Undying Devotion


Illustrated by
Pat morrissey-Lewis
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Undying Devotion

Saturday, February 12, 2022

[Archive: Long-term Cursed Kingdom Biome Mission- After review of the clues uncovered by the agent’s in-depth investigation of the area in Gloom centered upon the Crumbling Keep and its ruler, the Initiative’s opinions about what would have been the best option to pursue were strongly divided. 5 votes were registered for investigation of the shards of the Egret Sword that are embedded in the former queen’s neck. 4 votes each were cast in favor of attempting to locate the black pools, and traveling to the Keep itself. Negligible votes were cast for the establishment of a long-term program with multiple capable agents.
A-TL appended note: The last option was presumably avoided due to meta-relevant concerns about the Initiative’s energy reserves at the time. If only there had been some source of renewable power at our immediate disposal.]

“Thank you for being so forthcoming with me about your situation, your highness,” you say, genuinely gratified and moved by her willingness to take you into her confidence. “It’s a sad story, but not one that I think can’t come to a satisfying ending for the people involved. My first line of inquiry should definitely be regarding the shards of the Egret blade that are somehow bound to you. There would be a huge risk to your well-being if we were to try something drastic like extraction, but collecting some readings will be harmless, and might reveal a clue about exactly what’s going on.”

“There’s a chance that what’s happening is magical, but it’s equally likely that there’s a scientific explanation. We know from our contacts in Fantasia that connections to Gloom are possible there, and also definitely exist between here and my home in Synthex. It’s actually probable that Gloom has borders with the other known Verses, too. So, if you’d be so gracious as to grant me your permission, I’m anxious to begin.”

The queen nodded her assent before speaking in her crackling tone. “Yes, of course. You’ve earned my trust, and I also had the opportunity to get to know your... device, I believe you called it, the last time you were here. Inordinately more sophisticated than the alchemists’ attempts to turn everything into gold, and designed with purpose beyond the production of material wealth. Your tools reveal that your people value knowledge, and that is a trustworthy goal. Come, begin.”

You approach the queen and conduct a battery of tests on the metallic slivers protruding from her neck. Spectroscopic analysis is inconclusive, as are the readings of refractory harmonics and electromagnetic field data. You’re disappointed to have to inform her of the results.

“Sorry, highness, but there’s nothing definitive that I can say about the sword itself. Its composition seems pretty standard, though I must admit it was forged by a talented smith; the folds of the metal are very thinly layered and numerous. Still, that doesn’t account for any of the unusual effects that seem to be taking place. The only thing that’s out of the ordinary that my readings show is that there’s potentially a high concentration of Selenium somewhere nearby. There are traces of photovoltaic interactions taking place on the fringes of the meter that wouldn’t otherwise be easily explained.”

“Selenium?” The queen asked, with a note of surprise in her staticky voice. “That’s a memory and word that I haven’t heard in a very long time.”

“What do you mean, a memory?” you ask, a little confused, because there’s no chance that one of the higher-order elements was discovered, much less understood by the alchemists of her time.

“What I mean, my curious traveler, is that in the times before we came to be trapped in this dreary place, I was known as Selena. I haven’t heard that name since I fled from the Keep. It was given to me as a rebuke to the idea that my birth under a full moon was a bad omen; my parents decided to turn that superstition on its head by celebrating it with my name.”

You know better than to consider it to be a coincidence.

Another quick round of readings shows that, in fact, the grey, vaguely lustrous body of the queen is the source of the photovoltaic interference, which not only explains the fact that the metal shards embedded in her neck haven’t caused her significant trauma, but also why she is able to generate and control current, with the ferrous fragments acting as opposite poles. The only thing that’s missing, though, is a light source. In this dreary, sunless landscape, there’s no high-energy photons to power the solid-state interactions that would generate Selenium’s electromagnetic effects. Unless...

Unless the light came from inside the queen!

“Queen Selena!” you shout excitedly, “I think I’m starting to understand the rules of this place! You told me that it revels in misunderstanding, creating unbreakable cycles, and separation. I even experienced that myself, on my first visit here, where it tried to break me with loneliness and despair. But your light guided me, and from my point of view, the only scientific explanation for these readings is that you, Selena, have a powerful source of light inside of you! Its interaction with the strange body that you inhabit not only makes it possible for you to generate electric current, but might even explain the composition of your body itself. Gloom wants us to fear one another because of miscommunication, but if we stay honest, and respect each other’s perspectives, we can figure out the truth of the situation! I doubt anyone else would see you exactly as I do.”

Queen Selena tilts her head as if in search of understanding, looking to the pallid red and green of the sickly approximation of an Aurora, then suddenly seems to have a moment of clarity. “Yes, of course! That would also explain why I have felt the need to refer to you as ‘pet’! I would never intentionally call anyone by that private name which was a deep secret between myself and the king, but the sad conditions of this place made me feel compelled to identify you, the first person who showed me respect and attention, as a suitable candidate for that sweet apellation.”

“It was a little unsettling at first,” you admit, “but I took it as just an unusual deviation from the translator’s capacity. Anyway, we need to get to the Keep as soon as possible, because I think I might have an idea about how to help the king.”

“Then let’s away. We have nothing to fear, and I know the shortest route.”

Traveling through Gloom is significantly less nerve wracking with a friend at your side, especially one who can wield electricity at her own discretion, and it is not long before you arrive at the entrance to the Crumbling Keep.

