Players: Shannon, Z, Scott, Jeremy
Oracle: The Unquiet Past
- Six of Diamonds: A youth or maiden, the reincarnation of an ancient sage, remembering uncanny arts but forgetful of safeguards
- Ace of Clubs: A waystation on a broad road, with a campsite and shrine
- Nine of Clubs: An unsavory treasure-seeker, with an honest map
- Queen of Diamonds: The fey and unfriendly guardians of an enchanted glade
And so, some time has passed since our last chapter. But this does not immediately become obvious.
Instead, the looming blackness of the Fallen Halls consumes our attention, rising out of the twisted woods of the Vale Perilous. This pitiless edifice seems to bleed with rust and some kind of unidentified, glistening reddish mold. Cracked and forsaken, these ancient towers make even the haunted forest of Annais’ domain seem like welcoming and verdant fields.
Taking a step back from this scenery-gobbling eyesore, maybe a mile or so away, the traveller can find a small, almost pleasant clearing with a shrine to those who fell in The War of The Tiend under the command of Bloody Barnabas.
Wayfarers who must cross the veil on foot camp there sometimes. They erect their lonely tents, start small fires (evidenced by a series of pleasant-smelling but blackened patches about the clearing) and cook bacon or eggs or the less madness-inducing types of toadstools in sturdy black pans.
In fact, someone had erected such a tent on the night before the morning when Mr. Wolfbinder re-enters our tale. That someone emerged from the tent, stretching, yawning and ready for breakfast. The someone put the black pan on the small fire, broke eggs into it and placed a precious slice of bacon, the last slice of bacon, in fact, among them.
Mr. Wolfbinder smelled the bacon. How could he not, bedraggled as he seemed. His tall hat had long ago fallen to one of the perils of the vale and now he sported a tricorner hat made from a feathered serpent (as well as a fine pair of winged snakeskin boots.)
He also had a map. A map on golden sheepskin, which kept shifting with the unnatural landscape of the veil.
(And from here, I’m just gonna summarize.)
Mr. Wolfbinder and Jerek meet at the shrine to Bloody Barnabas, where Mr. Wolfbinder makes a half-hearted attempt to rid himself of the spirit that’s been bound into his heart. While Jerek and Wolfbinder hit it off well enough, their meeting gets interrupted by the arrival of a quivering old woman, begging alms.
As both men know quite a bit about the vale perilous, they immediately become suspicious of a helpless figure wandering its monster-infested pathways alone. Of course, the beggar woman reveals herself as Char-Kale, the head of the Seneschals Temporae and sworn enemy of the Witching Princess.
Char-Kale expresses her displeasure that Mr. Wolfbinder has failed to deliver young ‘Yuba into her clutches in time. She also points out that things have gone sour between the Duchess and Jerek and he needs powerful protection. Jerek can’t hide forever.
So she enlists both men to bring ‘Yuba to her here, at the shrine, below the Fallen Halls, in exactly two days time (when the moon reaches a certain astrologically significant position that I cannot now recall.)
Mr. Wolfbinder and Jerek reluctantly agree and then discuss how hosed they – er – I mean the delicate position in which they now find themselves. Mr. Wolfbinder uses it as an excuse to drag Jerek into a search for his lost ship, the Endangerment.
Meanwhile, ‘Yuba has grown into a tawny young woman. Doing chores for an emotionless taskmaster and chopping wood – in the rain – every day have honed her muscles and brought out something more of the queenly haughteur she so sadly lacked in earlier chapters. She has become a teenager, resentful, rebellious and weary of back-breaking labor for an employer she can never really please.
She’s quite happy when, dripping wet from the on-schedule afternoon rain, she enters the Joyous Rabbit Inn to see Annais waiting for her. After Javavich, the master of the Inn (to whom she was contracted by Annais last chapter) puts her through his usual insulting OCD rigamarole, Annais and ‘Yuba get to talking. Annais lets on that all is not well in the Witch Queen’s domain and that Char-Kale may be moving against the empire. As her daughter, ‘Yuba wants to go and help the Witch Queen and her empire, but Annais forbids it (well, she stalls, at least).
At this point, Javavich detects Wolfbinder and Jerek trying to sneak up on the enchanted glade which surrounds the Joyous Rabbit Inn. Javavich the Innkeeper says “It will defend the Joyous Rabbit and prevent the filth that landed in the lawn from spreading.” Annais deduces from this that the Endangerment (for which she seems to have been searching as part of dealing with the politics that have kept her away) must have landed nearby.
