"Doesn't it all seem a little too //convenient//?" you ask the fairy. "I kept thinking that Zull was taking poor Amherst for a ride -- metaphorically -- but why trick someone like that?"\n\nThe fairy considers. "It sounds like the dragon really believed in her own prophesy: I don't think she was tricking anyone. Maybe prophesies work for people who believe in them? Or maybe it's all just a huge coincidence. In any case, Amherst's made her decision; it's all beyond your control now. I'd try not to worry about it."\n\n"I guess I feel a little bit responsible for her," you say, "since I'm the one who led her to Zull in the first place. I know she's an adult and I should trust her to look after herself, but this is her first time in this world -- not to mention how careless she is. What if I hadn't walked into that library? She would have been stuck in a shelf for eight hours!"\n\n"Some people have a lot of luck and very little sense," says the fairy, re-opening her book.\n\n"Exactly!" you say. "It's maddening!"\n\n"They go off on hare-brained adventures, not caring who they inconvenience."\n\n"Right," you agree. "You have to consider the other people around you, or at least understand why they might be worried."\n\n"They used untested inter-dimensional artifacts on themselves," says the fairy, "and go traipsing off to dangerous magical palaces."\n\n"Wait," you say, "are we talking about me now? I'm //very// responsible."\n\n"Hmm," say the fairy, turning the page of her book.\n\n"I mean, I didn't test out the scrubby lump before I used it," you say as you heft yourself up from the sofa, "but I did all sorts of information-gathering before I went to Philantha's palace. I got that mirror and everything. I didn't charge in unprepared."\n\nThe fairy rolls her eyes. "Fine. Go to bed and let me finish my novel."\n\n"There's such a thing as being too cautious," you go on. "You have to take some risks in life. Not everyone can be satisfied by just reading all the time." The tiny fairy stares at her book and says nothing. You sigh. “Good night,” you say. “Turn on a lamp if your eyes start to hurt.”\n\nYou limp off too your room, strip out of your wrinkled party clothes, and snuggle into bed. [[As you sleep, you dream fitfully of green bicycles.|Call22b]]
You try to escape, but the crowds outside -- guests and guards and servants alike -- mob you from behind. They flood from the ballrooms and parlors, from the gardens and groves of citrus trees. They throng all around you. They cling to your clothes like children. They kiss your fingers and kneel at your feet. They talk all over one another, offering compliments, praise, improvised poetry. They call you beautiful, radiant, the light of their lives, the most wonderful and kindly human being. They tell you their dreams and deepest secrets. They present you with wine and cakes and jewelry; with precious heirlooms and the deeds to palaces. They press in on you closer and closer, blocking out the light and air, entrapping you, engulfing you.\n\nYou begin to fear that the tiny fairy has tricked you: perhaps it was her plan all along to kill you, literally, with kindness. You suppose, if you're going to be perfectly honest with yourself, that you had it coming. Fairy Law or not, it //was// petty of you to keep her trapped in a salt shaker for months on end, for the meager crime of destroying your plants. And -- again, if you're going to be perfectly honest -- you were basically keeping her around as a captive conversational partner. You should have known better than to trust a fairy with a grudge.\n\nYou are on the verge of drowning in a tide of affection, when an imperious voice rings out. [["//Stand aside, all of you!// I want to see the fool who's //dared// disrupt my Ball!"|Easy4]]
"As a matter of fact, I don't," you say. You detangle your hands from his grip and hurry towards the palace entrance, but he follows after, undeterred.\n\n"You must be one of those of those lucky souls blessed with natural beauty," he continues. "My parents and siblings are like that: skin like silk and lips like ruby goblets and all that. But do you want to know a secret?"\n\n"I do not!" you answer.\n\nThe young man ignores your protests. "I don't usually share this with other people, but you feel very //trustworthy//, somehow." He leans in confidentially. "It may not look like it, but I didn't inherit an ounce of the family beauty -- not a drop! Marco the Ugly, my siblings used to call me: Marco the Toad Prince! My servants have to spend //hours// beautifying me, every day, to cover up my acne and asymmetrical ears. Sometimes I wonder if it's even -- "\n\nA tipsy woman in a dragon-skin jacket loops her arm around your shoulder and interrupts the youth. "Don't tell me, love," she says. "Are you the beautiful personification of Spring itself? You're so bright, so captivating -- like a newly-blossomed flower."\n\nYou try to slip free from the woman's arm, but her hold is strong. "Are you hitting on me?" you ask. "Was that a line?"\n\n"Ha!" says the woman. "I'm afraid I only date fellow dragon-hunters, love. But it's one of my life goals to meet a seasonal personification."\n\n"Well, I'm just a human," you say. "And I don't think seasonal personifications are a real thing, outside of art."\n\n"You may be right," says the woman. "You may be." [[As you enter the palace, she and the young man hover close at your sides.|Easy2]]
You squirt some witch hazel onto a cotton ball, and blot down the oily parts of your face and neck (which is to say, most of your face and neck). The astringent feels cool and tingling against your skin. It gives off a powerful and not-especially-pleasant herbal odor, but the odor vanishes almost immediately as the witch hazel evaporates. Your face is left somewhat less oily than it was before. \n\n[[The magic mirror appears satisfied.|Bathroom2]]
"I'll admit," (the mirror says) "the proboscis is somewhat confusing.\nPerhaps sweet Philantha will find it amusing?\nThere's one upside, at least: your harsh voice has been silenced.\nThe world will be spared your auricular violence.\nThat's good isn't it? Don't you worry at all.\nYour amazing bone structure outweighs this one flaw."\n\nYou ignore the mirror's unprovoked crack at your voice. A small hope alights in your heart: perhaps you can make the best of your bizarre metamorphosis. You may yet find your way to the Grand Equinox Ball. You would smile, if only you had a mouth.\n\nThen a terrible thought occurs to you: how long were you asleep? You run into your bedroom, grab a pen and notepad, and rush back to the bathroom. "How long was I out?" you write. "Is it still the day of the Ball?" You display your question to the mirror.\n\n"You only slept for an hour or so," the magic mirror replies. "You want to go the Ball? Then go!"\n\nHope returns. Your plans are working out perfectly -- or at least, adequately -- and all you had to do was resort to untested, possibly dangerous magic. [[In but a few hours, you'll be ready for the Ball.|Lunch2]]\n\n
Philantha stares at you as though you were some sort of human-sized cockroach. "Oh?" she repeats. "Is that all you have to say? How do you expect me to host my Grand Equinox Ball when all of my guests and staff alike are hypnotized by some overblown glamour? You've put me in a very difficult position. Under normal circumstances, I could simply dispel your magical influence by killing you --"\n\nShe is cut off by the crowds of guards and guests and servants. "Don't you dare!" they cry. "Monster! Fiend! How could you harm such a delicate flower?"\n\nThe woman in the dragon-skin jacket balls her fists. "I'll fight you!" she exclaims. "Princess or not, armed or unarmed!" The guards scramble for their golden halberds; servants brandish carving knives and cheese-spreaders.\n\n"//Silence!//" screams Philantha. "Stand down, all of you!" The crowd hesitates but obeys: they set down their weapons, and lower their fists. "//As I was going to say//," she continues, "the nature of your spell would make killing you nigh-impossible. I'll have to be rid of you some other way. What do I need to do to persuade you to leave here and never, ever, return?"\n\n"Oh, don't make them go!" moans the duchess with the champagne flute.\n\n"//Shut up!//" commands Philantha. She eyes you expectantly.\n\n"Well," you say, feeling even more like a pinned cockroach. [["The reason I came here was to actually find your endangered golden cassowary and, um, set it free."|Easy7]]
Unsure how to reply to the Princess, you merely nod.\n\n"At first I worried that you were a dangerous sorcerer, come to challenge my title," continues Philantha. "But clearly my fears were unfounded. Tell me, //peasant//, do you realize that this palace is built upon a ley-line, a wellspring of magical power?"\n\nYou shake your head.\n\n"Obviously not!" snaps Philantha. "I would imagine that you are also unaware -- blissfully ignorant, one might say -- of the absorptive properties of fairy magic. Would you like me to enlighten you, then?" She doesn't wait for you to answer. "Bringing a fairy spell into the presence of this much natural ambient magic, without any of the proper shielding, is an invitation to disaster. The spell siphons up the surrounding magical energies, growing ever stronger and exponentially stronger, until it reaches an explosive peak like you've just now witnessed!"\n\n"Oh," you say. Cornered though you are by the fierce, sorcerous Princess Philantha, a sense of relief swells in your heart: it seems that the tiny fairy hasn't betrayed you after all. She was never very interested in human royalty -- or human anything, other than books. You doubt she knew any more about the ley-line than you did. [[This whole mess is just the sort of ridiculous happenstance that always seems to ruin your adventures|Easy6]]
Compelled by some force even more powerful than your glamour, the admiring crowds recede. They unhand your clothing; they take back their cakes and deeds and jewelry. One bolder young duchess plucks the champagne flute from your fingers and skips off with it, clutching it to her breast like a precious memento: her friends shoot her poisonous, envious glances. The woman in the dragon-skin jacket finally removes her arm from your shoulder. The youth in the golden tunic reluctantly parts from your side. All withdraw to a safe distance of several feet, and stand around you in a circle, anxious and quiet. Their teary eyes are full of love and longing. They yearn to approach you again, but the magic of the imperious voice holds them back. \n\nA woman in a green silk dress parts through the spell-addled masses. Emeralds sparkle at her throat; a silver mask, artfully carved like the face of a dryad, hangs at her hip. Her eyes are bright and cold. Her lips are cruel and beautiful. She is none other than the Princess Philantha herself.\n\nPhilantha looks you up and down, and sneers. "A fairy glamour?" she says. [["You were really stupid enough to use fairy magic //here//, of all places?"|Easy5]]
When you wake up the next afternoon, the tiny fairy is still reading on the sofa: as far as you know, she never sleeps. She has nearly finished her novel. You open up the gold-cloth bundle, sit down next to her, and eat a breakfast of cheese and fruit. As you eat, you vent about the night before.\n\nThe fairy listens patiently, and only rolls her eyes a little, as you describe your misadventures in Philantha's palace. "I'll give you a tip," she says, once you're reached the end of your ridiculous story. "If a woman opens up a conversation by insulting you, then tries to intimidate you by listing off her magical powers, she's //not// an ideal romantic partner."\n\n"Well, I realize that," you say. "At least, intellectually. But //you know// ..."\n\n"Know what?" demands the fairy.\n\n"She had very pretty eyes. And a very strong presence. I was caught up in the moment."\n\n"You're an idiot," the fairy proclaims. "Just be glad you're alive. Apparently, centuries ago, these sorts of seasonal rituals used to involve //actually// killing the proxy -- not just fake-killing."\n\n"It was real enough to me," you say. "I know that guy told me not to worry about it, but I can't help it. I keep feeling, well, surprised that I'm alive. Like I should really be dead. //Like I could die any time//.\n\n"Isn't that normal?" says the fairy. "You //can// die any time. All mortals are afraid of dying, at least a little."\n\n"They are?" you ask.\n\n[["Yes!" says the fairy. "What's wrong with you?"|Ritual15b]]
The other passengers gawk at you shamelessly. They stare wide-eyed when you walk past; they peer over head-rests or change seats to get a better look at you. They are completely captivated by your glamour. What their spell-addled eyes see in you, you couldn't say: the two children seem to think that you're a fairy <<if $outfit is "brownvest">>prince<<else>>princess<<endif>>, while most of the other travelers have convinced themselves that you're a celebrity -- a famous singer or actor whose name no one can quite remember. You sit in a corner and turn your back to them all, but you can still //feel// them looking. You can hear their whispers and their sighs of admiration.\n\nYou distract yourself from your unwanted spectators by gazing out the window. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors. \n\nAs the first stars appear, the train enters a vast field of flowers. It is dark, and the flowers have closed their petals to the night. Yet the field is still beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing fairies fly above the sleeping blossoms: they twirl and spin like fireworks, shedding comet-tails of glittering dust. [[The two little children stop staring at you for a moment, and marvel at the fairies' dance.|Train3glamour]]
Feeling emboldened by your mob of admirers, you try to strike up a conversation. "So," you say, "do glamours not work on you?"\n\n"What do you think?" snaps Philantha. You stare down at the jade and porphyry tiles and say no more.\n\nThe footman soon returns with a golden bird in his arms: the rare and endangered golden cassowary. The cassowary is much smaller than you expected. In fact, she appears to be no more than a baby, a mere foot in height, with thick legs; large, dark eyes; and solid-gold plumage striped with bands of darker, impure metal. Her flightless wings are so small as to be virtually invisible. A bald-spot gleams on her forehead, where a golden casque will one day develop. When the footman hands her to you, she snuggles up against your chest and gazes up at you adoringly. "I like you!" she chirps. "Are you my fairy godmother?"\n\n"No," you say. "Actually, I'm -- "\n\n"Are you an enchanted prince who's come to rescue me?" she interrupts.\n\n"No!" you say. "But I am -- "\n\n"Are you a schoolteacher?" she asks. "Are you going to take me to a magical boarding school where I'll learn spells and tricks and how to fly on a broomstick?"\n\n"I'm not!" you say. [["But listen: I //am// here to set you free."|Easy9]]
You've probably noticed that all of the interactivity in this story is front-loaded: the first three decisions you make lock you into a particular route/ending, and from that point on the story is essentially linear. The dress-up section gives the illusion of choice midway through, but what you wear is actually irrelevant: at most, it changes some conditional text. I was originally going to write the story so that different combinations of cosmetics and outfits led to different scenarios, but this would have made the story even longer than it already is, so I scrapped the idea.\n\nThere are seven routes/endings in total, determined by which cosmetic you use the most of or, more accurately, which you receive the strongest dose of. Not all of the cosmetics are equally strong. The butterfly block is the most powerful cosmetic, and if you use it even once, you're locked into one of its three endings:\n\nEnding #1: Monster -- use the butterfly block three times\nEnding #2: Surgery -- use the butterfly block twice\nEnding #3a/b: Cassowary -- use the butterfly block once; to get the “b” variant, it's easiest to use the combination butterfly block - witch hazel - witch hazel (note that the "b" variant is basically the same route, with an only slightly different end)\n\nThe other cosmetics have only one ending each.\n\nEnding #4a/b: Ritual -- using the pink gel twice or three times is the easiest way to get it; use the combination gel - witch hazel - witch hazel for the "b" variant (again, the "b" variant is basically the same, except for the very end)\nEnding #5a/b: The Call -- using the scrubby lump twice or three times is the easiest way to get it; use the combination scrubby lump - witch hazel - witch hazel for the "b" variant \nEnding #6: Teamwork -- using the fairy dust twice or three times is the easiest way to get it\nEnding #7: Easy Mode -- use the witch hazel three times\n\nHopefully that explanation makes sense? Irregular combinations like fairy dust - gel - scrubby lump are sorted out based on which cosmetic is more powerful, but I won't get into that. (Although in the above case, you would get Ending #5a, because the scrubby lump is slightly more powerful than the gel, and the witch hazel -- which isn't magical -- is powerless.)\n\n
A small tub half-filled with some manner of translucent, gelatinous pink bath product. Embedded within the pink goop are silver sparkles and little confetti diamonds. A faded label on the lid of the tub reads "Shimmery Lemon-Quartz" and "Multi-purpose," but gives no instructions regarding usage.\n\nOne of your exes left this thing in your medicine cabinet years ago, and it's been collecting dust ever since. It smells like sweet lemon and vanilla, with weird mineral notes in the background. When you jiggle it, it makes a tinkling noise like sleigh-bells.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
You awake in the afternoon, with your pillow covered in an earthy-smelling mess of shriveled leaves and rotten flowers. Fallen green spines prick you in the ears; mushy brown petals cling to your cheeks. Your cactus-needle lashes, leafy brows, and tangled ivy tresses have all shed from your head and died away. Your skin has reverted to its normal color. Your normal, human hair has grown back while you slept -- or at least started to grow. As you wash your face and examine yourself in the bathroom mirror, you note that your hair is much shorter than before, but a great deal thicker. Your lashes are short but full; your eyebrows are bushy. You are glad that the effects of the scrubby lump were only temporary, and especially glad that you aren't bald.\n\nAs you sit in your kitchen and eat a brunch of toast and scrambled eggs, you wonder how Amherst is doing. By now, she's either awoken safely in her home dimension or gone into a coma: you have no idea how you'll ever know her fate for certain. Then, an idea strikes you. You decide you'll go on a journey.\n\nYou wash your dishes, don a warm jacket, and trek deep into the Woeful Woods. You follow the goblin-trails to a grassy clearing by the banks of a clear blue pond. At the center of the clearing sits a little wooden cart, barely taller than your knee. Two shaggy, spotted dogs are harnessed to the cart. One sleeps in the grass, and kicks its legs in thrilling canine dreams; the other laps from a bowl of water. Out of the side of the cart, a family of enterprising elves run a food-truck. A crowd of elves and goblins buy baked apples and pickled fish and enchanted seed-cakes. They lay on picnic blankets and eat, and share the latest gossip.\n\nThe elves and goblins startle as you approach, but quickly relax. "Oh, its just you," they say.\n\n"Didn't you learn from last time?" calls the elf matriarch. "You //can't eat// elf food!"\n\nYou sit down beside the shaggy dogs: the one that was drinking rests its head on your leg, and dribbles water on you. "I didn't come here to eat," you say. "I just came to ask something. Have any of you heard anything about a dragon called Zull?"\n\nThe crowd breaks into excited chatter. "You've heard the news too?" they ask. [["Isn't it incredible? In a single night, the Dragon Queen reclaimed her throne -- and the mysterious hero that helped her just up and vanished!"|Call22a]]
"Set it free?" says Philantha, raising an eyebrow. "Are you an animal-rights terrorist or were you just hoping it would give you a wish?"\n\n"Neither!" you say. "I mean, I was going to set it free for ethical reasons, but I'm not a //terrorist//. And if it wanted to give me a wish, well, I wouldn't //refuse//."\n\n"Fine," says Philantha. "I don't actually care about your absurd motivations: if you want the golden cassowary, you can have the ugly little nuisance." She snaps her fingers, and a footman rushes to her side. "Bring the cassowary," she orders. "And be quick about it."\n\nThe footman bows to Philantha then -- much to the Princess' chagrin -- to you and pushes his way through the crowd. [[As he ventures off on his mission, you and Philantha stand in awkward silence.|Easy8]]
When you finally awake the next afternoon, your antenna have shriveled away. Your proboscis has fallen off, and a new mouth has grown in its place. You face has reverted to its original appearance. The iridescent luster has faded from your skin. Your sense of smell has diminished to its normal capacity. You are glad that the effects of the butterfly block were only temporary.\n\nYou peel yourself out of your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>frilly pink shirt<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>lantern-dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>brown trousers<<endif>> and take a hot shower. Your schemes at Philantha's palace didn't turn out as you hoped, but you suppose you've learned an important lesson about the bravery of medical professionals, the danger of untested magical artifacts, etc., etc.\n\nYour stomach growls as you dry yourself off from the shower. [[You wish you had snuck home some cheese and pastries from the party: at least then, you wouldn't have come back //completely// empty-handed.|Surgery20]]
At the train station, you encounter a moth-person in a silk, sunflower-pattern robe and yellow brimmed cap. You tear out a page from your notepad, and scribble a quick message.\n\n"You're late," you write. "They've already finished the surgery. It was only watermelons." Beneath this, you draw a simple map outlining the route from the station to Philantha's palace. You hand the message to the bewildered moth-person, and run off to board your train.\n\nYou arrive home in the early hours of the morning, exhausted. You've been bossed around; you've seen more of the human small intestine than you ever wanted to see; you've hiked through the woods and spent an interminable amount of time riding in trains. You don't bother to change out of your party clothes. [[You snuggle into bed and fall asleep.|Surgery19]]
<<set $lumpdose += 22>><<set $green to "face">>You wet the scrubby lump in the sink, give it a few good squeezes, and rub it all over your face as though it were a soaped-up sponge. A red, cucumbery-smelling liquid oozes out from the scrubby lump's pores. The liquid does not lather: it is more like a lotion than a soap, and feels pleasantly cool and velvety against your skin. The surface of the scrubby lump is just rough enough to exfoliate; the smell of cucumber is refreshing but not overpoweringly strong.\n\nIt takes you a few minutes to rinse off the thick red liquid. You dry your face with a towel and examine yourself in the bathroom mirror. Your face is no longer so oily, but that might be more the doing of the towel than the scrubby lump. Your lips and the tip of your nose have turned slightly greenish, a side-effect you hope will fade before the party.\n\nThe magic mirror does not seem bothered by your green-tinged nose. [[In fact, it looks quite pleased.|Bathroom2]]
The other passengers stare at your crystalline skin<<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">> and frilly pink outfit<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">> and ridiculous fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>, sparkling lantern-skirt, and printed leggings<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">> and galaxy-print leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">> and sleek formal outfit<<endif>>. "Look, Nanny," one of the children exclaims. "It's a <<if $outfit is "leggings">>space-person<<else>>rock-person<<endif>>, like in my book!"\n\nThe old woman hushes her grandchild and glares at you.\n\nYou distract yourself from your unwanted spectators by gazing out the window. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors.\n\nAs the first stars appear, the train enters a vast field of flowers. It is dark, and the flowers have closed their petals to the night. Yet the field is still beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing fairies fly above the sleeping blossoms: they twirl and spin like fireworks, shedding comet-tails of glittering dust. [[The two little children stop staring at you for a moment, and marvel at the fairies' dance.|Train3a]]
<<set $lumpdose += 22>><<set $green to "fingers">>You plunge your fingers into the deep pores of the scrubby lump and hold them there for several minutes. This takes more willpower than you anticipated. Every so often, you feel some tiny, many-legged creature scramble over your fingertips. Miniature beaks nibble at your fingernails; delicate, segmented limbs and feathery antenna tickle your skin. Apparently, the scrubby lump hosts a whole ecosystem of small, strange organisms.\n\nWhen you finally remove your fingers from the scrubby lump, they are coated in thick red fluid. You examine the red liquid carefully, and find a single small creature. The creature resembles a narrow, green, oar-footed centipede: fine hairs and heart-shaped, bioluminescent spots cover its body. You pinch the squirming pseudo-centipede between two fingers, carry it to your bedroom, and deposit it in a empty specimen jar for future examination. What an interesting find! Though tonight, you have bigger targets in mind.\n\nYou wash away the red fluid, revealing green-stained fingertips and glossy, pale green fingernails like newly-unfurled leaves. The edges of your nails are no longer jagged: you can't help but wonder if they were gnawed smooth by the scrubby lump's tiny inhabitants. Are these creatures part of the scrubby lump's mechanism of action?\n\nIn any case, the magic mirror is quite pleased. [[It winks a violet eye and starts to recite again.|Bathroom4]]\n
<<set $lumpdose += 22>><<set $green to "periorbital">>You've heard of people applying cucumber slices to their eyes as a kind of beauty treatment. The scrubby lump smells like cucumber and has a light green color much like that of cucumber flesh: perhaps it also possesses cucumber-like beautifying properties. You realize that this line of reasoning is completely irrational, if not full-on ridiculous, but it never hurts to try things: you press the scrubby lump against your eyes and hold it there for several minutes, as though it were a compress.\n\nThe spongey lump cools your skin and refreshes your senses with its clean grass-and-cucumber scent. Streams of viscous red liquid<<if $lumpdose is 22>> -- the lotion-like substance exuded by the scrubby lump --<<endif>> dribble down your cheeks. When you finally remove the lump, you look as if you've been crying tears of stage blood: fortunately, the red gunk washes away in the sink.\n\nThe circles beneath your eyes are no fainter than they were before you used the scrubby lump. In fact, they may be darker now: they've developed a weird chlorophyll-green tint that no amount of washing will remove.<<if $lumpdose is 44>> You can't say that you're particularly surprised, given what happened last time you used the lump.<<else>> This is obviously some side-effect of the scrubby lump, and you hope that it isn't long-lasting.<<endif>>\n\nThe mirror does not mind<<if $lumpdose is 44>> your increasingly plant-like pigmentation<<else>> the green stains beneath your eyes<<endif>>. [[You listen as it recites further instructions.|Bathroom3]]
At the moth-people's urging, you change into the surgical clothes. Hiding behind Viola's enormous pink wardrobe, you strip out of your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>frilly pink outfit<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>heavy fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>glowing dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>formal wear<<endif>> and slip on the scrubs, gloves, cap, and mask. The roomy surgical mask fits over your coiled proboscis; with a bit of folding, your antenna tuck beneath the cap. You stow your party clothes in a pile in the corner: you're not sure what else to do with them.\n\nBy the time you've finished changing, the doctor in the lab-coat has already anesthetized Viola. The other doctor has removed several of the land-anemones from their dress and stuck them all over Viola's bed in a double-spiral pattern. Surgical tools glisten on a metal tray. The two moth-people work quickly.\n\nThe lab-coated doctor (who you suppose is the anesthesiologist) sprays you with their bottle of pink liquid. The dress-wearing doctor (who, you soon discover, is the surgeon) places an anemone on your chest. You can only assume that this is some sort of highly-advanced sterilization procedure. The science of the moth-people is truely beyond your human comprehension.\n\nThe two doctors lay out all of their tools and mysterious silver instruments; they place more anemones on the walls and floor -- and even one on Viola's stuffed unicorn. [[Very soon, they are ready to proceed with the surgery.|Surgery14]]
<<set $trait to "glamour">>"You're not going to get anywhere listening to that mirror," says the tiny fairy. "But I've thought of something. Going to this party is important to you, right? You've got a whole dumb scheme worked out and everything?"\n\n"Right," you say. "And they're not going to let me in looking the way I do now."\n\nThe fairy grins, revealing luminous green fangs. "Then I'll make you a deal -- the best deal you could have ever hoped for. I'll put a twenty-four hour glamour on you. Everyone will think you're the most beautiful person they've ever seen. They'll let you in anywhere. And all you have to do in return ..."\n\nYou realize where this is going. "Is never recite poetry again?" you ask, with mock hopefulness.\n\n"Nope," says the fairy. [["All you have to do is forgive me, and let me go."|Glamour2]]\n\n
Philantha kisses Viola on the forehead. "We'll discuss this later," she says, "when you feel better. Love you."\n\n"Love you," Viola grumbles.\n\nBefore she leaves, Philantha gives you one last suspicious look-over. She studies your clubbed antenna and iridescent, relatively hairless skin. "This one looks like a butterfly, not a moth," she says. "Why?"\n\n"It's a random phenotypic mutation," the moth-person writes.\n\n"How strange," comments Philantha. "They're just going to observe, yes? I won't have a resident performing surgery on my Viola."\n\n"Correct," writes the moth-person. "They will watch and assist with equipment."\n\n"Very well. I trust in your expertise. Tell the guard to summon me when the surgery's complete." With that, Philantha leaves the bedroom. [[You are left alone with Viola and the two moth-people.|Surgery12]]
"//Well, did you?//" Philantha asks. "Don't lie. You want to get well, don't you?"\n\nViola lets out a groan of despair. She tosses her unicorn to the floor. "Fine! I did!" she cries. "You know why? Because the Duchess of Iff dared me to! She said I was a weak coddled little baby and that I wouldn't be brave enough to do it -- //but I showed her//!" \n\nRed spots flare on Philantha's cheeks and neck. "I thought you were better than that, Viola. Imagine: a Duchess -- more than that: a ward of the highest crowned head of Photogenetica -- getting riled up by a little girl's dare! Are you a lady, or some common ragamuffin?"\n\nThe moth-person in the anemone dress snaps their fingers, interrupting the argument. "In any case," they write, "the watermelon sprouts will be easy to extract. We will not require the assistance of Dr. [sequence of alien glyphs]."\n\n"Good," says Philantha. She takes a deep breath: the red spots fade from her cheeks. "You'll complete the procedure tonight?"\n\nThe moth-person nods. [["We can start right away."|Surgery11]]
You follow the footman back into the noisy guest-halls of Philantha's palace, back into the bright lights and clouds of fragrant scent. The Grand Equinox Ball has only grown wilder while you were gone. Drunken ladies recite dirty poetry and braid flowers into their hair; young revelers with bright eyes and flushed faces dance beneath the garlands of roses. Richly-attired dowagers and widowers belt out old-timey ballads as the elves strum along with their guitars. Lovers cavort in the shadows, half-hidden by golden columns.\n\nThe jewel-encrusted buffet tables are still laden with food and drink: on your way out, you snatch a glass of water and a goblet of chocolate mousse. You drain the water in a single slurp; you drink down the mousse. You sit the empty vessels atop a statue of a cherub, one on each polished bronze wing. The footman does not stop you: he politely pretends not to notice.\n\nThe footman guides you to the grand vestibule and tall, pink-marble staircase where you first entered the palace. He bows and bids you adieu. You wave goodbye, and descend into the cold, quiet night. The sky above is velvety with clouds. You smell soil and budding leaves; distant hearth-fires and flowers in far-away gardens. You walk down the marble lane, through the groves of limes and bitter oranges.\n\nYou suppose that you could double-back and sneak into the palace again -- perhaps through a window or a servants' door -- but right now you're tired. You've lost your interest in schemes and golden birds: there will be other nights for adventures. [[For now, you just want to go home.|Surgery18]]
You notify the guard that the surgery is complete and return to Viola's room. In your hiding-place behind the wardrobe, you change back into your rumpled party clothes. You pick the stuffed unicorn off the floor, remove the anemone from it, and hand the toy back to little Viola. She is weak and befuddled, but manages a smile. "I won't tell Philantha you're a thief and a fake doctor," she says. "Okay?" \n\nYou nod furiously.\n\nShortly after you've changed, Philantha marches into the room. She kisses Viola and strokes her hair and coos words of gentle comfort. "Are you feeling alright, Vi? I know you're sore, but stay strong! If you're a good girl, and rest up, you'll soon be all well -- then you can play in the gardens again, and see the //real// unicorns in the stable. Won't that be nice?"\n\nPhilantha inspects the bag of pea-sized watermelons and the bandages around Viola's stomach. She is apparently satisfied with what she sees. "You've done well," she says. "Thank you. The footman will show you all to your suite now." She rings a golden bell, and a liveried servant bows into the room. "I expect you to check-up on Viola regularly throughout her recovery, to ensure that there are no complications. When she is well, you will receive your payment."\n\nThe surgeon scribbles on their dry-erase board. "Certainly," they write. "However, the resident will not be staying with us. They have training to complete elsewhere."\n\n"I see," says Philantha. She rings her bell again, and a second footman appears. "Do they require a carriage?"\n\nYou shake your head. [["I'll walk to the train station," you write.|Surgery17]]
The watermelon-extraction surgery may have only taken a few hours, but you feel like you've lived a whole other life in that time. You've never considered yourself a squeamish person, but actually cutting into a living human being is an act unlike any other: it's different from dissecting a cat in high school, or butchering a chicken, or seeing a hawk take a rabbit. You leave Viola's room that night with a new-found respect for the medical professions.\n\nOf course, the doctors didn't allow you to actually participate in the surgery. You just "watched and assisted with equipment," like the moth-people promised. You passed the surgeon their tools, held a light over the surgical site, and, when everything was over, bandaged up Viola's stomach. At certain points during the procedure, following the doctors' hand-gesture commands, you re-positioned the anemones into new patterns. This last task, judging by the doctors' reactions, was //extremely// important, though for the life of you, you can't imagine how.\n\nOver the past three hours, you've picked up many simple words and phrases in the sighing language of the moth-people. You've learned "no!" and "over there" and "not that"; you've learned the terms for various types of scalpels and instruments, and the words for various segments of the upper GI tract. You now know at least five different moth-expletives. [[That's one good thing you can say about tonight: it's been educational.|Surgery16]]
