Rites of the Spring Horn

Game 18: Battle with the Hobs

Summary

The group fights and defeats the Hob Chief and his men. After binding their wounds, they return to the Court and report to the Queen. She is pleased with the results of their mission and progress as a team, and rewards the group for their efforts. She also tells them to choose a leader, to start thinking about finding jobs and places to live, and to consider whether they wish to become a true motley. Weaponsmaster Jonty decides to take them out drinking.

Log

The hobs are poised to attack. Marcella is at the front, Amy and Fianna are to her right and bit back, Faron and Caesar are behind Marcella, Zia and Iris are behind them to the center, and Hulda is behind them. There are two spear-holders behind the group, between them and the door. Two hobs armed with daggers are in front of them with the Chief, and unseen, two archers are on the balcony above. One of them shoots an arrow at the group.

The arrow barely misses Amy. The Hob Chief smiles and says, “We won’t let you leave here alive! All you changelings, you’re the same! The Man in the Hedge is right, nothing can change. But we can do this, we can kill you all!” As he cackles angrily at them, his wife takes a deep breath and calmly leads her children out of the room. The kids look back at the group. One sticks out his tongue, the other is crying quietly.

Fianna shifts automatically into fighting mode. She uses a contract, and her effective strength rises dramatically. She moves forward.

Amy frowns angrily. Kill them all? Nu-uh. Not happening. She looks at her options, before choosing Hulda as the most likely one to have what she wants, and reaches into her dreams. Amy summons a thick fog that blankets the room to obscure the group from the archers. The fog seems to be flecked with little red lights and is a bit dizzying to look at.

Zia takes a step towards Amy and Caesar, facing the two spear-wielding enemies. She then takes out the trusty tool and begins to mutter at it. Zia and the trusty tool make a laser gun, the handle of the tool being the handle of the gun.

Red Dagger stabs Marcella in the torso. Blue Dagger makes a successful attack on Fianna. Purple Spear smiles widely and stabs Hulda in the side. Orange Spear stabs Faron.

The Chief smiles widely at the success of his men. “Kill them! Kill them all! Take back the Hedge! Spare the Hedge from their controlling poisonous influence! The Hedge must be liberated!”

Hulda concentrates and uses a contract to blind the purple spearman. He doesn’t drop the weapon but he is CONFUSED.

Red Archer aims for Marcella, and instead shoots Red Dagger. Red Dagger squawks and is confused.

Marcella unsheathes her sword and concentrates, spending glamor to generate bone armor using her kith ability.

Iris draws her weapon and gets ready to dodge if needed.

Out of nowhere, an arrow flies through the smoke and plunges into Amy’s thigh.

Fianna throws a punch at Blue Dagger and hits really hard, doing lethal damage.

Amy uses the same contract as before, and five colorful balls appear on the ground near her. She grins darkly, and gingerly gathers them up. She throws one as hard as she can at the Hob Chief. The ball hits him in the knee and breaks open. The acid does aggravated damage.

Zia holds the laser pistol in her hands and brings it up. The pistol swerves in her hands to target the nearest person, Blue. “Hey, that’s our friend!” The Trusty Tool cackles. “OOOOOhkay! this baby can auto target! Woohoooooooo,” and the pistol swerves towards Purple Spear.

Red Dagger attacks Marcella again, only to have his dagger bounce off her bone armor. He looks at it, puzzled. Blue Dagger makes another stab at Fianna and misses. Orange Spear stabs at Faron for one point of damage and manages a shallow hit.

Meanwhile, Purple Spear is turning his spear back and forth, then he valiantly attacks Hulda once again. Purple Spear pushes past his fear and successfully jabs in the right direction, hitting Hulda hard despite his temporary blindness.

Meanwhile the Hob Chief is in a lot of pain and he is angry! Screaming invectives, he leaps down from his chair, crumples a bit as he hits the ground, and moves to attack Amy.

Faron deals a critical hit to Orange Spear. Hulda painfully moves away from the hob trying to kill her. She eats another eyeball, and attempts to blind the Hob Chief, but fails.

Red Archer takes a shot at Marcella. The arrow bounces off Marcella’s crown and hits the hob attacking her. He yelps, looks over his shoulder and yells “STOP SHOOTING ME, SHOOT THEM, YOU DUNCE!”

Marcella lunges at Red Dagger with her sword. She can feel the sword humming, almost purring as she uses it, but it has no other effect on her attack. He looks pretty banged up now.

Another arrow streaks through the fog and hits Amy right below the first arrow. Amy half dead.

Marcella shouts to Iris, “You’re the only one who can reach the archers, Iris!”

Iris aims carefully for Yellow Archer’s bow and fires. Although they cannot see it through the fog very well, the bow shatters. Shards of wood fly everywhere and into Yellow Archer. He screams and falls below the railing of the balcony. They cannot see him.

Iris says, “One less archer?”

“Nice shot!” Marcella calls out.

Fianna activates her fire contract along her fists, and throws another punch at Blue Dagger. He goes down, on fire. She turns and moves back towards Purple Spear.

Amy skips back away from the Chief, and chucks another ball at him. The Hob Chief screams as his shoulder gets hit with acid for more aggravated damage.

Zia clucks and turns towards Red Archer. The laser gun locks onto him and with a whoop from the trusty tool, she fires. Red Archer crumples to the ground. His blood drips from the balcony. Zia is visibly upset.

Red Dagger moves to attack Marcella, and this time manages to avoid her armor. He gives a little whoop of happiness. Marcella looks angry. Orange Spear attempts to stab Faron and fails miserably. Purple Spear, unaware that Fianna is right next to him and that Hulda has moved, stabs where Hulda used to be. He, obviously, fails. He then goes to his knees and throws his spear to the ground.

The Hob Chief takes a deep breath and pushes past some of his anger at Amy and attacks Marcella since she is closer. With a great roar and a bit of stumble, he swings his sword at Marcella, getting a glancing blow on her arm.

Faron attacks again. He moves towards Hulda as soon as Orange Spear hits the ground.

Hulda consumes another eyeball and again attempts to blind the Hob Chief. The Hob Chief doesn’t drop his sword but with his free hand he scrabbles at his eyes. “You traitorous Fae slaves!”

Seeing that the Hob Chief is distracted, Marcella decides to try and knock out Red Dagger. “You attacked us first!” Marcella yells back at the Chief as she attacks. She hits him. Red Dagger grimaces, but is still standing.

Yellow Archer, unseen, finds the extra weapons stored on the balcony.

Iris aims her rifle carefully, and the Chief’s sword hand explodes into a shower of blood. The sword falls to the ground, and he screams and grabs at his injury with his other hand.

Fianna attacks Purple Spear with the fire surrounding her hands. Purple Spear goes down, and Fianna moves to the Chief.

Amy flinches at the bloody sight on the balcony, and her focus falters. She drops her arm (still holding one of the balls) to her side. “I don’t want to fight anymore. Can we stop fighting now?”

Iris says, “I don’t like fighting either, but at least all of us are conscious.”

Marcella says, “You have to keep defending yourself, Amy! They aren’t going to stop just because you ask them to, it’s too late for that!” She sounds almost panicked, out of proportion to what Amy said.

Zia turns, locks onto the Hob Chief, fires, and hits him in the gut.

Red Dagger, emboldened by his success at hitting Marcella last time, takes another stab at her, only for his knife to bounce off once again. He sighs, dejected.

Purple Dagger is still kneeling, moaning quietly, “Please don’t hurt me…none of those burny things either.”

The Hob Chief, clutching his lack of hand, screams, “What are you waiting for! Kill them! Kill them before they kill your children and your wives and expect you to thank them for it!” Then he attacks Marcella with his bare hand, managing to smash her hard enough that she takes a bruising blow to the arm.

Faron shoves a round pink berry a little larger than the size of a cherry at Hulda. “Eat this while you’re at it.” He moves towards Red Dagger. He attacks and Red Dagger goes down, still disappointed by how little he was able to hurt Marcella.

Hearing the Chief’s answer, Amy throws another ball at him. The Hob Chief goes down, still sputtering invective.

Hulda eats the berry Faron gave her. It is a Blushberry, and she heals a little of her damage.

Marcella moves over to Purple Spear and tries to knock him out with the flat of her blade. She brandishes her blade about his head, but doesn’t hit him.

Yellow Archer pokes his head above the balcony, quickly surveys the scene and ducks back down. They hear a door open and close.

Iris steps closer to the Chief, keeping her gun ready.

Marcella says, “There may be other fighters between us and the exit, so be on your guard and keep an eye on the doors.”

“Is everyone going to be alright? Every one of us?” Iris is looking at the Chief now. The only enemy still moving is Purple Spear begging. Everyone else is unconscious and bleeding profusely.

Marcella looks at Amy and Hulda to see how they’re holding up. They’re both still standing, if a lot worse for the wear. “Let’s bind their wounds, I don’t think it will help relations between the changelings and the hobs for any of them to die here. Even if they started it,” Marcella suggests.

“Yeah. I’d rather not set off a war,” Iris agrees.

Amy is standing still in place, staring at the Chief, different emotions flitting across her face. Zia sits down abruptly and takes a moment just to breathe. Marcella keeps a lookout on the exits as Faron starts binding the hobs’ wounds. After a few moments, Zia gets up, pulls some medical supplies out of her bag and heads towards Hulda. Fianna turns off her fire.

Faron starts to make his way through the hobs. He’s rather pointedly saving the Chief for last.

After a minute, Marcella moves closer to Amy. “I’m sorry for yelling at you,” she says quietly. “Are you okay?”

“So what do we do now? And what do we do about him?” Iris points to the Chief.

The remainder of Amy’s balls disappear into thin air. “Oh.” She looks at Marcella. “I’m ok. You yelled at me?”

Marcella gives her a small lopsided smile. "I told you you had to keep fighting when you said you didn’t want to. That … was wrong of me. You shouldn’t ever have to fight if you don’t want to. I’m sorry for getting us into this fight.”

Zia then walks over to Amy. “Sorry to interrupt this conversation, but Amy has two arrows sticking out of her thigh? Could I take care of that?”

Marcella moves back. “Yes, by all means.” She looks slightly embarrassed.

Amy sits down and holds out her leg for Zia. To Marcella, she says, “Oh, that’s ok. I was talking to the Chief. I wanted to know if it was ok for us to stop, but I guess it wasn’t.”

Marcella looks melancholy, but doesn’t say anything else.

After a few minutes and some swearing, Zia removes the arrows from Amy’s leg and heals some of her damage. Amy seems pretty stoic about the whole thing. Mostly she keeps glancing over at the Chief.

Fianna walks up. “Y’know…not to be a downer or anything, but maybe we should beat feet before more of these guys show up.”

Marcella looks around for a way to get up to the balcony, but there are no obvious access points in this room. “Yes, we should get out of here as soon as possible. I’d like to make sure the guy up on the balcony is okay, but … if we go poking around to find a way up there, we may run into more trouble.”

Faron finishes making sure Red Dagger won’t bleed out and moves on to Orange Spear.

After she is done with Amy, Zia says, “Okay, who else needs medical attention? We still need to get through the Hedge…”

Marcella shrugs in response to Zia. “I’ll be fine.” She has one wound on her arm that looks like the cracks one might see in old ivory. The cracks are the purple and red colors of a ripe bruise. Marcella also has a few stab wounds, but those are less visible due to clothing. She doesn’t look much better off than Amy was.

“I don’t think anyone even tried to attack me,” Iris says.

Fianna has a laceration on her ribs, but that’s the only wound on her.

Zia looks Marcella up and down. “Sit down. Let me see that wound right now. Don’t you want to be able to help everyone if we get attacked in the Hedge?”

Marcella opens her mouth to protest, but thinks about what Zia said and sits.

After about 10 minutes and some fairly discreet fumbling to get to all the wounds, Marcella is mostly healed. The group has spent about 25 minutes in the hall after the battle. Marcella looks antsy to get out of there.

Faron heals Orange Spear as well, then moves on to Blue Dagger.

Amy goes to the door, opens it a crack, and peeks out. The hall they entered through is empty.

“Want to take the Chief with us?” Iris asks.

The side door opens and the Chief’s wife steps out. “You will leave us to deal with our wounded. Go now before I have no choice but to have the rest of the men attack you.” The children aren’t visible.

Faron stops on his way over to Blue Dagger. He nods quietly.

Marcella stands and looks at her. “Your husband attacked us first, madam. We never meant you any harm.” She turns and gestures to the rest of the group. “Let’s go.”

Hulda stands up ready to leave, and Iris nods. Marcella keeps her sword out on the way to the exit. Iris reloads her rifle. Fianna leaves, but sticks to the back of the group just in case. Zia makes her way out with the group.

“My husband was defending his people against your threat. When the hobs are treated fairly and not killed at your whim, his cause and the cause of the Man of the Hedge will be completed.” She spits in your direction.

“As you might have noticed, we haven’t killed anyone,” Iris says.

“You have lamed my husband for life. The blood of my people is everywhere. Who knows if they will live. Begone, now,” says the wife.

Iris shrugs and turns. Amy grabs Fianna’s hand, clearly upset. Fianna throws her arm over Amy’s shoulder in a comforting gesture as they walk out.


When they arrive back at the courtyard of the freehold, Marcella looks around at the group. “Well, we certainly have more information to give the Queen since the report we wrote yesterday. I guess we should check in and see if we should write another one?”

Iris is feeling uncomfortable, but she gets out of the van and stands close to the group. Amy stands quietly in the back of the group. Fianna is standing by Amy. “Yay, reports,” she mutters.

“I’m concerned about the ‘Man of the Hedge’ they were talking about. I would like to go research that,” Hulda says.

“Yes, that concerned me too,” Marcella agrees.

“Most definitely. But we might need support in this, or at least to figure out where the Court stands,” Iris says.

Amy shudders, “Do you think it’s a Fae?”

Zia looks at her outfit, still impeccable. “Perhaps we should change quickly and then meet with the Queen if we can?”

“Not the frou-frou outfits….” FIanna moans

Marcella looks down at her own torn and bloody clothes. “Sure, we should probably make ourselves presentable.”

“I can do without changing,” Iris says.

“Yes, the frou-frou outfits! We must make an impression!” Zia insists.

“I think we should at least all put on something with no blood,” Marcella suggests. “Meet back here in ten minutes?”

