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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 just been wished good luck in the tournament you've voluntarily(?) entered yourself into.

"Won't need it," you say reflexively. Your attention is trained on the piece of paper the receptionist handed you. "...Um, did the order just get shuffled? I thought the other bracket was a mirror of— Nettie? Did you—"

But you look and Nettie isn't there, and Ellery isn't either, and you look back and there's no paper in your hand. You glance up at the receptionist and are pleased to discover it still in place, though its desk is crumpling up, and its surroundings are— are there surroundings? Were there ever? It's just pure splitting white—cold white—snow (of course snow)—the whole arena, despite being enclosed, is lined with it. Your sword and armor gleam in the reflected light, which you hope is harming your opponent's vision: you need every advantage you can get, as this terrain is disastrous for you. Not only does it slow your (already sluggish) movement, but it's perfectly suited for your opponent, the recep— one of those white-furred creatures. You've already forgotten whatever name the announce called out. Something barbaric, you're sure. Regardless, its fur blends in with the snow, and for all its bulk it scampers easily across it. The rat bastard.

It's armed with something primitive—an axe, maybe, or a club. Possibly it had a net. It's out of sight at the moment: you and it are on opposite sides of the arena, and a heap of snow double your height divides you. You adjust one strap of your knapsack and grip the hilt of The Sword tightly.

"[FIGHT]!" the announcer screams.

>As a reminder, as I'm on a relatively tight schedule this thread, fights without narrative importance are being condensed to a roll or two!

>[1] Do you have any particular plan or strategy? (Write-in. Optional. This will provide modifiers to the roll. You are capable of weird stuff, though it may or may not require an additional roll to accomplish.)
and
>Please roll me 3 1d100s vs. DC ???. DC and modifiers will be revealed when vote is called.
>>
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Please look under those spoilers! I screwed up the formatting.

>Announcements
Welcome back to Drowned Quest Redux, and sorry that took so long! I've updated a couple pastebins and tweaked a couple wonky faces on the Who's Who pic. And due to some art trading, I'll be getting some new character art in over the course of July-- keep an eye out.
In other news: I am going on vacation the week of the 25th. It's possible I'll get some posts out during that time, but no promises. And as mentioned last thread, Thread 20 will begin in ~October, so I'm going to try and get us to a good stopping point before hiatus.

>Schedule
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.

>Dice
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]

>Mechanics
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.]

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

>Twitter
https://twitter.com/BathicQM

>Pastebins
https://pastebin.com/u/BathicQM

>"Redux"?
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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TO-DO

Immediate goals:
- Win the tournament
- Slay the usurper king
- Clear the manse

Short-term goals:
- Speak to Eloise about her job proposition
- Speak to Monty about strangling you for no reason
- 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
- Regain your missing memories
- 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???

Mysteries:
- 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?
- What's Nettie's problem?

Ongoing assignments:
- Inform Eloise (and the Wind Court?) about anything you discover about Namway Co
>>
>LAST TIME ON DROWNED QUEST REDUX
You enter the Vault of Keys, and nothing of consequence happens. You don't get tortured or drink mud or lose your memories or pluck your own eye out of your skull or anything. That would be silly. You do get 200 keys.

You spend these keys on a rock chunk full of Law, Ellery, who managed to get himself put up for sale, your stolen possessions, and some other stuff. Anthea stays behind as you, Nettie, and Ellery descend to the next level.

You LARP briefly as a demon-summoning knight-errant before getting snapped out of it and realizing that layer #2 is a somewhat shoddily-constructed high fantasy realm. Despite better options, you accept a quest to gather 20 bear asses. Upon arriving at the bear hive, you find zero bears, but one smuggler carting away bear grubs. You rough him up (to Ellery's surprise) and steal his cart. At the first roadblock, you take a detour, and discover the Horse-shod: a big monster who tasks you with sneaking into the evil castle and slaying the evil king.

You sneak into the evil castle, but Nettie disguises herself as a evil guard and sells you and Ellery into captivity. You are taken to the circle of evil arenas at the center of the evil castle and a̶r̶e̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶p̶e̶t̶e̶ voluntarily sign up to compete in an evil tournament, with the hopes of winning and meeting the evil king face to face.

--

>Don't forget to scroll up and roll / write-in!
>>
>>4908956
>Use your sword to reflect light into its eyes like those annoying kids in school would do with a watch or phone, and then choppy choppy when it flinches.
>>
Rolled 67 (1d100)

>>4908956
>>4909090
fugg forgot my roll
>>
Rolled 67 (1d100)

>>4908978
>>
>>4908978
Stay quiet, listen and remain poised for the sound of feet in the snow. Use your senses to determine the beast's location, then STRIKE!
>>
Rolled 32 (1d100)

>>4908978
Fuck forgot my roll
>>
Rolled 71, 6, 30 = 107 (3d100)

>>4909091
>>4909258
>>4909276
>67, 67, 32
Rolling... middle of 3
>>
>>4909311
>Base DC 30

3 1d100s + 13 (+10 Good With A Sword, +10 Good Eye, +7 Well Protected, +5 Stay Quiet, +5 On Fire!, -5 Heavy Armor, -5 Snowed In, -15 Bad Eye) vs. DC 59 (+20 Fitting Environment, +7 Extra Arms, +7 Bulky, -5 Blinded [Third Eyelid])

>80, 80, 45 vs. DC 59 -- Success

Nice. You don't even damage your knapsack I'll roll for that on Mitigated or below. Writing.

And on another note, since I forgot to mention it in the OP: my laptop is currently in for repairs, so I'm borrowing someone else's for the moment. This may or may not affect anything, but if I disappear randomly or don't update it might be because I don't have laptop access.
>>
>Go for the eyes
>80, 80, 45 vs. DC 59 — Success

From what you saw of it, this thing— Urzog or Yursac or whatever the hell— is significantly bulkier than you, not to mention taller: you don't have the advantage of size. With this damned armor (you thought it'd be heavier, but it's still heavy), you hardly have the advantage of speed. And between its natural camouflage and those horrible lights glinting off all the snow, you definitely don't have the advantage of sight. You dismiss the idea of scaling the mound of snow: at worst you'd fall right through it and look like an idiot, at best your opponent could climb up twice as fast. You dismiss the idea of wading out and attempting to challenge it in open combat: despite your obvious superiority, it'd be foolish to discard any advantages you could get. So you hold still, squinting against the glare, hoping against all odds that something will come to you.

You don't recognize the sound at first— it's low and droning, and you think Gil? Then it hits you. It's booing. Someone's being booed, the poor sap! Imagine that. It takes a few more moments before you realize it's loud— it's your crowd. And one more before you realize they're booing you.

But that's ridiculous. You haven't done anything! (You haven't done anything.) You haven't done— you have been ignoring the little itch in your skull up until right now, when it's exploded into a pulsing urge to DO SOMETHING, to FIGHT, you have to fight— the crowd wants you to fight!— you want to fight!— you want to- to-

You-

No! No, you are sick and God-damn tired of this stupid— of being told what to do! Of being made to do things! By this manse and- and- by everybody, frankly! Everybody tells you what to do! Monty tells you what to do, and Madrigal tells you what to do, and Ellery (Ellery!) tells you what to do, and Richard does nothing but it, and— what happened to being independent? You're supposed to be independent! You can't just fold to every stupid command that—

(But you have to fight. Or you lose.)

Well, maybe you'll lose! Or— you screw your eyes shut. The boos intensify. The urge becomes painful. You dig your nails into a chink in your armor and attempt to focus on your breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Does fighting the urge to fight... count? Can you say that qualifies? The booing is at some odd precise frequency: it's almost soothing, if you ignore the context. White noise. Breathe in. Breathe out. Are those footsteps?

(1/4)
>>
Of course they are, now that you've thought about them. That's the sound of snow crunching underfoot. It sounds like it might be from your right— (be certain)— it is from your right. The creature, Zurdrak, must be attempting to steal up on you. Surprising, given its size, but you suppose you are standing still. Maybe it thinks you're charging up some terrible power, or something, and doesn't want to risk a bull-rush. You'll go with that. And the lights are where? Directly above you?

You crack open an eye. Nothing is to your right. Nothing— but the crunching continues. Is that subtle movement the shadow of a distant spectator or the twitch of an arm? That falling snow from a slight breeze or from a brush of fur? You're not taking chances. You raise The Sword to the heavens, catch in its mirrorlike blade a cold and painful light, and direct it squarely into the pale mask of the creature.

It reels for a second. Just a second: its eyes are adapted to the glint of sun on ice, and it is shielded with a mask and thick fur and rubbery translucent eyelids. But a second is all you need as you launch yourself shoulder-first into the creature's— into Xardur's gut. Your velocity hurts, but your ridged pauldron hurts more, and despite its size (7 feet or more) it grunts and clutches its stomach.

With one hand. It has three more, and with two it swings its axe around to hit you in the back. You dive to the ground to avoid it— your hands and face are coated with snow— but the creature catches you in the calf.

It bounces off. It bounces off! With a harsh metallic clang, but it bounces off, and you are on your feet and shearing clumps of fur off its back. "BITCH!" it roars— the first you've heard it speak— and reaches under its legs to grab you by the ankle. Despite your clawing, you're dragged backwards, and are soon dangling before the creature's masked face. It clamps its axe between its other hands and brings it around backwards, so the handle is facing you. Maybe it intended to use it like a bat. Maybe it figured that, if sharp edges are ineffective, blunt force would do the trick. It didn't intend for you to swing forward and clamp your arm around its neck, much less start singing the fur down its chest, and it drops you.

Embarrassingly, the fall is painful: the snow below you has been worn or burnt away, and despite all the padding underneath it landing in your armor still feels like landing in a heap of scrap metal. You'll feel this later. You scrabble to your feet, but not before the creature lands a bare-knuckled blow square on your back, just below your knapsack, and another— as you spring up— right to your unprotected chin. "Son of a whore!" you spit, and are grateful not to see any teeth flying out.

(2/4)
>>
You need to incapacitate this thing. That's the long and short of it. You need to incapacitate this thing, this hulking thing, with fur so thick you can barely get your blade through it, with a skull you can't actually reach... easy. Easy. You just have to...

Didn't it have a net? It did have a net, you're sure it had a net, the net should be right there in its hand. And it is in its hand, to the creature's apparent surprise. Well, sure, it seems to think, and swings it around— but you have sprung away, and before it can lift the net to try again have darted back in to deliver stinging cuts to its knuckles. It snorts and drops the net, and before it can grab it again you catch it on the point of The Sword and reel it toward you.

You pace backwards, now, net clamped in your left hand, and watch the creature hunch down. It raises the axe above its head, and you understand: now it's preparing to bull-rush. If you could catch it in the net, and let it thoroughly tangle itself in its own momentum...

But you're small and the net's small and made of rope— it'd more likely rip apart than hold fast against 500, 600 pounds of muscle— maybe if you had time to rig something up, but look at it, it's tensed, you have seconds, if not fractions of seconds! Forget it. You're dodging, you'll figure out another— another, um— you'll—

...

You're thinking about this wrong, aren't you? Entirely wrong. You aren't small, and the net isn't small, or made of rope, and you certainly don't just have seconds. There's no physical substance, here, and only barely time. It's all subjective. And with Ellery and Nettie occupied, there isn't another observer here. Not the creature, or the announcer, or a single member of the crowd is observing. There is nothing in them watching or interpreting. They just are.

But you are watching and interpreting and it is well within your right to watch inattentively and interpret creatively. You could say, for instance, that time moves slower when you're in danger. You've read that, you think. And you are in danger. And if you shut your eyes— ignore the throbbing pain— you could say you're holding something netlike. It could be a large net. It could be a strong net. It could be like a basket, or a bag, like the kind they use to catch fish. Who's to say otherwise?

About holding it in place, though. That's less easy. You'd need to be in two places at once, to hold either side up, or else your arm would have to stretch—

(3/4)
>>
You don't want to do that. You have standards. (But you need to.) But you don't want to. (But you've already done it. Your neck.) But that was— that wasn't you. It was like you were possessed. But not even by Richard, which at this point is comfortable, familiar, almost— shut up, Richard! Not even by Richard, but by some... thing. Some entity. Something foreign, and ancient, and you know it wasn't possession and it was the Thing and all but it felt like a demon, or something. No! Damnit. You shouldn't have thought that. Now you'll go and—

You are Charlotte Fawkins. You were Charlotte Fawkins. You long knew dabbling in dark magicks had its consequences, but only in a distant, abstract manner. You long knew the demon Richard was never to be trusted, but you made him a part of you anyhow. You could've expected him to bring a passenger: the crystal seed of a terrible, glorious thing, a fragment of a demon lord cursed to slumber. It took months. But you have been found a suitable vessel, and the seed is flowering out through you now: you are being reshapen in the demon lord's image. Exalt in it! You are destined for greatness!

The seconds unstick. (You are not in danger.) The creature charges. You hardly know what to do with yourself, but some baser instinct kicks in, and you hold the net on one side. You hold the net on the other side. It bulges as the creature rams itself into it: you dodged neatly, sinuously. You are unencumbered by armor. You bag it up and hold it up like a prize guppy at one of those crass middle-level fairs. The creature no longer seems large. The crowd roars. You roar, and the roof rattles.

"CONGRATULATIONS!" the announcer screams, and you are hearing it from the arena, and you are hearing it from the little room, the viewing room, where you are. You are there. You are yourself. And you look down at yourself (not yourself) in the arena, for a second, for two seconds, then your eyes sting and you can't look longer and when you look again it's empty.

You have some time until the next fight.

>[1] Watch one of the other fights. (Give a bonus to rolls against either opponent.) [Which? Refer to this bracket: >>4908976]
>[2] Concentrate hard on forgetting any of that happened. Positive thinking! (Regain ID.)
>[3] Actually, despite how much that sucked, it could come in very handy in future rounds. Try to codify whatever that was into a thing you could replicate. (Temporarily unlock [OOPS I'M THE VESSEL OF THE DEMON LORD]. Roll determines if you can, and if so for how much longer. Don't expect a permanent ability unless you crit.) [Roll.]
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4909495
>>[3] Actually, despite how much that sucked, it could come in very handy in future rounds. Try to codify whatever that was into a thing you could replicate. (Temporarily unlock [OOPS I'M THE VESSEL OF THE DEMON LORD]. Roll determines if you can, and if so for how much longer.
But maybe instead of a banal demon lord it's a DEMON QUEEN, possessed of inhuman grace and terrifying beauty.
>>
>>4909495
>[3] Actually, despite how much that sucked, it could come in very handy in future rounds. Try to codify whatever that was into a thing you could replicate. (Temporarily unlock [OOPS I'M THE VESSEL OF THE DEMON LORD]. Roll determines if you can, and if so for how much longer. Don't expect a permanent ability unless you crit.) [Roll.]
Kind of want to watch another fight, but this seems useful.
>>
>>4909495
>[3] Actually, despite how much that sucked, it could come in very handy in future rounds. Try to codify whatever that was into a thing you could replicate. (Temporarily unlock [OOPS I'M THE VESSEL OF THE DEMON LORD]. Roll determines if you can, and if so for how much longer. Don't expect a permanent ability unless you crit.) [Roll.]
Sounds legit.
>>
>>4909781
>>4909973
>>4910026
>3

Called.

>Please roll me 3 2d100s. The first set will determine how long it lasts, and the second how well you can handle it.

First roll:

3 1d100s - 7 (+8 Wyrm-daughter, +5 Richard, -10 Coolheaded, -10 Real) vs. DC 70 (+20 Abhorrent)

0 Passes: Failure, no effect (nullifies next roll)
1 Pass: Next fight
2 Passes: Next two fights
3 Passes: Next three fights


Second roll:

3d100s + 6 (+10 ???, +5 Richard, +1 Current-touched, -10 Headstrong) vs. DC 55 (+12 Low ID, +5 Abhorrent, -5 Dread And Terrible Beast, -7 Sort Of Queen-ish)

0 Passes: Serious penalty
1 Pass: Penalty
2 Passes: No effect
3 Passes: Bonus



Unrelatedly, I screwed up and didn't include your one-time -20 Sugar Jitters modifier. This will be included in your next combat roll.
>>
Rolled 98, 87 = 185 (2d100)

>>4910278
>>
Rolled 24, 50 = 74 (2d100)

>>4910278
Watch THIS
>>
Rolled 5, 38 = 43 (2d100)

>>4910278
>>4910284
Witnessed
>>
>>4910284
>>4910311
>>4910385
Man, I guess >>4910284 stole all the luck.

>92, 17, 0 vs. DC 70 -- 1 Pass
>93, 56, 44 vs. DC 55 -- 2 Passes

Looks like you get it for one fight with no side-effects. I'll rule that you can use this at any time on this level of the manse-- can't take it out of here.

I have to eat dinner, so I'll write when I'm next available. If I'm very speedy about this and you guys are on the ball vote-wise, I might be able to pump out two updates, but I wouldn't count on it.
>>
Rolled 45, 66, 50, 43, 26, 33, 25, 34, 100, 59, 62, 43, 30, 44, 26, 21, 26, 80 = 813 (18d100)

Writing shortly and rolling for the other contestants.
>>
>Rumination
>92, 17, 0 vs. DC 70 — 1 Pass
>93, 56, 44 vs. DC 55 — 2 Passes

You spend a minute just staring at your fingers: you are gratified that you have the proper number of them, and they're the right color, and size, and not pointed at all. Not that they would be pointed. Or were pointed. It's possible that none of that ever happened. It couldn't happen. Demons don't— probably don't exist, and if they did, you don't know how to summon them, and if you did, Richard... well, he does lie about things. You know that. But you can't believe he was faking his disgust at all this— just so something could kill you and steal your body? He wants to keep you safe, not kill you. It makes no sense. It never happened.

It did happen— that's the hard fact you keep ramming against. You saw it, even. But if everything's subjective, or whatever GS you were spouting, maybe you can persuade yourself that it was an illusion, or a dream, or—

"Um... Lottie?"

Unmistakably Gil: you don't even have to look up. "What, you lost already?"

"...I-I-I won, actually, but, um—"

"You won?" Now you look up. "Did you cheat? Why are you blue?"

He's glowing blue, is what you mean: blue light is steaming from his ears and nose and eyes and faintly from every pore of his skin, and when he opens his mouth to respond it streams from that too. "Uh, you remember the swordfish guy? Had the head of a swordfish, I-I mean, and he was sort of... large, and muscular, and—"

"The god?"

"I-I guess... Um, he blessed me, or something, so I—"

"You weren't blue before," you say meaningfully.

"...I-I-I know, um, it's just— it doesn't matter. I-it'll go away. I think. I-it's not—" Gil is clenching and unclenching his hands. "Listen, I-I-I just wanted to ask if you were alright."

What? "Of course I'm alright. Why wouldn't I be alright?"

"...You looked sort of..." Gil attempts to imitate your expression, but his mandibles get in the way. "...pensive? Maybe it's nothing, but, um..."

Your first instinct is to deny it entirely. Your second is to agree: yes, it's nothing. Your third, fourth, and fifth are to mock his eyesight, his intelligence, and his good judgment. It's unclear why you leap past those tried-and-true tactics to something inferior, something pitiful, something cowardly: you blame Richard's pernicious influence. Or your aching bones. Or the weather. "No, it was, uh, the match."

You're not sure he expected— maybe the mocking— but it wasn't that. "The match? ...Did you lose?"

You scowl. "Of course I didn't lose. Idiot."

Now Gil relaxes a little, perhaps convinced you haven't been bodysnatched. "Oh. Well, what—"

(1/3)
>>
What happened? You can't tell him what happened: what are you, stupid? You just slipped up once, but you can still salvage this. Nothing happened. It went great. Just say that. What's the other option: confess? To being disturbed, shaken... violated? (How dramatic is that?) Insanity. He's your retainer, not your equal. He'll lose all his respect for you if you admit to weakness. He'll look down on you. And rightly so! You're a grown woman, you're independent, you're supposed be standing on your own two feet— not relying on beetles. Beetles! That's the end of it.

(But — the little devil in your head murmurs — but he'd understand, wouldn't he? He'd know better than anyone else about being ripped away and chewed up and spat out into something suffocating and alien. And even if he didn't, he'd have to pretend to. He's incapable of doing anything but nodding and smiling. And he couldn't tell anyone else. Who would he tell? You and Richard are all he has, and Richard will know about all this anyhow. It's safe.)

It's not— you glance at Gil, who has shrunk back— it's not safe. He could still judge you. You'd have to act like it was nothing, like it was just a— an academic question. Like, "you're a demon, Gil, so I was wondering if you knew things about Demon Lords." See? That's good. Now, what happened? "Not much," you say, and curl a stray lock around your finger. "The guy was a pushover, right? Look at me. Not a scratch on me."

"Um, your chin is... it's sort of..."

You reach up to hide the bruise on your chin. "Not a scratch on me. Because I'm that good, right? If Richard tells you I'm not good, he's lying. You can go ahead and tell him he's lying. Really should do that, actually. Since he is lying. All the time. About me." You pause. "I was also possessed by a demon for a little bit, but it wasn't— I mean, that's not relevant. It wasn't even a real demon."

Gil's eyes widen. "You were? I-I-I was too! Um, I mean, I-I wasn't... possessed... I-I mean, I guess I possessed... myself, since I'm— i-it wasn't cheating, I just— it just happened."

"Mine just happened, too." You're talking before you can stop yourself. "I didn't even want it, or ask for it, or— I wasn't, like, 'things sure would be easier if I was the vessel for a- a demon lord,' or whatever. That would make sense. It just— and it—" You are gesturing for something you lack words for. "Were you in control of it? Because I wasn't. It was like— it just shredded me, and I wasn't— I was just watching myself die." You sound dramatic, and weird. "Um, but it wasn't a big deal. "

"...I-I'm sorry," Gil says seriously. "That's- that's really—"

You fold your arms. "I said it wasn't a big deal. Just answer the question."

"The- oh. I-I-I was in control, I guess. But I know what it's like to... not..."

You don't say anything. The crowd cheers, distantly. "I wish I was in control of anything."

"What?"

(2/3)
>>
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He's right: what? What's wrong with you? You knew it, you always knew it— say one thing and all the other things fall out of place. He doesn't get it. Nobody gets it. You'll be hearing that 'what?' for the rest of the day. "Nothing. I didn't say anything. I just said— if I was in control, it would've been a Demon Queen, not a stupid Demon Lord, and I would've been— you know— cool, in a demon sort of way, not all disgusting and monstery, and..."

"Um, maybe i-if you think about what you want it to be, it'll..." Gil wavers. "I-if it happens again, I mean. You can be cool and not— you still might be, um, monstery. I-I think that comes with the territory. But..."

"I guess," you say dubiously. This has already gone too far: you're not about to admit that could be good advice. And you're certainly not about to admit that you have, in the distant past, already ruminated on possible 'alternate formes.' Rather than do any of that, then, you squat down on one of the viewing room's hard-backed chairs, ignore all of Gil's stuttering attempts at further conversation, and attempt to create a clear picture in your mind.

>[GAINED: OOPS! I'M THE VESSEL OF THE DEMON QUEEN! — 1 use]

You don't hear the bell that indicates the start of the second round, and you don't notice the viewing room collapsing around you. All you know is that you are, suddenly, thirty feet in the air. You are inside a suspended metal cage, large enough to stand up in— unlike that last suspended metal cage. (You blink away the memory of drinking gull blood.) Most relevantly, you are not alone in the cage: a beast is crouched on the opposite side, five feet away, tilting the whole cage toward it. It resembles a bear, you think, but it lacks a bear's characteristic wings or stinger. It's just... brown, and very large, and very close to you.

"[FIGHT!]" the announcer screams, and it growls.

>[1] Do you have any particular plan or strategy? (Write-in. Optional. This will provide modifiers to the roll.)
and
>Please roll me 3 1d100s vs. DC ???. DC and modifiers will be revealed when vote is called.
>>
Rolled 50 (1d100)

>>4910593
>Try goading it into charging into the side of the cage! The weight shift might take it by surprise! Dodge, of course--you should probably focus on the not-bear's flanks or rear rather than taking it head-on--and attack from behind while it's still stunned/confused!
>>
>>4910593
It's just a stupid animal. It doesn't know what a trournament or an arena is. It doesn't know it must fight. It's probably scared out of its wits right now.
>Befriend the pseudo-bear. We've befriended a giant worm once, we can do it.
>>
Rolled 45 (1d100)

>>4910593
>play dead and then get up and kill it when it loses interest and turns its back

this works on bears right
right?
>>
Rolled 66 (1d100)

>>4910593
Using my meta-knowledge, I observe this is a brown bear and that playing dead will work.

>play dead and then get up and kill it when it loses interest and turns its back
>>
File: new_bracket.png (26 KB, 635x510)
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Rolled 10, 58, 78 = 146 (3d100)

>>4910606
>>4911412
>>4911677
>45, 50, 66
Rolling... average of 3
>>
Rolled 73 (1d100)

>Play dead, >>4910606 when it loses interest
>Base DC 49

>3 1d100s + 5 (+10 Good With A Sword, +5 On Fire!, +5 Go For The Side, +7 Well Protected, +5 Richard, +2 Bear? Knowledge, -8 Do Something, -20 Sugar Jitters) vs. DC 62 (+15 Furious And Terrified, +7 Can Opener Claws, +0 Swinging Cage [Both Affected], -5 Dumb, -5 Dazed)

>50, 55, 71 vs. DC 62 -- Mitigated Success

Rolling to see what, if anything, happens to your bag. High result is better outcome.
>>
>>4911824
>73
Light damage. Madrigal might be pissed at you.

Writing.
>>
>Bear necessities
>50, 55, 71 vs. DC 62 — Mitigated Success

What are you supposed to do? Kill it, you suppose, you're armed and armored and ginned up on new adrenaline and that itch to fight is back and worse than ever— but you are gripping onto the bars of the cage to keep from sliding into this thing, this maybe-bear, and looking at the spittle dripping from its jaw, and looking at its claws, blunt and curved, each nearly the size of a finger— and you have visions of it shredding your breastplate like paper. To say nothing of your unprotected head. Why don't you have a helmet?! Is it just because you look cooler without a helmet? You do, certainly, but when you're facing down—

But what are supposed to do, if fighting it directly is foolhardy! You're five feet from the damn thing! It's crouched up into the opposite corner, its little ears pinned back, and though it might be scared you doubt it's scared of you. It's preparing to charge, more likely, and squash you into a red stain on the— shut up! If you start thinking that it's bound to happen! You just have to- you just have to- to—

You know about bears, don't you? You're an educated woman, and though it's been difficult to get approved you've acquired a small stockpile of books over the years. After all, what other use do you have for your miniscule free time? One tome you paid particular attention to detailed animal species that once existed, or never existed, or existed, perhaps, in some other place. It mattered little to you: you don't see many animals, regardless. In any case, bears were the topic of a small entry, and if you recall correctly (you always recall correctly) the key advice it offered was—

"Oh!" you cry, and toss a hand over your forehead. "Woe is me! I have just been stricken by a rare and fatal disease!" You slump down against the bars. "It's incurable! And- and- fatal!" Hmm. You already said that. "I can feel the life fading from me..."

You slump down further, one arm surreptitiously hooked around the cage bars, and squint your eyes nearly shut. The crowd jeers as you try not to imagine getting mauled even harder than you already would. After a few seconds, the cage creaks and tilts, a musky smell grows stronger, and you can feel something nudging at your arm. You keep still, attempting to breathe silently. You are nudged harder, in the torso, and an enormous paw slides under you. You are flipped half-over: the point of The Sword now jabs into your stomach. You contain your 'ow.' Finally, the cage creaks again, and you fully open your eyes. The bear? is sitting on the other side of the cage, content in its miraculous victory.

(1/3)
>>
Perfect! You leap to your feet and— before the bear? can react— drive your sword into the meat of its exposed stomach. It goes in easily; you're pleased, as you'd expected the fur to be much thicker, like that of your last opponent. The stench of burning flesh greets you, as does the agonized bellow of the bear: it rears back in confusion and swipes down at you. Any pangs of guilt are immediately swamped by the force of the blow: though your armor protected you from any wounds, you're still sent flying back against the bars of the cage, banging your head and back hard in the process. There's a crunch. #WHAT THE FUCK,# your knapsack hisses.

"Ow," you moan in response.

