Bad Luck/Prologue

From Zaori


Part 1

In a world not very different from ours, the continent of Australia was never quite «conquered» by the Englishmen, but rather the Aborigines – The People – allowed them to settle there, as long as some rules were being kept. Traditions must be upheld. The Stories must be told.

The continent kept its old name: Anangu.

Today, the White Man is still the dominant on Anangu – probably because there were never that many of The People to begin with. They keep mostly to the Red Centre, the desert that dominates the western middle part of the continent. Meanwhile, the coast is littered with White Man's cities.

One of those cities is Cairns, a small and seemingly insignificant town by the north-east coast, at the bottom of the Cape York Peninsula and the top of the Great Barrier Reef. Its main attraction is a university of which the administration is quite proud, in connection with a decent, if not particularly big, hospital. Like everything on Anangu, culture is important to Cairns, and they host a popular library and a theatre. The latter can boast of good relations with the local Aborigines, which is never a bad thing.

There is more going on in Cairns than meets the eye, though, although you could probably say that about any place on the continent, if not in the world itself.

And some unlucky few are about to get a closer look at exactly what goes on beneath the surface...

Cynthia Hawk

There is nothing special about you. Okay, so you're a unique individual with your own quirks and specialties, but so are everybody else. There is no reason why you should be having these dreams. Or is there? You can't help but think that there is something frightfully familiar about them, like something from a half-forgotten dream... Well, ha ha. That's exactly what they are anyway, right? Dreams. Maybe it's just some sort of Deja Vu – people have those all the time. It doesn't have to mean that you've met HER before; that horrible, magnificent, alluring, terrifying, magical Lady of the Lake. Besides, that's exactly it. These are dreams about magic. There is nothing scientific about it whatsoever. It's stupid, really, and you've tried telling your mind as much with several concoctions, most of them of your own invention. Tonics against sleep. Tonics against dreams. Pills to drive you so far into the sleep cycle that dreams become out of the question, and remembering them even more impossible. There are pills for everything nowadays, and you know how to medicate yourself. And science always prevails, right? So you keep experimenting. Your mind is your own, and you'll find the ways to keep it like that.

Useless. Every night she rises like smoke from her glassy pond in your mind, and somehow - although you choose not to believe yourself - you know that it won't be long till she rises out of your dreams, and into everyone's nightmares...

We shall start with Cynthia Hawk, a young prodigy studying at the university and working in the hospital. She has lived in Cairns all her life, first with her father, and later, when he died (disappeared?) on her own.
As we start our story, Cynthia is in her lab at the hospital. She got it for a project she's doing at the university, involving chemistry and some disease or other. It has, as of late, turned rather frustrating. She's disturbed from her work as a hospital nurse enters the lab with a worried expression.
Cynthia looks up at the nurse walking inside, disturbing her and making her more frustrated on her work. Cold eyes looked into the nurse's.
CYNTHIA
Do you need anything, nurse?
The nurse wrings her hands. She's not much younger than Cynthia, but obviously inexperienced.
NURSE
Miss Hawke, it's the patient in room 241... I wouldn't bother you, but the doctor isn't here, and... I'm afraid we might be losing her.
Cynthia remembers the one she speaks of. One of the aboriginals, the dark people who lived on Anangu before civilized people found the island-continent. Some hikers found her out in the bush, passed out, and brought her to the hospital. Nobody's been able to determine what exactly it is that ails her, but it's some sort of wasting disease. Cynthia's been contacted for expertise twice before.
Cynthia thinks about it; she could gain some experience and information about it if it'd work.
CYNTHIA
Very well Nurse, I will see what is wrong with her. Meanwhile, try to get one of the other doctors there as well. Who knows that we need more of them.
Cynthia puts down her work and leaves to room 241, to the aboriginal that requires her aid.
As she enters the room a pungent smell enters her nose and she quickly drags up her surgical mask. Another nurse is hovering over the patient, cleaning her body with a wet towel. She's painfully thin, with several cords connected to her frail form, administering fluids and keeping track of her unstable vitals.
Cynthia eyes the frail figure that lies on the bed. Something made her go back to being unstable.
CYNTHIA
(almost snapping at the nurse cleaning the patient)
When did her vitals drop to unstable again and did you give her the medicine that she needs?

Cynthia moves forward to the bed and checks her vitals, trying to find out what is wrong with the young woman.