“I guess.” Iris does need to find something less bloody. Everyone else agrees. Marcella checks in with a guard about getting an audience before going up to her room. She heads there for a quick wash-up and changes into the outfit Zia made her.

Amy washes up and then put on the ‘frou frou’ outfit.

Fianna finds that she actually got her one utilitarian outfit bloody and now she has no choice but to wear Zia’s outfit.

Hulda changes into her bright summer outfit, wincing slightly.

Iris does luckily find that her ‘dress’ is at least a dress no more. She very much appreciates the trousers and coat, although her high collared blouse is still suspect.

Zia changes into a lovely summer gown.

After some self-maintenance Faron changes into the Court outfit the group first met him in and heads back to the courtyard.

When everyone comes back down, a guards asks them all to enter the Court Hall via a side door. Everyone goes in.

The Queen is currently receiving a visitor from a court from another city. They are discussing the needs of Dresden’s changelings during the Summer Games. After about 10 minutes, the Queen thanks the visitor and invites him to take dinner with her. He leaves and the group is called by the herald.

Marcella steps forward at the head of the group. Faron also steps forward, though he keeps some distance between himself and Marcella. Hulda follows, but stays in the back of the group. Fianna will go to stand up near Marcella. Iris is once more feeling too shy to talk.

The Queen says, “Vogelfrei, I hear your mission ended with a bit of blood? What do you have for me?”

Marcella bows. “I’m afraid so, Your Majesty. Have you heard any news from the Arena, or are we first to bring you word of what truly happened between Geth the Giant and Whisper John during their final battle?”

“I have heard accounts. Please share yours,” she replies.

Marcella nods, and summarizes everything they found out in the Arena – the overheard conversation about the sealed die, the confession of the hob Erratus, her claim that Armin Leadenfingers was the one who bribed her. “Once Erratus was dispatched to the care of the heads of the Arena, we thought we should inform the Hob Chief that Geth’s death had indeed been the result of foul play, and the Court was taking steps to pass justice. Unfortunately, upon hearing that it was a hob who switched the die, he flew into a rage, accused us of lying, and had his underlings attack us. Fortunately, we held them off. We don’t believe any of the hobs were killed in the fight, but we couldn’t stay to check.” Marcella hesitates slightly, then adds, “The Hob Chief claimed he was fulfilling the wish of the Man in the Hedge by killing changelings.”

“I am pleased with your initiative and thoroughness as your team pursued your mission. Armin Leadenfingers will be questioned as to his actions and appropriate actions will be taken. The Arena must be entirely trustworthy as we head into the Summer Games. Another team will check on the hobs and ensure that further attacks do not occur, either to them or on their part,” the Queen replies seriously.

Marcella bows her head at the compliment. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“As your reward for completing this mission, each of you may choose one item of weaponry or armor from those presented to you by Weaponsmaster Jonty. Please report to him after this meeting to decide on your reward.”

“You are very kind, Your Majesty, thank you. If there is anything further we can do to assist with the matters of the Arena or the hobs, please let us know.”

“Of course.” The Queen stands. “I am pleased with the progress of Vogelfrei. You have a long way to go, but all of you are on the path to become useful and self-supporting members of freehold. As a result, you are ready to take the next steps of becoming a motley and a proper fighting band. By your next mission you must choose a leader. This leader will be first among equals, not a king or queen or superior officer, except in battle, when one director is far more useful than seven. Secondly, you must begin to speak to each other about being in a motley. If by the end of summer you feel that you cannot form that bond with each other, we will need to discuss if your group must be split. Finally, it almost time to become independent of the freehold. Go forth, look for a way to support yourselves and a place to live, together or separate as you please. This Court cannot support you forever.”

Marcella bows again. “As you wish.”

Zia makes a nice curtsey.

The Queen sits and they are dismissed. Iris bows carefully and leaves with the others.

Marcella lets out a breath once they are out of the room. “Well, that actually went pretty well.”

“It did, actually. Now, let us go get the weapon bit over with…” Zia replies

“Yeah, let’s go see Jonty,” Marcella agrees. As they walk, Marcella asks, “Faron, what are these Summer Games?”

“Games played every summer at the Arena, take about 3-4 weeks total, though most of the most anticipated contests are towards the end.”

“Huh. Who competes in them?” Marcella asks, as Iris says, “What kind of contests?”

“Mostly physical competitions, though there are some exceptions. Combat, races, sports, although there are exceptions. Any fae from the country can compete. Hobs and other creatures from the Hedge can apply as well.”

“Good to know,” Marcella says.

“Well I know what to stay away from,” Iris says.

They all reach the training yards and Jonty turns from sharpening a sword. “So, I hear you all had a fight. Anyone freeze up?”

Faron’s mouth quirks in what might be a pleased smirk. It’s gone in a second.

Marcella smiles. "No, everyone did quite well. We need to work on our formations and teamwork with those contracts, but all things considered, they did well.”

“Less clouds means better aim from me…” Iris mutters.

Jonty raises an eyebrow. “Very well then, I need have no reservations about these gifts. We can all go drinking tonight!”

“Sound good, I haven’t had anything in ages,” Iris says.

Jonty brings out a chest. “Here are your options; remember, just one apiece.” (See the separate google doc for a listing of the rewards.)

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Marcella's game 17 journal

Marcella is a little concerned when Fianna says that she may someday come back to fight here. Whatever Fianna’s issue with the Arena is, it’s clear it makes her very uncomfortable. Marcella hopes that her own discussions about coming back to fight here aren’t making Fianna feel as though she has to come back. She makes a note to herself to check in with Fianna about this someday soon.

The conversation with Erratus goes downhill fast. The hob is rude and dismissive from the get-go, but Marcella doesn’t let it get under her skin until Erratus’ parting shot to Amy. Hearing those words about Amy merely being clay molded by her keeper turns Marcella right back around. Rudeness to Marcella is one thing, she can take it just fine, but she can’t just lie down and take someone talking about one of her team that way.

There’s a rational part of her brain that knows someone like Erratus won’t learn from a few well-placed words from Marcella, but she’s compelled to defend her team, to remind them that Erratus’ words have no weight. She knows there’s a part of herself, one that usually only shows up in her nightmares, which wonders if Erratus doesn’t have a point, if they’ve been changed so profoundly by the Fae that they are no longer themselves. She thinks probably most changelings have those doubts, so she can’t let words like those lie.

Caesar’s words of reason and calmness reign her in before she lets herself get drawn into an empty debate, and Marcella turns to go. She’s too angry to see straight, which means she’ll be useless in further conversation with Erratus, so even when Zia steps in to engage, Marcella continues out the door. She needs a minute to pull herself together anyway.

Amy comes to get her just a few minutes later, but the confrontation is already wrapping up. Zia has the hob in tears, confessing her crime, and Marcella is frankly impressed. They’ve finished up a truly complex mission, and she’s ready to give everyone a pat on the back, head back to the freehold, and be done with the Arena for at least a few weeks.

Unfortunately, hearing that Erratus’ co-conspirator was Armin Leadenfingers is like a bucket of ice water over her head. It reminds her that just because they’ve wrapped up this particular mission doesn’t mean the fallout is over. They’ll have certainly made enemies with anyone who has a vested interest in Whisper John’s winning streak, including John’s sponsor and John himself. With the way politics work, and the fact that deaths were allowed in the match, Marcella doubts anyone is going to be locked away for this, which means those responsible will be out and around the Court with a grudge. Given those facts, they’d better get whatever information they can from the hobs.

They head towards the Hob Chief, Faron still being even more close-mouthed and weird than usual. The hairs on Marcella’s arms are raised as soon as they get into the hollow, and Marcella starts to second-guess herself for bringing her team here into their stronghold. She half-expects to be attacked as soon as they walk into the hob chief’s presence. When that doesn’t happen, she begins to think they’ll be okay, but as soon as they mention Erratus, everything goes to hell. The relations between the Court and the Hobs are even worse than she realized, and she can only hope that this doesn’t do any irrevocable damage to that relationship, because it looks as though they’ll be fighting the hobs whether they want to or not.

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Game 17: A Victory and a Problem

Summary: The group goes to investigate Erratus, who placed the sealed die, and discovers what really happened that day in the arena. Feeling pleased with themselves, they decide to finish off the loose ends by talking to the hobs. Things go less well when the hobs hear that it was another hob who switched the die.

Log:
With no more questions to ask, the party thanks Trillium and leaves the records room.

Marcella looks around, then says, “I guess we should find a less crowded place to discuss what we’ve found out. Faron, any idea if there’s somewhere here all of us can have a semi-private conversation?”

“Not especially,” he says a little distractedly. “Unless you consider an alcove in a crowded building ‘semi-private.’”

Marcella grimaces. “Well, not particularly, but it’s better than the middle of this little marketplace.”

Caesar shrugs. “Anywhere works, I suppose.”

Fianna grimaces.“I just assume there’s always someone to overhear. Usually,I’m right.”

Marcella nods, and starts walking to see if there’s somewhere at least a little less crowded. She sees a fairly empty stairwell, and stops halfway down the stairs.

She gestures for everyone to stand to the side so there’s still room to pass them. “I guess this will have to do. So, Faron, what can you tell us about those judges we found? We know who Leadenfingers is, but I didn’t know any of the other names.”

Faron is the only one to have more information for the group, “"Lothar is Summer Court. I see him around sometimes. Mischa is a Spring courtier who won a footrace during the Summer Games, and I couldn’t tell you much more than that. Laura is apparently a hob girl. I don’t know who Lucius is."

“So, I guess the question is, do we want to try and find any of the judges from John and Geth’s match and question them, or just go on to the hob chief?” Marcella asks. “I don’t know if any of them are at the Arena right now, and it seems like we got a good lead with the sealed die earlier. I’m not sure what else they might be able to tell us.”

“At the very least, the guy who handled that die is here. He might know something,” Caesar proposed.

“I said it once and I’ll say it again: We should finish all the things we need to do here first before we leave, because I sure as hell don’t want to come back for a long-ass time,” Fianna says scathingly.

“That’s a good point,” Marcella says to Caesar, and consults her notes. “Laeti, from bookkeeping, for Geth and John’s match and Erratus, from bookkeeping, for Cyril and Petrus’ match. The problem is, we don’t know exactly when the die was switched, but it is at least worth asking. So, should we go find Erratus? I think we just came from bookkeeping.”

“Works for me,” Fianna shrugs.

Marcella leads the way back towards bookkeeping, followed by the rest of the party.

Zia flounces her way behind commenting, “Perhaps the next time we come, I shall make us all appropriate outifts. With all this wandering around, we should match.”

Amy looks at Zia, curiously, “Why?”

Marcella smirks back at Zia. “Maybe I’ll put you in charge of my cheering section, if I ever decide to compete.”

“The Arena is themed, we should be as well!” Zia replies to Amy. To Marcella she says, “What shall I wear for you then?” with a smirk of her own.

Marcella grins at Zia. “Hey, you’re the fashionista, not me. As long as it doesn’t blink obnoxious colors, I think you’re a leg up on the footballers.”

“Sounds like a plan!” she replies

“Yeah, this is not the sort of place I want to dress up for, THANKS,” Fianna says somewhat angrily. “Of course, let’s be honest, if I come back here I’m probably going to be down there too,” she grumbles.

Marcella looks a little concerned by that, but they arrive at the gargoyle before she can say anything to Fianna. Marcella walks up to the gargoyle-like changeling.

The changeling looks at Marcella. “…again? Really?” But he moves aside.

Marcella says, “Sorry to bother you again, sir. Is Erratus working today?”

The gargoyle rolls his eyes dramatically. “Oh, HER. Yeah, little diva’s at her desk in the back. Gotta warn ya though, girl’s not right in the head. Who ever heard of a hob calling herself that?”

“Fun,” Caesar stated less than enthusiastically. “Thanks, let’s go.”

“Thanks,” Marcella smiles brightly, and heads back, looking for a hob at a desk in the back.

In the back row sit three hobs at desks, one wearing period-accurate roman garb.

Marcella walks up the roman one, thinking Erratus is a roman-sounding name. “Excuse me, is Erratus back here?”

The little hob looks up from her desk. “Can I help you?” she asks. She is a truly tiny hob, standing perhaps 3 feet tall with lovely lavender skin. Her perfume is strong enough that the party can smell it from across the desk.

Marcella smiles and holds out a hand. “Hi, Erratus, I’m Marcella. We have a couple questions for you about a match which you were the designated draw for, a few weeks ago.”

Erratus ignorers the offered hand. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t answer those sorts of questions.” she responds, “Being a designated draw option for the games is an honor. I can’t risk losing it by speaking with one such as you." she replies and goes back to work.

Marcella glances around to see if Trillium is nearby, and lowers her voice. “We’re actually carrying out an investigation for the Court. You can ask Trillium.”

Erratus starts a little. “Then go through the proper channels. Ask Trillium about the die. The court is of little importance to hobs, as you should know. Though, so fresh from the kennels of your Keepers, I understand why you don’t.”

Marcella narrows her eyes, but doesn’t rise to the bait. “We’ve already spoken to Trillium, we were simply hoping you might be able to provide additional information. If you’re not willing to speak with us, I guess there’s nothing further to say.”

“No, I guess there isn’t.” Erratus replies, “I will speak with only Trillium or the Head Technician on this matter,” she replies.

Fianna clenches her fists and mutters something under her breath that sounds very Scottish and very rude.

Marcella gives a very perfunctory bow. “Thank you for your time. Good day to you,” and turns to go.

Erratus does not reply, merely ignores her.

Caesar sighs and Fianna contemplates setting fire to her desk, but instead turns and leaves.

As they turn to go, Amy looks back at the hob over her shoulder, “You are very rude.”

Erratus has a little gasp. "I am a highly cultured hob. You are merely clay molded into the shape your keeper wished.”

Marcella stops short, then turns back to look at the hob.

Amy slowly turns back around, looking angry. “Excuse me? No, I am myself.”

“Don’t,” Caesar mumbles to the others.

Fianna makes a U-turn and steps in front of Amy. The stars in her hair are starting to show signs of sparking, but not actually on fire. “You know,” she says in a quiet, deceptively calm voice, “I was always taught that people of such…high station as you learned manners. I guess you can’t be all that after all, if that’s how you react to people asking you a simple question.”

