The rag tag crew of Hera Pear Plunderers begin their trek up -- around the swooping switchback path that brings them between curtains of vines and under waterfalls of dark indigo-black water that sparkles as it descends down into the marsh, The bone of the pathway eventually turns into something grey, then something black -- shiny, glass like, crunching subtly under foot as they head up, up, up.
Finally the path flattens out.
Up ahead, beyond a turn that's half-shielded by fingers of rock covered in vines, there is sound -- metal clashing against metal, heavy breathing, someone yelping, sounds of a struggle, bubbling water, groaning. A fray, in other words.
Should anyone peek beyond the rocks and through the vines, they will see the following:
In the centre of the rocky outcrop, there is a tree: a glorious, vivid, beautiful tree with the freshest green leaves - vines hang down from its boughs, but it seems so -beautiful-. It is The Tree, there is no question about that. Behind the tree there is a sheer cliff face that reaches up, up, up, ending in some yellow mist that lingers there.
Around the tree, perhaps a tennis court's length in a semi-circle away from the reach of it's canopy, there is a fast running half circle of stream fed by two springs on either end a the base of the cliff, which acts as a natural barrier between where the group current is, and the tree they came for. With a running start, maybe they could jump it -- the water is indigo-black, and in places there are rocks which could arguably be used to get across.
Between the tree and the circle of water, there are figures, fighting: a thin Wizened, a meaty Ogre, a Fairest with flowers in her hair. Hanging in the vines of the tree, there is a powerful Fairest with red scales hanging limp. Over by the roots of the tree, there is a brown haired woman. Her legs are over by the stream. The three who still stand, are fighting what looks to be a... Bird person.
Everyone save the bird is familiar. "Get back! Go back, go BACK!" Screams the all to familiar Loud and Clear voice of that thin, panicked looking Wizened, as the group draws near.
Wait. Have they all been here before?
Once again....wait. What?? Once again, C.B. says that aloud, this time to the...really familiar guy who just yelled to him. But he does actually stop, and so does Yossarian. "What the fuck is going on here?!" He gestures towards the group with his pistol. Then he looks confusedly to the others, the /real/ others that are near him, and with his face as thin and drained of color and panicky-looking as the one before him, seems like he'd really like to ask all of their opinions. But he's doo stubborn...so he actually does take a few steps back.
Wow. That guy in the tree over there is amazingly handsome. They all look kind of familiar though. Damion stares at the sight blnakly for a time, eyes shifting between the dopplegangers, then glances at the others. "So...clearly this is meant to confuse us. Is it suppossed to make us attack so that we somehow hurt ourselves, or keep us off-guard until something else attacks us?" He scans the area, trying to spot if it's the latter.
Ben stops when he sees the other group of Lost at the Hera Pear tree. He turns his head to listen to the others before looking back at the mimic of themselves."There is only one way to discover it." He murmurs from behind his mask before starts moving ahead slowly. He goes in the direction his own mimicker as he lifts his hands in a combat oriented position.
This is...definitely strange. And a bit unsettling. Mina's face has gone a bit whiter than the normal shade, as she looks to the scene laid out before them. "Fuck," she mutters under her breath, looking to Cerise. The one near her, not the one in two parts over there. "Are we....are we sure that's the best idea?," she says as Ben goes forward. Looking up at the sky, squinting. "Seriously. The fuck."
Damion narrows his eyes at the group, studying the intently. Something there wasn't right. He looks at the still form of Cerise, then at the others. He calls out to the fighting dopplegangers, "Who do we look like to you?"
Cerise spends a moment blinking at the fallen 'her' or faux-her. The feeling of deja vous is strong, but not strong enough that it seems to shake her confidence. Then Ben starts moving forward and Damion calls out to the doppelgangers. The mortal woman just shrugs and stands up slowly, she takes this moment of confusion to wander towards the broken figure of her own doppelganger, her eyes swinging around the clearing and then back to the dead figure, as if trying to figure it all out.
When the Witchtooth was getting close to the stream of water something starts looking odd as the huge man with a deer skull mask slows down his pace step after step and leans forwards until he hits the ground. Sleeping.
