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/qst/ - Mitsuba Archive


A bit more than sixteen years ago, in the Empire’s Old Hinterlands:

Your name is Odovacar, and it seems that you are not sure about anything anymore. For a start, you are not sure what is wrong with you. A fortnight ago, your Socket just … failed. You were checked before returning to the Full Brother’s dormitory, and things went exactly like they had since you had the Socket installed. It worked fine as a replacement for the eye that was pulled to make room for it, but when it came to interfacing with the testing equipment – or a Spot-Dosimeter for that matter – the results were erratic, to the point that they were not reliable. As you had been dozens of times before, you were scheduled for a quick recalibration, right before morning prayers. After arranging to be woken up early so you had enough time, you went to bed. And when you woke up, the dammed thing was dead.

You could not see out of it, and when they hooked you up to the testing equipment just to make sure, they could not get any readings. Complete failure like that is uncommon, but even odder is that your graft – the remains of your left optical nerve, which connects and interfaces the Socket and your brain -showed no signs of rejection. Even still, the Ophthalmos was worried that there had been a breach in the shielding, and you might have been dangerously contaminated by the Strangeness from the Socket’s death. But after being checked, you were found to be well within the range of Strangeness considered acceptable for a Dosimetrist.

In the end, they pulled the corpse of the Socket, and sent it away for testing. Two days later, you were summoned back to the Operating Theatre, and a larger, higher resolution Socket was installed in your left eye socket. Now, it always takes time for a body to get used to a Socket, and vice-versa, but it has been whole weeks, and your readings with this one is as erratic as they were with the last.

To make matters worse, you started getting pins and needles in your feet and occasionally in your hands, which you know to be a symptom of lead poisoning. You reported it, and your direct superiors and the Ophthalmos were … sympathetic, but ultimately, they have not done anything about it. You should not be too surprised about that, lead poisoning sort of comes with the territory. It is not called the ‘Inquisitors Illness’ without good cause, after all. There have been headaches as well, but you decided against mentioning them. They are still fussing over you, trying to figure out why you cannot get proper readings with the new equipment. After a lot of back and forth – most of which you have privy to – all they have decided is to send you to a specialist Ophthalmos, apparently the same man they sent your dead Socket to.

There is something else on your mind, however. Something weighing much heavier than the pound and a half of hermaphrodite where your left eye used to be. Aborgast’s maid, Amalasuintha.
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You have nothing definite to go off of, but … as insane as it sounds, you are worried that she might be Witch. But knowing full well what would happen to her, you cannot bring yourself to share any of these suspicions with anyone.

You want her. That is what it boils down to. Now, setting aside the possibility that she might not want you, once you tell her that you are not a Journeyman Glasser named Antono, but a Full Brother Dosimetrist named Odovacer, the odds are quite long that you would be allowed to have her. The greybeards and the whitebeards generally are hesitant to allow Dosimetrists to marry, out of concerns for the bride, and potential children they have being exposed to Strangeness. And as a rule, they are also hesitant to allow any Brother to marry a woman they met on an assignment. Still, they might relent on those points … so long as her spiritual cleanliness was never in doubt, and the Inquisition never seriously considered her to be a potential Witch, or a thrall of a Witch. Obviously, it is that second point that is the issue here. Your ‘evidence’, such as it is, is so circumstantial it might as well be moonbeams – but if you were to report it and your suspicions, those long odds will become impossible odds.

The evidence is so circumstantial in fact, that you feel half a fool even thinking seriously about them. It is odd, perhaps even inexplicable that a girl as beautiful as her is serving as a maid to some patented Citizen instead of either looking for a suitor to court her or a much more prestigious Master and Mistress to serve. You have seen pretty girls – merely pretty girls – getting married to the third and fourth sons of Citizens … or entering into the service of some princeling, if for whatever reason, marriage was a priority. The other questionable point, which you only became aware of when you first pulled her out of her clothes, is that she shaves her body – all over. To be sure, that is something that Witches do. Their hair, like the rest of their bodies, has magical properties, and can be used as raw material for certain spells. And shaving also has the additional benefit of allowing them to check themselves more thoroughly than they would be able if portions of their body were obfuscated by hair. That point is a little more damning than simply being too beautiful for her current station, but it does it really warrant suspicion? Whores shave, but that does not make a brothel into a Coven.

Not for the first time, you wonder if she had been a whore. As unfortunate as it might be, it would explain away both of the oddities nicely. And it is not like … she is physically clean, and more than that, she is beautiful. So long as she keeps her past behind her, and she can stay devoted to you, then you would be as mad as a Stranger to turn your nose up at her.

But … while she did not bleed the first time you coupled with her, she did not screw like the whores you have known either.
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Pah! Whatever she may be or have been, at the moment, it is immaterial, as you are not in any danger from her or the rest of the household. You would stake your life on it. Hell, you are staking your life on it. You should be more worried about your Socket. What little information you have on this treatment you are heading off to is not encouraging. A few days, a week at most … somewhere else. That kind of secrecy is not unusual in the Inquisition, but that does not mean that you have to be happy about it.

Anyway, the whole reason you have been instructed to bay Arbogast a visit today is to explain your absence, and to make the arrangement for another half-short ton of lead you have bought off of him to be delivered to ‘your’ workshop. In actuality, you are going there to continue investigating his household … and if possible, to mount his maid.

Time passes quickly, and before you know it, a certain Journeyman Glasser is rapping the knocker on the door of a certain four-story domicile. As you wait for a response from a certain maid, you continue to fret while feeling like a fool for fretting at the same time. Because you have not reported your suspicions – baseless as they are – your superiors have been reducing the backup that you have been allotted each time. Today, there are only a half-dozen Half Brothers in the graveyard across the street and a single Lamp-and-Flag to coordinate. And while you have your typical kit, the chapterhouse has decided to stop equipping you with the needle-dagger, for fear of it being damaged or discovered. On one hand, this is good for you, as it makes it easier for you to conduct your trysts. But, on the other hand … if it turns out that Amalasuintha is actually a Witch …

You rock back and forth on your heels while you wait and wonder if you have been making terrible mistake after terrible mistake. Not about Amalasuintha … well, not just about Amalasuintha. About becoming a Dosimetrist. Nearly all of the Brothers that have been made whole in Moevia for the past two years have been seen East or South. And after that miserable deployment in Nauretania, you have no desire to leave the Empire – especially with rumors of a potential war brewing. The life expectancy of a dosimetrist might be shorter than that of an average man, but it seems to you that it would be much longer than an Inquisitor charged with destroying a Pygmy Dragon or a Djinn. And for those who were sent after ‘Cultists’, who were just …. No, you are not going to think about that anymore.

Shaving years off of your life certainly was not the easiest decision that you have ever made … but it seemed sensible at the time. Now … now your head aches. You are not sure if that is just nerves, or if it more evidence of lead poisoning. Maybe if you try to stop worrying, it will go away? Worth a shot.

You rap the doorknocker again, harder this time.
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It is not like you could change your mind now. In the process of being made whole, being inducted as Full Brother, you gave up your eye – so in a physical sense, you are no longer whole. You are no longer fit for any sort of proper duty, unless you are hooked up to a Socket. And now it seems that you are somehow incompatible with Sockets. So where does that leave you exactly? If this one dies on you like the last, how many more times before they just write you off?

You would not be turned out on to the streets, of course, but that does not mean that you are excited about your prospects. Those who have been crippled in the service – and you suppose that would include you – as well as those who are too old to go on Hunts, have some manner of work found for them. In many cases, this is a promotion to a leadership position, but you are much too young to be considered for a post like that, unless it was in a chapterhouse outside of the Empire – which if it was not Nauretania it would probably be just like it. So if leadership is off of the table, then that means a teaching position somewhere – but setting aside that you know for a fact that you do not have the disposition for teaching, you have next to no experience as a Dosimetrist. Maybe you could teach Acolytes and Half Brothers … well, uh … climbing? Stealing?

Your snort of nervous laughter sounds like a sneeze. Still, it is a pretty funny thought. You could teach the children how to mug Witches. Turn the lot of them into a gang of little rakes.

Really though, if this Socket fails like the last – and the ones that replace it all fail as well, you will probably be released from the Inquisition, and retrained to serve elsewhere in the Faith. But the idea of spending the rest of your life – assuming your health does not go to shit as well – as a Velchanos in a temple smithy or an Undertaker or something … maybe you could see yourself doing that. But you cannot see yourself being happy with that.

And that only happens assuming that you are still clean and somewhat sound of body when you are retried. Pattern’s Perdition, if this Socket dies on you as well, who is to say that the shielding holds like last time? Who is to say that the graft will not eventually get rejected, and you get sepsis without anyone noticing? Becoming a Full Brother was supposed to open doors for you – instead, it opened pits. You are not sure if you are in the one with the flames, or the one with spikes, but …

Shutters overhead open, and a voice calls out to you.

“Good morning, Journeyman Antono. Are you here to see the master?”

“Why my dear, who else could I possibly be here to see?”

Oddly enough, Amalasuintha does not smile at that as you thought she would.

“The master has just stepped out, I am afraid. I would let you in to wait for him, but he has decided to paint the stairs. I cannot come down at the moment. If you would like, you may let yourself in.”
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It is not like you could change your mind now. In the process of being made whole, being inducted as Full Brother, you gave up your eye – so in a physical sense, you are no longer whole. You are no longer fit for any sort of proper duty, unless you are hooked up to a Socket. And now it seems that you are somehow incompatible with Sockets. So where does that leave you exactly? If this one dies on you like the last, how many more times before they just write you off?

You would not be turned out on to the streets, of course, but that does not mean that you are excited about your prospects. Those who have been crippled in the service – and you suppose that would include you – as well as those who are too old to go on Hunts, have some manner of work found for them. In many cases, this is a promotion to a leadership position, but you are much too young to be considered for a post like that, unless it was in a chapterhouse outside of the Empire – which if it was not Nauretania it would probably be just like it. So if leadership is off of the table, then that means a teaching position somewhere – but setting aside that you know for a fact that you do not have the disposition for teaching, you have next to no experience as a Dosimetrist. Maybe you could teach Acolytes and Half Brothers … well, uh … climbing? Stealing?

Your snort of nervous laughter sounds like a sneeze. Still, it is a pretty funny thought. You could teach the children how to mug Witches. Turn the lot of them into a gang of little rakes.

Really though, if this Socket fails like the last – and the ones that replace it all fail as well, you will probably be released from the Inquisition, and retrained to serve elsewhere in the Faith. But the idea of spending the rest of your life – assuming your health does not go to shit as well – as a Velchanos in a temple smithy or an Undertaker or something … maybe you could see yourself doing that. But you cannot see yourself being happy with that.

And that only happens assuming that you are still clean and somewhat sound of body when you are retried. Pattern’s Perdition, if this Socket dies on you as well, who is to say that the shielding holds like last time? Who is to say that the graft will not eventually get rejected, and you get sepsis without anyone noticing? Becoming a Full Brother was supposed to open doors for you – instead, it opened pits. You are not sure if you are in the one with the flames, or the one with spikes, but …

Shutters overhead open, and a voice calls out to you.

“Good morning, Journeyman Antono. Are you here to see the master?”

“Why my dear, who else could I possibly be here to see?”

Oddly enough, Amalasuintha does not smile at that as you thought she would.

“The master has just stepped out, I am afraid. I would let you in to wait for him, but he has decided to paint the stairs. I cannot come down at the moment. If you would like, you may let yourself in.”
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Suppressing a chuckle at the absurdity, you try the handle, to find it unlocked, just as she said it would be. And just like she said, the flight of stairs has been freshly painted – a brilliant white – thoroughly at odds with the relative darkness of the rest of the foyer. You close the front door behind you, and walk to the bottom of the stairs, arriving just before Amalasuintha arrives at the top. Even though the smell of paint is quite strong, all of the windows on the first floor are closed and shuttered, as they always are. Obviously, that is odd, but you have spent a great deal of time in the foyer, and you could never find any reason to assume that it was because of something Strange or magical. And right now, you are much more concerned about Amalasuintha than the fraying foyer.

“Amalasuintha, my dear, it seems to me that speaking like this is somewhat indiscrete, if not bordering on impolite. To avoid any indecency, why don’t you straddle the balustrade and slide down?”

Pushing the joke even further, you stand legs apart, with your more-than-slightly turgid fundamental right in front of the newel.

“Do not fret! I’ll stop you.”

She chuckles along with you at that one, and with something else in the air beside the smell of paint, you can feel your worries and fears slip out of focus.

“Oh, but I’d be worried about my clothes, sir. The master paid good money for them.”

“No help for it, you must … denude yourself. Nonetheless, I promise that I will not spy on you for the duration of our conversation.”

You raise your forearms to your eyes, but you deliberately have it so that your right eye – your real eye – is comically visible. She laughs at that, and soon you are laughing as well. With an unusually rakish smile for a woman, she raises her hands to the clasp of her dress, and begins loosening it with those beautiful, slender fingers of hers.

Your head throbs – unfortunately, the one on your shoulders. As you grimace the pain away, you cannot help but recall that unnatural size is evidence of the Strangeness. Of course, as with everything else you have been working yourself up over, it is just circumstantial. She is tall for a woman, and she has relatively long fingers. That does not make her a Witch. By the same coin, you are tall for a man, and you have relatively long fingers too. It does not mean anything. On top of that, you have ‘denuded’ her several times, and you have never seen anything else that could be caused by the Strangeness, like moles, warts, or spots, or anything more damning, like anything that could be a concealed scarification glyph. Which, if she was a Witch, she would need to conceal her blank, soulless eyes, right? So, there is no … well … actually, if you are being honest, your attention during those times has been given over wholly to a few key spots. It is it truly out of the realm of possibility that the something small could have been concealed from you?
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You are not sure. But you do know that there is a surefire way to defeat a glyph like that – without even knowing where it is. All you need to do is disrupt the glamor that it produces, by pushing a finger through the spell’s envelope. It is not recommended, of course, considering that if the subject of investigation is a Witch, you are too close to them to respond if they attack you – and that is not even considering the risk of getting dosed with the Strangeness from breaking the spell. There are much safer ways – but all of those require equipment and other men to work. If you wanted to know for certain if she was a Witch or not, then the only way – besides doing something equal parts insane and assine, like stabbing her with one of your leaded knives – would be to manually test her eyes.

Making a split-second decision, you resolve to put your doubts behind you once and for all. As soon as you get your hands on her, you will test her eyes – and then that will be at least one thing you can stop worrying about. The whole thing is ridiculous. It is obvious that the only reason you are worrying that she is a Witch is because you have been sent here to find Witches. If you have a hammer –

You realize with a start that Amalasuntha is still dressed. Her hands have barely moved from where they were when she started on the clasp. Oddly enough, she looks uncomfortable, anxious.

“Antono?”

“Yes …?”

“I’m late.”

“For what?”

She stares as you, and licks her lips, clearly trying to formulate a response … though to your credit, you figure it out before she has to spell it out for you. Your head is throbbing again, and this time, you are fairly certain that it is not the Socket – or the paint fumes.

She must have seen the realization dawn on your face, because before you can say anything, she launches into an apology.

“I thought– Pattern’s Perdition, I am so sorry. I had no idea that … it should never have happened.”

She rambles a bit more, repeating herself over and over. While she does, you take stock of this … unexpected development. Setting aside your concerns about you, and your fears about her, this is … good. This is very good. It actually solves some of your problems for you. If Amalasuintha is carrying your child, then it is much more likely that she would be willing to marry you, even after you reveal that you have been lying to her all of this time. And, on the other end, the old goat would be much more likely to write off on you getting married if it was for the sake of an unborn child, though you would probably be hearing about it for the rest of his natural life.

Whatever happens, you will never need to be alone again. At that blissful thought, you smile broadly up at her. But she does not notice, she is still going in circles. It is alright though; you can wait for her to work it out. It is no good to keep a woman bottled up – that is how you get hysterical shrews.
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As you wait for her to calm down, you realize that you are planning on sharing your life with a woman who you are not completely certain is not a Witch. And then you realize something shocking … you really do not care that much. She – and Arbogast’s wife, if she is a Witch as well – are not doing anything dangerous. As far as you can tell, she is not even doing magic. She is just here in the city, living her life, one day at a time. Like you. Exactly like you.

Strangers need to be put down, as they are fundamentally dangerous. Magical artifacts and texts should be gathered and if necessary, destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of the heedless or the unscrupulous. Witches who are terrorizing the countryside, or stealing babies for raw materials, or plotting to undermine lawful Civil authority or whatever, they should be sought out and destroyed as well. But if someone … just happens to be born magical, someone who is so stable that they only potential evidence of their Strangeness is their size, and is so discrete that the only potential evidence of her magicking is her fraying grooming preferences, then you see no reason at all why she needs to be destroyed.

Especially if that person was someone’s best chance to have a wife. A beautiful, loving wife.

There is no reason to it. It is just dogma. Pure, assine dogma. You had your fill of that shit back in Nauretania. You lost two miserable years of your life to it. You lost your oldest friend to it. You lost track of how many times you nearly lost your life to it. If it was not for the debt you owed the old goat, you probably would have deserted – that and you needed the Inquisition to get you back to the Empire. Regardless, you given the Inquisition so much. And you will continue to. Just ... not her.

“Listen, I don’t want you to do … anything drastic, alright? I have money set aside – it is not a fortune, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is enough. I’ll speak with Arbogast as soon as he gets back, and I’ll buy out your contract. I’ll need some time to get my affairs in order, but … we can do the right thing here. For us, and the child.”

For someone who prides themselves on being so glib, somehow you have managed to forget the word ‘marriage’ in your marriage proposal. Your head. If your damned head could just stop pounding for one fraying second, you would be able to speak your mind properly. Thankfully, Amalasuintha is a smart girl. She has figured out what you were getting at, but instead of being relieved, she now looks like she is on the verge of tears. Not happy tears, mind you. Eventually, she pulls herself together enough to explain.

“This … this is … I’ve been here before. Last time, things got – they got rough. It … didn’t work. I didn’t work.”

She noticeably swallows as she watches you process this information.

“I was told that … I was not going to be able to … bear. At all.”
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Well, if that is it, then it is immaterial. Having a baby would be nice – the best dormitories are reserved for those with young children, after all – and losing an unborn child would be unfortunate, as you can see that it would seriously upset her. But the child is ultimately just a means to the end, namely, you marrying Amalasuintha. Beyond that, it is not really necessary. Of course, you just need to figure out someway to communicate that in a more … flowery manner.

“Miracles can happen. Apparently, one already has. And if there is not another one … listen, I – I’m not an orphan, but I spent some time in an orphanage growing up. If it should come to pass that such a thing became necessary, I would be more than willing to adopt.”

Heights of Hell, why would you possibly bring that up? Apprenticeship is expensive and exclusive – it not something that an orphan or the orphan-adjacent would ever be able to achieve. Thankfully, your new fiancé seems so overwhelmed with emotion that she has not noticed a crack in Antono’s backstory. Push past it!

“Whatever it takes to make it work – then that is what I will do. I love you, Amalasuintha.”

And it is true. You do love her. You want her for the rest of your life, the prospect of her being upset is upsetting to you, and you really do not care if she a Witch … so long as she does not endanger your person or your standing.

Of course, if she is in fact a Witch, then that would make remaining with the Inquisition untenable. Which is … well, you swore an oath or two, but more than that, there are Brothers in the Inquisition that you owe great debts to – chief among them that old goat, your Abbot. If you were to just abandon ship like that, you would be forgoing any chance of ever repaying them.

But, on the other hand … assuming that whatever issue you have is not resolved by the specialist Ophthalmos who you are being sent to, it seems that for whatever reason, you are not cut out to be a Dosimetrist. And without a Socket, you are not whole, and therefore not eligible to be a Brother. You do not even have the temperament for teaching, let alone any real knowledge worth imparting. It seems that you are destined to be forced out of the Inquisition anyway, leaving those debts unpaid. So why shouldn’t you leave on your own terms before your body is completely ruined? While you still have some time good years left?

Because you will be Attainted and declared an outlaw? That is not a pleasant prospect either. You would be hard pressed to say which is worse, but … in the end, you have a choice, so long as your fiancé does not turn out to be a Witch. Which begs the question, how is she taking this?

As you might have expected, she is crying. You are about to start climbing your way up to her on the balustrade, so you can comfort her, then lead her to a piece of furniture that is sufficiently tall enough to properly bend her over when she finally regains her composure.
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“Antono, I … oh, Maker’s Mercy. We have been dancing around one another for so long now. We are almost in each other’s arms, but the music has just stopped, and we are not quite there. It seems of us is going to have to take a leap.”

“I hope you are speaking metaphorically, dear. Regardless, there is no need for any leaping. I’m on way up.”

She is a Witch, isn’t she? That has to be it. She already told you that she had already been gotten pregnant by another man and that she was presumably infertile after losing that pregnancy. What other revelation could there possibly be? You mount the balustrade yourself and begin inching your way upward. You hope the thought behind the gesture is more impressive then how absolutely ridiculous you must look right now. She paces on the landing as you make your way up, but instead of waiting for you to dismount the stairs, as soon as you draw near, she can take it no more, and blurts at you as you try to overcome the gooseneck.

“My love, you’re a Witch.”

“I had figured as much. No worries I … I – I beg your pardon?”

“There is a Perimeter placed on this building. It senses all unshielded magical implements that pass it boundaries. The moment you walked through, it Saw your Socket. If you have felt lightheaded, or distracted, or if you had headaches while you were here, that was the Perimeter Seeing your Socket.”

You are just hanging on the balustrade, gawking at her stupidly. So not only is she a Witch after all, but she also knows that you are a Dosimetrist. And you are … you are …

She can clearly see that you are shocked by this revelation. You can tell by her tone that she is upset, remorseful that she has to explain it like this– no doubt she intended to deal with this better, or at least differently, but the unexpected quickening and your proposal forced her hand. Still though, for a Witch to admit to someone they know is an Inquisitor that they are a Witch … she really does love you, doesn’t she? You laugh, partly in incredulity and partly in relief. Amalasuintha gets really nervous, presumably misinterpreting your response and starts explaining everything even faster.

“It registered that the Socket was malfunctioning, in a way that an implant might if it had been made for a mundane man or woman, but it had been installed in someone with stability – in other words, someone who had at least latent magical ability.”

She is a Witch. More than that, she is clearly trained – otherwise she would have lasted this long. Now, it is one thing to say that you would not care if your woman turned out to be a Witch in the face of some vague, nagging fear, but it is something else entirely to know and not care. And not say something. But she thinks you are Witch too. What if is she is lying? Trying to get you to lower your guard … or something. Or what if she is mistaken? Where the Hell would that leave the two of you? What if –
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She loves you. That is the important part. Someone loves you. It is not just a matter of being wanted, or someone wanting something from you, she actually loves you. She is willing to throw everything to the wind for you. How the Hell else are you supposed to look at this? If she knows you are a Full Brother, then that means she knows that you are not alone. What if you rejected her, and tried to signal for assistance? What if you just pretended to go along with this? Either way, if you did what you were supp – what you were expected to do, then the entirety of the Moevia Chapterhouse would be after her.

