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In Progress Torment on the Shards, Part 36 - Planescape-inspired CYOA

Discussion in 'Choose Your Own Adventure Land' started by Lithium Flower, Dec 8, 2016.

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  1. hello friend Arcane

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    I'm on an actual spaceship. No joke.
    Ah, the magic is tempting, but considering our character's stats, faction, abilities, and the unpredictable nature of shardwalking my vote will be:

    1G) Stealth
    2D) Scout

    Should pair really nicely.
     
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  2. baud Savant

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    1B) Athletics
    2D) Scout
     
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  3. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
    1C) Awareness > 1B) Athletics
    2B) Direction > 3D) Sorcery
     
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  4. Usury Arcane

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    1H
    2A
    3A


    Alchemy for the transmutation of base metals, the creation of the panacea, the tempering of the blessed elixir, the sublimation of al-kahest and the reading of the neanderthal Grimoire.

    The secrets of Life and Death (open)

    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Lithium Flower Magister

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    Alright I should've known this was going to be a cluster of fucks.

    So so far the votes are as follows (nothing is locked in yet, this is just to help myself and others sort through them).

    MercantileInterest the explorer/magician abilities are an either/or vote. For now I am going to assume that you prefer alchemy since you seem to be quite passionate about it.

    SKILLS


    Lore - 1
    Deception - 1
    Stealth - 1
    Awareness - 1
    Athletics - 1
    Treatment - 1

    So its a mess, however Grimgravy's "soft vote" for athletics is a tie-breaker. I think.

    ABILITIES
    Sorcery - 1
    Direction - 2
    Scout - 2
    Alchemy - 1

    So its a tie between Direction and Scout.

    ---

    If there is no clear winner by Sunday I will let the die decide and lock in the results. Not promising an update on Sunday, though.
     
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  6. Lithium Flower Magister

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    No flips, no flops, no breaks of ties,
    At the end there are only dice.

    Let's say Direction is one to three
    And Scout can be four to six,
    The winner is a proper fit for thee
    While the loser will suck dicks

    Rolling... (open)

    ...the Die of Fate
    Result: 1; Direction


    Athletics and Direction will assist your crimes
    And will surely make you less killable
    By the way I'm shit at rhymes,
    What even is a syllable?
     
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  7. Lithium Flower Magister

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    Happy new year.

    Part 30 – Trembling

    As you are pulling a shirt over fresh bandages applied by the physician last night you hear a knock at the door. It is light, gentle, almost uncertain – nothing like the abuse your door usually gets. Could it be that you have been caught? Unlikely, your newly-found sense of calm reassures. If the Officials were here for you, surely they would do more than knock. Besides, your rent is almost due, so its probably someone Boxes sent to check up on you. The old hammerite is funny that way.

    You open the door to a tall manus surrounded by red robes.

    “Greetings! I am Lord-Inquisitor Schism,” he says, smiling, “how do you do?”

    Your heart sinks.

    “May I come in?”

    The calm is no more. You stare at the inquisitor with a look that fails to comprehend. His clothing is an inky black, a drop in the sea of red. For whatever reason, the hairy manus wears a wig like a herald would.

    Your vision, frantic and blurred by fear, tries to find the faces of the manus' companions. Partially concealed by hoods are masks of onyx and alabaster, some crying and others laughing. The exaggerated stone expressions are at once bizarre and frightening. These look like Serving Dead.

    Finally you nod and step away from the doorm painfully aware that your knees are trembling.

    The red parts like a curtain, allowing the inquisitor passage into your tiny room, then it follows him inside. Two of the dead are carrying large, finely-carved chairs, which they carefully set down – one by the door, and the other behind you. This occurs in what feels like a second and subsequently your room feels a myriad times more cramped. The inquisitor looks at the intruding furniture with an almost embarrassed expression.

    “Ah, yes, these...I apologize, truth be told I had no idea if there would be suitable furniture!” he utters before laughing loudly. “Please, please, do sit down! Oh, where are my manners? You are the host, after all, and therefore have the say over such things.”

    A ridiculous manus plus half a dozen serving dead – bipeds all, you notice – are now waiting for you to respond. Instead you sit down hard, almost collapsing on the chair and the inquisitor follows suit, planting himself in the seat opposite of yours.

    “Now – Strider, yes? Pleased to meet you! Dreadfully sorry for the intrusion. Oh, do let me know if I'm keeping you – you can leave at any time, oh my yes!”

    The manus' head is an open palm. He is smiling warmly, eyes shiny. Besides the red wig – essentially a half-glove lined with dyed beasthair, if there is such a thing – the inquisitor has modified his uniform to include a matching cravat and yellow stockings. In any other situation you would find all of this very amusing.

    “Concern brings me here. This concern of mine causes some to think that I am quite the busybody, truth be told. Ah, but I tell them that it is an inquisitor's job to be concerned! Mhm... anyhow, the Yards – to which I feel a great sense of duty, oh my yes – the Yards are going through some difficulties. You may have heard. Oh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news! I'm sure the ward criers are already spreading them.”

    The chair you are sitting on might as well be made out of cold steel.

    “Anyhow, I've asked my aides, 'who are the people I should speak with, show them I care?' For, you know, when one is... don't take this the wrong way, gentleherald, but when one is troubled, an Inquisitor should be the kind of friend a believer finds in a priest. To protect from harm, yes, that is our duty! And there are so many harms nowadays: possessing the wrong thing, reading the wrong thing...for some, reading at all. Mhm! You know, a rock falls from the Void, and suddenly there is taint everywhere, and a tainted ladle can be more dangerous than a sword – now how about that!”

