The Price

End Games

As the others avidly discuss a course of action, Marco drives as fast as he dares. The Canadian countryside flies past as the van hurtles through the night toward Detroit.

Rocco shifts in the tight confines of the van. He asks what might happen if Tom used the wrong blood on the book. Miroslav says confidently that it just wouldn’t work. The book would be unaffected and the Quill would be unable to rewrite destiny.

After some thought, the Darkling announces he plans to write the book out of existence with the Quill. This will ensure the current timeline is unaffected. The rest of the motley advocate destroying the book but after some consultation with Hedge and Alice they agree that writing it out of existence would result in the least fallout.

The question remains however of which Artifact to seek first. Nikki suggests grabbing the Quill. They have the blood needed to power it and once they rewrite time their problems should be over, especially if they manage to remove the book from time before it is destroyed.

The others agree and talk turns to where it might be. Assuming Feral Tom took it from the Guild of Shadows, he could be anywhere. Rocco points out he would want to be nearby, since he still needs the blood to forge a Contract with Iron. But he might be at the Witch-House or his old camp in the Wilds or even in the Under-Hedge. It is also possible that he might not have the Quill. In that case finding the Queen of Shadows or her fetch would be the wisest course.

Up front, Marco’s vision glazes over for an instant and the night road turns into a series of the dark paths into the future. Many are closed. Some are vanishing. But the best lit trail leads to the Queen. He calls back to the others and lets them know they should find his mother. She is the key to this.

Nikki questions Ruzena about where the queen’s fetch might have gone if she survived the destruction of the Reds. The river fae suggests she might have gone back to her family, the Zerilli Mob. The motley quickly works out a plan to find her and the Quill. Miroslav gets some blood from Alice. With it they can use the Quill eliminate the book and the quill itself. That will ensure the current timeline remains safe.

Once they arrive in Detroit, the team splits up to take care of their respective tasks. Miroslav heads into the Hedge to find the remnants of the Guild of Shadows. If anyone knows what is going on in the city it would be them.

In a mostly vacant and nervous Night Market, he spies Molly Moth. The stealthy Beast motions him to follow her into the Under-Hedge.

Under a crumbling arch, she asks him what they should do. He asks about the others and she leads him to a hidden camp where a scratched up Erin Cobbleflesh is tending to the survivors.

Erin relays what she saw of the attack. She wasn’t at the gate but she witness the devastation wrought on her way out. Feral Tom himself led the attack, demolishing the gateway. Afterwards, he and his hordes of cats left the remains of the guildhall unattended. Besides the half-dozen fae present there are a few others from the guild still in hiding. She agrees to gather them at Charlie Cobweb’s Hollow.

As for the Queen of Shadows, she disappeared the day before the attack. Erin also conveys the rumors that the Court of Jewels has sided with Feral Tom, trading information for their lives. Miroslav takes Erin with him and heads for the ruins of the guildhall.

Elsewhere Rocco meets the new recruits of the Red Company. He instructs them to get nets and weapons. Then he grabs his brother Marco as he leaves his still weakened fiance, Charlie, at the house. The pair head to their grandparent’s house: the Zerilli mansion.

Nikki meanwhile drives out to Joe Zerilli’s house, hoping to learn more there. She calls him but finds him still half asleep. He groggily agrees to meet her for coffee at 8 AM. Nikki spends the time prettying up.

Creeping through the thorn laden Hedge, Miroslav arrives at the blackened distorted door frame leading into the guildhall. Smoke continues to spill out from the ruined interior. Stepping through he and Erin walk into a room of charred pages, ashes, and gnawed upon bones. The Darkling calls out to the ghosts of the fallen.

All around him dozens of specters drift in the smoky gloom. He addresses the nearest one, urging it to aid them in avenging the guild. One by one he gathers a spectral army.

Talking to the departed, he learns that the Queen of Shadows had business in the mortal realm. He immediately suspects she was behind the recent madness that afflicted the Zerilli crime family. He also discovers that after the attack, Feral Tom told his feline servants to “go back to the school.” With a clue to the True Fae’s location, Miroslav heads for the real world.

At a nearby Starbucks, Nikki meets up with Joe. The muscle-bound thug is a bit worn down and responds well to her sympathies about Maeve Sheely skipping town on him. He reveals that life has been pretty crazy recently. The organization has been shook up and his family is in shambles. His dad and Aunt Evelina have had to take care of running things since his grandfather and uncle were arrested by the Feds.

Nikki tries to bring up the fact that she used to live in the same building as Evelina but Joe just comments that it is a small world. Nikki can tell however that something is bothering him. Joe’s eyes dart away anytime his father comes up in conversation.

She does her best bluff and hint that she knows what has been going on with his father. Joe relents and lets on that his dad seems to be losing his mind. It is his Aunt Evelina calling the shots now. Even she is acting strangely. Yesterday her whole demeanor changed overnight. She went from cold to sadistic. While Joe uses the bathroom, Nikki texts that the Queen of Shadows or more likely her Fetch is at the Zerilli mansion.

Fifteen minutes earlier, Rocco and Marco pull up in front of the palatial home. Rocco tells his older brother to say that the Elemental is here to negotiate his services as a hacker. The pair get out of Rocco’s bike and walk up to the front door.

Their second cousin Tony stops them and asks what they want. Rocco explains they are here to see their mom. He calls inside for someone to tell Evelina and then leads them into a well-appointed parlor.

A couple of minutes later Evelina McQueen comes down, not the Queen of Shadows. With her are a pair of muscular goons. She greets them cheerily and asks them to come upstairs. Rocco asks the thugs why they brought an impostor but Evelina keeps a tight rein on the situation and intimidates the men with the threat of calling Angelo in.

As the men move in to grab them, Marco and Rocco bolt for the far door. Marco throws it open and dives into the Hedge and Rocco slams it shut behind them.

They find themselves in an elegant hedge maze, decorated with Roman statues. Rocco starts looking for an exit, ideally back into the mansion. After a frustrating half hour, they find a door that opens into the front yard of a house further down the road. Checking their phones they find texts from Nikki and Miroslav. They text back that the fetch is in charge of the crime family.

While the Callaghans head over as fast as they can, the McQueen boys consider where their real mother might be. Rocco suddenly recalls two important facts. First the fetch had previous planned to trap the Queen in an enchanted mirror. The second is that their grandfather kept an ornate mirror behind his desk in his office overlooking the backyard.

The brother hash out a plan. Marco will create a distraction with some help from the Red Company while Rocco scales the back of the house and enters the office. Rocco calls the bestial Ulysses and convinces the arrogant Changeling to set off some Molotov cocktails in the parlor. He gives him the directions to the Hedge gateway and then slips around to the back of the house to wait for the smell of smoke.

Marco meanwhile creeps up into the driveway and begins to work on one of the cars parked there, setting up an explosive. He sets it to go off in a few minutes then goes to work on another.

As Nikki and Mir arrive on the scene, a series of gunshots ring out from inside the house. The parlor window brightens and smoke stream out. Without hesitation Nikki moves along the edge of the property, picking out the trellis on the side of the house. Quietly she sneaks up to it and effortlessly climbs up the side of the building. As she slips onto the second story, she thinks where the fetch might hide the Queen. She decides it would be someplace hidden yet public, a place where she could show off her triumph like a trophy. An opulent office would work perfectly. Based on what she saw of the rest of the house, an office that nice would be at the back. She makes her way quietly there and picks the lock on the nicest door she finds.

Around back Rocco struggles to climb up the wall and is spotted by a guard. “What are you doing there?” he yells.

Rocco quickly bluffs, “I want to see my mom but I can’t.” He hastily creates a story of wanting to sneak in to talk to his grandmother. Somehow between his improbable story and the growing chaos caused by the fire inside the house, he confuses the guard. He leads the Changeling inside as the fire alarms go off.

As the smoke moves into the kitchen, Rocco suggests he deal with the fire. The guard rushes off leaving Rocco unattended. Out front Miroslav sneaks up to the front door with Erin. Invisibly the ghosts trail behind him. Calling on the darkness to hide them, he slips through the unattended door. Down in the driveway, Marco rigs a second car bomb and then dives for cover.

Through the smoke Miroslav makes out a staircase leading upstairs. He and Erin wait a moment until the next guard rushes past to fight the fire. Then he makes for the stairs, coming face to face with Evelina and Uncle Angelo!

As she cries at the men to get the Changelings, Evelina reaches behind her into a mirror and pulls a shimmering blade from it. The gray-haired and twitchy Angelo draws his pistol but before he can do anything Erin hurls herself into Evelina, burying a knife into her. The blade, blessed by the powers of Hearth by Miroslav, cuts deep into the elderly woman. As Evelina backs away bleeding, pictures and vases fly around the room and violently collide with her.

As the mobsters go for their weapons a huge explosion from outside floors them. The windows shake and crack while outside Marco ducks behind a car, his ears ringing. mostly deafened, he feels something vibrate in his pocket. He crawls away to look at his phone.

Elsewhere Nikki slips into the office, propping the door closed with a chair. She hears a gentle tapping from the heavy wood framed mirror on the far wall. Checking the long heavy drapes at the windows as a possible rope on her way over, she slips the ornate mirror off its hanger and onto the ground.

As it cracks the Queen of Shadows spills out. Nikki rapidly texts the motley: “I got her.”

In the kitchen Rocco sees the text and begins write back some directions out of the house. Around him mobsters race to the front of the house toward the fire and explosions.

In the office Queen quickly explains that her fetch has the Quill of Fate. Nikki texts “the fetch has the quill.” Then she and the Queen head toward the gunfire.

Back in the front hall, Evelina picks herself up and stabs Erin with her blade. As the Ogre stumbles back, Angelo aims and fires. Erin collapses on the stairs bleeding as the ghosts continue to hurl objects at the fetch.

Miroslav call on the skills he bartered for at a Goblin Market in Europe. As the abilities of a paranoid survivalist infuse him, he trains his gun on Evelina and fires. The shot blows through a banister and through her midsection.

She looks down in horror as sawdust leaks from the wound, followed by bits of broken glass. She tries to brace herself as she falls back against the wall but her arm crumbles into a bundle of twigs. Crashing to the ground her head explodes into a jar of marbles which clatter down the stairs.

As Uncle Angelo remarks that she “lost her marbles”, Nikki and the Queen come up behind him. Nikki spots a silver pistol in the debris that was the fetch as well as a softly glowing rainbow feather. She snatches it while the Queen moves to the stairs. She texts “I have the quill.”

Placing her hand on Nikki, the Queen shouts to the room, “Fire! Get out of here!”

Instantly everyone’s beats faster as the horror of what is happening magnifies. The remaining mobsters flee while Uncle Angelo impulsively attempts to charge Miroslav. He slips on the marbles and falls down the stairs. Miroslav and Rocco stabilize Erin and carry her to safety, joining Nikki and the Queen in escaping into the Hedge.

As Marco makes his own way to safety, the others debate their next step. Nikki points out they don’t have time, they need to eliminate the book now.

Holding the quill, she takes a sheet of paper from the Queen and asks what to write. Mir protests that she can’t do it. He explains that given what happened to Hedge, he doesn’t want his sister potentially cursed by rewriting time. Rocco volunteers to write it, taking the quill and asking what Mir to put down.

After a moment he says. “Then the tome of ages ceased to exist and the quill lost its power.”

As Rocco finishes writing the quill fades and becomes mundane. Reality shudders and returns to normal.

The motley soon gather together with the survivors of the Guild of Shadows. In the weeks to come, they learn that Tom has retreated back to Arcadia to plot anew, leaving the corpses of Jennifer Conner and Eric McNeil to molder in the shuttered Spencer Academy. Ryan is never seen again and they presume Tom took him with him.

With the deaths, arrests, and madness, the Detroit Mob becomes a shadow of its former self, just one gang among the others. Hedge and Alice are left without their happy ending and drift away.

Charlie and Marco soon marry. Miroslav takes his place as the Queen’s right hand man. Nikki reconnects with her parents and continues as she has but with Mr. Skittles by her side. Rocco sees his Guild grow in power and scale.

A new day dawns.

View
Shattered Fates

The motley and Alice quickly tie up the stunned madman they defeated. They can hear the footfalls of the rest of his gang heading upstairs. With no time to lose Rocco stuffs him in a closet and they quietly hurry up to the second floor.

The group finds a set of stairs to the ground floor, ascending carefully to avoid the many cameras. Several scan the halls using human eyeballs. Then they hear someone shouting.

A man in a white security officer uniform enters at the end of the hall, directing a half dozen orderlies. As the man rants about government surveillance and alien conspiracies, the blank eyed men about him rush the motley.

Led by Nikki, the Changelings, Mr. Skittles and Alice scramble away. One of the guards manages to grab Rocco as they hit the stairs, knocking him down hard. Rocco winces in pain and wriggles free, swiftly climbing the stairs to catch up with the others as they race to Dr. Edward’s office.

Nikki and Mir get to the door first. Pushing it open, they find a small cluttered room with a computer, two desks and the faceless man waiting for them in the dark.

Nikki breathlessly circles the edge of the room to the only other exit, a closet door. As Mir waits for the others to enter, she baits the imposing figure, ignoring his threats and trying to get him to focus his attention on her.

“There is no way out,” the Agent says getting up. “Give up and we’ll make it as painless as possible.”

Miroslav closes the door behind the rest of the motley, pushing the lock closed just before the orderlies arrive. He slides a chair under the door handle as Rocco and Alice brace against it.

While Nikki mocks and occupies the increasingly irate Changeling, Marco scans the room for information on the whereabouts of recent inmates. He notices a stack of patient file folders in the desk’s inbox and recognizes Charlie’s name. He gets closer hoping Nikki can keep him distracted.

