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rangifer’s diary: pt. cvii

Dozen

Over the course of many, many months, I’ve had a number of… let’s say “capeventures”, that I’ve talked about here in this diary. The most recent instalment was in the “PGC” section of pt. civ, wherein I ultimately sold an 8 WATK, 4-slot PGC to the highest bidder for a whopping 600 pCoins. After even more pain & suffering, I am proud to announce that my capeventures have come to a close. I bought a 12 WATK, 0-slot PGC!!!!!:

Buying the 12 WATK cape

Transcription of the above image

[trade window between ZeroGravity and rusa, with ZeroGravity offering a PGC, and rusa offering 1 650 pCoins]

rusa: heyhey

ZeroGravity: HeyHey ^^

rusa: tysm!!

ZeroGravity: tyty <3


Pink Gaia Cape (+3)

  • Req lev: 65
  • Category: cape
  • Weapon attack: 12
  • Weapon def.: 20
  • Magic def.: 18
  • Number of upgrades available: 0

HOLY moly. That is undoubtedly the single largest trade that I have ever made in my Maple career by a long, long shot. I mean, 1 650 pCoins‽‽‽ Considering that the usual price that I bought pCoins for (when I did obtain some of them by purchase) was roughly ≈3.35M mesos, that’s the equivalent of over 5.5 billion mesos!!! What the fuck???

The good news, of course, is that now I never have to think about stinky, disgusting capes ever again. 😌

Now, of course, it wasn’t as simple as merely going to The Cape Store™ and forking over an entire bank robbery’s worth of cash in exchange for one of the finest capes on sale. Besides the fact that I had to do a lot of selling shit (including all of the filthy lucre that I got in the “In which MapleLegends is digested within the rumen of the arcade cabinet… & spit back up” section of the previous entry in this diary), more selling shit, & then even more selling just to accumulate the last 10% of the wealth that I would need, I also had to… you know, find a seller.

Every single additional WATK is a downright monumental increase in value for a cape, so finding one in my price range — low enough WATK that I could possibly ever afford it, but not so low that I would be left with disappointment & a lot of spare cash — was not going to be easy. When I finally saw a 12 WATK cape up for sale, I knew that it was my chance. I placed a bid, got outbid, outbid them myself, and prayed desperately that I would not be outbid once again. One more increment, and I was just not going to be able to afford it. Thankfully, I was not outbid again, and I can finally stop talking about big dumb capes & big dumb quantities of pCoins…

rusa’s cape

Now, being a cape with a dozen WATK, I’m going to be getting a lot of use from the PGC on many of my characters. But… what about rusa, my darksterity knight? I’ve been using a 19 STR, 5 DEX Crimsonheart Cloak (CHC) on rusa for a long while now. A pure DEX DK is, naturally, somewhat “stats-starved”, as I like to say. Thus, 19 STR & 5 DEX is no joke, and the fact that it’s also 5 DEX & 5 LUK means that I also get 3.75 AVOID — something that I care a lot about when playing rusa — as a nifty bonus.

But… how stats-starved can rusa be, really? Sure, she might be STRless, but:

So, although equipment — especially temporary event-exclusive equipment — & character levels change, I recorded a snapshot of rusa’s stats & equips that is vaguely representative. Using these data, I calculated analytically — using my damage calculator — how much single-target DPM I can expect from spamming Spear Crusher whilst wearing my new 12 WATK PGC, vs. whilst wearing my stinky 19 STR & 5 DEX CHC.

Rather than bore you with the minute details, here’s a chart that sums up the basic findings:

12 WATK PGC vs. 19 STR & 5 DEX CHC, rusa, level 183, MW19, Retro Hero, Ring of Passion, no SE, no SI, no Echo, 1k WDEF, 2.00 Berserk modifier

(See: rusa-cape-comparison.py.)

Note that this assumes no SE, no SI, no Echo, a 2.0 Berserk multiplier (which is maybe a bit on the lower end, but in the rarer cases, it can be <2.0), & an enemy with 1 000 WDEF.

So… there you have it. 12 WATK on a cape is pretty damned powerful, & rusa has the stats to back it up — at least, unless she’s Gelting. [:

So the landscape returned to me; so I saw the fields rolling in waves of colour beneath me, but now with this difference; I saw but was not seen

…But what’s a few thousand “Prestigious Coins” to the humble Viclocker? A bit of exotic fool’s gold; the ostensive wealth of a self-appointed princess dwarfed by the distended scope of the glib world over which she pretends to exercise command. In the land beneath, warmly cloaked in so many waves of diverse colour, and cloaked also by the old tales that speak of it as if it were only a distant memory, all forms of life are equally simple & precious.

And so, I — as my dagger spearwoman d34r — teamed up with my Vicloc husband, notorious bandit xXCrookXx (Lvl1Crook, Level1Crook, Lanius, SuperLuck), to walk the golem-inhabited path of The forest of Golem once again:

d34r & xXCrookXx FoGgin’ it up

Later, a few Lip Lock Keys were enough to push me over the line into level 97:

d34r hits level 97~!!

On my Vicloc clericlet d33r, I did even more GM events. I’m personally not a huge fan of Russian roulette (RR); I’ve covered it previously in my diary, in the «Русская рулетка» section of pt. lxxxvii, as well as the “Viccy loccy” section of pt. xciv. However, it seems that although I may not particularly like RR, RR certainly likes me. In “Viccy loccy”, I got 3rd place in one of the rounds of RR, which marked the first time that I’ve ever won game cash (a special form of NX that can only be obtained by winning GM events). And this time, I made it into the top 3 once again!:

d33r hits the top 3 in Russian roulette!

Oh, but it gets better. Both of my opponents stood on the same platform, and as it just so happened, that platform was selected for elimination, thus instantly launching me into 1st place!!:

d33r gets 1st place in RR!!!

Transcription of the chatlog in the above image

[system message]: Congratulations! You have earned 10,000 Game Cash for finishing in first place!

[game-wide announcement]: Congratulations to d33r for finishing the event in first place!

Oh, jeez. First place?? That’s a first for me. But hey — what can I say? I might be rubbish at any of the events that actually require skill, but boy can I get lucky! Magelet power!!

And if that weren’t enough evidence, later that very same day(!), I managed to place in the top 3 of yet another chance-based GM event!!!:

d33r gets 3rd place in Ola Ola?!?

Transcription of the above image

[system message]: [Notice] Everyone that clears Ola Ola on time will be given an item, regardless of the order of finish [sic], so just relax, take your time, and select the right portals.

[game-wide announcement]: [Congrats] snowscenes was the first player to finish the event (2m 41s).

[system message]: [Notice] The number of portals will increase as you move up the level.

[game-wide announcement]: [Congrats] Freefire was the second player to finish the event (3m 12s).

[system message]: Congratulations! You have earned 5,000 Game Cash for finishing in 3rd place!

[game-wide announcement]: [Congrats] d33r was the third player to finish the event (3m 28s).

Hola hola, 5k more game cash!! 😎 It would seem that the Maple gods smile upon the Victorians…

Oiseau orange

Is it time for a little bossing with my darksterity knight rusa? I think it is.

However, the phrase “a little” here is, perhaps regrettably, operative. If you know my Maple escapades mostly or entirely from my diary entries, then it might be slightly difficult to discern the particular quantities of each activity that I actually do — the number of minutes spent, or the number of “runs”, as the case may be. I don’t keep count, and I don’t record into my diary repeated instances of the same activity unless I have a good reason to. A few activities are repeated with such frequency, or have been covered so many times within my diary, that I simply don’t record them at all, unless something particularly interesting or important occurs within it — like APQ, for example.

That being said, you can expect to see less bossin’ wif rusa going forward. I’ve yet to become truly desperate enough to go back to running with randoms, and I don’t really get invited to boss runs these days! Because no one logs on!! Nor talks to me!!! This is a cry for help!!!!

It’s okay, though. rusa will still be there whenever I want to play her — the problem of actually finding people to play with notwithstanding — and look! I did some bosses anyways!! Like this Burger Moth run that I did with nightlord Beotch (Chastity), and my Maple wife Harlez (VigiI, Murhata):

Beotch, Harlez, & rusa vs. Bergamot

And of course, I satisfy my unquenchable thirst for Horntail whenever I get the opportunity. Besides a pair of runs that I did in the usual sed target position, I also got to do some as… not sed target!:

rusa attacking mid head from the right-hand side

I took this opportunity to do a @dpm 40 test, to some decent results:

Level 183 rusa, HT, @dpm 40 w/ HS:V, Cider, MW20, SI, & Echo

Transcription of the chatlog in the above image

[system message]: rusa — Lv.183 Dark Knight — Total Damage: 71,113,479
Damage Per Hour: 106,670,160 — Damage Per Minute: 1,777,836

Not pictured is the HS:V buff that I had for the majority of the DPM test — the rest of the duration being covered by the usual Cider. Still, ≈1.8M DPM isn’t too bad on a long (40-minute) test, although I felt like I could have done better. If I were smarter, I would have been more consistent in the past with doing @dpm 40 tests & similar. Alas, I often forget, and maybe I don’t like the added pressure…! So here’s just one crappy test!!

Finally, why not take a little break and chill out with some 🔥intensely frenetic🔥 Monster Magneting action at þͤ olde Zakky-wakky…? I did a pair of such Zakky-wakkies in a quintet alongside bishop misandrist (xRook), bowmaster Gilgamesshu, nightlord Matsheshu[1] (Fara, Muguet), and fellow dark knight FangBladeJr (KEKMEISTER):

Gilgamesshu, misandrist, FangBladeJr, Matsheshu, & rusa quintet Zakum run, first body

And Zak went down like a chump once again. When will this crumbly stone statue guy learn its damn lesson…?

Footnotes for « Oiseau orange »

  1. [↑] From Innu-aimun mātsheshu; /maː.t͡ʃe.ʃʊ/; “fox”.

Qubert’s level 200 party!

I was delighted to attend another level 200 party, this time of paladin Qubert (Qub*, Grimtastic, GrimSanity, Huedity)! Qubert has featured in some previous diary entries, like the trio Core Blaze runs that I did with Qubert & Danger (Hampy) back in the 「アキラ」 section of pt. ci. Qubert is also a long-time member of the GangGang guild, a guild that I’ve a lot of history & connections with. So I was pleased to see half the damn server show up for his level 200 party!:

Qubert hits level 200

Congrats again!!

You’d see me face down; beneath the silt & sands; buried by my thoughts

Ooooh baby, make some popcorn & get comfy, because it’s time for more Questin’ With tara™! A little bit, at least…!

In the previous episode (the “Vow of demolition” section of the previous entry in this diary), my pugilist tarandus made some progress along the Neo Tōkyō questline, amongst other things. At this point within the NT questline, my duty is to lay waste to as many Iruvatas[1] as it takes to collect three hundred (300) of their laser guns, and one (1) of their transmitters. So, whenever I managed to snag a set of GM buffs, I used those 60 minutes as 60 minutes of Iruvata grinding:

tarandus solo grinding Iruvatas for their transmitter

Now, it’s no secret that being as high level of a character as tara represents the degeneration of the quester. The vast bulk of the questing content in the game (viz. MapleLegends) is pre-level-70, and the bulk of what actual “questing action” remains beyond level ≈70 is like the action that you see me doing here: sparse quests of grindy nonsense featuring monsters that are higher level than, frankly, any monster has any right to be. In this case, I’m fighting some chunky Iruvatas, which are level 143(!), and sport 280k(!) HP & 1 210 WDEF a pop.

Unfortunately for me, farming up 300 Iruvata Laser Guns would prove significantly easier than farming even a single Iruvata Transmitter — not to mention the fact that the guns are ordinary tradeable ETC items, unlike the transmitter. It would be quite some hours(!) of grinding before I would get that single item, which really reminds me of a certain trope that I’ve briefly mentioned a few other times throughout my diary.

You see, there’s a reason why it took me so long to warm up to game content like e.g. card-hunting, and why it remains somewhere in the lower tiers of game content for me, even now. Gameplay activities that ask me (the player) to grind a whole bunch of nonsense just to have the slightest chance of actually getting any of the reward(s) that I actually want, are psychologically… unsavoury. There’s something deeply unappealing about this combination of two dispositions:

  1. I’m entering into a game of chance, and so I’m powerless to really control whether I “win” or not. When I get poor luck, I’m vexed that the game is punishing me for nothing that I’ve actually done, and when I get good luck, I can sorta feel good about the bare fact of “winning” per se, but really I mostly just feel as if the victory was undeserved.

  2. In this particular configuration of “a game of chance”, I’m putting virtually continuous effort into the game, and each discrete packet of effort — in this case, each monster that I kill — potentially results in a “win”. The vexing thing, then, is that almost all of my effort is, in some sense, wasted. For example, if I spend an hour grinding Iruvatas and no Iruvata Transmitters drop, then — ignoring all other non-transmitter aspects — I have effectively just wasted an hour. When I come back later and try again for another hour, it’s no different from starting over at “square one” — as if I had never done the first hour of grinding at all.

    In short, the game is memoryless: it constantly forgets that I am even playing it, thus discarding all “progress” that I vainly hope to make through my concerted effort.

    This psychologically vexing effect becomes more pronounced as the probability of each individual “win” nears zero. Technically, when collecting Iruvata Laser Guns, I’m playing this kind of game. But the guns have such a high drop rate — on the order of ≈½ — that I hardly feel like I’m playing a game of chance at all! I may occasionally be briefly annoyed by a handful of kills in a row that produce nothing of value, but in general, a task to collect some number of Iruvata Laser Guns may as well be a task to simply kill some (larger) number of Iruvatas, for all I care. Yet with the Iruvata Transmitter, I do not feel this way; I feel very keenly that I am playing a game of chance.

Now, (1.) is its whole own can of worms. What I’m really touching upon with (1.) is, in a word, gambling. Aversion or attraction to gambling is to some degree a matter of personality, to some degree a matter of current psychological state, to some degree a matter of what concrete rewards & punishments are offered, & so on. I’m aware that my aversion, as described in (1.), to gambling of this kind is personal rather than universal. There are other ways to subjectively understand gambling — up to & including the incorporation of cognitive biases such as the illusion of control, the gambler’s fallacy, & so on…

Still, something about (2.) bugs me. With (2.), we’re narrowing down to a particular kind of game of chance, and it seems like we can mathematically inspect it to see if it really supports the subjective–psychological understanding that I have of it.

The first mathematical tool that we might think to wield is the LLN, which states — roughly — that the number of “wins” divided by the number of trials (in this case, number of monster kills) approaches the expected proportion of wins to trials, as the total number of trials increases without bound. We can use the LLN to convince ourselves that the game cannot withhold wins indefinitely; so long as there is a nonzero probability of winning per trial, we will eventually get a win (or “enough” wins, for some value of “enough”), so long as we continue to perform trials indefinitely.

Of course, although the LLN is certainly useful, and it does give us a nice intuition here, it’s quite weak. It only tells us anything at all if we are willing to admit that we continue to perform trials indefinitely & without bound. Otherwise, the nice limit tricks don’t work — we need infinity! And even if we do admit this, all that we get from the LLN is an average.

On the other hand, by getting more specific, we can look at concrete statistical properties. The game that we’re dealing with here is well-described by any of three possible probability distributions, depending on how exactly we model it: the binomial distribution, the geometric distribution, or the negative binomial distribution. These distributions correspond to their respective models as follows (in more or less ascending order of complexity):

Now that we have actual distributions, we can look at more interesting things than just expectation. Closely related to expectation is variance, which measures dispersion (although it isn’t the only such measure). By measuring dispersion, we can get an idea of how much is really left up to “chance”: high dispersion means that results vary wildly depending only on chance, whereas low dispersion means that results are pretty similar no matter what. In the extreme case, a deterministic distribution is not “random” at all, in the ordinary sense of the word; the result is always the same, and so the variance is zero.

One problem with variance, however, is that it’s difficult to interpret directly. In particular, the dimensionality of the variance is the square of the dimensionality of the concrete values. If the distribution is of heights (in, say, metres) of individuals within a population, then the variance is in terms of… area (m2). Taking the square root of the variance gets rid of this pesky issue, and gets us the standard deviation, which is commonly denoted as simply σ.

Still, although the standard deviation is much easier to interpret, its being an unnormalised quantity may be — depending on the context — a slight issue. Two distributions that feel like they have very different dispersions may nevertheless have identical standard deviations (and thus also identical variances), with the perceived difference in dispersion being due to the two distributions having typical values (read: expectations) that are very different in magnitude. The distribution with smaller typical values (smaller absolute expected value) will feel much more dispersed, because its standard deviation is thus relatively larger. In cases like this where we still want to be able to compare dispersions, the coefficient of variation (CV) may be used (but first ensure that you have meaningful & positive ratios between any two concrete values). The CV is simply the standard deviation divided by the expected value.

N.B.: As we’ll soon see, however, the CV can be difficult to interpret in its own sort of way. This is perhaps unexpected, but the reality is that the interpretation of the CV will depend more closely on the meaning of the distribution’s values themselves.

It seems like my intuition in (2.) vaguely corresponds to the mathematical notion that small values of 𝑝 should yield impressively large amounts of dispersion in the resulting distributions. Now that we have some mathematical models & tools, we can actually work this out analytically. For each of the three distribution models, we can — with the power of algebra! — work out what the standard deviation and the CV are:

distribution dimension σ CV
(𝑛,𝑝) items 𝑛𝑝(1𝑝) 1𝑝𝑛𝑝
𝒢ℯℴ(𝑝) kills 1𝑝𝑝 1𝑝
𝒩ℬ(𝑟,𝑝) kills 𝑟(1𝑝)𝑝 1𝑟(1𝑝)

Hmmm… Well, those certainly are some formulæ. If only I knew what they meant! To take a step towards understanding the behaviour of these algebraic expressions, we can rewrite them by reinterpreting the droprate. Instead of a probability 𝑝(0,1], we can use 𝑑=1𝑝[1,), which we interpret as the expected number of monster kills to get one item drop. Rewriting the above table in terms of 𝑑, we get:

distribution dimension σ CV
(𝑛,𝑝) items 𝑛(𝑑1)𝑑 𝑑1𝑛
𝒢ℯℴ(𝑝) kills 𝑑(𝑑1) 𝑑1𝑑
𝒩ℬ(𝑟,𝑝) kills 𝑟𝑑(𝑑1) 1𝑟(𝑑1)𝑑

Now we’re getting somewhere. We can once again reinterpret these, but this time in terms of their asymptotic behaviours. If you’re used to doing limits and asymptotic stuff like that, then you’re probably already seeing what’s going on here. To make it simple & explicit, we can use big theta notation:

distribution dimension σ CV
(𝑛,𝑝) items Θ(𝑛𝑑) Θ(𝑑𝑛)
𝒢ℯℴ(𝑝) kills Θ(𝑑) Θ(1)
𝒩ℬ(𝑟,𝑝) kills Θ(𝑑𝑟) Θ(1𝑟)

Ok, phewf! Finally!! Something that I can actually read!!!

So what’s going on here? Well, perhaps the most interesting bit is how the dispersion of (𝑛,𝑝) completely reverses when going from the standard deviation to the CV. With a larger number of trials (larger 𝑛), the standard deviation goes up mostly just because there’s a larger absolute number of successes; on the other hand, the CV neutralises this effect, and so the CV actually shrinks. However, notice that we actually don’t care all that much about 𝑛; it naturally may be much smaller or larger depending on how many monsters we choose to kill, whether we look at one session or multiple sessions, etc., so it’s not really a parameter, as far as we care. Still, the story with 𝑑 is similar: higher 𝑑 (read: lower droprate) lowers the standard deviation just by decreasing the absolute number of successes. The CV then neutralises this effect, and so ultimately higher 𝑑 increases the CV without bound. This would seem to confirm my intuitions in (2.).

When it comes to 𝒢ℯℴ(𝑝), the standard deviation goes up very quickly with 𝑑. But yet again, the CV neturalises this effect, and the result is that the CV is essentially just a constant. It’s worth noting, however, that this is the asymptotic behaviour; the precise behavior is that it continuously increases with 𝑑, up to a limit of 1. Although this makes the CV somewhat underwhelming, consider how this is actually interpreted: a standard deviation that scales linearly with 𝑑 means that the absolute number of trials necessary for success varies wildly when 𝑑 is large. The CV, then, is just a reflection of geometric distributions all having very similar shapes when 𝑑 is sufficiently large. And for what it’s worth, the CV being 1 (more likely stated as “100%”) is actually a fairly large CV!

And finally, as expected, the negative binomial distribution behaves similarly to the geometric distribution here, except that there is another parameter 𝑟 (setting 𝑟=1 basically gets us back to a geometric distribution). Standard deviation increases somewhat with 𝑟, but this is probably just due to it increasing the absolute magnitude of the typical result. It ultimately lowers the CV, because the exact number of trials to get each individual item is not super important; we only care about when we get the last item. Because we don’t care about the order in which the items are obtained, when 𝑟 is large, the effect is similar to how you’re more likely to roll all of {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6} within some fixed number (≥6) of rolls of a die if you don’t care about the order that they’re rolled in, than if you require an ordered subsequence of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

So… maybe the binomial distribution was straightforward enough, but does all of this stuff about geometric & negative-binomial distributions have anything to do with my intuitions in (2.)? As far as I can tell, the answer is “yes”. Consider the following snippets from the above paragraphs:

Anywho, what was I talking about again? Oh, right. Questing. With tara.

I had the pleasure of doing my very first Kreckselle runs on tara, fighting in a quartet alongside corsair AFKtill18k, shadower Harlez (VigiI, Murhata), and fellow buccaneer notnotgroovy (groovyfeet, notgroovy, groovynot)!:

AFKtill18k, notnotgroovy, Harlez, & tara vs. Krexel

Now that’s a lot of Demolition.

Krexel’s right eye

“But wait”, I hear you say. “I thought we were doing the Questin’ With tara™ thing?” Oh, but we are. You see, in order to complete the Savior Of Ulu City questline, and thus become the savior of Ulu City[2], I would have to actually… save Ulu City. By vanquishing the giant skyscraper-sized tree that threatens the land with its grumpily soporific gaze, of course!

tarandus is the savior of Ulu City

And, what the heck. Why don’t we show this oversized shrub who’s boss… twice?

tara hits level 138~!

Yes… As it turns out, getting party-of-three EXP (as Harlez left the party each time that an eye was about to die, on account of being level 200 already) turned out to be a lot of EXP for our dear tara.

Upon informing Commando Jim of the good news, he was quite elated:

Commando Jim: You did it! You saved Ulu City! I must go and tell everyone of your great deeds! You are truly our savior. Perhaps we should re-name our city after you!

Oh, my. Renaming Ulu City after me? Like… tara City? t— tarandicity…? …You know what, let’s just keep the old name.

Of course, it wasn’t all fun, games, & questing. I also did some V Srs Bossing Bsns™ for fun & profit. And EXP. Definitely the EXP.

Doing some more Rāvaṇa runs with INTlaw Lvl1Crook (xXCrookXx, Level1Crook, SuperLuck, Lanius), I was there to see him hit the big 120~!!:

Lvl1Crook hits level 120~!

Out with the INTlaw, in with the INTsair!!

Indeed, not only did this mean that Lvl1Crook’s combat was going to be looking a lot boatier, but it also meant that he was finally in level range for the ol’ Purple Ladles. The ol’ Peppered Lettuce. The Pauper Letters. The Pampered Lattice. The good ol’ fashioned clock & ball tortu

Lvl1Crook & tara vs. Papulatus

Cool!

Lvl1Crook & tara vs. Papulatus, 2nd body

Papu makes a great addition to our Ravving. And when a little Ravpapping ain’t enough, we head to the Phantom Forest in cryptozoological pursuits…:

Lvl1Crook & tara vs. Bigfoot

But don’t worry. I kept at it with the NT questing, and after many sessions of arduous Iruvata grinding, I finally found the god damned Iruvata Transmitter!!:

tara finally gets the Iruvata Transmitter…

Sheesh!!!

I brought the transmitter to Captain Maricias, who was inexplicably clothed in what appeared to be a housemaid’s attire, complete with the usual giant sword that any good housemaid keeps strapped to their back at all times. And Maricias was amazed that I actually kept killing Iruvatas until this dumb thing dropped:

Captain Maricias: But then again, I can’t help but be amazed by your ability to do this. I still can’t believe you defeated Iruvata on your own.

Well, gee. I can’t honestly tell if Maricias is impressed in a good way, or in a “what is wrong with you?” kind of way, but either way, I’ll take it. Unfortunately for me, however, the next part of the NT questline involves battling — and importantly, defeating — Neo Tōkyō’s next top model: Dunas. Even ignoring the slight issue of Dunas being roughly 35(!) levels above me, I’m not really equipped to be snooping around Dunas’s evil lair or whatever quite yet.

So instead, Lvl1Crook & I collectively decided to renege on the vow that we made to never enter the cave of Cancel Carp ever again…:

tara & Lvl1Crook vs. Pianuses

Well, okay. It was at least a little less horrible this time around, but I’ll be damned if fighting Peanus is ever pleasant

And with some more bossing around, tara hit level 139 amidst the Phantom Forest!!:

tara hits level 139~!!

Stay tuned for more Questing With tara™!! And probably other tara content too!!! 😉

A buck an ear’s SP

But wait! There’s more!! Now that tara is getting to more mature 4th-job levels, it’s time to have a serious thinky dink 🤔 about her skill build.

You see, some 4th-job classes have a few skills that are their core skills, and then they have… other skills. Now, obviously, the “other skills” are often — albeit not always… — very useful as well. But the core skills are typically the attacks, plus any other skills that define the playstyle of the class. Hero? That’s basically just Brandish & ACA, right? Archmages? Basically walking mage ultimates, am I right? 😏[3] Nightlords? Triple Throw dispensers! Shifter & Shadow Stars are just icing on the cake!!

But some 4th-job classes don’t really have “other skills”. They just have… skills. Sounds cool, right? Well, there’s a catch: you actually need SP to put into those skills. Where in the damn hell am I going to get that? What, do I look like I can just casually farm a billion EXP or something??

This brings us to the pirates: corsair and, particularly, buccaneer. The closest that buccs get to “other skills” are Energy Orb, and of course Maple Warrior (the latter of which, every 4th-job class has access to). And even Energy Orb is a full-blown attacking skill with unique use-cases in its own right — just not enough use-cases in which it produces a considerable advantage for it to be thought of as more than a “kinda niche skill”.

As I’ve mentioned previously, tara has been going for a kind of “single-target DPM” — or “bossing”, if you prefer — build that prioritises skills like Demo & ST. Up to this point, her build is lookin’ kinda like this:

level range SI TL Demo ST Barrage DStrike Snatch EO MW
120 +1 +1 +1
121 +1 +1 +1
122 124 +3
125 134 +3
135 140 +3
141 ? +1 ? ? ? ? ?
total 11 ≥1 30 20 ≥1 ≥1 ? ? ?

Naturally, level 11 SI is mandatory, and having at least 1 point in each of TL, Barrage, & DStrike is also just common sense. Then I max Demo first to make it do The Big Damage™, and then ST to lower its cooldown so that I can do The Big Damage™ much more often.

Then what? Well, my Barrage & DStrike are still frankly pathetic. Crappy Barrage means that I’m doing whatever the opposite of The Big Damage™ is, whenever my ST is on cooldown. Plus, having DStrike that is, without exaggeration, worse than SSK — a literal 1st-job skill — in almost every conceivable way other than its rather impressive reach[4]… well, it’s not so good for bosses, and it’s somehow even worse if I’m tryna farm.

However, there’s just one slight issue with actually levelling up my Barrage/DStrike to make them not pathetic: TL. Obviously, TL is extremely important, and the way I see it, I probably want to have it maxed out no later than level 155. Cuz what if I do HT??? Right???? So that really narrows down my pre-level-155 options, considering that TL maxes out at skill level 30.

If, immediately after maxing ST, I maxed TL ASAP, I would max TL at level 150, with 0 SP left over. Then, by level 155, I would have accumulated another 15 SP on top of that. So I could put off TL as long as “possible”, and spend those 15 SP right up front to, say, get Barrage to level 1 + 15 = 16.

I don’t think that I’m gonna do that, though. Even putting higher-level bosses like HT aside, being able to more frequently TL Resurrection[5], as well as Smokescreen et al., is already super useful for Zakum fights. Especially when you consider that TLing Resurrection is what enables selling AFK Zhelm services. Plus, I can emotionally cope with the fact that I’m neglecting my damage skills by convincing myself that TL technically improves my DPH by resetting my ST’s cooldown! 🤓

So I’m probably just gonna be maxing TL immediately after maxing ST. Once TL is maxed, though, it’s ✨a whole new world✨. I may as well keep slamming on the whole “single-target DPM” thing by maxing Barrage next, right…? Oh, and surely I could use at least one (1) point in Snatch…

Footnotes for “You’d see me face down; beneath the silt & sands; buried by my thoughts”

  1. [↑] See footnote #2 of the “Vow of demolition” section of the previous entry in this diary, for more on the Iruvata name.

  2. [↑] Occasionally known as “UwU City”.

  3. [↑] Okay fine, they can have other attacks too. I would know — I happen to have an archmage(let) myself…

  4. [↑] No, really. I mean, yes, DStrike does more damage per hit (275% > 190%), but SSK is so spammable (attack period of 660⁢ ms) that it’s kind of a moot point. And SSK hits up to 6 monsters, rather than 4…! Still, I use my level 1 DStrike fairly frequently, which, if nothing else, is a testament to how useful it is for an attack to have more reach than “unless you are literally inside of your enemy, this prolly ain’t gonna hit ’em”.

  5. [↑] Is it just me, or do people say ⟨ress⟩ a lot? Like, with two ⟨s⟩es. At first, I thought that it was just a simple typographical error… right? But I have seen this abbreviation of Resurrection a lot, which is bizarre on at least two counts: first of all, ⟨res⟩ is clearly shorter. Second of all, where did the second ⟨s⟩ come from? There’s only one ⟨s⟩ in ⟨Resurrection⟩!!

    Then it hit me: the doubling of ⟨s⟩ → ⟨ss⟩ is the result of typographically metathesising with the doubled ⟨rr⟩ that occurs soon after. If it were spelled out (which, to be clear, it is not), we would achieve *⟨Ressurection⟩. I suppose, since we “can’t see” the rest of the word, it doesn’t necessarily have to be metathesis per se; it could be any form of analogical typographic doubling. In any case, that’s pretty impressive! How did we collectively decide to make this shortening(!) of a long but common word… longer? For no real reason??

    And before you ask: no, it’s not to reflect the fact that the ⟨s⟩ in the original word actually represents /z/. ⟨ss⟩ is no better at representing /z/ in English orthography than ⟨s⟩ is; in fact, if anything, it’s worse. Moreover, if this were the issue, it would surely become ⟨rez⟩, which is shorter anyways! Consider the similar case of resolution /ˌɹɛ.zəˈl(j)u.ʃ(ə)n/, which is frequently shortened to simply ⟨res⟩, but never to *⟨ress⟩ — there are no doubled letters in the original word!

p0rtal

In the “@ ur cervice” section of the previous entry in this diary, I introduced a brand new one of my stinky pp pupu characters, this one named d00r. Many d00rventures were had, particularly with the ironman characters (& members of the lronman guild) GiIf (Dakota, MiIf) the assassin, and Skjal (inject, inhale, Tetrin, vvvv, Pitiful, DexBlade, eject) the bandit.

d00r and GiIf made a formidable duo, and so we continued in our d00r × GiIf adventures by doing even moar Lūdus Lake questing. Starting in the Omega Sector with “Chief Gray’s Sign”, we hunted down these old-man aliens for the creepy baubles that they keep on the ends of their walking sticks:

d00r: DIE OLD MAN

Naturally, we were quickly running out of Lūdus Lake quests to do, and so it was time to do everyone’s least favourite: “Porter’s Challenge”. This quest requires 200 Blue Toy Blocks, which can be obtained nearby, but it also requires 200 Jr. Cerebes Teeth… So we were gonna have to go all the way to The Nath™ for this one!! I mean, okay. Technically, Jr. Cerebes also spawn on Showa Street 1; but they make up just shy of ⅓ of the population of said map, so it’s not a great idea. On the other hand, by taking the trek to El Nath, the trek up the El Nath Mountains, and the trek into the Dead Mine, to The Cave of Trial II, & surreptitiously into the Cave Within the Cave, we could farm Jr. Cerebes very efficiently in a map that spawns lots of them, and spawns nothing else:

d00r & GiIf @ Cave Within the Cave

Having farmed up some 400 or so li’l demon doggy teethies, it was time to go back to the bottom of the Eos Tower and finish up Porter’s god-forsaken challenge. In the Hidden Tower, we farmed up the rest of the Blue Toy Blocks that we needed:

d00r finishing up “Porter’s Challenge” in Hidden Tower

With that over with, it was time to do Kay’s quest by the name of “Fuel for MT-09”. Heading to Defeat Monsters, GiIf & I were humbled by the awesome power of MT-09:

d00r vs. MT-09

Transcription of the chatlog in the above image

GiIf: here we go…

d00r: he thicc
@bosshp

Many Lucky Sevens and Magic Claws later (mostly Magic Claws…), we’d collected enough fuel for Kay’s recycling research.

For “The Effort to Make-Up”, we’d need a bunch of Ultra Gray kills, which we mostly got in Kulan Field IV (which also happens to be a Chief Gray map):

d00r & GiIf doing “The Effort to Make-Up”

And, for “Eliminating Plateon” and its sequel, “Eliminating Plateon and Mecateon”, we’d need a slew of Plateons and of Mecateons, which we got at Boswell Field IV.

Now we’d really squeezed Lūdus Lake dry, with the slight exception that GiIf had done “Where is Dogon’s HQ?”, whereas I had not! So I talked to Chury, and found Dogon’s HQ myself:[1]

d00r investigates Dogon’s HQ

By this point, d00r was already level 52(!), so I was really hankering for a big dumb helmet-shaped rock to put on my head. In order to have any chance at a Zhelm, however, I would need to first do the Zaqqūm prequests. So, after asking my future 3rd-job instructor Robeira for permission, I once again hiked up the snowy mountains.

Eager to make good use of my Healing abilities, I farmed Dead Mine II for as long as it took to farm up a whopping 30 Zombie’s Lost Gold Teeth!:

d00r hunting for Zombie’s Lost Gold Teeth

Of course, naturally, the major pain point was the Flyeyes. Not being undead, I had to painstakingly Magic Claw each individual freaky flying eyeball to death, one by one.

Eventually, though, I did get the 30 teeth, and so it was time to take on the real first part of the prequests:

d00r completes the 1st Zakum prequest!

Alright, that’s what we like to see. But what about the JQ…?

d00r completes the Zakum JQ!!

