In Which Things Do Not Go Our Way

Svetlana: I need a better anima banner for when we finally reveal ourselves as Solar Exalted at Essence 6.

Camena: I was thinking more Essence 11?

Vance: I like Svetlana's anima!

Svetlana: I was having a little progress with orbiting masks around something, and was trying to figure out the something, and then I got confused trying to figure out whether my anima banner would be flaring in an impressive moment or if it was in fact more likely to be flaring when I was low on resources and desperately trying not to be hit by someone.

Svetlana: And then the whole concept got a little confused for me in general because I started thinking about warriors who blaze up in gigantic fierce bear animas when desperately trying not to be hit and sorcerers who have magical orreries in similar circumstances, etc.

  • Elliott is working to rebuild Camena.

Camena: …How much XP do we have?

Icaria: 55.

Camena: Kool.

Icaria: I should hurry on to get Flowing Mind Prana so you can all benefit from my wisdom.

Camena: I think I've got it.

Camena: But I cannot figure out what the heck the last Charm I bought was.

Zanara: Did we get Solar XP last time?

Icaria: I sure marked some down!

Zanara: Well, even without it, I've finally got all the pre-reqs for Tiger Warrior Training Technique.

Zanara: So if anyone wants free elite troops, I'm your girl.

Icaria: First I need people who'll do what I tell them.

Icaria: I guess you could train my water children.

Camena: Or my crew.

Zanara: I was going to suggest that, yeah.

Camena: Also, oh, my goodness.

Camena: Essence 2 Dodge is the shit.

Camena: Vance, why are all the shaping rituals meh?

Svetlana: I'll be a moment; composing an email.

Vance: Because you didn't catch them when I was writing sorcery.

Camena: Yes, I did.

Camena: I was your beta reader on that.

Camena: I remember several drafts.

Camena: But I did not, at the time, understand the system well enough to realize how meh. :P

Camena: (mostly joking)

Camena: Can I trade mine out? I never actually ended up using it.

Icaria: I've never used mine, either.

Icaria: I may just invent a magic book that's mostly the same as the Talisman of Ten Thousand Eyes.

Vance: Sure .

Camena: I was thinking the thing where storms and rain and wind give me power.

Camena: Because I am a sailor.

Camena: Sailor Sun.

Vance: Sailor Eclipse sounds cooler

Kukla: The shaping rituals are pretty hip IMO.

Zanara: Shaping rituals are pretty cool in general.

Icaria: Did we ever figure out how to buy more?

Vance: You get them when you unlock circles.

Icaria: So you only ever have three?

Vance: It may also be possible to get them at ST-adjudicated opportunities.

Vance: Yes.

Svetlana: It's also really easy to unlock circles because any circle of the same size is a key.

Vance: That is why all but one of the canon sorcerous paths have three rituals.

Svetlana: Well, any cylinder.

  • Zanara goes to look up the rituals she wrote.

Svetlana: I have sent an email.

Vance: Hurrah!

Zanara: Okay, whew, didn't break the rules.

Vance: "Rules."

Zanara: Haha.

Camena: Icaria, will you teach me to have stormbabies?

Icaria: Are you a responsible parent?

Camena: The responsiblest.

Svetlana: "Members of my family are some of the most responsible parents in Creation, I've heard," Svetlana notes.

Vance: So…

Vance: We pick up not long after we left off—the crew of the Sparrow is feasting on roasted shark, and the thick fog has only just begun to clear.

Vance: Tran comes up from belowdecks, her face displaying the appropriate amount of concern for someone tasked with guarding a pre-baby on a ship being attacked by giant flying sharks with no idea of what is going on.

Vance: "I need to talk to you four."

  • Camena is still damp.

Camena: "I was almost eaten. Twice."

Icaria: "Don't mind us; we were just fighting giant flying sharks."

Icaria: "Oh, and you're welcome!"

Camena: "You know what—yeah, thanks. Honestly. The seahorse was a welcome safeguard, Icaria.

Svetlana: "That's true," Svetlana muses, "there are four of us. Icaria, is it possible that the five-element cycle is incorrect? Hi, Tran."

Vance: "That explains what the noise was. Fogsharks shouldn't be this far south, though. They hardly ever come to the Inland Sea."

Camena: "Is there a reason we didn't bring the demon army with us?" Camena asks, wringing out her hair.

Vance: Most of the demon workforce is task-bound.

Camena: Camena knows.

Icaria: "We could barely even bring enough food for me."

Vance: Said tasks do not exist on the boat.

Camena: She's just being salty. Sea-salty, even.

Svetlana: "They wouldn't have gotten along well with the goatoid army. Same reason we didn't bring the goatoid army, really."

Icaria: "Hm, do we think this is sinister?"

Vance: "More important. Should I think that you are sinister?"

  • Icaria considers this.

Icaria: "…nnnnnoooo?"

Camena: "Right-handed," Camena says, showing her palm and flexing her finger.

Vance: "You're all Chosen, because you entered the Tomb. You… implied that you were Exigents."

Svetlana: "Shh," Svetlana says. "My investigation on Icaria is almost complete. I'm just about to snap the net closed. Don't blow it for me."

Vance: "I'm worried that you're lying to me. I've figured out an easy way to find out."

Camena: "No." Camena's voice is firm and final.

Icaria: "Are we lying? I thought we were engaged in paper-thin pretence for the sake of Jaspindar's dignity."

Vance: "If you all flare your anima, then I will know you can't be Anathema."

Icaria: "Uh, we are, though?"

Vance: "…"

Zanara: "I make it a point never to lie, personally," Zanara says, shrugging.

Camena: "Shush, Icaria."

Icaria: "I thought we all knew this and were just not saying because it was inconvenient to admit you knew."

  • Camena throws her hands up at Zanara and Icaria. "WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER WITH DOUBLE-DEALING AROUND YOU PEOPLE?"

Vance: "In some ways it is inconvenient. For example, I am on a boat full of very polite and friendly devils."