    You glance, sharply and almost desperately, at the bed behind you. Under it, remnants of the stardust-tainted vial are hidden in a bundle of your old clothes.

    “Now, I've heard some concerning things about yourself,” the manus continues, almost apologetically. Your eyes meet and you cannot help but pick up a mix of surface emotions, among which is genuine concern and...pity. Do you dare go any deeper? You wonder if inquisitors have ways of detecting the powers of heralds. “Running about in public, injured at that, at all hours of the night. Forgive me, but these were the things I've heard from concerned parties...it is very fortunate that such caring people maintain their vigilance even in these troubled times, oh my yes.

    “Now, I do not want the people of this ward to want or suffer. Recently I have had the chance to speak with certain influential Seekers, who told me in confidence that you have in the past worked alongside them on many an occassion, and that as far as they are concerned, you were upstanding and reliable...until perhaps a year ago, after which point they've heard little from you. So if I may ask you – and do forgive me for prying! - what happened, good gentleherald? Are you, Demiurge forbid, beset by troubles that provoke such – forgive me once more – eccentric and troublesome behavior?”

    The Inquisitor's curious eyes settle on you. Time moves sluggishly, the bitch, and for a second you believe yourself to be dreaming. It takes some resolve to convince yourself otherwise. You channel even more resolve and bitter anger into calming yourself and preparing an answer. You will not incriminate yourself today. Not any more than you have done already.

    In a calm and collected manner, you tell the Lord-Inquisitor a story of your fall. Of one too many failed expeditions. You tell him of the difficulties one has walking the shards when one's reputation is too damaged to gather a proper crew. You explain that although your current circumstances are indeed unfortunate, you do manage to make ends meet. No word about Whisper, nor the Cold Shard, nor the belly nor the entrails nor the blood nor the tears in the snow. You tell the story without stutter.

    The fur on the inquisitor's face is damp with tears when you finish. Another one of his tricks? His long tail reaches into the chest pocket of his coat and produces a tiny handkerchief. You look on dumbfounded as he wipes his face with a ridiculous amount of vigor.

    “I see...” he finally manages to croak, “thank you for sharing this with me, good Strider. I only want the people of this ward to be secure and comfortable. Please, if you ever feel like you have trouble, as you say, making ends meet, visit the local Bureau offices without hesitation. When one is among the Officials, they are among friends, I say.”

    Now!” the manus continues with a surprising cheer, though his small dark eyes are still wet, “I've brought a gift. As one who walks the shards you might know of a certain fad within the high society of our fair and just city. Of imbibing drink laced with beholder...fluid, the memories of other shards within, mhm? Well, I've brought iced spirits, flavored with the memories of an equally cold shard! If I may...”

    Though you maintain a collected facade, a fresh wave of fear stirs within you. Could he know, the bastard? Could he know of the Cold Shard, have beholder memories of it, of you, of everything? Whisper left an entire jar of them behind, which you took to Knows – did the Inquisitor raid the latter already? Did he bring the contents of Seamstress' stash with him here, to shove them in your face, to utterly condemn you!?

    Schism stands up and starts going through the pockets of the red-robed dead servants surrounding him. They must know. That fucking creature knew, your winged savior, it knew, its owner knows, Schism knows!!

    “I'm afraid I've misplaced it...somehow,” he says with a devastated expression. With his head lowered and shoulders slumped, the teary manus looks harmless and embarrassed beyond belief. You laugh nervously and almost rudely at him, accidentally spitting as you do.

    “A hundred apologies and tenfold more thanks for your company, good Strider! I shan't occupy another moment of your time...” the ashamed manus says as he shuffles out of your room. The dead grab the chairs they've brought (after you quickly vacate yours) and follow after Schism, their red cloaks seemingly closing around him.

    The inquisitor and his company leave your cramped yellow sanctuary as abruptly as they entered it.

    You sit down on the bed, trying to calm the pangs of panic and anxiety that have ruled your mind ever since you laid your eyes on the inquisitor on your doorstep. It seems that every major event in the last few days have made you weak in this way, and you are sick of feeling weak.

    You start counting.

    One minute, two.

    Three.

    Five.

    Ten.

    Thirty.

    You get up, grab your coat, and get going. Knows better have something good for you.

    ---

    The Yards have changed. A mundane patrol sends people scurrying in all directions like scared beasts. Even the workers keep their eyes pointed at the ground.

    “Three members of the Seekers Guild have been seized by the righteous agents of Censors College for committing illegal acts and possessing forbidden objects! Their names will be disclosed in two days, during their execution on this very square! Let it be known that worse harms will be inflicted on the Guild if they are proven to knowingly harbor criminals!”

    The alleys have been narrowed and crooked, constricting passage. These were once portals to the unexpected but now they have been reduced to something small and...trembling?

    “Almanac Row is under quarantine! Redirect your business elsewhere and do not interfere with the duties of the Temple Guard stationed there!”

    There is only the darkness of the worm station to escape to. It will be late in the day by the time you arrive in the Ghetto and you wish to see Knows yesterday. Yet before you step into the Worm, the crier's voice penetrates the underground, as if hounding you,

    “A settlement built on disused dock #14, known colloquially as the voidside shanty, has collapsed into the void following the streak of killings and murders that happened there! Let it be known that this is why we fear the chaos of the void!”

    ---

    The clouds of smog from the refineries have drifted far today, choking the decrepit concrete of the Facade Ghetto. Streaks of neon rebel against the tyranny of gray, nests of glowing grub-things stuck to the sides of buildings, the writhing masses arranged in incomprehensible ways. You've heard some Seekers speculate that the tiny creatures form words and symbols in the dead language of the Shard of Concrete, yet the overwhelming majority of the people living in this ward are too preoccupied with poverty to ponder the mysteries surrounding them.

