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/qst/ - Quests

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You are Charlotte Fawkins, noted heiress, detective, adventuress, and heroine, cruelly trapped underwater (in the sticks!) after the completion of your quest to find your long-lost family heirloom. Tragically, nobody here l̶i̶k̶e̶s̶ ̶y̶o̶u appreciates your talents, even Richard— the snake who lives in your head. Right now, you've set off to uncover the Vault of Keys, a mysterious and treacherous treasure cache located in somebody's mind.

"Okay," you say, tetchily. "What happened to 'impossible to find'?"

Richard, one ear pressed to the round door of the Vault, glances back toward you. "You believed that spiel, Charlie?"

"Well, I—" It's not like you trusted the shopkeeper attempting to sell you your own stolen possessions, but you thought its information on the Vault would have some merit. "I suppose there's no trials, either? You just walk right in and carry 200 keys out?"

"Walk right in, yes." Richard turns the door handle forward, then back, and it swings open with a muted 'pop.' If there was a second half of his sentence, it's lost: he flinches and grimaces. You can't see why. The room behind the Vault door is nondescript.

"It's pressurized," he spits, before you can ask. "Witness." Tearing the unlit cigarette from his mouth, he flicks it through the doorway. The cigarette bounces once, lazily, before crumpling into nothing.

This display means nothing to you, but he continues before you can ask again. "You recall the… incident? Last time? Where I was—" He makes a crunching motion.

God, you wish you didn't recall it. "Where you got smushed into me? Yeah. Thanks for the vague non-warning, by the-"

"You're welcome. That was primarily the result of a vast pressure differential between— look." He uncurls his fist, revealing two balls of clay. "This one is you. This one is me. Going down a layer results in—" He presses the balls together until they're stuck. "Go down another layer, and—" He squashes them together into one larger ball. "Yes?"

"Ew," you say.

"Yes. Ew. More relevantly, go in there, and—" He splits the clay into two halves, raises them up, and smashes them flat against each other.

You consider this. "What if you just stayed out here?"

"Oh, yes, Charlotte, and leave you entirely helpless against—"

"What if you went in first, then? It can't squish you if I'm not— if there's nobody else to squish to, right? And maybe if you're already acclimated, or whatever, then nothing will happen when I follow you."

Richard has a strange look on his face.

"…Will that not work?"

"It's not the worst idea you've ever had," he says brusquely. "I suppose that, failing all else, we may attempt your—"

"Hold on, did you not think of that?" If it's not a 'God, you're dumb' face, that's the only other explanation. "Did you seriously— I mean, it's so easy! You just—"

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"I was saving it for later." He scratches his nose. "Nonetheless, if you're inclined to be pushy, we may as well get it over with."

He didn't think of it!

>[+1 ID: 9/(10)]

For once, you're not inclined to rub it in. This is sweet enough. "Okay, then! Go on. You're up first."

"Discretion is the better part of valor, Charlotte." But he straightens his collar and steps through. He's barely a foot inside before he stops, grips his throat, chokes— and crumples, like his cigarette, into nothing. A skeleton key tinkles to the floor.

"Um," you say. Is this a trick? To see how you'll react? That seems like something he'd do. He's just— he'll pop up behind you in just a minute. But what should you do in the meantime? 'Discretion is the better part of valor—' was he telling you to wait? Or was that a trick, and he wants you to go get the key? Probably the latter. If you don't do anything, he'll call you lazy. Or a coward. And you're not—

You step through the door and nearly fall over. It feels as though someone's taking an icepick to your skull. But then it doesn't, and you straighten, scooping up the key as you do. It is black against your cracked and pearly palm. The air smells of flowers.

"Richard?" you say hoarsely to the key. It doesn't respond. You run a finger along the spiraling groove in its bow, to equal effect, then prod the rose that's sprung up in your bad eye. Just like last time. You hope you'll get used to this 'downshift' thing eventually, because, to be frank, it's deeply unnerving.

"So, where's the trial?" Maybe Richard's listening. "Is it— this is just a room. There's a door, I guess?" There is a door, on the far wall. "Do I have to open the door? Is that the trial? There's a keyhole, looks like, so I guess I have to find the— oh." There's a gold key cellu-taped up just above the keyhole. "Seriously?"

>HOW THE VAULT WORKS: There are seven trials. Each trial will inflict increasingly severe penalties, which will be disclosed beforehand. If you get to the end of the trials, you will receive 200 keys, which is enough to get your stolen items back plus a number of other prizes.
>At any point, rather than face the penalty, you may escape. This has no consequences, but you may not return to the Vault after you escape. Any penalties and rewards you may have already obtained will remain.

>[1] Face the Trial of Common Sense. [Penalty: -1 ID]
>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]
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Welcome back to Drowned Quest Redux! I didn't get anything bonus done, sorry... that's the trouble with short times between threads, I guess.

One a day, sometimes more if the first one was short. If I miss a day, I'll try to compensate with multiple updates the next. There may be sporadic half-updates (no options) if I start writing too late in the evening, sorry in advance. I am in the PST timezone.

We use a 3d100 degrees of success system with crits. The base DC is 50. Modifiers may be applied to the roll or to the DC as are relevant. The # of rolls that match or exceed the DC determine the result. Probabilities may be found in the Dice and Mechanics pastebin.

The degrees are:
0 Passes = Failure
1 Pass = Mitigated Success
2 Passes = Success
3 Passes = Enhanced Success
0/100 = Critical Failure / Critical Success [regardless of other rolls]

The MC has a pool of 10* Identity ("ID"), which may be considered both HP and the measure of her current sense of self. It may be lost through physical, metaphysical, or emotional damage. It may be regained through write-ins, designated options, and at reasonable narrative points, including sleep. It may be spent on a flat +10 bonus to most rolls, as well as on more elaborate metaphysical effects. Dropping to 0 ID is bad.

[*The ID cap is typically 13, but prior choices have lowered this until a sidequest is completed.]




This quest is a sort of sequel/reboot of the original Drowned Quest, which ran for eight threads in 2019. Reading the original isn't required.

>I have a question/comment/concern?
Tell me!
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Madrigal reminds you of her desire to get involved in the whole Ellery-investigation thing, and so you turn to Plan B: making a snake hatch out of her, stuffing her in the snake, and bringing the snake along to your Spelunkers Associated meetup. After some tangling with Madrigal's concerned friends (wherein you piss Monty off so badly you get lightly strangled), you accomplish this feat.

Unfortunately, you are late to the meet-up, and are forced to wander around the frozen manse with Madrigal and Richard. You stumble upon a woman about to be ritually sacrificed, murder a lot of manse natives, and rescue her. The woman reveals that she's actually one of the S.A. people, codenamed 'Nettie,' and is not terribly grateful for your help. With her, you attempt to hunt down Ellery, who falls into a nymph-infested frozen lake and strands you on an ice floe. A nymph says hello and invites you into the lake, and after some vetting you agree. You have a great time, right until the nymphs bring you an unconscious Ellery and invite you to consume him.

Thinking quickly, you convince the nymphs that Ellery is too contaminated to be eaten and rescue him successfully, along with the key you need to get to the second level. Ellery is not terribly grateful either, and neither are Nettie or Anthea, who you find by a campfire. As it turns out, this wasn't a public S.A. meetup... it was a very private one, and none of them will tell you what they're doing. They want you to leave.

You convince them to take you to the gate to the second level, at least-- but discover that the gate is guarded by dozens of natives ("unpeople"), alerted by your mass murder. You concoct a plan to convince them you're an emissary of Ignatius Flick, their missing god-king and probable owner of the manse, but it fails miserably, and you are kidnapped.

You wake up in a torture chamber minus all your belongings. Richard breaks you out, and after some dungeon-wandering you discover a horse-betting ring, as well as a mysterious inhuman shopkeeper who has all your stuff. To get it back, you need keys, which you can get through a variety of fun* and exciting* activities... including the Vault of Keys!

*not legally binding terms
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Immediate goals:
- Make it though the Vault of Keys
- Gather at least 65 keys, to get your stuff back

Short-term goals:
- Speak to Eloise about her job proposition
- Spend your share of the heist $$$
- Meet back up with Annie the worm

Long-term goals:
- Procure permanent, non-melting body for Gil
- Regain your missing ID
- Finish your model
- Investigate your gooplicate with Jesse
- Find the Gold-Masked Person and their snake, reclaim the Crown
- In the meantime, continue collecting and storing Law
- Learn more about, and explore, the Grande Mangrove
- GTFO of this underwater hellhole
- Make friends???

- Who or what drove Ellery into self-imposed exile?
- Who or what is Namway Co.'s “Management”? What did they want with the clone of a snake?
- What's the deal with that weird sword training flashback you had?
- What kind of company(?) does Richard work for? What is its endgame? What does it want with you?
- What is Richard actually like, behind the whole... dad thing?
- What is a clone of you doing running around in the Fen? What was it saying about "Human Resources"?
- What is the meaning of Jesse's spiral tattoo?
- What is Ellery's patent for? Is it connected to his entire deal?
- Who is Horse Face investigating, and why?
- Who is the Gold-Masked Person? Why did they want your Crown? Where are they now?

Ongoing assignments:
- Inform Eloise (and the Wind Court?) about anything you discover about Namway Co.


>Don't forget to scroll back up and vote!
Honestly, Snekdrigal was amazingly bad at being low-key. Like. Everyone is asking why our pocket, and then snake, keeps talking.

Way to fucking blow it Snaddy.

we aren't going to turn back at penalty 1, are we?

I wonder how we're gonna lose an ID retrieving a taped key tho

maybe the tape is extra sticky and hard to pull off

>[1] Face the Trial of Common Sense. [Penalty: -1 ID]

The most dangerous and threatening of trials in store for a plucky young heroine. The least developed sense in any proper protagonist. Common Sense. My god, they've thought of everything.
>>[1] Face the Trial of Common Sense. [Penalty: -1 ID]

Not the worst idea we've ever had.

Called and writing shortly.

Yeah, you have every right to chew her out whenever you get her unfrozen and alone.

I was scrolling back up to vote and I noticed this is some nice charlie art

real ellery looks way too smug for an ellery
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>nice charlie art

>way too smug
You have to remember that from his POV it's been ~5 years of his only human contact being with a bunch of nerds whose opinion of him ranges between 'kind of a conceited prick but really good at what he does' and 't-teach me Ellery-sama ヾ(̴̆◡̴̆。)ノ'. This is also 5 years of being effectively unkillable and possessing, at least in his own manse, Richard-tier reality-warping stuff. Except he doesn't have to worry about 'regulations' and 'supervisors' and 'red tape.'

So yeah, he is smug. Pic related.

Plus, Mirror Ellery is probably less smug, because he keeps waking up with pretty much no memories, Maddy mad at him, and everyone either treating him like a weirdo creep, or trying to avoid him on purpose. I miss Mirror Ellery, even if he did keep melting into silver at inconvenient times, and most impertinently when we gave Gil a chance to not be beetles again.
>everyone either treating him like a weirdo creep
This is mainly Charlotte.

>or trying to avoid him on purpose
Really, it's him trying to avoid everyone else, even if he doesn't know why...

>I miss Mirror Ellery
He's still around! No matter how many times you try and sacrifice him for your own benefit.
>He's still around! No matter how many times you try and sacrifice him for your own benefit.
um excuse you, we keep sacrificing him for our own benefit because we know he'll still be around

wow 5 years of people being nice to him actually made him less nice. this is why we have to be mean, to restore his niceness.
>[1] Face the Trial of Common Sense. [Penalty: -1 ID]
Charlie will lose this immediately.
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Is this also a trick? Aren't these supposed to be challenges? That must not be the real key, then. You're supposed to find a different key, or- or make a different key, maybe, or— maybe this is why Richard dropped a key? (Or… turned into a key? You don't really know what he…) But that also too easy? You didn't even have to try. Did you already solve the puzzle, by sending him in first, or is it another red herring? You take it out and examine it: it looks too small for the keyhole. Do you need to… enlargen it? Somehow? How do you do that? The room is empty. Can you just stick it in the keyhole and will it to fit? Or pretend it already does fit? Or— or hold it up to your eye, so it looks big, then keep that fixed in your mind? Maybe you have to climb through the keyhole?

You continue in this vein for a good fifteen minutes. Richard's key refuses to get larger or smaller, or alter in shape, or duplicate itself, or change in any conceivable way. (Much like Richard, you think.) Once you manage to forget about scale, and the door rears up before you like the face of a cliff, but the vertigo is horrible and the keyhole a hundred feet up. You set about messing with the lock, instead, attempting to pick it (no success) and cut it out (the only blade you can muster is wobbly and indistinct). You try to pretend the door does not exist: it exists. You try to walk through the door: you nurse your sore forehead.

Eventually, at the end of your rope, you peel the gold key off the door and use it on the keyhole. The door swings open.

You cuss.

>[-1 ID: 8/(10)]

Once you get it out of your system, you fall silent. This would be the right time for Richard to appear, really. He could tell you what an idiot you were and still be there when it actually got tough. Win-win. But you wait, and nothing happens. His key is still.

You take the gold key from the lock and drop it in your pocket. You walk through the open door—

—and cuss again. A searing pain has sprung up in your right heel, forcing you to limp a few steps before it fades. Dammit! What is with—

"Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Charlotte. H- h- h- h- have -ve -ve a- a- a- dri- i- i- nk, have a drink, Charlo-tte- tte-, a- a-, have a-"

—You are s̶e̶a̶t̶e̶d s̶t̶a̶n̶d̶i̶n̶g i̶n̶ ̶a o̶n̶ ̶a h̶i̶g̶h̶-̶b̶a̶c̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶i̶r b̶a̶r̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶o̶l f̶l̶o̶w̶e̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶o̶t̶t̶o̶m̶a̶n w̶r̶o̶u̶g̶h̶t̶-̶i̶r̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶d̶o̶o̶r̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶i̶r c̶h̶a̶r̶t̶r̶e̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶i̶s̶e̶ ̶l̶o̶n̶g̶u̶e

You are a̶t i̶n ̶a̶ t̶h̶e y̶o̶u̶r p̶a̶r̶l̶o̶r N̶o̶t̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ i̶n ̶a̶ t̶e̶n̶t c̶a̶f̶e n̶o̶w̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶i̶c̶u̶l̶a̶r

You are faced with y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶a̶u̶n̶t H̶e̶n̶r̶y J̶a̶c̶q̶u̶e̶s H̶o̶r̶s̶e̶ ̶F̶a̶c̶e R̶i̶c̶h̶a̶r̶d

You are offered a drink.

(Choices next.)
>[1] Face the Trial of Moderation. [Penalty: A debuff]
>>[A] Accept the tea. (LINGERING BITTERNESS — Cancel the next time you gain ID.)
>>[B] Accept the martini. (DRY MOUTH — Become unable to speak for the next hour. You may still sign.)
>>[C] Accept the pink cocktail. (SUGAR JITTERS — Gain a -20 to your next roll involving hand-eye coordination.)

>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]
>[1C] Accept the pink cocktail. (SUGAR JITTERS — Gain a -20 to your next roll involving hand-eye coordination.)
Charlie always fails rolls anyway.
We're pretty high on ID and we usually just gain 1 or 2 anyway.
>[1C] Accept the pink cocktail. (SUGAR JITTERS — Gain a -20 to your next roll involving hand-eye coordination.)
I swear to god if we have to play that one carnival game with the balls and plates.

Getting high worked last time we tried it.


Called and writing though I may be interrupted.

Look, I dunno how you take your cocktails, but this one is hallucinogen-free.
I remain skeptical.
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>Proceed: cocktail

̶Y̶o̶u̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶e̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶ ̶d̶r̶i̶n̶k̶.̶

You are offered the drink, the one you always get, and can never remember the name of. It's highly possible there is no name, and it's just what Jacques slapped together that first night, when you stumbled in, claimed what you'd later discover was Sutton's seat at the bar, and asked thickly for something "with fruit." The umbrella was a later addition, and one that cemented your fierce loyalty to the institution of the Better Than Nothing, up until you—

But that hasn't happened yet. You know because Sutton's hunched over in his new seat, and he vanished four months ago. Jacques taps the bartop. "Gonna drink that, or you just gonna look at it?"

"I paid for it," you mumble, "what's it to you if I drink it?"

"You didn't pay for it, missy, you put it on your tab. You don't drink it, I'm out the liquor. You know how much it takes to import this stuff? Because I'd be happy to stand here and list off my bill—"

You roll your eyes and take a sip. "Mph!"

"I take that as a good sign? Here, I tell you what. Drain it and I'll toss in a prize."

A prize? You don't need a prize— you'd ask Jacques what the hell he did to the recipe, but that would require you to stop chugging the thing. It's a god-damn masterpiece, is what it is, oily and bitter, with an aftertaste of chalk and a kick of salt from your loving and spontaneous tears. You would drink it forever, would savor every note of rust and black water, but your hands have begun to shake violently and a pressure is building in your sinuses. Unwillingly, you set the glass down.

Richard gazes over his sunglasses. He's inebriated, too, judging from his popped collar. "Charlie, you barely made a dent."

It's true. The glass is still full.

"It's because of your— your shoddy construction. Look at you! You're so… you're not good for this at all." He stands, knocking his chair over, and circles around the rickety café table. "I can help, Charlie. Just let me—"

He holds your shoulders and sets upon you with ice-cold fingers. Gently, meticulously, he prises your jaw open until it's flush with your neck. He presses your teeth into your gums, unflinching at the tiny puncture wounds they leave, and flattens your tongue, and tucks away the flesh at the back of your throat. He seals off your windpipe, and to be safe pinches shut your nostrils. Finally, he cricks your neck back 90 degrees, so you are facing the cement ceiling.

It only takes a moment, and he presses your glass into your hands after he finishes. "Now try."

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You raise the glass to your mouth and drink. It goes down smoothly and directly. You do not swallow or cough or gag or experience discomfort. You do not experience anything. This continues for some time, as Richard watches in approval, until something hard and solid slides smoothly and directly down your throat. Bereft of other ideas, you slide your arm down after it and fish the object out.

It is a golden key, with a little label— "2"— attached to it with string. "Oh!" you say, then "Oh," and then you blink hard and you are alone in a cold grey little room. You are holding a goblet. It is mostly empty, except for a few dregs of mud at the bottom.

"…Oh, God." There are no door or windows in the room. You are still shaking slightly, which is because of the sugar content of the… cocktail (it was a cocktail), and not because of any other reason.

>[GAINED: Sugar Jitters — -20 to next roll requiring hand-eye coordination]

What did Jacques— fake Jacques— Fauxques (you muster a snicker) say? "Drain it?" God-damnit. You squeeze your eyes shut, pinch your nose, and let the rest of the mud drop onto your tongue. It tastes like mud. Before you can swallow, though, the goblet glows, widens, and sucks you inside. You slosh there for a second before it falls, empty, to the ground—

—and you, semi-solid, are spat into shallow water. You congeal, hissing curses upon the Vault and the Vault's whore mother, and stand.

Where are you? A river. Well, a 'river' may be overstating it— though you've never seen a river, you were given forcible education on Former Geology, and this seems to you like a brook. Or a creek. Or a stream? (Your tutor was vague about the differences.) You will go with 'creek,' because it sounds best.

You are ankle-deep in a creek. Around the creek is nothing. Not void, black or white, just— there's a suggestion of things, but it's impossible to focus on. Directly in front of you, anchored in the creekbed, is a wooden sign that reads 'BE CLEANSED.' Ten feet in front of that is a golden key suspended from a string.

You turn and wince: there is a stabbing pain in your navel. You can't easily investigate it with a dress on, though (thanks, Richard), and it soon fades. Behind you is also nothing. The creek just ends. You need to go upstream. ...Upcreek?

>[1] Face the Trial of Cleanliness. [Penalty: Memory loss.]
>>[A] Be cleansed of the memory of your mother.
>>[B] Be cleansed of the memory of your training.
>>[C] Be cleansed of the memory of your transgressions.

>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape.]

okay it didn't start off as drugs so this is your fault really
>[C] Be cleansed of the memory of your transgressions.

>>[C] Be cleansed of the memory of your transgressions.

If it's transgressions of why we're down here, they don't matter, because we underwater now. If it's for things we've done here, it's fine, because we don't cause problems, ever. For given values of ever, obviously. IF it's for EVERYTHING, ehhhh, still better than forgetting how to use The Sword, or Mom. Forgetting who exactly we pissed off and why could bite us in the ass, but we already get bit in the ass by that plenty anyways. Sometimes it's even our fault, shocking, I know.
>>[B] Be cleansed of the memory of your training

We're honestly still rather shit at it anyways.

We love our mum despite our problems, and we haven't made any transgressions so that choice must be a trick.
>Charlotte Fawkins is a good girl who dindu nothing wrong, ever, in her life

>Reverse training montages

Called for [A3]. I'm not convinced I'll finish before I have to skedaddle for [real life thing], but I'll at least get started. Writing.
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>Proceed: transgressions

It's kind of comforting, in its own way, to have limited options-- at least you know you can't make the wrong decision. And this trial seems difficult to misinterpret. It could turn out you're slogging through mud, you suppose, but-- you've been doing that for the last six months. It could be worse.

Though you have to hike the hem of your dress up, the creek is pleasant to wade in: cool but not cold, clear as air. Maybe this isn't even a proper trial, you rationalize, but a break between them. Or whoever constructed all this ran out of ideas early on. But what of the sign? Does it mean anything? Does it have to mean anything? It's highly possible it's just literal: when you glance down, a small cloud of grime is trailing off you. You blame the dungeon.

As you continue upstream, two things become apparent: first, that the key is far more than ten feet ahead, and second, that the creek is steadily getting deeper. It's up to your shins, now. This makes more sense: clearly it'll come over your head, in a few more minutes, and you'll drown. Or you won't drown, but it'll seem like you're back underwater, and-- well, you haven't thought past that. And you don't really want to give it ideas. Something will happen when you go under the surface, though, you're certain.

So why drag it out? As nice as the creek is, it's just prolonging the actual trial, and anyhow you can't shake the worry that it's mud. Or sewage, maybe. So, before you can dwell further on that, you drop your hem, grab your hair back, and dive clumsily into the water.

You do not dive. There is no water. You jitter inside a lacuna as it flexes and spikes and after a small eternity spits you back into the creek, only it's for some reason flowing backwards. The key, which still glimmers on its string, is now downstream, and leeches are dripping from your ankles. You only kicked a little bit, and you may or may not have shrieked, so overall you put up an admirable performance before realizing it wasn't leeches at all. Judging from your prodding, and your ill-advised taste test, it's just… gunk? Shiny black gunk, so thick you could slice it, extruding itself from your pores.

Well, okay, you were right! Something happened. And while you didn't account for this particular possibility, it really isn't awful: it looks nasty, sure, but it doesn't seem to be harmful. If anything, if this stuff was in your body, you're glad it's out. So you were right about the cleansing being literal! You just needed to give it a little kick-start. God, you're good.

And the more gunk oozes out— there sure is a lot of it— the better you feel. As you slosh forward (the water's up to your knees), you begin to wonder if it's in fact concentrated negative energy. Though you have, of course, taken pains to stay positive, negativity has crept into your life— mostly through Richard, to be clear, so it's not your fault. But it has crept in, and you've experienced some— some occasional doubt, and guilt. Possibly some embarrassment. And you've tamped these down as best you could, but that's the trouble with negative emotions. They stay. They lodge in some crevice in your heart and they rot you from the inside out, and there's not a single thing you can do if you refuse to indulge them. Which you naturally do.

Until now! You're quite certain the water's drawing it out of you, as charcoal does a poison, and you couldn't be more pleased. The more you think on it, the more you're struggling to remember why you harbored all that negativity in the first place. It can't be deserved— you've never done a thing to hurt anybody. And yet the disparagement you've been subjected to! The abuse! And you, the blameless victim at the very center! How can they not see how good and perfect you are? The superlative queen you'd make?

>[+1 ID: 9/(10)]

You pity yourself, even as you smudge the third gold key with sticky black prints. You continue to pity yourself as you plummet over the edge of a waterfall.

>[You can no longer remember anything you've ever done to wrong anybody!]

Luckily, you are caught before the rocks smash you to little pieces. Unluckily, you recognize what catches you: it's a whole gaggle of unpeople, the ones who blockaded the gate and kidnapped you for no reason at all! You struggle, but this time they're armed and you're not, and they transport you back to the torture chamber with ease.

It is the torture chamber, only it's been spruced up: fresh torches in the sconces, the cobwebs swept away, several brand-new torture devices. Hmm. And they're all wide open. Are they supposed to be open? The unpeople shove you toward one—

>[1] Face the Trial of Constitution. [Penalty: -3 ID, Semi-Permanent* Debuff]
>>[A] You are shoved toward the Rack, to be stretched until your limbs break off. [Gain WEIRD CENTER OF GRAVITY — You automatically lose all combat tiebreakers.]
>>[B] You are shoved toward the Iron Maiden, to be impaled by hundreds of spikes. [Gain HOLEY HELL — -10 to strength-based and persuasion-based checks.]
>>[C] You are shoved toward the Cage, to starve and dehydrate while birds feast off you. [Gain SUNSTROKE — Once a thread, your first Enhanced Success is forcibly rerolled.]

>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]

*You can get rid of it with effort, but it won't go away on its own
>>[C] You are shoved toward the Cage, to starve and dehydrate while birds feast off you. [Gain SUNSTROKE — Once a thread, your first Enhanced Success is forcibly rerolled.]

Honestly, I can't remember when we last got an enhanced success. We got a lot of crit-fails, but rarely, if ever, got Enhanced Success. Take the hit now, and we can probably get it dealt with before it bites us in our now worry-free-about-potential-threats-in-the-past ass,
>[C] You are shoved toward the Cage, to starve and dehydrate while birds feast off you. [Gain SUNSTROKE — Once a thread, your first Enhanced Success is forcibly rerolled.]
As I've said, Charlie always fails rolls anyway.
Still, I'm starting to think we should've just bet on horse fights.
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>betting on horse fights

And risk seeing those magnificent beasts collapse in the dirt in combat? That's the type of thing that would drive a horse girl to existential sadness.
>>[C] You are shoved toward the Cage, to starve and dehydrate while birds feast off you. [Gain SUNSTROKE — Once a thread, your first Enhanced Success is forcibly rerolled.]

Called and writing. I'm aiming for two updates today, maybe three if this one goes quick.

You had two Enhanced Successes last thread (and may have had a third if you didn't critfail) and two the thread before that. You also got two critfails each in those two threads, but I actually ran the numbers on getting four or more 1s in 48 d100s and it's ~.0001 percent... E.Success should in theory be far more common. Not sure if this will make you feel better or worse...

>Still, I'm starting to think we should've just bet on horse fights.
I don't know what you guys expected, honestly.

