22nd May 2020, 10:50 PM
Ask about the ring and acquire a cell phone

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Ask about the ring and acquire a cell phone
"Yes, I suppose we are a business," Ezra says. "You're here for the Dream Ring, correct?"

"Yeah," you reply. "How did you...?"

Ezra gives a faint smile. "Afu gave a very detailed description of you."

"Bro," interjects Afu, "why you gotta phrase it like that?"

Ezra, without breaking eye contact with you, smiles a little wider. "I AM curious as to why you seek it." Marlow was right; Ezra does have some intimidating eyebrows.

"I..."

You don't know if you can trust Ezra.

You don't know if you can trust anybody, really.

"...I don't know if I can tell you," you finally admit. "I don't even really know what it does, just--"

"We're balls deep in weird shit here," says Kate.

"How delightfully ominous!," Ezra declares. "Very well. You know nothing about the ring?"

"Marlow tried to explain it," Afu comments.

"Ah," replies Ezra. He spins in place and begins to dramatically sashay around the counter toward the back. "'Twas the early 1970s! Public interest in the occult was on the rise. Philosophical treatises on the dark arts were being sold in run-of-the-mill bookstores. Horror films began to play up the malevolence of the Ouija board, feeding into its reputation and driving an interest in it that exceeded that of a normal children's toy. Amidst--or perhaps, in response to the arcane suddenly bleeding into the lives of the average consumer, the Christian right stirred from its own slumber... and went to war."

He disappears into the... uh, back room, of the Back Room. He continues talking from an unseen storage closet, though.

While he's talking, and you and Afu are listening, and Kate is impatiently rolling her eyes... Cici sneaks off, carefully navigating her way through the store to look at everything.

"Cult massacres were fallaciously connected to Satanism. Evangelists published interviews with so-called "former devil worshipers," detailing ridiculous practices and outlandish agendas. Tracts were distributed and books were burned. Numerous serial killers throughout the 70s fed into the hysteria, using ritualistic markings and Satanic trappings to enhance their mystique."

He returns, holding the case you recognize as containing the Dream Ring.

"By the 1980s, anti-occult organizations were in full swing, leading a grandiose and heavily televised crusade against the threat of the occult--which they claimed was out to corrupt the nation's youth. Why, even your childrens' favorite toys could secretly be luring them into the open arms of Satan, like some nefarious pied piper! This carried over well into the 90s, when--"

"Ezra," interrupts Kate.

"Hey," Afu chuckles, "he's just getting wound up."

"I mean..." You shrug. "It's interesting, but I kind of already knew about the Satanic panic."

Ezra simply grins, and you swear his eyebrows almost launch themselves through the ceiling.

"I mentioned the Ouija board explicitly," he says, "because the universe enjoys balance... and in many ways, this ring is its cosmic opposite. Its reverse. Talking boards and their earlier equivalent, automatic writing, are ancient--and very real, and very dangerous. I agree that to ban them would be pure fascism--but to market them as a children's toy? Horridly irresponsible. The companies that do so aren't, themselves, believers in the arcane--only in money, and thanks to the reputation of danger and risk built up during the 70s, the Ouija board did make money."

He opens the box, revealing the one remaining ring.

"...This ring is not dangerous. It wasn't manufactured by an oblivious corporation, either. Unlike the Ouija board, it's perfectly harmless. And, unlike the Ouija board, it failed commercially... because unlike the Ouija board, it was made by an actual, practicing cultist, who upon being exposed by allegations in the early 80s was forced to withdraw and disappear forever. ...And he took his toy company with him."

Oh, shit.

Okay, now we're getting somewhere.

"You could've just skipped to this part," Kate points out.

"I have to establish context!," Ezra insists. "It's a morally complex tale with many a facet, I can't simply--"

"Yeah yeah yeah," Kate interrupts, waving a hand at him. "Dude was in a real cult. Go."

Ezra gives her a glare, his eyebrows threatening to leap off his face and choke her to death--but he collects himself, and continues. "The Day to Come--"

Kate snorts.

"Miss Halford, please," insists Ezra. "The Day to Come, like other doomsday cults, believed the end was both nigh and inevitable; when the stars were right and the age of men was nearing its grand finale, gods and devils alike would roam the planet. Unlike other doomsday cults, who hoped to either prevent said armaggedon or usher it in eagerly, The Day to Come believed we could survive the apocalypse. To that end, they sought to prepare humankind--to slowly acclimate us to the strange, so as not to be driven to madness. Not all that sinister in theory... but in practice--well."

