The War of Summer's Ending

Chapter 30 - The Bedlam-Slave

Place: University of Miami, Main Campus
Time: Lunchtime to Mid-afternoon

After their draw with The Kindly Ones, the Brotherhood of the Willow heads back to friendly territory, towards the University of Miami, in search of safety and Glamour.

Officer Stallone is the first Autumn courtier they run into, and he asks what happened to them.

Stallone: “Mother of God! What happened to youse guys?”
Jim: “We picked a fight.”
Stallone: “With what, a corn-thresher?”

Stallone recommends that they go to see Johnny Shanks, who has become the Autumn Court’s medical go-to guy, following the death of Prof. Goldstein.

They go to see Shanks at his office in Rm. 229 of the Rackham Building. A whip-thin black man with ashy skin, Johnny Shanks greets them politely if not warmly. The members of the Brotherhood recall that they’ve heard he’s a Leechfinger, and a Darkling. He has small, uneven horns curling back from the sides of his head, a neck which seems able to swivel much too far, and other minor freakish features.

First, Shanks asks the members of the Brotherhood to take off their shoes while they’re in his office, to keep the place as clean as possible. Jim is barefoot. “Not a fan,” he says curtly. Shanks asks if Jim could go shower then, since in his current state he’s clearly not fit for doing anything clinical. After some haggling, Jim complies, heading for the showers in the nearby Rec Building. After showering, Jim scratches himself compulsively: he’s not used feeling clean.

Alex asks nervously about the cost of the services which Shanks is about to render. He admits that he’s behind in the rent for Old Ti, and doesn’t want them to mention it to the old man until they’re sure about the bill.

Shanks asks Jack and Jim to help out with the first aid, since he’s not the best with primary care, honestly. He just filled in when Preston was too busy. Jack does most of the medical stuff, while Jim does the lifting, carrying, standing guard, etc. After about an hour of healing, they’ve done all they can. It’s time for Caden and Alex to rest.

“So, who attacked you?” Shanks asks them. Jack and Jim tell him of their encounter with the Kindly Ones, and Shanks looks worried. Jack asks if Shanks could study him while he sleeps, in an attempt to unearth some of the old memories which were disturbed by hearing the old nursery rhyme. Shanks says that he really focuses more on nightmares than memory-recovery, but Jack might try to contact, and see about buying one of the old man’s dream-catchers? Old Ti’s dream-catchers are said to be the finest to be found in all of Miami.

Jim mentions that he’d like to spend some time at his Hollow to heal up, but Shanks insists that’s a very bad idea. Jim shouldn’t be going anywhere near the Hedge while his wounds heal. “Aren’t there some spare beds with the Spring courtiers?” Shanks asks. After a moment, it clicks in Jim’s brain that this would get him closer the Queen Espina, and he decides that he likes the idea.

On his way over to the Spring courtiers’ housing, Jim picks some flowers from some random person’s front-yard garden, and presents the bouquet to the queen upon his arrival. “For me? You shouln’t have, James!” she says, batting her eyelashes ever so slightly.

After hearing his plea for a room, the queen tells Jim that for now, he can have Rosita’s old room. All that she asks is that he make a Pledge not to reveal any Spring Court secrets he might overhear, and another to do Espina a favor, to be determined at a later date.

After cleaning his wounds and stocking up on Glamour, Jack decides that he wants to do research in the library, on various subjects: about dreams and memories, memory recovery, Mages, and the acquisition of familiars. He’s thinking of a raven or something. He also heads to the Psych section for more info on PTSD. (It’s getting on towards the really hot part of the day, around 2pm.)

At some point, Naamah meets him in the library. “You look a little worse for the wear.” Jack tells her about the fight they had with the Kindly Ones, but he doesn’t tell her everything. He’s trying to tell her enough to satisfy her curiosity, without giving away enough that she sends Slendy where the kids are.

Naamah doesn’t like how bold Summer has been lately, or that they beat back a motley of her courtiers in a (more-or-less) fair fight. “There’s a storm coming, Jack. Make no mistake about it.”

Just as Naamah says the words, Jack feels something jangle inside him, like a guitar-string breaking. He knows instantly that somewhere, somehow, The Pledge of the Frost-Branded Traitor has been broken. John St. Elmo has turned on them, and broken his oath. Jack informs Naamah instantly, and she says that Grandfather Thunder usually holds Court at about this time, when the day is hottest, so John St. Elmo probably just turned on them, in a public display at Court, designed to maximize his chances of staying alive. Naamah mentions that if this theory is true, then Thunder is aware of members of the Brotherhood by name now.

Jim, feeling the same twangle in his soul, is glad that it’s out in the open now. It’s not so cloak-and-dagger anymore.

Naamah suggests that they collect the motley together. Anyway, she needs to discuss this development with Espina.

As Jack and Naamah walk through the student housing section, a young Hispanic man in a wife-beater and shorts, shouts at them from his front porch. He storms from his porch to the sidewalk, and begins shouting irrationally, confronting Naamah about fucking his brother, and his best friend, all behind his back, and how could she do that to him anyway, who the fuck does she think she is? Naamah has never seen him before. As he’s shouting at her, something appears to snap in the guy’s head, and he doesn’t just charge the girl, he actually leaps on top of her, with a roar that Jim can hear from the Spring House. He hurries out the door, drawing his machete and running towards the source of the screaming.