>implying Charlotte is not already beset with existential sadness
just kidding she sure isn't anymore
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>Proceed: cage

You are packed into what looks like a large iron birdcage, barely large enough for you even with your legs pulled to your chest, and with a metallic squeal are hoisted through a trapdoor in the ceiling. The breeze tousles your hair as you are winched thirty, forty feet into the air— and then it stops. And you are left there.

You are left there for eight days. You rage at first, rocking the cage so hard you make yourself sick. When that proves futile, you spin plans. Can you unlock the cage with one of your keys? Saw away at the rope holding you up? Persuade one of the aggressive local gulls to peck the rope away? Use your feminine wiles to convince an unperson to let you down? But the bars are too thick, and you too high off the ground. Nothing works.

After you wake up the second day with cracked lips and a swollen tongue, your priorities deteriorate to surviving as long as possible. You gnaw on your dress and on your wrist. You attempt to catnap to conserve your energy. On the second night, it rains, and though you develop the worst neck pain of your life you keep your mouth pointed at the sky and swallow whatever you can. You lick the water from your arms, too, and suck it from the sodden fabric of your dress. You are too cold to sleep.

On the fifth day an overzealous gull sticks its entire head through the bars of the cage. Though you're barely strong enough to lift your head, you grab its mottled neck and, grunting, wring it. You eat gull meat, that day, and drink its lifeblood greedily, and in the frigid night you wrap yourself in its ragged wings.

Your worst enemy is not the gulls, who shriek and rake and peck at you daily: at least they provide a diversion, and as you've discovered they're highly edible. Nor is it hunger, thirst, the blistering wind, or even the cage itself— though you're sure it's done permanent damage to your spine. No, your worst enemy, your sworn nemesis, hideous and evil in the extreme, is one thing: the sun.

You had been grateful to see it, the first day— you had missed it, in an abstract sort of way. How stupid you were! Your goodwill curdled as it dried the air, reddened your skin, stirred your thirst, and— worst of all— heated the metal cage to blistering. Skin peeled from your hands, your feet, your neck, your thighs. You tried to twist yourself to touch the cage as little as possible, but the results were too unspeakable to let stay. And so you burned.

But you lived, for better or worse, though the last few days were a delirious muddle: you drifted in and out of consciousness, and often awoke convinced your dream was true and the cage was false, or that you'd never been anywhere but the cage, or sometimes both at once. You'd count your fingers and find six or four. Richard would speak to you, but you knew it wasn't him, because he didn't do anything to help. You know he would help. He would just be mean about it.

On the morning of the eighth day, you awake: and clarity of purpose hits you like a thunderbolt. The sun is your enemy! It's what put you here and what keeps you here! You must break free — you must find it — you must kill it — for the good of mankind! Even if it means your life!

You are emaciated enough to squeeze out of the cage and determined enough to lever yourself up and over it, onto the rope holding it up, which you realize was never connected to the ground— it leads directly to the sun! Your weight shrunken to almost nothing, you scale it effortlessly— and within a few minutes you are facing it head-on! It laughs at you, mocking your puny size and unattractive peeling skin and lack of crown of fire! But it does not — can not — expect you to leap at it, howling, and deliver a powerful avenging punch!

It flares and screams! Even as you disintegrate from the heat of its dying throes, you are secure in the heroism of your self—

>[-3 ID: 6/(10)]
>[GAINED: SUNSTROKE — First Enhanced Success each thread is rerolled.]

—sa- sacrif- self-sacrif…

You are standing in an empty grey room. Your fist is bleeding. You appear to have punched an electrical light to death.

You hate this place.

>[1] Face the Trial of Cooperation. [Penalty: -1 max ID. This will put you at (9) temporary max ID, or 12 permanent max ID.]
>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]
How can jolly cooperation reduce our max ID? :(
>>[1] Face the Trial of Cooperation. [Penalty: -1 max ID. This will put you at (9) temporary max ID, or 12 permanent max ID.]

Wouldn't be a trial if it didn't hurt.

>[1] Face the Trial of Cooperation. [Penalty: -1 max ID. This will put you at (9) temporary max ID, or 12 permanent max ID.]

It's going to be rough running with less ID for a while, but we aren't often at full anyways. Hopefully when it drops, the current amount of ID stays the same. Trying to remember what we have to do to restore our Max ID, but drawing a blank. Anyone remember which threads we lost it in?
We had an epiphany that we were the main character of reality, and promptly forgot it but kept the max ID restore purely from the good vibes.

Thanks Anon, it was starting to bother me, and you saved me an archive trawl.
You lost your max when you went full snek to fight Beetlellery, got it back when you tripped balls two threads ago, and opted to plant it in your manse for additional mystery benefits at a later time. Right now you're waiting it to grow so you can harvest it, so I'd put it at another 2-4 threads out before you're back at 12.

This did happen, but this is what gave you +1 to your max (pushing you to 13 true max ID), not what temporarily shrunk your max in the first place. It's also what you'll be effectively undoing if you proceed here.
Writing. I'll try and push out two tomorrow as well so we can wrap the Vault up, but I can't make promises bc I have a family obligation in the late afternoon.
I really hope we won't have to face a trial for EVERY one of those 200 keys.
>There are seven trials.
Two left after this one.
Sorry, lads, started way later than I called the vote due to some familial distractions and now I'm too exhausted to finish. So much for two updates today :( Not gonna post the half-update since it's not very engaging on its own, so you're just gonna have to trust me that I did write some! Will post it tomorrow, maybe early afternoon.
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Buried in the shards of the light is a gold key with a "4" label attached. You pocket it, kick the mess into a pile, and head out the open door.

On the opposite side is a grey room exactly the same as the last— a relief, considering what happens when it isn't a grey room. Richard is in it.

You fold your arms. "I know you're not the real Richard."

"Oh?" Fake Richard taps his cigarette into a ceramic ashtray. "And why is that?"

"Because you changed clothes." He's back in the suit. "And everything in here is— is stupid and tricky. And there already was a fake Richard, so you're not very original. Not to mention I already know he's not here."

"How so?"

Fake Richard is doing the quintessential Richard thing of asking questions then making you sound stupid with the answers, you're sure of it. But what else are you going to do? Stand here? This new room has no door out. "Because I saw him vanish, and—"

"And he dropped this?" Faux Richard twiddles the iron key between two fingers. "Would you deem this the real Richard?"

"Well, I don't— maybe? Can you say anything that isn't a question?"

"Yes. So you suppose that you know the real Richard?"

Yeah. Here it is. You stalk around him and begin to prod the walls for secret exits. "That's a trick question. How do I get out of here?"

"The exit's right there." He gestures.

You turn then kick yourself for turning. There is an exit, set right into the back wall— but that lichen on the cobblestone is exactly the same as where you came in. "That's the entrance. I want to keep going. Also, have you seen any little go—old… come on." Faux Richard is twirling two keys around his finger, now. "Can I have that?"

"I'm not a concessions vendor, Charlie, I don't give things away for free." He smiles obliquely.

Of course. "Okay, then what do you want? I assume it's going to be some horrible torture, but—"

"It's not, unless you consider a conversation with me horrible torture." (You have to think about this one.) "We can have it anywhere you like. How about here?" You are on a rooftop at night. The stars are out.

You swallow. "I think I'd prefer it back where we were, act—"

"Excellent. Have a seat?" Fake Richard is seated on a cheap deck chair. You remain standing. "Well, suit yourself. But surely your legs must be tired?"

Not just tired: they can't support your weight, and you collapse onto the sofa parked right behind you. You glower. "You just said you weren't gonna torture me."

"I said I didn't want to torture you." He scratches his nose. "Back on topic— you suppose that you know the real Richard?"

"Two minutes didn't make that any less of a trick question." Forcing you to sit was a mistake, and you're going to ensure he feels it.

"You're very clever, Charlotte."

"Thank you, Fake Richard— you know, you sound just like him." It's not a compliment, but not exactly a criticism, either. On a purely technical level, its mimicry is impressive: it's not just the voice, but the intonation, too. Start low on the 'you're very,' raise the pitch on the 'clever,' like he's talking to a dog. And deliver the heavy payload of sarcasm on the 'Charlotte.' He can't have you think he's being serious, can he? And Fake Richard hit all the undertones, too: the disgust, the boredom, the thin vein of genuine irritation.

On anything else but a purely technical level, it drives you bonkers. You sink deeper into the couch as Fake Richard smirks. "It would be strange if I didn't."

"Would it? I mean— you're not the real one."

"I'm precisely as real as he is," it says with an air of contempt (though the smirk doesn't slip), "and nearly as real as you are."

"You don't have to lie."

"I'm not. What do you suppose I am?"

It's a deceptively complex question. "Well— er— you're not Richard. I mean, you're not even pretending to be Richard. I guess you're sort of disguised as him? Maybe you're a sort of extension of the Vault— or projection? I don't know the right… maybe, like, you are the Vault, and—"

"No… 'projection' is more correct. In the sense of 'protrusion.' Independently, I am… not a person."

You know this one. "You're an un-person."

"Well… yes. Now. But I am not even that, usually. It's you who came here and endowed me with a shape and a spark of living, and who placed me here—"


"Who am I to say? Perhaps you're afraid of him. Or perhaps you're seeking comfort. You have many conflicting feelings, don't you?" And he is in front of you, and reaching into your chest, and is pulling a thick handful of striped putty from it.

You glance away. "Not really."

"Are you certain? Look at this, Charlie." You refuse to look. "This darkness? He scares you, and yet— here— you feel safe around him. You don't trust him, and you do trust him. You want him to go and you miss him when he's gone. You hate him, certainly— but look here. This thin red streak? You also lo—"

You grab the putty out of Fake Richard's hands and stuff it back into your chest. "Okay, now I know you're GSing me. And you were doing so well! How did you expect me to believe that I l—" You can't even say the word, it's so unthinkable. "Lo— that. To Richard. Do you know what he's—?!"

"I never said 'Richard,'" Fake Richard observes. "I could not have said 'Richard.' There is no Richard, just as there is no me. That is what I meant, at the start. Both of us are fictions."

You cradle your face in your hands. "Can you just give me the damn key?"

"We must have a conversation first. I don't mean that we are precisely the same. There is a true mind in him, not a borrowed one like mine. He is a person, not an unperson. But you have never met him. You have only met Richard."

"Who is him. I think we've conversationed quite a lot already—"

"No. It is a character he plays for you, as he is a character I play for you. It is softer and more approachable than he is. It is—"

"Stuff I know already." You throw your arms back. "I already know he's a snake and he just looks like my dad, okay? But it's kind of not his fault— I mean, it's my dad's fault, but they're not even the same— I'm the one making him play that whatever. Like how I'm making you tell me stuff I know already."

"You suppose he has become your father on accident?"

"…Sort of? I mean, he didn't intend to be my supervisor, or whatever, it just— happened? I think?"

"That is very convenient." Fake Richard takes a drag on his cigarette. "And you suppose the snake is the true one?"

You just want the key. "Yeah?"

"No. It is another character. Or another half of the same character. He is not a snake. He is a creature who has lived for thousands of years in the space between worlds."

"Right," you say. "That's very dramatic. And nonspecific. Do you have, like, a name, or species, or—"

"I can only glean so much, Charlie." Fake Richard opens his fist to reveal the iron key. "But this is important. How can he care for you when you are an insect to him? What do you matter? You could not possibly. If he claims you matter to him, he does not mean in a personal or emotional sense. He means that you are useful. You matter as a favorite wrench or penknife matters."

"And why are you telling me this." This is the pagan god all over again. Except less impressive.

"Because you want me to tell you. Have you not noticed the changes he has wrought upon you? He calls them alterations, like you are a dress." He is standing, holding your chin, lifting back your lips. "You are being improved. But for what?"

"Also a trick question," you sign irritably.

"It is not for your benefit. That is only a by-product. Would you like to see where you are going?"


"I will show you." And you are no longer on the rooftop, but in a room where every wall is a mirror. Fake Richard offers you a small bottle: his reflections do the same. "Drink this."

You squint. "Is it mud? No thanks."

"It's not mud. Don't you want to drink this?"

Unwillingly, you do want to drink it, and so you take the bottle and uncork it and throw it down your gullet as fast as possible just in case it is mud. It tastes vaguely grassy. Nothing happens, for a moment, and then you begin to spasm.

>[-1 MAX ID: 6/(9)]

It lasts for a short time prolonged by your attempts to claw out the throat of the unfazed Fake Richard, and when it subsides you are crumpled on the floor in exhaustion. Fake Richard hoists you up and, when you refuse to open your eyes, opens them for you.

You don't know what you're looking at. There is Fake Richard, and in Fake Richard's arms some kind of horrible nightmare reptile who has stolen your dress. It is white-scaled and bony, with one metal eye and one enormous blank blue eye and long arms and a long bendable neck and claws and fangs, and it looks as terrified as you feel. Then you twitch your hand and it twitches its hand and you scream and then you are in a grey room with normal skin and a normal face.

Fake Richard hands you the two keys.

>[1] Face the Trial of Commitment. [Penalty: Your Good Eye*.]
>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]

*You *can* see out of your bad eye, to be clear, but not very well.
>>[1] Face the Trial of Commitment. [Penalty: Your Good Eye*.]
>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]
When was the last time our mana was this low? Yeah nah also we knew that about Richard already but nobody wants to hear it.
>[1] Face the Trial of Commitment. [Penalty: Your Good Eye*.]
Fuck it. Sunk cost fallacy all the way.


Called and writing. Family obligation fell through, I may be able to finish out the Vault today

You jingle the keys together in your hand, then slide them back in your pocket. "Thanks, I guess. I still wish you would've just—"

Fake Richard is gone. There is a stone archway in its place, leading to a— temple? It has the look of a temple, but you're admittedly not very experienced in the matter. Having nothing better to do, you go through it.

The temple is cold and empty, like most of the places you've been to. The ceiling is high, causing your footsteps to echo when you walk, and the dark walls are graven with strange twisting figures. You have a bad feeling about it, but maybe that's just because you've gained some experience with the Vault.

At the front of the temple is a stone altar. Atop the altar is a bowl, a mirror shard, and a sixth gold key. You pick the key up—

—and pain stabs your chest, neck, and eye. Hissing curses, you paw at your neck, then thinking better of it use the mirror shard to inspect it. There is a small keyhole embedded in your neck. "Damnit," you mumble, and hold the shard up to your eye: your pupil is in the shape of a keyhole, too. Because of course it is.

And then you understand the bowl, and why it's so small, and so round, and what that circular symbol on it is— one large hollow circle, one small black circle. It's an eye.

"Damnit," you say again, but it's resigned. You've come too far to turn back. All you have to do is:

- Put the key in your eye
- Turn it
- Put the eye in the bowl

So you do that. It is brief and painless, though you have a hell of a time trying to put the eye in the bowl with fuzzy vision and a complete lack of depth perception. It'll be fine. It'll be fine. You'll just have two bad eyes, now. You can handle that.

You sniffle a little as you finally deposit your eye in the bowl. It sinks into the altar and rises again with the final gold key. You take it out, then lay the rest of the keys out along with it. Seven gold keys. One iron.

You have a pretty good idea of what to do. You're just not sure if you want to do it.

>[1] Face the Final Trial. [Penalty: -5 ID]
>[2] Discretion is the better part of valor. [Escape. You may not return.]
>[1] Face the Final Trial. [Penalty: -5 ID]
a-hyuk we still have six.
Actually wanted to back out last round over the eye, but here we are. Now it's truly too far to turn back.
>>[1] Face the Final Trial. [Penalty: -5 ID]

Why is everyone such a cock about Richard "managing" us, like we have no choice but to end up terribly. Okay, that's actually likely, but why do they all act like there's no way we're gonna drag Richard down with us whether or not it's actually his fault.

100% we do, BTW.
>Wrap it up already
Called and writing. This will be the last update of the day.

I think it's valid to say that in the scheme of things you're persistently underrated and Richard probably overrated. It's easy to look at the power dynamic on paper and decide that you're helpless, but in practice that leaves out 1) your very real influence over Richard and 2) your impressive willpower/stubbornness/moxie/ability to muck things up. If you recall, you did actually manage to convince the god back in Thread 14 that your "dark path" wasn't set in stone.

Speaking strictly OOC, I would like to state outright that your path isn't set in stone, and it is possible to get a good-- though not perfect-- ending. You're getting ominous warnings for a reason, but it's not because you've locked yourself into anything (I'd tell you if you did). Also you should probably not take Fake Richard at 100% face value
> ) your impressive willpower/stubbornness/moxie/ability to muck things up.

We are the incarnation of petty spite.
Also we don't even trust real Richard, let alone a fake Richard. Even, no, especially if it's just a reflection of ourself pretending to be Richard. We have plenty of conscious paranoia, subconscious paranoia can take a back seat.

> That one time we almost forced Richard to be our dad for real.

And how did that turn out?
>[1] Face the Final Trial. [Penalty: -5 ID]
I've found that I don't really care about Charlotte's wellbeing. She's too unlikeable.
Pretty much, yes.


And yet you're still around (and voting way late), so I must be doing something right :^)
No, I mean it's three hours after I called the vote, bud. I'm in the middle of writing the update.

…Is there any use in not doing it? In stalling, or— hell— turning around and leaving? You've come so far. You're so close. And you pulled your own eye out. How can it get worse?

This is a thin platitude— you know it can always get worse. Especially here. But you were already on the cusp of beginning the seventh trial, and a thin platitude was all you needed. You slide off your shoes.

The seventh trial— you're certain of this, though you're unsure whether this certainty was earned or delivered upon you— the seventh trial is not in a new place. Which is good, because you're getting deathly bored of walking. The seventh trial is inside of you, and when you saw your neck you knew it was in the most literal way possible.

Your right heel is inset with a keyhole. You insert the first key, but hesitate before turning it. Maybe you should do them all at once.

You insert the second key at your navel.

You insert the third key at your heart.

You insert the fourth key at your throat.

You insert the fifth key into the empty socket of your eye.

Which leaves two keys. (You have never missed depth perception so much, and yours wasn't good to begin with.) With much squinting and use of the mirror shard, you locate a sixth keyhole between your shoulderblades. Maybe you developed that one in the cage, and you were too incoherent to notice.

Which leaves one key. Or two, if you count Richard's— but you don't think it's involved. And you feel funny about sticking it in your body. Too much metaphor. One key left, then, which you leave on the altar for now.

You reach back down and turn the key in your heel. It vanishes into your skin with a click, and you exhale. You were expecting pain. There is no pain, just a sudden weight in your legs— or not weight. Density? Like there's more leg per leg, or like something very heavy has taken root inside your…

You turn the key at your navel before you think too much. Not thinking is safer and considerably more pleasant. The denseness creeps upward with every further key, and you notice other things, too: like your breath and heartbeat slowing, and the stone floor cracking beneath you. You're not just imagining it, then.

(You are just imagining it, Richard would say. But that's not helpful.)

The cracking began with the second key and the fissures with the fourth. You grabbed the seventh key when the temple began to crumble around you, which is lucky, because you plummet through the floor the instant you turn the sixth key.

You are falling through blackness, but not the benign blackness of the interim. This is not un-space, or null-space, or not-space, even. It is not unreality. Those terms imply an indifference, or a coexistence: 'live and let live.' A peaceful protest against all those laws holding you down.

If unreality is a peaceful protest, this is a bombing. Law cannot exist here. Nothing can exist here. You are being unraveled at the core of you and in a moment you will cease to…

Hm. You are not being unraveled at all. Or, you are, but you're being knitted back together faster than the void can kill you.

You raise the seventh key to your forehead—

"Any hole a key makes is, by definition, a keyhole."

—thrust it in, and turn. Promptly, you freeze, slide apart like an elaborate chest of drawers, and disintegrate.

>[-5 ID: 1/(9)]

But you are not gone. How could you be gone? How pathetic would that be? How demoralizing? To get to the end, and just— and just die? Maybe some lesser person would've fallen into the seething void, but you— you, like a barnacle on a whale, have clung to the massive thing unspooling from your corpse.

…The colossal thing? Titanic? Gargantuan? No word seems adequate to describe the scale. It is the largest thing you have ever seen, but that means nothing at all. All you can think of is— it must be the size of the ocean. It is red and blue and the size of the ocean.

And when it swivels its neck, and you catch a glimpse of its yellow eye— its horizontal eye— larger than cities— all you can think of is white sand and red water.


You are in a grey room. There is a table in the room, with a gold key on it. It's a little larger than the other ones, and a white label is attached to it with string. "200," reads the label.

The key is lying upon a folded note, which you pick up and read. "Good Job!" it says.

There is nothing else in the room but a door. The lichen behind it is familiar.

You feel your pocket. The iron key is still inside. You weigh it in your hand, considering, then throw it out the door. Richard hits the wall with a nasty crack and slides to the floor, unmoving. (He's okay. You're pretty sure he's okay.)

Turning back to the table, you pick up the 200-key, then set it back down and tear the note into shreds. You pick up the key again. You leave through the door.

It's over.


>"Part 2" coming tomorrow, ft. the ability to spend your well-deserved loot, reuniting with Ellery & the gang, and Richard telling you "I told you so" — it's too much and too late time-wise to cram into this, so I have made the executive decision to just split em up since you got multiple updates today anyhow
have a good night everyone

Honestly, compared to what Charlie has gone through before, this was yes unpleasant but she's survived worse.

Like when we had our sword stolen.
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Richard is already stirring by the time you enter the corridor, much to your vague disappointment. He tries to push himself to his feet, fails, and slumps back down against the wall. "Mnh."

You thrust the prize key into his face. "I did it. I got through the entire— and I didn't even need you, okay?! You were useless. So chew on that, Richard, whenever you—"

"…Your eye." He bats the key away and squints blearily up at you. "What happened to your—"

"Nothing." You touch it. "I- I had to take it out, okay, but—"

"You took out your eye. Your only eye. How stupid do you have to—"

"I had to, okay! I- I- and it's not like you were there to help!" You clench your fists. "You were a key, you- you miserable git!"

There is a long silence. You can barely make out Richard's expression, but you're sure it's not pleasant. "So," you continue hastily, "you can't, um, criticize, what I—"

"It's not as if I asked for it, Charlotte." He stands properly, this time, by grasping the wall. "As I recall you suggested that terrible idea, and you pressured me into it. And look where it got you. Come here."

You scratch at the floor with your toe. "…I don't think that's the best—"

"Come here. I need to look at your eye."

His tone leaves no room for argument: you take a step forward. "Were you aware of anything?"

"No." He grips your chin and pulls back your eyelid. You wince. "Which may be a good thing, since I didn't have to witness your once-in-a-lifetime bungling. Your eye's gone and not coming back. Congratulations."

You swallow. "Can it be replaced?"

"Possibly, but finding a replacement is, as they say, a whole other can of worms. Let me see what other nonsense you got yourself—" He stops short. "Son of a bitch."


"You—" He holds his hand against your forehead, as if checking for a fever. "Charlotte, you are missing vast chunks of your memory. Newly missing."

"I am?" You don't remember losing any memories. "Seriously? What? And can I get them—"

"I'm not sure what, yet. Can you get them back— that's the million-dollar question, isn't it." ("Dollar?" you mumble.) "The good news is that I doubt they've been destroyed. Far too much to do at once. Rather, my educated guess is that they've been taken."

This is unhelpful. "By who? And put where? For what? You've got to be specific about—"

"I can't be specific. I wasn't there." He releases you and steps back. "Frankly, I wouldn't count on getting them back— there's too many variables. You're functioning right now, so clearly they weren't essential. Just leave it be."

"Okay." You rub your eye. "So you're saying they're out there somewhere, and I can get them back? I just have to figure out where they are, right?"

Richard sighs.

>[TO-DO ADDED: Retrieve your missing memories]
>[TO-DO ADDED: Replace your missing eye]

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The way back from the Vault is far more complicated than the way to it, for a number of reasons— the main one being your intense nearsightedness, which has you banging into walls and tripping over protruding flagstones and stumbling into pit traps you're certain weren't there on your first jaunt. Eventually, Richard catches you by the elbow and forces you to take off your shoes. You protest (sharp pebbles! mold!), but discover to your surprise that you're deep enough underground— or the stone floor is close enough to earth— that you can 'see' the way forward fairly well. It's no substitute, Richard warns you (rather pissily, you think), but it works for now.

You break up the monotony with some light conversation. "Are you actually thousands of years old?"

"Do I seem thousands of years old?"

You shrug noncommittally. "I don't know. You know a lot of things."

"In comparison to you, that's not much of a feat."

He doesn't say anything else. You pry. "How old are you?"

"Charlotte, the answer to that hasn't changed since the last time you asked." He adjusts his sunglasses.

"Which is?"

"It's none of your business. And it's too complicated to get into. But if you won't stop asking—" (He saw your face.) "—I suppose I'm anywhere from three to nine. Or 52. Depends on how you measure it."

"That's boring."

"I'm sorry to hear you find my age boring, Charlotte." He's less concerned than you'd hope.

You walk. And walk. Finally, you chew at your lip. "Do you care about me?"

"Do I—" He laughs once. "Don't ask that."

"…Okay." Maybe you'll— you'll ask later. After some alcohol. God knows you'll need alcohol. You'll just double-check it's not mud, first.


You find the arena via the smell of blood and animal sweat. It's exactly how you remember it, which is strangely comforting: two horses are still tearing at each other in the pit (different horses, though, one roan and one black), a crowd is cheering for them, the entire place is dark and grungy, and— you think the shopkeeper is still there? There's a white blur in a bright square, which must be the Prize Booth. You head toward that.

You don't notice the people by the Booth until you get close, and then you ignore them until they start touching you on the back and shoulder. "Charlotte!" says one, and then "Your eye! What happened!"

Okay, so that's Anthea. Which would explain the weird floaty bits next to her (you thought that was a defect). So the other one, by height, is… Nettie. You blink. "Uh, hi. I took it out. Where's Ellery?"

"You took it out?" Anthea says, while Nettie snorts. "Right there."

"Yeah. I took it out. Where?" You squint, but you're sure there's only two people right there.

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"She can't see," Anthea says reproachfully, above your protests that you can see just fine. "I'll lay it out for you, Charlotte. We followed you down here, of course. And we split up to look for you— well, I say split up. Nettie and I stuck together. Ellery… went off. And didn't come back, but you know, that's usual. He always shows up eventually."

"Like the sun," Nettie says.

"So… we found this place, ten, fifteen minutes ago? And we also found Ellery." Anthea leads you over to the Prize Booth counter. "…For sale."

Even at the counter, it's difficult to make out the individual prizes, but you can make an exception for the enormous new addition to the top shelf. You'd recognize that atrocious plaid if you had no eyes. "Well, I don't know what you expected, honestly."

"I think he's unconscious," Anthea continues, like you didn't say anything. "He hasn't responded to us at all. And he's worth a hundred keys. We have three—"

"Twenty-eight," Nettie says. "I pawned my gun."

