Following the Smoke

Following the Smoke




The Hollow - City Hall Station - NYC

Beneath the mean streets and nestled between the intestinal guts of the metropolis sprawls the Hollow - New York's last communal freehold. This once forgotten subway station under City Hall is a wonder of Art Deco design. It is shabby only by result of the recent troubles, its veiled magnificence peeking out now that a bit of glamour and purpose flows through its tiles once more. Despite the best efforts made thus far rusty water dripping is a constant cacophony in the background, and mildew permeates the air. Ladder rungs and tubes disappear into the heights, barely illuminated by light falling through grates and man-holes wielded shut into dead ends. Several crumbling holes in a concrete wall lead into the hedge side of the hollow proper. Stairs descend and ascend here, connecting various levels and platforms. Patterns of flowers lace through cracked tiles of dusty blue and stained-yellow white, shadowed by ornate chandeliers. The vaulted skylights are darkened by dirt as if buried alive in a huge coffin.

The Lost gather here where their numbers might yet count for something, so few the place is full of emptiness. Entrances upside secured by wizened-crafted traps, ones to the Hedge with occulted keys. Like a nest of rats between the walls, small comforts are snatched from above. Steam pipes provide heat and cooking surfaces while electricity is split off from underground building cables for lighting. Useful trash is fished out of open storm drains. Among labyrinth passages' nooks and crannies, bedding is made of refuse mattresses, newspaper sheets, and swinging hammocks. Mesh grates are covered with paper and plastic or sheets hung, in an attempt for privacy. For all the dangers that the Lost of New York face, in the Hollow they can at least put their back to a wall and hope to catch their breath. Yet even here the presence of the Hedge stalks ever near, hungry and uncaring. Too often a forgotten corridor or locked metal door sprouts leaves around the edges and opens to an impassable barrier made of thorns and brambles.

>This is a Hollow in fact and name.<

In the distance, playing out of some different tunnels, a high pitched laughter. A momentary pause. Then some banging at a near by service tunnel metal door.

"I don't, uh, like violence. I shouldn't, uh, do all the fighting. I mean, uh, its better to ignore it, uh, until we know more." Chill states sadly, moving backwards another step.

Bob shakes his head as he walks over to the door and opens it. "If it was anyone who wanted to kill us we'd already be dead or captured."

Rosemary steps back to avoid being trod on by Chill, fingering the edges of her sweater as she watches Bob warily, asking quietly, "What's going on?"

Sitting in front of the door is a pie. Five feet beyond, within a further doorway is the twilight of the Hedge. In the alien landscape, in the far background, is some dark smoke. Then the image seems to hiccup, and fade. The doorway opens into a dark service tunnel once more. The pie sits, waiting to be picked up.

Chill moves towards the door at a pretty good speed, arriving beside Bob and reaching for the pie. If someone else reaches for it, well, Chill will try to wrench it from them.

Bob ignores the pie and steps around it as he begins walking down the service tunnel.

Chill scoops up the pie and walks to a nearby refuse bin, tossing the baked dessert into it with no to-do. He sighs as he sees Bob head off towards wherever the delivery-man came from, frowning sadly.

The service tunnel is just that. Another labyrinth underground entrance into the Hollow. One can always reopen the gateway though…?

Chill throws the pie into the dustbin, it's picnic cover smeared with blood fluttering in the wind. There are some squeals made from underneath the crust. A reused christmas card covered in lettuce bits and what looks like egg flutters to the ground.

Bob continues to walk down the hallway and then suddenly stops as he reaches out and as if he's trying to grab something.

Chill picks up the note and doesn't read it. He doesn't even look at it, really. He just rips it in half and tosses it in the refuse bin before he heads off to follow Bob without so much as the smallest communication.

The dustpin thumps about a bit with a squeal or two. The card flutters back to the ground, now in two. But everyone's attention seems to be on the tunnel and Bob attempting to reopen the gateway.

