Log:A Game of the Heart
|A Game of the Heart|
5 January, 2019
At the Market, from the mouth of hobs and gossip from stranger places still have spread the word of His Royal Highness Maximilian's decree. Sending an open invitiation to any and all to his "kingdom" for what they call The Game of the Heart. The initial journey through the thorns and the Hedge are forever strange, and so it is still as you pass into the Bulberry Thicket. Down the valley towards the little patch guarded by the Royal Hob and his henchmen the sight of hobs collecting the fey fruits become more and more common, most of them skittish and drawing back at the first sign of danger while others have a faint air of desperation to them. The winding paths eventually does lead to Maximillian's realm, huts carved out from the pecuiliar trees and in the distance one stands taller and thicker by far than the rest. With its thick branches as towers and crude banners painted with mulberry juice hanging depicting a crown the "palace" is clearly marked.
Furher up what could be called the road is a small crowd gathered around a little tower made from an overgrown sapling, short figured with spears standing guard and holding up the tiny flow of strange visitors.
Not keen on going to the Deep Hedge when she doesn't have to, Lolly, and Haruki too, since he seemed interested and she was glad of the company, takes the most expedient route to reach the thicket: a hike up Mount Salvation to the Thousand-Corners Trail area, and in through the gate there. The thicket's generally very close to the entrance to the mortal world, though distances in the Hedge are, as always, mutable. "Ooooh this makes me wish I knew where Czcibor had gone off to, that's for sure," she mumbles half under her breath, trying to be discreet about talking to Haruki. As it so happens, for some odd reason, her effects upon the Hedge are overwhelmed by someone else's. Gee. I wonder whose.
Haruki's got it into his head that he's going to investigate these recent decrees, goodness even knows how he found out about it. He's not quite crazy enough to go venturing into the hedge alone, so well today he's with Lolly. He did plan to do research beforehand, in the stoneheart library, what with being a custodian and all, but the best laid plans and all that. So. He can do it later, probably, maybe, or persuade someone else to more likely. "I miss Czcibor," Haruki says. "He was nice. I never did get to ride his balloon. I hope he comes back." He's relatively chatty although also easily distracted by everything that's going on around them.
Among the influx of strange visitors to the thicket is the tall, imperious figure of Carter Logan. He stands well above the height of most of the hobs, and the vast majority of them give him a wide, respectful berth. More than a few of them stop to stare apprehensively up at him, but the Devil seems accustomed to this sort of behavior, and barely even acknowledges the existence of most of the hobs. He simply stands in the crowd, observing the palace and waiting for something interesting to happen. He's wearing a new suit today, a deep, ocean blue one, the blue of sapphires, accented by a blood-red handkerchief in the breast pocket. Around him, his Wyrd shapes the Hedge unconsciously, filling it with strange, alluring lights and flowers that draw the eye and tempt any unwary souls off of the path.
The short crooked figures with the spears stand guard over the path up towards the larger tree, pointed ears, big noses and eyes clad in attire made from Mulberry tree leaves they are marked as residents of the area. The approaching Lost gets looks and glances, and the Devil has a wide area of emptiness around him. Although as much as they are apprehensive about him a number of visitors have already wandered off the path, chasing fey flowers which were not there a moment ago. Just a few moments later another hob of similar nature as the guards emerges from the overgrown sapling, a large pecuiliar berry on top of his head as a hat. "Honored guests!" he shouts out with a shrill voice, much too large for his small form. "His Royal Highness welcomes you to his realm!" he almost pauses for a moment, staring at the figure of Carter but does not linger. Who would ever dare turn him away at the door, afterall. "Follow me and the banquet shall soon commence!"
Thankfully, Lolly has seen Carter before. Less thankfully, Carter is Carter, and the considerably less...uh...let's just leave it as -less- powerful, in so many ways, young woman is already growing mildly uneasy, even before the twisting of the labyrinthine Hedge brings her and Haruki within sight of him. The blanket of his power over the landscape, really, is unmistakable. Her feet drag, reluctance about as obvious as a brick to the face, but she glances at Haruki, takes a deep breath, stiffens her spine and nibbles on her lower lip, shily refusing to look Carter in the eye and very pointedly lagging back when they are called in by the shrill, small hob. You know. To give him, uh, plenty of room. Yes. She's surely just being considerate. Wouldn't, uh, want him to trip. Yes.
Haruki gazes at Carter with wide eyes, and all the flowers, and the mantle and... it's Carter he wants to follow, and just look at, spellbound, and just look at, because, well... he's so very, very there.
