In Which We Are Less Confident Than We Look

Camena: So what are we doing tonight?

Camena: Does it involve summoning 10 Billion Elementals?

Camena: And if not, could it?

Vance: I think the first order of business was Zanara giving stern talking-to's to the lodge gods.

Zanara: She would prefer they reform themselves, yes. Riots are so… messy.

Camena: In the meantime, I'll be intimidating Icaria into teaching me how to summon my own elemental hookers.

  • Vance suffers a mental bluescreen as their brain attempts to envision intercourse with a greenmaw.

Vance: Zanara, did you have any particular lodge's god in mind as the first one you wanted to visit?

Vance: The ones I'd figure probably top your list are the Parrot Lodge, who are at the top of the hierarchy, or the lodge of guys who own the slave armies.

Zanara: Mmmmyeah, that sounds about right.

Vance: The Parrot Lodge's god is Qu Qukulan, who 48 Pillar describes as some kind of wind deity.

Vance: The Toad Lodge's god is Dancer With a Skirt of Iron, a warrior-god of smithing and weaponry.

  • Camena looks at her PDF.

Camena: Mother of all fucks.

Camena: Mother fuckery.

Camena: So…

Camena: Remember that thing…

Camena: …with the character sheet PDF and the corruption and the fury.

Camena: Guess what happened again.

Camena: Guuuuuess!

Camena: Can someone remind me what the running XP totals are.

Camena: And why I don't follow good advice from everybody else like uploading stuff to Google Drive?

Kukla: Man, store your character sheet as a text file, you dingus.

Camena: I am rebuilding it as such.

Camena: Because, again:

Camena: Mother of moist dickthistle fuckery.

Zanara: I just printed a sheet out and use that.

Camena: So…

Camena: XP total? Because my brain is dumb?

Zanara: I have 55?

Camena: …crap spackle. Our Solar XPs are all different, aren't they?

Zanara: Yeah, I think so.

Camena: Thoughts, Vance?

Svetlana: I am not 100% sold on our Solar XP being different. I think there is legitimate motivational value in the current system, don't get me wrong; each time I think about whether I've earned each kind it brings me closer to playing it properly. But I kind of feel like there should be occasional normalizations where we all get set to either the highest or the second highest if the highest hasn't spent more than that or something, e.g. at Essence 2.

Svetlana: I feel that Vera probably couldn't have fulfilled her Zenithness and intimacies much better than she did in the sessions before joining.

Camena: That's definitely a fair assessment.

Svetlana: I was going to suggest Zebra as a lodge to consider talking to first, although Parrot has some elegant simplicity to it.

Svetlana: As a group, we probably have some cred with Zebra, and conversely if the conversation goes poorly Zebra probably doesn't have that much cred with the other gods.

Svetlana: So mostly a trial run.

Svetlana: I believe two of us even have a Charm to automatically appeal to Zebra, and then Zanara has Presence and basically the same name.

Icaria: I long to do some mask-mixing magic.

Vance: Re: Solar XP, I am also amenable to making it more of a shared group reward.

Vance: You all do a great job and I hate having to justify handing out rewards.

Svetlana: I want to make some masks for us but I think it may take me too long to whittle them and I don't know what our group animal should be. The sun is probably too blatant.

Vance: What's the highest Solar XP value anyone has?

Svetlana: I think I have 38.

Vance: You definitely have time to whittle masks.

Svetlana: Icaria is my only likely competition.

Svetlana: (Because of number of sessions.)

Svetlana: They can't be the sun. I'm a Night. It would be wrong. What animal represents us?

Svetlana: They could be goatoids, although that doesn't represent us very well. Does the island have goatoids?

Camena: I dunno. What animal stumbles from one calamity to another?

Icaria: I haven't counted how much Solar XP I've spent, only regular XP.

Svetlana: Moths, but they have moths.

Camena: I could go steal all the moths.

Svetlana: They might only have moon moths and not sun moths.

Icaria: Let's go with flame ducks.

Icaria: Or, the noble greenmaw!

Svetlana: Flame ducks isn't bad.

Camena: I can get behind flame ducks.

Camena: Can we walk in a tight V everywhere we go.

Camena: And can the masks please look like the Mighty Ducks logo?

Camena: But, you know…

Camena: …on fire?

Svetlana: If I had Woodworking 5 I would do sun moths, but I have Woodworking 2 and so my ability to subtly evoke the themes of the sun and the ascension of law will not be so great.

Svetlana: Flame ducks carries!

Svetlana: Yeah, they absolutely can.

Camena: Ooo, I got Dark Eras at last!

Vance: You can do all the masks as one batch craft roll, unless you really want to milk me for craft XP.

Camena:

Camena: The phrasing there was unfortunate.

Camena: Or my mindset approaching it was.

Svetlana: I will totally do this. I get Rubean to lightly char the surface of some wood for, like, the je ne sais quoi and get our duckface on.

Vance: That's definitely worth +2 dice.

Vance: Mask carving probably uses Dexterity?

Svetlana: That's my assumption!

Svetlana: 5 successes (1 wp spent).

Svetlana: These are seriously better than Svetlana expected. ^_^

Vance: 48 Pillar gives your workmanship his approval.

Vance: You get, uh…at least 1 silver craft XP.

Svetlana: "Qua," Svetlana says, in solemn acknowledgment of his approval.

Vance: I assume you get another if you have an Intimacy like "I love masks and shenanigans."

Svetlana: I do not. There is no room for masks in Svetlana's heart, only petty torts.

Icaria: You'll just have to make one.

Icaria: Make a little bird mask in your soul.

Svetlana: I should!

Svetlana: Minor Tie: I carry the will of the mighty flame ducks in my heart!

Svetlana: Hm, possibly needs disambiguation.

Vance: What about intimacies against gods doing the sort of thing they're doing here, or slavery generally?

Camena: Oh, gods.

Camena: Is this going to become our group name?

Camena: The Dauntless Bureau of the Flame Duck?

Icaria: "It's more like a flock," says Rubean.

Icaria: "In any case, I don't mind accepting you as junior flame ducks."

Svetlana: It falls ambiguously under her Defining Principle, because while "Nobody gets abandoned, left behind, or forgotten" isn't really meant to be about rescuing slaves, it is when they are thrust into her attention.

