much about their feelings as their words.” She looks directly at Leon. “I am a singer. Tonal shifts are easy for me to pick up on. The voice of someone carries much of their mental state and emotions in it. And very rarely did I hear one that was content, or calm. The higher pitches of fear and confusion were MUCH more common.”

Marcella grins viciously and nods, pleased with Fianna’s answer.

Leon just smiles at her. “Oh, really? It is also common for people who cannot understand the language to make assumptions that are … dramatic. After all, those who were drunk at my establishment were far from confused or scared. What kind of establishment do you think I run? That is all. Amy, please do come down.”

Amy takes a deep breath, stands up, straightens her skirt, and heads down to the stand. Marcella catches Amy’s eye and gives her an encouraging grin as she heads down.

Fianna returns to the balcony with iron control, but by the time she sits down, her hair is beginning to sparkle with unlit embers.

Marcella leans over to Fianna. “You were magnificent,” she murmurs.

“Amy, you do understand that you must speak the truth?” Leon asks.

“Yes,” Amy says.

“I dealt, is what I did. Like you did. But Amy?” Fianna trails off. “I’m worried.”

“Very good. Amy, my dear, how old were you when you were taken?” Leon says gently.

Marcella looks back down at Amy, looking nervous too. “She’s strong,” she says quietly. “She’ll be okay.” I hope, she adds to herself.

“Six years old.”

The audience whispers and mutters at her statement.

“Six is so young. I’m so sorry you had to go through that and I admire your strength to be able to return when your connection to this world must have been so tenuous. Did your parents drink much?” he asks.

Marcella growls very softly. “Asswipe.”

Hulda is soooo ready to rip this guy a new one, and kinda hopes she gets to.

“No,” Amy answers, “but wouldn’t that be kind of rude to ask if they did?”

Leon is not thrown. “With all due respect young lady, I am merely establishing whether you have experience around and with alcohol. Do you have experience drinking yourself?” he asks.

“A little bit.”

“How much is a little bit?” he asks.

“I drank two times before going to your bar.”

*And how did the drink make you feel the times before you drank at my bar?" he asks.

“Mostly dizzy. It made it harder to think, too.”

“And the other two times you drank, were you around strangers?” he asks.

“One time I was. One time I wasn’t.”

“The time you weren’t were you with your friends?” he asks.

“I was with Vogelfrei.”

“And the time at my bar you were with Caesar and a human patron Anna, correct?”

“Sort of correct. I wasn’t with Anna until the end. I was with Caesar, though.”

“Are you very sure that you had never felt any friendship towards Caesar before that night? Perhaps you had never had that much to drink and your feelings towards Caesar and Anna were merely how you are when you are highly intoxicated.”

Marcella’s eyes are blazing, and she’s back to taking slow, deep breaths.

“I am not at all sure I never had feelings of friendship toward Caesar. He’s in my group. What a weird question. I never wanted to kiss him before, though. Or protect him more than anything else. And I drank less than I did the other two times. Also Anna and I were not friends. We’d never met before.”

Suddenly Anupriya stands up. “Enough Leon. Enough. Cease this farce. You orchestrated everything at the bar and making these children look like fools cannot save you,” she said.

The court erupted in whispers and gasps. Traugott stamped his staff, “Silence! Silence!”

Anupriya continues quietly, “And it won’t save me.”

Marcella looks at Anupriya, assessing. Hulda looks shocked and slightly annoyed that she won’t get a chance to ream out Leon. Amy looks surprised.

Leon looks at Anupriya, “Farce, you think is some farce? You are the fool Anupriya. This is our life! And with your betrayal and twisting of the truth, you have sealed our fate. I hope they take off your head.”

“Enough of this. Leon, have you any more questions for this witness?” Traugott asks.

“Yes, I am, quite finished.”

“Then Anupriya, would you care to speak?” he asks.

“Yes, I do, thank you,” she says. She makes her graceful way to the floor. “I, Anupriya, will speak only the truth. Leon opened the bar with the intention of making money and enhancing his reputation. As the manager of the bar, I was instructed to make sure that all staff drank the appropriate elixir to make sure that they weren’t affected. I had no knowledge of the extent of the elixir’s effects. Leon and Christian created the menu with the specials always having contracts worked into them, though they were generally not served to changelings with the contracts. Leon was the one who decided what drinks had what contracts. Christian created the drinks. We had a quota and if it was not met one night, more drinks would have contracts the next day.”

The people in the court whisper. Leon just looks at her with hard icy eyes.

“I knew that what we were doing could be construed as breaking freehold law. I trusted Leon when he said that it was okay.”

Marcella’s mouth is a grim line as she watches Anupriya.

“The restaurant, although owned by Christian, was run entirely by Nanda. I know that Leon encouraged Nanda’s desire to help people to make sure the business went well, but he had no control over the menu, just wanted the restaurant to make a profit,” she says. “That is all I have to say.”

“Thank you, you may sit,” Traugott says. “Defendants, do you have anything you would like to say before the Council and the Monarchs withdraw to consider?” he asks.

Nanda stands. “I would like only to say that I sought to help my patrons become fuller and healthier people. It is the nature of my seeming and my personality to help those in need. I did not do it for money, but perhaps I should have been more careful. I ask that the monarchs in their wisdom do not deny me the ability to change the world in a positive fashion.” He sits heavily.

Anupriya gives Christian a look. He looks around, seemingly unsure of what to do or say.

Christian stands awkwardly, and rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment. “So … I didn’t know this was such a big deal. I just wanted to work on my creations. I didn’t think it would be so … big and serious and confusing. Sorry, everyone.” He sits down and tries to shrink into his chair. Marcella gives him a disgusted look.

Traugott sighs and stamps his staff. “Let the Council and Monarchs withdraw and consider the facts set before them! All rise!”

Everyone stands. The monarchs and council leave the room through a door behind the thrones.

Marcella looks around at the group. “You all did great. Thanks for keeping your heads, everyone.”

“Leon is a jerk. And he asked stupid questions. Are you all ok?” Amy asks.

Marcella nods. “I’m fine.” She sighs. “I’m not sure if we have to stay for the verdicts or not. If any of you want to leave, we can ask if that’s okay. Traugott did say freehold justice is swift, and it sounds like this could be bloody.”

“No. I want to stay,” Amy says.

Marcella nods, accepting Amy’s choice, and looks around at the rest of the group. No one says anything. Marcella sighs and starts pacing on the balcony, waiting for the verdict.

Approximately one hour later, a bell sounds and Traugott stamps his staff. “Court, please be seated!”

Marcella sits, arms crossed. Everyone else sits as well.

With great ceremony, the Council and the Monarchs reenter, Queen Kenna holding an ornate scroll. “The defendants will stand to hear the decision of our honored Monarchs!” Nandakumar stands, proudly and sadly. Anupriya takes a breath and stands looking straight ahead of her. Christian jerks upright in a flailing of scarecrow-like limbs, but Leon takes his time, rising slowly, almost insultingly so.

The Summer Queen stands and unfurls the scroll. “The freehold is more than the sum of its parts. As an organization we are the government, the protector, the home and the precious secretkeepers for a group of people neither world can understand or protect. Those who would bring it down, who would endanger the secret that we are more than human, that we have gifts we paid for with blood and shreds of our souls, deserve no less than the fullest punishment we can devise. Leon, you have a choice. You may choose exile, an oath that you will never use your contracts for profit or in front of mortals, and 30 lashes, or you may choose death in the manner of my choosing.” Kenna is calm and measured, but the fire of her eyes is bright.

Marcella’s eyes are hard as she watches Leon. Amy nods approvingly.

Leon’s eyes blaze. “I know how few people survive an exile. And no doubt you’d be sending word to as many freeholds in Europe as you can as to what my punishment was. No, if I am to die, then just kill me. I wore the mask of the lifeloving Spring Courtier, but I wonder now if it was worth it.”

The Queen of Spring watches sadly, shaking her head slightly.

Queen Kenna smiles. “Ah, then I shall indeed, just kill you. My sword!” She holds out her hand. One of her knights hands her sword. As she grips the hilt the swords bursts into flames. “Bring him.”

Leon says, “No need, I can come on my own, thank you.” He walks to the center. “Please, do show your court how bloodthirsty you are, Kenna of a Thousand Flames, who was the bloody sun that set on battlefields,” he says gesturing widely with his hands.

Kenna walks down the dais. “With pleasure! I shall show my court how we deal with traitors. I am the sun who shall melt you.” She walks up to him and after saying quietly, “May justice ever be served by my blade,” brings back her sword. Leon flinches back. “Not so brave now are we?” Kenna says. “Hold him.” Two knights move forward and take his arms. “Now don’t flinch again. This is going to hurt very much.”

Kenna stabs Leon through the stomach, her sword coming out his back. “Burn,” Kenna commands. Flames lick outwards from the wound and the knights allow him to fall to his knees. Kenna goes to her knees with him, one hand on the sword hilt.

Amy gasps, having kind of been expecting a beheading. But she seems otherwise unphased. Marcella’s face doesn’t change.

Fianna puts her hand on Amy’s shoulder. “You don’t have to look if you don’t want to,” she whispers, without looking away from the scene below.

Being made of ice, as the flames flicker outwards, he seems to melt. He has his teeth gritted, trying not to scream, not make noise, but he is not entirely successful. After about five minutes, the flames reach to his neck and he begins to beg for Kenna to end it.

Amy nods, but does not look away. She kind of flinches whenever Leon screams, however.

“I am a merciful queen, very well.” Kenna takes a knife from one of the guards and with her other hand slashes his throat. Leon dies and she removes her sword. She stands, unfazed by the blood on her clothes. Her clothes have not burned. With her eyes and sword ablaze and fire seeming to flow down her back in place of hair, she raises the sword. “My people, justice is done!”

The court cheers, seemingly completely behind the actions taken. Amy sighs in relief. Hank is writing notes in his notebook.

Marcella looks to see how the other defendants have taken this. Anupriya looks anxious and upset by the violent death of her boss. Nanda looks incredibly sad, as if he is mourning Leon more than thinking of his own fate. Christian just looks sick, like he could throw up.

Zia during the execution kept her face stony, her hands carefully in her lap. At his death, she whispers, “She has spoken and all is now right.” She catches herself and shakes her head. Marcella glances over and clasps Zia’s shoulder for a moment.

The Queen cleans her sword with the flames and hands it back to a knight. She goes back to the dias. “Christian, your sentence shall now be passed. For your crimes against the freehold, you will swear an oath that you will not use your contracts for profit or in the presence of mortals. You will spend the next months with all the contracts that you used on mortals and almost exposed the freehold used on you while kept in a safe place within the freehold. The oath will be for a year and day and will be potentially renewed depending on your behavior. The ownership of your establishment will change to the freehold and the bar will close. You will receive 15 lashes. If you refuse this, then you will be executed.”

Christian, still looking sick, mumbles, “I accept.”

“Very well. Anupriya, your punishment is the same. Do you also accept it, or do you choose death?”

Anupriya closes her eyes. “Queen Kenna, I accept the punishment.”

Kenna nods, as if she had not expected them both to accept it. “Come forward and do avoid the … debris.”

Christian walks up on shaky legs. Anupriya comes forward, carefully avoiding looking at Leon’s body, which lies at the dead center of the open space.

Traugott and the Autumn Oathkeeper come forward. They guide the pair in swearing their oaths.

They are then guided over to two of the columns at the front under the balconies, one to each side. Christian is across from the group, and Anupriya is directly under them, so they can’t see her. They then receive their 15 lashes. Blood is spilled. Christian screams and carries on and by the time it is done he is carried back to his seat. Anupriya does her best to stay silent but is not entirely successful. She mostly gets back to her seat on her own power. The chairs they are sitting on are pretty much ruined.

Hank restrains himself from covering Amy’s eyes, though if she starts to get too agitated, he might. Amy is pretty okay. Marcella watches all of this stoically, not disturbed, but also not rejoicing. Zia closes her eyes for some of it, taking deep breaths.

Queen Kenna stands again. “Justice has been served. Nandakumar, the Council argued that you did what you did meaning only good. You were short-sighted when we expected much better from you. You are forbidden from using your contracts in your work. Another changeling will be assigned to you to oversee your restaurant, should you choose to continue running it. Finally, all of the profits of the restaurant for the next year and the equivalent of your profits from the last 3 months will go towards running a soup kitchen for the needy among the changeling and mortal population. You may appease your desire to help others in this way. During the summer games you personally will finance a soup kitchen for all the needy travelers,” she announces. “Or you may choose death. That is always a choice.”

Marcella lets out a small sigh of relief at Nanda’s sentence. Hank leans forward and squeezes Byron’s shoulder.

Nanda breathes out. “I … Your Majesties, members of the Council. I humbly accept your punishment. I will do all that you ask.”

“Excellent. The arrangements will made later. I now proclaim this trial concluded! Know that our deep thanks goes towards all who assisted us. Come! Let us move past this stain on our freehold and prepare for the changeling world to descend upon us for the summer games!” The Court cheers.

Byron exhales and looks at Hank. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

“You are quite welcome,” he replies, under the noise of the cheering.

At Nanda’s acceptance, Amy grins broadly and starts bouncing up and down in her chair. She also cheers aloud, once other people start doing so. Marcella smiles at Bryon as well and starts clapping along with the crowd.

