This is an in-character game thread from Changeling: In Love and War. (This page is not Creative Commons licenced.)

Storyteller

A little after noon, Akane set out from Castle Poppy towards the North
and the West. With her rode five Poppy soldiers, sent to guard
the road as it passed into the contested Hyacinth lands, together with
a cartload of wood and tools from which to construct a watchtower.

For the most part the soldiers rode in silence. It had been two
years since they had last travelled this route, and that time was not
one that they remembered fondly. Towards mid-afternoon, they
reached an area where the valley broadened somewhat before it rose up
into the hills. The men stopped here for a while, their reason
perfectly clear although it was never uttered.

Two years ago, this was where House Poppy made its final stand against
the invading Whites. It was here that Duke Arnell fell, and it
was this field from which only one in every twenty of House Poppy
emerged alive.

Though they stopped to remember they did not linger, and before very
long they continued their melancholy way through the last of the valley
and up into the hills that formed the natural border between the two
duchies.

It was early evening by the time they crested the largest hill they had
so far encountered. The road had risen straight up it, and it
continued straight down into a wide, forested bowl of a valley.
Beyond that, the snowy south-eastern peaks of a mountain range rose
sharply through wispy clouds.

Though it had threatened to rain for most of the afternoon, they had
mercifully avoided the bad weather, and the ground of the hill was
still dry. The soldiers began to unpack, ready to spend the night
there, for this was as far as the Poppies' small territory extended.

Akane, with the faun's vague directions and descriptions of his family
in her mind, bade the soldiers farewell and stepped forward into…

THUMP.

The world jarred, flashing a dark and pure white as space and time
seemed to rearrange themselves for the brief second that Akane stepped
over the border into Hyacinth kingdom. The shock shut down her
body and brain, leaving her twitching on the floor, switching forms
back and forth with each rapid blink of her eyes.

When Akane gained control of herself again, she found herself sprawled
on the grass a dozen or so yards beyond the line that marked the change
of ownership. Back on the other side of that invisible but
somehow obvious – and, it seemed, somehow defended – line, the Poppy
soldiers stood on alert. Not a single one of them seemed to have
dared get within touching distance of the border once they'd seen what
happened to Akane.


Akane

Akane nodded to the soldiers across the border. “I should be back in at
least a few days,” she said, not shouting across the intervening space
but nevertheless hoping her voice carried. “If it takes me over a week,
let the Duchess know that something may have gone wrong. It should
probably take much less time, though,” she nodded to them.

She pulled out Albert's watch and held it between her teeth. As she
shifted into fox form, her clothes dissolving into red fur, the
metallic taste became sharper. As her jaw elongated it concealed the
heirloom, so it wasn't obvious that there was anything unusual about
this particular animal. She began to head off in the direction the faun
had indicated his village should be, moving carefully through the
hills, hiding in the shadows of trees or bushes to make sure her
passage was as hidden as possible – all in all, typical fox
behaviour….


Storyteller

As Akane rushed on down into the forested valley, evening rolled in,
and with it a thick mist. It hung in amongst the trees, drifting
lazily about on the barely detectable zephyrs. By the time the
sun had properly sunk and the world was noticeably dimmed, Akane's
sense of smell picked up something ahead. It was a sweet smell,
but not the sweetness of flower pollen or rotting leaves.

Before long, she reached the source of the smell – a cottage, standing
alone in a small clearing. It loomed up precipitously over her
fox-form, blurred and dark against the purple sky, and reeking ever
more strongly of a smell not normally encountered in a forest.


Akane

Akane raised her snout and sniffed the air. She could mainly only taste metal, but the smell was very familiar. Gingerbread,
yum. Figures that particular fairy tale made its way here, somewhere.
I'd be curious as to what form it's chosen to take, but…
There was something more to the scent; she sniffed again. Ilandra?!
Her nose led her to a puddle of what was definitely vomit on the ground
near by, and from there the trail led… *sniff, sniff* in the
direction she was going.

Oh, dear, she thought. I sincerely hope Ilandra doesn't feel
I'm trying to ruin her vacation, but I made a promise to Albert and I
mean to keep it. If necessary I suppose I'll have to shift back to
human and explain myself, but that will definitely put a damper on my
cover story of “just a nice, harmless woodland animal”. Bugger,
she
thought, and proceeded even more cautiously, keeping her mind on both
her cousin's trail and her own destination, in case they happened to
diverge.


