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/qst/ - Quests

Your name is Ellery Routh, local oddball, though you'd dispute the title: you're normal, you think, it's just that strange things keep happening to you. You've reached some measure of peace with this, though the recent surgical re-integration of your alter ego That Guy has jangled your nerves. Fortunately, this evening, you're going on a date.

"It's not a date," Maddie informs you, in her particular acrid bad-mood tone. (Not to be confused with her acrid everyday tone.)


"You have a look."

Though the actual blood-connection-doohickey has long since worn off, or possibly ceased to exist in all timelines, Maddie has retained an uncanny ability to read your mind. You don't consider this fair play. "I have a look that says 'it's a date?' Sorry? Has a whole new hand— hand— 'looksign' been developed while I wasn't paying attention, and if so, how do you—"

"Ah, so you admit you aren't paying attention." She chucks you on the shoulder as she squeezes past you. "Not that that's a hard guess. Anyhow, it's not a date. It's business."

"Which I'm going along on. Which is a rare occurrence, meaning, Maddie, it's a special occasion, if you think about it, and it's just the two of us, and it's a real nice night..." You spread your hands. "Am I missing any requirements?"

She scowls, lacking an argument, or the energy to make one: she's been bustling around all day on capital-B Business. You don't know how she does it. "It can also be business," you add helpfully. "It could be a business date, which— I mean, do you think that's been done before? We could be real trailblazers, you know. We could go on a business date, the first ever known to man, and afterwards write a little booklet on, you know, tips and tricks, and—"

"Please—" and you watch the visible struggle on her face to contain the 'shut up.' "Please, Ell. Shit. I just need you to sit there and stare the guy down and not say anything, and I mean anything. Swallow a big rock if you've got to. I'll handle it, it won't take that long, and then we can go back and..."

You raise your eyebrows expectantly.

"...I can pass out. Get out of the gutter. I'm exhausted."

You've been hearing this a lot, which strikes you as funny, since you're the one who's been operated on. "Why not bring Monty with you, then?"

"What? He's always busy, and it's not camp busi..." She studies your expression. "Dumbass."

You stick your hands in your pockets.

"As I've told you, he's unfathomably married, and moreover has the sexual energy of a- a gingerbread man. You should feel more threatened by Fitz." Her spear. "Come here, idiot."

She drops the stuff she's packing up and (despite the command) comes over to you. Sliding her left hand under your shirt, she grabs the back of your neck with her right; she pushes you forward, stands on her tiptoes, and kisses you vigorously on the mouth. Maybe you are a dumbass: you'd expected a peck, but you guess she feels competitive, and now you have to figure out what to do with your hands. You put them on the small of her back. She nestles closer, her right hand traveling up to your scalp. Her eyes are pinched shut, leading you to realize yours are wide open, and you think Is that weird? To be staring? You feel as though it might be, except she doesn't know you are, and the only way to catch you out would be— and anyways, is it a crime to like seeing her so up close? Especially after the surgery, when you need to convince yourself more than ever you're here, you're whole, you're being held— and it's not as though this happens all that often. Maddie is not touchy-feely. Or at least often compared to the heady days of a year ago and cha—

You're doing it again. Son of a bitch! You've grown used to nearly everyone you meet commenting (kindly or less so) on how much you talk, but you're not sure any of them realize how little control you have over it: you get a few words out and then it's like a clockspring's been wound up in you, or a motor, and you're doomed to go until it runs down or your conversation partner makes excuses. Or just splits. Maddie is leaning towards the latter, judging by her growing tenseness: she can feel your lack of real reciprocation. And of course there's a lack. You're lacking in real and palpable ways. And besides that, you're overthinking like usual. Son of a bitch. It'd all be so much easier if you had a drink in you— then you could calm down, and focus, and attain optimum functioning, Peak Ellery, which in your occasional depressive spirals is what you assume other people are like all the time.

Maddie disagrees with the 'Peak Ellery' theory, claiming that, while you do talk less, what you say is exponentially dumber. That all your blood rushes out of your head and down. You can't argue: you just think you could stand to even out that blood balance, as it were, and it's not like it's never done anything for you. Judging by the number of strange (or worse, vaguely familiar) bedrooms you've woken up in, Peak Ellery and even Past-His-Peak Ellery must be big hits with girls who can't walk straight.

She's pulled away now, leaving your mouth tasting mostly of salt. Her eyes are big and green and reproachful. (Can she read your mind? This is a 'you're thinking about other women you've slept with' face if you've ever seen one.) Or no— no, she's seen that your own eyes are open, and not even trained lovingly on her face. You've been staring into the middle distance.

"Um," you say. "I—"

Her cheeks are rosy pink and she's breathing hard and her lips are pinched tightly together. There might be some blood redistribution going on, because whatever you were going on about fades and is replaced by a fierce desire to kiss her back with your full undivided attention, the way she should deserve. But you don't know whether she'd be mollified or offended, and when Madrigal Fitzpatrick is offended she ruins the next few days of your life. Therefore you stand there like you shot her mom and give the lamest explanation, true or false, that you've ever heard. "I was, um, distracted."

She looks at you.

"Really. It wasn't you at all, I just— you know me, Maddie, and it came on, um, fast, and I couldn't— I wasn't in the right— I've been— I love you."

She glances down, and sighs out her nose, and stoops to pick up the things she dropped. You know better than to help. "I don't know what you want from me," she says to the ground.

Mainly you want her to listen to you— or more than that, you want her to listen and understand you, to nod and crinkle her eyes and ask if there's anything she can do (though there isn't really). But Maddie reserves her (limited) well of sympathy for her shitbag clients, and most of the time you get a kiss and a punch on the arm, if that. But that isn't what she means and wouldn't be useful to say, anyways, so you fidget with the collar of your shirt. Finally she stands and goes to get a bag, which she fills and offers to you unceremoniously. "We should go."

Don't say date. "On the... business trip."

"Business excursion." There's a whisper of a smirk on her, despite everything. "But yes. Now take this, moron."

You take the bag and grunt. "Fuck, is this full of rocks?"

"Yeah. One of them's for your throat." Her voice is flat but her eyebrows are kidding you. "The rest are to crack the guy's skull open, should it come to that. Speaking of, I do have a deadline, so—"

You're more than a little surprised you're still invited: once spurned, Maddie typically spurns right back. Either she's not too upset, then, or whoever she's meeting is the real deal. Which, considering her usual clientele... gods, you haven't a clue what it would take to actually rattle her, but you' are flattered she picked you as bodyguard. It must mean things are better than you thought with her. Maybe well enough that you could turn this back into a date? A business date?


>Before you leave, or on the way, you...

>[1] Apologize more coherently.
>[2] Suggest you might be of more help if you could grab a beer first. Just one.
>[3] Ask about who exactly she's meeting.
>[4] Ask if you could do something beyond sit there and not talk.
>[5] Attempt to hold hands (if you can get an opening).
>[6] Write-in.
>Previously on: Drowned Quest

Two and a half years ago, you escaped a sticky situation with some crabs.


- Voting windows are 24 hours. If only one vote comes in after 24 hours, I'll take it. If there's a tie, I'll roll for it.
- Unless it's a choice strictly between offered options (ex: loot, chargen), write-ins are always open and acceptable. If compatible with other options and not widely disliked, they'll be included. I reserve the right to modify wording as needed, though I'll do my best to preserve the spirit of the write-in.
- Compatible votes will be combined.
- I'll always take questions, comments, critiques, requests for infodumps, etc. etc.


On most occasions, you’ll be tasked to roll 3 d100s, potentially with modifiers. The number of times the 3 rolls collectively pass the DC indicates the result, as follows:
No Passes: Critical Failure
One Pass: Failure
Two Passes: Success
Three Passes: Critical Success

>Archive: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=drowned%20quest

>Twitter: https://twitter.com/BathicQM

>Character Sheet: https://pastebin.com/3xCucAAj

>Other People: https://pastebin.com/5RVFf8Ty

sorry about the mishap with the other thread, tonight is not my night apparently
>Commit Suicide
>[3] Ask about who exactly she's meeting.
I figure we're owed THAT much.
>[5] Attempt to hold hands (if you can get an opening).
Surprise drowned? brb checking tripcode
I had a mishap with a broken tripcode that has since been resolved (mods deleted the extra thread). The OP is me. It would be really funny if someone went to all the trouble of writing a lengthy update and bonus pastebins in my style, though, I think I'd be kind of impressed.
>>[3] Ask about who exactly she's meeting.
Welcome back!
>[2] Suggest you might be of more help if you could grab a beer first. Just one.
>[1] Apologize more coherently.
>[3] Ask about who exactly she's meeting.
Rolled 1, 4 = 5 (2d4)

Alright! You guys have left me in a tricky position: everything has at least one vote, but only one thing has 2+ votes. I don't think either taking one option or taking every option makes sense-- I don't want a >500 word update, but most of these are at least a little contentious-- so what I'm going to do is:

>Take [3] (with three votes)
>Roll between two of [1], [2], [4], and [5] (with one vote each).

Rolling and writing. Given when I'm starting, I'm going to try and make this quick.

