Campaign of the Month: February 2022
Dresden Files Accelerated: Emerald City: Requiem
Book 13: Chapter 01
Winter’s New Left Hand
Transcribed by: Brad
Date: August 27, 2023
In Game date: December 2012
Episode: 63 (137)
The month and a half that followed the Outsider fight in the Underground was a series of long nights and early mornings for everyone in the know. Outsiders usually stay out, but ever since the underground, they started popping up almost every night.
Nothing as big or dangerous as the Gaussian Horror, but still difficult to deal with all the same. Even an Outsider the size of a ferret is still an Outsider.
Everyone with knowledge of the supernatural were finding ways to help or were locking themselves behind thresholds.
I spent the time not really recovering from the burnout of too much magic use. Leif patched me up like always, but I had little time to breathe. Even less to spend getting to know my daughter, Lilith, or my wife.
At best, I would go out at sundown and hunt some otherworldly muskrat with nine mouthtails and would get home just as the sun came up. Abby did her best to always have a meal ready to reheat and a bed ready to sleep in. Lilith did her best to occupy , who continued to “cheer me up” with pranks.
Him and everyone else. Lots of folks were taking the opportunity to mess with me in other ways to get a rise out of me. I know they were glad I was alive and up again, but it was going too far.
When I found my saltshaker filled with mayonnaise, I drew a stern line.
“The next person who pulls a prank on me…” I said, “I am getting a few of my invisible friends to haunt Bob Marley style.”
That stopped it.
November turned into December, and my attempts at sleep were interrupted by neighbors playing some new Christmas song about building a snowman again and again at all hours of the day. I was half tempted to do something about it, but Abby convinced me to let it go.
Just before I nodded off one day, Abby nudged me awake.
“What?” I asked.
“There’s an expensive car pulling up outside.”
I rolled my eyes and answered the door just before the driver knocked. I was greeted by the solar plexus of an exceptionally large man who I recognized as the seeming of an ogre no one had seen in months.
“Squire?” I said, looking up at the servant, “What’s up?”
Squire stood at parade attention, nonplussed, and spoke plainly.
“Dame Odianna requests you to host her for tea at two PM.”
I could already tell it wasn’t a request. I owed Odianna a lot, and it was only a matter of time before she collected. Acquiescing would pull fewer teeth, so I just nodded.
“Honey, we’re going to be having some guests,” I called to the back of the house.
“Lady Odianna is coming for tea.”
“Dame Odianna,” Squire said and then turned back to his car and drove off.
“Fine, Dame…” I said, “What’s the difference, anyway?”
Kerouac road on my daughter’s back as she scritched him, giving the little shit that Chesire smile as he smirked, “Dame is a medieval rendering of Duchess. Ignorant Colonials…”
It took a moment for the coffee I was drinking to kickstart the gears in my brain.
“Duchess…” I said, focusing on the word.
I don’t know how faerie succession rules work, but the implication was clear.
Abby put it together before I did. She was always smarter than me.
“I guess she got promoted,” Abby said.
That woke me up.
For once, when things went to shit, people called me first. Jack told me he would be hosting tea for a new Duchess of the Winter fae.
Normally, I would have told Jack to tell her to piss off, but that clearly wasn’t an option.
Whatever. Stupid faeries.
“Tea in the European sense means tea and biscuits, “I said into my phone, “What do you have on hand?”
“Lipton, I think.” Jack replied.
“I’ll get the good stuff.” I said and ran back to my apartment for the best dress I had for the occasion and made a few calls.
I got to Jack’s place to find him in a panic. Being the only college-educated person in the place, I decided to do my part to take charge and make the dumb Wizard look presentable. Virgil did his part too, but he hadn’t hobnobbed with rich white New Yorkers as much as me.
We took Jack’s “suit” to a one-hour cleaner and tried like hell to make sure it fit.
By the time we got back, a young lady in a Pink Motorcycle helmet stood on the porch with a metal Tea Tin.
“My Lady, I didn’t think it would be you…” I said as I awkwardly took the tea. The container by itself made me feel relief despite the company making me hesitate.
The Dragon Lady was a local Hag straight from the old country. I don’t know how old or powerful she is, but she had her hands in pathways to power through bargains. The look was one of two shapes Japanese Hags commonly took, the other being the standard old lady. But, that’s the most a Hawaiin girl like me could remember.