Jack clubs the young man across the back with a sturdy rod of oak, and he doesn’t seem to notice. “Oh dear,” Jack says, knowing that this is generally a bad sign. Jack uses the staff to attempt to choke-hold the guy from behind and pull him off Naamah. People are yelling to call the cops, but understandably nobody’s eager to help.

Naamah invokes Fleeting Autumn, and directs the full force of her Wyrd against the young man’s mind, attempting to flood him utterly with fear. The attack fizzles against the burning intensity of the young man’s pure, unadulterated rage.

Jack pulls the guy off Naamah, and once the guy’s main target is out of range, he goes for Jack instead. After a few rounds, Jim arrives on the scene, and swings his machete into the side of the young man’s neck. Blood spurts everywhere, but he seems not to notice. “Shit,” Jim says laconically.

Jack decides to up the ante, witnesses be damned, and invokes Crone’s Fire, catching the man full in the face with the blast. His face catches on fire, but the blood is putting it out a little, and in any case it doesn’t seem to make a big difference to the young man attacking them.

Jim swings again, two-handed this time, and the guy’s head comes completely off. It rolls across the sidewalk, but it’s still gnashing its teeth and glaring even as its eyes glaze over in death. Jim kicks it a bit to make it stop looking at him.

They take Naamah, who is understandably shaken by the whole experience, into Spring House, just as the sirens start arriving. It’s clear that they’re going to be questioned by the police, but they’re all too drained to do anything about it.

“I said a storm was coming,” Naamah says. “I think we just heard the first peal of Thunder.”

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Chapter 29 - Into the Bear's Den

Place: West Little Havana, Miami, Florida
Time: December 10, midmorning

As he hears the old nursery rhyme being sung by the children, Jack becomes paralyzed, staring off into the middle distance. “Jill,” he mutters. “Fell down… Broke… his crown?” His fellows are unable to get any form of response from him; Jack is totally lost in recollection. Unsure what to do with him, but not willing to take him into a potentially dangerous confrontation with one of the Kindly Ones, Jim and the rest of the Brotherhood of the Willow decides to hide Jack under some boxes in an alleyway. (Jack-in-the box! Get it? Har dee har har!)

For a change, Jim the Wildman is temporarily forced into a position of leadership. He walks over by the fence which surrounds the daycare center, hoping to get the lay of the land. As soon as the strangers approach, a large German Shepherd, which until now has been sitting calmly at Samantha‘s feet, dashes over and begins angrily barking at them. Samantha tells the kids it’s time for snacks, and sends them all inside.

Without preamble, Samantha tells them to get out of her neighborhood and away from her kids. Jim says that if she didn’t want trouble, she shouldn’t have attacked Queen Espina. “She was in our turf,” she says simply. “What would you do if one of the Gentry was having lunch on your doorstep? Would you wait for them to do something to you, or would you seize initiative and make the first move?”

Pointing to his cold iron knife, Jim says to her “I killed a Keeper with this knife. You ever fight a True Fae? I have. Blue Jenny doesn’t need to worry about her anymore. We get shit done, by friends and me. And we don’t like it when our friends get jumped by cowards who don’t even fight in the open. I didn’t realize that’s how Summer does stuff nowadays.”

“You pick a place," Jim tells her. "Come out and meet us there. We’ll settle this once and for all.”

After a moment’s consideration, Samantha agrees to Jim’s terms. She tells him that there’s a semi-deserted parking lot a few blocks away. She offers to meet them there in about 20 minutes, after she’s finished a few things around the daycare center. Jim leaves a message for Jack, so he knows where they went when he wakes up. Then they head for the dueling-ground.

The parking lot, just three blocks south, is very sunny and hot, full of so many weeds that it more closely resembles a meadow with abandoned cars than an urban parking lot. There are hazards scattered beneath the cover of the tall grass and ragged flowers: broken bottles, scrap metal, car parts, abandoned children’s toys, and loose chunks of asphalt and cinder-blocks.

Samantha arrives more or less on time, and she’s got the German Shepherd with her, straining at her leash. She says that “Susie” is a rescue dog, and they’re not sure what was done to her before they got her, but the dog really, really doesn’t like men. Jim calls for the two sides to “throw down and settle this”, but as he does, Samantha whistles sharply, and Pearl and Letitia burst from behind an abandoned Buick.

At about the same time as Samantha arrives, Jack wakes up with a pounding headache, and a dim memory of a woman named Jill, whom he’s sure he once knew very well. Then he notices there’s a sign on the wall saying “3 BLOKS THAT WAY →”
“Oh dear,” Jack says, and hurries off to prevent whatever Jim has planned.

Samantha slips her arms around Jim’s torso in a mighty bear-hug, and tries to throw him to the ground, while Pearl lays into Caden and Alexanre, under cover-fire from Letitia to keep the two men from getting too far from Pearl’s cold-iron poker.

A few moments into the fight, Jack arrives. Seeing that it’s gone well beyond talking, he throws himself into the fray. His first move is to try to prevent unneccesary death (and the accompanying Clarity loss) by frightening off the German Shepherd with the fear-inducing power of his staff.

After a few more rounds, Jack, seeing that the Brotherhood of the Willow is outgunned and on unfamiliar turf, screams at the top of his lungs, bringing the fight to a momentary standstill with the shocking, glamour-infused majesty of his voice. “ENOUGH!" he roars, “What were you guys thinking, picking a fight with an unfamiliar motley in their own territory? And you three! Your children are alone and unguarded while you fight strangers in broad daylight!”

Stunned out of the heat of battle, and forced to acknowledge the truth of the Fairest’s words, both motleys agree to simply “call it a draw and walk away”.