After about two minutes of cheering and letting the crowd react, Traugott stamps his staff again. “Their Majesties will now process from the hall!” The crowd quiets and then the Monarchs and the Council process out of the room.

After they leave, the court start flowing out behind them. Anupriya and Christian are helped off through a side door, presumably for medical attention. Knights move Leon’s body. Nanda stands alone, sad and surprised.

Amy is quite bouncy, babbling at Fianna. “That went really well. I like the freehold. They don’t kill you for making mistakes.” Hank winces at that. Marcella smiles sadly when Amy says that.

Fianna blinks at the energy. “Well, uh … I guess not.”

Zia is sitting carefully in her seat, watching them take Leon’s body away. It leaves a bloody and watery trail. Marcella sits next to Zia quietly. “Well, I guess that’s freehold justice.”

“It was very fair,” Amy adds to her previous statement, nodding in agreement with herself, still not having noticed Zia.

“It is justice at that. Hopefully nothing like that needs to happen again.” Zia replies. “That is what examples are for,” she continues.

“I hope not,” Marcella agrees.

View
Game 30: The Trial, Part 1

Summary

The party spends the rest of the day securely in the Bronze Room. The next morning, they are brought to the Court hall, where they see many new important members of the Court, including the Autumn and Winter kings. Byron, Marcella, Fianna, and Amy give their testimony.

Log

The group is in the Bronze Room, and are all briefed by Traugott. Essentially, he tells them, “Don’t be an idiot. Speak only the truth. Focus on the charges themselves, even though it is clear that that death and manipulation of humans is what makes each of you upset.”

Once Traugott is done with them all, the group has the rest of the day free. Marcella brings everyone together and has a meeting to talk about battle strategies. She especially wants to figure out how Hank fits in with the rest of the group. Once that is done, she just spends time socializing.

Fianna plays a lot of poker and does small warmups in the corner, boxing with the air. Hulda reads, chit chats, and shares her research about apartments and jobs with the group.

Zia sews quite happily for most the day. She makes everyone armbands in summer colors. They all note that there seemed to be more muttering involved in making these than the other things.

Iris spends her time drawing, passing the notes of her conversation with the ghost, and looking for someone to practice her rapier with. Marcella is willing to do some rapier practice with Iris, but they have to move the comfy seating aside to have enough room. Marcella makes sure to bind the tips of their weapons during the practice.

As they go through the day and night, there are knights watching over all of them, a few of them friendlier than others. Varecia is one of them. However, none of them will tell the group what is going on outside, on orders of the Four Monarchs. Once she determines they are under orders not to tell them anything, Marcella makes pleasant conversation with the knights.

Eventually, everyone at least nominally heads to bed.

Iris has trouble falling asleep at first and tries some of her usual meditation and lucid dreaming related exercises to get some sleep. Once she does sleep, her body seems frozen in place.

Fianna does not sleep more than a few minutes and spends the night pacing in frustration and being hella bored.

Zia has some trouble falling asleep, then once she is asleep, at about 1am cries quietly in her sleep. She wakes with a start and a little bit of a scream around 3 and goes out into the main space to sew.

Marcella turns over at sunrise and gets up not long after that.

Around 8am, anyone who is not awake is woken politely by a knight. Everyone puts on their appropriate court clothes, Fianna and Iris somewhat grudgingly. Marcella is already dressed and ready to go.

Zia offers each of the group an armband in the summer court colors with the group name embroidered on it. She states that they are to show group solidarity at the trial. Everyone accepts them and puts them on.

At 9am, Varecia and several of the other guards they have seen in the past day say, “Okay, time to go! Please do not bring any weapons to the trial. We are required to pat you down before you leave.”

Iris is not happy. Unfortunately, even a shrunken rifle is distinctly rifle-shaped, and trying to hide it someplace might end up with a broken rifle for her. She still ponders whether she should or shouldn’t. If the rapier could be shrunk it’d have been an easy choice. In the end she hopes to at least be able to run fast enough and hands both rapier and, after almost a minute’s worth of deliberation, the rifle over.

The knight working with Iris places the weapons in a bin by the door. “Don’t worry, after the trial, you’ll get all your things back.”

“I should bloody well hope so. I’m more worried I might need it anyway,” Iris grumbles. She decides to keep her grumbling to herself, but looks decidedly uncomfortable.

Varecia walks to Marcella, “May I pat you down?”

Marcella hesitates, takes her dagger out of its customary sheath, hands it to Varecia, and says, “Of course.”

Varecia looks at the dagger and says, “Ah Maria gave us a heads up about that, you can keep that.” She pats Marcella down and then hands her back the dagger. Marcella nods and tucks the dagger back away.

Amy puts her knife on the table, then picks up her doll, after whispering an apology to it. The doll is decidedly not a weapon.

“So, uh…”Fianna starts. “What are your policies on … natural weapons?” She pokes her hair.

Varecia looks at Fianna. “Well, that should be fine. Do you solemnly swear to harm no one of the court during the course of the trial?”

Fianna pauses, then methodically begins stripping the stars out of her hair. “Eh, better safe than sorry, I suppose. They’ll be back by this evening anyway.” Fianna’s hair looks curiously bare without any stars in it.

Zia smiles and asks if her multitool is alright. The knight thinks for a moment and says, “Could you kill someone with it?”

Zia thinks and says, “Oh, I couldn’t kill someone with it.”

“Hmmmm…”

Marcella looks at Zia sardonically. “I think the Trusty Tool counts, Zia.”

“I said I couldn’t kill anyone with it, I’m certain you could Marcella.” Zia replies and tucks the trusty tool into a compartment in the sewing machine.

The tool grumbles, “I wanted to see the trial! If Starlady can bring her stars and they aren’t even sentient! Why can’t I go!”

“Tool, I’ll tell you all about it,” Zia replies. Marcella grins and rolls her eyes.

Hulda has no weapons, so this is a painless process for her.

Now that everyone is prepared, the knights lead them all to the Court hall, where they are led to the balcony on the left side of the room. They are all sitting so they are looking directly down at the action end of the court hall. Varecia stays a moment to explain to them how the hall is set up right now. Iris is trying to stay in the shadows and out of sight as much as possible, but listens intently.

“Now, I’m sure that Traugott explained some of this to you, just let me know if you have more questions, alright? Okay, so, you can see there are three extra thrones on the dais? Smaller, but still ornate? That’s where the other three monarchs will sit.” The dais has three more chairs on it. To the left of the Throne is a chair decorated with roses and other greenery. To the right is a chair decorated with autumn leaves and one with frost and bare branches.

“Pretty,” Amy comments. Marcella is curious to see the two monarchs they haven’t met yet.

In front of the dais is another long low dais with nine simple chairs with a thin table in front of them. Varecia points to those chairs and says, "That is where the Elder Council sits. They will not make the final decision, but their input will be part of the decision.”

In front of the dais to the left is a set of 9 chairs. “That is where the defendants will sit,” she points. “And there to the right is where you will speak when you testify.” There is a small raised platform with a stand.

“As Traugott said, do project, we don’t use microphones here,” Varecia adds. “Any questions?”

“Project?” Amy asks, unsure what that means.

“Oh, sorry about that! Project means to speak loudly, pretending to throw your words across the room.” Varecia says, projecting as she does so. The room echoes with her words and on the floor, a grumpy looking man wearing armor that seems to made of ice glares up at her. Below, the room is currently mostly empty, just a few people preparing. Marcella assumes the grumpy man below is the winter knight Varecia had said insisted on being called Ritter, and makes note of who he is so she can address him appropriately next time she sees him.

“Oh. Ok, thank you.” Amy says.

“Will we be called down when we are required to testify, or should we make our own way down?” Marcella asks.

“Someone will come up and get you when it is almost time for you to testify. Don’t worry about that. Any other questions? There will be some people not involved with the trial watching from the balcony as well, but a knight will keep them from sitting too close or talking to you.”

The group all shake their heads.

“Great! Okay, I need to get down there, I’m part of the Queen’s security for the trial, but I wish you all luck! Speak the truth and settle the matter!” She bounces away.

Hulda looks distractedly out at nothing as she thinks about and rehearses what she might have to say.

Marcella is observing the hall with interest, as well as trying to reassure those in her group who look particularly upset or nervous.

Iris looks unwell again and is still keeping to any shadows she can find.

After about ten minutes, a swarm of knights check through the hall quickly one more time. Then about five minutes later, at 9:20, other changelings are allowed in.

The changelings coming in are moderately quiet, but they can hear a few snatches of things like, “Did you hear he almost exposed us!” “I wouldn’t believe Christian capable of this, he’ll get off.” “I heard one of those new changeling motleys did the queen’s dirty work on this.” Marcella scowls at the last commenter.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you were there, you great bloody twat,” Fianna grumbles.

Marcella gives Faron a small wave when he comes in with the other observers. He gives her the slightest of nods in return. She rolls her eyes.

At 9:30 sharp, the defendants are walked in, surrounded by knights.

Christian and Leon are led in. Christian looks more interested in the goings on than actually worried, his dark glossy skin and eyes looking everywhere. Leon is far more stoic, looking about as cold and unapproachable as the statue of ice he appears to be. Leon looks more put together—he is dressed nicely and well-groomed. Christian looks like he just came from work, small bartender’s apron and all.

Behind Leon and Christian are Anupriya and Nandakumar. Nandkumar is a tall, broad man who has clearly indulged heavily in his own cooking. He has rich brown skin and dark black hair. His eyes are slightly disconcerting as they appear to made of obsidian with emerald pupils. Embedded throughout his body are various precious jewels, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, etc. Embedded in both palms is a stone, a ruby in the right and a sapphire in the left. He is dressed in rich silks and walking tall, but he seems a little bit confused, uncertain and upset. Anupriya is dressed in a sari, the mist that is ever present around her swirling. She is holding Nanda’s arm gently.

Behind the first four, five other changelings are led in. Those in the group who worked at the Iron Nail recognize them. They seem universally worried and concerned. All nine defendants are led to the seats and sit down. Marcella’s face stays expressionless as the defendants come in.

Traugott stands in front of the dais. “The trial of the staff of the Iron Nail begins! All please stand for the honored Elder Council, chosen by our Monards and the people of the Court!” he says loudly, the fire within him flickering and leaping higher.

Everyone in the motley stands. All the bystanders stand, as do the defendants. Anupriya and Leon stand slowly. Christian stands absentmindedly. Nanda stands quickly.

From somewhere in the court room, a horn sounds. The main doors of the court hall, which have not been used up to this point, slam open. Weaponsmaster Jonty, in his version of best clothes (niceish clothes with only one or two hole or bloodstains on them), walks with another changeling, a tall broad woman, almost amazonian in appearance. Her skin is covered with thin fur and striped like a tiger. She is wearing an elegant short sleeve suit with a hole for her tail. Traugott announces, “The Summer Elders! Weaponsmaster Jonty and Summer’s Master of the Hedgewall Mauritania.” The duo walk to the far right of the seats and sit. Both look very very serious.

Then the deep tones of a cello fill the hall with a haunting melody. A tiny, slender man garbed in clothing made of discarded book leaves makes his careful way up the hall, holding onto a woman of average proportions, but hung with endless charms. “The Autumn Elders! All-Seeing Librarian Barnabus and Lady Miriam, proprietor of Herbal Memories.” Barnabus makes his way to his seat with Miriam’s help.

Maria enters, wearing an elegant gown that matches the whirls of metal and jewels in her hair, a sun pendant hanging from her neck. “The Court’s Choice! Lady Maria, Protector of the Court While Waking!” Traugott announces. Marcella nods slightly, understanding the ninth seat at the table now.

A brief flute melody tinkles through the hall, filling the room with sadness for a moment. Two older women, pointedly walking without touching enter. One, everyone in the group recognizes, Fae Yoga lady. The other is delicate and seems to be made of delicate translucent hoarfrost. Traugott takes a deep breath and announces “The Winter Elders! Lady Le Fay of the Thousand Folds and Tomorrow’s Future and Lady Jacqueline Frost.” As the pair reach the dais, Le Fay stops just long enough for Jacqueline’s elegant ascent to be messed up, and then proceeds in a spritely way to her seat next to Maria. Jacqueline makes a moue of distaste and sits down at her place.

A violin fills the room with bright, happy music full of hope. A short woman dressed in lovely, busy silks hung with bells seems to prance into the room. Next to her is a tall slender woman with delicate features and deer ears, who in stark contrast to her companion seems full of stillness even as she walks to the front of the room. Traugott announces them as “The Spring Elders! Spring’s Master of Revels Jubilea and Lady Amalthea, proprietor of Elysion.” Marcella looks slightly startled when the Spring Elders enter, but smooths it over almost immediately. The pair makes their way to the last two empty seats on the Council platform in the fashion that they entered.

Amy fidgets nervously. Hulda is awed by the spectacle, and now even more nervous.