Seriously: the fuck?
The Bird Person is lashing out at Another-Ogre's face with its talons, letting out some kind of harrowing 'skreeeee!'. It is about this time, that the landscape around The Tree starts to shift -- it's subtle really, at first - just a little blurring around the edges, like all the colours are being blended, or something greasy has been smeared over the lens: everything is in soft focus, even sound.
Downside is it's hard to tell where one thing starts and another begins. Plusside? Everyone looks pretty good, at least when they're close enough to identify at all. Say goodbye, stress wrinkles -- or at least the perception of them.
"Don't ask! Don't stop! Get out, GO, get GOING!" Hollered back to Damion, the Loud and Clear voice of a scrawny Wizened who's waving his arms in warning at the group, while the Fairest with Foxgloves is moving to pick up a fallen branch and strike the Bird Person.
The girl with no legs doesn't move.
High above, the chrome yellow mists swirl around the cliff face - birds circle. Down here, the babbling of that wide indigo-black brook continues - sounding tinny, silvery, sweet. Over in the tree, leaves rustle and the scent of ripe pear is carried forward.
There's a lot going on. How likely is C.B. to believe this terribly handsome version of himself? I mean, not that he isn't terribly handsome all on his own, but...
"The bird is a Hobgoblin of some kind," Yossarian informs his confused companion (who is really whose companion, here...) C.B. nods, all wide-eyed and electric, and eyes up the brook. How easy would it be to get across? Or should he heed the advice of other-him? He's actually frozen, like he doesn't know what to do next. Not normally how it is for Mr. Impulsive.
Damion considers the stream in front of him. He backs up briefly, getting a running start as he invokes the powers of Oath and Punishment and....leaps! Effortlessly crossing over the stream, landing on the opposite side of the hobgoblin from the ones fighting it. He draws his sword as he lands, considering who to attack. For all he knows, the Hob could be a good guy and the others evil.
That voice is a familiar one, for Mina. All that shouting. But something has her brows furrowing, her head tilting. The redhead draws her bow in a smooth motion, and within a heartbeat she's got an arrow notched. "Not enough profanity," she says with certainty. Right as that arrow goes flying towards the Wizened over yonder, shouting at them to get out of dodge. It's a hit! And the Fairest waits, to see what happens next.
Cerise opts to head over to the left side of the stream, where the torso of her waits under the tree on the other side of the stream. "It's not him." She agrees with Mina, but the mortal sounds distracted. Her attention is on her own dead form, so close and yet so far, and she continues to approach it, pausing now and again to look around, but always looking back at the dead figure.
With everything in soft focus, the dim lights of the rocky outcrop where the Hera Pear grows takes on an etherial quality -- streaks of light shine through the small gaps in the canopy of other trees and vines, with swathes of chrome yellow mist only confusing things further.
Over by the entryway, the sleeping Ben the party arrived with is overcome by some dreamless sleep. In the sticky vines of that tree, the red-scaled Fairest struggles to get free.
The Loud and Clear pleading for the travellers to turn back stops, replaced by a -very- real sounding scream of agony, as an arrow hits them in the torso. That's go to sting -- the Wizened is gasping and gurgling and clutching as his side as he leans over. The Foxglove'd haired Fairest freezes, a branch held in her slender hands, shocked as she sees Damion LEAP clear over the brook like some kind of universal jumping champion.
Meanwhile, Bird Person is lashing out at the Ogre's body double, who already has a slash over their face and is screaming.
The brook that bends in a big U shape around The Tree, spilling over into the fen below - bubbling up indigo-black waters from the dual springs that emerge from the cliff face at the far back of the copse. It smells sweet, and the the soft tinkering from the water is positively beautiful.
What a wonderful, terrible place.