Pearl seems genuinely surprised that Jack would offer to walk away, and Alexandre’s suggestion that “We could all end this whole war today.”

Jim is pissed. He didn’t get to kill anything. AGAIN!

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Chapter 28 - The Scene of the Crime

Place: Northern Coral Gables / West Little Havana
Time: December 10, morning

After sleeping (since they’ve been awake for almost thirty hours), the Brotherhood of the Willow piles into Jack’s car to visit the restaurant where the attack on Queen Espina occurred.

The scene: Banditos Bar & Grill, in northern Coral Gables, near the western end of Little Havana. According to sources within True Spring, Isabel Espina used to go there semi-regularly before her exile, even though it was out of her way, for their chimichangas with molé sauce. The first thing they notice about the storefront is the stickers for local businesses and causes which have been stuck to the front window, seemingly at random. Once inside, they can see that they’re being used to cover up bullet-holes. It’s cheaper than replacing the glass ever time the odd stray bullet comes their way.

While waiting for their food, they realize that the stickers are slightly foxed at the edges, indicating that they’re not recent. This would suggest that the attack did not involve gunfire, which is very odd, especially for members of the Summer Court.

The Brotherhood realizes that they need to find out if a server actually saw the attack, and if the Brotherhood can talk to him/her, without sounding really suspicious or scaring him/her off. First, they catch some easy Glamour by spooking a young woman on a date with her boyfriend with off-handed-but-clearly-audible speculation about the bullet holes in the front window. Then Jack, claiming to be a reporter, interviews their server, Carlos, for more details about the shooting. Carlos saw the whole thing happen.

According to Carlos, a pretty lady (Espina) and a few others (Ray, Selena) came in for the lunch special (chimichangas with molé sauce and Spanish rice) and sat down to eat like normal. were all in attendance. They were discussing something that involved a lot of what he assumed were codenames, like Abuelo Trueno and “Vichy Spring”, so he thought they were involved in the drug trade or something.

They were talking about a party, but they seemed to be throwing one for people they didn’t really like, which seems like a sure recipe for a bad party. Anyway, some weird-looking women, three of them, jumped the three of them as they were leaving the restaurant. (Most gang-related attacks are carried out by men, so that was odd, but not unheard-of.) One of the attacking women, the big one with the dark hair, hit the pretty one with a fireplace poker. The big husky one, she rushed up and grabbed the thin one from behind in a bear-hug and started crushing her. The older guy started running down the street yelling really loud. It looked like he was trying to draw their fire, but he did it a little too well: the Asian lady shot him before he rounded the corner, and he went down, though it didn’t look like it was a really bad wound.

That was when the cops started showing up. The attacking women appeared to flee on foot, which suggests that they must’ve been coming from pretty nearby. If they had any significant distance to go, they’d just drive. The motley thanked Carlos for his information, and Jack slipped him a twenty, and said that he’d offer the same if Carlos ever wanted to do another “interview”.

The Brotherhood pays for their food and leaves, and starts asking people if they’ve seen a group of women matching the description they’ve been given. After an hour-and-a-half of searching and asking directions from the right people, they find a ghetto-looking daycare center, with not-quite-copyright cartoon characters painted in a colorful if inexpertly-painted mural on the cinder-block wall. There’s a small playground full of rusty but well-used play equipment, surrounded by a high chain-link fence that’s clearly designed to keep people out as much as to keep the kids in. The flickering neon sign over the door reads “Maybright Daycare Center”.

As the Brotherhood of the Willow draws close to the fence, they hear a gaggle of off-key children’s voices singing a nursery rhyme:

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

As he hears the old song, Jack freezes in his tracks, seemingly paralyzed by some unseen force.

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Chapter 27 - Tickle-Me-Elmo

Time: December 9
Location: University of Miami main campus

On the last helicopter out from the hospital, the Brotherhood of the Willow discusses what to do with their unconscious prisoners, John St. Elmo and George Zimmerman. Jack, in a seemingly calm, flat voice, says that he favors “spending the crowd’s rage” by beating the shit out of Zimmerman and/or killing him. Alexandre agrees that Zimmerman has to die, but the question is, how? They can’t just shove him out the door of the helicopter. The idea of dumping the body in the Hedge for the Hobgoblins to find is briefly entertained, but Caden counsels against killing the man: he’s never done them any harm, and besides, that way lies madness.

Officer Rico Stallone greets them upon landing with a small squad of ensorcelled security officers, takes Zimmerman away to be quartered somewhere on campus. He also takes Preston’s body away for burial, to avoid inconvenient questions about why a dead body was moved from the scene.

The Brotherhood then delivers the sad news to Naamah, who takes it surprisingly badly. Preston was always kind to her, and as the tears begin flowing, Jim ducks out, feeling very uncomfortable. He decides to talk to Espina about the recent attempt on her life. Selena tells him The Kindly Ones attacked the Queen and some of her followers at a planning-session for the Yuletide party. Ray was shot, and is still in the shop for repairs. The queen was just grazed.

Jim: Well, there’s another group for the list.
Selena: [smiling] “You know, sometimes you and I see eye to eye.”

Jack is in a decidedly non-forgiving mood, and decides to vent some of his spleen upon John St. Elmo. Jack gets himself some “tools” from the science department: pliers, hammer, liquid nitrogen, and protective gear. Rico Stallone requires that before they begin this interrogation, they must Pledge to not intentionally kill John St. Elmo.