"—we have twenty-eight. Sorry. Even so, we're going to be stuck here for a while… sorry." You're not sure if Anthea makes a face, but her smoke turns more blueish. "We were planning to gamble. You're welcome to help, if you want, but if you're not up for it, I completely understand. Do you need bandages?"

>[A1] Ellery's worth 100 keys? You have /200/ keys. Flaunt your wealth and purchase him outright, along with whatever else you want. Maybe you can extract some favors later.
>[A2] This is *your* hard-earned winnings: you're not spending it on a man you care nothing for. Make purchases when Nettie and Anthea aren't looking, and don't include Ellery.
>[A3] Whatever happens, save your keys for now. Who knows what'll happen with the horse fights.
>[A4] Write-in.

>[B1] Participate in the betting. You have keys, but not enough to buy out the Prize Booth, much less the Concession Shack— and this way, you may be able to buy out Ellery *and* the rest of the top prizes.
>[B2] Find a seat in the bleachers and sit out the betting. It's not civilized, firstly, and secondly you just made plenty of keys. Nettie and Anthea can do what they like.

(A1 and A2 ONLY)

>[C] Go shopping. [SEE IMAGE for price references & write-in what you want. You may also reserve keys to gamble with or donate to Nettie/Anthea, if you wish— just specify how much.]

That's the spirit!
>[A4] Write-in.
Purchase sword. Use it to stab shopkeeper.


> >[A2] This is *your* hard-earned winnings: you're not spending it on a man you care nothing for.

we lost an eye and a bunch of memories for these keys. We don't know these people, we aren't friends, and from how Anthea acted it's not like anyone here appreciates being saved.


> What are they willing to pay us for the keys?
Gonna veto the first write-in on the grounds of 1) Richard told you mugging the shopkeeper was a bad idea last thread, 2) you are at 1 ID, and 3), most importantly, the counter for the shop is too high for you to really lunge in properly, so you'd have to awkwardly clamber over it before attempting murder, and probably get stopped in the process, and it'd be embarrassing for everyone. You are welcome to extort Nettie + Anthea, though.

FWIW: this doesn't change anything about your proposal, but it was Nettie who was ungrateful, not Anthea. Anthea would have been appreciative (and very apologetic).
Well I had extortion as a secondary for a reason.

I mean.

Do we even like Ellery? Although, if we bought him couls we transfer ownership to Madrigal? Then she would owe us, like, so much she would have to be our friend/slave/confidant/Brutus/Horus
>Do we even like Ellery?
Complicated question. Short answer is "no." Long answer is that you don't understand him, you're a little unnerved by him, and you don't get why anyone could possibly enjoy his company and not enjoy yours. Also, he's a filthy prole with bad personal grooming.

>Although, if we bought him couls we transfer ownership to Madrigal?
I mean, sure, but buying him isn't gonna put any special geas on him or anything. He's just legal property of the Prize Booth, like anything else lost slash stolen down here, and the way to get stuff from the Prize Booth is by exchanging it for keys.

You could argue with him that you are now his legal owner, but you could also expect him to argue back.

For the record, I don't expect you guys to trade for him because you like him-- you'd be doing it because it's the "right thing to do" (not that that's ever been a huge motivator) or because you expected to get something out of it. For example, you are currently banned from going to the second level...
> Buy Ellery, Law rock, Madrigal, glass eye, The Sword, Nymph's cloak, the ID match, the wind-up bird and our clothes
I thought about betting, but it's sure to be another horrible trap.
As much as I enjoy the prospect of yanking you guys along with this, I would not offer three betting concessions if betting were a trap. I won't guarantee you won't lose money, or get screwed over... that's up to the RNG... but it is what is says on the tin.
>buy the armor
freebies: maddy, SORD, match, clothes
use match immediately

>buy Ellery
freebies: glass eye, cloak, birb, more clothes

tell group they can buy Ellery back from you for 100 keys, which you will use to buy that rock
I vote we buy ellery I guess since that's the only thing the two dudes agree on, freebies: maddy, SORD, match, clothes

Then bet with the last 100

Why do you want to use the match immediately?
Because we're at 1 ID right now?
I mean. Extorting Anthea and Nettie while flaunting our wealth sh9uld restore a good chunk of ID. We get to prove our superiority, both in getting keys AND in being gracious about "sharing".

Best of all, we can justify the extortion as simply having seen that Nettie didn't appreciate us saving her own self earlier, so if she ain't gonna appreciate us then she's gonna have to pay us.

Anthea ain't a cold bitch though, so we can be nice to her and get Ellery for her.

If Nettie brings up it costing us an eye, among other things, that just proves we have the stones to get shit done while she's too scared and selfish to risk it for the biscuit.
God damn, this vote is not easy to count. I'll do my best.

>Buy Ellery

>Law rock


>100 for betting

You'll purchase Ellery, and I'll default with "100 for betting" because you can always turn right around and spend that instead of betting if you change your mind. You'll automatically check out the bets available to move things along, but you're not obligated to act on them.

>Madrigal, THE SWORD, match, clothes

You can get the second set of stuff (eye, cloak, bird) if/when you purchase the second 100-key prize, and if you win enough to purchase the third you can pick what you want with it when the time comes.

>Do some variety of extortion

>No comment on extortion

I'll default to you ""asking"" for a favor, which you can escalate to further ""favors""/repayment/full extortion with a proper vote, because it is something that could potentially have negative consequences.

Called and writing in a little while.
Fug, all that and I still forgot something.

>Use the match

>Don't use the match

Defaulting to "don't use it," because while you're at 1 ID you're also not in immediate danger of dropping below that. I'll include a proper vote for using it soon, and you may write-in using it at any (reasonable) time.
>Bling bling bitch

"Does it look like I need bandages?" What is Anthea trying to imply, here? Do you look bad? Oh, god, how bad do you look? You simply must find a new eye as soon as possible. "No. Don't answer that. It looks like you need keys."

"Er…" You're assuming Anthea appears bemused. "Well, yes. We tried, but it appears they don't accept anything else down here."

"Because why would they," Nettie says sourly.

"Ah!" you continue. "So you do need keys. A large quantity of them. And you intend to win them through gambling."

Anthea is wafting indigo. "That was the plan… did you have a particular objection? Like I said, by no means do you have to pitch in— I don't know what you've been through, but it's clearly been, er, quite a bit. Which is horrible, and I'm deeply sorry for my— for all of our conduct, back at the gate, it was unconscionable of us to let you— which isn't to say that it was a bad plan, I thought it was good, really, but there was no way we should have let a new member do anything so dangerous— and look what happened—"

You kind of want to let her keep going, but the prospect of her tearing up worries you. And, anyhow, she interrupted your speech. "Yeah, okay, um— it's fine. Whatever. I broke out on my own, so really you ought to be impressed." You clear your throat. "Gambling. You're intending to gamble for keys. You're intending to engage in— in organized debauchery— do you know what gambling leads to? Crime. Corruption. First you're betting on horses, then you're doping horses, then you're stealing horses, then you're being hung for stealing horses, and then where are you? You're dead, is where you are." (You may be borrowing some lines from your Aunt Ruby.) "You'd die for— for Ellery? He's kind of— I don't know how to break it to you, he's not as cool as he pretends to be. He's a weird deadbeat loser with a drinking problem, and— uh— other problems. A lot of other problems. You'd die for him?"

Nettie snorts. Anthea doesn't. "Um…"

Are you interpreting that correctly: is that a yes? What the hell? The only possible explanation is that Ellery's been drugging her, or maybe implanting false memories. (Is that why she's so nice?) "No, right? Well, never fear. In my eminent wisdom—" You push your hair back. "—I have come bearing the solution to your terrible dilemma! Witness."

You fumble around in your pocket before flourishing the 200-key. "This key can purchase Ellery twice over! I won't tell you what nefarious and gruesome events led me to obtain this, but I will of course use it to purchase our unfortunate acquaintance. Out of the goodness of my heart."

"Great. I'm going go to buy my gun back." Nettie stalks off.

"Oh! Er— I'm so sorry about Nettie, I don't know why she's in such a bad mood. She's not usually this rude, I swear. But that's amazing! You'd do that?"

Out of the goodness of your heart? Absolutely not. Putting multiple people in your debt in one fell swoop? It's a fair trade, in your book. And it beats sitting on your hands for two hours. "Of course. There's just one—"

To Anthea's credit, she catches your drift immediately. "We'd of course owe you a huge—"

"Oh!" You bat your eyelashes. "Well, that's— that's very generous of you. To owe me a huge favor. That I can cash in at any time. For anything. I'll go get him off that shelf!"

>[+1 ID: 2/(9)]


The shopkeeper is no less of a white blur up close. "Welcome back! Congratulations on your resounding success! I expected no less of you!"

"Um," you say suspiciously, "thanks. You need to work on the drinks in there. Can I get my sword back? And the, uh, the guy up there. Him too. And the snake. And my clothes. And—" You squint hard to make out the second shelf. "—that matchbook you talked about, I guess."

"Of course!" The shopkeeper plucks The Sword, the block of ice, and the matchbook off their respective shelves and places them on the counter. It scoops your clothes up, too, but they never make it to the counter: you were always wearing them, of course. (Your head pangs.) Finally, with great ceremony, it slides Ellery off the top shelf and drapes him across the rest of your prizes. "An excellent choice, if I do say so myself. That'll be 100 keys."

You consider your 200-key for a moment, then snap it in half. "Here you go."

"Brilliant! Have a wonderful day!" You stand on your tiptoes to grab your prizes as the shopkeeper waves you off. You sheathe The Sword first, pocket the matchbook, and contemplate the rest. Madrigal, frozen, is slippery and painful to grab with bare hands. Ellery is enormous, unmoving, and— to your surprise- heavy. "Damnit," you hiss, as Madrigal clatters to the sawdusty ground and Ellery's arm slips from your unsteady grasp.

Anthea rushes over to help, and though you protest it's entirely unnecessary she helps to hoist Ellery somewhere out of the way. She crouches over him, afterwards, and feels his cheek in a manner you consider entirely improper. "He's cold."

You're not interested in dramatics. "What does that matter? We both know he's alive."

"That doesn't mean he's okay," she reproves, and paws over him some more. "Not breathing, either… oh." You can't see what she finds, but there's a sound like she's winding a pocketwatch— and when it stops Ellery bolts upright.

"Oh!" Anthea says, then her tone softens. "Hi, Ell. How are you feeling?"

"…Shitty? Uh…" He folds one leg to his chest. "…No, yeah, that covers it. No, uh, also weird. Weird and shitty. Thanks for—"

"It was Thirdsday, actually!" Anthea thrusts her whole arm toward you. "She paid for it."

"Oh." He stiffens. "Thanks, Thirdsday."

>[+1 ID: 3/(9)]

You'll take it. Well. Unless…

(Choices next.)
>[A1] Ellery is now your property, right? That's, like, the law. You'll be happy to release him from his bondage, however, if you're just granted… [Roll.]
>>[A] Full acceptance into the spelunking party, no complaining
>>[B] All the keys you just spent back
>>[C] The knowledge of what they're doing so privately down here
>>[D] Write-in.
>[A2] You're content with your favor. No need to rock the boat. (No extortion)
>[A3] Write-in.

>[B1] Purchase the armor. [Unless you specify otherwise, choosing this means you leave the arena.]
>[B2] Purchase the law rock. [Unless you specify otherwise, choosing this means you leave the arena.]
>[B3] Use your remaining 100 keys to gamble with, so you can hopefully purchase both remaining big-ticket items, and/or some concessions.
>[B4] Write-in.

>[C1] Use the match. (+5 ID, one use only)
>[C2] Do not.
>[A2] You're content with your favor. No need to rock the boat. (No extortion)
Let's see if they accept us into the party out of gratitude and admiration first.

>[B2] Purchase the law rock. [Unless you specify otherwise, choosing this means you leave the arena.]
Yeah, we can tilt the betting in our favor with some concessions, but have you seen our luck with the rolls? Do you remember that our first enhanced success is rerolled? And there's no way betting won't involve rolls. Better a bird in hand.

>[C2] Do not use the match.
We can always use it later.
If no one else wants the sweet armor suit I can give up on it and get the law rock, because we need that glass eye.


Still wanna use the match since we'll get the full ID amount and 3 is dangerously low. Being higher might even help us with the A1A option, they're more likely to think we're capable if we're not a neurotic wreck.
>[A2] You're content with your favor. No need to rock the boat. (No extortion)
It's not like we're the type of high class lady to mistreat or manipulate the trust of others! A favor for a favor is fair and just. What are we, the type of woman who would break a man's sense of self for no gain at all, as a purely hypothetical example? Preposterous.

>[B2] Purchase the law rock.

>[C1] Use the match. (+5 ID, one use only)
The match won't work outside the manse, and Charlotte couldnuse a real pick-me-up after.. all of that

> Help me win back the keys I used on you
PowerOfFriendship intensifies

> Refer to Ellery as our new best friend.

But like. Summon up the Gaslighting of yourself to make yourself actually believe that he *should* be your friend now.

So we can be genuinely, not surprised, but disappointed with him afterwards.

This is just to lead up to

> Force Ellery to give Madrigal kiss to wake up

Because even though she didn't save him from eternal retail, he still loves her, RIGHT?

> no match

> B3
Just do these it's awful enough >>4859148
I don't see why Ellery wouldn't want to be our friend. We haven't done anything to hurt him.
> but have you seen our luck with the rolls?

When have we let that stop us before?
Man, you guys are really committed to tough-to-count votes, huh?


>A1A god damn I totally screwed up the A option numbering, this is what I get for writing options at 2:30 in the morning

>Basically wholesome A1B?

Because the write-in option requires betting and nobody but the write-in supporters want to bet, I'm defaulting to A2.

>>4858730 (because nobody else wants the armor)


B2 takes it.



You will not be using the match.

>Miscellaneous write-in
Because the bulk of the write-in stuff lost the vote, I'm probably not going to be using this, as it doesn't make sense without the betting stuff. I also don't totally get it, other than it's kind of funny if you get them to kiss. Madrigal's not asleep, she's frozen-- a kiss won't do much even if you can convince Ellery to cooperate. That, and he doesn't know it's Madrigal, remember? It's a snake that kind of half-sounds like the ex he hasn't heard for years. He's not exactly champing at the bit to kiss it.

If you did want to set up a workable "get them to kiss" scheme, you could try to pull a 'Frog Prince,' if you catch my drift... though it might work better deeper in the manse.

If you want to Advanced Gaslight yourself into thinking you're BFFs with Ellery later, and it works in context, feel free to bring it back up. You're correct that has no reason not to like you-- you've never done anything to him! Not a solitary thing.

Called for A2, B2, C2, and writing in a little while.
>Take it easy

…Unless what? What would you even do? Maybe it's your utter lack of experience in matters like this, but you're drawing a blank. "Um, sure. Is it my eye?"


"You sort of— um— you stiffened up when Anthea said it was me. Was it because you looked at my eye? Does it look bad?" It's embarrassing, asking directly, but with Anthea's reaction— and now this— you're determined to fix matters before they worsen. "Is there pus? Or- or blood? I can get a handkerchief, if there's—"

"…It looks— I mean, it's empty, but it's clean?" Ellery sounds nonplussed. "No blood."

He must be lying, because he did react, you're certain. Perhaps it's unspeakable in some other way? Have you developed an awful scar? But you can't pry further, or you'll look desperate. "Oh." You cough. "In that case, I will… uh… I have more keys, you know. After purchasing you. So I will go spend them, now."

"…Cool." Ellery nods slowly. (It must be your eye. The other explanation is that he's being a prick for no reason, and you thought he was more civil than that.) "Of course! By all means! Spend on yourself— you deserve it." At least Anthea is properly effusive. "I did think I saw, er, an eyeball in there… is it yours?"

Is it yours? Lost things do tend to wind up at the Booth, but you vaguely recall an eye in a jar from before you attempted the Vault. "I don't think so, but there's no harm in finding out. Uh, thanks."

Thanks? What the hell did you thank her for? You hurry away as fast as possible. Just because she was nice? What kind of excuse is that? Now she'll think you're desparate for sure! God! What's wrong with you?


Your anguish is forgotten when the shopkeeper begins its spiel about the plate armor. Halfway through the bit about 'excellent support' and 'comfortable padding,' you interrupt with your one and only question. "Okay, but does it catch on fire?"

"Pardon me?"

"Does it catch on fire? The good sort of fire, so it doesn't cook you, it just looks great and maybe catches more things on fire."

"As a matter of fact…" The shopkeeper flicks a tiny switch on the left gauntlet, and with a satisfying fwoosh the whole suit is consumed in flame. "…when I said this was a 'hot deal,' Miss Fawkins, I meant it quite literally!"

It's all you can do to contain yourself. "Oh! That's— that's, um— that's good. That's, uh, what I wanted." Exactly what you wanted.

«You can't get it.»

As he frequently reminds you, Richard's not your father.

«Nevertheless, you can't get it. The other prize is far more valuable. Do you not realize it could shave days— if not weeks— off our schedule.»
«Did you forget we have two months until all is lost.»

You didn't forget, you've just been thinking about other things. Like this suit of armor that catches on fire.

«You are a despicable excuse for a human being, and the only reason I am not making you feel it is that you've mangled yourself so badly already it would likely kill you.»
«You are getting the rock.»

Does the rock catch on fire?

«Be serious.»

You are being serious. Richard.

«I will look into requisitioning armor. Based on how frequently you are injured, its use is clearly justified. It will take time. It will not be elaborate.»
«If you would like it to catch on fire I am sure you will find a method.»
«Do you understand.»

…Maybe. Yes. (Forcing Richard to compromise is victory enough.) "Er— excuse me."

The shopkeeper stops in the middle of a tract about the flexible shoulder straps. "Yes?"

"Could I get the rock, actually?"

"The rock?" It sounds disgusted. "Why that? That is barely a prize. I should have removed it from the shelf. Did I tell you this armor can—"

"I really would like the rock." You stand on your tiptoes. "I have the keys for it. And what is it, 'the customer's always right'? So—"

It takes much more insisting and at least one threat to take your complaint to its immediate superior before the shopkeeper finally hands the rock over, and the cloak, the bird, and the glass eyeball besides. It does not wish you well when you leave.

Everyone's in the same place when you return, much to your relief. Nettie's back, too (or so you assume, you're not sure who else that blurry shape could be). "Is that a rock?" she says.

"No." You set your rock down and attempt to unscrew the lid of the eyeball jar.

"Well," Ellery says, "at least she's honest. I say we go for it."

"Shocking! Ellery says we go for the risky option. I'm sorry the rest of us haven't been enlightened, but until that glorious day, you know we still have minds to—"

"They're both risky!" He splays his arms. "Charlotte got her eye torn out, if you missed it! With the rift, it's not unpredictable, it's not unsurvivable, it's just rough. We can all handle a little—"

"Anthea, this man just said a rift wasn't unpredictable."

"…I heard, yes." You get the impression Anthea has been suffering through quite a lot of this. "It depends on the class. This one looked relatively stable, but I only saw it for about thirty seconds, so that's not much of a tell. Hi, Thirdsday, how'd the shopping go?"

It could've gone better, but you don't say so. "Fine. What's the spat over?"

"How to get down." Anthea rubs her chin. (Maybe. You're extrapolating. A limb moved to her head area.) "There's the gate, obviously, but it's still guarded. And they won't be happy we shot a few trying to get you back."

"Trying and failing," you say.

"…Um, yes. Sorry. Trying and failing. The other option is… I know you're new, so essentially it's a big tear between this level and the next. A rift. It happens occasionally, and it probably explains why this underground area is so… involved. But we could go through it."

"And the catch?"

"It's… hmm. You know how you spend an indefinite period of time between layers?" (You nod, after a considerable pause.) "The interim isn't just there to give your calves a workout. It works to— I mean, we think it works to sort of acclimate you to the next layer. Taking a shortcut… doesn't do that. So it's jarring. And not very pleasant, to put it lightly."

"Ah," you say sagely. "And you need me to help you decide."

"What?" Nettie says, at the same time as Ellery's "Fuck no." Anthea clears her throat. "Well… I'd appreciate another neutral party, but, er, since you're not going, I'm not sure it'd make much sense. If that makes sense."

Ah. So that's how it is.

>[A1] Call in your favor. Yeah, no, you're going.
>[A2] Save your favor and persuade them. (How so? Write-in.) [Roll.]
>[A3] Save your favor and Advanced Gaslight them. (How so? Write-in.) [Roll.]

>[B1] Advocate for the gate. Okay, so the first run didn't go so well, but that was an unlucky fluke. Yeah. You can handle them this time, surely.
>[B2] Advocate for the rift. You would never like to see another gate again. And you can handle a little discomfort, surely.

>[C] Write-in.
>[A2] Save your favor and persuade them. (How so? Write-in.) [Roll.]
Y'know how we saved Ellery twice already while everyone else was unable to? Clearly he'll get into hot water if we don't go.

>[B2] Advocate for the rift. You would never like to see another gate again. And you can handle a little discomfort, surely.

I mean we did get Ellery back, and a hundred more keys on top of that. They were pawning their shit for a measly 28 keys.


We've never been through a rift before. Fun first experience?
Also we clearly aren't just going to sit around waiting for them.

They haven't even SEEN what we can do unsupervised and with no clear objective.

We faced down a legit God, a snakey Mom, gooplicates, a time loop, Ellery, a time trav
Basically, the manse still isn't weirder than our real life.

B2. we can even go all snake on our own, how much more jarring could it be?
>A2, B2
Was gonna call for a roll, but this >>4860783 argument obviates that. Good job, you're in.

Still need a roll for the Rift, though.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 10 (+5 ???, +5 Already Acclimated, Kinda) vs. DC 70 (+20 Rift) to make it through the rift with a minimum of issues!

Spend 1 ID for +10 to the results? You are at 3/(9) ID.
>[A1] Y
>[A2] N

Use the match?
>[B1] Y
>[B2] N
Rolled 91 (1d100)


Rolled 65 + 10 (1d100 + 10)


cause I know I'll roll low
Rolled 82 + 10 (1d100 + 10)



Save the match, burn a bit of that ID to help ensure getting through it.
Rolled 10, 98, 64 + 10 = 182 (3d100 + 10)

>101, 75, 92 -- Enhanced Success

Wow! Excellent work! I guess you'll be going through un--


Just kidding, rerolling. As is usual for dice I roll, crits will not count in either direction. Your +10 will still be applied.
>30, 118, 84

Still very respectable. Writing in circa 1 hour.
>Damned if you do damned if you don't eh Ellery
>BASE jumping

You narrow your eyes. "You realize I've saved your collective asses three times in—" How long have you been in here? Between the mess with the nymphs, you getting knocked out, and the Vault, you have no clue. "—a very short period of time?"

"Well, yes, I realize that…" Anthea trails off, the 'but I don't make the rules' remaining implicit.

Fair enough. You need to place the blame in the correct locations. You jab your finger at Nettie. "Remember how you were gonna be burned alive?"

"Remember your promise?" she snaps. "No? Then I remember jack all."

"What?" Well, she's right, you don't remember any promise. Presumably because you never made one, and she's attempting to play mind games. How childish. "Whatever. You only made a third of my rescues. Two-thirds belong to—" You pivot to Ellery. "—a certain someone— who has certain issues with safety. And not being kidnapped."

"You were kidnapped," Ellery says mildly.

"Oh! I was kidnapped! And who, precisely, broke me out? Nobody?" You affect surprise. "Wow! Because I'm actually competent, and I don't bungle my way into the most idiotic possible— how did you even manage to turn yourself into beetles? And then into one big psychotic murder beetle? I mean, really, that's just—"

"The last one was you. You did that."

"Huh?" You scoff. "Classic projection! Incredible. I broke you out of that, you know, which— that just proves my point! You're incompetent without me! If you don't bring me as your babysitter, then you're bound to—"

"My babysitter."

Okay, maybe that was a little far, but it's essentially factual and you're not backing down now. Not with your dander up. "Yeah!"

"How old are you, again?" Ellery's voice has gone flat. "17? 18?"

He's just trying to rile you up, because your sage and keenly-put words hit home. No need to make a big fuss over it. "23, actually."

"23? Wow. Okay, well—" You appear to have thrown him off track. "—same thing. I was off fending for myself before your mom even thought about fucking your dad, you little shit. And I'm sorry the risks I take ruffle your feathers, but I never do anything I can't handle just fine, and I can handle a whole fucking lot! So I don't need a babysitter, I don't need a smarmy lecture, and I sure as fuck don't need a kid detective following me around! You don't know me, you don't know anything about me, you sure as hell don't know what you're involved with—"

"Maybe slow your roll there, champ," Nettie says dryly.

"—and… you're not coming, okay. That's it. You can survive twenty minutes with Anthea. Look. She's nice."

You pause. "Alright, I'm not coming."


"And then what? I'll just shrug and go 'oh well' and twiddle my thumbs for twenty minutes? Anthea and I will talk about the weather? Maybe I'll toss some feed to the horses? What do you think I'll do, Ellery? Since you're such a genius."

"I don't care what you do," he says. "Feed the horses. Whatever. Thea will be supervising, so frankly I've got more pressing—"

"You think that'll help?" You blink. "You think Anthea will stop me from making it down there myself? And finding you? And interrupting whatever critical thing you were right in the middle of? Maybe, in the process, stabbing a few things that shouldn't be stabbed? Or, strictly on accident, giving in to my Dread And Terrible Beast? Or maybe I'll just keep it simple, and I just won't shut up? That's how detecting works, don't you know. It's just asking questions— good questions, like why you're a weird shut-in, and why you broke it off with your charming girlfriend for no reason, and—"

"…Are you threatening me?"

"No! I'm not— I'm offended you'd even say that. How is that threatening? Unless you have something to hide?" You fold your arms. "I'm just telling you what'll happen, if I stay behind. And telling Nettie too, I guess, if she cares."

"Not really. You bringing the snake, too?"

"I'm not bringing anything," you say archly, "as I'm not going. But if I did not go, then hypothetically knocked Anthea out— sorry Anthea, I guess— and snuck back in anyhow to crash your party, of course I'd bring the snake. It's my snake. It's not like it's its own person."

Nettie considers this. "Well, sounds like you have us good and pinned."

"Thanks," Ellery mutters.

"Can't fault her for having balls. And she'll do it. I know she'll do it. She will screw us over without remorse… so we may as well consent to the screwing."


The eyeball slots into your socket with a wet splorch and a burst of painful visual fireworks. "Ow!"

"…Could you do that a little farther from the rift?" Anthea, in the corner, sounds nervous. "I mean, I guess it's a moot point now…"

"Yeah, it is but…" You back up a few steps, out of range of the rainbowy light it throws up, as you rub furiously at your eye. "God! That's—"

"Can you see, at least?"