Vance: I think that should qualify.

Vance: Adding more context to intimacies is a good thing.

Svetlana: Svetlana is like someone who really likes baking who just found out that people actually eat baked goods. She hasn't made all the cognitive connections quite yet.

Vance: So, Svetlana's set of masks are sufficient to let all of you pass casually on Prophet's Keep without needing a disguise roll, but you may risk being found out if you flub Socialize rolls.

Vance: Or if you decide to just up and tell everyone you're Solars.

Svetlana: What a ridiculous notion. Haha.

Svetlana: I'm sure Icaria would only do that if it was dramatically convenient or if someone asked.

Icaria: Well, as long as nobody… yes.

Icaria: Anyway, Tran had all the data.

Icaria: I was controlling the timing of the revelation instead of waiting for the light bulb to go off on its own.

Svetlana: "So I figure, we should go to Zebras, Parrots, or whoever the librarians are."

Svetlana: "If they are bookworms, though, I may have to smite this island."

Icaria: "Wasps."

Icaria: "They make paper, you see."

Svetlana: "That's logical," Svetlana says. "I'm sure you could do it too, if you tried."

Icaria: "Yes, although making the wasps is easier."

Camena: "Always fancied myself a tamaran. Or a golden-crowned flying fox," Camena muses as she begins to sober up.

Vance: Since this is Zanara's plan, she should probably decide on the lodge.

Vance: Or pass off the decision baton.

Svetlana: "Too late, coz," Svetlana says. "Also not enough gold."

Icaria: Honestly, Icaria will probably stay on the boat and work on mask-mixup magic whose details can be determined later.

Zanara: The Toad's Lodge is the one with the army. She can either convince their god to defect, or she can convince the army to overthrow all of the gods. Either way, Toad seems like the place to be.

Camena: "You need gold ink?" Camena says, "We got ink. Ink we got. This is a ship o' the arts, Svety."

Svetlana: "Lavish!"

Vance: Unlike the open-air food market of the Boar Lodge, the Toad Lodge conducts their business from one of the wooden towers that rise from the swampy heart of the island's most prosperous market. Its members, 48 Pillar tells you, are slave traders, those who import captive children from Guild merchants and other overseas traders and coordinate both their sale on the slave market and the island's yearly tithe to the Realm.

Svetlana: Svetlana scrutinizes Rubean for signs of gold, then shakes her head. "Perhaps for the next project."

Vance: The entrance to the lodge is an ornately carved wooden arch, depicting warriors in battle with incredibly fine detail. A toad-masked figure stands in front of it, flanked by a pair of blank-masked janissaries.

  • Camena stays behind to assist Icaria. And also be less drunk. And possibly finish her character sheet.

Vance: (Feel free to take over an NPC!)

Svetlana: Perhaps Rubean will accompany us, then, in a highly appropriate mask?

Svetlana: She helped so it would probably have been rude not to have one for her too.

Icaria: Might as well, although Elliott can play her also if he wants.

Vance: 48 Pillar is also a good candidate.

Camena: (Still trying to get my darn sheet to be existent.)

Zanara: Zanara doesn't hesitate, not even at the sight of the janissaries—she just walks straight ahead, head held high, acting as if she has every right to be wherever she's going.

Icaria: I'm thinking a bunch of paired masks that makes a person wearing one mask appear to be wearing another.

Icaria: So that one day all the rulers appear to be ditch-diggers.

Vance: "Greetings, xira," the Toad Mask says, using one of the islands genderless honorifics. "Have you come to make a purchase?"

Camena: Hmmm. That does seem promisingly problematic.

Zanara: "No," Zanara says. "I am here to speak to Toad."

Vance: Zanara, roll Wits + Socialize.

Zanara: Four!

Vance: As you say that, something seems wrong about Toad Mask's response (at least, the body language part of it). Something's making him doubt whether you really are an islander, and now's your shot at convincing him otherwise.

Svetlana: Svetlana tilts her head and reads his intentions for an Intimacy about non-customer visitors to the lodge.

Vance: You're up against all of Guile 2.

Svetlana: Then activating Deft Official's Way is probably way overkill, but darn it, I have a Charm for reading intentions towards the goal of seeking audience with someone and I'm going to take the first opportunity ever to use it!

Svetlana: Eyes! The worst sensory organs!

Svetlana: His mask is a cipher to me, with my 11-dice 1-success.

Vance: Oh, no!

Icaria: Willpower!

Svetlana: I believe you can't use that retroactively.

Vance: It remains a mystery to everyone. Or at least, to Svetlana.

Svetlana: It's all right, I'm not even sure Zanara actually wants to pretend to be an islander.

Svetlana: I will continue tilting my head quizzically while waiting to see what she does!

Vance: This has all taken place in the course of a a split-second of social bullet time .

Svetlana: Deftly, Svetlana narrates, mentally composing her report, and bearing in mind long experience as an official of the Realm, I realized that the man was masked.

Zanara: "…you really want to delay me?" Zanara says, with an almost bored tone. "I doubt your master would appreciate that. I come on a matter of great import. Surely Toad would wish to see me at once, no?" She gives the impression of someone with a lot of coin to spend, and for a god in the business of selling slaves to fight wars for their buyers, that can't be an unusual trait for visitors.

Vance: That sounds like… Manipulation + Presence, maybe?

Vance: It's technically not lying, but feels deceptive.

Zanara: Adding 4 dice for security, aaaand… seven!

Vance: "Oh, I wouldn't dream of impeding you, xira. Follow me, please." They motion to the janissaries to open the lodge's doors, and guides you in. "A word of advice, though. I don't know how whatever-lodge-belong-to does it, but we don't call her Toad. Address her as Dancer in the Iron Skirt, if you want to stay on her good side."

Zanara: "Hm. I'll keep that in mind."

Vance: "Now, I assume you have the necessary payment for an audience with our lady."

Zanara: "Of course. That'll be taken care of," Zanara says, "as part of the meeting. I prefer to be direct. Keeps misunderstandings to a minimum."

Vance: "I'm afraid we have protocols in place," says Toad Mask, leading you into a pleasant salon, stocked with plush sofas, bowls of watered wine, and plates of figs and dates strewn about. Not at all the stereotypical slave market.