    There isn't much in the way of honest work in the Ghetto. For most buzzers, honest work means spending half the day working at a refinery out in the Badlands. Whether they work or not, worm fare keeps them from traveling unnecessarily, trapping them in the overpopulated ward. Thus many plant their feet where they live, busying themselves with sex and crime. A little like you.

    Though most of the workers are yet to return to the ward, its stone streets are still busy. As you make your way to Facade #3 while doing your best to avoid secluded places and shady characters, you end up wading through crowds of people traveling, idling, and hustling, the overwhelming majority of them being buzzers. The race produces dozens of larvae with every pregnancy, and though many die before reaching maturity, at times as much as half of the batch makes it, often growing up in the same oppressive poverty that produced them.

    Still, you encounter other refugee races, but not one of Demiurge's creations in the first thirty minutes of your journey. Most carry little except for worn clothes on their back and those that are better off are suitably armed to keep what they have. All with lowered heads and most sticking to themselves, but you are painfully aware of the fact that buzzers do not need to look at you in order to look at you thanks to their protruding, segmented eyes. Still you cannot resist glancing at the red orbs, feeling their resentment, their hunger, and an occasional sting of malice. This is par by course for the ghetto, but there is something else, a burning wisp in the haze of feeling: righteous anger. Anxiously, you look for its source – for something recent and concrete that might inspired the feeling – and are quick to notice that something is wrong in the ward. The Temple Guard, a rare sight in the Ghetto, are posted on every other street outside of suspiciously quiet buildings. Some are tense while others are almost shaking in their sabatons. At some point you pass a collapsed husk of concrete that was once a building, a globe of thick, sticky waste covering the ruins – a buzzer dwelling made out of rot, rubbish, and excrement – only the stinking structure had clearly been scorched and is still smoking, the stench coming from it almost less bearable than every other smell in the ward combined. There must have been a recent raid and you cannot help but wonder if one or more of the hundreds around you intend to harm you in reprisal.

    This rising paranoia helps you notice rather quickly that you are being followed. A buzzer – naked save for ragged trousers, revealing his brown-green exoskeleton – has stalked you for every twist and turn of your path, matching your pace. You don't recall him being inside the worm, but you cannot be sure that he didn't follow you all the way from the station. A mugger? The Ghetto has no shortage of them, after all, in which case you don't have much to worry about besides making sure you stick to populated streets. On the other hand, you cannot help but consider that he might be one of Schism's spies, in which case leading him to Knows' hideout could be disastrous. Or perhaps both assumptions are wrong; there are powers other than Officials and petty criminals.

    What do you do? (choose one)

    A) Continue traveling to Facade #3 using crowded streets. It is unlikely that a mugger would try attacking you in public with the Guard on the streets.
    B) Verbally confront the buzzer in the street. Mugger or spy, he will probably fuck off once he realizes that you are onto him.
    C) Focus on trying to discreetly pay attention to your stalker. Perhaps you will notice some clue in his behavior or appearance that could explain his identity or purpose.
    D) Try to lose the buzzer in the alleys.
    E) Try to ambush the buzzer in the alleys.
    F) Do something else, please specify what

    Notes (open)

    300 coin was left behind in your room.

    :updatedmytxt:

    -Added Lord-Inquisitor Schism to the Dramatis Personae section of the second post.
     
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  8. Azira Arcane Patron

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    Codex 2012
    E
     
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  9. Storyfag Arcane

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    B
     
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  10. Usury Arcane

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    E

    Capture. Interrogate. Eliminate.

    No witnesses.
     
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  11. baud Savant

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    Cut him into little pieces to send a message to his master or other muggers if he's just that.
     
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  12. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
    B
     
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  13. Lithium Flower Magister

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    Part 30.5 – Bloody Hands

    Spy, footpad, beggar, what difference does it make? All die the same and the dead tell no tales. At least most don't.

    You spot a gap in the concrete, partially concealed by a group of naked buzzer females. They extend their translucent wings and make queer sounds at the passing males but almost scatter when you approach.

    You round a corner, then another. In the Yards you would be surprised at least twice by now, but in this ward the contents of the alleys are entirely expected. Gray-brown streaks of congealed waste stain the walls, appearing to shift slightly until you pass closer and see that they are home to a myriad of crawling vermin. Filth and refuse cover the hard ground, and in time, your boots. In the corner, half a dozen of small scaly things fight over a scrap of something.

    Small sounds bouncing off the alley walls inform you that the stalker stalks you still. You slow your pace and motion as if to transition the cane from one hand to the other but your right hand lingers on its handle, as if you were drawing from a scabbard.

    One more corner. One more chance to run into a mugger, a witness, anything that could make an ambush more difficult.

    Rolling... (open)

    ...the Die of Fate:
    On a 1-2, the circumstances are unfortuitous;
    On a 3-4, the alley holds nothing unusual;
    On a 5-6, there will be trouble.
    Show Spoiler

    Result: 3!



    ”Rolling...” (open)

    ...2d6+Dexterity
    Result: 7; Partial Success!


    ”Rolling...” (open)

    ...1d6 Damage
    Result: 3; Buzzer loses 3 hit points!


    Nothing of the sort. You leap back behind the corner, trying to draw and lunge simultaneously. The motion is unpracticed, clumsy, but the buzzer – whom you find to be four or five meters behind you – is unarmed, unable to exploit this opportunity. To him, your two-and-a-half foot blade might as well be a spear; he can do little but throw his four hands up as you cross the distance and punch the blade into his torso, puncturing the exoskeleton.

