Starting in the early morning, to ensure the group has the most possible travel time, the Winter King Charlie O gathers those willing to assist at the Wayhouse to discuss the quest to come.
The goal, simple on the surface, is to locate and make contact with a non-Soundless Freehold.
It is considerably less simple when one considers that, in most cases, Freeholds are deliberately attempting to HIDE themselves from ready detection...
For the sake of those who are not scholars of the Hedge and its phenomena, he explains that all Freeholds and organizations in the Hedge, even Courts, have effects upon the area around them. As the Changelings of the group may have noticed, it is starker in the Hedge around Fate's Harvest now than it ordinarily would be, shadows sharper, whites brighter, blacks blacker, as a representation of Winter's hold. The distance, Hedge being Hedge, is mutable.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go north and seek out those signs which might reveal the presence of another Freehold, staying near enough to the mortal world to more easily spot the presence of an unusual number of Hedge Gates.
After all, if there are a lot of Changelings in an area, and they are careless about where they gate in, there may well be a profusion of Gates...because once you make a gate, it is there, forever, waiting to be opened again.
Checking real-side towns and cities is the third aspect of your mission, tracking whether there are any messages meant only for Faerie eyes to see, or an unusually large number of Changelings around.
Each member of the group is given $1000 cash for staying in hotels and any incidental expenses they may accrue while traveling.
Faerie gold. Gotta love it, especially when it results in that many Benjamins. <3
Where they enter the Hedge doesn't overmuch matter, in this case, since they will be traveling north, town by town, toward the Canadian border. Logan, being the Waykeeper, is given a printout from Google Maps displaying Stowe on up. Each new town will become the group's next destination in the Hedge, to ensure that they stay on track.
Although the printout from Google Maps may well come in handy later on when there's no signal in the Hedge...for now, Logan is already busy inputting all the relevant info into various devices he has: an iPad Pro, an iPad mini, Apple watch and iPhone, all neatly synced to reflect the same information. He then pockets the printout and looks to the others with a smile.
"We have quite a quest ahead of us." Logan is dressed for sporty travel in a blue puffy ski jacket with a fur-lined hood, flannel-lined jeans, expensive hiking boots and a backpack. He smiles around at the others. Not taking the /lead/, per se, but maybe he's not expecting anyone else to step up? "Where does everyone want to head first?" He displays the marked map on his iPad for everyone to see.
Duncan shows up dressed for the outdoors, though his hooded gray parka is hanging open in defiance of the cold weather. Beneath is a black t-shirt bearing various strange symbols (alchemical signs for elements, to those who might recognize such things) and the title 'Alchemy' across his chest. The way the shirt is stretched says there's a kevlar vest worn beneath. Black jeans and sturdy hiking boots comprise the rest of his traveling clothes, while a military-style rucksack is slung over his shoulders and a hunting knife hangs from his belt. The elemental seems to be in a pretty upbeat mood, grinning to himself as he goes through some preparations for the journey -- eating a chunk of ice from outside, lighting a match and then spitting on the ember -- you know, those strange and silly things that Changelings do. Once they're assembled and ready, Duncan lends an ear to the Winter King's plan, then gives a nod of understanding. "Go north, look for signs of Freeholds, check the mortal world. We supposed to talk to them if we find them?" The amount of cash he's handed makes the man's eyes widen, and then he laughs and shoves it into his pocket. "Thanks for that." Other than his question, Duncan is ready to go. "Just got here a couple weeks ago. Don't know the area well myself."
Oopsies. Duncan's query was totally answered by the King before he skedaddled! His typist neglected to clarify that. Yes, contacting the Freehold is why this group needed a Waykeeper.
Now; /why/ would Franklyn Garreau choose today - of all days - to go hang out at the Wayhouse like a curious window shopper, then stick around when a decree is made? Oh fine, after she just Decided To Come Along (really, the girl's got persuasion), she went and powdered her nose (lies, she kitted up), and now she's all standing around in hip winter appropriate clothing which is only notable in that it's oddly inconspicuous until one realises it's top line and ludicrously expensive. Fox fur hood, y'all.
