The party splits into two groups. One group goes to the Hedge to question Geth’s ghost and see if Amy’s fox friends have information. The other group stays at the freehold to question Armin Leadenfingers, the current head of the Arena. The first group finds out that Geth believed he was killed unfairly, but didn’t know how, and that Geth believed John and his sponsor would do anything to preserve John’s winning streak. The second group finds out that Leadenfingers already knew what the hobs were upset about, but has written it off as being sore losers. They also discover that there are crystals in the arena which would have flashed red if an illegal contract had been used. After more discussion, the group decides that tomorrow they will investigate the judges of the match, the crystals at the Arena, and go talk to the chief of the hobs.
In the Green Room, Fianna stands up. “Well, I suppose we better get a move on, see if we can talk to this ghostie. Kiddo, Iris, you up for a bit of a nature walk?”
“Sure, I just hope I can get this right,” says Iris.
“Well, chances are we can nab one or two people with a pulse to talk to while you’re magicking your mojo on the hob fighter. DO we need anything, or are we good to go?” asks Fianna.
“I don’t think so. Amy?” says Iris.
“Then let’s get walking. The field where we entered before is a ways away.” Fianna leads the way.
Iris shrugs. She still feels a bit uneasy, not wanting to disappoint anyone, but heads off as soon as the others do as well. She seems a bit gloomy as they walk.
After a while, Fianna pokes Iris. “Black dog on your shoulder?”
“I’m not feeling too good about all this. I like knowing what’s going in, but saying we’re in over our heads is probably an understatement. I have no idea how to get out of it, no life to go back to and no clue where this is going to end. Maybe I think too much, but…”
Amy looks over at Iris, “None of us have lives to get back to. That’s why we have to make new ones.”
“Hell, even if I wasn’t taken, I can’t say I’d have a place to go back to anyway,” admits Fianna.
“True. But we’re still in way over our heads with very little idea of how deep the water is,” says Iris.
Amy cocks her head, “What do you mean?”
“The whole seasons issue, the Hedge people and the Court, the Court itself… I have no idea who to trust, weird abilities probably messing with my mind and anyone could be lying to us,” Iris explains.
“No one can mess with your mind in the Freehold, Iris. We just learned the rules of hospitality, remember?” says Amy
“The dream thing is getting too close for comfort still.”
Amy sighs. “Just ‘cause I can do something doesn’t mean I’m gonna. If you’re worried people broke the oath, you can ask my friends when we get there. I bet they’d know.”
“I admit, without that particular rule, I’d be a lot warier…not that I’ve completely let down my guard—I think a healthy dose of skepticism is what keeps that place functioning, honestly,” says Fianna. “Maybe that what all these motley things are about. Trust a small amount of people so you can deal with the rest easier.”
“Yeah. I’m a lot less worried after learning that. Now I know they can’t send us back,” agrees Amy.
“True. It’s not just you, I just… I don’t know anymore and it’s coming a bit too fast. I’m more comfortable with fireballs than with dream stuff, weird as it may sound. The rules of hospitality do help; oathbreaking has consequences now. Maybe we should just get on with it. I’ll figure it out eventually.”
Amy nods, “They can’t send us back to Arcadia. I’m free now. I don’t trust them, but I don’t care very much about the rest.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Fianna pauses. “Maybe not. I might go up like a fancy Christmas pudding now.”
“Woah. Do you think it would hurt you?” asks Amy.
“I never thought about that. It must feel weird being part star,” ponders Iris.
Fianna’s face gets serious for a moment. “Well…yeah. Ever since I fell out of the sky—had a body again it’s been the oddest sensation. Imagine all the energy of a star—our sun, basically. Now imagine what that feels like confined inside the body of a skinny Glaswegian urchin who’s barely more than five feet tall. It’s….” she trails off.
Amy nods, “It’s weird for me too. Not for the same reason but… I’m so big now. Bigger than I expected, and MUCH bigger than I was.”
“I guess I don’t have too much to complain about. My family doesn’t recognize me, I’m taller and I look different, I talk to dead people, but that’s about it.”
Amy spins to Iris, startled, “You saw your family? Was it nice?” She gets a faraway look.
“There is someone else there now, who looks like I did. They don’t recognize me. I startled them, they probably think I’m insane.”
“I have a fetch too. I want to meet her, but they said that she might not even know she is a fetch,” says Amy.
“I most likely don’t have a fetch. No one except the bosses were going to miss me anyhow. Maybe my disappearance got them arrested. I hope so,” Fianna says cheerfully. “We’re almost there. Think you can get your foxes to talk, kiddo?”
Amy smiles, “Well, this deals with oathbreaking, right? I’m sure they’ll be glad to help.” She frowns, “Assuming the rules involve an oath of some sort. But it seems like they would.”
