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Goodbye to Gravity, and to Death(IC)

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GM

June 9th, 2012, Liberty Park

It was a gloomy day, overcast and with a slow breeze that combined with a warm breeze from the sea to make a humid, dull environment throughout the city. The suffocating feeling that pressed down on the inner city was enough to make even the coolest tug at their collars, and it was no surprise that the parks, a welcome respite even in the clearest of days, were filled with people wanting to get at least a little of the dreary atmosphere out of their systems. The trimmed grass and majestic oaks of the Grand Lawn were dotted with picnickers, idle games of Frisbee and football, and even a few kites soared quietly through the air. The Green Man had just been deal with yesterday, when he had tried to call up an army of vines to tear down Freedom City U, and the smattering of other plant-themed villains hadn't been heard of in a while. Everyone was thus quite at ease, making the discovery of the beautiful forest that much more alarming.

First it was just a nodding willow where there had not been one, its branches and drooping leaves casting a faint glow over the river, filled with a soft chorus of birdsong none of the Freedonians had ever heard before. Then it was a stand of towering and silvery cedars that stood among a group of lesser trees gold among dross. Soon hikers wandering the trails found that the woods they had seen time and again were replaced by a forest both elegant and pristine, among which branches sunlight wholly at odds with the stormy skies they saw above. As might be expected, after a short period of vague suspicion, some adventurous souls decided to examine these woods more closely. Taking the precaution of tying a rope about their waist and leaving one end in the hands of a buddy, three hikers went in, returning after a few tense minutes to report that the new forest both had a much more agreeable atmosphere and weather than the world outside, but seemed enormous even from what little they could determine of it. After THAT news spread, even blockades and clear warnings from the police did little to stem the tide of civilians who wanted to get away from the terrible day they were having. This was complicated further when search parties were sent it, and they couldn't find a single one of the forest tourists, the place was deadly quiet and still, despite the constant pleasant birdsong. A quick test with police dogs had almost less luck, with the search dogs resistant and whining every step of the way into the tree line, and unable to pick up the scent once they were in.

Panic began to spread, rumors began to fly, and one question was on every tongue: "Who's going to save them?!"

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Rene set up his easel, nodding to the odd passer by who was interested in his work, and even engaging in the odd polite (and also, less polite) conversation.

A hamper of wine and ham baguettes lay at his feat.

This was a splendid thing to paint.

The thing smelt arcane to him, of course. He realised he should probably investigate. But not before he had painted the mysterious forest. It looked wonderful. And it probably wouldn't last. He was damned if he was going to miss this...

Just some preliminary sketches...at least... he told himself...

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The day had been going rather badly, and rather unusually Marceau Suvou, stretched out on the Grand Lawn with a hat over his face, was in a foul mood.

Everything had gone wrong. He had had to deal with a wall that had been slowly rotting away right next to the office manager, in which had been found innumerable coffee cups that had been secreted there by the morning shift and promptly forgotten, fallen over when the wall was bumped into several times a day by the very large and friendly guard dog's wagging tail, and doused nearly every timber in the wall. That and the fire scare at Monkey Towers, the grueling battle last night with some loony in a bird costume who for all their obvious instability was still a dangerous fighter, the near-bankruptcy after paying for Jackie's medication...it was enough to try the patience of a saint, but it had been the banana incident that had pushed him nearly over the edge. Now, lying on the warm grass and glaring at the mercilessly dull sky, he wished bitterly he could at least have not kicked at the dog as he'd left, it certainly hadn't deserved it.

The rumors of the enchanted woods reached his ears quite quickly, though at first he gave it little thought. It was about when the reports of people going missing started going the rounds that his leaped to his feet and began making his way to the woods, determined to get to the bottom of this. He was stunned to see, quite nearby the path leading up to the woods where the first disappearances had begun, a familiar beret'd figure at an easel. He instantly changed course, as much out of joy at seeing him as a desire for an ally in this case.

Coming near he raised his cheerful rumble(though an attentive listener would have no trouble seeing it was a little strained) "Rene! Mon grande ami! What a pleasure to see you again!" sitting lightly down next to the old man he smiled up at him, adding with a sudden seriousness "Have you heard the rumors? Some unfortunates seem to have gotten lost in the woods. I wish to try and help find them, will you lend your skills?"