(int+medicine+equipment bonus of 3=10dice yields 6 success)
Cynthia expertly and in barely any time at all deduces that the nurse was right to worry. Despite the medication your strange patient has been given, and despite the fact that she did seem to be stabilizing for a while, she's definitely failing fast now. It would also seem like her body has given up - if she was unplugged she wouldn't last very long at all. Knowing how hard it is to save a body that isn't helping with its own natural stamina, it would be tempting to give up on her. And not waste any more expensive medical substances better distributed elsewhere.
Cynthia, knowing what is wrong with the patient, knows that trying anything would be useless. It pains her to see someone suffer or die and she wasn't able to help them. Cynthia sighs, what must be done must be done. As sad as it is. Cynthia straightens her back and looks at the nurse.
CYNTHIA
You can stop now nurse, her body is failing. There is nothing what we can do to help her, her own body has given up the fight.
Cynthia eyes the patient with pain in her eyes, another one she couldn't save.
CYNTHIA
(looking back at the nurse)
Get the other nurse back in here; I will give her a time of death. Start unplugging her.
With cold eyes Cynthia helps the nurse unplug the patient.
As Cynthia leans forwards to take the drip out of the black woman's nose, her patient suddenly and with great strength grabs hold of her arm!
ABORIGINAL
(rasping)
You are also hers!
The aboriginal falls back onto her pillow.
From the fancy heart-beat box ((*shifty eyes*)) comes the long, even tone that signals the failing of the heart.
Shock enters Cynthia's eyes, did she... She must be. But how? How did she know? Thousands of other questions came up in Cynthia's head. She shakes her head; now is not the time to think about that. Without even looking back at the nurse – who doesn't seem to have noticed anything strange whatsoever – she keeps her eyes to the now dead patient.
CYNTHIA
Nurse, Time of death: 18:37, [date], [year].
With that she starts unplugging the woman, still having chills going over her back.
Cynthia ponders what just happened. It seems like the nurse didn't see it happen. Did it happen or was she imaging things? Either way this gives more questions than answers. She shakes her head slightly again. Now is not the time Cynthia! Someone just died, in a strange way but still. She keeps working and helps the nurse, feeling quite alert of what the now dead patient said to her.
While she's got keys to stay around after regular hours, she's decided to leave the hospital, as the earlier incident has her seeing dark shadows all over the white walls. She exits through the main entrance, passing that horrible activist who's been keeping her stand by the reception lately. She wants the hospital to abolish the use of several controversial substances, many of which Cynthia actively uses. She's currently packing up her booth, but glares viciously at Cynthia as she passes.
Cynthia Hawk walked away, on high alert cause of jumping shadows. Walking past the activist she notices the glare the woman sends her. She gives her an cold glare back, what she uses save lives, something better than standing in a booth the whole day doing nothing. Trying not to get more irritated at the woman she quickly keeps walking, heading home.
Since the park is closed, she walks around it rather than taking the shortcut through. Before she's come far, though, the activist woman, Rose, comes running up behind her.
Cynthia Hawk hears someone behind her running and looks behind her. Seeing the woman that stood in front of the hospital the whole day in the booth. She wondered why she was following her; doesn't she have other things to do?
ROSE
Hey! Hey, wait up! There's an aboriginal at the hospital; do you know her?
As she comes up, her sneer is replaced by a worried look. Cynthia looks at the woman with cold eyes.
CYNTHIA
I shouldn't be saying anything about patients in the hospital. Why do you ask?
She eyes the woman. Curious why she asked her about the woman that just died this day.
ROSE
I'm the one who found her. Me and two friends; we were hiking just a ways up-river. I'd just like to know if she's gonna be okay. Last I asked I didn't get very much of a reply...
Cynthia eyes the woman, sympathy in her eyes.
CYNTHIA
Normally I wouldn't say anything about patients, but... Since you found her, you and your friend are the only ones that have some relation to her. I...
She sighs. This is always hard to do.
CYNTHIA
I am sorry to say this to you, but she... passed away today.
Cynthia looks into the eyes of the woman, trying to see any kind of emotion in them.
The activist looks first startled, then resigned.
ROSE
Well, she was in a bad shape. My friends say we should just be happy it wasn't anything contagious.
(intelligence+empathy check to read her mood=3 yields 2 success)
Cynthia realizes that the activist really holds genuine concern for the dead woman, and is disgusted at her friends for not showing the same level of empathy. Maybe she isn't as bad as Cyn thought when seeing her booth from the side, though she's clearly misguided.
Cynthia understands the true genuine concern about the woman that had passed away. The woman might not have been as bad as she first thought, she might be a friendly woman. At least it would be polite to give her name, as being the one who gave the time of dead.
CYNTHIA
Again my apologies, ...Miss. I was the doctor that gave the time of death. The name is Cynthia Hawke.
She holds a hand towards the woman. Who knows she might be someone worth giving a try.
ROSE
(taking Cynthia's hand)
Rose. Rose Green.
(she makes a face, and sighs theatrically)
My parents fight for the rainforest.
Then her head drops again.
ROSE
(muttering)
I can't believe she's gone. She seemed so strong, and... well, she was a fighter. Even had a spear. Old-fashioned, I know, but the natives are that much closer to the land. It doesn't seem right that she should die while - well.
(she blushes slightly, then laughs awkwardly)
Sorry, I don't mean to ramble. Hey, would you like to go grab a drink? It could be, like, her wake.
Cynthia takes Rose's hand and shakes it.
CYNTHIA
Even the strong can fall, as sad as it is. And sure, why not, I have nothing else to do for now.
Cynthia smiles, a rare smile at the antics of the woman.
CYNTHIA
Shall we go to the Back Alley bar? It's nearby. While there we could talk more about her.
She nods her head towards the general way of the bar. Rose agrees, and presently, they arrive.

Bartleby Johansen

There is nothing special about you. Okay, so you're a unique individual with your own quirks and specialties, but so are everybody else. There is no reason why you should be having these dreams. They've become an obsession, and probably not a particularly good one. If you had any relationships they would've been long gone, as all you can think about is HER. That wonderful creature of light and shadow, regal atop of her larger-than-life lynx. You don't even know her face. Maybe she's veiled, maybe you just forget it upon waking, but you have no idea what she looks like. And all the same she keeps following you around, as it were; even into the waking world. It was quite the shock when, in the middle of an elaborate tale, you found yourself describing everything you could remember about her to a total stranger, whom instead of gifting you with money gave you a look as if you were mad and hurried along. Are you going mad? It's difficult to say, but you certainly have been plagued by various symptoms. And by cats. Where have all those darn cats come from, anyway? Sometimes, it's almost like they're following you. Watching you. Some of them aren't exactly cats, either. But what can you do? Telling animal control that you're being stalked by a lynx isn't very likely to have a positive outcome, now, is it.

It wouldn't be so bad if only you knew what she looked like, though. And if your potential madness is going to chase away most customers anyway, you might as well just stick to chasing her through your dreams...

