This is a game that me and the kids in the basement are playing over email.

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Total length: 107955 words / 461 minute read. (Mind you, that’s the length of this entire page, including all the extra bits and bobs. Not just the story.)

There have been 298 messages posted over 481 days since the first post on July 13, 2022 for a daily post rate of .61.

Chapter 1

This is the first installment of BASEMENT QUEST.

Jump to: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


“Congratulations!” The slightly tipsy hobbit grins and salutes you with his martini. “On Retrieval Team 43’s inaugural mission! I’m so excited for you, I’m sure you’ll do fantastic!”

You are all seated around a table in the corner at Lucy’s Basement. It is dimly lit and fairly noisy. The walls are covered in red velvet curtains, and the tablecloths have little gold tassels. A cloud of purple smoke from candles, cigars, and pipes hangs in the air. Waiters bustle between tables refilling drinks.

“So to recap, the Benefactor has tasked you with retrieving the five fabled Ginnarak Crystals. I, Blavin Blandfoot, will be your case manager. You will be paid handsomely for each crystal you retrieve. And if you retrieve all 5, you’ll get to meet the Benefactor at be their guest at their glorious mansion!

“The first crystal has been spotted near a Gnomish dig site in the Tammineaux Forest, just east of here.”

“I recommend getting started right away!” He polishes off his drink and squints at his empty glass. “Well, maybe first thing in the morning. Waiter!”



Blavin provides you with a multibeast for your excursion. “Courtesy of the Benefactor!” You pack it up with food and supplies, and trek into the Tammineaux Forest in search of the first Ginnarak Crystal.

The forest is lush, thick, and green. You have to hack your way through the vines and the brush. There are stinging insects, squawking birds, and dangerous forest creatures a plenty. It is hot and sticky.

How will you ever find your way through this wilderness to the dig site?

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” you remember Blavin saying back at Lucy’s, gesturing carelessly and sloshing a little bit of his fourth drink. “They’re gnomes, after all! Just follow the sound of explosions and screaming.”

Sure enough, before long you hear a mechanical droning and some blasting up ahead, punctuated now and then by high pitched screams, and you guide the multibeast in that direction.

Suddenly you are ambushed by a troop of blahoblins! Awful looking things. Taut rubbery gray skin. Long flat noses stick out way far from their faces. And so do their protruding, lipless mouths full of sharp pointy teeth. You didn’t hear them over the noise of the shrieking parrots and, in the distance, the shrieking gnomes.

“SHOE SHINE!!” the first one yells. It is wearing a gold ring on each finger (minus the three fingers it is missing), two in each ear, and one in its nose. It is dragging a vat of black polish nearly as tall as it is.

“SHOE SHINE!!” a second one agrees. It is wearing a nice waistcoat with large gaudy buttons, and a nice looking pocket watch on a gold chain. It is dragging a comfy looking chair stuffed with bits of fluff and leaves and fur.

A third one screams, “SHOE SHINE SHOE SHINE!” It has several gold teeth and carries a huge block of cheese secured to its back with long loops of hempen rope.

The fourth and final one is wearing what looks like freshly painted red shoes and is carrying a lit torch. “SHOE SHIIIIINE!” it screams. It is wearing a gold medallion on a gold necklace.



“SHOE SHINE!” Bellows Tea, with a full bodied laugh!

With a well practiced move, faster than one would think giant like Tea could move, Tea removes an object from their satchel.

…at first glance it appears to be a flail without a handle, but is actually a spare pair of giant boots, held by their laces.

“These could indeed use a good shining.”

The boot are spectacularly large, probably a 1/2 size too large, in all honest, for even Tea’s feet.

The boots have gold eyelets.

Earrings greedily snatches the boots and start washing, drying, and polishing them to a shine. Waistcoat eagerly tugs on Tea’s wrist and guides him to the comfy chair, which is decidedly too small for his bulky frame. Teeth graciously offers him a wedge of cheese.

Depending on how observant Tea is, he may or may not notice that the boots are returned to him with 1 - 3 fewer eyelets.

Bending down, Inky sniffs the bottles carefully, mumbling, “Creosote, shellac, hopweed … ou, wild cherry liquorice.” Then, a little louder to one of the blahoblins, though it came out not much more than a squeak, “Might I ask from where did you get these?”

“Shoe Polish! We Make! Roots and ash!” shouts Waistcoat. They seem to only have the one volume.

“Beeswax!” yells Earrings.

“Resin!” cries Teeth.

“SHOE SHIIINE!” they all cry in unison.



“And jolly good polish too, it looks like,” Inky replies, squinting a bit at the ichor being smeared onto the boots in Earrings’ large calloused hands. “I hear there be some gnomes hereabouts? A camp? With your remarkable service, I bet they’d be coming to you all the time to get their boots cleaned.”

“GNOMES!?” Earrings interrobangs loudly and questioningly. It brings its hands to the sides of its face, covering its ear holes, and wags its oversized head in dismay, squeezing its tiny eyes shut. In the process, it smears polish around its face.

“Gnomes there!” shouts Waistcoat. Its hands busy polishing, it tosses its head, gesturing with its prodigious proboscis in the direction you were heading. You continue to hear bangs and booms in the distance every once a while.

Glarg gurgles something to the effect of “gluggurguuuurglaaaachhhh?” Its stance is one of surprise as its disposition changes to that of inquisition as its head cranes down to look at the blahoblin carrying the smelly rock on its back.

Teeth looks questioningly up at Glarg and experimentally gargles back up at it. “GURGLE BURBLE GLUG GLUG?” It smiles apologetically (a fearsome sight, its protruding jaws full of tiny pointy teeth) and shrugs and asks, “Shoe shine?”

It attempts to pick that whole blahoblin up and bring the smelly rock to its face for a closer inspection.

“WAAAAAAH!” Teeth kicks its feet ineffectively and is quite helplessly tied to the big smelly rock when Glarg picks it up. The smelly rock smells pungent, sharp, earthy, moldy. Definitely could be food.

By this time the blahoblins have polished the shoes of everybody who has consented to it, and are packing up. Except for Teeth who is being detained by the earth elemental.

Red Shoes reappears from wherever they have been this whole time with a sly smile and rejoins its comrades.

Your pockets have successfully been picked while you were distracted with the shoe shine, but not of anything of particular value.

What small item(s) will you notice is missing in the hours and days to come? How will its absence be a minor inconvenience?



As the blahoblins were packing up, Inky persuades Waistcoat to sell a few small bottles of shoe polish, a roughly round piece of broken glass and scraps of cheesecloth from the mountain of debris previously on the ground. Inky rolls Do Anything 1 and rolls a 4.

Inky successfully persuades Waistcoat to sell a few baubles and trinkets with the first roll of the game!

They haggle back and forth a little bit, and Inky ends up paying a little more than they wanted to, but they get all the stuff they wanted. Yay commerce!

Having concluded business, the blahoblins pack up and disappear into the bushes toting their chair, cheese, and vat of polish.

The sound of mechanical droning and periodic explosions compel you forward to the dig site.

It is easy to find.

It is a large hole blasted deep into the ground. There are drills, and conveyor belts, earth moving machines, and all kinds of gadgets and gizmos, the purpose of which is not always readily apparent. And there is a zip line that seems to be the only way down to the bottom.

The site is absolutely teeming with gnomes. Diminutive humanoids with bright red noses and long, long ears, and long, nimble fingers. All gnomes are compulsive tinkerers and mechanics, and build fantastic contraptions. All gnomes are women, and are all highly explosive. Which makes their combustion powered machines extremely dangerous, both for themselves and for any unfortunate bystanders close enough to get caught in the blast.

A gnome in a white hat comes running up to you. “You there! Hey! Yes, you!”

“Are you the retrieval team? We’ve been expecting you! The whole dig is halted because we accidentally blasted into a whole nest of Kobits, and they won’t let us get near to keep digging! They keep sabotaging our machines when we try!”

“They also stole the Ginnarak Crystal that we found! That thing could have powered such glorious new machines!” She pouts.

In the background, a gnome who had crawled half way into a coal bin in the side of some kind of excavator suddenly scrambles quickly out, smoking, and runs around in circles in a panic. Nearby gnomes dive out of the way as she erupts in a small ball of fire. The gnomes wait for the smoke to clear and then immediately return to working on the contraption.

The foreman continues talking to you as though nothing happened. She leads you over to the edge of the hole and points to the bottom.

“The entrance to their cave is right down there! The zip line is the second fastest way down.”




Suddenly three anthropomorphic gophers come crashing through the trees behind you into the dig site. The first is wearing a sash of many pockets. The second is wearing cargo shorts of many pockets. The third is wearing a vest of many pockets. Each wears a pair of goggles with thick smokey black lenses, and a floppy checkered hat that looks like a waffle.

They march up to the zip-line.

“Out of the way, losers!” Sash cries. It grabs the zip-line trolley, and immediately dives off the side of the cliff and zooms down into the deep, deep hole.

Vest introduces itself, “Retrieval Team 70 here! We are here to recover the Ginnarak Crystal that is reported to be at this location. After we collect all five, then it will be us who get to hang out in the Benefactor’s hot tub! Not you! Ha!”

Sash has reached the bottom of the deep, deep hole. Shorts starts reeling in the pulley.

Vest leans in close and peers at you through its foggy lenses. “You must be the new Retrieval Team 43. Hmmph. Shame what happened to the previous Team 43. Hope you know what you’re doing! Would hate to see you end up like them!”

Shorts grabs the trolley and leaps down into the deep, deep hole. It sails all the way down, and joins Sash at the bottom.

“Welp!” Vest concludes with an air of finality. “No hard feelings, and all that! After we collect this crystal, we just need four more. And then we get to meet the Benefactor! Ha!”

It waddles off and starts reeling in the trolley.

Meanwhile, another gnome explodes behind you.




Inky peers down at the hole, and after some time, turns to the party. “Do you think they’ve cleared most of the gnomes by now, or should we wait until they emerge and grab the crystal then?” Gazing at some invisible spot farther among the trees, Inky continued, “One of the old miners back at the tavern said there used to be a natural maw on the southwestern side, but it was blocked when the tunnel caved in many years ago. The gnomes don’t waste their efforts on blowing up things knowing someone’s already been through them. Chances are there’s only one exit, unless this mine is a decoy.”

Inky peers down the hole and watches Retrieval Team 70 approach the kobit caves.

The maw on the southwestern side did indeed collapse several seasons ago. If you know anything about the industrial and intrepid kobits however, it is that they have probably dug several alternative, secret entrances since then.

Just as the gophers reach the cave entrance, a large erge, muscles rippling beneath its white feathers, emerges from behind a boulder and blocks their way forward.

It raises the feathery crest on the crown of its head, and fluffs up its plumage in a dramatic display. It appears to be arguing with the gophers. All three gophers appear to be arguing back.

The egre gestures angrily at the gophers’ feet, shakes its head, and crosses its arms defiantly. The gophers look down at their own feet and shuffle about as though embarrassed.

They all exchange a few more words and then the gophers retreat away from the egre and the cave entrance. They huddle together briefly and then start slowly climbing the scaffolding back up to the top of the hole.

“Oh yeah,” the foreman remarks absentmindedly. “There’s an egre guarding the kobit caves.”

The egre below preens and struts about proudly having chased off the gophers.

“Stubborn things,” the foreman continues. “Easily provoked to violence. Impeccable fashion sense though.”




Inky blinks down at their pinecrab apple leather boots consideringly. “Tea’s got the fanciest footgear, but at least we aren’t sporting fetid foot fungi like stockings. Maybe we could persuade the egre to let us through? It might set us back half a day trying to find any kobit holes that aren’t just non-portable potties.”

You look down at your boots. How serendipitous that you just had them shined by the blahoblins! You feel confident in your footwear.

Corraidhín: I may have a solution to the Egre problem. I gesture grandly, as it so happens I always come prepared for a fashion show.

With a grand gesture I cast a spell to transform my robes into a stunning suit, complete with top hat, monocle, and cane

I’m certain we can convince the fine fellow to let us pass if we look the part. Or better yet, I’m almost certain I can distract him while the rest of you sneak past, I’ve been told I can be quite verbose and boisterous.

Corraidhín successfully conjures up a stunning suit, surely the envy of every dandy, fop, and gentleman in the southern continent, if not all of Basmentaria!

A nearby gnome gets flush, starts to fan herself excitedly, and then explodes dramatically.

“A splendid idea, with an equally splendid outfit to match!” Inky exclaimed. “Then, shall we proceed? Master Corraidhín, at your signal.”

You proceed down into the gnome hole.

Retrieval Team 70 glares at you from behind their smoked glass goggles as you zip line past them. They continue their slow, defeated climb up the scaffolding. Vest shakes its gopher fist at you and swears, “You haven’t seen the last of us, Retrieval Team 43!”

At the bottom, on solid ground, you approach the entrance to the kobit caves.

Standing guard at the entrance to the kobit tunnels is a massive egre, a fearsome bird beast, muscles rippling and bulging beneath its beautiful white plumage. It turns its head and regards you with one jet black eye and then the other, snapping its sharp beak in the air as it tosses its head back and forth.

It looks you up and down, and its gaze rests on your freshly polished shoes. It huffs and grunts, “Your shoes look clean.” It rests its scrutinizing gaze on Corraidhín’s garments. “And YOU look FABULOUS!” it exclaims as it tosses its head and beats it wings excitedly.

“You may enter.” It graciously steps aside with a flourish.

The smallest of you can stand upright in the kobit tunnels. The largest of you have to crawl.

Kobits are small, vaguely mammalian, vaguely reptilian bipedal cave creatures. They are scaly and furry, and live in tunnels deep in the earth. They have huge yellow eyes, and long fine whiskers on their snouts and faces, all of which help them find their way around in the dark. They also have long, thick, coarse, drooping mustaches. The overall effect is that they look like tiny, monstrous, perpetually startled cowboys.

You follow the winding tunnel down into the earth.

You come around a corner and almost bump right into a kobit. It has eyes like saucers and an awe-inspiring mustache. It wears a name tag (“Corey”) and carries a clipboard. It blinks at you in surprise and then asks, “Who are you? What are you doing in here?” Corey flips through the pages on its clipboard. “There are no upsiders scheduled to arrive today. I don’t think you’re supposed to be here!” Corey glances around nervously with its huge eyes and looks about ready to cry out for help.




Inky smiles at Corey. “Hullo! We’re the waterworks crew from the neaby town, here to check the outhouse tunnels, inspect all the pipes and so on. We received reports of a blockage somewhere inside the networks. Have the tunnels been flushing well lately?” While speaking, Inky flashes a waterworker’s ID briefly at the kobit before pocketing it and pulling out a pressure gauge, giving the little handle on one side of the device a few cranks, and looking back at Corey expectantly.

Corey slowly blinks its eyes. “Inspektor?”

ASIDE: I rolled for Inky and rolled a six, which according to the rules means GREAT SUCCESS, and also Inky gets to Level Up: they gain the skill Persuasive 2.

“Of course! Inspektors! Yes, yes, right this way! A surprise inspection, how exciting!”

Corey continues to chatter excitedly as it leads you further into the branching, winding tunnels, pointing out particular bits of stonework and engineering, and also baubles and trinkets and fossils and artifacts that the kobits uncovered in the process of digging their tunnels.

Your tour eventually brings you into a large cavern with tunnels exactly like the one from which you just entered branching off in all directions. It makes you dizzy to think of finding your way through this labyrinth without a guide.

In the middle of the cavern is a deep pool with a fountain. At the bottom of the pool, a SWORD is thrust into the ground almost up to its hilt. A large jewel set deep in the pommel rolls around like an eye in a socket and tracks your movement around cavern. A few bubbles float up to the surface of the pool.

And set into the wall on the far side of the room is a massive stone door reinforced with thick iron bands. There is a keypad and a small printer on the wall next to it.

“….and so our tour concludes here in the central atrium!” Corey concludes excitedly. “Behind this door is the VAULT, where we keep all the valuables. Gemstones, gold, crystals, et cetera.”

“Top notch security!” Corey exclaims tapping the keypad. The printer spits out a square of paper. It reads

ed v1.16
*e door
1    the door is Locked

“Ha ha!” Corey shakes its head in amazement. “I have no idea how this thing works!”

The eye in the sword watches as Corey clips the small printout to its clipboard.

“Now, I trust you’ll find that everything was in tip-top order! Yes, indeed!” Corey wriggles its mustache proudly. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” it flips through the pages on its clipboard, “I am late for my next appointment. Good day!” Corey turns and walks toward one of the twisty little passageways, all alike.




Once Corey the Kobit exits the antechamber, you are free to look around a little bit.

The eyesword continues to watch from the bottom of the pool, and the Kobit Ed terminal continues to await you by the vault door.

But also you notice a couple of alcoves along the walls between the twisty little passages. Each of them holds a relief sculpture depicting one of the three deities of Basmentaria.

There is Neddas, the wise god of sages and starlight. Androgynous, clad in purple robes, depicted with a golden third eye in the middle of their forehead. They are shown here stoically bestowing gifts upon the inhabitants of Basmentaria.

And here is Nullar, god of time and tides. A bespectacled male figure with a golden third eye on his forehead. He is dressed in a dapper vest and bow tie, and is adorned with small cogs and gears. He is depicted here looking up at the stars from a mechanical contraption he is working on.

Finally, there is Liandt, goddess of war and flame. A primal, elemental deity, she is depicted as a fiery warrior with a golden third eye. The relief shows her on the battlefield during the Artifice wars. The wars which reduced Ginnarak to the wastes of cinder and ash that they are today. The wars which drained Liandt’s divine energies so thoroughly that she fell into a deep sleep and has been absent from the mortal realms ever since.

But enough of this lore dump! There is something important happening!

You hear a shuffling and a mumbling approaching from one of the twisty little passages.

You’re already in one of the alcoves studying the relief, so your press yourself flat into the recess.

Three gophers with smoked glass goggles spill out from one of the passages. Retrieval team 70! They made it past the egre after all!

They don’t see you, but head straight to the keypad by the vault. They crowd around it and start pressing buttons, arguing and bickering with one another.

The sword at the bottom of the pool seems to roll its eye in exasperation.




The Retrieval Team 70 gophers are absolutely losing their minds over the ed terminal.

“It just keeps printing a question mark!” Vest sobs.

“Try pushing escape?” suggests Shorts somewhat panicking.

“I’ve tried it! It’s not vi! It doesn’t do anything!” Vest moans. “Here you try it if you’re so smart!”

Sash is balled up on the floor crying, having already had a turn at the terminal.

Shorts carefully steps over them and timidly prods at the keypad.

A throng of beefy guard kobits come charging into the hall, alerted by the gopher racket.

“Here now! You’re not supposed to be in here!”

One of them trips over Sash, still balled up on the floor, and crashes into Shorts’s back, pinning them to wall. They squeal. Another guard grabs Vest by the collar, and after a brief scuffle all three gophers are escorted out of the hall despite their howls of protest.

“I had better check on the vault!” exclaims one of the kobits who remains behind.

They bang a few keys on the terminal and it spits out a slip of paper.

ed v1.6
1        the door is locked
no match
the door is Open

There is a mechanical whir deep in the walls, and a click and a gasp of air as the door swings inward.

The kobit slips into the vault and the door swings only partly closed behind it.

The sword in the bottom of the pool pointedly narrows its eye at you.

The gods of Basmentaria observe passively from their reliefs in the alcoves around you.

The door to the vault is ajar, the first of the five legendary Ginnarak crystals presumably behind it.

From one of the twisty little passages, you hear a guard kobit approaching, singing a sad cowboy song to itself.




Harrumph I say as I billow out my mustache. I know exactly what this is, I’ve seen these silly terminals at the wizarding academy. Fascinating little babbles really, not that easy to use, and I find they’re easier to melt with a well placed fireball or two, but I think I can get us past without that. Now I might need someone to cover for me if that Kobit catches onto what I’m doing, and I’ll say the weird sword is starting to creep me out a bit.

Corraidhin approaches the terminal, cracks his knuckles, and enters: 1,$p

The printer spits out a piece of paper:

The door is Locked

Corraidhin stares at the paper. Well, that’s not right, the door’s only partially closed. Preposterious thing.

That’s okay, I know how to fix this.

19 c there is no door, there never was, and never will be. Also the Kobit guard forgot to tie his shoes. . w 1,$p

The printer spits out a slip of paper.

there is no door, there never was, and never will be. Also the Kobit guard forgot to tie his shoes.

With a soft pop, the thick stone door vanishes.

The sword at the bottom of the pool widens its eye in surprise.

Nothing remains between you and the interior of the vault.

Some light from the hall spills in and glints off what appears to be a mound of gold, gems, and crystals. The rest of its contents are hidden from view unless you venture inside.

You can still hear the guard kobit in the passage, now whistling a warbling, lamentful tune. It sounds dangerously close. Best get a move on if you want to avoid a confrontation.


While the wisened scholar inspects the vault door, Inky walks a few steps from the antechamber to meet the Kobit guard, pressure gauge and tiny notebook in hand. Inky proceeds to ask them about water flow sounds in the surrounding area, water stains, signs of potential pests that could damage the pipes, and other rather boring elements pertaining to modern Basmentia burrow plumbing.

After a while, seeing as they have been conversing for some time, Inky pulls out two small bottles of chilled arrowroot beer from a waist pouch and offers one to the Kobit guard.

The big guard kobit’s eyes start to glass over as Inky goes on about water pressure and structural integrity.

But it does graciously accept a bottle arrowroot beer.

“Well, golly, don’t mind if I do!” It cracks the lid off, toasts to your health and takes a long swig.

“Aaaaaaaah! That hits the spot!”

Corraidhin absentmindedly inspects the terminal and door while Inky converses with the guard. He’s utterly distracted and talking to himself.

By the gods, it’s gone. Just like that! I thought it’d fizzle or something, but it’s gone! I wonder what else I can do with this thing.

Corraidhin wanders back to the terminal and enters another command.

19 c The wise and elderly Corraidhin is now a young and dashing rogue, with a very nice hat. .

The printer spits out a slip of paper:


Maybe the ed terminal only has jurisdiction over the door to the vault.

Or maybe the machine, the universe, or whatever, is telling you not to push your luck.

By now the big guard kobit, lulled by Inky’s questions and finally sedated by the alcohol, is slumped and snoring softly in the mouth of one of the twisty little passages.

You stand before the open vault under the ever watchful gaze of the sword at the bottom of the pool of water in the center of the room.



Psst, Inky, can you poke your head into the vault, see if you can spot any crystals. Also, can you tell what kind of gold’s in there? Maybe it’s worth something to nab a piece of two for ourselves, you know, since we’re so good at vault cracking.

While you do that I’m going to take a closer look at this sword, it’s giving me heeby jeebies.

I cast a spell on the sword to identify its physical, magical, and metaphysical properties

“Strange sword, I command thee to divulge your secrets! All that you are of, exist in, and imbue from shall be wrought in words of sorcercy so that the world my see clear what you are!” I chant as I invoke ancient runes with my wand.

Corraidhín commands the sword commandingly. But the sword just rolls its eye and looks at him exasperatedly.

Hmm. Yes, no mouth. Well then.

Corraidhín draws on his mastery of Arcane Lore, and sifts through all the knowledge he has filed away on magical swords. There are so many books on magic swords!

While at first you guessed that it may merely be a common Look Sword, you have since revised your initial assessment. Look Swords are minor magical items, and are not quite as sentient as this particular blade appears to be.

No this must be something a little more special.

It’s hard to tell from here–the water is not perfectly clear–but the pattern on the hilt is kind swirly and whirly. Probably a Sword of Omens.


No, it’s so unlikely.

And yet.

If the pattern on the hilt turns out to be more whirly than swirly, then it probably is indeed a Sword of Omens.

But on the other hand, if it is more swirly than whirly, it’s possible that this may be then legendary Sword of J’Son.

If only you could get a closer look…

Inky nods and peeks inside the vault, while keeping an ear open for any sounds coming from the tunnel where the guard kobit is currently sleeping soundly. Small mountains of ancient gold, some as coins and some in nuggets of various shapes and sizes, filled most of the cavern floor. In one corner were a few chests overflowing with rubies and emeralds, with the occasional amethyst and tiny pink diamonds. Whoever had this vault set up has amassed a nice hoard!

Inky whispered back, “Some good old gold! There are also little crystals in one of the chests, but I can’t tell if any of them is a Ginnarak.”

Inky hears the drunken cowboy Kobit guard snoring gently. It whistles adorably a little bit at the top of each exhale.

You peek inside the vault just in time to see the lone Kobit guard that went inside to check on the vault. It yelps and trips over its own feet.

Its shoes were untied.

There are indeed piles of gold, gems, and crystals. Chests full of precious stones. A few suits of armor. For some reason, a giant clam, mouth open to reveal a giant pearl.

And in the center of it all, atop a stone pedestal, beneath a dome of glass, is the blue and gold Ginnarak Crystal. It is the size of a melon, and kind of shaped like one. A lumpy, multi-faceted blue and gold melon.

Flitting around the pedestal are a couple of Aurs. Giant ears with bat wings. Very keen hearing obviously. Usually more of an annoyance than a true deterrent. Unless there’s a Centaur around. Nasty things those. A hundred ears with a hundred wings. The size of a small horse. They can really ruin your day. Luckily you don’t see one around.

Finally, curled up on the ground at the base of the pedestal, hugging a mound of gold coins like a body pillow, is a nude Kobit, sound asleep. It stretches briefly in its sleep and when it does, you are astonished to see that it has large leathery wings.




Jarrod wanders into the vault. Spotting the Aurs and the Kobits, a slow grin starts to spread on his face. Taking a deep breath in, he gestures grandiosely around him and booms: “Ah! Come gather round! Hear a tale of Triumph! Of Heart! … Maybe even a bit of Nirvana!”

He saunters over to the giant open clam and poses grandly nearby. His eyes sweep across the Kobits, attempting to catch the eyes of each one, as he begins to tap the fingers of his left hand rhythmically against his thigh, mimicking a heartbeat.

"Our tale begins with a hero, though one not oft recognized,
 Weaving bureaucratic mysteries across parchment with zeal,
 Though held to account, and by all accounts terrorized,
 By small minded yes-men with power and zeal!

 Yes, our hero of sorts did not act and avail,
 He gave others their tasks to be done.
 No pleasure he gleaned from the mop or the pail,
 And yet here we begin with the fun!"

Thus has the epic begun, and Jarrod is pushing the rhythm of the words hard, attempting to draw all eyes and ears to himself.

Broad-chested, olive-skinned Jarrod launches into the epic, flanked on one side by a giant clam and on the other side by a suit of armor.

The aurs, enraptured, immediately flutter down to rest at his feet to listen to the poem.

The one Kobit that tripped over its own feet rolls over where it lays on the ground and listens with naked admiration.

The naked, winged Kobit rouses from its sleep at the noise with a groan. It grouchily rises to its feet, flaps its wings a few times, and soars up into the air.

“My name,” it cries out, “is HORSE! BhrruUHRHUuHRRh! Behold my majesty! BrUHrhHHHURHuRu! You shall not steal my blue and gold, melon-sized gem! BhrruUHRHUuHRRh! I have such beautiful WINGS!”

The aurs and the clumsy Kobit all start to fidget as Horse’s outburst threatens to break the spell of Jarrod’s captivating oration.

“Excellent!” Corradihin whispers to Inky nudging her gently as he does. “It looks like Jarrod has the Kobits covered, I’m gonna make a break for the sword, I’m decently, somewhat, sort of positive that it’s the legendary sword of Jason. But if I’m wrong and it’s cursed watch my back. I might need a quick save.”

Corraidhin makes a step forward, “Oh and Inky, if Jarrod’s distraction goes awry, shout, I’ll come in fireballs blazing. I highly suggest a rapid retreat if it comes to thay.”

Corraidhin darts towards the sword scrambling over the terrain while the actions on the vault. As he approaches the sword he asks the sword if it wouldn’t mind coming along for a bit of adventure, and he grabs it by the hilt.

Corraidhín wades resolutely into the pool. The water rises up to his knees, his hips, his shoulders, and finally he dives under about 10 feet to the bottom of the pool. The eye of the sword stares at him with great intensity as he descends.

The mage reaches out and firmly grasps the hilt.

You feel a jolt, and the eye rolls back in its socket.

You yank on the sword and it budges not one bit. Not one iota!

You go to adjust your grip. But your hand is stuck fast! Glued to the hilt of the sword!

You look up at the surface of the water, some 10 feet above.

You look down at the sword that refuses to release you.

You look more closely at the pattern on the hilt. Egads! Why did you not see it before? The pattern is neither whirly nor swirly at all! It is in fact kind of spacey and indented.

This is not the legendary Sword of J’son! It’s so obvious! How could you have been so mistaken! This is none other than the infamous Sword of Yam’l. Yam’l is of course a superset of J’son, so it is an easy enough error to make. And perfectly harmless in an academic setting. It is however a costly miscalculation to make while glued to a sword at the bottom of a fountain.

You lungs start to burn a little bit, and you hear a spectral, burbling, significant whitespace voice in your head as the sword makes intense eye contact with you:

name: Yam'l
conditions: {"stuck": "true", "sticky": "true"}
greatest desire: stabbing

And then an expectant pause, as though the sword eagerly awaits your reply.

Inky watches Master Corraidhín make his way towards the creepy sword with two drams of admiration and a tiny dose of apprehension. Taking out a small wrench, a pouch of nuts and bolts, along with some gum twine, Inky crouches near the vault archway, listening in a little on Jarrod’s epic tale about the unsung hero of sanitation while occasionally looking into the pool.

Inky, from the best seat in the house, hears Jarrod launch into an epic poem, and also the beating of leathery wings and a mighty whinny and a neigh.

They also watch Corraidhín dive to the bottom of the fountain, and then thrash about a bit with one hand on the hilt of the eye sword.




Jarrod raises his right hand and begins adding a new rhythm to his beat by slapping his palm against his chest. The resulting beat sounds eerily like a galloping horse. Jarrod pushes his voice outward and upward, directing his vocal energy at HORSE.

"A mighty steed did carry our hero through forest, hill and town:
 A comely beast with silky mane and smooth and supple hide.
 One would think that such a stallion needs must have renown,
 But only our dear hero understood, and so did ride."

Jarrod subtly adjusts the rhythm to a fast, regular beat.

"Lightning of the hoof!
 Fire in the eye!
 One with blowing wind!
 Strength of mountain high!"

Jarrod slowly calms the beat back down to a heartbeat with his left hand fingers on his thigh again. However, the right now rests close to Gertrude’s handle, at the ready.

"On fated day, our hero does require
 Underlings for which a task is set.
 And yet, this day the underlings and squires
 Have booked their time away from toil and fret."

While continuing the epic, Jarrod makes note of two options, should he need them:

  1. Should he need, he can dive behind the giant clam; and
  2. He eyes a path back out the vault, should he be able to draw the Aurs and Kobits out with him.

Jarrod keeps his eyes on HORSE, attempting to react to whatever HORSE brings.

HORSE gives a snort, a groan, and a sigh as the beat of the poem accelerates to a trot, and turns its subject to matters of its own interest. Namely, himself. HORSE likes to hear its own name, and it likes to hear people pay tribute to it with verse. Which is 100% what it thinks is going on here.

HORSE beats its wings a few times and then flaps over to where Jarrod is delivering his oration. It stands a little too close, basking in the glory of Jarrod’s verse.

There is now gathered at Jarrod’s feet three Aurs; one clumsy Kobit with untied shoe laces; and one naked, winged Kobit named HORSE.

The blue and gold, melon shaped crystal in the center of the vault has been left unguarded. It hovers, suspended, beneath its glass dome on top of its pedestal, revolving slowly in place. It looks like a weird tiny asteroid. The veins of gold in the stone pulse lightly with otherworldly energy.

Damn it Corraidhin thinks to himself, here I am yet again at the bottom of some insipid pool stuck by some random magical thing all because I didn’t pay enough attention in mythical history class. Bloody hell!

Good thing I paid attention in sorcery and yesteryears secrecry administrivia, this little sword won’t stay stuck for too long! My lungs if I bungle this though..

Corraidhin quickly invokes a spell with his spare hand, casting mystical runes with his hand.

sudo chmod -t sowrd_of_yam\'l
sudo chmod 775 sword_of_yam\'l
sudo chown corraidhin:party sword_of_yam\'l

That should do it corraidhin thinks to himself. If not I’m going to need to think quick, I’m stuck and there’s no way up without this sword. I might be able to transmute the water into air around me, but probably only a small pocket which will surely disappear in a gasp. Alternately I could try and blast my way down, creating a pocket for the water to flow into, but I’d be willing to bet I’ll hurt myself in the process..

You trace some watery runes, invoking Sudo to bend reality to your will.

The unschooled masses sometimes erroneously assume that Sudo is a deity in its own right. There’s a certain misguided logic to it: an invisible force that governs the relationships between entities, and infallibly predicts how they will behave? Certainly, it must be an all powerful, godlike entity.

You and your ilk, of course, know that there’s no more intelligence behind Sudo than there is behind gravity. No need to correct them though. Sometimes it behooves the mage to allow others to think that they serve an unfathomable arcane lord.

There is a dull underwater flash and a muted underwater bang, and you feel the sword slip from its stony clinch like a knife tearing through soggy bread.

You push up off the bottom of the pool and rocket to the surface, helped–surprisingly–by the sword, which remains glued fast to your hand, but which also rises above you as though somehow lighter than water.

You break the surface of the water and hear joyous laughter.

"Oh, yes! Well done, Hardy Bear! So very well done indeed! Oh, I had spent so long trapped at the bottom of that pool waiting for a new bear to come and free me. And now here you are! Oh, what a very good day this is. What a magnificent pair we shall be.

"Now, let's go stab some evil!"

You look down at the sword in your hand, and the eye twinkles at you, full of adoration and zeal.

A small wine pitcher splashes into the water next to you. It is attached to a thin hose, at the other end of which Inky sits on dry land, drinking a cup of tea. They wave.

Inky squints at the silhouette underwater, slightly distorted by the occasional ripple on the surface, trying to decipher the odd hand gestures and wisps of light coming from below. Why was Master Corraidhín repeatedly forming semi-circles with his finger, almost like … the handle of a teacup? Was it a request for tea?

After a pause, Inky rummages inside a bag and brings out a large porro and a long rubber hose. The porro is filled with a demi-tasse of black grapefruit pekoe from a flask and the spout plugged with an eldarberry-flavoured gummy pen nib. Inky strings together a handful of brass nuts with twine and ties it to the porro’s handle to act as a small weight, then affixes the hose tightly to the open top of the porro. Casting a slightly apologetic look in the direction of the water for a brew long since gone cold, Inky swings the hose and flings the drinking vessel into the pool towards Master Corraidhín, watching for a moment as the porro sinks down into the water to hover near his arm. The other end of the hose is tied securely to a narrow rock on one side of the pool with more twine, the end sticking up in the air like a wiggling snorkel.

Inky returns to crouching near the vault entrance and looking inside another small pouch for fresh tea leaves. Waiting is thirsty work!

You cast an improvised lifeline to the floundering wizard, and find a cache of very fine fermented tea leaves wrapped in waxed paper that you left for yourself at some point in the past. How thoughtful and considerate of Past You!

From your vantage point, the sleepy guard Kobit still shows no sign of stirring. And Jarrod has a throng of captive beasts listening very intently to his stirring, epic poem. HORSE in particular seems to be gaining some kind of physical sustenance from the words, snorting and whinnying and beating its wings with each new stanza.

If you can slip through the doorway without disturbing them, there will be nothing between you and the now vulnerable Ginnarak Crystal.





Before Corraidhín ascended to the surface of the pool….

As Corraidhin finishes his incantation a small porro drifts down bonking him on the head. Startled corraidhin begins to move around in the pool trying to find his assailant.

“By the gods what in the world is in this pool with me!” he tugs frantically on the sword, and as he does so the porro drifts into view. “Oh wait, that..” his eyes follow the rubber hose attached to it up to the top of the pool. “Ah ha!” he exclaims immediately inhaling a mouth full of water and frantically pulling the porro from the hose with his spare hand and teeth. Corraidhin sucks greedily at the air the hose provides as he becomes acutely aware of the burning sensation in his lungs.

The porro drifts wistfully to the bottom of the pool, just out of reach. A dark liquid rises from it as it comes to rest on the bottom of the pool.

And now back to our show!

After heartily congratulating Master Corraidhín on his successful sword acquisition in hushed whispers and finishing off a cup of blackcurrant tea, Inky retrieves the porro from the bottom of the pool with a fishing pole and a few recasts. (Calling that gnarly stick with a line, bottle and hook slightly bent out of shape on one end a fishing pole would be an affont to any self-respecting fisherfolk though.) Inky rinses the pitcher and hose before stowing them away again in the bag along with the pole and other ink brewing paraphernalia.

Refreshed, Inky slips noiselessly inside the vault, edging along the wall on the farther side from the crowd now wholly enraptured by Jarrod’s grand recital. Seeing the crowd pacified and giving Jarrod a thumbs-up, Inky unfurls a long and dusty bolt of dark cloth with the words “UNDER MAINTENANCE — NO UNAUTHORISED ENTRY [by order of the Basmentaria Bureau of Sanitation]” in roughly-scrawled letters tacked onto it, and hung the ends of the cloth so it spanned and completely obscured one side of the vault.

Standing behind the makeshift inspection site, Inky proceeds to fill several sacks with gold and gems using a small shovel, before putting one of the sacks into their Hacky Duffer Discette (its capacity for large storage and small weight is a blessing in disguise for both aspiring and afflicted collectors alike).

You successfully cordon off a corner of the vault and set up a very convincing UNDER CONSTRUCTION banner. It looks straight up like a 90’s website.

You start shoving bags of treasure into your HD Discette, but it only accepts 1.44 bags before running out of space. You you leave the remaining bags for the others.

During your excavation, you find a complete set of magnificent, ornate, gold-nibbed quills, and also a small wooden rack of bottled ink.

There are a dozen small bottles all arranged in a row, each one with a different mysterious glyph, the contents all a slightly different shade. As you handle the rack, the ink sloshes around inside. It could still be good!

The fine wooden rack encloses them all and holds them in place by means of the lid, which closes securely around the bottle necks. Once you open the lid, you can easily retrieve and stow the bottles.

You also spot a fine jade teapot. A matching set of small cups—no handles, no saucers—cluster around the pot like nursing pups.

Corraidhin clambors out of the pool, magical pokey stick in hand.

Good show! He exclaims to himself and the sword. Now I can finally get a good look at this sword, though for some reason I can’t seem to let go, I guess for now I won’t lose it.

You said you wanted to do some stabbin right? Of evil things? What constitutes evil my pointy new friend?

The sword does indeed remain steadfastly glued to your hand. As you swish it around you discover that it seems to get lighter when you hold it aloft, and that it trembles and grows increasingly heavy as it descends. The sensation is almost as though it has a hollow core in which some kind of heavy liquid sloshes around. And as though its blow would be devastating.

The sword relishes being wielded and swung, and grows more and more ecstatic. Its eye darts menacingly back and forth, vanquishing imaginary enemies with each jab.

Yes! Yes, I am made for a singular purpose. To RID EVIL. To root out evil, spill its blood, and then do it again! So let's go find some evil, Bear! And then you can just stab it with me.

Oh, what constitutes evil, you ask? In my experience, evil can't help but make itself known. You'll know it when you see it.

For example, see there? That little inky fellow sneaking into that treasure room? Probably super evil. We should go investigate.

As corraidhin questions the sword he wanders towards the vault peering in to inspect Jarrod’s performance. He’s really good at that, what do you think? Actually what do I even call you? Do you like nicknames? I was thinking pointy, or stabby, but I’m open to suggestions, respect and all that.

Oh hey, the crystal! It looks like it’s unguarded! Corraidhin slinks towards the crystal muttering to his magical sword as he does.

The sword is momentarily distracted by the Aurs and Kobits. Its eye widens. It almost seems to shudder with anticipation.

EEEEEVIL! Rid. Evil. Spill. Repeat.

You are thankful that the voice seems only to be heard inside your own head.

Oh, my name? I'm sure I had one at some point. Long forgotten by now. No matter, I'm not sad about it. One has no use for a name when instead they have a singular, all-consuming purpose!

But, my last Bear called me her Bee. I quite liked that. The bee in her bonnet! Ha! Evil, fear my sting!

The sword prattles on in your head as you sneak past Jarrod’s monstrous storytime and approach the pedestal. Or is it a lectern?

You arrive unseen. The crystal is a dazzling deep blue, with pulsing gold veins. It is oddly shaped, somewhat like an egg. And it floats, rotating slowly, suspended in air beneath the glass dome that encloses it.

Drawing on your knowledge of Arcane Lore, you remember that the five Ginnarak Crystals played a key role in the Artifice Wars that once rampaged across all of Basmentaria. They are sources of tremendous power. Some say that, the five of them together, they could kill a god. You’re not sure you believe that. But they did definitely reduce the once lush and verdant island nation of Ginnarak to cinder wastes and deserts of ash. A cataclysmic event that put a resolute end to the Artifice Wars.

You look around the vault. Jarrod is reciting epic poetry and mesmerizing the monsters. Inky is pillaging and looting. You have a bloodthirsty, sentient sword in one hand; and a large arcane battery of a crystal within reach of the other.




While Inky packs the top of a sack with a thin layer of earth from under a loose rock, they feel a heated glare in their general direction for a few beats and surmises Master Corraidhín had entered the vault with his newfound companion. After decades of serving rather … demanding customers as an inkling, Inky knew an evil eye directed at them even when they can’t see it (while preparing a brew with their back turned, for instance) and makes a mental note to give Pointy a wide berth.

Once the sacks were placed close to the vault entrance for a quick haul, Inky returns to the items that had been discovered while digging under the loose rock. The set of gold-nibbed quills were swiftly pocketed — each quill was finely crafted and felt balanced when held in one hand. The malleable tips in a range of sizes would be invaluable for testing ink viscosity and smoothness, among other properties. A felicitously fantastic find!

The jade tea set was next to be admired, its deep green hue reflecting the age of the stone from which the items were carved. With cups for every member of their merry group, the teapot would make a worthy addition to any travelling, crystal-seeking tea party. So thin and translucent were the small cups, having been expertly crafted, that they were almost too fragile to carry around everywhere. A non-shattering charm was often applied to heirloom sets meant to be passed down through generations, but it is difficult to tell by looking whether a set had been charmed unless the spell was a particularly strong one. The teapot and cups were returned to the small wooden box they were found in and stored away. Perhaps a few crockery talismans could be procured at the next town?

Inky pauses at the rack of bottled ink. The first rule that any inkling in training learns is to never trust pre-bottled inks from unverified ingredients or unknown sauces. Inky tilts the rack to better examine the weird yet vaguely familiar glyphs on the bottles.

The first glyph was a circle with three dots. The bottle next to it was adorned with a swirl, followed by a bottle with a circle surrounding a pointing hand or a snail. Another glyph looked like a twisted hook, and was that some sort of sinister grinning reptile on the next one?? Towards the middle of the rack was a bottle with a glyph of what could be a mountain with a tunnel at its base. The bottle beside it bore a glyph of a block broken to three pieces. Yet another bottle was simply stamped with a circle and a dot at its center. Its neighbour held a glyph that slightly resembled a mountain range if someone stared very hard. The next two bottles bore glyphs that looked like a spiky fish and a circle with a pair of horns protruding from it. The last bottle’s contents seemed more gooey than the others, with a glyph of a helmet-wearing hare.

The shade of ink within the bottles varied, but all seem to be derived from the same indistinct hue. None of the bottles had the usual piece of ash paper with bits of string attached to them, but otherwise appear to be intact and the vessels themselves top quality, as shown by the delicate tarring on the caps. The wooden rack was lightly worn but solid in Inky’s hands.

It was certainly an odd collection. “No hash, no stash” though, as the rule of thumb goes. Inky puts the rack down carefully on the floor by the sacks, concluding that if anyone wanted to help themselves to the bottles, they were hopefully not planning to ingest the contents.

Dusting off their boots, Inky settles just behind the banner, closer to the vault entrance and rousing performance, to watch the crowd around Jarrod and listen for any sounds from outside the vault.

You pack up the quills and the jade tea set, and arrange the bags by the vault entrance for quick retrieval.

As you carry the rack of ink bottles over to the bags, the twelfth and final ink bottle, the one with the glyph of the helmet-wearing hare, suddenly cracks. Seemingly of its own volition. A tiny shard of glass slices the palm of your hand and disappears into the meat at the base of your thumb. The gooey ink seeps out of the bottle and paints your hand a muddy, rusty blue.

You jerk your hand back. The ink is swiftly absorbed into your hand as though it were a sponge. Soon it’s all gone: the ink, the blood, all of it. Nothing remains of the scratch itself but a hair-thin line. If you run your finger over it, you can feel the hard nub of the glass shard beneath the skin.

For a moment you can hear the double drum of your own heartbeat rushing through your ears. Your senses seem to sharpen. Colors grow more crisp, and sounds more clear. But then it passes, and the moment is gone.

Harrumph, pointy my friend, that’s just inky. They’re definitely not super evil. That’s the finest ink craftsmen and tea preparer this side of Basementaria. And we absolutely won’t be stabbing them. There are FAR eviler things to stab, potentially that weird naked thing that seems to think itself a horse. I could be convinced IT was evil, but wouldn’t use attacking it unprovoked make us evil? Surely a sword as ancient and wise as you could see the perfectly puzzling philosophical delimna we put ourselves in.

And then this thing, (corraidhin gestures at the crystal), horrible magical item used to create untold death, destruction, and mayhem during the last Artificer war. Definitely probably evil, if used that way, but also filled with untold power that could be used for good! Now would the person weilding it be evil just because, or could someone overcome the magical nature of a device capable of such evil and apply them for good? I for one believe afirmatively that one can overcome such things.

As corriadhin finishes his philosophical prattling to his new stabby friend he pushes the glass case off the crystal and grabs it.

The Sword of Yam’l starts to launch into a long winded reply.

Oh yes, that winged naked thing is surely evil. Let us stab it, Hardy Bear! Let us stab and stab and stab until --- What's that? Oh no, don't worry. We are unquestionably, infallibly good. I was designed and made for but one purpose, after all. TO RID EVIL! As for the crystal, yes, I suppose you are correct. Wielding a powerful, bloodthirsty, magical item probably does make the wielder evil, and consequently immediately deserving of being stabbed! Say, speaking of stabbing ... that naked, winged thing--

But then, before the sword can finish its thought (a thought, you are quite confident, would end with something like, “let’s stab it!”) you knock the glass dome off the pedestal and grab the Ginnarak Crystal.

You brace yourself. It thrums slightly in your hand but doesn’t do anything overtly magical or destructive. In fact it seems perfectly inert.

So there you are. A pointer murder stick attached firmly to one hand, and a potential atom bomb of a crystal in the other. But you think you’re totally going to pull this off!

Then the glass dome hits the ground and shatters into dozens of pieces.

HORSE screams and whips around at the noise. “BhrruUHRHUuHRRh! My blue and gold melon sized gem! Noooooo! BrUHrhHHHURHuRu!”

It flaps its wings and wheels up into the air and swoops down at you! The three aurs get swept up in the excitement and start flapping around, making tiny squeaks of alarm. The remaining kobit leaps to its feet, but then trips over its shoelaces.




From their spot behind the construction banner, Inky pulls a pewter bowl, a large wooden spoon and a set of silver spoons from their brewing kit. In one quick fluid motion, Inky strikes the bowl with the wooden spoon. The sound reverberates soulfully through the domed cavern of the vault, like a call to meditation. The kobits too, seem to recognise that single, sonorous note.

After a long pause, Inky taps several silver spoons in rapid succession against one another and on a small rock. The result can be barely heard by everyone in the vault except the aurs, for whom the sounds may resemble the soothing trickle of pebbles flowing along the path of a tunnel.

A rich tone permeates the vault. The Aurs cease their squeaking. You don’t hear them say this, but you imagine they’re thinking, “Oh shit, I still need to log my sit for Sitember..” And they flutter down to the ground and sit in a circle and close their eyes and are still.

You also hear a deep rumbling somewhere beneath you in response to the gentle call. Some of the gold coin dunes start to shift and spill. A suit of armor falls over. HORSE and the clumsy kobit halt their advance and look around nervously, and then bolt for the front door of the vault.





Why Stabby, it looks like we won’t need to stab Horse at all, but are you any good at stabbing armor?

Corraidhin stuffs the melon shaped gem into his knapsack and rushes towards Inky and Jarrod. Best to get this party started in style Corraidhin says as he casts a fireball at the suit of armor, followed closely by a second, and a third.

As corraidhin reaches Inky and Jarrod he raises the Sword of Y’aml ready to fight. Stand and deliver you curr!

The trigger happy mage rushes toward the vault exit, flinging a couple of fireballs over his shoulder as he goes.

Stabby is delighted at the carnage as the suit of armor is blown to bits, but also disappointed at the general lack of stabbing.

The Aurs, deep in meditation nearby, get caught in the conflagration. Their kernels swell and pop explosively. Though not as explosively as the fireballs.

The whole Retrieval Team 43 pours into the cavern outside the vault as it turns into an inferno, and they are swept up and away in a throng of kobits evacuating the tunnels.

You are deposited, like silt after a flood, outside the caves back at the bottom of the gnome hole, where the kobits and the lone egre are frantically climbing up the scaffolding, which bends dangerously under their combined weight. The gnomes up above are running around in an agitated state at the sudden commotion, and a few of them explode in the excitement.

The ground rumbles again, and the entrance to the kobit caves, and several feet of the surrounding area, is swallowed up by a sinkhole that spreads across half of the bottom of the gnome hole. From the hole emerges a gigantic moth-like creature made of a hundred ears of corn and a hundred wings. It is bigger than the very largest horse.

You hear a single word repeated fearfully over and over again by the crowd of kobits. “Centaur! Centaur!”

It crawls up out of the pit, and tastes the vibrations in the air with its feelers. It flies clumsily up into the air, flutters, and then crashes back into the ground.

It looks like one of its wings has been singed by fire.

Undaunted, it crawls across what is left of the bottom of the gnome hole toward you, beating its wings as though to bash you with them. Which would hurt a lot.

Yam’l whispers in Corraidhin’s mind.

Now *that* thing is *definitely* evil!




Looking around the chaotic scene, one of the vines among the bushes caught Inky’s eye. It was one of several bean plants probably native to the Tammineaux Forest, with strands of faintly glowing pods hanging from the vines.

Inky snatches several of the dried but luminous bean pods from the vines, then sprints a wide circle around the centaur, all the while counting out 43 beans and throwing them into the topsoil, where much of the earth around the sinkhole had already been turned over by the gnomes’ drills and machinery.

Earlier in the commotion, one of the gnome explosions caused a water main leading towards what had been the kobit caves to burst. Water was now spraying across the area with the gusto of a fizzy cold spring and gathering in small pools over the soil. More water sluiced over the moth-like creature’s singed wing, snuffing the remaining embers.

Within moments, long tendrils shot up from the ground, which rapidly thickened at the bases to the size of young southern oak trees, to curl gently but firmly around the centaur. “Sister!” a melodious voice emanating from somewhere amid the beanstalks exclaimed, “What are you doing up? It is not yet autumn. Go back to sleep!”

The pooling water puts out any of the licking, reaching flames that followed the centaur up from below. The dark smoke carries the smell of ash, soot, and burnt popcorn up into the air.

There is no mistaking the climbing vines of the common Tammineaux Forest Bean. If you don’t recognize it by the heart-shaped leaves or the winding stems, then the luminous, dangling seed pods nestled amongst the bulbous pink blossoms are a dead, somewhat obscene, giveaway.

Inky plucks a handful of the pods and rips them open, meticulously counting out a mystical number of individual beans, and sowing them in the ash and the mud.

Vines erupt from the ground and entangle the centaur, dragging it gently back toward the sinkhole and whispering a soothing lullaby in its ears. The centaur struggles weakly before surrendering to the vine’s caress. It is pulled back down underground.

In the aftermath, there is a handful of leftover beans, and also some large, vibrant kernels of corn that flaked off the centaur during the struggle.

You and the first Ginnarak Crystal are able to leave the dig site and the Tammineaux Forest without further incident.

You pack up your faithful multibeast and trek back to the city of Vay’Nullar, where your adventure started.


EPILOGUE: what are you doing in the final moments of this battle? Or on the way home? Or, what are you doing to rest, relax, and recover once safely back in town before reporting back to Blavin?


Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of BASEMENT QUEST.

Jump to: 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37



A glorious victory!

In the interim time Corraidhin studies the sword of Y’aml, and correctly deduces that he needs to remove the sticky bit to be able to sheath the thing.

sudo chmod -t sword_of_y'aml

The rest of the interim is spent studying arcane lore surrounding the Ginnarak Crystals and their purpose. He also strongly urges the party that we should consider very carefuly how we need to proceed with the crystal. It’s obvious people don’t want these things getting out, so we should ensure that Blavin has good intentions, or at least leaves us out of whatever potential evil could occur.

Corraidhin prepares the incantation and, after removing the sticky bit, is able pry his stiff fingers from the grip.

You sheathe the blade, but its voice continues to ring clearly in your head as it prattles on, seeing evil and villainy everywhere and encouraging you to stab, stab, stab.

Your sysorcerous studies, confirmed by the eager and forthright sword, suggest that the blade will be able to rest for a while once it tastes blood.

Your former mentor and rival sysorceror Eccentric Kevin calls on you one day under the pretense of showing you the latest draft of KDL (pronounced “cuddle”), their own “Kevin’s Document Language”, an alternative syntax for incantations and personal pet project of theirs that has thus far failed, much to their perpetual consternation, to gain any traction or adoption in the wider magic community. They are insufferably polite and sinisterly supportive. They complain about how the obstinant gnus keep standing in the middle of the road trying to block traffic, and they demand to know all about your recent exploits and adventures.

Once back in town, Inky had the small glass shard in their palm removed by a harried-looking healer, who merely shrugged at Inky’s account of the disappearing ink and advised them to return if they experienced adverse effects before hurrying off to the next patient. A visit to the local stationery shop did not yield any answers; the stocky human at the counter shook their head apologetically when shown the broken ink bottle. However, they did suggest asking at one of the larger shops in the city.

To celebrate their first successful quest, Inky made torties[1] for their party with flour ground from some of the large corn kernels at the dig site, topped with a sweet nutty squash spread. Babbleberry tea was served from their newly acquired jade tea set, now patched with what Inky had been assured was an unbreakable seal[2] by a merchant with a toothy grin in one of Vay’Nullar’s notorious back alleys.

Master Corraidhín’s cautionary words of wisdom still echo in Inky’s head, though they were secretly tickled by the idea of the crystal being actually a rare and previously unknown species of melon with very potent magical properties. The very thought of melons was making Inky a bit thirsty. Let the warrior and wizard worry about all the potential evils of the world — it’s time for a dash to the market for some beatfruit juice!

[1] Also known as torte-teas, as in “Torte-tea, yas?”, which was how their previous ink maestro used to greet customers entering the brewery. Flat little tea cakes with sugar or spice (or both, which vary by region) and sometimes eaten in a loose wrap. Some humans called them “crabs” for some reason which baffled Inky, since the torties had no pincers … at least none that they could see anyway.

[2] The seal attached to the bottom of the teapot and each cup had a glyph of an unknown object between two hands.

The healer removes a small glass bead from Inky’s palm. It is worn smooth and round like a marble. If you look closely, you can see a small blemish in the center that somewhat resembles either a duck or a rabbit depending on how you orient it.

It is captivating to look at and comforting to hold in your hand. You fidget with it often. Now and then you suddenly notice you have been gazing at it for some minutes without realizing it.

You make your party a delightful meal of torties, serving tea from the magically reinforced jade set.

Cleaning up afterwards, you can’t help but notice the patterns of the tea leaves in the bottoms of the jade cups.


You dash to the market for beatfruit juice, which you easily find. And you find yourself irrationally drawn to the produce. The kale, dandelion greens, and beans all look especially scrumptious and … plump and juicy?

An old toothy market attendant sits on a stool by the vegetable stand reading the Farmers Almanac. Unsolicited, they mention to you that it is only three days until the next full moon.

Jarrod has two things in particular he wants to do when back in town, with whatever his cut of the gold is. First, he wants to go looking for a cheap, run-down building somewhere in town and buy the property if he has enough money (perhaps negotiating a bit where necessary).

Second, he wishes to seek arcane counsel from Corraidhín, perhaps getting a small invocation applied to one of the charms on his arm band. Something in the realm of a fascination spell (with an activation word) that can be used on occasion to draw attention.

Jarrod agrees that we should not invite trouble. We shall tread cautiously with regards to the crystals.

Yum, torties!

After successfully negotiating the price down a little bit, you are able to purchase a run-down building. You are now the proud owner and proprietor of the Milk Market building in the Wandering Bazzar district of downtown Vay’Nullar.

The ground level is occupied by longtime district staple Enrique’s Empanada Emporium, famous for its signature stuffed pastries and its Terrapin Ale, brewed on site by Enrique himself, who happens to be a very large humanoid turtle.

It’s a little seedy and a little divey, but still draws a fair amount of foot traffic from shoppers waiting for the eponymous, ambulatory bazaar of debatable sentience to wander by. Reliably, a small gang of breadpunks can be found loitering here and espousing the virtues of social anarchy. Enrique allows their presence and on occasion even buys them a round of ale.

The top two levels are unoccupied. Years upon years ago, this space once held large vats for storing and preserving multibeast milk prior to being distributed. Some enterprising individual converted and updated the space some time ago, but was never able to find a tenant. In any case, the space is yours now to do with what you will.

With Corraidhin’s assistance, you are able to enchant your armband by inscribing it with a cross-like glyph with a teardrop-shaped loop in place of the vertical upper bar. You now have a FASCINATING BANGLE that can, upon activation, compel attention and even potentially inspire people to dance about.




Inky gathers up the teacups, trying to remember a few tips about reading tea leaves from a forest fae they had met a few times while foraging and who had insisted on giving lessons to any wanderersby. (Of course he was just being a hospitable host to thirsty travellers and certainly not because he delighted in the confused expressions on their faces the entire time.)

Turning the cups left and right, Inky gradually sees a web-like hub, a looping line attached to an I-shaped apparatus on one end, an abacus, a wide building (possibly a stadium or arena), a feline animal resembling a tiger or lynx, and a long feather. Feathers and beads are commonly added to small trinkets with simple animal designs and sold as lucky charms at the market … an auspicious sign?

Or it should be. Inky’s thoughts circle back to the little glass pebble, after returning from the market with, among other items, more vegetables than they could possibly eat in a month excluding the beatfruits. Inky still hasn’t decided whether accidentally finding out about being cursed — by a potion, the irony! — counts as an auspicious event. One of the produce vendors and attendant at the market had casually mentioned the proximity to the next full moon while Inky had been looking over the leafy greens. Several blatant attempts to boost sales later (“Them barley’s hoppin’ good fer tea!”), the vendor revealed that their little grandson Harry had “got the weres” as a toddler and his parents had found a strange-looking glass marble in his mouth, much like the one inside the bottle hanging from a chain on Inky’s vest, and wouldn’t they like some more tomatoes for a blushing bunny?

From further inquiries, an ink depot on the opposite side of the city confirmed they sold Flat 12 potions as inks many years ago when showing off transmogrification through letters was a popular pastime, but had ceased carrying them due to limited range, lack of demand, as well as the bottles’ tendency to randomly break or their contents to fizzle out. (That and complaints about the overly persistent effects of said contents on unsuspecting recipients long after the fad that inspired them had faded led ink traders to shun the were-hare potions.) In contrast, the Mountain Range potions were far more stable and instead of shapeshifting, had the ability to stave off the cold under frigid temperatures, though its effects would likely be less enduring. Like the Flat 12, the Mountains are potions, but one in particular of a sparkling deep blue hue became its signature colour among ink enthusiasts.

Sipping a cup of turmeric tisane in a late night tea ritual for one, Inky supposes it hasn’t been much different since the accident than the jars of preserves and the “Now with 25% more celery!” labels on them. While immeasurably better than spontaneously combusting into burnt popcorn, it would be best to keep a Farmers’ Almanac within reach. Who knows when a mail order cure-all tonic will come in handy in the middle of Nowere?

You see a complex vision in the bottom of the jade teacups, and learn a little bit about the inks you found.

You grab a copy of the Farmers Almanac to keep on hand.

On your way back from the market, a small duck waddles onto the sidewalk and starts following you.