[[You emerge from Viola's room three hours later with dirty scrubs, a headache, and a disposal bag full of a dozen slimy, pea-sized watermelons.|Surgery15]]
The twirling fairies vanish into the distance; the field of sleeping flowers transitions into to neatly-tended farmland. City lights twinkle into view. [[On the horizon, a shining palace appears.|Palace1]]
♥ Magical Makeover ♥\n@@font-size:0.5em;♥ by S. Woodson ♥
The other passengers stare at your green skin, leafy hair, and<<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">> frilly pink outfit<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">> ridiculous fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">> sparkling lantern-skirt<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">> galaxy-print leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">> sleek formal attire<<endif>>. "Look, Nanny," one of the children exclaims. "It's a <<if $outfit is "leggings">>space-person<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>Medusa<<else>>plant-person<<endif>>, like in my book!"\n\nThe old woman hushes her grandchild and glares at you.\n\nYou distract yourself from your unwanted spectators by gazing out the window. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors.\n\nAs the first stars appear, the train enters a vast field of flowers. It is dark, and the flowers have closed their petals to the night. Yet the field is still beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing fairies fly above the sleeping blossoms: they twirl and spin like fireworks, shedding comet-tails of glittering dust. [[The two little children stop staring at you for a moment, and marvel at the fairies' dance.|Train3a]]
When you wake up the next afternoon, you open up the bundle the servant gave you and eat a breakfast of ripe cheese and exotic -- slightly bruised -- fruit. You throw away the candied flowers: you're still not entirely sure if they're edible, or just a garnish. You fold up the square of golden cloth, and put it in your jewelry box. You suppose it's your only souvenir from Philantha's palace -- a poor substitute for the rare, wish-granting golden cassowary.\n\nDespite the servant's reassurances, you still worry about your false death as Winter's proxy. You can't help but feel that your real life has ended, and been replaced by some sort of fragile imitation. You feel like death could catch up with you at any moment; that your life could end any given day. As time goes by, and the days grow warmer, you still sometimes dream of ice and blood-red flowers. You'll pause in the middle of a random task -- gardening, washing dishes, screwing in a light bulb -- and marvel that you're alive.\n\nOne late Spring day, your BFF Millicent drops by to visit. As the two of you drink tea, you tell her all about your misadventures in Philantha's palace; your fears and your recurring dreams.\n\n"It sounds to me," Millicent says, "like most of what's bothering you is just normal awareness of your own mortality. Your brush with death only heightened feelings that you already had. After all, I'm sure there have been times before this when you've felt like life is fragile, or been afraid of dying. Right?"\n\nYou shake your head. "Not really, no. I'd never really thought that much about it before."\n\n"Hmmm." Millicent sips her tea. [["I don't want to sound mean, but you saying that kind of, um, explains a lot."|Ritual15a]]
A big plastic bottle of witch hazel, an astringent. Witch hazel has an odd herbal odor that you initially found unpleasant, but you've gotten accustomed to it over time. You bought this bottle from a drug store.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
The fairy listens patiently, and only rolls her eyes a little, as you describe your misadventure with the cassowary. "So I guess I'm going to have a little sister now," you say, at the end of your story. "I know I should be glad that the cassowary's happy, but I can't help but feel like everyone's gotten what they wanted except for me."\n\n"At least you're not rotting in the Princess' leech pits," says the fairy. "And -- I don't know -- maybe you've learned some important life lessons from the experience?"\n\n"I suppose I've learned not to make assumptions about security systems," you say, "and also not to rely on untested magical artifacts."\n\n"Any lessons about, maybe say, hypocrisy?" the fairy asks.\n\n"Yes!" you say. "You know, my parents were mad at me for rescuing the cassowary but they're //just fine// with harboring her -- and me! -- at their house. The morally consistent position would have been to return the cassowary to Philantha, right? Or to turn me in? //Which they didn't do.// If I'm a criminal -- which I'm not! -- then they're just as bad!"\n\nThe tiny fairy opens her book and snuggles into the pillow. "Obviously, you haven't learned anything at all," she says. "Anyway, calm down. Billions of people have siblings. //Literally billions.// You'll live."\n\nThe tiny fairy has a point. Having a bird for a sister isn't the end of the world. You scan through your bookshelf; you pick out a novel you've been wanting to read for a while. The low, yellow light of afternoon floods through the window. Outside, leaves unfurl from the muck and flowers bud on barren branches. Whatever troubles may come in the future, for now, at least, all is calm and golden. [[You sit next to the fairy, and read in companionable silence.|Ending3]]
You fish out the set of lock-picks you've hidden inside <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>the waistband of your pink trousers<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>your watermelon bodice<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>the ruffles of your dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>the waistband of your leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>the waistband of your trousers<<endif>>. You approach the silver cage. Not wanting to count your metaphorical chicks before they've hatched, you haven't yet decided what you're going to wish. You have some ideas, of course, but you want to take the time to draft a really airtight wish -- one that can't be ironically misinterpreted. You wonder if you should pay for a lawyer's consultation. At the very least, you should discuss things with<<if $fairyhelp is 2>> the tiny fairy: she's a magical creature herself, so she'd know all about this kind of thing<<else>> your BFF, Millicent: she's a witch, so she knows the in-and-outs of magical contracts<<endif>>.\n\nThe golden cassowary sees you coming, and stops her pacing. She blinks and cocks her head at you. She is much smaller than you expected, only about a foot tall, with thick legs and a heavy golden beak. Her flightless wings are so small as to be virtually invisible. Dark stripes of impure gold run along her back. A bald-spot gleams on her forehead -- a patch of featherless skin where a golden casque will one day develop. Her eyes are large and dark.\n\nYou realize that the cassowary is a still a baby. None of the rumors said anything about this: you expected to be rescuing an //adult// bird. You've never been good with children.\n\n"Hi," you say to the cassowary. You begin to pick the first of the silver cage's many locks. "Um, how are you doing?"\n\nThe cassowary replies in high, girlish voice. [["Are you my fairy godmother?"|Cassowary5]]
You enter the grand vestibule at summit of the stairs. No one asks for your invitation; no one bars your way. The guards <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>nod approvingly at your pink scales and pink, lacy outfit: they overlook your questionable color-coordination<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>nod approvingly at your fashionable outfit and lustrous pink scales<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>admire your lustrous pink scales and glittering dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>admire your lustrous pink scales and and billowing tunic<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>nod approvingly at your lustrous scales and amethyst fingernails: they overlook your masculine attire<<endif>>. Noble guests complement your sparkling eyes.\n\n"Are those gemstone contacts?" asks a young man in a golden tunic. He does not wait for you to answer. "How interesting! How luxe! It must have taken forever for your servants to apply all of those crystal patches to your skin."\n\n"I've never seen anyone quite like you," exclaims a tipsy woman in a dragon-hide jacket. "Are you perhaps a member of the mountain-troll peerage? I've heard such //wonderful// things about the troll-halls -- just //dripping// with jewels, they say."\n\n"Actually," you reply, "I'm an ordinary human."\n\n"Well, no one's perfect, love!" The woman laughs and traipses off to join her friends.\n\nA servant in rose-patterned livery offers you a flute of pink champagne, which you wordlessly accept. Another offers you something called a "dance card," which you refuse. [[You sip your wine, and venture into the glittering guest-halls of Philantha's palace.|Ritual1]]
<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>Ending #4b: Ritual<<else>>Ending #4a: Ritual<<endif>>\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>Ending #5b: The Call<<else>>Ending #5a: The Call<<endif>>\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
Ending #6: Teamwork\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
Ending #7: Easy Mode\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
Ending #1: Monster\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
Ending #2: Surgery\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
<<if $fairyhelp > 0>>Ending #3b: Cassowary<<else>>Ending #3a: Cassowary<<endif>>\n\n[[Thank you for reading!|Thank You]]
"You are?" says the cassowary. "That makes me really happy!" Her feathers begin to emit a warm golden glow; tingling golden sparks crackle all around her body. "Do you want a wish?" she asks. "I think I'm about to grant you a wish!"\n\n"Wait!" you protest. "Don't I get to pick the wish? I haven't asked for anything yet!"\n\n"I guess you don't get to pick," says the cassowary. "This is my first time doing a wish, so don't be mad, okay? I'm sure it'll be a really good wish! Whatever it is."\n\nThe golden light shines so brightly that you can no longer see the palace, Philantha, the footman, or the bespelled crowds. You can no longer see the cassowary, or your own body. The whole world has dissolved in gold. For a moment, you feel as though you are floating -- shooting upwards like a champagne bubble, then drifting gently down back to earth. \n\nWhen the magical light dies away, the cassowary has vanished from your arms. Philantha's palace and all its inhabitants have disappeared. [[You have been transported to a strange place.|Easy10]]\n\n
The magic mirror addresses you in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Apologies, friend. I was totally wrong.\nTrue beauty was within your reach all along.\nWhatever you've done to yourself, I'm not sure,\nBut I cannot deny your uncanny allure.\n\nYou examine yourself in the bathroom mirror. You look exactly the same as ever, but that's the whole point: the glamour tricks other people (or sapient mirrors) into thinking you're prettier than you actually are. It ensnares the senses, confuses the mind, and quells suspicions. It will allow you easy access to the Equinox Ball.\n\n"Are you satisfied?" asks the tiny fairy. "Do you acknowledge our agreement as complete?"\n\n"Yes," you say. "But you know, if you want to, you can still hang around here. Like, if you ever wanted to visit again ..."\n\nThe fairy makes a rude gesture as she flutters away. "You need to get laid," she says. "Bye forever." [[With that, she phases through the ceiling and disappears.|Lunch]]
A pink shirt with white buttons and lacy accents. The shirt's folded-up cuffs reveal an pink-and-white inner lining patterned with tiny snapdragons. The top coordinates with a pair of pink, fitted pants, a silver snapdragon necklace, and a pair of pink-and-white boots.\n\nOne of your exes (the same one who left behind the cosmetic gel) picked out these items for you, long ago. You have never worn any of them. You're quite the connoisseur of button-up shirts – it's true – but you've always hated pink clothing. You're not that fond of snapdragons, either.\n\nThe Princess Philantha, on the other hand, loves the color pink and adores flowers of all species and cultivars. Though she generally prefers her guests to wear flowing dresses or tunics (regardless of gender), you think she would approve of this lacy, flowery outfit.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
A silky, cream-colored shirt with a chestnut-brown button-up vest, navy-blue blazer, and blue trousers. You've accessorized the outfit with brown leather shoes and a navy-blue necktie embroidered with a single cream rose. You wore this during your short stint as a member of a university a cappella group. You were expelled from the group when it was discovered that you were not a student of the university in question, or indeed of any university.\n\nThis outfit may be a bit masculine for the Princess Philantha's tastes, but with the embroidered rose and androgynous cut of the vest and blazer, you could probably get away with wearing it. You think it looks very sharp, but then, you happen to be a big fan of button-up shirts and vests.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
"Elf journalism is very fast-paced," says the tiny fairy. "I think it helps that they can teleport."\n\nYou skim through the article. "It keeps going on and on about some battle between Zull and Mulg," you mutter. "Then's there's something about a deep sea prison? And something about Amherst vanishing? I don't know a lot of these words."\n\n"I'll help you out," says the fairy. "The Dragon Queen defeated the False King; she tore his heart out and put it in a box, like you do; she banished him to the bottom of the sea; Amherst rescued some dragon-prisoners, and then returned to her own world."\n\n"Oh," you say. "Well, I'm happy that she made it back safe."\n\n"It also says," the fairy continues, "that Zull reconciled with her seer in a tearjerking scene, and that a fiery rain fell from the heavens, destroying the monuments of Mulg and symbolically cleansing the Isle of his presence. This wasn't originally part of the prophesy, but they decided to add it in at the last minute to give the whole event a more satisfying conclusion."\n\n"Wait," you say. "//Add it in?// How does that even --?"\n\n"Don't ask me!" cries the fairy. "I have no idea!"\n\n"Are you mistranslating something?"\n\n"That's exactly what they wrote," she says. "//Exactly//."\n\nYou shake your head, set the paper aside, and go to the kitchen to make yourself some scrambled eggs. You must truly be ignorant of the ways of prophesy, because none of the happenings at the Dragon Isle make the least bit of sense to you. If you ever see Amherst again -- however unlikely -- you'll have to ask her what it's like to be a part of destiny. If you ever encounter Zull, you'll have to ask her -- politely -- what's it's like to have all of her successes and failures plotted out in advance. Personally, you prefer your future to remain undecided.\n\nYou sit down next to the tiny fairy and eat your breakfast in contented silence. The light of afternoon floods through the windows; outside, daffodils sway in a gentle breeze. You don't know how, or when, but other adventures and misadventures will come. There will be other palaces, other schemes, other surprises and other marvels. [[For now, you sit back and let the golden sunshine wash over you.|Ending5]]
"Big, clumsy human," (recites the fairy) "So needlessly tall,\nYou haven't got magical powers at all.\nI'll give you this spell, so no one can tell\nYou don't belong anywhere near a Grand Ball."\n\nThe fairy kisses you on the forehead and shouts "Presto!" A jolt of magic courses through your body. Your skin tingles; your heart skips; your blood fizzes. The electrifying sensation fades after a few seconds, but never vanishes entirely. You can feel the spell sparkling within you like a static charge. You feel confident, energized, effervescent.\n\n"There!" says the fairy. "I've done my part of the deal. You want to test it out before I go away forever?"\n\nYou nod and turn towards the magic mirror. [[The mirror's three eyes widen in shock.|Glamour4]]
You hesitate, but what choice do you have? As much as you enjoy having a free supply of fairy dust around the house, a glamour would allow you easy, certain entry into Philantha's Grand Ball.\n\n"Fine," you say, "I accept your deal." You unscrew the lid from your salt-shaker and recite the formal words of pardon:\n\n"Tiny fairy, I forgive you your crimes against me and release you into freedom, contingent upon the terms of the aforementioned oral agreement." You pause. "Did I say that right?" you ask.\n\nThe fairy flutters out from the salt-shaker, wings shedding twin trails of glittering dust. "Yeah, sure. It was good enough." She flies up to your face and hovers several inches from your forehead. [["Now for my half of the bargain."|Glamour3]]
"What? No," you say as you open the first lock, "Sorry. I don't think fairy godmothers are even a real thing."\n\n"Are you going to eat me?" asks the cassowary.\n\n"Of course not!" you say. "I'm here to set you free!" You break through two more locks. "It's illegal to keep a golden cassowary like you in captivity," you explain. "Princess Philantha has no right to keep you here. So I'm --"\n\nThe cassowary interrupts before you can finish. "Are you my new Dad?"\n\n"No! Listen: I'm not your godmother //or// your Dad." You break through the last of the locks, and open the silver door. The cassowary steps cautiously outside her cage. She gives an experimental peck at your shoes.\n\n[["Where are you going to take me? she asks. "Somewhere nice?"|Cassowary6]]\n\n
Inside, lords and ladies dance over polished tiles of porphyry, agate, and jade. Anonymous royalty in jeweled masks converse beneath streamers of lilies and shining opal beads. Wreaths of many-colored roses encircle silver statues; hothouse flowers spill from the mouths of platinum vases; complex arrangements of passion flowers and orchids tower to vaulted golden ceilings. Little elves sit astride the boughs of potted orange trees and sing love-songs, and strum at their magical guitars. \n\nThere are fountains of wine with beautifully-carved marble basins; there are emerald trays laden with ripe fruit and diamond platters stacked with elaborate iced pastries. You walk through a vast marble corridor hung with golden tapestries. The artfully-woven tapestries depict princesses and noble fairies and the personifications of seasons -- the crowning of the first Princess of Photogenetica; the disposal of Titania by the current Fairy Queen; the courtship of Winter and Spring. [[Magical lights, like tiny stars, twinkle in the heights of the ceilings.|Ritual2]]
As Amherst sets her herbicidal shrimp inside the other flower, and frees Zull from her decades-long captivity, you slink over. You tap Amherst on the shoulder. "You know," you say, "you don't have to go fight dragons if you don't want to. You haven't even been in this world for more than a few hours."\n\n"Of course I want to!" says Amherst. "It sounds like you have a really interesting life, so maybe you don't understand, but this is the best thing that's ever happened to me. Do you know how long I've wished I could fly on a dragon and travel to a magical kingdom and be a hero? Ever since I was a little girl!"\n\n"Really?" you ask.\n\n"Really!" says Amherst. "Besides, this is just my astral projection, not my real body: it's not like I can die."\n\n"Actually," you say, "if your astral projection dies violently enough, your real body can go into a coma."\n\n"Silence, interfering human!" growls Zull. "Your friend will not die. She has the force of prophesy behind her! Would you doubt fate? Would you question the workings of destiny?"\n\n[[You would, but you know better than to argue with a dragon.|Call17]]
<<set $outfit to "leggings">>You layer the black shorts over the slick pink nebula-print leggings. You pull the flowing tunic over your head and slide your feet into the black boots.<<if $trait is "glamour">> Your upper body is dark and billowing; your lower body is bright and sleek. You look like a stylish deep-space siren. Normally, you would be embarrassed to wear such an weird, ostentatious outfit, but with your mind-warping glamour, who's going to make fun of you? [[No one, that's who.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">> The outfit compliments your crystal-encrusted body perfectly. The starry leggings accent your shimmering pink scales and long amethyst fingernails. The soft, billowing tunic forms an intriguing contrast with your angular crystalline carapace. The bumpy texture of your skin shows through the leggings, but who cares? You look like a glamorous space alien: a stylish silicon-based organism with sparkling crystal eyes. [[If you didn't smell like lemony gravel, you'd feel pretty good about yourself.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">> Unfortunately, the outfit doesn't quite match your new plant-like complexion. Your red blossoms and green skin clash with the starry fuchsia-and-black leggings. Likewise, the combination of leaves and flowers with space-themed attire is a bit conceptually strange. What are you supposed to look like? A bouquet in a pink stardust vase? An ambulatory alien plant?\n\nActually, once you think about it, "plant-alien" isn't too bad a theme for an outfit. You do another turn in front of your bedroom mirror. All matters of color-coordination aside, the soft, dark tunic sets off your glossy skin quite nicely; its billowing, amorphous shape echoes the unruly tangle of leaves and vines on your head. Your silhouette is unusual and intriguing -- flowing and formless up top; sleek and straight down below. You look wild and otherworldly. Maybe coordination is overrated. Isn't fashion all about being shocking? [[Perhaps Philantha will appreciate your trend-setting uniqueness.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> The soft, dark tunic emphasizes the pale luster of your skin; the starry leggings accent your glittery silver cheeks and forearms. The outfit suits your sickly complexion well. The galaxy print looks almost real, lit from within by your glowing skin: the tiny stars and swirling nebular clouds shine. You look like a creature from deep space, half stardust and half solid matter. [[Philantha will be charmed by your delicate, starry-pink brilliance.|Train1]] <<elseif $trait is "butterfly">> Your upper body is dark and billowing; your lower body is bright and sleek. You look like a stylish, deep-space siren. Of course, with your magically-beautified bone structure and iridescent hair, you'd probably look good in anything: a labcoat, a speedsuit, an actual spacesuit.\n\nYou decide you'll wear the galaxy leggings tonight. [[You've been wanting to wear them for a while, and Philantha will enjoy their flashy pink charm.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">> Your upper body is dark and billowing; your lower body is bright and sleek. The outfit is flashy and strange. In other words, it's fantastic. [[Everyone will be so busy looking at your galaxy-patterned legs that they might not even notice your proboscis.|Train1]]<<endif>>
"This is the wrong place," you whisper to the cassowary. "This isn't even ironic misinterpretation: I was very specific about where I wanted to go!"\n\n"I told you!" the cassowary says. "I've never done this before!"\n\n"Then redo the wish," you hiss. "And quiet down: do you want to be heard?"\n\n"You can't redo a wish," says the cassowary, just as loudly as ever. "Who cares if this isn't the right house? The guards are gone. Let's go! Hurry up and take me to school!"\n\nYou try to shush the cassowary, but its already too late. [[Your parents burst into the room, drawn by the commotion.|Cassowary18]]
<<set $geldose += 21>><<set $pink to "periorbital">>You smear a dollop of the pink gel beneath each eye. Immediately, your nose fills with a fake citrusy fragrance reminiscent of lemon chiffon and dirt. You begin to tear up a little.<<if $geldose is 42>> Obviously, you learned nothing from last time.<<else>> You fear that the smell of minerally lemon-sugar will burn itself into your nostrils forever.<<endif>>\n\nThinking that the gel might be more effective if you let it sit, you wait several minutes before you wash it away, enduring the lemony odor as best you can.<<if $fairytalk is true>> As you wait, you try to strike up another conversation with the tiny fairy. \n\n"Hey," you say, "I've been wondering. Is that a tiny copy of //Gravity's Rainbow//, or a regular-sized copy that you shrunk down? Do flower fairies print their own tiny editions of books?"\n\nThe fairy stares at you as if you were an idiot. "//This// is a regular-sized book," she answers at last. "Your books are just extra-big. //You're// extra-big."\n\n"I suppose that's one way of looking at things," you say, "but that doesn't really answer my question." \n\n"Good," says the fairy. She makes a little flicking gesture at you -- as though she were waving away a fly -- and returns her attention to her novel.\n\nYou sigh, rinse the pink goop from your face, and dry your eyes with a towel.<<else>> As you wait, you gaze into the magic mirror's swirling purple depths. The languid, ever-changing plumes of vapor are relaxing to watch, much like a lava-lamp.\n\nA certain question's been nagging at the back of your head all day. "Hey," you say to the mirror, "are you a spirit trapped inside a mirror, or just a mirror that's been enchanted to talk? Or something else, like a mirror-shaped monster?"\n\nThe disembodied eyes blink rapidly, as if perplexed. The mirror says nothing. You suppose it only knows how to answer beauty-related questions and/or questions phrased in verse.\n\nYou shrug, rinse the pink goop from your face, and dry your eyes with a towel.<<endif>> The gel leaves behind a florescent pink residue: in place of dark circles beneath your eyes, you now have pink circles. You feel that this is a complication more than an improvement, but the mirror is apparently satisfied. [[It begins to recite again.|Bathroom3]]\n\n
<<set $geldose += 21>><<set $pink to "fingers">>You dip your fingertips into the container of pink, glittery jelly and hold them there for several minutes. You're glad that the tub of gel is nowhere near your face:<<if $geldose is 21>> it exudes a sickening lemony-mineral fragrance that you'd like to keep as far from your nose as possible<<else>> the combined fragrance of artificial lemon, sickly-sweet vanilla, and gravelly soil is much more tolerable the farther it is from your nose<<endif>>.\n\nWhen you remove your fingers from the container, and wash away the residual gel, you see that your nails have become smooth, pink, and lustrous -- weirdly lustrous, as though they've been coated in deep pink nacre or magenta crystal. Your fingertips are stained pale pink and smell like dirty lemon frosting. A few stray bits of glitter and silver confetti cling to your hands. No amount of washing will remove the smell or the glitter.\n\nThe mirror is impressed by your radiant pink fingernails. [[It winks a violet eye and starts to recite again.|Bathroom4]]\n\n
<<set $geldose += 21>>You moisten your face with some warm water, scoop up a glob of the pink, glittery gel, and massage it into your skin as though it were soap. The gel lathers beautifully. It foams up into big, shimmering, confetti-studded bubbles. When the bubbles pop, they produce a chiming sound, like a chorus of miniature bells.\n\nUnfortunately, the warm water seems to amplify the gel's sweet lemony-mineral fragrance to near-unbearable levels. You feel as though you've dunked your head into a mixture of lemon candy, buttercream frosting, and gravel. Even when you rinse the gel away and dry your face with a towel, the odor persists, if only faintly.\n\nYour face is noticeably less oily now, but you're not sure how much of that is actually due to the gel: your towel may have done most of the work. A few specks of glitter and pieces of silvery confetti cling to your jawline. You will probably smell like artificial lemon fragrance forever.\n\n[[At least the mirror seems satisfied.|Bathroom2]]\n\n
<<set $outfit to "witch">>You slip on the printed leggings, zip up the ruffled black dress, and slide your feet into the low-heeled, curled-toed shoes. You decide to leave off the pointed black cap: <<if $trait is "glamour">>you aren't actually a witch, after all, and Philantha's Ball isn't a costume party. Not to mention that you've never had much of a head for hats.<<else>>this isn't a costume party you're going to, and you don't want to get in trouble for impersonating a witch.<<endif>>\n\nThe tiny, magical lanterns twinkle along your skirt like stars in a midnight sky. The black-and-white leggings -- with their design of bats, owls, and moths -- reinforce the nocturnal theme.<<if $trait is "glamour">> You look nice, though the skirt is a bit too dark and frilly for your tastes, and the shiny black shoes a bit too severe. On the other hand, the little enchanted lights are charming; the pattern of the leggings is unique and captivating. You're actually quite fond of printed leggings: you're just usually too embarrassed to wear them in public. Tonight, however, you have no reason to be embarrassed. Your blood still fizzes with electrifying, magically-induced confidence. [[You decide you'll wear the lantern dress to the Ball.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">> You actually don't look half-bad. The black fabric and white lights coordinate beautifully with the pink, silver-veined surfaces of your body. Your crystal scales shimmer in the lantern-light; your amethyst eyes sparkle. The soft, dark dress only accentuates their brightness. The bumpy texture of your skin shows through the thin leggings, but not enough to disrupt the ostentatious printed design. You are frilly and glittering, like a bright jewel couched in a ruffled black cushion. [[Philantha will surely admit you to her Ball, dressed as you are.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">> The outfit is nice, but it doesn't coordinate well with your green skin and red blossoms. To start with, the combination of plants and flowers with lanterns and nocturnal animals is thematically confusing. Generally, one associates flowers with the daytime. You suppose that bats and moths pollinate certain afternoon- or night-blooming plants, but that's a big conceptual stretch. You're also not too fond of black, white, red, and green as a color scheme: it strikes you as an aggressive combination of colors -- perhaps too aggressive for Philantha's refined tastes.\n\nYou may not like the dress, but the tangling vines and tiny flowers on your head seem attracted to the magical glow of the lanterns. They begin to writhe and twist about under their own power. Flowers bow down towards the light; leaves slowly rotate and re-orient themselves. The effect is odd but appealing. You look like a benevolent, leafy Medusa. Your ensemble might lack thematic cohesion, but you bet that none of the other Ball guests will have moving flowers in their hair. Philantha will be delighted by your dancing, swirling blossoms. [[You'll give the lantern dress a try tonight.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> The outfit coordinates beautifully with your glowing skin and silvery eyes. You look like a luminous spirit of the constellations; you look like a pale moon couched in velvety-dark, star-speckled night. You still feel awful, but you look lovely. You decide you'll wear the lantern dress tonight. [[Philantha will appreciate your sparkling nocturnal charm, and maybe, if you absolutely have to, you can get away with blowing your nose in the dress' dark sleeves.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">> You look beautiful, but that's less the work of the dress and more due to your magically-perfected bone structure, alluringly large eyes, and full lips. Thanks to the butterfly block, you would probably look good wearing anything: a maid uniform, a graduation robe, a garbage bag with arm-holes cut in it.\n\nThe witch's outfit isn't ideal for sneaking -- the lantern-laden skirt is heavy and you always stomp down too hard when you walk in heels -- but you decide you'll wear it tonight anyway. [[You appreciate its strong thematic consistency and unique printed leggings.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">> The outfit is dark and frilly and ostentatious. It's perfect. [[The sparkling lanterns will draw attention away from your bizarre insectoid proboscis.|Train1]]<<endif>>
The wings of countless butterflies compressed into a single block, then coated in a transparent, waxy preservative. The block is roughly the size and shape of a bar of soap but slightly convex. A magical sigil has been stamped into the slick outer coating: a powerful, almost nauseating magical aura radiates from the block's surface. The densely-layered wings overlap into a disorienting jumble of colors and patterns. The block emits no odor whatsoever. \n\nYou purchased this object in one of the seedier auction-tents of the Fairy Market. It comes in a labeled paper box, but the labels are written almost entirely in some complex ideographic language that you cannot read, or indeed even identify. On the box, there is a single line of text in Solar Runes which translates to something like this: "to obtain the beauty and power of the XXX, apply to the body's surface."\n\nXXX is a word that you cannot find in your runic dictionary. From context, you suppose that it is a species of butterfly. You are not certain what "power" a butterfly would have. Well, there's only one way to find out and one person to find it out.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
Marie, true to her word, lands much less aggressively than before: she circles down to the grey hill and, with only the slightest jolt, settles to the ground at the foot of the tower's front stairs. You climb off of her back, grateful and exhausted. You are chilled from the damp night wind; your nose still runs; your throat still itches. You stagger up the tower stairs, feeling as though you could collapse any moment and sleep for days. The tiny fairy, completely unfazed by the flight, settles on your shoulder and reads.\n\n[[In the tower door, Millicent stands, waiting.|Team18]]
The twirling fairies vanish into the distance; the field of sleeping flowers transitions into to neatly-tended farmland. City lights twinkle into view. [[On the horizon, a shining palace appears.|Palace1]]
A tiny flower fairy trapped within one of those jumbo-sized restaurant salt-shakers. The fairy hovers over a pile of glittering fairy dust. Her wings are a iridescent blur. In her hands, she holds a tiny book, which she reads intently.\n\nYou captured this fairy in your own garden, after you caught her stripping your convolvulus vines to make little precious leaf-dresses and flower-hats. Per Fairy Law, she has wronged you, and been apprehended, and must remain your prisoner for sixty lunar cycles. It's okay, though. Fairies are immortal, so five years isn't an especially long time for them. Also, you're pretty sure that she sneaks out when you're not looking.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
<<set $trait to "crystal">>Gluey pink droplets bead over your face, your arms, your legs -- every external surface of your body. You try to wipe away the pink fluid, but it hardens rapidly upon contact with the air: when you rub at it, it clings scab-like to your skin. You can only watch, dumbfounded, as the droplets accumulate into broad, overlapping crystalline scales.\n\nThe pink liquid seeps through your scalp and coats your hair in heavy, lustrous crystal. Scales of crystal encrust every inch of your skin. Pink crystal shines on your lips; tiny crystals glitter inside your eyeballs. Your nails grow out into long amethyst spikes. Beneath your crystalline shell, you itch terribly. Your body feels stiff and uncomfortable.\n\nThe crystal scales are riddled through with veins of silvery metal. [[They smell sharp and mineral, with just a slight undertone of lemon-vanilla.|Gel2]]
