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New Gulmoth: Duende Waystones, the Elf-Doors

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  • New Gulmoth: Duende Waystones, the Elf-Doors

    I love Intruders; that book, besides showing just how wonderfully weird the Abyss could be, also was the first to wet its toes in explicit crossover, in the form of the Red Worms, a species of fluke whose definitive hosts are vampires, altering behavior so that a Kindred and her Herd end up in a codependent relationship to help further its lifecycle. And eats magic to reproduce, but thats normal for gulmoth.

    So, I started thinking up other crossover intruders, now relatively easy with the Condition rules. With that in mind:

    Duende Waystones
    Elf-Door Fungus, Hedge Mycelium, Lycoperdon orbis, Foundling's Puffballs, Nightmare Mold

    Fairy rings are a very mythical term for what is a very mundane, even somewhat boring, phenomenon; the tendency of certain species of mushroom to grow caps at the edge of their mycelium, in an ever expanding circle. Medieval Europeans thought of them as places where supernatural activity had taken afoot, not seeing how a group of mushrooms could grow in such an artificial-looking circle without some intelligent will behind it, and warned against entering them. In reality, the caps at the edge of a ring are in fact the "flowers" of a single fungus, much as how many roses can grow from the same bush. The only thing most fairy rings indicate is the presence of a good source of nutrients for mushrooms, and to be frank the fungus does not care even if you kick over the ring; it can easily sprout more caps, the mycelium from which the mushrooms spring is the actual body of the specimen, and the caps are just its fruiting bodies, seeds to make more fairy rings somewhere else.

    Most rings. Sometimes, a mycelium really does sporulate in response to ambient mystical energies and grow at an unnaturally fast rate; the mushrooms themselves are not supernatural, but indicate the presence of a Hallow, locus, or other supernatural site. A majority of these sites do indeed have a distinctly Arcadian flavor to them, though as fitting for the Supernal it's impossible to say if the rings indicating Arcadian influence inspired the myth or if the Realm was inspired by the story to manifest them as a symptom. Whatever the case is, many Acanthus and Thrysus have an interest in mycology due to the fairy ring legend, something they like to cite as proof of how common magic is.

    The Abyss, as is its nature to invert cause and effect, is also known to spawn the one species of fairy ring mushroom that creates a holy site for the fae - and as per its nature to confuse, it has nothing to do with Acanthus.

    Duende Waystones, named after a type of forest-dwelling fairy that in Portugal tricks people into getting lost and in Latin America leads them back onto the right path, more scientifically known as Lycoperdon orbis, the compass puffball (well, "compass wolf-fart", actually, but no mycologist points out that's what lycoperdon means unless she has a very immature sense of humor), is an Abyssal species of puffball mushroom not dissimilar in appearance or genetics to the North Carolina species Lycoperdon curtisii, an entirely mundane form of puffball also known to form fairy rings. Any hybrid of Abyssal fungus and mundane spore is thankfully sterile, as it can't actually sporulate due to lacking a supernatural fuel that L. orbis needs to form viable spores; Glamour, an Essence-like energy formed by fae relating to the Hedge, a strange realm many mages believe to be a Fallen reflection of Arcadia, similar enough to be confused for the Supernal version but not really at all like it in details. Hedgeborn fae (which Awakened use to refer to any fae able to dwell easily within the Hedge, including its native hobgoblins, once-human changelings, and the pseudo-gods known as the Gentry) seem to be inherent psychic vampires; they can take the strength of strong passions and digest it to form Glamour, which they use as fuel for their own, legalistic form of magic (which seems bad, unless you happen to have any Mastigos or Mind-focused mage in the area to examine the subjects of feeding; most Hedgeborn feeding barely dents the mind, and in fact taking the sting off emotions like hate, sorrow, or fear can be immensely therapeutic, a fact many changelings make use of in mundane jobs as counselors or when in group therapy). Duende Waystones digest Glamour to them as part of their lifecycle to assist their gulmoth physiology in karyogamy, the fusion of haploid cell nuclei to form fertile spores.

