Thus begins a game/story/adventure/experiment I'm partaking in over on Twitter. The Tale of the Wavering Path uses Twitter's new poll feature to let the readers vote on where they wish to wander in the story, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of yore.
The creative constraints of Twitter as a medium have made this exercise a delight. I have—in the few short weeks I've been engaged with this—had to pillage the thesaurus; repurpose old words; invent new ones wholecloth; and lean heavily on the ellipsis, em-dash, & ampersand—all to jam as much as I can into the character limit before the next decision point. And this is not the usual luxurious 140 character limit. For reasons I have not yet sussed, when you construct a poll on Twitter, the limit for your tweet drops to about 116 characters and each poll options is limited to 20 characters.
The polls are live for 24 hours, giving me plenty of time to consider the journey ahead of us. But as you can see below, quite a few of the polls were dead heats, forcing me to wait until they've finished before I could consider where the path will fork.
Below, I have listed all the tweets that have been posted thus far. And I will endeavor to keep this list updated, though it can never be as up-to-date as my actual Twitter feed. Being mindful that…
- …I have greatly enjoyed each day of this…
- …I am rooting for neither option while I construct a poll…
- …and, once the results are in, it is my oath to make the winner as interesting as possible…
…I must admit that there have already been certain decisions made by the readers that have been, in retrospect, my favorites.
After bandaging your wound with cloth stolen from the dead, you decided in the third poll to look back upon the day before.
Now we have the first real question for us to answer: How did you end up getting your leg sword-pinned to the ground? What the hell led you to this moment in your life?
This decision sent us down an intriguing path and established a goal for us. Now, whatever happens in the tale, we must get a sword into your naked thigh. And we must do it before the day is up.
Obscure the trail.
There are two reasons why I love this moment. The first is because this turns the next few tweets into something that feels like a very Snorri ("Strange Bireme" and "The Prize of Banteteth") moment to me. The second is because it also gives us a chance to meet some new characters: the guards, their hounds, and inevitably…
Seize the familiar.
…the vole! When I wrote the vole in, I just needed a varmint that could serve as the king's familiar spying on the guards. But the votes that followed all point towards an interest in keeping this critter around. An interest I wholeheartedly share. It already speaks in a forbidden language and has transmogrify you into a toad. I suspect this fleshmancer (thanks to @beastpeddler for the title) vole is got a few more tricks to show us.
…you now comprehend.
Dialogue is going to be an interesting challenge for us to face. We've already had snippets, but it looks like you and the vole have some things to say. And I look forward to seeing how it plays out through the polls. I don't quite know how it's going to work yet, and that's exciting!
With the advent of the first tie, we have earned the first achievement!
- The Garden of Forking Paths: When you lose a poll, you may sever reality. Reply to the lost poll & continue the tale as if you had won, making your own polls & path.
Upon completing our first flashback, we have earned the second achievement!
- Eidetic Level 1: The tweet from the story that gets the most retweets before January 6th, 2016, will be professionally illustrated.
The Collected Tale of the Wavering Path
You awake with a sword pinning your naked thigh to the dewy ground, the salty-copper taste of blood on your tongue.
51% Draw the sword. 49% Regret life choices.
The sword is pulled from quivering muscle. Your blood flows too freely, but the only cloth at hand adorns corpses.
70% Steal from the dead. 30% Ponder the finite.
The dead seem unperturbed by your theft. The wound is bandaged. Using the sword as a crutch, you are able to stand.
44% Take stock. 56% Recall yesterday.
Yesterday's scarlet dawn cast upon you as you scaled down the rough-hewn tower, stealing away from the chamber of a…
49% …dying knight. 51% …king's prisoner.
As the sky azures & the king's guards awaken, you flee to snake-haunted fen with the prisoner's gift on your lips—
47% —a final kiss. 53% —a wicked cantrip.
Across the chill air, bells toll the telling of your flight. Slavering dogs bay that you have already been scented.
35% Arm yourself. 65% Obscure the trail.
Your raiments scattered over thorny brush, you slip naked beneath the muck. The cold squeezes the breath from you.
53% Hide and observe. 47% Slog to the horizon.
