The Price

McQueen's New Girl

As February drags on, Miroslav and Rocco start researching Ruzena Yezhov, the Changeling seeing Mr. McQueen. Miroslav learns a little bit about the mythology of the Rusalka, a mermaid-like river spirits, that Ruzena strongly resembles. What he finds isn’t reassuring. It is their nature to lure men to their doom.

Rocco meanwhile uses some the magic he has learned to manipulate his father. He stays up late one night and looks in on his dad as he sleeps. He plants a nightmare in his father’s mind of his girlfriend drowning him. The effect seems to work too well. In the coming days Mr. McQueen wakes up tired and unsettled. Rocco decides to back off on the nightmares.

Marco meanwhile mundanely signals his displeasure at this intruder into their lives. He sulks and complains like a normal teen in this position.

Outside of this project, the children attend school as usual. Marco hangs out with his friends Chris and Ryan, while Nikki teams up with her friend Maeve to convince Amanda Kelly to help Maeve with her homework. Maeve knows Amanda always gets good grades. Nikki mainly tries to tag along with a person she sees as one of the stronger and more popular girls in her class.

At recess on Monday, Miroslav notices Jennifer Conner intently reading a book on hauntings. He approaches the quiet teen and tries to impress her with his knowledge of ghosts. He stammers however and she only chuckles at his awkwardness. Brushing back her dyed black hair, she asks if he knows about the haunted house on Elm Avenue. Miroslav knows the stories about the child specter who people say lurks in the abandoned Victorian home. He screws up his courage and ask if she wants to go investigate it with him. Surprisingly she says yes though she sarcastically asks if he is going to bring his Ouija board. She tells him to meet her there after school on Thursday.

Rocco is very aware of another strange phenomena in the area. The school computers have been down all week and no one seems to be able to figure out what is causing it. Every time he passes by the computer lab, he can hear the gremlins inside jabbering to each other. He takes a look at the problem but unless he can take the computers apart he can’t see an easy way to rid the system of the gremlins. He keeps an eye out for the IT person, but it looks like the man is spending this week at one of the other three schools he takes care of.

Later in the week, Nikki convinces her brother to cover for her as she sneaks out of the apartment after bedtime. She slips through the Hedge to the Night Market to work on her mural for the upcoming Equinox Ball. While various Changelings argue about the preparations for the Ball, she focuses on the broad strokes of the massive artwork.

Wednesday afternoon rolls around. There is a knock at the Callaghan’s door. Miroslav answers it to find Charlie Cobwebs there. The Venombite Beast asks if he and his sister could help her. She is trying to build a home in the local Hedge. As they discuss this Rocco hobbles down on his crutches to join them. She offers to help them with anything they need and Rocco asks if she can help him get some barter for the market. She agrees and the group says they will help her on the coming Saturday.

Before Rocco leaves with Charlie, he asks the others for help with finding out more about Ruzena. Miroslav relays what he has found and Nikki offers to ask her contacts in the Court of Jewels about the woman the next time she visits the Night Market. As Charlie leads Rocco into the Hedge, she asks if he can invite Marco to help as well. Rocco agrees and they go searching for something to trade.

After an hour of exploring the nooks and tangles of the Hedge, Charlie comes across a noose hanging from a tree. She offers it to Rocco and they head back.

Elsewhere, Marco and his father are getting dinner ready. Mr. McQueen is making some spaghetti sauce while a pot of water reaches a boil. Marco decides to bring up a subject he has avoided for a long time. He asks his father if he recalls the time his mother left. Mr. McQueen becomes very quiet but says yes. Marco continues, explaining that he said things to him that he now regrets. He apologizes for blaming his father for what happened with his mother. Mr. McQueen silently thanks him by giving him a tender hug.

Soon another day has passed. As school lets out, Miroslav makes his way to the haunted house on Elm. He finds Jennifer leaning up against the rusty fence, her black clothes standing out against the patches of grayish white snow on the ground. Miroslav clumsily carries some supplies: a candle, some crystals and a board for communicating with the spirits.

Jennifer smiles and laughs. “You really did bring your Ouiji board.”

The two approach the decaying house. Black holes gape where glass once was and the roof is beginning to sag. Inside they find signs people were here recently. Ash scars the living room floor while damp mold climbs over the rest of the furnishings. Miroslav leads the way up the creaky stairs. Partway up he announces to the building that they are here to speak to the spirits.