Obviously, the "Shimmery Lemon Quartz" cosmetic gel is the source of your current predicament. You're just not exactly sure how: nothing like this ever happened to your ex when she used the stuff. You pick up the tub of gel and examine it closely. You notice something that previously escaped your attention, something important. Inscribed along the edge of the tub, in tiny, compact, pale-pink print, is an expiration date. The gel expired precisely two years ago, to the day.\n\nYou suppose this whole mess is technically your own fault, for not paying close enough attention to product labeling. At the same time, you feel like the gel should probably have some sort of warning on it, something like "Caution: Enchantment Grows Stronger Over Time" or "Absolutely DO NOT Use After Date Listed" or "May Cause Full-Body Crystalline Rash if Used Post-Expiration."\n\nYou sigh deeply. Your plans to infiltrate Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball dwindle away into hopelessness. You're going to have to spend the rest of the day finding a way to de-crystallize yourself. The crystals on your skin might scrape off with an ice pick, but you have no idea what to do with your nails, hair, and eyes.<<if ($green is "face") or ($green is "periorbital")>> You can think of only one upside to this nonsense: the crystal scales have covered up the ridiculous green stains on your face.<<elseif $green is "fingers">> There's only one silver lining to this nonsense: the crystal has covered up the bizarre green stains on your fingertips.<<endif>>\n\nYou notice the magic mirror giving you a funny sidelong look. [["//What?//" you demand. "If you're not going to help me, then at least stop staring."|Gel3]]
A tiny flower fairy trapped within one of those jumbo-sized restaurant salt-shakers. The fairy hovers over a pile of glittering fairy dust. Her wings are a iridescent blur. In her hands, she holds a tiny book, which she reads intently.\n\nYou captured this fairy in your own garden, after you caught her stripping your convolvulus vines to make little precious leaf-dresses and flower-hats. Per Fairy Law, she has wronged you, and been apprehended, and must remain your prisoner for sixty lunar cycles. It's okay, though. Fairies are immortal, so five years isn't an especially long time for them. Also, you're pretty sure that she sneaks out when you're not looking.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]\n<<if $fairytalk is false>>[["Hey, Tiny Fairy, what are you reading?"|heyfairy]]<<endif>>
Inside, lords and ladies dance beneath vaulted golden ceilings. Garlands of fragrant rose and jasmine twine around the legs of fine sandalwood buffet tables; enormous arrangements of lilies and orchids spill from the mouths of silver vases. Pink peonies float in bowls of strong pink punch. Candied violets sparkle atop tall iced cakes. Sprigs of ivy garnish platters of aged cheeses and ripe, unblemished fruit.\n\nStreamers of pink pearls and green silk leaves encircle marble columns. Strings of pearls and roses drape between the arms of jeweled chandeliers. Ornamental fruit trees sprout from platinum pots inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl. In the branches of the trees, little elves sit and sing love-songs and strum their magical silver guitars.\n\nThe abundant floral decor provides you with excellent camouflage. You sneak behind the ornamental trees and masses of bright flowers. You creep along the walls. If anyone walks past, you freeze, and try your hardest to look inanimate -- like <<if $outfit is "fruit">>a platter of fruit topped with ivy and spider-lilies<<else>>an arrangement of ivy and spider-lilies in a <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>pink<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>twinkling black<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>black-and-pink<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>navy blue<<endif>> vase<<endif>>. The elves watch you and giggle; several, drawn by the prospect of mischief, set aside their guitars and follow at your heels. They do not alert the guards to your presence: their loyalty is to themselves, and their music, not Philantha. [[You give the elves a thumbs-up, mouth "thank you," and slip into the private inner chambers of the palace.|Call2]]\n
"You haven't turned into some kind of sexy monster, have you?" the fairy asks. "You're not filled with blood-lust or anything?"\n\nYou run a quick emotional inventory. "No," you say. "I think I'm alright."\n\n"Good," says the fairy. "Whatever. I was just checking." She goes back to reading her novel.\n\n"Hold on a second," you say. "//Why would you even ask that?// Should I be worried?"\n\nThe fairy answers without looking up from her book. "No, you should be good. You only used that thing once, right? Not three times? You're fine."\n\n[[You guess you'll just have to take the fairy's word for it.|Lunch2]]
Eventually, you come upon an enormous, three-storied private library. Tens of thousands of books fill row upon row of glossy wooden shelves: there are magical grimoires bound in fairy-wings; precious illuminated manuscripts; old, musty novels with yellowed pages. In different circumstances, you would be fascinated, but you have other priorities tonight. You give the library a quick look-over for secret passages -- or a map of the palace -- but find nothing. You are about to leave, and search elsewhere, when you notice a flash of green in your peripheral version.\n\nYou double back, and look more closely. A green-skinned woman stands amongst the books. Her hair is leafy; she wears mushroom-print pajamas. She stands motionless, her arms held out at an awkward angle. She does not turn to face you as you approach: she couldn't even if she wanted to. [[The back half of her body is embedded inside a bookshelf.|Call4]]\n
You slink through darkened hallways; you peak your head into closets and luxurious guest bedrooms. You discover a pretty interior courtyard where peacocks sleep and turquoise fountains bubble. You discover a chamber where royal portraits and suits of nacreous seashell-armor hang on display. You walk through storage-chambers packed with jewelry and fine dresses. You sneak through a cellar stuffed with casks of dragon-fire whiskey. Yet, no matter how long you search, you cannot find the place you're seeking -- a certain small conservatory where the wish-granting golden cassowary dwells. The depths of the palace are too vast and labyrinth-like: there are too many doors, too many twisting passageways, too many stairways and tunnels.\n\nA few elves accompany you in your search, but -- after a great deal of wandering and very little excitement -- they loose interest. They wish you luck, and head back to their instruments.\n\n"You want to go back to the party too?" one asks.\n\n"No," you say, "I'm alright. I'm going to keep trying." [[You wave goodbye to the elf, and continue to explore.|Call3]]
Amherst listens, enraptured, as you explain your plan to free the wish-granting golden cassowary from Philantha's clutches. She insists on accompanying you. "This is great!" she says. "It'll be like a real fairy-tale adventure."\n\nHer enthusiasm is infectious. "I've haven't had much luck so far," you say, "but maybe with both of us working together, we'll find our way to the cassowary." With Amherst at your side, you leave the grand library behind, and venture once again into the labyrinthine depths of the palace.\n\nAs the two of you sneak through golden halls and cavernous cellars, Amherst asks all sorts of questions about you, your world, and the creatures in it. She demands to know if you've ever seen fairies or dryads or unicorns. She asks if you have magical powers, and is disappointed when you reply that no, you do not. She exhibits a particular interest in dragons.\n\n"So there really //are// dragons in this world?" she asks. "And you've really seen and touched them before?"\n\n"Oh yes," you say. You tell her about your years volunteering at the local microdragon rehabilitation shelter. "They're not affectionate animals," you tell her, "but they appreciate the help you give them -- it's just hard to tell, because their body language is so different from most creatures'. When they're pleased, they emit a high-pitched whistling noise and produce a putrid odor from their cheek glands. When they're angry, they emit a higher-pitched whistle and produce a sulfurous odor from their tarsal glands." You show her an old puncture-scar on your arm. "It can be difficult to distinguish the two."\n\n"Huh," says Amherst. "But those are the only kinds of dragons you have? Little foot-long ones that can't talk?"\n\n"Those are the only ones we have around here," you say. "There are all sorts of larger and smarter dragons in the world, but they live in isolated areas, like deserts or barren islands. They say there's a dragon kingdom out there somewhere, in the middle of the ocean, with giant castles and colosseums made of gems and igneous rock, but it might just be rumor. It sounds like the kind of thing someone would make up."\n\nAmherst gazes wistfully up at the marble ceilings. "Wow," she says. "That would be great, through, if it //was// real. I guess that means there's no such thing as a dragon-rider?"\n\nYou shake your head. "No. But why would you want to ride a dragon?"\n\nAmherst frowns. "Why wouldn't you? Wouldn't it be amazing, flying through the sky?"\n\n"I've ridden along on a flying broomstick before," you reply, "and I would say that it's overrated. Whenever the broom would tilt downward, or accelerate, I felt like I was going to throw up."\n\n[["That just sounds like you have motion sickness," says Amherst, "but I guess we can agree to disagree."|Call10]]
The green-skinned woman introduces herself as Amherst. "I'm a bio-programmer," she says, "full-time, gamma rank."\n\n"So do you genetically engineer things?" you ask. "Like develop new species and cure diseases?"\n\n"Um, no," says Amherst. "You're thinking of a gene-modder. A bio-programmer just -- well -- do you know what an app is?"\n\nYou have to admit that you do not.\n\n"It's sort of like a dumb little game," she explains. "Different kinds of dumb little games. And you play them on a bio-phone. Those are the things I program."\n\n"That sounds like it's fun," you say.\n\n"Not really," says Amherst. "I'd rather not talk about it. What about you? Are you a witch or a rogue or an adventurer or a long-lost heir or something?"\n\n[["I don't really have a job title," you say, "but I suppose, if you had to, you could say I'm a treasure-hunter slash cryptozoology enthusiast."|Call9]]
<<set $fairytalk to true>>The fairy shoots you a moody sideways glance, but doesn't answer.\n\nYou ask again. "Come, on. What book is it? Is it something I would like?"\n\nThe tiny fairy looks up from her book. Her eyes flash -- literally, like little green and gold sparklers. "I //told// you already. It's the same book as //before//."\n\n"Oh, so it's still //Gravity's Rainbow//? I just thought ... you know. Since you started it last month."\n\n"I don't speed-read," says the fairy. "I like to take my time, okay? I like to think about what I read."\n\n"No, that's fine."\n\n"Unlike //some people//," she adds, turning her back to you.\n\n[[Back|Bathroom1]]
As you and your two noble companions near the summit of the stairs, a shadow passes over. A shiver runs down your back; you hear, too late, the rustle of quiet wings. [[Before you can turn around -- before you can so much as scream -- an enormous snowy owl descends from the sky and seizes you in her talons.|Team2]]
You arrive at the grounds of Philantha's palace two hours after sunset. By then, the Ball is already well underway. Rich carriages crowd the long marble driveway: a veritable traffic-jam of coaches and royal palanquins winds through the lush palatial parklands and groves of citrus trees. Guests in jewel-studded dresses and vibrantly-dyed tunics climb the tall pink-marble stairway to the palace's main entrance. Magical lanterns in ornate fixtures hover at the sides of the stairs, bathing the marble in pale but steady white light, like the light of a full moon. At the top of the stairs stand guards with golden halberds, and a great many servants with peeled grapes and flutes of sparkling wine.\n\nYou weave through the throngs of carriages and elegantly-attired guests. You mount the marble steps. Light and music and all manner of sweet fragrances spill from the palace's entrance. You smell flowers and fruit, wine and cakes<<if ($trait is "butterfly") or ($trait is "silent")>>, sweat and perfume<<endif>>; you hear violins and fairy-flutes, the click-clatter of dancing feet and the low roar of joyful, gossiping voices. <<if $trait is "glamour">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2glamour]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2crystal]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2plant]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2luminous]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2butterfly]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">>[[You begin to climb.|Palace2silent]]<<endif>>
You meet Marie outside, as the tiny fairy reads on your shoulder. "The next place you need to go," you explain, "is a granite tower a few miles from here. It's not too far, so I could walk there while you fly overhead."\n\n"You're not walking," says Marie. "That's too slow. What are you trying to get away with?"\n\n"Nothing!" you say. "I just don't like flying!"\n\n"Because it reminds you of your terrifying flight from the Star Kingdom?"\n\n"Sure," you reply. "And also because it makes me nauseous."\n\n"Too bad," snaps Marie. "I want to complete my quest tonight, so the first light of sunrise can fall on my true form. Won't that be dramatic? Won't that be wonderful? //Climb on my back.//"\n\nMarie bows down, and you do as she says. You hug your arms around her broad neck and squeeze your eyes shut, in anticipation of what is sure to be a harrowing take-off. "Is the disembodied voice there too?" she demands.\n\n"Huh?" says the tiny fairy, preoccupied with her book. "Oh. Yeah, I am."\n\n"Good," says Marie. [[Without any further warning, she bobs her head, flaps her great wings, and leaps into the chill night air.|Team15]]
You squeeze some witch hazel onto a cotton ball and rub beneath each eye. This produces a pleasant tingling sensation on your skin but does nothing to diminish your dark circles. Then again, why would it? That's not how astringents work. It's not like the witch hazel is magical or anything.\n\n"Look, I'm pretty sure these dark circles are genetic," you tell the mirror, "or like a sleep-related thing or something. I don't think I can just make them go away."\n\nThe mirror blinks at you but says nothing. Thinking that it may only understand verse, you rephrase your statement:\n\n"Listen, mirror, it sounds pathetic,\nBut I think these circles are genetic,\nDon't be so strict and by-the-book,\nBe nice and let me off the hook."\n\nThe mirror remains silent as ever, but the tiny fairy lets out a high-pitched cry of despair. [["Stop trying to do poetry!" she shrieks. "You're bad at it!"|usewhazel2extra]]\n
You squirt some witch hazel into your hands and rub it into your fingernails. Your skin tingles a bit, but otherwise nothing happens. What were you expecting?\n\nReally, this whole business would be a lot easier if you hadn't broken your nail file. You wonder if there's some way you could construct a new file out of found objects.<<if $fairyhelp is 1>> You tap a finger against the salt-shaker.\n\n"Help me out, tiny fairy," you say, "Is there something other than a nail file I can use to even out my nails?"\n\nThe fairy covers her face with her book and refuses to acknowledge your existence.\n\n"Don't be like that," you say. "You helped me before, right? Listen:\n\n"If you don't help me, I will say\nEverything in verse\nFor the rest of the day."\n\nThe tiny fairy moans into the pages of her book. "Are you regressing?" she asks, uncovering her face. "Every time you try poetry, you get worse! [[You just get worse and worse!"|usewhazel3extra]]<<else>> The magic mirror is apparently an expert in beauty care: perhaps it would know.\n\n"I don't have a nail file" you explain to the mirror. "What should I do? Is there some other thing I could use?"\n\nThe magic mirror blinks at you but says nothing. You try rephrasing your question in rhyming verse:\n\n"Mirror full of wit and guile,\nHow can I file nails when I don't have a file?"\n\nThe mirror remains silent as ever, but the tiny fairy lets out a high-pitched cry of despair. [["Stop trying to do poetry!" she shrieks. "You're bad at it!"|usewhazel3extra]]<<endif>>
<<if $trait is "butterfly">>You've undergone a frightening metamorphosis and your face has become that of a glamorous stranger: you have been successfully, fundamentally made-over. Already, your plans are half-complete. You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, sashay off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and a sandwich. As you eat, you wonder just how long your transformation will persist. Will the effects of the butterfly block wear away with time, or will they need to be dispelled somehow? You hope it's not like that time you got bitten by a werewolf and had to get a spinal tap and a dozen shots in your stomach.\n\nYou finish your lunch quickly. Already, the sun is sinking lower in the sky.<<else>>You've lost your mouth and undergone a frightening metamorphosis, but you suppose that you have been successfully made-over. The mirror has declared you beautiful: already, your plans are half-complete. You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, shuffle off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and strawberry yogurt. As you eat (or rather, drink), you wonder just how long your transformation will persist. Will the effects of the butterfly block wear away with time, or will they need to be dispelled somehow? You hope it's not like that time you got bitten by a werewolf and had to get a spinal tap and a dozen shots in your stomach.\n\nYour proboscis struggles with the larger chunks of fruit in the yogurt, but you manage to finish your lunch. Until you revert back to normal, eating is going to be constant challenge. But you won't worry about that now.<<endif>> [[It's time for you to get dressed.|Dress Up]]
<<set $bflydose += 100>>With a shrug, you pick up the enchanted block of pressed and preserved butterfly wings. It's far from the stupidest thing you've ever put in or on your body.\n\nAs soon as you touch the block against your cheek, you feel a static-like jolt of magic followed by several seconds of shuddering, inhuman dread: you feel the concentrated fear of a thousand helpless insects at the very moment of their demise. A great sense of futility weighs down on your heart; you are overwhelmed by the cruelty and unfairness of the world. Tears stream from your eyes. Then, the moment of enchantment passes and you return to yourself again. What a dunce you are, getting swept up in a spell like that!\n\nWhen you rub the block against your face, it erases the oil on your skin. It also erases the tiny wrinkles and scars on your face, the blemishes on your nose, and, disconcertingly, several of your moles. You hope that the effects of this artifact are not permanent. \n\nYour face is now oil-free and covered in a fine, iridescent residue like the scales of a butterfly's wings. [[The magic mirror appears pleased with what you've done.|Bathroom2]]
<<set $bflydose += 100>><<if $bflydose is 100>>With a shrug, you pick up the enchanted block of pressed and preserved butterfly wings. It's far from the stupidest thing you've ever put in or on your body.\n\nAs soon as you touch the block against your face, you feel a static-like jolt of magic followed by several seconds of shuddering, inhuman dread: you feel the concentrated fear of a thousand helpless insects at the very moment of their demise. A great sense of futility weighs down on your heart; you are overwhelmed by the cruelty and unfairness of the world. Tears stream from your eyes. Then, the moment of enchantment passes and you return to yourself again. What a dunce you are, getting swept up in a spell like that!<<else>>You pick up the butterfly block, then hesitate. It may not be the best idea to use such a magically-potent object multiple times in the same day, especially before you've determined any potential side effects. Then again, what was ever gained through caution? You tap the block beneath your left eye.\n\nThe shock of enchantment is not as strong as before. A rush of sorrow convulses through your body; the hairs on your arm stand on end. Then, the sadness dissipates. Perhaps the artifact grows weaker with each usage. Or perhaps you have already built a tolerance for its effects.<<endif>>\n\nYou rub the block beneath each eye. The artifact erases your dark circles<<if $bflydose is 200>> just as it erased your moles and blemishes<<else>> instantly and magically<<endif>>. The delicate skin beneath your eyes grows firm and vaguely iridescent<<if $bflydose is 100>>, like the scales on a butterfly's wings<<endif>>.\n\nThe mirror is pleased. [[It begins to recite again|Bathroom3]]
<<set $bflydose += 100>><<if $bflydose is 100>>With a shrug, you pick up the enchanted block of pressed and preserved butterfly wings. It's far from the stupidest thing you've ever put in or on your body.\n\nYou give the block an experimental rub against one of your fingernails. Instantly, you feel a static-like jolt of magic followed by several seconds of shuddering, inhuman dread: you feel the concentrated fear of a thousand helpless insects at the very moment of their demise. A great sense of futility weighs down on your heart; you are overwhelmed by the cruelty and unfairness of the world. Tears stream from your eyes. Then, the moment of enchantment passes and you return to yourself again. What a dunce you are, getting swept up in a spell like that!<<elseif $bflydose is 200>>You pick up the butterfly block, then hesitate. It may not be the best idea to use such a magically-potent object multiple times in the same day, especially before you've determined any potential side effects. Then again, what was ever gained through caution? You give the block an experimental rub against one of your fingernails.\n\nThe shock of enchantment is not as strong as before. A rush of sorrow convulses through your body; the hairs on your arm stand on end. Then, the sadness dissipates. Perhaps the artifact grows weaker with each usage. Or perhaps you have already built a tolerance for its effects.<<else>>Given the significance of the number three in magic, using this artifact three times in a row will probably a.) unlock the butterfly block's full potency, or b.) trigger some sort of disastrous side-effect. As always, there's only one way to find out.\n\nYou give the block an experimental rub against one of your fingernails. The jolt of magic is very faint this time. You feel a twinge of fear, a pang of hazily-remembered sorrow, and then nothing. You can't tell if you're disappointed or relieved.<<endif>>\n\n<<if $bflydose is 100>>You discover that the butterfly block functions something like a reverse nail file.<<else>>Having experienced the butterfly block's eraser-like abilities, you worry that the artifact will make your nails even shorter than they are already. However, you soon discover that the butterfly block's effect on nails is more additive than subtractive: it functions like a sort of reverse nail file.<<endif>> With each swipe of the block, your nails grow slightly longer. With a bit of rubbing, they develop a pointed shape and a deep purple-brown iridescence.<<if $bflydose is 300>> You don't notice any disastrous side-effects, at least not yet.<<elseif $bflydose is 200>> They feel heavy and uncomfortable: you're not used to your nails being so long, but you suppose it's the fashion.<<else>>They look as though they were painted with the scales from a butterfly's wings, beautiful and a little bit uncanny.<<endif>>\n\nThe mirror is impressed by your pointed, lustrous fingernails. [[It winks a violet eye and begins to recite again.|Bathroom4]]\n
The other passengers stare at your antenna, proboscis, and <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>frilly pink outfit<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>ridiculous fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>sparkling lantern-skirt<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy-print leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>sleek formal outfit<<endif>>. "Look, Nanny," one of the children exclaims. "It's a space-alien, like in my book!"\n\nThe old woman hushes her grandchild and glares at you.\n\nYou distract yourself from your unwanted spectators by gazing out the window. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors.\n\nWith your new antenna, your sense of smell is strangely heightened. Even through the glass, you can smell the fresh grass and budding trees; you can smell the algae in the water, the sulfur in the factory smoke, the old bricks of the city; you can smell the lingering stench of magic and embalming fluid lingering about the wizards' towers. [[Is this enhanced olfactory ability the "power" promised by the butterfly block's label?|Train3b]]
At the summit of the stairs, your worst fears come to pass. [[One of Philantha's guards yells out "halt!" and bars your way with the staff of her halberd.|Surgery1]]
You signal Amherst to back away; you begin to close the silver door. As you do, the dragon lowers her wings. Her colorless eyes widen. "Wait!" she cries. "The two of you are strange. Are you, perhaps, beings from another world?"\n\n"I'm not," you say, peeking through the gap of the door.\n\n"I, um. I am," says Amherst, behind you.\n\nThe dragon sits back on her haunches. "Incredible!" she booms. "In the countless decades of my imprisonment, I had begun to give up hope -- but it seems that even the cruel magic of this palace cannot stay the forces of destiny! Come closer, little ones. I will not harm you."\n\n"I think we're more comfortable here," you say.\n\nThe dragon's pupils narrow to grey slits. "You disbelieve me?" she growls. "Do you not know who I am? I am Zull, the True Queen of the dragons! My every word is truth! If I say that I will not harm you, then you will be as safe in my claws as an egg in its hearth. Come closer, and listen to my woeful tale."\n\n"Maybe we should trust her?" whispers Amherst. "Aren't dragons supposed to be very honorable?"\n\n"That's a stereotype," you whisper back.\n\n"You should listen to your friend, green human!" snarls Zull, whose hearing is better than you expected. "Why would I destroy you? To do so would be to destroy my own salvation! Listen, and you will understand:\n\n[["Many centuries ago," Zull begins, "my royal seer delivered a prophesy most dire.|Call13]]
--Let the player undo moves? (on / off)\n--In Sugarcane, this enables the browser's back button.\n--In Jonah, this lets the player click links in previous\n--passages.\n\nUndo: on\n\n--Let the player use bookmarks? (on / off)\n--This enables the Bookmark links in Jonah and Sugarcane\n--(If the player can't undo, bookmarks are always disabled.)\n\nBookmark: off\n\n--Obfuscate the story's HTML source to prevent possible\n--spoilers? (swap / off)\n\nObfuscate: off\n\n--String of letter pairs to use for swap-style obfuscation\n\nObfuscateKey: bxzywedgurnjlkptfmvoqciash\n\n--Include the jQuery script library? (on / off)\n--Individual scripts may force this on by\n--containing the text 'requires jQuery'.\n\njQuery: off\n\n--Include the Modernizr script library? (on / off)\n--Individual scripts/stylesheets may force this on by\n--containing the text 'requires Modernizr'.\n\nModernizr: off\n
<<set document.title = "♥ Magical Makeover ♥">>
"Anyway," says Millicent, "your fears are sort of well-founded. You //could// die anytime: any of us could. You could get bitten by a venomous boggart; I could fall from my broomstick and break my neck. We're all going to die, eventually, so all we can do is appreciate the life we have. Because it //is// amazing that any of us are alive, in any given place, in any given time. That you and I exist right now, drinking tea in this room, in the middle of such a chaotic universe, is incredible. Does that make sense? I'm not a philosopher or anything, but that's the way I see it."\n\nYou consider Millicent's words. "It makes sense," you say. "Actually, that's a good way of looking at life. I'm glad I talked to you, Millie. You always know how to make me feel better."\n\n"You should invite me over more," says Millicent, smiling. "In any case, you should feel //especially// glad that you're still alive after kissing Philantha. Don't they call her the Silk Mantis or the Venus Flytrap or something?"\n\n"No, no," you say, "Philantha's never killed any of her consorts: at least, she's never been caught, if she has. You're thinking of the Viscountess Virgo of Vlox. //She's// the Venus Flytrap."\n\n"Then where did I get Silk Mantis from?" asks Millicent.\n\n"Maybe you were thinking of the Blue-Eyed Mantis," you say, "the Fairy Princess of the Lake of Tears. You might have conflated //her// with Prince Percy of Prios, who they call the Salacious Silk Seducer."\n\nMillicent laughs. "That last one //is not// a real nickname. Are you making these up?"\n\n"It's one-hundred percent real," you say, "Just because it's real doesn't mean it isn't stupid!"\n\nYou and Millicent spend the next hour discussing various unfortunate nicknames, murderous royals, and bad past relationships. Outside, pale green leaves sway in the breeze; bright-eyed birds dart beneath the shadows of hostas and elephant-ears. Soon, Summer will come, and other adventures. [[For now, you're happy enough with your cup of tea, Millicent's company, and the warm, golden light of afternoon.|Ending4]]
"Listen," the fairy continues, "all earthly creatures die. The only thing you can do is accept your mortality and appreciate the life you have. It //is// surprising that you're alive: it's amazing that any of us are alive. Life is a transient and precious treasure, or whatever. I don't know -- I'm immortal."\n\nYou consider the fairy's words. "You know, tiny fairy, you're a lot nicer and wiser than you let on. And look! You've gotten so far in your book!"\n\nThe fairy groans. "I would have gotten even further if you didn't keep bothering me!" She turns around and refuses to talk any longer.\n\nYou smile, and pull a book of your own from the shelf. You read next to the fairy in companionable silence. Outside, daffodils and blue speedwell sprout through the chill Spring mud; petals unfurl from grey branches. Winter has died, but a new and different season will carry on in its place. Warmer days will come, and other adventures. [[For now, you're happy enough with your book, and the worn green sofa, and the golden light of afternoon.|Ending4]]
The other passengers gawk at your beautiful face, slim antenna, and <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>frilly pink<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>fruity<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>sparkling, magical<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>ostentatious<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>sleek, formal<<endif>> attire. You sit in a corner and turn your back to them all, but you can still //feel// them looking. You can hear their whispers and their sighs of admiration. Everyone seems to have convinced themselves that you're a fairy <<if $outfit is "brownvest">>prince<<else>>princess<<endif>>. "What a sight," they whisper. "What an honor. Not often you see a royal fairy in //these// parts."\n\nYou stare out the window and try to ignore your unwanted spectators. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors.\n\nEven through the glass, you can smell the fresh grass and budding trees; you can smell the algae in the water, the sulfur in the factory smoke, the old bricks of the city; you can smell the lingering stench of magic and embalming fluid lingering about the wizards' towers. [[Your antenna twitch at this wealth of olfactory input.|Train3b]]
The smoke within the mirror whorls about in a slow, contented way, like a tangle of drowsy snakes; the three disembodied eyes bat their long purple lashes. The mirror recites thus:\n\n"That's very good, a valiant start,\nBut not enough to fit the part\nOf an expert in the esthetic arts.\nYou must now try to minimize\nThe dusky circles 'neath your eyes."\n\nYou actually have no idea how to remove the dark circles from under your eyes, because you don't normally care that they're there. There's probably some make-up or lotion that can do it, but you don't have any make-up or special lotions. You just have the junk on your bathroom counter.\n\n♥ Pink, Sparkly Gel: [[examine|lookgel]] or [[use|usegel2]]\n♥ Scrubby Lump: [[examine|looklump]] or [[use|uselump2]]\n♥ Tiny Fairy in Salt-Shaker: [[examine|lookfairy2]] or [[use|usefairy2]]\n♥ Butterfly Block: [[examine|lookbfly]] or [[use|usebfly2]]\n♥ Witch Hazel: [[examine|lookwhazel]] or [[use|usewhazel2]]\n
Inside, lords and ladies dance beneath lavish garlands of roses and pearls. Streamers of chrysanthemums, lilies, and passion flowers loop between the branches of golden chandeliers. Fine sandalwood tables strain beneath massive arrangements of orchids and exotic hothouse plants. Within the masses of blossoms, peacocks roost and ivory doves preen their glossy necks. Little elves sit astride the rose-garlands and play their silver guitars.\n\nYou walk past fountains of wine and towering iced cakes crowned with gold leaf and candied violets. You walk through forests of silver columns strung with enchanted lights and leaves of green silk. Wherever you go, people turn and stare. Waltzing nobles pause to look at you. Guards startle, and nearly drop their golden halberds. Servants peak at you from behind trays of ripe cheeses and imported fruit. \n\nThe guards and guests and servants whisper exclamations of delight: "A royal fairy! How lovely!" They speculate over your identity and rank in the Fairy Court. They admire you from afar, but no one dares approach you. No one speaks to you; no one follows you. They do not wish to accidentally cause you some offense. They are afraid that you will put a spell on them -- that you will curse them to die from a spindle-prick; or give them donkey's ears; or turn them into a goblin. [[No one stops you as you venture beyond the dance-halls and buffet rooms, into the private inner chambers of the palace.|Cassowary2]]
The halls of Philantha's palace are vast and labyrinthine, but your antenna lead you where you need to go. You can smell the faint but distinct odors of eucalyptus and yellow-blossomed acacia; of gold and latent magic. You follow your antenna to a hidden conservatory built into an interior courtyard. Beneath the conservatory's vaulted glass ceiling, exotic trees and flowers thrive: the room teems with plants from the other side of the world, many of which you have never seen before, not even in books. At the center of the conservatory, a golden-plumed bird paces in a silver cage. \n\nYour heart thumps. All the rumors were true! [[The bird is none other than the rare and wondrous golden cassowary.|Cassowary3]]
Here are two interesting facts about the golden cassowary. Firstly, after centuries of being hunted for its solid-gold plumage, the golden cassowary has become an endangered species: fewer than a thousand -- by some estimates, even fewer than five hundred -- individuals remain in the wild. In recent decades, environmental groups have sponsored worldwide legislation to protect the cassowary. International law now prohibits the trade of golden cassowary parts, as well as the killing, capture, or sale of the cassowary itself. Therefore, if you were to find such a bird caged up somewhere -- for example, in a palace -- it would not only be legal, but morally imperative, for you to set it free.\n\nSecondly, the golden cassowary possesses a certain little-known magical ability. Few people think of the cassowary as a magical animal: it can't use magic to protect itself the way, say, a phoenix or a cockatrice can. It can't do anything flashy like cast spells or breathe fire. In fact, it can't use magic at all, except in one very specific circumstance. [[If someone does the cassowary a great favor -- for example, by setting it free from a cage -- then the cassowary will grant that person a wish, any wish, no matter how impossible.|Cassowary4]]