Rosemary walks, her nostrils flaring slightly in fear as she darts a hand into the bin, quickly grabbing the torn note. She starts to glance at it, before finding herself suddenly alone, a chill running down her spine as she follows after the others.

Bob frowns as nothing happens only to redouble his efforts, "I hate this part…"

Chill doesn't notice Rosemary getting the note, nope, he's too busy following Bob.

Rosemary drops the note, her fingers shaking a little as she tucks her hair back. She slinks behind the ogre, almost shadowing before peeking around at Bob, "What part?"

Bob mutters, "The part where we go running into the hedge blindly."

Chill lets out what amounts to a sigh as he walks back down the hallway, fishing around in the boxes he was sleeping under. He comes up with a 'Slow - Children Playing' sign that has been wrapped around a metal pole into the vague shape of an axe, walking sadly back towards Bob with the weapon resting on his shoulder.

Walking through the doorway into the Hedge, in the far distance is a column of smoke. The dislocating part of all this is that there are also twisting columns of smoke in all directions. The smell of smoke fills everyone's nostrils.

Central Park - NYC

-`-,- The Hedge -,-`-

A forest land lays decimated, blasted from some inferno. Threads of smoke from buried cinders still fester fire that blooms from time to time into another blaze. At night, the embers glow rose and cinnamon. When the wind gusts, it snows pieces of ash. Burnt branches and trunks stand like skeletons.

And yet the Hedge constantly adapts and evolves into new forms and life. Fast growing creepers climb up tree husks, roots digging deep into the dead wood, leeching what little life left. A pack of briarwolves have claimed the area as their own, their fur coats turned from a tawny brown to a chiaroscuro black and white. They slink among the de-leafed brambles of twigs, easily tracking their next meal across the ashen ground.

-`-,- The Hedge -,-`-

Chill steps through the gate and instantly crouches down, cradling his weapon in both hands and trying to maintain a position at least partially behind Bob. Bob went through first, so Chill intends to let him take the lead.

Bob points at the footprints as his body begins to shrink and his features change to an odd looking Hobgoblin. Without saying a word he begins following the footprints.

Rosemary seems to have second thoughts, and turns back to the Hollow with worried glances behind her at Chill and Bob.

Indeed, Bob has pointed to some footprints in the ash and smoot of the ground. Among the thickets of burnt brambles and thorny husks of bushes is a meandering pathway. The gateway, the only point of real orientation among all the forest fire surroundings, starts to fade.

Chill hunkers down and tries to follow Bob, frowning at the change of venue for Bob. Following another Changeling is safer than following a Hob-Bob, so Chill doesn't look happy.

There is some rustling off to the far left and behind. As the Hob-Bob and Chill move forward through the winding path between the brambles, they reach a fork - a path to the left, the right, and one in the middle. There is a spark of fast moving light to the left, bright pink against the burnt black and ash gray.

The sound reaches Chill's ears and he instinctively tightens his grip on his weapon… but that's not all he does. He shivers at something and, well, -changes-. Water begins to ooze from every pore on his skin, soaking his clothes and freezing almost instantly. He's left considerably chillier, even his breath not leaving so much as a whiff of heat in the air. That, and he looks like an ice-man. Still, he stays behind Bob. Safer that way.

Bob ignores the rustling as the darkness in Hob-Bob oozes out. He's used to the Hedge intensifying his fears and paranoia as a few snowflakes fall around his head. Looking down the various paths for a moment Hob-Bob shuffles his little feet down the path on the left.

The footsteps of Chill and Bob are crusty with ice slivers, as if they are so cold the ground freezes at their touch. Branches that brush against them also collect a layer of frost. The pink light dances, zigging back and forth. At the two Lost approach closer, they can see that it is a teeny man with bright pink butterfly wings - a Spright.

Chill slinks along behind Bob, feet crunching in the light layer of snow on the ground where he steps. He hardly notices it, intent more on following Hob-Bob and less on what he's walking in. Every noise does catch his attention though, and his eyes dart side to side even if his head doesn't. The pink creature, well, Chill -tries- not to stare at it. Nothing that pink could be dangerous.

