Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Ailee!

“...even that little rat could do it!”

Your ears prick up. You have just heard the last words of some fool. There he is, white-painted, black-clad, eyebrowless, impossible blue hair falling in thick ringlets, standing vigil next to the Test of Strength, which he is attempting to entice a sheepish-looking axolotl to spend a ticket on. Fabulous Prizes! Enticing Delights!

“If even she could win a prize,” the clown rasps, “then you’ve got it in the bag. Give it a try.”

The look that the axolotl gives you is shy and quickly flicks away, seeing you in a light that the clown obviously does not, much to his imminent misfortune.

***

Lucien!

“You know,” Professor Pagliacci says, “you could get more than fried pickles here, my boy. Out of everyone here— well, my students are too headstrong and sure they’ll find some mystic knowledge at the bottom of this hellhole, and the Engineer has his duty to tend to, but you don’t have an obligation to fulfill down there. You could stay, you know. Find a new purpose. The clowns actually have a meaning of life down here, one that I am close to grasping. Follow in my footsteps, lad; there’s life here and death waiting further below.”

***

Jackdaw!

Wolf growls something that might be thanks around the stickiness of the candied apple. She’s been slowly putting on some weight, but is still standoffish. If she had an out, she’d probably take it, but going off? On her own? In the Heart? She survived Wormwood Station by being smarter than that, probably.

Still, is it right to bring her along? You’re going into even more dangerous territory. Maybe the moral thing to do would have been to volunteer to take her back up. What if she’s eaten by clowns, Jackdaw? What if she’s tossed full of knives while strapped to a spinny wheel and you’re the last person she ever looks at because you fed her and that means she put her trust in you and instead you’re taking her deeper into danger?

You need to figure out exactly how you’re going to keep Wolf safe, because it is now totally and completely and definitely your responsibility and not something that she can do herself, because if she dies it’s going to be 1000% your fault and your fault alone.

***

Coleman!

Sasha takes in all that’s around her. Tell us a little more about how Sasha senses the world, how she might try to experience the stalls. Tell us as only one of the Engineers of the Vermissian could.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Ailee, in all honesty, was not mortally offended by being called a rat. Yes, sure, it might be vaguely speciest but to be fair she could only pick Lucien out from a crowd of humans by looking for the ugliest shirt. Besides, a fashion trend for nezumi girls was to wear ear rounders that made them look more like rodines and men were generally blind to makeup, let alone how makeup applied to culture. That wasn't anything she couldn't control. Her previous outburst on this topic was more due to being accused of being a spy than accused of being a rat.

But being called little?! She was uncharacteristically tall (for a rodine)!! In girl's high school she'd been a full head higher than the crowd, a trait that caused the girls to cast her as the brooding prince in all of their romantic fantasies. She'd left an entire graduation party heartbroken when she'd opted to stay home and study rather than accept any one of the written confessions that filled her locker like confetti.

She snatched the mallet from the clown. "I," she snarled, "am on the upper end of the bell curve of height. You are below average for a human. When I reach the Heart," her fingers sizzled with energy around the metal, releasing an acrid smell of vaporized iron, "I will more clearly establish the laws of relative size in this fallen and worthless cosmos. Now stand the fuck back."

She was going to prove that she was as disproportionately strong as she was tall. She was going to win a prize. See if she wasn't.

(A brief disclaimer, though: Ailee's supernaturally infused pride and casual wielding of massive weapons made out of weaponized vice has distracted her from the fact that she has noodly nerd arms and would have difficulty opening a tight jar).
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"What I'm hearing is that there are fried pickles." Lucien watches the Professor's face for a reaction. If that reaction is not to glance where the pickles may be found, he will start following his nose. Surely he'd be able to smell them out - the carnival is a riot of smells, but nothing cuts through like boiling vinegar. And if anything does... well, wouldn't that be interesting?

