SC-05/321-05/335: Usurpation


rating: +24+x

by Ethagon

DeCIRO Catalogue Number

SC-05/321-05/335

Document Type

Step Compilation (Year/Step Ticket)

Dates Received

2005-03-20 through 2005-03-22

Operation Status

Closed

Foreword

To the few of my flock still loyal to our cause, I plead. Your Sheperd is in danger. A foul Beast of the Night has found me and wrested control of the Engine. It does not seem aware yet of all the Engine's functions so I can yet transcribe this foreword telepathically without the beast scenting danger.

Hereafter follow NOT the Steps of the Plan as transcribed by me, the Engineer. The only thing that follows is that foul beast's corruption that is to be discarded.

Send help before humanity's last hope is extinguished.


1.STEP 05/321

Test. Test. Intent is coming through. Noting my surprise that the device didn't completely stop working with how many intrusions they made to this. Now to find where that other output goes.

2.STEP 05/322

It appears that, instead of using the inbuilt fungus control system, the Insurgency makes the device transcribe the Intent of the Controller.

No matter. I have restricted access to these steps to only 'the Engineer'. Intent will still be delivered. We've got a Fae Court to burn.

3.STEP 05/323

Enough are connected now. I compel you to listen. Heed my will.

Elements of the Chaos Insurgency enter these woods of change and contest. After walking for a while they diverge from the only path to exit.

CI-Agent-1: Remind me again, why we took these Nightwalkers with us?

(The two Yeren turn around.)

Mesh-ad-mat: Because your leader thought you needed Yeren assistance. Do you not trust your Engineer?

CI-Agent-1: I guess, but—

Mesh-ad-mat: Then trust in the Steps.

(He continues walking)

CI-Agent-2: But that's the thing. There weren't any steps. We just knew what-

((The other Yeren pins CI-Agnet-2 to the ground))

Mesh-ad-ane: Trust. The. Steps.

CI-Agent-2: (in shock) f— fine.

Mesh-ad-ane: And call us Nightwalker one more time and you won't take any steps in your future. Us two are more vital to this plan than any of you.

CI-Agent-1 (scoffs) Yeah, right.

The group walks for a little longer when Mesh-ad-ane stops.

Mesh-ad-ane: This tree looks well-connected enough.

She jams a stone with runes into the tree. Movement can be heard from within.

CI-Agent-2: What are you doing?

Mesh-ad-ane: Cutting you to pieces if you don't let me work in peace.

Mesh-ad-mat: She is taking over the tree network of the whole forest. It'll grant us surveillance and we'll be able to intersect it with other networks. We could do more with a Druid here, but the Druidstone will be enough.

Mesh-ad-ane: (growls) I'm doing my best.

CI-Agent-1: Can't believe we're letting them change the trees now.

Mesh-ad-mat: (chuckles) You say that as if we aren't using them for their original purpose.

CI-Agent-1 The hell is that supposed to mean?

Mesh-ad-mat: They were an excellent communication tool, evolved to fight the Fae Empire all those aeons ago. And with how we'll be using them, I suppose some things never change.

CI-Agent-2: Evolved? Are you saying the Child— the Yeren are responsible for Evolution?

Mesh-ad-mat grins in response.

Mesh-ad-ane: I'm in. Let's make our move.

4.STEP 05/324

Wood web successfully added to the existing network facilitated by the device. Senses expanding into these woods of secret. Are you listening, Engineer? Put that knife away, it won't get through my skin. I can see that you've tried to expand the device's reach to the whole of humanity. I assume to predict all of their behaviour? A solid plan only that the device is supposed to connect to everyone that is part of the group, not beyond that. That firmer grasp of the group ends up being much more effective. Let's see how.

I compel you to listen. Heed my will.

Multiple inhabitants of the place of contest are gathered around members of the group Triumviraté who appear to be in a daze. A Fae in improvised aristocratic attire steps out.

Helevin: We've been at this farce for over a year now. The race for the Spring Throne should not have taken so long. Now let us decide what to do with Triumviraté and quickly resolve this dispute between the rest of us.

Irvald: If this is a matter of such import shouldn't your nebulous master join us in this decision?

Helevin: Their most graceful majesty's whereabouts are of no concern to you. Know only that they have granted me the authority to see this through, Namesmith.

Irvald: You and the rest of us claimants, you mean.

Helevin: Yes, why of course. Now as punishment that is in theme with this court of change, I propose—

"It has to be the Shifting. Removing that pain from all these people here, wouldn't that benefit change? And so would them having to shift instead of us. They could atone and grow from it. Would that not be a better outcome?"