The first thing they do is remove John’s signature sunglasses, and discover to their genuine surprise that behind them are a pair of perfectly normal eyes, in every respect. What’s more, they’re the kind that get darker in sunlight and lighter at night, so they don’t actually impede his night-vision any more than a normal pair of glasses would. Apparently, he just wears them to enhance his own mythos.

They begin playing around with the pliers and tools, and probing his mind for fears with Fleeting Autumn (he’s apparently afraid of eels). Jim starts flicking droplets of water onto St. Elmo’s face, where they sizzle like water on a hot skillet. Suddenly, John invokes Ogre’s Rending Grasp, and breaks the chair out from under himself, and smashes Jim across the face with the remainder of it. He fights well, but Jim and Alex manage to subdue him ad re-bind him.

The Brotherhood makes John swear a Pledge to be their spy in the Summer Court:

The Pledge of the Frost-Branded Traitor
Task: Alliance, Medial (-2) – John will report to them about Summer’s movements, and Ban, lesser (-1) John will keep the pledge secret from Grandfather Thunder and the rest of the Summer Court (except for the other members of the Apostolic Knights).
Boon: Favor, Medial (2) – the Brotherhood of the Willow will protect him from any harm with which Summer threatens him, or his motley (1).
Sanction: Curse, Medial (-2) – only 9s or 10s count as successes.
Duration: Season (+2) – 89 days (ends in late February)

As a final question, Jim asks John St. Elmo what would really, really get Deathless Ivan’s goat. Since there’s no love lost between the enforcer and the Sheriff, John agrees to throw Jim a bone: Grandfather Thunder insists on decorum at all formal gatherings, and he compels Deathless Ivan to wear a custom-made tuxedo to every official Summer Court function that the giant attends.

The Brotherhood reasons that since he’s more than eight feet tall, Ivan can’t just go to a store and rent another; if that tuxedo were to be stolen just before a major social event, Ivan would be forced to follow wherever they led, in order to retrieve it, or risk Thunder’s wrath.

John’s story will be that he chased the Brotherhood’s helicopter from the hospital, but lost them after a while. Their story will be that they were transporting him to The Green Man’s Hollow when he overpowered them and escaped. The discrepancy between them will (hopefully) be accounted as the difference of the rumor mill.

John: “At least I’ll be where I can’t smell you anymore.”
Jim: “Yuk it up.”

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Chapter 26 - The Riot Act

Rico Stallone informs the Brotherhood that Naamah has called an emergency Court in the Arboretum, and all Autumn courtiers available are obliged to attend. Since the hospital is under siege, the Queen is collecting volunteers for a mission to rescue Preston, who may not even realize the danger he’s in; likely owing to the enormous volume of patients and the rioters outside, he’s not responding to Autumn’s attempts to contact him. Since it’s only one person, no matter how valuable his skills, Naamah’s not willing to risk more than one motley for the mission, but she’s been able to pull some strings in the University to get a helicopter for their evac.

The Brotherhood of the Willow volunteers for the job. To avoid notice by rioters, they take the monorail part of the way, so they don’t need to leave Jack’s car lying around in the middle of a riot. Upon disembarking, they see a Latino man being beaten up by a knot of rioters. Jim scares the assailants off with a roar, and then sets the man’s broken nose with a single, clean jerk. “You’ll thank me later,” the giant reassures him over the sound of his protests.

As they finish up, the Brotherhood and Quiet Luke both see each other. Quiet Luke bolts, and the Brotherhood decides to let him go; they’ve got bigger fish to fry. The security guards recognize Caden, who works at the hospital, and let the Brotherhood pass through. They head for Preston’s office and the ER, but are unable to find him. The rioters outside are getting restless, and they overhear a nurse saying that they’ve begun to triage and move patients to a safer location, because the rioters are now actively seeking to break down the hospital’s doors in their hunt for George Zimmerman.

Jack has a bright idea (har de har har) and heads for the Communications room, where he pages Preston over the PA system, asking him to report to the western stairway. On their way to meet them, a door bursts open, and who should step through but the Apostolic Knights! Quiet Luke, for some reason, is not with them. The two motleys engage in melee, forsaking firearms to avoid drawing undue attention, and to prevent deafening both sides in an enclosed space.

John and Matthew charge the Brotherhood, but they are repulsed by the Autumn motley’s newly-improved firepower and weaponry. Mark shields his fellows while beating his chest and boasting that here, in the heart of a riot, the Apostolic Knights are invincible thanks to an unlimited supply of wrathful Glamour (they don’t even need to take time to harvest it!) Jack, after a few moments of thought, comes up with a very simple way to throw a wet blanket over their Glamour-supply: he pulls the fire-alarm, setting off sprinklers and soaking everything as klaxons blare and patients scramble to escape the hospital. Enraged at the loss of their easy Glamour, the Apostolic Knights redouble their efforts.

Rather than allow the Knights to distract them, the Brotherhood decides to split up and find Preston as soon as they can: Jim and Alexandre stay to fight, while Caden and Jack make a beeline for the west stairway, fighting against the fleeing mass of humanity to reach the wayward Chirurgeon.

Two muffled gunshots go off, and to their horror, Jack and Caden arrive to find Preston lying at the bottom of the stairs in a pool of his own blood, and Quiet Luke readying his snub-nosed revolver for another shot. Seeing them, he redirects his fire, but Jack manages to distract him with a blast of Crone’s Fire. Caden picks up the fallen Wizened, and tries to carry him to safety, but a lucky shot from Quiet Luke passes right through the old man’s neck, killing him instantly.

