While the Cat’s Away. . .:

OOC: (Fanny’s first introduction is in Flags in the Neathy Wind thread.)

In the wilds around London, where hunters and mushrooms roam, many secrets lurk. One of these secrets is the Kingsfield Plantation. If one was to sneak by the mushroom farms, and guards with ratwork rifles, they could glimpse the heart of the plantation: three buildings, one in heavy black iron, where workers only enter when clad in all-consuming night-trimmed protective suits. A stack of them are strung along the side letting the dark out in the Neathy air. If one was to sneak close, they would catch a bright glimpse of actual sunlight through the rows of locked doors as workers enter and leave. The other two are actual greenhouses. One with just plain glass, letting the false star light fall upon plants from all over the zee, jungle plants from the Southern Elder Continent, frigid moss from the North, ferns from the close by islands to London, dust covered leaves from the tomb-colonies, even a few plants from Polythreme writhing with unnatural vigor. . .

But the true treasure is in the middle building, where the glass is warped, hiding what lurked inside while ringing out every single speck of light.

This is the building that Fanny is standing near, as vines slowly crawl out, bearing strawberries the size of human heads.

She knew something like this was going to happen. She knew as soon as Dirae Erinyes and Evensong announced their plans on a belated honeymoon, and that the household was to be left in her care, as their daughter. They had ignored her dropped teacup and continued packing, reassuring her that it would be easy, she just needed to keep everything running smoothly and as is.

Fanny wasn’t reassured. Despite her frequent frustrations with her unasked for adopted mother and adopted. . .parental unit, she had to admit a few things about them. Mostly that their insanities (or eccentricities as polite society labeled them) were tolerated due to them actually succeeding, often despite themselves. Watching them at work was breathtaking, as they discussed strategy over breakfast of tea and candles, cutting a swath through high class balls, and racing down the streets, shooting at the gangs chasing them on bicycles. Fanny had learned her skills well, scrapping by with what little she was given and what she could take, thus she couldn’t claim that that she was without accomplishment, but they were intimidating shoes to fill even for a short time.

Especially as she stood in front of those sprawling vines, stretching beyond the broken glass of the greenhouse. Tightening the strap on the hat, she turned to Scarred Groundskeeper.

“When was this reported?”

“11:00 last night was when the plant first broke through. However. . .” He lifted his heavy cane that he had been leaning against, pointing at the mess of footprints in the muddy ground. His cane passed the heavy footprints of the sunken boots of the plantation workers, hovering over lighter footprints, nearly obscured underneath the chaos. “Those were made probably an hour before then – I believe we have a saboteur who broke in.”

“Has anyone been in?” Fanny asked.

The Scarred Groundskeeper shook his head. “Given all the b-----y trouble it took to subdue just what’s lying around outside, we’ve been waiting for the big boyos to show up.” He gestured with his staff to Fanny and her two companions: Screwtape, a devil with sunglasses, holding a cold thermos to his head, and Princess of the Burning Bright Palace, Hunter of Devils, Explorer of the West, who was a tigeress admiring her tiara in the muddy pools from the daily rains. (The others in the household just called her Burning Bright when they didn’t have time for her full name and titles.) Fanny had brought Burning Bright due to her knowledge of plants, being one of the lead advisers on this project: of creating plants capable of surviving in the Neath but still producing desired surface produce. She had brought Screwtape because he had annoyed her by flirting with a man that she was sweet on and also for drunkenly playing the piano late at night. If she was lucky, she might get to see him get chased around by an angry mushroom.

Burning Bright made a show of sitting down, licking her paw as if this was a picnic. “I suspect the saboteur is no more. The plant that has rather rudely left its plot is our Heart-Taker/strawberry hybrid.” The growling of Fanny’s stomach from just looking at the red and juicy fruit suddenly twisted into something else. “I suspect they didn’t take the proper precautions and awakened the plant from its dormant slumber. However, they probably left an impact on the personality of the plant – such growth is extreme, even for Heart-Takers. It would be useful to know a thing or two before going in.”
“Going in?” Fanny asked, bewildered.