Marcella steps up next to Fianna and puts a quelling hand on her shoulder. “Every one of the changelings before you has been through their own personal hell, and survived to come out the other side,” she says, deadly quiet. “What have you done to earn your personhood? None of them need your permission or recognition to be anything other than themselves.”

“Amy, Fianna, Marcella. This isn’t the place for this. Not now. Let’s go,” Caesar turns to face the three, speaking louder this time. “Don’t jeopardize the mission.”

Erratus is clearly a bit shaken by Fianna’s clear anger, but persists in her “highbrow” manner. “I possess impeccable manners, thank you. And you, with your uncouth crown upon your head, know nothing. Changelings fresh from their keepers have not yet found themselves. Every hob knows this. You may speak to the Head Technician.”

Marcella looks at Caesar and nods, ignoring Erratus. “You’re right. Let’s go.” She turns to leave again, shoulders tight. Her fists are clenched at her side, but not on her sword.

“Well, at least I’m looking, instead of just sitting behind a desk, pretending to be important.” Amy also turns to go.

Amy, Carlos, Hulda, Zia, realize that she is definitely directing us away from something with all this hoity toity talk. Zia with her exceptional success, realizes that Erratus is likely covering up that she must have switched the die in some fashion during the first Myrish Dance match. The question is then, how.

“Let’s go back to the stairwell.” Carlos insists.

Zia had spent this interaction at the back of the group, judging the small innaccuracies in her costume and some of the shoddy craftsmanship. As Marcella passes her, Zia walks forward to Erratus and says, “I know you only wish to speak to the head Technician regarding your duties, but perhaps you could share with me where you obtained your lovely outfit.”

Erratus narrows her eyes at the sweet tone of Zia’s voice. “Why, I modelled it directly off of the outfit of one of the statues. It is completely accurate, or course.”

Marcella continues outside and waits outside the office, knowing if she stays she’ll probably only escalate things again.

The gargoyle by the door notices Marcella’s exit and her temper. “Ah. You met her then?”

“Yep,” Marcella grits, and stalks past him.

Marcella loiters outside, jaw twitching and looking angry. The people in the hallway walking past her give her concerned looks and a wide berth.

Hulda follows after Marcella to make sure she isn’t punching something……a wall, a person, whatever.

After making sure that Marcella isn’t attacking anyone, Hulda walks over and whispers to her, “She was doing it on purpose…..she’s hiding something.”

Marcella looks at Hulda, distracted from her anger. “You think?” She also notices no one else left the office with them. “I guess Zia must have noticed, too. I think I’d better let her handle it,” she adds ruefully. "Sorry for almost blowing up in there. Thanks for noticing she was hiding something.

Fianna, curious as to what Zia is playing at, stops sparking, but does not move to leave.

Zia replies, “Well…it is and it isn’t. I’m afraid that the clasps are made of the incorrect kind of metal, the cut of the pleats is entirely modern and the fashion in which you wrap it appears to be from some Hollywood movie. You, my dear, sew a dreadful stitch, as you do a dreadful lie. Now, you can either tell us exactly what happened or I will ensure that every single person you care about thinking you possess social status of any kind is made completely aware of all inaccuracies in your dress, as well as inform Trillium she trusts a lying, cheating little hob.”

Erratus has finally put down her pen for the first time in this conversation. “I…I…don’t know what you’re talking about. My dress is perfect, don’t you…you can tell her…Trillium won’t believe you….”

Fianna blinks, cracks a very vindictive looking smile, and gives a low whistle. “Nice job, Rufflepants. Please, continue.” She circles behind Erratus’ chair so the hob will have trouble getting up.

Zia smiles a wicked little smile. “Go ahead. Test me. Please. I’m an unformed changeling looking to find myself. Maybe I can find myself in your demotion.”

Erratus shivers at the sense of Fianna behind her and the woman in front of her with scarlet and orange hair and glaring eyes. “Not here.”

Zia replies, “Oh, yes, here. Now. You have 5 seconds to tell the truth or I will go speak to Trillium and tell her everything right now. How you switched the die for Whisper John and his patron.”

“5, 4, 3, 2..”

Erratus crumples, “Yes, I…put in the die Armin Leadenfingers told me to.”

“…well, how ’bout that?” Fianna says softly.

Zia nods. “See that wasn’t so hard. Now, then, Amy, please go get our gargoyle friend. I think he should keep an eye on her.”

“And why would you do what he says?” Faron asks.

Amy nods and scampers off towards the door, skidding to stop in front of the guard.

Marcella and Hulda look over at Amy as she comes out the door.

The gargoyle looks down at Amy. “Hey squirt, here for your friend?”

Amy shakes her head, “No, but Marcella, maybe you should come over.” to the gargoyle, “Um, we found something out, and we think you might want to keep an eye on Erratus. She should probably not leave here for a bit.”

Marcella frowns and walks over. “Everything okay, Amy?”

Amy thinks for a minute. SHE never promised, or even implied, she wouldn’t tell. That was all Zia. And she really thought Erratus deserved whatever she had coming.

The gargoyle’s stone eyebrow crackles upward. “Oh, really now. Tell me kiddo, why is that?”

Amy thinks for a minute. SHE never promised, or even implied, she wouldn’t tell. That was all Zia. And she really thought Erratus deserved whatever she had coming. “Erratus just admitted that she cheated by replacing one of the dies with another one.” she says, keeping her voice low for only the guard and Marcella to hear.

Marcella gives a low whistle, “Zia works fast,” she murmurs. “Did she say whose dime she was on?”

Amy hesitates, “Yes, but I should maybe not say now. We should maybe tell that to the queen or something."

Marcella’s eyebrows go up, but she nods.

The gargoyle’s eyes open wide. “Really now? Well, I have to say I won’t be sorry to see her go. In fact,it will give me great pleasure.” He opens the door. “Let’s go see this spanner in the works.”

Amy smiles happily and leads the way. Everything was working out. The cheater was going to be caught, the court would be happy, the hobs (well, most of them) would be happy, and she’d have a great story to tell her friends.

Back in the room, Fianna puts her hands on Erratus’ shoulders. “I can keep her company in the meantime. It will be soooooo much fun..” She grins.

Erratus, crying a little bit now. “He promised me a favor for it, something I’ve wanted for a long time. What it is is none of your business…I, I, I, I’m already ruined.”

“Are you sure?” Faron asks.

“Am I sure I am ruined? What do you think you glowing bottle of hair grease!” she says, still crying, getting a bit nonsensical.

Faron clears his throat a little. “I’d prefer nothing worse happens to you than is necessary. But I suppose it really is none of our business.”

She continues weeping. “Nothing you can do will help.” She is kinda dissolving into a crying puddle.

“Are you sure?” Faron asks, and he looks a little bit earnest.

She doesn’t really reply and is just weeping, held up by Fianna’s hands on her shoulders.

Faron retreats some distance away. He doesn’t look at her.

The gargoyle strides into the office towards Erratus’ desk. Fianna sees him come in, and cheekily says: “Oh look—you have a visitor. Isn’t that nice?”

Erratus sobs some more. “All will see my downfall, I am ruined, ruined…”

At this point all work has stopped in the office and one guy a few desks over starts clapping slowly.
Then the whole room is clapping.

Zia is smiling and looking pleased with herself.

The gargoyle waves a hand at all the people in the office. "All right, things are being taken care of. Just….go back to work, all right? Good? Good.’ He approaches Erratus. “Well, Erratus, it looks like you have a bit of a story to tell. Why don’t you come with me and tell me all about it?” Fianna moves aside and lets him take Erratus by the arm. The gargoyle leads the sobbing Erratus out.

Marcella sidles up to Zia. “Thanks for pressing her,” she murmurs.

Zia smiles back at Marcella, “Someone claiming dress of that kind to be historically accurate when it just wasn’t? Must be a liar through and through.”

Despite herself, Fianna cracks up laughing.

Marcella chuckles. “Whelp, I don’t think we can do much more damage here,” she says brightly. “Shall we move along to our next destination?”

“Well…now that that’s done, where to next?” Caesar asks.

Fianna grins as she stops laughing. “Well, I’m all for seeing the backside of the arena. Did we still need to go see the hob chief?”

“Probably not.” Amy responds.

“Once they hear someone’s been caught, they should be appeased,” Marcella agrees. “We can always go if the queen requests we deliver the information in person or something.”

“Are those hobs still being held at the stronghold? We could just send them back saying that everything was dealt with.” Caesar suggests.

“I think it’s up to the queen what to do with them. They /were/ trying to kill people,” Marcella says.

“Namely us…” Zia mutters

Caesar shrugs. “Ought not to be any further reason for provocation on their part.”

“So who was it who made her do it, anyway?” Marcella asks quietly.

“Our friend Armin,” Zia offers.

Hulda’s eyebrows raise and Marcella curses colorfully under her breath.

“Maybe we had better go see the chief after all, then. I’m not sure anyone at the court who will be willing to talk will have answers about why he’d do it.” Marcella says.

“I bet he’s John’s mystery sponsor. Probably was making a cool lump of money off of the fights he rigged. I bet this has happened more than once. Didn’t they say that Whisper John had had some miraculous wins in the past? Typical.” Fianna shrugs in disdain.

“Fucking bureaucrat,” Marcella mutters.

“Amen.” FIanna agrees.

“What do you all think? Is it worth going to the chief? We also don’t know where that shiny new armor on the hobs came from.” Marcella looks around for Faron. “What do you think? Would you say the terms of our mission are fulfilled?”

“It’s your mission. My thoughts are irrelevant.” Faron replies unhelpfully.

Amy looks at Marcella, “Was it not ok for them to have new armour?”

“It looked like new armor that wasn’t made for them, which means they may have had some kind of sponsor as well,” Marcella explains to Amy. “Maybe it was just from the chief, maybe not, but you’d think if he was equipping his own men he’d make sure their armor fit.” She shrugs.

“That’s true,” Fianna says. “Maybe we can barter for info on their supplier if we offer them what we’ve found out here?”

Marcella nods thoughtfully. “I would prefer to wrap up that loose end, I suppose. Anyone have a vote against going to see the hobs?”

“Eh, either way,” Caesar shrugged.

“But,” Amy says, “We were supposed to find out why they were angry. Why do we care where they got armor?” She is still confused.

“Because it’s possible that they weren’t really angry, and someone was paying them to attack people,” Marcella explains. “Doesn’t hurt to confirm.”

Amy looks skeptical, but says nothing more.

“Well, if no one’s against it, we may as well round out this mission. Let’s get out of here and use that feather,” Marcella decides.

“Excellent, let us go,” Zia replies, and leads the way out.

“Yay, good bye Arena,” Fianna says happily.

Marcella snorts at Fianna, but doesn’t look back at the arena.

Amy clings close to Fianna and keeps her eyes on the ground as they walk back by the statues again.

The group breaks out the feather. Marcella holds it up and pauses. “What exactly are we supposed to do with it?”

“Just show it to any hobs we might pass on the way there. They won’t attack, or so was said.” Caesar reminds her.

“Yeah, but what’s the way there?” Marcella asks, “I don’t want to just strike off randomly into the Hedge.”

“Now that’s the question.” Caesar agrees.

“Two miles east from where we met the hobs.” Faron supplies.

“All right, I guess let’s head back to where we fought them.” Marcella puts everyone in formation and heads back down the path.

“And for the record, yes, you never want to strike off randomly into the Hedge.” Faron says.

Marcella snorts. “Fuck no I don’t, I’ve met enough things with claws and teeth out here to last me a lifetime.”

As they walk, Marcella is next to Faron in front, and asks quietly, “You okay? You looked kinda shaken up back in the office.”

“When?” His tone is flat again.

“When they were leading the hob away.”

“Oh. No, it’s nothing.” He takes a small step away to the side.

Marcella shrugs and lets it go for now.

About half an hour later, the group arrives where they fought the hobs. The path continues on into the Hedge.

“This looks like where we get off,” Marcella says. She heads for the path going into the Hedge.

Around the corner, they run smack into a squirrelly-looking hob sitting just off the path boundaries. He is very startled by your abrupt appearance. “What d’ya want?” he demands, attempting to look imposing.

“Got the feather?” Caesar asks Marcella.

Marcella holds it up. “We’re going to see the hob chief.”

The hob takes the feather, inspecting every inch of it, at one point licking it. ’All right. Guess you pass. Follow me." He starts jogging up the path, followed by the party.

Abou twenty minutes later, after taking the most twisty-turny route imaginable, and feeling more than a little lost, the hob stops in front of a large rock. Rapping sharply on it three times, the hob says something unintelligble, and the rock just….slides aside,revealing a tunnel lit by torches. “In you go,” he says.

Marcella blinks, says “Thanks,” and holds out her hand for the feather.

“Yeah, yeah, here you go,” the hob says. “Go straight forward to get to the main room. Can’t miss it.” He ducks out again, presumably to go back on watch.

Everyone heads inside.

After walking for a short time the tunnel opens up into a respectably sized stone and wood structure that probably had a plan at some point but looks quite haphazard now. The party is now in a large room, lit by torches. There is a female hob and some children off to the side, and a few guards. At the end of the room, there is a large arch flanked by two smaller arches, all three enclosing closed doors.

As they all enter the spearmen greets them, “What do you want?”

“We’re here to see the hob chief,” Marcella says.

“And why would you want to see him?” he says.

“We have good news!” Amy pipes up cheerfully.

“We’ve information regarding to the battle and we hope to soothe the ties between the court and the hobs,” Caesar answer glancing at the hob beside him.

“We bring news from the arena regarding the wrongful death of Geth the Giant,” Marcella adds.

“Is that so! Well, how did you get here?” the guard asks.

“We were given a feather to ensure our message could be delivered in safety.” Carlos answers, “Marcella?”

“We walked.” says Amy, with no trace of sarcasm.

He raised an eyebrow at Amy, assuming deadpan sarcasm and says to Marcella, " A feather, what color? Let me see it.”

Marcella presents the feather to them.

He takes it, licks it, and nods. “Well, then to the Chief with you then.” He looks at the other spearman. “Harold, I’ll go tell the Chief he has visitors. One moment please.” Then he goes to the big archway, opens the door just enough to slip through and goes in.

He comes back, smiles and says, “the Chief is ready for you!” and walks back towards the door.

Caesar nods and enters the room first, with Amy hurrying after him, excited.

Marcella nods her head at the hob and walks forward. “Be on your guard, she murmurs to everyone as they go in.”

