Campaign of the Month: February 2022
Dresden Files Accelerated: Emerald City: Requiem
Book 11: Chapter 02
Following Bunny Trails
Transcribed by: Bradford
Date: March 26, 2023
In Game date: October 14, 2012
Episode: 57 (131)
Part 01: Virgil Gugasian
Jotunheim ended for me in an explosion. It left me with some ringing in my ears for a few days and a piece of the damned World Tree in my shoulder. I think getting impaled put me into shock because I didn’t fully notice it for hours when I got Eric Laufey to Leif at a proper hospital.
The main piece was about as long as a ruler on each end and covered in my blood. When Leif got the main pieces out of my shoulder, I could swear they were as long as a yardstick…and my blood was no longer on them.
But Leif couldn’t get all of the tree out. A few splinters of indeterminate size still remained. Dr Wotenson advised me to get real surgery at a real hospital with all the trimmings. He even helped me come up with a cover story of a car accident on Snoqualmie pass to write it off for the mortal authorities.
I had a few trips to the hospital for ill-fated attempts at surgery to get the splinters out, but the damned traffic jam nixed that. I passed the time with a few minor jobs, including one that introduced me to Orenda, the Pack’s resident monster hunter.
When the madness of traffic peaked, I got light-headed, and my mind fogged up again. I slept a lot and started having dreams of worlds between worlds and entire books of words I didn’t understand. Never a good sign.
When I woke up from my third failed attempt at surgery, I had a car ride with a seven-foot rabbit and then went out of it for a while again. I kept seeing a tree between worlds. Places between places.
Eventually, the fog cleared, and I found myself sitting across from a regular-sized white-furred jackrabbit in a victorian waistcoat. I had enough sense to take a copy of Alice in Wonderland off Jack’s bookshelf and check. The White Rabbit was exactly as described.
David Clay and I spent an hour getting the rabbit comfortable and questioning him as Jack examined the rabbit’s watch down in his lab. When David and Orenda left to investigate the zoo, Hiroko and I were left with the Rabbit and a list of questions I wanted to go over.
I called over Kerouac to loom over the proceedings in his cat form. Kero and the rabbit seemed acquainted, so I hoped the trickster could translate rabbit.
“You should get that looked at.” The Rabbit said, pointing at my shoulder.
“Been trying to. So…what do I call you?” I asked the Rabbit, “W?”
“I prefer Wilbur.” The rabbit said, munching on some vegetables.
“Wilbur…What is your title again?”
“I am the Timekeeper of the Courts of Faerie. But I am bound to the Queen of Hearts of the Summer Court.”
“You are a Summer Fey who works for both courts?”
“Both courts can call on me, yes.” The rabbit confirmed, swallowing the last of his vegetables, ”My station is very important.”
“This station of yours…Timekeeper?”
“I guess that didn’t make it into the books,” I said.
Wilbur Rabbit’s little rabbit hands broke a piece of celery in half as he gave it an angry squeeze.
“Dodgson…that cad! That absolute cad!” The Bunny shouted in a slightly raised voice.
“Wilbur…”Kerouac said, “Language.”
“It’s just that Dodgson has caused so much damage to the faerie realm. So much damage.”
“Who’s this Dodgson?” Hiroko asked, leaning against the wall.
“Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, I am guessing,” I said.
“The very same. That cad.”
“What did he do, anyway?” Hiroko asked.
“He was a terrible babysitter.” The Rabbit said.
“Or the world’s best, depending on your point of view.” Kerouac said, “The children certainly had fun.”
He jumped down from his chair and started…cleaning. He looked around and found a dustpan and a paintbrush and started cleaning the cracks of the wood.
“A terrible babysitter?” Hiroko asked.
I looked through the uncut version of Carroll’s work that Jack had that also had Wizard’s notes in the margins. The truth made me chuckle.
“Ah, I get it now. Charlie Dodgson was an unemployed mathematician babysitting a friend’s kids. He liked to experiment with psychedelics, and gave them to the children. They started tripping balls and fell into a hole that led to the Nevernever. He wrote down the kids’ hallucinations and published them.”
“What does that have to do with Faerieland?” Hiroko asked.
“The Nevernever is shaped or at least influenced by human imagination. The kids saw a white rabbit, and he wrote it down. Codified it. Now there is one, and there always will be, as long as Alice in Wonderland is in the public consciousness. The Grimm Brothers did the same shit. Chicken and egg type stuff.”
“That gives me a headache.”
“Tell me about it.”
The two of us stared at the White Rabbit as he cleaned.
“Bugs here seems a little OCD.” Hiroko quipped.
“What does a Timekeeper do?” I asked.
“I keep the Time.” The rabbit replied, moving to the next room.
“Could you be more specific?” Hiroko asked.
“I make sure business happens when it should.” The rabbit replied.
“Is that why you are always late?”
The Rabbit turned to Hiroko with an accusatory stare.
“I am late so that everyone else may be on time.”
“And what the hell does that mean?” Hiroko said. I don’t know if she was trying to tear out hair, but she obviously didn’t like the bunny.
I looked over to the black cat in the corner, “Kerouac, you speak Rabbit. Do you know what the Timekeeper does? In modern English?”
Kero licked his paw and chuckled,“The Timekeeper of the Summer Court makes sure time flows as it should, when it should. All kinds of things can put expected things out of alignment. The Timekeeper corrects these discrepancies.”