“Of course,” Burning Bright, continued, nonplussed. “Unless you want to tell our benefactors when they get back why the greenhouse is still broken and why the workers need to take hourly breaks just to beat a plant.”

“Screwtape, what do you think? Who is our mostly likely suspect?” If there is one thing he knew, it was people.

Screwtape lifted the thermos from his head. “From just footprints? Could be anybody. Could be revolutionaries upset that we aren’t supporting their particularly cause, overzealous special constables, deranged priests that believe this sort of thing is against ‘God’s’ plan, politicking devils, inscrutable spies, bored urchins, paranoid academics. . .Should I keep going?”

“No, I get the idea.” Fanny sighed as she looked at the greenhouse again. All of her instincts told her to run. Instead she turned to the Scarred Groundskeeper. “Prepare the supplies. We are going in.”
edited by Shadowcthuhlu on 7/13/2018

Burning Bright takes the lead, letting her superior nose and ears warn them of danger. Fanny takes the middle, dressed in the heavy white suit of the greenhouse workers. (The dim light, especially with the broken windows, made it inadvisable to use the nighttrimmed suits.) The thick clothes trap the sweat tickling down her neck as she peers through the netting draped over her steel capped, wide-brim hat. Fanny shifts the strap of her heavy load: sheers, bottles of herbicide, rations, tinctures, antivenom, a map, bait for some of the more aggressive plants, coils of rope, and one snoozing messenger bat. Screwtape took the back, claiming that his devilish resilience would help him if there was a sneak attack by some of the craftier plants. Fanny thought he was just looking for an excuse to lollygag behind them, but even she couldn’t ignore him fidgeting with a bright brass machete, at odds with his usual dapper appearance.

The minutes slithered on, like the vines around them. None of them dared break the silence, ears straining to hear, well something. Fanny wasn’t sure what she should be expecting – roars, snarls, buzzing, snaps? The shaded gloom didn’t help, the shadows compounding most of the plants into just outlines of branches and tendrils. She nearly had stumbled into a bronze rose bush if it wasn’t for Burning Bright, its bright blooms unseen until she was upon it.

Burning Bright’s ears flicked back, and a small snarl involuntarily left her muzzle, before a vine snaked into view, heavily burden down with a single head – eyes closed, wrinkled face bent in concentration. Two nubby leaves formed like hands in front it, the soft flesh of the fruit growing out the top, fading into white. A priest miter, Fanny realized, when the golden cross emblazoned flashed in view.

“The church. Of course, this sort of thing reeks of fanaticism without skill.” Screwtape couldn’t resist, puffing up on self-righteous annoyance.

“I will have to talk with the Bishop again about keeping his cubs in line,” Burning Bright said with snort, ears still flicked back even as she padded forward. “At least we finally have a lead.” The vine snapped back, like a startled rabbit. With that Fanny’s nerve snapped, and she back to her urchin self, chasing cats on the street. With honed reflexes, she hopped over roots and dodged branches, her eyes watching the vine.

A loud roar breaks Fanny’s concentration, causing her to pause as the vine pulls out of sight. She turns to glare at Burning Bright, who in turn took to cleaning her paw with feigned casualness.

“You should be more careful.” She finally offered. “You nearly ran into the potato patch.”

“Potato patch?” Fanny asked, looking at the brown ground under her. In what she assumed was dirt, she could see rough skin poke through the surface, the tubers as big as full grown pigs. “How is that dangerous?”

“They are still. . .volatile.”

“Look, I may not know much about the surface,” Screwtape began, lighting one of his devilish cigarettes. “But I’ve seen and even eaten a few potatoes, and I can’t imagine how they would be dangerous.”

“Oh, normal potatoes aren’t dangerous. But since their size makes them impractical for cooking, Dirae Erinyes and I have been working on self-cooking potatoes.” Fanny took another step back, watching the tough skin like it was a ticking bomb. “We are going need to reroute. Maybe we can cut through the blueberry patch-“

“Hey!” Screwtape cried out, as another vine head appeared. The face of a roughhewed man, eyepatch over one eye, its mouth twisted in grimace, even as it opened and stole the cigarette out of Screwtape’s hand.

