Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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"You won't find the grail here!" Coleman blurts out.

Hesitation.

"You want the grail? You want knowledge? You need to get out. Need this. Need us."

A plaintive squeak.

"Clear the path, and you have free passage."

He's gonna regret this.

[9 on Talk Sense]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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And the mockery just became too much effort to maintain. A bad thing just happened in Wormwood Station. That is literally what’s supposed to be happening, all the time, forever. Why is this concept so hard for everybody?!

Whatever. The Fool would be a Fool. Let him dance in his frivolities and jape in his wordplay. He would do what no one in this blasted world seemed capable of doing; the smart thing.


At least the Fool understood the logic of this place. And, logically speaking, while only one of them needed to be alive to pull the lever, the odds of him staying among those living increased when with a group. So, the smart thing, of course, would be to stay close by. Not because he cared! Because he didn’t. Carinadir didn’t care one whit. He never cared one whit. How else did he build this horrible place? How else could he hope to endure the ceaseless torments of the unthinking rabble? And now, the ceaseless disappointments of his son, to boot.

“Show away, Fool.” Carinadir sighed heavily at the impending doom of drills and death. “You’d do it regardless, best to get it over with.” Once, twice, thrice, he struck the ground around him with his staff. Three bricks, just like any other, and wouldn’t it be just the station’s luck if those three were particularly load-bearing, in just wide enough of an area for one Carinadir to fall through?

That’s the trick with becoming self-aware. Once you get past being a pile of steel and bricks, and start getting into plans to chop your father into tiny pieces, then things can start going wrong for you too.

[Rolling to Get Away: 5 + 4 + 2 = 11, Carinadir gets there quietly, drawing no attention, and also without taking harm along the way.]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"We're going on a lever hunt!
We're going to to pull a big one!
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared!
" The Fool sings at the top of their lungs as the whirring blades are within arm's reach now. Even folded across their chest, they snap their fingers to the beat, and they tilt their feet back and forth like a metronome.

"Uh oh!
Blades!
Big, sharpened blades!
We can't go over them!
We can't go through them!
Oh no!
We've got to go under them!
"

Lucien laughs, curling up a little from the force of it (not enough to lift their head into danger, enough to make you worry about it) finger snaps still keeping time. The laugh is just as important a part of the chorus as any of the words, you see.

"Come on, m'lord! You know this one. Every good parent does, even most of the bad ones! Sing us the next verse?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Ailee!

The only way to trick the King is to convince him you are acting by his will already. And you are cleverest, little mouse. Oh, you are cleverest indeed.

”I give you leave,” King Dragon declares. Black smoke leaks through the cracks in his rail-line head as he returns, and growls in triumph.

He is very, very close to his goal. But you have his leave.

And then before you can start a proper inquisition, after scurrying away from him, that’s when Sasha shows up with a goddamn clown.

***

Coleman!

You’re going to owe him for this, you know. Owe him big. He’s choosing to divert the storm of instinctual holy hyperviolence that he’s supposed to bring down on those who irk him. You know, like a real clown.

But you get him pointed in the right direction, which is... well, back to Ailee, actually. Near the huge and victorious form of King Dragon. Not too close, but still uncomfortably close.

That’s almost everybody— where are Jackdaw and Lucien??

***

Carinadir and the Fool!

One is a genius, the other’s insane...

But the joke is always that you’re not sure which is which, you know.

Down you go, the two of you, toppling down through wires and leaking vents and somehow avoiding the crash of razor blades and scissors that’s at the bottom. Whoops! Better luck next time, death trap!

And here it is. The heart of the Station, an intricate tangle of magical threads. Your signature, Carinadir. It’s woven in and through the machinery that controls the station, and vibrates with barely-controlled hate. Step too close, and strings might just snap, coincidentally strained too far at just this moment, vicious enough to take an eye out.

The Fool, of course, may use them as impromptu limbo practice, should the whim strike them. As long as they remain ignorant of past and future, nothing may befall them, after all.

“Father?” The voice that comes through the speakers now is rough, scratchy, pained. A massive metal claw tears through the ceiling and the threads vibrate as the speakers become an incoherent shriek. “Please, father,” the Station wheedles. “Save me, I know what went wrong, I can show you, please [mind the gap] please [destinations from Skyward to Windhame will be rerouted] don’t let it [eat fresh at our convenience stands] I’m scared...”