Cerise seems sure on her path. For the moment, she ignores the fighting going on around her, still focused on her own doppelganger. Like Damion did earlier, she makes a leap to cross the stream, but she is nowhere near the figher the lost is. She aims herself so that she lands on a rock in the middle of the stream. She wobbles a moment as she lands, but she does land and doesn't fall in the water. The mortal's mouth widens in a triumphal smile. Again, her eyes lift to the doppelganger, before drifting down to catch a glimpse of the stream surrounding her. The smile fades, brows drawing together, before the mortal crouches down to examine the stream itself closer.
The papery Cymric-looking Hedgebeast trots past C.B. to the stream. He leans down and sniffs, his pink nostrils flaring as he does so. "I believe the water is some kind of intoxicant," he intones, staring over his shoulder at C.B. "One will not know the effects for sure unless one tries it." Does this mean Yossy is willing to try? Unclear. Given the expectant way he looks at C.B...maybe not.
Damion is still very uncertain which side is in the wrong here. So, he turns his sword in his hands when attacking the Dopplemina. Bringing the hard surface thwacking into the side of the girls head and knocking her unconscious. He glances around, looking for another target. He eyes the him up in the tree. Should he cut him down? Hmm. He doesn't look dead, so he focuses on the rest for now. "Try not to kill anybody!"
Mina doesn't even wince as the Other Her is KO'd by the dragon over there. No, there's even a flash of glee in those blue eyes, if only anyone was actually paying attention to her back there. The Fairest draws another arrow, and after a moment of aiming, she lets it loose, holding her breath. Driving it into the ImposterCB's knee, and robbing him of the use of his left leg.
A lot of things are happening, in a very short period of time: the Fairest with Foxglove hair goes /down/, as Damion clocks her in the beautiful face with that beautiful sword of his. Crumpled on the ground, she does not move - except to choke out a gurgle, and a single tawny coloured feather covered in dark red blood. At the same moment, an arrow strikes out and hits the already screaming, already arrow-pierced Wizened right in the knee. He falls down, bracing himself.
Those scream are not only very real, they are very familiar.
Over in the sticky vines of the tree, the gleaming red scaled Fairest lets out a furious cry and rips the vines from off his person, falling clumsily to the ground, where he continues the devining process. Bird Person stops, distracted -- giving the bleeding faced Ogre a moment to bring himself back together. Literally: his skin hardens, and all over he gets a stoney appearane.
Bird Person isn't paying attention -- their huge, black eyed ringed with gold have turned, staring out unblinkingly in Mina's direction. Under the weight of his stare, the Fairest's bow starts to subtly warp - the grain of the wood compromised, the bowstring twanging as it goes ever-so-slightly slack.
The book babbles. The Tree rustles. Everything smells amazing, and looks beautiful: like a perfect spring day at dusk.
What's it like to hear scream after bloodcurdling scream of something that /looks/ almost exactly like you? A little shocking, to say the least. And then Mina keeps attacking it? /Real/ C.B. screams at her, "Would you cut it out for a minute so I can at least try to /talk/ to him?!?" And then he yells, "Hey, Other Me, /why/ should we go back? You think we can't take that thing?" He points to the bird, presuming it's still around...but then it starts attacking Mina. He sighs and aims that wicked-looking black gun at the bird, tongue sticking out a bit from his teeth. Fires.
The scrawny Wizened who's shot full of arrows, he's not in a good place -- he's coughing up blood, half fallen over on the ground: body quivering, quakering, queasy. The guy looks like he might throw up, and like he's for sure on the edge of passing out. Seem familiar? When C.B. speaks to him -- the C.B. who walked in with Damion, Cerise, Mina and Ben not to long ago, right? When he speaks to him, the scrawny Wizened looks up and stares: big blue eyes all intense, frightened, stubborn.
"Nothing good comes from this god damned place. Not everything can be healed, and not for free." He coughs up more blood, shaking his head, "Leave, before you lose things you can't get back." With that, he tries to stand and move backwards - away, away... But to where? The cliff? The edge of the brook? The spring?
"Oh, I got it." Cerise's says as shekneels and peers down into the water, her words filled with confidence. She seems to feel no need to raise her voice any louder than she would talking to someone right across from her, meaning it may or may not carry to the changelings caught up in figting the dopplegangers. She then begins to slide from the rock to head into the water. She was being so careful about it at first, but then ... down she goes with a loud splash of water.
