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Your name is Charlotte Fawkins, and you are a woman of many talents. It's difficult to list these talents, you have so many of them. So many talents. Lots. You are trapped in swampy Nowhere, Underwater, where you're forced to listen to the dubious whims of the snake that lives in your head, and where everyone ̶h̶a̶t̶e̶s̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ doesn't appreciate you at all.
You are currently out on an excursion in the Fenpelok wilderness with your boss/current handler Madrigal. You have gone to meet Branwen Morris, apparent exotic animal smuggler and definite hat wearer.

"Pardon me," you say for the fifth or sixth time, "what?"

When Branwen isn't yelling, as it turns out, she's nearly unintelligible. Her handsign is riddled with odd pecks, swoops, and regionalisms, and her speaking voice is worse: she has a thick, lilting accent. A foreigner. From some distant Pillar, no doubt. You struggle to hide your disdain.

Madrigal has taken the unwanted role of translator. "She said 'look at me. Do I look like I care?'"

You look at Branwen. After stopping by her hut (you prefer 'shack' or 'lean-to,') she was supposed to show you where her snake used to be. Instead, you've been trudging after her as she mends holes in the wall at the edge of her property. You're not sure Branwen cares about anything.

But she should, surely? At least about some things. "I mean," you say, "I— I'm royalty."

Madrigal doesn't need to translate, but you wish she'd stop looking so pleased about all this. Branwen shrugs and lifts a bundle of soggy thatchweed. "So?"

You open your mouth. You hadn't ever seen this as a thing that needs explaining. "So… I'm your social better? So you ought to listen to me?"

"Don't got princesses where I'm from."

"Well, that's hardly my fault, is it?" You toss your head ineffectually and are forced to shove a whole mass of curls off your face. "And I'm not a princess, I'm a regent-in-waiting— it's more important. And it's got more agency…"

"Don't got regents-in-waiting where I'm from. Killed all the regents-in-waiting, I think. Got a republic."

You don't know what a republic is, but that doesn't stop you from scowling. Madrigal's pleasure increases in inverse proportion.

"And now that I'm here, don't got anything. No govment at all. Fen wouldn't stand for it. Doing something with all that agency?"

"I don't precisely—" You hasten to catch up to Branwen, who's finished on the latest hole and now strides to the next. "I don't precisely know what you mean—"

"You do anything? Patty tells me—" Madrigal pales— "Patty told me you don't do nothing. Told me you jus' leech off everyone's time and energy. And you drove poor Altry sectionable. And—"

Madrigal's cupping her face with both hands. "Branwen!" she pleads, muffled.

"—And you're a spoilt layabout piece of shit who deserves every inch of what's surely coming for your neck any minute now. That's what she'd told me. So I'm jus' wondering if she's wrong."

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Whenever you get the first static-crackle in the back of your head, you tend to flinch. It's not in surprise, though maybe it used to be— it's in anticipation. Richard is not generally a bearer of good news.

So you flinch, even though Richard relaxes his coil around your left forearm and says silkily: «Of course she's wrong.»
«Madrigal is small and narrow-minded. She cannot hope to grasp your methods, much less appreciate them. Do not be discouraged.»

A sliver of you thinks: what? This isn't what Richard's like. But then you counter with: well, he hasn't been insulting you recently. Maybe he's just different now. He's happy with you. And then everything else is swamped with an upswelling of validation and you don't think at all, only work to keep your face neutral.

«Ask about the snake again.»

Ah. But still—! "Branwen," you say brightly.

Madrigal looks worried.

"Uh, about the snake."

Madrigal looks relieved. "It escaped,'" she translates. "'P— Madrigal said she'd assist.'"

And thus you'd assist. Regrettably. "I understand that, yes. But, uh…"

>[A1] You really ought to be in charge, here. *You're* the snake expert. *You're* the one with a stake in the matter. This should be *your* job.
>[A2] You want no part in this whatsoever, and say so. Branwen should be happy she's rid of the thing. You're leaving.
>[A3] You want no part in this thing… but nobody needs to know that. You're going to find the snake, and you're gonna strangle the thing to death with your bare hands. Or maybe just stab it. Whatever whim strikes you at the time.
>[A4] Yeah, you're going along with this, whatever. Would Branwen stop fixing holes and start actually taking you to the right place? God!
>[A5] Write-in.

>[B1] Is this a snake, or is it, you know, a *snake*? If Branwen knows what you mean. (Don't elaborate if she doesn't.)
>[B2] Above, but do elaborate if she doesn't. She's probably faking it. You would.
>[B3] Size of snake? Color? Is it perhaps made of metal? Talk at all?
>[B4] What's the big deal that it escaped? Are there big consequences?
>[B5] Any idea where it went?
>[B6] Write-in.

Wouldn't be Drowned Quest without broken italics in the OP! How nostalgic.
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-> find out about other snake
-> pay off tab
-> buy new clothes
-> get The Sword
-> get/steal radio
-> get recommendation letters (???)
-> blackmail margo
-> weird business card? RSVP? tomorrow evening? ?
-> don't get shot by margo
-> illegal(?) courier thing?
-> get stolen model back
-> finish new model
-> tell monty he might get assassinated (maybe)
-> madrigal servant thing
-> figure out why ellery un-died
-> get truth from ellery
-> ???
-> Fill crown (?????)

>Last time on Drowned Quest Redux
You intervened with Ellery (to limited effect), found a Sword, found a corpse you got to feel morally superior about, and trekked through the Fen.

Loose session tomorrow(??), daily from then on out unless I feel like doing multiple updates.


>Twitter (I update this when I remember it exists)


This quest is a sort of sequel/reboot of the original Drowned Quest, which ran for eight threads last year. Reading the original isn't required.

>I have a question/comment/concern?
Tell me!
>[A3] You want no part in this thing… but nobody needs to know that. You're going to find the snake, and you're gonna strangle the thing to death with your bare hands. Or maybe just stab it. Whatever whim strikes you at the time.
>[B4] What's the big deal that it escaped? Are there big consequences?

Off to catch a snake. What could possibly go wrong?
>A4, B3

Sneks are precious
Rolled 2 (1d2)

Rolling and writing.
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>Get on with it!
>Also, describe things for me!

"…How big is it? I don't think you ever said."

"'I said.'"

You cough. "Oh. Uh, okay. That's fine. Would you care to repeat—"

Branwen adjusts her collar. "'Not until you apologize for not listening.'"

Had you not been listening? You must've not been listening. Or Richard was talking, either way. Which isn't your fault, that's Richard's fault, but you can't possibly explain that. Not until Madrigal's gone, at the very least. And you can't just back out, either, that'd be cowardly, you're not a coward—

You cough, again. "Um… my apologies."

"'I was joking. I never said.'" Madrigal seems to find this amusing, but Branwen's face is blank. She thrusts her arms out to her sides. "'Armspan. Could be longer.'"

You squint. You've never been good at eyeballing measurements.

«Sixty-four inches. And a quarter.»

What, five feet?

«Five feet four inches. And a quarter. Charlie.»

Close enough. Five and a quarter and a quarter feet— that's as tall as you. («Taller.») That's longer than Richard, who's a foot long on good days and three feet on bad. What would you do with a five-foot snake? Wear it as a boa? Preposterous.

«Correct. Size isn't everything.»
«Five feet isn't out of the question. Color.»

You relay the demand. "'Orangey,'" Madrigal translates. "'Green parts.'"

«Inconclusive. Does it speak.»

You can't ask if it speaks!

«You'll ask or I'll ask. Take your pick, Charlie.»

God, fine. "Strictly hypothetically," you say delicately, "does it perhaps utilize, erhm, the common tongue, the lingua franca, ah, to communicate—"

"The what?" Madrigal says. "Lingwah what? Are you asking if it talks? Bran—"

"Doesn't talk," Branwen says slowly, "does got— pictures and so on. Feelings. Not too uncommon, really. Well—" She smears a gob of mud over the thatch-filled hole, and presses two dock leaves upon the whole thing. "—maybe she talks to the others. Surely hard to say. Does something, anyhow, that's why it's an issue—"

"What's an issue?"

"It missing. Can't sell a snake, you know. Can't sell the scales or the eyes or the venom. No market for it." Madrigal nods like this is common knowledge. "So that's not why I've got one. Got one 'cause she kept the rest in line."

"Wh—" you start.

"You need a snake for any creature business," Madrigal says. "Calms the other animals. It's like, uh— you ever read about horses? Horse racing?"

Of course you've read about horses. You loved horses. You pleaded for a horse for your seventh birthday, and had to be told horses didn't really exist, they were just in stories. You got a stuffed one instead, sown by your aunt. It had six legs. You named her Betsy Furlock—

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"No?" Madrigal continues, incorrectly interpreting your silence. "Well, it doesn't really matter, I guess. There were these things called horses, and they got raced, but they'd get nervous if they were in their pens all alone. So to calm them down, the horse racers would put goats, which were, uh—"

"Kind of lizard," Branwen says.

"—a kind of lizard, in the pen. And the horse'd calm down. So it's like that, but for everything. Even people, kind of— I bring clients up here, you know?"


"Sure, whatever. Sometimes the trip through the Fen jumps them up, you know, so before they do anything crazy like back out— I bring them to the snake, and it gets them all rational, you know."

This does not strike you as particularly ethical, but you've got bigger fish to fry. "Uh, okay. So with it gone—"

You flinch at a humanlike scream, right on cue.

"Yeah," Madrigal says. "Might be some containment issues. Probably shouldn't take too long. Bran, can we see where it got out—"

"Damn." Branwen picks up her supplies. "Hoped you'd forgot."


The nasty ones, Branwen says, are in the barn. (She says this to reassure you after a face-to-face encounter with the biggest skate you've seen in your life. "The meat feeds the others," she says. "Sting's bred out.") So naturally, you go anywhere but the barn.

You're kidding. You go to the barn.

"Barn" is a somewhat generous descriptor: it's some kind of repurposed ancient structure, all stone arches and ominous manmade enscarpments. Branwen has helpfully staked warning signs around its perimeter. They're all different.

"WARNING Beware of Panther(s)"

"CAUTION Psychic Feedback Common"

"CAUTION Do Not Look Into Scallop Eyes Even If You Really Feel Like You Want To"

You give Madrigal a look. "Can't hurt," she says. "Also, don't look into the scallop eyes."


She purses her lips. "Hey, Bran, what's the deal with the scallop—"

"Eyes prick your soul like needles. Holes grow eyes. You see inside yourself. You die."

"Oh," you say. "And people purchase this?"

Branwen shrugs. "Eat one and you trip hard. Or your enemy trips hard. We're here."

The three («four») of you stand in front of a featureless stone wall. Branwen kicks precisely at what turns out to be a hinge, and the wall swings open.

Inside it is very noisy, and it smells. You keep your eyes fixed straight ahead, as recommended, and ignore the screaming and the gurgling and the inhuman recitation of "Charlotte Charlotte Charlotte Charlotte Charl-" (the Chiuanese Name Turtle knows your future, Branwen said, and you have absolutely no idea if she was joking). You press your arms to your chest. Branwen strides ahead like she was born here, and Madrigal isn't close behind— though, you note, her hands are balled.

The snake tank is in the center of the space. It's circular and stone, with clear viewing panels— glass, you worry, but you're assured it's plas-tic. There's a thin scattering of sand and dull shed scales at the bottom. It's otherwise empty.

There's no obvious means of escape.

"You sure it wasn't stolen?" you say.

"No visitors."

"Sure it's not just hiding in there?"

"Hiding where? Thing can't go invisible. And you'd feel it were still there."

«Likely true, for this one.»

You bite your lip. "Maybe it died and… vanished."

"'d feel that, too. It's missing."

"Can't go through solid rock," Madrigal adds helpfully.

«Also likely true, for this one.»
«I could.»

"Hm," you say.

>[1] How'd Branwen get in to feed it? Maybe it left that way.
>[2] You can't tell what's under the sand. Maybe there's some kind of exit under there?
>[3] What was Branwen doing out when she found you and Madrigal? Maybe she'd already caught the scent.
>[4] You know what you can do, probably? You can commune with one of the other creatures in the barn to ask where the snake went. You're pure of heart and stout of spirit, right?
>[5] Snake minds think alike, right? Ask Richard what he'd do if he were to escape. Do not take "I wouldn't be trapped, Charlie," as an answer.
>[6] Write-in.
>[5] Snake minds think alike, right? Ask Richard what he'd do if he were to escape. Do not take "I wouldn't be trapped, Charlie," as an answer.
>[5] Snake minds think alike, right? Ask Richard what he'd do if he were to escape. Do not take "I wouldn't be trapped, Charlie," as an answer.
Writing. Nice digits.
>Ask Richard.

Richard ought to know, right? For obvious reasons.

<<That's discriminatory.>>


<<Charlie, how should I know. I wasn't here. I don't know the lady. You just assume-->>

He could just guess.

<<I don't want to guess.>>

Come on. If he were stuck in a-- a thing, how would he get out? It's just a fun thought experiment, is all.

(He's going to say he couldn't get stuck.)

<<There's no concievable way I could get trapped in that, Charlie. I'm not corporeal.>>

Unbelievable. You knew it. You called it. You knew he was going to say that. God. Why is he like this? Does he enjoy being obstinate?

<<I won't deign that with a response.>>

Good. It was rhetorical. Well, unless he has a response and he's just keeping it from you, which you wouldn't put past him.

<<I won't deign that with a response, either.>>

"I think the scallop got her," Branwen mutters loudly behind you.

See? Look at that. You're being embarrassed, and it's all Richard's fault. He doesn't want that, does he? He wants your reputation clean and shining, for whatever inscrutable reason. Whereas if he tells you, you'll look smart and... perspicacious by saying it out loud. Your reasoning is flawless.


You stamp the floor experimentally. It's hard stone. Why down?

<<It's towards the earth. Don't ask questions, Charlie, it makes you look stupid.>>

Good enough. "Um..." you say, as you become aware it's been a conspicuously long time. "I think it went down."

"Down?" Madrigal's been busy failing to tie her bandana around her ears. It's only served to further dishevel her hair. "How? I don't know if you've noticed, but snakes don't typically dig."

"Spadenose does," Branwen says. "But not this one."

"I don't--" You frown. "Well, through-- you know, sorcery."

Madrigal doesn't say anything.

"Or maybe there's just some kind of entrance," you amend. "Or hole or trapdoor or so on. I-- just go with it, alright? Do you have a better idea? Branwen, is there anything under the sand in there--"

She shakes her head. "Never been in there."

"Never been-- how'd you feed it?"

"Didn't need feeding."


You frown. "...Okay. So..."

>[1] Get into the snake pen and check it out. Agility may be required. [Roll.]
>[2] The Fen's full of culverts and tunnels and sinkholes (none so large as those in the Flats, though.) You'll surely be able to find a way underground-- and it's all connected down there, right? [Roll.]
>[3] So a snake can't dig, not really... but surely some other creature can? Enlist help from Branwen's menagerie. [Roll.]
>[4] If you're desperate, there's a very clean and well-maintained trapdoor all the way back at the Better Than Nothing in town. It'll take a while to get back here, but it's a sure bet.
>[5] Write-in.
>[2] The Fen's full of culverts and tunnels and sinkholes (none so large as those in the Flats, though.) You'll surely be able to find a way underground-- and it's all connected down there, right? [Roll.]

>Please roll me 3 1d100+15 (+5 A Sword +5 Positive Thinking +5 Buddy System) vs. DC 65 (+10 Fenpelok Mire +5 Something Specific) to find an appropriate entrance.

>[ID: 7/11]
>Spend 1 SV for +10?
>[1] Y
>[2] N
Rolled 48 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

Rolled 16 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>[1] Y
Rolled 20 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>73, 41, 45 vs. DC 65 - Mitigated Success

>Find an appropriate entrance
>73, 41, 45 vs. DC 65 - Mitigated Success (Intervention)

You could try and get into the pen, but that would require clambering. You detest clambering. And what if there were nothing inside? What then? You'd have to clamber out again, and you can think of nothing so bad.

You'll try your luck in the great outdoors, instead. Anywhere to get out of the stench.

It would make a great deal of sense for Branwen to come along, but she insists on staying back to keep her menagerie in check. Judging by the growing chaos even as you stand there, you can hardly begrudge her this; you and Madrigal set off alone.

Madrigal leads you first on a detour to a shed half-buried, half-hacked in and into the roots of a great mangrove, from which she retrieves two coils of frayed rope, two whistles ("yeah, they work. what, you don't think we're gonna get separated?"), a packet of glow-pellets, a bang stick—

"Whoa," you say. "Planning to kill sharks?"

"You never know. You got your sword? Where'd it go?"

Where'd it go? Your hands are empty. Your back and waist are empty.

«Forgot about it, I expect.»

On certain days, your heart aches for those halcyon days when things didn't just vanish if you looked too funny at them. "Uh," you say. "It's unclear at the present—"

"For fuck's sake. Take this." Madrigal forces a weapon on you.

"This isn't a sword," you say petulantly. "This is— this is basically a longish knife. It hasn't got a hilt."

