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File: 1669073838950.png (733.19 KB, 1410x555, Buiwong Cut-In Final.png)


"Are we supposing there's a little teapot somewhere in this valley we gotta find?" Hurricanrana says, tilting his head. "Is it perhaps short and stout?"

"No more singing, please," Desert sighs.

"Actually…" Mudi says. "In Tartarus, the will is supreme… It's even true at an Anchor. You saw how people suffered when they used techniques to move great distances without being seen, like the Ecclesian flash step. Oh! And we all had to agree on what we saw before we could even enter the anchor!"

"Oh no…" Desert groans.

"The singing probably helped us get this far!" Mudi extrapolates.

"No, no, no–!" Vizsla complains.

"We gotta sing to find the tea ingredient!!!" Mudi declares.

The Paper Trail shrugs.

"R-right?" Mudi asks, losing all her momentary bravado.


As a unit, with paces in sync despite the disparities in height and length, the Ecclesians move out, following behind the Paper Trail.


"Take it from someone who has spent more time down here than you–" the Witch says. "Anything you hear claim to belong to or be from 'God' is not to be believed. Best not to overuse that word. An Anchor may be safe enough, but in the Abyss – tantamount to suicide. What you encountered was most likely an Umbral who became overmuch obsessed with that thing, and began to hallucinate a theosis."

>Shei and Flaming

"Cursed?" the Witch repeats. "Is that what they're saying?"

She scoffs, then full-on laughs, like it's the only funny thing she's heard all day. She shakes a ratchet at you. "My Craft is in the mechanical arts. I put no curse on any one of them.


"People like them… don't need any curse from anyone. They are curses unto themselves. Curses unto one another… you get me?"

The others ponder this in silence.

She looks at Flow. "But, it is true I got into a dispute with the royals. Must be the genesis of this rumor. Why do you ask?"


As the Witch explains her expertise is in mechanics, not curses, Shorthorns nods. "We actually came to that conclusion ourselves. There's no actual 'magic' affecting the princess, on either her body or her spirit. So we know you didn't actually put a real curse on her."

Shorthorns flattens her horns. "However, we know she definitely started acting so distant and unable to sleep at all after she met with you. We were hoping you'd be willing to tell us more about what happened, we are trying to find a way to help her."


"After…?" the Witch repeats, then sighs. "Rumor-mills have it backwards. When the Princess's insomnia began… I was among the first few whom the royal parents called for aid."

"The insomnia preceded your encounter?" Rooster asks.

"Correct," the Witch says. "I told them I was not a doctor, but still they summoned me. The others they called for aid had prescribed no end of mediocre remedies, but I knew they would be of no use."

"Your diagnosis, then?" Flow asks.

"The Princess's insomnia is itself a symptom of her discontentment," the Witch says. "Her discontentment with her parents' relationships, with each other, and with her."

"Small wonder, hearing them argue as they were," Rooster comments.

The Witch nods.


Leather silently mouths a prayer to Hypomone as the holy troupe marches, realigning himself with his own identity as continues to regain his sapience.


Shorthorns frowns as she thinks back to her brief exchange with the draconic king and queen, looking to Rooster. "They DID seem pretty short with each other. They wouldn't stop fighting the whole time."

She turns back to the Witch. "Wait, did you tell the King and Queen this… and they instead blamed it on YOU?"


Into the Abyss once more, and its near-absolute annulling of all your senses… just as times before, your body protests this nihilation, warning you with needles upon your skin, a burning in your gut, lightning in your spine, anything at all to remain feeling yourself…

Some indeterminate time later, you behold a great light, far ahead, and above you. Not gold and warm like sunlight, but faintly azure, and cold.


"No, they blamed eachother for quite a while," the Witch says, then laughs. "They didn't blame me until after I started shouting at them too."

"And they didn't roast you like a hotdog!?" Supper gasps.

"They might have," the Witch says, then taps the machine behind her. "Had I not had my trusty steed here. But, in any case, the rumors spread and mutated. My involvement was to be more of a secret, but it's hard to keep a secret when you're arguing with a voice that can be heard across countrysides."


Leather squints, making sure his companions are with him, not wanting to proceed in foreign, demonic lands and risk being forgotten by being alone.


Shorthorns nods in understanding. "I see. I apologize for accusing you earlier, I didn't know the whole story." She says with a quick bow of her head, before raising it once more to speak.

"Still, it's kind of hard to imagine the princess being this distraught and unable to sleep just because her parents fight. Mine fought all the time and it never bothered me!" She rubs her chin, "Though, it's probably different when buffalo do it. Bumping heads is part of culture, it's probably more fun for them than anything."



"Yes!" Amy declares excitedly. "It'll keep up in tune with each other. Literally!"


Voyage bumps his horns against yours to demonstrate.

