Changelings of the Outer West Part 4

Season 1: The Summer of Blood Part 1

If you’ve only just arrived, the previous installments of Changelings of the Outer West are available here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Now that we’ve got our introductions out of the way, its probably time that I get to recounting the chaotic trajectory that began with our escapees bursting free from the Hedge and the clutches of their former masters, and ended with them settling into real jobs, testing the limits of acceptance, and maybe making deals with abominations beyond human understanding (net gains, guys, net gains). I decided a few sessions in that our arcs would follow seasonal themes, and… well it was actually as we were coming to the end of our Summer arc that I realized how closely it had followed the themes of the Summer Court, and I sort of jumped on that to give our arcs a bit of cohesion. I won’t pretend that I planned ahead any more than I did.

So Summer was our first season. Summer is the season of Wrath, the season of War, of fires raging in the hills. It’s blood on the thirsty soil, and between the terrified newcomers, the angry dead, and deals turned ugly, that’s exactly what surfaced. Admittedly, I am recounting events purely from memory, so I may miss some things.

And that’s where we start, with a group of escaped fae having made their way back to their town, on New Years Day. The first day of their first year spent free.

To refresh your imaginary memories, dear imaginary readers, our escapees are;

Anais, Fairest Dancer from the Ballroom in the Maze;

Blaize, Fireheart Elemental from the Forest that girds the Maze, and;

Father Callahan, Wizened Brewer from the Witch’s Dark Forest.

The nightmare of captivity is behind them, as the memories begin to fade like raindrops on dry ground. An old priest bursts through a hotel mirror, and thinks it strange that the man who throws him out the door makes no comment of his purple stained skin and sharp goblin teeth. When the machine he dreams takes him to find Blaize and Anais, they are running together from things that are hounds that might have been men but are now monsters.

They drive into town, in a car held together with twigs and mud.

On their arrival, the newspaper tells them that it is New Years Day, 1972, and they struggle to remember how long ago it as that they were taken. The stall vendor unlocks his roller door, and smiles at the dazed passers by. He comments that they look like they had one hell of a party. Their clothes are in tatters, and at least a decade out of date to boot.

The sun crawls higher, and the town stays quiet. The Chinese Takeaway begins to open in expectation of a lazy lunch hour. They notice activity behind the closed doors of the library.

Through snatches of confused conversation beneath the clocktower, the three bedraggled strangers move to the library door, and knock hard. The answer takes a long time to come.

The door edges open, revealing a man in an old tweed jacket, unreadable words crawling across his paper skin. He eyes them cautiously, then waves them inside. They engage in tense small talk initially, the librarian says that their kind are common here, but not all will be as accommodating as he is. When asked of what kind he thought they were, he responded.

“We’re of the same… breed, as it were. We’ve all spent time under Their rule – best not to speak of them in too much detail – but… come through. I’ll get you some clean clothes. You can call me Solomon.”

They step into a reading room. The lost dancer sees a book that she remembers reading, and the librarian agrees that she can borrow it. She takes the name Anais from the spine.

He gives them new outfits from a duffel bag that he keeps tucked away at the bottom of a cabinet. When asked where they go from here, he quickly leafs through a battered filofax and offers them a card with an address.

“This is a place you can stay…” he says, “Not owned, by any means, but downtown, if a house isn’t sold within six months… well, it won’t be. And really, you only need doors and you can have all the space you need. Its yours, along with my arranging a meeting with the leader of the Cold Hill Crew, if you’ll owe me a favour in future.”

Half stunned, Blaize takes the card. They feel a strange hum in the air like an active Tesla coil as the Wyrd falls into place.

“What do you mean…” Anais murmurs over her book, “Space from doors?”

The old librarian smiles, and turns to the closet door of the reading room, the Staff Only sign clearly emblazoned. He knocks three times and intones,

“Let me in.”

A desert breeze kicks up from the depths of the library as Solomon opens up the door to his Hollow; a dry, dusty expanse girded with woven stringybarks and creeping vines.

“You can get in here from anywhere you need to,” he says, “Just take care not to open too many, otherwise They will start taking notice. Be careful, plenty of dangers on both sides of the doorway…” He closes the door again. “Best of luck. And one final piece of advice. Don’t go near Mama Park.”

The escapees nod, and shrugging into their new clothes, and trying to figure the best way to get halfway across town to their new squat. Blaize also decides that she’s hungry, and would like some Chinese food.

Leaving her compatriots in the town square, the young Fireheart barges through the red and gold doors to the front counter, where she sees a middle aged East Asian woman waving a couple through and guaranteeing that they will want the banquet in an extremely thick accent. Once the couple is seated, the woman adjusts her glasses and practically nails the changeling to the wall with a wry stare.

“Why hello…” the hostess says in perfect American English, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

Blaize blinks, and realises very quickly who she’s talking too.

“Er, yeah?” she stammers, “How do you know?”

“I know everyone around here darling,” Mama Park replies, “Enough to know that you’ve not been here before anyway… well, if you’re blowing through, would you like to pick up some work before you leave?” (Out of characters, Mama Park’s response is summarised as “Yay! Drifters!”)

Blaize leans in to the counter.

“Can you…” she waves at her face, “see me?”

Mama Park nods conspiratorially.

“Where did your accent go?” Blaize presses.

“The punters seem to like it,” Mama Park murmurs, “They like the Mama Park character as it were. And they like Chinese takeaway better than Korean barbeque so… yeah, I make do. So, you interested?”

Blaize’s stomach growls conspicuously.

“Well, my friends and I are pretty hungry…”

“Not a problem.” The Korean matron replies.

Blaize emerges in the town square with a bag of Korean takeaway pretending to be Chinese takeaway and a promise to return and hear Mama Park out.

