Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Lucien!

Oh. Well. Hello. If it isn’t A Victory of Crows. Safely bound in three delicate silver chains— no, two. One’s been broken. It’s thick, green-black, and the pages are wavy as if water-logged. It fair thrums under your fingertips.

It’s a collector’s item. It’s a world. It’s a beachhead. If you open it, Crowhame will begin to flood out: thorns and briars and thick black trees, black streams and black vines and stark white stones standing in formation. There are three colors in Crowhame: black, and white, and red. There are many gods in Crowhame: The Flayed, with the hagstones clattering from his open ribcage; The Keeper, with the rubies set in the sockets of her long-beaked skull; The Long, undulating white on black and red, so large you can never see both head and tail; The Wheel, scarred yet inexorable in its turning. The last recorded opening of the book was ended by Smith Major, who marched inside with sword and torch and an entire company of doomed freeswords, who succeeded in closing the book from the inside.

Caution would tell you that leaving the book with the clowns is probably the safest thing you could do with it, both because they’d never bother to open it and could punch their way to closing the book again. But sell this to someone with more money and pride than sense and you could retire the... twelfth richest man in the world, maybe.

***

Ailee!

<Mostly? The clowns won’t try to kill you if you treat them like a bear.> That is to say: given respect and a wide berth. <Which is more than I can say for most of the things around here. Like the tribe of wild bats I ran into while chasing> First Metonymy <on the Forest’s outskirts. They nearly cooked me as first course in a warding festival! Not how I lost the arm, though, don’t worry. So there I was, and I wake up hanging upside down from my ankle, and my first thought is that the walls have grown mouths again, or at least tongues...>

You’re walking, now, and she’s quietly leading you deeper in, pretty casually. Do you notice?

***

Coleman!

Oh, here comes a familiar face! It’s gaunt, scrawny wolf, and she’s carrying... a tarp? Some circus supplies? Some— oh, no, that’s Jackdaw. Easy mistake to make. Aaaaaand it looks like she’s had a bad time already, given how she’s clinging to Wolf’s neck.

Oh, you know what would be a great idea? You should buy some time to think about what you should do. And you should buy that time by taking both the Blemmyae and the quivering pile of Jackdaw to one of the safer circus attractions to relax.

Are you feeling the Aquarium more, or the Delightful Hedge Maze more?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Lucien considers selling the book. Then he considers keeping it.

In the long run, which he chooses is moot; Both begin with taking the book with him now.

At the very least, this seems like a fantastic way to wreck the day of whatever manages to kill him, down here. That thought warms his heart.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Ailee is not accustomed to... nonfunctional social interactions. Conversation is to obtain information or issue instructions, something where the relevant thinking is all done beforehand so that the relevant mouth noises can be performed as quickly as possible. Neither is she much for navigation - navigation is a thing for compasses, charts and maps, not any of this touchy-feely 'sense of direction' garbage.

So she is lulled by the conversation, compelled to absorb whatever information this familiar stranger is trying to tell her, nodding along in quiet attention, while failing to absorb any information regarding where she's going or how to find her way back.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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"Jackdaw!"

Wolf, stay. Give! Drop her! No, let him--dammit, give over--fine! You can help! Fine, yes, he's not strong enough to lift her on his own, so come with him!

Yes, yes, your pod, I remember, we'll deal with it, come on.

Aquarium is further away, yes. But it's also the more likely to have benches, and it's not until Jackdaw's sitting on one, food in hand and wrapped in a fresh blanket, that he stops fussing over her.

"Come on. Take your time, Jackdaw, small bites, that's it. But when you feel up to it, I want a name of the person who did this to you."
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The word is scrutiny.

She doesn’t meet his eyes. Hasn’t, not once, since they came here. Wrapped in her blanket, Wolf hovering protectively over her shoulder, she presented as little as possible; two paws emerging from a tangled heap of fabric, and the barest hint of a snout peeking from beneath a pulled-up hood. He can’t even see her bite her lip, pained, as she nodded. “S-sure. Yeah.” Her voice emerged just long enough to get the words in, before darting back into the dark and silence.

Of course it was him. It wouldn’t have been Ailee, or Lucien, or a particularly soft pit she could fall into for the rest of her life. It’d be Coleman she’d find first. Otherwise it might be fair, for once. She wouldn’t have to let him carry her worthless hide one more time. She wouldn’t have to hear her name in that voice of his; deep enough to hold any problem, and warm enough for the rest of you. But no. She didn’t get fair. She got to taste all the wonderful joy a good friend had to offer, before he took it away forever. One more time, so it’d be _fresh_ when he found out.