Vance: "If you go through the door on the left, my colleague Yarnsaca will take your payment and lead you to the communion rooms."

Zanara: (I'm assuming that we've prepared the appropriate payment, in case Zanara can't smug her way through without it?)

Vance: (You don't really have a way of knowing what it is. 48 Pillar's never had money, so he can't give a good answer)

Svetlana: Svetlana looks around for other groups or people heading in that direction.

Svetlana: Well, probably less 'looks' and more 'goes over the last few minutes of not-really-monitored auditory data.' But also looks.

Vance: You're not the only strangers in the lodge—Guildsmen, sailors, and other unmasked sorts are all around, haggling over the finer points of various deals. But no one has gone towards Yarnsaca's office.

Svetlana: Alas.

Icaria: Better introduce a fact!

Svetlana: I will clearly have to steal an offering that someone has already given rather than one that has not been given yet! If Zanara cannot smug her way through.

Camena: Ooo.

  • Camena emotes thumbs up.

Svetlana: Unless the offering is a slave or chocolate that Yarnasca has been eating or whatever.

Svetlana: The best offering, of course, is a smile.

Vance: So, once you go in, that'd probably be an Investigation roll to pick out the offerings, some kind of roll to distract them, and the actual theft itself.

Svetlana: Seems logical!

Vance: Do you kick down the door?

Zanara: That is always Zanara's first inclination, but no — we would prefer to do things quietly. I can distract, at any rate, and in a pinch I can investigate, but swiping anything is well outside my ability.

Svetlana: I am assuming that we are still next to the guy until we're basically through so Svetlana does not coordinate a distraction. If we're alone, Svetlana will mention the possibility.

Vance: The door that Toad Mask showed you leads down a hallway into an elliptical room, more like a temple sanctuary than a counting house. Stylized wooden sculptures that appear to depict a tree whose boughs give forth weapons stand in a glade around the room's perimeter, while lanterns placed at each of the five cardinal directions cast a strange light. At the center of all this, another toad-masked figure, presumably Yarnsaca, attends to a desk full of ledgers and incense-burners.

Svetlana: Svetlana closes her eyes, straightens, and takes a deep breath of the room's scents as she comes in. One after another, men and women with dirtied souls have left their trails through here, this one a scent like green and this one blue; on each, a certain token, from their scent to Yarnasca's, and then…

Vance: Take two dice and a success, +1 WP.

Svetlana: 6 successes.

Vance: Svetlana cross-indexes the scents of the room, finally finding a match—the smell of dozens of different hands that came in here only once, intermingled with the smell of gold and feathers.

Vance: There are hoops of thinly-hammered gold, fringed with jewel-toned parrot feathers, each one wide enough to put around your head and on your neck. Based on the movement of their scent and the airflow of the room, you think Yarnsaca keeps them somewhere beneath her desk, down by her feet.

Vance: "Have you come for an attendance with our lady?" they ask, with a voice considerably more sultry than the previous Toad Mask.

Zanara: "Just so; though I must confess this will be my first time," Zanara says, drawing herself up to her full height and doing her best to take up every inch of space she can in the room. "Perhaps you might share with me some insights into your lady? Proper behavior, her preferences, and so forth? In the interest, of course, of making things go as smoothly as possible."

Vance: "Well, aside from the usual god-customs, it depends on what you wish to request. Do you want her blessing on your weapons? A commission from her forge?"

Zanara: "It's a rather specific request, one I doubt has been made before. I could go into some detail, if you're interested…"

Vance: "That's a first, at least in my time here. Please, do tell."

Svetlana: "Pardon," Svetlana says, as she opens the door, walks behind Zanara from Yarnasca's perspective, and even the Unconquered Sun in Heaven takes no note of where she goes in the moment after.

  • Svetlana spends 3 motes on the Night Caste anima to cancel up to three points of Stealth penalty from going into Stealth in the middle of Yarnasca's office, diving silently to get to the side of the desk.

Vance: Roll it.

Svetlana: 4 successes.

Vance: Yarnsaca botches.

Vance: They are entirely too distracted by the beautiful young flame duck that just entered their office to notice Svetlana's silent lunge.

Vance: "Well, hello," they say to Rubean.

Vance: (Elliott or Rand should jump in here.)

Icaria: "Quite a nice place, this," says Rubean, as though born to distracting people.

Vance: Svetlana retroactively gains 1 silver craft XP, because her mask has contributed to Yarnsaca forming an intimacy .

  • Icaria considers better ways to say this in the speech pattern he keeps forgetting Rubean has.

Icaria: "Sacred-like, but… civilized."

Vance: Uh…

Vance: Do you wanna edit that to not make her sound like a newcomer to the island?

Svetlana: Svetlana slips all the way to the floor, wriggling around to where she can get a throwing dart hooked through at least one of the rings.

Svetlana: She isn't throwing the dart, it's just, you know, long and thin.

Vance: Svetlana, roll Dexterity + Larceny.

Svetlana: 8 successes.

Icaria: Do I? Zanara seemed to be acting like she hadn't been in this particular building before, either.

Zanara: Zanara's been playing the rich jerk, but that doesn't mean everyone else has to.

Vance: Up to you.

Icaria: Very well.

Icaria: "Charmed, I'm sure."

Svetlana: (I haven't been mentioning mote expenditure, but there have been some modest outlays here.)

Vance: "You know, the lodge has another medium. My shift ends at the seventh crying."

Icaria: "Might still be around, us."

Svetlana: Svetlana frowns at the indignity of this. She will have to ask Camena how she could have done it better. Success, if she manages, will pay for a lot of ridiculousness, but this can't be how the Iron Wolves do business.

Vance: Oh, she totally stole a hoop with eight successes.

Svetlana: Svetlana concludes that a real Iron Wolf would be on the ceiling lowering a hair-thin wire from above? Hmm.

Vance: Maybe a few extra to pocket for later, too.

Icaria: Rubean gives off a minor heat shimmer, making her plumage do a cool color-shifting effect.

Svetlana: Svetlana ponders, and then wastes another 3m for the style of it so she can simply walk back out from Zanara's shadow.

Svetlana: For a moment, again, the world looks away, while she simply asserts her complete lack of presence and a reasonable attention to sight lines to get up and back to where she should be; then, as she walks out from behind Zanara as if she'd been on Zanara's other side all along or more plausibly out the door, yes, surely out the door, she presses a hoop into Zanara's hands.