“But he said not to speak to her!” Anais mutters as they follow the librarian’s directions south.

“She seemed… nice.” Retorted Blaize, “And she offered me a job. Even though she knew what we were.” She thinks for a moment, then adds “Maybe it was better you two didn’t come in with me.”

They find the house soon enough. By a fluke of luck, the hot water is still connected, and they make do without electricity for a while by using Blaize to boil water. Its not luxurious, but there’s enough bedding for each of them, and its a quiet place to stay.

Anais elects to do the washing, which leads to all three fae hanging around the house in bedsheet togas while she stirs a barrel in the back yard and they all wait for their one functional outfit to dry.

Eventually, they find their way back to Solomon, asking if he knows any way that they can find some money to live on, he does suggest that there is a way to “game fate” by playing into Fae ideas; in this case, by swearing a familial bond they might have a number of odd coincidences work in their favour. When he hears about Blaize’s encounter with Mama Park he buries his face in his hands for some time, but agrees that now she’s promised she had better go through with it, facing the reverse side of the “gaming fate” coin.

They promise to watch each others backs, and never betray their comrades in word or deed for a year and a day. If they fail, curses of blindness or crippling are put forward. The very next morning Callahan starts finding money in his shoes, while Blaize and Anais begin to grow more connected with their acquaintances and the world around them.

Blaize returns to the restaurant, this time with Anais in tow to try and avoid any further fuax pas. The Korean restauranteur discusses her terms; someone has stolen a book from her, and she would like it back. The thief, a Father Crowley from Black Hill, has used some kind of Geomancy to ward his church against the Park bloodline, so she would like the newcomers to retrieve it. When she finds that they are in need of ID, she agrees to arrange something for them, as well as setting them up with legitimate access to their own property. The Bargain is struck.

In the meantime, Father Callahan has opened a doorway to the Hedge using the door to the broom closet. The escapees agree to go  through the door together, in case anything untoward occurs, and after slogging along a long, dusty path in the shadow of immense termite mounds, they come to a clearing with a pool in the middle. A tiny figure dances across the water, while a gang of raven-sized birds that appear to be made from broken glass look on.

The birds seem wary, but Blaize speaks fluent Owl (Fang and Talon Contracts) so Mirrorbird isn’t too much of a stretch. In short, she cuts a deal. The Mirrorbirds will guard their turf, along with the small grove of Goblin Fruit and their Hedge door, in exchange for a Glamour tithe and the changelings carrying one of their eggs into the real world where it can grow strong by eating dreams. Blaize builds it a nest in a pine tree later that night. The birds also mention that the strange little spear wielding bushes from the next pond over tend to be less than friendly.

After a bit of further exploration, the motley runs across the trap-lair of a huge and snarky redbelly black snake, and only get away after Blaize sets the creature’s lair on fire. Father Callahan is bitten, but shakes off the venom due to his immense alcohol tolerance. They slink back to reality, with Blaize at least vowing revenge.

That nigh she summons Owl using her musical pipes, and the little guy crashes out of the sky and asks if she has any food. After gorging on chicken leftovers he agrees to help her find somewhere safe for the Mirrorbird’s egg to incubate. They settle on a tall pine tree and construct a nest in the top, overlooking several houses, and place it there after a brief debate over what form the egg’s dream-eating will take.

Father Callahan has begun making inquiries about a church near the center of town. The woman who cleans it seems to take a shine to the gaunt old priest, and confirms that the building is mostly open for tourists; the building has no priest or regular services. He decides to go to town hall and begins asking after securing tenure as a pastor, but is stymied by his lack of legal identification.

Anais hunts glamour from the back of cinemas, trying to skim off the emotional highs of romance and horror viewers, but the second hand emotions are thin and less than potent.

Their dreams are thin and scattered, but they begin finding ways to twist them. Father Callahan is haunted by images of the glowing forest, and the strange voices he hears from the Hedge-fruit. Anais’ dreams wander towards Louis, and she wonders where the man who wanted to marry her is now. Blaize dreams of her sister.

The house begins to devolve into distinct territories, with Anais claiming the master bedroom and Blaize the second, with Father Callahan most often wandering between a couch and his ramshackle alchemical lab in the garage, where he brews gathered goblin fruits into bottled potions. The Fireheart initially refuses to bathe, worrying that water would still sting her as it did in Arcadia, but Anais eventually wrestles her into the shower. Blaize screams as she scrubs, a habit that continues even when she takes to showering under her own volition.

That might have been the breaking point; the young Elemental hates bathing, but dislikes being beaten even more. She confronts Callahan at his workbench, and demands equipment to sort that chatty giant snake once and for all. The priest makes a spear from a trowel and a stave, as well as a collection of nasty dirks and knives. Thus equipped, they trounce off into the Hedge, past the Mirrorbirds’ grove, and back into the snake’s trap.

The giant reptile, not to be outdone, says that he has found a way to even the scales. From the top of the Hollow, the fae hear a screech of

“Simian Security! Cease and Desist!”

And the redcoat wearing monkey opens fire with his musket.

Th fight is intense, but brief. After his initial volley, the monkey-mercenary leaps down and attacks with his bayonet, only to be clubbed unconscious by Father Callahan. Anais manages to pin down the creatures tail, while Blaize fends off its bite at spearpoint, before finally finishing off the immense serpent with a flaming headlock. Having killed the creature, the starving motley begin to skin it for leather and meat – waste not want not – and graciously accept the surrender of Kensington, the security monkey, after he implies that he would be perfectly happy to transfer the snake’s contract to them if they let him live. Anais agrees, and takes the snake’s old hiding place as her Hollow.

