Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Then the tide recedes, and you realize that, for one reason or another, you're still alive. And you only seem to be missing a little bit of yourself. A memory or two, but you'll be run over before you can tell where the holes are.


Coleman is shaking inside, and doing the mental equivalent of patting your jacket to figure out where your wallet is. Something's missing, and that's the worst thing, is that he doesn't know what it is. There's got to be. Gotta be a way to figure out what she took, right? He can't just go through life not even remembering what he lost, right? He feels seen, and touched, and violated, and he's not even allowed to have enough time to mourn for whatever it is he's lost!

"Coleman! Good on you for not playing dumb pagan games!" she said, walking over. "Honestly, I see so many grad students selling their souls for so much less than they're worth. Like, have you heard of self respect!? Are we going down that way?"


And then there's this asshole.

"No, we're going to go down if we're not across before the Storm gets here. Grab some driftwood and start paddling."

There will be time to mourn later. Right now is the time for practical solutions, and getting a train across a lake.

"Actually. We probably should share them, too. I think. Between ourselves. Unless we give up our memories of each other, I think that's... that'd probably for the best." Seasick smile. "Might be fun?"


Oh, sure. Great idea. Bit late, but good idea.

No, no. That's not fair. You're allowed to be bitter, but you chose this. Don't get angry at teammates just because they have the luxury of deciding what they give up.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Raft Gang!

The thing about placid, still water is that it's horribly, horribly obvious when something breaches the surface for a moment. There's something in the water. And here you all are, halfway across, the Storm rumbling ominously in the distance, watching as fins and writhing tentacle-frills breach the water, coil after coil after coil following. Jackdaw: the word is pack. No, a swarm; that's what you call a group of eels. No, no, they're more sea serpents... but maybe they're very clever cephalopods, instead? You'd need a closer look to find the right word, and, unfortunately, it's looking like you're going to get one.

Is this the revenge of the Flood? Did she stir these eyeless things up from her depths? Or is this a depraved indifference, a decision not to lift a driftwood finger as the parasites in her waters seek to drag you down and devour your bones? And, when you get down to it, is there really a practical difference? The propulsion's clogging, and the waters all around you are writhing, and the boards Coleman put together are starting to buckle. Coleman: if you don't do something, and fast, you're going to be going down to meet the Flood a lot sooner than you'd like.

Then one makes a eight-foot vertical leap, clamps its jaws around Ailee, and begins to flop back into the water, lashing out with its toxic tentacle frill. Ailee: paralysis from exposure to toxins is certain within the next thirty seconds.

Lucien: things may be looking bad, but at least they can't come at you from all directions simultaneously, and they don't try to hamstring you while their friends try to peck your eyes out, so at least you're still doing better than if you'd tried to go into the Houses of Parliament.
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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[Overcome: 5, 6 +1: 12]

Scorched fragments of eel cascade down around Ailee like Jackdaw's last attempt to cook sushi. "You know, it's the darndest thing," said Ailee. "Petry Walzenheim attacked me with these exact same eels after I called the Lore of the Deeps trash magic for stupid babies." She raised a hand idly and a scorching daemon-fist snatched another eel out of the air, gripped it so hard the flames burned blue, and then genteely offered it up to Ailee who picked a piece up with chopsticks and ate it thoughtfully. "Didn't work out for her either," she clarified.

And, when you get down to it, is there really a practical difference?


Oh, there is a practical difference - this is why Ailee is the archmage and you're a shapeless voice asking poorly thought through rhetorical questions. See, if these are just natural animals following their instincts they'll obey even her off-the-cuff Words - but if they have been dispatched by a garbage elemental for the purpose of doing them harm she'll have to put a little more oomph into the magic.

So when Ailee declares the black word of WASTE with the sound of a burning dumpster in a desert, turning the water into a barren salt-flow as hostile to freshwater fish as the open air is, does she need to exert herself? Assuming it is so she will damage her Wisdom to power the magic.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Ailee was the first to laugh.

