The War of Summer's Ending

Chapter 19 - Whorefrost

Naamah tells the Brotherhood of the Willow that Isabel Espina is “being impossible”; the queen is holding up the entire operation and making Naamah’s life very difficult by holding up the entire operation with a search for “some lost chit of a girl who didn’t make it to the rendezvous-point. Name’s ‘Rose’ or something.”

The members of True Spring who are still at the University are making their dwellings ready for habitation. Isabel Espina is their too, with Selena, and much of her entourage. She tells them that Rosita hasn’t been seen since the firefight at Mariposa’s. The other half of her two-man-cell, Cedric the Satyr, turned up at the City Morgue, but they don’t have any leads on Rosita’s wherabouts. All they know is that the route they were taking would probably have brought them through Little Haiti.

The Brotherhood piles into Jack’s car and head’s for Little Haiti, where Alexandre introduces them to Old Ti, the aged, nearsighted, Ensorcelled vodouisant with whom Alex has been staying for the past months. Ti doesn’t remember seeing anyone matching Rosita’s description (not that that proves much), but he tells them Ludovic Larouche, the Winter Court police officer whose beat is Little Haiti, might have a better idea.

Officer Larouche has a vague recollection, but says that Marie St. Saens, an Ensorcelled mortal hooker has a fondness for runaways, so the Brotherhood decides to knock on her door. They wind up running into her while she’s out getting groceries, and they ask her about Rosita. Marie is not forthcoming with information, and she clams up a little too quickly for Jack’s liking. Jim stalks her to her house to see if there’s anything funny going on, and when she knocks on the door of her apartment, it’s answered by none other than Rosita! The girl appears to be unharmed, and she’s sporting flip-flops, jean-shorts, a t-shirt… and a touch of hoarfrost on her curly, vine-like hair.

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Chapter 18: Offers and Offerings

Act 1: On the Mend

Jim, the only one with serious injuries, is taken to Prof. Goldstein’s office at the University of Miami hospital, where he is treated in secret by the vernerable surgeon. Once Jim is on the mend, Jack and Alexandre make a trip to Miami Memorial Park Cemetery, to see if they can contact the restless spirit of Tom Hood.

Upon arriving at the military cemetery, they bypass the guard and make their way to the black obelisk which marks the final resting place of Hood’s earthly remains. They are confronted by four ghostly soldiers: their tags identify them as Maj. Forbes, Lt. Cmdr. Gardner, Lt. Wilson, and Lt. McCallister. They claim to be compatriots of the late Commander Hood, though Alexandre’s analysis claims they’re only partly-revenant; much of their ectoplasmic structure is shaped by the expectations of visitors to the graveyard. In effect, they’re partly the memories of soldiers buried here, and partly the memories of loved ones coming to pay their respects.

Alexandre makes them an offering of rum and tobacco, and the soldiers agree to truthfully answer one question apiece. They say that 1) Ivan’s curious ability is Glamour-fueled, 2) that Tom Hood’s ghost does not walk the earth, 3) that Tom learned much of his lore from “The Book of Crows”, which he brought back from Faeire when he escaped from his Keeper in the Bastigone region of France, and 4) that The Book of Crows was stolen by La Llorona, and is currently in the hands of Jeremiah Sleet. Jack and Alex make the proper obsequies to the restless dead, and make a judicious exit from the cemetery.

Act 2: Small Business Saturday

Once Jim has had a couple of days to heal, the Brotherhood makes its way to the Bayside Marketplace, to join in the busiest shopping weekend of the year. They encounter several Hobgoblins, including the Widow Mactan. Jim needs to make some improvements to his Hollow, so he purchases two things from the Widow: a mole which will dig another entrance through the Hedge, and a turtle which Jim can smash on his threshold to increase the power of its Wards.