Can you see? You pry your fist away from your eye, for a second, and are rewarded with sparkling visual clarity and another stab of pain. "Ow! Yeah, um, I can—"

"Oh! I'm so pleased for you." You're not sure how Anthea handles all the unadulterated earnestness, 24/8. Doesn't it get exhausting? Possibly she was born without a sense of shame. "How is the—"

"Yeah, it's stable." Ellery stands from his crouch. "Long drop, but it's into snow, and I'm not convinced we'll actually land. Gut says it's Type II."

"In a prefab?" Nettie says.

"It's not a prefab, it's a custom, so there you go. Type II. You know they offer things besides shitty free—"

You can see with the new eyeball, and see well, at that. Better than well. No longer must you swivel your eye to see this and that and this other thing: everything in your field of vision is terrifyingly sharp, all at once. Which accounts for the headache.

It's also necessary, because you can't swivel the eye, which rests cold and inert in your skull. You can move it manually, with your finger, and you can move your head as usual, but that is the extent of the matter. It doesn't hurt your vision, but it must look uncanny. But, you reassure yourself, surely less uncanny than no eye at all.

>[TO-DO COMPLETE in record time: Eye obtained! You have +10 to perception checks and will likely come off as somewhat odd or unnerving in first impressions… more than usual, anyhow]

When you refocus, Ellery is gone. Nettie is crouching over the side, clearly next. You clear your throat. "What's a Type II?"

She levels a knowing look at you. "You know."

"No, actually, I—" And she's gone, teetered off the flickering side. You sigh out your nose and turn to Anthea. "Okay, what's a— God-damnit!"

Richard is leaning in the corner where Anthea was, and Anthea is draped on the floor unmoving. "Did you kill her? What even for!? She was— what did she even do!? I was gonna— they let me come with them already, you didn't need to—"

"She's fine. Or will be." Richard prods her with his foot. "I just don't much like company. Let's talk. I will, in short order, not be available."

"…You mean I'll have absorbed you."

"It's revolting enough as it stands, Charlotte, there's no call to worsen the matter." Astonishingly, this sentiment appears genuine: he is paler than usual, and locked in a rigid grimace. "But yes. I suppose that is reasonably accurate. This is not my choice, I should hope it's not yours, but we must stick it out together for the greater good. Yes? So I must ask you while I can to be careful and be subtle. I understand you're incapable of such things. But maybe with my…" His grimace deepens. "…assistance…"

"It's worse in euphemisms," you mutter. "Should you give me the backpack?"

"It's not worse, and that's unnecessary. You'll have it."

"…We'll have it, I guess."

"Mm." Richard unscrews a thin metal flask and takes a swig. His breath is boozy when he leans into your face, after, and grabs your arm. He doesn't say anything.

You lean back. "What?"

He wavers, but still says nothing, just pats you once on the shoulder. Then he shoves you into the rift.


You withstand the pressure, though your ears feel like splitting open.



You are Lady Charlotte Fawkins, noted heiress, adventuress, knight-errant, and demon-summoner. Once a common noblewoman, you hung quite indecently on the tales of gallant quests and adventures that filtered into your cloistered castle, and one day decided to take that life for your own. Your decision was aided by the snake-demon you had quite accidentally summoned several months prior, whose true name was too terrible to speak, but who you had deemed 'Richard.'

That was three years hence, and in that time you have made quite a name for yourself. Richard is no longer with you, having sacrificed himself to infuse you with his strength, but in his place you have taken on retainers: Giltorax, a beetle-demon, and "Madrigal," another snake-demon, who persistently claims to be a human woman trapped in this form. You believe this to be a deception.

Though you have previously resisted forming a 'party' of fellow adventurers— believing that you work best alone, and none are up to your standards— circumstances have forced you into the Foaming Horse, a low-rent tavern, where you sip at stale beer and listen to two idiots prattle about their qualifications and how many potions one could theoretically drink in one go.

…Or that is what you were doing, before they both stopped talking and started staring at you like you grew a horn from your forehead.

"Charlotte," the man says.

The nerve! "That will be Lady Fawkins to you, sir, and if that's how— God bless the ocean!" The man has tossed his beer in your face. "What sort of— uncivilized—"

"Charlotte," the man says more urgently. "You went through the rift. We're on the second layer. This is a Type II manse, so it's trying to compress you into its narrative. It works best if you don't fight it, just slide out from under. Come on."

"Your name is Charlotte Fawkins," the woman lists, "you're a real bitch, you used to live in a big fancy house—"

"A castle," you say weakly.

"No, a house. With much better beer than this swill. I mean, can't it simulate something decent? Verisimilitude can go right to hell, I have to drink this stuff—"

"…" You blink hard. "Oh, hell."

"Ah!" Ellery says. "Seriously," Nettie continues, "this is a damn bar, you'd think they'd have two kinds of beer, at least, or maybe literally anything else— I'd take a water, even—"

"It's not a bar… it's a tavern." You dab at your nosebleed with a napkin. "All they serve is beer. And turkey legs. That's a sort of bird, not a sort of key." Richard had made sure to clarify. "What are we supposed to be doing here?"

"Not totally clear. Something about a party. Throwing a party? I didn't catch much." Ellery shrugs. "It doesn't matter, anyhow, we're already off script. What did you want to do? Besides stabbing people and summoning Beasts and whatever."

(Choices next.)
>[1] Sit here and grill Nettie and Ellery on their new Backstories. They clearly aren't knights, and are clearly not as cool as you, but this is exciting.
>[2] Sit here and attempt to glean Setting Lore from your fake memories. Maybe it will tell you what you're supposed to do? Or maybe you just want to know the Lore?
>[3] Lurk around and eavesdrop on others in the tavern. Perhaps they'll drop some Plot Hooks?
>[4] Examine the Notice Board at the back of the tavern for Plot Hooks.
>[5] Find the tavernkeep and chew him out for his terrible product.
>[6] Write-in.
Ay yo them 4:30 an posts
I'm a bit lost on how our promise to Nettie was a transgression.

>[4] Examine the Notice Board at the back of the tavern for Plot Hooks.
Sorry for the cruddy options this time around, as >>4861308 points out I published this one stupid late and it was this or the dreaded "write-in only." I'll have better ones in the future.

It wasn't!
>[4] Examine the Notice Board at the back of the tavern for Plot Hooks
Gotta make sure there's no fool asking for bears and owls to create some risque collision, or whatever weird jobs taverns give out these days
>>[2] Sit here and attempt to glean Setting Lore from your fake memories. Maybe it will tell you what you're supposed to do? Or maybe you just want to know the Lore?

I want the lore

>[4] Examine the Notice Board at the back of the tavern for Plot Hooks.

Consult Ye Olde-Timey Busywork Board. This looks like the kind of hokey place that would have things like that for a plucky young Adventuress' accompanied by her low-born Lackeys.


Called and writing for [4] with a dash of [2], with the hope I will get it done before some unspeakable hour in the morning. Wish me luck, folks.
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>Retrieve your PLOT HOOKS

You hesitate. Surely he doesn't actually want your advice: this must be a formality at best, a trap at worst. But you— you know this. "Well, um, let's see. We're in a tavern, so I'd say the tavernkeep will pass us a sealed note from an anonymous benefactor who'll have secret ties to the villain. Or maybe we will, through a cultural misunderstanding, start a tavern brawl, and in the confusion someone will slip one of us a similar note. Or possibly a cursed artifact, only we won't know it's cursed until it's too late and one of us is turned evil. Or, um, one of the patrons will turn out to be a disguised prince, and after we save him from assassins— only we won't know they're assassins yet, they'll just seem like normal robbers— he'll join us, and he'll seem snooty at first, but as we survive adventures together he'll warm up, and learn the value of friendship, and only at the very end we'll discover he's actually—"

"Gods, does this stuff taste like dog piss." Nettie lets a mouthful of beer dribble back into her mug. "What are you even on about? There's no assassins."

"No, no, you don't get it." You shake your head vigorously. "There will be assassins. They just haven't happened yet, because there needs to be some establishing banter, first. And maybe an offhanded mention of the politics that'll be very important later. Like, 'oh, I hear Baron Von Whatever is going to marry a farmer's daughter, because of her great magyckal potential.' And then we'll probably have to rescue the farmer's daughter midway through, and she'll turn out to be the only one capable of defeating the Dark Lord. Yeah?"

Nettie glances at Ellery and pushes her mug back. Ellery rests his chin on both hands. "I don't know if we're— what Baron?"

Oh. They're stupid. "It's an example. We're— you said we're in a narrative. And that's the sort of narrative we're in, the kind with Barons and Dark Lords and—"

"Dog piss beer," Nettie mumbles.

"—and- and dog piss beer, alright?" You throw up your arms. "Have you never read a book?"

Ellery looks uncomfortable. "I've, uh— I've never had much opportunity to—"

Oh, that's right, he can barely read anything. (You should restrain yourself from ribbing him on it too hard, though, as satisfying as it would be. You still need him in reasonably good graces.) "Okay! Then trust me, okay? I know what I'm talking about. Aren't you glad you brought me, now?"

"…I wouldn't go that far." He rubs his nose. "But if you're real damn sure about it, I guess we can run on your assumption. Beats nothing, I guess. That being said, uh— I think your expectations are too high, production-wise."

"No pride in their work," Nettie says.

"Yeah. That. It's a custom, but even so… um, how about this, Charlotte. Imagine whoever's writing this— this book, or whatever, is a fucking hack. He's just a lazy, cheap bastard who bangs it out in a month, ships it off to turn a buck, and buys a whore and a tank of ale with the proceeds. How does it start then?"

You don't even have to think about it. "The hero just happens to find a job posting that happens to tie in to whatever the plot is, which isn't just unoriginal, it's dumb, because he always turns out to be important later, and it's, like, 'but any random person could've picked up that notice,' so what if he didn't?! Would the villain just have won? Do you expect me to believe the gods guided him to go look at a noticeboard? It's boring, it's anticlimatic, it's—"

"A noticeboard like that one?" Nettie jerks her thumb over her shoulder.

"What?" You look. A section of the back wall is plastered with yellowing papers. "I guess? Sure?"

"Great." She pushes back her dangling sleeves— she's in a set of dove grey robes, now, fastened with a belt— stands, and strides over to the probable noticeboard. Ellery shrugs and follows. Eager to not be left behind, you do too.

Up close, it certainly looks like it could be a noticeboard— it's just that every notice is nonsense symbols. More than that, every notice is the same nonsense symbols, so it's not a foreign language. It's just… nonsense.

Neither Ellery or Nettie have mentioned this, which makes you leery of bringing it up, but conversely it's too important to let go. "Uh… hey. Can you both read these?"

"Huh?" Ellery looks back. "No, it's all gibberish."

"Oh! Oh, thank God." You exhale. "I thought, I don't know, my eye broke, or—"

"You're not supposed to read these. You think they'd put in the work to make a dozen unique write-ups? You're just supposed to, er, look at them. Don't read them, just look."

"Ah." You hate this. This, this stupid look-but-don't-read thing, and this, this manse, which seems to be mocking you specifically, and this, this— tagging-along thing, where even if Ellery and Nettie can mask their transparent dislike and distrust of you they're just masking it by being patronizing. You're not even sure they're doing it on purpose, but you hate it nonetheless. "Cool."

You look-but-don't-read. It works, though you're unsure how. The meanings of the postings just seep like rainwater into your head. You hate that, too.

Only some of the notices catch your interest.

(Choices next.)
>[1] A warning about the safety of the Wildeer River. Apparently, until recently, men and livestock kept vanishing around the area. While this has stopped, the river has now become choked with pollution, and it's no longer safe to drink or fish in. An unnamed reward is offered for anyone who can restore the Wildeer to its former glory.
>[2] A call for the capture of a ring of notorious bandits, best known for having somehow tamed horses enough to /ride/ them. They've been spotted most frequently out on the tundra, leading many to suspect a secret base out there.
>[3] A rumor of the strange race of white-furred, bipedal beasts that (supposedly) live high in the mountains. There's speculation of what they are hiding up there, and a strong sense that someone should impose some civilization on the damn things.
>[4] Write-in. subject to veto if I can't/don't want to make it work

lore coming in future update
>Local alchemist requires 20 bear asses
Because this manse is that shitty.
>6:40 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh8AsXWcBbc&list=PLuAOJfsMefuej06Q3n4QrSSC7qYjQ-FlU&index=4

We in a mmorpg nao
We have civilization to spare
>[3] A rumor of the strange race of white-furred, bipedal beasts that (supposedly) live high in the mountains. There's speculation of what they are hiding up there, and a strong sense that someone should impose some civilization on the damn things.
New ep when...
Rolled 1 (1d2)

>Willingly subject yourself to a fetch quest

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>Hit submit instead of file
This is my punishment for calling the vote so late. I'll just keep that roll, I guess, so, uh...

>Willingly subject yourself to a fetch quest

>Colonize some bitches

The RNG >>4864661 demands a fetch quest, so I guess you're off to collect some bear asses. You asked for this!

Called and writing god I hope I can finish at a reasonable hour, I'm starting way too late, sorry in advance
>You asked for this!
But you didn't veto it.
Fug, okay, 4chan crashing for a hot sec there was enough to kill what little motivation I had. Exciting fetch quest action postponed to tomorrow, sorry all. I'm getting some sleep.
>We're the chad warrior of the party while the other two are virgin support classes

Because a) it's funny, and b) Charlie doing a fetch quest is gonna end up like doing a fetch quest in Morrowind.

>being the Chad warrior of the group.

I mean, would you trust Ellery to fight up front and personal, drawing the heat from the gribblies? Knowing his luck, despite us using wicked Sword powers, whatever bear-adjacent critter we're harvesting the asses off of will still focus on his succulent, nerdy flesh.
>QUEST: Obtain 20 bear hindquarters (0/20)

"What the shit's a bear?"

Ellery's screechy voice jars your understanding of the postings— when you try to reread the one you were examining (something about mountains?), it's all just symbols again. You brush your hair from your face impatiently. "It's an animal. Didn't you know that?"

"Figured it was an animal, I just want to know why this 'alchemist'— don't know what that is either— wants 20 of its asses. Like, shit, are they magic asses? Can you make a real nice coat from bear asses? Why 20? You think they generated this one, Nettie?"

"An alchemist turns lead into gold, I thought," Nettie says. "And you think they built in a random generator? They probably drew words from a hat. Or they had an intern draw words from a hat. Same result, infinitely less effort."

"Sure, but what happens if someone wanders in and actually completes this…" He rattles the paper back and forth. "…this, this job? If they did it manually, there'd be nothing to replace it, and if you did all of them there'd be nothing to do."

"You think they expect you to stick around long enough?"

Ellery's face clouds over. You take this moment to interject. "Actually, an alchemist makes potions. And it doesn't say 'asses,' it says 'hindquarters,' Ellery."

"Says asses to me," he says neutrally, after a moment. "Not too sure what a potion is, either."

If it were possible, your disdain deepens. "It's a sort of magickyal drink, as any normal person would—"

"Shit, like all these?" Ellery lifts his new bandolier, which is full of bottles of brightly-colored liquid. "Tried drinking one earlier, made me throw up leaves. Pretty sure it was trying to make me a tree, but I cut myself out before anything…"

"That's good." You mean it. If you snapped out of it to discover that Ellery had turned himself into a tree, you think you'd scream and throw something. "Um, it's interesting how your first reaction to strange liquids is to immediately drink them, but, uh— that's good. Are we going to do the bear hindquarters quest? Oh, speaking of— did you know bears can stand up and walk like men? They often stole clothing and wore it to disguise themselves, so they could sneak up to people and eat them. And they had poisonous stingers— actually," you have hit upon something, "that's probably what the hindquarters are for. The stingers. Or maybe the alchemist wants to make potions to disguise bears fully as people, so they can sneak even better— like, can you imagine if a man walked up, a regular man, then his jaw unhinged and he ate you—"

"You're putting more thought into this than the pissant intern," Nettie grumbles. "There probably is no big reveal. The alchemist just wants 20 bear hindasses to turn into gold, or whatever. And we don't care, because none of this matters. We're just trying to advance the damn narrative so it'll spit the door at us."

"But—" you say, and it takes a while to articulate that gut reaction. "But— what if there is a reveal? Don't you want to know what it is? And— how can you say this doesn't matter? Maybe it's straightforward at first glance, but it's bound to set us off on a journey of self-discovery and, um, friendship—"

Nettie barks out a laugh. "That ship has sailed, Charlotte, and— in case you've forgotten— every bit of this is fictional. We're fictional, the world's fictional, and this vapid 'quest' is very fictional. So explain why it's supposed to matter, please?"

"It's, um…" You don't want to say it. (It's weak. It's shallow. It's peurile.) You have to say it. "…it's fun?"

"We're not here for fun," Ellery says shortly, and balls up the posting. "I'm fine with bear asses. If we're lucky, it's just bear asses, and we can get out without attracting much attention. Much. They're already watching."

"'They're'?" You peer over your shoulder: the unblinking eyes of every tavern patron peer back. "Oh."

"Doesn't like us breaking character. Er, the manse doesn't. But it's easy to get it off our back… Nettie?"

"Choke on it," she mutters. "You think I want to be someone with flouncy sleeves and a stick?"

"You think I want to be someone who doesn't label their fucking tree juice? Suck it up, okay, unless you'd rather fend off a couple dozen drones without your gun—"

"I didn't ask for the stick!"

"Maybe you'll actually figure out how to use it if you follow the script, okay? Ten minutes. I'll—" He touches his temple. "—keep track, so it's not— come on. Be reasonable."

She curls her lip, but instead of the further argument you were expecting, there's just a tiny but palpable shift in the atmosphere. "…Nettie?" you say.

"Gods," she says, "you're attached to that name, aren't you? You know I made it up on the spot? It's in the imagomagus creed to never reveal your true name, lest—"

"There's no need to be pretentious about it," Ellery says, and though there's nothing different in his appearance or voice his eyes are curiously dead. "That's just good common sense. You think I trust a fucking illusionist—"

"Imagomagus," Nettie corrects.

"—a fucking illusionist, and a runaway kid with a stolen sword? It's not my fault I landed in the frozen ass-end of nowhere, with—"

And something gives way within you. "A kid? Excuse me? That is Lady Fawkins to you, you- you ruffian, and I'll have you know that I've been highly acclaimed for—"

Ellery (if that even is his real name) smirks. "For what."

"…" You can't remember. You're not lying, you're certain you have been, it's just… missing. "…Er, about those hindquarters."

It's not your ideal listing, to put it mildly: it is repetitive and rote and ill-paying and not heroic in the slightest. But it is what your companions wanted, and you had sworn to give working together a fair shake. You are now regretting this swearing, considering who you're working with, but that's neither here nor there.

Fortunately, the conversation shifts away from you and to the job ahead— then, shortly thereafter, how to get there. As Nettie(?) prepares 'Aristop's Speedy Doorway,' you muse upon the events that spurred your rise to heroism— or, to be precise, 'event.'

A mere decade ago, your illustrious homeland of Aeredam was a place of beauty and bounty. Young as you may be, you remember it well— the feasts, the laughter, the green and rolling fields. You had no idea it could ever change. And yet! One dark day, the benevolent monarch of Aeredam, King Ignatius, vanished. Nothing was heard of him. No clues were ever found. And on that day, the sky clouded over, the snow fell, and your homeland was plunged into a deep and endless winter. There are rumors of someone or some-thing having usurped the empty throne, since— you know naught of that. All you knew then is that someone had to put a stop to this horror. And if it would be nobody else, it would be you… no matter the price you had to pay.

Ellery is rubbing a handful of snow in your face. "Charlotte! Wake up!"

"Ger-gerroff me, you filthy—!" You claw at his arms. "I'm- ow!- I'm awake, obviously, I was never asleep—"

"You weren't asleep, but you were— are you Charlotte?"

"Yes!" You try to shake the snow from your hair as Ellery withdraws. "God! Did you have to assault me? Where- we're not in the tavern."

"Nettie made a door with her stick."

Nettie waves the stick, which has a crystal tied to the end. You roll your eyes and wipe your second nosebleed of the day. "That's a wand. And… okay. I guess that sounds familiar." The memories of the last 10 minutes haven't gone, but they're hard to grip onto. "…So where'd we end up?"

It's a silly question and you know so as it leaves your mouth. You're outside, in the snow, though between the padding under your armor and the nymph's cloak you feel next to nothing. Nettie has it worse in theory, with her robes, but she seems okay. Maybe she, or the other her, knows some kind of anti-cold charm? (Ellery is as impervious to the elements as ever, despite his thin coat and your vexation.) Before the three of you looms an odd, organic-looking structure. It's all ridges and waves, and all vertical— two, three stories high.

"Wherever the bears are," Nettie says. "So my wild guess is that they're in that thing."

You find it difficult to argue, which is why you find yourself within the structure shortly thereafter. It's much the same inside as out, which is to say odd, tall, organic— and frozen solid. Nearly every inch of the place is slick with ice and, failing that, bristling with icicles. It's also, as best any of you can tell, completely empty.

But the bears are here. Where are the bears?

>As a general reminder, you are now on the second layer of the manse: reality is straining under the pressure. You can, if desired, do weird stuff! It may or may not require a roll, and if it's too haxxy or doesn't work with the rules of the setting these do exist I may veto it, but in general restrictions are laxer. Go nuts. (Or don't. I have normal options too.)

>[1] Maybe you're just not looking hard enough. Scour the place from top from bottom. You don't even need a bear, just any sign that bears are or were here. [Roll.]
>[2] Listen. You have a sword that lights on fire. Just smash every iced-over thing you see until you find a clue or a bear. [Roll.]
>[3] Are you having trouble because you're… not designed for this? Let Lady Fawkins take over the investigation, see what she finds, and hope there aren't any adverse effects from this.
>[4] Damn the bears. Pull out Madrigal, find a private corner, and give her a lecture about talking out of turn. You need to do this eventually, and this is a good a time as any.
>[5] Damn the bears. Summon Giltorax, by which you mean pull out Gil, and put him to use. It'd be silly if you brought him just to keep him in the backpack, and this place looks kind of insect-y.
>[6] Write-in.

>Succulent flesh
I was with you up until here, which I'd substitute for "stringy rawhide."

>[2] Listen. You have a sword that lights on fire. Just smash every iced-over thing you see until you find a clue or a bear. [Roll.]

Some of Ellery's potions are almost certainly highly flammable. It's practically a given that a chemist like him has incendiaries, otherwise it wouldn't be a proper storyteller hack job. Flush them out with fire, like you'd do for wasps, then carve their precious asses off. Save the Maddy talk for later, while the other two are busy discussing the merits of turning bear asses to gold, or gold into bear asses.

>stringy rawhide.

Given that, and the chances of getting obscenely sick if he actually was eaten, I think I've narrowed it down. Ellery is officially the monster equivalent of a recently expired bag of beef jerky or rawhide dog treats. It's stringy, chewy, and probably not good for your health at the best of times, let alone after it's Best Before date, but you can't turn down free jerky. Not when it's literally right there, and it's certainly easier to hunt down than everything else around it. Just have to weigh the risks of getting wretchedly sick over it compared to eating pretty much anything else.
>[5] Damn the bears. Summon Giltorax, by which you mean pull out Gil, and put him to use. It'd be silly if you brought him just to keep him in the backpack, and this place looks kind of insect-y.
too bad we didn't pick up his bug food from the key store

never thought I'd type that sentence
>[2] Listen. You have a sword that lights on fire. Just smash every iced-over thing you see until you find a clue or a bear. [Roll.]

Try to aim some ice chips at Nettie. We nay have forgotten a lot, but that doesn't mean we can't find new ways to be petty.

I mean, here we are, missing memories to apparently have saved Ellery, and he's about as pleasant about it as Nettie is about us having saved her life. Which she considers to have balanced out something which we may have forgotten, or else she's just a bitch taking advantage of our current difficulties remembering instead of saying things up front like an adult.

Ellery may be on to something about not trusting a lying illusionist gypsy.

Seeing how there's nothing stopping you from both summoning Gil and committing arson/vandalism, I'll just go ahead with both.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 35 (+10 Good With A Sword, +10 Mystery Potions, +5 On Fire!, +5 Pent-up Frustrations, +5 Moral Support) vs. DC 75 (+10 ???, +5 Big Place, +5 Slippery, +5 Scary Icicles) for everything to go well!

No [SUGAR JITTERS] penalty because imo indiscriminate smashing doesn't require much coordination (and may actually benefit from minimal coordination...).

>Ellery is officially the monster equivalent of a recently expired bag of beef jerky or rawhide dog treats.
100% yes. Incredible write-up.
Oh, fug, you have an additional +5 to all your rolls on the second layer from [Richard], so that should be +40. You are hilariously specc'd toward smashing random stuff.

For anyone curious, summoning Gil granted [Moral Support], >>4866071 granted [Mystery Potions], and >>4867364 granted [Pent-up Frustrations]. Good With A Sword and On Fire! are intrinsic.
Rolled 56 + 40 (1d100 + 40)

Rolled 19 + 40 (1d100 + 40)


Time to cause a scene!
Rolled 62 + 40 (1d100 + 40)

>96, 59, 102 vs. DC 75 -- Success
Nice job. Writing.
Man, I'm all over the place: you should have received the Green Juice +5 bonus to both this and the rift roll. Luckily, the outcomes don't change for either of those, so I'll pretend I didn't forget. You have one more +5 remaining.
>Break the ice
>101, 64, 107 vs. DC 75 — Success

It's little effort to slip away from the others, who are busy discussing the origin of the structure— Ellery thinks the architect was "drunk as shit," Nettie counters with sleep deprivation. What if a bear den just looks like this? you think but don't say. It's not like they'd listen to you, and anyhow, you're attempting to keep a low profile. You don't want an audience while you're summoning demons.

Well, summoning Gil, who is apparently a demon in the same way you're a knight-errant. You would've liked to dig him out of your knapsack and call it a day, but when you shrugged it off and undid the drawstring all you found (besides the siphon, the Law rock, the wind-up bird, a miscellanea of adventuring supplies, and a sleepy Madrigal) was a stick of charcoal, a handful of candles, and a gold-limned parchment scrap. While it's a difficult task to mark out a ritual circle on a coating of ice, and a nightmarish one to light eight candles in a freezing gale, you are heartened by the parchment: the syllables it lists are foreign, weighty, and tailor-made for chanting. For chanting! You'd chant things more often, you think, if killjoy Richard wasn't always there.

(Maybe, you think, maybe he'd shut it down for good reason — maybe he's saving you from alienating people, from driving them off with your peculiar and offputting behavior — it's not his fault you were socialized like a feral tomcat —)

And then you think that's not me thinking and any good cheer you'd developed evaporates. You try to remind yourself that Richard is languishing in existential hell, at the present, but that's cold comfort when that existential hell is you. Your chanting is perfunctory. You do not gesture.

