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.
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…