Jim also conducts some business with Estevan: Jim offers the hyena-faced merchant a used machete coated with with Deathless Ivan’s blood, a stabbed alligator-hide jacket splattered with Jim’s own blood, and a flak jacket. In exchange, Estevan prodces a 3-dot suit of Hedgespun made from the hide of a Blackgator, which counts as armor (and gives a Stealth bonus when the wearer is standing still in a natural setting), and a pistol holster that will conceal an entire shotgun.

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Chapter 17: Game Faces

Thanksgiving Day is here, and that can only mean one thing: feasting! But there are many ways to feast, and for the Lost of Miami, their preferred course is the bumper-crop of Glamour produced in the bleachers of Sun Life Stadium. Every vice, every virtue, and every flavor of emotion can be sampled or indulged at this annual tradition, and this year the spread promises to be especially rich, as the Hurricanes are hosting their traditional rivals, the Georgia State Panthers. Grandfather Thunder promises that the ancient pacts of sanctuary will hold true, even in this time of war: he personally guarantees the safety of every changeling who chooses to attend, as long as they do not attract too much attention from the Muggles.

At first, it sounds like an obvious trap, or else terrible hubris on Thunder’s part, but Naamah thinks he means what he says. It’s in no one’s interest for him to have killing at the stadium; it’s a powerful tool for keeping his subjects happy, and far too valuable in the long term for him to throw it all away on killing a few random revolutionaries. Second, by throwing a party in the midst of a war, he’s showing off the Iron Spear’s confidence and strength, to its friends and its enemies. Finally, Thunder couldn’t cancel the event even if he wanted to: every changeling in the Trident has been looking forward to the game all year long, and especially since two weeks ago when the Dolphins trounced the Patriots and the matchup was announced.

The Brotherhood agrees to attend, and to harvest some extra Glamour on the Autumn Court’s behalf. The stadium is absolutely packed with people, both Muggles and changelings alike. They meet up with several personalities, some new, like Bruno, some already well-known to the Brotherhood, such as Blue Jenny. Jenny owes them a favor, and after a little “cajoling,” she agrees to take them to Hensteeth itself for a rare audience with Jeremiah Sleet, the King of Winter.

The Brotherhood of the Willow even manages to catch a glimpse of Grandfather Thunder himself, seeing him in person for the first time. He takes no notice of them, but his bodyguard Deathless Ivan takes brief notice of them in his continual scanning of the crowd for signs of danger.

To avoid the rush, the Brotherhood leaves a little early, and heads back to the University in Jack’s car. They stop by to check on one of the houses which is being vacated for the Court of True Spring, when a very large person approaches them on the sidewalk: Deathless Ivan. Ivan hands Jack a letter which he claims comes from Thunder himself, but suddenly lashes out and decks Jack in the face, setting off a vicious street brawl. Jim holds his own against the other giant, but is seriously injured by Ivan’s brutal war-axe. In the course of the battle, they learn three important facts about Ivan: first, he’s here without Thunder’s knowlege or permission; second, he knows that Thanksgiving Day is a day of truce, and he doesn’t care; third, Ivan apparently has the ability to force his own wounds to knit and heal instantaneously. How he does this is not immediately clear.

As the battle begins to look bad for Jim and the other combatants, the Slender Man arrives on the scene, no doubt at Naamah’s order. Ivan, seeing what he believes to be a True Fae appear in the heart of Miami, decides discretion really is the better part of valor, leaving the Brotherhood of the Willow to escape on their own from the many-armed monster.

For the sake of verisimilitude, they flee as well.

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Chapter 16: Burying the Hatchet

True Spring and representatives of Autumn (Preston, Hannibal, and Cerastes) meet for negotiations at Mariposa’s Grill, a small establishment on the western edge of the city, run by an ensorcelled mortal and her changeling husband. Naamah and Isabel Espina come to loggerheads almost immediately: Naamah didn’t expect such a large turnout, and isn’t sure the University can house them all together without attracting unwanted attention from the Muggles. Espina refuses to have her Court broken up, and accuses Naamah of trying to keep then divided. Naamah insists that it’s a logistical problem, and they’ll have to bunk separately, in private residences.