“A crew?” Burning Bright wondered while Screwtape flailed for his cigarette. Fanny watched with amusement as the vine head pulled back, Screwtape still flailing, crashing through the vegetation. Fanny stopped being so amused when she saw the vine head pop above the vegetation, hanging just out of reach as Screwtape continued to flail, fingers brushing the vine. It wasn’t that this scenes that failed to amuse Fanny, but the climbers on the apple trees, heavy with red berries, waxy leaves forming layers of clasping jaws. The same climbers that were extending out, jaws open to bite down, and Screwtape still concentrating on his wayward cigarette. Fanny turned to Burning Bright, only to see her couching, watching another head, this one a middle aged man with a graying goatee and well-combed hair. A fleshy necktie hung for where its throat would’ve been. With a crash, Burning Bright lunged after it.

With no help coming from her, Fanny squared her shoulders, as the jaws were getting closer, hovering inches from any skin not covered with his usual dapper suit. Trusting her work suit, Fanny dived forward, snagging Screwtape around the waist. The snapping of jaws filled the air, and Fanny could feel the tearing of cloth as she pulled back, toppling over from the unbalanced devil. Dazed, she looked up at the jaws, snapping at the end of the stems, just inches away from the both of them.

“Holly,” Screwtape said, “Biting Holly. Why is there Biting Holly?”

“Why is there a giant white snake living in our front yard at home?” Fanny retorted.

“Point made, maybe it’s better not to overthink these things.”

A clearing of the throat that was nearly a roar came from the thicket which Burning Bright had leaped into. “A little help here?” came out as an annoyed growl. Pushing aside the blueberry bushes, Fanny and Screwtape were treated to the undignified sight of Burning Bright, rump and tail in the air, her forefront stuck inside a massive lavender bloom, poking from the purple leaves.

Both Screwtape and Fanny grabbed a leg, and with a timed heave, managed to pull up Burning Bright with a spluge of the sticky liquid stretching and breaking. Burning Bright, her fur sticky, coated in the lavender scent oil, automatically went to cleaning herself. “Thank you,” she muttered with whatever dignity was left.

“How many people do you think have gotten eaten by our Heart-taker-slash-strawberry plant?” Screwtape asked.

“At least three – that at least might explain the behavior. This sort of traps is too smart for your average plant,” Burning Bright replied, trying hard not to gag on the lavender scent. On cue, another head snaked into view.

“Don’t follow it,” Burning Bright growled. Fanny had no inclination, staring at the head in disbelief. The head was a young rakish man, with a sandy mustache and blonde hair. Hair that she knew was dyed. A mustache that she knew was fake, discarded in the trash when they separated, both of their purses heavy with gifts from their most recently fleeced father or mother. The same smile he had as he gave her a wink, before disappearing into the crowd.

“It’s not a group,” Fanny eventually forced out. “I think there is only one – and I know who he was.”
edited by Shadowcthuhlu on 8/8/2018

Fanny first met him, the man in the fruit, on the streets. It was her third (or was it fourth?) day out by herself. She was walking slowly down the street tough mushroom discards in her hands, her feet moving not with any known destination in mind but with a distant hope for somewhere better than here. In the crowd behind her, a sudden shout of “Great Scott,” broke out. A small boy, too dirty to make out more than his eyes, darted out of the crowed, holding a meat pie close. Fanny’s feet moved despite her exhaustion, knowing that she be considered an accomplice merely by being young and close.

She darted down an alley way and the boy joined her shoulder to shoulder. They lost the target quickly, a portly man in an ill-fitting suit, who shouted after them as they went deeper into the tangle of London’s alleyways, ducking behind some boxes filled with torn books. Her stomach rumpled in gratitude, as he split the pie in half, giving one half to here.

“What’s your name?” She asked, mouth full of rat meat and mushroom crust.

“Didn’t you hear?” He said with a bright smile standing out from his dark face. “It’s Great Scott.” Great Scott then led her to his small urchin gang, made up of outcasts from the Regiments and Fisherkings. With them, she learned how to steal, how to run on the roofs of the flit, how to charm with a smile. With Great Scott, she found a body to sleep next to, an ear for her worries in the endless night of the Neath, and someone to share her spoils.

