Welcome to No Books of Men! We are a modern alternate history board set in a magical school nestled in the Columbiana Valley of the Rocky Mountains. Students of the Collegium Illustrata Columbiana (commonly called simply The Academy) are free to explore their wildest imaginations in learning the mystic arts, so long as it does not jeopardize the ongoing Shadow War with the Exarchs. How will you live up to the legacies of Merlin?
darkkenchild is the Head Admin here at No Books. He enjoys long walks on the beach and debating the metaphysical underpinnings of reality, so any questions about your character , the plot of No Books, and/or how magic works on the site, please do not hesitate to ask him.
Squeeji is the head of “Human Resources” here at No Books, and responsible for pretty much everything related to our contact with the outside world. Advertising, orientation, and just about anything to do with bringing in new blood is in her wheelhouse.
It had been a long handful of months since his wife had gone missing. No. Not missing. Taken. She had been taken by something, something terrible and inhuman and from outside of this reality. Since she had gone missing that night, snatched from his arms by something that almost human which rode a chariot pulled by something resembling wolves, Tom had barely slept. He had worked tirelessly, researching and working until the literal point of collapse.
He had called in favors long forgotten to obtain the hidebound tomes which contained scattered references and misleading truths about what these things that had taken here. He had made deals with the shadiest sorts of people, and even some not-quite-people, to gather the materials needed to build a gateway to that place. he had even buried his long-standing not-always-friendly rivalry with Jack Gryphon. Indeed, the man had agreed to loan Tom the device and notes that had long ago damned the other man's family and thus allowing Tom to rebuild it for himself. When his device was finished then, and only then, did he put out the call.
It was a simple message, "Those who have the courage and nobility to risk Arcadia's thorns, come to Gryphon's Mystery Shack on the equinox for a rescue mission." It was elegant in its simplicity, which probably made it all too obvious that Tom hadn't written it. Jack had in truth, as Tom had still been teetering on the border of coherence at the time. Fortunately, in the month that had since passed, Tom had finally begun to clean himself up. His depression beard was still present, but he had washed and trimmed its to something resembling order. He had bathed, more than once, and no longer stank of tears and sweat. He had finally started to eat again, thanks in no small part to his daughter and sister-in-law's not-so-gentle ministrations. He had even begun to sleep more often, though his nights were still frequently plagued by nightmares. Nightmares which he used to steel himself and bolster his resolve to continue preparing for the mission.
A mission which would begin tonight. Tom now stood near a large gate which resembled an upended triangle in the basement of the Mystery Shack and was addressing those who had chosen to join his mission tonight. "Thank you for coming. Seriously, this means so much to me that you all chose to join me in this." He paused to take a deep breath before continuing. "I know most of us are not here for purely selfless reasons, that we all have our own personal reasons for doing this. That isn't a weakness, but what unites us. We all have something that must be reclaimed, a piece of knowledge to be found, or something to prove." He smiled darkly. "Tonight we will all do what is needed. We will save who we have lost, take what we need, and bring it all home." He stopped, looking intently at each volunteer in turn with a long and grave moment.
"This place where we're going... It's not a kind place and we will certainly not be welcomed with open arms by those who lurk there. Some of us may die. Most will certainly be harmed in other ways. If you want out, now is the time." He pointed up the stairs leading to the Mystery Shack and the Valley beyond. "There's the door. No judgments." He waited, allowing any who wished to leave to do so. Then he nodded to those who remained and continued, "Remember. We Don't leave anyone behind for as long as they yet breath. We all come back or none of us do." Then he nodded to Jack standing by the control panel. "Jack here is our insurance policy. He'll keep the gate open and we'll all be carrying these." Tom held up one of the small quarter sized devices on a nearby table. "Press the button on one of these and Jack'll know we're in trouble and pull us all home. Or at least those who still have these on them. But, Jack, turn it on." Jack nodded and a pulled a few levers and pushed some buttons on the console. Moments later, the gate began to hum and light up before the air within the gate began to glow a sickly green and Tom's expression darkened further. "Let's go..."
She had met the beautiful mad man at the bookstore, he had wanted a book that Kate had swiped off the shelf, and the two had gotten to talking. The satyr never let on to him what she was, but talks about the hedge and how the true fae conducted their business had lead to her being frank enough to explain the unfortunate circumstances of losing her 'husband' to the monsters on the other side. Talking then turned to commiserating, and after awhile she and this Tom had begun to scheme...