    Actually getting the Glamour is where the supernatural aspect of L. orbis comes in; where it grows, it grows into the Hedge as well, forming pathways into its depths as it winds its way through; as the mycelium matures, the shifting realm's Thorns rot and die, clearing away great roads called trods that eventually reach all the way into the chaotic deeps where the Gentry ply their games of story - and from which they come to enslave mortals and take into the depths of their courts to make into changelings. Naturally, this becomes very interesting for any fae that wishes easy access to the human world, and soon a small invasion force of Hedgeborn start coming out of the matured elf-door. Invariably, they realize the fairy ring is what enabled them passage, and they willingly accept the role of symbiote for the occult fungi, feeding and spreading it.

    The real sly biological trick the Hedge mycelium does, though, is that the rotting Thorns produce a compound that most fae and other sentient life finds smells unpleasant, but otherwise ignorable. To the Gentry, however, it is a horrifying toxin; any True Fae that attempts to walk in an elf-door trod finds his divine flesh breaks out in hideous sores that soon sprout and array of fungal caps themselves, painfully spreading filaments across his body; while the sores soon heal and the infections soon die when he leaves the trod, the incredible pain plus the scars they leave on the vain Gentry quickly dissuade them from using the elf-door. This is not true of escaping changelings, and the former slaves of the Gentry find a semi-safe passage away from their bondage back to Earth. Thus, a mature ring of Waystones soon find an eager corps of gardeners in the mortal world in the form of changelings, all of whom have suffered greatly at the hands of Gentry, letting the elf-door sup upon Glamour and protecting its growth to allow more of their kin safe passage - hence the term they give it, foundling's puffball.

    Of course, Waystones are gulmoth, and whatever they offer comes with a hidden price. While no (vaguely likable) mage would disagree with the fact they provide an unambiguous good, it's how L. orbis absorbs Glamour that's an issue. Its sterile spores are in fact a form of ringworm, inundating the skin of sentient entities with mildly itchy rashes. They cannot spread from host to host easily, only through direct skin-to-skin contact, and the alien biochemistry of the infection isn't very virulent (it clears in at most two weeks, shorter with anti-fungal treatment), but it's good enough for its real purpose, forming a collection network for Glamour. Non-Hedgeborn hosts have their minds quietly attuned to the Hedge, as dreams already have a great resonance with the fae plane of being - and given how rotted an elf-door's trod is, the dreams produced by such an infection are always nightmares of decay and spreading mold consuming everything the dreamer values. And it leaves a mark; the dreams cannot be forgotten so long as the rash persists, and mortal families and organizations fracture as their members cannot look upon each other or their goals without remembering the disgust and horror they felt as the rot ate them from the inside out.

    Most pernicious of all, though, is that the Waystones are, like much of the issue of the Abyss, liars. Yes, the rotted elf-doors are horrifying to the Gentry - and to the Gentry alone. Their own servants, the Huntsmen, can walk the trods as much as they wish, disgusted but hardly infested. It's not long before the changelings' old masters, experts at loopholes and breaking the spirit with the letter of agreements all, soon discover this, and the supposed miracle becomes a beach-head for the vengeful True Fae who are quite upset by the presumption of their former slaves forming a gateway to their front door to "steal" their "property." Worse, the dreams so produced are akin to signal flares for acamoth, who follow the nightmares to torment and tempt mortals, and the diseased Thorns naturally form passages into darker planes than the deep Hedge, as the similarity between Supernal Arcadia and the Hedge is close enough to form sympathy between the elf-door and the dark reflection the Watchtower of the Lunargent Thorn casts into the Abyss, and many more overtly hostile gulmoth use the Ziggurat's power to skulk into the Fallen World and make those nightmares a reality.

    The Duende Waystones may not be the most hostile or active intrusion, but many mages who count changelings as allies view them as some of the cruelest.

    (Crunch later, they're an Environmental Tilt that affects both the mortal world and the Hedge, with stacking stages that end with both a clear shot to Lost Arcadia and fully Resonant for Fae-themed gulmoth; by that point, the mycelium exists partly in the Abyss, so you have to dive deep into the Hedge to sever it.)