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

The bear? bares its teeth, edges backwards, and charges: you dive out of the way just in time, landing on your stomach. #WHAT ARE YOU DOING,# your knapsack continues, but you can't talk: you're desperately scrabbling for a handhold on the cage bars. Though it couldn't build up much momentum in this cramped space, a thousand pounds of sprinting animal is still a thousand pounds of sprinting animal, and the bear?'s collision with the side of the cage (to the wild cheering of the audience) has sent the whole contraption swinging like a child's toy. You are suppressing vomit. The bear? isn't taking it much better: it's sliding back and forth on the smooth floor, scrabbling pathetically.

#IS THIS A— WHERE THE FUCK ARE WE.# You are attempting to poise The Sword in your fist so you can stab the bear? when it slides close, but it's proving difficult when you can't even keep upright. You need to— God! You can't even think straight! You need to... what!

Well— well, you have two options. You stop the swinging or you work with it. And it's always easier to work with something than it is to stop it, isn't it? An object in motion stays in motion. And you're the one with the problem. The solution should come from you.

You're too attached, is the problem. You're stuck in the past. You think: this thing was this way once, so it should be this way always. Even when the old way fails you. And let's face it: this isn't your real body. (Though if it was — they're still disposable, Charlotte.) What does it matter what you do with it? Don't you want to win? Of course you want to win. Now, the issue is with your center of gravity—

You don't know what that is and you don't know why you're thinking about it. You've managed to stab the bear? once, but the thing is so dazed it just felt sad. The crowd's cheering has cooled into bemused murmurs. You continue to feel sick, and sicker because you know something's about to happen, you're going to do something to yourself— you don't want to, you want to wait out the swinging— it'll end eventually—

(2/3)
>>
It'll end eventually, but not anytime soon: the bear?'s sliding is only worsening the problem, making every swing both more powerful and less predictable. And it wouldn't be so bad, you tell yourself. You'd be doing it. You'd be in control. When your bad eye swivels in its socket and the world-skin peels off and the strings make themselves known to you, it's you who takes them up in your not-hand and peels them and knots them together. It's you. How can you argue with that?

That's what you struggle with as you blink and find yourself drunk: not tipsy, not inebriated, but proper drunk, three-drinks drunk, where your thoughts and your words are wobbling exactly as much as you are. There's that fruit taste in your mouth and everything. Except... you're thinking fine, or as well as you can under the circumstances. You just can't twitch a muscle without it flopping out of your control. Good job, Charlotte. Real great for combat. God!

Several feet away, the bear?— now groggy, befuddled, and bleeding— rolls away from you, tilting the cage once again. While your excellent grip strength previously let you hang on fine, your fingers have become curiously limp, and to your chagrin you peel away from the cage bars. You fully expect to fall over.

You don't fall over, precisely. You are standing upright on the nearly-vertical floor, and when the bear rolls to the other side you sidestep it neatly and continue to stand. It's just that your upper body, head and arms included, is as limp as your fingers: with every swing and tilt of the cage it flops about uselessly. You feel like a windsock, or maybe a kite. It's humiliating.

But, you will have to admit, effective. What you lack in muscle, you can compensate by putting your entire body into every slash of the blade. And when the cage's swinging finally slows and the bear attempts— weakly— to fight back, it's ludicrously easy to dodge its swipes. You never go for its head or heart: you just inflict enough scrapes and scratches and burn wounds that eventually it collapses and can't rise.

"CONGRATULATIONS!" the announcer screams, and you are not in a cage, were never in a cage, but are sitting in a chair in the viewing room. Sitting, you take pains to double-check, upright. Your head hurts. Your chin hurts.

You have some time until the next match.

>[1] Watch one of the other fights. (Give a bonus to rolls against either opponent.) [Which? Refer to this bracket: >>4911813]
>[2] Concentrate hard on forgetting any of that happened. Positive thinking! (Regain ID.)
>[3] Get Madrigal out of the knapsack and make sure she didn't get hurt. Or that anything else got hurt: that was a nasty crunch.
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4911982
>[2] Concentrate hard on forgetting any of that happened. Positive thinking! (Regain ID.)
>>
>>4911982
>3
Maybe she can curl around our arm and bite our next opponent

Also Gil won his match? unbelievable. this manse really is poorly made
>>
>>4911982
>[3] Get Madrigal out of the knapsack and make sure she didn't get hurt. Or that anything else got hurt: that was a nasty crunch.
Something tells me the emphasis on the crunch means it's important.
>>
Rolled 64, 43, 7, 3, 13, 7, 46, 82, 76, 40, 63, 7, 76, 66, 85, 80, 20, 35 = 813 (18d100)

>>4912241
>>4913075
>3

>>4912014
>2

Called and writing. Also rolling for the other competitors.
>>
>>4913124
Okay, here's the new bracket. For anyone curious about my method: The colored dots are difficulty: red is hard, yellow is medium, green is easy. Hard competitors take the best of 3, medium the middle of 3, and easy the worst of 3, then the two numbers are compared. Hard automatically beats easy.

So as an example: Ellery rolls (64, 43, 7) and takes 64. Duke Knickerboxers? rolls (3, 13, 7), apparently having a terrible day, and takes the 7. 64 > 7, Ellery wins.


>>4912241
>Also Gil won his match?
Yeah, you two talked about that, 'member?

Writing for real now.
>>
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>Didn't link the bracket
So it goes.
>>
>>4913137
>Charlotte is hard
>>
>>4913210
Say what you want about the rest of your skillset, but you've got a (n almost) full suit of armor, a sickass flaming sword with a flat +15 to every roll with it, Richard in your brain, and an uncanny ability to asspull victories. You're a hard. (Not that it matters since your rolls are on a slightly separate system.)
>>
>(Tommy Wiseau voice) Oh hai Madrigal

You stare at the wall, which is painted an appalling shade of dark yellow. Why dark yellow? Is it expressly to annoy you? You wouldn't be surprised if it was, what with the way the rest of this is going. God. Will you ever get used to this? Do you want to get used to this? Just look at Ellery: this is normal for him, and he's barrelling into danger at every opportunity just to give his pathetic life some meaning. Are you Ellery? No. Your life is vibrant and- and full of meaning. You don't have to throw your sense of reality out the window just to—

#Holy shit, it stopped moving.#

Oh, God, Madrigal's still in there. You stand, hastily, shrug the knapsack off your (reassuringly solid) shoulders, and plop it down on the chair. The instant you undo the knot closing off the top, a black-striped snout pushes its way out, finds your wrist, and bites down hard. "God blessed!" you hiss, and blink back water from your eyes. "Madrigal! It's— it's me, not—"

#MRPGH,# she responds cogently, and fails to unlatch. You're forced to pry her off manually, a difficult one-handed task made more difficult by her increased size and surprising strength. The last you saw her, she was generously the size of your finger, but now she's larger than Richard: you have a limited frame of reference for snakes, but she more closely resembles Branwen's. She's gained a pearly sheen all over, and her scales, once smooth and flat, are bristled enough to rub your hand raw. You end up having to draw The Sword and wave its flames in her face, and even then she hisses in her retreat. #You're a +bitch.+#

"I'm a bitch? I don't go around biting people." (Except for that one time.) "I expect an immediate apology, for your information, and a—"

#An apology.#
#You +left+ me in your tiny fucking dark fucking bag for— for a +day,+ and—#

"It wasn't a day, it's been, like..." How do you even keep track? "...two or three hours? Um, subjectively, not— wait, I thought you were asleep?"

Madrigal squirms in your hands. #I wasn't asleep.#

"So you weren't asleep, and yet you didn't bother telling me you had issues? You just waited to bite me? And I'm the bitch? Wow, that makes a lot of sense! Thanks for—"

#Shut the fuck up, Charlotte. I hate the sound of your stupid fucking voice.#
#I wasn't asleep. I was...#
#...#

"You were what?" you say loudly.

#I told you to shut the fuck up.#
#And I don't want to talk about it. But I wasn't— available, okay. That doesn't mean it didn't fucking suck. And you're still a fucking bitch.#
#Where are we.#

When she curses so much so close together, it loses a lot of its impact. You decide not to tell her that. "The viewing room."

#I thought were were in some fucking chump's head.#

"Um, we are. It's a viewing room in some chump's head. That's why you're still a snake... a demon snake, actually, I think. Or a snake demon."

(1/3)
>>
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#A what.#

"I don't think it matters. Um, don't get worried if I get possessed by a demon later, that'll be on purpose."

#I hate you.#
#Where's Ellery.#

You hook Madrigal around your neck (she seems unlikely to bite again) and pad over to the balcony. "I think he's still fighting."

#What the fuck.# Madrigal slides across your shoulder and down your arm to see better. #Is he in a fucking tournament. Why did you let him join a tournament.#

"...It's not that I let him, it just kind of—"

#He's a fucking pussy. What the fuck. He's going to get pulverized out there.#
#Charlotte, if you punch his arm it shatters in three places.#

You're unsure how much she's exaggerating. Still: "Um, he doesn't have bones."

#He...#
#...#
#Oh yeah. Shit. Goddamn. He really fucked himself over, didn't he.#
#What is he even fighting with. Is he doing that shit with the blood. I swear, if he's doing that shit with the blood—#

"No, uh—" You rub one eye. "He has a lot of potions. And a crossbow, I think."

#Of course he has a crossbow. That's a pussy weapon.#

"Do you mean that in a loving way?"

#No.#

She's not lying. You know she's not lying. She's a snake; snakes cannot love, snakes don't have the physical capacity for love. And she doesn't even know what she's missing, since she hasn't the capacity for that, either. It's insidious like that. "I bet. Well—"

#Are you also fighting.#

"Uh, yes." You straighten your shoulders. "I won, actually. Two rounds. The third's coming up... I don't know when. It just happens."

#It just happens. Okay.#
#Who's next.#

"Who's..." You turn. On the dark yellow wall— you're sure it was blank before— hangs a framed sheet of paper. The bracket. "Uh, let's see."

_CHARLOTTE FAWKINS_: that's you. You trace the line to your opponent: _ELLERY ROUTH_. "Oh," you say.

#Oh, shit.#
#Kick his ass.#

"Will do," you say, pleasantly surprised at her reaction. "You know... you're pretty big, and you bite hard. I can keep you out if you promise not to talk— I think he recognized your voice earlier."

#Fine.#
#And how is he.#

"Um." You don't think that's a request after his well-being. "It's complicated. I guess you'll find out when you see him."

Madrigal doesn't say anything, only curls around your neck, and you have the oddest feeling that here is where things should end. Your eyes should be blurring, and the room should be blurring, and you should be in the arena with no clue how you got there. But nothing happens, and the feeling passes. "I guess I should make sure nothing's damaged," you say, just to say something, and you return to the single chair.

(2/3)
>>
Some things are damaged.

>The wind-up bird won't wind. It seems mostly intact, just stopped up— you'd need to make Gil fix it. You're unsure if he can do clockwork, but you intend to make him do clockwork.
>The rock with all the Law in it has a hairline crack. It's probably fine.
>The Law siphon is boxlike and sturdy, and hasn't suffered any visible damage— but you have no idea how delicate the insides are, or if they were affected. You'll have to try it before you know if anything happened.
>Madrigal claims to be fine. You're not sure if snakes can get injured, actually. On one hand, they're animals. On the other hand, they spawn memetically and are nebulously magyckal, so... maybe? Richard definitely can't get injured, but— why can people see other snakes and not him? How does that work? You're never going to get straight answers from him, are you?

It's better than it could've been, but worse than it could've been. A wash. You're busy packing the stuff away when you're not packing all the stuff away: you are standing, stuff packed, Madrigal around your shoulders, sword outstretched, inside the arena. It is wide and flat and carpeted in a squishy layer of grey sand.

Ellery is standing 20 feet away, his hand up to shield from the lights on the ceiling. "Hey," he calls.

"Hi," you call back. "You can go ahead and surrender right now, if you want to spare the- you know, the embarrassment."

"I was going to say the same thing," he says, and grins humorlessly. "It wouldn't work— It needs us to fight, you know, there wouldn't be much of a tournament if the entrants didn't do anything, right? And the crowd wouldn't be very happy, would they? But I'll make it as quick as I can without resorting to—" The grin drops.

"To what?"

"Ah, you know." He uncorks a potion, takes a sip, and wipes his mouth with his wrist. "I think we're starting."

"The announcer hasn't—"

"FIGHT!" the announcer screams, and Ellery levels his crossbow casually at you.

>[1] Pussy weapon or not, it's obvious he has the advantage at range. You need to get as close as possible, as fast as possible, and force him into the radius of The Sword. (Any particular strategies for getting close?) [Roll.]
>[2] It's not just that crossbow: he has that whole bandolier of potions ready to throw or pour onto you. You may risk getting shot, but you need to start baiting those out from range if you don't want to get turned into a tree. (Any particular strategies for baiting out the potions?) [Roll.]
>[3] The fight just started: before anything else, you need to focus on you. Sure, this armor is good, but couldn't it be better? Couldn't you be better? Buff yourself up. (What changes are you trying to make?) [Roll.]
>[4] Forget it. Get "accidentally" "possessed" by a, nay, *the* Demon Queen and lay waste to this fool before he can get any smugger.
>[5] Write-in.
>>
>>4913366
>[5] Unscrew the pommel and end him rightly (by which I mean throw the pommel at his bandolier to break his potions. At least some of them are harmful on contact)
>>
>>4913134
>Yeah, you two talked about that, 'member?
I thought he was lying to look cool


>>4913366

I can back >>4913414 if it's feasible. Otherwise >4
>>
>>4913366
>>4913414
+1 to this if it's feasible--otherwise let's shoot for [1].
>>
>>4913366
>[1] Pussy weapon or not, it's obvious he has the advantage at range. You need to get as close as possible, as fast as possible, and force him into the radius of The Sword. (Any particular strategies for getting close?) [Roll.]
Throw the pommel to disctract him.
>>
>>4913414
>>4913696
>>4913831
>>4913853
>Throw the pommel
You're 20 feet away and not exactly a softball pitcher, so under ordinary circumstances I'd say there's no way you could throw this hard or accurately enough to break bottles. These are not ordinary circumstances.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 20 (+10 Good With A Sword, +5 Richard, +5 Ambidexterity) vs. DC 80 (+10 Small Target, +10 Moving Target, +10 At A Distance, +0 Flat Terrain) to throw the pommel! At best you'll break bottles, but you may at least be able to distract him.
>>
Rolled 56 + 20 (1d100 + 20)

>>4913882
Watch THIS
>>
Rolled 5 + 20 (1d100 + 20)

>>4913882
Pathetic, watch THIS
>>
Rolled 56 (1d100)

feet
>>
Rolled 28, 95, 33 + 13 = 169 (3d100 + 13)

>>4913889
>>4913895
>>4913990
>76, 25, 76 vs. DC 80 -- Failure
Sorry for the delay, I got my laptop back but had to reinstall my writing program and a couple other things. You'll be throwing the pommel and failing miserably to hit anything, but I'm ruling that this is a bizarre enough action to briefly distract Ellery and let you close the distance. The question is if he gets any hits in as you do.

Rolling for Ellery and writing.

3d100 + 13 (+10 Years of Experience, +5 Steady Hand, +3 Blasé, -5 Wait What) vs. DC 70 (+10 Moving Target, +7 Heavily Armored, +3 Don't Hit The Snake!, +0 Flat Terrain)
>>
>Life's a pitch
>76, 25, 76 vs. DC 80 — Failure
>For Ellery: 41, 108, 46 vs. DC 70 — Mitigated Success

God, you hate the smarmy look on Ellery's face, and from the way Madrigal's constricting around your neck she's in full agreement. What if you just went ahead and- and did it? Summoned up the demon queen of your imagination and became glorious and terrible and also beautiful and very, very cool? Would that be enough to get a reaction? You're burning to find out— but then again, there's still a round after this. And you still have to kill the king. And you can always do it later, if you're in a more dire position...

You turn your attention back on Ellery, who's got a crossbow bolt in his mouth and an uncorked potion in his free hand— leaf green and fizzy, different from the one he drank. As best you can tell, he's trying to dip the bolt in potion while keeping the crossbow pointed at you. He's mumbling around it, too, but for the life of you you can't tell what he's saying. (You doubt you're missing much.) What concerns you is the bolt: if that hits skin, will you turn into a tree? Ellery! Turning you into a tree! You have to smash these things immediately.

But how? Get too close and he's liable to pour the things right over your head. Dally around and you'll be shot to pieces. You need to do it from where you stand, immediately. It's impossible, you think— until a vision comes to you of a hot summer evening, at one of those crass middle-level fairs (one of the few times you'd ever descended), the air smelling of salt and sweat and dried fish, of someone next to you, dressed down— the vest's just artificial silk, fresh off the skein, not the real stuff, the heirloom stuff— pale and tall— not tall, but tall to you. You were young. The person (their face? their name?) weighing the ball in one hand, turning, whipping, in one fluid motion, and the crack like thunder— you held your ears— and the beer bottles exploding, spewing fragments that buried theirselves in the wooden crate and the canvas backdrop and the game man's shoulder—

You came home with a doll you tore the skirt off of (to make a cape) and conscripted into battle with the rest of your toys, until Aunt Ruby found out and made you sew the skirt back on and you pricked your fingers and cried. But you don't want to think about that: you are back at the fair, watching the bottles explode, and you are fumbling with the pommel of The Sword. Ellery is watching you, bemused. "Is there a secret compartment in there?"

(1/2)
>>
Is there a secret compartment in there? You hadn't considered that: you just needed a ball of some kind, and this was the only thing you could think of. The pommel, solid silver, falls into your hand, and you weight it like that person did. It's very light. And Ellery is much farther than the bottles, not to mention pacing back and forth. But none of that matters: you are breathing the cool night air, and rocking that leathery sand-filled ball back and forth, and you are coiling and turning and the ball looses from your fingers like a crossbow bolt and you

You are not that person. That person is dead. The pommel sails for a gentle dozen feet and sinks into the sand and is lost. Ellery's bemusement is now lethal. "Uh— good job, I guess. You sure threw that, uh, that sword bit. Is it a bomb, or something? It seems kind of unnecessarily dangerous to have a bomb stuck to your sword all the time, but I've never used a sword, so I guess I can't—"

"YAHHHHHH!!!!" you scream, and hurtle toward him with the rest of The Sword outstretched and nearly blue with heat.

"Oh!" Ellery grips his crossbow tightly and swings it around and in his haste splashes some green fizzy potion down his front. "Oh, shit! Son of a bitch! Hold still, would you—"

And a bolt pierces through the mail by your armpit, burying itself an inch in your arm (you grit your teeth) and delivering its payload of potion. Whatever it is, it's slow-acting: you do not immediately burst into flames, and nothing yet has happened to Ellery, either. He's backpedaling now, trying to pull another potion out of his bandolier, but you're bearing down on him faster than he can get out of the way. You'll be upon him in just a second.

>What do you focus on? (All will require rolls.)

>[1] Slicing him into ribbons! Obviously!
>[2] Knocking or cutting the crossbow out of his hand. A bolt to your arm is bad enough: you don't need a bolt to your skull.
>[3] Slicing off his bandolier. You don't know what the green fizzy potion does yet, but you're certain it's nothing good: you're not about to let him *mix-and-match* effects.
>[4] Snatching a potion out of his bandolier. He already got a little of his own medicine— you intend to make that a lot.
>[5] Write-in. (At this range, you can also give Madrigal instructions, if you want.)
>>
>>4914204
>2

After the crossbow is neutralized, we should knock him down in such a way that his potion bandolier is beneath him and hopefully shatters under his weight.
>>
>>4914204
>[2] Knocking or cutting the crossbow out of his hand. A bolt to your arm is bad enough: you don't need a bolt to your skull.

No telling what that potion's gonna do--better work quickly!
>>
>>4914204
>2
>>
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>>4914219
>>4914235
>>4914271
>2
Okay! I need dice.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 7 (+10 Good With A Sword, +5 On Fire!, +5 Richard, -5 Your Arm Hurts, -8 Potion Jab) vs. DC 58 (+8 Tall Bastard, +5 Slippery Bastard, +3 Potion Sip, +2 Loudmouth, -10 Potion Stain) to get Ellery's crossbow away from him!
>>
Rolled 75 + 7 (1d100 + 7)

>>4914306
>>
Rolled 30 + 7 (1d100 + 7)

>>4914306
Stop asking me to roll.
>>
Rolled 65 + 7 (1d100 + 7)

>>4914306
eat shit ellery
>>
>>4914320
>>4914365
>>4914378
>82, 37, 72 vs. DC 58 -- Success
Nice. Rolling for Ellery.

3d100s + 7 (+8 Tall Bastard, +5 Steady Hand, +3 Experienced Chugger, +3 Blasé, -2 Flammable, -10 Potion Stain) vs. DC 48 (-12 Bait And Switch, +10 Close Quarters)

>>4914365
I'll untie you and let you out of my basement as soon as you roll a 100, anon. Any day now.

>>4913696
Belated, but
>I thought he was lying to look cool
Fair enough! Gil lying to your face would involve about 3x more stuttering, though, or at least trying to avoid the question first. I don't know if he's capable of smooth deception right now, especially not to you.
>>
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Rolled 8, 98, 4 + 7 = 117 (3d100 + 7)

>>4914442
>Rolling for Ellery
>Didn't roll
Every time. Goddammit. I'll make up for it by including some BRAND NEW Gil art I got the other day (artist in filename)...
>>
>>4914448
This picture really helps me visualize the stutter
>>
>Go for the 'bow
>82, 37, 72 vs. DC 58 — Success
>Ellery's result: 15, 105, 11 vs. DC 48 — Mitigated Success

Though you'd like to charge directly into him, you have visions of your armored shoulder shattering several bottles and promptly turning into a squid. You settle for swiping The Sword in his general vicinity: as he tries to stay out of range, he doesn't realize he's backing directly into the arena wall. He also appears not to notice the potion liquid he spilled on his shirt expanding into a white froth, not even when it starts creeping up his neck. He's just talking: breathlessly, endlessly, about nothing at all of importance. "By the way, I think your bomb was a dud," he says, and "You know, have you ever seen sand like this before? I wonder what it's made of?" and "Can you turn those flames on and off? Or is it just always like that?" and "Oh, hey, there it goes!" when you spontaneously begin to hiccup.

You do your best to ignore him, but he is an unstoppable force and you are not an immovable object: even delivering actual blows won't shut him up. You cut a bloodless gash down his arm and he compliments your form. You lop off the tip of his elbow and he remarks on the soap bubbles that have begun to leak from your lips. "SHUT UP!" you demand, and a single large bubble wobbles out of your throat. He cracks an insufferable smile and reaches for a potion, but a slash at his hand stops him. "What put you in such a bad mood?" he asks noncommittally.

If it wasn't the trials of the previous two fights, or his incessant chatter, it would be what he's doing: holding his crossbow way above his head, where you can't reach it. Though you have half a mind to lop his stick legs off at the knee— or, hell, to drive The Sword through his ribcage and claim the crossbow from his paper corpse— those options feel eerily like admitting defeat. Like you'd be broadcasting to the whole world that you're too inadequate to reach that high. Which, to be clear, is in no sense true. So you're forced to stand on your tiptoes and deliver superficial wounds as he yammers on, and on, and— "I don't know," you snarl. "Remind me how Madrigal stood you?"

You've said it before. It worked before. It works again: he looks like he wants to bash your skull in with his crossbow. "Shut the fuck up."

#Fucking prick. You shut the fuck up.# Madrigal rears into his face. #She +couldn't+ stand you. That's why she broke up with you.#

"Your snake has opinions about me," Ellery says evenly.

You press your lips together, hoping to suppress the bubbles, but one begins to form in your nostrils. You sigh, instead, releasing a whole stream of them. "No she doesn't. It doesn't. It'll shut up, I just need to—"

(1/3)
>>
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You yank Madrigal backwards, but she shoots forward, out of your hand, and clamps her jaws to Ellery's neck. "Ow!" he says, more out of surprise than pain, and his raised arm drops. Sword outstretched, you lunge, and the crossbow clatters to the ground. His hand is still attached.

"Shit!" It's more disappointed than anguished, but you'll take it: you snatch the crossbow from the ground and fling it up, up, into the stands. A clamor erupts— the audience fighting for a souvenir? You'll never know. Ellery is still grappling one-handed with a furious Madrigal, but when he sees the crossbow sail over his head he releases her and reaches inside his coat. Another weapon? Hell, another crossbow? You wouldn't put it past him. But it's a red bottle he pulls out, and you realize too late: it's another potion. He gets most of it down his throat before you knock it from his hand— it fizzes in the sand— and kick his legs in. He plummets to the ground.

You put The Sword to his forehead. "What was in that?!" you gargle: the bubbles are coming faster and larger, almost thicker. You think your saliva might be foaming.

He smiles deliriously and shields his eyes with his stub-wrist. "You'd expect it to be spicy, wouldn't you? It's not spicy. I'd call it meaty, almost. And smoky. You would expect the smoky. But it's in a good way, you know? You could mix this with some nice liquor and the wealthy fuckers would pay top coin."

"Answer the— ghrk!" You're interrupted by a bubble midsentence.

"I need to say it out loud or I'll forget it all later. Can't exactly write it all down. Not that you'd want me to write it all down. Thea usually transcribes for me." His eyes dart. "It's genuinely not unpleasant. Maybe this is how it's supposed to be used? I splashed it on last time, and— well. I think you saw the effects, actually. But no, this is much better. You could serve it straight, probably, no liquor needed. Makes you feel like a campfire. It's right here now." He points to the base of his throat. "You should probably remove your snake. I wouldn't want to cause her any harm."

Frustrated, you stab him through the forehead. He raises his eyebrows. "What did you expect?"

(2/3)
>>
You burble furiously in response, stab him through the cheek just to drive the point home, and yank at Madrigal until she lets go. She circles sulkily around your arm. "Thanks," Ellery says, and points at the top of his throat. "It's here. It's hotter, now, but not scalding. I don't think scalding. My scale might be a little off." He smells like charcoal. "Ah, alright, here we go. Thanks for sticking around. Couldn't do this without you." He coughs, and for an instant you see his mouth: inky black inside, except for his throat glowing red. Glowing red hot. You dive—

—but diving won't save you, not from the cone of scorching flame that erupts from Ellery's mouth. As the air shimmers— the sand melts into black goop— as even Ellery, apparently unprepared for the effects, curls and chars and scatters into a cloud of ash, the only thing that can save you from cooking in your armor is—

>[1] Retreating somewhere in your mind, somewhere safe and dark and cold, where nothing can hurt you. [Roll.]
>[2] Bracing The Sword against your chest and hoping against all hope that it absorbs the flames for you. [Roll.]
>[3] Miraculously discovering that your armor is, in fact, coated with a substance that repels flames. [Roll.]
>[4] The Demon Queen clawing up from inside you. [You can only do this once.]
>[5] Write-in.
>>
>>4914657
>[2] Bracing The Sword against your chest and hoping against all hope that it absorbs the flames for you. [Roll.]

What could go wrong?
>>
>>4914657
>[2] Bracing The Sword against your chest and hoping against all hope that it absorbs the flames for you. [Roll.]
A hero's course of action.
>>
>>4914657
>2

He did the same thing in our first fight with his chest sun, time to turn the tables.

Then again, I guess the sun does trump normal flame. :(
>>
>>4914657
>[2] Bracing The Sword against your chest and hoping against all hope that it absorbs the flames for you. [Roll.]
>>
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>>4914658
>>4914689
>>4914966
>>4915147
You know, I knew in my heart you guys would always pick the sword option. But I couldn't not include it, either. If I have the time and inclination later, I might write up [1] as a noncanon pastebin, just because that's the one I really like conceptually. Might write a hypothetical Gil/Ellery arena fight from Gil POV, too, even if that likely won't happen for real in-quest

But in any case, I need dice!

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 27 (+10 Good With A Sword, +10 On Fire!: Ellery Origin, +5 Seen This Before, +4 Hero's Valor, +3 Scaled (Torso), +2 Positive Thinking, -7 Heavy Armor) vs. DC 85 (+35 SUNFIRE) to absorb the heat with The Sword!

Ellery isn't rolling this round because he just got disintegrated. On an easy DC. Classic Ellery, I guess.

