Joel was gone. Tony was gone. Johnny was gone. Leaving me alone.
At the front desk.
If there’d been a ticking clock, it would’ve driven me crazy. But there wasn’t one because…huh, why didn’t we have a clock? Well, whatever reason, it was just me by myself, the bots, and the talking head.
I could feel the ennui eroding away the very bones of my psyche, colors fading, boundaries blurring and becoming indistinct and hey where did that door come from?
With no particular fanfare, a door just suddenly appeared in the hallway. It didn’t seem to be particularly threatening – at least not any more than the Hotel at large – and it was something new, so I grabbed the Hotel keys and peeked through.
I saw a hallway, a very familiar hallway. The wood paneling, the slightly janky carpets…sweet Jesus, it was home! The real world, outside of the damnable Hedge! But…the lights were out, and the place felt weirdly empty, even for no one being home.
There was dust everywhere, and small snowdrift of mail inside the front door. I rifled through the envelopes: past due notice after bill after past due notice, the oldest of which were postmarked about three weeks ago, which itself was a good two months after Halloween. I guess Ashley had enough of Los Gatos and bailed when her favorite roommates vanished from the face of the earth into a realm of surreal horror beyond imagining. Christ, I bet this meant she abandoned the bar as well. The bar…which had easy access to the Hedge. An unguarded door is a bad bad thing, so after making sure that the door to the Hotel was safely inactive, I threw on a scarf and trudged out into the uncharacteristic snowfall, trying very very hard to distance myself from the C.S. Lewis-ian imagery I was conveying.
Any precocious English children outside are on their own.
As I approached the street, I caught sight of a shadow ducking out of sight behind the bar. In no mood to be scared or caught unawares, I went into the alleyway and down the stairs to the bar’s basement door and listened. I could hear quiet noise from the other side; someone was camping out in our basement. Going for the element of surprise, I swung the door open and easily sidestepped a large horned shape that came barreling out and up the stairs. A little Fickle Fate sent the shape flailing over the top step, tumbling ass over bullhorns to slam upside down against the far wall, knocked for a loop. I sauntered up to him and crouched down.
“Hello, Will,” I said to my fellow Spring Courtier.
“Grrruuhhhhhh,” moaned Will the Beast in reply.
“Don’t move, motherfucker,” said the person I didn’t hear sneak up behind me as he cocked his gun right behind my skull. “Oh, shit, sorry man. I didn’t recognize it was you.”
I turned around to look at Ice, glancing up at my own horns before leveling a look at him that conveyed something to the effect of, “Really? You didn’t recognize me?”
The message went unreceived, or at least unacknowledged. Instead, Ice led me and a dazed Will to the basement where Freddy, CheezWiz, and Wild Turkey were all taking refuge. The place looked and smelled like they’d been there since probably the minute Ashley bailed and had been subsisting on the bar snacks and booze and oh for fuck’s sake even the top shelf liquor.
Ice and Cheez gave me the rundown, which was more or less what I’d anticipated: the courts were in disarray, everyone who had been at the Halloween party scattered to the four winds and not all of them making it back from the Hedge. This included the royal court. Raqi, SBM, and Clavell were all unaccounted for; Katrine, somehow, was the only one accounted for in the material world. Hannah was currently regent-in-charge for Spring, while Cheez kept trying to find the rest of the royalty as well as any other Changelings he could track down.
Living in the bar was not sustainable, particularly with all that alcohol in such close proximity to Will and Turkey, so, being the good host that I am, I invited them to all come to our place to temporarily set up shop. I figured Ashley wouldn’t mind, and if we got the bar up and running in short order then we could at least keep an income coming in to keep the bill collectors at bay and provide at least my motley a place to live that obeyed the standard rules of spacetime.
As everyone settled in and night fell, spirits were raised and everyone began enjoying themselves, even myself. Amidst the revelry, something caught the corner of my eye: Joel, staring inside the window, in a new getup. “He’s wearing a crown…” I sigh to myself as I discretely slip out the front door to meet him.
I look at him up and down without saying a word. The crown was a sight, floating above his head, and was made of burnished leaves and polished bone. The mantle hanging from his shoulders was an artfully woven sheet of autumnal leaves in brilliant reds, oranges and browns dragging in the snow behind him without disturbing a single flake.
“I’m King of Autumn.”
As soon as he states the obvious, the Johnny Van pulls into the driveway to dispense Johnny, Tony, and the tiny infant Tina into the frosty night. Without missing a beat, Tony remarks on Joel’s new raiments. “You look ridiculous….my liege.”