Ahh… a simple “jump quest”, you say? ’Tis nothing for our dear d00r, consummate master of the Zakum prequests…!

And with that, d00r was ready to get her LUK-y hands on a snazzy Zhelm. If you look closely at the left-hand side of the “Gilgamesshu, misandrist, FangBladeJr, Matsheshu, & rusa quintet Zakum run, first body” image of the « Oiseau orange » section above, you can see d00r cowering in the corner, awaiting Zhelms to loot! And she got a pretty damn good one!!:

d00r’s Zhelm

Transcription of the above image

Zakum Helmet

One of a kind Item, Untradeable

  • Req lev: 50
  • Category: hat
  • STR: +14
  • DEX: +14
  • INT: +16
  • LUK: +17
  • Weapon def.: 147
  • Magic def.: 158
  • Accuracy: +21
  • Avoidability: +21
  • Number of upgrades available: 10

Plus, I got tired of lugging around my 6 INT (womp womp…) level 20 Maple Cape, and figured that level 65 — when I could switch to my 10 INT, 6 MATK (= 16 TMA) PuGC — was kinda a long ways off for d00r. So I scrolled a PuAC…:

d00r’s Purple Adventurer Cape

Transcription of the above image

Purple Adventurer Cape (+4)

  • Req lev: 50
  • Category: cape
  • INT: +8
  • Magic attack: 7
  • Weapon def.: 7
  • Magic def.: 6
  • Number of upgrades available: 0

A purple cape for the prototypical adventurer.

Don’t worry, it didn’t cost that much to make! Well, honestly, it would have been a lot cheaper, if I hadn’t failed/boomed like five+ 70%s in a row… 😅

So, here’s hoping for more d00r × GiIf adventures in the future! 🧡

Footnotes for “p0rtal”

  1. [↑] See the “tara taran’ it up” section of pt. lxxxviii of this diary, & the footnotes of the “Just a smol itty bit of questing, with cervid” section of pt. lxxviii, for more on Dogon’s HQ.

Looseleaf macrofiches

In the “Card wish” section of the previous entry in this diary, I continued card-hunting on my daggerlord alces, in the pursuit of Monster Book Rings. At the end of that section, I was in the midst of card-hunting the rural outskirts of Shànghǎi.

After some more hunting at Western Prairie III, and some more lamenting the fact that the nightlord’s Taunt skill doesn’t interact with Shadow Partner (😭), it was eventually time for the Black Goat set. So I headed to Mountainous Region II for that:

Black Goat card get!

And, whilst I was there, I finished the Goat set as well:

Goat card get!

Actually, I finished the Goat set last… not sure how that happened. In any case, I already did the Black Sheep set back in the “alces takes down a few more quests~” section of pt. lxxv of this diary, when I did all of the Shànghǎi quests. So that’s… all of the Shànghǎi sets, done & done!

Next up, then, was Singapore. Specifically, all of Singapore except for Ulu City. That leaves the main CBD region, in addition to the Boat Quay Town region that includes the Ghost Ship. I actually already did a big chunk of this region, particularly back in the “alx” section of pt. civ, where I did some Singapore sets with both inject (Skjal, Tetrin, inhale, eject, vvvv, Pitiful, DexBlade) and PriestjuhNL (xBowtjuhNL).

Still, I had some sets left undone here, so I headed to good ol’ Truckers at Suburban Area 2 for the Trucker set:

Trucker card get!

And, just next door at Suburban Area 1, I did the Freezer set:

Freezer card get!

With the main CBD region now finished, I headed over to the BQT region. Here, along Mysterious Path 2, I collected the endemic Octobunny set:

Octobunny card get!

I did, however, still have some Ghost Ship sets left unfinished. So I headed to GS5 to finish up the Selkie Jr. set:

Selkie Jr. card get!

Followed by GS6, to finish up the Mr. Anchor set:

Mr. Anchor card get!

And I figured, what the heck. I’ve already three Capitán Lataniel cards, so why not go for those last two to complete the set?:

Capt. Latanica card get!

Right, so, now I’m 4⧸5. I guess I’ll just… come back later. Because I’m done with Singapore for now, which means that it’s Orbis time.

Of course, I already have the Orbis Tower sets all completed, but that still leaves the whole rest of Orbis! Last time, I did the Lioner, Grupin, & Cellion sets with Lvl1Crook (xXCrookXx, Level1Crook). What I didn’t do, however, was their junior counterparts, Jr. Cellion…:

Jr. Cellion card get!

Jr. Lioner…:

Jr. Lioner card get!

…And Jr. Grupin:

Jr. Grupin card get!

Heading back to Cloud Park I, I did the Star Pixie set:

Star Pixie card get!

And, at Cloud Park VI, I finished up the Luster Pixie set:

Luster Pixie card get!

Having done some quests in this region previously, I already had the Lunar Pixie set completed. So I went to Disposed Flower Garden for the Nependeath…:

Nependeath card get!

…And Dark Nependeath sets:

Dark Nependeath card get!

And as usual, no Nependeath’s Honey. 🙄 I guess my clericlet d00r is just particularly LUK-y!

Looking in my Monster Book, I noticed that I already had two or three Jr. Lucida cards. So I figured I may as well check Stairway to the Sky II for any Elizas…:

Jr. Lucida card get!

Oh! Well, I actually didn’t find any Elizas, but someone kindly left some Jr. Lucidas to roam around the bottom of the map. After cleaning up all six channels, I was 4⧸5. Ouf. So I decided to just wait around and do something else for a few hours whilst I waited for an Eliza to spawn. And with that, I finished the Jr. Lucida set!

With Orbis all wrapped up (minus the Eliza set itself), it was time for Masteria. Masteria is a really large region for card-hunting now; in particular, I’ll be starting with the NLC sets. I started at the Krakian Jungle Basin, getting some Electrophant…:

Electrophant card get!

…And Street Slime cards:

Street Slime card get!

Realising that I’d nearly completed the Electrophant set and was still 1⧸5 on I.AM.ROBOT, I went back to Jungle Clearing to finish the Street Slime set. Whilst I was here, I snagged an Urban Fungus card…:

Urban Fungus card get!

…And a Boomer card:

Boomer card get!

Once the Street Slime set was wrapped up, I went to Jungle Valley to finish up the Urban Fungus & Boomer sets:

LOIGHT BOLb

O boi! Is that a 💡light bolb💡 I see??

It’s time for tier 7!!:

Tier 7 Monster Book Ring get!!

Transcription of the above image

Monster Book Ring ⟨Tier 7⟩

One of a kind Item, Untradeable

  • Category: ring
  • STR: +7
  • DEX: +7
  • INT: +7
  • LUK: +7
  • HP: +575
  • MP: +290

Collected 210 Monster Book Card Sets! The power of the Topaz jewel is now inside the ring.

Hell ya. Let’s see how my damage is shaping up…? I mean, I just got a new ring tier, and now I have a 12 WATK cape…

alces’s 885〜5 235 damage range w/ the T7 ring + Cider

Sheeeeesh. 885〜5 235 with just a Cider‽ Considering that Double Stab is 160% × 2 damage now, that means that I could be hitting up to 8 376 damage on ≈0 WDEF monsters like this, with just a single line! That’s like, >16k damage with a single Double Stab if I get really lucky!! Captain ’Tanica is quaking in he boots!!!

And yes, you heard that right. 160% × 2 damage multiplier for Double Stab! I forgor to mention that Double Stab got buffed!! The patch notes erroneously claim that the damage at maximum level was raised from 130% × 2 to 160% × 2, when it was actually previously 140% × 2. So, a slightly more modest buff than claimed, but still huge! Daggerlord supremacy!! 😤

Miss me with that shit

Wow! It’s time for another sidebar! ✨

In the “A buck an ear’s SP” section above, I talked about how allocating my shield bucc tarandus’s SP is kind of a nontrivial problem. Well, allocating alces’s 4th-job SP ain’t exactly a walk in the park either — but for somewhat different reasons.

I’ve really been enjoying Taunt, and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t regret grinding the grindy grind all the way to level ≥120. However, in order to put SP into Taunt at all, I needed to get to level ≥10 Shadow Shifter first. On the one hand, it’s not a big deal; Shifter is a good skill for me anyways. On the other hand, that’s 10 SP that I could instead allocate into, say, Venomous Star. I’m really gonna need that venom if I ever plan on, I dunno, grinding at 7 F…(‽)

Given how crucial Taunt is — including the fact that it’s generally the best way for me to apply venom — I can’t reasonably decide to bring Shifter below level 10. So if I’m gonna have Shifter anyways, then I may as well understand how it actually works. The basic idea is, of course, simple: it makes attacks miss me sometimes. This is really good for:

Shifter‽ I hardly know her!

But when I say that “[Shifter] makes attacks miss me sometimes”, the word “sometimes” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Because the overwhelming majority of skill descriptions (and other descriptions, for that matter…) in MapleStory are somewhere between “underspecified” and “actually just incorrect”, it’s not immediately clear how Shifter is intended to function.

Fortunately, Nise’s Formula Compilation (archived) explains it under the “Order of Operations” section of the “Damage (TO Players) Formula” section. Unfortunately, a slew of typographical errors obscures the meaning of the text. Fortunately, the worked example is pretty clear:

  • (Eg) If your dodge chance is 25%, then your hit rate is 75%. If Shadow Shifter provides a 40% chance to dodge:
    • Total dodge chance = 0.75 ⋅ 0.4 + 0.25 = 55% chance
    • Total hit chance = 1 − 0.55 = 45% chance to get hit

Before we get into the mathematics, it’s easier to just draw a simple flowchart:

Shadow Shifter flowchart

Command to produce the above flowchart
mmdc -i shifter.mmd -o shifter.svg -t dark -b transparent

See: https://github.com/mermaid-js/mermaid-cli.

The naïve, incorrect interpretation

Well, that seems pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, it’s not obvious that this is how Shifter is supposed to function, because an alternative interpretation is to simply add probabilities together.

🗒️ Definitions for clarity

For clarity, we will use the terms:

  • missrate (denoted by 𝖯(𝑀) in the text below) to refer to the probability of a “MISS”,
  • nominal shifter-rate (denoted by shifter-ratenom in the text below) to refer to Shifter’s nominal rate as listed in its skill description,
  • actual shifter-rate (denoted by 𝖯(𝑆) in the text below) to refer to the probability of the event in which Shifter is actually triggered (including its animation, etc.),
  • hitrate (denoted by 𝖯(𝐻) in the text below) to refer to the probability of the event in which the PC is actually fully struck by the attack & takes damage, and
  • dodgerate (denoted by 𝖯(𝐷) in the text below) to refer to the complement of the hitrate (notice that the missrate & the dodgerate are not equivalent).

In this alternative naïve interpretation, each incoming attack would result in simply taking the value of a random variable that is distributed according to a categorical distribution with three categories (i.e. 𝑘=3):

(Note that each category is an event, that these events are pairwise disjoint, and that 𝖯(𝑀)+𝖯(𝑆)+𝖯(𝐻)=1. In other words, the categories form a partition of the sample space.)

Then, we would first determine 𝖯(𝑀) as normal, by using the PC’s AVOID, the monster’s ACC, etc., including clamping 𝖯(𝑀) to the interval [0.05,0.95][1]. Then, we’d attempt to set 𝖯(𝑆) to the nominal shifter-rate, clamping it to maintain the invariant 𝖯(𝑀)+𝖯(𝑆)1. Alternatively, we might instead maintain the invariant 𝖯(𝑀)+𝖯(𝑆)0.95[2]. And finally, 𝖯(𝐻) would simply be chosen to satisfy 𝖯(𝑀)+𝖯(𝑆)+𝖯(𝐻)=1.

Alternatively, we might determine 𝖯(𝑆) first, and then determine 𝖯(𝑀), thus frequently clamping 𝖯(𝑀) but never clamping 𝖯(𝑆). This gets even closer to a literal interpretation of the skill description.

I call this the “naïve” interpretation not just because it’s wrong (although it is), but also because it’s what you get by taking the skill description at face value: the skill description says, for example, that I “Avoid enemy’s attack with success rate 30%” (read: nominal shifter-rate is 0.3); so then, there must be a 30% chance — possibly clamped, if necessary to satisfy unit measure or the dodgerate cap — that I Shifter any given incoming attack. Sounds reasonable to me!

Conditioning

In reality, the interpretation reflected in the flowchart above, as based off of the worked example in Nise’s Formula Compilation, is the correct one. It’s worth taking just a moment to step through the mathematics a bit more carefully than Nise’s Formula Compilation does, although we’ll arrive at the same conclusion.

For starters, we can define another event 𝐷: that the attack does not successfully hit the PC, i.e. that they dodge it. Thus, 𝐷𝐻, and 𝖯(𝐷) is the dodgerate, by definition. Then, 𝐷 = 𝑀 𝑆 , because a “MISS” or a triggering of Shifter are the only two ways to dodge. Because 𝑀 and 𝑆 are mutually exclusive (i.e. 𝑀𝑆=), 𝖯 ( 𝑀 𝑆 ) = 𝖯 ( 𝑀 ) + 𝖯 ( 𝑆 ) . By the logic of this interpretation, 𝖯(𝑀) is calculated/determined first, in the ordinary way (i.e. ignoring Shifter & any other similar special effects), and so it is equal to the “nominal” missrate, if you will. We’ll represent this as 𝖯(𝑀)=missratenom. Thus, we have: 𝖯 ( 𝐷 ) = 𝖯 ( 𝑀 𝑆 ) = 𝖯 ( 𝑀 ) + 𝖯 ( 𝑆 ) = missrate nom + 𝖯 ( 𝑆 )

That’s all basic & obvious enough. I’m assuming that the reader already understands how to calculate missratenom, so the only real mystery here is 𝖯(𝑆). Because — in this interpretation — Shifter can only occur if the attack already did not result in a “MISS”, we can obtain 𝖯(𝑆) via the conditional probability 𝖯 ( 𝑆 𝑀 ) . In particular, given 𝑀, we simply consult the nominal shifter-rate. Thus, we have: 𝖯 ( 𝑆 𝑀 ) = shifter-rate nom

By the definition of conditional probability, this becomes: shifter-rate nom = 𝖯 ( 𝑆 𝑀 ) 𝖯 ( 𝑀 )

Given that 𝑆 and 𝑀 are mutually exclusive as mentioned above, it follows that 𝑆 𝑀 . Therefore, we have 𝑆𝑀=𝑆. And so: shifter-rate nom = 𝖯 ( 𝑆 ) 𝖯 ( 𝑀 )

Above, we had 𝖯(𝑀)=missratenom. So we can make this more concrete: shifter-rate nom = 𝖯 ( 𝑆 ) 1 missrate nom

And now we finally have a concrete expression to calculate 𝖯(𝑆): 𝖯 ( 𝑆 ) = ( 1 missrate nom ) shifter-rate nom

Note that this implies that the actual shifter-rate 𝖯(𝑆) is always lower than the nominal shifter-rate as listed in the skill description.

Combined with the 𝖯(𝐷) formula from above, we also finally have a concrete expression to calculate 𝖯(𝐷): 𝖯 ( 𝐷 ) = missrate nom + ( 1 missrate nom ) shifter-rate nom

Miss me with that maths shit

The maths here might look a bit dense, but really it’s all in the handy-dandy flowchart above. The skill description for Shifter can be easily altered to remove its incorrect/misleading aspects without invoking mathematics or difficult language:

With great reflexes, enables one to avoid the monster’s attack. In cases where an attack would’ve (without this skill) otherwise hit you, there is a chance that the attack will instead be totally absorbed by a wooden dummy. The aforementioned chance is listed in the skill level’s description.


Avoid When you’ve already not been “MISS”ed by it, the wooden dummy absorbs the enemy’s attack with success rate 𝑥%

Was that so hard? 😉

Note that the discussion here applies equally well to similar skills such as Guardian.

Footnotes for “Miss me with that shit”

  1. [↑] This interval only applies to thieves. For non-thieves, it is instead [0.02,0.8].
  2. [↑] For non-thieves, 0.95 would instead be 0.8. See [1].

Down the rabbit-hole

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

​“I don’t much care where——” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—— so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

― C. L. Dodgson; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch. VI; 1865.

In the “From forth the fatall loynes of theſe two foes, a paire of ſtarre-croſt louers take their life” section of the previous entry in this diary, I continued to document the exploits of a LUK warrior by the name of axisaxis in her many travels. It was in that instalment that we followed axis as she ventured, with a stalwart party at her back, into the elaborate secret underground laboratory of one mad alchemist by the name of Yulete. We saw axis & her party uncover the dreadful experimentation that had driven the alchemist mad, saw them save Romeo from an unsavoury fate & thereby reunite the paramours Romeo & Juliet, and saw them ultimately restore balance to Magatia by vanquishing the horrifying beast born half of Yulete’s artifice and half of perdition itself.

We also saw a friendly cowgirl by the name of Dakota (GiIf, MiIf) teach axis how to herd CDs, a friendly omok [오목] master by the name of OmokTeacher (Slime, Thinks, Slimusaurus, Slimu, Ginner) teach Dakota & axis how omok truly operates, and we saw axis revisit Thailand — but this time, the Golden Temple — in search of one head of the multi-headed Hindu villain Rāvaṇa [रावण].

Land of Smiles

Still at large in the town surrounding the Golden Temple, axis was having underwhelming luck in her Rāvaṇa head endeavours. So, whilst she was in the area anyways, she decided to assist the locals with their troubles in any way that she could. For example, she found that she was not the only one in town who wasn’t a local. The tourists were there too, doing generally stupid tourist things like donating their handphones & cameras to the local wildlife, and then later deciding that they actually needed those electronic devices back. So axis did the dirty work of recovering them:

axis finds the tourist’s handphone

Having found the handphone without too much effort, axis was careful not to disturb the Mama Monkeys as she searched the monkeys for the instant camera that the same tourist had somehow also lost:

axis finds the tourist’s camera

With the tourist’s electronics restored, & with a promise that they’d never lend their phone to a monkey ever again, axis asked around the Golden Temple itself for any monks who needed someone do to them a favour. One such monk explained to axis that autumn had set in only a week ago, but a few of the deciduous trees in the area had already made something of a mess of brown leaves in certain spots. It would be axis’s job, then, to gather up each leaf pile before it got too large, keeping the forest edges immediately surrounding the Temple more manageable as autumn marched onwards. So axis used her pinwheel as best she could to corral the leaves into great piles and carry them back to the Temple:

axis cleaning up the fallen autumn leaves

Wandering between the Golden Temple, the Floating Market, and the forests betwixt & around them, axis came across a boy named Chai who had a simple quest for axis: to reduce the dangerous populations of red Toads and green Jr. Neckis in the area, so that the people of the Floating Market could rest easy.

axis vs. a red Toad

axis also encountered another boy, this time by the name of Kith, who was distraught by his ailing mother. Since no one in the town knew what was ailing her, Kith set out to find information on the malady plaguing her. Paying a visit to the library housed within the nearby Golden Temple, Kith found an ancient book full of traditional medicinal formulæ. Stealing the book from the library, Kith took it home to investigate further. He found a recipe that claimed to treat incurable illnesses, but he would need the tongues of the Red Lizards in the nearby swamp in order to synthesise it. Sympathetic to Kith’s ailing mother, and pleased to meet a fellow book thief, axis agreed to go get the Lizard Tongues for Kith:

axis vs. Red Lizards

A girl at the Floating Market by the name of Nid told axis that she planned to start a fruit store along the bank of the river, but wanted fruits from all over the Maple world to be sold there. axis had no problems helping with a few of the exotic fruits, but some of the fruits were going to have to be extracted locally. In particular, the local Frogs had been stealing up all of the locally-grown Papayas. Naturally, Frogs love to eat Papayas, and moreover, Papayas are an essential component of their devious amphibian rituals. After quite a bit of trouble convincing the Frogs to hand over their delicious orange-fleshed berries, axis was able to pick one up that had been abandoned in predatory-fish-infested waters…:

axis finds an underwater Papaya

By the Toad Pond out west of the Floating Market, axis came across Apaporn, who was having some romance troubles. You see, Apaporn had developed something of a crush on a boy who was already in love with someone else. Unsatisfied with this little love triangle, Apaporn immediately decided to resort to fraudulent magicks in the pursuit of this boy. Knowing that the wise old Pooyai Lee would know something about love potions, Apaporn sent axis to ask Lee to make such “love spells”. Apaporn hoped that sending axis would keep Lee unaware that it was Apaporn’s idea all along, making him more likely to comply — or at least, making it more likely that Apaporn’s reputation wouldn’t be damaged…

Unsurprisingly, Lee refused to speak of it, let alone make such a terrible potion. Furthermore, he already suspected that Apaporn had put axis up to it. But Apaporn was undeterred, resorting to blackmailing Lee into compliance! axis already thought that a supposèd “love potion” seemed problematic; she’d had crushes on boys before, and perhaps in her youth idly wished for something like a love potion on occasion, but ultimately thought of it as a childish idea at best. Even if it somehow made sense to coerce someone into loving oneself, what would be left after the potion’s effect wore off? And now worse still, Apaporn wanted axis to recover a clandestine Preserved Fruit Pot of Lee’s, in order to threaten Lee with public exposure of his fruit crimes.

So, although axis initially planned to decline any of Apaporn’s further requests, she was intrigued by the mention of illegal fruit. axis loved fruits, and supposed that illegal fruits must be all the more delicious. And so axis played along, duplicitously agreeing to assist Apaporn in blackmailing Lee. Apaporn claimed that the Preserved Fruit Pot was hidden within a pile of rocks somewhere near the Frog Pond. With some effort, axis dug it up:

axis uncovers the Preserved Fruit Pot

axis prised open the pot with her pinwheel to reveal a kind of colourful mush. She supposed that leaving fruit in a pot like this would surely cause the fruit to spoil; then again, Apaporn did refer to it as a “Preserved” Fruit Pot, so there must have been something special about the preparation. axis eagerly scooped some of the fruit mush up with her fingers and into her mouth. At first, it was quite fruity indeed, and axis enjoyed the tangy sweetness of it. Then, the aftertaste reminded axis of a wine that she had one time, but somehow even more intensely bitter & astringent. axis supposed that perhaps the preserved fruit was for a medicinal preparation, but she did quite like the fruit that it was made from, so she continued to eat it.

Relishing the fruity taste and licking her fingers each time that she took a scoop, axis soon found that she was getting a bit drowsy. Inspecting the shadows cast upon the ground, she supposed that it was still a bit early in the day to be going to bed. When she was through with eating the preserved fruit, she found that she had to concentrate more than usual to carefully set the pot onto the ground without accidentally tipping it over. Leaving the pot on the ground next to where she found it, axis ventured off in search of more quests.

axis met a man named Jit, who said that he hates snakes. axis sympathised with Jit’s hatred, although she admitted that seeing them slither around without any legs was kind of funny, in a way. Jit insisted that the snakes nearby were a serious matter, and that the Pythons in particular had been getting out of hand. Jit described the Pythons as gargantuan creatures with frightening bloodshot eyes, but axis knew that she’d seen — and fought — worse, so she agreed to help ameliorate the Python problem. Bravely hiking into the Deep Jungle, axis beheld the Pythons for herself.

As it turned out, Jit’s description was quite accurate: the Pythons were impossibly large, each one easily several times axis’s size; and their eyes were a solid crimson even redder than blood itself. Although axis was a tad bit worried that the Pythons might simply attempt to swallow her whole, she felt less afraid than she perhaps should have, and nonchalantly approached one of them. As axis drew sufficiently close, however, the Python defensively reared back, & began casting a spell with its hissing forked tongue. axis was now actually slightly terrified, and fled as fast as she could without stumbling:

axis flees in terror from a Python

Thankfully, the Python’s defensive spell never connected with axis, fizzling out and allowing axis to escape unharmed.

Between the delicious preserved fruit, and the running away from magical man-eating snakes, axis was feeling pretty pooped. After some rest and waking up with a bit of a headache, axis headed back to the Floating Market.

She helped Chai come up with a letter and a gift to give to his crush Nid, and in return, got a gift of her own:

axis tries on the Blue Crystal Earring

Transcription of the above image

Blue Crystal Earring

  • Req lev: 60
  • Req fam: 10
  • Category: earring
  • Weapon def.: 5
  • Magic def.: 25
  • Avoidability: +2

axis thought that the light blue of the earrings was not really her style, but she kept them on hand anyway, for good luck.

A woman by the name of Ponlaa lamented that she felt terribly insecure about her physical appearance, complaining that she must surely have the ugliest mug of all. Before axis could even respond, Ponlaa asked axis if she might perhaps go to Orbis on Ponlaa’s behalf, to ask Lisa about her make-up routine. Ponlaa claimed that, although Lisa was known for her stunning beauty, she really doesn’t look so hot without her make-up on. axis was willing to play courier for a bit of a make-up tutorial, but told Ponlaa that she wouldn’t be speaking with Lisa until the next time that she passed through Orbis.

At home, the waves are mile long

After performing numerous other tasks for the people of the Floating Market and the Golden Temple — some more menial than others — axis was ready to head home.

From her adventures along the Aqua Road, axis brought back a flask full of the Vigour of the Sea; with this, The Nautilus could continue to be powered by the magical sea fireflies in the Generator Room for more ages to come. Whilst axis was there, the whale prince Sharyl asked her to retrieve a pearl from the oyster in the Generator Room and give it to Kyrin:

axis extracts a pearl from the oyster in the Generator Room

Before she could even make it to Kyrin, however, Muirhat stopped her and confiscated the pearl. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time that Sharyl had tried to “gift” one of the Generator Room’s pearls to Kyrin…

Still happy to play courier between the various continents of the Maple world, axis set out to help Camila of Henesys retrieve her stolen letter that was intended for a penpal in the Korean Folk Town. Camila claimed that a group of Curse Eyes who were up to no good in the Tree Dungeons of Ellinia’s northern forests had swiped the letter from her. So axis headed to Ellinia to recover it:

axis recovers Camila’s Lost Letter

Putting the letter into her pack for the next time that she’d visit the Korean Folk Town, axis then headed to Kerning City to help out an old friend: the boy Icarus. No longer adequately described as a “boy”, Icarus was now tantalisingly close to achieving his dream of sustained flight. He just needed some Witchgrass Leaves and some funky medicine. axis found that the Witchgrass in the Kerning City sewers did the trick, and so spent some time amongst the Ligators, sawing off the Witchgrass Leaves one by one with her pinwheel:

axis harvests a Witchgrass Leaf

axis had farmed so many ingredients that, once she arrived back to Icarus, he had enough materials to craft two flying capes! So axis got an Icarus Cape of her own:

Icarus, and axis’s Icarus Cape

Regrettably, even with the cape fastened to her back, axis was unable to achieve flight. She thought that perhaps she was too heavy, or that she needed to drink some of the funky medicine for the cape to work properly. axis, however, did not need to bring her nose anywhere near the medicine to know that it was funky; its putrid smell was easily wafted through the air, and she worried that it might even be stinking up her clothing. axis was thus not eager to try the medicine herself…

Crocodile tears

Unfortunately for axis’s normally flowery odour, however, she was going to have to head back into Kerning’s sewers once again. Ayan of Perion needed axis to eliminate the alligators in those very sewers; a recent expedition from Perion had recently been ambushed there by an exceptionally large & aggressive pack of damnable ’gators. Moreover, JM needed axis to investigate the sewers due to the unexpected appearance of a supernaturally monstrous crocodile known simply as “Dyle”. And so, axis went hunting for Ligators…:

axis vs. Ligators

…And for Crocos:

axis vs. Crocos

In her sewer-swamp explorations, axis came across a Hut in the Swamp that appeared to be abandoned. Considering the offensive aromas & vicious crocodiles surrounding it, axis was unsurprised to see the hut devoid of life. Taking a look around the hut’s interior, axis did find one thing of note: a knocked-over trash can. axis had put her days of going through other people’s trash behind her, but nevertheless couldn’t resist taking a peek at the single crumpled piece of paper that occupied the can.

axis in the Hut in the Swamp, peering into the Knocked Trash Can

Carefully flattening out the paper, axis was delighted to find that the message written upon it was full of juicy gossip. The author of the wrinkled note appeared to be the former inhabitant of this hut, and they accused a certain Lakelis of carelessly spilling a magical powder into the sewers, causing one fateful Croco to become a supersized monster. axis was inclined to believe the gossip; after all, if the anonymous author of this letter had seen Lakelis, they were certainly not mistaken. axis knew that Lakelis was easily identified by her almost complete lack of fashion sense; axis had never seen Lakelis around town in attire that could be described as anything more than half-naked, and the overlong tangle of hair that trailed on the ground behind her was her signature “hairdo”.

Before axis could even finish rolling her eyes at the thought of Lakelis, however, she was interrupted by a tiny squawk and a huge bellow. Confused and somewhat alarmed, axis walked to the doorway of the hut to investigate. The source of the tiny squawk was a big, bright red bird. Initially confused as to what such a bird was doing here in the swamps, axis’s confusion quickly came to focus on the fact that this bird appeared to be riding atop a gargantuan crocodile: Dyle itself. After taking a brief moment to ponder whether “Dyle” was the crocodile itself, or merely the name of the red bird who piloted it — or perhaps both — axis sprang into action.

Although Dyle was certainly at least half a dozen times axis’s size, axis had been fighting plenty of ordinary crocodiles, and knew their weak spots already. Observing that the big red bird was using a scrumptious treat tied to the end of a stick in order to manipulate the mammoth crocodile’s movement, axis rushed to grab the end of the stick, prying it from the bird’s wingèd grasp and tossing it away.

axis takes on Dyle!

With the bird discombobulated, & the crocodile excitedly turning around to pursue the tasty flying snack, axis took the opportunity to incapacitate the crocodile with a single carefully-placed thrust of her mighty pinwheel. As she did so, the air around the crocodile imploded, causing axis to nearly lose her balance. The croco shrunk to its original size, and collapsed onto the floor, unconscious. As it shrunk, a kind of shimmering dust lazily floated out from it, coating the dumbstruck bird in a thin layer of glitter.

Coming to its senses, the bird gave axis a look of fury. The bedazzled bird started towards axis aggressively, but its wings were barely enough to support its pudgy body, and axis was able to restrain its advances with a single outstretched arm. After giving the bird time to relent, and picking up the crocodile snack to eat as a snack of her own, axis went back to JM to report that Dyle had been subdued.

The herbs have eyes, precious, kidnapped on the sea, a piracy, a pyre at sea

村中聞有此人,鹹來問訊。自雲先世避秦時亂,率妻子、邑人來此絕境,不復出焉,遂與外人間隔。問今是何世,乃不知有漢,無論魏晉。此人一一為具言所聞,皆嘆惋。


Before long, all the people of the place had turned out to see the visitor, and they informed him that their ancestors had sought refuge here, with their wives and families, from the troublous times of the House of Ch’in, adding that they had thus become finally cut off from the rest of the human race. They then enquired about the politics of the day, ignorant of the establishment of the Han dynasty, and of course of the later dynasties which had succeeded it. And when the fisherman told them the story, they grieved over the vicissitudes of human affairs.

― 陶淵明Táo Yuānmíng⟩, trans. Herbert A. Giles; 桃花源記 (⟨Táohuā Yuán Jì⟩; “The Peach-blossom Fountain”); 421, trans. 1922.

As she was passing through Lith Harbour, axis had a friendly chat with Vikin, a former sailor & pirate known for his extravagant wealth of plundered gold. Vikin mentioned that although his piracy days were behind him, he’d recently heard that the widely feared “Lord Pirate” was causing political unrest in the Herb Town of the Mureung Peach-Gardens [()()()()][1]. Although Herb Town was certainly known throughout the Maple world for its teas & its herbal remedies, it was also known as a port town, easily accessible by ship from almost anywhere in Ossyria. It was through this well-used port that the Lord Pirate launched a wholesale attack on Herb Town.

Not content to merely raid the ships that might enter or exit the port of Herb Town, the Lord Pirate had grown jealous of Herb Town’s wealth of natural resources. In order to bring the herbs of Herb Town under control of his iron fist — or rather, his golden hook — the Lord Pirate kidnapped Wú Yàng [無恙], the leader of the herbs. The herbs are a peaceful, pacifistic people, and so they had no recourse but to acquiesce in the Lord Pirate’s demands, counting on this to propitiate him & thus rescue Wú Yàng.

Hoping that she might be able to restore the herbs to their peaceful lives, and to bring justice to the odious bully who’d kidnapped Wú Yàng, axis travelled to Herb Town herself. Along the way, she recruited a formidable band of adventurers to her side: seasoned sniper Lightman68, and the famed lovers StealthSword (SaviorM13X24, SaviorSword) the crafty bandit & Fabiennes (SwordFurb, SwordFurbs, Yoshis, Furbs) the battle witch.

Arriving at the port, axis was somewhat intimidated to see that the Lord Pirate controlled not a modest ship, nor a large ship, but rather a veritable fleet of cargo ships collectively menacing the town, and blocking the port from ordinary usage. The old herb Guong [()()][2] told axis & her party that their best bet was to simply enter through the head of the ship that was docked at the port’s centre. From there, if they were brave enough, the adventurers could fight their way through the Lord Pirate’s countless minions, boarding from ship to ship as necessary to get at the Lord Pirate himself.

So that’s exactly what axis & her party did.

Lightman68, Fabiennes, StealthSword, & axis @ PPQ stage 2

The crew of the ship were vicious, taking herbs under their arms as prisoners. Some were buoyant blobs of dark flesh outfitted with pirate hats & pirate sabres, and others were alligators, piloted by irate birds, & carrying herbs in the knapsacks upon their backs. axis wondered what the deal was with colourful angry avians administering alligators from atop — first Dyle, & now these cruel pirates — but she thought it best to just not question it.

Along the way, axis spotted a juicy-looking treasure chest or two. Unable to turn down the temptation of tantalising treasure, axis used the keys that she’d lifted from the higher-ups of the pirate crew to pilfer the Lord Pirate’s treasures:

axis pilfers the Lord Pirate’s Treasures

One of the ships that axis’s party passed through was less of a cargo ship, and more of a passenger ship. This ship housed four massive sections of living quarters for its battle-ready crew, each one of which led out onto the deck via a single door. With the crewmembers seemingly endlessly spilling out of the four doors and driving axis’s party back, the party had no choice but to use the pirates’ own keys to lock the doors behind them.

