A Walkthrough

A spiritual sequel to Let’s Play.

A long time ago, now, I used to play Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I’d play it every day before school, during lunch time, or on one of my breaks, during the downtime waiting for food runs between the table-top role-playing games I’ve always had with my friends, and before bed when I really needed to sleep.

It wasn’t even the DX version, which might date me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I did play it once and while when I got a GBC, but more often than not it’d be my old Gameboy with its chartreuse, grey-white casing, and faded grey yellow screen where I’d play the original. One of my friends might have told you about that already so I guess you’re not hearing anything particularly new.

Some retro players I know say that they like the 8-bit tunes: that it brings them nostalgia. You know the kind: the type that reminds you of being kids, not having to pay taxes, not working a dead-end job, not being on welfare or disability, always have energy — being so damned restless, vibrating with it — and going over to your best friend’s house after school. A lot of players like the original Zelda because of a similar feeling, you know? The Legend of Zelda was all cryptic and obscure on the NES, but it was really all about weird symbols, fighting monsters, and exploring. You never knew what you were going to find in that 8-bit world.

But to me, the music and pixels aren’t nostalgic. They don’t remind me of something that happened to me, of my childhood, or what I used to be. Playing those games reminds me of a place that doesn’t exist: that never did. When I played A Link to the Past, for example, it was new and exciting and tapped into a mythic place that even when you were directed to where you needed to go, there was still something new to discover in that colourful, dark world between worlds. And yeah, I’ve played Ocarina of Time, and Majora’s Mask that both tried to be all third dimensional, and all the games that became part of a timeline. The Hyrule Historia is a beautiful clusterfuck that tried to take iterations of a legend and a myth, and impose a linear-chronology onto the experiences: or a least a heroic test of multiple choice.

And every time, when left to my own devices, I’d return to Link’s Awakening. But just like I don’t wear baseball caps nowadays, I don’t play that game anymore, at least not as often these days. I always said that one of the reasons why it’s my favourite Zelda game is that the game’s not about Princess Zelda at all … if any of them ever really have been. I’d relax into the familiar koan of Link gradually realizing that he is asleep in the dream of a greater, ancient being that dreamed an entire island into existence on the open sea. And I’d think to myself, way before the Historia ever came, that this was more the Adventure of Link than Zelda II, and its cool side-scrolling uneven linear weirdness, had ever been.

Way before I knew about artificial intelligence attaining consciousness, or awakening — far before dealing with Mother 2 and its Magicant that we barely missed out on in North America, I just felt that quest of Link encountering all the strange entities that made up his dreaming mind: his hopes, his humour, his play, his fears, and his pain. I mean, can you imagine being someone knowing that you will always have to save a princess? That she will never really be safe? That no matter what you do, you will have to go out there, or your kids, or spiritual successors will need to head out and fight the demons and the monstrosities that you can never fully quell? After a while, if you were that character — if that kind of character had a consciousness — the cycle would all seem so utterly meaningless.

But I think what made me really stop playing Link’s Awakening, was Marin.

Zelda isn’t the only girl you meet in the Zelda series. From Malon to Princess Ruto of the Zoras to Nabooru and her questionable gifts to helpful little boys … to Midna and her clever little games that lead to her true nature, all of them were interesting. And sometimes you had to save some of them, or fight alongside another, or do a quest for them. And whatever else, they always wanted something from Link.

Even now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just life really, miniaturized and making you see just how things are. But Marin is … she was different. At the beginning of Awakening, Marin is the one that saves you. She nurses you back to health at her and her father Tarin’s hut. She sings songs in the Animal Village and it’s her song that helps you progress past the Walrus. And all you have to do, in exchange, is spend time with her. That’s it. You fool around with her in Mabe Village, falling down a well, playing the Trendy Game, and eventually talking on the side of the beach where she found you the first time … and you almost talk about real feelings.

Even when you do have to save her on Tal Tal Heights, she almost tells you something important: something that isn’t part of waking up the Wind Fish. By the time the game is almost over, she will teach you “The Ballad of the Wind Fish” and that you remember her when you leave the Island, as she will never forgive you if you forget her.

Of course, you always discover the truth: that Koholint Island was created from the dream of an ancient and powerful being known as the the Wind Fish, and that once the Nightmares keeping it asleep are defeated, it will awaken and the Island and everyone on it will cease to exist.

In the end, when I look back on the game now Marin, the girl who saved Link, and never asked anything from him aside from spending some time with her … also never existed. At least Midna exists somewhere in the Twilight Realm. In many ways for Link, it’s so much worse than someone you love being dead, than not being in the same reality anymore, than your Princess even being in another Castle.

I’m a lot older now, obviously, since the first time I played this game … since even the first couple of times I played it. I can refer, roughly, to a Japanese sentiment of mono no aware: an understanding of the beauty of sadness in the transitory nature of things. I can also go into some Classical Western thought and look at a woman representing the wisdom that a man gains when he ultimately loses her, especially by his own hand: as Link did when he beat all Eight Nightmares, and used the song that Marin taught him to awaken the Wind Fish.

Yeah. Even now, I’m still not comfortable with either thought: that Marin had to cease to exist, that she had never existed, so that Link could complete his own awakening as a whole person away from Zelda … before, you know, presumably returning to Hyrule and reaffirming the cycle all over again. Hell, Marin even looked like Zelda, when it comes right down to it.

That was my final koan, really, as we all finished high school. What did it mean when you met someone — when Link meets someone who helps him, who just wants to spend time with him in exchange and ends up never existing? Is gaining and losing someone like her the only way he could be free? And was he truly free? I used to dream about it, at times, even when I fell asleep in front of my laptop playing the “Sword Search” theme of Link’s Awakening: the song making me think of a Link who had gone old and grey, who’d retired from adventuring, who had put the Master Sword away for his successors, and dozed on his front porch remembering bygone days when he was a hero and he persevered, and had many quests. I wondered if sometimes, in his sleep, he thought about a seagull singing her song across the world. I wondered if, in his sleep, he ever murmured her name, after all that time.

