Redcap Bound 6

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Less parked discretely out of direct view of the venerable church. They had a little time before Rey would arrive.

"Despite the horrible interruption and what happened to Happy, I had a nice time at the Harvest Ball, what little there was of it," said Less, trying to make conversation. He set the roadmap he had been using to check road access to the cathedral aside. He had stopped really seeing it in the anticipation of the upcoming caper.

"I'm really sorry about what happened there. But for the record, me, too. I never knew you could dance," Mira said with a smile.

"It's funny what you pick up at Court. I wish you could have told me why you needed to go, and I'm sorry I couldn't let you take Bria away."

"I wish I could have, too. The Duke made me swear not to speak of it. He was very specific and left me hardly any wiggle room." Given the power a broken promise would give to the wronged party, it was very understandable why Mira wouldn't want to break her word. More curious was the fact that she seemed also physically incapable of speaking of it. That spoke of rather powerful magic backing that oath. Clearly, there was more to this business than met the eye, and Mira was unable to speak of it.

"But please know that I would rather allow harm to come to myself than to any one of the people I care about. That means you and Rey and, when I'm not mad at him, Drake, too. It's just that the Duke really got something on me this time. I had hoped bringing Bria in to him might let me off the hook a little."

"Well, Lady Ishtar will put in a good word for you, and I have a certain amount of clout in the unseelie court. I hope I can make it up to you."

"You've done nothing for which you need to make up," Mira assured him. "I'll just find another way. After all, I'm the one that defied him. Which isn't really a problem, everyone does that in some way. It's just that somehow he found out what I did, is all."

"Was it something to do with Drake?" asked Less, but immediately regretted asking. "You don't have to tell me."

"No, nothing to do with Drake. He doesn't know anything about it," Mira said. After a thought she added, "I suppose it doesn't hurt to tell you. I can't get in more trouble over it than I already am. I used my ability to get a glimpse of the future to track down and figure out a few minor shadow gates. The kind that go to just one place and open only at certain times on certain nights."

That wasn't a problem, of course. It was a creative use of a sometimes dangerous use of her ability as an oracle. While not as useful as the exceedingly rare permanent Shadow Gates, they were nonetheless quite helpful. For example, one temporary Gate was the one at the bottom of Ottowi Pond that Mira used to slip back and forth between the Mainland and their secluded little spot in the Fae Realm. As long as the secret of its existence was kept, it was a reasonable and safe way for her to get back and forth. The rest of them needed to use a gate such as Rey's Sage Gate, which could deposit them anywhere in Faerie they were familiar with.

What was a problem was what Mira said next. "And I showed Remy Depres how to use them."

Less was stunned speechless. When he was just regaining power of speech, Rey arrived.

Rey saw the expression on Less' face. "What's going on?" she asked. It must have been something important and completely unexpected, because he almost never seemed to be surprised by things that happen around them.

Less covered for Mira. "Oh, Mira was just telling me about her last date with Remy." He checked his watch to emphasize they needed to focus on Aurra. "You got everything you need?"

Mira reflected that perhaps telling Less wasn't the best idea. She'd clearly thrown him off his game and right before they were certain to face danger. She climbed out of the car and tried to pretend she hadn't heard what Rey and Less had said.

'Now that's a whopper if I ever heard one,' Rey thought to herself, but now was not the time to get into it. "I'm good to go," she says with a nod. She had her digital camera and one of her writing notebooks on the inside pocket of her jacket, a jackknife in one jean pocket and a handful of zip ties in the other. You never knew when those ties would come in handy.

"So how do you guys want to approach this?" Mira asked. "Go into the church and find a way to the basement?"

Less worked at the fraying seam on the shoulder of his battered coat, then tugged an old ball cap over his face. "Pretty much. I could sneak in and check it out first if you think your fae mein might give you away."

"That's a good point. Other fae will know us immediately." Mira thought about that. Some fae were very good at strengthening their mask and acting like a mortal, making sure their body did not bend in unnatural ways, that they used a human gait, and a hundred other subtle signs that indicated to other humans, you were mortal. She herself was not good at it, and while she suspected Less and Rey might pull it off in a pinch, it was not guaranteed to work.

So, it might be best to use stealth for the initial probe. The problem then, was communication. "If you go in first," Mira asked, "how do we know when we should go?"

Less pointed to the old tree on the churchgrounds. "Rey, could you make a branch of that tree bloom once we know Mira should follow?"

"I could make it look like it is blooming, maybe, with Glamour," Rey replied. "But anyone with eyes would be able to see it too. Problem is, I'm about as stealthy as a rock. If you want me along, we might as well all go in at the same time."

Mira said, "Well, I'm probably a bit quieter than either of you, but you both have ways to enhance yourselves and avoid being seen. What if you two just put some glamours on yourselves -- and something to cause eyes to slip away from me, too, just to be sure. Then we could go in together."

"We don't have to avoid being seen, just avoid being obviously fae," said Less. "That should be a lot easier."

"So like a glamour put on each of us that looks simply like some generic, mortal?" Mira thought that sounded like an easier idea, too.