The keys were wrought of iron, with each one sporting a small skull shape at the end of its handle. They were well-used, each one mottled with rust. The rust was, however, not the problem. Any member of axis’s party who might wish to lock a door shut would have to evade the many crewmembers coming through the door in waves. Thankfully, axis was a seasoned professional of evading bad guys with swords, so she locked the doors herself:

axis using the Old Metal Keys to lock the doors of the pirate ship

After so many gangways traversed, portholes peeped through, & pirate lackeys defeated, axis’s party eventually encountered the big bad man himself: the Lord Pirate. Not one for monologuing, the Lord Pirate let his luxurious moustache, giant pirate hat that covered his eyes entirely, & bright red nose do the talking. Behind him was a miserable Wú Yàng, tied up in rope, & blindfolded with a white cloth.

Stoutly built & sporting a pegleg on his left side, the Lord Pirate was not a swift man. Still yet, he waddled menacingly towards axis’s party with a visage that axis could only assume was one of rage, although really, it mostly just looked like a mess of facial hair.

Lightman68, Fabiennes, StealthSword, & axis vs. Lord Pirate

axis & her party bravely took on the Lord Pirate in combat, exchanging blows, & fending off the goons that he summoned to his aid. Outnumbered & overpowered by axis’s martially fearsome party, the Lord Pirate eventually capitulated. He sat down with a defeated look on his beard, putting his hand & his golden hook up in a gesture of surrender. Untying Wú Yàng from the ropes that bound them, axis reused the rope to bind the Lord Pirate’s arms to his sides, just in case he got any funny ideas after already surrendering…

With immense relief, Wú Yàng breathlessly thanked axis’s party.

axis frees Wú Yàng

Now that Wú Yàng was freed, and now that the Lord Pirate had learned a very important lesson about limitless avarice, Herb Town was finally able to resume business as usual. As a token of gratitude, Wú Yàng promised axis & her colleagues that they’d never have to pay for any teas nor other herbal preparations in Herb Town, so long as they’d mention that Wú Yàng sent them.

And somewhere, unbeknownst to axis, the Fates were very pleased.[27]

This is what I have dreamt; this is what I have foretold. I am native here

Returning to the Victorian Archipelago, axis made a few stops along the way to steal some books, as was her custom. In particular, axis enjoyed the history books the most. She loved reading of the exploits of the people & the rulers who were so old that they weren’t around any longer. And most of all, she liked to read about how people used to live; the antiquated forms of life & struggle made possible — & even necessary — by the modes of yore.

Making a brief stop at The Path of Time, axis knew that the horrible clock-ghosts must be hiding history books of their own — after all, this was The Path of Time, and who better to write a history book than an old timekeeper who’s seen the ages pass before their (clock)face? And indeed, axis was able to purloin one copy of the third volume of the Maple History:

axis yoinks the Maple History Book III

Pleased with her new acquisition, axis took the airship back to Ellinia. During the flight, however, axis noticed a small cargo bay on the starboard side of the ship. Waiting until the ship’s captain was distracted, axis stealthily took the small wooden ladder down to the bay’s floor, using her pinwheel to carefully pry apart one of the small wooden crates. Much to axis’s pleasant surprise, the crate was storing books! Many of the books were written in funny letters that axis didn’t understand, but axis did find a rare copy of the first volume of the Maple History inside!:

axis pilfers the Maple History Book I from one of the ship’s storage crates

Very content to have all three(!) volumes of the Maple History, axis arrived back at Ellinia with a heavy backpack.

axis made her way back to Lith Harbour to inform Vikin of her Herb Town escapades. Vikin said that he’d already heard word that the Lord Pirate had been routed, although he was impressed to learn that it was axis’s party who’d done the routing. He suggested that the fine folx of Florina Beach could really use the assistance of someone like axis.

Decarcinisation

There are few better instances than those afforded by carcinization of the fact that the organism is, after all, the dominant factor in evolution. What is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh, and Nature is no more able than Man to make silk purses out of sows’ ears.

― L. A. Borradaile; Crustacea. Part II. Porcellanopagurus: an instance of carcinization; Zoology, vol. III, no. 3, p. 126; 1916.

The decapods & primates of Florina were ordinarily quite peaceful unless specifically disturbed. However, as the gods would have it, the cryptozoological myths of a so-called “King Clang” were actually true. The legend goes that King Clang is a malevolent spirit that takes on the corporeal form of a monstrously large hermit crab. When she went to Florina herself, the locals described to axis King Clang and the effects that it was having on the wildlife, referring to the monster as “K.C.” for short. axis initially misheard this as “Casey”, and was mildly confused; she’d always heard hermit crabs referred to as “Bernard”[3], not “Casey”!

In any case(y), the presence of King Clang was inexplicable. axis knew perfectly well that so-called “hermit crabs” were not actually proper crabs at all. axis had once read in a natural history book that Nature has a way of turning everything into “crabs”, and the hermit “crab” was perhaps its most cunning creation: rather than spending its resources to create an awesome exoskeleton, the hermit crab relied on the emptied shells of molluscs as a kind of semi-permanent full-body armour — or perhaps, shelter. The hermit crab even goes so far as to adapt its morphology to rely on such a shell, sporting an asymmetrically curved abdomen adapted specifically to life inside of someone else’s shell. The problem with King Clang, then, was: where did it get the gargantuan shell?

It seemed that there were one or two origin myths to explain K.C.’s existence for each person to whom axis spoke. What they all agreed on, however, was that K.C. needed to go. And so axis set out to first prove herself to the people of Florina Beach:

axis picking coconuts

axis vs. Lorangs

axis vs. Clangs AND Lorangs

With that, it was time for axis to defeat King Clang once & for all.

When axis came across the beast, it appeared as no more than a colossal spiral shell, immobile in the sands of the beach. When it sensed axis’s presence, however, its outsized claws carefully emerged from its surrogate carapace, and in their place were now a pair of shadow-borne eyes glowing & glowering in axis’s direction. So large was the monstrous sea snail shell that it appeared to axis as an unlit cavern, daring her to so much as attempt to crawl inside.

As the crustacean abomination’s eyes opened, a crackling hum of sorts emerged from the shell. Or at least, axis could only assume that it was coming from the shell, given that the sound seemed to permeate the entire beach, coming from every direction with equal intensity. Upon hearing the whirr, the fauna endemic to the beach stopped in their tracks, stunned as if by divine instruction. As the terrible hermit crab deliberately raised up its claws, so too did the Clangs in unisono. axis had initially planned on intimidating the beast, but now found instead that she was the one intimidated. She swallowed hard.

King Clang’s eyes narrowed as it thrust its claws down into the sand with incredible violence. The sand in K.C.’s immediate vicinity shot up in the air as a fine mist, and the ground rippled in a radius away from its location, causing the sand to approach axis in waves like those of the ocean. Clangs & Torties were tossed into the air, and axis very nearly lost her balance entirely. Shaking the sand off of her dress, axis charged at King Clang as quickly as she could manage, her knuckles whitening around the hilt of her pinwheel.

axis vs. King Clang!

axis had to fight off the enthralled Torties & Clangs as she battled their horrible master, bringing her flaming pinwheel down every which way, slicing, smacking, & stabbing as hard as she could. She danced around King Clang’s huge snapping claws. She sliced at its eight rear legs, hoping to topple the thing, but to no avail; King Clang was at least as many times better at dancing as it had more limbs than axis.

Eventually, after so many blows & pinches exchanged, one crucial strike of axis’s pinwheel against the opening of K.C.’s shell ruptured its borrowed exoskeleton, sending a fissure all the way to its tip. As the halved shell could no longer be supported by the beast, axis was expecting to see King Clang’s true form. Instead, King Clang’s eyes shut as it escaped the shell through the fissure, like an impossibly dark smoke from a narrow chimney. Its limbs, too, dissipated in a black mist, and before axis knew it, King Clang had evaporated into the void, leaving behind nothing more than a gargantuan shattered shell.

The whirring sputtered out, leaving only echoes. The Clangs & the Torties stopped once again in their tracks, briefly confused, before resuming business as usual. axis thought that she could still hear a faint ringing coming from the shell pieces as she carefully inspected them, half-expecting King Clang to come back somehow.

Returning back to town, the inhabitants of Florina were ecstatic to hear that K.C. had been vanquished. axis told them that if they had any doubts, they could simply take a walk east to see the giant fractured shell for themselves.

데스토넨

and I am known among the gods for insight
and craftiness. You failed to recognize me:
I am Athena, child of Zeus. I always
stand near you and take care of you, in all
your hardships.

― Homer (ὍμηροςHómēros⟩), trans. Emily Wilson; Ὀδύσσεια (⟨Odýsseia⟩; “The Odyssey”), book XIII; ca. 8th c. BCE, trans. 2017 CE.

axis took a small dinghy back to the Victorian mainland; these days, she preferred rowing to simply swimming the small strait as she’d often done in the past.

As she pulled her dinghy onto shore and in through the Nautilus, she noticed a crumpled letter on the floor that had just missed the opening of a nearby trash can. Allowing her curiosity to get the best of her, axis picked up the paper ball and flattened it out. The letter was written by Kyrin, and addressed to Athena Pierce[20]. Before she could even decide to read it or not, Muirhat noticed axis snooping around (as she often was), and questioned axis’s possession of the paper.

Muirhat recognised the paper stock that the letter was written on, and knew that it was only used in the Navigation Room. Seizing the letter from axis, Muirhat read the letter himself. As he did so, axis noticed Muirhat’s face soften. Muirhat explained that Kyrin & Athena Pierce had a complicated relationship, and that Kyrin was thus likely having a hard time thinking of the right thing to say — or even a hard time saying anything at all to Athena. But Muirhat judged the letter to be heartfelt, and thought that Athena deserved to read it. He tasked axis with the role of courier, to deliver the letter to its originally intended recipient.

At first, axis hesitated; after all, Kyrin must have thrown the letter away for a reason. After reading the letter herself, however, she understood what Muirhat meant. Determined to deliver it, axis took the hike from Nautilus Harbour to Henesys.

axis found Athena in her longstanding Bowman Instructional School, practising her Iron Arrow and Hurricane skills on a training dummy made of straw. Feeling that it would be rude to interrupt, axis waited, admiring from afar Athena’s incredible prowess with a bow — she made it look easy.

Noticing axis’s presence, Athena greeted her.

Athena Pierce: Hello, axis.

axisaxis: [bowing slightly] Good afternoon, Pallas Athena.[20]

Athena: I told you not to call me that. Just “Athena” is fine.

axis: Sorry, I—

Athena: No worries. Have you come with more of Alcaster’s ancient riddles, or’ve you decided to pick up a bow & learn the ancient art? [smiles wryly]

axis: Well, no & no, I’m afraid. I’ve a, uhm… [reaching into her backpack] a letter. For you.

Athena: Hm? What’s this, then?

axis gingerly handed the letter to Athena. Athena raised her eyebrows.

Athena: Well, this letter’s seen better days, hasn’t it?

axis: [trailing off] I think perhaps Kyrin threw it……

Athena’s face softened as she read over the letter, and was overtaken by a look of melancholy. When she finished reading the letter, Athena paused for a moment before telling axis that she was glad to at least know how Kyrin was doing these days. With a deep sigh, she explained to axis her relationship with Kyrin.

“Testonen”

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Athena Pierce: I’ll have to go quite a while back. Kyrin’s father is Testonen, a savior of Victoria who battled the Black Magician when Victoria and Ossyria broke into two separate lands.

When Victoria was finally at relative peace, the Black Magician was still active in the furthest corners & deepest recesses of Ossyria. As such, Testonen knew that it was his duty to continue pursuing the Mage in the eventual hope of vanquishing its evil presence from the Maple world altogether. The only thing stopping him was his newborn child, Kyrin.

Kyrin’s mother, Yuris, had tragically passed away almost immediately after Kyrin’s birth, as a result of exposure to poisonous mist that had been set upon the Altaire Camp of Ellin Forest by the Black Magician’s disciples. Although it was a very difficult decision to make indeed, Testonen ultimately decided to hunt down the Mage, entrusting Athena with the care of baby Kyrin.

Kyrin thus grew up in Henesys, a headstrong girl with a knack for clever inventions. On one fateful day, during a meeting between the leaders of each of the towns of Victoria Island, a teenaged Kyrin overheard a few words about why she’d never known either of her parents. Knowing that her father could still be out there going after the Black Mage, Kyrin had already silently vanished by the next day. Athena searched far & wide across Maple Island, Victoria, & Ossyria, desperately searching for the Kyrin whom she’d been tasked with protecting, and importantly, whom she’d cared for & raised from infancy through adolescence. Miserably, Athena never did find Kyrin in any of her searches.

Now that Kyrin had returned to Victoria — this time, no longer a girl, but a pirate captain par excellence — she needed a way to say “hello, again” to the woman who’d nurtured her as a child, and whom she’d subsequently abandoned in the wordless blink of an eye. Never one with a talent for apologies, Kyrin had allowed her guilt to somewhat overtake her.

However, Athena insisted to axis in a sincere tone that Kyrin never should have felt this way. Athena felt guilt of her own, regretting that she’d kept secret from Kyrin the story of her parents for so long. Moreover, Athena felt that Kyrin had every right to feel the way that she did about her father.

And so, Athena had an idea. She still had an old orgel that little Kyrin had made as her very first contraption. Athena asked axis if she might deliver the orgel to Kyrin for her, in the hopes that receiving an old gift from her adopted mother might give Kyrin the courage to visit Henesys. At first, axis was concerned that she would almost certainly be physically incapable of carrying an entire orgel on her own. Then, Athena presented the orgel much more quickly than axis expected; it fit in just one of Athena’s hands. Confused, axis asked Athena if perhaps she had confused orgels with musical boxes; the instrument even had a quaint wooden lid, as is customary for many musical boxes. Athena insisted that it was, in fact, an orgel, albeit a miniature one, at that. The hand-turned crank on the side was not for rotating a steel disc sprinkled with bumps that plucked a steel comb, but rather, for pumping air past a free reed; it was a miniature pump organ.[4]

Impressed with the tiny musical instrument that she’d never heard of, much less heard or seen for herself, axis agreed to deliver it to Kyrin.

On the way back to Nautilus Harbour, axis remembered why the name “Testonen” sounded familiar. She’d encountered the name in the process of reading through volume III of the Maple History, although she remembered it slightly differently. Although the Maple History spelled his name as ⟨Destonen⟩, axis was quite sure that she was hearing Athena say Testonen. Going back to reference the Maple History, axis realised that this was another problem caused by funny letters. Destonen’s name was natively spelled 데스토넨, which might be transliterated as either ⟨Deseutonen⟩ or ⟨Tesŭt’onen⟩, depending on whom you ask.[5]

Satisfied with this answer, axis arrived at the door to the Navigation Room. Once again afraid to interrupt, and only having met Kyrin once before in passing — not to mention the fact that she may have thieved her hastily-discarded private letter… — axis felt bashful. It probably didn’t help that, out of all of the leaders of Victoria Island, Kyrin was the one whom axis doubted that she could take in a fight — although, after seeing Athena using her bow, she wasn’t so sure anymore. After a knock on the door, a “who goes there?”, and an “ax— I’ve a delivery for you, ma’am”, Kyrin gave axis a genial invitation into the room: “Oh hello there, mizz axis. Please, do come in”.

Taking the old orgel out of her backpack, axis let herself into the Navigation Room. The friendly smile on Kyrin’s face melted into a distant stare as she set her eyes upon the miniature organ in axis’s hand. Offering the orgel to Kyrin, axis mentioned that it was a gift from Athena. Kyrin froze for a second before making any kind of response. Gingerly taking the old orgel from axis, Kyrin failed to suppress tears. axis took a step back to give Kyrin some room, and made a slight curtsey before turning to leave the room. Kyrin quietly thanked axis for delivering the orgel, and promised that she would be paying a visit to Henesys soon.

Dark thaumaturgy

As she left the Navigation Room, axis was stopped by Muirhat. Muirhat explained that he was looking for someone capable & trustworthy to take on several important missions on his behalf. Having proved her trustworthiness with her work playing a faithful messenger between Athena & Kyrin, Muirhat thought axis fit for the job. Muirhat explained that although Victoria now enjoyed relative peace as a result of Destonen & co. driving the Black Magician from the land, there were still widespread lingering effects of the Mage’s former wickèd presence. Some of the most powerful monsters of Victoria exhibited exactly such a corrupting influence; this caused the monsters to, amongst other things, grow excessively powerful. As a result, no ordinary fighter would be capable of quelling these corrupted beasts.

axis mentioned that she’d fought at least one such abominable creature: the King Clang of Florina legend. Muirhat nodded his head knowingly, mentioning that hearing word of axis’s deeds in Florina was one of the main reasons for electing her to the task at hand.

axis’s first task would be to fight yet another kind of outsized beast: the Stone Golems of Henesys’s Golem Temple. axis had previously visited the Golem Temple as a child, and remembered fondly the cute little stone automata powered by the old magic of Henesys’s eastern hills. Muirhat warned axis that many of the Stone Golems were no longer so cute & little. Some were blown out of proportion, filled with the signature adumbral mist of the Black Magician.

Arriving at the Golem Temple after ignoring some “WARNING!” signs that axis didn’t remember being there previously, axis found that the Stone Golems were indeed disproportionately large. No longer barely coming up to her knees, each rocky golem towered somewhere between twice & thrice axis’s height. Still, they seemed at first to behave in the same way that she remembered, idly shuffling to & fro, stopping just before reaching an edge or a wall, only to turn around and continue shuffling on.

Then, the stiff gaze of one of the Stone Golems met axis. A crackling hum like the one that axis had heard from King Clang erupted from the golem, and in little more than a second’s time, every Stone Golem — & even every Blue Mushroom — at the Temple had swivelled to face axis menacingly. Setting her mighty pinwheel ablaze, axis set to work dismantling the curs’d golems:

axis vs. Stone Golems

axis returned back to Muirhat with a tale of success. Muirhat was pleased, but needed axis to take out yet another kind of monstrous golem: the Dark Stone Golems and Mixed Golems that had colonised the lowest depths of the Sleepywood Dungeon. These golems were certainly tougher, but no match for axis’s powerful pinwheel:

axis @ The forest of Golem

Yet again, Muirhat was pleased, but had even more corrupted critters in mind for axis to eliminate. The graves at the Sharenian Excavation Site Camp had been graverobbed by the Mage, & resurrected as Skeleton Soldiers and Officer Skeletons. Little more than old bones, cloth tatters, and the tenebrous smoke that filled their reanimated skulls, these skeletons lethargically fought axis back with their antique swords & clubs:

axis vs. skeletons in the Excavation Site Camp

But these weren’t the only bony undead that axis would be eradicating. axis found a job board at the central Excavation Site Camp, and hired herself to take on its most dangerous job. At the perilously high elevations of HM Sharen III’s territory, the bones of equestrians & of their steeds clanked about, furnished only with ragged saddles & bronze cavalry helmets. These skeletal beasts had been taught to produce the Mage’s noxious poison mist, and used it to threaten axis with magical poisoning:

axis vs. Commander Skeletons

Still, axis was unfazed. Her time in the Forest of Poison Mist had given her somewhat of a tolerance for the stuff, however unpleasant it might be.

Extrēmōrum

What can we ſuffer worſe? Is this then worſt,
Thus ſitting, thus conſulting, thus in arms?
What when we fled amain, purſu’d and ſtrook
With Heav’ns afflicting thunder, and beſought
The Deep to ſhelter us? This Hell then ſeem’d
A refuge from thoſe wounds.

― John Milton; Paradiſe loſt, book II; 1667.

After stamping out the skeletal horses & their riders, and collecting the associated bounty, axis returned back to Muirhat once again. This time, Muirhat wanted axis to venture deep into the bowels of the Sleepywood Dungeon, far beyond the Ant Tunnel. Unaware that there even was anything beyond the Ant Tunnel, axis inquired as to what she could expect from this most utterly distal reach of the Dungeon.

Muirhat explained that this region had always been under a disproportionate influence of dark magicks, not all of which magicks were necessarily associated with the Black Magician. Because the recesses of the Dungeon were so inaccessible, buried so deep beneath the terrain, & so unimaginably distant from any sign of civilisation, warning the denizens of Victoria about its dangers was unnecessary. Even speculating — not to speak of knowing — that there might be something on the “other side” of the Ant Tunnel would be unthinkable to almost any Victorian, and getting to the end of the Ant Tunnel is a whole other issue entirely.

Nevertheless, Muirhat entrusted this mission to axis, thanks to her performance in completing the previous missions. Muirhat described the deeps of the Dungeon as being vaguely similar to the Ant Tunnel in some ways. Unlike the Ant Tunnel, however, the tunnels beyond it were almost entirely devoid of light. A torch would reveal that the caves were formed of strange rock whose surface wrothe & jagg’d in hue between an unnaturally bright greenish-blue and a stark swirling atrament. axis was reminded of the fever dream world in which she took on a simulacrum of her old master in combat.[6] In this deepest region, the furious spit, sweat, & tears of the gods could be witnessed firsthand; anyone who dared venture so deep would frequently be met with hot springs capable of shooting boiling water & steam metres into the air.

But the most peculiar, and the most perilous, element of these extremal depths was the fauna. axis would be up against armoured dracoes, including icy ones capable of spewing magical frost at their foes:

axis Eliminating the Drakes

Still, axis had no issue with the frosty reptiles. As she brandished her flaming pinwheel, the drake’s armour already began to melt away, leaving the beast practically defenceless.

However, the dracoes were not the only accursèd animals in this region that Muirhat had charged axis with vanquishing. Muirhat’s most treacherous task of all would require her to enter “The Sanctuary”. At the dead centre of the untold reaches of the Dungeon, an ancient forsaken sanctuary, furnished by its own crumbling Ionic architecture in varying stages of collapse, housed… something. Although Muirhat’s eyes were totally obscured by white dressing, axis could tell by the rest of his visage and by his body language that he was looking nervously askance when axis asked about the beast who called The Sanctuary its home. Refusing to even give the beast a name, Muirhat simply stated that axis would know it if she saw it, and that she won’t be seeing it if she knows what’s good for her.

Muirhat told axis that she would not be entering The Cursed Sanctuary proper, but rather, she would need only take care of some of the monsters that served as its guards & sentinels. Although — for obvious reasons — The Sanctuary was almost always left untouched, it was now becoming necessary to thin out some of its sentinels, so that the peace of Victoria might more likely be preserved.

Plunging further into the Dungeon than even the glacial dracoes, axis eventually came across a triangle-crowned doorway flanked by Ionic columns, acting as an entryway into a subcavern. The doorway was titan-sized, towering at thrice axis’s height, and it framed two colossal marble doors. If this wasn’t the entrance to The Sanctuary, then Muirhat must have neglected to tell axis something very important.

Before axis could near the doorway, however, she heard something behind her — or perhaps to her left… or her right. It was hard to tell in these kinds of caverns. Given that there were, apparently, no monsters occupying this particular passage, axis was startled. Holding out her pinwheel and whipping her body around, axis failed to locate the source of the whispered wailing. As she turned back around to face the doorway ahead, axis was surprised to see that, where there had only a moment ago been no more than thin air, there was now a translucent floating man, wearing a thick grey beard and a tattered cloak. The man had no discernible limbs, and where his eyes could have been, the sockets held only shadows.

axis involuntarily emitted a squeak and jumped back, before recovering the presence of mind to defend herself with her pinwheel. Witnessing axis’s reaction, the ghostly apparition sighed deeply & lowered his head slightly. The floating figure’s noises & sighs sounded to axis as choppy somehow, as if an invisible wall were passing in between the two of them multiple times each second. Holding her pinwheel out towards the man, axis spake:

axisaxis: Wh—who are you?

[ghostly apparition]: I am nothing more than an Insignificant Being. I only present myself to you because I’ve not seen anyone — nor any thing, for that matter — in this here passage in… a long time. But I can see that I’m not welcome here…

axis: [lowers her pinwheel slightly] O—oh, uhm. I didn’t mean to be rude, it’s just that you gave me quite a fright when you appeared so suddenly from nowhere, is all.

Insignificant Being: Even so, my half-shred of existence is negligible these days, so I could hardly expect mortals to countenance my presence.

axis: [face softening] Well, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I suppose you seem a fine fellow to m—

Before axis could finish her sentence, the Insignificant Being was already turning around to face the double doors. Even the Being’s movement appeared choppy, as if axis were viewing him through a zoetrope.

Insignificant Being: You see these doors?

axis: I do, yes.

Insignificant Being: What do you suppose lies beyond them?

axis: The Sanctuary, surely.

Insignificant Being: The sanctuary of what?

axis: [pauses momentarily] Well, I’m not quite certa—

Insignificant Being: What is it that fills the sanctuary? Air, perhaps? A couple of decrepit marble columns?

axis: Vicious monsters, I suppose.

Insignificant Being: [turning back around to face axis again] And why do you suppose “vicious monsters” would need a “sanctuary” of their own? Surely, if there were vicious monsters, everyone else would need a sanctuary, to take refuge from the monsters’ vicious activities.

axis: Perhaps. Or perhaps the people of Victoria drove back the vicious monsters so long ago, confining them only to these most remote & inaccessible reaches of the Dungeon. Such is their sanctuary.

Insignificant Being: A sanctuary is ambivalent. The place that keeps you safe keeps others safe from you.

axis: …I guess so.

Insignificant Being: But it was not always this way. At the birth of Victoria, the Fates ordained that these “monsters”, & the humans such as yourself, would come to coexist in mutual co-operation. When the monsters felt betrayed and grew sour, they made this possibility impossible. To this day, the Fates weep, for this is their only prophecy that continues inexplicably unfulfilled.

axis stared blankly, unsure of what to make of the Insignificant Being’s story. With a defeated look on his face, the Being continued:

Insignificant Being: Alas & alack, it is too late now. The sanctuary accessible through these twin doors is just one of many examples throughout the Maple world of equivocal enclosures cleaving man from monster. I don’t suppose you’re here to maintain this enclosure?

axis: I—I am indeed. [straightens up in an attempt to make herself appear taller]

Insignificant Being: Fair enough, then. But do me a favour, will you, axis?

axis paused briefly, mystified as to how the Being knew her name without her having given it.

axis: …At your service.

Insignificant Being: I only ask that you not be too careless when dispatching those who dwell in The Sanctuary. To slay & to leave the soul abandoned, doomed to aimlessly roam the grots & caves in perpetuity, is a disrespect. Discourtesy notwithstanding, you’d do well not to antagonise the beasts any more than you absolutely have to.

axis: I’d reckon so. But how, exactly, would I pay such respect to the slain?

Insignificant Being: Sunk within the breast of each beast is a rock. No ordinary stone, each one is totally & perfectly spherical, and exudes a brilliant hue. If you extract the stone yourself, you’ll see the spirit of the creature swirling within. Bring these Spirit Rocks to me, and I shall perform the necessary ritual.

axis: Understood. [curtseys slightly]

Insignificant Being: And one more thing: the albino lizards — the ones who exhale so many snowflakes — will be ever so slightly trickier. Much too frigid to bear a Spirit Rock, the Cold Steam that courses through their bodies carries their spirits. Capturing this Cold Steam in a phial will do nicely.

And with that, before axis could even respond — much less say “’till next time” — the Insignificant Being flickered & vanished in little more than a moment. The passage was silent once more.

axis approached the double doors cautiously. Given the gargantuan size of these doors, axis could only imagine that similarly gargantuan beasts awaited her inside of The Sanctuary. Pressing against one of the doors, axis was unsurprised to find that a giant slab of marble was very hefty indeed. Leaning her body diagonally betwixt the door and the cave floor, she pushed with the strength of her arms, of her legs, & of her body weight. She heard a squeak and a grinding of rock against rock as the door sluggishly admitted defeat. Opening the door only just enough to squeeze herself through the crack in between the twin doors, axis found herself set down Another Path.

Not quite yet The Sanctuary, axis supposed that this was a vestibule of sorts. However, she’d never before seen a vestibule so geohydrologically active. She had trouble even navigating through the rocky serpentine path, as every step seemed to reveal yet another hot spring hurling scalding mineral water at the cavern’s ceilings. Holding her torch up, axis observed that the ceilings were naturally painted a splotchy white as a result.

When she arrived at the end of the dark & twisting path, axis emerged into the first part of the Dungeon’s depths that wasn’t lightless. The Sanctuary was illuminated by irregular rows of sconces along the walls. The flames borne by the sconces appeared uncanny to axis; besides their somewhat bluish hue, it seemed to her that, every few seconds or so, the otherwise chaotic writhing & flickering of each flame would repeat itself over again, in unison with the flames in the other sconces.

axis now understood Muirhat’s description of The Sanctuary. It seemed that The Sanctuary was constructed to have at least two storeys, but the total disrepair of the structure left it with only one usable floor. Everywhere she looked, Ionic marble columns either spilled over the floors, or else faithfully continued to stand erect, yet still riddled with cracks & chips. Some of these columns supported — or used to support — corresponding marble arches.

The Sanctuary was conducive to the reflexion of sound, and axis heard her own footsteps twice. Her own footsteps, however, were not the only footsteps whose echoes she heard. The gentle pitter-patter of the Cold Eyes reverberated throughout the space, and occasionally, she heard a ponderous clip-clopping of a certainly much larger beast that she’d yet to identify.

Moving further into The Sanctuary, axis now saw what she would be up against. The Cold Eyes were indeed albino versions of the Evil Eyes & Curse Eyes that axis had slain so many of in the past.[7] The other monsters were… much larger. axis supposed that they looked a bit like bulls, and their visages seemed almost good-natured to her. The bulls sported impressive pairs of horns, were all covered with dense coats of scraggly brownish hair, & at the ends of their legs was a pair of cloven hooves. Then again, they weren’t quite bulls per se. Although their legs were hooved, each bull had only two legs, upon which they stood erect like humans. Their “other two” legs terminated in hands that they used to wield gigantic unholy polearms. axis suddenly realised that she had seen these creatures once before, when she fought the simulacrum of her old instructor in the eerie dimension[6]: they were Bull-Heads [(Niú)(tóu)][9].

With each taurean guardian towering at twice her height or more, axis was starting to get quite fatigued of fighting things that she couldn’t even see the tops of. Given their height, wingspans, & thoroughly oversized glaives that they somehow managed to wield like batons, axis estimated that she’d already be flattened out by these bullheaded bastards before she even managed to get within stone-throwing distance. Their behaviour, however, was quaint. When axis had a go at the easily-dispatched Cold Eyes and extracted their Cold Steam, the rear-leggèd oxen noticed — even going so far as to stare axis down — but seemed to be unconcerned.

axis collects Cold Steam from the Cold Eyes

To fulfil Muirhat’s request, however, axis would need to fight the chimæric ox-men. Much to axis’s displeasure, these half-ungulate beasts sported more than just brawn & a few spears; as soon as they were angered, the Bull-Heads began invoking spells of elemental destruction. Worse, they were shockingly adept at resisting axis’s own magicks.

Still, by using her small size & good fortune to her advantage, and fighting the armoured bovines at great length, axis was able to overcome a few of them. She found that, unlike with their Cold Eye compatriots, the Bull-Heads were quite susceptible to her icy pinwheel; each time that she landed a blow with the frosty thing, the taurean warden froze even further, stiffening from the knees upward with a thick bluish casing of crystalline ice.

axis vs. Tauros!

Once they’d fallen, locating & extracting their Spirit Rocks was not all that difficult. Each humanoid bull wore a breastplate of magically-hardened cloth, and each breastplate featured a small circular hole in its centre only large enough for a Spirit Rock. Tugging at one of the Spirit Rocks with her fingers, axis found that it wasn’t actually connected to the breastplate at all. The stone was indeed embedded in the corporeal form of the beast itself, and the longer that the beast had been deceased, the easier that it became to prise the stone out of its breast.

axis finds a pair of Tauro* Spirit Rocks

axis was thankful that The Sanctuary had manifestly been architected with two storeys, as she needed that crumbling second storey as a kind of refuge, allowing her to take breaks in between intense bullfighting sessions. In her many travels, axis had taken snack breaks in many diverse places, some quite exotic indeed. It was now, however, that she was impressed with the absurdity of sitting down & having a snack break (with her new favourite snack, Amorian Rice Cookies) in the middle of some kind of purgatory in the godsforsaken centre of the earth, with ridiculous Bull-Heads running wild only just beneath her.

As soon as she’d carried out Muirhat’s assignment, axis made haste to finish collecting the components necessary for the Insignificant Being’s ritual. Although she otherwise had no reason to fight these other Spirit-Rock-bearing monsters, the Being had mentioned in passing that he would need “all three” kinds of Spirit Rocks. And so, axis headed to another chamber of the sanctuary, to fight the so-called Wild Kargoes. She half-expected these Wild “Kargoes” to be cargo-carrying beasts of burden, but instead found that they were strange oversized purple felids, each brandishing a large pair of horns and a smaller pair of prominent tusks.

axis had fought horned purple cats previously — the Jr. Grupins of Orbis — but they were much, much more diminutive last time. Still, she was at least pleased that they didn’t seem to have any magical powers of their own:

Collecting Wild Kargo Spirit Rocks

Besides their matching purple Spirit Rocks, the Wild Kargoes also had strange crystalline irides that remained rock-solid and continued to twinkle in the light, even after the Kargo had long since succumbed to axis’s pinwheel. Each one was perfectly hexagonal, and so axis collected a few of them to take with her.

Robert the gastropod

On the way back to the Insignificant Being, axis happened upon perhaps the last sort of critter that she ever expected to see here in the accursèd, blasted terminus of this earthly mortal realm: a Snail. In this expedition into Deep Sleepywood, axis had encountered many strange beasts, some of whom were completely new to her imagination. Despite having seen plenty of small green Snails in her time, this underground beast shocked her the most.

axis looked around, as if she might find some sort of context for this Snail’s presence, or perhaps other Snails who were also part of the same inexplicable underground snail colony or whatever. Not seeing anything even slightly unusual by Deep Sleepy standards, other than this lone mysterious gastropod, she approached it for closer inspection.

axis leans down to take a close look at the unexpected green Snail

It was a very snail-like snail.

Still, axis did notice one unusual property of the mollusc: on the left side of its shell was a series of distinct scratches, arranged as if the shell were a tally stick. Then, axis quite suddenly noticed another unusual property of the mollusc: it jumped a full metre up into the air, right before her very eyes. Not at all accustomed to snails jumping, much less jumping up several times their own height from a near standstill, axis started. With an involuntary gasp, she recoiled from the heterobranch.

What’re you lookin’ at?

Initially scanning her surroundings for the source of the voice, it was a moment before axis realised that it was the snail just in front of her.

axisaxis: P—pardon?

[snail]: Yeah, you. With the fairy floss hair. What gives?

axis: [straightening her back] I, erm. You see, I didn’t mean to pry—

[snail]: Yeah, I could tell by the way you were checkin’ out my shell just now.

axis: [determinedly blinking] I—I’m sorry, are you… talking?

[snail]: No, of course not. You’re just bonkers, lady.

axis took a moment to reflect. Perhaps the Forest of Poison Haze had finally got to her, and it just took this long to start producing hallucinations.