I was a very angry kid back then. Like I said, the game was never nostalgic. For me, it always reminded me of the present. And when the present became the past after a while, and I got tired of playing and watching playthroughs past 5 am, I put the game away, and moved onto other things.

The thing about a game, is that when it frustrates you, it’s that it generates the opposite of a Zen state. And it’s in that negativity, when you can’t solve that part, that sometimes you need to step away and do something else for a while. Maybe one day, after I’ve played some other games, I will return to this one, searching across an invisible shore, an ephemeral beach. And maybe then, I’ll finally find the answer.

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Alternative Facts: An Alternate Perspective On You and I

This is one of my first Mythic Bios revisits today. I said before that I didn’t conduct my examination of Alternative Facts in order. And now, to complicate things even further, I realized I actually forgot some things and instead of adding them to my previous entry, I thought about it, and came to the decision that these elements deserve their own.

In my last article, I mentioned how the first draft of “Lost Words” didn’t really work. The spirit of it was there, but it wasn’t really direct. I wrote about a few reasons why it had issues, and while most of them were structural and still trying to figure out what they were beyond a gimmick or two, there is one major change between the first and the succeeding drafts.

The first draft of “Lost Words” was actually in first-person. The narrator, who was a student academe, was talking to their teacher. They are separate from the reader, they and their teacher at the Freed Dome. The entire situation is outlined for the reader through the dialogue and some small description on the part of the narrator. In a way, they are basically telling you what is going on more than anything and as I said in my “Alternative Facts” analysis, it is a more “Gee Willikers this is the World, Batman” dynamic and feeling more than anything else. In other words, it felt cheap. It felt like, as I said before, a gimmick to sell one idea. And some of that is fair as I never thought there would be an interconnected story after this until a friend of mine said all but said they wanted to see a story about the Repos that survived their official disbandment and their exile from the main State of Amarak.

The first draft wasn’t even a Word Document. It was an inline text email that I’d sent to my girlfriend at the time, and then my friend a few months later after we reconnected. To be honest, I even forgot about what literary perspective I used. For a while, I even thought I wrote it in third person limited perspective because there were two characters having dialogue with one another. Talk about degrees of separation and cognitive dissonance: thoughts that are appropriate given the title of the series, and the times that has inspired it.

I don’t remember why I chose to rewrite it, and then rewrite and write the succeeding stories in second person perspective. Second person perspective is not a common literary narrative point of view. It is the kind of thing you would expect in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or a video game, or the post-card fiction I was told about by my World Literature teacher back in Grade 13 or OAC. I thought it interesting, and I played with it when I designed Twine narratives and even some of my own Choose Your Own Adventure and Roleplaying Game experiments back in the day.

But as I planned to hone the story down … you see, it’s clever. Not me, but … one of those age-old exercises you always get in literary classes is to determine what narrative perspective you are using. And even as I reviewed my stories for this article, I see how tricky it is. Technically, “Lost Words” is first-person perspective. However … the narrator is talking to an audience. They are talking to you.

It isn’t as clear, perhaps, in the first story but from “Freedom” and onward, while there is an “I,” there is also a “You.” Certainly, Alternative Facts stories like “View From the Badlands” and “Beyond the Wall” actually have specific narrator characters, and the others have a clearly delineated group talking to the reader-audience, to you, but that is just it, isn’t it? It feels as though they are talking to someone. There is always a you in this narrative.

Even in “Lost Words,” there is a general “you” when the narrator talks about their research into the past. This tenuous link between the first and second perspectives in the narrative, arguably and from my obviously “unbiased” opinion, makes it so that you aren’t only watching an interaction, or passively having the information revealed to you. The idea is that you are involved in the process. You are supposed to be immersed in this world, through this pronoun become a verb. You aren’t separate from it. This isn’t another place or another time. And even if it is, you are there with them: actively discovering this.

Of course, you have to suspend your disbelief or pique your interest to do this little bit of roleplaying. You can remind yourself that you aren’t in this. That you are beyond it. But as I think more about it, in this convoluted way, given the subject matter about politics and horror, and the movement of a world, what is the difference between “I” and “you.” I refers to one’s self, but when “you” is used it refers to another. It can be exclusionary, but it can also be inclusive, an invitation, a realization that one is — that you — aren’t separate, but rather in the same place. Maybe not in the same situation, but you have that invitation to being invited to being a part of the story, to even the illusion of actively exploring it.

I’m looking at what I’ve written already, and I wonder if there was any point to it: if I have actually communicated anything worthwhile at all. I suppose, if I really look at it, the way that Alternative Facts takes “I” and “you” sometimes makes them distinct, but also makes the boundaries between them finer … almost erasing them entirely. It takes some doing to see where one ends and the other begins, to see which one is true, and which one is not. It gets muddy, and a bit unsettling even to talk about: and not just because of the strange hodge-podge language.

And maybe that is the point. Or something.

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Steven Universe: From My Crystal Heart

Spoiler Warning: There are series spoilers in the body of this article. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

As of this writing, I just finished watching the latest series of episodes of Steven Universe: in the Heart of the Crystal Gems arc. And, I think, this is an article for the fans.

I’ve written about Steven Universe, and the Crystal Gems elsewhere. It is a show very close to my heart. I wouldn’t have seen it coming, really. It is a children’s cartoon show with some very elemental illustration, brightly coloured animation, musical sequences, and humour. It is also a show with depth, character development, and world-building that slowly builds into some excellent storytelling. It talks about feelings. Some people might scoff, or laugh about feelings, but emotions are complex things, and Steven Universe doesn’t skim over that fact.