Bartleby Johansen has been in Cairns for a while now, by his own standards, and the time might be coming for moving on. He's a travelling storyteller. There's always someone needs stories somewhere, and his are among the best. That's not pride saying that, or at least not just pride. While he might not look too impressive on the outside, in his ragged coat (Ruin), leaning tall and thin on his stick (The Equaliser), his mind is truly a place of wonders.
At the beginning of this tale, which is his by actions rather than words, Bartleby is looking for cats in the park. He's got his reasons. The park will be closing pretty soon; it's already dark. There are two other people in there, though; one little girl up past her bedtime and a teenager boy. He's seen the girl before; she's often in the background if he tells a tale, sometimes listening intently - mostly for the more tall tales - or rolling her eyes and running to the swing, if it's a woe-tale.
BARTLE
Hey, kid. Shouldn't you be home by now? Don't you know what happens to children when the darkness falls on this park?
(he pauses for effect)
They get eaten by Moonfang, the cat from the stars.
The little girl giggles, a little uncertainly, and looks up at Bartleby.
AMY
I'm allowed to be here until they close. Dad'll pick me up when he comes with the keys. Are there really cats in the stars?
Bartleby Johansen sits down next to the child.
BARTLE
Just one, these nights. Cats are very jealous, and Moonfang didn't like the other cats in the sky.
So, when it felt like it, it would eat up the other cats in the sky, and only left behind their eyes, and those eyes made the stars.
Think of that when you look up. All those stars are the victims of the last cat of the night. Looking down, helplessly, as Moonfang prowls our night.
The little girl gasps, but then nods thoughtfully.
AMY
Cats do have eyes like stars. But mustn't they be very big for us to see from all the way down here?!
BARTLE
Of course! The cats of night were very big. How else would they eat little girls? Earthcats only have little tummies.
The little girl looks slightly less comfortable, her eyes big and shiny.
AMY
But they don't eat grown-ups, right? If I stay with you until daddy comes I'll be safe.
Bartleby Johansen makes a show of considering the question.
BARTLE
Hmm. Probably. Cats are, of course, scaredy. Even Moonfang probably wouldn't try to eat you with me here.
Probably.
Frezak: And he's gonna get picked up for talking to a little girl late at night. Yay.
The girl nods, not quite sure if she should be comforted or not, when suddenly a cat shoots out of the bushes, hissing violently. Simultaneously, loud cursing can be heard from the other side of the hedge.
The voice sounds like a male youth. The cursing is not imaginative.
The cat is large, but otherwise seems like a normal house-cat. Just well-fed, probably.
Turning towards the cursing, Bartleby sees some hair that looks like it might be the teenage boy that was around earlier.
Still cursing, the youth steps around the bushes, glaring at the cat. His hand is bleeding. Noticing the pair of you, he self-consciously shuts up.
YOUTH
(mostly at Bartleby)
Sorry. I've been chasing this beast for ages now and, well. So much for gratitude! Stupid animal...
Bartleby Johansen nods at the girl.
BARTLE
Scaredy, jealous, and ungrateful.
The cat puts its tail high and majestically pads over to Bartleby, rubbing against his leg.
Bartleby Johansen frowns at the cat.
The cat looks up at Bartleby blinking once. They're silvery, the reflecting light making them shine like stars.
Frezak: Well, fuck. I'M GOING TO GET EATEN, GUYS.
Bartleby Johansen shoos it away with his foot.
The cat gives an offended meow, but doesn't go away. The youth gives you a queer look while edging closer.
YOUTH
Never seen her act like that with strangers before... Don't move, though; this is probably the best chance I'll have all night.
He's holding a collar in his uninjured hand.
The cat makes a sound halfway between a purring and a growl, but pounces away the moment the youth touches her fur. And in the process, manages to knock Bartleby over - though as it does so, it feels much, much larger than it was, reaching well above his hip. The youth curses again, but the little girl looks after the cat with huge eyes, making a scared gasping sound.
Bartleby gets up and swears loudly at the cat.
YOUTH
Well, I give up. She'll come home when she wants to. And instead of expensive food, the beast'll probably feed off little birdies. Mum'll kill me.
Bartleby Johansen shrugs.
BARTLE
Cats.
The youth sighs, rubbing a hand through his hair.
AMY
That wasn't a cat.
Bartleby Johansen shivers.
BARTLE
What do you mean?
The girl shudders, but turns it into a shrug with a bit of effort. Then she smiles.
AMY
Maybe it was Moonfang?
BARTLE
Hah! Maybe it was.
The little girl jumps at the sound of footsteps from behind, turning away with a huge grin.
AMY
(running towards the man coming down the path)
Daddy!
He picks her up with a laugh and comes up to others.
AMY'S DAD
(dangling a key before him)
We're closing now, guys. Time to get going.
Bartleby Johansen nods and walks out, keeping a paranoid eye on nearby bushes.
He hasn't earned much money today (expression+tales+resolve-1 small crowd-1 distracting dreams=3 dice yields 0 successes) but decides to go to the bar anyway. He's Bartleby the Magnificent. He can mooch a drink.
Bartleby keeps having that feeling, and particularly sees glints of light everywhere, like the starry eyes of cats... But he makes it safely to the bar without seeing any more of the things.

Finn Kovlovsky

There is nothing special about you. Okay, so you're a unique individual with your own quirks and specialties, but so are everybody else. There is no reason why you should be having these dreams. And to be honest, they're starting to scare you. That they've turned you into an insomniac, unable to sleep for more than a couple of hours each night, is one thing - but they've started seeping into your reality as well. Only three days ago you could swear that you were not alone when you looked into the mirror: Right behind your left shoulder, smiling teasingly, you could clearly see HER, the dreadful woman who stalks your every sleeping moment. When you turned to look she was gone, of course, but you know what you saw. After all, that gnarled face of thorns and bloodied roses is the only thing you've been painting for weeks, now. It's endlessly frustrating. No matter the motive, no matter the idea, no matter the careful intent – there she is. To begin with, you didn't even notice that subtle change in the face of the ever-present woman. But for each painting she's come closer. Grander. When she ate the boy was when you discovered that you couldn't stop painting, either; rather you've felt compelled to spend more and more time with the aquarelles. And now she's the only object left on the canvas. She's close; so very close.