[snail]: …I’m kidding. Yes, I’m talkin’ to you. What, you’ve never chatted with a handsome shelled slug such as myself?

axis: Not that I can particularly remember, no…

[snail]: Name’s Bob. Bob Snale. I know, a bit of a silly surname — you can just call me Bob. And yourself?

axis: …You can call me axis.

Bob: Hmph. Funny dress, funny name. Got any funny jokes for me?

axis: Ehmm…

Bob: It gets pretty lonely down here. There’s plenty of these Jurassic goofballs & these ridiculous purple lions, but I’m pretty sure they’re all dumb as rocks. Either that, or they just don’t appreciate a good knock-knock joke. Hah!

axis: You know what, [rummaging through her pack] I think I came across a book of jokes recently…

Bob: So that’s what the haversack is for, eh? Jokes??

axis: [thumbing through a small book] I think you’ll like this one. It’s about snails.

Bob: Oh, boy.

axis: Knock, knock.

Bob: Who’s there?

axis: Conch.

Bob: Conch who?

axis: Conch you see I’m busy? Come back later!

Bob cackled, and axis thought that she heard him snort mid-laugh, if it were even possible for snails to snort. Then again, axis had previously believed that it was impossible for snails to talk, so snails snorting was not much of a stretch.

When Bob snorted, however, he also abruptly retracted his entire body into his shell. Bob’s Snail Shell was left to rattle on the azure rock of the cavern floor, apparently lifeless before axis’s eyes. Confused, axis spoke a “hello?”. After getting no response, she instead tried physically prodding his shell. Concerned that she might have made Bob laugh too hard with an unexpected knock-knock joke, axis tried to think of who would be most likely to know a bit about snails in deep hellish underground caverns.

Ultimately deciding that the answer was “The Rememberer”, axis made haste to pick up Bob’s Snail Shell, drop off the necessary Spirit Rocks & Cold Steams to the Insignificant Being for his ritual, and march back to Sleepywood proper as quickly as she could with the shell cradled in her arm. When she got to Sleepywood, The Rememberer was, as usual, on the old stone arch just beyond the Sleepywood Hotel, sitting tailorwise & floating some half a metre or so in the air. It seemed to axis like a boring thing to be doing all day, but she supposed that The Rememberer’s ’round-the-clock meditation was what allowed him to remember absolutely everything, and presumably, what allowed him to inexplicably float in the air of his own accord.

Although The Rememberer’s eyes remained firmly shut as always, he had no problem detecting axis’s approach:

The Rememberer: Hail, axis. Qhat bꝛyngeþ þe tofoꝛen…?[10]

Translation of the above

The Rememberer: Hello, axis. What brings you here…?

axis was now reminded that The Rememberer really did remember everything — even the old tongues. She found it somewhat difficult to understand him, and was frustrated that he wouldn’t just use his “memory” of more modern speeches, in order to make himself more readily understood.

Holding it in her outstretched arms, she presented Bob’s Snail Shell to The Rememberer:

axisaxis: I’ve come across a peculiar snail in the Dungeon. He says his name is Bob. Do you remember him, by any chance?

The Rememberer: [still with eyes shut] Bob… Bob Snale, þatte is?

axis: Yes. I’m afraid he won’t—

The Rememberer: And þeou haſt hyne yn þyn poſſeſcioun…?

axis: Yes, well, he can’t seem to come out of his shell, and I admit I feel some responsibility…

The Rememberer: [finally opening his eyes] Yis, ic remembꝛe of ſeiȝende ſœ manige an vndred yeoꝛes agon þeos verrei ſnale — vvham vve ȝenameden “Bob” — craulen þyſſe verrei lont þoꝛuȝ & þoꝛuȝ, of aſſeignement aparaunt. Al-oneli þinge þatte semeþ ta hauen chaunged ouer þe ages is þe nombꝛe of ſcarren vppon hes ſchelle.

axis: I… see. I found him quite deep in the Dungeon, and when he mentioned knock-knock jokes, I decided to tell him one. He seemed lonely!

The Rememberer: He ſpak ta þe?

axis: …Yes.

The Rememberer: VViþ vvoꝛdes?

axis: Yessir.

The Rememberer: He vvas ſoleyn of daliaunce, þatte ſnale. Ic vvene he be vvele deſolat, þanne.

axis: So that’s normal? Snails talk. Out loud. With words.

The Rememberer: Apertli. He beþ no-but ſhamfaſt.

axis: [eyes wide] Okay… Well, would you care to give any medical advice? I fear he was dreadfully allergic to that knock-knock joke.

The Rememberer: [extending a single hand] Lette me a lok.

Translation of the above

axisaxis: I’ve come across a peculiar snail in the Dungeon. He says his name is Bob. Do you remember him, by any chance?

The Rememberer: [still with eyes shut] Bob… Bob Snale, that is?

axis: Yes. I’m afraid he won’t—

The Rememberer: And you have him in your possession…?

axis: Yes, well, he can’t seem to come out of his shell, and I admit I feel some responsibility…

The Rememberer: [finally opening his eyes] Yes, I recall seeing so many hundreds of years ago this very snail — whom we named “Bob” — crawl this very land through & through, apparently at [the gods’] commandment. The only thing that seems to have changed over the ages is the number of scars on his shell.

axis: I… see. I found him quite deep in the Dungeon, and when he mentioned knock-knock jokes, I decided to tell him one. He seemed lonely!

The Rememberer: He spoke to you?

axis: …Yes.

The Rememberer: With words?

axis: Yessir.

The Rememberer: He was taciturn [lit. “sullen of dalliance”], that snail. I suppose he’s truly lonely, then.

axis: So that’s normal? Snails talk. Out loud. With words.

The Rememberer: Obviously[11]. They’re[12] just shy.

axis: [eyes wide] Okay… Well, would you care to give any medical advice? I fear he was dreadfully allergic to that knock-knock joke.

The Rememberer: [extending a single hand] Let me take a look.

The Rememberer’s eyes were certainly wider than axis had ever seen them before, as he reached out his arm to grab Bob’s Snail Shell. Allowing him to take the shell, axis was subsequently alarmed to hear The Rememberer let out malevolent howling laughter as he added the shell into his magical monster collection:

The Rememberer? More like The Betrayer!! F5

Transcription of the above image

The Rememberer: HA! HA! HA! I finally have him on [sic] my collection. Leave now if you aren’t here to hunt monsters.


[axisaxis gives The Rememberer a look of immense anger as he looks onward with a cheeky glint in his eye]


[system message]: You have lost fame (−5)
You have lost an item (Bob’s Snail Shell)

The Rememberer: [evilly] HA HA HAA! At leſte, Bob is parde of mi colleccioun! Departe nouȝ vppon þeos tide, leſſe þan þeou vville þatte ic ſette vppon þe a taxſke of hontynge oþerqhat mouſtren…

axis: [gasps] You scumbag! You rat bastard!! Give him back!!! I oughta show you the business end of my pinwheel up clos—

Translation of the above

The Rememberer: [evilly] HA HA HAA! Finally, Bob is part of my collection! Leave this instant, unless you wish for me to bestow upon you a quest to hunt some other monsters…

axis: [gasps] You scumbag! You rat bastard!! Give him back!!! I oughta show you the business end of my pinwheel up clos—

As The Rememberer smugly smirked at axis, and axis threatened him with pinwheel violence, she noticed a certain snail crawling away from The Rememberer, behind his back: Bob had already escaped the “collection”. Giving The Rememberer one last dirty look, axis stormed off.

axis came back the next day with a Snail Shell that she’d obtained from an ordinary Snail. She’d tried to speak to this Snail as well, but it didn’t seem to respond — at least, not so quickly. A man walked by and saw axis prone on the ground, meeting the Snail eye-to-eye, and speaking quite plainly to it. As a result, the man swiftly began walking in the nearest direction away from axis. Somewhat embarrassed, and not wanting to become known as “that crazy snail lady”, axis gave up on attempting to converse with molluscs.

In any event, when she got to Sleepywood, The Rememberer was floating with eyes closed, as usual. This time, he refused to even acknowledge axis’s presence. axis cleared her throat loudly.

axis: [roguishly] It seems your collection… lost a member…? [holds the Snail Shell out in her hands]

The Rememberer peeked just slightly out of his left eye, before quickly shutting it again. He exhaled sharply.

The Rememberer: Ic ȝeſe þatte þeou haſt gat Bob aȝeuuard. Qhat vvilt þeou vrom me? A reuuarde?

axis: Yes. Just like the bounties that you’ve awarded me for the thousands of monsters that I’ve brought you in the past. Clearly, Bob is very valuable for your collection. So I’m expecting a handsome reward.

The Rememberer: [begrudgingly] …VVele & fyn. Ic haue gold voꝛ þe, ȝif þatte be qhat þeou coueite.

axis: It is. [holds the Snail Shell out in one hand, & makes a beckoning gesture with her other]

Translation of the above

The Rememberer: I see that you’ve got Bob back. What do you want from me? A reward?

axis: Yes. Just like the bounties that you’ve awarded me for the thousands of monsters that I’ve brought you in the past. Clearly, Bob is very valuable for your collection. So I’m expecting a handsome reward.

The Rememberer: [begrudgingly] …Fine. I have gold for you, if that’s what you covet.

axis: It is. [holds the Snail Shell out in one hand, & makes a beckoning gesture with her other]

And so, axis & The Rememberer exchanged Snail Shell for mesos. As axis was putting the mesos into her pack, The Rememberer brought the Snail Shell close to his face, for inspection.

The Rememberer: [bitterly] Þeos ſchelle haþ na ſcarren! Ic þynke a fole ta þe?!

Translation of the above

The Rememberer: [bitterly] This shell has no scars! Do you take me for a fool?!

But axis was already gone.

The Rememberer: Þef! Þef!!

Translation of the above

The Rememberer: Thief! Thief!!

I’m mad. You’re mad.

“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”

I call it purring, not growling,” said Alice.

“Call it what you like,” said the Cat.

― C. L. Dodgson; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch. VI; 1865.

Heading away from Sleepywood, & away from the Dungeon entirely, axis returned to The Nautilus. Somewhat surprised to see axis arriving back in one piece, Muirhat thanked her deeply; thanks to her, Victoria would live to see another age of peacetime. Muirhat was also curious to hear axis’s tales & descriptions of Deep Sleepywood — he’d certainly never been there himself. axis wove a colourful story, and Muirhat listened in rapt attention.

When axis finished telling her story, Muirhat let her know that someone in Kerning City had been looking for her. Word had spread quickly that axis was experienced with talking critters, and Nella of Kerning recently had a fateful encounter with just one such critter. axis insisted that she was no expert on unusually loquacious beasts, but said that, in any case, she’d pay Nella a visit.

axis met with Nella at the local jazz fusion pub. When axis introduced herself, Nella was eager to relay her story[13]. Nella claimed that she’d had a dream in which she found herself in a verdant forest full of incredibly tall trees that kissed the sky. In that forest, she ran into a large, striped cat, and so she attempted to pet it. When she did so, however, the cat mysteriously vanished, momentarily leaving behind just its grin. Bewildered, Nella began searching, sure that the cat had gone somewhere. After some efforts to locate the cat, she turned back around to the tree hollow where she’d originally seen it, and there it was: materialising from thin air, grin-first.

Nella claimed that, somehow, the cat spoke to her. The cat had implored her to find something that it’d lost, and Nella continued to be deeply concerned about it, even long after waking up from the dream. She insisted that although it was surely a dream — after all, where in all of the Maple world could there possibly be infinitely tall trees, not to mention a cat that speaks‽ — it felt more real than any dream that she’d ever had.

axis said that although she was certainly no oneiromancer, she did know of a place that met Nella’s description. The town of Ellinia was located within the Forest of Wisdom, a virid forest populated by low bushes & vines that wrapped endlessly around unboundedly tall trees that formed the sparse matrix within which the magicians’ town was suspended. In the forest up north of Ellinia, a cluster of these limitlessly tall arborescences could be accessed through their holes & hollows. Each trunk was hollow on the inside, serving as a vertical home for entire ecosystems of plants, fungi, & fauna.

Saying farewell to Nella for now, axis said that she would be investigating the forest up north of Ellinia, in search of any curiously disappearing & reappearing cats. When she got to Ellinia, she was stopped by a fairy by the name of Arwen. axis had previously done some quests at Arwen’s behest, but this time, Arwen had something much more serious.

Arwen blamed the excessive foolishness of humans for the abominable creature that continued to threaten the Forest of Wisdom, and that attacked her recently — unprovoked. She described an oversized monkey filled with the atrocious darkness of black forest-magicks, and blamed Grendel’s previous dabblings in dark magic for its existence. Although Grendel admitted his mistake, he simultaneously excused it as no more than a foolhardy endeavour of his immature youth. Arwen was getting fed up with Grendel’s irresponsibility in addressing the problem that he himself created, and so axis paid a visit to Grendel’s Magic Library to help sort things out.

The horrid beast that Arwen described sounded an awful lot like some of the abominations that axis had been responsible for subduing in the past, such as the King Clang of Florina: an outsized version of the local fauna, powered by black magicks, terrorising the locals & enthralling nearby critters. axis was thus not so sure that Grendel could really be responsible for this — it sounded an awful lot like the work of the Black Magician. When she spoke with Grendel, however, he admitted that he indeed dabbled in black magicks in his youth, tempted by its awesome — but unholy — powers. Although the magic that he dealt in was not that of the Black Magician, it was nevertheless of the same kind. Moreover, he admitted that his reckless experimentations had also been responsible for the zombified Lupins that axis had eliminated so many thousands of[14] at Rowen’s request.

Grendel decided that it was finally time to take responsibility. Much to axis’s pleasant surprise, Grendel asked her to head to the forest north of Ellinia to find a cat named Fanzy, whom he claimed knew everything that went on in the forest. Supposing that Fanzy was the cat of Nella’s “dream”, axis asked if this “Fanzy” perhaps had a habit of mysteriously vanishing & reappearing. Grendel laughed, and explained that Fanzy was often quite the surprise for visitors to the Forest of Wisdom who weren’t locals.

And so, axis took the trip on foot to find the fabled Fanzy:

axis meets Fanzy the cat

When she arrived at the base of the northern forest, axis already saw Fanzy, who was perched on the edge of a tree hollow. The cat sat with a huge toothy grin on their face, idly licking their paws every so often. axis approached the cat, and spoke softly but plainly:

axisaxis: Hi there, kitty-cat. Did you ever find that thing that you lost?

Fanzy: [looks towards axis and widens their grin] Oh hello, axis. It is nice to see you again.

axis was starting to almost get used to people inexplicably knowing her name.

axis: Again? I don’t recall when we first met.

Fanzy: Oh, you know. [turns invisible] I see everything that goes on in this forest. Like when you took care of all of those Curse Eyes[14]… yes…? [slowly reappears, starting with their grin]

axis started to feel a bit creeped out, now that she thought about it.

axis: [forcing a smile] Oh, that’s right. I don’t believe you introduced yourself…

Fanzy: [grin shrinks again] To answer your question: I’m afraid not. You see, I’ve a Red Ball of Yarn that is very special indeed — or rather, I had it. Every year, some time around the brumal solstice, those damnable green Slimes seem to take great interest in red things — & I’ve not the faintest idea why.

axis: I think I see where this is going…

Fanzy: Yes, well, the other day, a roving band of Slime-y ne’er-do-wells ganged up on me! And stole my Red Ball of Yarn! Can you believe that?

axis: Well, it seems highly irregular to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. I do have a question, however: how did they overpower you, exactly? I reckon those finely-sharpened claws of yours would pop any ol’ Slime in an instant.

Fanzy: [with sad eyes] Oh, there were so many of them — it was dreadful. And I’m deathly allergic to Slime!

axis: Hmm… I see. That is indeed quite vexing. Well, I will do my best to look into it. I’m sure that one of the nearby slimes has your yarn, and only requires a bit of… convincing, to give it back.

Fanzy: [returning to their usual jovial expression] Exquisite! I do look forward to playing with my red yarn once again. [licks paw]

axis: There’s something else that I need to ask you about, however.

Fanzy: [continues licking themself] Go ahead, darling.

axis: Would you, by any chance, know anything about a certain gargantuan Zombie Lupin that haunts this forest?

Fanzy: [stops mid-lick] Humm… I have seen it, yes. I call it Faust. I’ve introduced — or rather, attempted to introduce — myself on at least one occasion, but I’m afraid we’ve some difficulties of communication. It’s unclear to me whether the titanic simian is truly capable of speech or not, as some horrid noise comes from its mouth when it opens, and I can’t make a bit of sense of it. Well, excepting one thing…

axis: That is…?

Fanzy: Faust has quite a habit of repeating Arwen’s name.

axis: That would make sense, considering that Arwen was the one whom it attacked.

Fanzy: Oh, this is nothing recent. Faust has always droned on about Arwen, although it’d never met the girl until recently, so far as I know… I must say, I was quite shocked indeed to see Faust assailing anyone at all. Faust is quite an oafish fellow, and I always supposed that it couldn’t well attack anyone, even if it tried…

axis: Well, in any case, Grendel has decided that it’s time to finally put an end to Faust. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that? Where Faust can usually be found? Perhaps any weaknesses…?

Fanzy: If there’s one thing that you should know about Faust, it’s that the beast itself is little more than a useful cadaver. The source of its nervous energy & volition is a magical doll that exercises command over the brute. The doll is otherwise ordinary; it’s a small doll made of straw, just as you might make for a child to play with.

axis: So… if that’s true, then all that absolutely needs to be done is to destroy the doll?

Fanzy: Perhaps. I wouldn’t put it so lightly, however. This is no ordinary doll, and as far as I know, the Maladies are the only ones who possess the necessary materials to “pop” such a “poppet”, if you will. You know how the old verse goes… [fades away their body, leaving only a talking grin]

[38]

If you’re to pop a poppet well,
And want to have a tale to tell,
You’ll pick up first your Cursing Nail,
And twixt its eyes the doll impale.

The Cursing Nail is what you’ll need,
Or else its spirit won’t be freed.
No common nail tomfoolery,
That’s just the doll’s new jewellèry.

If Cursing Nails are what you chase,
You’ll find them at the witches’ place.
Extract the Nail from witch’s broom —
With care, or you’ll yourself entomb!

axis thought that she most certainly did not know how this “old verse” went, and was left to wonder if the cat had simply made it up themself. Then again, now that she’d heard it, she did know how it went. In any case, before she could respond at all, Fanzy’s grin vanished, and the cat was nowhere to be found.

And so, the first order of business was simply to recover Fanzy’s favourite Red Ball of Yarn from the dastardly Slimes. axis knew that, given where Fanzy was hanging out, & given that they described being mugged by a “roving band” of Slimes, those Slimes were likely from The Tree That Grew. She always thought that the name of this particular tree had a tinge of superfluity to it; trees that do & did not grow were unlikely to have names at all, given that they probably never even made it to the “tree” stage of life.

At any rate, as axis climbed up The Tree That Grew, she witnessed the roving bands firsthand. Great groups of goopy green gregarious globules gallivanted on grassy gangways that grew between the impossibly tall trees. Still, axis did not find the roving bands to be very menacing; each Slime bounced & rolled lazily, jiggling as it went, and axis could see through their greenish translucent colloidal flesh. Indeed, she could see that each Slime was generally carrying with it a variety of solid items that it had picked up along its travels by simple envelopment.

Pushing aside the hordes of Slimes with her bare hands, axis went looking for a Slime with a Red Ball of Yarn inside of it. Eventually, she came across just that Slime. With a simple application of her pinwheel, the Slime popped, releasing its contents.

axis finds a very particular ball of red yarn

axis fished through the mound of green goop and pulled out the yarn, quickly realising that she was going to have to rinse it off thoroughly before giving it back to Fanzy.

Thinking back on the brief poem that Fanzy left her with, axis realised that she’d never before heard of anything such as a “Cursing Nail”. Thankfully, the verse at least gave some vague instructions as to how to acquire such nails. axis knew that witches flying upon their brooms could be found in large numbers within The Forest of Evil, & so she headed down south.

As it turned out, “large numbers” was putting it mildly, in some ways. The Forest of Evil was really not terribly large, & each malevolent witch rode the skies with incredible dexterity upon nothing more than its wooden broom. The result was that The Forest of Evil was absolutely swarmed with the things, like a thick black fog of witch hats, robes, & brooms. The noise that they emitted was merely one of whirling air — at least, until axis showed up. Upon catching sight of axis, the witches began to cackle in chorus, & to sing — quite unmusically, axis thought — terrible songs about the stews that they’d make with her flesh.

Perhaps regrettably, axis was incapable of flight; it was now that she regretted never getting Icarus’s cape to work. Instead, she would have to allow the witches to fly to her, before swiping their brooms, & checking the brooms for any magical-looking nails.

axis in search of Cursing Nails

The vicious witches sneered as they swiped & slashed at axis with their horrible knife-like fingernails, forcing her to dodge them every which way. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before axis found a Cursing Nail that wasn’t too bent out of shape.

Apologies are in order

Mephiſtopheles:
Fürwahr! er dient euch auf beſondre Weiſe.
Nicht irdiſch iſt des Thoren Trank noch Speiſe.
Ihn treibt die Gährung in die Ferne,
Er iſt ſich ſeiner Tollheit halb bewußt;
Vom Himmel fordert er die ſchönſten Sterne,
Und von der Erde jede höchſte Luſt,
Und alle Näh’ und alle Ferne
Befriedigt nicht die tiefbewegte Bruſt.

Der Herr:
Wenn er mir jetzt auch nur verworren dient;
So werd’ ich ihn bald in die Klarheit führen.
Weiß doch der Gärtner, wenn das Bäumchen grünt,
Daß Blüt’ und Frucht die künft’gen Jahre zieren.

Mephiſtopheles:
Was wettet ihr? den ſollt ihr noch verlieren!
Wenn ihr mir die Erlaubniß gebt
Ihn meine Straße ſacht zu führen.

Der Herr:
So lang’ er auf der Erde lebt,
So lange ſey dir’s nicht verboten.
Es irrt der Menſch ſo lang er ſtrebt.


Mephistopheles:
Forsooth! He serves you after strange devices:
No earthly meat or drink the fool suffices:
His spirit’s ferment far aspireth;
Half conscious of his frenzied, crazed unrest,
The fairest stars from Heaven he requireth,
From Earth the highest raptures and the best,
And all the Near and Far that he desireth
Fails to subdue the tumult of his breast.

The Lord:
Though still confused his service unto Me,
I soon shall lead him to a clearer morning.
Sees not the gardener, even while buds his tree,
Both flower and fruit the future years adorning?

Mephistopheles:
What will you bet? There’s still a chance to gain him,
If unto me full leave you give,
Gently upon my road to train him!

The Lord:
As long as he on earth shall live,
So long I make no prohibition.
While Man’s desires and aspirations stir,
He cannot choose but err.

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, trans. J. Bayard Taylor; Faust. Eine Tragödie (“Faust: A Tragedy”), „Prolog im Himmel“ (“Prologue in Heaven”); 1808, trans. 1925.

Whilst she was at The Forest of Evil, axis noticed a peculiar tree hollow. Its outer rim was a deep black oval that squirmed & hissed with a sickly green glowing aura. Looking through the hollow, it didn’t appear to lead anywhere.

axis peering into the tree’s cursed portal

Supposing that there was only one place where a tree’s hollow could lead — namely, into the tree — she gave the strange arboreal portal a try. Confoundingly, however, the tree hollow didn’t lead into the tree at all — at least, it didn’t seem like the inside of a tree to axis. Instead, axis found herself on a kind of wooden log bridge connecting the exit of the tree portal to another large tree. Although the log “bridge” was indeed constructed like a bridge, it really functioned more like a floor, as it was fully canopied over, & buttressed on both sides by impenetrable vegetation.

Although this tree portal was certainly unusual, it would have otherwise been uninteresting if it weren’t for the ghastly figure crouched in the hollow of the tree that opposed the magical portal. The figure was humanoid, but wore thick & perfectly round glasses that glow’d, obscuring most of its facial features, and it wore a hooded robe that covered much of the rest of its body. In its hands was a straw doll, and it wailed softly, bemoaning something about Arwen.

axis cleared her throat loudly.

The ghost abruptly ceased its wailing, and instinctively jerked its body away from axis, hiding its face & the doll in its grasp. Still facing away from axis, it spake.

[ghost]: Who goes there?!? How did y— What do you want?!?

The spectre’s voice was shrill, but that of a human. Each noise that it made echoed exactly once, mysteriously, before being absorbed by the everpresent shrubbery.

axisaxis: I didn’t mean to startle you; I only just found this peculiar portal in an old tr—

[ghost]: Leave, then…

axis: I’m sorry; if I may, could I ask just a question?

[ghost]: [exhaling] …You may. But only one.

axis: Why Arwen? What did she do?

[ghost]: [pauses] It’s an uninteresting story. But as you asked, so I shall tell it.

The phantom figure sighed. It used one hand to take off its glasses, although it was still turned away from axis.

[ghost]: I was Grendel’s first apprentice. Grendel bestowed a title of apprenticeship upon me, so that I might be known as “Reef” — but that is not my real name.

axis was tempted to ask what his real name was, but thought better of it.

Reef: I dedicated my studies to the magic of the fairies. Truth be told, I studied fairy magic because I had an unhealthy obsession with the fairies, and wanted to study with them. [pauses briefly] Arwen, in particular.

You might already know that Arwen harbours quite a bit of antipathy against humans such as myself, & is reluctant to have any association with them at all. I never truly expected her to like me, but I strove to earn her respect. Her antipathy always prevailed, & she consistently refused to so much as give me the time of day.

axis reflected upon her interactions with Arwen, like when Arwen asked her to thin out the annoying local Green Mushroom population, or when axis recovered Arwen’s lost glass shoes. Now that she thought about it, Arwen did seem quite aloof, and perhaps had something of a habit of speaking in a bitter tone.

Reef: Arwen may have had some good reasons for snubbing humans, but nevertheless, I resented her treatment. I thought that if she could not respect me, then I could not respect her.

…There is no excuse for what I did.

There was silence in the hidden canopy. It felt like several minutes to axis, although it was really more like ten seconds.

Reef: …I only ask of you one thing, stranger.

axis: Wh—what would that be?

Reef: If you ever see Arwen, please tell her that I am sorry — for all of it. I really, really am. I did what I did, & I do not expect to be forgiven. But I am sorry, & I do not wish any harm upon Arwen. I need only that Arwen know this.

axis: I will. You have my word.

Reef: Thank you.

With that, axis left Reef in his occult canopy, exiting back through the preternatural portal whence she came. As she carefully stepped out onto the edge of the towering tree’s highest hollow, she looked back down on the Forest of Evil. The witches continued to whizz about, mounted upon their magical flying brooms. From a height, little more than the witch hats and broomheads were visible; and even then, only indistinctly. The Forest of Evil was thus, apparently, little more than a whirling black sea of witchstuff, undulating gently as it hummed softly in the distance.

axis returned to the town of Ellinia and met with Arwen once more.

axisaxis: [curtseying] Good afternoon, Miss Arwen.

Arwen the Fairy: Hello, axisaxis. You’ve defeated the beast?

axis: I’m afraid not. I have, however, acquired the means to do so. [pulls out the Cursing Nail, for display]

Arwen: Carry on, then.

axis: …I also, uhm, met with Reef.

Arwen: Reef? A coral reef, perhaps?

axis: You don’t know anyone by that name?

Arwen: It doesn’t ring a bell.

axis: He was Grendel’s first apprentice.

Arwen: [with a look of mild contempt] Oh, so that was his name? What about him? I haven’t seen him in ages, and perhaps for the better…

axis: Well… I think that he was responsible for the creation of Faust — the monstrous monkey, I mean.

Arwen: [rolling her eyes dramatically] Of course. Like master, like apprentice… I’ve never been able to fully trust Grendel ever since he dabbled in those accursèd magicks, and it seems that I was right to never trust that bothersome Reef fellow, either. [shudders affectedly]

axis: Yes, well, it seems that Reef created Faust out of rage, to take revenge upon you. He was always trying to earn your respec—

Arwen: [disdainfully] Unbelievable! Can you imagine, the absolute nerve‽ To try to force a friendship, and then take revenge when it doesn’t work out‽ Humans are unbelievably egocentric! Humans are so—

The look of intense disdain on Arwen’s face abruptly faltered, half-replaced by a look of introspection. She briefly looked towards the floor. axis swallowed.

axis: Uhm. Reef did ask me to say just one thing to you. [pauses briefly] He said that he was sorry. Really, genuinely sorry. And that he does not expect to be forgiven.

Arwen paused, a look of mild melancholy having overtaken her visage.

Arwen: I cannot imagine what would inspire Reef to act vengefully, as I so often cannot imagine what inspires humans’ seemingly irrational behaviours. But I can see whence his frustration arose. I like to think that I’ve come to be better about it, but in the past, I used to avoid any interactions with humans, if at all possible. This, naturally, led to some rather rude confrontations, and I regret to think that I’ve lost contact with people, & lost potential friends, as a result.

To axis’s mild surprise, Arwen proceeded to wince briefly as she plucked a single, thick strand of fairy hair from her scalp. She grabbed axis’s forearm with her other hand, pulling axis’s hand out, and placing the single hair into it.

Arwen: Take this to Reef. He may be responsible for creating Faust, but I feel responsible for empowering him to do so. Although I don’t understand his rash foolishness, it seems wisest to at least mollify his resentment.

axis: [grabbing the hair with her hand] And he’ll know what this is for?

Arwen: The hair of a fairy is a traditional gift of apology. Of all humans, Reef is the most likely to know this.

axis nodded silently.

Arwen: Thank you. [smiles ever so slightly]

And so, axis headed back to The Forest of Evil, shimmied up the tree, and entered once again its bizarre portal. This time, Reef was expecting her.

Reef: Hello again, stranger. Did you relay to Arwen my apologies?

axis: I did. Well, erm, she had something to say herself…

axis walked across the log bridge, Arwen’s hair in her fist. She held the hair out to Reef. She noticed that Reef, ghostly as he was, emitted no heat whatsoever; axis could even feel a slight chilling as she neared him.

Reef: What’s this? Is this Arwen’s hair?

axis: It is.

Reef: How d— Really? A genuine apology from Arwen… [softly] it beggars belief. [pauses briefly] Of course, I am the one who needs to be apologising.

[clenching the hair in his phantom fist] To Arwen: thank you, & I’m sorry.

Taking leave of the unknown canopy once again, axis knew that the time was now to decommission Faust. Before she did so, however, she thought it best to first consult with Grendel, given all of the new information & the tool that she’d acquired since they last spoke.

Grendel was at first confused to hear that Reef was Faust’s supposèd progenitor. Then, a look of sorrow came over his face as he realised that he was responsible for even more than he’d previously thought. Grendel assured axis that Reef was perfectly gentle & good-natured — he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But it was the lasting fallout of Grendel’s irresponsible experimentation in black magicks that had exerted a corrupting influence upon the boy — there was no other explanation. Grendel had never taught Reef anything about dark spellcraft whatsoever.

Dr. Faustus

Theſe metaphyſics of magicians,
And necromantic books are heauenly;
Lines, circles, ſcenes, letters, and characters;
Ay, theſe are thoſe that Fauſtus moſt deſires.
O, what a world of profit and delight,
Of power, of honour, and omnipotence,
Is promis’d to the ſtudious artizan!
All things that moue between the quiet poles
Shall be at my command: emperors and kings
Are but obeyed in their ſeueral prouinces;
But his dominion that exceeds in this,
Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man;
A ſound magician is a demigod:
Here tire, my brains, to gain a deity.

― Chriſtopher Marlowe; The Tragicall Hiſtory of the Life and Death of Doctor Fauſtus; ca. 1592; spoken by Fauſtus.

Now fully understanding his responsibility for the whole ordeal — including the fate of Reef — Grendel needed Faust gone as soon as possible, & needed time to reflect on his mistakes. axis offered to do the deed, explaining that Fanzy had taught her more about Faust than it seemed anyone else knew. Grendel said that he trusted axis with the task, wished her good luck, and sat down with his head in his hands.

axis presumed that, if Reef was in the shrouded canopy at the top of that tree in The Forest of Evil, then Faust couldn’t be far from there. So, she headed back to The Forest of Evil once again. Thinking that Faust was perhaps just hiding, she tried calling out its name: “Faust! Faaaauuuuust!!”. She then realised that this was probably just a name that Fanzy had invented, and that there was a name that Faust was much more likely to respond to: “Arwen…! Arrrrrrwennn! Ar—”.

The forest floor began to flood with tendrilled emerald mist, and the Maladies screeched as they swerved their broomsticks away from it. Along with it came a bizarre cacophony like a dozen crows cawing from under water. From beneath the floorboards, out from the mist, arose the beast exactly as described to axis: a great zombified monkey, standing at thrice her height. The doll was indeed directly puppeting the monkey’s movement: it flew above the huge simian, and manipulated the giant’s frame with orange glowing marionette strings.

axis supposed that someone else must have already encountered the beast, as it bore a Dàoist talisman [()()] upon its forehead. Unfortunately for whoever bravely placed the talisman there, it didn’t stop the demonic doll from using the rigid corpse as its instrument.[15]

Once the bizarre cacophony had almost entirely faded, Faust stiffly turned to meet axis. Although the monkey’s eyes were vacant, the straw doll that puppeted it had a face of its own, almost like a pair of googly eyes, but furrowed so as to give a menacing glare. When it turned to face axis, however, the menacing glare melted into a look of mild confusion. axis supposed that the confusion arose because she didn’t look much like Arwen at all.

The undead monkey’s head spake. Or… something like that. Its mouth opened, & sound came out; but this time, the sound was one of a dozen crows running frantically across a blackboard. axis winced and shushed the monkey, telling it to pipe down. To axis’s mild surprise, this actually worked: Faust stopped “talking”. The doll and the monkey stared blankly at axis, as if expectantly waiting for her to do or say something.

Of course, axis knew exactly what she was here to do. The only problem was getting that doll into her grasp so that she could impale it betwixt its eyes with the Cursing Nail. Since the doll was way up there, axis considered climbing up the monkey’s rigid body to get to it. Readying her pinwheel, axis cautiously approached the brute. So far, it seemed to be working; the doll just continued to stare at her, confused as to what was going on. axis jumped up onto the monkey, grabbing onto its oversized head & ears with her upper body. The doll sprang into action, using its marionette strings to grab & scrape at axis with the reanimated monkey’s arms & hands.