It is a show that starts off as a Magical Girls trope subverted into a story about ancient extraterrestrial mineral beings — sentient Gems that can take humanoid, feminine form — dealing with the aftermath of rebelling against an intergalactic conqueror empire with which they belonged, the horrors of war, the consequences of secrets and regrets, while also eating strange food, dealing with the zany humans of Beach City, misunderstanding human customs in ridiculous ways, and singing about their feelings: how happy they are, how sad they are, how angry they are, how afraid they are, and how it is all right to feel all those emotions: loss, pain, humour, and joy.

I have also stated elsewhere that it is a show about relationships. This is shown with how they deal with humans and their environment, but also how the Gems deal with each other: and how they Fuse. Fusion is something of a Go, Go Power Rangers mechanic where they combine together to form a whole new being to fight against monsters. But even as the show questions what monsters really are, what evil is, what good is, it also looks at the mentality of Fusion: of Fusion as an extended metaphor for intimate relationships.

Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is a Fusion and emblematic of the entire theme of the show: made all the more apparent by recent events in the series of just how inspirational she truly is. She is the Fusion of a prophetic Sapphire, and a short-tempered Ruby. And you watch as she works well, as she falls apart, as she recombines, as she is two people who after thousands of years is still getting to each other and the expression of love: the action, the living verb that is Garnet.

And the show makes no bones about it. What Garnet is, this almost permanent state of Fusion often taken once and a while, or between Gems of one kind for purposes of war or building, is not the norm. It is an exception. Not the love, of course. Love can manifest in different ways, among different beings.

And watching hem recently deal with another hurdle in their Fusion, in their reason to Fuse, in their relationship made me think about something.

Sometimes, you don’t always keep your Garnet. Sometimes you don’t always find your Sapphire and everything you think you know will happen, doesn’t … or you ignore the fact that you know what will happen, because you just don’t want to know. Sometimes you don’t find your Ruby, and that place of spontaneity and bravery amid the humility that keeps something so truly special.

I suppose that is a misnomer, however. I think what I mean is when sometimes you don’t find your Ruby or your Sapphire, when I say you don’t always keep your Garnet what I am really saying is that sometimes your Ruby and Sapphire doesn’t stay.

It can be different, of course. Sometimes you are Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet. And sometimes you are a Garnet that has fun with an Amethyst, or a Garnet that lets a Pearl Fuse with her sometimes, or offers to show a ridiculous Peridot how to Fuse and places no pressure either which way.

But sometimes you do not stay Fused. Sometimes you have to separate. Sometimes it is just temporary as you talk outside the action that is Garnet. Sometimes you have to deal with other Gems, other people. Sometimes you have deal with the fact that you are other people too, or that there are other people that make up the totality of you. Sometimes you come back together, stronger than you were before.

Sometimes, you don’t.

Sometimes you are a Rose Quartz that doesn’t want to keep secrets, but doesn’t know how to do anything more and just as you stay with your Pearl, you find many others in your life before losing yourself to the experience, the dynamic, each time. Sometimes you are that Pearl waiting for your Rose Quartz to come back to you. Sometimes you are that Pearl pining for a Rose Quartz that will not — that cannot — come back.

Or you’re a cranky flustered Peridot that is used to the way things are, and you don’t see how lucky you are to meet other Rebels who can show you how life is, and that they will actually stay with you. Sometimes you are that Lapis Lazuli that’s been hurt and you flee the prospect of more pain while taking the barn, and the knick-knacks, while viewing the life that you left behind, that went on without you, that is going on without you on the Moon: missing it always.

You could also be that Bismuth whose Gem is inverted, and you try to do the right thing while always feeling a bit of loneliness while engrossing yourself in your work. Or, you’re that Jasper. You know the one: the one that feels like you have to prove yourself to everyone, and you wonder why you can’t hold a Fusion each time.

Or you’re a Diamond and you are hard and unyielding in your rules and strictures, but even the hardest heart can shatter under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the best thing to be, though and in retrospect, is an Amethyst. Sometimes you still don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t always care, and you just go with it until you realize that your one thousand year baggage is your own, and that you change yourself for only one person: you.

Mind you, being an Off Color — for all Gem society rejects it or hunts you down — can be fun too. You can all be freaks together, and who knows? Maybe you might become part of a great, old, chosen family of Fusion like a Fluorite, if you are brave enough, and if that is who you really are.

It’s easy, given that  Padparadscha Sapphire’ retrovision is 20/20, to look back and see the point where your foundation or body can vanish, or where you shatter, or whether or not you should have eaten all that garbage as Amethyst … or overeaten those Cookie Cat ice cream cookies that were so full of love that they made the Gem on your body, that makes up your very being, shine.

I don’t suppose there is a point to any of this. There never is. I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. Some I’d seen coming. Some I did not. Some I wish I hadn’t. You don’t always get to keep your Sapphire. You don’t always get to keep your Ruby. And Garnet, under most circumstances, never stays forever. That state of being, that insulated bubble and the barn with the weird art pieces and the animated Pumpkin entity pet can’t always be there in that current form.

Yeah. If you haven’t watched the show yet, that is a whole long, other story.

I don’t cry as much these days. But I do when I watch this show. It lets me. It’s appropriate when I do. Every time, especially now. I never thought it would have gotten into my life as much as it has. Under my skin. Into my heart. If only people were like the Gems, or even the people of Beach City where problems can always be solved through talking, and no one has to be that Jasper who sucks as Fusion forever.

But I think, as long as Steven Universe exists … as long as shows like it exist and the people that create them continue to possess this form of empathy — a strength of compassion and emotional depth — even if I never Fuse again, even if I feel disembodied, or broken, or flawed, or shattered, or “not made right” like an Off Color … even if I have to be alone like a moping Peridot, or a sad Lapis Lazuli just knowing something like it exists out there, like a Garnet who is almost always Fused and actually marries after over five thousand years honestly?

I can live with that. Despair, perhaps I am stronger than you, like an Amethyst on some Cookie Cat.