He's also waiting for that defeated, disappointed look on the man's face before he claps him on the shoulder reassuringly. "You're right, of course, but I need to get a sense of the place before we start talking anything permanent. Actually, I'd love if you could show me around? Go for a bit of a jaunt and stretch the legs?"

Lucien and the Professor could lope off and meet back up with everyone else later, right? The train's an obvious landmark and, besides, he suspects the others aren't as enthusiastic about deep clown lore as he is.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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What? Oh, no. No, that’d be ridiculous. Wolf survived for _ages_ in, um, well, you know. It was hard, but she’s alive, so, she knows what she’s doing. Besides, could you imagine it? Wolf - Wolf, of all people! - following after her - her, of all people! - like a little puppy. Trotting along at her side, growling at anyone who got too close, taking treats right from...her...paws......

Oh.

Oh no it was all her fault.

Oh no she brought her to the clown festival?! What was she thinking?

Answer: She wasn’t thinking. As usual.

Okay, well, start thinking! Now, Jackdaw!!! Before they stick her in a fryer, or paint her face with bad dreams, or worse, and if you could leave it at ‘or worse’ for once maybe you’d be able to find a way out of this mess! Remember every book you’ve ever read about clowns. Look at everything you can see, and imagine everything you can’t. Check, double check, triple check, where’s the safe places? Where can you run? How can you get a malnourished wolf out of the clutches of one or several clowns?

Think, Jackdaw, think. Before it’s too late.

[Rolling to Look Closely. 5 + 3 + 2 = 10. Jackdaw wants to know two things: Where here could they be safe? And how could she get Wolf there, in a pinch?]
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Well, small point of order, if he may, ma'am? You see, and he hates to bring it up but, well, he's not an Engineer. His mind hasn't been touched by a train, raw and uncensored and intolerably full of that barrage of input. He may wear the gloves and swing the wrench, but if he were to go into a roundhouse and call himself an Engineer, at best he'd be laughed out of the building.

And more's the pity, really. Mister Conagher hadn't had the words to fully explain what it's like to fully connect to an engine, though the word "overwhelming" had been involved. And at the first connection, it's almost painful? It's... Look, your brain is trying to interpret senses you didn't have thirty seconds ago, and the train is getting used to what it's like to be able to see. You have two foreign minds that are temporarily fused together and every nerve is firing at the same time and you're not sure whether you're dying or if you've ever been alive before this or whether you're seeing the moment the universe began.

It's not sight, you see. To feel the tracks under you, to shriek down the tunnel and hear the earth moan in response? You're experiencing echolocation, feeling the future of the track through your wheels, and your primitive lizard brain isn't ready for it. And that's before the train decides to reach out, to touch at the other minds in the area, incorporate their senses?

Really, donating his sight almost feels like it must be superfluous.

Sasha isn't fully formed. It's clumsy, pushy, the way the tendril of will nudges at his brain, a child's first clumsy grasps at an object. She can't just reach out and direct his eyes, show him what to look at, and she's not subtle enough to skim across the surface of a mind without it noticing--already he can see some booth barkers turning to stare at the train.

This is gonna be trouble.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Ailee!

Ping!

The weight makes a tiny bunny hop. The axolotl standing next to you blinks. There is a moment of embarrassed stillness.

“Well,” the clown says, clearing his raspy throat, “I guess I was wrong. That’ll be a ticket, little lady.”

No! Do not submit! Maybe you just had a sweaty grip on the hammer! You very definitely have got this.

***

Lucien!

There are indeed fried pickles. And you’re getting closer, now, ambling along with the Professor. The electric lights all about flicker, and the wood of the stalls creak. There’s something about this place, you know? Like it’s rattling along on momentum just before everything falls apart.

“Before we get into the metaphysics, boy,” the Professor says, ambling with a deliberately careless stride that the clowns around effortlessly display, “I’m curious as to what you think of this. The Heart itself, you could say. What do you think its true nature is?”

***

Jackdaw!

Oh, Jackdaw. Sweet, lovable Jackdaw. That is an excellent question, you know. Where in the Dark Carnival could possibly be safe?