Zanara: Zanara smiles as she feels the hoop slip into her hands. Perfect. "If you're going to flirt, by all means, but do it on your own time," Zanara says, holding out the hoop to Yarnsaca. "There is a great deal we must discuss."

Vance: "Thank you, xira," they say, receiving the hoop two-handed and gently placing it on top of the current page of their ledger. They rise from the desk, motioning for to join them as they sit in lotus position beneath one of the wooden idols.

Svetlana: (I find myself liking the Night Caste anima. I'd originally wondered how useful a mere instant of ignoring penalties would be, and I probably couldn't have noogied her without going past the -3 penalty I can ignore, but having that option was kind of neat.)

Vance: After a few moments in a silent trance, they begin to rise up from the ground, floating inches above it. Divine radiance streams through the eyes and mouth of their toad mask in three brilliant rays, and then they take off the mask. There is no face there, only light.

Icaria: (I enjoy the Twilight anima likewise, although it will probably reach its maximum coolness once more sorcerers are introduced who can't do that trick.)

Vance: The divine manifests from within the light, taking on corporeality and form. Dancer in the Iron Skirt stands at least twice as tall as the tallest of you, her head crowned with many-pronged, serrated antlers. Her arms are countless, and each one holds a weapon—an axe, a spear, a sling, a flail, a stone, a knife. Her only garment is a skirt made up of metal plates, or blades, that fully swathes her bottom half, jangling with deadly power with each steps she takes towards you. "Who dares beckon me forth, and what favor would you have of me? Out with it!"

Zanara: "Very impressive," Zanara says. "My greetings, Dancer in the Iron Skirt. Will your medium have any difficulty sustaining you for an extended period? I'm uncertain how long this may take—for I desire only to speak to you—and I wouldn't want to cause any harm."

Vance: "No pleasantries!" she snarls, "Her well-being is in no peril, now get to what you want. I am beyond death, but not beyond boredom."

Zanara: "Direct. I like that. Very well. You make your way by enslaving mortals and selling them into the service of warlords. I would have you cease this."

Vance: "Do I look like a market-stall goodsmonger to you, mortal? The Toad Lodge pays me due reverence, but I am not tangled up in their business ventures," she says, pronouncing the last words with scathing disdain for concepts so lowly and mortal as commerce.

Zanara: "Your pardon. I am from Great Forks — the gods there are very much entwined with the business side of the practice." She bows slightly. "I'd ask you to tell them to stop, then, if you're so offended by the idea."

Vance: "I take offense at being mistaken for a merchant. Whose mask is that on your face, and what god taught you such poor manners in dealing with divinity?"

Svetlana: "Oh, dear," Svetlana murmurs.

Zanara: "The mask is unimportant — as to your second question, the gods themselves taught met to have no illusions about them. Only one god, so far as I know, is worthy of such respect as even the lowliest of the gods demand, and that is the Most High."

Vance: (That feels like social influence. Is it meant to be?)

Zanara: (Sure!)

Vance: (What kind of influence roll do you want to make?)

Zanara: (Mostly, trying to take her down a notch, ego-wise. Make it perfectly clear that I'm to be taken seriously.)

Vance: (Sounds like inspiring humility.)

Vance: (Roll Charisma + Presence.)

Zanara: 6m to buff it… yuck, that's a bad roll. 3.

Vance: "I wouldn't talk like that if an Immaculate were in earshot, mortal." the Dancer says, with what sounds almost like sincerity. "This island is not safe for 'heretics.'"

Zanara: "My gratitude for your advice, but I am not in the habit of biting my tongue. I have come here as a courtesy to you, because I believe every being is capable of change. Even you."

Svetlana: "That's a bit harsh," Svetlana says. "I mean, not the overall sentiment, but the word 'even'."

Vance: "The change you seek won't come from me. It is the Realm that demands its yearly tenth of our janissaries—if the people of the island were to refuse their tribute, they would be crushed by Bokuro's legions."

Zanara: "That will not be a concern in the near future," Zanara says. "Let us worry about that. Even then, I can make this island impregnable, make your army invincible in battle. But I will only do this if they are free — wholly free."

Vance: "Pah! Bold claims. What do you have—a taste of sorcery, the dragon's blood? If you think you can outdo the blessing of a war god, then it's still best to keep silent on the matter."

Vance: "But that is unimportant. The Toad Lodge has made a covenant with me that they will train warriors in my name. Whether those warriors are free or slaves is unimportant. But it is not my assent you need."

Zanara: "If you tell them only to train free warriors, they will surely comply," Zanara says. "And if you assent to this proposition, I will show you precisely why I make such bold claims."

Vance: "I see no reason, yet, to tell them to free the janissaries. And when I do, there will inevitably be a wailing and a gnashing of teeth and complaints about profit margins."

Vance: "That's too annoying. I leave convincing them to you."

Svetlana: "When you say it's not your assent we need," Svetlana says. "You mean, then, that you're not interested in active management and we need to talk to your cult's secular head? Or do you mean something more interesting?"

Vance: "You'd need to convince the Toad Lodge first, yes. Then you'd need to convince the entire populace of the island not to turn on the Toad Lodge for single-handedly calling the Realm's wrath down on their heads. And then, you have the Dragons to talk to."

Svetlana: Svetlana does a read intentions because there was a possibility in the goddess' earlier phrasing that the goddess is actually blustering because she's not in the actual position of power in the lodge, and that just got dodged again, but she doesn't want to bring it up aloud if she's just haring off down the wrong track.

Vance: Go ahead.

Svetlana: 7 successes.

Vance: There's no doubt in your mind that her Defining sense of superiority to her worshippers is genuine.

Zanara: "We aren't particularly worried about the Realm, either," Zanara says, "but thank you for your concern."

Svetlana: Svetlana sighs. "It's wrong," she says. "It's topsy-turvy, to deal with the mortals and leave the gods out of it. It's like saying the gods aren't important and yet unaccountable in one breath."

Svetlana: "That a god can just look aside while people suffer and it doesn't matter, because it's all ethereal and floaty."