  • #2
    Means of Passage:

    Duende Waystones are parasites on compassion, and it is echoed in how they initially infect the world; the only corrupt Imagos the spores of the nightmare mold can use as a gateway are ones that were supposed to be acts of kindness. When an Awakened choses to Unleash Paradox on a spell meant to assist another by altering an environment where mundane fungi could thrive in, generally a forest or other wet fertile ground, the growth of a crop of L. orbis is one of the potential ways a Storyteller can spend Reach to Manifest a gulmoth. If the Imago is especially resonant with the lifecycle of the elf-doors, like the recipient of aid being a Hedgeborn, break confinement, or a way to subvert emotional abuse, the foundling's puffballs can sprout instead as part of an Abyssal Environmental Tilt. It is not the Arcana that matters here; as a fungal infection of an alien if nearby plane of existence more kin to dreams than physics, the Arcana so used can be bent over backwards by the Abyss to let the spores seed themselves; Fate causes random elements in the Hedge to occur in such a way to perform a ritual of summoning, interplay of Forces causes a briefly manifesting Hedge Gate to be damaged at the edges long enough for the puffballs to leak through, Mind causes a daydream of the Annunaki to manifest on the Dreaming Roads the Hedgeborn use to dive in and out of dreams to manifest for a crucial millisecond. Whatever the case is, the first caps poke through the ground in about three days, the Waystones feeding on a store of Abyssal nutrients that took with them to establish themselves. In both cases, the Storyteller may spend points of reach to convert into points of Glamour for the new elf-door, on a one-to-one basis; this Abyssal Glamour, if somehow taken from the fungus, has an emotional resonance of utter loss, envy, and isolation. Any changeling or hobgoblin who adds it to her Glamour pool develops the Sick tilt for a scene due to a massive allergic reaction to the alien touch of the Outside and suffers a horrifying vision into the eldritch ecosystem that produced it, that serves as a two-die Clarity attack; it is only Abyssal because of its origin, though, and can be utilized like normal Glamour without ill effect (the effect on the True Fae is unknown, but would likely be impossible to draw on or be spectacular).

    What causes mages nightmares, though, is that the Hedgeborn are hardly magical ignoramuses themselves; their lore is less of a hard science and more legalese, but many changelings know how to crossbreed the occult, Glamour-eating flora that grows in the Hedge, and the proper rituals could effectively mutate more fungus-like goblin fruits into new instances of foundling's puffballs. Of course, given the thematic resonance of the Abyss with betrayal of the self, said rituals would likely involve collecting Glamour of very toxic emotions like the desire to be abused simply to have some attention, wrath at victims in the key of blaming, fear of the mortal world as a concept, and sorrow for having been punished justly, but some changelings would be absolutely determined to save their brethren to the point of refusing to look a gift horse in the mouth no matter how obvious it is the horse has cancerous tumors in its gums.

    Rules of Intrusion:

    While it is technically an invader from a broken universe, a specimen of L. orbis isn't even motile, let alone sentient. It's a mushroom, not even a toxic one (it tastes bad unless extremely well-prepared, but once digested the occult proteins that mark them as a thing of the Void are broken down into amino acids that are perfectly mundane and harmess; more than once an intrusion was stopped because a slug decided the new mushrooms it encountered looked tasty and the Waystones didn't have enough Glamour to recoup the loss). The only game trait it has is a maximum Glamour capacity of 20 Glamour, spent to further more taxing aspects of its physiology and grow; what strategy it has has no more or less will behind it than a flower growing to collecy as much sunlight as possible. The antagonists in a story involving it are its symbiotic defenders, not the fungus itself. As the Hedge mycelium grows, however, it causes effects on the world that makes it seem very profitable for those symbionts to appear, and by the time they realize they've made a mistake, the nightmare mold usually has much more terrifying defenders.