The mud's dire embrace numbs as you skulk among the reeds. Grim guards tend befuddled hounds, gossiping in whispers…
48% …of your crimes. 52% …of the king's sins.
"Tis cowardice—" "Hsst! Speak not of the liege where birds or vermin might hear!" "Tis! & shameful to serve one who…
63% …sings with devils." 37% …eats his kin."
"Hsst. Loyalty will be rewarded." "Such are my fears." A nearby vole is also witness to the guards' sardonic mirth.
70% Seize the familiar. 30% Slip silently away.
Frozen muscles howl as you grab the rodent & retreat back into the reeds. Observant, the hounds give chase.
23% Threaten the guards. 77% Beg the vole's aid.
"I'm no ally of your liege, but if his dogs reach us—" Afore you finish the plea, the vole chirps obscene syllables…
40% …to swap your souls. 60% …to mold your flesh.
Beneath your leathering skin, sinew curdles. The world widens as your eyes bulge & body shrinks toadward.
55% Swallow the vole. 45% Release the vole.
Tucking the vole in your bulbous throat, you dive into the murky waters & outpace the hounds with powerful strokes.
54% Swim for home. 46% Circle back later.
With vole biting your tongue, you swim deep within the fen where, obscured by knotted trees & enduring fog, glows…
45% …an earthen hut. 55% …a red & gold manse.
As your webbed-grip slips from gilded knobs & the vole slides further into your blood-slick throat, panic waxes.
53% Barf forth the vole. 47% Leap through window.
You croak & the vole—half-drowned in blood—tumbles onto your stoop. It chirps again in its infernal tongue words…
81% …you now comprehend. 19% …to mold your flesh.
"You have suckled me on your blood & thus bound yourself to my bonds. We must now discuss our pact with my Liege."
16% Chase the vole off. 84% Invite the vole in.
You struggle again with the knob. The vole whistles. A wind rattles through eastern willows & casts the doors open.
33% Lure vole trapward. 67% Ask about its liege.
In your scarlet foyer, you wordlessly confront the vole. "Our liege fears his dominion wanes in this mortal world."
75% Affirm those fears. 25% Deny cause for fear.
Speech wells deep within your toadthroat & gurgles forth, "He may rejoice, then—tis rare to know the truth. He is…
30% …in mortal peril." 40% …conspirator-bound." 30% …to be punished."
Your tongue throbs. The vole laps blood from its fur afore speaking, "If he is so beset, our duty is to alert him."
39% Feign acquiescence. 18% Moot the contrary. 43% Aid without ploy.
"We will advise the liege about the conspiracy against him anon." You lead the vole to your larder, "First, we must…
56% …gather provisions." 44% …enjoy a repast."
Aided by the vole, you craft a bindle to carry in the hinge of your frog-jaw in which you pack nuts, dried fruit &…
37% …fey-stolen fungus. 30% …alchemical spices. 33% …a keen knife.
So provisioned, you exit the manse into chill fen & swim castleward with the vole riding between your ranine eyes.
33% Hasten to the liege. 67% Keep a wary pace.
Creeping through the willows in fog-bound waters, you descry a punt bearing two sworded figures & baying hounds.
17% Give wide berth. 37% Steal in close. 46% Summon them to you.
Dogs thrash in the water afore the punt as the swordfolk pull croakward. Leaping off, the vole screeches "Betrayer!"
23% Chase after vole. 17% Charge the punters. 60% Swallow a hound.
Dropping the bindle, you slink underwater to burst from the murk & swallow one dog whole. Swords & teeth arc to you.
30% Leap to the trees. 3% Hide in the muck. 33% Capsize the punt. 33% Attend gulfed dog.
In the fray, you spill the swordfolk & flip their punt overhead. "May we deal?" echoes a whimpering in your gullet.
8% Steal the punt. 78% Hear the dog's deal. 15% Drag a guard under.
"Like you, I am not as I began. We are kindred, twisted by sorcery. Release me & I shall lead them to a false toad."
50% Trust the dog. 38% Bloodbind the dog. 13% Flee with the dog.
You vomit hound & blood into the water. The dog barks sharply in the punt-dome. You dive afore the boat is righted.
