Chapter the Eleventh: Housebreaking
When last we left Nitocris, she was on the verge of finally reaching Cragne Manor… only to fall into a world of filth, terror, and too much TV. Having escaped the Trump White House [rim shot], we did find a key that maybe we actually needed to get into the Manor, so perhaps that side-jaunt saved us from an anticlimax?
Spoiler: yes it did, we’re going to the big house this time.
We trolley back to the Manor environs, then go north from the Front Walk:
Mudroom (Matt Weiner)
The porch is a mudroom, a place for taking off coats and muddy shoes. The marble front wall seems like a sheer cliff face, the porch like a flimsy shelter built onto it. The front door leads inside to the north.
In one corner of the porch a strangely shaped hook is fastened to the wall. A calfskin coat hangs beside it.
In the other corner of the porch, a teapot sits on a small wooden table.
A slightly muddy welcome mat sticks out partway from under the front door.
Against the front wall are a pair of blue cloth slippers and a single brown leather boot.
Oh, this mudroom is also by Matt Weiner, so it’s also probably technically part of the same room as the admittedly rather bare-bones Front Walk. This seems more interesting. First things first:
The front door is made of heavy dark wood with bronze bands across it. The enormous lock plate is also bronze. Bronze numbers reading 31 are screwed into the door, though surely no one could see them from the road.
(the bronze numbers)
Bronze numbers reading 31, weathered green, and almost certainly useless if their purpose is to tell the emergency services that they’re at the right house.
I am pretty sure the Cragnes aren’t the type to call 911 when something goes wrong on the premises.
>x lock plate
It looks like the sort of old-fashioned keyhole that you could poke a key out of from the other side. If there were a key in it, which there doesn’t seem to be.
I like the little head-fake there, but we’re pretty sure we’ve got the goods:
>unlock door with large brass key
You unlock the front door.
My friends… it’s update number eleven, and we are in. But first, we must faff about with scenery.
Gray Barre marble, smooth and cold.
The manor’s marble wall is smooth and cool to the touch.
Fancy but not too fancy – Barre is in Vermont, probably not too far away. Nitocris’s taste runs more to fine Egyptian porphyry.
A thigh-length belted calfskin coat, clean as if it’s never been outside.
You put on the calfskin coat.
I’m guessing there are some tanners and leatherworkers in town to take advantage of the offal from the meatpacking plant.
A black metal hook protrudes from the wall, twisting in strange ways, like the outline of the human form projected through some alien dimension. A calfskin coat hangs beside it.
The floor below the hooks is lost in an unusually deep black shadow.
It is no mere shadow on the floor, but a crumpled cloak, of a black so black that its folds cannot be seen.
…OK yes, this appears to be the cloak of darkness, the incredibly-random minigame that’s somehow become the Hello World of IF languages!
(Seriously, it bugs me how the “puzzle” in Cloak of Darkness makes no real sense. How did this become such a thing???)
Taking the cloak reveals a leather boot, mate to the first one.
The cloak tingles strangely in your hands.
Well, I know what to do about that!
You seem to be pulling on darkness itself. Where the cloak touches your body, both disappear. The cowl settles over your head, and with it come darkness… numbness… and then nothing at all.
*** You have been lost to the darkness ***
…maybe not. It might be nice to just hang on to this for later, but when we look around:
The cloak clouds your mind so, you can think of nothing else while you hold it.
Your hands begin to feel numb where they touch the cloak.
Sure seems like we’re on a timer here, so let’s take the obvious path:
>put cloak on hook
You put the black cloak on the hooks.
Your senses return to normal.
We appear to have shaken the curse.
Let’s see, what else is around?
It’s a silver teapot tarnished brown on the spout and sides. Through the tarnish you can read the engraving, “Jane Cragne, RMS Queen Mary, 2 Oct 1942.”
I’ve actually been on the Queen Mary a couple times – randomly, it’s now a floating hotel off the Long Beach marina. It’s nice, albeit a bit gauche for my tastes.
