Players: Shannon, Z, Scott
Oracle: Heavy Metal – Apocalyptic Fantasy
- Three of Diamonds: The flying battle-barge of a cruel Empress, raining death & destruction upon her disloyal subjects
- Ten of Spades: A small metal box, which whispers secrets in a language nearly forgotten
- Seven of Diamonds: A tireless metal steed, powered by the lightning itself
- Ace of Clubs: Huge tracks across the dusty plain, each clearly showing three great claws
Once again, we start a chapter with the FALLEN HALLS.
This time, we get a close-up of the halls. Its high, cracked towers that ooze some nameless ichor have a bone motiff. They say Bloody BARNABAS built them with the skeletons of those who fell in battle for him… and those who fell in battle against him.
From the battlements, CHAR-KALE watches with satisfaction as the ENDANGERMENT approaches the FALLEN HALLS, skimming low over the gnarled and shifting trees of the Vale Perilous.
But then, her face turns ashen. She sees the Guillotine (the WITCH QUEEN’s Aerial Battle Barge) looming in the distance.
It’s hard to miss, the Guillotine. It’s as big as a large village. Menacing, solid towers line the sides and it bristles with canon. The severed, moaning heads of those executed by the WITCH QUEEN’s headsman for treason and other high crimes hold the mighty fortress aloft.
Let’s take a moment to consider those heads. Inflated by witchfyre and rarified air, the heads continually swell and shrink, contorting the twisted countenances of the WITCH QUEEN’s enemies as they moan in anguish (and inflation) or shreik in regret (and deflate slightly.)
All-in-all, the Guillotine gives you the impression that you’ve run out of luck. Whoever designed it knew how to get across the idea that you really don’t want to see this thing coming.
It’s coming to the FALLEN HALLS now and it’s too late for the ENDANGERMENT to flee. But CHAR-KALE turns and does a runner into the depths of the FALLEN HALLS.
Meanwhile, the WITCH QUEEN’s support fleet breaks off from the main Guillotine and surrounds the ENDANGERMENT.
Aboard the Guillotine, we finally get to meet the WITCH QUEEN and her chief justice, the MAGISTRATE EQUINE. Created from the Nightmare whom Mr. WOLFBINDER subdued in the first chapter, the MAGISTRATE EQUINE resembles a metallic, one-eyed horse wearing a British high-court-style bench wig.
The MAGISTRATE EQUINE wants to bring CHAR-KALE and ANAIS to trial on various charges of treason and kidnapping and conspiracy and the WITCH QUEEN states she wants to find her missing daughter, TITUBA (which we learn is ‘YUBA’s full name.)
The Guillotine’s bosun tells the WITCH QUEEN the shocking news that the ENDANGERMENT seems to have the young Witching Princess chained to a barrel (from the scars on her arms, the crew assumes ‘YUBA has been tortured, not realizing that it’s really Javovich in a stolen skin.)
Angrily, the WITCH QUEEN projects her image and her voice at the ENDANGERMENT. It commands that Mr. WOLFBINDER and ANAIS give themselves up upon docking with the FALLEN HALLS. It commands that ‘YUBA be left behind, on the battlements of the FALLEN HALLS.
Having no other instructions, ANAIS and Mr. WOLFBINDER keep the Javovich thing chained to the barrel, put it in a sack, put the sack in a wheelbarrow and leave the bodysnatcher on the battlements as instructed. They leave SIR PERCY to guard the thing.
The WITCH QUEEN’s soldiers board the ENDANGERMENT, hold everyone prisoner (except for Mr. WOLFBINDER, ANAIS and SIR PERCY) and impound the craft. They are escorted inside the FALLEN HALLS.
Inside, the WITCH QUEEN has set up a temporary court. Behind her, the Spye Glass, a giant magical scrying mirror, rests (carried to and fro by five elderly fawns with ribbons in their beards.)
She wears fantastic jewelry in her midnight-black hair, offsetting the silver brocade in her tudor gown. The turned-back sleeves of the gown continue a sky-motiff of blues, blacks and brilliant whites as she takes her place on a terrifying ivory-and-turqouise throne.
ANAIS and Mr. WOLFBINDER are lead in through a doorway carved like interlaced skeletal hands to see a large room set up like a British court of law. CHAR-KALE has already been escorted in and is taking her place at the docket.
The MAGISTRATE EQUINE has the charges read against CHAR-KALE and attempts to railroad her, but ANAIS steps in and demands the right to gather evidence in her defense, calling on the ancient rights of the Seneschals Temporae as authority. The MAGISTRATE EQUINE, who seems to be trying to sublimate the rule of the WITCH QUEEN to the rule of law, reluctantly agrees.
The MAGISTRATE EQUINE gives ANAIS 24 hours to gather evidence to support her claims and those of CHAR-KALE and adjourns court.