The Father’s mysterious windfalls have proven enough to not only buy food, but also enough to secure bicycles for the motley. They buy these from a local store, as Callahan is beginning to run low on Glamour from constantly repairing their car, which has been affectionately nicknamed The Junker.

Blaize investigates a strange rattling in the fridge to find Owl eating his way out of a half stripped chicken carcass. She tries to get hold of her companion, but he flops out the door covered in grease and stuffing.

The motley waits until the sun gets low in the sky, and sets out for Black Hill, to try and understand how deep their promise goes.

I think this is a good spot to leave Part 1 of the write up, hope you all enjoyed it! The Summer of Blood was probably our longest arc, with a lot of it being used to get to know our characters, their world, and the strange new rules that apply to them. Add to this our group’s tendency to play home-maker, and you get a rich and detailed story that is kind of surreal. The characters delight in the mundanity of the everyday, which for Arcadian escapees feels new and different. So they build their house, and their lives, and they make them their own. Its not slaying a dragon. Frankly I like this much better.

See y’all next time, imaginary readers.

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The Weight of Misquotation

I know.

It doesn’t pay to be naive, and I’d be a lot better off if I didn’t let this kind of thing get under my skin.

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Picture courtesy of diylol.com.

But it really does shit me when people misquote things.

Religious demagogues are frequent employers for these particular shades of bullshit. In fact, it was some recently re-televised comments by the Right Honorable Fascist Fred Nile that spurred this rant, particularly in regard to his stance on homosexuality. Now, when religious types cry foul on the LGBT community they typically cite the Bible as their evidence, despite their quotations being blatantly mistranslated and homosexual relationships having the support of the big guy JC himself. Don’t believe me? Here’s a nice little translation for you. Yay languages!

But… to be honest the fundies can rot in their own sick, terrified little holes all they like. They never say anything particularly interesting or creative, and Nile’s one of a dying breed, they don’t need my help to push them over the edge. Politicians, however, are alarming in their tenacity. And boy do they manage this misquotation malarky with a gusto that makes my eyes bleed.

I’m thinking about two names in particular. Not the quoters, in this case, but the quotees. John Maynard Keynes. Thomas Malthus.

I can smell hackles rising already. Imaginary hackles. Because all my readers are imaginary. Thanks for sticking around guys.

I have heard Malthus misquoted to an alarming extent, and I found the responsible artifacts to be, if a little conservative, largely inoffensive. The circling resurgence of the meme that has grown from Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population is staggering; the very idea that Malthus said “We’ll have all the babies and eat ourselves to death” appears to have been addition after the fact. The idea of the Malthusian trap, at best guess a derivation of Ricardo’s dreaded Steady State Trap, is something wholly constructed and reeks of extrapolation.

Ok. Context. The C word is still so very powerful.

Malthus wrote the essay in response to a letter from William Godwin, and the latter thinker presented a picture of an anarcho-socialist utopia. Godwin’s thought was an almost Marxist one; that the very institutions that define our society are the source of its ills. Marriage, property (and the gentry who possessed it) and religion were all damaging leeches, and if we could do away with these things then resources would be so plentiful that every man, woman and child would have plenty to meet their needs and wants. You produce enough, and everyone will be happy.

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If only… Photo “Malthus” by Deposto on Flickr.

Malthus, pipping cyberpunk to the post by about two hundred and fifty years, cried foul on that. He started by agreeing that the institutions of the time were in fact not universal goods; he makes particular note of the pariah status of unwed mothers. But he also says these institutions evolved for a reason, based on a scarcity of resources that led to people not wishing to support children who weren’t their own. Taking the logic to Godwin’s argument, he posited that once resources were guaranteed by society for each child people would have as many children as they liked, artfully pussyfooting around the reason for that being that people in general like having sex. With the deterrent removed, population swells, and we begin to outstrip our resources.

What happens then? Well, cannibalism, road warriors, the end of civilization… are more or less exactly what Malthus didn’t predict. What he believed would happen is more or less a return to what we had before; marriages to enforce responsibility for children, landowners commanding serfs, all as a method of controlling consumption of resources. Doesn’t show a lot of creativity on Old Tommy’s part, and a blatant disregard for the idea of contraception, but he was working with what came to hand.

So the belief that population is limited by resource availability, as I heard surface at least once during the 2007 Australian election (props to anyone who can find that clip, think it was on Q&A, but not having any luck), is decidedly non-Malthusian. Its limited by institutions in the face of scarcity, so the idea of it being inevitable ranges from vaguely misinformed to downright irresponsible when its rattled off by potential Members of Parliament.

So, lesson the first: Read Malthus before you quote Malthus. Its English, so don’t worry, you won’t run into the same problems we encountered up page with our Bible studies.

Now, dear Keynes, poor Keynes, brilliant, arrogant Keynes. Our pal John Maynard has copped a lot of flack in recent years, his name is used by economic conservatives in the manner that the Devil’s name is used by religious ones. Every so often you hear a pundit decrying some big spike in government spending as Keynesian, hell, Wayne Swann was openly in bed with the General Theory when he decided to, er… “stimulate” the Australian economy. We run into another problem of misquotation again.

Keynes did, in fact, support small government with minimal interference in markets. This man had actually come out and said that he intended to save capitalism from the dual threats of Communism and Fascism, and in the 1930’s that was looking like a losing proposition. But Keynes had faith that the capitalist market could do great things, outstripping centrally planned economies through sheer weight of productivity. And the government should let it do so.

Until, of course, the market fucks up. And it will. Did in 1929, did in 2008. So when those big businesses come crying to the government that they browbeat into deregulating them, howling “please, save us, we’re too big to fail!”, should we bail them out? What would Keynes say?