Or, you know: this lucky, awesome guy who has grown so much.

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10: Alternative Facts: Summer Camp

“Sometimes by losing a battle, you find a way to win the war.”
— Donald Trump and Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal

You’re back. You came to us, to the Badlands fore, cause you wanted our historia. Our mythologia. The mythologia of the State. Of the Cycle. Of Amarak.

To think your search started with just one word. I recall wording with you about the Cycle of Opposing, and its roots in the mythologia of Ground Zero. About the ethnoi, and ethnos. About the Disunity. About divise itself. Opposing, and divise start inside. You glean that. But it goes outside, too. It has to.

You found the Climbers. They told you, worded with you, about walls: about where they come from, how they form, and what they do. We traded lore for lore. You were told no Wall was made in Amarak. The Wall was always there.

Once, as the Pains of the Hidden Lady told you in Repo Land after you walked the zigzag path of the Hidden Festive, that they worshipped Libertas. And the last son of the Eleuth told you of how his lost Maters and sestra Pride named themselves after the Lady of the same name. Even now the center of the Repolitik is called Freed Dome: what our Land, this failed Rene Project, was supposed to be.

But that was Lye, as the Repos call it now, in the end.

Amarak was always a prison. And if there was a god of prisons, if it ever had a name, it would be the prophet of profits. Or the profit of prophets. Or the edicts of predicts, and predicts of edicts. Most populii came to Amarak — birthed Amarak — to serve, to live, to die: made by Europa to be monster, and labrys cleaved together. That is the story here.

The mythologia of the Sancts.

It was said to have happened after the Cycle of the Forty-Fourth Precedent, fore the Interregnum, when the Repo Party ruled. Many other States burned, then. Ethnoi were purged. Populii died. Amarak was free. It was a Sanct. It was made of Sancts. But those Sancts were iron vaults. They were lost time. Dark. They were prisons.

Amarak was a prison.

The Repos always talk about earning freedom. Their Gilder-Booms talk of sacrifice. But they have other words too.

It’s said that when populii wanted to flee their State, to come to Amarak, they could stay. They could be a part of it. Like the Amaraki of old. For a price. The diablo’s gamble. The Bargain.

The Bargain has been here as long as Amarak, throughout every Repolitik. Every Cycle. From the beginning of the Cycle. The terms just change. The stranger, the ethnoi, can’t pay to come in. They are feared. Hated. They are in divise with the State. Some try to, in the words of some of the Prides, climb the Wall, and they fail. Or they do it, facing the mercy of the Law. Of freedom. Of Amarak.

But Amarak is a prison, and a game. And Laws are Rules. The Coustume Guardians have ever been their enforcers. It’s clear. You can enter, or leave. But when you enter, you will be a part of that prison.

And your children will go to camp.

Fore the Interface, familia were sepped in the Dark of that Cycle, snatched away, placed in cages, in grey and metal. Not allowed to see their familia. Not allowed to play. Or touch. Or be touched by Amaraki Caretakers though, sometimes … They were.

It’s said that the children were supposed to be released fore long. As were their parere. Some were. Some never saw their familia again. Some never saw the children again. Or their camps of simmering summer garbage ruled by ice. These child prisons. These child Sancts.

The true Interregnum, the Dark Age, began with the silence of the child Sancts. When the Second Disunity started. Most of the child Sancts were under the so-called Great Repo Precedent, where it was said that work set them free, one way or another. Others were taken by Demos Brigaders and their princeps, the children freed. The populii wanted to bring down the regime. Others, were still lost. It’s said that even now, a thousand years later, there are still parere looking for their children, children wandering for their parer, forever sep … And others, even now, dwell in the husks of the Sancts, lost to the labrys of a lost Repolitik, starving, lonely, angry, and isolate.

You’ve been to Freed Dome. During the Reunity and the beginning of the Tripartite Repolitik it was built on the ruins of a tyranny, made into a Collective for young academes, Affirmation Groups, and visitors. It was made Sanct, one of many to memor the atrocities of the Lost Sancts, just like the remains of the Coustume Posts and their flower gardens. Some Sancts, in the former Repo fiefdoms, remain as more ruined memors, while others are cities made Reserves for “exotic” antiq-ID ethnoi, or those that grew in the Sancts. Over time, during the wars and the retreat of the Repos, forgotten by them and the Demos, the children of those Sancts grew, and traveled.

There is another story as well to tell. There is mythologia we have made collect, from our Eyes in the Interface, from the Badlands to the Borders, that some of the Sancts still remain: that they have made liberate themselves over many gen. Some may have met each other throughout, embraced the silence that killed so many, and become Co-operative. We have heard a few whispers that perhaps some, called the Free Sancts, actually exist: beyond Repo and now Tripartite Repolitik gleaning.

If true, they don’t seem to be on the Interface, Markers, and all. But we want to glean them as well: to glean their historia… their own mythologia. The Gilder-Booms would have you know, by their own coustume, that their children are made hallow by the armaments to which they have destruct themselves, and others. But if there is any hallowness, any heroism, in any of this, after all this time it’s that true sacrifice is what the children of the Free Sancts suffered, thrown away, used, destruct, or left to keep the Wall — the Prison — of Amarak alive.

But if they live, beyond this, without the control of the Repolitik, then perhaps they did it, broken away from the Cycle. Perhaps they did win the war that the Repos lost despite them.

Maybe now, they really are what Amarak should be: children in summer. Perhaps they are the children that are now, truly, free.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2018.

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Arkham Horror: Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King

Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King
by Gloria Goldberg

Zelda Zimmerman jumps out of the shimmering portal, just barely eluding the lumiscient tendrils that almost had her in their grasp. Her company, Mr. Law, lands at her side breathing heavily. Those cigars obviously haven’t done her self-appointed bodyguard very much favours.