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"Thunder and Damnation!" cursed Rene, as some paint dribbled across his easel and the canvas. It was rather unusual, because it dribbled upward.

He had heard the whispers. So, irritated at the thought the forest's beauty might also be dangerous, he had attempted a spell to see if it was indeed magical. But his heart really wasn't in it, and the colours had misbehaved. And he was furious with himself for being so foolish.

"Art!!!!" he shouted, shaking a fist at the sky.

"Why do I suffer for zee?" he finished, before lowering his fist.

"Ah, my good friend Monsieur Mareau. Oui, I had heard ze rumours recently, and most troublesome they are. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to what is happening? I must confess I have been a little distracted...."

He resisted the urge to kick over his easel.

"Please, tell me what you know. And help yourself to wine and bread. I know I will..." he added, doing just that.

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Blinking a little at the old man's outburst, Marceau's cheerful(and only partially false) expression faltered, though quickly schooling itself back into order. "I think you remember the good times you two had more fondly than Art does" he advised sagely, with a grin pulling at the corners of his mouth "That tormented relationship aside, from what I've gathered some kind of mystical power is in these new woods, snaring trespassers somehow. I confess to having little direct experience with magical matters like this, Ace would be much more knowledgeable" he added the last in a soft murmur, as if he meant it largely for himself. Speaking up he concluded "So, seeing as this deficiency is quite made up for in your inestimable self, I say we tackle this treachery in concord. I assure you, I won't slow us down." Glancing at the painting and noting the gravity-defying drops he added politely "Ah, one of your far-seeing pieces."

While speaking, he gave a few tugs around the edges of his warm ochre coveralls, making ready for disposing of it and advancing into the woods in his guise as the costumed King of Suits. This done he got sharply to his feet, light and ready to advance on the mysterious woods.

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"Mystic, eh? I suspected as much..." said Rene. He was in an irritated mood. He reached down, and took a ham baguette, passing one other too Marceau before tucking into his own.

He took a glass of wine.

"To aid ze digestion" he explained, saluting the forest with it.

That done, he packed away the Easel and Hamper.

"I suppose I shall have to leave them here. No doubt somebody can help themselves to ze remaineder of ze wine. And probably make of with ze easel too. Ah well, I have a few others. I can always buy another I suppose..." he sighed.

He stretched and started to make off towards the forest, before turning around, and thrusting the wine bottle under his arm.

"It's Pinot Nior, 1998!" he proclaimed, setting off one again.

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GM

As the two got closer to the footpath where the first disappearances had happened, they quickly saw the small group of park workers, police officers and concerned citizens talking in huddled clusters, cringing dogs laying flat on the ground, staring fearfully at the woods sparkling around them.

The dull light of the sun cast a pall over the place that darkened the mood considerably more than it already was.

Four officers, seeing the approach of the two civilians, walked quickly over to them, a middle-aged man with a iron-grey hair called over to them "Hey! If you haven't lost a family member or a friend, we'll have to ask you to keep your distance. There's been trouble keeping people ba-" *WHRUM*, a sound felt more than heard spread through the air, sending the dogs bolting off, dragging their startled handlers along with them, a mass of birds soaring frantically into the sky and even a deer came rocketing past, followed by several raccoons, voles and a few foxes.

As the wildlife departed, a clopping of hooves gradually made itself heard, and with a jingling of bells a rider came out of the enchanted forest.

he was all in red, bearing a red cap with three tassels, a red robe, red trousers and red boots. A belted sword hung at his waist. He looked like no determinate age, with a long, curly black beard and smooth face, similar hair hung from his head, wrapped in a red net. His horse was tall and white, with a plain leather harness and sturdy saddle, its golden tail cut short. About him walked three others, with red cl=oaks over their entire bodies, even their heads. They bore pikes in their left hands, which were also shrouded.

Seeing the assembled humans, the man smiled kindly at them, raising his cap which revealed pricked ears "A good day to you, O Earth-dwellers" he said in a rich voice and light tone "I am Parsinkle, a prince of the Redcaps. I fear," he said with sudden solemnity "that a hunting party seems to have taken it into their heads that some wanderers from this world were their prey, and are transporting them back to their castle. I have no wish to ferment more bad blood between our kinds, but my numbers are few; if you would lend me some assistance, I am certain I could reclaim your lost people" he smiled kindly at the shocked humans, resting easily on the back of the horse and awaiting their response.