Vance: "That's not the kind of thing one of the islanders would say," the Dancer notes, regarding Svetlana with a seven-pupiled eye. "I don't recognize your masks, and you speak of the Realm with more hubris than any mortal crushed beneath its boot could. Just who are you, and why do you want the slave trade ended?"

Icaria: This sounds like a job for a plan.

Icaria: Or at least a very impressive public miracle.

Svetlana: "I'm an actress," Svetlana says. "And not a very good one."

Zanara: "Like I said, I'm from Great Forks, a city built on the practice. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about why I'd want to bring an end to slavery."

Svetlana: "If it helps," Svetlana says, "we lined up another House to take over the island's contract when we found out there was slavery here."

Svetlana: "I mean, duh, right? But it was all kind of spur of the moment."

Vance: "I see. A freed slave-turned-ideologue, and a play in the Realm's great game."

Svetlana: "Oh, come on," Svetlana says. "Wake up."

Vance: "As I said before, I don't care whether my warriors are free or slaves. But if you threaten my lodge, then I must uphold my side of our covenant."

  • Camena is perched in the cargohold with Tran, her hand on the incubator. "Ooo! I felt it kick! Or… was that one of the four arms, do you think? Just, mathematically, it seems likely."

Vance: "Economic collapse counts."

Vance: "Normal babies don't punch. Let's just all pretend it's kicking no matter what."

Svetlana: "I'm happy to take you on in a contest of economic models and projections," Svetlana says. "Any day you like."

Svetlana: "You, uh," Svetlana adjusts her mask. "Didn't seem interested?"

Vance: "I absolutely don't want to do that, ever. It sounds incredibly boring." the Dancer says. "I don't care what your plan is. But if the consequences destroy the livelihood of the Toad Lodge, I'm obligated to track you down and fight you."

Vance: "Which would be lots more fun."

Svetlana: "Granted," Svetlana admits.

Zanara: "I rather think it might not be," Zanara says, "but hopefully it won't come to that."

  • Icaria does more sorcery.

Icaria: "Camena, what kind of mask confusion are we going to actually want?"

Camena: "I mean, if I had my druthers? Living masks would be the most fun. Masks that just get up and chase you, or grapple on to people's faces. But I'm kind of grim with my sorcery."

Svetlana: "I don't want to play social games," Svetlana says, sighing. "I don't think she's going to buy it with just talking. I don't really feel like fighting her just because she turns a blind eye, and I don't know how the legalities of Heaven work so I don't even know whether an investigation is warranted. But, well, most of us turned blind eyes until recently. I don't feel like threatening her with fighting because she'll just look forward to it. Zanara, what's our minimum acceptable outcome here?"

Icaria: "I was thinking something where the masters become the slaves, and the slaves, the masters."

Camena: "You're big on the classic ironies, aren't you?"

Icaria: "Also we could look into making the freed slaves extremely fit and handsome, while we're standing up."

  • Icaria tries to get back into his own character.

Icaria: "Maybe… a cursed mask, so that anybody who wears a mask and looks at it appears to be masked as whatever we've marked on it?"

Camena: "That's… really abstract. I'm a little surprised at you; not nearly evocative enough for a good story."

Zanara: "I would prefer to liberate the island without resorting to wholesale warfare, but I will if I must. Once the masses realize that they are strong enough to take what is rightfully theirs, they will do so, and there are few who can stand against such a tide. It would be much easier to make such changes with a respected god or gods on our side, especially if we wish to do so smoothly and quietly. Easier, and better for everyone involved."

Icaria: "I suppose there's always 'everybody becomes the thing they're masked as.'"

Icaria: "That's classic. Although we'd have to warn all the slaves to unmask."

Icaria: "Or to wear the tyrant lizard mask, I suppose."

Camena: "Wait, are we talking wholescale transformation, or just an enchantment—they think they are what they're dressed as? Because we do have a demon baby to attend to. Unless we want to throw our arms in the air and decide this island is as good as the demense. Perhaps a few blessings from these various gods could be channeled to do just as well?"

Vance: "If you want my aid," the Dancer says, surveying you both with a look of realization and amusement, "Chosen of the Sun, then I have a single request. End the tithe of soldiers paid to the Realm. I don't care what ruler asserts their claim to the island, but my warriors are my weapons, not to be surrendered to a foe."

Icaria: "I do hate to do a thing halfway."

Svetlana: Svetlana attempts to facepalm. She is wearing a Mighty Flame Ducks mask. She fails.

Icaria: "Maybe just a curse so that anybody who isn't siding with us has the skills associated with their mask locked away."

Svetlana: "That's really embarrassing," Svetlana says. "I was explicitly not mentioning that we were shifting the tithe to artisanal goods because I thought it might offend you."

Camena: "Ugh. Love the idea, but magic. If things go wonky, we end up fighting immortal Toad soldiers who just can't croak."

Svetlana: "Zanara, I am bad at my job. Ever since I came to this island, it has been ground in my face. I am terrible at my job… as an actress. A bad one," she adds, lest she be confirming anything else about her job.

Vance: "We do not enjoy the liberties the Realm takes with our land and our people, and we especially do not enjoy their Immaculate jackboots. If you want the gods of the island on your sided play to that."

Icaria: "Secretly a mighty warrior tha?" Rubean asks Svetlana.

  • Vance gets sued by six billion demons.

Zanara: "You are not a bad actress," Zanara says, smiling under her mask. "How long did it take after I met you to find out who you really are? In any case… it seems we have natural allies here. Who would have thought?"

Svetlana: "I tried not running away immediately and wound up like killing and saving all the things," Svetlana asides, to Rubean. "But I think that was luck."

Icaria: "Much the same, warrior-ways, I'd say."

Camena: "I hope the others are making shorter work of their piece in this…whatever this is. Nevermind our demonic charge or its inevitable gestation. If we stop to right every injustice we find, then we will travel an acre of Creation in a lifetime."

Svetlana: "Oh my stars," Svetlana says, instantly being enlightened by Rubean's words about a really great con.

Icaria: "We can think of it as collecting good karma for this child's future."

Icaria: Rubean drops into a "bestowing enlightenment" stylized frame for this page.

Svetlana: Svetlana . o O ( Yeah, warrioring is all luck. Half the warriors die. Then half the remaining warriors die. Then half the remaining warriors die. The ones left, even if it's all random, are called great warriors. Hey, if you predict two different things to two different groups of people, and then split the group that thinks you were right the first time and predict two different things to the subgroups…)

Icaria: "Okay, how about we write some convenient identities into some masks so that the identities stick to whoever wears them?"