Once everyone is inside the spearman who was guarding the door shuts the door behind him. The orange spearman walks up to the halfway point and introduces the group as “These fine people have news of Geth and the dreadful cheating Whisper John, Chief Redneck.” Then he walks to guard the door.

In front of the party on heavy wooden throne is the chief hob, decked out in the only color you’ve seen on these guys. A female hob and her children sit at the foot of the throne. To the right and left are hobs bearing daggers.

“Thank you for seeing us, Chief Redneck,” Caesar does something of a half-bow, “we have some information regarding Geth’s death after an investigation of the Arena.”

The chief leans forward,his voice all grumble and disdain. “Oh really? Well, it better be good. What is it?”

“The death of Geth, while may have been unintentional on the part of Whisper John, was made possible due to a die,” Caesar answers, letting one of the others who were more involved in the investigation provide more information.

Seeing Caesar looks like he’s letting someone else pick up, Marcella steps forward. “We have discovered that a bookkeeper working for the arena was bribed to switch the sealed die that controlled the crystals out for a faulty die. This faulty die would have allowed Whisper John to perform a move that bordered on cheating without the crystals turning to pink.”

“Oh really,” the hob chief says. “Leaving aside the fact that Whisper John still killed Geth, and that makes him far from blameless even if there is the possibility of him not knowing of this switch, who was this bookeeper, and what reason had they to cause such an event?”

“The bookkeeper who confessed to the crime was a hob named Erratus, but a full investigation has not yet been conducted. At this time, her motives are unclear, other than the fact that she claimed to have been promised a favor.”

“A HOB?” The chief looks incensed. “You lie, else there is something behind this action that you are not telling me. What do you really want? Are you capable of affording me enough respect to tell me straight?”

“While just a suspecion, it is likely she sought personal gain from this promise, and no minor thing. We seek no prize but to return some civilty between the courts and the hobs.” Caesar adds.

Amy frowns, “She might not have known why the person who bribed her wanted the die switched. We don’t know yet, because we came here right away when we found out.”

“Is that so? A hob would never betray us! Why do you come into my hall to lie to me? What do you really want?” the chief says, getting a smidge angry.

“No, but… she might not have meant Geth to get hurt! She switched it for a match before that one. It just stayed switched. We aren’t lying. Probably whoever bribed her did it on purpose though. But now we know for sure that someone did, so we can find out who.” Amy insists.

“But no one died in that match, did they?” His eyes narrow. “This a Court cover-up, isn’t it? That’s what this is! I see it now!”He is now standing.

“Fuck,” Marcella mutters. "Try not to let anyone kill you, try not to kill anyone, if they attack.”

“Chief Redneck, I can assure you this is not a cover-up. We have discovered parties equally guilty within the court,” Caesar speaks up.

THEN GIVE ME NAMES SO I MAY DEMAND RECOMPENSE!” he spits.

“Not sure we should do that,” Marcella mutters low.

“But he cheated.” Amy says, affronted. “Shouldn’t they know?”

“There’s no proof, Amy,” Marcella reminds her, “but if we give them the name and it turns out he’s innocent, they’ll never believe it.”

Amy humphs, feeling a lot less like a hero, now.

Louder, Marcella says, “Unlike Erratus, the changeling named as an accomplice has not confessed. We are still awaiting the conclusion of the investigation to see if there is proof. We can assure you, however, that you will be informed as soon as the truth is known.”

He glares at you all. “The truth can’t be told to me now! Are you saying you don’t trust me! Well, fine then, this is what I think of your trust!” He waves his arm.

An arrow shoots down out of the air and hits the ground less than two inches from Amy’s foot. The hob chief snarls: “Don’t hit the ground, hit THEM!”

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Marcella's game 16 journal

Mulling over the information they have received from Arcturos, it feels to Marcella like the sealed dies must be related somehow to how Whisper John cheated the system. Arcturos seems confident in the reliability of his system, but there must still be something he (and they) are missing.

When she joins Caesar in the stands, Marcella takes her first good look at the game below and has a moment of horrified deja vu. The setup is like something straight out of some of her chess battles – an obvious general or leader who can’t be killed without ending the game, defended by the rest of their army. As though from far away, she hears Amy ask why the two generals are standing in the circles. She answers, but when Amy asks why no one is trying to hurt the fighters in the circles, she blinks and looks closer. It’s true, there must be some other logic to this game. She shakes herself and asks a fellow spectator about the game, pushing away her momentary panic.

She lets herself get distracted following the rhythm of the battle, and starts explaining what’s going on below for the rest of her group. It forces her to focus on what’s right before her eyes, and watching the battle gradually gets easier. It’s still a fierce competition, but no one’s trying to gruesomely kill their opponents for the amusement of the crowd.

She’s also using this chance to study some potential competition for the summer games. Another reason to keep watching til I can just focus on their skill level and the flow of the battle. I’m not going to make much of a name for myself in the games if I have a panic attack as soon as I get out into the arena. Not that I’m going to have a panic attack.

The conversations with the arena fighters they overhear set them on a track to put the missing piece of the puzzle into place, and it’s clear that the sealed dies are the key here. Arcturos confirms that something is off based on Cyril and Petrus’ claims, so all they have to do now is look at the records with Trillium. Marcella finally feels like they’re getting close to an answer about what happened to Geth the Giant.

On the way to see Trillium, Faron makes a comment about being nice to her, and Marcella can’t help but tease him about his friend. He’s such an easy target sometimes. She’s surprised to see how dramatic his reaction is. She can’t decide if she feels guilty for ribbing him, or annoyed that he’s so damn sensitive about everything, but she doesn’t have much time to worry about it. When Trillium shows them the record, it’s plain to see that the problem is the die. And Leadenfingers’ name showed up again. I really hope he’s not involved in this, I don’t want to make him our enemy.

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Game 16: The Sealed Die

Summary

While waiting to go talk to Trillium, the group asks Arcturos the technician more questions and then observes the current match. Several of the group overhear some Arena fighters named Cyril and Petrus discussing something strange one of them saw during the match between Geth and John. Marcella asks them for more information, and based on what they heard from Arcturos and the fighters, the group realizes that the most likely way John could have cheated was by having the sealed die for Myrish Dance matches switched. When they go see the records room with Trillium, the records confirm that the same die was used for Cyril and Petrus’ match as for the match between Whisper John and Geth the Giant.

Log

We left off with Caesar alone in the stands watching the game and the group finishing up their conversation with Arcturos the technician. He had explained to the group about the sealed dies used in the system in the Arena.

Something occurs to Marcella as she starts to turn and leave. “Actually, about these sealed dies … who changes them out? Do they get switched between every match?”

The technician says, “Well, that’s a complicated question, they get changed in between each different kind of match. The person who changes them gets drawn randomly about 10 minutes before the match begins. Very difficult to cheat that way.”

“How do they get drawn?” asks Iris.

“They get drawn randomly the same way you get a lotto number,” he replies. “And there are 10-15 people on a given day in there.”

Iris asks the rest of the group, “Do you think there is a way for the draws to be influenced?” As Iris says this, the technician stiffens and harumphs quietly, but says nothing. Iris looks guilty.

Marcella shrugs.

Both Amy and Hulda know that there are contracts that allow changelings to change outcomes of fights and such, but nothing that is tailor-made to affect something like the number draw.

Hulda looks at Iris and shakes her head. Amy hums absently to herself. Iris decides to do research once she gets back.

“Sir, do you happen to know who changed the die for that particular match? We want to make sure we investigate all possible leads, no matter how small the chance of foul play,” Marcella says smoothly.

Arcturos raised his eyebrows at Marcella’s clear ‘I shall smooth this over, yes I shall,’ “I don’t recall specifically, though it is a matter of public record. Speak to the bookkeeper. And just so you know, the number draw has similar protections around it to ensure lack of cheating as the Arena does. We don’t tolerate cheaters here.”

Amy nods. “That’s good. Cheating is bad.”

Marcella nods. “Yes, it sounds like you are very thorough here.” She glances around. “I believe that’s all we wanted to ask you.”

“Well, good. I need to get back to work,” he replies and turns back to his duty.

Marcella glances out at the fight in the Arena, then turns to walk back up the stands. “We should go join up with Caesar. Then I guess we have a few hours at least until we can go find Trillium again.”

Amy walks over to Caesar to watch the fight, as well.

Meanwhile, Caesar continues to look dapper in his new cloak. He observes the battle “game” going on below for anything that might be peculiar. He notices that the side wearing golden armor seems to be winning, but he is not quite positive what the actual goal of this match is.

Once she rejoins Caesar, Marcella observes the fight as well.

Below, a full out fight between two teams is going on, with a person at either end standing in a circle. They are armed with a wide variety of weapons and armor, one team in gold, the other in green. Everyone is fighting at once, with the people at either end in a circle staying there. Each team is 8 people. There is a commentator who comments when someone goes down and when matches start and end, but no one giving a blow by blow.

Amy cocks her head to the side. “What are the two on the ends doing?”

“Standing there. Haven’t figured much beyond that. The guys wearing gold are winning, couldn’t figure much more than that,” Caesar answers without so much as a glance at the group as they returned.

“They’re probably the generals,” Marcella says distantly. “If either of them goes down, the battle’s over.”

Everyone but Hulda notices that the people in the circles are fighting with long-range weapons or contracts. Marcella, Faron, Iris, Amy, and Zia notice that each side is trying to reach the other side’s person in a circle. Amy and Zia notice that no one is trying to hurt the people in the circles.

Amy responds to Marcella, “Oh. But then shouldn’t they be trying to hit them?”

“Maybe we could ask some of the other people here?” asks Iris.

“Huh.” Marcella squints and looks closer at the field. “You’re right, they aren’t trying to hurt them.” Marcella leans over to an unrelated spectator. “What’s the point of this setup? Why’re those guys in the circles?”

The man looks up at Marcella, some shining golden beer in his hand and replies, “Oh! You’ve never watched a Lambswool Capture Match?”

“Nope, fresh out of the Hedge, I’m afraid,” she says cheerfully.

Amy asks, “Is it like capture the flag, and they’re the flag?”

The man nods enthusiastically. “Each team is trying to capture the other team’s Lamb, but without breaking skin or hurting them more than a little bit and bring that person back to their side.”

“So Capture the Flag with living flags,” says Caesar.

“That’s a tricky prospect,” Marcella says thoughtfully. “What kinds of magic can they use?”

“Oh this one is pretty free-for-all! Just no contracts guaranteed to kill. The teams for these tend to stay together for awhile, have a big following. The Arena wants to keep the teams together for as long as possible,” he replies, slopping a bit of beer in his enthusiasm.

Marcella hums thoughtfully again and sits back. She observes both teams again, trying to learn faces and assess their teamwork and fighting skills. Based on her observations, she would probably recall the Lambs’ faces and the most prominent member of each team’s faces if she saw them again. The gold team seems to be winning due to the strength of coordinating their attacks with the long-range attacks of their Lamb. The green team’s strategy seems to be primarily based on two defending the lamb, four attacking, but there is less coordination. Most members of the team seem moderately skilled fighters, though she has trouble judging their contract use.

Marcella starts narrating the fight blow-by-blow for the rest of the group, explaining where someone made a mistake or a particularly good hit.

Hulda thinks about how it might be beneficial for her to try and find some sunglasses or something to try to make it less painful for her to try to see things outside.

Everyone but Hulda overhears a conversation taking place nearby in the bleachers. Two changelings, outfitted with what looks like armor and carrying what looks like Hedge-made weapons. The first, watching the match, says, “I remember seeing it, I swear. And I’ve been here for every match since, wondering if I’ll see it again.”

The second shrugs, and replies. “Are you sure? I mean, I’ve heard about the system. It’s damn near inviolate, right? Couldn’t it…”

The first interrupts. “No, I know what I saw! You know me—I’ve been around long enough to know what should warrant a pink call. And there was nothing! Not a blip. And a good fighter ended up dead. Tell me that’s not suspicious.”

The second looks uneasy, and replies: “But if the crystals are missing calls like that, that means a lot of the matches are that much more dangerous now. I mean, plenty of them come close to serious injury and fatality WITH the calls.”

The first presses on. “That’s my POINT. We both know—heck, anyone who’s been coming here regularly knows when a fighter’s action questions the regulations they get a pink call. I was watching John that day, and he should have definitely been in pink territory before the accident that killed Geth. Heck, he should have been in red. But there was nothing.”

The second shakes his head. “I don’t know man, I don’t like thinking about it. Especially not right before our own match. You talked to anyone?”

The first shook his head. “Nah, just you. Most everyone here thinks I’m crazy anyway. I suppose you’re right. Should concentrate on the task at hand.” Their conversation peters off into discussion of fight tactics and planning.

As she hears the conversation, Marcella looks around to try and get a visual on the two speakers.

Caesar listens in before asking the group, “So what did the technician say about the crystals?”

Marcella says low to Caesar, “The system he described sounded pretty much unbreakable, short of some magic we’re not familiar with or all the techs being in on the cheat. Maybe there’s more to the story, though,” and she nods at the two who were speaking nearby.

“Probably is,” Iris comments darkly.

Hulda looks slightly confused.

Caesar nods. “Usually is. Is there anyone back at the ‘hold, you know of, who might be familiar with the magic?”

Amy casually wanders closer to the crystals, uses Sense Element to see if there is any clay in the crystal tunnels. She don’t detect anything, though she does suspect that tunnels have clay somewhere and therefore suspects it failed.

Seeing Hulda’s confusion, Marcella says, “I just heard a fighter who witnessed the fight between John and Geth and saw something strange. I’m going to go ask for details.” She stands up and works her way over.

“Oh …” Hulda starts thinking over everything they had discovered trying to figure out who was lying to them/or was duped/where someone could have been able to trick the crystals.

Caesar stays behind, watching Marcella walk off for a minute before continuing to watch the fight and talk. Iris follows her. Faron waits for a moment, like he’s thinking, before following Marcella. Hulda is preoccupied thinking back over things and trying to see what is going on in the stadium.

Marcella gestures to Fianna to keep an eye on Amy before she goes. Fianna raises an eyebrow but nods.

Zia settles herself into an empty bleacher seat and people watches.

To the others watching the battle continue, Caesar finally speaks again. “So Marcella only gave a vague description.”

