25th May 2020, 7:33 PM
Play the arcade game

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Play the arcade game
While Kate makes small talk with Afu, you head over to the arcade machine. The cabinet itself is generic, the sort of stock cabinet you can buy from specialty shops (which have mostly moved to online stores, as arcades have become more and more of a niche business); it doesn't suggest much about the game itself.

Cici smiles, and hands you a few quarters. You smile back. "Thanks."

You take a swing at the game.


The opening screens show that the game was made by Undercrowned Games--who you've never heard of, but that's not unusual. Even with your pretty stout knowledge of video games, there's so many smaller companies--that often get bought up by or transform into larger companies with different names--that no one could hope to keep up with all of them. Some 'game companies' are just teams that came together for one project before going their separate ways.

The game starts up--and to your surprise, you have heard of it.

Drillga, a game about... digging. It's one of those classic games that always gets listed as being influential on the medium, but was itself only... okay, at best. A lot of later games built on and advanced the formula; it's a classic, but it's not a classic. The low demand for it originally makes it a fairly difficult game to find now, as not that many machines were made. It's low key enough that you honestly couldn't remember who made it--and you've never physically played it. You don't think many people have.

Drillga is sort of a puzzle game. Using various tools, you have to dig through dirt blocks and either fight or avoid enemies, but your resources are limited. You have a pickaxe that always returns, but has short range. You have bombs that you can detonate with another button press, but you can only have one bomb on screen at a time, you have a limited supply, and the explosions push you around (but don't hurt you). Lastly, you have a drill that blasts off and takes out everything in its path, but you only get one drill per stage.

Cici watches over your shoulder as you play the game, whispering. "So is this gonna give you bombs in the dungeon?"

"I don't think so," you reply quietly. "Crush Souls has all kinds of weapons, and I didn't get those in the dream. I don't think games can grant equipment, or even all the main mechanics--or I'd be opening menus and getting power-ups, too. If I had to guess..."

You think about it, based on what you know so far. You can't even be sure this game will give you any abilities; it's total luck that Franklin was a game developer at all, it would take a hell of a coincidence for him to have also made one of the magic dream games.

...But if it is, "It might make me immune to explosions," you suggest. "...Which would help in the boss fight, but it wouldn't be as helpful as having huge jumps or dodge rolls. I should be getting better at avoiding damage, not tanking it."

The whole time you're playing, you think about what Kate said--

about subliminal messages.

There was a big blowup about rock and roll artists hiding backwards messages in their songs; it was proven that not only were the artists not intentionally doing that, but that hearing a backwards message isn't, by itself, enough to influence human behavior. Someone sneaking a reversed KILL YOUR PARENTS into a cartoon or whatever isn't going to make you actually kill your parents.

...That being said

to JUST influence your dreams, and not your waking behavior, wouldn't be so difficult a task.

You used to play a lot of Dance Dance Redemption, and you remember how, after playing it long enough, you'd start to see the scrolling arrows when you closed your eyes. You don't know the exact science behind proprioceptive imagery, but if the dream is like... a dream-dream, then the right combination of motion, shapes, and sounds should be able to affect it. Obviously, the dungeon is pretty consistent in what it is and how it works, but if there's any wiggle room whatsoever...

a very focused subconscious implant could exploit features of the dungeon left variable.

Basically, if your experience is 99% magic dungeon and 1% a real dream, then anything that messes with dreams normally could mess with that 1%. That may be where your video game based powers are coming from. Magic Mustachio Extreme Beach Volleyball is a very flashy, colorful game, but it's not laser honed to slip something into your brain like Magic Mustachio or Crush Souls may be.

...Or like this game might be.

Barring a dramatic change to the rules as you know them possibly granting you explosives, you're a bit torn on the matter. You're curious if this game will give you powers in the dream... but you also know if it does, they're probably not as good as the other options you have. It would prove Franklin knows something--because if you're right about proprioceptive imagery (or a similar concept) being involved, then that means the game does what it does on purpose. Making a game that explicitly affects the dream dungeon on accident would be... well, the odds would be insane, like shuffling an old deck and accidentally putting the cards back in order.

On the other hand, you could just ask Franklin.

On the other other hand, you might not need to.

Drillga has some pretty surreal enemy designs... and a distinctly yellowish sky.