She has to actually love you. There is no other explanation. And with that beautiful thought, all of the tension just slides out of your body. You relax … and start to slide down the railing. Startled, you catch yourself. Nervous laughter bubbles out of you, as Amalasuintha looks at you with wide eyes. You should say something to reassure her, but before you can think of anything, you wide up blurting out a question instead.

“Are you saying … that me, apparently having some ability … and therefore able to dissipate the Strangeness better than normal … that is what killed the Socket?”

“Yes – indirectly. The socket is designed around an assumption of a standard dissipation rate for a fully grown man, in decent health. But as you dissipate Strangeness at a much faster rate … there is a lot of theory behind it, but basically, the Socket just gets ‘backed up’ with Strangeness in a way that would inevitably ruin readings, make it impossible to calibrate, and potentially, over time, completely ruin it. Which is what I am assuming happened, because when I checked, the Perimeter was Seeing a new Socket today.

It is a lot to take in, and odds are you are going to forget most of her explanation, but you suppose that does not matter.

“Huh.”

As you lamely cling to the balustrade, it occurs to you that even if she does love you – and she does, clearly – she must be confident that if you were to rebuke her advances in anyway, she could deal with you. Overpower you. It is an odd, disconcerting thought, but that too does not mater, as you do in fact love her. Still, you should probably communicate that to her somehow, before she thinks that you are refusing her. You are … it is just that for once in your life, you do not know what to say. So instead, you just mindlessly continue the conversation.

“Well … I am obliged to you for clearing that up. Actually, that explains some other things too.”

She still looks agitated. Clearly, she did not expect you to just keep on this topic, but regardless, she humors you.

“Oh?”

“I never had issues with the Strangeness, at least, not to the extent that the others in the same Hunt did. I – and everyone else – just chalked it up to me being a combination of careful and lucky, but this makes much more sense.”
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“Especially … there was this time, back before I was made whole – er, when I was a Half-Brother, a Cleanser, that I was convinced that my luck had run out, that I had become seriously, dangerously Strange. Enough to warrant curative custody in an Asylum. I … I was scared. So scared, in fact, that I basically hid from the Hunt’s Dosimetrists, in the hopes that when they did scan me, I would come up clean enough that I could get away with just being Mitigated. Just Mitigation!”

“But when I finally did end up getting looked at, I was almost completely clean. Clean enough that they just had kept me under observation, to let me sleep it off. I could not understand it – I was certain that I had been dosed big and dosed hard. But I was not going to tell them that I thought that I needed to be sent away, or Mitigated. I guess I just … figured that I was mistaken. It was pretty easy to talk myself out of it – after, all I wanted to be wrong. Not to mention, that there was no one else with me, when I got exposed, so there was no one to compare to. And over the course of the next couple of days, when no symptoms of a dangerous dose of Strangeness manifested, I took that to be proof positive that I had been mistaken. Still, the whole thing always rubbed me the wrong way – I guess I knew that I had been Strange, even if I was not when I finally got tested. It is funny, I suppose … but it seems like latent magic ability is a very useful thing for man of the Inquisition to have huh?

“To be sure. But you have more than just latent magical ability. I didn’t know for sure until the first time we touched – it was the first time that you came here, as I was seeing you out of the sitting room – but since then, I am certain of it. You might have a harder time of it, seeing as you are getting into it so late, but you should be able to cast your own spells.”

Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

You would just let that sink in for a moment, but then you realize you are still on the fraying balustrade. You swing your feet out and get clear of the paint before slowly lowering yourself down on to the landing. As you get your feet underneath you, it occurs to just what this means.

“Can you fly? Do you have a spell for that?”

Once again, she looks confused and taken aback. Clearly, you are throwing her for a loop with all of these odd, unexpected questions. This question though, this question has teeth. While there is already an implicit understanding here that she is a Witch, the leap from there to admitting out loud – to an Inquisitor, no less – that you can cast spells must be hard to take, especially as you have to indicate that you still do not care, that you want her anyways. Your fiancé does not say anything – she just gives this trembling nod, her thin lips pursed tight to the point that they have practically disappeared.

But she nods yes. And that is all that matters.

“Can you teach me?”
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She lights up like a beacon at that, and you find yourself beaming as well. You have never seen her look so beautiful as she does right now, right this second – and you have seen her naked. She throws herself at you with enough force that you actually almost lose your footing. But you recover, and more importantly, you keep your hold on her.

“Birds of a feather should flock together, and you are the only Witch I know.”

Heh, that almost sounds like a lyric. You squeeze her against your chest, sniffing the soapy-clean smell of her hair.

“For that matter, you are the only Witch I love.”

And you do love her. Even more now that she can teach you how to fly.

Time passes pleasurably. But even in the afterglow of that passage, your mind somehow manages to turn back to magic. Amalasuintha explained, very patiently, that flight spells were simply too advanced and too dangerous to learn as your first. And when you countered that, by telling her to teach you any old spell then, she was still against it. However, exposed and vulnerable as she was in her current condition, it was a trifle to take her in hand, and make her relent. When she eventually returns with what equipment she will need for your instruction, she has regained much of her composure … though to your delight she has not taken the time to dress again. Your savoring of the sight though is cut short, when you are ordered to lie down on the floor.

“What? Why?”

“This ink, Skin-Scrivener’s Ink, stains – and by itself, it carries more than a trace of the Strangeness. As it would be a lot easier to replace floorboards than an entire couch …”

She gestures at the floor once more, and eager to get this started, you lie down, as she instructed. Soon she is bending over you, painting something on your chest that you realize must be a glyph. Between your excitement at the prospect of learn and your excitement at the sight of her fundamentals looming over you, it takes you a moment to process that you are willingly being exposed to Strangeness. At this point, you trust her completely, of course … but if someone had told you this morning that you would subject yourself to the Strangeness, you would have never believed them. More than that, you would have knocked their head off – that kind of talk is dangerous, especially for a relatively untried Inquisitor.

But here you are. It is not so much that today is the first day of the rest of your life, but rather that today is the first day of your new life. A much better one than your last. Suddenly, your fiancé starts talking – no doubt she was distracted by her own thoughts as well.
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“So, this is a modified version of one the first glyphs that I was taught, and for good reason. It is simple enough that you almost have to deliberately try to get it wrong, and even if you did, I can’t see how it could hurt anyone or anything. For you, it is a little more complicated, on account of the Socket – well, actually, it is more complicated because the spell is designed for someone with two eyes. The limitation that I am putting it should make it work for someone with an eye and a Socket, or someone with just one eye. Complexity aside however, if the limit is scrivened properly, it should make the glyph more powerful than the baseline.”

“But what will this one do, though?”

“Oh, this will allow you to see through things. It is called Permeating-Gaze. So … as I said, this glyph has a limiting clause, but besides that, this is as basic as they come. The Ink too, this is standard Ink – practically, that means that once completed, it will work until it dries, so suffice to say, you have limited time to actually use the spell. If you do not actually use the glyph, the ink will dry in anywhere between six and eight hours. If you use the thing, that will produce heat – unless, of course, you have written a cooling clause, but that would not be cost-effective at this level – and the Ink will dry faster, depending on just how much you use it.”

“Now, about the Ink – you can dilute it, in such as way that it will remain wet for longer, it becomes cheaper to make, or even both – but doing so will hobble the glyph. You could try to make up the difference, by scrivening more clauses on the glyph to strengthen it, but in the end, you would wind up use more material than you would if the ink was not diluted in the first place. Contrarily, Ink can be concentrated, in such a manner that the glyph is strengthened, but doing this is complicated and materially expensive, especially if you are trying to do it in a way that does not make the Ink dry quicker. Depending on this situation, it might be better to improve the performance of the glyph through clauses as opposed to condensing the Ink. It is really case-by-case.”

“There are some basic glyphs that can continue to run, even after the Ink has dried – such glyphs are called dry-running – but they need to be scrivened in dry-running ink for that to happen, and dry-running Ink is more materially expensive than wet-running ink, and it is not as powerful, either.”

She makes a few more strokes on your chest with her brush. Feeling the cold, slick weight of it pressed into your chest is … odd. Odd enough that you have to suppress a shudder. Odder still is that the first portions of the glyph are no longer cold – instead, they are noticeably warmer than the rest of your body.

“Now, before we go any further, you must remember this – if a glyph gets smudged or damaged, you must never use it."
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“Best case scenario, it simply does not work. Worst case scenario … well, suffice to say, it can get really, really messy. Also, at some point, you are going to have to start shaving your body hair off. You do not have a lot of open space to work with. Just … the important thing to remember here is that it is not safe to cover up Inked glyphs. If you cannot see them, then you have no way of knowing if something got messed up or not. Only ever use them on skin that you are going to keep exposed, like your face or hands – and even then, you should also apply anti-perspiration cream, and stay clear of any and all water.”

“There are ways to make the glyphs more permanent, but they come with their own drawbacks. You can tattoo the Ink under your skin, to protect it against getting ruined, but the Ink only carries so much power. For some of the more intensive spells, you can use it up really quickly, and all you are left with is Strangeness trapped underneath your skin – it makes you more susceptible to Mitigation spells, not to mention the health risks. And of course, if anyone were to see them, then it would be obvious that you were a Witch. The other permanent alternative is to scarify the glyph into your body, and while this can be done deep enough that it conceals them from search, the Strangeness becomes even more of an issue with these.”

“With Inked glyphs, the Strangeness is produced on the Ink, and will only enter your body if the Ink gets to a point where it becomes communicably Strange. With scarification glyphs, the Strangeness is produced on the scars … which is you, you know, your body. Your blood will sop it up, and hold it, which again, makes you more susceptible to Mitigation spells. And on top of that … the Inked glyphs draw power from the Ink, but the scarification glyphs pull their power directly from yourself, effectively shortening your lifespan. Scarification glyphs can be just as powerful as Inked glyphs, but for that reason, they typically are not scrivened as strong.”

“Wait … as I have not seen any glyphs on you during … what I mean is, would I be correct in assuming that the glyph that you have been using to hide the true condition of your eyes is a scarification glyph?”

“Yes, that is right.”

“Well then turn the damned thing off! What reason is there to shorten your life like that, now?”

“Oh … okay.”

It is uncanny, really. One second her eyes were … normal, but the next …

“I really do not even think about it anymore. The rate of the glyph that I have is pretty good, almost half a second of Hide-Eyes for a full second of life.”

Pretty good?! That is terrible! Horrible!”

“I have made my peace with it. Just as you will, in time. Besides, if I did not hide my eyes, then I would end up losing a lot more of my life than just seconds.”
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You do not want to think about the role you have played in making that a reality. And more than that, you do not want to think of this beautiful woman – your woman – withering away before her time. So instead, you push those thoughts away and ask another question.

“How long will it take for my eyes to … become like yours?”

“Depends on how much magic you cast. If you just use this glyph once or twice today, then it should be several months before they begin to fade. It is moot point though; we both should have left Moevia long before it gets to that point. Tell me, how thoroughly did you describe me to your superiors in your reports?”

“Not particularly. Tall, dark hair, fair skinned. Comely.”

“Comely, hm?”

She snorts as femininely as one could possibly snort, with a bemused smile on her face. But the smile slips away shortly, as she gets right back to business.

“Now this is important. Did you specify how tall I was – quantitatively? Or did anyone else see me, so they could compare my height to yours?”

You take several moments, but after racking your brain, you are certain that you did not. You tell her as much.

“All well and good then. I have someone in mind who fits the description you have given those – er, your former employers. Anyway, I’ll get them over here as soon as I can to replace me. But before you leave here today, we should have a plan on how you are going to go get away and stay away from the Inquisition. To that end, I have a few ideas as well …”
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Presently, on Olier’s Wharf in Scrimshander Mount:
Your name is Chlotsuintha, and right now, even though you are in a lifting oil Refinery that is in the process of burning down – or in certain places, exploding – you cannot help but smile. You have unexpectedly managed to find the payroll for the entire operation, tucked into the tight little shelves of a steel strongbox. In purses, all made of the same decent leather as the one that you swiped off of the body you picked clean just minutes ago.

The sound of wood cracking somewhere nearby snaps you out of your avarice-induced reverie, and you actually physically lunge at the open safe, plucking out purses with both hands until there is nothing left in the safe but loose papers and receipts. You carry the lot of them over to the desks, cradled in your arms, grinning all the while. And you grin grows even more broad when you hear the sweet clinking thud that they all make when you drop them down on the lacquered wood surface. Moving quickly, you unsling your dress from over your shoulder, untie it, and then loosen the belt that you sinched it shut with. Suppressing the urge to cackle, you shove the purses inside, then bolt over to the other strongbox, on the other side of the room.

You start with the key that opened the other strongbox, and no surprise … it opens this one as well. Unfortunately, this one does not have payroll purses inside, just binders that have CONTROLLED stamped on their spines, along with the year. The records here just go back three years. If you had to guess, any older records would probably be taken by the Imperial Arms and kept in some secret reference library somewhere. Or maybe they would just be destroyed. On a whim, you pull one out and flip through it, but you can barely make heads or tails of what you are reading. You are not sure if it is some sort of shorthand, or if it is actually a cypher, but either way, you can think of no way that you would profit by taking these books. Before closing the ‘box, though, you pull several more of them out at random, to make sure that there is nothing else hidden behind them. Satisfied, you start to walk away from the box, only to stop, as soon as you notice the vicious looking pistol – a duckfoot – nestled in a specially modified holster, on a belt hanging from a peg. You do not even really think about it, you just grab the thing, and start adjusting the belt and holster so it sits as comfortably as such a cumbersome contraption can sit on your hips.

Oddly, the powderhorn, shot and the loading equipment for the pistol are nowhere to be found in the room, even after you take the time to rifle through both of the desks and some free-standing cabinets. That is not to say that it is time wasted – just the opposite. At first glance, all of the books in the room were just accounting ledgers, like the ones that were in second strongbox, but you found some more interesting tomes mixed in here and there.
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The first one that you turned up is The Oiler’s Abyssal Bestiary. While it may be written ‘vulgar’ in the Reichtongue, from your cursory skimming it does seem that this is not just a book for idle reading. The engravings in the text, which depict the fearsome denizens of the deep from whom Oilers harvest Ichor from, seem to be striving for complete anatomical accuracy – as opposed to some of the more fanciful renditions of these beasts that are traditionally drawn in the voids of Mare Incognitum.

Beyond simple interest in a topic that you know practically nothing about, you feel almost obligated to steal this book as a Witchlet. As these beasts carry Ichor in their veins, they are considered magical. And while no modern book – especially one that had been print-published – would ever go into detail about the specific magical properties of these animals, perhaps you can glean something by reading in between the lines. Obviously, your interest is academic, as you have no interest in actually going after any of these creatures – but with any knowledge about magic so thoroughly suppressed, you feel … obligated to learn anything and everything you can. In that vein, there are two other books you found in your search of the room that touch upon magic: Fundamentals of Lifting Oil and On the Manufacture of Wandering Whistlers. Fundamentals is an honest and proper academic text, written in Lingua Roma, clearly geared towards a student of the instrumental sciences … but it just so happens that this particular branch of instrumental science is centered around understanding and working a magical substance. With that in mind, you are certain that you will be able to read in between the lines of this text too.

For Wandering Whistlers however, there is no need to read in between any of the lines. The text is explicitly about how to make Whistlers, which are hermaphrodites, constructs that are part magical and part mechanical. Well … it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a hermaphrodite, as to the best of your understanding these weapons are almost entirely mechanical, as opposed to something like a Spot-Dosimeter, which is at least half magical. But Whistlers use lifting oil, and as lifting oil is magical, then it follows that they have to be hermaphrodites. And even if by some vagary of the definition, it does not qualify, then you could definitely design a hermaphrodite or construct using this text.

Of course, there is a real distinction between being able to design something and having the skills and materials to actually weave it together. And that is assuming that nothing untoward happens to the Life-Loom during your escape. It is a distressing thought, but a salient point. With the situation in the Midden getting more … complicated, perhaps you should use whatever time you have left after securing the oil to start moving father’s equipment out of the Belfry.
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After all, who knows how the Plotinus and the rest of the Guard is going to react when they find those – No, not now, damn it. Focus on what is in front of you, focus on the books.

Making a split-second decision, you decide to take them. Now, obviously, books are too large to fit in your pocket-jerkin, or in any of the pockets in the clothes you pulled off of the dead Comptroller. Luckily enough, there is a satchel sitting right next to one of the desks that looks like it will fit them … though the strap is too small to fit you comfortably. You stuff Abyssal Bestiary, Fundamentals and another text, The Humors of Industries – which you think is a medical text of some sort – into the bag without another thought. But as you are about to do the same with Wandering Whistlers, you hesitate. Like the ledgers in the second strongbox, this is stamped CONTROLLED on the spine, and the Seal of the Imperial Armory is placed prominently on the cover. If at any point you are caught, and found in possession of this book, or any other Imperial property without the Emperor’s leave, then you will be sent up on a winch-gallows, after being worked over with a cat-o’-thirteen tails, the nastier, heavier brother of the cat-o’-nine tails, used exclusively by executioners on the condemned who require more punishment than their execution will provide. On the other hand … if anyone gets to the point where they find this book, odds are they would also find the Life-Loom and the rest of the magical equipment, which would be a death sentence of its own. One that would be much, much worse than being whipped and winched.

Having resolved yourself, you slide Wandering Whistlers into your newly acquired satchel as well, then you pluck a few pieces of paper from it before latching the thing shut. After reading the papers to make sure that they are of no interest to you, you get the pocket lantern out, intending to use the integrated snap-sparker once again to light a fire to conceal your larceny. As you dip the papers in the fuel reservoir, you look around the room to make sure that there is nothing else that you missed.

The only thing that jumps out at you is the great coat. Like the other clothes that you pulled off of the dead Comptroller, it looks like it is almost large enough to fit you – probably just a little bit short in the sleeves.

While it might be the Growing Season, the days are starting to get longer, which in turn means that very soon, the nights are going to start to get noticeable colder. And as you do not know where you are going to be sleeping for the immediate future, it only makes sense to pinch the coat as well. After all, it is not like you can wear the Spotted Cloak once you leave the Mount without making your status as a runaway Leper blatantly obvious.
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With all of the swag bulging in your dress that you have sinched shut and slung over your shoulder, and the new addition of the satchel over the other shoulder, the coat does not sit particularly comfortably, especially as it is just a little too short in the arms, as you expected. Still, you can move well enough in it … and it is free, so you really should not complain.

Now certain that you have snagged everything of value from the Comptroller’s Station, you get busy with your pocket lantern. Whatever the Hell is in the lantern’s tank, it burns really well. In less than a minute, you have about a dozen fires set all over the room. Your work in here concluded, you head to the door opposite of the one that you came in through. To your surprise, the only thing on the other side of the door is the landing for a steep stair down. You consider locking the door behind you, but then you decide against it, as it was unlocked and unbar – oh, Pattern’s Perdition! The other door! The damned thing was unlocked. Feeling like such a fool, you wrench the door open and dash back into the room. Blessedly, the fires that you set are still too small to present a danger, though several of them have grown precipitously in the minute or so since you lit them.

Once you have the door you first entered the room through unlocked and unbarred, you get the Hell out of that room. Closing the door behind you, you take the stairs down three at a time until you end up in another hallway. Like some of the others that you have been in, this one has supplies pushed up against its walls on both sides. But unlike those other ones, this one has pipes too – suspended overhead. In both directions. Suffice to say, you are not thrilled about the prospect of walking underneath pipes after what you saw happen in the tower, and down in the pit, but it appears that you are not going to have choice here. In both directions, the hallway runs straight, until it takes a sharp turn – beyond that, you cannot see anything.

Desperate to get some clue as which way is the safer of the two, you walk out into the middle of the hall, and once more strain your ears. The sounds of explosions and equipment seems to have stopped while you were in the Comptroller’s Station, but you can definitely hear the crackling of distant fires, as well as a bit of groaning and creaking, with the occasional thump as something falls – sometimes accompanied by a little quaking underfoot if it was close. You hope you are wrong, but you fear that this Refinery is not going to be long for this world.

Figuring that going left is just going to put you near places you have already been, you decide to go right, and get to jogging. The corner that you saw from the foot of the stairs turns out to be a dogleg – after passing through the pair of corners, you are once again in a long hallway, with supplies stacked high along the sides.
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The lamps in this section of hall are out, and in what little light remains, you can see the slick sheen of oil pouring down from behind the light fixtures. In the distance, there is a hazy, orange light – quite obviously from a fire.

Save for a moment where you damn near tripped over something in the darkness, your long legs make short work of the hall, and soon you find yourself approaching the open door of a room. The fire that you saw in the distance is inside, bathing you in orange light, but as you close the last of the distance, the smell of smoke becomes almost overwhelming, and you find yourself fighting the urge to cough. Peering into the room, you strain to see anything that might indicate that this is a dead end, that you have no choice but to turn back here. Unfortunately, you see nothing definitive – just the outline of equipment, dancing flames, and the thickening veil of smoke. So, it looks like you are going to have to make a decision here after all – do you risk attempting to navigate this room, or do you double back and hope that you were mistaken in your assessment about going left at the stair? It is not like you know with and real certainty that you are headed towards the lifting oil anyways … or that there is anything on the other side of this room.

But if this room was just a dead end, then the smoke here in the hallway, it would be much worse, right? And have there been any rooms that were just complete dead ends? You rack your tired, stressed brain, but you cannot think of any. Even the Comptroller’s Station had two ways in and out. In a situation like this, you have to trust your instincts. Which in this case means that you are going to have to cross this smoke-choked room.

You back up a bit, to where the air is a little fresher, and you start breathing deeply, in and out, trying to get your lungs ready to hold as much air as they possibly can. While you do this, you decide to light your pocket lantern, on the off chance that once you get on the other side of the fire, it is not putting off enough light for you to see where the Hell you are going. While you are doing this, you decide how you are going to approach this. Trying to sprint through that mess seems needlessly risky, and it would use up your air quickly, but just walking through there would be the other side of the same stupid coin. Long strides, at a brisk pace – a shuffling jog, that is probably your best bet. And keep close to the fire. As dangerous as it may be, it would be much less safe to try to move around the perimeter of the room, which would logically take longer, and have more opportunities for you to get turned around.