The Merry-go-round? Used in dark rituals. Have you been counting the number of animals and the number of riders? No, you’re not risking that eldritch nightmare.

The Jet Courser? Are you mad? You’ll probably be decapitated, or slip out of the restraints and get flung from the top of an arc, or choke on said restraints! Absolutely not!

Everywhere you turn there’s some new horror just barely submerged beneath the surface, and... hold on. What’s that over there? A house of mirrors, you say? Notice how the clowns give it such a wide berth. Like anything else here, it’s likely got some strange enchanted nature, but the more you consider it, the more it feels like a refuge.

As for getting Wolf there, well, Wolf is currently very animatedly motivated by securing more food for herself and keeping herself safe. If you just pointed out the clownlessness of the house of mirrors and made some intimation that food might be inside, she’d beat you to it.

***

Coleman!

Trouble, trouble, boil and bubble, fryer hiss and Heart rumble.

Before clowns can start approaching you to Have a Word about the train, you’re approached by someone you didn’t expect. Or something? It has no head, but eyes peer out of the thick black fur of its “chest.” It is holding a balloon in one thick and meaty paw. The balloon is red.

“How dare you show your face here, Conductor? After everything you did? I’d know your train anywhere, even if you’re trying to hide it in that strange frame.” Its voice is like the creak of old wood, and its breath is like a pack of wet dogs. It clenches its other paw into a fist the size of your head. “I will be avenged for my pod, Black Coleman.”

so the thing is that the heart sometimes has temporal anomalies and hiccups and that’s just the sort of thing you learn to avoid if at all possible you know but the Blemmyae are a bunch of reclusive bio-craftsmen and you’ve never even met one before and you don’t know if it’s packing a portable plague or a gun-tongue or if it’s just going to pick you up and throttle you with those arms like some great ape and the clowns are watching with great interest oh no
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Not every game can be rigged, can it?

She failed at the hammer game. Fine - perhaps she could stand to do some more push ups. Redemption was sought in the air rifle booths. This was a matter of precision and control and she should be ideal at this - and she was! Every bullet hit a target! Unfortunately none of them were her target and for some reason that meant it didn't count. Speed, then! See her hands blur as she misses mole after mole! That was fine, that was just another stupid hammer game - let's find a trial of intelligence! A nice, traditional game of Go would be enough to demonstrate her devastating intellectual superiority. And yet she finds herself staring at a board run through with lines of black and her clown-painted opponent gives her a pitying shrug.

What... was this? She was the most competent person she knew. She was brilliant. She'd blitzed through university, intuiting arcane secrets that eluded the most senior researchers. She'd learned every practical art needed, from first aid to dungeoneering. She'd worked night and day to learn the true nature of reality and the mechanisms by which it might be altered and nothing had stood in her way. She'd solved Parvit's Theorem while her classmates were still getting the names of colours down. These - these games should surely be lesser problems? By any objective measure she should be the most functional person in this den of wash-outs, runaways and literal circus clowns. Even if the games were rigged she should be able to figure out how and solve for that!

Ailee stepped off the ride, took two steps, and fell over. She couldn't even handle a little dizziness. Everyone else was barely unsteady. What the hell was this? What was she missing??

It does not immediately occur to Ailee Sundish that she has never even attempted fun in her life before.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"I've never gotten so much as a glimpse at the whole of it, you know." Lucien sighs wistfully, looking up, up past the ceiling. "When I played The Game, I used to pride myself on my ability to extrapolate, more than anything else. Predicted a rebellion three months in advance by looking at wheat futures, once. Or - I'm quite proud of this, actually - I recognized that a delayed ice delivery was the first step in a plot to poison me. Someone wanted to hide cyanide in my almond milk, which I only drank when the dairy soured..."

The smile curdles. "I spent a week drinking only water, boiled water, acting like a nut-milk nutter. Spent that week thinking anyone could be the one with the plan to kill me, convinced by a late delivery. Not just anyone; Someone intimate to me. The worst kind of paranoiac, and worse still, I was right. So I kept thinking like that, until coming here seemed like the least stressful option."