Once axis was nearly within reach of the doll itself, the doll took a drastic manœuvre, puppeting the monkey to fall down to the ground, thus throwing axis off of its colossal head. axis tucked her body inward and rolled onto her back as she hit the ground, before righting herself as quickly as she could. Although axis had been tossed away from the doll by this particular stunt, it was also looking like the monkey wasn’t going to be upright any time soon: it was already top-heavy to begin with, and the stiffness of its limbs was not doing the brute any favours.

So, whilst the monkey was prone and the doll furiously tugged at its strings like an overzealous musical conductor, axis took the opportunity to jump up onto the monkey’s back, grabbing the doll with her bare hands. Relinquishing one hand in order to unholster the Cursing Nail, she drove the nail — dark purple mist & all — through the head of the doll.

The doll’s eyes googled lifelessly, its pupils succumbing to the pull of gravity. It was nothing more than a straw doll with googly eyes glued to it — Cursing Nail transfixion notwithstanding. The orange smouldering marionette strings exploded into a fine neon mist that twinkled out silently.

Then, the monkey moved. Fanzy had been correct that the monkey was being puppeted by the hexed straw doll. But what Fanzy didn’t know was that the monkey itself was an undead beast in its own right. Now that it had regained agency over its corporeal form, Faust thought that it smelled the living with its reanimated catarrhine nose. And what it smelled… was axis.

axis tried to negotiate with the monster, now that she’d freed it from its puppeteer: “Hi, Faust. You’re not such a bad guy yourself, right? Just a big monkey? We can be friends!”.

But Faust did not want to be friends.

The behemoth jerked its arms away from its body, with only barely the strength necessary to right itself. It turned towards axis and swung wildly with its arm, hand open, attempting to catch axis in its titanic grasp. axis only barely managed to hop & tumble over its hand, evading its clutches by a hair’s width. “Oop! No touching, please!”

Faust neglected axis’s command. In fact, if anything, hearing axis talk was only intensifying the monkey’s urge to snatch her. Unfortunately for axis, she’d already stumbled over the brute’s hand, putting her in a position to be more easily plucked up by its other hand. The simian was quick to reach out with its other hand, picking axis up like a straw doll. axis tried wriggling her way out, but the monkey’s grip was too powerful. Faust brought axis up to its face, sniffing her, and inspecting her with its vacant eyes.

Before the monster could do anything worse, axis had the idea to cast the fire spell that Tylus [Тылус] had taught her. With Faust’s hand pinning her arms to her sides, lighting her pinwheel aflame scorched the monkey’s palm. Faust let out a whimper, instantly letting go of axis, who fell straight to the ground. With her pinwheel already ablaze, axis took the opportunity to pummel the giant reanimated monkey:

axis defeats Faust!!

As the great simian collapsed to the ground, it was already evaporating into an obsidian smoke. Seeing that Faust had been defeated, the witches cackled, & swooped back down to terrorise axis. But axis was more concerned with seeing what had happened to Reef.

Once more, axis batted the witches away. Shimmying again up the tree, axis went through the portal into Reef’s secluded hideout. The floor was littered with loose straw. Reef sat in the same tree hollow, facing the portal.

Reef: Hello, stranger.

axisaxis: Hi, Reef.

Reef: I take it you’ve stuck the doll.

axis nodded wordlessly.

Reef: Good. I can rest easy, then. Knowing that my work has been undone.

axis: …And this is your home now?

Reef: Oh, don’t you worry about me. I am already dead.

And with that, Reef was gone, unceremoniously.

Looking at the mess of straw on the ground, axis wondered if Reef had been dead this whole time. It would explain his ghostly appearance. Rather than pondering what it meant to be “dead” in a world where she seemed to regularly meet spectres & the undead, axis thought it more important to first report to Grendel & Arwen.

After hearing relieved responses from the both of them, & accepting a small gift from Grendel, axis finally headed north to meet back up with Fanzy. She took with her the special Red Ball of Yarn that she’d rinsed of Slime-y goop in a nearby waterfall.

Fanzy: [fading into visibility just behind axis] Welcome back, sweet axis!

axis: [jumping out of startlement] Oh!! My god. Please, don’t sneak up on me like that!

Fanzy: [inspecting the claws on their front paws] I’m sorry, dear. It’s a terrible habit of mine.

axis: I’ve—

Fanzy: [grinning hugely] I loved your dance with that lumbering lunkhead Faust! Really a wonderful show! Splendid!! [purrs briefly]

axis: Oh, erm… Thank you. The poem was a great help…

Fanzy: [eyes lighting up] And have you the yarn?

axis: Yes, I’ve brought it with me here. [reaching into her pack] I made sure to rinse it off thoroughly. It was quite Slime-y…

Fanzy’s ecstatic expression gave way to a look of rapt concentration as axis placed the Red Ball of Yarn in front of them, and they began to bat around the yarn with their paws, chasing the yarn as it rolled & unrolled.

Fanzy: [continuing to play with the yarn] Brilliant! If you ever need anything in this old forest, sweetheart, don’t hesitate to ask the trees…!

axis thought that she heard Fanzy laugh in amusement, if cats could laugh. As she turned to leave, the cat shrouded themself in invisibility again, making it appear as if the yarn had a mind of its own.

Aridification

This translates into an increasingly arid [U.S.] Southwest and [U.S.] West, with progressively lower river flows, drier landscapes, higher forest mortality, and more severe and widespread wildfires — not year on year, but instead a clear longer-term trend toward greater aridification, a trend that only climate action can stop.

― J. T. Overpeck & B. Udall; “Climate change and the aridification of North America”; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., vol. 117, no. 22; 2020-05-19.

Now that she’d witnessed snails that snort and cats that cackle, axis began to wonder what other giggling beasties she’d meet next. Before she could run across another chuckling critter, however, Grendel told her that she really ought to head to Perion to meet with Winston, the local palæontologist, archæologist, & natural historian.

Out east of Perion proper, axis met with Winston, who explained that he’d long since known about the aridification of Perion. With the Perion & Ellinia regions bumping together somewhere between the East Domain of Perion and The Forest North of Ellinia (where axis had met Fanzy), anyone crossing between these two locales would be left to wonder about the drastic climatic transition: Ellinia full of lush verdant vegetation, and then suddenly Perion, nearly devoid of vegetation, & seemingly drier than Inferno itself. Winston had determined through his own enquiries that, only just two centuries or so ago, Perion & Ellinia were much more continuous with one another — Perion used to be forested, as well.[16]

The problem was that, recently, Winston had noticed another knock-on effect of this aridification process, as reflected in the flora themselves. The various Stump species of Perion were the only forms of plant life well-adapted enough to its climate to survive there in any significant numbers, and yet even the Stumps were suffering. Winston had noticed an unusually large quantity & mass of Tree Branches littered around the usual Stump habitats. At first, he thought that perhaps this phenomenon was pathogenic. But after carefully inspecting a few affected Stumps, he found no particular signs of unusual pathogens.

Then, he noticed that the affected Tree Branches were Very Dry. So desiccated were these branches, that they presumably represented a serious moisture loss in the plant as a whole. If this were true, then it would seem that the Stumps were aggressively reclaiming moisture from their branches, and then shedding those branches as the branches naturally died of dehydration — thus, sacrificing peripheral body parts in an attempt to stave off total dehydration. On the other hand, if this were a pathogenic phenomenon, then it was much more likely that the branch loss was due to the pathogen compromising the Stump’s structural integrity, meaning that the branches wouldn’t necessarily be totally desiccated at the time that they were lost. In this latter case, it was conceivable that the branches were Very Dry simply because, for example, they had been sitting out in the sun for a long time.

Thus, this was axis’s first task: to obtain fresh samples of the Tree Branches, to see how many — if any — were Very Dry.

axis collecting Very Dry Branches

axis arrived back to Winston with an armful of Tree Branches. Sifting through them carefully, Winston determined that a concerningly large majority of these live samples were indeed Very Dry.

Winston was sure that, if Perion’s Stump populations were showing such clear signs of dehydration, then other people nearby must have noticed side-effects as well. Winston thus tasked axis with asking around, to Betty, to Dances with Balrog, & to anyone else who might have a clue about what was going on.

axis headed back to Ellinia to first speak with Betty, Ellinia’s resident natural historian. Betty explained that she’d already done some research of her own, and found that the forest border betwixt modern “Perion” & “Ellinia” was not only aridifying, but had recently begun a rapid acceleration thereof. She explained that the effect was not immediately obvious to the casual observer because, paradoxically, average measured rainfall at this border was not changing, or was even increasing somewhat! Betty was nevertheless able to measure considerable declines in soil moisture, as well as much more frequent dry spells & interannual droughts in the region’s recent history. Betty warned that, at current rates, Perion would be getting a lot larger, and Ellinia a lot smaller, very soon.

Back in Perion, axis asked her old instructor, Dances with Balrog, about the situation. When axis described Winston’s & Betty’s findings, Dances with Balrog nodded knowingly. He explained that the recent drastic changes were likely caused in part by a so-called “Ghost Tree”, better known as simply Stumpy. Stumpy was a very old tree indeed, and it had lived to see the process of Perion’s aridification & deforestation. The clearing of Perion’s former forests for lumber, & for conversion into agricultural & grazing land, had accelerated aridification — and Stumpy was not one bit pleased to see all of its fellow trees dying around it. Thus, its rage & indignation grew to corrupt it, and it became the monstrous “Ghost Tree”. It continued to exist merely to spite Perion, and now intensified the aridification process that had corrupted it in the first place.[16]

When axis reported her findings to Winston, they both knew what had to be done: the old tree must be eliminated. Betty had left axis with a small ad hoc device for measuring soil moisture levels in a way that was quite swift & convenient, albeit not very accurate, and only operational over a very small surface area. Still, with this device, axis played something like a game of “Hot or Cold”: lower soil moisture likely meant that she was closer to the monstrous tree, and vice versa. After a while of playing this “game”, axis finally found the culprit in the far east of Perion’s Rocky Mountains.

The haunted tree was hollow, short, & sparse of branches. It was generally larger than a typical Stump, but not by much. However, its spiritual possession had manifested a ghastly face carved into its trunk, complete with a sawtooth mouth. Worse, the few branches that it did have were draped with thin tattered cloth strips soaked in the blood of ghosts.

When Stumpy caught sight of axis, its eyes furrowed, and it began marching towards her, slowly. Or perhaps, at an ordinary running pace, by tree stump standards. Its sawtooth mouth-hole gnashed in rage & anticipation of making another victim of spite. Although it appeared hollow, its marching shook the mountain enough to be quite loud, and even to be felt in a fairly impressive radius.

Although axis would ordinarily be concerned about accidentally starting a wildfire, there was no other vegetation anywhere near the old tree, and so she lit her pinwheel ablaze before attempting arboricide:

axis takes on the old tree Stumpy in battle

Even a single successfully-landed blow with her combusting pinwheel was enough to combust the old tree. axis heard the spirits of a thousand dead trees as Stumpy cursed her, and desperately chomped at her with its surprisingly animated mouth.

The old tree was no match for axis, and it wasn’t long before it was felled. As it lay on the ground, it continued to burn vigorously, and the colour of the flames became increasingly exotic as the combustion grew more advanced. So too did the thousands of escaping spectres wax clamorous; so much so, that axis was briefly quite certain that she’d either go deaf, or the tree would violently explode — whichever came first. Then, as the chorus of eerie arboreal screeches achieved an impossibly feverous pitch, it was suddenly dead silent. The tree ceased to burn altogether, and all that was left was a mound of quite ordinary-looking charcoal.

Convinced that she would never see trees the same way ever again, axis returned to Winston to relay the news. Winston admitted that the death of Stumpy made him feel uneasy as well, but encouraged her to remember that she’d saved Perion’s Stumps as a whole — & saved a whole swathe of Ellinia, for that matter — in so slaying the desiccated beast.

Still, axis lamented that, even with Stumpy gone, Perion’s forests would never be restored.

Leapt

Continuing through Perion and onwards to Kerning City, axis met once again with Nella. Nella was relieved to hear that Fanzy, & the Ellinian forests in which they resided, were indeed very real, and not just persistent figments of her own hallucinatory imagination. At the same time, she was also somewhat disturbed to learn that talking cats capable of turning invisible at will could possibly be anything other than a figment of one’s imagination. axis assured Nella that she’d herself seen numerous even more bizarre things in her travels, and that once you saw enough outlandish phenomena, you started to almost get used to it, in a way. Almost.

Whilst she was at Kerning, axis bumped into Shumi once again:

Shumi: Whoa … I’ve been really waiting for you to come back!! What? Did I lose money again? Yep …

axis had previously assisted Shumi in recovering a coin that she’d lost in the Kerning Subways. Owing to its small size, the coin had fell, tumbled, & rolled its way into a remote area of the underground construction site. Not only did axis have to use her roguish charm to convince those at the Subway Ticketing Booth to allow her into the construction site at all, but the site was thoroughly littered with frustrating — and often, quite perilous — obstacles that constantly threatened to send her back whence she came. Eventually, axis prevailed, and recovered Shumi’s coin. Although it was somewhat underwhelming to go to all of this trouble & risk just for a single coin, Shumi was very grateful.

Then, Shumi lost even more money underground. axis told her that she really ought to take better care of her cash, suggesting perhaps a small haversack or a coin purse. Still, she endured even more thickly-obstacle’d areas of the underground construction site (& a few laser burns), and retrieved Shumi’s cash in the end.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Shumi had failed to heed axis’s advice. axis was starting to suspect that Shumi was doing this on purpose, just to torture her with odious obstacle courses. Even so, Shumi offered axis a reward once again, and pleaded with her to recover her cash just this once more. axis felt vindicated in her suspicion when she found that this was perhaps the most diabolical “underground construction site” of them all.

At this point, axis no longer understood what the high-tech instruments of labyrinthine torment even were, much less why they were strewn about a “construction site”. Not content with merely giving her laser burns, the wickèd obstacle course wielded strange devices that threatened axis with crackling ball lightning that squirted from the apparatûs like icing from the world’s most violent piping bags:

axis in the B3 Subway Depot JQ

Eventually, after enduring laser burns, electrocutions, & numerous falls, axis recovered Shumi’s damnable cash. Although Shumi was ecstatic, axis warned her to really be careful with her cash this time, as she was not prepared to endure more trials to recover yet another of Shumi’s missing coins…

Perhaps regrettably for axis, however, this would not be the final devilish obstacle course that the people of Victoria would send her through. axis had previously endured various stages of Sleepywood’s Deep Forest of Patience, in order to assist John of Lith Harbour with obtaining a flowery present for his wife.[14] John’s mother had now tragically passed on, and John needed a few special species of flower to lay upon her grave. Wanting to help John’s mother rest in peace, axis agreed to venture back to The Deep Forest of Patience once again:

axis in The Deep Forest of Patience ⟨Step 5⟩

In order to get to the pile of white flowers for the grave, axis would need to walk, run, jump, duck, & roll through a seemingly countless number of gigantic swinging metal axes:

axis being assailed by a giant swinging metal axe

axis hated these axes. Of their own accord, they swung violently, and when one of them struck axis, it did not slice her flesh, but instead simply flung her in any which way it so pleased. Thus, axis fell…:

axis falls

…A great many times.

Eventually, many lost braincells later, axis had been traumatised by the axes, and never wanted to see another axe so long as she lived. Still, she’d made it through The Deep Forest of Patience, and so obtained the white flowers!:

axis obtains a pile of white flowers!!

Το Ορβις, ο Αννατχ, κι ο Ύδατος Δρόμος

Le géographe et historien Grec, Strabon (vers 60 av. J-C. – vers 20 apr. J.-C.), nomme Orbis (grec ancien : Ὄρβις), « ce cours d’eau qui descend du mont Cemmène (Les Cévennes) » dans la publication de l’encyclopédie Geographica. Le nom est repris par l’un des plus anciens géographes romains, Pomponius Mela, vers l’an 43 de notre ère, dans la publication de son ouvrage Dē chorographia.

L’astrologue, astronome et l’un des précurseurs de la géographie, probablement romain, Claude Ptolémée (90–168 apr. J.-C.), nomme le cours d’eau Orobis (grec ancien : Ὄροβις) dans la publication du manuel de géographie.

Le poète et historien latin, Rufus Festus Avienus (305?–375?), publie vers l’an 350 l’ouvrage « Ora maritima » en nommant le cours d’eau Orobus.

Publiée en 1708, par le cartographe Guillaume Delisle (1675–1726), la carte du diocèse de Béziers mentionne le cours d’eau Orb. Il le nomme Orbe sur la carte intitulée « Gaule Cisalpine de la Ligurie et des pays voisins ».

Frank R. Hamlin propose que le nom dérive d’un mot hydronymique pré-indo-européen *or(o)b-, de sens inconnu.

Plutôt que de supposer un thème hydronymique hypothétique pré-indo-européen de sens inconnu, Xavier Delamarre rattache la racine *Orb- à toute une série d’anthroponymes, toponymes et hydronymes, dont *Orbia > l’Orge (rivière de l’Essonne, Urbia VIe siècle) et l’Orge (ruisseau de la Meuse, Orobia, sans date) qui contiennent selon lui un radical gaulois *orb- désignant l’héritier (*orbios). Il compare avec le vieil irlandais orb[17] « héritier, héritage », orbe[17] « héritage, patrimoine » (*orbion). En effet, un ruisseau ou une rivière peuvent être considérés comme les héritières d’une rivière plus grande ou d’un fleuve. Inversement, l’Orb « hérite » d’une centaine d’affluents plus petits.


The Greek geographer & historian, Strabo(n) (ca. 63 BC 〜 ca. 23 AD), gives the name ὌρβιςÓrbis⟩ /ó̞(ː)r.bis/ to “that watercourse which descends from Mount Cemmène [the Cévennes]” in his encyclopædic publication Geographica (ΓεωγραφικάGeōgraphiká⟩). The name was then taken up by the earliest known Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela, ca. 43 AD, in the publication of his work Dē chorographia (a.k.a. Dē sitū orbis librī III).

The astrologer, astronomer, and one of the (probably naturalised Roman) forefathers of geography, Claudius Ptolemy (ca. 100 AD 〜 ca. 170 AD), named the watercourse ὌροβιςÓrobis⟩ in his publication of the Geography.

The Latin poet & historian, Postumius Rufius Festus Avienius (a.k.a. Avienius; ca. 305 〜 ca. 375), published the work “Ora maritima” ca. 350, in which he names the watercourse Orobus.

Published in 1708 by the cartographer Guillaume Delisle (16751726), a map of the Diocese of Béziers mentions the watercourse Orb. He names it Orbe on a map entitled “Cisalpine Gaul of Liguria and neighbouring countries”.

Frank R. Hamlin proposes that the name derives from a Pre-Indo-European hydronymic word *or(o)b-, of unknown meaning.

Rather than assuming a hypothetical Pre-Indo-European hydronym of unknown meaning, Xavier Delamarre links the root *Orb- to a whole series of anthroponyms, toponyms, & hydronyms. These include *Orbia > Orge (river in Essonne & Yvelines; f.k.a. Urbia in the 6th c.) & Orge (river in Meuse; f.k.a. Orobia), which, according to Delamarre, contain a Gaulish radical *orb- meaning “heir” (*orbios). This would be cognate with Old Irish orb[17] “heir, inheritance”, orbe[17] “inheritance, patrimony” (*orbion). Indeed, a stream or a river can be considered the “heir” of a larger river, or of a river connected to the sea. Conversely, the Orb “inherits” a hundred or so smaller tributaries.

― [various contributors], trans. deer (with additional detail & corrections); Orb; Wikipédia français; 2023.

axis now felt that she’d served her home island quite well for the time being, and so took the airship to Ossyria once again. Before she took off, Wing the Fairy of Ellinia asked axis for a small favour: to deliver the Tears of Kelvelos[18] to Kriel the Fairy of Orbis.

When she got to Orbis, axis found Kriel attending to the Orbis Department Store, as usual. Kriel was pleasantly surprised to receive the small bottle of polycephalic dog tears[18] as a gift. But she also had a different kind of task in mind for axis. Strewn about every area of the town of Orbis were russet rectangular recycling receptacles replete with rubbish retorts, returned with no restoratives remaining. Kriel’s pharmacy was quite popular in the town, hence the development of this system — and axis would be the one to do the gathering:

axis searching for Empty Potion Bottles

But Kriel was also dabbling in something not directly related to potioncraft: weaponsmithy. In order to make a mage’s weapon, Kriel would need a surprisingly large quantity of alchemical ingredients; particularly, Solid Horns, & some Nependeath Seeds. axis needed to go back to the garden of one-horned itty-bitty pretty kitties anyway, for the Silk Feathers requested by Jacob:

axis helping Kriel out, and collecting some Silk Feathers for later

In the “axs” section of pt. civ of this diary, we saw axis perform a number of tasks for the people of Orbis & nearby regions, including convincing Ericsson to make Nependeath Juice for Alfonse Green. Now that axis had travelled back home to Victoria and then to Ossyria once again, she’d gathered up the numerous exotic ingredients necessary for this brewage. Alfonse was ecstatic to be treated to even more delectable Nependeath Juice, and so awarded axis with the Bone Helm:

axis rocks the Bone Helm

Alfonse assured axis that this “Bone Helm” was no ordinary upper half of a horned skull. This was The Bone Helm of legend, said to make its wearer vastly more nimble. axis thought that the helmet was perhaps uncomfortably bony and didn’t fit her head quite right, but she liked being agile, & so she kept the osseous hat in her pack — just in case she ever needed it.

The Goddess’s pet

YOU: Men are all alike.

ELIZA: In what way?

YOU: They're always bugging us about something or other.

ELIZA: Can you think of a specific example?

YOU: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

ELIZA: Your boyfriend made you come here?

YOU: He says I'm depressed much of the time.

ELIZA: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

YOU: It's true. I am unhappy.

ELIZA: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

YOU: I need some help, that much seems certain.

ELIZA: What would it mean to you if you got some help?

YOU:

― quoted by Joseph Weizenbaum; “ELIZA — A Computer Program For the Study of Natural Language Communication Between Man And Machine”; Commun. ACM, vol. 9, iss. 1, pp. 36〜37; 1966-01-01.

Lamentably, just like the last time that axis was here, it seemed that the Pixies were up to no good. Indeed, if anything, the situation had only worsened since she’d left. axis noticed that Orbis’s sky seemed to be waxing ruddy, and Ericsson — Orbis’s resident astrologer & astronomer — complained to her that the Lunar phases seemed to be disturbed somehow; the Moon had given up its position on the heavens’ stage, leaving only the new Moon. Of course, being the floating city in the sky, it was especially obvious to anyone in Orbis that the sky’s hue was shifting, as the enormous sky formed the everpresent ceiling, walls, & even floors of every corner of the town & of the Cloud Park.

The wise old lady Spiruna of the Cloud Park IV was terribly concerned that these bizarre effects were the result of a certain “Eliza”. She explained to axis that Eliza was a kind of Luinel [루이넬][19], but not of the kind that axis may have seen in the Tower of Goddess. Eliza was, however, associated with the Goddess Minerva[20]: she was her pet.

No ordinary pet, the pet of a goddess like Minerva is extremely wise & gentle, and Eliza’s favourite pastime was always to make & to listen to music. However, the Pixies’ activity in repeatedly desecrating the Tower of her master — as led by the widely-detested Papa Pixie — had caused her great upset & vexation. In the “For the Goddess” section of pt. cv of this diary, we saw axis restore the Tower of Goddess innumerable times over, to her great fatigue. Eliza, however, was fatigued as well. The Pixies had continually refused to listen to reason, and Eliza was now at wits’ end.

It takes a lot to anger someone like Eliza. Now that she was angered, however, she was incredibly dangerous. Eliza’s uncontainable rage was turning the sky crimson, strangling the Moon, and devastating anything that stood in her way.

Spiruna indicated that axis would be able to pacify Eliza’s ire, albeit only temporarily, if she eliminated large numbers of Pixies. If Eliza could relax for even a moment, then perhaps axis could talk with her and, if perhaps not soothe her, then at least figure out what was going on.

So axis did just that. She’d eliminated thousands of damnable Pixies before, & it was now time for a few hundred more:

axis fighting off the Luster Pixies, to quell Eliza’s Rage

With that, axis briefly returned to Spiruna. Not only did axis need to know Eliza’s whereabouts, but she also needed to know that her Pixie-slaying had actually had the intended effect. Spiruna looked into her 🔮crystal ball🔮, and was pleased to find that Eliza seemed to be calm — although she was confused by the fact that the sky nevertheless continued to grow redder. Spiruna said that, at the moment, Eliza could be found in her Garden, at the top of the Stairway to the Sky.

axis made haste up the Stairway. Just when she’d only barely broached the perimeter of the Garden, Eliza already began to speak to her:

Eliza: [purring] Greetings, axis. It is nice to see you.

axis started, as Eliza had not yet even turned to face her, and her mouth didn’t appear to move when she spoke. Instead, it was as if Eliza was in her head, speaking to her through the back of her neck. Eliza’s voice was sedate.

axis walked across the garden in an attempt to meet the felid face-to-face, so that she could feel like she was having a normal conversation.

axisaxis: [attempting to make eye contact with Eliza] H—Hello, Eliza. How are you fee—

Eliza: [smiling slightly] Minerva told me about you. You must have toiled quite a bit to rescue the Tower all those times. I am very grateful.

Eliza did indeed look something like a Luinel, as Spiruna had described. She was, however, two or three times larger, and had a large grey mane to match. Her calves, shins, & paws were a bright red, and continued to actively burn aflame as she sat still to speak with axis. axis was surprised to see that, although her wings, lower legs, & the tip of her tail were all crimson, her irides were a cool blue, like a mildly dusky sky.

axis: Oh — it was my pleasure, really. Uhm…

Eliza: I know why you are here. It pleases me to see that you are courageous enough to come attempt to calm me down yourself. But I am afraid that there is a slight complication.

axis: [somewhat nervously] Oh. And what would that be?

Eliza: It is true that I allowed myself anger after I had seen so countlessly many of the Pixies’ shameful deeds. But what is worse is that my anger was exploited.

axis: How do you mean?

Eliza: Unbeknownst to me, the Black Magician captured my anger in a dark iynx. The Mage then used my anger to beget a monstrous clone of me that roams Orbis. This shadow fragment of my rage knows nothing more than enmity, violence, & destruction.

axis: Oh, dear.

Eliza: Indeed. Fortunately, it is merely a tiny fragment of myself, magnified to lifelike proportions by the Mage’s vile hexcraft. If you subdue it, then I may finally rest. And so may Orbis.

axis: Right. Of course. [curtseying] I will do my best.

Eliza: I know that you will. You had enough confidence to meet me here. Likewise, I have confidence that you will know what to do when you cross paths with my shadow.

axis left the Garden, wondering to herself what a “shadow fragment” would even look like, if it looked like anything at all. It seemed that, in any case, Spiruna’s crystal ball was incapable of detecting the thing, or else she’d’ve already seen it.

Orbis’s sky continued to turn ever so gradually rosier as axis climbed back down the Stairway to the Sky. As she was still descending, she thought that she heard a hissing noise come from below. Given that she was only about halfway down the Stairway, the source of the hissing must have been beneath the stairs themselves.

axis cautiously approached the Stairway’s banister, and got on her hands & knees before squeezing herself in between two of its oversized balusters. Prostrating herself, she peered underneath the edge of the Stairway. The hissing creature stared back at her and hissed even more fiercely: it was Eliza’s shadow.

The shadow fragment looked like the real Eliza in some ways, but had a strange translucency about it, and it eerily failed to cast a shadow of its own. The noises that it made seemed delayed, with axis only hearing the hiss half a second or so after it visibly began hissing. And its eyes were nothing like that of the real Eliza: permanently furrowed, blown out of proportion, and filled with only bright white sclera, leaving them aniridic & pupilless.

Still prone on the staircase, axis tried negotiating. “Hi, kitty-kitty”, she said in a high-pitched register, & then imitated a purring noise. But the shadowy imitation only grew even more ferocious, wagging its tail determinedly, hissing yet louder, and springing itself towards axis violently. As it leapt, a jaggèd glowing red outline of its form leapt likewise, divesting itself of the shadow’s frame as it continued soaring through the air, as if a continuation of the shadowy Eliza’s movement.

Seeing the magical ruby wire-frame hurtling towards her, axis shoved herself back towards the Stairway’s centre as quickly as she could. The staircase shielded axis from the brunt of the impact, but she was still jolted upwards as part of the staircase was broken out, marble chunks raining from the sky.

axis hurried down the Stairway to arrive at roughly the shadow’s elevation, and squeezed her now upright body through the gap betwixt a pair of balusters. The shadow leapt again, and axis was flung onto her back, along with several of the nearby balusters; the Stairway’s banister was now seriously compromised.

Now that axis could face the shadow eye-to-eye, & had a gap with no banister to slow her down, she picked herself up and charged at the abomination, pinwheel ablaze. The fragment continued to snarl savagely, and axis had to roll to the ground twice to avoid its crimson phantom volleys. As she drew sufficiently close, the red shadow resorted to tooth & claw, viciously biting at her with its feline denture, and throwing calculated swipes of its flaming paws.

axis was perplexed to find that, each time that she struck true the shadow with her flaming pinwheel, she felt no strong resistance. Instead, her pinwheel simply continued through the beast’s shadowy “flesh”, and as it did so, the path that it travelled lit up the surrounding region of the shadow fragment. It thus appeared that axis was simply erasing narrow swathes of the felid from existence, as if it were no more than a drawing on a blackboard — or rather, a whiteboard.

axis subduing Eliza’s shadow fragment

As axis & the shadow fought at length, the signature adumbral mist of the Black Magician began to spill from the fragment’s eyes. The faux-felid brought forth smaller shadow Luinels to its aid, and so axis was forced to battle those as well.

Eventually, however, the shadow Eliza was looking quite sparse indeed. It had lost the bulk of most of its limbs, although it still continued to stand as if the limbs were still there. It could no longer bite at axis, as its mouth had been deleted. The black mist had intensified to the point that the thing was little more than a pair of raging white eyes floating in a sea of obsidian fog.

The sky briefly flashed crimson, as even the eyes of the fragment formolten into the funereal fumes. As the mist evaporated, so too did the red hue of the skies, plunging Orbis into a mellow dusk.

axis made her way back up the now partially-demolished Stairway, arriving at Eliza’s Garden. Once again, as soon as she entered the Garden, Eliza was already speaking to her:

Eliza: Thank you, axis. I am very relieved to see my doppelgänger annihilated.

axis: Of course. I’m glad to see that you’re all right.

Eliza is finally at peace

Eliza: I shall finally be able to rest again. [pauses] Would you mind assisting me with just one last small favour?

axis: Anything.

Eliza turned around calmly, grabbing a tome with her paw, & pushing it along the ground towards axis. The tome was thick, full of pages of somewhat varying sizes, and its binding was worn.

Eliza: This is my tunebook. On the 8th page is a lullaby that I wrote long ago. Would you play it for me?

axis hesitated, as she didn’t have any musical instruments on hand at the moment, and from Eliza’s choice of words, it didn’t seem like Eliza wanted her to sing the tune.

Eliza: You may use my kithara.

Eliza used her nose to gesture towards the giant structure in the middle of her garden. axis hadn’t realised that the thing was supposed to be a musical instrument.

axis: Oh! …I don’t think I’ve ever played a kithara. Certainly never one of that size.

axis estimated that the magical floating kithara was perhaps around four or five times her height.

Eliza: Worry not. Simply touching the orange stone at the end of a string will play the corresponding note. From left to right, the seven pitches are: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si.[21] [smiles slightly] Minerva always plays it for me when I curl up to sleep, but she is not here right now.

Considering that the kithara only had seven strings, seven rocks, seven pitches, axis supposed that a simple lullaby couldn’t possibly be too challenging.

axis: I shall do my best.

And so, she opened Eliza’s tunebook to the 8th page:[22]

The eighth page of Eliza’s tunebook

The above score in SVG, ABC, & LilyPond formats

See: [22].

Eliza’s lullaby, SVG format

In ABC notation (also see eliza-s-lullaby.abc):

%abc-2.2
X:1
T:Eliza’s lullaby
O:Orbis
C:deer
S:rangifer’s diary, pt. cvii
F:https://deer.codeberg.page/diary/106/
M:6/8
L:1/8
Q:"Andante" 1/4=96
I:linebreak $
K:C
V:1 clef=treble
C3 G2 E | D3 F2 A | G3 F2 E | F2 E2          D2 |
C3 G2 E | D3 F2 A | G3 F2 E | F2 G2 !fermata!B2 |
C3 F2 B | E3 A2 D | G3 F2 A | B2 A2          B2 |
C2 E4-  | !fermata!E6 |]

LilyPond code for engraving the above SVG (also see eliza-s-lullaby.ly):

\version "2.22.1"

\paper {
  #(set-paper-size "a5")
  indent = 0
  system-system-spacing =
    #'((basic-distance . 10)
       (minimum-distance . 4)
       (padding . 1)
       (stretchability . 50))
}

\header {
  title = \markup { \huge \bold \italic "Lullaby." }
  composer = \markup { \smallCaps "Eliza." }
  tagline = #f
}

\score {
  \new MensuralStaff {
    \clef "mensural-c1"
    \time 6/4
    \override NoteHead.style = #'petrucci
    \override Flag.style = #'mensural
    \override Score.BarNumber.break-visibility = ##(#f #f #f)

    \fixed c' {
      c1. g1 e2
      d1. f1 a2
      g1. f1 e2
      f1 e d
      \break

      c1. g1 e2
      d1. f1 a2
      g1. f1 e2
      f1 g b\fermata
      \break

      c1. f1 b2
      e1. a1 d2
      g1. f1 a2
      b1 a b
      \break

      c e\longa\fermata
      \undo \hide Staff.BarLine
      \bar "|."
    }
  }
}

axis thought that the notation looked a bit funny[22], but Eliza’s paw-writing was quite good.

Taking a brief look at the score, axis quickly noticed that Eliza’s “lullaby” did indeed have many traditional properties of lullabies: because it was to be played on her magical kithara, it had to be totally restricted to a single diatonic scale; it was in 6” time (a “compound duple” metre); it was in just two related, but contrasting sections; it was quite thoroughly tonal, always resolving to the tonic from the leading-tone or the supertonic; it was monophonic; and there were no particularly swift passages with difficult-to-perform jumbles of notes.