It was hard to figure out if they should, you see. A bunch of students (and one assistant who’d been roped into the trespassings) huddled together in a service tunnel, a hermetically-sealed door behind them standing firm against the perils of the Conservatory. Not a usual day for any of them! When they’d finally caught their breath, and realized they were still alive, what on earth were they to even do?

Laugh, as a matter of fact. And so they did, emptying their lungs just as soon as they could fill them, leaning on each other to keep themselves upright, going mad with the relief of a frantically salvaged perfectly executed scheme.

Jackdaw was the first to stop.

Her sharp ears picked out the low, bassy rumble, echoing through the tunnels, long before anyone else did. She understood what it was saying, before anyone knew it was speaking.

It’s not over yet.


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

Jackdaw was not going to get a closer look at these things, not with Ailee keeping them at bay, and handling them perfectly with no mistakes whatsoever. So instead of a closer look, Jackdaw took a wider look. Out, beyond the teeming waters and immediate peril. Because deep down? She feared the word wasn’t pack, or swarm, or even a fry. After what they'd just done, the Flood wouldn't use weak words like that.

She strained her eyes and ears, looking for the tell-tale signs of prelude.

[Rolling to Look Closely: 6 + 6 + 2 = 14! Anxious fox peepers are not to be underestimated.
-What is going on here? What do her senses tell her?
-Tell me about The Flood. What are they doing? What will they do next?
-What will happen if she gets in (or falls in) the water?]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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[Get Away - 3 + 4 + 1 = 8]
[I get there quietly, without drawing attention]

Lucien skulks to the jammed propulsion, leaving the lashing and feats of strength to the one lugging a train egg everywhere.

How much good can he do without having to go for a dip?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Is this the revenge of the Flood? Did she stir these eyeless things up from her depths? Or is this a depraved indifference, a decision not to lift a driftwood finger as the parasites in her waters seek to drag you down and devour your bones? And, when you get down to it, is there really a practical difference? The propulsion's clogging, and the waters all around you are writhing, and the boards Coleman put together are starting to buckle. Coleman: if you don't do something, and fast, you're going to be going down to meet the Flood a lot sooner than you'd like.


Look, he did not spend that long socializing with the locals to have his raft torn apart by garbage noodles. So while Lucien tackles the propulsion, he scampers up Sasha--with a quick, "pardon, ma'am," to Jackdaw--and fires up the boiler. Up til this point, he's prioritized a stable platform for her, but if the choice is rocking the boat a little or suddenly being boatless, it's an easy decision.

It's a question of friction, really. The driftwood he bargained for is nailed, screwed, and tied down, variously, and that's basically just different means of holding perpendiculars together. Now, Sasha groans and lays prone on the raft, reaches out all four limbs, and just squeezes the raft together. The cross beams are robust enough, and he chose square enough timbers, that the additional pressure should be enough to let it hold together.

[Overcome: 10.]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Jackdaw!

You once knew a professor who had a small and vicious Lorenz Beetle running around her office at shin height. She was the only person that hateful little thing didn’t resent and try to hamstring, and she always played off the gnawed boots and stockings as nothing to get worked up over. One fateful day, a student who had had quite enough of its wicked pincers lashed out and kicked it into a bookshelf.

The professor’s response quickly became the subject of hushed campus lessons, as regarded the utter hubris and folly of kicking the damned beetle.

The Flood was tranquil enough. It’s in her nature. (And her name! It must be a vast and wonderful secret. Perhaps, in her eternal loving embrace, there is a name you could ferret out of her...