They find a dry spot upstairs and set up the Ouija board. Holding hands across it, Mir concentrates on his magic. The air grows colder and Jennifer’s hands tighten on his. He can feel her fear welling up as he spots the ghostly child over her shoulder. He tells her what he sees and pulls the fear tinged Glamour off of her.

Miroslav talks to the ghost, asking why it is here and what it knows. The child relates a strange tale. It claims it was abducted, taken away to a tower perpetually cloaked in night. His captor was a tall slender man whose arms stretched and twisted impossibly. The man kept horrific gardens about his tower where he turned women into water, binding them to the streams that ran through the garden. The ghostly boy shivers in his nightgown. He says he was trapped there for a long time. Then suddenly he was here with no idea how.

Miroslav explains where here is and the boy realizes he is home. He asks where his parents are. Miroslav is able to learn that the boy was born on the 9th of October, 1893. He was only 8 years old when he was taken. The ghost wanders off in search of his long dead parents.

Miroslav relays what he learned to Jennifer. She in turn fills in some gaps based on her own research. There was a boy named Thomas who was kidnapped from this house. He was never found. The pair leave and both plan to learn more about the disappearance and this slender man.

That evening Mir talks to Rocco about his ‘date’ over the walkie-talkie. Nikki tries to drown out the noise with a pillow but fails.

Rocco meanwhile pulls up some more information on Ruzena Yezhov using her license plate information. Hacking some DMV records, he learns she was married twice but was widowed each time. One was out swimming when he drowned. The other slipped in the bathtub.

The weekend arrive and school lets out. Chris and Ryan catch up to Marco as he exits the school. He has seen less of his friend Chris since they moved him to another class. Strangely though Chris remarks to him how much of good time they had yesterday night playing video games.

Marco never went over to Chris’s yesterday.

Chris takes his friend’s confusion as a sign that he has been studying too hard. Marco agrees with him and hurries home.

While Marco worries over this new development, Nikki spends Friday evening time with her “study group”. In addition to Maeve and Amanda, she hangs out with Amanda’s friend Melissa Murphy, a skilled soccer player. The four of them seem to get along well.

Saturday morning, the children meet with Charlie to help her with carving out a home in the Hedge. She leads them to a muddy section of the Hedge where a rusty bus is sinking into the muck. Peering in through the back door, they can see the skeletons of Hobs still resting in their seats. The interior is mostly dry but could use some scrubbing. Charlie lowers a rope ladder down the center of the tilted vehicle. She shows them that the front end of the bus, buried deep underground, breaks into the Under-Hedge. “This way I have two ways out.”

The group divides up the work and begins moving the bones and dirt out of the bus. Between the five of them, they finish most of the work in only a couple of hours. Nikki in particular keeps an eye out for anything strange among the bones and jacket pockets. On the corpse of a Hob dressed as a conductor, she finds two tickets, each punched once, with the destination labeled “Nowhere”. She gives the tickets to Rocco for his investigations. For his part, the young Elemental discovers that the engine is salvageable. Marco gets to work on repairing it.

Another hour of work sees the lights turn on and the place become mostly livable. Rocco and Nikki excuse themselves and head for the Night Market while Mir decides to look for Hedge. Miroslav hopes to trade an introduction to the time traveler to the Queen of Shadows for a favor.

Nikki and Rocco soon arrive at the Night Market. This time the Freehold has set up their brightly colored tents in Mo-Hedge. Crushed cubes of cars mark the boundaries of the Market and a single block in the center blares out 50s tunes. Nikki takes Rocco to the Sisters. She finds her patrons engaged in an argument with a beautiful black man dressed like a rap star. The man, MC Arcadia as Nikki recalls, tries to explain why including mortals at the ball would make it better. While two of the sisters point out the dangers, the third notices the little girl.

Nikki asks if they need help but the Syzygy sister tells her it is just an old argument. Nikki asks if she knows Ruzena. As she describes her, the sparkling woman recalls the river fae. But she isn’t a member of the Court of Jewels. She belongs to the Guild of Shadows.

Rocco thanks them and goes looking for more information.

Nikki meanwhile gets back to work on the mural, filling out the night sky and dark waters of the canals. Adding a spark of magic, the art takes on an inspired quality.