Storyteller

As Akane left the cottage's clearing and continued parallel to the
road, another scent briefly took over – a smell musty and old, almost
indistinguishable from the forest itself, but somehow… just slightly
more fae.

OC: There's a hook, feel free to bite or not.


Akane

((Oh, alright, since you want me to take the hook so badly :P))

Akane sighed. She had her priorities, but her curiosity was digging
like a sharp knife. She didn't think whatever she found here would be
relevant towards her current mission, and was probably bad news, and
moreover the scent of Ilandra hung tantalizingly in the air, suggesting
that she might be able to both retrieve Albert's family and make sure
her own was doing alright – albeit from a distance – but…

It's a gingerbread house. You know you want to, she sighed to herself. Yummy and domestic. Pure genius! It might not hurt to investigate. Maybe she'd even find out something useful.


Storyteller

As Akane paused, she heard a rustling sound away to her left, the
direction of the smell. Something was moving – something small,
something quiet. It was making little enough noise that a normal
person would have barely been able to make it out over the faint
murmuring of the trees overhead.

Slowly, subtly, it was coming closer.


Akane

Akane quickly backed up into the nearest clump of bushes, facing the
direction the noise was coming from. The leaves hid her, but through
them, she had a clear view of the area where the creature would emerge.
She crouched down low to make herself as invisible as possible, ready
to spring or run away should either be required.


Storyteller

The rustling came closer, closer, closer still until Akane realised
that whatever was making the noise must be in the bush directly
opposite her! And, just as she thought this, two beady eyes shone
through the leaves of the bush, close to the ground, and flicked from
side to side.

Whatever it was stopped moving, and waited.


Akane

It knows I'm here, she realised. It's…waiting for me to make the first move? she guessed. Let's give it a little longer before we reveal the secret of the Amazing Talking Fox, even if odds are that it already knows. She gazed intently at the creature, trying to see it more clearly, hind paws still at the ready to attack or run.


Storyteller

After a minute or so, the mysterious eyes narrowed, suggestive of a scowl.

“Right then!” came the loud voice of what sounded to be a very old woman. “I know you're there, and I'm coming for you!”

The branches parted, shoved aside by a walking cane, and the witch
stepped out. She was unmistakably a witch – she stood three feet
tall at most in her hunched form, with a tattered hat and threadbare
black cloak, with that “I'm in charge, and now I'm angry” look on her
face.

“I can smell you,” she cackled, “and you smell tasty!”

She gripped her stick tightly, and swung it at the very top branches of
the bush in which Akane was hiding. A couple of green leaves
rained down inside the bush…


Akane

Shitshitshit, thought Akane, Looks like the house's occupant took her form from the legend, or vice versa, after all.

She sprang backwards, putting distance between herself and the witch,
and responded, “No, I'd probably make a horrible meal. Look at me, I'm
tiny and covered with fur. Barely good for an appetizer, hardly worth
the time to skin and cook. I mean you no harm as long as you leave me
be, although I'd appreciate it if you'd be willing to exchange
information with me.”


Storyteller

The old witch's face looked triumphant as she saw the fox emerge, but quickly returned to a scowl once Akane spoke.

“Ah, so it thinks and it speaks,” she said. “Well, that's never
been a worry of mine before! Now just what do you mean by
'information', and answer quickly! I'm hungry, and I'm thinking
you might be worth the effort after all!”


Akane

“I'd like to know about anything strange that might have been going on
in these lands recently – more unrest than usual amongst the common
folk, for example. I'd also like to know anything you may have noticed
about two travelers that passed by here recently – a young woman and
man.
“I will answer questions of your own in return, if there's anything
you'd like to know. I can tell you something about the doings of the
neighboring nobles; you'd be amazed how freely their people will speak
in front of a harmless woodland animal. I can also tell you something
of the human world, if you're interested – I know a bit about it. I'm
the fox from 'The Little Prince',” she said proudly, hoping it was
plausible. Who was to say how much of that legend might have gone into
shaping her own life, after all? “Voici
mon secret. Il est trËs simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur.
L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” If only I had seen clearly
sooner….