13% Seek the liege. 23% Seek the vole. 29% Seek the bindle. 35% Seek some quiet.
Howling & splashing recede as you swim to an isolated grove of ancient willows. Breath caught, your toadgut rumbles.
59% Sup on dragonflies. 15% Nap in the muck. 27% Weep in privacy.
The afternoon is spent learning a predator's patience. Your lacerated tongue aches with each red snap. Eventually…
48% …a winged feast. 52% …you heed the wound.
Sore & hungry, you find stark comfort among the willows. Long shadows warn that eve & dire appointments approach.
26% Warn liege. 63% Meet with rebels. 11% Return to manse.
Hopping deeper forestward, you find a lantern-lit glade & a moot of grimfaced women & men leaning on their spears.
40% Reveal who you are. 60% Eavesdrop as a toad.
"Scarlet doom awaits us without the spell!" "Dare we wait any more for our thief to return with it?" "We must tarry…
33% …here til morn." 67% …no longer."
Lanterns extinguished, the rebels march castleward into the night, grimly dreaming of usurping a devil-singing king.
16% Draw their notice. 59% March along unseen. 25% Warn the liege.
At wood's edge, gazing acrross dark field, you see the torchlit towers you stole from this morn. In the grass lurks…
12% …the king's guard. 44% …a spectrl beast. 44% …the vole & vassals.
Bristling spines of luminescent horrors crest the tall, moonlit grass. A tiny voice in the dark hisses, "Betrayer!"
58% Confront the vole. 18% Lope for the castle. 24% Warn the rebels.
"What witchery is this, vole?" you croak. The vole hisses in the grass, "We are both bound to the liege. You cannot…
31% …save the rebels." 28% …betray me again." 41% …sway me from him."
An unearthly howl peals across the field, joined by a cacophony of screaming as the spectral beasts rend the rebels.
38% Recapture the vole. 54% Aid the rebels. 8% Flee the beasts.
You bound frayward. Two 6-legged shapes, formed of iradescent smoke, prowl over a wounded rebel & gore-matted grass.
19% Lead them away. 46% Assail the beasts. 35% Wrest rebel free.
The steely coils of your toad-thews hurtle you through a glittering fog-beast, shattering it into eddies. The rebel…
11% …draws to her feet. 11% …sets her spear. 78% …recognizes you.
Her gaze pierces your malformed flesh, through your alien stature, to a hint of your true self. "You are no toad!"
31% Confirm her hunch. 63% Recall who she is. 6% Attend the beasts.
Tis Ona who—a fortnight ago—caught you in palace shadow with an ill-earned amulet & turned you to the rebel cause…
14% …by threat! 24% …by promise! 30% …by charm! 32% …by geas!
Dazed by your odd form, Ona sees not the vole's other astral-beast rear up behind her. Torn betwixt two masters you…
11% …fall to inaction. 89% …cannot fail either.
Sinews snap & fling you into Ona's shins, tumbling her afore the beast's sweeping claw. "Thief! You turn betrayer?"
28% Tarry to explain. 72% Finish the beast.
The hinge of your jaw yawns wide. Your toadlungs fill with the iridescent mistform. Pain pins your leg to the earth…
38% …at vole's behest. 62% …by Ona's blade.
Ona's sword slips deep into your thigh & your consciousness flees afore the agony. In the darkness you dream of…
41% …your human body. 35% …Ona's forgiveness. 11% …the vole's liege. 13% …a great battle.
By the morn you have become awake, free from the ground, thigh bandaged in the dead's garb & leaning on Ona's sword.
73% Read the omens. 27% Search the bodies. 0% Seek out new allies.
Ravens hop about the charnel, squawking & pecking at each other, but refuse to eat the dead. Iller yet, you see…
33% …red clouds gather. 27% …shadows too long. 40% …puce fungal blooms.
Rosy mushrooms lace the field, drawing unnatural lines over the ground & the dead. Far off, a hound limps your way.
63% Approach the dog. 17% Command it to halt. 20% Hide among the dead.
Careful not to tread upon the fallen, the hound circles you. "What have you done, Toad? Why have you done so?" "Tis…
6% …not my fault!" 13% …my liege's work!" 34% …a deserved fate!" 47% …the vole's doing!"