Traugott announces, “Each season has its time, each monarch their season. But some crimes are too great for one mind, one person to be the final call. The charges against the staff of the Iron Nail are too great for Queen Kenna to rule alone. It is my honor to announce each of our beloved Monarchs.” The cello sounds once more, this time in long, low, tones that fill the room with fleeting warmth. An apparently twelve year old boy enters, wearing a crown of fall leaves upon his head. As they look closer, he seems curiously aged, with subtle wrinkles and greying at the temples. Still, he steps spritely and sweeps the room with a calm gaze. “The Monarch of Autumn! King Alter Levy!” Traugott announces. King Alter nods at Traugott and the assembled Council and makes his way to his seat.

Amy stares at the Autumn monarch in fascination.

The second monarch enters, an elderly man who stands tall and slender above many others. He looks grandfatherly, and kind, wears spectacles and walks with a cane decorated with the head of a dragon, a feature matched by his appearance, as his dark skin is decorated with iridescent scales, and from the knee down his legs extend into digitigrade, dragonlike feet. A smile to the room at large reveals pointed teeth and slitted pupils, and the hands that wrap around his cane are tipped with fine, sharp claws. He wears a crown of frost and dead branches. “The Monarch of Winter! King Scitalis!” King Scitalis nods smoothly at his announcement and moves quickly and smoothly, belying his age, to his seat.

Marcella watches the two new monarchs with great interest.

The violin plays a song of hope and Queen Ēostre enters, wearing a simple gown adorned primarily with her own hair made of cherry blossoms. Traugott announces, “The Queen of Spring! Queen Ēostre!” She goes carefully to her seat, looking far more serious than is her wont.

Everyone recognizes the last figure to enter. Kenna is dressed in a highly decorative and beautifully detailed set of armor, and the crown of summer blazes high above her brow. She carries at her side a sword whose hilt is sculpted to imitate leaping flames, and she carries with her an iron-tipped spear, the symbol of Summer. Horns blare a triumphant note. “The Queen of Summer, and the Season’s Monarch, Queen Kenna!” Everything about Kenna is business, as she nods to the crowd and moves to her seat.

Traugott stamps the staff in his hand. “The court is assembled! May Justice be served and the Freehold be made stronger by the actions taken today. I call forth Oathtakers Asmodea and Laurell.” From the sidelines, a man with snake skin and a woman with the pattern of leaves in her hair come forward.

“I, Traugott, Oathkeeper of the Summer Court, call upon you Oathtakers of the Autumn and Spring Courts, to swear upon your names that you will watch for the truth faithfully for the entirety of the trial.” Each of them in turn swear and closed their eyes for a moment.

In unison they say, “If the truth is not spoken at this trial, we will sound out! We will mark the liar for the whole freehold to see and cast them out.” Each of them goes to sit at opposite sides of the court.

Zia nods to herself and closes her eyes for a moment. Fianna gives a low, almost inaudible whistle. Marcella looks unsurprised. Hulda looks intrigued and tries to distract herself from being nervous by trying to figure out what contract they are using to do that. Amy nods like this is normal. Iris is now paying very close attention, seemingly committing every word to memory.

Queen Kenna stands and announces. “The trial is begun! The staff of the Iron Nail stand charged with Endangering the Freehold’s Safety and Security, Irresponsible Contract Use, and Illegal Contract Use on Other Changelings. For these heinous crimes, should they have committed them, they may be put to death or cast out. All who participate in this trial, I urge you to speak nothing but the truth. All who judge, I ask that you see with clear eyes and bright hearts, that we may uphold the laws of the freehold! You may be seated. Oathkeeper Traugott, you may begin.”

Traugott bows. “Thank you, your Majesty. I will now summarize the case of the Court.” He bangs his staff once more. “Upon suspicion of the charges previously stated, the group known as Vogelfrei, under orders from her Majesty, the Summer Queen, were dispatched to perform an investigation on the establishment known as the Iron Nail. It was discovered that in addition to serving food that affected both the mind and body in their restaurant, the bar was serving Contract-laced drinks that tampered with the mental state of those who imbibed them, one of which has been linked to the suicide of a mortal patron upon the effects wearing off. Additionally, the reputation for such strange things happening at the establishment has begun to reach the mortal populace at large, endangering the secrecy and safety of the freehold. Upon receiving this report, an experienced team of official investigators was sent in to confirm more specific details, and confirmed the previous report by Vogelfrei.”

He pauses and says, “The first witness the freehold calls is Byron Faithkeeper!”

Byron, dressed nicer than the group has ever seen him, comes to the witness dais. As he walks, over Leon shoots him a glare, Christian looks confused, and Nanda looks sadly at him. Byron is extremely uncomfortable.

Traugott stands before Byron. “Byron Faithkeeper, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.”

Byron nods. “I am, Oathkeeper. I will speak the truth for the good of the freehold.”

“Very good. Byron, tell us how you came to bring the activities of the Iron Nail to the attention of the freehold.” Nanda gasps audibly, and Byron wilts a little bit

“I, I, I in my visits to the Iron Nail, I noticed that contracts were definitely being used on the patrons, with a bit of a heavy hand and and, I just felt that this was necessary. Several of the graveyards I watch over had recently had new patrons after a few evenings at the bar. But I was too close to the situation to do much more than observe, so I…I spoke to the Queen.” He looks down.

“What did you see at the restaurant?” Traugott asks.

“I saw diners who were very happy and healthy and didn’t always start that way, I, I, I did not see anything more! Nanda wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone, I really do believe that!” Byron exclaims.

Nanda seems to be crying a little. Leon is sneering, only mostly at Byron.

Traugott says, “Byron, please do calm down and focus on my questions.”

“Okay, I will. Nanda has a way of making everyone around him happy. I was worried that he was making mortals too happy and that he should back off on that before he got in trouble. I was going to speak with him, but then … I met a young lady from the bar who was completely overcome with a Contract. I walked her home and she … said she would never be able to feel that happy again and she didn’t know why. I realized I needed to speak with the Queen,” he says.

Marcella gets tapped on the shoulder. A summer court knight whispers, “Marcella, you are next, please follow me.” Marcella nods and follows the knight, calm and composed.

Traugott nods. “We appreciate that you brought this to the Queen’s attention. Finally, what can you tell us about the bar and its transgressions?”

Byron nods quickly, "I did not spend overmuch time at the bar. Such loud places are not my preference. Christian and Leon’s drinks seemed quite impressive. From what I know of Christian, I do not know that he realized what he was doing was wrong … "

“Thank you Byron, you may leave the dais,” Traugott says. “Marcella, please come to the stand,” he announces. Marcella walks confidently up to the stand.

“Marcella, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.”

“Yes, I am.” Marcella makes sure to project her voice clearly across the hall.

“Marcella, please give a summary of your investigations.”

Marcella gives a truthful summary of everything the team found. As Marcella tells her piece, there is commentary from the balconies. At one point Traugott stamps his staff and demands silence. Whenever she is interrupted, Marcella pauses and waits until she can be heard throughout the hall to begin again. The monarchs sit stony-faced, the council similarly so.

After Marcella is done, Traugott asks her, “To confirm, Anupriya made clear to you that staff members were regularly given contract-negating concoctions?”

Marcella nods. “Yes, though she claimed that after a while, staff members no longer needed to inoculate themselves every night.”

Traugott nods. “Did she state why this was the case?”

“She said that soon we would get used to avoiding the effects of the contracts or just ‘channeling the feel-good atmosphere’ of the bar.” Marcella is focusing on Traugott and the judges, and ignoring the defendants as she gives her testimony.

“That is only partially correct. Over time, it would have inoculated you against the specific charms used in the bar, but allowed Leon and Christian to use contracts on you without knowing or being able to realize the effects were from contracts. This is what our investigators found out upon analyzing the contents,” Traugott states.

Christian looks very surprised. Nanda looks at Leon aghast. Leon looks pretty calm. Anupriya looks at Leon consideringly.

Marcella clenches her fists. “I see,” she says simply. Marcella’s shoulders are tight, but she’s containing her anger.

Fianna hisses under her breath. Iris’ eyes are icy, but she doesn’t look surprised. Zia purses her lips. Amy covers her mouth in shock and horror once Zia translates what was said.

Traugott asks Marcella, “While serving at the bar, was there any indication that all changelings working there were fully aware of what Leon and Christian were doing?”

Marcella thinks a moment, then says, “I didn’t personally witness any indications that all of the changeling employees were fully aware of the bartenders’ actions, no. Anupriya was the only one I spoke to about it directly.”

“What do you feel the intentions of Christian were?” he asked.

She sighs. “Christian strikes me as someone with good intentions, but he was still far off the mark in actually helping people or improving the atmosphere of the bar. I don’t think he understood the extremely serious consequences of his actions.”

“What do you feel the intentions of Leon were?” he asked

Marcella’s mouth tightens slightly. “Leon struck me as much more … rational and aware than Christian, so I must assume that he understood what he was doing, and chose to do it anyway.”

“Finally, Marcella, what do you feel the intentions of Anupriya were?”

“Like Leon, Anupriya struck me as someone who understands the ways of the world. She may not have been mixing the drinks, but I believe at the very least she knew what Leon and Christian were doing, and chose not to stop it.”

“Is there anything you would like to add to your testimony?”

“No, that is all.”

“Thank you for your testimony.” Marcella bows and heads back up to the balcony.

Fianna gets a tap on the shoulder. She looks up, eyebrow raised. “You are up next,” the usher says. Fianna rises and makes her way down to the floor.

Once Fianna is on the dais, Traugott asks her, “Fianna, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.” Fianna is being questioned in English and answering in English.

“I am.”

“Please relate to the court your summary of how the investigation went.” Fianna does so, and it matches with what Marcella has said.

“Is there anything in particular that you noticed during your time at the bar that you think was a particularly egregious treatment of the patrons?”

Fianna takes a second to process and identify the word ‘egregious,’ and then replies: “We were told to upsell the drinks that had contacts used on them. They were the bar’s specialty drinks, and often a side effect of one patron drinking one was that others would ‘want what they were having,’ the effects were that noticeable.”

“Can you elaborate as to the intentions of the accused?”

“On all assessments, I would agree with those given by Marcella here previously, both in intent and awareness.” Fianna sounds like she is trying really hard to talk formally and nicely and she is sort of kind of not doing TOO bad a job.

“Do you have anything else to add to your testimony?”

“No.”

“Thank you, you may return to your seat.”

Amy gets a tap on the shoulder. She gets up, holding her doll nervously.

Traugott calls Amy to the stand. “Amy, you are aware that you must speak nothing but the truth.”

“Yes.”

“Amy, please tell what you learned on your investigation.”

Amy summarizes what she learned. She doesn’t give any details of her Anna, and Caesar’s encounter, though she does mention that it happened and what lead up to it (which possibly makes it sound even worse than it was, without her realizing it). Other than that she pretty much just describes what happened.

Traugott thanks her and asks, “Did you know at the time that Leon and Christian gave you drinks laced with contracts?”

“No. I didn’t know the drink had a contract in it until Marcella told me.”

“And you learned about it far after consuming the drink, correct?”

“Yes.”

“What did Anna attribute her strange feelings to?” Traugott asked.

“She didn’t say. She just said she isn’t normally like that.”

“How did the drink make you feel?”

“Um, like I wanted to protect Blue and Anna. Like they were really important. I think that was the drink that did that. The drink Anna and Blue drank did something to me too, and I’m not completely sure which did what.” She blushes a little. “But I think the one I drank made me want to protect them, because I drank it after, and the effect started after.”

“And did you wish to feel that way about them?”

“No. Well, not like that. They’re both very nice but I only want to feel anyway about anyone if it’s because that’s how I feel, not because someone else made me feel that way.” She frowns, realizing her sentence was garbled.

“How do you feel about them now?”

“Um, they are nice, and Blue is on my team, so I want them to be ok. But it’s not,” she hesitates for a moment, searching for the right words, “everything, like it was before. Also a little bit awkward.”

“Thank you for sharing that Amy.” Amy nods, seriously. “The humans who you interacted with or followed, what did it seem like they knew or thought was going on?”

“They knew the bar made them happy. And they didn’t seem to care about anything else. Even if maybe they should. One guy on the dance floor told me he always gets the same drink because it makes him so happy, and he just wanted to be happy and dance.”

“Thank you Amy. You may leave the stand.”

She leaves and returns to the balcony. On getting up there she whispers to Marcella, “Did I do ok?”

Marcella smiles at her. “Yes Amy, you did great.”

View
Game 29: The Bronze Room

Summary

The group spends the afternoon researching or doing what they wish, and Hank discovers that one of the humans from the bar committed suicide the night before. Marcella starts German and cell phone lessons for Amy and Fianna. Everyone is summoned to the Bronze Room, a secure bunker-like room, first thing the next morning. They will wait there until the trial the next day. They meet Traugott, the Summer Court Oathkeeper, who explains how the trial will work and prepares them for their testimony.

Log

The group spends the rest of the day pursuing their own amusements or tasks.

Hank researches online the list of approximately 20 names that Marcella and Fianna got at the bar. Sometime between now and the games, he also plans to inquire whether the Summer Games need medical staff or such volunteers.

Hulda researches stuff she had been working on earlier having to do with jobs and places to live.

Iris decides to go and check on one of the humans from the Iron Nail, but doesn’t learn anything new. She also researches emotion contracts. She finds a lot of emotion contracts but none on the books that seem to do exactly what she saw at the club and bar. There are several choices for combinations of contracts, but nothing perfect.