You offer up a quick prayer for strength in the face of adversity, then you take three deep breaths, one right after another.
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Ready as you are ever going to be, you take one last great gulp of air, and then you stride into the room, keeping a measured pace with long strides – but not too long that you seriously risk tripping over or walking into something unseen. The smoke is not to bad, at least, not until you pass through the door.

As soon as you cross that threshold, the smoke gets noticeably thicker. When it starts to go up your nose, you pinch it shut. But when it comes for your eyes, all you can do is squint … which unfortunately does not provide any relief to your eyes. All it ends up doing is concentrating the irritation to the thin strip of them that you left open. Moving through this mess, you can instantly tell that this is not just wood smoke – there is a real chemical bite to it. Worse, not only can you smell … whatever the Hell it is, you can taste it too, even with your mouth clamp shut so tightly your teeth are grinding into one another.

But despite all of the unpleasantness, somehow you are making good progress. It is all thanks to the fire in the center of the room – it burns bright enough to cut through even the thickest of the smoke. It is also a great help that the floor is relatively free and clear. There has been some debris here and there that you had to stumble your way around, as well as plank that gave way a little under your weight before you snatched your foot back, but beyond that you have been able to keep moving forward without wasting any time. As you draw closer to the fire, the smoke gets thicker and blacker, but at the same time, you can also sort of start to make out what is burning – it looks to be some central piece of equipment. Obviously, with all of the explosions you have been hearing throughout the Refinery, you are not going to get too close to it … but on the other hand, you cannot afford to put too much distance between you and it.

When you get as close as you dare to the self-immolating machine, on impulse, you look backward. All you can see is your shadow cast onto a rolling wall of gray smoke, two or three strides distant, with a tiny pinprick of white light from where your pocket lantern is courageously and fruitlessly blazing away over your breast. You can just barely make something out that you think might be one of the pieces of equipment along the sides of the room – out of the dozens that you know for a fact are there. And somehow, you cannot see the door behind you.

As disheartening as your current situation is, it is almost enough to make you turn back when you realize that you are not going to be able to see if there is another door on the other side of the room, not until it is way too late to turn back. In fact, simply walking around this burning hulk of tanks and hoses could be fatal. To keep your bearings, you are going to need to end up exactly on the opposite side of the machine.
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So, you start circling around the machine like a crow circles carrion. All the while, you are doing your best to not think about how the odds of retracing your steps through this mess, and leaving this room through the only exit you are certain exists, is decreasing steadily with every footfall, and every adjustment you make for the floor that you can barely see. You hope that once you get on the other side of this blaze, you will be able to better see where the Hell you are going, but you know that you cannot count on that.

Just in the short time that you have been in this room, the sting in your eyes from the smoke has gotten so damned bad that it feels like someone has slit your peepers open with a blade dipped in vinegar. And you are only halfway through – in the absolute best-case scenario. You are pretty sure that you are crying, which considering the current state of your bodily emissions, is dangerous, but at the moment, you cannot do anything about it. Besides, if you are, most of it is going to end up on your clothes anyway, which are already hopelessly saturated with the Strangeness. The few drops that might make it to the floor … well, you will just have to hope that they are never found. And if they are, then you have to hope that they are written off, which they almost certainly would be.

No matter how diligent the Inquisition is, they simply cannot explain everything. They will assume it is discharge, or condensation from the pipes or something. And that is assuming that there is even a Refinery left for the Inquisition to investigate … which with the way things have been going tonight, that is far from a certainty.

Still, it feels so wrong, just ignoring the earliest and most important lessons you ever learned – the ones about dealing with communicable Strangeness. You feel compelled to cover your eyes, to try to dab them dry. So strong is this compulsion, you have to physically stop yourself from lifting your arm or your hand up to them, though now that you are thinking about it, you find that it is easier to control yourself. With a bit more resolve, you keep your left hand out in front of you, and your right hand pinching your nose shut. You have it so tightly squeezed that both your fingers and your nostrils have gone numb. But you just have to keep moving, there is no time for distractions like this. Focus!

The machine, or whatever the Hell the thing is, it is not really that large, but when you factor in the berth you are giving it, on account of the flames, and of the fear that it might blow … it takes longer than you would have figured to work your way around it. Worried that you are wasting precious air, you are about to lengthen your strides and pick up the pace when you realize that would be the absolute worst thing you could possibly do at the moment.
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While you can tell where you are relative to the fire just by feeling the heat rolling off of it, the only way you are going to be able to judge where you are relative to the rest of the room is if you keep the length and speed of your strides constant as you work your way around. At least, you think so. But regardless of whether you are right not, you are not going to throw out the closest thing you have to a strategy at this point. You are committed. Truly committed. At this point, the odds of you finding the hypothetical door on the on other side of the room are probably the same as the odds of you finding the door that you came through.

By the time that you reach what you estimate to be the half-way point around the machine, your lungs are burning too. Upsettingly, you are not sure if it is just for want of air, or if some of the smoke has gotten into them after all as well. But you cannot let yourself worry about that – in fact, you cannot even think about that. Your completely undivided attention has to be on the next four or five steps you take here. Even if you managed to get your position perfect, if you mess up the direction you will miss the door – assuming, of course, that there is a door. Which – fraying Hell, focus! It is coming up.

You take the last two strides, then allow yourself to come to a stop. Using the fire and a mental map of the room, you position yourself as best you can. Once you have your heading, you look up. You are looking into the black void of your shadow, surrounded by the larger gray void of the smoke. The pocket lantern is barely doing anything, to the point that you instinctively go to shut it off to save fuel – until you realize that there is no point to having conserving fuel. Let the lantern burn. At this point, if it could help and you could, you would torch the rest of the wharf, just to light your way. So what if you waste the fuel? Fray it all to pieces, why the Hell should you worry about that?

No sense in leaving anything for the next idiot, huh?

Damn it all! You cannot think like that. And you certainly cannot stay here. Move! For the Maker’s Mercy, move!

Your feet are moving underneath you before you even realize it. You are getting to the point where you are worried that your body is going to try to take a breath on its own. Your head is starting to throb at your temples, and for the first time, you notice that you are light-headed. Where your strides up to and around the fire were tight and deliberate, now they are looser, sloppier. Part of you wants to tighten them up again, and part of you wants to break out into a sprint. Your visibility is getting worse – you have moved so far away from the flames, everything has gotten noticeably darker, to the point where you can no longer distinguish your shadow. On your way over to the machine, you could at least sort of make out the other pieces of equipment along the walls, but now … nothing.
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You consider looking back over your shoulder to see where the flames are, but you decide against it, worried that you would somehow get disorientated in the process. As you keep moving, your light headedness becomes more and more akin to dizziness, which considering that your life depends on you walking in a straight line …

And your chest – before, it hurt. Now, you would call it agony.

There is at least a silver lining to that, though. The one thing that you are certain of is that you have kept your mouth and nose shut up as tight as a worm’s ass, so whatever you are feeling in your chest right now, if it is getting worse, then it has to be the effects of air deprivation and not smoke inhalation, right? Well … now that you think about it, perhaps they are not mutually exclus–

You walk face first into something wooden, but before you can even form a coherent thought about it, it gives way … and you stumble through. Doggedly, you just keep moving, hoping that you keep your heading straight. Your lungs feel as if a pair of invisible hands have slid inside your breast and are wringing them both. Your strides now have all of the precision of a drunk derelict. For all you can see at the moment, your eyes might as well be shut – for all you know, they are. And your head – it has gone from tension at the temples and a touch of light headedness to feeling as if it has been hollowed out and it is in the process of being worked over with one of those steam-hammers.

And it is because your head is hurting so bad that it takes you so long for you to realize that the wooden whatever you walked through a moment ago was the door that you were looking for.

You force your eyes open, as far as they will go. They are burning like coals in a brazier, and it is hard to make anything out … but for the first time since you entered the smoke-choked room behind you, you can clearly make out the beam from the pocket-lantern. You do not know where you are, but at the moment the only thing that matters is that there is no smoke in this room.

You had clenched your mouth so tightly, that the simple act of just opening your mouth hurts. And as you take your hand off of your nose while you start greedily sucking down air in these quick, reedy-sounding breaths, you discover that you were pinching your nose so tightly that you started bleeding. And as dangerous as leaving blood behind is, at the moment you are beyond caring. You sit down, then, without even bothering to try to shift the swag stashed in your dress that you have sinched shut and slung over your shoulder, you just lie down on the rough-hewn planks. Blood pounds in your ears, but beyond that, the room is quiet. Quiet enough that you can still make out the firing merrily blazing away in the other room. Quiet enough that for the first time since you came down to Oiler’s Wharf, you can actually hear the waves underneath you.

Maybe … maybe the Refinery is not as bad off as you thought?
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Of course, now that you think about it, that is not a good thing. Well, obviously, yes, it is a good thing – as it stands, a lot of people have died tonight, and if things get any worse, then it is likely that even more will … but if the situation here stabilizes, then it seems inevitable that more people are going to be making their way into here, looking to help. That thought is enough to get you back on your feet.

With your feet underneath you again, you start walking – or more accurately stumbling – your way into the room. As you do, you are alternating wiping your tears away from your eyes and your blood away from your nose on your shirt sleeve. Well, the dead Comptroller’s shirt sleeve, who you are even more certain after that horrific experience back there must have died of smoke inhalation.

What really gets to you is that, assuming you are right, and it was breathing in smoke and foul humors that did him in … is that he managed to get out, to walk away. Just like you are doing right now.

Maybe. Oh, Pattern’s Perdition, what the Hell do you know? You managed to cover all of that distance without breathing anything in. Did he? You doubt it. You sincerely doubt it. And considering where you found him, and how many little fires seem to be all over the place, the odds are pretty poor that the smoke that did him in came from the room you just left … if it was smoke that killed him, and after all, what the Hell do you know?

Still, what a way to go – being smoked like a filet of salmon or something.

The unbidden image that comes to you, of you and the Comptroller up on hooks in a smokehouse, is so gruesomely absurd that you have to laugh. Which makes you cough. Which somehow makes the image even funnier. Of course, with the enormity of your situation bearing down on you, it does not take long for you to recover from the fit of coughs and giggles, but by the time that you do, you feel as if you are breathing normally again for the first time since you charged into that mess. Your sight is continuing to clear as well, and by the time that you are on the other side of this room, pulling the largest bay door you have seen in the Refinery since you left the tower, you notice some writing on the wall, half obscured by stacks of supplies partially resting against it.

You start pulling the crates and whatnot off of their neat stacks. To your surprise, the first thing you uncover is a pictogram, which appears to depict three Moon and Suns, fanned above a drop of fluid –presumably Lifting Oil. There is an arrow, pointing in the direction of the room whose door you have just slid open. Underneath that there is one word written in large, block text: Finishing. Pattern’s Perdition, you do not know if you should be raging or start laughing again. All this time, there were directions, but you could not see any of them, because the fraying idiots stacked their shit right in front of them.
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Then again, perhaps you should not be too sore about this. Excluding the hallway that you stepped out into after the Comptrollers station, you have not actually had any real choice as to where the Hell you are going around here. At the very least, you now know to look for this. And now that you say that … it looks like there is another arrow right underneath the text.

The arrow is longer, but thinner, and with two heads, one right after the other. You pull two sacks to the floor, then drag a crate away to reveal the second pictogram and text; what is obviously a depiction of a bottle, and with the word Bottling written underneath it.

You start to rock back and forth on your heels while you think about this, until you realize how much it hurts to move like that in your “second-hand” (or rather, second-foot) boots. But the discomfort is not enough to stop you from getting excited. You are so close! Maybe even just a room away from where the lifting oil is bottled. Now, of course, you do not know if there is any in there at the moment, but it is the first real lead on what you are looking for since you set foot in the Refinery. You shift your improvised sling so it sits more comfortably over your shoulder, and you plunge through the bay door, into what is apparently the room where the Lifting Oil is ‘Finished’ … whatever the Hell that means.

You are much more interested in finding the door, so you do not pay much heed to your surroundings in here, beyond the most cursory of glances. Still, this room is large enough that a cursory glance takes more than just a moment. There are about a dozen or so columns of interwoven pipe here – much smaller cousins to the ones in the tower, and without the machinery, junctions or catwalks that smothered the larger trio around the pit. There are also small copper tanks sitting in-between the columns, banded by pipes … which curiously enough do not seem to lead anywhere. They just end in dark holes, which sort of remind you of baby birds, aggressively sticking their open beaks out at their mother. Kind of unsettling, actually …

The lighting in here is not helping matters. The lamps, much like in the hallway before the smoke-choked room, seem to have been broken. The only light is moonlight, filtering in from the open vents on the roof above you. And there are only a few vents, which means that much of the room is shrouded in darkness. It is also damned quiet. Not exactly silent – beyond your footfalls, you can still hear the waves crashing against the piles underneath you, and in the distance, there is some intermittent noise that you can just barely make out. You assume that it is something falling or exploding, but you have no way of knowing for sure.

Just when you are starting to get frustrated, you see it – a small sliding door. If not for the faint glow around its edges, it would be very hard to distinguish it from the wall around it, at least in the relative darkness of Finishing.
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Immediately, you lengthen your strides and quicken your pace. When you get there, you are so eager to get through that you actually wrench the damned thing off of its tracks. As soon as you had seen the door, your face had twisted into a predatory leer, but as soon as you step through, your countenance is wiped like a slate. The roof of this room is on fire – it is what caused the glow.

The room, a small connecting vestibule with cast pipes running its entire length, is completely bathed in harsh, shuddering orange light from the flames above, beaming down through the vents. Standing as you are in the doorway, you can even hear them, what you would judge to be no more than ten feet up, roaring and huffing and crackling away. At least, you hope the crackling is the flames, because if it is not, process of elimination means that it would then either have to be the roof itself … or perhaps the floor. Neither of which are attractive options. You stare up at the ceiling and the vents until your eyes start stinging again from the bright light of the flames, but you cannot see anything that looks dangerous. The floor looks solid as well, and you note that none of whatever is on fire on the roof here has fallen into the room through the open vents – which you judge to be another good sign. Running out of ideas, you lean up against the doorframe, and put your weight into it. It seems solid as rock … though your really did not expect anything else.

The room itself could not be longer than two hundred and fifty feet, two seventy at the absolute most. The flames on the roof, and the crackling especially have given you pause, but after concluding that trying for any alternative route would necessitate going through the smoke-choked room again, you start jogging towards the door on the other side of the vestibule. Once you get started however, it occurs to you just how much danger you are in at the moment, and you start running.

Your feet move underneath you completely unseen, as for the whole time, your eyes are riveted on the ceiling. A third of the way through, for a moment, it sounds like the crackling is getting worse, but you write it off as nerves. That said, you still pick up your pace … until the sling of swag you improvised from your dress starts to shake loose, and you have to slow down to pin it against your hip to keep it from slipping loose completely.

As you approach the halfway point of the room, it occurs to you that there could have been another way into Bottling from … oh, what the Hell was the name of the room you just came from again? You do not realize it at first, but you start to slow down again as you try to think. There were a lot of dark corners in that room – and if there was another hallway like this one, except without its roof on fire to illuminate the door, then you might have missed it.
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Honestly, if you think about it, you barely spent any time back there, and to make matters worse, you went and pounced on the first thing you saw, assuming that there was not anything else in there to find. That is sloppy. That would be the definition of sloppy. You advert your gaze from the vented ceiling above you to look behind you for just a second. Uh … you would say that you are already more than half, maybe even two thirds of the way across. So, you can see no sense in doubling back now. For better or worse, you should just press –

Somewhere over your head, there is a crisp, sharp crack, loud enough that it completely cuts across the rest of the racket. Filled with a primal terror, you instinctively start running as fast as you can towards Bottling. As you run for your life, that wordless fear articulates itself into a single thought; that fire would not, should not, could not make a sound like that. Ever. You are panicking, you are staring at the ceiling again, you are sprinting, you are stiff and sore all over, you are mentally and physically exhausted … and you are tripping.

You are just able to get your arms out in front of you to keep yourself from getting a face full of splinters, but you still hit the planks fast and hard. The inkpot you stuffed into your pocket jerkin jabs itself straight into your ribs, knocking the wind right out of you. Gasping for air, you try to scramble back to your feet, but you are not quite able to get your feet under you properly, and you end up on the ground once more.

You are trying again to get up when the burning roof collapses with a soul-fraying groan. You do not see it happen; you do not even think to try to cover your head. In fact, you are not thinking at all – instead, you are still in thrall to the instinct to ‘run away’. You just manage a stumbly lunge back to your feet when the hammer-blow falls, and everything goes black.

When you do come to, you have no sense of how long you were out. It could have been minutes, just as easily as moments. Your head is in a complete fog, and you cannot see anything. Worse than that, you really do not have any sense of direction beyond a vague sense of up and down. It really feels as if you could be floating in a void. The first coherent thought through your head is to wonder if you have died and wound up in Dark Oblivion. At least, until you remember what you have done tonight. The lives you took. Those sins, on top of years of lesser trespasses … there is no way that you would go directly to Oblivion with all of that unanswered and unrepented for. Honestly, you would probably be lucky to get into the Heights. No, Maker’s Mercy, you are still alive.
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You try to get your arms underneath you, to force yourself to your feet, but when you try to move them, you find that they are pinned. After a moment, you try to stand without their assistance, but you find that the rest of you is pinned as well. As your head continues to clear, you try to stand once more time. You do not manage to, but you are able to just lift yourself up enough that you can squeeze your left arm underneath you. And more importantly, straining yourself like this is orientating you.

You still feel dizzy, of course, but things are getting better.

As you now focus on getting your right arm underneath you as well, your eyes start to adjust just a little bit, and you can see that your face is mashed straight into the planking of the Refinery floor. There is also heat – even in the smoke-choked room, you were not this hot.
But just as you are finally starting to get your bearings, something – many somethings, actually – start clattering, and even though you are still pinned, you start to slide inexorably backwards, as if you were a mote of dust caught up in the bristles of a broom. Being dragged like this is painful, and you struggle to get your head off of the planks, lest you take a splinter through your cheeks, or worse, your eye. And as you strain your aching back and neck, so to do you strain your aching head, trying to figure out what the Hell is going on. This cannot be written off to some bout of disorientation, no, you are moving. In fact, you are accelerating backwar –

No.

Oh, no. Oh, Maker, please no.

Not backward. Downward. To the harbor.

The clattering of the woodpile that you are buried under, the remains of the roof which you now realize must still be burning – how else could you explain the heat – gets more and more insistent as you pick up speed. You start wrenching your arms in, contorting your back, desperately trying to get into a position where you could even try to lift yourself out of this, but it is no use. For all the fruits of your struggling, you might as well be transfixed with a pin. In an odd, out of body experience, you realize that you have started to scream – a wordless shriek of raw, unadulterated terror – but you have no clue as to when you started. You know that you should stop, but … the floodgates have opened, and you are as powerless as you have ever been.

A lifetime of lessons on the necessity of being and remaining hidden, drilled, and in some cases, beaten into you – in this terrible moment, all of them fall by the wayside. You articulate yourself somewhat and start screaming for help. None comes, of course. Anyone left in this portion of the Refinery is either as incapacitated as you are, or dead. Your agonizing, inescapable descent to the waves continues, and you start to cry, heedless to the danger of your tears.
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`Or perhaps you were already crying, you are not sure. The only certainty here – the only absolute is that you are falling. Beyond that, your head is filled in equal parts with stupefying fog and quaking, black fear.

“Sorry! Sorry! I’m – I’m sorry!”

You do not know who you are apologizing to. The Comptroller you burned? The Guards you killed? The Strangeness-afflicted Coroners that you abandoned to the Inquisition? The Captain who you robbed? The dozens and dozens of souls whose ascension from the Heights you impeded, if not prevented outright, by harvesting their bodies? The father that you were not worthy of? Or the Patternmaker, who you are also not worthy of? But in your cries, you find a second certainty – you are most certainly sorry. You might just be the most sorry girl that ever lived.

Regardless, you are still sliding. And you are still stuck. You are still trying to free your arms, your legs, something, anything – but your struggling has replaced its earlier violence with numb obligation.

At this point, you do not think that you are going to be able to get out from underneath all of the debris before they stop sliding and start falling. And once you get into the water – if you even make it to the water without hitting one of the piles, or more falling debris – you doubt that you will be able to get yourself. This is it, isn’t it? You are about to die. You are really about to die. And soiled with so many sins – with no way to cleanse yourself of them. Pray. You need to pray. Now, while you still can.

“Please! I’m – please, I – please!”

While you are struggling under the pile, that is as articulate as you can be. You cannot do both – you cannot struggle and properly pray at the same time. You are going to need to pick one or the other. To either rely on yourself, your wits and your strength, that you can still somehow get out from underneath this … or to entrust your soul to the Mercy of the Maker and let yourself slip from the realms of the Flesh, hoping that one last prayer is enough to escape the Pits. You have to choose. Right now! You –

Suddenly, the weight above you shifts and immediately becomes lighter. You are still processing this as your desperate flailing, which you had yet to give up completely on actually manages to get your arms free and underneath you, one right after the other. There is an exultant rush, as you realize that you can still fight. Wasting no time on planning or even further conscious thought, you press your back into the detritus above you. It feels as if you are trying to push a woodpile by backing yourself into it, but it gives. Makers Mercy, it gives, and you stand.

You do not even remember the sprint to safety – one moment you were emerging from the burning pile, then next, you were in another large room, which you hope to Hell and back is Bottling. You are bent over, with your hands on your knees, breathing as if someone had just tried to drown you.
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Still out of breath, you start moving – not wanting to stay a single second longer in the place than absolutely necessary. Like Finishing, there are more machines in this room, though these look different from any of the ones that you have seen in the Refinery so far. That is promising. And when you see the racks of glass jugs, you almost collapse with relief. Most are empty, but some have filled and corked. You lean in, wipe your eyes, and in the darkness of the room, lit only by the moonlight filtering in from the vents in the roof, you read the label.

Gothorum Grade Flameless Lifting Oil, Quarter Short Ton.

Having found what you are looking for, you actually do collapse with relief, falling to your knees and choking down a sob. Less than two minutes ago – Hell, maybe even a minute and a half – you were about to give up. You –

You need to focus. So long as you are in the Refinery, you are in danger. Honestly, you should just keep repeating that to yourself, because apparently you have the brain of some silver-spoon coquette.

You bolt to your feet. Just looking at the fat jug, bound with hempen rope, you can tell that it is going to be too heavy for you to carry out on your back. And you confirm this when you damn near drop the thing getting it off of the shelf and onto the floor. This is going to be too much to handle, at least, if you are going to want to be able to do any serious running or climbing while you are making off with this, which obviously, you do. After thinking about it for a moment, you decide that the best course of action would be to crack the jug open and use the lifting oil to reduce the load. Conveniently, there is a square depression at the top of the jug, like a tray in the glass, where you can pour lifting oil in so it will lift up without either spilling or ripping the bottle to pieces. That is, of course, assuming that you pour out the correct amount, and you do not slosh it around too much.