You're not suicidal at the moment, but even if you were, you have the sinking feeling you'd manage to screw it up somehow-- like you'd kill yourself and wake up nude in the middle of the swamp days later, or something bizarre like that. (Nice dubs.)
>Apologize and try to hold hands
Hey, it's even sensical. Still writing.

(By the way, if I give a set of options that don't appear mutually exclusive, feel free to pick more than one. Worst case I'll just ask you to narrow it down.)
>Sorry babe I didn't mean it babe

"So it's a guy, huh?" You attempt to sling the bag over your back in a way that won't bruise your spine.

Maddie snorts. "You think I'd need backup for some girl?"

A dangerous, dangerous question— but she can see through your answer-dodging like it's nothing, so that's right out, even without you in hot water for ignoring her. Which leaves you with 1), agreeing and shitting on her competency, 2) agreeing and shitting on the female sex, or 3) disagreeing and being branded a weaselly coward-slash-liar, which you may be in a general sense, but weren't attempting to be here. Shit. Is there any escape? You're too sober to be charming, and it was That Guy who fed you most of the decent lines, anyhow, with him gone (dead) it's no wonder at all Maddie's needly. She's stuck with you. You'd—

She's staring right at you. "Hello? Alive in there?"

You jolt. (The bag thumps bruisily against your spine. Son of a bitch.) "Yeah! Yes, I— uh— it's just— I was thinking."

"Who woulda guessed." She shifts her spear-strap. "Are you feeling okay?"

Are you feeling okay? "Yeah, I am, I just—"

"You're just spacing out all the time. Are you going to be doing it at the meeting? Because I need you silent, not vacant, you know, mouth open, drooling..."

"Hey, I'm not drooling," you say. (You wipe your mouth.) "I'm— I am just thinking, you know. I know you're not used to that, since I usually—"

"You usually glaze over every time someone asks you a question?"

See, she does this. She tips her questions with poison. "That's not what I said, but, uh—"

"Dumbass. I know that's not what you said." Maddie sighs. "Fresh air would do us both good, okay, so let's just—"


You have no comment about the air, which isn't air anyhow except in idiom. The air-slash-water is fine. In theory it's nice out. In practice— and it's been this way for weeks— in practice something about everything is wrong. It's like you woke up in your own tent except that, as you slept, someone (honestly probably Eloise) had come in and turned every item, every single item, a handful of degrees clockwise: nothing is different, nothing is bad, everything is and works where and how it should, except. Except. Except, and this is what you'd settled on after a few sleepless nights, everything (but you) seems to you to be not particularly real.

So of course you're not feeling okay, but your previous attempts to articulate what-and-how-and-why had ended mainly in her picking apart the metaphor ("so if every object's being turned, does that include your cot? So how didn't you wake up? By the way, if you do catch Eloise breaking into your fucking tent, tell me and I'll—"). You're not sure if she's forgotten about that or if she just hasn't connected the dots. You think she thinks you should be over it by now, so she thinks your spate of glazings-over is unrelated. You think you hate her a little, but you could pare that down to resentment (you love her, you love-hate her): over her not remembering or understanding but mainly not listening.

And how's she supposed to listen when you're not saying anything, dickhead, goes your best diet-imitation-brand That Guy, at roughly the same moment as some lower less-solipsistic segment of your brain calculates that Madrigal has been glancing over at you repeatedly, and that it's been some minutes since you breached her tent, and you aren't even holding her hand or anything.

You are at least side-by-side— primal instinct has kept you in lockstep as your higher faculties wandered, because if you'd speedwalked off wordlessly there'd be a spearhead in your neck— so the last of those is the easiest to rectify. You reach out in a nonchalant 'it's-not-that-I-just-now-remembered' fashion and clasp. She doesn't pull away, which is a good, positive sign. She doesn't hold your hand back, you're just kind of holding a fist, which is conversely negative, so overall— a wash? In one sense. In another, you're kicking yourself for not doing this earlier, not because of Maddie's feelings or hurt thereof but because you instantly feel more normal. Like all the furniture got shifted a few degrees back the other way. Which is the damndest thing, really, and you make a mental note to write a paper note about it, later, when the girlfriend is not in proximity, and the fist's getting tighter so you swallow and squeeze it. "Look, Maddie—"

"If you have a hangover," she says stonily, "you could at least tell me."

How to explain? "I don't have a hangover, I— look, I'm sorry about how I've been. It's not you at all, it's—"

"I knew that much," she says.

"—okay, uh, it's me. All me. You've been great—" (sort of) "—and I love you, and all everything, it's just that I'm fucked in the head—"

She snickers a little, which you'd feel good about if you hadn't meant it in earnest. "No, I mean, I'm fucked in the head, Maddie. I mean there's something the matter with me. And that's the reason why I haven't been great, recently, it's not—"

"So it isn't your fault, Ellery? You don't mean it."

How is she so good at this? She must smell fear, or something. "I mean, that also isn't what I said, but, um—"

"You never mean it."


"You never mean it. And nothing's your fault. Everything's always out of your control, Ellery, you are a perpetual fucking victim of circumstance—" She rips her fist out of yours. "—and there is always something the fucking matter with you, isn't there?"

You don't say anything.

"And then you get all fucking sad-eyed whenever anyone— have you considered that you put yourself in the circumstances? You let yourself get fucked, repeatedly, and then everyone else gets to deal with it, because it's not your fault. You didn't do anything."

(She had told you not to gamble with 'offing' (her word) That Guy, that she didn't see the point, that she liked having him around. Ironically, that last point had hardened your resolve to get it done.)

"Can we not fight on a date?" you say.

"It's not a date. It's not like you got me fucking flowers." Her posture is more defensive than combative, all hunched shoulders.

"Can we not fight on a business excursion?" you say.

She stares you down. You keep your expression neutral. Finally, she smirks and loses. "Asshole."

"Is that a yes?"

"You're going to ruin my fucking composure. Now I'm going to have to spend the rest of the walk thinking business thoughts—"

"Me? Ruining the composure of the Maddie Fitzpatrick? Me, the downtrodden victim of circumstance, forcing business thoughts upon her helpless, squirming—"

"Oh, shut up." She slugs you in the shoulder. (Infinitely preferable to the face, which means you've succeeded, here.) "I'm serious. If this guy senses weakness..."

"Has he threatened you?"

"Threatened me?" She scoffs. "No."

You've now run out of ideas for why she's dragged you along. "Okay, so who is this guy? Who could possibly fluster Madrigal the Unfuckedup, she who—"

"I'm not flustered." Smirk's gone. (Shit.) "I've just got a bad feeling."

"A... and you don't get bad feelings from the rest of them?"

You're getting the "fucking idiot" gaze. "The rest of them I have figured out. This one's new. This one's very lucrative. And I look in his eyes and they're blank, okay? I have a bad feeling, we don't have to go into detail, I just don't want to get skinned and quartered. That's why you're bait."

"What?" you say.

"I'm joking." [Gaze cranked up to "complete fucking idiot."] "And we're going to be late, so let's split already. Goddamn."

(Choices next.)
>As you prepare to meet with Mr. Blank Eyes, you...
>[1] Spend time trying to really calm yourself down. You have never enjoyed dealing with dangerous people, and you don't want to be responsible for the skinning/quartering.
>[2] Tease Maddie gently. Letting off steam would be good for both of you.
>[3] Pry for more details. Does she have a name for this guy? A profession?
>[4] Keep an eye out for any flowers growing around. (For later. Not now.)
>[5] Propose to Maddie that you take responsibility for your actions via holding her hand, as this is tested and proven to make you less fucked.
>[6] Write-in.
>[1] Spend time trying to really calm yourself down. You have never enjoyed dealing with dangerous people, and you don't want to be responsible for the skinning/quartering.
>[3] Pry for more details. Does she have a name for this guy? A profession?
>>[1] Spend time trying to really calm yourself down. You have never enjoyed dealing with dangerous people, and you don't want to be responsible for the skinning/quartering.
>>[3] Pry for more details. Does she have a name for this guy? A profession?
>>[4] Keep an eye out for any flowers growing around. (For later. Not now.)
with our patented calming technique
>>>[1] Spend time trying to really calm yourself down. You have never enjoyed dealing with dangerous people, and you don't want to be responsible for the skinning/quartering.
>>>[3] Pry for more details. Does she have a name for this guy? A profession?
>>>[4] Keep an eye out for any flowers growing around. (For later. Not now.)
>1, 3, 4

>1, 3

>1, 2

Called for 1, 3, and 4 and writing.
>Stay calm, cool, and collected

You "split" (you don't know where she gets these words) shortly thereafter, and march through the entirety of Lindew's Landing: about one thoroughfare and a handful of muddy alleys. It's still more civilization than you've encountered in years, which never fails to make you a little twitchy. Maybe it's the creepy obelisks. Maybe it's the townspeople's suspicious glances. Maybe it's the Headspace building, plopped in among the drab houses like an albatross in a passel of curlews. You steer Maddie away from it (better not to start conversation) and out the other side of the Landing, out into patchy trees and silt and algae-scums, and further— some farflung landscape, some alien vista of razorish rock formations or thirsty seagrasses or corals the color of tarnish. Somewhere you're not headed. There's nothing out east here for miles, except the edge of the world, you guess, and you're pretty sure Maddie doesn't hold business meetings there.