“Damnation woman!” He gasps, reaching out a shaking hand to readjust his Homburg hat. “I thought only Kraut U-Boats could go deeper than that. What were …”

“It’s best not to think too much on such matters, Mr. Law.” Zelda says, her fingers still grasping the soil of the Manchester Cemetary hard as she comes back to her feet, her other hand clutching her .45 pistol. She is shaky, but she doesn’t want to show it. It’s bad enough that she had already lost her favourite cigarette case somewhere down the line in between all the grisly, eldritch trophies she has practically sewn into her violet attire, but it’s only now that the laudenium from the Sanitarium is beginning to wear off. “But we delved the mysteries of the Sunken City, of R’lyeh itself. The City of Yith from the Witch House was bad enough, but I have just enough … just enough to …”

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!” Mr. Law shouts, loading his shotgun and pointing it into the nearby shadows. “What in all hell’s deep is that!”

“Oh … dear …” Zelda mutters a few Slavic curses to match some of Mr. Law’s more colourful sailor language as the .. crustacean, covered in fungus … made of it … hovers towards her. “Don’t … look directly at it, Mr. Murphy. I will … I must …”

One would think that after finding themselves in an eternal, sunken city, surrounded by green … so much green, that Zelda would be desensitized to the presence of such an otherworldly, almost aquatic entity. She mutters a spell, taken from one of the old books in her travels, protecting Mr. Law from realizing the entity further. As it is, her own mind strains as the Mi-Go hovers forwards. It … must have come from another of the many portals that the Golden King’s cult of Actors, his otherworldly chorus and dithyramb, opened throughout the city.

Ironically, even as Mr. Law opens fire at the being, Zelda falls back on her knowledge of forbidden lore to ground her fraying sanity. Its antennae twitch, obviously sensing her and her companion, but perhaps drawn to the psychic lifeforce she already utilized to protect the latter.

“Come with us …” It clicks. “You are a … worthy specimen.”

Zelda sees the discoloured part of its body. A part of her, not reeling in instinctual terror barely staving off maddening revulsion suspects it had been here for a while. Many dark things hide in Manchester, along the river Merrimack, but now so late into the drama, so close to the finale of the Golden King, they don’t their cloaks and masks anymore.

“Come with us.” It croons, with its loathsome, clattering voice created from some of the most unfathomable surgery, an inhuman practice of medicine with or without a willing donor. “We can free your mind. Free it to soar forever through the stars …”

“I have … had enough adventures for one evening …” She says, shrugging off the temptation of an inhuman voyage, a liberation from flesh, embracing horror beyond horror to feel nothing but the possibility of eternal knowledge and falling, falling forever. “For several lifetimes!” Zelda snarls as she moves her fingers and intones the ancient signs while continuing to fire her pistol.

It all becomes a blur. The creature shrieks towards her and then, it is lying there, mouldering on the ground, still twitching. She blinks. Mr. Law is lying on the ground. Zelda staggers over to him and checks his pulse. Thankfully, he is simply unconscious from the strain. She wants to join him, badly, but the portal still shimmers. The interdimensional energies she and her fellow Dramatis Personae have been closing and sealing are feeding the madness of Manchester, stirring the Golden King from behind his Wall of Sleep. But this one is different. Its power is immense. She knew that much, even before literally leaping into it. This is the crucial one.

But … She isn’t powerful enough. She Sealed the one at the Witch House, but she knew so much more then. She was just a little stronger, then. And even that portal wasn’t as potent as this one to the dread Dreamer’s realm, leaving all these horrors to roam Manchester.

It has to be enough, though. She has gathered the Elder Signs. She just needs to dig deep for her strength. Lord Cerentes, in his drifter guise worthy of Odysseus himself, has already closed enough of the portals. And Alicia Pointe has closed some more, and even Sealed one with Zelda’s own advice. This is it. This is their only chance to cancel the finale of the Golden King’s Play …

But just as Zelda is about to intone the ancient words, something comes out of the portal. She tenses, but perhaps her brain has gone numb to all the horror with which she has participated today when an amphibian humanoid shambles out towards them.

Of course, it makes sense. R’lyeh wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. They had intruded into their realm. Worse, they are attempting to close the gate between their space and their world’s.

The Deep One walks up to her and the fallen Mi-Go … and stops. It takes Zelda a moment, until she realizes what this is. A realization that isn’t a terrible truth spikes through her mind. They are all eldritch beings, abominations, but they are not in league with each other! The Golden King is a rival of the Dreamer … and the Deep Ones and the Mi-Go at some point in prehistoric times had a war on the very Earth itself.

She feels the Deep One looking at her expectantly. Zelda knows that what happens next will determine whether or not she will live: which will not matter a jot if the Golden King awakens in this world!

Zelda bows to the Deep One, gesturing at the Mi-Go. She notices the crustacean jolting. It is crippled, but it still lives. It is buzzing, almost pathetically. The Deep One snarls and with one swipe, it grabs the remnants of the Mi-Go. She watches this repulsive sight, as the amphibian tackles and rips apart the fungal hybrid to reveal … a glowing blue shape …

The Deep One looks back at her. It snarls again, but inclines her head. She would have said, in more outlandishly better circumstances, that it was a gesture of thanks but the feral, maliciousness in its slitted eyes belays any of that. It’s almost as though … it is some kind of playful joke. Then, it takes its somehow still living, wriggling, prey and disappears back into the portal, leaving the glowing object behind it.

And then Zelda realizes why.

It is a pyramidal crystal, not seen since the earliest antiquity. The Watcher in the Dark. There is the power of an Ancient One within this inhuman artifact. It preludes it from being used against its creator or its kin, but … It can allow one to accomplish anything else, just for a moment … for as long as their body can handle its power.  

