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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 :^)
For me it's morning.
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.