But meanwhile, in your dreams, she's running away from you, her laughter teasing, and as fast as you run, you cannot catch her...

Finn Kovlovsky used to be in the army. Fought in a war. His prize for that was a crippled leg, which, considering how he was already a dwarf, means walking isn't something he does eagerly nowadays. He's retired now, of course, and lives off a mixture of funds and what he can earn from painting, having become a somewhat accomplished artist in his later years. His work consists mainly of landscapes, and even Cynthia has bought a couple of his better pieces. Nowadays, however, his inspiration has been in other avenues, and while he's become quite obsessed with working, he fears where the art is taking him, and would prefer to break away. It's just... not as easy as it ought to be.

Right now, Finn is trying to tear himself away from his atelier, resisting the urge to paint, and actually leave the house.

(resolve+composure=4 dice yield 1 success)
Finn picks up a brush, bites his lip looking at the blank canvas, eyes wandering to his other recent projects. With a great effort he puts the brush back down and goes out the door, barely even noticing where his feet are taking him. Of course, there are few places a man can go at this time. It's not really a surprise when he finds himself in the narrow alleyway leading to the bar.
Finn looks at the door to the bar for a moment, before turning back with a sigh. Drinking probably wasn't the best idea while thinking so hard about not doing other things. He turns to leave just as someone starts singing inside, a lovely melody seeping through the door.

Finn leans on the cane, peeking around into the window to try to see from whom the voice is coming. (wits+athletics=6 dice yield 0 successes)

The window, however, is just slightly too high up, small and foggy, and he doesn't manage to get anything worthwhile through it.
Finn Kovlovsky emits a string of vulgarities, mostly to himself for his inability to do such a simple chore, but with fascination and curiosity taking hold, he hobbles as quickly as he can into the bar, hoping not to be noticed.
The bar isn't very crowded. There's the barmaid, of course, or barrista or whatever nice word one uses for them these days, and a couple of men seated sporadically around a small podium, sipping from various beverages. On stage is a pretty young lady - the singer. She's got a better voice than body, though neither is particularly exceptional. Still good enough that only one of the patrons turns as Finn enters, giving him a cursory glance before dismissing him.
Finn Kovlovsky looks at the bar stools and not wishing to push whatever luck he has left, he decides instead to stand awkwardly by the entrance, watching the woman on stage.
The song is about roses. It might be something weird based on sleeping beauty, but instead of a witch and a spinning wheel, the princess pricks her hand on the thorn of a rose, which then slowly saps the life out of her, using her energy to grow the most amazing hedge of blood-red roses.
Finn Kovlovsky grits his teeth several times during the song, forcing out images of the woman that haunts his mind. He enjoys the song regardless, and stays to the end, if only to hear the outcome of the story.
The ending of the song is difficult to piece out, but there was a prince, and a kiss, and... something got turned into crystal? The roses? And the prince died, but managed to revive the princess. She fled the place, but as soon as she got outside of the rose-hedge, she withered up and died. After all, a hundred years had passed.
The patrons clap and cheer as the singer takes a bow. She looks a little sad, and you wonder if anyone but you paid the lyrics any heed at all.
Finn Kovlovsky watches the woman after her performance, thinking she may be one of those few people that might be pleasurable to speak with. , he approaches her slowly, being careful not to allow the cane to make too much noise on the barroom floor.
FINN
Uh...excuse me, miss. That was a nice story you sang there - where'd you learn it?
The singer looks a little startled, and smiles shyly at Finn. She seems to be one of those people who are far more comfortable on the stage than in "real life".
SINGER
I, ah, I wrote it. Actually. It's... based on a dream I had. I know it's not very good.
Finn Kovlovsky shrugs.
FINN
It's better than most of the shit that they sing in here.
The singer smiles wider, but attempts to hide it behind her glass of whatever she's drinking. Then she collects herself and mutters a "thank you" over the rim.
Finn Kovlovsky thinks quickly trying to make small-talk, a skill he once had but lost over the years. He smiles up at her.
FINN
I hope you'll sing it again sometime.
The singer shakes her head with a small, bitter laugh.
SINGER
I doubt it. Most of the crowd prefers things with more sex, less death, and more dancing. And I need to earn my drinks and money, not just sing what I like.
FINN
Yeah, well, everyone loves a fuckin' love song.
Finn Kovlovsky sighs with annoyance.
SINGER
(nodding at Finn)
They do, don't they. Not you, though? No sweetheart back home?
FINN
I've sweetheart back home, but she ain't a lady.
(he stops for a moment, then realizes...)
And she ain't a man, either.
The singer laughs genuinely, a rich, tinkling sound.
SINGER
Well, then! I'm not going to guess at that riddle, but please tell me you're not some crazy person who's obsessed with his gun...
Finn Kovlovsky gives a dark stare for just a moment too long.
FINN
No... No.
The singer arches an eyebrow, but seems to decide to shrug it off and not inquire further.
FINN
Well - I'd love to tell you to not to worry what the other folks think, but we both know better than that. Maybe you'll have another dream or somethin'.
The singer looks uncomfortable at that, but nods.
SINGER
Another dream. Yes... I'm sure I will.
FINN
Well, uh...you have a good night then, miss.
The singer nods, smiling again.
SINGER
You too. It was... nice talking to you.
Finn Kovlovsky turns around and walks back to one of the tables in the corner and sits.

Convergence

A tall man in a tattered coat and with an impressive stick enters the bar, giving the room a calculating look-over.