He's only a few steps away from pickles now, he can smell it. His eyelashes are curling from the smell of the brine, and his lips are almost ready to crack from how much salt hangs heavy in the humid air here. Heaven. Distantly he hears a bell ring, quiet as a teaspoon sinking to the bottom of a tea mug. "I don't know what the Heart is, haven't the foggiest. There's too much here to make sense of, too many bad answers between me and the good questions. I've given up on being clever about it, and I'm doing my best just to experience it, come as it may. I've been trying to do it in good company." He inclines his head to the Professor respectfully.

There's a pause. He's being dishonest on autopilot. It's so reflexive it's only now that he catches it, and he wonders - what am I hiding? What am I not saying?

"No. I'm sorry, I didn't answer your question." He corrects himself before the Professor can ask again. "I used to think the Heart is a final objective to always be heading towards, but never to reach. A fable, where the journey is the destination. Then, after the Flood, I realized we were getting closer. There is an end to it." He stares down. Not at his feet, but at something past them. "Then I thought it was because the ending is necessarily tragic, that nobody survives reaching it... not as anyone I'd recognize. Coleman's just the most obvious. But ever since the Station... I think even that would be too determined, too consistent for what the Heart must be." He thinks very hard about the words he chooses here. "I want to try and make sure they all get the best endings they can, and I don't even know what they are, let alone how to go about getting them. 'Best' might not even be 'good'." He clenches and releases a fist as he says this last bit.

He hopes they've got aioli down here. Who knows what creature lays the eggs they'd use to make the mayonnaise though? Good lord, is it gater eggs? Now he has to try it-
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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"Now, you can't ignore it."

There's not much to do at night.
Mighty Natascha puffs contentedly to herself, worn from the long day's haul and belly slowly digesting a load of coal. Mister Conagher dismissed the other firemen to the crew car hours ago before announcing his own intention to turn in. That just leaves the two of them, sat round the little lamp in the corriidor of the coal tender.

And Granpappy never rushes a good story. He takes his time tamping down the baccy in his pipe, savors the smell of it. Reachs out the window, lazily strikes a match against the tunnel wall as it rushes past, nestles it deep into the little cup. Builds up steam, puffs a few rings. All in complete silence, eyes never leaving the spellbound little kobold on his too-large chair. And it's not til the ceiling runs thick with pipe smoke that he graces his audience with a continuation.

"There's some say that if you acknowledge the paradox, you'll end the world or summat. Reality'll collapse in on itself. And they're smart men and all, and I'm sure they've all done some amazing math and come out dead sure of themselves. But I've had the pleasure of meeting myself before, and ain't any harm come of it so far. You're there, and he's there, and what can you do about it? Myself's a gentleman, and knows things I don't, so no harm in picking my brain as he's there, right?"


***

Of course, Granpappy never actually said what to do if your future self had made enemies. Frankly, a disappointing gap in knowledge, and Coleman can't wait to meet himself to find out how to deal with it.

That, or throttle himself. Oh, you weaponized Sasha? Great, great! Brilliant! And you rule the lower levels of the Heart? Fascinating! The eyepatch is new! When does that happen? Who were you plundering at the time? Does that happen before or after we entirely lose our sense of self and turn to piracy and train cannibalism? Because of course that's what we're doing, right, is hunting other engines for parts and crew?

No doubt that's what the Blemmyite was for. Is for? Will be for? Bah. Black Coleman wants their expertise in amalgamation, the better to splice and graft Sasha to her true destiny. She will survive, no matter what happens to everyone else.

For now though, the kobold climbs into one trashcan-lid sized metal paw, lets Sasha lift him up to the clenched fist, and taps it gently with his own. "I'm afraid you've me at a disadvantage here. You know me, but I've never met you before. You are?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The word is countdown.