"Mmmph..." Curious note as Franky leans in, basks in Dat Glow of the Fairest Waykeeper, and acts like she's not leagues out of her depth. "...You could start outside of a radius from here," Finger points at an appropriately distant spot up North. "Then work backwards /towards/ where we are now, since the chances of things being on your like, doorstep are relatively low, yeah?" Today's baggage -- a rucksack filled with who knows what - is adjusted on he shoulder as she looks from Logan to Duncan and Dross; wait... Why, why is she, here...
Franklyn smiles. It's bright, and entirely, expressively human. "Or just close your eyes, spin around, point at the map, and start there, you know? Let fate decide. You might get lucky."
Dross stands a few paces behind Logan. The Darkling wears a long, dark gray coat over a black shirt, trousers, and boots. A white gold pin shaped like a sword slicing through a knot is fastened near the open collar of his coat. At Franklyn's suggestion, he looks toward the Fairest and says, "One might." Briefly, he glances at Duncan and Franklyn, then Logan again, and says, "A population density map overlay could be 'lucky,' too."
Logan makes sure to turn his bright eyes upon each and every other person here in turn. Even Franklyn is treated exactly like any other Lost -- hell, like any other member of the Freehold. Even though she isn't.
"Interesting ideas, Franklyn," he says, smiling at the mortal, and then turns to Dross. "You too, Dross. I have no doubt that luck is on our side today." Regardless, he starts by calling up a population density map to superimpose over the one he already has. They'll start small and easy, apparently.
"Right," Duncan agrees with Franklyn's suggestion they start farther away, but not without giving the human woman a skeptical look. What is she doing there? No one else is questioning it, not even Charlie O; if a Winter isn't freaking out over her presence, it must be safe. And then he gives a wordless grunt to second Dross' addition to the planning. If the Fairest has taken defacto leadership, Duncan is willing to go along. Plus Logan has the maps.
Franklyn's eyebrows go up and she nods twice to Dross, "That completely makes sense." Seems like the Mortal is at least comfortable enough with Dross and Logan -- is that why she's here? Duncan is given a small, wry smile when she spots his skeptical look - green eyes all a'twinkle with amusement. That is amusement, right? But at what? She presses a gloved hand to her chin, and looks back at the map.
So curious. "Righto! So -- are we driving? You're not all fitting in my car -- isn't there some kind of, I don't know, communal van?" Yeah. Franky's not freehold - nor is she versed in the art of waltzing through the Hedge. It's probably for the best. A pause, then she turns and looks at the map again. "...Can you cross reference population with wherever has the higher rating of unexplained phenomena on like, Obscure Vermont?" It's a real thing. Franky's into her crypto-tabloids, apparently.
Handily, the Wayhouse does have a den with a computer which the group could do their research on.
As the conversation turns research-ward, Dross comes up to look at the map Logan has been creating on the tablet in his hands. If population matters, there aren't many options north of here. "These four are in the same county," he says, with a dark look at Franklyn. Then he reaches over to indicate Swanton, St. Albans, Georgia, and Fairfax with the tip of his finger. He glances at Duncan, too, to see whether he'll add something, before looking back at Logan.
"Oh, no, Franklyn." Logan gives the mortal another big smile, though he doesn't show his teeth. He's just trying to reassure her. "We'll travel via the Hedge. It will be much faster." A quick glance is given to Dross, who gets a nod. "It looks like Swanton has the highest population, then Saint Albans." He's learned to say it the way Vermonters do, like it isn't even remotely French. Every syllable pronounced. "Let's take a look at Obscure Vermont and see what it says about Swanton and Saint Albans, and then we can decide which one to start with. Swanton is further north, it looks like." Logan checks in with Duncan, too, even if that only means meeting the Elemental's gaze and giving a reassuring smile.
While the Scooby Gang is lacking a dog to go Raggyraggyroooo, they do have an excellent example of what would happen if Daphne and Velma got stuck in a transmogrification beam and fused into one person: that is, Franklyn Garreau, researcher and fashionista extraordinaire.
St. Albans, of the two of them, has the greatest number of reports regarding unusual activity, much of it related to Champ sightings in Lake Champlain. There is quite the unusual number of missing persons reports, as well, with victims never to be seen again.
