It would be nice if we could say today were a beautiful sunny day, but no. It's dreary, grey and overcast, with the sky drooling rain too listlessly to do more than occasionally drip and drizzle and test how well hair-straighteners hold in wet weather.
The markets, normally a-bustle with activity, are still -busy-, but...not AS busy as they ordinarily would be, at this time of year. Farmers are still there at the farmers' market, selling their wares, and tourist traps of hand made soaps and jewellery and Vermont-themed sculptures, air fresheners, you name it, are still changing hands throughout the colourful tangle of bright buildings and awnings.
Our intrepid troupe may not know yet that they -will- be a troupe, but they have just cause to be concerned: a spindly figure, Changeling from the looks of it, has just pilfered a child from a stroller and begun to sprint off through the aisles of colourful carts and rain-blocking umbrellas, disappearing through the Hedge gate there. The mother is screaming, people are shouting, and the thief is getting away!
Sophia stands nearby, having just come out of the Hedge Gate herself. She moves to stand in front of the gate, locking eyes with the Changeling in question. "Try me," she growls softly, eyes narrowing. Her wiry musculature is preparing to play bulwark.
Amity is not usually the sort who wants to get involved with Fae things. She has come here to hide, to disappear from their sight. And yet... fate has placed her here at this moment when someone--/something/ has snatched an innocent from the life they so richly deserve to live in peace. Her heart twinges and she cannot stand by, not if she has a chance to save a poor soul from the same fate that befell her so many years ago. Her shopping is forgotten, dropped to one side in a scatter of farm fresh vegetables and artisan cheese as she takes to her heels. Thank God she wore galoshes and not heels! She takes off after the figure, umbrella tossed to one side as rain begins to soak her.
"Hey! Stop! Stop right there!"
Zak has been quietly set up under as much cover as he can, plinking out tunes on his guitar, his usual tip jar out in front of him as he manages a few tunes. The burst of activity and the screams of people attract his attention. It takes him a moment to sort out what's going on and then he's on his feet, guitar dangling from one hand as he starts to give chase. No, not this time, not on his watch. He's silent, eyes fixed, half-crouched as he more lopes than runs. This isn't his usual sort of hunt. He'll manage.
Widget's head pops out of a dumpster, eyes flitting around. Screaming? Why? She didn't ev- Baby? Hedge gate? ...
The gremlin vaults out, skittering over to try and make the babythief's day worse. Somehow. Even if it's just sidling wherever anyone else can't manage.
The thief's buggy eyes widen at the sight of Sophia coming out of the gate as he's starting to head in, but while she manages to make contact, the slippery pilferer manages to slink his way out of her grasp and darts in through the gate.
Worse, perhaps, than a single child being kidnapped is the fact that humans are beginning to try to -follow- the rushing Changelings. How many of -them- will accidentally stumble through, all unknowing of how unable they will be to get home without help on the other side?
"Golden girl, distract the normies!" Sophia yells at Amity, hoping against hope the strange Lost is on their side. She skids into the Hedge Gate, following weirdo-Privateer, regains her footing and continues chasing.
The mortals--as worried for the child as they must be, they could go stumbling into the Hedge, it would be even worse than if it was just the child. Thinking on her feet she watches for the Privateer (for it must be a privateer) to vanish through the gate and skids to a stop, pointing down another of the confusing array of stalls. Hopefully the commotion and noise would keep the mortals from noticing that the kidnapper had literally disappeared into thin air, as far as they were concerned.
"That way! He went that way!" She shouts, yelling and gesturing wildly in an attempt to get their attention. With the heavy rain and everything, it wouldn't be terribly hard to confuse them, right?
Zak is still focused on the chase; the hunt. He's not letting him getting away. He puts on a burst of speed and follows through the gate without a backward glance to Sophia or any of the other changelings and mortals. Where is he? And which way did he go? He finds himself staring at the trod and he lifts his head, as if he's scenting the air and then follows if he catches sight (or scent or sound) of him.