Luke tries to flee the scene, but Caden, using his training in parkour, leaps several railings in a series of lightning-fast leaps, blocking the fleeing Oracle’s escape with a stare as cold and pitiless as ice. Jack, in contrast, seems utterly consumed by burning rage, and releases barrage after barrage of Crone’s Fire against Luke, heedless of the cost. Luke leaps sideways over the railing, attempting to flee downwards, but Jack catches him from behind with a vicious blast, and Quiet Luke is dead before he hits the linoleum.

Meanwhile, Jim and Alex take on Mark Stalwart while the other Knights lick their wounds. Mark manages only a few body-blows before Jim brings the Stonebones to his knees with a well-placed stab of his skinning-knife. Mark draws a magnum in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide, but Alex parries the gun right out of its owner’s hand, knocking it into a puddle and rendering the firearm useless.

Howling with rage, Strong Matthew hurls his sledgehammer at Jim’s shoulder and charges, sidearm forgotten, ready to tear the Farwalker’s throat out with his bare teeth. Jim manages to break the hold before the Gristlegrinder can take a bite, and another well-placed stab, this time from Alexandre, brings down the other Ogre. Badly wounded, all his comrades-in-arms missing or gravely injured, John St. Elmo is forced to surrender to the Brotherhood of the Willow. He asks only that they lead Mark and Matthew unmolested, so the hospital staff have a chance to save them. Alexandre binds the Elemental’s hands with his leather belt, and they lead him off to the west stairway.

When they see Preston’s body, the arriving members of the Brotherhood are horrified, and John is enraged at the murder of his companion. Jim is forced to knock him out to quiet him. Jack is prepared to kill St. Elmo on the spot (“an eye for an eye”), but surprisingly, Alexandre acts as the voice of reason, urging Jack to not “let himself go”, and to “remember what brought you back [from Arcadia].”

Once they arrive at the roof, the Brotherhood is greeted by the promised helicopter, but a team or nurses arrives on the roof and urges them to take another patient with them: George Zimmerman! Management has decided that Zimmerman needs to leave the hospital, and the fastest way for them to do that is by helicopter. The hope is that once the rioters learn that Zimmerman is no longer in the building, they will disperse.

The Brotherhood is now faced with a difficult choice: Should they kill a man who’s never harmed them, to cut off Summer’s supply of easy Glamour? Or should they let him live to save their Clarity, and possibly make the University of Miami the new target of the irae populi?

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Chapter 25 - To Grandmother's House We Go

Time:
Place:

After the battle with the Stimmies, Captain Mollymawk brings the Brotherhood of the Willow to safe anchor in the marina at Dinner Key, in the shadow of Miami City Hall, not far from the University. Officer Rico Stallone (a handsome Autumn courtier who they’ve seen but never introduced themselves to) arrives to pick them up in his squad car. Taking them back to campus, he tells them that the war isn’t going as well, after the Trayvon Martin case. The city is being throwing off wrathful glamour in the wake of the shooting, giving the Court of Wrath an unforeseen edge in the conflict.

Rico says that thanks to the fistfights and petty assaults which have gripped Miami in the shooting’s wake, Prof. Goldstein is now too busy at the hospital to treat even members of his own Court. They’re swamped with injuries of all stripes. Instead, Jack is rushed to the University, where he’s treated by Granny Smythe, using a poultice developed from various Goblin Fruits by a young Autumn courtier named Donna Bellagio. While she’s treating Jack’s wounds, Jim shows her the corpse of a Stimmie he kept in his jacket; she comments that Stimmies were driven ashore back in ’28, just before the Big Blow.

While he’s under sedation, Jack receives a dream visit from Dame Dob, telling him that she has some mystical training for him. Surprisingly, she says that she’s also got some instruction for Jim, if he wants to come along. She says that she’s doing it “as a favor to Morrigan”, but won’t elaborate on who Morrigan is. (She also says that Alex and Caden can come too if they like.) When Jack wakes, Granny is stuffing the other members of the Brotherhood with Crawfish étouffée. Alex is busy reading up on the Trayvon Martin case. He doesn’t like what he sees. “This could explode all over us,” he observes.

Before heading to the Everglades for their meeting with Dame Dob, the Brotherhood stops by True Spring, to tell Espina about the meeting they arranged with Admiral Finn. On the way, they run into Naamah in conference with Rico Stallone and Donna Bellagio. They tell her about the meeting with the Admiral. Naamah says that Mollymawk’s excuse for taking them through the Deep, saying that the harbor was full of glamour-mines, is the dumbest idea she’s ever heard. “There’s no such thing as Glamour-mines,” she claims, but she still agrees to meet with Finn (if for no other reason than the Neptune Society will make good meat-shields when the storm comes in from the sea.) Naamah assents to the meeting but reminds them that “You’ve still got Espina to convince.” “That’s what Jim is for,” says Jack, patting the giant’s arm.

They proceed to check on the progress of the Yuletide celebration. Not well, as it turns out: Queen Espina is somewhere between put-out and frustrated: True Spring is badly out of practice with throwing parties. They’ve been living hand-to-mouth in the ’Glades for several years. They’re arguing about waste and cost and secrecy and security for the party, and nothing can be agreed on. Selena points out that, as immature as they are, Shimmering Spring (a.k.a. Vichy Spring) does have more experience throwing parties. “She always loved her mother’s parties," she observes to no-one in particular.