“Or anything else I can help you with, besides providing dinner,” she
finished hopefully. “I'd really hate for this meeting to get
unpleasant; the war has left so few of us…”


Storyteller

“Well well well,” said the witch, twirling her stick in her
hands. “I didn't catch any of that gobbledegook of yours, but
let's see now. You'll tell me everything you know about the state
of the war, and I'll tell you what I know about travellers passing by
here. Won't you come inside, though, it's getting dark and damp
out here.”


Akane

Akane cocked her head and looked at the witch. Her offer seemed to be
honest, but the protection of custom couldn't hurt. “For the shelter of
your home, I thank you,” she said. “By the oath of bread and salt I
swear in Danu's name that I shall remain under your roof in peace and
do no harm to you and yours as long as they offer me none in return;
and as is ever the traveler's duty towards his host, I will share with
you such news as I know unless it would be a secret that betray my
House and kin,” she said, invoking Faerie laws that protected both
guest and host for the duration of her visit.

It was a noble's oath, one that came from the Sidhe side of her family
although she had mainly taken after her mother, and as such it revealed
a fair bit about her right there; but guests were, amongst other
things, honest, and the witch would be as bound by the laws of
hospitality to do her using no harm with the information as Akane
herself would be.


Storyteller

“My, you're a bit untrusting, aren't you? Nevertheless, my offer is genuine. I'm not going to eat you.”

The witch led the way back to the gingerbread cottage, sat herself down
at the kitchen table, and gestured towards the other somewhat
sticky-looking chair. “Will you have a seat, or will you be
staying down there?”


Akane

Akane grinned a toothy vulpine grin. “Thanks, I prefer being a bit
taller when I can afford it,” she said, stretching smoothly into her
human form, spitting out Albert's watch, which was much more unwieldy
to talk around with a human mouth, and placing it securely in an inside
pocket of her coat.

“I'm afraid the warnings I was given before setting out into these
lands didn't give me much reason to be trusting. I hear the war
devastated this area more than others, and it's pretty much anarchy. I
also think I'd make a horrible roast,” she continued, grinning, as she
sat on the sticky chair. The coat will wash, she thought. “Tell me what you already know about the war, and I'll fill in any gaps I can.”


Storyteller

“Now I keep myself to myself,” said the witch, pulling her shawl closer
around her. “So I wouldn't know very much, save for the fact that
about two years ago an army came though here, killed a lot of people,
and then this last week another army came through – the other direction
this time – and did the exact same.

So then, do fill me in on the rest, won't you? What exactly is going on here?”


Akane

Akane's eyebrows rose in surprise, although she was able to prevent herself from gaping. So
it's true, it's possible that fae outside the noble classes haven't
even found out what the war was about in the first place! No wonder
they resent us all…
And with that realisation she understood
that, although she might not fully trust the old woman, all those who
had lost something to the war deserved some kind of explanation.

“It started when the King and Queen disappeared,” she said quietly.
“Nobody is sure exactly how. House Red Rose and House White Rose began
to squabble over the succession, each bringing up more and more obscure
claims of common ancestry or intermarriage with the royal pair. Of
course, they couldn't agree on whose claim was better, even if they
hadn't been more or less evenly matched, so they started fighting over
it. It was terrible, but even that was a stalemate, with the support of
the greater and lesser Houses also split quite evenly.”

She shrugged. “It's gotten a bit quieter now, mostly because the Reds
and the Whites are the only ones who still feel strongly about it; the
rest of us have lost too much. My own kin were almost wiped out. We
also think there may be other interests coming into play, but we can
barely begin to venture a guess as to who that might be and what
they're really after,” she said, giving the old woman the gist of the
information and carefully omitting those details that might be used
against the Honeysuckles or the Poppies.


Storyteller

“Seems like the fighting's still going on here though,” the witch
said. “Have the Hyacinths got any of these 'other interests'?”


Akane

“I've heard a rumor that they might be considering pulling out of the
war,” Akane nodded, “But as far as I know they've made no move to
actually do so. I was told, though, that a lot of the violence being
done on these lands is at the hands of common folk who are hungry and
desperate,” she sighed. “As I hear it, it wasn't necessarily soldiers
that I needed to be wary of whilst here. I can sympathise, much as I
prefer my own skin intact. It's why I was so wary of you, although
certainly the comments about eating me didn't put me at ease either.”

((OOC: If memory serves Prince Theodore the poncy Chrysanthemum mentioned the Hyacinths? If not, I'll edit.))


