Rites of the Spring Horn

Hulda's Thoughts on Game - Being Stealthy

Last night was quite interesting, and a nice change from spending all of my time researching in the library. As part of our continued investigation of the club, Hank and I were given information about an older man and his son that we were supposed to follow once they left the club. Apparently the son had come into the restaurant hunched over and in a lot of pain, but seemed to not be in pain as his dinner progressed.
While we were waiting for them to leave the restaurant, Hank and I had an interesting conversation about my research in the coffee shop across the way. He was quite attentive, and some of his comments have given me new ideas to pursue.
After about a 30 minute conversation, we spotted our quarry leaving the restaurant. Hank did a contract to become smaller, looking more normal sized, and I cast my sneaking contracts, because it is suspicious to be following someone through a city. We then followed them to a bus stop, and then to their home. Hank and I had another interesting conversation about his work as a doctor.
Since we were attempting to look for actions taken after the contract/drug/whatever was affecting the people had worn off, we decided that we needed to find a position to watch the son while he was at home. Since he lived in the middle of a set of row homes, and each home had a tiny fenced in yard, this was a bit of a challenge. After looking around, Hank spotted a ladder leading to the roof of a row home across the way and down a few houses. If we could get to that ladder, then we could climb to the roof and walk across the rooftops until we got to the house across the street from our target. Of course, getting to the ladder was a bit of an adventure.
There was the fence marked with a handprint, a Changeling’s house of some kind, which we decided to avoid, which meant we had to climb several other fences. We had been doing quite well, especially since I am not very strong or athletic, until we reached a pristine yard with some box hedges. When attempting to climb that fence, I fell off of Hank’s shoulders; he had been giving me a boost, and fell into the hedge. Hank overbalanced and fell over as well. Fortunately, I had cast my contract so that it would be harder for anyone to notice us, but a young child who lived in the house did see Hank after we fell and made all that noise. The child seemed really pleased that the box hedge had been ruined, and threw some candy to Hank as a reward. Other than that incident, however, we had no problems climbing over the fences and getting to the rooftop across the street from our target.
Through his lit window we could see a room that was set up for someone who needed a wheelchair. The boy was standing in the middle of the room lifting weights and seemed to have a lot of energy. After some time working out and a quick break to read a comic, he turned off his light and sneaked out of the house. We quickly got down from the roof and prepared to follow him.
He went to a park, and started running laps on a track. Meanwhile, Hank and I, trying not to look suspicious, walked around the park and went to the swings, looking to a casual observer like we were finishing a late night date. After running for a while, at midnight the boy collapsed to the ground in pain. He mentioned how he knew this was going to happen at midnight and he should have been more prepared. He stayed curled up for exactly 1 minute, and then got back up and started running again. After 5 more laps, he realized that he had scraped his knees and had not felt any pain. He then returned to his home and went to bed, and Hank and I headed back to the bar.
I am not sure what is causing this, but it appears that the boy feels all of his pain from the day, or at least from when he left the restaurant in 1 minute at midnight, and feels no pain the rest of the time. There are some contracts that have long term effects like this, but nothing specific comes to mind.

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Game 24: Purple and Planning

Previously on Rites of the Spring Horn:

The mission started out with Queen Kenna telling the group that suspicious things have been happening connected to a particular bar: several patrons have committed suicide, and there is suspicion that the owners may be using contracts improperly (i.e. in ways that will reveal them as changelings). The group infiltrated the bar. Hank and Zia did not find much suspicious at the restaurant, other than good food, but the bar group got into some trouble. Amy, Caesar and Marcella all fell victim to the effects of unknown contracts while investigating the Iron Nail nightclub. The next morning, our heroes regroup…

Summary:

Hank, who has been unexpectedly called into work, meets with Marcella earlier in the morning and develops a questionnaire to check on the three Vogelfrei members who were affected by the spiked drinks. Iris, unnerved and unable to sleep, helps Zia pick out fabric. Marcella delivers Hank’s survey and checks in on Blue and Amy, before the whole group meets up at 10:00. They discuss their findings: the restaurant revealed evidence of significant contract use, but it was unclear whether or not any freehold laws were violated. Something in the kitchen seemed to prevent its workers from feeling injuries. The group decides that the only clear lawbreaking they’ve seen is the non-consensual use of contracts on other Changelings, and they don’t want the damage being done to mortals to be brushed aside due to lack of concrete correlation. After a brief debate on the ethics of breaking mortal laws themselves, they decide to follow a number of affected patrons over the course of the next night, and see what they do. Zia sets up a survey in the restaurant to allow for her to gain names, while Marcella and Fianna pass the others names from the bar in the form of receipts.

Log:

The next morning, the group is schedule to meet in the purple room at 10:00. Hank, unable to make the meeting due to an unexpected work conflict, meets with Marcella earlier, to ensure that his observations are recorded. He reports on the restaurant, and is distressed to learn of the problems the bar group ran into. His surprise leads to Marcella giving him a more thorough summary of each group member, which Fianna (early to the meeting) helps with. Zia also arrives early, and the four discuss potential next steps while Hank also creates a medical questionnaire for those affected by the spiked drinks. Hank then leaves for work.

Iris could feel the cuts on her fingers from when she left the kitchens. They aren’t serious at all, but it is super odd that she couldn’t feel them before. Fretting about her cuts and generally being very nervous (having only gotten about 4 hours worth of sleep), Iris has been working on her training and is up and about looking for breakfast before 7. She stays in her room for as long as she can stand but has been pacing up and down the corridor since about half past 8. Over the course of the morning Iris sees Marcella, Fianna and Zia coming and going. Iris goes looking for the others eventually, after she’s certain they’re at least awake. Iris finds Zia in her room contemplating a pile of fabric on the bed. “Oh, hi again Iris. How are you?”

Iris responds, “Something’s going on in that kitchen. With the food too probably.”

Zia turns and looks at Iris. “What kind of something are you thinking?” she asks.

Iris shrugs, “Not sure. I got cut and didn’t feel it, other people got cut worse and it took them a while to feel it too. The chef is very… cheerful. I think he’s doing something but I’m not sure what it is and I don’t know the other changelings there enough to even figure who they are. So I’m pretty sure something’s not quite right. I’d rather my mind was left as is.”

Zia replies, “That is frustrating. Well, from what Hank and I gathered, Nandakumar seems to be primarily making sick or sad people feel better, which would be in line with you not feeling your cuts I guess….”

Iris considers that. “Well… he did say his food was supposed to make people happy. It’s still creepy though.”

Zia nods. “It is creepy to do so without the consent of the diners, though many of the sick or sad people in the dining room came, I think, for exactly that reason. What we don’t really know is the outcome of that. Do they suddenly feel really sick or depressed once they leave or a few hours later? Does that lead to bad situations?”

Iris started to look even more concerned. “I’m not sure. Maybe we need to have a few of them followed to find out.”

Zia agrees. “That would be a good place to follow up on then. Iris, what do you think, this gold cotton or this gold linen for the applique for Hercules’ skin for a bag Amy and I are going to sell in our etsy shop?” Zia asks, holding up two fabrics very similar in tone.

Iris just stares. She hadn’t expected this kind of question at all, but supposes it made sense. “Linen I think.”

Zia smiles, brightly, “Great! Thanks for helping! Let’s head downstairs. We’re in the Purple Room.”

Marcella stops by both Amy and Caesar’s rooms to check on them and provide them with the questionnaire. She knocks on Amy’s door first, at 9:30. Amy cracks open the door and peeks out, then opens it all the way when she sees Marcella. Marcella smiles at her. “Good morning Amy. Is it okay if I come in?” Amy nods and opens the door the rest of the way.

“My head hurts.”

Marcella comes in and closes the door behind her. “Yeah, I … I’m sorry about that. How are you feeling in general?”

Amy responds, “Confused.” Amy find that while she doesn’t feel it quite as strongly, there is a residual sense that she should protect Caesar and Anna still occurring this morning.

“That’s fair,” Marcella says. “I think you may have been drugged. I told Hank this morning, and he put together a survey for you, me, and Caesar to fill out about what happened to us last night. Would you mind filling it out?” Marcella offers her a copy of the survey.

Amy takes it, “Yeah, you said that.” She begins looking over the survey and frowns, then hands it back to Marcella. “I don’t know some of these words.”

Marcella looks over the survey with her. “Which ones? I can tell you what they mean.” Amy points at a bunch of words that she cannot read. When they are read to her, she requires elaboration on the meaning of only physiological and metabolic, which Marcella explains to her.

Amy takes the survey back and begins to fill it out. She is frowning at it the whole time. When she is finished, she hands it back to Marcella. “I didn’t know the answer to some of them.”

Marcella takes it back. “That’s fine, Amy. Hank wanted us to fill this out to help gather as much information as we have. If we don’t know the answer to some of them, that just means we don’t have that information yet.”

Marcella goes to Caesar’s room next and knocks on the door. Caesar doesn’t greet Marcella at the door.

“Come in,” he called. Marcella opens the door, goes in, and shuts it behind her.

“Morning Caesar. How are you feeling?” Caesar responds, “Fine enough.” Marcella crosses towards him.

“That’s good. So, I’m not sure if you heard last night or not, but I think your drink may have been drugged. Hank put a survey together for you, me, and Amy about how the drinks or other effects made us feel. Would you mind filling this out?” Marcella offers the survey to Caesar.

“I recall you mentioning it last night,” he responds. “Sure,” he agrees and takes the survey, quickly glancing through its questions before actually starting to fill it.

Once Caesar fills out the survey, Marcella thanks him and takes it back. “That’s all I wanted to check in about now. We’re meeting at 10:00 in the Purple Room.”

Caesar responds, “Sure, I’ll be there soon." Marcella takes her leave.

Fianna finishes her workout in the gym around 9:45 and heads for the meeting. Amy changes out of her pajamas and also heads to the meeting. This time without the doll. Marcella heads to the Purple Room to fill out her own survey while she waits. Fianna is waiting in the Purple Room with a plate of fruit she appropriated from the kitchens when Marcella arrives. She greets Fianna. Fianna raises an eyebrow “Paperwork already?” Marcella makes a face.

“No, just Hank’s survey, thank god,” she says. Amy walks in, shielding her eyes with one hand.

Zia sees Iris out after their conversation and walks down to the Purple room. She is wearing a darker purple than the lavender of the room, for contrast. Iris follows quietly, still looking decidedly unhappy. Caesar finally makes his way towards the Purple Room. He immediately averts his eyes from anyone trying to make contact with him. The purple room is set up more like a parlor and less like a conference room than the Green room. Zia settles herself daintily on a couch. Iris looks for the nearest corner with a chair in it and starts brooding there.

Once everyone arrives, Marcella pushes her survey aside and looks around. “Hank can’t make it to the meeting this morning, he got called into an emergency shift at the clinic he works at. He filled me in on what he noticed in the restaurant, and I filled him in about the bar, but I think we should start by sharing what everyone noticed about the Iron Nail last night.” She pauses and looks around. “Zia, would you mind starting?”

Zia replies, “Not at all, Marcella.” As she speaks, her rainbow effects are all a very solid, unwavering blue, with none of the ripples of other colors which is common.

“Hank and I observed several things. The first was that the restaurant had an uncommonly high amount of diners who were elderly, sick and/or depressed. Over the course of their meals, they looked brighter, healthier, and happier. There were other changelings in the dining room, however we observed no effects on them and felt none ourselves. When we spoke to Nandakumar, he stated that his philosophy of food was to make people happy. While we were in the kitchen someone cut themselves and didn’t notice for like 30 seconds. Iris also cut herself over the course of the evening and didn’t feel anything.”

Marcella fills in a few details she got from Hank – there didn’t seem to be a correlation between what people were eating and the effect that was placed upon them, Nandakumar came out to the dining room at one point and surveyed the diners happily, one person eating near them looked very ill, probably near death early in the meal, but seemed considerably more comfortable later in the meal.

Marcella waits a minute for other reactions, then looks around and says, “From what I’ve heard so far, it doesn’t sound as though there is any wrongdoing in the restaurant. They seem to be abiding by the laws to not use any contracts on changelings, and the effects seem somewhat subtle. They are clearly drawing some attention from the elderly and the sick, and getting a reputation, but it doesn’t seem to be to be beyond the scope of the kind of reputation a mortal restaurant might gain. Other thoughts or observations?”

Fianna pipes up, “Do changeling lawyers exist? Because you could argue what they’re doing either way, I think. But I don’t know enough about what passes for the laws around here to know where the courts will be willing to grant flex room. Have to say though: unasked for release from pain sounds a lot less awful than what we saw.”

Marcella’s nose flares. “I agree.”

“It is a lot less awful, yes, but it is still having your emotions and body manipulated without informed consent, without knowing what the consequences will be! We don’t know what happens to those people when they leave.” Zia replies, the colors on her still carefully carefully stable. Marcella nods.

“That is true, if there are side effects afterwards, that could cast a whole different light on this. We should probably investigate more to see what the full effects of this power, whatever it is, are.” She looks around again.

“I think everyone but Iris has heard what happened at the bar at this point, but I’ll do a quick summary for her benefit.” Marcella gives a brief outline of what happened at the bar.

After she gives her summary, Marcella pauses, then says, “So, clearly, a lot of fucked up stuff happening at this bar. The question is, do we have enough evidence to show the Court? Drugging mortals is not technically illegal, by their standards, as far as I know,” she says with distaste.

“Drugging changelings is, but frankly I don’t want them to get away with a slap on a wrist, as though the only thing that was wrong last night was that they mistakenly drugged some changelings instead of the mortals they’re trying to get money from.” Zia offers, “We might have enough evidence for it to be very easy for the court to do the rest? Alternatively, we could go back one more night and focusing on trailing drugged people for a day or two to see what the long term effects are.”

Iris speaks up from her brooding corner, “More observation, then? Or are we setting up a trap?”

“No traps! The point here is for us to investigate without them knowing we are investigation I think!” Zia says slightly alarmed.

“Yeah, and traps tend to end in….non-subtle.” Fianna says.

“Depends on the trap, but yeah, I think we can find what we’re looking for without going that far yet,” Marcella agrees. “What do other people think about the trailing people idea?” Marcella’s gaze lingers on Amy and Caesar. “If anyone would like to sit out any part of this mission, there’s no shame in doing so. This is shitty stuff they’re doing to people, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to do something they’re not comfortable with.”

Caesar shrugs, “I’m fine with whatever,” he quickly responded, “I just don’t have an opinion on what way we do things.”

Amy mutters, “Anna was so upset. I like her, but I had to, but I think I would anyway; she’s nice.” A bit louder she says, “I think we should follow people. I’ll do it.”

“The only problem I can think of with following people,” Fianna muses, “is that there’s no way to predict if the person you follow will be just fine and dandy after the effects wear off, or if something…dramatic will happen.”

Marcella says, “Well, I think that’s why we’re following them, Fianna. To find out. We do already have one lead. Caesar or Amy, would either of you be willing to follow up with Anna, see how she’s doing this morning?”

Caesar shrugs again, “I guess. I should have her number somewhere.”

Zia offers, “Marcella and Fianna, as waitresses, you should have access to the names of people who pay for their drinks right? So you could probably get the names of a few people who seem…magically affected tonight and then pass the names and appearances to those of us waiting outside the bar?"

Marcella nods. “We could probably find that out. We’ll need some way to contact you, though. Maybe I should go find a really cheap cell phone today, otherwise I’m not sure how to pass you those unobtrusively,” Marcella muses.

“We could see if the freehold could lend us one?” Zia thinks out loud.

“I want one too.” says Amy at full volume, then winces.

“Sounds useful, yeah,” Iris agrees.

Marcella nods, “That’s true, I can ask Maria. I think we should all get them sooner rather than later, the question is when we’ll have enough money for them.”

“Some of you would have to be inside, probably. We can’t be ducking outside or making strange phone calls. Christian might be caught up in his own little artistic visionary world, but Leon and Hawkeyes Mcgillicuddy who stalks the floor would probably notice behavior like that. But passing you a note from our pad pretending to give you a check?It gives you an excuse to leave and follow someone and looks less suspicious.” Fianna says.

“I don’t know, texting might be less obvious,” Marcella says. “Passing notes could work, but we can only do it a few times before the same people have to come back inside to receive the notes.”

“…do you know HOW to text? Because I don’t.” Fianna stuffs an orange slice in her mouth.

“I mean presumably, we will only get a few people’s names, since we will then go off and follow them….” Zia thinks. “And if you get people’s names, we could look them up and make sure that they aren’t dead etc. later.”

Marcella raises an eyebrow at Fianna. “I was a preteen Millennial at one point in my life. Trust me, I know how to text.”

Fianna blinks back at her. “…I have no idea what that even means, Marcella.”

“Me either,” pipes Amy.

“Don’t worry about it…she means that she was a kid old enough to have a cellphone in a generation that used them like lifelines.” Zia replies. Marcella points at Zia.

“Okay, Zia does make a good point that we can only follow a few people anyway, though,” Marcella concedes. “Notes are pretty unobtrusive.”

“Now, I think that we should still try to follow one or two people from the restaurant as well. It may not be as openly egregious, but we should investigate it. If it turns out something horrible happens to these people…we don’t want the court to let Nandakumar off and then we find out everyone dies or something horrible like that.” Zia says. There are nods and agreements all around the room.

“I could try to do something from the food critic angle? Like ask patrons if they would be willing to fill out a survey for me about their meal. That should at least get their name and some contact information.”

Marcella agrees, “That’s a good idea. I’m not sure if it would be easy for Iris to get that information from the kitchen, so that’s a good approach.”

Iris shakes her head. “The notes don’t have names on them, and if I asked it might be suspicious.”

“Okay, then we have a plan. Let’s figure out the specifics of it.” Zia says.

“It sounds like Fianna, Zia and I are in charge of procuring names,” Marcella starts. “Iris, you should check if you have a work shift tonight. Right now that leaves Amy, Caesar, Hank, and ”/characters/hulda-1" class=“wiki-content-link”>Hulda in charge of following people. Do we think it’s important for the followers to work in pairs?" Iris murmurs an agreement.

“I could probably follow someone once I was done with gathering the surveys.” Zia says.

“Great,’ says Marcella. “That would be helpful. Fianna and I don’t get out until the wee hours of the morning, but we could potentially follow some of the last patrons to leave the bar.”

“Or maybe even offer to help clean up and see if we overhear anything. I didn’t last night because I was…worried,” Fianna adds.

“Pairs would probably be ideal,” Zia suggests. “I do think though that as many names as we can gather, we can then investigate via the internet to check for newsworthy issues.”

Marcella nods, “All right, so Fianna and I will collect names throughout the night, and pass on the first few to one of a pair who comes into the bar. I think we should make a rule that no one orders an alcoholic drink tonight.” Amy nods in agreement.

“Alright,” Caesar nods slightly.

Zia suddenly deflates a little. “What if people leave in cars?”

“License plates,” Fianna says. “There should be a registry. You can get addresses from that.”

“You know those registries aren’t generally public Fianna…” Zia replies.

“The freehold might have connections there,” Marcella suggests.

Fianna looks at Zia. “…what’s your point?” she asks tightly.

“I’m pretty sure that would involve hacking into the police system or someone on the force who is a changeling. At least in Vienna, policeman have to give reasons and they track the badge number of the requestor.” Zia continues. “My point is, we can’t be angry at other changelings for acting above the mortal rules if we ourselves do it too!” she says a bit angrily.

“But those are very different rules,” offers Amy.

“We need to pay attention to when we break the human rules. We aren’t human and we need to be careful that we don’t stray further than we have to, alright?” Zia tells Amy. Amy furrows her brow. It sounded like Zia was talking about a different thing now than she was before. Was it about breaking rules, or being human? Humans broke rules, though… No one else seemed to think there was a problem, though, so she decided she was probably just confused again.

“I agree with Zia,” Marcella says. “It’s still a violation of privacy to hack into a database like that. If someone leaves in a car, we can check online and see if we can find any information about them that is public there. If we need to, we can try to find them the next morning to see how they’re doing. It’s not ideal, but unless anyone has a car to offer, it’s the best we have.” She pauses a moment. “Though, we could also see if ”/characters/byron" class=“wiki-content-link”>Byron or someone else in the freehold who has a car is willing to be on standby."

“I’m fine with asking a computer specialist to do some hacking on their behalf, I guess,” Zia responds. “But I just want us to be aware of it.”

Everyone is quiet for a minute. Iris and Caeser don’t necessarily seem happy, but aren’t saying anything. Fianna looks livid, but is deadly silent.

“So,” Marcella starts, after another moment. “I think that’s most things settled. I also wanted to talk about German lessons, as long as most people are here. Those of you who are Amy and Fianna, we should start you learning the language here as soon as possible. It’s becoming an issue and potential danger for you that you can’t communicate as easily as the rest of us. I think a few of the group have offered to help with that, so we could get those started as early as today, if you’re up for it.” She volunteers Hulda to start them out with lessons.


Zia goes to the Iron Nail about a half hour before opening time and speaks with Nanda about handing out surveys. He agrees with a little trepidation. She accepts the free meal he offers her and hands out and has filled out about 10 surveys, 6 of whom are with people who seem to be experiencing effects. She also asks each of them to send a follow up in the next few days to her website to be entered into a competition. Once that is done, she thanks Nanda for his cooperation, compliments him on his food and goes outside to wait for the pair she identified as the most worth following, an elderly couple and their son, Lucas, Margit, and Jonas Farber.

The bar appears to be business as usual. Fianna and Marcella get pulled aside by Anupriya, who makes sure they both take the antidote, double checks that Marcella is feeling better, and sends them on their way. Marcella tries to find opportunities to investigate and maybe take one of the suspicious umbrellas under the bar. She notices that either Leon or Christian is standing in front of that drawer at all times. The bar is just as busy as the night before—if anything, there are more people. Soon, it becomes apparent that some of the patrons are starting to be affected. She notice people who are more confident, almost euphorically happy, and other exaggerated emotions that encourage socializing.

Marcella makes note of as many names as she can when customers pay. Fianna does the same. Marcella gets the names of a super happy group that look like they are undergoing similar affects that her, Amy, and Blue experienced the night before, and Fianna gets the name of a guy who came in depressed and ends the night happy as a clam. Marcella indicates that Fianna should pass that guy’s name to Amy and/or Iris. His name gets passes to Amy in the form of a fake check. Iris will notice, upon seeing someone fall over spectacularly on the dance floor, that the moratorium on pain does not extend to the bar.

The trio Zia marked as a good choice for following from the restaurant finishes their meal around 8:30 and start walking. Zia says quietly to Blue, “That the trio I mentioned, shall we?”

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Game 23: Fire Bad, Tree Pretty

Summary

Caesar, Amy, Fianna, and Marcella continue their investigation at the bar. Caesar meets a bar patron and then drinks a magically drugged drink, which makes him irresistible to Amy and Marcella. Fianna gets Marcella away from him, but meanwhile, Caesar and Amy leave the bar with the woman Caesar met, Anna. Marcella receives a cure from Anupriya, then follows them and discovers them eating cake in the woman’s car. Despite threats of cake, everyone gets home safely after a lot of drugged kissing on the parts of Amy, Caesar, and Anna.

Log

Next to Caesar and Amy, a man is muttering into his drink, “Just once, I would like to not leave this place alone.”

Caesar and Amy stay at their table for the moment sipping on their drinks, monitoring the general situation within the bar, and also particularly eavesdropping on the awkward and depressed seeming man at the table near them. They attempt to seem casual, shooting him furtive glances but trying not to stare outwardly.

After approximately 10 minutes, and a second drink, the lonely and muttering man finds himself with a companion. Another young man has come to the table, asking to sit with him. They begin an awkward flirtation. “May I sit with you?” asks the newcomer.