The two changelings who were speaking notice Marcella and co. hovering nearby. The first turns around in his seat, raises an eyebrow and says, “… Can I help you with something?”

Marcella steps forward and speaks below the roar of the crowd to the two changelings. “My apologies, I overheard what you were just saying. We have been tasked by the Court with investigating the last fight between Whisper John and Geth the Giant. Would you mind sharing some more details about what you saw during that fight?”

Iris instinctively retreats a step back. Faron’s nearby and listening, but he’s facing the match.

The two changelings glance at each other. “I … hadn’t realized we were speaking that loud, miss …?”

Marcella smiles and sticks out a hand. “Marcella, and I’m new around here, just out of the Hedge.”

The first changeling takes Marcella’s hand and shakes it, still looking vaguely confused. “Charmed. I’m Cyril. This is Petrus.” He jabs a thumb at the rocky-looking changeling he had been talking to earlier. “So … how can I help you?”

“Again, my apologies for barging in on a conversation, but I thought I heard one of you saying you saw the fight between Geth the Giant and Whisper John. Am I mistaken about that?”

“Yeah, I guess. I mean, we’re fighters in the Arena. Like most guys we come up here, watch the other matches while waiting for your go at things. Most people pay attention to John—he’s one of the best solo fighters in the Arena.” This last bit is said with no small portion of bitterness.

“So I’ve heard, but I’ve never seen him fight myself,” Marcella says. “I’ve heard Geth was pretty good too, though. Shame what happened.”

“Oh don’t get me wrong, Geth was a right bastard,” Cyril says. “He was just honest about it. I can respect that. John’s another story entirely,” His eyes narrow. “But you’re not here to listen to an old Arena hand like me jaw about how much he dislikes his colleagues. What information are you looking for, specifically?”

“I was hoping to hear your account of the match. The hobs are all up in arms because they think there was some sort of foul play, but I have yet to find anyone who actually saw the whole thing.”

“Well, not the whole thing. Petrus and I are a doubles team. Our match two weeks ago was right before John and Geth’s. We missed the first half, as we were collecting our winnings from the office. We saw the part that mattered, though.” He grimaces, and turns back to his friend. “You got anything to chip in?”

Petrus shrugs, but replies. “Nah, I didn’t see anything unusual. You’re the one with the theories.”

“Theories?” Marcella asks.

Petrus takes over the conversation at this point. “Yeah. Thought there should have been a pink call when there weren’t none. Though Myrish dances are almost impossible to call by eye anyway, they go so fast. That’s our specialty as well—we do the doubles variation, Geth and John worked singles. Though, now that you mention it …”

Petrus trails off, and then he turns to Cyril. “You remember the match the day before that? The one we had against those two Skitterskulk mercs who are always harassing travelers? Well, I actually went too far in one of my attacks. At least, I thought I did. I mean, I’d been pinked on a similar action before, a couple times. But there was no reaction. I didn’t take the time to think about it—I was still fighting and all, and I needed to concentrate—but it was a bit odd, now you mention.”

“Myrish dances? How do those matches work?” asks Marcella.

Cyril takes over again. “Well, Myrish dances come in two flavors—single and double teams. Both follow virtually the same rules, though obviously there’s a bit more strategy and teamwork in doubles matches. It’s pretty much just straight versus combat—contracts are permitted for the purposes of augmenting natural abilities, but not really anything else. Like, you can’t attack someone directly with a contract. Or the area around them. And in both, fatalities are permitted, if not expressly preferred. Otherwise John would have been hauled up in front of a court by now.”

Marcella nods thoughtfully. “That makes sense, thank you for explaining.” She turns back to Petrus. “So, you thought you saw an illegal or borderline move in their match, but no pink from the crystals?”

“That would have been me,” Cyril pipes up. “And honestly, I’d pretty much talked myself out of it. But if Petrus really didn’t get pink called during our match … well, now I’m curious.”

“Do you happen to remember what move it was that you didn’t get pinked on, when you should have? Or what move it was for John?”

“Couldn’t tell you for John, the blighter’s damn fast. But I started using a contract that while beneficial to myself—which is allowed—has a side effect that affects the opponent, which is not. I forgot that tidbit until was almost done casting it. Well beyond when I should have been pinked.”

“I see, that’s very helpful. Thanks.” Marcella smiles at both of them again, then thinks of something. “Oh, actually, one more question. Do you know if John has any particular natural abilities he uses in the Arena? As I said, I haven’t seen him fight.”

“He’s fast, sneaky and damn hard to hit. He does like this one feint combo move where he uses a contract to convince his opponent he’s somewhere else and attacks from outside their perception. It doesn’t mess with his opponent’s perception, just creates a lot of copies of him on the field that anyone can see, so it’s legal.”

“He does sound like a tricksy bastard. Thanks for the help, and maybe I’ll see both of you around the Arena sometime.” She grins, shakes their hands again, and walks back to the rest of the group.

Faron stays where he is by Petrus and Cyril, eyes on the match and occasionally making sure Vogelfrei’s still there.


Meanwhile, Amy tries again and senses clay in some portions of the tunnels. Around it are more bricks, quiet, and the quiet hum of the crystal machinery working. Further along, she can see where the hum, leads to the machinery room.

Amy tries to see if there are any people, and if anything looks suspicious or out of place, especially in the machinery room.

As she reaches further, some of the clay seems older, prouder, different than the rest. Nothing is suspicious or seems out of place as far as she can tell. There is no one in the machinery room where all the humming goes. The bricks here feel more stubborn, less sharing.

Amy whispers “Thank you” and returns her attention to the world around her. She walks back to the group.


When she gets back to the rest, Marcella explains that the fighters she talked to think it’s possible there is a flaw in the system that means the crystals don’t turn pink when they should all the time, but they weren’t sure they saw anything that should have been pink in the match between Geth and John.

Amy walks up and says, “The tunnels look ok. They’re humming so I think that means they’re on.”

“Oh, that was a good thing to check, thanks Amy.” Marcella also fills Amy in on what she found out from the fighters.

Faron and Iris, with all this information, have it click for them that the pair of fighters they just spoke to noticed this lack of pinking in the same kind of match, though for 2×2, as Whisper John and Geth. If the same die is used for a 2×2 as a 1×1, it could just be the die, rather than the whole system. Did someone replace just that die?

“Hmm … I’d like to know what kind of dice are used … how many there are,” muses Iris. “Maybe they just replaced all of the dice of that type?”

“You mean just the Myrish dance dies? Or maybe there’s only one die … that’s a good point. Maybe we should ask a tech,” Marcella suggests. “I bet they could tell us whether it’s the same die."

“Yeah I’d like to ask. Maybe we can figure out where and how the dies are kept too,” says Iris.

Zia offers, “Yes, we could go back and ask the technician. Also, it looks like morning’s fights are almost over.” She points at the battle. “Gold seems to have Green’s Lamb almost to their circle. We could probably talk to Trillium pretty soon.”

“Good timing then.” Marcella stands up. “Let’s see if Arcturos or another technician is still down near the crystal.”

“Sounds good.” Iris says. Everyone follows Marcella, and Faron makes his way down to join them.

They find Arcturos at his post. He turns and say, “You again? And there are more of you? What do you want? I’m not saying there is no way to cheat this system, but that it is hard.”

Marcella smiles apologetically. “Sorry to bother you again, Arcturos, I promise we’ll try and be quick. We were wondering about the sealed die for Myrish Dance matches. Is it the same die for the doubles as for the singles?”

He grudgingly says, “The die is the same because the rules are the same. We put in a secondary die stating whether the total people allowed in the ring during the match are 2 or 4, but otherwise identical.”

“And where are the dies kept? It sounds like your system means it’s pretty much impossible for someone to bribe a tech to put in the wrong die, but what if the dies were switched before the match – even days before?”

“Have the dies from the game been checked or used since then?” adds Caesar.

“One question at a time …” he says. “The dies are kept in the machine room, but there is always someone standing guard in the room whenever someone else is in the room. Door won’t even open for one person.”

Caesar mumbles an apology.

“The Myrish Dance die? It’s been used, passed a quick inspection. No reason to suspect anything went wrong with it,” Arcturos continues.

“The reason we ask is that I just spoke to a fighter on a Myrish Dance doubles team,” Marcella says. “He remembers a fight about two weeks ago where he started using a contract that would have had a beneficial effect on him, but also a secondary negative effect on his opponent. He stopped before he finished the contract, but the crystals didn’t pink. Is that how they usually work?”

His eyes sharpen. “Is that so? Who were the fighters?”

Amy frowns and grabs Marcella’s arm. Marcella raises an eyebrow at Amy. “Don’t get anybody in trouble. They were trying to help.” Amy looks concerned.

Iris is trying to keep herself from cringing. She’s not too keen on the idea of telling on them.

Amy looks at Marcella’s arm where she grabbed, and quickly releases it and pulls her hands back, looking surprised. “Sorry.”

Marcella smiles at Amy and murmurs, “It’s fine.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Pinking isn’t against rules, madam marionnette, I want to know what fight it was, so I can work out the problem. You have a problem with that?”

“I’d be happy to bring you over to them, if you’d like. This is relevant to the Court’s investigation.” Marcella gestures vaguely back towards the stands.

“I’m actually busy right now, doing my job, please just give me the names so I can do the next part of my job later. They are not in trouble.” He is now cranky

Marcella pats Amy’s hand comfortingly and says, “They told me their names were Cyril and Petrus. They’re fighting later today.”

“Excellent, thank you. Now go away,” he replies.

Iris takes a step back.

“Thank you as well. Good luck with your investigation,” Marcella bows and turns away. She heads towards the office Trillium is in, since this match seems like it’s finishing up.

Iris follows. As soon as she is out of earshot she mumbles, “He didn’t seem too happy to hear that … or grateful.”

Marcella grimaces at that. “No, but I suppose I wouldn’t be too happy either if I heard about potential cheating through a mechanism I was responsible for maintaining.”

“I suppose. He could have been the one to switch the dice though.”

Caesar shrugs in silence. He’s following the group.

“It is possible, I don’t think anyone is above suspicion. He knows that we gave him the information about Cyril and Petrus, though, and that it would look very suspicious if something happened to them during their next match. We did tell him we were investigating on behalf of the Court, after all.”

Everyone troops over to Trillium’s office. This time the grumpy gargoyle at the gate lets them through with no problem, though he does glare at them. Caesar enters the office instead of hanging around the market this time.

Faron’s looking off to the side, like the walls are especially fascinating. “Try to be less accusing when speaking to Trillium.” His tone’s pretty flat.

Marcella grins and elbows Faron. “Got a friend, huh? We’ll try and be nice.” Marcella walks into the office.

Amy giggles at Faron before following Marcella in.

As they all walk in, Trillium looks up from her desk. “Ah, Faron and your friends! Please come here. I’m just reviewing the entry from today’s matches to ensure they are correct.” Trillium looks to be somewhere between 30 and a well-preserved 50.

Marcella walks up to Trillium and holds out a hand. “Sorry, I don’t think we had a chance to introduce ourselves before. I’m Marcella. Thanks for the tip about Arcturos, he was very informative.”

“You’re welcome Marcella. Faron dear, who are the rest of your friends?" Trillium asks, smiling broadly at him.

Faron jolts when Trillium speaks to him, looking rather stunned. Marcella does not laugh at Faron, or even snicker at him a little bit, though she wants to.

“Blue, I’m Blue,” Caesar introduces himself.

Trillium says, “Pleased to meet you, Blue!”

“Likewise,” he nods casually.

Iris is hiding in the back – rather unsuccessfully due to her height.

“I’m Amy,” Amy volunteers, “Faron is our mentor.”

“And I’m Zia the Versicolored,” Zia volunteers, allowing her hair to sparkled through a variety of colors.

Caesar smirks at the “Versicoloured” title.

Trillium smiles graciously at Amy and Zia, “And a pleasure to meet you both as well. Faron, come now, don’t be rude, introduce the rest of them!”

Iris is thinking … she does want a new name. “Mel”

Amy cocks her head a bit at Iris’ introduction, and Marcella gives Iris a sideways look.

“Pleased to meet you as well Mel!”

Faron swallows once. “This is Fianna,” he says with a head tilt towards Fianna. “And Hulda,” with another gesture.

“Well then, please come with me,” Trillium asks and takes the large book from her desk.

Marcella follows, as does Amy, who still looks confused about Iris’ sudden name change. Iris, or Mel is waiting a bit and still trying to hide, but does follow, along with the rest.

Caesar lags behind to ask Faron if he’s all right.

“I’m fine,” Faron says a little thickly. “I’m fine, thank you.” He sounds a little more normal the second time around, and walks off. Faron is following the group but giving them as much of a wide berth as the room allows.

Trillium leads the group to a door at the back of the room and unlocks it with a key at her belt. She enters. “This is the records room. Don’t touch anything, my little seedlings.”

The room is large and seems to have more coming off of it. A table is in the center of the room with a few chairs.

Trillium says, “Ladies, do take a seat if you wish.” Then she puts away the book in her hands and takes down the one next to it.

Marcella looks around to see why the invitation was given only to the ladies. She sees only four chairs, and decides to remain standing.

Amy wonders why Blue doesn’t get to sit, but sits down. Caesar remains standing, by the door.

Fianna snorts and says, “Well, that rules me out.” Zia takes a chair gracefully. Iris/Mel still looks nervous, but does sit down.

Trillium asks, “Now you wanted to see the record for Geth and Whisper John’s match, yes?”

“That’s right,” says Marcella.

She opens the book, “Here’s the record.”

Kind of Match: Myrish Dance
Fighters: Whisper John and Geth the Giant
Designated Draw: Laeti, Bookkeeping
Winner: Whisper John
Sealed Die: Intact 564
Notes: Geth the Giant killed

“Is die five-sixty-four currently in use? And is Laeti working today?” Caesar asks the two questions that came to mind.

Trillium replies, “Yes, Laeti is working today. As to the second, I believe so, but I am not positive, let me check.”

She goes to another bookcase, pulls down a book, thumbs through it. “Ah yes, die 564 is still in use for the Myrish Dance matches.”

“Today’s?”

“Not actively in use at the moment, the last Myrish Dance match was two days ago, but still in rotation.”

Caesar nods.

“What about the judges for that match? Are we allowed to see who they were?” asks Marcella.

“Oh yes, my apologies, the entry does go onto the next page.” She turns the page.