The Brotherhood of the Willow suggests that perhaps some of the houses in the student-ghetto around the University could be “haunted” and emptied out. Members of True Spring could then pose as students and live mostly together, while still remaining near the University.

In the midst of the negotiations, Summer courtiers arrive on the scene, and a firefight breaks out. While True Spring is larger than the attacking force, they lack long-range weaponry to properly counter the attack. Ray and Isabel Espina both take wounds from the three female Summer courtiers who seem to be leading the charge: a tall woman in a black leather jacket and matching biker-helmet, with wild orange hair spilling out from beneath it; a thin Asian woman with deadly aim; and a husky woman covered in thick brown fur. Cerastes identifies them as The Kindly Ones, a relatively-new Summer motley renowned for their ferocity.

Thanks to some quick thinking and the Tale of the Baba-Yaga, Jack manages to turn the attack into a brief retreat, during which the True Spring courtiers scatter to their vehicles and head separately into the city. Riding in their vehicle with a shaken Cerastes and a furious Naamah, the Queen points out that Mariposa’s Grill is far outside of Thunder’s jurisdiction, and their meeting place was not agreed-upon until just before True Spring left the Everglades.

Someone, from either Spring or Autumn, told Thunder exactly where and when they could be found.

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Chapter 15: Thy Neighbor's Keeper

The Court of True Spring is making ready to send their Queen on her journey to the Trident, and all is going well, though all the change and activity has some courtiers on-edge. As the sun begins to set, the Brotherhood notices a commotion at the far end of the camp. Following the noise, they see Lafayette returning, carrying an unresponsive Rosita in his arms. She is wearing Lafayette’s jacket. And nothing else.

Lafayette says that he and the girl were both out in the Hedge (he was hunting, she was gathering Goblin Fruit), when the Hedge suddenly began to get dark, much more quickly than any natural sunset. The little swamp-noises went totally silent, and he felt… something evil and clammy passing by. He never saw it, and it had covered its tracks and scent with Nevertread, but whatever it was, Lafayette could feel its Wyrd from pretty far off, warping the Hedge to match its dark and silent mien. As soon as Rosita is out of his arms, Lafayette begins taking deep pulls on a bottle of moonshine, in order to block out the crawling sensation of being watched.

Rosita is taken to Granny Smythe’s hut, where medical diagnosis confirms their worst fears: the girl has been raped. Her bruises show that she fought, and the cuts on her skin show that she ran. Lafayette’s description seems to implicate the Slender Man, but to their knowledge, El Pallido has never raped anyone before. Caden soothes her sorrow away, and they ask her who did it, but Rosita is unable to answer. She can speak just fine, but an examination of her Wyrd reveals that she has been bound into a Pledge of silence: she will likely never be able to tell them the identity of the one who raped her, or anything about how it happened.

Jack and Caden go to break the news of their discovery to the Queen. Jim and Alexandre set off to track the monster through the Hedge, but Swamp Thing tells them not to bother; there are dark things in the Hedge at night, and the trail will be long-cold by the time they find it. If they find it. He counsels them to remain in the Hollow on patrol, and make sure that whatever did this to Rosita doesn’t come back.

The Queen is furious, of course, and cancels her return to the Trident indefinitely. She cannot leave her subjects alone in the Hedge while this thing may still return and harm them. She orders that the watch be tripled tonight, and an additional guard be set around Granny Smythe’s hut, in addition to the protection offered by the Brotherhood of the Willow.

Just as the Brotherhood begins to feel powerless, Granny Smythe makes a suggestion. Rosita is prevented from telling them what happened, but by examining her dreams, they may be able to learn some clues about who (or what) raped her. As outsiders, the Brotherhood would be unbiased observers, and would be more likely pick out the significant clues that her subconscious would bring up, without imposing their own preconceived notions about Rosita onto her dreamscape. The motley eagerly agrees: Jim and Jack will dive into her dreams; Caden and Alexandre will stand watch; Granny Smythe will observe their progress from outside the dream.