It wasn't her best decision, but given that she was Kate? She knew she wasn't wrong, and chances were, it was the only chance she had to make good on her promise to save Matt.
Though she didn't really trust Tom, and she certainly didn't trust his old friend, and really...going into the thorns didn't sit well with her either. So she begged about the only person in the world anymore that she considered family and she said as much to Ellis as she begged for him to join her. It was...a hard sell, and she didn't blame her best friend in the least for being reluctant to outright hostile about the prospect of going back. But she was relentless, and eventually the salty wizened relented to her constant shameless guilting and begging. Also she had cried. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. Not the 'I don't know why I'm crying' tears of nerves rewired from trauma, but the 'I'm legitimately and solemnly broken up by this' type, an actual glimpse through those walls she kept up towards everyone.
Ellis might have that day been the first person in ten years to see the 'real' Kate.
A minor setback, Kate was still reeling and bristling from having shown herself so vulnerable, she packed her bag in silence, arming herself to the teeth like she was prepping for the apocalypse, for her, and for Ellis. She printed some documents as well, she and Tom had talked about what a stickler the true fae were about contracts...and well, she had a few, and a hunch- but she had no idea how things would shake out. When she made it to the meetup point with said bugout bag? Well, she made even more uncertain as Tom spoke. but she put a hand out and snagged Ellis before he decided that he should get while the getting was good.
"Don't. Touch. ANYTHING."
She made sure to add what the mage didn't, because it had to be said, this place had a way of leaving a taint on anyone who was dumb enough to make contact with the alien beauty of Arcadia. Kate wasn't so certain that her warning would be enough, and snagged a couple of beacons, one for her, and one for the paperman beside her trying not to think of the fallout that would come with her mask stripping away on the other side..
Those who have the courage and nobility to risk Arcadia’s thorns, come to the Gryphon’s mystery Shack on the equinox for a rescue mission.
Pah. One didn’t simply walk into Arcadia and perform heroic deeds, it didn’t work like that. To think otherwise was shortsighted and foolish. Helene was prepared to ignore the call out of principle. As usual she prepared for bed at an exceedingly early hour, but while buttoning her nightshirt over her ruffled feathers she got to thinking. Whatever this rescue mission was, it would be mounted with or without her.
With bravado came carelessness. Who knew what a rescue party might drag back across the hedge when they returned...if they came back. Having carved a nice, safe little niche out for herself in Columbiana, Helene was not at all interested in having her life disrupted. Best to nip it in the bud then, make sure that if they were going to do something they at least did it right. Redressing herself in her regular clothes, she grabbed her cane, her citation pad, and headed to the rendezvous
She hobbled down the basement stairs just as a man began to give a speech. By all accounts it was a rousing speech, inspiring even, but Helene seemed unmoved. They really shouldn’t have been having a gathering in the basement, a fire code violation to be sure. Then there was the giant gateway; They certainly hadn’t acquired a permit for it. Helene’s knobby fingers twitched, hovering over her citation pad, but she exercised restraint. Now was not the time. No, she would collect a mental list of all the violations and hit them with a large fine at the end of this folly. Yes, that would be much more efficient.
Approaching the table near the gate, Helene plucked one of the small devices off of the tabletop. Giving Jack a critical look, she turned the object over in her palm. “And you’re sure these baubles will work on the other side?” She expressed a certain amount of distrust and more than a fair share of arrogance. The gateway began to glow with the man ushering them forward. Helene hesitated, waiting for someone else to take the lead while she followed close behind.
This wouldn't be Ellis' first trip to the Mystery Shack, and he desperately hoped it wouldn't be his last. Because if it were, it would mean his greatest fear had come to pass; that is, he had entered the Hedge for a second time and hadn't made it out. Even as he stood nearly flush against the person who had convinced him to come along, Ellis was rubbing absently at his wrists, remembering a time when they had been kept painfully bent at the keys of an ancient typewriter. It wasn't exactly a fond memory, and most certainly one he didn't want to repeat.
Which made it all the harder to truly listen to what the man who had planned this so-called rescue mission had to say. He was handsome, Ellis supposed, in that old-Hollywood sort of way, but Ellis also knew a depression beard when he saw one, and as much as the man had tried to polish himself up, it was obvious this was a guy who was Not Okay. Yeah, well, if Beardie thought heading into Arcadia was going to turn that around, he was in for a rude awakening.
Ellis just hoped the same couldn't be said for Kate.