Icaria: "Then we just stick new faces on our most prominent opponents and they vanish for the time being into the mass of janissaries."

Svetlana: "So," Svetlana says. "Let's… shake on it or something? Do we want to do great and terrible oaths or just, y'know, you accept that having your warriors sent off as tithes is part of the whole slavery thing and actively what we're fighting, and the part we actually have a plan to fix, and we accept that you're pretty much on our side because of that?"

Vance: "I had heard that Lawgivers could bind great and terrible oaths. Did you leave that one behind?"

Camena: "Hmmm. Pretty elegant. I could get a chance to put-pocket, too. Haven't tried that in ages."

Svetlana: "And if you could give some pointers as to which gods we'd want to approach and which are likely to be seriously against us—oh, I've never tried it, so I don't know."

Vance: "Here," she says, reaching out with one of her many arms to place a lump of pig iron before you.

Vance: "Swear on this, and I will forge it into a great weapon. Break your oath, and it will be your undoing."

Svetlana: "Mm," Svetlana says, because she likes how iron smells.

Svetlana: (Was that a plural or singular 'you'?)

Vance: (Plural.)

Svetlana: Svetlana waits for Zanara before doing anything, then.

Zanara: Zanara nods. "I would swear an oath, yes. To do my utmost to liberate the people of this island, to turn aside the Realm's armies should they threaten you, and to ensure this island prospers without slavery—all this, I do so swear."

Svetlana: "If you put trust in me because of who I am, to help this place." Svetlana says. "If the island does. If she does. If the gods do. I will fight to honor that trust, and I won't stop fighting."

Vance: As the two of you speak your oaths, your words burn themselves into the iron, glowing red-hot. The metal dissolves into liquidity, and the Dancer wrings it into shape with countless skillful arms, pulling and drawing forth the shape of a great curved blade. She adds it to her skirt of iron.

Zanara: "Very impressive," Zanara says, and she means it this time.

Vance: "Now, you asked my advice on the other lodge-gods, and my counsel is this: go to Qu Qulakan. He is not the leader of our tribe, but he is old and respected and powerful. If the others here that have Qu Qulakan's blessing, they may fall in line."

Icaria: "Okay, so, let me write up a few juicy backstories."

Icaria: "Some awesome ones for our friends, and some obscure ones for our enemies."

Svetlana: "Please take good care of that thing," Svetlana says, glancing at the blade. "I feel reasonably confident in the spirit of those oaths but I would not want the exact wording being used against us three or four centuries from now."

Vance: "Destiny will see."

Vance: She's saying that as like a threat, but also, maybe she's flirting with you

Svetlana: "Yeah, screw that guy," Svetlana says. "He poisoned me and my cousin burned his office."

Svetlana: Svetlana is not completely clear on the fact that Sivana is not 100% responsible for all of destiny.

Vance: "…you aren't the mad Solar Exalted, are you?"

Svetlana: "That sounds like the kind of thing," Svetlana says, "that I would have heard in the form of accusations and not questions, if I were."

Icaria: No, he's on the boat.

Svetlana: "I suppose I could play one," Svetlana says.

Vance: "I used one of your mortal question marks!"

Vance: "My verbal weaponry is beyond flaw."

Svetlana: She rolls her shoulders and settles into a more dangerous attitude. Her eyes light with experimental madness. "Do not tell me the punctuation that I heard," she says, her voice high; reedy. "'Dancer.' My Anathematic inquiry awareness detects all punctuation without error."

Vance: "Damn, girl, you need to stop telling yourself you're a bad actress."

Icaria: "Warrior actress."

Vance: "I haven't judged her on the battle arts yet, fire duck."

Svetlana: Svetlana shakes it off, voice and posture returning to normal. "That's not acting," she says. "That's… that's…" She handwaves. "That's just putting on a mask."

Zanara: "Whatever it was, it was very impressive."

Vance: "What's the difference?"

Icaria: "Masks be just a different truth ye found lyin-about and made into a weapon."

Svetlana: "Acting is where a whole bunch of people yell at you and paint you things before they put you in uncomfortable clothing and shove you out on a stage to try to capture the actual art and character and meaning of everything all at once while thousands of monsters are staring at you waiting to eat you if you make a mistake," Svetlana explains. "It's totally different."

Vance: "An inferiority complex ill befits ultimate power."

Svetlana: "That's something I'm arguing with myself about," Svetlana says.

Vance: "If you wish to transcend your mortality, you will have to learn to cast aside self-argument. The Essence of royalty is absolute conviction."

Svetlana: "I could do that," Svetlana says. "Maybe not today, but I could do that. And it would certainly be nice not to be quite so much this. But to be honest maybe the Essence of royalty could do with a little this?"

Svetlana: Svetlana gives an awkward smile.

Icaria: And then Vance really did get sued by K6BD.

Vance: No, that would be Bethesda.

Svetlana: "There's no reason to ever take the mask off, once I've really finished it," Svetlana says. "But I have to get it right."

Vance: "Your friend seems quite confidant in the King of Heaven. His light shines you, and thus you may transcend any limit. Or so the conventional wisdom goes, at least."

Vance: "I was otherwise occupied during the Revolution."

Svetlana: "To be clear," Svetlana says, "And to make sure that Icaria does not tease us too badly, there was never any formal admission regarding any light shining in any of us."

Vance: "My eyes can measure the wind itself, xira, and they can see the burning infinity of your soul. Trust me."

Svetlana: "I like the idea of transcending any limit in the abstract," Svetlana says, "but it doesn't really have immediate relevance to my life. I don't really seem to encounter, y'know, limits, all that often?"

Vance: "Now you're just being needlessly self-deprecating. The legends tell of Solars jumping across mountain ranges. Seducing demon princes with a song. Speaking the Wyld into reality. Feats that defy even a god's imagination."

Vance: "…and then sometimes you go mad with power and become a legendary devil-saint."

Svetlana: "I don't think that I'll get there by transcending limits," Svetlana says. "I think that I'll get there by changing the way I look at things. If I do. I… I mean, Icaria's really… I think that it would be like I was jealous of him or something if I started trying to seduce my own demon prince."