So Another C.B. answered that question -- sort of -- but Bird Person just kept on staring at Mina's short bow like it owes them a lot of glamour so... ::BANG::. Bird Person is shot, and he's shot right through the damned chest -- tufts of featherdown joining a spray of blood. Immediately around the wound, black goo seeps, and his feathery taloned hands flap, as the creature screeches some inhuman call and stumbles backwards. Not dead, but maybe wishing it was.
The birds flying overhead scatter.
But in the boughs of the tree... it's not far is it? A big, juicy, -perfect- pear. How have other people described this pear? As being the most beautiful pear they've ever seen. Lustrous and golden, catching and reflecting the light that filters through the vines and boughs of that beautiful tree. Hanging low.
Like someone could just walk up there, do a little hop, and pluck it from the tree - just like that. So simple. No trouble at all.
...Then there is a sound. A splash. A little splash. A little splash and Cerise vanishes into the inky indigo-black of the babbling brook with it's intoxicating waters. Who's really paying attention? A casual glance shows... Nothing.
Yossy notices Cerise go in. He lets out a decidedly catlike yowl before saying in a rather /un/catlike, authoritative fashion, "Ben," by which he does NOT mean the sleeping Ogre Ben, "Cerise has just fallen into the waters. They are intoxicating. Come here."
Damion looks over when Yossy yowls, frowning at his words. But others seem to be coming to her aid, he turns his attention back to the dopplegangers. OtherHim seems pretty healthy, so he closes in on him and again swings his sword, the flat catching him alongside his horned head and sending him sprawling onto the ground. He whirls his blade once, then checks who else is still standing on the other side.
"I'm not trying to /kill/ it!", Mina shouts right back. "Just keep it from going anyfuckingwhere." There's frustration in her voice, passions rising, as they are want to do when a Fairest is involved. "I'll leave when I've got one of those pears. They can go if they want to - I'll sacrifice something I can't get back, if that's what I need to do, to keep someone I care for from losing their damned mind. I..." Mina's taking steps forward, closer to the edge of the water, when there's the plunk of Cerise and the warning of Yossy. But C.B. seems to be the one that's going to handle that. And there's a goo-ing owlthing flying overhead. Her voice lifts, and it's so sweet, maybe even sweeter than any pear that could grow on that tree. Lowering her bow, even, as she does so. "Please. I can't leave without it and I can't let my friends get hurt or pay the price themselves. I'll heal you. I'll leave and never come back to this part of the Hedge myself. I'll give up a memory of my own. Just please -I need that damn pear. I can't lose Kip."
All around the beautiful copse atop this rocky outcrop, the mists roll and cast everything in dim perpetual haze of dawn or twilight. Liminal space. Between this time and another - between the sky and the swamp - some slice of the Hedge, so close to Arcadia but near enough to Earth as well...
The handsome Fairest with red scales is bested by his mirror image -- he goes down, like the Foxglove Fairest did earlier; coughing blood and feathers and taking a little dirt nap. It's probably temporary. Over to the side, the Ogre with a bleeding face and armoured skin is just looking on in horror, as the scrawny Wizened who got shot through with arrows is still staggering back - to what, safety?
That leave Bird Person: bleeding black goo from the bullet wound, where C.B. shot him through the chest.
Where did Cerise go?
Bird Person isn't paying attention to anything else around him -- only the blackened blood on his feathery hands, then the soft, sweet voice of Mina as the Succuflower calls out across the water and wildflower specked with bones and blood. At first those wide black eyes look like they understand nothing -- so inhumane, so far away -- but as the Fairest speaks of the groups mission - begs and bargains - talks of love... What does Bird Person know of love?
Something left unsaid.
But maybe they understand passion - want - determination. They start to move -- turning, stumbling, half flying in some Wyrd way, towards where the Hera Pear is. A bloodied talon plucks it from the tree, and then... It's thrown towards Mina.