As she works, another argument breaks her concentration. Lady Sidereal, a silver-haired woman dressed in finery that glows like the moon is in a heated discussion with Duke Opal, a gemstone Elemental. They are discussing whether to decorate the ball with the moon and stars or hanging crystals. Nikki decides to try to defuse the argument, pointing out that the stars are like jewels of the night sky. Duke Opal seems somewhat mollified while Sidereal becomes entranced by Nikki’s incomplete but still beautiful painting.

She offers the young girl tutelage in the art of hedge spinning in exchange for a portrait. She explains that this will allow her to make magical paintings in addition to other items. Nikki agrees to the deal once she has completed her mural.

Out in the real world, Miroslav scours the neighborhood for Hedge. Despite his best efforts however he is unable to find him. He does recall that the strange Darkling has been not as visible lately. Miroslav makes plans to visit the Goblin Market that night.

Meanwhile Marco helps Charlie finish cleaning up the bus. Charlie thanks him for his help but despite her shy hints, he fails to pick up that she might be interested in more than friendship. They discuss getting a door to real world, one tied to the Reichardt apartment building, so she can pop in. As they finish up, Marco asks Charlie what she knows about weird doubles of people like fetches. She admits not knowing too much about it but promises to find out more.

At the Night Market, Rocco looks for someone from the Guild of Shadows. He is unable to find the Queen but does encounter a tall freakish looking woman named Erin Cobblflesh instead. The patchwork woman has been mixed with fish parts rendering her hideous. Rocco begins hesitantly, by asking what the real rules of the Market are. Specifically he is curious if it is a crime for someone to mess around in another Changeling’s mundane life or to endanger mortals. Erin guardedly answers that it isn’t necessarily, unless it endangers the Market. She presses him to get to the point.

Rocco swears her to secrecy and then reveals Ruzena’s murderous past. He points out the mortal authorities may be able to put this together. Erin seems to take the threat seriously but remains hesitant. She explains that Ruzena owes the Queen of Shadows favors and might working for her. However she agrees to discuss it with the Queen.

Later that night, Mir talks the others into going to the Goblin Market to track down Hedge. Rocco asks his friend to do his own digging within the Guild of Shadows on Ruzena. Nikki meanwhile decides to stay home, choosing to wipe her slate clean by covering for Miroslav this time around.

The three children creep out to the crack house. Passing under the crow covered power lines, they see the lights turn on as the clock strikes midnight. Inside they encounter the usual menagerie of rejects and dark deals but no Hedge.

Instead they find his stall mostly empty, except for a scattering of papers. Miroslav searches the room. There is nothing that indicates where he went. Based on the water damage from a cracked window, Miroslav guesses he has been gone a couple of days. He looks at the papers: a drawing of a man with inhumanly long flexible arms, another of a tower surrounded by gardens, a single phrase “I sealed it all away.”

The children decide to ask the other merchants. Through the next door over, a one-eyed freak in a garbage bag is selling broken twins. They manage to learn from her that Hedge left town a few nights ago. He felt he was being watched. With no business left here, the motley heads home.

Once back, Rocco again invades his father’s dreams. This time he crafts a pleasant dream of Mr. McQueen and his father talking about the matter of his new girlfriend. Despite the more positive medium, the experience still weighs on his mind.

As Sunday afternoon arrives, Miroslav slips out into the Hedge to research the slender man in the library of the Guild of Shadows. Flipping through a series of books labeled Hedgepedia, Mir uncovers an entry on the Slender Man. But it is mysteriously blank.

Looking through some historical records however he uncovers sightings, mysterious disappearances, and folklore. But no hard facts. He spends hours digging until he uncovers a journal by a knowledgeable occultist looking into disappearances from 80 years ago. This person, who Mir isn’t sure was a Changeling, claims that children and adults taken by the Slender Man vanished not just from their homes but also the Hedge. Where they went is a mystery.

Having hit a dead-end, Miroslav turns his mind to Hedge. Where did he go? From the history the crazy time traveler provided him, Miroslav determines one thing. Hedge has no direct knowledge about anything from the 1980s to sometime in the future. That period is the gap where he was elsewhere. Not that it helps Miroslav find him now.The teen considers his options. Hedge is tied to Rosebriar, New York. He is supposed to return there at some point.

Rocco meanwhile spends Sunday surfing the internet. He finds some message boards on conspiracies and disappearances. He leaves posts pointing people to Hedge hoping that they can find him. He comes across some material that suggests others know about the fae: descriptions of gates into the Hedge, strange kidnappings, and sightings of things that might be Changelings. They call themselves the Network.