Icaria: "Like, if Jaspindar hasn't figured out I'm a Twilight Caste Solar, she's really dumb and I don't actually think she is."

Vance: "Which leads to even more problems than unfriendly devils."

Icaria: "Oh, it's not given to any of us to lead an untroubled life."

Camena: "That's it, Icaria, you're going overboard. Hold your nose, and be careful not to breathe in."

  • Camena grabs him by the scruff of his neck.

Icaria: "I have a seahorse!"

Camena: "I don't want to drown you," she says. "Just moisten you."

Vance: "I am taught that my duty is to kill all of you, before you can grow powerful and wicked." she says, watching the Camena/Icaria scuffle. "Even if you are kind, or saintly, or seem good, all your works will inevitably end in ruin."

Zanara: "Those who taught you were wrong."

Camena: "I promise it won't!" Camena adds, dragging Icaria to the rails. Playfully. Maybe.

Vance: "Obviously I'm not going to bother trying to kill you four-on-one when you're doing me a favor, but you see the position this puts me in."

Icaria: "Lots of people in the Threshold would have said the same about you, probably."

Icaria: "People say all kinds of stuff."

  • Camena gives up on throwing him over and walks back to Tran, rolling her neck.

Icaria: That's right; I'm unsinkable.

Vance: "Even the Realm's worst enemies wouldn't call us Anathema. Lookshy's right there."

Camena: "Not your worst enemies, dear."

Camena: "Lookshy, I mean."

Icaria: "You should adopt their good manners!"

Vance: "My manners are bad with everyone and you know it."

  • Icaria tries to find a fault in this logic, but can't.

Svetlana: "If it helps," Svetlana says, "Si… sivana, seems to know what we are, has a good enough sense of what works typically lead to to manipulate Tomb-openings in order to cause trees to have different number of branches, and only killed me like, a little. Maybe 20% of a murder."

  • Camena nods helpfully.

Vance: "You mean #4?"

Camena: "He's some sort of Anathema himself, ain't he?"

Svetlana: "Yeah."

Icaria: "Anathema's just a word that means you don't like somebody."

Icaria: "So, yes."

Svetlana: "I try to remember his name. It's easy because it's basically my name but hard because the 'v' is in the wrong place."

Camena: "You know, I really loved burning his office."

Camena: "I regret that he had but one office to burn."

Icaria: "I assume he'll eventually make another, but it's a dangerous habit to get into."

Icaria: "When all you have is a firewand, eventually everything looks like an office."

Camena: "A treat indeed."

Icaria: (such as a priceless tapestry)

Vance: "So if he knew, and didn't tell the satrap, then he's worse than a traitor. It's a threat to Creation."

Vance: "Why did he trust you, and then, why do I trust his endorsement of you?"

Svetlana: "So, Tran," Svetlana says. "Interesting proposition for you: you wake up one morning to find out that while you were sleeping Majal told everyone on the island that you were secretly evil and that anything you did that seemed nice was just part of an evil plot, that anything you said that was true was just in service to a lie, that anything good was just in service to a crime, and that should you ever manage to redeem yourself it would just end up hurting people more anyway. How do you talk to someone who buys that kind of thing?"

Vance: "I couldn't. I'd just stay on my own, and if people chased me, run somewhere else," she says, with a student-indulging-a-line-of-questioning tone.

Camena: "And when you grow tired of running? When your only choices are to run forever and break your soul, or face a world that loathes you and treats every truth you speak as if it were curdled bile?"

Vance: "You're saying that like it's supposed to be a dilemma. I think I could just run forever… you saw how good I am at that!"

Vance: She grins awkwardly as she makes her first joke.

Icaria: "Damn, girl, give yourself a little credit."

Svetlana: "I… wait," Svetlana says. "That, you. You run forever if you are a Magistrate, not if you are Anathema. You have… now I am confused."

Icaria: "Either way, the magistrate is correct. I am a nice person doing heroic things. If other people want to promulgate (incidentally completely self-serving) stories about how I am secretly doomed to wickedness, that is their problem."

Icaria: "I refuse to accept the burden of disproving my own depravity."

Svetlana: "Tran, please forgive me for stopping the argument early, I am having a minor existential crisis."

Vance: "I'm not accusing you. But you four being my friends… that can't erase history. My parents were slaughtered by an Anathema who went from tribal chieftain to demon warlord."

Vance: "It will be hard to spend the rest of my life wondering if I have loosed four more Bulls of the North upon Creation."

Camena: "And shall we hold all Dragons accountable to one another's actions? Must Tepet answer for Sesus?"

Icaria: "God, I hope not."

Svetlana: "I doubt you could say that you've loosed us on anything. If anything you have slowed us down."

Vance: "That's just it, though. It's not about good or bad. It's about probability, inevitability. You're like… a great big knife, left in a room full of children."

Camena: "Wait, are you the child in this metaphor?"

Vance: "No matter how good it could be, it's just too dangerous to keep there."

Svetlana: "Tran," Svetlana says, "I don't care whether you think we're good or bad, I just want to be clear that you haven't made us worse, if we are bad, which, since you've interrupted a number of plans, you definitely haven't."

Icaria: "It feels more like a great big knife left in the knife drawer."

Zanara: "We are not knives in the presence of children," Zanara says, frustration leaking into her voice. "We were chosen by the Most High to bring righteousness back to this world. No lie, no matter how convincing or how often it is repeated, can stain that truth."

Vance: Zanara, roll Charisma + Presence with two stunt dice.

Svetlana: "And I want to understand why running away isn't a perfectly respectable strategy," Svetlana mutters to herself. "I think. The matter is a tangle in my head."

Zanara: Four!

Svetlana: The arc number!

Vance: "Your 'lie' is my 'everything-I've-ever-known.' I don't take the most literal reading of the Immaculate Texts, but it's still almost impossible to reconcile them with this."

Vance: "I think I like Svetlana's approach."

Vance: "I don't need to think about this while we're at sea."