Less and Rey answered with a few moments of work manipulating glamour. It was the purest, simplest, and most flexible of all fae magic; soon they seemed like ordinary folk, nobody in particular.

"How do we get in?" Rey asked. "There's a couple of different possibilities."

"The least suspicious way would be just in the front doors everyone uses," Mira said. "I don't know of any other way just off the top of my head. The side doors are fire and exit-only, so no handles on the outside."

"Sounds good to me." Rey looked at Less.

"Yep, let's do it." Less crossed the street and headed towards the church. He walked slowly, giving him time to survey the surroundings for agents of the Brimstone Barony. To add to his cover, he paused to pick up any cigarette butts he saw and poked through a garbage can. Shortly after Less disappeared inside, Mira followed suit, making her way more purposefully toward the church, as if she had every right to be there.

Once Mira was on the church steps, Rey started toward the building, her digital camera in hand. She paused for a moment to snap a couple of quick pictures, then pulled out her notebook and wrote the time and date of the photos. She tucked the camera back into the inside pocket of her jacket and, notebook and pencil still in hand, walked into the building.

Inside the main doors was a large lobby with a coat room and restrooms off to each side. Stairs leading down as well as stairs spiraling up to the balcony seating could be entered here. The main atrium of the church was through a pair of double doors that stood open. Side doors, closed for now but used when attendance was high, were located further to the left and right of the open main doors. There wasn't anyone in the lobby except Less, Mira and Rey, but they could see through the open doors there were a couple people sitting in pews and far to the front of the church, a robed priest knelt in prayer before a huge cross on the wall.

"No meal being served yet," murmered Less to Mira. He entered the atrium to sit in the pew at the very back corner so he could get a better look at the interior layout. "I suppose access to the basement will be through the doors to the side of the altar," he whispered when Mira sat next to him.

Mira nodded. "Oh yes," she whispered. "They would have been finished serving a little while ago, the volunteer staff having gone home. I forgot it's no longer supper time, and hasn't been for a while." She looked around. "Well, the basement might also be accessible via the stairs, unless they locked whatever door is down there. Which I suppose they might have done in order to prevent homeless people from wandering in and sleeping on a table or something. We could just double check before we walk in there."

"All right. let's check. Rey can try the front access since no one will notice her pass."

They proceeded down the stairs and did indeed find the door locked. But Mira produced some tiny lockpick tools. "Shall I give this a shot?" she whispered.

Less nodded to her and stood at the bottom of the stairs to keep watch.

Meanwhile, Rey had the advantage of being presently unnoticed. She returned to the lobby and carefully took the stairs down, watching for any signs of movement or the presence of other things, natural or supernatural.

After a minute of work, Mira got the door open, but the lock sprung clear with a loud snap. Mira froze, her eyes big. She hadn't expected that, and if someone was inside, they'd surely have heard it. But at least they were in.

Less beckoned her away and began walking slowly up the stairs. If someone had heard the lock they would come and investigate and would only find a couple of people that had innocently tried the door. Mira quietly moved away along with Less. A moment later, Rey noticed the door opened a crack. A short, ugly little man peeked through at Mira and Less.

Rey remained where she was, wanting to see what Less and Mira would do.

"I told you the washrooms were upstairs," mansplained Less as they retreated up the stairs.

Once they were safely back in their pew, he dropped the pretense. "What do you think? Changeling? That pretty much confirms Aurra is down there. How should we play this?" He sat back to consider their options, and related them out-loud in a whisper for Mira and Rey, if she was nearby. "The little man will re-lock the door and keep a closer eye on it so rushing them from that way would definitely see some resistance. The other way in seems a better bet now, perhaps Rey and I could get in unseen with Mira waiting to burst through the door below the lobby."

Mira nodded and added quietly, "Sounds like a plan to me. Is Rey nearby?"

A moment later, a note pad appeared in front of Mira. "Isn't it odd the priest is praying now?" said Rey's handwriting.

Mira nodded, and showed the note to Less. "He's still praying like that. On his knees in front of the altar. I never really went to church except to get free food, but he seems like he's been doing that a long time." The priest was still bowing, raising his hands, bowing, and murmuring again and again.

"Keep an eye on things," Rey added to the note. "I'll go take a peek and see what's up." Once Mira and Less had seen what she'd written, Rey put the notepad back in her jacket pocket and walked toward the altar on the outside aisle, keeping the pews between herself and the priest. As she passed by the people sitting there, she took a look at them as well, on the off chance they were fae - and the ones who might possibly have taken Aurra.

Whoever they were, Rey realized, they were both wearing masks that don't fit all that well. They were like fair quality movie studio silicon masks that didn't quite match up properly on their faces. That immediately struck Rey as suspicious, if only because if she were in the kidnappers' situation, she'd have people upstairs and downstairs too.

Less waited impatiently for Rey to provide an update to her note. They were short enough on time without getting involved with the priest. Being raised on Church of England, he found nearly all catholic priests creepy and this one was just par for the course.