“They should know, in any case,” Fianna agrees. They arrive outside the brick building that is the entrance to the foxes’ domain. “Remind me where this gate is, again?”
Amy walks up to the gate. “Over here.” She performs the small ritual to open the gate. She opens the gate, and waits for the other two before stepping through.
Iris would have been equally at a loss, but she gladly follows, mentally preparing to use this new skill of hers.
Fianna steps through. “Make sure to reassure them we’re friendly, okay? I know they’re not fond of the rest of us.”
Iris steps through but not more than she needs to. She starts trying to summon their dead hob.
“Ok. I think we should wait for Iris to finish first, though.”
An eerie shimmer begins to coalesce in front of Iris. After a short period of time it begins to define itself in the shape of a phantasmal hob. Standing around 4.5 feet tall, he is covered in scars. He wears a tattered boiled leather jerkin and pants, and there are just empty holes where his eyes should be. The spirit stands there, staring at her.
“What happened the day you died?” Iris asks.
“I fought in the Arena. My opponent was Whisper John, the Court Darkling, whom I had fought twice before. Whisper John killed me by unfair means.” His voice echoes hollowly, and there is not will behind it…more like a recording on tape.
“How did he kill you?”
The spirit says nothing for several seconds, then repeats: “By unfair means."
Fianna whispers, “I think that means he doesn’t know.”
“Well if he doesn’t know, then he doesn’t know it was unfair, does he? He just thinks so.” Amy pouts.
“Who would want you dead?"
“Whisper John does not lose. Whisper John has backing. I was a threat. I kept winning.”
“Why might Whisper John be adamant not to lose?”
“Whisper John has a reputation. He is proud of it. Others are proud of it. He feels it gives him power. Over himself, over others. It gives him control. He fears the loss of that control.”
The spirit fades away.
“Interesting. I guess that’s something. Although I still don’t know about those others.” Iris looks around.
“So what did we get from that?” Fianna says. “Bullet points. One, he’s got a sponsor. Two, both he and that sponsor are invested in his continued winning streak. I can understand that. Unbeatables are huge draws for fighting arenas. More people want to challenge them, and the arena and the sponsor get to use them like advertisements.”
“I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think it’s just the Arena. I also think I could now testify via an oath that he was killed by unfair means. He said power over people… we need to find out more, but I don’t think trying this again will help. We need to find out who his sponsor is.”
“Could you testify that? He didn’t seem to know…” wonders Amy.
“Hopefully the other group will have luck figuring that out. It was mentioned that the sponsor was likely someone pretty high up. Snooping around the hoity-toits is like walking on coals,” says Fianna.
“He knew that it wasn’t supposed to happen,” Iris says to Amy. “Which is why I shouldn’t go anywhere near there, I’ll just stumble, fall and take everyone else with me.”
Amy is still doubtful, but decides to stay quiet about it for now. “Let’s go talk to Pinky and Ring.”
“Yes, let’s. Maybe they know more,” agrees Iris.
“Lead on, kiddo,” says Fianna. Amy leads on, pushing the doorbell when she gets there. Iris follows and waits.
“Helloooooooo?” calls a familiar voice from the other side.
“Hi! It’s Amy and two of the people I came with before. We’re investigating some possible cheating in the Arena, and I thought you might know something about it.” She looks through the berry-window smiling widely. “Also how is the money plan going?”
“Amy!” The door opens immediately to show a happily smiling Pinky. “How nice to see you. We have many plots for money. So many!” Pinky pauses. “Your companions may come in, but please keep an eye on them.”
Amy nods solemnly, “I will,” then breaks back into a smile. She enters, and the other two follow.
Pinky smiles. “Would you like refreshments? I am the only one here right now. Ring is out collecting things. Then you must say why you came by so soon after your last visit!”
“Yes, please,” Amy says. “We’re here on an important mission. We’re finding out if there was cheating in the Arena.”
“CHEATING!” Pinky’s tail momentarily looks like a bottlebrush, then she runs into the area they remember as a sort of kitchen. There is angry clattering for a few minutes, and something that sounds like foxey grumbling. After a while Pinky returns in a bit of a huff with a platter of shortbread cookies and a pot of tea.
“Tell. Me. EVERYTHING.”
Amy nods. “Ok. So, we were asked to go find out why some hobs were attacking people on the way to the Arena, which seemed like a not very nice thing to do, but when we got there we found out it was because they thought someone had killed their champion by cheating! So then we talked to the dead champion, and he said he thought there was cheating too, but he couldn’t tell us how. So we’re trying to find out what really happened.”