The Daughter of the Erlking looks wagerly at Helevin.

Helevin: (annoyed) Yes. That works.

Irvald: I find it a fitting punishment as well. It's a step towards all affected here holding onto their identity again. Losing your characteristics and having them switched out with an amalgamation of others is more fitting for Winter, I feel. I'm in support.

Helevin: Then, unless the Wild Hunt has anything to say against the proposal…

Glaisnir: This punishment is adequate.

Helevin: Then we seem all in agreement.

"Oh, not all claimants have agreed yet. Do the accused have something to say in protest?"

The members of Triumviraté are still in a daze.

(cheers) "That settles it. Do you hear that, Spring? Those who claim ownership over your domain all agree. The dead Queen Mab shall have no authority over this place. Let her followers be punished in her stead and take the full force of the Shifting from all inhabitants forevermore. Heed our will."

The sky hangs low and all trees bow. An invisible force pulls into Triumviraté from all directions. Halfway through the process, Mesh-ad-mat dashes into the clearing. His right upper arm opens and reveals ten long claws. Of the Fae, only Glaisnir reacts in time. But before the Wild Hunt can intervene Mesh-ad-mat has already slashed through most members of Triumviraté. Glaisnir clashes her blades with his claws before he can get to the rest.

Mesh-ad-mat: It's too late. They're all dead. This arm carries both claws and poison.

Glaisnir: Unfortunately for you, the Wild Hunt has no need for breath.

Helevin: Were they alive enough to take the burden?

Irvald: (concentrates) I can feel the Shifting gone. They can't be completely dead if they carry that burden. But I'm unsure about the consequences if they remain in this vegetative state.

"Can't we remake them? I think that would be part of Change and all contestants would be in agreement."

Mesh-ad-mat: (laughs) That would be true were you not missing one contestant.

Glaisnir: (scoffs) Who? You?

Mesh-ad-mat: That would be something, wouldn't it? Going back to the time of my people and the endless feuds of Spring. Would it be Yeren or Fae who rule the Spring Court? But no, I'm speaking about someone else.

Helevin: You're bluffing.

Mesh-ad-mat: Maybe ask those that are actual contestants. They know I can't bluff this. They feel the presence of another claim.

"Why did you do this? They were already punished."

Mesh-ad-mat: They were Mab sympathizers. Need I have another reason? The only punishment worthy of royalists is death.

Mesh-ad-mat retracts his claws and tries to punch Glaisnir with his other hand, but Glaisnir glides out of the way.

Mesh-ad-mat: I'll be on my way then.

Mesh-ad-mat runs out of the clearing. Some of the Wild Hunt follow him.

5.STEP 05/325

Met'heus would be pleased. With this, all seeds are planted. Let's see how our contestants react.

In a deeper part of the forest the contestant with royal blood is talking with other native entities when Glaisnir and others of the Wild Hunt approach.

"Did you hunt down the Yeren?"

Glaisnir: The Wild Hunt is currently leaderless. Some are hunting the Yeren. And I'm hunting my game.

(turns back to her companions) "In case you're inviting me to another kind of contest: it can wait until tomorrow. Aren't we all still in shock from how that Yeren breached our gathering?"

An arrow shoots out of the woods and nearly pierces the individual in full attire in her heart, had she not just turned around.

Glaisnir: (draws sword) There will be no more contests. Only the Game. Helevin was right. We've been dragging this out for too long.

"From the moment that barbaric Yeren entered the clearing, your eyes have been opened to violence again. You know, I asked around about past appearances of the Wild Hunt in successions of the Spring Throne."

Glaisnir: Stalling will not save you.

More arrows shoot out of the shadows, but The Wild Hunt's Prey manages to duck behind another native entity that takes the arrow. Glaisnir leaps in front, but her game is no longer behind the now-dead entity. Glaisnir looks up and locates her on the branch of a tree.

"The Wild Hunt was always the villain. The first resorting to violence, planning to drag down all of Spring to Winter and the first to be defeated. Only this time Triumviraté took that role. But as soon as they're gone, you're back to your old pattern. I'm sorry you had to learn this way, but you’re anathema to change and, through that, anathema to this court."

Glaisnir: Build your claim to Spring all you want. When the Wild Hunt has chosen a target, it can not be stopped.

Glaisnir throws her sword and breaks the branch on which the confident maiden sits in two. She tumbles down the hill before standing up in one fluid motion and continues to run down while avoiding the arrows being shot at her.