As Rey got closer to the praying priest she was able to make out what he was saying and it was as creepy as the gestures. He said, "Hamanahamanahamanahamana heheheh hamanahamanahamanahamana heheheh," repeating endlessly.

Rey's frown deepened. This was no priest, and she prepared to end up in a fight if she was spotted. Carefully and quietly, she moved to where she could get a better look at his face. She fully expected to see a fae face on the man.

A wrinkled, green face with glaring red eyes seemed to peer back at her. He was grinning madly.

Rey worked her way back to Mira and Less, and reported what she'd seen of the priest and the people sitting in the pews.

"Right," said Less quietly as he read Rey's note. "Can we neutralise these people without alerting Aurra's kidnappers? If not, then I think we should strike at the kidnappers first and deal with the priest on the way out."

"They might be Aurra's kidnappers," Rey wrote.

"Well, yes, but she is being held downstairs. If we tip our hand up here they could kill her before we get there."

"True," Mira added. "So, what are our options? We try to sneak down another way and skip this guy?"

"He's going to be watching that door closely," whispered Less. "It's possible that the other way down is considered guarded by the weirdos up here. If Rey and I sneak down that way, we might be able to surprise them. Mira, if you wait by the guarded door until you hear that we've been detected, you could kick it in and surprise them from behind."

Rey didn't like the idea of leaving potential enemies at their backs, but she wasn't going to argue - though she would reserve the right to say 'I told you so' later.

Mira nodded and got up, then drifted back into the lobby, where she quickly left line of sight. Now it was up to Less and Rey how to proceed.

"Go past the altar and find the stairs to the basement," whispered Less in the direction of Rey's notebook. "I'll do the same." He stood and made to leave the church, but once he was out of sight he turned himself invisible and returned. He attempted to sneak past the priest to find the way down, and found the task fairly simple. Finding the door unlocked, he was able to open it nearly soundlessly and slip inside. The door closed quietly behind him, indicating Rey had followed him inside.

Here was a preparation room ministers used before going out to give sermons. It was lit here and had one exit to a hallway. That stretches in two directions and had several doors, but a sign indicated stairs were behind the far door. Padding over there, they found that door also unlocked, but the stairwell unlit and very dark.

Rey went down the stairs first, gingerly taking each step one at a time. She was about halfway down when she stepped on something. In the attempt to keep from falling, she flung a hand out and it hit the wall with a slap. 'Oh shit,' she thought to herself and paused for a heartbeat before continuing down the stairs.

Something creaked, long and loud, then stopped.

'Something is coming,' Rey thought, her mental voice speaking with the accent of that guy from The Mummy Returns. She didn't have much choice, however, but to keep going down the stairs lest Less walk right into her.

It was Less that noticed where the next sound came from, because it was followed by a yellow streak of light from the doorway behind him as the door was flung wide. A glance over his shoulder showed Less it was the squirming form of the priest who shouted, "Aha! See yoooouuu!" Less had already ducked around the corner at the landing halfway down the stairwell however, and it was obvious the priest's cry was a mere boast. However, that situation would change the moment someone flipped on the stairwell's lights.

"Surprise is lost," whispered Less into Rey's ear. "Go for Aurra. I'll deal with the priest."

As Less turned to face the top of the stairs the stairwell light was flipped to on. Through the sudden glare, he saw the priest seem to fall apart into three parts that wiggled out from under the priest's robes. Twisted, giggling goblinesque figures grinned at him in delight that their prank would inspire such surprise. The one in lead tightened his wet, red handkerchief on his head and laughed again. "Die die die!" he gibbered as his hands reflexively squeezed and twisted, as if imagining them around his neck. His words were echoed by his brothers as they began to advance toward Less.

"Oh geez!" exclaimed Less as he bumped into Rey as he backed quickly down the stairs. It was one thing to face a crazy old priest and another thing altogether to face three murderous Redcaps. "Run! Our best chance is to have Mira open an escape on her end."

They hurried down the stairs and through the door, but discovered the redcaps were extraordinarily fast and strong little fae. The redcaps were right on their heels and prevented them from getting the door completely closed. Less whipped up a gust of wind to help while Rey tried to force the door closed, but the redcaps were simply too much for the door. It shattered into large splinters under the strain, much to the giggling glee of the mad redcaps.

Less was in high gear at this point. When he glanced about, he was able to take in a lot of detail in a flash. This large room was a cafeteria, but nearly all the tables and chairs were put away and stacked to the side. There was just one table out closer to the far end of the room Aurra was there strapped down, gagged and lying on her back. Since each wrist and ankle were tightly tied to a table leg, she wasn't going anywhere. Above her, suspended by an inadequate-looking string was a wood stake, crudely carved to a point, with some kind of lead weight tied to it. This stake and weight were attached to the ceiling. Also attached was a pair of scissors that had a string tied to it. That stretched all the way over to the far door. The idea was simple; if someone opened that door, it would pull the string, close the scissors, and cut the string holding the stake up. It would fall and impale Aurra.

Less shook his head in disbelief and scrambled to his feet in a lunging sprint towards Aurra, hoping against hope that he could push the table aside before Mira heard the commotion and came through the opposite door. The smoothly, pleasantly waxed tile floor offered little resistance for Less as his lunge carried both himself and Aurra several feet across the floor.