(wits+subterfuge=6 dice to look for people to buy Bartle a drink yields 1 success)
The man – Bartleby – sees that today's crowd contains several men drunk enough to maybe share some booze. There's a group in a corner that's just taken out a deck of cards, and two other likely pairs. He decides, however, to try his luck at the barmaid. She doesn't look like one easily tricked, but kind enough to maybe give credit or pay for entertainment in liquid money.
(manipulation+expression+1tales-1 opposing composure?5 dice yields 2 success at Bartle's attempt at persuading the barmaid with his tale of woe and sadness and poor financial states, with some compliments thrown in.)
The barmaid narrows her eyes, but laughs at one of the more elaborate phrases.
KEENE
Just this once, okay? My boss'll have my hide.
She winks at Bartleby as she hands him a drink, and he almost drops the glass - her eye was that of a cat, just then!
Bartle decides he's gonna be very gracious, drink up and get home.
BARTLE
(thinking)
This day is getting worse and worse. If it wasn't for my impecuniosity, I'd have said it was the drink doing things to me.

Another pair enters the bar – Rose and Cynthia. They go straight to the counter, sitting down a couple of stools over from Bartleby. Rose nods the barmaid over, whom excuses herself from the story-teller and comes to take their order.
CYNTHIA
(nodding at Rose)
Go ahead and order, I will take the same.
She then looks behind her, still keeping an eye on the patrons in the bar.
ROSE
Two beers, Mari. Salty, like my tears. We're in mourning.
The barmaid rolls her eyes, but hands out the glasses.
Cynthia takes hers with a puzzled expression - the liquid isn't beer at all, but entirely clear, like water.
Cynthia eyes the beer, then looks at Rose.
CYNTHIA
Rose, are you sure this is beer? It's clear... Isn't beer supposed to be... coloured?
She looks back at the drink, not trusting it.
Rose gives her a queer look, in the middle of consuming her own drink.
Cynthia looks back at Rose, an eyebrow raised. Still not trusting the drink.
CYNTHIA
It's different than what i'm normally used to.
Having downed her glass, Rose smiles broadly at her.
ROSE
Seeing how they came from the same tap, I'm willing to vouch for it. But if you don't want it...
Cynthia looks at the drink and then back at Rose.
CYNTHIA
No... I will give it a try.
Trying to hide a grin coming up, somehow she feels she can trust Rose in a way. Strange. She takes a sip of the drink, seeing that it tastes the same as normal beer.
CYNTHIA
In memory of the Aboriginal, may she rest in peace.
Quickly getting a re-fill, Rose clinks her glass to Cynthia's in a toast.
This really is salty beer, Cynthia thinks as she gulps it down. And then she realizes it doesn't taste like beer at all anymore, but is suddenly rather like tears - and what's more, instead of emptying, the glass is slowly filling up, very nearly spilling over the edge.
(wits+athletics=1 dice yields 1 success in not dropping the glass from shock)
Cynthia manages to hold on to the glass, and the water doesn't rise above the edge of it, though this abnormally full glass is certainly creepy enough without spilling over. The surface of it looks... almost glassy, so still and pristine. And then a figure rises out of it. While she must be tiny to fit in that glass, she manages to take up Cynthia's whole view. She looks exactly like she remembers; pale, in a dress made of the very water she's stood upon, and a white veil over her head. She can still see that huge grin under there, though - that mouthful of broken glass.
Her voice is like waterfalls and tinkling diamonds and mirrors breaking.
HER
It's time.

Her voice sounds like thunder to Bartleby. Or like the purring growl of that cat - Moonfang? - from before. He jumps in his seat, turning to look for a source, but seeing nothing. It's just that voice.
HER
(echo)
It's time.

Finn feels the kiss against his ear, soft as flower-petals, but there are thorns to the voice that follows it. He doesn't need to turn his head to know there's nothing there. In his mind, his resolve not to paint must've broken down, for suddenly he can see the next painting perfectly before his eyes. The background is all that remains; a hedge of thorns. The subject is gone.
HER
(echo)
It's time.

Part 2

Cynthia faints, dropping the glass and keeling over. The glass shatters against the floor, spilling salt water everywhere - except it's probably not salt water anymore, because it's hissing and quickly evaporating into a green fog, blowing against Cynthia's face and waking her. The whole spectacle takes mere moments.
Meanwhile, the barmaid is hurrying towards a door marked "employees only" calling for someone named Tom.
Rose, the activist Cynthia came with, is ignoring her fallen friend (or at least drink-mate) and walking purposefully towards the door.
The singer Finn talked to earlier is cutting right in front of her, tears streaming from her eyes. Some of the patrons watch her go with a puzzled expression, others grimly. Some are too drunk to care about anything.
Bartleby bravely clutches his Equalizer and goes for the door, post-haste.

Finn Kovlovsky stares into the room - and seemingly into the distance - trying to process the scene and fighting with every ounce of will that he has to stop from rushing back to the apartment to paint. (resolve+composure-2 circumstances=1 success)

Once he’s wrestled control of his own mind, he walks over to the woman that seems to have fallen over.
Cynthia Hawk wakes up dazed, remembering what she saw but… not knowing how to understand it. She looks around and doesn't see her friend Rose anymore. Perhaps it's better to leave and head home to think about it.
Finn Kovlovsky approaches her, leaning over very slightly.
FINN
You alright, lady?
Cynthia Hawk looks up at the man - or should I say, dwarf – leaning over her. She recognizes him – he’s the one she buys artwork from.
CYNTHIA
Yes… I think I am alright. Just had a rough day it at work.
(manip+socialize-3 Finn’s composure=3 successes on convincing Finn that she’s okay)
FINN
Why, uh...why're you on the ground? Need a hand?
CYNTHIA
Well..I think you can see that tiredness and alcohol don't really work together.
FINN
Well, be careful. People'll put shit in your drink. You, uh...you see anything weird in here just a minute ago?
Finn Kovlovsky offers a hand to try to help her up.
Cynthia takes the offered hand and climbs back up her feet.
CYNTHIA
(Looking at the dwarf)
I did see...Something, but it might have been the alcohol.
FINN
Yeah...yeah, maybe.
Finn Kovlovsky doesn't look like he believes that at all, but doesn't press the issue.
Cynthia gives the man a critic look.
Cynthia Hawk hopes distracting him, will make him forget about asking more about what happened.
CYNTHIA
Aren't you that artist that lives here nearby?
FINN
Maybe. What of it?
CYNTHIA
Nothing much, I just remember I bought some things of you. You looked familiar to me, it's the only reason.
Finn Kovlovsky chuckles darkly with a cough.
FINN
Surprised you recognized me, with how well I blend into a crowd.
Cynthia giggles, giving the dwarf a look over.
CYNTHIA
Mhm, you blend in so well. Most people don't seem to notice you.
Finn Kovlovsky rolls his eyes with a grunt.