Storyteller

“Yes,” said the witch, “I dare say the common folk – well, the normal
common folk at least – must be enduring quite a lot of late.
Hungry, desperate, yes. I'll have to see what I can do.
Now, what was it you were wanting to know? Do forgive me, I've a
terrible memory for things like that.”


Akane

“The normal common folk?” Akane asked. “As opposed to? Is there
something they can do to keep the war from impacting their lives as
badly? If there is, I'd like to know…maybe I can help,” she added.
“As for my request: I'm following a young woman and a young man that
should've passed this way not too long ago. I don't mean them any harm;
I want to know if they're well,” she said, and more of her concern
leaked into her tone than she had intended. “I'd like to know about
what lies in the direction they're headed, and if they're likely to
come to any harm.”


Storyteller

“As opposed to witches, and our kind,” she replied. “We have our
ways of getting by, even when the less fortunate suffer and starve.

“Now, as to your friends. They did indeed pass by this way, on a
horse, maybe six hours ago. They probably got to the village of
Wheat Down, further along the road where the valley opens out, about
mid-afternoon. What they did after that, I couldn't possibly say.”


Akane

Wheat Down, her mind confirmed. Albert's family are supposed to live quite near there, aren't they? So she asked. “Would you happen to know anything about where I might find a family of fauns that live quite near Wheat Down?”


Storyteller

“No, I'm afraid not. I don't recall having seen a faun in recent times, and I'm sure I would have remembered one…”


Akane

Akane nodded. “Well, thank you very much for the information and the
hospitality; I'm sure I'll find the people I'm looking for. I'm afraid
I must get going, as I have business to take care of, but if you need
to find me in future or wish to trade information again, ask for me at
the Hospital over the border; they'll be able to get in touch with me,”
she said, diplomatically offering the witch a way to contact her that
would grant her safe passage without revealing her identity to such a
degree that it would diplomatically jeopardise either the Honeysuckles
or the Poppies. “I hope things get better here, for you and for the
other folk as well. May peace be upon us all, hopefully sooner rather
than later,” she finished.


Storyteller

“I'm sure they will, for us and for them. I'm sure they will,”
said the witch. “Now keep your wits about you, for there's
dangerous men that walk these roads,” she said, shutting her
gingerbread front door behind her.

A chill hung in the air now, mixed with the fog, as if the winter had
not quite given up April to its warmer brother just yet. The road
back and the road forward both looked equally cold and
uninviting. But, somewhere ahead lay Wheat Down, and possibly
Ilandra and Albert's family too…


Akane

The mist was chilly, and possibly a little eerie. It drew Akane's mind
back to when she had lived in London at the turn of the century, of the
fog hovering low over the river like a ghost. It had certainly been a unique
time, though she hadn't regretted her decision to flee over the ocean
before the bombs began to fall. Neither human nor fae, it seemed, was
ever safe from the aftermath of war.

She rested her hand momentarily over the comforting weight of Albert's
watch, fingers splayed over it as if to touch something more
substantial than the wraithlike mist. With a sigh, she released it and
began to shift, muscles moving and bones rearranging. As if by magic?
It was
magic, and Akane was sure she could not spend another century in the
human world forsaking all contact with Faerie. She'd allowed the
awareness of magic to sink to the back of her mind, although never
leave it entirely – it was necessary, to live in a world where others
aged and she did not – but she had to acknowledge, now, that it was a
part of her heritage.

As was Ilandra. As was her House's legacy of compassion to those whom
circumstances had irrevocably wronged. She would check on her cousin,
and retrieve Albert's family, and hopefully all without running into
the kind of men that the witch had warned her about. She sniffed
the air and trotted back to the fading trail, Cain's scent and a
distinctive horsey tang and more than anything else, Ilandra, and began
to head follow it, alert to where it might deviate from the way Albert
had described and from the Road to Wheat Down, small red shadow making
its way through the misty forest…


Storyteller

It was barely fifteen minutes of her fast fox-pace later that the
smells on the road changed. No longer was it just Ilandra, Cain
and a horse, but lots of other scents joined in as well. All fae,
but the rougher scent of a peasant rather than the has-regular-baths
scent of a noble. All male too, probably six in number.

The two nobles and the peasants continued together for a short way,
before the peasants began to break out of what had been a close
formation – two scouting ahead, whilst two hung back and two stayed
with Ilandra and Cain. Talking? Guarding?