Jackdaw weighed the fried monstrosity in her hand, and all the better foxes who wouldn’t put such filth in their mouths.

Small bites. Small bites.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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slap slap slap pittapap slap.

The mime falls on his white face and grovels expressively, shoulders heaving silently in the smoky gloom.

“Well now, brother,” comes the rich, low voice. No, not low: subterranean. “What’s got you all up and in a twist, then?”

The hot coal eyes watch the mime-art close. Lips curl up into an amused smile, baring yellowed fangs.

Well, now. Don’t you worry yourself, brother. Good of you to bring word, and you’re right, you got the learning in your head. That’s a sin, you know— letting the mirrors out but not taking their place. Two guests on one ticket? Can’t have that. Can’t have that.

Fingers thick as sausages close around a cane. It is a cane in the same way that Excalibur is a sword; it is huge and black and capped with a gilded skull.

“But it’s a miracle, too,” the Ringmaster says, and his bulk in the gloom may as well be a mountain. “It’s been too long since we had ourselves a proper holler. You’re all letting yourselves go to rust. And I ask you: are we called to be tame? No, I say; and no, I’ll tell you again. We’re called to the Blood! And it weren’t never made to lie in idleness...

***

Ailee!

First comes the wind. It rattles the lights and snaps the lines back and forth. It groans as it snatches up hats and wigs, and with it blowing at your back, every step is light and close to losing control.

Then, behind the two of you, the shrieks begin, and the hammering sound of rain. She takes your hand in hers and together you bolt, the deluge barely missing the tips of your tails as you stumble into—

Well. She’s a Bookhunter. Of course she’s still on the hustle. Because the two of you have made it to the sorriest pile of books you’ve seen since that time Jackdaw got into the artisanal coffee. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s Lucien and the Professor. Because that’s totally what you wanted: their company, while your new bestie (and what’s even her name, you didn’t think to ask) tries casually to take a look around without looking like she’s looking around.

“Ah, Ailee,” the Professor says. “Come to sift through the wisdom of bygone eras?”

***

Coleman!

“Mirrors,” Wolf says, and gives Jackdaw a pat of halting, worried affection, as if she’s trying to convince herself that the fox won’t just be a drain on the few rations she could scrape together in Wormwood. “Dangerous mirrors.”

“The House of Mirrors is a sacred place,” the Blemmyae says. He holds a Ringmaster-sized tub of popped and buttered corn to one side of his body and shovels another handful into his navel-mouth. “Not holy. Distinct words. Dedicated, set apart. I do not know what it is dedicated to. I pray never to find out.”

The aquarium is full of dark glass and bright fish, most of which are orange-and-white. They flit playfully in and out of huge tangled anemone-forests, and behind and beyond them are vast things that should not fit in a circus sideshow.

There’s also a stingray of some sort clinging to the glass. It’s got a smiley face! And fangs!
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Thanqol
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Ailee looks at the book pile with deep suspicion. She's not touching that. That's got mold. That's unhygienic.

And besides, she's never given a single damn about first editions or figured out why some people go ga-ga for them. What a worthless hobby! You're getting the same book but with extra typographical errors, and often with the unspoken assumption that you'll never actually wind up reading it. And a shelf full of lovingly maintained first editions provokes the same suspicion that this heap of moldering antiques in a stack do: this isn't for people who like reading. To go digging through this heap of trash for buried treasure is the act of a treasure hunter, not the act of someone who loves books.

There exists a middle ground. There exist bookshops where everything is dry and musty and just faintly yellowed, books with broken spines held together by tape, books where some sociopath might have written commentary in the margins, books that you might pick up to find a hidden letter drop out of. And even then none of that stuff is necessary, or even desirable in and of itself - they're just side effects. What makes a book valuable is the story inside of it, and any physical damage to the work itself is only valuable insofar as it means that someone loved the story so much that they tore apart the physical container trying to get more of it, trying to live it one more time. If the story was somehow detached from paper and placed in a realm where a little number incremented by one every time somebody looked at it that would communicate that same sense of love.

