Part 5: The Summer of Blood Part 2
And here we have it, another installment for Changelings of the Outer West. I was able to find one of my old notebooks from when we ran this, so my report may be marginally more accurate than it would have been with just me memory! Yay! For those of you just joining us, the previous installments are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
As a refresher, our protagonists are Anais, a Fairest Dancer and escapee from the Maze, Blaize, a Fireheart Elemental also fleeing the Maze Lord’s diabolical clutches, and Father Callahan, a Wizened Brewer and former slave-alchemist in the Witch of the Wilds’ Midnight Forest.
Having secured their new transport the motley set out to fill their side of the agreement with Mama Park. Pedaling their bicycles through the early twilight, they reach the outlying town of Black Hill as the sun is fading away into nothingness. The place is eerily quiet; most of the buildings on the outskirts looking to be either abandoned or in a state of disrepair bordering on collapse. As they move towards the center the signs of habitation grow thicker, but without the vivacity that normally comes with a town center. It doesn’t take an expert to see that Black Hill is dying, but Anais struggles to understand why anyone would stay at all.
As they lock up their bikes, they notice a group of kids throwing pebbles at the windows of a house. The kids scatter when Callahan calls out, but Blaize smells something off. She ruffles Owl’s feathers, and lets him fly off into the night (he’d been riding in the bicycle basket up to this point), but not before her eyes have grown reflective and sensitive like the little bird’s (through the use of her Contract of Fang and Talon). Using her night vision, she picks out that the little stones are oddly shaped, and one picking on up sees that it is a human tooth.
There is a flash in her memory, the old forest and the pack.The tear of human flesh between once human teeth.
She shakes off the haze, and glances at the windows. Signalling for her comrades to wait in the alley behind, she creeps up to the open window and slips through. The house inside is dusty and almost forgotten, but the fire sprite can hear someone in a side room. She moves as quietly as she can between stacks of newspapers and meticulously stacked garbage, and sees a hunched, wheezing figure in the front room, shrouded and leaning heavily on the window frame. Between laboured gasps, Blaize can hear the figure whimpering out a prayer. She leaves them in peace.
On returning to her motley, they come to the conclusion that there is something much worse at play here than a recession. They ascend the last streets to the old town center, and see the church and its cemetery on the other side of the green. A number of large black carrion birds lurk in the bare trees of the park, taking wing as the characters approach. All Blaize gets from their caws is “poison”.
They follow the path of darkness to the side door of the church, and quietly spring the lock. The church seems normal in most ways. It has pews and a heavy altar in the Catholic style, but it also has an odd set of banner strung along a ceiling that seems lower than it should, and grates in the floor that even Blaize’s owl-eyes struggle to see far beyond. The Father follows his instincts, and locates the hidden staircase at the back of the vestry in short order. The three changelings began to ascend, and found themselves in a long room with a loft at the other end, a lamp glowing on a desk. They fanned out and began to make their across the silent room.
Callahan moved to the bookshelves, and in the low light of his smothered torch saw an occult library fit to make the eyes bleed. As he passed, a book feel from the shelf. He turned, and the old leather bound book on the floor has fallen open on a print: I white man gesturing over kneeling slaves. The priest notes the title page: “Superstition Among Antebellum Slave-Peoples”, and puts it back in its place. When he turns his back, he hears it fall again. Its around this point that Anais screams.
She had been moving towards the lamp, across an open stretch of floor. One moment she was there, the next she was falling. The Fairest tumbled, and managed to catch a banner rail before the floor four meters below had the chance to break her legs. She hung maybe a meter beneath a gap she had thought was solid wood. She called to her compatriots, and together they managed to haul her back up through the gap; it took a moment, but eventually their fae-selves were able to to reconcile the illusion for what it was. As they did so, Blaize heard a giggling, and looked up to see a scrawny figure scramble on all fours toward the stairway. She immediately gave chase.
Sensing they were out of their depth, Anais made a careful break for the loft, hoping the book they were looking for would be in one of the cases up there. Callahan moved to the table, only to have the chairs hurled at him by an unseen hand. He dove for cover between the bookshelves, and pulled the fallen tome into his satchel; it had opened on the same page once again.
Blaize ran after the spindly gremlin, down the step and through the vestry. The creature darted through a door, and Blaize made to barge through after it… and promptly knocked herself into near unconsciousness against the heavy wood of the locked door. She fell, her vision swimming. Anais scrambled up the steep steps to the loft, and saw a book that looked very much like the one Mama Park had described under the lamp. She raced to the reading bench, when a freak gust blew out the old lamp flame. Running her hands over the table, all she could feel were old, heavy chains. A ray of moonlight fell across her face, and across the face of a tall, heavily muscled African man, his neck in an iron collar, and his eyes weeping liquid darkness. A whisper cuts through the dusty night air.