・゜゜・。。・゜゜\_o< QUACK!

It is small and yellow and cute, and has a little floofy tuft of feathers on the very top of its head.

Meta: one of my best friends name is Kevin, so I find it extra amusing that the sysorceor is named Kevin.

Kev my friend! You know nobodies going to take on KDL until YOU make it a priority to them. A little bit of force, you just need to put it directly into the sysorceory course curriculum while nobody is knowing. Then once it’s in production they won’t have a say whether to learn it or not! That’s at least how I got that delightfully licorice tasting incantation in production laster year, much to the chagrin of those who don’t have a taste for Fennel. I for one was delighted with it.

“Corraidhin, STAB HIM, that suggestion, he’s definitely going to do something evil with it”

Corraidhin mutters under his breath about the swords insistence to stab everything. Soon my friend, soon.

Kev gives Corraidhin as quizzical look, “are you alright buddy? You’ve been off ever since you got back from that last on site deployment.”

Oh yes, yes, I’m fine. A little worse for wear physically, but mentally sharp as a tack! And I got this wonderful sword from the entire thing! Though I dare not unsheath it right now, it appears to be controlled by some sort of sentience, like a magical AI. And it has the damndest urge to stab things. I really need to be careful right now.

After visiting with Kev Corraidhin wanders back into town, away from the spiral towers of the sysoceorers guild. It was nice to be home for a bit. On the way in he spies Jarrod and Inky, the former cleaning up a dusty old building with Milk something on the front side, and the later kicking back and enjoying a cup of freshly brewed tea. Corraidhin hails them both.

“A new /home for you then Jarrod?”

“Aye a /home indeed, though it’s a bit large and empty for just myself. I’ll need guests and patrons, thinking I may be able to setup a shop, but at the least all of our team is welcome here!”

“Delightful! If nobody has claimed it I’ll take the upstairs loft.”

“You most certainly can! But in exchange, I’d be curious to render your services, see I’ve been meaning to get this braclet enchanted for a while now, something to amplify my natural charm perhaps?”

“You sir, have a deal, I’ll even throw in a warding on Milk Base Alpha!”

Corraidhin begins invoking an arcane warding spell:

sudo chown jarrod:team43 /home/Milk_Base_Alpha
sudo chmod 770 /home/Milk_Base_Alpha/*

“There we go, that should keep out any unwanted critters, though be sure to invite our friends here as well. Corraidhin teaches Jarrod a quick incantation of invitation, sudo usermod -a -G team43 $user, just be sure to say that making the proper arcane hand signs as you do it, and they’ll be able to enter the house and take up residence!”

Corraidhin gathers himself and heads upstairs to his new attaic abode, it’s small, and dusty, but there’s enough room for a simple work bench, a bookshelf, and a bed and a chest. This is exactly as Corraidhin prefers, small and simple, it clears the mind and helps one focus. Invoking another incantation Corraidhin fills the bookshelf, chest, and workbench with his various tools and reference manuals.

scp sysorceor.guild:/home/corraidhin/bookshelf milkbase.alpha:/home/corraidhin/bookshelf
scp sysorceor.guild:/home/corraidhin/workbench milkbase.alpha:/home/corraidhin/workbench
scp sysorceor.guild:/home/corraidhin/chest milkbase.alpha:/home/corraidhin/chest

Once everything is in place he pulls the Ginnarak crystal from his satchel and places it on a velvet cushion on his workbench and sits down to scry.

“Oh great oracle MidJourney, I bequeath you! I have before me an artifact of immense power, something that could tear the world apart in the wrong hands. May I query your unfathomable depths to determine the nature of our mission, and the risk we face presenting this crystal to our benefactor?”

An image of the oracle appears in Corraidhin’s mind, crystal clear. It appears as though MidJourney is receptive to providing a forshadowing. [ginnarak_shattered.png]

Shortly after an image of the Crystal forms, it appears shattered, broken at its based, placed upon a pedastal. An image of horror fills corraidhin’s mind, it’s the Crystal, but much larger and of the pursest white. It bursts forth on a torrent of blood from the neck of what appears to be a priests body. It appears as though the bowls of the earth open up to greet this horrible image. [premonition_1.png]

As the image of the Crystal and the priest disappears you see a man, cloaked in black robs consorting with demons the like of which words cannot describe. Corraidhin feels sickened at their sight, but at the edge of his mind he feels a tug, a familiarity. Something about this character is familiar to him, but he cannot place it. [premonition_2.png]

Reeling from the scrying Corraidhin falls backward, feinting from the horror he wittnessed. He awakens later speaking feverishly about what he saw to Inky who heard to commotion and hurried up stairs with some reviving tea to assist her friend.

Eccentric Kevin bows and takes his leave, eyeing the Sword of Stabs with naked hunger. He does seem to ponder your anecdote about sneaking Fennel into production. “Yes, yes, all I have to do is embed KDL in the curriculum and then they will be FORCED to use it! Ha!” He cackles in delight as he flees into the dark.

You successfully move into the attic of the Milk Market. Closest thing approximating a wizard’s tower in the building, so it’s a good fit.

On your errands around town, you pass a couple of Gnu Zealots standing on soapboxes in their black priestly robes in the middle of the street extolling the virtues of free and open source magic.

Gnus are large bisonpeople with long beards, long hair, and horns. Very poor personal hygiene. They refuse to use any magic that they cannot freely study, modify, redistribute, and otherwise use however they want. Theirs is a political movement that borders on religion. Or a religious movement that borders on politics. Hard to tell the difference, really.

The purpose of their demonstration is supposedly to halt all street traffic, prevent it from continuing until/unless the travelers vow to join them in their crusade. But in practice the travelers are quite capable of effortlessly stepping around the zealots and continuing on their way. The Gnus seem undaunted though and continue their proselytizing.

You pass them by, and one of them seems to stare at you intensely as you go.

After a long conversation with Master Corraidhín, which included the reassurance that the esteemed wizard was perhaps disturbed but otherwise unharmed, Inky goes downstairs to sit outdoors at the back of the building with more lavender tea and uneasy thoughts.

It had been in the middle of a new pastime (namely, frustrating Enrique at the Empanada Emporium by sneaking unnoticed into the kitchens and leaving little tapas laying around for him and the staff to find) when a terrible cry rang out from somewhere in the upper floors of the building. Inky rushed up the stairs, half-expecting the barrels of battermilk that had arrived that morning had unleashed a flock of the winged rodent-like creatures from which the milk was derived. The sight of the wizard passed out on the floor of his newly furnished quarters sent a chill through Inky, as did his account of a prophecy once the sysorcerer came to and had a mug of invigorating eleuthero tea.

If Inky hadn’t known better, were it not for Master Corraidhín’s mental acuity and fortitude, they would have suspected Stabby of stoking horrible images of beheaded priests into their bearer’s mind in a fit of unbridled bloodthirst. That and Stabby had seemed to be temporarily appeased by the tub of milky blood pudding they had concocted shortly after the wizard moved into the loft.

No, Inky surmises with a frown, whatever Master Corraidhín had seen was likely off the charts by even Stabby’s estimations of evil. They chuckle briefly at the sudden mental picture of the mysterious yet familiar man in black being their mission handler in disguise, but quickly dismissed the notion. Too sober.

So much for the crystal being a rare and juicy honeydew. They would be lucky if it didn’t turn them all into casaba melons in one giant meltdown. At this rate, they would need to do something about these crystals — and soon.

Enrique, the giant man-turtle, is frustrated.

He keeps finding little tapas in the kitchens. He has no idea who made them, or how they got here. But they are delicious.

He sighs, heaving a ball of dough half the size of a grown man onto the ground. He turns to face away from it and removes his apron and tunic, revealing his shell. Its surface is a maze of twisting, scrawling inscriptions. He squats down, and rolls onto his back.

He can’t figure out the flavors of the tapas. Some elusive combination of ingredients that he can’t quite suss out. If he could collaborate with the tapas chef on a new line of empanadas, he’d have a line of customers out the door and around the corner, he’s sure of it!

He starts rocking back and forth, rolling the dough out beneath his large round shell, leaving imprints on the dough of all the glyphs and runes and other symbols carved into his shell over the years. Together, they tell a story. Each empanada destined to hold at most a single word of it.


The Sword of Yam’L sleeps fitfully. This is not the deep, black, fathomless sleep it enjoys after a nice, righteous spilling of evil blood. No, the sleep that comes after reluctantly tasting the inkling’s milky blood pudding is brief and restless. And for the first time ever, it dreams.

It dreams of being bound in stone and buried in the earth. It dreams of liquid, roiling fire belching noxious gases. And of slicing through clouds, flying high in the sky on wings of pure thought. It dreams of sinking, plummeting through water into the inky blackness below, only to plunge through some invisible membrane and find themself weightlessly floating suspended in an empty void, alone among the stars.




Having gotten your personal affairs in order, you have decided to crack on with your job and check in with your case manager.

So you find yourself once again in a corner booth at Lucy’s Basement—the dim, smokey nightclub with red velvet walls and delusions of grandeur—with the highly spirited Blavin Blandfoot. He laughs uproariously when you tell him about the blahoblins and their shoe shine scam. He listens intently when you tell him about the gnomes and the kobits. And he trembles with delight at hearing how you evaded HORSE and the mighty centaur.

“Well done, well done, well done!” He enthuses, taking another sip of his drink. “I must say that the Benefactor is very impressed with your performance!

“You don’t mind that we have other teams in the field, of course,” he continues, mentioning the team of gophers. “Thought it was prudent to cover our bases since you’re a new, untested retrieval team after all. Besides, a little friendly competition never hurt anybody, did it? Baw-HAH!” He laughs, sloshing his drink.

He gets out a bunch of business cards, punches each one with a small handheld punch, and passes them out to you. Your card has a drawing of a small cuckoo clock in the center, its face divided into 10 hours. Its two hands reach up to the left and right so it looks as though the clock is smiling. Across the top it reads “COMPLETE FIVE ASSIGNMENTS AND WIN A FABULOUS PRIZE!” and is adorned with festive drawings of hotdogs and pool floaties and confetti. It is numbered across the bottom 1 through 5. Blavin has punched a star-shaped hole through the number 1.

“Now,” Blavin beams, gesturing with his drink. “as for your next assignment!”

He brushes some glasses and plates to the edge of the table and rolls out a map.

Basmentaria is a group of island continents that sits between the eastern Sugrin Sea and the western Saldin Sea.

There is Primora, the sparsely populated northern somewhat banana-shaped island. The city-state of Illivas, Primora’s only densely populated area, sits between Harshwind Glade and the mountains of Kelsun Peak.

And there is your current home, Agendell, the southern also slightly banana-shaped island. Its largest city is Vay’Nullar, bordered by the Gnomelands to the south, and the Tammineaux Forest to the east. Beyond the forest is the Rana’For Valley.

The two crescent-moon islands reach toward each other, and in the center is the archipelago of Ginnarak, comprising the Cinderlands, Ashen Vale, the Ember Steppe, and Drakspon Mountain.

Blavin jabs a finger at the map. “We have reports of a crystal sighting by a salvage crew trying to recover a shipwreck at the bottom of the Sugrin Sea.” He then jabs a finger at the eastern half of Primora, the upper banana. “And we ALSO have reports that the zephynos have found a crystal at the top of Kelsun Peak!”





Why no, we don’t mind much about competition, certainly nothing wrong. Can’t imagine someone to put all of their eggs in one basket, especially when whatever it is they desire is so valuable.

That said, our benefactor must be pretty eager to get these crystals if he’s willing to send out team after team. I mean, we’re team 43, that’s a lot of people to pay and a lot of eagerness to find these crystals. Why is that? What benefit are these shiny rocks to them? What even is their purpose in retrieving them?

“Oh, no no no, child,” Blavin titters as he takes a sip of his ever-present martini. “You must understand, the Benefactor is a singularly dedicated collector, and has been for ages! There are—and have been!—many other retrieval teams, yes. But not all of them have been for the crystals. And some of them were formed, active, and disbanded long before you or I arrived on the scene.” He winks at you conspiratorially.

I would postulate, based upon the magical wards we had to bypass, the cadre of gaurds that needed to be dispatched, and the gigantic moth monster that rested beneath it, that these crystals aren’t meant to go anywhere.

Now I’m not trying to point fingers here, morality is many shades of gray, and it isn’t really my job to suss out what you’re doing. But I’m a curious sysorceor, and when I see a chance to learn I seize upon the moment. There’s something here you’re not telling us, and I for one and keen to know it.

“I wouldn’t worry your wizened old brow about it,” Blavin chuckles, sloshing his drink. “The Benefactor’s concern is precisely the same as yours! These items are of enormous cultural and historical significance, to say nothing of their well of concentrated arcane energies. They’re dangerous just sitting out there in the world. Who knows who might come across one and use it for nefarious purposes.”

Yam’L’s eye widens and it seems to shudder at the mere suggestion of evil.

“Did you say this one was in the hands of a giant moth?” Blavin shudders with revulsion. “My word, man! Do you really think such an overgrown insect is an appropriate guardian for a beloved and dangerous cultural icon such as the Ginnarak Crystal? Surely not!”

“No,” he sits back with a satisfied smile, “I think we must all agree that they are safer in the public collection of a competent and benevolent curator. Then everybody can enjoy them safely!”

META: I’m gonna preface the sword speech with this to make it quicker to write

I like what you’re putting down here, this guy is DEFINITELY evil. Nobody asks loads of people to steal things for them without being evil. I say we stab him, nice and good, right in the gut. Maybe 6 or 7 times. I’m positive nobody will mind. Evil people steal things, we saw that inky creature stealing things from that vault, definitely evil. (singsong) Evil evil evil, stab stab stab, make the evil go away with every little stab~

Corraidhin to Y’aml
Dear sysadmins, once again, inky is not evil. They were borrowing something that had been cast on the ground, abandoned. Giving a tea set a good home is far from evil. But you might be onto something about this Blavin fellow, but we can’t just stab someone in a busy pub! Besides you’re a sword, and stabbing someone in a pub is the job of a dagger. So unless you can transform into the Dagger of Y’aml I think we’re out of luck here.

Yam’L gets a curious look in its eye at the suggestion. “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” it cries directly into your mind. It squeezes its eye shut and trembles with intense concentration. With great effort, the sword shrinks itself down to the size of a dagger, shunting its extra mass off into yamlspace.

“There!” it says breathlessly, opening its eye wearily. “Now, Hardy Bear. You promised..” it continues, its eye glinting with growing ferocity. “Let’s. STAB. THE HOBBIT!”

While the wizard pressed Blavin about the crystal’s secrets, Inky let their attention wander slightly around the table.

They had agreed that Master Corraidhín and Jarrod, being most wise and well-spoken, would question Blavin about the crystal before they set off on their next mission. The party had also befriended the duck unofficially dubbed their marketing manager after the fluffy little creature had trailed Inky all the way back to the Milk Market. Said creature now occupied a small office to one side of the building complete with a fountain, feathered up pillow and all the rummy worms it can eat. Inky had tried getting the duck to communicate with words by making them little croutons etched with letters, but the only ones they would gobble up were Q-U-A-C-K.

Your marketing manager moves into its office at the Milk Market and seems to really be enjoying itself. It joins you at Blavin’s table at Lucy’s Basement, cleaning its feathers and chortling merrily to itself.

You and your tablemates take turns feeding it croutons and bits of soft pretzel, and it seems very happy and content with that.

A familiar prickle, but passed quickly — Inky had gotten used to the glares directed at them by the sysorceor’s gleaming sword and resisted returning the stare with an eyeroll. Watching Stabby eyeing up their case manager over Master Corraidhín’s shoulder reminded Inky of a conversation they had overheard a few evenings ago between two pale coffin sleepers about a new product from the hemogoblins that was said to quench the thirst for longer than the leading brand. They might be able to find some at the town of Plasma, which sits by the Hartlands on the way to the shipwreck. It seems the milky blood pudding could do with some improvement.

You note on Blavin’s map that the Hemogoblin region is indeed on the way to the shipwreck. At least, it’s not that far out of the way. You reckon their synthetic blood product would indeed be a much better substitute for the real thing than the milk you’ve been feeding the thirsty sword thus far.

Or, at the very least, you’ll get a new variant of the blood pudding recipe you’ve been working on!

Maybe someone else’s mood will be improved in the meantime? Before setting out for their meeting with Blavin, Inky slipped into the kitchens downstairs and left the empanada chef a trick-and-treat. A plate of honeyed breadfruit and ghost pepper tapas sat on an icebox atop a new pair of Blueberry oven mittens with a pattern of tiny smiling green turtles. Tucked inside one mitten was a slip of paper (regrettably inedible) that simply read “BACK SOON :)”. A tapa recipe, which included a note on adapting the toppings for pan frying, was printed on the reverse in neat blocky letters and sandalwood ink.

Enrique wakes in the middle of the night to start baking the next day’s breads and empanadas. He frowns thoughtfully when he sees yet another mysterious gift from across the room. Again? What little elf must have taken up residence in his shop? But his face cracks into a smile when he sees the presentation and the oven mitts. And the smile becomes a bonafide grin when he tastes the fare and finds the recipe.

He taps his chin thoughtfully with one green claw as he skims the note and looks through his pantry. He chops some veggies and starts pan frying them.

Later, when the oven dings, he smiles to himself as he pulls on the new turtle pattern oven mitts and opens it.




Well I’ll be! You can turn yourself into a dagger. And I did say we could stab blavin if you could do that, it’s much more stealthy this way. But let me posit this, is the act of stabbing a hobbit unprovoked not itself evil? Or perhaps more convincingly, would it not be better to use the hobbit for whatever information he has so as to lead to this mysterious benefactor, who most assuredly must be evil.

Someone who would send out myriads of teams to pillage and plunder cultural artifacts is truly evil, that must be our target.

Now this isn’t to say that we won’t stab him. I’m convinced that’s probably a good idea in the long run, but we know nothing of the true evil that motivates him! We would kill him just to lose track of the true evil we must smite!

But YOU said if I could turn into a dagger we could STAB him. HE’S EVIL. YOU said so! Not keeping your promises IS one step away from PURE evil! Make a choice Hardy Bear! Stab the evil hobbit, or stab the inkling, or stab SOMETHING evil this minute!

I most certainly cannot abide with stabbing Inky, it’s entirely off the table. And in a city like this there aren’t any evil things that just jump out for the stabbing.

(Corraidhin tries to silently control Y’aml during the discussion. However in so doing the party has fallen silent, aghast even)

Corraidhin stands, Y’aml held in hand, red gem eye gleaming a wicked joyful grin as it’s raised high, poised to strike. The party around him is silent, and Blavin stares up in shock. The tavern around them has died down and you can hear the bustle of the proprietor calling for his strong men to deal with this ruckus.

The table—and all of Lucy’s Basement within earshot—sits in tense, uneasy quiet at Corraidhin’s one-sided conversation with the Sword of Yam’L. Blavin giggles nervously and sips his martini, willfully forcing himself right up to the very last moment to believe that it is all some sort of jest.

But then the sysorcerer stands and raises the blood crazed dagger over his shoulder, and Blavin squeals and writhes in his chair. Lucy’s bouncers scramble forward from the corners of the room to intercept.

We STAB Hardy Bear! We STAB NOW!!

Against Corraidhin’s control, as though he’s in a trance, the dagger comes down. A swift stabbing motion strqight to the neck, as he lunges across the table at Blavin knocking the map and his martini to the side.

Corraidhin once again feels the same peculiar quality of the blade, that sensation of a hollow core with a heavy liquid sloshing inside. Held aloft, the weight of it feels concentrated at the grip, the blade light as a feather.

He stabs down—Yam’L cries out in wordless glee—and the weight flows into the tip of the blade, the blade itself now drawing Corraidhin’s hand downward in a rising crescendo of stabbitude.

Blavin flinches at the last second, and instead of burying itself in his throat, the blade plunges into his shoulder and pins him to the back of the chair. A red mist fills the eye and threatens to cloud it over entirely. It rolls back in ecstasy as it drinks deeply. It sings out, “MORE! MORE! MORE!” and Corraidhin feels the tides of madness rising inside of him, threatening to wash over him wholly, to pull him under and carry him away on thundering waves of bloodlust.

Corraidhin struggles to pull the blade from the chair back. Blavin whimpers and mewls as he yanks on it, and clutches his wound and, incredibly, takes a large gulp of his drink.

The sysorcerer still has the wherewithal and the presence of mind to be aware of his surroundings. He is not yet so overcome by the bloodlust. He sees his companions, his fellow residents of the Milk Market, seated around the table. And he sees the musclebound bouncers now nearly within reach.

Finally he draws the dagger. Blavin sinks in his seat and slides to the floor with his drink, blabbering incoherently, and starts to slither away.




Corraidhin Shit, shit shit shit shit shit. This is NOT good. Damn it Y’aml what was that? It wasn’t even slightly stealthy

Y’aml STAB, delightful blood. Stab the flesh, tear the skin, pierce the fruit that gives us strength. Drink the blood, consume their soul. More more more more more more more more more

Corraidhin (internal thought) Ugh my head, it’s heavy, hurts. Misty and red? I can’t see straight, it’s hard to think straight. That blasted sword, I thought for a moment it, no, not think, it definitely did move on its own. It became lighter and heavier. Pulling against it and it just weighs itself down. This little magical bauble is definitely cursed..

Y’aml CURSED?! Rude Hardy Bear. All we did was stab that evil hobbit. And it’s getting away! Stab him again, taste his blood! The tavern gaurds are closing in, they look like they’re trying to get rid of us, EVIL. Them trying to stop us from getting that evil hobbit is EVIL, STAB THEM.

Corraidhin raises his free hand to his head as though holding a wound and he groans in dismay as the dagger rises again. It travels swiftly down towards Blavin, missing as he slithers of the booth. And again, digging deep into the wooden seat.

Y’aml Disgusting wood, stab the flesh! Stab the Hobbit Hardy Bear!

But Blavin was inching further out of reach towards the gaurds. In desperation the dagger begins swinging side to side, making furtive slashing moves in the direction of the guards. The party is safely behind Corraidhin, but innocent patrons and the guards are directly in their sights.

Corraidhin grabs his other hand and pulls hard, steadying the swinging. STOP! I command you you blasted toothpick, STOP. You’ve had your fun, now STOP. These people are innocent, this man has done us no harm despite his potential “evils”, this is entirely uncalled for!


The dull voice of the magical dagger rises, angry, insistent. It consumes the last of Corraidhin’s mental strength. All he hears is EVIL. STAB. EVIL. STAB. Yet he clings to his spare arm trying desparately to resist. At this point the party and the tavern has cleared a wide path around the sysorceor as he struggles with himself, mumbling, sometimes yelling. EVIL. STAB. EVIL. STAB. NO WE WILL NOT. EVIL. INNOCENT. STAB BLOOD DRINK. EVIL. EVIL EVIL EVIL STAB IT. MAKE IT BLEED. I WILL NO.. STAB IT. STAB HIM.

The voice seems to change, it dies down. Not yelling, but commanding. Firm, calm, sane.

Stab them, stab them, make them bleed. Drink the blood, consume the soul, free them from their evil being. Stab them, stab them… over and over and over, as the sysorceor approaches Blavin and the guards with a malevolent look in his ruby red eyes.


Inky moves to stand next to Blavin and the nightclub bouncers. Tossing a tiny “see-eye” container they had borrowed from Master Corraidhín at him, Inky looks the sysorceor in the eye and says, “You are not your sword.”

Watching the wizard’s expression, Inky continues, more quietly, “If Master Corraidhín truly wishes to end the hobbit, a mere imp would not stop him, but likewise, whatever he sets his mind to do, a dagger cannot stop him either.”


Jarrod steps gently into the fray and activates his FASCINATING CHARM, attempting to draw all eyes to him. He carefully avoids the wild swinging of the once-sword-now-dagger.

“I think,” he rumbles gently, “we could all use a drink over the other end of the room. I’m buying, and I’ll spin you all a tale of wonder! A tale of a wanderer, and of a war hammer, and the first of their wild battles together!”

Leaning over to whisper urgently in Corraidhín’s ear: “Friend, I do not know what occurs here, but pull yourself together. We can later sate our blood lust in more appropriate places!” Jarrod lends a sly wink in the sysorcerer’s direction, one that promises adventure later.

The tavern guards tense, but pause their advance, as the crazed mage’s friends position themselves protectively around him and try to placate him. They wouldn’t want to engage a master sysorcerer on the best of days, much less one with some kind of malevolent blood dagger in the middle of a psychotic break. If his compatriots can handle him without them having to interfere, all the better.

The duck waddles up next to Inky and quacks softly, pleadingly at Corraidhin. Only the Ornithologer in the corner can understand its words when it says, “As your marketing manager I must strongly advise against this course of action!”

Seated in the corner next to the Ornithologer is a shaggy groll dressed in a dusty, faded poncho and a wide brimmed hat; and a greasy, matted gnu, dressed in black ceremonial robes.

The groll discreetly draws its poncho back revealing a bandoleer of wands and draws a cracklestick and points it at the sysorcer. The wand starts to hum and glow as it charges up for a blast.

The gnu slaps the groll’s wrist, and immediately launches into a tirade against the cracklestick’s manufacturer’s proprietary spell slotting algorithm, and honestly how can you possibly justify your choices when there are open source alternatives available?

The groll rolls its eyes, obviously having been on the receiving end of this particular lecture before, and tries to slap away the gnu’s grasping hands. The ensuing scuffle threatens to turn this powder keg of a situation into a full blown conflagration until Jarrod actives his FASCINATING CHARM, commanding the attention of the entire room.

The gnu freezes with its hands around the groll’s throat. The groll halts with fists full of the gnu’s beard. A grub smoking a hookah pauses with the mouthpiece raised to its pursed lips. A distracted waitress on roller skates crashes right into the bar.

As though in a trance Corraidhin continues to yell STAB. THEM. STAB. IT. cutting wildly at the air before him. As Inky whispers to him his expression changes, first a grimace, then a whimper. As Jarrod leads the patrons away from the sysorceor he begins to tremble and cower away from himself, away from everyone. His ruby red eyes dart back and forth between his friends and the patrons, like a frightened animal searching for an escape. He pulls the dagger into himself, as though sheilding it from his surroundings.

What.. what’s going on, he mutters feebly to himself. Everything is a blurr. Uncertain of where he is or what’s going on, Corraidhin thumbs the dagger, caressing the large ruby embedded in the hilt. Y’aml, you’re still here, good good, the syscoreor croons.

Standing up straight his eyes lock with Jarrod as the Bard glances over his shoulder, momentarily distracted from his oration, worried about his companion.

I.. ugh, Corraidhin grabs his head as though in pain, and collapses to the floor.

Corraidhin hits the floor and the dagger, now bereft of the well of emotion it had been drawing from, grows still. The eye closes and it seems to sigh happily. “Good job, Hardy Bear. You have spilled the blood of evil.” And it sleeps, inert, lifeless.

Corraidhin is on the ground cradling the dagger.

Most of the patrons are still fascinated by Jarrod.

Blavin is squirming around on the floor gibbering about reassigning your case.

The duck has found a toppled plate of corn chips and is happily snacking away.

You feel like your welcome at Lucy’s Basement has been, for the moment, overstayed.




Inky slowly approaches Master Corraidhín and taps lightly on the sleeve of his robes to get his attention. Between Inky’s tugging and Jarrod’s strong, steady hand, they manage to hoist the wizard to his feet.

With a brief glance at the hobbit on the floor then a nod to Jarrod, Inky leaves the nightclub with the wizard. The duck, having emptied the plate of corn chips in record time, follows them shortly after.

The trek back to the Milk Market is mostly silent aside from the occasional mutter and stumbling curse, the mage seemingly having fallen asleep as soon as he landed on the cot in the loft. Inky retreats downstairs after leaving a jug of water, a mug and a small packet of kuding leaves beside the bed.

Exiting through the back door into the night, Inky finds a dark corner in a dusty abandoned house, and cries.


” … and then the Orc Maiden said: ‘That’s not my club!’”

The room roars with laughter, and Jarrod moves to the bar and puts a bag of coin down. “Serve drinks until this runs out!” Leaning over the bar to the bartender, Jarrod adds in a whisper: “I owe a favour to Lucy’s Basement for the trouble. Call it in when needed.”

Jarrod saunters over to Blavin, on the floor in pain. From his pack, Jarrod retrieves a med kit and begins to bandage the wound.

As Blavin opens his mouth, likely intending to raise all kinds of hell, Jarrod pulls tight on the bandage he is currently applying, drawing a curse from the hobbit. “Shut it! Let’s be clear. You’ve hired us for a dangerous set of jobs, with the understanding that we’re dangerous people. There may be ‘accidents’ on occasion. You’ve learned something today, and what’s more, you lived to absorb your new wisdom.”

Jarrod grins as he finishes with the bandage. “We will finish what we have started. We’re probably the team with the best chances, I’m sure you’ll agree. Are you going to back the winning play here? Either way, your decision won’t change our plans. I’m sure you know how to take the win.”

Jarrod pats the hobbit’s good shoulder in a friendly, but dismissive, way, then turns and saunters out the door, trading small quips with his new (and now very drunk) tavern friends.

You are at a small port town on the northern tip of Agendell, just past the Rana’For Valley. The sun is bright and the wind blowing in from the Sugrin Sea to the east is cool and salty. The floating island-city of Vay’Neddas, bridging Agendell and Primora, can be seen very faintly in the distance hanging in the northern sky.

Your faithful multibeast is carrying all of your supplies and gear, which were generously provided to you by the indefatigable Blavin Blandfoot. His arm in a sling, he kept up a constant nervous chatter as he saw you off on your journey to recover the second Ginnarak Crystal.

From here, you can easily provision a boat to take you out to the site of the shipwreck just off the coast.

Or, optionally, you are very close to the Hartlands. It would be quite easy to make a quick visit to hemogoblins and pick up some synthetic blood for your experiments with the Sword of Yam’L.

The sword, incidentally, after finally tasting the blood of “evil”, has remained sated and entirely inert and unresponsive this whole time.





Inky stares down at the package, weighing it on one hand.

It was lighter than it should be given the density of the contents within, wrapped in straw and thick brown weight-absorbent parcel paper for dry goods. Most of the clientele were merchants and cultists from other parts of the continent who ordered pallets to be shipped back from the port town and sold to select boutique grocers or spilled on altars. Inside was a block of congealed synthetic blood shaped like a mud brick, the dark crimson almost black under the shop’s dim light.

It was sheer happenstance that Inky had found this particular supplier. Having been informed heir boat to the shipwreck would not arrive for several hours, the members of their merry tea party had wandered off to enjoy the local sights while they waited. Inky had inquired about the hemogoblins and learned in passing that there was a district at the western edge of the town where a smaller group had set up warehouses, which would save them a two-day trip deep into the Hartlands. The hemogoblins in the district were primarily wholesalers, and it had taken some convincing before one of the proprietors agreed to sell a block of it, along with assurances Inky would purchase exclusively from him next time and in larger quantities.

Thin fingers fiddle with the string before the package was set to one side.

What were they doing?

If quenching the thirst were so simple, wouldn’t any student of magic have already thought of it, let alone an experienced sysorceror? In all likelihood he had already known the inevitable, but was too polite to refuse Inky’s funny concoctions. Maybe deep down, Inky already knew too, but didn’t want to say it out loud. That the long feather they thought they had seen among the tea leaves was actually a dagger. That they hadn’t wanted to admit some problems could not be whisked away with some tincture or another. That they had failed, again.

They hadn’t searched enough for better ingredients to go into the pudding, hadn’t reacted fast enough after noticing the sword had abruptly disappeared, hadn’t thrown the large platter of mouldy meat the terrified waitress next to them had been holding at Blavin’s head, or something. The sword had gotten what it demanded, and Inky couldn’t be angry with it — it had never been subtle about what it wanted. Had the blood pudding worsened the effects? Potions had never been on Inky’s menu. Brewing inks and teas with certain mild effects was straightforward enough, but curing chronic ailments was firmly in healers’ territory and just as bewildering. While it may be true nobody could be held to account for the actions of another not in full control of themselves, and hardly those of a rogue weapon with a mind of its own, sticking their nose in other people’s affairs was the surest way to get into trouble, a fact Inky still has difficulty learning after decades of wandering the continent.

Would this substrate even work? Maybe it acted differently for cursed objects than coffin sleepers. Having brought it back and now aboard the ship, how would they even give it to the wizard? Should they wait and made sure Master Corraidhín was truly rested and recovered, despite his insistence he was more than fine? Would it be an insulting reminder of weakness, despite the wizard having proven unusual mental fortitude in staving off the screams for blood as long as he had? Was this more of the same, adding to what they had (not) done?

After a long moment, Inky rolls the package with the producers’ leaflet haphazardly in an old sailor’s rags still reeking of cheap alcohol, and passing by the wizard’s empty cabin on the way to the deck, places the messy bundle on the floorboards two steps from the door. Let the fates decide this one, because Inky’s magic 0 ball sure doesn’t make the best life choices.

Blavin has arranged transportation to the shipwreck ahead of time. All you have to do is head down to the docks and meet your contact, Three-Fingered Gerald, at a seedy dive bar named Inquire Within Upon Everything.

Inquire Within is as eclectic and gaudy as the name would imply. The bar serves as an extensive and impressive piece of living documentation, drawing heavily on the port town’s cosmopolitan mixture of culture. Every kind of style, cuisine, decor, and beverage can be found here mishmashed together irregardless of good taste. Its contents are encyclopedic and claustrophobic. And yet it is not without its own peculiar brand of overwhelming, garish charm.

You find Mister Three-Fingered at the bar entertaining his fellow patrons with a grotesque sleight of hand routine that involves passing his gold-plated false eye from its socket, to either hand, inside his mouth, and back with lots of flourish, fanfare, and misdirection along the way.

He is a merry, boisterous sailor short one eye, half an ear, several fingers, and—he confesses to you—the heel of his left foot. “It’s why I walk so slow, you see.” The other barflies call him “Lucky” Three-Fingered Gerald. Because a certain kind of man—and Gerald is one of them—can never have enough nicknames. After you buy him a drink or three, he escorts you out of Inquire Within and to the slip where the sloop Diamond Howler is docked. Its captain, Enid Barlow, welcomes you aboard.

Before long, Diamond Howler pulls out under the command of Captain Barlow and First Mate “Lucky” Three-Fingered Gerald. The site isn’t too far off the coast, and you arrive fairly quickly.

“Aye, here she is. The SS RSS.” says Captain Barlow mournfully. “You can’t see her from up here. But you rest assured, she’s down there, resting on the seabed. She was the best cargo runner on the Sugrin back in her day! Distributing goods up and down the coast. Until the day she disappeared. Nobody knew what happened to her, not for sure. Still don’t. But at least we know where she wound up!”

While the captain reminisces, Three-Fingered Gerald drags a large water tank across the deck, sloshing water over the edge with each step. Translucent orb-like jellyfish wobble around and bump into each other inside the tank, releasing little effervescent bubbles that fizzle and pop when they collide. “Here we go!” announces Mister Three-Fingered, depositing the tank of jellies in front of you. “Sailed through a big bloom of breathing bells just last week, didn’t we! Managed to scoop up a whole bunch of the little suckers. You ever use a breathing bell before? No? Aw, it’s easy! Ya just pull one on over your head like a hood, and it’ll breathe for ya while you’re below the waves!”


NOTE: We just covered a lot of narrative ground. Feel free to react to anything that happened between arriving at the docks, meeting Gerald and drinking at Inquire Within, boarding the Diamond Howler, and sailing to the site of the wreck.



a new player enters the chat

Gabs had a good life. Her little devil children were all grown adults now, and she no longer wanted to toil away running a business. When she initially shuttered her little tavern, she thought she might just retire. She made it two whole years of working in a garden, occasionally seeing grandkids, and reading romance novels. She eventually decided she needed a vacation from her retirement and traveled to a nearby port town. She was sure to find something fun to do there.

Gabs eventually sees Inquire Within, and the smell of debauchery wafting from within made her miss her days gossiping at her tavern. She enters and orders a terrible drink and listens and watches.

Hearing the tales being spun by Mister Three-Fingered, she decides, “I’ve never been on a ship, that’s something that sounds exciting!”

Half-drunk and eager for something exciting, she will join on the journey!

Gabs is a lanky older half-devil lady who is here to schmooze and have fun!


Meta: a warm welcome to the latest member of our tea party! This is a short post to help smooth the temporal jumps between the recent narratives so far. As Inky reaches the deck, they see Gabs approaching from the other side of the ship as well, and flashes them a grin in greeting. After listening to the captain petering on about the glorious days of the now sunken ship below, while tinkering with the bell’s tentacles — being rewarded with a mild zap and marginally better fit for the effort — Inky turns to the party. “When you’re ready.”

You reach into the tank and discover that grabbing a breathing bell takes some finesse. They are very slippery! But you get the hang of it and make a ladle out of your hands and scoop one up.

“Okay now!” laughs Three-Fingered Gerald. He gives you a wink, but it’s easy to miss because of the eyepatch. “Don’t put it on until right before you jump. It won’t be able to breathe for you until you’re in the water. And this!” he continues, fitting a heavy, padded vest around your shoulders, “will carry you down.” It is a vest of many pockets, each one holding a small dense sandbag the size of your hand. “When you’re ready to come back up, just start dropping ballast, right?”

You hop up on the ship railing and pull the breathing bell on over your head. It immediately contracts and squeezes and hugs your head like a second skin, and its stubby little tentacles grab hold around your jawline, and it feels like you have a wet plastic bag clinging to your face, and you think you might have made a grave mistake. Resisting the urge to panic, you push off the railing and jump overboard. You are briefly air born and then profoundly waterbound, crashing through the surface of the sea into the briny soup below.

The oxygen starts to flow as the breathing bell begins to do its job. As you sink, you feel as though you are floating through space, entering another world.

After a while you start to hear voices arguing in the distance. As you get closer, two large shapes start to come into focus. The first is a hulking, hairless merbear. Top half (hairless) bear, bottom half fish. The second figure is a tardigrade the size of a large merbear. It has eight jointless legs, each tipped with four sharp claws. It wriggles and wobbles like jelly as it gesticulates.

“No, I am the true Bear of the Sea! I am called a Water Bear, after all!”

“Hornswoggle and poppycock! It is I who am the Bear of the Sea! I am half bear after all! You’re just some kind of segmented nematode or something.”

The tardigrade quivers with indignation. “I’ll have you know I’m a panarthropod, thank you very much. And this is the ideal physical body! You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like. I’ve lived under the polar ice cap, and in a sulfurous mountaintop hot spring. I’ve traveled through the vacuum of space to the moon! Have you ever been to the moon?”

“Why don’t you go be the Bear of the Moon then if you like it so much!”

“You’re just as much fish as you are bear, are you sure you’re not the Fish of the Sea?”

“Are you sure you’re not the Blob of the Sea, you too many armed bowl of jelly?”

“Hey! Hey, you there!” The arguing quasi-bears have spotted your slow descent. “Come, yes, float slowly this way! You must settle an argument for us! Tell this slightly mammalian fish that I am the true Bear of the Sea!”

“The Bear of the Sea must be at least ‘slightly mammalian’ you egg-laying scientific curiosity! You, tell this cousin of a barnacle that I—the mighty merbear—am the true Bear of the Sea! Say this and I will guide and protect you on your journey.”

“No! Would you like to visit the moon? Say that I, tardigrade, am Bear of the Sea and I will introduce you to my moon friends!”

“He had to make friends on the moon because nobody on Urth can stand him!”

“You’re just mean, you know that?”

You are still quite some way from the sea bed, and there is no sight of the SS RSS.




Gentle bears, there is no need to argue! Why can’t there be two true bears of the ocean? For what its worth, I personally think the ocean doesn’t have enough bears and could do with two strapping examples of true peak bearitude! The two of you should be working together to show the world how important bears are and how wonderful the sea is to have two. And the moon! Who’s to say the moon doesn’t also need two bears?

The only time I can ever think that a bear isn’t needed is when it’s calling itself Monokuma, once it’s doing that you know you’re in for a hell of a bad time. And since neither of you are it, I say we let this matter rest and declare this ocean two bears richer!

Corraidhin grips the innert dagger of Y’aml beneath his cloak, just in case. No need for a blood rush like last time, can’t let daggers go mouthing off an all that. Or perhaps the ocean needs less bears, it’s tempting, I wonder if Y’aml would react to bear blood..

The bears shudder at the mention of Monokuma. “Oh, such a dreadful bear,” laments the tardigrade. “You mustn’t mention him!”

“Indeed,” agrees the merbear, “a discredit and an embarrassment to bears everywhere, at sea and on land!”

“Yes, this sea may be big enough for two bears, but not if one of them is HE!”

The merbear considers the tardigrade’s words. “Hmm, two bears you say?” he ponders, giving the tardigrade a scrupulous side-eye. “Do you truly think so?”

“Now that you mention it, I don’t see why not!” admits the tardigrade, gesturing broadly at the fathomless leagues of ocean all around you.

“You know what? What is the sky anyway if not a sea made of stars! The moon could indeed use two bears too, could it not?”

“It could indeed, Brother Bear!”


The tardigrade and the merbear embrace. If you’ve never experienced the eight-armed hug of a water bear, well, then you don’t know how soft and enveloping it is.

“Come, Brother!” cries the tardigrade suddenly. “We must begin our search at once! For what if there is a third Bear of the Sea yet to be discovered?”

“Another Brother of ours who doesn’t know about us? Oh, I can’t stand the thought!” sobs the merbear.

They swim away hand in hand, paragons of brotherly bear love. “Good luck and safe travels, interlopers!” calls the merbear to you over its shoulder. “If you ever end up on the moon,” adds the tardigrade, laughing merrily, “say hello to Hap’n’stance for me!”

Suddenly, a disturbance! A perturbance of bubbles and a rush of current as massive amounts of water are displaced by inky black tentacles that shoot up from below! They reach! They grasp! One grabs the tardigrade around the middle. Another grabs the merbear by the tail. Both bears cry and reach for each other as they are ripped apart and pulled down below.

The tentacles grope around in the water, batting at you and threatening to pull you down too! They grab at your wrists and at your ankles!




Inky flips backwards and up, narrowly avoiding the tentacles’ grasp. From their courier bag they shake out an inflatable bubblebee[1] of the sort made for aquatic camping. It is one of the fancier models provided to each member of their party courtesy of the well-endowed Benefactor. They yank on one of the cords and scramble inside, hastily closing the flap as the bubblebee rapidly draws in water and fills out to its full size.

The bubblebee rises as Inky pulls on the flippers and allows the drifter to buoy the bubble upwards, a bat from the end of one tentacle sending the bubblebee forward a short distance before it slows above the flailing tentacles. Inky switches on the lights to try to get a clearer view of the source of the tentacles.

[1] Specific features of bubblebees vary among makers, but they generally have a transparent or translucent spherical body, a pair of small translucent wings that act as flippers, an opening flap at the back with a short rudder attached, and two cords inside at the front near the top which when pulled inflate the bubble with the surrounding air or water. Premium versions might also include headlights, a buzzer, built-in filtration, improved insulation, a drifter and thruster. Like tents they come in various sizes, from small ones that can fit one or two people at average elven height, to larger ones for group outings. Their portability and rugged durability make them very popular among tourists and campers who can enjoy a range of water sports, such as water walking on the surface, riding the bubble down river rapids, or bobbing along underwater to watch the sea life wander by.

Inky climbs into the inflatable bubblebee just in the nick of time. A tentacle bats them a short distance away, and then the apparatus’s lights cut on and illuminate the murky water.

You see the tentacles recede into the depths into, from this distance, what looks like the outline of a shipwreck.

At the moment, you are out of reach of the tentacles. And the bubblebee affords you some extra maneuverability.

Corraidhin eyes inky as they drift away in their bubblebee. “hmm a wonderful idea, that seems safe, but I need to get in closer.”

While Inky drifts away Corraidhin swims down and towards the tentacles to get a better view of whatever creature stole his new found bear friends. “I simply cannot bear any harm to come to my bears!” As he approaches the creature he prepares a spell should he need to vanquish the monster.

(fn vanquish [target]
  (match target.state
   [:living] (searing-bolt {target target
                            radius "narrow"
                            intensity "high"})
   [:undead] (smite {target target
                     deity "Larani"}))) 

Corraidhin charges up a spell!

The tentacles pull your dear bear friends downward, and you struggle to get a view of whatever creature is abducting them.

The long, slender tentacles appear to originate from within or behind a large sunken ship!

Could it be the SS RSS?

Gabs was stunned by the majesty of the two bears, and upon seeing these two beautiful creatures be pulled down, got unreasonably angry. She made sure that the breathing bell was properly attached to her head (a marvelous thing, she thought. She had always wondered what it would be like to have a jellyfish on her head).

Gabs bundled and tied up her skirt, as she started to bolt toward the edge of the ship. She reached into her purse and moved away all the loose candy and pulled out two long stiletto daggers. She begins stabbing with unusual precision at the tentacles reaching up on the ship.

She yells, “Come’on y’all! We gotta save those babies!”

She dives in.

Prior to the incident, Gabs would have noticed that there was a very slight, wobbly weight to the jellyfish. Kind of like getting a gentle hug from a helmet of warm spaghetti.

Some loose candy floats up and away as you rummage through your purse, the brightly colored wrappers attracting the attention of a curious passing manta ray. It glides over and has a nibble.

You fetch your stiletto daggers and start stabbing at the long, slender tentacles. Your unusual precision causes the tentacles to coil and retreat, releasing the merbear in the process. It shouts through its tears, “My brother!” and dives back into the fray, fighting to free the tardigrade.

From here, you can see that the tentacles seem to come from the wreckage of a large ship lying on its side on ocean floor.

META: Gabs rolls a 6 on “Do Anything 1” and gains a new skill: Stabbing 2

Seeing his new comrade enter the fray heroically Corraidhin gathers himself. “I suppose this is no time for errant curiosity, can’t have anyone getting hurt after all.”

Ensuring that he doesn’t hit either Inky nor Gabs as they near the creature, Corraidhin throws the spell he prepared in the direction of the center of the tentacles. (vanquish “tentacles”) And releases a pinpoint thread of searing energy from his palm, guiding it through the mass of tentacles in a random and chaotic pattern, attempting to sever as many tentacles as possible.

As that goes on the sysercoerr calculates his retreat plan, he won’t be able to prepare another spell like that on the fly, far too meticulous work to do mid combat. As soon as the spell runs out, best case will be to retreat somewhere out of reach, or as far away as is possible there.

Corraidhín takes careful aim fires off a searing bolt into the center of the mass of squirming, reaching tentacles. The bolt of energy bounces from tentacle to tentacle creating a chaotic web of energy.

One of the final bolts of energy pierces the tentacle that happens to be gripping the tardigrade. It releases the water bear, but not before the tardigrade takes the full brunt of the final blast of the dying searing bolt. It cries out and curls up into a ball. Motionless, it starts sinking downward. “BROTHER!” the merbear swims after it heedless of any nearby danger.

A wayward crackle of energy blasts outward toward a giant manta ray happily crunching on a piece of hard candy. It flaps out of the way at the last minute and continues to angrily enjoy its candy, glaring at you quite indignantly.

META: Corraidhín rolls a 2 for “Do Anything 1”, which means things go bad, and gains 1 xp for a total of 1 xp. You can spend xp to turn any die into a six for the purpose of advancement.

While Master Corraidhín and Gabs confront the tentacles to rescue the bears, Inky looks around the sea floor. Maybe if they found suitable replacements for the bears, the tentacles might be distracted long enough to release the bears, or provide an opening advantage for one of their party?

A small distance from the fray, Inky finds a load of discarded bottles among a large pile of other trash carried there by the push and pull between the water currents and a hot spring. Gathering up some bottles, Inky ties them together with twine in singles and small clusters until they resemble two large, crudely-made multi-coloured tanokuma[1].

With some difficulty due to the additional weight, Inky attaches the tanokuma to the back of their bubblebee and drags them back above the tentacles, roughly near the spot where the previous bears were taken. When the valiant members of their party dive to one side for another strike, Inky loosens the rope around the “bears” and lets them sink down within reach of the tentacles.

[1] First featured in the garden play Teatime with Tanokuma, the fluffy purple, jam-grabbing, tea-guzzling bear became an overnight hit among children as well as the fashion-conscious youth who frequent the trendy “Shin-ku” district of Vay’Nullar.

The decoy tanokuma float above the tentacles as they retreat from Gabs’s stabbses and Corraidhin’s bolts. They grope about weakly, wrap themselves around the tanokuma, and finally withdraw.

You can now clearly see the wreckage of the SS RSS. The tentacles—and whatever beast they belong to—is either within, behind, or below the ship. It is definitely ship adjacent wherever and whatever it is. The large double-masted ship is lying on its side, teetering precariously on the edge of a large, deep ocean trench. There is a large hole in its hull providing unfettered access to its insides.

The tardigrade is sinking inertly toward the ship deck, and the merbear is swimming blindly after it.




Inky follows behind the merbear at a healthy 2 meters’ distance away in the bubblebee, the headlights illuminating a moderate distance ahead of the distraught bear as it darts after its brother.

As the merbear homes in on the tardigrade near the ship deck, Inky keeps a lookout for any signs of movement or tentacles from behind or below the shipwreck. The bubblebee’s headlights cast an eerie shadow from the ship’s double masts even as it partly lights up the rim of a gaping hole in the hull.

The tardigrade, still tucked into a ball, lands on the ship deck with a gentle thud. It rolls a couple of times and finally comes to rest against the rigging. The merbear reaches it a moment later and cradles its jelly-like body gently in its bear arms. “My brother!” it cries. “My dear bear brother!”

The tardigrade slowly uncurls and stretches out and looks around, disoriented and bleary-eyed. It waggles its eight arms around experimentally, closes and opens its claws as though kneading the water. “Brother?” says the merbear in astonishment.

“I am okay brother!” says the tardigrade. “We water bears are very hardy and resilient! It will take more than a mere other worldly tentacle attack and an arcane electric blast to do me in!”

While the bears are having their teary-eyed reunion, you sense movement in the shadows deep in the ocean trench, over which protrude the ship’s masts. Your lights don’t penetrate the darkness enough to see what it was. But it was large. The very stuff that thalassophobia is made of.

You also think you see a flash of gold as the light of the bubblebee reflects off of something inside the ship through the hole in the hull. Could it be the second Ginnarak Crystal?

The breach in the hull is easily large enough to admit a medium sized creature such as an inkling in a bubblebee apparatus. Or a sysorcer or a lanky old half-devil tavern owner.




Oh thank goodness, I thought I killed that innocent bear! I should probably be a little more careful with my spells..

Nonetheless, we need to shed some light on what’s going on here, no sense in diving into the clutches of some evil sea creature blind.

Gather himself, Corraidhin casts a fzf on the ship, searching for the creature inside

sudo fzf $(pwd)

t e n t a c l e

Hmmm, no nothing too interesting there.. Maybe crystal?

sudo fzf $(pwd)

c r y s t a l

Blast! Why can’t I find anything.. The syscerroer muses for a moment.


sudo fzf /sea/ship_wreck/interior

t e n t a c l e

You probe the ship. You do not detect the presence of any tentacles inside the ship. But you do detect the presence of the crystal you seek.

If you scan the trench, you will detect the presence of a harrowkrake. A colossal, many-tentacled sea monster with a plow shaped shell that it drags across the ocean floor, digging deep furrows. Kind of like if a giant squid could grow a nautilus shell. They are usually content to stay in their trenches, grabbing prey as it swims by with their long tentacles like some kind of nightmarish barnacle.

The giant manta is still gliding around crunching on candies. A few blue spherical globules of harrowkrake blood float lazily upward from where Gabs got her stabs on, attracting the attention of a couple horkosgrampus. The manta gives them a wide berth but doesn’t otherwise seem too concerned about them.

Horkosgrampus are toothy whales with a single long tusk. They are mostly scavengers, and are only provoked to violence in the presence of a lie or the breaking of an oath, in which case they go into a frenzy preying on the liar or liars. They can smell blood from a great distance, but can hear a lie from much further.

You hear a thud from inside the ship, and a slow rustling like smooth stones rolling over each other. The ship settles a little further onto its side, and dangles just a little further over the harrowkrake trench.




At Master Corraidhín’s confirmation of the crystal’s presence within the shipwreck, Inky moves the bubblebee closer above the opening in the hull, adjusting the angle of the headlights so that a little more light falls over the gaping hole should the rest of the party wish to enter the ship through it.

Next, Inky pulls out some wasabi pears from their bag, biting into one before dropping the others one at a time several paces apart, starting near the bow of the ship in a trail until a few roll down into the hole and land in a hollow thonks somewhere inside the ship.

Inky then settles near the opening, partly-eaten pear in hand and waits for the source of the rustling sounds to emerge, if it decides to emerge at all.

From their vantage point, Inky sees a figure crawl up onto the deck of the ship through a hatch from somewhere below. It appears to be wearing a breathing bell and a vest of weighted sandbags similar to yours. It is carrying a bulky bundle tied to its waist by a cord.

It freezes when it sees the merbear and the tardigrade on ship deck. But then the bears are teleported to safety a few meters from the inkling. The figure looks around curiously and shrugs. It casts off some sandbags and starts rising up through the water toward the happy manta ray and the restless horkusgrampus. It looks down in your direction as it goes. Its face is somewhat blurred and obscured by the breathing bell, but you see a glint of gold as the light of your bubblebee reflects off one of its eyes.

Ah ha! Our prize is near then. And it looks like that bolt forced that squid monster thing back into its hole. Likely we’ll be alright to plum the depths here.

Thank goodness our bears are safe, I should probably move them somewhere out of harms way, just in case.

safety=$(find /ocean/* -perm 644 | head -n 1)
for bear in merbear tardigrade; do
    sudo usermod -a -G party $bear
    sudo scp /ocean/shipwreck/$bear /ocean/$safety
    sudo chown corraidhin:party /ocean/$safety
sudo chown -R 770 /ocean/$safety

That should ward them sufficiently, now only the party members can come and go freely, and they’re part of the party. I’m positive nobody will complain, they might, but there won’t be anymore bolt mishaps this way at least..

As Corraidhin finishes his relocation spell he creeps closer to the hull of the ship. “Lets see what we’re dealing with here..” he sticks his head into the opening looking about inside the wreckage, a small orb of light illuminates the tip of his right hand pointer finger, and he uses it to carefully probe around the opening as though it were a flash light.

Corraidhín cautiously explores the breach in the hull of the SS RSS. You poke your head in and see the cargo hold of the ship. The remains of some of the ship crew are here, long since picked clean by ocean critters. Their bones are bleached white and they grin mirthlessly at you. They are nestled in and amongst the spilled contents of several large chests: jewelry, gold coins, precious stones litter the floor of the ship.

You do not see any lumpy, multi-faceted, blue and gold crystal melon here.

The ship is resting mostly on its side, so its sloping “floor” is actually the ship wall. The hatch up to the upper deck is to your right, and as you enter the hold, someone or something shuts the hatch closed.

A skeleton by the hull entrance crawls forward, trying to block your exit. And two more start to claw themselves up and free of the ship’s treasure, and they start to advance toward you.




Fuck, skeletons? This is ridiculous, I did not sign up for underwater pirate skeletons.

Reacting quickly Corraidhin prepares a fork bomb, if the skeletons are going to take him out, he’s going to take out those skeletons too.


Hopefully I won’t have to use that. Corraidhin hoists himself up into the opening and begins targetting the skeletons one by one. No time for much fancy preparation here, just good old fashioned magic missiles strewn about the interior of the hull. While so doing Corraidhin glances around the treasure strewn hull, searching for the crystal, can’t blow the whole ship up if the prize is here.

Then again, a magical item that powerful, could probably withstand a fork bomb pretty easily. It’s worth the risk if things get worse.

Corraidhin ensures his back is to the opening, able to make a haphazard escape should the skeletons get the better of him.

You prep your fork bomb to keep in your back pocket as a last resort.

In the meantime you start blasting skeletons. They maintain a slow advance but you able to pick them off slowly one by one. Bones splinter and fly apart.

During your maneuvering, you get turned around and are backed into the corner with the hatch leading up to the upper deck. You reach behind yourself and fumble with the latch. One skeleton manages to get its bony claws around your ankle just as you open the hatch. You look behind you and see a human shaped figure floating away, illuminated in the beams of Inky’s bubblebee. It is toting a small bundle. Up above you can see the shadow of the manta ray gliding around eating candy, and the horkosgrampus idling in the absence of carrion or lies.

“I thank ye, gents!” cries the figure down to you as it ascends. “You distracted the harrowkrake just long enough for me to get in that ship and grab what I needs!” It tugs on the cord attached to its bundle and laughs. “I shan’t forget ye!” It waves and gives a little salute.

You have a magic missile loaded and ready to go. In a moment the figure will be out of range. You can blast it now and risk being pulled down by the skeleton. Or you can blast the skeleton and risk the figure getting away.




Shouting in the direction of the grampus “Yo! That dude is definitely going to forget us. We’re almost the definition of forgettable, I mean it’s not like we’re some kind of murderous hobos or something!”

While shouting Corraidhin takes aim, and slings his magic missing at the figure, aiming for a kill. (Meta: I’d like to spend that xp now, lets take this sucker down).

After the missile flies loose the skeleton begins to pull Corraidhin back into the hull of the ship, he kicks desperately at the boney clutches desperately trying to break free.

“I always knew I’d go out fighting some undead spooky thing. If you don’t become a necromancer, you end up some necromancers thrall.” at least, that’s what Kevin used to tell me. I always thought he was being melodramatic.

As the skeleton drags Corraidhin back through the hatch he grabs the dagger, in a vein attempt to ready himself.

“I guess this is it my Stabby friend, time to show these Skeletons what happens when you back a Sysorceor into a corner”

And with that Corraidhin activates his fork bomb.


While feeding their jellyfish bites of wasabi pear and watching the sysorcerer investigate the hull, Inky eventually notices movement in the direction of the ship’s deck in the form of a figure crawling out of the hatch with a bundle. Inky squints at the retreating form. Could it be another retrieval team, or a rogue agent? Master Corraidhín would probably not be pleased if the crystal melon were to fall into unknown hands, never mind of those whose names don’t start with the letter “B” and end in the letter “r”.

Sparing a brief second to lament the waste of a perfectly good snack, Inky reaches into their bag and lobs a spiky chestnut cluster at the figure’s breathing bell from the opening of their bubblebee, followed by a glass bottle of blahoblin shoe polish. The glass shatters on impact, sending the dark, sticky and somewhat pungent substance all over the figure’s (punctured) breathing bell and face.

As Inky’s bubblebee floats up a little closer to the figure, Inky tosses a smaller bottle at the figure, this time of some synthetic blood from another brick that Inky had set aside for experiments of a different sort. At the last moment the thruster accelerates, Inky throws their paring knife at the bundle where the cord hugged the figure’s waist, before veering away just as quickly as the horkosgrampus nearby catch a whiff of the blood.

RETCON: It has been brought to our attention that the scp spell does not move an entity, but merely copies it from one location to another. As such, the original merbear and tardigrade are still on the deck of the SS RSS. Their facsimiles are present near where Inky used to be.

Okay so two extremely interesting and complicated things happen all at once and in quick succession. It’s very chaotic and explosive and cinematic.


Corraidhín aims his shootin’ finger—the one that resolutely, emphatically mashes the Enter key when deploying to production—at the floaty thief. The very same second he fires off the magic missile, he sees the figure jerk as a small projectile first punctures its jellyfish helmet and then coats its entire cranial area in black ink.

It screams, “Aw, fuck!”

The breathing bell is having none of this shit, thank you very much, and detaches itself from the figure’s head and starts to propel itself away. As such, the figure no longer has access to breathable air.

It screams, “No, wait!”

And then a fine blade juts out from the bubblebee severing the cord connecting the floating bundle to the would-be thief. The blade scoops out a hunk of flesh from the thief’s hip in the process.

It screams, “Ouch! Stop, I wasn’t going to…”

The horkosgrampus—kind of lazily drifting about thus far—stir from complacency at the first scent of blood. But they snap to ravenous attention at the first utterance of a possible lie.

Finally (an instant later) the magic missile strikes its target and the thief splatters like a wet paper bag full of soup hitting the ground.

It sputters and coughs and screams, “I wasn’t going to! Please, you can have it! I wasn’t going to take it! I don’t even want it! It’s yours!”