Actually, you were pretty sure she held them in the swamp, where (you've heard) all her clients hang out. But the swamp is thataway— the Landing's perched right on the edge of it— and you're walking thisaway, or she is, at least, and you're following. And it's starting to dim.

"You packed a glowbe, didn't you?" The bag still jangles on your back. "Or a couple?"

"A glorb, Ell?" (You've had this conversation.) "And yeah, dumbass, we're not getting stuck in the dark with a stranger. He did want to meet at night, though."

"Always a sign of someone trustworthy." You cock your head. "And who is 'he'? Does he have a name, or—"


You raise your eyebrows.

"Come on, do you think I ask? Either they announce it within thirty seconds or they never say a word, which makes it none of my business. Just 'cause you're a nosy bastard—"

"I don't think asking for a name qualifies as 'nosy,'" you say, mock-irritated.

"Which is why you wouldn't hack it in this job, huh? Rule number one, if it's not your business, it's not your business. Their name, none of your business. Their criminal record, none of your business. What they want the poison for, none of your— do you get the gist?"

"So this guy wants poison?"

"Naw. Just an example." She fixes you with a look which out of context you'd read as 'shut up,' but in this case (as you're not talking so much) probably means 'and no, I'm not telling you what he does want.' Which... you'd be a hypocrite if you pushed here, based on what you don't tell her, so you flash a smile and thumbs up and drop the subject.

Maybe it'd be twilight above, but all you can gauge by nowadays is the way the light works, and it's starting to go the smudgy kind of dim— where the color drains off and the shapes of things start bleeding, where grass starts looking like dirt starts looking like water. When things are less real than they already aren't. You start to ask Maddie to dig around in the bag when you clock that this may be timed on purpose, that she's waiting for distance to go smudgy too.

Your suspicion is more-or-less confirmed when she does stop you to dig around in the bag, but pulls out a camisole instead of a glowbe. "For your eyes," she says, and throws it.

"What," you say, and catch it, "not your underw—"

"Ellery." She reddens, an image you fix solidly in your mind's eye as you tie the rolled-up camisole around your head.

You're not sure why she hasn't invested in a proper blindfold— she can afford one— but you're not complaining. Far from it. You blink into the gauzy darkness and mean to say something about how you understand, that just wouldn't be practical, but instead you're struck that everything except you has promptly ceased to exist.

>[-2 Mind: 9/15]

Which is gullshit, and you're not falling for it, even if mind and body both are screaming that you've plunged into a featureless staticky void. You've tied a fucking shirt over your eyes, is what happened, and if a sinkhole had opened up under your feet then Madrigal would've said something like "holy fuck," not silence. Though of course if she's ceased to exist there'd also be silence, so you've got yourself in a bit of a tangle there, haven't you, Ellery, and you open your mouth and croak "Maddie?" half-believing not-believing she—

"What?" She sounds puzzled.

I think my brain's broken, Maddie. I mean for real this time. "Nothing. Nothing. I, uh—" You rub your mouth. "You're going to take point?"

"No, you are, since you know where we're going." The void parts to allow a jab from an elbow. "I've got the glasses on. Come here, doofus."

Your wrist is grabbed and your cheek is pecked and see, you tell the rest of you, see, she exists, so clearly your intuition is wrong, clearly your object permanence is just shot to pieces, clearly everything else is independent and real and normal. The rest of you ignores you. Somewhere unreachable, Madrigal has donned dark glasses— to slant her perception just enough— and is leading you by the wrist towards your actual destination. Here, you float.

At least you have some uninterrupted time to think. You guess.

(Choices next.)
>You spend an undefined amount of time in purgatorial nonexistence. What do you think about?

>[1] Your patented "calm the fuck down" strategies
>[2] Your "turn this into an actual date" gameplan
>[3] Whether Maddie might have a point about the whole victim of circumstance thing
>[4] How bad you've fucked yourself up this time
>[5] Whatever better memories you can scrape up
>[6] Just stream-of-consciousness it: thinking you, Ellery D. Routh, can sustain one complete line of thinking is delusion on par with, uhhh, the current one
>[7] Write-in.

sorry for the filler options and the at least one typo that I just belatedly caught, I am falling asleep at the keyboard - [1] and [4] will show up next vote

also we didn't start at max mind wow set up to fail
Rolled 1 (1d2)

Don't be ridiculous; you lost that Mind in Thread 32. Also Ellery's kind of messed up right now my man, starting at 11/15 is pretty generous

Rolling and writing.
>Game face

You know, if you could change one major thing about the whole 'trapped in your own perception-on-the-fritz' thing, you'd like to be able to admit obvious evidence to the contrary. The shirt is still around your eyes, the bag is still on your back, the ground is still under your feet, Maddie's small hand is wrapped around your wrist, and you know this, or at least the whole brick-wall ticker-tape talking you does, but your best efforts to concentrate on these no-brainer facts just pushes them further from reach. Or it does until something sparks and fizzles (...you imagine) and 99.5% of you is suddenly utterly convinced that there is something around your eyes, and that something is you— or some velvety new growth of you, sprung warm and insensate from your forehead, sealing your worthless eyes. Because 'blindfolds' don't exist, you (apparently) reason, only you do, so a fucking eye tumor is infinitely more logical— motherfuck! You make to rip the stupid fucking thing off and feel pain when you dig your fingernails in—

>[-1 Blood: 9/10]

—so you release it furiously and go "Maddie," and from some other universe hear an irritated "What?", and then you say I'm fucking hallucinating Maddie say "Is your shirt still on my face?", and there's a pause and she goes (more-irritated-dash-of-'you moron') "Yeah?"—

And, well, it's for the best! If you think about it. Because taking the blindfold off would ruin the confidence trick Maddie's trying to pull, swapping distances, and then you'd be late (if not completely lost), and she'd be pissed, and your odds of a date would head straight down the tubes. Er, they're already down the tubes, but not so far down that you can't send a drain snake down after, if the drift is caught? It's salvageable. If you can keep one foot planted— a toe planted in reality, that's a good first step. Completely fucking losing it is not sexy. Step two is to further keep your cool upon meeting Maddie's contact, because— does that need an explanation? Step three is to hope and pray to all relevant gods that the meeting goes well irregardless of you, also self-explanatory, and then after is when you pounce. While she's riding the high of enabling someone else's unspeakable crimes, you turn around smoothly, you whip out flowers—

You don't have flowers, though, so you guess that's step 3.5. Step 3.75 (optional) is to procure a beer from somewhere, which is the only thing that'll make you turn around smoothly: otherwise you'll just turn around and trip on a rock or something and the flowers will go everywhere and you'll bruise your tailbone to match your spine and she'll laugh throatily at you. Which is not the worst thing in the world, Maddie laughing, but it'll bruise your ego to match your tailbone and put a bit of a damper on everything else, so you better find that beer or else pre-clear the area of rocks. (Step 3.85.) And after that you date, which means finding a pretty spot somewhere and throwing pebbles at unlucky sea critters until Maddie dozes off in your arms, or alternately finds her second wind. You are rooting for the latter, but the former's okay, too.

So that's easy. Simple. Maddie's standards aren't high, lucky for you, so it's about her mood more than anything. Get her in a good mood, or pray double-strength that it happens by chance, and that's game, set, and match. Well, that and the flowers. Shit. If only flowers existed, then you'd—

Actually, speaking of, something strange is happening with the featureless void. While it remains as featureless as ever, you're sensing movement— not that you know what that means in particular, you're just the beleaguered reporter. It just feels inexplicably like everything-not-you is twisting in on itself, is folding or turning inside out or— look, how are you supposed to know? You can't see the fucking (lack-of-)thing. Something happens, until with a gentle pop it doesn't, and then there's something scrabbling at the back of your head. You freeze, and while you run through possibilities the camisole falls off your eyes.

"We're he—"

Maddie can't get through two words before you pull her in by the small of her back and kiss her square on the lips, on the forehead— it's horrible to be suddenly convinced nothing exists but it's downright glorious to learn otherwise. The world is real (enough) and beautiful and you're not at all alone in it: you have a girlfriend, you love your girlfriend, your girlfriend is pushing out from underneath your arms. "—here," she finishes, flustered. "Are you sure there's no juice in your system?"

"Can a man not kiss his—"

"Knock it off." She folds her arms. "I mean, if this was compensating for earlier, I'll take it, but we're here. The guy could be watching us, hell if I know."

"And the guy can't understand that, when two people love each other very much—"

Maddie has produced a small frown. (She's never cared for your liberal use of the l-word.) "I don't think he can, Ellery."

"Oh." You scratch your chin. "So where's here?"

"Flats." Meaning the mud flats, unless the area has other flats you haven't heard about. You wouldn't be too surprised. And looking around, you do appear to have ended up inside a... ravine? Or a big crack in the ground, at least, and gazing upwards you don't see much in the way of trees, or scalding poisonous gases. So mud flats it is. "The guy was adamant about meeting here. Said it was lucky or sacred or some shit."

"A sacred place to harvest your organs, you mean?" One upside of being blindfolded: your eyes have fully adjusted to the dark. You busy yourself examining the striated rock, or so you've cleverly made it appear. (Flowers. You're looking for flowers.)