Carter, for his part, barely seems to notice Lolly or Haruki. Oh, he definitely /sees/ them. Lolly even gets a little nod of acknowledgement. But, that aside, Carter makes no attempt to meet up with his fellow Lost. Or Haruki. He doesn't chase the man away if he attempts to follow, either, but he doesn't seem to particularly care much what the other two do with themselves. Instead, his gaze is drawn to the hob with the berry for a hat, which gets a raised eyebrow and a faintly amused smile, as though a chuckle were being suppressed. When the invitation comes to follow for the banquet, he murmurs something about "hob cuisine" and limps forward with the rest of the crowd, leaning heavily on his cane on the uneven Hedge floor. Only once he reaches the door does he actually pause, look back at Lolly and Haruki, and then step aside, extending a hand as if to invite the two of them to go in ahead of him.
The crowd slowly shifts and shuffles up along the path towards the grand tree, with the exception of a few that linger to collect the fey flowers. Afterall, what is a hob "king" compared to such fine things. The berry hatted creature leads the way, and more short crooked figures with spears stand guard at the entrance to the main tree. The banners are set on either side with only the crude crown painted onto them. Among the creatures in the crowd one might catch the odd mention of riches, kings, banquet, witches and games. A few of them looking to be from far away while others might be familiar residents of the loop to the Lost of the Freehold.
Slowly the little stream is lead inside a grand hall, carved out in the tree with two long tables set up. The hob cuisine as it is heavily Mulberry based together with what looks like a strange meat which smells of something sweet and oily. But at the far end on a raised section sits what can only be His Royal Highness, clad in a thick coat of furs, where the violet spots seem to drift and change every few seconds and with a crude gilded crown on his head. Short and crooked as the rest, only fat to boot with a strange empty expression and blank eyes.
Haruki's really paying most of his attention to Carter, who is infinitely more fascinating than anything else, including the reason he's here. The smell of 'meat' makes Haruki rather nauseus so... well stay away from that, don't look, nope.
Lolly seems quite content to go at Carter's slower pace. Nope, no problems hanging back at all, no, just... yes, Haruki can go admire the other Spring alllll he wants. She'll stay here. Far away. Her green-rooted, lily-white hair is far paler than the creamy, living green of her skin tone, but she's a pretty thing in her own right. Still imperfect, not honed as sharply into a weapon of beauty, but the signs are there -- if she grows, a lot, she could be a plantier sort of Carter some day herself. For the time being, however, the strength of -his- Mantle is far enough away for her own lesser, weaker embrace of Spring to make itself evident, healing herbs and wildflowers, tender plants, growing where she steps in a far more subtle display. Haruki's fascination with the Devil prompts a wry, wary laugh, and she gives the shorter man a nudge to encourage him, support him in pursuing his desires -- she may not be as Spring as Carter is, but she's still Spring! The hobs around them, the other strangers in the area, are given quick glances, brief, polite, and she is careful not to stare, even at the king. Uncertain what to do, she glances to the others. Are people bowing?
Carter gives both Haruki and Lolly small smiles in acknowledgement. Haruki's comes with a slightly knowing edge to it, as though Carter is aware of the pseudo-supernatural fascination he exerts over the other man. Of course, it isn't particularly hard to spot, but then, Carter still doesn't seem to be paying too much attention, beyond what is required for surface-level social interactions. Until, that is, they're led to their seats, and served with hob-food, and presented with the hob King. His Royal Highness gets a long, considering look which only grows more considering over time, as though Carter has finally found something worthy of his attentions. As he lowers himself into his seat beside Lolly and Haruki, he continues to peer up at the King, watching him far more closely than he's watched anything else thus far. His Mantle does indeed fill the air around him so powerfully as to almost be smothering. Like the raw weight of his Wyrd, it bleeds out uncontrollably into the air. The Hedge around them has already answered to his power; within those few feet around him, this effect only seems to grow stronger, layered as it is with those hypnotic and enticing scents that fill the air in his presence. As he hooks his cane over the edge of the table, though, he stops to test another scent wafting in: that of the hob-food, which does actually draw his eye away from the King for a few moments as he peers at it curiously.
The King sits on his throne, staring blankly ahead and while he gets many looks from the little crowd. They do not bow, nor does he even speak. For now. The berry hatted creature however is stepping up towards the raised platform. As he does a few servants of the same nature start walking around offering what must be drink from some strange transluscent containers, its content smelling sickly bitter. And soon there is murmured talk as the other guests dig in, some reluctantly and politely while others are ravenous. Did they come here only for a free meal?
Haruki's going to sit down in between Carter and Lolly because that way the best of both worlds and he can continue to look at Carter, much like a moth might flap around a flame. "You smell nice." He says suddenly. He's not going to touch any of the food, as much as hedge food fascinates him, meat does not and, well finally he eventually manages to tear his gaze away form Carter and study the king. "Making people feel is spring?" he asks, Lolly or Carter? His voice is quiet. "What's wrong with him? Can you look into his heart and see?"
Lolly's scent, as always, carries its own sweet-sharp allure, lily of the valley impossible to miss in her vicinity. Sitting still, with no breeze to carry it away, the Flowering's innate perfume blends well with Spring's other fragrances. Hopefully Haruki isn't allergic! SHE isn't quite as sanguine about sitting there, shoulders stiff and tense, green eyes studying everything and everyone, food included. Speaking quietly, the young woman admits, "I'm better at healing bodies than poking into people's hearts. H-he--" with a look to Carter, "--probably knows loads more than I do, though."