As CHAR-KALE and ANAIS wearily give false thank-yous and oaths of loyalty to one another, cagily trying to find out what each other one knows, the enraged WITCH QUEEN calls CHAR-KALE to account for her conduct of late. CHAR-KALE graciously explains that she cares for the WITCH QUEEN but that she has discovered that the Witching Princess MUST NOT come to power. She quotes some vague and fearsome prophesy regarding it.
There’s also some business about the CHAR-KALE addressing the WITCH QUEEN personally, rather than formally, but as this chronicaller does not remember the WITCH QUEEN’s real name, we’ll skip it (for now.)
Meanwhile, CAPTAIN HABITROT and her army of Seamstress-Warriors arrive at the remains of the Joyous Rabbit atop magic carpets. CAPTAIN HABITROT witnesses TITUBA II emerging from the wreckage, solidifying from a half-real, half-imagined shadow to a flesh and blood incarnation of history with ‘YUBA’s face. TITUBA the second commands all the grace, majesty and savage ferocity that little ‘YUBA lacked. TITUBA II also holds a wicked-looking spear.
Concerned by the transformation, and horrified by TITUBA II’s newfound powers (over time and space, life and death and even the very flow of nature itself) CAPTAIN HABITROT tries to comfort the girl she once knew, only to find TITUBA, although still possessing ‘YUBA’s innocent consciousness, now finds herself unable to distinguish past events from future visions.
CAPTAIN HABITROT reaches out and gently tries to reinforce the terrified young woman inside the swirling mass of tomorrows and yesterdays that form TITUBA II’s gestalt existence, giving ‘YUBA enough presence of mind to steady herself and decide on a course of action. TITUBA announces she will claim her skin back from the fiend who has stolen it (JAVOVICH, in case you forgot.)
Actually, it this point, we should take a moment to examine how iritated JAVOVICH’s original player, Lance, became, when this twist reached his ears. Lance told Zee that he’d originally intended for JAVOVICH to have no magic at all. So it seemed odd for him to ritually skin someone alive and thus transform into them. However, earlier events, even while Lance was playing, made the rest of the gaming group think that JAVOVICH did, indeed, have quite a bit of magic going for him (even if it was particularly numbing in nature.) Also, Arpie couldn’t help thinking how much JAVOVICH reminded him of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and that, combined with the awful Witch Hag Seduction Scene, pretty much clinched the character as a demented psychopath. Perhaps JAVOVICH isn’t magically disguised, since he fools NO ONE except the legality-blinded MAGISTRATE EQUINE, into thinking he really is the Witching Princess. Ugh.
As CAPTAIN HABITROT and her troops take to the skies on their flying carpets, lead by the now-resplendant TITUBA II, the WITCH QUEEN has the wheelbarrow which she beleives contains her daughter brought to her. When the sack gets emptied, however, SIR PERCY looks at them sheepishly from inside. JAVOVICH has escaped, still wearing the skin of ‘YUBA.
Unaware of all this, the crew of the ENDANGERMENT set off down the road, lead by ANAIS and MR. WOLFBINDER. At the ruins of the Joyous Rabbit, they discover a man caught in a perpetual time loop (eating with his family) and a woman so dead her ancestors don’t exist any more (both the results of TITUBA II’s inability to control her primordial magical gestalt.)
Overhead, the fleet of flying carpets zooms away toward the FALLEN HALLS and the crew of the ENDANGERMENT make a mad dash back the way they came.
Somewhere in the FALLEN HALLS, the MAGISTRATE EQUINE encounters JAVOVICH in ‘YUBA’s skin. JAVOVICH explains how a celestial contract was broken and provides the broken contract to the MAGISTRATE. JAVOVICH demands that justice be done about the contract and the MAGISTRATE EQUINE, horrified that anyone would break a cosmic trust, vows to look into the matter.
Outside the FALLEN HALLS, TITUBA II and CAPTAIN HABITROT spot the BATTLE BARGE and see several regiments of the WITCH QUEEN’s personal guard attendant on the battlements. They realize frontal assault is impossible.
CAPTAIN HABITROT helps TITUBA II sort out some visions of the future from events of the past (mostly by using SIR PERCY’s tea sandwiches as a kind of mental landmark.) TITUBA II reveals that she can lead them toward one of two very likely futures, but in both of them, CAPTAIN HABITROT will end up cradling a mortally-wounded SIR PERCY in her arms as he dies. CAPTAIN HABITROT goes pale, but picks the future where TITUBA II destroys SIR PERCY’s murderer, even though, in that future, TITUBA II will also slay her own mother. TITUBA II solemnly agrees to move toward that future, saying now that she realizes it would happen one way or another. ‘YUBA vanishes a little inside herself as the warrior queen side of her new personality gains dominance. She plans a terrible raid on the FALLEN HALLS using her future sight to find an unguarded way into one of the cracked towers. TITUBA II gathers a mist from rarified air to cloak the flying carpet squadron as they prepare to enter the FALLEN HALLS.
(In order to sneak in, they have to kill the Bosun of the BATTLE BARGE, who dies with TITUBA II’s spear in his chest. He falls off the back of the FALLEN HALLS.)