She was te reason he was here, after all. She had worn him down, one horrible breakdown had been enough to get him to begrudgingly agree to help her save her not-husband. But it had taken his strange ability to peek into the subconscious of others to really get Ellis to commit to this rescue mission; an impromptu nightwalk into his best friend's slumbering mind had revealed that Kate's guilt was all but eating away at her. And so he was here, terrified of the unknown but determined to face it all the same.
He'd do it for Kate. For once, he'd be brave. He'd face a serious problem head on. He'd--
"Some of us may die. Most will certainly be harmed in other ways."
--nope the fuck out.
Ellis spun on his heels in an instant, the only thing keeping him in he room was the vice-like grip Kate suddenly had on his arm. A weak whimper of a protest and he was back at her side, trying to swallow down the panic that was starting to well up in his throat as Tom and the old man who had once yelled at him to stay the hell out of the wax sculpture wing started opening the gateway through the Hedge. Which seemed totally unnecessary, Ellis could have pointed out a much less intrusive entrance near the lake, but hey, no one had asked him.
He took the small teleporter Kate handed over, glancing down at it and already deciding that he wouldn't hesitate to use it if the need arose. Because fuck getting trapped in Arcadia again. At some point during the impassioned speech by Tom a woman who likely appeared much more birdlike to him and Kate than she did the two mages in the room had joined their little group, but before anyone made any attempt at introductions the gateway began to glow, and Ellis sighed, sticking close to Kate and following the satyr into the light.
As Tom regarded the small group gathered before him, he couldn't help but wonder what their stories could be to have led them here. Everything he knew about the realm where they would soon be heading was not a place to be taken lightly. A realm of dangers untold and threats unimaginable, a place from which many did not return and those who did were irrecoverably altered. Now, not only were there a handful of brave souls standing at the ready to enter this terrible place, but from what he could tell most if not all of them bore the scars (literal or not) of this realm already. He would never admit it openly, but the thought made his eyes grow slightly moist with nameless pride. The only thing more admirably to his reckoning than a soldier risking life for a cause was a veteran returning to the front to do the same. They knew the risks more intimately and more personally than those who had seen it.
The only one he could even claim to know even tangentially was the young woman known as Kate. They had planned much of this endeavor together and her insight had already proven invaluable in calibrating the device. Not to mention her insight into what should be expected from the place once they had arrived, or rather how unexpected Arcadia could be. Which a point that she emphasized by adding her own bit of advice to his own statements. "Um, yes. Thank you. If the point was not obvious, try to minimize interaction with the things and peoples there. Safer that way..." He nodded to accentuate the point. He didn't think to mention it because of two things: first it was a basic bit of safety when on a dig as he typically was, but also because it was one that he often forgot to follow...
While Kate had put him somewhat off guard with her outburst, even if he was already somewhat used to brashness (even if it was more typically from his own family) it was always strange to him when someone did so. Helene's question on the other hand was a comfortable one, because he had expected someone to ask exactly her inquiry. "Yeah, I'm sure, Miss...?" He flashed a confident grin. "They were developed by my comrade and I, and personally tested by myself." Granted, he hadn't tested it beyond the most immediate environs of the Hedge for a myriad of reasons, but it had worked without a hitch every time it had been tested. Thus he had complete confidence in their reliability and it wasn't worth pointing out his arguably flawed approach to testing. "No need to worry in the slightest. So long as Gryphon doesn't fall asleep at his post, eh?" He chuckled lightly and elbowed the grumpy looking older man, who only responded with a grunt that might have been amused.
Now, the young man... He would need a close eye in Tom's opinion. The guy seemed ready to bolt at a moment's notice already, and they hadn't even set foot through the gate yet. That kind of skittishness could lead to death if it came up at the wrong moment. Tom could only hope the lad was made of stronger stuff than he looked...
...A hope which was immediately dashed upon passing through the gate. Tom had almost expected Kate's true appearance, given her warnings that their 'Mask' as she called it not functioning on the other side. Sure, being told what someone would look like was different than actually seeing it. To say he looked a little dumbfounded was an understatement. He had heard stories of her kind since his childhood, sitting at his grandfather's knee and hearing about the myths of the Ancient World, but to see a living breathing satyr was different. She was only the first however, as his gaze passed over the others. The other woman now looked distinctly... avian. He boggled slightly at the look of her talons and beak, but a moment later he shook off the surprise. Again, he had expected something like this (if not the bird stuff specifically) and he had seen stranger in his travels. The guy though...
