Changelings of the Outer West Part 6

Part 6: The Summer of Blood Part 3

And welcome back imaginary readers! I know its been a while since our last installment, but given these events transpired about a year and a half ago now I figure my memory isn’t getting any worse. So here I am diving back into my haphazard little notes to bring you our tales from 1970s Cootamundra. For those of you just joining us, see here for our Rogues Gallery, Setting Summary, Hedge Summary, and the Summer of Blood Part 1 and Part 2.

Our heroes, as always, are Anais the Fairest Dancer and Blaize the Fireheart Elemental, former servants of the Lord of the Maze, and Father Callahan, an escapee from the Witch of the Wilds’ bio-luminescent forest. We left our heroes fleeing from the wrath of Father Damian Crowley, who they had tried to rob on behalf of a local Korean Demonologist and restranteusse they had met a few days earlier.

The motley limp home as the sun is rising and collapse into their respective haphazard nests. The days wear on, and the motley ponders the mess they’ve gotten into.

Anais begins to leaf through the classifieds of a discarded newspaper in search of a job, while Father Callahan grills Christine, a younger woman doing volunteer cleaning at a church that serves more tourists than worshipers. Blaize, finding her hunting talents largely uncalled for in the town, wanders a while before seeking out Solomon at the library, having formed a curious fascination around the old academic. The others find their way in as the day moves on.

Solomon, unfortunately, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of job advice, but he does decide that now is the time to call in a favour. Reminding them of his help in their first stuttering days, he asks them to look into something for him.

A few nights previous, a couple of young drug enthusiasts met in the graveyard and were attacked by the Devil.

The paper man hopes that it was nothing. The gnawed wounds on one of the young men’s legs could have been a dog, and the Devil they saw little more than a shared hallucination. But he doesn’t want to discount the possibility that something more problematic is active, and would prefer that the problem were resolved without drawing too much mortal attention; by the time monster hunters have taken notice, chances are the more worrying focus of the True is already incoming. As the librarian is already occupied with maintaining the local peace as he puts it, and rather forcefully requests that the motley investigate and report back to him when they have more information.

Anais asks what Solomon knows about Black Hill, and the strange sickness hovering over the town. Solomon thinks for a moment, before recounting that perhaps seven years earlier there had been a great furore when a star had fallen to Earth near Black Hill. There had been a brief flurry of scientific interest, until the heat of the meteor had caused it to fall into the old tin mines beneath the town. Since then, there have been fewer visitors from the outlying hamlet. The old fae agrees to look into it while the motley checks the graveyard.

The motley returns home.

Blaize takes a brief detour, wandering the streets near the house. Drawn by a collection of curiously twisted night sounds, she finds a beige envelope on a doorstep. A voice from the deepening shadows warns her to leave it be, and she beats a cautious retreat.

As the night grows deeper, Owl flutters in through Blaize’s window.

“There’s someone on top of the nest.”

“What was that little guy?

“Someone’s on top of the nest. They gave me jerky.”

A panic grips Blaize’s heart. With the weight of a promise already on her mind, she doesn’t want to consider what the Mirrorbirds might do if something happened to the egg they were caring for. Shoving Owl under her arm, she leaps out the window and sprints for the tree. Clambering to the top, she finds the nest she built… and the Hedge-bird’s egg remains, safe and undisturbed.

“Owl… what happened?”

“Like I said. There was jerky.”

“You said there was someone on top of the nest…”

“Yeah.”

“Where are they?”

“Not this nest, silly.”

“Then what nest?”

“Our nest.”

Cursing loudly, the Fireheart leaps from the branches, letting Owl fly off as she tucks and rolls on the ground. She runs back to the house.

Clambering onto the roof, she finds a hunched figure sitting over the gutter, a crawling pall of shadow surrounding her.

“Your little friend is a pretty crappy messenger. Ate all my jerky too.”

Blaize approaches cautiously, and the figure rises to her full height, the shadows slipping from her skin like silken sheets. Her dark skin in a tapestry of burn scars, her eyes empty pits like the night sky. A loose bun of dreadlocks twitches like a mass of worms.