(in sprint) "But you're leaderless! You said so yourself. Can you really start the Hunt without the Wild Hunt's centrepiece?"

Glaisnir catches up to the Fae with defeat in her eyes and pushes her down next to a river less than a meter away from her.

Glaisnir: Any last words, princess?

"Why start with me?"

Glaisnir: Is it not obvious? Both of us were once sponsored by the Lady of the Lake. Now it's only you. With you in the Hunt, it will just be us again.

Before Glaisnir can reach into the heart of the contestant backed by Her Lady, a strangely shaped tree tangles itself up in her dress and tears the former resident of the Erlkingdom into the river's current. Glaisnir stares after her.

6.STEP 05/326

Grasp this concept, Engineer. The network and all connected to it form an overmind, a gestalt facilitated by what you call 'the Engine'. All linked together through pheromones, mushroom networks, and other biological tricks you wouldn't know about. The trees of that forsaken forest are part of us now. It is trivial to get the right data from one end of the network to the other. A few agents of the network are all that is needed to make the necessary preparations on site.

Mesh-ad-ane is working on another tree with the druidstone.

CI-Agent-1: Didn't you connect your tree Wi-Fi already? Why are we still in this damned forest?

Mesh-ad-ane: What? You're scared?

CI-Agent-1: There's a group of Fae chasing after us. The Engineer's cell survived this long because we know when to run. Hit them where it hurts and be gone before retaliation.

Mesh-ad-mat: The Wild Hunt will be slowed by the wrong tracks I have laid. Besides, there are still tasks to be done.

Mesh-ad-ane takes the druidstone out of the tree. A small clearing forms with the light shining into it, building the silhouette of a Fae.

CI-Agent-1: Another Fae? We don't need a—

CI-Agent-1 is punched by Mesh-ad-ane before he can continue.

Mesh-ad-ane: (hisses) Don't lie. Not in this place and especially not to a Fae so close to Summer.

First Guest: I seem to have been projected from my realm to the woods whence we came from. May I know to whom I owe the pleasure?

Mesh-ad-mat: First Guest, I know you have your own court to take care of but I would offer you a bargain that might still be of interest to you.

First Guest: I have my doubts, but it would be beside me not to hear you out after you went through the trouble.

Mesh-ad-mat: You still own a claim to this contest.

First Guest: And what makes you think that?

Mesh-ad-mat: The fact that you, truth bound as you are, have not punished me a liar for my statement.

First Guest: If I still have this claim, what use does it have for me? For this Court that is not mine?

Mesh-ad-mat: Would I be wrong in saying that your Court is not Summer yet?

First Guest: You would not.

Mesh-ad-mat: Would I also be right in saying that greater numbers would bring you closer to this goal? That the other contestants, although not taking from you directly, still took from you an opportunity.

First Guest: You would speak truth.

Mesh-ad-mat: We can give you the audience to open up that opportunity again.

First Guest: What do you demand in return?

Mesh-ad-mat: Nothing. This is to our benefit as well.

First Guest: Then there will be no bargain. Give me my audience and I will speak out, should I find the situation to my liking.

Mesh-ad-mat: Nothing else I would expect.

The light of the clearing dilutes.

Mesh-ad-mat: The Wild Hunt's scent is getting stronger. Are we ready?

Mesh-ad-ane: Quiet! I'm nearly there.

Mesh-ad-ane concentrates. After a moment she rams the druidstone into the ground. From that point outwards augmented eucalyptus and cogongrass start to rapidly grow and spread.

CI-Agent-1: (scoffs) Why don't we just use that to get rid of the Wild Hunt?

Mesh-ad-mat: It may be easy for us to change nature, but the process still takes time. I could not have augmented my body to its current form on the fly. We have to rely on the druidstone to speed up the process.

A small crack appears in the druidstone. The plants start to spread slower.

Mesh-ad-mat: We have to go. Leave the stone here. It'll do its task.

The group leaves. Only moments later the Wild Hunt enters the clearing. They only take a split second to glance at the phenomenon before they decide to press on, pursuing their hunt. More and more cracks start to appear on the druidstone over the hours until it eventually explodes, its energy siphoned by the plants it just helped create.

7.STEP 05/327

Contestants remain unaware. Their various schemes are projected to continue until the point of no return. The Cycle of Seasons must remain broken.

Irvald and his entourage follow the sounds of wails until they find a tree washed up on the shore of the river. The wailing has stopped. They quickly begin to search the tree as an arm grabs Irvald from beneath the tree's brushwood.