Annais agrees to help ‘Yuba get rid of the intruders on the condition that the emotionless Innkeeper release ‘Yuba from her contract (which ends in two days time) a day early (tomorrow.) Javavich agrees.
Annais arranges fate so that Jerek and Mr. Wolfbinder stumble onto a clearing of cavorting wood nymphs while ‘Yuba uses the siren song to make Mr. Wolfbinder see one of the beckoning nymphs as Miz Malyce.
In shifting fate, however, Annais has inadvertently freed-up the Endangerment from Javavich’s supression. Two hooded figures sneak aboard and manage to get the stricken ship aloft.
Just before Mr. Wolfbinder forever gets drawn into the ersatz Miz Malyce’s hungry tree, he sees the Endangerment fly above him. His Endangerment. Tottering in the sky, missing sections of its hull and trailing rigging, the Endangerment is still his ship and he is still her captain. That breaks the spell on him, he sees through the illusion enshrouding the wood nymph and chases after the shuddering timbers of his just-barely-airborne vessel.
Jerek doesn’t fare so well, but his inherently seductive qualities make him the darling of several wood nymphs who all vie for his attention. When Mr. Wolfbinder rejects the illusion, however, the siren song ends and Jerek realizes he hasn’t been in a seraglio being fed grapes, but rather lying on wet moss being fed bark. He ends his frolic and bids good-bye to the weeping wood nymphs.
Back at the Inn, ‘Yuba has finished her siren song and retired to her quarters to write a letter to her mother, the Witch Queen. While she does so, pebbles skitter across her window. She looks out to see her old friend, Drindaine Selwyn, also grown into quite an impressive young lady (although of a more Amazonian bent.) For those of you into such things, Drindaine still wears her now-much-too-small sailor-like schoolgirl uniform, as well as long leather boots (handmade) and archery gauntlets. She also sports a woodland cloak, a quiver of arrows and a longbow.
‘Yuba manages to use what she has learned about magic and the control Javavich has over the Joyous Rabbit to get Drindaine inside, but Javavich detects the intruder and alerts Annais. Drindaine barely has time to tell ‘Yuba that she has fallen into deadly peril, that Javavich steals the skins of travellers in order to maintain the sanctity of his Inn and that Annais is a ruthless tyrant who held the other girls from the school as virtual (but well-kept) prisoners since the Endangerment went down. Drindaine has been searching the Vale Perilous for her ever since. But Annais has come to the room and overheard some of the conversation. Drindaine shoots her with an arrow and flees, jumping through the arrow in an impressive somersault.
Annais pretends to receive a grievous injury from the arrow, but her own magics protect her well enough against even Drindaine’s enchanted shafts. It still wins ‘Yuba’s sympathy and Annais once more distracts ‘Yuba from any doubts she may have about Annais as a friend and mentor.
But before Annais can take ‘Yuba to a new hiding place, Javavich appears and seals them in the Inn, saying that they are breaking contract by leaving too soon. The space of the Joyous Rabbit Inn twists so that any route Annais and ‘Yuba try to take to escape simply leads back to the common room of the Inn.
“It serves Javavich as the Inn serves Javavich,” says the emotionless innkeeper, referring to ‘Yuba, as usual, with a genderless pronoun.
Javavich claims ‘Yuba’s skin for his own and touches her forehead, making the Witching Princess collapse onto a prepared table. Annais, her powers inhibited by the bizarre physics of the Joyous Rabbit, barely escapes with her life.
Outside, Jerek has just bid the wood nymphs farewell when Drindaine comes bursting out the window to the Inn. Jerek is impressed by this feral young archeress. He makes a pact with her to destroy Annais and save ‘Yuba, half smirking.
Annais escapes and calls for her lieutenant, Adramalech, only to find Wolfbinder’s shot (in chapter three) confined the horned demon in hell. While Adramelech howls and demands to be summoned again, she dismisses the gem on which he was contacted. She scries out her double agent, Sir Percy, only to accidentally contact Captain Habetrot, commander of the enemy garrison. Captain Habetrot pretends she got the scrying stone off Percy by torture, but she isn’t fooling anyone. Annais asks for Habetrot’s aid in rescuing the Witching Princess and Habetrot points out they’ve been enemies for centuries. When Annais mentions the Witching Princess is ‘Yuba, Habetrot quickly agrees to send help.