“Oh,” says the first man, surprised, “Um, of course.”

“Why thank you,” says his new companion, sitting down with his large, actively fizzing cocktail. “Where did you get your haircut?”

The lonely man is clearly unsure how to interact with the new attention, and stammers in reply, “I got it at Bernstein’s, the same place that my dad goes…”

The smiling newcomer says, “You look quite classically handsome, if I do say so.” While Blue is successfully eavesdropping, Amy is only getting one word in five: enough to vaguely follow the overall arc conversation, but not enough to really get much from the interaction.

Amy looks around the bar again, sipping her drink. The one guy on the dance floor looks like he is having a lot of fun. Rather than continue to struggle with the German eavesdropping, she asks Caesar if she can go dance. He shrugs, focus still on the gay couple, “Go enjoy yourself, I’ll be here.” Amy gets up from her seat, happily, and heads over to the dance floor.

Caesar returns his focus to the couple. The lonely man who first caught their focus is blushing profusely at the continued attention of his newfound companion. “I, uh… thank you. Your haircut is nice too.”

“Why thank you,” responds the companion, taking a deep sip of his drink and gesturing with it. “Would you like some?”

The first man blushingly accepts the offer, drinking shyly when the cocktail is passed to him. The drink is very tall, and brightly lime green, fizzing, with little blue balls in it. Caesar does not recognize it. The flirting continues as they share the drink, until the newcomer spontaneously leans over the table and kisses the lonely man, who blushes furiously, but then waves his hand around for the waitress.

Marcella and Fianna are moving through the crowd, taking drink orders and interacting with patrons. Both are feeling the pressure to deal with a new job, remember the menu, and understand what people are saying. Marcella is having an easier time, mostly making it work, while Fianna is struggling. Fianna is mainly faking it and hoping people don’t notice her lack of German comprehension too much. She is obviously foreign, and it is obviously her first day, so some of the patrons seem to be understanding, since she has been competent enough that nothing has gone disastrously wrong. She is also eavesdropping on the flirting patrons, but the aforementioned language barrier prevents her from understanding what is being said.

When the lonely man waves his hand after the kiss, Fianna approaches their table. Putting on her best smile, which is slightly terrifying, she asks in a clear a voice, “What can I get you gentlemen?”

The bright red and stammering man says, too loudly, “I want what he has!” one hand on his companion’s shoulder.

Fianna nods and writes down his order on her pad. “Coming right up.” She goes and delivers the drink order to the bar. The gentlemen continue to make conversation while they wait for the second drink to arrive, eying each other up.

Amy makes her way to the dance floor. There’s only the one guy up there right now, but she doesn’t approach him, just moving energetically to the music and continuing to look around the bar. The dancer makes his way over to her, saying something she cannot understand in German. Amy smiles pleasantly, and shakes her head a little. “Hi! I don’t speak German,” she says in English.

“Ah!” The man says, switching to English, “You are visiting our city, then? And how do you find it?"

Amy responds, “I like it. This is a nice club, but not many people are dancing.”

Grinning, the man responds, “Ah, it is early yet. The best dancing happens after the patrons have a bit of alcohol in them. Right now, they are too shy. Not I, no no…I feel like dancing, so I dance!”

Amy’s expression gains some warmth, and she nods in agreement. “Yes. I dance when I want to.”

The man dancing with Amy smiles. “Excellent! You understand, then! We must act on our happiness.”

Amy nods again, “I do understand.” She inserts a joyful little spin into her dancing.

Marcella notices Christian preparing the drink for the new couple in Fianna’s section. He prepares it rapidly and smoothly, but there is a definite brief pause in the preparations, and she can see no explanation for it within the strictures of mixology.

Marcella goes up to the bar when the drink is done. “I can grab this one for Fianna, it looks like she’s got her hands full. … Are those boba at the bottom? What kind of drink is this?”

Christian smiles hugely, “Oh this! This is one of my special drinks! I only make it on request or when it seems just right! This is the Aerated Avocado Fixer Upper!” Marcella mouths “avocado” to herself silently, as Christian continues, “I can make you one later! not now … you’re working and Leon frowns on that! Oh and yes, those are boba! Blueberry and pomegranate!” he says excitedly.

Marcella smiles. “Sounds like that might be tasty, I might take you up on that later! Right now I’d better go deliver this.” She takes the drink to Fianna’s table. Fianna notices Marcella’s move and raises an eyebrow, but keeps making the rounds.

The first of the men smiles widely, “Thanks so much! You, you’re not the waitress I’ve been seeing right? The adorable little foreign waif?” He takes the drink and and takes a very large sip. Unseen by the table, a few meters away, Fianna stops and stiffens, and for a moment every fiber of her muscles is tense and angry. Then she relaxes and moves on. Muttering—and not in English OR German.

Marcella smiles nicely. “No, she’s been busy tonight, so I’m giving her a hand. Anything else I can get you gentlemen right now?”

The other man says, “Oh, I think that after this drink, we’ll be heading out. Nothing against your hospitality here of course. Just, new friends, you know …” he smiles across the table.

Marcella winks at them. “Glad you’ve enjoyed our bar while you’re here then,” and she moves onto another table. The two men go back to being lost in each other. They finish the drink together and after paying their tab walk off with the more adventuresome one’s hand makes a steady descent to shyer man’s bottom frequently.

Once they leave, Caesar remains seated, and keeps on the lookout for anything else of interest going on. He realizes that he might actually be social tonight.

After seeing the effect of the Aerated Avocado Fixer Upper, Marcella keeps an extremely close eye on Christian making drinks. She watches him mix a variety of drinks he has made before. He mixes a strawberry drink with more alcohols than she can count. That goes to a lovely young lady who sits down rather sadly in a corner. Then she notices Christian mixing a lovely drink like a sunset. He reaches under the counter and puts an umbrella in it. This action is doubly strange, because there is a pile of umbrellas directly next to him. Marcella makes a mental note to investigate the umbrellas under the bar later. The drink goes to a tiny little woman who seems to be almost shaking to be in the bar.

The tiny woman sits at the bar with her drink. She takes a very deep breath and drinks a tiny sip of her drink. Then another and another and another until it is all gone. She looks around the room, seeming more confident. She sees Caesar sitting all alone and walks over. She sits. “Can I buy you a drink?”

Caesar looks up as she comes over, “Eh? Uh, sure, I guess.” Drinking is still something incredibly new to him, but he thinks, “One more couldn’t hurt, right?” He smiles in a friendly way towards the woman. “Hey, I’m Caesar.”

She blushes a little bit, but as she says her name her confidence reasserts itself, “Hi, I’m Anna. I work in one of the offices near here, you?”

“Uh, I just happened to find my way here recently. Don’t do much in work just yet.”

“Oh really! Where were you before?” she asks, focusing intently on him.

Caesar backs his head away a bit. “Was raised in Dublin. Circumstances had me traveling on my own for a while after that, though.”

“Oh! I’ve never been to Dublin. Never left Germany really. What brought you here? Family? Friends? Girlfriend?” she asks.

“Not too sure. Just wound up here,” he answered honestly, dodging mentions of family or friends. “I guess I could play the tourist; I still haven’t seen much of the place, what’s there to do here?”

She smiles and her eyes light up. “What did you want to drink?”

“You could choose,” he offers. “Not exactly much of a drinker, not sure what’s good.”

“I’d be happy to!” She flags down Marcella.

Both the man on the dance floor and Amy continue dancing. Amy hasn’t noticed Caesar has a companion yet.

Marcella comes over to the table and raises her eyebrows fractionally at Caesar before smiling at the woman. “Hello there, what can I get you?”

“Could I have one of these for Caesar here? I think it was called, Rising Comet?” she says

Marcella glances at Caesar for confirmation that he wants what she had.

Caesar gives a small shrug to Marcella to meet the raised eyebrow, and after the order gives a nod.

Marcella says, “One Rising Comet, coming right up!” and goes off to give the order to Christian.

When she gets to the bar, she says, “The woman who was at the bar earlier would like another one of what she had – I think she said it was a Rising Comet? – for her companion at that table.” She indicates Caesar and the woman.

Christian replies, “Funny thing, once I make one Rising Comet, I almost always make another! That will be right up!” He makes the drink quickly, again using an umbrella not from the pile next to him. “Here you go Marcella!”

She smiles. “Funny how that works. Thanks for the quick work!”

“Oh, there isn’t a ton to do around here! The Dom is very lovely and full of history. We got Saint Charlemagne’s body there.” Anna says, picking up her previous conversation with Caesar.

Marcella brings the drink over to Caesar. “Here’s your drink, sir.” She sets it down and asks if they want anything else.

Anna thinks for a moment, “A glass of water maybe?”

“Of course, I’ll be right back. One for you too?” she asks Caesar.

“Huh, that might be a nice place to see.” Caesar thanks Marcella for the drink. “Uh, sure. Water would be fine, too.”

“In school we learn about Charlemagne this and Charlemagne that … just, there is so much more to Aachen besides him … or so I hope …” Anna continues.

Marcella brings them water, then goes to see to her other customers. She keeps an eye on Caesar to see if it seems like the drink is affecting him at all. He begins drinking right away. Almost immediately he feels confident.

Anna leans forward. “How do you like the drink? It made me feel quite light … I’m not sure alcohol is supposed to do that?”

“Not bad, not bad at all,” he agrees, not quite sure what she meant by feeling “light.”

“I’m happy you like it. I’ve … always been afraid of bars … all the people. But I heard that sometimes this bar is different. The drinks, the atmosphere, that people are happy here,” she says.

As Caesar continues to drink, he feels more and more confident in himself, in his ability to do anything, be anyone. The bar is too small to be his oyster. Happy, yeah, he couldn’t deny that bit. “I’m sure any bar with your grinning face would be as nice.”

“Aww, that is really sweet. Thanks for being so nice. I was worried I’d just find jerks here. How long have you been in the city?” she asks

“A couple weeks now. Planning on staying a while longer as it is, for now.”

“Really? Well, if you’re ever bored on a Friday afternoon, there’s a tea shop that invites local bands. It is a lot of fun, a good crowd,” Anna replies.

“Oh, I’ll make sure to be there!” Caesar says.

“If you’d like after I could take you on a tour of the city! Oh, the tea shop is called Ampersands.”

Caesar looks at Anna, she is very very lovely. Caesar wonders why every female-attracted person in the bar isn’t staring at her. “Ampersands, huh? Easy enough to remember,” Caesar responded, trying to commit the name to memory. “And sure, a tour would be amazing! Thanks!”

Marcella notices that the dance floor is filling up, and that there is a couple in the corner distinctly making out. She is keeping an eye on her teammates and the couple making out, but otherwise goes about her duties as normal.

Anna tilts her head as she thinks. “Here, I’ll write down the name of the cafe and … my number … in case you need help finding it!”

“Sure, that’d be great!” Caesar responds, uncertain of what to say now.

Anna writes out the information on a pad she takes from her purse. The pad cover has mini pastel elephants. She hands it to Caesar. Her handwriting is very neat.

“So, where did you hear about this bar Caesar?” she asks.

“Nice elephants,” he comments. “Some people told me about it and I wanted to check it out.”

“What do you think of it? I think it is a very lovely bar! Good drinks!” she replies.

“I can’t complain. Been in a pretty terrific mood since I got here; great people, great atmosphere all in all,” Caesar says.

She slows to peer at him, seriously. “I thought that the bar might scary and overwhelming, but this is pretty nice.” She scans the room and and blushes. “Although … some people seem to be taking advantage of the darkness.” She looks at Caesar again and blushes. “I mean, um, the decorations are very nice.”

“Eh? What was that middle bit? Darkness?”

Anna blushes some more and takes a deep sip of her drink. “Ah, some people are, ah, being very friendly, here … at the bar.”

“Friendly?” he grins, “I have no idea what you mean.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, I should be more direct since German isn’t your first language.” She leans forward and says quietly, “Two people in the corner are kissing … a lot … with much … enthusiasm”

“A bit of kissing is fine, isn’t it?” He glances over to the two in the corner. “Just a bit of drunken love, I’m sure it won’t get much more serious.”

“Yes, kissing is fine. I guess.” She drinks what is left of her drink. “Do you want to dance?” Anna looks truly lovely as she asks and Caesar feels like dancing is perhaps what he would like to do, but does not feel compelled to do so.

“Sure, why not,” he gets up from his chair. “Let’s dance.”

She smiles brightly. “Thanks!” and takes his hand and leads him to the dance floor. Caesar gets up to the dance floor and dances with Anna. Caesar and Anna dance competently together. The music is loud, so there isn’t much talking, but Anna and Caesar both seem to glow with happiness and confidence.


Amy glances over to see how Caesar is doing, and is pleased to see him with the young woman. Well, it looked like his investigation might be getting somewhere.

The man dancing near Amy speaks up again. “Speaking of happiness, how are you doing? Are you happy?”

Amy replies easily, “Of course I’m happy. There’s so much to be happy about. Are you happy?”

“Why, I’ve never been happier! Honestly, sometimes I have a real problem. Whenever it feels like the world is out to get me, I come here, have one of the bar’s Sunshine Specials, and then I just want to dance! It’s my perfect recipe for happiness.” He grins. “You should really try one. Make you feel like a whole ’nother person. A happy one!”

Amy cocks her head slightly to one side, thinking about it, then nods. The investigation wasn’t going anywhere, but if the man said the drink made you happy … well, honestly, she was trying. There was so much to be happy about, as she’d said, but a little help couldn’t hurt. Maybe she’d even learn something useful. “I think I will.” She isn’t sure how to get a drink when not at a table, so she goes to find Marcella, and ask her for one.

Marcella is not too far away, so Amy finds her pretty easily. Amy walks over to Marcella. “Marcella, I want a sunrise special. How do I get one?” No one on the dance floor seemed to be ordering drinks from the wait staff, so that probably isn’t it, but Marcella would know what to do.

Marcella blinks a moment, then says, “You can go ask the bartender directly or I can put the order in for you. Why a Sunrise Special, though?”

Oh, maybe she can just ask Marcella to get it, then. That might be better, since she doesn’t speak German. “That man,” she gestures back to where she was dancing, “says it makes you happy.” She tries to pitch her voice meaningfully, but with all the music and noise the inflection is a bit less audible that she’d intended.

Marcella eyes the dancing man a bit suspiciously, but nods in understanding. “Be careful, I think some of these drinks can be very … strong. I’ll put the order in for you though.” She glances back at the dance floor. “Keep an eye on Caesar, will you? He’s had one of the strong drinks I think.”

Amy looks back at the table, and sees Caesar is no longer there. She glances around until she locates him on the dance floor, and nods. “I will.”

Marcella heads to Leon to put in Amy’s drink order. She wants to see what happens when she gives the order to Leon instead of Christian.

Leon looks up at Marcella from slicing some limes. “Sure, I can make that. How’s your first night going?”

Marcella smiles. “Everything’s pretty fast-paced, but I think it’s going well so far! The patrons seem like they’re having fun.”

Leon raises an eyebrow. “Well, fun makes the euro go round, so carry on then. I’m happy this working out for you. Not everyone of our … type can bear to be in this setting.” He is making the drink as he talks.

Marcella glances around. “No, it’s nice to be around this much … happiness.”

“Well, here you go,” he hands the drink to Marcella. She doesn’t notice anything odd about the way he made the drink. She thanks him and brings the drink back over to Amy. Amy thanks her, and takes a sip. Amy’s drink tastes quite wonderful and incredibly alcoholic.

Amy retires to table for a bit to drink her drink, so as not to spill it. She watches the dancers as she drinks.

Marcella and Fianna notice Anupriya whisper in a woman’s ear. Anupriya then sashays away and a cloud of colored smoke seems to waft off of her. Marcella takes a closer look at the woman, and notices that the woman seems very fluid, quietly lovelier than before and eyeing the room possessively. Fianna and Marcella both resolve to keep an eye on the woman over the course of the evening, and also for any more suspicious Anupriya activity.

Amy as she sips her drink, it suddenly feels like the alcohol is really hitting her. Caesar and Anna are both really really lovely. The way they are moving with the music looks like a lot of fun. Caesar in particular is really fascinating. Something about his clothes? Or the smile on his face. Amy wanted to … do something … with him. Maybe she should drink her whole drink now so that she can go dance with them. Someone told her you couldn’t drink a drink once you left it alone at a bar … she wasn’t sure what happened when you left it alone … but that meant she should drink it all now …

Amy drinks the rest of her drink in one go, eager to rejoin the dance floor, and the happy pair. She walks over to see if there is room in the dance for three. This wasn’t what she had expected as far as the drink making her “happy” went, but it was … nice.

Caesar greets Amy with a smile and lets her into the dance. Anna frowns a little as Amy joins the duo. She shifts to let her in, but looks a little sad. Amy frowns a little at the woman’s sudden unhappiness, then gives her best encouraging smile. “I’m Amy. Hello.”

Anna smiles back. “Amy is a lovely name! How do you know Caesar?” Caesar keeps dancing and refrains from answering.

Amy takes a moment to wonder how the woman knows that she does know Caesar. Something tells her she should say something platonic, since Caesar is so obviously interested in the woman, but for some reason she can’t quite figure out, she doesn’t want to. She opens her mouth to say something ambiguous, but is interrupted by the arrival of Marcella.


Marcella, in her scan of the dance floor, is suddenly mesmerized by the way Anna and Caesar are moving. The way their bodies are moving to the music, the way they are looking at each other. Marcella would like to join them, to dance with them, to be included in that glow, maybe … have that glow become something more?

Marcella delivers the drinks that are currently on her tray, but keeps her eyes on Caesar and the woman he’s dancing with. She sets down her tray on an empty table, then heads towards the dance floor. Suddenly very warm, she takes out her fan to cool herself, and sees if there is room for her to dance as well.

As Marcella takes out her fan, she feels suddenly energized. Something is off, something out of balance. She needs to fix it. The fan glows quietly. At the edge the dance floor she pauses and wants to go to Caesar and the woman.

Fianna finishes delivering the last of her tray of drinks, then turns around to scan the bar, and notices Marcella and Amy. Specifically, she notices what Marcella is doing. Quickly, she sets her tray on a sideboard and walks calmly but quickly up to Marcella. “Um … Marcella … what are you doing?”

Marcella looks at Fianna, suddenly determined. “Something’s off with Caesar and that woman he’s with. I need to fix it. I’ll be right back.” Marcella walks up to the trio on the floor. As Marcella walks into the black light that flashes periodically in the dance floor, large portions of her outfit go invisible, the still visible portions a lovely day-glo purple in the shape of her underwear and a bra.

Fianna follows Marcella. “You’re supposed to be working! Not … what on God’s Green Earth are you WEARING?”

Marcella stops just short of Caesar and Amy and looks down at herself. “What the f- I’m going to kill Zia.” She grits her teeth and decides that joining the dancers is still more important, and walks up to them. “Do you mind if you I join you?”

Anna sighs, “Sure, I guess …” and makes space for Marcella.

Marcella smiles and looks between Caesar and the woman. “Hello, I’m Marcella.” She grips the fan a little tighter, unsure exactly what the imbalance is.

“I’m Anna. Pleased to meet you. This is Caesar. We met tonight.” There is emphasis on tonight.

“Hello,” Amy moves over so Marcella can join between herself and Anna.

Marcella smiles at Anna. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Anna. How has your night been so far?” Marcella moves into Anna’s personal space as she dances. Anna looks a little curiously at Marcella as she moves into her personal space, but doesn’t object.

Marcella feels the imbalance spread throughout the bar. With the fan in her hand, she is fighting two battles: first, not doing something … inappropriate with Anna and Caesar or claiming all their attention, and second, not reaching out through the fan and violently balancing the whole bar … though she doesn’t really know what that means.

Fianna steps up, and using her best professional voice, says. “Excuse me Marcella, but I need your help getting some inventory from the back. Won’t be just a few minutes.”

Marcella looks back at Fianna, and shakes her head a bit. “Oh … okay, sure, if you need my help, Fianna.” Marcella smiles and winks at Anna and Caesar. “Excuse me, I’d better go help my coworker. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She turns and follows Fianna.

“That was … strange,” Caesar murmurs as Marcella walks off. He doesn’t have much time to really think it over, given that he is supposed to be dancing and thinking is for boring people who haven’t had whatever drink he just had. Caesar resumes dancing.

Amy closes the gap, and hopes Anna has forgotten that she never answered about where she knew Caesar from. She focuses on trying to figure out just what about Caesar is so appealing, and what it is she wants to do about it.

Anna seems pleased to see Marcella go and dances with increased vigor. Anna leans over to Caesar as they dance. “Do you like the music?”

He grins and gives a thumbs up. “It’s great!”

Anna smiles and Caesar feels like everything is right in the world. “I have some of this music on CD in my car. I have a whole coffee cake, a chocolate torte, and cupcakes. We could go rock out in my car! The people are getting a little overwhelming.”

“Sure, but what about Amy?” She was dancing with them, after all.

“Oh, yeah, she can come, if she wants. There is chocolate for everyone!” Anna smiles at Amy.

Amy beams. Caesar wanted to include her!

“Great! Here, let me go pay our tabs.” Anna says brightly. She walks over to the bar and pays all three of their tabs with Leon, who wishes her a good evening, then comes back. “Shall we then?” She hands each of them a shot. “The bartender gave this to me for us and didn’t charge us!” The shot is a lovely purple color.

“Well, bottoms up!” Caesar takes the shot and downs it. “Thanks for taking care of the tab, too! You two got your things? Would be terrible to leave them behind.”

Amy takes the shot. Maybe she shouldn’t …? But it was such a pretty color, and everything was so warm and fuzzy. Such a cute little drink. “That was so nice of him!” She takes a tentative sip, tasting it, and then downs the rest.

Anna drinks with the two of them. The drink tastes like lavender and vanilla. Immediately a sense of comfort and connection forms between all three of them. The other two are safe people. Need to take care of them, make sure nothing happens to anyone of them, spend lots of time with them.

Amy sinks into the warm feeling, happily. Yes, she was supposed to be watching out for Caesar, and that is what she was doing. She wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. Or to Anna, who seemed like such a nice person. She’d take care of them both. “I have everything.” She carefully takes their hands, ready to let go if they show any sign of wanting to pull away.

Anna looks at both of them. “That was really tasty. I wish he’d told me the name, so I could get it again. I have everything too, let’s go.” She keeps Amy’s hand.

Caesar thinks that the drink was great, it was kind of like the other one, but tasted different. There was some vague feeling that they shouldn’t leave the bar, but that feeling was dwarfed by wanting to hang out with Anna and Amy. And since there was nothing really stopping them from leaving, why wouldn’t they? “Awesome, let’s go then, shall we?”

Anna walks out of the club and down the stairs. There is some awkwardness as the three of them carefully don’t let go of each other’s hands on the stairs. She waves at the hostess at the bottom of the stairs and walks out the front door with Amy and Caesar. She leads the pair to her car parked about a block away. “Umm…I don’t normally drink and drive…so why don’t we just stay here?”

Amy stumbles a bit, and nods. “That sounds like a good idea.”

Anna unlocks her car, grabs the cakes and soda out of the front seat and puts it so they can reach it from the back seat. Then she sits in the middle of the back. It is around 10:30.

Caesar clumsily makes his way down the stairs, almost tripping on one, but once on stable ground again, he’s good. “Sure, better safe than sorry.” Its not like they /had/ to be anywhere. He opts out of the snacks for now, but does take a seat beside Anna.

Amy kind of wishes she was in the middle, but she doesn’t want to make Anna sad. Still, she really wants to be there, in the place Anna is. She should probably do something about it, but she doesn’t know what. And besides, she’s just so happy. And with the world spinning the way it is, she might just knock them all over if she tried to move them. She is glad, however, to accept a piece of cake.