Wormwood Station is scared and needy. It also will destroy you if you try to help it. But letting King Dragon play with this... you can’t stand for that either, can you, Carinadir?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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"Coleman!" Ailee squeaks in shock, racing over to the Kobold, almost accidentally letting a Holy word roll through her mouth - a perilous act indeed so close to the source of all power. "What the hell is going on!? Why does everything keep being clowns!?"

Just help her get her feet under her. She wants to throw all of this everything at something but there's too much happening and she's too spooked and disoriented to know what. Advice, and quickly, or else she'll start picking areas to blow up at random and hopes she solves the problem with collateral damage.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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The Fool has a lever to find, and so begins looking for it. It would be here, of all places, wouldn't it?

Every action has an equal and opposing reaction - in physics and in performance. They are less interested in their actions, here, than the reactions. Those should be plum.

Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Carinadir stood where he fell; on his feet, holding his staff, just out of reach of wire and rubble. The roof shook. Speakers screeched. And he looked down his nose at his own handiwork. “What is there to tell, that I don’t already know?”

He waved a hand to his help. “Fool, the lever, if you will?”
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Look, the Fool's not here to not pull levers. Here's one - a layer of dust thick as peanut butter on a sandwich, over what may have been brass. Hopefully brass, the Fool didn't think to bring oil. Are these cobwebs? Have any spiders been here? They must have - what else would be there to bring misfortune to the flies?

Clank.

Let's see how all the king's forces and all the king's men hold this one together.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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It says much about today that all Coleman can muster is a tired stare. Just how much bad luck is this station keeping off the lines, if this is just one day here? Clowns, King Dragon, Angels.

Coleman is slow to climb down Sasha, patting her affectionately as he does, but it quick to draw Ailee close, if she'll allow it. Physical contact is amazing at drawing someone back to earth, stablizing them, and he needs that just as much as Ailee right now. "You're not gonna be happy when the professor gets back, then. We're gonna get out of here as soon as we find them, before anything else happens. Meet Wolf, by the way."
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Clunk.

That’s the sound of the Very Important Lever being pulled. A knot, undone. The secret promise kept at the bottom of this world in a bubble: as long as the worst thing that could happen was its own self-destruction, it could not create anything worse. Wormwood Station’s speakers blare psychic yowling as everything starts to come undone.

Above, King Dragon narrows his eyes and rips out infrastructure to add to his hoard. He will not be allowed to take the entire station, now falling to pieces, but he will content himself with what he may take. Then he will remove himself from this accursed place and be gone.

Ailee — you can piggyback a way out. A tunnel that even Sasha could travel through, one that will serve as a substantial shortcut. The only problem is that you need to make good on your quest. Someone needs to be punished, but with rats milling about and pushing, shoving, trying to escape, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the Chief Squeaker herself might be.

If you want to ride King Dragon’s tail on the way out, he needs to be placated with vengeful wrath, and quickly.

Coleman — well, here it is. One of the signs of Last Call. Wormwood Station coming undone from its very heart. It’s going to make the lines just that bit more dangerous, and in the long run, it’s a blow to the entire Vermissian. Entropy has a chance to sink its fangs in now, as do Disaster and Sabotage. If there’s a solution, it’s beyond any one kobold right now. Focus on what’s important instead — Lucien running up in a scandalous little number dragging a very huffy Jackdaw along.

Good luck getting out of here, unless you throw yourself at a weak point (having figured out very quickly where the sort of leak that allows for the presence of Angels here might be, which you haven’t done yet) and cross your fingers. You might end up truly anywhere.

But that’s better than the alternative, right? What do you think happens if you stay here, anyhow?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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There is a lot of magical theory. Libraries, the archives of the Bransmuth piled high with secret wisdom and the pontification of generations of sages. All of these venerable mages think that they hold claim to ancient knowledge, but Ailee can see the modernity that saturates them and causes them to miss the oldest truth. She knows the spirit of the very first spell ever cast, the most powerful magic that exists and brought sentient life glory and empire.