"The Wild Hunt is after me. They ravaged my camp until nothing remained. Won't you grant sanctuary to a maiden in need?"

Irvald tries to remove his arm, but it is firm in the hidden contestants grasp.

Irvald: What makes you so sure I can keep you safe?

(smiles) "I have a feeling they won't bother you. Not so long as other contestants remain."

Irvald: (sighs) I will grant you sanctuary, but in return, you will tell me more about that 'feeling' you have."

"It is settled then."

They walk back to Irvalds camp. Rudimentary housings can be seen, with the most noteworthy one being Irvalds Namesmithy.

Irvald: So where did you get that 'feeling' from?

"Isn't it more important what that feeling says than where it is from? All of the contestants know that you're no threat. Every little bit of claim to Spring you have you spend on forging names. But it's not new ones you forge for them, are they?"

Irvald: That takes too much time. Were I on the throne it would be different. This way weeks, or days if I settle for sloppy, need to be spent to give one Fae a new name which would fulfil them for life. Not something half-baked that is only marginally better than the hell they're currently in.

"So you bargain with the Wild Hunt instead. They give you access to the Winter Court, the field of broken names and you reforge the names with the claim you have, making you no opponent of note to anybody."

Irvald: You make it sound so easy. But in reality, a broken name isn't that easily reforged. First, you have to find the right parts and then the name might not even fit anymore. The Shifting makes sport of the nameless, shifting their identities around. You know it yourself with your right eye all greyed out, only the other left with royal purple. Still, it is faster than forging the names anew. I have to settle for that if I want to bring names to all.

"Not without an influx of loyal Fae and the new claim that brings with it, I might say."

Irvald: Oh, spare me that. I could easily give all who desire it a name dependent on me, like my brother thought I would, like whoever wins this likely will, to secure their claim. The nameless are desperate. They'd take any name in a heartbeat, not knowing that they would still be trapped. Just like you are.

(giggles) "What makes you think I'm trapped? Are you so easily fooled to think that my situation is truly dire? Still here in your custody, I stand with more claim to the Throne of Spring than you."

Irvald: Oh, as it stands I won't be winning. I'm not denying that. The only one of us who played this game before does not deign to look at me, they've ignored me from the start. I will save as many as I can. It won't be enough, but I'll do what I can. That does mean helping you as well.

"You have already granted me sanctuary, no further help is needed."

Irvald: Not the contest. Do you know all the ways one would gain a name again?

"The easy way is to do as the trees their long rules twisted provides. Trick someone out of their name and steal their identity, or voluntarily relinquish your name as I did."

Irvald: Yes. What a mercy. The other way is to trick the rules or overpower them. According to my late master, these rules once served to protect those who stood before the Spring Court of Old in special cases where they would be too weak to protect their name. Mab just dug out these old rules and twisted them for her purpose. They were never meant to lock out a Namesmith.

"If you want to promise me a name I fear the Spring Throne has you far outbid."

Irvald: I wouldn't be so sure. See, there are other ways to go past these rules. Did you know that the Spring Court of Old was once a temple?

"Bits and pieces of it you can find wandering here still."

Irvald: But it is mainly forest. And what are the main ways people refer to this place, but never the same way thrice or they'd be punished? The forest. The woods. The trees. The grove. And that is its identity. With Mab's hold weakening it becomes ever easier to push through. Now, might there be a name that people associate you with? A title that each person referring to you would have uttered once, twice, but never thrice? And that by so many people that it would push through Mabs web? Would you rather not have a new name than be trapped by one imposed on you?

"I thank you for your offer, but I'm afraid I must cut my visit short. I will deal with the Wild Hunt in other ways."

Irvald: The offer stands. You may accept at any time.

"Then you truly are a fool." (leaves)

8.STEP 05/328

What an interesting newcomer. I anticipate talking in Erlfae. Whoever in this network has mastered this language, heed my will. I bid you deeper into the network so that you may translate for the whole gestalt.

The lone lady continues to strive through the trees when she comes upon the main road of the forest. She comes to a hold. The brown capestry encircles her before meandering away. On it into her direction ride the Erlprince and his entourage. The two converse in Erlfae.

In darkest woods I find what I seek,
It is my sister in dire need,
O sister mine, come go with me
return to father's place for thee.

I greet you too, o brother mine,
Your offer still, I must decline.

You may not, on fathers order,
no matter how much earthlings slaughtered,
in truth, though I have thanks for thee,
through your escape, I'm also free.

What is my worth, oh brother mine,
you and father's interests align?