Before you pull the cork, you take off the belt that came with the breeches you stole off of the Comptroller, and you loop it through the handle of the jug to make a carrying strap. As you pop the cork, you realize that this bottle might weigh less than a Quarter Short Ton – 200 pounds – which means that as soon as you light up, the bottle is going to try to fall upwards, possibly even faster than it would fall downwards under typical circumstances. Not optimal. But there really is not anything you can do about that. Short of finding some weights, you suppose. Across the room, there are actually some metal … parts? They look heavy enough, and they just seem to be lying around, half in and half out of crates. Probably spares for one of the machines – but you really would not know. You give yourself a few moments to mull that prospect for a bit, but in the end, you decide against it.
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You really do not have anything to secure any additional weight to the jug, and even if you did, you are worried that the more you have on your back, the more likely things are going to go wrong.

Satisfied as you ever are going to be, you break the wax seal on the doling cup and pull it off of the cork. All things considered it is pretty well made. It is not lead, lead alloy, or lined with lead, so you probably should not use it for any magical experimentation, but you could definitely see yourself using this later. Moving right along, you pry the cork out – which was in so damned tight you had to get your knives out to get the damned thing started. You use the doling cup to dole out your best guess for a safe application into the tray. Once it has been loaded in, you sit down on the floor right next to it, get the improvised carrying strap over your shoulder that you are carrying the satchel with, and then get the swag in your slung dress sitting as comfortably as it can. Satisfied as you are going to be, you use the pocket lantern to ignite the oil.

It should come as no surprise that it is actually pretty difficult to light flameless lifting oil, but after half a minute, you do get a wavering flame for your troubles.

Within the same breath of the flame catching, it dies, but as it does, the red oil underneath it starts to glow, indicating that the effect is activating. As advertised, it is flameless. But it does billow smoke – and worse, it shoots sparks. Nothing substantial enough to start a fire, but if anyone was around to look, they would definitely catch their eye. Careful to not upset the application of the oil in the jug’s built-in depression, you take your time, and very deliberately get to your feet. By the time that you are standing again, your fears – well, your concerns, at least – have been realized. It is floating – or more accurately, it is falling upward. Your improvised carrying strap is working for the moment, but currently, the jug is right behind your head, and the strap is digging into the pit of your arm, trying and failing to pull you up with it. For a second, you consider looking for something to place on top of the applied oil, to conceal the smoke and the sparks, but you are worried that it would either end up smothering the oil – if that is even possible, considering that there is no flame to snuff – or, more likely, that you would get activated lifting oil on the cover, it would be forced downward by the effect and in the process it would get the stuff everywhere … which as you saw what happened with the Ichor, accelerating debris in every direction when one of the columns went, is very, very dangerous.

You will just have to make do, though hiding from anyone is going to be a bit difficult with the sloshing, puffing and hissing jug floating right behind your head. But it is what it is. This is the smallest jug of any oil on the shelf here, not just flameless.
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Resigned to this latest complication, you start to head over to the side of the room with what you would judge to be spare parts for the equipment, weaving around a few of the machines in the process. As you had hoped, there is in fact a door – not a bay door, just a typical, everyday kind of door – right next to the pile. Now, perhaps there are directions written on the wall as well?

Wanting to keep things moving, you start tearing the stacks down. Some of the crates are open at the top, or are not nailed shut, and when you drop them, they spill their contents out onto the planks, with clattering and metallic pinging. Unfortunately, it seems that there are no instructions by this door. Looking through the door, you can see another room, large, but not so large as Bottling or Finishing. To your surprise, that space is still illuminated by lamplight, and from where you stand right now, you can see what appears to be the entrance to another hallway, on the other side of that room. Giving up on getting directions at least for the moment, you look down so you can extricate yourself from all the shit that you dumped down there. Right at your feet, is a busted open crate, and written on it, in chalk, are the words ‘prototype bearing parts’. That does not mean anything to you.

And at first, the balls that have spilled out from this busted box do not mean anything to you either. But as you start to look away, you notice how the moonlight is reflecting off of them, and you realize that these are steel balls. It is a casual observation, made in passing. Literally and physically – you are walking out of Bottling when this realization comes to you. And in your worn down and worn out state, you are striding into the next room, considering your choices of doors when you finally connect the dots.

Steel balls! Steel balls!

You whirl around and rush right back into the room, right back to where you were with the parts strewn on the ground. But once you get there, you force yourself to slow down. Cautiously, you go to your knees, making sure to keep the jug level. You probably do not need to mother hen the oil to quite this extent, but you do not want to take any chances here. But that is not what you are thinking about right now. No, your entire focus is on those balls. One of them had rolled over the small gap between the planks of the floor and had gotten itself stuck. You pluck it out and look it over. Just as you thought – it is exactly the size of the graven steel ball you pinched from Aldoin’s coffin. The same size as the ball that you, trying to be responsible, magically mitigated … not realizing that you were screwing yourself in the process. The graven steel ball did not just dump Strangeness into the coffin and the corpse – it was sitting in the Morgue for a day or two, and during all that time, there was nothing stopping it from spreading Strangeness all over the place.
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Eventually, the Inquisition is going to find some of that Strangeness, and they are going to be desperate to trace it back to its source. Assuming they are able to – and you assume that they will – they will find out about the graven steel ball from the Coroners, and then they will want to exhume Aldoin, to take the artifact into their possession. Except it is not in the coffin anymore, because you took it out. So obviously, their suspicion is going to fall on you, as the last person to be alone with the coffin. And considering that you had magically mitigated the ball, it was not simply a matter of putting the damned thing back, because then it would be obvious that someone with magic had tampered with – and again, as the last person who had been alone with the coffin, it is going to be pretty fraying obvious that it was you, if you did do that.

You had thought about trying to make a replacement – or a counterfeit. You would not have to bother trying to get the glyphs on the ball right, you could just deliberately misuse some of father’s equipment, and make another dangerously Strange steel ball. Obviously, the Inquisition would have no way of knowing the difference between a completely discharged artifact and a really Strange dummy. But with everything else on your plate, there was no time … but, if you already had the ball …

Still on your knees, you stuff the steel ball in one of the pockets of the great coat, then grab the half dozen other steel balls that are in your reach and cram them into the same pocket. As you rise to your feet, your head swims with the possibilities. When you gave up on making the decoy graven ball earlier, you were effectively accepting that the Inquisition would eventually come after you – a terrifying prospect. The softly clinking and clattering mass in your pocket represents a potential out … assuming you can get the dummy made and planted into Aldoin’s coffin before the Inquisition has the damned thing exhumed.

Which is not necessarily guaranteed. And Maker’s Mercy, is your time already tight. You were hoping to leave comfortably before the seven days that father gave you to leave the Mount, but it was already looking like you were going to be cutting things close. Throw this into the mix –

Ah, damn it all. You need to stop counting birds in the bush. Get out of here in one piece, with the oil before you start planning your next move. You rise to your feet and hustle your way into the next room. While this room is comparably sized to Bottling and Finishing, it appears to be empty. There are spaces and, in some spots, holes in the floor, where judging by the presence of disconnected pipes, equipment had clearly been located at some point. Currently, however, these are just dark pits, openings into the levels underneath the Refinery. For all you know, there might be a way out down there, but given the choice, you would stay out if you could.
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And for now, it looks like you are being given the choice. In fact, you are being downright spoiled! Not counting the prospect of way out through the sublevels, or the door you just passed through to get into this room, there are two ways out of this room. A hallway, and a side door. You decide to take the hallway, based on nothing more than the hope that there are directions painted on one of its walls. You cross the room, walking around the pits, as well as parts of the floor that seem to have been cordoned off at random … until, as you pass one, you notice that the floor inside the line is sort of sagging. Pattern’s Perdition – if this portion of Refinery had weak floors before all of this started, then you are really going to have to watch your step here.

Giving the undermined portions of the floor a wide of a berth, you make your way to the hallway. As you approach, you notice two things – that this is the first hallway that you have seen in the Refinery that was just a hallway. No supplies stacked alongside the walls – and no mounted pipes either, though here and there you can see spots where brackets for them might have been at some point. The other thing you notice is the smell. After running through the smoke-choked room, you have basically been smelling nothing but soot and blood from your nosebleed. But now, those overpowering smells have themselves been overpowered.

It almost goes without saying that it is chemical. You have no idea what chemical, but … Stars and Spheres, how it reeks! You have not even gotten out of the hallway when your eyes start to tear up, and you start coughing a bit. By the time you are actually in the room, you have stopped coughing, but your eyes are watering to the point that you are basically crying. As you do what you can to keep the Strangeness in check, you survey the room. Completely covering the entire floor is a faintly steaming sludge. You can sort of see what look like channels in the odiferous shiny black mass, and it takes you a moment or two to realize that they must be caused by the sludge slowly – snail’s pace slowly – pouring through the spaces in the plank flooring. Just how thick is this stuff? And for that matter, just how heavy?

Like the room on the other side of the hallway you just came through, this one is basically empty, which when considering the weight of the sludge, is a definitely for the best, especially if portions of the Refinery here were unsound before tonight, as you fear. But without any machines or tanks in here, it does beg the question: where did all of this shit come from? While you look for a potential safe route across - or better yet, around – the morass, that question nags at you. Perhaps the explosion of the big pump and the collapse of one of the columns in the tower forced this stuff further into the Refinery somehow? That sort of makes sense, you suppose, but then again, what the Hell do you know?
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Well … you know that nothing about this room looks safe. There are brackets on the wall, just like in the hallway behind you, where pipes were once suspended. It looks like they are close enough together that you could work your way across the room on them … but all it would take it one of them failing under your weight, and you would be falling straight into the sludge. It does not look like that it is actually that deep – the leading edge that you can see about four yards ahead of you looks to only a matter of inches thick, maybe a few more once you get deeper in – but obviously you are not going to fraying walk through this shit.

You are starting to get a little dizzy from the black humors in the fumes. When you realize this, you are frustrated enough that you could slap yourself. What manner of senseless lunatic just stands around, breathing like a fraying bellows around whatever the Hell this mess is?

You are not thinking straight. That much is obvious. You have been burning the candle at both ends after all, for nearly two days straight now. You make a split-second decision to write this room off, and you hoping for a better egress, you retrace your steps out of this room, through the hallway, and into the large, empty room right outside of Bottling. Now more comfortable moving with the jug tethered to you, you allow yourself to pick up your pace, to make up for lost time as you head to the side door you saw earlier.

But when you get there, you find to your surprise that the door has been barred shut from this side. Curiously, the drop bar has been nailed into the frame, though it is relatively trivial to pry the thing off using the chipped pin-stiletto. However, when you try to push the door open, you are flummoxed to find that the door must be barred from the other side as well. Equal parts frustrated and curious, you wrap your arm around the floating jug of lifting oil and pull it tight against you to keep it steady. Once you have it secure, you set about kicking the door down. The boots you stole off of the dead Comptroller clearly were not made with this in mind, and by the time that the door breaks open, your toes feel as if they have been run over by a fraying wagon. Further indulgence in self-pity is cut short though, when you see just why the door was sealed shut.

The room on the other side of the side door is a smaller version of the room you just passed through – holes in the floor where machinery presumably once was, regions of the floor cordoned off, and brackets on the walls where pipes once hung. However, there are two differences – or three, counting the size of the space.
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The first is the … you are not even sure what you would call it, but it looks as if it is a catwalk, suspended from the ceiling, but made just for pipes. The second is that while that the floor in the room you were just in had spots where the floor looked as if it might be sagging, in this room, there are spots where the floor looks as if it might not be sagging. It is an absolute mess. You can clearly make out where the supports are – and are not – based off of the height of the floor. And those are the best portions of the floor. There are swaths where it looks like there are not any supports underneath anymore, and the floor slopes into these little depressions, and there are even portions where the floor is just gone. You are not sure if it was removed, or it fell away after whatever exactly happened here tonight, but either way, this looks to have all the makings of genuine deathtrap. You would have to be crazy to trust that floor – just as crazy as you would have to be to spend any serious time in the room with the sludge.

But perhaps you do not need to trust the floor. You turn your attention back to the pipes suspended from the ceiling. Getting up on those pipes would be trivial … if you were not bone tired and loaded down with swag. Still, you should be able to get up there without too much trouble, even encumbered as you are at the moment. The real question is once you get up there, is that contraption going to be able to hold your weight?

Mulling it over, you feel pretty sure that it should be able to. Clearly, this portion of the Refinery was being repaired or something. It looks like everything that was unsound was removed – so it stands to reason that the pipes up there should be able to bear your weight.

Figuring that you have spent too much time not making any progress, you make a split-second decision. Crossing this room on the overhead pipes has to be safer than trying to climb along the walls of the room with the sludge. Of course, just because this option is safer, it does not necessarily follow that this is safe. The hallway into Bottling looked solid enough, even with the ceiling on fire, and look how that ended up. The relatively light wooden frames around the vents were enough to break the floor underneath you. These pipes look like they are cast iron – thick cast iron. If those pipes were to fall, then you would bet good money that they would punch clean through to the harbor. But on the other hand, if they are so heavy, then it stands to reason that their supports must be really strong as well, right?

That thought makes you marginally more comfortable about attempting this – which is going to have to be comfortable enough. Before you start your climb, however, you need to check to make sure that there is enough lifting oil left in the depression on the top of the oil jug.
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If the oil was to run out while you were crossing the pipes, it would be a matter of seconds before the jug started to fall normally. The carrying strap you improvised out of the belt you took off of the dead Comptroller is enough to keep the balance of the weight in check, that is the two hundred pounds of lift, less the actual weight of the jug and oil. But you doubt that some belt is sufficient to hold the actual weight when the effects of the oil eventually peter out, no matter how bright the buckle or rich the leather is.

To safeguard against this, you are going to have to ‘top off’ the lifting oil, while you still can. That is easier said than done, considering that the jug is currently floating (or more accurately, falling upwards) directly behind your head. But eventually, you manage to press the base of the jug solidly into the floor with one hand, so you can get the provided doling cup free. It was actually more difficult to pour the oil into the cup, considering. At one point, you actually slipped, and the jug started to accelerate directly towards your face, though luckily you were able to get your hands around it. You ended up spilling more lifting oil than you actually used to refill the reservoir, but it was probably a couple dozen drams lost at most, and you have gallons left. With the oil once again smoking and sparking merrily, you carefully stand up, easing the jug back into position behind your head. Now all there is left is to actually cross the damned room.

The brackets, where other pipes were once were suspended, make the climb up to the remaining pipes, the ones you are going to cross over on, almost trivial, even encumbered as you are. Unfortunately, once you get up to the pipes, and climb up on top of them, everything gets much, much more difficult.

The most obvious issue is how little room there is up here. Now, admittedly, you are six feet, four inches, but even a more typically sized man would have to stoop down up here. And from the ground, you could not see that there were brackets and supports hanging down from the ceiling right onto the bridge – or whatever the Hell you want to call it – in addition to the supports that you saw from floor. You are forced to take it slow, to pick your way around these obstacles. Additionally, there is not a lot of light up here, but bent over as you are, you are not comfortable using your pocket lantern, for fear of lighting yourself on fire. But all of these are just frustrations. The danger up here is the pipes themselves.

Now, you could be forgiven for not knowing that these pipes would be slick and wet. All of the others you have seen tonight looked to be dry, and you had figured that these pipes were disconnected, as all of the equipment nearby had been removed. And because you had assumed that these pipes were disconnected, you could also be forgiven for thinking that they would not be uncomfortably warm through your pilfered, uncomfortably tight boots.
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Or that here and there they would be venting steam or smoke or whatever through valves, perfectly placed right at the height were the leather of the boot ends, where all you have between the lancing heat and your skin are your thin stolen breeches. You tried getting the great coat you are wearing in-between you and the blasts, but when you did it ended up obscuring your feet, which you knew right away was just tempting black luck.

But as dangerous – and painful – the venting is, you can forgive yourself for not considering it, just like the slickness and the heat. What you cannot forgive yourself for not considering is just how difficult it would be to walk on pipes. Pipes, by dint of being fraying pipes, are round. And when they are as large as these are, that means that even when they are right next to each other, there is a fair amount of space in-between them. More than enough space for you to accidentally slip into, or to twist or roll your ankle with.

As you are bent at the waist, the improvised haversack you have made out of your dress has shifted to your front and is lightly slapping against your knees as you make your way along the bridge. And the jug – that miserable fraying bastard – it is still trying to fall straight up, so you have to bend even lower to make sure that it clears the ceiling and any low hanging brackets or protrusions. Ever single time it tings! against anything, your heart goes straight into your throat, worrying that the application of oil in the jugs depression is going to get messed up. And finally, as you are in such a relatively enclosed space, you cannot help but breathe in some of the smoke that the lifting oil is cooking off. Ironically enough, it is making you feel lightheaded.

But you keep your head down, looking carefully studying the pipes in front of you as best you can in the lousy light. Still, you are starting to entertain the idea of turning back … when you almost run into the wall. Pattern’s Perdition, that was almost something out of a fraying pantomime. As you descend to the floor, you cannot help but nervously laugh. Despite being a miserable experience, you made decent enough time on the crossing, and in the process avoided the figurative (and potentially physical) pitfalls of this room. Once you are back on the floor – and you are satisfied that the planks under your feet are sound, you take a moment to look at how the oil on top of the jug is holding up.

It is pretty good – in fact, there is so much oil left that you are not comfortable pouring more in, out of the fear that you would tempting sloshing or spilling. Sticking close to the walls of the room, you make your way to another door. Like the one on the other side of this room, it is barred and nailed shut, so getting through it takes more than a little bit of doing. When you finally manage to get through, you find yourself in a large, exceptionally long room, with copper tanks all along the wall.
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Many of these tanks are smoldering, billowing smoke from their tops where they join with large pipes coming down from the roof, venting steam in all directions from the nest of pipes underneath them. Several are glowing, possibly starting to melt, and two of those are leaking sludge. Not a lot, mind you, and the room is large enough that the smell is as overpowering as it was in the other room, but it is bad – and it is getting progressively worse.

But what really scares you is that the sludge leaking from these tanks is burning, And you are not sure if it is a different type of sludge then the stuff you ran into before, or if it is more … dribbly or whatever the technical word is because it is on fire, but this stuff seems to be slipping through the floor, while the other sludge was thick enough that it mostly stayed put, above the planks. For all you know, it could be lighting the piles of the wharf on fire at this very moment. Of course, you would hope that the supports of the wharf are fireproofed, like the floors and walls of the Refinery seem to be, but … you do not know. And you would hate to find out the hard way if the entire place just collapsed on you, especially when you have to be so close to an exit … and of course, while there are no doubt still survivors and rescuers in the building and on the Oiler’s Wharf.

Having learned your lesson from the hallway with the burning ceiling, you start running through the room. As you get closer, you notice that some of the tanks seem to be filled over capacity, as they are trembling and spurting intermittent streams of the sludge from their tops. In fact, there is a bank of them up ahead that look like they are still being filled up.

One of those tanks, one of the two in this room that are gushing sludge from the nest of pipes underneath it, looks like it might be starting to buckle. Frighteningly enough, you can hear the metal groan, even over the loud retorts of your footfalls as you run by. You allow yourself to run just a little bit faster, but you are still not at full tilt, not even at a sprint, for fear of what would happen if you got the application of oil on the jug messed up.

Still, your long legs and reasonably fast pace chew through the room, and before you know it, you are approaching the center of this space, the entirety of which is a platform, elevated about six inches off of the floor of the rest of the room. In the light of this room’s lamps, you can make out pipes underneath the platform, all of which seem to converge on some machine on top of the structure, with what might be the single largest valve that you have ever seen. The thing is large enough that it has handles, and unlike any of the other equipment you have seen here tonight, it has been painted a bright, glossy red.
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Out of an abundance of caution for the load floating directly behind your head, you slow down as you approach the platform – you do not want to mistime your hop up and trip, after all. As you do, you notice something else unique about the valve. It is labeled, both with pictograms and with actual writing. You cannot quite read it from where you are now, so you adjust your path and swing closer to the machine out of curiosity. As you draw closer, and you make out the pictogram – bells and lighting, perhaps to indicate alarm, next to what looks to be a depiction of steam or some gas whistling out of the tap – right above the words Master Emergency Discharge, painted in commanding block text, you notice two other things. The first is that one of the lamps – which in this room are hanging overhead, as all of the space along the walls have been given over to the tanks – has fallen directly onto the machine. Blessedly, it seems that either the fall extinguished its flame, or it was not able to catch anything on the platform, and it petered out. The second is that that there appears to be some sort of sign, under glass no less, nestled in between the valve and the machine.

After studying the ceiling and the nearest tanks for any indication of danger and finding none – the tanks that are the worst off are ahead and behind you – as you approach the center of the platform, you cannot help but let your curiosity get the better of you. You slow down to a walk, and head over to the sign. And for an establishment that has relied so heavily on pictograms, it is surprisingly wordy.

In the event of a fire, employ the Master Emergency Discharge, unless the Regulator’s indicator rod is at full extension. In such an eventuality, do not under any circumstances use the Master Emergency Discharge.'

Your stomach churns as you look at the sign. Recently, the Firmament has been presenting you with a lot of opportunities to help people – no doubt because it would be in your best interest to make amends after all of your trespasses and transgressions – but you have been running away from all of them. You had the opportunity to help the Coroners who were exposed to the Strangeness from the Graven Steel Ball, but you walked away, scared of the risk. Right after the destruction started, you had a chance while everyone was distracted to search for survivor, and potentially give them some life-saving succor. But again, you refused, because again, you were scared of getting caught. And the one time that you actually did help, when you freed those blinded survivors, you did not see it through by walking them to the exit, because – surprise, surprise – you were scared. If the route that they were on to the Chemical Station was half as dangerous as the route you took to Bottling, then those men are probably dead.
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But now! Here and now is a situation where you can help! And there is no risk – no reason not to. The words that Hortingea spoke to you, the words that you are now certain were placed in her mouth by the Patternmaker Himself, echo through your head, loud enough that you fear you might start shaking. Desperate to make amends, to prove to the Maker – and yourself – that despite everything, you are a good and clean soul, worthy of Wisdom, you practically throw yourself at the valve. But before you can start turning, you remember that you need to check the indicator rod – whatever that is.

From the sign, you would judge that the machine next to the valve is the Regulator. You hope it is, otherwise, you doubt that you would ever be able to find it. Resolving to learn more about the instrumental sciences, you look the device over, trying to find something – anything – that could the ‘indicator rod’. The Regulator was really clobbered when the overhead lamp fell on it, and it seems that your first impression – that the lamp did not light anything on fire when it came crashing down – is not entirely true. Swathes of the machine show scorching, and now that you look closely, you can see where parts of the lamp have been jammed in between parts of the Regulator.