Marcella starts cell phone and German lessons for those who want them, and also makes clear to the group that sometime soon she wants to have a ‘what do we do next time we get attacked’ battle strategy session.

Amy goes to Marcella’s lessons. Fianna also goes to lessons, reluctantly. Iris and Zia volunteer to help, since Marcella isn’t very good at the actual teaching. Hank is doing other things but willing to help if needed. However, it turns out that Iris and Zia are perfectly good teachers. Obviously much more teaching is needed, but a start is made.

Marcella sets up a time (at least a few times a week, or whatever works for the participants) for these German lessons to be a regular thing. Zia grumbles about taking the time away from her work, but concedes that her and Amy’s enterprise would benefit from two German speakers.

Besides German lessons, Zia goes to the workshop and makes sure that everyone has smart-looking dress choices for the trial. She also writes down everything she can remember about the club and bar so that she won’t by mistake say the wrong thing at the trial.

Iris tells Zia that she wants pants as soon as she figures out there will be more clothes. Fianna comes to demand pants from Zia as well, and then leaves because she’s still mad at her. Zia sighs and accedes that both of them can start with pants. She frowns at Fianna, confused by why she is angry at her.

Hank reports back to the group on the results of his research, in a ‘runs up frantically waving printouts’ kind of way, because the research takes him a little while and there’s not like, huge amounts of time here. One of the people on their list killed themselves last night, and another appears to have fled the city. Hank is … agitated about this, and comes to find Marcella at the tail end of the cell phone lessons.

Marcella looks sad and then angry in quick succession when she hears the news, and thanks Hank for passing the information along. During the cellphone class, she had set up a group text so that everyone could share information quickly with each other. She sends out the text, ‘There was a suicide last night. Nothing we could have done, but let’s bring these bastards down.’ She settles on angry and stays there.

Fianna’s at a nice simmer heading to a full boil.

Hulda gets the text and gets silently furious, and if anything even paler than normal.

Iris is looking worse and worse. She has a feeling she knows who and is feeling responsible as well. She sits in a corner, staring and fidgeting.

Zia’s hair flares to red and orange, with streaks of purple. She doesn’t say anything, but she is quite pissed.

Amy calls Anna immediately upon receiving the suicide news, since she has her new cell phone with her anyway. Anna picks up the phone, “Hello? This is Anna, who is this?” Amy just smiles and hangs up, only wanting to make sure she was okay.

Marcella checks something with Hank, then sends a follow-up text, ‘It wasn’t someone we followed. No point in dwelling on the what-ifs. Let me know if you want to talk.’

Faron is included on these group texts, since Marcella plans to send him information about how to meet up with future group missions if he wants to come.

Hank sends Marcella a private text response later when he looks at the SMS to ask who the number he doesn’t recognize is. However, he doesn’t notice right away, because he’s standing next to her when she sent the text.

She explains who it is and that since the Queen invited Faron to join them on future missions, she’s keeping him in the loop.

Iris decides to try and summon the ghost to try to figure out the victim’s motive. She texts Marcella back for the name.

Marcella asks Hank for the name, then sends it to Iris with the question, ‘why?’

Iris responds: ‘gonna try and talk to them, any questions you’d like to ask?’

‘Just the obvious, what their motive was. Don’t summon them in the freehold or where mortals can see.’

Hank reads Marcella’s response and says “Is that a concern?” to the caveats about where Iris is doing the contract.

Marcella looks at Hank, considers for a moment, then says, “Hopefully not? But I wanted to make sure.”

Iris knows that according to the laws of the freehold, one may not use contracts on changelings. Contracts that will affect anyone other than the changeling casting it are not generally allowed in the freehold. She decides to do the summons right outside the freehold since she doesn’t know anything about the person who died.

The nearest place that suits is halfway down an alley. Iris tries to slip away as quietly as she can, she looks worried, angry, determined and somewhat insecure.

She performs the contract, and a shade coalesces, a human-shaped smudge with eyes and very few actual identifiable characteristics.

She takes a deep breath. “What were your motives for … for committing suicide?”

The shade answers in a monotone, “I was given a momentary glimpse of what it was to live with true happiness and realized I would never truly be complete once it had passed.”

“Hmm … What was your life like before you got this glimpse?”

“I was clinically depressed. Life was cold and numbing and I found no real meaning in it. I simply was a cog in the machine.”

She stares for a few seconds. “What did it feel like for it to wear off?”

“Imagine being truly happy when it is a foreign concept to you. Imagine it disappearing not in a slow decline but but like your emotions hit a wall. There was no transition.”

“How did the feeling of happiness start, did you notice something was going on?”

“It began much as it ended: suddenly. I did not question it, or look for answers. When happiness is so precious, you do not become suspicious of it.” The shade disappears. There is a faint sound of clucking in the distance.

Iris gets back to the freehold as soon as possible and writes down her findings. She is also very disappointed as well as relieved that the tampering is so glaringly obvious. She texts Marcella that she has more notes.

Marcella texts back, ‘Thanks for looking into it.’

‘Had to know, wouldn’t’ve been able to sleep’

‘I understand’


The next morning, everyone gets a solid knock on their door around 8:00 am. Hank gets a phone call to his cellphone.

“Hello?”

“Good morning Hank. As you may know, you and your team are being called to testify in the upcoming trial. The Queen kindly requests that you come in today to be prepared by the council for the trial.” The person on the other end doesn’t identify themselves, but it sounds like Maria.

“Of course. At what time am I expected?”

“Please come in as soon as possible, no later than 9am. Please come prepared to stay the night at the freehold. The Queen is ensuring that no witnesses can be harmed or share information unnecessarily.”

“Absolutely. I will pack a bag and be there as soon as I am able.”

“Excellent. I have already taken the liberty of informing your work that we needed you for a medical emergency. They will not be expecting you. Thank you.” Maria hangs up.

Hank says “Thank you” before he realizes that he’s talking into an empty phone. He sighs, and packs the things that he’ll need to stay at the freehold before leaving his apartment.

Hulda gets a knock on her door at 7:55. She opens the door looking like she hadn’t slept much the night before.

Standing at the door is a young man in the livery of the freehold. He has on his lapel a small brooch of a round jewel set in a golden loop of metal. “Good morning. The Summer Queen kindly requests that you assemble in the Bronze Room by 8:30. You and your team are being prepared to be witnesses at the trial. Please pack a bag to be able to stay within the Bronze Room until the trial tomorrow.”

Hulda rubs the sleep, or rather lack of sleep out of her eyes, and says. “I can do that.
Thank you for the message.”

The young man nods and says, “If you have questions, please direct them to Maria at reception.”

Hulda nods her thanks and then packs up her nice clothes, both the Summer Court, and her more somber outfit she wore to the Spring Court in all the pretty grays, as well as whatever else she needs for the night. At 8:25 she heads down to the Bronze Room.

Fianna gets a knock on her door at 7:58, but she is not there. The young man takes out a notepad and makes a note, muttering “Oh dear, I hope we don’t have a runner.”

Iris gets a knock on her door at 8am. She’s up, dressed, looking tired and nervous. She opens the door very carefully.

Standing at the door is a young man in the livery of the freehold. He has on his lapel a small brooch of a round jewel set in a golden loop of metal. “Good morning. The Summer Queen kindly requests that you assemble in the Bronze Room by 8:30. You and your team are being prepared to be witnesses at the trial. Please pack a bag to be able to stay within the Bronze Room until the trial tomorrow.”

She nods quickly and will close the door again unless he says something very quickly. Directly afterward, Iris goes looking for her rifle and rapier. Then a heavy coat, then the usual dark clothes, very unlike the ones she is wearing as well as bedcovers and a pillow, just in case. She also has her notes and a pen. She’d bring food but doesn’t see any. She exits her room about 8:20.

Marcella gets a knock on her door at 8:01am. She opens the door as soon as she hears the knock.

Standing at the door is a young man in the livery of the freehold. He has on his lapel a small brooch of a round jewel set in a golden loop of metal. “Good morning. The Summer Queen kindly requests that you assemble in the Bronze Room by 8:30. You and your team are being prepared to be witnesses at the trial. Please pack a bag to be able to stay within the Bronze Room until the trial tomorrow.”

Marcella recognizes the young man as Michael, one of Maria’s assistants.

She raises an eyebrow. “What’s the concern about us staying in our own rooms tonight?”

“The Queen wishes to ensure your safety and the safety of the information you possess,” he answers calmly.

“Is there some concern for my team’s safety here in the freehold?” Marcella asks, also calmly.

“Not directly. But better safe than sorry. Suffice to say, talking about it in the hallway is not ideal,” he replies.

Marcella nods her head. “I’ll do as requested. Thank you for letting me know.”

“My pleasure.” He leaves and moves onto Zia’s room. Marcella packs a bag with her Court outfit, the new outfit Zia made, and her ivory sword, and heads down to the Bronze Room by about 8:15. She’s wearing casual clothes and has the dagger on her, as well as her usual sketchbook and pencil.

At Zia’s door, the young man knocks and gives the same spiel. Zia thinks for a moment. “Very well. I have much to do. Please make sure that these items from the craft room I’ve been using are transferred to the Bronze Room.”

“But, that isn’t…”

“I would really get on that or I’ll tell Ancell about your little crush.”

“Fine.”

Zia then proceeds to take a quick shower and pack a bag with her things and things to help the others get ready.

The young man goes to Caesar’s door. Caesar will be in the Bronze Room with the rest of the group.

Finally he knocks on Amy’s door. It is 8:07am.

Amy answers it, rubbing her eyes, “Hello?”

Standing at the door is a young man in the livery of the freehold. He has on his lapel a small brooch of a round jewel set in a golden loop of metal. “Good morning. The Summer Queen kindly requests that you assemble in the Bronze Room by 8:30. You and your team are being prepared to be witnesses at the trial. Please pack a bag to be able to stay within the Bronze Room until the trial tomorrow.”

Amy blinks, “Oh, ok.” She turns around, and then quickly turns back, “Wait, why? Is it an overnight trial?”

“The trial will be tomorrow. The Queen wishes to ensure your safety. Therefore your whole team will be staying in the Bronze Room.”

“Oh, ok,” she says again. She closes the door to her room and begins packing. She packs the clothes Zia made, a spare set of clothes, a knee length night shirt, toiletries, her doll with both his sets of clothes, a notebook, a bunch of pens and pencils, and a stack of books. She hesitates for a moment over Petey’s food and water bowls, then fills them high with food and water, and spreads some newspaper on the ground. “Sorry, Petey, but I don’t want you going potty in the Bronze Room, so you have to wait here.” She arrives in the Bronze Room around 8:30.

Having dealt with the last of the group, Michael dashes back to Maria to report Fianna missing. Maria nods and tells him to go check the training rooms. He dashes to the training rooms to find Fianna attacking a poor dummy with great vigor. Fianna notes the instructions of the envoy and goes seeking a shower. She arrives at the Bronze Room at about 8:30 with a small gym bag stuffed full of essentials as well as a pack of cards. She is faintly steaming all over.

The Bronze Room is located behind the bulk of the main freehold building. It is a heavily fortified room. None of the group have been inside previously. As each of the team arrives in the Bronze Room (some of them needing to ask Maria where it is) they are first positively identified by a Knight of the Winter Court, an Elemental Earthbones who looks like he could crush a thigh bone with two fingers.

The door to the Bronze Room appears to made of solid bronze and to open it requires one to put their hand on a panel. A tiny rose-and-thorn-studded metal vine wraps around one finger and takes one drop of blood. If the blood is accepted, the door opens. The guard is opening the door for each member of the group.

Inside is a large room clearly set up to be fairly multipurpose. One third is set up as a dining/meeting space, complete with whiteboards, markers, paper, and a buffet to set out food. One corner is set up as a kitchen. Next to the kitchen space are an array of comfy chairs and sofas. There is also an open multipurpose space. There are a wide array of cabinets and everything is clearly meant to hold as much as possible. Next to the kitchen space is a small pantry behind a sliding door. At the back of the room are, from left to right, a room holding six bunks beds and some storage space, a bathroom, a shower (separate from the bathroom), and another room with six bunk beds and some storage space.

Marcella is quite early. When she arrives, she asks the guard, “What is this about? If there’s a threat to my team’s safety, we should be informed of it.”

The guard replies to Marcella, “Please, ask questions once you are in the Bronze room.” She nods and goes in, then prowls around checking out the facilities and how secure the room is until everyone else arrives. The room is pretty secure. There are two changelings she recognizes from the Queen’s audiences inside.

Iris arrives early with a rather larger bag seemingly full of fabric and stuffings. As soon as she arrives takes a spot on a sofa and takes out her notes again, scribbling rather nervously. She’s looking at the two changelings as well, but doesn’t say anything.

Hulda arrives a minute or two before 8:30 with her bag of clothing and a book to read. She sits down on one of the couches and takes out her book, waiting to see what is going to happen.

Showing up at the same time as Fianna, Amy greets her. Fianna returns the greeting, still giving off wisps of steam.

Before Zia arrives, Michael comes into the Bronze Room with a little red wagon of sewing supplies, including a sewing machine and a serger. The guard raises his eyebrow, but upon learning Maria okayed it, lets him in. He drops off the stuff and leaves quickly.