Nikki spends Sunday completing her mural.

The children return to school the following week. While homework and class keep them busy, Nikki finds some time to talk to Lady Sidereal. The platinum haired woman leads her through the Hedge to the home of an associate of hers: Eman Janni. The sand Elemental lives in what looks like a massive bottle turned over on its side. From the conversation between the two of them, it seems Eman owes Sidereal a favor. She agrees to teach the young Fairest the art of hedge spinning.

Later that evening as she slips back home, Nikki’s mom corners her. She wants to know what has happened to change Nikki. Not interested in struggling to convince her, Nikki reveals her blackmail: that her mother was lying to her earlier about why her father left so suddenly. Shocked, her mom lets the matter lie.

A couple of days later, there is a knock at the door of the Callaghans. Miroslav opens it to find a smiling man in suit waiting there. The man asks if this is the Callaghan residence. Mrs. Callaghan comes out to talk to him. The man calls himself Elias Brown and is interested in Aiden “Lucky” Callaghan. Their mother quickly shoos Nikki and Miroslav from the room. They choose to retreat to their room and listen at the door.

Elias reveals that he is a private detective looking into a series of con jobs done by their father. He says Kelly and the Kid have already turned over evidence against him. He tries to press their mother into also helping him. Vadoma resists, even when Mr. Brown hints that he will turn her in as well.

Elias tries to sweeten his deal, asking just for some information on Aiden’s accomplices. He names several but Mrs. Callaghan either refuses or claims not to know who he talking about. One of these names, Alice Ruby, sticks in Miroslav’s mind. He saw that name in the Hedgepedia. But it was listed as Alice of the Ruby something.

As Elias winds down, he tells their mother that he will be back. The children however can tell he is bluffing. He doesn’t sound like he has anything solid against their mother. They emerge after he leaves and their mother tells them it will be alright. But she doesn’t sound convinced.

Friday afternoon Rocco gets a phone call after school. It is from Everett downstairs. In a shaky voice the young boy asks him what really happened to his sister Yvett on New Years Eve. He explains that since then things have gotten very strange. Something keeps moving in the walls and recently a creepy doll appeared in her room. Everett whispers that the doll talks to him.

Creeped out himself, Rocco invites the boy up to his apartment. Everett hesitates but Rocco assures him that Marco won’t be there. A minute later the small African-American child enters the McQueen apartment. Rocco and Everett talk and the Changeling hints at what is really going on.

They decide to look at the mysterious “gift”. They find the porcelain doll sitting on a chair. Rocco can see through its Mask to the cracked and worm-eaten reality. A single eye rolls madly in its head as it giggles at them. Rocco takes Everett back out of the room and tries to convince him to work with him to destroy the doll. He explains it is evil.

The two children take the doll to the basement furnace and throw it in. It laughs as it burns and twists in on itself. Rocco shivers.

After their ordeal, Rocco tells Everett to keep quiet about this and that he and his friends will help put an end to this. Everett says he can’t deal with both this and Marco though. Rocco is furious that his brother is back to bullying Everett and says he will talk to him.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Marco muses that his Uncle Angelo has been much better disposed to him recently. It occurs to him that it isn’t natural. The only way that could happen is if he was helping Angelo with his crimes. But he hasn’t. Also the school kids are treating him with respect again. Like he was a bully. Something isn’t right.

Suddenly Charlie stumbles out from behind a fence. She’s crying and a light bruise is spreading across her face. As she leans on his shoulder, she explains she was coming to tell him about fetches when a double of Marco, a fetch, attacked her. She escaped but not before he hurt her. Marco consoles her and then they go to find others.

Marco and Charlie head to the apartments. He finds his brother and before he can start shouting, explains the situation. Rocco realizes that Marco’s fetch would likely go after Mir or Nikki next. They hurry downstairs.

But shortly before they arrive, Miroslav gets a phone call. From Marco.

Marco tells him that he spotted Hedge nearby. He gives him an address and says he will wait.

By the time the others arrive Miroslav is already gone. Mir quickly makes his way to the intersection. After stealthily scoping the location out he finds Marco and asks him where Hedge went. Then he realizes Marco looks like he used to, like a normal boy.

Then Ryan steps out of the bushes behind him.

Meanwhile blocks away, Nikki hangs out with her new friends on her “study session.”

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