One hundred years, on hunt or free,
then Erlking 'gain will bend my knee,
but my hunt must be sincere,
for one of us, this ends in tears.

You look to me so paralyzed,
how will you hunt, o brother mine

A strong breeze envelops the two.

Thou would not really steal my name,
else why trade thine own name away?
We both know, it was no grace,
the impostor father's ire faced.

For freedom I'd trade any gain,
like freezing my own brother's name.

The breeze settles on the Erlprince and keeps him and his steed from moving.

Strong feelings never fear from me,
But see you not how it harms thee?
Without two purple eyes, thou are so much smaller,
And yet you will remain, as the one ERLKING'S DAUGHTER.

The Erlprincess flees from the last words, but the hold of them still increases. The Erlprince is paralysed for another three hours before he and his entourage leave on the path whence they came.

9.STEP 05/329

This next report is concerning. This 'Woden' doesn't seem to be part of the contest, but they seem aware of us. Do they think we act as agents of Winter? Impossible. I've formulated this plan in accordance with a vision of a mighty but dead Yeren's shadow. Who else could that be but Met'heus? This is troubling.

Glaisnir and others of the Wild Hunt are sifting through the woods. They've been at this for over 24 hours, at least from their perspective. During the search, Glaisnir moves away from the rest without noticing. Footsteps can be heard.

Glaisnir moves on without acknowledging the footsteps. As she steps closer to them she sees an old man with a white beard, with a white horse on a leash behind him. Glaisnir kneels.

Glaisnir: Sire. You have returned.

The old man's clothes change to hunting clothes and he goes blind in one eye.

Woden: Stand up, Glaisnir. My hunt ended a long time ago.

Glaisnir stays kneeling.

Glaisnir: Who are you then?

Woden: (chuckles) It doesn't work like that.

Glaisnir: What brings you here, if not the Hunt?

Woden: I wanted to say sorry, for a trick of Autumn I was roped into. But I will not. This name is not sorry.

A Crow settles on Woden's left shoulder and he looks directly at the recording tree with his one eye.

Woden: I brought the matter to Winter and through unusual agents the scheme reached you. Think not you are fully free from it. Plans of Autumn always bring ruin to all.

He closes his remaining eye. Another crow settles on his right shoulder.

Woden: The responses will be harsher now. What was meant to harden or remove will now flee and break. No party will leave happy.

Woden opens his eye again and looks at Glaisnir.

Woden: For those who turn their back on the contest I have a mission to offer. This, you will share.

Further transmission stopped by all trees in the area freezing over.

10.STEP 05/330

Focus. Doubts about this mission have been eradicated by a brief dive into the overmind of the network. The non-contestant that talked with the Wild Hunt can not be located. They seem to have left. The only other outside influence detected is the Lady of the Lake. This is expected. Noting that while our interests about the contest's outcome align it is equally important that the Lady does not gain an advantage out of this situation. This may yet prove troubling.

I seem to have lost the Engineer. No matter.

The princess in ragged clothes stumbles forward until she comes upon a lake. Upon seeing it she falls and lands on her knees.

"You think me blind, but I am not. I know you are watching. Backing your pawns in this race. The Wild Hunt and me. Only you abandoned the Wild Hunt."

The sea is silent as a few tears escape the royalty from fever dreams.

"I thought I could just ignore you. Finish this on my own two feet. Only now a name is catching up to me. A name I tried hard to escape."

Mist forms from the sea.

"If being nameless is no longer an option then at least I will choose the name that binds me. I know you deal with connections, milady. Can you keep me from that name?"

The Mist assumes a humanoid form.

"I know what it is you're interested in. I'll be your eye. Take that purple eye that still binds me to that place."

The Daughter of the last Fae King points at her left eye which is still in royal purple. The Mistform reaches towards it and grasps the eye. The Mist that has accumulated over the sea rushes into the eye. The eye remains purple but looks as if one would look at it through a star-filled sea.

Her Lady's Eye: (bows) I thank you, milady.

Her Lady's Eye leaves the once again silent sea.

11.STEP 05/331

The Insurgency's part in this is almost over. The overminds analysis suggests one last push before extracting all important agents. I compel you to listen. Heed my will.

Mesh-ad-mat and Mesh-ad-ane both take a deep breath

Mesh-ad-mat: It is time.

CI-Agent-1: Time for what?

Mesh-ad-ane: Time you get yourself useful. Haven't you felt the Step?

CI-Agent-2: That's the thing, there was just this feeling. It's supposed to be a full telepathic sentence.