>[-1 ID: 2/(9)]

It still works. As you close with a final unenthusiastic "AK HAI GILTORAX," the candles flare black, and the ritual circle (you ended up fetching some snow and tracing it in that) steams and bubbles. Gil rises through it, as if through water.

You assume the demon is Gil, anyhow, because it emits a gravelly "Aw, shit!" as it trips over its own legs. It doesn't look much like him, though: it's squat and beetlelike. Beetle, singular.

"…Gil?" you attempt, clutching the parchment to your chest.

"Y- shit!" He is having some difficulty getting to his feet, plural. "Y-yeah, I-I'm— um— oh." He is patting himself all over. "I-I-I'm a bug."

You push your tongue around your mouth. "I think you're actually a bug demon. But, I mean, one big bug, a lot of little bugs, what's the—"

"A lot! I-I-I-I can't— you have to gut me."

You have to gut him. You have to pull your shining sword from its scabbard and plunge it into Gil's exposed underbelly— just where the thorax joins with the abdomen— and force it down and it's only when yellow blood spats your cheek that you blink and startle back. It's too late. You can do nothing but watch as the two charred halves of Gil— of what was Gil— teeter to the— the, uh—

There are no halves. It's just Gil, unharmed, sweaty, and you're certain it's Gil because it looks just like him (excluding the four eyes and four arms and mandibles). He is wearing for no apparent reason a full pinstripe suit. "I- I-" he stammers, and looks about to faint.

You can wholly understand. "What did you do to me?!"

"I-I, uh— I don't— I'm sorry! I didn't i-intend to- to- I just—" Two hands are clutching his face; the other two pinwheel wildly. "Sorry! I-I-I'm—"

He'll never calm down while you're staring at him like that. He's like one of those neurotic little dogs: he picks up on your negativity and it whips him into a panic. You shouldn't fault him for it; he likes it about as much as you do.

You should offer him a cigarette and give him space to breathe. And as you think that, a cigarette is already clutched in your fingers. You offer it shakily. "Um, I guess there was no harm done. Here."

He squints at you like you offered him a stroll into a spike pit, but takes it.

"You can light it on my sword," you say, and pick The Sword off the ground. You extend it toward him. He lights the cigarette, puzzles over it, and eventually pincers it between his mouthparts.

After a minute, you clear your throat. "So what did you do?"

"Aw, um, I-I'm not… sure." He exhales smoke. "I-I just didn't want to be- whatever that was. A bug. I didn't mean to, um, mess with you. I think you were just… around."

This is not a satisfying answer, but at least it's a coherent one— a major step up. "I see. And what's so bad about a bug? I mean, given your, um, condition."

Gil hesitates, stuffing two hands in his pockets. His third holds his cigarette, the fourth his collar. "Well, that's— I-I mean, it's not the same thing. Um. When you're a lot of beetles, i-it's different from— from everything. Your whole frame of reference i-is gone, shattered, you're just cut loose from your life, and your body, and you're kind of drifting in… nothing. Which sucks. But i-it means you can sort of, um, pretend it isn't happening. Like i-i-it's just a vivid dream, and you'll wake up any minute, and you'll remember what it's like to have hands and things."

You tilt your head. "You've spent a lot of time thinking about this."

"Um." He blanches. "I-I, uh— I didn't have a lot else to do. But, um— so there's that. But i-if I'm just a bug, just one big bug, then nothing's shattered at all. I still have hands, they're just bug hands. I-I still have one body, it's just that that body's… a bug. Um. You can't ignore it, or pretend around it, it's just smacking you in the face, and I— I don't know if I can—"

"I mean, you're still kind of a bug." You're fairly sure that's just flesh-tone chitin. "Isn't that bad too?"

"I-It's better." His tone is unexpectedly firm. "So where are we, actually? And were you wearing all that before? Because—"

"HEY-EY!" You flinch at Nettie's distant holler. It's from above you— well above, you determine, as you squint upward. She must be at the top of the structure. "WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?"

Oh God! Oh God. Um. "…THE DEMON I SUMMONED…"

"NO SHIT?" Ellery's head pops over the edge of the platform. "CAN I SAY HELLO?"

>[1] Keep Gil in this humanoid form. He has a plausible cover, if he's willing to play-act somewhat, and four hands are considerably more useful than none.
>[2] Convince Gil to go back to being several hundred beetles. Cover or not, it's still one more thing to explain when you've already got stuff to hide— and it's one more warm body when who knows what's in store. He's not even good in combat.
>[3] Convince Gil to be something else. (What? Write-in. must be beetle-adjacent) [Possible roll.]

Despite this update not being super long, it took a super long time… so long that I'm delaying the ice smashing to tomorrow's update. Dice results stay the same. Sorry folks, you'll get it soon.
>[1] Keep Gil in this humanoid form. He has a plausible cover, if he's willing to play-act somewhat, and four hands are considerably more useful than none.
>[1] Keep Gil in this humanoid form. He has a plausible cover, if he's willing to play-act somewhat, and four hands are considerably more useful than none.

Hey look at that guy Gil. Doesn't his body look familiar?
I can't resist supporting this.
>[1] Keep Gil in this humanoid form. He has a plausible cover, if he's willing to play-act somewhat, and four hands are considerably more useful than none.

Mainly because if he becomes a whole heap of beetles, he won't be a particularly good impression of a beetle demon like we implied. Just have to keep him from bugging out when he sees the OG version of the dude whose body he occupied for a while.
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>This is fine, thanks

Called and writing.
>Breaking the ice
>101, 64, 107 vs. DC 75 - Success

Can he say hello? Of course he can. You couldn't stop him if you wanted to: you could argue, you could threaten, you could lie, but he'd still waltz down grinning and shake Gil's hand. Even if you claimed Gil would devour him on the spot. Especially if you claimed Gil would devour him on the spot.

So what's the use? "SURE," you yell back, and turn fiercely to Gil. "Great. Okay. Now you have to talk to them."

"Well, um, that's— I-I guess that's fine…"

"Fine? No!" You clutch your scalp. "You're gonna be all weird, and stuttery, because you're useless, and they're gonna be 'oh boy, Charlotte, the demon you summoned sure seems like a normal guy, I wonder what else you're hiding—'"

Gil stands in rigid incomprehension. "Um, are you hiding other things?"

"Yes! Not— not from you, I just know some things about Ellery, um, that he doesn't know I know, and I don't want him to know that I know the things I know."

"Oh." He clacks his mandibles together. "…Isn't Ellery the guy you murdered?"

"Yes, and?"

"…He's up there? You- you murdered—"

"I didn't murder him," you hiss impatiently, "I murdered his reflection, which is why you were melting, and he doesn't know I know he has a reflection, by the way, so if you mention it I'll— I don't know what, but it'll be bad. Got it?"

"…Yeah…" (You are not terribly convinced he gets it.) "…Um, but he and his reflection look the same?"

"What? Yeah, they're identical, that's the whole damn—" You stop short. "Are you going to be weird around him because you were in his body?"


"God-damnit!" You fling your arms about inarticulately. "You- you- no! No. You can't— you can not ruin this. Okay? Gil? Gil, listen— Gil." Catching two of his hands in yours, you stare up at him beseechingly. "Llisten to me. What you did? It's not interesting, or relevant, or unique. Surely you know how common it is to take another body."

Gil attempts to pull away, but you don't let him. "…I-I really don't think it's, um, common—"

You didn't think so either. But it's what you're saying, so it must be true. "That shows how much you know, then. I suppose you're uncomfortable with the 'intimacy' of carting around his corpse? Well, then, would you consider borrowing a coat to be intimate? It's the same thing, Gil. A corpse is— it's nothing. It's skin. You borrowed his skin, you returned it. There's no meaning in that. You learned nothing of him! So there's no call to be anything but entirely detached, polite, and civil. Got it?"

Now you let him pull away: he hugs all his arms to his chest. "Um, yeah, I-I get it."

Now he gets it— the little sag of defeatism seals the deal— but you can't help but throw in a last aside. "Frankly, it's absurd you ever considered that ''intimate.'' It's the opposite— it's sterile. If you want real intimacy, go ahead and take someone alive, will you? You'll feel everything. You'll know everything. And you'll be battling every single second to keep a grip on yourself, because you're surrounded on all sides by—"

You hadn't thought it possible for Gil's expression to grow more incredulous, but he's certainly trying. "What are you talking about?! Do you possess people?!"

Do you— "N-no." You blink hard. "No, I— I've never— sorry. I—"

"No, i-i-it's okay," he's saying, with a sudden air of understanding— "Um, i-it wasn't— I figured you were having an episode—" but you aren't really listening. You are craning your neck to watch Ellery and Nellie shimmy down a large icicle: Nellie shimmies, in any case, Ellery just jumps from a height that'd crack his shinbones. He is striding purposefully toward you, now. "Gil!" you sign, interrupting his tangent about how he's seen a lot of episodes, it's not your fault, they just sort of happen down here: "Act— act demonic!"

"What?" he mouths, but Ellery is upon you now. "Charlotte!" he says. "And… hello. You must be the demon?"

You look at Gil. Gil looks at you, and at Ellery, and places the cigarette back in his mouthparts. "I suppose," he says in a voice distinct from his own— it's deeper, cooler. "Though I find that a bit derogatory."

"Oh! Oh, of course, I didn't mean anything by it. What would you prefer?"

"My name," Gil intones. "That would be 'Giltorax' to you, mortal. I do not expect you to pronounce it correctly."

"…'Mortal' is a little questionable, but I get the gist. Gil-tor-ax it is, then. Well, Gil-tor-ax, my name is Ellery, if you needed that, since, ah, like I mentioned, 'mortal' isn't all that accurate— may I ask you what draws you to this— ah, I don't know, let's see— plane of reality? That's low-'r' reality, in case you're the sort that quibbles over semantics."

Despite Ellery's friendly overtures, you sense something catlike about him. You cough loudly. "Um, I found some summoning stuff in my knapsack and I wanted to find out what it did. And it did that. Um. It summoned him."

"Ah! Makes sense." Ellery smiles broadly. "May I speak with your summoner for one second, Mr. Gil-tor-ax? Gil? Is Gil alright?" Gil nods. "Great. Fantastic. One second—"

His smile drops when he drags you aside. "You just summoned a demon?"

"Yeah?" you say defensively. "He's under my thrall, and all that. He's fine."

"Did you know he'd be fine? You can't just— I mean, what the fuck would I say to Anthea if I came up without you? 'Oops, sorry, she summoned a demon while I wasn't looking? Got pulped?' Could you think for just a—"

You raise your eyebrows. "Why are you covered in ash?"
"Tried another one of these fucking drinks." He rattles his bandolier. "Set me on fire. A lot of snow around, luckily. But seriously, Charlotte, could you—"

"Did you know it'd set you on fire?"

The pin drops. "No, but— that's not the same, alright? I will be fine. I will always be fine. You, meanwhile—"

"Well, that sure is a demon." Nettie dusts herself off. "What are we all doing? Standing? You realize we're still at zero bears?"

"There weren't any up there?" you say. "Seriously?"

"None. Because why would there be? I only took us to the exact place the bears are." She snorts. "Of course, it's not like Mr. Set-Myself-On-Fire or you are helping. You're just over here summoning things. Is it supposed to find the bears for us?"

"Is—" You look at Gil. "Um, no, but he can help? He can help. I mean, he's a demon, he can set stuff on fire—"

Gil interjects hastily, noting that he can't actually set anything on fire, unless provided a match— or a lighter— or (said with a modicum of bitterness) a flamethrower arm— but you're already off to the races. You, after all, have a flaming sword. Ellery has a fire potion, or whatever's left of it. Nettie… has a wand. Maybe it can set things on fire, you don't know. You don't care. You have a plan.

And, okay, maybe it's not a very complicated plan: you're just going to smash and/or melt every frozen surface in sight. But it's a good plan. Either something turns up, and you're set, or the frustration is assuaged by smashing and/or melting everything. You think it's solid, and Gil agrees with whatever you say. Ellery seems to think it's funny. Only Nettie objects, and when it's three versus one she has little choice in the matter.

So, with unrestrained glee, you set about destroying everything in your wake. You're the only one really getting into it: Ellery hands you his potion and contents himself with plinking crossbow bolts at icicles, while Gil kicks nervously at a few patches of snow. Nettie sits out. It's her loss, you figure, as you brush ice chips off your armor: you're having a great time.

>[+2 ID: 4/(9)]

You find very little for a long time: just dozens of small, shallow inlets in the wall. Once, you speculate, bear cubs may have slept in them: now they're mostly empty. A few have scraps of blank paper in them. One has nondescript bones.

The real prize comes when you bash in an apparently empty corner: the wall caves in and through, revealing a darkened tunnel underneath. Everyone crowds around. "Bears are in there," Ellery says.

"What? How do you—" He's already hopped in. "Oh." Casting a glance at everyone else, you follow.

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The interior of the tunnel calls to mind the sewer under the Fen: wide, circular, remarkably clean. The first thing you notice, as you clamber to your feet, is the wooden cart parked in the tunnel's center. Peeking over the side, you squint: what are those? They're clearly animals, of some kind, but they're white, translucent, and squirming. Bears? No. …Bear cubs, possibly?

The second thing you notice is the man Ellery has pinned to the wall. (You didn't think Ellery was capable of pinning anybody. Maybe the crossbow helped.) He's silent, his eyes bulging in the dark. The cart puller? "Where's the bears?" Ellery barks.

He's not very impressive, honestly, and that's with his height as a crutch. The cart puller remains silent. You sigh.

>[1] Sidle in and take over the interrogation. You're better at it, obviously, and maybe proving your competence will save you from future embarrassing lectures. (Anything you do or say in particular?)
>[2] Encourage Ellery to test out his potions on this guy. It's not altogether ethical but this way you'll know what they do! And maybe you'll get some information if he doesn't die first.
>[3] When Gil gets down here, make him take over. He was remarkably convincing, earlier, and if he can keep his nerve it'll go a long way to cement his cover.
>[4] Write-in.
>[1] Sidle in and take over the interrogation. You're better at it, obviously, and maybe proving your competence will save you from future embarrassing lectures. (Anything you do or say in particular?)
Light the sword on fire and singe the guys hair a bit. Maybe even eyelashes. Put the sword closer and closer until he talks.
Enhanced interrogation is a go.
>"Frankly, it's absurd you ever considered that ''intimate.'' It's the opposite— it's sterile. If you want real intimacy, go ahead and take someone alive, will you? You'll feel everything. You'll know everything. And you'll be battling every single second to keep a grip on yourself, because you're surrounded on all sides by—"

Richard is slipping out a little here, no?
Actually, can we hold the fire sword up to the "bears" and read the man's reaction?
Richard was leaking out well before that, but you're correct.

Sure. How would you change your behavior based on his reaction (or lack thereof)?
If he doesn't care about the bears, focus on him. If he does, goad him into talking.

If doing this draws mama bear, well, perfect right? Ellery will get mauled, we'll have a fantastic battle, Nettie will quip from the sidelines and cast spells, ans Gil will be there! All perfect
Basically this.

"Where's the bears!?"

say it louder than ellery said it, I tried to represent this with an exclamation point
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>All this stuff

Okay! Looks like you're roughing this guy up. Called and writing very shortly.
>Anything you can do *I* can do better

"Where's the bears?!" you roar, and your voice echoes down the tunnel: "-ears! -ars! -rs!" The man shrinks back against the wall, and Ellery flinches. "Shit! Charlotte! I've— I've got this covered!"

"Got this covered? Don't make me laugh!" You laugh, throatily, and elbow your way under his outstretched arm. "Witness how to conduct a competent interrogation."

"Charlotte, I really don't think— hey!" You've knocked his crossbow aside and drawn The Sword. "I'm serious! You can't just—"

"Witness!" You shake The Sword at him, then whip back around to the cart driver. "Hello there. You haven't answered my question."

"Wh-wh-wh-what question?" he stammers. You appraise him. His face is moonish, his eyes small and dark, his red hair badly thinning. His nose is twitching uncontrollably, like a rabbit's.

"The bears. Where are the bears."

"I-I-I-I don't— what bears? What- what are bears?"

You narrow your eyes. His nose continues to twitch, and as if sensing your gaze he reaches up to wipe it. Before his hand— bedecked with a gaudy pinky ring— makes it to his face, you tear him from the wall and slam him against the cart. "You know what bears are," you snarl.

Paradoxically, this has swelled the cart driver with unearned confidence. "I, uh, I assure you, I've never once 'eard of any such thing as a— urk." You have placed the point of The Sword rather close to his neck.

"Turn around," you say pleasantly.

He turns around. You switch The Sword to the back of his neck, so he can feel the flames snap at his hairline. "What's in here?"

"I-I-I-I'm not awful sure, ma'am. I've never seen this cart in me life, swear on me— me life. I was jes' passing by before yer man accosted—"

"Not her man," Ellery says, tetchily. "And you were pulling the cart."

"That's hearsay, that is! There's not one way you can prove— fecking hell!" You have pressed The Sword deeper. The cart-puller isn't bleeding, but he is smoldering like paper. "Okay, so what if it is me cart?! It's no crime to own a cart! I'm an 'onest man, I am, and I can assure you, ma'am, I've never once seen the critters inside! Got there on their own, they did! Pests, I tell you, they're all—"

"Okay." You nod for Ellery to take over, and when he places his crossbow against the cart-puller's head you circle around the cart so the puller can see. Casually, you rest the sword over the cart's edge: the bear cubs(?) squall and squirm away. "These are pests?"

"Well, er, yes, ma'am— ruining a honest man's cart-pulling livelihood, they are—"

"So you won't mind if I exterminate them for you?"

"…Er…" The cart puller is not a subtle man. "…I, uh, I wouldn't do that if I were in yer- yer particular boots, ma'am, but…"

"I see." You nod and sheath The Sword. "There'll be no need, then. I'll tell you what."


"You're an animal smuggler. Like Branwen." Your thoughts, tightly coiled, are beginning to come unwound. "Er— no. Because she breeds things, I think, and I guess it isn't really smuggling, she doesn't transport them, she just— sells to smugglers. Yeah. Okay. No. You're a poacher. You have poached these, um, these animals. These… bears." (The cart puller's eyes widen.) "Yes! These bears. And you have set off, upon this, um, smuggling road, to ply your illicit wares. Your… bear wares. At the black market!" You thrust The Sword into his face for punctuation.

"An'- an'- an' so what?" The cart puller/bear smuggler attempts to pull back from The Sword, but Ellery's crossbow stops him. "A man's got to make an 'onest living somehow, don't I? An' it's not like I'm the first! The 'ives been picked clean from 'ere to Avernia! It's the snow, you know. Used to be everywhere, they did, then the snow came and—" He makes his hand into a fist. "It's why they sell so well! 'ot commodity. Can't fault a man, can you—"

"Where were you planning on taking them?" Ellery asks dryly.

"Me? Good question! Excellent question, good sir. I 'adn't figured that out meself." The smuggler straightens his back. "Could sell them to the market, yes. Sell them to the butcher, sell them to the bear fights. Could also— I'll tell you what— could also sell them to some gent at the Eddies. Pays out more that way."

"The Eddies?" Ellery presses, before you can.

The smuggler appears puzzled. "Well, yeah, the Eddies. Don't you know? They say — wander into the Eddies, yer lost for a year — leave and it's been minutes — that type of thing? Bit shit for you, but if yer trying to sell some ad-ult bears and all you've got are chickies— well—"

"Interesting." Ellery glances at you and pulls the crossbow away. "I'm going to tell you something. I have all this weird shit on my belt, right?" He runs a finger down his bandolier. "I made it, so I know what all of it does. I'm going to tell you what this one does." He selects a vial of white ointment and holds it out. "I call this one the 'Shut The Fuck Up.' It won't kill you, okay? I want you to know that. It won't kill you. But when I apply it to you, you are going to fall over. You won't be able to hear anything, and you won't be able to speak, and you won't be able to move. Can I get a 'yes' if you understand?"

"Um," the smuggler says, his eyes swiveling. "Yessir?"

"Great." Ellery reaches out and smears some ointment on the smuggler's cheek. The smuggler falls over. You pry your foot out from under his torso as Ellery screws the lid back on the ointment. "I suppose you don't know what that does," you say.

"Not a clue." He unscrews the lid just a little and sniffs it. "Smells like herbs, I guess. Could you lose that look?" (You do not lose your look.) "It doesn't work on anybody who isn't dogshit stupid."

"Uh-huh," you say.

"It doesn't. But if we're on the topic— what is your deal?"

"My… deal."

"Yeah. Your deal. You expect me to think— I mean, what the fuck was that? Do you often interrogate people? Because— look— I'm not trying to be a jerk, but you can't tell me that's- that's consistent with your— you can't just ass-pull that, Charlotte. Where did—"

You fold your arms. "Maybe I'm just good."

"Maybe you're just— no." He shakes his head furiously. "No. You are not just spontaneously good at being— there is an explanation."

"Yeah. I'm just good." Ellery's making you a little nervous, not that you'd ever tell him. You are just good, right? You'll admit it did come rather easily, but that's- that's because you're good. (Was it Richard? Ew. But it didn't feel like—)

"No." He's staring uneasily at you. "Look, uh, I'll just ask you point blank, Charlotte. Okay. Was it really Maddie who sent you?"

"What?" you say. "…Yes?"

This is clearly the least satisfying thing you could've said, but before he can dig into your (true, factual) response there's a bump and a clatter and Gil and Nettie make their landing in the tunnel. They both have rope around their waists. You clear your throat. "What took you so long?"

"Do you know how deep that hole was? No? No, of course not, you just jumped right down it. I actually looked, like a sane person." Nettie unfastens the rope. "And it still got me the same result. Which is kind of an object lesson about the world, isn't it? Who's that?"

She means the smuggler, who's still sprawled on the ground. "He took the bears," you say. "Er… some of them. We can't harvest hindquarters from bear cubs, can we?"

"Cubs? I don't even know what—" Nettie peeks into the cart. "Those things? Those things don't have asses. We are, excuse me, shit out of luck. Did you at least get where the adult bears are before you killed him?"

"Um, he's not dead," you say. "But—"

>[A1] Unparalyze the smuggler and drag him along as a guide. He will, of course, betray you the first chance he gets, but his knowledge of where the hell you're going could be invaluable in the meantime.
>[A2] Kill the smuggler. He's more trouble than he's worth alive.
>[A3] Write-in.

>[B1] Head to the black market / arena. Maybe you can purchase some bear hindquarters outright— and if not, you can harvest them off the fighting bears, assuming you're brazen enough.
>[B2] Head to the Eddies. You have some perfectly good bears right here: it's not your fault they're not old enough to harvest. You can fix that.

>[C] Write-in.
You won't let poor Charlotte have even a wisp of competehce that isn't Richard-induced, will you Bathic?

>[A3] Just leave the smuggler here. I bet the quest designer didn't think that far.

>[B1] Head to the black market / arena. Maybe you can purchase some bear hindquarters outright— and if not, you can harvest them off the fighting bears, assuming you're brazen enough.
Don't wanna sit for a year in the Eddies. Potentially with Ellery.
>[A3] Write-in.

Blame Ellery for jumping in to your interrogation because he's apparently uncomfortable with the very thought of you being good at things. What a dick, right? Good thing you aren't some sort of impressionable moppet out on her first adventure, because that's the sort of thing that could really hurt a persons feelings and make them unsure of themselves.

>[B1] Head to the black market / arena. Maybe you can purchase some bear hindquarters outright— and if not, you can harvest them off the fighting bears, assuming you're brazen enough.

Enough weird shit happens without us actively seeking it out.

>[C] Write-in.
Laugh at Nettie thinking sane responses are appropriate in Manse's. If anything, expecting things like logic and preparation to work here is the crazy thing.
It's not Richard-induced: note the lack of red letters. Charlotte even says it didn't feel Richard-y.
Supporting this in particular
Who cares what Charlotte says, she's been firmly established as delusional. As for the letters, I thought they signified Charlotte's inner snake.
>Who cares what Charlotte says, she's been firmly established as delusional.
I mean, yeah, I'll give you that. She's not delusional about everything, though, like how Richard isn't lying about everything. It's a mix. Which I understand isn't helpful to the reader, but what can you do?

>As for the letters, I thought they signified Charlotte's inner snake.
Red text is snake text. Sometimes this means Richard, sometimes this means THE WYRM, sometimes it just means snake-stuff in general. Right now it means Richard, for obvious reasons.

Green and blue text mean other, non-snake things. They are not necessarily outside influences. If you were to painstakingly dig back through the archives and mark down all the times they showed up, I think you could get a pretty good idea of what I use them for-- it is (fairly) consistent. I'm not gonna tell you outright, though.

tl;dr is that this wasn't Richard, as there was no red Richard text and I wouldn't lie through the interface like that. This /was/ something else, but that doesn't mean Charlotte didn't do it on her own. (She did.)

Real Ellery also has you pigeonholed as an annoying fuckup who keeps showing up where you aren't wanted-- sort of how you feel about Mirror Ellery-- so any display of proficiency is going to freak him out + trigger some latent paranoia. He doesn't necessarily know what he's talking about.


we are the most brazen
Rolled 7 (1d8)

>Just leave the guy here

>Take on a hostage, er, guide

>A write-in that does not actually address what to do with the smuggler

Called for "leave him"...

And for black market. If you picked Eddies, you would've gotten the chance to pick who goes in, or alternately you could've just dumped all the cubs in and waded in after a few minutes to murder them-- would've been a tough fight though-- I wouldn't have locked you into spending a literal year there

It also looks like you're bitching out both Ellery and Nettie.

Called and rolling some dice...

First roll
1: No random encounter
2-4: 1 random encounter
4-7: 2 random encounters
8: 3 random encounters
Rolled 3, 2 = 5 (2d10)

>2 random encounters
And rolling for type.

Second rolls
1: Badnormal
2-4: Normal
5: Goodnormal
6: Goodweird
7-9: Weird
10: Badweird
>2 Normal Encounters
Boring! But it could be worse. Called and writing.
File: sun beetle.jpg (49 KB, 400x618)
49 KB
>Easy route(?)

"—how come you thought looking was a good idea? I've barely done any of these, and even I know that's a dumb— how'd you even wind up on the super duper top secret mission, anyways? Was it just, like, nepotism?" Something is rising inside you. "Because, as far as I can tell, all you've done is get kidnapped. And all you've done—" You spin around to Ellery. "—is get kidnapped… twice! So why isn't it Anthea down here?! Why isn't she entrusted with the super duper top secret mission?! At least she can walk three steps without needing me to bail her out. Because, oh yeah, that's right, I have bailed all of you out! Every time! So I would like a damn good explanation as to why I'm getting talked down to by— I'm sorry, what was that— Mr. Set-Himself-On-Fire? Why is the default assumption that I'm tricking you by being good?! I am good! I am objectively good! You didn't even know what a- a damn potion was! So please! Explain to me why you think I can't possibly do what I did, Ellery."