When you finally locate what you believe to be the indicator rod, located in an alcove on the machine’s upper housing, you find yourself getting more anxious, not less. You have no idea what ‘full extension’ looks like, and from the way that it was worded on the sign, you have to assume that the consequences of using the discharge when you are not supposed to is pretty damned dire. What if it is at ‘full extension’ right now? What if it was, and then the lamp falling knocked it back?

Well … you think you have a way to test for one of those. You grab the rod in your Strange-Stained glove and try to pull up on it. Which is easier said than done. You have such a hard time getting the rod to budge that for a moment you thought that it might actually be at full extension, until it finally gives way and starts moving – albeit in fits and starts. You actually have to brace yourself against the housing of the Regulator and pull with all of your might to finally get the indicator to its full extension.

So, the Regulator is currently indicating that it is safe to open the valve. But it comes back to the question of the falling lamp. While there is nothing to indicate that the rod itself was hit by the lamp and pushed back in, the irregular action of the rod worries you. Is it possible that simply the impact of the lamp caused something to break inside the Regulator, causing the rod to retract?

No, that seems like a bit of a stretch. But then again, with everything at stake here …

You stare intently at the machine for several seconds, fruitlessly willing the contraption to explain itself before once again, a distant thud behind you somewhere snaps you out of it.
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You need to keep moving. Which means you need to make your decision, right now.

Fray it all to the Pits. The rod says it is safe. There is nothing definitive indicating that the indicator or the Regulator itself is not work exactly as intended. Open it up and pray for the best. You turn to the valve and after a quick silent prayer, you throw your back into it. At its size, and with multiple sets of handles on it, you would wager that opening the damned thing is supposed to be a two-man job – at least. So, you figured, that as one solitary woman, you were going to have a hard time of it. That turned out to be an understatement, to put it mildly. It takes just about everything that you have left – and it feels like you nearly pulled both of your arms out of their sockets in the attempt, but just as you were seriously thinking of just walking away the valve finally started to creak open.

Encouraged, you set to your task with renewed vigor as the creaking changes to shrieking. When the platform underneath you starts to shake, you recoil away from the release valve, only to see that it is now spinning itself open. From above you there is a rumbling noise, and fearing another collapse, you run away to the far side of the room. The pipes above and below the tanks all start thumping and jumping, and oddly enough streams of water start to fall from the ceiling. At this point, you have forgotten your fears about messing up the application of lifting oil you have on the jug – you are sprinting. Sprinting as fast as you have ever run. There is a door ahead of you – closed. You do not have the presence of mind to slow down to open it, or to position your shoulder to charge through it. You just run straight at it, outstretching your arms at the last moment to try to push it open. Blessedly, the door is unlocked, otherwise you would have almost certainly hurt yourself.

And double blessedly, the door was tall enough for the jug to pass through without striking the frame, otherwise you might have lost all of the oil. The room on the other side of the door is yet another hallway, and with your footfalls pounding against the planks, you tear through it, only allowing yourself to slow down as you approach the far end, out of the hope that you will find directions painted onto the walls, as you had elsewhere. But unfortunately, this particular hallway has pipes running all along its walls, so there is simply no space for any signage. Frustrated, you keep moving. Once you are through the door, you finally allow yourself to slow down to a jog – partially so you can better scan the area for more directions, and partially because you are just about out of breath.

Though you manage to catch your breath quickly, you are not able to catch sight of anything that could be a sign.
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Once you are convinced that there is nothing to find, you turn your attention to this new area that you have found yourself in. Lit by overhead lamps just like the room with the tanks, this one appears to be something of a warehouse, though here and there you can see what looks to be equipment – or rather, the remains of equipment. Boxes, barrels, sacks and other odder vessels were all stacked high in this room. Emphasis on were. Nearly all of those tall piles were felled like a tree by the explosion or its aftershocks. What paths there once were through this place have now been obstructed.

There is nothing for it, you are going to have to pick your way across this fraying mess. Stifling some particularly choice oaths, start to move towards the center of the room. As you had feared, it is painfully slow going – figuratively, and your new too-tight boots, physically as well. In the back of your mind, there is a nagging fear that the floor underneath you might just give way under all of this weight, or that everything crashing together in here has mixed things that are best not to be mixed, or something. Anything.

After the time you have here, is it any wonder that you are expecting the worst?

But as you continue to push through this mess, nothing is happening. The floor – or the ceiling, for that matter – is not falling on you. There are no fires and excluding the white wisps that the lifting oil is putting off, there is no smoke in here either. There is even barely any sound in here, beyond the sounds of debris shifting underfoot and your exertions. Of course, it does not follow that this is some stroll through a pleasure garden. As someone who has been climbing for as long as they can remember, you know full well the importance of having sure footing, which is basically impossible to find on a pile of splintered wood. After two minutes you are not even a stone’s throw away from the door and you have jabbed more times than you care to count. You will probably have a forest worth of splinters in you by the time you are through.

You continue to grouse, until it occurs to you that there could be men buried under these piles. Right now, you could be climbing over a corpse. It is a sobering thought, though not half as sobering as the one that follows, that perhaps this could have been the ultimate fate of the blinded survivors you cut loose.

You know that your mind is just needling you, just like you know that you really did not have much of a choice with those three. If you had walked them all the way to safety, you would have not only risked being seen by rescuers, but there would have been a very good chance that the men would have picked up that something was wrong – that their savior had no idea how to find their way around the Refinery, or that they sounded somewhat feminine for a Refinery worker. You cannot fault yourself for walking away from them, after clearing off that hatch. It was perfectly reasonable.
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So then why is this tearing up your insides? You try to push it out of your mind, and focus on moving … but climbing over practically endless piles is mindless enough that doing that is easier said that done. You sigh and try to distract yourself by wondering what time it is, and thinking of what else you could do tonight … which leads to you thinking about how much you need to do before you can leave the Mount. And that is really overwhelming, so to distract yourself from that, you go back to thinking about those men you sort of saved.

It takes a half-dozen or so piles worth of climbing, clambering, shifting and sliding before you think you have an answer. Two answers actually. The first is fairly obvious. You do not know what happened to them, and in absence of any concrete knowledge, your admittedly guilty conscience is going to castigate you with malign musings. Of course, those men are not the only ones with an unknown fate. You have been doing a good job keeping your father out of your mind while you are plying your trade here, but … no, no you cannot do this to yourself. Not while you are still on the wharf – in fraying imminent danger of being seen, or worse, getting caught.

That resolution does not last though – the going is simply to slow to prevent your mind from wandering.
The other reason that you came up with was that you ended up in the middle ground, between the practical and the moral, with none of the benefits of either but some of the costs from both. The smart, or the practical thing to do would have been to walk by those men. You were making a leap of faith that they were blind. And even if they were, what if someone who was not saw something, or found something, and then connected it somehow to these men getting sort-of-saved. Contrarily, the good, or the moral thing to do would have been to see them to safety, regardless of whatever risk it might have presented to you.

In the end, you took the middle road, which at the moment seems to have been the worst of the three options that were presented to you.

Half measures and compromises. Just where the Hell have they gotten you? But perhaps you should not be so hard on yourself. You are in over your head, and you are doing the best you can – or at least trying to do the best you can.

More than anything, you just want to talk to father again. He would tell you exactly what to do, and then that would be the end of it. No worrying, no fretting and definitely no second-guessing … which is basically all you have been doing since he woke you up five days ago to tell you that he was going out on …

Pattern’s Perdition, how many times are you going to need to tell yourself to focus! Stop this bellyaching before you give yourself a fraying ulcer.
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To keep your mind occupied, you pick up your pace, moving faster and faster over the rubble. You are really starting to exert yourself, and you are well on your way to collecting that forest worth of splinters, but it is worth it to keep you head screwed on right. You keep moving, only stopping once when you find a relatively stable dell in the detritus so you can reapply the lifting oil. Single minded. You need to be as single minded as an old mare with blinders on.

This focus serves you well, because before too long, you have found another door. Or rather, the top third of a doorway, as the door itself is unaccounted for, presumably blown out by the collapse of the supplies, and two thirds of the doorway is buried under strewn-out supplies. Reinvigorated, you make your way over, stoop down, and stick your head through.

For an embarrassingly long moment, you mistake the alley for yet another hallway, until you turn your head to the right and in the distance, looming out of the night and over the black harbor is the Mount, with the Promontory wreathed in fuzzy yellow lamplight. It is always a beautiful sight, but tonight, after what you have been through, seeing it is enough to move you to tears. You are not speaking figuratively, either you actually started tearing up and had to rub your eyes raw to get them to stop.

After making sure that Strange-Staining was only activating on your clothes and nothing else, and that the coast (or rather, the harbor) was clear you set yourself to safely getting the jug of lifting oil extracted from the doorway. You manage, though the smoking and sparking seem to have picked up a little bit – perhaps the sea breeze?

You follow the jug out, and you cautiously stand up. You can hear men running around, and the occasional order being barked, and while the is great sense of urgency, nothing in the words or the tone of those orders indicate panic or desperation. Is … is it over? Has this disaster been taken in hand?

Well, ‘over’ and ‘in hand’ are probably too strong, but you would guess that those men giving the orders do not believe that there is any more imminent, or at least acute danger. Which is wonderful, except that it puts you in the same tight spot you were in when you first got here.

From the gate to the first Refinery, there was decent concealment along the edge of the wharf provided by stacks of supplies. However, right after that, there is just this wide-open space in front of those massive bay doors. As you can already hear and even see men moving around over there, you know that you have no chance whatsoever of sneaking out that way. So, if that is out, then that means you would need to find some way to get back to where you were when all of this started, that horrible little room with all of the pipes, and then retrace your steps to leave the wharf. But that means getting back in the Refinery, which … you would sooner trepan yourself then go back in there.
>>
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What else is there? The service scaffolds underneath the wharf? No, heading underneath sounded dangerous before … whatever exactly happened tonight happened. You do not know if the scaffolds are still down there, let alone strong enough to hold your weight.

You blow air through your teeth in frustration as you resign yourself to going back inside the Refinery. Before you do though, you try to judge where the room you just left ends and the tall room with the columns begins. You look all the way down to the corner of the Refinery, trying to compare that distance with your shaky mental image of the room. Unsure about it, you turn around, and intending to get the full breadth of the space. To your shock, nestled between the wood-and-steel hulks of the Refineries, is an open gate. From your position, it is hard to see, but sort of looks like there is something on the other side of it, some sort of … path? Is there another way off of Oiler’s Wharf?

It is hard to constrain yourself. You want to just run right over there, but you need to remember that you are no longer alone, there are potential witnesses everywhere now. Though you do make your way as quietly as possible, you do have a serious spring in your step as you do. It is a long way back there, and by the end of it, you are praying that you were not seeing things.

Blessedly, you were not. From the ass-end of this ‘alley’ there is a spur off of the wharf back to Stickport, where shabby houses and shabbier warehouses sit, beckoning you hither. You have to actually stifle laughter, as you nervously look back over your shoulder to make sure that no one has spotted you. Satisfied, you return your attention to the crooked little pier. The thing does not even have railings, so the minute you step out of the ‘alley’, you are going to be completely exposed. You fervently scan the shoreline, looking at each and every one of the houses that you can see. Many of them, despite the late (or rather, the earlier hour) have some of their lights on, which makes sense – something as spectacular as the destruction here would obviously draw onlookers like moths to a flame.

The question is, how many of those moths are going to look away from the flame and towards this stretch of pier?

You look over your shoulder at the sputtering, floating jug. The smoke has gotten a little better, but you are noticing now that the sparks are putting off quite of a bit of light. You are not sure if it is enough to be seen from the houses and tenements however, which are closer to the crude avenue of the Lower Boardwalk than the actual harbor … except for the housing right outside of the wharf for the Refinery workers, but that seems to have been evacuated. For a few moments, you seriously consider smothering out the oil, and just carrying the jug across … but not only would you still be out in the open, and as such, conspicuous, it would take several times longer if you had to carry it.
>>
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And that is assuming that you could carry it. It has been a long, long night, and now that you are not moving, you are realizing just how much of a mess you are at the moment. You are tired, you are hungry, you are thirsty, but above all, you are battered and sore.

It would be a fine way to end the night if, just as you were about to get clear, your grip failed, and you dropped the oil into the bay. You almost laugh at that. Almost.

So instead of smothering the oil, you take this opportunity to recoat the depression on top of the glass with the provided doling cup. As you do, you continue to scan the shoreline, looking for any other sources of potential witnesses. But by the time that the oil has been reinforced, you cannot see any. Instinctively, you know that if you are going to take this route, you should do it sooner rather than later, before anyone comes down this alley, trying to get into the Refinery through the door you crawled out of. As a final precaution, you wrestle the jug out in front of you, just in case if anything were to go wrong, you would have a chance to recover.

And just like that, there is nothing else left but to leave.

You pass through the wrought-iron gate. You would prefer to run this portion, to be done with it, but … grappling with the jug and running seems like a recipe for disaster, so you have to content yourself with a brisk walk. Still, the twin to the gate you passed through, the one that sits on the other side of this spur from the shore is getting closer and closer by the second. The smoke from the oil is tickling your nose, but compared to the fumes you were dealing with earlier, you barely notice.

So … what do you do next? Well, obviously you want to get back to the Midden, but … Maker’s Mercy there is so much to do. You could take the time to start moving tonight. You doubt that you would be able to finish, but you could get a head start. Then there are the steel balls. With a little bit of effort, you could turn them into a ‘replacement’ graven ball, to plant into Aldoin’s coffin. Maybe, just maybe, that would be enough to keep the Inquisition from looking for you.

Or … you could go to Aldoin’s house.

Going there would not get you out of the Mount any sooner, nor would it improve your odds of making a clean break. In fact, it would be the opposite. The first time you went there, you were followed – at least until you got up onto a roof and started running for your life. If you get caught up in whatever is going on, forget making clean break, you might not even leave the city alive. But at the same time, the odds of you managing to reunite with father seem slim and look to be getting slimmer by the second. That house, as dangerous as it might be, and as tenuous as the connection between it and father is, is still your best bet for turning that trend around. In fact, if you are being realistic, it is the only bet you have of bucking that trend and keeping hope alive.
>>
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And even though you have no way to know for sure that father was involved with whatever happened at the house, it still is the best lead you have as to what father was doing, and by extension, where he might have gone. In fact, if you were being realistic, it is the only lead you have. The apartment –which again, you have no way of knowing if it was connected to him or not – has been Leadfired, along with the rest of the building and any hopes of you finding anything there. And the cock-pit – which not only do you not know if it was actually connected to him somehow, you do not even know which fraying cock-pit it was – has been seized by the Inquisition. Four fraying weeks ago!

Which, now that you think about it …

Father is an exceptionally cautious man. If he knew that the Inquisition had seized one of his constructs, he would have insisted that the two of you pack up and leave immediately. So, then that has to mean that he either did not know about the Inquisition finding his constructs … or they were not his constructs in – no, no what are you saying. If he knew that the Inquisition found anything that was made out of the same ‘materials’ that he works with, regardless of if he made the thing or not, he would have wanted to leave.

So, he must not have known. Which seems to indicate that was not actually his construct … and in turn, that means there would have to be at least one other Witch living in Scrimshaw Mount, as the Master Abbot described the construct as being recently made, and in such matters, you would be willing to trust his judgement. Stars and Spheres, just what you need, something else to worry about. And without any more information, that is really all you can do about the prospect. Worry.

Honestly, maybe you would be better served just spending what little time remains to you tonight taking care of yourself. Eat something. Take a bath. Try to salvage your dress. Sleep. Oh, Maker’s Mercy, wouldn’t that be wonderful? For just a few hours? You have another night – actually, depending on how you count your seven days, you could have two. And if you keep burning the candle at both ends, things are not going to get any easier for you. And they certainly have not been easy to start with.

What is stopping you from just deciding to say ‘fray it’ and indulge yourself is the fear that you might not have another night. And if you wasted that precious time –

Suddenly, from off to the side, you hear a bell, followed by barking. To tired to immediately comprehend what is going on, you turn your head, and you almost faint when you see between two warehouses on the shore a night watchman rushing towards you, with a sleek looking hound in tow. It is almost enough to make you cry. You were so close! So damned close! How did you miss him?
>>
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But all is not lost. Besides that dog, he is alone. And with all of the commotion on Oiler’s Wharf, he is going to have a real hard time getting anyone’s attention with that damned bell. Additionally, judging by his lack of uniform, he is a private guard, hired by one of the bonded warehouses located by the Refinery. That means he is a civilian … so unless he happens to be a Citizen who is slumming it on the waterfront, or he managed to get a dispensation, he is prohibited from carrying firearms on Port Authority land. Still … just as the law is not stopping you carrying one – or for that matter, stealing one – it follows that it might not have stopped him either. Not to mention, most Justiciars would be much more inclined to mercy if a prohibited weapon was used in defense of property …

Well, if he does have a firearm, it is a pistol of some sort, and he is much too far away to hit you. The lantern rod he has is tipped in steel, but it is much less impressive than the pikes that you went up against earlier tonight.

As you finish the last stretch of the spur, and leap to the mainland pier, you realize that you are seriously considering killing him. You could run. You know you could run – in fact, you would almost say that it is guaranteed that you could out run this clown, even as tired and encumbered as you are. But he has seen you. From a distance, of course, too far away to make out your face in the darkness … yet, he could probably give a guess as to how tall you were, which would be enough to tie whatever happened here to you knocking over the Euthyphro. Everything has been spiraling out of control, but if you can just stop it from getting any worse … you know what is safe, what is smart. And besides, you have already … killed … four men tonight. Honestly, what difference does one more make?

None, that’s what. No difference at all.

So why the Hell are you crying again?

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>Fight to kill (Initiates pre-combat)
>Flee into the night (Initiates foot chase)
>>
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So, what the Hell happened here? Why did I repost the entire last thread?

Basically, in thread four, my schedule imploded on itself, so instead of doing regular updates, I just ran rolls and votes with little blurbs, intending to write them up later. The idea was that I could keep the quest going, even though I did not have the time to properly run it. And it worked, at least, up until it was time to actually sit down and write what had been glossed over. I started back on the fourth thread. I wrote, fairly regularly through the last thread – which I will refer to as the Intermission Thread – and now, I am just finishing the backlog in the start of what I will refer to as the fifth thread. So, I learned my lesson. I’m really sorry the whole thing just ground to a halt.

I was however able to take some time, and do some much needed editing on the passages, mostly on the flashback with Chlotsuintha’s parents, which I wrote much, much too quickly. None of the edits add any new content, except for properly explaining the duration mechanism of inked glyphs (as opposed to the fueled mechanisms of constructs and wands). If you have kept up to date with the quest, then there is nothing new to read, except for the last post and the last piece of the second to last post. I was also able to find some pictures to post as well.


Rest of the quest can be found at: https://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Eternal%20Rome
>>
>>5232342
Wow QM, I did not expect the pictures! Phenomenal job as always!

Ordinarily, I would comment that we need some bodies and flesh to stage our and Father’s death for a clean breakaway, but considering how loaded down we are currently, it’ll be a hassle to drag both of them, the loot, and the lifting oil, unless our gal could come up with a solution that won’t encumber us to death when traveling to our Tower. Alternatively, we could get his gun and boots from the exchange, and we can easily just knock him out and leave him alive as well. Really, this is just a choice about risk tolerance and exposure.

>Flee into the night (Initiates foot chase)

Ultimately, I think Chlot would take the risk and not kill this man, even if this severely complicates our ever-growing reputation as a thief. The only benefit we have is that we aren’t wearing our dress for this encounter, meaning they can’t directly connect the lift oil thief to the cross-dresser/large woman thief, though our size is still a factor to be weary of.

Keep in mind, running is still a large risk. Dead men tell no secrets after all.
>>
>Flee into the night (Initiates foot chase)
>>
>>5232342
>>Fight to kill (Initiates pre-combat)
Failure is not an option. This will be quick.
>>
>>5232350
I would also just like to mention, that’s one hell of an intro. 50 uninterrupted posts? I feel sorry for that one anon who decided to wait until the update was finished to read this.
>>
>>5232397
That was me. Took like an hour, really should've gotten started on it before.
>>
>>5232342
>>Fight to kill (Initiates pre-combat)
>>
>>5232342
>>Fight to kill (Initiates pre-combat)
>>
>>5232342

>Flee into the night (Initiates foot chase)

We are still bleeding. Combat would connect Strangeness to a really tall person if there are any witnesses or from basic forenic analysis of our fighting style.
>>
Hmm. Another tie. If I had just checked on this earlier ...

Anyway, this is important enough that I am not willing to roll for this. Hopefully we can get another tiebreaker.
>>
>>5232350
>Flee into the night (Initiates foot chase)

Haven't caught up yet since I decided maybe 2/3s of the way through the string of massive updates to wait it was all finished to start reading the rest, but this vote seems to need a tiebreaker and I've skimmed the last post.
>>
Alright, consider this closed. Give me a minute to set up the chase.
>>
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> 5 of 8 lengths necessary to escape pursuit

> DC 40: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Fleet of Foot, making an intermediate Athletics Test like this [Moderate]
> + DC 6 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Tired II, and is not thinking as quickly as she should
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained II, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha had a temporary socket, and even after removal, it makes her entire right side stiffer than normal
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is ill-fitting, chafing breeches, something not particularly suited for this test
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is over encumbered with swag, and as such cannot run long distances as well as she might have otherwise.
> + DC 5 Watchman [Name Unknown] has Hound [Name Unknown] with him, making your escape marginally more difficult
> + DC 4 Watchman [Name Unknown] is Fresh I, and is able to exert himself
> - DC (5*6) Witchlet Chlotsuintha has a significant lead on Watchman [Name Unknown]
> - DC 7 Watchman [Name Unknown] is not in good shape for long distance running

> DC 34: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s). No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by two lengths.
>One pass: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by one length.
>Two passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by one length.
>Three passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by two lengths.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha manages to get herself cornered in an alley somehow.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha manages to lose the pursuer immediately.
>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.
>>
Rolled 9 (1d100)

>>5233564
Fun
>>
Rolled 86 (1d100)

>>5233564
>>
Rolled 6 (1d100)

>>5233564
I guess to keep the quest moving…
>>
>>5233571
>>5233607
I knew I should’ve waited, my luck turned Black today.
>>
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>>5233612
>>5233607
>>5233579
>>5233571
Well ... not the greatest of starts. But remember, it could have been worse! Anyway, the chase continues down the salt-encrusted wharves and piers of the Stickport waterfront. As this is the first leg of the chase, there are no changes, except that the Watchman is no longer Fresh I, and the bonus from your lead has dropped a bit. Just keep in mind that you cannot keep this up forever - Chlotsuintha has had a hard night, not to mention, the lifting oil that you have working on the jug is not going to last forever ...