“What kind of discrepancies?” I asked, “How big are we talking?”
Wilbur ran a small paw over one of his long ears, evidently taking a moment to think. It was an adorable motion. “The Winter Solstice was going to be a day late this year;” the bunny said, “I fixed it.”
“The Winter Solstice?”
“Wow…” My head started spinning at the implications.
“So, this watch downstairs, “Hiroko asked, “It gives you your power?”
“No, the Watch keeps time.” The rabbit said matter-of-factly, now moving onto rearranging the books on Jack’s bookshelves.
“I think we’ve just been insulted,” Hiroko said.
Kerouac coughed up something and looked over to us, “Wilbur, here is the one with the power. The Watch itself merely directs that power.”
It was about that moment I realized why I was feeling so funky. I could feel the power coming off of the Rabbit across the room. When I was close to him, it overwhelmed my kleptomancy badly enough my brain fogged.
“So the Watch is just a Focus object?” I asked, “Not much juice.”
“Oh no.” Kerouac said, “The Watch is what you would call an Item of Power. It is a quite potent object.”
“And it in its damaged state is what is causing the problems?”
“That would track.”
“How powerful is Harvey’s Watch, then?” Hiroko asked, “More or less powerful than my sword.”
“Oh, far more.” Kerouac chuckled, “I suspect Jack will get a migraine if he looks upon it with his Sight for too long.”
“Shit!” I shouted a moment too late. Hiroko was already heading downstairs into Jack’s basement lab.
Part 02: Jack Youngblood
After being laid up for so long, it felt good doing a ritual again. I took it slow, meditating, cleansing myself, and setting up my tools. With Abby back on her feet the preperation went far faster than I was used to. Having help was nice, and something I hoped to get used to if not be able to finally reciprocate. Finishing my preperations, I set the broken watch into the magic circle wrought into my floor and started setting up.
I didn’t know how powerful this thing was, but I needed to find out what we were dealing with if it was causing havoc with the city.
I started by building some barriers. It would keep out the worst of whatever power the Watch was putting out. It would prevent that power from overwhelming my Sight and baking my brain…in theory.
It was only the magical equivalent of mirror shades, but it would have to do.
I finished my preparations and focused on my Wizard’s Sight. Everyone has a third eye. A Wizard’s is just bigger and more sensitive to the world around it. The Sight can show you the magic around and the truth of a thing. It allowed for precise analysis of magical forces and the ability to cut through any kind of concealing veil or protection.
The Sight also wrote whatever it saw in indelible ink. You never forget what you see with the Sight. You are always able to see what you saw with perfect recall.
For the safety of my family and my city, it was a small price to pay.
Then fucking Hiroko ran down the stairs screaming.
“Jack, don’t look at it!” She shouted.
I put up a hand in part to stop her and in part to stop me from looking at her with my Sight.
“Hiroko stay upstairs. I am in the middle of a ritual!”
“You don’t understand. The Watch.”
“I am analyzing it. Fuck off.”
I heard a crash right behind her as Virgil came down my stairs right behind a minute later. The timing on this bullshit.
I closed my eyes a moment and waved a hand towards them.
“Just get out. I will talk when I am done.”
I heard Abby’s voice, “Don’t interrupt a Wizard while he is wizarding. Go back upstairs.”
“He’s Mel Gibson at the beginning of Lethal Weapon 4! He’s going to blow something up!” Hiroko said.
“Upstairs, now!” Abby and I shouted at the same time.
Virgil and Hiroko moved. I didn’t see what happened, but perhaps one picked up the other or maybe Abby kicked their asses up an entire flight of stairs. As soon as I heard the door close, I looked upon the Watch.
I was immediately thankful that I had put up the barriers because looking at the watch without protection would have broken my brain, badly.
With the magical sunshades, I could focus on what I saw. I saw the Watch. What it really was. Yes, it tracked the time, but it also tracked possibilities, and connections. Cause and effect. I was never good at math, but for about an hour after that, I instinctively understood String Theory and Chaos Theory and how they related to this device. I also knew, down to the millisecond, how old the universe was, how old the sun was, how old the earth was, and how long until everything ended. More than that, I didn’t just know the numbers. I understood them.
I also saw the damage done to the watch by the long, black, needle-sharp bo shuriken. I saw how not only was the brass and silver of the watch pierced and deformed by the weapon, I saw how the dark magic and primal nature of the weapon’s material had pierced through the watch’s inner workings.
I saw numbers whirl. Dates. Times. Sunrises. An immensely intricate product of order and causality bound to the form of a watch, and entropy leaked from it like a sieve.
In the corner, I saw the shadow of a human man looming over the watch. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Lewis Carroll. My sight told me the truth that he had given whimsical form to this elemental force.
I looked deeper and discovered the Watch’s purpose.
“The Watch is a broom.” I said after coming back upstairs.
“A broom?” Virgil asked.
“Mostly yes. Its a temporal tool for putting the timeline back on track. It reigns in entropy. It gives order to chaotic flows and repairs the damage done to the river of time by wayward chronomancers breaking the Laws of Magic.”
“Indeed.” The Rabbit said, running around my house cleaning, “I had to clean up a spill a Chronomancer made last week in the 13th Century.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“He went back to a market to steal an object. It lasted only a moment, but it caused a massive fork.”