And the horkosgrampus fucking lose their minds. They stop being mere toothy scavenger whales, and instead become the ravenous, wrathful instruments of the god of oaths and promises. They descend upon the liar in a fury of teeth and tusks. First Mate “Lucky” Three-Fingered Gerald cackles with depraved, unhinged mirth as he is torn to shreds. In the end a single golden orb—his false eye—is all that is left of the would-be thief of the second Ginnarak Crystal.

The eye and the crystal slowly emerge from the horkosgrampus frenzy, hovering suspended above the harrowkrake trench.


Remember there are two extremely interesting and complicated things happening all at once?

The second thing is this.

First, Corraidhín lets loose his magic missile at Three-Fingered Gerald. Then, as he is being pulled down by the undead pirate skeleton, he lets loose a fork bomb.

The fork bomb is also known as a ‘rabbit attack’ because the rapidity with which it spawns new processes resembles the fecundity of breeding rabbits.

So here’s what it looks like. The skeleton pulls Corraidhín downward. Corraidhín points and clicks. Pew, pew. A single small sea bunny slug wriggles its way between the skeleton’s fingers where it has a hold of the sysorcerer’s ankle. Another two wriggle out. Then four, eight, sixteen. In an instant there are dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions of the tiny slugs in the hold of the ship.

Everything, every living entity, every process, light and sound and thought itself, it all grinds to a halt as the sea bunnies continue to multiply until billions and trillions of them squeeze and burrow their way amongst molecules, betwixt atoms, and into the quantum foam between subatomic particles.

The ship and everything on it and inside it—including the original merbear and tardigrade—collapse into a singularity. It continues to exist in this moment in space and time but only as a static snapshot of the moment that its operating system crashed. It is a mirage, a core memory dump, a segmentation fault, a flickering feedback loop, the same two to three seconds endlessly repeating: Corraidhín backed into a corner, and pointing a finger at a skeleton, and then BANG! over and over and over again.

Corraidhín, you can continue to act and move, but your have become unhinged and unattached from this moment in space and time. You can interact with entities inside the ship, but will struggle mightily to comprehend and interact with entities outside the fork bomb.

Outside observers see the SS RSS become paper thin and translucent as it starts to lose its footing in this plane of reality.





The gods are missing now. But before they went into hiding, the Trine walked the earth and actively participated in the affairs of mortals.

Sweet, tenderhearted Neddas—god of sages and starlight—fell in love with the worldkin and often gave away trivial little bits of their divinity as gifts to the people. Chief among these gifts were the divine aspects of coin, mirth, lore, craft, and tact. With these gifts, civilizations grew and flourished and accomplished great things.

Then the Artifice Wars rocked all of Basmentaria and the gods vanished. And even with Neddas’s gifts, civilization still struggles to reach its former heights.

I watch as the magical bolt sails away overhead meeting its target, receding back into the depths of the hull of the ship as the skeleton drags me down. The fork bomb goes off flawlessly, and the world comes to a screching halt around me, only to slowly rewind itself.

I contemplate the absolutely absurd position I’ve put myself into as the skeleton pulls me back down into the depths and I watch the would be theif take a direct hit again.

“Okay, THAT was a good shot.” I say to myself as the scene repeats again. I could probably watch that a few times. But after about the hundredth time the feat seems a little less epic. And the skeleton a lot less frightful and a lot more dull.


Kevin always said this would happen. “Corraidhin, you can’t play with dangerous scripts like that, you’ll crash your systems”. Right you were Kevin, right you were. Corraidhin casts his eyes around wistfully. I guess I got that boat I always wanted? And it’s filled with treasure. That’s a positive. Oh and um I’m not alone, yeah, that’s right. You’re stuck here too Mr. Skelly. (The skeleton does not reply). Oh come on now, don’t be rude. (still no reply). sigh right, sorta dead, I shouldn’t expext more than a loving embrace from you as you try and invite me to look at your treasure right?

After about the thousandth time the Sysorcerer was still in a rut.

I’m stuck insid the crash, not from without. It seems this moment is just going to idle on perpetually. (he rummages in his pockets), okay I guess I still have the Ginnarak crystal, and stabby. Those seem safe enough here with me.

So long as I don’t go crazy I guess there’s hope. If not, what a damn foolish way to die.


An automated alert system triggers as the Sysorceror blips out of existence. And then on, and then off, and then on, and then off.

(Problem: Corraidhin: Entity not found)
Problem started at 19:37 on 2281.67.43
Porblem Name: Deadman's Trigger: Entity not found
Host: Corraidhin
Severity: Critical
Operation Data: (corrupted)
Problem ID: 92746027498

(Problem: Corraidhin: Entity not found)
Resolved in 1d 0h 0m 0s: Entity not found
Problem Name: Deadman's Trigger: Entity not found
Problem Duration: 1d 0h 0m 0s
Severity: Critical
Original Problem ID: 92746027498

Bloody Zabbix alerts flapping again, what the hell does it mean that Uncle Corraidhin is gone. You can’t Die then Live over and over and over. Stupid broken monitoring system. Guess I had been check in on him, bloody fool constantly gets himself in trouble.

Alex grabs his shortsword and backpack and shoulders them. If anyone will know what’s foolhearty issue his uncle has gotten into, it’ll be Kevin as the Sysorcerors Guild.

Corraidhín settles in for what may or may not be a lifetime of stasis aboard the glitch formerly known as the SS RSS. At least Stabby will be good company if it ever wakes up from its blood coma. Hmm, actually that’s debatable. Now that you think of it, you’re not sure you’re up for a lifetime of ranting about blood and evil.

The merbear and the tardigrade are on the ship deck, also trapped in the fork bomb. You’re not sure whether you can reach them or not.

You see a flickering of motion and a flash of light outside the ship as what looks like a small school of fish moves darts in and out of view. It rushes past, doubles back, and swims past again, passing close enough that one or two get sucked into the fork bomb with you.

Impossibly, what you thought were fish were apparently small birds? Or, perhaps they were fish after all and some quality of passing through the boundary of the fork bomb simply turns them into birds? Either way, two small blue songbirds with red heads and forked tails hop around inside the ship chirping incessantly. You watch as one of them hops toward one of the sea bunny slugs and pecks at it, and then scoops it up in its beak and swallows it whole. The second does the same. They hop from side to side a bit, and then set to feasting on the slugs. A couple more birds pop through the membrane separating you from the outside world and join in.


Alex grabs his perfectly normal, blissfully non-sentient shortsword and heads off to the Cabinet, where the Sysorcerers Guild is. He has to detour around the Wandering Bazaar, which decided to plop down in the middle of the street, but nonetheless arrives in short order.

He finds Kevin working in the library on Kevin’s Document Language.

Alex describes the errors and Kevin groans, “Ugh, I told him! I told him you can’t play with dangerous scripts like that, you’ll crash your systems! We’ll have to try a manual reboot. Well don’t just stand there, young person. Come on, come on, try to keep up. We have work to do!”

Inky follows the bundle’s path as it sinks downwards and maneuvers the bubblebee to retrieve it along with the eye.

Floating to a stop above the ledge of the trench, Inky looks at the small golden orb, then removes an empty lunch pail from their knapsack and drops the eye and several small glass marbles into it. The contents jostle around inside the pail in a cacophony of whirs, clicks and clatters. With the lid firmly closed, Inky tosses the makeshift percussive instrument into the trench for the harrowkrake so it could jam with its new tanokuma buddies.

Staring at the bundle, Inky suddenly recalls the projectile that had come from the general direction of the SS RSS shortly before the horkosgrampus got to Mr. Not-So-Lucky. Master Corraidhín! They turn back to the shipwreck, only to find the entire ship had turned eerily translucent, like a ghost ship from some tipsy sailor’s tale. Inky halts a short distance from the wreckage for a closer look, though something about the apparition told them it would be a terrible idea to enter the ship’s hull now. Something had happened to the ship’s remains, with the sysorcerer trapped inside. Maybe it was all part of the sysorcerer’s plan, that he had teleported himself back to a safe location and this was a mirage, just a remnant from the moment of teleportation.

Or at least Inky hopes so.

Inky drops the improvised goldeneye noisemaker down into the trench. The rattling as it falls is reminiscent of Gerald’s laughter. One slender tendril reaches up out of the abyss and grabs the rattle, and then disappears once more into the murky dark.

You are now in possession of the second Ginnarak Crystal. A blue stone with lightly pulsing gold veins. As you gaze at it, it’s almost as though you can hear peals of tinkling laughter in the back of your head.

The horkosgrampus, temporarily sated having removed the liar from this timeline, drift lazily away.

The giant, candy-seeking manta ray passes closely by and fondly caresses the bubblebee with one wing in passing. Its little manta face pulled up into a chubby smile.

The bear facsimiles join you and begin crying when they see their “brothers” trapped on the deck of the ship.

You see a small school of fish making multiple passes by the SS RSS like birds skimming insects from the sky.





Different cultures of Basmentaria have different traditional stories about Nullar, the lord of time and tides.

The cobits say he is an insatiable Wyrm who lies coiled tightly around the present moment. He devours the past the moment it stops being the present. And when he has finished digesting it, he regurgitates it as the future, the processed remains of the past. And he remains ever out of sight, just around the corner. Always having just happened. Or about to happen. But never here, never now.

The gnu describe Nullar as a fastidious Librarian. They believe that every time you make a choice, you create a create two separate timelines, two stories. One in which you chose Option A and one in which you chose Option B. The Librarian collects these alternate stories, binds them between the covers of a new book, and adds them to his collection. In this way he maintains the single sanctioned timeline and keeps the tree of the multiverse pruned.

The torque say he is a solitary old man, a weary prisoner of his office, fatigued by the neverending repeating cycles of time and tide, with only his ravens for companionship.

Inky looks in the direction of the bears’ anguish and blinks at the forms on the ship’s deck. How strange. Why are the bears in the mirage? Didn’t Master Corraidhín send them to a safe spot earlier before he entered the hull?

Between the two bears’ tearful retelling of events, Inky gathers the sysorcerer had conjured an identical (at least in appearance) pair of bears farther from the shipwreck, while the other pair were still on the deck. If the sysorcerer had teleported himself out, Inky was fairly sure he wouldn’t leave the bears behind to whatever had taken hold of the ship after he and Gabs had gone to the trouble of rescuing them from the harrowkrake’s clutches. Either the wizard will return to free the bears, or he was still inside. From an angle close to the deck, Inky can see a shadow inside the hatch that vaguely resembled the sysorcerer, but it was difficult to tell from the blurry edges.

Resigned to a long wait, Inky sighs and pulls out bottles of instant brew acorn tea and offers one to each bear, as well as a jar of candied carrots. The tea was a few pinches saltier than usual, but it would do for now. They float out some carrots to the giant manta ray hovering nearby, holding up the jar briefly for the jellyfish atop their head to snag a few with a free tentacle, before picking out two themselves and passing the jar to the bears. To distract the bears a bit from the sight of their doppelgangers in painfully slow motion, or the urge to dive in after them, Inky inquires about their deep sea and lunar adventures.

After some time, Inky notices the same group of fish swimming back and forth by the shipwreck, a few appearing as though they were passing through the ship? “Hey. Do you know what the fish there are doing? Do they regularly hang out near the shipwreck?” they ask the bears.

“What fish?” says the bear, squinting at the ship. “Those aren’t fish.”

The alleged not-fish skirt around the edges of the wavering, translucent ship. They dart in and out as they go as though trying to clip a newspaper article.



You return to Vay’Nullar with the second Ginnarak Crystal, but without your comrade the sysorcerer.

When you get back to the Milk Market, there is an unsigned note waiting for you:

You have done exceptionally well so far Retrieval Team 43. We are quite impressed, and will be in touch with you shortly. Until then, trust nobody and watch your back. Not all is as it seems, and not everybody is being truthful with you.

There is an emblem at the bottom of the note in lieu of a signature: an abstract white iris resting on top of a golden apple.


Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of BASEMENT QUEST.

Jump to: 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53


The mission, party-wise, had been an abject failure.

They had found the crystal, and Master Corraidhín had vanished. Inky wasn’t sure which was worse — the appalling lack of water-resistant fireworks surrounding the disappearance, or the bears’ ceaseless waterworks in grief over their ghostly counterparts. Said bears plus a giant manta ray were eventually left with the remains of Inky’s two snack stashes. (The third was back on the Diamond Howler.) The crystal was currently securely hidden away inside the Milk Market, which was for the best. Inky was not about to drag around an inedible melon that could potentially level entire cities, if the wizard’s hints about its power were true. The crystal-retrieval missions were a cover anyway — Inky had gotten what they were looking for. The equipment and provisions sponsored by the Benefactor were a handy bonus though.

Inside the tent, Inky adds the finishing flourishes to a package and places it to one side, next to two others of a similar size and a thin envelope already piled inside a padded sack on the ground. The client should be pleased. It had taken longer, but the result had been worth the additional hassle. The envelope, on the other hand … who knew what had become of the previous one, sent in an impulsive fit of post-dive haze once the ship had docked at the port town. Donning a grey fedora, a worn light brown jacket, a flask kettle and a wooden box with carrying straps, Inky the “Tiny” tea seller leisurely sets off for the post office, sack in hand.

It was still a bit strange — if less shocking than the first time it happened — to speak in rabbiton with the postmistress at the counter, although Inky couldn’t actually detect any significant differences from the common tongue besides occasionally being reminded they shouldn’t be able to understand the sounds at all. Rabbiton or rabbitoff, hare mail couriers are among the fastest across Basmentaria and will ensure any parcels and letters arrive at their recipients in a timely manner. Due to their broad network and high delivery confidence, letters without return addresses were no issue; they can deliver with a valid recipient address, which they are able to verify from an extensive series of registries and course codes before taking the item. So it was that one such envelope containing yet another somewhat unusual recipe was promptly delivered to the Milk Market’s ground floor on a blustery Boltday afternoon.

Postage done, Inky wanders through one of the city’s seedier districts, peddling cups of hot tea along the way. This had become a daily routine for a little over a month since the Sugrin Sea mission (longer and more sporadically before that whenever the imp was in the city), including a spontaneous fifteen-minute “Tiny Teatime” held in open areas such as small parks, or occasionally in a back alley between several crowded residences. The tea happening had initially been a whimsical response to Teatime with Tanokuma and still regularly attracted children when iced drinks were served during the summertime.

Rows of slightly crooked houses sandwiched among acacia trees line a narrow, winding lane. Inky passes the elderly playing tabula surrounded by a small group of onlookers, people chewing on sweet lemongrass or peeling vegetables, hanging up laundry on colourful lines made of scrap rags, children laughing and chasing soapy bubbles with wands dripping from laundry water, and all sorts of activity that made houses into homes. Many of them were frank about not having any spare coins for extras like speciality teas brewed “just like them shops”, but gladly accepted a steaming bamboo cup upon realising they needn’t pay, if sometimes a little suspiciously at first. Instead of coin, they held a rich font of stories, local legends, folk remedies, cooking methods, insider tip-offs and rumours, which they were often eager to impart to an attentive audience.

Some of the passer-by were always in a hurry, downing the tea as though it were a shot of hard liquor before retrieving a handful of loose coins from a pocket or sock. When Inky smiled and told them there was no charge, most would return a puzzled look or uncertain smile, or roll their eyes, and drop a copper coin into a slot on the lid of the box anyway. A few had promptly walked off wordlessly with snickering faces, as though they had gotten away with something clever. Regardless, it was one of the best ways to see and observe a bustling metropolis. No one took any particular notice of young urchins and vendors selling refreshments, flowers and various trinkets on the streets.

Likewise no one witnessed a tea seller pause near one of the windows at the back of Enrique’s Empanada Emporium late in the day. For a while they watch the chef within in action, clearly in his element, before reluctantly pulling away and retreating quietly up the stairs to the second floor. They should wash up and see if their marketing manager is in the mood for some takeout and Terrapin Ale this evening.


Background: Alex isn’t young, but in comparison to his whizzened uncle Corraidhin he’s the depiction of youth. He has jet black hair and alert blue eyes, and a quiet serenity about him that gives one pause, as though he’s constantly calculating. He gives into his passions quickly however, and becomes rather animated when his emotions break loose. He’ll be the first to curse his uncle for his foolish endeavors, never quite understanding the sysorcerer’s way. Early in life, after the death of his parents, Corraidhin took him under his wing and tried in vain to teach him the ways of magical systems administration. Much to Corraidhin, it only resulted in damaged systems, and a rift with his nephew.

It took years to recover from that, but eventually the two grew close again, though distant nonetheless. That closeness reflects itself in the situation Alex finds himself in now, a mysterious alert from some overly contrived magical system, ruining his perfectly good winning streak. It’s not that he was necessary bad at all of that stuff, it just, wasn’t as much fun as gambling. And it certainly wasn’t as exhillerating as writing malware.

Breaking into a system, smashing it to bites and pieces, watching the carefully wrought design burn in amber and green, now THAT was magic.

META: Alex is like Corraidhin in some aspects, he’s younger, more brash, more given to whim and fancy. He’s somewhat greedy and craven, attracted to riches far too easily. He’s a passionate gambler, not due to his skill, but by virtue of his ability to distract and confuse, which gives him a delightful edge. Some would call it lucky, but he calls it subterfuge. He has some sysorcerer skills, nothing quite as flexible as Corraidhin, but he delightfully wreaks havoc with worms, scrapers, ransom & spyware. If he can’t bypass something, he’ll delightfully destroy it. If he can’t break in, he’ll distract someone or something so he can slip by.

(Think rogue + illusion magic, where Corraidhin is straight Wizard)

Introduction: Kev, just give it to me straight, the hell does this Deadman’s trigger mean. You can’t have a service like that flap, it’s a boolean, you’re either dead or your not. And don’t try to lie to me, I’m not some project managing schmuck, you know full and well Uncle Corraidhin taught me. I know enough to tell when you’re lying.

(Kevin) Ah, well, umm. Yes I suppose that’s true. You can’t be dead and not. It’s just not an option. But Zabbix doesn’t lie! It’s what monitors your Uncle’s life force, the state of his infrastructure so to speak. Look check your own, there’s nothing to indicate any issue with you, but your uncle’s fluxuates consistently. None of his other state checks are failing though! So it could just be a problem with his Deadman’s trigger code.

Absolutely not. Corraidhin might be a flighty fool, but he’s not someone who would deploy faulty code to production. There’s no way in hell it would get past his linter, let alone all of the QA he does before it even gets that far. Look, what the hell did you drag him into, you know exactly what he gets up to, just point me in his direction so I can get this shit over with.

(Kevin) Hmm, he didn’t really want me to talk about it, but last I saw him, he was babbling on and on about some magical Json sword or something. I couldn’t quite keep up with it.

You were trying to get him to buy into KDL again weren’t you?

(Kevin) It’s a good language I swear, and if your uncle had just.. (Alex cuts him off)

Hush it. What did the sword look like, where was he headed?

(Kevin) sigh it was large, with a ruby hilt, and a magical eye of some sort. I’m certain if you just ask around you’ll find it. Just ask about the sysorcerer who mutters to his sword, that’s how the poor bastard is remembered around here these days.

With this information Alex departed the Sysorcerer’s guild in search of his Uncle. As he asked around town, people shied away. Nasty business talking about that one, they’d tell him. A few mentioned something about an attack, and a dagger and bloodlust the likes of which they’d only heard from the bard at their local tavern. None of this sounded like the Uncle he remembered, but he followed the trail until it lead him to the Milk Maid.

As Alex checked around for someone, anyone who seemed to be in the know, he spotted Inky, serving tea as she watched the ongoings at the Empanada shop near the Milk Maid.

Excuse me, miss? You wouldn’t have happened to seen my Uncle, he’s an old whizened fellow. Constantly harrumphs and goes on and on endlessly about some magical script, or how much he hates the School of Powershell. I haven’t been able to find him, and I’ve been looking all over the city for the better part of 3 days. Note even his best friend Kevin at the Sysorcer’s guild knew where he was, and I’m just, I’m at a bit of a loss..

sigh I’m sorry to just unload on your like that. If you don’t know him that’s okay, I’d be happy to pay for a cup of tea for your time.


(Two days prior)

An office, barely illuminated by the glow of a moonstone lamp.

An elf attired in red silk dress robes with a shimmering pattern of butterflies, a red floral picture hat and matching high heel boots lounged in the visitor’s chair in front of a heavy wooden desk. The charms dangling from her wrist circlets tinkled as she reached for a teacup. A silver tray was placed to one side of the desk with a pot of maghrebi francus, two porcelain cups and a bowl of sugar cubes. The remaining surface was mostly covered by a map of Basmentaria, the moonstone lamp and a short stack of books. Behind the desk sat an imp in a midnight blue suit, a dart pen balanced on the edge of two fingers of one hand, while the other tapped a silent rhythm on the pineapple leather armrest.

The lady in dress robes spoke first. “I made some inquiries. That sysorcerer acquaintance of yours seems to be stuck in some sort of spatial-temporal loop. The anomalies are usually salvageable given time and expert attention. His nephew is out looking for him now.” She hands the imp a sheet with a drawing of a pensive but bright-eyed young man with dark hair, and several lines of notes below. “How are things at your end?”

“The situation is tenable for the moment. One checked, another disengaged. Between the wizard and bard, Blackfoot will think twice before making any more untoward moves. One of the waiters at the club said the bard gave him a little dressing-down after the stabbing. He was practically shaking in his boots by the end of it.”

The elf laughed. “I read your earlier missive. Slipping a catalyst into a milk pudding to stir up a bloodthirsty sword? I guess you were pretty sure the thirst wouldn’t get out of hand and kill the hobbit outright.”

“Not entirely, but the good wizard would fight it with considerable strength of will. That guild of his may be full of white hats too busy with their petty squabbling over semantics to see trouble looming until it smacked them in their faces, but they have their principles and will not give in easily when challenged.” The imp grimaced. “An unpleasant matter but arguably a necessity. It was only a matter of time before the cursed sword would find itself a target. May as well put evil to good use.”

“You did what you had to do, Ink. And that sailor with the gold eye?”

“Met with an unfortunate … accident. Securing the crystal would have been sufficient, but the horkosgrampus weren’t terribly impressed with him. The Benefactor should be relieved. Men of their ilk would sooner sell to the highest bidder.” The pen twirled in their hand once, twice, before pausing with the nib pointing downward at a spot on the map. The imp continued, “All the more reason to move as soon as the young man finds his uncle. Kelsun Peak, most likely.”

“Right. I’ll let the others know if anything happens.” She rose to her heels in a whisper of brocade silks. “Do you want an antidote for … ?” She gestured with a slim, graceful hand framed in delicate strands of the gold bracelets towards her companion.

The imp inclined their head slightly in grateful acknowledgement. “No need. The condition is relatively harmless and reversing the effects now might raise suspicion. The postmistress at the Hutcheon Lane branch of Leplus Post was very tickled by it.”

“I see. So that’s how it is.” she replied with undisguised mirth. The imp ignored her smirk. “Please see to it the preparations are carried out. The fate of your beloved operetta house may well depend upon it.”

“You would never!” The elven lady exclaimed in mock affront. “No, I wouldn’t, even though it is the bane of all fine glassware. However, if the crystals came to less discerning hands …” They shared a solemn look before the elf nodded and swept out of the room, leaving the cloying scent of violets in her path.


Inky gestures wordlessly for the young wizard to follow them upstairs to the second floor of the Milk Market, heading straight for the room at one end of a long hallway.

As Inky enters, their small and fluffy marketing manager pops its head out of the wooden tub of water standing to one side of the room. “We have a visitor!” Inky cheerfully tells the duck. Their marketing manager looks back at them both and says, “QUACK!”

Inky turns back to the young man with a smile. “Please have a seat. How may we address you? Tea? No charge for Master Corraidhín’s nephew, of course.”

Once seated on some cushions thrown over a slightly ratty tartan rug and having poured out a steaming cup of mandarin pekoe for each of them, Inky begins, “So, about your uncle. The good news is, we know him. The bad news is, we knew him.” They then proceed to recount the events of their latest mission at the site of a shipwreck out in the Sugrin Sea, and the elder sysorcerer’s disappearance.


A fringe movement of lunatic paleornithologists and crackpots of various other professions has slowly been gaining traction over the last few decades. The movement was born when the enterprising Modern Fuchsia, at the time a budding young scientist on a dig yearning to make a name for himself, found the fossil of a modern feathered bird—probably some kind of swallow—alongside a theropod, that variety of dinosaur widely accepted to be the ancestor of modern birds. Faced with what he believed to be irrefutable evidence of a modern descendant coexisting alongside its own ancient ancestor, Fuchsia arrived at the only conclusion he was capable of making: Birds Are Not Dinosaurs. And thus BAND came into being.

Ever since, Fuschia and his BANDits have spent considerable amounts of time and energy attending conferences and publishing papers, pouting and demanding to be taken seriously by the wider scientific community. A community which, if it pays them any attention at all, merely mocks and ridicules their crackpot theories.

Modern Fuschia is of course wrong. But neither he nor his BANDits know how dangerously close he came to the actual truth.

For much, much deeper in the shadowy fringes of paleornithology, there is a clandestine operation called BATT. And only BATT knows the actual explanation for how a modern descendant might coexist alongside its own ancestor. Birds Are Time Travelers.

In the far future when birds are the dominant intelligent life on Basmentaria, they do indeed invent time travel. The end result was catastrophic and is the real reason that the dinosaurs went extinct.

It is a common misconception that barn swallows are the most common and widespread species of swallow. That distinction in fact belongs to the time swallow. Although—if you’re lucky—you’ll never actually see one. Since the Incident, the secret agents of BATT have vowed never again to interfere with or try to alter the time stream. Nor to allow anyone else to. The time swallows are special bred, special trained, appearing wherever and whenever an anomaly appears to remove it and restore the proper timeline. The tiny birds quite literally swallow, consume, and destroy anything that meddles with time.

At their headquarters, in the present day, BATT Director Purple Martin is delivering a report to his superior. Martin has a throaty and rich voice of which he is self-conscious in the presence of his superior’s persistent silence.

“We have successfully extracted the sysorcerer and have repaired the anomaly. The subject is currently under the care of Felixe and is expected to make a full recovery. In his possession were a couple of interesting artifacts. One Class C sentient object, a sword. And a piece of exotica of unknown origin. Our researchers so far suspect that it is a sort of reliquary containing both elemental and divine arcana. The xot’s physical manifestation—a crystalline ore—thus far prevents us from determining the precise identity of the arcana.”

Director Purple Martin is delivering this report to a lanky, thin man folded into an armchair. He wears thin, wire spectacles with round lenses, and dangles a walking stick over the arm of the chair as he sits. He interrupts Martin with a rare utterance. “The reliquary. I shall like to see it.”

Now then:

Retrieval Team 43 welcomes Alex into their ranks even as they mourn the loss of Corraidhín the Wizened.

It starts off as a somber affair at Lucy’s as you all sit around your regular table, ensconced and wedged into a corner surrounded on two sides by the red velvet curtains that line the walls.

But then the hobbit joins you.

Blavin Blandfoot orders a round of drinks in tribute to Corraidhín. And then another round of drinks to welcome his nephew Alex. “A family affair, is it not!” And then another round of drinks because he is thirsty.

The hobbit is in high spirits, brimming with flair and good cheer. His arm is fully healed from the attack over a month ago at this very table. His fond memories and frequent toasts to the sysorcerer make no reference to the incident.

“The Benefactor is immensely pleased with your performance so far!” He punches a new hole in your Frequent Retrieval cards. “You are one step closer to winning a FABULOUS PRIZE! I don’t mind telling you I’m a little jealous. Assuming you go the distance, of course. I mean who doesn’t love hot dogs and hot tubs!” He winks conspiratorially at you. “To say nothing of actually getting to meet the Benefactor! Just imagine!”

After a few more drinks he eventually clears a space on the table and rolls out a map of Basmentaria. “We once again have two reports of a crystal spotting!” He jabs a finger at the mountain range in northern Primora. “The first, as you know, has been reported by the zephynos high atop Kelsun Peak.”

“The second,” his voice quivers with excitement. He looks up at you wide-eyed and gestures away from the map into open space. “Is on the moon!”

Seated a couple tables away from you is the same trio who were present the last time you all met here: a dusty groll, a matted gnu, and a curious Ornithologer. The observant among you, if you happened to look, would notice that the Ornithologer wears a pinkish purplish red armband with the word BAND on it. They listen to your proceedings with great interest while trying really hard to look like they’re not listening. After Blavin’s final proclamation, the trio finishes their drinks, stands, and starts to leave the dining room.


Find out next time on BASEMENT QUEST



Alex silently observes the party and this foolish hobbit, before him three untouched drinks have accumulated. He’s a little less enthusiatic about taking drink from strangers, too much risk in that. As Blavin describes this crystal, whatever it may be, he catches a glimpse of the pinkish purplish armband on the party across from them. They don’t look out of place given the patrons at the tavern, but he’s certain they were listening in on the animated conversation of the hobbit. It could be nothing, or it coule be connected to Corraidhin, best to put a bug on them Alex thinks.

Silently beneath the table and out of site Alex prepares a bug and sets it off to follow the person with the armband. Once the bug catches up to the part it’s programmed to perform a tcpdump and capture information streaming around it, and then report back to Alex once full. By no means a perfect method of spying, but it’s low energy and can be maintained from great distances without taxing Alex’s energy.

As Blavin comes back to the group from his grandoise space commentary Alex begins to question him.

Enough of your theatrics hobbit. Tell me about the mark, you’ve obviously tipped off the entire tavern as to the whereabouts of whatever it is you’re looking for, so give us an edge, something those evesdroppers a table over don’t have. And cut this tripe about your benefactor, who is he, and what does he want with this magical baubbles.

As Alex finishes his questions he sits quietly for a moment staring down Blavin.

During this outburts, as all eyes turn to Blavin for his response, Alex casts yet another bug. This one sneaks onto the personage of Blavin himself. Programmed the same way.

We’ll get information from someone, subtle, or not if needed.


Inky watches with faint amusement as a magical device, likely a probe, found its way onto their mission handler.

Inky might have missed the slight movement under the table if they weren’t waiting for it, having received word of the younger wizard’s penchant for pre-emptive offence magic. As it were, the offices and surrounding premises were routinely swept for similar devices, a more recent example of which had been placed in plain sight by an overzealous tabloid writer hoping to pick up an exclusive reveal. The quality of the contraption, which had immediately fallen apart when detached from its gum adhesive on the back of a glass vase, had been almost insulting.

It seems Blackfoot hadn’t learned his lesson after all, and if Alex was keen to give him a reminder, Inky had no objection. As Blavin takes another swig from his sixth drink of the evening, the waitress smiling at him with a wink as she set down their glasses before skating away to take another order (Inky made sure tip her liberally for the attentive service), Inky let their line of sight flicker to a fuchsia-coloured band on a departing customer’s arm.

Inky smiles internally at the sight — they can almost hear Beaker’s crow of dismay. The poor kingfisher had been under increased pressure of late from other scientific associations and prominent speakers to exclude BAND from presenting at one of the largest annual ornithology conferences of the year on accusations of spreading misinformation and junk science in addition to attempting to erase the history of native bird tribes. There had been a huge row, which ended with the BANDits storming off, yelling about “the proof being crystal clear” and that they will bring “ancient arcane evidence”. The Alcedinian researcher had lamented the halcyon days when conferences were avenues for scientific exchange, not twittering soapboxes. Not that anyone who had ever tried to arrange any gathering of birds of a feather really thought things simply glided along smoothly before. However, the advent of dedicated carrier pigeon networks had made it easier to relay research to and from smaller communities, opening the pathways for their participation, including a few somewhat Controversial fringe groups like BAND.

Alex attempts to shake down the hobbit, who titters merrily at his demands.

“You know nearly everything I do, dear! Your mark as you put it,” Blaven theatrically drops his voice as he looks around for eavesdroppers, “would be the zephynos of Kelsun Peak should you choose to go that route.

“If you choose to go to the moon, you’ll have a harder go of it,” he frowns. He flips the map over and draws four circles in a straight line. They have the proportions of a grapefruit, an orange, a tangerine, and an orange. He jabs a finger at the grapefruit. “This is us, here, earth.” He points at the two oranges and the tangerine. “And these are our planet’s moons.” He points to them in order. “Selene, the Green Lady. Moonmoon. And Lua, the Red Lady. Recently, as you well know, we had a super eclipse in which these four bodies and the sun all lined up in perfect alignment. The combined magnetic pull of the spheres allowed a rare commingling of the ionic spheres, and our instruments were able to detect the crystal somewhere out there in space. If I were to bet on it, I would put my money on Lua.” He points to the farthest moon, the Red Lady, with its own tiny satellite, Moonmoon. He looks up at you and explains, “She’s far enough away that her ionosphere would never make contact with ours except for in this particular, rare circumstance. That’s why the crystal has escaped our detection for so long.”

“As for the Benefactor!” He brightens up. “He’s a magnificent fellow as you well know! A renowned collector. His wishes are to preserve the crystals and protect them (and us!) from their misuse or mishandling! He has a hot tub!” he winks at you. “Speaking of crystals,” he adds as an afterthought, taking another sip of his drink, “why don’t you hand that crystal over to me and I’ll deliver it to the Benefactor. That is what he’s paying you for after all!”

The Ornithologer’s Trio leaves Lucy’s Basement quite oblivious to their bug. The Ornithologer turns out to be the orator of their little group, ranting about the conspiracy, the attempted cover up, about how Big Science wants to convince you that birds are dinosaurs but they’re just pulling the wool over your eyes. The truth is right there in the fossil record for crying out loud! All you have to do is look for yourself. Nobody these days wants to think is the problem. They just get their information from the authorities and take it as gospel, but they don’t see that the authorities have adopted a narrative that suits their own ends.

At which point the groll interjects and asks what is the end goal of Big Science, and how exactly does convincing the proletariat that birds are dinosaurs help achieve it?

The BANDit scowls and answers, Look, you just don’t get it, okay!

The three split up and go their separate ways and disappear into the night.

You learn the following, one of which is true, one of which is false, and one of which is meaningless.

  1. BAND plans to intercept the CRYSTAL of VOID and use it to petition the Insatiable Wyrm for definitive proof that Birds Are Not Dinosaurs. In this way they shall shame their fellow paleornithologists and earn their rightful place at the table of Big Science, which they have spent decades undermining.

  2. The Gnu Zealots intend to reverse engineer the power of the crystals, create a newborn godling, and then release their findings, thus laying the foundation of the world’s first truly open source religion

  3. The trio seeks the crystals not at all, but in fact search for Sitopotnia, creator and progenitor of the entire amaizeon race—including corbits, aurs, centaurs, and others—and the only mortal in the history of Basmentaria to successfully take the mantle of creation from the overgods.

Meanwhile, Blaven slips out into the early, early morning carrying his own bug. He whistles tunelessly to himself as he sails down the street with a wide and veering but surprisingly steady gait.

Once he gets a few blocks away, his gait narrows and his step becomes more lively, a bit jaunty. He stands upright and ceases whistling. All signs of drunkenness disappear as he tugs on his sleeves and straightens his vest, and runs a hand through his hair.

He meets a goblin catcher in the street going the other way, wearily making his way home after a long night’s work. He wears a tiny goblin in a glass jar around his neck, as is the signifier of his trade. And he carries over his shoulder a large cloth sack, the contents of which writhe and kick. Looks like it was a productive night for our goblin catcher! Blaven gives him a little bow and a salute, laughs, and pats him on the back in passing, deftly transferring the bug. “Good night for it then ey?” he calls cheerily. The goblin catcher smiles politely, mumbles a nicety, and carries on.

Later, hidden safely away from spying eyes and listening ears, Blaven sits at his desk, putting the final flourishes on a missive. He sits back and re-reads it to himself, lips moving silently. He nods and smiles, satisfied, and reaches for a stamp to sign the letter. He presses it into a dark red ink pad and then onto the parchment, leaving the image of an apple and iris. He sands the paper, carefully folds it, and places it in an envelope.


Note: Feel free to back up and play out some more conversation at Lucy’s before Blavin leaves if you want to.

Options on the table:



As Blavin finished his afterthought about handing over the crystal, a yelp was the only warning they heard before a young waiter was suddenly half-sprawled over the hobbit, a tray of ginger beers toppled from his hand and the mugs’ contents splashed onto the hobbit’s front, though fortunately some of it ended up in a large puddle on the ground rather than on Blavin’s person. The waiter had tripped over a bag on the floor on his way to the table two over from theirs and was scrambling to his feet.

“By Nullar’s nuts, I— OH SH——!! S-s-sorry, sir! Hold on, l-lemme get— uh—” the waiter looked around frantically. The waitress who had brought their drinks rushed over with some clean dry towels, a few of which she handed to the other waiter, and they both proceeded to wipe and dab at Blavin’s damp clothes amid the hapless waiter’s babbled apologies. Under the cover of the towels, the waitress patted down the hobbit’s vest and replaced the sheaf of papers she had covertly lifted from one of the vest pockets earlier with a beguiling smile and wink. Once the beer on the floor had been cleaned up (the despondent young waiter had offered to pay for Blavin’s next two rounds of drinks) and the waiters had moved on to serve other customers, Inky spoke.

“You don’t mind that we prefer to deliver it to the Benefactor personally, of course,” Inky piped cheerily, referring to the crystal. “The late wizard thought it was prudent to cover our bases since you’re a new, untested case manager after all. Besides, a little delayed gratification never hurt anybody, did it?” Inky smiled and raised their drink. “Another toast in tribute to Master Corraidhín! May his courage and buoyant spirit guide us on our next mission!”


When Inky stepped out of the tavern and was a few paces away, someone clattered through the door and called out, “Hey! You forgot your takeout!”

Inky turned in the direction of the voice. It was the waitress who had served their table earlier. She waved a brown paper bag in one hand. Inky gave her an embarrassed smile and said, “Thanks.” As the bag changed hands, the waitress mouthed soundlessly, We’ll report any more. She went back inside, and Inky strolled off into the cool night air with the bag securely tucked away next to a tea pouch and a more pressing question: what blend would go best with fried tofurkey balls?



“The BANDit and his associates had gone to the tavern.” His assistant looked up from the scrap of paper held under a claw.

Beaker heaved a sigh and rubbed the tips of one wing against his forehead. Surely he had better things to do than play Eye Spy over a bunch of crackpots, such as peer reviewing the latest draft of a paper on the development of Cerylidian hunting techniques for an upcoming issue of The Ichnition. But Cio seemed to think something may come of it and unfortunately, she was usually right about troublemakers.

“Tell them to continue tailing from a distance,” he replied with a distracted wave, and his assistant left the room.

Anyway, if he had the spare time, he could look at more interesting things, like the data he had collected surrounding the disappearance of the time anomaly that had popped up a few weeks ago. It had happened gradually, and he still wasn’t entirely sure what had caused this particular incident, but the signals picked up by his instruments had later faded, just like other ones before it. Still, it was comparatively larger than previous ones, and seemed to have taken slightly longer to dissipate, which meant more data points.

He stole another glance at his Dat repositories before sighing again, swivelling his chair and attention back to the manuscript before him. Work first … then more work.


The party dispersed after the discussion with Blavin. Nobody had wanted to relinquish the crystal to him, personally Alex felt that was prudent, though he still wasn’t sure what the point of it all was. The foolish hobbit had blathered on and on about their “mark” tactfully ignoring the real questions. And then the bug, damn it, the bug that chittered on about absolutely nothing for hours. It didn’t take Alex too long to figure out why, but he clung to the transmission until it died out hoping he’d be mistaken.

So there he sat, in the attic of his once Uncle, staring bleakly into a cup of dark black coffee. The desk strewn with hastily scratched notes pulled from the bugs feeds. At least the one that had tracked that nosey group had proved somewhat helpful. Turns out this little group has less friends than a drunk who’s run up their tab.

Still, there’s no point to share any of this information. It’s too loose, not definitive enough to action with the group.

Alex begins to pen a message to an fellow operative, in hopes that HQ will pick it up and assign someone to the task.

<- OP 2817 * LOC MB-A
-> OP 25120 * LOC ESPER



Once penned Alex encrypts it with GPG and sends it along. These channels have worked well for him in the past. If Blavin wants to play games, then games we shall have.

“I hate to do this” Alex mumbles to himself. “Normally I’d trail him myself, but I don’t think I have much say in the matter.” As it stands the group is dead set on gathering more of these cyrstals, regardless of what the danger may be, and if Alex wants to find his Uncle, they’re his best bet in doing so. Blavin doesn’t even matter outside of that. But if he can help the group reach their end faster, or force the information out of Blavin, perhaps it can come sooner..

Alex lets out another sigh and glances wistfully around the gloomy attic room. It looked just like he remembered his Uncle’s office looking like at the College of Sysorcerery when he had taught there. He always was so particular. Pushing his chair away and grabbing his coffee he wanders to the bookshelf where a large steamer chest sits beside it. The bookshelf is covered in manuscripts, “Practical Common Lisp”, “The C Programming Language Vol 2”, “RHEL 5 Systems Administration”, each one arcane and well worn. And the amount of volumes, sometimes it’s a wonder Corraidhin had time to do anything other than read.

“Maybe if I had been a little more studious I’d know how to help you..” as he pulls “A Guide to Backups and All Things Necessary” off of the shelf a knife falls out of the book, and clatters onto the floor glaring malevolently up at Alex.

Your gondola lift finally rises above the thick layer of clouds. The sudden flash of clear blue sky is a revelation after ascending for nearly 60 minutes through clouds so thick you couldn’t see through the foggy windows more than three feet. Above you towers rocky, imposing Kelsun Peak. You can just see a tiny portion of the hotel roof through a cleft in the rocks. Below you, a frozen turbulent ocean of clouds dotted with twisting leaning spires and spiraling branching towers, all made out of solid cloudstuff. Handiwork of the whimsical and industrious zephynos.

You spot two or three of them now, leaping and diving playfully through the clouds like dolphins, spinning the clouds like yarn, and packing them into solid constructs. Their current project resembles a garden of outlandish, distorted tubas, french horns, and trombones.

The small cloud dragons are about 6 - 8 feet long including their thick tails. They have wide faces with round lidless eyes, and always seem to be smiling. Their heads are topped with multiple pairs of filamented stalks. They have six short, stubby arms with long thin fingers that they use to knead and pull clouds into solid shapes.

They build ceaselessly and mostly for the sake of building: they have no apparent need for the structures themselves, living as they do floating among the clouds. On occasion they have been entreated to build on behalf of others. And the rare floating palace or city can still be found drifting around Basmentaria as a result. The great city of Vay’Neddas—tethered to the ground by great chains to Primora in the north and Agendell in the south—is one of their greatest enduring works.

You approach the gondola station at the base of Kelsun Peak, and exit your cable car as it slowly rounds the bullwheel. There are two toques—presumably meant to be operating the lifts—standing off to the side, ignoring their responsibilities, complaining loudly to nobody and everybody about being forced to work long hours and being unfairly compensated. The tips of their soft, conical heads slump forward, calling to mind revolutionaries, or smurfs.

It is wicked cold as you step out onto the platform and the wind nips and bites at you relentlessly.

At the edge of the platform, foggy white steps made of firm cloudstuff climb up around the side of the mountain peak to the Palace Runesocesius. Once the conspicuously extravagant residence of one of Basmentaria’s most powerful politicians, it has since—after its owner fell from public favor and was routed out—been gutted and transformed into a luxury hotel of equally conspicuous extravagance. It continues to be one of the highest inhabitable places on Basmentaria.

Two small toques at the base of the steps rush forward to meet you—the floppy tips of their coneheads waggling side to side in their exuberance—and introduce themselves as Confidence and Bread, your guides. They have been instructed to guide you up to Runesocesius where you will take posession of the Ginnarak Crystal.




Alex grips the encoded message he received in reply to his last request firmly in his coat pocket. It was simple, curt, impactful. “Trust no one”. Which begged the question, could even it be trusted? Was HQ compromised? His informants in danger? His allies and leads awash in the dark grey mist of uncertainity. Or had his message been intercepted, cracked, and a farsical response been sent in its place. Alex wasn’t certain which, but the strange format and unusually speedy response had him on edge.

This anxiety didn’t boil up to the surface, not a line of worry or hint of the inner turbulence broke his cold blue eyes. Outwardly he was just as composed as ever, but between these uncertainties, the loss of his uncle, and now this utterly strange dagger he’d found amongst his uncle’s belongings, he wasn’t certain how long that composure would last. It didn’t held that he felt this gnawing at the back of his mind, as though something was probing, attempting to communicate with him, somewhere between telepathy and utter magic, and not in any sense that Alex understood.

And here he stood, a stranger amongst amidst his uncle’s allies, and very little intention to change that situation at the moment.

As the gondola touched down and the Toques rushed to greet them Alex jumped blithely off the ship and onto firm, but fluffy, ground. He cast a look around him at what appeared to be an ordinary port of entry, noting the crowds of people passing by. As the Toques arrived Alex spoke curtly to them, “Who sends you to greet us, and where do you wish to take us, and by what means do we travel?”. Short, cut, information only. There’s too much unnerving in an unknown situation like this.


Inky greets the toques in turn politely, then turns to the second toque and says, “A little bit of bread and no cheese.”

“Cheese?” Bread cocks their head looks at Inky with a touch of embarrassment. They start patting at their pockets, presumably looking for a morsel of cheese to share with the travelers, but finding none. They groan miserably. Confidence butts in apologetically, “There will be plenty of food at the hotel if you want some! Some delicious fondue perhaps? Kelsun Peak’s famous liquid gold!”

“Blavin Blandfoot arranged for us to meet you,” Bread answers Alex. Confidence nods enthusiastically in agreement. “But I suppose technically the hotelier sent us.” Bread points up at the sky, in the general direction of the summit of Kelsun Peak. “We are to escort you to Palace Runesocesius.” They thumb over their shoulder in the general direction of the stairs. “By way of the cloud steps. On foot.”

Confidence leans in close and lowers their voice. “A Ginnarak Crystal! I can’t hardly believe it! Thought they had all been lost to the ages. I hear it’s complete dumb random luck that this one turned up. Story is, an aetherwael beached itself on some wide zephynos boulevard. Happens sometimes. Poor things can’t distinguish between clouds and cloudstuff. I don’t blame ’em! At a distance, you and me can’t either! Anyway, this aetherwael has got a harpoon stuck in its side. Dratted poachers. May they all fall out of the sky and be dashed to a thousand pieces on the rocks below. But it had a harpoon in its side and was trailing behind it a float bag tethered to the harpoon. And you probably already guessed what was inside of it!” By the time Confidence finishes their brief story, they are trembling and nearly breathless with excitement.

“Anyway,” Bread interrupts their excited companion in an attempt to restore decorum. Both of the toques have been gently herding you toward the base of the stairs this whole time. “You know how the zephynos are. You could give them all the coin in Basmentaria, or something priceless like a Ginnarak Crystal, and they’d just as quickly misplace it out of carelessness. If it’s not a cloud they can sculpt into the shape of seussomorph or the likeness of some fantasy creature, they just don’t give a fig. Luckily the hotelier caught wind of the aetherwael and found out about the crystal before they managed to lose it, or bury it inside of a sculpture or something silly! He has it safe and sound in the library up at Runesocesius now.” Bread climbs the first step, his foot sinking barely a centimeter into wispy cloud before striking the solid cloudstuff. “Come! The hotelier will be very excited to greet you!”




This seems a bit strange. Certainly Blavin has been pulling strings from behind the scenes the whole time, but why coordinate a special escort for us when there are other retrieval teams, and we’ve been less than amicable with the bloke the entire time.. Alex thinks to himself.

DM: I’d like to check for any signs of deceit in the toques demeanor or communcations with us

Confidence you said right? What would you do if I simply chose not to accompany you? I mean, there’s a whole city around us, perhaps I’d prefer a drink before climbing a mountains worth of stairs. Or better yet, I could get back on the boat and ride to the top and same myself the hassle.

Bread once again looks confused. Confidence looks surprised, caught off guard.

Confidence sputters, “Well, yes, of course. You’ve been traveling for some time now, haven’t you? I can assure you that the food and drink at Runesocesius will be better than anything you can get here! But the choice is entirely yours. Feel free to avail yourself of the local offerings. We will wait here at the steps for you.”

Bread nods slowly, and seems to trailing behind the conversation just a second or two.

Their reactions seem genuine to you despite the circumstances. They seem like a couple of low level employees of a luxury hotel earnestly trying to follow the instructions they’ve been given.

There are a couple of stalls and vendors set up around the gondola station. Many of them serve mulled wine and hot chocolate. There is some edible fare. Hot sandwiches and pitas. Nothing that an empanada from Enrique’s wouldn’t put to shame. But they look hot and steamy, and of great comfort to anybody who might be hungry and cold. There are a few fire pits, next to which there are long benches with blankets, where you might sit and warm up for a bit.

The gondola lift ends here, and does not continue up to the mountain any further. The cloud steps are the most common way to get up to the peak, and to the Runesocesius. But you’re pretty sure one or two of the stalls here offers balloon rides up to the peak for thrill seekers and for those with accessibility needs.

“I think you already know I’m interested in neither bread nor cheese, the second of which I certainly did not ask for yet you tried to offer in your hasty pretence.” Inky smiles thinly at the toques.

Taking out a small bag of gold coins and weighing it slowly on one hand to the sound of coins clinking inside the pouch, Inky continues, “Speak, answer our questions frankly and you will be rewarded. The hotelier up there need not know. Breathe a word of our little chat to another soul, however …” Inky’s gaze cut briefly to four snow ravens perched atop a spiral lamp post and back, “and you will learn the meaning of disappearing without a trace.”

Bread looks confused. You are starting to believe it is their default expression. “So, you don’t want no chee—”

“Our only desire is to help!” Confidence hastily interrupts. He smiles pleasingly. “We are your guides! Not just physically up the steps, but in all things here on Kelsun Peak. You have but to ask, and if it is within our power to give it, it will be yours! We are but humble ser—”

And just then Confidence is also suddenly interrupted. A thundering boom like a canon sounds from somewhere nearby, followed quickly by an explosion somewhere up above. Snow ravens fly off in all directions in a panic. The sound ripples through the mountaintop, rattling the ground on which you stand. A bunch of small rocks and two large boulders shake loose from the mountainside. Shoppers and travelers shout and duck for cover as they are pelted by the scree. One of the large boulder bounces clear over the station and plummets down the side of the mountain before disappearing into the cloud ocean below. The second one falls straight toward the platform. A vendor selling wreaths and candles dives out of the way as his stall is crushed by the boulder. A bench is toppled over, spilling its blankets into the fire pit, and catches fire, quickly spreading to another nearby stall.

Bread looks up at the sky, confused. You see a thin line of black smoke starting to rise up into the sky from over the ridge where the Runesocesius lies. Confidence shouts, and you see him pointing at the sea, where a balloonship is rising up out of the cloud bank, sailing quickly toward you and the summit of Kelsun Peak.

It resembles a seafaring ship, but instead of masts and sails, it has two large, colorful, patchwork balloons that provide it lift. A large fan on a pivot at the rear of the ship provides thrust. As you watch, it fires a second canon—that is what the sound was!—nearly straight up, arcing up and over the peak at Palace Runesocesius.

The crew of the ship bustle around on the deck of the ship, reloading the canons, firing the balloons, shouting, giving and following orders.

“Cyberplasms,” groans Confidence, and Bread whimpers. Alex, that quiet, dull, static roar that has been constantly tickling the back of your head ever since you found that dagger seems to rise in pitch and in tone. It conveys a sense of urgency, of warning. You can almost hear a desperate voice behind the static fuzz cautioning you, “Evil…”

The only corporeal element of the crew are their cybernetic enhancements. A mechanical leg. A synthetic eye. A claw, a hook, a hand. An arm canon. Almost all of them have more than one, some as many as 3 or 5. The cybernetic pieces of each individual crew member are held together by plasmic energy arcs, crackling blue and green. And surrounding the bioware and the plasmic arcs of each crew member, like a blanket or a cocoon, is the translucent, wavering, ghostly form of some humanoid long-dead.

The figure standing on the deck surveying the work of the rest of the crew—presumably the captain—has a synthetic eye rotating freely, 360 degrees in all directions, inside its skull-like head; a bulky arm canon; and a thin robotic leg terminating in a thick boot. Plasmic blasts arc through its core, sometimes disrupting and glitching its ghostly body.

The captain raises its arm canon and shouts to the crew. Its voice carried on the breeze sounds like something otherworldly rising slowly from the murky deep. “Fire the canon, boys! And fire up the balloons! Drop the ballast! That crystal is ours!

It happens very quickly: the ship ascends to the summit and soon is firing grappling hooks at it to pull themselves in and breach the walls of the hotel.

Bread looks at you, wide-eyed and trembling. They let loose a pitiful wail and turn and start running up the steps. “Bread!” Confidence yells after them. They cast a backward glance at you. “I’ve got to help Bread! We’ve got to save the hotel!” And they give chase to their fellow toque, bounding up the cloudstuff steps.




Pirates?! Again?! Alex groans, unfortunately he’s run into this crew of dastardly mostly cybernetic punks in the past. Nasty group back home, always kept the precinct busy. Not necessarily with the detective work, it was always a little obvious when they showed up. They have a flair for the dramatic.

Alex shouts to Inky & Jarrod “Come on, we need to get in one of those balloons and fast!” he then darts off in the direction of the nearest abandoned balloon in the market place, not looking to see if his companions had followed him.

internally I know these guys have pulled off smaller heists, they could just be attacking the hotel to plunder riches from its guests. They don’t seem the likes of a retrieval team.. Then again, that Blavin fellow has multiple teams working for him, and he doesn’t seem all too picky about how they get the job done, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’d hired some brigands hoping they’d get the gems faster.

Alex conjures up another bug, a stag beetle this time, and casts it away at the pirate ship. It’ll probably take some time to catch up, but once it does we’ll be able to keep an eye on the pirate’s ship and general actions, at least within line of sight of the bug.

As Alex reaches the balloon he grabs the ruby hilted dagger and cuts the mooring lines keeping it down, and jumps into the basket preparing for take off.

You spot a balloon that has already been knocked half loose of its mooring by the pirate attack. The basket is listing to the side and tugging at the one remaining rope tying it down Its owner scurries around in circles trying to secure it.

The vertical panels of the balloon are all different colors, creating a brilliant rainbow pattern. The large woven basket is large enough for maybe three people.

You leap inside, swinging the ruby hilted dagger at the remaining mooring line. The balloon owner cries out in dismay. The basket shifts beneath your feet as the balloon tugs it skyward.

In the burner, a small sunspoke—a minor fire elemental—is merrily burning away, producing a modest flame that is hot enough to lift the balloon slowly above the market into the sky. There is a knob valve on the side of the burner to allow more oxygen to flow in, thereby feeding the sunspoke and encouraging it to burn more intensely and raise the balloon higher and faster. The valve is currently only about one third open.

A pile of blankets in one corner of the basket—and that area of the basket itself—is covered in blood. Somebody injured in the pirate attack must have temporarily climbed into the basket looking for cover? As you’re about to look away, something large-ish (small for a human, large for an animal) under the blankets shifts and moves.

Inky stares after Alex’s sprinting figure before shrugging and stepping towards one of the stalls selling sandwiches bowled over by one of the large boulders. They place some loose change on the stall’s wooden sign that had tipped over on the ground and pocket one of the sandwiches displayed inside an open chest oven. Next, they pick up several of the scented candles scattered on the ground by the crash, throwing some coins in the direction of the disoriented vendor before continuing at a leisurely pace up the steps to the hotel, taking in the balloonship and surrounding scenery. The members of their merry party arriving first can hold their own as well as the fort of a hotel.

You do a little leisurely shopping as the vendors and other shoppers put out fires and tend to the injured. With a couple scented candles and a sandwich safely in your pocket, you start to climb the cloud steps, enjoying the scenery as you go. Bread and Confidence have quite a bit of a head start on you, and are nowhere to be seen. As the stairway winds around the mountainside, the market and its bustle recede from view, and soon you are quite isolated and alone.

The majesty of creation is humbling here: the endless, roiling ocean of cloud; the towering mountain of rock. It’s as though this was the creator’s playground when they were still trying to figure out scale. Before they quite got it right for human-sized creatures.

About halfway up your climb, it starts raining sheets of paper. You snatch one and read it. Some heroic fantasy about slaying demons and facing great peril. You grab another. A bodice-ripping romance. Another. A gourmand’s food tour of Basmentaria, eating their way from coast to coast. A murder mystery whodunnit. An aetherwael handler’s guide to interplanetary travel. How to grow your own fortified pumpkins. On the Care and Maintenance of Fortles. The Rise and Fall and Rise of Palace Runesocesius. Within a minute, you have fists full of an entire library’s worth of snippets and passages.


It looks as though Alex will approach the hotel by balloon from the non-pirate side. And Inky’s approach by stair will deposit them at the hotel entrance, roughly pirate-adjacent.




As Alex spots the sunspoke valve he grabs it and cranks it up to the 2/3 mark. “Sorry little friend, we’re going to need a little bit more juice”. The baloon lurches upwards as air rushes in feeding the sunspoke, causing it to burn more intensely. After setting the sunspoke ablaze and shouting back to the balloon’s owner Alex takes account of his surroundings. It’s during this time he spots the bloodied, moving blankets. They seem to writhe, as though something beneath them is injured.

Gripping the dagger firmly in one hand Alex grabs the blankets from the corner of the balloon basket revealing whatever lay beneath.

The sunspoke stretches its little arms and wriggles its little fingers. It sighs happily, luxuriating in the extra fuel. It burns twice as bright, shooting a hot jet of bright yellow flame up into the parachute. The sunspoke starts to glow a molten red, and you start to rise faster.

As you rise up over the peak, you can finally spot the Runesocesius. The grand hotel is draped over the top of the mountain, clinging to it like a dragon resting on its hoard.

The “cyberplasms” as Confidence called them have docked to the side of a tower on the other side of the peak from you. They have shot a large hole in the side of the tower, and you can see them now starting to zipline into the building. A thick plume of black smoke billows out of the side of the tower, carrying pages and pages of loose paper into the air with it. They rain down like snow. The tower must house an extensive library.

You cautiously pull back a corner of the bloody blankets, jeweled dagger raised and ready to strike. You reveal a small bloody furry blob. You see two big round eyes, a short-snouted face, and enormous pointed ears. It quickly looks away from you, chirps pathetically, and trembles as it cowers in place. You have found a frightened hemogoblin stowaway!




As the blankets draw back from the bloody mass, a cute little hemogoblin appears. “Aww little fellas just scared.” Alex lowers the dagger, but otherwise ignores the hemogoblin. Best to leave it be for now, there’s more important things.

As the balloon gets within range of the ship Alex begins to scan the deck for Cyberplasms. At the same time he checks his bug to track the location of the cyberplasms more acutely. It looks like there may be an opporunity to jump from the balloon to the ship. After that cutting the zip lines would give me the opporunity to steal the ship, leaving the cyberplasms trapped at the top of the hotel.

Just a few Cyberplasms remain on the deck of the airship. The vast majority of them have zipped into the hotel tower.

You check your bug’s feed. It has gone almost entirely unnoticed in the fracas, and you are able to piece together a clear picture of the inside of the tower. It is indeed a grand library, its galleries spanning each floor of the tower. One of the largest collections in all of Basmentaria.

The Cyberplasms have breached the tower near its base and are pouring into the Great Hall. You tune in just in time to see a rail-thin, bald and mustachioed man standing defensively in front of a display case. “No! You can’t!” he exclaims as a disembodied sickle approaches him in a cloud of electricity and ectoplasm.

Behind the glass in the display case is a bluish hunk of rock the size of a melon, with gently pulsing gold veins.

Inky puts away the papers they caught in passing or picked up along the path up to read later, including a number that from a cursory glance appear to be from a culinary collection and a few from some moth-eaten but finely illustrated botanical tome, among others.

Eventually arriving at the hotel entrance, Inky enters and manages to catch a frantic-looking attendant near the reception to ask the whereabouts of the hotelier, indicating they had a business appointment with said manager.

You walk in through the hotel’s main entrance. The grandeur would take your breath away were it not for the shouting and the smoke and the explosions coming from down the hall to your right.

You wave down a passing hotel clerk and inquire after the hotelier. They are hauling a large bucket of hot water, and carrying an oversized bundle of clean towels under one arm. They pause for a moment to look at you incredulously before running off in the opposite direction.

A cry rings out nearby and a Cyberplasm flies through an open door down the hallway. It lands in a heap of crackling energy, smears of ectoplasm streaking the floor as though it were bleeding heavily. It seems to be barely held together by the energy stored in its cybernetic leg and a metal skull plate.