He gives a wry smile.

"The cult fell apart in the late 70s due to infighting, mostly over method. There was no shortage of rumors regarding the foul deeds that took place at their compound in the name of preparing us for the end. Jolas Alstott escaped Day to Come relatively intact, though its unknown how much he... participated in the cult's more nefarious practices. He started a toy company, which produced very little--the Dream Ring among its line--before his past caught up with him. Stores refused to sell his toys, parents protested outside his factory... and eventually, he was forced to close up shop, never to be heard from again."

Hmm. "You said the ring isn't dangerous, though."

"It's not," replies Ezra, "according to every expert I've ever asked... and I have done no shortage of asking, I assure you. It was advertised as a way for children to help overcome their nightmares, and while the composition of the ring is QUITE unusual, the effects are... hm, likely a placebo. Wear the ring as you fall asleep, think of someone with whom you are close--close enough to have traded true names, that part is critical--and you will have their strength in your dreams. Such a vague premise, of course, made for poor marketing; the ring didn't sell exceptionally well before the cult story began to spread. Jolas Alstott's toy company struggled to reach beyond the South, and had the Satanic panic not destroyed his efforts, he may very well have ended up failing on his own merits."

Ezra removes the ring from the case, holding it up daintily. "It's a very neat accessory, but as a functioning toy for the easily distracted child? 'Twas doomed to fail from the start. I speculate that now, after all that happened... but ha, who can truly say? The inventor of the pet rock became a millionaire, and I shudder to think how much those damned slap bracelets must have made in the 1990s. The world is a strange place, and people are unpredictable."


You squint at the off-yellow ring. Its stained, swirling pattern and odd amber hue both remind you strongly of the sky you saw in your own dream, though the ring is much paler. Combined with what it's alleged to do, and the fact that the guy who made it was in a fucking doomsday cult... you're that much more confident that this ring does something.

Something big.

It doesn't have seams, or edges, or... anything. It's just a solid ring, perfectly smooth.


"What's it made of?," you ask. He mentioned an unusual composition.

"Bone," Ezra says with a wry grin. "Bone and other materials that make it much, much more difficult to discern what kind of bone, and the world's greatest scientific minds aren't exactly scrambling to identify this obscure product of 70s cult-a-mania. Even finding these rings is incredibly difficult, now--"

He narrows his gaze.

"Which brings me to my next question," he says. "The question of price. How much is this ring worth to you, now that you know more about it? I've had it for a very long time, and it is very dear to me--"

"Don't let him start that," Afu laughs, "everything in this store is dear to him. And everything in his house, and everything in his storage--"

"Please, young Afu," demands Ezra, "you and Mr. Tuck are always chastising me for not doing business, I am simply--"

This time, it's Kate who cuts Ezra off. "Ezra," she says flatly, putting her hands on the counter and staring him down. "If I could tell you what she's gonna do with that ring, you'd give it to her for free. Trust me."


Ezra stares back at her.

He eyes the ring.

He stares at Kate.

He turns to you.


"Put it on," says Ezra, simply... and he holds the ring out toward you.

You hesitate, briefly, before taking the ring from his hand.

You give it a long look of your own before slipping it onto your middle finger.

It fits. ...Extremely well.


"I see," Ezra mutters, before giving a shallow nod. "Every one of those rings came in a different size. I've witnessed potential customers trying them on, only to leave without finding a proper fit... but every ring that's left my possession fit its final owner perfectly."

He closes the box. He nods to himself again, takes a deep breath, and swallows roughly.

"Take it. It's yours."

"You're sure?," you ask. "I don't have much, but I don't--"

"I insist," he says, before doubling down with more ferocity. "I demand. It deserves someone that wants it, needs it. That ring has sat idly by, watching the world pass from a dusty shelf for far too long. It's going home with you."



You have acquired a Dream Ring.



"Now, if you'll forgive me..." says Ezra, "I need a moment."

And with that, the bathrobe wizard disappears into the back.


A brief silence sweeps the store, finally broken by Cici (who is currently examining the arcade machine at the far end of the store). "Man... he's really attached to that ring, huh?"