Sighing in agreement, Joel fills us in on his little adventure.
With SBM MIA, Lola Holliday was holding down the Autumn Court fort, and the current top item on their list was getting a temporary new king in place to handle the transition of the seasons from autumn to winter with Katrine. Joel was less than enthused by this idea and the crushing responsibility, but he says they assured him it was more like being the Queen of England than King Arthur. It took some badgering, but they got him to play along.
I don’t think I’d ever like to play along with the Autumn Court. The first order of business was for Joel to flick the Bic he found way back when, and have his deepest fears revealed to the assembled Courtiers. His fear was that he was not smart enough to help his friends, or that he would lose too much of his sanity to be. That was a remarkably touching admission, and more than a little depressing. Maybe I need to send Joel off for a weekend with Will and Turkey for a vacation.
The Court approved of his fear, and had him recite the Autumn Oath to assume responsibility for the Leaden Mirror and pass the mantle of the season along. The Oath was creepy, but oddly poetic:
On the name of she who I most fear
I make this oath to the Leaden Mirror
That I shall discharge all ceremonial duties of my crown
And make no pretense to command
I shall better cause and taste fear
And may call upon my court once for a great boon
So shall I do a season full or until my king returns
Or else flee the freehold and my keeper’s quickening tread
…at which point Lurkins upended a bag of fall leaves and knuckle bones (ew) over Joel’s head. As they cascaded over him, they formed into his crown and cloak, and a weight of incredible reesponsibility locks around his heart.
Tony subtly smiles in what is clearly self-satisfaction.
“Alright,” says Lola. “Long live the king.” At which point everyone disperses to their respective duties and Joel makes his way to the house.
With everyone filled in, Joel recommends everyone return to the hollow for the evening to hide out until the transfer of seasons. Tony hands over the infant, rightly suggesting that the Hollow might be the safest place for her right now.
Everyone comes inside to be joyfully greeted by the Springs, Will and Turkey in particular. Joel sneaks through the closet into the Hollow while Johnny reatreats to his room to hide and catch up on some long overdue Mt. Dew.
Tony meanwhile heads back out to the Los Gatos police station, with no baby and in clean clothes for the first time in months. He’s greeted warmly by the police when he introduces himself, recognizing him from the hospital. He’s shown to officers Maxine Choi and Greg Kinneson, who have some questions for him, because that’s what police do. They engage in small talk at first, and then move on to the investigation on the attack on the hospital, specifically inquiring about who shot Dr. Rye. Tony figures it was Freddy.
When they ask him how he managed to stop the gunman, he gave as general/generic story as he could to try and dance around anything fae related, which is no mean feat when one is half made of magic.
Continuing the inquisition, Choi asked if he worked at the construction site at the destroyed theater and if his associates included Johnny…and me; she figures it’s good to know who’s who in a small community before getting up and walking off. Kinneson, conversely, remains friendly to Tony, telling him he’s gonna be getting a medal and claps him on the back before walking Tony out. Kinneson let him know that Kent Phillips, a reporter, has been asking about Tony; just so happens that Phillips was a kid Tony knew once upon a time ago before his durance.
As they leave the station, Tony is greeted by Luis Bermudez, who is less than happy at Tony disappearing for two months without a word. Tony went with the story of his teen niece being pregnant and being unable to contact him because of it.
A similie about lead balloons seems apropos, but Luis is glad Tony’s home. They go for coffee and donuts to reconnect…only to be immediately approached by the aforementioned Kent. He conducts a small interview before realizing that Tony’s on a “social outing” and excuses himself. Only mildly inconvenienced, Tony and Luis continue their evening and head home together. For stuff.
The next day largely proceeded without incident until nightfall. Tony fills Joel in about officer Choi and how she’s on to the motley’s activities, insomuch as she’s wise to weirdness going on, so we may have to be on our guard even more than usual. Because we didn’t have enough to worry about.
At 9pm Joel is struck with a sudden urge to meet Katrine and knows how to most directly get to her…through the Bone Gate at the Hotel. Switching the gates, he steps into the material world and is immediately greeted by Katrine in a parka and ski pants and boots, a crown of ice and snowflakes hovering above her head. Joel readies to pass on the season, eager to be done with it ASAP, but Katrine invites him to walk with her.
The quiet snow-blanketed walk is beautiful, if unusual for California. Joel finds it difficult to imagine SBM taking the walk, but Katrine says he did every year and he was more complex than might have been given credit for. They discuss the nuances of fear, its presence and pervasiveness, and Joel’s fear of inadequacy compared to his friends, and his fear of betraying us. The Queen and King Regent continue their walk, bonding closer as the night continues.