Nose to the blooded earth, the hound limps groveward. "Come, Toad! We must not allow the vole's trail to diminish."
68% Join the dog's hunt. 32% Ask him about Ona.
You & the hound wend through wood & fen, hunting the vole to uncounted dead ends. Under oak you rest & ask the dog…
30% …about his shifting. 15% …about his loyalty. 36% …about the vole. 19% …to rest with you.
"When the king first sang with the devils, he called up five familiars: our vole, twin beetles, a crimson stag, & a…
17% …moth-winged imp." 23% …willful flame." 20% …venomous bull." 40% …man with no eyes."
"Each possessed of a purpose hidden from me. But having watched with the eyes of a man & a hound I suspect the vole…
30% …the most cunning." 16% …the most fearsome." 54% …serves another."
Recalling to the hound the blood magic worked upon you, "The vole's liege was made my own. I feel its presence…
69% …near & present." 31% …far from the king."
The hound sniffs closely. "A thousand curses! Would that I had scented its subtle yet vile stench on you afore!"
48% "Silence, hound!" 16% "I have two lieges!" 36% "All here be fools!"
"I am bound to vole & liege," you explain as the hound backs away, tail-tucked, "but I am not willless, nor without…
46% …my own designs." 35% …means for freedom." 19% …another master."
The hound yet creeps away, "Your designs. The vole's designs. Your collective master's designs. I care not!" "Mine…
18% …bring no harm." 25% …will vex the vole." 57% …can unsorcell you."
Pausing in his retreat, the hound tilts his head & peers at you with interest. "First, we must search the fen for…
38% …our wicked vole." 62% …a bindle I lost."
"It was lost were we met in the water—" "Where you swallowed me! Was that at the vole's behest?" "No, the vole…
55% …saw it as treason." 32% …had fled by then." 13% …wanted to hide."
The hound keeps his distance, but leads you through the mire to whence you fell upon him & further to your bindle.
15% It is untouched. 37% It has been opened. 48% It is guarded.
Moss-draped willows obscure the small, gnarled, root-bound island where you abandoned your bindle. There also lurks…
38% …a crimson stag. 15% …the other hound. 47% …a gray swordswoman.
Long, gray hair & weathered skin belie her taut sinews as she idly points the bindle-bound tip of her sword at you.
31% Confront her. 17% Steal the bindle. 52% Bargain with her.
"We have no quarrel with you. We seek only the bindle." She smirks, "Perhaps I am the quarrelsome one. Perhaps I…
37% …am vole-sent." 33% …seek your sword." 30% …desire the bindle."
The hound's hackles rise, but you croak before he can spring on the swordswoman, "I, too, am vole-bound. Grant us…
24% …the bindle freely." 35% …your allegiance." 41% …a contest for it."
She nods. A swift arc of her body & sword sheers the willow & moss afore you & catapults the bindle into the unseen.
26% Chase after it. 56% Send the hound. 18% Jump the gray woman.
The hound splashes bindleward through the fen as swiftly as his limp allows. You fix your bulbous eyes on the woman.
22% Tarry her. 9% Slip away. 61% Speak with her. 8% Follow at your pace.
The gray swordswoman kneels to meet your eyes, "You tarry, toad. Perhaps the bindle is not all that you seek."
50% Ask about the vole. 50% Ask about her quest.
"I seek to know the vole's mind & your quest." The woman leans on her sword as you do on Ona's, "I owe the vole…
21% …only a favor." 6% …my allegiance." 21% …my life." 52% …nothing."
"I am here on the word of a vole who spoke & promised more such oddities if I found that bindle. What of you, toad?"
50% "Tis my bindle." 31% "The vole vexes me." 19% "Are you amused?"
"Is it the bindle you seek or what was found within?" she asked, opening a pouch of nuts, fruit & fey-stolen fungi.
13% Steal the mushrooms. 13% Beg her for them. 74% Feign indifference.
"I care not for either. What were the vole's instructions to you?" you croak. Frowning, she tucks the pouch away.
18% "To hide it." 33% "To recover it." 49% "To play messenger."