Anna cuts her and Amy pieces of chocolate cake. In the semi-darkness of the streetlamps, she looks really lovely to Caesar and he keeps having feelings about protecting both of them..

Anna eats her cake and makes giggling conversation. This kinda feels like a sleepover to her, but one with, gasp, boys!

Caesar would protect them from anything, at this point. If anything threatened the bonding time they are having now, that threat was in serious danger from this Blueberry. He, otherwise, enjoys the conversation and fun they are having.

Amy thinks hard about the way she is feeling. Well, as hard as she can, anyway. What is it? It was kind of like family, but kind of not. She still really wants to be in Anna’s spot. Something occurs to her; a scene out of an old movie, or maybe one she’d seen her Keeper create, she isn’t sure, but she thinks she knows how to make the sadness of not being in the middle go away. She leans up, tilting her lips towards Caesars’.

Caesar is horribly thrown off by Amy’s action. Not that it was a bad thing, he just didn’t expect that from Amy. But, with whatever is in his system, he can’t just turn that down. He doesn’t leave Amy just sitting there, but meets her for the kiss.

Anna is startled, but doesn’t really do anything to stop them, just leans back to get out of the way.

Amy finishes the kiss and leans back, pleased. She feels much better, now. Everything is as it should be.

Caesar is left dumb stricken. He didn’t do relationships back in Ireland, so, yeah, another new experience. Tonight seemed full of those. He turned his attention back to Anna. “So yeah…” he tries to re-start the conversation.

“Umm … I’m guessing that is a new experience for both of you then?” Anna asks. Caesar speechlessly nods. Amy nods, too. “Ah, well, if I may make some small suggestions on technique? Um … I’ve been told I’m rather good at this … and … I think … both of you are missing some of the finer points … which are good to know … and umm … then I won’t feel left out?”

Amy nods at Anna, “Ok, show us.” It seems this is just one of the many things she needs to learn about, but at least this time she has a teacher right here.

Anna nods back and says solemnly, “There is much to teach you grasshopper.”

Anna, Amy, and Caesar engage in a not terribly sexy but very educational lesson on kissing.


Fianna drags Marcella back to the storage room, closes the door, plants herself between it and Marcella, and hisses “So you want to tell me what’s going on with you out there?”

Marcella’s desire to be out on the dance floor is not as strong now that she has moved out of the room, but it is there in the back of her head. She would far prefer to be there. The fan still seems to want something to be done. The fan is very insistent. Her brain is a bit full right now, and it is hard to find the words to answer Fianna.

Marcella shakes her head again, looking distracted. “I needed … Caesar and that woman were dancing, and … there’s something wrong here, with this bar.” Marcella tries to focus on that last thought. “I think Christian drugged Caesar’s drink somehow, he used a special umbrella. I haven’t seen Leon drug anyone’s drink yet.”

“Yeah? Well you haven’t drunk anything, and you’re still all loopy-loo. And you still haven’t explained the outfit!”

Marcella glares at Fianna a bit, the anger helping her to focus. “Yeah, well I don’t know why my outfit is see-through either! I’m planning to ask Zia when we get back, don’t you worry!”

“Oh. You made the powederpuff mad, didn’t you. I will say this, she’s … creative. Just stay away from the dance floor and you should be fine. Which you should be doing anyway!”

Marcella shakes her head again. “I don’t … I don’t know why, I just … they looked so perfect out there on the dance floor together, I just … wanted to be part of it, I guess …”

Fianna looks poleaxed for a second then says in a flat voice, “Oh fuck me, it’s contagious.”

Anupriya opens the door. “Are you two okay? Marcella, I saw you on the dance floor, lovely moves, but are you alright?”

Fianna holds a hand to Marcella’s forehead. "I don’t think she’s feeling well. She seems a bit out of it. Maybe you’re dehydrated? Have you been taking water breaks? " she asks Marcella.

Marcella squeezes the fan a bit harder in one hand, and puts the other to her forehead. “Yeah, I think that might be it, I’ve been a little lightheaded. I should be fine as soon as I have some water, though, thank you Anupriya.” She smiles.

Anupriya tilts her head. “You know, I think that Leon missed an important part of the orientation …” She sighs and says, “Listen Leon and Christian use a bit of contracts to keep business up in the bar. No one gets hurt, but Leon should have said something. Keeping too close an eye on some of the patrons makes you a little … interested. So just be careful, alright. Now, drink this.” She takes a flask out of a cupboard. “Just one swig will do.”

Marcella nods, and mutely takes a sip from the flask. She feels like she has been kicked in the head for about five seconds. For about ten seconds all she can think about is Caesar and Anna and they way they looked on the dance floor. She really wants to be with them. Her brain has very private thoughts. After about thirty seconds, the pain goes away and her head is clear. The fan, still in one hand, is clamoring for balance.

Marcella clutches her head until the feeling passes, then straightens slowly and looks at Anupriya. “Wow. Yeah, I guess that’s what it was. Is it okay if I keep this on me? I don’t want to get, ah, pulled out on the dance floor again.”

Anupriya smirks. “Now that you’ve had it, you’re good for about six hours. Sorry, if I had thought about it, I would have just had you guys have it right away. You won’t need it for long, get used to just avoiding it or channeling the general feel-good atmosphere better. Fianna, why don’t you take some too.”

“Better safe than sorry, I suppose,” Fianna says, and takes a drink. Her brain is full of alarm-bells, and the general experience is unpleasant.

Once Fianna has had her sip, Marcella starts to head for the door of the storeroom. “Thanks for showing us where that was, Anupriya. We’d better get back out there to work.”

Anupriya takes the flask back. “This is here anytime you need it. Tell me if you need to leave early, Marcella. Some of these things linger a bit." Then she leaves.

“Will do,” Marcella says as she goes. Fianna heads back out as well. Marcella notices (Fianna doesn’t) that Amy and Caesar and Anna are gone.

Marcella starts cursing under her breath. “Fianna, they’re gone.”

Fianna’s eyes go wide. She say some very off-color things under her breath. “They can’t have gone far, we weren’t gone for very long. Do you want to call it here and leave or act out the rest of the night? You could pretend to be actually feeling off, see if you could leave early.”

Marcella nods. “I’ll do that, I can’t just leave them to fend for themselves.” She follows after Anupriya. Fianna returns to her duties, acting as if nothing odd had happened.

When she catches up with Anupriya, Marcella says, “Actually, Anupriya? I’m still feeling a little shaken. Would it be okay if I call it a night early? I don’t want to leave you short-staffed, but that really threw me for a loop.”

Anupriya replies, “Sorry to hear that! Yeah, sure, I’ll see if any of the restaurant hosts can work a few more hours up here. head out and feel better. You did good tonight.”

Marcella smiles and thanks her. She heads to the back to get her things. As she leaves, she looks out for other employees, then goes back to the storeroom and grabs the flask that Anupriya showed her.

Marcella heads out, nodding to Fianna as she goes. Once she’s down the stairs, she asks the hostess if she’s seen anyone of Caesar and Amy’s description, and if she knows which way they went.

The hostess replies, “Oh, yes, I saw them leave … they might have turned left?”

Marcella thanks her and heads out to the street, jogging and looking around desperately for Amy and Caesar. She runs around the streets near the bar for about fifteen minutes, too desperate to stop and call for backup. Finally, Marcella notices three people in a car she had run by a few times already. The two girls are … kissing …? She walks up to the car, determines that these are in fact the people she’s looking for, and knocks on the window on Amy’s side.

Caesar jolts at the unexpected knocking, before checking to see who it is. Lo and behold, it’s Marcella, who was left behind earlier. Caesar, unsure really of what to say, just says “hi.”

Amy turns around to see who Caesar is talking to, “Oh, hi, Marcella.”

Marcella smiles awkwardly, incredibly relieved they are all still clothed. “Hi guys. Uh, I brought you a present. I thought you might like another one of the bartenders’ drinks.” She waggles the flask.

Anna starts and says, “Oh, the waitress from the bar?… bringing us drinks to the car… Amy, Caesar, don’t trust her.” Anna moves to block Caesar from Marcella’s view, and puts a hand in front of Amy to block Marcella.

“I think it’s fine …” Amy trails off, confused. Why was everybody always telling her not to trust everybody else? Did she really seem like she’d just trust anyone for no reason?

Caesar trusted Anna, and if she said Marcella couldn’t be trusted, then she probably couldn’t be, right? Why would drinks be delivered outside of the bar? Caesar arches away from the door a bit.

Marcella holds up her hands in an ‘I mean no harm’ gesture. “It’s really fine, I promise. I know them, right guys?”

“No, it is not fine. A waitress does not bring people who have left the bar and gone a block away a drink in a flask. Go away right now or I will …” Anna looks around … “I’ll throw cake on you and ruin your outfit and I will call the cops.”

Marcella looks imploringly at Amy, who is suddenly her only ally. “Amy, come on, you know who I am, right? And I got off my shift, I’m not working any more, I just thought I’d come say hi and share some of my present from the bartender.”

“Yeah, I know you, Marcella.” She pats Anna’s arm. “I know her. But …” abruptly she turns an angry glare at Marcella, “did you come out here to check up on me? I’m fine, Marcella. I am an adult.”

Anna says, “See, we don’t want you here. Now leave.” She gestures threateningly with the cake.

Marcella resists the urge to throw her hands in the air. “No Amy, I didn’t come to check up on you. I just wanted to let you know I was on my way home. I swear.” Marcella looks at Anna’s cake, unimpressed. “Are you offering me a piece, or what?”

Caesar kinda just watches. He’s friends with both sides, and less involvement seems better at this point. Besides, Anna seemed to be handling it well enough.

“I am offering to smash this into your face and call the police. Even if Amy knows you, she doesn’t want you here,” Anna replies

“Oh, ok. Well, thanks for letting me know,” Amy was still suspicious that Marcella might be checking up on her, “and have a good night.” Amy really thinks the police are unnecessary, but she isn’t sure how to tell Anna. Everyone is overreacting. This is just like with the foxes.

Marcella looks back and forth from Amy to Caesar, trying to assess how they look. She’s torn between leaving them here engaging in activities they definitely would not be doing sober, and actually breaking into this woman’s car. “Amy, can I talk to you for a minute?” she asks eventually. “I promise I’ll leave after that.”

Anna glares at you. “You can talk to her right here.”

Amy sighs heavily. “Ok, fine,” To Anna she says, “It’s ok. She’s just really overprotective. I’ll let her know I’m really ok, and then I’ll be right back.” This is super awkward, but she really wants to diffuse the situation before the police get involved. She gets out of the car.

“Give us the flask so you won’t force her into drinking!” Anna insists.

Marcella ignores Anna and steps back back so she can shut the door behind Amy, but stays in full sight of the car. She crosses her arms.

Anna watches them both from the car, carefully blocking Caesar from Marcella’s line of vision.

‘Drinking … drink drink drunk. Oh, I think I’m drunk,’ Amy silently thinks to herself.

“Amy,” Marcella says quietly but intensely once the door is shut. “Do you remember why we were at the bar? What we were investigating?”

Drunk? No, drinking. No, not quite, wait, food? No she had it now, the food and the drinks, there might be something weird about them. She’d sure had a lot of drinks. Was three a lot? She thought it probably was. Although the last one was reeeaally little, so maybe it shouldn’t count. Yeah, she wouldn’t count the last one. Wait, was Marcella still waiting for an answer? Whoops. “The stuff there and the people acting weird after,” Amy says.

Marcella nods. “Right. I saw one of the bartenders slip something into one of Caesar’s drinks. I’m not sure what it was, exactly, but I have the cure for all of the spells they put in the drinks in this flask.” She indicates her pocket. “I want to get him to drink it to make sure nothing bad happens to him. It would probably be safest if you and Anna drank some too, since you’ve been so, ah, close to him.”

Inside the car Anna is just glaring at Marcella. Caesar tries to peek his head over or around Anna to see what’s going on. Anna grudgingly allows this. “Will Amy be alright?” she asks.

“Marcella shouldn’t do anything. She’ll get a faceful of cake, otherwise,” Caesar replies.

Anna holds up the slice of cake. “Yeah! … Cake is not normally the best of deterrents …”

“Probably not, but it’s something, I guess,” Caesar shrugs.

“Something bad?” Amy says. Oh no! She can’t let something bad happen to Caesar or Anna. But they didn’t trust Marcella. How would she get them to drink it? “I don’t think they want to drink it, though …”

Marcella glances at them. “Maybe … you could drink some to show them it’s safe? Would that be okay? You just need a sip.”

“Yeah … sure. If you think that would help.” Amy takes the flask and takes a small sip from it, in full view of the occupants of the car. Her head hurts, a lot a lot for about five seconds. Then for about a minute her brain cycles through some things she would like to do with Caesar but she doesn’t really process them, there is much hand-holding and experimenting like they did in the car. Then she is left with the intense desire to protect both Caesar and Anna. They are safe.

For the first five second she scrunches up her face and grabs her head, then her face relaxes, and she gets a faraway, dazed, look. At the end she just sort of looks at Marcella, quizzically. “That was weird, and it hurt. I did not like it. Do they have to drink it?”

Anna’s hand trembles on the cake and she opens the car door. “What did you do! Did you drug her? I have … cake and I know how to use it! Oh!” She reaches into her pocket. “And a cake knife!” She waves the not terribly sharp knife around.

Marcella gently takes the flask back from Amy. “It would probably be safer if they do, but they don’t ‘have’ to do anything.” Marcella keeps an eye on the knife to make sure Anna doesn’t hurt anyone, and holds the fan in her other hand. The fan is not nearly as adamant as it was in the bar.

Amy, only very slightly more clear headed from the drink, and far more alert from the knife, says, “It’s ok. It just hurt my head for a second. Marcella says she came out ‘cause she saw someone put something in our drinks. This stuff is ’s’posed to help.”

“Someone … put something in our drinks?” Caesar asks, confusedly, from behind Anna. Marcella nods to Caesar.

“I dunno. I don’t feel like this,” she motions to the flask, “really did very much.” She gets back in the car. “Are you feeling ok?” she asks Anna and Caesar.

Anna makes space for Amy. “I feel … just fine … a little violent … for which I blame your friend.”

Caesar is unsure now. He feels great after those drinks, but he is drugged? Should he feel this good? Is it the effect of whatever is in him? “I think I feel fine, at least … I’m not so sure now.”

Marcella realizes that Anupriya meant the drink for servers who weren’t drinking, just getting the buzzed side effects from looking at or interacting with people who had been directly affected. “Amy, you don’t feel that different?” Marcella asks to confirm what she’s realized.

“No; should I? Maybe you made a mistake?” She laughs airily, “You always worry so much.”

“We’re all fine. We don’t want whatever you gave her. We’re just a bit drunk, now leave or get in the front seat and eat some cake.” Anna says. “You don’t get to join in the teaching session.”

“Oh no! It might have been someone else’s drink.” Amy says, completely forgetting about the whole magic part. “You should go make sure everyone in the bar is ok.”

Marcella bites her lip. “Sorry, I guess this wasn’t a cure for what he put in the drink. I’m sorry, I hoped it would be.” Marcella raises her eyebrows at Anna, but says to Amy, “It’s okay, Fianna is still there. She’s looking out for people who are still at the bar.” She looks at Anna for a moment, trying to decide how awkward this will be tomorrow (or whenever this wears off). “I’ll wait for you two in the front seat then,” she decides, and gets in the car to cut herself some cake. Anna hands her the cake knife, but holds the threatening piece of cake at the ready.

Marcella decides to do her best to ignore any makeouts, and to stop anyone from going further than that.

“I’m sorry,” Amy apologizes to Anna and Caesar, “She’s always like this.”

“That must be rough” Anna says. “Cupcake anyone?”

Caesar shrugs. “No worries.”

Marcella fiddles with her fan and ignores them, every now and then jotting down some notes about what she saw in the bar in her notebook.

Amy continues acting much the same, although she is less likely to take the initiative than before. She is still happy to follow others’ leads.

After eating a cupcake, Anna looks at the other two. “Umm … soo … shall we continue or just enjoy these cupcakes …”

Marcella scribbles pointedly in her notebook from the front seat.

“I, uh, guess we continue?” Caesar says.

After about an hour or so of this enjoyable activity, around midnight, Anna gets suddenly and inexplicably very sad. “Oh dear. Is this … alright … I’m sorry to have bothered both of you … umm, I’m crying … why am I crying …” she says awkwardly.

“You didn’t bother me. Don’t cry; it’s ok.” Amy says comfortingly. Anna turns to Amy and has a little cry on her shoulder.

Caesar is taken aback. “Don’t cry; what’s wrong?”

Marcella is incredibly pissed at Christian, Leon, and Anupriya right now. She is picturing what it would be like to storm the bar after them.

“I don’t know! I was feeling all happy and you guys are so sweet and I was confident enough to teach you things and now I just want to curl up and cry and cry,” Anna sobs.

Marcella turns around and looks at her. “It’s okay, Anna, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. I think someone might have put something in your drink too, which might have made you do things you wouldn’t normally do. But you’re safe with these people, and it’s going to be okay.” Marcella tries to be as comforting as possible, but looks a little angry (though not at them).

Amy puts her arms around Anna, protectively. “It’s ok. I’m here.”

“Of course I’m safe with them. They are wonderful people! I’m, I’m didn’t do anything wrong! just … unexpected. We had cake!” Anna says kinda blearily.

“It was delicious cake,” Amy agrees.

Caesar suddenly feels like his confidence has taken a serious hit. He gets upset that effects broke through to the real world, and gets quiet on his corner of the car. He is now acting sort of like how he normally does.

Anna picks up her head. “I’m really happy you guys are here. I’m not sure what I would have done if I was alone. Do you want more cake? Um … or if you want to leave, you can … I guess. Oh god, that sounded like a guilt trip … ah, no, that is not what I meant at all … Um … have cake … please …”

Amy giggles and takes a piece of cake, handing one to Anna as well.

“Caesar would you like some cake?” Anna offers quietly.

“I’ll pass, thanks,” he answers tersely. He glances away from the group and looks out the window.

“Okay. Perhaps we should all getting home soon. I … am probably okay to drive now,” Anna says. “Or I can just call my friend, she’d be willing to come pick me up.”

“Caesar,” Amy whispers, annoyed. “Eat some cake.”

He quietly sighs. “Fine,” he murmured. Speaking a bit louder now, to Anna, he requests it. “On second thought, could I get a piece of cake? A small snack wouldn’t be bad.” He really didn’t feel like eating now, but eh.

“Sure!” Anna cuts him a small piece and passes it to him. Caesar gives a quiet thanks before turning back to staring out the window, at nothing in particular.

“I can get these two home if you think you can get yourself home safely, Anna,” Marcella offers.

“Yeah, I can take care of it. Amy, I gave Caesar my number, if you want to hang out again … we can do that. Um … you too Caesar, I’d still be okay with you coming to see the band at the coffee shop if you want,” Anna says.

“Yeah. I’ll be there,” Caesar agrees.

“Ok. I’ll see you later, Anna. Be careful going home.” Amy reluctantly gets out of the car.

Marcella makes sure Amy and Caesar have all their things once they’re out of the car. Anna gets out of the back seat and into the front seat of the car. She takes out her cell phone.

Caesar silently steps out of the car. He doesn’t have anything he needed to take with him. Though not as beaming as he was before, he gives a small smile. “Nice meeting you, hope to see you again, at the coffee shop.”

Anna waves shyly. “I look forward to it!”

“I know where the nearest bus stop is,” Marcella offers to the other two.

Marcella safely gets Caesar and Amy home. Fianna finishes up the night more or less without incident, though she sees a few more … very happy customers.

Marcella contacts Zia and Hank by email or text to let them know they made it home safe.

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[Game 22: 6/22/14] From the Personal Observation Journal of Dr. Henry Brunner
July 7, 2013 cont’d

Game 22

July 7, 2013 cont’d Notes at the Iron Nail

  1. Service appears to be prompt and courteous, despite a quite full service for the hour.
  2. Palette for decorating fits with Indian fusion theme. High probability that much of the woodwork is directly imported.
  3. Clientele is primarily elderly, including many who I estimate to be over 70. General mood is anticipatory.
    1. May be potentially relevant to this investigation.
    2. Z has made same observation re: number and composition of diners. Typ. of elderly crowd, but unusual for this style of restaurant.
  4. Menu is a range of Indian and Fijiian specialites. My unfamiliarity with Fijiian cuisine would hamper my analysis of food quality, if we were actually restaurant critics.
    1. Specials appear to be seasonal/local, focusing on freshest ingredients available.
  5. For later cross-reference with potential for our own reactions and that of other diners, our order is as follows:
    1. Bottle of Dindori Reserve Shiraz
    2. Mixed grill specialty appetizer
    3. Lamb surva appetizer
    4. Coconut naan
    5. Chicken jalfrezi
    6. Jackfruit masala
    7. Pumpkin panner (edited to add – at dessert course, addition of kheer on house)
  6. Current state – timestamp 6:08
    1. Current emotions: Slight anxiety/anticipatory mood, same general background sadness of last several weeks, typical baseline scale of 1.5 anger level.
    2. Current physical state: No active/new physical ailments, but continued itch of scar at latissimus dorsi on left of L2 vert. Slight muscle fatigue from earlier weapons training.
  7. Couple to our left has one extremely infirm individual. Application of food appears to have immediate benefit to multiple systems – improvement to color indicates steadier heart rate and blood pressure, appearance of pain abatement/cessation. Unknown food order, unknown contract use.
    1. NOT subtle
  8. Generally, there is the appearance of a direct correlation between mood/health and progression through the meal.
  9. Indian changeling appeared through kitchen doors – likely N.
    1. NTS cross-reference with court sources.
    2. N appeared happy/satisfied, interacted at a distance with at least 3 patrons – tables 5, 13, 16 (assuming typical table progression from kitchen door).
    3. Z concurs as to assessment of N.
  10. Current state – timestamp 6:23, partway into main course
    1. Current emotions: Still slightly anxious. 1.75 anger level, most likely due to annoyance at the current situation.
    2. Current physical state: Muscle fatigue decreasing at typical rate, no apparent acceleration.
    3. Concl. – no current physical or mental effects from meal.
  11. Dishes ordered do not appear to correlate with impact of meal.
    1. Something other than particular dish to effect correlation.
    2. Potential connection to the fact that N appeared and surveyed crowd? Direct benefit added per individual customer?
  12. Responses of surrounding patrons appear to be varied – both emotional and physical benefits ranging from general slight satisfaction to huge improvement in mental or physical state.
  13. Other table of three C patrons also experience no effect.
    1. N appears to be following code to not affect other C w/o consent.
  14. Range of effects and C non-inclusion implies direct/personalized involvement.
    1. Possibility of autumn contract at work, to determine fears/needs.
  15. This dessert may be the best thing I have ever tasted.
  16. Z is probably going to get us back there by sheer force of personality.
    1. Strike the word ‘probably’, above.
    2. Cover story appears intact for the moment
  17. Kitchen appears organized but chaotic.
    1. Iris is at potato station – seems to be getting on acceptably
    2. Sous and 1 other worker are C
  18. N says philosophy of cooking is “each of us comes to the table needing a respite from our lives, carries some burden, and that food should lift that burden and bring us into becoming a fuller, more content person."
    1. Supports autumn theory
  19. Injury from one non-C cook, not immediately noticed.
  20. Attempt at subtle inquiry into N’s methods may have failed. Too obvious? N may be onto me knowing that he knows that I know what he’s doing.
    1. NTS: Work on subtle.
  21. Well, at least we haven’t blown Byron’s cover/somehow tipped N to the fact that Byron brought us here.
  22. NTS: Check in more depth about each team members’ knowledge of Aachen and modern transit, etc.