Such things are valuable down here – especially among the urchins. Death walked among them as it did the other citizens of London – running afoul of the Gracious Widow or Cheery Man. On the wrong side of a Special Constables raid. Knives from Jack or Knife and Candle players frustrated by an elusive opponent. Shanghaiing by zailors needing a small and nimble hands. Caught seeing the wrong things by the wrong people, whose names and purpose were never known. Disease that occasionally swept through the tenements of the Spite. Not to mention the perils unique to the urchins – the call of Thunder, the call of the Zee. . .

Somehow, despite it all, they survived and grew, limbs lengthening, the rag beds on rooftops growing more cramped. New children came into the gang, looking up to Fanny and Great Scott like they looked up to the previous leaders – previous leaders now gone and never seen again. Eventually, the impossible happened to Fanny and Great Scott - they eventually grew too old for the gang.

When they become longshanks, all there was left was each other. Great Scott become Ronald, and Fanny stopped always being Fanny. No longer small enough for a smash and grab, they turned to subtler schemes to keep the wolf away from the door, and to stay one step away from both constables and criminal alike.

They stumbled upon their last scheme when a doddering grandmother confused Fanny with her granddaughter in a pie shop, sending Fanny away with a full stomach and a little spending cash in her pockets. Ronald saw her good luck as something more, and by dinner had a list of the rich and grieving. Of course, that was the scam that ended them, when they struck their last name on their list.

In retrospect, maybe they should’ve stayed clear of anyone who claimed the name of the spirit of vengeance from Greek mythology as their legal name.

Fanny had found him some months after that, at a party that was meant to be her introduction to proper society. Well, as proper as the society that can put up with Dirae Erinyes. As the dancing floor whirled, Fanny catching her breath while soothing down her heavy velvet dress, she caught a glimpse of Ronald on the arms of a stately society matron. He had let his hair return to its natural black color, and had grown a goatee, but he could never hide from her.

She approached him when his date sent him off to find some of the better port after she had to avail herself of the fainting couch. When Fanny approached him, while he was waiting for the clay footman to return, he gave her a surprised look, before giving his signature broad smile and a bow.

“Good evening to you, belle of the ball.” With that, all her anger at his sudden cowardice, waking up In the morning with a note and growing sense of dread as Dirae Erinyes came up the stairs.

“How have you been doing?” Fanny asked him, tone soft.

“I’ve been better. I’ve been worse. Working as an official escort this evening.”

“No shame in that,” Fanny said, and there was no pity in that statement.

“You’ve done well for yourself.” He leaned closer. “So, when are you going to cut and run?”

“I don’t know,” Fanny answered, looking down at the floor. “They are very attached to me. I don’t think Dirae Erinyes has figured out that I’m not their daughter yet, despite, well, everything. And their Wife has pretty much decided to adopt me despite all her suspicions.”

“Bah, you know it’s not going to last.” His scorn caused her to look back up to him, his gaze focusing on one of the elder continent tapestries on the wall. “Fanny, this isn’t our scene. We may visit, but they are never going let you stay.” He looked back at her, scorn softening. “Sorry about bursting your bubble, but someone has to look out for you.”

“I don’t know – you never met them. You don’t understand that they are different. More different then you can imagine.”

Ronald laugh. “People aren’t that different. They all want the same things at the end. You and I aren’t doing different jobs. But at least I know my employer will give me my payment at the night, and that will be that. But will it be that simple with your employer?” Fanny felt her face burning, blooming red as the venom rubies at her throat. Ronald continued undeterred. “Remember Fanny, if you aren’t playing, you are getting played.”

“Does that include us?” Fanny asked. The Clay footman returned with a bottle of fine port.

“I think you know the answer to that,” Ronald said, taking the port. “See you at the Mended Drum, if you survive.”

That was the last time Fanny saw him until now.

That was the man who had broken in and meet his end at the heart-taker/strawberry plant.