Judges: Lothar the Brute, Mischa Everlegs, Laura Holmes

“Is it okay for us to write these down? I want to make sure we don’t forget,” Marcella asks Trillium.

Trillium thinks for a moment. “You may.” Marcella pulls out a small notebook to write this information down. “Are there any other records you would like to see?” Trillium asks.

“Could we see Petrus and Cyril’s Myrish Dance match record from the day before?” Marcella asks. “I want to see if it was the same die used for that match.”

Kind of Match: Myrish Dance
Fighters: Petrus Ridgeback and Cyril the Arcmaker vs. Faith and Hope
Designated Draw: Erratus, Bookkeeping
Winner: Petrus Ridgeback and Cyril the Arcmaker
Sealed Die: Intact 564
Notes: No serious injuries
Judges: Armin Leadenfingers, Lucius at the Crossing, Laura Holmes

“Thanks so much for showing us these.” Marcella says.

“Ohoho. Interesting …” Caesar rubs his chin. “I have a request, would it be possible to pull die 564 out of circulation for a day or two? I would like to have some people of the court take a look at it.”

Trillium shakes her head, “Dies are not permitted to leave the Arena. You can speak to the Head Technician for anything related to the dies, though Arcturos might also be willing to let a few of you into the machine room.”

“We’ve already notified him that the die may be compromised,” Marcella says. “He said he’d investigate. Is there anyone else who should be notified of an issue like this?”

“I will make the Head Technician aware in case Arcturos does not have time to do so today.” Trillium said. “The Arena must handle its own.”

Marcella bows. “Thank you for all your help, Trillium.”

Faron nods. “Who’s Laura, Trillium? I don’t recognize that name.”

“Laura? She is a sweet hob, quite intelligent and an excellent judge. Quite fair. Happy to help my seedlings! It is all for her majesty queen Kenna.” Trillium replies.

“Thanks again,” Caesar nods.

The group heads out of the records room.

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Marcella's game 15 journal

Once they are inside the Arena, Marcella manages to bring herself under a little more control. It’s not the same feel inside as any of the places she was held captive, though the architecture is similar. There’s a much more festive atmosphere (especially considering that most other times she’d been in situations like this, she’d been in chains. Presumably in those arenas, the spectators were having fun at least. As much as made up or imaginary or … whatever they were … spectators can have fun).

There are Roman-style murals lining the walls, and she lets herself get drawn into assessing them from a professional standpoint. If these are an accurate representation of the battles that happen here, they pretty much run the gamut: everything from individual combats to group melees to some truly spectacular naval reenactments, as well as combat styles and weapons she recognizes from her non-arena battles. She wonders again about where those statues on the upper levels came from, and what era of this building these murals are from.

When they reach the booking office, she tries using Faron’s presence as some subtle leverage, but it doesn’t work all that well, since the gargoyle-like changeling doesn’t recognize him. It seems to be a little hit or miss who will recognize him, especially since she doesn’t know enough about Summer to recognize his fellow courtiers. For example, she never would have pegged the flower woman as a – what was it? An Iron Spear? – but the woman certainly knows Faron. She has to suppress a sudden wild laugh at the incongruous mothering of their stern mentor. The laughing might put his back up a bit. Wouldn’t want that, with skin as thin as his. (She might not be able to resist a dig later, though.)

It’s interesting to see that, here too, there are already people around who know some of what’s been going on, and perhaps have suspicions of their own about Whisper John. Why would Kenna leave a mission that will probably involve negotiation with the hobs up to a bunch of greenhorns? she wonders again. And why weren’t we given a full briefing of the facts, if Kenna’s people already seem to have them? There must be factors that she’s missing, which always makes her anxious. She suppresses the reflexive worry that missing these factors could cost lives. As long as they aren’t being set up to take a fall, they should survive to fight another day. Or fulfill another mission, as it were. She’s pretty sure (she hopes) that isn’t the way this freehold works.

One possibility is that Kenna already knows where the accusations will point, and hopes to retain an appearance of impartiality when outside, naive fingers do the pointing. If that’s the case, they may already be making enemies just by letting themselves be used as pawns in Kenna’s game. All the more reason that building a reputation quickly is important. Then at least we can choose our own enemies to make.

She’s really going to have to find out what kind of enchantment this Trillium cast on Faron, because he actually gives her a bright, sincere smile, and she’s not sure she’s ever seen one of those on his face. It – pardon the pun – really lights him up. She’s not sure what to think of cheerful Faron, but the expression passes quickly.

Unfortunately, Trillium sends them to the stands next, exactly where Marcella was hoping to avoid going, but there’s no help for it if that’s where the crystals are. May as well get that first view of the ring over with. First, though, they have to pick up Caesar, who is in the middle of a transaction with an eccentric-looking changeling. He looks embarrassed that they walked over in time to hear his pledge, so she doesn’t rib him about it. She is looking forward to seeing him turn into a grape for a week, though. She also wonders how many sets of clothes Zia must have, if she’s horrified at the idea of re-wearing the same item within a week. I guess I don’t have much experience in that area, though. The battlefield and high fashion aren’t exactly compatible. She thinks Zia has probably already noticed and judged her for only owning three sets of clothes.

She can smell the blood even before they emerge into the sunlight of the stands, and her stomach clenches in anticipation. She tries to keep the emotional distance, but it’s impossible not to feel the heat and imagine the spray of sand in her face. I always wondered what it looked like from the stands. Guess now I know. Fuck, they look like ants from all the way up here.

She notices Fianna’s rigid stance, and she may not know the details, but she knows exactly how it feels. She puts out a hand to show her support and understanding, however inadequate those may be. As Faron said to her yesterday … knowing there are other people out there who can understand still means something. Fianna wordlessly expresses her appreciation, and the knot in Marcella’s stomach eases just a bit. Yep. It still goes both ways.

The rest of the group is looking uncomfortable, and she thinks she has shown more than enough weakness in front of them. Fianna may understand, but that doesn’t mean she wants to sit around a campfire with the whole crew later and talk about their feelings. She gets them moving towards a crystal mostly to have an excuse not to focus her whole attention on the fight. One thing at a time.

It’s surprisingly easy to find Arcturos, the technician they were sent for. Listening to him describe the crystals, though, they sound pretty tamper-proof. She perks up at the description of the sealed dies, however. Those could be a place where a non-technician could interfere with an otherwise secure system, perhaps.

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Zia's Journal, 4-13-14
Violence is Bloody and Gross

Dear Journal,

The Arena is a rather lovely building. It is quite clear that a lot of work has gone into its upkeep. Of course, the purpose of this place is fighting and blood. I do not approve. Not at all. There is a certain beauty and grace to the fighters in the ring, but the bloodlust of the audience is quite unbridled and worrisome.

I think we are starting to understand more about the Arena, but not really figuring out how and if Whisper John cheated. I think we can probably trust Arcturos and Trillium. Faron…needs to work on being less of an idiot. You’d think Trillium bit him or something. I know all changelings have issues, hell, I have issues Journal, let me tell you, but that man needs to stop letting his issues control him.

Caesar bought a cloak with some rather curious currency. I will need to find him some purple clothing. Not sure I can make sufficient clothing in just a few days.

I think that we should get a look at the die used in Whisper John’s match. That might tell us something.

Zia

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Game 15: Truly a Blue Berry

Summary
The party enters the arena proper and makes plans with the bookkeeping office to look at the paperwork when things are slightly less busy. Meantime, Caesar buys an awesome purple cloak, and makes a promise of questionable sense. After that they go into the stands, and after briefly observing one of the matches, talk to the creator of the crystals about how they work.

Log
Just inside the arena, there are a few people walking along the hallway, some clearly rushing somewhere, others just strolling along. There is one hot dog or some other sausage-like thing vendor at the corner.

“Faron, do you know if there’s an office or something where they might keep the records about the judges?” Marcella asks.

“Any place worth its salt that holds regular fights should have at least a bookie somewhere,” Fianna says, her voice kind of on edge. “Judging by the size of this place I’m guessing there’s a lot of them.”

“There’s a bookkeeping office that would have that information farther around, yes,”

Faron agrees and walks off. The rest of the party follows him.

As the party walks to the office, they notice that the wall murals, tiles and archways are battle themed. The murals are organized by types of battle, slowly building up towards larger and larger and more and more spectacular fights until we reach the actual formal entrance to the Arena where the reverse happens. The details are simply exquisite, though in some cases a bit worn. Those murals and decorative pieces that look a little more worn are older and done by someone different, although the more recent murals and carvings did try to match the old ones. The older murals are also more disturbing and violent, more likely to gruesomely show someone’s death.

“Very thematic decorations,” Marcella comments. She sounds much more controlled than when they were first entering the Arena.

Iris murmurs, “I wonder who or what built this place”

“Yes, I do wonder that, with those statues outside …” Marcella responds.

Amy shudders.

“Hmm… I don’t like the look of those people there even if they weren’t fighting” Iris points to the oldest murals.

Zia looks at the mural Iris points to. “Well, happily we aren’t hear to fight or even enjoy the fights. We can go in, get this done and leave.” she says quietly.

“I guess. I just want this part to be over.”

Most of the group nods in agreement with that sentiment.

They arrive in front of what is clearly the booking office. There is a whole row of tellers off to the side taking bets from an assortment of changelings and Hedge denizens—some of whom appear to be paying with the oddest assortment of seemingly random objects—and behind them through a row of bars you can see several people at desks and running back and forth carrying large stacks of paper. There is a door off to the side that appears to lead into the office, with a grumpy looking changeling that resembles a gargoyle off a cathedral standing guard, grumbling to himself and chewing on a rancid looking cigar.

Marcella walks up to the door and knocks smartly.

“Oi,” the gargoyle changeling says, looming over you with his cigar in his mouth. “You can’t just walk in there. Who d’ya think you are?”

Marcella doesn’t mention that she hadn’t actually tried to enter the office. “Sorry for the intrusion, sir. We’d like to see the record of who judged a particular match. Do you hold those records here?”

The man folds his arms and looks down at you. “Maybe we do. But I ain’t gnna send you in there unless you can give me a good reason. Can’t go lettin’ just anyone see the records. On who or what’s authority are you here?”

Marcella gives a slight bow and steps to the side very slightly so he can see Faron better, in case he recognizes him. “My apologies, I should have mentioned that first. We are here to carry out an official investigation on behalf of the Summer Court.”

The changeling grimaces. “Well, I ain’t one of Kenna’s Iron Spears myself, I owe allegiance to Winter. So name recognition isn’t gonna help you here.” He levels his gaze at Faron. “But just on the off chance, it ain’t a good idea to upset a monarch. So give me the details, boyo. Why are you looking for these records?”

“On assignment from Queen Kenna, we’re looking into the recent attacks by the hobs. They’re upset by how one of the matches went. We’re hoping to gain information to put them at ease and end the attacks,” Faron answers.

“Oh, THAT mess.” The changeling rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I can see Kenna wanting to stop all the hullabaloo. Fine, I’ll let you in, let the bookies sort you out. Just do me a favor; keep that talk down around the patrons. Worth more than my job if attendance tapers, you hear?” He steps aside.

Faron nods with a polite smile. “Thank you.” He goes in.

“We understand, thank you kindly for your assistance,” Marcella says as she goes in.

Caesar nods, but remains outside. No point in a billion people in a single office.

The rest of the party follows them in.

Inside the office is chaos. Changelings and the ocassional Hedge creature are running everywhere with records and piles of money and assorted items the party can only assume are bets for the matches. There is a large chalkboard on the wall with some sort of strange shorthand that is the day’s current standings and odds. A woman with flowerlike features is directing the madness from a desk in the center of the room

Marcella takes the lead again and walk up to the flowerlike woman.

“Can I help you? I’m quite busy,” the woman says distantly, paying more attention to an abacus in her hands and a stack of forms than to you"

“I’m sorry for interrupting, then,” Marcella says. “We are investigating a matter for Queen Kenna, and we would like to see the record of who judged a particular match. Where do we find those records?”

At the mention of Kenna, the bookeeper looks up. “Oh! Why didn’t you say so? Anything I can do to help my queen and court is a privilege.” She stands. “I don’t recognize you, are you some of the young ones who’ve come to Aachen recently?” She peers around at the group, before her eyes settle on Faron. “Is that you, Faron? What are you doing out here, honey? Are you eating all right?”

Marcella’s mouth quirks into an involuntary grin for a moment, but she smoothes her features quickly, “Yes, the rest of us just recently arrived in Aachen."

Fianna’s black mood lifts for a moment and she snickers quietly to herself.

Faron smiles somewhat sheepishly. “I’m eating well enough, thank you Trillium. I’m… supervising this new group for awhile.”

Caesar taps his foot impatiently and decides to go walk around to see what these vendors are.

“Isn’t that sweet of you,” Trillium says. “Anyways, you said you came to look at a judging records.is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Marcella says.

Caesar goes over to what looks like a hippy clothing store.

“Well, we are awfully busy right now,” Trillium says thoughtfully. “It might be easier for you to come back in a couple of hours, when we have a bit of a break. Then I can take you to the records room and not have to worry too much about people wondering what we’re doing back there—I assume Kenna wants this done as delicately as possible, if she’s investigating an official ruling. In the meantime, I can give your group a pass that will get you into the stands for free, so you can pass the time—or do a little extra investigating.” She winks at the last comment. “Would that suit you?”

Marcella glances around at the group. “We were also hoping to take a look at the crystals which test for illegal contracts in the ring. Can we get close to those from the stands?” She says this quietly.

Trillium gets serious. “Well now, we ARE getting down and dirty, aren’t we. Unfortunately, I can’t take you down there myself—I can’t leave for that long and bookkeepers don’t really have the authority to be in the maintenance shafts below the crystals…but I know someone who might be willing to bring you down. He’s one of the technicians, a Wizened by the name of Arcturos. Ask one of the techs at the crystals in the stands in between matches—they can tell you where he is today. Then later, come back here and I can show you those records.”

Faron smiles, bright and sincere. “Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you so much for your help. We’ll be back in a few hours,” Marcella adds, a little weirded out by a bright smile from Faron, but managing to look politely at Trillium, give a friendly nod, and start heading out of the office without showing it, followed by the rest of the party.