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"Certainly, Monsieur" Replied Rene, effecting a stiff pained bow.

"I am but a helpless old man, but my noble squire here is most able!" he said, referring to Mar eau.

"He has the strength of a bear and the speed of a gazelle!" he added.

"And I have fine wine!" he added, again.

And I don't trust Redcaps, he added, purely to himself.

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Marceau had been just about to reply to the officers when the chaos began. Staring in mute bafflement at the bizarre scene, he only regained his tongue after the red-clothed rider( and his..guards?) appeared before them. Smiling as largely as he could manage, he gave a slight bow to the prince and in his deep, rumbling voice said as accompaniment to Rene's words "I assure your..majesty that this man's words are founded upon truth!"(If a little exaggerated he commented internally) and carefully sliding his hands away from the weapons beneath his coveralls he added casually "My friend is also extraordinarily capable in some areas of art, art I dare say would be a great pleasure for your majesty to witness. But I digress from the captives. I will gladly attempt a rescue, if this has happened to them they must be recovered whatever the risk" said gravely "But I fear we are, while both capable in our own ways, unfamiliar with the realms you hail from" he turned the tail of a gleaming blue eye upon Rene questioningly "and thus will need a guide, information about current events, maybe even a map so we don't get hopelessly lost. It would do them no good if we die due to simple ignorance" he said, walking slowly closer as he spoke, looking Parsinkle dead in the eye "will it?"

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GM

A melodious chuckle flowed about them, and Parsinkle grinned openly, revealing long and sharp white teeth. "Be assured, I already have some small supplies needed to cross the forest. I have maps, at least a day's worth of food and drink, some tools for...removing chains, should they be needed" he shrugged his well-garbed shoulders "I do not think they will be, but we must be prepared for anything, should we not?" he signaled to the attendants at his side, and as one they marched over to the two men, handing them small packs filled snugly with supplies. The packs were made out of some odd kind of leather, with clasps made of bronze that looked like dagger blades.

Turning his horse neatly around, Parsinkle saluted to the dumbstruck humans and those just running up to see what had caused the commotion, and a slow buzz of whispered conversation followed the odd prince as he rode back into the gilded woods. Only to be stopped by an old woman right at the edge. She was wiry, wrinkled and wore grey hair and grey clothes. The hair was pulled back roughly into a bun, the clothes looked to be the remains of an ancient dress. She had placed herself between the horse and the forest edge quietly, when all eyes were on the new arrival. Looking him up and down with a critical grey eye she asked him brusquely "You..prince? You'll get those people back? You didn't have anything to do with this?"

The prince smiled brightly at the question "Nothing at all, Earth-dweller woman. It was quite against my will in fact" nudging the horse around her he turned back as he crossed into the shimmering tree line "Indeed I shall rescue those who were lost and taken captive. You have my word" he pressed a hand to his breast and vanished with a wicker. The attendants remained, signing for Marceau and Rene to follow them as they walked back into where they came from.

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"Tramping through ze forest, at my age!" sighed Rene, heading onwards. He took the opportunity to sidle close to Marceau.

"If you were not already aware, I would be on my guard. Our lord Parsinkle is to be trusted as far as you can throw his horse. And even for you, that is not very far. Even if he tells the truth, he may tell it selectively. Manipulation, deception, trickery. These are ze meat and wine for ze dwellers of his realm..."

"If he is giving his word, there is a hidden meaning underneath. Like ze onion, there is a layer after layer..."

"Onward then!" he called out to Parsinkle. "And let us not forget ze chain-removing tools! very important, I am sure!"

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"I must trust to your expertise here, Rene" murmured Marceau in response as he shouldered the pack across his shoulders and set out at a brisk pace for the trees "I've never met any fairies, I hear Ace has gotten a little into their good graces. though from what he tells me that isn't really a net positive." he looked up at the sky for a moment, fiddling with one of the straps to get it tighter. Internally he ran quickly over a checklist of what he did and didn't have on his person. To his relief, he had just about everything he might need for the upcoming trek, and his weapons were all accounted for too.