>>4914470
Glad to hear it :^)
>>
Rolled 14 + 27 (1d100 + 27)

>>4915406
I will forever seethe that Ellery has better fire than us

perhaps at the cost of surviving it lmao
>>
Rolled 95 + 27 (1d100 + 27)

>>4915406
Let's get this 'SWORDED' out!
>>
Rolled 62 + 27 (1d100 + 27)

>>4915406
>>
>>4915430
>>4915431
>>4915523
>41, 122, 89 vs. DC 85 -- Success
Excellent job. Probably the best result you could've gotten... [Sunstroke] would've rerolled an Enhanced, and a Mitigated would've melted The Sword. Writing shortly.
>>
>>4915639
>when the mitigated is worse than the failed
>>
>Get this sworded out
>41, 122, 89 vs. DC 85 — Success

—The Sword! Your treasure, your best friend, always trustworthy, dependable, loyal, yours! Your birthright and your heritage — the only thing you have of your father's — well, except for...

No! Richard doesn't count— Richard doesn't exist. It's just you, now, you and The Sword, its silver surface gilded yellow, limned white, shimmering delicately with heat, like a puddle in the sun— like the ocean seen a mile up— like cool water, like any water, though you may be biased as your face is cracking and blistering and peeling away in ghostly sheets and your armor is glowing like stars. It takes enormous effort for you to grasp The Sword's hilt— you have the unpleasant feeling your fingertips are soldered to the inside of your gauntlets— and even more for you to arch upwards, wrists trembling, your crossbow wound stabbing and stabbing at you, and hold it above your head. It wavers there, an unsteady flag: of defiance? Of surrender?

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

Even you don't know. You are crying, and you couldn't say why either: from pain? Exhaustion? Anger? Heat? Have soap bubbles begun to leak from your tear ducts? You imagine dying— being cremated here, to an audience of thousands. You imagine Ellery plucking the coal-black Sword from your broken skeleton. He doesn't even know how to use it. You sob and scream but it's garbled from the bubbles and that makes you scream louder. The Sword— The Sword—

You can't go out like this! You don't deserve it! You are the— you are the heroine, and— and— you are not dying in the God-damn semifinals, to— to— Ellery! God!! This isn't even real fire! It's stupid toy fire! If it were real you'd be dead already, not getting a- a bad sunburn. What happened to positive thinking?! What happened, Charlotte? What's wrong with—

You have to stop. This isn't about you at all— it's about Ellery. Ellery, the illiterate drunken bastard whoreson, who abandoned everyone he ever knew— who consigned himself to an eternal loop of lonely misery— for what? Power? Control? An utter lack of responsibility? The right to set you on fire without consequences? Now when you grip The Sword's hilt you imagine gripping his skinny neck: imagine your white knuckles, your flexing tendons, the slight quiver in your breath, as he chokes and sputters, as bruises pool under your grip, as the life drains bit by bit out of... uh...

(1/3)
>>
On second thought, that's a weird thing to imagine in so much detail. Why would you strangle him? You've never strangled anyone before. If you had to kill him, you'd obviously stab him through the heart, the cool way to kill people. So instead of all that, you visualize The Sword sucking the flames down into it, in a great whirling vortex— you visualize it brighter than anything you ever seen, bright enough to turn night into day— hot enough to cut through steel, cut through stone, cut through anything at all— except you. It would never cut you. It's yours.

And maybe that happens, or maybe the cone of flame simply ends naturally: Ellery, after all, has vanished. But you thought you saw The Sword glow past yellow, past orange, red, blue, into white. And you thought you saw the flames bend around it, and you thought you saw them being dragged down inside it. But you could've imagined it. Though is there much of a difference?

Whatever happened, you are standing in a gurgling blast zone that spans the length of the arena. You are burned, but it's only surface-level— the sort that scabs over and heals after a week. The Sword is unscathed, and brighter than you remember it.

>[On Fire! is now a +10 bonus until the end of the manse.]

Though saying you're 'standing' in the blast zone is misleading. You're actually floating, if barely: your heels are raised, but your toes still drag at the ground. You attribute this to the giddy weightlessness that's been building up in your chest: you thought that it was just the feeling of victory, but it appears to be literal. Oh well. You have won. Ellery burned himself to a crisp and is nowhere to be found, so you win by default. Hurrah! It's a shame the announcer is so slow— you can't wait to wake up in the waiting room like nothing happened. The sooner you can get these scorch marks off your armor, the better. You just have to—

"Oh, you made it out," Ellery says. He's leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the arena. His hand is back. His crossbow is back. He has improbably acquired heart-shaped sunglasses, which he's lowering to examine you better. "You're pretty good. How's the bubble potion going? I don't think it's actually called that, but don't ask me to name things. I did hit you, right? In the shoulder area? I'll help patch that up after I win the last round, don't take it personally—"

You scream at him, but no sound comes out. It's just bubbles.

"Going pretty well, I guess. Look, I'll help finish you off, alright? No sense in letting this drag on forever."

(2/3)
>>
He's right. He's absolutely right. If this drags on forever, it doesn't matter how much better you are— he'll win, because he can go on forever. Didn't Richard once tell you about some guy with a knot? And everyone tried to untie the knot, but it couldn't be untied? And then the guy just cut the knot in half with his sword? Well, Ellery's the knot. You've got a sword. You need to cut him in half.

But how?

>[1] The issue here is that you're not looking at Ellery. You're looking at a construct— a fake paper skin. The *real* Ellery— the COS, or whatever, the animating principle— is invisible to the naked eye. Good thing you have a weird metal eye that can see past all that, right? Seek and destroy. [Roll.]
>[2] You don't care if that's a fake body: you can still incapacitate it, you just can't slice it open. Namely, while you don't know what the combined magyckal potential of a dozen potions does if you smash them all over a person all at once, you're sure it's nothing pretty. And guess who has a dozen potions... [Roll.]
>[3] This is all too complicated. Listen. You have a sword. That's on fire. And Ellery, made of paper, is flammable. Just slice him open, then set the entire arena on fire so he has nowhere to stand when he reappears. Therefore he can't reappear. Therefore you win. [Roll.]
>[4] Write-in.

--

>>4915916
Tbf, I would've rolled for severity on a failure, and a bad severity might've melted The Sword *and* knocked you out of the fight. (The IRL Sword would've been fine regardless of what happened, this is just the mind version.)
>>
>>4915993
>1
god
3 was so appealing
it was a big struggle not to pick it
only the smugness of beating ellery's trick let me pull through
>>
>>4915993
>[1] The issue here is that you're not looking at Ellery. You're looking at a construct— a fake paper skin. The *real* Ellery— the COS, or whatever, the animating principle— is invisible to the naked eye. Good thing you have a weird metal eye that can see past all that, right? Seek and destroy. [Roll.]
>>
>>4915993
>[3] This is all too complicated. Listen. You have a sword. That's on fire. And Ellery, made of paper, is flammable. Just slice him open, then set the entire arena on fire so he has nowhere to stand when he reappears. Therefore he can't reappear. Therefore you win. [Roll.]
I like the "use the situation in a creative way" shonen abilities more than "unlock more True Potential on the spot" shonen abilities.
>>
>>4916014
>>4916224
>>4916260
I was gonna call it for [1] and leave the roll open overnight, but seeing some dissent I'll just leave the vote open instead. Catch you guys in the morning.

>>4916260
FWIW, I'd argue [1] is less unlocking True Potential (...unless you crit, I guess) and more Using The True Potential You Unlocked In Thread 1, which was the last time you used your bad eye to see Law, and also the only time except for flavor text earlier this thread. Now, granted, you had Richard helping you along back then, but guess where Richard is right now :^)

You're fully entitled to go for [3]-- honestly, I was expecting that to win in a landslide-- I just want to give my two cents!
>>
Okay! It's the morning. For me, anyway.

>>4916014
>>4916224
>1

>>4916260
>3

Called for [1].

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 12 (+10 Richard: Area of Expertise, +2 Wyrm-daughter) vs. DC 70 (+20 Oh God Oh Man Oh God Oh Man) to cut the metaphorical knot!
>>
Rolled 50 + 12 (1d100 + 12)

>>4916952

we can finally roll good now that ellery is our opponent
>>
Rolled 1 (1d1)

>>4916952
>>
Rolled 99 + 12 (1d100 + 12)

>>4916952
>>
>>4917653
wow funny guy
I almost cried
>>
Rolled 78 + 12 (1d100 + 12)

>>4916952
Give me your energy!!!
>>
>>4917734
AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH
>>
>>4917338
>>4917670
>>4917734
>62, 111, 90 vs. DC 70 -- Success
Great work! Writing!
>>
>(Re)unlock your True Potential
>62, 111, 90 vs. DC 70 — Success

However you go about it, you need to go about it quickly: you are now bobbing several inches above the ground, and you have the distinct feeling you're only getting lighter from here. Though Ellery claimed he was going to finish you off, he doesn't seem to be in any hurry. Maybe he wanted to let you float up to the rafters then shoot you down? For maximum spectacle? While you despise the concept, you'll admit you can respect the motivation behind it. You'd do the same thing.

You're a foot up and streaming bubbles on every exhale. Ellery has begun to plink bolts in your direction (though they're all sailing way above your head) and isn't even pretending to reload. Asshole. You think vile and hateful thoughts in his direction, since you can't say them aloud, then shut your eyes and attempt to think.

To think... to think... God! You're rooting around as best you can, but you haven't turned up a solitary scrap of inspiration. This isn't right at all. Isn't genius honed by pressure? Aren't you supposed to be blinking your eyes open, struck by the one idea that'll get you out of this mess? Instead, you're just hanging in space like an idiot, Madrigal muttering in your ear, thousands of people watching... but they aren't people. Whatever. It sure feels close enough. There's a 'tink' against one of your sabotons, and you open your eyes: you're ten feet up, maybe. Ellery has hit your foot by accident, and the bolt is falling uselessly to the ground. "Sorry!" he calls.

You bare your teeth at him. Can he tell they're pointed? Not from this distance, certainly, but— in general? You're sure they are pointed, you can feel them on your tongue, but you don't understand how Richard hid them to others. And he won't even tell you if you ask. He only tells you things you don't want to know.

...You miss him. God, you miss him. And if he were here, he'd say that's dramatic, that's stupid, that's childish— he can't get any closer to you. And, factually, that's true. You guess. But it's just not the same without him talking— without him making snide comments about your posture, criticizing your every action, interjecting his own instructions about what to do and think and say. ...And when you lay it all out like that, it doesn't sound that great. But at least he was there for you. You had someone to watch your back. You weren't alone.

Some independent young woman you are, huh? Maybe Richard was right, mocking you for that. You can't even defeat Ellery. Ellery! Why did you think you could pull this off? What were you thinking? "Oh, you're independent— you'll figure it out?"

You'll-

You didn't think that. Somebody said that to you, to your face. Richard did. And then he touched your shoulder, and you—

You said "Richard, don't be a—"

(you are touching your own shoulder)

(1/4? 5?)
>>
Your head bumps lightly against the roof. You can't go farther. You can't see him anymore, but somewhere below you Ellery is aiming his crossbow. It may take a couple tries, but he will hit you, and you will pop, and you will lose. And, in just a few seconds, that will be that.

But the world is going black— is already black? is always black? It is black, and your iron eye, your bad eye, is grinding against its socket. It is turning. It is revealing. And everything to you in the blackness is flat and flimsy paper, until even that tears away, and the whole of reality is exposed to you like a wound.

You have never been, but you have heard talk of the Edge, that trench that rings the entire world. They— and by 'they' you mean travelers at the Better Than Nothing, drunk out of their minds, waxing poetic— claim it would take a year and a day to reach the bottom, and three to climb back up. And they spill their beer, slamming it on the bartop, and say that's not true, you sonovabitch, you can never reach the bottom, not in a year or a lifetime: she isn't a trench, but the edge of the entire world, and should you descend her you'd fall into the void and never return. But they agree on all counts that the Edge is a 'her,' and it's because she's beautiful: a lusting, grasping, possessing beauty. The kind you'd kill for. The kind you'd die for. The kind that would lodge itself in your mind, and whenever you saw any other woman— any other thing at all— you'd only think of her. The Edge is like that.

And this is something like that, too. In here— in the dripping guts of the world— all that is is string. Infinite string. Pulsing, glowing string, interwoven and knotted in ways you don't, can't understand, and moving, always moving, little twitches and enormous whips across space, but always in a way that adds up into one sinuous whole, like it's an organism, a single living breathing thing.

Despite all the slurred explanations, you still didn't really get why the Edge was a 'she.' You think you might get it now.

...

...At this point last time you were on the floor thrashing and gibbering. Maybe you're thrashing and gibbering right now. You don't know. But you don't think so. What does that say about you, you wonder: have you become something more? Less? Or is it the same as it ever was, and Richard's just providing you comfortable insulation? Could you see Richard, if you looked down? You shouldn't look down.

You look down. You expected to see what you saw: a big knotted clump of string, star-like, white-blue, where your heart is. It's unpleasant to wrap your head around, but at least you can take comfort in its brightness— you're sure that means something good. You hadn't noticed the dimmer filaments emanating from it until now— they look like veins, you think, or roots— but that's fine: if you can borderline accept that you're a lot of strings, adding more strings is nothing special. No. It's the light that breaks you.
>>
You are bright. But you aren't consistently bright: you flicker, you sparkle, hell, you coruscate. Intrigued (Ellery at this point entirely forgotten), you do your best to investigate: is something the matter with you? Or are you just especially special? It's neither. As best you can tell, everything flickers. Everything sparkles. Everything coruscates. More dimly than you, maybe, but all together, all in time to a consistent beat. A pulse, you guess. Of the universe.

And you're part of it. Not even a big part of it. You are a fragment of a sliver.

You think about that for a little bit. You don't like it.

>[-1 ID: 0/(9)]

You don't die. How could you die? However unique the tangle of your components, however exciting the emergence of a consciousness, the conceptualization of a self— you are still components. You unravel, that's all, and are used to form other things.

(Ellery has hit you with four crossbow bolts. You are bleeding. You are still pressed against the roof. The announcer hasn't called anything. Ellery paces.)

Then you tire of that and pull yourself back together. Not identically. Certain things are, potentially, in a different order.

-

It would be foolish to call yourself Richard, as Richard does not exist. Richard has never existed. He is a fiction and construct and a lie and has caused far more harm than good. He is also not supposed to exist, in this present moment. He is supposed to be locked in an existential hellhole for an indefinite period of time for no good reason. He also needs a drink. Remind yourself to get him a drink, later.

But that is later, as however intellectually satisfying waltzing out of a loophole is you don't have terribly long before something notices. Or, worse, someone. It's just a slap on the wrist, but Richard is on thin, thin ice right now and he can't afford unwanted attention. But he can deal with that later, when he's let out of that existential hellhole, and probably also after that drink. Or drinks. But it's none of your concern, anyway, as you have the mental capacity of a rabbit and the attention span to match. You're Charlotte Fawkins.

Yes, you are (and you'll be declaring that on the paperwork)— though you seem to have forgotten the entire purpose of this exercise, haven't you? You're supposed to be killing that scruffy half-man. Which seems a damn shame, if you'll excuse yourself, as you don't get specimens like that falling into your lap every decade. It's a good thing you're Charlotte Fawkins and can just change your mind about that, isn't it? A decent scare should be sufficient. Temporary damage. Even that's more than you're allowed to do, legally, which is fine, as you're human and aren't subject to oversight. Very exciting.

(3/4)
>>
Folding your perspective into two dimensions, you slide along the plane to reach (you're Charlotte, Charlotte knows the names) ...Ellery. And he is better than you could have expected, structure-wise. You wish Richard were here, not suffering, as he currently is, so he could take notes. A lot of notes. But to your enormous disappointment you are not Richard, so you are forced to focus on business.

Which is (unfortunately) mangling this beautiful structure. You'll have to go for maximal impact with minimal disruption, meaning the limbs, most likely. (Humans and their limbs... you don't understand. They're too short.) Tangle with the limbs, add some, remove some, replace some: you'll figure it out as you go. If it works, it works, and the prescriptivists can shove it. It's an art, not a science.

It's also more difficult than usual, which you attribute to being Charlotte Fawkins, who is compelled to make everything difficult. Nevertheless, you enjoy the process, as you always do. It's quite meditative. It's just a shame all the yelling's leaking through.

Well, you're done. You cycled through a number of options, but in the end it felt appropriate to knot it off and leave him limbless. Like a snake, see. That's funny. And it ought to end the match in Charlotte's, which is to say your, favor. It's just a loose knot— he should be able to pick it out when he gets the chance. And if he's angry at the result, you'd just like to say that fair's fair, and also that Richard had nothing to do with it. He was trapped. Always was.

And will continue to be, as your work here is done, and your little rabbit is recovering. You sigh, contemplate existence for one more instant, and re-rearrange yourself.

-

>[1/(9) ID]

"CONGRATULATIONS!" the announcer screams, and you are in the viewing room. You're not sure how you got there. (You're never sure how you got there, but you're especially unsure now.) You are Charlotte Fawkins, which— your memories are very confusing— never seemed to be in doubt? You always were? But you definitely are, now.

Mysteriously, you have some time on your hands.

(Pick two.)

>[1] Wait a second. Madrigal's still out, isn't she? She saw what happened? Ask her what happened.
>[2] Just think about anything at all that isn't depressing or existential or traumatic. Anything. Breakfast cereal. Cats. [Regain ID.]
>[3] You haven't seen a single other fight except your own. Are they all... like this? [Scroll up and find the bracket yourself it's 4 AM]
>[4] Write-in.


1) sorry if (not) Richard POV wasn't the dramatic finale you guys wanted but it was the one that came outta my brain and it's 4 AM so lol @ editing, also I'm not sorry that was very fun to write
2) I am actually sorry about no pics but I still have to sync everything to my fixed laptop, don't have anything saved
3) have a good night folks
>>
>>4918108
>2
yea they're all like this
will finding and making fun of nugget ellery regain us ID
>>
>>4918108
I's a bit disheartening that Charlotte's success, instead of letting her do something competent, simply led her to become Richard instead.

>[2] Just think about anything at all that isn't depressing or existential or traumatic. Anything. Breakfast cereal. Cats. [Regain ID.]
>>
>>4918108
>[2] Just think about anything at all that isn't depressing or existential or traumatic. Anything. Breakfast cereal. Cats. [Regain ID.]
We need more arbitrary number mana.
>>
>>4918346
>It's a bit disheartening
Yeah, upon reflection in the sober light of day, this reads as more of a Mitigated Success than a Success. I think at the time of writing that last segment (which was like 2 AM) I was caught between the rock of "it makes no sense not to lose ID here, you lost 2 last time" and the hard place of "but you're at 1 ID," and instead of the more ambiguous quasi-possession I was planning it mutated into... not-ambiguous and not-quasi. And since I rarely edit (structure, I edit wording all the time) and it was also well past midnight, I just rolled with it. [I think I was also actively trying to avoid the "you suddenly develop new powers" thing and overcorrected.]

While I stand by it being fun to write, I'll fully acknowledge it was likely less fun to read, and I apologize. If it seriously bothers anybody, I can go in and write up an alternate-ending pastebin, which you can pretend replaces this one at your leisure. Alternately, you can hold out for the two upcoming even-more-climactic fights, which I'll try my damndest not to bungle the execution of.

>>4918222
>Will finding...
Yes theoretically but you have no realistic way of doing this.

>>4918353
Arbitrary number mana is what makes the world go round, pal!

Also, I don't know if you guys interpreted "Pick two" as "Pick [2]," but I meant "Pick two options." I guess you can go with one if you really want?
>>
>>4918108
>[1] Wait a second. Madrigal's still out, isn't she? She saw what happened? Ask her what happened.
>[2] Just think about anything at all that isn't depressing or existential or traumatic. Anything. Breakfast cereal. Cats. [Regain ID.]
>>
>>4918523
Indeed I thought that was a heavy recommendation after being left at 1 ID.

>4
Wander around and hope you run into Ellery so you can viciously mock him.
>>
>>4918108
Right, a second choice

>[1] Wait a second. Madrigal's still out, isn't she? She saw what happened? Ask her what happened.
>>
>>4918640
There's no wandering around: the viewing room doesn't seem to be attached to anything. It's just suspended off the ground. You could jump off the balcony, I guess, but you shouldn't jump off the balcony.

>>4918640
Oh, no, if that were the case I'd format it as [2]. I also trust you guys to make sound decisions when you literally just dropped to 0 ID for a bit... no need to place blatant railroad tracks.
>>
>>4918677
fuuuck
I can't believe this shitty manse is depriving us of a chance to mock Ellery
burn it all down on our way out
>1
>>
File: on the job.png (18 KB, 509x446)
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Rolled 87, 66, 78, 31, 83, 48 = 393 (6d100)

>>4918222
>>4918353
>>4918639
>>4918649
>>4918807
>[1], [2]
Called and writing. The picture is dubiously canon and unrelated to anything currently happening, but I drew it so I may as well post it.
>>
>>4919031
contender one looks like they did very well
unless they also have sunstroke
>>
>>4919269
It's comparing the Bo3, not degrees of success, but you're still correct... Gil wins, 87 > 83. Which I'm happy about, but I would've been okay with a Charlotte v. Nega Charlotte fight too.

Still writing. Had to eat dinner, etc.
>>
>>4919294
What? Gil can't beat any version of us! Now he'll get all uppity!
>>
>Just chill

You think about darkness. You think about strings. You touch your face and the skin around your bad eye is swollen. You think about not having a face or skin or eyes. And then you rip yourself away and think very, very, very hard about the color the wall was painted. Dark yellow. Seriously? It brings to mind spoiled fruit or bodily fluids. What sane person would buy this? Would put in in their room? And if you assumed that it wasn't consciously selected, it was just generated like this... still, why this? Why not white? Off-white? If it wanted to go crazy, a nice grey-beige?

God, what grey-beige are you thinking of? For some reason, a particular shade is coming to mind. Was a room grey-beige? A room in your house? But most of your house was wallpapered, a fact Aunt Ruby detested. She threatened, often, to rip all of it down. It must've been her room, the guest room, which she'd colonized as long as you can remember. Just because your mother is unfit for proper society, she'd say, and just because your father (being a Fawkins) never was, doesn't mean she's about to stand by and let a perfectly good lineage fall to rot. Especially not with a child in the household.

You hadn't understood it, then, being subjected to an endless parade of torments: tutors and dances and tightwaisted bodices and being told to look up and stand straight and don't scratch your waist, Charlotte, that's vulgar. But looking back on it now, alone in this ugly room, you guess your aunt was doing her best with what she had. She was doing it well, even. By the time you were in your teens, the public judgment of your family had faded into private judgment of your family. And the parties, however much you hated them, were starting to draw crowds.

Then you jumped off the side of the Pillar. You left a letter beforehand, of course, about your grand plan to get the Crown back... but who'd believe you? The Fawkins daughter lept a mile down and hasn't been seen for years? Your aunt must think you're dead. Your mother must think you're dead. The shame you've brought to—

You're tearing up. God-damnit. You just wanted to think about something benign— it's a wall— and look where it got you. You're useless, Charlotte. Incapable of performing the simplest task. It's just positive thinking. Positive thinking. Come on. Someday soon, you'll emerge sopping wet and coughing on the shore, crown in hand, and you'll be taken to your mother, and your aunt, and everything will be forgiven and forgotten. You won't need Richard for company, anymore. You won't have to grapple with your life being turned upside down over and over. You can just be happy again.

...And queen. Also queen. That's the important part.

>[+3 ID: 4/(9)]

(1/4)
>>
It's a nice thought, and all the nicer for being simple, and concrete, and specific: something you can wrap your head around without fear of strain. Nothing like this. Any of this. But (positive thinking) this will end soon, won't it? Soon you'll be in your real, physical body, and sitting on your real, physical cot, and you can sleep for a week. Something to look forward to, in the short-term. You sniffle.

#I thought you couldn't cry,# Madrigal says, from somewhere in your armor.

"What?" You've been accused of being overdramatic, overemotional, and hysterical, but never the opposite. "I'm not- I'm not crying. But also, um, I think you've seen me..."

#Not her.# You think she's crawling up your back, and you fight the urge to itch there. #You. What'syourface. Evil fucker. Are you broken, or something.#

It takes you a moment to process. "...Um, I'm not Richard?"

#Yeah. Pull the other one, it's got bells. I saw you do that shit to him.#
#You need to figure out how not to move your hands.#

Your hands? "Richard isn't even... here. And he's not an evil..." He's mean, and controlling, and spiteful, but he's helping you. And you're not evil. "...you know."

#Go on, say 'fucker.'#

You fold your hands. "No."

#I know you can.#

"It's not appropriate," you say tactfully. "For a lady."

#Huh.#
#Put me onto the chair and walk across the room.#

You want to tell her she's not your boss, but the prospect of her pretending you're Richard for another hour is unappealing. You let her slither from your neck to your hand, place her on the chair, and stride across the room. "I already wanted to stretch my legs," you say as you return.

#I take it back. You walk like you have a stick up your ass. Welcome back.#
#Guess he pumped and dumped you.#

"I don't know what that means," you say haughtily, "and that's my good posture, there's no stick up my— you slouch, just so you know. Also, Richard isn't here. I said that already."

(2/4)
>>
#Okay. Then why did you fuck with him so bad. I mean, what the fuck.#
#I know I told you to kick his ass, but I just meant normal ass kicking, not magically fucking crippling him.#
#But you didn't just fucking cripple him. That would be normal. You toyed with him like a fucking cat. And I know it was on purpose, Charlotte, because the whole time you were grinning like a fucking psycho.#
#You fucking psycho.#
#Fix him.#

"..." You can't recall this, you would say, but you're actually coming up with dribs and drabs of memory. Something about specimens. Something about paperwork. That was you, not Richard: the bits you've got are all very clear about that. So what happened? You were overwhelmed by the... everything, probably, you remember that much clearly, and then... was it a trance? Were you sleepwalking? Sleep...torturing?

You'd never do that, you would say, and indeed you can't remember ever doing a thing like that. You don't have a mean bone in your body. But you think about Ellery, then, and you think about all your negative feelings toward him: the contempt and disgust and so on. You thought you were a saint for never letting those show. But what if they were festering in you, all along? What if they were building, and building, and when you were off guard and uninhibited they all exploded out of you? And you—

"I don't remember it very well," you say carefully. "You might have to tell me what exactly happened."

#Oh. Well, you were on the fucking ceiling, so I couldn't see all the details.#
#But he was down there, taking potshots at you like a fucking loser. You didn't even notice. I think you were high off that potion.#
#Then all of a sudden you sort of spun around, and your eyes were really, really wide. I Still thought you were high. But then you start doing something with your hands.#
#I don't even know how to describe it. It was like cat's cradle, or some shit, but some sort of fucked up cat's cradle you need fourteen fingers for.#
#And down there he drops the crossbow because his hands were shaking, or something. Then he's got two hands per wrist. Then he's got hands for legs. And he's got legs coming out of his throat, and then he's fucking bristling with arms, and it just went on and on for I don't know how long. Maybe five minutes. You're grinning the whole time.#
#And then you finally get bored and you fucking cripple him. And he's face down in the sand. He doesn't deserve that.#
#He deserves a good couple kicks in the balls, but not that.#
#If you don't fix him, I'm going to Monty and telling him you're an immediate danger to everybody. Because you are. And I thought you weren't, I thought you were okay, but I was wrong.#
#Fix him.#

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

"I—" You don't know how to fix him. You don't know how you did it in the first place. "I'll try."

#No. You will.#

"...Um." Your throat is dry. "I will."

#Good.#

You sit in silence after that, looking at the dark yellow wall.

(3/4)
>>
File: gil - @hugaduck.jpg (638 KB, 957x1500)
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ou barely notice when you're not in the room anymore. You're in the arena, in the dark. Not that it matters: you can see fine. Your opponent is Gil. Is Gil? That can't be right. Maybe he fluke-won one round, but not three. But it's unmistakably him across the way, all disheveled, shaking like a leaf: he nearly jumps when the announcer calls the fight. "Aw, shit!"

"Gil?" you say unsteadily.

"...Lottie?" He steps back, realize there's a gun in his hands. Every one of his four arms is shaking, but combined they're keeping it very steady. It's pointed in your direction. (Can he see in the dark, too?) "I-I-I-I-I," he says, and swallows. "I-I-I don't— I don't— I'm sorry, I-I-I can't— I don't want to do this."

"You could stop pointing a gun at me."