    Immediately after your weapon connects you swing the cane in your left hand, the sudden movement sending ripples of pain throughout your wounded body. The length of wood lands on the side of the buzzer's head with a crack, bruising a bulging eye. Your stalker's head snaps back, mouthparts clicking madly as he collapses on the ground. You point the bared sword at one of his segmented eyes and take a careful step back, mindful of the paralytic venom contained in the sharp buzzer proboscis. The prone buzzer comes to a moment later, head and limbs twitching like those of a broken wind-up toy, the hole in his chest leaking brown-green ichor. You demand to know who sent him after you and why, threatening to blind the buzzer if he does not comply. Then you remember to breathe.

    “Fucking coward, murderer, thief, you are already blind...” the buzzer speaks in a series of mouthpart clicks and proboscis vibrations, a buzzing sound that imitates common speech, “close, too close to the terrible greatness and you can't even see it, though your actions know it. Fool, hope your mother is devoured by her young! Bloody hands, hold us all...”

    Though tired, the stalker's buzzing voice takes on a mocking tone before turning to a barely audible whisper. Suddenly, all four of his arms reach for your sword, grabbing the unsharpened blade. You try to pull away only to find that the wounded buzzer's grip rivals that of a vice. To your surprise, he drives the weapon into his own head. The smallsword sinks into what should be hard exoskeleton with practically no resistance. There is one final twitch of the limbs, the clicking, then the corpse lies still.

    And the dead tell no tales. At least not this one.

    The momentary burst of energy leaves your body to make place for a shiver. Questions crowd your mind unanswered: who was this poor bastard and why was he following you? Was he a spy or just some mad vagrant, a victim of your paranoia?

    Like all pilgrims it followed in the footsteps of another, seeking, mourning, wanting me.

    It comes to you like a voice one sometimes hears before falling asleep; a whisper in your ear, directionless and personal at the same time. When you first heard it in Seamstress' shack it terrified you yet now fear is second to your curiosity. Whose whispers reach your mind?

    Focus. Turn away from filth and the dead things. Nothing is without cause; there is always a path to be found and followed. This one takes you further down the twisting alley until you emerge across the street from the building opposite Facade #3. Knows' hidden study...

    ---

    As you climb into Knows' hideout through the window you almost trip over a large, spread tome lying on the floor. It looked as if it fell from a nearby stack, losing pages in the process, and Knows never bothered to put it away. You find the herald kneeling on the floor, bent over an alchemical still within which a dark, cloudy liquid seems to boil. Although he appears to be absorbed by his equipment you doubt that he is unaware of your presence, as it is more likely that he is just refusing to acknowledge you. Typical Knows.

    You inhale for the first time after climbing into the study and almost immediately regret doing so. The air is unpleasantly humid, almost hot, and absolutely rancid, for which a steaming alembic appears responsible. You note the jar of beholder excretions you had left with Knows, lying on the floor half-empty.

    A cloud of noxious steam drifts in your direction and overwhelms you, causing you to cough and gag loudly.

    “Much like a chamberpot, the vial contains excreta of varying freshness,” the old herald states as if you had never parted and pours the contents of two beakers into a glass retort. “Thus I need to isolate individual memories through dilution. The oldest excreta responded well to my first solution as it was in progressively later stages of calcification, but I will need more time to unlock the earlier memories.”

    Knows' unkempt clothes are covered with dust and not just from contact with the floor.

    “Now, have you been to the Shard of Curious Depths?” he continues, head half-turned in your direction.

    No, you explain. You've returned to see if Knows has uncovered anything substantive before you make the trip to the nearby shard.

    “Well forgive me for being a little fucking insulted for your lack of trust in me,” he says sternly, “and what exactly have you been doing for the last few days, if not your part of the deal?”

    He finally turns to face you properly, squints, and raises an eyebrow tiredly as he notices an eyepatch string running across your forehead.

    “Hmm. I suppose you have been working.”

    You look for a good place to sit down, realize that there isn't one, then remember – casually, almost – that you've killed someone in a dirty alley only few minutes ago. For whatever reason, you laugh heartily.

    “You Suicides,” Knows shakes his head, “you are a lost cause. Well, you might as well access the memories I've diluted so far.”

    He motions you to sit down in the corner and you do so. Something skitters in the cold wall by your ear, or so you think.

    Knows staggers to his feet, grunting and cursing about his knees as he does, and stumbles to the corner of his study from which he digs out a filthy mug. Seconds later he is holding it inches away from your nose, the smell of the liquid within only slightly more bearable than that of the rest of the room.

    “Let us go over a few things. First, you will get nothing more than this until you take care of the task you have agreed to do. Veil told me that she will be 'unavailable,' as she put it, in two days' time, so I suggest you use her services before then. Again: Veil, the Beastlands, Twilight Sonata Inn. She will guide you to the shard. Do you understand?

    Next...no, we will speak of the little friend you brought later. And of any possible, unwanted friends you might bring me in the future. Before you drink this, let me caution that this is not ordinary beholder excrement. I've tasted it to make sure the sensory memories were coherent. There were thoughts, too. I didn't just experience whatever Whisper did - I understood him.”

    But that is impossible...

    “...which only means that this Whisper must have wished for it to be possible hard enough, so here we are now. The result is a disorienting experience to say the least. You will be internalizing a portion of someone's mind. I believe that such a thing would be very dangerous to people of certain temperaments. Are you sure you want this?”

    He is asking the wrong person as you have already made up your mind. To partake of something scarcely done before, why, it is what you live to do. What's more, to finally understand why Whisper did not flee the Cold Shard with you, to know his thoughts and memories...

    Knows is entirely right. You are a lost cause.