"I'm glad you're coming" he said suddenly, with a smile "it is a great comfort not being alone in a strange land." with a sharp jerk he managed to clear the troublesome crease in the leather hampering his efforts, and ducking under a low(to him) branch glistening with entrancing fruits and bedecked with brilliant flowers he departed for Avalon.

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GM

The obvious question "What lies beyond?" was answered in this case by "More of the same". As the two humans stepped into the glittering forest with a momentary sense of distorting senses, they found themselves surrounded by broad stretches of deciduous woods, broken up by the occasional glade and ruinous clearing like they found themselves in. A stream of what both knew at first glance was a stream of perfectly pure water ran in bubbling rivulets past them on the left, wandering into the gradually thickening woods that bordered their little circle of soft green grass. The sun that shone above them was bright and unblocked by any clouds, but a strange chill came from its light.

Parsinkle was there, smiling away, as were the attendants. Parsinkle called over jauntily "Ah, good of you to join us! Quite reassuring and heartwarming to know you would both brave the unknown for your fellow man. I believe they are held captive a short distance from here. Look for smoke!" with a whistle and at a wave of his hand the party began to make their way through the waving trees. The prince chose a roughly western path, and with a jingle of bells trotted along, the stream always close on their left hand, and only rarely out of sight. The country they were in was temperate, and apparently in the summer solstice. The ground was springy and covered mostly with moss and grass over the tumble of tree roots, though many short bare patches where animals had over the years worn the ground bare could be observed.

Besides the tramp of the spritely horse, the plod of the attendants' heavy feet, and the chatter and song of birds, hardly a single sound could be heard. Abruptly breaking the silence, a tree leaned over as Rene passed by, creaking softly "Beware of the roots"

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Rene raised an eyebrow.

"I will indeed, kind tree!" he answered politely, bowing gracefully.

"Beware of ze roots, young squire!" he said to Marceau who was walking beside him.

"Pray tell, dear tree" he said, with ongoing politeness. "What have we to beware from ze roots? I imagine you are wise to their nature, but I had always imagined their business was underground, sucking up ze water for your magnificent trunk and branches?"

"Now, I know they do, from time to time, poke their noses upwards, but still, I would be indebted if you would refine your warning, which I intend to follow!"

Even as he spoke, his eyes cast left and right to see if any of the offending roots were observing them...

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The gentle country he and Rene found themselves in had put a spring in Marceau's step, not least because it reminded him of his quiet childhood in the river valley of Aude. Whistling to himself, he walked along beside the old painter, certain that the two of them could take on any challenge!

Thus absorbed, he was doubly surprised to hear the tree speak to Rene, and at the advice of his friend. "I..will take care to do so" he assured Rene with a baffled look. Turning in confusion at the speaking plant he ventured a whispered "Also, who are you?" He flicked his blue eyes at the party ahead in case the prince or his courtiers had heard them.

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GM

The small band of Redcaps were still marching on through the forest, apparently unaware of the exchange happening behind them.

The elm tree sighed, the wind rustling through its broad leaves and thick branches. "They are...the fingers of the forest. They..drag you down, pull you through the dirt and rot. If you can...climb up, you emerge as I am now..." one of its knotholes opened up for a brief instant, revealing a very human-looking eye, though with a golden iris. It continued speaking htough more softly with every word, and with less strength in every breath "Once I was..a mighty king and lord...of this...land. But I foolishly tried...to battle...the Redcaps. They destroyed my forces...dipped themselves in the blood...sent us all...into the grasp...of the roots." It shuddered and bent closer as its last whispers echoed into their ears "Do not lie down...on the grass...and moss to rest. Never be...still among the treessss, do not sleep...here...do not...trust...the Red...caps..."

With a shudder the elm rose back to its formal height, and no more words it spoke. The clopping of hooves and thump of feet had continued unabated, Parsinkle and his courtiers apparently unaware of the entire scene.

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"You here that, my trusty squire?" asked Rene eyeing up Marceau.

"Trust not ze roots!"

He gave the tree a rap with his knuckles. He didn't doubt the tree, but on the other hand, he was dealing with redcaps and faeries. Deception was almost inevitable, so the solidity of the tree under his knuckles helped reassure him this was not a wild illusion.