Swanton, also on Lake Champlain, has rather similar reports, though it also has several incidences of strange lights seen in the sky. Skeptics complain that they are just airplanes. Believers claim they are aliens, while paranoids boldly proclaim them to be government spies keeping Vermonters out of Canada with brain rays.
Franklyn's smile is, well, it's still there - but some of that sparkle has left her eyes, as she turns away from Logan and focuses on... She has some kind of computer, right? Maybe greedy grabby hands just -take- it from Logan, as she gives Dross a look. Squint. Why is he looking at her so funny?
Let the research commence! And wouldn't ya know, the king's ransom of university fees made a sizeable dent in the Garreau girl's trust fund and provided the millennial with super-duper research skills. She can even teamwork! Look at how she doesn't /once/ roll her eyes at Dross, huff puffily at Duncan, or tap her fingers impatiently in Logan's direction. Franklyn is -BEING HELPFUL-. Obviously she deserves a prize. It comes forth as information.
"Mmm." Satisfied nod, as Franklyn leans back and motions to the screen for all to see. "So. Monsters or aliens? You guys're the experts." Oh. Oh now that's just -insensitive-... She glances at the three Lost, head tilted. "Swanton is furthest away, yeah?"
Duncan stays out the way, a tad impatient at the delay in actually leaving, but keeping it in check for now. "Furthest," is his contribution to the discussion. It's pitched as a suggestion, given he did jack all on the computers to help. But it's also the most efficient in terms of Hedge travel. Or maybe he just likes the idea of going north. Or just going. The Elemental cinches up the straps on his rucksack as he awaits the final decision.
What funny look? Dross doesn't seem to notice it. He's just standing there. But after the river of information flows forth and Franklyn asks a specific question, followed by Duncan's confirmation, he nods. Swanton is the farthest away and the largest. He looks to Logan, then. "Shall we begin there," says the Darkling, quietly.
Logan seems pleased enough by Franklyn's super-sleuthing. Having a Daphnevelma is always very helpful for the Freds of the group. His brilliant blue eyes move up to Duncan's face and stay there for a longer moment. "I agree with Duncan. let's start in Swanton." His eyes move to Dross next, and then he nods. "May as well move out! Everyone ready?"
All those Lost are saying Swanton is the place to go - and they'll be going via the Hedge after all. Isn't Franky lucky that she has a strangely -complete- survival bag! But, where's her Patron again? Is she -really- going to wander off into the Hedge with these three weird Lost dudes?
Franklyn looks worried - just a flash! - and then... Well there's a look in her eye - Dross may have missed her first glance, but she looks at him again anyway. Stubborn? Defiant maybe. The Mortal girl pulls her shoulders back, lifts her chin, and runs her bejewelled and ring'ed fingers through her tremendously smooth and shiny hair. It only gets shinier. "Yeah, totally, of course."
Jewellery glints, as Franky she glances from Dross to Logan to Duncan, all expectantly - absentmindedly patting jacket. Is that a holster under there? Don't worry about it - she said she's ready.
After some discussion, Duncan takes the lead once they're in the Hedge. The storm-elemental seems to have a good idea of how to find what he wants among the thorny paths, but he's also quick to take input from the others. Logan and Dross could have easily made the trip themselves, and even the human is helping out. Who knew? That earns Franklyn a quizzical look, but Duncan doesn't stop in the middle of the trek to ask. And while his Wyrd doesn't change the Hedge as much as /some/ of the local Lost, it does add a bit of wind to the air and clouds threatening the gather overhead. Now they have hours of plodding along and taking seemingly random and contradictoray turns to look forward to. Assuming the Hedge isn't too hungry.
Dross follows along at the back of the little group, leaving no trace at all of his passage as he walks. The Darkling scans their surroundings intently as they move along; presumably, for any change from the subtly starker, harder black-and-white tones that have appeared around the territory of Fates Harvest. From time to time, his gaze returns to Duncan, Logan, and Franklyn, confirming their location.
Holy. Fucking. Crap.
This is not Franklyn's first time in the Hedge -- however, it is the /longest/, and, and, and... And Mortal girls like Franklyn are just simply not supposed to -be- in the Hedge, not unless, well... It doesn't bear thinking about, really. Why is she here? Where is her chaperone? Wait... Is it Logan? Is he in charge, or Dross? Franky doesn't know Duncan much -- wasn't he at that jazz night? There's a club?