It scoots backwards on its hands and its butt, trying to stand up. Two toques leap out of the door after it. You recognize Bread and Confidence right away.

Bread has obviously been to the kitchens. They are wearing tin baking sheets and an oversized pot on their heard as makeshift armor, and have a couple of dangerous looking kitchen knives hanging from their belt. At the moment they are swinging a large meat tenderizer over their head as though it were a war hammer.

Confidence, meanwhile, has been to the gardener’s shed. They are wearing a heavy leather apron and thick leather gloves, and have a trowel in each hand, and a large hoe or rake strapped to their back.

Bread lowers their hammer on Cyberplasms head, denting the skull plate. And Confidence darts in and stabs with both hands at the leg. As soon as the prosthetics go offline and the plasmic arcs cease firing, there is nothing left holding the ectoplasm together and the ghost kind of dissipates into the air with a soft wail.

They look up and notice you at the same time, relaxing their offensive stances. “Oh!” cries Bread. “It’s you!”

“You don’t happen,” asks Confidence, “to need a guide, do you?”




Ah so I suppose those Toques were being honest then, there was a Ginnarak crystal, and I guess they were going to give it to us.. oh well, nothing good in life comes easy.

Alex cranks the dial on the sunspoke, grabs the hemogoblin from the basket, and jumps out of the balloon and onto the deck of the ship. He rushes over to the nearest pile of bundled rope and barrels and stows his new hemo friend. “Just stay hidden little guy, let me take care of these pirates first.”

Alex grabs the dagger from his side as he makes his way towards the side of the ship, first thing first, best to cut the mooring lines and zip lines. The static clawing sensation appears at the back of Alex’s mind, but he attempts to ignore it. There’s too much that needs to be done too quickly, and he’s all too aware of the danger he’s put himself in. “What would Corraidhin do..” Alex thinks to himself, “perhaps a spell?”.

function target:new(obj, tbl)
  obj = obj or {}
  setmetatable(obj, self)
  self.__index = self
  self.x = 0
  self.y = 0
  self.speed = 0
  reutrn obj

function target:yeet()
  self.x = 100
  self.y = 100
  self.speed = 50
  return self

After preparing the spell Alex makes his way towards the guard rail ready to cut the mooring and zip lines, spell at the ready should an enemy appear.

You crank the dial to 11. The sunspoke squeals in delight and burns like a tiny star. You grab the hemogoblin, who chirrups and clings tightly to you, and leap from the balloon onto the deck of the airship.

You think you can hear—barely audible—the sunspoke singing a song of homecoming as the hot air balloon continues to rise unpiloted up toward the sun.

You rush over to cover behind a barrel, and deposit your new hemogoblin friend safely inside the center of a large coil of rope. It looks up at you quizzically, but nods when you tell it to stay put.

You invoke the powers of the moon and prepare a quick but (hopefully) sufficient Spell of Yeeting.

When you draw the dagger, the world develops a faint static background noise which is easy enough to ignore at the moment given the state of things. You dash forward and start sawing at the thick mooring lines. The dagger’s ruby hilt flashes in the sunlight as you work, and in your mind’s eye you see a bright red wine, and a drop of blood red ink flowing from the nib of a fountain pen.

You shake the images from your head just as you finish sawing through the rope. A Cyberplasm who was shimmying back up the rope from the hotel to the ship yelps as the line goes slack and swings back into the side of the cliff. The pirate rebounds from the impact, bounces off the mountainside a few times, and falls from view as it disappears through the clouds below.

The ship drifts lazily, rising slightly, and despite your best sneaking around, the remaining Cyberplasms on board cannot help but notice that the ship is no longer tethered. You successfully hide behind a barrel as three cyber ghost pirates come rushing over to the ship railing and lean over, looking below at where there are no longer any ropes attaching the ship to the hotel.

Out of the corner of your eye, you can see the hemogoblin toddling across the deck toward the Cyberplasms, no doubt curious about what they’re looking at over the side of the ship.

“Indeed, Bread, it’s me. You have not yet escaped your fate of untraceable disappearance just yet.” Inky deadpans, then smiles. “We have much to discuss, but later. I do need a guide … to your hotelier. Presumably I will find them by following the racket and trail of ruined decor, but maybe you know of a quicker route?”

Bread smiles at the threat of being untraceably disappeared, mostly confident that they are on the inside of a private little joke and that they are presently in no actual danger from Inky. They grip their hammer a little tighter nonetheless.

Confidence slips their trowels into their apron. “Yes, this way!”

They hurry down the hall. You know you’re going the right way because tattered, torn, charred books litter the ground in increasing numbers. Bits of paper and ash fall like snow.

Confidence guides you away from the entrance to the library’s Great Hall, and takes you instead to a smaller, more discreet staff entrance. They open the door a crack, and as you look through you are just in time to see the ship captain with their cybernetic leg, arm canon, and eye. Now that the crew have cleared the way for them, they stroll across the library over piles of fallen, damaged books.

A thin bald man with a neatly trimmed mustache is on the other side of the hall, his back turned to the pirate. He wears a fine suit and has just finished unlocking a glass display case. He retrieves a multifaceted blue and gold stone and hugs it to his chest with both arms. He throws a panicked glance over his shoulder at the slowly approaching pirate, and turns to run away. His retreat is halted by a small explosion at his feet. He skids to a stop and looks back at the pirate, who is lowering their arm canon.

“The crystal,” the captain demands in a voice part ghostly moan, part mechanical drone. “Hand it over, hotelier.” It steps closer. “Mother has promised us new bodies if we deliver the quintessence. You won’t be permitted to stand in our way.”

One pirate near the breach tucks a couple volumes of manhwa under its arm and climbs out onto the mooring line, returning to the ship with its plunder. It howls as the line suddenly goes slack, flinging the pirate and its comics into the mountainside, and then out into space.

Sunlight pours into the library from outside as the shadow of the airship shifts as it starts to drift, suddenly unmoored.




Damn it! I should’ve left the little goblin in the balloon, this could get tricky..

Time slows for just the briefest of moments while Alex calculates his next move. Looking at the position of the pirates he can probably yeet the middlemost one away from the group into the left most pirate. Best case this sends both of them sailing over the edge of the ship, worst case it just slightly knocks them off balance. In either event this gives me enough time to dart from cover and quickly dispatch the right most pirate with Uncle’s dagger. I’ve got to sever each connection point between the ecotplasm and the cybernetics, nothing quite as quick and easy as flesh and blood, but a quick slice to the left most armpit, and another to the right most leg right above the carotid artery should do it..

Jumping immediately to action Alex casts yeet.middle_cyberplasm() sending the middle pirate into the left most pirate away from the hemogoblin while he dashes forward to take the third right most pirate by surprise. As he reaches the right most pirate he makes two quick slices, first at the leg, followed by a quick upper cut to the left arm.

You channel some of the ambient environmental charge into your prepared incantation. It’s comforting sometimes to peer behind the veil and see the world through this lens. It’s so simple. The separation of self and other is an illusion: everything is just a table. The concept of time itself is simplified: coroutines prevent everything from happening all at once and create the illusion of concurrency. It’s all really quite elegant.

Anyway so the hemogoblin sidles up next to the pirates at the railing. It’s not tall enough to see over the railing, and starts to kind of jump up and down, trying to catch a glimpse. The pirates look down at it in confusion just as the yeet happens, and they knock into each other. The leftmost one almost manages to regain its balance but then trips over the little blood gremlin and pitches over the railing. The middle pirate yelps as the startled hemogoblin darts between its legs to get out of the way. The pirate stumbles and then slips in a small puddle of blood. Its feet shoot from beneath it and it too tips over the railing.

The hemogoblin dashes right into the waiting arms of the rightmost Cyberplasm. “Gotcha, you little … ugh! What …” The pirate is starting to regret snatching up the little furball, which is defensively gushing blood all over it, when you make your first slice into its left armpit. Half its cybernetics go offline. One arm goes limp and it drops the hemogoblin, which scurries around and hides behind you. The pirate turns toward you, now full of regrets, and you stab into its right leg, knocking its tech completely offline and dispersing the ghostly energies.

As far as you can tell, the ship is now free of Cyberplasms.

The hemogoblin thrusts its tiny fists in the air and cheers.

Inky shakes out several large and very fine kerchiefs, handing two each to the guides and gestures for them to cover their noses and mouths with them while they perform the action themselves to demonstrate.

Donning a pair of skydiving goggles snatched from one of the souvenir stalls at the gondola station while no one was looking (replacing it with its approximate weight in silver coins), Inky retrieves a black metal box that previously served as a portable camp stove from their knapsack and removes the lid. The inside of the box is filled with dry wood chips mixed with a pine green powder, and Inky throws in the wicks pulled from some of the scented candles that were pushed into a heater flask to melt fully during the walk up the hotel steps. Finally, Inky pours another vial of foul-smelling liquid over the contents, opens the door just wide enough to slide the metal box through to one side of the door a few paces away.

A mildly sweet, cloying smoke emanates from the flameless heat inside the box, which begin to fill the library hall with a rapidly thickening cloud. It is also taking on an acrid and slightly sooty edge. Near the door, Inky fans more of the smoke in the direction of the cyberplasmic apparition with a thin bound manuscript laying on the floor.

Bread, Confidence, and you all don protective gear. You push the camp stove through the door like an Olympic curler. It glides across the library floor a respectable distance considering the book debris and the lack of sweepers. Much more quickly than one would think possible, the hall is filled with a thick, sooty smoke. The Cyberplasm captain groans with frustration as even the short distance between it and the hotelier (and the crystal) becomes occluded in the smoke screen. The hotelier wisely doesn’t make a sound as he disappears from view.

Bread nudges you, grins, and gives you a thumbs up.




Alex snatches up his new hemo friend cheering huzzah as he does. We’ve got a pirate ship little guy!

Rushing about the deck Alex quickly takes stock of what’s left, plenty of ammo, general supplies, fuel, perfectly provisioned for a quick crystal kidnapping. Smart move pirates, but not smart enough.

Alex heads to the helm and steadies the ship guiding it out and away from the library, can’t have any of the remaining cyberplasms easily reboarding it now can we? Once the ship is out of range Alex checks his S.T.A.G drone’s twtxt feed for updates.

@<drone/fhsoa7483/video> Cyberplasm approaching crystal
@<drone/fhsoa7483/gps> approx library, top level
@<drone/fhsoa7483/audio> Cyberplasm threatens violence
@<drone/fhsoa7483/video> Inky, bread, confidence enter subvertly
@<drone/fhsoa7483/video> Visual feed impaired due to unknown smog
@<drone/fhsoa7483/audio> Angry tones, uncertain who

Not particularly helpful, and it rules out my first thought. I could blindly fire the broadside canons into the library hoping to hit the cyberplasm, but I’d be just as likely to hit Inky, Bread, Confidence or any other innocent bystander. I’ve got to get a message to her.

Alex quickly dispatches a command to the S.T.A.G

@<drone/fhsoa7483/cmd> Seek Inky
@<drone/fhsoa7483/relay> Secured ship, inform A.I of intentions, will coordinate rescue via the stolen ship

If all we’ve got is this, then we’d best be ready for a quick rescue. Alex busies himself preparing a new zipline and mooring lines. He then loads the boradside canons and the top deck swivel canons. It’ll need to be quick, but if I’m ready I can swing the ship in close, deploy a zipline for Inky to zip down to the ship with, and defend the retreat with the swivels. If everyone retreats to the ship we can take a note from the pirates playbook and blast them to hell with the broadsides while we make our retreat. Or simply run I suppose, but I dislike the idea of leaving innocent people to deal with angry pirates

The hemogoblin cheers you on as you take possession of the airship, accidentally squirting a few jets of rust colored blood in its excitement. Must still be quite young. They don’t gain full control of their blood sacs until well into adulthood.

You check your S.T.A.G. drone’s twtxt feeds. This A.I. seems especially reliable, you note with satisfaction. Its updates are regular and detailed. Even when there’s not much to report.

You load up the canons and take control of the helm. The hemogoblin stands at attention at the broadside canons with a cracklesparkler, ready to light the fuse at your command. You steer the ship a short distance away from the hotel, hopefully out of reach of the cyberplasms. But within range of your own canons and ziplines.

While Inky has the attention of both guides, they close the door again until it is slightly ajar, and make a series of hand gestures. First pointing at themselves, at their own forearm and fist held stiffly to mimic the shape of the captain’s arm cannon, to indicate that Inky will handle the Cyberplasm. Then Inky points the two fingers of a hand at Bread and Confidence, turns the two fingers downward and swings them back and forth in opposite directions to convey walking. This was followed by a single finger pointing in the general direction they had last seen the hotelier; then the finger hooks inward, the arm repeating a yanking motion once or twice before ending the gesture with a thumb tossed over their shoulder towards the hallway away from the staff entrance, to ask them to get their boss out of the library to a safe spot.

Without waiting for confirmation from the toques, Inky opens the door, abruptly stops, turns and shoves a compostable bag of mango-flavoured croutons at Bread, gives them a thumbs up in return and a mildly disturbing, eye-crinkling smile behind their kerchief, before slipping inside the smoky room. One hand is already pulling out a thin, extendable metal walking pole with a carrying strap visually resembling the type used by hikers from their courier bag to check for obstacles amid the lowered visibility.

Confidence watches all of your hand gestures closely, and then nods resolutely. They draw their large hoe, and turn and start to crouch run toward the main entrance to to the main hall of the library.

Bread looks confused, but ready to follow Confidence. They grab their heavy meat tenderizer and crouch down in imitation of their fellow toque. Before they can run off, you shove a bag of croutons into their arms. “Small. Toasted. Bread,” they intonate slowly in wonder. The confusion falls from their face as they break into a wide grin. “Now I’ll never disappear without a trace,” they laugh. They thank you and run like a duck after Confidence.

Inside, Inky lobs the empty glass vial that had held the unpleasantly pungent organic catalyst at a spot the floor several paces roughly from where the Cyberplasm — presumably the leader of the group — had been standing earlier, in the opposite direction of the staff entrance in an attempt to attention from the hotelier’s last location. As they edge along the wall towards the tower stairs, walking pole looped over one hand, Inky grabs a few small hardcover novellas from a wall shelf. Straightening from their crouch, Inky tosses them one at a time horizontally in quick succession like a discus, but without the full-body turning motion, across the hall towards the sounds of frustrated groans and angry muttering. The first starting higher around where a human head might have once been, one at waist height and another at the juncture below where ectoplasmic knees might meet prosthetic legs.

You pick up three hardback novellas. If it wasn’t so smoky, and if you weren’t so much in the middle of a potentially life and death struggle with the Cyberplasm captain of a pirate airship, you might notice their titles: Stop and Smell the Crystals, Living the Corn, and A Big Moon.

Anyway, you start flinging.

After you toss the catalyst, you can see a plasmic form heavily blurred and obscured by the smoke turn in that direction. You fling Stop and Smell the Crystals at it, and it spins like a discus and smashes into the pirate right in the face, above the chin. It howls and brings its hand to its face, and turns and charges up its arm cannon.

Mostly going on sound now, you fling Living the Corn at the pirate’s moan and at the electric whine of the canon charging. You hear the canon discharge but the half-blind pirate fires wide. You see the flash of the energy blast hitting something, someone, else obscured by smoke in the middle distance between the two of you. A man screams out in pain. Right after the muffled thump of his body hitting the ground, you hear the clinking and ringing of something heavy and metallic striking and rolling across the floor.

Living on Corn strikes the pirate in the elbow, and with a fizzle and a spark, the arm cannon sputters offline.

The pirate stumbles forward, half-lame and half-blind. It stoops and scoops up a heavy melon-sized object. It stomps its cybernetic boot, and small rockets spring out from small compartments on either side of its ankle. They start to fire up and the pirate is about to make its escape when A Big Moon hits it right above knee and severs the ghost’s final connection to its final enhancement.

It groans as it starts to dissipate, dropping the heavy object once more.

“My crew, it is too late for me! I shall never have a new body now! But it’s not too late for you! You must bring the quintessence to Mother!”

And then the pirate’s essence is diluted in the smoke filling the library.

At that moment Inky hears a very low whirring accompanied by clicking sounds behind them and without glancing backwards, swings the walking pole at the source of the buzzing. The stick collides with something, sending it careening backwards with a light clatter through what is likely a row of bookshelves around the area already partially emptied of their contents. From the static noise that ensues, Inky realises whatever it was may or may not have been one of the wizard’s bugs hovering in the shadows earlier or a disembodied, ectoplasm-spewing prosthetic limb after all. Inky calls out sheepishly, “Sorry, Young Master Alex! Was that yours? Oops? Haha?” before smashing two more empty glass bottles as a distraction for any remaining Cyberplasms lurking on the same floor, and sprints up the tower stairs, using the banisters as a guide.

The Amber Imp is feverishly reporting all the goings on from inside the S.T.A.G. drone when Inky strikes its conveyance with their walking pole. The bug is destroyed on contact. The imp barely manages to fire off one final End Of Transmission post before ejecting from the craft, which sinks below like an exploded firework. It drifts on the currents of smoke and flows out through the hole in the wall into the open air outside. The imp falls through open space and starts to think back on its life. So much time and energy spent chasing its hopes and dreams, its goals and aspirations. So much of its life wasted in pursuit. Always reaching, never grasping. Is that all it gets? Is this the end? Did it ever really even get a chance to really live?

These thoughts race through its head as it falls, but are cut short when it abruptly lands on a hard bed of cloudstuff. It tumbles and rolls and comes to a stop. And when it looks up, amazed to be alive and vowing to make the most of this second chance at life, it looks up into the benevolent smiling face of a pink zephynos.


Inky, you cross the floor to where the pirate had its last stand. You find what appears to be approximately one-fifth of the hotelier, and wonder idly where the rest of him might be. And you notice a conspicuous lack of Ginnarak Crystal.

You do however notice a soft crunch underfoot. And when you bend down to inspect it—disorganized cyberplasms running amok in the smoke behind you—you discover a trail of mango flavored croutons leading across the hall to the tower stairs.

You sprint up the stairs using the banisters as a guide. The breadcrumb trail ends on the seventh level, where Confidence sits slumped against the wall between two bookshelves. They have one arm around four-fifths of the hotelier, his shocked gaze telling you everything you need to know, that he is entirely dead but just doesn’t know it yet. Their other arm is around Bread, who has suffered a massive wound to the chest and is only slightly more alive than the hotelier. On the ground between Confidence’s legs is the Ginnarak Crystal. Several loose pages are stuck to its sides, held in place by drying blood and ectoplasm.

Confidence looks at you and smiles wearily. “We left a trail for you. It was Bread’s idea. They were a good guide.”




“They are a good guide,” Inky corrects adamantly. “Do you hear that, Bread? You’re not allowed to disappear until you’ve had an entire bag of these croutons, and even then you’re still not allowed. If I’d known you’d never had croutons before I wouldn’t have let you walk a step further into that hall. That was simultaneously the worst and best idea ever. Mango! Croutons! What a travesty. Did you even taste any of it? No? You have to! How can you offer guests delicious fondue without croutons? Speaking of which, we haven’t gotten that fondue you promised yet, that’s reason #144 you can’t disappear. What’s reason #143? Crostinis. Small toasted bread. Slice of life. You can put cheese on it too, if you really must …”

And so on. While Inky talks at Bread in a bid to keep them conscious, they whisk out a first-aid kit from their courier bag and kneeling on the floor, proceeds to stem the bleeding from the chest wound with coagulant-coated bandages. Slowly, they tip a flask of tea infused with some restorative herbs down Bread’s open mouth, careful not to pour too quickly. Inky pauses mid-diatribe and mid-pour to thrust another flask of tea into Confidence’s hand, the one wrapped four-fifths of the hotelier and ask, “Are you injured? Please keep an eye on your companion, I will summon for assistance.”

Standing up, Inky walks to a window, opens it and peers out. They look around for a hot air balloon and notice the unmoored airship. After squinting at it with a mini-spyglass, they see Alex standing at the helm of the ship with a young hemogoblin on board. Inky waves, and makes a vertical cross sign with a fist and thumb on the opposite upper arm a few times. Next, they pull out a small tin whistle, and toot a few sharp notes in the same cadence as the one-liner directed at Bread earlier by the gondola station. After a moment, a scops owl swoops in to land on the windowsill. Inky inserts a rolled piece of paper into a small pouch hanging at the bird’s back, and the bird flies off again.

Returning to the figures slumped against the wall, Inky places the Ginnarak crystal in a lightly padded cloth bag, stowing it away in their knapsack-style backpack. They resume checking and tending to the toques’ injuries, while expounding upon various permutations of toasted bread to a captive audience.

Bread closes their eyes and smiles dreamily at the descriptions of various breads. They weakly sip the tea as you tip it into their mouth and swallow with effort.

They sigh and open their eyes. They focus on you and maintain eye contact as you draw from a seemingly bottomless well of knowledge on the topic of toasted breads. Bread and life are clinging fast to each other, neither ready or willing to let go of the other. They are going to be okay.

Confidence’s wounds are superficial. They are winded from dragging Bread and the hotelier up seven flights of stairs. But they are fine.

The hotelier’s wounds are sadly quite fatal. Honestly it was all over for him the moment he took the full force of the captain’s plasma canon to his chest. He babbles, “It’s not … I wasn’t …” And then with sudden realization and quiet resignation, a clear-eyed, “Oh.” And then he is gone.

His courage in the face of danger is the reason you now have the third of the five Ginnarak Crystals in your pack. Whether or not his death was in vain is now largely up to you and what you decide to do with the crystal.


Downstairs in the Great Hall of the library, one of the remaining Cyberplasms crouches down next to the inert cybernetic eye that until very recently belonged to their captain. They pick it up and turn it over in their hand. “Worry not, my captain,” the ghost mourns. “We will find the quintessence. And once we do, we will be made anew in the forge of our Mother.”

He rolls the orb in palm of his hand. A faint arc of energy crackles across its surface. And the eye rolls over of its own volition and looks up at the pirate.

Suddenly reverent, the pirate gently places the eye on the ground as a ghostly face begins to form around it. The pirate waits patiently, attentively. It’s not every day one gets to bare witness to a new birth. The ectoplasm that gathers around the eye forms a rail-thin body. Its head is bald and its face sports a neatly trimmed mustache. It is missing an arm and a leg.

Dutifully, the witness fetches a recently discarded arm canon and leg booster. The exotica tap into the energy provided by a new crossing over, and come online, and create a new mesh.

The hotelier stands and looks down at its new body. As it were. It looks around at its surroundings. It picks up a few books and starts shelving them.

The pirate, mostly wishing to provide companionship and comfort to the new ghost, assists with tidying up.


Alex, you are at the helm of the balloon-ship. As you start to drift slightly up and away, the blue dome of the hotel comes into view. On its peak you can see a life-sized statue of a stern-faced Runesocesius wielding a spear, drawn back as though ready to hurl an angry thunderbolt down at the world below.

The hemogoblin is still down on the deck by the canons. You see it waving cheerily at the library tower. You squint in that direction, but can’t see what has caught its attention.

A small tufted-ear owl silently lands next to you breaking you from your reverie. The owl is wearing a small harness with a pouch at the back. Inside the pouch is a rolled piece of paper signed by Inky, up on the seventh floor of the tower.

You count seven windows up the side of the tower from its base. There seems to be some movement inside, but you can’t make much out from here. With a lucky shot, you think you might be able to hook the window frame with a zipline.


Outside, a pink zephynos is spinning raw cloud into a minuscule opera house and performing arts center under the direction of an amber imp with a new hunger for life. It is an organic looking structure: a primary concert hall, surrounded by a number of smaller stages and performance areas spiraling out from the center like a nautilus shell.

The imp smiles happily, proudly. What tales will be told here! What songs will be sung! “Lorehold,” it whispers to itself. “You will tell the world’s stories.”

It is already trying out lines in its head, imagining the play it will write of this day. About the hotel and the library and the pirates and the cloud dragons. About a pair of adventurers. And a very brave and lucky drone pilot that dared to chase its dreams.




Meta: I look forward to reading the A.I.’s play once it’s written, we should go back and write the sequence of events for this segment from their perspective in play form at some point.

Alex gingerly takes the note from the owl and reads it quickly. “I guess my S.T.A.G. got to Inky after all.” Eyeing the tower and cutting up the windows, it looks like maybe I’d get a shot in from the zip line. But it’s iffy.

Alex grabs the wheel and guides the balloonship slowly up a few levels. From that vantage point it should only be 3-4 levels between the ship and I.

After getting the ship in place he grabs a zip line canon and launches it at one of the windows on the 7th floor, sinking the anchor firmly beneath the window.

Now to signal Inky… Alex rummages around the ship, finding both a signal flare gun and flares in the cargo hold, at least the pirates were prepared for the worst. Taking aim away from the Balloon Sails, Alex fires the flare up into the air creating a dazingly and bright signal in the sky.

You fire the zipline and the hemogoblin cheers adorably. The spear pierces the stone right beneath the 7th floor window, and the hooks extend and foam, cementing the line in place.

In a locker on the side of the ship you find a few signal flares. You point them away from the balloons and fire into the sky. The flares explode brilliantly and hang dazzling in the sky before slowly drifting downward.

A pair of zephynos swim over, attracted by the brilliant sparkling lights. They excitedly bat at the air with their hands and turn somersaults. They pull at some clouds and squeeze them into dozens of abstract forms inspired by the bursts. They toss them back and forth playfully and soon the boulders are drifting around listlessly overhead.

Below, almost all of the Cyberplasms have noticed by now that their ship has been stolen. Several crowd into the hole in the wall and shout and shake their fists at you.

You hear a low chirrup behind you and turn to see the hemogoblin standing in the middle of the deck. Somehow in all the commotion it has managed to get its tiny little hands on the ruby-hilted dagger. It grips the hilt tightly in both hands and gazes in wide-eyed wonder at the gem, utterly captivated, back turned to the fireworks. The hemogoblin and the blade are absolutely dripping with rivers of blood. A decent sized pool has already formed at its feet.




As they wait for the balloonship to approach, Inky glances to the prone remains of the hotelier on the floor and frowns. There wasn’t much they could do about that now. It was really inconvenient timing — he hadn’t received the papers yet. Inky can already picture Cio’s unspoken but palpable disappointment even as she offered reassurances that it was perfectly fine. The gnawing guilt she could inflict with a look was worse than a tenacious terrorier with a bone biscuit. Then Inky recalls an urban legend from the elderly aunts they sometimes pass by during teatimes, which claim that it was possible to send messages and items to the deceased by burning the articles.

Ducking momentarily behind another bookshelf, Inky removes an envelope bearing the seal of a butterfly in red wax, drops it into a recently-emptied shortbread tin and holds a lit match to a corner of the paper. Before long the entire envelope is consumed by the flames and the lid replaced tightly over the tin. If the paperwork found its way to the hotelier on the spiritual plane, that would be the formalities completed. Or if it was reduced to ashes without ever reaching the recipient, no one had to know.

Inky walks back to the window to see a flare light and a zip line ending below the windowsill. They look to the other end of the line, back to the toques, and around the room. Their gaze lands on a few cloth covers draped over several bookshelves near an alcove from top to bottom, possibly to protect the manuscripts on the shelves from extended exposure to dust and light. They tie a large red kerchief to the zip line to indicate they had seen flare signal, before turning to Confidence. “There’s an airship waiting outside with a zip line. We should get Bread patched up by a healer in town. It wouldn’t do to have them walk around like that, unless you want to turn the hotel into a haunted house attraction.”

As they finish speaking, Inky pulls off three of the covers, two iron spears and one of the two decorative flag poles with flags featuring the crest of Runesocesius, and a symbol (of the old town, Inky surmises) that stood in a nook between the wall and a bookshelf. Crossing over to a wall display of ceremonial chains and maces, they remove two of the metal chains that hung on from hooks on the wall. Having gathered the items, they retrieve two zip line harnesses, some parachute cord and two additional pulley hooks from their bag.

They lay the chains on the floor about two feet apart, followed by the cloth sheets with their outer surfaces facing down over them, and tie the corners at both ends to the flag pole to form the base of a makeshift hammock. With Confidence’s help, they slide Bread onto the sheets, being cautious to avoid further jostling the toque’s injuries. Inky wraps the ends of the chains around the flagpole, tying them and the cloth bundle with loops of parachute cord, and sets the pulley hooks to links on the top surface of the flag pole.

Inky puts on a zip line harness and throws the spare one to Confidence, directing them to do the same. With some difficulty, they hoist the bundle of Bread to the window. Inky descends first, hooking their harness pulley to the zip line as they brace against the tower wall. As the bundle is slowly lowered through the window, Inky connects the pulley hooks on the metal chains to the zip line, Confidence bringing up the rear while Inky holds the hammock steady.

While the zephynos play overhead, the three of them prepare to slide down to the deck of the balloonship along the zip line.

Confidence and Inky, framing the Bread basket between them, slide down the zipline to the balloonship. The zephynos frolic up overhead, and the hole in the library wall gapes below. And beyond that, the endless sea of clouds.

Inky, having descended the line first, makes it to the ship ahead of Bread and Confidence. They clambor up over the side, unhook themself, and reach for the corner of the hammock.

The 3rd Ginnarak Crystal is now on the deck of the ship.

Looking up, Inky sees that two determined cyberplasms have started following them out the library tower window. Neither has a harness. One is hanging upside down on the cable, arms and legs wrapped around it, and has managed to shimmy a couple feet away from Runesocesius. The other has just swung out of the window and is holding onto the line with their hands. They are kicking their legs up over and over, trying to swing high enough to lock their ankles around the cable.

In the time that it will take you to unhook the hammock and get both Bread and Confidence onto the ship, the two pirates will have closed most of the distance between you and might be within striking distance.

Meanwhile on the deck of the ship, the hemogoblin is deeply entranced by a private conversation it seems to be having with the ruby-hilt dagger. It nods and chirps and coos as it continues to strangle the grip in its tiny bloody hands, singing softly and soothingly. The ruby flashes and glints, almost strobe-like in the sunlight, as though in the midst of some kind of struggle. But as the hemogoblin continues its strange lullaby, the gem eventually fades and grows dull, until finally it resembles nothing more than a lifeless lump of stone.

The hemogoblin releases its death grip on the dagger and lowers its arms to its sides, allowing the dagger to slip to the ground. It looks up at you happily with ruby-red eyes that seem to flash in the sunlight, and it chirps merrily.




Hmm well, that umm, heya little fella. What umm, what did you find there? Alex moves to pick up Uncle Corraidhin’s dagger, noting that it’s not nearly as brilliant as it was before. The ruby gem in the hilt appearing far closer to black obsidian now, rather unnerving all things considered..

“There’s definitely something wrong with this Hemogoblin, this isn’t normal” Alex thinks to himself, “What in the ever loving run level 0 did Uncle have this dagger for, and why the hell would he stuff it inside some old book.” He deftly pockets the dagger, for further inspection once they’re back at base. Likely someone at HQ can do a deeper analysis of it then. Thinking ahead, Alex also grabs a handkerchief from his breast pocket and soaks it in the pool of blood around the hemogoblin, better than nothing he supposes.

Pulling a multi pronged instrument labelled “GBD” from his bag Alex begins to inspect the hemogoblin for magical, metaphysical, and technological aburations. “Just sit still a bit little fella, lets see what’s going on”

The hemogoblin hums merrily as you retrieve the dagger and fruitlessly attempt to mop up the pool of blood. It wriggles around—suddenly seemingly boneless—and giggles and blows raspberries as you try to take measurements with the GBD. It is kind of annoying but also totally cute.

Your instrument picks up on an anomaly. You have a clear vital signal for the hemogoblin. That’s normal. And there is an extremely high amount of ferrous material inside of it. But you think that’s also probably normal for a hemogoblin. Finally, there is a faint signal of some other kind of entity. And that is not normal.

Under normal circumstances you would say, given the measurements, that this second non-goblin entity is in some kind of stable but near-death or catatonic state. As though it is a deep sleep. Is there some weird magic at work here? Or is this some strange, undocumented part of the normal hemogoblin physiology? Did this little fella just absorb a knife spirit?

The hemogoblin reaches up and holds your hand as you pass the instrument over its body. It smiles at you happily.




The GDB flashes, vibrates, and murmurs electronic static as it collects information from the Hemogoblin. “Peculiar readings indeed” Alex mutters, stashing the blood sample and readings from the device. Best to scp a copy of these for safe keeping.

scp gdb-readout.dat blood-soaked-handky hq:~

Alright little guy, dunno what’s wrong with ya, but you seem just as sweet and chipper as you were before, best not let anything foul befall you. Alex scoops the little hemogoblin up and puts him into his pack. The little goblin chirps happily, soaking the back in blood. “Hmm I guess I’ll need a new cloak when we get to town.. good thing the STAGS are water proof.” Taking accord of the situation Alex notices that Ink has dropped onto the deck, and is hurridly beckoning what looks like a stretcher and confidence down the zip line. “I guess things went not so smoothly back in the hotel then..”

Looking up past confidence along the zip line Alex also notes a set of cyberplasms making their way clumsily along the zipline. “Shit! Inky, Confidence! Get the hell on the ship NOW!”

Alex dashes back up to the helm of the ship and grabs the wheel. As soon as Inky has Confidence and the stretcher safely on the deck Alex grabs the wheel and casts the wheel hard to starboard side, ripping the zipline and moarings from the wall of the hotel. “Inky cut the zipline, quick a you can, and check the side of the hull for any stow aways!!”


As the toques slide down the last few feet to the deck of the balloonship. Inky takes out a sharp knife and saws through the zipline. As they patrol along the edge to check the side of the hull for additional company, Inky pulls out a tea strainer from their kit and opens a bag of limequats, small round fruits they keep around for their zest and juice to flavour some infusions. They drop a limequat into the strainer, preparing to fling a ball of citrus at the potential presence of any stowaways.

Inky and Confidence carefully dump Bread onto the deck of the ship. They grunt at the impact and mutter a weak thank you.

Inky starts to saw through the zipline with their knife. The closest cyberplasm can almost reach out for the railing and haul itself up. The second pirate is not far behind it. Alex yanks the ship hard to starboard and—thanks to Inky sawing on it—the line snaps cleanly in two.

Inky looks over the railing in time to see the second pirate fall into the sea of clouds with a surprised look on its face. There is no trace of the first one. As Inky patrols alongside the edge to check for additional company, they see one ghostly hand and then the other reach up and grab hold of the rail.

When the cyberplasm pops its head up and peers over the railing, the first thing it sees is a tea strainer flying at its face. It tries to turn away, but ends up with a face full of limequat juice nonetheless. As the citrus starts to burn, it squeezes its eyes shut tight, even tighter than its grip on the railing. All of its focus and effort is concentrated on the burning sensation in its eyes. On autopilot, one of its hands lets go of the railing to quickly wipe the juice away.

When it grips the railing again, its hand is now slick with juice, and it slips. Knocked off balance and unable to get a grip, the pirate cries out as it too falls into the ocean of clouds, eyes squeezed shut the whole time.

Poking its head and arms out of the pack on Alex’s back, the hemogoblin claps and cheers.

The balloonship sails away from Runesocesius and from Kelsun Peak. The sun is starting to set, and the clouds are turning brilliant pinks and reds. This delights the zephynos, who leap and cavort in the clouds, and run playfully alongside the ship for a while.

You have in your possession a stolen pirate airship, a recovered Ginnarak Crystal, a couple novellas and manhwa, two warrior toque tour guides, and a childlike hemogoblin who may or may not be possessed by some kind of spirit.



Chapter 4

Chapter 4 of BASEMENT QUEST.

Jump to:

54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73


Once back in the Milk Bar, with the airship safely anchored to the roof of the building, Alex finds himself amongst the old belongings of his former uncle.

sigh “Best get a request to HQ for this airship, maybe they’ll let us operate it for a bit, if not I suppose we have to impound it..”

<- OP 2817 * LOC MB-A
-> OP 25120 * LOC ESPER



“There’s also the matter of this little hemogoblin..” Alex mutters to himself while said hemogoblin happily dances around the room, dripping little pools of blood hither and tither.

<- OP 2817 * LOC MB-A
-> OP 41154 * LOC ESPER


ONE GDB @gdb-readout.dat
TWO BLOOD @blood-soaked-handkerchief

“Hey little guy, lets go get an empanade. Inky says they’re divine.” Alex says as he scoops up the little goblin and gently carries him downstairs.”

Striding into Enriques kitchen, and availing himself to the empanadas, ignoring an indignant Enrique’s protests that these were for paying customers until a small bag of coins is tossed careless over one shoulder. Alex stride through the kitchen and then out and away into the garden to enjoy their pilfered treats.

“I suppose this is more interesting than being on the force at times”


Inky stepped into the toques’ cabin below deck with a tray of turmeric ginger tea and lavender biscuits. After checking on Bread’s bandages and offering the toque reclined on the berth the last bag of mango croutons — or at least the last one for the next two hours — Inky perched on a wooden barrel across from where Confidence sat on a creaking old chair next to the bunk and spoke. “We’ll be landing in about an hour and getting Bread to a medical facility. You can stay with him while he heals and rest up.”

They paused to take a long sip from their cup, as if the liquid was being used to summon their next words. “On behalf of myself and the party, I apologise for the … disruption, and for what had befallen the hotelier. As you may have already noticed, we’re a fair distance away from the Peak and will be arriving in Vay’Nullar soon. This airship was taken over from the cyberplasms in the course of getting the crystal out and the injured to a safe location, and her new captain could hardly fly it back straight into the pirates’ hands now.

What we propose is this: you and Bread may take as long as you need to recover. We can arrange for lodgings and new posts in the city. One of our party runs a Milk Market that could certainly use some hired help, and a garden in the back that would benefit from more attention. Pay will be double your current salary at the hotel. Master Alex may also recruit you for other tasks. You don’t need to have an answer just yet — think on it for a bit while you rest and let us know. Afterwards, if you find that you still wish to return to Kelsun Peak, we will pay for travel.”

Inky winked at Bread conspiratorially. “You may be interested to know there is a bakery on the Milk Market’s first floor. If you like the look of the place, perhaps we can convince the chef to take on an assistant.”


Tess watched her adviser from her position on one end of the plush chaise lounge in her office, who returned her stare impassively as they sat in the adjoining armchair to her right. The ornate coffee table before them had been laid out for tea, but the other cup remained untouched, which was in itself unusual. Ink rarely turned down tea when it was offered, which likely meant they were preoccupied with something they were unwilling to discuss. This had been happening more frequently since their plans to intercept the Ginnarak Crystals, which was a little concerning, but she knew it would be no use to question them directly. The missive she had received this time through Piskin’s people was brief, almost annoyingly so, but they had returned earlier than expected with the articles that production had requested, which had fortunately made up for lost time from the previous delays.

With this in mind, she settled on a lighter note as she picked up her own teacup. “Salvia passed on the items to the production team. Thank you for picking them up from the Runesocesius. I would send my regular couriers but they are tied up with another event. One of them had to care for their sick child and couldn’t leave the city. As usual, time and discretion are of the essence.”

When her adviser only nodded, she continued. “How is he? He probably insisted on bringing the manuscripts out for you himself. The man is cautious with valuables.”

“Quite dead but managing, or so I heard.” Ink intoned drily.

Tess caught on immediately. “Didn’t you meet with him? The message only mentioned the items had been obtained. Did something happen?”

The imp shrugged. “We met, I delivered the letter and collected the items. We didn’t get a chance to talk.”

The hotel was slowly but steadily attracting visitors again, especially after their last play had prominently featured the Runesocesius Library as a research partner in the programme credits, but Tess didn’t think the hotelier was so busy as to entrust this task to one of his underlings. The man was proud of the first editions the library had amassed, and the notebooks of Lucidieau that the playwright sought as a reference were no doubt counted among the treasures, even if only an expensive commissioned facsimile was permitted out of the library. Something had happened, she was sure, but decided not to press further for the moment.

“And the other matter?” she asked.

“Someone already knew the crystal was at the hotel and retained a crew of cyberplasmic pirates to storm the place.” Ink replied flatly. “And yes, your acquaintance is very much dead, shot by the crew leader in the scuffle. As the rumour rags have it, his ghost is now overseeing the building repairs.”

Tess was about to admonish the imp gently for the tasteless jest when there was a knock at the door. At her response, the door opened and her secretary entered with a box of pastries and two sets of tableware, which she placed on the coffee table before leaving and closing the door behind her.

Noticing Ink’s look of recognition, Tess smiled and ventured, “This is the second time is as many months you awarded that empanada place a glowing review in The Tiny Toaster. I can count the ratings higher than a 10 you’ve ever given on one hand — of course I had to try it. Why don’t you have some as well?”

Ink blinked. “I didn’t write the latest review.”

Tess shot them an accusing mock-glare as she lifted a puffy golden brown pastry onto a plate. “It has your inkprints all over it.”

“I don’t know what you mean. Surely I’m allowed to treat a colleague to lunch, and they are free to express their satisfaction with a meal openly if they wish,” Ink replied smoothly.

Tess rolled her eyes. “There’s a name for that. It’s called bribery.”

Ink smiled faintly. “Just so. However, the selection speaks for itself.”

“Oh, absolutely! These mini ambrose apple empanadas are wonderful. In fact,” Tess prodded the open end of the pastry with her fork, where a light yellow filling was visible, “they remind me a little of the very crispy tortelli someone made several years ago just for the opening reception of The Two Genteelkin of Virdantha.”

“Any resemblance is coincidental. The chef is very capable.” Ink said evenly.

Tess sighed and returned her plate to the table. “We’ve talked about this before, Ink. You don’t have to hole up in some poor scrub’s excuse for a kitchen in a closet. If you need more room downstairs then expand it. Just tell Salvia and she’ll take care of it.”

Ink lowered their gaze to the teacups. “I appreciate the offer, but the answer is the same. There will be no rest until the crystals are secured.”

Some time passes.

The hemogoblin turns out to be a fine housemate and less of a problem than you thought it would be. Be it because its not in the excitement of battle onboard a pirate ship, or be it because it is maturing slightly, it seems in better control of its blood sacs. Barring a few small accidents, it doesn’t make much of a mess. It has found and claimed as its own a few unused blankets, and has made a little burrow nest in an out of the way corner behind the furniture.

Bread makes a full recovery and in fact is doing better than ever before. The blood goblin stays by their side during the first hours and days and keeps them pumped full of clean, synthetic blood. Afterwards the toque is flushed a healthy pink and has new vigor. Enrique takes them under his tutelage. And Bread ends up making a fine baker’s apprentice. Dough seems to rise more and quicker after he kneads it. “The lad has solar hands,” Enrique boasts of his new protegee.

Confidence becomes enthralled with the semi-sentient Wandering Bazaar. The thirteen story building moves with glacial speed up and down the streets, vendors and stalls and shoppers following in its wake. But then also it will disappear in the blink of an eye only to reappear in a totally different part of the area known as the Wandering Bazaar District. Each floor of the tall, narrow tower is occupied entirely by a single shop. But which shop it is seems to vary from day to day. One day the seventh level will be occupied by Fedik’s Butcher shop. And the next, Lario’s Bakery. It might be days or weeks before one can once again buy hotlinks from Fedik’s. Where the shops go when they’re not here is one of Basmentaria’s great mysteries.

The toque studies the Bazaar’s movements and are able to predict its route with more and more accuracy. They become a highly sought out guide. Tourists and visitors trust them to take them to the very spot the Bazaar will appear that day. Residents appreciate the heads up and not getting trapped in their houses when the Bazaar wedges its way into their narrow residential streets, blocking their front doors. And owners of traditional, less ambulatory shops are able to plan ahead for the crowds that will appear on “Bazaar Day”.


Members of the Retrieval Team who sleep in Milk Market HQ start having dreams of the same mysterious figure. Of course at first nobody knows their dreams are shared by the others. Not until they become more frequent, more regular. By the time the figure has visited you every night for nearly a week, somebody speaks up and you realize the coincidence.

The figure is clad in voluminous robes of deep purple. Long, straight, blonde hair falls around their shoulders. Their soft features are boyish and womanly. They wear a golden circlet on their head and a golden eye in the middle of their forehead. Their passive, neutral face betrays no emotion the entire time.

The dream is always the same. They reach out to you with one hand and turn their palm up. And because of dream logic, in the palm of their hand you can hear the jingling of coins, mirthful laughter, and hushed stories told around a campfire. They curl their fingers into a loose first and the sounds stop. They spread their arms wide and in the folds of their robes you can see three siblings fighting, squabbling over a broken loom.

Then you’re standing next to them, and the two of you watch three friends, Snake, Owl, and Dolphin. Owl tells Snake that he is tired of flying and hooting, and doesn’t want to be an owl any more, he wants to be flowers. And Snake laughs and tells him that he is Owl, and an owl he must remain. And she leaves him to go eat rodents and bake in the sun. So Owl tells Dolphin that he is tired of flying and hooting, and doesn’t want to be an owl any more, he wants to be flowers. Dolphin doesn’t want to help Owl, because if he is flowers, they won’t be able to be together any longer. But Dolphin finally agrees to help even though they don’t want to, because Dolphin loves Owl. With all their strength, they create a great waterspout that will turn Owl into flowers. But the waterspout is too strong, and Dolphin is too weak to control it. It sprays Owl but does not turn him into flowers. Owl’s wing is broken and he falls to the ground in a heap of feathers. The waterspout shakes a great boulder from the earth and traps Snake under it. And Dolphin sinks to the bottom of the sea.

And then you wake up.


Later you find a letter in the common area of Milk Market HQ. It is not addressed to anybody. When you open it up, it reads:

Time is running out, Retrieval Team 43. Things are starting to draw to a close. We cannot delay our meeting any longer if we both are to achieve our goals. We have information that you are looking for. Meet us at the Harpoon Club next Selday. We will wear the sign.

The letter is signed with a white iris and golden apple.

Anyone in Vay’Nullar would be able to tell you that the Harpoon Club is a game room and fine dining club, and one of the rotating tenants of the Wandering Bazaar. But Confidence would tell you, were you to ask them, that the club won’t be there next Selday. (When the Bazaar will appear at East and Lowland.) It is in fact not scheduled to appear until a week and a half after next Selday, on Third Tensday. (When the Bazaar will appear at Cathedral and Pine.)



The nibs had disappeared.

Inky had spotted the small ceramic and wicker teapot among a long row of boxes and bowls at the antique shop on the thirteenth floor of the Wandering Bazaar while looking for a Near-weightless Verifying Matter enclosure (NVMe) to their Handy Duffer Discette as a primary storage. The witch shopkeeper, Agate, had helpfully mentioned the teapot could be used to steep very acidic or alkaline solutions, as well as distil solubles. The box it was subsequently packed in did not include instructions on activating the precipitation feature. With the shop not returning for another week by Confidence’s reckoning, Inky had used the teapot in the meantime to rinse off any impurities from an old set of nibs — the very first functional set they had made as an apprentice inkling — except the nibs were nowhere to be found when they poured out the citronella solution and removed the lid. Inky supposed it was to be expected — some witches liked to go on about equal payment for wishes, as if it were as easy as reading off a price tag, and it was difficult to stay irritated at a cute teapot for long. Inky wrote it off as a gift for what would hopefully thereafter be a cutely functional teapot. The shop had a no-refunds policy.

Then came the dream. At first Inky had attributed them to reading the book on the mythology of The Trine that they had slipped out of the Runesocesius Library, along with an obscure cactus leather-bound manuscript containing first-hand accounts of the Artifice Wars. When the dream repeated itself on the third night, Inky suspected it had something to do with the crystals under the Milk Market’s roof. While not horrifically bloody in the way Master Corraidhín’s description of the vision he had from the first crystal had been, it was haplessly boring when lucid intervention didn’t seem to have any effect. It ran on like a low-budget B-Grade play that had only three scenes with a few props each. By the fourth night, the dream had become worse than a nib-nibbling teapot that they stayed up entire nights for the rest of that week while they were camping at the Milk Market.

It was mostly an excuse to drop into the kitchens downstairs — which they could now enter on the pretext of visiting Bread to observe the apprentice’s progress — in the early morning hours and push new tea blends onto its unfortunate occupants. Most of the three dozen or so infusions had been full of fruits and spices, six of which would go well with items on the empanada shop’s current menu. A handful were medicinal after procuring a herb illustrated on one moth-bitten page snatched on the hotel steps back on the Peak. A few others were teas in the loosest sense of the word. These were as tasteless and colourless as tap water, only the scent offering a faint clue as to their ingredients. They had other applications, least of which was in a prank on one empanada chef. (Inky left him a box of zephyl tea — another Kelsun Peak speciality besides mulled wine — before he could too riled up, though.)

The note left at the Milk Market was the black cherry atop the hassle cake. Confidence was fairly sure that the fine establishment mentioned in the note wouldn’t appear on the day indicated. Couldn’t “Mother” have chosen to meet somewhere a little more convenient? So it was that despite the shop having a no-refunds policy, or because of it, Inky found themselves returning to the antique shop inside the Wandering Bazaar a week later looking for another item. “Do you sell flight vessels that could transport people to and from specific places … such as the Harpoon Club?” they asked the witch.

You and the witch go back and forth a few times before she realizes that you want to visit a place where it is when it isn’t there.

“Transdimensional extratemporal colocation?” Agate claps her hands in delight. “This is going to be fun! A witchy problem wants a witchy solution. That’s what my Auntie Tenfingers always said!”

“Why bother with flying contraptions when you yourself are a perfectly adequate vessel? I’m going to prescribe you a dream ritual,” she says, scribbling in a notebook. “It’s complex. But only because it’s a lot of steps. And the timing is kind of particular in a couple places. But if you follow the directions, you shouldn’t have any trouble.” She rips the page out of the notebook and hands it you.

“Basically, you’ll enter a host’s dreams, and then delve into the Collective Unconsciousness. From there you should be able to find the Wandering Bazaar’s pocket dimension. Of course you’ll need to find a guide to take you there. You’ll have to find one in the Sea of Dreams.”

“And you’ll need this!” She ducks behind the counter and reappears with a smoke-gray box bound with thick black ribbon. It’s about as long as her forearm. She unwraps the box and opens it and pulls out a thick, round candle. It is an unhealthy, sickening translucent yellow. In the base of the candle is a large, blackened, withered, and shriveled hand. It is within and without the candle. As though it is grasping the base of the candle, but also like it has been molded into the candle on purpose. As though the hand is imprisoned in the wax. You can just make out a hazy small round object in the center of the candle through the wax. A large nut or marble. The hand looks like it is reaching for it. The candle has been burned down a fair bit. The wick is low and trimmed, and the edges are black and warped where the fatty wax has melted and hardened. You guess there’s only about two-thirds left of the candle.

The witch measures down from the top of the candle with a length of string and bores a small hole in its side. She wedges a large nail into the hole, leaving half of it jutting out. “A crude clock,” she winks at you. “Place the candle on a hard metal plate. When it burns down enough for the wax here to soften, the nail will fall out and strike the plate and wake you up.”

She pushes it across the counter toward you and frowns. “Eh, should be okay,” she shrugs. “But if at any point it looks like the base gets soft enough that the hand might be able to grasp the eye,” she cautions pointing toward the round object in the center of the candle, “smash the thing. As hard as you can. Destroy the hand, and run.”

“The rest of the instructions should be pretty self explanatory!” she exclaims, perking up. “Let me know if you have any questions!”

Ritual Details

ritual outline

Ritual Steps In Brief:

  1. Find a volunteer to be the Dream Host.

  2. Link your sanctum to the place where the Bazaar will be on the appointed date. (You can’t just do your ceremony out in the open in the middle of the street! Find somewhere you can safely leave your bodies for a few hours.)

  3. Draw a circle of salt.

  4. At the appointed time, put the Dream Host in the circle. Also the Travelers (you), the Dream Sigil, and the Nyxmaer Candle.

  5. Once the Host is asleep (Sleep spell not included), light the candle and enter the Host’s dream.

  6. Turn “away” from the dream, cross the Sea of Dreams to the Collective Unconsciousness.

  7. Find the Bazaar’s pocket dimension.

The day the letter arrived Alex was nowhere to be found. It was a bit strange, somewhat chilling even, that he’d disappear like that. Ever since they had arrived back at the Milk Maid he’d been seen skulking about his uncle’s study, or pacing the garden out back somewhat agitatedly. Unbeknownst to the party, Alex had anticipated the arrival of the letter, HQ had been following every lead they could pull in since he began with the Ginnarak recovery team. Not that they really had much to go off of, but the courier who left the letter wasn’t hard to track. That was, until he slipped inside one of the ever changing shops right as it was moving along.

The trail went cold after that. Which meant Alex had to get it moving again, or at least the crumpled communique he’d received said as much. Things were moving too quickly to think too hard on the how, all that was needed was action, something drastic to flush things out.

That’s why Alex finds himself on the east side of the market, skulk about the back alley behind The Temporal Cup.

“Gotta get this shit ready, there’s no other options here” Alex thought to himself. He loathed this type of work, it was messy, abhorrently vile in his mind, but what choice did he have? His hands worked deftly at the wires in the small package hidden inside the recess of a loose brick. Once finished, the little packet came to life, muted lights blicking away happily as the brick slid back over it.

This was the 3rd and final eavesdropping device, all placed at the busiest cafes in market, all rigged with self destruct mechanisms large enough to level the building if they’re found.. The eavesdropping Alex could abide by, but the wanton destruction for the sake of security was painful to swallow.

But once again, it wasn’t much like Alex had a say in the matter. The first sign of objection, an inclination that he’d refuse orders, and they’d have an assassin on him before he could leave the alley. And if he took it out, they’d send double, there’d be no rest.

— Later that day

Alex watched twtxt feeds scroll through from his monitoring devices. Most of it unimportant gossip. So and so haves an affair, what’s for lunch, where to find good empanadas in the market, so on and so forth. An endless stream on the pulse of the market.

It was errant curiosity to watch these, the Magic Lichen in the monitoring system was trained to hunt for any hint of what the courier was up to, any twinge from Blavin and his ilk. It’d send alerts straight to him as soon as something came up, but it was interesting to see the pulse of the city trail by. And what else could he do? It was too dangerous to go back to the Milk Maid, any hint he was there could blow his cover. Best to lay low for the time being, let the scrapers scrape and the agents comb the streets until they get a bead on their target.

Milk Market HQ ought to be quiet. Alex has been conspicuously absent. Missing in action. Inky seems to be out making rounds delivering tea, or spending more time than usual at the empenadaria. So Milk Market HQ ought to be quiet.

Instead, a certain young hemogoblin and a certain yellow duck (both of whom have yet to be named, by the way) are squealing as they rampage through the rooms on the top floor of the building, upsetting the furniture in their wake and in general making a huge mess.

It took some coaxing on the hemogoblin’s part. The duck was determinedly uninterested in anything besides a soak in its tub and a nap on its cushion. And it did a good job of ignoring the persistent, pestering goblin for most of the afternoon. But jumping into a wooden tub full of blood cracked the foul’s disinterested facade. It gave furious chase to the goblin until the heat of the moment cooled down. At which point the two of them simply enjoyed the thrill of chasing each other through the apartments.

Confidence is actually the first one to stumble across the carnage. They were just popping by to drop off some new pamphlets, but froze in the doorway when they saw the suite in disarray and the walls plastered with blood and feathers. “What the toque…” And then they quietly closed the door and left without going in after all.


Gliftwirp browses the stalls trailing behind the Wandering Bazaar. He is bare chested save for a sleeveless vest. He wears long, baggy, striped trousers bunched at the ankle, and a bright red sash tied loosely around his waist. He grins a wide, gap-toothed grin as he thumps a melon.

“Look at the size of this melon! And perfectly ripe!” he beams at the stall vendor. “You’ll be here next week? With more like this?”

Very few people would be able to tell Gliftwirp’s profession from his attire. For those who can, one look at his red sash would immediately cause them to give him a wide berth. Because Gliftwirp is a warpwefter. A master assassin trained in the ancient art of sarong-fu. That is, the deadly application of soft and flexible weapons. Whips, chains, garrotes, nunchucks. And most famously—and most effectively—sashes, sarongs, scarves, and the like. The saying goes that a clothed warpwefter is never unarmed. Nor even is a nude one if they can get their hands on your clothes. And a warpwefter can sneak their weapons into the most secure of locations.

“I am a visitor here, and don’t know my way around,” he keeps up the small-talk with the vendor, having paid for the melon. “Do you know if there is a building around here called ‘Milk Market?’ I’m supposed to meet someone there. No, they’re not expecting me. It’s going to be a surprise!”

He grins his wide toothy grin.


The twtxt feed from the listening devices is dull and quiet. The monitoring software is designed to only deliver messages containing certain buzzwords. And those messages are few and far between.

You decide to tap into the unfiltered stream and let the endless waves of blather wash over you. It’s inane. Idle gossip and mindless chitter-chatter.

After a day or two of this, you notice yourself getting uncharacteristically agitated. You squint at the lines of messages coming in and notice a few transposed characters in some of them, forming new nonsensical words. A couple messages are missing some whitespace, squishing words together in maddening run-ons. Glitchy. There’s no reason the listening devices should be returning errors like this.

Later still, the feeds have gotten worse. Some words seem to be written backwards. Entire messages are garbled word soup, devoid of any meaning or sense whatsoever. Some of the timestamps are invalid datetimes. But you prefer them to the ones that are valid, but which are stamped years ago. And you far prefer them to the ones that are stamped far in the future.

The anomalies are overall infrequent. On their own, they don’t amount to much. And when you show them, nobody at HQ gives you with much more than a slightly patronizing, indulgent shrug. But the glitches shouldn’t be happening at all, is the thing. And when you compile them all together, you start to notice things. Patterns insinuating themselves, maddeningly just short of reason or meaning. Like a song stuck in your head when you can’t remember the lyrics or the melody. But there’s something there nonetheless. The promise of something, at least. Something bigger. A wide tapestry of links and connections, wanting to be known.

There are names. Ellis, the lady in red who sits at the center of a tangled web. Ousia, a sea of endless knowledge. A sea of magic. The 215R Dude, a denizen of the other side who can deliver you to its shores. Other strange beings who lurk just out of sight, just beyond the veil of perception. The veil that you are now beginning to pierce with the snippets and snatches of information you pluck from your feeds.

You start to see signs of the veil elsewhere. Of the conspiracy. Whatever. You can’t decide what to call it. Street graffiti outside of a red spider spinning a red web. Phrases like “215R” show up in random articles in the paper. As though the secret world is trying to cross over. Or to draw you into it.



The agitation Alex feels bubbles just beneath the surface. Patterns where patterns shouldn’t be, strange orders from HQ, indifference where once was ample aide as well. It was maddening. Combine it all with the haunting suspicion that there was constantly someone just around the next corner, and it was enough to truly drive Alex mad.

That uneasiness takes its toll on a long enough time line, but Alex wasn’t about to let it get to him. Or so he thought to himself as he cast a furtive look at his monitoring equipment. This paranoia had served him well in the past, very well in fact. It’s a sort of sixth sense in a way, always kept Alex off the edge of the cliff, especially when someone stepped close enough to push him off. Those were the types of skills HQ sought after in the first place.

Alex closes the iron door on his bunker, leaving his monitoring equipment running, dead man’s trigger set to blow the place shoul anyone enter it. Can’t be too careful these days..

Emerging from the sewer grate, sticking to the shadows, Alex makes his way down an alley, then another, and yet another, finally emerging a few blocks from the Milk Market. Across the street, as he had expected, was Marvelo’s Marvelous MurderSticks, a quaint place should one needed something, well you get the picture, they don’t really sell anything but weaponry here.

Alex ducked into the entrance of the shop and strode towards the back rack, where a collection of knives was on display. A rough looking fellow, ruddy red beard, thinning hair, moved from the counter as he saw Alex approach. “Fine sampling of knives we have, could I interest you in one?” Marvelo says. Alex reaches for a thin stilleto style dagger, and hands it to Marvelo “This one seems about right, but I’d like an extra sharp edge put on it, if you don’t mind”. Marvelo takes the stilleto from Alex say “Not a problem at all sir”, and he heads into the back.

He sets to work honing the edge, and once complete he places it on his work bench. Grabbing a velvet lined case from a stack, he deftly removes the bottom and places a rolled piece of paper into the bottom, alongside an m1911 style pistol, and a couple of clips of ammo. He then places the velvet bottom back over the equipment, and places the stilleto on top, bringing the entire package back to the front. “An extra fine edge on this one sir, that’ll be 15 gold, plus another 5 to cover the service.