Tentative prognosis for group integration: middling – some useful observational input, one potential blunder

Tentative assessment of current case: fair – obvious charm use, but only beneficial charm use. Court seems less concerns w/ consent violation of mortals – law-wise. No charm use on C. Here, potential security breach is main concern. Long term impact and sense of mortal knowledge yet to be assessed. Bar yet to be assessed.

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Game 22: The Restaurant and Her Chef

Summary

Hank and Zia, posing as a restaurant critic and her date, go to the restaurant portion of the Iron Nail. They observe many older patrons, and many people who have their suffering eased by eating there, but they can’t find a specific cause. They meet Nanda, the head chef, and then head home. Meanwhile, Marcella and Fianna are shown the ropes at the bar. Later in the evening, Caesar and Amy show up as patrons at the bar, and notice several of the human patrons behaving strangely.

Log

The group has started their investigation into the mysterious restaurant and bar. Fianna and Marcella have managed to land positions working in the bar, and have met with Leon about what their duties will be. Iris has met with the jolly king of the kitchen, Nanda, passed his test of skill, and has been set the task of peeling many potatoes. Zia and Hank, posing as a food critic and a patron, have arrived at the restaurant, and Amy and Caesar have plans to attend the bar later.

In the kitchen, Iris notices that most of the food is, for the most part, not made by Nanda. The sous chefs and line cooks do most of the legwork, but he only seems to get involved to add the finishing special touches to a dish or when working on dishes that are most likely the chef’s special. He might add a side dish, or special spices, or any number of fine tuning actions until the dish is to his satisfaction.


In the restaurant, Zia and Hank are about to be seated to dinner. After minute or so, the hostess returns and says, “We’re all ready for you!” brightly. Then she turns and leads them into the dining room.

As they enter the dining room, their first impression is of warm wood and an Indian color palette. They both notice that the restaurant is pretty full for 6pm, and what it is primarily full of seems to be parties with at least one older person. The mood in the room is quite happy and almost expectant. There are a range of older people, including a range of people who are clearly 70 and up.

The hostess leads them to a small booth next to a lovely painting showing an Indian goddess. “Someone will be with you shortly.”

Hank nods at her. “Thank you.”

Zia sits down gracefully and picks up a menu. Hank also picks up his menu. He looks particularly at the specials and other aspects of the menu that weren’t available online. The specials are primarily seasonal specials dependent on having the freshest ingredients.

Zia, looking from behind her menu, comments, “Pretty full for 6pm.”

“It is,” Hank agrees. “And it seems to mostly be a similar type of party. Although I suppose it is not unusual for older patrons to dine earlier.”

“That true, just, it seems a little odd that most parties include at least one older person,” Zia replies.

“I agree. I wonder if that could be related to the reviews of the restaurant that we were told about.” Hank gives a slight shrug of one shoulder. “I can see where an older crowd would appreciate that.”

“That is true, now the question is, can we observe what we saw in the reviews in action?” she asks.

“Precisely,” Hank agrees. “We shall have to keep an eye out. Do you have thoughts on what we should order? Presumably a variety, to give you a chance to try more items on the menu.”

Zia thinks for a moment, then smiles widely. “Definitely at least one of the specials, perhaps the mixed grill appetizer and the lamb surva? Then we could get one meat main course and one vegetarian, and the pumpkin paneer for desert?”

“That sounds lovely,” Hank agrees. “Maybe one of the Fijian options for the vegetarian dish? And I have to admit that I am curious about the coconut naan.” He pauses. “What about drinks? Do you drink wine? Or shall we get tea?”

“Oh, yes, the Fijian choices look excellent, and it isn’t Indian food if you don’t get bread!” She looked at the drink list the server brought. “Let us have wine I think. Though there are so many cocktails…”

“True,” he agrees, leaning forward to look at the drink list as well. “Though, I believe Marcella mentioned something about the specialty cocktails? I am not sure whether that means it would be beneficial to try one, or whether we should stay away from them.”

“Ah yes, the bartender who owns the bar is very enthusiastic about his drink. I think it is perhaps ideal to not end up drunker than expected.”

“Agreed.”

The waitress who comes to serve them is a human. She is tall and curvy, of Indian descent. “Good evening, my name is Darshana, and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I get you anything to drink?” she asks as she fills their water glasses.

Zia orders a bottle of red wine. In a few minutes the waitress comes back and takes their order for the food. Zia asks careful questions about a few of the dishes.

As Zia and Hank begin to eat their meal, they observe the older couple nearest to them. The wife looks very sickly and when the two of them entered, she was slumped, like she couldn’t really hold herself up. The husband, sitting across from her, was holding her hand and seeming anxious, anticipatory. Once their food comes, the wife eats tentatively, carefully, like food has often been difficult for her. As she eats, they notice that her shoulders straighten, and her color looks better almost immediately.

Hank leans forward and murmurs to Zia, “The couple at our left. Did you catch what they ordered?”

Zia shakes her head. “No, I think they ordered before we came in.”

Hank continues to observe the couple. He also takes a closer look at the people in the restaurant in general, who seems healthier or less healthy, happier, and other observations of that nature. An overall look at the restaurant’s patrons shows that in general, the further along in a meal the party is, the happier and healthier they look. “It seems as though people are enjoying their meals here quite a lot, does it not?” Hank says. “Especially those further into them? It certainly makes me interested in what the main course will be like.”

“Indeed,” Zia agrees.

Just before the main courses are served, a stout Indian man covered in jewels embedded in his skin comes out of the kitchen door, and leans against the wall for a minute. With a purposeful grin on his face he scans the room, waves to a few regulars and goes back in the kitchen. Darshana comes with the main courses a few minutes later.

“Was that Nanda, do you think?” Hank asks, gesturing to the kitchen door. “I wonder if Byron ended up finding him.”

Zia nodded. “I imagine so. His manner was definitely that of management or chef and of the male Indians we know of, Nanda is the only one. I wonder if there was more to that surveying than a chef’s curiosity about his patrons.” She takes a happy bite of her food, then pauses as she remembers that the food might be doctored.

“He did seem to be looking at specific tables … regulars, I suppose.” Hank is eating, but he is also doing so fairly carefully. He takes a small notebook out of his pocket, and starts jotting a few things down. He writes down what they ordered, and notes mood and other feelings he had at the beginning of the meal as well as now, when they are starting the entree. He also notes his impressions about the woman at the table near them, as well as the general effects throughout the room, noting who Nanda waved to, in the instances where he could tell.

Hank notices that the actual dishes people are eating has no connection to their response. As he continues to observe, he notices that there are a variety of responses, from people who just seem more content, to more openly happy or joyous to people who seem healed. There are no noticeable effects on either Zia or Hank.

Zia decides that the food is tasty and she might as well eat deeply of it, so she is happily eating as she observes the room. After about ten minutes of feeling no effects and seeing none on Hank’s part, she wonders if perhaps the food doesn’t affect changelings.

Hank comments on the variety of effects and lack of correlation to dishes to Zia, and make a note that it implies a closer connection between the patron, the meal, and the chef. Hank continues to eat as well, especially when it is clear that Zia doesn’t seem worried about it.

Zia observes the other changeling party, a trio who she doesn’t recognize, for the next few minutes. They have just received their food and seem to experience no effects even after about ten minutes. She says quietly, “Our compatriots on the other side of the room also have no visible effects. I wonder if Nanda is following the changeling code not to use contracts on other changelings. And I agree, he must be tailoring them somehow, but how does he know? Just by looking, even for the people who need to be cheered up?”

“It seems likely,” Hank agrees, adding, “he is in good standing with Autumn, so following the code would make sense. Unless he is using some other means that simply does not affect our kind? But the question of how he knows what to add certainly is key. Perhaps another contract at play … Autumn works with fear, understanding and manipulating it.”

Zia thinks for a moment. “If he has a deep understanding of fear, that might work. If he fixes the fears that he sees?”

“Yes, I suppose he could be using that ability to gauge the issues of his diners.” Hank makes another few notes. “Though there is the question of what he does to alleviate it, and what is going wrong in certain cases … assuming the suicides are due to the same situation and not something occurring somewhere else in the establishment?”

“I think the internet didn’t always specify if it was from the club or the restaurant, but I am sure Marcella and Fianna can report back on the club. What is going wrong is definitely the question here. Here at the Iron Nail at least, everything seems fine. Hmm … almost time for dessert, and then it is showtime…”

Darshana brings out the dessert they ordered, and a lovely rice pudding on the house. Hank starts on dessert. Zia thanks Darshana and asks, “May we speak with the chef in a few minutes? I would like to give him my compliments.”

Darshana pauses and says, “I’ll have to check, this is a rather busy time of evening for him.”

Zia raises an eyebrow, “I really do insist, I’m Zia Schneider of the Aachen Eats blog and magazine. My next review is of the Iron Nail.” Zia sits up very straight, waiting patiently for her response.

Darshana smiles and says, “I’m sure he’d love to meet with you if he has time, let me go see if he does.”

She is gone for about ten minutes, during which time Zia eats the dessert happily, clearly having no doubts as to whether this will work. Darshana returns just as they finish their desserts. “The chef would be honored to speak with you. If you will follow me?” She leads them into the kitchen, a scene of organized mayhem. Hank pays special attention to anything that seems like it might be out of place or unusual as they walk into the kitchen. Of course, he’s not really familiar with restaurant grade kitchens, so he’s not really sure what that will be.

Standing at the center of the mayhem is the stout bejeweled man they saw before. As they enter, he breaks into a huge smile. “Ah a food critic! My enemy, my friend, how did you find the meal?”

Hank and Zia notice Iris standing nearby, working in the kitchens. Iris also notices when Hank and Zia enter to talk to Nanda. Iris ignores them for the most part, looking up only as they get in and trying to hide any sign of recognition. Hank and Zia also notice that in the kitchen, besides Iris and Nanda, the sous chef is also a changeling, as is one of the other kitchen workers. There is no immediate sign of wrongdoing.

Zia greets Nanda with a smile and says, “I do hope to be your friend! Dinner was quite excellent. The meat was perfectly tender, the spices perfect. I did want to ask, what is your philosophy of cooking?”

Nanda thinks for a quick moment. “My philosophy of cooking is that each of us comes to the table needing a respite from our lives, carries some burden, and that food should lift that burden and bring us into becoming a fuller, more content person.”

All three of the Vogelfrei members see a cook cut his hand as he chops up some veggies, but oddly, the cook doesn’t seem to notice for a whole thirty seconds. At that point, his corner of the kitchen erupts into organized chaos take two as the food is thrown out, his hand taken care of and the area sanitized. Iris looks down at her own hands and realizes that she has a few little nicks she obtained peeling potatoes that she can’t feel the pain from them.

Zia replies, “That is a wonderful philosophy. Will your cook be alright?”

Nanda sighs and frowns for a moment, “He will be fine, I am sorry you had to see that. My cooks are highly skilled, but accidents, they happen. Now tell me! What did you think of the pumpkin paneer? I created that dish myself and it is often a loved or hated dish!” Hank is hanging back a bit, letting Zia do the talking, since he’s just there as a friend. But he smiles at that question, as he quite liked the dish.

Zia replies, “It is a highly complex dish, well-spiced, served at a rather restful temperature. Overall, perhaps more complex than I prefer my deserts after the spice of main courses, but quite lovely.”

Nanda smiles hugely, “Hmm … yes, the complexity can be a bit much. I am happy you enjoyed it! And you, how did you enjoy my food? Did it lift your heart as food is meant to?” He looks at Hank.

“Yes, I found the meal to be quite pleasant,” Hank replies. “Though it perhaps did not lift me to such a degree as some of the other patrons? The lady at the table next to ours seemed to be having quite an experience.”

Nanda replies, “I’m sorry to hear your experience was not as wonderful as I would have liked! It is the goal of my kitchen to lift such burdens as food can lift.”

Iris has almost stopped peeling potatoes now, as she listens to the conversation.

“Of course! An admirable goal.” Hank replies.

At this point, Byron enters the kitchen and Nanda greets him, “Byron! My dear friend! Have you met these two? Zia Schneider and…”

“Ah, my apologies. Dr. Henry Brunner, at your service.” Hank offers his hand to Nanda. Nanda shakes with a hand dusted with spices.

Byron replies, “Ah, yes, both of them are changelings of our freehold. You should leave your kitchen more and come to court even when your monarch doesn’t sit the court throne.”

Nanda laughs, “My friend, you always ask such of me, but this restaurant is my calling, what can the summer Queen have for me? Please sit here, at the chef’s table and I will make you whatever pleases you!” Byron takes a seat, and Nanda turns to Zia and Hank. “Dear Zia and Dr. Brunner, it has been a pleasure meeting you, but I am afraid I must now return to my duties and prepare something special for Byron.”

Zia replies, “Thank you! I’ll make sure a copy of the review makes it’s way to you.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Chef,” Hank adds.

Hank and Zia leave the kitchen, but not before Nanda presses upon them some gulab Jamun for later. Zia comments as they exit the restaurant, “Well … I guess it is public transportation home … Byron was our ride here after all.”

“True. Would you like me to escort you? I realize I am uncertain how familiar with Aachen you are,” Hank offers.

“If you would like, though I wouldn’t want to trouble you, especially since I suspect everyone else will be rather late, and any group powwow would be tomorrow morning,” Zia replies.

“Not a problem at all,” he winks. “After all, what sort of date would I be if I didn’t escort you to your door?” His tone is joking, not serious.

Zia smiles back at him as her hair fluctuates and settles on a rich purple. “Very well then, I accept your generous offer.”

Hank escorts her back to the freehold and says he’ll be by in the morning to discuss things with the group, before heading home for the night.


Marcella’s dagger became an obsidian jeweled fan when she and Fianna arrived at the bar. The two of them are learning the basics of serving from Leon.

Leon looks at Marcella and Fianna. “Do you have any other questions? I’ve covered pretty much all of the basics, but please let me know if there’s anything I may have missed or there is something you would like clarification on.”

Marcella thinks for a minute. “Is anyone else working the floor tonight? Anyone we should know who will be around?”

Leon nods. “You’ve both already met Anupriya. She’s in charge of the floor. We have two more servers scheduled for tonight—we generally operate with one person in charge, usually Anupriya, and four people working the floor, unless we’re hosting events. The two others should be here soonish—their names are William and Rose; neither are changelings, but they’re quite friendly and competent. Make sure to introduce yourselves before the bar opens.”

Marcella nods. “Will do. Oh, where do we pick food up from to deliver orders? Do we go down to the kitchen, or does it get delivered up here?”

Leon gestures to a door behind the bar. “We’ve actually got a dumbwaiter system in place. It’s quite useful. No spilled food, and we can send the orders down the same way the food comes up. There’s a bell on it that will ring when something’s been delivered, and a light—” he points to a large bulb above the door “-that will go on when there’s something there for you to get.That way, you don’t have to stand by the dumbwaiter in the back waiting for food-you have more time to interact with the patrons. Just keep an eye on the bulb, and you’ll be fine.”

Marcella nods. “Sounds like a good system. I think that’s all my questions for now.”

Fianna nods. “I don’t have any others, either.”

Leon nods. “Excellent. Well, we still have a bit before the bar opens. Why don’t you two grab a seat and review the menus. I need to do some inventory before we open. I’ll fetch you some order pads from the back while I’m at it. Glad to have you two.” He leaves through the back door.

Marcella takes a close look at both the food and drink menus for the bar.

Fianna lets out a sharp sigh. “Marcella,” she whispers. “This menu is in German.”

Marcella stares at Fianna for a moment, then sighs and rests her head in her hands. “Right. We really need to start those lessons as soon as possible. Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go through the menu with you and tell you what everything is. Try to remember as many of the German names as possible. If you get a customer who doesn’t speak English, come find me.”

Fianna nods. “Yeah. I can do that. I have a good memory, at least. And we have a while before the place opens. And I’m pretty sure I recognize a couple of these words….” Her eyebrow furrow. “You know, I bet I can make myself a cheat sheet when Leon gets back with those order pads.”

“Please do,” Marcella agrees. “Okay, let’s start from the top.” She starts reading through the menu from the beginning with Fianna.

Fianna’s pronunciation when she pairs the German word with English descriptions is fairly good—though obviously non-native and affected by her accent.

“Nothing we can do about your accent, it’s going to be clear to everyone you’re not a native speaker. That’s fine, just embrace it as part of your persona as a server. You’re the exotic Scottish one for right now.”

“…Yay, I’m a stereotype.”

Marcella grins. “Hey, just gotta fake it til you make it. Say that one again, I think you’re having trouble with the ü.”

“…If saying so wouldn’t be massively hypocritical, you are far too obsessed with your accent marks.” But Fianna grins, and repeats the word.

Once Fianna has gotten through the regular menu, Marcella starts her on the specials.

Around 8:15, a man and a woman in their mid-twenties enter the bar, chatting companionably with each other. They stop when they see Marcella and Fianna. The woman smiles, approaches, and addresses them both. “You must be the new hires. I’m Rose; this is William.” She gestures back at the man who waves. “Welcome!”

Marcella smiles and offers a hand to shake. “Hi, I’m Marcella, and this is Fianna. Yeah, we’re the newbies. Looking forward to working with you!”

Rose takes it, and grins. “So tell me: did you both have to go through Christian’s crazy interview process? The one where he basically steamrolls you with the force of his personality and he makes you do weird things?”

Marcella rolls her eyes. “Does he do that to everyone? Yeah, he started blaring music in the middle of me carrying a drink up the stairs, plus he broke a glass for me to walk across!”

Fianna mutters, “Someone ‘accidentally’ left a mop and some wash water in my path during the same bloody test.”

William cracks a crooked smile. “He does it to everyone. When I applied here a couple years ago, one of the light fixtures fell off the wall in my path. Still not sure how he managed to pull that one off. In any case, welcome to the ‘Hazed by Christian’ club. Pick up your free t-shirt at the door.”

Marcella grins. “Still, at least it’s a job. Anything else we should know about working here? More surprises in store for the first night?”

Rose counts off on her fingers. “If anyone asks for any iteration of ’Bartender’s Choice,’ give the order to Leon. I’m not saying we’ve had any instances of alcohol poisoning, I’m just saying it’s safer. Every table gets unlimited baskets of the house trail mix, and keep their glasses of water full. The drinks in this bar lean on the heavily alcoholic side, and we don’t want anyone getting sick. Sometimes the ice dispenser acts up. Just hit it a few times. A few of the regulars will ask for some things that are not on the menu. If you’re confused about that, ask me or William to clarify, because Christian is a troll and will make the person the drink from hell if he doesn’t recognize them or their order. That’s mostly it. The rest is just service industry common sense. And playing it by ear. There’s a lot of that, but you get better at adapting to the crazy as time goes by.”

Marcella smiles. “Leon’s the sane one, got it.”

“Leon’s got his own quirks,” William says wryly. “But they are far overshadowed by Christian’s. Anyways, did anyone show you opening procedures? I see you’ve been given the drinks list, but did anyone take you through the rest?”

Marcella shakes her head. “No, would you mind showing us the ropes?”

Rose smiles. “Not at all. It’s not terribly difficult. Most of the club has a fairly standard set-up procedure. Follow us, we’ll start in the back.” Rose and William head towards the back door that Leon had gone through earlier. Marcella and Fianna follow their lead.

In the back is a small room with another door leading off of it. The room has several countertops, and is dominated by a large dumbwaiter set into the wall, over which a large bell hangs. Rose goes over to it, and opens it up. “I’m assuming you’ve been told about how this works already. Before opening, we run a test to make sure it’s working properly. We send it down, and someone in the kitchens sends it back up. Fortunately, it’s automatic—you press this button here—” she points “-to send the dumbwaiter down with your orders. I usually do a full circuit of the room before I send down orders-it means that you’re not sending them down one at a time, and the kitchen has an easier time.” She presses the button, and the dumbwaiter descends. After a couple minutes, it returns, and the bell dings. “See?,” Rose says. “Simple.”

“Seems easy enough,” Marcella agrees.

The other door opens and Leon steps through. “Oh good,” he says, noticing the four of them. “You’ve met.” He turns to Marcella and Fianna. “Here are the order pads I promised you, and a couple pens. I have to run downstairs to the office to do some bookkeeping for a bit—I’ll be back up right before opening. Keep up the good work.” He vanishes through the door they entered through.

Fianna takes an order pad and pen, and looks at Marcella. “I’m gonna go … do that thing. Be right back.” She dashes out into the bar.

Marcella nods, not impressed by Fianna’s subtlety. “She’s a little nervous, so she’s making herself a cheat sheet,” she explains to Rose and William.

Rose and William nod. “It’s fine,” William says. “I used one for three months when I first started. I still need one whenever Christian gives the special menu an overhaul.” He leads the way back out into the bar. Fianna is at a table scribbling furiously. “Leon will have made sure the bar is fully stocked. What we need to worry about is the water and the house mix.” He leads Marcella to a cabinet. “This is where we store the mix. The kitchens make a new batch every day, so this is fresh. Just put two cupfuls in one of these baskets, and place one on each table on the ground floor. I’ll take the top level, and Rose can do the bar.” He hands her a stack of baskets. Marcella starts scooping mix, watching William and Rose to see how they do it.

At 9pm the club opens. There are already people waiting to come in. William and Rose stick Marcella and Fianna in the area nearest the bar, so they can ask questions of Christian and Leon more easily. Christian and Leon had both arrived about ten minutes earlier, and Anupriya is hovering around the edges of the room.

Amy and Caesar arrive around 9:30ish-10:00. Caesar’s club outfit consists of tight purple shorts with intricate dark purple fishnets, and a purple tank top of a soft knit with a subtle black rose on it. The club is already bustling when they arrive, as many of the restaurant patrons moved to the club after their meals. A woman greets them at the door and, after checking their IDs, escorts them to a table. They are seated in Marcella’s section.

Once at the table, Caesar is a bit at a loss for what to do. Both he and Amy notice that the club is fairly busy. There are four servers: Marcella, Fianna, and two humans, a man and a woman. The two people behind the bar are a pair of changelings: a rather energetic man who looks like he is made of living shadow, who is engaged with interacting with the people at the bar and generally making a show out of drink making skills, and a much more stoic looking bartender who looks vaguely like an ice sculpture who seem to be paying more attention to the club at large. There is also a changeling woman wandering the edges of the room.

Marcella walks up to their table shortly after they’re seated to give them menus and pour water. She smiles a little conspiratorially but doesn’t break character. “Welcome to the Iron Nail! I’m Marcella, let me know if you have any questions this evening. I’ll give you a few minutes to look at the menu.”

The menu they are given is split into two parts: alcohol and food. There is already water and a basket of something like high end chex mix on the table, but the food menu offers a variety of small things, such as personal gourmet pizzas or seasonal salads. Many of the foods have a suggested drink pairing. The alcohol menu is much larger, and is dominated by some very inventive mixed drinks, though regular wine, beer, and spirits are also available.

Amy looks at the menu and then up at Blue. “Um… I can’t read this.”

“Oh yeah, German. Right.” Caesar reads off the foods to Amy, neglecting to mention the alcoholic beverages. After reading it off, he tries a bit of the trail mix on the table. The trail mix is delicious.

“Ok, thanks.” Amy also tries the trail mix.

Marcella approaches again when they look done with their menus. Meanwhile, she keeps an eye on the other patrons in her section, and on the patrons’ reactions to their drinks and food in general.

Once Marcella returns, Caesar requests one of the seasonal salads and a cup of water, opting to stay sober for the investigation. Amy thinks German words must be very long, if the whole menu is just what Caesar read to her. She orders one of the mini pizzas.