“Oooooh!” says Pinky huffily. “We do not generally like the Arena…too many people cheating. Cheating on gambling, cheating in matches…but cheating that kills is bad bad BAD. If a person will kill to cheat they will do worse things. And competitors usually have to make a promise to fight honorably in these places.”
Amy nods, “That’s what I thought too. So you didn’t hear about any of this, then?”
“We have been staying inside for much of the last week. Planning the money things. We have not heard much of what is going on, and we do not pay attention to the Arena in general. Is the entire Hedge abuzz?”
“Seems like it. Well, I’ll let you know what we find out, when we find it out.” Amy says.
“Please do. Ring and I have…ways of making people talk.”
Amy looks at the other two, “Did you guys have anything to say?”
Fianna has half a cookie in her mouth. “…fanks for the snacks? And the info?” she mumbles.
Amy giggles, “Well, ok then. These are very good cookies.” She bites another.
“Be careful. I don’t think you’ll be attacked, but still,” warns Iris. She takes a cookie, but seems to be all right with leaving.
Fianna swallows her cookie, palms two more, and stands. “Well, we want to get this information back to the rest of our group as soon as possible. Thank you for your assistance, and your hospitality. We’ll let you know if anything develops.” She moves to leave.
Pinky looks up. “Oh, are you leaving so soon? I was going to explain the money plans….oh well! I can tell you all about it once they’ve happened, the next time you visit!”
Iris nods. “Thanks you very much, let’s hope we can avoid any more people dying.”
Amy hesitates. She wants to hear about the money plans. “Yeah, I guess you’ll have to tell me next time you visit. We do have to tell people what we learned from the ghost.” She kneels down and hugs Pinky. “I’ll be back soon.”
Once the three are back out in the Hedge, Fianna sighs. “I can’t tell if we learned too little or too much. We keep finding more questions that need answering.”
Iris nods. “Let’s head back.” Amy follow Iris and Fianna back. They arrive back at the Court, and return to the Green Room, which is still empty.
“I guess now we wait,” Fianna says, flopping into a chair. Amy sits on the floor.
“I somehow thought they’d be done by now. I wonder what they found,” wonders Iris.
“Well, if they found more than us, I won’t fault them for taking their time,” says Fianna.
“Mmm, true,” agrees Iris.
“Maybe they found the answer,” Amy contributes, hopefully.
“I’m beginning to think this is gonna require more than one answer,” says Fianna.
“I want to be done. I don’t like this job very much,” admits Amy.
“You and me both…I prefer more straightforward things. All the sneakiness surrounding this job doesn’t sit well with me,” agrees Fianna.
“Agreed. I like knowing where everything stands,” Iris chimes in.
They hear some grumbling outside and a very frail old Wizened woman creaks in the door. “Eh! Who are you all? You’re not part of the group I am teaching Fae Yoga too…are you?”
“Um..no. We were waiting for people…we can move…” Fianna’s brain refuses to process the existence of ‘Fae Yoga.’
Amy stands up. “Sorry, Ma’am.”
She looks Amy up and down. “Do those joints of yours work right dearie? Maybe some yoga would help.”
Amy looks down, and blushes. “Yestheydo.” She runs from the room.
Iris is petrified.
“No no, please stay until the group gets here, they are so often late or missing. It is like they don’t want to learn the secrets of the fae.” The old woman says. “Oh dear, I made the little one leave.”
Fianna grabs Iris’ wrist and runs after Amy.
Meanwhile, in the library just after Fianna’s group leaves, Hulda spends about half an hour researching hobs. She learns that the term hobgoblin refers to a variety of creatures in the Hedge, but goblin and hob often refer specifically to the more or less humanoid creatures that the group fought near the Arena. They tend to be selfish, manipulative, and independent. They run and man the Goblin Markets more than other hobgoblins. They tend to live singly or in small family units.
After Faron flees the Green Room, he and Marcella return to have a conversation there. Zia, having gone to ask about the contact’s location, approaches the door during Faron and Marcella’s conversation, hears a raised voice, and flees to chat with Maria some more.
Back in the recreation room, Caesar is still playing pool against a changeling he just met, Merv. Caesar is winning.
“Just luck,” Caesar shrugs. “Geth and John’s last one, until things started going south for the hob. Seemed evenly-matched, considering…”
“Well, now, I don’t know how evenly matched they really were! Hobs are not really meant for fighting, you know. John’s a Darkling, but one well suited to battle,” Merv says as he shoots again, not getting anything in.
“Aren’t they? Well, at the very least, they have the spirit for it. They’ve been getting aggressive in the Hedge.” Caesar takes a shot. “What makes John so well-suited for battle? Darklings don’t seem much like fighters.” Caesar makes a shot.
“You’re pretty good at this game, have you played it much? Darklings are not suited to battle based on mere brawn generally, you would know this yourself, but there are ways and contracts to make yourself appropriately powerful. Whisper John is also quite accomplished.” Merv says. He shoots and misses.