Svetlana: "It was really freaky," Svetlana says, "when Number Four was talking about the history of Creation."

Vance: "But when return, if I do not betray you just as you finish helping me, then I will have failed my duty."

Vance: "And if any of you do something horrible, somehow, I'll know that I could have stopped it."

Svetlana: "You have to understand, I didn't even really have the Immaculate Texts growing up, you know? I was… small. And then there was the city world, and then this, and then… he's talking about heavenly mandates and gods rebelling against demons and…"

Icaria: "I'm really tired of having to justify my existence to people," says Icaria, quietly. This comes to the surprise of everybody else, who have never known him to bother doing so.

Svetlana: "Icaria," Svetlana says, "Tran is not railing against the Solar Exalted. Tran is expressing oppressive generalized anxiety regarding the future."

Icaria: "Oh."

  • Camena offers Tran her hand, her expression softening.

Vance: Tran takes it, out of a schoolgirl prom instinct.

Svetlana: "Though I guess that you have a good point, too, and I was probably excessive myself to step on it so fast."

Icaria: To the surprise of nobody, Icaria doesn't have any answers to the problem of oppressive generalized anxiety regarding the future other than "let's all ignore it together."

Camena: "This is the promise I make to you, Legate Tran; let it be sanctified in the eyes of the Unconquered Sun. I swear this oath in friendship, to do no evil against you or Gloam without just cause and provocation; to hold true to the promises I make to Gloam; to work with you and yours in good faith in all that I do. This I do affirm by the light of Heaven, and I write it now into the world itself," she says at last, wisps of blue-gold anima forming that same oath in the air all around them before fading away like water into thirsty roots.

Vance: "Oh, I've never actually seen an oathbinding before. Interesting. And, also, thank you."

  • Camena cracks her neck.

Vance: Camena, go ahead and make a Charisma + Presence roll, with two stunt dice and a success.

Vance: And gain 1 WP.

Svetlana: Svetlana, who was opening her mouth to say something, closes it again.

Camena: 8 successes.

Camena: "Haven't done that in a long while. I always forget how tingly it is."

Vance: "I don't want to turn on you, not when we return Gloam nor ever. It's unpleasant. But I think I should still find a way to do my duty. If Jaspindar and Vi don't know what you are, they need to. They might not take that well. They might even call a Wyld Hunt. But if you don't tell them, and I know… I think I would have to tell them."

Zanara: "They will know righteousness when they see it. I have faith in that."

Svetlana: "Honestly," Svetlana says, "if your duty insists you do anything underhanded and horrid, then it isn't duty, just obduracy, but should it just ask that you do, like, perfectly acceptable things that we won't like, that's acceptable? I mean, it's not like I'd hate you."

Vance: "I don't think getting you all killed is a perfectly acceptable thing!"

Icaria: "I remain convinced that they already basically know, so I honestly don't care. If they don't know, well… I honestly don't care, either."

Vance: "Icaria, do you remember when I confronted you about being Anathema? The conversation we are having right now?"

Vance: "Jaspindar and Vi would have done something similar if they thought you were Anathema."

Camena: "I beat the crap out of them with a big orichalcum gun. Loathe as I am to finally agree with Icaria, we have not been terribly subtle."

Icaria: "Or they would have realized that doing so would have prevented them from utilizing us for their purposes."

Icaria: "So they pretended not to notice."

Icaria: "Don't Dynasts do cut-throat politics or something? Do you never do the thing where you know somebody has a secret agenda but you pretend not to?"

Icaria: "It's in all my reference material."

Vance: "Not when it comes to letting Anathema go unchecked."

Vance: "That's the really, really big rule. Because if we let you go unchecked, you end up more powerful than we could fight back against."

Icaria: "I admit that I'm biased in that I see no problem with this."

Camena: "Mmmm. They don't want us at the Second Circle, Icaria."

Svetlana: "There is no way that I can wind up more powerful than people can fight back against," Svetlana says. "Just look at me."

Icaria: Icaria considers this. "Well, nondescript and timid people becoming mighty heroes does have precedent…"

Zanara: "She means that if the truth spreads, it becomes that much harder to convince others that we are truly as wicked as Immaculate dogma claims."

Vance: "Um. Not exactly?"

Vance: "I mean pure power."

Zanara: "No matter how powerful I may yet become, I am only one woman," Zanara says. "And I can die just as easily as anyone."

Kukla: ( So many fibs in one sentence! )

Icaria: "Albeit more often."

Zanara: ( I'm not the kind of Exalted that gets to fork herself, sadly. :disappointed: )

Icaria: "Not that I particularly wish to move on to my next incarnation."

Vance: "I guess we'll all find out," Tran says. "You've answered my questions. Whatever the crew is eating smells delicious. Let's eat."

Icaria: "Agreed."

Svetlana: "One day," Svetlana assures her shark roast on a stick, "I will grow so powerful that I will be able to eat, like, two roasts at a time."

Icaria: Leaving the matter up to the dark and corrupting powers of friendship suits Icaria's temperament fine.

Icaria: Not that he really looks happy.

Svetlana: Svetlana imagines the glory of this day, when at last her build has room for Bite Once, Eat Twice.

Svetlana: Or possibly it should be called Ready for Eight Courses Stance.

Icaria: That's a magic worth researching.

Vance: The midway point of the Sparrow's voyage to Tourmaline is a resupply stop at the small island of Prophet's Keep, at the edges of the satrapy held by Cynis Bokaru. Sapphire-feathered parrots wheel through the sky noisily as the ship comes into port.

Icaria: I'll try to have ready an everlasting stewpot.

Camena: "Parrots. Ugh. Bright-colored excuses for squawking and shitting."

Svetlana: Svetlana, inspired by all this, flashback-interrogates Icaria about legendary and fictional Nights and thieves on the way to the midpoint.

Svetlana: "They're also great mospid chow!"

Vance: The ship is in need of provisions: food, mostly. Vi's maps indicated you would be able to purchase sufficient supplies to complete the round trip here.