    Stage 1:

    From the moment the first caps break the ground, the Duende Waystones start eating at the barrier between worlds. Somewhere in a ten-yard radius, a Hedge Gate with an extremely easy-to-fulfill key condition manifests, circumstances twisting to create something vaguely door-like if nothing is available. Unlike most Hedge Gates, the condition to open it from the Hedge side is usually the same, meaning mortals and hobgoblins can easily slip in or out, and provoking rumors of something supernatural among the changeling Courts. This, of course, is part of the Waystones' survival strategy; it's more than likely a hobgoblin or changeling will come to investigate the rumors, and even if they do realize it's the mushroom, most changelings and hobgoblins are more inclined to curiosity about the accessible and safe portal than anything else. The gate does come with a hidden cost, however; it is the gap made by the filaments of the Hedge mycelium breaking through, and anyone who goes through the portal is exposed to the sterile infection spores. They roll their Stamina + Integrity (or equivalent) when passing through the Gate or come into physical contact with its "frame" when it's inactive, a failure indicating they develop the Duende Ringworm Condition:

    Duende Mark

    You have a mild skin rash caused by infestation of mystically inactive L. orbis infection spores; these do not result in the mind-scarring nightmares that tend to ruin your social life, but they definitely impact your inhibitions and sleep cycle. You suffer from the Nightmares Tilt for as long as this Condition lasts; if you fail to regain Willpower that night, the Waystones feed on your discomfort and gain a point of Glamour. In addition, if faced with an opportunity to gain Willpower from your Anchors, the Waystones' player may ask you to roll Resolve + Composure - failure indicates you must spend a Willpower to resist indulging or perform the action, in which case you regain Willpower as normal, but the Waystones gain one Glamour if you refreshed one Willpower, three if you refreshed all Willpower. (Be careful about this when dealing with Vices; besides care for the table, this form of L. orbis is meant to engender strong emotions, not freak out potential gardeners; a changeling with this is far more likely to forget an important appointment because he got lost in talking with a Touchstone, not punch the Queen to satisfy his Rebel side). A Hedgeborn fae observing this can make a Harvest roll upon regaining Willpower to gain Glamour (which can result in the frustrating sensation of losing Willpower as soon as it is gained).

    Acquired by: Stage 1 or 2 Duende Waystone infection spore contact, or later stage contact while a supernatural being (defined as a character with a Supernatural Resistance trait), which can be from it directly or by skin contact with an infected character.

    Resolution: You cause a long-term difficulty for yourself due to a forced indulgence. This condition lapses after a week.
    The Glamour obtained by the Waystones in this stage is purely meant for establishing growth - it can spend one point to sprout another cap within its radius of effect (bending space to put a mycelium in the area if it's especially distant), or five points to progress to Stage 2 - if it runs out of Glamour before then, then the mycelium failed to thrive and the gulmoth dies. Please note, however, that it's possible for an L. orbis infection from a Manifestation to have five points already upon its summoning if ten or more points of Reach are spent upon it, in which case the reckless idiot who unleashed Paradox when the pool was already at ten or more should appreciate the Storyteller's mercy in not calling S'lass'thga, Eater of the Unfaithful's Spines, and is encouraged to repay her infinite magnanimity with a snack of her choice. Rules-wise, however, the Waystones can just spend the Glamour to emerge as Stage 2.

    Stage 2: The caps sprout into a fairy ring of about three feet across, and the mycelium starts to work on the Hedge itself, causing the Thorns to look unhealthy and change at a sluggish pace; the Hedge's dice pool in making any who navigate it lost suffers a -3 penalty in the affected area, which is now thirty yards across. Besides the original door (and the area cannot have less than one), the Waystones can now spend two Glamour to manifest another Hedge Gate with the same qualities as the original anywhere in its area of effect (there is no limit to how many, but the fungus generally has a maximum of four at this stage to prevent the Hedgeborn from getting suspicious of too many doors). It can still produce new caps wherever it wants, from which a new fairy ring will grow if the original is destroyed. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes in the fairy ring causes the puffballs to quietly unleash a cloud of spores, which risks infection just as much as passing through one of its Gates. It's usually at this point the area becomes of great interest to the Hedgeborn, and much of the time, the paranoid changelings suspect influence of the Gentry and try to solve the problem themselves, cutting down the caps themselves faster than they can be replaced and treating the thorns for fungal infection. Hobgoblins don't care, all they see is a more ergonomic home, and it's they who defend the area at this stage - along with the occasional crafty Scelestus or Abyssal cultist, who approaches the Courts and convinces them of the "good nature" of the L. orbis, to say nothing of any acamoth who know the symptoms and are eager to dupe Hedgeborn into growing them a hunting ground. Ten points of Glamour spent all at once causes the spores of the nightmare mold to become fertile, and start eating at the Thorns directly, causing the infestation to progress to Stage 3 over the course of a week.