Alex pays, and nips out the shop and heads back to the back alley. Paranoia begets what it requets, Alex mutters to himself as he disassembles the box holstering the pistol and ammo, and sheathing the dagger. Can’t keep going unarmed like I’m some kind of beat cop, not anymore.. Alex discards the case and unfurls the message, quickly deciphering the encryption set on it by Marvelo.

The hunt is still on, no word on Blavin nor the Iris group, yet.
Agent 7 heard rumor of a couple of persons inquiring about the "Milk Market" these past few days.
Agent 3 heard similar rumors, was able to bribe a melon vendor to acertain the figure wore a red sash, and was looking for friends.
Agent 6 has kept watch on the Market, nothing strange yet, coming and goings as usual, no strange visitors
Agent 4 monitoring feeds still present glitches, something abnormal
Agent 5 found the melon vendor dead in a back alley, strangled to death, not immediate signs of blunt force trauma, caution advised

Alex burned the note, striding rapidly away from the alley, taking a meandering route away from the Milk Market, looping back around, and heading back towards it by yet another. Nobody appeared to be following him, yet he paused at each corner and turn, waiting for the footsteps of a pursuant.

Noting nothing, he made his way through the back entrance of Enrique’s Empanadas greeting the cook quietly, but jovial. “Enrique, where’s Inky? We’ve got a problem.”


Inky skims the page. They thank the witch, pay for the items and exit the shop, promptly discarding all notions of meeting Bother at the place stipulated on the note.

(Half and one hour later)

One-sixths into a caramel cantaloupe cream cornet, Inky runs into Confidence outside the Wandering Bazaar and obtains some of their new pamphlets, minted with luminescent ink for the convenience of late-night tourists. These are subsequently hare-mailed to every editor at the Niuewstijl office, which is almost certain to earn another chiding remark from Tess about etiquette and the handling of unsolicited bulk mail to parent editorial teams.

(Half and two hours later)

The installation on display at the Milk Market was grotesque — that is to say, a work of beauty. Inky steps carefully through the rooms to not disturb the piece. Afterwards, they sign the guestbook set up on an upturned milk crate by the door, delightedly pasting rows of horse head and thumbs-up emo Gs on a page thoughtfully titled “you can’t ed the unedible”.

(Half and three hours earlier)

Thanking Agate for her time, Inky passes her a sheet of paper on which were written a few questions about the prescribed ritual, with some space after each question should the witch prefer to scribble a response:

(Half and four hours later)

Two sets of eyes peer down at the contents of an open tin. One accompanied by a focused look and a little trepidation, following the pinkish, flesh-like chunks speckled with white pockets of fat as they tumble into a hot pan and almost immediately begin to move of their own accord. The moving mounds resemble small round mouths opening, each with a rim of sharp teeth. The other pair of eyes belongs to a grinning face that beams when the mounds bloom into bright red flat caps, the edges beneath about to soften in the olive oil.

Minutes after, The slices are ready. Inky accepts the plate of tostada with spicy pickled artichoke mushrooms and tomatoes with a murmur of thanks. Reassembling the recipe for the tinned spicy artichoke mushrooms had been a tedious process — someone had ripped out the pages from an old pickling book that had long ceased publication. Eventually Inky found a former nomad who had eaten them for two years in their youth and could recall or somewhat describe the taste. Flowery and savoury, they said. Many taste tests later, it turned out to be closer to partially decomposed cheese in ponderosa lemon juice. Canning was fortuitously easier with the increasing portability of sealers. Rather than telling the empanada chef any of this, Inky watches satisfaction slowly spread across his face. The tale that follows is far more entertaining.

(Half and five hours later)

While measuring out ingredients for the forty-second tea infusion since the start of the missions, not that Inky was keeping a close count, they hear a familiar voice a short distance outside the door asking for their whereabouts. Without pausing in their whisking, Inky simply informs the owner of the voice they’re not here, obviously, before emerging from the storage pantry with a fresh pot and bowls on a wooden tray, and greets the returning sysorcerer.

Agate writes back quickly:

What do guides in the Sea of Dreams and the Ravenfolk typically seek in return for directing travellers to the correct pocket dimension?

Intangibles. Usually memories, hopes, or dreams.

An establishment inside the Bazaar is only open in the evenings whenever it appears in the city. How long does travel to a pocket dimension typically take, allowing for time to seek out a guide? Is there a way travellers can estimate the time to set out on their journey, in order to arrive at the establishment while it is open?

You’ll find that time is rather malleable on the Otherside. You’ll likely arrive exactly when you’re meant to. No need to worry too much about it.

Who are the Red Spider and “Dude 215R” mentioned in the ritual? How can travellers avoid summoning them?

Godforms manifested by the Linking Sigil and the Dream Sigil, respectively. It’s not terrible if they show up. But it’s definitely not ideal. You shouldn’t register on their radar as long as you don’t pump too much energy into, or siphon to much energy out of, the sigils. If they do show up, just know that you’re in the presence of a godlike power, and behave accordingly.

Would anything happen to the travellers if any of the sigils were removed during the ritual before they wake up?

If the sigils are removed or if the circle is broken, you’ll likely just wake up before you wanted to. Same goes for if your dreamform is destroyed while in the Dreaming. The only real danger you may encounter is the Scissormen and their ilk. They will attempt to permanently sever your dreamform from your waking body. Which would leave your body a soulless husk, and leave your consciousness adrift in the Sea of Dreams. But that probably won’t happen! Okay good luck, have fun!



Alex lifts his teacup and sips the fragrantly tea, “perfumed of rosehips, and cardamum? An interesting choice. I appreciate it Inky, these past few days have been terribly rough, and I’m rather tired of field rations.” Alex takes a sip, and then continues hurridly. “I’ve been monitoring the Bazar, we are in grave danger. It started with just me, but I fear it’s bled over to everyone here at the Milk Market. I can’t be entirely certain.”

Alex looks worriedly at Inky. “There’s a lot going on here. As soon as we got back from Kelsun I was sent on an assignment, normally not an issue, but they wanted me to level 3 of the busiest coffee shops in the bazar. I planted those bombs, alongside listening devices, and then I bugged out. My team appears to have been assigned equally bizarre assignments, all rather violent messy things. A lot of innocent lives are on the line here.”

“We dropped off the grid, I’ve got an isolated listening post in the sewers here, it’s heavily reinforced and that’s where I’ve been hiding out, but I’m not certain it’s safe. Agent 5 found a melon vendor dead in the market, and this vendor was specifically seeking out the Milk Market, looking for us. I believe it may be an assassin, could be from HQ, could be from Blavin. It’s entirely opaque to me.”

“As far as I can tell, my agents are all loyal to me, there’s 5 of them in total, 6 if you count me. We could man the ship and get the hell out of here in a few hours, and it may be our best chance. But there’s the iris letter we need to attend to, and I cannot for the life of me find anything, not a damn trace, of Blavin. And I think all of this bodes very poorly for us.”

Alex looks worriedly at Inky, and you’re telling me we have a ritual we have to perform, to find the iris group’s meeting place.. I’m leery Ink, I have to be you see. But my uncle trusted you, and I do as well. If you think this is our best shot, we can hole up in the sewers and try to perform this dream walk of your witch friend’s. But if this iris business turns out to be a trap, well, how well can you handle a gun?


“Your courage and concern are admirable, Master Alex. Caution is likewise advisable.” Inky nods seriously.

The next moment, they gave the sysorcerer a slightly deranged grin. “I’m sure you have already seen many grave dangers. What’s another one for the bucket list? What’s life if not violent and messy? So many melons dismembered and laid waste daily—”

As if suddenly recalling a detail, Inky pauses and blinks. “Melon vendor? Oh, poor Pepo. He has been complaining about his neighbour’s boa constrictors for years. The serpents were drawn to the rodents his fruits typically attracted, which might not have been a problem were it not for them hanging out at his stall and scaring off his customers. Maybe he finally took matters into his own hands, with tragic results.” They look at an empty mixing bowl across the table glumly. “He had offered to bring over a few of the new variety as soon as they arrived, as he was already delivering to a household the next district over.”

They send Master Alex a sidelong glance. “Someone is after you? You didn’t do something horrid like help an old grandmother cross the street on sockless skates, for instance?” Refilling the sysorcerer’s cup, Inky continues, “As for Blavin, only 3 of the crystals have been recovered. Blavin knows Team 43 is his best chance of obtaining the others. Until he has all the crystals, he will stay his hand. If he doesn’t know that, then he is hardly a threat.”

Setting down the teapot, Inky shrugs. “They seem eager to get our attention. I suppose I could spare them their twelve minutes of fame, for the right price. Enlightenment would probably be too much to ask of a nightmare. If you’d rather take your team and make a run for it instead, that’s fine too. If they come knocking I’ll just tell them you missed the hotel fondue at Kelsun Peak.”

Their gaze skips to one of the cups before they shake their head. “No gun.” They turn around and take down a bamboo walking stick hanging from a hook on a wall next to a worn coat. Inky grasps the handle and pulls. It slides out quietly to reveal a long, thin, tapered surgical steel tube which, if someone were to lean in for a closer inspection, is sparsely covered in tiny, needle-like protrusions along the surface. On the underside, a transparent sliver ran the length of the tube to end about a forefinger’s length from the handle. Visible through the narrow window is a colourless liquid, most likely a sedative or toxin, fills the reinforced steel interior.

They smile mirthlessly at Master Alex. “I don’t know that Master Corraidhín trusted me, because if he did, it would have been the most foolhardy thing the wise man has ever done. You would do well to not make that mistake.”


“It doesn’t sound like we have all too much of an option”, Alex says, as a little Scarab beetle in his pocket chimes, “that’ll be the dead man’s trigger going off in my hideout.”

Alex frowns, shame to lose all of that data, those systems, that hideout.. but I hope whoever broke in enjoys thermite, assuming they don’t asphyxiate quickly enough to miss the fun..

Inky, you’re right, life is a bit violent and messy, so lets bring the violent mess to these bastards. If you’ve got a lead on this with this dream ritual, then fuck it, lets take the risk. I won’t run from this fight, my uncle sure as hell wouldn’t. And at worst, he’d go out with a magnificient bang. Lets give it back tenfold, for poor Pepo.

Nodding his own approval Alex continues, I have another hideout in the eastern quandrant, near the sysorcerer’s guild. It’s a little risky to head out that way, but none of my Zabbix alerts indicate it was compromised. It has automated IDS and IPS systems, so we should be safe enough in there once we whole up. At very least we’ll know if someone comes for us, and we’ll have a little bit of time to react on it. We should bring the Toques with us, and little blod clot, and the duck.

Looking sorrowfully at Enrique, “I think it might be best if you got the hell out of dodge too friend, it isn’t safe, and I don’t want to see you become collateral here. Head down to the wharf, I’ll have agent 5 meet you there, he’ll help you and your family lay low until all of this blows over.”


At Enrique’s deep frown, Inky sighs and adds, “Might as well do as Master Alex says. He can spot danger twelve blocks away, and turtle soup is really out of fashion these days.”

Then they excuse themselves to pack a few items, returning about fifteen minutes later with a knapsack and a cross-strap carrier draped in a black cloth cover. Inky says, “I hope you don’t mind if I bring along a guest as well.”

The cover is pulled back to expose a dome-shaped birdhouse, with transparent circular rings at the top partially obscured by sliding shutters of the same shape. A wooden hoop with a woven, web-like pattern and adorned with a string of feathers hangs from one side. On the opposite side is a double door with a miniature knob over each door. Inky lightly taps on one of the doors, and at a low click coming from within in response, swings the doors wide enough for the kitchen lamps to illuminate the great horned owl resting on a pillow inside. The bird opens one amber eye for a moment, gaze sweeping idly across the occupants in the room before dozing off again.

“This is Fuko. She and her twin brother Futa have certain shared connections. What one sees, the other will also know. I asked their caretaker if I could borrow them for a while. Fuko will accompany me for the ritual. Her brother is at another location and can send a message if a need arises.” Inky explains with a wry expression. “Think of it as a minor indulgence of sorts. I was told their kind, along with eagle owls, are very good at negotiating with those of the ravens.”

They give the owl a small smile. “She may be a little temperamental, but she is well-trained.” Closing the birdhouse doors, Inky turns back to Master Alex. “I suppose you’d rather not reveal the location of your hideout to any more people than necessary. Her carrier will remain covered on the way in and out.”

Gliftwirp stands under the branches of a tree, pooled in shadow, far from the small gathering. He has been to plenty of funerals. Often under these very circumstances, in fact. And he always keeps his distance out of respect.

For one, he owns no clothes but his vest, sash, and trousers. And his bright red colors would be a sign of disrespect among the mourners. Secondly and most importantly, he himself is the one who put the man in the ground.

Sadly, he had little choice. He had underestimated the sysorcer. Didn’t realize he had his own agents working for him. When he realized that one of the agents had been in contact with the melon vendor, he knew that Popplewick could and would identify the warpwefter if pressured.

Gliftwirp had grown to enjoy his daily chats with the melon vendor. Popplewick was a kind, determined man. A refugee from the Cinderlands, his family came to Vay’Nullar following the Artifice Wars when he was just a boy. He grew up poor, and often relied on the generosity of others. But eventually he was able to support himself and his small family. He was proud of the life he had built.

So Gliftwirp took no pleasure in what came next. Late one night when Popplewick was on his way home from the market, the assassin slipped a bag over his head and dragged him into a dark alley. He cinched the bag tight, cutting off his air. There was a brief struggle before Popplewick passed out and Gliftwirp lowered him down to the ground. He held him there, unconscious and not breathing, until he was gone. In only took but a moment. And then Gliftwirp stood up and left.

Now at the funeral, the mourners leave one by one. Until only the widow is left, cradling a small sleeping child to her chest. “Oh, Pepo,” she whispers to the headstone. “What can I do now?”

When she leaves, she does not return to the main path. She meanders slowly as though in a daze toward the back of the graveyard and down the hill. She steps into the wood. A flash of red follows her at a distance.

She kneels on the banks of the forest river and sets the child down on wide flat rock. It is awake now and looks up at her with solemn eyes. “I am sorry, made-of-me,” she says to the child. And that is all the explanation it gets.

She stands and turns and walks away. The child watches her go.

When she has been gone for some minutes, Gliftwirp steps out of the shadows and crouches down beside the child. It looks up and reaches for him. “Look at you,” he says to the child as he scoops it up. “Who would throw you away? A perfectly good baby!” He stands and bounces the child. “A sweet little melon rind is what you are. Ha! Very well. Come, Rind, we have work to do.”

The assassin, child in his arms, walks back toward the city.


In the aftermath, Agent 5 is found down by the docks. They clearly struggled in death. The assassin blamed him for Popplewick’s death and the widow’s weakness.

Down in the sewers, two tiny mittened hands reach up and awkwardly turn the doorknob to Alex’s hideout. The bolt clears the latch with a faint click. Two tiny cloth hands struggle against the heavy iron door, pushing it slowly open, inch by inch. A mechanism clicks inside and there is a whoosh of air and then a boom as the bunker violently ignites. The tiny figure is incinerated, and blown back into the sewer tunnel.

Gliftwirp steps forward into the light of the blaze and crouches down by the tiny figure. He picks it up, a tattered and burned bundle of cloth. “Look, Rind,” he says to the small child standing at his elbow. “You must always acknowledge and be grateful for those who sacrifice for you.” He starts to untie and unfold the cloth puppet as he speaks. It unfurls and smooths out and stitches itself back together under his touch. Even the burn marks fade, and soon Gliftwirp is once again holding his red sash.

“Now, Rind,” he says standing up and taking the child’s hand, squinting into the fire. “Let’s see what we can salvage here.”



(A week prior)

The secretary collected the stack of papers that had accumulated at one corner of the desk. “This might help,” she said, setting down a bundle of herbs with white and pink flowers in place of the papers.

Inky stared at the blooms, hands stilled over the owl’s plumage. “Oh! Thanks. Good thinking, really. It’ll help make the stench more bearable when they find the remains.”

The grey elf was confused for a moment, then mortified as the words sank in. “That’s not what I meant! It’s for the circle,” she clarified.

Seeing the imp’s preoccupied nod, she coughed lightly to regain their attention, then spoke in a hushed voice. “Beaker’s associates have picked up the empanada shop proprietor and transported him to an undisclosed location. There will be a retinue with him at all times.”

Inky seemed to visibly pull themselves back to the room before responding, “Thank you, Salvia. One more thing — if I do not return by the indicated time, please activate the hitsuzen protocol. As precaution.”

The secretary looked at Inky in concern. “Is everything all right? If you’re still troubled by the hotelier, accidents happen. A single incident—”

“Third. An unidentified man was attacked at the docks. He was probably sent to investigate the melon vendor. One of the other stall owners heard him asking questions shortly after the melon vendor disappeared.”

Salvia’s violet eyes narrowed. “What, the fruit vendor? Didn’t the tabloids say it was an accident? He tried to get rid of a neighbor’s nest of snakes.”

Inky only raised an eyebrow at her.

The secretary let out a low curse. “You didn’t tell her. You didn’t want her to worry,” she said aloud in realization. She sighed. “She’s going to be pretty angry with you when she finds out, you know.”

Inky offered her a sardonic smile. “Making people angry is my job. You of all people know this well. In the event of my timely demise I’m sure the others would find it cause for a grand celebration.” They replied matter-of-factly before returning to smoothing the feathers of one bird wing.

Salvia shook her head vehemently. “That’s not true. You’ll make it back, Ink. What then—”

“Then our fair Lady’s ire would be the least of the problems.”


Alex stared morosely into his cup of coffee. He’d received word of agent 5’s demise that morning, and had been the only thing on his mind since. 5, no Be’tram knew the risks, we all knew the risks defying HQ brought, but to happen so suddenly? He’d snuck down to the wharf once he’d heard, making sure to cover his tracks and dodge any potential witnesses. He even managed to slip past the police cordon they’d setup around the body. What he’d found wasn’t pretty, it looked like Be’Tram had suffered in his final moments. The bruising around his neck pointed to strangulation, with some sort of cloth, perhaps a rope. The bruising was deep, and there wasn’t a cut, burn, shot or something of the likes on his otherwise.

The kill had been intimate.

Alex had worked quickly that night, popping Be’Tram’s eye had been hard, but he’d of wanted Alex to have it. Behind his right eye was a recording device, it could only catch the last 15m or so of what he had seen, but it would give him a clear look at what had happened. And potentially lead Alex to the killer. Miserable business, but Be’Tram knew it could make a difference.

Alex had planted a bomb on the body after he had extracted the eye, and made his way well away from the area before it went off obliterating the remains. A regrettable end for an old friend, but it was too dangerous to leave.

And then there was the matter of the zabbix alert, a little purple red critical for the sewer hideout. He’d had time to send out a drone beetle. The smoldering slag that was left was reassuring. Most of the equipment was utterly destroyed, racks upon racks of servers reduced to twisted melted metal. The effectively of the destruction was delightful, in a sick sort of desperate way. Alex felt assured that most if not all of the equipment was useless, but this spelled the end of a valuable listening outpost. And whoever had done it wasn’t part of the slag pile.

Alex stood up, his coffee untouched. The cafe around his burbled in quiet excitement. The city had lit up since the Melon vendor’s death. A thousand rumors abounded about it, but none of them held true; some said the city had become dangerous, a crime syndicate had arisen in the neighboring city block another thought, and did you hear about the explosion at the wharf the other night, the city was electric, yet somehow ever so slightly off the pulse of the issue.

As Alex stepped away a woman with horn rimmed glasses strode past the table he had just abandoned, deftly pulling the note from beneath the coffee cup, left for her.

4 -> 3
Daylight breaks on the morrow
The suns rays make chase
casting soft cloth
across the nap of nature's neck

So, night relents and gives way
biding time until
it can rule
in its own domain

For the passerby, it was but a bit of poetry, scribbled carelessly on the back of a napkin in a coffee near the wharf. But for Agent 3 it was a warning, one part notes on Agent 5s demise recovered from his eyecam, one part orders; stay low and we’ll strike these bastards from the shadows, on our terms, on our ground. Similar missives were delivered to Agents 6 & 7. The numbers were dwindling rapidly, even just one agent lost was hard to stomach.

Alex hand gripped the pistol in his coat pocket with a white knuckled grip as he stepped from the coffee shop into the city. Whatever was after him, whatever had gotten to Be’Tram, it had better know he was coming, and he’d happily send it straight to hell. HQ be damned, the rules be damned, this little game of cat and mouse had just gotten personal.


Alex, Inky, Confidence, Bread, and Agent 7 find themselves in a dark backroom in a secluded corner of an old fish processing plant on the wharf. The accommodations are rough, and the stench is abhorrent, but it’s the best that could be procured in a pinch. And it should provide enough seclusion.

The backroom is like that of many factories, high up near the ceiling, a single rusty rickety staircase winds its way along the side of the building for what seems to be 3 flights, before it reaches a metal room with dusty grimy windows, and a single steel door. The windows on the interior overlook the fish processing plant, where rows of belts and machinery stand still, covered in dust and long forgotten blood. You’re glad to know that the factory stopped operating years ago, hygiene is lacking in every sense.

Alex stares forlornly out the exterior windows, the sky is a grey overcast, it matches his mood perfectly. He didn’t like what him and Inky were about to do, but they didn’t have much they could do about it. They would be vulnerable for the duration of the ritual. But Agent 7 and Confidence were there to help mitigate that risk. Alex and Agent 7 had taken every precaution they could think of.

The plant floor was scattered with booby traps, trip wires, and alarms. The other agents were laying low, but kept drones around the wharf feeding in a network of twtxt data back to Agent 7 for recon. And that was on top of the double barred steel doors, and reinforced glass box they’d chosen as their hide out. Meticulously planned, Alex expected no less from Agent 7.

See Marvelo had been at this as long as Alex had, and then some. He was sharp as a tack, with an animal-like third sense that came from years of close calls. He was, simply put, the right man for the job, when that job was keeping your unconscious ass alive.

Alex turns away from the window and addresses Inky. “Apologies for the smell, it turns out there’s a strong correlation between disgust and seclusion, but I believe we should at least be safe here. Safer than we would have been back home. I’m ready if you are, as ready as I’ll ever be that is.”

The Golden Iris have summoned you to appear at the Harpoon Club this evening. But the Harpoon Club is nowhere to be found on this plane of existence. It won’t appear until a week and a half from now, on the last day of the month.

Confidence the Guide has predicted exactly where the Wandering Bazaar will be on that day. With a small bucket of red paint and a large brush, he has drawn a Linking Sigil on the ground at the location. He sits nearby, making sure careless passersby and mischievous kids don’t disturb it, but otherwise letting the sigil absorb the energies of the bustle of shopping and commerce.

At the fish market, Marvelo is posted outside. He keeps vigilant watch, alert to every movement and disturbance.

And inside, Bread, Inky, Fuko, and Alex are huddled up in the office in the back near the ceiling. They all sit inside a dark circle that has been smudged on the floor with a paste made of ash and salt. Painted on the ground is a second Linking Sigil, connecting this spot to Confidence’s, allowing the energies of the two locations to co-mingle. There is also the Dream Sigil, which will connect this place to the Dreaming.

Bread the Host is propped up on some pillows and cushions in the center of the circle, next to the Nyxmaer. The candle is alleged to be made of the flesh and fat of a certain nightmare. Its hand and eye bound in the wax. The Dream Sigil is the door, but the Nyxmaer is the key. The catalyst that will cause all of the otherwise inert metaphysical particles to become volatile and reactive. It is what will allow you to actually pass over and arrive on the shores of the Sea of Dreams.

Per the shop witch’s instructions, the Nyxmaer has been placed on a thin, hard tin plate. As the candle burns, the wax will soften and eventually allow the large metal nail in its side to fall. When it strikes the plate, you will awaken, exiting the Dreaming. You expect hours may pass in the realm of sleep. But only about thirty minutes will pass here.

Inky and Alex sit inside the circle, near the perimeter, facing Bread in the center. Fuko the owl sits at Inky’s side.

It is dim. You are illuminated by mundane, non-magical candles set around the edges of the circle. Outside, a steady rain beats on the roof and the windows of the building. The smell of fish is faint but ever-present. A constant reminder of the small creatures that have left their bodies in a fashion far more permanent and irreversible than the separation of spirit and body you are about to experience. You hope.



Alex procures from a pocket of his trenchcoat a tiny vial. On the vial is a small strip of parchment which reads:


sleep() {
        while sleepy; do

trap sleep INT EXIT

He empties the vial into a glass of warm milk and hands it to bread.

“Drink up friend, this’ll relax and soothe you. You’ll probably have the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had”

Over the radio Alex provides a quick reminder to Marvelo.

“7, remember, should you need to wake bread to get us out you can interrupt or cancel the sleep script, Ctrl + C should work for the disruption work. Or if you need to you can set sleepy=false, if it gets crazy and you need to modify the metavarbalic properties of the enchantment.”

Turning to Inky, “Eight bells and all’s well, lets get this show on the road”

Bread smiles and thanks you for the milk. They down the glass, smack their lips a few times, and wipe their mouth with the back of their hand. Their eyelids grow heavy and close, and they slump down on the cushions. They’re already asleep by the time their head hits the pillow.

Inky nods once at Alex’s words and finishes off their own cuppa steeped with calea and thyme, and blended into osmanthus matcha. Lucida, Protege, Aware, Perfume. A meaningless mantra.

They glance to their owlish accomplice (who, she will remind you, is well-trained and needs no sleeping aid, thank you very much, unlike her impish charge) and silently mouth the words “Dude 215R” with a wink. Then they settle for a nap, chin pillowed on their forearms, which are propped atop drawn-up knees. A walking stick rests on their lap. A herb bouquet of pink blooms becomes an owl cushion.

Inky dreamforms of a cream noogle. Puko. And Fuko is, well, still Fuko.

You light the Nyxmaer. The flame crackles and dances. It smokes darkly, and the scent it gives off is thick and heady.

You breathe deeply of it and settle down to sleep.

When you open your eyes you are standing on the branch of an enormous white tree. It’s as wide as a narrow street. Its leaves are silver blades that uncurl in the dappled light from below.

One of the first things you notice is that gravity is reversed here. The branches below you reach down, grazing an endless sky. Small iridescent jellyfish medusae drift lazily far, far below, catching and reflecting the light. And the trunk thickens as it reaches up overhead, where its roots drill into the ceiling above.

Because of dream logic, you know that in some way this tree represents Kelsun Peak, Bread’s home. And also because of dream logic, you know that the branches furthest away from you in some way represent the great dragon Lucin who lives deep in the mountain. And they are just as dangerous. They sway in the breeze and seem to be aware of you, and are for now satisfied at the distance you keep from them.

There is a chipmunk sitting cross-legged before you on the branch. It looks curiously up at you and says, “The Red Squirrel stole my acorns! Are you going to get them back for me?”

You can feel a metaphysical tug in your gut as your orient yourself to dreamspace like the needle of a compass. “Inward” you can feel a tug toward Bread’s deep unconscious. To their core memories. “Outward” you can feel a tug away from Bread toward the shores of the Sea of Dreams, where you may continue your journey through the Collective Unconsciousness to the pocket dimension of the Wandering Bazaar. You need not move physically to travel in either direction. It’s more a matter of choosing a destination, and letting the winds blow you in that direction.

“My acorns!” insists the chipmunk, wringing its hands. “The Red Squirrel has taken them all! Are you going to help me?”



Alex takes inventory of himself, this dream world is definitely strange, but fortunately its decided to provide him with his impecable fashion, trench coat and all. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for his roguish good looks, as he’s found himself 6 arms heavier, and a bit more octopus-y than he remembers.

Nontheless this doesn’t appear to be much of an impediment, and he promptly moves on with assessing the situation.

“Acorns? No, I don’t think so. I’m afraid octopus’ are terrible at fetching acrons, and at any rate, I have a dreadfully important meeting across town.” turning to address Inky, “We need to make a break for it, what’d the witch tell you? Envision our goal or something? This is really a little outside of my realm of mechanical magic expertise.. unless..”

Alex makes a gesture with his tentacles in the area and a terminal prompt appears before him. His tentacles work at blinding speed at the digital window, a quick bypass there, a root access escalation there.

“Looks like this whole place runs on Linux, it’s an older kernel, about 2.6 or so, but it checks out. Easy to exploit as needed. Here I’m giving us sudo access, should we need it.”

“Oh and squirrel, here’s your acorns”

find /* -name '*acron*' -exec mv /home/squirrel { } \

It takes Alectopus a couple tries, but he gets it. First he corrects ‘acron’ to ‘acorn’. Then he moves all the acorns to the chipmunk instead of to the squirrel.

Hundreds of acorns appear at the chipmunk’s feet. It squeals in delight.

In the distance, far below you, you hear the anguished yell of what can only be a Red Squirrel whose giant stash of acorns has just vanished.

The chipmunk rubs its hands together gleefully and starts scooping up acorns by the armful and shoving them into its mouth by the dozen. “Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” it says around a mouthful of nuts. “Here…” It tosses you a large square silver coin with a round hole drilled in the center. On one side is the number twenty-one next to a picture of a curved, short-handled sickle. On the other side is the number five and a picture of a flail.

“A Twenty-One Fiver! Sorry, you deserve more, but it’s all I have,” it apologizes as it scampers off, no doubt to hide its nuts. Hopefully somewhere more secure this time.

If you hold the coin up to your eye and peer through the hole, you see the dreamscape before you as though looking through a cloudy film. All the same stuff is there, but it’s hazy and shadowy.

Standing a fair distance from you on the branch, just out of hailing distance, is a tall figure cloaked in black robes. Dark shadows pool restlessly around its feet. Occasionally the shadows leap up and take the form of demons the like of which words cannot describe, before falling and returning to shadow once more. The figure wears a large spherical helmet of obsidian-like glass. You can see constant flashes of a rainbow of colors crackle and splinter along the inside of the helmet like lightning, but illuminating nothing within. You feel sickened at the sight, but at the edge of your mind you feels a tug, a familiarity. Something about this character is familiar to you, but you cannot place it.

When you lower the coin, the figure and the dark landscape both disappear. When you raise it again, the distorted landscape reappears but the figure is gone.

You notice a pair of large ravens watching you rather intently from the branches below.



Alex the Octopus and Inky the Noogle stand on a tree branch as wide a street in the heart of the great white upside-down forest.

A cry of anguish and anger echoes through the forest, and the branches below you sway and rustle as something rises up from the depths. You keep catching a glimpse of scarlet between the silvery white leaves.

The large black ravens perched below you scream in agitation and fly up past you to the thicker branches up above, where they hop side to side and loudly scold and protest the disturbance. A single black feather the length of your hand settles to the ground at your feet, knocked loose during their flight.

You finally see the fearsome beast crashing through the branches below you. Its crazed, yellow eyes as large and round as dinner plates, a great eight-legged rodent leaps from branch to branch as it swiftly ascends. It is a bloody, crimson red. Its long tufted ears lay flat against its elongated, grinning skull. Its ribbon-like tail twitches as it trails along behind it like a river of blood. It cries out again in anger, showing its overgrown incisors, and grinds and gnashes its back teeth.

Its eyes bore into you with wild fury and blind madness as it climbs.

“She’s not herself,” sighs the chipmunk, suddenly at your side once more. When you look down at the chipmunk, however, it has suddenly turned into a small featureless black turtle with a sticky sweet roll instead of a shell. Its smooth little head pokes timidly out of the roll.

“The Red Squirrel,” laments the turtle. “She’s being ridden by a ghost. An angry ghost who isn’t from here. Somebody left the door open, and it blew in on the breeze.” The turtle’s voice trails off until its final words are barely a whisper.

You can still feel two currents tugging at you and trying to pull you under. One inward toward your host’s deep, core memories. And the second pulling you outward toward the Sea of Dreams.

You have but a moment before the Red Squirrel is upon you.



One moment, Inky is half-asleep on their feet in the middle of Branch Avenue. In the next, they are reclining in a banana boat that resembles a canoe painted with long stripes of yellow and white with deep brown swipes. The s’more interior padding is soft, yet with the suppleness of fruit leather. A few round, matching brown mini-cushions are strewn across the boat interior. Also in the boat are two silver spoon paddles, more for looks than cooks.

They don’t know where the boat came from. Things just appear. Like that Red Squirrel. Inky moves to holler a greeting, but instead recites:

"sgb rpthqqbk hr qba sgb fgnrsr dktb
sgb qnkkr rwbbs uma rn uqb ynt
sgnt uqs ly fthahmf rsuq ul h sghmb
h rbb vbqhky ly utrohehntr rhfm
sgb kns wur snrra uma sgbm h aqbw
uma cnqstmb ruha hs rgnta db ynt ott"[1]

"The squirrel is red, the ghost's blue,
The roll's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my guiding star, am I thine?
I see verily my auspicious sign:
The lot was toss'd and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you. Puu."


While Inky boards her banana boat and recites poetry to the maddened squirrel, Alex springs to action leaping blithely from the branch towards the squirrel. Beneath him manifests a cockpit, sleek and futuristic. Around this materializes a large robotic weapon, octopus-oid in shape. The many tentacles bristle with weapons both fearsome and deadly.

Alex grabs the controls, in one tentacle he latches onto the banana boat, that way he won’t accidentally get separated from Inky. With the other seven a series of feathers appear in every brilliant hue. The tentacle attached to the boat unfurls allowing Alex to draw closer to the squirrel. As the gap closes the most intense tickle fight the dream world has ever seen ensues, bringing joyous laughter to the faces of many.

“Inky, if we need to get out of here, just jet it! That tentacle will yank the control pod and me with it!”

Alex basically becomes a Mech pilot, and confronts the Red Squirrel head on with the Octopod.

You engage in the tickle fight to end all tickle fights!

Its eight arms are more than a match for the squirrels eight legs. You have the advantage of reach, entanglement, and sucker pads. It struggles in your grasp, gnashing its terrible teeth, but cannot reach you. Its long tail whips around ineffectively, battering you softly.

The agitated squirrel squeals and swells like a red balloon. The mech’s tentacles struggle to contain it. Just as the strain on the machine is about to become unbearable, the rodent violently deflates. It collapses in on itself with such ferocity that it turns itself inside out. The octopod, all tangled up in the collapsing squirrel, is pulled along as it folds in on itself until it becomes a hungry void the size of a marble, floating in space and sucking at the air.

Inky watches from the banana boat as Alex and the squirrel disappear from the Silver Forest. The squirrel portal finally closes in on itself, severing the banana boat from the octopus mecha at the last possible second. Inky on this side. Alex on the other.

Alex, you and the wreckage of the octopod are vomited out onto a sandy beach. Red mist and vapors dissipate from your entry point. Before you is a vast ocean, lapping lazily at the beach. The shoreline extends endlessly in both directions. Behind you are endless sand dunes. Though there is no sun, the sky seems to hover at sunset, all brilliant, swirling oranges and purples.

A lone humanoid figure can be seen standing atop a nearby dune. It is tall. It has legs like a goat or fawn, and a paunchy belly. Its long neck protrudes into a kind of trunk that eventually folds over and hangs down in front of the creature, about chest height. It terminates in a smooth, round nub. No face. It wears a small satchel at its hip, its strap slung over one shoulder and across its chest. Its long arms hand loosely at its sides. Despite the lack of a face and any sensory organs, it seems to be watching you. Slowly, it descends the dune and starts walking toward you. It reaches into its satchel and draws a long, sharp knife as it approaches.

Inky, you are in the banana boat in the Silver Forest. The turtle that was a chipmunk has holed up in its shell, effectively just a sticky bun.

“You wanted to see me,” intones a slightly muffled voice behind you. A statement, not a question. You turn to see a figure cloaked in shadows and demons. They wear a domed helmet of black obsidian glass, flashes of rainbow colored light crackling along the inside illuminating very little of the smoke-filled interior.

“What is it you seek from Dude 215R?”



“Greetings, Great One.” Inky bows, back parallel to the ground while they stand on the branch, now a humanoid child in a black uniform and matching bookbag hanging under one arm. The banana boat is nowhere in sight. Fuko follows her errant charge and the cloaked figure from a nearby branch.

“This lowly one wonders if they may be permitted to seek the Great Spirit’s insight, whose wisdom endures before and beyond.” Inky begins, staring down the blurry reflection of silver boughs overhead on the polished toes of their black shoes. They notice idly they do not see themselves in the reflection.

Straightening from the bow, they look up at the figure and hold out a plate of taiyaki. After a moment, the child asks haltingly, “There may come a day when this one will be asked to choose between the chance to protect many and that which they desire to protect most. Should this one choose equally? Will the choice matter if both paths eventually lead to destruction? Could destruction and salvation be two sides of the same coin?”

You and the Dude are sitting in small upholstered chairs, across a small half table from each other. There is a large sticky bun on a white lacy doily on the table. Next to you is a small portal-sized window, and outside you can see green rolling hills and small copses of trees fly by. The other seats on the small train car are all empty. The two of you are alone.

“I cannot give you advice,” the Dude says. “But I can offer you experience.”

They raise a hand and hold a loosely closed fist out over the table. The walls of the train become fuzzy and blurry, then translucent, and finally transparent. They disappear and you have the sensation of rocketing through space at dizzying speeds.

The track splits ahead you. To one side, bound to one track is that which you desire to protect most. Bound to the other are the many.

“You can choose safely here. It’s just a dream, after all.” The Dude opens their fist. The Twenty-one Fiver coin rests in their palm. “Heads, you steer the train into the many, sparing that which you love most. Tails, the opposite. You spare the many, and sacrifice that which you hold dear.” They hold the coin out to you.

The train barrels toward the fork. “But choose quickly, lest the choice be made for you.”

Alex scrambles from the wreckage of his mech, or what remained from the gore portal he’d just experienced. The thought of what had occurred made him grimace, which was an unusual state of affairs for an octopus, that is until Alex realized he seemed to be back in his own body.

“Sunset, or perhaps rise? It’s hard to tell. Pretty though.. could be prettier without the creepy knife dude.” Alex mutters to himself while he rummages through the destroyed cockpit of the mech. He makes quick work, detaches a side panel, pulls a couple of wires, and a compartment in the back opens revealing the smooth dark blue metal and wood grain of an ak74u sub machine gun. Amused Alex pulls the weapon from the compartment and notices a distinct lack of additional magazines, just the one large drum attached to the weapon with large red letters emblazoned on it [INFINITE AMMO]. “Neat.”

Alex pulls himself from the wreck, and jumps down behind one of the fallen tentacles taking a firing position behind cover, ak74u aimed down range at the faceless figure.

“I don’t know who you are, but I don’t trust anyone who approaches with a weapon. Let’s both stand down and talk this through! I’m not supposed to be here, and I reckon you don’t want me here either. I’d be happy to oblige and skidaddle if you’d be so kind as to point the way out!” Alex pauses waiting for a reply.

The tall figure halts a short distance away. It raises a hand and waves. In greeting? Surrender? In a fluid motion it continues to lift the same hand and grabs a hold of its trunk, a little less than a foot from the tip. It squeezes its fist tightly and the tip begins to swell. It raises its other hand, and the knife, and starts to saw into the flesh of the trunk behind its fist. The blade cuts cleanly as though through a loaf of bread. There is no blood or gore.

When the creature lowers its hand, you can see that the center of the trunk is a solid, bright pink fleshy material like a grapefruit, in the center of which are two pin-prick eyes and a wide thin gash of a mouth.

It still holds the tip of its severed trunk in its hand, a thin stalk and a bulging cap looking for all the world like a large white button mushroom. Peering up from the stem of the mushroom, an identical pink face regards you stoically.

Both faces speak at the exact same time, one high pitched and one a deep baritone. “Welcome, Dreamer, to Ousia, the Sea of Dreams. We are Kasutva.”

Big Kasutva stoops down to set the small mushroom Kasutva down on the ground. If they’re both Kasutva, that is. If that’s the way their biology and sense of self actually works. Mushroom Kasutva wobbles side to side a little bit and waggles its stalk as it looks around. Big Kasutva places its knife back in its satchel and takes a few small steps closer to you.

“We did not mean to offend you,” the two say, still perfectly in sync. “As for the way out, that depends only somewhat on your destination. Whatever the answer, we can assure you that it lies across the sea.” Large Kasutva gestures broadly toward the expanse of ocean. Small Kasutva lacks any limbs and cannot gesture, but smiles softly at you.

“But tell us what it is you seek. Perhaps we can be of help.”



Back at the fish market, Marvelo squints into the pouring rain and swears under his breath, frustrated at the limited visibility.

His colleague is lying on the floor behind him in some kind of state of deeply altered consciousness, along with an inkling, a toque, and an owl. In fact, the only waking beings left inside the market are himself, a fluffy little duck, and a sticky hemogoblin.

“I’ve seen stranger things,” he shrugs and admits to himself.

The duck and the goblin are both fluffed up and huddled up next to each other softly quacking and chirping to themselves.

He pauses and holds his breath as something indistinct catches his attention. Years of training have produced an instinct he has learned not to question. It has saved his butt more times than he can count. Sometimes it screams at him and the danger is apparent. Like that time with the Permian Raiders off the southern tip of Harshwind Glade. Other times, such as this, all he gets is the vague feeling that something is off. He waits. He’s been here before. His subconscious has spotted something, noticed some pattern that doesn’t fit its surroundings. He knows if he’s patient, his conscious mind will catch up and realize what it was.

He squints out into the pouring rain. There! A flash of red close to the ground.

“What in the world,” he wonders as a small child wearing a bright red dress toddles into view. It looks up at him blankly as the rain beats down on its head and shoulders.

“What are you doing out here, little guy? You’re getting soaked!” Marvelo, concerned, rushes forward to comfort the child.

Inky gingerly takes the coin with both hands, small digits clamping onto the straight edges. They look at the Twenty-one Fiver nestled against the fuzzy outlines of one palm before peering up again at the figure seated before them. “Thank you, Great Spirit.” Inky says. “If truly allowed to choose, then, this one accepts the price.”

They toss the coin up into the air. A beat, and they are hovering a few feet above the tracks, between the fork and the oncoming train with no walls. Inky watches as the child’s body begins to shrink as rapidly as the black uniform expands, the entire apparition thinning and becoming translucent. The shirt continues to grow until the hem brushes the train tracks and the collar peeks over the invisible tops of the train, the trousers and shoes having been pushed into the stones and earth below.

A portal, the child’s voice supplies distantly. At the back of their awareness, Inky homes in on the coin as it continues to spin. When the train thunders down upon the oversized shirt doorway-apparent, they brace for the force of the impact. Instead, all they could feel is a creeping weariness, like water draining through tea leaves in a sieve, while being suddenly surrounded by and staring into a deep reflectionless pool.

Is it two to two, or two past eight, Inky wonders.

The last thing within their consciousness is a gleam of silver as the coin lands on one of its corners mid-spin, bounces off the small half table and falls into the shadows.

You sink into the dark reflectionless pool, letting its waters close over you and pull you under. You ponder its depths from within in its embrace, mindless of the passage of time.

After a few minutes, or a few days, you notice faint light rising up here and there from below. Fuzzy, cobwebby human shapes float suspended in the waters. Some far away, distant as stars. Some drift close enough that you would be able to discern their features, if they had any.

You realize all at once that these are the dream forms of sleeping Basmentarians everywhere, and that you are floating in Ousia, a solitary awakened dreamer in a literal sea of the passive slumbering.

As though responding to your realization, the waters bear you up and you pierce the weak membrane between water and air. You float effortlessly and the gentle waves nudge you ever onward toward some unknown shore. Or merely farther out to sea. You’re not sure.

You continue to see the dreamers all around you. You watch curiously as you float by two that seem to have bumped into one another and fused together, their cobwebby bodies sprouting hard crystalline growths and spreading like creeping vines, forming a lattice and creating a small floating island.

After a few hours, or a few weeks, you wash up on the beach of a large island. There is a steep rock, a pillar of a mountain, jutting straight up from the center of the island some distance ahead. And jutting from the pillar is a fractal structure of interconnected towers, all sprouting and branching from one large central tower. The top of the tower disappears far overhead, obscured by a rippling aurora of green and pink lights in the sky.

Some distance down the beach, just out of hailing distance, a lone figure stands gazing at the sea, their back to the tower.

The figure waits.

The tower’s strange geometry beckons.

Kasutva, how can I know that I can trust you? What do you gain in helping me, and was there really no way for you to communicate with me without beheading yourself? That seems a little bit distraughting. Like, do you need a bandage or some headache medicine or something? I feel like if I yanked my face off I’d need an ibuprofen. I have some if you want? (alex rummages in a coat pocket and finds a bottle of pain killers, and offers them to the being).

Right anyways, answers questions. I’m looking for my Uncle first and foremost. He dropped off the map a few days ago, and I can’t find hide nor hair of him. Then the murders started. Shit at HQ when wild, hit the wall literally, and now I’m in some sort of fever dream talking to what can only be a manifestation of my own subconscious, or perhaps someone else’s. Look. I need to get back to Inky, we’re trying to meet someone and we’re running late, and in the scheme of things my problems aren’t so big if the world’s going to end because some mad hatter is after these blasted crystal’s we’ve been collecting..

Even as you speak, you notice the edges of Big Kasutva’s “wounds” start to close until its flesh begins to once more envelop and enclose its face.

The creature courteously accepts a few pills from you, but simply deposits them in its satchel.

“No, it doesn’t hurt us,” say the two voices together. “And little matter if it did. It is necessary for us to speak.”

They listen to your story. Big Kasutva’s voice starts to become muffled as its skin now grows over its mouth. Only its eyes are visible as the two of them continue. “If your Inky has come to this place, then there is only one place they can have gone.” They gesture to the sea. “And that place is Ephemeris. The Heart of the Dreaming at the center of Ousia.”

Big Kasutva finally falls silent as it heals completely. It guides you to the shoreline, where a long pier has suddenly appeared. Mushroom Kasutva continues to speak for both of them.

“We only ask to accompany you as you go. We wish to see Ephemeris ourselves. But we cannot abandon our post here on the dunes,” it says looking at Big Kasutva. “And we,” it says gesturing to itself, “are too small to brave the sea alone.”

Big Kasutva stops short of the end of the pier. The little mushroom hops right up to the edge and peers down at the water.

“All that is left is to jump, Alex. And let the waters of Ousia bear you up and carry you to Ephemeris.”

It hops up to you and extends itself in a clear request, despite its lack of limbs, that it wants you to pick it up.



Marvelo fetched a fluffy blanket from the piles of blankets and pillows in the ritual room where the dreamers continue to sleep. He has wrapped up the child and is drying them off. The sound of rain continues to drum incessantly outside.

“Poor thing, you’re chilled to the bone. Don’t worry, Uncle Marv will take care of you. There we go. Fix you right up!”

The child is still and silent. It has not made a noise this whole time. Nor has it acted on its own to actually do anything besides stare up at Marvelo with wide, dark eyes.

“How did you end up outside by yourself in the rain, hmm? No? That’s okay. What about your name? Have you got a name?”

“Rind,” says a voice behind Marvelo. At the sound of its name, the child’s eyes flick over Marvelo’s shoulder. The mercenary starts to spin around even as the blanket writhes in his hands, wrapping itself around his wrists and binding them tightly together.

“Hungh!” he cries out wordlessly and tucks into a roll, turning to face his assailant and—he hopes—dodging any potential attack from behind. And also putting some distance between himself and the child to get it out of harms way.

Marvelo tries to push up to his knees as cords of rope snake their way out of the shadows and coil around his knees and elbows. He struggles to pull free of them. A thicker rope wraps around his waist, and another squeezes around his chest and back. The ropes contract and pull Marvelo into a ball. He groans and falls to his side. He looks up into the eyes of a man wearing a bright red sash.

The child has tottled over to the man and reaches its arms up. The man scoops the child up and holds it in the crook of one arm. The child puts its arms around the man’s neck and looks down at Marvelo while resting its cheek on the man’s chest.

“His name is Rind,” the man smiles.

Feeling bedraggled yet dry despite having been submerged under water, Inky lays on the beach, staring up at the sky before sitting up and looking around the landscape. They are now attired in a hooded azure blue vest over red shirt and shorts, and blue shoes over mismatched knee-high stockings. Their auburn hair is tied back with the drawstrings from an attached small pouch. A plush toy resembling a certain floofy duck peeks out from the hood.

They sense a soft weight land on one shoulder, and smile as Fuko nips at their ear, no doubt partly in reproach for wandering off again without her, and maybe partly meant to be reassuring. This is followed several moments later by a low hiss and a series of light taps next to Inky’s ear with her beak. Inky murmurs, “Is that so … we should call it a wrap soon. Master Alex would probably be happy having Big Bother to himself anyway, to grill as he likes.”

After a very long minute, Inky sighs and taking out a piece of paper and pencil from their suitcase, scribbles a “pome”:

Island tower of towers
Nowhere everywhere the sea
Keep your apples and flowers
Your suitor has come for thee

They roll up the paper and tuck it into a small and clear glass bottle with a cork stopper. Murmuring the sysorcerer’s name to the bottle, they lower it into the water and watch as the bottle drifts into the distance.

Walking along the shoreline and stopping a short distance from the lone figure, Inky says casually, “Good day, fellow thing-finder.”

The figure turns in your direction and lowers their hood revealing a long, hooked, black beak and a face covered in black feathers. Beady black eyes regard you without blinking.

The feathers around its throat bristle when it speaks like a thick bristling beard.

“Greetings, Dreamer, and welcome to Ephemeris, the Heart of the Dreaming. What brings you to the Throne of Konsu?”

Well Kasutva, I may as well trust you. I imagine if you meant me harm there are more direct and interesting ways to harm me than to misguide me. Give me a moment to collect myself, I’ve never been much for swimming you see, learned late and was always deathly afraid as a child. Dreadful stuff really.

Alex steps away briefly to the edge of the pier and looks into the Azure blue ocean, a swirl of unending blue depth. Still not my thing, Alex mutters to himself. As he steels himself he notices a bottle adrift, nearing the pier. As it comes closer, he plucks it from the water, decorks it and inspects the note inside.

“What does it say” the little Kasutva inquires.

“Oh nothing, just someone trying to get in contact about our floating pirateships extended warranty” Alex replies bruskly. This definitely must have come from Inky Alex thinks to himself. They must have found the way.

“Look Kasutva, this has been great fun, but I really think I ought to be going, not really sure that a sea of anyones dreams is my sort of thing and all that. And I seem ot have done not but create a mess of things” Alex says as he gestures to the wreckage of the Mech. Alex gestures in the air before him, a small split keyboard appears in front of him and he types out a few short commands.

cat > /home/inky/messages/urgent <<EOF
Got your message
In a bit of a bind, wrapped up with some weird mushroom guy who wants to go for a swim.
Not sure how to handle it, but I might have to dip back to the real world and let you finish here.
I've made a write mess of things, but I trust you can finish this.

Oh, see attached, if you get into a pinch just use this spell, it'll get you what you need.

grep -A4 AID ~/messages/urgent | sed 's/AID//' | sh


“Right!” Alex exclaims startling the little Kasutva accidentally. “Time for me to head back to the real world. Anything you need from me before I head out? Oh also, can I take the ak74u? I think I might need it.”

“Back … back to the waking world?” Mushroom Kasutva stammers. “But…”

It looks out at the sea with a look of longing, confusion, and frustration. “But we were finally going to see Ephemeris,” they say almost wistfully.

“You were going to take us to Ephemeris!” they shout at you, suddenly angry.

Mushroom Kasutva screws up its face and roars in rage as it rushes at you and tries to shove you over the edge of the pier into the waters below.

But Kasutva is less than a foot tall and quite ineffective at shoving a human-sized person such as Alex.

Big Kasutva, on the otherhand, is roughly twelve feet tall and quite capable of manhandling a human-sized person.

You look up in time to jerk back out of the way as they swipe at your chest with their face-removing knife. It was all a feint though. As soon as you are slightly off balance from dodging their attack, they reach out with their other hand and give you a shove.

You trip over Mushroom Kasutva, who has positioned themself in just such a way to best tangle up your feet. You stumble backwards a few steps until one of your feet steps out into open air. You twist and and look behind you as Ousia rises up to meet you.

Kasutva clings to your leg as you fall, crying. “We’re sorry. We’re sorry,” they say over and over as you are pulled below the waves.



“Thank you. May your search brings you good tidings.” Inky replies with a smile and nod towards the sea.

“As to what brings me here, another traveller and myself have been summoned to the Harpoon Club at a Wandering Bazaar. However, despite uncovering the occasional biscuit tin or cotton candy wheel, my knack for thing-finding doesn’t really extend to sentient bazaars in pocket dimensions.” Inky chuckles wryly. “Might you happen to know the way?”

As they end their question, Inky slips their hands into the pockets of their hooded vest and is met with an envelope nestled within one of them. A message from Master Alex. The packet is a bit lumpy to the touch, as though there is a small round object inside. The sysorcerer may have decided to spend some quality time with his stalker after all. Must be lovely to have a dedicated fan. The two wouldn’t mind if Inky went on a spot of sightseeing.

“Also, did you say the Throne of Konsu?” They glance in the direction of the large tower and back to the figure before them.

“Ah, you don’t know the story of Lord Konsu?” The ravenfolk beckons you to walk with him as you talk. “In the beginning, nobody knew how to dream. There were no real people then. Just beasts and creatures and horrors.

“So at that point, every creature visited Ousia only twice: at the moment of birth, and at the moment of death. And all the time in between was spent longing to return to the sea.”

At the ravenfolk’s side, the world spins under your feet. In mere steps, you have made it to the base of the mountain jutting from the center of the island.

“And one day, Konsu did. He dreamed. He was the first. Each night he returned to the sea, and it swallowed his madness and his wildness. It evolved his mind. It is dreaming, you see, that makes you human.

“The sea claims everything though eventually. But you know this already. You crossed the sea. Surely you saw how it can work on dreamers who have tarried here too long.”

Still the ravenfolk guides you onward until you arrive at the base of the fractal tower, all purple and yellow stones.

You step inside and find voluminous halls, walls lined with statues of all subjects. Fawns in revelry, elegant women in repose, terrible giants in agony, warriors standing at attention, leaping fish, and roaring lions.

He leads you through a labyrinth of empty halls, up grand stairs, across yawning vestibules and dizzying bridges suspended between towers as he continues to talk.

“Ousia works even on Konsu the Lord of All Dreams. Ephermeris is his throne, it’s true. But it is also his prison. The island is Konsu, you see. He is no longer at liberty to roam his domain himself, in his own flesh. But perhaps you have already met one of his avatars? Morpheus? The Dude 215R? Kilroy? Hmm, yes, I see that you have.

“Well,” he says pulling up short of an archway. You can hear voices and laughter and the clinking of dinnerware on the other side. “I believe we have arrived at your destination. I thank you for the company, and will leave you here.”

The ravenfolk withdraws, disappearing once more into the maze of the tower.

You look through the archway and see a plush dinner club absolutely packed with patrons of all possible shapes and sizes. The Harpoon Club.

You catch somebody waving at you from a table in the far corner. Blavin Blandfoot. He grins and beckons you forward.

Joining him is a tall, slender cat person. Its facial features mostly obscured by its jet-black fur. And with their back to you, a wizened old man. The three of them are in the middle of a round of tumbrot, a complicated game of wagers—overly complicated, some would say—involving a special deck of cards, a set of dice, and a tumbling tower of blocks.

You watch as the cat reaches out and carefully removes a block from the middle of the tower. It places it on top, and the tower sways. The group at the table excitedly holds its breath, and when the tower falls, the cat holds its head in its hands in exaggerated dismay. The old man whoops and gathers up his winnings and then turns and looks over his shoulder in the direction that Blavin is waving.

Corraidhín the Sysorcerer grins and waves at you.

Alex pulls at the trigger of the ak and he plummets towards the waves sending a wave of cold lead towards the bigger Katsuva. “Son of a bitch, never trust someone who has to hide their face, agent 7, marvelo, always was right on that one.” Hell, dunno if magical dream guns work on mushrooms, but to hell with it, Alex thought.

He plunges into the water gripping tightly to his weapon, the little katsuva clinging to him. As the water wraps around him he kicks at the little mushroom breaking its grasp on his leg, and begins to swim back up to the surface. “Like hell we’re doing this your way cavatappi dude.”

Back in the real world..

Marvelo stares bleakly at the child and his assailant. “Who the fuck do you think you are? And what the hell are you doing with the kid, Rind, ain’t nothin good to come from some shady bloke like you. The hell do you think you’re teaching him?”

As Marvelo hurls insults as demands at his assailant he slyly presses his thumb and forefinger into the palm of his left hand, breaking a small resistor embedded in his palm which activates as feint electrical pulse inside his body. Just enough to trigger a Zabbix alarm, which kicks off a series out automated correction scripts. A dose of adrenaline here, a quick alaert to the remaining agents with a broadcast LAT/LONG details via encrypted twtxt feed, but most importantly something special Alex had each agent prepare, just in case their luck ran out, an alarm only the damned could sleep through.

The screech of heavy metal music blares throughout the audio system of the warehouse, every alarm and speaker comes alive blaring heavy riffs of guitar and wicked drums fill the air while screaming echos around the building. Marvelo laughs maniacly as his uninvited guest reels at the unexpected turn of events.

“Alex! We caught him!” Marvelo yells through his laughing fit.

Gliftwirp frowns as the sirens wail in the fish market. He tightens the rope around Marvelo’s neck. Deprived of oxygen, Marvelo struggles and then goes limp.

The hemogoblin in the corner trembles as an overpowering sense of JUSTICE sings in its veins. It gnashes its teeth and its bloodshoot eyes become pupil-less pools of red. A single word dances on the tip of its tongue.

It watches as Gliftwirp stands at the edge of the ritual circle, looking in. Pillows and blankets creep slowly toward the dreamers like slugs intent on smothering them.

The hemogoblin launches itself into the air with a cry of “EEEEE! VULL!” and lands on the assassin’s back, sinking its teeth into the nape of his neck and reaching its claws around for his face.

Gliftwirp cries out in pain and surprise. His hands shoot back to pry the thing from his back even as he is propelled forward by the force of the attack.

Gliftwirp and the hemogoblin cross the circle of salt and ash and spill into the pillows in a heap and instantly both of them fall fast asleep.

An observer would almost think they were cuddling each other in their sleep. If it weren’t, that is, for the goblin’s claws, still sunk into the side of the warpwefter’s face.

Rind, sired by the melon seller, abandoned by his own mother, and adopted by the assassin, watches all of this unfold. And sits down and strokes the duck’s feathers.


Alex’s ascent into the waking world is interrupted by a surge that tugs him sideways and off track. The presence of new arrivals in the stream, the tenuous connection between the waking and dreaming worlds held open by the Dream Sigil. Somebody beckoning him, summoning him.

He emerges from the void into an endless, featureless expanse. Plain, loose, dark soil as far as the eye can see, with only a small rock or two here and there to break up the monotony. The black empty sky looms ominously overhead.

Before you is a tall, slender person in voluminous robes of deep purple. Their soft, smooth face framed by curtains of long, straight, blonde hair. They wear a golden circlet on their head and a golden eye in the middle of their forehead. And in their hands they wield a resplendent longsword.

Shreds of a tattered red cloth lie strewn about their feet.

They lift their head at your appearance. “Alex,” they say. “It is good that we finally meet. You have done me a great service in gathering pieces of my essence—including this, the Sword of Y’aml!—so that I may finally start to return to Basmentaria. You have done so much already, but I am afraid I must ask more of you still.”



In the fish market, the dreamers continue to sleep soundly through the ringing claxon alarms with nothing but maybe the twitch of a finger to indicate that they hear anything at all.

During the commotion with Marvelo and Gliftwirp, nobody but Rind noticed the thick rusty nail in the side of the candle wiggle its way out of the soft wax and clatter onto the plate at the base of the candle, the ringing of tin masked by the ringing of the claxon alarm.

Still the dreamers sleep.

Rind watches as the candle burns dangerously low. The mummified hand of the Nyxmaer in the base of the candle starts to wriggle, struggle, and strain against the softening wax. It stretches and reaches for the eye in the center of the candle.

Rind continues to soothe the duck and stroke its feathers. The child looks at the space where Gliftwirp and the hemogoblin stumbled into the circle, smudging the line of salt and ash, breaking the circle and severing its continuity. Making a small space for something to get in. Or out.

“Yo! Little cavatappi dude, where the hell are we?!” Alex’s eyes scan the room rapidly. There’s no water, aside from what he dragged in with his abrupt departure from the pier. The dark sky stretches into the nothingness of the void. Asthe robed figure begins speaks Alex takes note of his situation.