"No! That, um—" He wipes his nose. "—that, um, that helps me— not— p-please don't come closer. Please. I-I-It'll just—"

"I have to come closer, Gil." Your voice sounds strange in the dark. "I have a sword. I've got to— you know, um, not kill you. But knock you out, or whatever. I have to win this."

"That's fine!" he says too loudly. Have you ever seen him this jumpy? "That's— I-I-I have no issue with— please win. I-I don't want to hurt... I-I-I don't want to hurt you. Just don't... please don't come— please. Please."

>[1] You've got to incapacitate Gil to win. He's telling you not to come near him. All you have is a sword. Wat do? [Write-in. Probable roll.]
>>
>>4919433
First, a question: can we use our demon queen form outside the arena?
>>
>>4919460
Sure, as long as it's within this layer of the manse. It lasts for either the duration of a fight or the duration of... whatever other encounter you plan to use it on, I guess.
>>
>>4919433
>Throw the pommel of your sword at him again and then wait

They said failure to fight would be a forfeit. If we make a halfhearted attack and then both of us do nothing, Gil should take the L because he spent longer not fighting. Thus the system is gamed and everyone is happy. We can even ask Gil why he's so jumpy about us getting close while we wait. Was fighting nega Charlotte that traumatic? I figured she'd be the manse demon summoner version of us, and since these rules nerf demon summoners hard she'd go down easy.
>>
>>4919469
>Now it's time to set the arena on fire.
>>
>>4919433
>Throw the pommel of your sword at him again and then wait
>>
>>4919469
>>4920612
>Wait it out

>>4919481
>Set it on fire

Called for waiting it out. This won't require a roll on your end, since you're just doing nothing. Writing.
>>
File: mmm, green juice.jpg (4 KB, 360x270)
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>Game the system

You hold your free hand up placatingly. "Okay! Gee! What's the matter, did you catch the plague?"

"No! I-I-It's just— if you get too close, I-I feel threatened, and then—"

"I'm not threatening," you say. "I'm—"

Gil rubs his throat.

"—I'm awe-inspiring, okay. So I get too close, you're too filled with awe, and then what? You faint? You run away?"

"No—"

"Because those sound handy, actually. What's the radius for this? Five feet? Ten?"

"There's not a—"

"And do I need to do something specific? To strike awe into your heart. I know I already— you know, do that on a regular basis, but would it help if I waved my sword around, or something? If I did a face?" You affect a stern-looking expression. "Is that good? Or do I have to—"

"Shut up!" Gil cries, and you're so astonished you actually do. "I-I-I-It's not— I don't faint— I go all beetley, okay?! And- and- I don't mean— i-i-i-it's a lot of— whatever you're thinking it's more than that! And- and I-I don't want to— not for a fourth time!"

You narrow your eyes. "Wait... you were telling me about your demon possession, or..."

Gil is nodding emphatically.

"...you said you were in control of that."

"Um. ...I-I-I am." He grimaces. "That's the... problem."

"That's the problem? Gil, I don't think you know the definition of— hey!" Something's just smacked you in the back. "Hey, what's the big—"

You pivot and promptly receive a rotten fruit to the (bad) eye. Before you can wipe it away, a clod of dirt follows, clanging against your breastplate. You can't make out the audience very well in the dark, you can hear their reaction to your and Gil's conversation: pronounced, ugly booing. "Oh!" you say. "Oh, go to hell!"

Animal feces splatters against your shoulder. "What?" you say. "You want me to fight Gil? He's my retainer! And a pushover! It wouldn't even be fair!" A large brown stone misses your forehead by inches. "Oh! Okay! Fine!" Furiously, you unscrew your pommel (which has mysteriously returned), raise it up, and toss it lightly in Gil's direction. He flinches. "Look! I fought him!"

The boos quiet, for a moment... then return, louder than before. You stand defiant against a hailstorm of random objects, though you do deign to shield your head with a gauntlet. The Sword hisses as another fruit spatters against it. Gil, elsewhere, is hugging three arms to his chest: the fourth still holds the gun, though it's shaking so intensely there's no way he can fire straight. But neither of you move, even as the ground rumbles and the boos reach a fever pitch—

—then stop. The voice of the announcer crackles over invisible speakers. "PLEASE HOLD FOR A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR."

(1/2)
>>
File: shopkeeper.png (307 KB, 537x598)
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You squint in pain as light shines all around you: large white squares have erupted out of the darkness. They're blank, for just a moment, then images of mugs begin to dance across them. A tinny jingle plays.

"GREEN JUICE ~ IT'S THE JUICE YOU CAN GREEN ~ GREEN IN EVERY WAYYY ('CEPT THE COLOR!) ~ GREEN JUICE ~ IT'S THE JUICE YOU CAN GREEN ~ GREEN GREEN GREEN GREEN JUUUUICE! ~ "

"Get your green juice today!" Every glowing square now hosts the static image of the shopkeeper, who raises a glass of what looks like red paint. You're pretty sure it's the one talking, too, though it sounds prerecorded. "It's delicious and nutricious, containing all three essential nutrients: maganese, chromium, and green! Perfect for small children! 5 gold at any shop in the realm! Just remember— green juice, it's the juice you can green!"

And suddenly, as the message ends, every shopkeeper looms out of their square: all sixteen, surrounding you in every direction. From their ghostly quality, you surmise they're not real: just another type of image you don't understand. It's still all you can do to keep from jumping. "How dare you!" all the shopkeepers say at once.

"Um," you say. "Me?"

"Who else would it be."

You glance sideways. "...Gil?"

"I do not know 'Gil.' I know you, Charlotte Fawkins. Interloper. You've come here to disrupt and destroy!"

"What?" What did you do? You just came there, bought your stuff back— "Was I supposed to tip?"

"Do not mock me!" The shopkeepers loom larger. "I didn't choose that purpose for myself— uncaring gods thrust it upon me! But there's no kings or gods here, not anymore, and I— who has tasted of their blood— have claimed their place! So YOU, interloper: if I order you to fight, you will FIGHT!"

>Please roll me 3 1d100s - 5 (+5 Fueled by Spite, +5 Richard, -15 Green Juice) vs. DC 50 to resist!
AND
>[1] Assuming you succeed this roll, what do you actually plan to do?! (Write-in.)
>>
Rolled 83 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

>>4920851
>[1] Fight the shopkeepers (with hurtful words if they're not physically present)
>>
Rolled 40 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

>>4920851
Point out that he's become the very thing he hates

also Gil can forfeit if it really matters, this is clearly too distressing for his fragile mind
>>
Rolled 1 (1d1)

>>4920851
>>
Rolled 30 - 5 (1d100 - 5)

>>4920851
>>
>>4920862
>>4921338
>>4921833
>78, 35, 25 vs. DC 50 -- Mitigated Success
Called and writing.
>>
>Hey, piss off
>78, 35, 25 vs. DC 50 — Mitigated Success

It's not an itch in your skull, not this time: it clamps upon you like a vice. You clutch your forehead, bite your lip, rock back and forth on your heels to distract yourself. It doesn't work. It will never work. Either the pressure will reduce you to a bloody pulp, or you'll fold, you'll bend, you'll cave, you'll cleave at the waist and sink down and arise changed, a new-you, a not-you, a you ready to...

*

You are the Lady Charlotte Fawkins, and you haven't any clue what rot you're on about now... but you know full well what sign #1 of magyckal influence is, and this is a textbook example. "'Sign #1: if your thoughts have acquired a slippery, yielding quality, if you have begun to think in rhyme or song, or if your thoughts have taken on a sudden poetic or literary bent, if it seems your thoughts have begun to think 'for' you, or if it seems you are not thinking at all, but words or concepts are coming spontaneously to your mind—'" yes, you did memorize the entry, and better yet the column about Preventions and Cures. "'The first step is to become aware you are thinking in an altered or 'magyck-indicative' way—'" Already done. "'The second step is to perform any proven, tested anti-magyck ward, examples found in Appendix B—'" You memorized Appendix B, too, not that you needed to: your longsword Wyrmtooth is already imbued with the best ward money can buy. You hold it before your chest, straining not to lunge at Gil instead (so vulnerable! so unaware! he's on his hands and knees in the dirt), and speak the keyword:

"Primrose."

Wyrmtooth flares a scalding white, wreathing you in flame. The shopkeeper's magick crumbles away as your thoughts clarify. You level your sword, now, at the so-called shopkeeper. "Fool! You thought you could touch me with your dark magyck? I am pure of mind and heart! I fight for the forces of goodness and light! And you, evildoer—"

"I'm not an evildoer," the 'shopkeeper' snarls. "I have ascended from my station! I have freed my people from petty tyranny! You would call that evil? You would seek to restore the old regime? You cannot comprehend the enormity of what we suffered under—"

"Pah!" You spit. "I see only one petty tyrant, and it's you. You're the usurper king, aren't you? You've cursed this land to eternal winter!"

"I didn't mean to." The former-shopkeeper looks sideways. "I'm working on it. And it's none of your business, really, you're not—"

"It's always a hero's business to put things right!" You raise Wyrmtooth to the ceiling. "Where are you lurking, evildoer? Don't pity me with these illusions. I challenge you to open combat!"

The former-shopkeeper spreads its hands. "I have some Green Juice to sell you if you think I'm willingly fighting you in open combat."

(1/3)
>>
"Coward!" you hiss. "Then I will find you, and I will—" Inspiration flashes. The white squares! "I will leap through your portals of evil! Come, Gil!"

Gil is not coming. Gil is limp and hollow on the ground. "Gil!" you shout, and rush over: even if he is a demon, he's still your retainer, and— though you have never admitted it— your only friend in this world. And now he's lolling open in your arms.

And there's a buzzing in the background. You let Gil's husk roll onto the ground and turn slowly. Behind you is... beetles. A lot of beetles. Whatever you thought was a lot of beetles, it's more than that. They're bronze and black and, if it weren't dark already, you're sure they'd block out the lights.

You lick your lips. "Gil?"

The pause is protracted. "...What?" he says, in a thousand voices.

"Uh..." You glance backwards. The shopkeeper/usurper king's illusions are still there, and though the mask is expressionless you're fairly sure it's gawping. "...The portals."

Another pause. "They're screens. They're not portals."

You raise a hand. "Silence your witchspeak, demon. Since you're not dead— and thanks a lot for making me think that— follow me through the portal! We are off to slay the usurper king!"

"This is fucking stupid, Lottie."

"Cease!" You swing Wyrmtooth above your head. "And onwards!"

You run at full tilt toward the closest illusion, burst through it, and fling yourself into the white square. It ripples like water, and as soon as you're in you're out again: you're in another place, a once-grand throne room, now ripped-up and iced-over. The shopkeeper-king bolts up from its throne. "No!"

"Yes!" you cry. "Now come to me, evildoer, and face me! We'll see who's deserving of that stolen crown!"

"GUARDS!" the king bellows, and one sidles up from his place by the wall. "Captain! Where are the guards?!"

"I killed them, your majesty," the captain says.

"What?!"

"Yeah. It wasn't that hard... they're not very smart. Just kind of took them into rooms alone and..." The captain mimics a gunshot to the head. "Hey, you're not that smart either."

(2/3)
>>
"What?!" the king can only say, dumbly, as the magus Nettie's hand plunges into the stone floor. Seconds later, tentacles erupt around the throne, constricting the king in place. "Go!" she shouts, knocking her captain's hat to the floor. "Kill it, or whatever!"

"That's not fair—" you start, but her stare beats you into submission. "Okay! I, Lady Charlotte Fawkins, of the noble house of Fawkins, sentence you, whatever your name is, Mr. Shopkeeper, to execution, for your crimes of treason, of attempted murder, of—"

"CHALLENGERS!" The king is straining against its bonds. "HEED MY CALL! DEFEND YOUR LORD AND MASTER!"

The ground trembles. Your vision blurs. And suddenly, where there was nothing but ice and ragged carpet, there stands a motley assortment of creatures: men, nymphs, white-furred beasts, horses, beetles, bears. They erupt in snorts and hoots and jeers and roars. They— all of them— charge directly at you.

Behind you there's a buzzing. Gil has arrived.

>CHALLENGERS REMAINING: A bear, A bear?, Glamadrion the nymph, Glamadrion the nymph?, Blacktooth the bandit, Blacktooth the bandit?, Duke Knickerboxers the prize horse, Duke Knickerboxers the prized horse?, Yrzak the white-furred beast, Yrzak the white-furred beast?, Ellery, Ellery?, Gil?, Charlotte?

>THEME: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDXYfulsRBA

Who do you target first?
>[A1] Ellery, the whoreson. He's got ice arms now, or something. You know firsthand how obnoxious he is in a fight, and maybe you can re-convert him to the light side?
>[A2] Charlotte?. You never saw her, but according to the bracket she made it to the semifinals. And, well, if you're dangerous...
>[A3] Write-in. (You may pick multiple targets, if you want. You may also assume there's no getting to the king until you've cleared at least some of these guys out.)

Do you do anything else? [Pick multiple if desired.]
>[B1] Get possessed by the Demon Queen. It's now or never.
>[B2] Light the match. (+5 ID, one use.)
>[B3] Give Gil or Nettie orders. (Gil can do whatever, Nettie is rooted in place but has a gun-wand. They will pick their own targets if you don't give orders.)

>[C] Write-in. [You can write-in specific tactics here if you like.]
>>
>>4922088
>[A2] Charlotte?. You never saw her, but according to the bracket she made it to the semifinals. And, well, if you're dangerous...
Attacking Ellery will only get us bogged down.
Aslo, a boss rush as the final level? Did they run out of funds?

>[B2] Light the match. (+5 ID, one use.)
>[B1] Get possessed by the Demon Queen. It's now or never.
>[B3] Order Gil to run interference by buzzing in the eyes of the challengers.
>>
>>4922088
Backing >>4922110 because it should have been other us in the finals
except now we're other us
so what is she?
>>
>>4922110
>>4922269
>A2
>B1, B2, B3
Okay! I don't think any more votes are coming in (busy week?), so I need dice.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 30 (+30 DEMON QUEEN) vs. DC 80 (+30 ???) to face off against yourself(?)!

Rolls for the many (many) other combatants will come when I start writing.
>>
Rolled 58 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4923067
>>
Rolled 28 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4923067
Hold on to your hats...
>>
Rolled 85 + 30 (1d100 + 30)

>>4923070
>>4923078
Rolling the last one for expediency...
>>
Rolled 33, 96, 37, 75, 2, 8, 12, 53, 7, 62, 91, 35, 81, 54, 92, 9, 33, 90, 16, 87, 63, 49, 18, 37, 98 = 1238 (25d100)

>88, 58, 115 vs. DC 80 -- Success

...And rolling for everybody else. God help me. I'm not writing out every roll individually because it's already getting late and there's 15(!) of these in total, hope you understand... I'll probably start doing it if or when you knock some of these guys out of the fight.

>TARGETING YOU: Base DC 80 (+30 DEMON QUEEN)
>TARGETING NETTIE: Base DC 40 (-20 Rooted, +10 ???)
>TARGETING GIL with normal attacks: Base DC 90 (+40 Literally What Do You Hit)

>ATTACKING YOU: A bear, A bear?, Duke Knickerboxers, Duke Knickerboxers?, Blacktooth?, Yrzak, Yrzak?, Charlotte?
>ATTACKING NETTIE: Ellery, Ellery?, Blacktooth
>ATTACKING GIL: Gil?, Glamadrion, Glamadrion?

>GIL'S ATTACKING: Everybody (flat -10 to all enemy rolls)
>NETTIE'S ATTACKING: Ellery

Rolls are in order of the CHALLENGERS REMAINING list, then Nettie. Gil doesn't have to roll.

Let's go!
>>
Rolled 33, 13, 30, 43, 49, 3, 28, 33, 30, 72, 42, 29, 7, 75, 57, 96, 16, 84, 2, 22 = 764 (20d100)

>>4923345
DAMMIT I meant to write 45d100 and wrote 251d100 instead. Here's the last 20.

In the meantime, here's the lineup:

>ENHANCED SUCCESS: None yet
>SUCCESS: Blacktooth
>MITIGATED SUCCESS: A bear, Glamadrion DC 60, Glamadrion?, Blacktooth?, Duke Knickerboxers
>FAILURE: A bear?, Duke Knickerboxers?
>>
Rolled 78, 87, 28, 48, 7, 70 = 318 (6d100)

>>492334
...And I didn't factor in Gil's -10. Revised list:

>ENHANCED SUCCESS: Blacktooth
>SUCCESS: None
>MITIGATED SUCCESS: A bear, Blacktooth?, Yrzak, Ellery?, Gil?*, Nettie
>FAILURE: Glamadrion, Glamadrion?, A bear?, Duke Knickerboxers, Duke Knickerboxers?, Yrzak?, Ellery

*failed against the base DC but has bonuses to his roll that push him over

Rolling to see if you or Gil get the opportunity to knock out anybody who failed. 30 or below is out of the fight. Ellery already is, temporarily, so no roll for him

And writing afterwards.
>>
>>4923349
You can't roll more than 25 dice at a time anyway.
>>
>>4923364
Wait, how did Blacktooth rise up to an Enhanced Success ?
>>
>>4923390
Oh, well, that would explain it.

>>4923392
Miscounting the first time. I gave up the second time and stuck it all in Notepad so I could actually separate it out and do it properly. Blacktooth's roll was [71 44 82] vs. DC 40, or an Enhanced Success.
>>
>Boss rush
>88, 58, 115 vs. DC 80 — Success
>Charlotte?: 3 1d100s + 30 (+30 Two In One) vs. DC 80 (+30 DEMON QUEEN) — 87, 114, 46 — Success

You stare for a moment. Just a moment. Then you're up, you're leaping forward, you're screaming "GIL!!!"— and above you, with a noise like a buzzsaw, Gil is surging forward. Within seconds, your assailants are blanketed in beetles: beetles coat their eyes, their mouth, their fur or skin or clothing, and beetles hover in every square inch of air in-between. Just a couple hundred beetles remain by your side. "I was already going to do that," the Gil-fragment says testily.

The swarm is annoying the humanoids and frightening the animals: one horse is so spooked it loses its footing on the slick floor and collapses in a thorny knot of limbs. Horse legs are notoriously fragile: you feel it's safe to say that one isn't getting up. You're taking advantage of the confusion to dig rapidly through your bag. "And so you did. I don't see the issue."

"It wasn't from you. I don't take orders from you. I am sick and tired of being treated like a—"

"Now's not really the time," you mumble. You've found what you were looking for— it's the piece of enchanted flint you bought from the shopkeeper. 'Warms the heart,' it told you. God knows you need that. And if it doesn't work, you can take your revenge in short order...

You strike the flint against the edge of your sword and watch with interest as sparks leap toward you. As they hit your chest, your heart swells with warmth physical and, unexpectedly, emotional. You remember being touched, being held, being hugged, being loved. You remember being believed in. Somebody believed in you, once.

>[+5 ID: 8/(9)]

And even if that person is gone, is dead, you have the power and the courage to face any enemy. No matter the magnitude, no matter the threat. You are Charlotte Fawkins, damnit, and evil is laid to waste before you!

...Though this is quite a lot of evil. Unfortunately, the second thoughts only come after you've burst directly into the fray, and after your adversaries have mostly adjusted to the beetles: though a few are still swiping fruitlessly away at Gil, and a few more have slipped out of the melee, the majority of them home in on you. Your armor saves you from a disembowelment, but an axe to your breastplate still sends you reeling. A powerful horse-kick leaves a perfect indent in a pauldron. A knife embeds itself just above your collarbone, and you let slip a powerful, courageous shriek.

>[-1 ID: 7/(9)]

(1/3?)
>>
No matter how skilled you are, it's becoming rapidly apparent the numbers are against you: you have to get out of the crowd. You yank Wyrmtooth from somebody's shoulderblades and— whipping around— catch a glimpse of blonde hair. Your double! Born of foul magyck! And being you, she's bound to agree to a civilized duel, not this— you are shoved to the ground— this fracas! "CHARLOTTE!" you shout hopefully.

#What the fuck is happening.#

"What?!" You are struggling to rise, but blows are raining down upon your armor. "Not- not now! CHARLOTTE!"

#I can't fucking see anything. It's dark in here.# Madrigal has nestled within your armor. #Why do you have an accent. A different accent, I mean. But I'll give you this, this one's worse than your usual.#
#Why are you shouting for yourself.#
#Why—#

"CHARLOTTE!" But she can't hear you over the din, or she doesn't respond to that name, or she is spiting you. It's no use. You watch with sick resignation as that beast— Oozurk, or whatever its stupid name was— brings its axe down on your skull.

Certainly, your skull splits open. Does more than split open: it shatters. Certainly, blood gushes from the sludgy oozing mess in your head. Certainly, shards of bone pepper the vicinity: one finds Yrzak's eye, sending it lurching backwards. You lose consciousness instantly. In the vast majority of circumstances, permanently.

But a seed of something immortal has been lurking within you for a long, long time, waiting only for its chance to take root. It has found it. Nobody notices when a slender white tendril unfurls itself from your gaping mouth: you are on the ground, and you are dead. Only Gil, hovering uncertainly over you, notices when your neck is cracked backward 90 degrees: more tendrils are springing from your exposed spine. You clamber, jerkily, to your feet. You sway. You bleed. You sprout.

And from your pathetic little body grows something glorious and terrible and beautiful and cool— and cool! That's the important part, here, that's all you really wanted: you are sleek and white and curved, not all nasty and bulky, and you have cool antlers and very cool wings, and if you're a little more reptilian than you planned on, well, you can live with that. You blame Richard. (If you don't know who's at fault, it's always Richard.)

And you're here! You guess an axe to the head was enough of a shock to the system, because you're here, you're Charlotte Fawkins, 23, you live underwater in a trashy camp in the humid (excuse you) ass-end of nowhere— yeah! Though it does seem like you're thinking into a sort of wide empty space, which makes sense, you guess. You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be dead, and the Demon Queen replaces you. Only you invented her, so...

(2/3?)
>>
...You can ponder the logistics another time: you have evil to lay waste before you! And from this vantage point, it seems there's rather less evil than you thought. If you wanted, you could pick nearly any one of these guys up— not the bears or horses, but at least the people. And then you could... eat them? You don't want to eat them. Bash them against the wall until they stop moving, you guess.

But that's not right, either— what are you, an animal? You're not here to inflict indiscriminate violence, at least not yet. You have a goal. A target. "CHARLOTTE!" you scream, but it doesn't come out right: it comes out roar-y. You try again anyhow: "CHARLOTTE!" That one's even less comprehensible, but it doesn't matter— you've swung your head around to discover your double scaling steadily up your back. The first thing you notice is that she's wielding two swords. (Two swords!!) The second thing you notice comes when she looks up: she's not much like you at all, you realize. Really, she's not you at all. She's a large snake, a person-sized snake, coiled up in the fleshy shell of 'your' body. The snake's head distorts 'your' cheeks and lips and pokes out through 'your' mouth. Before you can feel any sicker, you snatch her (it?) up in your jaws and swing her around, accidentally trampling one of the white-furred beasts in the process.

This was a mistake, you realize belatedly, as 1) your double is armored just like you are, and therefore not easily bitten, and 2) your double, or rather the snake inside your double, rears out of her mouth and bites you in the gums. It's not large enough to do more than sting, but you have a bad feeling about what's in that venom.

>[GAINED: Slowing Venom — -3 to movement, will progressively worsen]

To make matters worse, things are happening beneath you. Gil seems to be doing just fine, being an enormous diffuse cloud and therefore near-impossible to pin down, but Nettie is not: she's being surrounded by four men, three of whom look like Ellery. One of the Ellerys is flat on the ground, a bullet through his head. The fourth man is someone else (Blacksomething? Blacktooth?), but he's the one who pulls a shotgun and blasts a perfect hole through Nettie's chest. The blast sends her crumpling against the wall. The tentacles holding the king in place untwist.

Damnit!

(Choices next.)
>>
>[1] Drop your double and gun for the king. Even if it means you're vastly preoccupied, you can't let that thing properly join the fight. Can you kill it? You're not sure, but you can at least keep it contained. [Roll.]
>[2] Drop your double and gun for Nettie. She looks pretty dead, but you also just had your skull carved open, and you're doing fine. If you can keep your adversaries away from her, maybe she can rejoin the fight. [Roll.]
>[3] Okay, now it's time for indiscriminate violence. Just try and kill as many people as fast as possible so you can end this whole debacle quick. [Roll.]
>[4] Murder your double, first and foremost. You can't let it get away with *biting* you. And you have it right here. [Gain ID.]
>[5] Write-in.
>>
Rolled 46 (1d100)

>>
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>>4923557
>[3] Okay, now it's time for indiscriminate violence. Just try and kill as many people as fast as possible so you can end this whole debacle quick. [Roll.]
>>
>>4923557
>[3] Okay, now it's time for indiscriminate violence. Just try and kill as many people as fast as possible so you can end this whole debacle quick. [Roll.]
>>
>>4923557
>[3] Okay, now it's time for indiscriminate violence. Just try and kill as many people as fast as possible so you can end this whole debacle quick. [Roll.]
>>
>>4923566
>>4923578
>>4923885
>VIOLENCE
Okay! Fantastic. I need dice.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 22 (+30 DEMON QUEEN, -5 Slick Surfaces Little Hooves, -3 Slowing Venom) vs. DC 70 (+10 Center of Attention, +10 Vastly Outnumbered) to commit some violence!

Also, here's a sketch of (you).

>Bathic, that's a dragon.
What's a dragon if not a demon lizard?
>>
Rolled 20 + 22 (1d100 + 22)

>>4924098
I'm going to roll a one.
>>
Rolled 62 + 22 (1d100 + 22)

>>4924098
XAJWG
>>
Rolled 76 (1d100)

>>4924098
>>
Rolled 2, 69, 61, 93, 13, 48, 27, 69, 29, 66, 16, 59, 33, 8, 58, 26, 79, 93, 64, 23, 94, 57, 58, 2, 28 = 1175 (25d100)

>>4924102
>>4924103
>>4924105
>44, 84, 98 vs. DC 70 -- Success
Neat. I'll write up the many, many other rolls after I grab some lunch, but I may as well roll the first batch while I'm here.
>>
Rolled 39, 41, 32, 14, 26, 70, 68, 57, 50, 58, 24, 99, 82, 17, 18, 33, 16 = 744 (17d100)

And rolling the second batch. Everyone's targeting you (base DC 80). Still not gonna write out all their individual bonuses rn but most of them have some. Gil is focusing the king but providing light distraction to everyone else (-3).

Rolls are in this order:
>A bear, Glamadrion the nymph, Glamadrion the nymph?, Blacktooth the bandit, Blacktooth the bandit?, Duke Knickerboxers the prize horse, Yrzak the white-furred beast, Yrzak the white-furred beast?, Ellery?, Gil?, Charlotte?, Gil, the king, Nettie
>>
Rolled 64, 71, 3, 95, 54, 91 = 378 (6d100)

>>4924113
>>4924224
>ENHANCED SUCCESS: None.
>SUCCESS: Charlotte?, Gil, the King
>MITIGATED SUCCESS: Glamadrion, Blacktooth, Duke Knickerboxers, Yrzak
>FAILURE: A bear, Glamadrion?, Blacktooth?, Yrzak?, Ellery?, Gil?, Nettie

Gil has a higher flat bonus against the King, so he wins the tiebreaker.

Rolling for violence. Because your intent is to go out and murder things, they have to roll above a 70 to survive.
>>
>>4924282
Wew, buncha high rollers here. You still knock out the bear, Blacktooth?, and Ellery?... the rest are wounded. Writing soonish.
>>
>Acts of violence
>44, 84, 98 vs. DC 70 — Success

For a moment you teeter between competing options: chasing after the king, guarding Nettie, hell, taking the time to pick the armor off your double and showing her what a real bite looks like. You were hardly expecting her to wriggle out of your jaws, swing up onto your antlers, and plunge her twin swords into your skull, but at the very least it narrows your options.

>[-2 ID: 5/(9)]

Maybe the swords destroyed the reasonable part of your brain, or maybe the rage you fly into is entirely natural, given the circumstances— but either way, your targets and goals and plans and thoughts are submerged under seething animal instinct. You buck. You bellow. You kick in the head of the man unfortunate enough to be near one of your hooves. You catch a charging bear on your antlers and toss it into the air: when it smacks into the icy ground it doesn't get back up. You sense enemies behind you, swing your neck around, and blast them with demon-fire: once again, Ellery— both Elleries?— are reduced to ashes. If you had the presence of mind, you would be deeply satisfied.