Finn Kovlovsky

You HAVE had too much. Look - you want someone to walk you home or somethin'? Or you plannin' to sleep in the booth?

Cynthia Hawk

I was planning to head home. Although it might be getting quite dark outside…
The barmaid comes back with a man - a handsome fellow, who without looking like the barmaid at all looks very much like her. They have a certain… sleekness to them. It's not in appearance so much as posture. They give the two patrons a suspicious glance.
Cynthia Hawk looks around the bar, trying to see if anything is out of place. Noticing that the barmaid is back with some else. And they don't really look quite friendly.
Finn Kovlovsky looks at the pair as they walk in.
FINN
You want somethin', or are you just gonna gawk all night?
The barmaid looks pointedly at the man, then back at her two patrons.
KEENE
Alright. Which one of you kids triggered it?
Being not much older than Cynthia, this choice of word seems… interesting, you might say.
Finn Kovlovsky raises an eyebrow, as he's neither a kid nor does he remember triggering anything.
Cynthia Hawk raises her own eyebrow at the pair. What is she talking about, she can't know… Can she?
FINN
Triggered what?
TOM
Just answer the lady. We don't want any trouble with the Beldam here.
FINN
Tell her to start makin' some damn sense, then.
CYNTHIA
Beldam? What do you mean?
The barmaid turns to the man, shaking her head.
KEENE
They don't know, do they. Maybe one of the others triggered it. They're all gone now, though, poor sods.
Tom looks grimly from her to you and back, then shrugs.
TOM
Well. Little we can do, then, isn't it. What she wants, she gets, and there's little we can do about it.
He turns back to the pair, authoritatively.
TOM
It's high time you left. We don't want any trouble.
And he turns on her heels and leaves. The barmaid looks sad, and more apologetic.
KEENE
I hope we're wrong. And that you'll just think of us as mad. Best of luck, either way.
Cynthia Hawk still has an eyebrow raised to the pair. Strange…
Finn Kovlovsky huffs grumpily.
FINN
Leavin' sounds like a fine idea.
Cynthia Hawk looks at the dwarf.
CYNTHIA
Shall we go, then?
FINN
You can do whatever ya like. I'm outta this place.
Despite seeming rather annoyed, it's clear Finn doesn't really want to leave - or at least, doesn't want to go home.
CYNTHIA
(shaking her head)
This place is not the best place for now.
CYNTHIA
(noticing that he doesn't want to leave)
Don't you want to head home after this?
FINN
No.
Finn Kovlovsky slowly heads toward the door.
Cynthia Hawk follows the dwarf. It seems wrong but, he reminds her of her father.
CYNTHIA
Hey, if you don't wanna head home we can walk around for a while, or… This might seem weird, but you can crash at my place for the night, if you want.
Cynthia Hawk doesn't really want to be alone after what happened today, and being near the person that reminds her of her father might help.
Finn Kovlovsky stops and sharply turns on the cane, which looks more awkward than anything.
FINN
I ain't sleepin' with some drunk chick just because she buys some art. I'll take ya home, but don't get any ideas.
Finn Kovlovsky sharply turns on the cane again and begins walking again.
Cynthia Hawk sighs acting drunk before didn't help now.
CYNTHIA
Very well.
She then walks to the dwarf and starts walking with him.
They exit the bar.


The moment Bartleby stepped out the door... He was assaulted. A multitude of furry bodies pounced upon him, pinning him to the... soft, dirty ground? He barely had time to wonder where the asphalt'd gone, though, as all he could see and hear and smell and feel was cats, cats, cats everywhere. They're clawing at him and wailing and - whispering...
CATS
(purring)
Stories,
Spin us stories! Hungry, soooo hungry...!
Even as they tear him bloody they keep demanding to be fed. Truth and lies. Stories. Feed them, or be eaten.
BARTLEBY
Um. Er.
BARTLEBY
There was a lady, in a lake. Her dearest wish was to marry a man, because although she was a lady, she wasn't a woman.
So she sang a song her mother had taught her. A song that should be known, but not sung. But the poor lady had been waiting so long, and thought that it couldn't hurt to sing it, just that once.
And as she did so, there happened a young woodcutter. A handsome fellow, he was.
And when she finished the song, she found him there, staring at her, entranced. But the poor lady had never /seen/ a man before, and she discovered that she was terribly shy, so she hid in her lake.
As the tale goes on the cats become less violent, but they're still clinging to him like a second skin, purring deeply. It's getting hard to breathe, but he keeps talking.
BARTLEBY
But the poor man, over the agonizing days and nights that followed, realised that he could not get the strange lady out of his mind. He could not sleep. He could not concentrate.
And so he vowed to find the lady, and put his mind at rest, no matter the cost. The witch would pay. He tooks his daddy's best axe, and his ma's best biscuits, and set out one morning, to the lady's lake.
Now, the Lady of the lake was in the habit of getting up early, to wash in the dawnlight.
He crept up, and saw her in the light, and realised that she was no woman. So, as was the custom in those lands, he asked her a riddle.
BARTLE
What is green, hangs on a door, and whistles?
Now, can any of you lovelies guess what it was?