Icaria: Icaria has many amazing stories to tell, although he may be just telling old legends about thieves and cross-correlating them with various Exalted at random.

  • Camena calls for Cord, the ship's bursar. He's a twinky thing, all lean muscle and wavy hair, but the effect is somewhat cut by his piles of ledgers.

Vance: Cord strikes a dramatic pose, holding multiple ledgers under each arm as the sun outlines his silhouette.

Vance: "Yes, Captain?"

Svetlana: "Must. resist. puns," Svetlana mutters.

Camena: "I hope you've got liquid goods. Or solid ones," Camena says, hands behind her head in a relaxed pose. "We need to take on supplies. Best price you can get. And then a better price still, you follow where the winds are blowing?"

Vance: "Captain, are you trying to seduce me to the ways of a lawless life again?"

Camena: "Cordy, if I were trying to seduce you, we'd both be a lot sweatier and quite fabulously tired. I just mean turn the screws a little, as only you can do. An honored Dragon aboard, after all, and sailing under the marque of Gloam's satrap!"

Camena: "And if that doesn't work," she adds with a wicked gleam, "just case the joint and let me know the disposition."

Vance: Would anyone like to accompany Cord, or should we flash forward to him reporting back?

Camena: Forward.

Svetlana: Sounds like the captain doesn't want random disembarking, so yeah.

Camena: Oh, that was just my vote.

Camena: If you got something cool in mind, go for it!

Svetlana: Svetlana mostly is just inclined to ask to tag along to stretch her legs and have her ears open for trouble sources that Cord or people stuck on ship might miss.

Vance: I'll try to montage this as much as possible, in the interest of splitting the party as little as possible

Svetlana: I can also be sleeping when Cord departs or something, if that helps.

Vance: Cord thanks Svetlana for watching his back as they disembark. The nautical accountant hides a purse of silver coins in a seret pocket sewn into his sleeves and unrolls travel papers bearing the Sesus mon and Jaspindar's signature. It's not fake, which is new! Upon presenting it to the harbormaster, the two of you are lead along a mazy grid of plank bridges a few feet above the swampy ground.

Camena: While Cord is ashore, Camena sneaks into the ship's stores and steals two bottles of Wyldwine. The good stuff. The knock-out stuff. Time to get Icaria sauced!

Vance: When you arrive at the provisioners, it is more like the shrine of a pagan cult than a place of commerce—women and men wearing black-and-red robes and boar masks, open flames ready to receive sacrifices, children chanting eerie chorales.

Svetlana: Svetlana fades slightly further into the background with the unrecognizability element of Seasoned Criminal Method as she tags along, though a -2 penalty on official Bureaucracy and Investigation rolls to establish her identity is probably only cosmetically relevant here.

Vance: Svetlana overhears one of the hog-masked priests asking Cord for his offering to what she presumes is the patron spirit of this cult, a being named Malac Dagadt. The young sailor proffers silver coins, but the priest refuses—not the right kind of offering, apparently.

Svetlana: Svetlana squints at him and attempts to get a read on what he might be looking for. There's a certain way a person stands when what they want is body-related, a certain way a person stands when it's about nature, a certain way when it's ultimately about cash, she mentally narrates, as if for her report… But the mask makes it hard, and she's not actually all that good at this.

Vance: Roll Perception + Socialize.

Vance: (But not read intentions!)

Svetlana: 1 success.

Vance: Cord's not doing this right.

Vance: This feels like a formalized social situation. There's something he's supposed to do. But he doesn't know what it is!

Svetlana: What are other people doing?

  • Camena chases Icaria down with shot glasses. Well, they're snifters, but anything's a shot glass if you're brave enough.

Icaria: nooooooo

Vance: The other patrons of this Provisioner's Lodge are a mixed of the island's native people, identifiable by their masks, and Realm colonizers, who go maskless. They approach a brazier, toss something in (Svetlana's nose says its a bundle of various fragrant incenses wrapped together with animal fat), and then go off into the back, where the actual supplies are kept, to wheel and deal.

  • Camena gets him in a headlock and starts pouring the glasses.

Icaria: Nooooo I don't want to be introspective

Svetlana: Svetlana nudges Cord, gestures towards the brazier, then wanders in its direction and tosses in an empty hand full of her momentary whole-hearted belief that right that instant she is offering Malac Dagadt, like, the best bundle of incenses and fat ever just as it's about to flicker and release a bunch of scent.

Camena: "Let's talk about how you're going to romance Cord. What's your move of choice, Icky?

Vance: Cord makes a deferential gesture to the priest-merchant, and breaks away from the hog shrine along with Svetlana. "I guess they're real sticklers about it. Camena says you've got a damn fine nose; can you tell where we can get some?"

Vance: Unfortunately, almost everyone on the island's market is carrying offerings of some kind, making it hard to pinpoint a source.

Icaria: "Nobody will ever love me," mourns Icaria, already drunk on, mostly, the power of suggestion.

Vance: The caring visage of Pim appears in the back of Icaria's mind, holding him and whispering reassurances.

Icaria: Ack!

  • Icaria swats these visions away.

Camena: "Icky. Kiddo. You're a powerful sorcerer. You're… smart, I think, or really good at pretending to be. You're a good lookin' kid, and you can make your muscles shine like bronze. Because, you know, sorcery."

Icaria: "Ha!"

Icaria: "It's all a, a, a, prestidigitation."

Icaria: "I don' actually know anythin' about anythin'."

Svetlana: Svetlana is saddened that her attempt to sleight of hand it did not carry Cord along by sheer charisma, but then she remembers that she has no sheer charisma to drag people along with. "Um," she says. She finds someone who doesn't smell busy but seems to have some kind of incense on them. "Pardon me," she says, "but do you know where I can find an offering for the market?"

Vance: Are you talking to an islander or a Realm person?

Camena: "Zanara!" Camena calls, pouring her a glass, and Tran as well if she cares to break liquid bread with the Anathema. "You've got dangerous amounts of confidence. Come help this poor boy see his worth."