"Hey," says Kate, "toss me your phone."

You toss her your cell phone... a little short, but Kate manages to reach out and catch it before it hits the floor. She turns back to Afu. "Your brother taking new patients?"

"New patients?," asks Afu. "You know he's not a--oh, wait. Yeah." He chuckles. "Business has been pretty slow lately, yeah."

"Alright." Kate fiddles with your phone while you play Drillga. "I've added my number, Cici's, the Back Room's... and Afu's older brother, Lagi." She tosses the phone back to you, and again, you almost but don't quite drop it. Kate continues. "If you need a little medical help, Lagi's the guy."



You lose your last life on Drillga, and turn back to Kate and Afu. "Is there a way I can get a hold of Marlow? ...Or Franklin?"

"Marlow'll be back Tuesday," Afu replies. "He's off Sunday/Monday, and he, uh, doesn't like phones. That, and he's probably out of town. Marlow does a lot of ghost hunts, Bigfoot hunts, stuff like that."

"Franklin's homeless," Kate adds. "And he's Franklin."

Afu chuckles. "Yeah, everybody knows Franklin but nobody knows Franklin. Maybe Marlow. Maybe. Dude's a mystery. I always see him on the bus or at Maria's. Oh, or the junkyard."



Ezra returns.

"Ezra," you immediately begin, "how much do you know about magic, or the occult?"

"Only as much as it intersects with my hobbies... which is an unfortunately frequent occurence, but I try to keep my nose free of the arcane. There are some things man was not meant get involved with! ...Though I did date a magician once, until I caught him cheating with his assistant. The lanky bastard. Otherwise, my experience with the mystical mostly ends at cultural influence and haunted dolls. Speaking of, we really should look into expanding that closet--the girls are getting... fussy."

"Bro," comments Afu, "we don't need a bigger closet. We need fewer dolls."

Hmm. "...So you wouldn't know anything about true names, Solomon rings, or demonshells."

Ezra shakes his head. "Not ringing any bells, I'm afraid. There used to be a young lady around town that I believe was into all of that business, but I haven't seen her in quite some time--not since before we opened the Back Room. She purchased the previous two dream rings, as I recall it, back when I worked for Toys XS. ...Back when this town had a Toys XS. Back when we had a functioning mall, and not all this Mondol garbage."

You, Kate, Cici, AND Afu all drag your attention straight to Ezra.

"Did you get her name?," you blurt out.

"Was she a librarian?," Kate asks.

"Was she a witch?," asks Afu.

"You guys really gotta let him answer," says Cici.

Ezra holds his hands up. "I did not ask her name nor her occupation, I have never stepped foot in a library, and we did not discuss religion though she WAS adorned in a wide variety of jewelry I would say were pagan in nature. Thank you, Cici."

"...You've really never been in a library?," Cici asks.

"Not once," says Ezra.

"He's too much of a thot to read," laughs Afu, earning a stern flare of the eyebrows from Ezra.

Ezra continues. "She was, as I recall, a sweet young lady. We discussed the weather, and music, though she was disappointed when I didn't recognize the band on her T-shirt. She was purchasing the second ring for her sister, who had been suffering from depression. I attempted to give her the rings for free, but she demanded that she pay. Everything costs, she told me--I didn't understand, but she insisted."

"You gotta stop giving things away for free, bro," Afu chuckles. "We don't get enough customers as it is."

"It is why I was fired from Toys XS," Ezra points out. "I am a sucker for a heartfelt need."

"I thought you were fired for banging customers," Afu remarks.

"That is why I was fired from Games And Stuff," replies Ezra.

Kate leans onto the counter. "Ezra, this is important. The band name on her shirt--what was it?"

Ezra inhales deeply, his gaze wandering toward the ceiling. He dramatically throws one arm out so that he can stroke his chin.

"If I recall correctly..."

"Yeah?"

"...Something the first?," he says. "First... something."

"The first lie?," you ask.

Ezra points. "Ah! Yes! Indeed! The First Lie. I assumed they were some underground band, as I listen to the radio a great deal and I'd never heard of them. ...Are they any good?"

"Fuck," Kate mutters, and places her head on the counter.

You look at Cici, who shrugs and shakes her head.

You take a breath. "Okay. Marlow said he visited the old library a bunch--he's seen the librarian. He doesn't know her name, but he could probably describe her. If we can get Ezra to verify that it's the same woman..."