Seeing Marco making his move, Nikki gets into the space of the dark suited figure, surreptitiously picking the key card off his belt. Angrily the Agent calls on Smoke to blind her. She feels her vision narrowing but shakes it off to see Marco slip the folders off the desk.

Miroslav commands the faceless Hob to stopping fighting but he arrogantly turns on the Darkling.

Unnoticed in the confusion, Marco glances at the papers. Charlie is somewhere on the basement level and a folder for Hedge points to the third floor.

A second crash against the door knocks the chair loose. As orderlies enter the room, Nikki opens the closet door into the Hedge and steps inside.

As the others rush to the door, the Agent focuses his rage on the presumptuous Miroslav. With a mighty backhand he sends the Darkling flying against the wall. Mir scrambles to catch up with the others and Nikki slams the door closed behind them.

They catch their breath in the thorn lined corridor. Suddenly the door creaks, cracks and collapses in on itself, trapping them in the Hedge. Darkness crowds the narrow space they are in, with spiky vines crawling along the crumbling cinder block. What little light there is filters through cracks in the walls.

Rocco pricks his finger on a thorn and calls upon his magic. He can tell there is no way out but back into Edgewood. As he leads them forward, they hear the screams and wails of the mad and the imprisoned.

They find a gaping hole along the path where a makeshift ladder has been bolted to the wall. Climbing down, they find themselves in an even darker section of the Hedge, warmed by rusted steam pipes. Sounds of tool work echo down the halls.

They wall through the dim halls, the sounds of screaming growing distant. They hear the roar of an engine starting up and then a series of lights click on above them one by one, illuminating a path branching off the main corridor.

Rocco tells them that either way should get them out. They decide to continue forward and avoid the branch. As they pass by the lit up hall, they see a figure just past the light. He calls out in Marco’s voice, telling them they need his help. “Charlie took the deal!” he calls out as they hurry along.

They find a fire exit shortly afterwards. Pushing through it they find themselves back in the basement. Marco recognizes the numbers on the doors and runs to find Charlie while the others struggle to keep up.

Nikki curses him as he runs past an obvious security camera. Then she skids to a halt. There is a door with a key swipe, like the one the Agent had, the one tucked away in her pocket.

But there is also another version of Nikki peering out of another doorway. Dressed in a hospital gown and completely normal looking, she whispers that she knows what Miroslav is up to. Nikki tells her she can’t make a deal and moves on. Her reflection tells her that he doesn’t know a key aspect of the problem, something that will derail everything. Nikki ignores her and heads on.

Meanwhile Marco finds the room where Charlie is being kept. The door opens easily and he hears his girlfriend’s voice from inside. But as she emerges from the darkness, he can see that she has become changed.

Spiders crawl across her skin and multiple black eyes stand out across her forehead. As he hesitates she begins to get upset, claiming she was trying to make him happy. “I made a deal so we could have a family.”

Belatedly he hugs her, telling her that he doesn’t need children, just her.

The others catch up as they embrace. Miroslav looks back to see his sister join them. Then she tenses up as she looks into the room.

She sees the faceless man emerge from the darkness behind Charlie. Marco spots him too and carefully moves his girlfriend behind him, backing out slowly into the hallway.

Then the motley realizes there are orderlies coming from all directions.

“Give up,” the Agent shouts.

“Follow me,” Nikki cries as she races to the locked door. She easily outraces the others, swiping the keycard through the slot and entering a white walled hallway with thorns pressing out of the walls.

As the motley and Alice hurry through the doorway, the Agent manages to slip in as well. As Rocco slams the door shut, the faceless man begins to grow taller and taller until his head brushes the high ceiling.

Marco turns away from the door and surveys the long white hallway. He recognizes the thorns pressing out of the gleaming walls from his vision. “The mirror is nearby!” he calls out.

As the giant Agent trades blows with Alice, Marco pulls out his gun and loads the cold iron bullets. He can hear the guards banging on the door behind him.

Nikki realizes this place has been twisted by powerful magic, the Hedge is intruding on this part of reality. She hurries down the hall following the vines pressing through the walls.

At the end of the hall she find an ornate mirror hanging from a wall distorted by the massive vines pressing through the white paint. A half dozen figures wrapped in hospital gowns and bandages are clawing their way out the walls to either side of it. Nikki scrambles past them next to the mirror and draws her gun.

Miroslav dodges between the Agent’s legs and rushes to catch up to his sister. As he arrives, the Unclean servants of the mirror extract themselves from the walls. Three stumble towards the Callaghans while the others go to aid the faceless giant.

Electricity arcs down from a light into Rocco surrounding him in a protective barrier. Charlie cowers next to Marco while Mr. Skittles does his best to hide.

With a meaty fist, the giant grabs Alice. As he pulls her off the ground, Marco fires at his arm. As the bullet burns into his flesh he drops her.

On the other end of the hallway, Miroslav looks into the mirror. Breaking it will be more a matter of will and sanity. But he also senses that it was broken once. For a moment he sees the cracks hidden beneath its glamour, weak points in its design.

Then the Unclean stagger toward them. As one wrenches free a cinder block from the wall, another smacks Miroslav with a fist. As he tries to shield his face, Nikki easily dodges the third one’s clumsy swings.

As the Unclean begin to surround him, Rocco arcs lightning into the Agent. The scent of burning flesh fills the air as he howls in pain.

Angrily, the faceless giant smashes his fist into Marco denting him into a wall. Charlie reaches over and blesses Marco as he gets to his feet. Lining up a shot he fires, the bullet tearing a hole in the Hob’s throat.

Another shot rings out, as Nikki splinters the frame. The mirror shimmers but holds together. Miroslav turns to the Hob with the cinder block and tries to command him to stop but he ignores him and smashes it over Nikki’s head! The madmen swarm her and pummel her for attacking the source of their power.

At the other end of the hall, Alice continues to hit the giant with her staff, unaware that Rocco has been swarmed by the agents of the mirror. As they club the Elemental, they grit their teeth at the electricity that sparks back at them.

Rocco pushes past them and charges down the hall, hurling himself at mirror. A spiderweb of cracks is momentarily visible.

Marco fires a third shot into the reeling giant as he feebly swats at him. Blood stains his suit about his arm, throat and gut. The Agent manages to fend off the staff wielding woman at his feet and totter down the hall in search of sanctuary.

Miroslav shouts at the Hob with the cinder block to defend them. He pauses and swings the block at his comrade. As the three tussle, the others chase Rocco down the hall and attack the Changelings.

Nikki dodges out of the way and fires again. The bullet strikes the center. This time the cracks do not vanish. As magic power pours from the between slivers of glass, Rocco hurls himself at the mirror a final time.

A pulse of power blasts down the hallway. Chunks of mirrored glass fly through the air. Everyone feels a rush of magical energy surge through them. For the Hobs and the Agent this is instantly deadly. The Hobs evaporate and the Agent collapses and shrinks into small bland looking man.

Charlie screams in pain as the “deal” burns out of her. She turns ashen but also into her old self. So does the hallway as the thorns pull back into the walls and disappear.

As Miroslav directs the team to collect the shards, Nikki quietly palms a piece. They then head up to the third floor to retrieve Hedge. There is no resistance and the few people wandering the halls seem confused and disoriented.

The door to Hedge’s cell is still locked but Nikki pops it open in a couple seconds. Inside they find the mad time traveler, even older and more insane, babbling about the mirror. From his mutterings they realize that his old motley reconstructed the mirror and used it to kill the Slender Man.

Then Hedge notices Alice. He eagerly asks if she has it, the Quill. She becomes crestfallen as she realizes neither of them have the means to redo their deal. Then Miroslav reveals that he knows its location.

Hedge rushes up to him and grabs him by his shirt, demanding the Quill. As Miroslav stalls, the old fae grows angrier and flames begin to lick at his hands as smoke rises from his body.

“Back off,” Nikki says pointing her gun at him.

Hedge utterly ignores her, ranting that he needs his happy ending.

“You don’t get one,” Rocco says.

Hedge drops Mir and stalks over to the elemental. Flames begin to envelope the mad Darkling. Rocco and Marco try to calm the Hedge down but he soon moves in to harm them and get what he wants by force.

Then he winces in pain as the gunshot echoes in the hospital’s corridors. As the smoke wafts from Nikki’s gun, Marco points his own gun at the old man and tells him to back off or else.

Hedge reluctantly backs away and lets the flames die down.

As he does Miroslav realizes that Hedge could never have his “happy ending” because he wrote the story. For the same reason Alice could not become mortal, not in the 18th century at least, or it would create a paradox. But now, she might be able to become mortal, if a deal was brokered.

Hedge agrees to come with them, holding out hope for his happy ending.

Together they leave the asylum. As they exit the building Nikki and Marco hear the growls and notice the swarm of cats lurking outside. As Marco gets Charlie behind him, Nikki runs to a nearby ambulance and hot-wires it.

The others look on in horror the cats attack Hedge, biting and clawing him. Several bite at his bleeding bullet wound before scampering away.

Then the spell breaks and the motley beats off the remaining cats. Hedge is hurt but alive. Piling into the ambulance the group drives away. They get Ruzena Yezhov along the way. By the time they arrive back at the hotel they realize that Feral Tom must have been after Hedge’s blood. He must have the Quill and Book.

As they throw their things into the cars, Miroslav futilely tries to call someone back in Detroit. Rocco gets a hold of Leo. The creepy Hob tells him the Guild of Shadows is in ruins. Most of them died fighting the cats. The Queen of Shadows is missing. On the plus side, he and Ulf have recruited several new people for the Red Company and the Union has offered their help. Rocco tells him to arrange a meeting and find his mother the Queen.

Marco looks into the future. As he sees the timeline stretch out in front of him, something catches his gaze. The timelines are slowly being erased, elements removed from each one, working their way back into the past. His friends the Callaghans will be wiped from reality, their past unraveled by something that will happen.

Meanwhile Charlie discusses what Feral Tom might use Hedge’s blood to write. Alice opinions that he might make a Contract with Iron, gaining immunity to all elements. Then Hedge points out he can’t use the blood on the Book of Ages. If he did it would erase the original timeline he wrote, releasing the True Fae.

The group suddenly realizes that Feral Tom wants that. He would become all powerful and rule a restored Arcadia. Worse in the original timeline, Alice was a True Fae. She would never save Aiden as a baby and thus Aiden would never father Mir or Nikki. They would vanish. Marco and Rocco would remain but Hedge would lose all he tried to accomplish. It would be the worst of all worlds.

And the Lord of Cats got them to retrieve all the pieces he needed. They were conned.

The motley drive back as fast as they dare to Detroit, discussing what they will do along the way. Rocco gets word that his mother went missing before the attack and that her fetch is now back in the city, controlling the Detroit Mob.

By the time they arrive home dawn is nearly here. Leo calls Rocco to tell him the meet is in an hour in Mo-Hedge. Marco stops at his house and rouses his father. He asks if he can have his mom’s old engagement ring. Rory McQueen sleepily nods and digs it out of the closet. As the others get ready, Marco proposes to Charlie.

She says yes.

The motley meet the new recruits for the Red Company while they wait for the Machinist, the mysterious leader of the Union. One of the members, a beast named Ulysses, mocks Rocco’s height and jokes that maybe he should be in charge.

Then the Machinist arrives. Under his cloak, a mechanical arms whirs. Then he looks at Marco with glassy eyes. For a moment he think the Machinist is his father. He is much older and stranger, but this is an older Marco, one that took the deal with the mirror. “You did better than last time but we have a lot to discuss.”

View
Mirrors and Madness

The motley decides to find out if Hedge has visited Rosebriar yet while they wait for Alice Ruby‘s classes that evening. Rocco focuses on researching Pastor Albright’s family, hoping Hedge might visit his mortal connections. Marco suggests canvassing the streets near the church but Nikki points out that Hedge has been living on the streets for decades. No one would mistake him for the pastor. She suggests they focus on the train tracks and other locations where the homeless might be found. Nikki creates a cover story of tracking down her father who is currently off his medication.

At a local diner, Marco and Nikki chat with a waitress who served Hedge a few days ago. She tells them he moved on to visit Appleton, a residential neighborhood to the west. They drive there, searching the parks and the few diners for any clue of Hedge’s whereabouts.

They run across a man in his 30’s walking a pack of dogs. Fred, as he introduces himself, recalls the homeless man, in fact he reported him to the police. Hedge had been in the park recently, supposedly harassing young women passing through it. Fred seems taken in by Nikki’s story and offers to help her find his lost father. He hasn’t seen him today but the police might have picked him up.

Nikki flirts for a few moments feeding from his mix of emotions before heading to the police station. There she and Marco discover that Fred has called ahead. The man at the front desk informs them that her “father”, Hedge, was taken to Edgewood, the asylum, for psychiatric evaluation. He is in the care of a Dr. Edwards.

Rocco meanwhile tracks down Ben Albright’s daughter, Lucy, who lives in town. He learns of a granddaughter, Myra, as well but she’s currently at college. Together with Ruzena, he stakes out her house, hoping to see Hedge.

Rocco and Ruzena position themselves on a city bench within viewing distance of the house. As he reads a newspaper, Rocco gets the feeling of being watched. Suddenly he hears a familiar but forgettable voice, the voice of the faceless man.

This voice, the voice of the Agent, mockingly says, “I know why you are here. If you want Hedge, destroy the protections on the park and church.”

Rocco refuses and the Agent threatens to put him back in the chair. Rocco grabs Ruzena and they quickly leave. The Agent warns them that he won’t have another offer.

Rocco fills the others in on the Agent’s threat once they regroup. With the knowledge that both Hedge and Charlie are currently in the clutches of Edgewood, Miroslav focuses on what can be learned from Alice Ruby.