Zelda looks up at the pulsating portal as its edges grow, and she realizes the cruel jape and knows that she has no choice. She clutches the pyramid in her hands, chanting the Signs … even as the mystical energies in the artifact begin leeching away her vitality … Zelda screams from the pain of her life essence flowing into the object, acting as a battery, as it empowers her mind and she finishes her ritual …

The Elder Sign forms over the Portal, suturing the rent air, sealing the threads of existence back into place, containing the eldritch truths behind it even as Zelda Zimmerman slouches to the ground, finally, and completely exhausted.

*

“So damned many of them …”

Zelda is barely able to nod her head in agreement as she and Mr. Law hide in the crypt from the Golden King’s swarm of hovering actors. She munches, slowly, on the chocolate that Mr. Law had been so kind to retrieve from her pouches. She feels a little better, but not by much.

“They know their Play can end …” She croaks. “Now they are pulling all the stops … I’m just … glad I sacrificed enough power beforehand to disrupt their last Ritual …”

“Easy there, lady.” He actually pats her on the shoulder. “Shell-shock’s going to be bad enough as is, we’ll just stay here, lay low, until we get our strength back … I could drink for days after this.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Law.” Zelda murmurs. “The authorities do not seem to take kindly to drinkers, even at the end of the world …”

The truth is, Zelda Zimmerman is tired. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to continue. It is up to her companions now. She slouches against the wall of the crypt. And, before finally giving into the exhaustion of pain and mental fatigue, she sees a fresco. It is splayed out on the opposite well and it glows with a peaceful, gentle radiance. Serenity flows over her as she knows, now, that the sanctity of this place has been restored.

For just as erasing the Holy Name from the clay of the golem ceased its rampages, this Sign, this Elder Sign returned a rightful slumber to the Manchester Cemetery.

“Well …” Mr. Law mutters. “Would you look at that …”

Zelda smiles. Perhaps not all magic, not all of the universe, is cold and uncaring after all. They rest on the ground in companionable silence, before the sound of firearms boom through the quiet.

“Hello!” A familiar voice calls.

“In here!” Mr. Law shouts back, recognizing the voice as well.

There is the sound of a gun being cocked, as the dark haired, disheveled form of Alicia Pointe stumbles in. “Madame Zimmerman, I see you succeeded.”

“Yes, dear.” Zelda replies, smiling at the younger woman. “And you as well.”

“I was almost right behind you in that watery city.” Alicia looks at her own assortment of eldritch trophies and Zelda’s. “Between us and the drifter, we are going to be advancing Manchester Dissection Science by a few decades or more.”

“Centuries even.” Zelda grunts, coming back to her feet. “Though no one will talk about any of this. I know. This is probably not the first time.”

“I don’t care about any of that.” Alicia spits, unladylike, into the crypt. “Right now, those gentlemen on the City Council, the people in this town, know who cleaned up this little bit of entertainment. I will make Chief. They owe me that much. Maybe even a run or two for office …”

“All I want to do right now is order a drink.” Mr. Law grouses beside them.

“I hope so.” Zelda says, wanting nothing more than that the drink that the Federal authorities took from her earlier in the evening. “Let us leave this place to the dead. Perhaps Lord Cerentes can avail us of his hiding capabilities and find us some of the moonshine I smelled on his person.”

“Amen, sister.” Alicia says, putting an arm around both Zelda and Mr. Law as they walk back to the city, the horror finally over. For now.

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Arkham Horror: Finale of the Golden King

Finale of the Golden King  
by Gloria Goldberg

Epilogue

In the end, no one would know the events that led to the election of the first woman Mayor of Manchester. From a humble graduate student at St. Anselm College and part time bank clerk, to Police Deputy, and eventually the Chief of Police the Right Honourable Alicia Pointe’s star rose — her chart taken into her own hands — as another, more eldritch celestial body, as though from the Hyades, from Lost Carcosa finally fell: leaving the State and mankind’s world with a sigh of relief to the conclusion of a play with which they did not know they were even participants.

As a protagonist in what would become a rendition of the dread Epic of the Golden King come to Manchester, the city elders knew that Ms. Pointe had cast aside the yellow fleece of ignorance and cowardice to fully embrace the cold, hard truth of the terrible knowledge that they could not: that we — all of us — are just characters on a stage, our actors our intentions, forces that can be subverted and so easily broken, and yet with indomitable will we can conquer the stars.

In the chaos of the final act of the psychodrama, when authority fled from the terror of backstage and the Golden King’s horrific, bloodthirsty cult of actors and eldritch abominations, it is only fitting that a woman of strong character and fortitude such as Alicia Pointe — deputized by blood and firearms, and knowledge — would eventually ascend to the position of Mayor to do what others cannot: with exchequer, frugality, and the lore of the eldritch truth.

No one would truly know this, however, beyond the city elders who have always suspected, but hidden from the horrors in the backstage of Manchester, from the spaces between the world itself, that Alicia Pointe did not act alone.

As Ms. Pointe had faced down the actors of the Golden King with fisticuffs, keen wit, firearms, and occult aptitude, a sovereign and his faithful hound pursued and entrapped the darkness in the places from where it planned to strike. His name will always be known, throughout the hallowed halls of humanity’s Dreamscape as Cerentes of Ashemore who — with his trusty friend Cornwall — learned to navigate the dark places, the forgotten spaces, to survive and travel through the fragile places between sleep and wakefulness, in the deepest, darkest alleyways of Manchester to ward our world against evil beyond understanding.

After the Finale of the Play, Cerentes and Cornwall vanished from this world, perhaps to complete their apotheosis in Ashemore beyond the red dawn. Nothing was left behind of this saviour, save a beggar face down in a gutter, an emaciated dog at his side, an empty  shotgun, an emptier jug of moonshine, and a small funeral.