I scratched my head in curiosity, but Virgil seemed to get it.
“Get rich quick scheme.” Virgil said, “So, this Watch is a focus?”
“The Watch is a power tool with a disconnected plug that goes to the rabbit. Only he can use it.”
“What do you mean?” Virgil asked.
I thought a moment to think about the best analogy to explain it.
“Imagine that a Wizard is a house. An 8-amp powerline goes into that house and runs every device in that house. Wizards can do a lot of things so that power can turn a lot of things on from lights to an oven to a TV.”
I pointed to the Watch and to the Rabbit.
“This thing is a single lamp powered by a high-yield power line", I emphasized my point by pointing at the rabbit, "and the power line is wearing a Waistcoat.”
“My god…” Hiroko said.
“Good thing I didn’t touch him with my bare hands.” Virgil said, “So, its what is causing the bullshit outside?”
“Yup.” I confirmed, “The damage is causing the watch to mess not just with entropy but with the mortal perception of time. It’s why David’s elevator was funky. It is impossible to judge when things will happen.”
“We’ll need to fill in the others when they get back from the Zoo.”
“They went to the zoo?” I asked.
I looked out my front window to check around, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.
“Where’s my goddamned bike?”
Part 03: Orenda Peshlakai
“You should really take my car,” Virgil said, a fair warning to us as we gathered up some keys.
“Your car is slower than hell in this traffic.” I sternly told him, “Without a bike, we wouldn’t make it back in time for Halloween.”
Abby stood in the door with her hands on her hips, “Orenda is right. Besides, the ritual he is doing downstairs requires perfect concentration. Jack won’t even know you’re gone.”
Virgil raised his hands in surrender, “That is still a really expensive bike. He’ll be pissed if you scratch it.”
“His insurance will pay for any damage,” David said, grabbing a helmet.
I ended the argument by pointing to the tattoo on my arm. The logo of the Pack motorcycle club.
“It’s me. We’ll be fine.” I said. Five minutes later, we were hauling ass on a classic ride.
Wizard magic murders modern technology; basically takes it into a back alley and shoots it, so they have to use old stuff to compensate. The older, the better. That meant that Jack’s primary ride was a Korean War-era Jeep. Easy to drive and maintain. But that thing was slow and couldn’t navigate the Great Seattle Traffic Jam.
Jack’s other ride was a 1940 Indian Scout Motorcycle with a sidecar. Classic bike. Dozer even had it at one point as payment for something Jack fucked up. He eventually had to give it back, but it was the talk of the entire club for a long time.
It drove like a dream, even with the sidecar. Being a motorcycle, it allowed us to drive past the obstacles slowing down everyone else. I might have cut a few corners, broke a few speed limits, and drove over a few sidewalks, driveways, and front lawns, but no one got hurt. Especially not the bike.
David rode in the sidecar wearing a pink Hello Kitty motorcycle helmet with the same bored expression on his golem face. The dude was hardcore for an attorney.
The Woodland Park Zoo sits on the north side of Fremont, south of Green Lake. It was a quaint little place for tourists and home to a variety of animals. The only saving grace of the place was that it was focused on the conservation of wildlife, though a zoo was still no place for an animal.
We found a parking spot out front next to a smattering of other visitors in the otherwise empty parking lot. With traffic the way it was, it seemed like it was a good time to visit the zoo, I guess. At least for the locals.
David and I secured the bike and made our way to the ticket counter, which stood next to a pimply-faced teenager manning a turnstyle. Manning the ticket booth was a young woman…or at least the face of a young woman.
As the scion of a Nagloshii, I possessed senses beyond the mortal pale. Sight beyond sight as the cartoons would say. As a result, I could see what others can’t, including beyond the disguises the various supernatural critters out there used to hide themselves.
The ticket vendor clearly had a veil over her face, hiding her pointy ears and otherworldly beauty. I leaned over David’s shoulder as he approached.
“She’s a faerie,” I whispered.
“Curious.” David said.
The ticket lady looked to David and smiled a wide smile even for a faerie.
“Ah, mister Clay!” The ticket lady said, “How can I help you today?”
David hesitated a moment before saying, “Two adult tickets for the zoo, please.”
“Are you here to see an inmate?” She asked.
“We are here to see the animals.” David said, “Get in a good walk.”
“Of course.” She said, “$17 per person.”
David gave her the money, and she gave us the tickets.
“Can you recommend any animals we should visit today?” David asked.
“That’s up to you, Mister Clay.”
“Do you have any recommendations?”
She seemed to hesitate for a moment before finally saying, “The bird show…”
As we walked away from the booth, I looked over to David again.
“How do they know you?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” David said, “This is curious. Keep an eye out.”
“Enjoy your stay at Woodland Park!” Pimple-face said as he took our tickets, “Have an animaltastic time!”
On its surface, Woodland was a pretty snazzy zoo as far as zoos go. There were animal pens and displays for educational lessons lorded over by Zookeepers enthused to teach the various visitors about the animals being kept here.
Some of the Zookeepers also weren’t human. Behind their veils stood goatpeople in flak jackets with automatic weapons slung over their shoulder with webbing for military weapons. Mac-10s. MP5s. Serious shit.
The goatpeople watched us as much as they watched over the animals. In fact, I noticed they were walking patrol routes.