Finally, the Brotherhood makes their way to the Aboretum, and Jim’s Hollow. There’s just one problem: the entrance has moved! Jim is, naturally, quite upset, but manages to find the entrance only a few yards away from where he left it. They pass into his Hollow, only to find Dame Dob waiting for them! She laughs at their surprise, and counsels Jim to double-check his security: the Ward he placed involved killing a turtle, and as such it will admit Beasts. The entrance, mole-like, will continue to burrow around, moving the entrance to his Hollow in an unpredictable fashion. Jim vows to discuss it with the Widow Mactan.

Jack introduces her and explains how he came to meet her, and Caden makes a surprising revelation: he met a similar woman during his escape from Arcadia, though he met a White Lady, not a Crone like Jack. After this, Jim reveals that he, too, met a mysterious lady on his return, a warrior-woman who called herself Mother Morrigan, and taught him how to be human again. (Alex looks at them all a little mistrustfully, saying that he never met anyone like they’re describing.)

Dame Dob offers to teach them “bits and pieces” of stronger magic and lore, which could save their hides in a fight. She offers to teach Jack “Contracts of Light,” and Jim “Contracts of the Stalking Cat.” It takes two days, but the Brotherhood of the Willing learns well under her tutelage, and return to the Trident stronger (and more tired) then when they left it.

Epilogue: As they walk out of the Arboretum, Officer Stallone stumbles across them, and has his sidearm half-drawn before he realizes it’s them. While they’ve been gone, the city has exploded: there’s been another attempt on Queen Espina’s life, and George Zimmerman has been shot by protesters on his way to his bail hearing. He’s been taken to University of Miami Hospital, which rioters have surrounded. Even now, they’re beating down the gates, baying for his blood, being whipped into a frenzy by Summer’s courtiers.

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Chapter 24 - Clearwater Horizon

Place: Hensteeth (Miami Beach, FL)
Time: December 6

After Nibbles’ unexpected revelation that The Court of Wrath has begun posting its own guards to the JFK Causeway, effectively sealing the Brotherhood of the Willow off from support, Jeremiah Sleet apologizes to the Brotherhood. He says that while he won’t turn them out on the street, he has to put his own Court first. Winter can move around on their own to get past Grandfather Thunder‘s guards if necessary, but they can’t afford to compromise the secrecy of their movements. However, since they are his guests, he points them in the direction of assistance: The Neptune Society maintains much of its fleet at the Miami Beach Marina at the southern end of the island, and if the Brotherhood can make them an offer, they might be able to get a lift back to Autumn territory. Sleet tells Nibbles to escort them, unseen, to the marina. Sleet sets to making preparations to move Hensteeth to a new, more secure location.

Nibbles leads them an uneventful few blocks to the marina, where they see a breathtakingly-beautiful mer-woman climbing out of the water. (Alexandre‘s reaction is typical; he lays it on thick, even going so far as to actually kiss her hand. She does not seem to accept his advances.) She sees them as well, and introduces herself as Melissa, a member of Maria Espina’s retinue. She observes (correctly) that they are quite far from home, and she knows that Summer has posted guards to all the land-routes in or out of Miami Beach. Assuming (again, correctly) that they’re here to get a ride from the Neptune Society, she urges them to reconsider: the Society is weak in Freehold politics, and unpopular with Shimmering Spring (a.k.a. Vichy Spring) in particular. Associating themselves (and by extension, the Autumn Court) with the Neptune Society would be “social suicide”.

Melissa offers them the support of Shimmering Spring, but admits that they don’t really have a way to get them home right away, though “anything would be better than hanging out with those losers, right?” Jack thanks her kindly, and manages to change the subject to Isabel Espina’s upcoming Yuletide celebration, which puts Melissa on the defensive, since she is, of course, “better-informed than anyone” about Miami’s social calendar. The mermaid’s interest is piqued, but the Brotherhood excuses itself, leaving the Shimmering Spring courtier quite put-out.

The Brotherhood makes its way to the harbormaster’s office, where they meet Captain Larus Mollymawk, master and commander of the S.S. Gossamer, and a ranking officer in the Neptune Society for more than four decades. He is gruff and mistrustful of them at first, but upon perceiving the attention they could bring him, he explains the situation more fully to them.

The Neptune Society is part of the Freehold of Miami, but not part of any Court: they serve the Freehold, not any particular ruler. This has, understandably, made them unpopular with many rulers, but especially with Grandfather Thunder. This lack of official support has cost them much of their funding and other resources. Much of the fleet is in disrepair, and the Neptune Society has difficulty even making the basic patrols necessary to keep the Trident safe from the horrors of The Deep. Mollmawk is willing to cut a deal with them: he will provide them safe passage, free of charge (a rare offer indeed!), in exchange for their Pledge to set up a meeting between the Neptune Society’s senior officers and the Queens of Autumn and Spring, to discussed increased funding and support for the Society’s operational budget. Seeing little choice otherwise, the Brotherhood agrees.

Captain Mollymawk takes them to his ship, the S.S. Gossamer, and introduces her crew: Big Bertha, the quartermaster; Willard Seacrest, the Engineman; and Monique Washington, Master-at-Arms. Mollymawk gives the order to cast off, and soon they are under way. The captain explains the because Summer has recently mined the harbor, it will be necessary to take them home by way of The Deep. About midway through the voyage, the Gossamer is boarded by a sharklike monstrosity which (after nearly attacking it), they are told is actually a member of the Gossamer’s crew: Bruce, their Special Reconaissance Operative.