<<if $trait is "glamour">>With your irresistible hypnotic aura, it doesn't really matter what you wear. You could go to the Ball in a t-shirt and flip-flops, and everyone would think you looked as fine as the Fairy-Queen in her jeweled furs and gown of starlight. But what would be the fun in that? It's not every day that you get the opportunity to dress up fancy. You've laid out a few of your nicer outfits in your bedroom.<<else>>You haven't decided what you'll wear yet, but you've laid out a few of your fancier outfits in your bedroom.<<endif>><<if ($trait is "crystal") or ($trait is "plant") or ($trait is "luminous")>> You suppose you should pick something that coordinates with your<<if $trait is "crystal">> pink crystalline scales<<elseif $trait is "plant">> leafy complexion<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> (literally) glowing skin<<endif>>.<<endif>><<if $trait is "butterfly">> With your glamorous face, it probably won't matter too much what you pick, as long as it doesn't offend Philantha's refined sensibilities.<<endif>><<if $trait is "silent">> Perhaps a suitably flashy set of clothes will distract from your weird insect mouthparts.<<endif>>\n\n♥ Feminine Pink Button-Up Shirt: [[examine|lookpinkshirt]] or [[wear|wearpinkshirt]]\n♥ Enchanted Fruit Dress: [[examine|lookfruit]] or [[wear|wearfruit]]\n♥ Witch's Dress with Tiny Lanterns: [[examine|lookwitch]] or [[wear|wearwitch]]\n♥ Black Tunic with Galaxy Leggings: [[examine|lookleggings]] or [[wear|wearleggings]]\n♥ Button-Up Shirt with Brown Vest and Navy Blazer: [[examine|lookbrownvest]] or [[wear|wearbrownvest]]\n
<<set $trait to "silent">>You do not recognize yourself: your face has subtly but completely changed. Your nose has narrowed and straightened. Your cheekbones have risen. Your jawline has sharpened and your cheeks have softened. Your eyes are larger, with rich brown irises ringed in purple. Your lashes are longer; your eyebrows are thinner and neatly arched. Your skin has grown smooth and ever-so-slightly iridescent. Your hair is iridescent and silky. Two graceful brown antenna extend from your forehead.\n\nIn short, you look like some weirdly-glamorized version of yourself, with clubbed antenna and shimmering skin. This is obviously a product of the butterfly block's magic. It is just as the label claimed: you have obtained a butterfly's beauty -- its elegance, iridescence, and lithe antenna. You would be fully beautiful, if not for one thing: your mouth, or more accurately, the place where your mouth used to be.\n\nWhere you once had a functioning mouth, you now have only a bare patch of iridescent skin and a long, brown proboscis curled into a neat, tight spiral. You attempt to speak through the proboscis, but can only produce a high-pitched sighing noise unlike that of any human language. \n\nYou notice the magic mirror staring at you wide-eyed. "And what are you looking at?" you try to say. [[The words come out in an unintelligible trill, like notes played on a violin.|Bfly4-b]]
You scoop the cassowary up into your arms. With her golden plumage, she is heavy: she clings to you with her three-toed feet. "Well," you say, "I was planning on setting you free in the Woeful Woods. That way, you can live in the wild again."\n\n"I don't want to live in the woods," says the cassowary. "Especially not a //woeful// woods!"\n\n"Why not?" you ask. "It's just a name: the Woods are nice! There's plenty of room; there are all sorts of flowers and plants to look at; there are all kinds of different fruits for you to eat; there are goblins and flower fairies and elves and talking bees. It's a great place to live. It's where //I// live."\n\n"//I don't want to go there!//" squawks the cassowary. She pecks you on the arm, drawing blood. You wince.\n\n"Fine!" you say. "If you want to go back to the other side of the world, I can arrange for it. An animal-rights group could ship you there. I volunteered at a microdragon rehabilitation shelter once, so I've got connections."\n\n[["That's not what I want!" says the cassowary, "What I want is to go to a school, like in the stories."|Cassowary7]]
"What stories?" you ask.\n\n"One of the palace guards was nice," the cassowary explains. "He used to read me books about adventures and mysteries and monsters -- but the best books he read were about a place called school. Schools are real, right? You go to them with a bunch of other children and play games and do crafts and learn about things?"\n\n"Schools are real," you say, "But I'm not sure that --"\n\n"And there are magic schools, right?" interrupts the cassowary. "Where you stay in enchanted rooms and fly broomsticks?"\n\n"Magic boarding-schools are just in stories," you say. "They don't let you study magic until college -- maybe in a pre-college program if you're smart. But there //are// regular schools. I guess you could enroll in one?"\n\n"So I can't learn magic?"\n\n"No!" you say.\n\n"What about science?" asks the cassowary. "Can I learn about bugs and fish and outer space? Can I go on trips to museums and planetariums?"\n\n"Yes," you say. "Those are all things that schoolchildren do."\n\n"That's what //I// want to do!" says the cassowary. "Will you take me to a school? Can you? Please take me!" [[She pecks you on the arm again, for emphasis|Cassowary8]]
"Alright," you say. "I'll try to find a school for you. But listen: schoolchildren have to be polite. They have to show consideration to others. Can you be considerate? Can you stop pecking me?"\n\n"I didn't peck hard," grumbles the cassowary. "You're too sensitive."\n\n"No one's going to let in you in a classroom if you go around pecking people," you say. "//Chickens// peck each other. //Students// resolve their differences nonviolently. Understand?"\n\n"I guess so," says the cassowary. She rests her head in the crook of your elbow. "Are you going to take me to a school now?"\n\nYou nod. [["I will, soon. But first, I need to sneak you out of this palace."|Cassowary9]]
Obviously, you can't leave the palace the way you came in. No matter how badly they fear your supposed fairy powers, the guards won't let you just saunter out the main entrance with Philantha's precious golden bird in your arms. You'll need to escape through a ground-floor window, or through a servants' door. This shouldn't be too difficult: you passed many windows on your way to the conservatory -- unguarded windows sheltered by ivy and the boughs of evergreens. Philantha's palace is built atop a wooded hill, so you can creep unseen through the trees, sneak across the palatial grounds, and disappear into the night.\n\n[[You return to the conservatory entrance, only to discover a hitch in your escape plans.|Cassowary10]]
"What do you mean?" says Marie. "I'm //not// going on a journey to a magical dream-land? I'm not sure how I feel about that."\n\n"You're in a hurry to break the Duke's spell, right?" says Millicent. "Then trust me, you don't want to have to travel to a mystical other-world. It takes way too much time and trouble: it would be like doing a whole other quest inside your main quest."\n\n"That's a good point," admits Marie. "I'd like to have this all sorted out before sunset, and that doesn't leave much room for mystical journeys."\n\n"You can always fit a mystical journey into your next quest," says Millicent, closing the front door and shooing the broomstick back upstairs. [["Anyway, I have something better than a dream-land: //knowledge//."|Team20]]
You suppose there's only one way to test a theory: you go to your kitchen, take a bag of peas from your freezer, and press it against your face. The bag is painfully, soul-chillingly cold. Wrapping the bag in a dish towel, you try again. You rest the peas against your eyes for several minutes, then return to your bathroom.\n\nWhen you examine yourself in the bathroom mirror, your face is reddened by the cold. The circles beneath your eyes are perhaps a teensy bit less dark and puffy than before. Or perhaps the dark circles are simply concealed by the redness. In either case, the mirror is satisfied. [[It begins to speak again.|Bathroom3]]\n
This interactive story was actually inspired by the SA Forums "Girl Games" thread by Devious Vacuum. In the context of the thread, "girl games" refers to a subset of short Flash games targeted at girls and women. Most of these games are low-effort, minimally-interactive, sexist, and terrible, and exist primarily as a vehicle for advertising. \n\nA popular genre of girl game is what you might call a hygiene simulator. In it, you are presented with a "ugly" girl (or, occasionally a boy or animal) complete with pimples, eyebrow stubble, dark circles under their eyes, etc. Following a sequence of completely linear prompts, you use a variety of colorful gels, fruit pastes, sponges, and thingamajigs (few of which, as far as I can tell, even correspond to actual cosmetics or real-world objects) to beautify your subject. Once your subject has completed the appropriate gauntlet of hygiene, and become pretty enough to go out in public, you can change their clothes – and occasionally their makeup, hair color, and eye color – in a brief, boring dress-up sequence with limited options and a poorly-coded interface. The linear hygiene section of the game, of course, serves to pad out the short dress-up section so that the player will spend more time on the host website and, thus, view more ads.\n\nAnyway, after seeing these sort of games, I began to wonder if I could take the basic framework of "beautifying" oneself and dressing up, attach it to an actual goal (sneaking into the Equinox Ball), and make a Twine story out of it. The final story is probably more influenced by fairy tales than girl games, but it does share certain common girl game imagery and themes, such as: bizarre and possibly dangerous cosmetics; non-food objects made of fruit; overly-demanding children; sudden and unexpected surgical procedures; fairies; princesses; and the color pink.\n\nHopefully you enjoyed reading it! You might be able to tell, from context, what day I //wanted// to release this story, but that deadline just flew right by, didn't it?\n\n\n[[“Whatever. I want you to tell me how to get all the endings.”|Endings]]
"Hey," you whisper. "Can you fly ahead and warn Millicent that we're coming?" You speak in Vernacular Fey -- the common tongue of the fairies -- so Marie will not overhear. Fortunately, you've always had a knack for non-human languages.\n\n"She's a witch, right?" replies the tiny fairy in the same language. You nod.\n\n"Then she should be psychically receptive," the fairy says. "I won't need to fly anywhere." She shuts her book, closes her eyes, and furrows her brow in concentration. For a long time, she sits like this. Green sparks crackle around her wings; her antenna flash. Then, the sparks vanish. She reopens her eyes. "There!" she says. "Done!"\n\n"Did you just psychically telephone Millie?" you ask. "I didn't know you could do that."\n\n"That's because it's none of your business," says the fairy. \n\n"Just what are you two babbling about back there?" demands Marie.\n\n"Nothing!" you say.\n\n"We're bonding over our shared experience as mystical artifacts," says the tiny fairy.\n\nMarie grumbles something inaudible and snaps her beak. [[As Millicent's tower draws nearer, she begins to descend.|Team17]]
Within the glittering guest-halls of Philantha's palace, nobles dance over polished tiles of porphyry and jade; they drink and feast beneath garlands of flowers. Strings of roses and pearls drape between the branches of jeweled chandeliers. Peonies and rare orchids float atop basins of punch and lemon-water; pink wine flows from marble fountains. Ripe hothouse fruit pile high on diamond platters. Candied violets and curls of gold-leaf adorn the tiers of enormous iced cakes. Peacocks and plump white doves preen beneath the boughs of potted orange trees. All around is lush, colorful excess: flowers and fruit, precious stones and costly metals sparkling in the light of magical golden flames.\n\nThe noble guests laugh and chatter and sing bawdy drunken ballads. Guards whisper snide remarks; servants chuckle politely at jokes cracked by old dukes and hereditary knights. Yet as soon as you enter, all -- from the mightiest queen to the lowliest maid -- fall silent. The dancing lords and ladies cease their twirling; the feasting dignitaries stand up from their golden chairs. The servants lay down their trays and pitchers; the guards set aside their halberds. Everyone turns, twists, spins around to face you. Their eyes widen in amazement. Some give wordless exclamations of joy, of longing. They are like lost travelers who have found an oasis, a safe harbor, a shelter in a storm. [[In a great wave they rush towards you, faces beaming, hands outstretched.|Easy3]]
You stride into the grand vestibule at summit of the stairs. No one asks for your invitation; no one bars your way. The guards gape at you, and blush, and nearly drop their golden halberds. Servants in rose-patterned livery crowd all around you, offering wine and refreshments. "Some champagne?" one asks. "Whiskey? Absinthe? I can get you anything you like from the cellars -- anything!"\n\n"Would you like some strawberries, shipped fresh from the South Islands?" asks another. "Some rare solar oranges? There are none like them in all the world -- only one tree, and it grows here, in the palace. Her Highness keeps them in a private store, but for you ..."\n\nYou accept a glass of pink champagne and walk on. "I don't need anything else, thank you," you say. The servants lower their trays and stare longingly after you; several look as though they may cry.\n\nNoble guests gasp and fan themselves wherever you pass; they speculate wildly over your identity. "Who //is// that enchanting creature?" they ask their baffled peers. "Some foreign princess? A half-fairy prince?"\n\nA young man in a gold-lace tunic rushes up and clasps your hands in his own. "My dear!" he exclaims. [["You're the loveliest person I've ever seen! You //must// tell me about your beauty regimen, you simply must. Do you use vampire-snail cream? Unicorn-horn toxin?"|Easy1]]
"As thanks for your part in the ritual," Philantha says, "I will grant you a boon: I will give you an escort out of the palace, and not have you locked away for trespassing. Understood?"\n\nYou can only stare vacantly, and blink. Philantha sighs.\n\n"Get this one something to eat and drink on the way out," she orders the servant, "and make sure they don't steal anything." With that, she fastens her silver mask over her face, strides out the door, and disappears into the labyrinthine halls.\n\nWith some coaxing from the servant, you rise from the bench and stumble out of the art gallery. The servant leads you back to the shining ballrooms and bright, cheerful guest chambers where nobles chatter. He pours you a glass of water and procures a cheese and mushroom tartlet from one of the grand buffet tables. You sit down in a sandalwood chair and eat.\n\nAfter you drain the glass of water, and polish off the mushroom tartlet, you start to feel a little more like yourself again. "Was I dead then?" you ask the servant. "Did I die and come back, or was it all just an illusion? Did she even stab me? Did she even ..." You trail off.\n\nThe servant ponders your questions. "In either case, you're alive now," he concludes at last. "I would advise you not to worry about it. Here: please take these home with you." He hands you gold-cloth bundle of cheese, fruit, and candied flowers. "It is a great honor to be chosen as Winter's proxy: you have done us all a service." \n\nYou scoff, but accept the bundle and thank the servant for his kindness. You follow him to the tall pink stairway and the palace grounds. The air is chill; the sky is dark and velvety. You walk down the marble lane, through the groves of citrus trees. [[You buy your ticket at the train station and ride home.|Ritual13]]
<<set $fairyhelp += 1>>"//I can't stand bad poetry!//" the fairy raves. "Don't you know what meter is? Didn't you learn in, like, elementary school? You did go to school, right?"\n\n"I know what meter is," you say, "but it's hard to improvise. I was just trying to talk with the mirror."\n\n"Well, stop, you big dummy" says the fairy. "That mirror doesn't know anything. Just put a bag of frozen peas under your eyes."\n\n"What?"\n\n"To make the dark circles go away," the fairy says. "It's a tip I found in a human magazine."\n\n"Are you sure that'll work?" you ask.\n\n"No," says the fairy. [[She rolls her eyes and goes back to reading her tiny novel.|usewhazel2exxtra]]\n\n\n
As the blood drains from your body and the world around you fades to darkness, you curse yourself for being such a fool. How stupid you were, to believe -- even for a second -- that the Princess was trying to seduce you! Isn't that how it always goes? You think a woman's interested in you, only to realize, in the end, that you've critically, fatally, misread her signals. [[You lay limp against the cushions of the bench.|Ritual11]]\n
Is this death? Your heart no longer hurts; your skin no longer itches. The weight of your crystal scales vanishes. The smell of dirty lemons fades away. Warmth spreads through your body. You begin to sweat; you begin to breathe rapidly. \n\nYou realize that you are not dead. You jolt upright, gasping.\n\nThere is no wound in your chest. There is no tear in your clothing. The crystal encrustations have melted from your body. What you thought was a puddle of blood is a pool of liquified crystal, like pink quicksilver, dripping down the bench and running through the grooves in the floor tiles.\n\nThe painting behind you -- //Before the Equinox// -- has changed. The ice has thawed from the cherry tree: drops of water spill from its branches like rain. The tree's blossoms, and Spring's tunic, have deepened to red. Spring holds a sword with a rose for a pommel. The thorns of Spring's headdress, and the blade of Spring's weapon, are wet with blood. Winter lays on the ground -- small and dead; icy scales melted -- in a pool of blood and water.\n\nPhilantha slips the dagger back into her bodice. "This is the secret second half of the painting," she says, "//The Aftermath of the Equinox//. Winter has been slain: Spring will come once more. As for you: I expect you to leave here now and never, ever come back."\n\n[[She rings a golden bell, and a servant slips in through the gallery door.|Ritual12]]
<<set $outfit to "pinkshirt">>You button up the lacy pink shirt and slip on the fitted pink pants. You shove your feet into the pink-and-white boots, and loop the snapdragon necklace below your collar.<<if $trait is "glamour">> You look like a flower-bouquet become animate. None of the components of this outfit are individually bad, but they combine together into a sickeningly frilly, flowery, pink horror.\n\nOn the other hand, the outfit is surprisingly comfortable. The pants allow for a good range of motion; the shirt is made of a soft, breathable material. The boots are light and the necklace doesn't jangle around too much. In other words, these are good clothes for sneaking. [[You think you'll wear them to the Ball.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">> You look like a flowery, shimmering pink smear. Your pink crystalline skin blends together with your pink top and pink pants and pink shoes into a monochrome nightmare. These clothes do not coordinate at all with your transformed complexion.\n\nOn the other hand, the outfit is surprisingly comfortable. The pants allow for a good range of motion; the shirt is made of a soft, breathable material. The boots are light and the necklace doesn't jangle around too much. In other words, they're good clothes for sneaking.\n\nThe colors don't exactly //clash// with your crystal scales, do they? And might the contrast between soft floral designs and hard inorganic crystal be considered artistically interesting? [[You think you'll try to get away with wearing this outfit to the Ball.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">> The pastel colors of the outfit don't quite match your vivid green skin and red flowers, but they don't clash too badly either. The floral necklace and floral lining of the shirt form a unifying plant-based theme with your leafy hair and lily-like blossoms; the pink fabric and white lace are more than feminine enough to meet Philantha's exacting dress code. Better yet, the clothes are surprisingly soft and breathable -- good for sneaking.\n\nIssues of color-coordination aside, you think you'll try to get away with wearing this outfit tonight. [[It combines frilly femininity with comfort.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> The pastel colors actually don't look too bad against your luminous skin. The silver necklace coordinates with the glittery rash on your cheeks; the pink and white fabric sets off your sparkling silvery eyes. Yet the outfit lacks vibrancy. It lacks impact. You look like a glowing Rococo figurine, frilly and pale.\n\nYou'd rather wear something with more contrast, but might Philantha appreciate your delicate lack of color? A feminine princess such as herself would surely delight in your silvery-pink pallor. [[You decide to give this frilly floral outfit a try.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">> The outfit is almost overwhelmingly pink and frilly, but you still look pretty good, thanks to your magically-enhanced bone structure and iridescent skin. You'd probably look good in anything: a tutu, a prom dress, a pink potato sack.\n\nYou decide you'll wear this girly pink get-up to the Ball. Philantha will appreciate the floral design; you'll appreciate the comfort. The outfit is surprisingly light and breathable. The pants allow for a good range of motion; the necklace doesn't jangle around too much. [[In other words, it's a good outfit for sneaking.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">> You look like a flower-bouquet become animate. None of the components of this outfit are individually bad, but they combine into a sickeningly frilly, flowery, pink horror. This is good. This is fantastic! [[It will draw attention away from the proboscis on your face.|Train1]]<<endif>>
The door opens not to a conservatory, but to a wide, windowless marble chamber filled with jewels and precious metals. A vast pile of treasure sparkles in the light of a hundred magical lanterns: there are golden coins from long-gone empires; nuggets of platinum; polished and unpolished gemstones; black pearls the size of apples; and blobs of uncarved jade. Atop the pile of riches coils an enormous blue dragon, bright and stinking of sulfur.\n\nThe dragon's snake-like body is at least fifty feet long, covered in translucent sapphire scales. Her diamond claws are long and jagged; broad, membranous blue wings fold against her muscled back. Six diamond horns crown her head. White smoke trails from her nostrils. Her forelimbs are shackled to the walls by thick, glossy-green chains.\n\nThe dragon flares her wings and snarls, exposing a forked blue tongue and row upon row of barbed diamond fangs. "What little morsels do we have here?" she hisses. "It's been so long since I've had company -- or a meal." She uncoils herself from the mounds of treasure, and slithers towards you. As her body shifts, coins clatter to the marble floor.\n\nAmherst shivers, awed and afraid. "It's okay," you whisper. "She's bluffing. Dragons don't actually eat people. Human blood upsets their digestion."\n\n"Really?" asks Amherst, voice quavering.\n\n[["Yes," you say, "but I think it would still be a good idea to leave now."|Call12]]
You see several lime-green fairies whirling through the night air: you wonder if one of them is the fairy you set free. Perhaps she is celebrating the Equinox with her flower fairy companions. Perhaps she is drinking thistle-nectar wine and catching up with her friends. On second thought, probably not. [[The tiny fairy always struck as you as a loner, and you can't imagine her dancing.|Train4glamour]]
The cold air whips around you. The wind roars in your ears. You no longer feel sick to your stomach. You no longer feel much of anything. Your thoughts stop; your heart freezes.\n\nA white shape descends at your side. Marie dives through the air, swoops beneath you, and catches you on her back. The roaring of the wind falls silent. Your heart thuds in your chest. The world, once again, becomes still and steady.\n\n"So, where's the next artifact?" asks Marie. "In a mystic cavern? In an ancient temple below the sea?"\n\nYou do not answer. You can only cling to her feathers and tremble.\n\n"What's wrong?" says Marie. "Oh no! Are you remembering the trauma of falling from the Star Kingdom? I didn't think of that!"\n\nYou gasp for breath and try to recover your faculties. "Ju-just give me a minute," you stammer. "W-what were you asking?"\n\n"I was asking about the next item," says Marie, "the voice inside the spiral-shell."\n\n"O-oh," you say. "Of course. Do you know of a place called the Woeful Woods?"\n\n“No,” says Marie. “Is it an enchanted wood full of magic and danger?”\n\n[[“It is!” you say. “And it's where you need to go next on your quest.”|Team9]]
You guide Marie to your home in the Woeful Woods. As soon as she spots your lone little house, she folds her wings to her sides and plunges to the earth. She lands in your garden, in a shower of mulch and mud and broken hyacinths. You scramble off of her back, onto the solid, reliable ground.\n\nMarie looks over your house, with its worn bricks and weed-choked gutters. She gives a dismissive click of her beak. "It's not very impressive," she says. "Is it an ogress' house?"\n\n"Absolutely," you say. "The flesh-eating kind of ogress. That's why I need to go in alone. Stars are inedible, so I won't be in danger."\n\n"I feel like //I// should be the one who goes in," says Marie, narrowing her yellow eyes. "This is //my// quest, after all."\n\n"Think of it as a test of character," you say. "Like not opening a magical box, or not turning around when you're in the underworld. It'll test your ability to trust other people."\n\n"I //suppose// that's alright," says Marie, after a moment of consideration, "but if you try to trick me again, I'll show you the real wrath of a heroine and a princess! Understand?"\n\nYou nod. [[You don't doubt Marie for an instant.|Team10]]
<<if $fairyhelp is 1>>"Can't you do //anything//?" cries the fairy. "Can't you think for yourself? What are you, a giant baby? How can someone so big be //so// bad at poems and //so// bad at makeovers and //so// horrible at everything!"\n\nYou try to ply the tiny fairy with flattery. "I just thought you might have some ideas, with all of your centuries of wisdom and experience and all."\n\n"I'm thirty-three," says the fairy. "I was born-thirty three years ago from a magical lime tree. I'm not wise: I'm just not dumb like you."\n\n"Oh," you say.\n\n"But if it'll shut you up, I'll give you a tip," the fairy says. "Just use sandpaper to file your nails. It's basically the same stuff that an emery board's made from."\n\n"Oh," you say again. "I guess it is. You know, tiny fairy, I realize that I don't know all that much about you. We should really talk together more."\n\nThe tiny fairy buries her face in her book again. "//Just shut up!//" she screams. [[You decide, for now at least, that you'll leave her be.|usewhazel3exxtra]]<<else>>"First off," says the fairy, "what do you mean by 'guile'? The magic mirror isn't deceptive; it isn't tricksy. Don't use words the wrong way just to force a rhyme!"\n\n"Sorry," you say, "but it's hard to improvise. I only wanted to ask the mirror for advice."\n\n"Well, //don't//," says the fairy. "That mirror doesn't know anything. Here: I'll give you a tip. Just use sandpaper. You've got sandpaper, right?"\n\n"What, use it to file my nails?"\n\n"Exactly, you big dolt. An emery board is basically sandpaper, isn't it?"\n\nYou ponder this question for a moment. "I suppose that it is, basically. Do you really think something like that would work?"\n\n"Dunno," says the fairy with a shrug. "Why don't you find out and leave me alone?" With that, she returns her attention to her tiny novel, as though you were never there and she never talked to you in the first place. [[You head off in search of sandpaper.|usewhazel3exxtra]]<<endif>>
The woman stares at your green skin, spiny lashes, and blossom-laden hair.\n\n"Um, hey," she says. "Have you been to my plane before? That is to say, did you astral project there?"\n\nYou nod.\n\n"Oh," says the woman. [["Then could you maybe give me some advice?"|Call5]]
"I'm not sure what you mean," you say.\n\n"You're the fallen star I needed to collect for my quest," Marie replies. "You're just a bullet-point on a list. You're just a MacGuffin. So hush!"\n\n"As a matter of fact," you say, "I'm not a fallen star. I'm a --"\n\n"//Hush!//" shrieks Marie. You fall silent.\n\nThe two of you drift quietly through the clouds. You decide to try a different approach. "You know," you say, "There are a lot of mystical artifacts that //do// speak. Like enchanted swords and magic mirrors."\n\nMarie considers this. "I suppose you have a point," she says. "You could be the advice-giving type of magical artifact. Do you have any hints to guide me through my quest?”\n\n“I don't know what your quest is,” you admit. “But why don't you tell me about it?”\n\n“I feel like you should know already” says Marie, “since you're a part of it. But fine! Prepare yourself, and listen well to my tale of sorrow!”\n\n[[“Once upon a time,” Marie begins, “I was the fairest princess of them all."|Team5]]
"For the first twenty years of my life," says Marie, "I was happy, wanting nothing. I had a silver palace and a golden apple-tree; I was betrothed to the most handsome prince in all the land. Then one day, a wicked fairy -- the Fairy Duke of the Ruby Marshes -- ruined everything!\n\n"The Duke came to my palace in the guise of a vagrant," Marie continues, "and when I would not grant him shelter, he laid an awful curse upon me. He changed me into this loathsome owl, then vanished! My servants -- who no longer recognized me -- cast me from my own palace. My lovely prince forsook me. So I did the only thing I could: I flew to the Ruby Marshes, and sought out the Duke's dread castle.\n\n"At the castle," says Marie, "I found the Duke in his true form, seated on a throne of red lightning. I demanded that he lift the curse from me, and this is what he said:\n\n'Catch a fallen star, Marie,\nBefore its silver light is quelled.\nThen find the disembodied voice,\nThat sings within the spiral-shell.\nAnd while you're at it, go seek out\nThe place where dreams in daytime dwell.\nNot before then will you break\nMy fearsome transformation spell.'\n\n"With these words engraved in my heart, I set off on a quest to restore my former life," Marie explains. "For many nights, I've encircled the fields and forests, searching for a silver fallen star. And tonight I've found you! So what now? Will you help me complete the next step of my journey, and find the voice of a shell?" \n\n[["I can give you some advice, you say, "but you're probably not going to like it."|Team6]]
"First off," you say, "I'm pretty sure that the Duke's poem isn't actually a list of instructions. It sounds like it's just his fancy way of telling you to give up, since all of the tasks he mentions are impossible."\n\n"They aren't impossible," snaps Marie. "I caught you."\n\n"I'm not a star!" you say. "I'm a human being!"\n\n"You just want me to set you free," says Marie, "so I'll fail at my quest. Are you the sort of magical artifact that tempts people with self-doubt? You may as well give up! I'm determined to restore my true shape!"\n\n"And I'm trying to help you!" you say. "You don't need to spend weeks on a mystical quest. Just make an appointment with a witch. Not even a Noble Fairy's curse can stand up to modern spell-breaking techniques. In fact, my best friend is a witch. I can arrange for you to meet with her, if you'd like."\n\nMarie says nothing. She simply unhooks one of her taloned feet from your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>shirt<<elseif ($outfit is "fruit") or ($outfit is "witch")>>bodice<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>tunic<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>blazer<<endif>>. [[You swing perilously through the air.|Team7]]
Your stomach twists; your mind races. You hold your body rigid, so as to not slip from Marie's talons. "Alright," you say, your voice slow and measured. "You've convinced me to help you. Please don't drop me."\n\n"You'll guide me to the next artifact?" asks Marie. "You're not going to try to deceive me any more?"\n\n"No," you say. "You've seen through my tricks. I'll lead you to the voice inside the shell."\n\n"Wonderful!" says Marie. [[She releases her other foot, and you plummet downwards.|Team8]]
The other passengers stare at your glowing skin<<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">> and frilly pink outfit<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">> and ridiculous fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>, sparkling lantern-skirt, and printed leggings<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">> and galaxy-print leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">> and sleek formal outfit<<endif>>. "Look, Nanny," one of the children exclaims. "It's a <<if ($outfit is "witch") or ($outfit is "leggings")>>space-person<<else>>star-person<<endif>>, like in my book!"\n\nThe old woman hushes her grandchild and glares at you.\n\nYou distract yourself from your unwanted spectators by gazing out the window. The train passes through green meadows and ancient forests where wolves and dryads roam. It passes over broad rivers and sparkling waterfalls and the hidden caves of spider-women; it passes factories and cities and the abandoned tower-strongholds of long-dead wizards. The sun begins to set, and the sky blooms with colors.\n\nAs the first stars appear, the train enters a vast field of flowers. It is dark, and the flowers have closed their petals to the night. Yet the field is still beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing fairies fly above the sleeping blossoms: they twirl and spin like fireworks, shedding comet-tails of glittering dust. [[The two little children stop staring at you for a moment, and marvel at the fairies' dance.|Train3a]]
You pull harder: the woman lurches out from the shelf and stumbles forward. "Oh my goodness!" she says. "It worked!" She spins around, and stretches her arms, and jogs up and down the aisle of books, marveling in her freedom of motion. "I wasn't going to say before, but I was pretty worried about those guards. They said if I wasn't gone before the party was over that Her Highness would come and //then I'd be sorry//. I guess "Her Highness" is the evil queen in charge of this castle?"\n\n"Princess," you correct. "And she's not evil, per say." \n\n"Whatever," says the woman. "Oh! But I've been rude." She sticks a finger into her ear and pulls out a pale green, spider-like creature. She offers the creature to you. "Would you like to exchange endosymbionts?"\n\n"I actually don't have any," you say. "At least, not other than bacteria."\n\n"Really?" says the woman. "Is everyone in your world like that?"\n\nYou nod.\n\n"Then how," she says, "can you even think or learn or anything? If it's okay for me to ask."\n\n"With my brain," you reply. "Do you, um, not have one?"\n\n"I don't think so," says the woman. "What's a brain?"\n\n"It's a sort of grey, wrinkled organ inside a person's head," you say. "It processes thoughts and controls the rest of the body."\n\n"Oh!" says the woman. "So you have a centralized nervous system. Weird!" [[She pushes the spider-like creature back into her ear canal.|Call8]]
The owl is gargantuan. Her white wings eclipse the sky; her shining yellow eyes bulge out as wide as dinner-plates. She sinks her talons into <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>the fabric of your shirt<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>your watermelon bodice<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>the thick fabric of your bodice<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>the gauzy fabric of your tunic<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>the thick fabric of your blazer<<endif>>, and flaps, and heaves you up into the air. Your feet rise from the marble steps. Your legs dangle.\n\nThe two nobles grab your hands and pull you earthwards. "Foul beast!" cries the young man. "Unhand this delicate creature!"\n\n"Let go!" demands the tipsy woman. "Just what kind of party do you think this is?"\n\nThe young man's grip is firm; the woman -- for all her drunkenness -- is as strong as a soldier. Yet the owl will not be thwarted. She shrieks, and snaps at them with her hooked beak, and batters them with her wings. You cling to their hands, but their hold begins to loosen. In the confusion of snowy feathers, their fingers slip from your grasp.\n\nGuards charge at the owl with their golden halberds, but she knocks them all aside. She catches their halberds in her beak and shreds the weapons to pieces. Servants set aside their trays of champagne and rush to your aid; noble guests shout and shake their fists; the man in the tunic and the woman in the dragon-skin jacket reach for your hands; but none can save you from the ferocious, monstrous owl. [[They can only watch helplessly as she carries you off into the night.|Team3]]