"Machete, probably. Take it, unless you've got better plans against sharks, or whatever."

You take the machete. It's long enough to call it a shortish sword, which you do.

Madrigal packs another handful of (extraneous, you think) miscellanies before considering, unpacking half of it, and repacking it in a separate bag. She hands it to you. "Wear this."

"I only wear real things," you say. The bag plainly isn't— it's been fixed, but not enough to hold a texture. "No thank you."

Madrigal's face is such that you wear the bag. It's heavy. You hate it.

Now resupplied for a proper spelunk, you set off. And walk, and look, and walk, and look, and walk, and—

Has it been hours? It can't have been hours, not possibly. It's been minutes. Twenty minutes. (Even if it has been hours, you're sticking with that.) You have found thorns and thickets and the tracks of something extremely large; in fact, you've been following the tracks, mostly out of boredom (the Fen's diversity tends to get samey after too long). Whatever left them had to have been—

"Twenty feet," you say. "Come on."

"High or long? Long, sure." Madrigal adjusts her rucksack strap. "High? No way, nothing that big walks. That big it swims. This thing walks."

And does it. You could sit down in one of its birdlike footprints. (You do, to illustrate.) In its wake the monster's left splintered trees and corpses— none of humans, thank goodness, but plenty of roadkill. Nothing's worth salvaging.

"You think it had tentacles?" you offer.

"Of course it had tentacles— that's a law, practically. Anything twenty feet long's got to have tentacles out the ass."

«It's not a law.»

"But why?"

"Good at strangling? Looks cool? It's just how things are. It's a law."

«It really isn't.»

"What about multiple eyes?"

"Okay, yeah, it also has multiple eyes. Prolly a hundred. Or a thousand, if it's real dedicated."

"And bird feet?"

Madrigal scratches her chin. "Yeah, I'm— I told you, I'm not sold on the bird part. Don't have birds. More like a big fuck-off skinny lizard, I think. Bipedal."

You count this out on your fingers. "So tentacles yes, eyes—"


"—eyes hundred, bird no, lizard yes? Twenty feet tall maybe, twenty feet long probably, explosion vision no, lust for blood yes, uh—"

"Incomprehensible," Madrigal says.

"I don't…" you shake your head. "That doesn't make any sense. We're comprehending it just fine. And anyways, why'd it have tentacles to look cool if nobody can comprehend that?"

"Also inscrutable," Madrigal says. "That's why we're not scruting it."

"That's not a word."

"Fuck you, Charlotte. What are you not doing to something inscrutable, huh? You're not scruting it."

"Just because something can be a word doesn't mean it ought to be—"

You walk on in this manner. You find no cave mouths; nor do you find any culverts or entrances to bunkers, catacombs, dugouts, dungeons, underground ruins, underground tunnels, or underground passages, secret or otherwise. If you didn't know better, you'd think the ground under your feet was impenetrable, or otherwise infinitesimally thin— if you dared to pierce it you'd pierce directly into the void. Despite knowing better, you're considering it.

You have been walking for longer than twenty minutes, but perhaps shorter than hours. The tracks are getting, improbably, smaller, the destruction less severe. After longer than longer than twenty minutes, they stop entirely. The edge of the Fen, you realize, is close at hand: the water is clear and thin, or as clear and thin as it ever gets here.

"You think it entered," Madrigal mutters, "and grew? Or the Fen grew it?"

"The underground exists, right?" you say.

She looks at you. "Yes."

«You passed by an entire ravine some time ago.»

And he didn't tell you.

«Sometimes I don't tell you things so I can hold them over your head later. Anyway, it does exist. I doubt you could find it again, though, on your own.»

Richard has a tendency to believe he's more subtle than he actually is. This one's outright transparent. "Shoot," you mumble.


"Shoot." You snap your fingers impatiently. "Come on."


"Do the—" Madrigal's studiously not looking at you, but also not not looking at you. You switch to an even lower register. "The thing. The magic thing."

«I take offense at you calling it magic.»
«That's offensive, Charlotte. You'd compare me to those.»

"Not the—" You close your eyes. "In— the general kind, not the blood— you're being difficult again. Again."

«No such thing as 'the general kind.' This is a persistent and malformed misconception I have tried time and time again to rid you of, Charlotte.»
«Do be specific.»

Madrigal's not not looking at you harder. You moisten your lips. "Where you— where I— the thing. With the- the fire…"

«You're underwater.»

"With the— up my back? And then I— I say things better, or—"

«I have no idea what you're talking about.»

He must.

«I don't.»

He must. He— there it is, in? on? your spine. Only going down, this time, to your feet— you tremble in waves—

>[-1 ID: 6/10]

«Nothing's happening, Charlie. You're so dramatic.»

You feel heavier. More solid, maybe, more balanced, but mostly heavier, like your calves were swapped for lead replicas, or like gravity increased fivefold, or like the mud you're ankle-deep in (it is the Fen) just refuses to let you go.

Madrigal is now just proper looking at you. "Okay," she says. "What is wrong with you? You can't tell me this is normal."

"Quicksand," you say convincingly.

"You're in mud."

"Quickmud," you say convincingly, and at that moment begin to sink. Into the quickmud, you guess, though you hadn't known that existed. Up to your ankles rapidly becomes up to your thighs.

"Holy shit!" Madrigal explodes, all probing forgotten. "Shit! Fuck! Where's my— hold still, okay, don't thrash! Thrashing's worse! I've got rope—"

You hasn't thought to thrash until just then, but her mentions it reminds you you probably should, right? You're in quicksand/mud. That's just what you do. It's traditional. So you wave your arms a little, and scream, but it just rings sadly hollow— firstly, you're more concerned about the state of your coat (it's white!!!), and secondly, you're not frightened. You should be, but— it feels good, actually. It feels right. You should be in the earth, entombed forever, sleeping…

You're up to your chest. "Fuck!" Madrigal abandons the search for rope and throws her sack aside, choosing instead to lean as far out as she can with her arm. "Grab me!"

You grab her politely. She strains to lift you, but you don't move— if anything, you sink further. Shoulders, now. (Your coat!!!!!) "Shit! Just— don't let go! I'll think of…" Madrigal's knuckles are white. "Don't let go!"

Neck. You think Madrigal might cry, and can't feel good about it. Lips. The mud tastes sweet. Nose, ears, eyes—

You sink wholly into the mud, hang for a moment in damp liminal space, and drop out into a stone-lined underground tunnel. (You assume that's what it is. It's dark.) Your coat is very clean. Above you, the mud is soft and yielding and stretchy. Madrigal's fingertips scrabble against it, as if through a cloth sheet; you can just make out yelling. And then, all at once: her arm bursts through, the yelling for a second becomes clear ("CHARLOTTE!!"), you feel weightless, but really normal, and— the mud dries and hardens.

Around Madrigal's arm. It dangles there pale in the dark. You assume it's dead, cut off, for one awful second, and then it moves.

"CahArrlote?????" says Madrigal's arm in garbled handsign. (You need both hands, really, for it to work. Should be handssign. Haha.)

You touch it, awkwardly.

"Tahnk fuK. Im kiDn of lokced— i canT loosn—" The arm flails. "Tihs a tunNel or som hsT? Shti?" A pause. "2 4 ye."

You tap it twice.

"Ok. OK, taHts ok." (Peace sign.) "Can uo ghe me uOut???"

Can Richard get her out, more like.

«Still have no idea what you're talking about.»

>[1] The answer is yes, Richard can get her out. And down here, right? With you? In the spooky dark tunnel? [Variable ID spend.]
>[2] Yes, Richard can get her out— but that's all. You'll free her arm, but this presents the perfect opportunity to ditch her aboveground. She'll be fine! [Variable ID spend.]
>[3] Haha, no. She called you a psychopath, remember? So you're going to leave her arm trapped in solid earth and let her dig herself out! Karma!
>[4] Write-in.
>[1] The answer is yes, Richard can get her out. And down here, right? With you? In the spooky dark tunnel? [Variable ID spend.]
Spend now to use her as a possible meat shield later.

She tried real hard to save us from sinking, which means she'll try real hard again to save us if we run into trouble down here. CAN YOU APPRECIATE THE LOGIC AND PRAGMATISM THERE RICHARD?
Called and writing.
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>Be a good citizen

Richard may claim to not be involved, but you'd still really appreciate it if Madrigal got freed. You know, coincidentally.

«Doesn't work that way.»

Of course it works that way. He just won't help, because he wants you to leave Madrigal there. But you can't— maybe if you were just walking along, and she tripped over a root and got stuck, maybe you'd leave her. But you can't do it now, not with all the swearing and carrying on.

Also, she'd be a better person than you if you left, and you can't have that.

«Still doesn't work that way.»

Fine! And you'll have her as a convenient distraction/bait for the inevitable underground horrors. Is that what he wants?

«I don't want anything, Charlie. You don't understand how this functions.»
«You are my instrument. My… violin.»

He doesn't have hands.

«I have a flexible tail.»
«Regardless. I can pick you up and play you, Charlie, and imbue you with meaning, and create beautiful music with you, if I practice.»
«What I can't do is make violin noises with my mouth.»
«You are asking me to make violin noises with my mouth.»

You're not following. (Madrigal's arm waves. "hhelo? hhelo?")

«The only thing I can affect directly, here, is you. And you're already underground.»
«So if you've got any bright ideas how <you> can free the whore, have at it.»

>[ID: 6/11]

>[1] Give it your all. [-3 ID. Auto-success.]
>[2] Give it, uh, your some. [-2 ID. Easy roll.]
>[3] You're helping, okay? [-1 ID. Roll.]
>[4] Screw it. Dig her out manually with your machete, or whatever other tools are in your bag. [This'll work, but you'll be standing still in a dark tunnel, making a lot of noise.]
>[5] Write-in. [Good suggestions for how to go about this may reduce the ID cost and/or improve modifiers on the roll.]
>>[2] Give it, uh, your some. [-2 ID. Easy roll.]

I don't trust drowned dice. We NEVER pass easy rolls
>[1] Give it your all. [-3 ID. Auto-success.]
Fuck the dice.
>[1] Give it your all. [-3 ID. Auto-success.]
Fuck the curse
>Large spendy

>Huge spendy

Called for 3 ID and writing.
>Full steam ahead!

You don't understand why you're the one who's supposed to have all the ideas, here. That doesn't seem fair. What does Richard think you are, some kind of… ideas… haver?


Thanks, you thought so too.

«I mean, you don't have to have a brilliant idea here, Charlie. You could just leave her.»
«I just assumed your heart was bleeding for a reason. That you had some basis in reality. Seems not.»

"What if," you say, "what if— what if you gave me earth powers."

«What did I do to deserve this.»

"Earth powers. You wanted my idea, right? And I could, you know, move it. And- and make it into balls and so on."

«To drag out the metaphor a little further, Charlie, that's like asking me to play <reveille> on the violin.»

In that there's nothing stopping him?

«In that you don't <have> earth powers, Charlotte. Nobody has <earth powers>. You do not live in <fiction>. I can't pull from something that doesn't <exist>.»


«I mean, I still can't.»

But is the implied word, you think (a bit smugly). Inside your boot, Richard shifts.

«You're desperate.»

You wouldn't go as far as to say that—

«Well, you're always desperate, aren't you. Lungs are good. Blood pressure's good. Humors… too much yellow bile, per usual. Work on your gallbladder.»

Madrigal's arm is starting to get panicky— you grip it as loosely as you can so she doesn't whack you in the face. "Humors aren't real," you mumble.

«Think what you want.»
«Ought to be workable. Give me a verbal agreement.»

This is dangerous territory. Your memories of prior verbal agreements with Richard are dim but generally unpleasant. "About—"

«Doesn't matter. Nevermind. Hey, Charlie, you want to rescue this <damsel,> don't you."


«Excellent, all I needed. Don't fight. You'll only make it worse.»

>[-1 ID: 5/11]

The fire starts, as it always does, up your spine. Oh, okay, you think. This is fine. This is… well, it's kind of normal, at this point. Why did you hate this?

«Damnant quod non intellegunt.»

>[-1 ID: 4/11]

And then, bolstered by a stiff wind, it spreads, or… drifts, or catches, upon the tall grass of your heart and mind, and rips through it with a kind of loosed fury— (you don't know where the words come from, only that they're true—)

You cough yellow bile, and your vision is crowded dark at the edges.

>[-1 ID: 3/11]

Something wriggles up through the ashes of the plain, and lies there, and coils; something scrapes out a home in the black soil; something has colonized.

You are frightened.

»Stultum est timere quod vitare non potes.«
»Calm down.«

Calm down, says the mugger. Stop screaming. I only have a gun to your chest. You're making a scene.

»You are making a scene, Charlie. This is like you going to the mugger and saying 'please rob me, sir.' And then he does and you scream.«
»It's silly.«
»You should be thanking me, really. This is the only feasible way to get what you want. And I'm leaving you conscious, even. So you know I'm not going off and stabbing anyone. >Conscious<.«
»You're being sedated a little. I can't work, Charlie, when your subconscious is blaring 'PLEASE DON'T EAT ME' in my face. I mean, >really<. That's utter primal twaddle.«
»You're really not very evolved. I hope you know that, Charlie.«
»Charlie, I'm being very funny.«
»Did I overdo—«

You've been trying to answer with your mouth, and have been irritated to find that it's staging some kind of nonviolent protest. (Irritated. No more. The sedative was efficient.)

»Ah. Yes, Charlie, that's how this typically works.«

"I do the heavy lifting," you say, "and you—" You pat your own shoulder. "—you get to take respite from the vagaries of everyday existence. And what vagaries. I pity you, Charlie. I really do."

Distantly, you're confused, because you didn't say that. But you did. So you must've.

"Not worth thinking about," you say smugly. "Just hold a tic, Charlie, I've got to work out the kinks."

You've never referred to yourself in third person, surely. Not even back then. But you suppose there's nothing stopping you from it.

"Right," you say. You're stretching your shoulder in ways your shoulder isn't supposed to go, judging by the popping and snapping. It hurts. You're stretching your other shoulder in ways your other shoulder in't supposed to go. It hurts. You're stretching your wrist in ways your wrist isn't—

It's been a long time. No, it hasn't been a long time. You're being shouted down. It's been a short time. It's been no time. No time has passed, and it's possible all the bones in your body are broken, but you're very flexible. And it doesn't hurt, not for you.

"Strictly," you say to nothing, "that wasn't nec- ness- nis- …necessary. Necessary. That's hard with lips. I'm not going to be here very long. It's more ritual than anything, I suppose—"

You touch the ceiling of the tunnel. You are deep underground, tens or hundreds of feet. It'd be possible to dig the whore Madrigal out, if you didn't know this, but you know this. Other than making manual digging difficult, though, you're pleased at being this deep. It makes you happy, which ordinarily is difficult or impossible (you generally approximate it through self-satisfaction), but you have such a capacity right now.

You're not happy about being tens or hundreds of feet underground. Are you kidding? What the hell? You like the sun. You like the open water. You like your body easily found so it can be appropriately wept over and buried.
Then, you're not not happy about it. You're open to suggestions.

You touch the ceiling of the tunnel. Yes, you can work with this. Even like this. It's more impressive that way, you think. Could get recognized. Won't get recognized, though. They wouldn't know impressive if it bit them.

You don't know who "they" are.

"You don't need to know who they are," you say. "Pipe down."

Others might try and brute-force this, you think. Get in there with a blunt needle and a lot of doctored paperwork. You've never approved of that. It's just about finding the loopholes— they're always there, in every woven thing— and imperceptibly widening them 'til the whole thing unravels.

You do that, in uncharacteristically sloppy fashion (craftsman, tools), and the whole thing unravels.

Madrigal plummets through an average of 90 feet of mud and compacted mud and rocks and burrows and roots and solid rock and so on, and lands at your feet.

"Ow!" she says, which means she's alive. Good! That wasn't a certainty. "Ow! Oh, fucking heavens to— ow." She rolls over and props herself on her elbow. "Ow. It's— goddamn. Hi, Charlotte."

"Hi," you say.

"Ow. I thought you'd left, honestly— no offense."

"None taken," you say.

"Hah. I'm fine, by the way, I just— ow. Landed on this funny, I think. I'll be fine."

"Excellent," you say.

Madrigal blinks. "Why're your eyes gol—"

Your (right your) bones unbreak, your field unburns. Neurotoxin hurriedly unfloods itself from your system. The minor contradiction Madrigal just fell from resolves itself as semantics. You (wrong you) beat an undignified retreat.

Richard is around your ankle. You blink in turn. "What?"

"I don't…" Madrigal waves her hand. "You know what? Whatever. You could've left me, you didn't leave me. Probably hit my head a little, too."

"Uh," you say. "Seriously, are you… okay?"

"I'm tough," she says, like it answers the question. "I'll be fine. Have you looked around at all, or—?"

This is difficult. "Not really," you say. "I was kind of preoccupied—"

"Oh." Madrigal sounds embarrassed. She clambers to her feet. "I can look. Well, I don't really— I mean, there's light somewhere to the right."

"What?" you say. It's very dark.