    The substance feels your mouth but you do not taste it. The humidity of the study is replaced by cold biting at your tentacles.

    Notes (open)


    Sorry you had to wait a while for a shitty cliffhanger. :M :M :M
    Choices coming soonTM

    And to be clear about physiology, no, heralds do not have tentacles. Beholders, however...

     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2018
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  14. Storyfag Arcane

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    Waaait. Didn't we agree to pay Knowes with moneyz? Moneyz we just earned by working with the good Lord Steel?
     
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  15. baud Savant

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    I think we have the choice between paying and doing the experiment. The experiment could be fun. We should have above 400 gold, but I don't know we we had expenses since the amount of money was mentioned.
     
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  16. Lithium Flower Magister

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    You voted to agree to do the experiment in Part 12, which is why Knows gave you the potion of featherfall and a tip about Veil in the first place. You needed money for other things, of course, not the least of which rent and food.

    I actually thought about providing an option to change your mind and pay Knows' research fee now that you have the monies (and probably alluded to it in previous updates) but now I have a different idea. It seems that circumstances are pushing Strider more and more towards other Shards. He has not walked them in a while, he is nostalgic in the worst possible way, and the entire City seems to be persecuting him. I think instead of being a trivial mission bypass this will be a decision with heavy consequences to both Striders' faith and future.
     
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  17. Lithium Flower Magister

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    Well, this was a challenge to write and I am not sure if the end result conveys what I was going for effectively so there is that. Also I will try making changes in my schedule that will hopefully allow me to get these updates out quicker. We'll see how it goes. On the plus? side, depending on the choices you guys make the next update might come as "soon" as the next week or two on the account of being relatively short, so there is that.

    Part 31 – One of Torment

    The wailing blizzard smothers Strider's screams. My keen hearing could have allowed me to understand him if not for my keen vision, which lets me see past the blinding white, see that which my companions cannot.

    Past the thick blood, the steaming viscera, the heavy mounds of snow, atop a mass of crystal scales crowning a wide stalk bristling with bony spurs, I see Its face. Although Its features are like nothing I have seen before I can tell, somehow, that they form a visage.

    A mouth like crossed swords that do not part but thrust instead as the creature breathes its last, a sound unrecognizable but instantly understandable as one of torment piercing me. Atop a circle of living, squirming horns I see its eyes – a wreath of orbs that smoulder weakly like hot coals in the rain – and a dying blue-gray ember dancing betwixt them until it is no more.

    I remember walking the Still Shard with Strider, an expedition which lasted ten days in the time of Demiurge's Shard. A day after we left that place, where pleasures and dangers were sparse and quiet in equal measure, it was absorbed in a span of but a few seconds. There had been no purge or blockade – one moment the shard was floating through the Void and in the next it was gone. It formed no ward nor were its aspects ever found within the City. I felt a profound feeling of despair then, as if something irreplaceable was lost, and as I watch the giant die in the cold I feel the same thing tenfold.

    It is so cold that it seems like time itself is frozen. My companions must have already fled, spared by their inability to see, to fully comprehend the extent of what we had just done.

    We killed something far greater than an oversized beast.

    We killed It.

    I can hear strangle rattling behind me as well as shuffling of many limbs through snow. If denizens of this shard seek to punish me for what I had done, I can only accept my fate. I turn around, seeking a release from my guilt.

    The creatures that form a semi-circle around me are low to the ground and have a dozen of spindly limbs each. Their huge, bulbous heads are pointed past me. I study their segmented mouths with a mixture of curiosity and fear, noticing a wormhole-like maw with several rows of sharp teeth, protruding mandibles, and two sets of pincers. Their bodies are short and fat, like a wide tree trunk or a barrel that had fallen over, and covered with strange scales – glistening things that bend and collaps like no scales I have ever seen – with tufts of fur poking out from under them. The bodies terminate in a long and slender tail topped with a rattle, which they used vigorously to create noise upon approach yet now they are still and silent. Evenly-spaced spheres, each the size of a fist and glowing with a faint blue light – the same light as the light that danced atop the giant until it dissappeared with Its death – run the length of each creature from head to tail.

    I wait and wait to be ripped to shreds, my skin and mind numbed by the cold. Instead, after what feels like an eternity, the creatures start rattling their tails madly, the noise almost drowning out the blizzard. Their mouthparts open wide and released a terrible wail, almost deafening my sensitive ears. The creatures surge for me.

    My tentacles have been rendered so inflexible by the cold that I suspect I could not move by myself even if I wanted to.

    Yet they do not kill me.

    I am grabbed with limbs and pincers, firmly but not painfully, and dragged away into the direction of that which I killed. The blizzard almost seems to part, the wind's roar stifled to one side as we approach elevation, a massive mountain of rock and ice which the dead giant leans against.

    Something passes – no, we pass it – a massive blur of brown and red, the giant's feathered hand with seven elongated claws. It lays half-open and cradled inside is another creature of the kind that is carrying me now but not quite whole, something like an unfinished clay sculpture, belted with cracked, colourless spheres.

    And now, a tunnel in the mountainside. Sudden darkness, the wind is faint and distant now. Unpleasant friction – the tunnel is barely wide enough for me, yet the creatures manage to squeeze me through. They skitter down a passage so steep that I, still firmly in their grasp, feel as if I am falling. The cold and wind fade entirely save for a draft and in their place I feel a surprising warmth and hear, almost overwhelmed by their sheer breadth and volume, echoing sounds emitted by the life that skitters frantically along the many walls and angles of this massive cavernous chamber. It is as if the inside of the Termitarium was plunged into darkness, the scope of the expanse betrayed by the blue-gray glow carried by its inhabitants, each shining in the darkness like a starstone in the void.