"Oh come on..." He literally groaned when he saw the man was made of paper. "You mean to tell me you're literally a paper pusher?" Tom let out a small chortle and rolled his eyes. Fine. He could work with this. He had brought along the type on expeditions before this, maybe not in this literal situation but still. "At least tell me you're the bookish type and can help interpret things?" He smiled a bit at his own joke before turning to a more serious expression and looking around at the world around him. At the moment, there didn't appear to be much about their surroundings that belied anything beyond the mundane.
The trees here were thick, thicker than any underbrush Tom had seen in the mortal world except perhaps in the depths of the Congo. This was not the Congo however, as it was obviously still a temperate clime and the foliage (at least superficially) resembled that of North America. Interspersed within the trees however were frighteningly thick brambles with thorns that he could only imagine would cut more than flesh. This more than anything was what Tom had expected. After all, he had already been here a few times to test the devices. Never deep and never for long, but he still more-or-less recognized this place. He also knew that he was far deeper in Arcadia than the natural openings would have provided them, Gryphon's telemetry implied that at this depth (as far as the device could reach) they were approximately halfway 'into' the Hedges that made up the borderlands between the worlds. "Well come along then, we best keep moving. The longer we linger in this damned place the worse it'll be for us in the long run..." He knew all about the warping capabilities of Arcadia, or at least he thought he did. Setting himself to walk forward down the path he simply trusted the others to follow until they reached the fork a fair distance ahead.
This was as deep as Tom had ventured thus far and he had little doubt that things would remain as subdued as they had remained until this point. The real question was not whether he would continue however, but rather which fork to take... "Thoughts?" There were three paths. The one straight ahead seemed essentially the same as the path they were on, traveling through wooded lands and brambles as far as sight would reach and the only differentiating feature was the notable incline that seemed to grow steeper as the path continued. To the right was another path, winding through increasingly thinning woods and eventually becoming increasingly arid as the path wound out of sight. A slight heat could already be felt from that direction, like sand on a hot summer's day. Finally, the path to the left seemed to descend and become increasingly stoney as it went. It seemed cold and damp in that direction and at the edge of sight range the path struck a cave-like structure and nothing could be seen beyond the pitch blackness within...
She shrugged, knowing in an instant of watching Tom that she had somehow thrown the big damn hero off his game a little. "It's a giant trap, the hedge will bait itself to keep you there" The satyr made the point a bit beleaguered but maybe that was for the best, because Kate knew that he was way out of his element. Hell there were a few names she could throw out in the room that were from said element and were completely out of it. Ellis. Maybe this other lady, she was the outlier in this, Kate had never seen her before, and she would have remembered her if she had- she kind of reminded her of her sister's cockatiel back when they were kids, probably with the same likelihood of biting too boot. Good for her.
Kate only smirked as the mage was put further on the ropes, this time by the bird woman, who had a valid question, that was met with dubious answers. Try as she might she wasn't completely soothed by this high technology, after all, anyone who was anyone knew that mixing sci-fi and fantasy just didn't mix very well. She had seen the Dark Crystal...and it had freaked her the hell out. But that could have just been the puppets. Which thinking of, that Gryphon bore a striking resemblance towards some old creature workshop monster...and just a touch of worry pricked back up as her fingers grazed the beacon on her wrist. "He won't right?" Kate made a face and asked again more directly. "You won't right?"
Doubt was a killer, and she thumped her hoofed foot and shook herself from it. Absolutely disgusted she had gotten so worked up in the first place. It was enough to get her to worry about her less sturdy other half as she lead the lost charge through the gate following boldly after Tom and his gaped maw. "Hey! Knock it off!" She snipped in an instant in Ellis' defense flashing carnivore teeth at the mage, ears pinning back against her head- she wasn't going to have any of that, no one made fun of her friend but her, and in good nature...which this was not it. Kate had a responsibility to keep him safe...and...there it was, she sighed, shoulders slumping as she decided to do the right thing.
"Ellis." Before they went charging off, she hopped over, and pecked his cheek. "Thank you for coming, but...um, I'm sending you home. Make sure Jackie is taken care of, and I'll be back as soon as I can." She was proud of him for coming t his far, but making him go any further was cruel, he couldn't possibly survive it, if not physically, at least mentally. Especially with this crew of sour and rude miscreants. And she wasn't going to take no for an answer but she was certain her friend wasn't going argue. Really if anything he would run at the chance, and she didn't blame him or begrudge him one little bit.