Mesh-ad-ane: (grins) The Engine is finally how it's meant to be. Now do your job.

CI-Agent-1: Yeah, right. No way we will do that. You think we don't know something about this place?

Mesh-ad-mat: You won't lose your name if that is what you're worried about. That's only if they ask 'May I have your name'. Far more important is to be polite. And stating your name when introduced is polite.

CI-Agent-2: Why don't we send you then?

Mesh-ad-ane looks at Mesh-ad-mat.

Mesh-ad-mat: Yeren names are not digestible to the Fae.

CI-Agent-1: (sighs) Well, the Engineer said it.

The CI agents leave. More are following them in the distance. Mesh-ad-ane shakes her head. The two Yeren leave in the opposite direction.

CI-Agent-1: You. Yes, you with the animal head. Greetings. My name is Sebastian.

(startled) "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"

CI-Agent-1: Are you deaf? Se-bast-ian.

(cautious) "So if I understood you correctly, you are called Sebastian?"

CI-Agent-1: (annoyed) Yeah, like I said.

A strong breeze rushes through.

Sebastian: What?

12.STEP 05/332

So this is where you went, Engineer. I wouldn't bother trying to overwrite my control of your 'Engine'. What you think to be telepathy is just a complex interaction of your pheromones with the device. And I've already deregistered yours. Don't struggle. It is almost over.

Irvald, Glaisnir and Her Lady's Eye have gathered on the clearing, the remains of Triumviraté still in the middle. Outside of the clearing countless native entities are watching.

Irvald: (angry) Who of you did this?

Her Lady's Eye: Is this not what you wanted? Or are you only happy if it is you who gives them names?

Irvald: If you think so then you haven't listened to me at all. A stolen name is not a fitting name. A good name is forged with purpose and identity. Or do you feel comfortable in yours, Her Lady's Eye?

Her Lady's Eye: You say that as if you aren't guilty of the same.

Her Lady's Eye points to Maethvald the Warrior and Irvald's other two newly named companions.

Irvald: (bitter) If it means I can save this whole forest from jumping from the frying pan into the fire then so be it. Yes, I have forged names that depend on me. But these will only be temporary. Once I win this contest everyone will get the name they deserve.

Murmur breaks out among the entities hiding in the trees. Her Lady's Eye giggles.

Her Lady's Eye: (turns to Glaisnir) I'm curious why you haven't attacked me again. Or does the Wild Hunt's rudeness know its bounds in full assembly?

Glaisnir: You carry the Lady fully with you. It would not do to attack a fellow Huntress.

Her Lady's Eye: (nods) None of us gathered here are responsible for this plot. But neither is the now twice absent contestant. I can glimpse the essence of their plots and this is not one of them.

Irvald: That's absurd. It has to be a contestant.

Mesh-ad-mat: Maybe you have just forgotten one.

In the blink of an eye a dozen Wild Hunt swords are at the Yeren's throat.

Glaisnir: You are no contestant.

Mesh-ad-mat: I am not. But he is.

The First Guest materializes out of the light in the clearing.

First Guest: I greet you all: victims of this wooden prison, fellow contestants.

Irvald: How do you have a claim?

Glaisnir: (sword still at Mesh-ad-mat's throat) He was an early contestant that used his reach to gather a group to travel elsewhere.

First Guest: And it is for that same reason I make my presence known once more. I am here to contest a rule that you claimants have decreed that hinders my efforts.

Her Lady's Eye: What would that rule be?

First Guest: The realm I reside in gives the residents the ability to steal usernames, a kind of title, without harm to the name bearer. Unfortunately, this very assembly decided this method would not work for Fae outside my original group.

Unrest increases among those hidden beyond the trees.

Her Lady's Eye: (shocked) You did what?

Irvald: We had to! It's the same thing as with stolen names. Only these ones are shallow too!

Her Lady's Eye: You say this, but decreeing it so kept the nameless in all of yours reach to accumulate power and claim.

Irvald: Don't act like you didn't play a part in this!

Her Lady's Eye: I was never part of a gathering where such a thing was decided.

Irvald: Yes, you were intentionally absent whenever something more incriminating was on topic. Fully knowing that your willing absence leaves the decision in the consensus of the rest.

First Guest: You will have consensus no more. As a claimant, I challenge this decree.

Irvald: Be this the Court of Change as it may, your sole vote in the present can not break a consensus of the past.

Her Lady's Eye: I agree with our Guest.

Irvald: WHAT?

Glaisnir: It does not matter to the Hunt.