But she doesn't say any of that. She doesn't even let out an acidic quip at the professor, even though she's got an audience. She... knows she probably won't have time for any more books, and she's going to have to go to the Heart with the stories she knows already.

"No," she said. "I just wanted to be dry."

But did she? Her eyes turn towards the doorway and it seems like the rain is calling to her. Melancholy swims uphill against emotions fixed in tattoo-fire, but she flexes her mind and tidies it all away. Then she glances at her new friend. "If you need to fight these guys, I can probably take the guy in the hawaiian shirt."
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Balmas
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"That's just what we need right now," he murmurs. "With any luck, your mirror clone will fight with my future self and we can solve both problems at once."

No, no. That's not fair to Jackdaw. He sighs, a long, frustrated exhale through pinched lips before leaning in to hug her.

"Then again, they could also join forces. Friends through time and the looking glass, eh?"

He's gentle when he takes Wolf's hand into his own. "Thank you, Wolf. Thank you for saving my friend." But he has to be extra gentle for this next step. "Jackdaw, what's the last thing you remember?

If there's a mirror clone out there, he wants to be darn sure this isn't it.
Hidden 1 mo ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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The lump of fox shrank even smaller in Coleman’s arms.

“Um. If you’re talking...before, that is,” she shuffled in search of a comfortable position that constantly eluded her. “Wolf and I went off alone. We’d been, mostly she’d been, having some snacks before that. All of us got here earlier today?” Was that the right answer? Was that at all helpful? For anything? “I-I’ll be fine here, you were in the middle of something, it’s, it doesn’t, please, I don’t want to keep you longer...”
Hidden 1 mo ago 1 mo ago Post by Count Numbers
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Ominous! And here Lucien is, at the right place with the wrong book, he suspects. He keeps it tucked under one arm, and continues sifting through the pile for anything good. The Heraclitus, for instance. Hides A Victory of Crows in the pile he's making. Plausible deniability that he was trying to hide it, if it comes up.

And- Good heavens, someone put Cioran under "self-help"?! These clowns do have a sense of humour after all. Definitely taking those.

He quite likes Ailee, but he doesn't... Does he trust her? He does, but he feels like he shouldn't right now, and he trusts that feeling more. He definitely doesn't know how he feels about the newcomer, yet.

"Oh, you don't want to do that." Lucien says cheerfully, matter-of-factly. "First you'd hit me, then you'd miss me, so it goes."

And is that- Ailee just suppressed a bitter rant. He saw the Look. Ailee also didn't immediately hassle the professor, upon seeing him next to this miserable pit that puts the lie to everything he believes. Ailee is seeing Pagliacci in what might be his lowest moment, and she instead chooses to rib Lucien about his shirt?

It is decided. Ailee cannot be trusted right now because she has a crush. Does she realize, yet?

Stars above.

Lucien keeps his books tucked under one arm, keeping the spines facing away from the arriving pair. He considers going for a handshake, but decides... no. He snaps his heels together and gives his swoopiest courtier bow, dancing on the razor's edge between sarcastic and sincere - neither one nor the other. He rakes his hair back with his free hand as he straightens - but never too straight, eh?

"Hullo. Lucien Roue, charmed. If you can find anything worth a damn in this paper-puddle, you've a keener eye than I. I'll have the pleasure of adding 'myself included' before the delightful Ms Sundish gets another jab in. Our mutual here," this field intentionally left blank, "the Professor was just... you know, I'm not actually sure?"
Hidden 30 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Coleman! Jackdaw!

Wolf makes an annoyed snuffle. “Not mirror,” she points out. “Mirror was... it was... unique. Distinct. That’s it. Distinct.” She gives Coleman a flat glare and then awkwardly pats the bundle of quivering fox. “You’d tell,” she says, and then clams up again, having presumably used all of her words for now. But she keeps patting fox and being present. A skinny, traumatized rock for foxes to cling to.

“I must confess some curiosity,” the Blemmyae says, turning to look at Jackdaw (a movement of his entire torso). “What, precisely, brought this one down here? She’s not one of the Vermissian’s folk, and she seems constitutionally unfit for the environs of the Heart.” A gleam enters his dark nipple-eyes. “Now, if she has some pressing business... perhaps I could augment her, for a fair price.”

***

Ailee! Lucien!

“Surma,” the one-armed mouse says, by way of introduction. “And hopefully we won’t have to fight at all. It’s like, who’d come to a carnival just to get their hands on clown books?” But Ailee notices her tensing up, and she’s definitely sizing up Lucien and the Professor.