"A sacred place to harvest your organs, more like. Not your liver, though."

"My liver's fine!" Do flowers grow in ravines? You don't know anything about flowers. Maybe you can yank a few sea pens out of the wall and call them close en—

"Your liver's been pickled, Ell, and not just in seawater... though the seawater can't help. Now come on, shut up, we need—"

"Um, you go on." You've spotted two things. There's some sad, scraggly flowers clinging to a ledge just out of reach, buried in a shadow. And from the looks of it, if you squint hard, you can make out a perkier bunch higher up, straighter and larger and not with half their petals gnawed off.


>[1] Climb to grab the sad flowers. Maddie will probably question your taste, but will still appreciate the sentiment... uh, probably. They're way easier to get, though. [Roll.]
>[2] Climb to grab the perky flowers. *These* are proper "I-love-you-let's-have-sex" flowers, you're sure of it, except that they're well in the upper half of the ravine. But hell, you've always been a risk-taker? [Roll.]
>[3] Fuck it. As of a few weeks ago, sleight of hand has become exponentially easier: you can probably just pull flowers from thin air. The open question, however, is how Maddie would feel about this— she's always been leery of this sort of thing. Will she even see it as a gesture if they're not real? (What kind of flowers? Write-in.)
>[4] Write-in.

nice underwater flowers
I guess fish don't eat them and only seafloor crawlers do
Fingers crossed
You got it.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s - 1 (+9 Blood, +5 Don't Screw This Up, -15 Bad Climber) vs. DC 55 (+10 Tall, +5 Dark) to pick the nice flowers.
>No, you can't spend ID, you don't have ID

And as a brief refresher, these are our degrees of success:
No Passes: Critical Failure
One Pass: Failure
Two Passes: Success
Three Passes: Critical Success

There are no traditional criticals on 1/100.
Rolled 41 - 1 (1d100 - 1)

can we spend Mind?
Rolled 54 (1d100)

Rolled 78 - 1 (1d100 - 1)

Dice try, baby.
>40, 53, 77 vs. DC 55 -- Failure
Close, but no cigar. Writing shortly.

>can we spend Mind?
Nope! Your Mind/Blood bonuses get automatically applied to the situation, no spending required. Sorry, I'm sticking to OG Drowned mechanics, no matter how freakishly brutal they might be

>nice underwater flowers
They complement the underwater trees :^)
>Risky business
>40, 53, 77 vs. DC 55 — Failure

Actually, what the hell are you talking about? You can get your girlfriend some shitty flowers, or you can get her some nice flowers. You can be a thoughtful, considerate human being, or you can be a slipshod prick like (you've been told) Maddie's string of previous boyfriends. You're getting the nice flowers. It's as simple as that.

You just, uh, need to get to them. Which poses some trouble. Even in the best of circumstances, you're not much of a climber— you think maybe your legs are too long, or something, and it just gets all unwieldy. And this— a vertical rock wall, in the dark— is not exactly the best of circumstances. This could very easily end with you splintering an ankle or worse. But is that what you're going to tell Maddie— that you skipped out on flowers because you were scared? As if you needed to drop any lower in her book: she'd roll her eyes and say she could've went and got the stupid flowers, if you wanted them so bad, and the nightmarish thing is that she'd be right. She'd be up the fucking cliff in two shakes if you asked her. But that's not at all the point.

The point is— gods, it's pretty dark, isn't it? You shrug the bag off with relief and dig around it in by feel, eventually happening on something with the shape, size, and give of ripe fruit. You give it a shake, just in case, and the glowbe fizzes to life. It's awfully dim (maybe nearly expired), but it casts about half the ravine wall in faint green light, which is as good as you're getting. You set it against the bag and crack the knuckles of one hand. You crack the knuckles of your other hand. Your crack your—

You're stalling, says the annoying part of your brain, and so you are. Maddie's around the corner, which is good. No time like the present. You swing your arms around, and back up, and sort of get a running start, or a jogging start, and before you know it you're a few feet off the ground and mollusk-latched onto a helpful outcropping. See. That wasn't so bad. You scrabble for a solid foothold and find one, and shove your torso onto a ledge-thing, and reach for something white and protruding (bone?) as a new handhold, and continue in this vein for so long that you begin to delude yourself that you're actually competent at this. You're envisioning Maddie's concealed delight at the flowers, in fact, when your foot catches air instead of rock and your handhold crumbles at the shifted weight and you unceremoniously tumble to the ground.

Here's one upside: if you were a competent climber, you might have fallen from the very top and cracked your head open. Instead, you plummet from barely halfway and land directly on your ass, which produces a smarting backside and an aggrieved "SHIT!" but little else.

>[-1 Blood: 8/10]

"Ellery?!" Maddie comes dashing full-speed around the corner. "Ellery?! What the fuck— what are you doing?"

File: ravine.jpg (95 KB, 750x550)
95 KB
She surveys you (spread-eagled on the ground) and, as you sit up achily, your guilty expression. "...Ellery."

"Mmm," you say.

"Were you— don't fucking tell me you were trying to climb that?" (You rub your scalp.) "For what fucking purpose? Did the voices in your head tell you to, Ellery?"

This is a low blow and you know she knows it, but after a moment of it simmering all she does is march over and yank you up by your wrist. "He's fucking here, Ellery. We're leaving now."

You stumble behind her in the rough manner of a whipped dog, knowing that attempts to explain will end in dismal failure. Better for her to think you (more) insane than (more) pathetic. Your only recourse now is to hope the guy she's meeting is forgiving, gracious, and generous with his chit, or you'll be out on your flowerless and bruising ass without so much as a thanks-for-your-time-Ell. But you did know what you were getting yourself into, here.

Madrigal has grabbed the bag herself, and clenches the glowbe between her fingers, throwing weird shadows up on the walls: the ravine is widening as you go along it, and the pale bowed shapes of rib-bones are poking through the rock. If you excavated one of them, it'd be twice your height, easy, and you try not to think about the size of whatever owned them. Or the size of whatever killed that thing.

"Remember," Maddie hisses, "don't say a goddamn word, okay? Nothing. I'll say everything. Just sit down and look intimidating."

You can play dopey and harmless, can sidle into the background like the best of them— but intimidating? She sees your expression and yanks extra-hard on your wrist. "You're tall, okay? And if you don't take your coat off he can't see your twig arms, and if you don't talk he can't tell you're... you."

Also a low blow, but this time she doesn't seem to register it as such— she just pats you on the cheek and yank-yank-yanks you in through a narrow split in the path, which becomes suddenly very dark. You watch the glowbe-light play on the ceiling before you realize that there's now a ceiling, and that you're in a cave. Maddie has tensed, and her grip loosens— you take the opportunity to hold and squeeze her hand. Maybe it's not just the stress that's getting to her, you realize, belatedly. It's the ravine.

If a ravine is bad a cave is worse, and you can feel (but don't remark on) faint tremors in her hand. You'd asked idiotically what her problem was with tight spaces one time, and her answer was evasive, though you think there was an incident with being trapped in a storage room. It hardly matters. Did the guy pick this location because he knew? And did Maddie bring you along not just because of him, but—

You can't ask any of these questions without being dateless tonight and possibly forever, so you keep squeezing her hand and keep a wary eye out. No guy shows himself. You're damn lucky the cave hasn't branched off so far, it's just a straight shot, though right ahead there's a left-hand turn and you turn and emerge into a red cavern. Red? You can't tell if it's the color of the rock, or of the lighting (what is it lit by?), or just of the massive tattered sheets of fabric strung along the ceiling, but you'd bet your life it's red. In the center of the room is set a rectangular table, or maybe altar, grown or hewed from the rock floor. Two chairs are set at it. A man sits in one of them.

You look at Maddie, and Maddie shakes free of your grip. She strides over all businesslike and pulls up the other chair, and after a beat you come over and stand. The man— Maddie's guy— is short and leather-skinned, and his hair is cropped and dark, and his vest is red. (Or maybe it's brown or grey, and the light makes it look red.) He seems mostly very ordinary, and not nearly as hard-bitten as you'd expected. "You're late," he says.

Maddie hesitates for a fraction of a second, then she crosses one leg over the other and leans back. "From some perspectives, sure. From others—"

The man laughs heartily, then stops all at once, like someone turned the spigot off. "And you've brought company. We didn't agree on this."

"I made an executive decision." Maddie smiles thinly. "It's non-negotiable, sorry. He stays or you fuck off."

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of negotiating. I was just wondering if Mr. Routh might like to sit down?"

If Mr. Routh would— the man has turned his eyes on you, and they are black and as blank as Maddie described them. And you recognize them. Not the man, whom you've never seen before, but the eyes: they're the eyes of the doctor. The doctor. The one who killed That Guy.

Shit. You've got to be hallucinating, haven't you?

>[A1] Sit on the table(?).
>[A2] Sit on a chair.
>[A3] Stay standing.