"It was not always so," the Witch says. "At first they were harmonious, and only now have they become so unhappy. So too is the Princess distraught and insomniac, for she knows how well they used to get along. Very unlike buffalo of your country, indeed."

"If I may cut in," Flow says. "We need to resolve the Princess's sleep problems. What do you suggest?"

"Depends how much time you've got," the Witch says. "Why, mortals from the surface world, is this so pressing to you?"

The others are of a mind with you, and proceed closer, until the great light looms closer. Something strikes you as you approach; though you are not yet close enough to touch it, you can feel your senses revivifying. Previous times you approached Anchors, you felt numb and nulled until you stepped onto their solid reality; now, the light rejuvenates you, even at a distance.

Its source is a towering bulb of a flower; near-white in petals, azure in sepal and stem; these latter two extend downward into the Abyss for a great distance unseen. The light it radiates comes mostly from the petals, and mixes with the rest of it to produce a cool pale light. The coolness is a kind of relief, like entering a shaded shelter from summer rays.

Vizsla hisses with fury at the suggestion. Desert has resigned to her fate, while Hurricanrana is already thinking about what to sing.

"It's possible, anyway…" Mudi mutters, now deflated. "But if it fails, we can always try something else. So, what do we sing?"

"I think it'll depend on what kinda vibe we want to give this tea," Hurricanrana says. "If we need to put the Vestal to sleep, then… something cozy, yeah?"


As Voyage bumps his horns against hers, she smugly grins at him and delivers the same force back against his horns to make a satisfying *clonk*. "See? It's fun to fight sometimes!"

As she explains how the parents used to get along, Shorthorns considers the situation. "Hmm… well, if the King and Queen fighting are why the Princess can't sleep, then we don't need to cure the 'Princess', but the King and Queen then. I'm guessing you wouldn't have any clue as to why they no longer get along?"

As she asks why the matter is so pressing, Shorthorns thinks back and seems to recall Mr. MOOLAH didn't want the details shared with third parties so easily, but surely there wouldn't be any harm in explaining their need for the ingredient itself. "We're looking for something that can put someone to sleep really fast. We figure if we solve the Princess' problem, we can take some of whatever they've been trying to use on her to help her sleep."


Leather is distrustful, but his greatest desire is cohesion above all, and waits to verbalize it until they're out of the Abyss.



"I don't really think that we can have a fun time while singing a lullaby together…" Amy ponders.

"If we sing something fun, I'm sure we'll find some tea that the Vestal will want to drink, right?"


"Hmm…" the Witch says. "A rather innocuous-sounding request. It's no ordinary sleep aid you're after if you're poking around in Tartarus for it… you got here through the power of your will. If you were in search of a mere physical ingredient, you'd have been brought to any of the endless marshes and meadows in Limbo, where medicine more potent than anything on our surface world grows… there's something about this situation that drew you to this place."

She leers at you. "I know an incomplete story when I hear it. It was an incomplete story that caused the Sons of God to fall apart… and Princess Wineberry to fall into total despair. I may be a slacker, and I hate hard work… but I hated seeing her expression of pain even more. Tell me the full story – as a member of the Bene Elohim, I am witness to many things you do not know."

"Hmm…" Hurricanrana hums. "It might be summer on the surface, buuuuuuuut…"

Vizsla's ears twitch with alarm. Hurricanrana smirks at her.

"No," Vizsla says.

"Go on, tell me it's not your favorite!" Hurricanrana says.

"I will freeze you to death if you even whistle a bar!" Vizsla growls.

"I repel the Ice attribute!" Hurricanrana retorts.

It's true – he does.

The Ecclesians look about one another, sharing your suspicion, but despite their trepidation, they get a little closer. Soon enough, without even having touched the flower, you and they feel normal as before. You can see from here that the flower's petals have gaps between them, permitting you to enter if you so desire.

The Paper Trail goes on ahead, stepping past one of the petals inside. Hours looks back to the others for their thoughts.



"What song, what song?" Amy asks as she bounces with excitement.


Shorthorns looks to Rooster, Crow, Flow and Voyage, looking for confirmation.

"…I hate telling lies, so I can't say we're telling you the full truth of it. But I'm sorry: I don't think we're allowed to tell you everything. The one we're doing this for gave us a pretty big warning to keep it to as few as people as necessary, and we gave them our word. I can't break that."

She bows her head, "Please, will you help us even if we can't tell you why we need it?"


Leather plans his speech carefully, wanting to be as succinct as possible "At once?" Is the sentence he chooses to craft.



"Three months of winter coolness, and awesome holidays~," Hurricanrana begins. Mudi and Desert hurriedly grab Vizsla by the shoulders to keep her from stampeding him.

They look busy – this might have to be a duet.