Annais runs into Jerek and Drindaine. Drindaine shoots her again, but this time Annais doesn’t even pretend the enchanted arrow has penetrated her defences (although she does bleed a little, after her battle with Javavich.) Annais manages to arrange a temporary truce while they work out a way to save ‘Yuba from Javavich.
They turn to Mr. Wolfbinder, who has found the Endangerment and enslaved various less-harmful fairy creatures (gnomes, pixies, brownies, a fawn with a scarf, etc) to make repairs. The Endangerment is all but airworthy again when he sees Annais, Jerek and Drindaine coming up the path. Mr. Wolfbinder immediately opens fire on the with the Endangerment’s cannons, but Drindaine pins him to the mast with one of her arrows.
Annais, Jerek and Drindaine confront the impaled Wolfbinder, who calls Annais “picklefoot” – the nickname her evil father, Bloody Barnabas, always used. Annais realizes her father has been bound to Wolfbinder’s heart but makes a deal to save ‘Yuba anyway. Drindaine reveals that she had a back-up plan and the two robed figures who originally piloted the Endangerment away reveal themselves to be her brother, Percival and Miz Malyce (who smiles a secret, knowing smile at Wolfbinder, making him jealous.)
Meanwhile, Javovich straps ‘Yuba to a table and uses whips and chains to flay the skin off of her. In her anguish and terror, ‘Yuba reaches out to her ancestress, the original Witch Queen, and the walls between the past and the present begin to bend and break. Char-Kale watches in horror as the adjustment bands of the Calendar staff begin to spin of their own accord.
An image of the original Witch Queen walks out of the past. She looks like a savage version of ‘Yuba, bedecked in an ornate headress and a tapering loincloth held above her tawny hips by a simple chain. This woman united ancient tribes into an empire with blood, seduction and magic. The blood of this woman flows through ‘Yuba’s veins. In many ways, the blood of this woman makes ‘Yuba what she will become. A knife drawn along skin. A savage warrior cries to her troops. A tribe joins the empire. ‘Yuba’s image and that of the original Witch Queen seem to merge in a shower of blood and magic and shattering of the walls between two ages – the current age of refinement and the age of savage passion.
Blood spilling everywhere, Javavich recoils with his first real emotion as he reaches the climax of his terrible skin-stealing ritual. Is it terror or ecstacy? He hasn’t had enough practice to express it properly.
The Endangerment sets sail for the Joyous Rabbit. Knowing that the peculiar properties of the inn would cause the weakened flying ship to crash out of the air, the crew makes preparations. Drindaine mans the trim, showing herself a capable up-and-downsman. Her brother, Sir Percy, prepares the boarding ropes. Jerek strikes a manly pose by the canons.
The Endangerment skims up the road, barely a foot above the ground. She draws broadside along the Inn and unleashes a volley of cannon fire. The tudor-style wayhouse begins to splinter and crack, windows exploding outward and the thatched roof turning into a roaring inferno.
Blackened and stunned, ‘Yuba stumbles out. She says she summoned the power to defeat Javavich. Annais stops time just before a canonball hits her in the face and Jerek swings across to the inn, swashbuckler style. A stray arrow from Drindaine is also caught in Annais’ time-stopping spell and ‘Yuba turns to it, says “Undesireable” and makes it vanish. Jerek sees the stitching on her arms and back, at the same time.
Javavich doesn’t fool anybody. Everyone on the Endangerment knows that Javavich stands before them in ‘Yuba’s skin, not the young Witching Princess. Jerek floors her with one punch, time returns and the canon ball sails through the door of the Joyous Rabbit, destroying it with a kerosene-and-distilled-spirits-fueled explosion. Jerek flies through the air from the force of the blast and bounces off the hull of the Endangerment.
The false ‘Yuba (Yubavich? Javoyuba?) awakens to find her-himself chained over a barrel while the Endangerment sails away from the smoldering remains of the Inn. The crew, rather than extracting vengeance on the horrible thing in ‘Yuba’s skin, instead all express sorrow for the loss of the young Witching Princess in the exploded Inn.
Miz Malyce stands in the prow, steadfastly giving the cold-shoulder to an all-but-weeping Mr. Wolfbinder. Sir Percy comforts his sister Dindraine. Annais seems to brood and even Jerek’s manliness seems dimmed by the loss of the innocent young heir.
They sail on toward their encounter with Char-Kale at the Fallen Halls.