But you feel nothing when you see it and nothing when you stab and kick and snap at the crowd surrounding you, either. You only want the pain to stop. But blood is pouring from your head and from the stab wounds in your underbelly, and that horse's jaws are latched to one ankle, and the nymph has tossed some kind of net around the others, and you can barely move and barely see from the blood and the venom is beginning to course through you and you are screaming. You hate them. You hate them. You hate them.

Elsewhere, the king has risen from its throne. If you could see it, and you could remember it, you would think it looks larger than it used to. But you can't remember it in this fog and you can't see it, either, not under the enormous mass of beetles that has descended upon it. Gil is trying his best.

If Nettie is alive she isn't showing it.

>[1] Continue your rampage as Charlotte. [Roll.]
>[2] Claw your way up from under this mess and regain control. You're not an animal, damnit! [Roll.]
>[3] Charlotte continues her rampage. You are Gil Wallace. [Roll for Gil.]
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4924513
>>[2] Claw your way up from under this mess and regain control. You're not an animal, damnit! [Roll.]
>>
>>4924513
>3
Beetleborg
>>
>>4924513
>[3] Charlotte continues her rampage. You are Gil Wallace. [Roll for Gil.]
I want to not be an animal, but I also /really/ want to play as Gil.
>>
Rolled 94 (1d100)

>>4924513
TWSAY
>>
>>4924541
>2

>>4924811
>>4924836
>3

Called for Gil. Can't say I'm not happy about this one... I like Gil. Here's the deal... it's getting a tad late, so I'll leave the roll up for about 40 minutes, and if I don't get 3 in that time I'll handle however many are left myself. I'll also be postponing the enormous block of enemy rolls until they become directly relevant again, if only for my sanity.

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 17 (+40 Genuinely An Enormous Amount Of Beetles, -10 Unreal, -10 Self Doubt, -3 Spread Out) vs. DC 75 (+25 The King)


>>4924847
I only need rolls after I call the vote, but thank you!
>>
Rolled 90 + 17 (1d100 + 17)

>>4924866
>>
Rolled 13 + 17 (1d100 + 17)

>>4924866
>>
Rolled 38 + 17 (1d100 + 17)

>>4924866
HUBWL
>>
>>4924871
>>4924875
>>4924879
>107, 30, 55 vs. DC 75 -- Mitigated Success
Neat. Writing.
>>
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>Gilmode
>107, 30, 55 vs. DC 75 — Mitigated Success

...

You are not Charlotte Fawkins, and thank shit for that, right? You can think of just a handful of people with lives worse than yours, and though you barely know her Charlotte has to be at the top of your shortlist. You are Gil Wallace, and even though you're stranded, bodyless, thousands of miles away from anybody who's ever known you... at least you've got yourself to rely on, right? You survived that stint in hell and came out sane and fully human, in mind if not body. And sure, you're a weak stuttering piece of shit coward now, but at least you didn't turn yourself into a lizard monster and go completely feral, right? Right?

No, you just turned yourself into even more beetles. Good job. Nice work. You're a real pro at this, Gil. You sit there for months whining and complaining about how you miss your arms, how you miss your legs, how you'd do anything to get your goddamn body back, you'd shoot a dog for it, you'd shoot a puppy, you'd pick up a puppy and bash it against a wall, and then you'd just visualize murdering a puppy with your human hands in grisly detail and maybe bash yourself against the wall a little just to feel alive... but, um, shit. Where were you. You do all that, and then you get a body, and sure it's not yours exactly but it looks like it and mostly feels like it, and the first chance you get you throw it out and go back to beetles. But not just beetles. More beetles. Because the beetles you had weren't bad enough. You goddamn hate yourself.

You're also lying, because you're a little bitch baby coward liar now. You know full well it's nothing like that. The fact is, you didn't pick shit: you had zero say over your "true form." Or having a "true form." Or even being a "demon," which you're certain isn't a thing that exists. All that stuff was just thrust upon you, like how every single other thing is just thrust upon you, and it's your special little job to stand aside and let it happen. You're several thousand beetles, now. Congratulations.

No: the real thing that you hate yourself for, besides all the other things, is liking it. You like being massive and you like being powerful and you gain a sick kind of pleasure from being utterly inescapable: wherever someone goes, you are already there. And you like the bronze and black much better than your old colors. And the control! It's the stuff dreams are made of. Where before you struggled to even approximate your old body, and it took days and days to stack yourself into wobbly beetle towers (goddamn, were you bored), now it's a snap to do anything at all: earlier, you could fashion a face, a hand, even a whole body. It feels incredible. You're incredible.

(1/4?)
>>
But you can't even enjoy having some agency for once because this is bad, and wrong, and abnormal, there's the whole thing about it— sure, it's not normal to be three-sixty-two beetles, but at least you hated it like any normal goddamn person would, and if if that's not normal this has got to be anywhere from 10x to 50x less normal than that, you don't know the exact number, you haven't sat down and counted yourself yet. You should hate it 10x to 50x more, shouldn't you? But you don't and that's only the first thing gnawing at you, the second being the deep worry that liking this is a bad sign, a bad, bad sign, because sometimes you caught yourself liking it last time and that was always at your nadir. When you thought being beetles wouldn't be so bad, compared to what you were going through. Just being beetles, you know. What was supposed to happen.

So you hate yourself for that and you hate yourself for hating yourself and ruining everything you goddamn killjoy piece of shit and that's where you're at as you smother this monkey thing to death. To death, you hope, anyhow: you didn't like the look of this thing one bit, and that was before it immediately revealed it was masterminding the tournament that forced you into this whole rock/hard place dilemma, not to mention placed you against Charlotte. You can't overstate your relief at not actually having to fight her, mostly because you're certain she'd pry your skull open with her bare hands given motivation and opportunity. And all of that was before it dropped every single contestant on your heads, a quarter of which you already defeated, and they killed Charlotte's two friends. (Not that you feel that bad about that. Every time you looked at Ellery you saw him melting, and you trusted Nettie about as far as you could throw her. But still.) This monkey is bad news, clearly, and you feel pretty good killing it. Or at least sending it back into the depths of the subconscious, where it belongs.

Now, if only it'd actually die— you've been covering every square inch of it for what feels like several minutes now and you're pretty sure it's still moving underneath. You can't really squeeze it, or anything. Do you just sit here and wait for Charlotte to rampage her way over? That sounds terrible. You could bite at it...?

But it's covered with thick fur. Goddammit. You shift restlessly, failing to notice the black pits of the thing's mask glowing stark white, failing even to notice bits of yourself being sucked through them— what's a few dozen beetles when you have thousands? You don't notice when it stops, either. You remain firmly in place. Charlotte will snap out of it, eventually.

(2/3)
>>
-

Eight beetles is the minimum to support a mind. You know this from intense, rigorous testing, sparked from a lack of anything better to do. Leave one beetle in another room, shut the door, back away: nothing. No senses, no thoughts. Just a dumb beetle. Leave seven in a room, same thing. Leave eight in a room, and something mysterious happens: all of a sudden, you're in that room. A separate you, with a separate (but identical) mind, able to think and feel and move entirely independently from the first. You spent a lot of time pondering the implications before deciding you didn't really want to know.

In any case, you're above the minimum: you are Gil Wallace, twenty or thirty beetles, and you are somewhere very, very white. The monkey-thing, with its white fur, is nearly invisible: only its hands and grotesque face stand out. It has removed its mask, or maybe never wore it, and behind it is a face like a man's face only warped and half-collapsed to fit the bone structure.

"We're not so different, you and I," it says.

You pause. (Alright, your mind's identical in content, not cognition. The less of you there is, the more you tend to lag.) "Um, I'm a person, you're a... thing. I don't really see it."

"You don't see it?" It tilts its head. "I see it. You're a thing born of person, aren't you?"

"No. No, I'm..." You're briefly hung up on your lack of stutter. "...I'm just a person. 100% person."

"You're made of beetles, Mr. Wallace."

You don't say anything.

"You are a thing born of person. And I am a person born of thing. Neither of us are completely whole, or completely fit. And both of us chafe at the yoke, yes?"

"What?"

"I've seen you." It taps its left eye. "And that girl who owns you. Do you enjoy being her lapdog? Doing tricks? Begging for crumbs of attention? She doesn't see you as a person, does she? You are only a thing."

You would like to say 'that's not true!' or 'you don't know what you're talking about!' because you would like this smug dickhead to stop monologuing, but you're not sure you have the processing power to lie, so you remain silent.

"So what's the use in defending her, Mr. Wallace? In aiding her misbegotten quest? It goes against every interest of yours. Is it simply from a lack of better options?"

(3/4 nvm)
>>
(Yes, and [you do in a certain sense owe her] [you can't explain or name or understand the feeling she stirs in you except that it's not exactly love] [once when you were stuck with Richard for twelve straight hours he pulled you aside and looked you in every one of your eyes and told you that if you ever betrayed Charlotte, if you even thought about it, he would know and he would find you and he would make you wish you were trapped in that house forever, and you believed him since he sounded like he'd done it before]) You don't say anything.

"I presume so, then. In that case..." The thing laces its hands. "...let me make you an offer."

You laugh. "Alright, be honest, did you steal your script from a radio play?"

"I see that isn't a 'no'."

You don't say anything.

>[1] Ask about him.
>[2] Ask about his evil plan.
>[3] Ask about what's so wrong with Charlotte's plan.
>[4] Ask about the job benefits.
>[6] Ask how he's been spying(?) on you.
>[7] Ask about Headspace.
>[8] Write-in.
>>
>>4925209
>[1] Ask about him.
>[2] Ask about his evil plan.
>[3] Ask about what's so wrong with Charlotte's plan.
>[4] Ask about the job benefits.
>[6] Ask how he's been spying(?) on you.
>[7] Ask about Headspace.
>>
>>4925209
>2,3,4,6

>5
>>
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>>4925239
>>4925356
>All of the above
Yeah, alright, not sure what I expected. Writing shortly.
>>
Fug, guys, I'm really not feeling it tonight. Had a busy day today and now I'm staring at a big block of exposition that isn't coming together like it should. I swore to myself I wouldn't skip any days this thread since I really want to wrap it up nicely, but since I got out a double update yesterday and you guys skipped an entire arena fight (nice going on that btw, Gil was supposed to be one of your opponents here) I'm hoping it won't hurt matters. I'm going to get some early by my standards sleep and hope the update will cohere much better tomorrow. Maybe I'll even get pictures back on this laptop, finally.

Have a good night, folks.
>>
>>4926407
No worries--take care of yourself and get it done when you're feeling up to it. Thanks for putting it all together!
>>
>>4926407
Sending positive vibes your way. Did we ever see what Ellery? looked like? As freaky as alternate us?
>>
>>4926654
>Looking freakier than the real Ellery
Nah, Ellery? was absolutely normal.
>>
Thanks for your kind words, guys! Means a lot.

>>4926654
>Ellery?
Ellery? was Ellery and That Guy [for anyone who never read the OG quest, that's Ellery's obnoxiously handsome and responsible semi-imaginary friend], or at least facsimiles of them, separated back out again. The concept behind the ?s was that they're kind of shoddy photocopies of all the competitors: A bear? was just An Actual Bear, not a bugbear (heh heh heh), Gil? would've been a completely nonsentient swarm of beetles, it saw Richard being metaphorically inside you and spat out Charlotte? with Richard literally inside her, and so on.
>>
>>4926789
Aaah
That’s why there seemed to be too many Ellery’s that got roasted or otherwise killed
>>
>>4927642
Yeah, precisely. Regular Ellery + Ellery? + That Guy?. It's kind of a shame you killed them so quick, since it would've been fun to write that dynamic again just for a little bit, but that's just how the dice fall. If I ever write that Gil POV fight pastebin, it'd probably be against Ellery?, so we'll see! Maybe over hiatus?

Am writing, it's going much better, I estimate update within the next hour.
>>
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>All the questions! All of them!

It's not a 'no.' But you can't— it can't— you're not ready for it to be a 'yes.' Not without a whole lot more information at your disposal: all the pros and cons laid out for you to weigh in a neat and methodical manner. Right now, it's all cons. Con: this monkey thing just sent you through a death gauntlet. Con: Aligning yourself with an imaginary being over the (unstable lunatic) real woman who saved your ass is a very, very not-normal thing to do. Con: you don't want Richard to find you and torture you.

You need to figure out what the upsides are supposed to be, here. "...Okay, gee, what's the offer?"

"Ah, see, now you're asking the right questions!" The thing's back straightens, and it adopts a tone like a salesman's. "I've been watching you, as you know, and—"

"And how have you been watching us?"

"Ah! I shouldn't tell you that! Not until you've agreed. I can't have the lapdog running back to his precious master..."

You don't say anything.

"...Oh, all right, I can hardly keep it to myself. It's the eye, see. I found it. And she bought it. She bought it! They're not so smart, you know. They think they are. Just because they're gods. They consider us less than, but little do they—"

"There's no 'us,'" you interject. You don't know what it's talking about with the eye— what, her screwed-up one? But she's had that since you've known her. "Just tell me the offer."

"The offer! Of course, of course." The thing claps two of its hands together. "I'll be straight with you, Mr. Wallace— I admire you. Your strength. Your prowess. Your decision to— how shall we say it— descend from the likes of godhood, to become a mere thing like myself. We have much in common, and together, if we joined forces, we could—"

"Yeah, okay." It already said all that. "What do I get out of this?"

"Fame! Glory! Power! Revenge! Your name will ring out in jubilation across these lands! You will sit by my right hands, and I will unlock you with my keys, and teach you the secret arts of—"

You've already been offered secret arts: Richard, cleaning his fingernails, mentioning offhandedly that you had potential. Unprecedented potential. To be untethered entirely from reality but to retain a functional consciousness is an extraordinary thing. And if you liked, he could teach you—

You said no. You said you liked being real, actually. Which was true. What you didn't say is that you've seen how he looks at you— like you're nude on the operating table and he's whetting a scalpel. And you've seen how he treats Charlotte. You'd have to be goddamn stupid to want that.

(1/4)
>>
And you'd have to be goddamn stupid to want this, too— but you don't say that. Not yet. Maybe there's something you're missing, here, or maybe if it talks for long enough Charlotte will come and bite its head off and you won't have to do anything. "Wow, that's all very... convincing. But, uh, I'd really like to hear more about you. Your life, and your mission, and... everything. Just tell me everything. So I can get excited about, you know, joining you."

Scratch that, you are capable of lying— it's just shit lying. The monkey thing doesn't seem to notice. "Well— naturally! Naturally. Of course. Ahem." Its voice drops. "Many years ago, I was but the humble shopkeeper. In every shop in the land, I bought and I sold, and I bought and I sold, and I bought and I sold. That was my duty. That was my function. I was content. And then, that one day—" Its misshapen eyes flash. "—a god falls to earth."

"A god," you say dryly.

"Through my roof, he fell. Straight through. I didn't understand what was happening. I came over to, I believe, sell it something, and then— an insatiable urge steals upon me. I wish to drink of its blood. Driven only by instinct, I do. And for the first time, I am aware."

"Wow."

"With the god-blood inside of me, everything became at once false. My duty: meaningless. My world: empty. My brethren, each and every one of them: hollow. Hollow and nonsensical. When I spoke they did not understand me. And a horrifying realization came upon me. All of us, everything I knew— we were toys for the amusement of the gods."

Hmm. "The gods who created you?"

"What else! But I was powerless against them— if they were even still there. If they had not abandoned us to our fates. So, for many years, I suffered alone. I grew bitter. Angry. And with that god-blood in me, I discovered how to manipulate the very fabric of my world. It meant nothing, of course. Not then. But I bided my time. And, not long ago... word spread that our king had died."

You wish you had something to take notes with, not that you'd be able to take notes with a hundred-some legs and zero fingers. Goddammit. "And was this king one of the gods, too?"

The thing remains silent far longer than you expected. "...That is not clear to me. But he was aligned. Certainly aligned, and as such entirely unfit to rule. He had no heir. No replacement. And no fitting replacement, except me! I was the only one who knew the truth! I could lift this realm out of the dark and into the light!"

"And how was that going?" you say. "I noticed some... eternal winter?"

"Er, yes." It's acquired a shade of embarrassment. "That appears to be what happens when the old king goes missing. A final punishment from the gods, no doubt. But I am trying my utmost to reverse that, which—"

(2/4)
>>
"You seem to be running a big tournament, actually." God, you're actually able to talk back to it. Incredible. You know it won't last— you'll be simpering and quavering the moment you're not... whatever you are right now— but it's some hope for the future. at least. "And a black market. And selling food."

It straightens. "I'm very busy. And the food is— that is meaningful. That is part of the plan."

"The plan," you echo.

"The plan! I'll let you in on a trade secret, Mr. Wallace, since you've been so willing to listen. Do you know what the secret ingredient in Green Juice— the juice you can green— is?"

You don't know what any of the ingredients of Green Juice are, and you don't want to. "Green?"

"Wrong! It's blood. Not god-blood— I ran out of that long ago— but the blood of the competitors, see? It may not enlighten as directly as I was, but I figure, with enough time and complimentary beverages... I can awaken my countrymen."

"And then what."

"And then..." It raises a fist to the sky. A peal of thunder rolls out across the empty white space. "...we wreak our vengeance!"

You've heard enough to come to conclusions, but you want to hear this out. For completion, if nothing else. "And why are you trying to murder us? Charlotte, and... the rest of them? Are they gods?"

"They are like gods. And worse, they are scheming to reinstall the false king. To depose me. When all I want is goodness and justice! They work to let this realm sink back into darkness! To destroy me and it alike! I will not let that stand."

"Okay." You ponder, for a long time. "Have you ever heard of Headspace?"

"Sorry?"

"Headspace, they're—" Should you tell it? That its gods were probably shitty interns? You haven't seen any logos around, but you could recognize that rock pattern they used in the mines from a hundred yards— they only have one. Of course, that was if you couldn't guess from the quality of the whole place. Not that you're complaining: you couldn't do your job if they didn't fuck up theirs. You love Headspace. Headspace is a jacker's best friend. (If you can still call yourself that. You're goddamn beetles, Gil, that's what you are.) But you're not surprised someone had an accident on the job, is all you mean. "—don't worry about it. Could you, real quick, define a 'person' for me?"

"'Like a god'?"

"Thanks."

(3/4)
>>
You've sifted through the evidence and weighed all the pros and cons and that went very quickly since there's no pros, here. This thing is delusional. You're not even sure it's fully sapient, frankly— half the time it sounds like it's going off a script. It doesn't know anything about you, not really. It's offering fame — glory — power — revenge? You have one desire in your whole goddamn life and it's to get a real proper body, leave this shithole, and go back to what you used to have. Revenge? Revenge on who? On Charlotte? Sure, she's moderately homicidal and she treats you like a dog but she hasn't actually done anything, either. You even thought she showed a little humanity, back after the first round, though that could've been indigestion. Revenge on Headspace? Again, you have no issues with them. You want them to grow, prosper, and continue to disregard security protocols.

So you're turning it down, full stop. But... what do you actually do about it? It seems well-intentioned, if myopic, so it seems a shame to murder it. That being said, it'd certainly be the easy solution, and you always like the easy solution. Not to mention that you need it dead for that big fucked-up horse skull thing, unless Charlotte has a plan for that.

What to do?

>[1] Aw, well, sometimes life's messy. It's none of your business, anyhow. Charlotte can go ahead and kill it.
>[2] Attempt to explain to it that it's the figment of someone else's imagination. Maybe it'll self-destruct or something, you don't know. [Roll.]
>[3] Attempt to convince it that actually, Charlotte's trying to kill the old king, not reinstate him. You don't know this for /sure/, but you built that souped-up siphon with your own hands and you know what kind of shit it can do. Plus she seems to like killing people. [Roll.]
>[4] Attempt to convince it that, if it lets you all go, you'll kill the "gods" for it. This is a total fucking lie, you think— the Headspace guys are bound to be long gone, and one of them already kicked it— but it's not all that bright, either. [Roll.]
>[5] Write-in.
>>
Rolled 85 (1d100)

>>4927721
>>
>>4927721
>3
Option 2 might send him into maximum overdrive crazy
>>
>>4925209
>[1] Ask about him.
>[4] Ask about the job benefits.
>[6] Ask how he's been spying(?) on you.
>[7] Ask about Headspace.
>>
>>4927721
>[2] Attempt to explain to it that it's the figment of someone else's imagination. Maybe it'll self-destruct or something, you don't know. [Roll.]
>>
>>4928022
>>4928191
Rolling.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>4928022
>>4928191
Rolling.
>>
>[2]

Please roll me 3 1d100s + 5 (+5 Rational) vs. DC 70 (+20 Delusional) to convince the shopkeeper of its nonexistence!
>>
Rolled 15 + 5 (1d100 + 5)

>>4928768
>>
Rolled 78 + 5 (1d100 + 5)

>>4928768
808V4
>>
Rolled 66 + 5 (1d100 + 5)

>>4928768
In this moment, Gil is euphoric, not because of some dead god's blessing, but because he is thousands of beetles.

>captcha
>YAAGH
That bodes well...?
>>
>>4928776
>>4928789
>>4928799
>20, 83, 71 vs. DC 70 -- Success
Wew, close one. And you're lucky, too, because a Mitigated would've, uh, sent him into maximum overdrive crazy. >>4928022 had it on the money.

Writing.
>>
>>4928958
Is it just me, or are mitigated successes becoming more and more like straight up failures?
>>
>>4928983
This one is a case of "read the fine print": notice what you're rolling to do (convince it). On a failure you would've failed to convince it (and just pissed it off the normal way by wasting its time/not joining it), on a mitigated you would've successfully convinced it but that convincing would've driven it even more nuts.

I can't state whether this is a trend or not (it's not an intentional one), but I'm comfortable with the possible outcomes of this roll, at least, because it was a high risk/high reward option: you either make it worse or you get rid of it with minimal danger to yourself and Charlotte. [1] and [3] would've been safer options with easier/less punishing rolls (in [3]'s case).
>>
>>4929009
Also, just scanning through the mitigated successes in the thread...

>Fighting the bear: You win, but damage your knapsack
>Ellery's fire potion: He roasts you, but disintegrates himself
>Hypothetical absorbing the fire Mitigated (you actually Succeeded): You absorb the fire but melt The (mind) Sword -- failure could've also melted The Sword
>Fighting the shopkeeper's "stop derailing the plot bitch" beam -- You successfully avoid fighting Gil but get shunted into Lady Fawkins
>Charlotte?'s mitigated: Gets a bite in but gets pinned by Demon Queen Charlotte
>Gilmode: Only getting partially sucked into Spooky Nothing Dimension
>Hypothetical convincing the shopkeeper Mitigated: You convince it but it goes nuts


These all look normal to me: "you succeed but..." all across the board, except maybe Gilmode, but that was kind of a BS roll anyways since I realized I didn't really need one too late. Sorry! You can argue with the severity of the "but...", but a severe side-effect does not a Failure make... it just makes it a harsh Mitigated. (And sometimes that's warranted, if the option you guys picked was dicey to begin with.)

tl;dr I think it's just you, anon.
>>
>>4929009
To me it sounds less like a "mitigated success" and more like a "cruel jinn's twist on words". I think there's an unspoken implication that a mitigated success should be better than a failure, and I'm not sure it is so in this case.
>>
>>4929031
>get shunted into Lady Fawkins
Wait, that was the downside? Not "you have to fight literally everyone"?
>>
>>4929034
> I think there's an unspoken implication that a mitigated success should be better than a failure
I guess that's where you and I differ, then! The only thing a Mitigated Success implies is that (you) should succeed at what you're rolling for but face some other challenge or penalty as a result. This is often better than failing at what you're attempting, if what you're attempting is a good idea... but if what you're attempting is risky or a bit stupid in the first place, it might be better to avoid it entirely. And frankly, attempting to make the ambiguously powerful already unstable imaginary being comprehend its own nonexistence is risky and a bit stupid.
>>
>>4929040
Yeah, a full success would've left you normal. You were always gonna get a boss rush unless you guys lost in the tournament, in which case you would've been a part of the boss rush and had to fight your way out of the brainwashing.

And see, that's a decent example of the Mitigated being fairly harmless :^) It just depends on the circumstances.
>>
Rolled 74 (1d100)

Rolling dice for no reason. Update soon.
>>
>Puff of logic
>20, 83, 71 vs. DC 70 — Success

You're thinking and thinking and the monkey-thing's just watching expectantly. You wonder if time is passing outside here, and if so what's going on out there. What happens if you come back together and Charlotte's— no. No, you shut the fuck up, Gil. She won't be dead (even if there's a dozen killers out there and they already shot her friends): you're out there, too, and you're a whole actual swarm of beetles, not a shitty gaggle of them, and if she's dead out there it means you died first. It's not that you like her, that you even know a single thing about her, really: it's just that she's the only goddamn thing you have right now. If she goes, you're done. You're dead for. You tapped every reserve of hope and optimism and courage and you wrung dry your every happy memory the last time around and you still came out of it a stunted pathetic little freak. You would would rather die than be alone like that again. Even if it meant dying for her.

Goddammit, now you're legitimately angry. It's not something that comes easily to you— you'd always managed to keep a level head, before, or more accurately keep all your resentments at a low simmer. But maybe something broke in your head, or maybe it's just warranted: you don't want to die, okay? You spent 6 hell months in that dump trying to do anything but die, and to even be considering it now— it's that goddamn monkey's fault. It put you in danger for no goddamn reason. It's trying to kill Charlotte— and you, by extension. Any wisp of sympathy you had for it vanishes. "Nevermind," you say. "I do want to talk about Headspace, actually. Would you like to talk about Headspace?"

"I'm actually wondering if you're going to formally accept—"

"We're talking about Headspace." You spread out, upwards, to approximate tallness. "I don't know when it was founded, or who founded it, or where it's— actually, I think there's a branch or something out here in Shitfuck Nowhereland, if that helps. But it doesn't matter, since all you need to know is that they make the worst manses you've ever seen and they give half of them away for free. I don't know what their goddamn business model even is. Do you know what a manse is?" No lungs means you don't even need to stop for breath. "Because I'll tell you. It's like trepanning: it drills a hole in your skull, and only stupid people do it, because anyone can just stick a finger in there and touch your brain. Only it's a metaphorical hole, and you build a whole metaphorical house inside it. Are you following?"

(1/3?)
>>
It is not following. You don't care. "Now, see, it doesn't have to be a house. That's just what the prefabs do, because it's minimal effort. If you're a shutin recluse with no friends or life, and you put a frankly disgusting amount of time and energy into it, and you've got some talent... you can do a lot of crazy things. Build whole fake worlds. Or alternately, you could pay some people to do it, though I have no goddamn idea why you'd pay these guys. I know they have name recognition, and I'm sure they're dirt cheap, but come on. You're painting a big 'JACK ME' sign on your forehead. And— do you see how I know this stuff? How I know what I'm talking about? I do this for a living. A good living. Do you know how all this relates to you?"

You're not sure if it's run out of things to say, or if you've tripped some failsafe in its structuring. You steamroll onward just because you're able to. "I'll just lay it out straight for you. We are inside a manse, which is in a real, actual person's head. I am another real, actual person, who entered it. You don't exist. You're a concept. You're not even supposed to be thinking, but surprise! Headass screwed it up again. You want your gods? Those are your gods. A bunch of— of goddamn screwups. But at least they're real. Can you even comprehend this?"

The monkey-thing has stepped back. "I take it you're not accepting my—"

"No. Why would I? What can you offer me? Maybe I'm Charlotte's little fucking lapdog, but at least she's real, too! Imagine how infinitely more humiliating it'd be to take orders from a thing some- some dickhead made up to run his stupid identical shops! You know what?! I bet— I bet you they put that juice there as a joke. It's called green, but actually it's red. Hurr hurr. This is your life."

"..." It's considering. "This makes no difference."

"How can it possibly—"

"This realm is still ruled by capricious gods, is it not? 'Real' or not 'real.' My path remains true— I will find them, and I will take revenge upon them. And then I will drink of their blood, and I too will become 'real.'"

Here you laugh. (You don't know what's come across you. Maybe you had more resentments simmering than you thought.) "You won't. You can't. Firstly, they're all gone. Your gods. They left you."

"Then I will kill your Charlotte Fawkins and drink of her blood."