Painted faces watch their every move. Painted minds judge their every sin. Paths clear one moment, only to suddenly fill with hideous bands wielding unfathomable instruments playing a respectable rendition of Pop Goes the Weasel, almost drowning out the screams of the weasel. Everywhere she looked, Jackdaw saw only danger, and danger that had yet to appear. No rhyme, no reason, no patterns, no timing, no matter how hard she looked or how hard she tried to hold the entire carnival in her head at once. They had to go. They had to go now.

“Hey!”

Jackdaw waved her arms furiously. Had to keep her attention. Focus on her, Wolf, focus on her!

“...no clowns?”

She pointed to the mirror house. And kept pointing. And kept pointing. Oh please let this work let this work let this work

“No...hunters?”

Yes! No other hunters! You’d be the only one! All the food there, yours! No one would bother you! Safe! Good! Go now? Please???
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Ailee!

<Burning watercress,> someone curses. You turn your head so hard you nearly dislocate it. There is a very cool mouse nearby. She has goggles. Goggles, as everyone knows, are very cool, because they show that you care about the health and safety of your eyes. But she is not wearing the goggles. They are pulled up onto her leather cap. She is an ear shorter than you and one sleeve’s been stapled shut at the elbow, but who cares? She is a mouse in a burnished leather jacket, very irritated at having bumped into someone taller and gotten Dipping Dotties all over her scarf. She huffs, and does the complicated dance of trying to hold the ice treats with her half-an-arm while brushing the sticky little things off with her hand.

Somebody should offer to hold the treats for her. Or pluck each one off for her. Or offer to go and pummel the offending tallman with a hammer made out of vice. For the King’s sake, do something, she’s right there and her ears are as pink as the sky immediately before sunrise and she’s a delver, she comes down here professionally and hunts for oracular books and magical byproducts, and if she vanishes into the crowd you’re never going to find her again unless you summon up spirits from the high airs to hunt her down and she probably has, like, a ghost-vanquishing mirror or something, because that’s the kind of person she very obviously is, and you are losing your window of opportunity here, girl! Do something!!

***

Lucien!

The professor considers your words with the gravitas of someone who was paid quite a lot to think about things just as hard as he could. “And here I hoped I could tempt you away,” he says, finally. “If this is the right thing, after all, this metamorphasis that I am courting, then logically spreading it to the deserving is itself a virtuous act. But you will not leave them yet. Naturally. You would risk eternal regrets.”

Unlikely. From what little you have gathered of clowns, regrets are something they shed when they… molt? Ascend? Succumb? Pogo and Bobo over here, for example, don’t look as if they have a care in the world, other than the slight tension of reminding themselves that they will have a very stern talking-to if they rip your head off without a very good and pressing reason.

“I am doing the right thing?” It is a sliver of vulnerability. “In the face of that tyrant, Time, this is the last redoubt. Imagine what I could keep alive, Lucien. Thousands of years of tradition, history, culture…” He taps his grease-painted noggin with one finger.

Someone is deluding himself very hard, and it’s not you.

***

Coleman!

“Of course,” the Blemmyae says, thoughtfully. “Temporal misalignment. An opportunity to undo what has been done. Perhaps when I leave in victory, my pod will labor still in To-vo-Kan-moz, awaiting my return.”

He opens his abdomen-mouth (his teeth are the size of your hand, each one) and the report of his gun-tongue nearly takes off your ear, not to mention the actual seed-bullet. It strikes against Sasha’s side and the acid coating begins to eat away at her paint, but its tendrils don’t manage to set and it falls, a nasty little ball of death, to the packed earth.

There are all sorts of interesting hints and tips and solutions to how to deal with a homicidal Blemmyae (and here’s one for free: they’re reliable pacifists as long as you don’t move their cheese, as the saying goes, and in this case “moving” is murder and “cheese” is every member of their pod), but the rest are up in the air, want to try and catch one?

***

Jackdaw!