Svetlana: An islander.

Zanara: "Don't sell yourself short, Icaria. You're a learned man. You've forgotten more than I shall probably ever learn."

Icaria: "The worl's full of people who know stuff and never did anythin'. An' what am I? An idiot. I know you all think that."

Camena: "Kid, you're only an idiot if you think that we think that. Or maybe if you think when we think that that we're thinking about your thinking."

Vance: The butterfly-masked shopper Svetlana asks is kind, polite, and maddeningly condescending in tone. "The offerings are prepared by widows and orphans, in the Worm Districts, offlander."

Icaria: "You can't confuse a trained logician wiv multipl' negatives," says Icaria.

Svetlana: "I see," Svetlana says. "I see. This is so embarrassing. You are telling me that there are procedures for such things and I am trying to skip steps?"

Camena: "Oh, my precious little hedgehog, what are you so afraid of? Don't you want cute boys?"

Icaria: "I seem to, but, you see."

Vance: "Oh, don't feel bad, almost all of you are confused by this. It's the rule of the priestly lodges, so that their commerce will also benefit the poor and needy. I was planning on buying a new scarf from the Tapir Lodge, but since you're lost, I could spare you my offering."

Vance: "I'd part with it for, say…an obol?"

Svetlana: Svetlana uses her keen knowledge of the setting paired with mood-scent and if necessary read intentions to figure out whether this is outrageous or reasonable.

Vance: It's absolutely a rip-off.

Icaria: "I try so hard to be this person, but."

Icaria: "It's a fiction."

Camena: "Puppy. Puppy," Camena says, pouring herself another terrifying glass. "You think you're fiction?"

Svetlana: "I can't possibly accept your kindness," Svetlana says, in a somewhat carrying voice. "I'm sure a proper offering for Malac Dagadt is worth at least twenty obols."

Vance: "It's true! I thought only to spare your purse the burden of your unfamiliarity with our ways. In truth, I think that the skillful handicraft and heart-felt devotion of a widow or orphan is in fact worth thirty obols."

Svetlana: "That's absolutely true!" Svetlana declares, loudly enough for half the market to hear. "Why, if I gave you less than fifty obols for an offering like that, how could I call myself Tepet Evdeniya?"

Svetlana: Svetlana clutches at her heart.

Svetlana: Svetlana's thought process: if I ask Cord to give her an obol and it's not the right offering, that would suck, but if I make a scene, maybe something good will happen, plus, how can she plan to walk home with that much?

Camena: "If so, so much the better."

Icaria: "There's no instruction manual for being a reborn hero of legend."

Icaria: "All I know how to do is things I read somewhere."

Icaria: "That's the only person I know how to be."

Vance: If you're hoping to make a scene, you're not getting too much in the way of a response. A few unmasked faces turn when you raise your voice, but the market-temple otherwise continues on undisturbed, so far.

Icaria: "That and some guy who was nobody, who took whatever people threw at him, who wasn't… wasn't even a real librarian…"

Icaria: "…and then they threw me out. They said, I was a liability now."

Icaria: "The only good thing that ever happened to me, and they said not to darken their doorstep again."

Zanara: "I am unlikely to see my home ever again either," Zanara says. "Unless I come back with a very large army. And that is hardly the same thing."

  • Camena coos indistinctly and strokes Icaria's hair.

Icaria: (Icaria's verbal tic drops as he forgets that he was momentarily taken by the idea of being drunk.)

Svetlana: Svetlana ponders that. Interesting. Are foreigners beneath notice, perhaps?

Vance: You could probably roll Perception or Wits + Socialize to get a sense of the why.

Icaria: "I didn't want to leave."

Icaria: "At least, not until I'd read everything. So, not for a thousand years."

Svetlana: Three successes.

Icaria: "I mean, gods. There was time! Finally, there was time!"

Svetlana: On Wits + Socialize, since Perception is too easy.

Camena: "Gosling, why should it matter to you what they think? No one ever wants to leave home, but you can't stay home forever. And all the world's a book, my lovely, all the world's a book. Live here and now, and remember that there are things to see that you'll never find in any tome. You'll write things no one will ever fixed at the point of a pen, too. If you're going to be a fiction, then remember that you're also a writer, and you'll write yourself a life. Not the one you wanted, but with luck—the one you deserve."

Svetlana: Svetlana is thinking: foreigners are beneath notice, they are all drones who oink 'the greater good, the greater good,' or they're used to scenes.

Icaria: "I guess."

Camena: "Don't guess," she says, putting her chin on his head tipsily. "Do the math, smart boy. Run me the odds on a life well lived with all Creation as your library."

Vance: You read the crowd, and get a sense of general indifference. Svetlana's behavior is no more unusual than, like, someone checking out at a grocery store and talking to the cashier at a really loud volume. It might be unusual, but it's not really interesting and it's more awkward to stare at than anything else.

  • Icaria does the math.

Icaria: "Practically nil."

Icaria: "I have a deadly secret I can't be bothered to keep, and practically everyone has decided to be our enemy, finding the idea of a Lawgiver unconvincing, I suppose."

Icaria: "I'm assisting a friend who probably ought to be a deadly enemy, and who possibly will be one once she runs out of excuses for pretending not to be."

Icaria: "Also I routinely make bad decisions because they feel in-character for the person I think I ought to be."

Icaria: "And I don't really want to stop doing any of those things because they feel like a self-betrayal."

Icaria: "So, yeah."

  • Vance viscerally cringes at the memories of past Vance brought on by that.

Zanara: "The Unconquered Sun, in His wisdom, chose you, Icaria. Do you have faith in His judgement, at least? That He has not erred in marking you as His own? Then do not so worry about who you are supposed to be. Be true to yourself, whoever you believe that you are, or should be, and that will be His will made manifest."

  • Icaria frowns.