Fianna offers to teach Amy poker. Amy accepts. Marcella is still pacing, and is also invited to the poker game, if only to stop the pacing. She hesitates, looks around the clearly-very-secure room, sighs, and joins in. Fianna has brought a set of small pebbles she collected in different colors for use in betting.

Iris knows how to play poker but has taken to doodling instead. She also puts her notes from last night’s conversation on the table.

Zia comes in a few minutes later with a small suitcase and a garment bag. “Excellent, everything I’ll need to work on things is here.” She takes the little red wagon over to the multipurpose space, rummages in some closets till she finds a table and starts setting the sewing materials up. One of the Knights looks for a moment like he’d like to stop her, but decides the look of determination on her face when he starts walking towards her makes that unwise. Amy watches Zia for a moment, but continues playing poker.

Iris looks pointedly at her notes but isn’t sure what to say, so she keeps drawing.

Hank arrives at the main entrance of the Freehold at 8:30 with his typical messenger bag (which looks noticeably more full) and a garment bag. He goes to the main desk, looking to get directions from Maria. She is there and directs him to the Bronze Room. Hank thanks her and proceed to the Bronze Room, arriving last. He arrives at the door and nods at the knight. The knight nods back.

Hank looks around once the knight lets him in. He nods to the two attendants, and steps to the back of the room to hang his garment bag one one of the storage areas. He looks slightly sadly at the bunkbeds.

Once Hank walks in, Marcella looks around one more time, confirming her headcount, then excuses herself from the poker game. She walks up to the closest attendant inside the room and asks, “Now can we talk about why we’re in a fortified cell?”

Hank walks back out to the main area to listen to the response.

“Looks more like a bunker,” Iris comments.

Amy looks up from the poker game, “What?”

The Knight (who would be offended to be thought an attendant) replies, “Fortified cell? Try one of the safest places in the freehold. You’re here because the Queen wants to protect you and make sure that once the staff of the Iron Nail are informed that they need to report for their trial tomorrow that none of you get harmed. However, you are free to leave if you want and refuse the Queen’s offer of protection.” He is a little bit grumpy.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if anything were to happen. I don’t hate them or anything, but they’re killing people and we’re ruining their business … " Iris says.

“Are the staff of the Iron Nail prone to violence? Does the Queen have reason to suspect that they would come after my team in particular?” Marcella looks grumpy right back at the knight.

Iris shrugs. “You never know, as I said I don’t trust them, and they can probably do a lot of unpleasant stuff to us if we get unlucky.”

“Listen, I don’t know the details of the trial intimately, but I do know the changelings involved. Your team investigated them and if you think they are stupid enough to not go, ‘Huh, we got a few new changeling employees and then we are on trial, that might be connected,’ you are dumber than I thought. We don’t expect anything to breach the freehold defenses, but if anything should happen, you are safer here than in rooms overlooking the courtyard. Now, will you back off and let us do our job?” the knight asks testily.

Marcella puts up her hands and backs away from the knight. “All right, go ahead and do your thing. I appreciate your explanation,” she adds stiffly, and walks back to the poker game.

Hank wanders around the room for a little while, investigating the organization, before settling on a couch and pulling out his notebook. Iris, since he is now sitting next to her, shoves her new notes over to him. “I had a talk with the one that died.”

“Ante up,” Fianna says.

As Fianna says that, a slender man walks in. He is short and seems to glow from within, his skin curiously strong glass holding a wildfire at bay. He is nominally bald, but fire flickers around his head in place of hair, sometimes long, sometimes short. He looks around the room and says, “Thank you for your patience, Queen Kenna appreciates your service.”

Marcella looks up at the man, waiting for him to introduce himself. Iris and Amy look at him as well.

“I am Traugott, the Summer Court Oathkeeper. Today I will explain to you what will be needed from you for the trial and prepare you to give testimony,” he continues.

Hank sits up straighter when he comes in, caps his pen, and tucks it into his notebook. He nods as Traugott introduces himself.

Marcella nods at him, and seems to have calmed down again. “Nice to meet you, Traugott. I’m Marcella.”

Amy puts her hand of cards down. Hulda looks up from her book when Traugott enters the room, and puts it down after he introduces himself.

“A pleasure to meet you Marcella, and the rest of you of course. The Queen has prepared me with the basics about your backgrounds and the roles you played in the investigation. Would you all be more comfortable in the seating area or at the table? I have much to explain,” he says

No one speaks for a moment, and then Marcella says, “Why don’t we move to the couches, those look more comfortable.” She gets up and moves over. Amy goes with her, and Fianna clears the poker game. Hank shifts so that it’s easier for someone to join him on his couch if they want. Zia gets up from the sewing area she set up and sits down next to Hank.

Traugott joins everyone in the seating area. “Now then, the first thing you should know are the charges the staff will be facing. They are being charged with Endangering the Freehold’s Safety and Security, Irresponsible Contract Use, and Illegal Contract Use on Other Changelings. Does anyone have any questions about this?”

“Define Irresponsible Contract Use please,” Iris requests.

“Great question. ‘Habitual use of contracts in a fashion detrimental to the safety of freehold, changelings and humans’ is the definition,” he replies.

“Is there anything stronger than that which would cover the harm they’ve done to humans?” Marcella asks. “We have reason to believe that their contract use has directly led to at least one suicide, not to mention all of the violations of consent that have been going on for who knows how long.”

“Not to mention that they’re not the least bit subtle about it from what we can tell.” Iris says. “The contracts are incredibly obvious in part. But I would be interested in something more severe as well. I only talked to one suicide, but …”

“The freehold does not adjudicate on the death of humans. That is for the mortal world. However, do not think that their first charge is a walk in the park. The punishment for that crime can be death,” Traugott replies.

“What are the typical punishment ranges for all three charges, please?” asks Hank.

“Another excellent question. Endangering the Freehold’s Safety and Security can range from being forbidden to hold Court office, a flogging, having all freehold support withdrawn but being forbidden to leave the city, to execution. It is a charge in which the severity of the crime matches the danger you have created for the freehold. Irresponsible Contract Use ranges from having your glamour drained and being forbidden from learning contracts from a freehold member for up to 10 years, to being drained of glamour and allowed just enough glamor to survive for a certain period of time, to exile. Illegal Contract Use on Other Changelings ranges from Court mandated re-teaching to execution. The monarchs have much leeway in deciding the punishment if a changeling has not died or the attention of the Fae has not been drawn,” he replies.

Marcella nods, satisfied with this answer. Hank nods as well. Iris nods after a moment, stowing the information away for later use.

Amy looks sad. “I hope Byron is not mad at us.”

“Well, Byron knows the laws of the freehold, Amy. And he knows that what at least some of the employees of the Iron Nail were doing was wrong,” Marcella says.

“How will the trial proceed, then?” Hank asks Traugott.

“Yes, that is my next point!” he says brightly. He explains: “First the defendants will enter and be told of the charges against them. Then the defendants and the changelings who will judge in the case will hear the evidence against the defendants. That will consist of the Elder Council and all four monarchs. Then the freehold will make their argument, through the medium of myself and the other three Oathtakers. We will make our arguments, present evidence, and question witnesses. Then there will be an hour recess for the defendants to prepare how they will respond. After they make their argument, present any evidence they have and call any witnesses. They may call anyone who we called as well as their own witnesses. Finally the Council and the Monarchs withdraw to make their decision. On occasion, the matter will be clear-cut enough that the current reigning Monarch will simply make the decision without withdrawing. In the freehold, justice is swift. If execution or any form of corporal punishment is the punishment, it will happen as soon as the judgement is made.”

Hank tenses slightly at the mention of corporal punishment.

“Everyone’s veracity will be ensured by the use of the sight of truth and lies contract. Two Oathtakers will have this up for the duration of the trial,” Traugott finishes.

“How much of the trial will we be present for, aside from our testimony?” Marcella asks.

“You will be present for the whole trial, primarily in the balcony when you are not on the stand or about to be,” he replies.

She nods. “How does this sight of truth and lies contract work?”

“The contract works simply. The user can tell if anyone tells truth or lie as they believe it. However, if the user lies, even in a small way, they cannot tell truth from lie for shit for the rest of that period of time,” he replies.

“I see, thank you,” she says.

“Does anyone have any other questions? Or shall I move on with individually preparing you for the trial?” he asks.

“No questions.” Amy says, still looking kind of sad.

“What are the typical outcomes of a trial like this? You say that executions are possible, but is that common?” Hank asks.

“The freehold doesn’t support incarceration most of the time, so execution for very serious crimes is not uncommon,” he replies. “The defendant may argue for incarceration in place of execution and the Court may grant it.”

“Queen Kenna clearly felt that it was necessary for us to be segregated from the Freehold due to fear of potential silencing or reprisal prior to the trial commencing. Is that also something with which we will need to concern ourselves after the end of the trial, particularly if there is a harsh sentence? I know that at least some of the defendants are popular people,” Hank says.

“Potentially? However, I trust that if needed, you will be provided with sufficient training to defend yourselves. Do keep in mind that the freehold community has very strong feelings against the crimes they are believed to have committed.”

Marcella looks around. “It sounds like those are all of our questions. I’m ready for individual preparation for the trial.”

“Great!” He speaks to each one of the team personally about what to expect and the questions they will most likely be asked by either the court or the defendants in one of the bedrooms.

Otherwise, everyone is free to spend the rest of their time in the Bronze Room on whatever they wish, including planning strategy, working on German, or other things. There is a computer in the room. It does not allow people to go on social media sites or to send emails. Cell phones do not work in the room.

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Marcella's game 28 journal

The group’s reports are interrupted by the arrival of a bouncy, enthusiastic Knight of the Summer Court whom Marcella vaguely recognizes from audiences with the Queen. Marcella is a little conflicted to hear that they’re being summoned to report so soon. On the one hand, she is ready for this investigation to be over, for the wrongs that the staff of the Iron Nail are committing to be stopped as soon as possible. She’s glad to hear that the Queen feels the same way. On the other hand, she’s a little worried that they haven’t done enough, gathered enough proof. What if they report to the Queen, and no action is taken? She’s not sure what she’d do then.

Her estimation of Hank rises even further when he provides the team with mobile phones. She’s speechless for a moment as he explains. Having a mobile again feels like a link back to who she was before her Keeper, before everything, and she can’t quite put into words how grateful she is for that. She knows she’s glad that Hank has joined their team, and she resolves to try and show him that as soon as she can.

She needn’t have worried so much about Kenna dismissing the evidence they had so far. She takes it seriously, which makes Marcella that much more relieved about her inclination towards the Summer Court. Yes, this is a ruler she could follow. Decisive and quick to action when it was needed, but still thoughtful in her decisions.

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Game 28: A Report for the Queen

Summary

The group pools their information, but before they can follow up on any more loose ends, they are told to report what they know to the Queen that day so she can decide whether to call a trial. They do so, and Kenna decides that a trial is warranted. Everyone agrees to testify if called.

Log

The group has been sharing the information they’ve gathered about their mission. The last person to speak was Iris.

Marcella nods and looks around. “It sounds like we have a fair amount of follow-up to do this morning, then. I propose we check up on the people you all followed last night to see how they’re doing this morning. I think it’s better not to engage unless it seems necessary. We should also have someone look up all the names Fianna and I got from the bar on the internet.”

“Sounds fair,” Iris says.

“Does anyone have theories for what’s going on at the restaurant? Sometimes it helps to have a working theory or theories to compare to what you’re seeing,” Marcella continues.

Zia offers, “It is clearly related to relieving pain and not as … terrifying as the club? But we don’t fully understand the side effects.”

“There seem to be two different things going on. The short term, where people’s personalities change or are affected for a few hours maximum, and the more longer term, with the pain relief Hank and I noticed,” Hulda says.

Marcella nods at Hulda. “Yes, I’m particularly interested in seeing how the young man you two followed is doing today. He and the couple that Caesar and Zia followed are the only ones we know of so far who seem to be getting longer-term effects from the restaurant.”

“Well … feel free to tag along then. We might need your help anyway,” Iris offers.

“Sure, it would be nice to get out during the day … though I’m afraid I’m not all that stealthy,” Marcella says. “I’d be happy to speak to the changeling who lives across the street from that young man, though. Maybe we can learn something from them.”

“I’m not the stealthiest either and neither is Amy, I think, so I guess we’re even,” Iris says.

Marcella grins. “Fair enough.” She looks around the room again. “So, who wants to come into the field? Amy, I was thinking you or Caesar should follow up with Anna, at least by phone call. Anyone who doesn’t want to come can look up names online.”

“I don’t think I even need to comment about my capability for stealth,” Fianna says dryly.

There is a loud knock on the door.

Marcella pauses, says “Excuse me,” then walks over to the door and opens it. “Yes?”

On the other side of the door is a short woman with great big liquid yellowish brown eyes. Her ears are round, projected and covered with white fluff. The shape of her skull seems to subtly give her a snout. Tucked into her belt is a thick fluffy black tail. “Good morning!” she says brightly. “Queen Kenna has a message for your team!”

Marcella blinks, then steps aside. “Please, by all means, come on in.”