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Photo “RELAX (blue sky, mountain, Tasmania)” by Mez (sketchesbymez) on Flickr

Though I imagine he’d use better chosen words, I suspect the message would be “Let ’em rot. Can’t have our lives ruled by Moral Hazard fattened imbeciles.”

See, Keynes didn’t say the government should prop up a failing market. He said it was there to protect people when it hurt them. When a demand slump kills off businesses and raises unemployment, the government should employ those people for public works, giving them funds with which to get demand – always, always demand – rolling again.

Admittedly, Keynes also said a lot of things that don’t make a great deal of sense. I can only assume that he wrote a great deal of his works drunk, a sentiment with which I can identify pretty easily.

So, in this context (ooh! Dirty C word again!) Jon Stewart’s suggestion on the Daily Show that Barack Obama could pay the money he intended to spend bailing out the banks to the people in debt to them actually makes some sense in a Keynesian model.

So for the conservative types who seem to associate Keynesian thought with the damn dirty government giving their hard earned tax dollars to crack babies, dope heads and programs to take away their private stash of anti-tank weaponry, that’s not really what it means. In fact, a lot of recent stimulus has seemed pretty out of joint with Keynes’ proposals, but then like we saw earlier, Jesus was totally cool with gay sex. So yeah.

And if I do ever get to debate Fred Nile, I suspect my argument will more or less follow these lines. Not that I think he’d listen.

Alright, that’s that giant poisonous monster off my chest… glad that’s sorted. Anyway, this article is once again Creative Commons meat for the market, and I am not making any money out of it. Feel free to rip it to pieces and rebuild it as whatever macabre offense against nature you can imagine. Do Frankenstein proud. Have a metal week, imaginary folks.

Changelings of the Outer West Part 3

Part 3

And They All Went Mad Together: Origins

Hello again dear imaginary readers, and welcome to another installment regarding Talking to a Stranger, our Changeling the Lost chronicle from last year. Part 1 is our Rogues Gallery, available here, with Part 2 giving a setting rundown here. Today, you get a writeup of how the story began for our zany heroes.

So here we are, and I’m trying to reconstruct the introductions for about a year’s worth of weekly game sessions from memory. But I wanted to get the characters started with memories, to give them a life to lose before they are whisked off to their respective supernatural prisons. Arcadia took each of them,but before that we had a person, and the tragedy of the story is that our escapees never got the chance to live as that person.

As a refresher, our three escapees are:

Anais; formerly Gail Kelly, now a Fairest Dancer escaping the Maze.

Blaize; formerly Rose Anderson, now a Fireheart Elemental also fleeing the Lord of the Maze.

Father Callahan, formerly John Callahan, escaped Wizened slave-alchemist of the Witch in the Wilds.

The Beginning

It begins in memory, as these things so often do. Each changeling’s past is experienced as flashes of a past no longer there.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the drive.

Anias remembers the last dance class. She and her friends are working on a musical, big song and dance pieces set to knock an audience’s socks off. They wrap up for the night, and she says goodbye to the other chorus girls. Her boyfriend, Louis, is waiting with his car and offers to drive her home. After a little while on the road, it becomes clear that they are going the wrong way. They drive out to one of the hills outside of town, and Louis asks for her hand in marriage.

The night sky is beautiful and cold.

She turns him down.

He takes it pretty well, pockets the ring. They begin to drive home. In the short view of the headlights, he sees… something on the road. He swerves, and the car rolls.

A pair of strong arms breaks the window and pulls her through.

The window that was lying against the asphalt.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the picnic.

Blaize is on a hill that tapers down to a creek. Her father calls for her to go and find her sister Belle, the sun is setting. Its time to go home.

She wanders, looking for her older sister, but all she can find is her clothing, folded neatly by the side of the creek. In a panic, she begins calling out for her.

She sees a hand sticking out of the water.

She jumps into the muddy creek, paddling out towards the hand, ducking under a fallen branch that makes an arch over her. She seizes the fingers, fearing her sister has drowned. But all that comes to the surface is a handful of twigs.

It’s then that she realizes that she can’t see the way back.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the service.

Father Callahan delivers the final lines of his sermon, and the churchgoers begin to file out like any other Sunday. An old widow approaches him, saying that despite all her prayers the ghost of her husband still haunts her house at night. The priest listens, and agrees to come to her home and try and exorcise the spirit.

On an afterthought, he puts his copy of the Fourth Key of Solomon into his satchel.

He arrives at the widow’s house, and sets up a chair in the living room where the ghost was last seen. She brings him a cup of tea. The sun goes down.

The night wears on, and the priest begins to nod off.

He wakes up in the early hours of the morning, and there is a smoky, vaguely humanoid figure with eyes like burning coals in the room before him. He pulls himself out of his chair, scrambles for his chalk, and begins to scrawl a binding circle on the floor.

But of course, there comes a voice over his shoulder. The forces from this point can trap someone in the circle. Like so…

A hag cackles as he is dragged by thorny boughs through the floor.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the ballroom.

She has been dancing as long as she can remember, surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things. The night outside the windows in never ending, as is the revelry.

This is what the Lord of the Maze desires. The band plays on, wearing their porcelain fingers to dust.

She cannot remember the last time she slept.

Others slept, and they were quietly dragged away by the goblin porters who maintain the ballroom. Others are gathered to replace them.

The dance does not end, for that is what the Lord of the Maze desires, the dance and beauty and the insomnia and the midnight blood spilled in the space between breaths and stanzas drag on.

She cannot remember her name.

The dance pauses for breath as the porcelain band theatrically shuffle their sheets. She looks out the window into the starless darkness, and she sees a crack in the glass. And the crack spreads.