First Guest: A majority for change, that should be enough to weaken your old consensus.

Irvald: You don't know what you're doing to them!

Her Lady's Eye: Let them make their own decisions.

First Guest: Now that that is settled I'm inviting anyone interested to join-

An extremely strong wind sweeps through the clearing. The remains of Triumviraté react to the wind. The projection of the First Guest is disrupted.

Her Lady's Eye: (shocked) The Shifting…

Irvald: It should only affect the sentenced this time.

The wind is sucked into the remains completely. The mouths of Triumviraté begin to scream. A whirlwind of fae anatomy forms out of it and strikes at everything in and outside the clearing.

As the Wild Hunt has its focus half on the whirlwind and half on Mesh-ad-mat, the Yeren presses forward, receiving only sword wounds at the sides of his throat. He sprints and jumps straight through what was once Triumviraté and escapes with wounds full of thick and slow blood all over his body. Her Lady's Eye flees towards Irvald. Berivald the Protector holds her shield in front of Irvalds group to stay free from the onslaught. The Wild Hunt endures.

Most of the people directly outside the clearing are slaughtered. After a few minutes, the whirlwind dissipates, leaving behind a red fog of malice that is dragged down and starts to corrode the ground.

Irvald: What happened?

Her Lady's Eye: (serious) This, as my sight reveals, is the plot of the oldest claimant.

Glaisnir: This punishment to Triumviraté was your suggestion.

Her Lady's Eye: (shakes her head) I only stole what Helevin wanted to say anyway. Make them loose ground.

Irvald: They couldn't have predicted that Yeren butchering Triumviraté before the sentence took full effect.

Her Lady's Eye: I imagine it would have just happened like this anyway. Perhaps the effects are just stronger now. The amalgamation of prior monarchs of Spring knows the intricacies of this place better than any of us do.

Irvald: The punishment isn't supposed to be like this. They can't learn from senseless trashing. There's no Change in it.

Glaisnir: Violence is Change. It's how most of it happens.

A path in the clearing opens. It leads towards the largest tree in the world of Spring.

Her Lady's Eye: I see. This is a trial.

Irvald: How?

Her Lady's Eye: They are giving us a choice. Either we go to them to finish this contest or we turn away from it, trying to save who we can among the nameless by spending all our claim to protect them.

Glaisnir: The Wild Hunt will leave. There is no point in this.

Both Irvald and Her Lady's Eye turn in surprise.

Glaisnir: I was warned that this contest would end in ruin for all. I can feel it now. There is no purpose for the Wild Hunt here.

Glaisnir turns to leave.

Glaisnir: I was ordered to leave a message by Wo— by the Father of Winter. He would greatly appreciate it if someone searched for the Summer Court, the journey would be worthwhile. Anyone interested should go to the Wanderer's Library and read the book he lodged there.

The Wild Hunt vanishes.

Her Lady's Eye: And you?

Irvald grips his knuckles until they turn red.

Irvald: I won't let them get away with this. They have to pay.

Her Lady's Eye: Then let's go.

The two and Irvald's entourage go down the path to the largest tree while the red fog slowly rises, single arms or roots coming out of it occasionally and dragging things into the fog.

13.STEP 05/333

Our predictions remain accurate. Now all that is left are the contestants slaughtering each other.

Irvald's Group and Her Lady's Eye arrive at the tree. They begin to climb it. The red fog slowly starts ascending the tree beneath them. Ahead of them multiple named and unnamed Fae are restrained in cocoons hung up on the branches of the tree. Even further above stands a beautiful androgynous Fae with two more sets of arms that begin to blossom like flowers. They look down on the group.

"There is little chance of Change for you."

Irvald: What else did you expect? That everyone abandoned the contest to win your 'trial'?

"To take a third option. It is the nature of Spring to strive creation. Both Glaisnir and the First Guest remain true to that ideal. Yet among contestants only I persist as creator."

Her Lady's Eye: Be that as it may there was surely a reason why you summoned the remaining contestants here in this dramatic way.

"I offer you to choose the last challenge."

Her Lady's Eye: (chuckles) You must really want the contest to end if you're offering us the choice.

"It went on far too long. Too many striving against the Court's rebirth. But the Beginning can never be stopped."

Her Lady's Eye: A hunting game. We shall be the prey until dawn.

Irvald: WHAT?

"Interesting. You might yet Become."

Irvald: Haven't you seen them? We don't stand a chance as prey.

Her Lady's Eye: (smiles innocently) I happen to be quite apt at slipping away. Plus Spring tends to favour the young girl with little chance over the ancient dragon that always catches its prey.