There's a long pause, during which Nettie whistles. Finally, Ellery sticks his hands in his pockets. "You have a history."

"A history!" You fling your arms to your side. "Wow! A history! Please, elucidate, O Great Historian."

Ellery casts the briefest of glances at Nettie, who raises her eyebrows. "Explain."

His eyes dart back to you. "You want me to explain? Really?"


"Okay, then." He's got the beginnings of a nervy half-smile. "The first time I see you, you've broken into my manse, gone through my stuff, stolen my stuff, and flooded the place. You claim my ex-girlfriend sent you, like that makes things better. And I'm the one who has to send you home, since you don't know how."

You scoff. "That's utter nonsense. I've never 'broken into' anywhere, much less stolen—"

"I bet. The next time I see you, I give you some instructions. Easy instructions. A dog could follow these instructions. You proceed, for no godsdamn reason, to do the opposite of these instruction, therefore royally brainfucking me. Shortly after, because that wasn't enough— I don't even know what you did here, because I was, as mentioned, brainfucked. All I remember is being smothered inside two fucking tons of beetle."

"Maybe you don't know what I did," you say pointedly, "because I didn't do anything. What instructions? What mystery thing did I supposedly do to you? Maybe you're being vague because you don't want to admit I haven't done a single thing to deserve any of this? Making things up is pathetic, Ellery, it really is."

"What?! I'm not—" He gestures at Nettie, who shrugs.

"Wasn't there. I was a little… preoccupied."

You ignore the harsh look she casts at you, which makes about as much sense as Ellery's baseless accusations, and fold your arms. "If you're not going to give me things that actually happened to justify yourself, I'll tell you what I think. How about that? I'll make it easy for you. You can't admit I'm good because your head is jammed so far up your— up your ass, Ellery Whatsyourface, that you can't see daylight. Okay?! And maybe it's been jammed up there so long you've forgotten what anything else is like. And you've forgotten other people exist outside your imagination, too, and they can do things on their own, and they can be good on their own. Without you. And you know what that is?! That's sad! You live a sad and tiny and hollow life, and I- I- I-" You reach for the worst insult you know of. "I pity you."

If you thought the silence before was long, this one seems to go on for days. Ellery stares. You stare back, defiantly. It's Nettie who breaks it, finally, with a high and girlish laugh. "Gods-damn!"

Is that a good reaction? A bad reaction? You are suddenly unsure of yourself. "Um, I—"

"She's right, you know." She's addressing Ellery. "You have problems. And it wouldn't be so bad if you weren't such an arrogant prick about them. What? Don't look at me like that." (Ellery has begun to gape.) "You left Anthea behind, didn't you? Now she can't stroke your swollen—"

"Hey, you have your own problems," you say. (You're not terribly comfortable with Nettie being on your side.)

"I don't have problems. Do I seem screwed in the head? I think you're plenty competent." Her eyes flash. "I just don't like you."

"But why?! Why don't—"

"Um, guys?"

You don't recognize the voice, at first, and go rigid, but then things process and you turn around slowly. Gil hovers over the still body of the smuggler. "Were— were you going to do something with—"

"Oh," you say, and rub your nose. "Um. Can we just leave him? And take his bears? Maybe we can- we can sell them, or whatever."

"Sell them where," Nettie says.

"Wh— you weren't here. There's a black market somewhere around here, apparently. He didn't give good directions, which poses a- a bit of a—"

"It's two days from here." Gil, having remembered, is back to his demon voice. "Northwest. Take the smuggling tunnel over to the Horseshod Mine, follow the shafts out to the geode caverns, and it's over the bridge made of copper."

"—problem," you finish. "Um. How do you—"

Gil visibly has no idea how he knows this, but Nettie answers anyhow. "He's made of the same stuff as this place. Of course he knows. Question is, why's he telling us… you trying to trap us in a quid-pro-quo, demon? You're not getting our blood."

"Um," Gil says. "My summoner has already given of her self-essence," demon-Gil says. (His body language shifts, too, you're noticing. Weird.) "I require nothing further. I am bound to serve until I am called back to my native realm."

"You've already given it your blood? I'm taking back the 'plenty competent'—"

You're being framed! "I did no such thing, and—"

"I could've gotten the directions," Ellery says, a little sourly. "If you'd given me a minute."

"Shut up." You have apparently emboldened Nettie. "We already got them. I say we bring the guy along, have him drag the cart—"

"So he'll double-cross us? No thanks." You shake your head. "Let's just leave him. When will he wake up, Ellery?"

"He's not unconscious, he just can't do shit." Ellery waves a hand over the smuggler's face. "He'll wake up when we can't perceive him anymore. Personally— leaving him's a bad idea, bringing him's a bad idea. I think we need to deal with him."

"Deal with him."

"He's not a person, Charlotte, he just looks like one. He's the idea of a person, and that's at best. Didn't you murder a half-dozen of them back there?"

"A dozen," you say. He's right. You did. Only that was in the service of a greater good, and those ones didn't even act like people. This one acted like… an exaggeration of a person, maybe. A caricature-person. But still a person. And he can't even move. "Um, but I really think leaving him would be best. I mean, think about it. Whoever put this all together— they wanted us to do something with him, right? Or he wouldn't be right in out way. We could take him, we could kill him. But they wouldn't expect us to just leave him behind, that'd make no sense."

Nettie strokes her chin. "Of course they wouldn't adjust for a middle option… that'd be work. I like it. You can have 'competent' back."

>[+1 ID: 5/(9)]

"Thank you," you say smugly. "So, who's going to pull the cart?"

Ellery. Ellery is going to pull the cart: Gil nearly offers, but you shut him down as fast as possible. You and Nettie agree unanimously. Ellery, after all, can't get tired— and Ellery (you think but don't say) deserves it. For his part, Ellery puts up a weak fight, but the spirit has pretty clearly gone out of him. He pulls the cart.

It takes you a good 15 minutes of walking before the crucial part hits you: the black market is 2 days away?! And yes, okay, you get it, you'll wake up and it'll have been 10 minutes, but— won't it be hours for Anthea? (And how will you survive days in close contact with Nettie and Ellery? You'd rather claw your skin off.) Um, Ellery says, yes and no. He looks like he wants to say more, but stops himself at the last second.

Somewhat against your will, you prompt him. Richard, after all, is not here to explain, and you dislike probing your own mind for the answers. Yes and no?

Yes: it will take two days. No: not two… regular days. Not if you stop thinking about it. If you stop thinking about it, if you stop thinking about… much of anything, then you won't feel the travel. Time will pass objectively, but not subjectively.

Subjectively and objectively are sort of the same thing down here, you note.

Well, yes. Er. That's why it gets funny—


sorry lads but it is 3 AM, I am falling asleep, and there is still an entire random encounter to write: the good thing is that it should be much shorter and faster than the rest of this so look for part 2 in ~early afternoon PST. regular update at regular time tomorrow as well. have a good night!
also, sorry, that write-in kind of spiraled away from the original prompt (as they sometimes do), but I hope it worked for you guys
It's nice to see Charlie get deserved recognition at times.
beeg updates
"I don't have problems. Do I seem screwed in the head? I think you're plenty competent." Her eyes flash. "I just don't like you."

This doesn't seem fair, she doesn't even know us. Then again, that seems par for the course since everyone we've met down here is so wrapped up in their own problems that they don't really seem to want to actually get to know anyone at all.

> Frantically dodge realization that we're included in that everyone.

Well. We can work with that, plenty of people don't like us. At least she doesn't insist on treating us like a liability or refuse to explain things, have plots that consist mostly of hust being a dick, etc. No, Ellery, these actually aren't references to you, not everything is about just you, you solipsistic soggy biscuit.

Why is this abrasive bitch the person we get along with the best so far. I mean, Anthea is nice and all, but she's just nice to everyone apparently.

Gil is pretty alright, too. Like. He may not be the bravest, or the strongest, or the most competent, but it seems like he tries real hard despite being woefully unequipped for challenges and I feel that Charlie FEELS that mood.

Of course, Chuck's challenges are things like talking down Gods, ruling reality, and conversing with Richard in order of scaling (ha!) difficulty.

Gil's challenges are just to find a body, which there are lots of so it's just a matter of time, getting through simple conversations, and occasionally being asked to lend a helping hand with some small problems Charlie has. For which he is more than handsomely compensated, especially since everyone else was all "Noooo, don't rescue the debateably innocent person from existential beetle hell because we don't know what he could become/do on the outside" like a) We would let that happen. Our plans always eventually mostly work out for an overall net benefit and b) like the rest of them ain't already more dangerous than a dude who can't even maintain eye contact.

Note to self: Force Gil to practice making eye contact with people by staring at him in silence each time he talks until he looks us in the eye. It's for his own good.
>Why is this abrasive bitch the person we get along with the best so far.
Takes one to know one, eh?

Back to writing. This might be more like mid-afternoon than early afternoon, but we'll see.

You don't like the sound of 'funny,' and say so.

"It's not that bad, or that complicated." Nettie wipes grit from her eyes. "He just likes to make it sound complicated. It's just— do you ever get those dreams where you marry someone, and have kids, and twenty years pass, then you wake up and none of it happened and you feel like garbage for the rest of the day?"

You make a face. "No?"

"Well— maybe you're not old enough. Anyhow, twenty years didn't really pass. They didn't pass outside the dream, and they didn't really pass inside the dream, either. If you could remember it all perfectly, you wouldn't have twenty years of fake memories, right? You'd just remember the important moments— your wedding, the birth of your kids, whatever— because those are the only things happening in r-time."


"Realtime," Ellery says. "As opposed to s-time, for spanner-time, and—"

"Did anyone ask?" Nettie snaps. "I could've said that. Yeah, realtime. We don't care about s-time, dreams don't happen in s-time. They happen in r-time, a little bit, and t-time, a lot. T-time, that's trance-time. Sometimes it gets called d-time, dreamtime, but I happen to think that's reductive— it happens outside dreams, too. It happens in trances. That's why it's called that."

You squint. "I'm pretty sure you're making this more complicated. And— you know all this dumb lingo, but you don't even know to stop thinking about stuff? Did you miss a class?"

"I—" Nettie says, before Ellery cuts in. "She doesn't like the practical applications. She'd rather be holed up in her own head, straightening out boring technicalities, instead of—"

"Lot of talk coming from you. I like the practical applications just fine." She shoves up the sleeves of her robe. "I just hate it when good logic and common sense fall to little bitty pieces. Maybe you like it, but it makes my skin crawl. Alright? Can we get back to the point? The dream— the important parts are in r-time. The rest, the 20 years, is in t-time. You don't feel t-time, because you're not— you become not-real. That's what a trance does. You stop existing as a conscious, self-aware person, a real person, because the manse has absorbed you. You're gone. And what's left is a role, with your name on it, and someone else acts you out until they're tired of you. You know what? Scratch the dream metaphor. T-time is like a play. 2 hours pass for the audience, and for the actors. 2 weeks pass for the characters. We're trying to be the characters."

You feel kind of sick.

>[-1 ID: 4/(9)]

"You're scaring her," Ellery says. "Cut it out."

"She should be scared! It's scary, having no damn control over yourself! You get no say in this, you stay lucid—"

"I don't care if I fucking stay lucid. You're being irrational. Trances are normal, they're natural, they're temporary, and they're useful. Do you like spending days down here? Do you like suffering real, actual pain every time something fucked-up happens? You're not getting possessed, you're not dying, it's a fucking defense mechanism. Nettie—" he's addressing you, now. "—has some fringe beliefs. You're better off not—"

"Oh, go right to hell," Nettie snaps. "Temporary my ass— it's two days! She may as well know the—"

"Know the shit you've invented? Gotcha. Come slap me awake when it's been a day and you're sick of walking, we can talk then. I'm going under."

"Ellery? Ellery, you rat-bastard, you can't just—" He can: his eyes have gone abruptly glassy. "Well, shit." Nettie purses her lips. "Shit. I guess I'm next."

"What?" you say. "What about ceasing to exist, and—"

"That's still what happens, Charlotte, I'm just not an idiot. Ceasing to exist is the sensible thing to do. T-time— objective t-time— won't kick in until nobody's paying attention."

You're uncomprehending. "Then— what was the point of telling me all that?"

"It's true." She shrugs. "And maybe I did want to scare you a little. Serves you right. See you on the other side of the abyss, Charlotte."

"But why—" She's gone, too. Like she did get swallowed. It's just you left, the only waking— oh, Gil's still here. He was trailing behind so silently you forgot about him. "Um, so what do you think?"

"Me?" He looks startled. "About... trances, or whatever? I-I always thought they were called episodes, but maybe that's... regional. Um, I-I don't know. They're a hazard of the business, I-I guess. I-I-I haven't had a proper one for a long time."

"Really? Not even when you were beetles?"

He grimaces. "Um, I-I couldn't. I-I-I-I didn't want to, um, you know. Lose it."

"Oh." You have no clue how to respond. Do you say something? (You should say it's good he didn't lose it.) "Um, it's a good thing you didn't, then."

"Yeah," he says with feeling.

"...I'm going to, um, stop thinking. Or at least try to."

If Madrigal wasn't locked in your knapsack, she'd say something about how that wouldn't be hard. Richard, if he wasn't half-squashed into your mind, would do the same. But she is, and he is, so Gil just blinks. "Good luck?"

You nod and fall silent. The smuggler tunnel is eerie when nobody's arguing in it: all cold and smooth and dripping with meltwater. Your breath puffs into clouds, and your armor clanks and jingles in ways you hadn't noticed before. The ground is riddled with puddles, and your nice sabatons are soon coated in mud. The cart rattles along. You wonder if the smuggler has woken up yet, then try to stop wondering. It's nearly impossible. How did Ellery and Nettie do it so fast? Do they practice?

But eventually the tunnel is so unchanging, and the splashing and jingling and rattling and plodding footsteps so rhythmic and constant, that you find your thoughts crawling to a standstill. And while your first instinct is to blink and kick yourself back into action, your second is to let it be. Let yourself get swallowed, or whatever. Nettie made it sound awful, but it's happened to you before, and you didn't think it was so terrible. Maybe that's just because you have worse to compare to. You don't know. But you're sure it's going to be okay. It's always okay. Positive thinking, right?

You stop.

And start again, like nothing happened. Nothing did happen. You are walking, like you did, and you are talking to Ellery and Nettie, like you were, though you couldn't say about what. Neither could they. The tunnel takes an hour to navigate through, and it's the easy part: the mineshafts, which branch and hook into one another, and which end occasionally in precipitous drops, pose more of a challenge. You overcome the challenges, though you couldn't say how. You are not quite yourself and not quite your other self, either, but you aren't paying it much thought. You aren't paying much of anything much thought. You are walking, and it has been hours. You are walking. You are walking.

You are not walking. You are stopping, have stopped, and your head is buzzing like some beetles got up your nostrils. "Um," you say. "Why're we—"

Nettie has the foggy look of an oversleeper. "Cart's stuck. Ellery."

"Nothing to do with me. Why is it always me? The mineshaft's too small for it, so it got stuck. That's it. Did I build this mineshaft? No. So why am I—"

"Shut up. Let me look at this." Nettie crouches down. "It's stuck and the wheel's jank. I think you broke it, Ellery."

"I didn't break it!" Ellery runs his hand through his hair. "It just- wheels do that! Let's just replace it and move on, alright?"

"Replace it?" You're looking at it now, too. "This looks... stuck. I mean, really stuck. It's not moving backwards, either, watch." You tug the cart backwards: it doesn't budge. "How did you even get it in here?"

"How am I supposed to know?! I wasn't— we've all been sleepwalking, if you've forgotten. It's fine. We don't even need the cart. We can just—"

"I'm not going to carry these things, Ellery. They have teeth." Nettie leans against the side of the cart. "Let's just figure it out, okay? It can't be that—"

There is an anguished, drawn-out wail from somewhere in the distance. "Okay, there's mine ghosts," you say with authority. "Were there always mine ghosts?"

"I don't— can we just fix this?!"

>[1] The cart is stuck, and you can't move it forward or backwards no matter how hard you push. One of the wheels is also broken. What do you do? (Write-in. Possible roll.)
Thus ends another chapter of "Bathic has no idea how long any given update will take," and also "two-part updates are always absurdly long combined because my writing brain processes each part as its own full-size update." Whether you consider this a positive or not is, I guess, subjective.
It's an abandoned mine. Maybe there's another cart somewhere? We can ask the mine ghosts for directions.
Hey, guys: between me publishing this one hella late and the dreaded "write-in only," I'm going to leave this open until tomorrow. If it's still at one response, I'll roll with that, but I'd like to give others time to chip in if need be.
So that's what the bird is for.

>Investigate around
This is a constructed mance and we were dissolved in the narrative. Obviously, the stuck cart is a plot beat meant to get us to walk around and solve a puzzle.
Obviously this is PLOT getting in our way. Since our objective isn't really to get 20 bear asses, but to move the plot along, let's force a paradigm shift and investigate the mine ghosts.

> It was old McCullum the mine owner all along! He was trying to drive down the value of the mine in order to declare a loss on his tax return!

Maybe we'll be the scooby, maybe we'll be the dooby, but I feel what doesn't matter so long as we do.
I'll support this. +1
>Roadblock: IGNORED
Called and writing.

>So that's what the bird is for.
Yeah! It is. To give more of an OOC definition (spoilers because it's superfluous lorewankery, read at your own risk): a "trance" is the kind of disassociated state you tend to enter when dealing with "weird stuff" / unreality. You can enter it intentionally (like meditation), but it usually just... creeps up on you. If Charlotte has stopped narrating, or is limited to weird poetic snatches of narration, that's usually a trance. If she's not acknowledging the strange or horrible things happening, or she's doing something strange or horrible because it "feels right" or "she's supposed to do it" that's usually a trance. By default, you dream in trances. Richard's placebo pill put you in a trance (though he wouldn't call it that). Getting shoved into another person, as with Lady Ramona/Housewife!Charlotte/Lady Fawkins, doesn't qualify-- you retain full consciousness, it's just altered-- but it could be considered a cousin.

Unreal people or "people" can't enter trances, so Gil stays fully lucid. Richard would not be susceptible for other reasons. Ellery is half-unreal, so he retains a shred of self-awareness and can break out on his own. If you're a normal, real person, it's very difficult to break out before it ends naturally, unless you have outside help: anyone lucid can shake, slap or yell you out of it almost immediately. Most spelunkers carry smelling salts and use the buddy system because of this. Alternately, a loud wind-up bird would do the trick.

You can wind up the bird at any time with a write-in, but I won't prompt for it on most occasions. Ditto with that match you still have.
>Scooby the dooby doo out of this

"No!" you say indignantly. "Who cares about the cart? There's ghosts! Don't you get it?"

"No," Nettie says. Ellery glances at her, like he wants to agree, but looks at you and sucks in his cheek and says nothing.

"We've been put here for a reason. Clearly our true objective was never to gather twenty bear hindquarters— just think about it! Why would it be?"

"Because this place was designed by uninspired idiots."

"No! Well, um, maybe. I don't know who actually designed all this. Wouldn't that be the person whose head this is?"

Nettie and Ellery exchange looks. "…No," Ellery says. "But keep going."

"Um, alright. No! We are adventurers, not dogsbodies. We do not run errands. Unless…" You splay your hands. "…they are a mere prelude to something larger! Something far more important! Something involving encounters with magyckal beings. Like… for example…"

"Come on," Nettie says.

"…mine ghosts. I'm telling you, we are being called to seek out these mine ghosts, so they may bestow upon us our real quest! Or maybe we'll just fight them! And whatever it is, it's way better and more interesting than sitting here whining about the stupid cart! So let's just go, let's leave it here and let's explore a little. That's the whole point of your weird club, isn't it? To see what's out there?"

"That's not the point," Ellery mumbles. Nettie casts him a glance. "That is the point, champ. But, uh, no. I don't like it. This place is dark and twisty as hell. Excuse me if I don't want to spend hours getting back here when it doesn't pan out."

"Would it be hours? Couldn't we just—" You mimic a blank stare. "And it's not a 'when' it doesn't pan out, it's an 'if,' and not even really— it will pan out, okay? Aren't I the expert here?"

"I'm fine with checking this place out, Nettie." Ellery hops off the cart. "Maybe there's stuff of note, maybe not. I'm not convinced that even is a ghost— could be a person, could be an animal— not sure it matters, really. I'll be back in ten."

"You?" you say. "No. No. I am not rescuing you."

"I don't need rescued."

"You don't—" You laugh incredulously. "Except for when you get kidnapped, or put up for sale, or beetled, or mind, um— mind-screwed— and, I mean, what's next?! You're getting petrified? Buried alive? Am I gonna turn a corner and you're going to be a mine ghost now? No! You can't— either we all go, or we split up, and you have a buddy. Nettie, he's gonna get petrified if he goes off, isn't he? Come on."

"Probably." She picks at her teeth with her fingernail. "I don't think you get the system, though. See, he goes off on his own, and he— sorry, it's the only good word— he fucks himself up. Always. And the rest of us, we do precisely squat. Because he comes back. Always. You'd think he was cursed by a witch doctor, or something."

"I like to think it's a testament to my skillset," Ellery mumbles.

"It's a testament to something. Not a good something. But see, Charlotte, you rescuing him, you're messing up the system."

You pause. "Weren't you and Anthea rescuing him before I got there?"

"Anthea doesn't understand the system either! But me and him—" She jerks her thumb at Ellery. "We have it all worked out. That being said. I have no interest in going anywhere, and I also have no interest in being left alone here and slowly going nuts. And let's see: I'm not staying with your murder demon, and I'm not staying with you. So Ellery, champ—"

"Come on."

"Meet us back here if you find something," Nettie says pleasantly. "You can use this if trouble happens."

You catch whatever she throws you, barely. "What? Does it do something… metaphysical?"

"It's a whistle. You blow on it and it makes a whistle noise. Good luck!"

"I won't need it," you say automatically. You don't trust this one bit. Presumably she wants you gone— but just out of her and Ellery's hair for a while? Or gone-gone? The former worries you more than the latter. What if you come back and they've ditched you? Can they ditch you? They're supposed to be in your party, after all. Will the door even open if you're not around?

You have little idea, and little choice but to leave, in any case. You can't exactly turn around and decide not to strike out on your own, not after you made that scene. "Gil?" you say.

"Wh— what is your desire?"

You kind of like him as a demon, honestly. Same helpful attitude, way less awful hemming and hawing and (God forbid) stuttering. "We're going to go talk to the mine ghosts."

He interlocks his clawed fingers anxiously. "Very good, Lady Fawkins. Where are the mine ghosts located?"

"No clue." You try to remember where the last junction was. "I think if we walk long enough we'll find some. Come on."

Nettie waves you off as you stride away: Gil scuttles behind. You have to slow your gait for him to catch up, and when he does you lower your voice. "You're real good at that."

"Me?" (As if there was anyone else you could mean.) "Um… thanks… I-I-I don't really know how I'm, um, doing it. Um. I-I guess it's like— I mean, it feels like, uh, there's me. And I'm standing right here." He clasps two hands.


"And then there's… I-I don't know, a costume. A full-body costume. And it's… there." He holds his other set of hands a few inches from the first. "And I-I can just— step into it. And out of it. So i-i-it's not— I'm not good, I'm just— it's just— I'm not sure."

You nod. You'd just be humoring him, in most cases, but something has sparked your interest. "Does it make you think you're actually a demon?"

"What? No, I-I just… it's still me, it's just like— I-I mean, I said it, it's like a costume. Like, um—" He switches abruptly to the deeper voice. "I can say whatever I want with this. It's not making me act weird."
"You're not stuttering," you say.

He blanches. "Oh. I didn't…" He drops the voice. "I-I-I-I didn't— oh, god, I-I— sorry. I-I-I didn't— I don't try—"

"…I didn't think you were trying to stutter? I mean, God, I hope not." You eye him weirdly. "It's not a big deal, Gil. I was just noticing. All it means is that it's definitely psychogenic."

"I-it's what?"

"Um." You don't know. You've never heard that word before. "Just forget it, okay? Stop freaking out, or you'll scare away the ghosts."

You're not certain Gil ever stopped freaking out— he's been tapping his fingers together for ten straight minutes— but at least he fell silent, mostly. Once, he said something about the walls looking familiar, but he didn't elaborate and you didn't prod. They're just rock, as best as you can tell. See one rock wall, you see them all.

But it does have you staring at the walls, after that, and you're starting to get a little nervous. They ought to be glowing, or runic, or have chunks of weird ore in them, but they really are just rock. Brown rock. Sometimes there's wooden props to keep the tunnel up. Are you in the right place? Are you really headed toward the adventure? The mine ghost only wailed once more since you started walking, and it sounded a little louder, but how can you be sure? Maybe it wasn't even a ghost. Maybe a rock fell on a stray cat. God! What would Richard say? You're so dumb, just jumping to conclusions, and now you're going to come back with nothing, and Nettie's gonna laugh at you, and you'd deserve it, really, you'd—

Gil clears his throat. "Charlotte."

"Huh?" you say. (Can he read your mind? No. Surely not.) "Oh— oh! Oh, yes! I saw that, um, already." Your gaze was trained on the wall, but ahead of you, the mineshaft ends abruptly: from what it looks like, it ran directly into a natural cavern. "We should go in there. The ghost is in there, Gil. The mine ghost."

"…Um, how do you know the ghost is—"

The ghost must be in there, or you've wasted a lot of time. "Onwards!"

You lead the charge into the cavern (which is to say you fast-walk; Gil's pace remains the same) and exhilarate in, if nothing else, a change of scenery. Like the mineshafts, the walls are boring brown rock, but unlike the mineshafts, everything else is carpeted in an improbable layer of greenery: not just moss, but grass and patches of vibrant wildflowers. While it's warmer and more humid inside the cavern, you can't see any source of sunlight or water. Several flat outcroppings jut from the ground, containing, mostly, more plants— but one is empty except for a chair. A throne. A crown— not The Crown, though that was your first instinct— rests atop it. Another contains several jeweled pedestals. Two are empty. One contains an urn. Stairs lead up from one of the outcroppings, though you're not sure where they go.

In the back of the cavern is a door. It is enormous and elaborate and azure blue and it makes your eyes cross to look at it too long.

There is a rustling in the cavern. You're fairly certain it isn't Gil.

>[1] Wat do? As always, bold = interactable
This is definitely a plot location. Suck it, Nettie.
>Locate the source of the rustling.
>Look inside the urn
>Call out hello to the mine ghost. Complement them on their lovely vibrant cave home.

We're coming here as a guest.

If there's no reply, just relax in the grass for a while. We *know* they're here, we can try to wait them out. Patiently, like a snake in the grass.
I can back >>4876851
If those two options turn up nothing, go up the stairs.
Called and writing.
>Urn, rustling, present yourself

Certainly you want to poke the urn. Certainly you want to climb those stairs. But, one way or another, you aren't alone here: there is a ghost, or a monster, or a ghost and a monster, and that's something you need to deal with first. You draw The Sword. "Hoy!" you call.