The world falls apart, and she falls with it.

She cannot remember her name.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the oubliette.

A little girl cries alone in the dark.

She has hunted through the maze for her big sister.

She has run from terrors, clambered over obstacles, and tried countless doors.

But she is here now, and there is no space to run, no holds to climb, and no doors to push through. She is here; she is forgotten. Alone with nought but a slowly burning lamp flame for company.

She doesn’t know how long it is before the flame starts to bargain. He says that he can teach her his magic, the way that fire can crawl and surge and consume, and that she can use that magic to break free through cracks so thin she can’t even see them. The little girl agrees, and she gives her fingers to the flame. It takes her hand, then her arm, her body and her screams, and together they crawl from their earthen cage in a surge of fire.

Time passes, and the girl grows up with others like her.

Blaize tends her campfire idly while her companion Lightstalker gnaws on a leg of meat. The forest is dark, but the sun should rise soon. Owl flutters down, and gets some of the meal for his trouble. Lightstalker complains that the runners barely give any sport at all any more.

Blaize cannot shake the idea that somehow, the little pink shoe on the end of Lightstalker’s meal is important. She says she’s going to take a look around.

Something makes her fold the discarded clothes outside of their camp neatly, the clothes of those who tried to get away. She is so close to remembering something, but she can’t quite place what it is.

She hears the Maze Lord’s hounds baying in the Goblin City. She climbs to the top of the wall, Owl fluttering ahead and giving commentary that she really needs to learn to fly better.

Someone is trying to get away.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the forest.

They don’t come every day.

For all that day means anymore. Father Callahan wakes in his lean-to under the incessant glow of the mushrooms that crawl up the dank tree trunks, or grow to the size of trees themselves. He wakes, methodically checks the lists that the Witch left for him, then gathers his things and presses out into the underbrush.

He hunts the mushrooms with a sling. That’s how he knocks down the ones that move. Then he takes the ingredients he needs from their strange gullets. Sometimes they beg. They usually don’t.

He mixes the ingredients with the tubes and alembics he has cobbled together next to his lean-to. He stirs his drops and powders in the half light, knowing that if they are not perfect he will be punished.

The giants by the hills have been giving him trouble again. He mixes a potion of his own, the strongest sleeping draught he can. If he can slip it into their food maybe they’ll leave him alone to do his work.

The hut lumbers out of the woods on its jointed, rusty legs. It lowers itself to the ground like an immense farm bird, and the Wilting Waxen Woodsman gestures the frail alchemist inside with his axe, saying that his mother is awaiting her delivery.

Callahan pockets the sleeping draught almost without thinking, and shoulders his bag, the weight of his Bible and the Key of Solomon a comforting memory even as he faces the Witch of the Wilds.

It feels like a long time ago, but you remember the run.

The dancer’s world shatters like a glass ornament dropped from a height, and she finds herself hiding in the halls of a strange castle. The goblins are dragging the dancers… somewhere. She overhears that the Lord of the Maze has grown tired of these playthings, and would like to see them repurposed.

She tries to sneak out the door, but is confronted by an immense troll of a man that she recognises. Gruf had once helped with repairs in the ballroom, and today he is wearing a strange ring.

The dancer remembers a late night drive, and the young man who had given her that ring. She trades the ogre a kiss for the trinket, and wipes his tears when he laments that he’ll never see the beautiful dancers again. When they hear goblins approaching, he lets her through the door and says that he will try to slow them down.

Blaize watches from the top of the wall as a woman leaps out of the side door of the castle and begins to run across the courtyard. Her skirt billows about her, and the fire sprite remembers the skirts of her mother and sister that were just the same on windy days, and she remembers her father calling to her.

Its time to go home.

With a crash the side door gives out, and the two women see Gruf with the teeth of one of the Lord’s hounds buried in his forearm, a dozen more of the dog-men surging towards and over him. Blaize reaches down and hauls the stranger over the gatehouse, and they leap down the other side of the wall together.

Father Callahan’s vision swims as he looks at her, and the Witch chuckles away as she gorges on the last of he raw meat platter. She takes the potions she ordered from him, and takes them to her cabinet. While her back is turned, and the Woodsman looks out the window through his melting locks, the old priest slips his sleeping draught into the Witch’s meal.

She ties another spider silk list to his arm, cutting deep enough to bleed. She gulps down another slab of bloody meat, and makes to say something more. Before the words can fly, she collapses onto the table. The Woodsman thinks his mother dead, and flies after the old priest axe in hand.

They sprint through the dark of the forest, crashing through undergrowth and diving through spore clouds. Callahan runs until he thinks his lungs will explode.

Its then that he dives under an arch of boughs and falls into the light.

The light flickers, and the old priest finds himself in an unfamiliar bathroom, having just stepped out of the mirror. He clutches his satchel and tries to staunch the bleeding in his nose, but turns to see nobody following.

The man who throws him out of the hotel room was clearly both surprised and irritated that this tattered clergyman interrupted his intimate time with his partner, and Callahan has a vague memory of replacing the Bible in that hotel room, a long time ago. He walks until he finds a burned out wreck of a car. Half asleep, he guts the radio, assembling it into a device that rings a bell, but he can’t think why. After repairing the engine with mud and twigs, he begins to follow the ringing to a park he doesn’t recognise.

The hounds are snapping at their heels, but Blaize thinks she knows where she is going. They surge over the crest of the hill, and on the other side of a stretch of brambles they see a river. They plow into the layer of cutting leaf litter and wade under the arch made by the fallen branch.