> 4 of 8 lengths necessary to escape pursuit

> DC 40: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Fleet of Foot, making an intermediate Athletics Test like this [Moderate]
> + DC 6 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Tired II, and is not thinking as quickly as she should
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained II, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha had a temporary socket, and even after removal, it makes her entire right side stiffer than normal
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is ill-fitting, chafing breeches, something not particularly suited for this test
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is over encumbered with swag, and as such cannot run long distances as well as she might have otherwise.
> + DC 5 Watchman [Name Unknown] has Hound [Name Unknown] with him, making your escape marginally more difficult
> - DC (5*5) Witchlet Chlotsuintha has a significant lead on Watchman [Name Unknown]
> - DC 7 Watchman [Name Unknown] is not in good shape for long distance running

> DC 35: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s). No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by two lengths.
>One pass: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by one length.
>Two passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by one length.
>Three passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by two lengths.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha manages to get herself cornered in an alley somehow.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha manages to lose the pursuer immediately.
>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.
>>
Rolled 94 (1d100)

>>5233665
>>
Rolled 94 (1d100)

>>5233665
>>
>>5233670
God dayum! What are the chances?
>>
Rolled 45 (1d100)

>>5233665
>>
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>>5233673
1 in 10,000

>>5233669
>>5233670
>>5233676
Doing much better now! Unfortunately, Chlotsuintha is starting to run out of waterfront, so sooner or later she is going to have to hang a left and head into Stickport. Hopefully she can lose the Watchman in this next leg, because there are dead ends in between some of those warehouses.


> 7 of 8 lengths necessary to escape pursuit

> DC 40: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Fleet of Foot, making an intermediate Athletics Test like this [Moderate]
> + DC 6 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Tired II, and is not thinking as quickly as she should
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained II, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha had a temporary socket, and even after removal, it makes her entire right side stiffer than normal
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is ill-fitting, chafing breeches, something not particularly suited for this test
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is over encumbered with swag, and as such cannot run long distances as well as she might have otherwise.
> + DC 5 Watchman [Name Unknown] has Hound [Name Unknown] with him, making your escape marginally more difficult
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Winded I
> - DC (7*5) Witchlet Chlotsuintha has a significant lead on Watchman [Name Unknown]
> - DC 7 Watchman [Name Unknown] is not in good shape for long distance running
> - DC 4 Watchman [Name Unknown] is now Winded I

> DC 25: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s). No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by two lengths.
>One pass: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by one length.
>Two passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by one length.
>Three passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by two lengths.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha manages to get herself cornered in an alley somehow.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha manages to lose the pursuer immediately.
>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.
>>
Rolled 36 (1d100)

>>5233681
>>
Rolled 73 (1d100)

>>5233681
>>
>>5233693
>>5233692
Alright! So long as the last one is not a Critical or Near-Critical Failure, you are out of the woods! May our luck run white!
>>
Rolled 41 (1d100)

>>5233698
You're gonna jinx it.
>>
>>5233714
Ye of little faith.

Anyway, that is that. I am going to head out to get dinner, then I have some work to do. I should be able to get the update out tonight. In the mean time, here is the next vote:

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>Find someplace to stash your swag, and head straight to Aldoin's House, to give you as much time as possible.
>Return to the Midden, drop off your swag, and then head to Aldoin's House.
>Return to the Midden, and start moving out of the Belfry tonight.
>Return to the Midden, and start work on a decoy graven ball.
>Reasonable write-ins allowed with QM approval
>>
>>5233734
>>Return to the Midden, get something to eat, wash up, and head to bed.
>>
>>5233752
I knew I forgot something. This is an option.
>>
>>5233752
Supporting
>>
>>5233734
I forgot so much in the long wait, why did we want to go to Aldoin's house and make a decoy ball? Something about investigations and throwing the inquisitors off our trail?

Do we have everything we need to move out? Or were we just waiting on the dresses?

>Return to the Midden, get something to eat, wash up, and head to bed.

We are tired as fuck and we've got some pretty big debuffs, lets sleep, we've done a lot.
>>
>>5233734
>>Return to the Midden, get something to eat, wash up, and head to bed.
>>
>>5233889
>I forgot so much in the long wait, why did we want to go to Aldoin's house and make a decoy ball? Something about investigations and throwing the inquisitors off our trail?
You are on the right track. The Coroners, who worked with Aldoin's body, were directly exposed to dangerous levels of the Strangeness. Eventually, symptoms of exposure are going to manifest, and the Inquisition is going to trace the contagion back to the Morgue, which is (presumably) smothered in the Strangeness, released through Aldoin's body by the graven steel ball. Obviously, the Inquisition is going to interrogate the Coroners, and at least one of them knows something about the graven steel ball, and correctly assumed that it was magical, or at the very least, Strange (you know they know this because you found the thing sealed up in a pouch of salt). The Inquisition's immediate response is going to be to recover and Mitigate that ball, which the Coroner(s) will have told them is still sealed up in the coffin ... except that it is not, because you took it. From there, the next obvious step is for them to investigate anyone who was alone with the coffin for an extended period of time, after it left the Morgue ... which makes you the sole suspect. And it is not a matter of just digging up the coffin and placing the ball inside in another pouch of salt, because you magically Mitigated the ball, and anyone who knows what to look for could see that. The idea with the balls is that if you were to create a sufficiently Strange decoy, and then place it inside the coffin, the Inquisition would assume that they found the ball responsible for the mess at the Morgue, and Aldoin's house.

As for Aldoin's house, because of the Strangeness present inside and out, and the fact that Aldoin must have died at some point in the three to four day period that your father said he was going to be out stealing something 'very valuable' with some of his 'professional friends', you think that it is possible that Aldoin was involved somehow. Possibly as the mark, possibly as one of the 'professional friends'. As of right now, the condition of the house is unknown to the Inquisition, which means that you still have a chance to find some sort of clue as to what happened there, unlike the third story apartment across the street from the South Burying Grounds, which the Inquisition got to first.
>>
>>5233933
Ah, thank you for the reminder. I think working with Strangeness is dangerous with our frayed mental state, especially since even if creating a fake lead ball is easier than learning the entirely unfamiliar spell that it held we'd still be doing something we presumably aren't familiar with in a tired state.

Going to Aldoin's house might only be a quick stop, we may even be able to make it back in take for a half-decent sleep before work. However, it just isn't worth it in my opinion, our tiredness means the investigation would be troublesome, we may have to deal with occupants of the house, and we'd have to avoid patrols possibly up to three times once back up to the belfry, then on the way to the house, then back again. As I recall we may still have some hostile rerolls in that area, I'd hate to risk it.

We are soooo close to escaping, I personally don't want to do anything else other than escape, maybe it is worth it to fake the musket ball and put it back in the coffin to throw off the super-autist Sherlock Holmes-esque motherfuckers off our trail.

Honestly, I expect them to figure it out regardless eventually anyways. We just have to travel far enough that the trail of witnesses to our figure results in a more and more unclear description of us and where we are headed and then eventually even if they catch up with us they won't be sure if we are just some random tall woman or what, they haven't seen our face as far as I recall.
>>
>>5233734
>Find someplace to stash your swag, and head straight to Aldoin's House, to give you as much time as possible.

This may very well be our only chance at seeing Father, before the Inquisition find the Strangeness and burns the place down. We can rest after we get this shit sorted out.

Besides, we do need another clean dress to go out in to get our proper clothes. Our old patchwork, bloody, Strange, and shit-stained dress just ain’t gonna cut it lads.
>>
I'll leave this up for another hour, then I will close it. If returning to the Midden wins, there is going to have to be a secondary vote, which means that I probably will not be able to get the update out tonight.
>>
>>5233981
First, the house is our only chance to see our Father again. Even if it does add to our current burden, I think Chlot would think it well worth the effort spent, and we may not get a chance like this again to find our Father, so I think a quick stop is well warranted and worth it.

Second, we’re going to put the fake-Strange ball in, if only to make it harder for Inquisitor Homes here to figure us out as a witch, and every second they are not busy chasing us is a second more of a clean breakaway from this clusterfuck, which is worth every tenth-piece.
>>
>>5233923
I'll change to
>Find someplace to stash your swag, and head straight to Aldoin's House, to give you as much time as possible.
>>
Well, it would not be one of my quests if I was not forgetting to close votes when I said I would.

Of the five votes cast, the majority are for calling it quits for the night. Which leads into the secondary vote I mentioned.

Does Chlotsuintha decide to malinger to get the day off? The timing of it might call the legitimacy of your 'illness' into question (the day after publicly humiliating your boss), but it would go a long way to giving you the time you need to put your affairs in order.

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>Take the day for yourself. Maker knows you need it.
>Depending on how tonight pans out, this could be your last day. Might as well go.
>>
>>5234616
Hard choice, knowing those inquisitors they'd follow up on literally everything and not want us to take even a single day off so we can investigate our boss (or whatever it was that we were supposed to do)) but we have the excuse of our father being ill. That wouldn't hold up should they actually choose to visit us though.

On the other hand, the benefits of skipping work are pretty big, we'd be well rested for any nighttime activities like putting the fake lead ball back in the coffin, we could pick up our dresses, we could research the necessary things we'd actually need to create the fake Strange musket ball, if we are willing to risk a daytime excursion we could visit Aldoin's house.

I just think the risks of someone following up on visiting us are too high even if I think that realistically they wouldn't after only one day and knowing our father is sick.

That being said, being in proximity to others (especially inquisitors) could be dangerous if we do decide to go to work, we are still tired and may slip up, or there could be residue from the factory that we haven't had the mind to clear off.

We do still owe our colleague that coin though.

I write all of this stream of consciousness style, but after thinking it over briefly I think no one is going to really suspect us enough to climb up our tower and intrude on us, nor outright make the intuitive leap that anything that happened was us. We didn't outright fail or roll only 1 success on any of our interactions with the inquisitors as far as I remember, and they'll be too busy investigating the explosion and everything else from last night and their ongoing investigations that they won't suspect us.

>Take the day for yourself. Maker knows you need it.
>>
>>5234616
>>Take the day for yourself. Maker knows you need it.
>>
>>5234616
>Take the day for yourself. Maker knows you need it.
maybe we can start on that graven ball business.I still think it's very important.
>>
>>5234616
>>Take the day for yourself. Maker knows you need it.
If anything, publicly humiliating the Septon gives Chlot a good and reasonable mundane excuse to lay low.
>>
>>5234616
>Depending on how tonight pans out, this could be your last day. Might as well go.

We did leave the slab on the grave a bit messed up just in case, didn’t we?
>>
>>5234772
We voted against doing that.
>>
>>5234806
Again, our past actions continuously fuck is up. I honestly thought we went forward with messing it up a bit just in case we decided to go back later.
>>
No, no you cannot. You are not a killer… at least, not by choice.

But as soon as that thought crosses your mind, you recognize it for what it is. Cope. Blasphemous cope. For those born into the Covenant, there is always a choice. And tonight, you made that choice. So then what difference does it make for you if you were to kill this idiot?

Is it because you know you made the wrong choice? Is that what is staying your hand?

Without another thought, you start running. You cannot worry about this now, and if you are ever going to figure this out, you are going to have survive this night. Regardless of whatever is the smart or right thing to do here, you instinctively know that you simply do not have the stomach for killing at the moment, nor the white-hot, quivering dread that spurred you to violence at the palisade.

You find that the more you run, the better you feel about choosing to run. After all, you let the captain live, and he saw much more than this fool ever will, Pattern willing. A distinction should be made, however, between feeling good about choosing to run, and feeling good about running. The boots that you stole, which have been pinching you since the moment you slid them onto your feet have now progressed to biting and gnawing. The swag is flopping around and slapping you with every stride. Your ruined dress is weighted down with enough purloined payroll that when it slams into your bust it is almost enough to take your breath away. Similar issue with the satchel carrying the books, and the duck-foot pistol. They both swing freely around your waist, and sometimes wind up in front of you, screwing up your stride. And the lifting oil … it feels as if it is going to wrench your shoulder right out of its socket. Actually, considering how much that shoulder hurts, it is possible that it already has.

You allow yourself one quick glance over your shoulder, and you nearly miss your stride in shock when you see that the watchman has somehow managed to gain on you! Pattern’s Perdition, you must have taken too much time to decide. Starting to panic, you snap your head back and lean into a full sprint. All you need to do here is to put enough distance between you and him, then duck in-between or even into one of the warehouses here. The salt encrusted wharves start to whip by. Your footfalls seem as if they are echoing your heartbeats, or perhaps it is the other way around.

Once the seawalls start to loom out of the night, you know that you are going to be running out of harbor shortly. You hang a left, and dash between a particularly shabby looking warehouse and a fenced off chain maker’s yard. But even once you are out of your pursuer’s sight, or rather, you presume that you are out of his sight, you do not slow down – in fact, you actually find it in yourself to speed up. If he is following close enough behind, and you get into a dead end, then having a few extra seconds could be a matter of life and death.
>>
No, no you cannot. You are not a killer… at least, not by choice.

But as soon as that thought crosses your mind, you recognize it for what it is. Cope. Blasphemous cope. For those born into the Covenant, there is always a choice. And tonight, you made that choice. So then what difference does it make for you if you were to kill this idiot?

Is it because you know you made the wrong choice? Is that what is staying your hand?

Without another thought, you start running. You cannot worry about this now, and if you are ever going to figure this out, you are going to have survive this night. Regardless of whatever is the smart or right thing to do here, you instinctively know that you simply do not have the stomach for killing at the moment, nor the white-hot, quivering dread that spurred you to violence at the palisade.

You find that the more you run, the better you feel about choosing to run. After all, you let the captain live, and he saw much more than this fool ever will, Pattern willing. A distinction should be made, however, between feeling good about choosing to run, and feeling good about running. The boots that you stole, which have been pinching you since the moment you slid them onto your feet have now progressed to biting and gnawing. The swag is flopping around and slapping you with every stride. Your ruined dress is weighted down with enough purloined payroll that when it slams into your bust it is almost enough to take your breath away. Similar issue with the satchel carrying the books, and the duck-foot pistol. They both swing freely around your waist, and sometimes wind up in front of you, screwing up your stride. And the lifting oil … it feels as if it is going to wrench your shoulder right out of its socket. Actually, considering how much that shoulder hurts, it is possible that it already has.

You allow yourself one quick glance over your shoulder, and you nearly miss your stride in shock when you see that the watchman has somehow managed to gain on you! Pattern’s Perdition, you must have taken too much time to decide. Starting to panic, you snap your head back and lean into a full sprint. All you need to do here is to put enough distance between you and him, then duck in-between or even into one of the warehouses here. The salt encrusted wharves start to whip by. Your footfalls seem as if they are echoing your heartbeats, or perhaps it is the other way around.

Once the seawalls start to loom out of the night, you know that you are going to be running out of harbor shortly. You hang a left, and dash between a particularly shabby looking warehouse and a fenced off chain maker’s yard. But even once you are out of your pursuer’s sight, or rather, you presume that you are out of his sight, you do not slow down – in fact, you actually find it in yourself to speed up. If he is following close enough behind, and you get into a dead end, then having a few extra seconds could be a matter of life and death.
>>
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> DC 33: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is a Born and Bred Sneakthief, making a basic Stealth Test like this [Easy]
> + DC 7 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Hard to Miss, given her size
> + DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Known in the Midden
> + DC 6 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Tired II, and is not thinking as quickly as she should
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained II, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha had a temporary socket, and even after removal it makes her entire right side stiffer than normal
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is over encumbered with swag, and as such cannot run long distances as well as she might have otherwise
> - DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has Complete Knowledge of the Midden
> - DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in unlit area at night
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in an area with some concealment
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in a poorly trafficked area
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has successfully managed a similar stealth test recently

> DC 26: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s) available. Guards are on high alert; they have one hostile re-roll available]

>No Passes: Taking a swing at the Bat! One of the patrols recognizes you and gives chase!
>One Pass: A Strange Shadow. One of the patrols sees something and gives chase!
>Two Passes: A Strange Sound. One of the patrols hears something, and the guards focus in on this area. Next roll in the Midden has two hostile re-rolls.
>Three Passes: A Quiet Night. No one sees or hears anything. You slip right through.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha hurts herself at the initial part of the chase. [Auto-fail]
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha finds a weak point in the patrols. [Auto-pass]
>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.

>Three rolls of 1d100 please!
>>
Oh, and I should mention that the vote on whether or not to go into work is still open
>>
Rolled 13 (1d100)

>>5234926
>>
Rolled 75 (1d100)

>>5234926
>>
Rolled 33 (1d100)

>>5234926
We’re basically dead.

>>5234929
If we manage to survive this encounter, going to work would allow us to potentially open the gravestone without much suspicion.
>>
Rolled 9 (1d100)

Rerolling!
>>
>>5234969
Hmm. Not optimal. Luckily, you haven't been seen. At this point, the Guards are figuratively and actually chasing your shadow.
>>
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>4 of 6 lengths necessary to escape pursuit
>At 2 lengths apart, the Guards are close enough to recognize that you are carrying lifting oil
>At 1 length apart, the Guards are close enough to identify you

> DC 40: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Fleet of Foot, making an intermediate Athletics Test like this [Moderate]
> + DC 6 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Tired II, and is not thinking as quickly as she should
> + DC 4 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained II, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha had a temporary socket, and even after removal, it makes her entire right side stiffer than normal
> + DC 1 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is ill-fitting, chafing breeches, something not particularly suited for this test
> + DC 2 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has hurt her feet in her stolen boots, reducing her speed
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is over encumbered with swag, and as such cannot run long distances as well as she might have otherwise.
> + DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is carrying active lifting oil, which smokes and sparks
> - DC (4*5) Witchlet Chlotsuintha has a significant lead on Watchman [Name Unknown]
> - DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has complete knowledge of the Midden
> - DC 3 Guard [Name Unknown] is encumbered by the bulk and weight of his pike
> - DC 5 Guard [Name Unknown] is light blind at the moment
> - DC 10 Guard [Name Unknown] is encumbered by his armor

> DC 21: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s). No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by two lengths.
>One pass: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] decreases by one length.
>Two passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by one length.
>Three passes: The distance between Witchlet Chlotsuintha and Watchman [Name Unknown] increases by two lengths.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha manages to get herself cornered in an alley somehow.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha manages to lose the pursuer immediately.
>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.
>>
Rolled 36 (1d100)

>>5235024
>>
Rolled 25 (1d100)

>>5235024
>>
Rolled 93 (1d100)

>>5235024
Yolo
>>
>>5235027
>>5235051
>>5235065
Phew! Chlotsuintha is able to escape pursuit, and just as it was earlier, she does not encounter anymore guards once she is away from the palisade. She returns to the Belfry without further incident, and retires for what remains of the night. While I work on that update, I am going to open voting for what she does once she wakes up in the morning.

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>Move everything you can out of the Belfry and into the ruined sewer
>Make a decoy graven ball - you will need to wait until night to plant it
>Leave the Midden and investigate Aldoin's House (Requires Stealth Test)
>>
>>5235077
>Leave the Midden and investigate Aldoin's House (Requires Stealth Test)

We need to get clothes, and we’ll work on the decoy ball after we search Aldoin’s House for Father’s whereabouts.
>>
>>5235077
>Move everything you can out of the Belfry and into the ruined sewer
>>
>>5235077
>>Make a decoy graven ball - you will need to wait until night to plant it
I imagine it would be better to wait to move things until night, no?
>>
>>5235077
>Make a decoy graven ball - you will need to wait until night to plant it

Stealth is better conducted at night, throwing the inquisitors off our trail is a priority, we need the graven ball for that, which may take time to make if we fail. I don't want to move our stuff into the sewer, isn't that down the well or is that a different hiding spot? Didn't someone spot us going down the well? Plus, if it is somewhere that we have to climb down into then we'd need the lifting oil to get it out again and into the carriage for when we leave.
>>
>>5235077
>>Make a decoy graven ball - you will need to wait until night to plant it
>>
>>5235077
>>Leave the Midden and investigate Aldoin's House (Requires Stealth Test)
>>
Three votes for making the decoy ball, two votes for heading to Aldoin's House, and one vote for getting a head start on the move.

I will get to writing after dinner. There should be something up tonight, but I am not sure if I will be all caught up.
>>
>>5235077
>Make a decoy graven ball - you will need to wait until night to plant it

anything that will give us a few extra days until the inquisition catches on is time worth spent. Don't want those fucking needleswords breathing on our neck as we run.
>>
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After another solid minute of sprinting, you finally allow yourself to slow down, only because you feel as if you are going to vomit, and you are worried about leaving traces of the Strangeness behind. You are tempted to get off of the crude plank streets while you recover, but to do so would necessitate breaking into one of the nearby warehouses, which you would rather leave alone, for the moment. The warehouses around you at the moment are not bonded, just privately or guild owned, and as such, are less secure. But less secure is not unsecure, and you have already had one encounter with a watchman, you have no desire to run into more.

So instead, you make do with a sufficiently dark corner. As you pant, catching your breath, you notice that the sharp salt air around here carries a strong whiff of soot with it. At first, you think that it has to be from the Refinery, but then you realize that you are just smelling yourself. Once your breathing becomes marginally less ragged, you stand up out of your crouch, intending to continue moving, only for your head to start spinning like a top … and for you to belatedly realize that you still have not decided what you should do next, which will decide where you are heading.

Not wanting to waste time, you decide to refuel the lifting oil in the divot in the top of the jug. When you get the doling cup out, you notice for the first time that your hands are shaking. Steading them, you measure out more oil to refresh the reaction, and carefully pour it in … only to realize a second too late that you used about three times more than you actually needed. The oil in the depression is now flush with the rest of the glass, meaning that you are liable to spill it if the jug moves at all. And with the jug currently attempting to fall upwards, you cradling it in your arms is the only thing that is keeping that from happening.

To put it bluntly, you are stuck. You have to stay put until enough of the slick red oil is consumed that it is safe to move once more. Out of all of the stupid mistakes! You consider trying to get to your pocket lantern, to use the snap-sparker on it to try to get the oil to cook off faster, but when you start to shift yourself to try, the fraying jug starts to slip loose from your grasp. You are able to get your arms back around the glass without making a mess, but any relief you might have felt from that is completely smothered by the irritation that this has happened, and the fear that you are going to somehow get caught out here.