Gil furrows his eyebrows. "It's an empty—"

"Whoever you are, reveal yourself! Not to—" (You realize you're coming on a little strong.) "—not to, um, kill you, or anything, I just wanted to tell you how nice this place was! I mean, it's way better than this stupid mine! Very lush, uh, very green, nice… door, nice crown, I can always appreciate a nice crown— is it also a magick crown? Or is it just a— a normal, um—"

The rustling has intensified to a rumbling in the ground. You take a step back towards the mineshaft. "—Also, I'd just like to say that, even though I come in peace, I am armed, and very dangerous, and my retainer here has demon magicks—"

"I do?"

"Yes!" You grab Gil by his upper arm. "He does! So, if you're going to spit on my nice, friendly visit, you better think twice, is all I'm saying. Do you hear me? Mister ghost? Mister-"

It's gone from rumbling to outright shaking, now, and you've switched from cautious backpedaling to a full-blown retreat. You don't know if it's an angry mine ghost, or an underground monster, or what, but you have zero intentions of getting caved in. It's tactics, not cowardice, alright? You aren't fleeing, you are leaving the zone of probable danger.

…It's not that you know who you're trying to prove yourself to, with Richard gone. (Gil looks relieved to be clearing out.) Still, you feel a wash of vindication when, a few seconds after you scramble into the safety of the mineshaft, most of the cavern floor heaves itself upwards. Underneath is a creature, huge, vaguely— equestrian? But it has two heads, each on stalklike necks, and a mere four legs. And the more you squint at it, the more you're not sure 'underneath' is correct: its flesh is brown and mottled like stone, and its back is blanketed with grass and flowers. "WHO CALLS," its head like a horse-skull bellows. "who calls," its head like a horse-jaw rasps.

"Me!" you say. "I do! Are you the ghost?"

"i am the HORSE-SHOD," the Horse-shod says, and shakes itself out like a dog. Pebbles rain from its backside. "WHAT IS THE meaning OF you"

You blink. "Um, that's kind of philosophical… what's the meaning of me? Only God's supposed to know that. Or, um." (Does that apply if God's a big snake? Probably?) "If you need specifics, I always thought I was destined for great things, but I guess I can't guarantee that's—"

"you are WRONG!"

"I'm not? Okay, firstly, you don't even know me, and second, that's rude, considering all I've done is walk in and compliment your—"

"YOU ARE WRONG!" "you do not belong here"
"INVADER!" "you are a parasite and a virus"
"THREAT!" "begone from this place"

Well, yes, you would say, haha, very funny, but if you're not the ghost can I see the ghost? Do you know what the throne's for? Are you the door guard?

But you can't say these things because you are doubled over, hands on your ears, Gil hovering over you like he'll be able to do anything. While you can shrug off the content of the Horse-shod's speech, its voices are different: as its right-voice hammers away at your skull, its left-voice seeps through the cracks. You feel uncertain. You feel queasy. You feel as though you'd like to tear yourself to shreds and stitch yourself back into something— something better, something good and acceptable and fitting, not this— this!

Gil, the meddling bastard, catches your sword hand between two of his.

>[1] BELONG HERE. (You are Lady Charlotte Fawkins.)
>[2] BELONG ANYWHERE. (You do not have a name.) [Roll.]
>[3] No! You belong here! Just you! You're not a threat, you're not a parasite, you're— you're here to help, okay?! (Write-in arguments.) [Roll.]
>[4] Gil— Gil— *he* belongs here, at least temporarily, whether he likes it or not, okay? Make him do something! Anything! Anything at all!
>[5] Write-in.
>Wind up the bird, then BELONG HERE
File: horse-shod.png (111 KB, 951x753)
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Sorry that update took so long, folks, if it wasn't obvious I wasn't writing that whole time. Ate dinner and stuff, too.

Here's the Horse-shod for your viewing pleasure(?) before I shove off to bed.
>[2] BELONG ANYWHERE. (You do not have a name.) [Roll.]

Of course we belong here, and we're here to help. We're the protagonist and we know it, remember?
I wanna clarify, we're not Lady CF the protagonist of the story.

We're Charlie, nee Lady Charlotte Fawkins, universal protagonist and while we might not have the ability to link the two concepts we remembered that we are the most important person so obvvy we belong anywhere.
I like this upscaling.

I like the BE EVERYWHERE option here >>4879355 and here >>4879088

>[5] Write-in. BE EVERYWHERE, as the ur-protagonist heroine.
Sorry, guys, I hate to be a killjoy, but this wasn't an option for a reason. "BELONG EVERYWHERE" would entail becoming unreal, like Gil, which you can't really do-- so you'd probably just put yourself in a trance, and then... what? Either Gil would shake you out of it on accident, accomplishing nothing, or you'd have a conversation that I'd have no fun writing and you all would have no fun reading, snap out of it, and remember very little, accomplishing nothing. As a result, I'm going to go with >>4878637 unless votes change.

>But >>4879026 is also a valid vote!
It is, but it's a misinterpretation of it that's the Richard option, guys, so I don't feel comfortable going ahead with it without explicit clearance.

Also... I'd like to talk about this.

>We're the protagonist and we know it, remember?
>we remembered that we are the most important person
>as the ur-protagonist heroine.

The first thing is that no, you don't know it and you didn't remember it. At most you have some residual ego (+1 max ID), which I'm gonna declare isn't enough to propel this.

The second thing is-- I'm going to be very frank, here-- I believe the scene you guys are referring to was a mistake on my part. I was sleep-deprived and thought combining the "machine elves" / "god complex" aspects of tripping balls and the "vague 4th-wall leaning" stuff I've been dropping throughout would be funny. I was right: it was funny... to me... briefly. But then you guys kept bringing it up. And bringing it up.

This isn't your fault... it is a thing that canonically happened in-quest, you have every right to bring it up. But I am going to shut it down now, because however much I like tiny, vague meta references, I have zero interest in writing this quest or Charlotte's character around a full-on not-intended-to-be-meaningful 4th wall break. Therefore, I'm declaring:

>Charlotte saw all that because she was tripping balls, guys. It's canon that it happened (and that she forgot it), but it's not canon that it's true in the universe of the quest.
>She may still perceive herself as "a" protagonist (and be unwittingly correct), but not "the" (ur-)protagonist. She's inspired by garbage fantasy paperbacks, not by being the quest MC.
>If she is the most important person in the Drowned universe-- which is yet to be determined-- she isn't aware of it. She's just smug.

I'd like to continue the tiny meta-jokes, because I still think they're funny, but in light of this I'm going to have to play it by ear.


tl;dr Going with [1] unless I get new votes in the next 40 min.
It's been 40 min, so I'm calling it for [1] (>>4878637). Please read the large chunk of text above if you're confused why I'm disregarding your vote.

For the record, the bird won't be guaranteed to work: you'll be fully lucid, just in an altered state of mind. But I can roll to see if you make the connection that bird=snap out of it, so it's certainly better than nothing.

Called and writing.
Actually, no, sorry, my splitting headache isn't going away and I feel crappy for a bunch of other reasons, too. (Not you guys.) I sincerely hate taking another pass day after the pace of this thread and the last has been so goddamn slow, but at this rate if I push on the update is gonna suck. And I don't like going with one vote on default, either.

Therefore I'm reopening the vote.

>[1] BELONG HERE. (You are Lady Charlotte Fawkins.)
>[2] BELONG ANYWHERE. (You do not have a name.) [Roll.]
>[3] No! You belong here! Just you! You're not a threat, you're not a parasite, you're— you're here to help, okay?! (Write-in arguments.) [Roll.]
>[4] Gil— Gil— *he* belongs here, at least temporarily, whether he likes it or not, okay? Make him do something! Anything! Anything at all!
>[5] Write-in.

Please revote if you voted before. Thanks, and I'm very sorry.
My vote is still >>4878637

>[1] BELONG HERE. (You are Lady Charlotte Fawkins.

Was tempted to set the Horse-Shod on fire with the match, but probably save that last resort for if we get trapped somewhere again. Mainly because it'll probably spread wildly out of control, and we still could use the lower levels to steal some Law.


No worries. Wasn't 100% on the ramifications. Turning completely unreal is counter-productive to our goals anyways. Can't exactly retake The Crown and our righteous place in high society if we're unreal.
help us gil you useless parasite
Do we even need the bird when Gil doesn't fade out? Can't he wake us up?

>[3] No! You belong here! Just you! You're not a threat, you're not a parasite, you're— you're here to help, okay?! (Write-in arguments.) [Roll.]

Of course we belong here. We're with the party, we took the quest, we got the bears, and and and look! We have the SWORD! It's our family heirloom with a secret magical past, and we even had to go on several quests just to get it. Indeed, we belong here more than we do IRL. We need the good Sir to be our ghost magical Grandpa, so that we may save the land from the threat of bad guys! If we weren't supposed to be here, or were here to steal, wouldn't we have done so?

Gil can vouch for us, he's our servant and he definitely belongs here, how can we not belong somewhere our *servant* does, that's preposterous.

Now, can good Sir please proceed with dispensing the test for us to prove ourselves worthy of whatever wisdom or aid he offers. If we don't belong here, the whole point of the trial is to prove whether or not we do.

Of course there's a trial. It would be unthinkable for there not to be one.
Alternatively, it's a variation on the theme of this if it keeps us US.

Although really, I think the fact that we're being accused of not belonging without even a trial to test us is kinda breaking the motif.
>Do we even need the bird when Gil doesn't fade out? Can't he wake us up?
In theory, yes, in practice he wouldn't have the presence of mind to do so immediately. You'd have to give him a while to calm down and figure out what's happening with you before he could help. (He's a great backup if the bird doesn't work, though.)

>Alternatively, it's a variation on the theme of this if it keeps us US.
Nah, that would work (if you rolled well enough, it won't get you out of the roll).

>Although really, I think the fact that we're being accused of not belonging without even a trial to test us is kinda breaking the motif.
Only adventurers get trials, not pesty intruders!

I'd like to pump out two updates today to compensate for yesterday, but it looks like we're split three ways. Let me see if I can wrangle a tiebreaker, and if that fails I'll roll.
Seconded, however it is simple the fact that we exist that means we exist. There for, we belong? here in the fact that we are already here? It's not as if we "can" or "can't" belong, cause we can't, not, not?

Listen, if Gil belongs here, and we, by proxy, own Gil. Then that must mean that we belong, as it is simply impossible to not belong.



Just kidding, I didn't count the votes properly and actually created a tie. I'm a competent QM, everybody. How about this... you'll go with [3] and roll for it, and if you fail you'll default to [1] with no additional cost.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 20 (+10 What About Gil?, +5 Green Juice, +5 Richard, +5 Shining Armor, +5 Nymph's Gift, -10 Clinging To Reality) vs. DC 80 (+10 Murderer!, +10 Escapee!, +10 Thief!) to convince the Horse-shod you're a genuine adventurer!
> Only adventurers get trials, not pesty intruders!

But by definition the trial determines which one we are! We demand trial by trial.
Rolled 65 + 20 (1d100 + 20)

Rolled 42, 100 + 20 = 162 (2d100 + 20)

Oh, what the hell, I'll get the other two myself. No crits per usual. Writing no matter what the result is.
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This is what happens when you guys don't give me rolls in time! I'm sorry, but if I don't count nat 1s when I do the rolling I can't count nat 100s either. Fair's fair.

>85, 62, 120 vs. DC 80

Rolled 21 + 20 (1d100 + 20)


Those maluses can't be right, we've never done anything wrong ever.
Ech, it all worked out.
>Debate me, atheist
>85, 62, 120 vs. DC 80 — Success

Furiously, you yank The Sword from Gil's treacherous grasp. "Give that back!"

He flinches. "I-I-I-I'm sorry, you just— you just look—"

"I," you say with difficulty, "look great, Gil, and I don't need your— ough!" You retch. "I- m-my name. What's my name."

"What's your name? Um, Lottie- Charlotte- Charlotte, um, f-something. …Fawking."

"Fawkins," you say, and retch once more. "That's not- that's not good. No, that's-" Your name is Charlotte Fawkins, noted heiress, adventuress, knight-errant, and— "God, you're so useless! Where'd I get the sword? This sword."

"What? I-I-I don't know where you got—"

"I'll tell you. I'm going to tell you." It was your father's, and his father's before that. It was forged from the tooth of a god, so he told you, but you never cared about *that,* you just wanted to— "I- I- it was my father's. And then he died, and I grabbed it from my mantel, and took it with me underwater. In some previous timeline, it was stolen from me, and then the gooplicate that stole it went back in time to before it was stolen. So it was like I never had it at all."

"What in the goddamn are you—"

"Shut up! That's what happened." The pressure is receding, if only slightly. (It must sound too insane to fit smoothly in.) You grit your teeth. "But then I found a fake mind copy in it in a fake mind copy of a party at my house 9 years ago, and took it. That's what this one is. Later, I discovered that a guy I don't know has it, because the gooplicate gave it to him after it went to the past. And I took it back from him, except I talked to a god who made it so it didn't— wait, you were there for that. You were melting."

All four of Gil's eyes are wide. "…Yeah?"

"Okay, well, it never happened. But the other day— you weren't here for this one— I went to talk to him, and I convinced his superior to make him give it to me, for real this time. So I have it now. In real life. Do you get all that?"

"…Honestly, I-I, um, I don't—"

"Good. Now SHUT UP!!"

Gil spooks. You barely notice: you're not screaming at him, but at the Horse-shod, which you've whipped around to face. Perhaps surprised, it falls silent.

"Thank you! Now would you stop trying to make me some stupid other person? I want to talk about you. What are you here to do? What's your, you know, official duty?"

"LEAVE!" the skull bellows, but the jaw snakes towards you. "we are the horse-shod. we are the king-servant-" "THE GUARD!" "-the vigil-keeper- "THE TESTER OF HEROES!"

"The tester of heroes!" you say. "Well, you're in luck! I'm a—"

"you are no hero" "MURDERER!"
"you are an imposter" "THIEF!"
"you have invaded our demesne "LIAR!"
"leave or suffer" "LEAVE!"

No! It won't work on you now, not for a second time, not when you're steeled against it. "Excuse me? Murderer? Thief? I'll have you know, my conscience is unblemished! Pure and white as- as a baby bird's feathers! I don't know where you got that slander, but I assure you, it's slander. You can check for yourself."

You hold your breath as something seeps back into your head— and abruptly withdraws. The Horse-shod reels its neck back. "EMPTY!" "you are full of open spaces"

"Yes! That's the spaces where all that bad stuff would be— if I did any of it. But I didn't, so it's not there!" You clap your hands together. "And that's just the start of my qualifications! I mean, look at me! Am I not in armor? Fancy armor?"

". . . you ARE"

"Do I not have this sword? Which — maybe you heard me talk about it, but just to recap — has a storied history? And magyckal—" You slide it back out from its scabbard. "—magyckal properties? See? It's on fire? It is also possibly— probably an ancient godly relic? Godly-ish? Go on, tell me that's not heroic."

The Sword was made by man. At most it served to crudely honor God. A true God-tooth would span for miles. But it's close enough for your purposes, and for the Horse-shod's: it is twining its necks around each other in a display of— you assume— uncertainty. "it is ADMIRABLE . . ."

"It is! And if that's not enough, would you like to inspect this cloak, granted to me after I saved some nymphs from a horrible poison? Would you like to hear about the quests I've accepted? The trial I already underwent? About my—" (ugh) "—adventuring party? We just liberated some endangered baby animals from an evil smuggler, you know. Or would you like to speak to- hey, Gil. Gil." Gil has retreated down the mineshaft: it looks like he's lit another cigarette. "Gil, put that out, come here."

After a long pause, Gil trudges toward you. You grab one of his arms and raise it. "This is my servant. Look at him. Look at him! Tell me he doesn't belong here."

"IT BELONGS" "it is correct"

"He," Gil mumbles. You shoot him a glare. "Yes! Of course it belongs here. And why would it tolerate my presence if I didn't also belong? Yeah? Listen, I think you got the wrong assessment. I'm the hero you're looking for. Guaranteed."

The heads twist, the heads untwist. Finally, both necks bow, and the Horse-shod stomps the ground. (The walls rattle.) "WELCOME, HERO!" "welcome, hero"

"Thank you," you say smugly. "So if I pass your trial I can go through the door?"

"NAY, HERO!" "yes, hero"
"YOUR REWARD IS HERE" "through the door is your reward"
"THE LIQUID OF THE GODS! "apotheosis"


"GODHOOD, HERO!" "but only if the trial is passed"
"MOST FAIL!" "most are stricken down"

"Wait." You're stuck on the first part. "Okay, that's blasphemy. Also, um—" You don't like the idea any better than when Richard proposed it. You can't say why, exactly, it just… feels wrong. Feels bad. "—can I skip that part? And just go through the door? I really need to go through the door."

"NAY, HERO!" "if god-blood did not flow through your veins you would surely perish"

According to Richard, god-blood does, sort of, flow through your veins. But maybe it's too diluted, or just metaphorical, or something like that. You don't understand it very well. "Oh. Um, what's the trial, then?"

"ABOVE THIS PLACE IS A CASTLE once a place of peace and joy NOW FROZEN AND CORRUPTED by the king-usurper"

"Oh," you say. You glance at Gil, who's gnawing on his cigarette. "…Easy."

>[A1] Return to Ellery and Nettie and bring them along. This sounds like a 'safety-in-numbers' sort of deal, and despite everything else they provide numbers.
>[A2] Go it alone (well, with Gil). You're the heroine, here! This is your quest! And if you make it through the door while they're not looking... well... that's just a bonus.

>[B] Ask the Horse-shod any clarifying questions? (Write-in. Optional.)

>[C] Write-in.

if I get a lot of votes very fast I may be able to crank out another, but if not this may unfortunately be the only update-- father's day dinner cut right through the middle of my writing time! sorry folks
I feel like we'd survive A2 but it would saddle us with another malus and we have enough of those already
>[A1] Return to Ellery and Nettie and bring them along. This sounds like a 'safety-in-numbers' sort of deal, and despite everything else they provide numbers.

Strength in numbers, baby!

>[A1] Return to Ellery and Nettie and bring them along. This sounds like a 'safety-in-numbers' sort of deal, and despite everything else they provide numbers.

We've got a way ahead, which I doubt they've got. Even if they did find something, we've probably got an easier way ahead. If not, whatever, we'll do the Ellery-and-Nettie route, nobody's saying we have to do the Horse-shod stuff if they have something else.
Neat. Called and writing-- there's a slim possibility I pass out before I finish this, but I think it should be fine.
>Teamwork makes the dream work

"IT WILL NOT BE EASY," the Horse-shod intones. "you are not expected to return"

"…Thanks," you say. "Is it okay if I bring some others along?"

"are they HEROES?"

God, no. Definitely not. "They're part of my adventuring party…"

"ACCEPTABLE." "but there is only liquid for one"
"FOR TWO." "for two if it is split"
"IT'S NOT ENOUGH IF SPLIT." "it is enough, but it will be weaker"
"NO MORE THAN TWO." "no more"

"Sounds good." You're not about to explain how you'd prefer it weaker. Or not at all. "In that instance, I'll, uh, go retrieve them. Be back in…" How long did it take to get here? "…soon. Be back soon."

What are you supposed to do? Wave? Thank it? Is there a guidebook for how to treat large helpful horse/rock/plant things? It's the 'helpful' part that's tripping you up: normally, big monsters like this would just attack on sight, and then you can kill them and not feel bad and not have to worry about etiquette. Your Aunt Ruby did not prepare you for this. But it's too late, you're already walking, and now it would be strange to turn back around and say something.

Gil, beside you, is smoking quietly. His demeanor strikes you as odd— he doesn't seem happy, not that you'd expect that, but you would expect… something. Panic. Jitters. And yet he's just placid. You clear your throat. "Are you alright?"

He doesn't even glance over. "What kind of question i-is that?"

"Are you possessed or something?"

"…No?" His mandibles twitch.

"Oh, okay." Where do you go from there? What if you asked directly and he said that nothing was different from normal? You'd be so embarrassed. You should just let it drop. And maybe you can guess based on how he looks, anyhow.

You'd guess he looks resigned.


The walk back to the cart feels short in your mind and long in your achey legs. It's too dark to determine the actual distance.

To your mild surprise, Ellery is still there, surrounded by a small pile of empty bottles and a couple scraps of flesh-tinted paper. He's picking fish scales from his teeth and flicking them onto the ground. He's accompanied by a black-haired woman you don't recognize.

"Hello," you say. (Ellery doesn't seem bothered by the woman, so you'll pretend that's normal.) "I'm back."

"Huh." Ellery seems as mildly surprised as you were. "Nettie, she's- you should get out of that."

"I have eyes." The woman's face deforms and reshapes itself into Nettie's. She smirks at your gaping mouth. "Calm down. It doesn't hurt."

"It's her illusion shit," Ellery says, before you can protest. "We figured it might come in handy at the black market, or whatever it was. Look like a shopkeeper, look like a hard-bitten criminal— is it hard-bitten criminals who use black markets, really? I mean, do they shop there? Or are they just the suppliers, and it's down-on-your-luck— I can't say I've ever been to one before. Well, either way, look like whatever she needs to look like. Can you do that to us, by the way, Nettie?"

"Damned if I know. Probably not. Even if I can, I don't want to have it stick halfway through—"

"Wouldn't be much of a problem."

"Okay, I like my face the way it is," you say. "And I can't rip it off and get a new one, so I'm fine with not experimenting, thanks. We're not going to the black market, anyhow, we're going to do a coup. A reverse-coup."

"A reverse-coup," Nettie says. "You're going to help the current king stay in power?"

"What? No. There's a— did you guys remember any of the lore? There was an old king, who was a good guy, then he vanished, and now there's a new king, who's a bad guy. So we're getting rid of the new king."

Ellery rubs his healed-over gills. "Isn't that a regular coup? Also, isn't a reverse-coup a 'pouc'?"

"No, that's stupid, and no, it's a— I mean, the current king is illegitimate, so—" You throw up your hands. "It doesn't matter. I found the door. We have to do the coup or pouc or whatever to open the door. Okay? Aren't I correct, Gil?" (Gil nods.) "I'm correct."

"The door's there?" Nettie says.


"Let's go, then. Beats sitting here with our thumbs up our you-know-whats. Ellery, put that back."

"I have one left." Ellery's hand is poised on the cork of an oblong potion bottle.

"Then do it on the way, who cares. Been here long enough as is. I'm serious, I'm getting itchy." Nettie hikes up her robes and sidles past you. "Let's go!"


You go. Except for Ellery chugging his potion on the way (causing him to glow brilliantly from all orifices; he excuses himself, pops around the corner, and returns like it never happened), the walk back is uneventful. It also seems faster, possibly because there's now four of you hoping to arrive as soon as possible. The Horse-shod is just where you left it.

Ellery and Nettie are impressed with it, though not how you'd expected them to be. "It's more complicated than I'd expect out of them."

"More creative, more like." Nettie pulls her hair out of her hood. "You think it's spontaneous?"

"Could be spontaneous, could be… I'm wondering if that base used to be all of it. The rock shit. That's more in line with what I'd expect from— what'd you say this was, Charlotte?"

"Some sort of guardian," you say, "but—"

"Yeah, a guardian. And then all this plant stuff and the skulls came later, sort of grafted itself on. Hard to say. Either way, it's not good, at all. Means there's still heat left in this thing. Means it's new. Means they're still pumping out—"

"I could've told you that," Nettie says.

"Don't get smarmy! This isn't— dammit, this isn't— this is already an uphill battle, Nettie, and they're shoveling more dirt on top of the hill. Okay? Which is— and that's the long term. The short term is that the guy's still—"

"Oh," she says with venom, "someone's getting squeamish?"

"Nobody's getting—"

You cough as loudly as you can manage. "It's right there."

Indeed, the Horse-shod's twin heads are hovering directly above all four of you. "YOUR COMPANIONS speak in riddles"

"Yeah, well, that's what they do. Don't worry about it. How are we supposed to get to the castle? And don't tell me it's days away, I'll- I'll lose it, honestly. Can it be hours? Ten minutes, maybe?"

"IT IS UP STAIRS." "just climb the stairs"

"Wonderful." Gift horse, maw, etcetera. "Can you guys save the squabbling for after the coup? It's a little more important right now."

"It's not," Nettie says, before paying Ellery an undecipherable look. "But sure, let's go. Maybe it'll help Ellery get over his nerves."

"Fuck off."

"I know too much to fuck off, champ." Nettie pats Ellery on the shoulder. "Hey, Charlotte, what happened to your snake?"

"My snake? Uh, she's in the backpack." God. All that work to get Madrigal in and you've accomplished nothing with it. You'll have hell to pay if you don't pull her out on the third layer. "I'll get her out later… I don't think she'll be very helpful in, eh, couping."


"…Poucing," you say reluctantly. "In poucing. But yes! Onwards!"

"GOOD LUCK." The Horse-shod settles itself deeper into the crater. "good fortune to you, heroes, as you are likely to require it . . ."


The stairs are brief: the four of you spill out into a cramped, snowbound courtyard. Nobody's around, for the moment. Nobody's talking, either: the tension between Nettie and Ellery remains firmly in place, while Gil's eyes are squinched shut. Finally, he releases a long-held breath. "I have something…"

"Beats nothing," you say impatiently. "What?"

"…" He cracks one eye open. "It's laid out weird. It's concentric. The king's on the very inside, in the sanctum, and he's surrounded with rings of rooms and defenses. We'll probably have to breach them one at a time." He clacks his mandibles. "...Summoner."

(Choices next.)
You have a limited amount of time you can stay here, lest you be discovered. Pick 1. While you can theoretically do these later or on the go, you may not have the breathing room.

>[A1] Grill Ellery on what all his stupid potions do, now that he's tested all of them. (Mysteriously, all his empty bottles are now not-empty.)
>[A2] Grill Nettie on what magyckal spells she knows. She was experimenting with them earlier, after all.
>[A3] Grill Gil on his demon powers. Presumably he has demon powers. He's a demon, isn't he?
>[A4] Write-in.


What do you do upon moving onwards?

>[B1] Split up. Before anything else, you need to scout out the place: this will make it exponentially faster and easier. (How do you split up? Any other instructions? Write-in.)
>[B2] Stick together. You don't know what's out there, after all, and losing somebody right off the bat could cripple the whole plan.


>[C] Write-in.
>[A2] Grill Nettie on what magyckal spells she knows. She was experimenting with them earlier, after all.
Spells are always the way to break the adventure.
>[B2] Stick together. You don't know what's out there, after all, and losing somebody right off the bat could cripple the whole plan.
most competent other member


>[A2] Grill Nettie on what magyckal spells she knows. She was experimenting with them earlier, after all.