Svetlana: "Just embarrassing, really."

Svetlana: Svetlana ponders jumping over mountain ranges. "Jumping over a mountain range might be neat, although it seems kind of… showy? Like, maybe trying too hard?"

Vance: "Maybe you could try to master superhuman self-confidence."

Vance: "I have learned a saying from my mortal supplicants."

Vance: "It goes: fake it until you make it."

Svetlana: "That's horrifying," Svetlana says. "That is an abyss that opens into further abysses, a philosophical sinkhole."

Svetlana: "But fine, I can be confident for the rest of this conversation if it unnerves you so."

Svetlana: Svetlana adjusts her mask slightly.

Vance: "I care not. I merely dispense godly advice."

Vance: "Which normally would be worth a considerable fee."

Vance: "But here I am, just giving it out for free."

Svetlana: "That's all right," Svetlana says. "I'll waive it this once."

Svetlana: "But one day you can remember that you had the opportunity to advise me," Svetlana says. "And that I even listened for a time. And how warm you will feel, compared to those who travel thousands of miles bearing rafters of jade merely to speak a few words where I might hear."

Vance: "Bravo, Prince of the Earth."

  • Camena claps.

Svetlana: "Yes, yes," Svetlana says. "The Earth. Though I cannot be blamed for the state it has fallen into while I was reincarnating. You will forgive me, I hope. I will work on the redemption of the fallen things at once, lest their dullness do my shine disservice. Zanara? To the boat, perhaps, then to Qu Qukulan? Dancer, may I trust that you will pass on our respected status to your cult, and mention the direction of things we have agreed upon?"

Vance: "Yes, yes. Godspeed."

Svetlana: "As it were," Svetlana says, smiling thinly.

Svetlana: She turns and heads out, every line of her movements a stalking hunter.

Vance: The Dancer dematerializes in a great clangor of metal against metal, as if shedding her mass as loudness. The light streaking from Yarnsaca's face begins to dim, and as she returns her mask to its place, it fades away entirely.

Zanara: Zanara smiles, bows slightly, and follows her.

Vance: Can we add Camena and Icaria into this?

Svetlana: "Rubean, if you wish to pursue a romance with a human, albeit of somewhat dubious provenance, you are welcome to linger."

Svetlana: That is my hope, and why I mentioned 'To the boat, perhaps.'

Vance: Rubean goes with a "yes."

Icaria: You return to the boat to find Icaria writing torrid fanprose about strapping and respected guild leaders.

Svetlana: "Goodness," Svetlana says.

Svetlana: "May I?" Svetlana asks, gesturing towards the pile of finished pages.

Icaria: "Yes, please."

Icaria: "I'm going to stick these on some people."

Svetlana: Svetlana begins browsing. "You're going to stick… documents? on people?"

Icaria: "I was going to make masks out of them first. Like… maybe I just paint the text on them? That's fiddly work, though."

Icaria: "With some of your mask-making and a bit of sorcery, we should be able to replace a few local luminaries with pals like 48 Pillar… at least, for a while."

Vance: (That sounds like a Celestial Circle working.)

Vance: (Ambition 2, maybe?)

Icaria: We only have to fool some of the people some of the time!

Svetlana: "I haven't taken the time to learn sorcery," Svetlana says. "Not this time around, anyhow—but honestly, I could probably work the manuscript into the mask if the shape isn't important."

Icaria: Anyway, a "persistent illusion" is Ambition 1.

Svetlana: "If there aren't too many pages per person."

Vance: That's a village-sized illusion.

Vance: This island is bigger than village size.

Vance: If you could figure out a reasonable explanation for them being limited to a restricted area then Ambition 1 is fine.

Svetlana: Svetlana envisions rolling the individual pages up, possibly twisting, and then… it gets tricky, but they could be hair, perhaps. Or if the bulk is small enough in the end they could be worked into the structure.

Icaria: Presumably they'd only work on people who actually look at the mask.

Icaria: If we replace Guildmaster McAsshole with 48 Pillar, people will still be looking for McAsshole until they've met one or the other and been hit by the curse.

Svetlana: "You do have talent," Svetlana says. "Perhaps we can infiltrate your work onto the Isle someday."

Icaria: Plus if you don't assign it to a level I can actually do, we wind up not getting to do the plot where Icaria makes masks of extreme confidence for Svetlana and himself.

Vance: Lol, a compelling argument.

Vance: I will let you have it at Ambition 1 in exchange for an UNPREDICTABLE PECULIARITY.

Vance: It'll take 25 total successes to complete.

Svetlana: Svetlana is already wearing an invisible mask of extreme confidence! This is going to be double confidence!

Vance: What Finesse do you want?

Icaria: I think it's going to have to be 1.

Icaria: I mean, I'm already planning hilarious spell-gone-awry hijinx, so trying to keep complete control is probably pointless.

Icaria: All right, let's get started.

Icaria: ICARIA MEANS TEAM, ASSEMBLE!

Icaria: Means #1: Camena!

Vance: A sorcerous ally!

Icaria: Means #2: Tran!

Vance: Uh… I don't think you can stack sorcerous allies?

Icaria: Means #3: A boat full of artists and arts-and-crafts supplies to make the necessary masks!

Icaria: Possibly Camena can be "a supernatural ally with complentary powers," being a Night Caste master of disguise?

  • Camena busies herself trying to understand how a mask might carry an identity. The ship's figurehead gives all the inspiration she needs, and suddenly she understands the way would becomes human—through talk, through speaking about it as it were alive. The Sparrow? She's a wild ship, and sails like a dart.

Camena: I'm an Eclipse.

Camena: Svetlana is the Night.

Icaria: Well, you're still a master of disguise.

Vance: Also applicable.

Vance: I'm not sure if masks count as an exotic component .

Svetlana: We can put Tran at the end of the boat, which justifies the means.

Camena:

Camena: Jenna.

Camena: That pun was as bad as eating forty pies.

Camena: And that's terrible.

Svetlana: You're right, it's called a stern.

Vance: All your prep work is worth a two-point stunt.

Camena: And yeah, Supernal Larceny.

Vance: Two dice, a success, and +1 WP.

Icaria: Aw, and I was going to declaim some of my saucy biographies for the group.