>[B1] Just sit tight and follow instructions. Your pattern-matching's probably as fucked as your object permanence, is all this is, and you're not going to ruin the whole deal with something this insane.
>[B2] Attempt to subtly communicate to Maddie that something is very weird here. So at least you're on the same page.
>[B3] Attempt to subtly communicate with the... guy? He's the one looking straight at you, so even if he has nothing to do with the doctor he still wants something, probably.
>[B4] Write-in.
>[A3] Stay standing.
>[B1] Just sit tight and follow instructions. Your pattern-matching's probably as fucked as your object permanence, is all this is, and you're not going to ruin the whole deal with something this insane.

welcome back!!
I'm sure Maddie knows weird shit is afoot. We're underwater.
Rolled 1 (1d2)

Unanimous for [A3], gonna flip between [B1] and [B2].
>Sit tight
Neat. Writing.
>You gotta keep it even

Yeah, you've got to be. Think about it. Your two options here are: A) the doctor who killed That Guy now looks like a completely different guy (via magic? goo? some other fucked-up mechanism?), and is coincidentally doing business with your girlfriend the one time she drags you along, or B), it's a different guy with a sort-of-similar eye color, and you are so haywire, so hopped up on insomnia, that your first instinct is to jump to conclusions. Your first instinct sucks. Always has. Which is maybe why it takes so long for you to stand here and formulate a second one.

"Sit where?" Maddie says derisively, rescuing you from a protracted silence. "On the fucking table? He can stand like a big boy."

You'd been hoping to pull a chair up (she wasn't the one carrying the bag the whole way), but doing so would raise some uncomfortable questions— and now it'd undermine Maddie's authority, so that's right out. You nod slowly.

"You raise an interesting point, Ms. Fitzpatrick," the man says, though he's still looking right at you. You glance away. "Should we leave your poor lover to strain his legs, or should we make him comfortable? Much to think about."

Has she talked to him about you? No. Surely not. She's rubbing her ankles together like she's trying to start a fire. "Excuse me?" she says. "My lover?"

"Was I misapprehended?"

Your girlfriend locks her ankles together. "Severely," she says icily. "And I think you'd be better off not making wild fucking guesses about my acquaintance and I, don't you? I think that'd be grounds for a permanent severing of our own acquaintanceship. And good fucking luck sourcing this on your own, by the way."

"That won't be necessary. I do apologize." The man jots something down into his lap— you can't see the notepad, if there is one, but his fountain pen is large and improbable. "And what is Mr. Routh's opinion on this?"

What is Mr. Routh's opinion on this? Mr. Routh's opinion is that this is all a very bad sign, date-wise, an opinion furthered by Maddie's fierce wounded look: a 'why-is-he-on-your-side' look, a 'are-you-plotting-against-me' look. You don't know, and you're not, and even if the man is that doctor— because it's seeming awfully like Maddie didn't tell him your name— that doesn't explain how he'd know about the relationship. Even if you mentioned it (and that's a big if), you can't remember ever naming the lucky lady. Something's wrong.

But when isn't something wrong? Seriously. The greater concern is that Maddie's going to be tetchy and paranoiac for the rest of the week, and without outright dragging her aside and explaining, what are you supposed to do about it? Answer him? And yank the attention away from the deal— not that the guy's attention was ever on it, but this'd just worsen the prospects. You widen your eyes and half-shrug and hope and pray she takes that (accurately) as a "I have no fucking clue what he's on about."

Does it work? You can't tell, but she turns her glower back onto the man. "Mr. Routh has no opinion on this. You'll treat him as if he isn't present."

The man inclines his head. "This would seem to go against the natural and incontrovertible facts of the situation."

"You can shove the facts up your natural and incontrovertible ass, then." Maddie's tone could pick bones clean. "Now are we going to litigate philosophy, or are we going to negotiate the fucking terms of this deal."

There is a long and (you think) deliberate pause before the man leans back and smiles. "Of course the deal."

"Fan-tastic." Maddie hoists the bag up and draws from it her beloved clipboard, salvaged directly from the dump. Why someone tossed a perfectly good clipboard off the side of a Pillar will remain forever a mystery to you and her, but you helped scrape the limpets off and she's been lugging it around since. "Now, we just have to..."

Miraculously, things proceed almost normally from there— the man keeps paying you meaningful glances, but you ignore them and he doesn't push it. Maddie discusses logistics, lays out a timeline, haggles payment, and you're sure it's all brilliantly done, but you'd lie if you said you could keep focused on any of it. You fiddle with the straps on your jacket and kick your legs around so they don't get tired and think about what the hell kind of room this is, think about rectifying the flower fiasco, wonder if this man's been stalking you and Maddie, think about That Guy, think about anything but That Guy, think—

"—Mr. Routh?"

The man is looking straight at you again. Maddie is also looking straight at you again. You have no idea what anyone just said. "...What?" you sign (reasoning after a beat that it isn't really saying something).

"I was just wondering," the man says, "how things were going for you, Mr. Routh? I was wondering if we might speak privately."

"He won't seal the deal." Maddie's legs are crossed. Her voice is flat. "Unless he speaks to you. Privately."

And she blames you for it, judging by her everything. Son of a bitch.

>[1] If you don't agree to this organ harvesting, you mean private talk, the whole thing's going to fall apart and it *will* be your fault. Maddie will get over it eventually, but she won't get over it tonight. Suck it up. Agree.
>[2] Taking the talk and bungling it has got to be worse than not taking the talk and bungling it, surely? And you were *told* not to say anything— /anything./ Communicate (nonverbally) that Madrigal's the boss, here, and you're not sneaking around behind her back.
>[3] Oh, screw this. Drag Maddie across the room and do a huddle to clear up the obvious misconceptions floating around. Develop a real plan with her. Of course, this is dependent on her not seeing the dragging as a blow to her authority, and the man not taking offense, but surely it's the That-Guy-Approved mature thing to do.
>[4] Write-in.
>That Guy Approved
he's dead so we must honor his memory
Busy, no update today, vote remains open.
But not as in we are unwilling to meet up just that we defer to whatever madrigal wants. If she wants us to meet with him we will.
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>[2] (she's the boss)
Writing shortly.
Rolled 28, 62, 27 = 117 (3d100)

Also rolling for nothing in particular. DC 50
>Hey you're not in charge here

Well, it's nothing new: your usual position's between a rock and at least a few hard places. Your first instinct would be to talk your way out of this— not saying anything, really, just throwing verbal shit at a wall long enough to distract said hard places. Your first instinct, as discussed, sucks. Maddie knows you well enough to see through that in an instant, while the guy's a complete wild card. You fidget.

Second instinct, second instinct... should you just ask Maddie what to do? Is that an option? You weigh the outcomes. There's a slight chance she could take it as an insult (you don't know why she would, you just have to factor that into everything) and a slightly larger chance the guy could seize on it as an excuse to cut things off— but he could seize on anything to do that, really, he holds all the cards at the moment. The only probable result is that Maddie is going to make jokes about you knowing your place, deferring to her, etc. at every opportunity. Which you'd be lying if you said you wouldn't be a tad bruised by.

Still, it beats her sulking— she'd still joke at you if you lost her the deal, but they'd be even meaner and even more targeted and speaking frankly not really jokes at all. Better this than that. You nudge her leg and furrow your eyebrows and glance meaningfully at the man, then back at her, then at the man again.

Maddie purses her lips (irritation level: mild), stands, and yanks you toward her by your collar. You collide skulls. "We could try to push it," she hisses, "and I usually would, because fuck power plays. But with this guy... I don't know if it's much of a play."

"Where the fuck did you find him?" you say.

"Does it matter? Shh." She grasps your mouth with her sweaty hand. "Here's the deal. You agree to meet privately, meaning over there." The far wall. "You do not leave this room, or you'll get kidnapped. If he forces you out of the room, I am following you and will shank him. If he stays here, great. You hear him out. You do not agree to anything. You do not shake hands. You do not fucking sign a contract. If he offers you the best deal you've heard in your life, you ask to get it in writing and then you bring it back to me. If he refuses to put it in writing, he's a dirtbag. If he refuses to let me hear the deal, he's a dirtbag. If he starts doing weird stuff to you, scream and I'll shank him."

"I'm not going to scream," you mumble through her hand.

"Okay, asshole, loose a manly yell. Just get my attention. Okay?" She lowers the hand and frowns. "I don't want you to get hurt."

>[+1 Mind: 10/15]

"Oh," you say, unable to articulate the weight that carries, "oka—"

She pats your cheek and wrests away and shoves you up to the table. You sit out of reflex and cross your hands so you don't start picking at your buttons. (You bounce your ankle instead.) "Uh," you say. The man is impassive. "Hello. Yes. We can meet privat— I mean, it depends on how private. We can meet without Maddie, I mean, but we should still be in this room, I don't want to be out in a ca..."

"I have no trouble with that," the man says, and smiles with all his teeth. Something's the matter with his teeth. "We shouldn't even have to stand, I don't think. Would you hold still, Mr. Routh?"