Father Callahan’s strange device rings out frantically as two young women burst out of the near dry creek bed, pursued by a gaggle of hairy, fanged, human-like creatures. Blaize pushes her companion ahead, and lashes out at the pursuing hounds, grounding the first couple with furious kicks and elbows. Right as the mob looks set to overwhelm her, Callahan drives his scavenged vehicle into the middle of the pack, and the wounded fire sprite dives into the back seat as they speed away from their pursuers.

When they reach the centre of town, the newspapers are welcoming people to the New Year. 1972. The old librarian is among the first people they meet, and he tempts them in with the promise of explanations, even as indecipherable words crawl across his paper skin. The dancer takes the name Anais from the spine of a book she remembers.

It is New Years Day, high summer in Cootamundra in 1972. And three changelings begin their first day free.

Eat your heart out, Labyrinth fan fiction writers. Hope y’all enjoyed that, I’ll get on to a summary of the mismatched motley’s various adventures in the next post. This went on a lot longer than I expected… but it is a lot easier to say things than to write them. During the introduction I found the rotating use of ritual phrases (It feels like a long time ago, but…) very effective, especially in the twisted fairytale context of Changeling: The Lost. A great game in the World of Darkness line that I would highly recommend.

Any similarities to David Bowie or the works of Jim Henson in this work are, of course, entirely coincidental (cackles maniacally). I own none of the rights… but fiction has a strange life of its own…

Scenes from the City Part 4: The Highborn

Another episode from the City as it teeters on the precipice of the end of the world… another narrator, once again. If you haven’t read the previous installments, follow these linkies: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Indila had me again.

In a sudden and merciless sweep, her war elephants smashed through my scouts and chariots, edging my general off the battlefield. I sighed as my army collapsed into empty sigils, and Indila made to return them to their box. I refilled our wine glasses.

“Run me off again, cousin. There’s not a merciful bone in your body.”

“The problem, as I see it,” my waifish relative replied, rolling my general over in her fingers before entombing him in the box, “Is we just know each other too well, my dear Corrie. You might have grown into a responsible lady on the outside, but your still the reckless little girl I grew up with.”

I gasped, covering my mouth in a clown’s gesture of shock.

“And you, my love, are still the little liar who claimed it was me kissing stable-boys under the silos.”

She shrugged.

“I guess that’s why I win.” She smiled, “Besides. You’re drunk.”

“The very nerve!” I grinned back, fanning myself furiously, “You’ve had just as much to drink as I have. Besides, you never lose, sober or not.”

“Your too good for either of us. I don’t know… I don’t think you could close in for the kill even if you had the chance…”

There was a brief silence. Indila leaned back in her chair, drawing in the crisp air of the high chamber. She looked over her shoulder, out the window, at the moon as it hung over the inky black pit of the ocean.

“Not a hint of spite in you… even if you caught me in a lie you’d stick to it, let me get away with anything. Like when we stole that wine from your father’s cellar and went swimming in the lake. Even when Lyla got hold of you… well, you left me naked and alone in the woods. And I had to lie to Nursie about how I came to be nude and dripping at her door with bleeding feet. But she was nice.  And at least I didn’t get whipped…” She turned her gaze into her glass.

“I miss swimming. I miss when swimming was safe.”

There was another moment of silence, the wind whispering between the curtains that partitioned the room. My eyes remained on the sea, stretching out beyond the lights of the City below us. It was a cold night.

“We’ve been lucky. We held on to more than most.”

“That might be true. Doesn’t mean we saved all we could though… I mean, why couldn’t we keep the lake? It was just one lake…”

We both rose in silence and walked together, through the archway and onto the balcony.

“What’s wrong?” she murmured?

“Nothing.”

“I thought I was the liar.”

I smiled gently in the moonlight, and she squeezed my hand as I gripped the bannister.

“Corrie?” The voice echoed up from the entrance hall, and even baffled by the curtains I recognized my husband.

“I’m up here my love!” I called back, and I could almost hear his soft step as he made his slow ascent. Indila smiled into her glass as I left her on the balcony.

Marcus gave me a smile as he ascended the last few stairs, placing the brandy bottle on the sideboard and almost slumping into my arms.

“My darling…” he sighed, “I feel like I’m dying.”

I took his face between my hands.

“You’re not that old, Marcus.”

“No… it’s just…” he trailed off, glancing over my shoulder. He forced his smile wider like a workman hefting a barrel. “Indila, how lovely to see you. I didn’t realise you’d be visiting tonight.”

My cousin leaned against the pillar, gesturing with her half empty glass.

“Well, your children have cleared off to your brother’s, and the serving staff are apparently healthier when they have some sleep… someone had to keep your little bride company didn’t they?”

My husband chuckled, and Indila stepped up, taking his hand and kissing the wrinkles on his temple that hadn’t been there when we married.

“I’m glad that it was you that came. I’d hate to think how much trouble she’d have gotten into otherwise.”

Indila grinned again.

“I won’t tell you about the trouble I started then…” she looked past him at the brandy bottle, and smiled at me.

“Well, I appear to have appropriately diminished the wine stocks, I might leave you two lovebirds to your own devices…” she swanned off towards the door, “I trust the guest room is made up?”

“Of course, cousin,” I smiled back, “Just the way you like it.”

“I like that… means I’m not out of wine after all.” She waved cheerfully, and began to descend the stairs.

My husband turned to me after Indila’s footsteps had faded.

“How does she do that?”

“Do what, my love?”

“How does she keep smiling… how can she sit and joke while everything’s falling apart?”

I wrapped my arms around his waist, letting his forehead rest against mine.

“Marcus, not everything’s falling apart. The world changes, it has changed, and we’re still here…”

“I can’t sleep Corrie.”

“It’s alright… we’re not going to fall apart. Are we?”

