The Price

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‚Äôs 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.”

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