Bertha spots a strange cloud off the port stern. Monique takes a closer look, shouts in dismay, and disappears to warn the captain. The cloud is not a cloud at all, but a massive, shrieking flock of bronze-feathered Hobgoblins called Stimmies, and they’re getting closer. Willard throws everything he can into the engines, but the flock overtakes them. A fierce battle ensues, leaving Jack seasick, heavily wounded, and slightly shotgunned, but the crew manages to pull through and drive off the flock, and bring their passengers safely to shore, in accordance with their end of the bargain.

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Chapter 23 - Hensteeth

Time: December 6th
Place: The University of Miami

The Brotherhood of the Willow emerges from the therapy room and discusses their findings with Naamah, who is leaning against the wall just outside the door. “What’s the stick up Espina’s butt?” she asks. They tell her that Rosita “told Winter everything”; Naamah is pissed about this, of course, but impressed that such a young girl managed to get so deeply under Espina’s skin. “Maybe she could give me lessons,” she muses.

Naamah agrees with Espina’s decision that Rosita remain at the University, but for different reasons: they need time to assess exactly what Rosita told the Silent Arrow about True Spring (and Autumn too, for that matter), and if they were to bring Rosita to their meeting with Hensteeth, there would be no bargaining chip to encourage future negotiations with the Onyx Court. They could just “liberate” their wayward courtier on the spot, and there would be little the Brotherhood of the Willow could do to prevent that, on Winter’s home-turf.

In an attempt to make peace with the still-angry Queen of Spring, the Brotherhood goes to the student housing section, where they make an offer they’re sure will cheer her up: “Thunder has a free hand with festivals. Why not upstage him with a festival of our own?” Jack offers. A traditional Yuletide celebration, more akin to Mardi Gras than Christmas, would be just the thing to but a bee in Thunder’s bonnet. Especially if “something unfortunate” were to happen to his own festivities. Espina loves the idea, and immediately begins to set plans in motion to show Grandfather Thunder what Spring can really do.


Time: December 6th
Place: Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial

The Brotherhood then makes their circuitous way to Liberty City, where they meet up with Blue Jenny in the food court of a ramshackle shopping mall. She is testy and resentful, but a few reminders of the debt she owes them makes her less unpleasant to speak with. She then drives them across the JFK Causeway to Miami Beach, for their rendezvous with the King of Winter at Hensteeth, the mobile headquarters of the Onyx court.

They park their cars and walk the few blocks to the Holocaust Memorial in South Beach. In deserted alleyway, they bump into a gang of Latino youths. The leader of the gang accuses Jim of stepping on his new white shoes, and begins (somewhat unwisely) to threaten the giant man with physical violence, demanding that Jim replace his shoes. Jim, predictably, does not take kindly to this, and after trying to warn the kid off, resolves the issue by pinning the youth against a wall, several inches above the ground, and calmly placing a machete against his throat.

The gang members immediately draw their pieces and cock them, but don’t fire, for fear of hitting their leader or drawing the police. Jack, beginning a Tale of the Baba Yaga, says “Now Boggy, I’m sure that this is all a big misunderstanding. Oh, what’s that boys? Haven’t you heard about my friend here? You’re not familiar with the Legend of Boggy Creek?” A few moments of tale-spinning, plus a bit of judicious muscle-flexing from Jim, sends the youths running for safety, but not before warning the Brotherhood to “watch out for the Aces High, ese!”

Jenny, emerging from the empty doorway where she’d been hiding, congratulates them, and hurries them along to an abandoned Art Deco hotel called “The Astro”, which is the current site of Hensteeth, only a few blocks from the Holocaust Memorial. (Along the way, Jack botches his Streetwise roll, and briefly attracts the unwanted attentions of a homeless woman.)

Security is tight, and right off the bat they’re confronted by two unpleasant looking men: Enrique Ironsides, an Ogre with a sour disposition and too many teeth, and Molorus the Strangler, whom they later learn is Marie Saint-Saens’ pimp. The big men frisk all five of them and take their weapons, but Jack manages to hold onto his staff, and Alexandre conceals the true nature of his sword-cane from them.

They are ushered through the building by an acne-scarred youth in a hoodie, and brought to an antechanmber of sorts, where they wait a few minutes for their audience to begin. During their conversation, Caden points out that they’ve got a deadline for convincing Sleet to join Naamah’s uprising: it’s only 19 days until the Winter Solstice, the time of year when Sleet will most keenly feel the pinch of not ruling the Freehold. After that point, he will become progressively more amenable to Thunder’s continued rule.

A small man with a large backpack ushers the Brotherhood into an office where Jeremiah Sleet is waiting for them. Jack dances around from argument to argument, but each thrust is met with a graceful rhetorical parry from the King of Winter. Eventually, Jim gets fed up with the indirectness of it all, and lays all their cards on the table: Grandfather Thunder trusts Sleet not to interfere, which puts Sleet in a very advantageous position over the Court of Wrath. If he chose to, he could slip a knife into Thunder’s ribs, making the Court of Sorrow into the new favorites of the Trident, catapulting Winter into the position of respect and power that has historically been denied to them.

Sleet chews on Jim’s words for a moment, then smiles subtly. “Tempting,” the King of Winter admits, “Very tempting.”

Nibbles enters the meeting room with a tray of drinks, and news for his King. Summer has just posted a watch on the JFK Causeway, to monitor the one bridge to Miami Beach that’s not directly under their control. Slowly, the Brotherhood realizes that this means that, for the moment, they’re trapped in Miami Beach!

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Chapter 22 - Good Court, Bad Court

Time: December 1st
Place: UofM Psychology Bldg.