“Only a handful of times before, like I said before, purely luck,” Caesar assured, taking another shot. “Accomplished? I’ve never heard anything about his accomplishments.”
“Oh, he’s been the Champion of the Games several times, he rescued the freehold from the Rhine Banshee, is part of the motley that reinforced the shields of freehold, not to mention the number of specialized contracts he has learned.” Merv takes a shot and gets one in.
“Accomplished indeed,” Caesar agreed. Truth be told, he has no idea what any of that meant. Champion of the Games might suggest he won some tournament. Who were the Rhine Banshee? And the shields of freeholds? Were those people who defended the Courts? Like the members of Summer?
“I’m not familiar with any other freeholds; who are the Rhine Banshee?” Caesar takes another shot.
Merv smiles, “My apologies, you are fresh out of the Hedge! The Rhine Banshee was a changeling woman gone mad, but oomph, she was a powerful one. She was targeting the members of the freehold with families, especially human ones, scaring them until they died.”
“How noble. Why would — oh, it’s your shot, by the way — why would the hobs think he cheated, then? Perhaps from the use of his plentiful contracts, hmm? I wouldn’t imagine those being permitted in those games any more than these.”
Merv shoots and misses. “Oh there are contracts you can use in the Arena, and different games have different rules. The hobs are often sore losers though. They like the Arena since it gives them a place to sell their wares, but they have difficulty acknowledging that their race is just not likely to be well-suited for actual success at the one-on-one fights.”
“I see. How about when they have numbers on their side?”
“Well, that is a different matter. Hobs are not naturally inclined to fighting, but they are inclined to trickery. When you make deals with them, Caesar, be very careful. In the Arena there are a few games where you can have 4 against 1, for example and there, the hobs often win.” Merv takes a shot and misses.
Caesar nods. “I’ll let others deal the deals; I just want to watch the story unfold.” Caesar takes his final shot. The others could end up being in some serious danger; who knew how many hobs were in there? How many of them wanted vengeance?
Caesar wins the game. “It was a pleasure to play with you! Please, feel free to come back for another game. It’s hard when you first get out of the Hedge, but once you start making a life for yourself, it gets easier.” Merv says.
“With such kind people around, I surely hope it does. Good game,” Caesar nods and takes his leave. He plans to find the others who stayed behind.
Caesar heads for the green room. As he walks by the freehold office, Zia steps out into the hallway, “Hey, wait! Just come in here a minute. Strength in numbers,” she calls.
“Oh hey! I was looking for you all. Did you manage to find anything out?”
“Well, I know where Armin’s office is and his schedule for the next day or so. We can probably poke our way into his schedule in about half an hour. Do you know where Hulda is?” Zia asks.
“No idea, nor Marcella or Faron. Think we can find them soon enough?”
Zia says, “Marcella and Faron are in the Green Room, it is just Hulda we don’t know where she is. My guess is her room or the library”
“Which’s closer? Her room or the library?”
“The library.” Behind her, Maria nods.
“Let’s try there, then.”
“Excellent.” With a wave and a smile for Maria, they walk to the library. As they enter, they see Hulda hunched over a book. Caesar walks up to Hulda and taps on her shoulder as to get her attention.
Hulda looks up, “Hello. I was just doing some research to see what I could discover about the hobgoblins and the situation.”
“Excellent, why don’t we go back to the Green Room together for you to share the information?” Zia proposes.
Caesar nods and heads that way.
“Sure.” Hulda closes the book and puts it back, making note of where she found it and where in the book she was so she can come back and read more later.
The trio heads back to the Green Room. Just as they reach it, Marcella and Faron open the door.
After about half an hour, Marcella and Faron finally wrap up their discussion. Marcella stands and heads for the door, which she politely holds for Faron. As they go out and start looking around for the others, she says conversationally, “You keep calling us a motley. What does that mean?” She then notices the others and waves.
Caesar stands at the door and watches the two’s conversation.
Faron nods to them in brief acknowledgement before turning back to Marcella. “A motley’s just a term for a small group of changelings. Typically they have a pledge to officially declare themselves a motley, which I’m not sure you have, but…” he shrugs. “You’re a small group of changelings with common enough cause who have to work together for the foreseeable future. Close enough.”
“Huh, interesting.” Marcella turns to the rest of them. “Sorry for the delay. Has anyone discovered where we might find Armin?”
“Yes, I have. He will be in his office with no appointment in about 20 minutes,” Zia says.
“Found reason for why Armin may’ve wanted to sponsor John as well. Apparently beyond the Arena, he’s fairly popular,” adds Caesar.