Svetlana: Tough crowd, Svetlana thinks, being used to places where the words 'fifty obols' would grab at least some attention, if not active competition for the sale. Oh, well. She has a backup plan.

Icaria: "I don't actually believe that I'm anybody."

Camena: "What do you mean, kit?"

Svetlana: Svetlana says, "Ah—though, I'm a little worried that there's some religious issue that I don't know about that means that it's no good if I don't get it from the widows and orphans personally? Or if there are different kinds for different transactions?"

Icaria: "…I don't know what I mean," says Icaria, morosely.

  • Icaria feels like he's talking over everybody else's plot, again.

Camena: (We're the B-plot, darling.)

Vance: (Icaria is earning his Solar XP for this session.)

Vance: (This B-plot is also great.)

Svetlana: (I am not convinced that what Svetlana is doing qualifies as the A-plot. Maybe if her paranoia is 100% justified.)

Camena: "It's a strange thing, isn't it? Being alive. Being a person."

Camena: "The two don't always feel the same."

Vance: "As long as a proper alms is given in recompense, it will be welcomed by the god whose pyre it is offered to. Intermediate sales don't diminish sacredness."

Vance: "So, do we have a deal?"

Camena: "Not for me. Maybe for Righteous here," she adds, gesturing wildly towards Zanara, but not unkindly. "You're a person, Icaria. Good, bad, smart, dumb, your own or someone else's—I don't know. You don't and won't and probably can't. But you sure look like a person to me."

Icaria: "Oh."

Zanara: "For what it's worth, I do experience doubt on occasion. I think everyone must."

Svetlana: "You're not going to drive me to a thousand?" Svetlana asks, in genuine curiosity.

Vance: "Do you have a thousand on you?"

Icaria: (I think the conversation is likely to end unsatisfyingly, because Icaria finds Camena's and Zanara's advice both unhelpful.)

Icaria: (Not that that's a bad thing.)

Camena: (Well, I think it's one of those movie scenes where it ends with Icaria gazing off wistfully at the ocean.)

Icaria: "Well, it's nice to know I won't suddenly vanish when the author loses interest," says Icaria.

  • Icaria gazes off wistfully at the ocean.

Icaria: (Svetlana may have something to contribute later, because lord knows if anybody here has something to say about impostor syndrome it's her.)

Svetlana: "Who has a thousand obols on them?" Svetlana says.

Svetlana: "I can give you a writ," Svetlana says. "It draws on the Imperial Treasury. Then if the Thousand Scales thinks it's an appropriate expenditure and a reasonable price, bam, cash in hand."

Svetlana: "Naturally if it's not a fair trade the incense wouldn't please the god," Svetlana says.

Vance: "Surely your Treasury, which is unfamiliar in the ways of Prophet's Keep, would doubt the propriety of such an expenditure. Which would leave you with my offering, and me with a worthless piece of paper. No offense, offlander, but I think hard coinage will be perfectly fair here."

Svetlana: "But the offering wouldn't please the god, then," Svetlana says, blankly.

Vance: "Malac is the good of making and selling food, not the god of foreseeing in advance whether an offlander's credit will be honored in the future."

Svetlana: Svetlana sighs. "Perhaps you would take a writ," she says. "For ownership of an island, if I ever had one that I was no longer using, had to vacate in a hurry, but had some tenuous legal rights to."

Icaria: Ha!

Vance: "Madam, you're making this all very complicated. You give me the obols, I'll give you the offering, we're both happy, no problem."

Svetlana: "I'm not happy," Svetlana says. "I'm apparently terrible at the job Heaven chose me for. I finally take off the mask, you know, and face the world, and you know what? Nobody notices. This entire conversation has been a farrago. Ask that man over there for two qian for it. Feel free to step on my foot on the way over. I don't mind."

Vance: (Are you still trying to start a scene?)

Svetlana: Svetlana is accepting that her attempt to start a scene failed, that her attempt to mildly shame the butterfly-masked person and/or pawn the problem off on the Magistracy failed, and her attempt to be the mysterious Chosen who wandered through this person's life and wound up giving her an actual island with a Manse on it failed, and is refusing to double down.

Svetlana: Svetlana is even refusing to pickpocket the butterfly-masked person who is only proximally at fault.

Vance: "Don't blame me, lady, it's just my job."

Vance: Cord locks eyes with Butterfly-Mask, and offers a halved obol. She sighs, and hands over the fat-wrapped incense bundle.

Svetlana: "That will not go down in history as one of my finer moments," Svetlana admits to Cord.

Vance: "Damn local customs," he says. "Hopefully now that you got this piece of garbage, actually buying supplies will be much easier."

Svetlana: "Let's hope," Svetlana says.

Svetlana: "Seventy-thirty they'd have honored it," Svetlana says. "At least at twenty or fifty. It's kind of funny. I mean, good chance they'd have stiffed her because, little people, but, on the other hand, nobody in the Thousand Scales cares about fifty obols."

Vance: It turns out that the boar priests are actually easy enough to deal with—Cord shows them his jade, and begins picking out reasonably-priced supplies. While he's making deals and having provisions loaded onto a cart, Svetlana hears a whisper from the space beneath the city's many swamp-bridges. "Offlander, help me! I'm being chased, you have to let me on to your ship!"

Svetlana: Svetlana moves casually along the bridge to where she is less likely to be overheard and, assuming the voice beneath the bridge follows, says, "Mm?

Vance: You meet a maskless face, although from the thick layers of mud and swamp-grime slathered onto it you could hardly tell. It's a bit hard to make out features, but he smells like a fairly young man. "I traded masks to escape the janissaries, but now I've lost the mask I borrowed. They'll know I'm the runaway if they see me without a mask—please, let me aboard your ship."

Svetlana: "You'll have to explain a bit," Svetlana says.

Vance: "I tried to escape from slavery in disguise, and lost my disguise."

Svetlana: "Ah," Svetlana says. She squints at him, reading intentions for how he feels about slavery, as a proxy for checking his honesty.