As that perfect fruit sails through the air, aided by a puff of breeze stained chrome yellow with mist, there is a snap.
Not outside - not around them - but within: the Pledge. The cords of Wyrd that were tying someone to them in that Day Pledge, it has suddenly broken: Cerise. Something's happened to sever the connection. Where is Cerise?
The babbling brook bubbles. Caught up in the rocks over yonder, a mangled figure rises from the depths. Face down.
It's a good thing C.B. is a little distracted. It means he's only half paying attention to Mina's impassioned speech, which is...probably for the best, right now. He's watching other-him staggering away, a frown on real-him's face in the mean time. But when he feels that snap...
"Cerise!" he yells, and goes running over there as fast as he can. Yes, that might mean he needs to cross some rocks, too. Yossy is either already there or on his way, waiting patiently for C.B.
Damion resheathes his sword as the pear is tossed to Mina, smiling. The smile fades quickly when he feels that snap within him, turning and staring at the body rising from the water. Oh fuck. He breaks into a run towards that stretch of river, intent on reaching her as fast as he can, though he probably reaches it after C.B.
Relief shows on Mina's face, and for a brief moment, there is evidence of how Very Tired she is from dealing with all of this. There's a weight lifted off of her shoulders, as she catches that pear. Only to have something heavier hit her, as the Pledge between the group breaks. "Ben?," she questions as she hears that yell, turning to face them as she clutches the pear. One thing. One thing at at time. Damion and C.B. are on their way, and they will get the human out of the water. She made promises, and she starts with the first. She said she'd heal the owlcreature, and the Fairest draws on the gift of Spring. The scent of foxglove fills the air, as the wounds of the bird-person start to mend.
Cerise's body continues to bob up and down in the water. She's face down. That can't be good, can it? Maybe she's just drinking the water. Yossy did say the water is intoxicating and she does spend a lot of time around C.B...maybe she's picked up some things from him?
Over by the shady boughs of yonder tree, the two dopple-Fairests are still unconscious. The armoured up Ogre is moving to assist in the still crying Wizened. What kind of creatures are these? Are they Hobs or Changelings or nothing but illusions? No answers there. The owlish Bird Person has stooped low, panting once the Hera Pear is thrown to Mina.
For their troubles, the feathered creature gets the full force of Spring's bounty sent his way: the black ooze from around that gunshot wound is forcibly pushed out, while their skin and plumage -- not to mention whatever strange organs they've got going on in the insides -- knits back together. There is no thanks, but there is a fluttery cooing noise, almost like a chirp.
A chirp isn't going to do much for Cerise, though.
Water rushing around the overturned Mortal woman, pushing her up against those sharp, slippery rocks. Blood flows easily from lacirations in her head and arms, straight into the indigo-black of the brook. She is not moving, except with the pressure of the water; her head lolling back - pale and unresponsive, eyes closed and mouth open -- black inside. Water? Stones? She bobs there like a wooden doll -- or a dead woman.
Is that an illusion, or is it real?
This C.B. looks nearly as pale as the injured C.B. His lips tremble...then all the blood starts rushing to his face, and he begins to slap hers, then shake her shoulders. "CERISE! CERISE, WAKE UP, YOU GODDAMN BITCH! STOP PLAYING AROUND AND WAKE UP!" Yossarian -- who does not always see it as his duty to be helpful, is just sitting there and watching this play out. Cats, man. But he does seem to be looking at Cerise very closely.
Damion does NOT begin to slap the injured woman, or shake her. He rests a hand on C.B.'s shoulder and says, "Hey! That's not gonig to help her!" He glances around. Who was it that was wearing the medical bag earlier? Hopefully they know how to perform CPR or something. Because he sure as hell didn't. He made a mental note to fix that at a later date.
The Succuflower doesn't speak bird, but that fluttery cooing sound does bring a soft smile to her lips. And sets something right inside of her, refreshes her. She dips her head, and places the pear into a pocket in that belt, wrapped up in a cushy cloth. Promises seen to, Mina takes off for the group, and Cerise. She's a pretty fast thing, truth be told.