Once the men had spread out sufficiently, they continued in this manner into the distance.


Akane

Akane's breath caught in her vulpine throat, a very human mannerism; a
century walking on two legs had imparted her with a greater affinity
for the humanoid form, although once she had thought of herself as
simply a fox, regardless of the body.

Immediately, her mind began to go through possible scenarios. Common folk found them; this is a given. They are now traveling together. Possibility the first: they were captured, she considered, stomach plummeting until she realised that she didn't scent the acrid musk of fear.

Possibility the second: I'm once again making the mistake of not
giving Ilandra, and Cain, enough credit – the same thing that led to
our fight in the hallway,
she admonished herself, and this time the lump in her throat was born out of something entirely different from fear.

If they went into the wartorn territories, they must have had a
plan. Even if nobody warned them specifically about the dangers here,
because no-one else knew that they were going, let alone where, I'm
sure they must have realised that to be noble is a contentious thing
these days, even if they're not aware that they strayed into what is
nominally White Rose land. So they'll have a story. I don't know what
it is, so I can't barge in after them; but I also don't know if these
others bought it. So I have to check up on them, even if their trail
diverges from my path –
she hoped it didn't, but this took priority.

So, follow. Hopefully they'll end up near Albert's family, although
that might complicate matters. Reconaissance. If they're prisoners,
under guard, I should be able to tell and spring them. If not, then one
of them will likely be able to slip away and talk with me,
she
thought, and quickened her pace, moving to track the trail from the
side of the road, undercover, paying careful attention to discern
Ilandra's and Cain's distinctive scents from amidst the others.


Storyteller

It was almost an hour later, with the world now lit only by the tiny
sliver of a moon, by the time Akane reached the point where the trees
started to thin out. Then, before very long at all had passed,
there were no more trees – just a short gap of bare grass before the
tentative beginnings of a village.

The first building, a good fifty yards from any other, was a low and
non-descript thatched affair. However, unlike many of the houses
in the village beyond, it was at least intact. In front of it
lounged two men, sharing a bottle and glancing up at the road through
the forest in the manner of those who are supposed to be keeping a
constant watch on something very uninteresting.

Beyond them, in the village proper, the only lights that burned were in
the largest building of all – likely, an inn. The rest was lit
only by the moon.


Akane

Akane slunk over to the side of the inn building and began to sniff
underneath each window. She called to her mind the raw, earthy scent
that Albert had exuded, strong enough for even her human nose to detect
it, and her cousin's scent, which she could never forget, and tried to
figure out if either of those scents was lingering here. She could
smell Ilandra quite strongly, so if she followed her nose, she should
find them eventually…

((Sorry about incoherency, tired. Next post from kitchen tomorrow!))


Storyteller

The earthy scent was everywhere here – not specifically Albert's smell,
just the smell of the unwashed peasantry. Akane's sensitive nose
picked out the separate smells one by one, teasing the tendrils of
scent apart until each one seemed distinct. Peasants, yes.
Fauns… no. Not lately, anyway. And, beneath them, the
unmistakable smells of Ilandra and Cain.

Snuffling around the deserted road through the centre of the village,
it took Akane a while to determine which ways the nobles had
walked. After a while it became apparent that they had visited
three separate buildings – a reasonably intact cottage in the centre of
the village, one of the run-down shed-like houses on the outskirts and,
most recently, the inn.


Akane

Akane snuck towards the inn's windows, avoiding the shafts of light
that pooled out from them, and stuck her nose into the windows to get a
better look. She kept an eye on the door, too. If Ilandra and Cain were
inside she couldn't approach them either as fox or human without
attracting suspicion, so she planned to wait till they were alone…

((Guys, wanna arrange some convenient synchronicity? :P))


Storyteller

Peering through the front windows and through the slightly ajar door,
Akane could see sights most appropriate to the sounds of drunken
revelry she had been hearing for a while. Villagers in varying
states of drunkenness and dirtiness ate, drank and danced with
enthusiasm. Amongst them, however, there was no sign of her
cousin.

Akane made her way around to the back of the inn. The kitchen
door stood wide open, and just inside the doorway stood two
amply-proportioned women attempting to talk, smoke and drink all at the
same time. To the fox that paused briefly outside the door, they
paid no regard.

Further around the back a single window was lit. Inside, talking in hushed tones, were Ilandra and Cain.