Marcella smiles. “Thank you, Zia.” She looks thoughtful at Caesar’s statement. “How so?”
“Well, shall we sit in the Green Room for a few minutes and plan our approach?” Zia offers, looking at the open hallway.
“Good idea,” Marcella nods.
Everyone in the hallway goes in. Zia takes a seat at the table. Marcella sits facing Caesar and waits to see if he will elaborate now that they’re in private. Faron remains standing, going to lean against the wall. Marcella raises her eyebrows at Faron but doesn’t otherwise comment.
“Champion of the Games, saved a freehold from a thing called the Rhine Banshee, a part of some motley that increased — was told ‘reinforced’ — the shields for freeholds, apparently. Has quite a few titles,” Caesar finally answers, taking the seat he had when they first came to the room.
Hulda files this information away to be investigated further if she has a chance.
“Interesting, so he’s done quite a lot for the freehold. Do we know anything more about how he may have cheated?” asks Marcella.
“He’s known for his numerous contracts, and he’s a Darkling, not exactly the best for their fighting, but well enough in their deception. Illusion or any kind of contract might’ve helped him place a dagger where he might not’ve otherwise.”
“We think this Armin may know who John’s patron was, right?” Marcella glances at Faron for confirmation. Faron nods once at Marcella’s question and glance. “And the patron may have discouraged investigation into whether John cheated.”
“So, he could have cheated without anyone knowing? Though, I feel like there should be something to tell the judges if fighters are using contracts…” Zia said.
“Not just any contract is banned from use. Some are allowed, apparently, but I have no ideas of which,” says Caesar. “Is there any way to know if contracts are used? I wouldn’t know…”
“So we have a few things to talk to Armin about. First, let him know that the hobs believe Geth’s death was wrongful, and to ask whether there is any investigation. If not, to ask if there is any evidence available to prove whether or not the death was wrongful. And also to ask if he knows who John’s patron is,” sums up Marcella.
“I bet Armin would know if the judges can tell what contracts are in use,” Zia says.
“Yes, I think we can get more information about contracts when we ask about evidence,” agrees Marcella. Caesar nods.
“Hulda, did you learn anything useful in the library?” Zia asks.
“A little bit about hobs. How they are normally are selfish, manipulative and independent, which could be tying into this. They run the Goblin Market, and the normally live alone or in small family groups.”
“Can anyone else think of other questions we should be asking the head of the Arena?” Marcella looks around at everyone in the room, including Faron.
“None that comes to mind immediately,” says Caesar.
The group is ready to speak with Armin Leadenfingers. Zia flits down the hall and has Maria fill in the hole in his schedule with an appointment with Vogelfrei. “Well, then, shall we?” she asks, and leads the way to his office.
Caesar walks along, silent for the ride.
Marcella looks at Zia, impressed. “What did you give her, that she’s that helpful for you?”
Zia waits to answer until they are out of earshot of Maria. “I did my research, had the right offerings, knew what buttons to push, was genuine,” Zia replies.
Marcella mutters, “You’ll have to teach me your ways.”
Zia smiles, “Well, when we aren’t chasing murderers and poking our noses about in the Court, feel free to drop by.”
The group arrives at a very simple door with an incredibly ornate nameplate. ‘Armin Leadenfingers’ is engraved on a golden plate surrounded by swirls and representations of various weaponry.
“He’s expecting us, right?” Marcella confirms with Zia. “All of us?” Caesar adds to the confirmation.
“We are on his appointment calendar, if he has checked it, as Vogelfrei, and Maria should have called to announce us about 1 minute ago.”
“Ok, good.” Marcella knocks firmly.
A high pitched voice with a funny gravelly tone in it answers, “Enter if you must.” Marcella opens the door and leads the way in. Caesar follows behind.
The door opens on an Ogre covered in immaculately groomed white and brown hair wearing a suit. He is sitting behind a desk liberally covered in trophies and other glorified weapon paraphernalia.
Hulda stays in the back of the group and listens. Marcella walks forward towards the desk, making sure everyone has room to enter behind her. She gives a crisp military bow and says, “We are Vogelfrei, Mr. Leadenfingers. We have come to make a report about the situation with the hobs attacking those who wished to access the Arena.”
He raises an eyebrow elegantly, in a way that seems to somehow work with his rather awkward combed yeti-like appearance. “A report? I need no report from you. The queen will no doubt pass her information to me when she is ready,” he says. “Bad business, those hobs blocking access. Not sure why they had you all deal with it.”
Faron shifts slightly, but doesn’t say anything.
“We were also hoping to see if you could help our investigation. The investigation is not quite complete,” explains Caesar.
He sighs. “How can I assist you? As you can see, I am very busy dealing with the fallout of those hobs deciding arbitrarily that there was foul play. It is cutting into our profits, into the feasibility of running the Arena!”