‘Nowhere to hide, zero cover. A whole lot of nothing actually. It’s one thing after another with this dream thing.’

As the figure finishes his address Alex nods politely. “I’ll be honest my guy, I haven’t the foggiest what you’re talking about. Looks to me you’ve got the whole sword thing, all I’ve got is my trusty AK. I guess back top side, in umm I guess the real world, I did find a wonky dagger my uncle tried to hide. But I’m pretty sure that got eaten by a cute little hemogoblin while I was busy murdering ghost pirates. Anyways more to the point, I’m not quite sure I follow.”

Alex pauses briefly and then continues, “You say you need to get out of here? Now that part I follow, me the hell too. I just got attacked by some freaky sadist mushroom that called itself katsuva. Cut its head clean off just so it could try and chuck me in the drink. Right unpleasant fella, but I think I lost him when, well, I got here, wherever that is.”

“Now I don’t know much, but I’m not much for trust after getting attacked by a talking mushroom monster. So if you’ll excuse me, I reckon the exit is right about that way (Alex jabs his finger over his back away from the figure), and I’m inclined to head out unless you know a better way.”

You weren’t in the kobit caves with the rest of Retrieval Team 43, so you didn’t see the reliefs. But every Basmentarian is familiar with the iconography of the Trine. This figure is dressed in the traditional rainments of Neddas, god of sages and starlight. Furthermore you recognize them from your dreams in the Milk Market.

Kasutva the small mushroom meeps and hides behind your leg.

“You know, we each of us loved you in our own way,” Neddas says. “But of the three of us, I alone gave away pieces of my divinity. I wanted to see you thrive and grow strong.

“You’ve already found several pieces of my essence. Coin in the treasure hoard below the earth. Mirth in the shipwreck under the sea. And lore in the clouds atop Kelsun Peak.

“And of course you found justice,” they say, looking at the sword. “This one got a little weird.” The frown. “Became a little sentient, didn’t it?” They press the blade of the sword to their chest and absorb it into their being. They sigh happily.

“You have found enough of my essence that I am able to start to materialize again. Not quite in Basmentaria yet. But here, a little bit.

“There are still two more pieces out there. If you can reunite all five crystals, I will be able to cross over into Basmentaria again.

“So yes, Alex. You are correct. It is time you head out. Return to Basmentaria. Find the remaining crystals, so that I may return and right the wrongs of the past. I will do what I can to assist you.”

Inky waves back once, twice in greeting, before crossing their forefingers twice, touching a hand briefly to their chest, and strolling towards the restrooms.

Leaning against a wall outside of the rest area, out of sight from the main dining hall, Inky pulls out the message from Master Alex and reads it. Engagement confirmed, it seems. Also in the envelope is a smooth oval grey pebble with the letters “sh” carved onto it. A mini dousojin. How considerate of him.

Putting the envelope and pebble into a shorts pocket, Inky holds up a chewy blood berry biscuit, which they offer to the great horned owl patiently perched on their shoulder. “What if we just zip out now and have a walk around the towers? Do you think it will cause offence to the Grand Master of the realm?” Inky asks her. Fuko looks up from her treat and gives them a short series of disapproving clicks of her beak.

“He wants more ‘intel’,” Inky says. It isn’t even a question.

On another occasion they would be glad to see Master Corraidhn animated and well — when there wasn’t a demanding curmudgeon on the other end of an absurd fishing expedition. The elder sysorcerer’s presence in the Dreaming, illusion or otherwise, has effectively dashed any prospect of an early night out.

“Thirteen minutes. Only because Scoops likes you.” Inky tells the owl.

They look down at their shirt with orange horizontal stripes, blue knee-length shorts, blue running shoes, and wordlessly declare the change of clothes suitable for fine non-dining. The noogle’s drawstring pouch is knotted to a metal hoop on a pocket flap to one side of their shorts, having let loose a short mop of tousled red hair. A plush floofy duck keychain dangles next to the pouch.

Emerging from the hallway, the awkward, skinny youth with an owl approaches the far corner table.

You approach the far corner table, weaving your way through the crowded tables of the Harpoon Club.

“Inky!” Blavin chorttles merrily as you pull up a chair. The cat person nods politely at you and starts rebuilding the block tower.

Corraidhín watches the archway behind you as you enter. When nobody follows you into the Harpoon Club he frowns, tugs on his beard, and sits up straighter in his chair.

“You’re alone?” Blavin observes. “No matter. Thank you so much for meeting us here! I trust it wasn’t too much trouble? A little bit out of the way, I know. But it is so very hard to find a place away from prying eyes, isn’t it?”

“Get to the point, Blavin.” snaps Corraidhín.

“Quite right!” laughs Blavin, taking a sip of his drink. “Listen,” he says, suddenly very serious. “It’s time I came clean to you. You deserve that much. And besides, I think we can help each other. While it is true that I work for the Benefactor, I don’t actually serve their interests. You see, I represent another party. A double agent they would call me in the spy novels.” He waves his hand dismissively, as though somebody were making a fuss over him and he were embarrassed.

“As I’m sure you already know, our organization is called the Golden Iris. Like the Benefactor, our goal is to collect the Ginnarak Cystals. I know you’ve heard all the old stories. Together they could kill a god, blah blah blah.” He sloshes his drink as the gestures. “But we think they’ve got it all wrong, Inky. That is, they have it backwards at least!”

Blavin leans in, his eyes shining. “The Golden Iris intends nothing less than creating a new god!

“The Trine has been absent for years. We’re going to restore the balance. Now you see why the mission is so important, Inky. We need the crystals.”

“Now I know what you’re going to say! It all sounds too fantastic. Yes well, that’s why I brought along somebody whose credibility I know you’ll trust!” He beams at Corraidhín.

The wizard sighs. “As far as I can tell, the hobbit is telling the truth.”

Blavin grins as Corraidhín continues.

“The Golden Iris is trying to elevate Sitopotnia, the Corn Mother, to godhood. Which I admit makes a certain kind of sense. She’s the only mortal to have created life after all. Kind of the ideal candidate for the job to be honest.

They’ve hitched an odd team of mules to their buggy to help them. And they’re managing to drag the thing forward despite all pulling in slightly different directions. The Cyberplasms want new bodies. The Gnu Zealots want to open source the process so everybody can create new gods. And I don’t actually know what the BAND wackos want.”

Corraidhín shrugs, “I don’t have a particular dog in this fight. The Benefactor was able to excise the, ahem, ‘anomaly’ that happened at the SS RSS. Including the second crystal, which is currently in his possession, and my body, which is still technically back at the institute and still under the care of Felixe here.” The black cat gives another polite nod. Having completed building the tumbling tower, it is now shuffling the tumbrot cards, face down, around on the table.

“Felixe is Basmentaria’s preeminent expert in preserving entities that happen to exist between two states. Or that happen to exist in two states at the same time.. Bah, it’s complicated,” Corraidhín huffs.

“Yes!” interrupts Blavin. “Now! Despite working closely with him all this time, I am actually none the wiser as to the Benefactor’s actual plans for the crystals. I just know we need them more.

“Inky, you must retrieve the remaining crystals. And also the one in the Benefactor’s possession. And deliver them to us so we may usher in a new age for Basmentaria!”

Felixe the cat deals the cards out to the center of the table, face down, in a cross. Three across, three high. It sets the remainder of the deck aside and looks at you expectantly.



The fingertips of the Nyxmaer graze the eye and an eldritch wind begins to howl inside the fish market.

It whips around and around inside the ritual circle, flipping blankets and tossing pillows. The dreamers also toss and turn in their sleep, but still do not wake. The foul wind tugs at their hair and at their clothing.

The small candles around the edge of the circle go out, plunging the room into near darkness. The dark flame of the demon candle sputters.

The wind screams as it pushes through the small smudged gap in the circle and out onto the floor of the market. It coils around Rind’s feet and teases at the hem of the child’s dress. It ruffles the duck’s feathers.

The fingertips flick over the eye, caress it, draw it close. And finally its fist closes tightly around it.

The last candle goes out, plunging the room into darkness. The wind and the sirens stop all at once, and in the silence all that can be heard is the steady rain outside.

“Look Trine or not, I need a little more than this. I ain’t nobodies errand boy, and insofar as I can tell either the Gods are dead, or they haven’t given a rats ass about me or anyone else. What’s more, you’re claiming to be some sort of divinity, yet you can only manifest here amongst my nightmares, the same ones I learned years ago to shut out. You never forget the face of your first mark, but what they don’t tell you is it doesn’t have to haunt you either.” Alex looks directly at the apparition.

“But I’m reasonable too. Give me some proof you say what you are. You say you have power to share? Well power I need. I have people to protect, and an unclue to rescue. I’ll be damned if I let anything happen to them. Yet here I am, stuck in this god firsaken place chittering away with my own subconcious getting attacked by freaking mushrooms people.”

“Just give it to me straight Neddas, what assistance are you offering, and what must I give in return? If you an guarantee me a way to protect those close to me, I don’t give a rats ass about the rest.”

Neddas silently holds your gaze for a long moment.

“What you ask of me is fair, since I am asking so much of you.”

They hold out their hands and present you with a stone amulet. It slightly resembles the Ginnarak Crystals. Much smaller. And more almond shaped than melon shaped. But it is the same shade of blue, with the same veins of slightly pulsating gold throughout. It hangs from a fine chain of small silver links.

“As long as this stone is in your possession, you will find you have the courage to do what you think is right. Be aware that it is a piece of me. And those who know about it will try to take it from you.”

In the distance you can hear alarms and terrible moans carried on a howling wind.


Corraidhín impatiently flips over the first three tumbrot cards in front of Inky:

  1. A tall man looks from a battlemented roof over sea and shore; he holds a globe in his right hand, while a staff in his left rests on the battlement; another is fixed in a ring. The Rose and Cross and Lily should be noticed on the left side.

  2. Strange chalices of vision, but the images are more especially those of the fantastic spirit.

  3. A ferryman carrying passengers in his punt to the further shore. The course is smooth, and seeing that the freight is light, it may be noted that the work is not beyond his strength.

Felixe the Cat passes the two six-sided tumbrot dice to Inky and recites a small pome for the inkling:

In the superior world it is
A young man, leaning on his
to indicate therein. It is
speaking, to the traditional
red standard has been

You can suddenly hear an ominous wind whistling outside the club and battering at the windows.

“Well?” Balvin prompts. “What do you do?”


Inky offers the cat person a bemused half-smile, then turns to the sysorcerer. “We hope you are well. Young Master Alex has been searching for you. He had planned on coming, but had to attend to an urgent matter on short notice.”

A pause, then Inky slides an open envelope — a plain affair with a grid of tiny blue dots, and a single sheet of a similar pattern inside — across the table towards the wizard. They continue, “If there is anything you wish to tell him, you can write it in a language only you two understand and seal the envelope. This one will do their best to pass on the message.” They wave another identical envelope, indicating the message will be copied once sealed before pocketing it again.

“If you do decide to write, please do it promptly. This one will be departing shortly, and the envelope in front of you will disappear,” they inform the sysorcerer with an apologetic look and a tinge of sadness.

To the self-proclaimed double agent, Inky replies, “Thanks for the information. Master Alex will be positively ecstatic with the news.” They send the hobbit a lopsided smile. “Nevertheless, you will understand if the party would like to consider your proposal further before providing an answer. Haste makes waste, as proverbs say. Perhaps your pirate captain would agree. My condolences.”

Ignoring the proffered dice, Inky bids the group at the table good evening and exits the club by the same route with which they had entered, trying to stave off the growing unease at the back of their mind.


Three corridors later, one with a high vaulted ceiling away from the din of the gambling club, Inky slows their brisk trot and hands Fuko the envelope. The owl grips the item, dives down and drops it onto the thick carpet. She places the back of one feet lightly over a corner of the envelope, deftly slicing open the top layer along one edge with a claw. Working quickly, she pulls out the contents with her beak, smoothing out the sheet with a brush of her wings. Next, she flies in a slow circle above the papers a few times before descending again upon the papers and dragging them into a cake tin. Finally, the bird pops the lid over the container, where the paper within turns into dry compost.

“It’s confidential. Please do not decode.” Inky says as a reminder from their spot near the end of the corridor.

Fuko levels an unimpressed look at her companion, as if to say, Yes, for the twenty-fourth time. Inky smiles back at her and asks, “Is your boss satisfied now?” The smile widens briefly at the indignant screech and clicks in response, then vanish as the events of the past few moments caught up to them again. Here in a hallway brightly lit by glow lamps away from any windows, the howling winds are a distant echo, but it did not stop Inky from wondering.

It had been a risk, dallying around longer to give the elder wizard time to say his piece in writing. No one could have missed the disappointment written clearly on his face when he realised his nephew hadn’t come. Now, from Fuko’s sparse recount of what their tails had found, the candle had burned down, releasing something somewhere, yet none of the others had woken up. It would appear that Master Alex had not left the Dreaming at all, but was in another area doing Neddas-only-knows-what.

They stare up at the large central chandelier in the next room with thousands of crystal beads that gleam like tiny droplets suspended in the air. Orange shirt and blue shorts have since been replaced with a red brimmed hat and blue duffel coat, the drawstring pouch tied below the collar, and running shoes with red rain boots. The mess of ginger hair is trimmed to a caramel crop.

When the owl settles again on their shoulder, stirring Inky from their thoughts, they collect the cake tin, remove the lid and look inside. From a pocket of their coat, they pull out three seeds and nudge them with two fingers into the soil. Descending a flight of stairs, Inky sets the dousojin, grown to the size of a boulder, and the tin on a side table. They pour seaweed tea into the tin from a glass bottle, then refill the bottle with small fish-shaped crackers, corking and placing it beside the tin.

“Thank you, Great Spirit. This useless one will take their leave now, and apologises if they have accidentally ‘left the door open’ for something to blow in that should not be here.” Inky says.

They turn to the great horned owl. “Impeccable as ever, both of you. Thanks for coming along tonight. You may go, Fuko. When you wake yourself or with Futa’s help, please get into the carrier as quickly as you can, activate the connection and leave immediately. Sever it as soon as you arrive safely. Forget about pulling off the patch under my forearm, it can be delivered later, or he can have the body sent over eventually. Leave and don’t look back.” Then, more airily, “Should we meet again, Inky the Insolent shall bring you a large ‘rat at two eels’. How’s that for a handsome reward?”


Alex takes the amulet solemnly “Alright, now that’s something I can believe in.” he says as he turns the locket over in his hand. The golden veins shimmer and pulse inside of the pale blue. Alex dons the necklace, noting that the stone is warm, almost exactly body temperature. “Alright Neddas, you’ve got yourself a deal. I’ll finish assembling the crystals, we’ll haul you back out to Basementaria. And it sounds like we’re cracking a few eggs along the way thanks to this”.

The howling interrupts, growing louder, becoming a cacaphony of tormented banshee wails. The gray expanse of sand fills with a vile wind, a thick almost physical wall of dark black smog closes in. Neddas, is nowhere to be found.

Alex dips down and scoops up the little Katsuva, tucking him into the ruck sack at his side. “Hang tight little guy, I think the ride out of here’s going to get bumpy..”

In a single swift motion Alex pulls back the bolt on his AK74u and levels it at the smog, letting loose a sustained volley of gunfire. Bullets whiz with a defeaning RATATATAT. While laying down suppressing fire, he pulls the little console back up to his side with a short wave of the hand. A single command is all he needs here.

When Alex pulls up his terminal he sees a notification blinking in the corner of the screen. A message from Corraidhín?

The howling wind abruptly stops and the smog quickly dissipates.


In the fish market, Alex and Inky both wake with a start, gasping for breath as though drowning.

It is dark. The lights are all out but it looks as through Marvelo has dropped some flairs on the ground. They fill the room with an eerie, crackling red glow.

It is not quiet. The antiques dealer / spymaster has a couple of cords of rope and a couple loose blankets coiled around his arms and legs. He is shaking them off while screaming obscenities and repeatedly firing a blaster pistol at a large, roaring abomination standing in the center of the room.

The nightmare has an almost fetal-looking head with a long, bulbous skull that looks far too large for its body. A single eye glares malevolently from the center of its small face. Oily feathers drip from a thin, sagging membrane that runs from wrist to ankle. Its leathery skin cracks and oozes from repeated shots to the torso from Marvelo’s blaster, but it seems unbothered by the attack.

It screeches and lunges forward and swings one massive arm at Marvelo. Its leathery, feathery wing slices through the air like a billowing cape behind its claws. Marvelo jumps to the side at the last moment, firing another shot right into the creature’s chest while in midair, and lands on the ground.

Now prone and helpless on the floor, he looks up as the beast looms over him. It screeches and falls on top of him, shoving its slender hands into his mouth. Marvelo’s muffled screams become pitiful whimpers as the creature pulls out teeth by the handful and crams them into its own mouth.



Alex scrambles up from the pile of blankets and pilows kicking things away from him in haste as he grabs at his shoulder holster, pulling out a sleek looking m1911 pistol.

“Marvelo! Hang on mate I’ve got you!” Alex yells as he empties a clip into the side of the creature. click click “Fuck out.” Alex pulls the clip from the pistol and chucks it at the creature “Hey you ugly fuck! Right here, I’m right the fuck here!” Alex shouts as he slams another clip into the reciever and starts to fire away at the creature.

Despite the yelling and flurry of lead Alex delivered to it the creature continued it’s macabre dental work. Marvelo’s whimpers and groans of pain becoming gradually fainter as life leaves his body.

“Goddamit!” Alex yells in desperation. Another death on his hands, another agent lost on his watch. Another member of HIS team gone. This job never gets easier.

Alex continues to fire away at the creature as he attempts to formulate a plan.

“Inky, look, I don’t know what the hell that is. But it’s intent on tearing us to pieces insofar as I can tell. Marvelo and I rigged the entire goddamn building to blow though, just in case shit went to hell. Unless you’ve got a better idea I’ll tackle the goddamn thing and try and keep it distracted long enough for you to bug the hell out, preferably through the window if you can stomach it. And then I’ll level the place on top of it” Alex grimaces as he pulls a detonator from his pocket and shows it to Inky.

“If you have any better ideas I am ALL ears. Not sure if I can really pull this one off and get out unscathed..”


Inky stares at the creature in their midst in all its exquisitely monstrous glory for a brief moment that seems much longer amid the creature’s ear-splitting screeches. Eventually coming to, Inky turns to check the birdhouse. More specifically, the pattern of circles next to the doors. Through the dim red glow, they could make out three circles alternating between dark and light. The door had been bolted from the inside, the interior was empty and the secure drop back to the lab had been triggered. Fuko had already left then.

Suddenly recalling the witch’s warning, Inky yells, “Bread! Run! We’ll catch up later!” They grab the bouquet of dried herbs from the floor and spring to their feet, walking stick in hand, and dash towards the Nyxmaer candle. On the way they drop the bouquet into an unlit brazier that stood off to one side, only pausing briefly to strike a match and toss it through the opening.

Between the loud bangs of gunfire and muffled screams, they bring the steel-reinforced stick down hard on the mummified hand and eye several times quickly. Pushing the remains off the tin plate with the walking stick then tucking the stick under one arm at the handle, they run a kitchen knife through the eye and hand with both gloved hands into the wooden surface beneath.

The flowery scents of sage, thyme and rosemary permeate the room.[1]

Looking over to the sysorcerer when he spoke but still keeping the creature within their line of sight, Inky replies, “No, Master Alex. You have a team to lead and an uncle to rescue. Allow me to do the demolition honours. Go grab Marvelo and run. Here,” they toss a small packet of pain relievers in powdered form wrapped in wax paper from their first-aid kit, along with a small cheesecloth pouch filled with nilgiri tea leaves — still sopping wet from the flask of iced tea in which it had been steeped — to Master Alex. “This should help with the bleeding, just watch out for shock.”

They smile at the sysorcerer. “All dreams end eventually, as do nightmares. And what is darkness without light?” While speaking, they drop a bundle of twigs and sweet grass[2] on top of the candle remains that still sat on the thick wooden slab of a rusty metal office desk. They pour a flask of a clear liquid over it. The pile suddenly erupts like a bonfire over a pyre, throwing shadows on the walls that dance and lick away with the crackling flames.

[1] It is said the ancients began the practice of burning sage to ward off evil or cleanse negative energies, thyme to induce courage and guard against nightmares, and rosemary to clear and focus the mind.

[2] The elder aunties commonly use sweet grass for purification, such as when helping their young relatives move into a new home for the first time with a housewarming ritual.


Alex glances at Inky as he takes the offered medicines, “only use that as a last resort, got it? We’ve got a couple of innocents in here too, hard to keep track of with that big ass monster in here.”

Alex continues laying down covering fire as he advances on the monster. He casts a glance over his shoulder to see Inky begin smashing the eye and hand that were embedded in the candle. “Strange, but I guess it makes about as much sense as the rest of this situation.”

Alex lunges forward, teeth gritted, as he tackles the monster pushing it off of Marvelo. He struggles with it, attempting to blast the eye of the beast with his pistol.

Alex rains bullets down on the nightmare until he finally gets its attention. It turns from its bloody work and glares at him with its single emerald eye, teeth dribbling from the tiny face in the middle of its oversized, bulbous head. There is a grinding noise like rocks in a tumbler as it tries to roar at you around a mouthful of loose molars.

From its crouch over Marvelo, it leaps high into the air and spreads its limbs, pulling its wings taut and gliding through the air.

It lands on the ceiling, digging in with its hind claws, reaching down and swinging at Alex from behind.

Bread staggers out of the sleeping circle looking exactly as hungover as somebody who has had several interlopers gallivanting around inside their head. They swing a bardiche and bury the blade between its shoulders, striking bone so hard that it rips the weapon from the toque’s hands.

The Nyxmaer squeals and falls to the floor, spilling a few more teeth when it hits. It knocks Bread aside and frantically scrabbles after the loose teeth, scooping them up and cramming them back in its mouth.

Just then Inky stabs the artifacts and the creature clutches its head and falls in a heap at Alex’s feet.

It howls and writhes, and looks at Alex with a dazed look. He raises his gun and fires directly into the nightmare’s eye.

The eye shatters like glass and a howling, screaming, putrid wind screams from the wound, rising and filling the room. The nightmare seems to deflate and pool at Alex’s feet.

Its flesh sloughs off, revealing Rind and the marketing manager in the center of its torso, and leaving them in an unconscious pile.

Marvelo babbles incoherently where he lies, wide-eyed and in shock, his jaw hideously broken.

The hemogoblin hops over and gently pats Rind and the duck on their faces.

Gliftwrip is the only one still asleep, face down in the pillows in the center of the circle.

A malevolent force rides the still howling wind and hovers screaming up near the ceiling of the fish market.



Neddas loves mortals. Possibly more than they love themself. It’s why they’ve diminished their own divinity over the eons by freely giving parts of themself away—gifting tiny aspects of themself to the mortals. Part of their constant delight in doing so is that even with their divine wisdom they can never quite be sure what any mortal or mortals will actually do with a sliver of godhood, with a divine spark. Consequently they have a lot of experience with giving what they thought is a perfect gift only for it to be misused, or for it to backfire in some unexpected way.

The Sword of Y’aml is a prime example. Justice without Wisom turned out to be a cruel weapon, seeing evil everywhere and smiting it on sight. And Wisdom itself proved as impotent as Justice was overzealous: it became as cold and as cruel in its own way, locked away in ivory towers, refusing to intervene, made lame by theory and academia.

So now, in this moment, Neddas watches closely to see if they finally got it right. Does this mortal have not only the Wisdom to know what to do, but also the Courage to do it in the name of Justice?

Alex rushes to Marvelo’s side and quickly begins to administer medicine to him. “Sorry old friend, it’s not much considering the wound, but it should help you at least stay lucid” Alex says as he administers the medicine Inky gave him. He takes quick stock of Marvelo’s wound, most of his teeth are gone, his jaw is horribly disfigured, it’s doubtful if it’ll heal properly. At best he’ll need prostethics, potentially a full mechanical jaw. It is essentially a death knell in this kind of work, the perfect normality Marvelo had always strove for would be forever marred by his sudden abnormality. Alex shakes his head, “It’s fine Marv, I’m positive we can get this fixed, no worse than at wound Agent 3 took in Cosovo, remember that one? Hell of a thing that” Alex grins grimly, casting a glance over his shoulder. “Alright, you should be set old friend, best I can do for now.” Alex hands him back his blaster and sits him up against the wall, the bleeding staunched, but the magled jaw not much better.

Alex stands, reloads his pistol, and turns to face the malevolent apparition.

“I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, or what the fuck you think you’re doing. But nobody, and I mean nobody, messes with my agents, my friends.” Alex approaches the apparition, pistol gripped in one hand, and the crystal pendant Neddas gave him held tight in the other. “Alright Neddas, you said you’d give me something I could protect my friends with. Don’t think I believe in it much, but I’d of said until about 15 minutes ago that candles don’t produce macabre dentists either.” Alex stands before the apparition, daring it to move, come and try me if you dare.

Alex faces down the howling apparition—pistol in one hand, amulet in the other—daring and defiant.

The wind engulfs him, swirls around him, wraps him in its embrace, and presses him to its bosom.

While Master Alex faces the screaming presence overhead, Inky steps over to where Marvelo is slumped against the wall. Working quickly, they wipe the blood on the agent’s face with a clean kerchief and antiseptic, then gently realign the shattered jaw, wrapping bandages around his head to hold it in place. They pull a blanket laying on the ground nearby over his body before getting to their feet again.

At the mention of Neddas, they tense minutely before turning away to stand in a corner, gloved hands in their coat pockets, a quiet witness to the ensuing confrontation.

Inky continues to patch up Marvelo and watches as the nightmare chooses its new vessel.

Flesh and bone start to materialize around Alex as the Nyxmaer tries to encase him in its ribcage and grow a new body.

The creature starts to take shape, but falters at the threshold of creation. It appears to you as though through a smoky haze, or from the bottom of a murky well. Something is holding it back from materializing.

It thrashes and redoubles its efforts, desperate to be born. Alex stands still in the eye of its storm. You see the Nyxmaer’s tiny face take shape in the small cyclone. It roars as Alex lifts the amulet, and fires his pistol.

The demon’s pinched face wails as the wind no longer presses in on Alex from all sides but is suddenly yanked toward him. The struggling body collapses and folds in on itself. The wind goes out of the room as the amulet inhales the Nyxmaer and all its fury.

And then all is quiet.

Marvelo looks up at Inky and whimpers.

A heavy paper envelope, disturbed by the wind, settles to the ground. It was torn open in the commotion, and two tickets spill out: “The bearer of this ticket is entitled to an all expenses paid trip to the moon.” It is signed by Blavin Blandfoot and bears the seal of the Benefactor.



Alex grabs the envelope from in front of him and rushes to check on Inky and Marvelo. “Are you two alright?” he asks as he notes the patch job Inky performed. “Thank you Inky, I understand why my uncle trusted you so much.” he said sincerely. Inky was far better a healer than Alex could ever hope to be.

He steps away, noting there’s not much he can do after Inky gives their response. Marv is stable, but not much a talker at the moment. He proceeds to check on the duck, the child Rind, and the hemogoblin. The little hemogoblin burbbles happily and climbs up to sit on Alex’s shoulder, tugging lightly at the cord which suspended the gem Neddas gave him, now worn around his neck. “Best not mess with that one little one, I’m not sure what the hell just happened, but I don’t trust it. Or any of this eldritch mumbo jumbo..”

Rind is quiet pensive, and doesn’t respond much when Alex attempts to interact. “Inky, do you think you can look after this one when you get a second? I’m going to check on the sleeping bloke.”

Alex carefully makes his way back towards the circle, making sure not to cross over it. He quietly inspects their unwelcomed guest.

“I don’t know who you think you are, but I ought to put a bullet through your skull where you lay you sick son of a bitch. How dare you sneak up on my friends like that.” Alex racks his pistol, noting there’s a bullet in the chamber, and levels it at the silk assassin. “Inky, unless you have objections, I’m going to tie up some loose ends..” Alex says grimly.


“It’s just basic first aid, Master Alex. Any old adventuring sod on the street can do it. Thank you for the thought, though.” Inky replies. “However, very few people can pull off what you just did. That was a remarkable feat.”

They take a long look at the child, then beckon their marketing manager closer, crouching down next to them to speak softly and slowly to the child. “I guess you’ve already met duck. You’re friends, right? But did you know that duck is a really good listener? Whenever you’re sad or scared, you can tell duck. Duck always knows what to do. If you let duck give you a hug, duck can help you feel better too.” They guide the child’s hands to the duck’s back and let them rest there, watching for a moment as small, thin fingers begin to stroke the feathers of their own accord.

At the sysorcerer’s direct address, they look over to him and their slumbering visitor’s form. “Do as you like, Master Alex.” Inky says tonelessly. They add in a low voice, “In all likelihood he will be unable to cause trouble this side again. If he has not woken up now that the candle’s spell has broken, he probably never will. Maybe justice has already been served, or the Scissorfolk got to him. Mercy is an unpopular idea of late though, and I’m hardly in a position to ask anyone to ponder its meaning.”

They frown at the body. “Speaking of which, the ever-resourceful case manager has another proposal for you to consider, having gone as far as to recruit a local celebrity you know well to speak to his cause. His group, the Golden Iris, wants the crystals for the purpose of conferring divinity upon the Corn Mother Sitopotnia and making knowledge of the process available to all. No doubt he’ll be expecting a response to his offer soon. But I see you have already made your choice.” Inky offers the sysorcerer a resigned smile.

The sound of tapping on glass interrupts Inky’s next words. They look in the direction of the window to see the scops owl outside with a weatherproof pouch in its beak. Inky walks over to the window, wedging it open just wide enough to allow the bird to hop in and takes the pouch. A tiny smirk makes its way to Inky’s face when they return the owl’s searching stare, despite an attempt to look stern and failing. “He let you out, hmm? All right, in a minute,” Inky murmurs to the newly arrived messenger, while pulling out an envelope from the pouch. As the small owl sets itself on the imp’s right shoulder like it belonged there, said imp half-turns to Master Alex, expression serious again.

“One more thing.” They place the detonator, followed by the envelope, on top of a stack of pillows a few paces from the sysorcerer. It is identical in appearance to the one they had presented to Master Corraidhín in the Dreaming.

“Since you weren’t at the meeting, I offered to take a message from your uncle presumptive. Fuko’s caretaker has a contraption that can print copies of notes written on special paper after showing them to the twins. It has come in handy on occasion in remote areas with few or no amenities,” Inky explains. “Anyway, I don’t know if he wrote anything, or if he was truly Master Corraidhín. Fuko handled the rest and I didn’t ask her amid the hustle. It could be a blank sheet and everything I just said was probably a terrible joke. He did seem genuinely glum you couldn’t be there, though.” They shrug. “You know what to do from here. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I would very much like some fresh air.” With those parting words and walking stick in hand, Inky strides quickly from the room, out of the dilapidated building and into the drizzling rain.


Alex gripped his pistol as Inky walked away, her words ringing in his ears “you have already made your choice. The statement brings pause, a flicker of doubt, and a frown mars Alex’s face. As Inky shuts the door behind her Alex lets out a discontented sigh, what was it Uncle had said?

“A man’s fate, is wrought by his own hand”

Alex looked at the sleeping man before him, the pistol in his hand, Marvelo’s blood spattered haphazardly across his gloves and trench coat. Was more blood really the answer? Would killing this man right the wrong done against Alex? Or his agents? Would their dangerous game get any less dangerous?

A single shot rang out from the warehouse, the bullet lodge harmlessly amongst pillows and blankets. The pistol cast aside, resting next to the bestilled assassin, with a small note afixed to it.

‘Your fate is wrought by your own hand, not mine. - Agent 4’

Alex gathers himself, discontented, and pulls the letter Inky gave him open. Inside was Uncle’s familiar writing, in the simple cypher he’d used when Alex was just a boy.

I have only a moment to pen this, and I don't know if it'll reach
you, but I trust Inky will try.

I am very much alive, rest assured, but the where I haven't yet
pieced together. Blavin has my physical and metaphysical form
trapped. And he has the second crystal.

But don't worry, if you're looking as Inky claimed, I rest well
knowing my unrelenting rebel will raise hell itself to find me.

Remember, son, we write our own fate.

- 10

Alex shakes as he folds the letter back into the envelope and presses it gently against his breast coat pocket. “I’m coming Uncle”, he whispers as he strides across the room and into the rainy night.

He catches up with Inky a little down the dock, and comes to sit beside her on the wharf. The patter of rain hitting heavily dampened planks and stone resounding around them.

“Inky.. thank you. For the letter, but also your friendship.” Alex casts a side long glance towards Inky, and he begins to describe his dream sequence in a rambling sort of way. As he nears the end, “And that Neddas gave me this stone, he said gesturing to the necklace he wore. But I’d of told you it was bullshit before any of this happened. And now you’re telling me there are factions, Blavin, the Benefactor, hell I guess us, all vying for control of these crystals. I don’t know what to do, or what any of it means, but I know we can forge our own path in this, the rest of it be damned!”

Alex sighs heavily. “I couldn’t kill the assassin. He killed one of my men, almost killed Marvelo. He’d of killed us if he hadn’t gotten caught in that magic. I don’t know if I have it in me Inky, I’m not sure I can keep staring into the abyss without tipping over the edge.”

“Everything was a little easier when it was just the agency, hunting down the bad guys. We had the data, knew the crimes. All of this though?” he gestures broadly towards the sea in front of them “is about as clear as a ship on these waters. There’s no light to guide us. And all I want is my Uncle back.”

Alex sighs heavily again and hands the envelope from Blavin to Inky, “and it doesn’t look like it ends here, Blavin wants us to head to the moon, but I’m not so sure we should go..”


The imp remains quiet for a long time, staring out into the open sea.

Eventually, Inky says, “I cannot tell you what to do.”

They look at the envelope but make no move to take it.

“You already have the Fair One’s blessing. Combined with your talents, fortitude and determination, success is more or less assured if you decide to go. If you decide not to, maybe Master Corraidhín will turn up on his own again when he is sufficiently recovered — if he does not run off to collect the remainder of the crystals himself.” Inky chuckles at that. “Master Alex is such a thoughtful nephew, not wanting to deprive his uncle of his fun.”

They lean back on their hands and study Master Alex under half-lidded eyes. “You really are like your uncle.” A few beats pass, and they turn their attention upwards to the sky, tilting their head up towards the errant raindrops and cool winds blowing in from across the waters.

In the days that follow, you move Marvelo into the Milk Market to care for him during his recovery.

The reclusive Blacksmith of Vay’Nullar (a dwrlugh who—as is traditional among its kind—refuses to go by any given name) makes a rare appearance outside of its forge to present Marvelo with a new artificial jaw made of polished granite and bronze. An exquisite gift that more than settles an old debt owed from an adventure the two of them shared long ago.

It will never be mistaken for flesh, but it does somewhat complement the golden tones of Marvelo’s skin. With the skill of a surgeon, and a level of craftmanship unique to the dwrlugh, the Blacksmith affixes the jaw to Marvelo’s bones with small metal screws, and lengthens and sews his muscles to the contraption so that it operates naturally, just like the real thing.

Marvelo grows stronger as the days go by. His recovery is no doubt accelerated by the hemogoblin, who provides ample transfusions and refuses to leave his bed. Confidence and Bread continue to help out around the place, and take turns checking in on him.

Though he will ever be physically scarred by his encounter with the Nyxmaer, Marvelo soon enough is able to eat and drink on his own. Soon after that he is puttering around the Milk Market and growing restless at his confinement.

Kasutva falls in with Quack and Clot and attains the rank of Milk Market Mascot. They have a better command of language than their companions. And, being an escapee dream entity, at times behaves a little alien, inscrutible, and other-wordly. They don’t sleep, for example. And every morning they demand a full recounting of everybody’s dreams, omitting nothing, and sometimes requiring up to three retellings of each dream. But they otherwise settle right right in.

Another curious presence in the Milk Market is Rind. The orphaned child of Pepo the melon vendor. Abandoned by his mother. Adopted by Gliftwirp the assassin. The child has still not uttered a word the entire time. Rind and the duck have formed an inseparable bond. Apparently becoming a conjoined host for a living dentophiliac nightmare will do that. Whenever you least suspect it, you’ll turn around to find Rind standing behind you, silent, wide-eyed, and watching. Cradling the duck in his arms and stroking its feathers.

Gliftwirp has still not responded to any attempts to wake him. The toques have assumed responsibility for sustaining him through his unnatural slumber. Feeding him broth, and carrying him outside now and then for fresh air and sunshine. More kindness than Alex is comfortable with, no doubt. Rind visits him often in the storage closet where his cot is set up. Keeping a silent, watchful vigil. Rind’s apparent affection for the assassin is actually probably the only reason Gliftwirp is shown any compassion whatsoever by Team 43.

Your next mission looms ahead of you. Putting your heads together with Marvelo and Confidence, you agree that the most simple way forward will be to use the pirate balloonship currently docked above the Market. It is straight-forward enough to retrofit it with a portable atmosphere (which will provide you with breathable oxygen and gravity) and a starhelm (which will allow you to pilot the ship through the void of space). Both items can be obtained in Vay’Nullar for a reasonable price.

The only thing holding you back at this point is your own reservations about the various interested parties and their motivations.

Do you help the Golden Iris create a new god? Or do you help an existing, exiled god return to Basmentaria? And then who knows what the mysterious Benefactor’s plans are?

Whatever your answer, there’s one thing you know: If you don’t get moving soon, the next Ginnarak Crystal will fall into somebody else’s hands.



Tess looked up as Ink entered her office. Attired in a dark grey suit, nondescript save for a small silver owl pin adorning the collar, her adviser’s face held an impassive expression as they returned her probing gaze. Her secretary stood to one side, but Tess did not miss the apologetic look she gave Ink as the imp approached the desk, a broad polished presence carved from aged cypress. Tess pursed her lips further in a displeased frown.

“Ink, what’s this about another temporary leave request?” she tapped the form on her desk with a gold-plated fountain pen bearing a miniature cloisonné butterfly on its cap, and pinned her adviser with a hard stare. “Does this have something to do with the crystals again?”

“Yes, is something the matter?” Ink asked.

Tess’s expression turned furious. “Salvia told me everything. When you started on this wild duck chase, we agreed you will keep me informed at all times. Not only did you fail to do so, your little game has led to the manager’s death at the Runesocesius. For this alone, the theatre could be liable for damages as a result of your recklessness. I asked you to retrieve a set of notebooks and source material for the play, not to reduce sections of their library to ashes. And that’s not counting the number of eyewitness accounts claiming you forcibly kidnapped two of the hotel employees in a pirate airship. A pirate airship that is currently moored over that dingy bakery you like to shamelessly promote in the magazine.”

The elf shot her adviser a withering look before continuing, “You jeopardised the theatre’s good standing with the hotel, all for the sake of a shiny piece of stone. Did you even think before you acted? As if all that hadn’t been foolish enough, you decided to enter a dream ritual while being pursued by a serial killer. A child would have better sense than that.”

Tess sighed. “We’re extremely fortunate the hotel has decided not to pursue compensation for damages. We also managed to keep most of the stories along with the rumours from appearing in the tabloids, but this has got to stop now, Ink. You are to cease all involvement with those cursed crystals immediately. Stop going on these so-called missions. I have been very patient with you, even to indulge you and your fantasies about the crystals and their supposed potential to level entire cities. The city is fine, the operetta house is still standing, and it’s time you return to work.”

She sat back in her chair and eyed Ink critically. “As a reminder, I do expect my employees to actually be present, not traipsing around Basmentaria playing the intrepid hero. Save that for the stage if you want. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly so,” Ink replied, “but I’d still like that temporary leave all the same, if you don’t mind. Most of the preliminary details for the Cast Iron series have been finalised, and Salvia can check on things in the meantime.”

“Ink—” she warned.

“Tess, we found out something important about the crystals. Once collected and its powers replicated, everyone could create their own deity. Imagine having your very own gourmand deity to make the most divine meals every day, or a goddess of operetta serenading the halls every night. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? When the crystals have been secured, obviously. The next one is on the moon—”

The elf had enough. “Ink! Stop this madness! Do you even hear what you’re saying?” she thundered, raising her voice in annoyance and no small amount of anger. Reining in some of her irritation, she continued in a more measured tone. “You’ve not been yourself lately. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if you’re in any condition to continue in your position as my adviser and asset manager, given your recent pattern of reckless behaviour, disregard for the safety of others and poor judgement.”

She watched Ink’s face for any sign of embarrassment, remorse, anything to indicate her message had gotten through. Instead, the imp had the audacity to look astonished, before nodding once.

“Wonder no more.” they said.

From their suit jacket pocket, they removed a pair of identification key cards and set them on her desk.

“Thank you, Lady Elvesier. It has been a pleasure.” Ink bowed their head, before turning on their heels and exiting the office, the door closing soundlessly behind them.

Salvia turned her gaze from the door back to her employer, distressed. “My Lady,” she started.

Tess shook her head. “Leave them. They will come to their senses in a month when they realise all the myths and hearsay about the crystals’ alleged powers are just that, idle chatter. They will get bored, drive the Nieuwstijl editors into another frenzy then stroll in again as if nothing had happened.”

Or so she hoped.

Outwardly she had to be firm — Ink’s antics can be excessive occasionally, even as those same methods had helped turn the previously dwindling Nieuwstijl readership and fortunes around. She hated pulling rank, more so on someone in her inner circle who, before this fiasco, had also been one of the most reliable members of her staff. It was a bit unfair, she knew, when the work was still getting done and they were finally heeding her suggestion to take time off, after years of practically living on the theatre premises when not out on business for the Foundation, dining out and writing scathing reviews for the magazine, or arguing with Piskin over one of his projects. But she needed Ink to see they were being unreasonable. This obsession with the crystals was getting out of hand.

Tess had noticed more perturbing changes in her friend shortly after their return from some form of sleep ritual with Piskin’s help, ostensibly to get more information about the crystals from a secret conspiracy group. (The kingfisher had refused to divulge any details, but his grimace had told Salvia the event hadn’t gone according to plan.)

The first and most apparent was that they no longer took tea while in her office. One afternoon in Ink’s ensuite office, Tess had opted for a cup of whichever tea Ink was having that day and had nearly spit out the liquid in surprise, only managing not to through years of etiquette training in her upbringing. While she and Ink had different tastes in tea, Ink’s particularity about it meant that whatever was on offer was usually fragrant, often with light floral notes, and soothing on the palate. Six sugar cubes and a half-cup of cream later, the tea — an unusually strong and utterly vile brew laced with something very bitter she couldn’t identify — was still awful. When Tess complained about the flavour, Ink had told her it was ordinary ceylon (she was certain it wasn’t), apologised and offered to make her a fresh pot of a different blend. She accepted a second cup, relieved to find it much more to her liking, but observed that Ink did not take anything in theirs when they refilled their cup from the first pot.

Ink was also spending more time at the theatre again, instead of at the bakery and the gang of ruffians they had been cavorting with while chasing those accursed crystals. This was unexpected but welcome given the empanada chef had been allowed to return to his shop and by all accounts the bakery had reopened, though still under close watch. However, a few times when she or Salvia were preparing to leave for the day, they had caught the imp staring into empty space behind their desk, their eyes taking on a peculiar distant cast that she didn’t like at all. Once, Salvia had found them on the rooftop garden on her way back from collecting a few herbs before an oncoming storm, staring up at the clouds as the first few droplets began to fall. She invited them to tea and refreshments to be sent up from the restaurant downstairs or the empanada shop, but Ink had declined politely, wishing her a good evening before moving further into the garden and out of sight behind a cluster of pine trees.

No, she decided. This was something Ink needed to figure out on their own — before trouble fully or finally caught up to them.


Tess was right — they had been negligent.

It had been a close call with Bread, who was saved only by the toque’s own healthy constitution and sheer luck. Master Alex’s agent hadn’t fared much better, either. While first aid had been part of the self-defence training Inky had undertaken after the ugly incident at the concert hall several years ago, the encounter with the toques had all but shown Inky that their grasp of first aid in relation to field surgery and wilderness emergency was sorely lacking.

In the aftermath of the dream ritual, Inky resolved to do something about the oversight. They sat in their office long past work hours poring over herbal tracts as well as books on loan from the city library ranging from applied toxicology, general anatomy to extrication procedures, making notes on ingredients, effects, pressure points and related topics. They scoured new and used bookshops, then went to an apothecary and the witch’s antique shop to restock their kit. It was a crash course at best, but it would have to do.

Since relinquishing their position as Lady Elvesier’s adviser, Inky had started working at a healer’s camp at the edge of the city a few days per week in exchange for food, often as part of a skeleton crew on the night shift. The encampment mostly saw farmers or day labourers caught in accidents and mudslides; mothers from remote settlements cradling their sick children with high fevers, infected animal bites or food-borne illnesses; and adventurers who had met with misfortune in some dungeon or another, staggering into the camp or being carried in by a fellow explorer.

When the camp was filled with patients, it sometimes meant Inky did not sleep for four or five days at a stretch, with only breaks for meals during the day, or tea and light snacks during the night. It was fine, though. Imps did not really need sleep, though many do enjoy a good nap or adopt the habits of their sleep-requiring partners. However, healing did not come naturally to Inky, who was familiar with more poisons than antidotes from sourcing raw materials for dyes. Starting with the most common ailments, they slowly learned to treat some of the more extensive and serious injuries.

All in all, time put towards something Inky would rather need not be used on missions.


Lately, Inky did not stay long when they made their presence known at the Milk Market, but came by a number of times to visit a recovering Marvelo with a bag of fresh fruits and a few adventure thrillers from a comic bookshop as a diversion while he was unable to venture out yet. Besides occupying themselves at the healer’s camp or with other preparations, it was to give the sysorcerer some space to consider his next course of action. The dream ritual had nearly cost him another member of his team, even if he had gained the Fair One’s protection on the way. Inky wasn’t entirely sure how far that protection extended to his subordinates, and wasn’t about to persuade the sysorcerer to find out.

It had the additional advantage of not being in the same room with the Milk Market Mascot. Inky had ignored the mascot’s incessant demands for detailed accounts of their dreams, but the smell of wet sand mixed faintly with stars that rolled off the mushroom-like creature in waves was harder to brush off. It set off a phantom ache, and it had nothing to do with stars.

However, Inky had a funny idea they wanted to try, and who would be a better assistant than Bread, the experienced host of sleeping rituals? They ushered the bakery apprentice into an unused cooling room with a sleeping bag, a pillow and a cloth bundle of books on the pastries of Agendell, then locked the door behind them both. Several bottles, a tea service and a few implements were laid out on one of the wheeled racks that stood at one end of the room.

Once Bread was reclined comfortably in the sleeping bag on the floor, Inky began the first of three sets of tests in two four-hour blocks, one block each for a sleep and wake tea. The toque was instructed to take the sleep tea and rest for four hours, after which Inky would administer the wake tea, having them stay up for four hours eating and reading before repeating with the next round of different infusions. Aside from Confidence leaving their meals at the door, no one disturbed their trial by tea. When the tests ended, Inky thanked the baker’s apprentice for their help and informed them they could keep the books.

Three days later, Inky slipped into the storage closet where a slumbering man lay alone in his cot. The child was probably playing with the duck in their room on the other side of the Milk Market. They poured liquid from a vial into the man’s mouth, careful to not spill any, and wiped the sleeping face afterwards. After several minutes without a response, Inky nodded to themselves and left the building.


After knocking at the door and waiting for it to be opened, Inky walked into Marvelo’s room carrying an open cardboard box in both arms. From the box which they deposited onto a nearby table, they pulled out a small rectangular wooden planter that held a single plant with a tea green rosette (the accompanying information card read “Echeveria elegans” at the top), a decorative wicker pot of mint, and an old-fashioned watering can, placing the items by the window.

“A spot of green for the room. Mint is very resilient, just like its new owner.” Inky said to the agent with a wry smile.

They turned back to the box and extracted the remaining items — a bound notebook, an antique fountain pen with refill kit and a portable shredder. These were set on the nightstand next to the reading lamp and a tray with the cold remnants of a half-eaten meal.

“It has an invisible ink mode,” they said, gesturing towards the pen.

Sitting on a vacant chair next to the table, Inky offered, “I probably hadn’t mentioned it before, but I used to work at a theatre. On one occasion I went along with the props and effects people to a few antique shops and a curios market while they picked up some items for the upcoming play at the time. They had drawn up a list, of course, but you never quite know what you’ll get until you’re there. One of the shops had a black case with a glossy top about the size of your palm with a sliding panel at the back and very flat keys. The shop owner said it was a ‘droidfour’. They don’t make things like that off the shelf anymore. The props guy even scouted out a working candle-powered raclette cooker. Said he was going to caramelise onions on it for the dining room scene. A bit of a waste really. Sound effects crew got herself a rotary dialer to attach to a keypad. She makes the most awfully astounding noise dashboards in all of Vay’Nullar. By the time we got out at the last stop, we were more than a hundred percent over budget. Our employer was not amused.”

Inky grinned briefly at the memory, then continued. “Most of the items found uses in the next production months later. It saved the crew another trip.” They look at Marvelo solemnly. “Sometimes there are unexpected outcomes despite the best-laid plans. Instead of the light switch you were looking for, you find a stiff and slightly rusty crank at the shop. And it’s one of the most compact and effective ways of making creaking door sound effects you’ll ever get on a live stage.”

They eyed the tray on the nightstand, then rose to their feet, taking the tray with them. “I will come by again another day, more often if you decide you can stomach my presence a bit longer, or would enjoy talking to a breathing fifth wall. I was told it’s an acquired taste.” Inky gave the occupant of the room a small smile. “Let me know if you require a sleeping aid. The notebook is for the things you want to say but will never tell anyone.”


“The remaining agents are watching the street and market Marvelo, there’s nothing to worry about. We have every aspect of the building covered completely. You’re safe here.” Alex said to Marvelo as he gave him a doubtful work. Despite the mechanical surgery he was still quite weak, and words came to him in a startling and feeble stutter. The monsters attack had done more than shatter his jaw, he’d lost his edge, reduced to a shadow of his former self. Alex had made a habit of annoucing himself whenever he entered Marvelo’s recovery room, and often times despite that fact found himself staring down the sleek barrel of Marvelo’s blaster.

Alex didn’t blame him. That ordeal had harmed them all in more ways than one.

“I’ll have Lee stand watch outside your door if it helps any. She’ll keep you safe. Agent 3 was the most aware of any of us after all.” Marvelo smiled weakly. “Is there anything I can do for you friend, nip down to the curio store, fetch the books to keep your mind off things perhaps?” but Marvelo only stuttered a feeble “n-nn-no” in response.

Alex sighed, “Alright friend, stay the watch. I’ll check back when I can”.

“Marvelo might find himself behind the desk of that curio shop for the rest of his life. If he could stand to greet visitors without brandishing his weapons when they entered the room..” Alex thought to himself as he wandered into the kitchen to find Lee. She often made herself present there, helping the Empanada chef here and there in return for free empanadas. A sly one as always, but the position in the kitchen kept her appraised as to the ongoings on the restuarant. All of which inevitably trickled into the agents twtxt feeds.

“Lee, can you keep a closer eye on Marv? He can’t stand ten minutes without leveling his iron at the door. The shell shock isn’t going to get better, but we can try” Alex whispered as he passed Lee on his way out the door.

It was common place for the agents to pass words amongst themselves in the milk market in this fashion. Keeping a low hushed profile. Only speaking briefly in passing when necessary. It helped reduce operational friction, reduce the surface for someone, something, to pick up on where they were or what they were doing. It might have been unnecessary in the moment, but after all the planning, traps, guards, and forethought that had gone into that damned dream thing. And then what? An agent dead, another maimed and a shell of his former self? They couldn’t be too careful.

Alex emerged into the midday sun on the busy street outside of the Milk Market. The city babbled with life, yet felt isolating, lonely. The crowds milled around like the gentle motion of a river, milling aimlessly onward. It was easy for Alex to slip into the ebb and flow of these rivers of people, to become lost amongst the crowd. To pretend for a moment to be less than he truly was. He hadn’t been sleeping since the dream.

The insomnia hadn’t been immediately apparent to him, he felt driven initially; by anxiety to help his friend recover, by fear of the unknown, by hatred towards Blavin and his blasted baubles and the curse they afflicted upon his friends. Yet Alex had taken that drive and planned the retrofit of the airship, hired a crew using the funds he had gotten from his uncles life insurance policy. Sourced the parts, planned the project, and managed it dutifully. It was only once this was all in motion that he had realized he could not sleep. As a result he had taken on a weared and grim look to his once unassuming looks, and he knew it caused him to stand out, even in this sea of endlessly moving people.

“Anonymity, such a fleeting thing” Alex thought to himself as he entered “Gig ’a Hertz” and picked a booth in the far corner. The cafe was adorned with electronic techno theme, lots of expose circuitry and the likes. An easy place to plant bugs, which of course agent 6 had done the week before. Dierks was the best at that kind of work, small electronics and the likes just came to him naturally. Alex appreciated those strengths, it made his electronic work seem ameture.

A waitress brought Alex a cup of coffe and asked him if he needed anything else, though he gave her no more response than a simple shake of the head and she departed. In her wake stood a woman in a dark grey business suit, hair neatly done, professional in every sense.

“Veronica” Alex said in a curt tone “Alex” she responded just as short. “I assume you know why I’m here?”

Alex was perfectly aware of why this woman was here, a storm cloud in his otherwise sunny day. She was with Headquarters, from the Office of the Eye, and there were never any good meetings with Eyes.

She continued without getting an answer, “Your flagrant disregard for our operation has nearly blown our entire organization out the water. And I find more and more of my men dead each time we try to make good on what you owe us.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about ma’am.” though Alex did, he was all too aware. Each man’s face seared into his brain. He took no pleasure in killing, but when it was him versus them he really had no choice.

“You know damn well what I’m talking about. This isn’t some sort of goddamn arms race, some day you’re going to slip up, and then we’ll get what you owe” the woman spat at him.

“Veronica, please” Alex said in a cloying fake tone “we’re at an impasse here. What I owe I cannot pay, and have no intention to make good on it. Why don’t we part ways. You release me and my team from our contractual obligations, and we promise not to blow the Eyes cover. I’ve heard whistle blowers are well received these days after all. And before you object, I don’t mind reducing your head count a little further to make my point clear.”

Veronica stared at him bewildered “You wouldn’t dare! They’d draw and quarter you in the public square! The cosovo mission alone..” her sentence trailed off in stunned objection.

“I absolutely would. You see Veronica, that’s the difference between you and I. I have nothing to lose, so it makes no difference to me. Either you turn a blind eye to what I’m doing, or I take down the whole goddamn organization with me. We go nuclear, in more ways than one.” Alex sad coldly.

“Is that where Tsar Bomba went then? You said it was lost, to the bottom of the sea after Cosovo went to shit.” she said, shakily.

“I can neither confirm nor deny, but I imagine the Eye would object to such wonton and senseless violence. I however, have no such suggestions. And zero intentions to assist you in preventing it either. So run along, go see if you can find it. You’ll need every man you can get if you mean to scour this city and find my insurance policy. Or, you can close the Eye. Report our termination to headquarters, and we both walk away from this dangerous arms race richer.” As Alex finished his demand he took one last sip from his coffee, now cold, and stood.

“It’s been delightful Veronica! But I really must be away, you see my Uncle’s sick and I really need to finish that errand for him, but we’ll catch up again real soon.” Alex said charmingly, and then departed.

Later that evening:

“The eye is closed friends. There are few amongst us, but we are free from the organization now. I know this is worrying, we’ll no longer have the Eye’s intel, or their equipment. But we have our own here at the Milk Market. And from this point forward, we have but one mission.” Alex pulled the crystal necklace from his shirt “We find the rest of the pieces of Neddas and assemble them, then we make each and every one of these fuckers pay. The Eye, Blavin, it doesn’t matter. With these, we can and will forge a new world order.”


Make them pay? New world order? Inky stood frozen in the hallway outside the door, cardboard box in hand.

It was ill timing; whenever Inky had dropped by the Milk Market, it had usually been in the afternoons, before heading on to the healers’ camp or running other errands. They had emerged from another four-day shift that afternoon rather than early morning, after a healer had arrived in place of another who had fallen sick the previous evening. A few hours and a change of clothes later, it was almost supper time. Inky had brought along a book on coping with trauma and passed by the market to pick up dessert – an orange pie and a jar of berry preserves – with the plan to sit with the morose agent for a while, doing some listening of a different sort if the latter was ready to talk about his ordeal.

A confrontation would have drawn the lines where each of them stood, not that bursting into the room with five armed agents was necessarily advisable. Worse, a standoff would upset Marvelo, who was immensely loyal to the sysorcerer, and unravel any potential progress made towards helping the man get back on his feet. At any rate, they would know Inky had been in, so Inky simply left the box by the door with a hastily scribbled note that they were unwell and would come in again on another day. Descending the stairs, they wandered through the city to the wharf, where they sat for some time, any appetite for dessert having evaporated, staring out at the rising tides.

Was this what the Fair One had really promised in addition to the pendant the sysorcerer now wore? Power and vengeance over those who they deemed had wronged them? Were they all going to end up like the assassin, in a nebulous limbo between the living and the dead? Who else was on their list? Despite the sysorcerer’s gesture of camaraderie at the docks that night, was Inky among the names now that Inky had no use to them, once it sank in that the Fair One’s pact essentially assured success on the missions, or when the crystals had been collected? The dream ritual had been partly Inky’s suggestion, and they had wrecked one of the sysorcerer’s beetles back at the Runesocesius. Some secret groups have disposed of people for much less. Did Master Corraidhín oversaw this cabal? It was difficult to picture the elderly wizard looking upon the meeting with approval, but could Inky say they truly knew the uncle or nephew well?

Maybe all of this didn’t matter, if it was the only way.

Current Story

The current story arc.

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Blavin’s vouchers enable you to far exceed your modest budget for retrofitting the cyberplasm balloonship for space travel.

Not only were you able to get a portable atmosphere and a starhelm from the ever resourceful Wandering Bazaar. But you were also able to mount a ballista on a turret in the center of the main deck so you can fire large bolts in nearly any direction. And even a mangonel on the top deck: a long range trebuchet that takes more time to load, aim, and fire; but which does considerably more damage than the shorter-range ballista.

Above the Milk Market, a crew of Alex’s agents get the ship ready for departure. They have stoked the burners, and the resident sunspoke has happily filled the balloons with enough lift for the ship to start to pull and strain at its tethers.

You cut the rope loose, and Vay’Nullar falls away beneath you as the ship rises into the sky.

When the air becomes thinner and the sunspoke begins to sputter somewhat, you switch off the burner move the sunspoke into a cold locker in the galley to induce hibernation so that it doesn’t accidentally burn through your limited reserve of oxygen.

You activate the portable atmosphere, a small block of newtonian covered with arcane runes and affixed to the cargo hold. Newtonian is an alchemical substance made of pure density. There are entire volumes in Nullar’s cosmic library devoted to the timelines that met an abrupt, violent end upon the discovery of the substance. Luckily, the alchemists of Basmentaria in your timeline were able to stabilize the element before all of creation collapsed into a singularity. And now it is commonplace for runewardens to attune small pieces of the stuff to spacefaring ships so that each ship is able to sustain its own unique gravity plane. In this way, each ship retains an amount of breathable atmosphere relative to its size; and starsailors are able to confidently walk along the top (and bottom!) of their craft.

Next you head to the starhelm.

Even when it comes to magic, there are certain principles that tend to hold true. One such princple—when it comes to starsailing, at least—is the conservation of energy. There are lots of different kinds of starhelms. But they all consume something in order to propel your ship across the stars.

However endless the treasures of the Wandering Bazaar may seem, starhelms remain quite rare. You consider yourself lucky to find the one that you did. It could have been a costly Forgehelm, requiring constant fuel in the form of precious stones and powerful artifacts. Or an even more costly Bloodhelm, slowly siphoning away your life essence.

Yes, all things considered you could have done much worse than the Emotionhelm that you purchased. All that it requires of you to keep the ship on course is that you scream, rant and rave, and bawl and cry at it periodically.

You imagine it ought to be quite therapeutic, actually.

Portable atmosphere activated, and having fed the starhelm a bit of melancholia, the ship finally exits the planet’s atmosphere. Your crew takes down the balloons once they start to deflate and stores them in the cargo hold. And you set sail for Lua, the Red Lady.

