Hidden 21 days 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 18 days ago 18 days 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 16 days 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 16 days 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 15 days 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 8 days 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 7 days 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 6 days 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 6 days 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?"
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