“Are they faeries, too?” David asked.
“Those zookeepers are Gruffs.” I confirmed to David, “Troll-killers, on patrol. There has to be something going on if the faeries are packing heavy iron here.”
“What is going on in this place?”
“I can answer that.” A voice said.
A stately woman emerged from nowhere. To a mortal, she looked like a corporate woman in a pantsuit in charge of bookkeeping or some other boring nonsense. Beneath her veil was a sidhe in a flowery dress with a sword at her side and a wreath in her hair.
“I expected you to be here earlier, Mister Clay.” The woman said, “Which Inmate are you here to see?”
“I don’t understand,” David said.
“Have you been briefed?”
“I have not.”
“My apologies. You may call me Mayberry. I represent the leadership of this facility.”
I put two and two together and made four.
“This is a prison?” I asked.
“Correct.” Mayberry said, “Besides being a zoo, we are a minimum-security facility for the Summer Court.”
“I don’t deal with Faerie law.” David said, “Not my legal specialty.”
“It was only a matter of time before you represented someone held here. You are quite famous.”
“We are not here for legal matters. We are here to follow up on an incident. An acquaintance of ours was attacked here two weeks ago.”
“You don’t mean the White Rabbit?” Mayberry said.
“Did someone witness the incident?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, our security system was disabled. However, we still have the two attackers in custody for the moment.”
“For the moment?”
“The Jade Court has negotiated for their release and should be here in less than an hour.”
“We have to speak to them if we can.” David said, “And see the scene of the assault.”
“Of course.” Mayberry said, “This way.”
Mayberry led us through the Zoo and past various animal pens.
She took us to the clearing next to the Tiger pen, where a Tiger sat in the corner with a bored look on his giant cat face.
“So, how is this a prison?” I asked, “Where are the inmates?”
“You’re looking at them,” Mayberry said.
The tiger in the pen beside us looked at me, and we locked eyes. I could sense something. An intelligence there beyond the norm.
The bottom of my stomach sunk.
“You turn them into animals?”
“Precisely,” Mayberry said, “It keeps them docile, if not exactly comfortable. It has been Queen Titania’s preferred punishment for a very long time.”
I could not help but notice that the fairy keeper had a far more predatory look to her visage than the tiger we were currently looking at.
Part 04: David Clay
The zoo was disconcerting. I felt no danger from the faeries surrounding us, but their ability to be a threat was clear.
“What crimes are these people being held for?” I asked.
“Mostly mortal dealbreakers.“ Mayberry pointed at the tiger, “Theo over there is on a five-hundred-year stretch for breaking a contract in the middle ages. He’s almost out.”
“I don’t believe these inmates would approach me for representation. Too specialized to internal Faerie matters.”
“Alas, I was hoping to see you work.”
Mayberry guided us to the back of the clearing. A place out of sight of the rest of the visitors.
“This was the site of the assault.” She said, “I am surprised the Rabbit used this exit of the Ways. It is an unusual exit point.”
“Not surprising.” Orenda said, “The quake and the flood have been altering the Ways all over town.”
“Convenient for an ambush,” I said. That was most curious.
There was a camera looking over the area. I pointed to it, and Mayberry nodded.
“Disabled 15 minutes before the attack, unfortunately.”
I looked closer to find splotches of black against the concrete. I looked around the base and found a small plastic cap.
“Spray paint over the lens.” I said, “Points to advanced planning.”
Orenda and I combed the area section by section in a methodical manner. If the attackers left any evidence of planning, it would prove whether this was a planned attack or a target of opportunity.
Our search resulted in a single important object.
Behind a bush, we found a small leather pouch. Japanese calligraphy covered its surface in acid etching, and its size indicated one possible use.
“This was for the shuriken.” I maintained.
Orenda sniffed loudly and cringed at the thing.
“This reeks of dark magic. We should have Jack look at it.”
“Indeed. Were there any witnesses to the attack?”
“Sadly, no.” Mayberry said, “Would you like to question the assailants?”
“Yes, that would be beneficial.”
“I will make arrangements for you to visit with our ne’er do’wells. You are just in time. They were about to be released by the Jade Court.”
Mayberry keyed a radio on her hip and spoke orders in a language I didn’t understand but I guessed was old Gaelic.
“Can you tell me anything about the negotiation?” I asked.
“Above my paygrade, as they say. Just vampire scum. This way…”
Mayberry guided us toward the birdhouse next to the wildlife theatre.
“So, this is a prison.” I said, “Where is the main court for this justice system?”
“In the nevernever. The Queen of Hearts leads the Court of Hearts.”
“She a fan of capital punishment like in the books?” Orenda asked, “Or was ‘Off with their heads’ a Carrol invention?”
I noticed a shutter go through Mayberry at the mention of Lewis Carrol’s name, and she responded through obviously clenched teeth, “Only for appropriate cases.”
Mayberry led us through a door in the back of the wildlife theatre. It opened to a room that was larger on the inside than the outside. Obviously, a part of the nevernever connected to the zoo directly. The office inside was all meeting rooms and security desks.
We were led to a meeting room guarded by a large, eye-patched Gruff not covered by a veil. He wielded a machinegun by the metal bits, so I could only assume it was of some kind of faerie make. Eye-Patch and Mayberry exchanged hand signs, and he reached for the door.