The vendor Caesar approached is a tiny little wizened woman. Her sign says, “Hedgespun for the Ages: produced entirely in the hedge by virgin hobs in a smoke-free, fae-free, margarine-free, and curse-free environment” Her stall has a wide variety of clothing, primarily in tie-die fabric.

“Hey there. So what’s all of this?” Caesar asks the Wizened, referring to his goods.

“Hello my dear! My wares are Hedgespun for the Ages: produced entirely in the hedge by virgin hobs in a smoke-free, fae-free, margarine-free, and curse-free environment!” She gestures grandly. “I have anything you could need! Do you need a cloak to look even more impressive than you already do? Or perhaps you want to get the ladies! Ooh, I have a hat for that! Maybe you need a little bit direction in the hedge? Well, worry not, I have a lovely pair of pants for that function and they have pockets!”

Cloaks were cool, weren’t they? thinks Caesar. “I see that people don’t exactly pay with currency. What would you want for a cloak?”

The wizened woman smiles, “That depends on what you have to offer good sir! We do take euros in a pinch, but if you have a sufficient number of oddments or hedgefruit or promises, that will do.”

“How does twenty Euros sound for it?” Caesar asks

She thinks for a second. “20 euros for one of these lovely cloaks made in a smoke-free, fae-free, margarine-free, and curse-free environment! 20 euros and 4 hedge fruits or one middling promise.”

“Middling promise?” Caesar asks, unsure. “Of what nature?”

“It is a promise is more than something insignificant or less than something important,” she smiles like that was helpful.

Caesar waggles his eyebrows. “What would the promise entail me to do?”

“Depends on what you are willing!” She looks down at a list in squiggles you cannot read. “Would you be willing to wear only purple for all of next week? This includes your underwear and shoes.”

Caesar almost laughs. “Sure! I think I could pull that off, assuming I could find some purple clothing.”

The rest of the groups emerges to see Caesar bartering with the old Wizened woman for a cloak.

Amy goes over to see the stall he is looking at.

Caesar notices Amy. “Oh, wow, you all finished faster than I expected. Manage to get everything?”

“We’re gonna go back later. They’re busy.” Amy answers succinctly.

“Excellent! Please swear the following, I, insert your name here, do swear that I will wear only purple, head to toe from 12:01 Sunday morning until 11:59 the follow Saturday.” the stallkeep says

“What?” Amy starts giggling.

“In the meantime, we have a lead to investigate the crystals,” Marcella says quietly to Caesar.

“Ah,” Caesar nods and turns back, almost embarrassed that the others have to hear what he has to do. “Uh…I, Caesar Berry, do swear that I will wear only purple, head to toe from 12:01 Sunday morning until 11:59 the following Saturday.” He glances back to the others, “uh…ignore that bit.”

The stallkeep smiles widely and crosses a line off of her list. She then opens a little book and carefully writes: Cloak of Zing- 20euros and promise of purple for one week, Caesar Berry. “Thanks so much! Would you like the purple, green, or blue?”

“I suppose purple, given I have to wear it.” He shrugs.

Marcella blinks a bit at Caesar’s transaction, but doesn’t comment.

Caesar silently thanks her for that. Its embarrassing enough.

“Do you have that much purple?” Amy wonders aloud, “Zia, you could make him some!”

“Hmmm…I do believe I have some purple…not sure I can make him a weeks worth of clothes in 3 days though.” Zia answers.

“I could help.” Amy volunteers.

“Here you go!” The woman pulls down a lovely cloak in purple that looks like someone caught waves into it and dyed it purple.

“Clothes CAN be reworn, Fancypants,” Fianna says, rolling her eyes.

Caesar takes the cloak, says a “thanks,” and puts it on. It looks nice.

“They could, I suppose,” Caesar nods, referring to the practice of rewiring clothes. “Not like I haven’t before.”

“You look very stylish,” Marcella comments.

“Thanks Amy, that would be fun!” Zia replies to Amy. “Clothes can be reworn…but in the same week! Unacceptable.”

“I guess we should head for the stands and look for one of those technicians?” Marcella suggests.

Amy nods in agreement, looking slightly less amused now that they are back to business.

“Sure,” Caesar nods. “Thanks again for the cloak!”

“My pleasure sir! Do keep your promise. I’ll know otherwise. Oh! and make sure to stand in the wind near the ocean sometime, the cloak likes that.” she replies to him and turns back to arranging her wares.

The cloak can like things? Amy wonders what else the cloak likes.

Fianna mutters something about there being something ‘not right’ about sentient clothing. “Where do you suppose the stands are from here. I suppose we better get this over with.”She sounds the opposite of enthused.

With a nod, Caesar turns his attention back to the group. “So these technicians know about the crystals? Where do we find them?"

“We have to find them in the stands in between matches. Someone in the office gave us passes to get in,” Marcella explains. “Faron, do you know where the entrance is?”

“There are several. I’ll take you to the closest one,” Faron answers, and begins walking off again, followed by the rest, Caesar looking awesome in purple.

Everyone hands their tickets to the man standing at the entrance to the stands.

They all walk out into the sunlight of the Arena. The stands are rather full, though not stuffed. Most of the people are standng and cheering. Their attention is caught by the sands of the Arena glowing in the sunlight, dirty in places with blood. A full out fight between two teams is going on, with a person at either end standing in a circle. It is unclear who is winning.

Hulda blinks at the brightness, and then starts looking around to see if she can spot the crystals. She wants to see if/how visible they are from the stands before going to look at them up close.

Amy watches the fighting, looking confused.

Fianna freezes. Anyone paying any attention to her notices that her muscles are all tense, and her fists are balled up. She is staring at the scene below with an expression that is angry….but also something else.

Zia looks around, not uncomfortable, but not pleased with the blood and mess.

Caesar glances over the crowd before watching the group battle.

“Hey,” Says Amy, “are they fighting or are they playing?”

Marcella stops next to Fianna and looks down at the fighting, expression distant and not quite seeing what she’s staring at. One hand is gripping the hilt of her sword tightly. She puts the other on Fianna’s shoulder and squeezes.

Iris isn’t saying anything, she’s creeped out and fidgeting with her rifle if she can.

Zia quickly answers Amy, “They are fighting, but in a playful fashion with rules.”

As Zia says that a treelike changeling crushes someone’s arm with a root-like appendage. There is an audible crunch and the crowd responds wildly.

Fianna’s only response to Marcella grabbing her shoulder is to reach her opposite arm over and grab the top of her hand.

Iris looks over to them, but doesn’t know how to react. She decides just staying petrified is fine.

After another moment, Marcella squeezes Fianna’s shoulder again and lets go. She clears her throat.

“So, where exactly are these crystals?” She’s looking at the stands now, rather than the fighting in the Arena. Her fist is still tight on her sword hilt, knuckles white, but her expression is closed off.

The crystals are easy to spot: four irregular but very large pillars topped with the crystals stand at roughly equal intervals around the arena fighting area. They are all glowing a hot white.

After a moment of actually looking at the stands, Marcella leads the way towards the base of the nearest one. Before she starts moving, she says quietly to Fianna, “I don’t think all of us need to go, if you don’t want.”

“Like hell,” Fianna replies. “A distraction is just what I need.” She heads down towards the nearest crystal.

Marcella walks slowly, since they are supposed to find the technicians in between matches, and this one doesn’t seem like it’s over yet.

Caesar alone stays behind to watch the fight, paying special attention to the battle and the crystals, watching for anything that might happen to either.

Everyone else walks to the nearest crystal and lo and behold there is a wizened changeling wearing a cap that says “I am the Tech, beware.”

Marcella decides it’s worth a try, even if we’re not between matches right now. “We’re looking for Arcturos, could you tell us where he is right now?”

The tech turns around, “I am he. Can I help you?”

“Well. That was easy,” Fianna says flatly.

“We were sent to you by Trillium,” Marcella explains. “We’re carrying out an investigation for Queen Kenna, and we’d like to get down into the maintenance shafts beneath the crystals.” She leans close to minimize the chance of audience members nearby overhearing her.

“For the queen!” he says quietly, but with fervor. “This is about that fight a bit ago, isn’t it? Well, I don’t see why you need to go down there, unless you know something about this kind of system? I’m assuming you don’t, no offense. I can tell you that the system hasn’t been tampered with at all.”

“How sensitive are they?” Faron asks. “Would they flash at the slightest sign of anything outside the bounds of the rules?”

“Sensitive as anything! I helped design it after all! Now, we assume that the competitors fight in a variety of our fights and since each kind of match has different rules, there is a pink setting that the crystals will flash if someone starts doing say a two-step thing that can lead to breaking a rule. For example if you are a poisonous changeling in a match where that isn’t allowed and you start getting your poison all ready, they will flash pink. That reminds most of the fighters, oops, wrong rules and they stop. Now if they carry through on it, the crystals will turn red and stay that way for 60 seconds.” Arcturus explains

Marcella nods thoughtfully. “You’re right, sir, none of us are experts, and I doubt we could tell more than you could about whether these crystals have been tampered with.” She pauses. “Were you at that match? I don’t suppose you could tell us what happened?”

“I didn’t think you looked like experts in this kind of thing. I wasn’t at that match, I was downstairs, making the sealed die for a new kind of match.” he replies.

“The sealed die?” Marcella asks.

“There are so many different kinds of matches we do here. So there is a die we put into the controller for the crystal system for each kind of match. The seal turns black if it has been tampered with.” He replies proudly.

“I see, that does seem like a very secure system,” Marcella says. “Thank you so much for your help, I think you’ve answered our question.”

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Marcella's game 14 journal

The next morning, Marcella is feeling no ill effects of her indulgence the night before, for which she is grateful. She’s cheerful as everyone arrives, and manages to compliment Zia’s outfit even as she’s busy being amazed the woman has coordinated her dress to a building she’s never seen. (Also that she finished the dress in one night, possibly while still a little drunk.)

There’s some debate about where to go first, but they eventually agree on the Arena. Marcella is tempted to try and offer Fianna an out, but she doesn’t think the other woman would take it.

She’s also touched by the thought Zia put into the bracelets she hands around, but hearing that they’re the traditional mark to show the champion you’re is rooting for also sends a small thrill of dread through her. Despite Fianna’s vehement opposition to getting anywhere near the Arena, it seems to be central to the Summer Court’s politics and workings. She’s pretty sure this won’t be the last time all of them are involved with it, especially those of them who are considering joining Summer.

That feeling is only strengthened when they encounter mercenaries on their way to the Arena. They speak about their reputations as “blooded Arena fighters,” and she can feel the vice closing around her. She is sure now that if she chooses to play the political games of Summer, she’ll be going back into the ring. And really, what choice does she have but to play? As newly-emerged changelings, there isn’t much going for them. As the mercs say, they have no reputation and no pull. No reputation or pull makes them easy pawns in political struggles between the forces she doesn’t yet understand in the freehold. She knows the best way to protect her people, both the group she’s with now and her fellow chess pieces, is to build enough of a reputation that there are political consequences for messing with those associated with her. And as she already knows all too well, she doesn’t have much else she can build a reputation on besides her battle prowess.

And deep down inside, there’s a part of her that’s eager to fight. For so long, she was fighting (and her soldiers were dying) for made-up people and causes. Fighting for the reasons she chooses, against opponents who have a choice about whether or not they face her, for people she cares about, is all she could have asked for. It would be a relief to feel the thrill and exhilaration of battle without worrying that someone she was responsible for might not survive the day.

For now, though, she’s dealing with what’s in front of her, which are these mercs. She’s pleased to see that Faron isn’t rising to their bait, and seems confident in their group’s ability to protect themselves. However, Fianna is getting increasingly ornery and confrontational. She can’t say she’s surprised, but she’s glad it doesn’t turn into a scuffle. They don’t need a reputation as troublemakers and hotheads.

She thought she knew what would be coming when they finally got to the Arena, but actually being there is worse than she expects. The combination of the Roman-looking building, the smell of blood, and the roar of the crowds brings her straight back to being Feiyan, called Septima by her slavers, and the horrors she suffered inside the arena and out. For a moment it’s all she can do to remain standing as Feiyan’s memories come at her all at once, along with all the other slaves and arena fighters she has been. She struggles to shake it off, to recall herself to the place, time, and person she is now. She’s Marcella, not Feiyan or any of the others. She has her sword. She’s free from her Keeper. She chooses her own battles now.

Once she’s back to herself, she realizes she’s not the only one thrown into memory by the sight, sound, and smell of the arena. She wonders again why Fianna’s reaction to this place is so strong. Wasn’t she a star in Arcadia? What did that have to do with fighting arenas? Then again, you were a chess piece. Who can say what being a star involved? Regardless, it’s clear that Fianna’s fighting past involved no small amount of trauma. Even if I choose to go back, I could never ask her to do the same.

The statues throw her for another loop when they come into view. Why, in the name of all the stars above, would they decide to decorate their Arena like that? She feels sick to her soul looking at the expressions on those faces, recognizing the horror in their eyes. She can’t let herself start imagining why they’re there, though, who they might have been (still are?), or she’ll never make it inside the bloody place. I fucking hope walking into this place will get easier with practice.

Hearing Faron’s explanation – that the statues were found here – makes it both better and worse. So it wasn’t Summer’s choice to put them here, which is good. But on the other hand, that leaves the very pertinent question of whose choice it was to leave these poor souls here, and whose touch might yet linger on this Arena. A hard knot of ice forms in her stomach at the thought of those previous inhabitants and spectators. No, she certainly can’t say she likes this place. But somehow, she’s pretty sure this won’t be the last time she comes here.

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Game 14: Trauma for Everyone

Summary

The group decides to go to the Arena and investigate the crystals and the judges first, rather than trying to find the hob chief first. When they enter the Hedge, they encounter some mercenaries who want to offer them protection from the hobs, but after some tense posturing Faron declines their services. When the group reaches the Arena, its appearance, noises, ambiance, and creepy living statues give pretty much everyone in the group pause, but they go inside nonetheless.

Log

The next morning, the group meets at the freehold gate. It had previously been decided that investigating the leads in the Hedge were first priority, so they are gathered to leave for the baseball diamond entrance.

Faron is about 10 minutes early. He’s as stoic as usual.

Marcella arrives a little early, looking perky and alert and carrying her briefcase of swords. She’s not feeling any after-effects from her previous night’s escapades.

Amy arrives shortly after, doll-in-sling as usual. She looks pensive, and seems to not be paying overly much attention to her surroundings.