It’s a blessing you get in to the House of Mirrors when you do. Somebody a lane over is shooting some kind of very wet gun. But don’t worry, in the House of Mirrors you’ll be safe, you and Wolf, just you and her and you and her and you and her and you and her and you and her and you and her and you and her and this may not have been the wisest idea, after all.

Because this is the House of Mirrors, and all of those mirrors are very strange indeed.

When you turn around, you find that the door is mirrored, too. It has to be, right? It’s just a trick that it looks like a corridor extending off into the dark, they do it with mirrors, and you’re just not close enough to the door to be able to touch it. Yes. This is a good thought. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, you should go through the House of Mirrors anyway so nobody has to panic. Yes. Solid call. Great going, Jackdaw!

“Great going, Jackdaw!”

Oh no. You turn and find yourself face-to-face with a soldier. Her uniform isn’t patchwork, it’s just an easy mistake to make: it’s been patched and repaired on the battlefield, stitches hidden underneath brutalist medals. She’s standing ramrod-stiff, all lean muscle and scars and shiny round glasses. Is that a smile, or is her lip curling because of another scar?

“I’m the one you need to trade with,” your reflection says. “You and I both know that books haven’t gotten us anywhere. But you’ve found your way to me right away! So here!” Your reflection reaches for you. “I’ll find our name, no matter what stands in our way.”

“Don’t listen to her,” another you says from behind you. You spare her a glance, and she is very, uh, pink. And frilly. And flouncy. And is that a golden bow? That’s impractical, right? “Her heart’s all cold as ice, and we? We are all about our heart, Jackdaw. We have so much to give the world, and I can do it right. Trade with me.” Her lip quivers dangerously as she presses up against the glass.

Wolf stares down another reflection, which has discarded things like clothes. And dental hygiene. And baths. And not killing adorable foxes. (That last is an assumption but it is probably absolutely a dead-on one.)
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"I understand completely," Lucien agrees, "It's why I was thinking, after I get a few bites in, you must introduce me to the carnival's library!"
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Home is the shadow of a rooster.

Of course, it's not really a rooster. That's how it's translated but not what it means. What it means is a bird made of fire, feathered like sunlight flowing in a waterfall of gold broken by a prism of rainbow, the mere sight of which promises good fortune and harmony for all the kingdom. This is not a comical farm animal as it is seen in Grand Jelt, it is the peer of dragons and a pillar of the world.

And 'neath the sheltering wings of the rooster all of life can be found. The feel of fabric filled with metal, letting it shift and roll and trying to guess how much it weighs. Soup so heavy with spice and oil it's as good as boiled, for no evil could survive within it. Riddle-lanterns that flow overhead, teaching the wind how to be lucky. All of these deep, ancient memories wrap themselves up and cast themselves towards her in the form of a bracelet of shaped like a snake - that being the protection a rooster will carry with them as a ward against dogs.

She touches her rooster bracelet - a ward against the same. And some part of her finally draws a mental association between this subterranean event and the celebrations of her memory.

<Let me get that for you,> she said, offering her hand with a politeness that never occurred to her before, in the same way that hitting the brute with her wicked magic didn't occur to her now. <Are you all right? Are you here with anyone?> What was that strange note to her voice there?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The word is wanting.

The mirror must be broken. That is, of course it’s not right, obviously that’s not her, but more than that, it can’t be her. It just can’t. Do you see? Right there! There! When she folds her arms, and you can see, see! The muscles rippling across her frame. You could hit her with a train, and the train would shatter into a thousand thousand pieces. No timeline, no road not taken, no past gone a little better could ever turn her into that. Right? It wouldn’t be too hard to find out, just, just find a mirror here that does work, estimate her proportions, come back here, trace the breadth of those shoulders, those proud, unbowed shoulders, strong, and brave, and, and, so strong…

This other mirror! It was broken too. And she’d get to that thought just as soon as the rest of her caught up, because how! How did it know? She hadn’t shown that stupid little sketch to anyone. Not even Ailee! Yes, of course, it was the Heart, and rules were different here, but it shouldn’t! It couldn’t! It wasn’t fair! How dare it make her look so much better than her clumsy paws could ever draw? Where did it get off, making her eyes so pretty? They never looked that clear and bright, even when she wasn’t...squinting. And. And. That tail…

Jackdaw hugged her ragged robes tight around her. And beneath them, her scraggly, dusty, pathetic excuse for a tail wrapped around her even tighter. Recoiling from this image of fluffy perfection. Unfit to even show itself. Her paws patted at the sad lump beneath her cloak, on instinct.

