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Apr 19, 2019 10:59 AM
Audrey in Wonderland
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"Yes, that would appear to be the case," Everless agrees. "We know that Marcella is capable of a few specific magical feats, but if we assume that every Heart grants her a new ability then most of her capabilities are unknown." 

She doesn't sound happy about it. 

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"...Well then, we'd best develop some unknown capabilities of our own." 

She hums to herself, softly. 

"...one wonders why the Heart only shows its power once it's been taken." 

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"Well, in its natural place, a Heart is simply a heart," Faramund says.

"It sustains body and spirit, gives us the capacity to grow and love. It anchors us in the things we care about, gives us attachments to bind us to others...one might say there's a power in that, too." 

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"Yes. Exactly." 

She weaves her fingers together, and looks down at the table. 

"Part of me says that's where your strength to survive has come from, but it's not - it's not everything. The Diamonds balance the Hearts, despite the Hearts' cheating - you've not lost yet as Red did. And I'm tempted to say that's because of the power of our hearts - but if the game were played that way, you'd have won it by now." 

She rolls her hands back and forth, humming gently. 

"- oh, I see." 

She looks up at Faramund. 

"I think that - I'm the problem. There's something that I did, or rather, that Queen Sophia did, that means we're the Diamonds and not the Hearts. We're not the clubs or the spades, even -" 

She pauses. 

"- green, growing things - the Spades are our second suit. We should rightfully be Hearts and Spades, one Red one Black. Or maybe Hearts and Diamonds, which would make us wholly Red, but that can't hold because - "

She blinks. 

"Marcella holds both black suits. The two sides were - Red and White? Yes, red and white. So Red is split because of that, we're fighting for control of the Red Kingdom, but the Spades and the Clubs are Black, they're their own side. One that Marcella currently controls in entire... Except that she most likely thinks of them as beneath notice...?" 

She frowns. "Red versus black is not a game I would like to play, though. There ought to be a better way. So - Spades and Diamonds. The earth and the things of it - or, in Tarot, air and earth, the land and sky, opposing fire and water - the elements of malleability and change -"

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"- The magic is on our side. Diamonds, coins, pentacles. We need to look for a green, growing place where the - " 

She winces. 

"- where loving hearts are buried in the cold ground."

Damn it, I just short-circuited the plot didn't I.

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- but. 

That means, then - 

There's something she has to do. To balance this, to make it proper. 

She takes a deep breath, and begins to recite. 

"I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the cold ground.
So it is, and so will it be, time out of mind:
Crowned with lilies and laurel they go: but I am not resigned. 

D- no. 

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you. 
Be one with the dull, indiscriminate dust. 
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew, 
A formula, a phrase remains - but the best is lost. 

The answers quick and keen, the laughter, the love - 
they are gone
to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
is the blossom.
Fragrant is the blossom.
I know. But I do not approve. 

M-  

She coughs, and brushes away tears from her eyes - then breathes in. The next line comes out all in a rush:

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world! 

She breathes, once, slowly, in and out.

Down, down, down, to the darkness of the grave, 
Gently they go: the lovely, the careful, the kind.
Quietly they go: the tender, the witty, the brave. 
I know. But I do not approve.

And I
am not
resigned. 

She blinks back tears, forces a smile. "Edna St. Vincent Milay. Dirge Without Music. I - I probably got it wrong, it sounds different in my head -"

She takes a breath, and holds up a hand. "Yes, I know I'm being ridiculous but this matters, at least to me. So - one more poem. 

I promise this one's shorter." 

She squares her shoulders, and recites from memory - 

Madeline, are you grieving
over Goldengrove unleaving? 
Leaves, like the things of man, you
with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

"...and then there's a bit I don't remember, and then a closing couplet - "

The fall is what we're born for:
'tis Madeline you mourn for. 

She sighs. "- not properly a poem, that way, but - that was, um, Spring and Fall, or a piece of it, by - ... someone." [1]

... She props her glasses up on her forehead, and rubs her eyes to clear them of tears. 

"- I'm sorry, um - Dirge Without Music always hits me really, really hard. It - I have a list of, like, six poems that absolutely - that always punch me in the gut every single time I read them. Dirge Without Music is the reason I have that list." 

She smiles, just a little, and sniffles a bit. 

"So, um! War council. I - am probably not sounding anywhere near rational but I have really good reason to believe Marcella has her stockpile of hearts buried in a garden somewhere. Probably a rose garden - did I say lilies in the later verse? I think I might have said lilies in the later verse, my mistake, it's roses both times in the original poem..." 