The stranger introduces herself as Half Penny, and says that she had come to check on the newcomers Solomon mentioned. Given the recent surge in Cuckoo activity, and the disappearance of a number of resident Cootamundra fae, she made it clear that she intended to find out for herself if these events and the arrival of the newcomers formed anything more than coincidence.

Nodding slowly along at the barely veiled threat, Blaize asked if the Tunnelgrub wanted to come inside.

Blaize climbed down, while the newcomer slithered down the wall ahead of her, and was waiting when the Elemental moved to open the door. The dark fell behind as the ropy young woman strode into the house, interrupting Father Callahan’s painstaking sorting and sampling of his most recent Hedge-berry harvest. There was a brief but cagey conversation; where the motley had come from, what they intended to do in town, and a number of reasons why they should consider the area around the Cold Hill Slaughterhouse off limits. Anais brings forth a new concoction, a glamour rich tea, and the meeting begins to settle. Soon, Half Penny makes to leave.

“You guys are either the best liars…” she mutters from the door, “… or the worst Cuckoos I have ever seen. You’ll be hearing from me.”

And with that the night swallows her again.

A little worried by the local denizens, the motley opts to settle in for the night. Upon awakening Callahan finds a surprising amount of loose change in his socks, and smiles at the idea that maybe their luck is changing. Bouyed by this, the trio head into town once more, trying to source what they’ll need for the coming troubles. Anais dials a number she finds in the classifieds of a discarded paper, responding to the request for new exotic dancers at Lady May’s Adult Entertainment company. The voice who answers sounds tired, but after a short chat agrees to meet.

Blaize wanders into a record store to find a collapsed, aging hippy face down on the counter, with a couple of others hidden away under the shelves and a pile of discarded pizza boxes. Waking Petey, the counter dwelling proprietor, she strikes an agreement to clean the place once a week in exchange for David Bowie postcards. She catches a wisp of glamour from the agreement, the crackling voice of the fire within surging into activity.

Father Callahan takes some time to study the book he took from Crowley’s Black Hill Church, and notes that despite the references to Antebellum America, the print plate the book keeps falling open on is out of place; over the chain gang stands a man in a British Colonial Officer’s uniform, and the plants in the background suggest an Australian scene. The chained man in the foreground is a tall and muscular African, but the print does not belong in the book. Holding his crucifix close, the Father closes the book, and decides that its time to go to the library.

He spends the afternoon amongst the books, and eventually begins turns up a name to go with the figure.

Cesar.

The former slave turned convict enjoyed a brief bout of fame after having delivered a knockout punch to the Aboriginal war leader Pemulwuy, a man of no small reputation for toughness, while the latter was leading a raid. Tracking the name through records over the next few days, he found that both Cesar and, later, his son were buried in the area that would later be Cootamundra. Any haunting that old had no choice but to be entrenched and resilient. The Father, it seemed, was going to need extra supplies.

Christine did indeed know where to find some priests’ vestments. The former priest had left a set with the church, saying they belonged to it and not to him, and she knew exactly where they were. She was also entirely willing to trust Father Callahan when he said that he was a priest. What took a bit of convincing was why exactly he needed a set immediately. In the end he spun some tale of a wedding on a tight turnaround, as it were, and made off leaving behind a promise to have the Catholic paraphernalia back in good condition.

He’d figured she probably wouldn’t believe he was going to exorcise a ghost in the church of the next town over.

Having stowed his new acquisitions, the trio meet up to discuss a potential solution to the Devil in the graveyard. The place has no history of unnatural trouble that they can find, but the night tourists’ statement made the local papers, and has circulated to the local rumour mill with a chuckle ever since. Figuring there’s not much they can do without a bit more information, they decide that they should take a closer look. Better to get at least one favour owed out of the way.

They make their way across town, and do a brief reconnoiter around the edge of the cemetery, figuring that a quick clamber over a lower section of the eastern wall is their best option. Sneaking through the long shadows of funerary gardens and being careful to avoid the lone nightwatchman, they pick their way through the dark towards the old mausoleums where the incident took place. As the  graves grow taller around the paths, an unseasonal mist and chill begins to well up around them.

Anais steps into the clearing first, and she sees a name carven upon a gravestone in the dark that she recognises as her own, even if she can’t truly remember it. She falls to her knees, and starts digging at the ground with her fingernails. In an instant, Anais is gone.