"Hold up," begins Afu, "are you telling me Ezra sold those rings to one of the spooky house witches years ago? And we didn't even know? Ezra, bro, we talk about this all the time."

"How was I to know?," Ezra asks with a defensive shrug. "I will not assume every customer I've ever dealt with in my illustrious career has secretly been a witch or a goblin or el chupacabra. Ludicrous speculation about random customers is Mr. Tuck's department."

When Marlow brought the rings out yesterday, he and Afu remembered there being three, not one ring, remaining.

The witches being ... partially but not entirely removed from reality might explain that confusion. Much like how their names have been seemingly scrubbed from documentation and memory by either magic or the feds, even the things they did--like buying a couple of dream rings--have begun to fade and sort of... retcon themselves from everyones' subconsciousness.

Maybe.

Something like that.

You're finding pieces, but the whole puzzle isn't quite coming together yet. It really doesn't help that some of the puzzle's been erased by outside forces.

"Why are you asking me all of this, anyway?," inquires Ezra. "Isn't Mr. Tuck's daughter some sort of Satanist?"

"No, but I think she studied, like... occult history or something in college," Kate replies. "I don't think she like... actually does magic. ...I'm not asking her."

"And she's on vaykay," Afu points out. "Man, she would be into this, though. If she gets back and you guys have solved the spooky house mystery, she's gonna freak."

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25th May 2020, 7:37 PM
Morgenstern
don't forget to make a ComicFury account and subscribe, so you can have an avatar, edit your comments, and feed me the power I need to become a god
26th May 2020, 4:37 AM
Frission
Glory to his fluffy cuddly essence~!
25th May 2020, 7:42 PM
Huh. Maybe check out the junkyard? Not sure we are up for the library.
25th May 2020, 8:08 PM
Honestly, we have Cici, Kate, and daylight. I think tackling the library WOULD be a good plan today. First, we need to equip ourselves, but it seems like as good a chance as any to do it now.
25th May 2020, 8:16 PM
Has the group eaten yet? Maybe we should try out one of those breakfast burgers next door, if we can afford it.
...Affording it. Hm. We should think about possible income streams. Making videos is certainly an option, and now that we have a phone, we can probably install that Wudju app to take oddjobs for a little bit of extra cash.
25th May 2020, 7:55 PM
Limrix
Trying the junkyard covers several of our bases, with both Franklin and scavenging. Also ask how dangerous the junkyard is compared to the library, as we are considering visiting both today.

If things are disappearing from memories we should write them down. Make a note in Bebe's notebook about the witches buying two of the dream rings, and who the witches are in general.
25th May 2020, 8:32 PM
Snervalton
+1 to all of the above
25th May 2020, 8:34 PM
There might be mutant scavenger wildlife around the junkyard. Cici might know whether it's dangerous there, considering her former occupation as animal control. That said, if Franklin (a blind guy) can hang out there regularly, maybe it's not so bad.
25th May 2020, 10:19 PM
+1, also food. I want to know what a breakfast burger is.
25th May 2020, 7:59 PM
So we have gone from a pile of clues to a definite trail of breadcrumbs. We have proof that The First Lie exists. We have good reason to believe that the witches that owned the house have needed to use the rings before. And we also now have access to someone who can help Plaire with her 'medical needs'.
25th May 2020, 8:11 PM
Did we ever get food? We should do that, if we haven't yet.

I figure it's probably a good time to gear ourselves up and visit the library. We have both Kate and Cici available, it's daytime, and we need to do it eventually. Plus, exploring it might help us put some of these puzzle pieces together. So I suggest either doing junkyard and then library, or library and then junkyard.

On the way, we can leave a message with the Bus for Franklin so we can start trying to get in touch with him, if we don't find him there or at the junkyard.
25th May 2020, 8:40 PM
Snervalton
I'm not too keen on trying to go to the Old Library at this point, I feel like there's something more we could do to prepare for that dangerous undertaking, though I'm not sure exactly what. At the very least I vote that we call for assistance from Bebe or Deedee, who work in animal control, to escort us there when we do decide to go.
26th May 2020, 12:43 AM
+1 to food & asking the Bus to send a message.
25th May 2020, 8:14 PM
Actually, Afu said there had only been one ring, since he'd been hired ( http://mda.thecomicseries.com/comics/65/ ). Only Marlow was confused. So the sale was probably before Afu's employment, which narrows the time frame down somewhat.