“15 Minutes unless they get rowdy.” The goatman gruffly said and opened the door for us.
We found two Japanese men inside, shackled to a wooden table. The shackles were of faerie-make and looked to be binding whatever power the vampires possessed.
I thought about what I knew about the Jade Court and their etiquette. I needed to get specific answers, so I leaned over to Orenda’s ear.
“Provoke them into embarrassment,” I whispered.
Orenda grinned, “That won’t be hard. I’ll be muscle. You be good cop.”
The door closed behind us and locked.
“Good Afternoon, Gentlemen,” I said in a reedy tone.
One of them clearly understood me, the other seemed to hesitate a moment. Perhaps different levels of English speaker?
“I didn’t realize Jade Court was so petty,” Orenda said, setting the bait.
One of them took the bait by rocking against his restraints.
“Watch what you about the Court!” He said in a heavy accent, followed by a string of Japanese expletives.
“Why are you talking to a Gaijin?” The other said in a perfect American accent.
The other Vampire sniffed in my direction as I approached, “This one smells funny. They both smell funny.”
“We are trying to determine if you are clever or lucky,” I said, sitting down across from the vampires. Orenda stood opposite me, looming over the vampires and invading their space as a threat.
“We are Jade Court.” Japanese Accent said.
“So, they’re idiots.”
The Vampires moved again against their shackles, seething at Orenda, who just laughed in response.
“One who is controlled by their anger has trouble establishing their superiority. Especially when trying to establish dominance over a one-foot herbivore.” I said. “I’m sure you will have time now that this Zoo knows your faces…”
Orenda leaned in closer, playing her part perfectly, “And know your shame.”
“There is no shame with what we did.” Perfect English said, “We followed orders.”
“Minions operate under orders. It is known.” I said.
“What do you care what we do? It is just a bunny.” Japanese accent said.
“There are a variety of people in Seattle with a wide variety of interests,” I said.
“It makes you look weak.” Orenda followed up.
As we continued, I could see the shame setting in. Their culture’s etiquette became our weapon. The more shame they felt, the more likely they would let slip the truth if only to save face.
“When your Oryuban gives you an order, you follow it,” I said.
Their nods were all that I needed. They were under orders to attack the White Rabbit.
I checked the door to see a Japanese woman in a sharp, expensive business suit standing outside the door.
The door opened, exposing who I later discovered was Michelle Shioma herself.
She waved at the two of us with mock politeness and coldly said, “Get out.”
The Gruff at the door sternly nodded to us, “Their release has been scheduled.”
Orenda and I obliged and walked out of the room. Before the door closed, I saw the looks on their faces. Michelle was clearly angry at the two and the vampires were confused about why. But they knew her purpose immediately.
“You smell what I saw?” I asked Orenda.
“Fear.” Orenda said, “There is something weird about this hit. Doesn’t add up.”
Two gunshots rang out from the room. Michelle emerged a minute later, wiping her hands with a handkerchief.
“Dispose of that. Thank you.” She said as she walked out.
“Definitely,” I said.
On our way back to the parking lot, Orenda used her cell phone to call Jack. I heard his scream from the other end, even through the distortion.
“There better not be a fucking scratch on my Indian!”
I decided then to swing by the smoothie and gift shop. Measures would have to be taken to further this mystery and placate an angry wizard.
Part 05: Hiroko Noshimuri
Jack didn’t stop fuming until David and Orenda got back from the zoo on his bike. David carried in two racks of smoothies and even had a small stuffed animal for Lilith.
David handed one of the smoothies to Jack, who sniffed it.
“My favorite.” He said, drinking some, he gritted out. “So. You think a smoothy is going to save your asses after you took my bike?”
Jack stalked outside to Orenda, who handed back his keys and helmet.
“We needed something to get there fast. There’s not a single scratch, and I topped off the tank.” Orenda said.
Jack looked over his motorcycle, drinking his smoothie. Whatever he saw, he seemed to come to terms with it with a heavy sigh.
“I can’t believe you conspired with my wife against me,” Jack said.
“She gave us permission,” Orenda said.
“Whatever.” I said, trying to break up the hostilities, “Get inside and tell us what you found.”
David and Orenda filled us in on the Zoo. When they got to the part about the inmates, Virgil dropped his smoothie, prompting the White Rabbit to start cleaning again.
“That place is a thing?” Virgil said.
“Why, you heard of it?” I asked.
“Odianna always joked about throwing me into the Zoo. I thought she was just fucking with me. You know…faerie shit.”
“That’s why I keep telling you not to make deals with faeries,” Jack said. He looked down at the Rabbit, who expertly wiped up the spill and shined the floor beneath it.
“Thanks…Wilbur.” Jack said.
“It is what I do.” The Rabbit said.
This episode was the most recent of a solid hour of the White Rabbit tiding and organizing Jack’s house. He started with the floors, then the carpets, then started sorting the books by publication date. When the title was handwritten or without a date, he determined the order by sniffing the ink like you would a vintage of wine.
Damn impressive for a Jackrabbit.
David continued his story. His description of my Aunt was spot on.
“That was definitely Michelle,” I said.
“Why would they send her to bail them out?” Virgil said, the wheels in his head clearly turning.
“They obviously failed. You fail in the Yakuza; you die.”
“Why send your Aunt, though? Why not some cutout? Or why not leave the vamps there to die?”