Aw he made it to the gate. Widget looks at it, then the crowd of mortals. Well, they can't get in there, can they? Clearly there's no way a human can do that. Right? Wait. Oh. Oh no.
Quick! Distraction! The gremlin panics, glaring at whatever she can use to make the humans /not go in that gate./ Which she does by detonating the phone of the person closest to the gate. Not enough to cause explosive damage, but it's a very impressive amount of smoke and fire for such a small device. Maybe acid. Widget hasn't taken apart one of the /fancy/ ones yet.
On the mortal side, the crowd starts to waver, and some of them do head off in the direction Amity had indicated, but a large, bushy-bearded man in a plaid shirt scowls at her, shouting, "Idiot, he was RIGHT behind you!" and keeps heading toward the gate.
That is, he heads toward the gate until someone in front of him starts shrieking and flinging a burning smartphone into his path. The woman with the phone starts yelling, and drops her own purchases, apples rolling and tumbling underfoot, which trip two people and delay three more as they all clog together in the narrow aisles, and the plaid-wearing man struggles to get the fire in his beard out.
In the Hedge, it's deceptively difficult to tell that Zak and Sophia -are- there. So close to the mortal world, it's barely different at all. Even the weather is mostly the same, sky pale and grey, though it isn't as damp, and the smells around them are a bit stranger.
Even if the thief himself were as stealthy as a ninja, he's carrying a baby, and that baby was just stolen from his nice warm stroller by someone he doesn't know, jostled around, and is now being bounced all over the place.
Following him should be, har har, child's play.
Sophia glances back at the Hedge Gate, sees pandemonium, breathes a sigh of relief before pressing on. She keeps up the chase, letting snakeman with guitar pass her by--she'll have to catch his name later. "Hey, someone, stop that man with the baby!"
Oh, thank God. With the mortals safely distracted, Amity is able to rejoin the chase. Widget is shot a grateful look and she grabs the other woman by the hand as she rushes past, hurrying through the gate before anyone can realize what's happening. "Come on! We have to stop him!" She drags Widget with her, weaving past the flaming beard and into the hedge gate. She's not going to let some poor child be turned into God-knows-what by the fucking /Gentry/! Once within, she hesitates for a moment before the sound of the child's cry is heard and she sprints off to follow the sound.
Zak is off like a shot, taking long, loping strides as he weaves through the stalls, following the sound of the crying infant. He's /focused/ and not about to give up the hunt. He's going to find this man and then he's going to beat the tar out of him. See if he doesn't.
Gah! Save the baby! Widget knows a lot of ways to stop that guy, but none that don't involve potentially killing a baby. Shooting him was out of the question, right? No time for traps. Uuuuh. Run? Run! Then plan while running! Yeah!
With the humans successfully entangled in their own business, all four Changelings are in hot pursuit!
In the lead, Zak has managed to catch up the closest, and while distances are difficult to gauge on a path with this many twists and turns, this many tight corners, if he can keep his current speed, he may well manage to catch up in the next few seconds.
Behind Zak, Sophia is a ways farther, and unless she can put on some speed, Zak will get there well before she does.
Behind Sophia...yeaah. Widget and Amity had a bit of a delay to begin with, playing human-protection-police as they were, and while Widget is certainly a speedy little gremlin, she's way too far behind just yet. Poor Amity is lagging behind, hard, and may or may not have a cramp already.
As for the thief? He looks behind himself and growls, reaching into a pocket, and tosses out a handful of caltrops to spike the trod. Landing a foot on one of those is going to hurt.
Amity is trying her best. Really, she is. She's just not that athletic of a person, being honest and by the time she's run about a hundred, hundred and fifty meters her heart is pounding and there's the sharp pain of a stitch in her side. Plus, raincoat, sweater, mom jeans, and galoshes are really not the best gear to wear for a steeplechase. She wheezes, pressing a hand to her side and has to slow a little, letting the others gain ground on her as she tries to catch her breath. Oof. Ow. Oof. She urges Widget on.