With a lot of energy and liquid grace, the woman bounces into the room and plops herself in an available chair. “I’m Varecia, a Knight of the Summer Court. Kenna sent me to let your team know that given the upcoming summer games, she requests that you report to her at noon sharp with whatever information you have. In the event official action is taken, she would like to do so before the games begin and not mar the games. ‘Better to lance a pustule now than let it fester for a month more’ was her exact phrasing.”

Upon hearing she is a knight, everyone vaguely remembers that she has been on dias guarding the Queen at least one of the times they have been in the court hall. Iris and Amy recall that she was standing towards the back of the group of knights.

Marcella gives her a small bow. “Thank you for the information – is it Ser Varecia? We will be ready to give our report as the Queen requests.”

“I don’t put much stock in titles, but some of the knights, especially a certain stuck-up Winter bag of air will insist on Ritter. Call me Varecia, please. Excellent. I’ll let the Queen know you all will be there,” she replies.

“Thank you for letting us know,” Marcella says, and moves out of the way for Varecia to leave again.

Varecia bounces right out of the room, waving, “Toodles!” as she heads out the door.

Fianna puts her head face down into the table. “Does this mean we have to wear the fancy things again?” she mumbles into the wood.

Zia perks up. “Oh, yes, definitely!”

Marcella tries not to look amused at Fianna. “Yes, yes it does, Fianna.”

“Probably,” says Amy, “We should go change.”

“We have a little over an hour, let’s finalize what we want to say to the Queen first,” Marcella suggests.

“I just want PANTS,” grumps Fianna.

“I think I got mine to be pants earlier …” Iris says.

“Before we do that, I have something for all of you,” Hank says, gesturing to the bag at his feet.

“Oh, I was wondering about those shopping bags,” Marcella says. “What’s up?” Marcella sits back down. Iris leans towards the bag

“In order to carry out our missions more safely and efficiently, I have obtained for each of you a phone with some prepaid minutes on it. This way, next time we will not need to communicate via email or have no way to contact people across the city. Welcome to the 21st Century,” he finishes with a smile.

Amy jumps up from her seat and hurries over, “Oh, really! Thank you!”

Marcella’s eyes get really huge. “Oh my god, you got us mobiles.” After a moment she snaps herself out of it and bounds up next to Hank, looking like the might give him a hug. “Thank you so much!”

Iris looks incredibly relieved. “Oh yes! does it have a bit of data on it too? If we really need to look something up?”

Hulda smiles at Hank, “Thanks. These will be useful.”

Hank nods, looking slightly uncomfortable at the press of the team around him, “You’re welcome, it really isn’t much. They do have a little bit of data.” He hands each of you a box with a cellphone in it. “I suggest we now focus on our meeting with the Queen and worry about the cellphones later,” he says.

Marcella looks like Christmas has come early as she tears the packaging off her phone, then looks up a bit guiltily as Hank speaks. “Ah, yes, Hank is right. We can have a mobile phone 101 class for those of you who’ve never used them after this,” she says, tucking the phone in her pocket.

Fianna looks a bit poleaxed. No on has ever given her something like this—a luxury—before, and she’s not quite sure how to process it. Iris just pockets hers carefully, she seems very much used to this kind of device.

“I suppose. Might be best if we pool our findings and get something cohesive together.” Iris says. “Or rather take the information we shared and agree on one report.”

“So, obviously we don’t have conclusive findings about everything, but let’s outline what we do have,” Marcella says. She regains her seat and starts ticking points off on her fingers. “So, we found enough evidence to cause concern at both the restaurant and the bar. Zia and Hank, if the Queen asks for details about what we saw at the restaurant, I’m going to let you handle that since both of you saw the inside effects and also followed restaurant patrons. Amy and Caesar, would it be okay with you to talk to the Queen about what happened to you? If you don’t feel like talking about it, I can tell her what happened from my perspective.”

“I can tell her,’ Amy says.

Marcella nods seriously at her. “Thank you, Amy. If you need to stop at any point, you can, and I can take over, okay?”

“Okay.”

“So, for the restaurant, we’ve seen evidence that some of the pain-relieving effects of being in the space seem to last for hours afterwards, but it’s not clear why some patrons are affected that way. What else?”

“The staff is affected as well,” Iris says.

“We know that some patrons must be getting something directly from Nanda in some way, either the food or when he pops out to say hi to patrons. We know that there are at least two kinds of pain-relieving, one which is specific to within the restaurant and one that continues outside of the restaurant. It appears that some people have long-term effects, in at least one case which condensed all the pain into a minute at midnight,” Zia summarizes. “We have not seen the range of potentially horrible side-effects as in the bar, but there could still some. The danger of experiencing all one’s pain forthe day in one minute … could be a problem,” she finishes.

“Hmm … doesnt Nanda put ‘finishing touches’ on all the food?” Iris asks.

“Does he? That could be an opportunity to add a contract,” Marcella says thoughtfully.

“Yeah, but we have no proof that is when he does it. He also pops out to see patrons regularly. We should report both to the Queen,” Zia says.

“Absolutely,” Marcella agrees. “Good, I think that sums up the most important information about the restaurant. As for the bar, there are the clear consent violations happening, but unfortunately, the Court is more concerned about how the bar’s actions could reveal changelings for what they are.” The thin line of Marcella’s mouth as she says this shows what she thinks of this attitude. “But I think we still have a lot of evidence that shows they’re being sloppy. The bar has a reputation for its unusually mood-altering effects, for one. They gave their altered drinks to other Changelings, for another. Other specific points to bring up for the Queen? How many different types of drinks did we observe in action?”

“How these people end up acting in ways they’ll definitely regret afterward?” Iris suggests.

Marcella nods. “And depending on the actions, the personality, and prior health, could lead to a step as dramatic as suicide, unfortunately.” Marcella looks more pissed the more she thinks about the bar. “As I recall, the effects of the drinks included making people more outgoing, making them immediately attracted to each other, plus the strange shot that Caesar and Amy were given right before they left with Anna. Any others I’m forgetting?”

“Yeah … I think the guy we had might go that far as well, although we can’t be sure,” Iris says.

“The guy who was really happy. That might have been a different one,” Amy says. “Really?” she asks Iris, in regards to the man the two fo them followed.

“Not that I’m aware of, but I’m pretty sure they could manage others too,” Iris says.

“I think he might, yeah … I can’t be sure though, I’m just worried. But you’re right, he probably got something else,” Iris says.

“Huh?” Amy looks confused for a minute, “Ohhh, no I meant the dancing guy. But maybe they both did.”

“Oh sorry. Yeah they could’ve. Doesn’t matter now, I think we have enough information on contracts either way.” Iris replies.

“Yeah, good points. All right, I think that begins to cover the wrongness of that bar, and we can always give more examples or elaborate if the Queen asks. Other points we want to raise, or should we go get ready for Court?” No one adds anything, so she says, “All right, let’s go get ready for Court then. See you all in a little while!”

Fianna waves her hand like she’s holding a little flag. “Yaaaaay.” But she does leave, presumably to get dressed. Iris, lookig like she really isn’t looking forward to this, leaves as well.

Marcella changes into her Summer Court outfit, with the dagger in an unobtrusive sheath tucked in at her waist.

Everyone changes and meets back at the antechamber to the Court by 11:55.

Iris looks a bit green again. Marcella doesn’t look nervous at all, and chats with people as they arrive.

Hulda arrives looking slightly uncomfortable in her bright summer court outfit.

Zia arrives, in a slightly better mood than earlier this morning, looking lovely in a sheath dress in the summer colors.

“So, who else is excited about mobile phones?” Marcella asks cheerily.

Fianna is still grumbling about pants.

“They are smaller than they used to be, and it has a keyboard!” Hulda sounds pretty excited.

“I know, right!” Marcella says. “I never thought I’d be this excited about a flip phone.”

Zia slips out her phone, “It is certainly a useful thing.”

A couple of minutes pass, and the doors to the antechamber open. A changeling with skin the texture of pebbled rock opens the door. “The Queen will see you now,” he says. “Please follow me”

Marcella takes the lead and follows him.

As the party enters the court room, they notice that it is moderately empty, the only people being the Queen and an assortment of people they vaguely recognize as knights, including Varecia. There is no one on the balcony and the knights seem to be divided between securing the room and guarding the Queen. The Queen is dressed fairly simply, but the crown of Summer seems to pulse on her head. The functionary who fetched the group inside announces the group and gestures for them to walk forward.

Amy looks at Marcella, waiting for her to lead the way. Marcella leads the group forward, and stops and bows in front of the Queen. “Your Majesty.”

Amy follow Marcella, curtsying. Fianna bows, albeit somewhat clumsily,but she no longer falls over when she makes the attempt. Iris tries to hide bhind Amy and Marcella going in. She greets the Queen with a bow. Hulda follows staying behind Marcella, and curtsys. Zia walks forward, standing beside Marcella.

The Queen nods in acknowledgement. “Please, make your report. As Varecia said, I must decide whether to call a trial now or later or never quite shortly.”

“As you wish,” Marcella says. She summarizes what the group decided to report out to the Queen about both the restaurant and the bar, then says, “If you wish for a more detailed account of what we observed in both locations, we’d be happy to give more information.” When discussing the bar, Marcella can’t quite keep her disapproval of their methods from her voice, but she tries to stay fairly neutral in her report.

During the recitation, Kenna looks solemn. She requests more specific details as well. Marcella lets Zia and Amy report out on what they observed or experienced, and adds other information from what she observed working in the bar.

After the information is shared, Kenna sighs heavily. “This is enough for a trial. I will speak with the other monarchs and their Council and we will bring this to trial within the next few days. Perhaps someone directly involved will give us all the details we need to be sure of a few … problems.” She stands and continues, “Vogelfrei, thank you for your service to the freehold and to the court. Are you all prepared to testify at the trial if needed?”

Marcella bows again. “If you wish it, your majesty, I shall testify if called. I will let the rest of my team choose for themselves.” She glances at Amy and Caesar.

Iris is looking terrified again and has no idea whether she is even able to contribute anything interesting.

Zia nods. “Whatever is needed, I will do.”

Hulda looks nervous, but nods agreement

Fianna nods.

Iris finally gives a small nod, but still feels it’s a horrible idea.

Amy simply says, “I will.”

“Thank you. It will speak well to the courts that you are all willing to participate in the trial.” Kenna sits down. “Now, tell me, will any of you be participating in the Games?” she continues, looking at Marcella, Fianna, and Iris.

“Indeed, Your Majesty,” Marcella says. “We haven’t all decided on all of our events, but I think many of us plan to participate in at least one.”

“I certainly will be,” Fianna says. “In fact, I’m looking foward to it. Your Majesty,” she adds at the end somewhat awkwardly.

“I will be, Your Majesty. It looks fun,” Amy says.

“That is great to hear. I expect that you all will meet many of the freehold members, as well as other changelings new from the Hedge like yourself. I will let you know which of you will be called to speak at the trial. Thank you for your efforts.” She sits and it is clear the audience is over.

Everyone bows or curtsies and leaves.

After this, Marcella plans offer a cell phone 101 class for people who want it, start German lessons for Amy and Fianna, and also have a talk with the group about battle strategies.

Iris will join for battle strategies, and also offer assistance with teaching german.

Amy will take the aforementioned lessons, and also spends some time in her room, by herself.

Hulda will spend some time looking at the summer games list and following up on her research into jobs and places to live

Fianna also plans to take the cell phone class.

Marcella will look up the names she got from the bar online

Hank is interested in following up, if we want to do that at some point.

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Marcella's game 27 journal

By the end of her shift at the bar, Marcella is heartsick at how many patrons she’s seen who look like they’re under the influence of Leon and Christian’s drinks. She gets as many of their names as she can, but she has to clench her fists and stop herself from running after each couple or group that entered alone and leaves with newfound companions. She knows she’s doing what she can to help them right now, but it still hurts. Changelings should know better than anyone what a violation this is. She’s going to bring these bastards down.

She doesn’t get the chance to do much snooping while closing the bar, but hopefully what they’ve found so far will stand without it. She’s exhausted when she gets back to the freehold, but there’s motley business to take care of before she can sleep. Only once she’s gotten a space for them to use and made sure everyone knows when to be there does she rest. She wonders as she sets her dagger beside the bed and pulls off her shoes whether it was the mission or something else that upset Zia tonight. She figures that if Zia wants to talk about it, she’ll track Marcella down soon enough. If she doesn’t, it’s none of Marcella’s business. She doesn’t have space to fix everyone else’s individual problems, not when she barely has a handle on how to protect the group. At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself. It takes a long time for her to fall asleep.


Seeing Fianna’s simple joy about the Games list brings a smile to Marcella’s face. Chatting about what events they’ll compete in is almost enough to make Marcella forget the small flutter in her stomach whenever she thinks about the Arena, its roaring, faceless crowds, and its living statues. She has to do this, she reminds herself. This is the best way she can come up with to keep her motley and her comrades-in-arms safe.

Marcella continues to be impressed by Hank’s thoughtfulness, observational skills, and preparation for their meetings. She wonders about the shopping bags, but figures he’ll let them know what’s in them if it’s important. She also notes that he’s the first one to volunteer information when the silence starts stretching out after she asks for someone to start. She really has to stop doing that and start just picking teams to report out. Marcella is sure she has never been as reluctant to make a report as this group, even back when she was a prawn.