The dream begins at a quinceñera for Rosita. A lot of girls and boys her own age are there, as are her parents. But the cake that’s brought out looks just like Rosita’s naked body, and when the first slice is cut, blood gushes from the cut, and it begins to scream. Horrified, Rosita rushes from the scene, fleeing deeper into her subconscious, tearing her lacy red formal dress on the sawgrass Thorns of the Hedge that surrounds her Hollow. She finds a raft and begins to pole away from the shore, only to be attacked by rotting waterlogged hands that reach out from the depths of the black water. Jim becomes an enormous, protective dog, and leaps onto the boat; Jack lights up his eye, and by the time the light hits the raft, he’s already there. The hands are beaten back, and the raft makes it ashore, but a low, angry growl is sounding from the woods ahead of them.

They catch a glimpse of golden fur before an enormous beast lunges out of the verdure: a mammoth golden-retriever, with a fresh-groomed coat and a playful bandanna around its neck, offset by the foam on its lips and the blood on its muzzle. This is clearly a family-dog, but it is a family-animal no more. A fierce battle ensues, and eventually they bring the beast down. Cutting open its belly reveals a human body inside: it’s Rosita, wearing a red, hooded cape.

“Looks like we’ve got a big bad wolf in the fold,” says Jack, recognizing the obvious symbolism.

Jim and Jack return to the Hedge and make a beeline for Lafayette. Jim takes him easily, without ever being noticed by the still-inebriated woodsman, until Jim’s meaty hands clasp firmly around his snout. As the coming dawn begins to lighten the camp, the Court of True Spring is roused by the commotion, just in time to see Queen Isabel question Lafayette, confirm his guilt, and personally execute him with Jim’s cold iron knife.

She turns to her subjects and announces that the plan has changed again: they have all spent too long in the Hedge, and their sense of right and wrong, their sanity, their Clarity, have all suffered in their long absence from human contact. Lafayette was a warning to leave the Hedge, to return to the world of the mortals and see just where they stand in terms of their sanity.

“The season has been long and hard,” she tells them, “And my people have grown starved and lean. But it the lean season is finally at an end; Spring is returning to Miami.”

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Chapter 14: The Court of True Spring

The figure who stepped out of the undergrowth is a large, powerful man. Not a giant like Jim, but broad and stout, with enormous shoulders and long, swinging arms. He seems composed almost entirely of plant-matter, from his dripping, root-laced torso to eyes like blood-poppies floating in bottomless pools. All around him, the swamp seems to come to spring to life. New growth springs up in his wake, even as the old life dies and decays and is consumed by other life. One thing about him is certain: whether he is one of the Gentry or one of the Lost, his Wyrd is the most potent the Brotherhood of the Willow has yet encountered.

The figure asks what the motley is doing in his swamp. They explain that Ray brought them out here, and they hastily produce Naamah’s letter of marque, claiming sanctuary in their roles as messengers. Alexandre keeps his sword-cane drawn, and Jim tries to look tough, but the figure seems strangely un-affected by their veiled threats. He’s plainly not scared of them.

He reads the letter, tests the Glamour on the seal, and verifies that it has indeed come from the Ashen Crown itself. “You can come out now, Lafayette,” he rumbles, and a woodsman with the features of a wolf steps out from behind a large cypress tree, lowering his rifle. The two of them proceed to escort the Brotherhood to a large Hollow, filled with changelings moving about with the necessities of daily life in the Hedge: cleaning game, tending crops, hanging up laundry, and so on. A young teenager with pretty features drops her hoe in surprise at the sight of the approaching strangers, and jogs off to a small hut not far from the Goblin Fruit orchards.

Others soon notice that the figure (who they call “Swamp Thing”) and Lafayette have returned, bringing strangers. The Brotherhood tells them they are on a mission from the Leaden Mirror, and they seek to parley with the Queen. Before this surprising news can stir up the camp, the girl from before reappears, assisting a tiny, shriveled old woman who introduces herself as Granny Smythe, and her assistant as Rosita. She welcomes them warmly to the Court of True Spring, and says “Y’all must be hungry, walkin’ through the swamp all day like that. Why don’t y’all siddown an’ have some jambalaya?”