"Go--go on without me--Oh God--" She wheezes again, trying to catch a second wind as she scrambles through the twisting Hedgepath laid out in front of her. She's managing to catch her breath and put on a renewed burst of speed, but she's clearly lagging behind.
Sophia weaves through the caltrops at speed and catches up to Zak. She says nothing, just focuses on running beside the snakeman.
Zak hisses through his teeth. He's not quite there, not quite there - but he tries something else. He's still running, still moving at a steady clip, just behind the Changeling, but there's a certain attractive quality to his voice now. Soothing, almost. Convincing. Like you just want to listen to it, "Hey, look, I just want to talk - there's no need to keep running. Just - slow down a sec, while you?"
Not proof against the hypnotic power of the Nix's voice, the baby-thief's pounding footsteps slow, though the baby's wailing sure doesn't, and the distracted Changeling misses seeing one critical detail about the trod: someone, or something, has left an umbrella pole sticking out where it can be tripped on.
Thankfully, while he's sprawling toward the ground, he has enough humanity NOT to sprawl baby-side first: he twists mid-air, cradling the infant and supporting the back of his head.
Sophia slows, running next to Zak. "You wanted to talk?" she says, voice pretty despite her breathing heavily. Her eyelids flutter a bit. She likes his voice.
Really, who wouldn't?
Amity is far enough behind that slowing down sounds a bit attractive to her regardless. She slows a little, panting for breath, though she's still doing her best to catch up. That voice /is/ very pretty. Even if it belongs to a young man. "What? Why are we slowing down?"
That's when Zak pounces. He needs to get the kid away from him and that's exactly what he tries to do, snatching at the baby as the strange Changeling goes sprawling. "OK, just give it up - give me the baby and it'll be /fine/-" It will probably not be fine, because Zak is definitely going to give him a kicking.
There's a funny thing, about the Hedge. How it shifts, changes, when someone with enough oomph comes along through it.
Things grow darker, in the trod. Shadows stretching, like long and hungry fingers reaching out. Thicker than London fog. About five feet from where the would be privateer falls, trips really, there's a woman of darkness, scales, and velvets. Zillah's head cocks to the side, as she gazes down the trod to the whole fiasco. "What's this about a baby?," comes the sweet, hissed voice.
The thief rolls over, hissing a series of expletives it's a darn good thing that baby is too young to remember. Rather than harm the child, he lets Zak take the little boy, then he tries to kick up at Zak's groin -- because really, taking cheap shots is all you've got when you're on your back between aisles of rainbow awnings and landscape pretending to be stalls.
That would be when he notices the shadows deepening, sandy features going pale, and that would be when he twists in place, wary, to stare up at Zillah in obvious fear. He tries to bolt, heading not toward Zillah, not toward Zak, but straight off of the trod, into the dangers of the wild Hedge.
Sophia catches up a moment later. "Give me the baby, you're faster," she tells Zak, eyeing the former Queen of the Freehold even as she holds her arms out for the baby.
Zak hands the baby off to Sophia without having to be asked twice. Zillah earns a wary glance - maybe even a frightened one - but he follows after the would-be kidnapper now that his hands are free, trying to tackle him and bring him down. He's not going anywhere, not if Zak has anything to say about it!
Amity wheezes and gasps as she finally reaches the site of the concluding confrontation. She stumbles up to the group, her face suddenly getting pale and paler as she realizes who exactly has joined the confrontation. Amity straightens almost unconsciously and swallows, her nerves not quite showing on her face.
"Lady Zillah." She'd charged off into the Hedge without a second thought and the Adrenalin is still pouring through her veins, but face-to-face with this woman she does feel a bit of... uncertainty.
