A Thing with Feathers: Part 4

20 June 2019

So. Emily Dickinson, Andi, Kazimir and Drimlock are in the Faewild, where everyone is genderqueer. The fae we meet are drawn from the people we as players know, Celtic mythology, and are presided over by Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Boundaries are fluid, ambiguous. We’re on leave from Sigil.

I’m having problems with Emily Dickinson. Oh? The DM is driving me back to the sublet. I slouch in after midnight to avoid talking with my housemates. Occasionally a black cat—Jaguar—mews and paws at my dress, asking to be let in. Yeah. I feel I don’t have the energy to do her justice.

In the previous sessions, we discovered the source of a rabies-esque infection filling the wild animals and gutter urchins of The Hive with thrashing tentacles. Imagine the ancient parasites from Resident Evil 4 and the rage virus from 28 Days Later. We lope into the Slags, where Emily Dickinson supposedly materialised. We are still unclear what ‘materialising’ entails, and what Emily Dickinson did here. We are led to a gang of lost boys—the vampire and Peter Pan kind—who are led by a Fagin-esque ringleader and who have been infected. We barely escape, fleeing across the moors of trash.

Remember when we workshopped Emily Dickinson? A red light down Bell Street. Yeah, they reply. You said they were free in a unique way. I mean, you would be, right? A real person in a dream world? It’d be like going back in time and making bank on the Great Depression. They Hmmm as the light goes green.

Emily Dickinson is absent when we return to slaughter the lost boys, unwillingly. In her reality, she is tricked by a demon—called Six-of-Nine—in the form of a publisher, interested in her literally magical poems. They also reveal that the mild-mannered missionary Terse, whom we’ve adopted like a sad puppy, is one of this demon’s forms. The DM tells the other players to vacate, revealing this information to Emily Dickinson alone.

In our reality I am going overseas for Christmas, and missing a few sessions. They ask if my relatives know my pronouns, or care. In actuality—I learn—during my absence several players’ illnesses reared up and the DM postponed two get-togethers in a row. I miss the slaughter by one week. After we finally reconvene, we decide we need holiday time.

It’s essentially meta-gaming, the DM offers. We pass a 7/11 and empty appliance stores, the display lights still on. They’re focusing on the road. Emily Dickinson’s character knows she’s a fantasy character, but she’s still her. Real and not. Schrodinger’s character. It’s not like fucking Deadpool; of course you’d be tired, constantly identifying narrative threads for a real person, however long we play.

The holiday starts when we follow a white cat named Jennifer into the Faewild. In the backstory, Andi has been trying to catch her; she’s been cohabiting with Emily Dickinson in secret. We don’t remember the mechanics of entering the Faewild. It’s verdant and as bright as a Lisa Frank drawing. Drimlock and Kazimir are astounded at real grass and smogless air. Kazimir stretches his wings joyfully, saying nothing. Emily Dickinson cartwheels and rolls down a hill, laughing hysterically.

In the course of the next few weeks, we:

  • meet Jennifer’s caretaker, who—beside themselves upon seeing Jennifer’s shorn fur—sends us to find a replacement cat from the court of Starlight. Otherwise, for such besmirchment of beauty, the whole castle’s working staff will be killed by their employer: the Baroness Arwen.     
  • wander into a grove that materialises our hearts’ desires. Emily Dickinson pictures the oak tree outside her family house in Amherst, which appears, blossoming like summer. She imagines a door back to Massachusetts, which doesn’t.
  • meet a human named Sally, hunting her daughter, self-named The Enchantress. We visit a Baba-Yaga-style hag, Auntie Agatha, and learn Sally used to be the paramour of Baroness Arwen, who abandoned her once the season/taste shifted. Auntie Agatha’s house is burrow-like and askew; nothing about it is beautiful or curated. The Enchantress means to humiliate the Baroness, ruining the ceremonial moonlight ball, to demonstrate the capriciousness and violence of a culture devoted to the aesthetic. Emily Dickinson decides that the possible consequences are too grave.

I can’t speak, Em. The DM has dropped me in Preston, listening behind the wheel. It feels like I shrink into myself, and the scope of Emily Dickinson narrows. I feel I need to do something drastic. I was so sure. Yeah, says the DM. That’s why it didn’t work.

Things happen. The Enchantress is actually a changeling; The Baroness’s court would consider it obscene to admit her. The party decides to let her go along with her plan. Emily Dickinson can’t do this, at least without offering some kind of counter narrative. To give the onlookers—and Titania, who is attending—a chance to spin the story away from themselves, and therefore their underclasses. We attend the ball, secretly. At the peak of the ball, when The Enchantress dances with Baroness Arwen, revealing herself to the shocked court, Emily Dickinson turns invisible.

I’ve been planning this for weeks now. We missed a couple of sessions due to illness and uni.

She speaks to Titania telepathically. Protect me, don’t let her use her magic on me, and I’ll be able to redirect the story. No one needs to be punished.

Titania responds. If you think you can give her a better ending than the one she intends. The DM and I are talking in private.

I can try. It’s my job after all, says Emily Dickinson.

Truth is beauty, beauty truth. Titania is expressionless. There is a justice to the beautiful, remember that, she says.

Emily Dickinson takes on the form of Auntie Agatha. It was me, all me, she says in this form. I’m hamming it up at the table. Only by my potent art did she have any agency. Direct your malice at me. It’s then that the disguise-self spell fails, or Titania counter-spells it. Emily Dickinson appears in human form, before a court of fae, in her underwear. Oh, she says, and disappears.

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