The Witch's eyebrows arch. "…Sounds like you've been speaking to one of the would-be Lords of Limbo, or perhaps one of his spokesmen. Even worse than opening up Tartarus to scavenge for miraculous or cursed goods. Well, that would track with your recklessness…"

"Lords of Limbo?" Supper asks, her interest piqued. She almost sounds like she recognizes the term.

"If you aren't going to share your full story with me, then I won't share that full story with you," the Witch says. "However… I can tell you some options for dealing with the insomnia, as I see it."

Flow nods. "We'll consider your proposed trade," he says, then gestures to the ladder. "May we step back to discuss the matter?"

"Make me some tea while you're up there," the Witch says. "Kettle's in the cupboard somewhere."

The others nod, and ready for the signal. Hours raises a hoof, then flings it forward – mark.

As a herd, you all rush past the outermost petals…


There isn't much to speak of inside the gargantuan flower. It is the size of a small manor, and full of light. Only at the very top, where the petals meet, that a small aperture remains, where the Abyss can yet be seen.

The Ecclesians search about with every sense, trying to find threats…


Every gun in the flower snaps toward the source of the sound. But, it's just Anzu bouncing on one of the anthers. There are very many of them, each the size of a bed, and very plush and bouncy.

"Stop zhat now!" Freischutz orders. "Vhat if zhat contains toxic spores?"

"We all absorb Poison to begin with!" Anzu says.

She has a point – they do.

"Besides, use all your senses," Anzu continues. "Nothing here's a threat, I don't think."

"You're definitely not thinking if you start playing about before we can confirm that," Hours says. "Fan out in pairs, and inspect this place. Meet where we entered before three minutes pass."


Shorthorns nods in agreement with her terms. "I understand. Again, sorry, but, we gave our word. If you feel you should keep something from us in turn, I guess it's only fair. So long as we can help the Princess."

As she offers to make tea, Shorthorns sighs, "Well, I would say yes but I'm told you shouldn't drink or eat anything that comes from Tartarus. Is the tea from around here or is it something you brought in from the surface?"


"This realm is a threat, our existence is not welcome." Leather says as he sticks close to his Chorister, filling in for the position of his team-swapped Spook, "Patience and caution begets safety and security."



Amy excitedly begins to sing Winter Wrap-Up.

[1d10] for singing quality

Roll #1 6 = 6


You're simply adequate at singing. At this rate, Hurricanrana's going to outshine you.

"Winter wrap-up, winter wrap-up!" Desert sings, joining in even as she strains to resist Vizsla. "Let's finish our holiday cheer / Winter wrap-up, winter wrap-up! / 'Cause tomorrow spring is here! / 'Cause tomorrow spring is here!"

Here comes the second stanza. Mudi, gripping her staff in her teeth, points it at you, giving you a mismatched pair of pegasus wings. Well, pegasi are mentioned in this part, aren't they?

Despite the full-on inspection (with Anzu begrudgingly ceasing her bouncing to aid the inspection), no threats are found.

"Let us be on, then," Hours says.

"Hold up," Anzu says.

"You have a concern, soldier?" Hours asks, his brow wrinkled.

"I do," Anzu says. "When's the last time any of you ate or drank?"

"As Buiwong explained," LSZ says. "The body experiences no need for food, drink, sleep, nor most other base biological functions while in Tartarus."

"Exactly!" Anzu says. "There's no way that's good for us psychologically. What if we're down here so long our bodies acclimate, and we just forget how to breathe or digest once we're out of here? Why don't we set up camp here awhile and practice all those base biological functions?"

She rethinks that proposition. "Most of them, anyway."

Hours looks frustrated, but LSZ nods. "I support the notion. Set up camp, and I'll set about establishing barriers and wards."

Hours looks frustrated. "Sir Freischutz, surely you agree–"

Freischutz is busy setting up a comfy looking campsite.

"Already!?" Hours gasps. "I thought I was fast."

"You have to have fast hooves to hold the title of Freeshooter," Anzu brags.

"I make it myself," the Witch says. "If I had any interest in coming back topside, I would fully be able to. So, don't worry about the tea."

Flow nods and heads for the latter, before stopping to look at the others. "Do any of you object to Shorthorned handling the discussion?"

"No, but I'll be present here," Voyage says. "Oh, can you put extra sugar in mine?"

"Not if I have the lot of it!" Rooster says, heading up.

"No fair, I want some too," Supper gripes as she follows.



Amy is too wrapped up in the jolly music to be tied down by something so petty as lyrics!

She pulls out Lumpet and starts playing it to accompany the music.

[1d10] for Lumpet playing!

Roll #1 9 = 9


"AH! In which case, yes, thank you for the tea, I'd love some." She says graciously to their host, following her up the ladder as she mentions, "If you could add something a little spicy like cinnamon to mine? I like it hot."