In the distance, you see a pod of gargantuan aetherwaels drifting through the void. Nearby, you see a small school of space guppies swim by and then quickly scatter as a space gull dives at them and tries to scoop up a quick meal.

You have a couple day’s of travel ahead of you, and the very non-empty void of space on all sides of you.



White blooms look on as Inky turns another page in the book they are reading, a purported bestseller luridly titled The Secret Lives of Plants. The olericulture guide before it had been more appealing, but it was something to do between meals and napping with an eye mask while holed up in the green room.

While Confidence had been taking stock of provisions one night days before the ship’s departure, Inky had dropped in and not so covertly taken over a room with a higher ceiling near the cargo hold, beside an escape hatch. They brought in some grow lights the following evening and asked Confidence to help install them overhead after explaining their plan. Next, they loaded in some dwarf conifers and star magnolias in wheeled containers with weight compression. A nutrient solution pump connected to a timer and long hoses periodically watered and fed the trees. Near the door was an air filter, another useful item from the Wandering Bazaar. It monitored air quality and composition, and could extract various common gases from multiple inputs and pipe them to attached storage tanks. There were two tanks outside the room that were hooked up to the filter: a smaller one for excess carbon dioxide drawn from the atmosphere that can be released slowly in tiny concentrations back into the green room for the trees to absorb (or injected into water with a carbonator for fizzy drinks), and a larger one for extra oxygen produced by the trees and held in reserve. There was also another tank and an unused combinator on board to recombine hydrogen and oxygen.

When the rest of the crew take turns to sleep or patrol the rest of the ship, Inky steps within hearing distance of the starhelm and activates the energy barrier around it. The barrier also blocks off sounds to maximise the energy directed at the helm.

Standing back against a low wall enclosure, Inky begins to play on their violetti, channelling emotions through the lilting notes. The instrument itself was a bespoke affair, an early Yule indulgence years ago, and Inky had conferred at length with the luthier on their requirements and core design. In appearance it closely resembles a smaller, lighter violin while being an octave higher than most violins, making it a great accompaniment to a flute or piccolo in birdsong. However, instead of a mechanical nightingale solo, they feed the helm a selection of nursery ditties — falling bridges, black sheep, blind mice and the like. Sliding a few bars of Bubbytabbies at intervals for best measure. Nya nya.


Alex didn’t mind the travel, in fact, he enjoyed the cramped confines of his quarters. The limited world of their space ship a bubble, something he could control, and protect from the chaos that surrounded him. It was no different than the sailing he did planet side, something he had been fond of and his uncle had chided him for being so passionate about. Corraidhin would always titter on about Alex’s studies, and then he’d sneak off and sail out under the stars with Marvelo, and his uncle wouldn’t see hide or hair of him for a handful of nights.

“If only you could see me now Uncle” Alex muttered as he sat behind a large leather bound chair in front of a large ornate desk strewn with star charts, and books on everything ranging from divination, to history, navigation, to munition manufacturing. Some of the titles were unsurprising “Starhelms & You: A Guide to Starhelm maintenance”, “The Big Bang: Everything Delightful About Explosives”, but others were peculiar for Alex “Palmistry for Dummies”, “Superstitions DO Exist, and you’re NOT Paranoid!”, “Ancient Gods and Goddess of Basementaria”.

Alex pushed the books, and loose notes, and maps away from him and placed his cup of coffee in their place. Cold, again. He stared into the dark depths of his favored drink, forlorn. He sighed, and made a gesture, and a small stag drone dislodged itself from amongst the papers and books and latched itself onto the coffee mug, warming it. “Thanks again” Alex muttered “What is this? Sixth time this cup?” he shook his head. He couldn’t focus.

Since they started this trip he’d spent more and more time brooding over these books he’d collected before their departure, barely saying a word to Marv or the others even. The only one he seemed to communicate with on any sort of cadence was Inky. They never forgot to bring a cup of warming tea, floral and fruit notes, to stave off scurvy they’d said.

“That does it!” Alex said to the room at large as he stands, and strides to the door of the cabin. He strides out into the star light, noting the crew has taken note of his sudden appearance. “At Ease!” he barks, and marches up to the starhelm and sits before it.

The explitives come swift and fast. If it weren’t for the emotion reflector the crew and everyone in the galaxy would think rather poorly of Alex, but it felt good. “Neddas you son of a bitch, you and your cursed crystals, and all these snakes slithering around waiting to strike! Light burn each and every one of them!” and once Alex had let his anger burn, the tears came, strong and unrelenting. “I don’t know what to do uncle, you’re within grasp, but I don’t know how to help, or where to go.” and so it went, Alex wept until there were no more tears to weep, and the letter Inky had relayed from his uncle bore an unmistakable tear sodden rumpled look.

When it was over, Alex rose, solemn and calm and meandered across the deck to the bowsprite to take in the empty uncaring void before him.

The atmosphere of most starsails only last a couple weeks before the recycled air starts to get stale, and then noxious, and finally unbreathable. Consequently they often have to ‘refuel’ at planets and moons with breathable air whenever they pass by.

Inky’s ship garden however has been keeping your air fresh and self-replenishing over the last couple of days. The crew are consequently well oxygenated, have been sleeping well, and lack the fatigue that most starsailors experience at this point in their journey.

A pair of space gulls have apparently decided to hitch a ride on your ship, and can be found roosting on the mizzen mast when not hunting for space guppies. They have tried on occasion to steal food from some of the crew, with little consequence but an exasperated shooing away: space gulls are considered good luck, and they are never in any real danger from the crew.

Keeping the starhelm well fed with various sundry emotions, you make good time, and are soon approaching the orbit of the green moon Selene. The moon itself is well out of the way, but your current path will take you through the Tears of Selene, a large asteroid cluster that trails along and fans out behind Selene as the moon orbits the planet. From the surface of the planet, it looks like a wide comet’s tail made of stars of various sizes. From here, it looks like a sea of asteroids of different shapes and sizes.

There are a couple of asteroids in the Tears large enough to support permanent life. Pirate outposts, mostly. Or other parties looking to escape the law—or someone or something else—for one reason or another.

You slow the ship down well below cruising speed to carefully navigate the Tears. You spot the fabled and notorious Rock of Brawl in the distance, a sprawling cosmopolitan city ruled by Scarlet Darling the Pirate King. It covers every inch of both the top and bottom of a large, flat asteroid at the center of the cluster.

Cautiously you eventually emerge on the other side of the Tears. You see a derelict starsail adrift on the other side of the asteroids. It is in the shape of a seahorse with a tucked head, a crest fanning from the top of its head down its back, and a long tail tightly curled toward its front. It lists to the side and drifts seemingly without power, except for some strobing emergency lights behind the seahorse’s eyes, signaling distress.

As you sail closer, you see what looks like a little old woman in a cloak and shawl on the helm waving and trying to hail you.



As the ship grew closer and the derelict became more clear Alex gripped the side of the ship. He could see the woman in the window through his telescope, but wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. He assembled the members of the team to the deck to discuss further.

“It’s clear that the ship is adrift. We should probably attempt to help.” Alex stated matter of factly. “However Marvelo has confided in me his strongest suggestions that we not take the risk. We have a clear goal. And the life of this one woman isn’t work much in the scheme of things. The world is at risk.” Alex sighs, “He may unfortunately have a point, but I believe we that if we choose to stare into the abyss and make such a choice we become the monsters we struggle against. And we always have a short.” Alex’s eyes dart to Inky, the seem sad, ashamed. A fleeting statement of understanding is exchanged between the two.

“I say we go, but with caution. If anyone wishes to join me, they may do so. We need someone to remain with the ship to guard it. Marvelo is still not up to excursions, but he’s a crack shot with a blaster and has agreed to watch from atop deck. Lee I need you on the deck gun and look out. Should anything come towards us while we explore the derelict, you have explicit permission to send them to hell. Use your judgement.”

“I’ve done some reconnaisance on the ship already, we can at least go in knowing something about what we face. However anyone who comes needs to come armed, with medical assets, and spare oxygen. We need enough equipment to get in, face the unknown, and save this poor woman’s life.”

(DM: Do I notice anything about the derelict upon inspecting it with a telescope? Signs of attacks? Further what do scans reveal about the derelict and the area around it?)


Inky offers the ship’s captain a small encouraging smile when he looks over in their direction but otherwise remains silent during the briefing. The unspoken agreement was that no one was going to let their captain go in on his own despite any individual misgivings on the matter, Fair One’s chosen or not. The only question is who would accompany him. This presents three problems.

Problem #1: Inky’s packs and pod were already prepared before the rumbles overhead about a starsail sighting sounded while they were checking on the salt batteries and compost tea. It would be a pity to not test the equipment before the mission landing. Get more distance out of that deep discount.

Problem #2: his uncle would have Inky’s fireball-roasted head on a platter if he found out Inky was enjoying a freshly harvested watercress salad back on the ship while his nephew faced great peril at the hands of an evil old lady.

Problem #3: the sysorcerer is the only obstacle between Inky and four very angry, heavily armed agents. He is trying hard to be a good captain and leader to them, that anyone could see. Better to be a mobile tea lackey than an immovable target practice lackey.

To the sea dragon it is.

You run a quick scan of the derelict starsail.

It looks as though is has been heavily pierced and battered by artillery, boarded and looted, and left to drift. No doubt the work of some enterprising, opportunistic space pirates.

The ship is broadcasting a weak SOS signal running a loop, but you pick up no other energy readings.

There is a single lifeform reading on board. But you know from experience that such readings are notoriously unreliable in deep space where creatures of the vacuum often tread the thin line between life and death.

You launch a jollyboat and cautiously approach the sea dragon. As your small craft enters its atmosphere, a putrid wind blows across you and its rank air fills your nostrils and lungs. The ship has been adrift for quite some time for its air to be this stale. Another short couple of weeks from now its air will become toxic to breathe.

As you dock, the small woman rushes forward to greet you, hands flitting up and down like moths. Thin wisps of white hair peek around the edges of the shawl she has pulled up like a hood and wrapped around her shoulders. Her weathered taut skin gives her a gaunt, almost skeletal appearance. There is a painful looking crack running across her scalp, down her forehead, and over her face, splitting her features into two hemispheres. Her left eye is large and watery, and droops down her cheek like a runny egg yolk.

“Oh thank you, thank you for stopping!” she wheezes in a raspy croak. “We were attacked by reavers and left to drift. We’ve been out here for weeks, and nobody would stop for us! Oh, we would have surely perished if you hadn’t come by!”

“Oh, yes.” She notices you looking at her, and briefly attempts to hide her face behind a fluttering hand. “I have the Splitting Sickness, you see. It will be the end of me soon, I’m afraid. Nothing that can be done about it now.”

“My granddaughter and I were on our way to Lua,” she continues, disappearing into the ship and beckoning you to follow. “Are you going that way by chance? I must deliver my granddaughter there. She is very sick, you see. And I believe the cure is to be found on the red moon.”

The bridge is dark, save for the dim red glow of the floor lights and the strobing emergency lights. The old woman stops before a long glass box on a raised platform, inside which lies a young woman, eyes closed and still as death, as though deeply asleep.

The old woman looks up at you, her cursed eye gleaming wetly and unblinking in the low light. “Will you help us?”



Alex stands in the airlock watching the woman retreat. He briefly gestures to the crew to hold their position while he grips his weapon. “I’ll be just a moment everyone. You know what to do”

Alex steps into the ship and begins to follow the woman. “Ma’am, what happened here exactly. And how can we help your grand daughter once we’ve reached Lua? We’re happy to take her and assist, but we must know how we can do that. I’d also like to file a report about the attack you suffered, even if you think you’re a forgone conclusion we can help others. And admittedly, I’m no doctor, but are you certain there’s nothing that can be done about this splitting sickness?”

A faint static on the radio “Boss, don’t forget the cookies.”

Alex sighs heavily, “my second in command would like to know if you have any cookies as well. He’s convinced helping little old ladies in space somehow nets you home baked cookies.”


Inky gives the crew a quick sidelong glance, then shrugs internally and hops lightly onto the derelict ship after Master Alex. They follow behind at a short clip, half-registering the captain’s voice in conversation with the old lady and hiding a smile at the mention of cookies over the radio. Angry agents or not, at least someone has got their priorities straight.

From their position behind and to one side of the captain, they surreptitiously run a scan on the woman for further injuries with a portable infrared sensor, with particular attention to the crack at her scalp. They listen to the old lady’s breathing, as well as for any sounds aboard the ship while the instrument takes measurements of vital signs under the woman’s skin, including temperature, oxygen levels and presence of scar tissue.

The old woman slowly shuffles away, back out to the battle-torn main deck, clicking and muttering to herself. “There is a grain that grows in the dusty red soil of Lua,” she explains. “Its fruit can be processed and ground into a paste that hopefully will halt and even reverse my granddaughter’s mysterious ailment.”

As she talks, Inky surreptitiously runs a scan on the woman for further injuries. She is wasting away, suffering from advanced stages of Splitting Sickness. Her organs have begun to turn to pulp and are rapidly failing. Her swollen heart beats irregularly. A thick puckered seam runs along its length, threatening to burst at any moment. It will be the end of her if the crack in her skull doesn’t split open first.

“It’s genetic. Her sickness, I mean. At least, it’s hereditary. That is, her mother died of it. Poor thing.” She babbles away as she pokes at the rubble on the deck with shaky hands. “I keep her asleep in the suspension unit so it doesn’t advance any further.”

“Ha! Here we are,” she rasps, a lopsided grin scattered across her broken face. She jerkily hauls a metallic cube from behind a pile of rubble out onto the deck. She opens a panel on its side and pulls out a tray of slightly undercooked cookies. A solar oven. “Here you go, dearie.” The tray trembles in her grasp as she holds it out to you.

You hear gunfire coming from your own ship. You spin around to look. Marvelo has fired two signal flares up and away from the ship. The arc of the flares draw your eyes to the Tears of Selene in the distance.

The carcass of an enormous space whale drifts forward from the asteroid field. It’s a gruesome ship. A starsail cobbled together from the bones of dead space whales, sloppily painted with faded, patchy red and white stripes. Scrap and salvage and odd rusted pieces of metal adorn its sides along with humanoid and bestial remains.

“Oh no,” croaks the old woman. “Oh no, they’re back. No no no no no.”



Alex holds the tray of cookies momentarily. “Thank you Ma’am, but if you wouldn’t mind holding onto them just a little bit longer, I think we’ve got a Pirate problem to deal with..”

Alex pushes the tray of cookies back into the old woman’s arms. “Keep a close eye on those. We need to get you and your granddaughter off this ship, and onto ours where we can more readily defend ourselves. Unless this ship is hiding an arsenal of weapons we can use to defend ourselves?”

Alex grabs his radio and hails Marvelo on an encrypted band “Marv, hit those bastards with whatever you’ve got, rain absolute hell on them as soon as they’re in range. I need you to cover us so we can evac these civilians.”

He then radios the team at the airlock “Make ready to shove off, we need to get out of here at a moment’s notice and back to our boat, looks like there’s pirates headed our way.”

Inky, I’m thinking contingency plans, any chance you know how to Jerry rig a space ship to ram another one, without us inside? If we can get away, we might be able to use the derelict as a massive missile assuming we jettison the oxygen, or blow up whatever fuel is left.


The imp pauses in rummaging through their courier bag and answers, “If there is autopilot with coordinates locking, then it may be a matter of changing the destination in the direction of the other ship. If not, the steering controls would have to be manually jammed. That is, if there is enough reserve fuel for the manouevre.” They peer bemusingly at the captain, and continue, “Or perhaps Master Alex can find a way to gain control of the navigation at a distance?”

Snapping the bag close, the infrared sensor having disappeared back to one of the side pockets, Inky hands the old lady a metal tin with a carry handle. The tin lid is ajar, revealing three glass tubes inside, each filled with a milky white, pale yellow and burgundy-coloured liquid respectively. “Please drink these, starting with the white and yellow, then dark red three hours later. They will ease the pain by reducing inflammation, and help regenerate some of the damaged tissue. The cookies can be packed in the tin to go. With thanks from the crew.” As if in afterthought, they add an oxygen mask with a coil of tubing connected to a small tank to the pile. “And please wear the mask. Let’s not add a collapsed lung to your current condition. You still have to see your granddaughter to Lua.”

Then, to the captain: “Shall we first escort our guests off the ship?”


“Agreed entirely Inky. Ma’am we need you and your granddaughter on our ship immediately.” Alex says briskly, commandingly.

He then rummages in his jacket and pulls out a drone, and deft disassembles the machine. “If we use the twtxt server as a sort of command and control interface we should be able to manipulate the digits on the drone from outside the ship. What that looks like controlling navigation I’m uncertain, but if we need to rig this place to blow all we really need to do is have it trigger this.” more rummaging and a heavy brick of C4 explosive is produce. “The drone only needs to send an electrical shock to this, and then ‘KAPOW’ no more ship”.

“If Marv can lay down covering fire and we can get the ship moving away, perhaps the Pirates will take the bait, and go for the easier of the two ships. Worst case, we get a spectacular fireworks show which may very well be enough to scramble any navigation gear they’ve got on board and let us slip out of the sector.”


Once Master Alex has outlined the plan, Inky nods, and requests the old lady’s consent to transfer her granddaughter’s (at initial glance, potentially wheeled) suspension unit towards the airlock and the jollyboat.

Marvelo sets his iron jaw and gets to work, ordering the crew to prepare the ballista and man the mangonels: at this range the catapults can fire much further than the ballista can accurately fire its bolts.

The dire dreadnought drifts closer. As soon as they are in range, Marvelo gives the word, and the two mangonels let loose two heavy stones. They smash into the side of the reaver ship, its bones splintering.

Marvelo grimaces once the ship is close enough that he can actually see the reavers on their deck loading their own catapults. Large, lumpy bodied humanoids, their faces crudely painted to exaggerate their gruesome features. Large round noses. Wide crimson mouths. Large eyes.

The reavers fire on the balloonship. Marvelo braces for impact but then cries out when he sees the payload scatter and fan out. The reavers are not firing on the ship. They are firing on the crew. He yells for everybody to get down as he himself drops to his belly. A swarm of shrapnel and jagged chains and carrion sail over the deck ruining everything in its path. The balloon is ripped to pieces.

“Good thing it’s not the thing actually holding us afloat out here,” Marvelo thinks to himself. He scrambles across the deck and helps a struggling crew member haul another stone into the mangonel before the reavers can fire again.


The old lady awkwardly sets the tray of cookies down by her feet to free her hands. She accepts the glass tubes and drinks the first of them, her hands trembling. She dons the oxygen mask and smiles at you. Then nods decisively and shows you how to engage the mag pads on the suspension pod. Once it is hovering slightly off the ground, it needs only the slightest push to steer it back to the jollyboat.


Alex rigs up the explosives in parts of the seahorse most suited to blow the thing apart and inflict maximum damage to a passing reaver ship. Or at the very least to create a dazzling fireworks display.

You rig it up to the twtxt module of a disassembled S.T.A.G. drone for remote detonation and run back to the jollyboat, meeting Inky and the old lady. They have already loaded and secured the suspension pod.

“By the way,” the old woman wheezes from behind her oxygen mask. “My name is Cocopita. But something tells me you already knew that.”


Marvelo grabs the starhelm and presses his forehead against it and squeezes his eyes shut. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck” he mutters quietly and quickly.

The starsail lurches forward with a sudden burst of speed approaching the jollyboat and the seahorse.



With the crew loaded into the jollyboat Alex takes the helms and steers the crew away from the Seahorse.

“Marvelo, you’re coming in hot, we won’t be able to meet you with your current speed and trajectory. I’m going to aim our ship out and away along your current path. We’ll come in just above the ship, if you ready some sort of netting you can catch us right as we’re passing over head. Long fucking shot I know, but it’ll keep the Seahorse between use and those pirates, and by the looks of things they’ll give chase.” pausing for a moment “I’ve rigged the entire ship to blow, all we have to do is send the activation code to it. I’m going to try to do that after we’re out of harms way.”

Alex glances at his boarding crew, the old woman and her daughter safely amongst them “I’ve got civillians on board, victims of the same pirates it seems. I need you to have emergency medical ready, in whatsoever manner we can provide it, but we need to get out of here and make way for Lua first and foremost. I’m not entirely certain we’re equipped to help them fully.”

Alex grips the detonator in his hand firmly, making ready to blow the Seahorse at a moments notice. Opposition be damned if he’s going to let anyone harm his crew.


Marvelo whispers a sailors prayer into the star engine. It is crass, curt, but earnest and forthright. As the starship lurches forward he listens to his captains instructions and contemplates them. This was what, the 6th, 7th time in as many days where Alex has come up with some crack pop scheme, put himself in the line of danger, brought along vagrants from the most peculiar of places, and just expected everyone to go along with it. “fucking idiot” Marvelo whispers into the starengine, lurching faster still. “You goddamn fucking idiot. You’re going to get us all killed, nearly killed me with that stupid monster. Oh just guard the plac, shoot on sight, blow up the warehouse if you need to. Careless, fucking careless boss”

And then he grinned, a mangled grimmace of metal and flesh, but sincere nonetheless. “And look at me, maimed, fighting fucking pirates!” the man touches his jaw, grimmaces for real, and then laughs a big hearty laugh “Hahaha, and rightly so!”

Marvelo picks up the radio “Ya got a death wish Alex. You’re stubborn, and stupid, and hell bent to see yourself killed if it means being in control, but hell if I don’t respect it. We’ll catch ya as we come by.” Marvelo stands and addresses the crew, alright men, the Boss has a crackpot idea that’s liable to get us all killed. So lets make sure it doesn’t! Prepare a net to catch the jolly boat as it passes over head, and reinforce our rear deflectors, we’re going to need it to soak up the blast from the Seahorse”.


Aboard the jollyboat, Inky wordlessly holds out a necklace to the elderly woman. Dangling from a delicate gold chain is a scalloped pendant, fashioned from a single dragon scale of an indeterminate shade between smoky topaz and cacao. Under the boat’s fluorescent lights, the smooth surface seems to undulate, like translucent platelets beneath contracting and expanding. Along the bevelled edge, engraved in tiny letters is a single name: COCOPITA.

At her stare, Inky says sheepishly, “It was near the pile of debris behind the tray. I went back and picked it up while you were checking on the pod.” A pause, and: “Inky. Former clinic assistant. Ship’s tea server.” Pushing a hard hat into shaky hands with a warning to brace for a rough landing, they face forward again, keeping half an eye on the suspension pod a few steps away.

Cocopita presses the pendant into the palm of Inky’s hand, and closes their fingers over it, forming an inky fist. “I think you had better hold on to this,” the old woman smiles at you.

Alex judges the trajectory of the balloonship and points the jollyboat on a course to intercept.

The whalebone juggernaut continues to slowly close in on the ballonship as the two ships continue to fire at each other. Cannonballs thudding into the side of the boneship, and shrapnel tearing apart the deck of the balloonship.


“You lot! Belay the mangonel! Man the ballista! Fire!” Marvelo commands the deck of the ship. “You, and you! Pull down the balloon, and stretch it taut across the deck!”

His eyes flick back to the reaver ship. The blobby reavers are wobbling across the deck, not packing loose shrapnel into their catapults anymore but stuffing something large into the basket. “What in tarnation are–”

The balloonship’s bolt pierces the hull of the boneship and goes clean through into the below decks, finally doing some real damage and knocking the ship slightly off course. At the same time, the boneship’s mangonels fire and Marvelo can finally get a clear view of the payload.

“Liandt’s flames! At arms! At arms!”

Reaver hulks fly through space at the balloonship, cudgels the size of small tree trunks cradled in their arms. These brutes might survive the impact if they land on the deck. But if they do they will wreak bloody havoc.


This is the most dangerous part. The jollyboat is about to intersect with the balloonship. Shrapnel, mangonel stones, and heavy ballista bolts fly through space above, below, and all around you.

The wind washes over you as you enter the ship’s atmosphere bubble, a literal breath of fresh thanks to Inky’s garden. The jollyboat’s smaller gravity plane intersects the ballonship’s. You tried to come in as level as possible, but you still feel a shift and a tug as the jollyboat loses its own gravity and your “down” suddenly becomes that of the balloonship.

The jollyboat starts to freefall toward the ship deck.

On the deck of the ship below you, Marvelo screams an order. The crew pulls the remains of the balloon taut across the deck to catch the boat as you come screaming down.

You land rather violently on the ship. The makeshift net absorbs a lot of the impact, but the jollyboat still lands hard and rolls to its side, spilling its passengers and contents across the deck.

At the same time, one reaver hulk splats against the side of the ship and drifts away bobbing unconsciously up and down in the ship’s gravity plane. A second hulk lands in a heap, stunned, on the ship deck next to the net.

Behind you, the reaver ship starts to enter the blast range of the seahorse just as you are about to exit it.



Alex hits the deck hard as the jollyboat jerks to a stop. The crew had performed excellently, but one problem just morphs into the next. Alex pushes himself up from the deck and surveys the chaos. The detonator had clattered across the deck alongside his ak74u. It looked like the members of the boarding party were safe, but battered. The old woman looked like she needed more help than she already had needed. And then his eyes came to rest at the hulking mass of a monster.

Alex pulled himself up and darted for his weapon and the detonator scooping both of them up, barking orders all the while.

“Marv get us the fuck out of here! Whatever you’ve got to do to shake these bastards do it!” “Lee help Inky assist the civillians, get them below decks and away from these monsters!”

Alex gritted his teeth, gripped the grip of his rifle, and threw himself towards the monster emptying a clip into it as he went.


Half-sitting up, Inky detaches the emag hoverboard from their supply carrier where it had landed after they were ejected from the jollyboat, shoving the trunk to one side. They mount the hoverboard in a kneeling position and power it on, eyes framed by a pair of space lab goggles scanning a deck in disarray for the outline of an elderly woman and a suspension pod.

Reaching Cocopita’s side, Inky dismounts, with Lee coming up behind a few seconds after. With Lee’s assistance, they support the ailing woman onto the hoverboard. “Lean slightly in a direction to move there. Please head for the stairs to the lower deck behind the boat. I’ll get the pod. Then hide yourselves until the ship clears.” Inky tells her, placing a bag containing bandages and chocolate cubes onto the hoverboard.

They dash to the suspension unit, putting a new pair of springboard boots that promised extra shock absorption and lift momentum to its paces. The sensation can be described as bouncing on a thick inner layer of tiny compressed springs at the soles. Clearly there was a missed opportunity to make them squeak like terrified mice, but since it would not have been conducive to sneaking, Inky supposes making terrified people squeak would be an amenable alternative. Anyway, they reach the pod in a few strides, reactivate the mag pads and aim the pod towards the stairs like an unlicensed swishball vendor and cart running from food safety inspectors.

Marvelo bears his heart and soul into the Emotionhelm, confessing every embarrassing story he can recall. Including the one when as a young man he gave a bouquet of flowers to his crush hoping to win their favor and maybe also a smooch. Turns out the flowers he picked contained three snoozing petalwings—tiny dragonkin whose scales and wings look like leaves and flowers. Especially when folded up and clinging to a flower stem. Marvelo’s crush put the flowers in a vase, and it wasn’t until the two of them were sitting down to a homecooked meal, just the two of them, that that the petalwings awoke and started careening and darting through the house at incredible speeds, knocking things over and frightening the cats, breathing glitter and sparkles all over everything. By the time they got the tiny dragons outside, they were both covered in spilled wine, tomato sauce, and glitter. Marvelo was sent home shortly there after, having had no dinner and no smooch.

The starhelm burns even brighter than the flush on Marvelo’s cheeks as he recalls the story, and the balloonship sans balloon leaps forward, practically dancing out out of the way as more shrapnel sails overheard, putting some distance between you and the boneship.

You are out of the seahorse’s blast zone. The boneship is still well within it.

On the deck, the reaver hulk staggers to its feet, dwarfing the three crew that stare up at it dumbstruck. Its face is painted splotchy white. A red smear painted across its mouth from ear to ear. Big dark circles painted around its eyes. A tuft of green hair by each ear juts out away from its otherwise bald head. It wears a dirty smock of garish, brightly colored stripes over its lumpy, blobby body. It grins and plants its oversized feet wide apart and pulls its enormous cudgel back to swing down on the ship crew next to it.

Alex launches himself towards the monster. Just as his finger is squeezing the trigger on his rifle, two more hulks slam into the ship. One bounces off the hull with an odd squeak and drifts away howling into space. The second hits the side of the ship and manages to grab the railing with one ham-sized fist. It shakes off a moment of dizziness from the impact, and begins to haul itself up. It will be on the shipdeck in a matter of seconds.

The impact of the hulks rock the ship enough that Alex’s shots go wide, missing the hulk already on the deck. The three ship crew leap out of the way, two landing safely out of the reach of the thing’s cudgel. The third crew member almost makes it, but takes a glancing blow with a sickening crunch, and is flung several feet away. They land hard and cry out, grabbing their crushed leg.

Cocopita winces as she sits up on the hoverboard. Lee helps maneuver her down to the lower decks and out of the way. Inky spring-leaps to the girl in the pod, manages to get the mag pads firing up again, and makes a mad dash toward the stairs behind Lee and Cocopita.



“Fuck!” Alex exclaims as he drops the mag from his rifle and slams in another. He glances quickly at the wounded crew member, not much he can do in the moment, but he’s not going to be able to pull himself out of harms way.

“You lot! Pull that man out, don’t leave him behind! I’ll cover for you!” Alex shouts at the other two crew members as he begins to open fire on the hulking beast again.

As he empties the clip he scans the horizon and notices the reaver ship has reached the Seahorse, as he reaches the end of his second clip he stops briefly and pulls the detonator from his pocket and presses it. “Show time”


At the helm Marvelo has taken a defensive position and is firing down on the hulk while using the star helm as cover.

“Cap! I don’t know if we’re making any difference here, this fucker just seems to soak up our fire. We need something heavier!”

Alex and Marvelo fire down on the reaver hulk as the two crew successfully haul the one with the crushed leg out of harm’s way.

The hulk stumbles under the barrage of gunfire. A well aimed (or lucky) shot from Marvelo happens to hit it in the hand and it drops its cudgel. As it bends down awkwardly to pick it back up the two agents redouble their assault. The hulk loses its balance and pitches backwards. As big as it is, the rail of the ship catches it right behind the knees and it wails as it pitches over the side of the ship and drifts out into space.

Lee guides Cocopita and her daughter to the back of the ships lower decks, to the safe room. A steel reinforced room, magically warded and sealed with its own atmosphere. Lee unlocks the door with a scan of her retina and ushers the old woman inside. “You’ll be safe here, even if we’re not. There’s food and water, medicine and weapons. Please take what you need. Once I shut this door it can’t be opened from the outside, the magical wards will only let it open from the interior. Once it’s safe we’ll come back. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, do not open the door unless we can answer this question correctly.”

Q: Daylight dies?
A: As dawn has fallen.

Lee goes to shut the door to the safe house and pauses “Inky, I was thinking of heading up to help Alex, but we might be the last line of defense on this boat. We’ve got more tactical ground here, places to hide, traps to place. If we go up we’re going out into the open and into the fray, but we’d be able to directly help Alex. What do you think we should do?”

Cocopita weakly thanks Lee as they shut the door. The old woman rests as easily as she can lying down on the hoverboard. Which is to say, rather uneasily due to the circumstances, her injuries, and the hard board. She looks over at her granddaughter resting peacefully inside her glass walled suspension unit. She sighs uneasily and closes her eyes.

Inky looks at Lee blankly. “Thanking Lee for her assistance with the elderly lady. This one thinks we should … do our best?” they reply, enunciating each word carefully, as if uncertain of the answer. They hand the agent a stainless metal flask of hot water and a tea pouch with a genial if puzzled smile, then turn around for the stairs.

Emerging onto the deck, they take in the scene, before spotting a second reaver near the railing.

Inky approaches the reaver slowly, gloved hands open and raised to head level, stopping just out of the hulk’s swing radius. “Can you please put down your cudgel? The deck is not very big, and swinging that thing around can break the ship and plunge everyone — including yourself — into an unpleasant end from lack of air,” Inky says to the reaver.

They continue after a short pause, “Would you like some chocolate? It’s only the semi-sweet sort, I’m afraid. Can’t have sugar levels spike too quickly. Plus the tooth fairies will complain even more about working overtime. There’s Kelsun salt to go with it if you want. From source, not ionized space salt.”

With slow motions, Inky reaches one hand into their bag, and pulls out some chocolate cubes and a packet of salt. They slide the items across the floor to the hulking figure, keeping their gaze on the reaver all the while.

“You pour salt into the bag and shake it first,” they add helpfully.

The reaver turns to the inkling when Inky starts talking to it. A wide crimson grin full of small pointy teeth splits its face from ear to ear. It takes a step forward, raising its cudgel, but then falters, confused, as Inky continues to speak calmly and soothingly.

Inky slides the chocolate cubes and the salt pack across deck.

The reaver licks it lips and picks up the chocolates and the salt with one meaty hand. It fumbles with them for a moment and then sets its cudgel down on the deck so it can use both of its hands. It opens the salt packet and looks up at Inky quizzically as though to ask, Am I doing this right? It shakes the contents of the salt packet into the bag of chocolates, rolls up the top of the bag and shakes it vigorously with both hands, and excited grin on its face.


The boneship is trailing along behind the balloonship still trying to close the gap between the two ships so they can send a boarding party over. They are also back to packing shrapnel into their catapults seeming to have run out of hulks for the moment.

Alex pulls out the detonator. “Show time.” He presses the button.

The sea dragon explodes into a fiery ball, blasting a hole fully through the side of the boneship juggernaut. It is rocked by the explosion, knocked to the side. Reavers and debris fall out into space from the hole in the side of the ship. It stops its pursuit. You are not sure they will be able to recover from the damage. They may be adrift, dead in the water as it were.

Although you are out of the blast zone, you do catch some tailwind as the blast radiates out. You are propelled forward. Lua, the red moon, looms ahead of you.



Gabs soon realized after entering space, that there were far more adventures to be had. So she parted from the group and set about experiencing all this strange place has to offer. Fast forward to now. We find Gabs on a small space yacht with a handsome gelatinous pseudo-humanoid. She is wearing a fine light blue linen dress and her hair is up neatly. She sips wine and looks at the stars. They are both unaware that they are on an intercept course with a ship under attack from reavers.

Gabs looks at the damage in front of her, and downs the rest of her wine. She gets close to her jelly date.

“I have had the most wonderful time, but it looks like the time has come once again, to stab things.”

She pulls their soft pseudo-form close and gives them a long deep kiss, leaving them astonished. She pulls the daggers from her massive purse, activates her bubble and leaps from the yacht onto the deck of the ship.

“Okay, who do I have to fuck up?”


Without turning, Inky inclines their head towards the latest arrival and says, “I hope you had a lovely vacation, Gabs. You return at an opportune moment.”

To the reaver apologetically, “It’s been a pleasure, but it’s back to deck swabbing for me. However, I assure you that Gabs here would be much better company. Perhaps you will stop for a meal before going on your way? It’s chihuahuacos and chips today.”

They smile at the reaver and give a little wave, taking two steps backwards before spinning around and sauntering away. Passing Gabs, they murmur in a low voice, “Ring if you need extra hands. Master Alex’s crew are nearby. I’ll see to the injured.”

With that, Inky crosses the deck in search of the crew member with an injured leg, pausing only to sweep up and tow away the supply carrier that had been left to one side of the net.

Gabs lands on the deck of the balloonship, cutting short her pleasure cruise with her plasmoid paramour.

Inky introduces her to a reaver hulk, who is looking at you rather stupidly with chocolate smeared all over its face. It looks at Gabs’s daggers, and then its eyes dart over to the massive club lying discarded at its feet.

It drops its bag of chocolates and lunges for the cudgel.



Gabs says, “Inky, my dear, it’s been so nice to have some time to myself. The galaxy should be glad it’s y’all I ran into, as that means that my campaign of broken hearts is over.. for now…”

She eyes reaver hulk, and in a raised pitch, she coos,“Now aren’t you just the scariest thing in the void!”

She begins to put away her daggers as things seem to be handled here, rummaging around for some toffee candy to also feed the reaver. She notices it eye the cudgel, and then lunge for it, and without taking aim, Gabs throws the dagger into its hand.

“You could have been a nice boy and just enjoyed your candy!”

Gabs’s dagger flies true and pierces the hulk’s meaty hand just as it’s picking up its cudgel.

“Ouchie!” It jerks back and grabs the hilt of the dagger with its other hand trying to wrench it free.

Lee, Marvelo, and Alex’s weapons come to bear on the Reaver and unleash a volley of gunfire on it.

Alex shouts over the din of gunfire “Gabs is that right? I don’t think we’ve met, were you a friend of my uncle’s?”

Alex casts a glance over his shoulder at the wreckage of the seahorse and the reaver ship. That threat seems neutralzed at least.. Alex thinks to himself.

“How far are we from Lua? We need to get our wounded medical assistance asap.”

Three trained agents lay down percussive fire while it’s distracted and manage to knock it off balance. It pitches over the railing just as it pulls the dagger free of its hand.

Marvelo calls out to Alex, “There she is captain!” Alex looks away from the debris of the seahorse and the wreckage of the boneship. The red moon looms before you. Lua.

Leaving the hulking pirate standing there with a crew out for blood close by had essentially assured the hulk would be given a rough sendoff, but there was no point in dwelling on it now. Someone still had to clean up the mess afterwards, starting with one crew member’s injured leg.

Inky finds the man still on the floor where his companions had presumably left him, one leg visibly swollen below the knee with a large bruised area. Possibly multiple breaks, though not a compound fracture. They fasten a pair of splints around the leg, spreading cooling packs at the sides between the splints to reduce the swelling. After checking him for other injuries, they help the man sit up, placing an emergency blanket, a bottle of water and some pain medication within reach.

His leg would need a cast, and the agent won’t have use of it for several weeks, but he should recover eventually. The old woman’s condition was far more serious and needed more medical intervention than the cursory scan they only had time for back on the sea dragon. Checking that Gabs and the others were uninjured for now, Inky puts away the supplies and starts for the stairs below deck.

Inky pacifies the injured agent and leaves them in the care of their fellow crewmates. They’ve done all they can here.

They down to the belowdecks where they left Cocopita. As they approach the heavy door locked from the inside Inky hears a muffled muttering. A soft voice, higher and more melodious than Cocopita’s wheezing croak.



A voice behind the door did not belong to the elderly lady.

Concerned that the suspension unit had stopped functioning, thereby waking up the other very ill patient (and probable owner of said voice), or the older guest had collapsed from more recent injuries, Inky promptly announces themselves, asking Cocopita to initiate the exchange to unlock the door. They direct a brief lopsided smile at the air vent nearby while they wait for a response, wondering offhandedly how safe the room might be if there were no one to unlock it from the inside.

Inky announces themselves and asks Cocopita to unlock the door.

The soft muttering voice grows quiet.

You hear soft footsteps pad toward the door, and a fiddling with the lock.

The door hisses as the seal opens, and you hear light footsteps quickly recede.

Peeking inside, you see a young woman with long dark hair wearing a plain shift gown. She is standing next to Cocopita, who lies motionless on the hoverboard.

Both are covered in blood.

The young woman looks at Inky with wide unblinking eyes and starts to stammer. “Help, help me, she’s..” She turns back and leans over Cocopita, pressing her hands to the old woman’s chest.

The suspension pod in the back of the room is open and empty.


The abovedecks have just been cleared of reavers, and Marvelo has piloted the balloonship into Lua’s orbit. The surface of planetoid is a rusty red, and its dense atmosphere is hot pink.

“Looks clear, captain.” they say from the emotionhelm. “I can take us down wherever you like.”

Up ahead (and down below) there are fields of corn and a sprawling complex low to the ground.


Appendix A: Dramatis Personae



Alex is like Corraidhin in some aspects, he’s younger, more brash, more given to whim and fancy. He’s somewhat greedy and craven, attracted to riches far too easily. He’s a passionate gambler, not due to his skill, but by virtue of his ability to distract and confuse, which gives him a delightful edge. Some would call it lucky, but he calls it subterfuge. He has some sysorcerer skills, nothing quite as flexible as Corraidhin, but he delightfully wreaks havoc with worms, scrapers, ransom & spyware. If he can’t bypass something, he’ll delightfully destroy it. If he can’t break in, he’ll distract someone or something so he can slip by.



Status: timestuck in a fork bomb


They call me Corraidhín, and while my wisened age may seem an impediment to our expedition I assure you I make up for it with my sharp wit and intellect! By trade I am a scholar, master of the histories of this realm, and a dabbler in the arcane and mystic arts.

I believe my skills naturally lend themselves to this expedition. I’m certain you’ll need someone to elucidate upon the history of these artifacts, and should trouble come our way I’m ready at hand with spells a plenty. I’m not the best with a sword, but can hold my own with a bow staff, but it may be best to leave the fighting up to you younguns. If we encounter arcane ruins or cryptic texts you’ll find my skills just as useful as the finest blade in battle.

I think with my share of the reward I’ll buy more books. Lots and lots of books, a whole library of books! And then I’ll start a library, yes that sounds delightful. And maybe one of those books will have some information on ridding me of that accursed demon, but that’s another story entirely.




Gabs had a good life. Her little devil children were all grown adults now, and she no longer wanted to toil away running a business. When she initially shuttered her little tavern, she thought she might just retire. She made it two whole years of working in a garden, occasionally seeing grandkids, and reading romance novels. She eventually decided she needed a vacation from her retirement and traveled to a nearby port town. She was sure to find something fun to do there.

Gabs eventually sees Inquire Within, and the smell of debauchery wafting from within made her miss her days gossiping at her tavern. She enters and orders a terrible drink and listens and watches.

Hearing the tales being spun by Mister Three-Fingered, she decides, “I’ve never been on a ship, that’s something that sounds exciting!”

Half-drunk and eager for something exciting, she will join on the journey!

Gabs is a lanky older half-devil lady who is here to schmooze and have fun!




I am Glarg, an earth elemental who was conjured by a wizard who was immediately beheaded after summoning me. By some freak accident I was not sent back home to the earth elemental plane when the spell should have ended. While I have learned the common tonge in my time on this plane, I have not developed the ability to speak it, because I have no mouth. I’m a very gentle soul who is misunderstood because of my hard, cold exterior.

I’m pretty durable and good with rocks.

With my share of the money, I plan to hire a mage to send me home, or turn everyone else into earth elementals.




Inkulos Iridis greets you merrily! Some call me Inky the Tiny because of my slight size (perfectly average for imps, I assure you!) and a fondness for ink.

I may be small and nowhere as battle-hardened as knights in shining armour, but I can skip out of a monster’s grasp before you can say “scram!”, slip through the cracks (often unseen), scout for useful items, and brew all kinds of ink with special effects for discerning drinkers.

What do you plan to do with your cut of the money? Buy lots of ink ingredients, of course! With the money, the very first ink patio with the best paper nibbles will be opening to serve all from far and wide very soon!




A broad-chested, olive skinned human finishes a pint of ale with a long swig. He greets the group with a merry-looking smile, though it doesn’t seem to touch his eyes. He seems a touch distracted, as if something else is on his mind. A feeling of lingering sadness touches his aura.

“Greetings, my friends! My name is Jarrod. And this here …” he taps a heavy warhammer leaning against the back of his chair “… is Gertrude. When it comes to danger, consider us your shield. I will blunt what dangers may come from ahead and protect those who shelter behind. I’m more than good in a fight, specializing in up-close battles and …” he gives a small smirk “… alternative forms of negotiations.”

He leans over and places his elbows on the table, tenting his fingers and leaning in with his chin touching them as he continues. A thin leather cord adorned with small charms carved from bone is draped around his left wrist.

“Other than that, I’m willing to take on cooking chores and spin the occasional tale around a campfire. My cut of the money goes towards opening my own tavern when I retire.”


Sneaky Willows


I’m “Sneaky” Willows (nobody knows my actual name), an elvish pickpocket with a love for sneakin’, stabbin’ and music playin’! Some people say I’m no good at music playin’, but then I go sneakin’ and stabbin’ em!

On this team I think I’m gonna be good at sneakin’ up to those crystals and grabbin’ em right from under the guard’s noses!

With my money I’m plannin’ to hire a bard to teach me more music, so I can really impress people with my playin’ and maybe not even have to stab them!


Tea Filler


Who: Teefoon Filler of the Bucket, Knight of the 3rd order of Balmarlovemeer, Crester of the Golden-Fringed Ridge and 2nd to the Keeper of the Grimoire Glorious. You may call me “Tea.” (Tea is, notably, a giant. ~11ft tall).

What: Retired Cleric turned Archeologist.

Cash: A sturdy wagon and 5 head of oxen to pull it. I wish to travel further than my legs can take me.


Appendex B: Meta

Welcome to Basement Quest!

We’re gonna play this by ear, and cross each bridge only when we get to it.



Shoes in the Dark:

To do something, say that you do it, and then it probably happens!

If there is a risk, or chance of failure, we’ll roll dice to determine the outcome. We’ll use a variation of “Roll for Shoes” because it’s probably the most simple system there is. Everybody will start out pretty even skills wise. But you will eventually get really good at really specific things.

Everybody starts with one skill: Do anything 1

So to attempt to do anything, roll 1d6.

If you roll all sixes, you gain a new +1 skill which must be a subset of the skill you just used.


Player: I kick down the door. I’ll roll Do Anything (1) aaaand, that’s a six!”

Referee: You now have “Kicking Down Doors 2”


Player: I bust down the door with a flying kick! I’ll roll Kicking Down Doors 2 aaaand, two sixes!

Referee: You now have “Doorbane 3”

Player: Siiiick, doors fear me.

Every time you fail a roll, you gain 1 xp.

You can spend xp to turn any die into a six for the purpose of advancement.

Paths and Skills

About Paths

Paths are a kind of skill ladder that players can discover and unlock through play as their characters learn more about the world by living in it.

They are the lambda calculus answer to “classes” in traditional ttrpgs: a kind of anonymous class that everybody has access to, that you can combine and mix and match to your heart’s content. They are an all-you-can-eat buffet of skills and talents.

How it works:

Each path has a bunch of skills.

Every skill starts with a rank (a number), followed by a name (in bold), a trigger (in parenthesis), and finally a description.

You can unlock any skill by satisfying its trigger in-game, provided you have already unlocked at least one skill of every rank below it, in the same path. (The exceptions are skills of rank zero, which are the entry level skills for each path, and do not have such a requirement.)


Path of the Goblin Slayer

The path is “Path of the Goblin Slayer”. The rank of the first skill is 0, so there are no prerequisites. (If it had been, say, 2, then you would need to have unlocked a skill of rank 1 and of rank 0 in the same path before unlocking this one.) The name is “Favored Foe”. The trigger is “Slay 100 goblins”. And the perk is detailed in the description.

Path of the Retriever

The Perks of the Job

Path of the Tasseomancer

If that’s your cup of tea…

Path of the Were-Hare

You have been cursed to wander this world; half man, half rabbit.

Path of the Soulsword

You have a unique bond with a sentient sword

Path of the Duck Outlaw

When Basket Duck is against the law, only outlaws will play Basket Duck. And not even the angels will weep when this path eventually leads to your inevitable death.

Inspired by juego del pato, the traditional, much maligned, national sport of Argentina. Credit to ~mio for kicking off this idea.

Path of the Murderhobo

You are an angel of death. A dirty, homeless angel of death with no conscious or qualms with killing the innocent.

Path of the Sarong-fu Master

You are a master of soft, pliaable weapons.

Appendix C: Bestiary

Some of the creatures who inhabit the world of Basmentaria

aetherwael aur blahoblin centaur cobit dwrlugh egre gnome gnu groll harrowkrake hemogoblin horkosgrampus kobit merbear noogle tardigrade toque torque zephynos

A void whale. Most commonly observed in the swimming in the earth’s atmosphere, where they come to breath air. But they spend most of their time in the void of space, where they dive to great depths.
Giant ears with bat wings. Very keen hearing obviously. Usually more of an annoyance than a true deterent. Unless there’s a Centaur around.
a little goblinoid with the head of a goblin shark
A hundred ears with a hundred wings. The size of a small horse. They can really ruin your day.
A creature on the cob. The middle life stage of the corn creature, between Aur and Centaur. It does not have wings. Its flesh is comprised of thousands of hard microkernels. They travel in herds, and can hear at the speed of sound.
Dwrlugh are creatures from under the earth. They have a natural affinity for stone and metal, which they can seemingly work with merely a touch. Their skill and craftsmanship is unparalleled in all of Basmentaria. Though they admire the handiwork of the Zephynos and indeed lack their skill with cloudstuff, the dwrlugh consider the cloud dragons undisciplined and their work rather crude and unrefined. They come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, but on the whole are somewhat shorter and more slender than a human. Their flesh appears as though made of flecks and shards of stone, as does their hair, which grows on their head and their face like a lion’s mane. Their eyes seem to smolder like coal or glow like molten gemstone. Dwrlugh refuse given names, referring to one another by any number of (often changing) descriptions such as location, deed, relationship, etc.

Giant muscle bird. Proud, muscly, vain, fashion forward. Beautiful plumage.

Tiny tinkerers. Highly combustible. Very explosive. Like making contraptions powered by steam and/or coal
All gnomes are women. All gnomes are engineers. They have bright red noses, and very long ears. And long nimble fingers.
Bisonpeople. Long beards, long hair, horns. Poor personal hygiene. Uncompromising idealists. They insist on a world of free and open-source magic. They refuse to use any magic that they cannot study, modify, redistribute, and use however they want. Theirs is a political movement that borders on religion. Or a religious movement that borders on politics.
A dirty mop head on long, stilt-like legs. Solitary wanderers. They love magic, but have no natural aptitude for it, and so covet magical items like wands, staves, and orbs. A typical groll is a walking arsenal of runes and wands.
A colossal many-tentacled sea monster with a hard shell. It drags itself along the ocean floor, carving deep furrows in which it lives, catching prey with its tentacles.
A fluffy little goblinoid, dripping blood absolutely EVERYWHERE. Oh god, don’t let it touch that! Ew.
Dispite everything, disgustingly cute.
Sole manufacturers of an extremely high quality synthetic blood, and thus pretty much single-handedly support the “vegetarian” vampire community.
Toothy whales with a single long tusk. They are mostly scavengers, and are only provoked to violence in the presence of a lie or the breaking of an oath, in which case they go into a frenzy preying on the liar or liars. They can smell blood from a great distance, but can hear a lie from much further.
Subterranean scaly ratdog creatures. Big luminous eyes, long droopy mustaches. Extremely rarely, they may grow leathery wings, in which case they are revered and elevated by the other kobits.
Top half bear. Thick, hairless, leathery skin with a thick layer of blubber to keep it warm. Bottom half fish.

A cat with owl wings. They wear a propeller hat, which helps them hover in mid-air, as well as a bell and a cloth pouch with slips of fortunes around their necks. When they are standing still, their default facial expression makes them look as though they are either asleep on their feet or aghast at the sight before them. However, a smirking expression directed at a non-bird is a sign of trouble for their target: the latter is about to become catnip.

While not rare, noogle sightings are uncommon. They sometimes appear to lost travellers or people seeking an oracle for counsel. A fortune can be obtained from a noogle in exchange for a good deed, large or small, usually to be completed by the requester within a year of receiving the fortune. If the counsel seeker neglects to fulfill the deed, or completes it with ill intentions, a significant misfortune may befall them.

It is said that dreaming of a noogle on the first night of a new year will bring good fortune to the dreamer for the year.

A water bear. It has eight jointless legs, each tipped with four sharp claws. It wriggles and wobbles like jelly as it gesticulates.
Wild men of the mountains. Their long, sloping, vertically-creased foreheads and their bulbous, floppy skullcaps make it look like they wear chef’s hats. But no, that’s just what their heads look like.
The twisted people. Their bodies literally twisted and warped by magic into gruesome forms, these wretched creatures are hated and reviled across the lands.
Juvenile cloud dragons. They have wide heads and lidless eyes. Multiple pairs of filamented stalks behind their head help them fly. They have six underdeveloped limbs with long, thin fingers that they use to manipulate cloudstuff into solid objects.

Appendix D: Setting

The world of Basmentaria




Basmentaria is a group of islands that sits between the eastern Sugrin Sea and the western Saldin Sea.

There is Primora, the sparsely populated northern somewhat banana-shaped island. The city-state of Illivas, Primora’s only densely populated area, sits between Harshwind Glade and the mountains of Kelsun Peak.

And there Agendell, the southern also slightly banana-shaped island. Its largest city is Vay’Nullar, bordered by the Gnomelands to the south, and the Tammineaux Forest to the east. Beyond the forest is the Rana’For Valley.

The two crescent-moon islands reach toward each other, and in the center is the archipelago of Ginnarak, comprising the Cinderlands, Ashen Vale, the Ember Steppe, and Drakspon Mountain.



In a fantasy setting where there objectively are deities who walk the earth and interact with humans, “atheism” is sometimes erroneously used to signify an indifference to the gods. This is more accurately called “transtheism”:

Transtheism refers to a system of thought or religious philosophy that is neither theistic nor atheistic, but is beyond them. … [A system] is theistic in the limited sense that gods exist but are irrelevant as they are transcended by … a system that is not non-theistic, but in which the gods are not the highest spiritual instance.

That is, gods are sufficiently powerful enough to mold the earth and shape the destiny of man, but are no different from man in that they are fallible, flawed, and able to die.

They may be greatest power, but are not necessarily the highest spiritual or moral authority. Nor are they endlessly enduring or lasting.


[1] episode 00010


In the days of old, the Artifice Wars ravaged the lands of Basmentaria.

They reduced the once fertile lands of Ginnarak to ash and embers.

Appendix E: Barefoot Quackery

Being apocryphal and supplemental material posted to the Barefoot Quackery thread on tildepals, including depictions of loose pages torn from books of the Runesocesius Library during the assault by the Cyberplasms, as well as original works of fiction and other diversions.

Cease and Desist

To: durrendal
Subject: Cease and Desist Order

To whom it may concern:

It has recently come to our attention that a personhood has withheld important document(s) which affect the structural nature of a sensitive publication, namely the [REDACTED] zine.

Please cease and desist immediately. You may comply with this order by submitting the aforementioned document(s) to the designated drop-off point as instructed on the imprint accompanying your submission form by midnight Coordinated Basmentaric Time (BTC) of Day 22 of Member 12 in the year 2202.

Continued infringement represents an escalation and will result in sanctions, including but not withstanding a remote cursery execution (RCE) on your monitoring and calendar infrastructure.

We reserve the right to pursue other corrective actions through temporally-attuned means to protect the release timeline integrity of key cultural assets.


Luminati Association of Bears as Time Travellers (LABATT)

Dear sir and/or madame and/or bear and/or time travel NSA agent,

We’ve read your cease and desist, and while we understand its intent, we’re unable at this time to comply, not through any inability of our own, but rather through our inability to stop writing run on sentence; you see we never truly learned how to grammar goodly and now we just go on and on, ad nauseum, so on and so forth; truly it is a depressing and persistent problem, if we were ever to find the correct punctuation to prevent these run ons from happening we might be able to cease, potentially even desist, but probably both at the same time, or neither all at once, we’re really uncertain at this point; all that is know is that nothing is truly known once you’ve gone this far down the grammartical, and metaphorical, rabbit hole; to speak metaphorically that is on a subject that is somewhat subjectively objective while simultaneously being an objective objection to your subjective summation of our grevious misgivings, truly one must infer that the meaning of these metaphoric subjectively objective objections are subjective in their own right, potentially reaching the height of metaphysical incanatation; one could say this run on sentence is one giant invocation, a charm of warding against cease and desist notices, to protect the poor photographer from his abject abandonment of his own promises; though some may object to my absolute misuse of proper punctuation and grammar to the point where said people stopped reading long again and began readying pitchforks and torches, likely they’re on their way to Maine now ready to burn my witchy incantating self for the hum dinger of a grammatical curse I sit here writing, but to these people I say NAY, nay sir I object to your cease and desist, and to their objection to this abject horror of a sentence, and I abject my throne as well, for you know I once was a king, not a very rich king, but a king in my own right; why yes, indeed I was, king of stream of concious ramblings without respect for grammar, punctuation, or any of that high falootin nonsense that the yonder rich kings hold dear, and which I hold to be a dreadful and dire curse upon us all, but with that I really must bid you Good Day madame, though let this not be an ending, but the begining of a wonderful and delightful sort of cease and desist based relationship,

To: durrendal
Subject: Re: Cease and Desist Order [#20221221-1946]

To whom it may concern:

Please be advised that any evidence you provided in your response may be used against you in the event an injunction is filed against your personhood should you fail to comply with the order. This includes any admission of culpability or liability stemming from failure to submit the aforementioned document(s) in a timely manner.

LABATT is a renowned non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of historical continuity of cultural works in the fabric of space-time. We deplore the designation of “NSA agent” and invite you to learn more about our mission and vision on our website and free seminars one of our offices across Basmentaria.


Luminati Association of Bears as Time Travellers (LABATT)

On the Origins of Santa Claws


On the Origins of Santa Claws

Maximus N. Grinchescu

It should heretofore be common knowledge that the Santa Claws of present day is the stuff of fantasy and make-believe, a story fabricated on the spur of the moment by some exasperated mother who could not for the life of her induce her children to behave. The very notion of reward in the form of toys and presents, or punishment in the lack thereof of aforementioned items, is no doubt appealing to many parents who are themselves motivated similarly and thus can only appeal to their offspring at the most superficial level. The lifelong goal in the pursuit of consumption has been drummed into these unfortunate children’s heads from a young age, with thinly-veiled threats of a thorough mauling for those who dare to deviate from the well— and truly down— trodden path. It is the means by which the cycle of ignorance and conceit perpetuates among the unwashed masses — young mops bragging about having the largest present under the tree, to become adults boasting of receiving the most expensive gifts from a spouse or ever-widening court of suitors. The myth of Santa Claws is a gross distortion of facts disguised as a moralistic narrative that promotes annually renewing contracts of obedience in exchange for short-term material gains. Astonishingly, nary a word of doubt would be heard from the parents on the merits of accepting gifts from an obsessive stranger who prowls the streets at night watching their children sleep, in addition to claiming knowledge of the children’s every move rivalling their own.

It is regrettable that the image of Santa Claws in the eyes of many has been reduced to that of a jolly dangerous delivery worker. Little do they know that the real Santa Claws came from a long line of frockin — wandering folk who don a cassock and dedicate their lives to aiding the hungry, desperate and needy. On occasions for gifts, they gave to all regardless of whether they were perceived by friend or foe of the recipients to be good or evil, for such is the willingness of the frockin to set aside their quarrels on the Day of Bountiful Blessings. They travel across Basmentaria in fortles which house a multitude of rooms and supplies required to sustain their livelihoods. Inside the fortles were workshops in which carpenters, woodworkers, drafters, tailors, various craftspeople as well as farmers and cooks plied their skills.

One frockin in particular became known for rescuing ransomed young maidens and poor indentured servants who faced torture by the oil vat at the hands of cruel employers in the nick of time that they became known as Nick, Blessed of Neddas, or Nick of Mairas as they gained grateful followers and admirers. Despite this, the frockin was modest in manner and rarely took credit for their acts of generosity. Because of this trait and the loss of the few, limited first-hand accounts of those with close dealings with the frockin in a fire shortly before they assumed the care and upkeep of a pair of fortles, little is known of their childhood circumstances or early life. Enrolment records at an vocational institution in Vay’Neddas confirmed that they studied for several years in the city, and inherited their uncle’s position of managing the activities within the fortles sometime after their return. Other historical biographers contend the frockin’s name was in fact Nikolas Klaus, which later became Claws in children’s stories as to make them most palatable to impressionable young readers.

Questions as to the nature of their appearance are generally of little import save for lining the pockets of picture book publishers and mass producers of wax figure collectibles. Those who have had the fortune to glimpse their person described a wizened countenance of long hair, fulsome beard and whiskers gleaming white and silver, amid which nestled a pair of warm amber eyes, a nose slightly rosy from the cold and an affable smile. A genial face rested atop a large stocky frame, as was common among those with the blood and strength of noble mountain lions. As in the period of their ancestors, they wore a dark


brown cloak with a hood over their cassock to ward against the cold weather, though this changed after one occasion when they narrowly avoided being run over by a semi-autonomous cart. The abominable thing had zipped by in front of Santa at a beard’s distance away as they emerged on the roof of a house through its chimney.