Gil's got spooky demon powers, and Ellery has multiple flavours of go-juice. It's more interesting to see what Nettie's bringing to the table.

>[B2] Stick together. You don't know what's out there, after all, and losing somebody right off the bat could cripple the whole plan.

Nettie already kind of went over how rough splitting up would be without Anthea. We could get stuck in a trance somehow, Nettie voulf probably have something go wrong again, and Ellery WILL have something weird and distressing happen in his vicinity. May as well stick together for the first part until we get a bit more of the lay of the land.
>A2, B2
Called and writing shortly.
Rolled 18, 70, 11 = 99 (3d100)

Also rolling some dice for no reason.
>Treatmonk's Guide

"That's great, Gil." You wave him away. "Before we go anywhere— Nettie. I was thinking."

"No. Really?"

"Yes, really. Did you figure out how use your wand? Because, if we're trying to infiltrate and whatnot— illusion magick could be useful." And you just want to see it in action. You leave that part out.

Nettie rests her hand on her chin. "Why do you say it like that? Ma-[]gic? I thought it was your silly accent, but I think you're doing it on purpose. You keep having to think about it a little."

"Um," you say, "I don't have an accent, so it can't be— your accent is silly." All nasal. "And so's yours, for the record." (Actually, you're not sure if it's an accent or if Ellery's voice is just like that. But you're not leaving him out, either.) "Just answer the question, won't you? What are you, some kind of… non-question-answerer?"

"Oh, well, I couldn't be that. I don't know. I figured out a few things. Is that good? Do you need demonstrations?"

"Oh!" you say. "Yes. Please demonstrate."

Nettie doesn't say anything at first. (Serves her right for offering something she didn't want to do, you think.) "…I mean, I don't know if I can replicate them, I don't really know how to—"

"No, go ahead, Nettie." Ellery is openly spiteful. "Show us. It's not like we have anywhere to be."

"You don't get a say in this, you coward bitch. You already saw." Nettie pulls her wand from her sleeve. "This is for Charlotte. So you better watch, Charlotte."

You offer a thumbs-up, and with that acknowledgement she cycles through:

>Changing her face. Apparently this is dead simple: she barely touches her wand for it. She claims she can do it as much as she wants, but she doesn't like the prospect of trying it on anyone else.
>Touching the wand to her elbow. Her forearm promptly thins to translucency and droops into the ground: across the courtyard, a patch of snow erupts into curling white-blue tentacles. You fail to ask if that's her hand, actually. She says she can do it a couple times. Not often.
>Touching the wand to her knee: it's difficult to see what happens, under her robe, but she pales and claims to be rooted in place. Across the courtyard, a cart like the smuggler's appears. As you watch, it morphs into a nightstand, then a bronze statue of a rearing horse. Anything goes, Nettie says. Can't be alive, though, or moving around. She can do this more than the arm thing, but it's not unlimited.
>She holds the wand by her heart, hesitates, and stows it away. She doesn't want to do that. You can't make her do that. And she can only do it once, anyhow. Ellery, who seems to know what she means, says it's not bad at all. Nettie spits into the snow, calls him the least reliable source to walk the earth, and won't budge on the issue.

>Also, she says she can still use it like a gun. It /is/ a gun, after all. But she won't demonstrate, because she doesn't want to alert the guards any more than they'll already be alerted.

You're soundly disappointed by the whole proceedings. Where was the flying sparks? The lightning? For God's sake, what happened to the chanting? Everything was far too ordinary, like it could happen wand or no wand, magyck or no magyck. You blame Nettie, whose inherent stick-in-the-muditude must be holding it back.

But you can't confront her over it, because Gil, who's been pacing back and forth, has begun to growl gutteral nonsense. You can't tell if it's real or if he's just desperate to get out of the open, but Ellery doesn't seem to care. "Demon's right. We should go."

"Is this because I called you a coward bitch?" Nettie says. "Because you still are a coward bitch, I'd like to—"

Ellery walks off mid-sentence. After grabbing Gil by the wrist, you follow: it's that or letting him roam around on his own, and you know how that goes.

The courtyard, lined with high stone walls, was attached like a tick to the main body of the castle: there's only one door inwards, and Ellery bangs it open without hesitation. The hallway inside is lined with torn, rime-covered tapestries: the only one intact enough to examine portrays a portly, familiar-looking man. "God, it's this guy again," you say. "I mean, seriously, what kind of ego—"

"That's a given. You have to have an ego to get involved in this. You have to wake up one day and think to yourself 'gods, I'm such an interesting fucking person, I think I'd make for a great castle'— and it's not just a passing idea, you actually set out and build a castle into yourself because you think you're so fucking incredible. Or if you're an idiot, you call swindling hacks to do it, and they—" Ellery stops.

"Champ," Nettie says, "you need to shut up."

"He can keep talking," you say indignantly. "And I think you're missing a step. I didn't build or buy mine."

"Yeah you did. You think these—" Ellery pounds the wall. "—just spring up? Are you kidding? At most— at most you get, maybe, a space, a plot of land, and that's it. Buildings? Forget it. Landscapes? Forget it. Anything more than flat nothing and it takes blood, sweat, tears, chit, or signing away your fucking—"

"Champ!" Nettie claps Ellery on the back. "Didn't you want to go a minute ago? So let's get a move on, eh? Eh?"

God, you thought Ellery was circumspect. Was that really just Mirror Ellery? And just because he was made to be that way? Bizarre. If Nettie wasn't here, you would've found out what the big mission was hours ago. If you got him alone, maybe—

But no opportunity presents itself. Nettie is adamant about sticking together, while Gil remains as clingy as usual. Ellery is the first to dive into any open doorways, but keeps returning unharmed, with a vaguely hangdog expression: they're all empty, he says. Or not empty, but unoccupied, and with nothing interesting. You peek in after him on a few occasions and discover regular castle rooms— a buttery, a larder— filled to the brim with junk. And not the kind of junk one finds hidden treasure in: it's just wilted flowers, broken cups, holey socks. Junk. Is it accumulating, or being stored?

You don't know, and nobody seems to want to discuss it. To soothe your sore pride, you elbow past Ellery to tackle the next door: satisfyingly wooden and solid, with an iron ring-pull. It scrapes open.

A dozen royal guards, clad in violet livery, mill about inside the— well, you suppose it's the guardroom. From the briefest of glances, there may be a map on the wall. Of the castle, you hope, or maybe marking the weakpoints in the defenses— but you don't know, because in a half-second a guard is bound to look right at you.

>[1] Charge in! Take them by surprise! It'll be loud, but if you can slaughter them all right here you may be able to explore the outmost ring of the castle at your leisure.[Roll.]
>[2] Lunge out of the way! If you're swift and silent, they may never know you were there. After all, they haven't seen you yet! [Roll.]
>[3] Make Nettie do the- the illusion thing, to distract them! Quickly! (An illusion of what? And what do you do if it works? Write-in.) [Possible roll.]
>[4] Make Nettie do the other illusion thing, the one with her face! If she can bluff her way in, she can waltz her way out with the map, and you'll be set. [QM roll.]
>[5] Write-in.
>[4] Make Nettie do the other illusion thing, the one with her face! If she can bluff her way in, she can waltz her way out with the map, and you'll be set. [QM roll.]

I'm also open to quickly shutting the door
Rolled 37, 94, 4 - 5 = 130 (3d100 - 5)

Slow day, eh?


Called, rolling and writing.

3d100s - 5 (+20 ???, -10 ???, -10 New Clothes, -5 Hasty) vs. DC 60 (+10 Not Expecting Recruits, +10 Who's That, There? -10 Not On Guard)

If you shut the door, they'd presumably hear it shutting and come to investigate. I suppose you could make a break for it in that span of time, but you'd also presumably be heard running, so it'd end up as a chase... not sure if that's what you'd want. It's a moot point, though.
>Abdicate responsibility
>Mitigated Success

You reach to the side and yank Nettie out in front of you. "Shit!" she yelps, as you shove her through the doorway and dart away. With your back to the wall, you're unable to tell what happens next— but since there's no yelling, say, or stabbing sounds, you assume it's fine. It's fine. And if it wasn't fine, it'd hardly be your fault. It'd be Nettie's, for acting like a total prick. While you briefly contemplated shoving Ellery instead, you worried he might enjoy it— and Gil, obviously, is not fit for public view. So Nettie it was.

You're not actually sure what's going on: it's been weirdly quiet for a while. Was she tranquilized? When some conversation finally trickles through the doorway, it fails to clarify.

"You're late," somebody growls. "Tell me you brought the shipment. His Majesty's been waiting."

"Th' shipment's fer— fer 'is Majesty?" It's unmistakably the voice of the smuggler. Whom you knocked out and left in the tunnels, the equivalent of nine hours ago. "I- I- well, if anyone would've told me that, I would've— I 'ate to tells you this, sir, but me- me humble self— I was accosted. Accosted, I tells you."

"So you don't have the shipment."

"The, ah, the shipment of bear grubs, sir?"

"Are you stupid? Yes."

"In that case, kind sir, I'm 'appy to report that the bears are perfectly safe! Perfectly safe. Stowed them— ingeniously, if I might say so meself— in the caves just beneath here. See, they like the dark. I was jes' waiting for some kind sir to tell me where to put them— in the inner sanctum, I may jes' presume— is there a entrance, anywhere? I couldn't—"

"Bears don't go to the arena. Not these bears. You want the nursery." There's a short pause. Is the speaker pointing at the map? "And you can't bring them in. I'll send an escort. Hoy, Jameson—"

"Just a tick. The arena? Where's that?"

"You are stupid. That's the middle. Used to be the sanctum, now it's the arena." The speaker must be pointing at the map— you hear paper rustling.

"Ah! And I might suppose the king is spectating?"

"That's His Majesty to you, and yes, of course, what else—"

"Ah!" the smuggler says again. "Ah! Well, in that case— you remember me accostation? Where I, a poor man, an innocent man, was jumped by a pack of rascals? Well, me good sir, I 'ave to tell you: poor Ferd'nand, well, 'e's smarter than 'e looks. That wicked woman, wif the stick, and the stupid robes— though, I must say, she was awful pretty— she tried to cast a spell on me! But, you know how 'stitous I am— I had this magic charm 'round me neck that— I tell God's 'onest truth— reversed it! The whole thing! So— get this—"

The smuggler backs out of the guardroom. He's just as you remember him, only— shorter? Shorter, you think. That, and there's a new, wicked gleam in his eye. "I've got this demon, this smug git, and this backstabbing bitch under my sway!"

"You sure about that?" A hard-bitten guard follows the smuggler. (Nettie. It's Nettie. It must be.) "They don't look cooperative."

"Appearances deceive, me good sir: appearances deceive. I'd be 'appy to keep a sharp eye on them, they 'ave the looks of troublemakers—"

"No." The guard (captain? his livery looks fancier) waves his hand. "They'll go to the arena. His Majesty will appreciate the fresh blood: I'm sure he'll look favorably upon you. Jameson! Accompany Mr. Ferdinand to his shipment. Lowell! Howards! Ockham! Jerrus! Take the prisoners to the arena."

Guards flood out of the doorway. The smuggler— Nettie— makes a face. It's not terribly apologetic.

>[1] No thanks! You have no interest in being dragged anywhere. You've lost the element of surprise, but you should still be able to fight the guards off. Easy. Probably easy. (Any particular strategy?) [Roll.]
>[2] Maybe it's okay if you're dragged somewhere, but you're not about to let Nettie get off scot-free. Sell her out as one of the "accosters": wherever you're headed, she'll be heading right along with you.
>[3] This is humiliating, but maybe it's for the best. Maybe. Swallow your pride and let Nettie waltz away: if she doesn't come back to help you out, you'll be plotting your revenge the whole way to the arena.
>[4] Write-in.
>[3] This is humiliating, but maybe it's for the best. Maybe. Swallow your pride and let Nettie waltz away: if she doesn't come back to help you out, you'll be plotting your revenge the whole way to the arena.
If she doesn't rescue us it's eternal grudge time.
Rolled 83 (1d100)

Called and writing. Dice for no reason.
>Keep calm, carry on

She continues making that face as you, Ellery, and Gil are frog-marched away. Or, rather, you and Ellery are frog-marched away: Gil is slapped in two pairs of "anti-magus" handcuffs and made to walk at a considerable distance from the rest of you. The guards, all identical except for their facial hair, relax their watch as soon as their captain is out of view: they don't seem to mind if you talk, so long as you maintain a steady pace. You sidle up to Ellery. "Does she usually do this?"

There's a long silence. Ellery pushes his tongue around his mouth. "Do what?"

"Uh, sell you out to—"

"She's in a bad mood," he says shortly.

"That doesn't answer the question." You look him up and down. "You're in a bad mood."

He scoffs.

"Is it because I told you off earlier? Because I don't even care, then, you deserve it. But if it's not me— is it Nettie? What were you guys arguing about? Heat? I hope you realize it's freezing cold here. And you being squeamish? I thought you were over being squeamish about things, considering your whole— you cut yourself to ribbons all the time, I mean. And that's not even taking into account your… upbringing." You've heard they catch rats and drink their blood, down by the water.

Ellery's jaw works at the mention of his pathetic origins, but he manages to not comment on it. "It's not that kind of squeamish. And I'm not—"

"Oh! So, it's, like, morally squeamish. A-ha. So what about?" He apparently wasn't morally squeamish about abandoning everybody, so this must be real bad. Intriguing.

"I'm not going to answer that. I- I don't have to answer that."

"Sure thing," you say knowingly. "You know, you've tried that before. Not answering things. And you know how those— I'll just tell you, since you're awful forgetful. It went badly! Because I won't stop, Ellery, I'll just keep on asking, and you want to talk, don't you? Just look at you. You'd like to get this off your skinny chest— so why don't you? What's got you all squeamish? Morally. You can trust me, can't you?"

He laughs. You fold your arms. "What? Name one thing I've ever done to you. And not things you made up."

He laughs harder at that until a guard sees fit to nudge him with the tip of a spear; the mirth vanishes at once and is replaced with an uncharacteristically surly expression. "Go on, stab me," he snarls.

You contemplate continuing to ask, just to prove your point, but he seems a little too unstable right now. (Obviously Nettie's fault.) If someone's getting stabbed, you want it to be him— you don't want to be stabbed by him. Or "accidentally" splashed with a potion and turned into a tree. You'll find an opening later. Or you'll just find out directly, as you intend to stick by him like cellu-tape. (Also Nettie's fault: distracting you from your God-given "meddle in Ellery's business" mission. Damnit, Nettie.)

So instead you hasten your stride, ignore the protestations of the guards, and catch up with Gil. He's surrounded by a shimmery haze, like sidewalk on a hot day. "I can't believe they cuffed you. I mean, you're not dangerous at all. If anything, they should've cuffed me, since I've got the sword, and the armor, and—"

"…Thanks," Gil says. He jangles his handcuffs, and the haze ripples. "Um, you don't- you don't want these. They kind of, um— I-I feel a little nauseous, actually."

"Nauseated," you say automatically. "And they'd hardly have an effect on me. Let me look at those." You grab one of his hands. "Ah, yeah— see how glittery they are? They're impregnated with crystal— not real crystal, that'd be absurd, but even the concept of crystal is enough to do it. It's just not as potent, which is why you still have wrists."


"Normally they wouldn't survive contact. But it is still inhibiting, certainly. Possibly toxic. Don't keep those on too long. But still, that's ingenious—"

Gil's squint is even squintier with the addition of two extra eyes. "Charlotte?"


"…Nothing. Um, i-it was just— you were having another one. Another episode, I-I mean. That's all." He pauses. "I-if you don't mind me asking, um… what happened to Richard? I-is he… around?"

You rub your mouth. (Why can't you listen to yourself? It sounds so blatant, in retrospect, but when it's coming out your lips it just seems like any other thing you'd—) "No."

"You're sure he's not—?"

He's onto you, but you're not giving him the satisfaction of confirming a hunch. "Yeah."

"…Alright," he says dismally, and you almost feel guilty. But not quite. To avoid any other unwanted feelings (not to mention the glares of the guards), you drift back behind Gil— but in front of Ellery— and spend the rest of the march dwelling on how to ruin Nettie's life should she not come back. And Ellery's, should he not fess up. And Richard's, for making you be this. (He can't make you be anything. He doesn't—) Shut up! You're going to ruin his life harder, just for that, once he has a life again.

Eventually, you make it out of the sad, bland outer ring of the castle and into somewhere with a little more pep. As if by magick, people start appearing: not real people, you're fairly sure, but unlike the guards they all have different faces, and they're all going places with a purpose. Some of them are wearing strange visors, or carrying little flags, or clutching cups with a red, paintlike substance in them. (Is that Green Juice?) There's a distinct smell— did the outer ring have a smell?— of sawdust, sweat, and something sweet. Fine brown dirt is beginning to appear on nearby surfaces: you sneeze, and so does Gil. Wretchedly, Ellery does not.

While you are still winding through castle rooms, their proportions are becoming stranger, as if they're being contorted around something. And while the rooms are still clogged with junk, the quality of the junk is improving: ugly (but intact) shirts, rusted (but not broken) appliances. Oddly, an increasing number of objects are stickered with price tags. The guards breeze past all of this like it's perfectly ordinary, and fail to comment even when booths with tattered awnings begin to pop up between balustrades and buttresses. All they do is rebuff the unpeople that begin to chase after your party, hawking hand-knit bear-fur scarves and vials of genuine, honest bear venom.

Was this always the location of the black market? you wonder. Or did the manse just wedge it in here after you went the wrong way? In any case, you can't stop to browse whether you want to or not: you are pushed past every stall and into a room that may have, once, been a ballroom, a Great Hall, of the castle.

It's still Great, in that it's enormous: not even a "room" anymore, really, but a cavern, but even that may understate it. There is an arena in it. There are— you can't see all of them, but a sign helpfully states it for you— eight arenas in here, all going at once, and the noise of the crowds (thousands of people! or unpeople), bouncing against the tall, tall ceiling, is enough to make your ears ring, and that's nothing to speak of the lights, which are electrical you think— but a kind of cold white buzzing unpleasant electrical you didn't think was possible. Maybe it isn't possible! Maybe that doesn't matter. God.

But it doesn't matter, you're not here to watch the matches: you can't watch the matches, there's none going on. They were waiting for contestants, see. They were waiting for three contestants. How lucky! How convenient! How fortunate, that only three spots were needed, and that three fresh-faced capable adventurers walk right in and apply to join the tournament. What? You didn't apply? Of course you did. And you find you have to look hard at the guards, really focus on them, to remind yourself that you are being (however laxly) kidnapped, and even that begins to fail the more people shuffle past you, and the less distinct the guards' livery looks, and you blink and you

"How fortunate!" the white-furred creature says. It looks no different from the shopkeeper, but it's unmasked and has a (you suppose) feminine voice. "We have three slots! I'll sign you all up right away."

"You'll—" you say, and blink again. "Oh, um, that is fortunate. Is there a… prize?"

"A prize! Of course there's a prize, silly." It clicks a pen against its desk. "You'll get to meet the king! Isn't that wonderful?"

"…Yes," you say. That's— good. You want that. "Yes. Thanks. So what do we… do? Do we just wait for it to start?"

"More or less! Here's a list of your opponents—" It hands you a clipboard. "—and you'll find the bag room on your right. For storing your possessions. And let me know if you have any questions!"

>The tournament consists of four rounds. While you'll participate in all four (if you make it that far), any unimportant fights will be condensed for the sake of brevity. You'll still roll dice to determine the outcome, and I'll include a write-in option if you want to influence those rolls.

Who's your first opponent?
>[A1] Duke Knickerboxers, champion fighting horse. The cream of the crop. Its mane is silky, its fangs gleaming.
>[A2] Yrzak. Of the same species as the shopkeeper and receptionist, you think. That's all you know.
>[A3] Glamadrion the… nymph? Are you reading this right? How does that even work?
>[A4] Blacktooth Hendricks, notorious bandit (and apparently pit fighter). Chews way too much tobacco.
>[A5] "A bear." That can't be it… can it? Or is it really just a bear? (Not that "just a bear" would be anything to sneeze at, from what you know.)
>[A6] Write-in. (Subject to heavy veto)

Do you store your knapsack?
>[B1] You store your knapsack. It has a lot of fragile valuables inside, and you can't risk them getting harmed.
>[B2] You bring your knapsack. While you could damage its contents, at least you'll know exactly where it is: what if it gets stolen again, or *sold* again, when it's out of sight?
>[B3] You bring your knapsack, but store particular items— or vice-versa. (What? Write-in. I can list the knapsack contents upon request)

>[C] Any particular questions for the… receptionist? (Write-in. Optional.)

>[D] Write-in.
he will die for being the same species as the guy who nicked our stuff


hopefully our items being stolen here will be against the narrative


Toss some dust in Ellery's face so he sneezes. Also are they really counting Gil as an adventurer? He's our summon. They should get Nettie down here.
>[A5] "A bear." That can't be it… can it? Or is it really just a bear? (Not that "just a bear" would be anything to sneeze at, from what you know.)

Gonna make that bear our steed. In honour of our lost worm friend.

>[B2] You bring your knapsack. While you could damage its contents, at least you'll know exactly where it is: what if it gets stolen again, or *sold* again, when it's out of sight?

>[C] Any particular questions for the… receptionist? (Write-in. Optional.)

Do we get a choice of any potions, equipment, etc? Can we lay bets?
Looks like we're all tied up. Here's the deal... I'll leave this open until tomorrow to see if anyone will tiebreak, flip for it if not, write up the last little bit, and end the thread. We'll pick up in approximately 2 weeks, on the 9th of July or thereabouts, with the tournament.

>Why end early? Don't you normally run until Page 10?
The first thing is that this will provide the cleanest break story-wise we're gonna get for a while... the second thing is that participation's been dropping off somewhat, and I can't really blame you guys. There's a lot of things I wish I'd handled better this thread, and I think the overall execution was sloppy. But the blessing and curse of questing is that there's nothing to do but move forward, and cutting it off now rather than limping to an even weaker finish is (I think) the right thing to do.

>Why start late? Don't you normally take a week off?
I'd like to stick to the normal schedule here, but I'm doing family stuff for the 4th of July and several days afterwards. Can't run a quest while camping.

And a third note: this next thread (Thread 19) will be the last before I take an ideally short hiatus. There won't be a thread in September: Thread 20 will hopefully launch in October. Can't provide hard dates at the moment, but I'm transferring schools and need to take some RL time off to adjust.

Hope you guys have a nice evening. I'll archive, etc. tomorrow after the final update.
I personally haven't participated much lately because of RL workload.

>[A2] Yrzak. Of the same species as the shopkeeper and receptionist, you think. That's all you know.

>[B2] You bring your knapsack. While you could damage its contents, at least you'll know exactly where it is: what if it gets stolen again, or *sold* again, when it's out of sight?

Kick the shit out of the fuzzy shit. As well, we can't risk losing all of our shit again. We spent a lot to get this stuff back, and I just know it'll fall off the back of a truck or something when we're busy fighting whatever the fuck.

Running a bit dry on the creative front, leaving it to other anons for now.


I've been trying to keep up, even if things seem to conspire to get in the damned way.
>Tie broken for [A2] [B2]
Writing. I hope to keep this one concise, but lord knows I can't judge update lengths.

Thanks, guys, good to know. (And best of luck with your RL stuff.) I'm gonna stick with the plan regardless, get the next thread more tightly prepped, and hope that's enough to ease at least my personal dissatisfaction. Goal is to get you guys to a good stopping point before hiatus.

"Yeah," you say. "There's only eight names on here. And there's sixteen slots on this… chart thing. Also, how come Gil qualif—"

"Only eight names are needed!"

Perhaps these white-furred things haven't evolved math? "I don't think you understand, there's sixteen—"

"I assure you, miss, all the slots are full! There's nothing to worry about." The receptionist creature pats your wrist. "Nevertheless, your concern is appreciated. Who is this 'Gil'?"

"Um, that's—" For no apparent reason, your vision is blurring badly. Two copies of the receptionist swim before you. Is your new eye on the fritz? You strike your temple and it resolves, though a mild headache lingers. "—that's Giltorax, and I summoned him, so shouldn't he get to fight with me? He's basically my property—"

"Is he a sapient?"

"What?" you say. ("Yeah," Gil says forcefully behind you.)

"If you'd look right here, Miss Fawkins—" The receptionist offers you an enormous yellowed book, open to a page near the middle. Its contents are entirely nonsense until you shut your good eye (…is it even your good eye anymore?) and the symbols run together. "—all sapients are eligible to be entered separately. If you'd like to resummon him for assistance during the match, that'd be acceptable."

You contemplate attempting to draw a circle and light candles while getting whaled on. "Um, okay. That's stupid, but— okay. What about—"

"Is equipment provided?" Ellery cuts in.

You glower. The receptionist doesn't seem to notice. "It is not! But you may use anything you bring with you."

"Do you need to have it when you enter the arena? Physically have it. Or can you, hypothetically, eh… produce… you know, if I don't know the answer, you can't do anything about it. Nevermind. How do you win? Is it to the death? Because—"

"In the arena, you must fight and you must continue fighting. Failure to continue fighting is considered a forfeit. Does that assist you, Mr. Routh?"

"…Yes." He looks crestfallen. (You look smug. Ellery would beat you in a fight to the death, but in a fight? A regular one? Please.)

"In that instance, is there anything else?"

Nobody says anything.

"Then I wish you the best of luck!"

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And that's it! Thanks as always for reading. As mentioned, we'll pick up next thread with Round 1 of the tournament, condensed into one or two updates. Other rounds may or may not be condensed depending on narrative relevance. I also learned that I'll be back sooner than I thought, so thread may be on the 7th or 8th instead of 9th-- I'll post in the QTG ahead of time. Keep an eye out.

>We're archived here: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=drowned%20quest%20redux

>Twitter for new threads is here: https://twitter.com/BathicQM

There's multiple days left in the thread, so feel free to hang out and ask any questions you may have. I'll be around. I might dump some doodles, too, if that interests anybody.

Have a great couple of weeks, guys!
>Ellery would beat you in a fight to the death
no way
I don't habeeb it

even if this tournament nerfs demon summoners and really all kind of summoners hard

unless they're non-sapient summoners
summoners of non-sapients I mean

Thanks for running!
Enjoy your two weeks also!
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>Ellery would beat you in a fight to the death
In that he can't die and can't get physically tired, either. (Perks of not having a real body.) No matter how superior you are in combat, eventually you'd be beaten down by exhaustion or attrition, and he'd just be able to gank you. Luckily, you don't have to suffer that embarrassment!

Thanks, guys! Here's some MS Paint Gils for the road.
New goal - make Ellery's live worse than death.
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So far you're making excellent progress on that front!
Yey. We'll show him that we always win even when we lose. If everyone loses, we win.

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