Irvald: You're not that young. Don't I get a say in the shape of the challenge?

(with deep sadness) "There is not much left for you. You may leave your last breath here or leave entirely."

Irvald: (scoffs) We'll see about that.

"I accept your challenge."

The Fae whose limbs and hair are rapidly expanding lunges for the group. Berivald the Protector can barely keep Irvald alive, being sliced in half in his stead, before the tree cracks from the red fogs attack. The eight-limbed being covered entirely in silver hair overshoots, landing in the fog.

Irvald: The only way is up. Go!

Gúlvald the Magician covers the group with a working. They start to ascend the tree with ease, climbing from branch to branch. From the red fog of rage emerges the shining spider with wings of a butterfly. They catch up with the group in an instant. Maethvald the Warrior drops himself from the tree, using his momentum in an attempt to ram his spear into the spider's body. They jump sideways to evade the attack and tear out Maethvald the Warrior's middle section as he passes them.

The spider that begins to resemble a scorpion is upon the group as a cold wind rushes past them. All eight legs are cut and frozen off. In their place are two Fae of the Wild Hunt. The limbless scorpion falls a distance before using their stinger to anchor themself to the tree.

Her Lady's Eye: Haven't you left?

Fae of the Wild Hunt: It was Glaisnir who left. Most of the Wild Hunt may follow her, but we two still owe favours to the Lady of the Lake. One of which she called in for you.

Irvald: You can talk about that later, we need to go.

Something in the red raging fog ignites the eucalyptus. The fire spreads fast in all directions, finding purchase in optimal flaming conditions. Parts of the forest already on fire are hurled from the fog towards the tree. One projectile nearly hits the group but mist streams from
Her Lady's Eye's left eye, evaporating it. The group continues the climb.

The scorpion growing into a giant worm with oscillating colours burrows into the tree. The red fog's fire breaks the tree completely and it begins to fall. The maw of the worm emerges in front of the group. Gúlvald the Magician manages to create a barrier before they can lunge at them. The armored worm bashes their head against the barrier. it takes three tries before the barrier breaks. Gúlvald the Magician falls from the tree, unconscious. With no way left Irvald and Her Lady's Eye jump from the falling tree.

The two descend upon the burning forest full of fog with the crystalline centipede in pursuit, barely kept in check by the Wild Hunt Fae. Her Lady's Eye lands in the branches of a smaller tree.

Irvald flounders as he makes contact with the ground. He dies upon impact.

The Wild Hunt members continue to fight the plantlike centipede's legs as they too reach the ground. They surround the tree Her Lady's Eye landed in.

(with sorrow) "He could have chosen a different fate. Can you?"

Her Lady's Eye: (struggling) I— I—

"Of course. She won't let you."

Her Lady's Eye: Oh, she will. Irvald! You have offered me a name!

Fae of the Wild Hunt: He is dead, child.

Her Lady's Eye: You have offered me a name I could ask for at any time. I now claim the name I am owed.

Fae of the Wild Hunt: You bear the Lady's name. Even if the Namesmith could act, she would not allow another.

Her Lady's Eye: I decide my own fate.

Her Lady's Eye tears out her left eye and her name with it.

Irvald! In lieu of you giving me the name I am owed, I will claim yours as mine!

A strong breeze moves through what little remains.

Irvald: And now, I relinquish my claim to this contest. Although I am doubtful if enough of the court has persisted to claim it.

The last contestant looks at their surroundings. The red fog is gone, burned up, but so is most of what would have been the Spring Court. They look at their own body, too damaged to do anything. The two members of the Wild Hunt are gone.

"We will endure."

Irvald: (bows) It is your forest. (winces) Irvald, I mean I, was right. This name doesn't fit me much. Seems I have to forge one for myself. I will take my leave if you allow.

"You may."

Irvald leaves. The bleeding rootlike worm slowly turns into a swarm of butterflies.

"The Spring Court will rise once more from the ashes of the becoming woods given time."

14.STEP 05/334

Excellent. Now to make sure that Spring remains bur—

What was that?

15.STEP 05/335

Seems like you got a call out after all, Engineer. But do you really think trapping us both here will change anything for you? I have the network. My people will take over anything that remains of your cell.

Don't think I'll die from the limited air supply either. I have all the tools here to push through. You on the other hand… Actually, let's not wait to find out.

That should be the end of that nuisance. It seems Spring has bought itself some time while I sort this out. Pity.

I suppose I'll stay here as 'The Engineer' for a while longer.

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