On the other side of town, I was refraining from bonding my hoof to Turkey’s ass while Ice and I get the bar set up and press gang Will and Turkey into helping out. Freddie was long gone, Cheez was best left to his own devices, and Johnny bailed for a much needed breakfast at McD’s, so that left the two Beasts of burden to help out.
Later, Spring Courtiers disperse to various tasks for Hannah, with me getting the night off as thanks for providing a temporary HQ. I took the opportunity relax at home that evening with Johnny and Tony, and all was well until there came a knock on the door, the harbinger of either a pizza or a fucked up evening.
Tony looked through the eyehole; no one is there, but it looks like there’s a package left on the doorstep. Tony opened the door to find a plastic shell of road flares with an old polaroid taped to it: of a younger looking pre-durance Joel with a beautiful burnette, probably from the 60s. Written on the back is a set of numbers and the phrase “Please hurry!” Tony and I look it over and decipher that it’s a set of coordinates out in the wilderness. Fucked up evening it is.
With Cheez keeing an eye on Tina while we’re gone, we pile into the jeep, following Cheez’s explicit directions to the spot in the woods the directions are pointing to.
Meanwhile, Joel and Katrine continued their walk, speaking of each other’s past, Katrine’s being particularly unpleasant. She explains the depth of the feelings of Winter, how she came to be who she is and what makes her her. As they walk and talk they reach an overlook that offers a view of all of Los Gatos. As they gaze over the city, Joel begins to feel the full extent of his sadness that he’s been numb to since his durance. Katrine kisses his forehead, and he feels the weight leave his shoulders as the solstice passes, the sky becoming ever so slightly brighter. Katrine suddenly is wearing a mantle of snowflakes, her diadem becoming interlaced with ice.
Suddenly a bullet whizzed past his head, and another, impacting the snow just next to him, and a third hits home and connects with his shoulder. Katrine pulls out her rapier, as a large humanoid shape comes running straight for them, weirdly hard to keep a focus on. It lunges at Katrine and manages a nick to her side. Joel points the foe out; Katrine rises on snow and flies through the air, slashing through the form when she lands causing it to shriek in pain.
Joel catches sight of its eyes…and a second pair not far from them. Wide and black, able to see through the night meant they were possibly sensitive to bright light. Joel pulls out a branch to light it on fire, but Katrine goes one better and radiates brilliant light, revealing the monsters hunting them leaving them momentarily blinded: vampires. Blood-sucking parasitic vampires. More gunmen arrive to back up their compatriots, firing at the Autumn and Winter royalty
Nearby, Johnny, Tony and I heard gunshots in the distance and floor it to get there faster…unfortunately plowing into a snowbank and slowing down. Meanwhile Joel manages, through his flailing, to ignite one of the vamps who shrieks in terror and rips his jacket off and bolts. At the hill’s crest Tony bolts from the jeep after the nearest vamp, tossing a flare in its face to blind it and colliding with it while its still dazed. Katrine summoned a slide of ice and surfed down it, Joel on her heels until he lands in the snow drift at the bottom.
I ran down the hill after Joel and Katrine and the two shadowy figures chasing them, enhancing his fate to take a shot at the easiest target. Tony engages in a brawl with his burning vampire, slashing the smug smile right off his face. Katrine and Joel hold their attackers back, and Johnny helps Tony with his burning vamp, bringing up his elemental armor for defense and intimidation. Johnny, somehow, finds a flat piece of wood and surfs down the hillside towards Katrine and Joel on a now burning snowboard. Tony, now bereft of support, bugs out and tobaggans down the hill on his vamp.
Bullets and flames and swords and harsh language flew from all sides until most of the vamps lay dead, one impaled on a branch, and the marksvamps fled into the dark.
With safety temporarily established, Tony handed the mysterious Polaroid to Joel. Suddenly, all the latent grief Joel had carefully locked away came flooding back. Johnny, ever the occasional gentleman, offered to escort the wounded Katrine home, while Tony returns to investigate his dead vampire, dragging Joel along.
Joel finds a pin on the inside of his coat, a symbol of a skull and spear – the Lance of Longeness – inset in a circle at the intersection of a crucifix. Joel recognizes it associated with the Catholic church, particularly sects associated with death and rebirth. Tony takes the pin and then beheads the vamp.
The motley piled into the jeep after a very paranoid walk up the hillside and drove off, Johnny’s Rush mix tape blaring on the road back to Los Gatos.