Granny asks them all polite questions as she spoons them bowl after bowl of jambalaya, making sure that they all have a chance to feel included in the conversation. The minutes roll on, and the jambalaya continues to flow; eventually, the Broherhood is forced to excuse itself, being physically unable to eat any more. At this time, a messenger arrives and takes them, waddling, to the Queen’s quarters, built into the living boughs of a cypress tree at the far end of camp.

After a difficult climb, they find themselves in a large-ish reception chamber, with only two female figures: a dark woman with long black hair and eyes that take in every detail, and a radiantly beautiful older woman whose arms are wreathed in living thorn-branches, and on whose brow rests a glorious crown of twined roses chased with silver and glass: the Antler Crown itself. (Jim, struck by her radiant beauty, is instantly smitten with Queen Isabel, and makes slightly-goofy interjections throughout their audience, in an attempt to impress her.)

Queen Isabel asks them probing questions about their experience and qualifications, including their alleged defeat of Blue Jenny’s Keeper. Jim eagerly shows her the cold iron knife which he used in the fight, and the dark woman leaps into action, handily knocking the knife from his hand. She stares at him levelly, almost daring Jim to make the next move. For the second time in a day, Jim has encountered someone not intimidated by his forbidding build. He finds this slightly jarring.

Once Selena has been convinced that they mean the Queen no harm, their audience with her continues. Jack makes entreaties for her to consider making peace with her daughter: Autumn is doing well against Summer, but Vichy Spring is too weak to make a valuable ally. The Courts, all of the Courts, must stand united against summer if they hope to make the seasons turn once more.

Finally, it is the thought of her daughter being made to stand alone against Thunder’s wrath that convinces the reticent monarch to make her move. Isabel Espina agrees to return to the Trident, with a s company of bodyguards, to speak with Queen Naamah about the possibility of an alliance between their Courts.

Queen Isabel delivers the news to her subjects herself, and a great cheer goes up from the assembled crowd. Whatever happens, the new growth of Spring has come once more.

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Chapter 13: Finding Spring

The war has begun. Chaos rules the streets of Miami. Mortals call it gang violence, or rowdy hoods who just can’t get Halloween out of their systems. In truth the invisible war is barely noticed by Miami’s mortal residents, against the backdrop of murder and mayhem which is daily life for Miamians.

Naamah calls the Brotherhood of the Willow together. She says that Autumn has begun the war, and with the influx of Glamour from the Slender Man’s activities, all is going as well as could be expected. But Autumn cannot stand alone forever. They will need both factions of Spring, and possibly Winter as well, if they hope to survive against the onslaught. She needs envoys to both Courts, and wants to know which Court the Brotherhood thinks they could deal with most effectively. The Brotherhood confers, and decides that the Court of True Spring will be the most valuable, as Isabel Espina will lend weight and legitimacy to their cause, as she is one of the oldest and most powerful changelings in Dade County. With the Queen of True Spring on their side, it will be easier for them to gain the cooperation of Winter and Vichy Spring.

Naamah confesses that even she does not know where exactly the Court of True Spring is camped out in the Everglades, and that searching for them without a guide would likely be suicidal. She recommends getting in touch with Maria Espina, the Duchess of Spring, to see if she would be willing to tell them anything about her mother’s whereabouts. Before they go, Naamah gives the Brotherhood a letter of marque and reprisal:

The bearer acts with my knowledge and support. Obey, and keep silent.
Naamah, Queen of the Leaden Mirror
Wearer of the Ashen Crown
Mistress of the Shuddersome Throne

The Brotherhood hops on a bus to Miami Beach (avoiding downtown, the seat of Summer’s power), and looks for Kim’s of South Beach. Even in the late afternoon the place is packed with mortals and Lost alike (Alex botches the Socialize roll to locate Maria, and gets lost in the crowd). The Brotherhood spies Maria Espina and her entourage, and makes a beeline for her. Also in attendance is Maria’s current lover, Nat “Zippy” Moore, star running-back of the U of Miami Gators.

