Viva la Vida
Other Members of Note: Sybill
Called: The Silent Arrow, the Onyx Court, the Court of Sorrow.
The hunt ends when the fox goes to ground. If the True Fae can’t find you, the Winter Court reasons, they can’t hunt you down and drag you back to Faerie. In the Winter, all the glory of the seasons fades to nothing, nowhere to be seen, and snow hides the ground. But there is life, waiting beneath the earth where it can’t be disturbed. The Silent Arrow knows this.
The founder of the Court was a changeling called Snowflake John. Per his moniker, he was nearly impossible to tell apart from any of the other people on the street at any time. In a crowd, he could blend in seamlessly. When the other Court founders were challenging their seasons, he did the same: By not showing up. Legend has it that John declared publicly his intent to earn a pact from Winter, but the challenge never materialized. After two years, when Winter had circled the globe fully twice, Snowflake John reappeared and asserted that Winter’s inability to find him had earned him the right to make a pact. Many changelings claim that there was something else to the bargain, but none agree on what it is. The fact remains that the Winter Court has its pact.
When the Fae come, the Winter Court is gone. And when the cat is away, the mouse plays on. The Court itself takes up whatever unoccupied location is convenient and attractive, and abandons that place just as easily when danger or discovery threatens. Members all know the short list of those places, giving them a place to look, but even they are never sure where the Court will surface until someone finds it and passes the word. It’s a security measure, ensuring that their enemies have a very hard time tracking them down and ambushing them.
Members of the Court practice speaking in code, the better to conceal their intentions from their oppressors. They leave messages for each other in ways that outsiders cannot distinguish or intercept (using Contracts for this purpose is ideal; a combination of drop boxes and codes is second-best and usually sufficient). Many of them keep multiple homes and make a practice of avoiding regular paths to avoid ambushes. Changelings regularly invest in security systems (mundane, magical or both) and secret rooms. Some Courts arrange “safehouses” for their members, in the event that they need a place to hide from unwanted attention (whether Fae or human). The cold war was a defining time for the Winter Court; while the Autumn Court profited greatly from the fear of nuclear annihilation, the Winter Court learned to fuse many of the mortal innovations in espionage and deceit with their own fae talents for trickery.
The Onyx Court isn’t all paranoia and secrecy, though that element is certainly present. Members try to be subtle in their daily lives. They avoid attention from their neighbors by being “just another guy.” In the suburbs, where homeowners drive off every day and have landscapers by once a month, you don’t want to be the car left in the driveway. Even the fae who don’t have regular jobs (many, but not all) drive off and find someplace to spend their “workday.” Winter changelings make unremarkable employees, doing adequate but unremarkable jobs and trying not to get in trouble. Only those who can maintain an unnoticeable record while dealing with the weird things from Faerie stick with employment.
Members of the Court fit in wherever they go. City life is very attractive because, amidst all those people, it’s easy to be just another anonymous neighbor. At a coffee shop, a Winter Court member makes an effort to be kinda hip and kinda pretentious. On the street at night, he’s just another fellow in a windbreaker with a baseball cap. Even in situations where nobody quite fits in — a diversity rally, for example, or an event where punk rockers mingle with the upper class — the changeling may not fit in, but he fits in more than that guy. The changeling’s not the stuffiest rich guy, or he’s not the most-tattooed, most-pierced punk, and he gets glossed over.
This is all part of the Court’s effort to go unnoticed by the Fae. Not fitting into human society is a dead giveaway, so the Winter Court makes a point of fitting in seamlessly. Even the other humans barely notice Winter Court members, but not to the point of ignoring them. That would also reveal the hiding changelings.
Other changelings occasionally call Winter courtiers cowards, but they know that’s not true. Members of this Court aren’t just trying to conceal themselves from the Fae, they’re also trying to live their own lives. To have a life, they have to draw a curtain between themselves and the fae world. There’s a degree of denial to it that some members of the Court recognize. To truly hide from Faerie and all that is, a changeling must also hide from himself.
Besides, divorcing themselves from Faerie and the Wyrd isn’t common in the Court. Only the most extreme members manage it. Others create the image of humanity, enough to delay the Fae and provide a cover for the courtiers’ other activities. They are subtle, sneaky, crafty and dislike having their true motives known, even by their allies. Their allies, after all, are less adept at concealing the truth. The Court spies on Goblin Markets, exiled Fae and even the True Fae when they ride on Earth. Winter courtiers also sometimes kill. The Silent Arrow is not just a poetic moniker.
The Court certainly accepts those changelings who only want to run and hide, but with the knowledge that most will find themselves unable to live a normal life. Eventually, even the most timid refugees develop a need to interact with the world of which they are now a part. They end up helping, becoming the spymasters or fixers or assassins of the changelings world.
Changelings of this Court evade problems rather than solve them. It’s a sort-of solution — whatever the trouble, it can’t hurt them, now, so it’s okay. This callous attitude doesn’t mean they don’t help. Winter courtiers lend a hand getting other changelings out of the way, and they sometimes walk into trouble, trusting their skills to get them out of it again safe and well.