Her schedule shows she has three classes today. Miroslav attends the first and third one while Nikki shadows him. Alice appears to be oblivious while she focuses on her studies and Miroslav doesn’t even notice his sister.

To Miroslav’s occult eye, Alice seems to be a normal young woman. He does notice that she lacks any real friends and keeps separate from the others. But there are no signs of magic or magical restrictions. He decides to trail her home.

As evening approaches, Alice walked north from campus into Appleton. As the streetlights turned on one by one, they trailed her to a rundown Victorian home. Mir pauses as she slips inside.

Nikki reveals herself to her brother’s surprise and asks about their next move.They decide to stake the house out, watching for anyone entering or leaving. Calling the others, they take turns during the night. It is fairly quiet. Some lights can be seen but there are no visitors or voices to be heard.

In the gray light of morning, Marco sips his coffee and watches the house. He sees the young blond woman leave the house. Marco alerts the others and then shadows her.

Marco follows the possible True Fae through the empty streets of Rosebriar. She studiously does not look in his direction and begins to zigzag through the streets. Marco realizes he is made. Unsure what to do he casts his gaze into the future attempting to learn the worst that could happen if he just talked to her.

Marco sees that trailing her, talking to her, even trying to convince her that she’s lost him all have the same level of danger: none. With nothing to lose he approaches Alice.

As she tries to walk away he calls out that he just wants to talk. He admits to following her and wants to ask her some questions. Alice tells him that she can’t help him but at least stops walking away. She huffily explains she needs to go somewhere.

Marco offers to help get Lada off Alice’s back. He reveals he is working for the professor but that he is willing to help her instead. He also lets on that he knows about Hedge and the weirdness in town. That’s why he needs her help.

Alice seems surprise that he knows about Hedge. That’s who she was hoping to see. Marco tells her what happened to him. She explains she needs to remake a deal with the mad Changeling, that she didn’t get what she wanted. But if he is at the asylum, he may already be doomed.

Alice explains that things changed about 3 years ago, that a darkness in Edgewood is consuming the town, beginning with the fae. She can’t stop it. Anyone who goes there comes back changed or not at all.

Back at Alice’s house, Nikki and Mir have slipped inside unnoticed. Her security system is little more than a can on a string. Outside Rocco gets a phone call from brother. Marco tells him that Alice is willing to help them and that she isn’t dangerous. Rocco directs his brother to take Alice to get coffee and wait for them. They’ll be there within an hour.

Inside the Callaghans find Alice’s hideout, a cluttered room filled with band posters, old toys, and clothes decades out of style. None of it has the least bit of supernatural power.

The picture her effects paint is of a woman trying to be normal. Not trying to act normal, Nikki clarifies, she knows the difference. Alice really wants to be a normal person.

The pair exit and reconvene with Rocco. When she hears what Marco has done, Nikki questions if he has perhaps been Glamoured. They decide to investigate cautiously.

Th motley meets Marco at the coffee shop. They find him still of his own mind. Nervously they talk to Alice. The once True Fae reveals how her deal with Hedge went wrong. How she sought to become human again but found herself continually reverting to her teenage self instead, never able to die.

Under their probing questions she reveals her history. In the first version of reality, she was born a normal mortal. To stop a drought she was given or sacrificed to the True Fae. She was taken to Arcadia and over the centuries transformed from a Changeling to one of the Gentry.

Then there was gala, a gathering of True Fae. A social faux pas was made, she explains. A large number of slaves escaped in the confusion. For her part in it, she was exiled by the Slender Man. She traveled home to Rosebriar and encountered those slaves again. They killed her.

But Hedge and his companions did not end her existence. She arose again as a mostly mortal being. She decided to give up her power and made a deal with Hedge. He would rewrite reality and she would become mortal. But it didn’t work out.

In the second version of reality, she lived as a seemingly normal woman but she always aged back to her teenage self once a decade. Her family and friends died but she kept on. Hedge’s friends and family were protected from any harm but Hedge himself was replaced by a new version of himself.

Now she just wants to find Hedge. He should return to make the deal as in the original version of reality. He wants his life back and she wants to grow old and die.

Talk turns to other version of reality which only confuses Alice. Miroslav questions her about her encounters with his father, something that greatly intrigues the former fae. It hints that he has a special destiny. Then Nikki asks what she can do to help rescue Hedge and Charlie. After stammering for a moment, she tells them that she knows about tunnels into the asylum, forgotten by the current inhabitants. They can use them to get in unnoticed.

The motley gets their preparations underway. They load their guns with cold iron bullets, gather tools to break in with, and obtain the floor plans of the asylum. Nikki locates Dr. Edward’s office and the place where the tunnels intersect the building. Marco also realizes that his vision of the mirror had it in a building with white walls, like a hospital or asylum.

Rocco attempts to hack into the Edgewood computers but runs into some stiff resistance. Before he can really get anywhere he is booted off. As he considers his options, a pop up from his virtual self comes up. He offers to help but Rocco turns him down.

Sucks to be you, the pop-up says before disappearing.

Rocco slams his laptop shut and tells Ruzena they are leaving. Exiting the coffee shop they hurry back to the motel. Worried that something might be coming for them, he is surprised when Ruzena pushes him forward on the asphalt street.

Then a truck crashes into someone behind him.

Rocco scrambles to his feet and finds Ruzena thrown forward into the intersection. He rushes over and tries to stabilize her. The river fae is bleeding with cracked ribs and a collapsed lung. Desperately Rocco pulls out his first aid kit and does what he can.

By the time ambulance arrives, Rocco is sure she will pull through. The medics take her away while Rocco picks up his batted laptop and activates a long worked on piece of code. Keying the virus to his other self, he releases it into the local network.

The motley sneaks unto the Edgewood grounds that night. Alice leads them to an overgrown grate that hides the tunnels under the building. They break in and feel their way through the damp stone pathways. Slick mud covers the floor of the tunnels and a musk of decay fills the air.

After several hundred feet the path ascends and widens. The air grows chill and foul. They each realize something horrible happened in this spot. Nikki shines a flashlight on the ground to find it stained back. Miroslav and Rocco both realize only one thing could cause this: the final death of a True Fae.

They press on, eventually encountering the section of ceiling that strikes the Asylum subbasements. Nikki quietly breaks through the floor with a saw and crowbars. The group climbs out into a supply closet.

They find the area filled with medical supplies ranging from old boxes of syringes to piles of discarded clothing. As they creep down the hall to the stairs, Mir collides with some crates. They jostle softly but don’t fall.

The next room is dimly lit by a single swaying bulb. A metal operating table gleams in the center next to an electroshock machine and a table full of scalpels.

As they enter the room, they realize there is a figure lurking in each dimly lit corner. Dressed in hospital gowns and sporting bandages and straitjackets they rush the motley.

Marco pulls out his taser and fires. Two metal prongs lodge in one of the Unclean’s chest and 10,000 volts rush through its body.

An arc of electricity flies from the machinery into Rocco, protecting him in cascading lightning. Nikki seeing her brother is distracted positions herself to defend him.

Alice rushes forward with her staff and cracks it over the head of one of the Unclean. It topples over in pain and begins to scurry for safety.

The Unclean shot by Marco tries to pull the prongs out feebly. The electricity overwhelms it and it collapses to the ground. The other two rush Nikki and her brother.

Mr. Skittles rushes forward to defend Nikki, leaping up and biting the arm of one of them. As it howls in pain, the other rushes Nikki. She deftly steps aside leaving it off-balance.

As Marco secures his opponent, Rocco and Mr. Skittles attack and defeat the last standing opponent. The wounded Unclean scurry away to safety.

As they catch their breath, they realize they have to hurry. An alarm may be raised any moment.

View
Thorns and Temptations

Miroslav considers the trouble they have uncovered in Rosebriar. He makes a couple calls back to Detroit, eventually contacting a junior member of the guild, Jack of Shadows. The theatrical Darkling sucks up to Mir, eagerly agreeing to look into Rosebriar in the guild’s library.

Rocco meanwhile does some mundane research on the internet. He finds a wealth of information on the local history and folklore, in part because of the planning for the unveiling of the statue of little girl Alice.

He reveals the tale to them, interrupted by the killing the numerous pop-ups that seem to infect the local websites. The legend says that in the early 18th century the area suffered a terrible drought. Some blamed the local Indians while the tribes claimed that the locals had angered the spirits of the land. Alice herself was in her early teens when this happened. She was sent to live with the natives as a replacement for a child of their own who had passed away. This was done in the hopes of easing the tensions between the two groups and perhaps ending the drought.

One night she wandered off into the woods and was never seen again. Rumor has it that her tracks just stopped, leaving no trace of where she went. The Indians claim the land swallowed her up. After she vanished the drought ended.

As for the statue, it has been donated by Alfred Gleik, a sculptor who creates artworks of local folklore. Nikki recalls that he mostly works in the Northeast. There is a certain resemblance between the statue’s design and Alice Ruby’s pictures.

Miroslav questions how this could be the same person. He asks, “humans can’t become True Fae. Can they?”

“Maybe we are all becoming True Fae,” Rocco says before he is distracted by a burst of static from yet another pop-up. “Where is this coming from?”

As Rocco hunts down the source of the pop-ups, the others discuss their suspicions. Nikki doesn’t trust Miroslav’s plan to trail Alice Ruby. She also thinks Dr. Lada Petrov could be a trap. Miroslav disagrees and the two siblings have a staring contest.

Rocco interrupts the brewing argument when a chat window pops up on his laptop. Eerily the other person’s username is “Rocco”.

Who are you? he types.

I’m you, the mystery figure writes. I’m what you could become.

Rocco alerts the others and types another message. What’s with you people and shortcuts?

Why wouldn’t you help yourself? comes the reply.

Prove your me

The person messaging him lists out all of Rocco’s internet crimes and some of his childhood toys. The rest of the motley are crouched around the computer. Nikki comments, “that was you?”

“Yes,” he replies and types out, Damn it. You know I want into the net.

you can enter it.

Like right now? Rocco types.

A message flashes back. You can be everywhere

Right now?

The other “Rocco” takes a moment to write back, You need to open a connection while in the Hedge. I’ll guide you through.

Rocco cautiously asks, What are the dangers? Besides being in the hedge?

You will need to commit to the process.

Is it a one way ticket? Rocco types knowing the truth.

You will have true freedom afterwards. To be everywhere.

“So that’s a yes,” Rocco mutters. He slowly types out, Sorry old, future or whatever me… I got people to protect. Plus… I’m pretty damn smart. I’ll figure it out

This is the only way. You’ll be back, his “other self” warns him.

Thats creepy. The net has turned you into a creeper. Stay away from the deep web. Rocco closes the chat window and disconnects.

Rocco asks the others why there are so many of other versions of themselves in Rosebriar. Marco wonders about the deal his “future” self warned him about. Nikki posits that this town is a flaw in time. In four days Hedge is supposed to make a deal that rewrite history according to the original timeline.

Reminded of that, Miroslav fills the motley in on Hedge’s allies, according to the Book of Ages: Buck, Sarah Willow, Maxwell and Lada Nada. They killed Alice Ruby in the original timeline. Ruzena reminds them that Lada Nada was what she recalls Lada Petrov calling herself when she was taken by the True Fae.

They wonder then if Dr. Petrov is a fetch of Lada Nada or just how Hedge rewrote Lada’s timeline. But certain things don’t make sense. Why is Ruzena here? Shouldn’t she not exist? The McQueen brothers posit that she and other people like Grandmother Stone are flaws in this new reality, bits of the old timeline that were not overwritten. Hedge himself is such a flaw.

Thus it makes sense that Lada is mortal here. In this timeline, his friends and allies all have had a good ending written for them.

Rocco does some research into the town’s history to see if he can’t find out what happened to the others. He discovers a Sarah Wilson running the Rose & Willow flower shop. Maxwell was the name of a prominent mayor of the town. A former WWII bomber crew-member, Maxwell Newman served as mayor from 1955-1987. He died a few years back but the Newman Building which serves as town hall is named after him. As for Buck, there is a Buck Gold, a wealthy African-American from 19th century, who made his fortune mining. He helped create the town’s park. Finally Father Albright, Hedge’s alias, still runs the Lutheran church in Bishopsgate.

Recalling the faceless figure’s offer, the motley decide to investigate the church. Nikki and Rocco suggest that Hedge might be impersonating his mortal self. In any case the protections it supposedly has might be helpful to them.

On the drive down they notice more of the graffiti. It seems to point to someplace within Bishopsgate, north of the church. The church itself remains well maintained, in better shape than the rest of the town. Miroslav looks in vain for signs of a ward.

As they enter Nikki feels a chill. This church is meant to be this way. Its protection is less magical and more a facet of the Wyrd. This is a fixed point.

Inside they find an elderly man who greatly resembles Hedge. Father Albright, as he introduces himself, welcomes them. They question him about the town and the church, learning about the recent hard times. With the decline in manufacturing and the temporary shuttering of the Thornton Industries chemical plant, things have been rough in Rosebriar. Albright remains hopeful that things will turn around. Miroslav asks to see the local graveyard. The priest points out the prominent sites and mentions that the historic cemetery dating back to the founding of the town lies further north, next to the college.

The motley thanks him and drives north. Along the way they drive to where the occult graffiti leads. Along the narrow cobblestone roads, they encounter Thistle Books. The strange symbol above the door connotates knowledge and magic.

Miroslav asks them to stop and approaches the store. The others join him. Inside they find the dimly lit shop lined with books on the occult. While much of it is junk, Miroslav picks out a few gems.

A man wielding a black cane emerges from a back room to greet them. This Mr. Black suggests that Mir might be interested in some rare tomes he has in the back room. When the others move to follow him, Mr. Black warns them that there is little room back there. Nikki comes with them despite the warning.