Though she also didn't let herself dwell on it either, or she might just run off with him. After all, she was here with a purpose and like hell if she was going to go back empty handed. Even if it meant following rather then leading, but even then...she had some objections, and opinions on the matter. "If you're looking for information, the Goblin Market is the place to go." She piped in with a certainty in her tone, Kate had been to many in her life, and it was the best place to start a search, though she had her own ulterior motives on the matter.
They were a sorry looking contingent, really: A carnivorous goat woman, a flimsy paper man, and a crippled old bird all lead by an overzealous mage. Helene held the device in her palm, eying it suspiciously as Thomas probed for her name. “Devereaux.” His flashy grin was met with a somber, fun-sucking scowl. “No laughing. This is not a laughing matter.” She extended a talon in his direction and waggled it, scolding him for his levity. None of them inspired confidence, well maybe the satyr. She seemed prepared at least. Helene pocketed her device and followed the others through the gate.
Her scowl continued as they passed through the gate and the mage was nearly bowled over by their appearances. Helene had been lucky not to have too many slip ups with her mask since her return from Arcadia, but she despised the looks she got when it did happen. Fortunately this time her strange appearance was eclipsed by the paper man’s. Some bad puns and squabbling from the satyr had the old bird on edge. “Children! I am surrounded by children. Enough.” Her grip on her cane tightened as she hobbled ahead a few steps, exasperated. A few more words were mumbled under her breath, mostly to herself, but included a distinct “ridiculous”.
They walked for a while at a slow enough pace that Helene was able to keep up. Eventually the path split into three and they paused to discuss. Helene had nothing of value to add as her time in Arcadia had been spent largely inside a literal gilded cage, but she was clearly irritated that the man who had called them there didn’t know which path to take. “You mean to tell us that you don’t know where you’re headed? Tsk.” Turning to the satyr, Helene offered the girl something that was slightly less severe than her usual scowl, but not quite a neutral expression. “Now that’s a plan.” It sounded good at least.
It was kind of hard not to snerk at Tom's warning about the people, places, and things inside Arcadia. 'Minimize interaction'. That was cute. But Ellis was too nervous to entertain that thought for more than a few seconds, his interest quickly snatched up by the tiny device in his palm. He listened to the assurance that they absolutely, positively, totally might work, and groaned, taking one last look back at the old man helming the return device before stepping through the portal.
No one's physical form changed in Ellis' eyes once they were in Arcadia proper, but the same couldn't be said for Tom, whose expression changed as his gaze moved from Kate to the elderly avian woman to Ellis himself. It seemed the true forms of the two females were acceptable in the mage's eyes, but apparently, not being some shade of furry was totally unacceptable.
Ellis adopted an offended expression before throwing up a hand and snapping, "What?" Kate was quick to defend him, though their fellow Lost only seemed annoyed by the bickering, which was probably the sane response. Ellis was half a second away from telling Tom to fuck right the hell off, but Kate stepped in once again, and that peck against his cheek seemed to knock the wind from his sails.
"Oh, thank god." A quick exhale followed, and Ellis pulled the shorter satyr into a tight bear hug, or the closest to one he could muster with arms so scrawny. "Jack'll be fine, I promise. And you better be, too." Which was as sappy as he was going to let himself get in front of Captain Jerkass over there lest the guy want to rip on him for having fee-fees on top of being useless.
Helene was offered a quick nod as he readied his tiny escape button, Tom was given the frostiest of looks, and then bzzzt, he was gone.
Tom nodded to Kate's advice. The reasoning was sound and he had read the tales enough to know how tempting things could be in the land of Faerie. He liked to think himself as being stronger than that, more willful, but he knew that there were ways around that and ways to use that against him. So it was probably a good thing to have a reminder. "Nah, no need to worry. I give the guy some grief, and we haven't always been close, but he's good people. Reliable in his way. Ain't ya Gryph?" He again elbowed the man playfully and got a gruff, "Yeah, some of us know how to do things right the first time, eh Sparks?" in reply. To which Tom only grinned and shrugged before entering the gateway. As for her growling once they were on the otherside? He held up his hands in a 'whoa, no harm meant' kind of gesture. "Just some playful ribbing, trying to calm the nerves ya know...?"