One bit of history I remember from those trips is that it served as a troop carrier during World War II; on one of those voyages, it accidentally collided with a much-smaller escort vessel leading to the loss of over 200 lives on, wait for it, October 2nd 1942.
Well, this seems like a significant pot:
[This is the only item you need to take from this room or the front walk, and the only other thing you need to do here is unlock the door with the key, when you have it. But there are other things here you can explore, if you like.]
Umm, OK! That’s a slightly obtrusive approach to things, but nice to know we’re done here. I guess we’ll need a teapot later (unless there’s some current puzzle we need it for, though I can’t think of any. Possibly we can distract the barman with the possibility of tea, and thereby purloin the whetstone? We’ll test that later but it’s not worth running back to the village to check).
We might as well continue to mess around, both with the pot and the remaining stuff (primarily footwear).
There’s nothing inside it but a faint brown mark.
>x brown mark
A faint brown mark at the bottom of the teapot. From tea, no doubt.
The table is thigh-high, as if sized for a child’s tea party, but its deep brown wood is so finely carpentered that the legs and tabletop seem carved from one piece. There is a round brown tea stain on it, but no cups or saucers.
>look under mat
You find nothing of interest.
There’s no need to stuff a muddy welcome mat into your pockets.
Come on, if we let that stop us, would we be toting around (checks inventory) an assortment of 80-odd random items?
Checking inventory leads to one interesting discovery – this is appended at the end:
You are also wearing a pair of extremely muddy clogs.
I guess this is like those goggles!
You picked these clogs as sensible walking shoes, but you didn’t count on it being
this wet. They’re caked in mud almost all the way to your ankle.
> remove them
It might be polite to take off your outside shoes, but you’re not going to go into the
Manor barefoot. Not in strange shoes, either.
This doesn’t seem especially hygienic.
A lightly scuffed pair of indoor slippers.
(first taking the pair of blue cloth slippers)
You don’t want to change into strange slippers.
That’s too bad. What about the boots?
>x first boot
One leather boot with a muddy sole.
(the mate of the first leather boot)
A brown leather boot like the first, but without the mud. You think you glimpse something behind its pulled-out tongue.
>look in mate
You discover a slip of paper inside the boot.
It says “Inspected by Number 8.”
That’s pretty underwhelming.
(the mate of the first leather boot)
(first taking the mate of the first leather boot)
This is someone else’s boot, and it doesn’t even look like it’ll fit you.
So dirty muddy clogs it is. Kinda gross, but I’m guessing the Cragnes aren’t punctilious about cleanliness.
I think we’ve exhausted the limited possibilities posed by this mudroom, so let’s take that fateful step…
You open the front door.
Foyer (Greg Frost)
Standing in the narrow entry hall is like being at the mouth of a cave. The only light comes in through tall windows on either side of the door and a half-round window above. All of the furniture has been removed from the foyer, leaving tracks in the heavy dust. This house must have been abandoned for years. It’s empty, and silent, and cold.
“Peter!” you shout. There’s no reply. Not even an echo comes back to you.
Of course he’s not here. You expected that; he wouldn’t have locked you out. But whatever happened to him, this house is at the dark heart of it.
Morning light slants across the floor. Hallways lead west and east into other parts of the house. A doorway leads north; the front door is to the south.
Oh hey, Greg Frost (@okushimo)! He helps organize the Seattle IF Meetup, which I’ve sat in on a couple times. I’d thought he hadn’t released any other games, but a quick look at IFDB shows he recently put out a game that was meant to be part of that Planescape: Torment Advent Calendar project that fell through.
(Also, I check inventory and confirm that the clogs vanished before we came in, so we don’t need to add “dragging mud through the family digs” to the list of Nitocris’s crimes)
Let’s check out that interesting ray of light:
(the waterproof flashlight (smelling faintly of mildew))
A small flashlight, with a rubber ring where it screws together to keep the water out-though some oily substance coats the inside.
Inside the flashlight is a clump of glowing vegetation.
Oh, that’s an annoying disambiguation issue, but also it’s nice since I thought that had broken!
(Turns out we can’t actually check out the light anyway).