While walking the Trods of a confusing nightmare land in relative silence, armed with miscellaneous weaponry and zero Wyrd, who knows what Franklyn is thinking about -- she is silent, sticking to the middle of the group, and not sharing her thoughts. Only her emotions, which radiate as a gentle mix consisting primarily of: concern, disbelief, and wonder. What the fuck is this? What the fuck is that?
What the -fuck-.
Why did they choose to go this way? A car would have been faster and more efficient, wouldn't it have been? But maybe Logan had his reasons for suggesting it, and no one argued against him -- so here they are. But he's all confidence once they're in, glancing to Dross with a smile as he squeezes his shoulder, perhaps reassuringly. "One advantage to taking the long way," he suggests, "is we may be able to see traces and tracks of others from /this/ side. We can match it up with what we find on the other side for a more complete picture." Although he lets Duncan basically lead here in the Hedge, he's certainly very close to the front.
It being Winter, the Hedge is just as cold as it is in the mortal world, this close to the borders. The trods twist and wind through an endless icy labyrinth of frigid winds and biting thorns inexplicably bordering ordinary Vermont landscapes. While the group keeps their eyes open, they do not spot any large concentrations of Gates along the way, or any noticeable differences in the Hedge which might signify a freehold during their first hour of travel.
They do, however, come across a few small bands of hobs and wild beasts, easily avoided.
Duncan keeps up a brisk and steady pace -- unless and until someone asks him to slow down. Moving confidently, he breezes through the Hedge and nearly blunders into the first group of hobs they come across. Luckily the others are there to point out the threat and avoid a potential fight. Rather than being embarrassed by that mistake, the Elemental quietly laughs it off. "Sorry about that." He does keep a sharper eye out going forwad, at least.
At that reassurance, Dross returns Logan's gaze patiently, scrutinizing the bright blue of the Fairest's eyes. After a moment, he smiles, just a little. "Yes," he answers. Moving through the Hedge proper, he continues to hang back, letting Duncan and Logan lead the way through the blasted landscape. The endless, twisting wind seems not to bother him; nor the reticulate paths, neither. His gaze lingers on the places where an ordinary-seeming setting seems to show through the white fog of the Hedge like-- somehow-- the lit interior of a house through a window to the wanderers on the cold road outside. Perhaps curious about the Mortal's experience here, he looks at Franklyn now and then, and eventually, after spotting those hobs, bears up alongside her and keeps pace with the human for a while. As far as Duncan's apology, the Darkling says nothing, perhaps to indicate that none is required.
What the fuck. It's Winter, but what kind of /Winter/ is this? Franklyn is vigilant, sure - but it's with the wide eyed semi-incomprehension of seeing a landscape which is, well... Wyrd as hell. Why didn't she argue with Logan? Well, maybe there /is/ something to be learned here...
...But Franklyn has been instructed, at some point, never to go off the Trod and never to touch those thorns. So all she can do is look -- watching Duncan's Hedge-tracking skills with open fascination and zero comprehension of his faux pas, turning on occasion from some weird cluster of Goblin Fruit or avoided What-The-Fuck Creature??? to look at Dross and yet never quite hold his eye. What's that about?
Well. For her, it's like being in a dream. Only Wyrder. The Mortal girl has not yet acclimatised. Hopefully she never will, not fully.
Logan is dressed for winter travel, and he strides along just as confidently as Duncan, occasionally glancing back to see how the others are doing. Duncan even gets a clap on the shoulder at his apology. "It happens to the best of us." He grins his bright grin. "We can always take a car back. I'll get Jeremy to call my driver once we're out on the other side." Whoever Jeremy is.
While the Hedge is still wintry, the landscape around them changes in bewildering, almost dreamlike ways as they travel. Wasn't there a mountain there before? Was that a lake glimpsed through a twisting in the thorns? No, it's just a field of boulders now.
Duncan manages to spot three gates clustered fairly close together, however.