But now Ailee has kicked the beetle. As the eels writhe and perish in the salt waters (what was she thinking, turning Her waters to salt??) there is a sudden swirling in the water. The Flood was content to leave the eels off a leash, but now she means to drag you all below—

But she must have time; and if your motor were not unclogged by Coleman, time she would have. As it stands... working together, he and Lucien should be able to keep it clear and running hot, propelling you out of the nascent whirlpool and off to the Tyrian Spire, and you should be able to sail in through that huge empty-paned window frame, which once shone over a ballroom, from the looks of it, each wall a different book, now half-drowned beneath the water—

And if you descend into this water, o Jackdaw, you will not be able to leave; not without a heroic surge of willpower, the kind Ailee might possess, or your friends bargaining for your return. Whatever you do, if you fall in, do not panic and try to swim back up; for all directions are Down when you are in the grip of the Flood.

Speaking of “in the grip of the Flood,” Lucien just fell off the boat.

[RL 4, making the Separation move.]

***

Lucien!

The good news is that the Flood hasn’t even noticed you falling overboard (after an unfortunate sway of the raft and a thrashing, dying eel slamming into you). This means that, huzzah, you’re not being dragged screaming beneath the water (which, splashed in your face, you realize tastes a little like tears— or is that from Ailee’s spell?). You’re clinging to a now-limp eel, the raft is getting further and further away, and one of your shoes is threatening to come off. Oh, and the forming whirlpool is already pulling you away from them actively, which, you know, is a wonderful cherry on top.

How are your kickboarding skills?

[A reminder that one must pay a price to act against the Flood directly. Yes, even to escape her. She will not be content with anything less.]

***

Coleman!

To be lost down there is to be swallowed by a selfish, all-consuming love unworthy of the name. By the time you look up, Lucien’s already been swept away.

You can try to put things into reverse, and expose yourselves to more danger (and certainly to finding out what’s actually down at the bottom of the Flood, and thus to likely losing your memories) or you can go full speed ahead and get Sasha, Jackdaw and technically Ailee clear.

***

Ailee!

This “god” is a sore loser. This is just like the time you kicked that dumb beetle.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Emerald fire blazes around Ailee as she dives from the edge of the train, cosmic eyes opening around her dripping greens in yellow and blue - wings of nightmare. There's absolutely zero hesitation in her actions and intentions: she's going back for Lucien. She drags him unceremoniously and with enormous effort out of the sludge into the air - she's fit but she's not strong, and supporting the burly human is almost more than she can manage. She doesn't know if she'll be able to catch up with the train like this.

"You do not die!" she yelled at Lucien. "You do not die until I tell you to die! You especially don't die to backwater slime monsters! Do you have any idea how embarrassing it would be for me if you died here!?"
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Coleman!

To be lost down there is to be swallowed by a selfish, all-consuming love unworthy of the name. By the time you look up, Lucien’s already been swept away.

You can try to put things into reverse, and expose yourselves to more danger (and certainly to finding out what’s actually down at the bottom of the Flood, and thus to likely losing your memories) or you can go full speed ahead and get Sasha, Jackdaw and technically Ailee clear.


That's... unfortunate. Coleman winces and wishes Lucien well, but it doesn't stop him from feeding more coal into Sasha and revving the engine. There's a time and place for everything, and "on a boat on the Flood with eels running from the Storm" is appropriate for basically none of his personal occasions.

There will be time to go back, he tells himself, once it's not four people risking their lives to save one.

"You do not die!" she yelled at Lucien. "You do not die until I tell you to die! You especially don't die to backwater slime monsters! Do you have any idea how embarrassing it would be for me if you died here!?"


...Three. Three people, to save two. Math looking somewhat more tenuous on that one. Jackdaw, please make the sensible choice here? You like the train, right? You enjoy curling up on a smokestack with a good book?
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Kickboarding? If I might draw our humble narrator's attention back in time;

[Lucien starts knotting a rescue line to the raft, looking for some driftwood for the other end of it.]

[This may or may not have been the reason I volunteered to be the one that took the job that risked falling into the drink in the first place. Meant to double-confirm being tied to it in the last post, but it got cut for brevity.]

"Love the enthusiasm, Ailee, but you could just pull the bloody rope!"