“I don’t know, “I said, rubbing my head, “You said you found a sheathe?”
Orenda produced the leather sheathe and handed it to me. It was the right size and shape for the Bo Shuriken in the Watch.
“You said the vamps were in plain clothes?” I asked.
“Correct.” David confirmed, “They seemed to be incognito.”
I pointed down at the sheath, “This is something you would add to military webbing. This is out of place.”
“What about the magic stuff?” Orenda asked.
I looked at them with my Shun sight and continued to see afterimages and pre-echoes. But, the dark energy was just the same.
I handed it to Jack, who looked over it with me.
“These sigils are of Chaos and Destruction,” Jack said, “Chaos to affect an object of pure order. This was made to affect the Watch.”
“What about the Shuriken?” Virgil asked, “Doesn’t look like metal.”
I looked at the Shuriken. It was black with sigils on it, just like the bag. Only when we got closer, I realized what it was and how serious a weapon we had.
“This is a Black Eastern Dragon Scale,” I confirmed.
“Elemental power to break an elemental object,” Jack said.
When I reviewed the sigils again, I cringed, “There’s a spelling error on this Kanji.”
“You sure?” Jack asked.
“Dumbfuck missed a stroke. It just reads like gibberish.”
Jack looked closer at the Shuriken. He made notes on a notepad. His eyes seemed to glaze over, the kind of look he used when he looked at magic. Meanwhile, Virgil ran a finger over the leather etching.
“You’re right.” Jack said, “Magic was not imparted to this weapon. That screw-up on the calligraphy broke whatever enchantment attempted. The Rare material, though was enough to pierce the watch.”
“That cinches it then,” Virgil said, looking up from the leather pouch, “The Jade Court didn’t do this.”
I shook my head, “Wheels within wheels. This hit is their style.”
“These are a forgery.” Virgil said, “Those two were patsies being played. A Red herring to throw off investigators.”
I looked down at the weapon. It made sense.
“How can you be sure?”
Virgil pointed to the sigils on the Shuriken, “To properly forge art, you must understand how the original was produced. The strokes and nuances like light and texture. This forgery is amateur-hour. Young Turks will do this when they go off a photograph or a drawing.”
I took another look and understood.
“That makes sense. There’s no stroke order to this Kanji. They were just drawing it.”
“And they missed a spot because the forger doesn’t actually speak or read the language.”
“Who could have made this, then?” I asked.
“Too many possibles. Not a professional I would ever work with.”
“That leaves us with a new question.” I said, “Why? Why did they attack Harvey over here and risk an international incident among the supernatural?”
Part 06: Jack Youngblood
Being blessed with the knowledge of advanced mathematics for an hour or two was a real trip. If I could have replicated this state, I could blow some college entrance exams out of the water.
However, it made it a pain in the ass to explain what I knew about the Watch, let alone piece together why it was being targeted.
I performed another little ritual to examine the Japanese runes on the Shuriken further. We needed to find out the why here. Why this bunny and his phenomenal cosmic time-broom?
My observations gave me a few notes, and we all convened to share.
“This weapon was made to target something the Watch did. A weaponization of the Watch somehow it was trying to undo.” I said.
Virgil nodded, following like the sharp student of magic he was becoming, “But because the forger wasn’t Japanese, the magic didn’t take. The weapon damaged the Watch, but not in the way the attacker wanted.”
“Basically,” I confirmed.
“Is the Enchanter anyone you know?”
“Not that I could see. It is recent, though.”
“What could you use the Watch for besides brooming?”
I took a deep breath and let my preternatural knowledge of the Watch guide me, “Something the Bunny might not like to do. Something local or temporal. The Watch can’t turn back time but can speed it up and slow it down. Add or extend days.”
“What about a Time loop or something?…hypothetically,” Virgil asked. I could tell he was being careful with his wording.
Virgil had been learning as much as he could about magic since before I went into a coma. But, he knew better than most about the Laws of Magic. One of them very clearly said, “Thous Shalt Not Swim Against the Currents of Time,” which barred any kind of Time Travel.
The only reason we could discuss the Watch’s functions at all besides the fact it wasn’t turning back time was that the Watch itself was not a mortal construct. The White Rabbit’s role as a nonmortal was outside the Laws.
“Maybe. But why would you want to?” I said, “So, Wilbur, where can we fix this thing?”
The White Rabbit finished sorting the last of my books and turned to us.
“The Toymaker can fix the Watch. As important as your investigation may be, you must take it to him post-haste.”
More fucking faeries…
“Where is this…Toymaker?” I asked.
“In Toyland. South of the North Pole.”
“Toyland?” Hiroko started, “As in Babes in Toyland? More Disney?”
The Rabbit nodded, “Walter’s company has always been a helpful group of storytellers.”
“I believe it was also an Operetta,” Virgil said.
“That is correct.” The Rabbit said, pacing back and forth, “I can show you the Way. You must go swiftly.”
“First, tell us about this Toyland.” I said, getting the Rabbit’s attention, “What is it?”
“It is Toyland.” The Rabbit said.
I got a headache again just as Virgil called over Kerouac in his cat form.
“Kero, translate and elaborate,” Virgil said.
Kerouac licked himself and chuckled, “Toyland is a Wyld outpost. A marketplace for all manner of crafters in the nevernever.”