In the dim confines of the back room, Mr. Black motions Miroslav close to him. Under the hum of the AC fans, the mysterious shopkeeper offers Mir the power to bypass the motley pledge. He offers him power and secrets for the cost of seizing his destiny. Nikki tries to listen in but finds it hard to concentrate.

Miroslav declines his offer. They leave the backroom and Mr. Black says that his deal still stands. Quickly Mir leads the motley from the shop and back in the car.

On the way to the cemetery, the others question Miroslav about what happened in the back room. Nikki in particular, asks what her brother was offered. Miroslav admits it was his version of the “deal”, the deal that Marco saw in his vision. Miroslav tells them he turned it down but is evasive about the details. In the end the motley makes a pledge not to make any deals while in town.

Weeds crowd the old cemetery, while the aged headstones tilt and topple throughout the untended field. Under the glare of dozens of crows they search the graves for any trace of a marker for Alice. They find nothing. Amid the crumbling graveyard, only the crypt Buck Gold remains pristine. Despite being constructed in 1922 it remains undamaged, lending credence to the theory that the allies of Hedge had their lives written for happier endings.

Nikki notices a trail of Skittles on the ground. She tells the others and follows them to the Smith family crypt. The granite door opens easily into the Hedge. Inside it is night and six-inch long thorns press into the path. Nikki checks her watch. The local Hedge is always night. The third dial, the one tied to Arcadia, ticks between 12:05 and 12:06 AM.

The motley carefully pushes past the sharp thorns, following the trail of Skittles to a clearing lined with canvas paintings that move and whisper. At the far end they see a beautiful woman working at an easel. A small rainbow spotted dog whimpers at her feet. The sound of giggling echoes in the distance.

They approach the woman. She turns to reveal an even more beautiful version of Nikki. Nikki seems hostile to this other “her” and asks for Mr. Skittles. The woman, calling herself the Lady of Sunsets, claims to have saved Mr. Skittles from the unsavory appetites of Mr. Happy the Clown. Nikki though refuses warm up and asks for her dog back. The Lady lets the dog go, even ordering him to leave. Nikki tells the others they should go and the Lady of Sunsets warns them that the Unclean are coming.

Miroslav places a blessing upon Rocco as he communes with the Hedge. “There is a door nearby,” he tells them. “Also five things in straitjackets. Let’s get out here, avoid the thorns.”

Rocco leads the way as the giggles and howls get closer. They spot the exit just as a gang of loping bandaged figures come into view. They race to the door, quickly outrunning them and deftly avoiding the thorns. Ruzena yanks open the door. Once everyone is through, Nikki slams it shut.

They find themselves packed in a public bathroom. They flush the toilet and walk out. Nikki checks her clock. A half hour has passed in the real world. Arcadia’s clock has moved backwards, ticking between 12:04 and 12:05 AM.

Ruzena points out that fate is at work in this park. It too is a fixed point. They decide to take a look at the statue being unveiled in a few days. They find the workmen putting on some finishing touches and wait until they leave. Then Miroslav sneaks up and looks under the cloth.

It seems to be a simple stone statue, its arms outstretched. It does resemble Alice Ruby. Nikki creeps up and looks around. There is nothing obviously occult about it but statue is an especially fated object.

Their curiosity satisfied they begin to walk back to the car in the growing dark. Nikki harps on the dangers of her brother’s plans to stalk Alice Ruby and compares it to what his old girlfriend did.

Her comments are interrupted by some disturbing giggles. Realizing the Unclean are on their trail, they run for it.

They soon see the gibbering bandaged madmen running down the street behind them. The Callaghans spot the car and race for it, leaving the others to fend off the monsters.

The gibbering things swarm the Changelings, flailing away with their long multijointed arms. Rocco and Ruzena take a bruising, while one of the Unclean screams at Rocco. Fear and panic flood his mind but he masters it.

Rocco calls on the electricity from a nearby car battery. It arcs around him, protecting him. Marco pulls a gun and fires into the nearest of the creatures. It topples backwards, writhing in pain.

As Ruzena tussles ineffectually, the Callaghans and Mr. Skittles get in the car. Nikki starts it up while Miroslav casts a blessing on her.

The wounded Unclean picks itself up and flees but the other continue to strike at Rocco and Ruzena. While they are fending off their attackers, the other one screams at Marco. He is unable to bear the cascade of fear and madness. He lashes out beating his tormented with the butt of his gun.

Rocco singes one with the electricity arcing about him. The madman is knocked back a step. Into a fast-moving car.

The car rocks twice as Nikki runs over the Hob. She brings it to a halt a short distance away as her brother leans out and commands one of them to stop.

The surviving Hobs, overmatched, flee.

The motley quickly looks over the corpse. Unmarred by tire treads and attired in bandages and a hospital gown, it has a name tag: Dr. Edwards. Nikki notes it down and they drive off before the police arrive.

Back to hotel, they find a phone message waiting for them. Marco picks it up and hears his own voice on the line. “She didn’t get out. They have her. I can help.” He then proceeds to give him an address in the Industrial District.

Marco hurriedly calls Charlie but she doesn’t pick up. He turns to his brother who hacks the GPS and traces the phone to the Edgewood Asylum on the south end of town.

Marco casts his vision into the future, searching for the best option. He sees a mine field in storming the asylum. His other self and the deal leads down a dark road. The safest choice would be to learn more. Tracking down Alice Ruby and learning her secrets for Lada may be the wisest course. He tells the others and they begin to plan.

View
Revisiting Rosebriar

At Charlie Cobweb’s Hollow, the McQueen brothers discuss what to do with the enchanted blueprints. Rocco advances the idea of sacrificing the papers and the True Fae bound within them in order to found his guild. Marco seems persuaded by his argument but first casts his vision into the future, charting out the best course of action.

Marco sees several paths ahead for his brother. The many branches are disorienting and a hiss of static doesn’t help. He hears a voice say “I am sending this from the year….” before it is drowned out.

One thing is clear, Rocco will face a series of grave choices in his future. Down one path Marco sees him place the blueprints in the thorns of the hedge. The Hedge devours them and a dark cloud settles upon his brother. He will be cursed but his choices later on become less likely to bring doom to others. Rocco’s current plan may be the best one but only time will tell.

Marco relays this to his brother. Rocco seems relieved. He admits he isn’t the same person he was. He wanted to kill Jennifer Conner when she came after him. He could have fled the monster hunter but something in him caused him to stay. He tells Marco, “they fixed my legs but I’m still broken.”

Later on Nikki stops by. She voices a concern over Miroslav. She fears her brother cannot be trusted with the Book of Ages and the Quill of Time, that he will find someone out of the motley pledge and rewrite history according to his own vision of how it should be. The McQueen brothers voice their own concerns. Indeed no one seems to trust the Darkling.

They decide to seek out the Queen of Shadows to see if they can convince her to help keep Miroslav from the book. They find her at the Guild of Shadows. After presenting their argument, they find the Queen well disposed toward them. She is more willing to help her children than the second ranked member of her order. She agrees to keep the artifacts under lock and key until all of them are present to discuss the changes to make.

While Rocco makes his argument, Nikki cases the Guild. It would very hard to break in here. She could do it but not her brother. Satisfied they return to the Hollow.

They find Miroslav waiting for them. He’s just returned from the sites of several of Ryan’s murders, hoping to find a ghost to tell him more about the Michigan Slugger. Unfortunately none of the victims remain as spirits, because Ryan has developed a way to murder ghosts with his blood stained bat. This he learned by an unrelated spirit that spied the serial killer at work.

Rocco tells him his plan for the blueprints. Mir agrees to the scheme. Together they journey into the Hedge to ask Grandmother Stone advice. They find her much nearer to the real world, stirring her pot in front of a chicken footed hut.

She greets them, inquiring their purpose. After Rocco tells her, she warns that sacrificing something that is not his to sacrifice will bring consequences. Even if the plans are destroyed, the Emperor Machine within might still return. Rocco asks that the burden of the sacrifice be placed upon the new guild’s members and not the guild itself. Grandmother Stone instructs him how and he places the papers in the darkest part of the Hedge where the thorns devour them.

Instantly a Mantle of Red settles on Rocco.

The next month passes quickly. Leo the Rook and Ulf join Rocco’s new guild, the Red Company. Also in that month the underworld is shaken by the demise of Underboss Rocco Zerilli, after a foolish attempt to kill the current head of the Zerilli family, Tony Z. The sudden power vacuum causes infighting between the various capos as they vie for the now vacant spot.

Marco has a series of recurring dreams. In each he is wandering down a white hallway where thorns press out of the walls. A hiss static fills his ears, over which he hears himself say, “I am sending this from the year…crackle…don’t…hiss…Miroslav…crackle…Rosebriar alone…” The dreams always end with him seeing himself.

Rocco meanwhile calls Ruzena. He offers the water fae a place in his guild if she will give up her murderous desires. Worn down by his arguments and the pain in her life, she agrees. But she asks for his help in finding an old friend. It seems she is able to dimly recall her time as a prisoner of the Slender Man. While in his garden, she was kept with another rusalka, a girl named Lada Nada or Lada Petrov. She describes the teenager as blond with Russian parents and an American accent.

Rocco agrees to help, using that opening to press for her to also give up the memory of the hatred that drove her. Eager for a new start she agrees.

Miroslav and Marco accompany Ruzena and Rocco to the Goblin Market. There they find the old man with the long twisty beard again, the one that removed Rocco’s memories. He agrees to take Ruzena’s hatred and murderous impulse. The impulse is worth quite a bit he says. The two haggle but Rocco find himself unused to being the seller. In the end the man pays them a hero’s destiny and a little girl’s empathy.

Checking the bottle holding the empathy the motley are surprised to find it belongs to Nikki. Rocco asks Ruzena for it and then goes to find the thief. He manages to call Nikki a short while later, interrupting her while she is painting. He tells her what they found and she agrees to take it.

Later, Nikki takes the bottle to a doorway out of the Hedge and opens it. As pink sparkles rain down on her she finds herself feeling things, things she hasn’t even thought about in over a decade. She suddenly remembers her childhood pet Mr. Skittles, the dog who was corrupted by the Hedge, twisted into a Hob. A sadness and regret comes over her and she steps into the real world. She calls her mother and in a choked voice tells her she needs to find Mr. Skittles, that she remembers where she left him.

Nikki asks around the hedge and soon learns her dog joined the Carnival of Ivory and Horn, a travelling Goblin Market. It was last seen headed to Rosebriar.

The last week before their trip to Rosbriar goes by in a rush. Ruzena joins the Red Company, eager to help Rocco, especially once he find a Professor Petrov working at Appleton College in Rosebriar in the Humanities department. Miroslav finds out through his occultist contacts that the elderly Lada knows something of the supernatural. He moves up the time of their trip and sets up a meeting with her. Marco meanwhile spends some time looking for allies in taking down the mob. He doesn’t find any but does notice that many of the soldiers in the family are jumpy, afraid of their own shadows. Something ominous is behind this recent shakeup of leadership.

The day they leave, news breaks that the Chief of Police in Detroit has committed suicide. He shot himself, leaving evidence of drug use and possible criminal ties. With no time to spare for an investigation, the motley as well as Marco’s girlfriend Charlie Cobwebs and Ruzena leave the city. The long drive through Canada takes them to upstate New York. They check into a hotel suite on the edge of Rosebriar and rest up. Tomorrow they meet Lada and explore the town.

Marco’s sleep is troubled. He has visions of his hand opening up to reveal gears and machinery inside. Again he dreams of wandering down a dimly lit white hallway. As he comes up to a dirty mirror, he hears his voice say, “I am sending this from the year 19…hiss…don’t let Miroslav…crackle…Rosebriar. You alone have a chance. Convince Charlie not to come. The Carnival is your first stop.”

That morning Marco brings up his visions with the group. No one is sure what to make of it, but it is clear Marco is sending himself warnings from the past. Marco decides to trust in his alternate self and presses Charlie to leave Rosebriar. His brother and Nikki aid in his arguments. She reluctantly agrees. Before she goes, Marco tells her that he has something important to say to her when they are done here.

From the front desk they learn that the carnival has set itself up Appleton, a residential neighborhood across the river. They pile into a car and drive over, passing north of the decaying industrial areas through the slums of Heywood. Along the way Miroslav and Nikki note a lot of graffiti containing occult symbology. To Nikki’s practiced eye they seem like directions, advertising secret power to the south.

In the gray light of dawn they find the carnival still empty with only the carnies tending to the rides. A flock of angry crows glare at them from cables of lights hanging overhead. Disturbingly they can see that behind the Mask, the carnies and the rides are one, their flesh intertwined with the gears and hydraulics of the machines.

Wandering about they encounter a disgustingly fat clown in a purple top hat and green suit. Beneath the Mask, his teeth are unnervingly sharp. Introducing himself as Mr. Happy, he welcomes them to the carnival. Nikki politely greets him and inquires about her dog. Mr. Happy gets suspiciously quiet and hints he might remember where he is for the right payment. Nikki gets the distinct impression what he wants is very unsavory.

He asks them to get some local kids to come to the carnival. Rocco suggests he show them around so they can better sell it. The clown leads them past the carnival’s many attractions: games, rides, even a fortune-teller.

As they pass the House of Mirrors, the clown remarks that it is closed and most of the mirrors have been sold off. Marco peers inside. It doesn’t resemble his dream but he sees a spot on one wall where a mirror much like that in his vision once hung. While he is distracted, Nikki and Rocco spot a faceless man in a dark suit watching them. They blink and he disappears.

Nikki slips away from the others, entering into the shadowy confines of the fortune-teller’s tent. She finds the ancient Madame Cleo sitting inside. The warty woman welcomes her in and asks what troubles her. Nikki explains that she is searching for Mr. Skittles. The fortune-teller presses her lips together. Nikki presses her for any information and Cleo reveals that her dog went to Mr. Happy a few days ago after the ringleader of the carnival went missing. She warns that the local Hedge is very dangerous and that something horrible is happening.