In the next moment, Rey found herself confront by three menacing redcaps, all eager to dip their bandannas in her fresh, red blood. The first leaped at her, aiming to get his hands around her throat, while another grabbed for her knees. However, Rey's emotionally charged and supernatural aura caused them all to waver in their resolve, veering away uncertainly instead of tackling her and taking her apart as they intended. Even the third redcap, brandishing a knife, hesitated to swipe at her. They began looking at each other, trying to build their confidence.

Mira slammed open the door and rushed into the cafeteria. When the scissors sliced the cord, the wooden spike and weight crashed to the floor, shattering on impact and just missing Less and the tied Aurra. Mira skidded to a halt, blinking in surprise and uncertain where to go first.

"Better run while you still can," Rey growled at the knife-wielding redcap. It's eyes widened and it took a shuddering step back as terror overwhelmed him.

"There's probably one in the kitchen," called Less to Mira. It looked like Mira and Rey could handle the redcaps. He drew his sword to start cutting at Aurra's bonds so they could make a quick escape. He made short work of the bonds. She sat up immediately and began trying to rub feeling into her wrists, but didn't dare try to stand on numb feet, even though she wanted to get the hell out of here ASAP. Doing so would only end in twisted ankles and a likely face plant. She needed a little more time and could only hope she'd have it.

Meanwhile, the redcaps were realizing the situation had changed dramatically. No longer outnumbering their foes and having difficulty with Rey, they sought to turn the tide. One hopped up on the kitchen counter, revealing himself and wielding a rusty tommy gun. Laughing maniacally, he sprayed the room with bullets.

While the heroes dove for cover, one redcap tried to take down Rey, but couldn't bring himself to get close enough to her for a grab.

"Sorceress Naia!" cried the redcap who'd portrayed the mumbling priest. "It is good you have arrived! Kill these summer fools and secure the witch and our master shall reward you richly!"

Mira was a little too busy creating cover from the crazy redcap with the tommy gun to answer. She overturned the heavy table to which Aurra had been tied to make cover, then ducked behind it.

Rey just stared at the redcap with the machine gun in disbelief. There was no way some little pipsqueak was going to take her down. As she turned her attention back to the recaps attacking her directly, the side of her coat flipped out and a bullet went through it with a crack. Shit, she thought. That was probably my cell phone.

Less grabbed hold of Aurra and dragged her towards the relative safety of the table as well. It wasn't easy, but they hunkered down and covered their heads as bullets chewed into the heavy, wood top. Mira grinned at them and gave them a thumbs up, getting ready to charge up and over the first chance she got.

The redcap with the tommy gun decided to concentrate fire at the table. In moments, the table was chewed to bits and Mira, Less and Aurra were forced to look abandon the cover. Of the three redcaps near Rey, one simply no longer had the stomach to bother her. He broke off and ran toward Mira, Less, and Aurra, brandishing his knife. Seeing Less's long rapier, though, he swerved crazily and veered toward Mira. They were still waiting for her answer, but that didn't stop him from attempting to intimidate her into working with them. He giggled as he licked the blade and waved at her to come closer -- right into the line of fire of the gunner.

Mira's reaction was less than intimidated. She laughed at him.

The remaining redcaps ganged up on Rey. But the sheer force of her personality kept them from daring to lay hands on her.

"The Duke does not sanction this action, which means you are in defiance of the will of the true leader of the Winter Court here. Prepare to be corrected." Mira decided that the short guy with the knife was just too good a target to pass up. She jumped at him, her body simultaneously freezing and bursting into flame as she went into her war-form. The redcap barely had time to scream as she drove him into the ground. Crouching on top his supine form, she ground and pounded him without mercy, shattering the bones in his face and burning him with every touch. The redcap screamed and wailed in pain but was practically helpless before the fury of the Sorceress.

Rey's feral laugh rang out over the sounds of combat. "You are in so much trouble..." As she spoke, her mouth filled with razor sharp teeth and two inch long claws slid out from her fingertips. The nearest redcap recoiled in newfound terror.

The table was in splinters and with Rey and Mira both in close proximity to friends of the machine-gunner, Less decided he'd better move to draw fire from Aurra. He bolted, hoping to wiggle behind the trolley of stacked tables pushed up against the wall. He managed to get cover and Aurra finished shaking the feeling back into her limbs. She eyed the redcap with the gun angrily. In a moment she'd do something rather unpleasant to the fae fellow.

"Mercy!" cried the redcap Mira was pummeling into paste. She obliged by hitting him one more time and knocking him out.

The one with the gun finally clicked on empty, so he hurled it at Mira. It bounced off her head. It was useless against her icy, elemental armor, but it did get her attention.

The lead redcap wasn't enjoying how this was all going. Now they were badly outnumbered and didn't seem to be having any effect on the witch's rescuers at all. He quietly backpedalled, then turned and ran up the stairwell. His closest ally noticed that, and followed suit, throwing a fearful glance at Rey over his shoulder as he went.