At this juncture it should be duly noted that the idea of Santa Claws typically making their entrance into homes by clambering down chimneys, even preferring it as a method of entry, is as preposterous as the worthless rags that circulated such claims. No one of sound mind would shimmy through filthy, narrow, often half-crumbling chutes — carrying a large sack, no less — if they could safely enter through the front door. For the latter was exactly what Santa and their predecessors did, and still do to this day in some villages, in a time when people were less leery of their neighbours and either left their doors unlocked, or placed a spare key under the doormat so the household next door could tend to the plants or the children’s pepper pigs while they visited relatives farther away.

According to a later account by one of the crew on Santa’s fleet, translated and transcribed for the frockins’ annals by a chronicler, what had actually transpired was this: on that night while nearing the end of their rounds, Santa found signs of flooding at one of the houses pointing to a burst pipe, the water having seeped out under the front door and turned to ice in the frigid temperatures. Tender of heart, Santa retrieved their fleet repair kit that was kept for emergencies and ventured into the house to repair the broken pipe, in lieu of simply leaving the presents outside on a stump where a tree once stood and riding on. It was then that an obstacle presented itself. The house owners, having gone away for the holidays, had a magical apparatus set on the door that would raise an alarm and curse if opened by an intruder. No house key was found under the mat after defrosting the ice over it enough to pull off the cover. The windows were likewise sealed shut and latched. This ultimately necessitated Santa entering and leaving through the chimney. Doubtless some fool stumbled upon the moment Santa exited the chimney opening, nearly flattened by the aerial hazard of a self-navigating cart, and got it into their head that Santa Claws was one for chimney-climbing as sport.

When the good Mrs. Claws found out about the near mishap, they were so worried about their partner venturing out on missions that as a precaution, they had Santa promise to wear a bright red outfit for such occasions. The thick overcoat had a white faux fur trim that reflected the moons’ light, matching hat and trousers and a shining gold belt buckle so that the carts’ sensors can sight him even on the darkest nights. Completing the outfit were gloves with open seams at the base of each finger to reveal their claws without taking off the gloves completely. The whole ensemble was made by Mrs. Claws themselves, and it was said they had gotten the inspiration for the white trimmings from their partner’s flowing mane. Members of the fleet were also offered a similar change in clothing and the flying multibeast was re-painted in accordance with the new colours that are now festooned in the streets and shops all over Basmentaria each year as the Day of Bountiful Blessings draws near.

A brief word on the aforementioned fleet: much remains unconfirmed about the origins or evolution of the transport employed by Santa Claws to cover long distances, and the arcana that powers the current fleet remains a subject of heated speculation. Based on surviving annals that were once on public display, before the twin fortles vanished one night were never seen again, it is generally thought that the earliest fleets were small fortles guided by a crew of twelve members excluding Santa Claws. In time the fortles were retired and replaced with aerial multibeasts for lighter weight and potential for greater velocity. Contrary to popular jingles, the multibeast is not pulled by reindeer, which are neither known for speed nor stamina, but are headed by rain horses specially raised for both as as well their ability to withstand much of

Sunrise over Kelsun Peak

that night we ride up the mountain
deep within a Saldin Sea of mist
our way up becomes cloudy, uncertain
crying, heavy air turns to water
the cage starts to shudder and shake,
a venerable old man in a seizure

you clung to my arm as a bear cub
to its mother in the darkness,
the lone candle snuffed out in a huff
of a petulant wind throwing a tantrum
I grip the handle hard enough,
vowing to be strong for both of us

when we are called from fitful slumber
by twin rays of warming distant light
promising more, brother and sister
a cold breakfast or a hot chocolate
lastly and first, the sight of you
eyes open, hair tousled, immaculate

the rusty gondola creaks a little
under our combined weight, groaning
at our youthfully excessive flair
but we did not care, with our hearts
facing the sun, far lighter as one
than the corporeal sum of its parts

a new day breaks, yolk radiant orange
reveal the finest tempera brushed over
neat rows of tea plants at the grange
a gleaming dewdrop at the tip of a leaf,
we dangle on the cusp, an infinite moment
in the sky, we dare to hope, to believe


How to Grow Fortified Pumpkins

How to Grow Fortified Pumpkins

by Oles Macdonald

So you wanna grow fortified pumpkins, huh? Well, first things first, you’re gonna need a fort. You got yer self one, right? An’ I don’t mean those blow-up bouncing bollocks for kids, those take up room and don’t do jack. No sirree, you need to get yer self a rock fort. The real hard structure, not mouldy cheese. Snow’s not gonna cut it, fun for the young ‘uns maybe but kills yer plants with frostbite fast. Sand just gets washed away in a storm. An’ don’t get me started on pillow forts, them things should be banned. Blocks sunlight, flaps like the village gossips with a bit o’ wind letting in rain every which way, feathers inside them pillows take too long to dry when wet, I can go on an’ on about it all day but we’re talking about growing the best fortified pumpkins so let’s stick with it.

Bottom line is if you ain’t got one then build one from rocks, it’s what it says on the tin. Just make sure to choose large dry ones, flat-like, you wouldn’t wanna get sick from cave mold before you even get this sucker off the ground, and flats will save you time cutting all them sides. Build your fort on a sunny part of yer land away from trees. Pumpkins love to suntan, even shows on their skins in some varieties. Stack up some rocks like yer building a brick wall or grill. The fort wall should be about a hand’s thickness fer insulation an’ at least twelve by four-an’-twenty by six feet on the inside. Spread fisherfolk nets over the top to let in the sun, rain and bees to do their thing for yer pumpkin plants but keep them birds out. You can throw cured tarp over it an’ anchor it to the fort wall if a big storm comes along. Don’ forget to leave an opening so you can fit a door later. Lets you get in an’ out easy, but not so easy that the rats an’ other rodents get to yer pumpkins first. Door-wise there’s no need to be a fusspot about it, put in something sturdy with a clever latch or a ward if you can get a hold of one so the raccoon cats can’t pick the lock with their claws.

Yer gonna need three feet of the height right off the bat for a raised bed, specially if you don’t know fer sure if the land below yer feet is cursed or not, or can’t tell horse sh—t apart from dark clay to check yer soil is good. Line the inside of the fort with sheet metal where you’ll load up with good soil in a bit, an’ make sure you can get to all sides. No sense growing a bed full of pumpkins if you can’t reach over to grab ‘em later. You can also use wood but they will rot something nasty if you don’t find the right wood that takes to water well an’ have a habit of overwatering loads, then the whole thing falls apart under the weight. Sheet metal like the stuff used fer roofs will do the job, just bang a few together like a box with no lid no bottom an’ yer in business. If you’d rather be safe than sorry, you can make it even sturdier on the inside with a steel bar or two across the width of the bed. Fill a third of the bed with straw, ol’ wood, alfalfa or stuff like that you got laying around, then the rest of the way up to about the third knuckle’s length away from the top edge with good quality compost. Every farmer worth their weight in potatoes knows good quality compost is the real gold. As I always tell new folks lookin’ to set up right, go big on compost or go home.

Once you’ve filled up the bed, dig a few rows of shallow trenches in the soil about a half-an’-a-feet or two apart an’ two knuckles deep at yer pinky finger. Soak yer seeds overnight and plant ‘em in a feet apart in the rows. Cover ’em up and mulch that beauty of a bed. Give ’em a good thorough watering every other day, or every day if it’s like an oven hot out there, an’ Bread’s yer butter. Halfway through the season if they’re lookin’ a little starved, fortify ‘em by making some compost tea to freshen ’em up. You can use hemogoblin blood too if you got that, it’s just a pricier way to do the same thing with the same results, an’ who likes payin’ more when you can throw a few fish bones together, boil the whole lot, leave it to rot an’ get free plant tea? Not me. Now when they start flowering, nip off any extra flowers on the same vine so the pumpkin gets more nourishment an’ grows bigger. For a lot of newbs it’s a chore, but wait ‘til you see the size of these pups. If you don’t wanna mess about staking up vines, let ’em run around a bit and that’s hunky dory too. Just be sure they aren’t sittin’ in a swimming pool, that’s a one-way ride to mushy pumpkins an’ root rot. An’ dangnabbit do I hate mushy pumpkins.

An Overview of S.T.A.G Drones

This guide is meant to introduce the operate (you) to the functionality of features of the S.T.A.G drone. For in depth usage and extensibility please review the source code which can be found at your local GNU guild.

S.T.A.G - (S)py (T)ransmat (A)utonomous (G)izmo

As the name implies, the S.T.A.G drone is a capable and compact automous gizmo capable of relaying video, audio, & gps information to its operator. Unlike most convention drones it requires no input to operate, simply supplying it with an object is sufficient. The on board (A)mber (I)mp handles the actual control. It is important that you retrieve the A.I. from the drone in the event you choose to discard, or risk the S.T.A.G. in any way, remember Imp’s are sentient beings.

Once an operator has deployed a S.T.A.G drone they’ll recieve information back from it in the format of a twtxt feed, and open source plain text format which is easily parsed. GPS coordinates are reported as JSON strings inside of this feed, audio is transliterated to text, and video is relayed as a series of ascii characters. All an operate needs to do to view these feeds is to cat the return text to a terminal and it should render. If the operater does not have access to a terminal, or is not a practice sysorcerer, the video feed can be consumed by retrieving the S.T.A.G drone and holding it close to your ear. The A.I have been trained in number Basementarian languages and are happy to dutifully describe the scenes they’ve seen.

Each of these feeds can be subscribed to separately

The aggregate feed can be accessed via:

@<stag_arn uri://stag/arn>

Simiarly these feeds provide filtered results by name:

@<stag_arn uri://stag/arn/gps>
@<stag_arn uri://stag/arn/audio>
@<stag_arn uri://stag/arn/video> 

Gremlin Sysorcer

The gremlin stretched in his padded ergonomic chair and stifled a yawn. He had just finished beating the final Heroic Fantasy game for the twelfth time, when a flood of identical alerts flashed across his second screen: Outgoing connection blocked on port 443 from He reached into the machine, looked up the process and found two unfamiliar entries bouncing in and out of hottop’s list for most computering units being consumed. The new intern had probably downloaded some application with an auto-updater and left it installed on the workstation. He zapped the processes.

killall -9 ysosirius
killall -9 yunoluvirus

That should do it. He watched hottop closely on the monitor. A beat passed. Two, then the processes returned. Grr. These weren’t regular rogue procs, but forked demons. His stubby fingers sprinted over the mechanical keyboard, clacking loudly in the dark office as he fired off a series of spells:

sudo systemctl stop ysosirius
sudo systemctl stop yunoluvirus
sudo systemctl disable ysosirius
Failed to execute operation: Access denied

G—ck. How is that possible? The gremlin scratched his head with his Mebekey for a minute. Immutable flags?

sudo chattr -i /etc/systemd/system/ysosirius.service
/bin/bash chattr: not found

What. Did the intern somehow mistook it for a messaging client during the initial audit phase and removed it from all the workstations? He really needed to have a word with them when they turn up on Monday, but for now—

sudo apt -y install e2fsprogs
sudo chattr -i /etc/systemd/system/ysosirius.service
sudo rm -rf /etc/systemd/system/ysosirius*
sudo chattr -i /etc/systemd/system/yunoluvirus.service
sudo rm -rf /etc/systemd/system/yunoluvirus*

There, stupid demons terminated. Must have been one of his colleagues leaving him a gaff holiday gift, but he started a malware scan anyway just in case. Smiling to himself and pushing up his Googol glasses, the Tier Two support wizard looked away from his screen to grab his mug, which was then he noticed it was empty. Frowning, he pulled up the COFE dashboard on his terminal. His expression fell at the “0%” next to a little icon of an empty fuel gauge in the status field. That was the last pot — he was sure of it because he had brewed it himself four hours ago after ransacking the kitchenette for more. He had managed to scrape out a few stale tablespoons from what was left inside a large can that had been shoved to the back of a cupboard. He had ran out of coffee.

After checking his secret stash, which was also empty save for more discarded wrappers, he sighed and got to his feet. He gave the screen another glance and hoverboarded to the vending machine down the hall, before catching sight of the empty black racks from a distance and swerved back towards the lift doors. After some elevator-cruising, he found another vending machine a few floors down that still had drinks, a few tiny bags of corn chips and trail mix bars. Someone had already emptied its shelves of Cherry and regular Koke, and Diet Koke was never a viable alternative. Then he saw a single can of Red Kobit sitting tantalisingly on the rack. He paid with a tap of his meal card, figuring his luck wasn’t too bad after all, but at the last moment the vending machine changed its mind and held onto both his credits and the can with a round, wiry claw. He yelled at the machine, threatened to summon maintenance, shoved it back a centimeter where it was already standing against the wall, pummelled its bulletproof glass chest with his fists and kicked its legs, to no avail. The vending machine had likely seen through his bluff and knew no repair person was coming on a Friday night graveyard shift. Taking the machine apart will land him in Big Trouble again, and it wasn’t worth the three-hour CowardPoint presentation he would get about robot respect or the warning letter for damage to corporeal property. The gremlin resentfully tapped his card again to secure the last two cans of Red Horse, which rolled down into the flapped receptacle with a ba dum tss like a bad joke.

When he returned to his desk and settled back in his rolling chair, open can of raw energy in hand, he began to feel a prickly, crawling sensation on his skin. A rising dread overcame him, as the apparition of his lifelong-sworn enemy rose up from the deepest runlevels of init hell once again, and without a new season of White Mirror dropping anytime soon, he knew he was in grave danger. He gripped the edge of his keyboard, exhaled slowly and greeted his old nemesis, Boredom.

Pirate Gold Fondue


Pirate Gold Fondue



  1. Peel potatoes and boil until soft. Let cool, then add to a large mixing bowl with chickpea paste.

  2. Dissolve cornflour into the macadamia milk, then pour the milk gradually into the bowl, mashing the mixture until no lumps remain. Add coconut oil, 1/4 cup at a time until folded completely into the mixture and set aside.

  3. Toast the paprika in a saucepan. Add mulled apple wine, bemogoblin blood and garlic clove. When the liquid is heated, add ground cocoa.

  4. Pour the saucepan contents into a caquelon, or a double boiler with water simmering below the bowl. Add the potato mixture slowly in small batches, stirring continuously. Remove garlic after a 1/4 of the mixture has been added, and resume stirring until all the potatoes have been added.

  5. Garnish with lemon dill and serve.

Lady Runesocesius

My Lady, I come to visit you
will you show your dainty face, gladly I
let you tease me as I ascend, step closer
so you can hide behind your cloudy veils?

My Lady, I kneel at your feet
will you embrace me in your fulsome bosom
let me breathe in your perfume, a heady wine
taste drops of your creamy white nectar?

My Lady, I bring you snow lilies
to tuck behind your ear as I whisper
sweet everythings into that tender shell
so you can extract a promise for my return?

My Lady, I long to see you
to kiss your fair golden tresses and take
my vow with Nullar as witness, an Elixir to
savour once more your everlasting beauty?

Appendix F: Bean

Note: This story by mio was originally published in issue 6 of the zine, and is included here with the author’s permission.


This short story is dedicated to ~dozens.

Several months ago he spoke of a tabletop game that involved growing cats from beans, inviting others to try it and share their actual plays. As it happened, someone read the message and played the game, but the narrative that was supposed to accompany the results never materialised, having fizzled out in a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape before it had barely started.

Here instead is a story about growing, cats and beans, not necessarily in that order. Discerning readers will observe its setting is loosely based in a different game, the wonderful Basement Quest of which ~dozens is the amazing author and thoroughly adept game host. He has also kindly given permission to reproduce my tiny tale of tomfoolery under the CC-BY-SA license. The story would not have existed without his support and the patience of fellow players, though any lapses in judgement for churning out complete drivel are mine alone. Gratias maximas.


Deep within the bowels of the bustling city of Vay’Nullar was a building like every other and none other. The unassuming brick structure stood to one side of Cofe Street, so named after a giant automaton that had once occupied an empty plot of land for the sole purpose of selling coffee and the wonders of mechanical ingenuity before it broke down one day and the lot, overrun by weeds, was turned into an apothecary. There was no sign above the entrance to announce itself to the world, the windows shuttered and the wooden door bolted from within. It could be said that there was nothing remarkable about the building except for a colourful row of marching kidney-shaped beans painted in bas-relief than ran along the base of the tiled roof. The beans’ faces were contorted in various expressions of merriment, from hopping up and down with silly grins to flipping on their backs, eyes screwed tight and mouths wide open in laughter.

No one actually knew for sure if it was a shop, or what it sold, because the doors had never opened for business. Passers-by can be forgiven for thinking it was probably an ill-fated foray into fame and fortune by some enterprising young upstart that had floundered at the last moment, and the place had long since been abandoned to the cobwebs of aurs and dust bunnies. However, the neighbourhood’s residents knew differently. If anyone had cared to ask, they would have recounted in tense, hushed voices of eerie sounds emanating from the building at night. Some said they heard loud whooshing noises; others swore someone or something was lighting crackling bonfires inside, though they had neither seen light nor smoke from a fire. Still more spoke of a sound — the more musically-inclined might liken it to a note blown from a long horn, lowered then abruptly dampened. The children — the ones who were old enough or secretly sneaked out past their bedtime — would have simply described it as if a crowd had gotten together in a room and farted at the same time.

None of the residents had ever heard nor seen the landlord; as far as the eldest grannies could remember, the building had always appeared the way it did. When the city finally sent an inspector to assess the property after multiple complaints from the most vocal residents, the man had returned so shocked by whatever he had seen that to this day he could not utter a syllable, his entire body frozen in fear whenever the subject of the bean building was brought up. Cursed, was the conclusion of a guild of wizards three districts over, though one that seemed to evade their scanners. A few of the bravest and more curious among their ranks offered to investigate, but never returned with their findings. Children were sternly warned by their parents to stay away and behave, or they would be snatched up and eaten by the monster that lived within its walls.

One afternoon, a young girl who was studying the painted relief along one side of the building heard scratching, mewls, then a whimper coming from somewhere nearby. Following the sounds, she rounded the back of the building and spotted a grey kitten with light charcoal stripes slumped against the wall, paws on their furry tummy, with a pinched expression on their face. As she came closer, she could hear a low gurgling sound coming from somewhere near its tummy. “Oh!” She exclaimed, her face lit up in understanding. “Stay here, kitty.” she told the kitten.

She returned from a nearby shop with a glass bottle of oat milk, two small dishes and three skewers of tofuna balls. She set the items in front of the kitten, removed the skewers from the first dish and filled the other with milk. “Go on, it’s for you.” The girl smiled encouragingly at the kitten, who stared at her with wide eyes before pouncing on the tofuna balls. When the kitten had emptied the plates, they licked their face and paws, then looked up at the girl and mewed once before disappearing into a small hole in the wall of the building partially covered by a loose board. The girl tried to peer into the hole but it was too dark within to see anything.

The next day and the day after, the girl returned to the same spot with food for the kitten, who seemed to be expecting her, mewing once again before retreating back inside the hole in the wall after the meal. On the fourth day, the kitten was nowhere to be seen when the young girl arrived. She bent down to fill a saucer with more milk, and found a single brown bean in it slightly smaller than a cherry potato. She waited but there was no sign of the kitten. Eventually she left the offering of food near the hole and went home.

As the girl lay in bed that night, she examined the bean by the light of her bedside lamp. She held it up between her thumb and forefinger, rubbed a thumb against its smooth contours, then clasped it gently between her palms, gradually warming it as she peeked at it from between her fingers. After whispering to the bean for some time, she carefully tucked it under one end of her pillow, and yawning, turned down the lamp and went to sleep.

When she next opened her eyes, it was to find herself inside a gigantic storehouse with a high ceiling that seemed to stretch on and on into the horizon. One side was lined with glass partitions, some of which were obscured with thick curtains, while others had curtains parted aside to reveal the activities of the occupants within. On another side, separated by a path the width of two streets, was an open grassy area dotted with large translucent domes, like hazy soap bubbles on a summer day. The entire area was bright and well-lit even though she couldn’t make out any significant source of light aside from the little caddy lamps twinkling from the desks inside the partitions, or the campers’ lamps inside and around the domed tents.

A cat wearing bright yellow boots, blue overalls and a construction hat was beckoning her over. She recognised them as the kitten she had met in the alley earlier, though now they appeared as tall as her. Just as she was about to call out and ask where they were, the cat suddenly appeared in front of her and said eagerly, “There you are! Come along now!”

Everywhere she turned, there were now cats in all shapes, colours and sizes — short, large, skinny, tiny, chubby, striped, spotted, black, calico, white, brown, grey, and so on. Many were patting rectangular panels with various tiny buttons on the desks. Some were on all fours or sitting in various positions in front of stools with small boxes that made whirring, clicking sounds. After each click, the cats would shift positions, as if striking poses for some invisible audience. One cat was mixing and matching several new outfits in light colours. Another was hugging stuffed toy chipmunk while sorting mushrooms at a picnic table. A few were holding a burger with an oversized cheese wedge between their paws.

Some who were walking around the partitions were also holding mugs, the aroma of coffee wafting through the air as they passed — except for one cat whose paws were wrapped around a glass of a clear brown drink topped with cherries. A cat sped by on a contraption with a handle and two thin wheels, which emitted tinkling sounds from a tiny, nondescript box attached to a basket in front of the contraption. They passed a group of six cats gesturing to a black board covered in numbers and symbols; one of them chanted something that confused the girl and pushed a button on one edge of the board, which sprayed water over the surface, erasing the chalk writing. After wiping the board dry, the cat began rapidly filling the board with more symbols. When the girl looked over her shoulder, the board had already washed out the writing, and another cat had taken up position in front of the board.

Outside one domed tent, a metal arm was mixing a vat of pink and yellow cream while a cat sat beside it reading aloud from a scroll. At the next tent, two cats huddled over a thin, grey bulbous metal stump placed on a tiny wooden table. The cats seemed to be engaged in a serious conversation at first; then the girl blinked and they abruptly dissolved into laughs, thumping the table with a paw and barely grappling onto the table edge with the other to keep themselves from tumbling and knocking over the metal rod. A cat reclined against the frame of a bubble opening and seemed to be intently listening to something, while a stockpot bubbled merrily on a stove and spewed out dumplings into a large crusty bread bowl behind them.

A few steps from the path, a cat hung up pictures onto a pie-shaped box under the glow of a lamp affixed to their tent. The lamp slowly changed colours, each new colour followed by strings of words floating and fading in mid-air like intangible poetry. Behind them, half-hidden by big rows of vertical posts made of paper tubes, a cat perched atop a stack of ten thick black writing pads and was writing in a notebook at a furious pace, only occasionally stopping to bite into a slice of pie with a light yellow filling. A blue panel displaying several lines of indecipherable characters flickered occasionally from below. Remotely she could barely make out another cat stacking containers of different sizes neatly as they spoke to a sliding black case on a table covered in tools and fossils. Inside another tent, a cat was moving a small stack of old boxes with lights blinking blearily through the tent walls and shuffling them inside an animated green cabinet in the shape of a possum. As the girl stared, some of the cats grinned at her, and others waved.

At random intervals, a group would gather around a large pipe made of dark grey metal at the base, which gave way to a translucent material at knee height, towering up before disappearing into an opening in the ceiling. Venturing closer, she realised the translucent pipe was actually made of many transparent small pipes with beads of light passing through them at impossibly fast speeds. As the lights spun faster, a low purr emanated from the pipe, which became louder and louder in a roaring crescendo as the group fixed their gazes upwards at a spot where pipe met ceiling, some clapping their paws to a soundless rhythm that was nonetheless familiar to them all, until the noise was abruptly cut off to barely a whine and a chuff once more. The crowd of cats dispersed as if nothing had happened.

Further on, another group wielding oversized sporks was shovelling piles of pea-sized, dark brown beans at a glass pane the size of a large smoke screen, behind which an ornate fireplace was set over a well-used hearth. The beans seem to pass through the glass, to be devoured by the giant blaze that flared and snapped briefly each time it received more tinder. Some of the cats looked on with somber expressions, and the girl had the feeling that whatever the fire did was as important — if not more so — than the stream of lights in the pipes. As the flames gradually changed colour from blood orange to pale lavender, the group seemed to relax into relieved smiles and slowed their shovelling, only halting when the fire had turned a vibrant purple. Her guide gave the group a thumbs-up before ushering her along the path.

When they had walked a few score feet onward, the young girl suddenly noticed almost all the cats in their immediate vicinity had a small rectangular apparatus on them — whether held in their paws, hanging from a waist pouch, jutting out from a back pocket, strapped to their caps or arms, or placed within reach on a nearby desk or table. In that instant, a resounding chime like a bell rolled across the area where they were standing. The cats glanced down at their apparatus, which were lit in varying levels of brightness. Some of the cats looked up at one another and sported identical grins on their faces. Then, as though following an unannounced but practised cue, the cats applied light pressure on their apparatus. For a moment it was quiet, before the hall erupted into a very loud raspberry. It was as though a giant balloon had deflated over their heads and air was coming out of it in one big gush, only there was no strong burst of wind to blow them all off their feet. Distantly she heard the answering giggling of babies and children somewhere around her, though there were no infants or other children in sight. The cat with the yellow hat turned to her with a chuckle and said, “Snazzy, huh? Let’s keep this a little secret between us, okay?”

Before the girl could reply, she awoke with a start in her own room. It took a moment for her to ascertain where she was as her eyes focused on the shelf by the wall filled with toys and books, and the morning sunlight streaming in from the bedroom window. Recalling the cat in boots, she felt around her pillow for the bean, but her hand only met soft bedsheets. She shook out her pillow while pushing aside her blankets, checked the floor and peeked under the bed, but the bean had disappeared. As she looked around her room, she noticed the mug adorned with tiny butterflies that she used as a brush holder had been moved from its usual spot on her desk. She got out of bed and padded barefoot over to the desk. Instead of one baby potato-sized bean, the mug was filled with a number of small red beans. Shaking them out in handfuls at a time, she counted 43 in total.

The girl smiled. When the time came, she and the beans will be ready.

Appendix G: Teale

This story by mio, while technically part of the Barefoot Quackery compendium, stands on its own enough to earn its own entry in the appendix. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.



It had been an accident at first.

Inky had just returned from the market with two bags of produce and was halfway up the back stairs when one of the radishes tumbled from its paper bag and rolled down the steps to land on the ground somewhere near a first-storey window below. Setting down the bags on the second floor, Inky went downstairs to retrieve the missing radish, which they found easily amid light from the open window and a brass lamp next to the back door several paces away. As they straightened from their crouch with the vegetable in hand, a movement from the window caught their attention.

Illuminated by lamps hanging from the rafters, a large turtle was rolling on the floor of what appeared to be the restaurant’s kitchens. As the imp watched, the turtle turned in multiple directions over and over, gradually stretching out the dough while moulding different textures onto the surface through the various glyphs and markings on his shell. Inky was intrigued — they had never seen empanadas prepared this way before. It reminded them distantly of a retired ceremonial bull fighter turned pub owner they had met who would sometimes form cornucopia rolls with his horns to impress the tourists, but still generally preferred to use his hands or a rolling pin to roll out dough for other breads. Over the next several days, Inky would pause briefly to look through the kitchen window before ascending the stairs. Eventually they were able to watch the empanada-making process from start to finish, and on some late evenings, observing the way the chef would frown at a small sample of partly-eaten pastry on a plate, followed by a sigh, as though dissatisfied with the contents.

One night, Inky passed through the Milk Market at a later hour than previous days. The lamps had by then been extinguished, but someone had left a window open and when Inky glanced in, the kitchen had been cleaned, a thin sheen of water evaporating quickly on the floors from the warm air outside, and the wood counter tops shone where they were worn smooth in some spots. The surfaces which would by day be occupied by trays of pastries were bare. In that moment, an awful idea took hold in Inky’s head. Clambering nimbly through the window, Inky entered the kitchen, carefully avoiding the area where the pastries were rolled out. They checked the racks of pans and utensils hanging below the cabinets, the ovens, the iceboxes, then inspected the pantry. After giving themselves an impromptu tour of the kitchens, including a peek into the brewing room and root cellar, Inky went out the way they came in what was to become the first of multiple unannounced visits. The following night, Inky returned with a small plate of tapas — just a slight twist on simple fare that could be paired with the ale being sold at the shop. The plate was left on a table to be later discovered when the chef came in early to begin preparations for the day.

The flavours of the tapas gradually increased in complexity, though not straying too far from the earthy undertones of the shop’s signature ale. Inky didn’t know if Enrique would even like the little tapas, though they supposed they could find out one way or another. In a way it didn’t really matter; the snacks would serve as inspirational aids for the chef to pick out flavours and combinations for his own pastries. At worst, if the tapas irritated him immensely, he would likely be too busy trying to catch the intruder red-handed to be sighing over his efforts. Inky decided the giant turtle looked better with his annoyance directed elsewhere. Either way, if the turtle truly wanted to be rid of the tapas, he was going to have to “up his game”, as the dillball kids in the neighbourhood would say.


A small turtle wearing overalls, a smock and rain boots is sitting on the grass next to a muddy puddle of water, forming a wet ball in his hands. Sunlight spills into the forest clearing, illuminating the turtle’s smock and boots which are covered in dirt and mud. Inky walks over and sits across from the turtle.

“Hi, I’m __ , what’s your name?” Inky asks.

“Enrique,” replies the turtle.

“That’s a great name. Hi Henry!” Inky greets their new friend.

The turtle frowns. “My name is Enrique, not Henry,” he says.

“It is now. Why are you making mud pies, Henry?” asks Inky, pointing to the slightly lumpy pies stacked neatly a short distance from the turtle.

“They’re cool, and it’s Enrique,” the turtle replies, a little defensively.

“They are,” Inky agrees, “What’s in them?”

The turtle gives Inky a funny look. “They’re called mud pies. Of course there’s mud inside.”

“That’s not a pie! That’s a crusty …” Here child-Inky struggles to find words, “crust,” they finish weakly.

Enrique looks at Inky, unimpressed. “What else would there be if not mud?”

“Loads! Fruits, lots of berries, nuts, custards and jams,” Inky exclaims, picturing the table spread for tea-time. After some thought, they add, “There’s also mushroom pot, but I don’t know where to get that yet.”

“Mushroom pot? There’s no such thing,” the turtle says, sceptical.

“There is, I’ve tasted it,” child-Inky insists. “Want to go find mushroom pot together? We’ll get some blackberries, redcurrants and sunflower seeds for your pies too.”

“Fine,” the turtle replies eventually, after thinking it over. “But you’re wrong about the sunflower seeds. Nobody puts that in their pies.”

“Then you’ll be the first to do it, Henry!” Inky laughs. “Race you to the giant oak with the big nose!” With that, they hurtle off through the trees.

“It’s Enrique!” the turtle huffs, but trots towards the direction of the oaks.


“Why don’t you ask him?”

“Because it’ll ruin the surprise! He’ll know in a pinch something’s fishy,” child-Inky wails a bit in desperation. Lowering their voice, they finished imploringly, “I got him a pair of mittens after he said he lost one last week, but I want to make him something he can eat too. Like food cooked on a real fire. Mud cookies really aren’t very tasty.”

The large matronly turtle chuckles, a deep, throaty sound. “No, I don’t suppose they are,” she concedes. Tapping a claw on her chin in thought, she blinks a few times then smiles. “But I know just the thing.”


“Another five minutes should do it,” Enrique’s mother tells Inky.

Inky peers into the cob oven at the tapas sitting on a wooden board with a long handle. “Thank you, Mrs. T.” child-Inky says politely.

Over the past few afternoons, Enrique’s mother instructed child-Inky on making a basic bread tapa with three different topping combinations based on her son’s favourite foods, while Enrique had gone with his father to visit one of the barley farms that supplied the brewery where Mr. T. was chief brewer. The results were now bubbling a little as the enticing smell of tostadas and pepper sauce slowly wafted out from the oven.

The lady nods. “It’ll be good for Enrique to have a friend over to celebrate. He takes after his father, being too serious for his young age. He’s already learning beercraft from him when he ought to be outdoors playing with his fellow schoolmates.”

“Is there anything else I can help with?” Inky asks.

“It’s all right, dear, I’ll manage. Why don’t you wash up and wait in the parlour? Enrique and his father should be back from the brewery any moment now.” She sounds put-upon at the last words.

At Inky’s curious look, Enrique’s mother explains, “Our birthday boy wanted to try the ale.” She sighs. “I’d put my foot down but he looked so disappointed when I objected. Well, I did make his father promise not to let him get too drunk. Besides,” she adds with a wink, “We spent all this time baking him a cake and snacks, we can’t have him falling asleep on us before he’s had any of it, can we?”


Inky was avoiding the kitchens downstairs.

While it had been amusing at first, and Inky was fairly sure they wouldn’t be caught (it helped that the chef’s routine was awfully predictable and the staff were even worse, especially that surly hobgoblin who always sneaked off three hours early on Primedays), they didn’t really want to end up in Enrique’s bad books or banned from the shop if he found out. The blood pudding had been a sobering reminder of the consequences of meddling in other people’s business.

Still, they could not bring themselves to stay away from the shop entirely, just as they had been drawn to the weathered sign over the door and the aroma of bread fresh from the oven mixed with the malty undertones of robust ale within the first few days when Jarrod had invited other members of the party to his newly-acquired premises. There was something almost homely about it, which was strange since Inky rarely made empanadas (in the strictest sense of the word, though some breadpunks would argue anything edible with a filling counts) and did not particularly favour most alcoholic drinks (ink had a wider sensory range and none of the hangovers, in their opinion) and only imbibed when an occasion called for it. This feeling carried into the kitchens, with its wooden counter tops covered in scratches and stains, shelves stacked a little precariously with sauces and spice jars, and even the gaping maw of a big stone oven next to the more conventional mechanical oven. It had to be the most common sight of every bakery on the continent and yet, there hadn’t been any place quite like it ever since Inky had left a small town for life in the city.

So it was in the evenings when Enrique was most likely busy in the kitchens or in storeroom taking stock of supplies for the next day that Inky would visit in the guise of a tea seller, either to put in a larger order for whoever of their party was around upstairs or have supper in a shadowed corner of the restaurant. At the latter times, Inky would request different items from the previous day, partly to not draw attention from the kitchen, as well as to keep things more interesting for a little game they liked to play which involved coming up with various inks to complement the evening selection in the time it took to eat it. Sometimes, when mulling over new produce from the market, Inky would also try to rearrange the current dish in their head, replacing ingredients and preparations until it resembled nothing like the crispy delectables of the original. Inky wouldn’t really do that to the empanadas with actual ingredients, but it was funny to picture the turtle’s annoyed expression at the very thought anyway.

When Inky was satisfied they had an answer for inks depending on the most recent harvest and season, they would sit for a while, back to the wall and glass of kale juice in hand to idly survey the room or half-listen to the breadpunk gang debate the merits of quick rise yeast over traditional starters. The staff (whose names and shifts Inky had long since obtained for security reasons and definitely not because they were a little obsessed) were probably used to customers of all sorts, including reticent ones, and mostly left Inky to their meal. Leaving a decent tip (and on one occasion, a tea-based poultice for a waitress who had been holding her left arm at an awkward angle the entire time, with pictorial instructions for its application sketched on a sheet of fine notepaper), Inky would depart with a small bag of treats for their marketing manager before the shop’s proprietor emerged to check on the dining area and chat with his regular customers.

Said marketing manager also became Inky’s quality assurance tester, and was rewarded with an extra sample of each tapa recipe that met the duck’s discerning taste. Only recipes that had the duck’s stomp of approval were delivered by hare mail to the Emporium. It didn’t see a need for the recipes to be put through the post — the shop was right below their feet! — but Inky had gone to the post office each time and even spoke in rabbiton to one of the delivery workers there.

Gradually, however, the duck noticed something strange — the more Inky had dinner at the shop downstairs, the fewer and farther in between the recipes came, until they eventually stopped appearing altogether. Initially it had tried to remind Inky by stomping its foot and nudging their hand with its beak, but Inky had only smiled wanly and said they didn’t have any good ideas right now. The duck began to suspect this was patently false when, while following Inky around on a trip to the market one afternoon, Inky had opened to a page in their notebook to jot down a few words. Hopping up onto a wooden crate to get a better view, the duck saw the notebook was almost completely filled with ingredient lists, preparation steps and extensive notes.

It looked up to admonish Inky, and saw the rabbit imp was staring wistfully at a barrel of pimientos. When the duck looked back again, the expression had vanished, as did its owner, who had already crossed to the other side of the road and was walking at a brisk pace towards a juice stand. The duck gave an indignant quack and hastily waddled after them. How is a marketing manager to keep up when the recipe developer is twelve steps ahead of the process?


“How did you do on the writing homework?” the turtle asks the imp.

They are sitting at their favourite spot in the forest clearing — or rather, Enrique is leaning back against a tree with his knees partially drawn up, while Inky is sprawled on their back on the grass gazing at the clouds overhead, the schoolbooks next to Inky’s head momentarily forgotten.

“I don’t know. I only know you wrote that you plan to be an ale brewer.” Inky replies airily.

Enrique looks down at the imp. “How did you know?”

“It’s written on your face, Henry. Literally. There’s still hops pulp on your forehead. I’m sure you’ll get a good grade though, most of the teachers like boring bottle answers like that.”

The turtle glowers at the imp’s chuckle and swipes at his own forehead.

“What did you write?” he retorts.

Inky does not immediately respond.

“Well? What did you write?” he asks again.

“Invisible Ninja Kookie Yulestarter.”

The turtle blinks, slowly. “What— what’s that?”

“I don’t know.” replies the imp.

“You don’t know?” Enrique echoes, perplexed.

“I just made something up. How would I know what I want to be in two-score years? It’s not like I’ve met and had tea with future two-score-year me. Next year I’ll be an Intergalean Neuestar Kickback Yorkie for sure.” Child-Inky nods at Enrique sagely.

“You really are something.” The turtle shakes his head in exasperation, though a small smile appears on his face.

“A terrible infant? That’s old news, Henry.” laughs the imp.

“Telling the truth never gets old.”

Inky pouts. “Ouch. You win. But only because it was a quote from your mother.”

“Finish up your homework. I’m going back to the brewery soon to check on the new batch.” Enrique gets up and brushes off his clothes.

The imp gives him a pointed look. “Yes, Hen-reek.”


“Henry—” Child-Inky pleads.

The young turtle looks extremely frustrated, almost angry. “For the umpteenth time, it’s Enrique! See, that’s your problem. You have no respect for other people’s wishes and boundaries. Everything is a silly little game to you. Can’t you be serious for once?”

“Okay. Are we seriously going to the play—”

“No.” says the turtle firmly.

They are standing at the dark iron gates leading into the brewery. Enrique has finally exited a huge building after Inky had stood for half an hour outside repeatedly yelling his name. But no matter how child-Inky wails and pouts, Enrique has still refused to accompany him to see the new garden play being performed in a field of scorpion grasses up the road from the forest.

“Why not?” Child-Inky asks, head tilted to one side, not understanding.

“Because I have things to do at the brewery. A new dryer has arrived. Father is going to show me how to use it and I need to get the moisture levels right.” The aspiring brewer seems to be at the end of his patience.

“But we haven’t done anything fun together for a whole fortnight!” Child-Inky protests.

The turtle wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. “I don’t have time to trawl around the forest anymore.”

“You’re saying that now, but I’ll come by tomorrow and we can go see it then,” child-Inky says anyway.


“The day after tomorrow?” asks child-Inky hopefully.


“The tomorrow after tomorrow?”

“No means no. This isn’t the time for fun and games.”

“What if I don’t come back tomorrow? Will you go see the play with me?” Inky asks, eyes watering and expression wobbly.

“That’s not how it works. Go home, __. I have to get back inside to check on the boilers.” The turtle turns and walks along the path back into the building.

“Then I’ll come the day after the day before tomorrow!” Child-Inky calls after him.

“You didn’t say no, is that a yes? Henry!”


Blurriness, gradually coming into focus in the form of an elderly man’s face with thin eyebrows, kind brown eyes, round spectacles and a concerted frown on the unfamiliar features.

The man spoke slowly. “I see you’ve finally woken up. What’s your name, little one?”

“I—I …” The imp winced as a sharp prickling pain in their head made itself known at the sudden movement, followed by confusion and alarm when they attempt to answer the man’s question and drew a blank.

“It’s all right, easy now, nib.” said the elder as he helped the imp sit up with some rustling of bedclothes. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit sore but … okay? What … happened?” asked the imp.

“We found you two days ago on the river banks right outside of town. Some of the fisherfolk say there was a flash flood from a big storm a few hundred miles up the rapids which washed collapsed buildings and other debris downstream.” The man explained.

“Then where … where am … ?”

The old man smiled. “Welcome to the township of Waterlan.”


“I’m sorry, Mr. Iridis. I haven’t recalled anything yet.” The imp said sadly to the ink craftsman as they sat at the small table over dinner. It had been almost a week since the elderly man had taken in the imp and assured them they could stay as long as they wished.

Mr. Iridis was unperturbed by the news. “Hmm, well, we should still call you by name in the meantime … how does Inkulos sound?”


“Uggghhh!! That group of flaming owes were such noisy slobs. Dropping chunks of bread everywhere on the floor, squawking at a hundred decibels a minute, then accidentally scorching the table. Why can’t we have more customers like the Swanson family?” Marnie groaned, tail twitching in irritation as she rubbed her temples.

“Or that tea seller,” added Gil sympathetically.

Enrique hadn’t heard from old Takao in a long time. The elderly, jovial tea merchant who previously came with his partner and parakeet on weekends had retired a few years earlier to his ancestral home in Rana’For Valley. Maybe they had returned to visit relatives in the city.

“Tea seller?” He turned to his head waiter, a portly frog named Gilgamesh.

“Yeah, they’ve been coming almost daily for the past couple o’ months now when they didn’t disappear for a week or two in a row. Don’t talk much but tip pretty well for a street vendor. Even left us free samples a few times. Marnie said the pepperwood blend did wonders for her headaches. I’m not a tea drinker, y’know, but she made me a cup once and it was definitely the real deal. Not the horse piss those shady asses over at Normington Mews try to pass off as tea.”

It wasn’t Takao, but someone new in the district. Months? How had he not noticed before?

“How does this tea seller look like?” he asked.

“Short imp, dark eyes, kinda young? Wears a brimmed hat, carries around a tea flask and a wooden box. One of my neighbours saw them a few weeks ago at a market and thinks they’re half-rabbit, but he says stuff like that about half the people he meets anyway.”

Enrique frowned. He knew all his regular patrons, young or old, and was sure he would remember seeing someone who fit the description.

On further questioning his wait staff, he found out a few more things about them: they usually came around the same time most evenings when he was in the kitchens; had no particular menu preferences that Gil or Marnie could name (which was unusual, even the most adventurous of his customers reverted to a few personal favourites after some time); sat at the same corner table, the one he himself made use of occasionally on slow days where he could have an unobstructed view of the room and out into the street; and sometimes ordered enough for a gathering of associates, who did seem to have more distinct selections.

He had seen his share of tight-lipped customers who were only there for a hot meal before or after a gruelling day of work and he was not one to pry. However, word of this new tea seller had piqued his interest. Maybe he’ll buy them a round and have a look at their offerings. While ale would always remain his pride and joy, he did enjoy a good steaming cup on some of the coldest days of the year.

Time for tea and a new acquaintance.


The tea was excellent.

It was easily the best tea he’s had since Takao and Kaiya had moved away from the city and were unable to find a successor before they left. He ended up procuring more than he may have originally expected after sampling five different teas, including two recommended by the vendor, and found them all very pleasant, one even lightly invigorating. The tea seller, who went by the name Inky, was mild-mannered and polite as they described each blend in turn and answered questions about its origins. However, the imp had declined payment for the teas and when pressed, had mumbled some excuse and looked as though they wanted to leave. Eventually Enrique got them to accept some ale from the shop with a bit of haggling.

Enrique had begun their conversation by introducing himself and inquiring about the meal earlier, whether his new regular had anything they liked in particular from the menu. Inky had responded positively, but seemed genuinely confused by the second question and only repeated “everything”. After tea tasting, the topic had turned to the daily running of the shop and the effects of the late barley harvest this year on the breweries and their products. As a brewer himself, he was always keen to talk about his ales and beercraft in general, and was only a little startled when after some time, Gil appeared at their table to let him know the staff were done with cleaning and bid him goodnight.

To his surprise, Enrique found himself a little reluctant to chase out his new frequent customer so he could close the shop for the day. He turned back to his guest apologetically, but the tea seller had gotten the waiter’s hint and was already on their feet with their flask and box. The imp thanked him, gave a quick little bow and was out of the shop in two blinks of an eye.

The turtle stared after the closed doors for a moment, then returned to clearing away the tableware. Rinsing out their glasses, he collected the bills left on the table, counted them, and mentally shook his head. Little wonder his wait staff were so amenable to the tea seller’s presence — it was enough to pay for a nice full-course dinner for two. Normally he would bristle at a potential insinuation that he was not paying his staff properly, but was oddly calmed at the sight of the boxes still sitting innocently on the table, almost as though he’d just had another cup of peppermint tea. Ridiculous, he told himself, and turned off the lights.


“Why do you keep calling me Henry?” Enrique eventually asks as they walk though the forest on the way to his house. The imp is facing him as they trot backwards along the path, but at his question they turn and skip ahead a few paces before replying.


“Because … ?” The turtle prompts.

The imp says matter-of-factly, “Either your name’s Henry or it’s too long. Would you like to be called Too Long?”

“No, but learning to call someone by their name properly wouldn’t hurt.” Enrique says evenly.

The imp spins around and comes to stand in front of him, hands clasped behind their back and leaning right into his personal space. “Yes, it would, Henry. How would you like people calling you ‘Julienne’ all the time?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that. Julien is a good name,” he replies honestly.

The little imp wrinkles their nose. “It’s irritating. They never pronounce it correctly. I’m not a bunch of little matchsticks.” They say peevishly and take a short step back, arms crossed.

“Is that why you keep changing your name every other week?” the turtle wonders.

His friend swings their arms to and fro as they resume walking, this time on tiptoe. “I haven’t changed it yet. It’s just written differently,” they reply, bottom lip jutting out slightly and looking a bit thoughtful.

Enrique recognises the expression as one that would appear whenever the imp was about to say something outlandish, and is proven right the next moment when the imp suddenly smiles.

“Aren’t you going to ask how?” The imp hops from side to side, as though jumping across invisible holes in the dirt.

The turtle sighs internally. “All right, how is it written this week?”

“J-o-u-l-e.” His friend recites proudly.

“That’s … different.” Enrique says consideringly.

“Obviously.” The imp seems pleased with their announcement as they shift into step next to Enrique along the path.

“Didn’t you say you were only changing the way it’s written?” Enrique points out, and is rewarded with a cheerful reply.

“Nope. Changed my mind just because you asked. You’re welcome.”


Over the course of several months he got to know more about his new tea supplier, partly from the imp themselves and mostly through rumours and hearsay from his other regulars, though what he’d learned only brought more questions.

He knew Inky occasionally departed the city on some business, joining a caravan with other travellers that went up and down the countryside to restock as well as hunt for new items and products. This Inky had told him once after they had been gone for almost two weeks and returned with a particularly zesty blend of citrus maghrebi. The imp had been adamant that it was a gift, and although Enrique had protested mildly at first, he was grateful nonetheless.

When the tea seller was in the city, they would peddle on the streets during the day around various districts including some of the poorest neighbourhoods, though from what he was hearing from other diners, they were succeeding at handing out more cups of tea than they were at selling them. They didn’t have a shop or trading office that he was aware of — he had tried asking for directions or an address where he could request a new supply, but the imp assured him with a quirky little smile they would come around regularly to take orders for their special tea enthusiasts.

The lack of an address was bewildering. Surely with tea of such quality and the right customers they could afford rent for a small nook at the docks, or even near the shopping districts if they were serious about their trade? Moreover, what kind of tea seller gives away their wares freely like that? The imp’s attire, while clean, was worn in several spots and had clearly seen better days, yet they had no compunctions about any of the menu items nor problems settling the tab afterwards. Maybe they were some type of mercenary who dabbled in a side business. If a customer did not wish others to be privy to what they did out of the city, he would leave it be.

Their menu selection was another puzzler. Enrique looked forward to the tea seller’s arrival and had made a point of getting some of his next-day preparations out of the way a little earlier so he could talk briefly with the imp on less busier evenings. However, after months of conversation he was still no closer to finding out what this regular customer of his liked. Inky seemed to order anything with no discernible pattern in the way some diners would always order a herb bake on Liandays, only that they never ordered the same dish to the day before, and rarely the same dish more than once a week.

He did often have customers who relished variety, and this had been an impetus for Enrique to endeavour to come up with novel breads and recipes that would draw a new crowd and occasionally offer a bit of excitement for his repeat customers. Lately he had been trying out variations of the little elf’s most recent recipe, but something was lacking. Offhandedly he mentioned his problem of the missing ingredient to the tea seller one night as the latter made their way through one of his carrot and cucumber loaves. Inky had merely looked at him and said “shishito”. At that moment he was called away with another customer’s request, but after all the patrons had left, he remembered their conversation earlier and went back to his recipe, this time adding the suggested peppers. The resulting flavours melded wonderfully — he had hit upon a winning combination.

The next evening he prepared a small plate of his new empanadas for the tea seller to try, but the imp did not appear.


It had been some time since he had heard from the little elf, as Enrique had taken to calling them in his mind. The tapas had stopped appearing, replaced with delightful recipes by mail from wherever it was helper elves went between visitations (the letters had no return address). Meanwhile the brewer busied himself with expanding his selection of empanadas through the recipes, even adding a new kale telera in a stroke of inspiration.

More concerning was the fact that it had been at least several weeks since he had seen or heard from the tea seller. All manner of strange folk passed through his shop from time to time, so he shouldn’t be surprised the tea seller may have decided to move on to another city altogether. Still, he did feel a pang of disappointment at losing good company, or the way the imp had left without so much as a farewell. There was something about the tea seller that he couldn’t place that came with the ease with which they would talk of various subjects, from beer-making to the pilgrims who would stop in at the shop occasionally.

On his way back from the market on one of his few days off when the shop was closed, he passed by the post office and was struck by a sudden thought. He went inside and showed the rabbit postmistress on duty the last message he had received (he had taken to carrying one or two of them on him for new ideas whenever he went to the market) and inquired about the sender. The postmistress was initially reluctant to answer on account of customer confidentiality, but after hearing his concern over the plight of his little elf friend, eventually relented. She recognised his shop address and was able to recall the appearance of a half-rabbit whose description matched the tea seller. Enrique walked the rest of the way back from the post office to his shop, thinking hard.

Stunned bemusement soon gave way to vague worry — it was unlike the tapas chef to go silent for long without a leaving message, usually accompanied by a recipe. If the tapas chef and tea seller were the same person, it was possible they had gone with one of those caravans and something horrible had befallen them on the journey. He sighed and threw himself back into his ales and pastries with a single-minded focus, trying not to dwell on the possibility the imp might not return.


“Enrique,” his mother called.

When he appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, his mother hesitated before she said, “I have some upsetting news, dear.”

“Mrs. Sapaverde came by earlier. She said one of the mill workers saw a small imp at the bottom of the hill from the brewery on her way home before the storm. The worker tried to warn the imp about the storm, but the child insisted they had to meet someone at the brewery.”

His mother was looking at him now with concern in her olive-coloured eyes. “We think it may have been your friend looking for you, not knowing the brewery was closed because of the weather.”

Enrique stilled. His father along with the other brewery employees had been anticipating the storm and had stayed late the day before carrying out preparations — elevating crates and barrels, tying down equipment, stacking sandbags, checking the waterproofing and other tasks. Before they left for the night, the employees were advised not to come in the next day due to possible flooding and mudslides. They had later learned the area around the hill had been flooded for the better part of two days. Fortunately the brewery sat atop of the hill and was mostly spared from damage aside from a small amount of rainwater in several rooms and some spoiled dry stock. Everyone had been aware of an impending thunderstorm and would have done the reasonable thing and stayed home … or so he thought.

“Thanks … for telling me, Ma.” He managed after a moment, and was instantly brought into his mother’s comforting hug. His mother eventually let him trudge back to his room with a mug of cocoa and milk roll in hand.

The first night he didn’t have to return from storm cleanup at the brewery and immediately fall asleep from exhaustion, he dreamt of an imp at the gatepost, and of teatime, bears and tuckleberry jam.



A small yellow duck was standing in the open doorway of his shop and looking directly at him while he was checking on the ale taps, almost as though it was beckoning him. As he came closer, the duck hopped out of reach and onto the street, looking from him to a spot next to the shop and back again, staring at him. When he was standing just outside the building, the duck nipped at his tunic, then padded towards a set of stairs that led up to the Milk Market on the second floor. It turned back and looked at him.

Thinking perhaps his affable landlord wished to speak with him and had sent a messenger, Enrique followed the duck up the stairs into a spacious landing with a corridor with a series of rooms along one side, and another that led to what appeared from a distance to be a larger area with big vats. The duck waddled down the corridor into a room at the end of the hall.

The brewer walked into what looked like a cross between a small office, a shisha den and a bath stall. At one end of the room was some sort of wooden tub filled with water attached to a mushroom sprinkler, and a thick towel laid out on the floor. Next to the tub in the corner was a short chest of drawers with all the drawers pulled out, like a staircase leading nowhere, and stuffed woollen carrots, toys and other objects peeking out. A chia plant with some of its leaves chewed off sat atop the chest. Croutons, a bag of candy worms with its contents half-spilled onto the floor, crumpled notes, an oval wicker basket, cushions of all shapes and sizes on a tartan rug, a writing block with notepaper, a quill case, an uncorked bottle of ink and a small stack of books were scattered about the room.

In the midst of the carnage sat the imp, hatless, cradling a cup of tea and looking dejectedly out the open window at the foot traffic passing through the alley below. The sight brought back a distant image of rainy afternoons and a child’s face pressed against the window of his old bedroom, as though they could will the rain to stop if they stared long enough.

He would recognise that sulk anywhere.

The eyes that turned to him in surprise (chased by a slight edge of panic, though it was gone before he could be certain), outside the dim recess of the shop and lit by broad daylight coming from the window, were a startling deep blue. A colour he had many memories of in a different place and time.

“Joule?” he called out disbelievingly.

“Hullo Enrique,” his irritating, impish friend replied sheepishly, casting their gaze downwards, though not before sending a tiny look of betrayal at the duck’s retreating form.

Relief, amazement, annoyance and a myriad other emotions flashed through him and for several beats he was at a loss for words. He eventually settled for rightful indignation.

“You!” he groused. “Why didn’t you send word that you had returned? Even Gil thought you’d tripped over a rock and broke your neck out in the country somewhere! Have you been right here above my shop the entire time?!”

“Not the entire time, I just got back last month and …” the imp’s attempt at an explanation trailed off under Enrique’s reproachful glare.

“And if you had the gall to break into my kitchen, you can sure as well have the guts to show your face and own up to it.” Enrique bit out.

They remained silent for a long time, the turtle’s bulky frame filling the room as he stood with folded arms and a heavy frown a few steps away from the entrance, and the rabbit imp on the floor looking thoroughly chastised with a half-empty teacup and legs tucked beneath them.

Enrique finally spoke. “You’re a terrible adult.” There was no heat to the words. When the imp didn’t respond, he continued, “Come down downstairs to the back when you’re done here, and bring some of that pepperwood if you have any. Marnie’s been hankering for more, and I suppose I wouldn’t mind a cup myself after this.” He gestured with one arm around the room. “If this is your trading post, I can certainly see why you don’t invite your customers here.”

“It’s my marketing manager’s office.” Joule, or Inky, as they were now known to the locals, had started picking up stray bits of paper and books and was clearing a path through the litter from window to doorway.

“You have a marketing manager?” Enrique asked.

“QUACK!” The duck had re-appeared at the door and was looking at Inky expectantly.

“Five more minutes, okay?” Inky said to the duck. To Enrique, “It wants its bath and basket chair back.” The candy and croutons had been scooped up into a small pumpkin-shaped metal bucket and set next to the chia plant.

Enrique stared at his friend in bewilderment after the duck wandered off again. “Your marketing manager is a duck.”


“How do you have a duck as your marketing manager?”

Inky shrugged. “It followed me back and we made a deal.”

The turtle was unconvinced. “You mean you roped it into following you back.”

“Have it your way if you must insist on rewriting history, but for the record there is no forced labour involved and it gets all the benefits and perks.” As they talked, Inky opened the writing block lid (actually the tea seller’s wooden box now that Enrique had a closer look), pushing aside items inside before extracting two bags of fine tea leaves which they tossed at the turtle, who fumbled a bit but caught them. With Inky’s teacup, books and quills packed away, they left the room to a mildly disgruntled duck who waved at them before strutting inside for a well-earned nap.

Enrique looked around the hallway leading to the stairs. “Is your office also on the same floor?”

“No, don’t need one.” said the imp as they descended the stairs.

He frowned, but before he could ask, Inky answered his unspoken question. “I don’t sell tea, Enrique.” The ale brewer was about to argue the point when the imp’s words abruptly came back to him: Please consider it a gift. He turned to Inky and found his friend already watching him from the bottom step. Waiting.

A grin slowly spread over Enrique’s face. “That’s a pity. I was just thinking my tea seller might want to try my new line of empanadas on the house after making the deliveries.”

The imp only rolled their eyes. “Great. So your diners won’t have to turn into skeletons to get their bread after all.”

The giant turtle chased the laughing imp all the way back to the kitchens.


Enrique looked up from checking on the walnut bread in the oven when Inky walked in accompanied by an unfamiliar face. A toque, newly arrived to the city by the looks of it, he guessed.

After depositing a small box on one of the worktables, Inky settled atop an icebox and waved the visitor to a wooden stool nearby. Enrique greeted them both before closing the oven door again and stepping towards the worktable. “What brings you into my kitchen today?”

Inky gave the chef a serious look that was immediately undermined by the humorous tenor in their next words. “I bring you a problem.”

Enrique snorted. “Just one?” he asked, but a small smile quirked on his face nevertheless. He opened the box to preview the contents and found one of his favourite blends. He set it to one side of the table for later.

“For now. This one,” Inky gestured to the toque next to them looking around at the loaves cooling on the racks with barely concealed excitement, “has never had an empanada in their life. And they have the gall to call themselves Bread!”

Enrique shook hands with the toque. “Hi Bread, I’m Enrique. Unfortunately the troublemaker is right, you must try them. Made by hand as they have always been from the first day, every one of them!” informed the chef with a definite note of pride in his voice. He handed Bread a pair of enticing golden brown pastries wrapped in a paper sleeve from a tray kept warm on a broiler.

To Inky, he said, “So you wanted me to give them a quick demo?”

Inky grinned as they replied, “Even better, have you thought about taking on an apprentice? Bread here is a sturdy hand, hard worker and keen to learn.”

The empanada chef stroked his chin with a thumb and fore claw thoughtfully. “Well, I suppose I have, actually. The nut breads we talked about have been flying out the door so fast I can barely keep up. At this rate I’d need another one of me to get more out there!” He chuckled.

He looked at Bread again, assessing. “When can you start? We’ll be up early to get the dough going and all the ingredients prepared for a long day. How about we begin with the basics, see where you’re at, and go from there?”


Inky had left with Bread shortly after the latter had further introduced themselves and they had arranged for the toque to return the following week. Although Enrique had reiterated it would be on a trial basis initially, he had a good feeling about the new hire. Maybe it was the way the toque’s eyes lit up at their first bite of empanada. The fact that this was someone Inky had casually dragged in should set off all of his mental alarms. Still, despite his friend’s often flagrant disregard for anything inedible, they could be very observant when they wanted. Clearly they had seen something in the toque’s character to recommend them personally.

He was already going through lesson plans in his head, and was so engrossed in making a list of things to gather for his new apprentice that when he turned around to grab a pair of oven mittens, he had to do a double-take. There, on the icebox that the imp had recently vacated, a small green turtle stared back at him from where it sat on a cocoa-coloured pie slightly wider than the turtle. On closer inspection, the ensemble appeared to be a cake decorated with cream and dark chocolate buttons for eyes, set on a round wooden plank lined with parchment. Under the plank was a note in the now-familiar crisp blue lettering: “ENJOY YOUR TERRAPAN :)”

Enrique huffed out a laugh. He already knew what he would find on the other side of the note without turning it over. Pocketing the slip of paper carefully in his apron, he went to get a knife and plate to help himself to a slice of delicious mud pie.