Madame Cleo offers Nikki a fortune-telling. She casts the cards, drawing the Fool, the Queen of Swords Reversed, and the King of Cups. The old woman reads this as an initially good sign, that she is on the first step to find her lost friend. She tells the young woman to go to the Hedge where she will be offered a choice. That choice will be a greatest danger though.

Nikki rejoins the others and Mr. Happy gives them fliers to pass out. The Changelings notice that some of the freaks in the pictures wink at them. Quietly they decide to burn them. Once away from the carnival they find a homeless man warming himself by a fire and toss the papers into the flames. Rocco notices a newspaper circular on the ground with entries marked up. He picks it up. Circled in black are an ad for Rose & Willow Flowers, a barbecue event at the Lutheran Church in Bishopsgate, an ad for Summer Literature classes at Appleton College, and an announcement of a new wing being built at Edgewood. On the way back to the car, Rocco places the paper in the trash.

They soon arrive at the college. Lada’s office is on the second floor of the Humanities building, one of the few not littered with trash or otherwise marred. Mir knocks on the door and is greeted by a small elderly woman with dyed black hair. Books line every wall of her room, leaving almost no room to stand let alone sit.

Dr. Petrov is surprised to see so many people here and Miroslav quickly introduces them. Lada remarks that Ruzena is staring at her, seemingly not recognizing her at all. To fae eyes Lada is completely mundane.

The McQueen brothers hang outside while the others join Lada in her office. Miroslav and Ruzena sit by her desk while Nikki looks over the walls of books. Miroslav discusses the local occult scene with the woman. Eventually talk turns to how Miroslav could help her. Lada shows him a file on a student of hers, Alice Ruby. From her research the girl is essentially immortal. Lada needs Mir’s help to find out her secret, it seems the eternal teenager distrusts her. Mir agrees and Lada helps by arranging for him to audit Alice’s classes.

Outside Marco finds his senses flooded by another vision. He hears an older version of himself say, “Trying again. I am sending this from the year 1972, third revision I think. Don’t let Miroslav go to Rosebriar. You can find where Mr. Skittle’s went from the Carnival. Deal with Nikki. Don’t make the deal. Don’t make the deal with the reflection. Avoid the Agent. Break the Mirror. Don’t look for me. I made the deal.” He senses images of thorns pressing through white walls and seeing himself in the dirty reflection of an elaborate mirror.

While his brother is distracted Rocco sees the faceless man in a dark suit at the end of the hall. He turns around to head the other direction and almost runs into him. The man speaks to him a voice he instantly forgets. He recalls being offered escape for the removal of the protections on the church though. Then the man disappears.

The others soon come out of the office. The McQueen brothers urges them all to return to the hotel. There they fill them in on the vision and the faceless man. Rocco and Nikki both get a bit upset at Miroslav, asking why he brought them to a place with True Fae and why he agreed to follow one of them around. Rocco thinks the faceless man is another True Fae. Miroslav seems unfazed by the danger.

Ruzena adds her thoughts. Lada was not acting, she really doesn’t know her. Ruzena suggests lying low, to jet get what they need and then leave. They have 4 days to go for Hedge to arrive. If he hasn’t come early that is.

View
Dangerous Gambits

Miroslav, still shaky from his close encounter with Michigan Slugger, stays in Charlie’s Hollow. He spends his time magically studying the blueprints that the McQueen brothers were working on. The papers themselves are not magical but to the ideas within them are. Those designs are complex and powerful. This will take some time.

Rocco steals one of the papers, one that holds plans for how to upload a person’s mind to the Hedge-Net. He isn’t sure he will use it but is tempted. Marco by contrast, throws himself into his work, trying to ignore his obsession to invent.

Maeve Sheely calls Nikki with bad news. The Crossroads gang’s payment has been switch from diamonds to something called blue amber. Nikki is unfazed by this turn of events and tells her friend that they will go ahead with the plan. She reassures her friend that this won’t be a problem.

After the call, Nikki talks to some contacts, tracking down a buyer for the new merchandise. Her cut will be smaller but it will still be enough to buy her mother’s freedom from the Mob.

Completing her preparations, she plants her Hedge painting in a safe deposit box under an assumed identity at the bank where the gems will be stored. She then delivers her payment to the Syzygy sisters in exchange for their help glamouring her stash of fake diamonds to appear as blue amber. The thief is bothered that she can’t come up with a reason that the gang would want this new gemstone.

As the motley gathers that evening, Miroslav reveals what he has learned. The blueprints are part of a True Fae, the memories and thoughts of the Emperor Machine. Destroyed over 50 years ago, the Emperor Machine built the Streetsharks with Changeling slave labor. The plans can rebuild him. They discuss where these blueprints could have come from. Marco tells them what he knows but the trail ends at Aspen Imports and a mistaken weapons shipment.

That night, Nikki breaks into the bank through her Hedge gateway painting. With Rocco disabling external security, she uses Maeve’s key to open the safe deposit box where the amber is held. She quickly switches out the jewels and leaves.

Nikki meets Maeve at a Denny at 4 AM to split the haul. Maeve gets the lion’s share. Nikki advises her to leave soon.

Rocco dreams during the day. He finds himself in Mo-Hedge amid the rusted hulks and junk piles. Messages have been written in spray paint on the sides of vehicles: “Deal: my help for your help”, “Complete the plans and you can have your guild and entry into the Net”, and “I will spare you and your friends.”

Walking along , he discovers a working a typewriter upon a heap of garbage. It types out, “What say you?”

Rocco tells it, “see you tomorrow night.”

“Looking forward to it,” the machine writes.

Rocco awakens. He grabs his phone and texts Miroslav._ I think there is a True Fae in my dreams._

That sounds terrible, the reply comes back.

Can we get coffee please, Rocco asks.

Sure.

The pair meet at Starbucks. Miroslav is late, taking a convoluted path to avoid mortal eyes. The two friends discuss their options. Rocco mentions that he could “pull a Queen of Shadows.” In other words he could sacrifice his memories to escape the dreams.

The conversation turns to witches, including the Witch-House and Grandmother Stone. Mir has a flash of insight and realizes both are probably True Fae. He advises Rocco that they avoid them at all costs. Grandmother Stone’s hut is almost certainly at the former gate to Arcadia.

Rocco however points out that he can’t forget the Emperor Machine, the True Fae is inside his head. Mir tells him to avoid sleeping until they can get it removed at the Goblin Market. He advises Rocco not to make things, just watch TV or something.

Marco meanwhile struggled to keep up appearances at work and home. With everyone else hiding at the Hollow, he continues to stay in the real world. The afternoon, he notices his father is particularly distracted. The two talk. Marco teases out him that his friends Eric and Jennifer came by. The two tried to convince his father that Marco was in league with demons. During the conversation, his father admits to knowing that Marco has mob connections but assumes he has his reasons. Marco manages to assure his father that he does and bluff that he doesn’t know what his friends Eric and Jennifer are up to.

Nikki meanwhile drives off to sell her cut of the gems. She doesn’t expect to be back until late that night. Rocco tries to get his mind off things by going to the gym. Miroslav continues his researches while Marco works at the shop.

Eventually the gym closes and Rocco ventures out into the night. A half of a block down the street, he notices some people following him. He ducks down an alley and quickly climbs up a fire escape. By the time his pursuers begin their ascent, he’s already reached the roof. Rather than flee across the flat barren roof top, he turns and pulls a bolt of lightning from a nearby neon light and electrifies the steel fire escape.

He sees two women collapsed in pain on the metal structure below. One looks up and points a gun at him. He recognizes Jennifer a moment before her shot burns into his shoulder.

The other woman, dressed in a nun’s habit, leaps to her feet and races up to the top of building. As she reaches the roof, she breathlessly whispers a prayer and a soft glow of divine power envelops her.

Rocco reeling in pain, burns his Glamour to increase his speed. He races for the door downstairs. He bounces off of the locked portal and spins toward the building’s edge. Attempting to leap across the gap, he runs off the edge of the building.

He doesn’t make it.

He bounces off the far wall, using the brick face to slow his fall before landing in a crouch in the alley. He stands up and runs for the safety of the Hedge.

Across town, Marco is hard at work at the shop. Everyone else has left for the night and work is going quickly. He is so focused he barely notices two men enter the room, only realizing at the last moment that one of them has walked up behind him.

As he gets up from tightening up a wheel, he sees Eric take a swing at him.

Marco is clipped by the punch, bringing up his wrench as he spins around. He spots his old friend Ryan also in the room wielding a bloodstained baseball bat.

As Marco sputters out some questions, Ryan swings at him. Marco steps out the way as the bat dents the car behind him. Eric punches him again, loosening some teeth.

Marco swings at the armed assailant, connecting with Ryan’s torso with a satisfying grunt. As Eric swings wildly at him, Ryan brings the bat down hard on his friend. Marco’s side erupts in pain as he feels ribs crack.

His vision narrowing, Marco stumbles out of the shop, opening a gate into the Hedge. He shuts the door behind him before wandering into the greenery.

Marco wanders through the Hedge, his vision dimming and his mind clouded by the pain. Somehow he eventually makes it to the Hollow. As he passes out he sees Charlie running towards him.

The rest of the motley soon makes their way to the Hollow, guiding by phone calls from Rocco. Marco soon regains consciousness and they discuss the attacks. Miroslav and Nikki are surprised that Rocco was willing to kill his pursuers. Nikki is curious about their motives and is surprised that they just want to kill them. Rocco points out that Nikki is partially to blame and that her lack of empathy doesn’t allow her to realize how she hurt people.

Talk moves to how to deal with these monster hunters. They decide to implicate Ryan as the Michigan Slugger, which he almost certainly is. Charlie will take her boyfriend Marco to the police and file a report. Rocco will check into the hospital for his bullet wound. They will get the police to hunt down their enemies.

Once the others have left, Nikki and Miroslav plan how to deal with their mother. They decide to do this together. Nikki promises to find a way through the Hedge to Vadomma’s apartment so Miroslav can avoid the hunters. She leaves to do that.

A short while later the Queen of Shadows stops by the Hollow. She is looking for her sons. Miroslav bluntly tells her what happened. Distraught she asks where they are. He tells her, advising his leader to meet with Marco first.

After Marco gives the police his report, he is taken to the hospital. He spots his mother as he is wheeled out but between the police and her ex-husband, she dares not get closer.

Nikki returns and the Callaghan siblings visit their mother. Between the two of them they explain that they intend to bail her out and convince her to move to Austin where their father is. Vadomma is reluctant to take Nikki’s money but in the end relents.

The Queen beats Marco to the hospital and visits Rocco in his room. The Elemental is recovering from surgery. The Queen, his mother, expresses her concern and the two talk about what happened. Rocco comes to realize she has the same sort of perfect memory he does and it helps him understand her decisions better.

Word soon arrives that the police found evidence at Ryan’s home implicating him as the Michigan Slugger. An APB is placed on him and his accomplices.

That evening while the Mob’s blue amber exchange is going on across town, Nikki pays off Joe Zerilli with the Zerilli’s own money. The Mob soldier warms up to the idea of letting Vadomma go once he gets the shop itself in addition to the money he owed.

Marco also get a visit from the Queen. She makes sure he is alright and asks if there is anything she can do for him. He says there isn’t but she peers into his heart and finds something.

Uncle Angelo also visits Marco, letting him know that he doesn’t have to worry about the cops watching his shop. He hints that they are on the take and won’t jeopardize their (i.e. the Mob’s) operation.

Once he and his brother are released, Rocco calls Ruzena. He fills the water fae in on the recent events, tempting her with details on how his being shot hurt the Queen. He continues to work on convincing her to trade away her murderous impulses.

With the hunters dealt with the motley plans how to remove Rocco’s memories of the blueprints. They need something to trade at the market. Rocco figures the cold iron bullets his brother made would be worth what they want. Miroslav thinks they need them so Marco goes to work on making a third clip.

That night they visit the market. they find an old stooped over man who can help them. His beard wraps around the ground about him. He will extract the memory for a clip of cold iron bullets and Rocco’s worst nightmare. Marco haggles with him and brings the price down to a clip and a bad dream.

The old man extracts Rocco’s memory of the blueprints which appears in Miroslav’s hands in the form of crisp new blueprints.

Later Nikki steals the originals from the police evidence locker. Miroslav locks them all away until they can decide what to do with them.

View
Criminal Enterprises

The motley hunkers in Charlie Cobwebs‘s Hollow to discuss how to deal with their current issues. They cobble together a plan to deal with Mrs. Callaghan’s debt to the Zerillis. Mir tells the others that his father is helping to convince her to move. Nikki reveals her plan to steal diamonds from the Mob to pay for a bribe. The one problem that remains is how she will replace them with a convincing forgery.

For now the team spends most of their time in the Hollow, venturing out for work and things that can only be accomplished in the real world. They work in teams in case Eric and other monster hunters find them. Miroslav sticks with his sister while the McQueen brothers and Charlie form a second group. Nikki begins to create a third alternate identity. Rocco laments not having internet access in the Hedge.

Rocco calls Ruzena and warns her not to come back to Detroit. He tells her about the fall of market. Her voice cheers up upon the news of the deaths of the leaders of the Guild of Shadows and the emotional damage to Queen of Shadows. Rocco brings up the subject of Ruzena trading away her compulsion to kill. She seems more receptive.

Nikki meanwhile contacts her friend Maeve. The mob moll has managed to uncover the details of the diamond drop.The deal is for the Crossroads gang to deliver a truck load of drugs to a warehouse downtown for a briefcase of diamonds.