The others notice her disappearance, and try to fan out and search for her. The shadows of the tombs crawl with malice, writhing forward to snatch more of the feeble light from their torches. Then, they see a tombstone too, with the name “Anais” dripping darkness on the face. Blaize lays into the earth with her shovel as they scramble to open the grave in time.

Meanwhile, their friend is cold. She can see her motley scrabbling away, mere meters before her, but her arms feel constricted by an iron grip, and when she raises her voice to scream the breath is snatched from her lungs before it can make a sound. As she struggles, she feels consciousness ebbing away, and makes one last desperate push…

The huntress’ shovel cracks a slab of stone, and the dancer falls wheezing out of the air.

While Blaize and Callahan struggle to get Anais back on her feet, a vicious neck wound bleeding into her dress, and fear itself steps forth from the shadows.

Blaize and Anais see the Lord of the Maze strut forth from between the tombstones, while Father Callahan sees his own Keeper limp forth from the shadows. The old priest slumps to the ground shaking.

Blaize raises her shovel and, interposing herself between her friends and her once Keeper, screams out for the interloper to back off. The Maze Lord’s face snarls back for them to leave the cemetary before it gets angry, but there is a creeping baritone in its voice that seems unfamiliar. Blaize scents the illusion; there’s none of the Maze Lord’s wisps of perfume or debauchery here. The thing before her reeks only of worms and cold, dark places, and it is in their heads.

When she refuses to back down, the thing leaps forward. Caught in its shadow, Callahan’s mind plummets back to an image of his Keeper’s son, the Wilting Waxen Woodsman, beating him bloody with the haft of his axe. The old priest screams and runs with the devil’s own speed. The nightmare surges on towards Blaize and Anais.

The Elemental snaps her lighter, and drives the flickering flame into the skin of her arm. The flesh singes, and in response the Wyrd honours her contract; the fire within her surges out, flashing and coruscating in a raging shroud around her. The thing wearing the Maze Lord’s face falters and takes a cautious step back, like a cornered wolf.

“Not so cocky now, huh? Who the hell are you?” the Fireheart snaps.

“Nobody you’d want to get close to,” the figure replies in its sepulchral tones, before single handedly wrenching a gravestone out of the earth and pitching it like a discus at the furious fae. Blaize tried to dive out of the way, but the massive stone caught her under the arm, and she felt at least two ribs break as she falls with the slab on top of her. Through the veil of pain, the illusion around her crumbles, the night in the graveyard returning to the crisp mugginess of the Western summer. Anais struggles with the heavy stone before managing to lever it off Blaize’s chest with the haft of the shovel, and the younger fae drags in a wheezing, painful breath. Seeing that her friend is stable for now, she briefly follows the footprints of their assailant; finding the door of a mausoleum thrown open and a flight of steps beyond; she spies an incense burner flickering dimly in a small alcove below, but no sign of their attacker, and figures it wiser to avoid any further confrontation at this stage. She slips back to Blaize, and manages to help her friend to her feet as they both stagger away from the mausoleum.

They find Callahan cowering in the shadow of the outer wall. Coaxing him out of his near catatonia, he feeds some of his Hecate’s Eye extract to Blaize; not enough to heal the broken ribs, but sufficient to stop the injury getting any worse while they head home. They drop down over the wall and limp back through the midnight streets.

They are relieved at least that in the morning they will be able to tell Solomon that whatever is in the graveyard is no True Fae; after all, fear of flames and crushing people with tombstones never really were the Maze Lord’s style. They are also reassured that whatever it was seemed to wish more for privacy than expansion. And they are at least ninety nine percent sure that it was definitely not the Devil, which is probably another plus.

What is  worrying is that they don’t really know what it was at all.

And I think we’ll leave it there for this week folks, nice little bit of a mystery for you. I’m afraid competition for the historical figure guessing game are now closed in light of Father Callahan’s revelations, but  phone ins from my dear imaginary readers are always welcome. As ever, feel free to use any of the ideas you like in your own games, though I guess if you publish it refer to my usual CC-A-SA-NC spiel. That is, throwing me a mention would be appreciated. Anywho, have a good week everybody.

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