Marcella takes down their order. “Anything to drink for either of you? I’d watch out for Christian’s specials, personally, but we have a wide variety of inventive cocktails.”

Amy almost asks if they have any of the fruity stuff that was at the party, but remembers that she isn’t supposed to know Marcella. “Um, what do you think would be good?”

Caesar sighs. “Whatever’s popular. Not one of the specials, please.” He didn’t want anything too terrible on his first time drinking.

Marcella recommends the drinks paired with their food on the menu.

“Yes, please,” Amy agrees.

Marcella puts in their order. She has been keeping an eye out for the effects of the drinks on other patrons, and so far she has notice that people seem to really be enjoying themselves. Uproarious laughter keeps coming from the corner of the bar where Christian is entertaining patrons, and the atmosphere of the club is generally very light and happy. The dance floor has not yet really seen much use, though there is music playing.

Marcella tries to loiter near the bar to hear what Christian is saying as she mingles with patrons. Christian is talking to several people by the bar, and greeting others as they come and go. Many he seems to know well, and asks after their lives.

After about seven minutes the orders arrive in the dumbwaiter. When their order is ready, she brings it to Caesar and Amy.

Amy’s drink is very bright, and all the colors of the rainbow. Somehow, it has been layered so the colors are actually striped in a rainbow pattern. It is very fruity and topped with an iced slush reminiscent of snow cones, and decorated with candied flowers. Caesar’s drink is a deep, deep red, almost black, with cherries along the bottom of the glass and cinnamon dusting the rim. The food is excellent.

Amy happily partakes of her food and drink, trying to keep an eye on what is going on around her, but not really sure what is normal. Caesar does likewise. They notice that, although the drinks are tasty and quite alcoholic, they don’t seem to be affecting them other than making them a bit tipsy. However, there is a person, who entered just before they did, who was sitting near them and they only remember having one drink, who is extremely giddy—as if they had consumed several. They are making their way to the dance floor.

Caesar glances at the man’s table to see if there’s anything that would suggest /why/ he’s like that. He has a mostly empty glass, and no food other than the complementary mix. Amy wonders what that guy had, and if she should get some.

Curiously, Caesar tries some of the mix again. It is still tasty, but nothing is different about it. It is simply very good snack food.

“Wanna see what’s up with that guy?” Caesar suggests to Amy, then looks to see if Marcella is around. She is nearby but not in hearing range. She would probably notice if he gestured to get her attention, though.

Amy nods. “And maybe we should try the same drink he had.”

“That’s the plan.” Caesar tries waving Marcella down.

Marcella notices the wave and comes over. “How is everything?”

“Do you remember what the guy who came before us had, by any chance?” he asks. “The guy who was beside us, I mean.”

“He had a wine spritzer. Why, look tasty?”

“Check out the dance floor,” he motions with his head towards where he was. “Could I get a glass?”

Marcella looks out on the dance floor for the guy who had been at the table next to them. “Sure, I’ll put the order in for you right now.” Marcella puts in the order for the same drink. Leon produces one quite quickly. As she waits, Marcella glances around to see how Fianna is doing. Fianna is very happy she has a cheat sheet, but she hasn’t run into anyone who can’t speak English yet. She is also taking tally of the number of times her accent is commented on.

Amy is a bit sad Caesar got to it first. She wanted to try it. Maybe it was just really delicious; you couldn’t be sure.

Marcella brings the drink to Amy and Caesar’s table once it’s done. She’s getting the hang of this “carrying drinks” thing.

“Want it?” Caesar offered to Amy. “It might have some side effects, I’m not sure.”

Amy nods and takes a sip of the drink. It is the tastiest of wine spritzers. Pretty darn weak, on the alcohol side of things. Amy smiles a bit hesitantly, “Well, it /is/ good.”

“Try finishing it, I guess?” Caesar isn’t too sure at this point.

Amy keep sipping at her own drink, thinking it much tastier than the spritzer, and not sure how good the two would taste together.

The man on the dance floor is laughing to himself as he dances now. Marcella is keeping an eye on him as well as she does her rounds, as well as any other patrons who seem similarly giddy. There is another person on the dance floor who seems to be getting caught up in giddy man’s mood.

Amy and Caesar both notice a man at a nearby table muttering into his cup. They both can barely hear what he is saying: “Just once I would like to not leave this place alone.”

Caesar silently listens from where he is to see if the man says anything else and glances over every few moments to see if or when he goes on the move. Amy is also listening.

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[Game 21: 6/15/14] From the Personal Observation Journal of Dr. Henry Brunner
July 6, 2013 cont'd, July 7, 2013

Game 21

July 6, 2013, post-meeting notes:

  1. The members of this group must have arrived in Aachen fairly recently if they are not yet familiar with Mariska Fingerflick.
  2. Although the cover story seems acceptable to the participant, it will be important to watch for signs of discomfort or other distress within the application.
  3. NTS: Do not accept clothing or offers of clothing from A without confirmation of Z involvement.
  4. Group integration may be a slow process – it is unclear what acceptable levels of availability and unavailability are within the new setting. Job and living situation may not be taken into account by others in higher level administrative positions.
    1. For the moment, increase time spent at the freehold by 50-75% and see what shifts can be swapped with colleagues.
    2. Reminder of previous NTS: look into easier modes of communication.
  5. Iron Nail furnishings and menu offerings appear to offer approximately 68% indian influence with the remaining 32% being split between a number of other Asian, Australasian, and European influences – beers on offer are German and Indian, while wines are a mix of European and New Zealander. Liquor and food options indication strong import ties to Asian sub-continent.
    1. Was Nandakumar always with the local freehold? Or has he travelled from other areas? Blend of fusion offered indicates potential of strong familiarity with a number of the relevant cultures.
    2. NTS: Identify where such things are recorded within the freehold.

July 7, 2013

  1. Ease of obtaining restaurant employment indicates strong preference for Changeling employees.
    1. Estimation of increased coordination and other marketable benefits indicates likely improvement to employment chances within the retail or service industry when employed by other Changelings (benefit only being possible when awareness of those increases exists).
    2. Possibility of significant skill/relative merit of individuals involved, not simply due to Changeling status.
  2. NTS: Z has not requested any particular specifications for the outfitting out our “date”.
  3. Potential factors for maintaining cover:
    1. A typical date might request a secluded or romantic table
    2. However, a first date might avoid such a request to allow for a safer, more public interaction
    3. Either option might create benefits or drawbacks for observation purposes – more private but less visual versus better views of other patrons but more easily overheard.
    4. Foods should be chosen to support potential for sharing/intimacy – beneficial to both actual purpose and “date” cover story.
    5. Food should also be chosen to support primary cover story as food critic – large variety covering a number of types of fusion.
    6. Conclusions: this is a single-time cover story in which we will probably not be highly observed. Significant levels of planning to maintain cover are probably not necessary. Allow Z to make most of the determinations, observe her methods of planning and playing to a cover.
  4. Reminder: arrive at freehold in approx. 2 hours to optimize balance of not seeming overly eager/intrusive but still being available and supportive to team effort.
  5. Reminder: make sure Byron will agree to provide our transportation to the restaurant.
  6. NTS: Inquire as to H’s research background and make overtures of pooling abilities at a later date, once a greater group cohesion and individual dynamics have all been established.
  7. Increased practice with left-handed techniques have improved efficiency with blade in left hand, but estimations indicate both parry and defense movements are only 85% efficient as compared to using right hand. Continue to train and seek expert correction for left-handed blade forms to optimize versatility.
  8. Weapons training seems to be an acceptable balance between availability and the avoidance of seeming over-eager – it allows for the appearance of business while maintaining the opportunity to stop quickly, unlike other, more dedicated or technological pursuits.
  9. Working with Z seems to offer levels of efficacy within acceptable parameters, and potentially complementary skill sets.

Tentative prognosis for group integration: unchanged (insufficient new data based on individual or group interactions with a large enough portion of group).

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Game 21: Preparing for an Investigation

Summary

Now with an eighth member, the group goes their separate ways to prepare for their investigation of the Iron Nail. Iris, Fianna, and Marcella all contact the establishment to obtain new employment, Iris in the kitchen and Fianna and Marcella in the club. Hulda researches the restaurant and the potential contracts that could be leading to the suicides, discovering that most of them are hard to observe. Hank and Zia arrange for their cover story within a cover story – a “date” that is actually a food critic and her friend. Marcella and Fianna both have interviews, and Amy and Zia arrange for appropriate clothing for all. The next day, Marcella and Fianna get calls confirming their positions, and Iris has an extensive interview with Nanda, the chef. In the evening, Hank and Zia are driven to the restaurant by Byron, and Marcella and Fianna are filled in on their roles in the club by Leon. Iris begins work on the prepline, and watches the kitchenful of ghost chickens go about their daily unlives.

Log

After working out the plan of attack for investigating the Iron Nail, the group disperses to take care of their individual preparations. Hank and and Zia meet to discuss their plan of attack and settle on posing as a food critic and her friend who is “coming on a date” as a cover. They plan to get through as much of the meal as possible before revealing Zia as a critic and requesting to speak to the chef. Hank introduces Zia to a Mariska Fingerflick, a changeling that can set up the cover identity for her.

Hulda spends the afternoon researching. Unfortunately, she learns that many of the contracts she’d be looking for have nigh-impossible to spot catches. Contracts of this sort generally seem to require the user to have done something within an extended timeframe of a week or so. There are a few that are sort of noticeable, if only barely — one of the Winter contracts requires looking into the subject’s eyes for a moment, and another requires the changeling to give them a tear to taste, and a Spring contract involves offering food to the subject — but, after all, they will be in a restaurant.

Around 3 pm, Iris uses a freehold phone to call the number on the hiring ad that the Iron Nail placed on the bulletin board in the freehold. Iris dials and hears a cheery voice say, “Good afternoon! This is the Iron Nail! We aren’t open for business yet. If you would like to leave a message press 1, if you would like to speak to a staff member, press 2.” After pressing 2, she is informed “A staff member will be with you shortly,” before being put on hold with accompanying Muzak. Approximately 4 minutes later a bored voice answers, “This is the Iron Nail, how can I help you?”

Nervously, Iris responds, “Um… I saw your ad and you’re hiring?" His voice changes immediately. “Oh! excellent! Where did you see our ad then?” Not sure to whom she’s talking, and feeling insecure, Iris says, “"Er… It’s pinned to a message board…" The man responds cheerily, “Good, they got those out! Well, dear, I’m Nandakumar, the chef here and we do rather need people right now! What position are you looking at? The club or the restaurant?” Iris still isn’t sure what she’s doing, but says, “Oh. Well… either I think. maybe something in the kitchen? I’m not really used to people.” Nandakumar sounds understanding, responding “Ah, then my dear, the kitchen may be for you. There are many of us back here, but we focus on the craft rather than the patrons, though of course we do aim to please. If you come by around 2 tomorrow afternoon I can see what you’re capable of. Is that agreeable?" They agree on the time, Iris gives him her name, and they end the phone call. Iris goes in search of wine and research.

Marcella waits until later in the afternoon before going to inquire in person. The non-changeling hostess asked her some routine “typical interview” questions, which Marcella answered using her cover identity, and then brought her up to the club. There she met Anu Priya and Christian, two of the management. Anu was very down-to-business and a little curt, and Christian was so off the wall Marcella isn’t sure who thought it would be a good idea for him to run a business. Anu Priya and Christian seem to live for pissing each other off. Christian referenced some of the “special” drinks that they serve, which may be imbued with magic. Marcella does well on the interview and tells the group that she thinks she will probably get the job. Fianna also goes to the club to inquire about the job in person and comes back from her her interview grumbling about the “mad loon of a bartender” and the “stupid mop” but refuses to elaborate further when her mutterings meet inquiries. Both are told to expect a call tomorrow.

People seek out various members of their teams and report on their experiences: Marcella’s interview, Hulda’s research, etc. Hulda informs the group that most contracts that would do things like what is happening require subtle catches or something that happened a while ago. Iris’ separate research does not turn up additional information, but she concludes that the position in the kitchens was probably a good choice, as it’s one place they could see potential catches.

After finishing plans with Hank and Mariska, Zia joins Amy and a reluctant Hulda to work on coming up with everyone’s outfits. At Marcella’s behest, Amy recieves “The talk” from Zia. Marcella understands she will pay for this and starts by explaining to Amy how feminine articles work. Fianna scrounges up decent enough work type clothes, in case she needs them. Zia and Amy proudly inform everyone that clothes have been arranged for their various parts. Zia quietly reassures Hank she stopped Amy from arranging a neon suit for him. Blue, however, has an appropriate club-going outfit entirely in shades of purple.

Hank remains at the freehold for most of the afternoon, being available in case other people need to interact with him, before giving Marcella and Zia his phone number and email address and leaving for his apartment for the evening. At home, he spends some time familiarizing himself with whatever information is available on the restaurant and club… reviews, pictures/plans, menu, etc. He finds their hours (5-11 for the restaurant, 9-4 for the club), pictures of the lovely wood interiors with India color palette and the menu, which is primarily Indian fusion.

The next morning, Marcella gets a call from Anupriya. “Good morning.” she says. “Congrats, you have a job. Come in at 6 to learn the basics.” She does not sound cheerful. Marcella responds somewhat more excitedly, “Great, thanks so much! I’ll be there at six.” Anupriya replies “Welcome," before hanging up. Fianna receives the same call shortly thereafter. “Morning,” says Anupriya, “Congrats you have a job. Show up at 6 to learn the basics, dress to go directly to work.” Fiana replies “Um, thank you," Fianna said. “I’ll be there. Thanks again.” Anypriya responds, “My pleasure…” in a tone that clearly doesn’t sound particularly pleased, and hangs up. Fianna blinks and stares at the phone.

Fianna wanders the halls until she finds someone from the group to tell, and then redoubles her effort to locate clothing, because she feels she should make the effort even though Zia will just attack her with clothes later. Marcella also tells the group about her phone call, and Zia sends Hank an email with the information. Hank gets the email, and checks in with Zia to make sure her background is going well and finalizes the plans for the evening, inquiring if she wishes to make the reservations, or if he should, and whether she has any specifications of types of table, if so. Zia replies that she spoke with Mariska Fingerflick and everything seems to be in order. The email also says that Hank should go ahead and make the reservation for around 6pm.

Hulda continues her research, spending some more time looking up the restaurant and the stories around it, but doesn’t find anything significant. She also researches the names of anyone she knows who is associated with the restaurant, trying to get as much information about the players as possible. She learns that Christian, the owner and bartender, is well-known for being highly skilled in mixology. He entered the club scene about 5 years ago, but was raised in Aachen. Leon is the second bartender and an accomplished bartender at the Iron Nail and he is know for quiet conversation and listening ear. Nandakumar is a renowned cook and regularly wins contests. He got the restaurant its excellent ratings. Reviews online of him say things like, “I always leave his restaurant at peace with my soul and my body, such is the art of his cooking.” Anupriya doesn’t ping much on the internet, but the freehold notes that she is a member of the Spring Court.

Iris spends the morning being too nervous and agitated to do much more that run around. She arrives for her interview at 1:45 pm, with all of her clothes painfully clean and straight. Zia has provided her with a simple and elegant shirt and nice dress pants in saffron and blue. The yellow looks a bit odd on her near white skin, but she is too distracted by being nervous to notice.

Upon arriving, Iris is met in the foyer by a cheerful woman. “I’m sorry, we’re closed until 5. Is there something I can help you with?” Iris responds that she was told to be here for 2 for an interview. “Ah!” says the woman, “You must be here for Nanda, then. You’re expected. Follow me, please." She turns and walks towards the back of the restaurant, and Iris follows, fidgeting with the nails on one hand and looking from side to side to take in absolutely everything. She wishes that she had brought a notepad with her. The decor is full of nice wood paneling and warm colors. There is an Indian flavor to the restaurant. It smells like Indian spices.

The hostess leads Iris into the kitchen. “Nanda, your two o’clock is here,” and then gestures at the man behind a stainless steel work table covered in cooking ingredients and implements. Iris tried not to hide or slow down and they walked, but she is about two more steps behind the lady she was following than when they started. Still fidgeting she looks around. “…Hello…” he man 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. Smiling he looks up. “Ah, you must be Iris!” Iris stares fascinatedly at the jewels and jerks when her name is mentioned. “Yes, sir.”

“Oh come now!” says Nanda. “I am not a sir! I am an artist, a wellspring of good food and good feelings! And you are here to join me in this quest.” he comes around the table and hugs her. Slightly confused, Iris starts to relax a bit and looks at the spices and ingredients laid out. “Sorry,” she says. “I didn’t really know what to expect. So… what would you like me to do?” Nanda steps back towards the table and says, “Come! We shall start with the basics!” He gestures at the table of ingredients, and pull over a cutting board, an onion, and a large knife that is in pristine condition.“Dice this for me please.” Iris takes the blade very carefully, checking it over. Nanda smiles. “Ah, you like my knives? You have good taste—a chef must keep his knives in pristine condition. Today, I lend them to you.” While Iris scrutinized the blade she says, “I’d rather not cut myself. They’re very sharp.” Finishing her inspection she adds, “Pristine is right.”

Slowly but surely Iris dices the onion. Nanda inspects her work and looks pleased. “Good control. Speed comes with familiarity, but I prefer my cooks to be a little slower and keep all their fingertips. The customers can wait a little longer…after all, they are here for the ambience and good company as much as the food, are they not?” Iris responds, “Wouldn’t blood ruin the ingredients anyway?” and then addresses his other comments with “I suppose so. It had nice ambience…” Nanda takes the cutting board with the onion over to an open range with a saucepan. On a sideboard, there is butter, flour and cream. "Now, make for me a basic roux, if you please,” he says.

Iris makes a roux. Nanda takes a spoon and tastes it. “Good blend, not scorched. Very nice. Next!” He goe to a refrigerator and pulls out chicken cutlets. He presents Iris with a baking dish and some spices. "This exercise is more freeform. Spice and season the chicken as you will, and we shall taste it at the end of your interview. He offers her what must be THE MOST MASSIVE SPICE RACK IN EXISTENCE. Iris stares at it. She very very carefully makes a step towards the thing and starts reading labels. Trying not to disappoint she also starts smelling spices not too soon after because quite frankly she has no idea what most of these things are. As it is she goes by smell and just starts throwing things together.

Iris spices the chicken, and Nanda throws it in the oven for her. “We shall taste it later. Now, come with me.” He leads her to a wooden board, and goes to fetch something. He returns with a ball of dough. “Knead this, and then when you think it is ready, portion it out into rolls on this baking sheet.” He places one beside Iris, who goes to work. Nanda inspects Iris’ rolls, which are for the most part the same size and shape, and then slides them into an impressive looking brick oven. He turns back to Iris. "One more test, my dear and then we shall taste your chicken. I quite look forward to it. He leads her back to where the onions she had diced earlier sat, next to a frying pan on the stove. “If you would caramelize these for me please.”

Iris successfully caramelizes the onions without burning any. Nanda nods in satisfaction. At some point when she was working on the onions, he left to take the chicken out of the oven so it could rest, and now he beckons her over to where two plates and sets of utensils are sitting on a small table. The rolls are in a basket, still warm from the oven and he has transformed the roux into a sauce that he has set on the side. He takes her onions and smothers the chicken in them. “Come, let us taste the fruits of your labor.”He gestures for Iris to sit. She sits down quietly, staring at the chicken covered in to her unknown spices. She isn’t at all hungry, but apparently she is required to at least try.

Nanda takes a careful bite of everything, rolling it around in his mouth and thinking. He eats things in different combinations, and then puts down his fork. “For the most part this is quite good, but you have over spiced the chicken. As a meat, chicken is very willing to be spiced, and so does not need as much as you think. You have some odd choices here—like the vanilla bean—but for the most part the spices you chose are relatively complementary—garlic and curry powder for example. In a way, I am pleased you chose so many strong spices—many people balk at it. And spicing is more of an art than a science…as a cook you would be doing the very basics, which you did very well at. And you have potential. Would you be willing to learn, I would be happy to have you in my kitchen.” He extends a hand, which Iris (relieved, but still quite embarrassed about the chicken) takes with a “Thank you.” Nanda looks quite happy. “Excellent! You must start immediately! I shall get you a uniform, and inform Christian, and then you can start on some potatoes. I will introduce you to everyone later." He bustles off. Iris doesn’t quite know what to do, but follows him as she says “Oh, sure.”

Nanda goes to a storage closet where there are several uniforms. Upon discovering that you have followed him, he holds several up in front of you before determining the one with the best fit, and directing you to a restroom to change. Since the uniform will not conceal Iris’ shrunken rifle, she reluctantly and carefully stows it in a staff locker, unable to think of a reasonable excuse to be carrying it around. After changing into the standard white double breasted chef’s uniform, she returns to the kitchen, relieved that the uniform isn’t yellow. She returns to the kitchen and is given a rather prodigious amount of potatoes to wash peel, and chop.

Hank shows up at the freehold early in the afternoon to check in and make sure he is available for any needed preparations. He checks in with both Marcella and Zia, makes sure they know where to find him, and goes about other business, including weapons training. Hank finishes what he was doing slightly before 5 and waits until it is a few minutes after 5 to call, leaving the staff reasonable time to start manning the phones, etc. A cheerful voice answers his call. “This is the Iron Nail! How may I help you?” Hank responds, “Hello, I would like to make a dinner reservation for 2 at 6 o’clock, please." He hears a rustling of paper. “We can do that. Your name?” He responds with "Henry Brunner” and hears, “Mr. Brunner, we’ll see you at 6 then. Have a good day.” before the call is disconnected. “Thank you. Have a good day.” he responds, then blinks when he realizes he’s talking to an empty line. “Well,” he says to the empty room, “That was a bit brusque.” He leaves to find Zia and let her know the reservation is all set.

He locates Zia in her room, getting ready. When he knocks on the door, she calls, “Who is it?” He responds, “It is Hank. The reservation for 6 o’clock is set.” Her voices calls back through the door, “Great, thanks! I’ll be ready in a few minutes. Meet me in the courtyard?” After confirming, he walks down the hall and locates a spare room in which he can change into his outfit, a nice suit with a tie with a sunset on it. He proceeds to the courtyard.

After about 15 minutes, Zia appears. She is wearing a lovely dress of emerald silk and at her throat is a tatted emerald and gold necklace. She looks Hank up and down. “If I may adjust your tie slightly?” she asks. “Of course,” he responds. “You look radiant.” Zia smiles back at Hank brightly, “Thank you!” She adjusts his tie a bit and steps back, looks him up and down again, nods in satisfaction. Hank plays the part of the gentlemanly boyfriend, opening doors, etc. as they exit the freehold. Byron, who Hank had spoken to earlier, pulls up in his car and hops out. “Oh you two look so nice! Almost like a real couple! Please, do get in!” After being chauffered in a gentlemanly fashion into the car, which Zia clearly appreciates, the trio sets off.

Iris is in the kitchen, chopping potatoes. She may not be happy, but she doesn’t think she is in any position to complain. Instead she decides to user her time and stealthily look around for ghosts she might be able to spot from her position while taking care of said mountain of potatoes. She sees about 30 chicken ghosts running around, clucking silently and clambering on the floor, “warming” themselves in the oven. One looks judgmentally at her. She amuses herself by observing how many times somebody walks through a chicken, although she does try to get her potato prep work done halfway quickly.