EDIT:
[A reminder that one must pay a price to act against the Flood directly. Yes, even to escape her. She will not be content with anything less.]

Lucien kicks his shoes off, if the Flood's so eager to take them. They're very nice shoes, that came paired with the shirt and a jacket long since shredded by owls. They will be impossible to replace. This is a Huge Bummer.
Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Too fast! Too fast! Everything happened far too fast. By the time she was done looking and listening, Lucien was in the water, then Ailee was almost in the water, now nobody’s in the water, but the boat’s not moving fast enough, it won’t get moving until Lucien gets back, but Ailee’s too slow, and she’s no good, and, and…

...Three. Three people, to save two. Math looking somewhat more tenuous on that one. Jackdaw, please make the sensible choice here? You like the train, right? You enjoy curling up on a smokestack with a good book?


Oh, Coleman. It’s one look in her eyes and you know she’s going anywhere but sensible.

“Keep Sasha going!” Jackdaw shouted, making a run for the water. “And...and...sorry!”

But Jackdaw did not jump in. Oh no. She was much too foolish a fox for that. She slid to a stop on the edge of the raft, pulled herself up tall - and immediately hunched back down a few inches - and called out.

“Flood! I come to you with that which you do not own, and which you shall never have if you take us!”

[Rolling to Keep the Flood Busy: 2 + 6 + 1 = 9]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Jackdaw!

Everything goes still. Well, almost; the whirlpool’s still churning, but almost lazily. It’s child’s play for Ailee to lift Lucien up and start bringing him over to the raft.

But you know the price, right? Everything’s going to go bad if you choke, or if you offer an insult. She’ll rage and drag you down, thrice insulted, in a towering fury.

Make your sacrifice, make your offering, and I promise you: Ailee and Lucien will make it to the raft, and Coleman will be able to dock at the Tyrian Spire, and you’ll all survive. You just need to make good.

***

Lucien!

Farewell, faithful shoes! Far you came, into a dark and wild place, and now you will rest, beloved, in the grasp of a watery tart forever. What is the benediction of the faithful accessory, gone for good?

***

Ailee!

From here you can get a better look at your goal, the Tyrian Spire. Once, it may have been a glory in red marble and mottled white, its interior walls lined with more books than you could ever read in one lifetime. Coleman says that in the basement should be a way to get down deeper into the Heart...

But that’s going to mean spelunking in the drowned levels, isn’t it? Uuuuugh. And what’s worse, you see, from high up in the tower, through a broken window, a delicate trail of smoke. It’s not abandoned.

***

Coleman!

The raft shudders, but you’re holding her true. Sasha, on the other hand, is starting to get agitated. Bad agitated. You’re not in her to settle her down with a stroke of your claws over her curves or a twist of a spigot to release gas. What’s your surefire way of calming her down in situations like this?
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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In situations like this?

The trains must run.

That is always the simplest way to calm down a train. You point it in a direction, build up its steam, and let it burn itself out. Trains are creatures of motion, of energy pent-up and tamed and forced into pistons. If you're not there inside them to calm them down, if you're not willing to sit with them and calm them down and help them understand that no, running heedlessly ahead isn't the best plan, if you don't have an engineer listening to their needs and a knight to clear the way, the train will run regardless.

Of course, that's the simplest way, and ignores that running more than about ten feet in any direction right now has a rather precipitous drop-off.

But that's actually the key right now. Sasha is stressed, wants to move, wants to run, wants to be free, and she's pinned down holding the raft together and being forced to sit still with a belly full of steam. If she's not given a direction, she'll pick her own.

So, that means he's got to pick one for her. Give her a direction.

And that means that part of the raft has to go. She's pinning the raft together, but if... Hmm. The logistics of this one are a bit hard, because cutting any part of the raft off means that the train's off-center, but he should be able to jury rig Sasha a bit closer to the edge, let her legs dangle a bit in the water, and Sir Hatt as his witness, he's going to teach a train to dog-paddle.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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What is the benediction of the faithful accessory, gone for good?