In the end, you had to watch the oil sputter away to a safe level – and getting a face full of sparks and smoke did not improve your mood. However, by the time that you are comfortable enough moving the jug again, you have at least decided that you are going to call it a night. Your making stupid mistakes, you got aches all over, and you are running on probably less than two hours of sleep you took … what, twenty hours ago?
>>
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Continuing to push yourself like this is just asking for trouble. You get your feet underneath you once again, and stand up, much more cautiously this time. Your business on the waterfront is concluded – it is high time that you returned to the Midden. As the crow flies, you are not that far at all … but you are not a crow. And that is not even considering the fact that you do not want to be seen at the moment. The cat might be out of the bag about someone knocking over the Gothorum Lifting Oil Refinery while it was going to the Heights in a handbasket, but if someone was to trace the sparking, smoking swag back to the Midden …

So what should have been a few minutes worth of walking under normal circumstances, gets stretched into about twenty minutes, maybe half an hour of circuitous sneaking before the familiar bulk of the palisade looms out of the darkness. Up ahead, you can hear the sounds of a patrol doing the perimeter, so, deciding to play it safe, you hunker down, out of their sight. As they pass, they are close enough that you can see that they look edge – heads swiveling, hands on weapons. While this is not ‘proof positive’, you take their body language to mean that the remains of the four guards and the smugger have been found. Suddenly, you can feel the vibrations shooting up your arm again, but it only lasts a moment.

The mental image that is beckoned by it however, the one of you clubbing unconscious men to death, of how the black lacquer of the stub-club took on a darker, richer luster once it was covered in blood … that lasts much longer that just a moment. In fact, it lasts long enough by the time that you can finally force it from your mind, the patrol has passed from sight. Sickened by those images, you seek to keep them out by continuing to move, so you spring out of hiding, and make for the fence with as much speed as you dare.

Yet the belt around the palisade stretches wide in this segment, and the moon is glaring down at you, bright and angry. You know that something is wrong, though it takes you several strides to realize that in your desperate bid to block out those terrible scenes, you have left cover much, much to early. Feeling like a fool you consider pressing onwards anyway, but you decide against it. Turning about face, you dash back into cover.

You get clean of the perimeter belt and come to a stop once more. While you stare intently at the great wooden stakes, you find yourself breathing heavy, jitterily shaking, clearly nerves from what could have been a complete disaster. You still yourself once you notice that your shaking is making the payroll and steel balls tumble and jingle in their purses and your pockets … only to find that once you have stopped, you can still hear metallic clattering,

Footfalls again, further in the distance. Either the next patrol or a straggler. But whoever it is, judging from the noise, they are running this way.
>>
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Continuing to push yourself like this is just asking for trouble. You get your feet underneath you once again, and stand up, much more cautiously this time. Your business on the waterfront is concluded – it is high time that you returned to the Midden. As the crow flies, you are not that far at all … but you are not a crow. And that is not even considering the fact that you do not want to be seen at the moment. The cat might be out of the bag about someone knocking over the Gothorum Lifting Oil Refinery while it was going to the Heights in a handbasket, but if someone was to trace the sparking, smoking swag back to the Midden …

So what should have been a few minutes worth of walking under normal circumstances, gets stretched into about twenty minutes, maybe half an hour of circuitous sneaking before the familiar bulk of the palisade looms out of the darkness. Up ahead, you can hear the sounds of a patrol doing the perimeter, so, deciding to play it safe, you hunker down, out of their sight. As they pass, they are close enough that you can see that they look edge – heads swiveling, hands on weapons. While this is not ‘proof positive’, you take their body language to mean that the remains of the four guards and the smugger have been found. Suddenly, you can feel the vibrations shooting up your arm again, but it only lasts a moment.

The mental image that is beckoned by it however, the one of you clubbing unconscious men to death, of how the black lacquer of the stub-club took on a darker, richer luster once it was covered in blood … that lasts much longer that just a moment. In fact, it lasts long enough by the time that you can finally force it from your mind, the patrol has passed from sight. Sickened by those images, you seek to keep them out by continuing to move, so you spring out of hiding, and make for the fence with as much speed as you dare.

Yet the belt around the palisade stretches wide in this segment, and the moon is glaring down at you, bright and angry. You know that something is wrong, though it takes you several strides to realize that in your desperate bid to block out those terrible scenes, you have left cover much, much to early. Feeling like a fool you consider pressing onwards anyway, but you decide against it. Turning about face, you dash back into cover.

You get clear of the perimeter belt and come to a stop once more. While you stare intently at the great wooden stakes, you find yourself breathing heavy, jitterily shaking, clearly nerves from what could have been a complete disaster. You still yourself once you notice that your shaking is making the payroll and steel balls tumble and jingle in their purses and your pockets … only to find that once you have stopped, you can still hear metallic clattering,

Footfalls again, further in the distance. Either the next patrol or a straggler. But whoever it is, judging from the noise, they are running this way.
>>
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Once again, you run. You have no idea what – if anything – this guard has glimpsed, but you know that things will only get worse if you stick around. Under other circumstances, you might have tried to hide, but with the floating, smoking, sparking and intermittently popping glassware over your shoulder, you figure that speed, not stealth, is what will get you out of this. Of course, that does not mean you can just blindly bullrush away, like you did earlier down at the wharves – no, you are going to need to think through every step if you want to stay out of sight.

You do know this area, though, and you know it well. Possibly better than the guard does, though you know that it would be a dangerous folly to count on that. Still, you are comfortable enough with the surroundings here that even in your spent state, you are able to think on your feet. Even though you are not able to get up to the speeds that you were running at earlier, you get the sense right from the start that this chase is going really well. You feel that your pacing is solid, and there is not the danger of other guards getting involved this time, as there should not be any in these surrounding areas, and your pursuer does not seem to have a bell or a horn. In fact, you have not heard him try to yell for help, but you suppose you could have just missed that.

No, despite everything, you are doing well. The irregular streets screen you from view, and in between the tall workhouses here, very little moonlight reaches the ground. Once you are comfortable that you have built up enough of a lead, you swing wide to double back to the Midden. After checking to make sure that the way is clear of any other patrols, you get up and over the palisade and into the Midden proper. The rest of the way to the Not-Temple is uneventful … but once you get to the belltower, and see that the winch-platform is down you almost pass out from shock, thinking that someone has been in the Belfry during your absence, until you remember that you left the fraying thing down when you used it to haul the body out of the Belfry.

At first, that realization brings relief, until it occurs to you that you being the one who left if down does not rule out the possibility that someone could have winched themselves up into the Belfry and just walked around, sightseeing so much incriminating evidence. You look at the platform dumbly. How could you – no, how could anyone possibly be so fraying stupid?

You get it now. Why father was so hesitant for so long to teach you anything, to tell you anything, to take you with him on even the simplest of jobs. You are worthless. No, no you are worse than worthless. You are a liability.

But you cannot get yourself worked up over it right now. For all you know, someone could have gone up there, decided to lie in wait for you, and lower the platform back down to trick you.

You get your wand out, and reset the socket in your arm.
>>
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The needle hurts like a bitch, especially with the rocking of the winch-platform on the way up, but there really is not anything for it. The belltower is as dark as it ever gets, only sporadically illuminated by the sparks from the spluttering oil, but as you get closer and closer to the hatch, you feel more and more dread. It is perverse, really. The Belfry has been the one place in the Mount – no, in the world that you have ever felt properly safe in. And now … you do not think that you have ever been more scared about the prospect of entering a room in your entire life. In a moment of carelessness, you have spoiled your sanctuary. Oh, to be sure, you are probably jumping at shadows here, not to mention that if all goes well this could very well be the last night that you sleep here … but as a memory, as an idea, it is never going to be an unassailable haven again, never going to be special like it was. It is just going to be one in a long line of bolt holes of varying security that you and father have squatted in over the years.

Ah! Damn these womanly histrionics to the Pits! What does it matter if the memory is tainted or not if you are not alive to recall it, huh? You are seriously considering slapping yourself, when it suddenly occurs to you that if you suspected that someone potentially set up an ambuscade for you in the Belfry, then you would have been much better served by unencumbering yourself and then climbing up the tower silently and going in through one of the windows … not to mention, if someone was in there, all they would have to do would be to break the other half of the winch and you would plummet to your death.

You actually start convulsing with anger at how stupid you have been. At the rate you are going, if you survive these next few days it will be because of nothing more than dumb luck. It takes you a moment, but you get your head screwed back on properly, then you finish the ascent, swearing under your breath and grinding your teeth the whole time. With the jug pressing up against the hatch, you do what you can to calm yourself before in one desperate moment you throw wide the hatch and lunging up into the main room of the first-floor wand first.

Swaying wildly from the unexpected violence of your departure, the winch-platform batters itself back and forth against the floor underneath you, the thuds of the impact echoing up and down the belltower. Beyond that, the room is quiet, and the space is still, save for the spitting of the oil and the bobbing of the jug. However, it is dark in here, and the light from the sparks, though limited, has been enough to keep your eyes from adjusting completely. What you can see does not look like it has been disturbed, but you have been making so many mistakes, how can you trust yourself to make that judgement?
>>
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Still, no attacker materializes from the darkness. You start to look for a lamp, then you remember you now have a pocket lantern. Once you get it ablaze, you start the search. It takes frustratingly long, but eventually you are satisfied that there is no one besides you in the Belfry. Still on edge, you return to the main room and wait for the oil to completely cook off. That at least, does not take long. As the jug starts to waver and settle down, you take it in hand, and you ease it down to the floor.

You light some olive oil lamps, and then grab one of the emmerloaves you bought the other day. But when you look at the rock hard bread you cannot muster the energy to gnaw at it at the moment. So instead, you stare at the jug. The fat lump of ugly green glass. You should be celebrating – happy at the very least. So why aren’t you? What is wrong?

… On second thought, what isn’t wrong?

The fear is gone, at least for now, but all that has replaced it is exhaustion. More than anything else, you want to fall asleep, but before you do that you should really take a bath. Between the shit, smoke, sludge, and salt you are an absolute mess. You grab two of the blood tubs of water and haul them, one under each arm over into the corner where the tub sits. You then head into your room, and finally you can properly unencumber yourself. You fling the great coat from your shoulders, only then realizing just how hot and sweaty you really are. Mmph. A bath is definitely needed, especially if you are going to be out in polite society tomorrow to pick up your dresses, and possibly to investigate Aldoin’s house.

Moving along, you set the remains of your dress, still sinched together right next to the pillowcases and loose coins from the Euthyphro knock-down. The satchel ends up right next to you bedroll. You doubt that you will have time to read the books any time soon, but the idea of keeping your new books by your bed just feels right, somehow. The duck-foot and its belt also go by your bed, right next to the uncommonly broad smallsword. Your knives join them, and after some serious consideration, you also put your wand down next to them as well. After you are done wincing from the removal of the socket, you pluck out the viable fuel modules, keeping the partially depleted and Strange ones still in your pocket-jerkin … which comes off next. Once you have set that aside, as to not mix it in with the rest of your clothes, you finish stripping down.

The feeling of getting out of those tight breeches is best you have felt all night … at least until you take the boots off. It feels so good that you actually feel a little lightheaded. You have to keep the stockings on however, otherwise your footfalls would leave Strangeness behind. Before you go to take your bath, you temporarily suppress Strange-Staining, so you can properly get a look at your clothes, as their condition is hard to make out under all of the shifting Stains.
>>
Stars and Spheres … they might not be only fit for rags yet, but they are well on their way there. You doubt you will ever be able to truly get those stains out. Especially the bloodstain on the shoulders of the shirt. When the Hell did that happen, anyway?

Well … regardless to whatever losses you may have suffered to your wardrobe tonight, you still have one dress left. It was a little tight the last time you wore it, and more than a little short as well, but it should serve long enough for you to pick up your commissioned dresses today. Once you have those in hand, you can make a decision on what to do with these. Wearing only the sweat and smoke-stained stockings, you pad out of your room and to the bath, picking up the emmerloaf on your way. A hot bath would be wonderful, but you do not have the time to heat up the water, not to mention that there is not that much left of the faggot. Comfort, if it is a concern at all, is secondary. The important thing here is to get clean. You fill up the tub, scrounge around for the soap and the washrag, and then you slip in, leaving your stockings on, as to prevent the spread of the Strangeness once you leave the bath.

As you commence to scrubbing, you are suddenly struck by the feeling that you are somehow forgetting something. But try as you might, you cannot think of anything. You chalk it up to nerves, and you continue cleaning. You make good progress. By the time that you have gotten yourself as clean as you are going to get, your rag, bathwater and the tub have been covered by Strange-Stains, though thankfully, none of them are communicable. You get out of the bath, meticulously drying yourself off before stepping out of the tub to prevent or at least retard the spread of the Strangeness.

It takes some doing, but you eventually manage to tear off a manageable chunk of the loaf. You pour yourself a drink of water, and then you take your refreshments into your bedroom after blowing out the lamps. You lie down on the roll and cover yourself up with your sheet. After thinking about it for a solid minute while sipping and gnawing, you decide that you would best served by reporting in as sick, then using the time to get a graven decoy ball made. You have to look to your future, and right now, planting a replacement ball in Aldoin’s coffin is your best bet for keeping the Inquisition off of your trail.

You squirm under the sheet as it settles over the contours of your body. You are as comfortable as you are going to get on your mat, you have eaten, you have bathed, you have a drink, and you are tired and aching all over. So why are you not falling straight to sleep? You were half worried that you would pass out in the tub, and catch a cold in the process.

The answer does come to you in time, though it is not one that you care for. Guilt. You have done terrible things tonight. And now, you are all alone, naked, in the dark – in a place that feels much less safe than it used to.
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The sudden urge to pray sweeps over you … but in your current state, you do not feel worthy. No, before you can pray, you need to atone. But with transgressions as serious as yours, you are not going to be able to confess your sins to anyone, nor will some paltry act of penance balance the scales. No, you are going to need to swear an Oath, on the sanctity of your soul, to the Patternmaker Himself. But what do you swear?

>Please choose ONE of the following:

>Balancing the Scales. You swear out an Oath to bring four peace to four murdered souls by bringing four different murderers to justice, one for each of the lives that you took. Getting involved in the law might be dangerous, considering your legal status, but of the Oaths that you can think of tonight, this is the most flexible.

>An Early, Semi-Retirement. You swear out an Oath to never desecrate the body of anyone who has been born into to the Covenant again, nor will you steal from their graves. More so, whatever excess wealth you accumulate going forward, you will spend on living oblations to be burn on the behalf of those whose bodies and graves you have already defiled. You will do this until you have burnt four oblations for every single body, which works out to be something like four hundred of them. [Note: this Oath does not extend to the bodies or to the graves of anyone not born into the Covenant]

>Suspicious Service. You swear out an Oath to use your skills at healing to help all those who come to you for aid, for at least the next four years, one for each life you took. You will turn no one away that you are able to help, regardless of if they cannot pay, or if their affliction is dangerous to you, nor will you charge anyone more than the material cost for your work. The whole ‘woman, living by herself, working as an unaffiliated healer’ thing really screams Witch, but the Inquisition’s reach and knowledge is not absolute. If you keep your head down, you should be able to make it work.

>Shooting Star. You swear out an Oath to become an Idoloclast, a religious adventurer also known as a Shooting Star. You, either by yourself or with other like-minded individuals, will venture into the lands of the Cimmaroons, where you will search for four different Great Idols, one for each life you took. To be considered a Great Idol, it has to be a significant font of worship for a pagan faith. By whatever means you can, you will take them, and haul them back to the Principalities, where you will give them to a Temple as an oblation.

Note: None of these Oaths are time sensitive. So long as Chlotsuintha is making a good faith effort to work toward completion of her chosen Oath, she will not have forsworn herself. These Oaths are long term affairs, something to be done in addition to learning and developing magic, not instead of.
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The sudden urge to pray sweeps over you … but in your current state, you do not feel worthy. No, before you can pray, you need to atone. But with transgressions as serious as yours, you are not going to be able to confess your sins to anyone, nor will some paltry act of penance balance the scales. No, you are going to need to swear an Oath, on the sanctity of your soul, to the Patternmaker Himself. But what do you swear?

>Please choose ONE of the following:

>Balancing the Scales. You swear out an Oath to bring four peace to four murdered souls by bringing four different murderers to justice, one for each of the lives that you took. Getting involved in the law might be dangerous, considering your legal status, but of the Oaths that you can think of tonight, this is the most flexible.

>An Early, Semi-Retirement. You swear out an Oath to never desecrate the body of anyone who has been born into to the Covenant again, nor will you steal from their graves. More so, whatever excess wealth you accumulate going forward, you will spend on living oblations to be burn on the behalf of those whose bodies and graves you have already defiled. You will do this until you have burnt four oblations for every single body, which works out to be something like four hundred of them. [Note: this Oath does not extend to the bodies or to the graves of anyone not born into the Covenant]

>Suspicious Service. You swear out an Oath to use your skills at healing to help all those who come to you for aid, for at least the next four years, one for each life you took. You will turn no one away that you are able to help, regardless of if they cannot pay, or if their affliction is dangerous to you, nor will you charge anyone more than the material cost for your work. The whole ‘woman, living by herself, working as an unaffiliated healer’ thing really screams Witch, but the Inquisition’s reach and knowledge is not absolute. If you keep your head down, you should be able to make it work.

>Shooting Star. You swear out an Oath to become an Idoloclast, a religious adventurer also known as a Shooting Star. You, either by yourself or with other like-minded individuals, will venture into the lands of the Cimmaroons, where you will search for four different Great Idols, one for each life you took. To be considered a Great Idol, it has to be a significant font of worship for a pagan faith. By whatever means you can, you will take them, and haul them back to the Principalities, where you will give them to a Temple as an oblation.

Note: None of these Oaths are time sensitive. So long as Chlotsuintha is making a good faith effort to work toward completion of her chosen Oath, she will not have forsworn herself. These Oaths are long term affairs, something to be done in addition to learning and developing magic, not instead of.
>>
>>5238754
Actually, if possible, I’d like to do both the Balancing the Scales and the Shooting Star Oath, because I find both options intriguing. If that isn’t possible, then Shooting Star sounds the most adventurous.
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>>5238775
I don't see any reason why Chlotsuintha could not just combine Oaths either.
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>>5238779
Then I’d like to combine both.

>>5238773
>Combine Balancing the Scales and Shooting Star

I also think we should try our best to heal the sick, I just don’t want to forcibly ourselves as a witch because of the oath.
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>>5238779
Then I’d like to combine both.

>>5238773
>Combine Balancing the Scales and Shooting Star

I also think we should try our best to heal the sick, I just don’t want to forcibly out ourselves as a witch because of the oath.
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>>5238773
>Suspicious Service. You swear out an Oath to use your skills at healing to help all those who come to you for aid, for at least the next four years, one for each life you took. You will turn no one away that you are able to help, regardless of if they cannot pay, or if their affliction is dangerous to you, nor will you charge anyone more than the material cost for your work. The whole ‘woman, living by herself, working as an unaffiliated healer’ thing really screams Witch, but the Inquisition’s reach and knowledge is not absolute. If you keep your head down, you should be able to make it work.
This is the best thing we could do I believe. A life for a life.
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>>5238809
In all honesty, I’d rather our oaths be proactive rather than reactive, and I think player agency has a lot to do with it. We can’t control our reputation or who washes up on our doorstep, but we can control how to tackle bringing justice to murderers and our Shooting Star adventures.
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>>5238661
Must. Not. Hornypost.

>>5238773
>Balancing the scales
I don't really want to contribute to the destruction of religious iconography. Especially not when said iconography is likely to be magical and/or metaphysically significant. I WOULD love to see the rest of not!america, but if we become a Shooting Star Chlot will inevitably realise that the natives aren't soulless animals and still have to ruin their Idols because she staked her soul on it.
Unless Trash did le epic subversion and the Cimaroons ARE soulless. I find it really hard to believe though, since they clearly have religious beliefs different to the not!romans, implying that the Church isn't necessarily sitting on the unadulterated truth.
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>>5238773
>Combine Balancing the Scales and Shooting Star

Mixing Sherlock Homes and Indiana Jones? What’s not to love about this combination?
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>>5238773
I'm really torn.

Suspicious Service is a classic and really goes well with making up for what we've done, but it isn't terribly interesting on its own even if it brings complications. Is Trash gonna have us go through the next four years of our life dealing with the various problems this oath brings us?

Balancing the Scales also seems like it goes well with making up for what we've done and each murder case could be individually interesting, it just lacks the Shooting Star's call to adventure and exploration aspect, though I suppose we could end up moving a lot anyways.

The "no more grave-robbing/organ harvesting" one is just inconvenient, but I suppose that is the point. I'd rather keep our wealth and the convenience easy access to materiel brings us, we went through so much to acquire this stuff, I'd rather not have to give it all up for our oath. Better to have the soothing balm of wealth and do something greater to make up for our crimes then escape only to give all of it up and be insecure for the future with the inquisition on our tail.

Shooting Star is the most interesting to me, but I think we need a lot of research and prep before we can even attempt it, we're young and inexperienced, this is a hell of a task.

I guess I'll go with the tide and vote for...
>Combine Balancing the Scales and Shooting Star
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>>5238773
>>Balancing the Scales. You swear out an Oath to bring four peace to four murdered souls by bringing four different murderers to justice, one for each of the lives that you took. Getting involved in the law might be dangerous, considering your legal status, but of the Oaths that you can think of tonight, this is the most flexible.
I'm not touching foreign idols if we can help it.
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>>5238773
>Balancing the Scales. You swear out an Oath to bring four peace to four murdered souls by bringing four different murderers to justice, one for each of the lives that you took. Getting involved in the law might be dangerous, considering your legal status, but of the Oaths that you can think of tonight, this is the most flexible.

Speaking of hornyposting, will chlot be able to pursue romance down the line?
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You know, it's pretty unfair that we have to atone for 4 lives when the Patternmaker pulled one of them out of his arse.
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>>5239776
No hornyposting during our prayer session to God!

>>5239778
Considering that the Patternmaker created a Chernobyl disaster as a personal reward to us, I think complaining about semantics is a heath hazard. I still believe that the Refinery Explosion was just an extension of our trial, with all the hoops and near death experiences we went though just to get our damn lifting oil.
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>>Balancing the Scales. You swear out an Oath to bring four peace to four murdered souls by bringing four different murderers to justice, one for each of the lives that you took. Getting involved in the law might be dangerous, considering your legal status, but of the Oaths that you can think of tonight, this is the most flexible.
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I'm going to leave this open for just a little bit longer, as I am not quite ready to write at the moment. I will close the vote the and post the new update before I go to sleep however.

>>5238971
Anon, the only reason Chlotsuintha is naked is to emphasize her vulnerability. That and most people bathe in a state of undress.