As the owl ascends into the sky, your stomach flips; your breath catches in your throat. Even at the best of times, you've never been able to tolerate flying. You try not to look down, at the palace grounds and neighboring countryside growing ever smaller and more distant. You shiver violently from the cold.\n\nHigh above, in the fog of low-laying clouds, the owl levels out her flight. She spreads her wings and glides onwards -- to where, you do not know. "This is it, Marie!" she mutters to herself. "This is the night you finally break the curse!"\n\nYou did not realize the owl -- Marie -- could talk. You wonder if reason might accomplish what force could not. "Um, excuse me," you say. "Can I ask where you're taking me, and why?"\n\n[["Hush!" says Marie. "You shouldn't speak. You're just a mystical artifact."|Team4]]
You hold in your hand a pink, heart-shaped card daubed in rosewater and oil of jasmine -- an invitation to the Princess Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball. In gilded, sweeping, sweet-smelling calligraphy, the card expresses best wishes to one Dame Demitria of Dolcet. You are not Dame Demetria. How did you acquire her invitation? Don't worry about it. You have a long day ahead of you.\n\nThe Ball is to be held tonight, all night, from sunset until rosy dawn. It is only morning now, but you will need to prepare yourself many hours in advance. For the Princess Philantha of Photogenetica is a very particular woman. She does not suffer the presence of the ugly, the uncouth, the foul, or the ordinary. All of her guests must be beautiful.\n\nYou are not beautiful, but you really want in on this party. You guess that means it's time for a [[♥ Makeover ♥|Bathroom1]].\n\n<<set $fairytalk to false>><<set $fairyhelp to 0>><<set $geldose to 0>><<set $lumpdose to 0>><<set $fairydose to 0>> <<set $bflydose to 0>><<set $green to "none">><<set $pink to "none">><<set $trait to "none">><<set $outfit to "none">>\n
Wherever you go, your crystal scales draw undesired attention. Noble guests flock around you, praising the luster of your skin, asking for beauty tips, wondering how many servants you have and whether you've heard of so-and-so stylist or the dressmaker at such-and-such street.\n\nEventually, you learn the trick to dispelling the crowds of curious nobles. None of them are actually interested in having a conversation with you. If you provide simple, two-word answers to their questions, acknowledge their comments, and agree with whatever they say, they quickly leave you alone.\n\n"Your taste in fashion is rather poorly-developed," drawls a countess with a ruby tiara, "but I love what you've done with your complexion."\n\n"Thank you," you reply. The countess smiles and wanders off.\n\n"What stunning crystal!" exclaims an old duke with silver boots. "Were you blessed by a fairy when you were born?"\n\n"Oh yes," you say.\n\nThe duke nods. "I knew it," he says. "Can always tell." He walks off to inform his wife, a duchess with a peacock-feather fan.\n\nWith this technique, you work your way through the ballrooms and buffet halls and flower-festooned lounges of the party. [[You slip past the lights and music and fragrant scents, into the private inner chambers of the palace.|Ritual3]]
The mirror answers you in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Oh no! I did not mean to cause offense.\nBut your lustrous beauty is just so intense,\nI could not help but look and admire.\nYour crystals are bright as a rosy-pink fire.\nYour eyes are twinkling -- lovely and rare.\nSilver strands entwine your hair.\nHowever you've done it, I don't quite know\nBut forgive me my guff from five minutes ago."\n\n"Wait," you say, "this is beautiful? I look exactly the same as ever, only covered in crystal shingles."\n\n"You are beautiful," (the mirror says) "Can you really not see?\nYour pink crystal's as pretty as pretty can be."<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>\n\nYou're not certain that you trust the mirror's judgment. You turn to the tiny fairy for a second opinion. "Hey fairy," you say, "am I beautiful now? Will they let me into Philantha's Ball looking like this?"\n\nThe fairy peaks over the top of her book. "To me, you look like an idiot who doesn't read labels," she says. "But the Princess' guests will probably think you're great. Humans love shiny crystals. They collect them, even."\n\nIt is true that humans love shiny crystals. Your heart swells; you feel a twinge of hope.<<else>>\n\n"Beautiful enough to get into Philantha's Ball?" you ask.\n\nThe mirror bats its purple lashes at you. "With your exotic looks and gemstone hair,/ you're lovely enough to go most anywhere."\n\nYour heart swells within your crystal-encrusted chest; you feel a twinge of hope.<<endif>> [[Perhaps you won't need to cancel your plans for tonight after all.|Lunch]]
The vibrantly-colored paintings depict much of the same subject matter as the golden tapestries, but with wildly different execution. Where the tapestries were formal and restrained, the paintings are shocking, surreal, and strangely captivating. Princesses of ages past hold feathered scepters and stand atop platforms of seashells and eroded marble. The Fairy Queen -- who is represented with many eyes to symbolize, you suppose, her wisdom and clairvoyant abilities -- tears the wings from Titania's back. Winter and Spring kiss beneath the boughs of a a flowering kanzan cherry. The tree's pink blossoms are each encased in layer of ice; they sparkle like jewels upon the pale, papery branches. Spring wears a tunic of pink petals and an ornate headdress of thorns. Winter's skin is encrusted in clear icy scales that reflect the delicate pink of the flowers and the deep pink of Spring's raiment.\n\nFrom a distance, Winter seems to be adorned not in ice, but in glittering pink crystal. "The resemblance is stunning, isn't it?" says a soft voice behind you. You give a yelp of surprise, and spin around to face the speaker. You would run, but your only exit is blocked. [[A masked woman stands in the gallery doorway.|Ritual5]]
It is still only early afternoon, but the Principality of Photogenetica is far away.<<if $trait is "luminous">> You tuck some tissues into <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>your pants-pocket<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>your watermelon bodice<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>your ruffled black bodice<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>the pocket of your shorts<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>the pocket of your blazer<<endif>><<elseif $trait is "silent">> You hide a pen and small notepad inside <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>your pants-pockets<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>your watermelon bodice<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>your ruffled black bodice<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>the pockets of your shorts<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>the pockets of your blazer<<endif>><<else>> You take a deep breath<<endif>> and venture out into the chill Spring sunshine. You lock your front door and latch your garden gate. You hike through the Woeful Woods, where daffodils and columbines peek through the dreary undergrowth. You cross the bridge over the swollen brown Goblin River and follow the road into town. You buy a ticket for the next train to Photogenetica.\n\nOn the train, there are few other passengers -- a handful of business commuters; some townspeople on their way to visit friends or family; two children and an exasperated grandmother. None of them are dressed up for a party. You expected to see other Ball guests on your trip to Photogenetica, but in retrospect, it was silly to think so. <<if $trait is "glamour">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2glamour]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2crystal]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2plant]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2luminous]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2butterfly]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">>[[You suppose that few of Princess Philantha's (legitimate) guests frequent public transportation.|Train2silent]]<<endif>>
As the first stars become visible, the train enters a vast field of flowers. It is dark, and the flowers have closed their petals to the night. Yet the field is still beautiful. Thousands of tiny, glowing fairies fly above the sleeping blossoms: they twirl and spin like fireworks, shedding comet-tails of glittering dust. Perhaps they are celebrating the Equinox just like their human neighbors. Perhaps they do this every night: you couldn't say. Flower fairies are secretive about their habits.\n\nThe twirling fairies vanish into the distance; the field of sleeping flowers transitions into to neatly-tended farmland. City lights twinkle into view. [[On the horizon, a shining palace appears.|Palace1]]
"Did you know?" Philantha says. "This palace is built upon a ley line: a point where magical energies converge and the forces of nature are drawn into conflict. From a young age, I have been trained in the sorcerous arts. It is my duty to control the turbulent magic of the land; to ease the transitions between seasons; to ensure safe weather and fruitful harvests for my people. I can walk unseen and unheard, if I need to. I can peer through stone; I can warp the fabric of space and distance."\n\nYour heart pounds. You are afraid, and at the same time weirdly self-conscious about your lemony body odor. Your palms would be sweating, if your sweat-glands weren't impacted with crystal. Philantha nestles closer and continues:\n\n"Every act that occurs within this palace carries magical significance, rippling outward into the wider world. Even this Equinox Ball is no mere party: it is part of a grand yearly ritual to dispel the Winter and welcome in the Spring." Philantha rests her hand on your own; she can surely feel your shuddering pulse, even through the crystal. "Are you still nervous? I've told you already: I mean you no harm."\n\n"What do you want with me, then?" you ask.\n\nPhilantha does not answer. [[Instead, she holds your wrists and draws you into a deep kiss.|Ritual8]]
For a moment, all of your fear and logic and resistance dissolve. You allow Philantha to lean you back into the cushions of the bench. Your pulse skips; your breath catches in your throat.\n\n[[At that very moment, Philantha draws a golden dagger from her bodice, and stabs you in the heart.|Ritual9]]
[[You feel cold.|Ritual10]]
A long, billowing black tunic with black shorts, black boots, and a pair of galaxy-print leggings. The leggings are screen-printed with an image of a starry, pinkish-purple nebula. You bought them on a whim a while back, but you have yet to wear them: you worry that they're too ostentatious. Also, maybe you're too old for this kind of outfit? Deep down, though, you still really want to wear these leggings.\n\nPhilantha's Equinox Ball would give you a great excuse to go out in the galaxy leggings. The Princess does, after all, harbor a great fondness for the color pink, flowing tunics, and ostentatious designs.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
You enter the grand vestibule at the summit of the stairs. No asks for your invitation; no one bars your way. The guards <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>nod approvingly at your red blossoms and lacy pink outfit: they overlook your questionable color-coordination<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>admire your lush red blossoms and fashionable attire<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>smile at your slowly-swaying leaves and blossoms; they overlook your questionable color-coordination<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>nod approvingly at your red blossoms and billowing tunic; they overlook your questionable color-coordination.<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>smile at your vibrant red blossoms; they overlook your masculine attire.<<endif>> Noble guests complement your spiny feminine lashes.\n\n"Are those cactus-needle falsies?" asks a young man in a golden tunic.\n\nYou glance down at your chest. "I beg your pardon?"\n\n"Your eyelashes," he says. "They're so long and pale! So graceful, and yet ever-so-slightly menacing -- like the spines of a venus flytrap. Were they difficult to apply? It must have taken //forever// for your servants to glue all those clover leaves to your brows." Before you can even reply, he wanders off to join his friends.\n\nA tipsy woman in a dragon-hide jacket lays a hand on your shoulder. "Such beautiful green skin! Is it some manner of clever enchantment? Do you have a witch amongst your staff? I'd like to, but they demand //such// high salaries, the minxes."\n\n"No," you say, "I don't have a witch in my house. Actually, it's a long story. I was astral projecting this one afternoon --"\n\n"I didn't ask for your autobiography, dear!" the woman interrupts. She pats you on your leafy head and ambles inside.\n\nA servant in rose-patterned livery walks up and offers you a flute of pink champagne, which you wordlessly accept. Another offers you something called a "dance card," which you refuse. [[You sip your wine, and venture into the glittering guest-halls of Philantha's palace.|Call1]]
Throughout the magic mirror's whole long diatribe, you say nothing. You consider getting angry; you consider telling the mirror exactly what you think about its useless beauty tips and its stupid disembodied eyes and its annoying penchant for speaking in rhyme. But what would be the point? It's just a mirror: an old -- and if you're going to be perfectly honest, probably senile -- mirror at that. Letting it upset you would be like be getting upset by a puppy, or a toaster. You take a deep breath, and try to engage the mirror diplomatically.\n\n"See here, mirror," you say. "You say I'm hopeless, but I //need// to get into this party and you're //going// to help me. Maybe if we talk things over, and work through this rationally, we can come up with a mutually-agreeable solution. How about it?"\n\nThe mirror glares at you. "Don't talk to me," it replies. "There's no more to say./ You've tarnished my spotless resume."\n\n"Don't be so dramatic," you tell the mirror. "Have you seriously never met a plain-looking person before? That's ridicu -- "<<if $bflydose + $geldose + $lumpdose + $fairydose is 0>>\n\n[["Just stop!" the fairy interrupts. "Stop trying to reason with it!"|Glamour1]]<<else>> Your words trail off. [[You are distracted by something very strange.|Juncture1]]<<endif>>
The mirror continues:\n\n"For many long years, I've given my aid\nTo noble princesses and pure-hearted maids,\nTo cruel evil queens and heirs in disguise,\nTo lovestruck young ladies with stars in their eyes,\nTo dandies and rakes, to meek country mice.\nCountless lost souls have sought out my advice.\n\nAll became beautiful, stylish, and chic\nAfter they followed my three-step technique.\n\nBut you! Your ugliness somehow remains.\nYou've done what I've said, but it's all been in vain.\nHere's what I've concluded: your flaws run too deep.\nYour nose is too strong and your chin is too weak;\nYour bone structure's lacking; your ankles are thick;\nYour hair is ill-coiffed; you have thin, washed-out lips.\nYour proportions and posture are far from ideal.\nYour voice is too loud; you have no sex appeal.\nIn short, your whole presence is simply unpleasant.\n[[I've wasted my time: you're a worthless investment."|Bathroom6]]\n
"Congratulations!" (sings the mirror) "Hip-Hooray!\nWe've done some stunning work today.\nI'll tell you now: it's truly awesome\nTo see the way your beauty's bloss-uhm\nUm. Oh."\n\nThe mirror's voice falls silent.\n\n"What's wrong?" you demand. "We're done now, right? Finish what you were going to say!" You give the mirror a few firm slaps on the side of its frame, fearing that it's overheated, or broken. "Mirror, mirror, fine to see,/ don't you //dare// crap out on me!"\n\n"Be patient, friend," (the mirror snaps) "Why so irate?\nI need some time to contemplate.\nA thing's gone wrong: I don't know what,\nBut somehow, somewhere, I've messed up."\n\nThe magic mirror's three disembodied eyes screw shut, as if in deep concentration. The vortex of purple vapor churns round and round. You begin to have doubts about this whole makeover business. You sigh and decide to take a lunch break: you can check back in on the mirror in a half-hour or so, if it hasn't burnt itself out from thinking too hard.<<if $fairyhelp is 2>> You pick up your salt-shaker. "Come on, tiny fairy," you say. "Let's get out of here."<<endif>>\n\nYou're about to leave the bathroom, when the magic mirror gives a sudden cry of triumph. Its three eyes open wide; its coils of smoke cease their frantic motion. [["I've got it now!" the mirror exclaims. "I've thought it through./ The problem isn't me: it's you."|Bathroom5]]
“Very nice!” (The mirror says) “I must admit\nYour hygiene is quite adequate.\nWith your dark circles well-concealed,\nMore of your beauty is revealed.\nBut one who's truly beautiful\nHas flawless nails and cuticles.\nRepair your bitten nails, post haste,\nTo not offend Philantha's tastes."\n\nYou glance down at your fingers. Your nails are short, but not because you bite them, as the mirror so rudely insinuated: you trim them low to keep them from getting packed with dirt. You suppose they //are// a bit ragged and unfashionable. You would use a nail file, but you broke your old (cold iron) file in an ill-conceived attempt to subdue a boggart and haven't yet replaced it. Once again, you turn to the junk on your bathroom counter.\n \n♥ Pink, Sparkly Gel: [[examine|lookgel]] or [[use|usegel3]]\n♥ Scrubby Lump: [[examine|looklump]] or [[use|uselump3]]\n♥ Tiny Fairy in Salt-Shaker: [[examine|lookfairy2]] or [[use|usefairy3]]\n♥ Butterfly Block: [[examine|lookbfly]] or [[use|usebfly3]]\n♥ Witch Hazel: [[examine|lookwhazel]] or [[use|usewhazel3]]\n
<<set $trait to "butterfly">>You do not recognize yourself: your face has subtly but completely changed. Your nose has narrowed and straightened. Your lips have plumped. Your cheekbones have risen. Your jawline has sharpened and your cheeks have softened. Your eyes are larger, with rich brown irises ringed in purple. Your lashes are longer; your eyebrows are thinner and neatly arched. Your skin has grown smooth and ever-so-slightly iridescent. Your hair is iridescent and silky. Two graceful brown antenna extend from your forehead.\n\nIn short, you look like some weirdly-glamorized version of yourself, with clubbed antenna and shimmering skin. This is obviously a product of the butterfly block's magic. It is just as the label claimed: you have obtained a butterfly's beauty -- its elegance, iridescence, and lithe antenna.\n\nThe changes to your body are not merely cosmetic. Your sense of smell has heightened. With your sensitive antenna, you can detect a multitude of odors: the mingled fragrances of the various cosmetics on your counter, the smell of the dank, mildewy magic mirror, the lingering mineral scent of tap water, traces of cleaning chemicals, the stink of dead millipedes and silverfish, and a faint lime-ozone smell that you realize is emanating from the tiny fairy. Is this enhanced olfactory ability the "power" to which the label referred?\n\nYou notice the magic mirror staring at you wide-eyed. [["Well, what is it?" you demand. "Have you changed your mind about me?"|Bfly4-a]]\n
You stand in your bathroom, all set up, freshly-showered, and ready to go. Yesterday, you borrowed a magic mirror from one of your contacts in the antiques business: you've propped it up next to your regular, non-magical mirror. The magic mirror stinks of mildew and varnish; greasy purple vapor swirls within its depths. From the center of the purple vortex, a trio of disembodied violet eyes glare at you.\n\n"Mirror, mirror, on the wall," you recite, "how can I be beautiful?"\n\nThe violet eyes narrow. The mirror appears dissatisfied with your rhyming abilities, or perhaps simply with you as a person. "To begin," it answers in a low, musical voice, "you must address/ your face's loathsome oiliness."\n\nWell, that's straightforward enough. You've scrounged up a number of cosmetics and laid them out on your counter. At least one of them should be able to help with this situation.\n\n♥ Pink, Sparkly Gel: [[examine|lookgel]] or [[use|usegel1]]\n♥ Scrubby Lump: [[examine|looklump]] or [[use|uselump1]]\n♥ Tiny Fairy in Salt-Shaker: [[examine|lookfairy1]] or [[use|usefairy1]]\n♥ Butterfly Block: [[examine|lookbfly]] or [[use|usebfly1]]\n♥ Witch Hazel: [[examine|lookwhazel]] or [[use|usewhazel]]\n
You do not recognize yourself: your face has subtly but completely changed. Your nose has narrowed and straightened. Your cheekbones have risen. Your jawline has sharpened and your cheeks have softened. Your eyes are larger, with rich brown irises ringed in purple. Your lashes are longer; your eyebrows are thinner and neatly arched. Your skin has grown smooth and ever-so-slightly iridescent. Your hair is iridescent and silky. Two graceful brown antenna extend from your forehead.\n\nIn short, you look like some weirdly-glamorized version of yourself, with clubbed antenna and shimmering skin. This must be the true power of the butterfly block. It is just as the label claimed: you have obtained a butterfly's beauty -- its elegance, iridescence, and lithe antenna. You would be fully beautiful, if not for one thing: your mouth, or more accurately, the place where your mouth used to be.\n\nWhere you once had a functioning mouth, you now have only a bare patch of iridescent skin and a long, brown proboscis curled into a neat, tight spiral. You attempt to speak through the proboscis, but can only produce a high-pitched sighing noise unlike that of any human language.\n\nYou are not particularly upset by your inability to speak. You are no longer particularly shocked by your transformed appearance or your frightening insect mouthparts. You are no longer particularly worried about anything. All thoughts of Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball, of makeovers or magic mirrors, of your convoluted schemes, have left your mind: all of that nonsense seems unimportant now -- utterly trivial. Your priorities have shifted. A great many strange feelings are welling in your heart.\n\nWhat are these bright, blossoming emotions? [[What is this thrilling, unfamiliar sense of purpose?|Bfly4-c]]\n
It's epiphany: that's what it is! It's elation! [[You know the reason you were born into this world, the meaning of your existence.|Monster1]]
The mirror responds to your gibberish in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Please, dear friend, don't be upset.\nYour style transformation's the best I've seen yet!\nWhatever dark magic you've used has been worth it:\nYour hair is sublime and your face is near-perfect.\nForgive me for being so surly before.\nThe Princess would relish your presence, I'm sure."\n\nFor a moment, you can only stare at the mirror, bewildered. What princess? In your shock, you had forgotten all about Philantha, the Equinox Ball, your intricate plans. Now, it all comes rushing back to you. You were making yourself over, so you could infiltrate the Princess' palace. Then //this// happened.\n\nSurely, the mirror is wrong; surely, no palace would admit you, looking you way you do now. You can't even speak. You point to your proboscis and make an open-handed shrugging gesture. [[The magic mirror understands your unspoken question.|Bfly5-b]]\n
The mirror answers you in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Please forgive me, dear friend, I was so wrong before!\nYou've grown beautiful, elegant, sultry -- and more!\nWith your shimmering tresses and near-perfect face,\nThey won't realize your body's at best second-rate."\n\nYou ignore the mirror's passive-aggressive jibe: disorienting though your transformation may be -- as creeped-out as you are by your own familiar-but-unfamiliar face -- you may yet find your way to the Grand Equinox Ball. "Then you think they'd let me into Philantha's party?" you ask. "Unless ..." Your heart sinks; a terrible thought occurs to you. "What day is it? What time? How long was I asleep?"\n\n"You only slept for an hour or so," the magic mirror replies. "You want to go to a party? Then go!"\n\nHope swells in your heart: your plans are working out perfectly, and all you had to do was resort to untested, possibly dangerous magic. You smile as you daydream of Philantha's palace -- its gilded halls and vast conservatories full of rare and priceless specimens.<<if $fairyhelp > 0>>\n\nThe tiny fairy interrupts your happy thoughts. [["Hey!" she cries. "Hey, big, dumb human!"|Bfly4-aextra]]<<else>> [[In but a few hours, you'll be ready for the Ball.|Lunch2]]<<endif>>\n\n
Swift as a firework, Marie soars above the treetops. "I think I see the tower!" she cries. "There in the distance! Is that it?"\n\nYou peak open your eyes. Beyond the Woods, beyond grey meadows of thistle and clover, Millicent's tower sits atop an isolate hill. "That's it," you say, swallowing back bile. "It shouldn't take long to get there."\n\n"Good!" Marie banks sharply to the left as she corrects her flight: your heart and your stomach flip-flop. \n\n"Listen," you gasp, "can you land more gently next time? Maybe come in at a shallower angle?"\n\n"I suppose," says Marie, "if it stops you from complaining." She gives one last, powerful flap of her wings and coasts through the air. For a few blissful minutes, your stomach settles; your heart calms. [[You nudge the tiny fairy with your finger.|Team16]]
You scream; the tiny fairy curses. Marie shakes the broken glass from her feathers, swivels her head to the side, and glares at the sofa.\n\n"I heard something. Is that the disembodied voice?" she demands. "I thought you were trying to fool me, since you were taking so long, but maybe I misjudged you."\n\n"It's absolutely the disembodied voice!" you squeak. "Say something else, disembodied voice!"\n\n"Hello," says the fairy. "That's me: the voice that lives inside a whelk shell."\n\nFlowers fairies, because they are so small and -- compared to their Noble Fairy cousins, powerless -- possess an interesting form of magical defense. They emit a kind of psychic camouflage that renders them invisible to most observers. This psychic camouflage doesn't work on children, but to the majority of adults, flower fairies are nothing more than an unseen nuisance -- teasing voices in the shadows; an invisible presence in the depths of the woods and wilds. You're the rare exception to this rule: you never lost the ability to see flower fairies, you assume because of your child-like sense of wonderment.\n\nTo Marie, of course, the tiny fairy is completely invisible. She stares at the old pillow, in the general direction of where the fairy sits. "Why aren't you singing?" she asks. "The poem said you should sing."\n\nThe fairy rolls her eyes and sings a few bars of a sea-shanty.\n\n"Hmm," says Marie. "And what happened to your shell?"\n\n"It was broken!" says the fairy. "That's why I'm now forced to haunt the dry land, a homeless and forsaken spirit."\n\n"That's sad!" says Marie. [["Are you the sort of mystical artifact that gives back-story?"|Team13]]
"Tell me this star's back-story," commands Marie. "Do they have a tragic past, too?"\n\n"Yes," says the fairy. "They were once a lowly waiter in a star-restaurant. Then, one day, they stupidly wandered into a certain private dining room frequented by the star-mafia. In fact, they stumbled in right when the mobsters were discussing a hit! They managed to escape, but the mob was hot on their heels: they were finally forced to flee to the world below, all because they //knew too much//."\n\nMarie nods, satisfied. "That seems like the kind of thing they would do. The running away, that is." She preens a stray fragment of glass from her wing-feathers. "I feel like my quest's really been enriched by these background details, but we should get going. I want to restore my true shape as soon as I can!"\n\nWith that, Marie skips over the glass-strewn floor, hops out through the ruins of the window, and glides into your lawn. "Hurry up!" she calls behind her. "Lead me to the place where dreams go during the day!"\n\n"See what I mean?" you say to the tiny fairy. \n\nThe fairy, book in hand, flutters up from the sofa and perches on your shoulder. "As strong as she is, I don't understand why she doesn't just //fight// the Duke of the Ruby Marshes," she says.\n\n"Right?" you say. "She'd probably win." Unlike Marie, you do not climb out through the broken window. [[You step around the shards of glass and exit through the front door.|Team14]]
While Marie waits in the garden, you hurry inside. In your living room, you discover the tiny fairy. She is outside of her salt-shaker, reading on the sofa. She sprawls over an old pillow, in the dark; she reads by the green glow of her body. She is so absorbed in her book that she doesn't even notice you enter.\n\n"Good!" you say. "I was looking for you!"\n\nThe fairy gives a yelp of surprise and snaps her book shut. "You!" she cries. "H-how did you get back so soon? //Why// did you come back so soon?"\n\n"Calm down," you say. "I need your help with something." [[You relate, briefly, your owl-problem.|Team11]]
"So I need you to pretend to be a disembodied voice for a little while," you explain. "I don't think we'll be gone long, and you can take your book with you. Can you do me that favor?"\n\n"Why bother?" says the fairy. "You've tricked the owl into bringing you back to your house: just hole up inside until she goes away."\n\n"I think you're underestimating how determined she is," you say. "Besides, it's the least you can do. It's partly your fault that I'm in this mess in the first place."\n\n"Oh, //I'm sorry//," says the fairy. "I forgot that I //asked you// to rub my wing-sheddings all over your body. And then //forced// an idiot princess to abduct you."\n\n"That's a fair point," you say, "but still --"\n\n"I don't go rubbing your skin flakes all over myself!" the fairy interrupts. "Because that would be gross, right?"\n\n"My skin flakes don't have magical properties," you say, "so it's not a perfect comparison."\n\nThe fairy opens her mouth to retort, but whatever she has to say, you do not hear. [[She is silenced by a great crash as Marie -- eyes flashing and wings outspread-- bursts through your living room window.|Team12]]
<<if $trait is "glamour">>Though you don't feel particularly different from before, you suppose you have been successfully made-over. Already, your plans are half-complete. You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, shuffle off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and a sandwich. As you eat lunch, you consider the tiny fairy's parting words. You have to admit: she probably has a point.\n\nThis is the only break you'll have today, so you take a moment to sit and relax.<<elseif $trait is "crystal">>You're itchy, stiff, and covered in heavy scales of crystal, but you suppose that you've been successfully made-over. The mirror has proclaimed you beautiful: already, your schemes are half-complete. You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, lumber off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and a sandwich. You aren't particularly hungry -- you're too uncomfortable, and the lemony-mineral odor of the crystal makes you vaguely nauseous -- but you force yourself to eat so you won't get a nervous stomach later.\n\nAs you sit at the kitchen table, you try to take your mind off your discomfort.<<elseif $trait is "plant">>You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, shuffle off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and a sandwich. As you eat lunch, you can't help but wonder how long the effects of the scrubby lump will last. Hopefully, you'll revert to your normal appearance sometime after -- but not too long after -- the Ball.\n\nThis is the only break you'll have today, so you take a moment to sit and relax.<<elseif $trait is "luminous">>Sore-throated and congested though you are, you suppose that you have been successfully made-over. You cover the magic mirror with a blanket so that it will go to sleep, shuffle off to your kitchen, and make yourself some tea and a sandwich. You gulp down some decongestant pills, inhale the steam from the tea kettle, and press your fingers hard against your sinuses. You feel weirdly faint and fragile -- more like a beam of light than a flesh-and-blood person.\n\nAs you sit at the kitchen table, you try to distract yourself from your aches and pains.<<endif>> You watch the birds outside the window. You hum an off-key tune. Noon comes and goes; the sun sinks lower in the sky. The hour of the Ball draws nearer. [[Soon, it's time for you to get dressed.|Dress Up]]\n\n
"What even happened here?" you ask. "Did you try to solidify yourself while you were standing too close to the shelf?"\n\nThe woman shakes her head. "Not exactly. I was in a level one trance-state, floating over this castle, when I started slowing my breathing -- like the book said -- so that I could get to a level three state and, you know, physically interact with things -- maybe join the party that I saw going on down here. So I floated down to this library, and for a moment everything was going fine, but then -- all of a sudden -- I //jerked// backwards and ended up spliced inside these books!"\n\n"Ah!" you exclaim. "There's your problem! You should always progress through trance-states in sequence: the level two semi-tangible state's important for stabilizing your presence on the destination plane. If you skip over it, all kinds of glitches like this can happen."\n\n"Well," says the woman, "I get that now. But what am I supposed to do? I can't move."\n\n"Just wake up and try again," you say. "It's no big deal. You have an alarm clock or an egg timer set up to wake you after so many minutes, right?"\n\nThe woman stares at the ground. "Actually, no."\n\n"Do you have a partner who can wake you?" you ask.\n\n"I have a roommate," the woman says. "She's working the graveyard shift tonight, but I guess she'll wake me up when she gets home ... in about eight hours or so."\n\nYou're not sure how to reply. [["That is //incredibly// unsafe."|Call6]]
The door leads out to a narrow balcony along an enormous, smooth-walled wooden shaft -- the hollow trunk of the Great Origin-Tree, as wide as a coliseum, extending high above you and far below, farther than you can even see. All along the inner lining of the trunk protrude countless other balconies, with countless other doors. Many of the doors hang open: you can see reading rooms, conference rooms, charming lounges with fountains and potted flowers. You see row upon row of leafy bookshelves, packed with all manner of books and scrolls. You see wooden auditoriums and galleries of strange, vibrant art.\n\nLittle glowing flower fairies flit between the bookshelves. Noble fairies -- richly attired, with wings bound or unbound -- lounge on cushioned benches and listen to the tinkling of fountains; or read in cozy green armchairs; or engage in fierce shouting matches over literary theory. Drab, miserable human beings haul stacks of books and polish the wooden furnishings.\n\nThere are no walkways interlinking the various rooms of the Library, no bridges connecting one end of the vast hollow trunk to another, no stairs or ramps. There is only empty space. The fairy patrons fly from chamber to another. The human captives climb on spindly, perilous wooden ladders.\n\nYou stare down the seemingly-bottomless shaft and your head swims with vertigo. You return to the reading room, and close the door behind you. [["On second thought," you say, "maybe it would be nice if you could help me."|Easy14]]