He didn’t answer, so I got hold of his greying hair and looked him in the eye.

“Are we?”

“No. Of course we’re not.” he leaned back to wipe his eyes, “Its just… I’m not cut out for this, little bee. I don’t know why they decided to make me the judge, because I can’t bring them the results they want…”

I took him by the hand, and we slipped between the curtains and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“What happened?”

“These… I don’t even know what to call them. Like ghosts slipping out to murder people… these murderers have haunted three of the noble families. Killed in their sleep, eleven now… they’re in my dreams Corrie, I can’t get them out!”

I held his head to my shoulder, felt his shoulders shake with exhausted sobs.

“Don’t be afraid, my love. I’m here.”

15185610813_e944b432ed_oPhoto “Waking Up In Auxerre”, courtesy of Benedeicto de Jesus on Flickr. To confirm, no; I am not making any money out of this blog. You are free to give me money if you want to, imaginary readers; but only if you really feel you have to.

No Excuse for Tardiness, Sorry Folks

Apologies, imaginary readers. I’m afraid the world conspired to steal me away from my computer, reliable internet and by extension my precious blogosphere for the past few days.

Also, British imaginary readers, be grateful for uncapped mobile data allowances. I’ll leave it at that.

Should have a new post inbound in the next few hours. Thanks for sticking around.

Soy For Science!!! First Attempt…

Nutrisoy. Oh boy. You folks have listened to me ramble about cyberpunk, about Shadowrun, and about the weird culinary world they inhabit. So today, we get my first attempt at nutrisoy. Nutrisoy surfaces several times in Shadowrun fiction, though its exact composition is never discussed as far as I’ve read. I know that its something that you eat if your at the lower end of the economic spectrum, and functions as a sort of “all food”, used to replace meat and most other nutrient intake. Certainly designed for survival rather than taste. They don’t give a recipe, but the vague implication is that the product is produced by immense corporate entities, probably using all manner of synthetic nutrient supplements to keep costs down. Being neither a megacorp employee nor a lab tech, I’ve had to improvise. So, now you can meet my ingredients.

wpid-20150325_153333.jpgApocalypse lentils! Tasty and easy to wpid-20150325_153529.jpgprepare, and designed to survive anything up to nuclear fallout. I’ve been gathering a lot of food cans on my zombie runs (see here) so this felt pretty appropriate.

Cryo-spinach! Because if you can’t get hold of synthetic iron and fiber then you may as well dig it outta the freezer where no living thing has any right to grow. After all, we have to keep this in genre.

wpid-20150325_154444.jpg wpid-20150325_153739.jpgA capsicum! Or a pepper, depending on where in the world you’re reading from… In honesty I couldn’t think of a way to make this any more genre appropriate… So I settled for mangling it beyond all recognition…

And finally, of course. My Soy. Industrial sized tofu. wpid-20150325_160059.jpgNow that’s done, we can get into the methodology at play here. Get a handle on that cryo-spinach and toss it into a frypan with some oil and the lentils. If you want to be real road warrior use engine oil. If you want to be alive by the end of this use canola. It will take a bit for the ice to melt. If you are using non-cryo spinach, you will probably need to throw some water in at this point as well. wpid-20150325_155208.jpgAdd brutalised capsicum. Stir and simmer. Regret nothing. Chop the tofu into smaller chunks and dig shallow graves for it in the mixture so it will fry most effectively. wpid-20150325_160242.jpgGive the interred tofu a bit of a singe so that it can soak up a bit of taste. I will admit that by this point our taste is hovering somewhere between “wilting forest” and “overgrown (ghoul infested?) cemetery”, so I throw in some ground green chilli. Sriracha will do equally well, but you may have noticed I’m angling towards a particular colour scheme for this one. Once its had a chance to cook for a bit, smash the tofu into more manageable chunks. Its at this point that we get industrial on this sorry fusker. wpid-20150325_165528.jpgBlend it down to a paste, and then return it to a mould of your choice. Since I do not have a corporation issue blender I had to do it in a few batches. wpid-20150325_170238.jpgwpid-20150325_173259.jpg So there you have it. As for taste… well, that’s not really what it was designed for. Served over rice it tasted a bit like a barely seasoned salad, though I suppose the “flavour nozzles” we encounter in the fiction are the proposed remedy for that. So; Lessons! First thing I’ll probably do next time is add some colour. Food dye is simple enough, and we get a nice nod to the Paranoia franchise with its colour coded society. As you could probably guess this attempt was meant to be green, but the light brown of the lentils and white of the tofu kind of brought it around to a kind of dull mud. Second, if I’m going to serve this to anybody it will probably need a bit more flavour. Not exactly in line with genre, but if I can get these things tasting better and elegantly packaged then it might have some appeal. Maybe in vending machines. Probably tied to the colour code… yellow would be curry. Green… maybe another kind of curry. Maybe introducing some fried bread products into the mix would allow a richer taste without compromising the basic idea of it… And finally, I think I need some sort of setting agent, but wouldn’t really want to use eggs, try and keep it as non-animal product as possible. This would let it sit happier in a block, and allow us to minimize packaging. Though single use packages are certainly more cyberpunk, I tend to have environmental concerns… I’ll tell you how that pans out. Maybe we can come up with some kind of alternative. So that’s my new cyberpunk recipe for you all. Not perfect, but it’s got potential. wpid-20150327_172548.jpg

Scenes from the City Part 3: The Recruit

Scenes from the City Part 3: The Recruit

More fiction for the lot of you! New narrator again, back inside the wall this time. Enjoy!