Where the dust has been cleared, you can see that the hardwood’s in pretty bad shape. There are discolored patches under the windows where the sun has bleached out the wood. There are also lots of scratches around the front door - deep ones. The owner must have had a big dog.
That little “deep ones” slid in at the end of the sentence there is nicely done.
Dust covers most surfaces in the foyer. Tracks on the floor show where people have been more recently; the dust is deeper along the walls. Near the west wall there is a dark line.
(the broken silver amulet)
There is a small object under the dust. You lean over to look at it, trying not to sneeze. It’s a tarnished silver pendant, about the size of your thumb, on a leather cord. It must have been dropped behind some piece of furniture and forgotten.
You take the pendant and sneeze as dust gets in your face. The charm is a silver hand, tarnished and dented. You hold the pendant at arm’s length and shake the dust off.
It’s a tarnished silver pendant, about the size of your thumb, on a leather cord. The pendant is shaped like an open hand. It’s been damaged - a deep groove, like a chisel mark, cuts across the palm, nearly breaking the pendant in half.
Huh, interesting – not sure we’ve got an immediate use for this but I’m sure it’ll be, er, handy. The groove across the palm is maybe reminiscent of Y’Golonac, who’s a post-Lovecraftian Great Old One dedicated to edgy depravity, and shows up as a naked obese man with giant maws in his hands. I’m hoping I’m wrong about that!
You can’t wear that!
Ah well, our quest to wear every possible accessory and article of clothing is momentarily stymied.
Wonder if there’s anything else hiding on the floor?
You rub the dust.
OK I confess, I just wanted to type that in.
Two tall, rectangular windows are set into the wall on either side of the front door. They look like they were added later. Maybe the new owner thought the foyer needed more light.
The morning sun casts long shadows across the grounds.
Oh yeah, there was a mention of morning light, wasn’t there? …it was evening when we were mucking around in the back garden, meaning I guess we spent the night in the sewers, so that’s awesome.
The half-round window (fanlight?) above the front door has thick, wavy glass. Morning light slants across the floor.
I motivelessly try to mess around with the windows, eventually leading to this:
Why would you want to break the window? Besides, it’s too high to reach.
That is a fair point, and the coffee indicates we’re done here, so let’s move on (though I take the precaution of first closing and opening the front door to confirm we’re not locked in). I think let’s try to explore the rooms as we go rather than hallways first, so that means going through the north door:
Landing at the Bottom of Stairs (Mark Sample)
This is a dark alcove with a narrow stairway rising into the gloom upstairs. The landing feels unwanted, neglected, as if its sole purpose were to get you somewhere else more important. You know that feeling well. You touch your wedding ring in an offhand way.
Shadows lurch over a doorway to the south. Opposite those shadows lies another doorway, in even darker shadows. What little light there is seeps in from a small elliptical window high on the wall. A ramshackle bookshelf squats under the window like a sunken chest on a murky seafloor.
Another author I know a tiny bit (he’s on the forum: @samplereality) – I’ve played Mark’s Babyface, a horror game that has a scare for the ages (if you’ve played it, you know exactly what I mean). I also picked his prize when my first game placed relatively well in the 2020 IF Comp, which involved him inflicting said game on his students in a digital studies class – poor them!
Anyway, we touch our what now?
You remember the day you swore to be Peter’s, forever. You look down at the gold band and study its intricate woven inlay that almost looks like–No, that can’t be.
Maybe it’s the dim thanatopic light writhing through the elliptical window overhead, but something seems different about the ring. You feel like you’re looking at its woven pattern for the first time. It reminds of you of chains, gates. Cages.
That’s kind of a dark view of marriage, Nitocris!
Strange, the wedding band usually slides right off, but something about this house seems to have tightened the ring around your finger. Constricting, that’s the word that comes to mind.
…is everything OK with you, Mark?
As is our usual procedure, we start by examining all the nouns in the location description:
The hole in the floorboards is a moldering, rotting place. There’s something here. A thing.