"What?" You grab the arms of the chair. Before you can do much else, the man has leaned over the table and gripped your head by the temples. What the fuck, you say, but the sound doesn't come out. Hey. Hey. You can't—

He may have you by the temples, but there's a soft achey feeling brewing up in the back of your skull, just above the nape of your neck. You don't think you could scream (or loose a manly yell) if you wanted to, which does seem like a gaping flaw in Maddie's planning, but she doesn't have a lot of experience with this stuff. You can cut her some slack. The man (still impassive) screws his grip tighter, and with little itchy pops his fingers punch one-by-one through your face, by all rights into your flesh, but there's no pain and as best you can tell no blood. You'd care more about this if there was more than a 20% chance any of this is happening: you are probably already face-down and drooling on the table, and Maddie is possibly preparing a shanking. Good for her. All that's left for you is to ride this all the way out, the swelling aching and the familiar flooding red-darkness alike, sit tight and stumble into another circumstance you are, yes, the victim of. Maddie. You'll probably make it out of this one alive.


The tide washes you up, sputtering, into That Guy's old stomping grounds (irony #1), now just your lonely calm-down spot (irony #2): that big blank expanse behind your eyelids. He'd packed it up to the island, after you made that livable, but left some scattered furniture behind— it's a lucky thing you junked most of it recently, or the man would surely have some choice comments. All you left was the lounge chair, which the man is sitting on. He's wearing That Guy's sunglasses.

"Those are mine," you say, which is wrong— is it wrong? Fuck.

"Oh, yes." The man removes the sunglasses. "It's rather depressing in here, isn't it?"

You jam a hand into your largest pocket. "Please get out of my head."

"We're not in your head, Mr. Routh, as I'm sure you know. Your manse is well-guarded, and even that hardly qualifies. This is a clever little buffer zone. Do you come here often?"

You jam your thumb into the pocket-hole. "What do you want from me?"

"I told you that. I'd just like to know how things are going for you." The man leans back in the longue chair. "You've had major alterations done, haven't you? It's good practice to schedule a checkup."

"Major alterations," you say dryly.

"I think we know what we mean, don't we?"

You can only think of one option, but it's not one you particularly like. "Can we lose the cryptic shit, then, please? If we both know what we mean, then there's not any need to— I mean, it's stupid, honestly. It's a waste of time. And Maddie's going to stab you if you take too long."

"Wonderful point." The man tilts his head. "Why don't you start."

Shit. "Uh... you're the doctor."


Shit! "What— how— how. You're not the same man. You can't fucking tell me you're the same—"

"Trade secret." The doctor checks his wrist. "Back on topic, Mr. Routh. How are things going for you?"

>[1] That's it? He just wants to know how you're doing? You mean, you can tell him *that.*
>>[A] Brutal honesty. You are doing fucking bad, thanks for asking. Spacing out. Hallucinating. Et cetera. Can he put you back?
>>[B] Sugarcoat it. You're doing alright, fine, some ups and downs, so on and so forth, can he please leave?
>>[C] Lie. You've never been better. *Now* can he please leave?
>>[D} Write-in.

>[2] Nope. You're getting answers before he gets his check-up. He ruined your mental health and jammed his fingers through your skull, so fair's fair.
>>[A] You don't give a damn about privacy. What's his name? You refuse to keep calling him "the doctor."
>>[B] Has he been stalking you and Maddie? How does he know about her?
>>[C] Did he set this whole thing up with Maddie just so he could talk to you? Because that's fucked up.
>>[D] Does he have any medical(??) explanation for what's going on with you, besides the obvious?
>>[E] No, seriously, who/what is he?
>>[F] Does he have any dating advice?
>>[G] Write-in.

>[3] Answer him, but ask some questions too. (Pick one suboption from [1] and however many suboptions from [2].)

>[4] Write-in.
roll was to see if he got all the way into your manse btw
generally people who go around only known as the doctor are not good people

with one notable exception
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>2C, 2D

Flipping between asking [2E] or not and writing.
>Yeah huh

"...You're the one who did this to me," you say. "So why don't you tell me how I'm doing? Isn't that fair? Because last I checked, your bedside manner isn't exactly..."

You had gone to a place you can't remember anymore, and met the doctor (he was taller, then, and had a salt-and-pepper beard), and laid down, and it felt like you'd slept and woke an instant later— but 'an instant' was half a day, you woke groggy, and both That Guy and the doctor were gone. You stumbled your own way home.

"I don't see a cause to linger once the job has been done." (Can he read your mind? If he can read your mind, you're absolutely fucked, aren't you?) "In any case, I'd say from a cursory examination you appear to be as per expected."

"As per expected." You jam your foot against the inside of your boot.

"I did say it was cursory. Would becoming more specific help you?" The doctor sits back up. "To begin, has your eidolon recurred?"

You don't know if getting more specific helps you, exactly, but it does do a bit to ease your nerves. Asking how you're doing— that could mean anything, could be anything. But if he wants what he says he wants, asking about That Guy is, well, exactly what he would ask about. You shift. "No. He's still dead."

"To be accurate, Mr. Routh, your eidolon never 'lived'... but I understand you were very attached to it."

"I guess," you say.

"I mean no judgment. But this is good to hear. It would be a great shame to have failed in that regard." The doctor folds his hands. "Are you satisfied with the results?"

The half-smile is making its customary return. You glance sideways. "That feels like a, uh, a leading question."

"Not at all."

"Uh... can I just... tell you what's been going on with me? And you can give me a diagnosis?" And then fix it? But you don't know if you trust him enough for that, yet.

The doctor's eyes are dark and unreadable. "Certainly."

You pull a chair up and sit heavily in it. "Okay. Because I think you've driven me crazy, and I don't— I mean that literally, okay? Not any sort of, haha, so crazy, I mean I've been losing it. And it started as soon as That Guy died, so I don't know if you cut a little too far and fucked up my brain, or—"

"Could you be more specific? What precisely do you mean by 'losing it'?"

Can you? Should you? If there's anyone to tell, in theory this'd be the guy. In theory. You shift in your seat. "...Uh, I just have this constant feeling— a stupid feeling, to be clear, not one I actually believe— there's just this feeling that nothing's... real. Like it's all stage props, or like if I look away it stops existing, and I mean it feels like it stops existing, too, which is..."

"Have you always been able to do that?"

You pause. "What?"

"Your chair." The doctor is smiling faintly. "It wasn't there before."

"...Um, it's my mind, so..." You're not sure why you said that. It is your mind, but you'd never been able to think something into existence the way you always thought you should— you could do it, but it took a lot of concentration, and half the time it'd vanish the instant you stopped looking at it. This snap-of-the-fingers thing is brand new. "I mean, it wasn't there before, no. Uh."

"It's two sides of the same coin, Mr. Routh. If your delusion of an ordered world has been ripped away, it only stands to reason that anything now goes. Something needn't exist previously to exist now, given sufficient impetus."

You sigh. "So remember when we talked about the cryptic..."

"It wasn't 'cryptic.' I suspect you're just unaccustomed to the manner of speaking. You'll grow moreso. In the interest of timeliness, however, I will give your diagnosis."

"Oh," you say. "But, uh, I've also been spacing out, and I'm not sure I can get drunk, but I need to test that more, and, uh—"

"Thank you. I diagnose you with nothing. You're describing the ordinary effects of the operation." You open your mouth to protest, and he waves a hand. "Mr. Routh, I don't believe you understand the nature of the alteration to your self."

"Uh," you say. "I... guess not."

"Your eidolon has not been extracted from you. It has not been destroyed or... 'killed.' It is merged with you. You are one and the same." The doctor inclines his chin. "Mr. Routh, your eidolon was not human."

Your knee bounces. "He was me."

"Of you, yes. Tied intimately with you, yes. But it was not human. It was a creature of the mind, built of... to keep it straightforward, thoughts. Thought-stuff. And now it is you."

"Oh, gods," you mumble.

"God," the doctor says (corrects?). "And indeed, Mr. Routh, this leads exactly where you'd imagine it. You are a creature of the mind. This is what you've been experiencing. I apologize if you've found it disconcerting."

>[-1 Mind: 9/15]

For a long time you stare: stare and stare and kick your feet back and forth. Finally you get up from your chair (which hadn't existed) and walk over and grab That Guy's (your) sunglasses off the edge of the lounge chair and walk back and sit in the chair (which still exists). You turn the sunglasses over in your hand. "So I'm, what, not human now?"

"You are exactly as human as you were, and as real as you were. You are also simultaneously un-human and un-real. This is almost purely a benefit to you, Mr. Routh. You have been made aware of the nature of things."

"Can I be made unaware?" you say.

"It is irreversible, even for your stock. Which was a pleasure to work with, by the way. Extraordinarily pliable. But no— no, you may not be made unaware. Why would you want this?"

So you can function around other people? You have to assume he's talking about the crushing unrealness, and you don't even want to unpack the 'nature of things,' but... "I just, I mean, I was okay with being a normal—"

"With living in ignorance?"

"Uh," you say. "Yeah."

The doctor has developed a slight disappointed-in-you frown. "I see. I'm afraid there's no route back there. I recommend reframing your perception of 'losing it' in a more positive light."

You polish your sunglasses on your shirt. "Okay, like what."

"Many find joy and solace in the idea that they are live actors in a lifeless and constructed play-world. They are comforted in the idea that they have a role to play, that everything is scripted for a happy and well-earned ending, and after that ending the actors will return to their true lives in the true world."

You slide your sunglasses on so the doctor can't read your face well: you can't seem to wipe the incredulity off it. He seems deadly serious. "Wow."