Still, the piece was clearly not written for voice, making it more like a berceuse.[23] Moreover, it was, in some ways, much more tonally & melodically adventurous than she expected from a lullaby that only made use of seven pitches of a diatonic scale. The ending of the piece was actually not on the tonic, but rather on the mediant — perhaps to simulate a major chord — and the “B” section was written very unusually: the section begins by ascending in fourths six times in a row, including the very dissonant tritone from “fa” to “si”! Some parts were also briefly in triple metre, rather than the expected compound duple metre.

axis approached the colossal kithara. Although Eliza was certainly a very large cat, axis thought that this instrument was surely oversized even for her. It was a great horseshoe-shaped structure with wings at its ends, which allowed it to float in the air. Eliza had chained it to the ground to keep it from flying away. Suspended from a metal bar at the top were seven chains, each with its own dark orange rock on its end, collectively swinging like strange pendula in the wind.

axis approaches the magical “harp” device

axis hopped up onto the base of the kithara’s body to try it out. The instrument’s position in the air briefly sagged, pushed down by axis’s weight. As she touched one of its rocks, so the musical stone sang like the bastard child of a harp and a large xylophone. As she tried playing the instrument more dexterously, she realised that she didn’t actually have to touch the rocks per se in order to make them sing. As she started to reach for a rock, hoping to touch it, the rock already began to resonate, as if it were reading her mind. Once she figured this out, it became considerably easier to play music on the thing.

Putting Eliza’s songbook in front of her, open to the 8th page, axis played the lullaby:[24]

When axis finished playing the tune, she looked back over at Eliza. The Goddess’s pet was already curled up, fast asleep. As axis tiptoed her way out of the garden, she heard a faint purring noise in her head.

The fretted and abraded pinnacles of the mountain where the snow lodges for ever on the hard rock even when the valleys are full of running streams and yellow vine leaves

But pleaſures are like poppies ſpread,
You ſeize the power, its bloom is ſhed;
Or, like the ſnow falls in the river,
A moment white — then melts for ever

― Rabbie Burns; Tam o’ Shanter (“Alloway Kirk”); 1791.

axis headed back to downtown Orbis, and when she got there, she ran into a certain Lisa. Finally getting the chance to help Ponlaa out (see the “Land of Smiles” section above), axis told Lisa about Ponlaa’s rumour, and about her quest for beauty. Lisa immediately turned bitter when she heard about the rumour, although she admitted that her make-up was the most important part of her look. Still, she agreed to help axis & Ponlaa with a make-up tutorial.

Of course, Lisa wasn’t willing to simply give away a good make-up tutorial to a stranger, for free. Lisa had a favour in mind for axis to do for her, and in exchange, she promised to spill the beans about how to achieve a face like hers. Lisa explained that there was a weird nerd (who probably smelled bad) by the name of Hughes the Fuse, who was always in the Orbis Tower conducting all manner of wacky scientific experiments. Lisa was quite convinced — although she provided no particular justification — that Hughes was responsible for the libellous slander circulating about her impeccable good looks.

Lisa had a plan to get back at Hughes: to give him a blueprint for a “mysterious & powerful” technology, that is actually subtly deleterious in a way that would explode in his face, if he followed through with it. In the “axs” section of pt. civ of this diary, we saw axis help Hughes to collect Toy Baby Seal dolls, to gather up many & various materials for a weird cape that allows its wearer to breathe underwater, amongst various other things. If axis brought Lisa’s blueprint to Hughes, claimed that it was a long-lost secret blueprint uncovered in the depths of the Lūdibrium Clocktower, and collected the necessary materials to follow the blueprint, then Hughes would be very likely to trust axis, & go through with the blueprint.

axis took a careful look at the blueprint that Lisa had scrawled up. As far as she could tell, the device that the blueprint outlined was little more than a bomb — & a crude one, at that. Lisa was being quite literal when she said that it would “blow up in his face”. axis was no explosives expert; nevertheless, she knew that it was unlikely that an improvised or poorly-designed bomb would behave predictably, unless overwhelmingly repressed & contained. Never minding the fact that axis had nothing in particular against Hughes the Fuse, it still seemed like a disproportionate punishment for someone whose only purported crime was spreading a small rumour about someone else’s make-up routine.

axis decided to collect the ingredients called for by the blueprint anyways, although she had no immediate plans to use them. Perhaps, in the future, if axis got herself into a situation that called for a DIY bomb, she would be prepared.

She found most of the ingredients in the Orbis Tower — like the shells of Fire Sentinels, for example:

axis farming up Fire Sentinel Shellpieces for Lisa’s traitorous device

Continuing all the way down the Tower, axis arrived at El Nath [⁧النَّطْح⁩]. When she got there, Skadr[25] had another quest for her.

It was getting very chilly indeed — unusually so, even for El Nath — and Skadr desperately needed a new, even thicker coat with which to combat the wintertide. So desperately, in fact, that the ruggèd El Nathian hunter Skadr needed someone else to do the hunting for him. Thus, armed with little more than a strapless dress — & her Cape of Warmness, of course — axis set out to politely request that the Hectors & White Fangs hand (paw?) over their tails:

axis politely asking the Hectors and White Fangs for their tail fur, for Scadur’s fur coat

Whilst she was negotiating with the White Fangs in El Nath’s hoariest field, she stumbled across what appeared to be an altar of some kind. It was surrounded by votive offerings, and at its centre was a small icy obelisk with a simple inscription:

雪山魔女

Besides the inscription, it appeared that visitors of the altar had also carved a number of heart shapes into the obelisk, as well. axis had to check Wiz’s handbook of funny letters to read what the inscription said. Then, confused, she double-checked her work; she’d never heard of anything like a “witch” up here in the snowy mountains of El Nath.

Still, people must have been quite fond of this witch — whoever she was — given the affectionate offerings & hearts. So, axis decided to dedicate her own little gift: a White Fang Tail.

axis offers up a White Fang Tail to the altar of the Snow Witch

As soon as she drew close enough to offer up the tail, however, the altar began to quake & to fall apart. Beneath the obelisk & the offerings was a coffin made of thick ice, held shut by a harness of crossed metal chains. The coffin, however, was not hollow; it was solid ice from corner to corner. The only thing that the chains were restraining was a faceless woman formed entirely of permafrost, who emerged from the coffin-shaped slab, ripping the chains apart as she materialised like some kind of spontaneous ice sculpture.

Before she’d even fully emerged, the Snow Witch began to speak.

Snow Witch: YOU STUPID FUCKING BITCH. HUMANS WILL FALL FOR ANYTHING! WHY DON’T YOU COME GIVE ME A HUG? I PROMISE I DON’T FROSTBITE!!

The Witch’s voice screeched like ice grinding against ice, that shattered each time she spewed another vitriolic curse. axis had not been the target of such scathing words in… probably forever. At least, certainly not from a monstrous ice sculpture. In an attempt to defend herself, she retorted:

axisaxis: …Oh yeah? At least I’m not a glorified ice sculpture! I bet they’d call you “Aunt Arctic” if you weren’t such a Snow Bitch!

The icy sorceress paused briefly, as if she weren’t expecting to be sauced.

Snow Witch: DON’T STAND OUT HERE TOO LONG THINKING OF COMEBACKS, HONEY. I WOULDN’T WANT YOU TO DIE OF FUCKING EXPOSURE!!

axis: Oh, cry me a river! Oh wait — I wouldn’t want your beautiful lack of a face to melt…

Snow Witch: NICE ONE, DIPSHIT! YOU FUCKING SLEIGH ME!!

axis: [annoyedly] Chill the hell out, or I will!!

Snow Witch: HOAR!!!

And so it came to blows.

axis takes on the Snow Witch in combat

Unfortunately for the Snow Witch, axis had a flaming pinwheel. The Witch hissed, growled, & spat unrepeatable obscenities as axis chipped & thawed away at her frozen form. The crystalline sorceress attempted to fight back by threatening axis with her freezing grip, and by taking sharp ice chunks out of the ground to magically hurl at her, like so many watery throwing knives.

But axis was unusually adept at dodging projectiles at this point, and so after some fighting, the Witch faltered. Unable to sustain magical flight any longer, the bottom tip of the ice coffin hit the ground. Another second later, and the giant chunk of ice toppled, shaking the ground as it crashed, shattering into a dozen huge chunks of ice. axis thought that she heard one of the chunks call her an “endothermic slut” before those chunks inexplicably shattered into even smaller fragments of ice, which in turn shattered again, & so on, until the ground was coated in little more than a dense layer of ice dust.

axis left the altar where it was.

Of course, soft tail fur was not the only material that Skadr needed for his coat. For the Yeti Horn, axis headed to the Valley of Snowman, up betwixt two snowy mountainsides, where there were plenty of Yetis & Pepes:

axis vs. Yetis & Pepes

axis wasn’t sure why it was referred to as the “Valley of Snowman”. So, when she finally brought all of the materials to Skadr, she asked about the Valley’s name. Skadr explained that something called an “abominable snowman” supposedly inhabited the Valley, but said that it was all merely folklore & legend. The ice statue in the valley was attributed to the “abominable snowman”, but given that no one had ever actually seen the thing, he figured that there was probably a better explanation.

Snowy lycanthropy, skeletal deaconry, Faustian indentureship, canine avengeance: the El Nath Mountains

colligit ōs rabiem solitaeque cupīdine caedis
vertitur in pecudēs et nunc quoque sanguine gaudet.
In villōs abeunt vestēs, in crūra lacertī:
fit lupus et veteris servat vestīgia fōrmae;
cānitiēs eadem est, eadem violentia vultūs,
īdem oculī lūcent, eadem feritātis imāgō est.


About his Lips the gather’d Foam he churns,⁠
And, breathing ſlaughters, ſtill with Rage he burns,
But on the bleating Flock his Fury turns.
His Mantle, now his Hide, with rugged Pairs
Cleaves to his Back; a famiſh’d Face he bears;
His Arms deſcend, his Shoulders ſink away
To multiply his Legs for chaſe of Prey.
He grows a Wolf, his hoarineſs remains,
And the ſame Rage in other Members reigns.
His Eyes ſtill ſparkle in a narr’wer Space:
His Jaws retain the Grin, and Violence of his Face.

― Ovid, trans. John Dryden; Metamorphōsēs (“Metamorphoses”), book I; 8 CE, trans. 1727 CE.

Skadr had another problem on his hands, however. He said that, although the “Snowman” might be fictional, there was another abominable giant up there in the Mountains that was even more threatening, & most definitely real. After he’d beheld a so-called “Lycanthrope” with his own eye, Skadr had refused to go any further up than the base of the El Nath Mountains. He described the Lycanthrope to axis as being lupine in some ways, but humanoid in its erect posture. But the issue was not quite one of wolves standing upright; the problem was that these things were thrice as tall as a man, hulking, and bearing teeth & claws sharper than knives. Between their huge size, & their two arms freed up as a result of standing erect, the Lycanthrope could easily overwhelm any ordinary opponent, embracing them with a crushingly powerful flurry of finger-knives from any distance.

axis admitted that the Lycanthropes sounded pretty scary, but insisted that she could probably take ’em. Skadr said that if she really felt that brave (or stupid, as the case may’ve been…), then she should talk to Master Sergeant Fox. Fox knew a bit about the origins of the Lycanthropes: the recent Lunar disturbances — as a result of Eliza’s now-vanquished shadow fragment — had empowered the wolves of the El Nath Mountains, causing them to spontaneously shapeshift into half-humans.

Fox was in close contact with General Maestro of the Omega Sector, and when he reported to the General, the Secret Omega Sector War Task Force (or SOSWTF, for short) immediately drafted a military programme to eliminate the abominations from the El Nath Mountains. Fox said that the programme was referred to as “Lupine Operation: Liquidate All Snowy Shapeshifters”, or LOLASS for short. If those Lycanthropes didn’t take their leave from the Mountains really soon, operation LOLASS would be taking effect, and the SOSWTF would be flying in on helicopters & rolling in with tanks, mowing down the beasts of the El Nath Mountains with anti-personnel guns, tank guns, machine guns, laser guns, space guns (axis was pretty sure that this one wasn’t a real type of gun), and probably at least three other types of guns.

With that many guns, axis was sure that the Lycanthropes stood no chance. But if she could just eliminate the lupine monsters herself, she would make operation LOLASS unnecessary; not only would this save the SOSWTF a lot of trouble, but it would probably save El Nath a lot of trouble too. So she did exactly that:

axis takes on a Lycanthrope!

The Lycanthropes were frightening indeed. But axis was now quite well-versed in fighting things that made Goliath look like David, and the oversized manwolves were having a difficult time striking her at all. She even made sure to collect their toenails, so that when she reported the good news to General Maestro, she could give him the toenails as proof — plus, Maestro seemed like the kind of guy who collected toenails.

Now that she was so high up in the Mountains, axis was reminded of an encounter that she’d had back down in the town of El Nath, inside of the Chief’s Residence. She liked exploring all of the hallways, doors, trapdoors, ladders, nooks, & crannies whenever she was introduced to a new building, and the Chief’s Residence had quite an interesting secret basement indeed. axis was fairly certain that she wasn’t allowed down there, so she made sure to explore it thoroughly. She came across a strange prisoner harnessed to ball & chain. The prisoner seemed strange partly because the Chief’s Residence was just a bizarre place for prisoners, but also because this inmate had deep green skin & pointy ears.

The prisoner gave their name, in a creaky growl, as “Shammos”. In a hushed tone, Shammos explained to axis that they had been falsely imprisoned by Robeira & Grendel. Although Shammos failed to specify the particular crime that they had been indicted with, they claimed that there was a piece of evidence out there that would prove their innocence. The only issue was that the evidence had been purloined by one of the ghastly zombies that roamed the peaks of the El Nath Mountains, at the mouth of the Dead Mine.

Shammos described the piece of evidence in great detail. It was an old, raggèd parchment, nearly square in shape. The parchment was dyed a crimson red, and the writing on it was mostly in black ink. It also, however, had a large seal along its bottom edge that was written in an alabaster-coloured ink. The writing was all in funny letters that Shammos said axis was unlikely to be capable of reading. They also mentioned that the parchment had an eerie aura about it, which caused it to cast unusually dark shadows upon anything within its vicinity.

Back in the “A most auspicious star, whose influence if now I court not, but omit, my fortunes will ever after droop” section of pt. ciii of this diary, we saw axis take on the El Nath Mountains for the first time. Back then, axis avoided zombies entirely, owing to their putrid rotten smell. If she wanted to recover that piece of evidence from the zombies — especially before it might fall into the wrong hands once again — she’d have to grit her teeth and wade through the stinky undead dirtbags, carving them up with her blazing pinwheel.

Whilst she was here amongst the peaks, amongst the countless fetid zombies, & amongst the forest of likewise necrotic trees, axis came across something that she hadn’t seen — or at least, hadn’t noticed — last time. It was a different kind of undead creature; no zombie, this skeletal friar smelled only of dust & old book smell. It held a book in its bony left hand, open to a particular page; and in its right, a twisted golden staff bearing a bright red sphere within its hookèd terminus, like a lidless bloodshot eye. Although axis almost immediately recognised it as a skeleton, only its hands & face were visible. It wore elaborate brown & gold ecclesiastical robes, complete with a large becrossed hood that gradually tapered to a pointed end. No evidence of legs were to be seen; the late preacher simply floated half a metre above the ground.

The skeletal deacon seemed harmless enough to axis, & it either didn’t notice her, or didn’t care. So she decided to at least say “hello”:

axisaxis: [waving] Hello, Father!

The bony clergyman stopped in its tracks before slowly turning to face axis, its bones creaking. When it finished turning around, it spake — or at least, made an attempt to. Its jaw flapped, but all that came out was something like the single driest cough that axis had ever heard.

Although mildly disappointed, axis really wasn’t sure what she expected. Besides dead folx not usually being ones to talk, this particular dead folk had no flesh, no tongue with which to speak. Then again, axis had witnessed plenty of even less likely speakers…

Then, the decompos’d pastor rattled a bit, and made a sound like the world’s dustiest throat-clearing.

[skeletal clergyman]: Kill me…

The minister spake, but had no voice; each word was desperately whispered.

axis: P—pardon?

[skeletal clergyman]: I require of death recurrence… I ask of you this one thing only, my Child…

axis: Erm… Are you sure? No rites, perhaps…?

The bony vicar lazily tossed towards axis the book that was in its left hand. It didn’t seem to axis like it was attempting to hit her with the book. Then again, maybe it had a bad arm.

It coughed loudly.

[skeletal clergyman]: I am Gwenaël Riche.[26] …I was. I here did perish, & by an affront to GOD neither buried nor taken from my body was I…

axis: Oh, dear.

Gwenaël Riche: …Please…

axis took a look at the book. It was in an advanced state of deterioration, & thus almost entirely illegible.

axis: Well… if you absolutely insist.

Riche: I wish only that I be not here. Let GOD to enjoin me what He wills. Or if I be by the void absorbed, then so be it.

And so, for the last reason that she’d’ve expected, axis slew the osseous ecclesiast with her flaming pinwheel:

axis at the Forest of Dead Trees I, hunting for the peculiar bit of evidence (and slaying Riche…)

Riche silently made the signum crucis as axis closed in on him. His skeletal form almost immediately buckled, collapsing undramatically into a small pile of bones on the ground, totally covered by the brown robes. The red eye of his staff freed itself, briefly rolling away.

axis had some idea of why Riche might never have received a burial. The ground in this semi-tundral ecotone region was little more than thick permafrost, adorned with a thin surface layer of sedges, lichens, & (perhaps glacial till) gravel. axis picked up one of Riche’s bones, as well as his book, and put them in her haversack to be buried later.

Thankfully, axis did eventually find what she’d come to this damnable zombie-infested half-forest for. One of the zombies had been carrying it around, and refused to relinquish its grip on the parchment until axis took it by force.

When axis had spoken with Skadr, Lycanthropes were not the only thing on his mind. Skadr confessed to axis that the only reason that he’d even gone so high up in the Mountains was for his son’s sake. A while back, some of the monsters from the Dead Mine had managed to invade the town of El Nath, and that invasion claimed the life of Skadr’s wife, Ría[28]. Their son, Nick, vowed to avenge his late mother. And so, one day, Nick went straight up the Mountains and into the Dead Mine. Tragically, Nick never emerged from the Dead Mine; Skadr had thus lost both his wife & his son.

Skadr said that although he was not deluding himself into believing that his son was still alive somewhere, he nevertheless wanted to recover a very special ring that Nick wore. Moreover, if he could slay a hundred Cerebes[29], then he could at least consider Nick avenged. Skadr implied to axis that he fully expected to meet the same fate as his son. For better or worse, with the whole werewolf situation, it didn’t work out. Skadr failed to make eye contact with axis when he mentioned that the Lycanthropes had scared him off. He said that if axis was brave enough to take on the Lycanthropes, then she might consider being the one to do this, for Skadr, for Nick, & for Ría.

And so, axis once again braved The Cave of Trial. This time, however, she found another cave — a subcave of subtrial! This strange grotto was positively sweltering, heated from both above & below by pools of magma. It was also, however, densely populated by Cerebes pups frolicking about in their natural habitat: hell.

In this subcavern, axis saw a statue fragment.

axis finds a Piece of Statue

There were plenty of statues, sculptures, & carvings made out of similar rock in & around the altar of Zaqqūm [⁧زَقُّوم⁩]. Still, this statue piece was far enough away from the altar to look out of place. Furthermore, axis thought that there was something peculiar-looking about it, as if this pile of statue rubble was put here intentionally.

Digging the large fragment out of the rubble, axis found that the rubble was hiding a golden ring with a decorative red engraving. Dusting it off and rolling it between her fingers, she saw that the engraving included two words:

🙘🙘🙘 fyrir Niklas. 🙚🙚🙚

Storing the ring safely in one of her pack’s smallest pockets, axis set out to avenge Nick by slaying one hundred Cerebes & collecting their tusks:

axis vs. Cerebes

axis did not like the big scary dogs, because they hit her with their big scary paws.

Nevertheless, axis prevailed over the hellish canines, and so went all the way back down the mountain to meet with Skadr again. She presented a mound of Cerebes tusks, and then pulled the ring out & gingerly placed it into his palm. She could see that Skadr’s eyepatch was getting a bit sodden. Skadr thanked axis faintly.

When axis visited Shammos again, they greedily snatched the mystical parchment from axis’s hand, & began to cackle fiendishly:

Shammos: You buffoon! HAHAHA!! The Contract of Darkness is mine now!!!

Shammos, the damnable wretch!!

Transcription of the chatlog in the above image

[system message]: You have lost fame (−2)
You have lost an item (The Contract of Darkness)

axisaxis: [scoffs] Uhh… okay?? You’re welcome???

Shammos: Silence, foolish mortal…

axis: [rolls eyes] Whatever. If you ever need my help again, be sure to go fuck yourself.

axis stormed off, slamming the trapdoor behind her.

Whilst she was in El Nath, axis decided to bury Riche’s partial remains in the local cemetery, & to help Muse with something that they’d requested of her last time that she was at the Aquarium. Being a creature of the ocean, Muse had never been on land in their entire life. But they’d heard tales about so-called “snow” that fell & covered the land above, and about how pretty it was. In order to get a taste of snow themself, however, Muse would need a Snow Crystal Sphere, capable of protecting a single giant snowflake within a spherical airtight seal. Muse claimed that Alcaster would know how to fabricate exactly such a crystal sphere.

When axis asked Alcaster about it, he said that Snow Crystal Spheres were not made of any ordinary material. Although they may appear to be tinted glass spheres that encase snowflakes, they were not actually made of glass at all. The material was instead known as simply “Snow Crystal”. axis was confused. Did that mean that the entire Snow Crystal Sphere was snow & ice, through & through? Alcaster hesitated, unsure of how to explain it. He said that Snow Crystal had to be alchemically synthesised from snow of a very particular quality. He also admitted that he didn’t know how to do the alchemy himself — but then again, probably no one knew.

Instead, Leatties naturally synthesised this crystalline substance, and axis would have to collect the unrefined material from them:

axis collecting Snow Crystal from the Leatties in the Orbis Tower

When axis brought the raw Snow Crystal material back to Alcaster, he took half an hour or so to fabricate the sphere. With the giant snowflake inside protected by Snow Crystal, it would be impervious to melting.

Le lieu une lieue sous les mers

« Ainsi donc, disais-je, après avoir examiné une à une les diverses hypothèses, toute autre supposition étant rejetée, il faut nécessairement admettre l’existence d’un animal marin d’une puissance excessive.

« Les grandes profondeurs de l’Océan nous sont totalement inconnues. La sonde n’a su les atteindre. Que se passe-t-il dans ces abîmes reculés ? Quels êtres habitent et peuvent habiter à douze ou quinze milles au-dessous de la surface des eaux ? Quel est l’organisme de ces animaux ? On saurait à peine le conjecturer.

« Cependant, la solution du problème qui m’est soumis peut affecter la forme du dilemme.

« Ou nous connaissons toutes les variétés d’êtres qui peuplent notre planète, ou nous ne les connaissons pas.

« Si nous ne les connaissons pas toutes, si la nature a encore des secrets pour nous en ichthyologie, rien de plus acceptable que d’admettre l’existence de poissons ou de cétacés, d’espèces ou même de genres nouveaux, d’une organisation essentiellement « fondrière », qui habitent les couches inaccessibles à la sonde, et qu’un événement quelconque, une fantaisie, un caprice, si l’on veut, ramène à de longs intervalles vers le niveau supérieur de l’Océan. »


“After examining one by one the different hypotheses, rejecting all other suggestions, it becomes necessary to admit the existence of a marine animal of enormous power.

“The great depths of the ocean are entirely unknown to us. Soundings cannot reach them. What passes in those remote depths — what beings live, or can live, twelve or fifteen miles beneath the surface of the waters — what is the organization of these animals — we can scarcely conjecture. However, the solution of the problem submitted to me may modify the form of the dilemma. Either we do know all the varieties of beings which people our planet, or we do not. If we do not know them all, if Nature has still secrets in ichthyology for us, nothing is more conformable to reason than to admit the existence of fishes, or cetaceans of other kinds, or even of new species, of an organization formed to inhabit the strata inaccessible to soundings, and which an accident of some sort, either fantastical or capricious, has brought at long intervals to the upper level of the ocean.”

― Jules Verne, trans. Charles F. Horne; Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”), ch. II; 1870, trans. 1911.

axis headed towards the Aquarium to deliver the sphere to Muse. On the way there, she decided to make a stop down in the Deep Sea Gorge to swing by her underwater friend Carta’s cave. When axis left the cave after a lovely chat, she noticed something in the Deep Sea Gorge that she previously hadn’t: a wrecked ship.

A sunken ship seemed like a great place to pilfer a few goodies from, & so axis decided to swim down to the seabed to check it out. When she entered through a compromised portion of its wooden hull, however, she was surprised to be greeted by a live human being.

The human being was a man of short stature & long moustache. He was outfitted with extensive gear, including not only a full-body suit, but also thick goggles, a utility belt, a utility baldric (truly, a man of great utility!), a backpack, & a bulky pair of binoculars. As it happened, the man was more surprised to see axis than vice versa.

[well-equipped man]: Ah, h—hello? Is that you all? Peol? Moda…?

axisaxis: [appears on the floor below deck] Oh, hi. Didn’t mean to intrude.

[well-equipped man]: Wh— How did you get down here?

axis stumbles upon Taeng the Explorer

axis: [briefly looks back whence she came] I swam here, I reckon.

[well-equipped man]: [eyebrows briefly furrow] Oh. Just like that?

axis: Yessir.

[well-equipped man]: [clears throat] Well, I’m Taeng [].

axis: I’m axis. [smiling] Well met. I should ask how you got down here!

탱: I’m the lieutenant general of an exploration team. We were sent down here to investigate a series of disturbances coming from these particular depths of the sea, including one that seems to have mysteriously wrecked this here ship.

When this ship went missing, an expedition team of myself & three others were commissioned to investigate, knowing that there could be pretty much anything down here. We came well-equipped, & prepared to record everything. Then, just two days ago, I exited this ship to share what I’d found with my crewmembers… and they were nowhere to be found.

axis: And you’re sure that they didn’t just flee?

탱: [laughing] Oh, I’m quite sure. We’re all very well-trained, & I have plenty of faith in ’em. In any case, I did find one crewmember’s pince-nez lying on the seabed…

More disturbing, however, is the fact that there’s been a thick black fog completely & totally obscuring the path further down into this underwater gorge, ever since the moment they disappeared. Of course, we’re very far below the surface as we are now. But I’ve been a long time surveying these waters, & I can tell you with certainty that it gets much deeper.

What makes the Aqua Road a “road”, rather than just a sea, are the “submarine canyons” that define it. Do you know how a canyon is made?

axis: Of course. Rivers & streams carry sediment into the sea, and eventually… the ground is eroded so much that the river & the mouth of the sea have the same depth. And then there’s a big chasm left behind!

탱: Right. So, do you think that’s what happened here?

axis: [pauses] …Maybe. And then it got flooded?

탱: Sometimes, glaciers & ice sheets do melt. Like the glaciers that used to fill much of the El Nath Mountains, during the last glacial maximum. But even if all of that ice melted & drained into here, at best we might have seen the Aqua Road’s sea level rise by a hundred metres or so — give or take.

axis: [briefly looks upwards] Right… So probably not that. Unless these gorges are just really old…?

탱: Well, an aquatic valley can be generated undersea, due to a connecting river inducing turbulent currents within it, but… do you see any rivers near here? The real problem is that, although they may look vaguely like gorges — huge gashes in the crust of the Maple world, stretching for very many kilometres at a time — they don’t look so much like gorges when you look closely.

A ravine formed in the way that you described generally has a V-shaped cross-section, for obvious reasons. If you look at these ravines, however, you’ll see that they’re lopsided.

axis: Well. Some things are just lopsided.

axis used one hand to briefly comb her conspicuously asymmetrical hairdo.

탱: Right… Well, in this case, it’s lopsided because it’s actually a trench.

axis: [inspecting 탱 closely] You might look good in a trenchcoat. Then you could be in a trench, in a trench!

탱: [pauses] I’m afraid I haven’t a coat.

axis: Drat.

탱: In any event, sea trenches aren’t formed in the way that ravines are. We’re at a destructive boundary, where two tectonic plates are pushing together, & one of them is subducting beneath the other.

axis: But we’re on the continent of Ossyria, yeah? Where’s the other tectonic plate coming from?

탱: That’s the catch. Ossyria is geographically a single continent — that is, a single contiguous landmass — but geologically, Lūdus Lake & the Aqua Road are on a distinct lithospheric plate. The plate is sometimes referred to as the “Moraeseong plate [모래성판]”[30], meaning “sandcastle plate”, as it holds both the Aqua Road & Lūdibrium. This is actually not unusual for continents, but it’s not obvious in the case of Ossyria, because the Aqua Road hides much of the plate-tectonic activity underwater.

Just like any subduction zone, this zone presents itself as an arc-trench complex. Right now, we’re in the trench part. The arc part is what we call the El Nath Mountains. Like most subduction arcs, it’s volcanic. The El Nath arc is largely “dormant”, although you can certainly see the magma up close if you enter the Dead Mine.

axis: [nose scrunched] It stinks, too. Well, that might just be the zombies…

탱: Oh my. Well, this oceanic trench is the road: the Aqua Road that connects (albeit lengthwise) Moraeseong to the rest of Ossyria.

axis had never read about this whole plate-tectonic situation in any of her Maple History Books. Then again, the finer details of physical geology were probably not of much importance to the authors of the Maple History.

탱: And the trench that defines the Aqua Road is quite the trench indeed. Part of the challenge for our expedition is that we were tasked with coming at least this far down, which is… a little further than anyone’s ever previously gone. As you can see, there are definitely… things down here, but they’re generally just rock formations, stuff that’s sunken to the seabed from above, & some peculiar lifeforms that are adapted specifically to life within this trench.

axis: And us.

탱: Right… So when my crew seemed to’ve disappeared, I assumed that they were just exploring a somewhat deeper region of the trench. But when I went to look for them… there was only the black mist. You can see it out there for yourself, right now; it’s certainly impenetrable to the eye, & deeper than could reasonably be explored without special equipment. And… given that it’s been nearly two days… whatever lies within, or behind, that mist is unlikely to be friendly company.

axis: Yeahh…

탱: That being said, I’ve been actively seeking out any traces that my crewmembers may’ve left behind. As I mentioned, I did find a pince-nez on the seafloor. But I suspect that the horrible sea dogs out there may be hiding something, or may’ve even been responsible. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’ve never before seen cartilaginous fish quite like them in my life, & I suspect scarcely anyone else has, either.

axis: Well, I’ve handled plenty of big dumb fishies before, if you’d like some help.

탱: [frowning] Oh, no, definitely not. They are exceedingly large, the light-coloured ones with toothed noses bear some dreadful magical powers, and the blue ones are even worse!

axis: Hmm… Sounds like fun!

탱: Oh, dear…

axis was already climbing out of the wrecked ship to meet the sharks. Unfortunately for axis, however, the sharks refused to respond to any of her inquiries, & refused to relinquish any artefacts that they might’ve been hiding.

And so it came to blows.

axis finds the Broken Camera

axis found that it was best to use the lightning magicks that Tylus had taught her. Her flaming pinwheel wasn’t so flaming when it was submerged in water, & so she settled for zapping the cartilaginous fish instead.

But the sharks were prepared for this, somehow. The sharks’ magicks assailed axis from all angles, retarded the movements of her limbs, & perhaps worst of all, extinguished the electrical charge of her pinwheel.

After laboriously struggling with the sharks at length, axis eventually did find some artefacts: someone’s camera, which was horribly broken; a torch, with a shattered lightbulb; & a shred of paper ripped out of a notebook, which was illegible, as far as she could tell.

She gave all three artefacts to Taeng, who immediately recognised them as pieces of his crewmates’ equipment. Taeng had a distraught look on his face as he thanked axis for her work in fishing the equipment fragments out of the sharks’ mouths. He said that he would bring these artefacts, along with the artefacts that he’d found inside of the sunken ship, to the surface, before embarking on a campaign to determine the nature & origins of the stark inky cloud blocking the path along the bed of the Aqua Road.

I ride, noblest suid, my steed, upon thee

Fue luego a ver a ſu rozin[31], y aunque tenia mas quartos que vn real, y mas tachas que el cauallo de Gonela, que tantum pellis, & oſſa fuit[32], le parecio q̃ ni el Buzefalo de Alexandro, ni Babieca el del Cid con el ſe ygualauan. Quatro dias ſe le paſſaron en imaginar que nombre le pondria, porque (ſegun ſe dezia el a ſi miſmo) no era razon que cauallo de cauallero tan famoſo, y tan bueno el por ſi, eſtuuieſſe ſin nombre conocido, y aſſi procuraua acomodarſele, de manera que declaraſſe quien auia ſido, antes que fueſſe de cauallero andante, y lo que era entonces: pues eſtaua muy pueſto en razon, que mudando ſu ſeñor eſtado, mudaſſe el tambien el nõbre, y le cobraſſe famoſo, y de eſtruẽdo, como conuenia à la nueua orden, y al nueuo exercicio que ya profeſſaua: y aſsi deſpues de muchos nombres que formò, borró, y quitò, añadio, deshizo, y tornò a hazer en ſu memoria, ê imaginacion: al fin le vino a llamar Rozinante[31], nombre a ſu parecer, alto, ſonoro, y ſinificatiuo de lo que auia ſido, quando fue rozin antes de lo que aora era, que era antes, y primero de todos los rozines del mundo.


He next proceeded to inspect his hack[31], which, with more quartos than a real[a] and more blemishes than the steed of Gonela, that tantum pellis et ossa fuit[32], surpassed in his eyes the Bucephalus of Alexander or the Babieca of the Cid. Four days were spent in thinking what name to give him, because (as he said to himself) it was not right that a horse belonging to a knight so famous, and one with such merits of his own, should be without some distinctive name, and he strove to adapt it so as to indicate what he had been before belonging to a knight-errant, and what he then was; for it was only reasonable that, his master taking a new character, he should take a new name, and that it should be a distinguished and full-sounding one, befitting the new order and calling he was about to follow. And so, after having composed, struck out, rejected, added to, unmade, and remade a multitude of names out of his memory and fancy, he decided upon calling him Rocinante[31], a name, to his thinking, lofty, sonorous, and significant of his condition as a hack before he became what he now was, the first and foremost of all the hacks in the world.


a. [↑] An untranslatable pun on the word quarto, which means a sand crack in a horse’s hoof, as well as the coin equal to one-eighth of the real. Gonela was a jester in the service of Borso, Duke of Farrara.

― Miguel de Ceruantes, trans. John Ormsby; El ingenioſo hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (“Don Quixote”), ch. I; 1605, trans. 1885.

But axis had her own artefact to deliver. She swam her way to the Aquarium and gave the Snow Crystal Sphere to Muse, as promised. Muse was thrilled to have it, and put it up in the Zoo for display.

Whilst she was at the Zoo, axis was approached by Kenta. In the “axs” section of pt. civ of this diary, we saw axis do some research on Kenta’s behalf. This time, Kenta was more forthcoming about the object of their research: to study how humans & monsters can co-exist peacefully in the Maple world. axis was vaguely reminded of the conversation that she’d had with that Insignificant Being fellow just outside of The Sanctuary, but Kenta’s perspective seemed very different.

