A Cry of Murder

It is a cool Autumn evening. This Friday marks the second call to the Court of Autumn for the Port of Roses. Changelings trickle in from all corners of town to see and be seen, to do their business, and to resolve their disputes.

Court is held in the Bowl. Deep beneath one of the angular buildings of Portland’s downtown, there stands a space. Perhaps it was once a parking structure, or maybe a storage room. Nowadays, it has been walled off, forgotten, lost. A perfect place for those who are Lost to gather. The Bowl is a large square room with concrete columns regularly spaced, and dingy pipes and vents running all along overhead. The center of the room has been dug into, creating a recessed central area with concentric stairs on all sides, giving the place its name.

On each side of the Bowl the Courts gather. To the South, Spring’s King Candlewax with the glowing head and Melisande the crushed mirrors are seated in ornate wooden thrones, attended by their feudal vassals and surrounded by the courtiers of spring. To the East, Summer’s rank and file are arrayed, presided over by the massive Lucianus, with horns like a crown, and Annie Bile with the steel teeth and root-like hair at his side. In the North, Festerion and Olga, the bug-like Grand Warlock and haggard Grand Witch of Autumn stand in front of a hooded and cloaked semicircle of their peers, with the multitude of their frightening brethren before them. In the West, the Regent of Winter, Papa Lava, who radiates heat and cold in equal measure, is joined by Desedemenona, his icy counterpart and crown consort.

Festerion calls court to order by raising his hands. Business begins, with various changelings coming before the two Autumn rulers to ask for favor, repay boons already given, or beg for satisfaction in disputes.

As the evening wears on, a single changeling arrives quite late. He is Oleg White, of the Spring Court. A leechfinger and a Hospitaller, many of the changelings assembled know him. Some have even been assisted by him when they were first regaining their balance after returning to earth. He approaches the thrones of Spring and quietly speaks to them, and is directed by Melisande to the Autumn Court.

Crossing the wide space in the center of the room, Oleg passes in front of a manikin called Lucinda. She’s formed like a wooden artist’s doll, given elaborate articulations and joints and a mop of black hair. They quite obviously flinch when they make eye contact, and Oleg’s trip to the top of the Autumn steps is more labored than seems necessary.

After relating his business to one of the Autumn courtiers, a murmur of activity grows in their ranks. Word makes its way to Festerion and Olga, and at the conclusion of the business before them, Festerion again raises his insectoid hands to call for silence, and gives the pronouncement:

“A petal of the rose has fallen! Demetrius is dead!”

Autumn courtiers rush to help Lucinda, who seems in shock. A multitude of voices are raised in question or in disbelief. The knowledge of the circumstances seems to flow from one of the Lost to another by osmosis: Demetrius is a popular and respected member of the Autumn Court, placed in his mortal persona as a child psychologist. Lucinda and Demetrius are—were lovers. Oleg and Lucinda have some bad blood. Nothing good can come from the fact that Oleg was the one to bring this bitter news to the Court.

Festerion begs for silence, and then announces that the Autumn Court shall investigate this death to determine how and why he has died. Motleys are dispatched to secure the scene, and other witches of the court take Oleg out of the Bowl into one of the smaller rooms that adjoin it to be debriefed.

Reacting to this announcement, Lucianus of Summer flies to his feet and stamps forward. He declares, “Autumn shall not have the right to pursue this matter unilaterally! How dare you presume to hold such an investigation without my assistance and blessing?” Growls and yells of support echo from the ranks of the Summer changelings.

Papa Lava and Desedemenona rise as one from their place with Winter and step to the edge of the Bowl. Desedemenona pleads, “Gentlemen! Do not fight. There must be some way to resolve this. Let Summer assist in the investigation.”

Melisande of Spring speaks loudly and decisively from her throne, “Perhaps it is best if each Court holds its own investigation into this matter. Surely the answer will unravel itself before four parties searching…”

Olga steps forward from Festerion, waving him to silence before he can respond. She pushes back the hood of her cloak, revealing a deeply wrinkled and weathered face, and hair like thick gray wires standing out in every direction. “Let there then be a committee. Each Court may appoint one representative to join the investigation.

Over the next few minutes, the four Courts turn inward, talking amongst themselves.

The first changeling to be selected comes from Spring; a dark-haired man with veins that glow like pulsing magma beneath his skin. Melisande thanks him for stepping forward and calls him Jerry, but he refers to himself as Waconda.

Next, Summer parts ranks, admitting forward a brutish man with a prominent lower jaw and two big protruding tusks. He is called Dim, and he wears a hooded sweatshirt dripping with blood that evaporates shortly after spattering on the ground.

Amidst the assembled Winter changelings, a timid, hunched wizened called Jacob slowly raises his hand. Desedemenona smiles at him beatifically and asks him to go to the center of the Bowl. He pats at the khaki work vest he wears, comforting himself with its many pockets as he advances.

Autumn seems at an impasse. No one seems interested in stepping forward in front of the host of their brethren. Vexed, Olga dumps the contents of a bag on the ground, then sorts through the knuckle bones for one particular one. She lifts it like a talisman and hunts through the crowds, eventually placing it in the hand of a doe-like beast who goes by Shika. Gulping down her fear, Shika moves to the center with the men of the other Courts.

Festerion dismisses all assembled, asking the four representatives to remain. Each of the four lady rulers join the changelings in the center of the Bowl. There, they define the nature of this investigation; the four shall be bound together as a motley until the matter of Demetrius’ death is resolved.

Shedding her brown cloak, Olga looks, and is dressed, more like a crazy bag lady than the ruler of a Court of over two hundred of the Lost. Out of some secret place in her clothing, she pulls a short wooden rod inscribed with sigils.

Reluctantly, the four take hold of the stick and swear. Their oath settles upon them, and they are, for now, a motley. Shika wears her fear like the mantle of Autumn itself, Dim smiles darkly, Jacob hunches, and Waconda surreptitiously sneaks a drink from a flask in his jacket.

A Cry of Murder

Petals of the Rose Malkom Malkom