Icaria: (Prophet's Hold is about to get disproportionately sexy in the upper echelons of management.)

Vance: There's always a chance to shoot up to 3!

Icaria: I fear I am not up to it.

Icaria: I will leave the excerpts to Camena and the group.

Svetlana: It took me a long time to realize that Camena was not a Night.

Camena: I spent at least one session thinking I was

Svetlana: Though part of that was 'we have two Nights' got stuck in my head when Vance was playing.

Icaria: Okay, time to use Ancient Tongue Understanding.

Camena: Svetlana is, in many ways, much more Eclipsey than I.

Icaria: I'll spend a WP, and roll twenty dice plus two successes for my first interval, using a full Excellency.

  • Icaria looks to see any other useful powers he has lying about.

Camena: The Odd Couple theme plays in the background, but on some suitably exotic and Exalted instrument like the balalaika.

Icaria: That gives us a total of fifteen successes on this interval.

Vance: Okay

Icaria: That was less unattainable than I was expecting.

Vance: So it will be at least a week before you can roll again.

Vance: Which could be spent doing subversive things here, or finishing your journey to Tourmaline.

Icaria: In the meantime, y'all should probably find some accomplices and patsies for me to actually enchant.

  • Camena points to the baby.

Icaria: I can't enchant the baby.

Icaria: The egg is in the way.

Vance: Oh, wait.

Svetlana: "Bitterstern, who heads the Intransigent Cult of the Sorrowful Viper, first came to local prominence when his mask slipped up to expose his ruddy cheeks to the horror and perhaps delight of his peers in the Drunken Revelries and Bridge Repair Commission at their annual benefit and revelry."

Vance: You're going beyond your initiation

Vance: I think that bumps the difficulty a bit

Icaria: Oh, right, there's a +2 difficulty.

Icaria: So, thirteen.

Icaria: I should still be able to easily finish in four intervals.

Icaria: Unless I fail a roll by some chance, in which case everybody on this island is going to get a random sexy backstory.

  • Svetlana is not quite sure what this fanprose is actually meant to contain.

Icaria: I'm writing new histories, which we'll apply to various conspirators and enemies.

Camena: Mightn't there be more expedient means for solving this?

Icaria: Thus, those guildmasters who oppose us will become nameless slaves, and be replaced in everybody's memory by our pals.

Icaria: At least, for long enough.

Icaria: Look, I've already started the chanting.

Camena: For a month?

Icaria: Oh, yeah, a month is fine.

Svetlana: Well, technically, all we have to do is blow on a calendar really hard.

Icaria: This is Celestial Circle magic, it's not gonna go pop at midnight.

Vance: Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Svetlana: Are you stuck there physically chanting for the whole month? Though I guess you have elementals to play.

Vance: No, it's a downtime activity .

Camena: So… Tourmaline?

Icaria: We're still doing stuff here, though.

Vance: You could do the islands in either sequence.

Svetlana: "Let's all pay a visit to Qu Qukulan, then," Svetlana suggests, when Icaria's stabilized the enchantment for now. "The Dancer suggested that we could get him on board, and I'm sure that would be convenient."

Svetlana: "It won't even render your work here pointless, since I consider it absolutely certain that even if we complete a coup from the top the entrenched powers in the middle will struggle to be unpleasant."

Camena: Camena does not understand the lack of urgency on the matter of the kid, since giving them as much time to bake in a demense as possible was part of the germination of this whole sojurn.

Icaria: Look, I didn't ask certain people to commit us to ending slavery while they were out on a supply run!

Icaria: (Also Icaria doesn't really care about the kid part of the mission. As long as the baby is healthy he doesn't give a shit how many arms it has.)

Icaria: If everyone else thinks the timing is right, we can go on to Tourmaline for now, although probably next week rather than tonight.

Svetlana: Svetlana is not feeling terribly pressed about the kid because we haven't even seen the serious opposition here yet.

Zanara: We'll probably be swinging through here on the way home anyway.

Svetlana: If it looks like it's going to be a long struggle then she can see having to weigh options, but right now it could be fixable today.

Icaria: Meanwhile, Icaria begins idly sketching out the biography of the self he'd like to fake being until he makes it.

Icaria: Oh, Icaria!

Icaria: Don't mix motivations when you make magic!

Icaria: It is bad. Oh, it is bad!

Svetlana: "Ultimately," Svetlana says, "you're the captain, cuz. I was vaguely envisioning a quick stop to get a few high-power gods on our side, burn down the siaka lodge and steal their masks, inspire the slaves and find them a decent sanctuary, and set things up for the switch in tribute before sailing off, but if we've got everything stowed and stuff, um."

Camena: Camena sighs, resignedly.

Camena: "Carry on."

Svetlana: "Absolutely," Svetlana beams.

Svetlana: "Nothing less could do honor to our Dauntless Flame Duck Bureau."

Vance: Are we casting off?

Icaria: Apparently not.

Svetlana: We are a motley crew.

Icaria: Now, fetch me some accomplices!

Svetlana: "What sorts do you need?"

Icaria: "Well, they need to have warm, honest hearts; a burning desire for justice; they need to be brave and faithful and true; they should like big dogs and long walks on the beach; oh, and they have to be willing to replace prominent local figures via spells that will make them powerful, respected, and extremely pleasant to look at."

Icaria: "I'd give more specific physical needs, but I'm going to be taking care of that so you needn't bother."

Svetlana: "As I understood the plan previously, these would be the slaves, or perhaps the warmest, most honest of them; shall I assume that still holds?"

Icaria: "Yeah, that sounds dramatically and logistically appropriate."

Icaria: "I am leaving most of the character-judging end to you as the expert."

Svetlana: "Naturally," Svetlana says. "Though bear in mind that there will be a finite supply to choose among, and that a Prince of the Earth ought not demean herself by criticizing the moral character of the immiserated."

Icaria: "Hey, I trust you."

Svetlana: "Your wisdom is a light," Svetlana grins.

Svetlana: "Off to the slave compound, then," Svetlana says. "Who's with me? Unless I might be needed somewhere else."

Vance: I think I'll call it here.

Vance: Elliott is sleep, and I'm nearing that too.

Svetlana: Svetlana turns boldly, mask of perfect confidence applied, and walks blindly right into the closing credits.

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