She rubs her forehead with her fingertips, and sighs. "- sorry that's completely irrelevant my emotions are just still getting the better of me. Please ask me some actual questions so I can focus on - explaining what just happened, there." 

[1] Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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There have been tears on Hatter's face since about halfway through the first poem. He either hasn't noticed or doesn't care enough to wipe them away. 

He says nothing for a minute, lost in his own thoughts. 

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Faramund, too, is quiet for a moment after Audrey finishes speaking. 

"...there are roses," he says. "In the Queen's gardens. She will allow only red ones, where there used to be both red and white as a sign of the peace between the two nations." He sighs, contemplating memories of his own. 

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"... we should probably look there, then."

She takes another heavy breath. 

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"It's worth a look," Everless agrees, "but I doubt we'll find any Hearts in the palace gardens. They are guarded, but not well enough for such a valuable resource. I'd expect Marcella to have hidden her Hearts inside a mirror somewhere, most likely in the palace itself. A series of mirrors, even." 

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"... but even such a series of mirrors would have to have an entrance somewhere, yes?"

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Everless shuffles her feathers. "It's theoretically possible to cut off a mirror dimension without destroying it, but I doubt Marcella would want to put it beyond her own reach. So, yes, there will be an entrance somewhere." 

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"Well, it's a lead at least..."

She pauses. 

"- how are the palace gardens guarded?"

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"They're patrolled by the Clubs—the Queen's Guard—like the rest of the palace, but with less regularity," Faramund says. "Technically the whole lot is under the authority of the Ten of Hearts, on Marcella's behalf. And then there's the maze, of course," he adds as an afterthought.

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"And then there's the maze?", she echoes.

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"... and as for the Clubs, do they still have their hearts?" 

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"They do, as do the Spades. Aside from the Ace through Ten, Heartlessness is reserved as a punishment for criminals and traitors," Faramund explains.

"The maze surrounds the palace grounds. It's a hedge maze with paths that constantly move, controlled by the Eight of Hearts and patrolled by plant-creatures under his command. Short of burning it down or flying over the top, there's no way through without his cooperation." 

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Audrey hums softly to herself. 

"... Are the Spades and Clubs numbered as well? And - you're serving in the palace, yes? Does that make you a Spade?"

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 "Oh, no." Faramund chuckles. He does so with his whole body, making his belly wobble. "The Spades are domestic servants. Gardeners, maids, and the like. I am a courtier, which in practice means I am more like a guest at the palace, whose opinion is occasionally taken into consideration." There's a certain amount of self-deprecating humour in that last sentence. 

"The Spades and Clubs are numbered, but in such a way that there is more than one of each. It's difficult to say exactly how many." 

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Audrey nods. "Seems sensible. She doesn't have to maintain a stranglehold over anything but hearts..." 

Then she sighs. 

"- enough with the speculation for now, I think. What would you recommend as our plan going forward? I don't want to be - blinded by the mystical side of this."

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Faramund sits back in his chair to think about it.

"As the only one here with a legitimate reason to be in the palace, it might be best if I were to conduct the search for this supposed hidden mirror, while you pursue other avenues." 

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"...we could get her a legitimate reason to be in the palace," Hatter says. He's hiding the beginnings of a smile behind his hand. 

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"I think that would be best. I - I hesitate to say this, because of course you've been fighting a war for, a decade or more, I'm probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs - but you're a courtier. You could have been a Spade or a Club, if you'd chosen to, but that would be common of you. You'd risk - losing rank. You still have to be a king, even in exile, if you're to balance Rodion - but that means the same problem Sophia had is still there for you, is still keeping you from playing as well as you could."

She frowns. 

"...so the reason Marcella hasn't won is because her Ace is unwillingly bound, and therefore is of low rank. She could destroy you, but it would require her to be of lower rank than Lionel." 

... she rubs the back of her thumbnail across her lips. 

"... damn it," she says. "I'm the Ace of Diamonds. I'm both higher than a king and lower than a two, and I form a pair with the Ace of Hearts. Quite literally - he's my godsdamned brother, of course we're of equal rank."

She frowns. "So then we have - ace, king, queen, knave, ten - If Marcella is still treating her Ace as low, we could win a showdown. It would be possible. But - terribly risky, so long as Marcella has extra Hearts up her sleeve. She'd have to cheat to win, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't."

She looks up at Faramund again. "- So yes, I think it'd be best if I were to get a placement in the palace, ideally with the Spades. You need to be able to watch your opponent's moves if you're going to catch them cheating."

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"The Resistance doesn't have numbered ranks like the Hearts," Everless says. "Which of us are you counting as the counterpart to Ten?" 

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