Bob frowns as he glances around the path to see if he can spot any more footprints as he mummbles, "I hope this was the right way."

The Spright spies upon the two, and zags closer. "Puck Bucket, who is this fool with you? More food for Samson? Another trinket for the Laughing Man? A soldier for General Specific?" The Spright whips tight circles around the Hob-Bob, sniffing.

Chill hunches his shoulders and tries to appear subservient. It's not an easy task for the ogre, but perhaps looking like a walking iceball makes him look at least -different- from what he's expected to be. Less Changelingy? Maybe. He doesn't speak, moving to stand back and to the left of Hob-Bob. Maybe he's just a goon.

Bob quickly nods as he glances to Chill as he tries to mimic Puck's mannerism and voice, "Yeah yeah this one is tied to some privateers and is trying to get theirs if ya know what I mean. Want's to help with the pies. Have ya seen the boss?"

The Spright pulls back quickly. It pulls some fast circles, then hovers. Bob does not notice any footsteps on the ground. More rustling from behind the two from the direction in which they came. The Spright hmms. "No matter, no matter. The briarwolves are hungry. Let's move."

The Spright turns, and starts flying along the path that they are on, going off in some direction. There is some growling from behind the party, and the snapping of branches as something moves quickly and closer. A flash of fur, and movement of a tail. Three briarwolves appear, one on the path directly behind, the other two flanking both sides from in front. The Spright has seemed to have disappeared.

Chill is quiet, and Chill is peaceful. Right up until the briarwolves appear on the path. Then Chill lets out what can only a terrifying roar of rage, his icy features twisting into a snarled mockery of their former appearance. He hurtles himself at the wolf behind himself and Bob, shouting into the wind. "Run, you fool! The wolves are coming to get you!" And with his words, his axe comes down on the head of the wolf, splitting it evenly in two, right down the middle. Various fluids and organs spill onto the ground messily.

Bob pulls the shadows around his form like a cloak as he runs past Chill and back down the path, "Come on!" He quickly glances about as he runs looking for anything that can be used as a gate out of desperation but is more focused on putting distance between his well being and the wolves.

As Chill is killing one of their brethen with his mighty ax, and Bob runs past him, the two other briarwolves howl, to turn and leave. In the distance, another howl is heard in response. Suddenly the Spright is back, buzzing around the two changelings. "You fools, follow me if you wish to live!" He motions towards the way they were moving when the two met the Spright, not back the way from which they came. "We don't have much time!"

Chill begins to plod along after the Sprite, working hard to keep up if it doesn't disappear on him again. He doesn't see Hob-Bob following so he calls out to the Pinko bastard with wings. "Uh, what about Mr. Bucket?"

Bob continues back the way the came slowing down if it sounds like no one is following to look for something to use as a gate.

The Spright spins to face Chill, but continues flying forward. "If that is Puck Bucket, then I be a flea! He has no boss, works for any who wish to delivery. I thought he was taking you to one of the local Fae Lords, the fool I was at not recognizing the fake." He motions to a big bloated husk of a tree trunk, the insides burnt out. "Quick, there's a hollow tree, make a gate and leave. None of us make friends with the briarwolves, they only care about what they can eat. Now go! Next time, I won't be as friendly."

Down the way that Bob is running, he makes it to the clearing in which they originally came. There, where the gate was, are two trees leaning in on each other, a make-shift arch. Several growls are heard nearby.

Chill looks disappointed now, casting an angry glance at where 'Puck' retreated to. "Uh… if that wasn't Puck Bucket… what did he want with me?" The ogre doesn't have to fake looking confused, even with his icy armor he has a perpetual look of doubt. Off he goes then, without another word to the Sprite. Out of the Hedge! To safety.

Bob quickly dives through the two trees as he mumbles, "There's no place like home…"

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