"You can see me, right? There's light, and it's a little stronger to our right. And there's noise from the left."

"What?" you say. It's very quiet.

"You're not very observant," Madrigal says mildly.

"I am. About things that matter."

"Cool. Okay, there's— I don't know, vwooping sounds. Vwooop vwoop. Runes, maybe, or— I don't know, ancient stuff? Or some kind of underground… I'm just spitballing. Probably more leftish."

"And," you say authoritatively, "there's a secret passage."

"So you did look around! We're getting somewhere—"

"No, uh…" You fiddle with your collar. "There just always is. It's like a rule."


>[1] Head right, to the light. Ha! That rhymes! You might be a tad sedated still.
>[2] Left, towards the vwooping.
>[3] …Fowards, towards the secret— come on, of course there's a passage. You've just got to stumble on it by accident. That's how it works, *Madrigal*. [Roll.]
>[4] Hold on, can't you get some proper light in here? Madrigal lost her rucksack, you think, but you've got things in your bag.
>[5] Write-in.
>[3] …Fowards, towards the secret— come on, of course there's a passage. You've just got to stumble on it by accident. That's how it works, *Madrigal*. [Roll.]

Only because our hearing is perfect and there is no vwooping and we're going to prove Maddy wrong.

Also snakes vwoop right?
>[2] Left, towards the vwooping.
>[2] Left, towards the vwooping.
Hi guys-- I'm out and about today and don't have an opportunity to write. Two tomorrow to make up for it.

It won't matter, but vote remains open.
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"Y'know," Madrigal says after a pause, "I don't actually think that's a rule."

"It's definitely a rule!" you protest. "I have never heard of any dungeon without a secret passage. There's usually multiple, even—"


"Y-you know." It's very hot in here, isn't it? "A subterranean— well, I suppose it doesn't have to be— interconnected, often subterranean, uh, passageways and rooms, with monsters in, and treasure, and…"

"Monsters and treasure, huh."

"And traps," you add, with more enthusiasm. "Deadly traps. Scythes that swing from the ceiling, usually, and they almost get the heroine, but she ducks just in time, and she feels the wind on her scalp—"

"Her scalp."

"And—" You plow towards your coup de grace. "And secret passages. Always."

"Okay," Madrigal says, "let me sum this up. Rooms, monsters, treasure, scythes—"

"Traps," you say.

"—traps, secret passageways. Is that right?"

You nod vigorously.

"Charlotte, this is a storm sewer, not a fucking— what'd you call it?"


"It's not that. This is— you feel these walls? They're not stone, they're concrete. And round. This is a sewer. You found an old-ass sewer."

You fold your arms. "I don't see how that precludes any of the dungeon things."


"Even that! Who knows what people from 300 years ago were like. Maybe they had to defend their sewers with- with scythes. Because— their sewers had treasure." You're in mild awe at your own brilliance. "Yes!"

"For fuck's sake," says Madrigal. "I decided. We're going left."

As you both trudge left, Madrigal's hunch about the light proves correct— you're soon left with none at all. You take a finger to your eyesocket ("eugh!") and neck ("ow!") before Madrigal finds your shoulder to roughly poke. "We need light!" she hisses.

"I thought you had the lights," you respond reasonably. "You're the one who places so much value on material possessions, Madrigal."

"I hate you," she counters, entirely unreasonably (and feebly).

"That's nice."

"I hate you. How long have you been down here?"

"Three years."

"And you've never been in pitch darkness?"

An inky pit — a ladder that broke when you pulled it — slime and ivory and always too many eyes

"Of course not," you say. "Why would I be? I'm not a moron."

>[+1 ID: 4/11]

Madrigal's sigh is in three acts and an encore. It's objectively impressive the melodrama she packs in— disappointment, despair, rage, exasperation, resignation— it's just that you don't care. "Charlotte—"

"And," you add, "I wouldn't have any issues with it, anyway. I believe in positive thinking."

"Can you positive thinking up a light? Not that it matters at this point— I mean, there's probably already—"

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What is that low echoing tone? A vwoop? A grumble? A growl?

"I'll look," you say out of fear and pity, and do so. You are disappointed to find that, despite your ambidexterity, you cannot see with your fingers.

«You were doing so well, Charlie. So well.»

Instead, you go purely by shape— there's only one sphere in there, big or small. "Got a glorb."

"A what?"

"A glow-orb. I coined it just now." You shake the sphere experimentally. "You shake it, right?"

"Uh…" Madrigal sounds like she's giving this some thought. "Depends on the make and model. The common one's shaking, yeah— the one with the floatation bladder as the case— but if it's heavy-duty you may need to— what does it feel like?"

"Not squishy."

"Heavy-duty, probably. Uh… you may have to throw it. It oughtta bounce."

You don't have to be told twice. You wind up blindly and pitch the glorb in the direction of your feet.

The crash of broken ceramic. The sploosh of glorb innards. And— a blinding green flash.

"Ah!" you say, at the same time Madrigal says "Ah shit!".

The scene: you, paralyzed post-throw. (Richard, around the crook of your knee.) Madrigal, hands cupping mouth. Your only apparent glorb in beige shards at your feet. Algal goop, glowing like hell, splattered across the concrete floor and ceiling and wall. Visible for the first time: a tile-mosaic, bright as the day it was made hundreds of years ago, lining the wall to your right. It is defaced with thick gel-based graffiti— fresh. Seconds-old fresh, maybe: there, rattling against the slope of the floor, is a bottle of the paint.

Someone was here— how long ago? Did they flee when you and Madrigal came, or did they lurk in the dark until you inadvertantly used a flashbang? And did they flee because of you, or for… some other reason?

As if in reply comes a noise from the darkness ahead. You can't glamorize it: it's unmistakably a vwoop.

"Shit," Madrigal says, staring at the ground. "That was your only one?"

"Think so," you say.

"Shit." She breathes deeply. "Ah— and we don't have an exit, do we."


"We can try to scrape this back up, but it doesn't— the light reacts badly to being handled, it's gonna be unreliable. This all should stay glowing for a while. Uh—"

"There was light back there." Obviously.

"That's worse. Darkness is shit, mysterious light sources are— double shit, usually."

"Could be sunlight."

«It's not sunlight this far down.»

"Uh, nevermind."

Madrigal nods morosely. "It's double or nothing."

«I've got matches, you know. Should it come to that.»
«You could go blind. You've got a good attitude, Charlie. For going blind. And you've got me. And you might— I don't know. Not sure if it stuck. You'll have to check it out first.»

Going blind where? Ahead, presumably towards the vwooping— the only thing you can make out is the silhouette of stalactites. Before that, a juncture forking abruptly off to the right. Another segment of sewer… or a secret passage? There's got to be one eventually.

You have decisions.

How to deal with the light situation? [All may or may not require rolls. Combine as logical.]
>[A1] Scrape up what glow-orb remnants you can and forge ahead.
>[A2] Backtrack towards the light to the right of where you dropped in.
>[A3] Use Richard-provided matches. [Madrigal will be weirded out.]
>[A4] Go blind— alone, leaving Madrigal here. You'll come back when you find the snake.
>[A5] Go blind— alone, leaving Madrigal here. Report back when you come to something important.
>[A6] Go blind— together, with Madrigal. If she can be convinced.
>[A7] Write-in.

Where to go (if not specified above)?
>[B1] Stalactites.
>[B2] Abrupt tunnel to the right.
>[B3] Hunt for secret passages. [Roll.]
>[B4] Backtrack. (Where?)

Optional activities.
>[C1] Investigate something closer. (What?)
>[C2] Spend time to go through your bag to see what Madrigal hastily packed for you.
>[C3] Demand a full explanation of what's wrong with pitch darkness.
>[C4] Write-in.
>[A1] Scrape up what glow-orb remnants you can and forge ahead.
>[B1] Stalactites.

I'd suggest C2 but with the way things work underwater it may be better to not know.
>[A1] Scrape up what glow-orb remnants you can and forge ahead.
>[B2] Abrupt tunnel to the right.

Rolled 92 (1d100)

Let's see.
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>Tally ho!

Why make this complicated? After a moment of thought, you run your hand along the ground and lift up a palm of processed algae. "There."

"Sure, okay," Madrigal says. "Sure. Watch it flicker out at the worst time. And- and give you blisters."

"That's not very positive of you."

"Watch. It will."

It takes a couple minutes of argument before Madrigal consents to hand you a sheet of paper. You scrape as much algae onto it as you can and fold it into a shoddy lantern. "I'm a genius!" you announce.

"Give me that." Madrigal snatches the lantern out of your hands. "You can't be trusted to lead, Charlotte. Come on."

«Someone's having a bad day.»

Madrigal stalks off, lantern bobbing. "Hey, Miss Grumpypants," you call after her. "Shouldn't we figure out where we're going?"

"Who cares!"

"I— I kind of care? Uh—"

She recedes into the darkness. You jog to catch up, the click-clack of your heels echoing against the tunnel walls. "Madrigal! Hey, c'mon—"

You find her at the juncture. "As I was saying," you say breathlessly, "I think we should head right—"

Madrigal shines the lantern down the juncture. There's a short, officious segment of tunnel. There's a warped iron grate. Past the grate, you can't see with all the stuff washed up against it—

"There's a door," Madrigal says. "A big fucking door. No handle on it. And look—"

She raises the lantern. Above the grate is more graffiti, garish red: a skull with jagged teeth, and a word you can't read— not that you need to.

"Cool," you say.

"What the fuck? No." Madrigal's eyes are heavy with bags. "No. I'm vetoing. We are not breaking into the death door."

"Maybe it's a death door," you say, "because a snake is behind it."

"If that's the case, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. This is why you don't have the lantern, Charlotte."

"You stole it."


You draw yourself up. "I'll put a snake on the map, then."

(Upon discovering that, A), your hands were smeared with glowing algae residue, and, B), Madrigal was in possession of infinite paper, you insisted on making a map.)

"And a skull," Madrigal insists.

You concede.

Another low placeless rumble, of the kind you heard before, rattles you and scares the living daylights out of Madrigal— she grabs your wrist and drags you out of the juncture. You stumble behind her, glancing behind your shoulder (is something on the walls glowing, or is it reflected light?), as you're further dragged forward.

«Do you know the difference between stalactites and stalagmites,» Richard asks rhetorically, as you hasten past calcite-white examples of both. The tunnel slopes downwards, and the concrete grows ever more rugged.

Of course you know the difference. You'd practically memorized the diorama plaque— StalaCtites Cut. StalaGmites Grind.

«That's true enough.»

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God, what else do you know? You're trying to remember. "They run on saltwater, and excrete it at the tip, but too much sends them into a state of torpor—"

"What?" says Madrigal.

"The pulp's a delicacy," you say. "Aubrey Terwilliger's parents got it for her birthday. Had it poached. God, I was jealous—"

"Charlotte, are you going insane?"

You cross your arms. "No. Uh, Aubrey did, though. Had to be put down."

"Okay. Then what in the goddamn hell are you talking about?"

You pray someday Madrigal will learn of context clues. "Stalactites."

"The rock."

"They're not rocks," you say. "They're rocks' memory of teeth."

"Ah." The lantern rattles about in her hand. "Maybe I'm going insane. Can we please keep walking?"

"What's the issue? Don't want to be educated?" That's the issue with lowlifes, you've discovered. They're naturally adverse to learning.

"No, I just—" Madrigal doesn't look too good. "I don't like standing here. And I don't see how it matters, if stalactites are rocks or teeth or—"

"Really," you say helpfully, "they're more like bitey vegetables."

"—or fucking vegetables. Who gives a shit? Can we just keep—"

"They grow from teeth," you say. "Teeth on stone in dark places."


"So—" You gesture around you. "—what died here that had hundreds of teeth? And why is this a natural tunnel, not a sewer tunnel?"

You can feel it. The uniform concrete is gone— this is pure stone.

Madrigal pauses. "Are you saying the snake burrowed—"

"I thought snakes couldn't dig," you say, and (against your worse judgement) don't allow that to settle: "No. Well, probably not. But something did. Maybe it came up from below to die, or— something."

"Wait, so where'd the sewer go?" Madrigal glances behind her. "Did we miss another juncture? We should go back and—"

"Or," you say meaningfully, "we could go down further the giant borehole. Or go back to the door—"


It's a weird sound— a sort of high-pitched cry or call. It comes from behind you— doesn't it? Sound bounces strangely.


A response, from— ahead of you? But how far?

Madrigal looks vaguely sick.

>[1] Hide in the stalagmites! But… the lantern… (What do you do with it?) [Roll.]
>[2] Just keep moving forward, down the presumable borehole. Nothing's wrong.
>[3] Just head backwards to find the continuance of the sewer tunnel. Nothing's wrong.
>[4] Respond to the vwooping. (How?) [Potential roll.]
>[5] Write-in.
>>[4] Respond to the vwooping. (How?) [Potential roll.]
Draw the vwoop on the map, in a safe but close enough distance from our current location. Label it as harmless.

That should totally work, right?
>[1] Hide in the stalagmites! But… the lantern… (What do you do with it?) [Roll.]
Huck it into the stalactites across the room, of course.
>[4] Respond to the vwooping. (How?) [Potential roll.]

Rolled 1 (1d2)


Rolling between hiding + drawing and FITE ME.
Rolled 95, 36, 97 = 228 (3d100)

Rolling this myself out of sheer convenience at this late hour. DC 55.
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>Stop, drop, and roll!
>Lateral thinking!
>95, 36, 97 vs. DC 55 - Success!

You dearly wish the sound were anything other than a "vwoop?" It's not the sort of thing you can be reasonably frightened by. You can't go "but constable, I heard a 'vwoop'!"— well, you could, but you'd get a citation for frivolous conduct— and those stay on your record forever— not that you'd know.

«They don't keep the records of drowned people, you realize. Your black mark's ash by now.»
«Isn't that nice.»

So you don't bolt. You snatch the lantern from Madrigal. You consider tossing the lantern, but your premonition of the following wet splat (or worse, it getting in the water) wards you off it. Instead, you place the lantern down among the stalagmites to your left, pause warily— the shadows it throws up are unsettling— and back away.

You turn around. Madrigal's gone. You jump two feet. Madrigal emerges from within the opposing set of stalagmites. You pretend not to have jumped two feet. (Something's seriously gotten into Madrigal. She ought to be raking you over the coals for that, but she's just- quiet.)

You join her.

"I just don't like tight spaces," Madrigal signs. You hadn't said anything. "Or the dark. Don't like either."

"Oh," you sign back.

"That's all it is."


"I'm fine."

"…I didn't say you weren't—"

Madrigal looks sullenly ahead. You rise to peek over the stalagmites. Nothing. You sink—


There again, as stupid as ever. It wouldn't be so bad if you had a name to the enemy, a face, a location— something you could mull over, something palpable. But no! Of course not. You're in your own personal hell bubble where there's nothing at all to see or say or do—

Well, you have a map. But you've finished the map. You could filigree the edges, you suppose, but that'd be taking a grindstone to shark teeth. Perfect as is.

Well… You write your initials on the corner: "C.F."

«I remember when I spent a month coming up with acronyms for your initials.»
«I won't list them. But I have a list right here, Charlie.»
«There's 112.»
«Most are insulting.»

You're fairly sure this never happened, because you don't remember it at all. (Small mercies.)

«I'll just remind you of my favorite, then. Extended version, C.F.F.. 'Can't Find Fu-»

You have another idea of what to do! Thank God.

You write "vwoop," very carefully, on the map— far away from where you are. You think more. You draw a happy face next to it.

Brilliant. You've now just got to stare at it, very hard, and that'll make it happen.

«Okay, I can't— this is really a flabbergasting level of intelligence for you, Charlie. I'm impressed. Way to go. Wow.»
«That was mostly not sarcastic.»
«Good job. Also not sarcastic, mostly.»
«It won't work, though.»

You wish Richard would shut up. You're trying to concentrate on this—

«Seriously, Charlie, it won't. Stop. Your eyes are going to fall out if you keep that up.»
«It might work if it were a natural phenomenon, or a pure trick of the mind. It'd have a small chance if it were an animal.»
«But you're not omnipotent. You can't manipulate people.»

Okay, that's fine. People don't vwoop.

«They're on the ceiling.»

You close your eyes. You open your eyes. You look, very carefully, up at the ceiling.

You just about make out two dark shapes before ducking back— as the shapes begin to rustle, detach, and drop interminably to the floor— as if through water. (Or, well, as though affected by the water. You tend to forget.)

They stand, or unfurl, more like. They're tall and only seem to get taller. Their arms are too long for their bodies and their bodies too long and thin for their heads, which're human-shaped, with high cheekbones and strong jaws: handsome, you think, were it not for the sharp lipless teeth, and the slit nose, and the fine mist of scales, and the fins (bent rakishly on one, cut short and jagged on the other), and the frilly neck-ruff of gills, and— you don't need to go on. The Rake is peachy orange, daubed with purple; Mr. Self-Mutilation is green.

They are dressed in tee-shirts and denim pants three sizes too short. They have slide whistles in loops around their necks. (Madrigal swears.) Their webbed hands are neon with gel-based paint.