"Indeed. And we are in the final act, Mr. Routh." The doctor crosses his legs. "I'm sorry to say that your role is not leading. That position is taken. But it could be substantial indeed. I trust you will do great things in the near future."

"...Thanks." You're just doing everything everything in your power not to piss this guy off, now, because whatever he is he's a 100% certified lunatic. "Um, who is in the lead role? If you don't mind me—"

"The Herald."

No? No explanation? Okay. You smile tightly. "Well, I'll... look forward to it. Was this whole thing scripted too? The meeting with me? Because I couldn't tell if you'd planned to—"

"I do not have access to the script, Mr. Routh. That is a matter for God." (You grind your fingernail into your thigh to keep a straight face.) "If you're asking if I scripted this, I did not. It was a happy coincidence."

You don't exactly believe him, but it's not worth arguing. "Right. So—"

"If you feel your quality of life has been lowered by this discussion," the doctor offers, still deadly serious, "I would be happy to blunt it from your mind."

Gods, what the fuck is up with this guy? "What?"

"I cannot remove it. You have been rendered in part immune. But I could strip it of its strength. You would think it a dream-memory, or something from your past remembered wrongly, or something of that nature. If you truly would prefer to live in ignorance."

>[1] What? No! You think you've had enough of this guy fucking with your head for a lifetime. Just tell him (politely, very politely) to get the hell out and seal the deal with Maddie already.
>[2] You know, you think maybe you liked it better thinking you were just going crazy. This whole thing— creatures of the mind, nature of reality, actors, whatever the hell— this is going to keep you up at night, and /forget/ telling Maddie any of it. You'd just have to deal with it alone for maybe the rest of your life. Better to forget.
>[3] Write-in.
A highly contested vote, I see. Writing.
File: that guy's sunglasses.jpg (24 KB, 800x800)
24 KB
>Take the red pill

"No" It's by reflex. "No. I-I don't even know how you'd— I mean, I believe you would, considering everything, I just— I don't know if I need another thing on top of everything else, right now, so you really don't have to do anything. I'm good."

The doctor raises his eyebrows. "But I'm, uh, very grateful," you add hastily, "very, of course, grateful, for your— for your offer, and I really do appreciate—"

His laugh is raspy and abrupt and you startle a little as he rises from the lounge chair. "I am gladdened to hear your decision. I believe it is the correct one."

You're not sure you want to be on this guy's side, but you are sure you don't want your brain melted out your ears. "Oh. Uh-huh."

"You have my thanks for your forthrightness. I will leave you be now, Mr. Routh. Break a leg." The doctor smiles and smiles and steps forward and vanishes. You are alone.

Son of a bitch. You stand weakly and kick your chair back into non-existence and totter over to the lounge chair, which you lay all the way down on. It was too long for the doctor's legs, and is exactly right for yours. You unfold your fist around the sunglasses, rub the smudges off on your sleeve, and put them on. The space behind your eyelids turns a pinker shade of red-grey-black.

You are alone, aren't you? Who do you have left to talk to? That Guy, your best confidant, is dead. Arledge is half an ocean away. Eloise is an excellent listener, but you don't want this becoming everybody's business: you have 'camp weirdo' on lock enough as is. And Maddie would not, will not, cannot possibly understand. Even if she treated it like something real, not something you made up for attention, she wouldn't understand. She just doesn't have it in her.

So you're not telling anybody, and you're not going to dissect this yourself, because are you fucking insane? You will be shunting all this interesting news off to never think about again, or at least never until it builds enough to blow your eardrums out. If you drink enough that'll probably never happen. If you don't, or can't, you'll probably wake up one day a few months later hung by a thread, ready to snap or bust or shatter or start crying damned girl tears everywhere, all the bottled-up interesting news having driven you completely fucking insane. Insaner.

But that sounds like a problem for Future Ellery, and you are Now Ellery, and if Now Ellery made wise decisions his own common sense wouldn't need to make passive-aggressive comments at him. His own common sense is also dead. So it's settled, then.

You open your eyes. Not these. The other ones.


Your face is smushed against the table, and you're sure there's bits of dirt and gravel embedded in your cheek, now. You blink. Maddie's back is to you, but she's over on the doctor's side of the table, and that's an aggressive stance if you've ever seen one. "Other side's next," she's snarling.

"That won't be necessary, Ms. Fitzpatrick—" You can't see the doctor from this vantage point, but he's up out of his seat. "—as, as I have assured you, I have in no way harmed Mr.—"

"Gullshit!" Oh, hell, she has Fitz unslung. "Have you looked at him recently? He's—"

"I'm—" you say, and swallow (your mouth is chalky)— "I'm fine. I'm here. I'm fine."

Maddie full-body flinches and spins on her heel and meets your eyes— and then she shrieks, unbusinesslike, and cups her mouth and skids around the table toward you, to you, into your arms, and it's your turn to flinch as she hugs your ribcage and kisses your mouth like it were the last on earth. "Ow," you say around her, because she has shoved your definitely-bruised tailbone into the back of the chair. She breaks free of your face, though she's still straddling you, and quavers out a "What?"

"Um, it wasn't— I just said 'ow,' honestly." You put a reassuring hand on her thigh.

She counters with a hand down the back of your shirt, her fingers grazing your shoulderblades. "Did he hurt you, Ellery?"

"No, I—" You just fell off half a cliff a little bit ago. "Um, no, we just talked."

"You talked?" She narrows her eyes. "Are you sure he didn't hurt you? I don't just mean physically, I mean—"

"He didn't do anything, Maddie. We just talked. I'm okay, okay?" With her so close, you can nearly believe that's true. "Uh, it's nice of you to care, th—"

"Dumbass," she says with meaning, and tips your head toward hers, and you don't know what it is about near-death scares that gets her like this but it makes you want to nearly die more often. Months from now you'll be unstrung, alone, but Now Ellery isn't worried about that: Now Ellery is as together as he's ever been, Now Ellery is skin-to-skin, Maddie's pulse is fluttering like a bird's, her fingers unroll, and Fitz her spear drops to the ground—

—and out of the corner of your eye you catch glimpse of the doctor standing there, and as you crane your neck get a better one: he is standing there, surveilling you, one hand to his cheek. Blood trickles from it. (Blood trickles from it?) You pat Maddie's back urgently, and she detaches. "Did you—?" you say.

The doctor lifts his hand, revealing a nasty-looking gash. "I did attempt to inform Ms. Fitzpatrick that no harm had occurred."

"And I was supposed to know that how?" Maddie is leaning off you. "You put him in a fucking coma!"

"I was just unconscious," you mumble, but the doctor is louder: "I did not. A private meeting was agreed to and had. Your reaction reflects poorly on you."

"You killed my fucking BOYFRIEND, asshole!" You bet she wishes she didn't drop Fitz, or she'd be waving that thing around like crazy. "You're lucky I started with your cheek, not your fucking dick! If he didn't wake up—"

"I don't believe we can continue this partnership," the doctor says evenly.

"Then fuck off." Maddie has dropped her voice. "Do you think I care? Do you think I need you? It's your fucking loss. Fuck off."

The doctor considers this while you panic in your seat: what could he do to her, if he wanted? Could you do anything about it? Distraction's a possibility, you guess, but if you didn't manage that much, is— he nods, weaves around the table, and strides right out of the room.

You're flabbergasted. Maddie manages grave silence for half second before bursting into hysterical stomping laughter— she grips your forearm, your shoulder, slaps right on your tailbone and laughs herself teary-eyed at your white-faced grimace. "Holy shit," she gets out, after some time. "Holy shit. All the time I wasted..."

"I'm sorry," you say tentatively, and she grins. It's unusual on her. "Oh, shut up. It's fine. I didn't have anything better to do with it."

You wrap your fingers around your palm. "But the money—"

"Dumbass, what do you think I need the money for? Is Monty charging rent? Am I grocery shopping once a week?" She sprawls out on the table. "It's meaningless, Ellery. I donate most of it to Bran. I just like keeping track of something."

You hadn't considered this. "Oh."

"So it feels like I'm not just spinning my wheels, you know? I'd drive myself nuts not making progress on anything. Maybe that's your problem, you know, Ell. Stir-crazy."

It isn't, but she is trying to be helpful, so you smile. "I don't know. Maybe."

"You should get a job! I could hire you on. Official backpack carrier."

"I have a job."

"Oh, right, your mystery job. Which you can't talk about, so you never do. Invented so I'd stop bugging you about getting a job? That one?"

It's not invented, but she's right about the rest of it. "That one, yeah."

"Oh, Ellery. What are we going to do with you?" She smirks. "I'm just glad you're okay. You had me going there for a sec."

"I had you going?"

"Oh, yeah. Coming and going." She props her head up on one hand. "Desperately."

Well, you know what your first instinct is, but maybe it's the That Guy in you offering some restraint. "In a cave, Maddie? You and caves..."

She cocks an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah. They make me weak in the knees, don't they? I feel all trembly and vulnerable, like someone could spring upon me at any moment, like I need a tall man to hold and protect me—"

"You do know how to turn a situation to your advantage," half of you (the Now Ellery) is saying, but the other half is still spinning its wheels— about the pain of a cold rocky floor; about whether this'd qualify as a 'date,' exactly; about the odds of her losing interest if you found somewhere nicer. It comes to no definite conclusions, as usual.