Part 1 and Part 2

“And here, son, is where we make our nightly stand in the vicious defense of civilization against the terrible forces that would grind it into the dirt for their own sick amusement… Toli, Sim, a happy morning, this is the new lad… well introduce yourself boy! That’s the way… anyhow, along to your left you’ll see one of the little watch points, Flares we call ’em, because if their lit they light up the big old mirrors… so eh, you see a growling huge light in the sky then you lug your bugs that way and trouble’ll find you soon enough! Eh! Ah, don’t looks so worried. The damn carpies might get onto the wall, yeh, but with steel in hand and your mates at your back then what’s to worry?” The instructor chuckled, and drove the stem of a pipe into his walnut face. The smoke he spat between words smelled strange.

“The damn girlies come up here in wooden armour, barely a sharp stick to aim ’em. What they going to do, wrestle us until they get tired. Mad, every bloody one of ’em… you’d think they’d learn after – Neg, good to see you. After the first few dozen et lead shot on the ascent. Keep coming though… powder stock here, you can duck back here for more shot, just don’t be a bloody turkey and try doing it when carpies are up here and swinging at you eh?That’s what your blade’s for.”

He leaned over the cache of powder bags in their tarry shelter and spat yellow phlegm over the Wall, through the snatching winds and onto the mountain of scree that set up against the heavy blocks at the base. The instructor winked.

“One more thing for ’em to slip on eh? Anyway, Graf says you know your powder drill, and you can spear the bag just fine…” he seemed to think for a moment, the weed he tapped from his pipe wafting inelegantly over the powder cache. I didn’t have a moment to jump away, to even hurl myself back off the rampart. I must have twitched, because the instructor blinked at me slowly, before shrugging.

“Yeh, it gets pretty breezy up here, don’t it? Not like living down in the streets, no shelter. You’ll get used to it, then you’ll wonder how you ever got by in some of the Rose Lane Houses, eh?” He laughed again, and slapped my shoulder. “There’s a little scrap room down this way, careful on the stairs, come on… I’ll pull you a mug, get that chill out of you… then we can get you into the ledger so you can start raking in your Rooks, yeh? There’s a good lad. The guard’s a good place for a young chap like yourself, no more muck hauling down in the alleys, oh no; real blood and glory we get up here, with whole nests in your purse to match. We’re glad to have you, that we are, just think of how the good folk’ll gaze at you when they see that you’re one of their valiant defenders…”

We reached the bottom of the rickenback stairway and he began to fumble with the catch of a little wall-leaning shanty, one like a dozen or more I could see in the smoky alley of wood and scavenged stone.

“There we are, takes a bit of a wiggle somtimes… for all the harlots, they might leave the light by the door-”

“Put the damned light down, Gams.” It was a scratchy female voice from the dark within the hut. The instructor twitchedf involuntarily before puffing himself up and striding purposefully into the shadows, clattering amongst the detritus of a bench in search of the lamp lighter.

“How many times, Soma, must I tell you not to sit down here in the blood dinge? We need a light in here!”

“Go ram a consumptive milkmaid Gams, you know I don’t do day shift.”

“Then why-”

“Because I was ordered here by the scum-ridden Major, who has yet to make his appearance so shut the accursed door!”

The voice felt as angry as a pan of spitting oil, and far more dangerous. I slowly closed the door behind me, my eyes growing slowly used to the gloom.

“Who’s the sop?”

“The new boy. Where are the ramming wicks woman?”

“Burned out, and that’s where its staying.”

“In case you have forgotten, Corporal, I outrank you, so if say… ha! If I say that this wick is lighting then it will be so! Can’t sign the boy on in the dripping dark now can I…”

There was a brief striking of flint, then the lantern flickered into life. The glow crawled over the scrap room, slowly bringing into focus the figure who had been sitting on a desk by the wall, her legs crossed. A low growl surfaced in her chest  as the light scrambled between the twisting claws scratched in ink across her taut, blue-white cheeks, reaching eyes in red centred on wide dark pits.

“More meat for the market.” she snarled, her gaze drilling into me, her tattoos seeming to crawl in the lamplight. “What the hell are you doing here?”

I stammered a few brief syllables as the instructor put two pages on the table before me, urging that I make my mark on each.

“I…” I scrambled for purchase on my words in the oily firelight, “I need work. And there’s always a need for fighters, keep the… keep the barbarians off the Wall.”

“Just one more mark lad,” The instructor said, eyeing the tattooed woman who glared right back, “And you’re one of us, ready to walk out of here head high and rooks in hand…”

The woman he had called Soma snorted and rose to her feet, the uniform draped around her skeletal form looking filthy and askew.

“You sure you’ve been told everything boy?”

“I was first in my cadre when we went through drills ma’am.”

She chuckled, and her hair shone like oil in the light. I saw that her teeth were filed to points.

“Good,” she whispered in my ear as she glided past me, “So next time I see something that has no right to be anywhere on this earth or below it, I’ll know who to run to. Those Outsiders are clever, witch-ken and all. Glad you know all their little… tricks and secrets already…” she was silhouetted in the open doorway for a moment, “I’ll be outside.”

It was only when the door slammed shut that my brain began to register that the boards hadn’t creaked under her boots.

“Good to see boy!” Instructor Gams bellowed, slapping me on the shoulder again, “Now you take these and go rest up. You’ll be up here mostly nights, well… almost always nights, because that’s wen the trouble is ain’t it? But I’ll see you tomorrow just before sundown, and we can get you started on our good work…”

He was making for the door as I turned to speak to him.

“Instructor,” I near whispered, “Why do the barbarians attack the Wall?”

7185716675_fc071137eb_oPhoto “Sintra-16”, courtesy of Subodh Bharati  on Flickr, presented unaltered and with no money changing hands. Have a good one, y’all!