Marcella nods at Caesar’s statement, and elaborates, “We hoped you might be able to clarify some details related to the hobs’ claims for us. You see, they are up in arms because they believe Whisper John used unfair means to defeat Geth the Giant.”
“Unfair means? Come now, they are merely upset that their weak champion was defeated,” he replies to Marcella. “Hobs are not meant for fighting. They, not Whisper John, are far more likely to trick someone in the Arena,” he continues.
“They seem to want proof about the fairness of the match. As newly-emerged changelings, we have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Arena, and we wanted to know whether any such evidence was available, which might be used to appease the hobs.”
“I was at the match, their chief was at the match, the judges were good judges, what more do they want?” he replies.
“Vengeance now, apparently,” says Caesar.
“We merely wanted to see if there was any form of record we could offer them. May I ask, how is it that the judges know whether an illegal contract has been used? Perhaps they could speak directly with one of the judges,” suggests Marcella.
“This is more than vengeance, this is a vendetta. If they have a problem with Whisper John, then they should speak to him, not hold up the entire operation,” he says. “The Arena’s fighting space is set to detect any illegal contracts. When this occurs, several imbedded crystals in the Arena flash red. There was no illegal contract use in that match,” he says.
Hulda checks to see whether he is lying when he says this, but as far as she can tell he is not.
“Please forgive my ignorance, but which contracts are actually permitted for use in the Arena?” asks Caesar.
“This depends upon the individual match. Certain matches, such as the one we are discussing, permitted contracts to assist with the actual fighting and to increase strength or quickness, but no area attacks, no directly affecting the opponent with a contract, no magical poisoning, no raining fish,” he answers.
Marcella nods with understanding. “That makes perfect sense. I believe we only have one more question for you.” She glances around for confirmation. Caesar and Faron nod.
“Ask,” he says.
“Are you able to tell us who Whisper John’s patron is?”
“Ah well, unfortunately no. Whisper John and his patron prefer to keep that private. Some patrons prefer it that way. Obviously, the judges know and I know to ensure that the patron never judges who she patronizes, but I can’t share that,” he says
Marcella nods again. “Of course, I understand. You have been more than generous with your time, Mr. Leadenfingers. Thank you very much, and good day to you.” She bows again, same crisp military bow.
Caesar nods silently. He said “she.” That was a start.
“Good day.” Before they even leave the office he picks up the phone, and dials, “Maria! Why did you schedule….” the door closes
“She,” Caesar mutters after the door closes.
Zia says, “Well, what next?”
Marcella silently nods at Caesar and glances around. “Zia, do you know if we still have the Green Room? If not, perhaps we can adjourn to one of our rooms.”
“I think the Green Room might be occupied shortly. Why don’t we go to one of our rooms?” she replies.
“Whatever works,” agrees Caesar.
“Sounds good.” Marcella hesitates only slightly before saying, “Why don’t we use my room? I think they are all the same size anyway.”
“Sounds good, let’s go,” Zia says. Marcella leads the way to her room. Everyone else follows. When they arrive, everyone can see it is a fairly sparse but quite clean room. Marcella has her sword bag in the corner. There’s one chair which she indicates someone can sit in, and she says, “Feel free to sit on the bed.” She remains standing.
Zia flops gracefully on the bed, leaving enough room for someone to sit on the foot. Hulda also sits on the bed. Faron goes to find a nice spot on the wall.
Zia raises her eyebrow, “Come on, one of you sit down. You’ll hurt our necks if you are stubborn and stand.”
“So, did anyone else catch that he already knew that the hobs thought that Whisper John had cheated? Wasn’t our mission to find out why the attacks were happening?” Marcella starts.
Caesar stands by the door. “Leadenfingers mentioned a ‘she,’ and we already know that it is someone in good standing in the Court,” Caesar begins.
“He wasn’t lying about there being no illegal contracts,” Hulda adds. “So if there is a common and obvious way to detect cheating, why do the hobs think he cheated? Are they just unable to accept the fact that their guy lost?”
“It wouldn’t be lying if /he/ wasn’t aware of the deception,” points out Caesar. “I think we need to speak with the judges.”
Marcella is pacing. "Yes, though Leadenfingers may have just been using a general “she,” I don’t know how gender-aware changeling society is." Caesar shrugs. “It’s possible the crystals were tampered with. We may need to return to the Arena to see,” she continues.
“That is a good idea Caesar, we should probably figure out where they are. It is already about 7pm though, so we might want to bother them tomorrow,” Zia offers.
“We can also see what the other group learned, see if that opens up any other avenues of investigation. Right now we have the judges, the crystals, and the hob chief,” Marcella summarizes. She’s still pacing.