“Would you die without a name?”
A moment later, the Fairest crashes into the railing of the loft, and before she can cry out she is airborne.
Father Callahan heard Anais hit the floorboards hard, clutched the silver cross around his neck and muttered something that doesn’t bear printing. Bracing himself, he makes a run across the open floor, only just ducking under the table as it is hurled after him. He grabs the unconscious dancer’s collar in his skinny fingers, and drags her frantically back towards the stairwell. The broken furniture rattles ominously, and he sees a hugely muscled silhouette against the moonlight for just a moment before he reaches the stairs and slams the door behind them.
Blaize manages to drag herself to her feet, and found a conspicuous note on the desk, obvious enough that it seemed strange they hadn’t noticed before. Written in what looked like spilled ink, it simply read “Forgotten”. Callahan slumped down the stairs with a barely responsive Anais in his arms, informed Blaize that this was no time to practice her reading and that his noodle arms weren’t going to cut it on this one.
Together they began moving their unconscious friend towards the exit…
And the air reverberated as the main doors were pushed open by none other than Father Damian Crowley. The hatchet faced old man, with a number of people behind him, strode down the aisle of the church, switching on lights as they went. The motley backed rapidly into the vestry and Callahan, hoping he wasn’t making a big mistake, put a hand on the arch of the stairway, called up his Glamour, and asked it to Let Him In.
The Hedge Gate shimmered open, and the motley didn’t wait to see if anybody was following them. Dragging their fallen friend through, Blaize and Callahan fell into a sucking mire of mud and creeping thorns, with little in the way of leaf cover or trees. The Gate closed again behind them, with no normals having had a chance to look through, the arch standing like a tombstone in the mire. Blaize kept watch in the moonlight while Callahan managed to coax Anais into drinking a concoction he’d distilled from the Hecate’s Eye fruit that grow in the Mirrorbird’s Grove. Soon enough, she was back on her feet, and the gang began trooping off in what they hoped was the direction of the River.
After a few hours of scrambling over the morbid quagmire that Black Hill’s Hedge had devolved into, Blaize took a tumble down a ridge and landed in rich garden bed of ripe hedge fruit. As she picked herself up there was a frantic rattling from inside the corrugated iron shack rigged up under the spindly trees around the grove. With a shout, a half clad man with an akubra hat, a beard made of long insect legs, and a shotgun burst out, and an ominous rustling rose in the trees behind her. Glancing over her shoulder to see the six foot tall redback spider that had flanked her, she made a show of dropping her knife and told the others to come out slowly.
Things went better after the Skitterskulk, who introduced himself as the Wrangler and his enourmous arachnid pet as Scuttles, was convinced that these still badly injured strangers weren’t here to kidnap him, and mentioned that there had been some Cuckoo trouble in the area recently. When questioned as to what a Cuckoo was in this context, he responded;
“Er, right… slaver types. Folks like us who’d sell folks like us back to… folks like Them.”
On this, they settled in around the Wrangler’s campfire, and he fed them some Baconbloom (a furry, meaty, occasionally chatty tuber) that he’d grown in his garden. When asked about the taint in the Hedge near Black Hill, he mentioned that he’d noticed it, but it hadn’t found its way over the ridge yet. He also asked if they were coming to Market on Saturday.
Given our gang are clueless new escapees with only Solomon’s word (totally trustworthy) to go on as to what they are, they had no clue what the Goblin Market was, so the Wrangler took time to explain. Given the strange crossroads that seemed to form in the Cootamundra Hedge, the monthly Roped Lake market was probably one of the biggest gatherings of fae and hobgoblins in the region, all bent on engaging in their own twisted version of capitalism. He also made a point that they tended not to take cheques or cash, so bringing something to barter was probably their best option.
They talked a few hours more, until the sun began to rise. Then their new pal pointed them on their way down the River and described the Colonial stone bridge that acted as a Gate back into town, then said to give him a shout if they needed him. He didn’t often leave the Hedge, so he knew his way around pretty well. They picked their way downstream, strange figures of smoke and heat haze watching them from the other bank. When they reached the bridge, they sloshed out into the waist deep water and stepped into the dry bed that lay on the other side.
They began their long walk home, only now realizing that they’d left their bicycles in Black Hill.
I think that’s a pretty good place to leave our hapless heroes. More Changelings of the Outer West will surface soon, and if anybody wants to sling comments to guess which famous Australian figure the ghost in the church is based on, you’ll get a prize. Since I’m poor, the prize will probably be one of my trademark surreal compliments, maybe arranged as a jaunty e-card. No, my players cannot participate, cause they already know and get plenty of compliments anyway. Have a good one folks.