The first spell went thus: Eat him instead of me.

Everything else was just commentary.

She speaks the Word of Pride, putting voice to the impossible echo of King Dragon himself. She articulates the full extent of the word, creating a third flare in the Dragon's sight. Herself, the Squeaker, and this - his mirror, his own self made manifest apart from him. It's a pure, unshaped mirror of fire and rulership conjured to be as itself, and Ailee throws it into the maws of the god.

This is a very real sacrifice of power. That renders it invisible to the King. To his eyes, Ailee has grabbed a fragment of his own soul, torn it free, and pushed it into his path. From his vantage point it would look exactly as though Ailee had fulfilled her word to throw the Chief Squeaker into his jaws, because the alternative required access to concepts the King had exorcised from his perfect vice.

[Talk Sense with Grace: 7. Using the Useful effect of my Word of Power: Pride to create an opportunity and incentive.]
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Balmas
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The instant King Dragon turns away, Coleman's in action.

"Wolf! Stoke the boiler!"

"No, you can't cartwheel on top or you'll be flattened when we hit that wall!"

"Fine, Caranadir then! Doesn't matter! Grab Ailee, we're leaving!"

This crew is a mess. No wonder Mister Conagher always insisted on people doing what they're told the instant they're told, because if this is the result...

Still, it feels good to know what he's doing again. He may not know how to handle angels or kings, but charting a course is in his blood. And so long as he's giving orders and clearing the path, he can avoid thinking about it.

And the coal shall crumble, and the boilers burst, and the Primeval Engine shall wake to reclaim her gifts...

The Last Call. The one last heroic ride to take people where they needed, one last time once things had gotten too bad to do it safely. Without this station, sucking up the mishaps, it's only a matter of time. Piloting a train through the Heart is already dancing on a knife's edge, and doing so while contending with mechanical defects and unpredictable misfortions?

There's a part of him that desperately wishes to rebel against the very notion. He and Sasha have gotten so far, and now they won't even get to enjoy the full life of service they deserve? Impossible.

So it's anger that pushes him into the cabin, slams the door shut, and points Sasha-- somewhere. He doesn't even have a plan, but with King Dragon distracted and beams crumbling around them, this is the only chance they'll have to escape.

See, this station has absorbed bad luck for years, but it's never destroyed it. Any second now, centuries' worth of bad luck is going to explode from this point like water through a crumbling dam, and their only hope is to run before it, somehow dance on top of the wave, if they're to survive.

[14 on Clear a Path.]
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Count Numbers
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The Fool - one does not doff their armor until the hurley burley's done, and the battle's fought and won - ambles amiably up to Coleman, claps his shoulder. This close to the fires, and after so much dancing, the Fool is drenched in sweat. Their shirt hangs loose around the edges, but clings tight and translucent to what flesh it touches. For now, they are more themselves than ever. A version of themselves that isn't bothered by trains, anyway.

"It's a good thing you were here, you know." The Fool gestures grandly at the chaos. "So you know, more than anyone, that there was nothing more you could do. That you did everything you could. I don't know what you did - but I know you, and I don't doubt it. You shouldn't."

The Fool taps their pockets and - yes, they do still have those foraged mushrooms, of the station. Maybe there's something useful in them. Maybe they'll just be sentimental. Something to keep in mind, for when Coleman isn't so very busy.

Another to keep in mind; "Caranadir" may no longer be armor worth wearing, with his child dying as it is. Glide over to Jackdaw, to see which face she's wearing, shall we?
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Caranadir would not have the time or patience to argue with a mouse who insisted on hurling gasoline into a raging fire. The moment the way was clear, he lifted her clear off the ground and took a sprinting leap for the train-egg.

I can’t leave her behind. I won’t let her down again. Not again.

Caranadir would not understand what had gone wrong. Because it couldn’t have gone wrong. Everything had been designed to an exactness bordering on the unreasonable. The station collapsed around them. The station couldn’t be collapsing. They were in terrible danger. Everything was according to plan.

It begged me to help. I didn’t listen. It was scared. I killed it.

Caranadir would not wrap their arms around Ailee, and pull her close until the world got quiet again.