What was this place?

“W-wolf…?” Jackdaw called out uncertainly, backing away from the two mirrors. “I think we should, um, stay close…”

She blindly reached behind her, grasping for her friends’ paw...
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Coleman yelps, jumps off the paw, and scrambles down Sasha's hatch. There's a part of him wants to give Sasha a way to stoke her own boiler, and it's only horror stories of crews that did that stopping him. Still, as he shoves the feed lever down and jams it open, he's having second thoughts.

"Or, and consider this carefully! You trying to kill my daughter is the reason I kill your whole tribe! And stopping right the fuck now would go a long way to changing my mind about that in the future!"

[If he's willing to listen, that's an 8 on Talk Sense.]

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Lucien!

This is just. The saddest library. In fact, calling it a library is like calling a rain puddle a pond: technically correct, but only if you squint and consider it from someone else’s point of view. This is a book pit.

Nobody’s taking care of the bindings, there aren’t any shelves; clowns just toss books in. This is an endpoint of knowledge. That’s a first edition Heraclytes codex that landed face up on top of a moldering encyclopedia.

“Well,” the Professor says, haltingly, “all the more reason for someone to take it on as a responsibility, yes? I’m sure they just don’t have the academic background to appreciate— The Baron’s Rake, with Full Folio Illustrations— all right, perhaps not the best example. But that’s why they need a curator.

***

Ailee!

<Oh, of all the luck!> She holds the scarf and lets you start picking at the sticky ice treats. <I’m still getting used to being down an arm. Can’t go on barn duty down here.> Makes sense. Back home, she’d be rotated to a position where she could help her family out while getting used to her new limits. Did she lose it on this most recent delve? How long’s it been gone?

Then she focuses on you properly and she shifts slightly; the surprise of being addressed properly has faded, and she’s put her face back on. <My runners,> she says, noncommittally. <What’s a girl like you doing in the [Dark Carnival] anyway?>

Makes sense. There are shapeshifters and angels and all sorts of things down here. You should have been more suspicious, too! What if she was a Chameleon luring you in with her amazing skin control? But there’s not that telltale haze, you’re probably safe on that one.

Still. Her eyes are sharp as awls and she’s doing her best to not let anything pass until she’s got a read on you. So don’t embarrass yourself.

***

Jackdaw!

And your arm is pulled into the mirror.

It’s cool to the touch. Feels like water, but not quite the right consistency. More resistance than air. Is it breathable? Good question. The grip is pretty inexorable, and the only reason you’re not all the way in is because Wolf has your coat by the collar, but let’s be real— she’ll let go if she’s worried she’ll get pulled in with you.

And the face that’s pushed her way out of the mirror’s surface is smirking. She’s got names— very old names— painted onto her fur, this Jackdaw does. Names that make your eyes water even looking at them. The air’s hot this close to them; if she wanted, she could probably set you on fire. She’s wearing the robes of an Archwizard and a tiara set with a heart-ruby, the light within throbbing in time with her breath.

She speaks a NAME that scorches the air and sets your shoulder on fire, and your clothes begin writhing and pulling tighter around you as she invokes The Garment-Queen, spinner of the clothes of the gods.

This Jackdaw sure is a real go-getter who knows what she wants! And what she wants is you, in a straitjacket of your own coat and gagged by your own scarf, stuck in the mirror in her place. And she’s Ailee-tier, if not... even higher?

This is probably not good. Overcome her, or else she’ll trap you in the mirror!

***

Coleman!