“You mentioned Santa earlier.” Hiroko said, “Do they make the toys?”
“As a term of their lease in Winter Territory,” Kerouac continued, “for two months out of the year, the crafters are commissioned into the service of Kringle at the North Pole.”
“Toyland becomes Santa’s Workshop for Christmas?”
“That is more or less correct. The rest of the year, they besiege the North Pole’s southern border.”
“So, why can’t you go there?” I asked the Rabbit, “Why do you need us, Wilbur?”
The Rabbit turned on the ball of his bunny foot. A clear gesture of shame.
“Kerouac and I have not been welcome in Toyland for some time.” The Rabbit said, “Faerie business.”
Virgil sighed, “Do you have a coupon or voucher or something for us? How are we going to fix the Watch?”
“No need. The Toymaker is obligated to repair the Watch. Do make sure to only give it to him and let no one else know you have it.”
“Besides,” Kerouac said, “Most of Toyland doesn’t use currency.”
“Great,” I said, “What else could possibly complicate this mission to save the flow of time?”
“I would advise following the rules while in Toyland.” The Rabbit said.
“What happens if we break them?” I asked.
The Bunny’s silence told us exactly what would happen.
Part 07: Virgil Gugasian
I went to my car, opened my trunk, and armed. Pistol, cold iron bullets, and my custom thunderballs made of steel. I put those and a few other things into a backpack. It would also serve as a way to transport the Watch if we needed another way to hide it.
“I think the faeries won’t like you bringing the Bane in with you,” Jack told me seriously.
“Don’t care,” I replied, “I’m going to live.”
“Be that way. I’m leaving my Warden’s sword here.”
If I had had room, I would have put his sword in my bag.
The rest of our team geared up and planned in Jack’s main room as Kerouac and the White Rabbit watched over us and answered our last-minute questions.
Jack himself stared down at the broken watch he held in a silk hanky.
“Only give the watch to the Toymaker.” The White Rabbit advised, “Keep it otherwise unnoticed.”
“I’ll keep my eye on it,” Jack said and placed the watch inside a lead-lined tackle box he had etched with magical runes.
“Can’t we just put the watch in your circle or something?” Hiroko asked, “Get the Toymaker to come here?”
Jack shook his head, “Besides the diplomatic issues with that, the Watch is too powerful. Even the circle downstairs inside of a threshold like mine can’t contain this thing’s mojo.”
The Rabbit nodded in agreement, “The local entropy should disperse the further the watch is from your village, but problems will continue until the device is repaired.”
Hiroko cringed, “So we are going to be late and early but never on time until we fix this damned thing?”
“Precisely.” The Rabbit said.
“How long will this trip take?” I asked Kerouac. I finally learned better than to ask the Rabbit anything.
“Toyland takes several days of travel each way. The watch might extend your travel, but once you get to Toyland, you will have plenty of relative time to find the Toymaker and make any necessary purchases.”
“Out of curiosity Kero, what does Toyland even take for the goods it produces?” I asked, “You mentioned very few of them take actual dollars. Are we talking firstborns?”
It was only by virtue of me working with Kerouac for half a year that I could get an answer from him that wasn’t evasive. That and some bargains I made with the Pooka very early in our career together.
“Toyland is a faerie place. It deals in favors and contracts for goods and services in your immediate possession and capability.” Kerouac said, “A firstborn is but one currency for trade. ”
I thought about that obtuse statement and tried to parse it.
“Yes/no: You can only trade for things you currently have? Not what you will have or could have?”
“That is correct.”
“So, if I wanted to trade a first-born, I would need to have a first-born? I couldn’t promise my second-born if they haven’t been born yet. If I wanted to trade service for something, it would have to be something I can actually do? Like, if I promised to make you something, I couldn’t make you a…pocket nuke if I didn’t know how to make one.”
“Precisely.” Kerouac nodded, “Though arrangements have been made for children that had been conceived but not yet born.”
“What is it with faeries and children?” Orenda asked.
“Children are the lifeblood,” Kerouac said as though the question was stupid and the answer obvious.
“But they do take other things besides kids, right?” I asked.
“Negotiation is the key to any good bargain. Many things can be traded besides objects and persons. Knowledge. Favors. Service.”
“But who even shops there?” Hiroko asked.
“Lots of people.” Kerouac confirmed, “Toyland is a designated marketplace. Anyone can seek trade there. Further rules are clearly labeled.”
“Sounds like a flea market.”
“That is not an inaccurate comparison.”
I saw some wheels turn in Hiroko’s head.
“Maybe I should see if they have an armorsmith there…”
I made some notes to myself and finished helping the others when Jack finally stepped in front of everyone.
“No one gets stuff from the faeries, okay? We take no chances. We get this done and get back. Standard rules apply for dealing with faeries in faerieland.” Jack said.
“And what the hell does that mean?” Orenda asked. It then occurred to me that the biker and the samurai might not have had dealings with the faeries.
I raised my hand and took the floor.
“Faerie Safety 101,” I said, getting everyone’s attention, “One, Faeries cannot speak direct falsehoods. They cannot tell you a patent lie like the sky is green unless it actually is. But they can and will be evasive. When you want information, ask a direct question in a way that will get a direct answer. Or look for something in writing that is clearly stated.”
“Talking with faeries is like pulling teeth.” Jack said, “Best not to talk to them unless you have to.”