“I needed to get out anyway. ” The Dragon Lady said with a smile. It looked nice, but I don’t remember her owning one.
Jack seemed just as surprised as me at the sight of the Dragon Lady.
“There are some people better for the neighborhood than you.” The hag said and drove off.
I looked at Jack and raised an eyebrow in question.
“I…might have given her goat’s blood instead of my own,” Jack said, embarrassed.
“Goat named Jack Youngblood?” Virgil asked.
“Stupid, more like.” I said, “Easy way to piss off a Hag.”
I took the tea inside and brushed up on the dusty old Tea Ceremony book my father insisted I read at an impressionable age even if it was all crap. I wasn’t going to do everything, but some level of ceremony for an actual noble was an easy way to not piss her off.
When Orenda got there and started helping out, I breathed a bit easier.
“Let’s just do this. Maybe she’ll kill us quick or vice-versa.” I said as everyone in the house gawked at my outfit.
A plain old dress I reserved for fancy parties and rich people in New York legal circles. Very different from my regular ware. The only thing out of place was Zanpakutou sheathed on my hip. There was no way with faeries around, especially Winter nobility )not to mention the Damned Cat), was I eltting the blade out of my sight, much less, off my hip.
I got out of the Outsider fight without a scratch, but still by the skin of my teeth. On the upside, it gave me time to learn more evocations and memorize some new formulae to use with my newly attuned Worldsplinter.
On the downside, I had poured most of my funds and Emerald Conclave stipends into a new office, lab, and materials. So, I had to make ends meet the good old-fashioned way.
Jack called me when I was approaching a house that looked like bad news and smelled like drugs in a red and grey uniform. I had transitioned from Smart Phones to an old Nokia. The more powerful my magic got, the more allergic to technology I would get. So, I tried to take advantage of electronics while I could. One day, I’d need to hire an assistant whose sole job was to do electronic legwork I could no longer do.
“Duchess?” I said taking notes on a notepad, “Sounds bad.”
“Better I have a magic-eater on deck.” Jack said, “I could use you in half an hour or so.”
The house’s owner, an overweight man in a white undershirt, matched my photo of him. I checked my watch.
“I’ll be there in ten.” I said, hanging up.
“Who are you supposed to be?” The homeowner asked.
“You Thomas Derrickson?” I said, looking down at a receipt.
“That’s right. I…”
Before he could object, I put three piping pizza boxes in his hands. His nose smelled his favorite toppings, which shut him up long enough for me to put a fourth on top of the others.
“These have already been paid for…” I said, opening the top pizza box to a court summons, “And you’ve been served.”
I was back in my car and driving away by the time the guy was trying to find me and kick my ass.
Orenda and I arrived simultaneously to find Chez Youngblood in a panic of motion. I put on a laundered suit I had in my trunk and walked in doing my best Harvey Keitel impression. This situation needed a Wolf.
“You got a suit?” I asked Jack, who nodded, “Get it laundered. The closest one-hour is in Greenway. More than enough time.”
I helped where possible, but I started by going to the person who knew the most about fae etiquette.
“Kerouac, “ I asked the cat-shaped faerie, “Could you tell us the protocol here out of the goodness of your heart?”
“The goodness of my heart, no.” Kerouac said, “For the sake of making a Winter Duchess look like a fool, I’d be happy to.”
Kero turned into his pooka form and glamoured up a blackboard, taking us through etiquette for the meeting. It was the last thing Odianna expected, and given their past dealings, it was the best for Jack and the rest of us.
I spent three hours making things look as professional as we could in the time we had. It wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for a once-over. I got a lot of practice with simple cleaning evocations, too.
Two PM rolled around, we took our places, and the expensive car arrived again. It was obviously glamoured so that no one besides us could see it.
Good thing too. It’s not every day you see an Ogre in a blue tunic with hose and leather booties straight out of a Ren Faire. That shit sticks with you.
“May I present,” Squire said, opening the car door, “The Left Hand of Frost, by the Grace of Queen Mab, Knight of Frozen Spear, Guardian of the Winter Rose, Dame Odianna of Winter.”
Her blue-silver dress was halfway between an actual dress and armor. Her only adornment a necklace that could have been a dagger or a spear-head. Her every step sent out waves of an aura of cold that made the temperature drop from the above-average December to being able to see our breath in the air.