    Stage 3: The elf-door opens. The Thorns rot and fall away, forming a rather swamp-like and stinky but safe trod in the original affected area (which stacks with the original penalty for illness), and the Hedge for a sixty yard radius around the infection develops the same penalizing illness. The fairy ring extends out to ten feet now - not that it matters, as the mycelium is now established inside an Abyssal pocket within the trod itself (see Means of Exile). It's usually at this point the Hedgeborn figure out something's wrong, but before they can listen to their first instinct, they tend to witness a flight from the Gentry's domains - and the toxic effect the elf-door has on one of the Fair Ones, likely saving her former slave's nascent freedom. This is entirely intentional; the Waystones can now spend three Glamour to warp the local (meaning city-wide) Hedge so that a changeling, hobgoblin, or Huntsman suffering the Lost Condition (often because they are being chased by angry Gentry) finds the trod, losing the Condition in the process. Any Gentry on the Trod is subject to a Level 5 Extreme Environment effect and reacts like she was hit with a major bane taboo, and suffers a -2 penalty to Social Rolls due to scarring while it heals. This is when the local Court tend to become fungal cultists, ignoring the fact that the spores are now causing much darker things to mortals - even encouraging them. Anything is acceptable for freedom, after all.

    Elf-Shot Dreams

    The L. orbis rash you have is fully functioning, and polluting your dreams with Abyssal rot and tainted dreams of Ao Si, the Ziggurat form of the Arcadian Watchtower. Every night, you have horrible visions of your loved ones being turned against you and your aspirations made into mockeries of themselves by wicked rot-elves and scheming Fomorians (or other culturally appropriate evil fairies), and the nightmares last. You suffer all the traits of Duende Mark, and any interaction with your friends and loved ones reminds you of the torments you suffer at night; you have a -3 penalty to any social rolls involving them minus Intimidate, and you must spend Willpower to open up about your dreams to them. Your dreams are also Resonant to any acamoth, who may be willing to take them away for a small favor. The overwhelming disgust you feel is a good source of passion for harvesting Glamour, which is exactly what the nightmare mold wants; every time a fae harvests Glamour from you, the Waystones get half as much Glamour as the feeding Hedgeborn, rounded up.

    Acquired by: Infection by Stage 3 Duende Waystone spores as a non-supernatural being. To their credit, some changelings and hobgoblins see this and start to wonder if the miracle escapes really are, which often causes fracturing in the local freehold, but unfortunately desperation to save as many people as possible often blinds them to the consequences.

    Resolution: Completely spoil a relationship with a loved one, or accept a deal from an acamoth to take the dreams away. This condition lapses after two weeks or successful anti-fungal treatment.
    At this point, the fungus generally settles into a cycle for a few years; it saves changelings and hobgoblin allies, it grows new Hedge Gates and caps, and it spreads deeper into the Hedge. Besides all the Glamour expenditures it could already do, now it can spend five Glamour to cause one of its puffballs to grow gravid over the course of two weeks, filled with fertile spores that can be transferred to new grounds as a new L. orbis infection, and often is; entire villages have become elf-door hotspots because of this. By this point, however, enough of the semi-sentient Hedge is infected to the point where, like a cell infected with a virus, it defends its own infection; any attempt to find the core of the infection in the Hedge exchanges the penalty the Hedge has for a +2 bonus, as rotten areas develop weird spatial warps and incredibly dense fogs willed with the impression of dark futures, and the Waystones can spend three points from their Glamour pool to inflict a negative Environmental Tilt on anyone in the elf-door trod, manifesting as strange ruins filled with traps and curses (a Sleepwalker previously infected with Elf-Shot Dreams will recognize them as reminiscent of the halls of Ao Si). They may also spend 5 Glamour to lengthen the trod closer and closer to the Gentry's estates; how far the infection needs to spread before tainting the door of the True Fae varies, but it's generally takes about 100 points of Glamour to reach it. Once it does, however, the fungus has one more trick to show, as soon as it spends fifteen points of Glamour.