Shortly before the new waitresses are due at the Iron Nail, Marcella puts on the outfit Zia and Amy have chosen, trusting in their taste (or at least Zia’s) to make her appropriate for work. She has been given skin-tight black jeans with a subtle pattern and a lovely sleeveless green blouse, showing that her trust was well placed. Nice black flats with touches of color that match the shirt complete her outfit. She finds a place to subtly stash her dagger. Fianna puts on the clothes she has been given, and for once is reasonably pleased with the outcome. She is wearing a knee-length purple A-line skirt and a rich blue top that shows off her arms, and black shoes with a little bit of platform heel.

Fianna and Marcella take the bus to the restaurant, and are met in the foyer by the same hostess they encountered the day before. By this point, the restaurant is starting to get busy as they enter the dinner rush. “Welcome,” she says. “Leon is waiting for you at the bar upstairs. He is expecting you.” Marcella smiles. “Thank you, we can see ourselves up.” She heads up the stairs to the club. Fianna follows. The club is set up for the first patrons who will be arriving in three hours. Behind the bar is a changeling you do not recognize, who looks to be made of exquisitely carved ice. He looks up as you come in. “Ah, you must be the new hires. Welcome. My name is Leon. I’ll be showing you the ropes. You both have already met Christian, I assume? He’ll be joining me back behind the bar later.” Marcella smiles a bit. “Yes, we’ve both met Christian. It’s nice to meet you, Leon.” She holds out her hand to shake his.

Leon takes Marcella’s hand and gives it a firm shake. His hands are cold, but quite dry, like dry ice without the bite. “We’re mostly going to have you two serving this evening—I know you’ve already been given Christian’s Patented Balance Test—and the rest is fairly simple. We have two kinds of patrons—those who sit at the bar, and those who actually get tables. The bartenders interact with those at the bar directly, but you guys will need to take the orders of the table patrons, then bring it back to us so we can make them. You’ll be given writing pads before opening. They may also order snacks from the bar menus on each table. Just do the same—run it back here. The order will get called down to the kitchen, and when it comes up you just bring it to them. Now then, in regards to—ejecting the overly boisterous—don’t try and do it tonight. If you see someone who you think needs ejection, go find Anupriya—you both met her I think. She will make the final determination and then give you the how or why she did or didn’t eject them, so you have a better idea when you need to do it solo. Those are the main things—any questions?”

Marcella listens closely, then says, “That sounds pretty straightforward. Where will we find Anupriya? And can we see a menu to get some idea of what we’ll be serving?” Leon responds, “She’s usually around. She does a bit of everything—serving, managering, problem-defusing. She’ll very rarely leave the club once it opens, so she shouldn’t be that hard to find. As to the other…” he grabs two menus out from under the bar and hands one to each of you. "This is much nicer than your average pub fare. We have everything from simple salty snacks like the House Mix to miniature pan gourmet pizzas with customizable toppings. Nanda likes to change things up every season or so, and each item is paired with at least one ‘recommended drink to complement the flavors’”

Marcella takes a menu and starts perusing. “I assume the patrons will expect us to know enough to recommend drinks to go with their meals, right? Would you mind giving us a run-down of what you serve from the bar?” Fianna looks lost, but pays attention to the conversation unfolding between Marcella and Leon. Leon replies, “It’s summer, so we have a seasonal fruit salad and grilled vegetable kabobs with a house sauce, among other things” Marcella nods, “What about drinks? Do you have house specials, signature drinks? What kinds of wines and beers do you serve? What’s on tap?”

On the way to the restaurant in Byron’s car, Hank and Zia converse about general idle topics, Zia practices her food words, and they discuss her work with Mariska Fingerflick setting up the food critic thing and come up with bunch of foodie blog posts. She explains that they made a blog for her focusing on Fusion foods and the ways that this kind of food in Aachen is changing the food scene. The trio arrives at the restaurant around 5:50. Byron pulls up the car in front and says, “I’ll be around, maybe come in for a bite of dinner and a chinwag with the chef if Nanda isn’t too busy.” Hank opens Zia’s door, offers her a hand out of the car, and offers her his arm for proceeding into the restaurant.

Zia takes Hank’s arm and smiling, proceeds into the restaurant. When they go in, they are greeted by the hostess. “Welcome! Table for 2?” Hank responds, “Yes, thank you. We have a reservation under Brunner.” The hostess nods and says, “ah, yes, for 6pm! Let me see if that is ready a little bit early for you.” Then she ducks into the dining room briefly.

Leon continues to fill in Marcella and Fianna. “We have a fully stocked bar, so in general, we can make whatever a patron asks for. If they are snacking, generally you should recommend what the menu does. It’s easier. Drink specials are done a bit oddly—Christian fancies himself as a bit of an artist, and has made it his mission to make drinks based on every changeling he sees. Sometimes they make it on the board as signature drinks” he gestures to a large chalkboard over the bar. “Those are also good for recommendations, because nowhere else serves anything like those drinks. On tap, we’ve got all the major labels, as well the products of many local micro-breweries. A couple are even changeling-owned—we like to help fellow entrepreneurs out. The same holds true for our wine selection though the bread and butter of this club is the mixed drinks.” Marcella takes all this in and spends a while studying the menu, including drink pairings, and the specials board. Fianna reads the menu and the specials board, happy that each includes the ingredients because she has no idea what any of the foods or drinks are.

View
[Game 20: 6/8/14] From the Personal Observation Journal of Dr. Henry Brunner
July 6, 2013

Meeting notes:
p.

  1. Waiting seems to be more and more intolerable. A symptom of some sort of post-traumatic stress? Or just nervousness?
  2. Queen Kenna looks more radiant than ever. Likely an effect of the peak of her power, whereas before her power was at its ebb. [ Autumn Draconic ] seems as dour as usual. I suppose she’s pleased to be well rid of me.
  3. This new team appears to be quite different from Lions de Teranga: Marcella, the leader, is the one with the crown. It appears to be made of bone, though whether it is human or animal bone would require further inspection. Appears to be well adapted to court life and etiquette so far. Prompt, mannerful behavior in front of the queen. Most of the others also seem to be developing court skills well, particularly if they are as new as the report claimed. Though perhaps they were in situations prior to their arrival here that engendered them with pre-existing skills. Two of the group seem to be less well adapted in terms of courtly manners. Three, perhaps, if you count having a puppy attend you at an audience with the queen. One of the gentlemen must be their court guide.
  4. Re: note 2- definitely due to the peak of her majesty’s power, given the literal fire in her eyes.
  5. Re: note 3- The blond one is Faron, the court guide, who “fights very well” [sic.] Therefore, the grey skinned boy must be Ceasar/Blue (NTS: discover individual preference re: naming terminology).
  6. Will the team be working with another guide, or functioning primarily alone, with Faron’s exit?
  7. Insisting upon engaging in a staring contest with a draconic is approximately as good an idea as doing so with an actual dragon. Perhaps that member of the group is even less adapted to court politics than previously suspected.
  8. Now able to attach names and faces to all the description from the briefing. Individual referenced in note 6 is Iris, the rifle specialist. Other individuals referenced in note at 3 are Fiana, the star (NTS: what does that mean? further research needed), and Amy. The most colorful of the group is Zia, the other wizened. Initial impressions are friendly, for the most part. Perhaps not with Faron or Iris.
  9. Initial mission details seem fairly innocuous, unlikely to be deadly damaging high levels of risk. Allows a new-ish team to remain on this side of the Hedge. Potential for enemies/opponents with high levels of magical skill, other types of weapons. Damage to surrounding populous, political/interspecies risk level high. Benefits of such an establishment are significant, both for humans and changelings, but the chance for abuse, which seems to have arisen, creates problems.
  10. Interaction b/w QK and M seem to indicate prior impropriety. (NTS: get briefed on previous missions, stat.)
  11. Opportunity to work with Byron in an official setting should prove interesting. Objectivity may be compromised due to association with the owner. Also punctuality.
  12. NTS: Never try to do yoga again. Ever. It appears the others of my new team have also had similarly negative experiences. Attempt to discover information on previous interactions. Check on any other irritations/hostilities b/w Vogelfrei and rest of freehold. Best to be aware in advance of any altercation. (NTS re: hostile elements: Make sure to check on tree’s new position.)
  13. Initial observations on team dynamic: Marcella seems to be accepted as leader due to capability, not due to being the only one everyone can stand. Others seem to defer to her, offer opinions/skills as necessary. Reasonable tactical planning re: splitting skills/forces, assigning suitable roles.
    1. NTS: Look into obtaining “family plan” for team and acquiring additional cell phones?
    2. Already being classified as “the muscle”? Not entirely inappropriate, but not entirely welcome. At least accompanying Zia won’t have quite such inappropriate implications as most of the rest of the team.
  14. Overall the group seems capable of drawing together a reasonable plan, reaching consensus, diversified skill spread. Fairly lucky given the arbitrary nature of these groupings.

Tentative prognosis for group integration: positive.

View
Game 20: A new mission

Summary

A new member joins the party, and Faron is reassigned from being the liaison to the party. The group receives a new mission to investigate a restaurant/bar called the Iron Nail that may be using changeling magic in a way that will expose them to the humans. They create a plan for some of them to pose as employees, and some to pose as customers to take a closer look at the Iron Nail.

Log

The group receives a mission one evening telling them to report to the Green Room the following morning at 11am, formal dress required.

Marcella wears her Summer Court outfit from Zia, as that is her only formal attire. She is wearing a dagger most of the party hasn’t seen before, but no sword. The dagger has a jeweled sheath, and each of the gems glow in colors of the sunset.

Iris grumbles, but puts on her still miraculously intact formal clothing (which as it turns out is no longer a dress). Iris is significantly less grumpy, now that her outfit more closely resembles a formal suit. She standings in a corner, looking tall, androgynous and vaguely suspicious.

Hulda finds her bright summer dress and puts it on and heads to the meeting place, not thrilled about wearing these bright colors.

Fianna, as usual, looks massively grumpy about the clothing.

Amy shows up at the Green Room at the appointed time, wearing the formal clothing made by Zia, and leading a large black and brown puppy on a leash.

Iris is instinctively suspicious. She tries not to stare at the dog too much, but isn’t as successful as she’d like to be.

Hank intentionally arrives a minute or two late in hopes that everyone will be there before he gets there, since that’s probably easier for introductory purposes. However, that actually means he walks through nearby halls, because of his personal tendency to arrive to everything at least five minutes early.

As each of the team arrives in the Green Room, they are directed to sit towards one end of the table by someone they vaguely recognize as one of the Queen’s personal guards. Hank is directed to sit to the side with a tiny Autumn Draconic.

Fianna its down, attempting—and kind of failing—at keeping her nice clothes in order.

Zia comes in a lovely wave of color, her hair in full form today. She sweeps into the room, gathers Iris from the corner and takes a seat. Iris is swept along, looks flustered, but doesn’t protest.

Marcella quietly asks Amy who her friend is.

Amy smiles at Marcella. “This is Petey. He’s my new friend. Byron helped me get him.”

“So … what kind of dog is it? It is a dog, right?” Iris asks.

Marcella pets him and says, “Nice to meet you, Petey!”

Hulda smiles at Amy and her puppy, and sits down where directed. Fianna sticks out a hand for the puppy to smell.

All of this puppy attention is cut short as the Queen enters and everyone stands. Marcella stands immediately, Fianna trips on her skirt and almost falls over, and Amy stands a second after everyone else.

The Queen enters the room and goes to the far end of the table and sits. “Vogelfrei, it is a pleasure to see you again. I have two matters to discuss with you, but let me begin with what we discussed last time. Have you chosen a leader?”

Amy and Fianna look at Marcella. Marcella nods. “Yes, I have been chosen as the leader of Vogelfrei, your majesty.”

The Queen smiles and fire lights briefly in her eyes (literally). “Congratulations Marcella! May you lead the group with wisdom and fire. And do be seated … this is an informal audience.”

Marcella bows and sits. Zia sits gracefully. Hulda and Amy sit. Fianna manages not to trip on anything, and sits. Iris takes a few seconds to sit back down. She still seems uneasy. Hank waits for the Draconic next to him to sit, and then also sits. Faron sits, eyeing the Draconic and new guy impassively.

The Queen continues, “The first matter on our agenda is personnel movement. First, unfortunately, We have decided that Faron is needed in our efforts to ensure the Hedge surrounding the Summer Games is safe. His service to this group was admirable and he may accompany you as he may on future missions.”

Marcella glances at Faron. He remains expressionless. Iris now starts staring at the draconic woman, who is petite, looks fairly grumpy, and has characteristics of an Eastern dragon, including two tiny pearls inset in her temples and a bluish cast to her skin.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Faron says at last, with a deferential nod to her.

Marcella inclines her head. “We will be sad to see you go, Faron, but I hope you are able to join us on future missions.” Amy, Hulda, and Zia nod. Faron looks around the room at everyone, looks at Marcella briefly, then nods.

Iris is still staring at the draconic woman. The Draconic notices Iris’ staring, and glares back. Her eyes are serpentine and golden. Iris seems curious, but guarded.

The Queen moves on, “We have not yet assigned to your group a new Summer guide, but Byron was kind enough to help out. He should … be here shortly. Secondly, I would like to introduce to you a new member of your group, Hank Brunner. His group recently broke up for a variety of reasons.” She gestures for Hank to get up.

Marcella gives Hank an assessing look. Amy looks at him with open curiosity. Iris redirects her stare at Hank, but the Autumn Draconic continues to glare at her. Iris gets uncomfortable and stares back.

Hank stands. He is quite large, almost seven feet tall, with a broad build, very physically solid. Rather than being clearly formed from a single animal the way many Beasts are, they can see the influence of several different ones. He’s got somewhat unruly auburn hair with heavy side burns and stubble, which they can see is lightly peppered with grey. While his overall form is reminiscent of a bear, he’s got a slightly wide face with a broad nose, more like a beast of burden. He’s wearing a light colored button-down with cufflinks. Where his hands emerge from his sleeves they can see that his arms are fairly hairy as well and the grey is more prominent there. He is also wearing a pinstriped vest and pants which are both slightly brighter than his shirt, and glasses. Despite his size, he doesn’t seem to take up as much space as one would expect.

Marcella smiles at him. “Welcome to Vogelfrei, Hank. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Marcella.”

“I’m Amy,” Amy chimes in, “Hello.”

“Hello,” Hulda smiles slightly. “I’m Hulda.”

Zia quirks an eyebrow and smiles, “Pleasure to meet you Hank, I’m Zia. Do tell me if you need anything made. That’s my specialty.”

Iris looks back at Hank, but still hasn’t figured the speech thing back out. She smiles and nods instead.

Fianna raises her hand. “Fianna. Pleasure.” She has a somewhat strong Scottish accent.

Iris finally finds her voice. “Um … Iris, sorry.” She sounds German.

Hank gives something between a nod and a half-bow to the Queen after he rises. He turns to the group as they introduce themselves, and gives a broad, genuine smile. “A genuine pleasure to make the acquaintance of all of you.” His accent is somewhat unfamiliar to most of the group. There’s a little French to it, but some other influences as well. He is French Canadian, specifically Acadian, which is a lighter accent than Quebecois.

Once everyone has introduced themselves, the Queen continues, “Now, on to your mission. This mission is a fairly delicate and I expect you will all behave with the appropriate … decorum and care.” Her gaze lingers on Marcella for a moment. “Please do not speak of the details of this mission to others. There is a restaurant and club owned and run by changelings called the Iron Nail in the south section of the city. Increasingly humans have found that the going to club means that one … has your wishes fulfilled, and eating at the restaurant lifts your mood and fixes your health. However, there have also been reports of humans committing suicide or otherwise coming to harm in connection to the restaurant. As you may know, it is permitted for changelings to influence humans, even in the context of our work, but there is a fine line between using those skills to increase your business and potentially revealing us for what we are. Your mission is to investigate this and be prepared to bring the changelings involved to justice if needed. Be subtle.”

Hank sits back down as the Queen begins speaking. He has a serious expression on his face as he listens to the description of the restaurant.

Marcella gains the barest hint of a blush when the Queen looks at her, but continues listening to their instructions. When she finishes, Marcella says, “We will be most careful, your majesty.”

Iris ponders whether it is possible to get some technology like the Arena has to check contract usage.

Faron continues to impassively stare masterfully, although he doesn’t seem to be looking at anything specific.

Zia perks up at the concept of doing a mission in civilization and with opportunities to dress up. Iris loathes the idea, but tries to figure out more supernatural surveillance techniques. She makes a mental note to research the Arena.

Hulda is just listening and thinking.

The Queen looks like she is waiting for something. “Byron should be here shortly to brief you further. He is friends with the owner and was among the changelings to bring this to our notice. He is … late.”

Marcella looks thoughtful when they hear that Byron is friends with the owner.

About two minutes pass in vaguely uncomfortable silence.

Hank raises an eyebrow at Byron’s lateness, but otherwise waits silently. He looks curiously at the rest of the party, not staring at anyone in particular, just trying to get a sense of everyone.

Amy is still looking at him curiously, but intersperses this with equally curious glances at the yet unnamed changeling in the room.

Then the door of the room bursts open. Byron is there, he bows and enters the room. “Queen Kenna, my deepest apologies. I was helping a new changeling fresh from the Hedge and … the schedule for this room stated Fae Yoga until 11:15.” Before he can come in, an older lady’s voice says, “Young man, get out of my way, I need to lead my class!” He is pushed out of the way by a tiny little Wizened woman some of the group recognizes. “Oh! So many for my class and the Queen! I am honored, truly honored you wish to learn the ways of Fae Yoga.”

Marcella looks to the Queen for her reaction.

Fianna blanches. Amy jerks backwards in her chair.

Faron tilts his head at Fianna and Amy’s strong reactions, but doesn’t say anything.

The Queen purses her lips. “There appear to have been a small schedule mix-up. My dear, I’m afraid this an audience actually. I will be certain to attend the Fae Yoga competition in the summer games, worry not.”

Amy gives the Queen an awed look. Iris is actively trying to disappear.

The old Wizened woman curtsies in a curiously fluid way, takes a quick look around the room, her eyes alight on Amy, “Oh my dear doll, please do come to my class, Fae Yoga is perfect for those joints!” and leaves. Amy rubs at her knee through her dress self-consciously.

Marcella narrows her eyes at the woman for her parting comment. Fianna has gone from creeped out to seething. It shows.

Hanks eyebrows creep higher and higher towards his hairline as this interaction proceeds.

Byron comes back in the room bowes again and says, “Queen Kenna, if you have briefed them, I can take it from here.” The Queen nods and says, “Byron will give you more information regarding your mission. Thank you for your service to the freehold.” She stands and sweeps from the room. Everyone but the group and Byron leaves.

Marcella stands and bows as the Queen leaves.

Hank stands and bows to the Queen, and nods to the autumn draconic who was sitting next to him as she leaves. The autumn draconic nods back.

Faron also rises and bows to the Queen. He then sits back down and turns to Byron.

Amy sees Marcella and Hank stand and bow, and hurriedly does the same, then slumps back into her chair.

Iris is still fervently trying to disappear.

Byron gives Petey’s head a pat and takes a seat. “So, what did the Queen tell you so far?”

“She told us a little about the Iron Nail, that they have had increasing patronage from humans who want to have their desires fulfilled, and also that there are rumors of harm coming to humans associated with the establishment. Our mission is to investigate whether the Iron Nail’s influence upon humans crosses the line between increasing their business and revealing us for what we are,” Marcella summarizes.

Byron nods thoughtfully. "Now, then, a bit more about the establishment. Although it is changeling owned and run, there are human employees. Changelings make up about a quarter of their staff, including essentially all management. The restaurant is on the first floor and has a variety of Fusion cuisine. The club is on the two top floors and is renowned for the wide variety of drinks and interesting bites of food they have.

“Now, I do recommend that all seven or eight of you don’t all storm in at once, they will know something is up. However, I happen to know that the club is hiring currently and they have a preference for changelings,” he offers.

Marcella raises an eyebrow. “So you think some of us can get in that way, and maybe the rest can visit as patrons? Do you know how many people they’re looking for, or in what positions?”

“They are looking for general staff. My understanding of the position is to be a mix of a waitress, a bouncer and a lovely ornament,” he replies.

Zia smiles at Fianna. Marcella shoots Faron an amused look. He looks back at Marcella without saying anything.

“They are looking for two or three people I think?” Byron adds.

“I think we have a few people who could fit that role,” Marcella agrees. “I’m willing to go interview, anyone else interested? Or at least willing?”

Hulda looks uncomfortable with doing any of those.

“I could try … not sure whether I’d be any good at it though,” Iris offers.

“Uh, I could. I guess,” Fianna says hesitantly.

“Um …” Amy hesitates. She’s willing, but she worries this might turn out to be one of those things she has trouble understanding correctly. Marcella will know; she’ll let her make the decision. What else was a leader for, after all? “I’m willing.”

“I would be willing to interview,” offers Hank. “I suspect that they would find me reasonably equipped as a bouncer.” He pauses. “Although perhaps we should also consider as to what types of patrons we wish to pose? It might make more sense for me to be someone’s escort, depending on where others’ interests and skills lie.”

Zia offers, “Yes, before deciding who should interview, we should make sure to discuss the whole plan. I am obviously perfectly capable of taking the position, but might be better suited to another role. Ooh, I can plan everyone’s clothes for the mission!” she says excitedly.

“Is there any sort of role that requires standing in corners and watching?” Iris looks horrified by Zia’s last statement.

Fianna sighs.

Byron looks at Iris. “I am not too experienced with clubs … but I believe that that is considered predatory behavior in clubs …” he says a little awkwardly

“What about the restaurant, then?” Amy asks, “Could she do it there?”

Marcella nods, pleased to see Hank’s tactical thinking. “Good points. Zia, I think you’d be well-suited to the role of patron. If Hank goes with you, then we won’t be putting all our muscle in one group.” Marcella glances slightly apologetically at Fianna. “Fianna, why don’t you, Iris, and I interview. Iris, I think that as staff, you may be able to observe things a little more freely. Amy and Hulda, would you mind rounding out the patron group?”

“Okay,” Amy says.

“That could work … also, if anyone finds out something that needs to be investigated without being seen, I could do that.” Hulda offers.

“Oh, yes, Hulda, perhaps you could do research on the internet,” Zia offers.

“Of course.”

Byron nods at Amy, “Staring is more acceptable in the restaurant I think as a patron.”

“Yeah, sure. Maybe I can find out something about the kitchen or talk a dead person into spying,” Iris says.

Marcella looks at Byron. “Are you coming with us for this mission?”

Zia thinks for a moment, “We will likely need to be both restaurant and club patrons. We should also contemplate whether there are any guises that will give us more access as needed.”

“… food critic? Health inspector?” Fianna says, shrugging.

“Health inspector is better,” Iris says. “Food critics don’t get to access everything, health inspectors do, just in case, but either way maybe something less high profile.”

Hank pulls out his cellphone and looks up the website for the Iron Nail.

“If someone took that role, they’d need to know enough about restaurant inspections not to sound suspicious, though,” Marcella says.

“Well … the standards are available online and if we have time to research …” Iris suggests.

Zia offers, “I ate at plenty of high class restaurants in Vienna, walked in that crowd. I could probably pull off a food critic as needed.”

“There is also the matter of our being Changelings. The patrons will not notice, but the staff will. Would posing as a critic or inspector not draw undesired attention to ourselves?” Hank asks. “The Queen did specify she wished our investigations to be circumspect.”

“It is easy enough to be a food critic from a different freehold and, I don’t think changelings know everyone in the freehold anyway. Also, I bet we could find a way to make it so if you googled me, I’d come up as a critic, but I’m fine with shelving that idea for the moment,” Zia says.

“Can you be a food critic and still have our store?” Amy asks Zia.

“I’m pretty sure that’s only temporary, Amy,” Iris says.