I could feel the power radiating off her, making my skin a pattern of goosebumps and sweat. It was colder and sharper than the last time I had felt her presence.
“The home is not substandard.” Odianna said, ““It is not as abhorrent as I expected from someone like you.”
“Thank you.” Jack replied dryly. “Please, enjoy the hospitality of my household as an honored guest.” He added formally.
“I accept your hospitality and guest rights for the duration of my stay.”
That declaration bound her like no mortal could be without blood and magic. Faeries and their accords carried weight you couldn’t just get out of.
Jack did his best at fineries and small-talk. He led his guests around the house, into the garden in the back.
Tea was poured. Chairs politely moved.
I did my part by standing at attention next to Squire. I didn’t have a prayer against him in close quarters, let alone Odianna, so of all things…I relaxed. The whole, “If she wanted us dead, we would be already” thing. The pair of arming swords he carried didn’t help our odds at all. One was human-sized and the other was sized for ogres.
Our only lifeline was the Summer Cat protecting Jack’s daughter upstairs and the biker in the shape of a coyote in the bushes. Or was it an owl? Either way, I couldn’t see Orenda anywhere.
The only trace of her presence was the pastries she picked up from the Sweettooth Bakery, some local place that was to die for.
Hiroko was there too dressed to kill, but only the ceremony allowed her to be armed. If her hot head got the best of her, we’d be just as dead.
After a few sips, bites, and ceremony, Odianna raised a hand.
“The formalities have been observed. To business.” she declared.
We braced for her explanation. It was a doozy.
“There was a debt between us. Due to my new status, your debt has been passed up the chain.”
Jack almost scratched his head when Hiroko leaned over and whispered, “She sold your mortgage.”
“The Guardian of the 7th Gate has gone missing. You are required to take up some of his duties in his stead.”
“But Fergus isn’t missing; he just isn’t here.” Jack said.
“The gate is in danger, and Queen Mab requests you in payment of the debts incurred to stand ready.”
I felt my blood run cold. Probably everyone else’s too.
“Will this discharge my debt to Mab?” Jack tried not to stutter.
“It might, depending on your service. I am authorized to allow you to call for any need you deem necessary. Warden Youngblood, call forth your spears.”
“Mab will pay fair debt to ensure the safety of the gates. Fair by word and Fair by spirit.”
That made my eyes almost bug out. If Odianna was being commanded by the Queen of Air and Darkness herself, this was big.
“What do mean by ‘fair debt?’”
“You have the authority to propose bargains, and Winter will make honest consideration of them. Squire will be able to verify. Payment will be made for services, and blood price will be paid.”
“Have you approached the Conclave of Emerald on this matter?”
“I will be rather busy.”
“May I call the Conclave to order on your behalf?”
“Mister Gugasian can assist with the arrangements.” Odianna said, standing, “Squire will be available at sunrise every morning at my old place of residence. The Solstice is on the horizon. This task must be completed before that time.”
The Solstice. Exactly two weeks away.
“I will do my best to complete this task,” Jack said.
“We both will,” I said truthfully.
Squire handed Jack a business card, and the pair left without another word or sound..
It was only after the card was out of sight that I unclenched and let out my held breath.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, “We’re in deep shit…”
Few things are as amusing as rodents in a sealed maze trying to find their way out. Especially when they are promised food and safety, but one of their exits is a cat’s maw.
One of those things is scritches from a human child who takes good direction and enough upper-body strength to carry thirty pounds of cat.
Although I was not present for Odianna’s meeting in an official capacity, I could hear her entire mess of a presentation. I could also sense that she knew that both I and Orenda were hidden in reserve and that the two of us together even in surprise would be unable to defeat her.
Lilith returned me to the Wizard’s presence just in time for me to see the assembled humans soiling themselves. Delicious.
Virgil was the only one sensible enough to look to me for advice.
“Kero” Virgil said, “How real was her offer?”
“As real as you can be.” I confirmed, “Odianna’s Queen always pays her debts and makes sure any owed to her come due.”
That didn’t seem to placate anyone, so I sat down.
“It also means that the threat is real as well. Guarding the gates is an important task to be sure.”