    Stage 4: The contact with what Hedgeborn think is Arcadia and the overwhelming resonance of Abyssal dreams cracks open a door to a far more hellish plane than even the True Fae can think of. The entire elf-door trod becomes Resonant for gulmoth, and several specimens of the Arcadian Ziggurat's inhabitants (often Abyssal forms of Hedge ghosts or hobgoblins) manifest upon it. The afflicted area soon becomes a site of superstitious dread if it wasn't already, becoming a playground for the Void's idea of the Abode of Fae and a holy site for Scelesti Acanthus. The actual Hedgeborn generally realize how badly they've been duped at this stage, but it's too late; the Waystones can now spend ten Essence to summon another Rank 2 gulmoth, or five for a Rank 1. In an act of spiteful mischief, they often offer their services to capturing new humans for the Gentry and assist in stopping escapees, just to really humiliate the changelings even further. Rarely, though, changelings crack even further, and approach the gulmoth to attempt to bargain to keep the escape route open, which they cheerfully agree to - it's quite entertaining to watch how far Hedgeborn will degrade themselves and those around them for an easy answer.

    (Means of Exile later)
    Last edited by Leliel; 06-24-2019, 11:20 PM.


    • #3
      Means of Exile:

      Thankfully for any would-be Abyss hunters, the Duende Waystones are completely non-sentient. They react, and very acutely, but their defensive Hedge-shaping is an autoimmune response, not a move by a mastermind to eliminate a threat. Unfortunately, immune systems do an extremely good job of simulating tactical ability (look up memory-b cells sometime), and the lifecycle of the L. orbis often draws an intelligent corps of defenders and gardeners, one that gets substantially more vicious and fanatical as the lifecycle progresses. At its beginning, the symbiotes are just curious Hedgeborn who like being able to navigate their native plane better and are curious about the Earth-growing "goblin fruit." As it reaches Stage 4, it has one or more of the most vicious and sociopathic breeds of hobgoblin, Huntsmen ordered by the Gentry to maintain their personal passage into the world, Scelesti, acamoth and gulmoth colonists, and/or what changelings have convinced themselves that letting in such a legion of horrors, disintegrating the social fabric around them, and increased scrutiny by Huntsmen is somehow worth the possibility that more changelings will escape into a known backdoor out of the True Fae's domains patrolled by Huntsmen and alien enablers of same. Thus, exiling an infestation of Duende Waystones invariably runs into forces that would much rather the elf-doors stay as they are.