Once they arrive safely back at the University of Miami’s main campus, the Brotherhood of the Willow makes a beeline for the Linda Ray Intervention Center, where Jack, posing as a staff member, requests a session-room for a few hours (“for treatment of a hysterical adolescent patient”.) They take Rosita in through a delivery door in back, to reduce the likelihood of being seen.

Selena checks her cell phone and tells them that the queens are on the way. Jack buys candy and pop from a vending machine downstairs, and bumps into Isabel Espina as she arrives. Jim, while guarding Rosita, lets Naamah and Cerastes into the session-room. Once both queens are there, they immediately come to loggerheads about who gets to be present for the actual interrogation. Naamah says that if Selena can stay, then so can Cerastes. Espina counters that she only has one of her courtiers in the room, while Naamah already has four. Eventually they compromise, asking Alex, Caden, and Cerastes to leave.

Of course, Jack and Jim don’t use any “intensive interrogation techniques” on Rosita, but they do play “Good Cop, Bad Cop” respectively. Jack offers Rosita a bar of chocolate and a bottle of water, which she (of course) refuses. Jim glowers and grumbles, seemingly ready to burst forth with a torrent of rage. “This is a waste of time,” he shouts, “Let’s get some answers already!”

Rosita remains boldly defiant. She hurls invective at the older changelings: how they failed to save her, how they never helped her learn to take care of herself like her new friends have. How they bicker and argue even as they take on the full might of Summer, and fail to present a unified front against him: resistance is pointless, only by remaining hidden can they hope to brave the storm of Thunder’s wrath. She calls them names, she threatens, she belittles, she rages, she even weeps occasionally, but Jim and Jack continue to slowly-but-surely wear down her defenses.

With time, they obtain useful information: Rosita is a new convert to the Onyx Court, so she’s an unlikely source of the leak that’s been plaguing Autumn and True Spring; Rosita was taken in by Winter after her partner Cedric was killed by Summer enforcers; and in gratitude for their “kindness” Rosita told them absolutely everything she knows about both Spring and Autumn.

At this news, Queen Isabel bursts into a rage, calling the girl “a traitor of the worst sort” (and many unkinder names as well). The Antler Crown vows that she will not allow the girl to go free to be killed and/or captured by the Iron Spear, or even some of the more unscrupulous members of Vichy Spring. Jim steps between the girl and her queen, and Jack tries to calm her down, saying that keeping Rosita against her will makes them “no better than the Gentry.”

Espina gives a noncommittal “We’ll discuss this later,” and storms out, leaving Selena to watch the girl until she can be moved to a more secure location within the University.

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Chapter 20 - Big Trouble in Little Haiti

Seeing that Rosita’s alliances have shifted (or been revealed), the Brotherhood of the Willow decides to return her to the Court of Spring, for her own good, and for the protection of Courtly secrets. Jack and Caden drive off to the University, taking a circuitous route to avoid Summer-controlled districts. Jim and Alex remain behind to keep watch over their quarry, lest they flee. The giant and the mute set up a stake-out in the diner across the street.

Jack and Caden arrive in Coral Gables without incident, and rush to the student housing area, seeking Queen Isabel. They find her painting and cleaning, alongside her courtiers. Jack and Caden come up to her and say simply “We’ve found her.”

CUT TO: Little Haiti
After a few minutes, Rosita and Marie leave the apartment, carrying laundry baskets full of dirty clothes. Jim and Caden follow, managing not to be seen by the two women. They walk to a nearby laundromat, and begin, strangely enough, doing laundry. Like it’s totally normal or something. Jim and Alex shift their outpost to a Creole-style diner across the street from the laundromat, and order tassot sandwiches while they wait.

CUT TO: UofM student housing
Jack explains the situation and the circumstances through which they found the girl, while Caden takes text messages from Alex letting him know what’s going on. Espina decides that the girl knows too much, and must be returned home. She tells the Brotherhood to bring Rosita back, and sends her bodyguard Selena to accompany them. During the ride to Little Haiti, Selena states simply that she doesn’t like the situation, and feels like it was too easy to find the girl.

CUT TO: Little Haiti
Officer Larouche walks into the diner, asking Jim and Alex if they had any luck finding Marie Saint-Saens. They say they didn’t and were just sitting down for a bite before they continue looking. Larouche offers to have his fellow courtiers put out a search for the girl, but Jim and Alex politely decline. Jim notices that Rosita and Marie are leaving the laundromat, and are heading across the street, straight for their diner. Jim excuses himself to the bathroom, fearing that the sight of him would spook the girl. Larouche recognizes the two women and greets them, saying that “these guys have been looking for you two.”

At the sight of Alexandre, Rosita freezes, and Alex gives Jim the signal (a dropped fork), that things are about to go south. Rosita bolts out the door and into the parking lot, just in time to see Jack and Co. get out of their car. Rosita, truly panicking now, runs away from both groups. Maria draws a switchblade and stands up to Jim, to give the girl more time, but Jim simply shoves the woman aside and leaps over her. Selena is upon the girl almost immediately, but Rosita slips from her grip. Throwing caution to the winds, Jim tackles the wayward girl to the pavement, while Jack goes into damage-control mode, invoking the Mask of Superiority to make himself appear a white-labcoat-wearing psychologist who’s just taking a hysterical girl back to the psych ward where she belongs.

They drag Rosita into the car and drive away, and make Clarity rolls for kidnapping. Jim and Jack both lose Clarity but do not gain derangements; the rest of them succeed on their Clarity rolls.)

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