“Faron, who sets our missions? Where do those orders come from, exactly?” Marcella stops pacing and turns to Faron, waiting for his answer.
“The queen and her advisors set the missions. Sometimes all of the monarchs might make such decisions together.”
“Are the advisors seasonal like the monarch?” wonders Caesar.
Marcella looks pained and pinches the bridge of her nose. “So either Leadenfingers didn’t bother to inform the queen of the complaints he heard from the hobs, or we were sent to independently verify those complaints.”
“Likely the former. Our mission was more concerning John than anything else,” says Caesar.
Marcella sighs. “Well, maybe the queen will have a direction she wants us to pursue once she’s reviewed our report. For now, I think Zia’s right, it’s too late to do much more investigation today.”
“The monarchs aren’t… strictly seasonal. You don’t stop being the monarch of your season just because your season isn’t ascendent. It just determines who holds primary responsibility for the freehold at the time,” Faron explains to Caesar.
“Eh? How are the monarchs actually determined then? Likewise with their advisors? Do they willingly step down?” asks Caesar.
“I believe monarchs are chosen differently in each Court. The Summer Queen has either defeated or been yielded to by everyone nominated within that Court for example. The Autumn, Winter, and Spring Courts still exist right now, they just don’t have control of the Court,” Zia explains.
“How are people nominated?” Marcella wonders, finally distracted from worrying about their mission.
“I don’t know, ask him,” Zia says. Marcella looks questioningly at Faron.
“Work up a reputation in the Court, I suppose? I’unno,” Caesar speculates with a shrug.
“For Summer, anyone can nominate anyone. Three nominations, as long as at least one of them is from a different motley, and you’re in the running. Then you work for it.”
“Anyone? Even from outside the Summer Court?” Zia asks.
“Work for it how?” wonders Marcella.
“By sponsoring people like Whisper John and putting on a show?” posits Caesar.
“That would only get you brownie points if people knew you were the sponsor, though,” Marcella points out.
Caesar nods, “Not everyone has to know, however.”
“No, you have to be nominated by other members of the Summer Court. It’s a Summer matter, after all.” Faron looks to Marcella. “Combat’s most popular. Politics works. Whatever gets your opponents to yield.”
“As interesting as this is, what we need to determine right now is next steps. We need to speak to the judges, the chief of the hobs and investigate the crystals. We know that Armin knew more than we expected him to know, but that as far as he knows, no illegal contracts were used.” Zia sums up.
“So, is it a tournament, or does this competition happen whenever there are candidates?” Marcella is curious despite herself, but then looks at Zia. “Right, sorry, I can ask about this later. Those all sound like areas we should investigate. We should check in with the other group, too, if they’re back yet.” She’s back to business.
“If they are back, they could be anywhere. We didn’t establish any meeting place that I re—the Green Room /was/ scheduled to be in use right now, right?” asks Caesar.
“It was reserved, whether anyone is actually there, I don’t know.” Zia says. “But yes, we could start by checking there. Tonight we could probably figure out where the judges are at least.”
“Since we didn’t have another meeting point set, that’s probably the place to wait then.” Marcella heads for the door. “This is why we need phones,” she mutters.
“We should set phones up sometime then…but I guess we all need to do things like find jobs and houses and things…” Zia responds to Marcella’s mutter. She follows Marcella to the Green Room.
Marcella sighs. “Yeah, at some point we definitely do.” Marcella asks Faron more about the nomination system on the way there.
“Technically the monarch can change at any time. The monarch him/herself, a group consisting of at least 60% of the Court, or the top 10 or so changelings in a Court can decide the monarch must defend their post. Summer Court in particular encourages some modicum of jostling for the crown during the Summer Games, but the current monarch will only get involved if it gets serious,” he answers
The two groups run into each other outside the Green Room. Zia asks, “So, is anyone in there? Can we use it?”
Amy is standing a bit of the way down the hallway, at the nearest junction, looking around bemusedly. Her face is still beat red.
“NO. NO ONE IS THERE WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT I AM VERY INTERESTED,” Fianna says.
Marcella looks confused by their fleeing from the room.
“Ooookay…then, why don’t we go back to Marcella’s room…” Zia says, edging away from Fianna.
Amy follows Zia, commenting, “And that No One is very rude.”
“Glad … you guys got back safe. Um. Yes, why don’t we go debrief,” says Marcella. She heads back towards her room.
“Sssure,” agrees Iris.
As everyone moves away from the room they hear, “Wait, wait, students don’t leave! Damn, they always leave…or die…”
“I thought no one was in there?” Zia asks as she continues to move away from the room.
“I am never forgetting to check a schedule again,” Fianna says as she fast walks away.
“Do you like Yoga?” Iris asks.