(strength+athletics=3 dice yields 0 successes)

Bartleby tries to break free from his hungry captors while they ponder his riddle, but to no avail. He squirms under his living fur-coating, but they have their claws in him, and he cannot get away.
CATS:
(purring)
Lies!
Riddles!
You, you are the answer!
Tie you in thorns, nail you to the door!
Whistle, wordweaver, whistle…
(manip+persuation=6 dice yields 2 successes for making them solve the riddle)
BARTLEBY
Oh, but lovely little cats. A riddle is not fun if I tell you the answer!
Where's the chase if the prey walks into your mouth?

They step through the door, Finn first and Cynthia close behind, and... then stop. The door slams shut behind them. "Where's the chase if the prey walks into your mouth?" says a voice in front of them, as several shadows flee into the hedge of thorns that's rising high all around. The voice belongs to one of the people from the bar - that beggar who tells stories in the park. He's lying prone on the dirty ground, blood seeping from several tiny wounds.
Bartleby Johansen gasps for air and lies there a moment, before struggling to his feet and cursing.
Finn Kovlovsky grips the cane tight and steps back a moment.
FINN
The hell is this?!
Bartleby Johansen spins round at the sound.
BARTLEBY
CATS! Watch out! They're probably still here! Keep a story in your pocket!
Bartleby Johansen grips his stick and squints at the hedge with his one good eye.
Cynthia Hawk takes one look around and wonders where they are, and why they are there. She then notices the man; he is wounded. Before she can think of it she walks towards the wounded man.
CYNTHIA
Does anything else hurt? Except the tiny wounds you have?
Finn Kovlovsky scans the hedges and notices the woman walking toward the babbling man.
FINN
Hey, you crazy? Get back here lady!
Bartleby Johansen takes a step back.
BARTLE
I most certainly am not, dwarf.
BARTLE
(noticing the woman hovering about him)
No, just the cat-holes.
Cynthia Hawk looks back at the dwarf.
CYNTHIA
I am a doctor! And this man is wounded.
FINN
You're also drunk!
Whatcha gonna do, slap a band-aid on his face and stumble into the bushes?
Finn Kovlovsky narrows his eyes
Cynthia looks at the 'cat-holes'. They are small but they can still infect.
CYNTHIA
Oh, I’m not drunk; as you saw I walked in a straight line. Don't question my medicine schooling though.
FINN
(mumbles)
Psh. Heard that before. Whatever - suit yourself. I'm gettin' outta this place.
BARTLEBY
I'll go to a hospital when I know where one is. Or where here is, for that matter.
Pretty sure there wasn't so much... greenery when I walked in.
The place, as it stands, is a rough path – barely wide enough for two and a half person, though it widens as it moves away from the door, through this thorny hedge-place. The door is still behind them, looking very much out of place. There’s no sign of the rest of the bar. The hedge itself is made of leaves and stems and buds of flowers… but there is also more thorns than in any other hedge, ever.
CYNTHIA
Why go to the hospital when you have a doctor here?
CYNTHIA
I heard that, dwarf! If we want to get out of here, staying together might be a better option.
FINN
Hey, why don't you both fuck off and stop callin' me that?
BARTLEBY
You are one. I’m not calling you giant.
CYNTHIA
Tell us your name, then?
Finn tries the door to the strangely absent bar. It’s locked.
BARTLEBY
Now, where the hells are we?
Bartleby pokes experimentally at the nearest bit of hedge with the Equaliser. The hedge doesn’t seem to care much… Though he thinks he heard a whispering and saw a shadow moving in there, but somewhat more to his down-side. Away from the door.
Finn Kovlovsky scoffs and throws an arm into the air in visible disgust.
FINN
You two wanna stay here and play doctor, fine. I'm getting’… the fuck was that?
BARTLEBY
Probably talking cats.
CYNTHIA
Talking cats? I do believe it was a bigger shadow. Whatever it was, it went the other way, away from the door. I rather not go down that way.
BARTLEBY
Well, it’s the only way forwards. So I'm going to see what's going on. Shall we?
FINN
(rolling eyes and mumbling)
Talkin' cats? And I thought I was messed up…
FINN
Look, whatever this is, it's not funny. Get us out of here before I call the cops.
BARTLEBY
You overestimate me. I'm as stuck as you are. Unless you think I can build a forest of thorns in a moment.
BARTLEBY
And if you can call the police, please do so.
Also the fire brigade.
And whatever else you're entitled to.
CYNTHIA
If you wish to call the cops, I still have my phone with me.
Although I have a feeling, that they can't get here.
Frezak: NO SHIT :p
Finn walks over to the woman.
FINN
Call 'em. This is ridiculous.
FINN
I ain't gonna be part of some sick ...forest cult bullshit.
BARTLE
"Forest cult"? Why would you even say that?
Cynthia Hawk looks around the place, it looks familiar in a way. Like something from a dream. How… strange. She shakes her head and looks to the dwarf. She then starts looking in her bag for her phone. Finding it she tries to activate it. But it falls dead.
CYNTHIA
(groaning)
Great, the battery is dead.
FINN
(sighs)
Of course it is.
As Cynthia’s about to put the phone back, the display blinks. Buzzes. Then she receives a call.
Cynthia Hawk looks with wide eyes towards her phone. It's dead, so how does it receive a call?
CYNTHIA
(thinks)
I better take it, it might be someone that can get us out of here.
She presses the green button (no iPhone for you) and puts it hesitantly to her ear.
The two men can barely hear a voice through the phone. Well, something like a voice. Maybe. They can’t make out the words, but suddenly there’s a sound from whence they came. A click. Like a lock turning.
Bartleby dives for the door, opens it, and – stands face to face with… himself. The doorway is filled with a mirror.
Bartleby slams the door shut.
Cynthia Hawk turns her eyes towards the sound. Seeing the beggar almost run towards the door and opening it.
FINN
Hey! That was our way out! Why'd you close it?!
CYNTHIA
That was the door towards the bar. Why did you slam it shut? We could have gotten out of here!
BARTLE
I believe the term to describe our situation is 'batshit'.
BARTLE
Okay. You open the door and tell me whether you want to to touch a mysterious magic mirror.
I think I’ll take my chances with the thorny path, thank you.
FINN
Whatever. Let’s go this way, then.
Finn Kovlovsky points to the path that leads through the hedges.
Cynthia Hawk raises an eyebrow towards the… little man.
CYNTHIA
You sure you want to head in further?
FINN
You got any better ideas?
CYNTHIA
(shaking her head)
No not really. Wait what? What do you mean mirror?
Cynthia heads in the opposite direction as the men take on the path ahead, and she, too, opens the door and sees the mirror.
Cynthia raises an eyebrow to her reflection, holding back a scream, then slams the door closed and runs after the other two.