The reports from her team, when they do come, make her more concerned than ever about The Iron Nail. With more information about the restaurant, it seems as though they can’t dismiss Nandakumar and his kitchen as harmless after all. She hopes this won’t cause trouble with Byron, but it can’t be helped. People are getting hurt by supernatural influences in their lives they don’t understand, and it has to stop.

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Game 27--Information Roundtable

Summary

Investigations of club and restaurant patrons wrap up, and everyone returns to the freehold in order to discuss their findings. In the meantime, people start talking about the Summer Games.

Log

Caesar and Zia walk back to the club, and are greeted outside by Hank. “Evening.” Amy waves at them.

“Morning, everyone.” Zia replies quietly

Hulda smiles and nods at them.
Hank smiles wryly, “Yes, I suppose that’s more accurate.” He looks around. "We probably shouldn’t all be hanging around here waiting if we don’t want the owners to realize we’re all

“Probably not,” says Zia. “Perhaps someone should let Fianna and Marcella know we are heading out. Also we should speak about our findings in the morning.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Hank agrees. “Amy or Caesar, does one of you want to do so? The owners already know that you and Marcella have interacted before.”
“I can do it.” Amy says. She goes into the club to find Marcella.

Amy finds Marcella at the far end of her section. She has just finished collecting the bill for a couple who are now leaving. She walks up to Marcella. “Marcella, I’m letting you know we’re heading out. We’ll see you in the morning?”

Marcella looks up as she approaches. “Hey Amy. Thanks for letting me know. Around 10, I can take care of getting us a room?”

Amy nods, “Ok, thanks. G’night!” She returns to the people outside. “Marcella says she can get us a room for around 10.”

“Are you all set for getting home, then?” Hank says. “It is pretty late, sleep would be good,” Hulda replies.

Iris says: “Yeah I’d like to be something resembling conscious later today”
Zia nods. “I’m ready to go home.” She starts walking towards the bus stop. Amy follows her, and is shortly joined by Iris. Hank walks with them to the bus stop to make sure that the next bus is reasonably soon. Zia is quiet and clearly lost in her own thoughts as they wait for the bus. Hulda also walks to the bus stop and looks at the schedule. After waiting awkwardly for several moments, Hank points out the bus route and the schedule. “Thank you.” Amy says to Hank. Iris looks pretty tired and just nods. Hank loiters awkwardly while he waits for the bus to arrive, trying to make sure everyone’s okay and that nobody needs anything. While they wait for the bus, Zia doesn’t really talk to anyone unless they start conversations with anyone else.

Hank will see everyone safely onto the bus and then go retrieve his bike from the stand outside the coffee shop. He goes back to his apartment and broods and makes further notes based on the various observations he has made.

Not too long after Amy comes in to speak with Marcella, the club begins the process of shutting down for the night. Leon and Christian are cleaning up the bar when Anupriya approaches Marcella and Fianna with their tips for the night. She inquires, mostly to Marcella, if tonight was easier than the night before.

Marcella smiles at Anupriya. “Yes, much better night than last night, thanks.”

Anupriya nods in satisfaction. “Excellent. After a while you won’t even notice any of the side effects. Anyway, have a good evening.”

Marcella smiles again, and says, “Thanks, you too,” but looks a little murderous when Anupriya turns away. She looks for a chance to snag a suspicious umbrella from under the bar as she helps close up, but notices Leon lock the box they are stored in with a key from around his neck. Soon enough, the club is officially closed, all the patons have left/been politely ejected, and Marcella and Fianna are given leave to…well, leave. Marcella keeps an eye out for any other suspicious closing-up behaviors, but otherwise does what she needs to and goes back to the freehold.

Upon retuning to the freehold, Marcella goes to talk to Anya to get a meeting room for the morning. Anya reserves a room for the group for 10:30. She warns that they will need to be out of the room by 11:15 as one of the planning committees for the games will need the room. She also gives Marcella a list of the games in the summer games.

“Oh, thank you, I’d been meaning to find a list like this. Anyone can participate, right? I’ll show it to my team.” Marcella says. Anya nods and continues to carefully file her nails. “Anyone can participate from the freehold or any freehold in Germany and technically surrounding countries. Hobs and other hedge creatures can request to participate,” she replies idly.

Marcella raises her eyebrows at the last part. “How often to hobs and other hedge creatures actually get to participate?”

“Oh, it depends on the year. I’ve this year that the screening for hobs who want to participate is pretty intense and that it will mostly be hobs who regularly compete in the arena, not many first timers or irregulars.” Anya replies.

Marcella nods. “That’s probably a good security measure, yeah. Thanks Anya. Have a good night.” Marcella thanks her and goes to the library to email Hank, and make copies of the game lists. She slides a copy under everyone’s door. When she gets to Zia’s door, she hears the faintest hint of quiet crying.

Marcella hesitates outside the door for a minute, then knocks quietly. Zia opens the door, “Yes?”

“I was dropping off the meeting information for tomorrow. … If you want to talk about it, just let me know, okay?”

“Thanks for the note Marcella. Have a good night and get some sleep,” Zia replies and taps the door closed.

“Good night,” Marcella says through the door, then goes to deliver the rest of her notes and get some sleep.

The next morning, Fianna can be found in the meeting room early with a couple of danishes and a glass of milk, poring excitedly over the list of games. Marcella shows up a few minutes early to the room as well.

“So did you see this list?” Fianna says excitedly when Marcella enters. “They have an OBSTACLE COURSE. Seriously, look at all of these events! I used to sneak peeks at the Olympics in storefront television displays, I never thought I might compete in their magic cousin.”

Marcella grins at Fianna. “It’s a pretty good line-up, right? What events were you considering?”

Fianna turns around her list and points to places that have been circled in pen. “Both the contract and non-contract one-on-one duels, and the pairs too if I can find a partner, I HAVE to try the obstacle course, because OBSTACLE COURSE, boxing, OF COURSE, and maybe the throwing knives. You think anyone would be interested in the 4×4 or 8×8 games? That looks like fun, too.”

“I’d be up for paired events if you’re interested, sure. I’m planning to do at least the no-holds-barred duel and weaponry duel,” Marcella says.

“Partners, Hell, sure! Heck, between your defense skills and my offense, I bet we make a pretty good team.” Fianna looks kind of like a small child on Christmas, and the permanent irritated furrow between her eyes seems to have gone away.

Marcella is happy to see Fianna this happy, and decides then and there she will do whatever pairs events Fianna wants to participate in.

Hulda shows up at 10:30 with her list. Iris is with her. Zia shows up precisely on time, wearing a lovely purple and blue ensemble. She has the list, a cup of tea, and a notepad. She comes in and drinks her tea.Amy shows up a few minutes late, carrying her doll and her games list. Hank also arrives a few minutes late balancing his typical bag, and largish white box, a cup of coffee and a bag with the logo of a market that isn’t too far away from the Freehold. Marcella helps Hank with his items and hands him a copy of the games list. The box is opened to reveal breakfast pastries.

Amy peers inside the box, “Oooh. Are those for us?”

Marcella grins at him when she sees the pastries. “Thank you, Hank. These are very thoughtful.”

Hank offers the box to Amy for her to select something, and then to Marcella.

“Thank you!” Amy happily munches at her treat.

Hank offers the box around, retrieves his coffee, and grabs a seat, looking over the list that Marcella just handing him.

Once Iris and Hank arrive and everyone has taken a pastry who wants it, Marcella looks around. “Everyone, thanks for two days of hard work and investigation. Let’s compare notes about last night and see if we have enough to go to the Court with. As you’ve all seen, I also got a list of Summer Games events, but let’s save that discussion until we’ve dealt with mission business. We need to be out of this room by 11:15, so we can always discuss the less sensitive stuff later. Who wants to start?”

Hank puts down the games list and pulls out his notebook. He starts speaking.

“Hulda and I followed a father and son pair who dined at the restaurant in the evening, based on Zia’s recommendation. They left the restaurant and got on a bus to one of the residential districts. The father appeared to be moving more slowly, while the son was quite restless and full of energy, despite being the one who Zia had flagged for us due to the fact that he seemed in pain when they entered the Iron Nail.” He pauses for a moment, in case anyone has initial questions.

Marcella nods, but waits for him to finish.

Hank continues. “We followed them to their house unnoticed, due to Hulda’s assistance. On the bus, the father seemed to be advocating caution, while the son was dismissive and told the father to stop worrying. This pattern of behavior continued on the walk home, escalating to what seemed to be an argument when they arrived at their house. The front door had both steps and a ramp, indicating the presence of a mobility-impaired individual, likely the son.”

Marcella frowns thoughtfully.

“In order to continue to observe the patient, who’s bedroom was on the third floor, Hulda and I availed ourselves of the roof of the building across the street. As an aside, we noted that one of the properties may belong to a fellow Changeling, I’ve noted the address in case we want to look them up. The son seemed not entirely at ease with his current body, following certain patterns of action that followed with some sort of lower body trauma or paralysis, which appeared to be habitual or instinctive to him. His room contained several mobility-related paraphernalia, including transfer bars for his bed. He spent some time working out, and appeared unable to settle down to rest. He retrieved a snack, which appeared to spur another argument with his father, before trying to sleep. Eventually he gave up, and left the house. We followed him to a nearby park where he began running laps. At precisely 12:00 AM, he collapsed suddenly on the track and lay prone for approximately 1 minute, appearing to be crippled by pain. I got up to help him, but he regained his feet on his own and seemed entirely recovered, berating himself because ‘he knew this would happen’. He continued running laps, and did not notice until quite a bit later that he was bleeding from both knees.”

Marcella’s eyes harden.

Amy frowns, “Like he skinned them when he fell?”

Hank nods. “Yes, he appeared to skim them both rather badly, but didn’t appear to feel pain or even be aware of the condition until he took a break. Hulda and I didn’t think we would observe anything else significant that night, so we left him when he resumed his laps. It’s my analysis from this observation that whatever Contract that Nanda is working upon his patients – I’m sorry, patrons – may be condensing all of the effects of their illnesses and ailments over the course of the day into that one minute of agony we observed. Though, of course, my sample size is entirely insufficient to support any clear conclusions, and this is just a working hypothesis.”

Marcella nods. “That is troubling indeed. You’re right that we can’t know the exact effect without knowing the contract, but I think we may need to revisit our idea that the restaurant isn’t causing any harm.”

“I’m not so sure,” says Iris. "I got cut but didn’t fee any pain for a while, but I never had any concentrated pain experiences. I think it’s time based and probably just wears off after a while. We had an accident in the kitchen earlier, someone cut themselves pretty badly but it took us almost a minute to notice. "

“But in this patient, the effect did not wear off permanently, as you described. He seemed to return to his perfect health after that one minute, where observation indicates that if the spell had worn off completely, he would no longer have been able to walk,” Hank says.

Amy furrows her brow, “But he traded a minute of pain to walk all day? Is that a bad thing?”

Hank frowns. “That depends, I suppose, on your condition.” He looks between Marcella and Hulda. “It seems to me that we should investigate obituaries for any deaths that have occurred between 12:00 AM and 12:01 AM recently.”

“Also if you get hurt badly and don’t notice/feel pain you could do something to make an injury worse or lose a lot of blood which can be dangerous.” Hulda says.

Amy widens her eyes, “Ohhh, I didn’t think of that.”

“That’s what I was worried about,” Iris says. “I’ve also followed one guy who is apparently about to get kicked out, but didn’t seem to care at all. I haven’t seen it wear off though.”" “Yes, let’s follow up on some of these restaurant patrons. Perhaps we could ask the Changeling who owns the building across the street some questions, too.” Marcella says. “There’s also the question of whether he actually made a choice or transaction at all. Was this a bar patron, Iris?”

“Yes it was, we didn’t follow anyone from the restaurant,” Iris says.

“Zia, Hank, Hulda, anything else about the restaurant before we move on to the bar?” Marcella says.

Hank shakes his head.

Zia explains that she and Blue followed the Farbers, the older two who had various mental health issues. It appears that they both go to the Iron Nail regularly to deal with their issues (a degenerative memory issue for the wife and an array of physical issues for the husband). There was no indication of the crash of all the pain at once as seen by Hank and Hulda. It is causing tensions between them and their son who doesn’t want them to do it, because they don’t understand how it works.

“Well, I think it’s safe to say that the humans are noticing the effect,” Marcella remarks.

“Definitely,” says Iris

“Indeed, it is.” Zia replies

“The last person I followed had hers wear off very suddenly. Although I’m not too worried about her, once we figured out how to get her home she was alright, just confused.” Iris says.

“All right, what about the bar? What did you guys notice last night?” Marcella is looking at Amy and Iris.

“I already told you about both of ours. I couldn’t follow the first guy inside, but I have name and address of both. The woman I didn’t have to follow since she asked me for directions and the contract had worn off by then.” Iris says.

“Could you, perhaps, elaborate?” Hank asks.

“On which one?”

“Both,” Hank responds, blandly.

Amy takes up the thread, “The first guy was really happy going home. Someone met him at the door and wanted rent. He didn’t have it. He asked where he’d been and when he said the Iron Nail the guy got angry on him spending money on that. Our guy didn’t seem to upset by it, though. I was gonna ask his walls, but then we were following the other lady, instead.”