The sound of the rain on the canvas is becoming almost deafening. There must have been a sudden storm rolling in. The lanterns hanging from the top of the tent start swaying, casting shadows this way and that as Surma approaches the pile of books.

“Find anything interesting?” she asks, with a surprising amount of menace for how terribly small she is.

A crack of thunder almost drowns out the rain— and Jackdaw enters the tent. She’s had a carnival makeover and is under the influence of another name she’s picked up, thus the glowing spray-paint tattoos and the uncharacteristic confidence. Everybody say hi, Jackdaw. Come to watch Ailee’s crush beat up Lucien?
Hidden 28 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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In a Quiet Aquarium

Jackdaw rose to her feet, unsteady. She might’ve even managed to look insulted, if she hadn’t taken the entire bundle of blanket with her.

“Um. Sir? That’s...an offer, but...”

A pair of weary eyes stared out from the tangle.

“But I don’t think you can add what I’m missing.”

She looked, questioning, back and forth to Wolf and a hallway leading deeper into the inky depths of the aquarium. Her budget of words hadn’t run out, but she had none she could spend here.

***

In the Middle of a Storm

“The word is irony.”

The rain, the thunder, for all their practice they did not possess mastery of their old voices, and so, they deferred to her, fading respectfully into the background.

“A state of affairs, or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects, and is often amusing as a result.”

With each step closer to the pit, light swirled lazily from ink to ink. Power danced in the air as easily as a bored student twirling a pencil between their fingers.

“Also, a literary technique, originally used in tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader, although unknown to the character.”

She stopped, ten paces from the two mice. The markings on her face glowed a sickly green, hurling shadows across her too-sweet grin.

“Oh Leelee?~”

One step to cross the distance. One word to wrap that emerald coat tight around Ailee’s throat. One step to drive an iron knee into her stomach.

“E-nun-cee-ate.”
Hidden 27 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Ailee is a creature of vice - this truth is tattooed into fur. But she's a creature of virtue too, and chief amongst hers is imagination. With sufficient imagination you can perform certain miracles of the mind. She'd always known that she was heading into peril, and had always known that she did not possess the physical ability to fight the horrors she might find in the Heart. So instead she'd spent long hours in contemplation of violence.

She genuinely hadn't known if it would be of any use at all; if she'd be up against an unstoppable wall of force before which mousy strength was worth nothing. But she had determined that the one thing she could not abide was freezing, flinching, or hesitating at the critical moment. She'd be so ashamed if she went out like that that she'd come back as a ghost just to scream at any family members who burned incense at her grave. And so, she'd contemplated. In the small hours of the night she'd piece by piece peeled back ideas of restraint, dignity and social conditioning. She'd flexed her fingers and felt her heartbeat rise and made the decision again and again. She'd imagined every unstoppable horror she could, each death she could, and resolved to meet them all the same way:

Biting.

She's hurting, she's breathless, she's untrained but 'evil Jackdaw' was absolutely on her concept list of nightmares she might encounter in the Heart so she's in no way surprised. She goes for her friend with feral aggression and she'll contemplate the emotions later.
Hidden 26 days ago Post by Count Numbers
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This has, unfortunately, left Lucien alone with Surma's attention while Ailee is biting ᴇᴠɪʟ ᴊᴀᴄᴋᴅᴀᴡ. Which is funny, because it was the second most likely matchup of this oeuvre he'd run the hypotheticals for - the first was good Jackdaw vs evil Ailee.

SWOT; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

The threat's the obvious one. Surma's terrifying. That she's down an arm only means she's survived something able to rip and tear it off - without the arm at the time. ᴊᴀᴄᴋᴅᴀᴡ is secondary.

So that leaves him with a gun that is useless as a weapon (W), and a friend that is only useful as one - (S), for now.

O: "Professor," Lucien draws the clown's attention to Surma, and neatly steps so that he is between Lucien and Surma, "I don't think this one's here for the Heraclitus."

Don't try for the gun. It signals an escalation you're just going to lose. Pull it out to get put down harder. Keep her talking. Keep-

[Talk Sense - Appeal to emotion, Wisdom, 4, 6, +2 = 12]

"Surma, a moratorium until the more overt threat is dealt with? A fight on two fronts kills us both - no room for doubting each other right now, let's both of us live long enough for you to kill me, if it comes to it? But for now, we are allies." He glances at Ailee to emphasize who is included in 'we'.