“Oh, and Dame is also sometimes a term for a woman who was knighted. Did I not mention that? While not The Winter Knight, Knighted by Mab’s own hand is still quite something. The Left Hand is also a rather sinister title too.”
Orenda entered the house in her human form, scratching her head the same way I licked something that got on my fur.
“What the hell are these gates?” She asked, “What do we know about them?”
“Not much.” Jack confirmed, “The Outer Gates protect the mortal world from the outside. Winter is charged with protecting them. I think…”
Their gazes met mine for a further explanation. I almost coughed up a furball in response.
“I’m Summer. That is beyond my understanding and purpose.” I replied, “But my spear is yours to command.”
“But that means we are still massively screwed,” Jack said.
“The offer is real.” I confirmed, “Mab’s power and influence lends a great deal of leverage for negotiating the service of allies.”
“Allies. Right. We need allies. We need to make some calls.” Jack said.
Any remaining mortal optimism was crushed by Virgil, who embraced the pragmatic view of realism.
“An offer like that also means that this is dangerous. This mission could be a death sentence for anyone guarding the gate. Blood price is payment for someone who dies.”
We spent the rest of the day and night talking strategy. Mab’s offer opened some doors. A faerie’s promise could buy things mortal money could only wish for.
Other names came up. Some I knew, and some I had only heard of.
The suggestion of The Knife of Hunger caught me off-guard.
“You want Darth Vadar to guard one of the gates?” I said, “Wouldn’t you prefer someone trustworthy and not…a monster?”
“We need strong people for this,” Jack said.
“We shouldn’t give our enemies any favor with Mab. We should give it to people we can trust.”
Virgil leaned forward and repeated what he had brought up earlier.
“We are fighting Outsiders. Whoever we recruit might not survive long enough to enjoy the fruits of their death sentence.”
I couldn’t argue that logic, but I still thought trusted friends better than the enemy of my enemy.
“Meet at our club. Bring pizza.” I told him.
“That is doable.” Jack said, “Order a dozen double meat.”
“And one veggie,” I said. Craig Bigeagle would be meeting us there too.
I also drew the short straw along with Virgil and was forced to drive to the I-District to do some talking. I’m great at that.
The Dragon Lady made her home in the largest of a local chain of Japanese supermarkets. What the hell she did there, I had no idea. I only went to the place for rice and soy sauce.
The Dragon Lady had a stall in the back that most people couldn’t see with an old-fashioned cash register. This time, she looked like my Grandma or anyone’s grandma. An old crone of the classic variety.
She looked to Virgil and I with a smile. We bowed to her with the respect due to her.
We explained the situation as best we could. Virgil’s presence seemed to placate any suspicions we had.
“Warden Youngblood requests your aid, and anyone you are aware might be able to protect one of the Gates.”
“Ah yes, Jack No-blood.” The Hag said, “No.”
“I was hoping others would be able to help.” I said.
“You look perfectly healthy.” She replied.
“Deals can be made.” I said.
“How much are you willing to pay?”
Virgil shook his head at the offer. I could tell the Hag was not someone to deal with.
“Do you know anyone else who might be able to aid us?”
“The Scary Lady with the sword would be able to help.” She said.
“Which Scary lady?” Virgil said, “We already have one of those.”
“The one you gave the sword to some months ago.”
Virgil swallowed hard.
“Thank you, my lady.” Virgil said and bowed. He dragged me off only when his aura said he was genuinely scared.
“What sword and what scary lady?” I asked.
“Just before you got involved with us,” Virgil explained, “We rescued Jack’s daughter Lillith from a crazy town near Spokane. Cultists. Our benefactor for the mission had a price for getting us in and out safely. The Sword of Wrath.”
“Who was your benefactor?”
“Tenebriel, a rogue Knight of the Blackened Denarius currently riding a skin suit that used to be a Mossad Assassin.”
We walked back to the car in a haze. This situation was making for really strange bedfellows.
When we got back, we told Jack the bad news.
“Shit.” Jack said, “We might not have a choice.”
“Perhaps we could look at the Knife of Hunger again.” Kerouac said, “That might be safer than Tenebriel
Just thinking about fighting more outsiders gave me a headache. I did not want to end up a Ghoul party guest again for one. The odds against us made Vegas bookies drool for another. Nightmare beasts just fucked everything.