Maria recognizes Caden, remembering how well he danced with her the last time they met, and greets them by name (a rarity for her). The Brotherhood performs the formalities for meeting with the Duchess of Spring, and tells her that they are acting as emissaries from the Leaden Mirror, and that they would like to speak with her in private. It’s about her mother. After checking the legitimacy of their letter of marque, she sends her entourage away, despite protests from Zippy.

Jack pleads their case to Maria, asking her to tell them how to reach her mother, and where True Spring is located. She eventually relents, telling them that she doesn’t know for certain, but she knows that Ray, a Mechanical who owns a fan-boat repair shop out in the Everglades, is a loyal courtier, and often buys supplies for True Spring. When asked if there is any message she would like to have delivered to her mother, she simply shakes her head and utters a hoarse “No.” They decide to make a speedy exit: “Never watch the queen bee cry,” Jack observes.

Once they get back to the main dance-floor, they see Alex getting the crap kicked out of him by a burly bear of a man, and his girlfriend (who they now notice has a surprisingly wide stance and very broad shoulders).

The Brotherhood takes Alligator Alley out into the ‘Glades, and they arrive at "Ray’s Fanboat and Marine Repair Service". Ray asserts that he is “a loyal Queen’s man through and through,” and does not seem at all interested in helping them find the Court of True Spring. Producing Naamah’s letter, as well as mentioning Maria, softens his heart towards them. He takes them in a fanboat out into the swamp, and sets them down at a hammock which contains a safe entrance to a part of the Hedge that’s not too far from the True Spring camp.

The four of them set off into the Hedge, but it’s not long before the Hedge starts to change. The shadows are getting darker and deeper, and the insencts and plants seem more vital, more active than before. A large figure emerges from the undergrowth, and rumbles “You should not have come here.”

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Chapter 12: Negotiations

Note: This session took place a full year after the one in the previous entry.

Sitting in the kitchen of Naamah’s little Hollow, with the Slender Man standing silently in the corner, the motley and Naamah begin to hash out the details of their Pledge.

The first thing they need is a name for the motley, in order to have something by which to swear. Brainstorming turns up nothing, until Naamah mentions that willow-bark is used to break fevers… much like the motley will break the fever that is Summer. The motley likes the idea, and so they name themselves The Brotherhood of the Willow.

Next, the terms of their Pledge are spelled out: [I need to look this up in my notes. I can’t remember them off the top of my head.]

The negotiations concluded, Naamah decides that they’ve all had enough excitement for one night. The Brotherhood is surely tired, and she has matters of Court to attend. Now that they’re all bound up in this together with a Pledge, she feels she can trust them not to got running off to tell the world.

The motley does a little cleanup and Glamour-harvesting, and then retires for the night.

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Chapter 11: Naamah's Vision

The first and most obvious question the motley asks of Naamah is, of course, “Why?”

She tells them that fear is a strong medicine: a purgative, to be exact. It brings everything to the surface, where things can be dealt with easily, out in the open. Fear is a medicine, and the Trident is deathly ill with a burning fever. It must be broken if the freehold is to face the trials that lay ahead of it.

Naamah has been examining Wyrd through the prophetic dreams of dozens of mortals and changelings, and she has seen terrible portents in Miami’s near future: a storm as black as midnight’s shadow, blotting out the sun and moon, fierce winds tearing across all of Florida, ripping up buildings, trees, and human lives like straw in the teeth of the gale. But this is no ordinary mortal storm; just like in the days of the Big Blow, the Gentry will ride the skies on steeds of thunder and smoke, killing and taking as they fancy, both humans and their former servants alike. In short, the Others are planning the largest Fae raiding-party on record, and it will likely carry-off or kill every sentient being in all of southern Florida.