This isn't a mind game. This isn't a double bluff. Maybe if he was younger, and spryer, and there were less collateral damage. But he is none of those things, Ailee is in biting distance of the threat, and he doesn't even know if this is a scenario where Jackdaw has been turned evil, or a scenario where it's an evil clone!

He's scared that honesty works against him here. He's more practiced at manipulation, where he can afford an emotional distance. Anyone who believes sincerity really matters hasn't spent a day in a courthouse.

Ah, well. Aileea iacta est.
Hidden 23 days ago Post by Balmas
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"Tell me about Black Coleman."

It's not the first time that Coleman's lamented how everything is obviously built the wrong size. If there were any justice, he'd be able to stand in front of his friend, block the Blemmyae's line of sight, let it know in no uncertain terms that she's said no so it's time to let it go.

Instead, the best he can do is distract him. Keep his attention off Jackdaw, let Wolf hold her, keep her warm and safe. She's good at that.

"Tell me about what he did. Did he say anything when he attacked you? What did he look like? What has he done to my baby? How did he attack your clan? Did he give a reason?"
Hidden 21 days ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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In the Tent!

Outside is a sudden squalling storm, almost loud enough to drown out the ominous honks of the slowly constricting cordon of clowns. Anyone who dares exit the tent will be overwhelmed by the fury of rain and wind, a thousand tiny darts of icy pain. Inside? Inside is a howling catfight.

The worst part is that the Professor is teetering on the edge of giving into Clown Madness, watching Ailee and Jackdaw fight; if that happens, the already small tent will not be small enough, and everyone will be part of the fight whether they like it or not.

“It’s an evil twin situation, isn’t it?” Surma asks, pulling out bolas from her belt and giving them a spin. The bola heads are shaped like mouse skulls. “You get a sense for these things, you know. Don’t go running, and follow my lead.”

Then she tosses the bolas at Jackdaw’s legs— how does Jackdaw react?

***

In the Aquarium!

“The reason I bodied the pod is because they were contracted to our enemies,” Black Coleman says.

He should have an eyepatch. Or something. Black scales? He shouldn’t look just like Coleman in a battered conductor’s hat and stained jacket.

“I remember this,” he adds, pistol pressed against the back of the Blemmyae’s head. “Funny how the Carnival works, right? Of course, this was just after the destruction of Wormwood. The beginning of the end. Anyway, younger me, the pod was contracting work to the Constitutional and her crew, they refused to break their contract, and in the Vermissian Wars there’s no room for sentimentality.”

He looks you in the eye, Coleman, ignoring Wolf hugging Jackdaw tight to her body. “This Blemmyae made a heartworm seed. It nearly killed Sasha when fired into her third car. His sisters and brothers gave Red Zammie seed-guns and phlegm-cannons and sheets of living armor, and— you haven’t met her yet. But you will. God, what was it like, being you? Before we went down into the Heart and hatched Sasha into all this shit?”

His words are regretful, but his scaled finger is steady on the trigger. The Blemmyae grinds slablike teeth together in rage, huge fingers working as if to strangle an invisible Coleman, and in a moment he will attempt to square the circle of the temporal paradox by tearing Coleman Prime’s head off.
Hidden 20 days ago Post by Count Numbers
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The word is relief - Lucien's feeling sentimental.

'Follow my lead' means 'I have worked out you are useful, but inferior'. It means Surma probably hopes that Lucien is going to get himself killed doing something relevant, and her problem will fix itself thereby. He won't, but as long as she thinks that, she's an unquestioned ally.

And evil twin means this is not Jackdaw. This is ᴇᴠɪʟ ᴊᴀᴄᴋᴅᴀᴡ, which makes this so much simpler.

Still, she's Ailee's +1, those two can do a couple's waltz. Lucien's got to be the gentleman and dance with the one who brought him.

The bolas are in the air. Lucien's still touching the Professor's shoulders gingerly - first to help position him between himself and Surma, now so he can make a friendly shoulder squeeze, ground him in the moment.

"Hey, Professor, we've got plenty of clowns in the circus right now if we need one," Lucien is the angel on his shoulder, reason to madness, "but not many brilliant academics. I need you to tell me everything you know about what that ᴊᴀᴄᴋᴅᴀᴡ is, and keep talking. You said you could be a repository of knowledge here, right? Prove it."

