I know you all met Estel once already in this piece, but she and I are still engaged in negotiations. There is a lot more to her than is suggested in the first post. She is insecure in a lot of ways and desperately trying to hide it. It is another contrast with Kai and Melodi, both of whom were very confident in their abilities. I am hoping that by laying a lot more of Estel out in writing, I’ll have a better chance of getting into her head during session.

I will warn fellow players that the following contains a whole bunch of benign spoilers. Since they constitute most of the post, I won’t mask them. (There is one actual “spoiler” about Estel that I did mask). It probably doesn’t matter if the PCs know these things about Estel’s inner mindscape, but the characters sure as hell don’t know. If you are strict about spoilers, you may want to skip this piece.

It’s late. I don’t need to check my phone to know that. The stars that wheel in the sky above make that immediately apparent to anyone who knows how to read them. My friends from Burning Man and I had played late into the night. My fingers are just a touch sore – it’s been too long since we’d just hung out and jammed. It is so different to make music as a group instead of alone. Or maybe it’s different now? I don’t know, everything is different now. And it also feels like nothing has changed. It was only a few days ago that my friends from 3T and I chrysalized. It feels like lifetimes.

At that thought, I swerve across two lanes (empty of traffic this time of night) and turn left onto Junipero Serra Blvd instead of continuing home on Alpine road. Of course the Dish is closed, but that’s never bothered me before. I park my motorcycle in the concealing shade of a tree. No need to call attention my activities tonight. I’m not in the mood for company. Not even the well meaning Stanford police who, like everyone else, seem to always just give me a warning.

I tuck my guitar out of sight behind the motorcycle. Next, I remove my helmet and massage the tips of my pointed ears. They don’t fit under the helmet quite right. After I’ve hung the helmet on the handlebars, I take the leather jacket off carefully so as not to pull any feathers out – that hurts. I frown at the crudely cut slits in the back that accommodate my new wings. There’s no help for it at the moment since my friend who does leather work is out of town for another week. Despite the hour, I idly pull my phone out and try to call her. Of course it doesn’t work. I just get static. That stupid barrier again. I can’t stand it. Suddenly full of a restless need to move, I strip the leather pants off and toss them over the motorcycle carelessly.

I dart across the road and hop the fence. Whatever inconvenience the wings might be, they make the jump down on the far side easier. Well, sometimes they make it easier. Sometimes I have Goddess knows what wrong and they send me tumbling into the brambles instead. Tonight I’m lucky. I start up the hill, eyes and ears alert for creatures awake this time of night. I’m rewarded when a jack rabbit hops onto the path. I crouch in the shadows, still as a statue, and watch it for a minute or two until it goes about it’s bunny business.

I reach the top of the Dish eventually, having been in no particular hurry to get there. I tip my head back and look up at the stars. It’s nothing like the view from the Playa, what with all the light pollution here, but it is still moving. For a minute I am overwhelmed by the sense of timelessness, but the moment is ruined as my gaze is inevitably drawn southeast. In the dark of the night, I can’t see the tower. But I know it’s there. I can feel it. Like a weight on my chest that makes it hard to breath.

I curse the barrier again silently, then aloud. I hate that thing. I hate the Duchess who put it up. I hate the messed up little bubble world she’s built. This isn’t how stories of fairies are supposed to go. The next thing I know, I’m crying. Tears spill down my face and my breath comes in ragged gasps. My legs buckle and I hit my knees. My tears fall upon the ground as I dig my nails into the dirt. It’s not fair.

The wind picks up, surprisingly cold for this time of year, and blows through my hair. I sit up and let it dry my tears. I spread my wings and let the sensation of little dragging fingers encompass my whole being. I try to let it whisk away the pain and futility that rages in my soul. Goddess I wish I could fly. I wish I could just fly away. But I know that I would just be a bird bashing itself repeatedly against the bars of this cage until battered and bloodied I fell to oblivion.

I stand shakily and stumble to my favorite climbing tree and scramble into it’s familiar branches, seeking comfort. I wrap myself around the trunk high above the ground, listening for the heartbeat of the tree, trying to calm my own. I try to let it all go, just for a moment, and get lost in the rustle of leaves and the call of an owl. All I want is one moment of peace. So many people know me as this freewheeling artist who just goes with the flow. But my river has been dammed. There is no current, and I am lost. And scared. And without anyone to turn to.

I don’t know what we’re supposed to do about this kid. I mean it sucks, and we have to do something – we can’t just let him be executed – but hell if I know what to do. Frankly it seems an impossible task. I cringe as the desire to run away flows through me again. That’s all I ever do. Run. When the going gets tough, I give up and move on. But now I can’t. Well, I guess I could duck my head, and be like all the other changelings in the Duchy of Golden Gate who are so whipped they don’t dare act against Duchess Genevieve ni Ailil, but the very thought fills me with burning shame. No, this kid does not deserve to die. Steris will come up with something. Talented, beautiful, clever Steris.

I sigh deeply. Intelligent Steris, observant Trisha, puckish Sybil and determined Simon would probably be better off without me. I don’t have anything to contribute. My mind drifts back to the things I was given in the dream where I chrysalized. I have a bow. A beautiful, hand carved longbow. But what am I supposed to do with it? I don’t have any desire to kill people. [spoiler] And then there is the compass. I pull it out of my pocket and run my fingers over it. I can’t see the two needles in the shadow of the tree, but I know that neither points north. I contemplate the possibility of following one of them right now, but it’s probably not a great idea. I can already hear Steris’ lecture about running off somewhere without telling anyone where I’m going. I put the compass back in my pocket.

I climb down from the tree and start to walk slowly down the hill. Who am I? What do I actually want? Why me? A new question with every step. I jump the fence on auto-pilot and ride home. To my great surprise, the owners of the house are still awake. I attempt to put the bike away quietly and slip off to the guest house, but it seems they were expecting me. No sooner had I shut off the motor than the door flew open and Mr. and Mrs. Mahon beckon me inside.

“Judy, Robert, why are you two still up?” I ask the elderly couple.

“We were worried about you.” Judy Mahon explains, pouring me a cup of chamomile tea. “You’ve been out late a lot recently.”

“I didn’t mean to worry you.” I mutter.

“You look lost.” Robert says gently, passing me the wildflower honey.

“Maybe I am, a little.” I admit reluctantly. These two are so kind to me. The least I can do is conceal as little as possible from them.

“Well, whatever it is, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Don’t forget that you aren’t alone. We’re here for you, as are your friends from the cafe.” Judy says kindly, giving me a hug.

For a heartbeat I want to blurt it all out to them. Everything from having wings to being caught up in a potentially deadly political game. But they’d never believe me. Instead I sigh heavily and force a smile. “I’m sure this’ll all blow over soon.”

“That’s our girl.” Robert says heartily. He claps me on the shoulder gently and stands up. He and Judy head off to bed, arm in arm.

As soon as they’re gone, the smile slips off my face. I still don’t know what to do. But sitting in the well lit, clean and adorable kitchen that the Mahons maintain, with a mug of chamomile tea, things don’t seem quite so bad. One step at a time. One day at a time. I’ve made it this far with those mantras. There’s no reason they shouldn’t serve me now.