Zia laughs a little, “Of course! Artists have to eat! And damn, they can be picky.”

Amy nods, satisfied with this answer.

“I think a food critic from another city would work,” Marcella says.

Byron is listening to you all carefully. “That might work nicely! The restaurant has been getting more and more popular lately.” He looks sad for a moment. “I do hope that nothing is wrong … Christian is such a lovely person.”

“The owner?” Iris asks. “What’s he like?”

“Why yes, I’ve known Christian since he came out of the Hedge. The Iron Nail is his life’s work,” Byron replies.

“How long has it been open?” Marcella asks.

Byron thinks and says, “Oh, it’s been open five years or so I think.”

On his phone, Hank finds their hours, their menu, a short biography on their executive chef, and the help wanted ad. Executive Chef: Nandakumar Pallekonda, approx 25 years in the business, Indian and Asian food is his speciality, helped start a wave of “Fusion fever” in Aachen, Known for his highly thoughtful dishes.

Hank reports to the group on what the website says.

“I wonder if the head chef is a changeling too,” Marcella says.

Byron replies, “He’s quiet, intelligent, very skilled in a bit of this and that, highly competent. Oh, yes, Nanda is an Elemental.”

“Fire?” wonders Iris.

“No, he isn’t a fire elemental,” Byron replies.

“So we’re observing patrons and staff … is there anyone who would want to see it shut down?” Iris wonders.

Zia is thinking aloud, “What exactly will we be looking for? Contract use? Things that aren’t right? Signs that humans know magic is there?”

“Contract use seems like something we’d definitely watch out for,” Iris says.

“Well, but that is hard … contracts aren’t visible, only their effects,” Zia replies.

“But the Queen said it’s okay to use some contracts, didn’t she?” Amy asks.

Marcella looks thoughtful. “Well, contract use per se isn’t disallowed. As the Queen said, it’s a fine line between helping their business and exposing changelings to undue risk.”

“How did the Arena check for contracts?” Iris asks.

“Crystals,” Amy responds.

“I think that signs humans know magic is there may be easiest to look for. The reports of suicides related to the establishment are also troubling, and we should keep an eye out for reasons that might have happened,” Marcella says.

“Yeah but if we can figure out what kinds of contracts are used we might be able to figure out what’s going on … and who’s using them,” Iris says. To Amy, she says, “Yes, but how are the crystals set up?”

Byron waves his hands about. “Oh now, that is a very complex system! It took years to plan and create! And the glamour use is so impressive, something that that is difficult to run anywhere outside the hedge. Portable or subtle it is not …”

“Even the Arena crystals can’t tell you what contracts are being used. I think they have a lot more technology and infrastructure than we could set up in a restaurant in a few days,” Marcella agrees.

“Hmm … do you know any ways to detect contract use?” Iris asks Byron.

“We could look for signs of catches, if we are there to observe the contract being activated,” Hank offers. “Especially if we have guesses as to which might be in use.” Hulda decides to look into contract catches.

“I could try asking the plates if they’ve seen anything.” Amy puffs up a bit proudly.

“Would looking for ghosts be useful? I could ask as well,” Iris offers. “I could even ask the suicide victims if I knew who they were.”

“I doubt any of them will be at the restaurant, but maybe if we don’t find enough information there, we can go find them,” Marcella offers.

“Only need to know who they are, then I can try summoning them to ask questions,” Iris shrugs.

“Ohhh, that sounds useful,” Amy says

“Is Christian a member of a Court?” Marcella asks. “Or Pallekonda?”

Byron ponders. “Christian is Winter. Pallekonda is Autumn. They are both members in good standing. Pallekonda in particular is a veteran member of the Autumn Court”

Hank has heard Pallekonda’s name before, and vaguely recalls his name being called at the Autumn swearing ceremony, but otherwise not too much.

Hulda knows that every Court has a set of contracts that deals with their season’s preeminent emotion: desire for Spring, wrath for Summer, fear for autumn, and sorrow for winter.

Iris knows that, like every court, the winter court has two exclusive contract trees. One which causes and manipulates their court’s emotion—in this case sorrow—and one that concerns cold temperatures. Iris’ brows furrow. Winter contract suicides? “Are there any other new employees or people who go there often, belonging to the winter court?” she asks.

Byron considers. “No more than members of any other court. The restaurant is quite well known, even outside the city, and the club is, if anything, more renowned. If anything, Spring courtiers would probably go there more often, since clubs and social events are more in their wheelhouse.”

“So it could be anyone … but I think suicides seem more like winter court, although really I suppose messing with any emotion will have consequences. Could be more than one person too,” Iris says.

Marcella says to the group at large, “So, so far we have me, Fianna, and Iris going in to interview and hopefully getting some back-of-the-house insight into the situation. Zia, Hank, Hulda, and Amy will go to the Iron Nail as patrons, probably in two groups so we can cover both the restaurant and the club.” She glances at the four of them to confirm this. “Zia will be posing as a restaurant critic from another city, and we’ll need to set up something online to back up that story. Does that sound about right to everyone else? What else do we need to plan for?”

With everyone’s heads together, they have a truly awesome plan. Over the next half hour, they all work out A) the interviewees will make contact in different ways times at some point today, referencing the ad that was posted on the bulletin board in the freehold. Iris will call, Fianna and Marcella will go in person at different times. B) Hulda will spend time today acquainting herself with likely catches to keep an eye on. C) Amy and Caesar will go to the club tonight. D) Hank and Zia will research food critic topics, the food critic opinion of the restaurant and recruit someone to help Zia look a respected food critic on the web. They plan to go at the same time, but separately from Hulda the next day. E) Zia, enthusiastically Amy and reluctantly Hulda (for perspective) start figuring out the appropriate dress and accoutrements for everyone’s roles. F) It is discussed that most people not working at the place will go to the club at some point. Hulda reiterates that she can go and look into places where they don’t want to be seen if someone finds out anything interesting.

View
Game 19: A Murder of Parties

Summary

The group goes out drinking with Jonty and discovers that many of them escaped from Arcadia with the help of an unknown force. They speculate whether this could be the Man in the Hedge the Hob Chief referred to during their battle. Later, they have a party together and discuss jobs, housing, and leadership.

Log

After each member of the group picks their weapon or armor as a reward for their last mission, Weaponsmaster Jonty smiles a big yellow grin and says, “And now for the drinking! I’ll take you all to my favorite bar! Behave and don’t ruin my reputation there, okay?”

Marcella grins and claps her hands together. “Sounds good! Let’s go!”

Fianna is still leery about drinking but she will NEVER turn down free food. Iris also may not be sure about the drinking part, but food is food. Amy looks skeptical about the whole thing, but does not protest.

Zia stands and says, “Well, we are already in lovely clothes, so I suppose we can just go.”

Marcella raises an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t want to stain these, what if someone spills?”

“Ah, well, the ones I made will resist such intrusions on their beauty. But, I trust that Weaponsmaster Jonty wouldn’t take us to a seedy bar, now would he?” Zia replies.

“Er…” Iris starts.

Fianna just raises an eyebrow.

Marcella shrugs and discretely pokes her dress, to see if it will indeed ‘resist intrusions on its beauty.’ The dress does not resist the poke.

Jonty raises an eyebrow as well. “Your trust in my bar choices is … comforting … let’s just go …”

“I’m going to change,” Faron says. “If it’s a problem, Jonty, I can meet you there later.”

Faron leaves to change, and 10 minutes later they all meet in the courtyard.

Jonty asks the guards to pull up his car. He has a big black van. It is super creepy looking. After thanking the guard driving it, he opens the van doors and says, “Everybody in!”

Amy waits to see if the others will get in. Marcella raises an eyebrow but climbs in. She still has her sword bag. Iris is suspicious, but she does carry her rifle. Zia goes to the front and get in. Everyone else climbs in.

As they all get in and see the inside of the van, they are … a little bit surprised. The inside of the van is gorgeous polished wood and red velvet upholstered seats. The van seems … slightly larger than it should be? The ceiling is definitely a bit higher than it should be, which they realize is needed for Jonty to fit in a vehicle. What space isn’t windows or seats or floor has mounted weapons. There are seatbelts. He cares about safety.

Hulda blinks. Iris checks to see whether the weapons are secured well. They are, though each has a clasp that one can use to purposefully remove them quickly. Amy does not seem to notice the oddity, but does seem pleased. Marcella’s opinion of Jonty’s taste rises a little bit. Fianna doesn’t say anything, but she absently keeps a hand on the seat’s soft upholstery.

Jonty starts up the car and they drive about 25 minutes away. He drives through a not-so-great neighborhood and he pulls over and says, “We’re here! Everybody out!” He has parked in front of an old building with several shops in it. To the far left is a basement sign that says, Elk Brothers Bar-BYOW.

Marcella grabs her sword bag and gets out, checking the street around them for anyone who might mess with them. Despite the seediness of the area, she does not identify any dangerous people. Fianna gets out, but doesn’t enter. She’s waiting for Jonty to go in first. Amy is doing whatever Fianna does, at the moment. Hulda follows, looking around. Faron eyes the sign, then the weapons on the wall, before hopping out.

Iris gets out and instinctively looks around. She sees that the area around the bar is filled with little shops and a few empty storefronts. About two buildings down it looks like one of the shops caught on fire and instead of fixing it, the store was just boarded up. The air above the building they are about to enter seems … a little lighter somehow. Iris is clutching her rifle but does her best to appear confident. She isn’t sure what to think yet, but she is glad to have the rest of the group with her. She thinks the building looks like magic.

Zia hops out, fluffs her skirt and walks right over to the door. “Let’s get on with this shall we?”

Jonty looks around at all of them waiting for him, locks up his van, and says, “Waiting for me? Where’s the initiative! Amy, go in!”

Amy points to herself, “Me?”

“No, the other person named Amy in this group? It is possible with y’all that you just haven’t shared that …”

Marcella sighs. “Come on everyone, let’s go,” and leads the way in.

Iris feels the sudden urge to point to herself and then attempt to identify everyone else as Amy as well. Must be the nerves.

Fianna gestures to Amy. “C’mon, kiddo,” and goes in.

Iris, Hulda, and Faron follow.

Marcella, Fianna and Amy go in together first. The door’s glass is dirty, but etched with a moose in great detail. They step through into a supremely ugly little anteroom of sorts. A squat man wearing a t-shirt with an elk on it and chainmail bracelets says, “Whaddya want?”

Amy follows Fianna in, attempting to look like an adult. She succeeds slightly, by having a slightly less bouncy demeanor.

Iris’ eye brows rise a bit higher at the chainmail bracelet. Most probably magic, she thinks. A changeing bar then?

Marcella says, “We’re here with Weaponsmaster Jonty. Where do we go to get a beer?”

“Jonty Garrick? Well, that isn’t his rank … but he is good with weapons. I trust he is on his way?” the squat man says.

“He should be right behind us,” Marcella answers. As she says that Jonty and Zia come through the door. Zia on Jonty’s arm like a lady. Jonty’s facial expression is a bit pained. Fianna snickers.

Jonty says, “Rupert! Be a good man and let us in. This group got through their first real competition and deserve a good beer!”

Rupert nods and opens the equally grimy door next to him. “Everyone in, leaving me out here in the dark, unable to drink.”

Iris thinks that she would rather have a sober gatekeeper. Amy thinks that sounds sad.

Once the door is open, light floods the tiny room. Beyond is a gentleman’s hunting lodge with a bar. There are several large roaring fireplaces, plenty of lovely wood, a few stuffed animal heads, and weapons on the walls.

Iris walks in slowly, looking around. All in all, Iris is quite fond of the atmosphere. It reminds her of hunting trips and her family, although the latter still hurts. Her rifle feels oddly fitting.

Marcella strides in. Jonty walks right up to the bar and says, “Eight [insert a good beer here] beers, on me.”

Zia corrects him. “I’ll have scotch instead, thanks.”

Amy looks around at everything, curiously. Fianna looks a bit poleaxed in a ‘how do I liquor’ kind of way.

The bartender smiles, and says, “Of course!” He is the only changeling besides the group that they see. The bar otherwise has about ten patrons in varying levels of dress. They can also hear past a door on the far side the sounds of metal hitting metal.

Iris investigates the stuffed heads. There are two moose, a deer and an antelope head. She is disappointed not to see any boar heads and confused as to the antelope.

Following Jonty to the bar, Marcella grins at him. “Thanks.” She toasts him with her mug when the bartender brings it.

Jonty leads them all to a big table towards the back. He leads a toast, “To your first fights! And none of you died!”

“Hear hear!” Marcella cheers.

Iris grabs her beer, “Prost!”

Hulda grabs a beer and joins in with the toast. Zia raises her glass high.

Amy hesitantly raises her glass in response. She’s glad no one died, but she still feels bad about the fight, and is uncomfortable with and confused about the fact that everyone seems so pleased with her about it.

Faron silently raises his glass. His expression’s very neutral.

Fianna raises her glass, momentarily looks a little lost, takes a deep breath, says “Slàinte,” closes her eyes and takes a big drink. After which she kind of shudders, opens one eye, and relaxes.

Amy drinks her beer, makes a face, then bravely continues drinking.

Iris gets up to go investigate the metal sounds.

Once she’s taken a sip, Marcella raises her glass again to each person at the table in turn. “To Hulda, whose enemies didn’t see her coming. To Faron, who helped out a comrade in a tight spot. To Fianna, who tirelessly defended her friends. To Iris, who watched for danger from above. To Amy, who fought alongside her friends despite her own misgivings. And to Zia, whose innovation helped defend us all.” She takes another drink.

Zia drinks as well. Amy blushes and drinks to that. Hulda blinks, slightly confused. She doesn’t think she did anything worth mentioning, but drinks. Iris is already on her way elsewhere, but she won’t waste good beer. She drinks as well.

“And to Jonty, who helped teach us to defend ourselves. Your training really came in handy,” Marcella grins.

Jonty drinks.

Fianna, who has never drunk before, and does not know that drinking fast is bad, is already quite tipsy. Her accent gets stronger and she begins lapsing into random – and very bad – Gaelic. “And to Marcella, slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!” She looks very pleased with herself.

Amy drinks to what Fianna said. She doesn’t understand it, but feels Marcella should be included.

Marcella blinks. “I appreciate your words, Fianna, but what’s that in English?”

“Oh, wha’ … sorry. It’s traditional. Something like … ‘great health and good blessings.’ Or something. I think. One of my foster mams spoke Gaelic fluidly … fluently. She used to teach us. Never was much good at it. Sounds nice, though don’ it?”

“Ah,” Marcella blushes a bit, “then thanks very much.”

“Nah a problem.”

As Iris walks towards the door with the metal sounds, one of the other people drinking, a tall, slender man, stops her and says, “Sorry m’am, but the weapons room is only open to an initiate of the Elk Brotherhood. It is a place where those of us without space in our apartments can practice.”

“The Elk Brotherhood?”

“The Elk Brotherhood is the group that runs this bar. We are a proud brotherhood who keep alive the ways of weapons from centuries past!” he says and puffs out his chest a little bit.

Iris makes a mental note. “Ohh I see, thank you.” She returns to the group, still a bit puzzled.

Zia sits back and enjoys her scotch. She turns to Hulda and says, “Hulda, how did you feel about our recent mission?”

“It went ok … although I still have a lot of questions …” she trails off.

Zia replies to Hulda, “A lot of questions?”

“Who is the Man in the Hedge? What is he doing/giving the hobs to have them react the way they did? Why did Armin have the hob change the crystal? Was it just to ensure that Whisper John would win or was it something more? And what will happen to Armin and to the hobs now?”

Iris nods at Hulda’s questions.

Jonty finishes his beer and calls for another round, figuring someone will drink them.

When the new round is called Amy frowns into her drink, takes a deep breath, downs it, and takes a new one.

Fianna grabs another beer. “You know, I was afraid I was going to burn up, but this is actually really good!” Fianna takes another long drink.

Amy giggles at Fianna.

Iris would rather not get drunk too quickly and as such sticks to her own half emptied beer for the time being.

Marcella nods at Hulda’s questions. “That Man in the Hedge concerned me, too. And I’m afraid we’ve made ourselves an enemy in Armin Leadenfingers.”

Zia leans back, sipping her scotch some more, about halfway through it. “Those are good questions. I add to them, why are we all here? I’m from Vienna, I saw it so briefly, but I ended up here. Only Iris should be in Aachen right now at all. Is the Man in the Hedge connected to that?”

“I wonder who we might ask apart from the library. And what to do about Armin. What does he want and why?” Iris asks.

“Yes, I wondered that too,” Marcella agrees with Zia. “Could he be the sentience that seems to be controlling the Hedge?”

Jonty, having now had 1.5 beers to no effect, nods at the group’s musings. “The Man in the Hedge, now that is a myth or maybe something new? There are always tales about a beasty of the Hedge taking power or something left by the Fae, or even a Fae expelled from Arcadia by its brethren trying to build up a base there.”

“My friends, the foxes, thought something might be controlling the Hedge.” Amy volunteers to Jonty.

Iris has an idea. She turns to Amy. " Do you think the Hedgefoxes might know?"

Fianna raises an eyebrow at Jonty. “Expelled? You mean there could be fae jus’ walkin’ around out here?”

Iris shivers at the idea.

Marcella shivers a bit, then looks over at Fianna. “You may want to slow down a bit, there, Fianna. These are your first drinks after getting out, aren’t they?”

“First drink ever,” Fianna said. “Alcohol was too expensive. Hell, milk was too expensive.” She doesn’t say anything about slowing down, but she does put her drink back on the table.

Jonty knocks back the rest of his drink. “We don’t really understand how the Fae work, or at least, the likes of me don’t. But we know that other Fae have a way of stripping Fae of power or exiling them to our world, which sucks for them.”

“How would one control the Hedge?” Iris wonders.

Amy shrugs, “Same way one would control the weather?”

Zia offers her extra scotch to Fianna, “Wanna try this?”

“…what is it? Doesn’t look like the beer,” asks Fianna.

Marcella cautions Fianna, “That stuff’s much stronger than the beer.”

“It is scotch, very tasty. Meant for sipping.” Zia answers.

Jonty calls for another drink for himself. Marcella finishes her first beer and reaches for a second from the new round Jonty ordered for the table.

“Scotch! Me too!” Fianna gives the very first actually honest, non-cynical smile they have ever seen her give, and her face just lights up. She takes the glass and sips, and smiles again. “Now I can see why me mam liked it so much.”

Zia smiles and says, “Happy to share.”

Jonty answers Iris, “Anyone just by being in the Hedge controls it a little bit. Your path in the Hedge you have walked is marked by subtle changes determined by your kith. You can fight in a Hedge duel by controlling the Hedge. But a mass control of a whole part of the Hedge? Now that is hard, maybe impossible. I don’t think a changeling or anything born of the Hedge that I know of could do it.”

Marcella shivers again at what Jonty said. Iris nods slowly. She is not at all comfortable with the idea and will need to do more research.

Amy frowns, “Not our Keepers, or we would have never made it home.” She frowns, and looks up and to the side, remembering something, “I think…” She frowns.

Marcella looks at Amy. “You think what?”

Amy frowns at Marcella, troubled. “I think that we would have never made it home.” In a very quiet voice she continues, “Unless we got away on purpose…”

Faron laser-focuses on Amy. Hulda looks over at Amy, thinking over what she said.

Marcella grips her mug tightly, but shakes her head. “Remember what Jonty said. Some of them are exiled. Even if it was … one of Them, they don’t all work together. Something like that would have no reason to keep us in Arcadia.”

"Y’know…"Fianna says in a drunk-pensive voice, “the only reason I got away is because some giant Hedge plants destroyed The Observatory.”

“Vine like things?” Hulda inquires.

“… Yes … vine-like things," Iris concurs.

Zia looks notably upset. “I know that the Keepers can form alliances with each other … who says there wasn’t an alliance among our Keepers …”

“Yeah … big ropey things with thorns as long as my arm …” Fianna elaborates.

“Sounds about right,” Iris says.

Marcella looks at Fianna, feeling slightly sick all of a sudden. “Then again … there was no reason I should have been able to move all of a sudden the day I escaped.”

“There was this mirror … and my Keeper acted differently from ever before. He left us on the floor, so we got away,” Amy says. “And then the house was broken.”

“The house was broken?” asks Marcella.

“Yeah. When I got out a big chunk was missing. We thought maybe that was why our Keeper left us on the floor and moving. The others thought he probably didn’t break his own house, so that’s weird.”

“So … something wanted us to escape,” Iris concludes. “Something that’s controlling the Hedge. the hobs call it a Man in the Hedge. But why?”

“The Observatory broke … and it was set to a constellation I recognized …” Fianna has put down her drink entirely and looks a bit stricken.

Marcella looks pissed.

Zia offers, “The runes on my bonds were scraped away at key points and someone I thought loyal to my Keeper woke me in the middle of the night and told me to leave. Those runes were unbreakable … trust me … I … tried.”

“And why would it want us to be here in Aachen?” wonders Hulda.

“It’s an old town,” Iris says. “Is there anything unusual about the Courts or the Hedge here?”

Fianna looks up. “Old places are important in all the folk stories I remember from when I was little.”

“And it’s something that worked against our Keepers … but that doesn’t mean it’s on our side. Did anything happen here we might not know about?” Iris says. “Who or what might be anchored to this place?”

Hulda and Iris know that Aachen has been inhabited for a long time, since even before the Romans came. The city is known for being the coronation place of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Romans favored it for its hot springs, which are still in operation today.

Iris knows the fun fact that in the 18th centuries Aachen was very popular since it had lots of high-class prostitution. Iris decides a lot of research is required.

Hulda knows that there a myth about spirits/gods of the hot springs, as well as more recently a lot of ghost stories after the World Wars. Over the centuries, lots of myth/ghost stories have built up about Charlemagne’s burial and shrine. Hulda wants to go spend more time in the library working on this.

Amy hesitates. “Zia … did your Keeper … look like you? With the colors? Sorry for asking.”

Zia knocks back the rest of her scotch. “Yes, she is the Maker of Rainbows. She made me.”

“I think I saw her. She played games with my keeper, sometimes. She was with him the last time he had guests before I got away …”

“I heard my Keeper and some of his … dinner guests talking about how one of them had recently lost something. Looking back on it, it sounded like a Changeling who had escaped. She looked like a woman and kept changing outfits, ones from all different Earth mythologies and cultures. That was right before I escaped,” Marcella says. “I wonder if it could be related to the seasons,” she adds.

“There was also a wintery guy and a tree guy,” Amy adds.

“There was an ice queen with my keeper and the mythology woman that day,” Marcella says.

“There are many different ancient ties to Aachen, reaching back to Roman times. There are lots of stories and legends about Aachen, but I would need to research more to try to rule anything out from being Fae influences,” Hulda says.

Iris nods slowly. “Pre-Roman too.”

Zia listens to Hulda carefully. “That would be ideal. I would greatly like to know what any Fae would want with Aachen.” She calls for some more scotch.

Amy has finished her second beer and mutters, “No reason I should have been able to move …” She gets up, walks over to Marcella, and holds out a hand. “Let’s dance.”

Marcella blinks, but plunks her beer down on the table and stands. “Sure, sounds good to me.”

Fianna notices there is no music, and, still drunk, begins singing ‘Loch Lomond.’ Her voice is a clear, bell-tone, and it is really, really good.

Marcella doesn’t recognize the tune, but starts dancing with Amy.

Amy is dancing, and reveling in the shear joy of movement. Marcella catches her mood and looks almost joyful for once, too.

Hulda is thinking about what she needs to research and what in order she should do it. Iris is doing the same.

Zia is drinking her scotch and watching them dance. “Hulda, would you like to dance?”