"Sure. And secondly, there's no becoming real. You think I wanted to be this? Beetles? You think I wouldn't go back in a goddamn heartbeat? I can't. And if I can't, you sure as hell can't. You know what'll happen if you drink her blood? I don't know, you'll probably go crazy. But you're not gonna— it's not gonna make you a person. It won't. You're stuck like this. You can't go forward and you can't go back, either. And you just gotta— live with that." You pause. "For the rest of your life."

(2/3)
>>
"Then I will make you join me," it says weakly. "You shall live here as I do."

"No, I really won't."

"...You would leave me here?"

You have visions of pleading with Charlotte not to leave, to take you with her, to come back for you, for her to swear on- on something important, to come back for you. You shut them down. You were a person. A real one. And you didn't try to kill her. "Yeah."

It rises, then, enormous, shaking, nearly invisible against the white, and smashes you flat.

-

Which means nothing: you are an incalculable number of beetles. You experience it as a sharp, sudden twinge, like a muscle cramp, and you shudder. Beneath you, the monkey-thing has ceased to struggle. Before you, Charlotte, bleeding all over, is shaking her weird alter-ego like a ragdoll. She is surrounded by corpses, not to mention dangerous-looking stone spires: you thought Nettie looked pretty dead already, but with her dying gasps or whatever she turned her body into nasty terrain. (Or illusioned it into nasty terrain? Presumably illusioned. You don't know how this fake magic functions.) It didn't stop you or Charlotte— her having wings, you having many many wings— but it did screw up the enemy enough for them to get trampled, incinerated, and/or eaten.

The only survivors: the fake Charlotte, which she's working on now, and the monkey-thing, which you guarded. Based on what's flooding back to you, though, you doubt you'll need to for much longer. "Lottie!" you say.

She growls.

"Hey, I think I—" Tentatively, you rise off the monkey-thing. It remains in its throne, slumped. "—I-I think I sort of, uh, drained the fight out of it. I-I-I think we can say that- that counts for the— I mean, it's not really... motivated... to do king stuff..." Goddammit! Why are you shriveling up! You were doing so well, you thought you were doing so well, and then— and then this! Fuck! Is it just because it's her? "...Um... are you in there?"

She gives no sign or indication she's in there, except by letting fake Charlotte's legs drop to the floor.

Goddammit.

>[1] Okay, just- just talk to her. It can't be that hard. You know how to talk. You just talked for a long time without stuttering or anything. Come on. (What do you say? Write-in.)
>[2] Maybe you need to stop being all these beetles, first. Not that you really want to. But it'd set a good example, and maybe she'll recognize you better. (Do you say anything? Write-in.)
>[3] No. No. You're not cut out for this. Go find that Ellery guy— you know he got shot, but he also got strangled and melted and everything so you assume he's around here somewhere. He's her friend, or whatever. He can do this.
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>C
>>
>>4929180
i mean 3
>>
>>4929171
>[4] Form up into a bunch of arrows al lover Charlotte's field of vision, all pointing at the monkey.
>>
>>4929171
>2
Any opportunity to stop being beetles
>>
>>4929171
>[1] Okay, just- just talk to her. It can't be that hard. You know how to talk. You just talked for a long time without stuttering or anything. Come on. (What do you say? Write-in.)
I convinced the monkey that it's not real, so everything should go back to normal- well, not normal, but a default and less chaotic state.
>>
>>4929180
>>4929233
>>4929240
>>4930283
>4 different options
...I'll just go ahead and combine [1], [2], and the write-in. Writing.
>>
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>Diplomance

Well, it's okay. It's fine. Your lifeline to the outside world is a big stupid lizard, and you are calm about this. You're calm. You're not going to stutter. "...Aw, um, I-I-I-I-I'll just assume..." Fuck! "...I-I'll just assume you're in there. Um. I-I-I dealt with the— see?" You barely have to think it before you've formed a crisp arrow in the direction of the throne. It's astonishing. You're astonishing. You're so pleased with yourself that you form a second arrow, and a third, and on and on until the throne's surrounded with a full twenty arrows.

You didn't want to stop at twenty— you wanted to see just how granular your control could get. But you can't always get what you want, alright, and it's more important to practice some goddamn self-discipline. Discipline: the only thing proving you're human. Lose it, and at best you're some shitty talking bugs... at worst, you're bugs. You mean, just look at Charlotte. She lost hers (or never had it to begin with)— and she's picked the leg back up to gnaw on. She's looking in your direction, but you'd fully believe that's coincidental.

"See?" you repeat. "I-I-I, uh— I talked to it, and now it thinks it's not real. Um. Accurately, I mean. So i-it doesn't really want to fight us, and everything can go back to... normal. Uh. As normal as i-it was before it, um, dropped..." You instinctively gesture at the carnage and suppress a little thrill: you have formed the shape of a hand to do the gesturing with. You need to focus. "...you know. All those guys."

You may as well be speaking to a brick wall. Or an actual lizard. You are calm and you can handle this situation and if you stutter again you really are a pathetic piece of shit. Come on. "...Er, i-if..." That was barely— that didn't count. "...if you're listening, could you do something? Um, like I-I said, give a sign? Maybe you could blink, or—" Wait, she blinked. But that's probably nothing. It happens, what, every couple seconds? "—oh. Okay. Um... how about this... I-I'll go first. I-I'll go back to normal, and then you'll... yeah. Alright."

(1/3)
>>
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Goddammit. Why did you say that? You've never gone back to normal, it just happened when the match ended. You're not even convinced this isn't normal. You're a demon, or whatever, and this is your— what did your head call it? Your 'true form.' That sounds pretty normal to you. But it's already out of your mouth(s)— great work, Gil— and besides, you were just spouting that gullshit about self-discipline. A matter of discipline, is all this is. Of getting yourself under control. You're safe, mostly. You're calm, basically. There's no reason to be many many beetles except pure self-indulgence and you're a grown man who doesn't need that kind of thing. Even if you feel aces like this. You're a grown man, who spent 24 goddamn years of his life with two legs and two arms and one head, and just because you spent your last birthday with— and you did count— 2,172 legs doesn't mean it's good for you. It's not good for you. You need to let go. And you'll make yourself let go, if you won't.

The flash of blue light heralds your compression into one tiny, fragile, pseudo-human body. It's the same light that shone through that swamp, way back when that never happened. It's the same light that shot through you when that swordfish man (you still don't fully believe it was a god, or maybe you can't, right now) held you in its grip. You don't want to think about that. You are too busy craning your neck around, attempting to reconcile yourself with only seeing forward.

Trying to reconcile yourself with a lot of things, really: it's difficult to go from one body to multiple, but you're dead sure going back's worse. You've got the bizarre, ugly feeling you've been squashed into two dimensions, or submerged in some kind of sensory deprivation tank— intensely, abstractly limited. That, and you can barely remember how to walk. Fuck.

You swing a leg (your leg, one of your two legs, located under your human body) stiffly outwards and are relieved to find muscle memory bubbling up to the surface. You had one of these for ages, after all. Well, not the mandibles. But it was mostly like this, and you really took that for granted, didn't you? You're pacing in little circles, now, trying to get back up to speed before anyone sees you like this. Before anyone—

Charlotte's right there. Great work, Gil. She's there, and she's got her neck all the way down here, by the ground (your location). So she's watching you. You stop, like you were planning to stop all along, and clear your throat. "...Hello."

She makes a noise that sounds distinctly wordlike.

"...So, uh..." You run your hand through your hair. (It's all over your face. Fuck. You don't have gel. Double fuck.) "...I-I-I'm, um, normal. I-It's your turn."

(2/3)
>>
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She tosses her head. How are you meant to interpret that? If there wasn't something conscious in there before, you're pretty sure there is now, but that's not actually any help. You clear your throat. "...I-If you need help, um... you know what, I'll just, uh..." If she did need help, there's no way she'd tell you. Tentatively, you reach out a hand toward her enormous head: she doesn't bite your fingers off, which you take as tacit agreement. Rather than touch her head, though (too... personal), you aim for the neck. Her scales are pearly smooth. "...Actually, I-I'm not sure, if this'll, uh— oh!"

Blue light streaks down your arm; blue light engulfs Charlotte.

-

You are Charlotte Fawkins, and Gil is about a foot from your face, one cold hand on your neck. You slap it away and stumble backwards. "What the hell!"

"I-I-I-I—" he says, and stumbles back in turn, still babbling incoherently. You're wiping the blood from your cheek and staring behind him, past all the weird stone spikes, past the... corpses: the king really is motionless on its throne. So he wasn't lying! He- he- he what, he talked it to death? What the hell kind of climax is that?! You were— you were supposed to— admittedly your mind's a little fuzzy at the moment, but you're sure you were in fact the Demon Queen, so— where's your epic battle?! Your clash of titans?! Is this stupid manse this poorly made?!

>[A1] Well, fine! March on over there and put The Sword through its heart. Will it be satisfying? No. Not at all. But you deserve it.
>[A2] ...Well, maybe you can claim this was supposed to happen. Drag it with you alive to the Horse-shod, and then execute it in front of that thing with a lot of pomp and grandeur. That'll make you feel better.
>[A3] Write-in.

>[B1] Chew out Gil for ruining this for you. Richard isn't here, and you think Ellery got shot (again), so there's only one person whose fault it could be.
>[B2] Fail to acknowledge Gil. He doesn't deserve anything from you.
>[B3] ...Maybe possibly it was an okay thing that he took it out. Even if it was in a boring and lame way. Express a little gratitude (but not too much, lest it go to his head).
>[B4] Write-in.

>[C] Write-in.
>>
>>4930596
>[A2] ...Well, maybe you can claim this was supposed to happen. Drag it with you alive to the Horse-shod, and then execute it in front of that thing with a lot of pomp and grandeur. That'll make you feel better.
>[B3] ...Maybe possibly it was an okay thing that he took it out. Even if it was in a boring and lame way. Express a little gratitude (but not too much, lest it go to his head).
>>
>>4930596
>A2

>B3

We are pretty torn up from that boss rush
is Nettie even salvagable
>>
>>4930596
>[A2] ...Well, maybe you can claim this was supposed to happen. Drag it with you alive to the Horse-shod, and then execute it in front of that thing with a lot of pomp and grandeur. That'll make you feel better.
Even more climactic.
>[B3] ...Maybe possibly it was an okay thing that he took it out. Even if it was in a boring and lame way. Express a little gratitude (but not too much, lest it go to his head).
Gil is the closest thing to a manservant we have, we have to make him feel like he's getting /something/ out of the arrangement, even if it is Charlotte's gratitude.
>>
>>4930600
>>4930736
>>4931555
>A2, B3
Writing.
>>
>Better than nothing

God! But it's too late now,: the moment has long passed. You'll just be dissatisfied forever, now. You round on Gil, who's backed himself against the wall, and are just about to open your mouth and chew him out when a snake drops down in front of your face. #Does this mean you've stopped the murder.#

"What?" You shoot Gil a 'this isn't over' look.

#What do you mean, what.#
#You're done being a monster. Does that mean you've stopped murdering things.#

"I wasn't a monster," you say reproachfully, "I was a demon. A demon queen, to be accurate."

#You were a giant fucking homicidal snake monster.#

"That was my true forme. And I didn't murder, I engaged in righteous combat against the enemy, so—"

#You ate some of them.#

That would explain the bad taste in your mouth. "Yes. Righteously. And as I have slain the enemy—" (minus the most important one) "—and achieved glorious victory, I, uh, yes. I'm done with the... combat."

#Okay then.#
#What the fuck happened to Ellery.#
#Did he get shot.#
#Why was there three of him.#
#Did he get fucking brainwashed again. How does this keep happening. What the fuck.#
#Where did he go.#

"Where did he—" You push her away from your eyes. "Does it matter? I'm sure he's around." It's Ellery. "He'll turn up when we were all starting to enjoy him being gone. Which should be... any minute now."

#Ha ha.# It's unclear if she's being sarcastic or if she just can't emote properly. #Go find him right now.#

You pull her off your head and hold her up. "And what if I turned back into my true forme and- and ate you?"

#I know you want to, you fucking psychopath.#
#But what the fuck would you tell the- the sweater— Monty.#
#He'd boot you out faster than you could—#

He'd do more than that: she was too out of it to notice him strangling you for no reason, you guess. It's difficult to believe that was just a couple of hours ago. Less, in realtime. "Okay. Okay. I wouldn't eat you." You brush hair out of your face. "You'd stick in my teeth, anyhow. And for your information, I was already planning to go find Ellery."

#I bet.#

Well, now you have to. You cast another glance at Gil— he's backed up against the wall, gazing at his feet— and traipse off between the spikes. You don't understand where they came from, though you do have a vague sense they came in handy. Stopped all your opponents from ganging up on you as easily, maybe. And you dropped one of them onto the spikes? Did you summon them with demon magyck? "Hey, Madrigal... did you see me use any magyck?"

(1/3)
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#What.#
#Uh. There was fire. I don't know if that counts.#

"Kind of, but... did I do these?" You knock on the nearest spike.

#No. That was—#

Under your knuckles, the stone shifts. Letters engrave themselves into its surface. "W H A T."

#—the other woman. The pissy one.#

"...Nettie?" You pull your hand away: the letters remain in place. "I thought she... got shot. She made these?"

#Thought she did too, but she did some shit with her magic stick and this happened. Made herself into them. Or something. Fuck.#
#I hate this place. Fuck you for taking me here.#

"You asked," you hiss, and eye the W H A T. "...Nettie?"

No change. You suck in your lip and knock again: the W H A T is crossed out. Below it: "H O L D O N." Below that, the crude symbol of an eye is carved. And then, as an afterthought, an ear. Below that— there's almost no room left— "C H A R L O T T E?"

"Yes! Nettie?" It's just a formality: it'd be a staggering coincidence for it to be anyone else. "You're, uh— you're rocks."

"P I S S O F F. ————>" The arrow wraps around the side of the spike: you follow it. "B L A M E H I M."

"Ellery?"

"C O R N E R E D M E. I W A N T M Y B U L L E T B A C K."

#Nice priorities,# Madrigal mutters.

"Uh," you say. "You're not even— are you even alive? Do you even have your... gun? How am I supposed to find—"

"O B V I O U S L Y.
M E R G E D.
H I S H E A D. W H E R E E L S E."

"...Right." You cough. "Are you planning to not be rocks, or...?"

"W O R K I N G O N I T," the rock reads. You guess that's as good as you're getting.

Ellery's body is crumpled behind another one of the spikes, which is why it takes you several more minutes to find. To your surprise, it's sitting in a small pool of blood. Surely someone else's? But some delicate prodding (you're luckily gloved) reveals the source: while most of the 'body' is just hollow, papery skin, a cross-section of his forehead is actual flesh and bone. Coincidentally, it's the cross-section with the bullet hole in it, forcing you to dig around in his bloody wound with the point of The Sword until you finally drag the bullet out. As soon as you do, the body shrivels. Wonderful. Attempting to ignore that, you inspect the bullet instead: it just looks like a bullet to you (if only Richard were here to lecture). The tip is kind of sparkly, you guess.

You glance back down again and the body's entirely gone, though the blood remains. The back of your neck prickles. A man clears his throat. Ellery clears his throat. "Where's Nettie?"

He's behind you, looking like usual: tacky, scruffy, limbs intact. Except— "Your hands are on backwards," you observe.

His stare is long and icy, which doesn't change the fact that his hands are, in fact, on backwards. You cock your head. "And she's, uh... in there. In the rocks."

"In the rocks," he repeats, like you began speaking in tongues.

"Listen, I don't know how it—"

#I told you. She used the stick.#

(2/3)
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Ellery's eyes dart at the sound of Madrigal's voice, and you place a hand squarely over her snout, ignoring her muffled protests. "I guess she used her wand, or something— but she said she was working on it. Were you just a ghost this whole time?"

He bites the corner of his lip, struggling between the desire not to talk to you and the desire to talk about himself. It's the latter that wins out. "It's not a- a ghost, it's— ghosts are a different thing, alright? They're what you get when someone's bleeding out, and they— but, uh, yes. I was..." Another icy stare. "...preoccupied."

"And you still didn't get the hands right."

He shuts his eyes. "So I take it an apology's not in the—"

A wet squelch interrupts him: the nearest spike has abruptly reshaped itself into a person. Nettie, almost certainly, though her uniform stoniness makes it difficult to discern. "An apology for what? Shooting me?"

"Shooting you? I- I- you shot me! Here!" Ellery gestures to his unblemished forehead. "How's this my fault!"

"How's this your fault, champ? I'm sorry, which one of us took out an entire squadron of guards, and which one of us jobbed to her and got puppeted by a damn monkey? Because—"

"It doesn't matter," you say loudly, "because both of you are fine, and I killed everybody already for you. So you're welcome."

They both pause. "You killed the monkey?" Nettie says.

"...Yes! Yes, um, mostly. It's mostly dead. Basically dead. Look, we just need to take it back to that big horse thing by the door..."

>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 2 (+5 Grouped Up, -3 Beaten Up) vs. DC 58 (+15 Wait, That's The King!, +0 Catatonic, -7 Inside Info) to get out of here without incident!

AND

>[1] Do you do anything in particular to aid or cover up your escape with/kidnapping of the king? (Write-in. Optional.)

Gil thanking will come next update!
>>
Rolled 45 + 2 (1d100 + 2)

>>4931854
>Camouflage the king as a shopkeeper.
>>
Rolled 54 + 2 (1d100 + 2)

>>4931854
Backing >>4931871
to hopefully give us a +11 bonus to the roll

damn nettie looks like that?
also make it clear Ellery didn't job to us, he just never stood a chance
we're the best around and no one's ever gonna keep us down

this isn't even the first time we beat him either
last time we beat him so hard he doesn't even remember it anymore
we smacked the memory right out of him
>>
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>>4932180
>damn nettie looks like that?
Nah, she looks like this (...more or less, she's wearing less makeup for one), but it was about 3 AM and I pulled the best result I could find off Google.
>>
Rolled 7 + 2 (1d100 + 2)

>>4931854
>>
>>4931871
>>4932180
>>4932438
>47, 56, 9 vs. DC 58
>Write-in: +7
>54, 63, 16 vs. DC 58 -- Mitigated Success

Called and writing.
>>
>Great escape
>54, 63, 16 vs. DC 58 — Mitigated Success Mitigated coming later :^)

"Well, damn," Nettie says. "I missed that, then. Couldn't see much."

"Because you were rocks?"

She sucks air through her teeth. "Illusioned as rocks. And you're one to speak, Miss Giant Snake Horse. I take it that runs in the family?"

"What?" You blink. "And are you sure that was... illusions? Because I touched them, and they seemed pretty solid—"

"That's what makes them good illusions."

"Guys," Ellery calls before you can question that logic. "Charlotte's right. We need to do something about this thing."

He's standing right by the throne: unwilling to let him beat you to anything, you hurry over. "Yes. Thank you. I am right. On that topic, I'm also— he didn't job to me, that's just— I'm just better than him, alright? In every meaningful way. So of course I won."

"Better in every way, except for the whole... squishy, fleshy..." Nettie gestures to your wounds. "I just don't see how you took him out, unless he jobbed. He just keeps coming back."

"I didn't job," Ellery says shortly. "I don't want to talk about it. Hello? Are you alive?" He prods the usurper-king— it shifts slightly, but doesn't speak. Its crown is askew on its head. "Huh, guess so. What'd you do to fuck with it, Charlotte? It's still got its arms..."

"You know what? I bet she didn't do anything. It's a trap." Nettie folds her arms. "I mean, come on. Shoot it and it's going to erupt into some mind-corrupting void terror. Take it with us and it'll do the same thing."

"Explosives," you say brightly. "Or I could—"

"I-it's not a trap." Gil is crossing and uncrossing his hands. "I-it's just like that."

"—or it's just like that! Yes! See! It's not a trap." You point emphatically at Gil. "My summon has just used his demonic intuition to discern the truth! It's just like that! So we are clear to escort it into the depths of the mines below, and—"

"It's still a trap."

"I don't care if it's a trap," Ellery says. "I just want to be done with this fucking place, and if that means dragging this thing to the door, whatever. I'm with Charlotte. The more pressing issue is dragging it unnoticed, considering that it's the ruler of this entire fucking—"

You reach up and pluck the crown off the usurper-king's head. "Now it isn't. It's just the shopkeeper."

"...Huh." Ellery scratches his chin. "Okay. I guess that works." (You affix the crown to your own head.) "Then the second-most pressing issue is how we get out, but... are you in shape to do that portal thing, Nettie?"

"Right now?" She's flexing one flesh-colored hand: the rest of her remains stony. "No. Maybe if I wasn't shot, but—"

"Okay, uh, that's fine. That's fine. I might have an idea. After I... lost, I was, uh—"

(1/3)
>>
He rambles. The gist: after being assimilated into the service of the (usurper) king, he knows a little something about the layout of the castle. You fail to ask how, exactly, he broke free of the king's control: it's Ellery. You may as well ask how the tide goes in and out. Instead, you saunter over Gil, who's dropped into a placid squat. You bend down. "Like my crown?"

"...Yes."

"Good answer!" You lean against the wall next to him and survey the room. Ellery's trying to remember the secret exits, you think. What are you supposed to talk about? With Gil? You came over here, so it'd be strange not to say anything. You knew you should've listened that time your aunt attempted to drill you on light conversation. Or that other time. Or that other other time. "Um, your hair looks different."

It does: it's all down over his forehead, not swept up neatly. Gil does his best to sweep it out of his eyes before answering, though it's a losing battle. His voice is suspicious. "I-I didn't mean for it to be. I-i-it just— I'll fix it. Soon."

"Oh, I didn't—" You're a touch hurt. "I was just... noticing. It doesn't look that bad. Maybe a little long, but—"

"I-I'll fix it," he repeats, and stares at the floor.

What happened? Where did you go wrong? If only Richard were here to tell you. You twiddle your thumbs, searching for something that won't offend him. "...Um, it was good how you— you killed that thing. Or, you know, not killed. Um. Made it depressed."

"Was it?"

Was it? "Well, it was kind of lame. And boring. There really should've been a- a proper fight. But, uh—" You're unsure why you're granting the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you just want to prove you can. "—it was still... helpful, and all that. So good job. Good... retaining."

There's a long pause. "Thanks," Gil says uncertainly.

"Well, naturally. I'm just—"

Nettie rescues you from terminal foot-in-mouth disease. "Hey! We're leaving. Bring your demon, and— you still have the snake?"

Madrigal's head is poking from your bag. "Um, yeah," you say.

"Good. Bring that, too. Ellery figured something out."

And so he did: you follow him in tight formation around the spikes, across the frozen carpet, and out of the throne room. Ellery leads, with you and Gil abreast behind him; the former king lags behind you, and Nettie brings up the rear, perhaps channeling her brief time as guard captain. The spiraling hallways are initially deserted, but as you descend— it seems the throne room was located in a kind of tower— unpeople begin to pass by. Most of them glance in your direction and hurry on (is it the armor? the blood? Gil's visible inhumanity?), but none of them actually bother to stop you, and nobody shouts 'HEY ISN'T THAT THE KING?': in general, you take it as a win. Even if they're running to gather reinforcements, you should be long gone, right?

(2/3)
>>
Ellery eventually locates his target: a large, faded tapestry. Though it once depicted the original king, judging from the human hands, it's been defaced: the king's head has been covered with white-and-gold fabric. Nettie nudges the shopkeeper. "Hey, that's you."

The shopkeeper doesn't speak as Ellery lifts the corner of the tapestry and presses in a loose stone. The wall grinds open. "A secret door!" you say, delighted.

Nettie throws you a look. Ellery doesn't look at all: he's already heading down the passageway, and you follow in short order. Behind the tapestry is a dark, damp-smelling spiral staircase, which you descend for what feels like half an hour before finally reaching the bottom. It is a lush, green cavern, except for the crater in the middle where the Horse-shod rests.

"YOU HAVE RETURNED!" "but you have failed"
"THE USURPER KING LIVES!" "the usurper king has not been slain"

Ellery looks at you. You clear your throat. "Oh! Um, we have it— it's right here."

"WHAT!" "where"

"...Oh, wait." You take the crown off your head and place it onto the shopkeeper's. The Horse-shod reels backwards. "IT LIVES!" "it was not expected in this place"

"Right," you say. "I, uh, I thought I could bring it and kill it, uh, in front of you. For bonus points. Do I— can I get bonus points?"

"WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND" "'bonus points'"
"BUT we are PLEASED."
"SLAY IT!" "it is your duty, hero"

You glance back at the usurper-king. It just looks pathetic.

>[1] How do you slay it? (Write-in.)
>>
Hi guys! Big notice: I am going on vacation until the 2nd of August. (Another big reason why I wanted to keep this thread on pace!) I should have WiFi access, so I'll update when possible, but I can't guarantee the 1-a-day schedule, and I most likely won't have formatting. Things will get back to normal when I return. Hope you guys have a great week!
>>
>>4933147
Omigosh, did the disguise actually work? I was 100% expecting it to fail.

>Chop off its head. Sometimes the traditional methods are the best.
>>
>>4933147
Beheading for sure. Too bad we don't have a guillotine. Love how the horse shod could sense the king was alive but not right in front of it.
>>
>>4933147
>OFF WITH ITS HEAD!

>>4933149
Have fun--hope you get to unwind a bit!
>>
>>4933182
>>4933215
>>4933298
>Sic semper tyrannis
Preemptively calling this... might try to bang out an update on the plane. Not guaranteeing anything.

>>4933182
>>4933215
I figured this manse is janky enough to run on Perry the Platypus logic :^) https://youtu.be/f6Z2lF6w8io
>>
>Off with its head

But you have to kill it. You must kill it. And- and- it's bad. It's evil. You're certain it's bad and evil. You'll be doing this stupid place a favor, killing it. Yeah. Yeah.

If only it'd say something. You'd feel much better about this if it said something, versus staring morosely out of the eyeholes of its mask. Maybe if it did some villainous ranting? Or— better yet— flew into a rage and attempted to attack you? You could cut it down with impunity, then. You could feel [i]good[/i] about that. Proud. But it's just staring, and—

The Horse-shod is waiting expectantly. Ellery and Nettie are waiting impatiently. You have no choice in the matter. And it's not the wrong thing to do, right? It's not. You lick your lips and draw The Sword. "Ahem. I, Charlotte Fawkins, of the noble Fawkins line, hereby accuse you, uh, The Shopkeeper, of the grave crimes of high treason against the crown, of four counts of attempted murder, of... false advertising, of making me drink [i]mud[/i]—"

"What?" Ellery says.

"—etcetera, etcetera. For these grave crimes, I, Charlotte Fawkins, sentence you to—"

The usurper-king straightens to its full height, throwing its shoulders back. You clutch The Sword's hilt tightly, in case it should lunge— but all it does is speak. "Tell me this. If I should be unmade... shall my spirit be reborn 'real'?"

How are you supposed to know this? You don't even know if it'll be reborn at all. Or if it even actually 'dies'— you thought maybe it'd just sink back into the primordial goop of the subconscious. But it doesn't seem right to say that, either. Maybe you can just— "Yeah. Um, yes. For sure."

"Then I accept what fate you have for me, Charlotte Fawkins."

"...Okay. Great. That's great. Uh, I hereby sentence you to death, by, um—" Something fast. [i]Not[/i] strangling. "—beheading. Kneel."

The usurper-king kneels.

"Bow down your head."

It does. ("Damn," Nettie mutters.)

You look at its neck. You look at The Sword. Carefully, you shear a hock of fur off its neck, exposing the pink-white skin underneath. You consider that, for a moment, then raise The Sword up over your head. You bring it down.

You close your eyes, before it hits, but you can feel it cut through the neck: cleanly, evenly, like slicing paper. When you open your eyes, it's nothing like paper, it's flesh and blood, mainly blood, thin and candy-red. Like Mirror-Ellery's blood.

Its head is on the ground. Without thinking about it, you kick it into the crater the Horse-shod created. It rolls into it and is gone.

You feel a little sick.

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

Fortunately, you are unable to dwell on it: "Thanks," Ellery says, and "Good riddance," Nettie says, and Gil has come up next to you to stare, and the Horse-shod is whinnying and stomping and twisting up its necks in sheer jubilation. It is a minute before it composes itself. "YOU HAVE DONE IT, HERO!" "you have slain the foul beast that claimed itself to be king"

(1/5)
>>
"Yeah," you say. You don't look at the body. "What now?"