Jackdaw would.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Deep within the bowels of the Heart, that terrible wound in the world, that prison of forgotten ruins, the air is still and hot around the bones of a dead city, bleached white and black. Walls lean. Streets lie crooked. The world yawns empty.

A wall sloughs open with a careless shrug. Dust spins and spirals. Groaning, rust-bloodied rails rise up out of the broken earth.

And Sasha screams out of the collapsing reality pocket faster than the Legendary ‘11, running down those comforting rails until Coleman manages to get his claws around the brake. Behind — at a safe distance, thank whatever gods can see this deep down — Wormwood Station implodes with a shriek and a damned wail.

Well. Nothing more to be done about that. There will be dire consequences for what has transpired, but most of them are the sort that you won’t have to worry about, since they’ll happen to other people. Really, if your name’s not Coleman, you don’t have much to worry about at all.

And here’s some real good news: you’re deeper. A lot deeper, actually. Too deep to think of going back up, not when the Heart’s core is so near. Pick yourselves up and carry on.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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”Now, at times, brothers in the Blood, a pilgrim will come crawling up to me and ask: why?

“Why?

“Why a carnival? We hold life everlasting, we hold the holy Transubstantiation, we are made pure by the Blood, and we run a sideshow and rides? Oh, tell me, Ringmaster, why do we have a riding wheel when ain’t nothing to look at but more of the Wound in the World all around? Where’s the castle, where’s the statues, where’s the seven thousand step temple?

“Well, I could tell you what I tell the pilgrims. I could tell you all that it’s because we’re called to be Life, and Life is ridiculous as much as it’s lethal— because, let’s face it, you and me are the only ones who get on the ride who won’t get off sooner rather than later! Yeah! Yeah, let me hear you, brothers! Whoop it up!

[pause for howling]

“So why shouldn’t we let our little operation be like the life of the uninitiate? Why shouldn’t we take our little grain of death and wrap it up in gaslight and grease paint and fried megagator? Why shouldn’t we tell the rest of the world the joke and laugh at them for not getting it?

“But let me lay the truth on you. That’s right, I’ll lay it on you righteous! That’s nothing but another hoop for them to jump through! Ain’t no choice in this!

“We hold the Dark Carnival, day and night, no matter how the Wound contracts around us, because it was here waiting when I got here. The lights were on, the sausages were hot, and I wondered who stepped away and left it running—

“But then I found the Grail, here, and it realized it don’t so much as matter if I don’t understand. We have got Eternity; and so this’ll be the last thing standing when all the other lights. go. out.”


***

The Dark Carnival smells of fried food and sugar-breath and dried blood.

The lights overhead are bright, bright enough to see by, but the cavern roof above (if this is a cavern) is nothing but a suggestion in the dark between the bulbs. And there is a crowd.

Some of the things that pass you are inhabitants of the Heart, almost-Angels. Some of the things that pass you are fellow delvers, looking for the exit, bristling when you get too chummy, as if you mean to take their supplies or their tickets. Some of the things that pass you are tall and cloaked and unfold spindly arms to play the Toss-a-Ball. And some, unfortunately, are clowns.

There is a conditional docility that lies upon them, saturates them, when they leer at you in greasy polka-dot aprons and lean casually against the posts of a ring toss. That you are safe, so long as you do not break the spell. If only you knew what was forbidden you! What in the Heart holds them back from the impossible, brutal violence promised in their bulging muscles and beetle-dark eyes, in their rows of teeth and their rust-brown nine-pins— and how you could avoid the forbidden secret that will cause them to tear you limb from limb, laughing and honking and praising the Holy Grail.

And you travel with a man who wants to become one.

“We’re going around in circles,” he says, confidently, “because we have not gone there.” He jabs his turkey leg at the massive red-and-burgundy Big Top that squats at the center of the labyrinth-carnival. From the food square, delineated by thin ribbons fluttering between posts, it seems deceptively easy to get to, as if five minutes (surely ten at most) would get you there. “The Grail knows. I am ready. I have witnessed the death of Wormwood Station; I have passed through the Stations, if you will forgive the joke. We must go there, comrades. And when my honor guard brings me before my apotheosis... then you will be allowed to leave. The signs are clear.”