Their second question is one with more immediate ramifications: “What are you going to do with us, now that we know?”

Naamah says that they are trespassing in her Hollow, and they know her secret, which makes them too dangerous to be allowed to live. But Jack interjects that in order to get here, they’ve proven themselves unusually skilled investigators, which makes them highly valuable to her. Naamah chews on this thoughtfully for a few moments, before allowing Jack to go on.

What follows is a tense negotiation, largely between Jack and the young Queen, with Jim and Alex chipping in from time to time with rhetorical assistance. Slowly, despite all odds, Naamah’s cold, ashen heart begins to warm to the idea of having her own little team of indebted servants who can act as her envoys, spies, and leg-breakers in the Freehold.

All is going well, until Jack brings up the subject of the Slender Man, and whether or not she should continue to enlist his services in her imminent war against the Iron Spear. Naamah flatly rejects the idea. She produces a small black ring, saying “It was hard enough getting this out; imagine trying to get it back in.”

At the sight of the ring, Alexandre flies into a rage, calling her a “monstrous ghoul”, and several unpleasant French curses. He rushes at Naamah, his cane forgotten, apparently ready to tear her apart with his bare hands. Jim, seeing that the mad Darkling might undo all that Jack had built, restrained him… just barely. After he could speak, Alexandre explained the ring’s true nature… and the power it held over his former colleague.

Realizing how pointless (and dangerous) his resistance at this point would be, Alexandre ceased struggling, and asked what sort of Pledge Naamah was going to force them to accept.

“Oh, I think we can work that out in the kitchen, over coffee. I’ll start the water boiling,” she said coyly, leading the way out of the library/bedroom, the Slender Man trailing in her wake like a monstrous hound.

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Chaper 10: Swamped

Traveling neglected back-roads and rickety bridges, the motley made its way out of town, pushing far out into the ’Glades, looking for the last known dwelling of the young man who was Ezekiel Longfeather. After many hours of trekking, they motley reached the shack, with plenty of time to go before sunset. Investigating the ruined structure, they found it to be a dangerous pile of broken wood and sheet metal, barely fit for human habitation, containing nothing remarkable or magical.

The nearby Hedge, however, contained an interesting feature: a little path, leading away into the wilderness, of a type commonly used to facilitate travel between two fixed locations within the Hedge, sort of like a miniature Trod. Lacking any other leads, the motley decided to follow the path and see where it led them.

A few hours later, darkness was beginning to fall, and the night-sounds increase, when the motley emerged into a clearing, and spotted a little Hollow all by itself. A little log cabin, built in the Southeastern U.S. Vernacular style (according to Jack), with a dog-trot, a little wood-pile and water-pump in the back, and darkened windows.

Inside, they found a simple dwelling with a kitchen/dining room with a table for four, a well-stocked pantry, a small bedroom, and two large-ish rooms packed floor-to-ceiling with books of every variety. As they examined the dwelling, a subtle change begins to steal over the ambient Hedge outside it; the little creatures were falling silent, and the shadows were getting darker than even the rapidly-setting sun should allow. Someone, or some thing, with a relatively high Wyrd, was coming closer.

The motley scrambled into the smaller of the two big rooms, a combination library/bedroom, containing a bed, a stack of books, a computer (!), and a dresser full of what turned out to be women’s clothing. Looking out the windows, they saw the Slender Man emerge from the woods, accompanied by a cadre of men in white masks just like the ones Jim had seen the Seminole boys wearing when the attacked the casino. They quickly encircled the house, and pressed in, but did not attack immediately.

After some time, they could hear movement outside, and the turning of a key in a lock. Their barricade of the bedroom door held, but a few minutes later, a hitherto unnoticed passage opened up in the wall, and in stepped the Slender Man himself, followed a very smug-but-impressed-looking Naamah.

“You guys are good,” she said, clapping slowly while shaking her head. “I’m quite impressed. Well done, well done.”

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