In the mortal world, Zillah is certainly impressive. But there's a certain extra punch to the gut that comes, with the Hedge around her bending to the will of her presence. Having someone fleeing her blindly certainly adds to the effect as well. "Hello, Sophia and Amity," she greets, easily. "Small human." She seems less concerned with the baby's safety, than the fleeing man. And the unfamiliar one doing the chasing.
Solidly black eyes flare, blue stars going supernova, illuminating the vertical, serpentine slits of her pupils. Zillah lifts her hand, and there's a flick of her wrist that calls on her connection to the magic of the Wyrd. Calling darkness to life, and solidifying into a wall around (and infront of) the fleeing privateer.
See, when you're a slippery little bastard, you can get out of a lot of things. You cannot, however, get out of running headlong into a wall of solid shadow that appears a few inches in front of you.
He bounces back, arms windmilling, and almost lands on top of Zak, swearing up a blue streak and looking a bit dazed.
Sophia cradles the baby close, staring at Zillah with fear in her red-gold eyes. "Zillah," she says politely. "Thank you for helping." And she watches the Privateer with some wry amusement.
Zak backs away from Zillah - the other changeling isn't going anywhere - so now her attention is on her and her sort of terrifying display of shadow power. His gaze darts from her to the privateer and then back again, as if he's trying to make up his mind about something.
"Mmm," is Zillah's reply to Sophia. That fanged smile....probably isn't too reassuring, right now. But the Serpent was Queen of the Freehold, and she's using those dark powers for good, right?
The Serpent slithers her way over to the man on his back, sensual hip rolls speaking more of a night at the club than hunting through the Hedge. The shadows around her continue to grow, to deepen, as she crouches down over the privateer, in a way that another man might count his blessings for. One hand reaching out, to caress his cheek so sweetly -- and then draw claws down it, hard and sharp enough to make him bleed. "Lucky for you, you're someone else's prey tonight." Her face flicks up, towards Zak, and she gives a rather fangy grin his way. "Shame. I'm starving. Other hungers I'll have to feed, I suppose." Standing, then, and backing off.
Some people might stay defiant 'til the end. Some people might have the strength of will NOT to buckle under the intimidation factor of, you know, ZOMG WHAT THE HECK IS ZILLAH.
This guy isn't one of them.
Babbling around his broken nose, blood all over his face and, now, his gritty cheek, he outright pees his pants and tries to get up to his feet, a hand pressed to his head, swaying dizzily. Possibly concussed.
Stealing babies just isn't what it used to be.
Sophia steps over behind and to the right of Zak, beside Zillah before she slinks away. "I suggest leaving him alive for questioning, if you can stand to," she murmurs to him, cradling the baby. "I'd better get the little one back to Mama... but I'm a member of the Harvestmen and shouldn't leave." She frowns and looks around, spotting Amity. "Hey, golden girl. Can you take this little one back to the other side for us? find mama?"
Zak pulls his lips back in a little snarl, aimed mostly at the guy babbling and concussed. He shoots Zillah a little nod - a bob of the head, respectful and wary - and then reaches out to collar the guy. "First things first, tell us why the Hell you're stealin' kids, OK?" He is absolutely ready to beat on this guy if he has to.
"I can do that, yes." Amity isn't even the target of Zillah's intimidating presence and she flinches away from the other Changeling woman, even thought her face shows no reaction. That she's being given an excuse to leave is incredibly, incredibly relieving. She turns, retrieving the child from Sophia's arms and cradling it as if it were made of glass. She peers down at the child, making sure it's not injured. Which it shouldn't be, if they were lucky.
"Oh. Thank goodness..." She murmurs, brushing a hair away from the child's face. "You were so close to being stolen away to Faery Land, dear child," she says in a quiet voice. She's doing her best not to look at Zillah. "I'll take you home to your mother now, hush... hush..." ANd a look up towards Zak. "Thank you for your help, whoever you are." She turns and starts heading back down the trod, keeping the gate out into the market firmly in mind.