Shrieks ring out above the tents. They coincide with the dreadful rattle of the Jet Courser, but correlation is not necessarily causation. Wolf continues to stuff coleslaw tins into her coat.
Hidden 30 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Ailee is different now.

See all she has done with the mere words of King Dragon, found engraved on dusty opal in the venerable heart of the Bransmuth? How powerful her Words were when the idea of Vice was pure theory? She was mighty then, but now she has seen the face of her dark master and now she truly understands what it means to wield the power of the Heart.

There is no hiding it. She burned away her good coat when she tried to put it on. No matter, a flick of Pride and she made a cloak of emerald set with peacock eyes. A whisper of Impatience reaching for her glasses in the morning and her eyes were sharp as razors, but a shrug of Waste and the glass burned into startlingly fashionable sunglasses. And now she gazes upon the Carnival with the dark spirit of Judgement looming over her in all its immensity, a column of unbreakable contempt for those who came so close to those who have come so close to true power and settled for mere immortality. The Heart awaits! Evil awaits! And here you pitched your tents!?

The songbird upon her shoulder trembles with each shiver of terrifying energy that runs through her. Fear is sufficient to keep even a bird from the sky. It seems that men and clowns are no better.

"Fine," she snaps, so harsh and cold and uncharacteristically devoid of prolonged insulting commentary. Fine, she would go to the heart of this place too. Perhaps they, too, would need to burn.
Hidden 29 days ago 24 days ago Post by Count Numbers
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Lucien's shirt is buttoned, ironed. His pants are neatly creased and mended. His bloody useless pistol has at least been loaded with dry powder, now. Composed. Sensible. He looks across the vista seriously.

"I wonder if we can find fried pickles, here." He smiles wistfully at a food tent which appears to be deep-frying an alligator of some sort in a bathtub of bubbling oil. The alligator has been run the whole way through with a cast iron skewer. Must be a baby one, it's only the size of a surface gator. And is that - yes. The smell of beer batter is unmistakable. Carnival veal schnitzel! "It's been years since I've had a good fried pickle."
Hidden 26 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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“Here. For friend.”

Jackdaw held out a fresh - well, as fresh as fair food got - caramel apple to Wolf. Near enough to be offered. Far enough to make a run at her coleslaw tins impossible.

“Still warm.”

This was a trap in three parts. First, it got a little more fruit into Wolf’s diet, which was rare enough down here that neither of them could pass up the opportunity. Second, it was absolutely impossible to store for later, and best enjoyed immediately. Third, it occupied an entire hand and more than an entire mouth. No one, not even Wolf, could scarf one of them down quickly. Good for the digestion. And, well, for not careening towards the line of bad manners with respect to coleslaw tins.

She looked over Wolf’s coat again. Pockets were holding, which was a relief. It’d been a miracle to find enough material to fix up the worst of her ragged old coat. And. Well, that was something, wasn’t it? At least they had her to mend clothes when they went poorly.

Well. Those of them that still needed that sort of thing.

Without looking at Ailee, without looking at their guide, and definitely without looking at poor Coleman, Jackdaw quietly nodded her assent, and padded along in the back of the group. As silent and small as she could make herself.
Hidden 26 days ago Post by Balmas
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Really, he should be a nervous wreck.

It's not that clowns don't ride the Vermissian. Any who see the Ringmaster's wrath don't need to be taught twice. (Indeed, most don't get the chance.) Clowns are, reluctantly, welcome. Which means that, of necessity, some trains must run here, though the names of the poor unfortunates slip his mind at the moment.

Which means that Sasha needs to learn to deal with these kinds of things.

He's been a bad parent, do you know that? A bad example. They found the flood, and he ran. They found the angel, and he ran. They found King Dragon, and he ran. And these are all sensible decisions! But Sasha might get the wrong idea, might learn the wrong lesson.

And so, he ambles down the row of tents, holding Sasha's hand. This is a dangerous place, Sasha, but that's alright! Just stay close to Coleman, and we'll be fine. See, we might even do something fun--oh, you hear that? Can you hear the words the Jetcoaster is screaming? It sounds like it's enjoying itself, don't you think? Oooh, and fried pickles? Those sound amazing, wouldn't you like to try some?
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