    All of the creatures continue to crawl. I struggle in vain to get my bearings until the incessant skittering lessens as we enter another tunnel, this one much shorter, broader so that I easily fit through, and relatively level. The tunnel terminates in a much smaller chamber as the sources of sound are much, much fewer and it does not echo so and although I cannot make out the ends of the room I see no glowing lights except for those belonging to the creatures dragging me.

    I still expect to be torn apart as I am finally set down, rolling down the uneven floor having been too surprised to brace myself with my tentacles. I bump into the hard and warm? walls as I come to rest at the corner of the cavernous room having rolled perhaps four or five meters from its entrance. Something in the opposite corner moves, the darkness shifting as if disturbed by the noise. The tunnel I was taken through is almost clogged with mandibles and scales, all tinted blue by their lights.

    Though no longer nearly frozen stiff, I have neither the strength nor the will to stand up. End it, I almost say, at least spare me from the guilt. I'd rather die than suffer it in this terrible, suffocating darkness...

    The mass of creatures leaves the way they came, tails rattling. Do they intend to keep me prisoner? Only one stays behind and crawls up to me. Its light is not carried far, illuminating itself and its immediate surroundings but not much else. Each source, each sphere grabs and holds my attention, subtle changes in the intensity of the glow and the occasional flicker of its light charged with as much expression as trembling appendages or weary eyes.

    Not every beast or person has eyes but many have something equivalent in function. What would Strider see if he stared at these glowing orbs? The loss of a mourner or an executioner's anticipation?

    The creature holds up a limb and bends it in a seemingly impossibly fashion before driving it into one of its blue-gray spheres. I watch on in shock but the feeling is tempered by the day's occurrences, faded into more of an idea than an actual emotion. The blue thing separates from the creature with surprising ease, yet the raw, wet spot betwixt parted scales where it once lay confirms that it was once part of the being. Remarkably, the severed part is unbesmirched. The creature lays it down before me, stays for another second or two, rattles its tail, then leaves the cavern after the others.

    Although the creature is gone, its severed part emits just enough light to prevent the darkness from utterly robbing me of sight.

    I am not a prisoner here. Alas, there is no justice on the shards.

    Time passes and I know that all of this is my fault, my fault for bringing the others here with the most terrible of consequences. Although neither of us could have known what lay on the other side of this portal, I was the one who brought them to it. I understood the risks in a manner in which they didn't.

    Time passes and I weep.

    Time passes and I stop.

    Time passes and think of nothing.

    Time.

    Passes.

    Time passes and I grow curious. The thing in the corner shifts again. I find balance on unsteady tentacles and make my way to it quietly, rolling my only source of light ahead of me. It reveals a bundled-up something, the bundling consisting of torn, discolored fabrics and the remains of something that could have been a backpack. Another interloper? There is too much guilt, too much shame to permit speaking with it. I return to my corner.

    Time passes and I contemplate the temperature. It is unusually warm for an underground cavern on a shard of cold. Once I took Strider to the Stifling Shard, the depths of which were filled with bubbling heat, and the further down we went the hotter it became, yet here the warmth seems to come from the walls and ceiling as opposed to the ground. For some reason I think of the last time I was near heat, trapped in the suffocating, warm guts of the giant being. Its viscera has dried on me by now.

    Time passes and I hear a rattle. A creature skitters its way through the tunnel. Two of its front-facing limbs terminate in a kind of bulk, something soft being impaled on them. It stops by the bundle and rattles its tail more loudly than before. The concealed thing grunts and shivers, disturbed. The creature rubs its front limbs together like a hammerite at prayer and one of the soft things falls to the floor with a wet sound. The creature repeats the ritual in my corner and a chunk of meat, about the size of a herald's head, falls down in front of me. I just now realize how hungry I am. The flesh is pallid, though wet with red blood. Its taste is indescribable.

    More time passes. Days? Weeks? The Demiurge has not thrown all of this into the City's hungry maw...yet who is to say that time itself isn't literally frozen here and that I won't spend an eternity in this darkness, tormented by my conscience?

    Even more time passes and another creature visits me. This is the one that gifted me one of its orbs - I recognize that it is missing one. It begins rattling quietly but incessantly, stomping its limbs and clicking its mandibles as it does. It goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and so I finally ask, out loud, what it wants.

    The creature stops making noise. Its lights dim slightly and so does the one on the floor. The creature rattles its tail again, just once. Now twice. Now a long rattle. Now it stomps its rear pair of limbs. Now it clicks its mandibles. Now it clicks them three times in rapid succession.

    Time passes as it tries to teach me its language, to learn mine, to establish some sort of compromise between them. This shouldn't make sense but the unexpected has ceased to surprise me. The Demiurge has declared that all shards but his own are inhabited exlusively by unintelligent beasts, not civilized people. Even the vast majority of those who do not believe in Demiurge's divinity agree. Then again, atheism is tolerated while promoting the idea of people existing on other shards is punishable by death...

    Can I continue to believe this after having seen...having killed the giant above, having comprehended all that It meant for this shard? If not...

    Can I trust anything that I have been told in the City? Any of that I have been taught since birth? Any of the experiences brought to me by actions based on this dubious knowledge?

    Time passes and I contemplate the darkness.

    Time passes and I realize that I must capture this information. I doubt I can redeem myself or that releasing this knowledge will not lead to disastrous results, but I should at least secure it so that I can decide what to do with it later. Thankfully I possess a jar of alchemical glass large enough for this purpose.