Mira stood up calmly, turned to face the lone redcap left in the room, then suddenly charged him. He dodged at the last moment and Mira sailed past, skidding on the floor, but turning and preparing to go for him again.

"Where do you think you're going?" Rey growled at him and took a step forward. His eyes grew large and he took a step back.

(Less would like to attempt a Glamour that makes the fleeting Redcaps think they should be running down the stairs. Less: 4U1+4 => 2 #Glamour roll. Meh.)

(This is interesting actually. It sounds to me like something you could do with the Enchantment stunt under Glamour. That one lends the power of Glamour the ability to bend minds.

These redcaps cast Invisible aspects on themselves to escape, but when I think of Enchantment, it's not the ability to see your target that matters. It's that the target can see you.

Less doesn't have the Enchantment stunt, but I hate being a GM that says no. I prefer being a "yes, but..." or "yes, and..." sort of person. So what I will say is that you can have temporary access to Enchantment to get this to work this one time if you spend your Fate point on it. You might also consider purchasing that stunt later.

Okay, so assuming you don't mind spending the Fate point to power this cool idea, I went ahead and rolled Will for each of the redcaps. One got 1, which you beat, and the other got a -1, which you beat with style! So, they both get mixed up at the landing and coming running back down. One stops and looks confused, but the other is oblivious and runs straight back into the dining area where everyone still is. )

(Yeah, I wasn't sure if it was covered, but thought I'd try it out. Hopefully, I won't need that Fate point soon! )

Less stood and pushed the trolley of tables away towards the door Mira had kicked in. He didn't particularly want the redcaps getting away to immediately report his involvement in this caper. He focussed on the stairwell and attempted to warp their sense of direction, turning up into down. That meant he had to step out into the stairwell himself, but that was no problem for him. With a thought he'd cast his spell, and while he did not see them, for they had made themselves invisible in order to escape, he distinctly heard them reach the landing, turn, and come running straight down toward him. One redcap, oblivious to what had happened, kept running pitter-patter straight back into the room they'd fled. The other stopped with a squeak of his sneakers right in front of Less.

Meanwhile, the one that Mira had engaged and who now faced also an irate witch as well as Rey had a serious problem. Aurra was ready to make her move. She reached out toward him, her hand crooked like a claw. An invisible force slammed into him as if he'd been lanced by a mounted knight at full gallop. He hurtled into the kitchen counter with a crunch and flipped up and over it to fall face down on the floor just out of sight. Then they saw his body levitate up from behind the counter, his limbs waggling helplessly, only to be slammed to the floor again one final time. Something important made a crunching sound. The redcap said weakly, "Ow..."

Mira leaped over the counter after him. There were some thumps. A horrible scream. And then the would-be tommy gunner came flying back over the counter, smoldering, broken, and either unconscious or dead.

Suddenly the two redcaps that Less had popped into view. One, the former leader of the band, threw himself a Less's feet crying, "I surrender! Please don't kill us any more! Please!"

The other threw himself on the ground in front of Mira. "Mercy!!! Pleeeeaaaase! Mercy! I claim the right of parley!!" He grabbed for the hem of... whatever it was she was wearing before it got incinerated by her elemental form, then realized his error when he scorched his fingertips. So he wailed some more and held his burned fingers.

"Oh shut up you idiot. That's from Pirates of the Caribbean. There are no rules for parley!" Mira muttered.

"I am almost offended that nobody chose to surrender to me," Rey said in mock distress. "What are your lives worth to you?" Rey asked the recaps. "Convince us to let you live." Her mouthful of teeth disappeared, and her claws shrank back to only an inch or so long.

The leader said, "We not bad! We only playing, see? Heheheh." The other said, "The lady made us! We only wanted to kill the witch, not kidnap her!" That made the leader roll his eyes in an 'oh boy' gesture.

"Shoes," Mira ordered coldly. The conscious redcaps knew what she was talking about and removed their iron-shod boots. Less noted they had spikes on them. "Lie face down. If you move, you're dead." The redcaps planted their faces in the tiled floor.

Mira addressed Less and Rey. "I'm in a tough spot here because I need to take these to the Duke, yet I don't want to deny Cassandra her right to justice. Do you think, if we take them all to her for questioning, you would support me in a request to use her Gate to get myself and them to the Duke? I have no other way to move them there, but the Duke isn't likely to care about that. He's only going to care about getting his hands on these guys, and I'm already going to be in trouble for letting Cassandra get to them first."

Rey nods. "I'll support that. But does your duke have to get all of them? Cassandra might want her pound of flesh. As might Aurra."

Mira answered, "It's one thing if they don't survive capture." She nodded to the burnt and broken body of the redcap she'd slain. "But it's quite another for me to knowingly deliver a member of Winter directly into the hands of Summer. I'm willing to give Cassandra her right to justice by letting her question them first. But I can't leave them in her hands without having to face the Duke's wrath for it. Frankly, I think my life is worth more than the lives of these traitors. I'd rather not risk it over them more than I already am."

Rey turned her head to look at the witch. "Do you need any help, or are you okay?"