It's fish. Two fish. You're still in the Fen, after all, this is where they're supposed to be. Maybe they live in the sewer. (They probably live in the sewer.) Or maybe they're just here to spray some murals and wreak some havoc. Or maybe they saw you and and you're somewhere you're not supposed to be and they're after you and they'll find you and they'll tie your hands and feet and cut open your throat and put a lamprey on it so as you bleed out the lamprey gets fatter and fatter and more you

You do not have a good impression of fish.

"??????????????," says Mr. Self-Mutilation. "?????????????," says The Rake, back. If they've noticed you, they haven't let on.

The Rake points to the opposite side of the tunnel, to the light coming off the lantern. "??????????paper," he says. "?????."

Mr. Self-Mutilation jingles the bangles on his denim pants. He seems nervous.

The Rake rolls his eyes (the eyes! fish eyes are so humanlike— there's been poetry. some of it's even good). "Hello?" he says.

It's perfectly understandable, if slightly accented.

You don't move.

"Hello? Who's here?"

>[1] Write-in.
>"People. You aren't gonna uuuuuh kill us and feed us to lampreys right?"

I forget the significance of slide whistles. Maybe we should just look to Maddy for a cue?
This >>4103036 >>4103077
Called and writing.
>"People. You aren't gonna uuuuuh kill us and feed us to lampreys right?"
>Slide whistles?

You glance over to Madrigal, who crouches, one knee up, in the shadows. She's riveted— no amount of discreet gesturing will get her attention.

You kick her.

This provokes quite a lot of things in rapid succession: she flinches, she blanches, her hand twitches towards the spear on her back. Only after she resorts to violence does she consider rational thought: her hand relaxes, she says "Oh, fuck off, Charlotte," she looks toward you. (You didn't say it was enlightened thought. You will also refrain from making judgments.)

"You were occupied," you sign primly.

"Yes. I was occupied. If you didn't notice."

"What was it about—" you gesture to your neck. (If there is a sign for "slide whistle," you can't think of it.)

"It's the- it's the vwoop. The vwoop."

You have to process this. "That was a slide…"

"Right? You pull up, it goes— it goes 'vwooop?' Yeah?"

If you're going to be completely honest, it's been over a decade since you last heard a slide whistle. "Er, yes."

"That's what. Now-"

"Who's here?" The Rake repeats, louder.

You can see it in Madrigal's bearing— she's gripping at a stalagmite, tensing her neck and jaw, steadying herself. She's going to do something brave/stupid. She's going to stand up and say something, or— God— is she going to charge them? She wouldn't. But she's got things to prove

Well, you don't rightly give a damn. You're not about to let some lowborn harlot snatch your time in the limelight.

«That's right, Charlie. You deserve better.»

You stand abruptly, open your mouth, and say…


«Oh, come on.»

"Yah, numbnuts, we got that." Mr. SM picks at a gap in his teeth. (Do they grow back like a shark's? You can't remember.) "You put the fookin' fear of the Patrons in us, ya did—"

In your peripheral vision, Madrigal stands. Your next words are said on pure instinct and that's why you can't be blamed for them. "Lampreys."

"What's that?"

They also all tumble out on top of each other. "They're- you're- you- you're not gonna, uh- lampreys- you're not gonna- are you gonna kill us?"

«I can't be blamed for this.»

The fish stare.

"And feed us to lampreys?" you add after a beat.

"I'm very sorry," Madrigal says, stamping on your toes (it doesn't work, your boots are sturdy. "She's ????????????????—"

But it's too late.


Mr. SM is laughing. You fume. Madrigal looks half-annoyed, half-relieved, half-smug. Yes, she does, shut up Richard, you can feel him about to tell you what half plus half adds up to, but the fact of the matter is, you don't actually care, and if he weren't listening to everything you were thinking, it wouldn't ever matter

The Rake is righteous. "Typical mutie," he scoffs. "Barges in, thinks it owns the place—"

"Keh-heh— yah, muties, we've come to kill ya. Gonna rip out yer eyeballs and eat em raw—"

"—breaks its light—throws a hissy fit—and it thinks we're the murderers! Me an' Mikey—"

Mikey/Mr. SM is having a ball. "—gonna stitch yer legs together an make a tail fer you— gonna make a mask outta yer face and wear it to a weddin'—"

"—when all it ever does is kill everything— kill my granpa, kill my uncle, kill my—"

"—and yah, course we're gonna feed you to lampreys, look at all these lampreys we've got, Wayne uses em for leg warmers—"

"Okay!" Madrigal says. "Okay! We're sorry! Sorry!"

She applies her entire body weight to your toes. It begins to hurt. "Er," you say. "Yes. Sorry."

"See! Very sorry! Now, if we could just start over— I'm Madrigal, and this is Charlotte—"

How will you approach this?
>[A1] Screw whatever Madrigal tries to say: you are *not* parleying with fish, and will express as much. Vigorously.
>[A2] You don't care what you'll say so much as that you're the one saying it— not Madrigal. Battle it out with her for control of the conversation. [Roll.]
>[A3] If she wants to talk with *fish,* let her. You have significantly better things to do. Like not do that. Silent treatment.
>[A4] Oh, you'll let Madrigal talk. You'll just passive-aggressively undermine her at every turn, like a proper well-bred lady.
>[A5] Just, like, be normal. [Roll.]
>[A6] Write-in.

>[B1] Anything in particular you'd like to bring up? [Write-in. If nothing's proposed, it'll be QM fiat.]

Maddies kinda dumb so she probably won't even notice.


Wtf do you mean by mutie you filthy fish and also have u seen snek
>[A3] If she wants to talk with *fish,* let her. You have significantly better things to do. Like not do that. Silent treatment.

>[B1] Yes, ask about the snake.
Personal business took priority. Sorry guys.
Called and writing.
>Be passive-aggressive :) you didn't end up being that passive-aggressive, sorry, it got off track

Charlotte Fawkins," you break in, and— in a stroke of inspiration— curtsey. "Pleased to meet you, Messrs…?"

"Keh!" Mr. SM says to The Rake. "Where's this one from?"

"Wayne," The Rake says— a complete non-sequitur until you realize he's talking to you. "And this is Mikey. Smile, Mikey, dontcha?"

Mr. SM/Mikey grins, and for the first time you see his teeth in full. You quite visibly shudder. You'd been expecting white and sharkish, and indeed some are… but they're few and far between among metal replicas (glinting green), ivory castings (flaking), a tooth of coral(?), at least a handful of gnarled animal fangs, and so on. Sutured in with dark magicks, you'd bet. And/or stitches.

«…I'll accept it if 'magick' has the k on the end. That's fine.»
«That's… cute, of you.»

You don't think dark magicks are any laughing matter, personally, so you find that— you find that offensive.

«It wasn't meant to be.»

"All gen-oo-ine," Wayne/The Rake explicates.

You're at somewhat of a loss for words. "Very nice," says Madrigal. "An extremely unique application of ???????, uh, I must say. Never seen— teeth."

Mikey struggles to enunciate with his mouth open. "Eill fookin show y' teef—"

"Uh, before," Madrigal continues heroically. "What brings you two to the— sewers?"

"Mayhem," Wayne says, at the same time Mikey does. They strike each other's open palms. (Violent primitive custom?)

"…Okay…" Madrigal shifts to her other foot. "…Meaning…"

"Striking out against the establishment, mutie." Wayne folds his long, long arms. "An' this is a beacon of the establishment. You see the fookin' murals?"

"No," Madrigal says.

"Mosaics," you correct.

"They're shitty. That's how you know these're humie sewers."

"We're also stealing shit," Mikey adds. "If we find any shit."

You tilt your head. "Find a snake?"

The fish glance at each other. "N-o." "Nah."

«Well, they know something, clearly.»

"You sure? I feel like snake fangs would be pretty good, uh—" You touch your gums.

Mikey recoils, his gills flaring. "Fookin filthy mutie. I'm not puttin a snake in my mouth. Freak."

"Charlotte here," Madrigal says, "isn't accustomed to—"

"Yeh. Where's it from?"

"Um, I don't actually know, uh, Mikey." She nudges you. "Where're you from? Just tell them."


You flex the fingers of your right hand, then the fingers of your left. "Mutie?" you say.

Wayne grins, now. (His teeth are normal.) "Yeah, mutie. That's you."

"It is her," Madrigal says, to you more than the fish. "We don't have to rehash this. Look, where are you guys headed? Maybe we can…"

"I'm not a mutie," you spit. "I don't even know what that means, but it's wrong."

"Means yer a mutie," Mikey says. "Duh."

"Used to be a humie, now you're a mutie. Simple as."

"I am not. And anyhow-" you rise onto your toes- "you're fish, so."

"Ah-h-h-h." Wayne draws back, slipping partially into the darkness. "Watch the mutie's true colors, wontcha? Always come out eventually. It's just quick."

"She's not- look, she's from the North, or- she's ignorant, okay? She's ignorant, she doesn't mean anything by it—"

"You sure you didn't find a snake?" you say. "Positive?"

"Doesn't mean anything? It comes here, asks us if we're findin snakes, puttin snakes in our mouths—calls us fish—"

"Deeply, deeply ignorant." Madrigal nods. "Yes. I'm extraordinarily sorry."

Once again, she stamps very hard on your foot. You hesitate—

>[ID: 3/11]

>[1] Apologize. Make amends. Find out what the fish— er, the fish-type people, er— what Wayne and Mikey (may or may not) know. [Lose ID.]
>[2] Stick to your vaguely racist guns. Sever ties with the fish— or force Madrigal to distance herself, maybe literally, at least for the time being. [Regain ID.]
>[3] Write-in.
Insist they clarify what they mean by mutie. Then press for snek info.

Really we're helping, they keep throwing the term mutie around some X-Men are gonna pay them an angry visit.
>[2] Stick to your vaguely racist guns. Sever ties with the fish— or force Madrigal to distance herself, maybe literally, at least for the time being. [Regain ID.]
Gas the pikes, rays war now!
Real life has been kicking me in the metaphorical balls this week. Today it's a group project I'm doing near-singlehandedly. I blame, personally, the Curse.

Insisting for clarification [and dodging] is gonna need a roll:

>Roll me 3 1d100s - 5 (+5 Lingering Power, -10 Racist) vs. DC 50.

>Spend 1 ID for +10?
>[1] Y
>[2] N
Rolled 44 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

Rolled 4 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

Rolled 1 - 5 (1d20 - 5)

is this right
Rolled 55 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

That is not right, lucky for you. I nearly had a heart attack.

I'll roll the last and write.
>Perform evasive maneuvers
>39, 0, 50 vs. DC 50 - Mitigated Success

"I mean," you say, "you've been calling us muties."

"That's different. That's accurate."

You find 'fish' plenty accurate, but you're eager to drop the subject. "Yeah? And what's— what's so accurate about it, huh? What's— well, first off, you never said what it meant, so—"

Wayne and Mikey exchange glances. Mikey coughs. "Feels kinda self-explainy—"

Madrigal's warning glance means nothing to the likes of you. "Well, it's not. It feels offensive. And you're both— dare I say— hypocrites for using it as casually as you do—"

Another glance. "It's not like— it's not offensive."

"It is." You put your hands on your hips. "If it's not, why am I offended right now?"

(You're beginning to convince yourself that you actually are.)

"I duuno if…" Wayne tugs at his teeshirt and lapses into a mumble. "Can we tell—? I don't think we're s'posed to tell the muties?"

"'S what I heard," Mikey confirms.

Madrigal's been easing up on your foot, but she's placed a warning hand on your shoulder. You squint peevishly at it. She speaks, but not to you: "????????????????????counterculture."

The fish-language, such as it is, is mostly odd clicks and pops. You were not expecting words.

Madrigal pokes you. "Didn't know that word," she signs. "I said— 'wouldn't telling us be more counterculture?'"

You refuse to acknowledge this as a good idea. You take as coincidence Wayne and Mikey's response: they stare off at the walls and rub their fins back. Finally, Wayne begins. "Well… kay. Ya know what happens when ya get water in yer lungs?"

"You die," you say. It's what Ellery had said.

"Ya die— wait." Wayne turns a little oranger. "Er, yea. But yer not dead. Wondered why?"

"I did. Then I stopped caring."

"Typical! It's cuz yer a mutt. Yer a mutie. Nobody had problems with fookin' humans, cause they knew where they belonged. On land. It's the muties who decided that wasn't good enough—"

"Uh," you say. "What does it actually mean, though?"

Wayne rolls his eyes. (You sniff.) "Myu…tay…shun. Dumb fookin' mutie."

"I haven't got myutayshuns." You toss your head. "I don't even know what those are."

Madrigal pokes you again. "It's just a theory they've got — don't worry about it —"

"Yea, you do."

"I have not."

"Ya have."

"Wayne," says Madrigal, breaking up your productive & adult conversation— "where's the snake? We kind of need it."

Some ticker in your mind rolls over. "Where's Mikey?"

It's just Wayne.

"Sent him on lookout," Wayne says. He sounds, as best you can tell, uncomfortable. "We're making a lot of noise."

"On lookout?" you demand. "By himself? In the dark? He's going to be kidnapped!"

Your concern is unacknowledged. "'S not dark."

Madrigal steps in front of you. "Wayne. Where's the snake?"


"But there is a snake."


"If there were a snake, where'd it be?"

"I can't tell you," Wayne says suddenly. His gills flex in time with his heartbeat, you notice— in, out, in, out, inoutinoutinout— "Stop asking me. Please."

"Can't," Madrigal says, "physically? Or can't otherwise. Because if it's otherwise, you can."

"Why'dju care?" he bursts out. "Whaddya want with a— with a snake?"

>[1] You're going to trap it to bring back to Bronwen. Duh.
>[2] You're going to kill it. (Are you lying, or have you changed your mind?)
>[3] Gee, you're just curious.
>[4] Just to be clear- this thing is five feet long, right? And doesn't talk? What's there to be scared of?
>[5] Seriously, why can't he tell you?
>[6] Write-in.
>>[5] Seriously, why can't he tell you?
All too keen to open his gab before.
>[5] Seriously, why can't he tell you?
>Why can't you????

Revealing your motivations? To a stranger? Absurd. You scoff. "It hardly matters."

"It kinda does." Wayne hooks his thumbs through his belt loops. "Going to see a snake, yer two things, mutie. Yer with 'im, or yer 'gainst 'im. Can't be neither. So which?"

"Neither," Madrigal says firmly. "It's animal control. We're catching it. That's it."

You cross your arms. "Yeah! So there!"

"So there," Wayne repeats. His gums are bared. "Animal control, that's cool. Have fun."

"Have more fun if you told us where it was," you say, at the same time as Madrigal's "Where's the goddamn snake, Wayne?"

"Can't tell ya. Mutie."

Is there some sort of epidemic going around? "Seriously, f…riend, 'can't?' Or 'mustn't'? Those are very different—"

"It'd fuck wit'— things." Wayne's fins are twitching. "I— you'd fuck with things. That's all you do. I've…"

He glances towards the ceiling. "I gotta go."

"We wouldn't fuck with things," Madrigal says. (You'd rather she didn't. You're not sure you can keep that promise.) "We're just helping a friend, Wayne. We'd appreciate it if maybe you could point us towards—"

"Draw a map," you offer.

"Or… draw a map, yes. Or that."

Wayne's attention is gone. "Gotta go," he mumbles again. "I gotta check on Mikey—"

>[1] Convince him to personally guide you to the snake. (Any particular arguments?) [Roll.]
>[2] Wait a second, you have a machete. Threaten him into guiding you to the snake.
>[3] Convince him to draw a route onto your map. Hopefully you can follow it. (Any particular arguments?) [Slightly easier roll.]
>[4] Threaten him into drawing a route onto your map.
>[5] He doesn't like snakes, clearly. How convenient you have one on hand! Pull him aside and inform him of your little... <<situation.>>
>[6] Just let the fish leave. You'll manage, surely.
>[7] Write-in.
>[6] Just let the fish leave. You'll manage, surely.
How unreasonable
Can't trust a fish anyway
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>Haha bye

Madrigal moves as if to stop him, but you're the one who's doing the foot-stomping this time— and you're the one who has the inch-and-a-half heels. Her words die under a pained exhalation.

You smirk. "Nice to meet you, Wayne."

"Whatever, bigot—" Three shrill slide-whistle notes sound from the darkness. Wayne starts. "Fookin'— I gotta go. I gotta—"

"Oh, just go, then. Do stop beating around the bush— oh."

He's already gone.

«Good riddance.»

"Well, good," Madrigal says. "Good, then. Very productive. Sure learned a lot. Thanks, Charlotte."

"You're welcome."

"Could've found out where the fuck the snake is— but no, you had to have all the tact of a—"

"A sane woman," you provide. "One who doesn't deal with— fishes."

"They're just people, Charlotte!"


You're newly assured of your complete correctness. "People don't feed other people to lampreys."

"Have you ever seen that?"

"I don't need to have seen that." You fold your arms. "And I wouldn't, because I don't associate with fishes. Like I said."