The bird woman surprised Tom with her reaction. Eyes wide he backed off a bit and again put his hands up in a pseudo-defensive posture. "Sorry, ma'am..." Years of growing up around midwestern mothers and grandmothers meant that respecting women was deeply ingrained in the man, regardless of age or rank. "Just trying to raise the morale of the troops, didn't mean to offend anyone..." He trailed off and shrugged. "And no, I don't know where we're going. From what I can tell, there isn't much in ways of reliable routes at the best of times in a place like this, so it would be best to consider each fork independently of others..." Then again, he might be applying too much of his Umbral explorations onto somewhere that was decidedly not the Umbra. "Seems like as good a plan as any..." He shrugged and considered the paths for a second until he realized that they were losing a man already, but not to the Thorns...
"Hm?" He glanced at Ellis as the young man was already planning to leave. "Hey, man before ya go. Sorry. Meant nothing by it. And going back? I can respect that." Not to mention it absolved him of having to admit his concerns about the skittish man in a dangerous situation. He held out a hand to shake, trying to cement the amends and received a frosty look in exchange. Eh, fair enough. Tom didn't blame him, as he could see where the offense came in and then the man was gone... Either way, their party was getting smaller for the moment and that was a concern. Especially since Tom had been expecting one of his fellow Etherites to join the trip, but he hadn't shown up before the departure time so he would simply have to deal with what he had...
As it were, he examined the three paths in light of the group's decision to look for one of these Goblin Markets... The one descending into the caverns beneath the mountains was not likely to hold one of these markets, at least so he hoped. That left the one that climbed above the mountains and the one that he suspected led into a desert-like region. Either was equally likely to contain one of these markets and either could lead them to their ultimate destinations as well... The real question is which was would be the least likely to lead to undo strife on the part of the party... Tom reached into the the rucksack thrown over his back and pulled out a simple brass spyglass and gave its lenses a few precise twists before popping it open with aplomb and peering through it. First he looked upwards toward the mountain path, then he looked towards the arid path through the desert. He listened as well as looked, knowing that his enchanted spyglass would extend more than simply his sight. With a nod, he slapped the tool shut and tucked it into his pack once more. Pointing towards the right, he grinned. "If this Goblin Market is like any Market I know, I think we're looking towards that direction. I can see a large amount of activity in that direction and hear some loud noises like barking salesmen..." Or like shrieking birds, but he knew that he wasn't in exactly in Kansas anymore and the shrieking did sound like a barking salesman... So he start down the path and walked with purpose, confident and self-assured. Or at least that was how he seemed...
After a short time traveling the path, the trees began to fade from view only to be replaced with arid desert. The air grew hot and an overlarge large sun slowly appeared over the horizon, seeming to scorch the earth all around the travelers. The heat, though distinct and obvious, did not feel quite 'right.' While the heat was uncomfortable and oppressive, it did not feel like the temperature had actually risen. It was a heat that seemed to avoid the physical and only affect on the metaphorical level. Despite the absence of real heat, all the symptoms came with. Mirages appeared in the distance as thirst rose. Sweat appeared on brows despite no real, actual heat.
As the path wove through the increasingly high sand dunes, a city appeared in the distance. It shone in the sunlight, showing that it was made of polished brass. As the group approached the city, the sounds of shouting in countless languages and bustling crowds echoed across the dunes. As they grew nearer, they could see the market itself as it was just outside the outer walls of the city. Countless stalls were scattered around the area; from those clinging like barnacles against the brass walls of the city, to the outermost stalls with doubly thick walls to bolster them against the brutally hot winds from the desert beyond.
Within the bizarre bazaar, there were hundreds of vaguely humanoid figures. A large bird man was screeching loudly about having "Fresh Hope for Sale. Harvested just this morning!" Across the bazaar a female serpent creature hissed loudly as she brutally grabbed the arm of a rat with human hands that was attempting to run away with a large red vial clutched under its arm. A moment later, the rat was swallowed whole as the snakewoman returned the vial to its shelf. A small green creature with overlarge ears and a hooked nose over razor sharp teeth ran up to the party from his stall near the entrance and held up a small box proudly and screeched in a high voice, "Need Dreams? I got Dreams, Aspirations, and Fantasies of all sorts. Want to want to be an actor? Maybe you wish to dream of being a war hero? I gots it all, just say the word and I'll give you your price?" He grinned broadly and continued to move to be in the way of the party, preventing them from reaching further into the bazaar.
