The Price

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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