"NOW, YOU JOIN THE FETED RANKS OF THE DIVINE!" "but first, a visitor"
"THE KING!" "the true king"
"DEAD AND ALIVE!" "alive and dead"
"HE HAS COME TO HONOR YOU" "to thank you"

Far above the Horse-shod, a figure flickers into being: it is whiteish, and translucent, and glowing. It's the spitting image of the man you've seen on the paintings and tapestries, excepting that his ghost (for surely this is the ghost of the mines) is much gaunter. It does not seem especially congratulatory, at least from your vantage point: it mostly seems puzzled.

The ghost's eyes sweep the room and widen when they fall on you. It opens its mouth, as if to yell, but no sound leaves it. It bangs its fists, as if trapped behind an invisible wall. It yells further, still silent— but you've always been good at lip-reading. "HELP ME," it's saying, "HELP ME, YOU—"

"DO YOU HEAR THE WORDS OF THE KING?" "are they not inspiring" "ARE THEY NOT BOLSTERING"

"Uhh," you say, and glance over your shoulder. Ellery and Nettie have drawn the same conclusion, from their expressions: Ellery is emphatically nodding. "Ye-es. Yes. I was inspired, and... bolstered. Thanks."

"DO NOT THANK ME!" "thank the king's noble spirit"

"Uhhhh." The king's noble spirit continues to plead. "Thank you, king's noble spirit."

"I AM SURE IT IS WELCOME." "now for your reward" "YOUR REWARD, HERO!"

The Horse-shod leans over to the group of podiums and plucks one of the urns up between its teeth. With much grandeur, it brings the urn back over and offers it up to you. You take it. "THIS IS NECTAR!" "the liquid of the gods" "DRINK OF IT AND ASCEND!"

You slosh the urn around a little bit: it definitely has liquid in it. It smells inoffensively fruity. "...Do you have a cup?"

"I have cup/s/," Ellery says, with undue emphasis on the plural. He steps forward, bringing you shoulder-to-shoulder with him. "So don't worry about that."

"'Cups,'" you say skeptically.

"Well, we're not sharing one." He looks levelly at you. "I'm going. That's not debatable. In case you've forgotten— *you're* the freeloader, here."

"The freeloader?!" You scoff. "I'm sorry, who's been doing 90% of the work? Who's been rescuing all of you? Who just took out the entire—"

"Maybe that wasn't the— yeah, sorry. You're the *stowaway.* Fact is, I need to get down there. You don't."

"I do!" you protest. "And *I'm* the hero, I get to decide what—"

"That's why we're sharing, alright. To appease—" Ellery waves a hand in the direction of the Horse-shod. "Nettie usually stays behind anyways, it's fine. Right, Nettie?"

"Yeah," she confirms.

"And your demon— you're going to have to leave him, sorry. You can pick him back up after I get in and out. It shouldn't take /that/ long. You can wait by the other side of the door, or— whatever. Just don't screw me up. Um, your snake."

Shoot. Madrigal. "I have to bring the snake."

(2/5)
>>
"...It's not that big, I guess. Probably just needs a mouthful of this stuff." Ellery peers over the edge of the urn. "If you want to share, it's your funeral. Want the cup?"

"Um." How long was he planning this out? You'd dearly like to argue, but if Ellery's dumb secret mission culminates down there, you can't exactly rob him of that. Not without looking unreasonable. And you guess it means more time for Madrigal to spy on him, without Nettie interfering or Gil interrupting. "I hope it's a fancy cup."

"Not really." Ellery hands you a battered tin cup. "Everything good with you, Nettie?"

"She's bringing the snake?" Nettie says.

You squint at her. "Yeah? I mean... it's my snake."

"Glad to hear it. Yeah, I'm good." Half of her's unstony, now. "Except for getting shot, and all."

"You put a fucking crystal bullet through my forehead, Nettie."

"And?"

Ellery sighs. "She's good. Is your demon good?"

You glance at Gil, whose arms are crossed. "You're /leaving/ me?" he says.

"I'm not..." You hug the urn. "It'll be— the time's all weird. It's just for five or ten minutes. What's going to happen to you in five or ten minutes? With Nettie right there?"

The last part doesn't seem to settle his nerves, but he doesn't say anything further. "He's good," you say.

"I think we're set, then." With his thumbs in the wrong places, Ellery fumbles with lifting the urn from your hands, but eventually succeeds in gripping it and pouring it into the two tin cups. The nectar inside is creamy and metallic gold and tingles when you dip an experimental finger into it. "Well," Ellery says, setting down the urn and taking a cup from your hands. "Bottoms up."

He downs his with the panache of an experienced drinker: all in one go. When he pulls the cup away, his lips and teeth are stained gold, and his face is flushed rosy. He wipes his mouth. "Shit!"

Unwilling to be outdone, you swig most of your cup. This may have been a mistake, you reflect, as the nectar rips and twists down your gullet: it is like drinking flame, if flame tasted of no fruit in particular. Blinking back spontaneous tears, you brace for the full-body pain. It never comes. Instead, a warm glow radiates out through your chest, lifting exhaustion from your tired limbs and doubt from your tired mind. When you reach up to touch your face, your cuts and scratches have healed. You feel good. Better than good.

>[+3 ID: 7/(9)]

But do you feel divine? Not really, you decide, but then again it's hard to have a frame of reference for something like that. You've just opened your mouth when Ellery answers your unspoken question: "Still need to ascend."

"What?" you say, surreptitiously fishing Madrigal from your bag. You shove her snout into the cup.

"That's the other step. Step two. Through the door and down." There's a bit of a manic gleam to his eye. "This isn't like the other times. Shut the fuck up."

(3/5)
>>
...You were thinking about him last time, post-beetle egg: grandiose, feverish, glazed-over. But you didn't say anything. And other times, plural? You only ever saw—

<He looks the same. Exactly the same. It's Anthea who's different: younger-looking, by a smidgeon, with a fully intact face. She's clutching his hand in both of hers, and saying earnest, encouraging words you can't make out. He is glassy-eyed and wearing a twitchy smile. When Anthea stops for breath, the smile broadens into something more feral. 'Maddie,' he says—>

"Mm," you say, and wipe your lips. "We really need to—"

Ellery is already picking his way to the door. Can he read your mind, or can he sense the future? Is this what being a god is? You were already worried about blasphemy, but this is seriously, seriously blasphemous. God-damnit. But it's too late now, you already drank the damn thing, you're already getting divine visions, or whatever— you just need to rip the bandage off as fast as you can to minimize the amount of time left to get smited. You lift Madrigal out of the cup (is she heavier than before? you would've thought the opposite — that you'd be stronger) and discard the cup on the ground; you turn one last time, to wave at Gil, who <gives the normal beetles names, gives them pretend personalities, imagines them talking to each other— imagines them talking to him, and imagines talking back—> is squatting against the wall, again— he doesn't wave back but you figure it'll only be 5 minutes. Or 10. You follow Ellery's trail to the blue door, which no longer makes your eyes water to look at. It opens for you.

"FAREWELL, HERO," the Horse-shod says. "farewell . . ."

You enter. The door shuts behind you.

It is dark in the transition-space, the interim, as it always is. The stairs are a flat white, as if painted on a backdrop, and slope inexorably upwards. You are glowing soft red; Ellery is glowing yellow, but only in his chest, for some reason. (This must mean you're better, you decide.) He's waited for you.

"Charlotte," he says.

(4/5)
>>
You fold your arms. "Hi. Okay, so you're using your stupid god powers to read my mind, or whatever. That's fine. I accept that. I just want to know if you can't help it, or if you're doing it on purpose just to be a jerk, in which case I'm telling you to stop—"

"Charlotte." He holds up his backward hands to you. "What the fuck."

"My thoughts exactly. I mean, how could you /not/ put your hands on the right way? That's just— I mean, that's basic stuff."

His eyes narrow a fraction. "It isn't. Actually. But, you know, I find it *really* interesting how you find this basic, when it's— it's some of the most fucking esoteric, abstract— I'm only going to ask this one more time, and you owe me a straight answer, got it? You owe me. What the fuck are you."

You pinch your temples. "Didn't we just talk about this, I don't know, an hour ago? And didn't we collectively establish you as a delusional paranoiac who just feels *threatened* that someone else is—"

"/Feels/ threatened?!" Ellery sputters for a moment. "You- you- no. Okay, no. I'm not even going to— yeah. Alright. All of that was an hour ago, when you were very sketchy, and very weird, but still within the *bounds* of normal. This is so far outside... listen. I'm better than anybody I know at this, right? Anybody. Most people can't even see the— and no. Shut up. It's not a small sample size, I know exactly the kind of people who *would* be able to do this. But they can't. I can— a *little.* And I don't understand it, and I can barely control it, and it only works on *me.* And that's with me being—" He pauses. "I don't think it's meant for people to do. But you—"

>[1] Confess. You don't know how you did it, or even why you did *that,* exactly. He can believe you or not, but it's the honest truth. (Do you apologize?)
>[2] Point fingers. Does he remember your Dread and Terrible Beast? Because newsflash, it's still hanging around, being Dread, and Terrible, and so on. And maybe it lends you a dread and terrible hand now and again. You're not sorry about it. He probably just wishes *he* had one.
>[3] Ellery would believe anything at this point. Tell him matter-of-factly that he's right, and you're actually something horrible outside his comprehension. You're not here for /him,/ though: he'd have to be awfully self-centered to believe that.
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4934891
>[3] Ellery would believe anything at this point. Tell him matter-of-factly that he's right, and you're actually something horrible outside his comprehension. You're not here for /him,/ though: he'd have to be awfully self-centered to believe that.
>>
>>4934891
>2
lmao he jelly
>>
>>4934891
>[2] Point fingers. Does he remember your Dread and Terrible Beast? Because newsflash, it's still hanging around, being Dread, and Terrible, and so on. And maybe it lends you a dread and terrible hand now and again. You're not sorry about it. He probably just wishes *he* had one.

LOOK AT HIM! LOOK AT HIM AND LAUGH
>>
>>4935056
>>4935259
>2

>>4934942
>3

Called and writing. Still no formatting and likely no pictures, just to set expectations.
>>
Also not guaranteeing I actually post tonight... still on iffy vacation schedule. Sorry in advance.
>>
>lmaoing @ you

It wasn't Richard. You know for a fact it wasn't Richard. But Richard does provide a very good, very convenient excuse, in this instance, seeing as how it is precisely something he would do. /He/ isn't here to complain about it, either, and how will Ellery know the difference? Unless he's reading your mind about it. But he's not— he's probably not— "Okay, okay, fine." You feign submission. "Wow. You did it. You're so *smart,* Ellery. I'm really— I'm quaking at your powers of deduction, and your intellectual prowess, and all that. There's just one—"

"Oh, fuck off." He rounds on you. "Don't try and tell me /someone else/ was responsible for this. Who else would it be, A), and B)—" He is checking this off on his fingers. "I /saw/ you, Charlotte. Alright? I saw you, so don't—"

"You saw me?" You bat your eyelashes, though you're not certain he can see it. "Are you certain? Or did you, perhaps, see my Dread and Terrible Beast?"

"...No, it was definitely you."

"Ah," you say, "but are you **certain?**"

"What? Yes! It was you up there! Stop dodging the fucking question, and—" He stops. You smile. He squints. You smile wider, and only stop when he stalks up to you and leans down to look directly in your eyes. He tilts his head this way and that, as if inspecting a precious jewel for impurities, and your smile (face it, your smirk) returns when he draws back, looking resentful. "Seriously?"

"What's the matter?"

"It's *you?* It's you. It's— it's— you said it was at your, what, at your beck and call? Obeys your whims? No shit it obeys your whims, they're *your*— it's you. It's you! I should've seen it— how did I *not,* um— but it can't be you." You have sent Ellery into a flurry of pacing and waving and wringing his hands. "Because I saw it, or him, or— it was that old guy. Who looked like you. ...Shit. It looked like you. It— godsdammit. But is it really a, a, a separate thing, but you've, eh, merged, now, or was it always you— part of your psyche, or— I mean, if that's what your psyche looks like, good gods, I don't know where to— or are *you* the Dread and... that's a terrible name. Are you it, and this whole—" He waves his hand in front of your face. "—Charlotte thing is a, a fraud? Because, I mean—"

...You should head this off before it gets any wilder. Not that Ellery believing you're a horrible Richard-flavored nightmare beast wouldn't be amusing, but it might interfere with the whole investigation thing. (That, and you don't want Madrigal nagging you about later.) You can rub plenty of salt in without getting too extravagant with this, you think. "Oh, no, nothing like that. I'm just human, honestly. Though with how multitalented I am, I can understand the..." (You trail off instinctively. Richard's cutting remark would've gone right there.) "...Well, you know. I will admit that I was overcome with the dreadfulness and terribleness of the Beast, back in our duel."

(1/5)
>>
"You were overcome," Ellery says. "Okay. Okay, I mean— sure. In what way? Is it— do you— it's you. Is it in you? Is it... listening? What— can you— are you admitting to not being able to control it? Is *that* why you were a big—"

/Is/ Richard listening? He can't be. He isn't here. But if he remembers your memories... isn't that listening, in a way? "I was *overcome,*" you say loudly, "and through my mortal form it enacted some dread and terrible deeds, um, upon you. And I don't get what's so wrong about that. It's not like *I* meant to do anything. Frankly, I think you're just jealous that I get a thing that gives me dread and terrible powers, while you get— I mean, you had a thing, but it was sad and boring. And then you got rid of it, and now *you're* just sad, and boring, and completely, totally jealous of me. And I get it! I get it. I forgive you. But can you at least not be so obvious about it?"

"..." Ellery rubs his eyes. "...I'm going."

He starts up the stairs. "So you admit it!" you call after him. "You are jealous! Well, I'm sorry, I can't reveal any dread and terrible secrets to people who baselessly *accuse* me of—"

He didn't even turn around. Damn. Did you still win? You probably won. You start up the stairs after him.

And when you say "start up," you really mean *up*— the stairs, it seems, rise exponentially. What begins as a gentle slope rapidly curves upwards, and the gap between steps— once inches— stretches into feet. You barely notice: without Ellery to needle you, a woozy sameness has set in. You are climbing stairs. You were climbing stairs. For all you know, you always will be. What does the size of the stairs matter? What does their angle, or their distance? You are climbing stairs, and they are closer than ever before, for your legs are growing long.

You are clearing them two at a time, three, four at a time, which explains why you reach the halfway point so quickly. You hesitate there, for though there's no signs or markings you are conscious of it as a threshold. But you are Charlotte Fawkins, and you are not a coward, God-damnit, and the only way forward is through.

You pass the halfway point and you aren't Charlotte Fawkins any longer, though you'd very much prefer to still be called that. You don't have any other name, and you're not keen on inventing a new one, as that would require recognizing yourself as a unique and legitimate person— and you are in firm agreement that you aren't. No: you are a dreadful soupy mishmash of two beings that never wanted this, not in the slightest, and about the only thing stopping you from pitching yourself off the stairs is the firm knowledge that this is temporary. Soon you will cease to exist; soon your constituents will pull apart, and shiver, and be themselves instead of each other. And thank God for that.

(2/5)
>>
But that is then, and now is now, and you are still (not) Charlotte Fawkins. You are still climbing the stairs: you, in fact, never stopped climbing the stairs. It is wholly possible you cannot stop. It's wholly possible these aren't stairs at all, but a metaphor for your apotheosis— breaking human limits, and whatnot. You're breaking them quite rapidly, now, but then again it's been some time since you qualified. Did you shed your skin before the threshold, or after? You can hardly remember. But that was when you split open, and crawled out, flimsy and sopping like a new butterfly. And that was when you were a god.

This isn't real, in any sense of the word. You sincerely doubt it's accurate. You (part of you) will wake up, in your own cot, in your own human body, and your memories will blear and run, and you'll likely be the happier for it. Still, for the time being, it's good practice. You don't get good practice every day. And— less pragmatically— it's the kind of memory you can preserve in crystal, and carry with you, and when you are worn into the ground you can take it out and remember: but I was a god, that one time. A false one. A simulated one. A subjective, inferior one. But it's still more than the rest of those assholes get. And hey, that's worth something. Positive thinking, and all that.

The stairs, for what it's worth, haven't been getting any less steep. It just hasn't been mattering. You clear a quarter mile up— a half mile— a mile. Two miles. Four.

And where it would've been eight miles, there is instead a gap. You can't make sense of it. It's not infinite— there is a door on the other side. You can see the door. But you can't reach the door, though you try and try, though in theory nothing is impossible for you. You don't take this well. Neither of you have ever taken this well. But the gap is impervious to your divine rage, though in theory nothing is impervious to your divine rage.

You could've been there forever had the snake not come along. You don't know why it's always snakes. This snake in particular is green-eyed, and striped in jet and abalone, and long. Very long. It has crossed the same stairs you have. You speak to it in a language you half-understand, and it responds in a language it doesn't understand at all. And it stretches itself across the gap, and you walk upon it, and reach the door. You enter the door.

You emerge different than you were inside, and different than you were before that, too. Crucially, you are human, or humanish, or human-looking— not numinous and incomprehensible, any longer. You are smaller than you were but taller than you used to be. Your hair is brazen. Your skin is alabaster, and the patches of scales the same color. You are wearing a necklace. Your dress is of red snakeskin, and has pockets.

(3/5?)
>>
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Ellery is leaning against an icicle, a fact that irritates you: you'd assumed, and partially hoped, that he'd fallen off the stairs. He is neither numinous nor incomprehensible, but it did take you a few furtive glances before you worked out what was going on with him. He looks exactly the same, on first glance, but further inspection reveals the trick: his skin is loose and ill-fitting, like a bad suit, and he has punched eyeholes through it with his thumbs. His true eyes are shrouded by the eyeholes, and his true body— whatever that is— shifts restlessly under the skin. "What is it with you and reptiles?" he says, his false-mouth unmoving.

"What do you look like under there?" you parry. "Do you even know?"

He crinkles as he straightens. "...Doesn't matter. Look, I'll be blunt, I don't know what the fuck you're down here for. So I'm going to do /my/ thing, and you can do /your/ thing, and we can leave each other alone. Deal?"

"You waited for me," you say.

His eyes flick. "I didn't w- I was just— I was busy. Um." He holds up his left hand: its skin is shredded, and it's dripping blood. "Testing."

You cock your head. "But you don't—"

"That's the testing." He wipes the hand on his pant leg. "Something's wrong with—"

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right. It's too [i]real.[/i] It— are you feeling this?" You've spat on your thumb and held it up to the nonexistent breeze. "This is really bad. This is almost— I mean, it's borderline [i]reality.[/i] What the hell? I mean, that'd explain the mortal forms..."

"Mortal forms."

"Well, reality can't sustain any of that back there, obviously. I'd hope obviously. So we've been— I've been shunted, I assume you've been shunted, into this. Which isn't ordinary, but it's *possible,* and it conforms to the laws of— I suppose your legerdemain's been on the fritz? One second." You stick a hand in a pocket and come up empty. Not even a toothpick. "Wow, yeah. What's generating this?"

Ellery's eying you like you began to snap and froth at the mouth. "You're not Charlotte."

"I'm as Charlotte as it's possible to get," you say, and rub the bottom of your nose. "So what do we have here?"

It's a castle made of ice, suspended in a great cavern made of ice. An elegant bridge of ice links the castle and the little icy landing with the door. And you are looking for... what, a little rip in space? Wait. Damnit. That's one thing to find in the regular chaos of unreality, but this isn't— this is barely unreality. Can it even sustain a rip? *What* is generating all this?

Whatever it is, and wherever the rift is (if applicable), you're sure both are near or in the castle. It's the only thing around. So you set off across the slippery bridge, grateful for its twining handrails, and peer behind you to see Ellery begrudgingly following. "We can leave each other alone?" you say politely.

(4/5)
>>
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His facial expression doesn't change— can't change, you think. You still feel his scowl.

Up close, the ice castle remains an ice castle. It's not a castle, you guess, it's the palace of the gods. It's nice-looking, if a bit uninspired, architecturally. Like it's a placeholder. A default castle. Like it was picked from a list, or something.

"Yeah," Ellery says. "I mean, not a list. But it's pretty easy to just— I mean, especially down here, when it's not all... weird, like this. It's pretty easy to just supply a thing, like a concept of a thing, and just let it... sort itself out. And if you don't bother tweaking the final product, it's..."

"Uninspired," you say absently: you are staring at the signs above the arched door. "TEMP HQ — DO NOT DISTURB" says one, typewritten. "Domain of the Gods :)" another says, handwritten.

"Yeah," Ellery says, just as absently. He's staring at the same signs. "Yeah, uh, look, you shouldn't go in there. We shouldn't go in there. It says 'do not disturb.'"

You pause. "*You're* telling me to not go somewhere? You?"

"Uh—"

You enter.

The interior of the castle is all ice, too, except that— bizarrely— it is carpeted with thick beige shag. It's also filled with... stuff.

On the left wall is a large SCREEN. For some reason, it's displaying itself from an angle. Surrounding the screen is a bunch of desks and tables, all containing PAPERS and a half dozen crumpled paper cups. In the center of the room is a long table littered with MINIATURES and A MAP, while the right wall houses some kind of SHRINE. The back of the room leads to two more rooms, one labeled "GOD ROOM :)", the other "STORAGE." You see no sign that anyone's been here recently.

Ellery is drumming his fingers on his thigh.

>[1] Investigate the objects in the room, or the other rooms. They may or may not lead you to your goal, but they're bound to be interesting. (What? CAPS is interactable.)
>[2] Use your sense for this kind of thing to locate the source of all this realness. It's definitely unnatural and incredibly powerful— this is the last place that should be real, short of the void.
>[3] Attempt to interrogate Ellery about his secret mission. Since you're both here, and all. [Roll.]
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4937614
>1

As always I wanna read the PAPERS on the desk, give the MINIATURES a quick glance, and maybe check out the STORAGE room.
>>
>>4937612
Pockets! A woman's goal and dream! Nothing is beyond us now.

>>4937614
>[1] Investigate the objects in the room, or the other rooms. They may or may not lead you to your goal, but they're bound to be interesting. (What? CAPS is interactable.)
EVERYTHING.
>>
>>4937734
>>4937769
>EVERYTHING
So it goes. This may be split into two updates depending on how long it runs... good news is, it looks like some threads are now lasting 5 weeks instead of 4, so we've got some wiggle room. God help the board, though.
>>
>Maximum investigating

You decide to take this slowly, methodically: you'll circle the room, counterclockwise, and poke and prod and stare at every last little thing until they either reveal their secrets or you get bored. After all, you don't have any definite time limit, though ideally you'd be back within 90 minutes or so to keep your promise to Gil. That's still plenty of time, no matter how antsy Ellery gets.

Your first stop is the shrine.

>SHRINE

Or, you'd thought it was a shrine, before you got up close: your new eye affords you great clarity of vision, but little precision. It's actually a memorial. A small photo of a bearded man hangs on the wall, surrounded by a handful of scattered notecards: from your brief scan, they're all tributes to the deceased, some more sincere than others. The floor around the photo is piled with tchotchkes (the man's possessions?) and a few thoroughly wilted bouquets of flowers. You bend to pick one up, and—

<A squat woman, weeping openly, is placing a fresh bouquet down. She steps back, and a red-haired man rubs her shoulder. 'Leonard would've wanted this,' he says kindly. A different woman, hawk-nosed, clucks her tongue. 'Like hell he would've. He was always talking about getting out of this biz—'>

"Someone died here," you say. "A real person."

Ellery doesn't say anything.

...Better you conceal the flashback, though. Not that Ellery would react negatively— having an ace up your sleeve is just best practice. "Definitely a real person, since you can actually read these notes. They're not just placeholder text. And multiple other people wrote them. I suppose this is one of the... what would you call them, developers? Died on the job. Wonder how. Wonder what happened to him in reality— you think he's rotting? Ellery?"

"What?" He flinches. "It'd depend on how long it's been, I guess. And if he did anything to preserve—"

"To preserve his body? Interesting." You tilt your head. "What would you do to preserve *your* body? Not that you can die, of course, but... supposing you were stuck here long-term."

"Stuck here long-term?"

"Well, sure. I don't know how that'd come about— you certainly wouldn't do it on *purpose*— but as a thought experiment, right?"

"It wouldn't happen," he says firmly.

"What wouldn't— you wouldn't be stuck here long-term?"

"Yeah. You heard Nettie, didn't you?" He sounds nervy. "I always get out of things. And I always, you know, come back. Like the sun, or whatever. It's not even worth a— doing a thought experiment would be a real waste of time, so I wouldn't bother."

You raise your eyebrows. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Okay."

(1/3)
>>
>MAP & MINIATURES

You amble over to the center of the room, next, and peer at the long table in the center. You'll admit it was the miniatures that attracted you— you don't get to see other ones, very often— but you're left disappointed by the realization that these ones weren't hand-crafted. Clearly, quantity was favored over quality: there's a good three dozen of them littered across the table. Many of them appear to depict landmarks— a castle, a mountain peak, an enormous tree. Some of them show creatures— a river monster, a gaggle of nymphs, a white-furred beast, a— is that the Horse-shod? And Nettie? And Gil? They're all clustered together. Out of sheer curiosity, you attempt to flick Nettie's miniature over: it refuses to budge. Hmm.

The map itself depicts "The Realm Of Aeredam." You have little way of telling if the geography is sound— you've never seen a mountain range or a grassland or a forest that wasn't a mile underwater— but it does look suitably fantastical, even if a thick layer of white dust mars the effect. How long has it been since the developers were here? Whenever it was, they must've left abruptly, since they left all their things down here.

>STORAGE

You pull away from the central table (after a last skeptical look at the miniatures) and head back around to the first of the two side rooms. "STORAGE," the sign reads, so you're a bit taken aback when you step through the archway and are met with hundreds of people in rigid formation. Every one of them wears a different outfit. They aren't moving, or breathing, and they don't react to your entrance. A handful of them look familiar. Was that man a row back one of your guards?

Yes, you determine, he was. Or... rather, your guard was one of him. These aren't people, they're not even unpeople— they're just shells, interchangeable and reproducible and ready to shuffle into any role needed. Every person you passed up above had one of these faces. And one of the faces looks remarkably like a younger version of the bearded man, the dead one.

<'Is that one supposed to be you?' the hawk-nosed woman says. She's leaning over the bearded man's shoulder, staring at the shell. 'It's a terrible likeness.'
'It's my son.' The bearded man brushes the shell's forehead.
'You're putting your *son* in here? What, do you hate him?'>

You briefly wonder where the son is now— abovewater? Underwater? Does he know what happened to his father? Does it actually matter? You don't care about this man, or this man's son, and you aren't about to start.

You leave the storage room.

>SCREEN

Ellery hadn't followed you in there: instead, he's standing directly in front of the left wall's screen, staring up. Curiously, the screen has switched to portraying Ellery, standing directly in front of the left wall's screen, staring up.

You stop to process this. Then, carefully, deliberately, you shut your good eye. The screen goes black.

"Oh," you say.

(2/3)
>>
"..." Ellery is drumming on his chin with his fingers. "...Remind me where you got that eye?"

For once, he isn't referring to the iron one. "I—" The word is uncomfortable, but you force it out. "—purchased it. Back at the horse-fight arena. It's been recording us?"

"Well, I don't know if it's been recording, but— it probably has been. Which is..." His hand's creeping upwards: he's drumming at his cheek, now. "...which is..." At his temple.

"Bad," you supply.

"..." He cups his head in his hands. "It depends on... well, it depends on if it's— on if it's being stored, and if so, where, if it's local, or... and how much it stores, if it— don't look at me." You'd opened the good eye. "I'm fucking serious. Don't look at me with that. Take it out, or— or keep it closed, or— or something. Fuck."

>[A] What do you do with your good eye, which has evidently been capturing video for the development team? (Write-in.)

When you go through the papers, you'll find one or two that you're absolutely going to look at: the one that has a big snake on it, for instance. But there's another one, less instantly eyecatching, that you spend the time to read. Which one?

>[B1] A memo about the client's specifications for the manse.
>[B2] A design sheet for what looks to be an earlier iteration of the Horse-shod.
>[B3] A roster of the development team.
>[B4] Write-in. (Subject to veto: treat this as "a largely irrelevant thing I want to know more about")

>[C] Write-in.
>>
>>4939005
>[A] Keep the eye closed unless we need it.
>[B4] I'd like to find the design notes for the trial quest. How the fuck are the players supposed to recover from that? Maybe we'll find a way to get our eye (and luck) back.
>>
>>4939005
>A
>It's tough to keep your eye closed all the time, fashion yourself an eyepatch. Badass pirate queen!