It was hard to be convinced, but Kate didn't exactly want to make a fight out of the matter. Naw she would make a fight out of something else, because it was in her nature. Then again, going for Ellis was a low blow, and honestly she guessed that Tom knew it. "Well, you didn't." In fact if anything he had managed to piss off the satyr, which wasn't actually that hard, but he didn't need to know that. Which got the bird squawking too, and before long, the poor old mage was on the ropes by the team of angered and annoyed women.
At least Kate had the wherewithal to walk away for a moment before she neutered the guy, checking in on Ellis to send him back out, "Right." She said it, but didn't exactly sound like she believed it, and her expression had a level of worry that didn't suit her typically confident face. Still she was happy to see her friend go, and happier to see that Tom had enough sense to attempt being a better person for all of this, an apology going a long way to making sure that his balls stayed in place. Though after that fuzzy goodbye Kate shifted her weight from foot to foot, surprisingly sheepish for being half a goat. "I uh...my son, I asked him to take care of my son..." She explained herself, as though she really needed to make an excuse for her emotional behavior. But soon enough she shook her head and was ready to go head first into this adventure, piping in before argument part two broke about among the race relations, and subsequently she was beaming for coming up with a decision well met.
"I can guarantee that it's like no market you've ever known." Her recent foray past the hedge reminded her of that, and now Kate was back to pick up the pieces, "Keep close." That should have been common sense, but that wasn't so very common now was it? The sound of criers hawking their wares filled the air, and Kate was on high alert, looking for something and maybe just expecting an ambush.
Tom’s apology, while it certainly didn’t seem to improve Helene’s sour mood, did appear to satisfy her for the time being. There was the sound, something halfway between a hum and a grunt as she acknowledged his answer. With the departure of the paper-man, Helene let out another tsk of disapproval. Their sorry little group was looking worse by the minute. At this rate, there wouldn’t be anyone left by the time they chose a path.
Lacking the means or the skills to help, Helene impatiently tapped her talons on the hilt of her cane. She wasn’t here to guide them or to defend them or to sniff out whoever they were looking for. No, that was up to Tom and the others. Her job was to make sure he was doing it right and to let him know when he wasn’t. With the help of a spyglass, a probable location for the Goblin Market was decided upon. To the right.
As their journey progressed the temperature appeared to increase and with it came discomfort. Unable to sweat in the traditional sense, Helene could only pant in an attempt at keeping cool. The heat combined with the sand and the sound of shouting began to wear on Helene, grinding down her thin patience even further. For the most part she seemed unimpressed and disinterested in the market, she didn’t want what what they were selling. They needed to do whatever it was Tom had gathered them for, and then they needed to leave.
Moving through the market was slow going, but they were ground to a halt by a little green goblin. “No. Shoo!” Helene snapped as she waddled forward. “Out of the way!” She raised her cane, swinging it clumsily at the pushy little salesman.
He had shot his alarm clock for letting him down, because it was gonna be a hell fo a thing explaining why he and his protege were late to the party. "Come on! C-c-c-come on!" Noah tugged Agnes along, grabbing his portal emitter and firing it into the air, checking after the fact on whether or not it was synced up with the gate at the meeting point. He moved in a rush, though he wasn't exactly the sort to panic, this was a pretty big set back, but thinking about how well put together Tom was, it would probably take no time at all to catch up with the whoever, if anyone had joined his fellow Etherite.
"In you go!"
Without hesitation he pushed the girl through the swirling green vortex and followed suit. This wasn't some penguin testing the waters thing, he'd do the same to himself no problem, but he couldn't have her second guessing herself. Second guessing meant noping on out. This whole...having someone to teach the ropes to was...new, and he wasn't quite to that point where he knew what to do with tact, but who said tact had to be applied here? He was fair, that had to count for something right?
They were unceremoniously dumped on the other side, in some twisted green fantasy forest that were just a few giant spiders short of being called Mirkwood. Lovely, the sort of thing that just made Noah scowl, eyes squinting in suspicion behind those dark lenses. "Maintain line of sight...this place...is...is real, real shady." And he wasn't talking about how the sun didn't quite break the foliage line, that was for damn sure, no it was the fact that they were outside what looked like the sketchiest rummage sale this side of their world, a bizarre bazaar. Roaming within it? The biggest sore thumb there sticking out so both of them couldn't miss him, you know...what with Tom being the only thing that looked human other then themselves. Of course, he didn't recognize the faun or the harpy next to him, but they didn't seem hostile.
