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.
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.