The information he gets out the Professor might be useful, it might not be. What's important is that he's now put the Professor's pride in the way of the Clown Madness. Pride enough to rival Ailee's.

[Talk Sense - Appeal to emotion, Wisdom, 5, 2, +2 = 9 - he does as I ask, but I owe him.]
Hidden 20 days ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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At the Aquarium!

“Um. Excuse me?”

Jackdaw’s quavering voice stepped between the three of them, and instantly regretted its life choices.

“I, yes, I know, I’m interrupting, but, there’s not also another Ailee and Lucien running around, is there?”

She gulped. Just a gulp! How was it the loudest noise in the entire room?!

“We, kind of have a lot going on already today, see...”

*******************************

At the Tent!

“Ugh. This is just typical, Ailee.” Jackdaw sighed, shaking her arm furiously to try and dislodge a frustratingly determined mouse. “The first time we’ve seen each other in ages, and you go and spoil the moment. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we weren’t even friends anymore.”

“Oh! Wait!” She smacked her forehead. “I do know better!”

The bolas whirled ‘round her ankles, tying tighter and tighter and stop. Frozen. Suspended in midair by a scowling Rebuke. “Tch. That makes one of us here who does.” The glyphs on her coat blazed to life, swirling around her fur before lifting away entirely to fill the air around her. Pages upon pages, books upon books, dreams upon dreams shed from her body, and still the Names that filled the tent could be counted on one hand. With fingers to spare.

“I got you a present, Leelee! Be a good girl now, and share with the class!”

And the word was regret.

A million million familiar whispers flooded the tent; rust-red, hungering, and more than enough to drown two mice.

Enjoy!
Hidden 18 days ago Post by Thanqol
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Regret. You bitch.

It's the most worthless and impractical Word you could have hit her with. It doesn't slow her down at all - in fact, she comes at you harder and faster than before, ablaze with the glyph of Wrath. She flights and she claws and she burns and she is not slowed down at all.

Ailee Sundish, after all, has a lot of experience with fighting on through regret.

No Word could have done less to slow her down. No Word could have done more to hurt her. Every pain that she was keeping just out of focus is now in agonizing razor clarity. The life she threw away tears at her like a ghost. All of the things she sacrificed to reach the Heart weigh around her neck like anchors.

But fuck them and fuck you. Even if she can't inflict this pain on you she'll make sure you learn that this was a fucking mistake.

The Archmage burns, and the Archmage drowns.

[Keep EVIL JACKDAW busy: 9; consequences are deferred but not denied]
Hidden 16 days ago 16 days ago Post by Balmas
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It would almost be better if Black Coleman weren't so mundane.

Give a man an eyepatch, a pegleg, and it's so simple to build a story to fit him. This is a pirate, surely! A blackhearted terror of the rails, pillager of the defenseless, cannibal of lesser trains! You can tell yourself that this is but a twisted shadow of what might be, an impossibility made real through some quirk of the Heart. It's not you, not really.

But those eyes... they're the same eyes he sees every day in Sasha's gleaming mirror-polished surface. This isn't some cackling villain, some nightmare mirror-version. This isn't a madman, somone who's lost his soul. He looks in those eyes and sees, behind the coldness and the determination, the regret hiding there. This is a Coleman who knows what he's done, what he's become, and would do it again. He made choices with the knowledge he had. To modify Sasha or hope that she'd be strong enough without Wormwood to protect her. To carry on, to build a family even despite the difficulties. To build a crew who loved her as much as he did. To join in the war, when all other options had been exhausted.

Gods. War amongst trains. As if things weren't bad enough without a thousand tiny gods deciding that, Right, it's time to show that shiny new up-and-comer down the rail exactly where they are in the pecking order.

Black Coleman isn't even that older than he is, he realizes with a start. No missing scales, no sagging crests or dulled claws. He's got more scars, and the bags under his eyes speak of many missed nights of sleep, but he can't be more than maybe five years into the future.

"You don't want to do this." Not a question, not pleading. Simply a statement of something they both know. "You didn't want to do most of the rest, either."

He's made decisions, yes. Necessary ones, difficult ones.

Maybe the wrong ones?

"Tell me what happened. Tell me how to stop this."

[EDIT: Talk Sense, 8]
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