Iris continues. “The second woman I followed for a bit, then had a chat. She seemed fairly cheerful and confident, but not in any sort of trouble. I excused muself and kept following her until she suddenly broke down and started crying. Apparently she usually isn’t this confident and didn’t know how to get home. I ended up giving her directions and lost track. I think our plan orginally was to check up on the first guy this morning.”

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Game 26: I’ll Be Watching You

Summary:

While Marcella and Fianna finish their shift at the club, the rest of Vogelfrei continue to moonlight as creepy, if well-intentioned, stalkers. Iris and Amy follow a woman named Helen Mayer who leaves the bar happy and confident, discussing her enjoyment of the evening with Iris, until her mood shifts dramatically and she is paralyzed by anxiety and indecision. Hulda and Hank follow a couple who are giddy and giggling to a park and a set of swings, where they enjoy themselves until the instant where they suddenly cannot remember who the other is and how they got there. Zia and Caesar return to the home of the family they followed earlier, where Zia listens to the door’s memories to determine that eating at the restaurant is improving both Lucas’ physical health and Margit’s Alzheimer’s deterioration, but creating conflict with their son, who is uncomfortable with not knowing why it helps. The pairs return to the club just around closing to regroup.

Log:

Iris and Amy have returned to have a second go at following someone. Marcella has given Iris a list of names of affected people—an extremely confident woman and a flirty pair. The confident woman, who is listed on Marcella’s note as Helen Mayer, pays for her drinks and looks to be getting ready to leave. In the meantime, Hulda and Hank return from their previous shadowing mission.

“We were supposed to meet up with our friend inside, weren’t we?” says Hank.

“I think so, shall we head in?” Hulda replies. Hank nods. They walk into the bar. Neither have been there before, so they look around. Hulda notice that it is very well-appointed, with gorgeous wooden wall panels and very happy clientele. Since it is later, and many patrons have had several drinks, the dance floor is full, and the rest of the bar is busy. There are two changelings making drinks behind the bar and a third that appears to be observing from a balcony with a second level of tables. Fianna and Marcella can be seen running around, serving drinks and snacks, and Iris is standing nearby. Hank also sees all this, and since he is familiar with the effects the drinks seem to have, he also notices a handful of people who might be affected on the dance floor, as well as some in the booths, though he can’t be sure.

Hank chooses a table or that is empty as near to Iris as he can, but does not go up to her directly. Hulda follows Hank’s lead. She has very little experience with clubs like this, having been too occupied with her research to go clubbing. Iris notices Hank and Hulda return. She passes by the table and drops her note down, she has memorized her name and is still keeping her target in view. She tries to subtly point towards the pair of names and the pair before going after her target, and doesn’t seem to alert any nearby patrons while doing so.

Iris heads outside just after Helen Mayer, who leaves the bar, and turns up the street. She is walking casually, and unconcerned, and she’s watching the sky quite a bit. She goes to turn the corner. Iris stealthily follows Helen, who is continuing to walk. She is clearly quite happy, though not the same delirious happy you’ve seen in some of the other patrons. More, she seems confident, and pleased with how things are.

“Nice night, isn’t it?”

Helen startles, then turns around quickly. After a second, she relaxes. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there! Yes…it’s a lovely night. I wish all nights were this nice.”

“Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Umm… I guess I you wanted to tell you you’re a pretty good dancer once you get into it…” Iris is now blushing furiously.

“Oh!” Helen blushes, and smiles a happy, wide smile. “That makes me feel so happy, thank you! You know, normally I never would have tried—I’m such a klutz, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me out there-but tonight just felt like….a night for dancing, you know? And I didn’t feel shy, or mortified and I didn’t trip on anything. It was…it was just a really lovely night.” She sighs happily.

“I know that feeling,” Iris replies. “I’m just so clumsy and I feel ike everyone’s watching me. I suppose the drinks help, but I still take at least half an hour. It’s a bit strange really… I just suddenly felt like going tonight as well. Did anything happen today?”

“Funny you should ask,” Helen says. “I’ve kind of been feeling down the past week or so-I just moved here for work, don’t know many people aside from a few coworkers just yet, and they recommended I come here to relax. I think I’m beginning to develop a reputation at work for being nervous and uptight.” She gives a deep, happy sigh. “Well, problem solved. I feel great. I’ll have to thank them for the recommendation. I’m definitely coming back here.”

Iris agrees, “It’s a great place. I’ve lived here for a while but I only started going this week, someone finally dragged me outside. You seem a lot less nervous than me though. I’m just terrified trying to talk to people I don’t know. I’m sure you’ll find lots of nice people if you keep going out though.”

Back inside, Hulda and Hank both understand and notice Iris’ subtle indication towards the two names listed as a pair on her note. The pair appear to be getting ready to leave. Hank has generally been looking around, trying to get a sense of the whole club, etc. and (at least in his mind on his new cover story) is pretending to look for their friend. As the couple looks ready to leave, Hank turns to Hulda, “Hmm… I don’t see Amy. Maybe we just missed her. Perhaps we should get going?”

“Yeah, she must have left since we were a little late.”

The pair that Hulda and Hank are watching move towards the door. They are both very drunk, and are hanging off each other both for support and for the contact. The man is twirling his fingers in the woamn’s curly hair, and she is giggling. Hulda and Hank follow them out of the club. They walk down the street.

Hulda walks outside, and after getting a little way from the club, casts Shadowpatch to improve her stealth, and Night’s Subtle Distractions to prevent people close by from spotting her. She touches Hank while casting the Contract to make sure he isn’t affected by Night’s Subtle Distractions. Hulda is well and truly hidden, and the already oblivious couple is even more oblivious of her presence. They continue meandering for a few more blocks, until they reach a public park.

Iris and Helen are still talking on the street corner. “Well, if the end result is anything like tonight, I mot certainly will,” Helen laughs. “I feel like I could jump off a roof and stick the landing, that’s how good I feel.”

“I… wouldn’t recommend that,” Iris responds. “At least not if you’re not sure you’re sober. I’m glad you’re feeling better though, maybe we’ll meet again later.”

“If you plan on going back to the Iron Nail, we probably will!” Helen say cheerfully. “Nice meeting you. Now, I better get home. Work in the morning.”

“Same. See you around!” Iris waves and starts to switch to the other side of the road and casts Night’s Subtle Distractions, though it doesn’t seem to have a significant effect. Helen keeps walking down the road, still looking happy and confident. Iris continues to follow Helen for a good distance, until Helen suddenly just stops in the middle of the sidewalk. Iris stops as well to hide behind a piece of scenery.

Helen suddenly looks less than confident than she did earlier. Iris can hear her mumbling to herself about “Should have taken the bus. Should have learned the bus schedules. Do the buses run this late?” and “Why did I think walking was a good idea? It’s not like I can see the neighborhood in the dark” Helen continues to walk, but she seems to be slowing down. She is acting completely differently than how she was earlier. Suddenly, a car turns the corner near her and she bursts out into tears and sits down with her face on her knees on the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, Hulda is trailing after the pair in the park. She makes sure she stays close enough to overhear their conversations. The pair has wandered over to a small playground in the park. The woman whispers something into the ear of the man that Hulda picks up as being “lets take a ride on the swings!” The man nods, and they gleefully and drunkenly run-stumble over to the swings and start playing on them. Hulda finds a place to watch them from, and is amused since she was on some swings earlier tonight. The pair on the swings are acting very silly, and do so for the better part of half an hour. There is a lot of pushing each other around-and off, spinning, and other ridiculous behavior.

Watching Helen’s breakdown, Iris is feeling immensely guilty. She thinks she recognizes the area from going into town before she was abducted… Iris has a pretty good idea of where she is, though it’s harder to tell in the dark. It’s actually a rather nice part of the city. She sighs, curses herself and walks up to Helen again. “Hey, are you alright?”

The sobbing woman looks up at you. “I know you,” she hiccups. “You were outside the club. What are you doing here?” She looks terrified, and sounds very different than she did earlier.

“I called someone earlier but they couldn’t pick me up, so it looks like I’m walking home too,” Iris responds.
“Oh,” she says miserably. “I don’t know why I thought walking would be a good idea. I guess I thought it would be nice to see the neighborhood, but I was wrong…it’s dark,and all the houses look the same, and I just can’t deal with this right now”

“Well,” Iris offers, “If you’re just lost I grew up here so I could probably point you in the right direction. Or you could try looking it up on your phone. Either way I wouldn’t be too worried around here, this part of town is very safe.”

The look Helen gives Iris is one of intense hope. “Really? You can? That would be wonderful! Here’s my address” She gives you an apartment and a street number. Iris discovers that they are only a couple blocks from her apartment, and gives Helen directions. Helen is supremely grateful. She gets up and dusts herself off, and leaves, albeit quite cautiously. She is still very teary when she leaves. Iris writes down her name and address, but is now very worried about the guy from before and starts wandering back.

In the meantime, Hulda has been watching the pair horse around on the playground for almost 45 minutes when the woman suddenly screams. Hulda looks carefully at the pair trying to see what caused the scream. The woman is looking at the man like she’s never seen him before. The man looks similarly confused. The woman seems to be panicking. She’s accusing the man of stalking her, and being too friendly, and the man is just as flustered. He has no idea why he’s out here, and he keeps trying to convince the woman of that. Hulda prepares for the possibility of needing to step in if things get out of hand.

After a while the panic seems to die down to simple confusion. They begin asking each other questions, trying to piece together just what had happened to them. Eventually, they agree to both go to their respective homes, and to not talk about what had just happened. They both walk in separate directions, both looking profoundly upset. Both of them are confused, a bit scared, and definitely upset, but neither of them look like they will do anything drastic. They are both firmly in the “bury this incident where it will never see the light of day mindset”

Iris arrives back at the club, and decides to just linger outside the club, watching the entrance covertly. Hulda arrives back shortly after. Iris contemplates greeting her, but decides to just be exhausted and stay semi out of sight, wondering whether Hulda will try to talk to her. As well as vaguely pondering how to get back.

Zia has carefully demolished her fries and danced on the dance floor periodically throughout the evening. As it hits around 1:15 she asks Caesar if he’d like to go check out the apartment as planned Caesar had agreed earlier and, of course, would make true on his word.

Zia waves down Marcella. “We’re heading out. See you later.”

Marcella nods. “Good luck. See you in the morning.”

Zia and Caesar walk back to the apartment building’s block. At the corner she says, “Okay, so we’re going to go up to their apartment, I’ll listen to the door while you keep watch and then we’ll leave. I don’t want to be caught for breaking and entering.”

“Easy enough,” Caesar answers with a nod. “Just keep them distracted if someone shows up?”

“Hmm…probably,” Zia responds. “Can you think of any reason for them not to do down that hallway?….I’m mostly banking on the fact that not many people get home at 1am.”

“Not off the top of my head, no. If someone does come, I’ll just improvise or something.”

Zia unlocks the door and confidently walks through the lobby confidently. Without much fuss, she finds her way to the apartment. She gestures for Blue to set himself up at the corner near the staircase. The apartment door has a lovely sign, clearly handmade that says Welcome to our home!

Caesar heads over towards the staircase and takes a seat on the stairs immediately beside the hallway. He acts as best as he can as though he’s tired. Zia puts one hand on the door and speaking very very quietly makes about 1 minutes of conversation with the door. Then she stops talking and closes her eyes. She sees several scenes of their everyday comings and goings, learns that Lucas has been having issues with his arthritis and his heart and his doctors are in the process of diagnosing something else. Margit has Alzheimer’s and is having a really rough time coming to terms with it. Zia sees Lucas as he opens the door, saying “Margit, honey, it will be fine, really. He just doesn’t want us to overdo it.” Margit sighs and agrees as she sinks onto the couch. Standing leaning against the now closed door, Lucas says, “We don’t really know why having dinner there makes us feel better and, I think it makes our son uncomfortable. But, he’s never been where we are, never know his body to fail him or his mind to refuse to remember things. Let’s just go to bed.” “Okay, thanks Lucas.”

Zia steps back from the door about 5 minutes later. “Blue, let’s go,” she says

“Huh? That was pretty quick. Sure, let’s go.” He gets up from where he was sitting, stretched for a moment, and walked over to Zia. Zia leaves the apartment building and walks to the corner. Caesar follows quietly behind her.

“I think the nearest bus stop is almost back to the bar. I can tell you what I saw while we walk.” She start walking. She seems a little sad.

“Sure,” he walks a bit closer to Zia. “So what did you see?”

“Well, the husband is seriously not healthy and the wife has alzheimer’s and it seems like they regularly go to the Iron Nail and it makes them feel a lot better,” she explains. “They didn’t mention any downsides, except that it clearly does wear off at some point. Their son is really uncomfortable with the not knowing how this works.”

“It definitely wears off. Beyond saying its some contract, do we even know how it works?”

“No, not really. Sorry, I didn’t get as much as I was hoping.” Zia replied.

“Don’t apologize,” Blue says, trying to cheer her up. “Every bit helps. This, plus whatever the others found out should be enough to give us an idea of what to do next.”

“I hope so,” Zia sighs. “Let’s head back.” Blue agrees and they also return to the club.

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