Mina drops down to her knees, and her voice is gentle, but firm. "I need a bit of room, Ben, please." And once she has it - even just a few inches - she opens Cerise's mouth a bit wider. Peering inside, before reaching in with those long fingers. Graceful movements become just a little twitchy as she stretches, stretches...wiggles. Exhales. Tries with her left hand. And finally, pulls out a black polished stone, in the shape of an egg.
Cerise is pale, so very very pale. Now that she's out of the water, it's clear that when she fell in the rocks did a number on her. There's blood flowing out from cuts on her arm and head, laying there limply while first CB slaps her around and then Mina begins working on her, reacting to neither.
When Mina pulls the stone out of Cerise's throat, water begins pouring out of the mortal's mouth. In a movie, this would be where Cerise begins coughing and her eyes open, but that doesn't happen here. Cerise still lays there unconscious.
With the black egg shaped stone out, and that black water trickling out of the mortal woman's mouth, things should be in the clear -- right? Well, her airways might be, but Cerise is not... Moving. There are some things magic can't touch. Revitalising a drowned mortal might require a more hands-on approach to get those lungs empty and blood pumping again.
How long was she under for? Not that long. Maybe there's still time.
Under the shade of the Hera Pear, mists roll along and vines sway in the breeze. The owlish creature has backed off, watching but not interacting - while two Fairest lay in some immobile slumber. The screaming from the Wizened-esque fellow has stopped too, as the stoney Ogre shares some kind of fruit.
The clock ticks, somewhere.
C.B. tries to shrug Damion off him. "Shut the hell up, meathead!" But yes, he does move aside enough to let Mina do her thing. "It's your fucking fault if she dies," he says through clenched teeth. "You and Kip. It's all your fault." C.B. looks really /angry/, not upset, but there's a pale, sort of haunted quality to his face.
However...he calms enough to reach to her neck and feel her pulse. Is she alive in the first place?
Damion knows nothing about meidcine himself, but feels her. Okay. She's cold. And wet. That's about all he can figure out. He glances at C.B. "She was trying to help somebody. This is not good... but her heart was in the right place." Not that saying that will really help the sour wizened.
There's no audible reply to the angry words from C.B., but there is a look on Mina's face. Yes, she knows that it would be her fault. Or at least that he'd blame her, and she'd blame herself. She watches, as first C.B. tries to get a pulse, and then Damion feels her. But there's something that tells her not to trust their attempts. Maybe it's just hope. But she leans in, and bends over Cerise. Mina's mouth is brought to hers, and there are five breaths given into the human woman's lungs. Two more, after a brief pause. Before she starts on the chest compressions. Brows furrowed with the concentration on it. "C'mon, Cerise," she whispers. "Come back to us." Breathe. Pumppumppumppump.
At first it doesn't appear like Mina's efforts are going to yield any more success than the lame attempts of the two men. But then, there's a gasp as air fills the mortal's lungs for the first time since she's been pulled out of the water, the strength of it sending her coughing and sputtering as consciousness finally returns to her and eyes flutter open to the sight of Mina's face, peering at the fairest in dazed confusion.
Where the group is, there is a medical emergency turning into a minor miracle. All around them, the Hedge goes about it's old Wyrd business: the scent of sweet pears ripening mingling with the intoxicating fumes of strange flora. Dim light filters through the mist and vegetation -- sending bands across the ground that highlight the grass, the bone shards, the blood, the feathers, the water...
The inky black water glistens, bubbles along; indifferent to all.
In the background, the group of strange doubles and the owlish creature have convened together -- they're moving now, loping off towards the cliff face beyond the Hera Pear; merging with the rock, or disappearing under a curtain of vines. What were they? The only thing which remains is the bisected body of the brown haired, brown eyed, tomboyish and entirely motionless body of that facsimile of Cerise - head and torso by the tree, her legs by the water. Like she'd been split apart trying to reach both.
Weird. This whole place is weird.
But it's beautiful.
In the distance, there is the throaty crick-crick-crick of toadish Ferryman Hobs, warbling out a song in the Fen below.