“Yoga is lots of fun! Quite relaxing too!” Zia replies.
“Well then you know where to go.”
“She asked if my joints work.” Amy frowns and fidgets.
“Of course they do! She was rude, Amy,” exclaims Zia.
Marcella glares back at the room on Amy’s behalf.
“Okay…that doesn’t explain Fianna’s…reaction…but let’s focus on our mission…” Zia continues.
They reach the room, and Zia sits on the bed in deference to the number of people there this time. Marcella invites everyone in again, tells them to sit wherever they want, and stands again. Faron goes to his spot on the nice comfy wall. Iris finds a corner.
Both groups share what they learned with each other.
“So, what are our avenues of investigation at this point?” Zia says
“Faron, do you have a guess as to when we’ll hear back from the queen?” Marcella asks.
“Probably a day. Tomorrow evening seems most likely,” he answers.
To Zia, Marcella says, “The judges, the Arena, and the chief. Two of those are in the Hedge, so we could do those one after the other. Maybe we should look for the judges first thing in the morning, then go to the Arena and chief from there?” Marcella suggests.
“Sounds reasonable,” Iris agrees.
“That sounds like a plan. Perhaps we should stay together unless the judges end up being very difficult to get to?” Zia says.
“Alternatively, we could wait to go to the Arena until we hear from the Queen. I agree we should stick together.” Marcella glances very quickly at Faron.
“I would like to stay together if we’re going to the Arena in particular – or to see the chief.” Marcella nods in agreement with Iris.
Faron nods once, heavily.
Amy nods in agreement. Going to see the Arena or the chief was very different from going to see the foxes.
“We had a nice chat with Geth the Giant’s ghost. Long story short, he knows he was killed and knows it involved foul play, but not the how. He also implied that both Whisper John and his sponsor are willing to preserve their winning streak at any cost,” Fianna summarizes.
“That’s ominous…” says Zia. Caesar nods in agreement.
“He also specifically said this winning streak gives John power over people,” says Iris.
“So, I can potentially get the information about the judges from Maria….or I suppose we could have asked Armin who the judges for that match were… or Faron, would your contact know that?” Zia aks.
Marcella sighs. “This whole thing is ominous.”
“Very. It makes me uncomfortable,” agrees Iris. Hulda nods in agreement. Amy sighs.
“Is there a record of Arena matches and who has served as a judge anywhere?” Marcella wonders.
“Yes, there is. One copy at the Arena, the other in Armin’s office. Harold might know too,” says Faron.
“Okay, would you mind asking him? If he doesn’t know, I suppose we can go to the Arena first. Frankly, I don’t want to arouse Leadenfingers’ suspicions of our investigation any more than we already have. He seemed upset enough to have to see us the first time.” Marcella scowls.
“Well since we’re going to the Arena anyway…” says Iris. “But it would be good to have the record before we meet the judges.”
Zia assumes Faron will help. “Okay, so tonight Faron will speak with Harold, maybe tomorrow if needed. Tomorrow we will head to the Arena and investigate crystals, judges if needed, and then talk to the hobs.”
“Any way we can get it from Armin’s office?” wonders Iris.
Marcella turns to Iris. “We are absolutely not burgling anyone remotely associated with the freehold.”
Amy frowns at Iris, “I don’t know if we should do that.”
“True,” concedes Iris.
“Yes, we have other avenues of access. Anyone have any more suggestions or anything to discuss?” Zia says. Caesar shakes his head.
“The timeline you outlined sounds good to me,” says Marcella. Amy, Hulda, and Fianna agree. Faron doesn’t respond. He’s frowning at the floor, thoughtfully.
“Great. Disperse! Have a good evening! Remember to sleep,” Zia says.
Marcella chuckles humorlessly at the sleep comment and sees everyone out who leaves on their own. Amy, Caesar, and Fianna leave. Hulda heads up to the library to do some research on the Arena and its history before going to bed. Zia stays sitting on the bed.
Iris throws a look at Faron. She’s suspicious and knows Faron is Summer Court, but she can’t find a good excuse to stay.
Marcella waits for the people who are left to say what they want. Zia is sitting on the bed just smiling, clearly kinda waiting for Faron to leave. Faron looks up at Marcella, finally. “I’ll be back later,” he says.
Marcella sighs. “Do I need to set up an appointment book or something?” she asks rhetorically.
“Never mind then.” Faron says, and starts to leave.
“No, feel free to come back, really,” Marcella says hastily to him. She looks a little chagrined.
“An appointment book? For what? I thought we were just friends, lingering in your room,” quips Zia.
Faron frowns thoughtfully again, nods, then leaves. Iris decides to sneak after Faron. Zia stays to have a conversation with Marcella behind closed doors.