Marcella greets everyone as they arrive. To Faron, who got there before her, she gives a nod and says “Thanks” again. He nods slightly in return.

Iris – as usual – seems nervous. She hasn’t slept much, having tried to keep people out of her dreams once more, but while she might be physically tired, she has managed to find herself some coffee and is carrying her rifle and her rapier.

Zia comes in precisely on time, her hair a stable blue-purple and dressed in Roman-inspired garb. “Good morning!” she says cheerily.

Fianna looks muzzy and not quite awake. She’s muttering something about her ‘brain not letting her sleep.’

“Good morning, Zia,” Marcella says. “How was the rest of your evening?”

Amy startles a bit and looks at Zia, “Good morning.”

“My evening was quite good! I put this little number together. What do you think of it?” she asks with a swirl of her petticoats.

“Mmrph,” Fianna says eloquently.

Iris just stares.

“It’s very … thematic,” observes Marcella.

“Thanks Marcella! I remembered that I had just the fabric for the tunic,” Zia replies. She nods at Fianna’s elegant reply.

Iris takes a step backwards.

“Well, it looks lovely on you,” Marcella says.

Zia smiles and takes another whirl. “Oh Amy, remind me sometime to make you a better carrier for your friend.”

Amy looks at her sheet-sling, and nods. “Yes, please.”

Zia smiles cheerfully at Amy. “I have several ideas, we should talk sometime about what would be best for you and your friend.”

Caesar comes to the gate a bit later than all the others. “Sorry about the delay.”

“No problem, Caesar, we’ve got all day,” Marcella says cheerfully.

“But, now that you’re here, why don’t we head to the Hedge. What were we doing first? Investigating the judges, the crystals in the Arena, or the Hob chief?” Zia asks.

“I vote the hob!” Fianna says, perhaps a bit too quickly.

“Arena first, the hob chief sounds more dangerous, and if anyone gets injured we may not have time,” Iris says. “Arena then judges, that is.”

“The Hob chief might be able to provide some insight into the crystals,” Caesar responds with a shrug.

“I think it would make the most sense to go to the Arena first, since we may be able to find out about the judges there as well,” Marcella weighs in. “They have that record of the judges there. Sorry Fianna,” she adds.

“They might do, but we could probably go back there if they give us more information,” Iris says.

“That is true,” Marcella concedes to Caesar. “I still think it would be more expedient to do the Arena first, though.”

“It’s your choice, of course, but having as much information as possible before getting the hobs’ side of the story might be … helpful, to you,” Faron weighs in. Iris and Marcella nod in agreement.

“Fair enough,” says Caesar.

“I don’t know, we have a lot of information on the Court’s opinion of things. I don’t see how going to the Arena first will make a difference,” Zia offers.

“I was wishing we had more straight facts and less spin yesterday, so I think the Arena offers us the best chance to find those facts,” Marcella responds.

“But, let’s go the Arena. I’m dressed for it! Oh and I brought all of you this!” Zia hands everyone a bracelet woven of golden fabric. “Apparently people wear bracelets and other things for who they support in the Arena. I made us Vogelfrei bracelets!” The bracelets have the word ‘Vogelfrei’ working into the knot pattern.

“Well, if we’re going, let’s just go,” Fianna says bitterly. “Standing around here waffling about it is worse.” She stomps off towards the van and sits grumpily in the passenger seat.

“Aye,” Caesar agrees, “let’s.”

“Oh, thank you, Zia! That was very thoughtful,” Marcella says, and puts on the bracelet.

Amy takes her bracelet, considers for a moment, then puts it on over the one she is already wearing. She then hurries to the van, following Fianna.

Faron stares at the bracelet a bit before pocketing it and going to unlock the van and getting in.

“Sounds like the Arena first, everyone ready?” Marcella heads towards the van.

Zia glares at Faron as she gets into the van, nose in the air. Marcella sighs a little at Zia and Faron.

Iris takes a bracelet. She doesn’t seem to mind it at all.


The party arrives at the abandoned baseball field. Everyone gets out and walks to the diamond. Faron goes to the entrance and waits for everyone.

As they leave the car, Marcella gives Fianna an inquisitive look. “Everything okay?” she asks quietly.

“Just peachy.” She marches up to door. “One, please.”

Marcella brings her whole briefcase of swords, but waits to get one out until they are in the Hedge. She shrugs and follows Fianna. “One, please.” Once in the Hedge, Marcella decides to try out the Blade of Slender Protection. The sword feels light and natural in her hands.

Iris takes a few deep breaths, grabbing her rifle under her jacket.

Amy sticks close to Fianna, entering the Hedge right behind her. “One please."

Caesar follows. “One, please.”

Iris isn’t sure what to think, but there’s no point waiting. “One please.” Once she’s in the Hedge, she expands her rifle. “Samuel’s Zorn steh auf.”

Zia says, “One please!” and goes through.

Once everyone else is through, Faron enters, sword still sheathed.

On the other side, there are actually a few people. Where they had previously seen marks in the ground, there is a stall selling Arena ware and food. The vendor is a wizened changeling. Some of the food is … interesting. There are also two tall changelings who look like black insects stretched out to human. They look carefully at those of the group who have taken out their weapons.

Iris’ eyes narrow, and she’s happy to have her rifle back at full size. Amy falls further back in the group. Marcella steps forward to meet them. Caesar also steps before the group.

“Greetings!” Marcella says cheerfully. Marcella also sheathes her sword, once she has fastened the scabbard to her hip.

“Hello,” Caesar follows Marcella’s lead.

Iris slings the rifle over her shoulder.

The two insectlike changelings look suspiciously at the group. “Going to the Arena?” one says gruffly.

“That’s right,” Marcella says. “We’re investigating some things for the Court.”

“Is there any reason not to?” asks Caesar.

Faron winces.

“Of course not! Especially if you hire one of us to keep you safe on the way there,” he replies.

Iris stares at them, looking for any signs of identification to any group, but there are none that she knows.

“Keep us safe from what, exactly?” Marcella asks.

“The hobs have been attacking those who try to go the Arena. You wouldn’t want your visit to be marred by anything, would you?” he says.

Amy frowns, but says nothing.

Fianna snorts, amused in spite of herself by the irony.

Caesar looks to the rest of the party with a rather amused face before turning back to the merc.

“We’re not that weak, you know?” Iris mumbles.

“They’re with me today, Theo,” Faron says, stepping forward.

Marcella was about to reply, but steps aside to let Faron say his piece. She gives Caesar an amused shrug.

Theo looks Faron up and down. “I’ve never seen you fight. These hobs have killed people. Would you put these ducklings at risk?”

Marcella snorts. “I think we’ll be fine.” She’s got her arms crossed and looks a little offended.

“…I’m sorry?” Fianna says very, very softly.

Iris is starting to look a little offended as well, but decides she’d rather be underestimated.

Amy notes the mounting tension, and fidgets nervously.

Faron’s mouth quirks very slightly before going back to neutral. “No, I wouldn’t.”

Marcella looks mollified by that.

Theo smiles, exposing black shiny sharp teeth. “Then hire one of us. I’ll keep the ducklings safe.”

Amy waits for Faron’s reply, anxiously. Iris’ face hardens further. Those two seems more creepy than the hobs by far.

We haven’t seen you fight either, for that matter,” Caesar decides to chime in.

We are blooded Arena fighters, unlike all of you. Our reputation is made,” Theo retorts.

“True,” Faron agrees. “But I think we’ll pass for today.”

Marcella resists the tempting but stupid idea of making rude gestures at the two mercenaries.

“Very well. Don’t let any of your ducklings get hurt, Golden boy, the Queen wouldn’t like it,” he says and steps to the side.

Amy sighs in relief at Faron’s response.

Zia makes disparaging remarks about their dress under her breath.

Marcella gives a casual, slightly mocking salute as she passes.

Iris follows them with her eyes, but says nothing. She too is very much relieved.

Now that the tension is broken, the vendor says, “Flags, noisemakers, beer, wine! Cheaper than at the Arena!” Amy looks at the wares with interest as she passes.

As she leaves, Fianna reaches out, grabs a large tree, uproots it, breaks it in half in her hands, and tosses it at their feet before casually sauntering off. Marcella chuckles at Fianna.

The one who has not yet spoken has venom come out of his mouth and spines, sizzling where it hits the ground. Theo just picks up half of the tree and puts it on his shoulder.

Iris isn’t going to even try a display like that. She does smile at Fianna, but sticks with her decision. Better to be underestimated.

Marcella also glances at the vendor’s wares, but doesn’t linger as they continue towards the Arena.

Faron doesn’t say anything, but once they’re away from those two his body language gets tenser.

Marcella arranges the group so Fianna and Iris take the rear, and she and Faron take point. Caesar falls somewhere in the middle.

“Remember Amy, if we do get into battle, you can try pulling pretty much any weapon you can think of out of my dreams,” Marcella says. “We should practice it the next time we have some down time.”

“Ok,” Amy says, then looks thoughtful.

They arrive at the great clearing in the Hedge containing the Arena. The massive building reminds anyone with knowledge of the Colosseum in Rome of that building. The oval building stretches up up up, past the height of the entwining thorns. They are presented with a sea of arches and columns, but each column is different. On the side they are on the floor level columns are massive statues of changelings and Hedge creatures in poses of defeat and death. On the second level are alternating marble columns twined with stone vines and thorns and idealized representations of the ideals of the Summer Court. On the third level, there are victorious changelings and Hedge creatures alternating with columns of gold set with skulls. They can smell from here the blood, very slightly, and hear the roar of the crowds. In front of the Arena are about six vendor stalls, with signs there used to be more.

Fianna says a Very Bad Word. Several times over.

When the Arena comes in sight, Marcella stops short for a moment and turns even paler than usual. After a moment, she gives herself a shake and continues forward. Her knuckles are white on the hilt of her sword.

Amy draws closer to Fianna, and is herself unsure if it is for Fianna’s sake or her own.

“Bugger the consequences, I think I actually want to get drunk,” says Fianna.

“Now? But shouldn’t we look at the crystals first?” asks Amy.

“I’ll pass on that, I’d rather be able to react to what’s going on around me,” Iris says. “Maybe we should talk to the hobs first, after all, and then go after this is over.”

“No, after. If I need to punch something I want to be able to see straight,” Fianna growls.

Marcella looks over her shoulder at Fianna. “Zia introduced me to daiquiris last night, Fianna. I think we still have leftovers, if you’re still hankering when we get back tonight.”

“Agreed,” Iris says to Fianna.

Zia looks at the building carefully. “The construction is very well themed. Let us go in and see how the decorating scheme continues to be so well planned.”

“…What’s a dack-eerie?” asks Fianna.

“it’s a drink, contains alcohol,” explains Iris.

“Oh, a daiquiri is a rather tasty drink!” Zia replies.

Marcella gives Zia a Look. “Girly drinks. They’re tasty.”

Amy thinks it sounds like a duck when Fianna says it, and giggles a bit, mood lifted. Maybe they are ducklings after all.

“But yes, we should not drink right now.” Zia continues.

Fianna’s accent gets incredibly thick for a second. “Me mam liked whiskey. Do they still sell whiskey?”

“Yes,” Faron says to Fianna.

“They do, I’m sure we could find you some,” Marcella assures her. “Just not right now,” she adds.

“Screw it, let’s get this over with.” Fianna says.

“Shall we go in? That is where the judges are,” Zia proposes.

“Maybe we should look at the crystals first? In case they get mad,” suggests Amy.

“Let’s just go in and look around,” says Iris.

“Yeah, let’s get it over with,” agrees Marcella. She heads for the closest entrance. Everyone follows. Fianna is at the back looking like a storm cloud.

Once they are about 20 meters away, it is like they have crossed a line and suddenly in the arches on the second and third levels there are also statues. Some of the statues are … real people … looking kind of frozen.

1_roman-colosseum.jpg

Amy eeps and freezes in place, herself.

Iris’ eyes widen, but she isn’t too surprised, all said and done. She will have to ask about the conditions of the fights.

Marcella looks kind of sick, but tries to keep her eyes on the entrance and keeps walking.

As the group continues on Amy takes a deep breath, gathering herself, and follows, now in the rear. She covers the eyes of her doll and keeps her own eyes fixed on the person in front of her.

Fianna puts her arm on Amy’s shoulder and gently guides her forward, talking to her softly, and keeping her head focused on the floor. She warns her before she touches her though.

Zia disapproves of this practice, even though it does add a certain macabre air to the Arena. She looks at the group, noting how distressed it has made most of them.

“I’m sorry,” Faron says somewhat softly to the group. “I’d … forgotten.”

“It says something about this whole thing that you can forget something like that,” Iris whispers.

“Don’t worry about it,” Marcella says gruffly to Faron. She glances back at the rest of the group, noticing for the first time how distressed the rest of them are by the statues.

“We better be doing this all in one trip, because like hell I am coming back here for a very long time,” Fianna growls.

Marcella squares her shoulders and sets her jaw. “I can take it,” she mutters under her breath. She sounds a little like she’s trying to reassure herself, to those who can hear her.

Amy looks at Faron, "Why would they do that? You said the freehold doesn’t like keeping people prisoner.” Her tone is ever-so-slightly accusatory.

“It’s not the work of the freehold,” Faron says.

“It’s the Court I think,” Iris says.

Caesar silently observes the statues, opting not to speak.

“No. The Arena is… ancient. It was rediscovered abandoned. They were already here,” Faron explains.

Marcella shivers.

Fianna says another Very Bad Word.

Iris seems relieved, but does ponder what might have happened here before. Whether she might find somebody to question, if only she had their names.

Amy frowns, then decides the situation warrants it and copies Fianna.

“At this point, there’s nothing we could do for them. Let’s go in.” Caesar says.

“Yeah,” Marcella agrees gruffly. She leads the way in.

The party goes into one of the side entrances. The walls of the tunnel-like entrance are carved with scenes of battles. The smell of blood is a bit stronger now, the roar of the crowd now louder, and they can pick out some individual voices.

“Get ’em!”

“Don’t let that lizardlips get you!”

Marcella is still shivering a little. Her hands are in fists by her sides, knuckles white.

Iris can’t help a shiver going down her spine.

“So nice to see that match conduct is universal. Only supernatural thing here is the location,” Fianna says.

“I don’t like this place.” Amy says.

“Me neither, Amy,” Marcella agrees.

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