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.
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.
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.”
“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.