"I'm okay. Now." She smiled a little. "I would thank you, but I understand that to carry implications I don't mean." She nodded at Less. "For saving my life, I consider the debt you owe me paid in full."

Mira was quick to notice that word. "Debt? What debt? Less?"

Rey knew Less wasn't going to give a straight answer, so she decided to go straight to the source. "What did you give or do for him that's worth a life?"

"I did him a favor once," Aurra said. "It was personal I believe."

Now that really intrigued Rey. What was so important to him that he'd trade an open ended favor to a witch?

Less really didn't want all that embarrassing stuff to resurface so he just nodded his thanks to Aurra and said, "Let's get these guys back to Cassandra's to answer questions, then Mira can take them away. There's bound to be something here to tie them together - it is a church."

Rey gave Mira a look that said they could not let Less get away telling them about the debt. Mira was curious, too, but thought maybe in front of the redcaps who would soon be blabbing their hearts out to the Duke wasn't the time or place.

Less left the others to corral the redcaps. He returned momentarily with the discarded priest robes. He handed the ties to Mira to begin tying up their captives while he tore the robes into strips. She helped and soon all the redcaps, save the dead one, were securely bound and relieved of their iron boots.

Logistics were a small hurdle. Mira banished her battle-form and donned a robe she found in the closet the church choir used. Then fitting the redcaps into a car seemed a problem, until someone pointed out they took little room and could be stacked in the trunks of the two cars. From there, they returned to Cass's house.

The Lady Ishtar was very pleased to see the culprits captured and all four were carried inside under the cover of darkness. There had been an attack on the Gate since the heroes had left Cassandra; bodies of goblins were strewn everywhere in the house. They hadn't expected much resistance, so Cass had lured them in and then attacked and took them all in one massive, well-prepared spell powered by the Gate itself.

Seeing what Cass had done loosened the surviving redcaps tongues. When asked, they admitted being given their orders from Dame Nightshade directly. Nightshade was a powerful dark fae recently promoted in the Baron's service to the rank of knight. All the planning and orders had come directly from her, and the redcaps and goblins were too low on the totem pole to naysay whatever a Knight wanted.

Cassandra surmised things had been done this way so that the Baron could deny any direct involvement with the plot.

When Cass was satisfied with the answers she'd been given, Mira asked if she could use the Ishtar Gate to take the redcaps to the Duke. The Lady Ishtar eventually agreed to allow it considering that because of the condition of the Redcaps there was little risk Mira might be planning something subversive to the Golden Mesa fae.

"I was wondering, Lady Ishtar," Rey said, deliberately using Cassandra's title. "If I might be able to speak to you privately some time soon to learn more about your connection to your gate. Not the specifics, of course," Rey made sure to explain. "But to help me learn more about mine."

Cassandra said, "Yes, of course that would be fine."

Before it was time to go, Mira asked Less and Rey, "I'll take my captives to the Duke now. Can I see the two of you at the Hollow later, before dawn?"

Less agreed. With all his Court and Constable duties sleep was foreign to him anyway. However, the mention of dawn triggered an innate response to him. Fae magics unravelled at dawn, so was the meeting time significant for this reason?

Rey nodded. "I'll see you there." She wondered what it was Mira wanted to talk about.

It was the very early hours of the morning, the dark before dawn, when Less and Rey noticed ripples in the little spring-fed pond that dominated the Hollow. Of all Faerie, this one place was their own and was safe for them, so when the subtle ripples spread from the center of the spring and arrowed toward them at the edge, they knew this signaled Mira's arrival. She emerged from the water without a noisome splash, but just the quiet gurgle of wading as she moved out of the shallows and onto the shore. Out of respect for Less' comfort, Mira had arrived in a blue, one-piece bathing suit rather than nude.

Dripping in the element she favored most, Mira greeted her friends. "Thank you both for coming out here tonight. I thought it was important we talk together about some of the things that came up tonight while it was still fresh in our minds."

"That Baron Carnifex has defied the Duke of the Winter Court and tried to usurp control of the Ishtar Gate from Summer?" offered Less. He had come through the pool as well but had towelled off and dressed warmly. He sat on the soft ground, leaning against one of the large smooth boulders that surrounded the pool.

Mira sat down on a rock that jutted up out of the water and sat on the edge of the shoreline so she could dangle her feet in the cold water. "That's an issue, definitely. But it's that Carnifex is defying the Duke without, strictly speaking, breaking any rules set down by the King of the Unseelie Court. I get the distinct impression the Winter King encourages strife among members of the court, especially powerful members. It keeps them too busy scheming against each other to bother him. So that's what I think is going on here. Baron Carnifex, looked upon as an upstart by the Duke, is trying to make a name for himself. He has a lot of the younger fae behind him. The Duke, being very traditional in his orientation, has stuck with the same territory as has always been held here, and that means Santa Fe. The Baron's relative area of strength has grown immensely with the growth of Mythic City. Once that was just a small town with big dreams dominated by a smallish Summer Fae Court. Your Fief of the Golden Mesa. Sending the Carnifex there two centuries ago was kind of like banishment. But because Mythic City prospered, so did Golden Mesa and the Barony.