Vance: You don't need to roll to get the sense that he's not a fan of it.

Vance: He has an Intimacy of basically "this sucks."

Svetlana: "That's fine, then," Svetlana says. "Whose mask would you like for now?"

Svetlana: She waves towards the crowd.

Vance: "Are you planning on snatching a mask off someone's face in the market in broad daylight?"

Svetlana: "Of course not," Svetlana says. "I'm planning on vigorously walking with someone into an alley to see the local sights and returning with a mask. Assuming that something in the customs of the island or your personal experience lets you point out someone who deserves it."

Svetlana: "Although perhaps I should just take the mask off of everyone's face."

Svetlana: Svetlana considers.

Vance: "I don't know about people who deserve it, but an inconspicuous mask would be best. One of the Songbirds, or the Tigers, or something like that."

Svetlana: Svetlana nods. "Well, I'll see what I can do. Hold tight ten, twenty minutes. If I'm not back, or if you need to leave, head for the ship, namedrop Svetlana."

Svetlana: Svetlana walks into the market, looking like absolutely the best possible person to lure or pull into an alley and mug. (Seasoned Criminal Method.)

Svetlana: Svetlana has a suspicion that this won't work here, because seriously nobody even reacted to 'fifty obols', but something in her heart refuses to accept a market with no criminals at all. Well, with only three criminals.

Vance: This probably doesn't actually need a roll.

Svetlana: While waiting for someone to mug her, Svetlana looks for a good target of her own. This is harder because she isn't actually any good at physically pulling people places and cons are out due to really weird customs, so she probably does have to steal a mask in broad daylight if nobody goes for it.

Vance: You lure in a thief, and are able to indispose of him quietly with such ease that it need not bother being described. His mask is a zebra. You have no idea if that will stand out or not.

Svetlana: I return it to our friend in the swamp.

Svetlana: I make sure to stop looking unusually muggable.

Vance: "Thanks, lady. By the way, I never introduced myself. I'm 48 Pillar." He flips the mask over in his hands and inspects it. "Zebra? Not what I had in mind, but it could work."

Svetlana: "I wanted to steal a bunch of masks," Svetlana says. "It would have been extremely impressive. I would have been in a place no one was looking at that moment. Whisk. The first one. Then a dash that avoids sight lines to the second, and the third—-but it would have put you and us at risk for no good reason."

Vance: "That would be pretty fun to watch," he admits.

Svetlana: "Oh, I like you, Mr. Pillar," Svetlana says. "I'd been all prepared to accept that you weren't in a spirit to appreciate that kind of thing just after escaping from slavery, but you, you show promise."

Vance: 48 Pillar gathers some swamp water in his hands and washes his face as best he can before donning the Zebra. "Okay, now let's run by hell. Or walk quietly like hell."

Svetlana: "Give me a moment to let my shipmate know I'm heading back," Svetlana says. "But you can start moving and I promise I can catch up.

Vance: "I'll make for the harbors. What's your ship's name?"

Svetlana: Svetlana shares the ship's name.

Vance: And let's fast forward to both of you embarking.

Vance: How many members of the circle are still embarrassingly drunk?

Icaria: I was never actually drunk.

Icaria: It is possible that invisible air elementals drank all my liquor in my stead.

Zanara: Zanara doesn't drink.

Svetlana: "Zanara!" Svetlana carols as she wanders in. "Brought you a present! Camena, you'll love this place, everyone's in disguise every waking moment."

Zanara: "A present?" Zanara raises an eyebrow.

Svetlana: "I rescued a slave!"

Svetlana: Svetlana gestures dramatically.

Svetlana: "Well, mostly he rescued himself."

Svetlana: "But I helped."

Icaria: "Wow, and it wasn't even her birthday."

Icaria: "Was it his?"

Camena: "Maaaaaaaaaaaasks," Camena says, falling over.

Vance: (I'm planning for this to be the last scene, unless anyone's hankering to go on.)

Svetlana: "They're really hard to con," Svetlana burbles to Camena. "But I think that's just because I have absolutely no idea how they work yet. Once they're unlocked it'll be like an island of mini-us."

Vance: "48 Pillar," he says. "If Tepet Evdeniya had not saved me, I would be back in the barracks or on the chopping block."

Zanara: "Well, you're safe now. If they dare come for you here, they'll have to get through us."

Vance: "Thank you, gracious strangers. It was my hope to escape aboard a ship, and find a new land where I can live free."

Svetlana: "That's a reasonable goal," Svetlana agrees. "We're currently going to assault a wicked sorcerer's Manse and save a baby, but after that I think we're going to such a land."

Vance: "You'll forgive me for not knowing what half those words are. My masters saw fit to teach me the sword and the spear and the bow, but not the diplomatic arts."

Svetlana: "That's fine," Svetlana says. "How did you lose your first replacement mask?"

Vance: "I was vaulting a wall. Once they realized someone had defected, they sent out the Siaka."

Vance: "I got away, but lost the mask."

Icaria: "Is that a mask, or an actual mask-eating shark?"

Vance: "The Siaka Lodge is a gang of trackers, bounty hunters, and mercenaries. I think they have close ties with the military."

  • Icaria assumes this means they aren't actual sharks.

Svetlana: "It feels like it should be easy to free and then hide a whole compound of slaves in plain sight," Svetlana says, in mild frustration, "since everyone's wearing masks. But nothing here has actually been easy, so that probably wouldn't actually work. The Siaka being one reason, I take it."

Vance: 48 Pillar is taken aback. "Freeing everyone? What are you, mad?"

Svetlana: "I'm sorry, Camena," Svetlana asides. "No sooner do we pause for supplies on our baby-rescuing deviation from our anti-slavery mission than I deviate from thinking about baby-rescue and supply stops to thinking about anti-slavery."

Camena: "Bluh?"

Svetlana: Svetlana pats Camena's hand gently and then turns her attention back to 48 Pillar.

Svetlana: "Why leave them enslaved?" Svetlana says. "I mean, besides a lack of time."