"Oh. Bro," responds Afu with a grin, "he's like that with everything. We make like, no money, but Ezra's loaded and the store's kinda his baby. It takes an act of congress for us to sell anything but video games." He gives a small nod to the machine Cici's looking at. "That one's not for sale, by the way--it's Marlow's, but you can play it if you got quarters."

Cici smiles, but shakes her head. "Nah. I'm scared of breaking it."

...Something sets off the alarms in your brain, though. "It's Marlow's? He doesn't... really seem like a big gamer."

"Oh, no," confirms Afu, "but it was a gift from Franklin. They met in prison, they're like best friends. I think Franklin helped make it...?"

adj;fj;a that's a lot to take in, what the fuck.

"Helped make the game?," asks Kate. "Blind Franklin?"

"Yeah," Afu replies. "He was like a programmer or something. ...Before he went blind, probably."

DKJF;AJ;F RED ALERT RED ALERT

"Programmer for who?," asks Kate, moving closer to the counter.

"What company?," you add, to clarify.

Afu just shrugs. "Dunno. Might ask Marlow when he works next. Or Franklin, I guess, guy's too weird for me. Oh, yeah, heads up--"

Afu pulls a phone out of his pocket and tosses it to you; you fumble the catch, but manage to keep it from hitting the floor.



You have acquired a cell phone.

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22nd May 2020, 11:16 PM
Snervalton
So it sounds like the ring is what the spooky house would recognize as a demonshell. It also sounds as if Plaire's dream accomplices don't have to be physically present in the house to be part of the dream as long as they are close enough to Plaire to have "traded true names".
22nd May 2020, 11:36 PM
I had the same thought but let's not have that cause us to rule out future sleepovers.
23rd May 2020, 3:20 PM
Snervalton
True, yes, we can get up to some very useful mischief at those sleepovers...
22nd May 2020, 11:34 PM
"every ring that's left my possession fit its final owner perfectly." That just screams of destiny/foresight, doesn't it?
22nd May 2020, 11:34 PM
Limrix
Man made old games. Man knows things about ghosts. Man is important. Who is Franklin, really?

Ask about Solomon rings and dulahan waifus loud enough that Ezra can hear, this is the best crowd outside of maybe Franklin or T-Eiffel for that. Also that a symbol we see repeated in the dream is an upside down triangle with a small circle in the middle.

Also, does the dream ring only work for a single person, or can you think of multiple people?

At some point, get people's phone numbers. That arcade cabinet will be great once we have some spare change.
23rd May 2020, 7:07 AM
23rd May 2020, 9:26 AM
Snervalton
+1 Maybe the bus can track down where Franklin is hanging out right now?
23rd May 2020, 11:29 AM
Hari_Seldon
+1 and ask Ezra about how Franklin might be able to help Plaire
22nd May 2020, 11:36 PM
Mention the game company we are already suspecting. Also ask if there is anyone with quarters for the arcade, we are going to go get some new powers! (also as a wild guess, I'm guessing the arcade cabinet is the Polybius)
22nd May 2020, 11:39 PM
We may be able to trust him, after all. IF this game is what we think it is, AND he is willing to talk about it, I would assume that he would do so at great risk.

Although it could also be that he was meant to plant the information and that's why the ring fit Plaire and maybe it's more suspicious if he isn't cagey about it and
22nd May 2020, 11:42 PM
Macheman7
WE ABSOLUTELY NEED TO PLAY THAT ARCADE GAME.
Okay, now that I've taken a moment, let's recap-
Dream ring possibly placebo but hey, freebie. Called it! True Names are "critical", make sure when Ezra gets back that we have a good understanding of what True Names are. Then ask him about demonshells. This guy is wild enough that he probably knows something.
Phone get!
Jolas Ascott... With our luck, he disappeared off the face of the earth into or around Ninelives. Too bad Marlow isn't here. He'd probably have a theory. You could ask Ezra anyway if he has any idea where Jolas went off to.
22nd May 2020, 11:44 PM
Macheman7
SHIT MAKE SURE TO ASK ABOUT SOMNIPLAN TOO!
23rd May 2020, 9:17 AM
Come to think of it, is the brochure the same in real life as in the dream? If it's actually got occult properties, appearing different in real life versus the dream wouldn't be that much of a surprise.