As she's trusted with the proceedings, Shorthorns nods to the others. "I'll do my best, but if any of you have anything to add feel free to jump in, I could always use the help."

She waits for tea to be served, and looks to the Witch to see what suggestions she might have on helping the Princess' parents.


"Err on the side of caution on names yet, mayhaps," Leather taps Hours, turning to the rest, "I dislike camping in this unknown oasis before we have actually searched and scouted. Is not food eaten three minutes from now the same as food eaten now?"


Hurricanrana practically tumbles down into the ravine when you bust out an incredible trumpet improvisation on the melody. As Desert belts out the chorus again, even Mudi gets into the spirit a little.

"L-little critters hibernate
Under the snow and ice,
We wake up all the sleepyheads,
(But quietly and nice)
We help them gather up their food,
Fix their homes below,
We welcome back the southern birds,
So their families can grow!"

While Desert repeats the chorus, Vizsla looks aghast as she realizes she's up next for a verse. She's looking about for a place to escape… now's your chance to stop her–

And perhaps learn her resistances and weaknesses.

Hours snorts as he realizes his potentially deadly error. "Gegenschein has worn off on me… the fool would love this place, perhaps even to his death. You are right. Our wills have brought us to this Anchor for some reason or another. If there is no lurking danger, then there may be a lurking gain. There may even be a tea ingredient here."

The Paper Trail, which had been lounging until now, shakes its head, and points to the bag in which Hours put the pixelated thing.

"No ingredient, then? Another purpose awaits," Hours says. "Let's redo the inspection and compare notes."

"As I see it, there are three options," the Witch says. "Force her to sleep; enable her to sleep; free her to sleep."

"The first only technically solves the problem; concoct her a mixture that, despite the arguing of her parents, will aid her in getting rest. This is the fastest method. The second cuts to the heart of the problem's progenitor; get her parents to stop arguing. This is the most time-consuming method. The third leaves the problem aside altogether; find a place the Princess can live without having to worry about her parents."


Replace "Gegenschein" with "That birdbrain,'"


Shorthorns considers all three of the options before her laid out by the Witch. "…yes, I don't think I see another choice beyond those three. Either she sleeps in spite of the problem, we solve the problem, or we ignore the problem all together and leave."

She ponders in thought. "I… I don't have a particular attachment to the Princess, or this place. We're here on an errand, more or less, so I guess that means we should just take the fastest solution. But…" she sighs, "It… it doesn't feel right. My head tells me we shouldn't bother with every single problem we come across in Tartarus but my heart says I can't just use them to fix our problems and still leave them with theirs. Taking the easy, fastest path isn't the best if it leaves you with regret."

"And I don't like the idea of asking her to just run away from her problems, either. I did that, in a way, and while I can't say it hasn't lead to some good things, I can't say that I don't still regret it a little. If her parents fighting hurts her this bad, then they're important enough to try and help."

She takes a deep breath. "So let's do the second plan: get her parents to stop arguing. Do you have any idea why they started in the first place? If it hurts the Princess this much then things must have been much better before."


"If we truely wish to compromise with the restseekers, let us practice breathing exercises as we explore. In, count, then out. A walking meditation."

In, and out, Leather reminds himself of the breathing he's neglected; not for need of oxygen, but as one does to hone their senses during meditation. Leather spends his time investigating the floor and cracks which reveal the Abyss beyond.

[1d10] investigimigate

Roll #1 9 = 9


As you meditatively breathe, the first few breaths are unnerving, for you inhale and exhale nothing – until the void about you becomes air, in response to your will.

The texture of the flower is like hewn stone, as is its durability, and yet it remains as flexible as a vivacious young shoot. You recall the stem descending down into interminable void. One must wonder where the roots are planted, be it somewhere in Limbo, or even further below.

A secondary sweep confirms that there are no hostile Umbrals in the vicinity, and an assessment of your inner and outer health indicates that no infectious spores or parasites make residence here, either.

Between the cris-crossing filaments of the flower, you notice an outline of a shape… but the filaments are too close together to see what it may be. Given the flower's apparent health, you should be able to move them without damaging the flower itself.

The Witch nods. "My turn again for a question. When you entered this painted world, what was your assessment of the town and its folk?"

"We didn't talk to them too much," Voyage says. "We just got the gist of the festival from them. Seemed… weirdly normal, otherwise. I had heard the Sons of God had put even whole towns and cities down here, but they took in stride, huh?"

The Witch nods. "And I'll bet the inhabitants did not look like most other Umbrals you've seen."

"…What do you mean?" Voyage asks.

"I'm saying – the people of this world, save the King and Queen, are in total ignorant bliss of their situation," the Witch says. "Only I, the King, the Queen, and probably the Princess, know they are trapped in Tartarus. This knowledge is what has thrown their family into bitter disarray."

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