<<set $outfit to "brownvest">>You button up the cream-colored shirt, knot the embroidered tie beneath your collar, and layer the brown, buttoned vest on top. You shrug on the navy-blue blazer, fasten the sleek blue trousers around your waist, and lace up the leather shoes.<<if $trait is "glamour">> You look very dapper. The combination of rich blue, chestnut-brown, and cream is understated but appealing. The necktie's single embroidered rose adds a touch of whimsy to the otherwise formal outfit. These clothes are a little masculine for Princess Philantha's dress code, but with your perception-altering, suspicion-allaying glamour, it's not like anyone's going to stop you from wearing them. [[You'll dress how you want tonight.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">> You expected your pink scales to clash with the rich blue and brown fabric, but the outfit coordinates with your complexion surprisingly well. It helps that your crystal scales are more fuchsia than, say, bubblegum pink: the dark blue jacket, chestnut-brown vest, and deep purple-pink crystal are similar enough in value to more-or-less harmonize. You look quite dapper: like a prince carved from tinted quartz. [[The outfit is a little masculine for Philantha's dress code, but you think you'll get away with wearing it.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">> Your green skin almost, but not quite, coordinates with the rich cream, blue, and chestnut-brown fabric. It's the red flowers on your head that throw the whole color scheme out of whack: their bright hue clashes with the neutral-toned outfit. It's a shame, because you really like these clothes, especially the necktie with its cute embroidered rose. Perhaps you could still get away with wearing them to the Ball? Perhaps Philantha -- a famous lover of plants -- will be so enamored with your red blossoms and leafy hair that she will overlook your ill-matched, somewhat masculine get-up. [[You'll take the chance: the layered vest and blazer are warm, and you've heard that palaces can get chilly.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> Your silvery hives, silvery-shining eyes, and luminous skin don't coordinate very well with the rich brown and blue tones of the outfit, but you know what? You don't even care. You're running a low-grade fever, you've got the chills, and the layered vest and blazer are warm. You throat still itches; your sinuses ache. You don't feel like trying on another outfit: you'll go to the Ball in what you're wearing. [[The party guests will be so distracted by your glowing skin that they probably won't even notice what you've got on, anyway.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">> You look dapper and princely -- though that's more due to your magically-metamorphosized bone structure and beautiful iridescent complexion than anything you're wearing. With the power of the butterfly block, you would probably look good in anything: a plastic raincoat, a pair of pajamas, a tuxedo t-shirt.\n\nThe blazer and brown vest are a bit masculine for Philantha's dress code, but you think you'll wear them tonight nonetheless. You enjoy the understated but appealing combination of rich brown, dark blue, and cream. Philantha will like the whimsical embroidered rose on the necktie; she'll approve of silky fabric's fine quality. So what if the outfit isn't that feminine? [[Looking as good as you do right now, does it even matter?|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">> You look very dapper, but the outfit's neutral colors and straightforward design do nothing to distract attention away from your proboscis. Of all the outfits you've pulled out, this is the least flashy and conspicuous -- but what if that's a good thing? [[Perhaps it will help you blend into the background, away from judgmental eyes.|Train1]]<<endif>>
"Did you seriously just blow your wish on //this//?" demands the fairy. "What was it that you wanted? To see me one last time? To apologize for trapping me in a jar for six months because of your stupid plants? To stop me from finishing my book? Because I don't know why, but you seem //really determined// to keep me from reading this book!"\n\n"I didn't wish for anything!" you counter. "The cassowary did this on her own -- one hundred percent of her own volition! She didn't even give me a chance to make a wish!"\n\n"You must have been thinking about me, though," says the fairy. "She didn't just send you here by random chance!"\n\n"I wasn't!" you say. "And even if I was, you can't blame someone for just //thinking// something."\n\n"I can," says the fairy, "and I will. Now I'm going to have to waste even more of my time helping you escape!"\n\n"Escape what?" you ask. You look around the silvery-green room. "Actually, come to think of it, where are we? Some kind of fairy library?"\n\n"Not just //a// fairy library," says the tiny fairy. [["We're in //the// fairy library: The Great Origin-Tree Library."|Easy12]]
<<if $bflydose > 0>>[[You are filled with the irrational, irresistible urge to hide in your own bathtub.|Bfly1]]<<elseif ($geldose > $lumpdose) and ($geldose > $fairydose)>>[[Your pores have begun to secrete a thick pink liquid.|Gel1]]<<elseif ($fairydose > $geldose) and ($fairydose > $lumpdose)>>[[Your nose begins to itch. Never in your life have you needed to sneeze so badly.|Fairy1]]<<elseif ($lumpdose > $geldose) and ($lumpdose > $fairydose)>>[[All at once, in a single, flowing mass, your hair falls out from your head.|Lump1]]<<endif>>
You've missed Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball, but in the end things aren't so bad. You spend a nice weekend with Millicent: you buy her a new vacuum cleaner; she helps you fix your window; the two of you ritually incinerate the butterfly block, toss its ashes in a river, and cleanse the world of its evil magic. You return the magic mirror to its owner. You and Millicent walk around a local used book fair and have dinner at a grilled-eel place. Your schemes are a bust, but you suppose you've learned an important lesson about the power of friendship, the fragility of the human psyche, the monstrousness within all human hearts, etc., etc.\n\nAfter the book fair and dinner -- after you say goodbye to Millicent, and return home -- you check in on the little green fairy in the salt-shaker. "Hey, tiny fairy," you say. "I bought this book of postmodernist short stories that you might like." The fairy gives a grunt of annoyance and ignores you.\n\nThat's fair enough: you can't be friends with everyone. You leave the book next to the salt-shaker and turn in for the night. In the future, there will be other Grand Balls. There will be other palaces. [[Until then, you can dream, safe beneath the gentle stars and the ever-watchful moon.|Ending1]]
A soft, pale green, fist-sized porous lump that superficially resembles a bath sponge. It smells very strongly of grass and cucumber. When you press on it with your finger, it exudes a thick, red fluid that smells even more strongly of cucumber. \n\nYou acquired this object a few weekends ago, after trying your hand at astral projection. In an level three trance-state, you projected yourself to a rainy world populated by leafy, green-skinned people. You arrived at a sort of strip-mall containing a bath-and-body store, a restaurant, and a shop specializing in decorative fungus. The green-skinned people were not upset by your presence, and in fact seemed very interested in you. They kept touching your hair and giving you presents. The fungus store clerk gave you a giant potted mushroom with a spiral-shaped cap; the restaurant manager gave you a fruit-burger; the bath-and-body people gave you an assortment of perfumes and, of course, the scrubby lump.\n\nWhen you returned to your native plane of existence, you managed to take the scrubby lump back with you, but accidentally dropped everything else in the great void between worlds. You still haven't quite got the hang of inter-dimensional transit.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
You spend the next twenty-four hours locked in Millicent's basement while you sweat out your case of lepidoptero-vampirism. For the first few hours of your confinement, you struggle to escape: you shriek and lash out and throw yourself against the walls. You slash open the cushions of Millicent's old green sofa. You claw at her wooden storage chests and break her vacuum cleaner. You fly madly about; you bash your head against the ceiling, but you can find no window, no route to freedom. You cannot breach the thick granite walls of Millicent's tower-home. You cannot tear through the magically-reinforced door. Eventually, you tire yourself out, and curl up motionless on the remains of the green sofa.\n\nFor the next several hours, you emit a high, continuous wail of frustration. Then you fall silent. Blood-starved and too exhausted to move, or even cry out, you slip into uneasy sleep. You dream of sun-bleached bones and crumbling human cities and the delicious screams of your would-be victims.\n\nAs you slumber, your antenna shed from your forehead. Your proboscis falls off; a new, human mouth develops in its place. The bones of your face shift back to their original configuration. Your claws fall away and your fingernails re-grow; your wings shrivel and flutter to the ground like dead leaves; the iridescence fades from your body. Your face re-asserts its original appearance.\n\nYou awake dizzy and weak, sprawled over a pile of dessicated monster parts. You roll off of the sofa, hobble to the door, and knock gently.\n\n"Millie," you croak. "I'm okay now: let me out. I'm thirsty and I have to pee."\n\nFrom the other side of the door, Millicent, who has been sitting vigil all night, asks: "//Thirsty for what?//"\n\n[["Water," you say. "//Come on//."|Monster7]]
After several glasses of water, a pot of tea, and some of Millicent's famous pasta alla norma, you feel a lot better. As you eat and drink, you blather out a stream of apologies. \n\n"I love you, Millie," you say. "I'm //really// sorry. I'll pay you back for your vacuum cleaner. I'll buy you a new sofa. I'll owe you a million favors, okay?"\n\n"You're lucky, you know that?" says Millicent, chewing on a basil leaf.\n\n"I know," you say. "I know. You don't have to tell me."\n\n"No, //really// lucky," Millicent says. "Do you know how I found you? I'm not normally clairvoyant, but I got this weird, sudden premonition. For a moment, all I could see was green sparks and all I could smell was lime soda. Then this voice told me, 'Hey, your friend's on a bloodthirsty rampage,' and where to find you and how to defeat you by yanking on your antenna. So I did what it said and here we are."\n\n[["Huh," you say. "That //is// weird."|Monster8]]\n\n
You give a hiss of rage and leap at Millicent. You swipe at her with your dagger-sharp claws; you snatch at her with your paralyzing fingers. She is no longer your friend. You will spill her blood beneath the pitiless Spring sun and luxuriate in her despair. You screech and you swing your fists, but Millicent dodges your blows: she clubs you in the stomach with her broomstick, grabs one of your antennae, and twists.\n\nPain lances through your antennae; pain shoots through your skull and rattles down your spine. Pain overwhelms your senses. Your limbs hang limp; your knees wobble; your mighty wings sag to the ground. Millicent drops her broomstick, grabs hold of your other antennae, and you are undone. You cannot think. You cannot feel anything but the rough hands squeezing down on your sensitive antenna. You whimper and twitch. \n\n[["Oh," says Millicent, gasping for breath. "That actually worked."|Monster5]]
"Are you okay?" Millicent calls to the traveler.\n\nThe traveler hefts herself upright and nods groggily.\n\n"Good," says Millicent. "This sort of thing doesn't normally happen around here, by the way. I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea about our town." \n\nThe traveler does not seem convinced. She dusts off her cloak, turns her heel, and walks briskly back in the direction from whence she came, all without saying a word.\n\n"It's really a nice town!" Millicent yells after her. "I swear! Oh well." She looks you over, frowning. "And what am I going to do with you? Poor baby."\n\nKeeping a firm grip on your antenna, Millicent leads you over to her broomstick. She whistles: the broom rises up several feet above the ground and hovers there, ready to be mounted. With a bit of maneuvering, she seats you on the broomstick, then hops on herself, side-saddle. [[The two of you fly off into the distance.|Monster6]]
Glistening wings erupt from your back. Your pointed, iridescent nails sharpen to claws. You let forth a shrill scream of joy and run to your bedroom. You leap through the window; you launch yourself into the bright Spring sky. The shards of glass fall upon the earth in a glittering shower. Their sharp edges do not pierce your skin: you are invincible, unstoppable. Your violet wings shine in the sun. Your antenna taste the air for blood.\n\nThe prey has usurped the predator's airy domain. You will smite your victims from on high; you will rend them to pieces beneath the bright and unforgiving sun. You will avenge your countless, helpless brethren: the insects crushed by clumsy feet, swatted by cruel hands, torn apart for sport, mutilated for magical rituals. The two-legged tormentors will learn to fear the daylight; they will hide from the sun, and pass their every waking hour in terror. You will return the pain they have inflicted a hundred-fold! A thousand-fold!\n\nYour antenna twitch. You smell the breath and blood and foul sweat of a human being. You circle above the trees. Your vision alights a upon a lone, exposed figure: a traveler upon the road. [[You plunge from the sky like a vengeful arrow.|Monster3]]\n
Swift as a flash of sunlight, you strike. You fall to the earth; you seize the traveler's wrists and pin her to the ground. The traveler's eyes are fearful, but she cannot scream: she is frozen by terror, as well as by the mild paralytic toxin secreted from your fingertips. You uncoil your proboscis. You trace a single claw along the traveler's neck. Goosebumps prickle over her skin; her hair stands on end.\n\nBefore you slit her throat and sup upon her still-warm blood, you hesitate. Where is the jugular again? Your murderous instincts fail you. You examine the mesh of blue and purple veins beneath the traveler's pale skin, but none of them strike you as larger or more important than the rest. You suppose that, ultimately, it doesn't matter what vein or artery you open up, as long as it has blood in it. You raise a clawed hand. This is it! This will be the last sight the traveler ever sees: the glistening shroud of your wings, the cruel flicker of light upon your claws, and the high afternoon sun, aloof and merciless. You give a shriek of bloodthirsty jubilation.\n\nA heavy blow strikes the back of your skull: your shriek of joy turns to a high-pitched wail of pain. Your head rings; lights dance before your eyes. In your distraction -- in your fruitless search for the traveler's jugular vein -- you did not sense the approach of your attacker. You spin around: you see another human woman, robed, holding a broomstick like a cudgel. She smells like smoke and rosemary and granite.\n\nThe broomstick-wielding woman looks familiar. [[In fact, she looks just like your BFF, Millicent.|Monster4]]
[[You're here to punish the two-legged folk: to feast upon their blood and drink their tears of lamentation.|Monster2]]
You jolt awake, hot, aching, and sticky with stale sweat. You have a terrible crick in your neck, and a cramp in your legs. You are not entirely sure what has happened to you. Why would you -- a human adult -- be afraid of birds and parasitic wasps? Why would you swaddle yourself in towels and fall asleep in your own bathtub? What strange impulse drove you to do all of this?\n\nYou shake off the cocoon of bath-towels, stretch, and draw back the shower curtain. You climb out of the tub, and catch sight of your reflection in the bathroom mirror. <<if $bflydose is 100>> [[You cannot help but cry out, for your face is no longer your own.|Bfly3-a]]<<elseif $bflydose is 200>> [[You cannot help but cry out, for your face is no longer your own.|Bfly3-b]]<<else>> [[You cannot help but cry out, for your face is no longer your own.|Bfly3-c]]<<endif>>
Over the course of your life, you've had many worries, but you've never spent much time worrying about airborne predators. This strikes you now as a tremendous oversight: at any moment of any day, you could be killed and eaten by a bird. Wasps could lay their eggs in your stomach. //Why haven't you thought about this before?// You tremble with fear; you begin to sweat profusely. Even inside a house, you are unsafe. The specter of death hunts ceaselessly. Something important is about to happen, and you must conceal yourself. You must hide. You must hide!\n\n<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>You set down the salt-shaker and<<else>>You<<endif>> crawl into your bathtub. It is cold and damp. You shiver; your stomach twists into knots. You need to be warm, otherwise everything will be ruined. You pant for breath; you feel as though you are drowning. Then you have an idea, a wonderful idea. You run to your laundry closet and grab as many towels as you can hold. You climb back into the bathtub and draw the curtain. You bundle yourself into a cocoon of towels. Now you will be safe. Nothing will be ruined. [[You sink into contented slumber.|Bfly2]]
You arrive home in the early hours of the morning, exhausted. You were unable to free -- or even find -- the golden cassowary; you've inadvertently set into motion the final act of a centuries-old prophesy. At this very moment, Amherst is probably somewhere out there in the middle of the ocean being eaten by a dragon. Zull is tearing out Mulg's fiery, still-beating heart, or vice-versa. In distant, barren lands, epic battles are being waged and heroes are performing feats of valor. As for you, in your little house in the Woeful Woods, amidst the budding trees and new growth of Spring -- you want nothing more than to sleep.\n\n<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>You kick off your shoes and shuffle into your living room. You discover the tiny fairy outside of her salt-shaker, reading on your sofa. She sprawls atop an old pillow, and reads by the green glow of her body. She is so engrossed in her book that she doesn't even notice you until you sit down right beside her.\n\nThe fairy gives a squeal of terror and nearly falls off her pillow. "You!" she cries. "Weren't you going on an adventure?"\n\n"Calm down," you say. "I don't care if you're on the sofa. In fact, I'm glad you're awake. There's something that's been bothering me and I wanted to ask you before I went to bed. //Are prophesies real?//"\n\nThe fairy narrows her eyes. "Some people think so," she says.\n\n"But do you?"\n\n"No," says the fairy.\n\n"Neither do I!" you say. "That's why I can't make sense of anything that happened tonight!" [[You relate, briefly, your misadventures with Amherst.|Call21b]]<<else>>You shuffle to your room, strip out of your party clothes, and snuggle into bed. [[As you sleep, you dream of green bicycles and gentle rain.|Call21a]]<<endif>>
A dress comprised entirely of magical, eternally-ripe fruit. The bodice is constructed from paper-thin slices of watermelon flesh, with cherry buttons. The skirt consists of alternating bands of strawberries, kiwi slices, and orange wedges. Cherries and grapes line the skirt's hem. The dress comes with fruit-encrusted shoes and a pair of thick (seemingly normal, un-magical) green tights.\n\nThe fruit dress is not wet or sticky to the touch, as one might expect, but it smells very strongly of its component berries, oranges, and watermelon slices. It is probably edible, but you're not going try to find out one way or the other: the very idea disgusts you to your core. You acquired this awful creation in an estate sale mix-up at a late enchantress' gingerbread mansion. You've only kept it around because of how nice it makes your closet smell.\n\nAs much as you personally hate this dress, fruit is apparently a trend right now in noble circles. Several prominent ladies have been spotted wearing enchanted fruit dresses and strawberry-kiwi pumps. You're more than willing to wear this ridiculous outfit if it helps you get into Philantha's Equinox Ball. \n\n[[Back|previous()]]
The moth-person erases their board and continues: "After our initial examination, we have concluded thus: the source of Viola's chronic illness is quite simple. There are a great many rare plants in your palace, correct?"\n\n"Yes," says Philantha, "but what are you suggesting? Is she allergic to something in my collections? She doesn't spend much time in the gardens anymore."\n\n"No," the moth-person writes, "it's not allergies. It seems that young Viola has swallowed the seeds of a fairy-watermelon. They have most likely begun to sprout inside the duodenum, producing side-effects of fever, anemia, and general malaise."\n\nPhilantha's eyes widen. "There are fairy-watermelons in the East Summer Garden -- but Viola knows better than to eat things from the gardens without asking." She sits down at the little duchess' bedside; she strokes Viola's raven-dark hair. "Is it true what the doctors have said, Vi? Did you eat one of the tiny watermelons from the Summer Garden? //Did you eat it and then never tell me?//"\n\n[[Viola hides her face behind her unicorn and says nothing.|Surgery10]]
Philantha shoots you a dubious glance. "Is //this// the doctor you've been waiting for?"\n\nThe moth-person in the anemone dress scrawls on their board. At first you fear that they will betray you, but the two moth-people -- it turns out -- are not so cruel. "No," they write. "This is only a resident. It appears that Dr. [sequence of alien glyphs] has gotten lost."\n\nPhilantha's beautiful mouth twists into a scowl. "//Lost?// Then what now? Must poor Viola wait even longer? I can't play along with this nonsense all night: I have a Ball to host."\n\nThe moth-person scribbles angrily on their board. "This party is more important than your cousin's health?"\n\n"The Equinox Ball is an event of great magical importance," Philantha snaps. "It is the duty of Photogenetica's royal family to ensure the smooth transition between seasons." Her expression softens; she smiles at Viola. "Besides, Viola isn't so sick that I would need to cancel the Ball. She's a tough little soldier. Isn't that right, Vi?"\n\n"Right," Viola sweetly replies. She snuggles her chin into the unicorn's golden mane.\n\n[["Fortunately," the moth-person writes, "you are more right than you know."|Surgery9]]
The moth-person erases the board with the side of their fist and writes a new message: "We do not care about your earthly property laws. Where is our colleague?"\n\nAt this, you can only shrug. The moth-person with the dry-erase board gives a hiss of frustration; the moth-person in the lab-coat throws up their hands. The two begin to argue in their insectoid language. Little Viola pets her unicorn's mane and watches on in amusement.\n\nYou consider your options for escape. The moth-people are interesting, certainly, but you have places to be and schemes to hatch. You can't slip out the bedroom door -- not with the guard there -- but you might be able to climb out through the window and sneak back into another wing of the palace. You draw aside one of the heavy pink curtains. \n\nThe door bursts open: you startle, and jerk your hand away from the curtain. Into the bedroom strides none other than Princess Philantha herself, in a green silk dress embroidered with roses and lilies. An enormous necklace of emeralds and diamonds gleams on her chest; emerald roses dangle from her ears. A silver mask -- the face of a dryad, engraved with ivy-leaves, fringed with silver rose-thorns -- hangs from her silk sash.\n\nPhilantha's eyes are cold and bright as emeralds. [["Are you ready now?" she demands. "Or are you going to waste more of my time, on tonight of all nights?|Surgery8]]
You take out your pen and notepad. "I'm sorry," you write. "I don't understand. I don't usually have a proboscis." You display your words to the two moth-people.\n\nThe moth-people confer with one another. The one in the dress scribbles on their dry-erase board. "You are a human?" they write.\n\nYou nod. The moth-person in the lab-coat whispers something to their companion.\n\n"You are a thief?" the first moth-person writes. "You are here to steal the Princess' golden bird?"\n\nYou shake your head furiously. [["Please erase that," you write.|Surgery7]]\n\n
The two strangers are stout and human-like, with short, iridescent hair on their heads; hairy, iridescent skin; long, brown, feathered antenna; and large purple eyes. They have no mouths, only curled brown probosci. One wears a dress made of squirming purple land-anemones. The other wears tall boots and a lab-coat printed with a pattern of moons and dancing jellyfish.\n\nThe strangers have set up an array of medical equipment in Viola's room -- surgical tools, an infusion pump, and several complex, silvery instruments that you cannot recognize. The one in the dress carries a small dry-erase board, and a black marker. The one in the boots carries a spay-bottle filled with pink liquid.\n\nCould it be? Could these be two of the fabled moth-people, the genderless and highly-advanced inhabitants of the Phantom Moon? This is incredible! You've never met a moth-person before. They're said to possess extensive knowledge of magic and medicine; they're said to live in enormous cities beneath the surface of the Phantom Moon. Some of them can even read minds, at least according to cryptozoological rumor.\n\nThe moth-people eye you suspiciously. [[The one in the anemone outfit addresses you in a soft, sighing language.|Surgery6]]
You find yourself in a richly-furnished bedroom. A hot fire crackles in a pink-marble fireplace; heavy fuchsia curtains drape over a wide window. Violets bloom in a mother-of-pearl vase. Four more unicorn-head sconces hang from the walls, though these -- for whatever reason -- contain electric rather than magical lights.\n\nAt the far wall of the room lies a plush bed piled high with pillows and embroidered pink blankets. Beneath the mass of blankets, propped up by the mounds of pillows, a little girl sits. She clutches a stuffed unicorn with a mane of golden thread. Her eyes are dark and her face is thin; her hair is black as a raven's wing. She gives a weak smile when you enter, and waves her unicorn's leg at you.\n\nYou think you know who this girl is: the famous little Duchess Viola, with the raven-dark eyes and raven-dark hair, sweetheart of Photogenetica. Orphaned at a young age, the Duchess was taken in by her cousin Philantha, who has since cared for like a little sister. She is rumored to be quite delicate, prone to fever and bouts of anemia. From her flushed cheeks and thin wrists, it would seem that these rumors are true.\n\n[[Two strange figures stand at Viola's bedside.|Surgery5]]
The footman leads you through grand halls where lords and ladies dance. He leads you around enormous bouquets of hothouse flowers; beneath hanging garlands of roses and pearls; past tables laden with ripe fruit, aged cheeses, and fine pastries. You see only glimpses of Philantha's Grand Ball: the fountains of wine, the anonymous dignitaries in jeweled masks, the many-tiered arrangements of peonies and chrysanthemums, the little elves strumming their silver guitars and singing love songs. The footman hurries you past all the festivities, into a quiet hallway hung with tapestries of lily-ponds and unicorns.\n\nAt the end of the hallway, another guard stands watch at a carved wooden door. The door bears a design of unicorns, fairies, and violets. Little emeralds and pearls sparkle inside the eyes of the fairies, and in the horns of the unicorns. On either side of the door, magical lights shine in unicorn-head sconces.\n\nThe guard bows and stands aside at your approach. The footman unlocks the door and gestures you inside. You enter: the footman does not follow. [[He closes the door behind you.|Surgery4]]
The guard lowers her golden halberd and calls over a footman in rose-patterned livery. "Take this one to the others," she commands, "and be quick: the Princess is already in a nasty mood."\n\nThe footman nods and beckons you to follow him inside. You have no idea what's going on or what's going to happen to you, but at least you're being allowed into the palace. That's good, right? [[You lower your hands and hurry after the footman.|Surgery3]]
The halberd is ornamental, but the edges of its blade are still sharp. Goosebumps prickle along your arms; your blood runs icy-cold. You raise your hands in a gesture of surrender.\n\nThe guard frowns at your lithe brown antenna and slender proboscis. She raises an eyebrow at your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>lacy pink shirt<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>ridiculous fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>glowing skirt<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy-print leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>embroidered necktie<<endif>>. She gives a scoff of disgust at your shoes, which are dusty from the long hike through the Woeful Woods.\n\nThe guard does not ask for your invitation to the Ball. She does not kick you out of the palace, or prick you with her halberd. [[She simply looks you straight in the eye and says, "You're late."|Surgery2]]
body {background-color: mistyrose; color: deeppink;}\n\na.internalLink, a.externalLink {color: magenta;}\n\na.internalLink:hover, a.externalLink:hover {color: purple; text-decoration: none;}\n\n#storyTitle {color: deeppink;}\n\n#storyAuthor {color: deeppink;}\n\n#sidebar li, #sidebar li a {color: magenta;}\n\n#sidebar li:hover {color: purple;}\n\n#sidebar li a:hover {color: violet;}\n\n#credits {color: purple !important;}\n\n#passages {border-left: 0;}
"When you first start out astral projecting, you should only do it for fifteen, twenty, minutes at a time," you say. "What if you had a negative psychic reaction to this plane? What if you got stuck in the void between worlds? You would have been trapped in the swirling nothingness for eight hours!" \n\n"I'm sorry!" says the woman. "I wasn't thinking it through! It's just, I didn't have any extra leave time to go on vacation this year, and I had bought this dumb book, so I thought to myself "//Hey, if my body can't go anywhere, I'll just project my mind somewhere interesting//!" The book said this plane was a "charming fairy-tale world," so I figured it would be really fun: I could spend all night here. But now I'm caught in this boring bookshelf, and I guess I'll be here until morning. These aren't even magical books or anything! They're just regular books on management techniques! What are these even doing in an enchanted castle?"\n\n"Well," you say. "It looks like you're in the business section: that's why. Look, I'm not an expert on astral projection or anything, but maybe I can still think of some way to get you out of this shelf." You take hold of the woman's hands. "What if I just tried to pull you out?"\n\n"Some guards came by a while ago and did that," she says. "I think they wanted to arrest me or something? It didn't work though: they just gave up."\n\n"Yes," you say. "But there are organisms from your plane growing on my body." You glance up at the vines on your head. "Astral projections are attracted to matter from their native plane, so maybe you'll be drawn //towards// me and //away from// the bookshelf. It's worth a try."\n\nYou pull the woman towards you; she grips your hands tightly. [[She begins to emerge from the shelf.|Call7]]
You stride into the grand vestibule at summit of the stairs. No one asks for your invitation; no one bars your way. Every guard, servant, and party-guest stares at you in awe. "Is that the heiress presumptive to the Fairy Throne?" an old dowager whispers, more loudly, perhaps, than she realizes.\n\n"No," replies a young man in a gold-lace tunic, "I think they're one of the children of the High Fairy Magistrate. Or perhaps the Prince of the Stardust Castle?"\n\n"Such wonderful fashion sense!" remarks a bright-eyed lady. From her pink cheeks and the sway of her step, it appears that she is already -- somehow -- tipsy. "The Noble Fairies are such a lovely people. So unlike their vulgar tiny cousins!"\n\nThe crowds of nobles and palace staff gaze longingly at your beauty, but allow you a wide berth: they, like the passengers on the train, think that you are some sort of royal fairy, capricious and dangerous. One bolder servant offers you a flute of wine, which you wordlessly accept. Another offers you something called a "dance card," which you refuse. [[You enter the the flower-wreathed guest halls of Philantha's palace.|Cassowary1]]
"Poor baby," says Millicent. She hugs you as you enter, and pats you on the back. (The fairy, scowling, dodges out of the way.) "You look terrible. Do you want some rooibos?"\n\n"That would be nice," you say. "By the way, Millie, //I'm really sorry about this//."\n\n"Don't worry about it," Millicent reassures you. "I was just having a boring night at home, anyway."\n\nMarie hops up the stairs behind you; she eyes Millicent's robes, and the magical lanterns in the foyer. "Are you a witch?" she asks. "Why are you two being so friendly? You aren't both in cahoots, are you?"\n\n"I am a witch," says Millicent. "And I've never met this star before in my life. Why would I have? I'm just an extremely affectionate person." To prove it, she hugs Marie around her snowy chest.\n\nMarie ruffles her feathers in annoyance. "Where's your pointed hat, then?"\n\n"I don't really know," says Millicent. "Probably in a closet somewhere? I only like to wear it at formal events."\n\n"And your flying broomstick?" asks Marie.\n\nMillicent whistles. A broomstick floats down the tower's central staircase, drifts into the foyer, and hovers at her side.\n\n"I guess I can overlook your missing hat," says Marie. "Are you going to lead me to the mystical land of dreams?"\n\n[["Well," says Millicent, "not exactly."|Team19]]
"She's still on my shoulder," you say. "She's just being quiet."\n\n"Really?" says Millicent. She rummages through one of her drawers and locates her pair of blue-lensed magic-canceling goggles. She straps the goggles over her head and stares at your shoulder. "Oh, there you are!" she exclaims. "Look at your cute little wings and your perfect little dress!"\n\nThe fairy's eyes flash; she bares her glowing fangs. "I'm not //cute//," she snarls.\n\n"You are cute," says Millicent, "with your little pointed teeth and tiny round antenna. There's nothing wrong with being cute. Why are you keeping this adorable little fairy prisoner, anyway?" she asks you. "You should set her free so she can frolic in the Woods with the other flower fairies."\n\n"I don't //frolic//!" screams the fairy. "//And I don't need your human mercy!//" [[She flutters down to the seat of the chair, hides behind you, and remains stubbornly silent for the rest of the night.|Team31]]
After you and Millicent spend some time catching up, you go to bed. You sleep on the floor of Millicent's living room, on the inflatable mattress, in a pair of borrowed pajamas. The tiny fairy sits and reads nearby, in an old red armchair. You assume she'll read there all night: as far as you can tell, she never sleeps.\n\n"Good night," you tell her. "Good luck finishing your novel."\n\nThe fairy -- still furious at being called "cute" -- gives a "hmpth" of disgust and ignores you.\n\nAs soon as you lay down on the mattress and curl beneath the warm blankets, you sink into a deep slumber. You dream feverish dreams of doves and spiders.\n\nWhen you finally awake, late in the morning, your silver hives have vanished. The magical light has faded from your skin and hair; your fever has broken; your sinuses have cleared. Your throat is still a bit scratchy, but otherwise your symptoms have completely subsided. The fairy still reads on the armchair, exactly where she was when you fell asleep. She has not, in fact, finished her book, but she has gotten close. "Good morning," she says, somewhat grudgingly. "You feel better?"\n\n"I do!" you say. [[You stretch and head downstairs for breakfast.|Team32]]