Its high parapets and low walls are propped up with lichen-covered tombstones, though you would swear that they seem to corrode and fade at a rate that you can almost watch, like the fuel gauge on a heavily modded rocketrod back home. You would be frightened by the unnatural speed of decomposition, but you have a job to do, and helping Selena is much more important than giving in to fear.

The two of you walk through the lower level of the castle, the queen leading the way to the moldering doors of the throne room. As you enter, you are presented with the sight of a skeletal, rotting figure set upon a skeletal, rotting caricature of a seat of power. He raises his gaze to look upon you and the familiar but irrevocably altered form of his queen.

“Your highness,” you begin, but you are interrupted.

“No... no... this can’t be. Why have you come? Are you here to torment me? To tell me again that I am an idiot, a fool? I know all that, and more. Just go, and leave me be, alone here in my darkness.”

“No, majesty,” you say, gesturing at the decaying environs, “all this is just a construct. A manifestation of fears made real, the worst possible outcomes.”

“Ha! What would you know of the worst possible outcomes? I am reduced to a filthy parody of a throne, in a vulgar parody of a kingdom, without my beloved wife, without my trusted friends, without the people who trusted me to protect them, with nothing but my own arrogance and mistrust and guilt. The guilt! My ruination, my abjection is complete! Leave me in my silent shame.”

You are genuinely cut to the heart by his plight, and cannot help but feel a sense of revulsion at the grotesque form that has befallen this once noble man, but you find the courage to continue. “It’s true, you made mistakes. Grave ones. Innocent people were hurt because of your pride and self-righteousness. But it’s not too late to make amends. Queen Selena came with me, because, even after all this time and all this pain, she isn’t willing to give up on you. Roydice still stands guard at the southern pass, according to her information. It would be a meaningful first step for you to speak the word that would free him from his obligation.”

“Oh, Roydice, how wrong I did him,” says the king, “and relieve his burden of service I would, but I do not remember, in my sad mental state, and my perpetual lament, what word I whispered in his ear.”

It is a perplexing development. That is, until you remember what you have come to understand about Gloom. It cannot mute all communication, because otherwise it would be null and void, but it does play tricks in its attempts to limit understanding between individuals. Your training as a linguist keys in on some of the king’s choice of words. His “mental state.” His “perpetual lament.” They must be related...

...And they are! Unscrambled, the words mental and lament could be mantel or mantle! It’s unlikely that the king associated his knight with hearth and home, and much more probable that he dismissed him with a word that symbolizes authority. Even better, the words are homonyms! No matter which one he said, it would sound the same as the other, releasing the bond.

“Your majesty,” you say excitedly, “I think the word you are looking for may be ‘mantle’. When you said it the first time, you stripped Roydice of his rank, and when you say it again, your royal decree will return it to him.”

The king’s ghastly jaw opens in a ghoulish approximation of surprise. “Yes! Yes, that was it! I must hurry to the giant’s headstone and set him free.”

“Wait a second,” you say, “There’s still the question of Selena and this... Crumbling Keep.”

The queen steps in, never one, as you know, to fear to voice her opinion. “It would be a meaningful first step to go do right by Roydice, my king. I will support you in that journey. There are many more problems to consider, however, and I don’t think that we will find our way out of this gloom in a single day. Because I have been guilty too, of attempting to shelter you with memories from the past, instead of confronting the changes that have happened to us both.”

“And for all I loved you, it was a hardness in my heart against the very system that brought us together that made me take the selfish step to wish for things to be as they once had instead of finding ways to move forward. The Lady of the Dark Pools still remains. Tuniocre Calot the Foul is still nothing more than a jumble in my head. Let us find joy in the fact that this curious traveler has set us the first step on the right road, but have the wisdom to take it a step at a time.”

The skeletal king nods his head in humble assent. “I have things to confess as well, my pet, that I should have never kept hidden from you. For now, let us be as happy as we can in our gloomy Keep with our skeleton keys, and count ourselves lucky to have had such a being happen upon our unlucky circumstance and show such undying devotion to helping our cause.”

The three of you walk outside as you prepare to power up retrieval. At least, you think, youll have a part of Selena with you in your Gloomspark Portarray, until you can come back to see how they’re doing. You’re sure that the dreary landscape is a slight shade brighter as you wave goodbye to the strange, fated couple.

Just as you are about to feel the rising crescendo of drab senseless static shift towards the electronic bleeps and wonks of the Gloom to Synthex transition, Selena speaks.

“I hope you won’t be offended, the next time we see each other, if I eschew the ‘pet’ name. I’d much rather call you ‘friend’.”

“Friend,” you say. “I like the sound of that.”

[SHK-E Assessment: The Initiative did powerful detective work in this investigation that gained KNOWLEDGE about the mysterious Gloom, though not as much as would have been possible by investigating the Dark Pools. The decision to scan the shards of the Egret sword are in line with SAFETY ethics, because it did not put the agent or the Queen at risk. Though the agent eventually ended up helping the king, pursuing other steps before confronting his personal issues was not the most HEARTFELT action that could have been taken. No meaningful amount of ENERGY was spent on this solo mission.

SAFETY: Very Poor
Energy: Dangerous

Para Initiative Reputations:

Friend of the Keep

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
‍Gloomspark Portarray]

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