Madrigal furiously rubs her eye. "Every time I think you might be okay— just okay— you prove me wrong! It's impressive!"

There's a queasy sort of feeling in your chest. Indigestion.

«Oh, Charlie. Charlie.»
«Nobody understands you, do they.»

Richard winds himself up your arm. He's right.

«It's not their fault. They're just not <able> to.»
«At least you have me.»

God— he's still right. Whatever there is to say about Richard, he understands you.

"Just gonna smirk, huh?" Madrigal demands, not understanding you at all. "Well, fuck you. What're stalactites called when they're on the walls?"

"Stalawites," you say.

"Okay, because there's an awful lot of them, and I don't remember there being so many…"

"Er, that was a joke… there's no such thing as a wall stalagmite. I mean, obviously." You find Madrigal to have a critical lack of common sense. "Do trees grow sideways?"

File: spikes.jpg (32 KB, 400x333)
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"Fuck me if I know. Never seen one sideways, but I dunno. Maybe they all grow sideways and the Fen ones are screwy ocean trees. Why ask me this? You're the fancy—"

"They don't," you say. "And neither do stalactites."

"Oh." Madrigal ponders this. "Then what the fuck are these?"

For the first time, you look. The wall where she's pointing is peppered with little pointy protrusions. They look very much like stalactites.

"Are they rock's memory of fingernails, or some shit? I— ow!" Madrigal had brushed one with a finger. "That's sharp!"

"Maybe the thing had teeth all around its mouth," you rationalize. "Instead of just the top and bottom."

"Shit, that's blood." Madrigal jams her forefinger in her mouth. "Dun tuch— mph— dat. Shahp."

"But they're small. Are they newer than the rest? Are they—" You hit upon something. "Are they a trap?"

"Thehs nho uckin tahp, Harhott—"

"Or maybe they're just small teeth. Or maybe they're not teeth. Or not stalactites. I—"

"Uck. Old on." Madrigal removes her finger (stained bright crimson) from her mouth. "They went."


She points. The protrusions are gone.

"Um," you say. "Uh, okay. Uh…"

«Any holes in the wall.»

"Any holes in the wall?"

Madrigal shakes her head. "No."

"Maybe it was a hallucination?"

"I'm bleeding. And fine, thanks for asking."

"Uh." You scratch your chin. "I don't have any other ideas."

"Way I see it…" Madrigal undoes her bandana. "Some things are just weird. They just happen, then they stop happening, and everyone goes 'that was weird,' and they're done. It's over. Might as well've not happened at all."

"That's not how it works."

"It is."

"It's not." You put your hands on your hips. "It's a sign."

"Sign that someone's gonna get stabbed with something pointy? Hope it's not me." Madrigal isn't treating this with the appropriate amount of gravity, you think. "It's just a weird one-off, Charlotte. My finger's gonna close up in a sec— oh shit."

The protrusions have reappeared. There are significantly more of them.

"Weird two-off," she amends, but you're pleased to hear an element of doubt. "Uh…"

Maybe you do smirk, this time.

>[1] Attempt to figure out the protrusions. [What do you do?]
>[2] Divining the signs of the natural world is not within the realm of man. Slash woman. And anyways, they're short— unless you're brushing up against the walls, you're not going to get punctured, probably. Just head out. (Back to the sewer tunnel or down the worm(?) tunnel?)
>[3] Write-in.
>[1] Attempt to figure out the protrusions. [What do you do?]
How many are there, exactly? Do they form a particular pattern? Do they follow up at all when we move? Maybe they're drawn to blood... Madrigal, play bait for a moment as we watch.
>[1] Attempt to figure out the protrusions. [What do you do?]

Break some off and see what happens.
Called and writing.
>How many? In a pattern? Do they follow you? Do they follow Madrigal? Can you break one off?

"Move over, move over. I'll look." You wave Madrigal aside with one hand and, with the other, attempt to corral your hair into a ponytail. Too late you remember your lack of tie or ribbon.

Could you tuck your hair into your collar? Of course, but nothing's achieved there but an itchy neck. It's about the effect.

Surely Richard understands, doesn't he? He said he did.

«Charlotte, I refuse to—»

He said he did.

«Very well.»

Richard begrudgingly holds your hair up. Thus prepared, you squint at the protrusions.

There's sixteen of them, all told, arranged in two concentric, imperfect circles. They're of uniform size and shape— strangely uniform, given how stalactites usually end up. Bending closer, you note the material. While the base of each protrusion is dolomite, as'd be expected for a spelothem (the whole wall here's dolomite), the point is something else entirely— metal? Something tarnished. You're not a metal expert.

(…Neither are you a rock expert. What the hell is a spelothem?)

«Er, the broader category for stalactites, stalagmites… coralloids, moonmilk… so on.»
«Obviously, Charlie.»
«I mean, really.»

Well, whatever. These is no natural formation, if that wasn't obvious enough from the reappearance. This is a trap.

…Or, uh, something else artificial. But you're committed to the idea.

"Ine nyhing?" Madrigal says, finger back in mouth.

"Not really… hmm." You step back. The protrusions don't move. "Hmm." You step to the right. After a second, the rightmost protrusions sink back into the stone and reappear closer to you. The pattern now resembles two concentric ovals.

You have no time to ponder this. "Madrigal, walk in front of it. Uh, wave your finger around."

"Better know what you're doing," she grumbles, but accedes. No matter how slowly she walks or how vigorously she waves the finger, the protrusions stay firmly where they are.

"Huh," you say.

"That was interesting. Are you done?"

"Uh… no." You scratch your chin. "I've still got— there's a way to figure this out, I'm positive."

"You tried breaking one? Pulling it off the wall— you know."

This had struck you as a bit too wantonly destructive, but you're approaching the end of your rope. "I'll, uh, consider that proposition."


You don't say anything.

"You considered it?"

"Um, yes." You brush a lock of hair from your forehead. (Richard is disagreeable at catching flyaways.) "Yes, I'll go— break one off."


"Er, yes." You pad over to the protrusions and select one that looks reasonably weak. "I'll just go ahead and—"

You wrap one hand around the base, one around the— ow! That's a puncture on your palm. You really had underestimated the sharpness. Oh well. You make to tug—

The protrusions retract into the wall. Or anyhow, they attempt to: you brace your foot against the wall and hold on tight, forcing your protrusion to stay where it is. Madrigal lends her muscle, and together the two of you wrench it from the wall.

The protrusion is light and hollow, with a half-inch hole at the tip you're certain wasn't there before. The wall also has a ragged hole, rapidly closing. "Madrigal—!" you say, but she's already on it: she rips the hole in two, creating a top-to-bottom tear in a flimsy stage curtain.

What? A what? You need to back up. The protrusions, except for the one in your hand, are gone. Yanking yours off made a hole in the wall— but not in the stone of the wall. No, the area around the hole is paper. Meaning: something something, Richard lecture, reality bad/wrong/broken. Something like that.

«Not broken, Charlie, it's just not there. You need to take care of your hair more.»

Broken is the same thing and he knows it. And it just sounds better to say you broke reality. You broke the thing off and it broke reality. Anyhow, the hole tried to close, Madrigal wrenched it open, there's now a six-foot tear in solid dolomite. (Which, to be fair, is a very weak mineral. But it doesn't tear.) Or… the material formerly known as solid dolomite, whatever it is now.

«More or less.»
«Probably less.»

You feel overall vindicated.

"Fuck," Madrigal says mildly. "Alright."

"Alright," you confirm. "Neat."


"So… do you want to stick your head in, or should—"

Madrigal takes the hint and looks through the tear. "It's dark."

"Well, go get the—!"

She goes to get the lantern. "Sprung a leak," she reports. "It's real dim."

"So? Just use it."

Madrigal looks through the tear, with the lantern. "It's dark."


"Yeah. Real fucking thick darkness. It'd take more than algae to pierce this, I'm thinking." She withdraws, looking greenish. "Don't wanna think about what's in there."

>[1] Yes, go into the mystery hole (Just you / convince Madrigal to go alone [difficult roll] / convince Madrigal to come with you [roll])
>[2] Experiment with the mystery hole (How?)
>[3] GO AWAY from the mystery hole (Which way, back to the sewers or down the tunnel?)
>[4] Write-in.
>[2] Experiment with the mystery hole (How?)
Test by tossing rocks and other objects on a rope, see what happens to them. Retract if they aren't snagged by something, see if the paper void darkness does anything to them
>[2] Experiment with the mystery hole (How?)

Try tearing it wider. As wide as possible.
Seconding testing this tear out.
Writing for all of the above.
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>Toss stuff in (on a rope). See what happens. Try to tear it further, as far as it goes.

"Well, I do," you say. "I want very much to find out what's in there, thank you."

"Of course you do."

"Right." You bob your head. "Of course I do."

Madrigal throws her hands up. You suspect this was not the answer she wanted, though it may have been the one she was expecting. "Okay then."

"Okay. So, um…" You had been on the cusp of a plan just then, but it's escaping you. "Uh, we should…"


"Uh… throw rocks in it."

«Rarely a solution to any problem, but occasionally entertaining.»

You begin to wonder if another tear's opened up on the ceiling, for all the staring Madrigal does at it. "Sure," she signs finally. "Sure. Whatever. Throw rocks in it. I don't give a shit."

"Spelendid." You glance up at the ceiling, just in case, and find it quite enshrouded in shadow. (It's considerably taller than the sewer ceiling.) Nothing, then. "I do think, uh, we should perhaps tie ropes to the rocks."


"So we can retrieve them," you explain. "And see what happens."

"Good plan." Madrigal traipses over to a earthen mound (dormant stalagmite?) and plops down on top of it. "Go for it."

"It'd go faster if you were assisting—"

Her jaw tightens. "Go for it."

Well, she can be that way. "I'll do it," you announce to the tear, "because I'm not chicken."

Silence. You glance backwards. Madrigal stares balefully but says nothing.

Damn! You'd thought that'd work. But it doesn't matter much, in any case— you're the one with the rope, and there's rocks and things everywhere. You have no use for Madrigal whatsoever. (So there.)

>[+1 ID: 4/11]

A flinten machete stays in your belt loop when you're not looking, unlike certain other weapons. It also cuts rope very well. Before long, you have a fistful of rope segments and another fistful of rubble. Tying the knots takes even less time.

You weigh one of the bolas in your hand and briefly contemplate how easy it'd be to [color=green]s[/color]mash Madrigal's skull in with it. But that'd just be impractical, not to mention pointless, so you dismiss that notion in favor of the intended use: testing the contents of the void behind it.

«Be precise. There's no such thing as a 'void.' That black, it's an interim or it's antireality.»
«You should be hoping for the former.»

God, you don't care. You just don't. You're trying to line up your throw—

«You used to care.»

You never cared. Not once. Not even when things were… better. You're lining it up because you'd like it to be impressive, what with Madrigal judging you and everything. It wouldn't do to hit the wall—

«I'd say to just feed it in, but I agree your reputation is rather in tatters. Do what you must.»
«There is a surefire way to…»

No, you're not desperate. Not that desperate. You're just throwing a rock on a rope, for God's sake, it's not difficult. Not that the whole idea lacks appeal, you mean, because it does— somewhat, you mean— it does appeal. Not that you'd admit it. (Though you are admitting it.) Not that you'd say it aloud…

You should probably throw the rope, shouldn't you. Your arm is getting tired holding it aloft, isn't it. You take a deep breath— if you focus, really focus, you can feel the salt rub your nostrils raw— cock your wrist back, and throw.

It is a throw. Not impressive, exactly, but it went where it was supposed to.

It clangs.


"What was that?" says Madrigal. "Did it hit something? Can you pull it out?"

"Um…" You hesitate. "Uh, yeah, let me—" You give the rope a tug, to no effect. "I think it's stuck."

"On what?"

"Well, I don't— it's dark, I mean."

"You're probably not pulling hard enough." Madrigal stands. "Give me it, I'll pull."

"I don't know if that's a good…"

The rope is wrenched from your hands, then wrenched, with much straining and a final nasty metallic-sounding crash, from the tear. "There we go," Madrigal says, sounding quite pleased. "Problem solved."

The rock is intact, if moderately scratched, on the end of the rope. The rope is fraying. Neither crumble to dust and/or come to life and/or start oozing black goop. (You were hedging your bets.)

"Huh," you say, by which you mean, "well, that's disappointing."

"Huh," says Madrigal, by which she means "thank god."

You scratch your chin. "Maybe it's just, uh, really dark in there."


"Maybe it doesn't do anything to rocks," Madrigal offers. "We should put something organic in."

You can't help it. "'We'?"

"…You. You should. Put something organic in."

«No, I think that's just a thin interim straight into a manse. Ought to be harmless, mostly.»
«You got it when it was weakest, that's what happened. Broke it off when it was closing. Rock can't really move like that, you know.»

You never would've guessed, you muse, as you rub some of the spilt algae onto a second rock.

«So what happens is it's real, all of it, except for the seconds when the things are extending and retracting. It's not real, then. So you rip it, and you happen to rip a hole straight into whatever's not really behind it.»
«The manse.»
«Is the theory.»

Organic rock is a go. You don't even bother to throw it, just sort of kick the rock in and hope for the best. (No clang.) You wait a minute, in case the disintegration/etc takes a while to set in, then reel the rope back in.

It is sliced neatly off where the rock ought to be.

"Oh!" you say. "Oh." Madrigal says, arms tight to chest. "See. I said there'd be things."

"I knew there'd be things," you say defensively. "That's half the p—"

File: your scenic view.jpg (82 KB, 461x390)
82 KB
A string is pulling the edges of the tear taut. As you watch, another shoots across, and another, until it looks like the cobweb of some neuroticism-ridden spider. They are stitching the tear back together, you realize, or the tear is stitching itself back together, and if you don't move now there won't be any tear at all.

«Don't worry too much, Charlie. You'll soon forget about it.»

You'll— no! Not while you have a machete. You spring upon the tear, kn- short sword in hand, and slash furiously. Madrigal, with the same idea, saws at it with her toothed spearhead. The string comes thick and fast and fine, though, and it soon becomes clear this is a battle you're going to lose.

You get a really bad idea.

"Madrigal," you grunt. "Widen—"

"Widen?" But she understands, and instead of fighting the string starts to carve away at the edges of the tear. And you hack, and hack, and it's all rather blurry even as it happens, to say nothing of after, but the end result is— the cave wall crumples to the ground like so much wet parchment.

>[-1 ID: 3/11]

You are panting. Madrigal is panting. There is nothing on your machete. In front of you is a solid wall of blackness, save a few ragged bits on the edge. The speleothems in front make the whole thing look rather like a mouth, you think. Yes. Uncreative, but yes.

The whole thing has not quite sunk in.

>[1] Write-in.
> "... This never happened." Leave.
Called and writing shortly.
>G T F O

It hits Madrigal first. "Shit," she says. "That's… that's, uh, that's—" She rubs her nose. "That's— that's not good."

«I wouldn't say it's not good, exactly.»
«I mean, it's not good.»
«But also it's not not good.»

"That's— god. God. This is such a fucking… it's such an Ell-"

Madrigal realizes immediately her mistake and shuts her mouth mid-sentence. It takes another beat for you— you've been staring vacantly, not really listening. "Uh, I think we should-"

"Such an Ell what?" you say. It's relieving to have a distraction.

Madrigal licks her lips. "Uh, I think we should, uh, l-"

"Such an Ellery thing, you meant?"

"I'm—" Madrigal keeps one eye on the wall and one on you. "I refuse to answer that."

"Why would it be an Ellery thing? Does he have a history of…" You realize you're unable to articulate what you just did. "…uh, that kind of thing?"

"Wish he were here," she mumbles. "And not you."

"You brought me."

She shrugs.

"Also, you wouldn't be here if not for me."

She shrugs again.

"So that's a stupid thing to say—"

"It's not." Madrigal's switched to handsign. Trying to a disguise a quaver? If so, she's doing a bad job— it's just transferred to her wrists. "He'd know what to do."

"No he wouldn't."

She purses her lips. "Okay, he wouldn't know. But he'd do something. We're just fucking standing here. Fuckin'— sitting ducks."

"We should go," you say sagely.


"We should go… down."

"Yeah, whatever. As long as we go. And never—" Madrigal jerks a thumb over her shoulder, towards the war. "—never speak of that again."

You offer your pinky. "Sure."

Madrigal gives you an "are you shitting me?" look, but upon seeing your solemn countenance sighs and extends her own pinky. "Yeah."

You shake, sealing a sacred bond.

«Very moving. You realize the wall's harmless, Charlie.»
«It's just an empty buffer between here and there. It's sterile by design.»

Nope. You're not thinking about it. You're thinking positive. Positive thoughts, positive thoughts—

«Don't be stubborn, Charlie, it's not attractive.»

Nope. You're just going to scramble down this tunnel— it runs at a steep incline. The ceiling has gotten lower, but (thank God) you don't yet have to stoop. The right wall is stone. The left is, the left is—

The left is peeling off, because your life can't be easy. There's blackness behind it. "Madrigal," you call, but she's already up to a brisk walk. The peeling speeds apace. "Madrigal!" She's jogging. You're jogging. You're not quite sure why. The skin of the left wall curls like old paint. It's outstripped you. You bump into Madrigal, who's stopped dead watching the wall.