Duncan grins back at Dross' silent response, then nods agreeably to Logan's suggestion. "Sounds like a good idea." He tramps on for some indeterminate amount of time, past the lake and down into the field of boulders before he comes to an abrupt stop. "Gate here." The storm-elemental casts about and points toward an intersection of paths ahead. "Looks like two more down that way? Pick your poison." Checking back in with the group, he gives Franklyn a searching look. "She losing her shit yet?" Duncan asks the other two Lost, rather than the woman herself. "Never brought a human into the Hedge." Let alone found one who volunteered to come.
Following that last question, Dross turns his head and looks down at Franklyn standing next to him. One eyebrow up. "Are you?" he asks, drily. Then his pale gaze moves up to Duncan and Logan, and to the three relatively close-together gates ahead of them. "It would be best to know where all three lead." Whether that's a good idea or not, he doesn't say. No opinion offered as far as which gate to start with, either.
Franklyn is doing well! Her shit is being kept together! Never has she screamed or drawn attention or suddenly run off trod like a damned fool -- although there was a touch of a 'guuh?!' and a double-take for the first three times she thought she saw something only she did not. How can the landscape transfigure like this?! It makes no /sense/.
Yeah. Franky is great for anyone topping up on 'baffled, occasionally horrified, existential crisis' vibes, but not great at, say, conversation. Duncan's words aren't immediately noted - and when Dross speaks to her, it takes her a few seconds to respond; she's just -so focused- on the landscape. "...Mmm?" Two moments processing what was just said. "Are we there yet?" Like Franklyn remembers where they're goi---
Swanton! They're going to /Swanton/. Eyes sharpen and Franklyn glances from Dross to Duncan to Logan. What does she care about stopping at Hedge Gates? They said they'd go to the -farthest- place first, didn't they? Besides. She's... Way out of her depth.
Well, here they are. They've made it to /something/, and as far as Logan's concerned, that makes this long and arduous journey worthwhile. He stares at the gates, smiling, then looks at the others. "Well, we're probably not near Swanton. But it might be worthwhile to see where one of these comes out." He laughs, sweeping golden hair back from his brow -- not like that hair seems to /move/ very much. Fairest, amirite? "Should we flip a coin and see if we should head through one at all? Let's try it." He pulls a brand new, shiny quarter from his jeans and grins at Dross. "Call it, Dross." He flips perfectly, like someone who's spent a lot of time doing -- exactly this.
Duncan watches as Dross relays his question to the mortal in question, then fixes Franklyn with an even more dubious look when she finally responds. He doesn't answer her query himself, but then the answer is their next topic of conversation anyway. "I think we're a bit short of half way," the Elemental agrees with Logan, "but no guarantee we'll find these again if we try to come back later." He's all for taking the closest gate, but makes no protest for random chance either. There's a chuckle and a shake of his head, then Duncan waits to see what fate decides for them.
In response to Franklyn's general air of a computer attempting to run program 'Mental Breakdown V 2.7.iv' only to keep stalling out, Dross reaches down and closes, very loosely, thumb and forefinger around the Mortal's wrist for a moment. He lets go again and takes a step toward Duncan and Logan. Takes another look at the three Hedge gates, and then, pale gaze fixed on the Fairest and his shiny quarter, answers, "Heads." For some reason, there's a note of amusement in his low voice on that word.
Is this where Franklyn wants to be? Uh... She blinks slowly, looking at the Lost Boys as they make their decision vis-a-vis the Hedge Gate situation. Is this what their trip is going to be like? Stopping at any ol' mystical gate? Leaving it all up to fate? Seriously -- there is a coin flip?
And yet... Franklyn is watching the scene unfold between Dross, Duncan and Logan like it's -beyond fascinating-. How can they all be so calm? What is /wrong/ with faeries? What's =right=? What's the coin flip gonna tell 'em?
Heads it is, shining there, lit by Logan's own light. He, too, looks at the gate right in front of them. "This one looks good enough," he says to the others, and then he gestures gracefully towards it. "Dross? After you."
Duncan has no protest for the result of the coin flip, and he casts a glance around them before turning back to the gate. He may have been a serviceable guide but he's shown no great talent for stealth, so he gives a nod for Logan's plan to send the Darkling in first. They're all sneaky, right? "Ready?" he checks with Dross, and once confirmed, the Elemental reaches out toward the non-existant doorway. "Open, says me." And the Hedge in front of him starts to glimmer and twist as the gate opens. Duncan takes a hasty step back so he's not /right/ in front when it does.