Oh, there’s a hole in the floor? When it said there was a dark alcove where the stairs went up, that wasn’t what I was picturing – though honestly I’m having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around this location, since a door between the foyer and the stairs up seems weird!
The oak floorboards are worn bare and uneven, the way hardwood gets after water damage. You wonder whether the manor was ever flooded.
Well, we’re in a hilly if not mountainous region so I’m guessing “no”, or at least “not due to natural causes”.
In the gloaming of the landing you can’t see clearly into the foul hole. You’re afraid you’ll have to pick up the thing to see what it is.
I always give authors points for the use of “gloaming” – actually, here’s a real anecdote about the band I was in in college (it wasn’t a jam band): when we were first working on some original songs, the lead guitarist brought in some lyrics that had started out as a poem which he thought could work as a song. They were about teenaged existential angst (what if there is no god, etc.) and he had the tentative title “The Gloaming”. We all gave him all sorts of a hard time for this – and wound up changing it to the oh-so-much-better “Silence Answers” – but the last laugh was on us because a year or two later Radiohead put out their Hail to the Thief album, featuring track 8, “The Gloaming”.
…I’m realizing that the made-up anecdotes about my college band are much better than the real ones.
Anyway, I was putting off something unpleasant:
You gasp when you touch the slippery, oozing thing. In your hand is a gelatinous piece of severed tentacle.
You think there might be something else in the alcove.
When you fish a gummy bit of tendril out from a hole in the floorboards, there’s only one thing to do:
With some primeval impulse you cannot fathom, you decide to taste the awful raw tentacle. You bite down, imagining the tentacle is an exquisite ceviche.
It tastes like…
The original, cosmic power.
You feel the tentacle’s warmth spreading through your body. And suddenly it’s a torrent of thick, clotted blood roiling through your veins.
And your eyes. Oh, your eyes. They see everything. Through every layer of reality you see, through all of them. As if every dimension of space and time turned transparent. A yawning, moorless chasm lies beyond. And finally, you see, you sense–you know–just what it means to be a god.
Please press SPACE to continue.
And then your mind, your consciousness, your soul, whatever you call it, stretches inside out and covers you whole and thus everted you vanish into the maw of nothingness.
You are more than dead. You are no more.
*** The End ***
I swear, if you check the transcript, that was in fact my first idea for what to do with the tentacle – the only command between TAKE IT and EAT IT is me making a side-comment to say “oh, yummy”. This game is maybe getting to me, folks.
In a canon playthrough, this is actually probably the good ending for Nitocris – seems like she’s getting promoted to the big leagues – though for the completionists out there we’ll undo and keep going.
Anyway this was a super fun find, what else is in the alcove?
The hole in floorboards is a moldering rotting place. Now that you’ve pulled out the loathsome tentacle you see a thin leather volume lying in the hole.
Aww man, that’s much less interesting.
>x leather volume
The title of the thin volume appears in distinctive heavy gothic lettering. It’s called De Zeven Testamenten van de Krijsende Zeeworm. There’s a–what’s it called, the snake eating its own tail?–etched onto the cover. The book is bound in a wrinkled leathery material. You can’t quite place the feel of the material.
The back of the ancient book is defaced with a sticker bearing some sort of insignia that makes it clear the book belongs to the Backwater public library. The insignia looks vaguely Masonic. Two sallow crescent moons stand guard on either side of an icy, watchful eye. And the eye gazes down upon an open book.
This seems like it’s in Dutch? I’m going to embarrass myself even more thoroughly than when I flail around at Latin, but seems like we’re looking at the Seven Testaments (Google translate wants “wills” but I think the more literal translation is more fitting here) of the Criss-Cross Sea Worm – in theme with the ouroboros imagery.
The book is damp and clammy but you pick it up. It’s like shaking hands with a cadaver.
Nitocris would definitely know what that feels like.
>show leather volume to man
You hold the book out to the man, who nods and approaches, drifting slowly towards you. He reaches out a hand and touches the book, which becomes encrusted with frost as the man fades from sight. Finally, the man reappears and nods to you as the frost sublimates away, leaving only traces in the library insignia.