But why was Marlow's memory altered to not recall the sale at all, whereas Ezra's memory was only scrubbed of some important details?
25th May 2020, 8:28 PM
Ezra might be mildly psychic, or somehow resistant to narrative meddling. Perhaps his strange mannerisms are evidence of some kind of narrative powers, that he may not even know he has? Or the scrubbing might have been done hastily, or otherwise not as thoroughly as it should have been-- perhaps the person or entity doing the memory-scrubbing didn't know everywhere the witches had been or everyone they'd interacted with, or only focused on the areas they considered to be most important.
25th May 2020, 11:00 PM
Marlow might have been forgetting because he knew the woman as the librarian, whereas to Ezra it was just another customer.
25th May 2020, 11:28 PM
Let's also not rule out the possibility of a mutation that puts him in a position similar to a certain someone else.
25th May 2020, 8:45 PM
Snervalton
Plaire should ask Kate what she knows about the band The First Lie.
26th May 2020, 12:41 AM
But is it even a real band, or just a weird shirt that the maybe-Librarian was wearing to remember 'The First Lie' ?
26th May 2020, 6:52 AM
Snervalton
Kate, the only musician of the group, had a definite negative reaction when it was confirmed that that was what was written on the t-shirt. Even if it doesn't refer to a band we should find out why she reacted that way.
25th May 2020, 10:02 PM
If Kate's idea of helping us with mental and physical health is hooking us up with a drug dealer, we need to seriously examine how drugs work in this universe. Admittedly, level has yet to mess anybody up, but getting Player entirely dependent on Brainsate and steroids is a bad idea, if they work the way I think they work. But maybe they're all upside and no downside (except the documented exploding heart thing) in this universe, and Player's hesitancy is just anti-drug brainwashing from Addersfield?

Perhaps re-reading Blood Is Mine would give me a better perspective on this particular issue; I'm sure it came up a time or two. But this comic deserves its own discussion, I think.
25th May 2020, 10:11 PM
I think our most immediate concern, if we don't have any more questions for Afu and Ezra, is to go get some breakfast. Then maybe do the old library after that.
26th May 2020, 9:01 AM
We need to hold an all-out strategy session. There's a general consensus that we need to eat, so let's do it over breakfast.

Topic 1: Resources at our disposal. We've been NOT asking this question for a long time. Kate and Cici seem happy contributing their free time, and pitching in money to feed Player, plus gaming quarters. But how much are they committed for? In my imagination:

"Look, you guys made me the leader, that makes me the King of the Land. And you two are Vassal Princes."
"I don't want to be a prince. But don't go making me a princess, either."
"Hush up, Kate! It's a reference to [Video Game Name]. Don't you play games at all?
"Anyway, I'm the King, and I, as the King, have a right to know (oops shouldn't have used that phrase) how much tribute my Vassal Princes give me."
"Ooo, look at this. Give her a little power and it goes straight to her head. This is clearly extortion from His Royal Highness."
"You're right! Should we start a revolution? Power to the people!"
"YoU tWo ArE mIsSiNg ThE pOiNt!!"

Topic 2: Available dungeons (in real life). Other commenters have suggested The Junkyard and The Old Library. Let's not forget The Mines, Afu mentioned it yesterday, I think? Throw in Maria's, too; what was up with that arson?

Rank these dungeons by Threat Level. While we can't anticipate leveling up to meet bigger threats in real life, we can (over time) procure equipment and/or more allies if the Threat Level is too high for us now.

Then list what Reward Tiers these dungeons represent. With Threat and Reward established (or at least estimated), we can decide on a course of action.

Topic 3: Long-term investments, specifically diet, exercise, and not turning into drug addicts (no offense, Kate).

Topic 4: Meatloaf. He'll starve if we get too caught up in our crap. What kind of world saviors would we be if we can't provide for our innocent kitty?
26th May 2020, 2:37 PM
Topic 1:
"Help, help, I'm being repressed !"
26th May 2020, 7:03 PM
Snervalton
Also just occurred to me: Is a person's "true name" for accomplice purposes their tarot card name? Such as "the devil" or "the sun"?