Until then the diamonds will be kept in a bank vault of the Bank of Livonia. Maeve is unsure how they might break in. Nikki however considers depositing her Hedge gateway painting and using that to beat the security.

On the day of drop off, a thug by the name of Tommy Trevisano and some men will take the jewels to Jake’s Crossroad’s Bar at the intersection of Oakwood and Dix. At the bar, Tommy will meet with a man known as Mr. Pocket who will identify himself with a pair of white gloves. Tommy will give him the briefcase and Pocket will call his associates. When the delivery is confirmed on both sides, Pocket will exit via the backdoor.

Nikki thanks her for the information and asks Maeve to get her a copy of the safe deposit box key where the diamonds will be kept. The thief considers going to the Court of Jewels’ private club for help but holds off for now.

Instead she asks her brother if he knows anything about Feral Tom’s weaknesses. She tries to explain that she worried the True Fae might come after them. Tom has known them since they were children but they know little about him. Miroslav for his part seems averse to poking into his business, thinking leaving Tom alone is the better course. Nikki begins to call her brother “the future king of shadows.” Mir seems oblivious to her jibs.

Miroslav does agree to piece together some information on Tom. Since his escape from the Book of Ages however details have become sparse. What Miroslav determines is that Tom was one of the most powerful of the True Fae. His only real weakness might be cold iron.

At Marco’s shop, the brothers work on their own projects. Rocco researches the people hunting them. He turns up surprisingly little. Eric traveled to Europe after high school, visiting Italy, before vanishing. Then he reappears assigned to a parish in Boston. About three years ago, he disappears for good. He has no internet presence. Jennifer Conner is similar. After being shuffled between mental institutions for several years, she broke out or was broken out and then disappeared.

Rocco voices his worries that the hunters must be expecting to be looked for. They are being very smart.

Marco meanwhile messes with the blueprints he acquired from Chris. He finds plans for an automatic toolbox that will rotate to the desired toolset at the push of a button. After a couple of hours he has it built. But already he is thinking of his next creation.

Marco hears a car pull up outside. He alerts the others and they head to the side door.

They immediately run into four black men wearing red bandannas. One shouts, “That’s him,” as he points at Rocco. “Get him!”

Marco seizes the initiative and swings his heavy metal wrench at one of the intruders. He connects with the burly man’s head with a painful crunch.

Rocco calls upon the electricity in the building. A light bulb overhead bursts and an arc of electricity flies into another thug. Burned and freaked out he and his injured companion flee.

Another one joins the retreat but the last one steps into the room and grabs Charlie, putting a gun to her head.

As his girlfriend struggles, Marco slips behind the gang member and bashes him with his wrench. Electricity shoots through the air a second later. The burned and bludgeoned goon surrenders.

The brothers tie him up. Then after making sure his friends are gone, Rocco sets a car battery in front of the thug. He calmly explains that if he doesn’t want to get hurt he should tell them what they want to know.

The thug spills everything. His name is Tyrone. He and the others were sent here by Kristen Murray. Rocco nods as he recognizes his mother’s fetch‘s alias. Unfortunately Tyrone doesn’t know why they were supposed to grab one of them. Joe Black, the guy Marco clubbed, had that information.

Rocco learns that Tyrone has a drug habit and is paid a pittance for his “work”. He offers the ex-con a job if he brings back some of his buddies to help as well. Tyrone is reluctant but agrees.

As Tyrone leaves on foot, Charlie points out his fellow gang members will probably beat him up for this. She suggests following him.

The Changelings have no difficulty following the stumbling criminal to a local junkyard.

Rocco suggests that Marco call his cousin Joe Zerilli and get the Mob to take out the fetch’s gang. Marco makes a quick call and wakes up his muscle-bound cousin. Joe Z isn’t happy to lose sleep but perks up when he learns about an opportunity to put the hurt on this thorn in his side. He tells Marco to stay hidden and wait for the boys to arrive.

His brother and girlfriend hide elsewhere. About a half hour later two cars full of well armed men arrive. One of them flags down Marco and tells him to book it when the shooting starts.

The mobsters encircle the junkyard. As soon as the bullets begin to fly, Marco makes his escape. Rocco and Charlie sees the gang members cut down. Tyrone dies at the entrance to the yard. After about five minutes, the mob goons pull out their wounded and drive out of there.

Nikki decides that glass diamonds are not enough. She will need magic to make a perfect forgery. She searches the Hedge for someone with the talents she needs. She soon tracks down the Syzygy Sisters. She makes a deal with them to glamour the stones in exchange for a personal Hedge gateway painting.

Miroslav meanwhile tries to learn something about Eric through his occult contacts. Unfortunately all he finds are rumors of Vatican hit men and vampire hunters.

He turns his efforts to tracking down Mr. Wilkens’s book. Unfortunately his contacts can only turn up that there a small print run in the United Kingdom. He might be able to find a copy if he visits there. After some searching, He books a flight to London and places the Quill in the care of the Guild of Shadows.

Rocco does his own digging. He uncovers hints of monster hunting activity: the destruction by arson of a rumored haunted house, the disappearance of a strange old woman, and other oddities from Eric’s time in Boston. Rocco also takes the time to reinvest his money from the botnet deal through a series of shell companies. He sets up a start-up focused on encryption software.

Marco continues crafting. In the span of a few days he creates two clips of cold iron 9mm bullets. Along the way he creates a bullet press and adds voice activation to his toolbox. The plans lie scattered around his shop, small piles.

Nikki convinces most of the motley to help her find more squid ink tubers for her magical painting. It takes several hours but they find another patch in a high tree. As Nikki starts to climb however, the motley hears something coming out of the surrounding brush.

Suddenly they find the undergrowth swarming with cats. Nikki jumps down to join the others. Then the thorns pull away to reveal the majestic Lord of Cats. Golden furred and rippling with power and strength, the creature once known as Feral Tom asks them their business here.

Rocco steps forward and greets him with proper decorum. He explains they seek the tubers in this area. The Lord of Cats however tells them that this part of the Hedge, as in the part he is present in, is his.

The Lord of Cats decides he will give them to fruits if they answer three questions truthfully. Nervously Marco casts his gaze into the future, asking what is the best choice here. He sees only darkness in answering the True Fae. They would be best served retreating and seeking the fruit elsewhere like at the Goblin Market.

Nikki reads Marco’s sign and politely declines the Lord of Cats’s offer. They leave quickly and respectfully.

In the end, Nikki trades the enchanted photograph for the fruit. Then she catches the flight to London with Miroslav. Using a new fake ID, she picks up the fake glass diamonds and plans her next step. She leaves her brother hunting through used bookshops and heads home to work on the painting that will pay for the final part of the scheme.

She finds the McQueen brothers busy building new devices. Wary of another attack they have moved the equipment to the Hollow. Along the way Rocco helped Marco alter a laptop to get a wireless signal within the Hedge. Nikki finds them playing on it amid the various new tools and scattered blueprints. She remarks that the number of blueprints has multiplied, something neither of the McQueens had noticed before.

Looking at them more closely, Nikki notes each has a unique model number and are signed with the initials EM. After she points out the obvious magic involved, Marco agrees to hold off on building anything more.

Miroslav returns a few days later triumphant. Book in hand he takes a cab to a hotel and crashes for the night.

He awakes in the middle of the night, sure someone is in the room with him. Calling on the darkness he clouds the intruder’s vision. He silently slips out of bed as a masked figure creeps out of the corner nearest the door. The intruder raises a scarred metal baseball bat as he approaches the bed.

Mir slips behind the figure and swings a lamp at him. The blow glances off his shoulder as he turns to swing at Mir. Miroslav ducks the swing and hits him full in face before retreating through the closet into the Hedge.

Mir glances back to see the figure hesitate at the Hedge gateway before it closes. The Darkling struggles to find a gateway out before calling his sister and the others.

The motley meets him and they return to the motel. As he gives them details, Charlie asks aloud why the Michigan Slugger wants to kill him. The serial killer has been murdering people for years but only recently has he targeted Changlings. They wonder how he even knew Mir was back. When it comes out the her brother was traveling and paying for things under his real name, Nikki gets her answer.

Looking over the scene, there isn’t much to find. They get some hairs that belong to the culprit and Mir’s stuff has been pawed through but nothing is missing.

They bring Miroslav up to speed on their own endeavors. He seems interested in the blueprints but Marco is resistant to selling a copy.

View
Broken Promises

Rocco puts out a personal ad in the circulars that service the edge of Detroit. Pitching to Ruzena‘s type, he hopes to catch her eye. Meanwhile he starts looking for financing for his business plans. In case his legitimate aims don’t pan out, he reaches out to his contacts in the darker parts of the Internet for a buyer for a botnet. A poster known as Folk12 puts him in touch with someone with the handle GhostBox.

Nikki meanwhile works on her project of painting Hedge gateways. From her research, she’s learned that she will need some rare hedge Fruits to make the initial gateway. Moving it will require additional measures.

She convinces Rocco to help her and the two go off into the Hedge. After a short bit of travel the pair come across a patch of iceapples. Hungry for Glamour, Nikki picks all of the fruit, giving the excess to Rocco.

An hour passes and the path become narrow and choked with thorns. Pushing through the tangle she spots what she needs, a clump of squid ink tubers growing along a branch in a high tree. Rocco and her climb up to harvest them, getting slightly pricked by the thorns. From their vantage point they make out a clearing with an old camp fire in the center. Rocco suggests they check it out and Nikki reluctantly agrees.

At the clearing, they find the fire pit full of ash. Searching around Rocco finds some bones. Turning them over, he realizes these are not from some animal but a person. Urgently he tells Nikki that they should go. Nikki comes along, pocketing an old wallet she found. The wallet only had an ID card and an old picture in it but it might be worth something.

Marco meanwhile has been spending his week trying to investigating the mob. What he knows thus far isn’t much. He knows who the high ups are: his grandfather, the don; his underboss and consigliere; and the capos who are mostly his uncles. He also knows his local section of the operation: Joe Zerilli, his cousin and his operations. Beyond that he has only vague notions that the casinos and police are under their influence.

To learn more he will need to go deeper. To that end, he works on being more friendly to his cousin and made man “Joe Z.” He works to get the cars taken care of faster. He sizes up what Joe likes in a car and adds that extra bit of rev in their engines. The muscle-bound freak’s smile as the engine roars is a clear sign it is working.

Marco also spends some time looking over the blueprints Chris found. The weapons and equipment detailed there are amazing but he will need more funds to build them.

In the meantime, Rocco gets replies from two women about his ad. From the sentence structure one of them seems foreign. But he can’t sure it is her. He recruits Nikki and Marco to help him find out and to deliver a message. The plan they come up with is to meet her at a cafe with the brothers watching from a discreet distance. Nikki, disguised as a man will meet her and deliver a letter if it really is Ruzena.

Before the meeting Nikki finds an attractive guy and snags his sunglasses while he is distracted. Using her powers she borrows his face and body type, strengthens her Mask and heads to her rendezvous.

At the cafe, the Changelings spot Ruzena. The murderous fae greets and engages in some idle chit-chat with the disguised Nikki while the others watch from across the street. Then suddenly Nikki’s face goes blank. She says that she has something for Ruzena and hands over a letter.

Ruzena looks around and reads it, never suspecting her companion is anything other than an ensorcelled mortal. The letter, written by Rocco, explains that the best way to get revenge on the Queen of Shadows is to work with him.

Across the street Marco reads Ruzena’s expression as a well masked mix of shock and interest. The Russian woman excuses herself from the date and hurries away.

The motley shadows Ruzena back to a motel, though it becomes clear she realizes someone is on her tail. Nikki hangs back while the brothers knock on her door. After a moment, they hear her voice calling them to come in.

As they enter, they find the river fae in the kitchen sheathed in violently shifting water. She demands to know what they want. Rocco moves to the bed and calmly explains his plan to hurt the Queen of Shadows emotionally by having Ruzena ally with him. Marco meanwhile calls on Spring to look into Ruzena’s heart. He sees her hatred of Rocco. This will be a difficult argument.

Rocco lays it out. Either she joins them now or the brothers will kill her.

Ruzena’s eye flick between the brothers. Reluctantly she lets her guard drop. She tells Rocco she’ll back off and move to another city. But she insists that he keep her informed and wants to know that the Queen suffers.

Rocco nods and brings up the notion of dealing with her compulsion to kill. Ruzena seems reticent about that and says she needs more time to think about any such deal.

Following the successful deal, Nikki gets back to work on her information gathering. She increases her ties with Maeve, agreeing to help her old friend with a scheme to steal a payment in diamonds from a drug running gang the Mafia deals with. The mysterious Crossroads gang uses odd code names but seem relatively vulnerable.

Moving past Maeve, she also makes friends with her boyfriend Joe Zerilli. For the rest of the week she works on painting a door into the Hedge.

Rocco meanwhile makes a deal with GhostBox to deal with selling his services. In exchange for 25% and possible future bonuses, he will find a buyer for the botnet.

Miroslav spent the early part of the week drumming up work from an old client. The elderly Mr. Wilkens wants him to find a rare 19th century technical manual on clockwork devices. A former appliance repairman, Wilkens collects antique technical works and pays well. Miroslav happily takes the job.

The rest of his week is taken up by a trip to Austin, Texas. Seeking out his father, Miroslav tells him about the troubles with his mother. Aiden knows a bit about it but not the full picture. When brought up to speed about the Mob loan, the former con man suggests that his wife give them the business and move down to Texas with him. The only problem Aiden sees is getting the money to pay the Mob off.

Miroslav tells him that he and his sister are looking into that. Aiden seems sure that Nikki can handle getting the cash. He also tells his son that Vadoma would need to sell the shop anyway if she moves. The father and son agree to work together on convincing Mrs. Callaghan.