I’m not 100% sure of what this frost thing is all about, but it seems like every two books we show to the chill/spark/man, his form gets more distinct. Let’s see if that theory’s right when we find our next volume.
You crack open the thin volume–quite literally. The leather binding cracks as you open the book. It must be ancient. You can’t imagine why a public library would have such a book in circulation. Even more incomprehensible is why the book was hidden under the floorboards. Afraid to break the binding more, you close the book without reading it.
You’ve just moved to town and you want to destroy a possibly priceless library book? No thanks. Besides, with its slimey, cracked, leathery hide, the book frankly creeps you out.
Nitocris will face down eldritch terrors and blasphemous gods from beyond space and time, but she’s not dumb enough to piss off a librarian.
This was probably the most important thing here, but let’s check out the rest of what’s on offer:
A vague recollection of This Old House stirs in your mind. A cameo window, you think it’s called. Warped wooden muntins crisscross the horizontal ellipse, reminding you of sties on an infected eye. The glass is filthy, hazy. It’s not a window so much as a cheerless smear looking out to grounds of the Cragne Manor beyond.
You stand on your tippy toes, but you can’t quite see through the window from here.
The bookshelf might once have been the centerpiece of the landing but now it’s tired and battered, leaning unsteadily to the right. The dark wood is heavily burled, triggering a dim recollection in the back of your mind. A few picture frames rest on top.
A grey mold blossoms across all the frames. Funny, you never saw mold growing on metal before. The photographs are torn out of every frame. Only the ragged edge of each photo remains, jagged white teeth encircling a vacant center.
The wood is cruelly knotted. You inexplicably recall an episode of This Old House when Bob Vila explained that the burls so prized in Victorian furniture were often the result of horrible fungal infections.
This emphasis on This Old House – one of the first of the home improvement shows, airing originally on public TV – rings very true to me given the time period, since even as a kid who was as deeply uninterested in house stuff in the 80s as I am now, I was very aware of the show and remember watching a bunch of episodes (we didn’t have cable).
Also, more fungus, yay.
It sure seems like we’re being prompted to look out that window…
>stand on bookshelf
You slowly step onto the bookshelf. It creaks. It strains. But it appears to hold your weight.
Landing at the Bottom of Stairs (Mark Sample) (on the bookshelf)
You’re standing on the ramshackle bookshelf. What little light there is seeps in from a small elliptical window that’s now eye-level.
Panes of glass streaked with grime obscure most of the view. You catch a glimpse of movement in the shadows outside. Is it the white pines, so tall they resemble a fleet of square riggers bemasted with gigantic fascicles of needles? Or is it something else in the shadows? Whatever it is, it’s big.
You rub the small elliptical window.
>look through window
You thought you saw something through the window, but now you’re not so sure. The towering trees sway in the wind, but there’s nothing there.
It isn’t something you can open.
You toy with the idea of breaking the elliptical window, but what would be the point?
Geez, why are all the authors being such buzzkills about my desire to break windows – maybe we’re worried about ventilation, or want (yet more) glass shards? Anyway we’re an adventurer game protagonist, chaos is what we do.
You shift your weight to step down from the bookshelf. A sharp crack breaks the silence of the alcove. The bookshelf collapses and you scramble away, slamming onto the old wooden floor.
You hear another crack but thankfully it’s not your own bones. A thick, putrid effluvium wafts up from the floor.
A heap of gnarled wood lies on the floor. It looks like your fall has broken through the rotten floorboards underneath the old shelf, revealing a small alcove. The smell of ancient sewage emanates from the alcove.
The stench is primordial. Like a sickly yellow vitality that’s been rotting since the dawn of time. It’s coming from below the broken bookshelf.
>look under bookshelf
The fallen bookshelf seems to have smashed through a floorboard underneath it, revealing a small alcove.
Oh, there’s the alcove! As with the gardener in the pool, we sequence-broke a little here (speedrunners take note!)
We’re good here, and obviously we want to finish the ground floor before trying others:
(Just over the character limit with this part of the update, so breaking it here)