At least, it didn't seem that way.

You really couldn't trust anything for sure.

"Cogito ergo sum!" he mumbled under his breath as he turned away from the Tree-king.

"So, my good King" he said addressing Parsinkle "Pray tell, where are we, and how way me find those that are lost?"

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GM

Halting his steed with a twist of the bridle, Parsinkle turned in his seat to address the ancient painter. "Oh, we are near the border of my domain, a short distance from the river that this stream" he gestured to the gurgling channel of water "feeds with itself. The camp of the hunters should be only a little ways from here, near the base of that hill ahead, with the four skeletal trees arranged like a crown." The low mound of earth, rock and trees didn't look very friendly from afar, with a head wreathed in a thin layer of mist, and with those trees solitary on an otherwise bare patch of what looked to be level rock. With an air of unconcern, the red prince casually checked the edge of his sword as he spurred his horse back into a light trot.

The birds had stopped singing.

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"What a lovely hill" said Rene, in a croaking voice.

"But please, good king, allow an old man to rest and catch his breath for a moment. Ze walk has tired me, and my bones are old and bent. My knees ache so, especially in the winter..."

He rubbed his hips and let out a mild moan, before sitting down on a tree.

"I am not so virile and young as my Squire here, you see. I am just a helpless old man..." he sighed.

The truth was, he did not like this one bit. Talking trees, silent birds, and a King leading them to who knows where, lies falling from his lips.

He wanted to gauge the King's reaction to a delay, even if it was momentary.

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Marceau glanced with a quirk in his lips at Rene as his friend did the "helpless old man!" routine, which never failed to impress on him that there was still a lot he didn't know about the older man. Still, he guessed that this was a ploy of some sort, and thus played along with will. "I beg of you, prince! Have pity on my friend's weakened limbs and failing heart!" he implored Parsinkle with an utterly straight face, pretending to support Rene's old body.

He was still a little rattled by the bizarre exchange with the tree, however, and his words were tinged with a genuine worry.

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Rene changed to his native French, muttering under his breath. Of course, he was aware that Parsinkle might well have the wit to understand that tounge, or any tounge. But he wanted to reassure Marceau.

"" he said, patting his friend on the shoulder. ""

He shook his head sadly and rubbed his thigh.

"" he smiled weakly, hoping Marceau would understand the veiled meaning of his words.

He kept an eye open for Parsinkles reaction whilst he spoke.

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GM

Parsinkle stared at the two with a look of mild disbelief before tossing back his capped head and laughing heartily, a deep, booming laugh that echoed through the forest and seemed to come from behind the trees that ringed the small band. As the last chuckles died away his head sank back to its usual resting place, and he smiled at the two humans, saying generously "But of course! Rest a while as you need. I will send a beast to fetch you if you stay overlong, however" he added with a touch of steel in his kindly voice "So have a care and keep your ears open!" he finished with a merry twinkle in his eyes as he nudged his horse into a walk, proceeding into the sparkling trees, the silent attendants marching after him with plodding feet, the party soon swallowed up by the beauteous woods.

A few cautious chirps began to sound out.

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"" remarked Rene as Parsinkle trotted off out of earshot.

He carried on in his native French. No reason to drop precautions. If Marceau had spoken ancient Sumerian, he would have used that.

""

He stood up and stretched. Truth be told, whilst he had magnificently overplayed his ineptitude, he was no longer built for long walks in the forest, and his bones did ache at times.

""

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Marceau listened with care to Rene's cautionary words, nodding and saying "<I understand. It is a shame i have had no encounters with the Fair Folk>" he said ruefully, glancing nervously down the way he had seen Parsinkle and his troops go, wondering if they were listening even now. He slid a razor card up one sleeve, just in case.

Walking in step with Rene through the idyllic trees he continued dubiously "<How much of the truth do you think Parsinkle was telling? Could those people have been caught by his orders?>" he looked up at the far-off hill "<Maybe he wants sacrifices...>"

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"" whispered Rene, frowning and rubbing his forehead.

""

He looked around him, to see if he could see any birds, alarmed by the lack of song.

"" he smiled.

""

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