    Once I would will something and do it, consequences be damned. So what if this information could uproot the only order in the void that I know with certainty exists, or gets everyone unfortunate enough to come across it executed? I had plenty of idols, examples of how to act with meaning and conviction and ruthlessness. Demiurge, smashing his shard together and others into dust. Wizards, letting the void into themselves to work miracles and destruction.

    I hesitate now because I cannot see my idols in this darkness and my light is dimmer still.

    Time passes and it got noticeably colder. The change sneaks up on me. The decrease of temperature must have been slight and gradual.

    Time passes and I am fed again, this time by the Gifter, and the lessons resume. I learn to imitate the creatures with rocks and debris scattered around the floor of the cave but the mechanics of the language evade me and I am left with vague guesses as to what each sound means. If only I had in me the motivation...

    A second creature crawls into the room, moving so quietly it looks almost graceful. Slowly, gently, it comes up being my instructor and severs its rear limbs with a click of the mandibles. I stop what I am doing, let myself drop and roll back into my safe, familiar corner...yet the Gifter doesn't stop what it was doing and continues repeating the sounds I have been trying to imitate. I catch my breath and continue with the lesson as the other creature slowly yet steadily takes apart and devours my teacher.

    Time passes and it finishes its feast. The creature clicks its mandibles identically to how Gifter did it before bisection made it still.

    Time passes and the lesson continues.

    Time passes and it gets even colder and the light dimmer. Even the bundled-up thing is constantly shivering. The cold is no good as it forces me to move around whereas before I could lay in my corner and try to think of nothing at all. This increase in activity sharpens my mind and somewhere within me I find the strength to wonder.

    Warm stone walls.

    Blue-gray embers.

    Fading lights and fading heat.

    The giant's burning flesh.

    Unfinished clay.

    I am sobbing with revelation and my tears are growing awfully cold. A theory forms in my damned mind: through sheer force of will, a being of immense belief spawns a myriad of children on a piece of floating rock in a void where creation is always chaotic, never designed; the heat of Its body keeps their habitats warm just Its strange, blue-gray faith keeps them alive on a shard of perfect cold, where neither heat nor life should exist. The being perishes and its heat fades and so does its life. Was this not the greatest triumph, ended by the most terrible, most terrifying crime?

    Truth or fantasy? It doesn't matter; the theory is plausible enough. Plausible enough to be yet another article of guilt that tortures me. I alternate between sobbing and laughing, bitterly and hysterically, as darkness slowly overpowers the light.

    Time passes at the pace of a torturer who loves to take his time. Another one of my victims decides to visit me. Its eyes match the one that had been gifted me: so drained of light as to appear fragile, almost glassy. It rattles, come.

    I begin to apologize but choke on my words. I cannot even think of a way to make my apology understandable, and even then my words will not be sufficient to redeeming anything that I had done to these...people. Nothing will ever be sufficient.

    The least I can do is follow.

    I return to the massive, expansive chamber for the first time. Suddenly something nudges me and I am pushed atop the person I was trying to follow, gently but firmly. Once again I am carried by multiple creatures but this time is different. Though I can barely make them out, the dying embers glimmering in the eyes of this race extend as far as I can see in all directions. Around me is a cacophony of noise, even more overwhelming now that I can understand some of the individual sounds.

    An entire horde, perhaps the whole race is here, ascending. It narrows, streaming through the opening of the tunnel entrance, and after a brief struggle to get me through the cold nips at my skin and the wind assaults my ears once again.

    I am brought before Its gigantic corpse. Large chunks of It have been removed, pieces closest to the ground – around where we had emerged – unevenly taken, as if It had been tunneled through in places. It looks nothing like rot, if such a process can even take place on this shard.

    I roll into a mound of snow as the people try to set me down. I prop myself up on my tentacles, already numb from the cold, or else I might very well die of exposure. I leave the snow red, patchy with gore.

    My ears erupt in pain as the myriad of people around me emit a perforating, high-pitched sound with all the cadence of tormented screaming. It lasts seconds and leaves me momentarily deafened. Something barely warm emerges from my ears and trickles down my sides - blood.

    The people rush forward in unison. I stand and watch half-stunned as they ascend the huge, lifeless body and devour It in seconds. No bone, nor bit of horn or chitin remains but an empty cliff-side and an expanse of red on the snow, soon to be covered up by the perpetually falling blizzard.

    My mind is empty.

    Someone breaks from the swarm. Tail rattling, it pushes a large chunk of meat towards me, red with blood.

    I find the taste indescribable but your mouth feels vile with the thick substance tinged by the strangely metallic aftertaste of Knows' mug.

    Trickster's Darkness.

    You are here, now, you tell yourself although you find it hard to believe at first.

    Something round and pale is in front of you. It is an old herald's face. You watch, almost by accident, the parting of his lips. A moist tongue moves across thin, cracked lips like an engorged, red maggot slithering along an edge of a cavern.

    “You are still adjusting but the process may be expedited by talking about that which you saw,” the herald's voice comes from afar. “This Whisper was a magic user, no?”

    I – no, Whisper was. Yes. A sorcerer. Unsanctioned.

    How could he not have learned and practiced magic? Whisper only kept going out of the respect for those who not only persisted in this world but also created structure for themselves, carved out a meaning of their own. And to do magic - to focus the growing chaotic nothingness of the Void into creation – that, Whisper argued, was one of the truest forms of living. Only he would not submit himself to sanctions as he feared that his trade and therefore what he did, what he was, would be monopolized by the Demiurge. Then he would fall short of truly making something of his own. He admired all who did so: the Demiurge, faction members of great faith, all magic users including the monstrous wizards, even demons and their Trickster...

    His devastation in knowing that the three of you have left such a powerful being dead is understandable, yet you still find it hard to believe that he would throw his life away in guilt for merely guiding you to that damned portal.