"So the Desert Duchy is vastly outnumbered by the Unseelie that make up the Barony. And something you don't know; after being at the Ball, I can estimate that the Golden Mesa also outnumbers the Duchy, fae for fae, by a good amount. However, this is not a measure of the Duke's strength. One of the things I discovered, and which isn't exactly a secret so much as something that is simply not discussed, is that the Duke is not fae. He's Fae. A true Lord of the Fae. And several of his court are as well. This is what makes the Desert Duchy too powerful yet for Carnifex to openly defy." The fact was that she, too, was obviously in no position to defy fae of that level of power either. The Duke isn't worried about the Baron.

"He is somewhat concerned, however, that without the Golden Mesa around, Carnifex would grow too powerful, too bold," Mira continued. "That he might actually win the favor of the Winter King. The Duke cannot tolerate that idea. He'd probably shrivel up and die of pure humiliation or something. I don't know, whatever. The point is, he doesn't want to see the Golden Mesa fall to Carnifex's schemes. Ergo, he grants me enough leeway to help you, my friends, do what you need to in order to preserve the Seelie presence here in Mythic. And personally, I would just love it if the Golden Mesa taught Carnifex a lesson. Especially if that included Carnifex's complete destruction. Heck, it might even get me off the Duke's shit-list if I could say I had something to do with that."

"Oh, thank you, Lord of Snakes, for letting our friend help us." Less said it sarcastically, but he worried inwardly about Mira's allegiance to the Winter Court. He had a vision of one day reuniting the Courts, but he knew it would be a long time before the two cultures would even begin to see eye to eye. At least the Baron had given them a common enemy of sorts. "Carnifex has decided his Barony is powerful enough to destroy the Golden Mesa and that will get him the Winter crown. And so we, the Summer Court, with the blessing of the Duke no less, need to bring the Barony down a few notches. You say the Summer Court and the Barony both out-number the Winter Court, but does the Barony out-number the Summer Court? What do we know about the Barony? They have won sway over some nasty goblins and redcaps, Knight Nightshade is wielding the whip, and we have the spy Bria in lockup. Not much to go on. We need intelligence."

"Well, since there is only one Winter King ruling the entire Unseelie Court across this world and Faerie, I seriously doubt Carnifex will have a chance in hell of gaining that seat. For now, his aim is to be top Unseelie dog here," Mira clarified. This was the same for the Summer Court. There was one Queen to rule them all, but localities had their own nobility running things in her name. "As far as who outnumbers whom, you have it right, if you consider only the fae of Santa Fe and Mythic City, and ignore any unaligned fae. I don't know if the unseelie of the Barony outnumber the unseelie of the Golden Mesa, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did, and probably by a lot. But personal power counts for a lot, even against numbers, and your Countess has people like Lady Ishtar to help."

Before continuing, she considered what they knew while drawing ripples across the pond's surface with her toes. "Probably easier to call her Dame Nightshade, but yeah she's a knight, which means she's some kind of lieutenant for Carnifex. She's also probably a rival. That's how things are with the unseelie. There is constant jockeying for power and rivalry turning deadly. You guys are probably lucky that's how it works out. So, what do we know about Carnifex and his people. Well, I have kind of a personal nemesis in that camp, too. An assassin dark fae named Viscissitude. Sissy, is powerful, vicious and petty. Probably also a knight of his or likely going to be. She's tough to deal with so I'm glad she's not in Santa Fe. I'd estimate her level of ability and power to be an entire order of magnitude greater than me. I earned her angst inadvertently. Somehow I foiled some plan I think for her to ingratiate herself with the Duke. Instead the Duke ignored her and took time and effort to trick me into joining before I really understood I had other choices. Unable to do anything about the Duke's decisions, Sissy is petty enough to blame me instead. Like an angry cat attacking her cousin because her owner kicked her.

"Other stuff I know. Well, I know the baron's people were also involved in a kidnapping ring where they'd grab shape-shifters and sell them to vampires. Apparently the fangs have lots of uses for anyone with part of a soul of an animal. I'm going to guess they'd make powerful slaves. Anyway, I think that plot was short-lived. Sissy had a big part in all that, too." She paused and made an observation. "You know? All these nasty little things that members of the Barony are up to and you can't directly trace any of it back to Carnifex. He seems to be smart enough to employ that plausible deniability thing governments use with regard to their own agents."

"Would the Duke be... distressed if something bad happened to Carifex?" Rey asked. She had no immediate plans to do anything, but she wanted to test the waters.

"No more than he would be if something happened to any fae," Mira said without hesitation. "That is, he wouldn't care one bit. I think it's safe to say that as long as it doesn't upset his plans or threaten his position of authority, then he doesn't give a damn. Carnifax threatens his authority and defies his will, though not too openly. He'd be pleased if Carnifex was removed."