Miroslav turns the conversation to a childhood story about Aiden’s birth. His father laughs that Mir always loved that story and confirms the bits he has heard before. Then Mir brings up Alice Ruby. His father admits to her being a former associate though he never admits that they were both grifters. As he explains it, she helped his troupe find new venues. He describes her as a pretty blond living in New York state with a case of heterochromia iridum, a mismatched set of blue and brown eyes.

At the end of the Week, Nikki heads to the Night Market. The wallet and ID she found in the Hedge were nothing special but the picture in the wallet seems to change as one moves around, showing the landscape someplace twenty years ago. Figuring it is worth something she goes looking for a buyer.

As she is haggling she notices a hooded figure arguing with the Hob bouncer that has replaced Vincent. Finally the Hob lets the stranger pass. But as soon as the figure crosses the threshold of the Market a tiny “meow” issues from the basket on the interloper’s back.

Everyone in the market, indeed everyone who has ever visited the Night Market, feels its protections fail as the pledge breaks. Nikki sees the Hob grab the 14-year old black teen, causing his basket to fall and the offending cat to spill out. The young thief tries to chase it down but loses it in the crowd. All around her the market dweller are packing up, loudly shouting or fleeing.

Instead she finds herself in front of an elderly fortune-teller staring in horror at the scattering of pennies on the rug before him. He explains the signs point to a coming darkness. The market’s protection is lost. Soon mortal hunters will come.

Out in the real world, Miroslav feels the pledge break. From his research he knows that the market pledge steered mortal monster hunters from finding the Night Market. That protection is lost. He also recalls a silent third-party is somehow involved, something only the high ups of the Guild of Shadows know about.

Miroslav grabs his things and heads for the nearest doorway. Just as he is about to step through on his way to the Guild, his phone rings. Nikki breathlessly asks what happened. Miroslav quickly explains things and agrees to ultimately meet up at Charlie Cobweb’s Hollow.

Nikki makes some quick calls. She catches Rocco at Starbucks and Marco and Charlie at home. Everyone is directed into the Hedge and towards the Hollow.

Miroslav meanwhile arrives at the guild-house to find the great occult library in chaos. Everyone is panicking and the Queen of Shadows is straining to bring things under control. When she spots Miroslav, she breathes a sigh of relief. She explains that the other high ups Old Billie, Feral Tom, the Abe are all missing.

Miroslav realizes, with a sinking feeling, that places him next in line for control of the guild after the queen. The queen asks Mir for the Quill of Fate, explaining they may need its power soon. She directs one of the low ranking members to retrieve it from Charlie’s Hollow where Erin Cobbleflesh is guarding it.

Miroslav points out they might learn something from the Tome of Ages. Perusing its pages, they find the tales of Old Billie and the Abe. It isn’t pretty. Billie was in his Hollow when he was devoured by something known as the Lord of Cats. The Abe was struck and killed by a truck. Concerned, Mir heads to the Hollow.

The rest of the motley arrives at the half sunken bus to find Erin Cobbleflesh waiting for them. The towering ogre wants to know what happened. With the caged Ulf looking on, Nikki briefs the ugly Changeling. The motley and Erin discuss the possible coming doom and who they might ask to learn more about what is happening. Erin seems eager to take the quill back to the Guild of Shadows.

Ulf helpfully suggests that crows might know something. Hoping for better treatment, he explains that they have been around for a long time, before the Guild of Shadows or the Night Market were founded.

At that point Miroslav arrives and updates them with his findings, leaving out that the Queen wants the quill. Together they decide to seek out the crows. They decide to stick together in case monster hunters or worse find them.

With a little added luck, Rocco navigates through the Hedge to a 2nd floor window looking out across the street to the Goblin Market. Climbing out onto the slippery roof, he calls out the crows.

Fred and Barney land on the roof beside him. They say they felt something strange. When told about the market, they explain they know some of what is going on but don’t recall everything. They know about the Lord of Cats and joke that they will need to avoid the local cats. They say that he didn’t want to be bound to something and so made a deal to break something that could not be unbroken. Bringing a cat to market was the fulfilling of that pledge.

They also make odd references to “them” and “them” agreeing to a deal until they got bored. The crows explain the full details around hidden in the Tome of Ages.

Rushing back to the guild-house, they convince the Queen to take them to the Tome of Ages. With the quill in hand, Miroslav realizes more sections of the book are visible. Sections discussing strange monsters who abduct people to nightmarish realms: the True Fae. Each entry ends with them being sealed within the book. Miroslav flips to the section detailing the Slender Man, reading his horrid history and eventual entrapment. He even finds Ruzena’s abduction among its pages.

One section is blank. The motley supposes it might be that of the Lord of Cats. They also realize there is no entry at all for Feral Tom. He must have been the Lord of Cats all along.

Looking for another familiar name, they find Hedge’s tale. Both versions. In one timeline the mad old Changeling used the book and the quill along with a deal with the exile Alice Ruby to rewrite history, binding Arcadia and its inhabitants into the book. In the second timeline, he found himself cast back to the day of his abduction only to discover that he already exists there. With no place to go, he wanders, going mad and waiting for the day when he again will meet Alice Ruby.

A date less than 2 months from now. In the small town of Rosebriar.

As for Alice, she was once a True Fae but was cast out. She died far from her home and this somehow spared her the curse of being sealed away. How she escaped death is even less clear.

Looking over the entries for the higher up in the Guild of Shadows, it becomes clear that the founders made a pledge with Feral Tom, Lord of Cats. In exchange for the possibility to fully escape the book, this powerful True Fae would limit his power and lend protection to the Night Market. A delivery of a cat to the Night Market would be the final payment, releasing him and removing the protection.

As they read this they stumble across the Queen of Shadows’s entry, which now includes the portions from her trip to the Witch-House. They reveal she did not “give up” her memories for the book. She had no choice. To save her children and escape the haunted mansion, she forgot them, hoping she one day be able to retrieve those lost memories and rewrite her history. Tearfully the Queen apologizes to Rocco. The bitter Changeling warns her not to rewrite his past. The question of whether he can forgive her remains unanswered.

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Can't Go Home Again

Rocco wanders around his old home, Reichardt Apartments, in his dreams. Strips of sunlight peek through the boarded up windows, illuminating peeling wallpaper and thick layers of dust on the floor.

He hears a scratching from the walls, as if something was crawling around inside them.

Creeping closer to the cracked and crumbling drywall, he calls out to Ulf, the strange brownie that used to live there. He hears a noise from the other side of the wall. Repeated thumps, a sound of something hard striking wet meat. Getting closer, he can see movement through a crack in the wall, a figure swinging something at a dark lump on the ground.

Thump. Thump. The beatings push whatever it is against the wall. The repeated pounding slowly damages the wall. Blood begins to leak out onto Rocco’s side.

The Changeling rushes out of the room and through a door to the one next to it. The figure is gone but a bloodstained bat lies on the ground. So does the broken corpse of a man. A wax mask sits on the floor beside him. His face has been reduced to a gory pulp but Rocco can tell he was tall and Caucasian. The mask makes Rocco think of the Minister of Doors, Vincent Ingress.

The dream slowly fading, Rocco searches for more clues. A cat mews in the distance. He finds nothing. Then he wakes up.

In the morning Nikki gets a hold of her old friend Maeve. The Mob associate seems surprised and excited to hear from her again. They arrange to hang out that night at Motorcity Casino. As Maeve says, she has the friend’s discount.

Rocco visits Miroslav at the Hollow to discuss his dream. Miroslav seems suspicious of the cat, claiming cats are shifty. He admits he has not seen Vincent in the last day. They discuss visiting Reichardt Apartments to be sure. Rocco has a feeling the dream could be prophetic.

Rocco asks his brother Marco to help out. His girlfriend Charlie tags along. Then Rocco sends out a text to Nikki. He tells her they are investigating the house but neglects to mention the specifics why. Nikki agrees to come regardless.

The motley arrives at their old home. Nikki arrives in a trench coat and large sunglasses, to hide from any onlookers. Miroslav shows similarly hidden but mostly to avoid sunlight.

The neighborhood is even worse than they remember. Half the homes are gone and most of the rest are rotten and abandoned.

The siding has peeled off the building and only the wooden walls and boarded up windows repel the elements. Red gang tags stain the front of the house, while the side features a terrifying image of a ten foot high mouth of a cat. The initials in the corner read GZ.

Nikki looks over the frond door lock and windows for any security system. She points out a line of salt along the entrances to her brother. He recognizes it has mystical protection but not one specifically religious. Miroslav invokes a few spirits and draws some symbols around the edge of the door. He explains the defenses should be weakened.

Nikki quickly unlocks the door and they quietly creep in. The entrance way is darker and drearier than they remember. The old elevator is stuck partway between the first and second floor. From the relative lack of dust on the floor they can see there is regular foot traffic on this level as well as going up. A large number of beer cans and bottles are piled up near the front door. The stairs down seem less used.

Marco walks over to the light switch and pulls out some of his tools. He pops the case for the switch and tests the lines for current. The needle on his gauge jumps up. He warns the others this house has electricity.

Miroslav meanwhile calls out to any ghosts. He gets no answer but notices a pair of cold iron horseshoes over the door. Whoever lives here wants to protect themselves from the Fae.

Rocco thinks back to his dream. From the way the light was coming in, the body must have been on the first floor in the Callaghan’s apartment. He goes through the south door. Inside they find a pair of dirty mattresses and more alcohol containers.

Nikki at this point asks for the full details on Rocco’s dream. The Elemental explains what he saw. It is clear no one was murdered here. Charlie however thinks the bloody bat is significant. Recently Detroit has had a serial killer who preys on young white men, beating them to death with a bat. They call him the Michigan slugger.

Nikki finds this fairly dull but does point out Vincent was white. Though much older.

The motley decides to look around. Something is going on here. They find the area has been used regularly, probably by gang members. There are bullet holes in the south wall and shell casings on the floor. Then Nikki pulls out a red bandanna from under a mattress. Only the Reds wear that around here.

They check the other apartment on this level but it is also empty. They decide to head downstairs first and check out the old Hedge entrance.

From the landing they can see debris, mostly empty bottles and furniture has been tossed down the stairs to the basement. They can also make out a narrow path through the junk. Clearly someone has been visiting the basement.

The group files down and follows the relatively clear path to the old storage room. They find the same old wardrobe with the same dusty mirror. As they examine it however, a groaning noise can be heard directly above them.

Suddenly a terrific crash comes from the floor above them as something begins to smash down through the upper levels.

Nikki and her brother duck out of the room to safety while Marco manages to push his brother out of the way moments before a piano crashes through the ceiling and demolishes the wardrobe. Charlie ducks out of the room at the last moment. The two brothers are showered in falling boards and shards of mirror.

As the dust settles. Marco and Rocco dig themselves out of the rubble. Nikki peers inside. A coil of rope sits atop the devastation, one end sheared off. Looking up through the hole in the ceiling she can see up to the second floor where a chain in the ceiling rocks back and forth.

Realizing whoever dropped this is still here, the young thief runs off. Quickly and stealthily she ascends the stairs and reaches the room to see a pair of twig-like legs disappear into a hole in the wall.

The rest of the motley slowly follows. A step creaks under Miroslav’s weight as they move to the second level. They find Nikki, her ear up against the wall, silently following the brownie’s progress through the wall.

She motions to them to be silent. In addition to Ulf, now moving through the ceiling, she hears someone on the third floor. The person quickly walks across a room above, opens a door, and then vanish. There are no footfalls anymore.

Ulf meanwhile progresses to the ceiling above the second floor landing. The Fairest points up to where the villainous Hob is lurking. Further down the stairs, Marco is distracted by the growing number of squeaks he hears from below. Rats begin to pour out of the wall and from under doors.

Rocco decides to deal with the dangerous fae. Calling on the electricity in the house, he arcs it through the ceiling and into Ulf. There is a cry as the landing light illuminates and then a thump of something collapsing on the floor above. An acrid smell fills the air. The rat begin to disperse.

Marco and Rocco grab a chair from one of the room and tear open the ceiling with some tools. Inside they find a singed and unconscious Hob. In the last decade of so, Ulf has grown thinner and stick-like. He is still dressed in rotten hides and wearing his badge of authority, a rat skull which Nikki snatches.

They tie him up and head upstairs. The door to the northern upstairs apartment is in much better shape. Nikki easily unlocks it and starts to swing it open. At the last moment she spots a trip line. Deftly disabling it she finds the door was rigged with a military surplus grenade. She tosses it back at the others and walks into the room.

The apartment has air conditioning and electric lighting. A thick shag carpet covers the floor and a tea set is laid out on an elegant glass table in the main room. Rocco quickly looks around while Nikki looks for the Hedge gateway whoever was here used.

She opens the closet door to the Hedge, carefully checking for any traps. She finds the sod floor of the trail spongy and suspects a pit trap. The bramble lines wooden walls of the path should be easy enough to climb past she decides. She starts to make her way over.

While the others make their way across, Miroslav sniffs around for magic. He finds a cookie jar full of shadows, some hedge fruit in the fridge, and a large magic mirror. He notes them down for later.

Once across the pit, the motley begins to hurriedly track down the mysterious person who was living there. Rocco takes the lead, taking them down twisted paths of vine-covered brick, through brambles growing out of concrete, and along paths of broken glass.

Rocco spots black threads caught on the thorns. A moment later they spot a figure in a black cloak running ahead of them. It stumbles, dropping a bundle of letters. Miroslav grabs them and they race on.

The figure ducks behind a bush and disappears. Rocco rounds the bend and finds a door out of the Hedge. He pushes through and finds himself in the dimly lit backroom of a supermarket. Looking about he spots the cloak, discarded in front of the plastic barrier separating the backroom from the aisles. He steps into the supermarket but doesn’t spot anyone suspicious. He does take note of security cameras at the entrance to the back and by the cashier.