And, yes, ask your wizard if Somniplan is right for you.
23rd May 2020, 11:32 AM
Hari_Seldon
+1 and what is Somniplan
24th May 2020, 6:27 PM
Taenidia
Somniplan was something scribbled in the brochure we were handed by the assistant at Vampire Mayor's house.
22nd May 2020, 11:42 PM
I feel like we can trust Ezra way more than we can trust a lot of people in this town, honestly. I would personally feel comfortable telling him some of what we're dealing with. He probably should at *least* know that it's related to both the Spooky House and video games. It's *especially* important to have him on our side because he might be able to source both a lot of useful items, and a lot of very useful *information* for us. He gave us the ring for free, after all, and he's as much of an eccentric outsider as we are. I think we owe him some info in exchange for his generosity.

We need to get in touch with Marlow and/or Franklin. Maybe we can have the bus give someone a message for us? When is Marlow on the schedule next?

For now, we can try playing that arcade game and see if it gives us any new powers, perhaps.

Edit: Also, I feel like when we get a chance to talk to Ezra after he has his moment, we should mention that we're discovering evidence of occult activity within certain games from specific game companies. I suspect that, when Jolas Alstott's toy company went dark, it re-emerged under another name as a *game* company.
23rd May 2020, 12:08 AM
Limrix
Having heard him talk for a bit, I agree. I have a strong suspicion he'll point us towards Franklin, but any advice helps. Ezra should have Marlow and/or Franklin's phone numbers.

Specifically, we think that most Yamamuchi and Toward Software games have occult stuff, as well as games from the 80's.
23rd May 2020, 12:41 AM
23rd May 2020, 7:10 AM
23rd May 2020, 10:26 AM
Snervalton
+1 to asking for those phone numbers.
22nd May 2020, 11:44 PM
Could maybe try playing the game to see if it has any dream consequences.
Would let us know if Franklin knew how to make games back then. *if you know what i mean*

Think there was also something else I wanted to say, but I forgot, whoops.
23rd May 2020, 9:38 AM
Snervalton
Maybe we should put off playing the Back Room's arcade game to another day? The dodge rolls given by Crush Souls will likely be most useful to us tonight in defeating the wall-boss because they'll allow us to avoid its electrical attacks.
23rd May 2020, 12:06 PM
"Defeating the wall-boss?" Tonight? No no no, that thing can stew in its own holier-than-thou aura by itself while we explore the dungeon. There are so many things to learn, and items to find; furthermore, we're going to unlock the door by the save room (Does anybody think otherwise?), preventing us from getting our hands on the Whole-Ass Sword. Admittedly, it might have a weapon, but it might not.

I speculate that it's a room with goodies for the boss fight, but most of them are locked up until we complete other objectives elsewhere in the dungeon. You know, one of those game mechanics that encourages you to explore first, and fight the boss when you're ready. The freebies available now will be useful for exploration, though; something that can temporarily disable or frighten monsters once or twice, maybe.

But, even if I'm all wrong on that, strategically thinking, you don't make a beeline for the most dangerous challenge available. You look for, and grab, the low-hanging fruit first; this will better equip you for the bigger threats.

Also, we should expect this boss is, despite its leisurely pace and predictable attacks, more dangerous than the regular enemies. You know- those things we mostly throw torches at and flee from.

Proposing to fight this boss again immediately is figuratively like flying to Hyrule Castle as soon as you get the hang-glider in Breath of the Wild. Technically possible for a beginner, but only practically feasible for experts who know EXACTLY what they are doing- especially, how to fight the several phases (!) of the boss fight with very low health and stamina, and few items.

It had its value; we were about to fade out anyway, and we learned something. But unless we anticipate more lessons, we should prioritize exploration, so we can locate/unlock resources we can use to fight it.
24th May 2020, 12:30 AM
23rd May 2020, 1:14 AM
Frission
DUDE. PLAIRE. PLAY THE ARCADE GAME. NNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!
23rd May 2020, 12:28 PM
Now? Let's not get hasty. We need to record it and post it on the Internet, for profit. If it's the only one of its kind, then it could go viral and earn us a lot.

We could learn the next step up from <b>a little money</b>!

... Or the powers-that-be could delist it, since they're (apparently) willing to obstruct whatever objective our actions are leading toward. The obscurity of the game itself means that nobody will miss its absence.
24th May 2020, 11:11 AM
Updating that thought with (drumroll, please!) more thoughts.