Maddie cocks her other eyebrow.

>[1] Yeah, okay, these are about the least romantic surroundings possible. And you're going to be banged up half to death tomorrow. But you're here, and she's here, and she cares about you, and that's what matters. Go for it.
>[2] No, see, this isn't a *date*— it's a fling. And sure, you like flings fine, but what you want right now is Maddie in your arms somewhere scenic and quiet. Take her there. (You can see how the coming and going goes afterward.)
>[3] Write-in.
We didn't need flowers after all
also we have a job?
This will be the final update of the thread. Writing.

>We didn't need flowers after all
I mean, they would've been nice! But you're a lot more romantic than she is at the end of the day.

>also we have a job?
Well, sort of. It's a freelance thing, you know. A gig. But you're not supposed to talk about it.
>Comings and goings

What's that saying about gift horses? Looking them in the mouth's a great way to lose your face? Something like that. You drive your nails into your wrist to shut up the wheel-spinning and attempt to channel your peakest Peak Ellery. "And well, while I'm here... I couldn't leave someone so frightened alone, could I? That'd be a dick move."

"And you're not a dick, are you? You're a nice guy." She clucks her tongue. "I guess you're going to come up here, or I just won't feel safe."

"Up there, huh?" The table isn't large, and Maddie's arched herself so she's covering just about all of it. "Are you sure I'll—?"

"Your skinny ass, Ellery? Come on." She narrows her eyes. (You've broken the cardinal principle of opening moves, the 'yes, and.') "Take your big fucking coat off and get up here. We're not doing it on the ground."

"Okay, geez." You fumble with your coat buttons for long enough— are you honestly getting nerves??— that Maddie slides off the table and helps you with them.

"Dumbass," she says, as she hoists the coat off your shoulders and tosses it to the ground.

"I love you," you respond usefully.

"Prove it." She places a hand right on your bruise and guides you towards the table, which she hops onto gracefully. You clamber on after her, kneeling awkwardly between her splayed legs, and balance yourself on your shoulder.

"Prove it how?"

This answer could go well or very badly and you wait on tenterhooks as she cracks her necks. "Well, Ellery, let me think. I hear people across the ocean gauge depths of love with how well one removes articles of clothing."

One of the better answers she could've given, but you're still for no reason nervy. "Weird custom. Uh, are you sure— do you think anything lives in here?"

"I can kill the cave monster just as well with my tits out, Ellery."

You contemplate this. "I guess I'd like to see that."

"I bet you would." She brushes a strap down, faux-casually. "So why don't you get a jump on it?"

If you lived across the ocean, you'd be fucked, because you're useless at removing any clothing: yours, hers. You're stupid lucky her top is buttonless, tieless, hookless, and loose, which is the only reason you can wrangle it over her head, and she's still laughing at you when you finally toss it to the side. "Oh, man, Ellery."

"Uh, I think I need more practice." You rub your mouth. "You're still handling that thing yourself, right?"

"My brassiere?" She runs a finger under it. "Sure. But how'd you make it to 33 without—"

"Hey," you say. "Hey. Hey. I could be, uh, 30, or 31—"

"How'd you make it to 33 without knowing your age?" She pats your cheek. "You've still got your youthful 30-year-old good looks, don't worry. But seriously, I want to know how you've managed to—"

"I think my motor skills have traditionally been, uh, impaired. Or the clothes were already off when I got there." You shift to keep your legs awake. "Speaking of youthful good looks, by the way—"

"Aw, nothing's different." But she blushes. "If I'd known about the whole aging thing, I would've done a flip a few years earlier. Now I have eye wrinkles forever."

"I couldn't imagine you without the eye wrinkles, Maddie." You're not sure you even noticed the eye wrinkles. "You're beautiful as is."

It's not flattery if it's true, and it is true. Her stomach is paler than her arms and face and is peppered sparsely with moles; her collarbone stands out prominently against her smooth skin; her toned arms are settled loosely over her thighs, and you wonder for the thousandth time what you did to bag someone like this, not just bag her (you've done plenty of bagging) but bag and keep her. You thought she was joking the first time she made advances, and the next dozen times after that, until she cornered you one day and told you to take her fucking shirt off; you continued to think she was joking for several weeks afterwards. She still may be joking, because she's never revised that 5/10 upwards, never returned an 'I love you,' except for once when you were half-asleep and she wouldn't repeat it when you asked what she said. But she's stayed. And there's the whole thing about gift horses.

The red light is hiding the acute color of her cheeks, but you'd know that tough squinty look anywhere: it's a little strained, a little incongruous, and it only happens whenever you call her beautiful, or pretty. "Shut up," says not-embarrassed Madrigal, and she folds her arms over the moles on her stomach. "Can we just fuck already?"

"Okay." Gift horses. "I think it's your turn with the shirt."

She's hasty about it, maybe so she can break eye contact, and you follow her orders ("lift your arms, dumbass") placidly. She rakes your hair back into position as you rub your bare arms. "Shit, it's kind of cold in here, isn't it?"

"It's a cave, Ellery." She lifts your elbow to run her fingers through the slats of your ribs. "And you're made of string and pocket lint, so of course you're cold."

"I'm wiry," you complain.

"I'm wiry. You're fucking skeletal. Your spine's sticking out of you." She runs her hand down your back, and your shiver turns into a little yelp as she ends right at the bruise. "...Are you okay?"

"I—" You rub your neck. "Uh, well— do you remember when I fell earlier?"

"Oh, yeah. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes, I guess... let me look." She peers over you. "Yeah. Big bruise. It's all blotchy."

"I figured." You hesitate. "Uh, I was trying to get you flowers, by the way. They were just kind of... high up."

Maddie pauses. "Oh."

"Yeah. So I didn't get the flowers, but..."

She leans back and scratches her nose. She isn't looking at you. "That is what you'd do."

"Yeah," you say.

"..." She leans forward and pecks you on the cheek. "I guess you'll be on top, then. So we don't hurt that sucker any further."

"I think that's a good idea," you say, and start to slide your boots off before something twitches at you. "Uh, hang on. Didn't the guy say this place was sacred?"


"So are you sure we should... do you want to move somewhere else first? In case we get cursed, or..."

"You'll get cursed, Ell. I'll get away scot free." She cracks a crooked smile. "And you know perfectly well doing it where you're not supposed to—"

"It's hotter. I know." She had once recounted an occasion involving a stranger's kitchen table. "Okay. As long as you help me break the curse after."

"Well, duh." She pulls your chest against hers and kisses your neck. "I know shit about curses, though, so you're gonna have to tell me how."

You're gonna have to tell her how. That's the tricky part. If she knew you were cursed, if she was convinced of its seriousness, if she had the tools to cast it from you, you believe she'd drop anything to do it. You do believe that. But Maddie— that's the thing about her. Maddie's practical. She's practical. And if you haven't been fucking in a sacred cave, if there's no solid and easily comprehensible reason for the gods to wrack your mind and body and attachment to this narrow plane of earth, she won't believe in it. She might not say that. But she won't.

The curse is yours to bear alone. Break a leg.

...But not now. Not now. Now is a time for you and for Maddie, for feeling Maddie and loving Maddie and for trying desperately to not roll off the table. It is a time for watching the taking-off of the complicated brassiere so one day you might attempt it yourself. It is a time for not feeling the cold anymore. It is a time for first instincts, for Now Ellery, for maybe (if it's possible sober) Peak Ellery. It is a time to forget all the words in your head. All of them.

It is time for a date. A sort-of date. A quasi-date. If you will, a business date. It is time for that, and for now, for the night, for the week, for the month if you stretch it thin— for those, it's enough.

And that's it! Thank you to my 1.95 steadfast voters for enabling my "wouldn't it be fun to write Ellery again?" kick. If you got bored, don't worry: we will return to "Charlotte attempts to reality warp to avoid the consequences of her actions" in early May. It'll probably be May 5th, but if I don't get the OP written soon enough and RL things crop up it might be the 6th or 7th instead. I'll update as usual on Twitter.

If you have questions, comments, criticism, whatever, feel free to leave it here: I'll still be here even in the off-season.

My Twitter is here: https://twitter.com/BathicQM
We are archived here: https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=drowned

Have a great 3.5 weeks!
Also, out of excessive paranoia, here is the final update in a bin: https://ghostbin.com/4C4wc

It doesn't contain anything outright explicit, so it shouldn't get deleted, but if a mod gets trigger-happy this is the backup.
Thanks for running!

So Ellery's job? The job Ellery has? Employment that Ellery has managed to find?
Yay, let's return to Charlotte. Ellery is fucking lame.

>So Ellery's job? The job Ellery has? Employment that Ellery has managed to find?

Being a lame dweebus is an intrinsic part of Ellery's character, so I'm glad I wrote him correctly :^) But yes, it'll be Charlotte for the foreseeable future. (If it makes you feel any better, this really didn't cut into regular thread time: the options were "Bathic runs an April Fools thread" and "Bathic takes an extra week off.")
i love ellery!! it was really nice to be back in his head again for a bit, even without That Guy :')
Thanks for running.

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