"Ow," you say. You would very much like to say something else, something like 'oh god, why's the wall gone, what'd we do to deserve this—" but you don't break pinkie swears so easily.

"Might as well keep going," Madrigal says grimly. "Not many other options. Just don't… touch it."


You nod.
The tunnel is becoming quite cramped now, and the floor quite uneven— you wonder if something else came in here and dug it up, since a borehole ought to be smooth. Dead roots brush your hair. A crunch-squish is the only indication of a snail underfoot.

It is quite cramped. Your footsteps are echoing, which usually doesn't happen. Is it the water? You have no idea.

«Hold on-»

Hold on indeed: for the second time, you bonk straight into Madrigal. She seizes your shoulder and presses her hand flat against your lips.


She takes her hand off your shoulder and presses it to her lips. A warning. She then removes the hand from your mouth (you resist the urge to sputter) and takes a single heavy step backwards. It echos. It echos a moment too late.

Your eyes widen. "Someone's following us," Madrigal signs. "I thought it was off, but I wanted— someone's following us. Charlotte. Charlotte."

"There," you sign, pointing behind you, "or there?" To the wall. Which you didn't speak of, on a technical level, so you're in the clear.

"I don't…" Madrigal closes her eyes. "I think there. From the- from the sounds of it. Something's in there."

«Behind there.»

"Behind," you say. You lick your lips. "Um, what do we do?"

You don't get a response. Madrigal isn't looking at you. The algae lantern flickers portentously in your fingers. She's looking at the wall.

The wall— the blackness, you mean, there's no actual wall there— the wall is bulging.

«I retract previous statements.»

>[1] RUN! RUN AWAY! [Roll.]
>[2] STAB! STAB THE WALL! [Roll.]
>[4] DIVE INTO THE WALL! (It's the… it's the element of surprise?)
>[5] WRITE-IN!
>[1] RUN! RUN AWAY! [Roll.]
>[1] RUN! RUN AWAY! [Roll.]

Please roll me 3 1d100s - 10 (-15 Worst Possible Moment +5 Adrenaline) vs. DC 55 (+5 Blood Samples Acquired) to outpace the...... thing.

Additionally, please vote.
>[ID: 3/11]
>[1] Spend 1 ID for +10 to the roll.
>[2] Do not.
>[3] Crumble. You can't handle this by yourself. (Lose all remaining ID. Autosucceed on this and future rolls for the duration. POV switch.)
Rolled 78 - 10 (1d100 - 10)

>[1] Spend 1 ID for +10 to the roll.
Rolled 49 (1d100)

>[2] Do not.
Rolled 11 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>[1] Spend 1 ID for +10 to the roll.
Rolled 32 - 10 (1d100 - 10)

>[2] Do not.
>78, 49, 11 vs. DC 55 -- Mitigated Success
Called and writing shortly.
File: darkness vs. buffer.jpg (27 KB, 1200x630)
27 KB
>78, 49, 11 vs. DC 55 -- Mitigated Success

You do the only thing you can think to do. You shove past Madrigal and sprint headlong down the tunnel. She yelps and stumbles, and you think for a moment that's it, she's gone, oh well, what can you do— but she scrambles to her feet and launches after you, and's about all you can see before the lantern gives one last gasp of light and gutters out at the worst possible moment.

"God!", you hiss (you can't get much more out at this pace), and toss the lantern aside. It probably hits the floor, but you have no way of knowing— you can't see anything. Er, that's wrong— you can see the feeble glow of your map, stuck in the side pocket of your backpack. So you know you exist.

Everything else… everything else is up for grabs. Madrigal is behind you, probably, but those footsteps could be yours or your echo's or— the thing's. Richard is… does he ever exist? Does he count?

«I do exist, Charlie, I'm just not real.»
«Significant difference.»

Well, he's there, anyhow. The tunnel floor certainly exists. Whether the ceiling and right wall do is an open question. You could— you could take the time to touch them, but that's time you don't have, and so you'll just have to assume they don't.

The left wall doesn't exist, per se, but you lied back there: you can see it, too. It's the same exact black as everything else, but it's richer— there's more in it, or something. What you can't see is whatever's following you. If it's following you. Is it following you? What are you running for? Maybe it was just a natural thing, like steam off a hydrothermal vent. Maybe you should just stop. You'd like to stop. Your lungs and legs are burning.

You should stop. Or slow down. You should…

«For what it's worth, I believe you're in danger.»

…You should just stop going quite so fast. Can you imagine if you blundered into something in the dark? Or, worse, fell? (The tunnel had plateaued, but it's inclining again.) Embarrassing. Unthinkable. If you just caught your breath for a second…

«Now, it doesn't <really> matter, because should worse come to worse I'll take care of things.»
«But I dislike that. It's like waking up to take a cold shower. Unpleasant.»
«So if you'd get a move on, Charlie—»

You'd like to. (You need to. You're screaming at yourself that you need to.) But, well, it's dark, and you haven't any idea where you're going, and, you know, if things may or may not exist, there's just no pressing—

«I feel like you're just difficult for the sake of it, sometimes.»

>[-1 ID: 2/11]

You nearly trip at the shock up your spine, just barely managing to catch yourself— but your fingers brush the rubble-strewn floor, and that's where the trouble starts. The darkness abruptly contracts. It's not that it's not dark, because it is… but you can feel the earth close around and above you, and you know you're in a tunnel.

«There. I hope you're happy.»

You're not. You linger in a crouch. Above you lies— a thousand thousand crushed shells. Above that— ruins. Wisps of cold, strange people. Below you— earth and earth and earth and earth and

«Back up, Charlie. You don't belong down there.»

And earth and earth and earth and— you're back, unfazed. You can handle this. Behind you lies— Madrigal, or at least Madrigal's footprints. How far? Far. She stopped a long while back. If you try, if you really scratch up against the stone, you can… see outlines, or vibrations, or… something. She's kicking rhythmically. She's— there's a hand over her mouth.

You take your hand off the ground, and the darkness expands. It doesn't seem real, what you saw. It probably wasn't. But if you strain, if you really strain to listen—

You can hear muffled yelling down the tunnel.

(Pick ONE primary motivation.)
>[A1] SAVE MADRIGAL… so she'll owe you later.
>[A2] SAVE MADRIGAL… because she did earlier. (Well, she tried to.) You'll be square after.
>[A3] SAVE MADRIGAL… because you don't want to have to explain where she went to everyone, you know?
>[A4] SAVE MADRIGAL… because that's what a heroine is supposed to do.
>[A5] SAVE MADRIGAL… because you might care. Not a lot. A little tiny bit. But you might.
>[A6] SAVE MADRIGAL… for a different reason. [Write-in.]


>[B1] DITCH MADRIGAL. Your reasons are your own.

and/or, optional:

>[C1] Get some light in here. Your only real option for this is Richard, unfortunately.
>[C2] Write-in some kind of plan? It'll help.
>[C3] Write-in.
>[A5] SAVE MADRIGAL… because you might care. Not a lot. A little tiny bit. But you might.
>[C1] Get some light in here. Your only real option for this is Richard, unfortunately.
>[A2] SAVE MADRIGAL… because she did earlier. (Well, she tried to.) You'll be square after.

If shit flies, hold onto Madrigal while touching the floor? Could be a means of escape. Would ask Richard if he has any idea what that's all about in lieu of getting some light, otherwise

>[C1] Get some light in here. Your only real option for this is Richard, unfortunately
>[A2] SAVE MADRIGAL… because she did earlier. (Well, she tried to.) You'll be square after.

File: lighter.jpg (40 KB, 375x500)
40 KB
>Even the score.
>Get some light in here— but ask Richard what's up with the whole tremorsense thing first.

You hesitate. And then you think backwards, upwards, to you and Madrigal and the quicksand. She had tried to save you. (Though you weren't in danger, so it doesn't really count, but— it's about the principle of the thing.) Meaning that if you left her, and she died, she'd die a better person than you. And if she lived— well, that would just be abhorrent.

The conclusion is obvious. The only way to resolve this discrepancy (for it is a discrepancy— she's a criminal, for God's sake, she has short hair, she shows cleavage she doesn't even have— she's not better than you) is by saving her back.

Or, well, appearing to make the effort to save her back. Whatever's most expedient.

«If you absolutely must.»

You absolutely must. And you would, if only it weren't so dark. Have you gotten turned around? You can barely hear Madrigal, she's so faint—

«Just use a light, Charlie.»

You don't have a light, wise guy.

«You always have a light.»

That sounds like a metaphor. Is it a metaphor? Is it, like, "the real light is in your heart—"


Then what? Because you definitely do not have a light. Your light broke. And then broke again.

«Just stick your damn hand in your pocket.»

Why didn't he just say so? You stick your hand in your coat pocket and come up empty. Other side— empty. (Didn't you have things in them? You don't remember.) Slacks pockets— empty, empty, empty… ah. You retrieve something rectangular from your sixth empty pocket. It takes a full minute (or a few seconds…who can say?) to figure out it's a lighter, open the lighter, and flick the lighter on.

Light! Quite bad light, dim and flickery, but light all the same. Also, flame, but you've long since given up trying to make sense of it. You suspect it's not real, if only because that's Richard's answer for everything. The tunnel, which is definitely 100% real, closes in on you.

(The lighter is brass. It is shaped like a snake, as if you needed any clues to who the owner is.)

«There. You're welcome.»

You scrunch your face. "My thumb hurts." It does. The flint wheel is digging into it. "Do you have a lantern, or—"

«I have a lighter.»
«It's very expensive, and beggars should not be choosy.»

Well— could you not just ditch the light altogether? And just use your, uh, your magickyal earth powers to, er, navigate— does Richard know what's up with that? I mean, really, what? You didn't think you had earth magick, er, in your veins, not that you'd say no to that…

«Do I know what's up with that.»

Yeah. And, you mean, he gave you this whole spiel about how he wasn't going around granting you new powers, or anything like that, so clearly you must have some kind of latent magick, which is very exciting, you have to admit, but if he's got any clarification that'd be appreciated… there is a withering sort of feeling coming from your ponytail region.

«Do I know what's up with that.»
«Do I know what's up with that thing, which I did.»
«Let's sit down and have a long think about this.»

You are sensing… he does know what's up with that.

«You like to raise my hopes then dash them all over the floor, don't you.»
«I don't know, Charlie. Let's consider what's more likely. One, you have latent earth ma-<gicks>. Two, literally any other explanation.»


«Shockingly, yes.»
«I rubbed off on you. That's what happened. That's what always happens. Sometimes it's deliberate, and they're called 'alterations.' Sometimes it's accidental, and it's not called anything at all, because accidents do not exist in an orderly universe.»
«But nevertheless happen. Anyway, no ma-gick, just a minor form of heightened awareness which I thought useful to play up.»
«You probably won't be able to do even that much without getting some proper energy behind it. And, ah, to the point…»
«Sure, go ahead and use your earth ma-gick. I'm sure you'll be able to save her while rooted to the ground, Charlie. Very wise. No, you can't do it walking, that defeats the purpose.»

Unfortunately, you see his point. (Though not why he had to take so long to get there.) You rouse yourself from your half-crouch and hurry back up the corridor, lighter in hand.

Five minutes (thirty seconds? two hours? time chokes itself to death in the dark) uphill, Madrigal has Madrigal pinned against the blackness of the left "wall." What? No, that's right. Being pinned: Madrigal. Doing the pinning: …well, okay, kind of. Maybe not. The second Madrigal is certainly Madrigal, having the same height and hair and features and so on, except for the things that are wrong. For instance, Madrigal has a thin scar on her face, not a massive blotchy birthmark-looking thing. Madrigal's teeth are not copper. Madrigal's clothes are not fused indistinctly to her skin (though with how thin the fabric is, and the water, you understand how the mistake could be made). Just because Madrigal occasionally holds a spear in her hand does not mean that her left arm is, in fact, the spear. But not even just the spear, that'd be too easy— the spear, which gradually morphs into a copper pipe as it reaches the tip of the haft. As the arm.

You have made the decision that the second Madrigal is, in fact, Certainly Not Madrigal.

As you'd been processing this, though (your dawning comprehension had kept being interrupted with muffled yells, which irritated you), Certainly Not Madrigal presses Madrigal perilously close to the boundary. Your hand goes to your shortsword. Certainly Not Madrigal presses Madrigal into the boundary. ("MPMPH!", Madrigal says.) You realize, perhaps a smidge too late, that this fraction of a second is the point of no return.

«I mean. That's perhaps a tad melodramatic.»
«All that'll happen, nine times out of ten, is that she's gonna trip straight through the interim and fall out into the manse. She's not going to <die.>»
«At least, not initially. But your conscience would be clear if you were to leave her there.»
«Or at least let her drop. And go get her. If you really, really wanted to.»

>[ID: 2/11]

>[A] Nine times out of ten? What about the one time out of ten? You won't look good if you just let it happen!
>>[1] Try to stab Certainly Not Madrigal. Hope that 1) stabbing is effective and 2) it doesn't just let her go by accident. [Roll.]
>>[2] You have fragments of memories from earlier, with the whole… thing. When you were, uh, not yourself. Something about… opening portals— well, not portals, but you can't remember the name. Anyhow. A portal would be fantastic. [Spend 1 ID — Roll. Spend 2 ID — Autosucceed, but…]
>>[3] Another creative solution? [Write-in.]

>[B] Be… practical? Unthinkable. Let Madrigal go.
>>[1] And dive in right after, caution be damned.
>>[2] And stay here. You've got Certainly Not Madrigal to deal with first. (She'll be fine!)
>>[3] And… [Write-in.]

>[C] Write-in.

I want to see the revival of SORD
Stabby, yes

Please roll me 3 1d100s + 10 (+10 Element of Surprise) vs. DC 75 (+10 Element of Surprise, +10 Metal Bits, +5 Tentacles??) to stab C.N.M. without losing Madrigal in the process.
Rolled 28 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

Rolled 100 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

Will we ever stab well
Rolled 76 (1d100)

Yes, you will. Rolling the last.
>Critical Success
Writing shortly.

How does that adage go? 'When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail'?

Yeah. It's like that, but with a sword.

You draw the machete in one smooth motion and, in the next, begin the swing that'll ultimately land in C.N.Madrigal's half-turned back…

Only, a curious feeling is stealing upon you. A sort of… been-here, done-this feeling. Not here, of course, and not this, just… like it. It could be your imagination. Richard's always said you have an active imagination, with "active" perhaps in scare quotes, though it's ever so difficult to tell. You could be making it up for— attention, or drama, or— but you're not.

You're not. This is an honest and true and genuine phenomenon. This is you having a revelation— or revolution— or reverberation— or rememberation— or—

Oh God, Charlotte, stop it. What's wrong with you? Where's the chip in your china? Or to put it more plainly: what rancid faultline transfixes the core of your being? (That wasn't plain at all. What are you saying? What's wrong—!) Because there is one, must be one, though you don't like to so much as consider that, let alone acknowledge that… and, well, you're neither considering nor acknowledging it. No self-examination can hope to penetrate stratum upon stratum of well-aged denial and delusion and God only knows what. No, all this wheel-spinning is occurring layers down, too fast to consciously process, which is why in actuality your thoughts are on—

Swinging the sword, and additionally how God-damn stupid you'd look if something went wrong. The second is not helping your accuracy. The first… is. Because you know how to do it. Because you've done it before, not just a handful of times and not just in your parlor to an audience of reed dolls. You have been-here, done-this.


Your sword crests past your ear.

So, then, that's the root of all this. The swing. It's not even a good one. You're rusty, clearly, but there's also the fact that this is a machete, actually, not a sword, and so it's kind of modified for that— pretending only goes so far. There's a method you're not adhering to and that's the cause of all the issues here…

"There's a method you're not adhering to. That you refuse to adhere to. That's the cause of all your issues here."

You're sweating, for all the worth sweating has underwater. There's a wooden sword in your hand. You won't give XXXXX the satisfaction of turning to look. "I'm *occupied.*"

"Yes, in all the wrong ways. You want my handkerchief?"

"No!" you snap. And then, backpedaling, "…I have my own."

"Ah, Charlie, you've outwitted me!" XXXXX places one hand to his forehead in a mock-faint. "But yet—! A twist in this tale! For as it turns out…"

That's your handkerchief in his grubby paw. Your *nice* handkerchief. The handkerchief you *brought from home.* The wooden sword clatters to the cobblestone as you ball your fists. "You bastard!"

"Me bastard," he agrees jovially, and tosses the handkerchief to you. It flutters to the ground at his feet. "Curses! Ah well. Guess you'll have to come over here, Charlie…"

"Did you stop over *just* to tell me you stole my hankie?"