Zelda Zimmerman remembers this truth. She is even more a myth now than Lord Cerentes and Cornwall the Great. As Cerentes lurked the shadows as hunter and hunted, and Ms. Pointe took charge of the streets in dearth of local and Federal authority, Madame Zimmerman navigated the highs and lows of the realities themselves. She will never forget facing down the shoggoth in the Abyss, with only a revolver and crucifix-blessed bullets to bring it down, or the eldritch power she turned upon the Golden King’s cultists, or even Byakhee, Star Spawn and Cthonian that she turned to dust. She will always remember the Other Dimension and climbing the endless rope like Jacob’s Ladder, the presence that tried to take her mind that she overcame in the City of the Great Race, and evading the living halls of R’lyeh, the cultists’ manipulation of the Law to seal her away, sealing the Witch House, leaving the Elder Signs as marks for with which the inhuman players of the Golden King will forever remember her by.

If Ms. Pointe is their Executioner, and Lord Cerentes their Hunter, then perhaps it isn’t too much of an authorial exaggeration to say that Madame Zimmerman became the Witch — the Baba Yaga with fire and sorcerous might — of the Eternal Dream with whose destruction she had dedicated her mind and body.

The years pass now as the eternal tyranny of the Golden King failed to feed on the madness of his story, sealed behind the Great Wall that was once his greatest triumph, his most pronounced tragedy. But does not all enlightenment come from accepted one’s limits? Even now, to this very day, these limits remain reinforced by the three that came to Manchester: Ms. Pointe, Manchester’s Favourite Daughter, the Lord Cerentes from the realm Ashemore, and Madame Zimmerman as Lore Master of their own coven: the Fellowship of the Dramatis Personae.

For it is these three, with their intrepid allies in the dark, that faced horrors that would have made a Machen, a Chambers, or even a Lovecraft blanch. And it is from the land of the river Merrimack that the Dramatis Personae  will, for as long as they are able, keep Manchester and the world from the Golden King and his brethren, from allowing humanity to exeunt stage left.

Gloria Goldberg is a best-selling author of Strigoi Risen and Witches Have Wishes. Having spent her childhood in Romania with parents of Roma and Ashkenazi extraction, Ms. Goldberg has brought their storytelling sensibilities to the English language and America where she currently resides as the Writer-in-residence at Miskatonic University, in Arkham, Massachusetts. When she isn’t hosting readings or her reader’s circles at Velma’s Diner, Mrs. Goldberg volunteers at Arkham”s own Shelter for Ulthar Cats.

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9: Alternative Facts: Beyond the Wall

“But one man’s golem once grew so tall, and he heedlessly let him keep on growing so long that he could no longer reach his forehead.”
— Jakob Grimm, Zeitung für Einsiedler (“Journal for Hermits”)

I was a Llang. I am also Mas. This is my Test on this Interface during what the Heterodox call the Cis-Trans War.

My sestra, part of the Queen’s Pride, we knew about the Spectra. But we were Sep: Deep Sep. Our Fore-Climbers, they believed in the Lady. The Lost Lady. We left the Walls of the Heterodoxy behind us after the Maters met with the other Prides and made the Spectra. Our Maters and Ladies would talk to the Joys and the rest, while we lived our lives Sep to heal: to heal from Mas turned poison — Poison Mas — by the Heterodox.

We embraced the ways of Fem, in our land, deep in the Borders. We farmed and wove like the rest of our small Pride. The Llangs, our Queens … our Aunts, our elder sestra, were hosts. Our line took on another path, another name. Eleuth. We … we were Eleuth, after our Lady. I still believe in her, even now, even after everything …

I was divise. I couldn’t help it. I felt … divise, but not Joy. Never really Joy. I’d never seen one. Few of us did, until that day … Even now, it is hard to say how I gleaned it. I just felt it, even as a child. My sestra Eleuth, they didn’t judge me. That is not the story I am going to tell. They knew I was divise, diverse, but of them. I was still borne from my Mater, my Maters … after receiving the Vessel of Trade from the Joys and Mas Binaries beyond our small proper: the way most of us are made. I was still their child by the Accords of Life, agreed by the Spectra over a thousand years ago. I was still part of my sisters.

The Eleuth do not hate Mas. They did not … They did not have agon with me. They loved me. Even though, by the rites of our Pride I knew I would have to leave one day, I knew I was not poison. I became their only son. Their child.

We knew nothing about the War. I grew and found a wife. We were going to have a child together by Trade and the Accords of Life. Of course, that was the point. That was what changed everything. The Eleuth couldn’t have us stay. Even so, we had their blessing. We would go to a new Pride. They were going to prepare a Leavetaking for us. It was sad, but joyous. A Sep of another kind. But there was acceptance. We were in the middle of it, when …

The Meides came.

The Eleuth rarely ever saw them. I’d learned since, why they were made. The Gen-Que, those I’ve met, said a thousand years ago — when the Spectra was still young — they feared attack from the Heterodox. Even in their Disunity, in agon with each other, and after in their Interregnum when they were just healing, as we once had, their disunities threatened to spill over and poison our land. We fled from them once before, before the Second Disunity. We needed protection.

It is said, by the Gen-Que, that they helped the Spectra make the Meides. Brethren and sestra to work for the Spectra, and all Prides: chosen for strength, and passing on word to each Pride and its smaller Prides. They were to fight the Heterodoxy and the Heterodox. They were to find spies. They were to send word and defend us if we were under attack. Warriors and truth-tellers, the Gen-Que told me later, their hearts to be made of Stone the Gen-Que said, to their everlasting shame. That was how the Meides began.

The Meides that came to the Eleuth, to the distant sestra of the Llangs that day, were filled with Joys and Llangs. It was the first time we’d seen Mas, of any kind aside from … me, in our land in cycles. I could smell the discomfort, the … fear from my sestra. If there were Trans-Gen or Binaries among them, they were quiet. The others were not. They told the Maters of the Eleuth that there were Traitors among the People. That the Heterodox was poisoning us again, causing trouble, and war.