"I do," Carter says calmly, in response to Haruki, as he plucks up whatever silverware is available and begins to cut into the strange, oily meat that constitutes his portion of the banquet. "And no. Spring is not, precisely, about making others feel. It is more to do with desire than general emotion. But I don't need to look into his heart to see what's wrong with him. That would be quite impossible, in point of fact. What's wrong with him is that there is no heart to look into." His voice is quiet and level, hovering just below what might be normal for a pleasant conversation amid this feast, but the words are honeyed and hypnotic, every bit as supernaturally attractive as the rest of him. He takes a bite of the strange meat, chews thoughtfully for a moment, then swallows and, seeing no napkin, is forced to resort to wiping his lips on the back of his hand. Another bite is chewed and swallowed before he continues. "I came here," he says quietly, "because I'd heard that the King was suffering from much the same kind of problem that I am. Unfortunately, the cause is manifestly different; in his case, something has outright removed his capacity to feel, while I suffer from simple, if overpowering, boredom. This is altogether a different kind of difficulty than the one I was expecting." The very corners of his mouth quirk upward in a slight smile. "But a much more interesting one, as well."
As the feasting continues the berry hatted hob does reach the platform and turns around. For a moment there is the sound of an instrument, not quite a trumpet but similar from a little herald standing close by wielding a strange contraption. "Guests!" the creature calls out "I welcome you to His Royal Highness's hall! And to the Game of the Heart!" by his tone it is meant to be a grand statement, although most of the attending merely look curious. It does not stop him however as he merely continues. Stepping to the side with a gesture to the seated royal he declares "High Royal Highness Maxmimillian!" then out over the crowd "Noble, just and daring has been the victim of a terrible theft. His heart has been taken, stolen and locked away by the treatcherous Cryssandra whose hand was promised him!" he waits for a moment, for the appropiate gasps and woes. A few arrive, mostly from the guards. "Not a feeling touches His Highness, nor can he ever love as he did the fled thief!" Through all of this the fat hob behind him barely moves, just staring blankly ahead still. "So we, his loyal, loving subjects seek a hero! A liberator! To bring joy back to his heavy heart! And for it, we offer a grand reward fit any the savior of any kingdom!" although one may wonder small as this one is.
Lolly can't ignore Carter -- who could? -- but she can try to be polite to whichever hob or changeling is seated on her -other- side. That is, if they speak English. Or Japanese. Or Chinese, for that matter. Also if they are even willing to speak, at all. When the herald speaks, she lifts her attention to the hob, listening with a sympathetic ear and a small sound of dismay. What a terrible thing to do to someone! The prospect of a reward doesn't seem to interest her. She's still being sappy, and a single tear rolls over a smooth green cheek.
"Cryssandra," Carter murmurs to himself. "And her paramour Maximilian. Interesting. I wonder how she managed it." This is all he says, for the moment. Aside from this, he merely sets his silverware aside and folds his hands on the tabletop in front of him, listening intently.
Haruki tries to pat Lolly's arm in comfort. "It's ok. We'll help him. Well... he will." He indicates Carter. "Because I'm sure he can do anything and everything. No need to be sad. Although a hand for a heart doesn't seem like a proper trade, especially if neither agree. If someone gives you their heart it's not like a normal gift, there's no keepsies, no regifting? Like Once Upon a Time and True love?"
There are some apporpiate gasps of sympathy from among the guests, while others seem to already be noting down names and events. Moved by reward more than emotion, ironically in this instance. The berry hatted man continues "For a full moon and a day, His Highness will be avaliable for audience by anyone who seeks to return emotion to his heart!" another grand gesture out towards the gathered. "Our doors will be open to any of you who carry His Highness' mark." and with those words the servants have exchanged the strange drink for giving out small little badges marked with the crude gilded crown, supposedly to grant them entrance to this place oncemore after tonight.
Lolly gives Haruki a blank look, not quite following the man's rambling, then gets distracted when the berry-hatted herald speaks up again. She listens, and, when the servants come around with the badges, she accepts one of them, turning it over in her hand to study its construction. "I sure hope someone can help," she murmurs, still saddened by the poor king's state.
Carter accepts one of the badges with a nod of thanks to the behatted hob. Like Lolly, he takes a moment to turn it over and over in his long fingers, studying its appearance with an air of faintly detached curiosity. Then he slips the little token away, into an inner pocket of his suit, and murmurs, "Someone will, surely. Perhaps even one of us. Things like this always find their resolution eventually." And, with that, he turns his attention back to his Hedge-steak, which he polishes off at an impressive speed. He's a quick eater, this one, but exceedingly neat; not so much as a scrap of flesh or a drop of juice escapes his lips as he devours his meal.