“Two, faeries will make bargains with anyone over anything. Don’t accept anything they offer, and don’t offer anything yourself. Everything in Faerieland is currency, and nothing is done for free.”
“And they have glamors,” Jack said, “A cupcake is never actually a cupcake.”
“Unless it is,” Kerouac said, “They do have a cupcake shop there.”
“Shut up, cat.” Jack scowled. Kero made a feline growl and went back to his litterbox.
“Three, and this is the big one. As long as you follow their rules and not make yourself a direct threat, Faeries can’t actually end your life if you are not a member of their court. The mortals in the zoo are animals because the fey can’t personally end their lives.”
Jack nodded enthusiastically, “They can do it indirectly. They can turn you into things that are considered food, put you to enchanted sleep, or just put you in a situation inhospitable to human life.”
“The only exception to that is if you directly attack them and are an immediate threat. So military rules of engagement. Don’t fight unless they start it. Don’t challenge anyone or accept any challenge. And if some does start a fight, it is on.”
Kerouac licked up some water and looked to us, “You mortals are going to be no fun. You should have some excitement while you are out. Do say hello to Eric while you are there.”
I turned to Kero, and my mind raced, “Eric Laufey is in Toyland? I thought he owed you a favor for getting him off that tree.”
The cat-shaped faerie nodded, “I traded the favor. It sold quite quickly, too. His service was in high demand for a used car salesman.”
“Okay, that’s not ominous,” I said.
Before we set off, Jack looked at Kerouac and got his full attention.
“Keep my girls safe, you little bastard,” Jack said seriously.
“I will protect your family with my life as I have been commanded to,” Kerouac said just as earnestly three times. He only ever did that when he meant exactly what he said.
Toyland wasn’t on earth. Not really. It was in the Nevernever, the spirit world. It is said to be infinite and driven by mortal imagination or something. Every conceivable and inconceivable destination can be found there…if you know where to go. Going to the Nevernever is not as simple as opening a portal. Wizards understood the rules better than I did, but basically, you had to go to a place on Earth that has something in common with the part of the Nevernever you wanted to enter. The Ways can get weird.
We all collected our vehicles, parked them in places they could stay for a while, and all convened at our departure point in the mortal world.
The University Village is a staple of the University of Washington. It has shops, mall stuff, and various conveniences for students, visitors, and locals alike. Among the shops was one of the last KB Toys still in operation. Somehow it made sense, considering where we were going.
We found our departure point in the back of the store, where the store had made a niche for itself, selling vintage toys. Our spot was an archway next to a glass display featuring diecast Transformers toys and some Games Workshop miniatures painted by local artists-for-hire.
We made purchases to avoid being more conspicuous than we already were, and Jack started talking to open air.
Jack could talk to spirits Sixth Sense style, and they seemed to always be super-chatty around him. I don’t know how he put up with it. I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but Jack seemed to be asking some ghost if they had seen anyone else come through this same Way.
Jack nodded to something we couldn’t hear and looked to us.
“Looks like bikers came this way first.” Jack said.
“The Pack or those Bōsōzoku bastards?” Orenda asked.
“Both.” Jack said, “We missed them.”
“Any sign of Michelle?” Hiroko asked. Jack shook his head.
David rubbed his chin in thought, “This complication could point to a rising conflict if both sides are going to a faerie marketplace.”
“What would the Pack and the Yakuza want with Toyland?” Hiroko asked.
“There are many definitions of the word ‘Toy,’” I said, “The Gruffs had guns. They had to get them from somewhere.”
Jack took the lead and started doing some wizard stuff. I tried to watch him work, but all I got out of it was a flash in my brain of branches between worlds. Damn shoulder ached again.
The archway changed from a flat wall of toy boxes to the opening of a brick tunnel.
We walked through the archway and into the tunnel, and Jack closed the Way behind us. After about a dozen yards, the tunnel opened not to the mall but to a goddamned train station. It reminded me of Grand Central in New York. The place had Skylights that let in light from who knows where and benches for waiting travelers next to a set of train tracks.
Next to the loading area stood some elf in overalls holding a sign showing the departure time in minutes. He flipped the sign every five minutes or so.
Next to the elf and the platform was a massive display. It was a scale model of a toy city of tin and pewter like you would see at Christmas. There was a constant rain of ethereal snowflakes over the toy city, and various tiny mechanisms animated the display of various shops and market stalls. A toy train even went in and out of a tunnel on the model onto little train tracks.
“Definitely looks like a flea market,” Hiroko said.
I pointed to one of the stalls that caught my eye, “An actual flea market.”
“Bullshit,” Hiroko replied. The look on her face when I pointed out the shop on the model was priceless.
The elf’s counter got down to five minutes. Four and a half minutes later, the Elf blew a whistle.
“Train incoming!” The elf said in a projected voice, “All aboard for Toyland. Mind the gap between the train and the platform.”
A full-sized steam train that looked exactly like the toy train on the model came out of the tunnel in front of us. We all got onto the train and found seats. Moments later, the doors closed, and the train started moving again.
We went into a tunnel and passed by marionettes playing musical instruments. The music sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
When the train exited the tunnel, the breath left my lungs.
The train emerged into a city that looked exactly like the model we were just next to. Except this city was bigger. Much bigger.
We had found our way to Toyland…