They pointed at me. They saw me and my wife. They said I was Heterodox, that I was infected with Poison Mas — I was Poison Mas — and that they needed to take me in: that I was a Traitor to our Pride, and the Spectra. The Eleuth couldn’t glean it. It didn’t make sense. We are … we were Sep from Mas, mostly, but the Maters knew — believed — that the Spectra embraces Binaries, even let Binaries leave the Eleuth or … or Trans-Gen to go into the other Prides that they need. I was not overt. My hair was short and I wore legs, but that didn’t mean anything. My sestra let me stay as I hunted, with them, and only wanted to live. I never said I was Mas. I didn’t have to.

We didn’t know, I didn’t know, about the Pan-Binary Prides and their agon with the Spectra. The Meides, that day, told us about the … Traitors, the Binaries and Trans-Gen, in agon with the Spectra and using the poison of Heterodoxy to betray and murder the rest of the Prides. That the Spectra’s peace with the Heterodoxy was our fault: and we were just helping them poison our People … helping them by letting me stay here.

The Gen-Que, later, told me the Meides lost their way. Even at their height, no one ruled them, not even the Spectra. Only themselves.

I saw them, then. I saw their armaments. I was going to do it. I was going to go over. Even then, I gleaned what would happen if I didn’t. The Maters … my wife, my sestra, refused. They appealed. They asked to talk to the Llang, to our Honoured Aunts, to at least let me go to another Pride with my wife, to the Trans-Gen, or the Binaries if need be …

The Meides leader said something, I still recall. She said: the Llangs knew. They let them through. That those who can pass through the Wall, must be destruct.

They shot first. That’s all I can recall. My wife pushed me away. The Maters and the sestra, they fought. They told me to run. I didn’t want to. I wanted to fight. I felt agon. I could hunt, but I couldn’t kill.  What good was being … being who I was if I couldn’t fight, embrace agon, to defend those I loved? To do even that? So much I didn’t understand and no one to teach me, in the middle of madness. It made no sense. Why send a Traitor to so distant a place? So isolate? Who told them about us? About me? Nothing made sense when my wife fell. When my sestra died …

My own Mater told me to run … That they would win if I stayed. If I died …

I don’t know why I ran.

I should have died with my sestra.

I kept running. I don’t glean, even now, how they didn’t find me. Maybe the deaths of all the Eleuth, was enough for them. Maybe they believed they got me. I ran. I ran deep into the Borderlands, near the Badlands. The Maters always told us to keep away from them, more than anything else. There are no Domes, just the wrecks of them, and the Nats and their holes. The elders told us the Nats are danger: rejecting techne, scire … even medicine … to be one with the World … It was said, that the Heterodox, during the Disunity and the Interregnum, used to send people to the Nats to die of the disease they embraced, that they became.

I used to think they were just tales to scare us, to scare children … Until I saw them too.

Warped, twisted … I don’t recall. Sick. I was so sick. Infected. Poison Mas … Maybe I did have it. I ran deep into the Badlands, passed where even the Nats live … Burning … I should have died.

The Eleuth had another tale, though. About the Badlanders.

I woke in a tent. I don’t glean, even now, how long I was with death. No one was with me, but water and food. And a tablet. It linked to the Interface. I’d never even gleaned it existed, among the Eleuth. We just told each other what we needed to glean, and the Elders told us the rest from our Queens, our Aunts, our Greater Maters … who betrayed us.

The tablet had a missive. It told me I could find them, here. Or, I could join up with something called the New Spectra. But that I should know about my sestra … and my brethren.

Brethren … an alien, but comforting name. It fit in me, even with the emptiness without the Eleuth, my Maters, my wife  … I put my hand on the word for brethren on the tablet. I slept again.

Until I was found by my new family.

A few cycles have passed since I’ve joined Those Who Can Pass the Wall. The Climbers. Mas, Fem, and even Is. And Gen-Que. The Gen-Que taught me about Gen and Affinities. The Trans-Gen, helped me through the Rite of Transformation, sometimes the body, and sometimes the mind … diverse for each person. My spirit knew what it was, though. I always did. The Newtons, or the Tess as they also like to call themselves, sometimes showed me genii. I showed them the tablet. The Binaries and Pan, sometimes Dual, or Faire, or in Units, they showed me how they love … and fight by Passing Through the Wall, affecting one Affinity to glean information from the Joys and Llangs that thought they were the same, or the Trans-Gen who passed affecting Gen to do the same.

I gleaned more. The Meides never thought we were “pure” — that we were too diverse, too potential Heterodox — and the others share this idea.The Spectra is HetSoc, but they are not Heterodox, or so they say to themselves: Playing Reunity only to get what they want. The Heterodox claims to want diverse, on their terms, to claim diverse and make themselves a mask of mercy for their polit-societas. In turn, the Heterodox promises the Spectra, the other Prides — the majority of Joys and Llangs — mech wooms and changing seed techne and scira to replace the Vessel of Trade and the Accords of Life. The rest of us are expended to them. It makes me think about my Maters. About my wife, and the child we never had. The Spectra,plans to erase us. Or at least do nothing while the Meides come for us, and kill them after they are done.

But we are not done.

Just as I learned, from the Meides, that those that can pass through the Wall must be destruct, I also gleaned from my sestra and brethren, my family, the lessons of the Fore-Climbers against the ancient Heterodox: the ones that made the Spectra that failed us.

Our ID is our weapon. Our weapon is our ID.

The Joys and Llangs have their favourites: their consorts still Trans-Gen or Binary, and have just embraced quiet. Just wearing another wall. Hiding fluidity in a Stone. Sometimes, we appeal to someone through one ID that is really another. Sometimes, we take from them with that same ID. Other times, we kill them under the ID of another.

That is my personal agon. My fight. This is my Test on this tablet. On the Interface. I was Llang. I am now Mas, and I am the last of my Pride, the only son of the Eleuth. And I will never forget. I will never forget the lesson. And I hope you will not forget this Test.

© Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2018.

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