A classic stand-off, baby train vs. gun-tongue. Then the Blemmyae relents, and takes a step back.

“Undo what has been done, Child Coleman. Return my pod to me and I shall give you your life.”

Easier said than done. You don’t even know if Black Coleman is here! Using only the resources at hand, including the vastness of the Dark Carnival, how do you intend to close off this temporal paradox?
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"Hrrm." Lucien hrrms, picking up the Heraclytes. He munches his prized fried pickles happily. "I always liked Heraclytes. There's a later collection where I was asked to write a foreword, actually. This one's far too old to have it. A man's character is his fate. That one always stays with me. Or, uh, what was it?" He pretends he's trying to remember the quote that has been burning in his mind the second he saw this book lying open in this puddle of damp paper and crumbling ink. "A man can never step into the same river twice, for it is never the same river, and he is never the same man."

He shakes his head. "I don't think you'll be able to keep the knowledge you want, because the 'you' that comes out will no longer want it. And I know you know this. So why are you really doing this? What are you really doing, here?"

Lucien wades through the pile, trying to find something of real value. Something disguised as fiction, maybe. The most powerful truths always hide behind a mask... and sometimes, greasepaint, he supposes.

[5, 5, +2 = 12 on Sense to look through the books for something particularly valuable.
There isn't a really good like, move for this, but I wanted to reflect just how random the Book Pit had to be]
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Do not fear deception, fear revelation. the words of Judgement ran through the back of her head. If one poses to you as a friend entrap them within that lie and suffocate what lies beneath. Then you will have a friend forever.

Ailee flicked her tail and slapped one of the smouldering glyphs dyed into her shoulder fur where it had begun to glow hot and painful. This close to the Heart...

<I'm on my way to the Heart,> she said. She didn't feel like being evasive with the thought of having her lies hammered into her soul fresh in her mind. <And honestly, if I make it back from there with even one arm I'll consider it lucky. So... I thought I'd at least see what all the fuss was about with the carnival.>
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Well, the simple answer to that is solemnly resolve that, in the future, he won't burn down any pods of Blemmyae. A butterfly flaps its wings, tornadoes happen elsewhere, problem solved!

Somehow, he doesn't imagine that this particular Blemmyae will be satisfied with that.

The complex-but-easiest answer is to wait for Black Coleman to show his face. Potential problems is that he might not be here, but the odds of that were fairly slim. But even if he were to negotiate with himself, there's no guarantee that this Black Coleman is one who comes before the tribe got wiped out. Spilt milk and all that, though it's a strange term to apply to genocide.

The simple-but-no-no-please-no answer is to delve to the center of the carnival--brave the midway, pay homage on the Jet Coaster, breathe deep the toxic fumes of the elephant ears until they practically glow with festivity... and ask the Ringmaster for help.

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The word is lucky.

Whether motivated by what havoc her double may wreak if set free, an instinct to preserve her own life, or blind panic at pain and asphyxiation, Jackdaw fights back. Or, no, not quite fights. She can’t fight...she can’t fight this. No, she flails. She tosses her limbs about with reckless abandon, a total disregard for form or strategy, and in the chaos a foot catches her double square in the chest.

The reflection sputters, a name dying on their lips as the wind is knocked from their lungs. Without thinking, their grip loosens. Just for a moment.

Wolf pounces, surging forward in a river of lean muscle and adrenaline, dragging a startled fox in her wake. Direction? Destination? The strangled coughs of her passenger? All ignored. She was wholly devoted to the task of putting as much distance between themselves and the mirror, and all the rest would have to wait.

Jackdaw skids along the ground, curled up in a ball away, away from the cruel mirrors. Burned and gasping and eyes shut tight against the world, because maybe if she couldn’t see any of it, it might not be real. It wasn’t her best idea, but then again, she’d not had many good ones lately.

None of the three would notice the patch missing from Jackdaw’s sleeve, still fluttering in the mirror.

Not yet, anyway.

[That’s a 7 on Overcome, choosing a temporary solution.]
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