Dross seems to be watching Franklyn stare wildly around, but when Logan asks him to go through, he nods, stepping forward straightaway. In the same moment, there's a kind of ripple in the air around him, and all of a sudden, the Darkling seems even harder to see, hear, and so forth, than usual. To Duncan: "Thanks." For opening the Gate, presumably. Without hesitation, he walks straight through.
Franklyn is quiet - super quiet - her eyes trailing after the coin as it flips through the air, and ends heads up with Logan. The Mortal girl's eyebrows raise briefly, before her eyes squint with unmasked curiosity. Duncan is saying a few magic words -- and Franky mouths them silently, head tilted, curiosity interrupted a Dross...
Well. Dross does a fancy bit of magic which is all new to her. Huh. Eyes widen again, but by the time the Darkling has stepped through, Franklyn is turning and looking at Logan all super curious like while awaiting whatever the next orders are. "...How can you be sure, that the coin will flip evenly here - when everything is so off kilter?"
When the gate opens, everyone on the Hedge side can see...black. Darkness. A formless vooooid.
When Dross walks through, however, he has just enough light from the Hedge side to avoid smacking his face on the bricked-over opening of the arch he just stepped into.
After almost running into solid brick, Dross stands there for a second, checking something. Then he backs out again and turns to face the others. "Nothing," he says. "No signal, either."
"No worries," Logan says cheerfully, like he /expected/ this. He turns to see if the other Gates are still within sight. "Let's try one of the other ones." And if they /are/ within sight, he will head off in the direction of one.
Duncan stands to the side of the gate after Dross goes through, ready to follow him once there's some sign from the Darkling. There's a glance toward Logan to make sure the Fairest is ready as well, and to Frankly to make sure she's ... well, not wandering off at least. "If everything is off kilter, does it matter if the coin is too?" he takes it upon himself to answer her question, in a manner of speaking. When the Dross re-appears almost immediately, Duncan frowns and tries to look through the gate himself. Seeing nothing but dark, he has to ask. "Nothing?" The Elemental seems less inclined to give up and try the next one, but he reluctantly gives in to the suggestion that they try the next one.
After a curt nod, Duncan moves with the group down to the next gate to repeat the procedure. "Open, says me," doesn't work on it's own this time, causing the Elemental to give a grumbling curse. "Bloody hell." He takes a deep breath and applies some of his own glamour instead, causing the air pressure to fall in his immediate vicinity, and a brief swirl of in-rushing air. And the gate shimmers open finally. "There."
On the other side, a view of a dimly lit alleyway is partially obscured by rusting garbage bins and the framework of the fire escape the gate appears to be under.
"Bricked up," Dross tells Duncan. He nods in recognition after the Summer opens the second gate, too, which the Darkling walks through without further comment. He steps into the alley and looks around, then turns to beckon through the gate to Logan, Duncan, and Franklyn.
Logan wastes no time. He's as shining and confident as though he were expecting this all along, and their first misstep? A mere coincidence. Making sure the others are coming, he heads through the gate with a big grin. "I knew we'd get somewhere eventually! Good work, everyone."
Franklyn is no dummy - stay in the Hedge? Fuck it, Fairfax Vermont is way better than that alternative.
And yet... When the Mortal girl steps through the magical gate that separates the warped landscape of whimsical nightmares and Wyrd trickery, from the grim winter-frozen rusty trash and titty bar detritus of some sleazy slice of Vermont, well... She looks a touch disappointed. No. Offended? Discontent. Judgey over the landscape. It garners an eye roll, alright?! And a huff, and a puff, and a siiigh as her shoulders slump.
"...Ugh. Let's go get a coffee..." Franklyn shrugs, entirely ungrateful for not being kidnapped away to Arcadia - her hands fluttering, grumpily, to find her cigarettes.
"Oh," Duncan looks a little disappointed about the news of the brick wall at the first gateway, for whatever reason. But the second is more useful, so there's no sense going back to try playing Kool-Aid Man. Once Dross is through this new gate and people are following, the Elemental waits to go last. The titty bar adjoining the alley earns a laugh once he's through and gotten a look around. "We're definitely somewhere," he agrees. "And I bet they've got coffee. And a two drink minimum."