Rocco returns to the others. With this lead lost, they decide to search the apartment and interrogate Ulf.

They easily make their way back, laying a board cross the pit, revealing the bear traps at the bottom.

Miroslav looks over the letters. They seem to have been sent to a Kristen Murray. While most of them are not signed, the handwriting for most of them appears to be from the same individual, one who starts off in Russia and ends up in the United States. They recall Ruzena is Russian. The subject matter involves a plot for revenge against someone who banished her.

Rocco does some quick internet searching but quickly reaches the conclusion Kristen is an alias. Marco remarks that the current leader of the Reds is a woman. If she is working with Ruzena, they must be plotting against the Queen of Shadows.

Miroslav turns his attentions to the magic mirror. Just before he touches it to get a read, he sees something off in the reflection. He realizes this is a trap, a device which captures those who touch it inside the reflection.

As he wracks his brain he can think of a few ways to build such a device: hedge spinning, an obscure Contract, and a rare power of a powerful fetch.

Charlie tells the others that Ulf is waking up. The tiny Hob opens his eyes groggily. Miroslav steps close to him, calling on darkness to decreases his resistance to fear. Then Marco bluntly asks him who is working for and what he is up to.

Ulf hurriedly explains everything. He’s been trapped here, unable to go back to the Under-King since he fails his mission. He agreed to work for the Queen of Shadow’s fetch, Evelina McQueen. She was working on a plan with Ruzena, something to do with a trap at the Goblin Market. She was also controlling the Reds, hoping to use the mortals against the Queen.

As they take this in, they hear a couple of cars pull up in front of the building. Looking out a window, they can see a dozen gang members in red bandannas walking up, guns drawn.

Rocco hurriedly asks Marco for his phone. He sends a text message to his cousin Joe Zerilli about a gathering of Reds outside the house, hoping the gangster will use the opportunity to strike at them. Then they leave via the Hedge, dragging Ulf along with them.

Miroslav heads off to warn the Queen of Shadows. He finds her at the guildhall. She seems interested to see him but not for the reasons he expects. She wants to know about the Quill. He manages to push that off for the moment, alerting her to the ambush. The queen apparently was unaware she had a fetch and immediately sends her followers to search for it and Ruzena.

They discuss the disappearance of Vincent. The Queen shares his concerns and will keep an eye out for the Minister of Doors. Then she returns to the matter of the Quill. Miroslav explains he needs to study it longer. She agrees to give him time, but sends Erin Cobbleflesh to watch over it until it can be moved to the guildhall.

Rocco, meanwhile, tries to hunt down where the fetch went using the information on the supermarket security cameras. Unfortunately he discovers those are just dummies.

Later on Nikki finally gets to visit Maeve. The two share a drink at the casino and catch some shows. While they enjoy themselves, her old friend begins asking what she has been up to and seeing what she is town for.

Nikki uses lies and evasion to answer most of her questions while trying to pump Maeve for answers. By evenings end, both learn a little bit about the other. Nikki lets on about her extra-legal activities while Maeve admits to being in bed with the Mob. She also admits to wanting to get out in style.

Maeve suggest Nikki and her might work together. There is a gang that moves in drugs from time to time for the Mob. They get paid in odd but compact wealth: diamonds, artworks, and the like. Maeve suggests setting up a deal and Nikki could steal the payment. Then they could split the proceeds.

Nikki considers it and they go back to Maeve’s boyfriend’s house. It is in one of the few upscale neighborhoods, large with a nice lawn. Nikki makes friends with his dog while they hang out. Eventually Joe Zerilli shows up looking a bit irritated. Maeve cheers him up and Nikki makes his acquaintance. The two plan to meet up for lunch later in the week.

Miroslav and Rocco meanwhile spend the evening at Charlie’s Hollow, an old partially submerged bus. Things are bit noisier now with Erin looking over Mir’s shoulder and Ulf confined to a small cage. Charlie chooses to stay at Marco’s house.

Marco meanwhile finds the Reds harassing his customers again at work. He scares them off again but the thugs make it clear they want protection money or they will come back. Marco gets the distinct impression that they might also be worried about the Mob.

Later that week, he gets a call from his friend Officer Chris Allen. The stakeout at the harbor turned up some odd weapons that criminals dumped. Seems the shipment was not what the Mob expected. He asks Marco if he can have a look. The police officer discretely picks up the Wizened at the edge of the city and takes him to the evidence room downtown.

There Marco finds a crate full of strange rusted weapons like a miniaturized Tommy gun and a pistol modified for automatic action. Along with them are a series of blueprints for these devices and more. Marco takes pictures of them on his phone to examine later.

Later that day word arrives that the another victim of the Michigan Slugger has washed ashore. It belongs to an older white man. Vincent still hasn’t been seen.

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Haunted by the Past

As Miroslav turns the Quill over in his hand, the simple faded feather seems colorless at first glance but a different pale hue colors it with each glance. The Darkling’s research suggests the Quill of Fate may be over a thousand years old, its first recorded usage being by 6th century infernalists. Down through the ages it has been used to sign important deeds, contracts, and pledges: the Magna Carta, the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Declaration of Independence.

The artifact seemed lost after World War II. The last rumors had in the possession of an artist known as the Blind One. Mir had tried to track them down for months before he heard of Grandmother Stone and her shortcut.

The changeling wonders what being created this device, an item that can forge a binding agreement between any two entities. His search had turned up no point of origin or rather that the origin of the Quill had been written out of history. He would have to be careful what purpose he put this artifact to for it was said that it had a habit of escaping its owners once used.

Using the Quill on the Tome of Ages would allow him to alter his destiny and that of his allies. The Guild of Shadows definitely seeks to use it for that purpose. The book holds the tales of all who have encountered it, dating back thousands of years. Within its many pages run the scripts of Medieval England, Rome, Arabia, China, Greece, and Egypt as well as less identifiable languages.

But something is odd about the book. It has popped up in ancient monasteries, Buddhist temples and supposedly the Library of Alexandria but always in the same form. The paper is modern non-archival grade paper. It uses the binding techniques of the 20th century. It was seemingly written or at least made sometime within the last century. Or perhaps the near future.

From his reading of the book, he knows the Queen of Shadows retrieved the book from the Witch-House at the cost of her memories. He also knows that his retrieval of the Quill is even now written down within it. He doesn’t have much time.

As he drifts off that evening he casts his mind back to the story of his father’s birth. Ever the tale teller, Aiden Callaghan loved to spin yarns. As he would say, it was the depth of winter and the power was out. His mother, worn down by four other children, was alone for once, her husband on a business trip and the children off with their aunt.

Then she went into labor.

She managed to get a neighbor to call an ambulance but it became stuck in the snow and ice on the way back to the hospital. As the medics tried to get it out, a golden-haired woman in a red cloak appeared and told her the baby was doomed to die. Then she touched her, Miroslav’s grandmother, saying the child was blessed and would live. She called herself Alice Ruby and hailed police car to whisk her to the hospital. It is a story Miroslav’s grandmother denies but one that works with what he knows.

Who or what is Alice?

The next day, Miroslav decides to visit his mother. He finds her at her home, a simple one bedroom apartment not far from where he grew up. She is happy to see him again and cheerfully accepts the gifts he has brought from his travels while she cooks lunch for him. She mentions that Mr. Wilkens, one of her customers, was asking about him. Miroslav recalls helping the old man retrieve a 19th century book. He promises to call him soon.

Miroslav turns the conversation to his father. He learns that dad has moved down to Austin and asked his mother to come down and live with him. She seems reluctant however. Mrs. Callaghan meanwhile pesters him with questions about his life. Miroslav keeps it vague but does mentions that his sister is in town. Vadomma is excited to hear that and asks him to invite his long absent sibling over.

Later that afternoon, Nikki calls her brother to get her mom’s new address. Her voice fills with irritation when she learns that her brother has already informed her mother that she is in the city. After hanging up, the young thief travels in disguise to the apartment.

Once within a few blocks she reverts back to her actual features and hurries up to the apartment. The streets are fairly empty with only a couple of homeless people begging on the curb and a nun out for a walk.

Vadomma breaks out into a smile as she opens the door. She asks what her daughter has been up to in past 6 years. As Nikki fends off questions about work and friends, she notices that many of the valuables her father gave her mother are missing. Her mother initially claims they were damaged but when pressed admits that she was forced to sell them.

With some prying, Nikki eventually gets her mom to admit to going in debt to the Detroit mob to keep her shop open. While her mother tells her it was only for a small amount, Nikki can tell she is already in too deep. Where once she sold pot under the counter for medicinal uses, she is now being pressured to sell less discriminately. From what the criminal knows, this is just the beginning.

Later as Nikki heads back she notices something else. That nun is still there. She’s watching her mother’s apartment.

That evening Marco works late at the McQueen Automotive. As he pulls himself out from under a beat up F150, a late-model Impala pulls up in front of the building. A frustrated looking Maeve Sheely steps out. As the mechanic approaches he can see the interior is all torn up. He files that away, recalling that Maeve works as a drug runner for the mob and is apparently his cousin Joe’s main squeeze these days.

Maeve tells him that she needs the car fixed up by next weekend. Marco is sure he can have it ready within the next few days. While he has her there he engages in some idle conversation, trying to learn what her section of the criminal network is up to.

Maeve says she has a pickup at the docks and lets slip that there is some ‘heat’ coming into town. Marco recalls Aspen Imports, one of the mob’s proxies, is located in the docks. They must be handling the weapons shipment.

Just then Joe’s muscle car pulls up and Maeve leaves. Marco makes plans to meet with his friend Officer Chris Allen.

Elsewhere in the city, Rocco does some searching for good self-defense classes while he contemplates an involved plot of internet money laundering and stealing from the mob. Closing his laptop, he decides to put that to the side for a moment. He heads out into the Hedge to talk to his contacts.

He finds Leo the Rook at the Night Market and asks him what he knows about the reappearance of Ruzena. The tiny Hob doesn’t have much new to say except that she has mainly been seen near the Goblin Market.

Elsewhere in the Hedge, Miroslav checks in at the Guild of Shadows headquarters. He leaves the Quill hidden in Detroit while he relates information on the other items he has discovered in the last few months such as the story of Grandmother Stone.

While he is working, Feral Tom comes by and asks about his search for the Quill of Fate. The mad Beast seems particularly interested in the item, ranting about righting wrongs. However he seems unsure which wrongs those are. He says he’ll remember once they are righted. He also mentions the rumors of time traveler blood being for sale in the Goblin Market.

In talking with other guild members, Miroslav learns that there have been a number of potentially prophetic dreams: dreams of the color red, blood, a red throne and a growing darkness. He begins to worry about Alice again.

At the same time, Nikki is visiting the local art scene in her alias, Yvette Mirage. At a gallery, she soaks in the Glamour from an excited upscale crowd.

The motley meets up that evening at the Goblin Market. As usual the guys arrive first. Nikki comes again in disguise, nut as she walks down the street towards them she notices an odd man standing by the street corner. On closer glance, she sees a priest’s collar. But most odd is that he is Eric McNeil, Miroslav’s old Goth friend.

Nikki feigns ignorance and enters the Market, paying no attention to the boys. The others soon follow her inside.

As soon as the others arrive, Nikki informs them that they are being watched. Moreover, she mentions that a nun was watching her mother’s house that afternoon.

Concerned Miroslav decides to sneak out to investigate. Recalling a line from his Book of Tales, he chooses to make his way around the back of the Market.

The Darkling creeps up on the priest until his only a few feet away. Calling upon Warlock’s Gaze, he tries to determine if Eric is under some enchantment. He learns his friend is still simply a mortal.

Quietly Miroslav steps out of the shadows and greets his friend quietly.

Eric seems unafraid, much to Miroslav’s frustration.

The young priest explains to Miroslav that he knows of his and his sister’s wicked ways. He alludes to how Mir tormented Ryan Martin with ghosts and how his sister caused Jennifer Conner to be committed. He also reveals that he was the one she confided in. He knows they are not human. He asks him to repent.

Miroslav tries to counter his arguments that he is a monster with a theological debate but despite his best efforts his old friend counters him.

Eric asks his friend one last time to repent. Miroslav doesn’t answer.

Eric warns him that the next time they meet will be his last. Then he walks away.

Miroslav joins the others. While they individually contemplate this turn of events, they continue to seek out rumors about Ruzena. From a man-sized cockroach, they hear that she is the one seeding these rumors about time traveler blood, apparently for an unknown seller who arrives Thursday night.

Figuring it is a trap, Miroslav says he will warn the Queen of Shadows. Rocco decides to see what the roach hob is selling. He ends up haggling with X’ot’xyl, as the creature is called, over some bubble gum that inflicts guilt on the one who chews it. He ends up trading some gewgaws and a whispered secret while also fostering some goodwill.

Nikki asks Marco for a ride back to her hotel. On the way she asks how he knows about her mom’s situation. Reluctantly he tells her how he is a mob informant for the police. She decides she can trust him. He lets her off and then she travels in disguise to her real hotel.

Rocco meanwhile grabs his Hedge Cycle and drives back to Marco’s house. When Marco gets back he tells Rocco about his activities as well. They spend the night discussing security measures.

The next day Miroslav meets with the Queen and tries to convince her of the danger. She agrees with him but feels there is too much of an opportunity here. When she asks for volunteers to go in her stead, Miroslav volunteers.

Marco and Chris meanwhile have breakfast on the edge of the city. The Wizened updates his friend on the weapons shipment and the officer says he will stake it out.

When Marco returns to the shop, he finds a gang wearing red bandanas harassing his customers. Marco approaches them and manages to scare them off for now. But they say they will be back.

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