Sometime around here, the WITCH QUEEN and CHAR-KALE catch JAVOVICH and mystically torture him to remove ‘YUBA’s skin, revealing the true man beneath. This chronicaller doesn’t really remember how that happened.
Down below, the MAGISTRATE EQUINE sees the bosun’s body fall to the ground. He notices the mist rolling in and finds it suspicious. He follows its locus to a crumbled section of wall. He sees the flying carpets glide silently in overhead but, as he does, ripples in time cause the broken celestial contract he holds (the contract between ‘YUBA and JAVOVICH) to start to melt.
Panicked and enraged, the MAGISTRATE EQUINE forgets about the silent carpets and pursues the Law above all else. He charges back into the FALLEN HALLS to call his Bailiffs and convene an emergency session of the WITCH QUEEN’s court.
Already weary of the MAGISTRATE EQUINE’s constant attempts to put the force of law before the rights and priveledges of royalty, the WITCH QUEEN barely suffers another court to be called. She attends, however, to find herself charged in surrogate with ‘YUBA’s breaking of the contract. The WITCH QUEEN soon pulls rank, but the MAGISTRATE EQUINE insists that its a vital and magical contract – what’s more, it has begun to melt.
CHAR-KALE becomes alarmed at this news and confeses that ‘YUBA must be found and destroyed. CHAR-KALE explains that nothing should be able to destroy a celestial contract.
JAVOVICH tries to intervene and CHAR-KALE threatens him with the CALENDAR STAFF. The MAGISTRATE EQUINE calls for order. The WITCH QUEEN demands satisfaction. The court falls to squabbling.
CHAR-KALE discovers, to her dismay, that JAVOVICH is so old the CALENDAR STAFF does not affect him. He has some sort of box in his chest that contains his soul. It speaks in an ancient language, which someone in the hall answers.
It is TITUBA II, striding out of the darkness. She tells the WITCH QUEEN that her guards are dead. TITUBA II is holding a spear made of woven thread. She throws it a the MAGISTRATE EQUINE and it magically steals his bench wig.
This instantly transforms the MAGISTRATE EQUINE back into a one-eyed fiery nightmare horse (the very same one beaten into submission by MR. WOLFBINDER in the first chapter.)
The walls of time melt with the contract in the MAGISTRATE’s hand and TITUBA II finds herself in a gladiatorial pit. The court has become the bloodthirsty, cat-calling mob of the TITUBA II’s ancestral childhood. We see now that TITUBA I, ‘YUBA’s savage ancestress, fought her way up from nothing to build the Empire of the Witch Queens.
TITUBA II fights CHAR-KALE in the pit at the command of the now-feral nightmare (the ex-MAGISTRATE) and CHAR-KALE loses. In so doing, the rings of the CALENDAR STAFF get twisted, transforming CHAR-KALE from a sexpot sorceress back into a buck-toothed, red-haired teenage girl (too awkward to wear the outrageous outfits she has been sporting all through the book.) TITUBA II breaks the CALENDAR STAFF over her knee in contempt and CHAR-KALE crawls away in humiliation (a somewhat nice example of literary reversal, Arpie thought.)
But the fight isn’t over yet. The nightmare calls for TITUBA II to kill CHAR-KALE, but ‘YUBA’s heart still beats in the savage pit fighter’s breast and TITUBA II refuses. She is a different woman than the first TITUBA. The WITCH QUEEN, now transformed into some kind of Clan Mother, demands another battle and JAVOVICH enters the pit.
TITUBA II stares at JAVOVICH with rage and contempt. JAVOVICH lets out his infamous “Sigh of Dismissal” and begins to sweep, but TITBUA steals his broom. She keeps taunting JAVOVICH, knowing, from her year of servitude, all the horrible innkeeper’s pet peeves. JAVOVICH breaks and TITUBA knocks him out.
But TITUBA II has no need for her old skin anymore. She has bound the past and the present together. She says “I know what this is for, now” and returns the bench wig to the nightmare’s mane. The present reasserts itself and the nightmare stands before her once again as the MAGISTRATE EQUINE. Everyone but TITUBA II seems confused and ashamed.
Outside, ANAIS and MR. WOLFBINDER arrive at the FALLEN HALLS to find every single one of the WITCH QUEEN’s elite regiments has been slain (brutally.) The savagery of the time collapse has turned a simple invasion into a massacre (presumably led by TITUBA II.)
MR. WOLFBINDER doesn’t think twice. He grabs MIZ MALYCE and leaps aboard the ENDANGERMENT, casting off and leaving ANAIS and DINDRAINE to face what he assumes must be something truly terrible in the FALLEN HALLS (to have killed all those soldiers.)
But ANAIS and DINDRAINE summon up their courage and go to see what has become of ‘YUBA. They open the doors to the FALLEN HALLS and they find that their little friend has become TITUBA II, the next WITCH QUEEN.
ANAIS picks up the remains of the CALENDAR STAFF and begins to realize that CHAR-KALE was right… But it’s too late now.
That book has ended.