Equal parts zookeeper & zoologist, Kenta had studied a great many monster species in extensive detail, and had learned to tame many of them. Perhaps the primary issue that they faced, however, was convincing other people to appreciate their perspective. Kenta lamented that as soon as someone would lay eyes upon a monster, they would view it viscerally — as a monster, a brute — & that was that. But Kenta had a clever idea to overcome this problem.

If Kenta could teach people to ride tamed monsters as mounts, then a kinship would form naturally. They were thus developing a kind of pheromone that could be used to tame certain monster species for riding purposes. There was just one problem at the moment: Kenta was having a difficult time fending off certain alien invaders that were attempting to plunder their research!

axis sprang into action, protecting one innocent hoggo (named “Oinkers”) from the strange flying-cape-clad extraterrestrial creatures:

axis protects the hog from alien invaders!

The ETs & their diabolical plans were soon thwarted by axis’s blazing pinwheel. Their strangely rounded alien bodies bounced & folded over her weapon as they flopped gracelessly to the ground, like giant ragdolls made of rubber. The aliens whistled & beeped at one another — presumably to communicate — and when one hit the ground, it would emit a great beep. After the great beep, the ET seemed to have given up, being apparently uninterested in continuing their mission, but still somewhat interested in dancing.

axis was very perplexed. She’d heard of victory dances, but never defeat dances. And yet here she was, in an underwater zoo, surrounded by some half a dozen alien creatures (& one rather plump swine), each performing bizarre extraterrestrial wiggling sequences in various prone & supine positions.

Kenta assured her that this was perfectly normal. After the aliens’d had enough dancing, they’d go about their business once again, trying to steal Kenta’s experimental pheromones. There was frustration in Kenta’s voice when they explained this, and axis could see why.

Still, Kenta was thankful for axis subduing the aliens — for now — and so awarded her a saddle that could be used for mounting monsters. They said that with just one more small favour, axis could use some of their pheromone to tame a monster of her very own. Raw pheromone would not be very useful, as its concentration is so high as to be offensive to the monsters’ sensibilities. With something to dilute the substance and administer it only in minute quantities, it could be used successfully on a live specimen.

Kenta indicated that Chief Tatamo of Leafre had a very special perfume bottle that could serve exactly this function. axis had never been to Leafre before, & so she was worried that she wouldn’t know her way around. Kenta reassured her that Chief Tatamo would almost certainly be found at the town centre, and that anyone in the town would recognise him — if for nothing else, then for his impressively long braided beard.

When axis got to Leafre, she saw Chief Tatamo’s beard in its full glory, as the chief stood upon a lofty wooden swing suspended from a tree via green leafy vines. At its full extent, the beard was perhaps thrice axis’s height — and perfectly braided, to boot. Although axis was not a huge fan of facial hair, she had to admit that this was, at the very least, a highly impressive set of whiskers. After an amount of beard-staring that axis hoped was brief enough to be socially appropriate, she approached the chief to ask about his perfume bottles.

Chief Tatamo: You there.

axisaxis: [mildly confused] Me… here.

Tatamo: [squinting] I’ve not seen you before.

axis: Well, there’s… a first time for everything.

Tatamo: [gaze drifts slightly] Hmph. I suppose so. To what do I owe the pleasure?

axis: Kenta told me th—

Tatamo: Ha! Kenta, that old jellyfish… Quite the eccentric.

axis looked over Tatamo’s beard again. She supposed it could make for a usable pair of climbing ropes.

Tatamo: What do they want now? A dragon egg, perhaps? [chortles]

axis: Erm… no.

Tatamo: An anæsthetic powder, mayhaps?

axis: …No…

Tatamo: A hug — the poor soul’s lonesome?

axis: Likely not.

Tatamo: A beard! The hairless bastard…

axis: [somewhat impatiently] No.

Tatamo: [suppressing a laugh] Goblin pants.

axis: I could just tell you.

Tatamo: Oh, but that would ruin the fun, wouldn’t it?

axis did not particularly look like she was having fun.

Tatamo: Alright, fine. We haven’t all day. What is it?

axis: Kenta said that you have a very special perfume bottle.

Tatamo: Ahh… the Dragon’s Perfume Bottle. Yes.

axis: It should work very well for administering an experimental pheromone.

Tatamo: Intriguing. So you’d like to have the bottle, then?

axis: Yes, please.

Tatamo: That’ll be sixty million mesos.

axis: Pardon?

Tatamo: Did I stutter?

axis: …No…

Tatamo: Very well, then. Would you like the bottle?

axis: …Yes…

Fortunately, axis was quite adept at haggling, and was able to negotiate the chief down to just twenty million mesos — only a third of the asking price! Unfortunately, twenty million mesos is still very many mesos indeed. Still, it seemed to axis that she had no choice, & so she begrudgingly forked over the twenty big ol’ smackeroonies to Chief Totalripoffmo…:

axis begrudgingly forks over the big bucks to Chief Tatamo…

After carefully inspecting this twenty-million-meso bottle, axis returned to Kenta. Kenta filled the bottle with a pheromone solution, heavily diluted with water. Although Kenta had a handful of various monsters in captivity, those monsters were necessary for Kenta’s research. However, Kenta knew a place where axis could find easily-tamed hogs that would make for good steeds.

In the Korean Folk Town, tucked behind the Tiger Ridge, there was a little place that Kenta called “The Area of Wild Hog”. It was here that axis found just such a wild hog. She tried to befriend it before spraying the pheromones at it, as she thought that spraying someone with strange chemicals — however diluted they might be — in lieu of a personal introduction was a tad bit rude. The pig responded by sniffing her, snorting once or twice, & greeting her with a very distinct “oink”. axis supposed that this must be how swine introduce themselves, and so shook hooves with them. Now that introductions were done, she politely asked the suid if it was okay to spray them with pheromones that she obtained from an underwater zookeeper jellyfish person. The hog seemed to be confused by her question, and so she took the momentary confusion as an opportunity to use her twenty-million-meso spray bottle:

axis tames a Wild Hog!

The pheromone solution was unreasonably effective. The hog now allowed her to strap the saddle on, and when she attempted to mount, the pig even helpfully bent their knees to lower themself. Once she was mounted, however, axis was a little unclear on what to do next. She tried using her hands to pat the hog’s sides, saying “go, go!” out loud. She was nearly thrown off the pig’s back as they raced forwards, considerably more swiftly than axis even thought that pigs were capable of.

axis mounts her trusty suid steed

With a trusty suid steed at her side, axis was now capable of traversing the Maple world that much more quickly, and in that much more style.

གཡའ་དྲེད

“Abominable”! [laughs] Can you believe that? Do I look abominable to you? Why can’t they call me the “Adorable Snowman”, or… or the “Agreeable Snowman”, for crying out loud? I’m a nice guy! Snowcone? [holds out a tray of snowcones]

― Yeti, voiced by John D. Ratzenberger, screenplay by Andrew A. Stanton & Dan R. Gerson; Monsters, Inc.; 2001.

Now that she’d delivered the Snow Crystal Sphere to Muse, & inadvertently acquired a suid steed along the way, axis headed back towards El Nath. When she got there, Jade was desperately seeking her audience.

Jade: axis! axis!!

axisaxis: [smiling] Hey, Jade! What’s up?

Jade: [with a mildly worried look] Oh, my god. You’ll never guess what happened to me yesterday.

axis: Oh, dear. You’re all right, I hope?

Jade: Yes. But I barely made it out alive!! [partially covering her face with her hands]

axis: Don’t tell me you were up in the mountains!

Jade: [pauses] Girl… how’d you know…

axis: I did warn you last t—

Jade: I knowww, but I was so bored. And I wanted to see the sunrise!

axis: You didn’t see a werewolf, did you? I thought I took care of those.

Jade: Nope. It was not very wolfy.

axis: “It”?

Jade: You would scarcely believe it!! It was a giant monster man covered all in white fur…

axis: You’re sure it wasn’t just Vogen playing tricks again?

Jade: No way. I mean giant. It must have been four times my size — five, even!! With a big ugly hat, too…

axis: That sounds like it could be— No way…

Jade: And the worst part was that it was skiing!!

axis: It— What? What’s so scary about skiing?

Jade: It was going so fast that I thought I might not escape!!

axis: Have you told anyone else about this?

Jade: Yes… I told Skadr about it, but he said the Snowman isn’t real. It’s “only an æfintýr[33]”. [rolls eyes]

axis: Hmph. Well, I’ll have a talk with him about it.

Skadr confirmed that he’d heard Jade’s story, but was not very interested in discussing it. Until he saw a giant Snowman waltz into the town of El Nath, he did not approve of people spreading the kinds of myths & legends meant for frightening children as if they were truth.

And so, axis took it upon herself to investigate. She hiked once again into the Valley of Snowman, and came across the Spirit of Snow Statue laid there. The statue was crafted of a thick, lustrous blue ice, and its geometry was equal parts jaggèd icicles & gracefully swirling ice-fabric.

axis checks out the Spirit of Snow Statue

But something was not quite right about the statue. axis supposed that something must be missing. Then, when she walked around the statue to view it from a different angle, she saw the something that was missing: the head of the statue. The frozen sculpture had been decapitated! axis was no ice sculpture surgeon, and so she refrained from touching the statue, worried that she would only make things worse.

Then, she heard a faint sound like blades cutting through the snow. As the noise began to swell, axis looked back up the valley whence it seemed to be coming. A colossal snowy giant — exactly like the one described by Jade — was hurtling down the side of the valley at a speed that axis reckoned was inadvisable for such a large creature, riding upon a pair of oversized skis that the snow titan made look puny. And it was headed directly towards axis.

axis stood back, putting the beheaded Spirit of Snow Statue in between herself and the rapidly approaching Snowman. If the Snowman wanted to assail her at such a speed, then he would have to plough down his own statue, too. As the gigantic blob of white fur rode off of the Valley’s slope, he dug his skiing poles into the snow, coming to a stop only a few metres before the Snow Statue.

Snowman: I can still see ya, ya know.

axis froze, surprised to hear the beast speak. Moreover, its voice was that of a creature a quarter of its size.

axisaxis: [trailing off] R—right. I know…

axis took this as a good opportunity for a distraction. Pulling a half-eaten snack (the rest of a slice of delicious Pumpkin Pie) out of her haversack, she tossed it out to her left, hoping that it would draw the Snowman’s attention. She then quickly proceeded to stealthily slink around the statue to her right, launching a surprise attack on the abominable Snowman!:

axis hits the Snowman with a sneaky attack!!

Snowman: Ouch! Hey, what was that for?

axis: For attacking my friend Jade!! [starts towards the Snowman for another attack]

Snowman: [quickly] Woah, woah! Hold on — I didn’t attack anyone. No attackin’ here!

axis: [pauses] …Oh. Well then… why were you chasing her?

Snowman: “Chasin’”? Look, this here’s the valley where I like to go skiin’. And it’s where my statue is… which I’ve really been meanin’ to fix.

axis: I… see. What, uhm, happened to your statue?

Snowman: Skiin’ mishap, as usual…

axis was trying to imagine in her head a skiing mishap that would result in accidental ice statue decapitation. She considered asking about the details of the mishap, but thought better of it.

axis: …Right. I understand.

axis did not understand.

Snowman: Unfortunately, it’s been hard findin’ Snow Crystal lately. And that’s what I really need, so I can restore my sculpture.

axis: Snow Crystal, eh? I think I know someone who might still have some of that…

Snowman: Gee, really? I’d be awful ’preciative if you could get me some, miss.

axis: Oh, uhm. You can just call me axis. [smiles slightly]

Snowman: Alright. axis it is.

axis went back to town to meet with Alcaster. Thankfully, Alcaster still had some leftover Snow Crystal from when axis collected it for Muse’s Snow Crystal Sphere. Alcaster put it together into a special Ice Crystal, in order to make it easier to carry. Bringing it back to the Valley of Snowman, the Snowman was very delighted indeed to have a slab of Snow Crystal with which to recapitate the Spirit of Snow Statue.

axis considered telling Jade & Skadr about the Snowman, but ultimately thought better of it. How ridiculous the story would sound notwithstanding, she supposed that it was better to leave the Snowman alone — to ski, & to remain legendary.

Standing eye to eye with the teddy bear, beneath the towering toy blocks

The Caterpillar was the first to speak.

“What size do you want to be?” it asked.

“Oh, I’m not particular as to size,” Alice hastily replied; “only one doesn’t like changing so often, you know.”

“I don’t know,” said the Caterpillar.

― C. L. Dodgson; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch. V; 1865.

Whilst she was at the Aqua Road, axis had met with the sailor named Richard, & delivered to him a letter from his Amorian lover Angelique. Naturally, Richard prepared his own letter, & thus axis was to play courier again, in the opposite direction. Heading back towards Victoria, axis found herself on the other half of the Moraeseong plate: Lūdus Lake. She passed through Wiz’s library, & went on up to the lowest level of the Helios Tower’s lift.

axis rolled her eyes when she was reminded that going up the Helios Tower meant going through Lūdibrium’s border control. Being the land of toys, Lūdibrium required that anyone within its borders be toy-sized. axis took one of the white, squarish lozenges out of its paper wrapper, popped it into her mouth, & braced for diminishment.

These pills were really something. axis never understood how they could shrink her, & everything on her person, so precisely. She did notice that the pitch of her voice was elevated somewhat, but not nearly as much as one would expect, given that it shrank her small enough to stand eye to eye with a housecat.

In any event, since she was here in Lūdibrium anyway, axis decided to take care of a few things, and to perhaps help out some of the people & toys of Lūdibrium. For the grand opening of Jacob’s sakura garden in Amoria, axis obtained some White/Purple Ribbon Gift Boxes from the Pink Teddy bears of the Cloud Terrace:

axis obtaining White/Purple Ribbon Gift Boxes

axis always had a bit of a soft spot for the Toy Factory in Lūdibrium’s centre Clocktower. It was not only surreally-coloured, but also surreal to walk amongst the toys as peers, as if they were larger than life.

Somewhat deeper in the toy manufactory, Mac the Mechanic most miserably misplaced his mauve Maintenance Manual on the many & multifarious methods of manually mending malfunctioning milling machines. Mac mentioned a markèdly mischievous monster that misappropriated the Manual, mysteriously migrating into a magical microcosmic manifold.

axis wasn’t aware that toys were even capable of making magical manifold microcosms in the first place. Mac explained that this process occurred — albeit only aberrantly — as a result of the very same magicks that animated the toys to life, allowing them to move of their own accord. Unfortunately, the manifolds were generally dangerously unstable, and so Mac was hesitant to so much as enter one, even assuming that he could successfully obtain the Maintenance Manual in the process.

axis volunteered to try it out for herself. She’d never been in a microcosmic manifold before, & was eager to give it a try. After expressing his inability to ensure axis’s safety, Mac directed axis to a tiny hole in the air. Although Mac described it as a “tiny hole in the air”, axis thought that it looked more like a little Schliere, similar to that produced by a hotly burning candle — if only candles were flameless. Putting her eye directly up to the thing, axis could see — albeit only dimly — the interior of the manifold. It was as if a small part of the Toy Factory had been folded up like the paper of origami [()(がみ)], neatly tucked away into its own pocket of reality.

In some ways, the perforation in the air was like the Door of Dimension that axis had previously encountered in the Ant Tunnel Park[6]: as she approached it, she felt a traction pulling her into it, as if it were threatening to absorb her corporal form wholesale. Touching the spacelike fissure with an open hand, axis submitted herself to its grip.

Unlike with the Door of Dimension, however, axis was fully lucid as she was threaded through this interdimensional aperture. She vividly bore witness as the things, the material objects & space of the “real” Toy Factory, were flung asunder, damned to infinity like the absolute rupture of the heavens from the earth. She cried out, but produced no sound. Her body folded & knit unphysically, shattering the limits of her own geometry.

Then, from the corners of infinity emerged a new sensible form. It was blue. axis felt her body unfold, decompressed as if reinflated by a weightless fluid. As her eyes adjusted, she could soon make out the toy blocks & puzzle pieces that constituted the fabric of this folded dimension.

Mac had described the markèdly mischievous monster as a kind of Toy Trojan, & so axis was surprised to be greeted by not even a single toy horsey. Instead, axis was confronted with a sparse arrangement of toy blocks & plastic conveyor belts, haunted from above by the devilish Trixters[34] of the Eos Tower.

More than merely mischievous, the monstrous prīmum movēns of this fever-dream cusp world had cleverly arranged the blocks & belts so that anyone hoping to proceed into the heart of the manifold would find it devilishly difficult to navigate the jumps, skips, & ducks necessary to do so. Little did they know, axis had been faced with such diabolical obstacle courses numerous times before. As axis climbed, leapt, rolled, & fell, she came across various large & brightly-coloured plastic buckets. Thinking that these buckets might be used to store mauve Maintenance Manuals, axis toppled the buckets & pilfered their contents:

axis doing Lūdibrium’s JQ

Unfortunately, it seemed that none of the buckets had any manuals whatsoever. Instead, most of them contained relatively small hardware components: nuts, bolts, screws, bearings, axles, cogs, buttons, wheels, & switches. axis recalled that Assistant Cheng had been looking for mysteriously missing mechanical parts, & so kept the hardware components with her, in case they were exactly those parts.

After a few times falling down inadvertently & cursing the blasted toy who’d put the block in that specific spot just to mess with her, axis made her way into the heart of the folded dimension. Still, even in here, there were apparently no horsies. axis was perplexed. Nevertheless, much like the conveyor-belt labyrinth, this space was furnished with the occasional plastic container: this time, blue plastic boxes, each with a single gold star on the outside. axis tried the same thing as last time, prising open the lid of one box with her pinwheel.

axis opens a box in the folded dimension of Toy Trojans

Before she could even peek inside, however, the box was burst open from within. A quartet of four wooden horsemen erupted from the apparently undersized box, like clowns from a car. One wielded a bow that shot plungers, another a great plastic sword, another a sack of mesos, & the peculiar fourth sat upon a strangely yellowish-green steed.

axis was more bewildered than she was frightened by the sudden onslaught of wooden horsies. None of their weapons looked particularly dangerous; if anything, they seemed childproof. Then, she noticed that the plastic equestrian riding atop the yellowish-green horsey wielded not a weapon — nor a bag of money — but a rolled-up booklet tied together with a mauve ribbon.

At first, the four riders rolled around with confidence. Their steeds each bore four rubber wheels where four legs could have been, & axis thought that they tottered about somewhat awkwardly, particularly when changing direction. Still, each horseman had a determined look on the portion of its face that was visible. The rest of its face was obscured by a beaverless plastic sallet that had been painted to look metallic. The knights in shining polymeric armour clacked, clanked, clunked, & squeaked, apparently directionlessly. axis supposed that they were looking for her — the one audacious enough to open their box — but were having a hard time seeing through the visors of their vinyl helms.

axis took their floundering as an opportunity to snatch up the mauve Maintenance Manual. The pale green stallion & its rider reacted swiftly to the manual being yoinked, leaping violently at axis. But as soon as axis lit her pinwheel ablaze, the horsies were spooked, & bucked their riders.

axis fled back whence she came, climbing below the obstacle course, & heading directly for the fissure. Before the horsemen could remount and catch up to her, she threw herself at the perforation. The world around her once again cleft asunder, retreating unboundedly into the void, & was replaced by the true Toy Factory. Restored to her original geometry, axis landed quite painfully on her back.

Mac was mildly surprised to see axis return. His surprise magnified when axis handed the Maintenance Manual back to him. He thanked axis as he unrolled the booklet. Reading over the manual, Mac confirmed that it was indeed his Maintenance Manual, although it had been mildly vandalised. Whoever’d stolen the manual had written their own marginalia, circled some things, & crossed out others. The notes were, however, illegible, & axis gained no particular insight by consulting Wiz’s transliteration guide. axis supposed that the notes were perhaps written in a ciphered form, maybe using an encoding related to the geometry of the folded dimension. At least, that’s what she would do, if she were a nefarious Toy Trojan.

Like clockwork

Milo’s eyes opened wide, for there in front of him was a large dog with a perfectly normal head, four feet, and a tail — and the body of a loudly ticking alarm clock.

“What are you doing here?” growled the watchdog.

“Just killing time,” replied Milo apologetically. “You see——”

“KILLING TIME!” roared the dog — so furiously that his alarm went off. “It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.” And he shuddered at the thought.

― Norton Juster; The Phantom Tollbooth, ch. II; 1961.

Previously, axis had helped Delv the Toy Soldier — one of the nutcracker dolls commonly tasked with guard duty at the border between the Eos Tower & the town of Lūdibrium — with a boredom & hunger problem. Now, however, Delv called upon axis for something slightly less mundane. It seemed that Mac the Mechanic’s spacetime rift problem was not an isolated incident. One of the pendula responsible for the correct & precise functioning of Lūdibrium’s Clocktower had gone missing, thieved by yet another aberrant toy.

Delv was unaware of this spacetime sabotage when he told axis in a nervous tone about something very strange that he’d noticed at the 100th floor of the Eos Tower. Nevertheless, he was somewhat relieved to hear that axis had previously seen a similar bizarre crack in the fabric of space. axis supposed that whoever had purloined the pendulum was probably hiding in this little pocket universe, & so she once again took it upon herself to investigate.

This time, when axis acceded to the aperture’s attraction, the process was less violent. Rather than riven, the “real” world around her was merely molten, lazily rearranging itself, deflating, & giving way to a sort of compactified version of the Eos Tower. axis began to suspect that, rather than the Toy Trojans, the impish Trixters were the true impetus of these spatial distortions; this nightmare variant of the Eos Tower was absolutely crawling with the arachnids.

However, this warped Eos dimension was not necessarily nightmarish merely due to its eight-leggèd inhabitants. There was something deeply uncanny about how similar it appeared to the “real” Eos Tower, & yet how obviously not the Eos Tower it was: each colour of a slightly shifted hue; each angle not quite as architected; the walls, just a bit too cramped; the floors, inexplicably much closer to one another. The octopodal devils drew themselves up & down with synchronous determination, as if their undulation were the only thing keeping the tower upright.

Then again, axis soon found that the notions of “up” & “down” were a point of some confusion. The exact direction in which gravity — whatever “gravity” might be in such a folded dimension — pulled was questionable, & axis frequently found herself briefly sliding about, making the necessary small readjustment to her balance only just quickly enough to avoid falling over.

But perhaps the strangest thing about this involute subspace was the dollhouses. Why were there so many dollhouses? Each floor had little more than a single miniaturised toy home sitting in the middle of it, & each such home was supremely identical to the last. When axis inspected the dollhouses, she found little of interest; each house was eerily vacant, free of any signs of life — toy or otherwise.

Not long after she’d opened a house up to peer inside, however, axis was sent through the sole inhabitant of the house: a timelike fissure that sent her back into the same state in which she’d first entered the damnable dollhouse dimension. The transition was instantaneous & unceremonial, with axis experiencing little more than a strong sense of déjà-vu. Even through axis had “already” opened up any given dollhouse, revisiting the house revealed that it was now undisturbed, exactly as it was before she’d ever found it.

axis was perplexed indeed, but continued probing the plastic houses one by one, bobbing & weaving through the Trixters as she went. Then, she came across a peculiar dollhouse. At first blush, it looked just as identical as the others. But just as axis went to pull off its roof, she noticed something slightly unusual about its geometry: some edges that were ordinarily flat now had a mildly rounded arc to them, & vice versa. When she opened this house up, she was not greeted by yet another chronological snare. Instead, tucked inside was a cordate red-&-gold pendulum.

axis finds the peculiar dollhouse housing the pendulum

As axis snatched up the swinging-stone, the spiders suddenly ceased their steadfast see-sawing, swiftly & summarily switching their centre of striving to the saucy saboteur who so sneakily & snidely stole their sweet sparkling swingy stuff. Soon the spiders swarmed axis, slicing at her with their stinging snouts, slashing savagely, scuttling & springing at her as they so sourly struggled & skirmished. Still, the spiders didn’t succeed in seizing the swinging-stone any sooner than axis squeezed, skull to sole, straight through the split separating this surreal space from the sincere source whence she’d sprung.

When axis returned to the Eos Tower, a look of some horror overtook Delv’s face as he witnessed her seemingly melt into existence. However, Delv quickly recognised the pendulum in axis’s hand as the missing pendulum of the Clocktower. He said that although he didn’t know much about clockwork, he knew someone who did: Grandpa Clock.

axis descended the Clocktower, going below even the Toy Factory, to meet Grandpa Clock at Lost Time. He was indeed a purplish grandfather clock, although where a clockface would have been, there was instead a face bearing two eyes, a nose, & a mouth. His nose was the axle upon which the clock hands rotated — or rather, would have rotated, if they weren’t sitting stationary as the whiskers upon his upper lip. axis thought that she saw faint scars shaped like Roman numerals around the edges of his face.

axisaxis: Hello! Are you, erm… Grandpa? Grandpa Clock?

Grandpa Clock: [laboriously] …Yes…[35]

axis: Okay! I think I’ve recovered the… [holding the pendulum out in her hands] missing pendulum that you’ve been looking for.

Gramps: …Very… goode… I neede……

Grandpa Clock trailed off into something of a weak groan, and paused for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

axis: S—sir, are you… okay?

Gramps: …No… I neede… All-purpoſe… Clock Spring

axis: Oh, dear.

Gramps: …The Tick-Tocks… haue… ſpring…s…

axis was quick to spring into action, heading straight for the Whirlpool of Time, where she beat the clock-springs out of the Mohawk-wielding Tick-Tocks:

axis vs. Tick-Tocks

Without a clock-spring, the Tick-Tock would be unable to tell time on their front-facing clocks. axis supposed that at least their two golden bells would still function normally, and in any case, a broken clock is still right twice daily.

Heading back to Lost Time, axis handed the All-purpose Clock Spring to Grandpa Clock. Rather than accepting the spring, Grandpa wordlessly motioned towards his back, indicating where the clock-spring was to be inserted. axis opened the Clock’s backside; it swung open like an ordinary wooden door. axis was relieved to see that there were no surprise fleshy bits in here; he really was just an old grandfather clock, anchor escapement & all. Removing a clearly worn old spring, axis gingerly inserted the new spring into its place, & carefully closed Grandpa’s back door.

With the new spring, Grandpa soon sprung back to life.

Gramps: Bethank thee! I feele poſitiuely better already.

axis: [smiling] Glad to see it!

Gramps: VVhat ſaidſt thou vvas thy name againe?

axis: Oh, I’m axis.

Gramps: “Axle”? As in “axletree”? Haſt thou vvheels?

axis: [clears throat] No, uhm, axis. Like an imaginary axle. It’s—

Gramps: Oh deare, I ’m ſorry. I ’m a bit hard of hearing theſe daies.

axis: It’s okay. I, erm, trust that you know what to do with this… [hands Gramps the pendulum]

Gramps: Of courſe. I ſhall putt it back in its place poſt-haſte. But there is ſomething elſe that vvorries me.

axis: Oh?

Gramps: VVe ſuſpect that the Ticks at the Croſſroade haue beene corrumpted, & be the ſource of much of this Clocktour miſchief. Beeing but childe Tick-Tocks, the Ticks are ſomeuuhat more… “playfull”, ſhall vve ſaye, than theire grouun-vp counter-parts — & more ſuggeſtible, it vvould ſeeme.

Moreouer, I ’m not the onely one hereabouts vvho hath beene hauing problemes of vygour. Manie of the vvorkers in this here Clocktour haue the electrick batterie as theire onely effectiue vvell-head of vygour, but thoſe batterie materials haue too manie a tyme & oft beene vs’d for the metall automata.

axis: Automata? As in, the Robos?

Gramps: Indeede, & the Maiſter Robos vvithall.

axis: But aren’t those robots forged just up there, in the Toy Factory? Surely, if the workers needed batteries, then we wouldn’t be using them in the fabrication of more toy bots…?

Gramps: One vvou’d imagine ſo, but the truer probleme is that the Robos haue beene increaſingly abſorb’d bye the fiſſures.

axis: In the air?

Gramps: In the ayre, as thou ſayeſt. The other vvorldes are pregnant vvith electricitie, then, & it ſo ſtrains our habilitie to re-vſe the anti-alkaline piles.

axis: And so I’m to decommission them.

Gramps: I ’m affray’d ſo.

axis: Consider it done.

Gramps: Gods ſpeed thee.

So axis set out to thin the rather naughty Tick population. Each one had to be carefully deconstructed, so that its tiny parts might be salvageable.

And axis likewise repossessed many Cheap Batteries from the Robos:

axis vs. the Robos of Toy Factory ⟨Apparatus Room⟩

Elsewhere in the Toy Factory, axis repossessed some not-as-cheap batteries from the Master Robos. axis thought that they kind of seemed like the same robots as the normal Robos, but with red trim instead of blue. Then again, she didn’t know much about robotics.

axis vs. the Master Robos of Toy Factory ⟨Process 2⟩ Zone 1

Nevertheless, axis found that, despite their outward appearances, the red androids internally bore not only Special Batteries, but also special hearts. Not so much electromuscular, each “heart” was electromechanical, serving to bear the bot’s batteries & boost the broadcasting of voltaic vigour to the bot’s business bits. The hearts were, somewhat amusingly, heart-shaped, unlike fleshy animal hearts.

Because the hearts bore the batteries anyway, axis took the whole hearts with her. Later, Hans the Assembler of the Toy Factory presented axis with a proposition: if provided with a few of the hearts of both varieties of Robo — plus a few Cogs to gear up useful mechanical outputs — Hans would produce for axis an interesting gadget of her very own. Although Hans was conspicuously cryptic about what exactly this “interesting gadget” would be, axis was very curious to see it, & so brought the materials to him. In return, Hans gifted axis a sack containing three miniature — but functional — Robo-like automata[36]. When axis opened the sack up to peek inside, she saw that the bots were already battling one another, like little metal dolls that didn’t require a child to puppet them in order to play-fight.

With some of the same components, plus some parts that she’d obtained from decommissioning Ticks & Tick-Tocks, axis later helped the Pink Mesoranger of the Omega Sector’s Boswell Field to assemble a Super Alarm Clock. This sensational timekeeping device was to be installed in the Omega Sector’s headquarters, so that it might help the Mesorangers be more punctual.

And of course, with the dozens on dozens of batteries recovered from Robos, axis was able to resupply the workers of the Toy Factory with the galvanic energy that they needed to keep Lūdibrium running.

Esa trama de tiempos que se aproximan, se bifurcan, se cortan o que secularmente se ignoran, abarca todas las posibilidades

“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”

― Kurt Vonnegut; The Children’s Crusade (“Slaughterhouse-Five”), ch. II; 1969; written by Billy Pilgrim.

In the town of Lūdibrium, axis came across the home of a peculiar toucan. axis wasn’t one to pry; she’d no idea that there was a bird inhabiting this particular house, until it quite noisily approached her.

[toucan]: Hey! Hey, hey, hey!

axisaxis: [puzzled] …Pardon?

Although quite a convincing replica in some ways, the avian was robotic. Its colourful wings were of a primitive design, flapping via the use of a simple hinge; its movements, rigid; its voice, monotonous & having the timbre of a bike horn going through a shredder. Whereas ordinary toucans may be arboreal, this metallic toucanoid preferred sitting upon its own perch, inside of a full-sized plastic house.

[toucan]: Have you the Aurora Marble?

axis: Wh—

[toucan]: —Aurora Marble?

The ramphastid’s glass eyes searched axis with great suspicion.

axis: …What’s that? Who are you?

The toucan paused motionlessly, as if taking a moment to remember who it was.

[toucan]: Mason. At your service.

axis: Hi Mason, I’m—

Mason: —service.

Mason appeared to have something like a case of palilalia.

axis: …I’m axis.

Mason: [pauses briefly] Hello, Access.

axis: No, uhm, axis. Like an imaginary line.

Mason: First name Root, last name Access?

The bird produced a tinny honk, presumably as a sort of laugh.

Mason: First name Privilege, last name Escalation? [HONK] Nice try!!

axis: No…

Mason: —try!!

Peering into Mason’s house, axis saw that the bulk of its volume was occupied not by the bird, nor by his various utilities & amenities, but rather by… stuff. Really, just… various things. Cogs, metal hearts, polymeric propellers, toy swords, plastic crowns, plungers, loose balls of cotton, rubber ducks, wind-up dolls, giftboxes, toy bricks, umbrellas, flags, goggles, toy drums, optical discs, & more.

axis: What was it that you wanted, again…?

Mason: Aurora[37] Marble.

axis: I’m afraid I’ve never heard of it.

Mason: [HONK] Well, it is only the most precious marble in the whole wide world!

axis: I’m not much of a marble ex—

Mason: —whole wide world!

axis: …Expert.

Mason: If you give it to me, I shall reward you handsomely. —handsomely. I have many valuables at my disposal...

Mason used a single wing to gesture at the mounds of stuff in his home. axis was fairly certain that she didn’t want any of that junk, but she decided to play along anyways.

axis: Okay. Do you happen to know… where the Marble is? What it looks like…?

Mason: It is the First Marble.

axis: The first?

Mason: Ever. —Ever. In the beginning, there was only one marble.

axis: Hmm… That doesn’t sound right.

Mason: Trust me. That is what makes it the coolest marble. It is said to have many colours, arranged like the eye of a cat.

axis: So you’ve never actually see—

Mason: —a cat.

axis: …Seen it?

Mason: I saw a cat one time.

axis: No, I mean the Marble.

Mason: I have not seen it. It is at the beginning. —the beginning.

axis: What beginning? You keep saying that.

Mason: The beginning of time. The dawn[37] of time, when there was only one Marble, & the void.

axis: I don’t remember reading anything about marbles in the 1st book of the Maple History

Mason: History is nonsense. There are only marbles.

axis: …If you say so…

Mason: —only marbles.

axis: So you want me to… time-travel? To the beginning of the universe??

Mason: Yes. It is simple, really.

axis: Somehow, I doubt that.

The mechanical avian paused, but axis could hear his gears continuing to turn.

Mason: Time is a weft. —weft. It is your Fate to follow its path obsequiously. But the warp permeates all. In it inheres no direction. —direction. Follow the warp's path, the path always already forgotten, & you might travel time in the way that a sailor travels the seas.

axis was beginning to think that she really ought to stop talking to animals — robotic or otherwise.

Mason: —the seas.

axis: …And how, precisely, would I go about doing such a thing?

Mason: You are, surely, aware that the particular location of the Clocktower is no accident.

axis: [pauses] Yes… It is quite conveniently located at the centre of Lūdibrium, so that everyone can see the clock.