"It seems at the moment that Dame Nightshade is the one in charge of making things difficult for the Golden Mesa, even if her goal is only to secure the Gate," said Less. "We need to know more about her, where she operates from, and what she might be planning. It would be great if we could get Viscissitude to bring her down for us, but we'd need a lot of detailed information about them both to accomplish that. I guess our first steps should include a shake-down of the local blood-thirsty hobs and bring Bria out of cold storage for a little chat."

"Getting Sissy to take Nightshade down would only be to Sissy's benefit, and give her more power, even if it's just through her reputation," Rey said with a slight shake of her head.

"It could. But if Dame Nightshade proves to continue to be a bigger pest than Sissy, then it might be worthwhile. In any case," Mira continued, "I have to agree with where Less is going with this. We do need to better know our enemy. It sounds like Less has a place to start, as well. And, I wonder if I could ingratiate myself with some of the baron's people. Earn some trust. I might even be able to use what put me on the Duke's bad side to help get us closer to the powers that be among the Baron's people. Long term idea, though. I couldn't hope to pull off anything like that quickly. It'd be obvious what I was doing."

"Dangerous, but the information you could get would be invaluable," agreed Less. Any worry over Mira's safety and being separated from her was quickly overwhelmed by his desire for information. "You would have to cut yourself off from any contact with Summer. That includes us, except through tightly controlled methods." Methods he had been perfecting with his Wardens of the Bleak Seal. "You could exploit your contacts with the vampires as well, if Sissy was working with them to kidnap werewolves."

"She's a mercenary," Rey replied. "She got an order and filled it, so to speak. That's the extent of her working with vampires." She was still annoyed at not being able to do anything to Sissy about kidnapping Jason, but still held out hope she might one day be able to get some payback for it.

"I'm willing to give it a try," Mira said. "I think I should talk to the Duke about it, much as I loathe being anywhere near him. I don't want him to find out about it and get the wrong idea -- that I jumped ship on him and then have to deal with his revenge. Being mildly irked at me as he is is bad enough." Mira hadn't mentioned to Rey what had happened to make the Duke angry with her.

"You've mentioned that before," Rey said. "What did you do?"

Mira tried to be evasive and failed. "I may have, sort of given Remy knowledge of some back ways into Mythic City from Santa Fe using what might have been, um, paths through Faerie. Which if I did, the Duke wasn't supposed to know anything about and I'll be damned if I can figure out how he did find out."

"Why did you do that?" Rey knew what the answer would probably be, and while she thought it was irresponsible of her friend to have done it, there was a positive side. Remy and the others might get lost, or eaten, while in Faerie.

Mira stirred the surface of the spring again with a toe as she considered her answer. "There isn't a single reason. Remy provided a home for me. I don't have any other friends in Santa Fe. But also, I see a conflict brewing between Remy and his allies and the established vampires of Mythic City. I want my vampires to survive. To win. Because on the other side are vampires like the Master of the City, the vampires who enslave werewolves, and Leopold. Of course I want Remy to have an edge over them. I'll burn his enemies to ashes if I have to. Mythic is already rotten with nasty vamps. You might think all vampires are nasty, but I know Remy and Annabeth and Carson and Minerva are far better than the alternative. I'm fae and unseelie, and they know that, but it's okay with them. So I trust them."

"Have you been in Faerie with Remy?" asked Less. "How does being there affect them? Can they find their way around?"

"I don't think they will chance it without me as a guide. But I have shown him how and where to go if he needs to on his own, despite the danger," Mira said.

Rey doubted Remy would tell Mira when and where he was using the shadow gates. Mira trusted the vampires too much, and thought they'd include her in their plans and machinations. That would never happen unless Remy wanted to use her for something. She was not looking forward to the day Mira learned exactly what Remy considered her.

"There's one other thing I need to bring up before you guys find out and get mad at me. About Johnny," Mira said.

"Who's Johnny?" asked Less. The name had not shown up on any research he had done on Mira.

"He's a kind of satyr. He'd fallen in the wrong crowd and I liberated him. I took him here." Her smile was impish. "I simply cannot stand the idea of him falling in with the Baron's people, or the Duke's. Sileni, the kind of satyr he is, are decent folk if given half a chance." They were also well known for carousing and chasing after nymphs, Less knew. "I gave him some choices, but he didn't want to be my pet here in the Hollow. However, he's taken up a place of his own down the path a bit."

"Is he loyal?" Less asked. "Do we have to worry that he will compromise the security of our place here?"

"Oh, Johnny? No I don't think so. I never did tell him how to get back to the mortal realm from here," Mira said offhandedly.

Rey just shook her head, not surprised at that at all.

Less shrugged. "I guess as long as he doesn't make a mess I don't have a problem with Johnny being here." He himself spent a lot of his time helping new fae find their footing in the world.

Mira smiled. "Thanks, Less. One day, should his need be great, I'll show him a way back to the mortal realm, but not through this Hollow."

(Anything else?) (I think Less is done. They have to determine their way forward, but this probably won't evolve at this meeting.) Dark Canary (talk) 14:20, 19 November 2013 (MST) (I don't think Rey has anything else to do or say here, so I'm good. Rey (talk) 06:25, 20 November 2013 (MST))