"No, I also came to say your form's shit." XXXXX scratches his nose. "Pardon the expression, but yeah, it's shit, and you won't listen to anyone who's telling you otherwise. Shit form's gonna kill you one day. Just look at Stella—"

"Stella's *alive.*"

"Yeah, and her shit form's gonna kill her, too!" Look at him, all pleased with himself. He usually is, and you really should find it irritating… but the earnestness, somehow, makes it okay. "Now, are you gonna pick your handkerchief up?"

"I— no."

"You gonna let me teach you how to do this right?"

"Um…" You glance down to the sword. "Let me guess, you're not going to leave until you try."

"Oh, I was, but that's a pretty good idea!" You hope he's joking. You give it 50/50. "Is there another sword around here?"

"In the bin."

"In the bin— aha!" XXXXX locates an identical wooden sword. "Let's see. You're going to watch me before anything else. Got it? Now, look, it goes one, step, flick, thrust, five…"


You one-step-flick-thrust-five almost— but not precisely— how you were taught. You hit something vital, almost how you were taught. C.N.Madrigal crumples at the threshold.

>[You are VERY GOOD (if somewhat rusty) at swordsmanship and will recieve bonuses to relevant rolls.]

Madrigal stares down at her motionless assailant. She whistles. "Holy shit."

>[1] Write-in.

Honestly guys it's almost 3 AM and my brain is too fried to provide a list of options— write something in if you have something, if not give it ~7-10 hours and I'll see what I can do
Brag just a little bit, then inspect the body. CAREFULLY
Thanks for putting up with me. Writing.
>God, you're cool.
>Examine the body (carefully).

>[+1 ID: 3/11]

"Ha!" you crow. "Ha! Lookit that! I just came in there and went— wham! And boom, there it went! Like a sack of—"

«We were there.»

Was he, though? Was he? Because, as far as you can tell, that was all you. And he says you can't do anything without help—

«I have never said that.»
«And even if I had, it would've been a joke, Charlie. Your sense of humor is atrocious.»

Well, it's hardly your fault he won't inflect.

"Yeah," Madrigal says after a long pause. "When'd you learn to do that?"

You were hoping this wouldn't come up. 'I don't know exactly, because I forgot that I learned it, and coincidentally only just remembered' doesn't seem appropriate. "Oh, uh, before— before I moved here."

"I figured." Madrigal rubs her forearms. "It was… pretty good. Um." She has to work her lips to summon up the next word, which she expectorates like it's choking her. "Thanks."

"Oh, Madrigal." You nearly curtsy, but decide at the last moment that'd be a smidge too much salt in the wound (and it doesn't really work without a skirt). "It was my pleasure to rescue you from your foul doppelgänger. Wereith not for me, surely, thou twould'st beith, uh, spirited away thineever…"

Madrigal stoops to examine the body (and avoid your onslaught, presumably). "Foul doppelganger? What?"

"Er… yes. Doppelgänger, but yes. It looked like you?"

"It did?" C.N.Madrigal lies face-down. "It was dark. You took the lantern, remembr? All I knew was someone grabbed me— I mean, it felt human-ish, but that's all I— where the fuck did you get a lighter?"

Your left thumb's been holding the flintwheel so long they may as well have fused together. You'd forgotten all about it. "Uh…"

"Is that a flame? Charlotte? Is that a flame?"

"There's rather more important matters," you say hastily, "than whether this is or is not a flame, so if we could, uh, keep this until later—"

"Oh, we will." But Madrigal drops the subject. "Now, look, will you bring it over here? I wanna look at this."

You do. She squints, then stands and squints again. "Am I really that short?"


"Why are my shoulderblades asymmetrical?"

You sneak a look at Madrigal's back. They are, in fact, asymmetrical. "I don't know… have you ever dislocated a shoulder? Maybe it healed funny."

"I don't think so? But maybe I did and it just didn't register."

"Or it healed too fast."

"Or that, yeah—"

«I understand you find it difficult to stay on task. This is a persistent personality flaw of yours.»
«But please make an effort. You can make inane chitchat anywhere. You are supposed to be hunting a snake, should you deign to recall.»
«If you can't manage that much, Charlie, you may have to be managed. This is your warning.»

Gee, talk about getting on your back. It's not as if you can't stay on task; you just choose to vary your priorities. Variety is the spice of life and all.
«Look at the body. Look at it. That's all you have to do.»

Fine. Madrigal is attempting to feel her own shoulderblades, so you'll have to take point here. You touch the body.

"Oh, eugh!" You withdraw just as quickly. "It's gooey!"

"It's what?" (Out of the corner of your eye, you catch Madrigal patting her own skin. Just in case, you suppose.) "Gooey? Like…"

Certainly Not Madrigal's "skin" appears to be deteriorating after death. While it retains its color, its texture has gone way off— when you withdraw, a gluey flesh-colored string follows your finger. "Like gooey. This is not… I mean, I guess the arm makes it obvious, but this isn't a person."

"Yeah," Madrigal says matter-of-factly. "Duh. It's a goo."


"A goo. Do you not have them? I don't think they're… I think they're called "false friends" here. Something like that. Big jelly-looking things, kill people, turn into people… no?"

"You're not dead, though."

"N…o, but this is barely me, anyhow. Look at it." Madrigal's turned the body over. "Did a shitty job on the face, on the clothes… I don't think I need to mention the spear. Moron confused it for an arm."

"What about the pipes?"

"The what?"

You've been digging into the body with your sword out of morbid curiosity. There's no blood or muscle, just undefined flesh… and underneath, as you've uncovered, a bizarre skeleton of copper piping. There's practically a whole sink under here.

"Um," Madrigal says. "I dunno. I don't think that's standard."

"Huh… oh, wait." There's something nestled at the dead center of the skeleton. You grimace as you stick two fingers into what looks very much like Madrigal's chest cavity. "Whoa. What?"

You retrieve an shard of crystal. As you do, C.N.Madrigal emits a soft gurgle and loses its shape, becoming even less Madrigal and even more gelatinous puddle.

"Must be where the 'me' is." Madrigal bends over your shoulder to look. "Dare you to swallow it."


"Kidding, kidding. But really, I wonder what'd happen. You feel anything?"

Other than the customary glow of security, you assume. "No."

"Huh. Can I hold it?"

You eye Madrigal with suspicion, but hand her the shard. She turns it over a couple times in her hand. "…Yeah, me neither. Must be real weak— no wonder the thing had issues. Where'd it come from, though? Did I spill… oh."


"Pricked my finger. You did too. You still have the thing you broke off?"

You gesture behind you. "In the backpack."

"Needle. Probably a needle. Probably a…" Madrigal stops short, looking pissed. It's too late. You grin.

"Probably a trap."

"Fuck you, Charlotte. Yeah. Took my fucking blood sample, piped it somewhere, made a shitty copy, sent it out to… I dunno, replace me? I guess? God knows why. I tell you, caves are full of the worst fucking stuff. Totally malevolent for no good reason."

This reminds you of something. "The snake."


"Totally malevolent for no good reason. The snake."

"Charlotte, it's an escaped animal. How would it— why would it be related? Your lighter's got a snake on it, does that mean the snake made it?"

You cough. "Um, no."

"Okay then."

"I just feel like…"

"No." Madrigal rubs her forehead. "It's— it's something else. Maybe it's… I dunno. We need to keep moving."

"Okay." You pause. "Where?"

"You find anything farther down?"


"Okay. Because I tried going back up, back to the sewer, and… I don't know. It was weird. I thought I kept seeing the door. The— the one behind the grate. I think it's gotten fucky up there. Oh, and…" Madrigal brushes her hair back. "I saw back there, just a little, I think. It was pretty blurry. But it looked like a… I don't know, a maintenance corridor or something. Lots of pipes. Well-lit."

"That's interesting," you say absently. You're staring past her. "What's that?"


Something is moving on the ceiling of the tunnel ahead. Vwoop, it goes, weakly. There is no response.

>[A] Oh, it's one of the fish! Good thing you don't care. You're headed…
>>[1] Back up towards the sewers. Or maybe just towards the door.
>>[2] Into the… maintenance corridor? You need to find out where the goo came from.
>>[3] Write-in.

>[B] Oh, it's one of the fish! Madrigal will think you're racist if you don't help. Do… something. [Write-in.]

>[C] Write-in.

Man we just came down here to find a goddamn snake and now we have to deal with fish whistlers, cave teeth, tears in the fabric of reality, evil goo dopplegangers, and mysterious flashbacks. WTF.
Fish are neither friends OR food.
All that and trips. What a world we live in.

Called and writing. Well... kinda. I've got an early appointment, so I'm gonna give myself an hour or so and see what gets done. If it's finished I'll post it, if not you guys will get it tomorrow.
File: maintenance corridor.png (473 KB, 1084x720)
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>Forward unto the breach

You exchange glances with Madrigal. You don't especially want to deal with this. "I mean," you sign, "what if that's a goo, too? Is that something we want to risk?"

Madrigal bites her lip. "Well, I don't—"

"It's not something I want to risk." You toss your head. "I'm going in here."

"The wall?"

"Yes." You've been reassured it's probably safe, right? "If you want to stay out here and get murdered, that's your prerogative. I'm going."

Without waiting for a response, you turn, take a deep breath, and step into the wall.

It's dark inside. It's also humid, and you find yourself fretting about the state of your hair. Madrigal isn't there (still outside?). Richard is. He is reflected, hall-of-mirrors style, infinitely into the distance. More importantly, he's smoking.

"Really?" you say. "Really? Of all the rotten habits— you had to keep with that one?"

"Yes, Charlie." The tuxedo's gone, and he's back to his regular black suit. "I appear to have a physical dependency on it. You only have yourself to blame, you know."

You've long given up making sense of his assertions that you "make" him do things. "Whatever. Where is this?"

"The interim." He smokes. "…The boundary, the buffer, the threshold… I don't believe there's a standardized term. Little space between somewhere and somewhere else, uh, quite full of nothing."

"Didn't you—" You tap your foot in an effort to recall. "—Didn't you say this one's a few inches thick? This isn't a few inches, this is… I mean, I don't see an end to it. Hundreds of feet."

"Oh, no, Charlie, it is a few inches." Richard smiles and you remember he's a snake. "You're just horizontally compressed. And not dying from it or anything, thank goodness. Shall we move on?"

"What about Ma-"

"Oh, I'm sure she's on her way. Can't for the life of me think of why you'd want her, though."

"I—" Don't rise to the bait, Charlotte, don't rise to the bait, don't rise to the bait… "Whatever. Sure. Let's just- oh."

You're already out. Madrigal was right: it's a well-lit corridor. Linoleum flooring, yellow paint on the sole visible wall (the other is, naturally, missing). No visible ceiling, just a tangle of pipes. Richard leans against a sign you can't read. Or he does, anyhow, until he vanishes. Simultaneously, Madrigal stumbles out next to you and coughs up a lung of saltwater.

"Don't give me that look," she demands. You've scooted away. "I assume you did the- aw, fuck." She coughs up the other lung. "I assume you did the same thing."

"No, not really," you say primly. "My constitution's just stronger."

"Har har. Oh, geez." Madrigal wipes her mouth with her hand. "Why's there no water?"

This is not a question you'd ever really sat down and considered before. "I guess… it's not real, so it doesn't need water?"

"It's not…" She scuffs at the tile with her foot. "Feels pretty fucking real, Charlotte."

You're pleased to be the one who gets to explain things. "Well, it's not."

«I suppose I'm forced to give you points for succinctness.»

"Oh." Madrigal stares dubiously at the floor. "Alright, um, that's fine. Why are we here, Charlotte? Since you had the grand master plan and all."

"We're going to find where the goo came from," you say. "Also the—"


"—Also the snake. Because it's in here."

Madrigal sighs. "It's not, but okay, whatever. Have you looked around at all, Miss Strong Constitution? Where are we going?"


You had glanced around, briefly, but didn't get much more than the overall picture. sign Richard was leaning against reads "EMERGENCY < EXIT ." There is a bucket on the floor set out to catch a persistent leak of… something. There is mildew at the edges of the linoleum. There is a white door set into the wall a little ways to the right, with a plaque next to it: "MAINTENANCE ROOM." Out of curiosity, you jimmy the handle— it's locked.

«I could unlock it, but we've got some unwelcome company.»
«Otherwise, I'm sure there's a key around here somewhere.»

On the far side of the door: familiar graffiti. Undecipherable. You call Madrigal over, and she squints and interlocks her fingers. "Uh… I don't know the written language very well. I think it's just… a marker. You know, 'I went this way,' something like that. To the right, I mean."

What's to the right? It's hard to say— the corridor makes a sharp turn a ways down, meaning you can't see much. To the left? The emergency exit, apparently, but it's also the way the pipes above seem to be headed.

"Hey!" Madrigal calls. "Found a ladder! It goes into all the pipes, I guess."

You have some options.

>[A1] Send Madrigal on a wild goose chase so Richard can work the lock. It risks her coming back a little too soon, but it'll work.
>[A2] Attempt to jimmy the lock yourself. What could possibly go wrong? [Roll.]
>[A3] Just leave the door for now. You're sure you'll stumble upon the key.

(A3 only)
>[B1] Head right, in the direction of the fishes' graffiti.
>[B2] Head left, in the direction the pipes are headed (and towards the emergency exit).
>[B3] Head up, into the pipes themselves.

>[C] Write-in.
>[A2] Attempt to jimmy the lock yourself. What could possibly go wrong? [Roll.]
>>[A2] Attempt to jimmy the lock yourself. What could possibly go wrong? [Roll.]

>Please roll me 3 1d100s+5 (+5 Ambidextrous) vs. DC 50 to pick the lock.


>[ID: 4/11]
>[1] Spend 1 ID to add +10 to the results.
>[2] Do not.
Rolled 11 + 5 (1d100 + 5)

>[2] Do not
Rolled 57 + 5 (1d100 + 5)

Rolled 24 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>16, 62, 39 vs. DC 50 - Mitigated Success

Writing shortly.
>[E] Skill: Lockpicking 45
>16, 62, 39 vs. DC 50 - Mitigated Success

It's too late. "Madrigal," you say, "do you have a bobby pin?"

Madrigal gestures to her pixie cut.

You fold your arms. "That's hardly an excuse. You can use them for fishhooks, you know. Fixing hems, clothespins, cleaning under nails—"

"You don't have any," she points out.

"Yes, well, I ran out, Madrigal, thank you for that astute observation. I don't suppose you have a master key, then? Or perhaps a battering ram?"

"Oh, the door!" Madrigal reaches into her shoe. "Shoulda just said so, cause I have a lockpick. Never know when the Court's coming knocking, right?"

"Yes, Madrigal, the d—" Positive thinking, Charlotte! Deep breaths! "…Yes, the door. May I have the, er, the lockpick—"

"Oh, I can just do it," Madrigal says cheerily. (You preferred her, frankly, in the dark.) "No problem. Not the best or anything, but I've gotten into some secure places in my—"

"Give me the damn pick!"

You're happy to see the cheeriness recede. "Fucking—" Madrigal signs, at her side. "Fine," she says. "Whatever. Better be good at it."

You pluck the lockpick from her open hand, dodge her incredulous stare, and retreat to the locked door. You don't care what she thinks. Why should you care what she thinks? Of course she knows how to pick locks, she's probably a thief and a smuggler… All you want to do is pick the lock, and she tries to take that from you…

«It's a Rikker W-560, half-mortised in there. Standard tumbler setup, looks like, wouldn't be too difficult except it's practically rusted through. Can't just bang it off, since it's set in there. Just go slowly.»

It takes you a second to process that Richard's speaking of the door's lock.

«Also, I believe it's hooked up to some kind of silent alarm system. Be careful.»
«I take that back. You're not careful. Let me do it, Charlie.»

Let him do it? You seethe in the general direction of the door. (Richard, who has vanished completely, is not an available target.) He doesn't even have hands. Why does he want to pick a lock? Why does he even care about locks? Why is everyone obsessed with not letting you have fun? Nothing makes sense.

«It will go faster. And I will not drop this place's security on our heads.»
«You objectively will do so. All you've picked are basic pin tumbler locks. Not a whisper of anything higher-technology.»

Watch, then! Watch you pick this lock unassisted! And he can't even think about doing anything to you, not with Madrigal right there. Watch, it'll go like lightning—

It's been ten minutes. Maybe fifteen. Richard has been keeping a pointed silence. Madrigal is pacing.

Finally, you get a click. "Ah!" you say. "See! See!"

«Indeed, there it goes.»

Madrigal draws up short. "There's a red light up here," she says. "That mean anything to you?"

«I meant the alarm. Also the door, I suppose.»
«I'll refrain from 'I told you so.'»

"Er…" you say. "It's, uh, probably nothing. Shall we—"

"Doesn't seem like nothing. Seems like, I dunno, a warning signal. Some kind of 'get out now' type thing."

"I-it's probably not that—"

"Or an alarm, I guess. You think the sound's broken? Does anyone live in not-real land, Charlotte? To hear it? Since you're the fucking expert."

"Um…" You lick your lips. "I— maybe? I don't… I don't know how that would work, exactly, uh— I'm going in here."