Hulda hesitantly nods and gets up. Zia grabs Hulda’s hands and dances gracefully with her.

The group enjoys the rest of their evening out. Jonty gets all of them home without incident, regardless of their state of inebriation. On the way out of the van, a rather drunk Amy tells Jonty, “You’re not such a jerk after all.”

Jonty smiles down, the red liquid dripping down his cap a bit. “That is quite a compliment.”


Zia spearheads a movement to organize a party a few days later and gets the group a rather nice hall in the freehold. There is cake and food and alcohol and music. Before the party, Marcella invites the group to come meet her chess board buddies. She leads the group down to a workshop in the freehold. Zia looks around curiously at the tools in the shop.

There is a rather complex setup with a tv and a picture slideshow. Around 30 chess pieces, both ebony and ivory, are intermingled in clumps watching the tv and the slideshow. They are about 2 inches tall, and all chatting with each other. There are also a few fencing figurines, which are closer to a foot tall. The conversation drops off as everyone enters the workshop.

“Hey everyone!” Marcella says cheerfully. “I thought I’d finally do introductions. This is the group I’ve been doing missions with for the freehold. Guys, these are my comrades-in-arms.” She goes around and introduces everyone by name.

Iris watches them with open curiosity. She comes off as a bit disconcerting.

Amy’s eyes go really wide and she rushes over to them. “Hello, I’m Amy. Some of you are even smaller than I was! This is my friend.” She holds up her doll. “I don’t know his name. He can’t move or talk. Could you teach him how?"

None of the pieces are moving anything except their mouths and eyes. An ivory piece that sounds like an old woman clucks at her. “Ach, now, girlie, afraid we can’t do that. We’ve always been able to talk, the trick will be gettin’ us big and moving our arms and legs, like our lady Marcella up there. Nice to meet your friend, though,” she allows. There is a chorus of greetings as more pieces say hello to Amy.

Amy looks disappointed, “Oh. Well, thank you anyway.” She brightens, “It’s nice to meet you all.”

Faron nods to them, but doesn’t say anything. Hulda politely introduces herself, and says hi to the pieces. Iris catches herself staring, waves and says hello.

One of the younger-sounding pieces is giggling and whispering, and they can catch Faron’s name a few times in what she’s saying.

Fianna introduces herself, nicely – for her – and is particularly respectful to the older woman.

“Glad you finally brought them to see us, Marcella,” grumps a man. “Beginning to think you were leaving us here to gather cobwebs away from your new life.” There’s a chorus of ‘Oh shut up, Dumar’s that follow this.

Zia has already met them, as examining them was part of the price for making Marcella her bag.

Iris looks to see if any of the chess set is missing, and notices it is complete except for the ivory queen.

Marcella rolls her eyes at Dumar and ignores him. “These guys love company, so feel free to come visit them any time. The freehold is working hard on figuring out how to help them become full size again, but in the meantime they watch lots of tv and gossip with each other,” she teases.

Iris’s brows furrow. “Marcella, why aren’t you like them?”

“Because she could move, obviously.” Amy retorts.

Marcella’s mouth twists a bit. “Remember what I said at the bar with Jonty? I could just suddenly start moving one day. As soon as I got off the table, I became full size again. They still haven’t been able to replicate whatever happened to me the day we escaped.”

“Hmm … so we’re back to the beginning then,” Iris says.

“Afraid I got no insight on why,” Marcella says lightly.

“We could get the mirror, but it only works if you can move, so it probably wouldn’t help.” Amy says.

“That does sound intriguing, but if it’s back in Arcadia, it’s not going to do us much good here,” Marcella agrees.

Iris shrugs. “We need to find whoever is controlling the Hedge. I wonder how they’re connected to Armin.”

“I don’t expect them to be connected to Armin … I think Armin was out for himself,” Zia offers.

Amy cocks her head, having not thought that the person controlling the Hedge might be connected to Armin before.

“Yes, I agree with Zia,” Marcella says. “His vested interest was in Whisper John, not whatever’s going on with the Hedge.”

“You never know. But the Hedge is more important,” Iris says.

“All right, let’s leave these guys to their soaps and head upstairs,” Marcella adds. She quickly queues up a bunch of DVDs for them in their makeshift movie theater setup, then leads the way out of the workshop. “Night everyone!” she calls as she leaves.

Faron nods goodbye to them again before leaving.

The party hall is awash in cheerful decorations of every color … though all are tastefully appointed and match beautifully in a kind of chaotic harmony.

Amy bounces around the party hall, happily looking at everything, and stopping to chat with every member of the group. She walks over to Iris, plate of cake in hand. “This cake is good. Have you had any cake, Iris? Here, I’ll get you some." Amy runs off to get Iris a piece of cake, without waiting for an answer.

“Oh … thanks. I just keep thinking …” Iris takes a piece and a bite. “Mmf but it is good cake.”

Marcella compliments Zia on the decorations.

“Why thank you Marcella! You should also thank Amy, she helped.” Zia replies.

“I’ll be sure to tell her,” Marcella grins. She follows Amy to the cake. “Zia said you helped with the decorations, Amy. They look great.”

Amy beams at Marcella. “Thank you! It was fun. I like decorating. And parties.”

Zia takes a nice big helping of salad and a moderately sized helping of fruit. Then adds on another plate a massive pile of sweets. Drink in hand, she settles herself in at the table.

Amy gets cake for anyone who hasn’t grabbed some for themselves, clearly of the opinion that everyone should have cake. Zia had all the sweets but the cakes, so now she has cake.

Marcella makes herself a drink, then starts going around asking what people want and making them drinks, too. Fianna takes a bit of everything, and a glass of milk. Hulda takes a small selection of everything so she can try it all and then joins Zia at the table.

Once everyone has cake, Amy grabs a selection of other sweets for herself, and joins them at the table. Fianna mumbles something about there being more chocolate in this room than she can ever remember seeing, and is happily eating. Iris is attracted to the sweets as well, but is overall even quieter.

“Seriously, this is amazing, Zia and Amy!” Marcella exclaims.

“Mmmf,” Iris agrees. Hulda nod in agreement, happily eating the tasty food.

Iris swallows. “I feel weird celebrating now, but it looks great. And it’s tasty.”

Amy looks proud, “It’s always a good time to celebrate. Because … because …” she trails off, struggling to find the words for what she wants to convey.

“Because we’re free,” Marcella says. Amy smiles at Marcella and nods, deciding that is close enough.

“Something I learned a long time ago … take your happiness when you can,” Fianna says, taking a second helping of sweets. Marcella raises a glass to that.

Amy does too. “Both those things. Together. That’s why.” Zia drinks to that.

“I guess. Maybe I just need more to drink.” Iries goes looking for stronger liquor. There are a variety of liquor choices, ranging from hard liquors to wine and beer to girly drinks. She chooses absinthe. Marcella, Hulda, and Amy all get girly drinks. Fianna experimentally pours some Bailey’s into her milk, and looks satisfied with the results.

“So … anyone thought much about what the Queen said to us a few days ago? I guess we should all be looking for jobs and things now,” Marcella says.

Zia smiles, “Well, I could start crafting, put my shop back on Etsy … or a shop back on Etsy …”

Amy sighs. “I’ve thought and thought, but I don’t know what I’m good at. I can act, and I think I could make things good, but I don’t have any tools.” She looks at Zia. “What’s Etsy?”

“Amy, I could help you, we could share a workspace or something!” Zia says. “Etsy is an online marketplace for independent crafters.”

Iris sighs as well. “No idea what I’m good at. Snooping around? Shooting? I don’t think I can offer correspondence with the dead and not attract attention. I also don’t think snooping around makes for a real job.”

“Oh!” Amy beams at Zia, “Really Zia? Could we do that? I think that sounds like so much fun. You could be a spy, Iris. Like James Bond!”

Marcella looks thoughtful. “Well, some people do making a living out of that …”

“It might not support us initially … that kind of thing takes awhile to get going … If I … reclaim who I was … I could probably make money faster but …” Zia says. “The seamstresses of the freehold have offered me a job as well.”

“Oh, that’s lucky,” Marcella says to Zia.

“I think spies work for governments though. And I’m not sure anyone would trust me to do things,” Iris says. She still looks glum.

Fianna looks pensively at her drink. “I’d like to do something that doesn’t involve fighting. I mean, I’m not against fighting. I enjoy it sometimes. But my life has revolved around violence for as long as I can remember. Might be nice to have an escape from that. Problem is, I don’t think I’m good at anything else.”

“If I can reclaim my old life, I could be a librarian or researcher, maybe something at a college or university … finishing my studies seems odd now …” Hulda says.

Iris stares at her third drink. “Hmm … I like being on my own and walking. Maybe I could be a ranger [forester].” She then grins. “But hunting is more fun.”

“There’s plenty of jobs you can do that don’t involve fighting,” Marcella protests to Fianna. “What about a shopkeeper? Retail work may not be interesting, but it’s at least quiet.”

“Fianna, you sang so well! You could become a singer! Maybe they have some Irish bars around here that would like live music!” Zia says.

“…I’m Scottish,” Fianna says flatly.

“So?” Iris asks.

“They won’t know the difference,” Zia replies.

“I’m sure they won’t mind Scottish music either way,” Iris agrees.

Fianna makes a half-offended half-exasperated looks and begins muttering about the differences between Scotland and Ireland.

Zia contemplates, “I don’t know Hulda, you should probably see if you have a fetch, but how close were you to finishing your degree?”

“I was pretty close, but … studying the mythology of the underworld seems odd now that I know that it, or at least Arcadia, is real,” Hulda says.

“But it can’t hurt to finish and in the process, be able to function in the real world with your degree,” Zia ignores Fianna.

“Where were you studying?” Marcella asks Hulda. “Were you in college?”

“You know … I’d love to go there. The Underworld, that is,” Iris muses.

“… Trying to find the underworld is what got me into this mess …” Hulda says to Iris.

“Oh, sorry. Um … I guess I’ll just shut up then,” Iris says, chagrined.

“Singing is also what got me into my version of ‘this mess,’ but I’ll be damned if I stop because of it,” Fianna says.

“It’s all right. I was a graduate student, Marcella, studying myths and legends and trying to figure out their basis in reality,” Hulda answers.

Marcella wrinkles her nose. “People can study that in college?”

“I did. It was fun and I traveled a lot.”

“Huh. That sounds pretty cool I guess.”

“People can get a masters at beer studies here, brewery science they call it,” Iris says.

“You can study just about anything in college. I studied art and history, then applied art,” Zia says.

“Sounds like fun,” Marcella says a little wistfully. “I sucked at school though.”

“You could go back, I could help if you wanted …” Hulda offers.

Marcella wrinkles her nose. “I dunno, there’s a lot to make up between where I left off and college … I only made it through fourth grade.”

Amy looks at Marcella, surprised, “Really? I thought you were older than that.”

“I … finished S1 [sixth grade],” Fianna says a little sheepishly.

“I was in first grade,” Amy adds.

“I finished high school, I suppose I could go to university,” Iris says.

Marcella smiles at Amy. “I am now, but I was only ten when I got taken. Still older than you, though.”

“Not so much older. Only four years.” Amy playfully sticks her tongue out. Marcella sticks out her tongue back.

“I finished S1 when I was twelve … but I wasn’t taken until I was fifteen,” Fianna adds. The implied ‘and I didn’t go to school for three years’ is carefully not mentioned.

Marcella looks at Fianna thoughtfully when she says that, remembering the ‘whole life has been about fighting’ comment from a minute ago.

“Well if anyone wants tutoring or anything, just ask,” Hulda offers.

“Sounds interesting,” Iris comments.

“Oh, me! Oh, me!” Amy waves her hand in the air. “I do.”

“Thanks Hulda,” Marcella says. “Not sure I can take that much more formal studying, but there probably are a few things I should learn.”

“Maybe I could learn more science,” Fianna says wistfully. “I liked science.”

“Well, for starters, some of us were taken too young to have some of the education basics … perhaps we should work on basic math and writing and German as a group!” Zia proposes. “I could teach Fianna!”

“I hated math,” Marcella says with a shudder.

“I could teach German,” Iris offers.

“Yes, that would be really useful for everyone to know German,” Marcella agrees. Amy nods in agreement with Marcella.

“Math is needed for a lot of jobs, at least the basics,” Zia points out.

“I didn’t mind math,” Iris says.

“I bet bouncers don’t need to know math,” Marcella mutters.

“They do need to know German though,” Iris says to Marcella.

“I can do addition and subtraction and stuff,” Amy volunteers.

“Yeah, I can do that much,” Marcella agrees with Amy.

“… it would be nice to be able to talk to more people. Do you know how many times my accent has caused miscommunications around here?” Fianna grumps. “Just because my English is different from their English …”

“That’s good Amy. You’ll need it for our craft business if we do that. We could probably start getting that together soon if we wanted. It will take awhile to make us real money, so we should do it before we start having rent and everything,” Zia says.

Faron is at the party but not saying much, and texting on his phone quite a bit.

Iris leans over to spy at Faron’s phone. Marcella thinks Iris is being rude, but doesn’t say anything. He’s holding it pretty close. She can’t really see much without leaning over his shoulder/obviously in his personal space.

“Yeah, living arrangements are a whole ’nother kettle of fish,” Marcella sighs.

“I can definitely help with math and maybe research in general so that people can look things up that interests them,” Hulda says.

Amy nods at Zia. “What should we make? I know how clay works really well,” she looks momentarily disturbed, but shrugs her shoulders to shake it off, “and I bet I could do other things too.”

“I could just kill my fetch … but I look different now” Iris says. She sighs. “Need help with the crafting? I’m sure I can do something … maybe …”

Marcella glances quickly at Faron and says to Iris, “Yeah, I don’t exactly look 12 any more.” Faron has stopped texting and pocketed the phone at the mention of fetches.

“It’s weird to think I’m actually twenty-eight …” Fianna murmurs.

“Yeah, I have no idea how long I was in there,” Marcella says to Fianna pensively. “I probably look 23 now, something like that? That’s what my new birth certificate says, anyway.”

“Well, you are welcome to contribute things! That way our advertising and things can benefit you too!” Zia proposes to Iris. “What can you make?” she asks.

“Furs … I can butcher something and I’m decent at calligraphy. I guess I can sew too, my mum made me learn it,” Iris says. “I guess I’ve seen people do taxidermy too, but I don’t have a lot of experience.”

Zia pauses, “Maybe not taxidermy … that is a little … not the image I was going for … but the calligraphy and sewing could be useful.”

“I should probably talk to someone here about getting a new identity,” Fianna says.“Hell, I could probably use my same name. If I had a fetch, it’s almost certainly dead by now.”

“I need to check on if I had a fetch …” Hulda says.

“I was planning on perhaps starting with a line of fine writing instruments and a line of elegant pottery,” Zia explains.

“I suppose I should get a new identity too,” Iris says.

Suddenly Marcella sits up and sets her drink down hard. “Oh, before I forget and everyone gets too drunk … we should talk about the other thing the Queen said.” Marcella looks slightly awkward as she says, “We should talk about who we want our leader to be.”

“You are our leader, aren’t you, Marcella?” says Amy.

“Oh that’s easy,” Fianna says. “I vote you. Another drink? I’m getting up anyway.”

Hulda nods in agreement with Amy and Fianna.

“Hmm … I have some experience when it comes to the writing implements, but more using them rather than making them,” Iris muses.

“I want one. Yes, please.” Amy answers Fianna, pleased with the fruity, girly drinks.

Iris nods. “You end up leading anyway.”

Marcella blushes, which looks a little weird with her ivory skin. “Well, okay, that was simpler than I thought it would be. Uh, I’d be happy to be leader, if you guys want me to be.”

Zia ignores the leadership conversation for now. “Ooh, well, we could offer calligraphy services as well.”

“Or maybe forgery …” Iris suggests. Iris, not entirely sober, grins.

Marcella continues being slightly embarrassed into her drink for a minute.

“We can’t advertise forgery Iris …” Zia admonishes.

“Imitation?” Iris suggests.

“Oh, speaking of forgery and new identities, you can all talk to Mariska Flickfinger if you want new identities. It’s pretty expensive for a really good one, but she does good work.” Marcella perks back up when she has something to contribute.

Fianna makes her best attempt at mixing a drink for Amy.

“That is acceptable I suppose. We need to establish an image for our store. I think that Caesar should be our leader. He has a good head on his shoulders.” Zia offers.

“He never talks though. I don’t really trust him,” Iris says.

“He usually talks sense when he does talk, though,” Marcella says seriously.

Iris shrugs. “Maybe … but still.”

“Well, Marcella, why should you be our leader?” Zia says with a smile.

Marcella rolls her eyes a bit at Zia’s interview-like question, but smiles. “Well, the Queen said the leader was supposed to be an equal with the rest of the team, who mostly directed battles. I probably have the most battle experience of all of us, or at least leadership in battles,” she glances at Fianna. “I’m also pretty good at talking to people, as I’ve hopefully shown on our missions so far.”

“And how will you deal with it when the group doesn’t agree with you?” Zia asks

Marcella looks thoughtful. “Depends on the situation. If it’s a life-or-death situation where one person needs to make a decision in the moment, I’ll assume I’m the person who will make the call and expect you all to follow me. Otherwise, probably put it to a vote. I don’t do autocracy,” she says rather forcefully. “Obviously, in the case of a vote, everyone could explain their own opinion, and hopefully I’d persuade people that my way was the one that made the most sense. But if everyone disagreed, I wouldn’t try and force people to do what I say.”

“Auto-what? What do cars have to do with this?” Fianna asks. Iris sighs.

“I’m not a dictator,” Marcella re-translates.

“And if you were our leader, what changes would you make? How would you make us stronger?” Zia asks. “I wouldn’t expect you to be a dictator. I have gotten you drunk,” she adds.

“I hope we can get stuff like combat formation and combat responsibilities down,” Iris says. “Who gets to protect who and all that. And what we should target primarily.”

“I think we should start doing combat practice. Hopefully we won’t get into many more dangerous situations, but we should be prepared for the next one.” Marcella nods at what Iris is saying. “Exactly.”

Amy giggles, “She’s not running for prime minister, Zia.”

“Thank fuck,” Marcella mutters when Amy says that.

“Maybe we should take part in those games as a team …” Iris muses. Iris doesn’t quite sound sober.

“I don’t like fighting,” Amy says.

“Ideally, I would think we would all be able to protect ourselves,” Fianna says. “Knowing weaknesses in combat is good … but you want to minimize your weaknesses and exploit your opponents.”

“Along with the combat training, we should talk about what contracts and abilities everyone has, how best to use them to the group’s advantage, both in and out of combat,” Marcella continues.

“Before we discuss involvement in the Summer Games … let us settle this, Iris,” Zia says, patting her.

Marcella looks at Fianna and Amy and says, “Yeah, maybe those of us who want to participate can make a group, but I don’t think it needs to be all of us.”

Iris grumbles.

“Acceptable plan. I reserve my vote until I speak with Caesar regarding his plan, or of course, he may not wish to be a leader,” Zia says and eats some sweets.

Marcella nods, “Of course.” Since it looks like Zia’s done for the moment, Marcella turns to Iris. “So, thinking of participating in the Games, then?”

“Only if I don’t get hurt.” She grins … Iris is not sober.

Marcella is still on her first drink, and frowns a bit. “I don’t know exactly what the matches are like, but they probably don’t guarantee that. We should definitely find out more details before anyone decides to participate.”

“I bet they have some sort of sharpshooting competition,” Fianna muses.

“Ohhh I’d love to have a go at that,” Iris says.

Amy blinks at her drink, “I feel dizzy.”

“Have you been drinking water, Amy?” Marcella asks automatically. “Make sure you have enough to eat along with your drinks.”

“Like I’ve been spin spin spinning!” Amy switches from giddy to petulant, “I don’t need water. I have a drink already. And you’re not my mom, Marcella.”

“No, Amy … water keeps you from getting sick. I learned that the hard way. It’s good advice,” Fianna says.

Marcella rolls her eyes. “Suit yourself, but don’t come crying to me when you’re hungover in the morning.”

“Amy, don’t you want to do crafty things with me tomorrow? If you have a hangover, that might be hard.” Zia hands her a glass of water.

“Water keeps me from getting … sick?” She takes the glass from Zia, looking skeptical. “Like apples? Why do people say that, anyway? Apples aren’t magic.” She looks considering, “Are they?”

“Umm … kinda … Being hydrated helps you not be super dehydrated later,” Zia says. “In this world, no, apples are not generally magic,” she adds.

“Little more of a direct relationship there,” Marcella says, amused.

“My knife is an apple. It is magic. It doesn’t keep you from getting sick, though. It’s a knife.” Amy holds up her plant-like knife, fumbles it a bit, and blushes. “Whoops. I’m gonna put this away now.” She puts her knife away.

Marcella looks ready to grab the knife out of Amy’s hand if she starts to slip, and looks relieved when she puts it away.

“So, we’ve talked about jobs! Anyone thinking about where to live?” Zia asks.

’Uhhhh …" Fianna looks stumped.

“Depends on what I can afford,” Marcella shrugs.

“We could get a student flat,” Iris suggests.

“What’s that?” Marcella asks.

“Something cheap we could rent together. There are a lot of students here,” Iris answers.

“Could we live in the Hedge? I like the Hedge,” Amy asks.

“So we could do as they do, they don’t have a lot of money either. Or that, but how do you get a house there?” Iris asks Amy.

“Um … I dunno.” Amy looks stumped, “Build one? Weave one! With dreams!”

“I don’t know how easy it is to live in the Hedge, but I suspect it is a little dangerous. Amy, maybe you could ask the foxes,” Zia offers. “The woman who taught me how to craft in the Hedge might be able to offer some assistance as well,” she follows up with. “We should probably start with a real world home though.”

“Awww, ok,” Amy says.

“Yeah, it’s good to know our options, but I’d like more information about the Hedge,” Marcella agrees. “Well, I don’t need much in a living space, a student flat might work for me,” Marcella shrugs.

“I would like a craft room and a good kitchen and lots of closet space,” Zia says.

“I am used to living in small, unfurnished spaces. I don’t need much,” Fianna says. “Though, it might be nice to learn how to cook.”

“I would like a bed,” Amy says, seriously.

Marcella looks slightly concerned. “Oh yeah … cooking … I remember how to make pasta from a box, I think?”

“I used to help Mommy cook sometimes,” Amy remembers.

Zia takes a breath. “I know how to cook fairly well … I can teach people if they want …”

“And I ate food from convenience stores. I just want to be able to make something that’s not vacuum sealed and prepackaged,” Fianna says.

“That would be nice, Zia,” Marcella says. “I never got to cook for myself much.”

“Certainly. I don’t know, do we really alllll want to live with each other? Maybe two nearby houses would be better … that way we can have at least two kitchens, two bathrooms, no one needing to share a bedroom …” Zia offers.

“… my own bedroom?” Fianna’s voice is very quiet.

Marcella looks slightly confused at Fianna. “Well, yeah, of course people would want their own bedrooms.”

“I can cook …” Iris offers. “Student flats usually have a common room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a few bedrooms, that’s why I thought it might fit.”

“Hmm, that might work … I’d kinda like a house. More space …” Zia says.

“Everyone gets their own room I hope,” Iris agrees. “Houses are expensive though.”

Marcella nods sagely, though she doesn’t really have any idea how much this stuff costs.

“True … we can investigate I guess … In any case, I think we should live in more than one apartment or house …” Zia says.

“Yeah, everyone living all together might start feeling pretty crowded,” Marcella agrees. “I guess we can see what’s out there,” she shrugs.

Hulda offers no opinions about where they should live. Amy is no longer paying attention to the conversation, and is looking off into the distance thoughtfully.

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