It meant that we needed all hands on deck. It meant a lot of meetings. A lot of talking. A lot of begging friends and almost friends into putting their lives on the line for everyone. A lot of breaking bread with people we would rather shoot repeatedly in very uncomfortable places.
It also meant I had to play robocaller. I was one of the only people with a working cellphone because Wizards nuke them by looking at them funny. I had to call my Dad. I had to call Craig. I had to call a lot of people to ask them to meet up. I had to describe the shit we were all in a dozen times and start sentences with, “Listen, asshole” a dozen more.
Then I had to play errand girl. I had to pick up pizzas and peace offerings. Then, I had to chauffer a 30-pound faerie in the shape of a cat to the Zoo on my back as I rode my bike through traffic..
“You sure this isn’t going to be a waste of time?” I asked the cat, who enjoyed his set of googles and the wind across his fur as we pulled into a spot.
It had better not be a waste of time since Kerouac spent an hour convincing us it was a good idea.
“It is an important card I have left to play.” Kerouac said, smiling even as the ride ended and he hopped off my motorcycle and onto my back like some kind of living scarf.
Last time I went to the zoo, I had to buy admission. This time, the people at the front took one look at the cat and let us right through. I thought I heard them exchange greetings, but it was in a language I don’t think anyone spoke outside of Europe or something.
“Have an Animaltastic Time!” the zittfaced teenager running the booth said as we passed through.
The Woodland Park Zoo looked on the outside and inside to be an ordinary zoo. Fun for the whole family. Smells that stuck with you. Animals you could only see in sealed paddocks and enclosures. Lots of signs telling you to not feed the animals or the birds that no one listened to.
In reality, it was exactly that…but it was also a prison. A minimum-security prison for the Summer Faeries. Mostly mortals and near-mortals that had broken a bargain. Idiots punished for breaking a faerie promise. All of them turned into animals and put into the zoo with the rest of the animals.
Don’t piss off a faerie at some of the worst.
We found who we had come to see waiting for us. She looked like a zoo administrator. A suit more expensive than my bike and hair that must have cost half that price. A smile that was bewitching and inviting.
But my eyes and scion senses saw past the veneer and saw the truth. The warden of Woodland Park. A sidhe of the Summer Court.
“Kerouac,” Warden Mayberry said, “So nice of you to visit. Would you like to speak to a prisoner?”
“We are here for business of a different nature, unfortunately.” Kerouac said.
“Whatever is the issue?”
“We are up to our necks in outsiders.” I said, “We need some muscle.”
We explained the situation as much as we dare, careful in what details we shared.
“Concerning to be sure.” Mayberry said, “But outside our responsibility. We are a prison, not a mercenary service, my lord.”
Kerouac let out a long purr, “The situation presents an opportunity for the court…and for your charges.”
“Warden,” I said, “Do you understand the concept of…work release programs in faerie?”
“A form of temporary parole for the purpose of labor.” She said.
“It has been done in the past.” Kerouac said.
“It has.” Mayberry agreed, “But for what in exchange?”
Kerouac put on his Cheshire grin and nodded to me. Better the Warden hear it from me, the mortal.
“Wizard Youngblood and Mab have authorized an exchange of debts. If the Summer Court could help us in protecting the gates, we will support the Court’s representation on the Conclave of Emerald.”
Just saying it made me taste bile. Giving Summer a seat on the conclave was a major play way above my paygrade. It would change the balance of power in Seattle.
But, we needed the manpower.
“Such a victory,“ Kerouac said, “Would be a victory for the court. A victory worthy of a queen’s notice.
Mayberry responded by making a short sound only dogs could hear.
“Mab has offered an exchange of debts for aid?”
“Cash on the barrelhead.” I said, “A blank check more or less. I swear on my ancestors that the offer is real.”
“We will not directly exchange favors with winter, what you do with your own debts either way with them are not our business, but a seat on the council in exchange for labor beyond my control? That offer will be considered. I make no promises. Perhaps an agreement can be made to personally release prisoners to Kerouac.”
“Thank you, Warden.” I said, “There will be a meeting of a Conclave on the morrow. Be there or be square.”
We finished pleasantries and left. On our way out, I clocked more than a few of the animals in the enclosures giving me an eager stare. They heard what we said. They had heard the hope.
Let’s hope we weren’t turning their dime in the zoo into a trip to the gas chamber.