Your schemes at Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball were foiled before they even truly began, but things aren't so bad. You and Millicent make pancakes for breakfast; the two of you spend a nice weekend together (along with the tiny fairy, who rides on your shoulder). Millicent helps you fix your broken window; you both travel to the local library, read through the atlas, and discover that there is indeed a kingdom of giant doves out there, on a distant floating island; you stroll through town, and buy the tiny fairy a collection of postmodernist short stories at an outdoor book fair. "It's a human-sized book, though," you say. "So you might have trouble flipping through it. I could read it to you, if you wanted."\n\n"//I think I'll manage//," says the tiny fairy, venomously.\n\n"I'm really not trying to be condescending!" you say. "Sorry!"\n\n"Are you two bickering again?" asks Millicent. "That's sweet: you're like a pair of siblings, or a married couple." The fairy makes a variety of esoteric and extremely rude hand-gestures, but of course Millicent, with her goggles off, does not see.\n\nAs evening falls, you and Millicent buy dinner at a grilled-eel stand by the Goblin River; you eat at a picnic table and watch ducks paddle through the calm brown water. The air is rich with the scents of earth and smoke and violets. Pale leaves unfurl from the mud; daffodils nod in the shade; new buds adorn the boughs of tulip trees. Soon the buds will blossom. The barren trees will grow lush and green. Summer will come, and warmer days, and new adventures. For now, you're content with the quiet babble of the river, the sweet Spring flowers, and friendly company. [[You and Millicent laugh together, and talk until long after sunset.|Ending6]]
After a brief shouting match and an uncomfortable session of questions-and-answers, your parents insist that you stay the night: it is late, you are far from the Woeful Woods, and they won't hear any excuses. You go to bed in your old room, on a couch piled with quilts. Your old sheets and mattress are long gone. Shortly after you moved out, your parents sold your furniture and converted your room into a storage area: in the intervening years, it has filled with all manner of boxes and storage bins and unfinished DIY projects. The cassowary makes a little nest of blankets atop a broken chair and curls up nearby. She falls asleep quickly and dreams, presumably, of school.\n\nIn the morning, you awake to find the cassowary riffling through a box of your childhood books and toys. "Look!" she exclaims. "I found a little microscope and a kids' encyclopedia and a plastic dragon!" She has already torn apart several of your old stuffed animals with her sharp golden beak; she has managed to pop the heads off several of your dolls. You rescue your remaining intact toys, scoop up the cassowary, and head downstairs to eat.\n\nBreakfast passes as badly as you expect. Your parents demand to know why you never visit and what you're doing at their house //now// when you're a wanted criminal and when you're going to get a real job. "Are you still living at the edge of that awful forest?" they ask. "What happened to that nice girlfriend of yours who worked at the dress store?" You stare into your scrambled eggs and occasionally grunt a monosyllabic reply. \n\nYour parents think you're just as much of a disappointment as ever, but they //adore// the golden cassowary. They fawn over her precious dark eyes and the little bald-spot on her forehead. They marvel as she chatters about books and uses a fork with one of her three-toed feet. "You're so smart!" they say. "Such a sweet, inquisitive little girl. //This one// used to be sweet, way back when: we don't know //what// happened."\n\nBy mid-morning your parents and the cassowary are already discussing local schools. They talk excitedly about girl-scout troops and sports and summer camps. [[They all look very happy together.|Cassowary19]]\n
With your parents distracted by the cassowary, you make yourself scarce. You won't need to worry anymore about the cassowary's fate: your parents will probably be signing adoption papers within the week, and have her enrolled in a prestigious elementary school by next Fall, at latest. You buy a bus ticket and head back home in your wrinkled party clothes. You ignore the curious stares of passers-by.\n\nWhen you finally return to your house in the Woeful Woods, hours later, <<if $fairyhelp > 0>>you catch the tiny fairy outside of her salt-shaker, reading atop a pillow on your sofa. Engrossed in her tiny novel, the fairy doesn't notice you until you're almost right next to her. She gives a yelp of surprise and topples off the pillow.\n\n"I - I didn't expect you to be back yet," the fairy stammers. "I thought it would take you longer to escape Philantha's dungeons -- a few days, at least!"\n\n"Don't worry," you say. "You can stay on the sofa. I don't really care." You limp off to the bathroom, strip out of your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>pink shirt<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>ruffled dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>formal wear<<endif>> and take a long shower. \n\nOnce you dry yourself off, fix yourself a strong pot of oolong, and eat some leftover cookies that you snuck from the Ball, you start to feel better. [[You sit down next to the fairy and vent.|Cassowary20]]<<else>>you strip out of your <<if $outfit is "pinkshirt">>pink shirt<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>fruit dress<<elseif $outfit is "witch">>ruffled dress<<elseif $outfit is "leggings">>galaxy leggings<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>formal wear<<endif>> and take a long shower. Once you dry off, fix yourself a strong pot of oolong, and eat some leftover cookies that you snuck from the Ball, you start to feel more like yourself again. Your night at Philantha's palace was a fiasco, but at least some good came of it. The once-captive golden cassowary is now free and happy; you will most likely, in the near future, have a new little sibling. \n\nYou try to feel glad for the cassowary, but you can't. You guess you're just selfish: you can only think of how much more awkward family holidays will be from now on. You suppose you'll have to start sending the cassowary a card every year for her birthday, whenever that might be. You'll have to show up to graduations and school plays. You'll have to offer emotional support and sage life advice and do whatever else it is that big siblings do.\n\nYou look out your kitchen window, at your garden and the Woods beyond. The trees are awash in golden light. Flowers bud on barren branches; green stalks push their way through the muck of rotting leaves. Tiny fairies dart through the shadows. Goblins carve shrines from fallen logs. Whatever troubles may come in the future, for now, at least, all is green and slow and quiet. [[You sip your tea and relax.|Ending3]]<<endif>>
"Good luck," you write in your notepad. "I'm going to leave now." You wave goodbye to the two moth-doctors, and to little Viola; you draw aside the pink curtains and begin to unlatch the window. Before you can escape to the palace grounds, the moth-person in the lab-coat whistles and gestures for your attention.\n\nThe moth-person borrows their colleague's marker and board and begins to write in bold, compact letters: "No. Put all of that back. It will be suspicious if you are not here when the Princess returns."\n\n"You'll get caught!" squeals Viola. She's been paying closer attention to the past few minute's proceedings than you thought. "Philantha will lock you all in the dungeon for a hundred years!"\n\n"It would be especially difficult for us," the moth-person writes. "How would we explain your absence?"\n\nThe moth-person (and Viola) make a good point. The two doctors have taken a risk, covering for you. If you sneak out now, they'll be in trouble. If you manage to carry out your bird-snatching scheme, they'll essentially be your accomplices. "But what can I do?" you write.\n\nThe moth-person does not answer. They set aside their writing implements and open up a silvery-vinyl doctor's bag. From the bag, they remove a folded-up set of scrubs, a surgical mask, a cap, and a pair of latex gloves. The scrubs are pink, with a pattern of happy spiders and seashells. \n\nThe moth-doctor forces the clothes into your arms. [[You realize where this is going, and you don't like it.|Surgery13]]
The grevillea bush will offer you little protection from the Princess' guards. The golden cassowary isn't //technically// Philantha's rightful property in the first place, so what you've done isn't //technically// stealing, but you doubt Philantha will see things that way. At best, she'll lock you up for trespassing. At worst, she'll ignore due process and have the guards toss you straight into the venomous leech pit.\n\nUnless you can tunnel through the floor or somehow climb out through the high glass ceiling, you are trapped. The conservatory is enclosed on all four sides by smooth, solid marble walls. The locked door is the only exit. You already hear the guards closing in on you: their shouts echo in not-too-distant corridors.\n\nYour frenzied brain hatches an idea. It's a long shot, but you may still be able to bluff your way to safety. The guards think you're a Noble Fairy. You could threaten to curse them with red-hot feet or turn them into frogs: they won't know that you're lying. Perhaps you can scare them badly enough to escape capture.\n\nConfronting the guards is your only choice. You steady your breathing and wipe the sweat from your forehead. [[As you do, one of your antenna falls off into your hand.|Cassowary13]]
Your second antennae flutters to the ground like a shriveled-up leaf. The iridescence fades from your skin; your hair turns dull. Pain lances through your face as your bones migrate and your nose broadens and your lips thin. The effects of the butterfly block fade quickly: you revert to your normal, unintimidating appearance. \n\nYour last hope for escape vanishes: you are well and truly doomed. [[The leech pit awaits.|Cassowary14]]
While you were freeing the cassowary from her cage, the conservatory door -- somehow, silently -- slid shut behind you. The bars of a curious lock mechanism now fix the door in place. The mechanism is wrought from a pale, iridescent metal: fairy metal, magical and virtually unbreakable. Its bars converge upon a wide, flat panel dotted with rows and rows of metal buttons, each engraved with a letter of the fairy alphabet. Atop the rows of buttons, a fierce metal face glowers.\n\nA voice sounds through the face's open, unmoving lips: "Any can enter. The trick is to leave./Spell out the password, to prove you're not thieves."\n\n"//I'm// not a thief!" the cassowary chirps. "And //they// aren't either. They're taking me to school. Let us through!"\n\nThe metal face simply repeats its poem. "It's just a fairy lock," you explain to the cassowary. "You can't actually talk to it."\n\n"Then how will I make it school!" cries the cassowary. "What password is it talking about?"\n\n"Don't worry," you say. "I've seen plenty of locks like this before. They're tricky to reprogram: no one ever bothers to change the password from the default."\n\nYou input a sequence of button presses, spelling out "Titania," the name of the first Fairy Queen, who reigned for a million years before being disposed by the current Fairy Queen who (like all living fairies) is nameless. The Noble Fairies believe that Titania's soul persists as a sort of goddess of creative inspiration: they incorporate her name into all their magical workings, usually as a pass-code or activation key. Guessing fairy passwords and safe-combinations is never a difficult endeavor.\n\nYou press the final button, and wait. [[The lock mechanism does not open.|Cassowary11]]
"Strange," you mutter. "That usually works. It's okay, though. The system gives you three failed attempts before it sets off an alarm. We could try another password or maybe --"\n\nBefore you can even finish speaking, the eyes of the metal face begin to flash red: the unmoving mouth emits a sinister hiss. Klaxons sound in the distance. You hear a series of ugly metallic clicks as dozens of search-lamps, one after another, ignite. Harsh white light floods the conservatory.\n\nThe cassowary gives a high-pitched twitter of surprise; she grips your arm tightly. "But you just said --"\n\n"Three tries is the default setting, at least!" You shield your eyes against the blinding lights, and run from the angry fairy lock. At the far end of the conservatory, you scramble to the ground and hide beneath the branches of a grevillea bush. [[Your mind races.|Cassowary12]]
You sit atop soft carpet, on the floor of a warm, dark room. A electric nightlight glows gently over floral-patterned armchairs and low wooden tables. A familiar old grandfather clock ticks in the corner; a philodendron grows in a ceramic pot. The room smells of furniture polish and cooking spices and worn, comfortable upholstery. \n\nYou and the cassowary are safe. [[There's only one problem: this isn't your house.|Cassowary17]]
<<set $fairyhelp += 1>>You suppose that the fairy's advice is as good as any: it's not as if you can think of anything better yourself. You venture down the hallway, rummage through your utility closet, and return to the bathroom with a square of fine-grain sandpaper. With a bit of careful maneuvering, you manage to file down your nails' jagged edges. The thin sheet of sandpaper offers less resistance than a nail file or emery board -- which takes some getting used to -- but it does the job. You wash the nail-dust from your fingertips and examine your newly-manicured hands.\n\nYour nails are smoother than they were before, but they are still quite short and dull. Given the mirror's continued silence, you assume that your hands are not yet beautiful. You consider pestering the fairy for more advice when you're struck by a devious idea. You take out your tube of unscented, untinted lip balm and rub a dollop of balm over each fingernail. This produces an effect almost like that of clear polish, only greasier. You wonder if the mirror will be taken in by your clever ruse.\n\nThe mirror is indeed fooled. Though well-endowed with eyes, its vision must be rather poor. [[It begins to recite again.|Bathroom4]]
Wait! There //is// one other way you could escape. You don't like it, but what else can you do? Philantha's guards are already unlocking the conservatory door. They will be upon you in minutes.\n\n[[You can either hope that Philantha is merciful, or waste your one and only wish.|Cassowary15]]
You hug the golden cassowary close. "I wish that both of us were safe at my house in the Woeful Woods right now!"\n\n"So do I!" wails the cassowary. "We're going to be caught, and then I'll never get to go to school!"\n\n"No," you say, "you don't understand! I want to use my wish: the wish I get for setting you free!"\n\n"Oh," says the cassowary. "You know about that? But I've never done a wish before."\n\n"Then try!" you say. "This is the //only// way you'll //ever// get to school!"\n\nThe cassowary scrunches up her eyes and concentrates. Her feathers ruffle; her golden body begins to emit a pale, warm light. Little sparks of magic crackle all around her. \n\n"I think I've got it!" the cassowary cries. Golden light envelops you. The wailing of the klaxons fades; the yells of the guards fall silent. The powerful scents of grevillea and eucalyptus vanish. [[When the light dissipates, you are no longer in Philantha's conservatory.|Cassowary16]]
<<set $fairydose += 20>>Before now, you've only ever used fairy dust in household applications -- repairing broken ceramics, cleaning rust from metal hinges, curing plants of root-rot, removing smudges from window-panes, and so forth. But fairy dust is safe for cosmetic use as well: the drug stores like to advertise it as a gentle, easy alternative to make-up or esthetic treatments. You pick up the salt-shaker and sprinkle a small quantity of fairy-dust onto your face, just enough to produce a visible glittery coating over your skin. Throughout the whole process of being inverted and jostled about, the fairy inside the shaker says nothing. She continues to read her tiny book, never once looking up from the page. She likes to pretend you don't exist.\n\nClosing your eyes and clicking your heels, you wish very hard that your face wasn't oily. When you open your eyes again, the oil on your skin has vanished: the shimmery coat of fairy dust has likewise disappeared. Your face is now perfectly matte and dry. How convenient!\n\n[[The mirror appears satisfied with what you've done.|Bathroom2]]
<<set $fairydose += 20>><<if $fairydose is 20>>Before now, you've only ever used fairy dust in household applications -- repairing broken ceramics, cleaning rust from metal hinges, curing plants of root-rot, removing smudges from window-panes, and so forth. But fairy dust is safe for cosmetic use as well: the drug stores like to advertise it as a gentle, easy alternative to make-up or esthetic treatments. You pick up the salt-shaker and sprinkle a pinch of fairy dust onto your fingertips, just enough to produce a glittery coating over your nails. Throughout the whole process of being inverted and jostled about, the tiny fairy inside the shaker ignores you. She never once looks up from the pages of her tiny book. She likes to pretend you don't exist.<<else>>You sprinkle a bit of fairy dust over each fingernail. The little flower fairy ignores you, as always.<<endif>>\n\nClosing your eyes and hopping up and down three times, you wish that your fingernails were neat and smooth. To help the magic along, you visualize the desired result in your mind's eye: you'd like your nails to be a bit longer -- but not uncomfortably long --, well-filed, and just a little glossy. When you open your eyes, you see that your nails have become just as you envisioned. They have grown ever-so-slightly longer; their jagged edges and vertical ridges have evened out into glossy smoothness. The fairy dust on your fingertips, having been magically expended, has disappeared. Your hands look clean and manicured.<<if $fairydose is 20>> How convenient!<<else>> Well, that was easy!<<endif>>.\n\nThe magic mirror is pleased with your glossy nails. [[It winks a violet eye and begins to recite again.|Bathroom4]]\n
<<set $fairydose += 20>><<if $fairydose is 20>>Before now, you've only ever used fairy dust in household applications -- repairing broken ceramics, cleaning rust from metal hinges, curing plants of root-rot, removing smudges from window-panes, and so forth. But fairy dust is safe for cosmetic use as well: the drug stores like to advertise it as a gentle, easy alternative to make-up or esthetic treatments. You pick up the salt-shaker and sprinkle a pinch of fairy dust onto your fingertips. Throughout the whole process of being inverted and jostled about, the tiny fairy inside the shaker ignores you. She never once looks up from the pages of her tiny book. She likes to pretend you don't exist.\n\nYou rub a bit of the fairy-dust beneath each eye, just enough to produce a thin, glittery coating over your skin. Closing your eyes and crossing your fingers, you wish very hard that didn't have dark circles under your eyes. When you open your eyes again, you see that your dark circles have vanished: the shimmery coat of fairy dust has likewise disappeared. How convenient!<<else>>You sprinkle a pinch of fairy dust onto your fingertips, then rub a bit of the dust beneath each eye. The tiny fairy gives a little groan of annoyance at being picked up and tipped over again, but otherwise continues to ignore you.\n\nSqueezing your eyes shut and crossing your fingers, you wish -- truly and deeply -- that there were no dark circles beneath your eyes. When you open your eyes again, the dark circles are gone. The coating of fairy dust has likewise vanished. How simple!<<endif>>\n\n[[The mirror, pleased, begins to recite again.|Bathroom3]]\n
The woman wears a green silk dress embroidered with roses and lilies. Emeralds and diamonds sparkle at her throat; emerald roses dangle from her ears. Her silver mask bears the face of a dryad. Engraved ivy-leaves pattern the dryad's skin; silver rose-thorns protrude from its cheekbones, and frame the contours of its face. Its ears are pointed; its mouth fanged; its brow melancholy.\n\nYou back up against the far wall of the gallery. You do not know how long this woman has been following you, or why. Has she been trailing you since the very moment you left the party? How did she manage to creep unseen and unheard through the wide marble halls of the palace? Is she one of the Princess' guards? Is she some malevolent sorceress?\n\nThe woman removes her mask, and your stomach turns. [[She is none other than Philantha herself.|Ritual6]]
"The seer predicted that my million-year reign would one day be cut short by an usurper: a odious dragon with scales of emerald. I was to be ousted from my rightful throne and -- worse! -- imprisoned by human hands." Zull grimaces at the memory. "I asked the seer how I might avoid this terrible fate, but she insisted there was nothing I could do, other than prepare for my inexorable demise.\n\n"I was arrogant, then," says Zull. "I believed that I was above fate. I said many venomous words, and dismissed the seer from her post. I convinced myself that her prophesy was false; that she was jealous of my power. And to think -- she had been my most trusted friend and adviser for millenia! Of course, inevitably, her prophesy came to pass. The exile, vile Mulg of the emerald scales, returned to the Dragon Isle and stole my throne through treachery. I was driven from my home, into human territory.\n\n"I thought I had escaped Mulg," continues Zull, "but danger awaited me in the human lands. The wicked Princess Porphyria, paid off by Mulg's supporters, captured me in my sleep, and imprisoned me in this marble dungeon. I have remained here since, alone and powerless. There is no daylight in this place, but I know from the rumblings of the ground that a great many years have passed. Porphyria is surely dead, replaced by another. None have ventured into this room for decades.\n\n"I had begun to think that I was truly forsaken," says Zull, "doomed to live the rest of my immortal life in isolation. But now //you// have arrived, and changed everything.\n\n[["You see, there was another half to the seer's prophesy."|Call14]]
With your green skin and plant-like coiffure, you resemble the people of that far-off, rainy world where you first obtained the scrubby lump. Clearly, the scrubby lump is the source of your sudden, strange transformation. Perhaps this is even its intended purpose: to deepen the green tones of the skin and produce a lush growth of foliage.\n\nNow that you've recovered from the shock of loosing your hair, you give yourself a good look-over in the bathroom mirror. You can't say that you look //bad//, exactly. In fact, you may well look nicer than you did before. The red flowers on your head are very pretty, like spider lilies. The glossy leaves are probably an improvement over your real hair, which was, admittedly, somewhat stupid-looking.<<if $pink is "periorbital">> Even better, the ridiculous pink stains beneath your eyes have vanished.<<elseif $pink is "fingers">> Even better, the ridiculous pink stains on your fingertips have vanished.<<else>> Your lashes are long and feminine and you exude a pleasant, cucumbery odor.<<endif>>\n\nThey say that Philantha has a great fondness for plants. You wonder if you might still gain entry to the Equinox Ball. You notice the magic mirror giving you a sideways glance.\n\n[["Well," you ask the mirror, "do you think I'm beautiful now?"|Lump4]]
The tendrils sprout from your flesh and grow rapidly. Along the margins of your eyes, they develop into long, curving greenish-white spines, like the needles of a cactus. Along your brow, they unfurl round, pea-green leaves. The tendrils on your scalp lengthen and branch and tangle together: they throw out glossy leaves and clusters of tiny buds in umbels. The buds fan open into red flowers with long, red stamens. \n\nIn place of eyelashes, you now have cactus-spines; in place of eyebrows, you have neat patches of clover. A wild mass of foliage covers your head. Green tendrils twine around your ears; red umbels ornament your leafy temples. [[A strong vegetal odor, like grass and cucumber, wafts from the red blossoms.|Lump3]]
<<set $trait to "plant">>You've lived an eventful life and seen many things and experienced all sorts of magical mishaps. Despite that, when all of your hair instantly, inexplicably sheds from your scalp, you have to try very hard not to panic. Your hair lands upon the bathroom floor in an ugly pile. You are suddenly very bald: you can see every lump and scar and pimple on your head. Your scalp itches and prickles, as though insects were wriggling beneath your skin.\n\nThe hairs begin to shed from your eyebrows and eyelids. You give a wordless cry of frustration: several fallen lashes work their way into your eyes and sting horribly. You duck your head into the sink and wash out your eyes: you rub away the fallen hairs clinging to your cheeks. You scrub helplessly at your prickling, burning skin.\n\nWhen you finally turn off the water, and look at yourself in the bathroom mirror, you see that your skin has blushed a deep green. Your body has become evenly green throughout: your face is moss-green, as are your arms, your legs, your finger- and toenails, your torso, your scalp, your pimples, your teeth and tongue. The whites of your eyes have turned leaf-green; your irises are a lush emerald. [[In the places where your hair has fallen, green tendrils push their way through the skin.|Lump2]]
The note reads as follows, in dark, compact handwriting: "Thank you for your helpfulness. You have a strong constitution: many untrained persons would have become squeamish in your situation. The Duchess Viola is recovering well and has commissioned this statue as a token of her gratitude. We do not know what to do with it. We do not share the human enthusiasm for gold or physical art objects. Please take care of it for us."\n\nThe message is signed with three lines of alien glyphs.\n\nYou squint at the towering statue. It is cast from very pale, shining gold. Its eyes are emeralds; its horn, hooves, mane, and tail are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It is at once finely-rendered and incredibly tasteless. You wonder if you'll ever be able to remove it from your yard. You wonder how the moth-people delivered it to your house -- overnight, without you knowing -- in the first place. [[More importantly, //how did they find out where you live?//|Surgery22]]
Millicent leads you and Marie up the granite staircase, to her combination study and spell-casting room. You sit down at Millicent's worktable, in an old wooden chair with carved dragon-feet; Marie -- who is much too large for a human chair -- stands. Millicent riffles through her bookshelves and pulls out a stack of her old class materials: a battered, meticulously-labeled notebook; a folder stuffed with journal articles; several dog-eared textbooks bound in iridescent paper. She lays out the books and papers on the table for Marie's perusal.\n\n"These are all from my Oneirology and Dream Manipulation class, back in undergrad," Millicent explains. "One of our course topics was dream recall -- or in other words, what happens to dreams after waking. If you look here and here," she says, flipping one of the textbooks open to a spread of fMRI images, "you can see the sections of the brain that become most active during recollection of a dream. So I guess you could say that these parts of the brain are where dreams 'go' during the day?"\n\n"So this is what I needed to seek out for my quest?" asks Marie. "A bunch of lit-up portions of a brain? That's not very romantic. That's not very exciting."\n\n"It's not?" says Millicent. "I don't know: I think it's interesting. But if you wanted something a little more mystical ..." She opens up a drawer and removes a bronze, kaleidoscope-like instrument. "I still have my old dream-analyzer. You can record up to ten dreams into it and they stay there, even during the daytime."\n\nShe sets the dream-analyzer onto the table and Marie peers inside. [["Oh!" says Marie. "This person is being chased by a giant spider for some reason."|Team21]]
The mirror answers you in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Do I think? Dear friend, I know!\nYou're //much// prettier than five minutes ago. \nWith your flowers so bold and your hair so unique, \nYour lashes so fine and your green skin so sleek. \nYour overall look is exotic and lovely.\nI'm sorry I ever implied you were ugly."\n\n<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>You tap a finger against the fairy's salt shaker. "Did you hear that? It looks like my luck is finally turning around. Even the stuck-up mirror is apologizing."\n\nThe fairy peers over the top of her book. "It looks like you're an idiot with a shrub growing out of your skull," she says. "But whatever. I don't really care what you do to yourself: just leave me alone."\n\nThe fairy's sass does little to dampen your good mood.<<else>>"Then I'm beautiful enough to go to Philantha's Grand Ball?" you ask.\n\nThe mirror bats its purple lashes at you. "With your beautiful flowers and rare coloration,/ I believe you'd be welcome at any occasion."\n\nYour heart soars.<<endif>> Now that you've been successfully made-over, things will be easy. [[In but a few hours, you'll be ready for the Ball.|Lunch]]
"It is!" agrees Marie. "How about this? 'After weeks of strife, Princess Marie located the three mystical artifacts, learned to believe in herself, and thus regained her true shape.' That has a good sound to it, doesn't it?"\n\n"A nice, straightforward story," says Millicent, nodding.\n\n"I really wasn't going to betray you," you insist. "This is what I was talking about: I don't understand why you don't just tru --"\n\n"Hush!" snaps Marie. "You're shifty and your improvisational skills are bad: you could learn a thing or two from your friends here, the witch the fairy." \n\n"I'm not //shifty//," you say. "And hold on a minute -- //what//?"\n\nMarie offers no further reply. [[Silently -- gracefully -- she leaps from the parapet and flies off into the night.|Team28]]
Atop the roof of the tower, the wind blows colder than ever: grey clouds conceal the moon and stars. Marie stands on the parapet and gazes up at the sky. "It's a shame that you can't see the moon -- or better yet, that the moon isn't full. How beautiful would that be: the moonlight shining on my lovely fair feathers?" She turns to face you and Millicent. "Oh, and another thing! What about the moral?"\n\n"Beg pardon?" says Millicent.\n\n"The moral that I've learned from this quest!" says Marie. "Every good quest has a life lesson at the end."\n\n"What about trust?" you suggest. "Maybe you've learned to trust in other people and not rush to judgment?" \n\n"You keep trying to sell this whole 'trust' moral," says Marie, "but I'm not convinced. You //definitely// would have betrayed me if I hadn't kept such a close eye on you all night. If anything, a better moral would be to //not// trust other people. Oh, but that's too cynical for a princess' quest. I need something uplifting."\n\n[[Millicent snaps her fingers. "I know! What about believing in yourself? That's a solid moral for a quest."|Team27]]
Marie spreads her wings, fans her tail, and glances around, presumably in search of another window to launch herself through. Much to her disappointment, Millicent's tower is windowless. She folds her wings to her sides and stares at the two of you expectantly.\n\n"Um, if you want to take off from somewhere," says Millicent, "you can use the roof. That's where I usually take off on my broomstick."\n\n"A tower roof!" says Marie. "That would be perfect! I wasn't paying attention when I flew in: are there gargoyles up there? A picturesque pointed spire? Mystical statues and carvings?"\n\n"Actually, it's just a plain, flat roof," says Marie. "There's a little parapet around it, I guess."\n\n"It'll have to do," says Marie. "I've been making such good time, I can probably soar off into the clouds and reunite with my prince before the night's over. Oh! My feathers are standing on end just thinking about it!" [[She bustles upstairs, leaving you and Millicent to hurry after.|Team26]]
Marie blinks her beady black eyes. She stares down at her pink feet; she examines her soft wings and slender feathered tail.\n\n[["I did it!" she cries. "I broke the spell! I'm my real self again!"|Team25]]
A cocoon of pale, pearly light engulfs Marie. Golden lightning arcs through the air; the smell of roses and marsh-water fills the room.\n\nWhen the light and the static and the pungent odors finally fade, Marie stands before you, changed. [[She is no longer an enormous snowy owl, but an equally enormous white dove.|Team24]]
While Marie toggles through the contents of the dream-recorder, Millicent disappears to her kitchen. She returns some time later with a tray of three teacups. All three of the cups are filled with rooibos, but the liquid in one is noticeably darker than that in the others, with a slightly iridescent, magical sheen.\n\nMillicent hands you one of the normal cups of rooibos. You sip at it thankfully. She sits the enchanted cup on the table, next to Marie. "Here you go," she says. "Sorry it took so long to steep."\n\nMarie looks up from the dream recorder. She squints at the teacup. "Is this some kind of magical potion?" she asks.\n\n"No!" says Millicent. "Why would you think so?"\n\n"I just don't know what a 'rooibos' is," says Marie. "It's not some sort of magical decoction?"\n\n"Oh. No," says Millicent. "It's just a tisane made from the leaves of the red bush plant, which isn't magic. This is actually a blend with rose petals and rose hips in it."\n\n"Really," says Marie. She dips her beak into the cup and drinks. "It's alright, I suppose."\n\nFor a moment, nothing happens. Marie continues to stare into the dream-recorder. You and Millicent clutch your drinks and exchange nervous glances. The tiny fairy -- still perched on your shoulder -- silently reads her book. Then, a faint, pearly light begins to shine at the tips of Marie's feathers. Her beak and talons begin to glow from the inside out.\n\nMarie gives a hoot of surprise, leaps away from the table, and flares her wings. [["I can feel something happening!" she exclaims.|Team23]]
"Yeah," says Millicent. "My old lab partner's dreams are still in there. He was a nice warlock, but he really struggled with arachnophobia. Our Illusions and Fabrications class was especially hard for him, what with the professor being a spider-woman."\n\n"Does pressing these buttons change the dream?" asks Marie. She gives one of the buttons in question an experimental tap with her beak, and peaks into the dream-recorder's lens. "Oh, it did! There are spiders coming out of a vending-machine now." She watches the dream intently.\n\nMillicent winks at you. [["Anyway," she says to Marie, "while you're looking through that, would you like me to make you some rooibos?"|Team22]]\n
You arrive home in the early hours of the morning, cold and exhausted. <<if $fairyhelp is 2>>You kick off your uncomfortable party shoes, shuffle into your living room, and discover the tiny fairy reading on your sofa. She is outside of her salt-shaker, snuggled atop an old pillow. She has not turned on any lights; she reads by the gentle green glow of her body. She is so engrossed in her novel that she doesn't even notice you until you are almost right next to her. \n\nWhen the fairy sees you, she gives a yelp of surprise and snaps her book shut. "You!" she exclaims. "I thought -- !" She pauses, and looks you over. "Hey, were you involved in some kind of magical ritual?"\n\n"Yes!" you say. "It was horrible and I'm going to bed." As you stomp off to your bedroom, you yell back to the tiny fairy. "You can stay on the sofa, if you want: I don't really care!" \n\nYou change into your pajamas, curl up beneath the warm covers, and fall into a deep sleep. [[You dream of ice and swirling snow; of flowers trapped in frost.|Ritual14b]]<<else>>You kick off your uncomfortable party shoes, change into your pajamas, and curl up beneath the warm, familiar covers of your bed. You fall into a deep sleep. [[As you sleep, you dream of ice and swirling snow; of flowers trapped in frost.|Ritual14a]]<<endif>>
As you sit in the claw-footed chair and finish your rooibos, Millicent examines the silver hives on your arm. "I've never seen a reaction to fairy dust before," she says, "not even in a textbook. But if it's anything like an allergic reaction to mermaid scales or dragon tongue, you can probably just sleep it off."\n\n"I //feel// like I could fall asleep right now," you say. "I guess I really wasn't up for an adventure tonight."\n\n"You can spend the night here and turn in early," says Millicent. "Unless you want me to fly you home?"\n\n"Absolutely not!" you say.\n\n"I'll get out the inflatable mattress, then," says Millicent, smiling. [["Anyway, where's the flower fairy that came with you? The one who psychically messaged me."|Team30]]