Vance: "They give us to the Realm," 48 Pillar explains. "I don't know what the deal between them is, but I think the Realm will notice if they stop getting their janissaries."

Vance: "All the gods of Prophet's Keep would rise up against you before they let you free the armies, and there are many of them."

Zanara: "And you would leave your comrades in chains?" Zanara says cooly.

Svetlana: "I don't really want to fight all the gods of Prophet's Keep," Svetlana says. "I mean, fighting a god of food seems kind of mean."

Vance: "Of course not," he says, offended. "I'll gladly come with you any time you return to free janissaries from this island. But I'm a man. I can't stand against the Siaka, let alone their god."

Zanara: "Let me speak to them. They will soon learn that they are stronger than those who call themselves masters, and they will overthrow this injustice!"

Svetlana: "I see this leading to bad places," Svetlana says.

Vance: "Well, you can try. I hope you have a lot of free time."

Vance: "Actually, I'll probably be safer as soon as we leave harbor, so don't."

Svetlana: "The Siaka defeating them once roused," Svetlana says. "That's a possible problem. And the Realm coming in force to say, 'hey, where's my tribute?' is a second problem. Though these are not insurmountable or anything, so that doesn't mean you shouldn't speak to them."

Svetlana: "I'm not sure the Realm can really afford to come in force right now, but it can't actually let people stop paying it either."

Vance: "One moment." Tran says.

Vance: "Cutthroat intrigue is my birthright."

Vance: "Prophet's Keep is almost right on the boundary between Jaspinder's satrapy and Bokuro's. If House Cynis is unable to collect a tribute, I'm sure Sesus would be glad to take up governance of the island."

Svetlana: "Ohhhh," Svetlana says. "Nice."

Svetlana: Svetlana visibly brightens at the phrase "House Cynis is unable to collect" (but not in a Solar way).

Vance: "Prophet's Keep has paid their tithes in conscripts, but the artisanal lodged produce highly valuable luxury goods. You could collect from them."

Svetlana: "I spent a very long time working hard not to feel any bias against House Cynis, which has made many important contributions to the Realm," Svetlana says, sadly. "How swiftly that has crumbled. I must work to re-establish it after we have removed Cynis Bokaru from circulation."

Zanara: "Must you?"

Vance: "Fuck 'em," Tran says.

Vance: "Oh. Wait."

Svetlana: "I may have to honestly claim a lack of bias!" Svetlana says.

Vance: "That wasn't supposed to be a lewd joke. I just dislike them."

Svetlana: Svetlana tries not to face the fact that she has just implicitly admitted that her actual motivations originate in a con.

Svetlana: "That's a good solution, anyhow," Svetlana says. "Thank you, Tran. Dealing with the Siaka Lodge is a much, much easier problem."

Vance: "It's not that easy," 48 Pillar says. "Every lodge has a god, and the highest-of-the-high artisanal gods are no less deadly than the God of Bounty Hunters."

Svetlana: "I am probably getting overconfident with Tran telling me I will one day be too powerful to stop and Zanara being totally confident in our righteousness and trying so hard to live up to what Sivana suggests we are and it makes me want to do things that in fact I am nowhere near good enough to do, like stealing the Siaka Lodge or laughing at hordes of gods. Zanara, you may have to help me keep perspective."

Svetlana: Svetlana rubs at her nose. "I just want to be good at this," she mutters.

Svetlana: "But, still, I don't think gods are… that big a problem?"

Zanara: "I have known many gods, and each was as venal and corrupt as the last. They have power, yes, but much of their power comes from the weight of tradition, or from vague threats that cow those who cannot fight back. Cut that out, make them fight on our terms, and they are far less terrifying than one might expect."

  • Vance set the channel topic: Kill Six Dozen Gods.

Svetlana: "Most of the lodge gods probably wouldn't care about Sesus taking over from Cynis," Svetlana points out. "Even if their goods are taken as tribute, that makes them more valuable locally."

Svetlana: "Not that they'd know that was planned to happen," Svetlana says, thinking it through. "But still, it's a base for potential negotiation."

Svetlana: "Tell me about the lodges, 48 Pillar?" Svetlana says. "I don't know how to … handle them, and their gods. I'm not even completely sure what a lodge is."

Vance: "I'm not the best guide you could hope for. I met with far fewer of the lodges than most Prophet's Kept. The temple-lodges are a hierarchy of commercial cults. Each one provides a specific good or service—the Boar Lodge provides food, the Squirrel Lodge are all couriers, and the Toad Lodge were my owners."

Vance: "Each Lodge is also the priesthood of one of our gods. Wearing a mask is a sacred act, the mark of one's covenant with the god of their lodge. I know the Realm's monks made some changes when they took over, but that's the gist of it."

Svetlana: "What's the butterfly?" Svetlana asks, with vague curiosity.

Vance: "Con artists and extortionists. One of them runs a racket outside another lodge's shrine, they split the profits."

Svetlana: "Hm," Svetlana says.

Svetlana: "I feel we should talk to a local god or two," Svetlana says. "And get them into line. That's probably the wrong one, though. Even if I had a great scheme to either bring the butterfly god in on or run on the butterfly god, it'd probably just complicate things."

Vance: "Easy enough. The lodges let people pay to talk to their gods, or so I understand."

Svetlana: "Zebras are thieves?"

Vance: "General criminals."

Vance: "At the top, there's the Parrot Lodge. The priest-king is the leader of the island, but Parrot Lodge is the head of all the other lodges."

Vance: (I think I'm gonna call it here.)

Vance: (Everyone gets 4 Solar XP for showing up during… _this…_ and still being awesome.)

Icaria: "Well," said Icaria, sitting off by himself, "I feel like everything I do is a frantic struggle to pretend I know where I am and what I'm doing."

Icaria: "Perhaps… perhaps that's how it is for everyone?"

Svetlana: We definitely belong on an island of masks.

  • Icaria finds a piece of wood and starts a crafting project.
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