>>5239776
The following passage has been taken from Thread III, and edited for clarity and characterization:

>“You will never have friends or even neighbors, at least, not like the common man does. And if you do have anyone in your life closer than an acquaintance – besides myself, of course – they will no doubt be flunkeys, lackeys or slaves. And let me be the first to say, that they are a poor substitute for friends. Believe me … and if your head is still filled with fantasies of settling down, starting a family, then you should know that probably is not going to happen either. Only if you are very, very lucky – preposterously lucky – you will find a He-Witch, who sees more value in you as a mate than as raw material, and who is willing to risk himself and everyone else attached to him to court you. And that is assuming he is allowed to – if he is in Coven, then not only is probably taken, he would have to get permission, and what responsible leader would risk their entire operation so one of their boys could get with some whobody Witch? It is a fairytale. You would have more lucky finding a mundane man who was willing to risk everything to marry a Witch, and that right there is another fairytale ... though, if you turn out to be half as attractive as your mother, maybe you could ensorcell someone who had more lust than sense.”

In case it was not obvious at this point in the quest, Chlotsuintha's father is quite bitter with how his life has turned out. His victories have a way of turning to dross in his hands, again and again and it has taken a toll on him. That being said, there is some solid advice in that rant. While it is possible to have friends and romantic partners as a Witch, it is difficult and dangerous. I'm not closing the door on it, in fact, just the opposite. I think that romance wonderful complication to throw into the mix.. Despite everything else she is, Chlotsuintha is also a extremely sheltered fifteen year old girl. Seeing how she would react when put in certain situations, I could see that being a lot of fun.
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Okay, the vote is closed. Balancing the Scales wins by a hair - four votes, compared to three votes for the write-in and one vote for doing a stint as a healer.

If your choice did not win, do not worry. There is nothing saying that Chlotsuintha cannot work as a healer, or declare herself as an Idoloclast at some point, it just that she is not going to have to.

I'll get to writing. Should be up soon, it is going to be a really quick update.
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Oh yeah, did we remember to raise the winch?
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>>5239876
Yea, I want to go full Shooting Star eventually, I think it’ll pair well with the dragons!
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>>5239833
Interesting. Is it simply impossible for a normal human being to be with a witch?
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>>5239971
Yes. This was even touched on with Father’s and Mother’s coming out party in the beginning of this thread.
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>>5239833
Trash, you don't understand. Chlot is CUTE! CUTE I TELL YOU! That insecurity, paired with self loathing and misfortune! Crippling mental baggage is HOT!

Poor dad. He fell for the witch pussy and now he's possibly dead somewhere after having lived for a decade and a half on the run. I guess he should be happy he defected though, seeing as he'd have gotten mitigated if he'd stayed with the inquisition once they figured out why the graft wasn't working.
Speaking of strangeness absorption, why the fuck didn't the inquisition bother shielding the Mitigator with the flight ring? I get that they don't cqre about HER safety, but all that Strangeness is coming out eventually. If she lost to a Witch with less scruples or time to spare than our parents, she'd have released all that magical radiation on death and nuked the surroundings.
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>>5239971
They can very obviously have kids, or there wouldn't be people like our dad who manifest magical aptitude despite coming from a line of non mages. If Witches were another species they'd have been extinct by now. What's more likely is that constant exposure to the Strangeness causes all but the most stable children to mutate into nonviable abominations in the womb, which is why our mother thought herself infertile. We just happened to be good enough at dealing with it that only our size was affected.
I imagine this would be less of an issue if the mother just took a break from witchery during gestation, although that wouldn't select for stable offspring. In a way i suppose it's a good thing though, since only the most stable and naturally magical children survive.

TL;DR: second generation Witches are probably much rarer but also very stable as a rule, while first gen Witches make up the bulk of the remaining ones and naturally surface every so often due to recessive magic traits lying dormant in the entire population. Male Witches may also have an easier time fathering Witchlets if the mother stays away from sorcery during pregnancy.
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You briefly consider swearing an Oath of service, spending four years helping your Fellows as best you can – which for you, would be as a healer – but the whole ‘woman, living by herself, working as an unaffiliated Chirurgeon’ absolutely screams Witch. If you were able to find somewhere that was far enough off of the beaten path, you could probably get away with it … but then that sort of undermines the whole concept of helping as many people as you can.

After deciding against that, you them give serious thought to declaring yourself an Idoloclast, and heading out into Cimmaroon Territory to capture four Great Idols. In fact, you are surprised at just how much the thought of adventuring appeals to you. But … finding, securing and retrieving even just a single Great Idol will be a significant – and dangerous – undertaking … and you really do not have the first idea of how to handle yourself in a fight. Now, to be sure, the Oath does not need to have a time limit, but swearing an Oath knowing that it could potentially be years before you are ready to seriously attempt to start fulfilling it seems sort of like … cheating. And that is not even considering how you would be Judged if you were to die before an Oath was fulfilled. No, as appealing as the adventure may be, you need something smaller in scope.

Well … if you want to balance the scales, then why not bring peace to the souls and families of four murder victims by bring four murderers to justice? That would be something that you could start working towards right away, while still being appropriately difficult, not to mention logical form of penance.

So, lying under the thin sheet, you swear out your Oath. Oaths are typically preformed in the presence of a Priest, or at least a lay brother, so when the time comes for the Last Ablution, the deceased can be praised for fulfilling the Oath, or castigated for abandoning it. But, to the best of your knowledge, there is nothing in the Compendium that says that Oaths are only valid if sworn out in front of Men of the Cloth.

And even alone, actually speaking the words is harder than you thought it would be.

“For the four … lives that I took tonight, I, on the integrity of my Red Thread, swear that I will deliver four … other … murderers … to worldly justice, in the hopes that this service to my Fellows and the truth will lead to Wisdom.”

You do not feel any better, but.you are certain that you will once you start fulfilling it. But right now, all you can do is hope that you have done enough to account for your transgressions, say your prayers, and fall to sleep.

Just like last night, it seems like as soon as you close your eyes you are opening them again, though in this case, you are being woken up by the first call instead of the last. Still lying on your bedroll, you decide that it would be for the best for you to call out as sick today, to give you enough time for everything that you want to do.
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>>5239981
I swear, you keep going on with the hornyposting and Chlot will turn into a narcissist with the amount of self-lust going on here.

>>5239987
You bring up an interesting point about our Mother’s infertility and Strangeness probably causing an abortion for all but the magically stable genes. I don’t think this problem would be solved by Mom not fucking around with magic during pregnancy, since the latent Strangeness in her body would probably affect conception regardless of magic use. It’s not like not snorting crack would prevent radiation from fucking up the baby. In a way, Father’s extreme stable-ness and being a Man-Witch was what probably led to our conception in the first place, since being stable at conception would be the only way to survive the latent buildup of Strangeness in the Mother-Witchlet. Clearly being Stable is recessive genotype.

Male-Witchlets may have an easier time spreading the Witchlet genes around, but I think the Witchlet gene is obviously related to the X chromosome, since Male-Witches are rare even among Witches. Question is, is the Witchlet genotype dominant or recessive?
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And the added bonus of not having to deal with the South Sexton makes the prospect all the sweeter. With a bit of an impish smirk, you sit up and throw off the sheet. You just need to get dressed, report yourself as sick to whoever the Overseer on duty is, and then you have the whole day for yourself.

As you pad into the main room to grab your Spotted Cloak, you decide that your first order of business should be to get to work on making the decoy graven ball. You are not going to be able to plant it until tonight of course, but you have no idea just how long it is going to take to make, so it seems sensible to start with it.

All things considered, you are feeling pretty on top of things, at least until you realize that your Spotted Cloak is not in the main room. Confused, you turn around, wondering how you did not see it in your room when it finally dawns on you what it felt like you were forgetting last night in the bath.

Your Spotted Cloak. You somehow managed to forget your Spotted Cloak. You left the damned thing stuffed behind some crate in alley outside of the Midden. And to make matters worse, you just realized in your infinite fraying wisdom, you left the silver snuff box in the pockets. The one thing that could tie you to the Euthyphro knock-down, and you leave the damn thing in your Spotted Cloak.

You are just about ready to start pulling your hair out. How? How is it possible that you keep fraying things up worse and worse?

Well … you were tired, exhausted, and you had a lot of other stuff on your mind at the time. And you were being chased too. If you had made a clean break from the Refinery back to the Midden, and you were not constantly looking over your shoulder –

Oh, Pattern’s Perdition! Stop making excuses for yourself! And stop beating yourself up over it – there will be time enough for that later! Just … figure out what the Hell you are going do!

>Please choose ONE of the following:

>If you are not going to be working today, then you do not need the Spotted Cloak. It should be safe enough where it is for the immediate future. Just go to the overseer on duty, wearing your other dress. After all, you do not need to wear the Spotted Cloak in the Midden.

>Assuming – or praying – that the Spotted Cloak has not been discovered yet is not good enough, especially if the guards are sniffing around looking for evidence of smuggling. Sneak out of the Midden wearing your other dress. Be careful, of course. You are committing two different capital crimes, and without your cloak, it will be much easier to see that it is you.
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There is a lot of good discussion going on in the thread. I'm going to sleep now, but I'll be back to weigh in.
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>>5240034
>Assuming – or praying – that the Spotted Cloak has not been discovered yet is not good enough, especially if the guards are sniffing around looking for evidence of smuggling. Sneak out of the Midden wearing your other dress. Be careful, of course. You are committing two different capital crimes, and without your cloak, it will be much easier to see that it is you.

I hate you.
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>>5240034
>>Assuming – or praying – that the Spotted Cloak has not been discovered yet is not good enough, especially if the guards are sniffing around looking for evidence of smuggling. Sneak out of the Midden wearing your other dress. Be careful, of course. You are committing two different capital crimes, and without your cloak, it will be much easier to see that it is you.

Pain
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>>5240034
>Assuming – or praying – that the Spotted Cloak has not been discovered yet is not good enough, especially if the guards are sniffing around looking for evidence of smuggling. Sneak out of the Midden wearing your other dress. Be careful, of course. You are committing two different capital crimes, and without your cloak, it will be much easier to see that it is you.
>>
> DC 33: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is a Born and Bred Sneakthief, making a basic Stealth Test like this [Easy]
> + DC 7 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Hard to Miss, given her size
> + DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Known in the Midden
> + DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is dressed in a way that make her easier to identify than usual
> + DC 2 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained I, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting stealth in broad daylight
> - DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has Complete Knowledge of the Midden
> - DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in an area with concealment
> - DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in a very poorly trafficked area
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth at a time when potential witnesses would be distracted
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has successfully managed a similar stealth test recently

> DC 22: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s) available. No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No Passes: Well, what do we have here? You are seen - and recognized - entering the dried up well.
>One Pass: What is that Echo? You just manage to duck into the well just before a bystander walks by where you would be seen, but the hear noises coming from the well.
>Two Passes: Hoping the nail in the well is not nail in your coffin. You avoid detection, but in your haste, you accidentally tear out a fingernail, leaving behind a trail of Strange blood.
>Three Passes: Wishing it would always be this easy. You avoid detection, and before you know it you are out in Stickport without any further issue.

>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha is seen, recognized - and loses the nail as well, directly tying her to the blood in the well.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha finds a cache that her father must have left behind.

>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.

>Three rolls of 1d100 please!
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Rolled 37 (1d100)

>>5240450
What fun
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Rolled 9 (1d100)

>>5240450
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>>5240477
I swear that we’d fail a DC of 10 every time.
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>>5239971
Magical ability is a heritable trait, like skin color. Witches are human, just with special abilities. And it is not just limited to man, either - any 'thinking' beast, or animals that we would say have problem-solving intelligence can be born with magical ability. In some cases, all members of a species are born with magical ability (or rather, all viable members of a species are), and this species is considered to be 'magical'. Expanding on what it means the relationships between the magical and the mundane, you must first remember (as touched upon in the opening passage) there is a difference between having active and latent magical ability. You can carry latent magical ability without ever getting to a point where you could be able to actually cast spells. In many cases, the only indication that someone has latent magical ability is that if they encountered a significant amount of Strangeness during their life, sequestered some of it away in their bodies, and then released it all when they died.

As for the product of unions, magical ability (latent or otherwise) is actually a dominant trait, but it is rare - rarer, since the Strangeness and Inquisition have killed and culled so many in the ensuing years. Two mundane parents will almost never produce magical offspring, if they do, it means that one of them actually had some latent ability after all, just really, really buried, and it managed to express itself. One mundane parent and one with latent magical ability will frequently produce children with latent magical ability, and occasionally produce either mundane children, or children with active magical ability. Two parents with latent magical ability are even more likely to produce children with latent magical ability. The same trend exists for parents with active magical ability. One mundane parent and a Witch are likely to produce children with active magical abilities, less likely to produce children with latent ability and much less likely to produce mundane children. The likelihood of magical ability increases when the Witches mate has latent magical ability, and increases again when the Witches mate is another Witch.

The issue of Witch and mundane pairings (and to a lesser extent, Witch and latently magical) is that while their offspring might have active magical ability, they will not have as much active magical ability as the offspring of two Witches. There is also the issue of stability. Witches have been selected for stability, if they were not able to sequester away the Strangeness safely, then they might not have even been able to make it to term, let alone live long enough to reproduce. The latently magical, and the mundane do not have that kind of selection pressure present, so any offspring with them is also less stable than the offspring of two Witches. And the less stable an actively magical child is, the less likely they are to survive pregnancy, or if they are born, be physically and mentally sound.
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Rolled 79 (1d100)

>>5240450
Time to crash this ship with no survivors!
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>>5240494
So find a he-witch outside of a coven or a man with repressed but strong magical abilities. Sounds easier than playing Indiana Jones.
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>>5240804
Well, that would be the best possible option, however, as mating with He-Witches improves the odds of having stable, powerful offspring, Covens have a vested interest in finding and keeping He-Witches, as well as males with latent magical ability. Finding one that had not been brought into a Coven would be very, very difficult. And as for the ones that have been brought in, the standings of He-Witches in a Coven runs the gamut from a high-ranking member with special privileges to kept studs, but the nearly universal constant is that they are only ever going to mate with the Witches, Witchlets, latently magical and mundane members of the Coven. Key word here being; mate. Marriage, or in the case of less formal relationships, exclusivity with He-Witches is rare, that is generally something only a very powerful Witch can pull off, as it has a way of causing resentment with the rest of the Coven.

Anyway, despite the unfortunate accident, Chlotsuintha was able to get out of the Midden, and retrieve the Spotted Cloak without further issue. She did do a decent job hiding it after all. The question before you now is what to do with the Strange bloodstains in the dried up well.

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>As a matter of principle, you should clean up your messes, even if that means sneaking back into the well after you return to the Belfry.
>Why bother? There are traces of Strangeness all over the Midden, at this point more than you could cleanse away if you wanted to probably. Why take the risk and spend the time?
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>>5241014
A clarification, this is choosing to take care of the stains at some point, not necessarily immediately.
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>>5241016
How long are we talking to clean it all up? I assume it isn't just in the well, though I suppose it could be since it is just a fingernail. If it is from the well all the way into the next area over then I'd personally say it isn't worth it even if we have the whole day to burn, we still have a lot we may want to do even if other incidents don't pop up.
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>>5241030
Just in the well. She was able to staunch the flow quick enough.
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>>5241030
Just in the well. She was able to staunch the flow quick enough. As for the amount of time, that depends on how well you roll for the Salt-Mitigation or Salt-Remediation rolls.
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>>5241014
>As a matter of principle, you should clean up your messes, even if that means sneaking back into the well after you return to the Belfry.

Father didn’t raise an idiot. Though this won’t leave any evidence that will backfire on us, right QM?

>>5240494
Wait, does that mean that our Father’s parents were Witchlets with high stability?
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>>5241014
>As a matter of principle, you should clean up your messes, even if that means sneaking back into the well after you return to the Belfry.
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Okay. One more question - do you want to use Salt-Remediation or Salt-Mitigation? Salt-Remediation is significantly harder than Salt-Mitigation, but its failures are much less dangerous. Both are relatively silent, and will cause your eyes to glow for approximately the same amount of time. Failure in this case is going to be more dangerous than usual, as you are going to be two-thirds of the way down the well while you are performing the spell. Falling 12+ feet is a real possibility here.

(Remember, if you fail three times with Salt-Remediation, then you can not long use it on that batch of Strangeness. You will have to start using Salt-Mitigation)

>Please choose ONE of the following
>Use Salt-Mitigation
>Use Salt-Remediation

> DC 33: Witchlet Chlotsuintha is a Born and Bred Sneakthief, making a basic Stealth Test like this [Easy]
> + DC 7 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Hard to Miss, given her size
> + DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is Known in the Midden
> + DC 2 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is now Drained I, and is not moving as quickly as she should
> + DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting stealth in broad daylight
> - DC 15 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has Complete Knowledge of the Midden
> - DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in an area with concealment
> - DC 10 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth in a very poorly trafficked area
> - DC 5 Witchlet Chlotsuintha is attempting Stealth at a time when potential witnesses would be distracted
> - DC 7 Witchlet Chlotsuintha has successfully managed the exact same stealth test recently

> DC 15: Anything lower is a failure. [No re-roll(s) available. No hostile re-roll(s)]

>No Passes: Well, what do we have here? You are seen - and recognized - entering the dried up well.
>One Pass: What is that Echo? You just manage to duck into the well just before a bystander walks by where you would be seen, but the hear noises coming from the well.
>Two Passes: Getting Nailed. You manage to avoid detection again, but in the exertion of climbing, your improvised bandage is undone and you start bleeding again.
>Three Passes: Wishing it would always be this easy. You avoid detection, and before you know it you are back in the Midden without any issue.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Failure (Roll of 1 or 2) then Chlotsuintha is seen, recognized - and loses the nail as well, directly tying her to the blood in the well.
>If ONE of the THREE rolls comes up as a Critical or Near-Critical Success (Roll of 100 or 99) then Chlotsuintha finds a cache that her father must have left behind.

>A Critical Failure overrides a Critical Success and a Near-Critical Success, but a Critical Success overrides a Near-Critical Failure.
>Criticals and Near-Criticals cannot be reversed by a re-roll or an auto-pass
>You are STRONGLY encouraged to roll again after twenty minutes if more rolls are needed, to keep the quest moving.

>Three rolls of 1d100 please!
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Rolled 67 (1d100)

>>5241455
>Use Salt-Remediation

Much less dangerous? I think this may be wise.
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Rolled 62 (1d100)

>>5241455
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>>5241455
>Use Salt-Remediation
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Rolled 57 (1d100)

>>5241455
>Use Salt-Remediation
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>>5241455
>>Use Salt-Remediation
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Just one roll of 1d100, please!

>Critical Success: DC 99 and higher. In addition to completely remediating away all of the Strangeness, you make an illuminating deduction in the process. You will now have four chances to use Salt-Remediation of Strangeness (under typical circumstances).
>Complete Success: DC 76 and higher. All of the Strangeness is removed from the blood, and in the process, the stain is no longer recognizable.
>Partial Success: DC 56 and higher. You manage to get about a half of the Strangeness out.
>Partial Failure: DC 55 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is half again as much Strangeness.
>Complete Failure: DC 35 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is twice as much Strangeness.
Catastrophic Failure: DC 15 and lower. It should not even be possible with Salt-Remediation, but somehow, you managed to set yourself on fire. [Secondary Vote]
>Critical Catastrophic Failure: DC 2 and lower. You get the wind knocked out of you hard enough that you lose your grip.
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Just one roll of 1d100, please!

>Critical Success: DC 99 and higher. In addition to completely remediating away all of the Strangeness, you make an illuminating deduction in the process. You will now have four chances to use Salt-Remediation of Strangeness (under typical circumstances).
>Complete Success: DC 76 and higher. All of the Strangeness is removed from the blood, and in the process, the stain is no longer recognizable.
>Partial Success: DC 56 and higher. You manage to get about a half of the Strangeness out.
>Partial Failure: DC 55 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is half again as much Strangeness.
>Complete Failure: DC 35 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is twice as much Strangeness.
Catastrophic Failure: DC 15 and lower. It should not even be possible with Salt-Remediation, but somehow, you managed to set yourself on fire. [Secondary Vote]
>Critical Catastrophic Failure: DC 2 and lower. You get the wind knocked out of you hard enough that you lose your grip.
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Rolled 72 (1d100)

>>5242256
Oh boy
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Damn it, I could have sworn I fixed that missing greentext. Oh well. I need another roll of 1d100.

>Critical Success: DC 99 and higher. In addition to completely remediating away all of the Strangeness, you make an illuminating deduction in the process. You will now have four chances to use Salt-Remediation of Strangeness (under typical circumstances).
>Complete Success: DC 76 and higher. All of the Strangeness is removed from the blood, and in the process, the stain is no longer recognizable.
>Partial Success: DC 56 and higher. You manage to get the rest of the Strangeness out, but the bloodstain is still recognizable as a bloodstain.
>Partial Failure: DC 55 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is half again as much Strangeness.
>Complete Failure: DC 35 and lower. Not only does the spell fail without removing anything, but you wind up touching the walls of the well. Now there is twice as much Strangeness.
>Catastrophic Failure: DC 15 and lower. It should not even be possible with Salt-Remediation, but somehow, you managed to set yourself on fire. [Secondary Vote]
>Critical Catastrophic Failure: DC 2 and lower. You get the wind knocked out of you hard enough that you lose your grip.
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>>5242267
Want me to roll or wait mate?
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Someone else roll. I'm not touching that.
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>>5242267
Actually, can this wait? I’d rather we not chance setting our only dress on fire before we get our proper traveling clothes.
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Rolled 81 (1d100)

>>5242267
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>>5242300
jej
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I don't think I am going to be able to write much tonight, but there is something that we can vote on. After completing work on the decoy graven ball, do you want to attempt to remediate yourself with Salt-Remediation? It is similarly difficult to the previous Salt-Remediation roll, but if it goes well, then you will no longer spread the Strangeness. If any Strangeness remains after three attempts however, you will have to either wait for it to dissipate away, or use Salt-Mitigation on yourself.

>Please choose ONE of the following:
>Remediate yourself
>Do not remediate yourself
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>>5243046
>Remediate yourself

We don't want to spread more Strangeness or get caught and get a worse sentence if they test us again.
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>>5243046
>Remediate yourself
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>>5243046
>>Do not remediate yourself
Spellcasting is so freaking risky I want to do it as little as possible. A partial success is less than 50% of the time. She gets herself in a worse situation if she fails. Chlot will not live long if she takes that type of coin flip often.
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>>5243046
Can we know about the risk should we fail (or low roll it)? Also, would that mean that we can never remidiate ourselves again or would it be something like a daily cooldown?
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>>5243046
>Remediate yourself

finally caught up again