Relieved to have successfully dodged Madrigal's line of questioning, you take stock of your new surroundings. The maintenance room is cramped and shakily-lit and smells like something dead. It's also crowded with… stuff, and is clearly being used on the regular.

On the left wall: a large bulletin board. There's a layer of new white notes and memos and flyers, and underneath them yellow, flaking versions of the same.

On the right wall: pipes and valves and a breaker box. There is a gaping hole in one of the pipes, oozing… something. Next to all that lies a half-filing cabinet half-storage closet. The filing drawers are labeled alphabetically. The cabinet has a sheet of typewriter paper cellu-taped to its front: "WORKERS ONLY." There is a visible lock on the front.

In the middle: a little wooden table, across which is draped a five-foot-long shed snakeskin. Also, half-full mugs (the liquid inside is cold).

In the back: the white tiles crack and give way to a dark little dugout in the wall. You can't see in from here, but above is a piece of typewriter paper: "HAPPY 237th BIRTHDAY HAROLD P. STENNIKER ! !" There's a card of some sort pinned to the paper— a license? An ID? You can't tell. It's heavily yellowed.

You glance back over your shoulder. Madrigal is still staring up at the red light.

>[1] What do you want to investigate? (Consider your time limit.)
>[2] Write-in.
Augh. Forgot to mention the something that looks very much like a blueprint also pinned on the back wall.
>ID card
>locked cabinet
Snakeskin. And Maddie said the snake wasn't here. Rub her stupid dumb wrong face in it.
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>Snakeskin (gloat)
>ID card
>Locked cabinet

«I can't say I ever approved of this whole practice.» Richard may be disembodied, but it's easy to picture his blank disdainful eyes on the snakeskin. «Seems like a considerable waste.»

Like a waste, huh? Maybe for the snake, but it's a considerable win for you: it's hard proof the thing's here, exactly where Madrigal claimed it wouldn't be. How about that.

«There must be some kind of point to it, but for the life of me I can't think what.»

"Hey, Madrigal," you call, and lean over the snakeskin as she paces over. It's strange how it's laid out, almost deliberate— it's splayed out and split open down the center. Did someone place it here? Examine it? Dissect it? And what is the gak on the table? Feels like some long-lost punch stain… something sugary gone to dry. You should've brought gloves.

"What?" Madrigal says, then "oh." She jams her hands in her pockets. "I see."

«Be civil.»

You fold your own hands behind your back. "Golly, Madrigal, what is it you see? Could it be a… I don't know, maybe a…"

"Shut up."

"Gee, look at that! Could it be a snakeskin? Oh, no, surely not. There's no snake in here. Couldn't possibly be a snake in here. Madrigal said so, and she knows everything…"

>[+1 ID: 5/10]

«That's not civil, Charlie.»

"Okay," Madrigal says, "okay. That is a snake…skin. Is it real?"

You scoff. "Is it real?"

«Scoffing does nothing for you. You just look constipated.»

"Yeah. I mean, none of this is real. That's what you said, Charlotte. So maybe you just made the snakeskin up."

She's grasping for straws. You scoff again. "You can see it, can't you?"

"I can see all sorts of shit, Charlotte, that's not the point. The point is— you come in here wanting a snake, right. So you open a door, and lo and behold… there's a snake. Or as close as you can get. That's how things work, don't they?"

It's only barely a question— Madrigal's nerves, it appears, are well and truly frayed. "No it's not," you say.

«It's farfetched but not actually impossible.»
«The issue is you can't tell. An actual skin and a manufactured skin would be structurally identical. Much like jewelry, it's just about the sentimentality.»

"Maybe," she says. "Maybe it's not. Maybe the snake's hiding in that fucking cabinet over there and we can all go home." She hesitates. "We don't have a way home. Fuck."

You dismiss her quibble with a flick of your hand. "Ah, one'll turn up. Just keep watch for any elevators, exorbitantly long flights of stairs…"

"Elevators?" It's Madrigal's turn to scoff. (She manages to not look constipated.) "Can't walk up a story? We're not that deep—"

«Don't play our hand.»

But you have to. You have to see the look on her face. "Hundreds of feet."

«Good job.»

"You're a funny one." There's no look on Madrigal's face whatsoever. "I'm going to get the snake out of the cabinet. I need the lockpick back."

You hand her the lockpick, more than a little put out. Fine, then. If she's going to be like that, you'll be… like this. And go look at other things. So there.

The ID card on the back wall, for instance, seems to be the centerpiece of a joke you're firmly not understanding. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY"? Happy birthday why? You fight past the intensifying stench to find out. While you have no intention of looking in the creepy crevice, it's no issue to pluck the card off the paper: it's only cellu-taped on, like the rest.

"Bailey-By-The-Bay Sanitation Department
HAROLD P. STENNIKER - Sanitary Vice Sub-President
H BRN E GRN DOB 08/34/1722"

There's a little unsmiling picture of Harold next to all the writing, but you could not care less— not with the date. That's BTF notation. That's Before the Flood. Happy 235rd birthday indeed, Harold. Did he die when the water rose? Afterwards, trapped in the very sewer he vice-sub-presided over? Did a gator tear his throat out, or did he do it himself?

It doesn't matter, really. You're stealing this.


Eugh: the floor over here has the same nasty day-after-party feeling as the table. Is it the leaky pipe's fault? There's a clear, snotty residue on it, which you swipe your forefinger through and stick in your mouth. (What? It's time-honored.) It's salty. Faint screams ring in your ears. You take your finger out of your mouth. They stop.


"Madrigal," you say. She grunts. "What's in all these pipes, you think?"

"Squid ink. The tears of a million children. Fuck if I know. Oh, we're in business—"

The cabinet door pops open. There's no snake, firstly. (You're the teeniest bit disappointed.) It's just… well, it's clothing. Sanitary clothing. Thick rubber gloves, hoods, full face masks, galoshes. There's two notices on the interior door:

- Keep mouth / nostrils / ears covered at all times !
- Know the infection signs! Clear sticky liquid - close contact - odd mannerisms

"Get off my fucking back about the snake guys it's management's order not mine
That being said I don't care whether it's 'bad juju' or whatever stupid backwater superstition, you are going to deal with it
This is a business
If I catch anybody fucking with it I am gonna fuck with them personally. It's the only specimen in the entire Corcass you assholes
Lester F."

File: five-foot snake.jpg (5.35 MB, 5400x2594)
5.35 MB
5.35 MB JPG
"Madrigal? Have you ever heard of a…"

"Fuck off," she says, and you're about to get very offended before you see she's looking behind you. You turn. You can appreciate her sentiment.

There is a five-foot snake on the table where the snakeskin used to be. It looks at the both of you with blank disdain.


>[1] Stab it! Stab it! [Roll.]
>[2] Nobble it! With… can you do any better than your bare hands? [How? Roll unless the plan is exceptional.]
>[3] Oh God, uh, say something! [What?]
>[4] This is— this is definitely Richard's territory. Just do what he tells you to do. Good plan.
>[5] Write-in.
Rolled 53, 48, 39 = 140 (3d100)

One last thing real quick, DC 60
>[4] This is— this is definitely Richard's territory. Just do what he tells you to do. Good plan.
>[4] This is— this is definitely Richard's territory. Just do what he tells you to do. Good plan.
>>[4] This is— this is definitely Richard's territory. Just do what he tells you to do. Good plan.
Charm it!

Hum and make small circular motions with your hands in front of its face.
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Called for both.

While you wait indeterminately for the update, marvel at the drawing I promised I'd produce... what, two weeks ago? More or less. Ft. bonus Madrigal.
>Turn on your natural (snake) charm
>Or maybe just let someone else take care of this?

You begin to hum and, as an afterthought, wave your hands in circles. (You're sure you've read to do this somewhere. Or someone told you?) Madrigal watches in disbelief. Even you're startled when the snake's head begins to bob in rhythm to your humming, which is singularly loud and tuneless.

«This is disrespectful. Cease immediately.»

Cease? You intensify your gesturing. It's working, isn't it, so what's the big deal?

«You are making a mockery of yourself, Charlotte. That's the big deal.»
«And to prey upon the baser instincts of a cousin is cruel.»

The snake droops onto the table. Madrigal is contemplating her purpose in life, from the looks of her. You? You're just self-satisfied. Really, "cruel?" You're not flaying the thing, all you're doing is waving your hands in cir- is he embarrassed?

«I am a professional, Charlotte, I do not get 'embarrassed.'»

Uh huh. Well, he can't stop you, it's not as if he has any better— that's a dangerous line of thinking.

«Of course I have better ideas.» See? Of course he has better ideas. «Talk to it.»

"Do you talk?" you ask the snake on the table. It doesn't respond. "I don't think it talks."

"Wow," Madrigal says. She's leaning back against the wall, playing with her zipper. "Take a fucking guess."

«It doesn't— it's likely it lacks some capacity for higher-order reasoning. There's only so much one can do with a brain the size of a bird's egg.»
«It will, however, listen to a direct superior. It knows that much.»

You lick your lips. "Er… stay still."

"I am," says Madrigal. The snake says nothing, but continues to bob its head in a regular fashion. You fold your arms.

«You are not its direct superior.»
«Well. You might be, but there's no evidence for it. Stop fretting, Charlie, or it'll spread, and you won't like that at all. Just repeat. Shh. Look it in the eyes and repeat after me. 'My name is Harrier-Leftenant Charlotte F. Fawkins.'»

"My name is…" You hesitate. "…I don't know what that—"

«Harrier-Leftenant. Say it.»

"Harrier-Leftenant Charlotte F. Fawkins," you repeat numbly.

«'I am the sole heir of the Fawkins name, the lone carrier of the <tradition,> and the only possessor of the Second Crown.'»

"I am the sole heir…"

«'I am a 2,000-hour-certified spelunker. I have bitten out a man's throat.'»

Moving on to ridiculous falsehoods, now? You suppose the thing won't know the difference. "I'm a 2,000-hour… I have bitten… I won an award for my sculpture, once," you add unexpectedly. You feel something has to counterbalance the throat thing. "Third place. But the first two cheated, I think, they were awful—"

«'And most importantly, I—' bend down here, Charlie, keep eye contact— 'I am <you,> only <more> in every measurable way, and you can taste it, can't you, cousin, it's in the water— you can taste it, and you know what your place in the heap is, and though you have no concept of fear it scares you— and you will cede. You will cede, because it is writ in the single line of your being, and you will do as I say without question. And you will <enjoy> it.'»

This is not you it's describing, you think, not you at all, you can't say this out loud— but it's too late, because you've said it out loud. You said it out loud as it was being narrated. You couldn't stop yourself.

>[-1 ID: 4/10]

Madrigal, gnawing on her thumbnail, has transitioned to a more complex existential question: "why am I here?"

But you don't care about Madrigal. Richard cares— you care about the snake. And the snake is unmoved. It pays no especial attention to you. Its eyes are blank and disdainful.

«That is not a snake.»

This seems to you like a stretch. You think Richard's just pissy about that whole spiel falling flat.

«No. This is not a thing of subjectives, Charlotte. Subjectives don't exist. This is a yes/no question.»
«The answer is no. It is not a snake. It is something that looks like a snake.»

You realize several minutes too late that the tabletop is now completely dry. There is no residue.

"Madrigal," you say. "Madrigal, we missed some— GNNRGF."

Having spent the entirety of your speech sizing you up, the goo in the snakeskin coils and launches itself against your face. The thing is barely set, you note distantly, it has the consistency of wobbly gelatin. Five feet of wobbly gelatin. You stumble backwards at the sheer weight of it and sputter: parts of it are liquefying, seeping through gaps in the snakeskin, and attempting to find room in your mouth and nostrils. It tastes salty. Distant screams.

"Sonuvabitch!" goes Madrigal, and only just leaps out of the way before you crash into the wall. She grabs clumsily for her spear. "Sonova— I fucking hate caves!"

>[2] AUGHGRGLGARGAHH— wait a sec. [Spend 3 ID. Autosucceed.]
>[3] Good thing, you note distantly, you have a BRILLIANT CONTINGENCY PLAN to help you out… [Write-in. You may still have to roll, depending, but modifiers will be added.]

>Please roll me 3 1d100s+10 (+10 Teamwork) vs. DC 70 (+10 Surprised! +10 Slippery Bastard) to get the thing off your face.

>[ID: 4/10]

>Spend 1 ID for +10 to the result?
>[1] Y
>[2] N
Rolled 49 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>[2] N
Rolled 25 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>[2] N
Rolled 77 + 10 (1d100 + 10)

>59, 35, 87 vs. DC 70 -- Mitigated Success

Writing shortly.
>59, 35, 87 vs. DC 70 -- Mitigated Success

You claw at your face to very little avail. It's like someone's pinned you under a sopping wet scarf, except the scarf is trying to squirm into your mouth and ears and nostrils, so upon further consideration the simile doesn't quite hold. It's starting in on your eye now, the bad one, the iron one, working its tendrils in at the corners (which accounts for the vivid spotting in your vision)— you don't know what it wants with your eye, but you dislike the concept on principle. And you can't reach the shortsword at your breast.

"Ghak!" you say to express this. "Gnrff!" The snakeskin takes no heed, it just keeps oozing, and you are faced with the vague realization that you cannot, in fact, breathe.

It's at this moment that Madrigal finally draws her spear. She comes up from behind you, but circles around to the side before she springs. To lessen the chance of getting you in the process, you suppose, or just for a better angle? In either case, she springs. You barely have time to gag (a tendril has made it through your clenched teeth) before she's upon it, stabbing two-handed again and again and—

Later you'll ask about her methodology. She will shrug and say "gotta kill the anchor." You'll press for clarification. She'll sigh, privately thinking you quite dense, and say "the snakeskin. Fucker needs something to bind to— falls apart without it. I was tearing the snakeskin." Later, you'll say "I knew that. I was testing you."

Right now, you are choking, and flailing, and Madrigal's frenzied efforts are proving only moderately effective. The snakeskin slackens, but doesn't actually leave your nose and mouth and bad eye. You are still unable to breathe.

«Keep a level head. Hysteria helps nothing.»

Hysteria? You're not hysterical. Well, you are gibbering, slightly, but that's perfectly rational in context. It's not hysterical gibbering. Okay? Okay? What more does he want from you in a crisis—

Madrigal stabs your shoulder. She doesn't mean to stab your shoulder, it's just that there was a lot of goo in front of it, and anyways you were flailing. But the rationale doesn't matter much when you've got the tooth of some massive beast driven into your shoulder by a fucking skanky attitude-ridden lowborn.

>[-1 ID: 3/10]

You howl, though through the morass it's more of a gargle. God! It hurts. God, it hurts. And it's got serrated edges, so there's your blood everywhere, and could you just get this thing off your face?! Out of your throat?! All you have to do, really have to do, is grip it with both hands, white-knuckled, brace yourself against the wall, and wrench it away. There. It's gone, it's formless sludge between your fingers, you can and do breathe. God. God, there's an entire spear in your shoulder.

The goo at your feet still looks like a snake, if you squint, but one with both button eyes loose, the seams out, and the stuffing leaking out in… puddles. It may as well be dead, though it ripples hopefully at every drop of your blood.

Madrigal is panting. "Where— where did that— come—"

"You stabbed me," you say.

"You'll— you'll heal— quick. Looks— superficial. Where did it—"

"Table. There was its residue on the table. Maybe it was under the skin, maybe it just coalesced… I don't care. You stabbed me."

"While helping—"

"You stabbed me while helping."

Madrigal takes a deep breath and works her lips. She wants to say something, obviously, and you'd be pleased if she did. But civility wins out, and all she eventually comes up with is: "What're we doing with the Fitz?"

"The what?"

"The—" Her bottom lip quirks. "The, uh, the spear. The spear. We can't leave it in your shoulder."

"Are you crazy?" you demand. "It's serrated! I'm not stupid!"

"Okay, so you want to walk around with it in your shoulder."

"No! Just break it!"

"Break it?" It's like you politely suggested she throw herself off a cliff. "No. No way."

"I'm not bleeding out in a maintenance room!"

"I'm not breaking it!"

You are, it seems, at an impasse.

>[1] Leave the entire spear buried in your shoulder. You'll… make it work. Take a breather.
>[2] Take the spear out of your shoulder. You better have something for the blood. [Write-in.]
>[3] Convince Madrigral to break her pwecious spear. [Roll. Write-in argument for bonuses.]
>[4] Aren't there— aren't there people coming? You can't spend the time! Hobble out as fast as you can and find a safer place to do any of the above. Assuming there is a safer place.
>[5] Forget hobbling. You have to sprint, damn the physical wear.
>[6] Write-in.
We're on page 10, so this will likely be the last update of the thread. We'll pick up... maybe less than a week, this time, not sure. I'll announce in advance.

Archived here: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive/4091909/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BathicQM

Thanks, as always, for reading. Feel free to drop any thoughts/comments/questions/concerns here before the thread dies, or hit me up on Twitter or the Quest Discord.

Have a good day!
>[4] Aren't there— aren't there people coming? You can't spend the time! Hobble out as fast as you can and find a safer place to do any of the above. Assuming there is a safer place.

good thing we're underwater

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