"For want of a sail, the shoe was lost... Chin up, old horse."
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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"For want of a sail, the shoe was lost... Chin up, old horse."


"You look like I kicked your stupid beetle," observed Ailee. There's no followup. No comforting words, no condolences. She just drops you unceremoniously on the deck, ended her conflagration of arcane energies, and immediately started doing cooldown stretches and breathing exercises. Urgh! People are heavy!

It must be emphasized again that Ailee is not annoyed at the idea of having to get wet, or cramped, or exhausted, so the idea of going spelunking does not impact her in the slightest. On the contrary, she's almost looking forward to it - nothing worth doing ever got done without hard work after all. The vice mouse has many horrible cosmic flaws bound to her soul, but sloth is not one of them. "You reckon you can fit your train down there?" she asked Coleman - an innocent might read that as idle concern, the wise would recognize the implicit question of 'do you need me to blow up that tower?'
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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"You look like I kicked your stupid beetle," observed Ailee. There's no followup. No comforting words, no condolences. She just drops you unceremoniously on the deck, ended her conflagration of arcane energies, and immediately started doing cooldown stretches and breathing exercises. Urgh! People are heavy!


Here is the thing about good shoes, proper dress shoes. Your feet will blister for the first few days you wear them. They are merciless. But it's like raising a puppy into a loyal dog. Your bond with them forms during the teething period. Nothing else quite like them after that. Twice a week, a proper polishing. You labour and fuss over them, because you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. You look after your shoes, and they'll look after you. You can't invest so much into something without having some pretty powerful emotional attachments to them.

Here's the thing about Lucien's shoes; They were probably the last pair of good, proper dress shoes he'll own in his life.

He is very mopey right now. He is pouting. There is an ache in his very sole.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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No pressure, right?

It’s funny, though. There should be pressure here. Their journey, their quests, their lives, all of it’s riding on her, and a conversation with a god. But, in the moment? Right here and now? She’s just a fox, on a raft, floating in the middle of an abyss, having a talk with her reflection. No eyes on her. Nobody talking back. Just her. And her.

Jackdaw took a deep breath. She pictured...well, it’s a little silly to admit, but she pictured her stories. The ones she’d carried within her for years, ever since she first heard them. Tales of daring, clever heroes, enduring incredible trials, facing impossible odds, and never ever being at a loss for words. She thought about what one of them would say if they were here, right now.

And - in the company of herself - the voice of another spilled forth.

“I read about you, you know.” She whispered to the waters. “Back in town. I read of you. I read of your eyes for the lonely, and your arms for the loveless. I read of a love that never ran dry, and a heart that never let go. It was...it was beautiful. I haven’t been able to get it, to get you out of my mind since.” She clutched her chest. Oh, how it ached, even now. “I didn’t understand why, at first. But now? Now I think I see what I was missing.”

She reached a paw out over the water. Slowly, haltingly, willing herself to just keep the trembling to a minimum? For a moment, please?!

“Your body is not your own. You make it of the things that you’ve taken. And you take in everything you can, everything that stirs a feeling in your heart, but it’s never enough. You have to have more. It’s been this way for so long, you...you don’t ever think that the next one will satisfy you. You just know that it won’t. You are lonely. You are empty. And...

“...you are me.”

She rested her paw on the surface, rested it on her own reflection.

“If you take us, if you drown me, you won’t ever be able to speak with me again. But if you let us go...then we may speak a while, and when we next meet, we may speak again. And again. And again. A lifetime of happy meetings. That’s what I offer you.”

A pause. A silence. An uncomfortable silence, that reminded her she was less alone than she pretended.

“I...the only name I have is Jackdaw. What’s yours?”