      Actually killing the Hedge mycelium is simple in theory; the fungus grows in eldritch ways and feeds on supernatural nutrients, but ultimately its biology is just that of a normal mushroom species. Killing the mycelium banishes whatever component is behind the nightmares back to the Abyss and allows the Hedge to heal. Even mundane fungicides such as lime will kill the mycelium. The problem is, Waystones are very good at keeping their mycelium safe from forces that wish to kill it; a significant majority of the mycelium grows into the Hedge, where it becomes really, really hard to affect; while a spell meant to play havoc with its biology will affect all of the fungus, actually targeting an entity that exists within two planes is damn near impossible for most mages, and likely involves unlikely combinations of Fate and other Arcana such as Death or the more destructive side of Life. At early stages, crushing the mushrooms and fairy rings at a faster rate than they can be replaced is effective; if combined with treatment of fungal infections for any sophont with a Duende Mark, the L. orbis runs out of Glamour and can no longer form caps; without a store of Glamour, Hedgeborn life sickens and cannot digest nutrients, and Waystones are close enough to being goblin fruit they are no exception, starvation for about two days kills the mycelium. The problem is that a successful infection invariably ends up with symbiotes who spread the Mark faster than it can be treates, and once at Stage 3 and beyond, the fungus mutates; the reason nightmares get worse at that stage is that it develops a "heart" of sorts somewhere in the elf-door trod. The heart is really more of a shell for the centralized organs of the fungus - it takes a seemingly unique form for every infestation (it always appears alien in some way, like a rose bush that grows multicolored crystal flowers or an idol depicting the Fomorian king Balor worked in a greenish, unidentifiable stone - not that it's particularly obvious in the Hedge), but it is always hollow, filled with greyish-white filaments and strange chitinous growths that appear more tree-like than fungal. On one level, this makes the Waystones easier to kill, because it contains vital organs for the infestation's continuing life in its mature state. On the other, it also cuts off any and all alternate ways of permanently exiling the intrusion, as the heart's organs exist within its own pocket of Abyssal reality, often compared to an outgrowth of the Ziggurat it draws power from. Absolutely nothing can affect the functions of the heart unless the heart is found and cracked open first, and even then the mycelium still needs to be killed thoroughly lest enough of it survive to regrow its shell (thankfully, mundane fungicides and magic still works). Even somehow starving the L. orbis of Glamour at this state just causes it to hibernate, the elf-door trod and the spores from its doors still being generated. Actually getting to the heart is its own challenge, as the fungus itself shapes the Hedge to protect it and summons forth bits of Ao Si as security systems, let alone whatever guardians and cultists it has. To have even a reasonable shot of killing the heart, one needs to deprive it of Glamour to prevent it from defensive Hedgespinning while hopefully turning the more human or at least not inherently hostile symbiotes against it. A late-stage infestation of Duende Waystones can easily become a high-action dungeon crawl through the corrupt Hedge or a more social game to convince the changelings guarding it of its fundamentally malign nature (or, if one is a fan of darker stories, convincing the Gentry to turn their Huntsmen against it - one shudders to think of what they would think would be an adequate price for helping them to close off an easy way to send their minions to Earth..).

      The effects of infection in the human world is harder to treat, though. While the Mark itself is easy enough to cure, the dysfunctions introduced by the infected lashing out at each other and poor inhibitions is far more difficult to heal. Very few Sleepers will truly be convinced the metaphorical devil made them do it, let alone those around them, and so they are likely suffering from wounded Integrity and no small amount of self-disgust. To say nothing of the Sleepers won over by the acamoth just to make the nightmares stop . While many of them count as Abyssal cultists, few mages or changelings feel good about punishing people whose only sin was listening to someone they shouldn't have who promised to help them stop feeling the disgust they had towards their families - and then held up their end of the bargain. That doesn't mean they don't become acolytes for Scelesti, and the nightmare mold is notorious for leaving secondary infections as cults summon more gulmoth in a Void protection racket started by the fairy rings. Ultimately, as many a remorseful changeling dupe has realized too late, the Waystones make them not unlike the Gentry; creatures who willingly treat humans as disposable pawns and resources, ruining their lives and forcing them into a supernatural role they didn't want, for the benefit of their own kin. And just like their old masters, picking up the pieces left over is so, so much harder.

      (Phew! Comments, thoughts, criticisms?)


      • #4
        As a side note, while this thing does put changelings into an antagonistic role, it's just as much because it takes advantage of the same weakness in their society that makes Bridge-Burners; at its core, it offers an easy answer to the question "how can we save those still in a Durance?" when the real answer is "it would be suicidally dumb." It can't actually save the Kept, it just makes their escape easier and hurts the Keepers. It wants, on some level, for the Lost to sell humans down the river for the chance of more escapes, a safe trod, easier navigation - then it reveals the lesson the Abyss always does. The shortest path is usually a fall.

        I'm not writing them as evil here, just desperate to believe the miracle really is one despite everything around it screaming it isn't. If I wrote more I'd point out that if the terminal stage didn't exist, there would be honest questions about whether using the Abyss here, just this once, is right. As it is, the Void just taints the world and tanks alliances between freeholds and Councilia. The ones where the changelings did get cautious are the ones you don't hear about, because the Lost exterminated them before they reached their full potential.