If this video game is, in fact, some kind of Ultimate Dream Power, we should not upload it. When we subtly asked for games with dream powers, the video platform delisted the video because of audience commentary hinting at (my guess) The Day To Come's agenda.

This means that our income stream, this video platform, is likely active in advancing The End of The World... but they aren't going to deplatform everybody who posts a Crush Souls or Magic Mustachio video, because (a) that could reveal their agenda to the world, and/or (b) their greed overrides their agenda to some degree; having lots of videos on their platform means getting lots of money, and they aren't so committed to ending the world that they're willing to endure AUSTERITY to achieve it.

Or maybe some, but not all, of the movers-and-shakers there have that agenda, and can't hurt the platform too much, lest their actions be examined by the executive board. There are a lot of possibilities.

In any case, I think it highly likely that there are enemies in our video platform. Our previous video probably raised a warning flag, but we maintain plausible deniability: the commenters were advancing The Day To Come on our "innocent" video. If we upload too many videos that resonate with The Thirst Guy and his friends, that's more evidence to those enemies that we are a threat, and they will start treating us as one.

And since they send us paychecks, they know where we live, so we want to keep with the subtle.

I'm presuming they don't know the nature of The Spooky House; if they did, they would be much more active in suppressing us, denying us money to starve us out. Chalk it up to their hubris and complacency: they can't be bothered to investigate every occult site; all they need to do is interfere on the Internet, which will (in their assessment) render their enemies impotent and The End of The World inevitable. A brilliant plan, to achieve all their goals without dirtying their hands with such petty, menial tasks. Imagine, for effect, these corrupt corporate types sipping their martinis by the pool of their mansion, laughing as they crack jokes about how they effortlessly render futile the efforts of the little people who oppose them. The little people like us.

Back to the point, let's not upload anything if it might rouse this element of our income stream. But taking video and distributing it in secret (Can we contact The Thirst Guy securely? Given my assessment, we shouldn't overuse our platform's messaging.) could be valuable. Get the knowledge out to the good guys, wherever they are.
23rd May 2020, 2:25 AM
I just want to note: Do NOT miss out on breakfast burgers! Your diet is already so terrible Plaire!

Get. Some. PROTEIN!
23rd May 2020, 10:25 AM
23rd May 2020, 7:15 AM
23rd May 2020, 9:24 AM
When we're on the bus again, in recognition of the her contribution, we should bestow upon her a name: Cherry.

... There is only one bus for the whole town, right?
23rd May 2020, 9:39 AM
Snervalton
Might be multiple buses that share the same AI? I dunno...
23rd May 2020, 12:55 PM
undeadDreamer
There are multiple buses, but they're all run by the same AI.
23rd May 2020, 1:03 PM
Wait. If we do name her, would that make Cherry her True Name? Or would we need a serial number or something?
23rd May 2020, 2:08 PM
undeadDreamer
I'm gonna guess that one's True Name is the name they identify as, so I suppose it would depend.
24th May 2020, 12:15 PM
Oops. Did a dive in the archives, found it ( http://mda.thecomicseries.com/comics/15 ). "Welcome, Plaire Stevens. This is a Chariot MT self driving bus, one of five in the area networked to the same AI slave."
23rd May 2020, 3:05 PM
Hmmm.... True Names, huh?
Could be the name given at birth, the name someone gives themselves, something more esoteric...

My hunch is the True Name we want is the name our protagonist has chosen for themselves, not necessarily the one they wear in public but one that is truly theirs.
23rd May 2020, 4:44 PM
Play the arcade game
23rd May 2020, 8:53 PM
pkrankow
Check the contact list. Make sure it already has numbers to these people or ask for them.

Yes, play game.
24th May 2020, 3:01 AM
Hari_Seldon
+1 get phone numbers
24th May 2020, 4:26 PM
Another suggestion for today: before the last dream, Cici floated the idea ( http://mda.thecomicseries.com/comics/76/ ) that changes in the dream could result in changes to the house. We lit a candle, which might fit.

Wouldn't spend a lot of time on this one; if that's how it works, it should be pretty easy to spot. A minute per room or so.

Maybe it'll be the laundry room. Player needs a laundry room, she hates the idea of going to MondolMall's laundromat.
24th May 2020, 8:48 PM
20th Jun 2020, 6:29 PM
Heh. How many of those rings Has he sold? Someone that attached to them should have a number for use.