    Then again, what if you encountered god without realizing it? What would you do if you killed it, doomed its creations, then had the misfortune of comprehending what you had done.

    As a matter of fact, you are still in the process of comprehending...

    “A sorcerer, hmm...” Knows interrupts your thoughts, acknowledging your answer after a few pensive moments, “tell me, do you know what became of the Cold Shard?”

    Of course you do. It was destroyed by the navy of the Temple Guard, as per Demiurge's edict.

    You've spent a long time searching for Whisper after finding your way to Demiurge's shard. Every day was spent hunting for information, rumours, stories of Whisper or the Cold Shard. A week or two after your return, an edict from the Demiurge himself was suddenly declared, placing a military blockade on the Cold Shard, therefore forbidding any entrance to it as the navy's great voidships took to purging the shard. Such practice was rare but not unheard of, for Demiurge's City absorbs any shard it comes across, and that meant major unwanted qualities had to be removed from other shards lest they contaminate the City. The Cold Shard was absorbed only a week after purge ended, and to this day it is unknown how it changed the City, if at all.

    “My research confirmed as much. Let's make something very clear,” Knows once again adopted a stern, condescending tone. “Illegality, as well as the dangers associated with it, are implicit in our arrangement. Whisper's memories and this... other thing you brought me, they were clearly from another shard, and I cannot imagine you took them through customs. However, if they came from a purged shard, well, that raises the danger we are in considerably. It is the difference between being executed and being subjected to a few dozen fates worse than execution.

    Having said all that, I want you to answer – no, not now, I will tell you then – I want you to really take the time and answer the following question honestly: do you have the Officials' attention?”

    As clarity returns to your mind, so does your usual paranoia. On one hand, what Knows says makes sense and it is imperative to be on the same page. On the other hand, what if he is a collaborator? Yes, the Inquisitor's spy saw you, yet someone had to identify you, and you barely have any friends or contacts. How many spies does this Schism have?

    And then there is the strange, directionless voice that haunts you. It led you here, as if the old herald's cramped study is the source. Telepathy is innate to your race, so what if Knows modified it with some of his magic, hoping to trick or confuse you for whatever purpose? Then again, you first heard the strange voice before Knows was ever involved...

    You must have a nervous, staring look because the herald suddenly scoffs at you. “Don't be a fucking child, I am not trying to scare you. This is important information.”

    Your eyes dart around the room. A shabby divider separates a corner from the rest of the room. A ragged bedroll lies in the corner opposite, clothes scattered all around. Then there are books and scrolls and loose parchment, some on shelves and others laying about the place as if abandoned. Knows' alchemical composition dominates the room's floor.

    All signs point to him being committed to doing his share of the work, yet why? To inform the Inquisitor at the first opportunity? Professional or even ideological (you doubt it – he speaks ill of Seekers) curiosity? Is he compelled to do this project, perhaps similarly to how you felt compelled to fulfill Whisper's dying request, or is he just doing his job?


    Speaking of which, you should decide how you want to compensate Knows now that you have some options. (choose 1)


    1A) One part of you feels hounded and longs to escape to another shard, if only for awhile. To leap into unknown is the Seeker's way. Get to work and fulfill Knows' request to experience freefall on the Shard of Curious Depths. You plan to spend some time to prepare for your journey before finding Veil and having her guide you to a portal to the shard before she becomes unavailable in two days' time. You might find ways to make extra money while on the shard by searching for extra jobs and/or loot as well.

    1B) Another part of you is scared and wants you to stay put and hide in the shadows. This is a path of darkness and despair. You will lose faith and opportunities, but may avoid pain and exposure. Tell Knows that you no longer plan to participate in his experiment and will instead pay him for his research; return the potion of freefall and pay the herald 200 coins. Afterwards, lay low for some time. Choose where:

    + your room at the inn in the Voidship Yards. You have no guilt to run from. Besides, relocating would only make Schism more suspicious.
    - some scummy, run-down hovel you plan to rent discreetly. This whole City wants a piece of you.; time to run and hide.


    “Time's up, Strider. Look at me."

    Your eyes meet his. It is obvious that he plans to sense your intent, although he did give you some time to compose yourself at least. There is much deception between you heralds, but honesty, too.


    How do you answer Knows? (choose 1)


    2A) Admit that you've earned the attention of Officials. A simple, straightforward answer.

    2B) As above, but detail your encounter with the Inquisitor and ask for advice.

    2C) Deny it. Lying to a herald's face will require not only the gift of gab but enough willpower to mask your surface intent.

    2D) Come up with a suitable response (detail it in your post.) The ease of selling it to Knows will depend on how its crafted. For example, some types of half-truth won't require a test of willpower as long as you are not technically deceiving Knows; you won't need to convince Knows of anything that he has no reason to doubt.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2018
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  18. Azira Arcane Patron

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    Codex 2012
    Mneh.
    1A, 2A
     
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  19. Lithium Flower Magister

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  20. hello friend Arcane

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    Very nice update.

    1A - What could be more under the radar than being off-city?
    2B - We're already real deep in with Knows as it is, he could be a collaborator - in which case we're already fucked. If not, he's in nearly as much trouble as we are. It's in his best interest to help us, unless he deems the risk so great he decides to kill us. So sharing more information than we have to is risky, but probably a good move.
     
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  21. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
  22. baud Savant

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    Well, no real idea, but I'm interested in seeing another shard, so:

    1A, 2A
     
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  23. Kyl Von Kull The Night Tripper Patron

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    1A, 2A. If Knows is an informant, telling him you're being watched won't make your situation any worse than it already is. He already has proof of highly illegal activity.

    :salute:
     
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