The group walks down the path, soon coming to a bend. It keeps turning for what seems like a very long time. It feels like they’re going in circles, except they never cross any other paths. Sometimes, twigs grow out into the path and they have to duck under them or attempt to bend them away as they pass. Bartle is not the only one with tiny wounds as they walk on, and on, and on...

And then, suddenly and without warning, the Hedge parts before them. And they’re standing on a small hill, on top of which stands a grand castle. Well, one might call it a castle. It is a structure of some kind. And it is huge. And it is made entirely out of broken glass and mirrors.
BARTLE
Well, shit. This is getting worse and worse.
FINN
You got that right...
Finn Kovlovsky stares out toward the castle, eyes wide.
Cynthia Hawk raises an eyebrow towards the castle-like structure. She is not liking this at all…
CYNTHIA
(nodding)
This doesn't seem to get any better.
The hedge gives way to a sort of garden around the castle, though the giant structure is definitely dominating the scene. The path stretches straight up to the castle, and to its left, beyond a bed of strange flowers, is an arbor, within which our heroes believe they might make out some moving shapes.
BARTLE
What do you two think? Front or back door?
CYNTHIA
Mhmm... Someone – or something – is obviously waiting for us inside; I say the back door.
FINN
(shrugging)
Sure.
We're pretty fucked either way.
And so, keeping a weary eye on the shadows in the woods, they step off the path and into the garden.
Soon, they’re surrounded by sweetly smelling flowers. They’re like blue-bells, but made of glass, making a lovely tinkling sound.
Bartleby quickly stuffs his fingers in his ears, and his companions both follow suit. Bartleby takes the front while Finn brings up the read, looking around both in amazement, nervousness and insecurity.
The group walks carefully through the field of flowers. Well, mostly carefully. Bartleby is managing to tread on one of them, causing it to break.
A wail rises up, piercing through their attempt at shutting out the sounds, and the rest of the flowers start glowing ominously red...

Finn immediately stops.

Finn Kovlovsky looks around frantically.
FINN
The hell is goin' on?!
CYNTHIA
(glaring at Bartleby)
What did you do?!
She stops with walking and takes some steps back.
BARTLE
Hells. RUN.
Now the red glow has spread to the whole field, and one of the shapes in the arbor has noticed.
[GM: You decide yourselves which way to run. You could run up to the castle wall - that's closest (strangely, as you went off the path much closer to the hedge than the castle), down to the hedge (though it seems like a veritable wall of thorns from here), to the woods, or to the path - the path being about 3 times as far away as the woods.]

Bartle runs towards the castle wall.

(stamina+athletics=4 dice yields 2 successes)

Cynthia runs for the woods.

(stamina+athletics=2 dice yields 0 successes)

Finn follows Cynthia.

(dex+athletics-1 leg=4 dice yields 0 successes)
Finn and Cynthia dash for the woods, but can't make it in time before the flowers rise out of the ground! Their stems become long, green snakes, coiling towards them and raising up red-glowing flowerheads, tinkling maniacally. They have the two of them surrounded. Bartle manages to get out of the field in time, standing by the wall.

Finn starts smacking snake flowers with his cane like an old man fighting off children wanting his old man toffees.

(str+weaponry+cane skill prof.=6 dice yields 1 success)

Cynthia takes out her beloved gun, Bianca (a present from her father), and attempts shooting one of the snake-flowers.

(dex+firearms+gun bonus+bianca bonus-3 snake=4 dice yield 1 success)
They both hit a snake, dashing their glass-heads to glassy bits and making them fall broken and lifeless to the ground. However, the other snakes are still coming, and get in some vicious bites, piercing knife-sharp petals into their flesh.
(Cynthia and Finn take 1 lethal dmg each.)
They try to fight their way towards the woods.
(Same roll, with -1 snake poison, yields 1 success for Cynthia, 3 successes for Finn.)
While aiming does seem harder, at least they're certain of what to aim for, and Cynthia shoots a snake right between the petals, with Finn cutting through three more of the tinkling heads.
As they thin the ranks of the flowers and get closer to the forest, they see the figure again, though. It's bigger than it first seemed, but human. Probably. It seems to be... singing, or something? At least the flowers are far more calm the closer you come to the woods, and as the two get some room to breathe, they can also see that Bartle has been drawing away some of the attention. With flower-snakes snapping at their heels, they both flee out of the fray.
(weaponry+stick+stick specialty+str=6 dice yields 3 success, and Bartle killed 3 snakes from his safe spot by the wall)
(Cynthia and Finn take another 1 lethal dmg each in the flight.)

Part 3