"I feel like I've been used," you say, as Marie vanishes into the distance. "And -- hey! -- why are you smiling?" you ask Millicent.\n\n"I'm sorry!" she says. "It's just pent-up nervousness." She begins to giggle. "I don't know about you, but I was really freaking out there when she turned into a dove!"\n\n"Me too!" you say. "Does this mean that somewhere out there, there's a whole kingdom of giant doves?"\n\n"I guess the world's full of wonders," says Millicent. [[The two of you return inside, to the warmth of the study.|Team29]]
<<set $outfit to "fruit">>You struggle into the heavy fruit dress. After several minutes of fumbling for arm-holes and tugging at zippers, you manage to enclose yourself within the dress' nectarous confines. A overpoweringly sweet smell -- the mingled odor of citrus, berries, and watermelon -- envelops you. The magical fruit feel weirdly cool and slick against your skin: if you closed your eyes, you might think you were wearing silk.\n\nYou squeeze into the green tights, slip your feet into the fruit-encrusted shoes, and examine yourself in your bedroom mirror.<<if $trait is "glamour">> You look like a walking fruit salad. The watermelon bodice, banded fruit skirt, and berry-studded pumps are colorful, certainly, but you just don't get the appeal of wearing food. Is it an ironic thing? Is it supposed to make some kind of statement? Perhaps your inability to appreciate the fruit dress reflects your lack of fashion sense. Perhaps if you were a little more experienced in the ways of style, you would be able to understand the burgeoning popularity of fruit dresses and fruit shoes and enchanted fruit accessories.\n\nYou decide it wouldn't hurt to spend one night in a trendy get-up like this. You could feel what it's like to be stylish. Maybe you'd learn to love the fruit dress. [[Also, now that you've spent so much time and effort putting it on, you can't really be bothered to take it off and try something else.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "crystal">> The watermelon bodice matches the hue of your pink crystal encrustations a little too closely, but the dress otherwise doesn't look too bad. It's colorful; the lush round fruit form an interesting contrast with the hard, angular crystal surfaces of your body. More importantly, the sweet smell of the fruit dress covers up the dirty mineral-lemon odor of your crystal scales. That alone is worth looking like a human-sized fruit arrangement mashed into a pink geode. [[You decide you'll wear the fruit dress tonight.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "plant">> The ripe fruit compliments your green skin and glossy foliage stunningly well. The cherries and strawberries match the red blossoms in your hair; the kiwi slices coordinate with your pale green, leafy brows. You look like an orchard-nympth or a colorful harvest god, laden with fruit and flowers and tangled vines; vibrant and growing; fragrant with the smells of grass and cucumber and sweet berries. [[Philantha will surely think you're beautiful.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "luminous">> The colorful dress doesn't //clash// with your sickly, silver-freckled complexion, but it doesn't coordinate particularly well either. To start with, the combination of glowing skin and silver sparkles with fruit -- of all things -- is a bit thematically confusing. You look like a light-bulb stuck inside a fruit basket. Furthermore, you're still not entirely sold on the concept of wearing food. Is it an ironic thing? Why is it fashionable? If only you were better versed in the ways of style, maybe then you would understand.\n\nOn the other hand, the enchanted fruit smell nice, and their silky texture is pleasant enough. The pale light cast by your body makes the glossy berries and ripe slices of orange and watermelon glisten appealingly. Also, weak and tired as you are, you don't really feel like taking off the cumbersome fruit dress and trying on something else. [[You may as well go to the Ball dressed as you are.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "butterfly">> You look like a human-sized fruit salad -- but a sexy fruit salad, if such a thing were possible. With your magically-enhanced bone structure and lustrous hair, you would probably look good in anything: a lumpy sweater, a bathrobe, a barrel of bananas. The cumbersome fruit dress isn't ideal for sneaking, and its strong, sweet odor bothers your sensitive antenna, but it //is// the latest trend in style. Philantha will appreciate your fashion-forwardness and fruity feminine sweetness. [[You decide you'll wear the fruit dress tonight, and experience what it's like to be trendy.|Train1]]<<elseif $trait is "silent">> You look like a walking fruit salad. The watermelon bodice, banded fruit skirt, and berry-studded pumps are colorful and bizarre. This is good though; it's perfect. [[It will draw attention away from the proboscis on your face.|Train1]]<<endif>>
"I've actually never heard of that before," you admit.\n\n"Of course you haven't," says the tiny fairy. "You're a human. The Noble Fairies would rather tear their own wings out than share with humans: they keep this place secret, and they punish any human fool or adventurer who blunders their way in. Do you know what they'll do if they catch you here?"\n\n"I'm guessing it's not good," you say.\n\n"They'll put you to work in the stacks for a hundred years!" says the tiny fairy. "In an unaging, undying state of magical stasis, so you won't keel over before your sentence is through. And if you complain, or try to read any of the books, or make even the littlest mistake, they just //add on// time to your term of imprisonment. Knowing you, you'd probably be trapped here for a millennium!"\n\n"Well, it's nice that you're concerned about me," you begin.\n\n"I'm not concerned about //you//," interrupts the fairy. "I'm concerned about //me//. I don't want to have to see you every time I come here for the next thousand years!"\n\n"Fine!" you say. "But I've been on adventures before; I've made it through dangerous situations. I can escape here without you hand-holding me!" [[Ignoring the fairy's protests, you open the reading room's silvery wooden door and step outside.|Easy13]]
"Sit down," commands the Princess. "You have nothing to fear from me, thief."\n\nYou scan the walls for hidden passages; you scan the floor for trapdoors, but there is no escape. You do as Philantha says. She is unaccompanied by guards; she is unarmed and alone, but your hands still tremble.\n\nPhilantha ties the mask to her silken sash; she approaches you, slowly, leisurely, admiring the lurid paintings. "I have to say: your clothes are <<if ($outfit is "pinkshirt") or ($outfit is "leggings") or ($outfit is "witch")>>very //middle class//. Did you buy them in a department store?<<elseif $outfit is "fruit">>rather uninspired. //Everyone// is wearing fruit this year. I've already become sick of it.<<elseif $outfit is "brownvest">>rather mannish. I'm surprised the guards even let you in. They must be getting lax at their posts.<<endif>> Likewise, your face -- once you look past all the crystal -- is displeasingly asymmetrical. And yet ..."\n\nShe sits down beside you, frightfully close. She runs her hand along the nape of your neck. Even through your crystalline shell, you feel it, and shiver. "There's something fascinating about you," she says. "Something unrefined and uncanny, like these paintings. You don't look like the other guests. When I first spotted you in the ballroom, I was struck by your resemblance to the spirit of Winter in Lop's //Before the Equinox//." She gestures at the painting behind you. "I felt it was an omen, so I followed you."\n\n"How?" you stammer. "I never even noticed you."\n\nPhilantha smiles. Her lips are painted pink; her smile is ever-so-slightly crooked. Her green eyes are like fallen leaves glazed in cold, clear rain. [["I have my ways," she answers.|Ritual7]]
You stand in a curious reading room. The walls around you are smooth, rounded, and silvery-green, fashioned from the living wood of some colossal tree. Leafy boughs enclose the ceiling. Fallen green leaves -- fragrant and velvety -- carpet the wooden floor. Magical lanterns shine in knobby wooden sconces. Curved wooden shelves protrude from the walls at irregular intervals.\n\nThe shelves contain a hodgepodge of bizarre books and documents. You see enormous tomes as tall as you are, bound in thick covers of dragon skin or, in one case, what appears to be a mesh of strung-together human teeth. You see tiny novels as small as postage-stamps. There are stacks of winged, iridescent scrolls; books printed on leaves, thinly-sliced stone, or sheets of black plastic; weird gelatinous blocks stamped with runes; poems engraved in the interiors of sea-shells; grimoires that phase -- mirage-like -- in and out of existence; comics with flashing marquees on their spines. There are also many, almost suspiciously ordinary, human books, printed in ink and bound in plain paper.\n\nFrom the boughs of the ceiling hangs an engraved wooden sign inlaid with shimmering fairy-metal. The sign is written in Classic Fey -- the old literary language of the fairies. You're personally more familiar with Vernacular Fey, but you parse out the message to something like this: "The Princess of the Caverns of Grief Special Collection of Inter-Dimensional Materials."\n\nBeneath the sign, a six-legged wooden table, fringed in leafy shoots, sprouts from the floor. Several (human-sized) wooden chairs with plush green fabric cushions sprout around it. In one of these chairs sits the tiny fairy -- the fairy you set free -- with her tiny novel.\n\nThe fairy snaps her books shut and stares at you, wide-eyed. "I can't believe it!" she cries. [["//What in the world is wrong with you?//"|Easy11]]
As the fairy slowly works her way through her novel, you browse the shelves of the reading room. A thin pink volume catches your attention: it strikes you as very //familiar//, in a way that you can't quite place. Perhaps it's a book that you read in your childhood; a book you glimpsed briefly in a store or at friend's house; a book you encountered in a dream. There is no title on its spine, only a design of reflective metallic dots. You pick it up. Its pages smell faintly of jasmine and rose-water. There is no text on the cover, nor on the back cover, only more metallic dots in spiraling fractal patterns. It is weirdly heavy for its size.\n\nYou flip to a random page in the middle of the volume. The page tells the story of //you//, or at least //a// story about you. In the story, it is the Equinox and you are in a library, but not the Great Origin-Tree Library. You are standing in the library at Philantha's palace and telling a green-skinned woman about your plans to free the golden cassowary. The woman is excited and wants to help you.\n\nYou flip to another section of the book. On this page, it is also the Equinox and you are also in Philantha's palace, but there is no green-skinned woman. You are wearing scrubs and -- for some reason -- arranging a pattern of purple land-anemones on a wall.\n\nOn another page, you are talking with your best friend Millicent, on the roof of her tower-home. On yet another, you and the golden cassowary hide beneath a grevillea bush. On one page, you stare at a surreal and violent painting; on one, the tiny fairy saves your life but you (in the story) don't realize it.\n\nThroughout the volume, it is always the Equinox, but different versions of the Equinox, each with its own adventures. This is truly a text you can engage yourself in; a text you can really relate to. You turn to the beginning of the book and sit down beside the tiny fairy. [[In contented silence, you read about your other selves.|Ending7]]
"Why would I want to kill you?" demands the tiny fairy. "Just how petty do you think I am?"\n\nYou describe your brush with danger at the Equinox Ball; the tidal-wave of hypnotized admirers. "At first I thought you had made the glamour too strong," you say, "to trick me. But then Philantha -- who wasn't affected by the glamour at all -- ordered the crowds away from me and explained that the palace was built on a ley-line, which was causing some kind of amplification effect with the -- "\n\n"Hold on!" interrupts the fairy. "The palace is on a //ley-line//? Is Philantha a sorceress as well as a princess? No average human noble could keep that much magical energy in check."\n\n"I guess she is a sorceress," you say. "I'm pretty sure she uses magic to command people. And she was able to resist the glamour even when no one else was. I //have// heard rumors before, about Philantha having unusual powers." \n\n"Then why in the world were you going to steal from her?" asks the fairy. "Don't you have any sense of risk aversion? Any instinct for self-preservation?"\n\nYou shrug.\n\nThe fairy groans and rubs her temples. "It's a good thing //I'm// looking out for you then, since you obviously won't look after yourself." You open your mouth to object, but she shushes you. "Just stay here and stay out of trouble, alright?"\n\n"I can look after myself just fine," you grumble. [[The tiny fairy, ignoring you, sits back and reads.|Easy17]]\n
"Don't worry," the fairy reassures you. "I've been coming here for twenty-five years and I have yet to see another person in this room. It's not a popular section."\n\n"Well, what should I do if I have to go to the bathroom?" you ask. Your stomach growls: you think back to how little you've eaten today. "And what should I do about food and water?"\n\nThe fairy points to one of the organic wall-shelves. "You see that book over there?" she says. "The poetry anthology printed on green paper? With the squash-tendril bindings?"\n\nYou nod.\n\n"The poem on page sixty-eight leads to a small pocket-dimension containing a picturesque country cottage," she explains. "I'm pretty sure it has a bathroom. Or an outhouse, maybe? There should also be food on the table -- a bunch of homely loaves of bread, ripe apples, goat cheese, and all that. Just don't go into the woods beyond the cottage. There's a monster in there: or maybe it's a metaphor for the unknown or the danger of curiosity or something? Regardless of what it is, don't mess with it."\n\n"I see," you say. "You know, tiny fairy, I //am// sorry about keeping you prisoner in a salt-shaker for six months."\n\n"Hmpth," says the fairy.\n\n"Even though I'm still pretty sure that you would sneak out whenever I wasn't looking," you say.\n\n"I'll never admit it," says the fairy. "You can't make me."\n\n"Actually, there was a moment tonight when I thought you had tricked me and were trying to kill me, but I realize now that you're not that kind of person," you say. "You're a lot nicer than you let on."\n\n"I'm not nice," says the fairy. [["And wait a second: //what//?"|Easy16]]
"Oh, really?" says the tiny fairy.\n\n"How exactly were you planning on getting me out of here?" you ask.\n\n"I'm not," says the fairy. She opens her novel and leans back into the chair cushions. \n\n"Hey, hold on a minute!" you say. "You said -- "\n\n"I'm not doing //anything// until I finish my book," she snaps. "You got what you wanted, right? You got to have your silly adventure and everything? Well, the least you can do is be patient and let me read my novel that I've been //trying// to read for //over a month//. Okay?"\n\n"That's an awfully long time to wait," you say.\n\n"It is not!" says the fairy. "I'm practically done!"\n\n"Yeah," you say. "But you're kind of a slow reader."\n\nThe fairy glares at you. \n\n"Not that there's anything wrong with that!" You sit down next to her, in one of the living wooden chairs. [["Fine," you say. "I'll wait. But what if someone else comes in here and catches me?"|Easy15]]
"You're supposed to test it on a small patch of skin the first time," the fairy explains, "to see if you have a reaction. But I guess that would require you to think before you act, instead of just stupidly charging into things like a big, giant dummy."\n\n"Well, how long is this going to last?" you ask. "Can I use an antihistamine?" \n\n"I dunno. Do I look like a doctor?" The fairy opens her book and begins reading again: she appears to have already lost interest in teasing you. "It'll probably clear up on its own, eventually. Unless it doesn't."\n\nYou sigh, and sniffle. All of your plans for today have gone horribly awry. Unless your symptoms run their course within the next several hours, you'll have no chance of infiltrating Philantha's Grand Equinox Ball. You'll probably have to spend the night holed up in your room with a stock of tissues, decongestant pills, and camomile tea. What a miserable prospect.<<if ($green is "face") or ($green is "periorbital") or ($green is "fingers") or ($pink is "periorbital") or ($pink is "fingers")>> You try to remain optimistic, but you can only think of one silver lining to this whole mess:<<endif>><<if ($green is "face") or ($green is "periorbital")>> the ridiculous green stains on your face have vanished.<<elseif $pink is "periorbital">> the ridiculous pink stains on your face have vanished.<<elseif $green is "fingers">> the ridiculous green stains on your fingertips have vanished.<<elseif $pink is "fingers">> the ridiculous pink stains on your fingertips have vanished.<<endif>>\n\nYou notice the magic mirror giving you a funny sidelong look. [["//What?//" you demand. "Are you going to make fun of me too?"|Fairy4]]\n
"I never realized you were such a delicate flower," says the fairy, giggling. "Did you know that only one thousandth of a percent of humans are allergic to fairy dust? You're part of an exclusive minority!"\n\n"I can't be --" You pause to sneeze. "I can't be allergic to fairy dust," you say. "I've used it for months and nothing like this has happened before."\n\n"Yeah," says the fairy. "But have you used it on //yourself// before?"\n\n[[You have to admit that you have not.|Fairy3]]\n\n
<<set $trait to "luminous">><<if $fairyhelp is 2>>You set down the salt-shaker and scramble<<else>>You scramble<<endif>> for a tissue. Your throat itches; the insides of your nostrils spasm. You accidentally pull out a whole wad of tissues instead of just one, but you do so just in time: you sneeze loudly and repeatedly. \n\nAfter about ten sneezes, your nose feels a bit better, but your cheeks begin to burn. A wave of feverish heat washes over your body. You shiver; you sniffle; your spine tingles. You stare helplessly at your reflection in the bathroom mirror. You have begun to glow.\n\nA pale light shines beneath your flesh. Your body is luminous; your face glows like moonlight through a veil of clouds. Your eyes are bright and silvery stars. Even your hair and nails sparkle. Shimmering silver hives spread along your cheeks and arms. You look as though you've been sprinkled with glitter, or fairy dust.\n\nThe tiny fairy shuts her book and stifles a laugh. [["This is amazing!" she cries. "Incredible! I had no idea you were so sensitive!"|Fairy2]]
A fanciful version of a witch's outfit, consisting of a voluminous black dress, a pointed black cap, shiny black shoes with curled toes, and a pair of black-and-white leggings. The leggings are screen-printed with a design of owls, bats, and saturniid moths. A tiny, glowing lantern dangles from the tip of the cap; tiny lanterns glimmer along the ruffles of the black skirt. \n\nYou wore this outfit a few months ago, at costume party. You and your best friend Millicent, a licensed witch, dressed up as exaggerated versions of one another's professions. You went to the party in this caricature of a witch's dress; she dressed up like a stylized version of a treasure-hunter/cryptozoology-enthusiast. For some reason, Millicent's interpretation of "treasure hunter" involved a leather jacket and a fedora. You're still not quite sure what she was going for.\n\nIn any case, this frilly, luminous black dress is probably more than fancy enough to wear to Philantha's Grand Ball.\n\n[[Back|previous()]]
The mirror replies in soft, almost fawning tones:\n\n"Make fun, you say? I wouldn't dare!\nWith your luminous skin and your starry-bright hair. \nWhatever you've done has been truly effective:\nForgive me my earlier thoughtless invective."\n\n"Wait," you say, "You think I'm beautiful //now//? I look exactly the same as ever, only sick and glowing."\n\n"You are beautiful," (the mirror says) "Do you really not know?.\nWith your bright, shining eyes and your silvery glow.\nWho cares that you sniffle? Or how bad you're feeling?\nTo the upper-crust, delicacy is appealing."<<if $fairyhelp is 2>>\n\nThe mirror's reasoning strikes you as questionable. You consult the tiny fairy for a second opinion. "Hey fairy," you say. "Stop reading for a second. Do you think they'd let me into Philantha's Ball looking like this?"\n\nThe fairy glares at you over the top of her book. "Who cares?" she says. "Probably. Humans like things that sparkle; they're easily dazzled. Just don't sneeze all over the Princess."\n\nShe has a point: humans //do// like things that sparkle. <<else>>\n\nThe mirror's logic strikes you as somewhat questionable, but what do you know about beauty or upper-class social mores? <<endif>> A small hope ignites in your heart. Perhaps you won't need to cancel your plans for tonight. [[Perhaps you'll make your way to the Ball after all.|Lunch]]
"These are just like the bike locks I used to have," Amherst says, "only a lot bigger, of course. They're easy to break, if they're the same kind: my bike was stolen //all the time// back then."\n\nAmherst runs a hand through her hair, and fishes out a shrimp-like creature with glowing pincers. She sets the creature inside one of the red blossoms. It snips its claws, spins in a circle, and burrows deep within the corolla of the flower.\n\nThe flower begins to wither. The vines shrivel and shrink and crumble to grey ash. The unbreakable chains rot away in an instant. Zull flexes her newly-freed limb, and roars in triumph. The ground shudders; the magical lanterns flicker.\n\n"Amazing!" Zull cries. White flames lick about her lips. "With your otherworldly powers, Mulg will soon rue the day he pretended to //my// title! Quickly! Release my other arm, and we will fly away to the Dragon Isle, armed with the cudgel of destiny and the fires of righteous fury!"\n\nAmherst crouches down, and recovers the shrimp-like creature from the pile of ash. "You'll really take me to the dragon kingdom?" she asks. "I'll really get to fly there on your back, and help defeat an evil king?"\n\n"Certainly," says Zull. "You are my savior, and the agent of my revenge! I would be honored to convey you on my back, and battle at your side!"\n\nAmherst says nothing. [[She can only quiver with delight.|Call16]]
"Green was the color of my demise," says Zull, "but it would also be the color of my revenge. The seer foretold the coming of a green-skinned hero from another world. This hero would free me from my chains and enable my victory over the False King Mulg."\n\nSparks crackle in Zull's throat; waves of heat and putrid scent roll from her body. She stares over your shoulder, at Amherst. "Do you understand now? //You// are the hero who will release me from this prison! //You// are the one destined to set right that which has, for so many decades, been wrong. You have come to me in the moment of deepest despair. Will you not free me from my unlawful captivity?"\n\nZull holds out her green chains. Looking more closely, you see that they are made not from metal -- like you assumed -- but from thick, intertwining vines. A red flower blooms from each cuff.\n\n"They look weak, don't they?" says Zull. "But I cannot break them. If I bite them, they exude a noxious poison. If I tear at them with my claws, they sprout new growth, and become only stronger than before. They burn without being consumed. Do you know the secret to their mechanism?"\n\nAmherst pushes past you, and runs to Zull's side. [["Oh!" she exclaims. "I //have// seen these before!"|Call15]]
You and Amherst stand back as Zull rips the silver door from its hinges and squeezes her long, scaly body through the hall. Her diamond claws tear gashes in the carpet; her wings knock sconces and hanging tapestries from their mounts. Her sapphire scales screech against the walls and her horns pierce through the ceiling. Water spurts through ruptured plumbing. Chunks of wood and metal litter the floor. You and Amherst step carefully through the ruins of the hallway, and follow after.\n\nZull charges through the palace, demolishing walls and doors and furniture. She leads the two of you outside, to an enormous interior courtyard where a young orchard grows. The air smells of rich soil and plum blossoms. High above, the night sky is plush with clouds. Zull bows down, and allows Amherst to climb upon her back.\n\n"Do you want to come too?" asks Amherst, settling herself on the patch of soft, unarmored skin between Zull's wings.\n\n"No," you say. "You go ahead. I'd just get nauseous, anyway."\n\n"Thanks again for helping me out of that shelf," says Amherst. "None of this would have happened without you. I'll write all about you in my scrapbook, when I finally wake up again."\n\n"That's, um, very thoughtful," you say. "Be careful, okay?"\n\n"I will!" says Amherst. "Don't even worry!"\n\n"Prepare yourself, hero!" screams Zull. "Tonight we free the Dragon Isle from her foul False King!" She gives a shriek of vengeful joy, and leaps into the air. In the putrid wind from her wings, the plum trees shed their pink blossoms. You wave goodbye, and shiver from the cold.\n\nZull climbs into the heights of the sky and spews forth a plume of white flame. Amherst cheers. In the palace, klaxons begin to sound. Voices cry "Dragon! Dragon!"; in distant chambers, guards shout and halberds clatter. [[You decide that now would be a good time to make yourself scarce.|Call18]]
You creep through darkened hallways and peak your head into luxurious bedrooms. You sneak into interior courtyards where gardens bloom and bright carp sleep in marble-lined pools. You explore libraries and aviaries; you lift up the corners of embroidered rugs and check the walls for hidden switches.\n\nNo matter how long you search, you cannot find what you're seeking: a certain small conservatory, and the rare golden cassowary. The inner depths of the palace are too vast and labyrinth-like. You've always had a strong sense of direction, but the twisting, tangling corridors defy all spacial logic. You wander down flights of stairs, only to find yourself atop a tower with stained-glass windows. You walk down a long, seemingly-straight marble hall, turn a corner, and find yourself -- somehow -- back at the hall's entrance.\n\nNot too far from the confusing marble hall, you discover a silver door inlaid with a design of golden birds and ivory branches of eucalyptus. Your heart leaps: you wonder if you've finally reached the end of your searching. However, when you open the door, you find not a conservatory, but an art-gallery. Paintings hang from glossy wooden walls. Recessed magical lighting illuminates sketches of battle-scenes and royal portraits.\n\nYour feet ache and your skin itches worse than ever. [[You sit down on a cushioned bench, and pause to admire the art.|Ritual4]]\n
You think you've figured out the real moral to this tale: life is senseless, so why worry? A twelve-foot tall statue isn't the end of the world. Maybe, when Summer comes, brigands will steal it away; maybe an earthquake will swallow it up into the stony depths of the ground; maybe the moth-people will change their minds, come creeping in the night, and take it back. For now, there's nothing you can do. You carry your mail inside, and make yourself some scrambled eggs and pancakes. You eat in front of your kitchen window, as the sun rises on another golden day. [[Flowers open their petals to the morning, and starlings roost in the unicorn's mane.|Ending2]]
As you and Amherst search through the palace, you discover more treasure-chambers and halls of portraits and lush courtyard gardens -- but no golden cassowary.\n\n"What does the Princess even //do// with all of this stuff -- and all of these rooms?" demands Amherst. "Does she even know she has them?"\n\n"I think royal families just tend to accumulate property," you say. "But wait: what's that?" You point down a long, darkened hallway. At the end of the hallway, a silver door gleams, lit by the glow of magical lamps in rose-shaped sconces. The door bears an inlaid design of a golden bird, framed by wreaths of bronze acacia.\n\nYou and Amherst scramble down the darkened hall. "Could this be it?" she asks.\n\n"There's only one way to find out," you say. [[You open the door, and are overwhelmed by the stench of sulfur.|Call11]]
In the weeks that come, you carry on with your everyday life. You plant new seedlings in your garden; you read some good books and try -- futilely -- to discuss them with the tiny fairy. You go on other adventures, some successful and some not so much. The days lengthen and the trees unfurl new leaves. The whole incident at Philantha's palace fades from your mind -- at least until one late Spring morning, when you discover something quite startling. \n\nThat morning, you venture out to check your mail, only to find a twelve-foot tall golden unicorn statue in your front yard. [[On the base of the statue hangs a note.|Surgery21]]
A woman in a dragon-skin jacket teeters up the stairs beside you. Her cheeks are pink; her eyes sparkle; she smells ever-so-faintly of absinthe. It appears that she has come to the Ball pre-drunk from some earlier occasion. She eyes your luminous skin approvingly.\n\n"You have such a delicate complexion!" she exclaims, resting an unsteady hand on your shoulder. "Such a lovely, moon-like aura! Don't tell me, dear -- are you the famous Princess Selenia of Siff? The one who can feel a single pea through ten stacked iron thrones? The one who can hear the voices of her enemies on the breeze, and predict the coming of earthquakes?"\n\n"I'm afraid I'm not," you say, sniffling.\n\n"A shame," says the woman. She continues to lean against your shoulder. "I always wanted to meet Selenia, you know -- wanted to ask her how she falls asleep at night with such sensitive hearing. I myself have terrible insomnia, from tinnitus. Have ever since my artillery days."\n\nA young man in a golden tunic walks up at your other side. "Your silvery freckles are very beautiful," he says. "How did you get your skin to glow like that? Powdered mermaid scales? Radioactive minerals?"\n\n"Actually," you say, "it's an allergic reaction. My body's doing this on its own."\n\n"Clever!" says the man.\n\n"That's dedication to the ideal of beauty," says the tipsy woman, "forcing an allergic reaction like that. Very brave!"\n\n[[You are about to explain that you didn't //intentionally// give yourself silver hives, but decide it's not worth arguing.|Team1]]\n
You awake in the afternoon, with your pillow covered in an earthy-smelling mess of shriveled leaves and rotten flowers. Fallen green spines prick you in the ears; mushy brown petals cling to your cheeks. Your cactus-needle lashes, leafy brows, and tangled ivy tresses have all shed from your head and died away. Your skin has reverted to its normal color. Your normal, human hair has grown back while you slept -- or at least started to grow. As you wash your face and examine yourself in the bathroom mirror, you note that your hair is much shorter than before, but a great deal thicker. Your lashes are short but full; your eyebrows are bushy. You are glad that the effects of the scrubby lump were only temporary, and especially glad that you aren't bald.\n\nAs you return to the living room, you find the tiny fairy exactly where you left her, reading. She has not, in fact, finished her book, though she has gotten close. A small green newspaper lays by her side.\n\n"Good morning," says the fairy. "Since you weren't mad at me for leaving that salt-shaker, I figured you also wouldn't be mad if I slipped out and bought this." She holds up the green newspaper. "I went ahead and took the money from your wallet."\n\nYou take the newspaper and squint at it. It has about the same dimensions as a page from a trade-paperback, with miniscule articles printed on thin green paper. To the tiny fairy, it is enormous -- longer than she is tall; to you, it is almost unreadably small. The articles are written in dark-green print, in the local dialect of elvish.\n\nYou haven't studied elvish in a long time, but you manage to parse out the headline. It reads, "Dragon Queen Recovers Throne with Aid of Mystery Hero."\n\n[["This is about Amherst!" you exclaim. "But how?"|Call23b]]
The elves and goblins tell you all the latest news from the Dragon Isle. They describe the chilling battle between Zull and Mulg; how Zull ripped out Mulg's heart and placed it in an obsidian cask beside her throne; how she banished Mulg to a stone prison in the lightless depths of a sea-trench. They describe the role of the mysterious green-skinned hero, who rallied Zull's supporters and freed the political prisoners from Mulg's dungeons. "No one knows what far-off world the hero came from, or how," they say, "but just as Zull was about to award her the Ruby Metal of Courage, she phased out of this world and disappeared."\n\nYou lean back, relieved. "So Amher -- the hero didn't fall in battle? She returned to her own world?"\n\n"Of course she didn't fall in battle," says a goblin. "she's a //hero//! Don't you understand how prophesies work? All that was predicted came to pass: Zull's side won; Zull and her old seer reconciled; a cleansing, fiery rain fell over the Dragon Isle."\n\n"I don't remember those last two things being part of the prophesy," you say.\n\n"They were a last-minute addition," says an elf. "Probably, they thought things would be more dramatic that way."\n\n"It //is// more dramatic that way," says the elf matriarch. "I wish I had been there to see it!"\n\n"That's not how -- " you begin to say, then fall silent. Obviously, you //don't// understand how prophesies work.\n\nYou pet the shaggy dog's head. You listen as the elves and goblins discuss news of distant lands: the succession battles between fairy royalty; new inventions discovered in the troll-halls of the high mountain peaks; the fantastic trials of heroes. If you ever see Amherst again -- however unlikely -- you'll have to ask her what it's like to be a part of destiny. If you ever encounter Zull, you'll have to ask her -- politely -- what's it's like to have all of her successes and failures plotted out in advance. Perhaps it's comforting; perhaps it's oppressive; perhaps, to Zull, it's life as usual. \n\nPersonally, you prefer your future to remain undecided. You don't know how, or when, but other adventures and misadventures will come. There will be other palaces, other schemes, other surprises and other marvels. [[For now, you lay in the grass and let the golden sunshine wash over you.|Ending5]]
You bid farewell to the elves, and slip out through the servants' door. You creep along the side of the palace, back to the pink stairs and the long marble driveway. All along the palace grounds, crowds of guests chatter and sip wine and point at the sky. They giggle nervously; they wonder aloud whether the fearsome sapphire dragon will return. "How majestic!" they exclaim. "How terrifying! Do you think there will be a battle with a knight?" They do not notice you as you walk out through the grand golden main gate.\n\nYou return to the train station, and buy your ticket. As you ride home, you stare out the window, at the dense grey clouds and the pale aura of the moon. [[You can't help but worry about Amherst.|Call20]]
On your way inside, you run into a crowd of little elves. They hurry past you, scramble out into the orchard, and gaze at the sky.\n\n"Did we miss it?" they cry. "Is Zull really gone?"\n\n"Go, Zull!" one shouts. "Teach that Mulg not to mess with the True Queen of the dragons!"\n\n"I can't believe I was //so// close to seeing the real, live Zull," says another. "But I was too slow!"\n\nThe elves scurry back inside and gather around your feet. "Did //you// see Zull?" one asks. You recognize him from before. "Was she really a hundred feet long, like they say? Was she really more beautiful than even the Dragon Princess Ruln?"\n\n"She was more around fifty feet," you answer. "And I don't know anything about dragon standards of attractiveness to judge. How do all of you even know who Zull //is//, anyway?"\n\n"Are you kidding?" says the elf. "It was all anyone was talking about eighty years ago! It was in all the papers! The sad story of how Mulg stole her throne; all the mystery around her disappearance. Where were you then: living under a rock?"\n\n"I wasn't born yet," you say.\n\n"Oh," says the elf, "sorry. I always forget about human transience and all that."\n\nThe shouts of the guards grow ever louder. Klaxons wail.\n\n"You want us to show you the servants' door where we came in?" asks an elf. "You can sneak out there, easy."\n\n[["That would be very nice," you say. "Thank you."|Call19]]\n