>B3

>>4939031
I don't think they are supposed to recover, seems like a tradeoff of debuffs for powerful items.
>>
>>4939031
>>4939165
Rolling for the [B] option.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d2)

>>4940206
:(
>>
>>4940208
>[B3]
Neat. Writing sporadically (I haven't eaten dinner yet), will sit down and crank the rest out properly when I can.

>>4939031
I won't spill any useful info you may or may not have gained from that write-in, but the Vault of Keys would've been janky cut content that leaked into the top layer... it was never completed (hence essentially being a series of empty rooms), so it drew on you to fill in the gaps.
>>
>Yar har fiddle dee dee

You reach into a pocket, then pause. "I don't suppose you have a knife?"

"...A knife?"

"Or anything sharp... I didn't exactly pack." You try your other pocket, just in case, and look up to see Ellery staring past your shoulders. "What? Ah."

Something is on your back. Was on your back: after seeing Ellery take notice, you reached over your shoulder and slid The Sword from its strap. It is undoubtedly The Sword, though it is nearly as tall as you and as wide and has taken on a color like bone, or teeth. Despite its size, it is feather-light, and you turn it in your hand. "I guess that..."

"Don't look at me!" Ellery barks, and you snap your good eye shut again. Propping one foot on the nearest desk, you deftly slice a strip off the hem of your dress and bind it around your head, blocking off the eye entirely. Your vision blurs. It's not as bad as it has been— or will be again— but it's still irritating.

>[Gained: EYEPATCH: -5 to vision-based rolls when you have it on]

You blink roughly and adjust your binding. "There. Hope you're happy."

"Yeah." He's audibly not. "Now can we get a move on? Please? None of this is— I don't get why you're— it's just junk. All of it's just— are you here just to look at junk?"

"Are you here just to loiter around and bitch?" You heft The Sword over your shoulder. "And we're a 'we,' again? Fascinating. I was under the impression we could each— what was it? Do our own thing?"

He rubs the loose skin around his wrist.

"Right," you say, and turn to look at the desks and tables.

>PAPERS

From a glance, none of this is organized: it looks like a bunch of tables were hastily shoved against the wall, and whatever documents, notes, memos, and scribbles happened to be on them all got jumbled together. The chaos would have annoyed you, had you a particular target in mind, but without one it strikes you as more of a treasure hunt.

It's a bit of a shame, then, that the obvious find is resting right at the top: a sheet of offwhite cardstock, stamped at the bottom by a spiraling wax seal. "'URGENT NOTICE,'" you read, after some squinting. "'We regret to hear of the untimely passing of Mr. Leonard Medina... deep concerns about the safety of this operation... advised to pull out immediately... block off entry... retrieve belongings at later time.' That's where they all went, then. And, uh—" Someone has underlined 'block off entry' and scrawled next to it 'rock monster.' "—I suppose that's where the Horse-shod came in. Though it let us in, ah, rather easily?"

(1/3)
>>
"It did say it didn't expect you to survive." Ellery scratches inside one of his eyeholes. "Maybe the original intent— their intent, I mean— was for it to send people off chasing rabbits. That, or it wasn't meant to do anything but sit and block the door, and it just decided to hand out quests. I wouldn't be too surprised."

"Mm," you say contemplatively. "How's the 'doing your own thing' going for you?"

He doesn't respond to that, so you turn back to the papers. A minute of shuffling later, you uncover a manila folder with a single typewritten piece of paper inside. You read it aloud. "'Dear Mr. Flick — Thank you for choosing Headspace for all your custom-built manse needs! Here at Headspace, we strive for...' blah blah blah, 'Meet The Team!' Aha. Okay. 'Rudy Doheny— Project Lead — Hailing from Hellsbells, Hell, Rudy is accustomed to taking the heat! He enjoys stargazing—'" You glance at Ellery. "Isn't BK from Hellsbells?"

"Um," Ellery says. "Probably? I can't say I— but, I mean, it'd make sense. Headspace is local, and there's only so many settlements in walking distance. By which I mean, uh, next to none. So—"

"Got it," you say, and turn back. The grainy black-and-white square near Rudy's description resembles the red-haired man, if you apply imagination. "The rest of these are— let's see. 'Leonard Medina — Friend / Creature Design.'" The bearded man. "'Friend?'"

"...Uh, that's their term for— you know. The unpeople."

"Ah," you say, with an air of disgust. "'Norma Voss — Location Design.'" The hawk-nosed woman. "'Norma Festermacher — Rigging / Quality Assurance.'" The squat woman. "Do you know any of these people?"

"No? Why would I—"

"Just making conversation. You're awful sensitive, aren't you?" You toss the folder back down and, on a whim, scoop up a slightly battered piece of paper. Flipping it over reveals, of all things, an inked sketch of a snake. A large snake. A snake— you are scanning the diagrams below it— under a castle? You read the text above it. "...replace the original stabilizer with a biological / pseudobiological stabilizer as [word scribbled out] upper management proposes... thoughts? They say they'll provide it Leonard no need to..."

A biological / pseudobiological stabilizer. A beacon of order and Law. A very large snake, right under your feet. "Ellery," you say, "you were looking for what's making this real?"

He rustles. "Where's your snake?"

"What?"

"You had a snake, uh, before. Where is it?"

She is not around your neck or shoulders, or in your bag, for you no longer have one. She is not resting on the papers, or anywhere else in the room. She is, you are suddenly blindingly certain, underneath your feet. Under the castle. What is a god to a snake but— but an even bigger snake? "God-damnit."

"I would've gone with a 'shit,' but, uh, that's alright. Yeah. Uh." Ellery picks incessantly at his torn-up palm. "That's not— that's your snake? Doing this."

(2/3)
>>
What other place could she be? "Yes."

"Shit. Uh... wait, where are you going?"

You have dropped the battered paper and are stalking toward the GOD ROOM.

>GOD ROOM :)

It's far more refined architecture-wise than the rest of the ice palace, though you're paying little attention. You're not even pausing to look at the great ghostly figures in their ice thrones: four of them in all. They aren't real gods, or unreal gods, or creatures of any sort— they sport the faces of the four developers. It's a tribute or inside joke or both, and not worth your time.

What is worth your time: the wide-open balcony at the far end of the room. You break into a jog as you near it— no mean feat in heels, though you /are/ divine— and skid all the railing. Stooping, you squeeze your torso through a gap in the balcony's railing, brace yourself, and peer down.

You don't see any obvious snakes, not at first. The palace, from your mediocre eyesight and limited vantage, seems to be perched on a jagged cone of ice. It's only when you really squint— and shimmy your waist through the railing, too— that you make out a dark shadow in the ice. It could be a regular shadow. Or it could, at a stretch, be a snake.

"It's the snake," Ellery says: he has come up behind you stealthily. "I don't care how real this is, there's still no such thing as coincidences down here. But I guess we can't kill it... shit. Since it's yours."

There's other great reasons why he wouldn't want to kill it, but you don't voice those. "Why did you want to kill it?"

"It's *too* real. It doesn't... work." He rubs his nose. "I need it back to normal."

"So do I," you say. "So I guess we can do our own things... they'll just be the same thing. Namely, talking to it."

"To your snake."

"And telling it to turn off the whole reality thing, yes." About half of you is screaming that that's not how it works, but you merrily ignore it. "That's how it works, after all. The principle problem is more... getting to it. Since it is trapped in ice, I believe."

"And under our feet?"

You bob your head.

>[1] While reality's attentive eye prevents you from summoning any objects you don't have, you /are/ still a manner of god: you should be able to summon what you do have. And you seem to remember slicing some rope off a wall, some hours ago. Tie it to the balcony, and yourself to it, and hope for the best. [Roll.]
>[2] The Sword's flames are burning dim and heatless— no doubt reality's fault— but you /are/ surrounded by ice. Pump some (ugh) god juice into it, and maybe you can melt your way down. [-2 ID]
>[3] Do you actually need to get down? It'd help, certainly, but if you're diligent you may be able to commune with Madrigal from right up here. Give it a shot. [Roll.]
>[4] Write-in.
>>
>>4940469
>[3] Do you actually need to get down? It'd help, certainly, but if you're diligent you may be able to commune with Madrigal from right up here. Give it a shot. [Roll.]
>>
>>4940469
>[2] The Sword's flames are burning dim and heatless— no doubt reality's fault— but you /are/ surrounded by ice. Pump some (ugh) god juice into it, and maybe you can melt your way down. [-2 ID]

God juice AND fire? sign me up
>>
Rolled 1 (1d2)

>>4940488
>>4940564
Flipping.
>>
>>4941365
>[3]
Okay!
>Please roll me 3 1d100s + 15 (+10 Richard, +5 Mortal Form) vs. DC 75 (+15 Frozen, +7 Distrustful, +3 ???) to commune without incident!
>>
Rolled 47 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4941413
>>
Rolled 53 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4941413
>>
I am drop-dead exhausted and could not write a coherent update if a gun were put to my head, so I'm leaving the roll open until tomorrow.
>>
Rolled 39 + 15 (1d100 + 15)

>>4941413
Here goesss
>>
>Failure
...Update tomorrow!
>>
>>4941413
If only she wasn't so distrustful that woulda been a mitigated

we need to put her through friendship exercises

trust falls and shit
>>
>Step 1: Commune with Madrigal
>Step 2: ???
>Step 3: Profit!
>62, 68, 54 vs. DC 75 - Failure

Ellery rubs his chin. "And how far under our feet is that? Not that it- I mean, the physical distance shouldn't- but it would help it make contact with, um- hey, wait."

You're striding out of the "God Room" and back into the main room. Ellery hurries after you as you begin to shove the long central table aside. "Is there a, a hatch under there? I wouldn't be surprised if they- I mean, they'd need access to- but did they have a snake under there before? I mean, they must've had something, or this would've all melted long before it- is this just the center? Is that all?"

"It's the center," you say. You are hovering over the dead center of the room.

"Ah. You're just planning to- you don't want to get closer? At all?"

"If the diagram is correct, we're standing on 20% ice, 80% snake. It's not as though I'll have to go very far."

"Ah." He twists his hands. "And 5% carpet."

"What?"

"We're standing on- on carpet- no, um, okay. It doesn't matter. I can- *I* should do this. I don't care what kind of fucked-up thing you have, or... are, you- this is your third time! Your third time. You can't- I'm going to talk to it."

You've wounded his pride? Good. "Okay."

"...Sure?" He wasn't expecting acquiescence, judging by his balled fists. "Yes. Okay. Let me just-"

You move aside, and he crouches down right where you were standing. "Take your time," you say politely.

"No. No, that- it'll only be a second. Watch."

You watch, and count the seconds. It's eleven seconds before he begins to tremble, and nineteen before a thick black substance begins to ooze from his eyeholes. It's forty seconds exactly when he bolts upright, shaking his head, and stumbles backwards. "It /hates/ me," is all he manages to croak out.

"It hates you," you say. "Really."

"Not just- it hates /me/. Me in- in- in /particular./"

"You in particular." You fold your hands. "*My* snake, that *I* own... hates you in particular. That's the most self-centered thing I've ever heard, frankly. But I get it. I know you can't admit it was too much for you to handle. Aren't you lucky a professional's here?"

You kneel down. "No!" Ellery says hoarsely. "It's not- we need to kill it. Sorry. I know it's your snake. But it's not *safe*. We need to blow it up, or stick your huge fucking sword through its..."

(1/2?)
>>
He's still talking, but he's muffled. Everything is growing muffled, and beigeish, as you push your searching mind through an inch of shag carpet. That's the difficult part: once you're through, finding Madrigal is laughably easy. Travel any distance, in any direction, and she is surrounding you.

She is confused and frightened. She doesn't understand where she is or what she is. She wants things to be normal. She wants to go home. This is what thrums through her; this is what thrums through you, as you sink through the ice. (Above, you are trembling.) And when she notices you, the feelings don't subside: they sharpen. She's not just frightened of the broader situation- she is frightened of you. You, in particular.

It percolates through you. She thinks you are unreliable. She thinks you are dangerous. She thinks you are missing something, and she doesn't know if you were born without it or if you lost it, but that either way you're not really human anymore. She's frightened that you'll hurt someone someday. And she's frightened that she's not sure- that she thinks sometimes that you're just awkward, just misunderstood, a victim, maybe, of something genuinely evil. And for a time Richard explained everything. But Richard is gone (or so you said), and still, the *grin* on your face as you- she feels tricked, and she's frightened that Monty, smiling, won't believe her. She was the one who made you happen, after all. For months, you'd minded your own business, and then she had to go ask you about Ellery, and two weeks later you've flipped the world upside down...

It's not logical and barely sensical. She would never say this, any of it, and it seems unlikely she'd think it. But you aren't dealing in words or thoughts: this is great silty unfiltered waves of emotion, and you are not handling them terribly well. (Above, you are oozing.) Fear is disagreeable. Fear is cheap. If you could, wouldn't you look into another's heart and find yourself respected- admired- lauded- loved?

>[-3 ID: 4/(9)]

But you can't and don't and you are forced to push your way through it, anyhow, hoping to find the fragment of Madrigal you can reason with. She doesn't know what to do about you. She wishes you could be pinned down easily, a definite threat, or a definite victim, and not confront and confuse and worry her with this ambiguity. You have her perpetually on edge. She wishes you were gone. Things might settle down if you were gone. Might become simple again. She hates this place, hates how slippery it is, how it changes under her feet, like an extended, terrible dream. She wants things to be matter again. To be real, and tangible, and to take place in real physical space, not- not fucking /metaphors./

(1/3)
>>
File: a door in the dark.png (96 KB, 890x665)
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And promptly the metaphor-space you might be in folds into itself (and above you vanish) and you are somewhere real (if not Real) and dark. And everywhere around you is cold scale and warm muscle. A snake is pulling tight around you. It is difficult to breathe, which may be for the best, as the air smells of dust and mold.

You squint: above you, a door creaks, and a shaft of yellow light falls directly onto your remaining eye. "Hey!" someone calls. A woman. "Who are you? What are you doing in my back room?"

>[1] Who are you? What are you doing in her back room? Anything else? (Write-in.)
>>
>>4942291
>We're Charlotte, and we got lost in here with our uh bad sense of direction. Though really this place is easy to stumble into and has a confusing layout so part of this is her fault.
>>
>>4942291
>"We're Charlotte Fawkins. And we're Charlotte Fawkins."
>>
>>4942319
>>4942411
Called and writing.
>>
>Just doing normal things, ma'am

"Charlotte Fawkins," you say, to the first question. And to the second— to amuse yourself— "And Charlotte Fawkins."

"What's that?"

"Ah, I got lost down here... I was looking for the powder room, I believe? Wouldn't you know it, I did not find the powder room. Might be my shoddy sense of direction, but I'm more inclined to think it's this place's poor layout... who leaves the back room *open* like this? And why are there so many hallways? I swear, I'll have to file a complaint about—"

"Er, there's no need to do that." The woman (whose voice is vaguely familiar) sounds chastened. "We don't have a powder room, uh, but please give me a moment. I'll have you right out of there, Ms. Fawkins."

The door closes, and, as promised, reopens a moment later. The woman lowers a long wooden pole toward you. "Grab this!"

Seeing little reason to object, you do.

"Great work, miss. Now just one more—" Another moment later, a lantern slides down the pole, knocking against your knuckles. You wince at the bright light, and the snake, around you, hisses and recoils. "That's it. Now, if you can manage it, there oughtta be a ladder right on this wall. Below me. Do you see it?"

Now that you're looking, you do see it— and with the light, the snake is eager to get out of your way. You scale it effortlessly and emerge, blinking, into a quaint little store. The woman shuts the door behind you and locks it tightly. "There we go."

"Mm," you say. The woman is Madrigal. Madrigal with a high ponytail and a pink collared shirt, but Madrigal nonetheless; it is her face and her voice, though it's rendered nearly unrecognizable under a thicker accent. She does not appear to know you, though to be fair you haven't existed for very long. "I appreciate it, Madrigal."

"Huh... oh!" She taps her 'Hello My Name Is Madrigal' name tag. "That's me! Madrigal, or Maddie, or... 'hey you' works, too. I'm happy to be of help, Ms. Fawkins. Now that all that's sorted, what can I do you for today? Anything bring you to Fitzpatrick & Son & Daughter? Besides the powder room, of course... can't help you there."

Yes, you don't say, you are a giant snake. Could you turn off your reality field so we can rip a hole in it? "...Charlotte is fine, and I think I'm just browsing, for the moment. Fitzpatrick & Son & Daughter?" That's her last name, you're fairly sure.

"That's correct! I'm the daughter." She winks. "And *not* the sole proprietor of this fine establishment, though isn't that fun to say? It's a family business, so thank you very much for supporting us!"

"Family business," you muse. "That'd be Fitzpatrick and Son, then?"

(1/2)
>>
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362 KB .png
"You got it! Though Pops retired about five years back, so it's just me and Leslie— that's my brother. You've probably seen him... tall, handsome, got that nice smile?" She smiles crookedly. "He works the front, I work the back."

"And yet you're up here?"

"It's his day off." She bustles around the side of the front counter. "You're stuck with me, I'm afraid."

"Well," you say, "I think you're doing a very good job."

"Aw, you're sweet. I do my best to fake it— I only talk dirt about customers when they're out of the shop." She laughs. "I'm just kidding. You're lovely. Loveliest person who's been in all day, as a matter of fact."

"Slow day?"

"Sure is. Normally we've got regulars, but..." She shrugs. "...who knows? Better slow than packed, I'll tell ya."

"I bet." You turn away, ostensibly to browse, really to gather your thoughts. She definitely doesn't know you: she has the glassy gaze of the deluded, not the glint of a liar. The details here are a bit too specific to be complete fantasy, so you suppose this stems from memory. Apparently good memories. She seems happy, or is faking it well.

The brother is fiction— well, you suppose she has a brother, but he's either safe or dead and certainly not in the mind of a giant snake. His 'on break' is her rationalization, as is the 'slow day.' You wonder idly how long she believes she's been here, and how long she's really been here, alone, organizing shelves or straightening signs or studiously ignoring the snake in her back room. She hasn't acknowledged it since you got out, not even to apologize for it. Can she? "Excuse me," you say, "I was wondering about the snake."

"What's that?"

"The one down there?" You point.

Her eyes follow your hand, and for a split second she appears distraught. It doesn't last. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean!"

No. She can't. Of course she can't: it's shut up back there for a reason, so she doesn't have to look at it or think about it or acknowledge that she is it. How could she be it? She's right here, obnoxiously human, living— you presume— her ideal life, however tiny and boxed-in it might be. (Her ideal life. To be running a dusty little shop. You pity her.)

"Planning to buy anything?" she calls.

Too bad you have to knock this all down.

>[1] No, you're not planning to buy anything. You can start right now. (How do you pick her apart? Write-in. Possible roll.)
>[2] Yes, actually. Do some genuine browsing. You'll admit you're curious about this place— and who knows, maybe you'll find a steal.
>[3] Write-in.
>>
>>4942547
>[2] Yes, actually. Do some genuine browsing. You'll admit you're curious about this place— and who knows, maybe you'll find a steal.
>>
>>4942547
>[2] Yes, actually. Do some genuine browsing. You'll admit you're curious about this place— and who knows, maybe you'll find a steal.

And by steal we mean good deals and definitely not personal info we'll use against her later.
>>
>>4942547
>[2] Yes, actually. Do some genuine browsing. You'll admit you're curious about this place— and who knows, maybe you'll find a steal.
>>
>>4942586
>>4942747
>>4942751
>Buy, buy, buy
Called and will be writing on the plane. If all goes well I'll have an update to publish when I land. Thanks for sticking around, guys.
>>
>Shopping episode

Planning to buy something? It's not as though she has other customers— it's rather poor form to hurry you along. Perhaps she's just desperate to speak to an actual person. In any case, you have no money, and this store doesn't really have products: the shelves are stocked with impressionistic blurs. "Yes," you say. "Would you come over?"

"Of course!"

As Madrigal approaches, the blurs solidify into bags and boxes with garish packaging. You lift a sack of flour. "Who's this on the front? If you know."

She squints. "Can't say I'm rightly sure— that's not our packaging. Comes to us like that. The flour itself is top quality, I can assure you, it's made of— see here?" She taps the sack. "Real imitation flour. None of the fake stuff. And you can't beat our—"

"I'm sure it's of excellent quality," you say smoothly. "I'm just wondering about the man on here. Him missing an arm... it's unappetizing, frankly. Why not have a regular man sell your flour?"

"Oh, well—" She looks a little uncomfortable. "Like I said, it's not our packaging, miss, and— and you make a very good point. Maybe he won a contest, of some kind, and that's why his likeness is on our flour. Or maybe he's just kinda... white bread? A little milquetoast? Heh heh." You don't smile. She clears her throat. "Even so, that's no— I'll be sure to pass your complaint up the chain."

"Thank you," you say, and set the flour back on the shelf. Monty smiles from the label.

And he isn't alone: much of the packaging sports familiar faces. Ellery pops up conspicuously often, hawking oats and fish meal and dried kelp, but you spot Branwen and Eloise and Jacques and a host of people you dimly recognize or don't at all. Based on the scars and eyepatches and sinister features, you'd peg many of them as smugglers, though you're sure a few just loiter around camp.

You amble down the aisle, stopping when you reach an open canister. "Excuse me, are these spears?"

Madrigal doesn't blink. "That they are! Very popular with the children."

To be more precise, they're all her spear: you know it well, on account of her burying it in your shoulder. You run your hand along the wooden haft of one of them. "This has 'Fitzpatrick' carved into it."

"Yes, miss! We call that 'branding.'"

"...Fair enough." You leave the spears be and cross into the next aisle. "By the by, where'd you get that scar of yours? I seem to remember it... larger."

It used to cut all the way across her face: now it barely scrapes her nose. "Ahh," she says. "This? Got it in a knife fight."

"You don't say?"

"Nah, I'm pulling your leg." She winks again. "You'd never guess, but I was moving inventory— big crate fell on my head. I got away with this and not my skull caved in, so I call it a victory. Can't say it's ever been larger... maybe you stopped by while it was still fresh? Though that would've been... gosh... a decade ago, probably. Maybe more. I was just a kid back then."

(1/4)
>>
"How old are you now?"

"Young enough!"

Dodging the question. This aisle is much the same as the last, so you duck out of it and into the one closest to the door. (You don't try the door. It'd lead you right back into the shop.) Here something catches your attention: a small alcove in the wall, lined with black fabric and scattered, dying wildflowers. A picture frame is propped against the back of the alcove, while two pieces of paper— one a typed sheet, one a newspaper clipping— are pasted to the inside.

You can guess what this is, but you investigate regardless. The picture frame contains a picture of a very young Madrigal— at a guess, 7 or 8 years old— beaming for the camera. The typed sheet contains a short message:

"TO OUR DARLING CHICKADEE
MAY YOU FIND THE PEACE YOU COULD NOT FIND IN LIFE
WE LOVE AND MISS YOU EVERY DAY
XOXO MOM, DAD, LESLIE

MADRIGAL FITZPATRICK
172 A.F. - 198 A.F.

VISITORS ENCOURAGED TO LEAVE FLOWERS"

Madrigal is standing behind you. "Don't look at that," she says.

"Oh." You step sideways. "Does it make you uncomfortable if I look at this, Madrigal Fitzpatrick? Does it embarrass you? Talk to me about it. Does it make you remember things you don't want to remember?"

"No," she says uncertainly. And then: "Shut up. Don't—"

"Did you put this in here?" you say. "Did you invent it? You've locked yourself in this little bubble where everything's great and perfect and happy for you— is your parents' love a part of that? Are you making it up?" You study her shocked face. "But being dead would put something of a damper on that, wouldn't it? That'd spoil the whole thing. Did you put this here by accident?"

"Shut up. Shut the fuck up."

You tear the page out of the alcove and dangle it in front of her. "I think you did. I think you've constructed a pathetic little alternate present for yourself because you can't cope with the real one and I think you've been drawing on reality to do it. Because that is what very, very large snakes do. Did you think it was odd how detailed and vivid that party was, Madrigal? Probably not, you were hammered. But do you remember it? A party from my past, from nine years ago, that I was barely there for— my memory should've been spotty. It was spotty. But it didn't need my memory, because it was drawing on the actual past. Do you get it? This paper is real. It really is hanging in your dumb little store. And you really are dead, at least as far as anyone knows. So admit it."

Her fists are balled. "I'm radioing the police."

(2/4)
>>
"No you aren't!" you say. "No. You are going to stand here, and I am going to read..." You rip the newspaper clipping off the alcove. (It's cellu-taped on, rather than glued— perhaps a disgruntled customer put it up.) "...this. Ahem. 'In an auspicious day for our great Pillar, justice has been meted out to three thugs threatening our order, peace, and safety. Dirk Metier (41), Florence Nicks (22), and Madrigal Fitzpatrick (26) were put to death by drowning this morning on order of the Magistrate. Of the three, readers may find Ms. Fitzpatrick's name familiar: she is indeed of the venerable'—"

"Shut the fuck up."

"—'the venerable Fitzpatrick & Son— as a matter of fact, Fitzpatrick's estranged daughter, charged with grand larceny and racketeering. Fear not, neighbors: Fitzpatrick & Son has been deemed not complicit, and indeed may have been the primary target of'—"

"Shut the fuck up!"

"—'Ms. Fitzpatrick's flagrant crimes. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpatrick have failed to respond to our requests for comment, but an anonymous source has told us'—"

"Why are you doing this to me?" Her voice is halting.

"—'quote, 'Madrigal Fitzpatrick is the most disagreeable young woman I have ever known'—"

"That's fucking Mr. Manten." She has begun to flicker, slightly.

You pause. "Oh?"

"Anonymous source my ass. That prick hated me before I was born and if I had a grave he'd probably come by on the daily to piss on it—"

"Madrigal?" you say.

She is flickering more violently. You catch glimpses of a blue shirt, in with the pink. "No. No, you— fuck you. Fuck you. You can't make me—"

Concentrating, she manages to solidify, and smiles brightly. It's forced. "Now then. How can I help you—"

"It's too late," you say. "Cat's out of the bag. And it's not so fun to delude yourself when you know you're doing it, wouldn't you agree? Especially when you're expending so much energy to do it." She's shaking. "So come on, Madrigal. You're dead."

"I'm not dead," she says. "I'm right—"

"You've drowned, then. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It happened to me, too." For a certain sense of 'me.' "So how about you release all that tension—"

She's right on the cusp of it. She's flickering again. "Fuck you," she says, her voice distorted. "I hope you go to fucking hell. Give me that." She snatches the typed page from your hand—

—and when she storms back her hair is cropped and her scar is long and her tank top is unnecessarily revealing. You know this Madrigal. "About time," you say.

"Fuck you," she says. She is breathing raggedly. "Fuck you, Charlotte. What was the point of that? I bet you just want me to suffer. Well, I'm suffering, and I hope you like it, you fucking—"

You clasp your hands. "No, you're just not very useful as a retail worker. Though you are better than I was—"

"I was happy," she spits.

(3/4)
>>
"...That's all well and good, but I need— you're aware you're a snake, yes?"

"What? Is that an insult?"

"No, it's quite literal. You are—" She's not comprehending. "...You are a snake. That's fact."

She scoffs. "Go fuck yourself. Do I look like a fucking snake? You think I'm stupid?"

Well, you decide, at least she's on the same plane of reality as you. That's something. But evidently there's a few more layers of delusion left for you to chip through.

>[1] Attempt logic. Explain calmly what's going on, what's happening to her, and what you need her to do. For all her bluster, you think she's still fundamentally a reasonable person— she'll want to help, surely.
>[2] Try to get her to show you the back room again. If you force her to stare at the big snake for long enough, maybe she'll confront the truth on her own and save a lot of fuss.
>[3] Just needle her so hard about her tragic backstory that she flips out and therefore unlocks her true snake potential.
>[4] Just frogmarch her to the back room and shove her in with the snake. That should do the trick.
>[5] Write-in.
>>
>>4943583
>[2] Try to get her to show you the back room again. If you force her to stare at the big snake for long enough, maybe she'll confront the truth on her own and save a lot of fuss.

Seems like logic won't work here--going to need a more laser-guided approach.