[Rolling to Talk Sense with Wisdom: 1 + 6 - 1 = 6]
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Jackdaw!

in the great grey room
there was a train engine
and a green ribbon
and a picture of--
the academy tower at dusk
and there were disappointments sitting on chairs
and two drifting kittens
and a pair of mistakes
and a little toy house
and a brash little mouse
and your parents' expectations for your life
and a quiet old name who was whispering: "hush"

goodnight room
goodnight moon
goodnight academy tower
goodnight light
and the green ribbon
goodnight disappointments
goodnight chairs
goodnight kittens
and goodnight mistakes
goodnight little house
and goodnight mouse
goodnight parents
and goodnight expectations

goodnight nobody

goodnight life

and goodnight to the name who is whispering: "hush"

goodnight stars
goodnight air

goodnight sorrows everywhere


***

Team Heart!

Sasha bellows her happiness with a toot of her horn and surges up onto the makeshift pier that once was a landing on the great ballroom stairs. Books tremble beneath her, but she's up and at 'em! Congratulations, all of you successfully made it: Coleman, Sasha, Lucien and Ailee! Now's the time to cheer!

...

Hold up.

Jackdaw is back out in the water, and she's floating. She's floating face-down. Did she fall out? Is she the price that the Flood demands? Questions swirl about, but the fact of it is: Jackdaw's out there, and her coat should be dragging her down, but she's floating almost peacefully.

Taking from the Flood, again, will doom you to disaster. The reasonable thing, the sane thing to do is to leave Jackdaw to float and bob until she slips silently beneath the water. That's how you survive in the Heart. Take her back, and there will be disaster; there will be a reckoning; all that you have done thus far will be child's play.

And you will all be, just a little bit, more like creatures that can survive in the Heart.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Lucien twitches towards Jackdaw to drag her out, but he stops.

Sharp and fast, he talks as he rips off his soaked socks and shoves them into his sodden pockets; "This is just a body; Jackdaw might not be in it anymore. If we need to negotiate for the rest of her, grabbing the body might kill that chance very quick, and probably us, for nothing. Work it out, I'll give up almost anything. If I'm not back in sixty seconds, go a different direction than I did."

Ailee can look after herself and everyone else. Coleman's the best suited to negotiate with the watery tart. Lucien's off to be a professional coward for a hot moment.

[Roll: 4, 5 +2 = 11 for Look Closely. I'm expecting to use the whole minute, unless something else cuts it short.]

Lucien runs up the stairs barefoot, checking every avenue he can, for danger, for escape, for pathways to take that will slow the Flood down. We just landed here, and if we're snatching Jackdaw, we can not afford running into a blind alley. There are people here. Would they help us, or would they fight us back to the Flood to keep themselves safe?

What is going on here? What do my senses tell me?
Is something hidden or out of place? If so, what looks suspicious?
The Tyrian Spire isn't abandoned, there's smoke. Tell me about the signs of life I see here. What are they doing? What will they do next?


Might be nice to talk to the locals before they meet Ailee this time.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Balmas
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The second--the very instant second they're out of the water, Coleman is comforting Sasha. Is she the best train in the world? Absolutely! Is she going to get aaaall the coal tonight? Yes she is! Oooh, look at that steam whistle blow, she knows her name! Oooh, she's adorable! Lucien, come on, get in here! Rub that boiler, feel how she purrs at you? Come on, she likes it!

Really? Not gonna get in on this action?

Fine. Be like that.

And you will all be, just a little bit, more like creatures that can survive in the Heart.


You know, Coleman's granpappy had a saying that applies here. Very wise kobold, was Coleman's granpappy. Lived in the Heart all his life, just like his forebears. Knew how to get around, how to survive, how to avoid the Bats and dodge the flood.

Saying went something like this:

"Fuck that."

Look, there are sitations where it's wise to run. And he acknowledges that yes, he basically just left Lucien to fend for himself. But that was a train on a boat, and this is a train on a shoreline with a tower. It's completely different.

Here, there's space to run.

"Tie yourself to Sasha," he states, and starts to climb into Sasha's belly. Sorry, girl, we got more to do yet. "You grab her, I'll run."
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