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
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.