He barked over the din, skipping once before taking long strides towards the group just in time to catch the older woman go raw with her cane on something that looked like a goblin, which was worth a snicker. "You folks look like you're having, having fun..." He paused for a moment, focusing in and then retracting. "Oh holy...Helene?" Okay so this was a side of his cantankerous neighbor he had never seen before, the side with crested plummage and a beak...the assault was rather the norm.
One thing Agnes had learned about her new mentor? He was the fastest man alive. It took her longer to march down into the basement of the Thompson house and nudge him awake than it did for Noah to wake up, decimate his alarm clock, get dressed, and open a portal a few feet away from the washing machine. Totally ridic. But here they were, staring at a big green swirling void-hole.
"Sooo, that's gonna take us to-- GAH!"
Agnes felt solid ground disappear beneath her feet as she tumbled through the vortex. A soft patch of moss happened to break her fall, but a weak, pained groan still managed to accompany the soft 'thud' as she made contact. "Yer real shady..." Not that she wasn't going to take his advice, but still, a little warning next time would be nice. Agnes sighed and pushed herself to her feet, dusting off her jumper and adjusting the few odds and ends she had taken with her through the portal, chief among them a metallic violin strapped across her back and a belt lined with pockets that Noah had filled with 'stuff, just in case'.
Whether it was luck that had landed them near the party or her cousin's coordinates, Agnes didn't ask, but all the same, three figures were waiting on a divergent path ahead, and she hurried after Noah to meet them. "Whew, hi, hello." Up came a hand as she finally caught her breath, and Agnes gave it a perky little wave as she announced, "The better-late-than-never cavalry has arrived." Cue a nervous sort of grin-- she only kinda-sorta knew Mr. Sparks out of the group by reputation, and the two women were, you know, a bird and a satyr.
Speaking of which; "Oh, do you two know each other?" A quick glance between Noah and the bird-woman, and then an annoying green something-or-other came wobbling up, which earned a quick wrinkle of Agnes' nose and a quietly muttered, "Oh, ew..."
"Ah. Gotcha." Tom nodded at Kate's explanation. She had a kid? He would never have guessed, then again he knew that looks and demeanor meant little when it came to kids. Kids were different and brought out the best (and the worst sometimes) in everyone. "I'm sure he'll keep a good eye on the kid. He seems the caring sort..." The truth of the matter was that Tom didn't really know how to hand this information. Social stuff, beyond a good bluff or quick seduction move for information, wasn't exactly his forte. That was usually what he relied on Friday for and now that she was gone... Well, that was why he was here wasn't he? Instead of dwelling on that or other uncomfortable thoughts, Tom turned to what else she had said. "I'm not... So... Sure... Huhn..." He started to disagree, to tell stories of Marrakech and Burma and the Spirit Nation of The Consortium and other bizarre locales he had seen, only to see that he was somewhat out of his depth. While places like The Consortium didn't always cater primarily to humans, they were used to mages and other mystic types wandering through. This place? This market didn't seem to see him as anything but potential wares, let alone a customer. "Fair enough." Tom knew when it was wiser to listen to the sherpas than be the headstrong white-guy...
...which seemed doubly wise when Helene started wading through the crowd with the practiced charge of someone who took no guff from the pushy salesman. Tom didn't know if she had been to one of these before, but she certainly knew what for here and that was what mattered. Though it hurt his pride somewhat to have a pair of women taking point, he wisely kept his mouth shut and his hands to himself. The latter of which was easier said than done. Some of the wares in the booths were very intriguing to his adventurer's mind. He saw rolls of parchment that claimed to be from the Library of Alexandria, a map to the true Shangri-La, and something he was fairly certain was the literal Hand of Osiris. Any of which was enough to draw the eye, but between the warnings and common sense he kept his hands firmly to himself. "Lead the way ladies!"
They wove through the market, seeking any passing rumor or information for sale that might point them towards their targets. As yet, there had been no sign of anyone who had seen an irishman or moorish woman in recent days. Tom was growing frustrated and was about to vocalize his annoyance when his train of though twas disrupted by the sudden appearance of Noah. "Who..? Hah! Noah, my man. I had given up on the idea that you'd be joining us... What with the not showing up and all." He paused, looking around suspiciously. "Wait... How did you even get here..." He knew that Noah had his ways, but there was always the chance that this was some sort of Arcadian trick. "...and who is she?" He gestured to the girl behind the other man. He had his suspicions who she might be, but that might be part of the trick to...