Onyx courtiers manifest their callings in different ways. The commander manages to distract the enemy but never actually get caught in battle. Nobody notices the Winter socialite, but he’s there soaking up information just the same. They make excellent silent partners in businesses. And not all of them avoid notice — but even those that don’t influence others perceptions of who or what they are. A popular emcee may look harmless, but he’s shaping the thoughts of hundreds, thousands or more fans.
Many changelings join the Winter Court when they’re fresh out of Faerie, but a more proportionate number remain a part of it. To run and hide is a very natural instinct immediately after one’s escape, making the Winter Court a very attractive option. Few Winter monarchs choose to turn away the new refugees. Instead, the Courts try to aid as many scared changelings as they can. Only after several months’ interaction between the Court’s members and the potential inductees does the Court accept them or turn them away. In the latter case, the Court can usually suggest a more appropriate Court. Few fae take the rejection poorly enough to instead become Courtless.
Most famous of the Winter Court’s rituals is the Winter Market, a gathering most Courts sponsor two or three times in the season. At the market, changelings of all Courts (and Courtless) are free to set up stalls or booths, buy, sell, run games and trade services or information. The Winter Market is less focused than the Autumn Court’s Fallen Fair and much more open to non-magical bartering.
In most Courts, the Winter Market serves two purposes. The first is to be a clearinghouse for the Onyx Court’s information, “confiscated” goods and services, of which there are many. Winter courtiers make up the majority of purveyors at the Winter Market, if not by too much. The second is to counter the illicit draw and influence of the Goblin Market. The Winter Market provides an opportunity for the same sort of deals and networking without forcing any changelings to expose themselves to hobgoblins, exiled Fae and loyalists who are just as likely to sell information back to Faerie as they are sell Contracts to the free fae.
Some Courts use the Winter Market to achieve a third goal. The confluence of changeling Courts gives the Silent Arrow an opportunity to judge the other Courts’ capabilities and natures. It’s also a chance for the Court to infiltrate their peers’ societies. Many Winter Courts feel no need for this measure, but quite a few do.
Winter Courts also often hold the Winter Formal once each year. Some wiseass named the event after typical high school or university dances, and the name stuck. The Winter Formal is a masquerade where concealing one’s identity is mandatory, and an opportunity for free-for-all, guiltless socializing. The Court procures tokens that conceal the seeming, or makes a pact with certain entities of Faerie to make identities unknowable for the evening. In this way, even typical enemies of the changeling Courts can attend and mingle, while the changelings still feel safely hidden.
Radio Free Fae is a modern tradition spreading through Winter Courts. As masters of subterfuge, the Onyx courtiers are also usually at the heart of any underground movement. Radio Free Fae is a method of disseminating information that all Lost should know without divulging the location of either the sender or the receiver. The broadcast “station” can be tracked down, but it moves regularly. Surprisingly, not all Winter Courts support Radio Free Fae, and it is sometimes upheld by an underground movement within the Winter Court itself.
The Winter Court rarely advertises its presence. Even when the Court must, such as at official functions, its heraldic colors and symbols are small in number. The Court’s colors are white and black. The Court occasionally mixes in a gray, but the colors are almost always highly contrasted. Some symbols commonly used by the Court are an arrow, a stiletto, icicles, holly leaves, a silenced pistol, a wolf, a mouse, a hare, a mole, a stark tree, a gray mist or fog, an eclipse or a waning moon, a bearded man and others.
The Winter Court’s Mantle is more subtle than the other Courts’, often to the point where a member may be confused with one of the Courtless. The Mantle is most evident in its absence: At Mantle 1 to 3, the seeming simply looks stark, as if it were clearer or easier to see than others. When invoking a Contract or evident magic, snowflakes may whisk through the image. At Mantle 4+, a seeming looks more plain than ever, though actively using magic may fill it with a flurry of snow.
At Mantle 1, a character becomes more indistinguishable from his surroundings. Subtract one die from all Wits + Composure or Wits + (Skill) rolls to notice the character. This does not apply if someone is looking specifically for the character, and the character may subdue this aura for a scene with a little concentration. At Mantle 3, a character adds one die to all Subterfuge rolls. At Mantle 5, the one-die penalty increases to a three-dice penalty.
Members of the Court of Sorrow deal with their signature emotion much as they deal with the rest of their lives: They hide from it. They all know it’s there, hovering on the edge of their consciousness, but they deal with it by avoiding it. In most cases, this is the healthiest thing to do. There’s no way to face the sorrow of losing Faerie’s wonders when one never intends to go back, and what good is sorrow at one’s stolen life when there’s no way to go back?
Bringing their emotion to others is rarely a matter of cruelty. Often, it is a kindness. It is a way of offering the release to others that the courtiers cannot — or are afraid to — experience. A changeling may attend a funeral and discuss the deceased with those who miss him, and some go so far as to become touching eulogists. They bring the sorrow of others’ to mind so that others can deal with it. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and typhoons are seen as times of plenty for the Winter Court — though, of course, it’s best not to be visibly seen indulging. That would be a bit crass.
Guilt and regret are other high-yield sources of sorrow. Fae of this Court may spend time near a Catholic confessional, or even inside it, listening to the repentant ask forgiveness. Others visit prisons to discuss the cause or results of inmates’ incarcerations, or they may participate in or run group therapy sessions. There are less moral changelings who cause tragedies in order to benefit from the sorrow they cause, but these acts are usually discouraged, sometimes violently, by the Court.