Mason: Quite the contrary: Lūdibrium is conveniently located around the Clocktower. The Clocktower is, in any case, quite tall — what do you reckon lies below the Toy Factory? —Toy Factory?

axis: [pauses] Clock stuff, I suppose.

Mason: [HONK] Clock stuff, indeed. If you catch my meaning.

axis: Hmph.

Mason: But before I let you go, I must first administer a warning. —a warning.

The metalline toucan now leaned slightly towards axis, & turned his head to focus a single eye directly on her.

Mason: There are only marbles. Do not lose yours.

The bird swivelled around with a jerking motion, flying inelegantly back into its home.

axis’s curiosity now had the best of her. She may not’ve wanted any of Mason’s random crap, but the prospect of sneaking her way into a mysterious region of the Clocktower — lying below even the Lost Time where she’d met Grandpa Clock — was too juicy to pass up. Although she didn’t understand Mason’s talk of marbles & “losing” them, she ascribed it to his eccentricity, & perhaps even a bug in his system.

axis headed to the part of the Clocktower that she believed — or perhaps, formerly believed — was the centre of its absolute bottom: the Whirlpool of Time. Ignoring its considerable population of Tick-Tocks, the Whirlpool was the location in which the inner mechanical operation of the Clocktower’s Clock could be heard most clearly. Each tick of anchor against escape wheel reverberated throughout the Whirlpool, shaking its walls & floors ever so slightly. The crunching of cog against cog, & the cumbrous cadence of the Clock’s counterweight, caused a constant quiet cacophony that cradled every other sound that crossed through the space.

axis scoured the bed of the Whirlpool. Eventually, she came across a single small trapdoor wrought of plastic. Unfortunately, the trapdoor was locked. Fortunately, the lock was on axis’s side, & it too was plastic. axis used one hand to plug her nose & mask her mouth, and her other hand to set her pinwheel ablaze, using the heat from its flame to melt the lock. After fanning away the noxious fumes to the best of her ability, axis kicked the still-heated lock with her boot. Half of the lock was thus tossed aside, with the other half remaining in an unrecognisable mess of molten plastic.

The trapdoor now gave way to axis’s prising. When axis peered past the trapdoor, unsure of what to expect, she saw… nothing. No light emerged from the open trapdoor, & when axis hovered her flaming pinwheel above it, neither did it reflect any. axis tried reaching one hand beyond the trapdoor’s aperture, & when she did so, she fell.

At least, axis felt like she was falling. Her heart & her bowels swapped places as she was sent into something like a hypnic jerk in extreme slow-motion. Her vision was dominated by a rapid procession of phosphenes, like an infinite psychic waterfall of lights. Her ears were bathed in white noise. Her breast flooded with a million nostalgias for things that she’d never experienced.

Although this was certainly a queer sort of way to be, axis bizarrely found that she felt more at home now than she ever had previously. Something was eerily familiar about wherever — & whenever — she was; somewhere, somewhen, plunged in the unfathomable depths of the Clocktower.

Then, the waterfall stopped. axis was no longer falling. The white noise was replaced by a thousand faint ringings, each one individually discernible. The sensible forms that greeted her eyes always already fragmented themselves continuously & indefinitely, merging, splitting, approaching one another only enough to barely touch. Still, although the things that she saw appeared to move in such convolutions, conjugations, & interweavings, axis almost immediately recognised what she saw as a kind of kaleidoscopic fractal. What she detected was not movement, but rather, a complex of infinities.

Each temporal path was its own infinity, laid before her like a single ill-defined grain of sand on a beach of indefinite extent. axis now understood more clearly what Mason was talking about.

Nevertheless, she seemed to still materially be beneath the Clocktower. Between the wefts, there were warped interstices, each one a vast open space sparsely occupied by gargantuan toy bricks supported by indefinitely tall towers of playfully polychromatic timekeeping apparatûs: huge epicyclic gear trains, outsized electrical plugs, pendula that seemed to never repeat the same period twice, distorted clockfaces with misshapen hands, loosely-hanging half-uncoiled mainsprings, colossal plastic escapements that erroneously rotated both ways, wind-up keys sticking out of pressurised chambers, & many more. Dispersed, vague mists ranging from white, to deep blue, to inky black, haunted these interstices as a cosmic backdrop.

Ghostbusting

Die Tradition aller toten Geschlechter lastet wie ein Alp auf dem Gehirne der Lebenden.


The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

― Karl Marx, trans. Saul K. Padover; Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Napoleon (“The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”), ch. I; 1852, trans. 1937.

As axis ventured forth to explore one of these interstices, she was amusedly surprised to already encounter someone else. They were a rather plump man who was halfway through another bite into the Hamburger that they held in one hand. axis supposed that, whoever they were, they must have just started their lunch break: they were heavily equipped with a full-body suit, a visor & headset, and in their non-Hamburger hand, they wielded the extended nozzle of an elaborate-looking machine that sat on the ground just next to them.

The man was rather startled by axis’s sudden & stealthy arrival, nearly dropping their Hamburger onto the huge toy brick upon which they stood.

[Hamburger man]: [flustered] Buhhh… Excuse me!

axisaxis: You’re excused.

[Hamburger man]: Erm… I mean, what’re you doin’ here? I’ve never seen ya before, & ya look quite strange.

axis: I’m flattered.

[Hamburger man]: [nervously] Uhh, I don’t mean ta be rude, ma’am. I just mean ta say that ya don’t look like you’re from ’round these parts. I don’t wear this suit for nothin’!

axis: My name is axis. I’m just here to check things out. To see what’s going on down here…

[Hamburger man]: [even more nervously] Y—you’re not from headquarters, are ya?

axis: Actually, I am.

axis saw a distinct look of fear pass over the man’s face as he straightened up.

axis: I’m kidding. I don’t know what that means.

[Hamburger man]: [relieved] Sheesh, ya scared the bejesus outta me.

axis: And you are…?

[Hamburger man]: [firmly] Bob. Ghosthunter Bob. I ain’t afraid o’ no ghost, but ya better believe they’re afraid o’ me.

A small shred of lettuce from Bob’s burger fell to the plastic floor.

axis: Ghosts?

Bob: Yes’m. See for yourself…

Bob used the hose of his strange contraption to gesture towards another giant toy brick in the distance. axis could see that it was populated by one teddy bear. The bear was quite raggèd, stuffing sticking out of its various cloth wounds. But what made the bear notable was that it was animated — not as a wind-up toy, but rather, puppeted by a bluish ursine spirit that used its stubby ghost arms & vacant ghost eyes to pilot the teddy’s movements. The eerie translucency of the phantasm distinctly reminded axis of Reef.

axis: Oh. I see. [gesturing towards Bob’s machine] And you use that thing to eliminate them?

Bob: Yep. Well, no. Not exactly…

axis: How do you mean?

Bob: Well… ghosts can’t be killed. They’re already dead, ya see? Problem is, although they might be dead, the spectres o’ the past weigh heavy on the minds o’ the livin’. And that’s why I’m here.

Bob looked quite proud of himself.

axis: Well if they can’t be destroyed, then what exactly are you doing with them?

Bob: [slaps the side panel of his machine] This bad boy c’n fit so many gotdamned ghosties in it. Ya’d hardly believe it. And once they’re properly contained, they c’n be properly dealt with.

axis: “Dealt with”… how?

Bob managed a muffled chortle as he chewed a bite of Hamburger.

Bob: [mouth still half-full] That’s beyond my pay grade. Somethin’ ’bout history & whatnot. You c’n ask the eggheads at HQ all ’bout that…

axis: So… why are you afraid of the people at HQ?

Bob: [swallows burger] Strictly speakin’, I’m not s’pose ta be on lunch break right now. O’ course, time’s a li’l slippery down here, so no one’s gonna notice if I take an extra lunch break or two. …Or three.

axis: Right… But if you’re on break, surely you could take a second to relieve yourself of all that gear!

Another shred of lettuce met its lamentable plastic fate as Bob failed to suppress laughter.

Bob: Absolutely not, ma’am. These ghosties’re no joke. And ya never know when another one’ll show up. One moment, you’re confident, & the next, you’ve lost your marbles!

axis: [looking again at the teddy bear] …Hmph. They don’t seem so bad.

Bob: [mouth full] Well by all means, be my guest. I got another burger where this came from.

axis accepted Bob’s challenge. She walked to the end of the toy brick that she & Bob were standing on, climbing, leaping, & dropping down to the brick on which she saw a haunted teddy bear. As axis rather noisily landed on the brick and approached the possessed ursid, it seemed not to notice — or at least, not to care. As she approached within a stonesthrow of the creature, she thought that she heard a continuous murmur, like a room full of people all feverishly whispering at once.

When she lit her pinwheel ablaze, the dilapidated plush animal almost immediately turned to face her. The bear itself soullessly stared askew, its one bad leg bent in a limp. But the colourless eyes of its ghost pilot furrowed with intent, glaring not at axis, but directly at the flame protruding from her grasp.

axis tried bringing her pinwheel all the way up & to her side, to the fullest extent of her arm. The phantasm’s eyes followed it, seemingly even more agitated to witness that the flame moved. The spectre suddenly swole up, its visage distorting as it swung violently the right arm of its teddy bear. From forth the stuffed arm hurtled a sickly greenish light, supernaturally slicing at axis’s pinwheel with a fivesome of phantom bear claws. The pinwheel was thus flung out of axis’s grasp, its flame extinguished as it departed.

axis rushed to pick her pinwheel back up. When she approached the cotton ursid again, she was careful not to elementally enchant her pinwheel until she’d already closed in on it. As she did so, however, she found that the whispering grew very much louder very quickly. A myriad of voices crawled at once into axis’s ears, hissing, murmuring, & reciting stories, histories, historiographies, statistics, analyses, & lessons in concert.

WITH THE IMPERFECTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM Good laughter, And Big Talk. But best— it’s home With an open WOMEN DID WORK IN FACTORIES, PARTICULARLY IN criticism but In either case, the racial division of and highways had chance to coordinate their testimony. How of reproduction he does our Lord. A good Italian happily forks out more like an extra burden that one in that sense, to engage in a sort of expressed as an “eternal on the continent, the consequently, THE FAMILY FORM that had come to November of 1966, the first major organization of of his carceral capacities, can off its policymaking bodies. A for which private [property] became just as much a to the so-called “Confucian ethos” that contributed to the economic success themselves — their understanding was together and kept them so bound. Such binding did not only in the New York City elementary schools, told of her experiences prisons — Some have argued that process called nóngzhuǎnfēi), with “the annual quota of nóngzhuǎnfēi set by the regime, customarily advanced revenues to undermined the foundations of the feudal system.” history.” But life involves before everything else eating one industry. the GMD was utterly unable to shotguns, rifles, pistols, riot sticks, Mace, dogs, chains, the uneven subsumption of the rural sphere These UNDER GMD CONTROL, AND ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS and powerful influence in Eastern Europe Indeed, was also the case that children were expected to hand, the power of the earlier mode of production assigned to “female” bodies — or the counter-pole policy — standard in dealing with popular insurrections — of forcibly removing them, this would have children — sometimes without bothering to leave the church officially. True, there was The prison THE LOCALITY. INCREASING JOINT OWNERSHIP ASSUMED EVEN GREATER IMPORTANCE IN THE LIGHT OF THE and its little territory, the Middle Ages started out THEY OFFERED. FOR NO MATTER HOW BAD THOSE CONDITIONS a military attack increased productivity, the increase of needs, and, what is on the one hand, and THE SOLUTION IN EITHER CASE REMAINED THE SAME: SIFT THE mostly urban guerrilla group founded in distinction. As we further and business verdicts against Japanese officials and argued that the now used collectively but still technically owned Board (EPB) up during China’s socialist era would produce competing and violently the success of the cause itself, vague terms that differed from group to group: “The Paris Commune national blocs owners and all or most contact with manufacture. The intercourse of nations in Europe and Japan. But, to a large extent, GRANTS OF LAND FOR RUBBER GROWING. THEN, TO LINGER, IF WE AS WELL AS THE for being efficient and well-managed. Women’s handicraft labor, STERILE BY THE GREEDY FELLING OF THE WOODLANDS THE RIGHT TO EXTRACT Perhaps he is human. Nothing … IN EMERGE WHERE THE FULL EFFLORESCENCE to accept the challenges of this, and the Emperor himself the Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan regimes, The question of how the affirmation in the world: workers LAW, SCIENCE, ETC., OF ART, RELIGION, Similarly, the Shěngwúlián attempted to send investigation teams out into AN UNANTICIPATED NO STABLE INCENTIVES OR SOCIAL CUSTOMS GUIDING IN MOST WAYS ONLY MATCH OF THE DAY. INSTEAD OF NEIGHBOURS FILLING UP DEBT REACHED FRIGHTENING PROPORTIONS WHEN, IN 1997, THE the Vietnamese people and I learned they were just the number of lives, the government said — a million, according from early 1960 claiming of its women office workers. of Freud’s ignorance of women, Rich said, as his one THE RAVAGES voice. “There is one more thing before you go,” he said looking RAPID INDUSTRIALIZATION of state revenue collection, FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF EMANCIPATION, A SOCIAL ORDER FREED gendered “domination”, which takes FOLDER, AND .026 MINUTES FOR OPENING A STANDARD CENTER policy of pillage and plunder. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, […]

axis winced as the voices swelled in volume. Hundreds of narratives buzzed in her head. She wept. Through teary breath she mumbled the words that lighted her pinwheel. Before the spectre could so much as react, axis had already swung viciously, at once igniting the teddy bear & dashing its cotton stuffing to the floor. The spectral spook divorced itself from the bear, a listless look washing over its faint visage as it slowly floated away.

axis was quick to grab its ghostly tail end with her hand. The spectre stubbornly continued to float. axis grabbed also with her other hand. The spook threatened to pull her right into the air, dragging the tippy-toes of her boots across the plastic floor. Eventually, the phantasm conceded, the listless look on its face melting further into a look of slumber as it entered a kind of torpor.

The thing continued to whisper, albeit more faintly now. It laid limp in axis’s arms. Unsure of what exactly to do with the thing, axis laboriously climbed her way back to where Bob was taking his lunch break.

Bob: [amusedly] That was quite the show!

Bob took the torpid ghost from axis, opened a compartment of his spectral vacuum machine, & shoved the ghost into it unceremoniously.

Bob: …You alright?

axis gazed vacantly at the now closed compartment, her face now somewhat of a teary mess. Bob softened his voice.

Bob: Welp, I wasn’t lyin’ when I said the ghosties’re no joke. I shoulda been more stern with ya.

axis: [faintly] I’m fine.

Bob wiped his mouth & dusted his hands off.

axis: I just wasn’t expecting it.

Bob: It is a li’l more intense than the Maple History. [pauses] Tell ya what. It looked like ya got a pretty mean grip on that there ghostie just now. I got a spare headset ya c’n use if you’re meanin’ ta bust more ghosts. I’ve been havin’ some issues with too many o’ the big mean yellow ones, & jus’ this past lunch break, one o’ the Vikin’ ones stole one o’ my gotdamn Soul Collectors!

axis: …I could give it a go.

Bob: That’s the spirit! No pun intended. [snorts]

axis accepted the headset. Its headband was a bit oversized, but the earpieces were large enough to make it work. With the headband on, the gentle susurrations of the interstice’s cerulean mists were muted, leaving axis in an uncanny silence.

The “big mean yellow ones” were similar in many ways to the first spectral chrono-creature that axis had encountered. Each creature was still a raggèd undead teddy bear; but this time, puppeted by a much larger ghost made of scraggly tatters & shadows. The shadows bore two terrifying bilious eyes, visible only due to their intense glow. axis wondered to herself what the significance of the teddy bears was, & was subsequently reminded that she was still — technically — beneath the Toy Factory. Maybe. Sort of.

Thankfully, the headset muffled the phantasmal voices so that axis heard little more than weak scratching noises in her ears. When she vanquished the spectral puppeteer with her flaming pinwheel, its tatters burned not to a crisp, but rather, into the void entirely. All that remained was a teddy bear, battered to near unrecognisibility, and the glowing amber claws & marionette strings that once controlled it.

The Viking spirits, on the other hand, were quite different. These pale Viking ghosties sported horned Viking helmets, comically large moustaches, & rode around lazily in their own personal ships that inexplicably floated about. axis supposed that ghosts were just naturally buoyant, & so this was normal for them. What was less clear to her was the particular way in which the phantasmal Vikings controlled what direction they went in. Were the tiny glowing propellers on the ship’s sterns functional? Were the orientations of the billowing red-&-gold sails adjustable? Or did they perhaps simply allow the everpresent mists to guide them any which way the winds of time blew?

In any case, these were still unmistakably creatures of time. Not only did the golden ensign on each sail depict a two-handed clock, but the forecastle supported a nearly full-sized pendulum clock, certainly obscuring most of the Viking’s forward vision. Naturally, the lack of vision was made up for by a miniature ghostie — equipped with its own tiny Viking helm, of course — on lookout atop the clock’s helm.

axis tried negotiating with the Viking-helm ghosts, as they seemed harmless enough at first. Regrettably, they appeared to not understand a word that axis said, much less did they understand what a “Soul Collector” was. Or perhaps, they didn’t want to understand. In either case, axis tried climbing into their relatively small plastic airships, searching them for suspicious-looking gadgets or containers. The undead Vikings were rather unamused by axis’s stunts, and grumbled as her weight caused their ships to teeter & roll.

On account of the fact that these were ships barely large enough to support a single bulbous ghost pilot, axis inevitably bumped into the ghosts numerous times. Their bodies were half bouncy, but the other half of the time, they gave way to axis’s pushes. As axis intersected with their ghostly flesh, she viewed her body chaotically refracting, like a horrible slideshow of affine transfigurations. The ghost’s interior felt like dipping her body into an isolated wind chamber, where the air jetted & swirled every which way with intense ferocity.

The surly Vikings soon grew tired of axis disturbing them, & began to open fire upon her. The bow of each airship was outfitted with a small cannon capable of firing small carmine cannonballs. Fortunately for axis, the cannonballs were not terribly large — only barely larger than one of her fists. Moreover, the cannons seemed to operate in slow-motion, taking roughly an entire second (at least, from axis’s frame of reference) from ignition to the cannonball actually exiting the muzzle. The cannonballs travelled in straight lines (although exactly what a “straight line” was here was debatable), but so slowly that axis found that she could outrun them without too much effort.

Now that it came to blows, axis lighted her pinwheel ablaze. When she struck the Viking spectres, however, her pinwheel tended to bounce off of them or go right through them, without so much as mildly scorching them. Frustrated, axis tried extinguishing her flamewheel and using her lightning magicks instead. Now, the bouncy Vikings were quite affected. Although her pinwheel still frequently passed right through their spectral flesh, as it did so, the ghosts were now thoroughly stunned by the intense electrical currents.

axis vs. Spirit Vikings

axis took this opportunity to board their airships, and eventually, she found the culprit. One of them was hiding a small cylindrical metal canister with a conspicuous ghost symbol, circled & slashed through with a bright red “no” sign. axis immediately recognised the logo as the same one that she saw on the side of Bob’s ghostbusting machine.

axis was intrigued by the red cannonballs that the Spirit Vikings fired at her. Owing to their size, shape, & reddish colour, they looked rather like fruits to axis. Picking up one of the cannonballs with her hand, she licked the projectile. Somewhat underwhelmingly, it didn’t taste like much; perhaps like a polished stone… granite, she thought. She considered nibbling the thing, but ultimately thought better of it.

axis brought the Soul Collector & the amber marionette strings back to Bob.

Bob: Gee whizz! That was pretty darn quick work there. I’ve been lookin’ for this Soul Collector for days! Or weeks, dependin’ on how ya count…

Bob stuck the Soul Collector into a hole at the top of his ghostbusting machine. axis heard air rapidly escape the container as it was depressurised. Taking the Collector back out & sealing it up again, Bob placed it in a bespoke pocket of his utility belt. The amber marionette strings that axis brought back were put in containment in the same way that Bob had done with the first ghostie that axis caught.

Bob: I ’preciate the help, I really do. Unfortunately I don’t have much ta offer ya in return. [pauses briefly] Want a burger? [extends arm, burger in hand]

axis: …Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m quite stuffed, really. Had a large breakfast.

axis had not had a large breakfast, & was really beginning to feel quite peckish. But she supposed that food originating from a warped spacetime interstice was likely to upset her stomach… or worse. In any case, she still had some snacks left in her bag.

Bob took a bite of the burger.

axis: Say, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about marbles, would you?

Bob: [swallows burger] Marbles? Sure. Ya didn’t lose yours, didja?

axis: [pauses] I don’t think so… Well, I only mention it because I was told about something called an “Aurora Marble”.

Bob: [chuckles] The Aurora Marble, eh? Yeah, I know all ’bout that thing.

axis: Oh, really? Like, where it’s located, mayhaps…?

Bob: Don’t get too excited. The creatures ya see down here — spectral or otherwise — got here first. If the Aurora Marble’s anywhere, it’s ’cause one o’ these here critters is keepin’ it safe. [pauses briefly] If I had ta guess, it’s prolly one o’ them jester types that’s got it. They love marbles so much, they wear ’em on their clothes.

axis: Oh? Have you tried asking them about it?

Bob: [snorts] Absolutely not. I’m a ghost buster, not a jester arrester. If ya’d like ta have a go at ’em yourself, they c’n be found over thereabouts.

Bob outstretched one arm, using a single thumb to point in the direction of a different interstice.

axis: Hmm… Okay. Thank you!

Bob: Don’t mention it. [takes another bite]

Somewhat unfortunately for axis, getting to the interstice that Bob indicated would require retracing her steps & then doing something of a U-turn… unless she was willing to swim through the wefts of time directly. She played it safe, and with some effort, made her way back to the “place” where she’d first entered this temporal realm. The bricks & towers that composed the basic material structure of these interstices had a troublesome habit of changing their apparent positions, orientations, & even sizes. Or perhaps they weren’t “changing” per se, and were merely indecisive. Either way, this added some considerable difficulty to axis’s travels.

Surely, you jest

La fontaine rit dans sa vasque
Avec un son clair de métal.
D’un rayon de lune fantasque
Luisent les flacons de cristal.

Mais le seigneur à blanche basque,
Laissant le rouge végétal
Et le fard vert oriental,
Maquille étrangement son masque
D’un rayon de lune fantasque.


The fountain in its basin
Laughs with a bright metallic sound.
A fantastic ray of moonlight
Illuminates the crystal flasks.

Wan Pierrot
Rejecting the vegetal red
And the oriental green
Paints his face with the strange make-up
Of a fantastic ray of moonlight.

― Albert Giraud, trans. Brian D. Cohen; « Pierrot “Dandy” » (“The Dandy”); Pierrot lunaire : rondels bergamasques (“Moonstruck Pierrot: bergamask rondels”); 1884, trans. 2014.

The interstice next door was similar in many ways, but axis immediately recognised it as the correct one due to its population of jokers. Although they didn’t particularly look ghostly, nor even undead, their proportions were bizarre, and axis had a hard time discerning where their torsos ended & their puffed-up pant legs began. She also mistakenly thought at first that these jesters were armless, until she realised that two of the several triangular lapels of their shirts were not lapels at all: they were thin, narrow, pointed strips of cloth that acted as handless arms. Their legs were likewise footless, being insubstantial cloth tips emerging from their bloated pants, incapable of supporting their own weight. Instead, the jokers danced around just above the floors, hovering as if walking upon a thin cushion of air.

More important to axis were their jester hats. The hats were more or less traditional, each one a bicoloured, loosely-fitting hat fashioned into three conical crowns that sagged under the weight of the marbles attached to their tips. axis was certain that a jester’s cap was meant to have bells, not marbles, on its tips, but supposed that Mason must have been onto something when he claimed that “there are only marbles”.

Although axis may have been mistaken about the jokers being armless, perhaps they were still harmless. She couldn’t tell whether the sly looks on their faces were ones of playfulness, or of something more sinister.

When she approached one, its visible eye — the other being obscured by its loose-fitting jester cap — glow’d a brilliant gold in axis’s direction. axis waved. The jester opened its mouth to speak, & axis noticed that its teeth were like two perfectly-aligned saws. When the jokester spake, the words that spilled out were perfectly nonsense to axis. Seemingly understanding the puzzled look on axis’s face, the jester spake once more, but this time in a way that sounded very different. axis still did not understand.

axisaxis: …Hello…!

The jester paused briefly.

[jester]: Greetings! A mortal, I see! Oh ho ho ho…! Come to lose your marbles?

The jester’s voice was rather high-pitched & squeaky.

axis: I should hope not. I—

[jester]: What’s this, then?

The joker held out a single delicate arm, at the end of which it presented a small clapperless bell.

axis: [looks down at her dress] Hey! That’s part of my dress! Give that back!

[jester]: Hmph. Not much of a marble, anyways… [lazily tosses the bell away]

axis scrambled to pick up the bell & carefully re-attach it to the bell of her dress.

[jester]: [squinting slightly] I must say, you look a bit queer. Not at all like that sandwich-eating oaf.

axis: Thanks, I’ve been getting that a lot lately…

[jester]: Would you like to try my hat on? You’d make for a proper jester with that dress!

The jester laughed strangely, like an evenly-timed sequence of staccato squeaks.

axis: [rolls eyes] I could never be a jester, clearly. I have actual arms & legs…

[jester]: Ho ho! That may be so, but can you do this?

The joker made quite a show of rapidly cartwheeling in midair, rolling every which way & orientation, whilst it produced tinny — albeit impressively loud — circus music.

axis: Yes.

The buffoon ceased its music immediately, & came to a graceful quasi-landing.

[jester]: Oh? Let’s see it, then. Go on…

axis: I shan’t. I prefer not to embarrass myself, unlike some people here…

[jester]: [squeak] Such cheek! [with affected dejection] Whatever did I do to deserve such bitter words…?

axis: [briefly clears throat] You wouldn’t happen to know anything about the Aurora Marble, would you?

[jester]: Ah! So you’ve come for my marbles? How presumptuous!

axis: And presumptuous of you to deface my dress!

[jester]: Or perhaps it was presumptuous of you to come here without so much as a jester’s cap on your head, a gift for me, or a note from your doctor!

axis: [pauses briefly] I could give you a gift.

[jester]: Is it a marble?

axis: I’m afraid not.

[jester]: Well then…

The jester once again squinted at axis.

[jester]: Tell you what: I’ll help you with your marble quest, on just one condition.

axis: That is…?

[jester]: You must solve my riddles three…

axis reluctantly accepted the challenge.

[38]

Though I’m a kind of rock, I’m made of glass.
Although I’m wholly round & roll with ease,
Withal, entirely crystal is my mass.
A statue you may call me, if you please;
Yet still, it’s games that you may play with me.
I’m made of lime, but sour I can’t be.

Who am I?

⚠️SPOILER:⚠️ Solution to the above riddle

axis: Marble? A marble?

[jester]: Well. That one was supposed to be easy…

I have a face, but no nose, mouth, nor eyes.
I’ve arms & hands, but can’t grab, reach, nor prise.
I swing, but can’t roam free howe’er I try.
Thou mayèst read me, but no words have I.

Who am I?

⚠️SPOILER:⚠️ Solution to the above riddle

axis: …A pendulum clock.

[jester]: Hmph. Two for two… so far! You’ll hardly be prepared for this one…

When something happens, I am always there;
A million years, you’ll never find out where.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words;
I must be worth a million (& two thirds).
I surely leave as soon as I arrive.
’Tis only me whom you can’t some way rive.

Who am I?

axis mulled over this last riddle for a bit.

⚠️SPOILER:⚠️ Solution to the above riddle

axis: …A moment. An instant.

The jester squeaked, but this time it did not sound like a laugh.

[jester]: You… weren’t supposed to get that one!!

axis: But I did.

[jester]: [frustratedly] Ugh. Fine… I have a very special marble…

A relatively large glass marble, perfectly spherical, emerged apparently from the void, as the jester once again used its jocular telekinetic tricks. The marble danced & flew through the air, seemingly of its own accord. Then, the jester hovered the marble just above axis’s head, out of her reach. Each time that she jumped, the joker simply moved the marble upwards — only long enough to cause axis’s grabbing to fail.

axis: Oh, come on!

The jester returned the marble to its own grasp.

[jester]: What, did you really think that I was going to give you the Aurora Marble just because you solved a few riddles?

The joker squeaked contemptuously.

axis put her words behind her, instead opting to light up her pinwheel. She abruptly charged the jester, intent on walloping it. The joker recoiled, but only too late.

axis vs. a certain Lazy Buffy

[jester]: Oof! Yowch!! Get off me, you damnable wench!! Cease this at once!!!

axis forcibly extracted the Marble from the jester.

axis: [catching her breath] You know, you’re quite sour for a jester! I thought that jesters were supposed to be comic! Jocular!!

The jester sat on its buttocks (supposing that it had any), defeated. axis was quite ready to leave this interstice as soon as possible. Aurora Marble firmly in her grasp, she fled back whence she’d come.

Doot

Now that she had a moment to inspect the Marble, axis thought at first that it was quite ordinary. It appeared to be made of some kind of tinted glass, fashioned into a perfect sphere; it was of an appropriate size for playing a game of marbles with; & one of its central axes was shot through with colourful wavy streaks. Seeing the waves running through the marble’s centre, axis now understood what Mason meant when he compared it to a cat’s eye.

If axis had seen dozens of marbles exactly like this one on the conveyor belts of the Toy Factory, she wouldn’t’ve batted an eye. Still, the marble made for a good prototype, so perhaps it was the first marble for a reason. Moreover, axis found that the marble had a mysterious presence to it. Or perhaps she was just imagining things.

In any case, axis noticed something peculiar on the way back. By this point, she’d seen quite a few varieties of bizarre creatures inhabiting this warped temporal realm. One amongst them was a species of large ghosts hopelessly shackled to colossal pocket watches. The spectral arms & the metallic ribcages of these creatures were chained to the floating watches, making horrible moaning & clanking noises as they shuffled to & fro. The spectres had teeth, but no lips; arms, but no legs; ribs, but no spines; white glowing eyes, but no lids; & instead of hair upon their patchwork scalps, they bore several stubby horns of solid ice. The space around them continually froze, thawed, & froze again as they passed, leaving behind a patchy trail of hoarfrost.

But these rimy beasts were not the source of the strangeness. What confronted axis as strange was a perfectly ordinary humanoid figure, albeit one dressed in bizarre attire. As axis approached the figure, she began to distinguish its various articles: a gold-trimmed cape of purple cloth; bulky, bright yellow snowshoes; crimson gauntlets reinforced by black-&-gold plating. She thought that she saw the figure holding a large mushroom in one hand, its other hand being occupied by a glowing, rhombic shield of sorts. axis remembered seeing an ægis very much like this one, the last time that she’d visited Ellinia’s Magic Library. Although a mushroom was certainly an unusual sort of thing to wield, axis was more surprised to see that the figure’s torso was bare, the rest of its body clothed in little more than a bathtowel. She also mistakenly identified the figure as some kind of chimæral raccoon–man hybrid, before she realised that its raccoon face was no more than a mask.

axis supposed that perhaps this man was a ghostbuster like Bob. When she met the man face-to-face, however, she realised that there were no ghostbusting machines in sight. Instead, the man was simply presenting the holy symbol emblazoned upon his ægis, and beseeching his god with words of healing prayer: he was a man of the cloth. Not exactly a missionary, this priest did not capture the ghosts as Bob did, but rather, vanquished them entirely. The healing puissance of the gods hadn’t a restorative effect on these timekeeping phantasms; on the contrary, the ghosts hacked, wheezed, & quite simply resigned themselves to the void entirely.

axis somewhat timidly greeted the man, keeping her distance just in case the “healing” magic somehow afflicted living creatures too. The man’s responses were terse, and sometimes included honking noises. He indicated that he’d been down here healing dæmonic spirits for quite some time, but that they never seemed to stop coming. He recognised from the way that axis held her pinwheel that she was a disciple of Tylus, and so invited her to partake in some “pain & suffering”, as he called it. axis supposed that she’d hardly anything else to expect so deep in the godsforsaken distorted depths of the Clocktower, other than pain & suffering, and so she agreed to partake.

AppleBasket & axis duoing GPWs

These particular ghosts were really quite massive, often coming up to twice — or even thrice — axis’s height. She was thus having some issues pulverising so much bulk with just her one pinwheel. Fortunately, the roaring flame of axis’s weapon was quite adverse indeed for these icy ghosties. Their rimy exteriors thawed, their ghostly forms melted, and eventually they were reduced to little more than puddles of spectral liquid on the floor.

After a lengthy session of ghost-slaying, axis figured that it was time — or time-ish — to head all the way back whence she’d come. She’d obtained the legendary Aurora Marble, assisted some of the people of this bizarre universe, and seen a lot of things. A lot.

When axis made her way back, she realised that she was unsure of how to go… “up”. Considering that she was ostensibly “beneath” the Toy Factory, & that she’d felt at first like she was falling “down” to “here”, “up” was all that she could think of. Eventually, she found what appeared to be exactly the source of that “up”: a ladder.

The ladder was made of plastic in various dark shades of blue & purple. As far as axis could tell, this ladder may well have extended all the way through the heavens: it didn’t quite meet the floor beneath it, & simply extended upwards beyond the limits of axis’s vision. She had a go at climbing the ladder, & as she did so, the white noise returned to her ears; the phosphenes returned to her eyes.

And then, there was nothing.

उषस्

At some point, axis returned to consciousness. She was awkwardly lain prone on the plastic floor of the Whirlpool, her face smushed, & there was still a faint ringing in her ears. Picking herself up, she noticed that the trapdoor that she’d melted the lock of had been closed again. Moreover, it was now surrounded by four sides of safety barriers, complete with signs warning — in several different scripts — any reader to stay back, for their own protection.

axis made her way to the town of Lūdibrium, where she met once again with Mason. Mason was quite overjoyed to have acquired the Aurora Marble, & axis was a bit worried that he might short-circuit from all the excitement. Mason offered axis anything that she wanted from his miscellanea of doohickeys, but axis insisted that she was not in the mood for any more doohickeys nor thingymajigs.

By this point, axis had quite forgotten where she was meant to be going. She vaguely remembered that she’d arrived at Lūdibrium via the Helios Tower’s elevator, & so decided to continue her way around. As she descended the Eos Tower, she ran across some of the same sorts of Trixters that she’d encountered in the damnable dollhouse dimension. She was thus reminded of her job as courier between the lovers Angelique & Richard. Richard[39] had instructed axis to bring, along with the letter that he’d written, several Sticky Spiderwebs to Angelique[39]. axis thought that spiderwebs made quite an unusual gift, but also thought it best not to question it.

axis harvesting Trixter webs

The black-&-yellow Trixters’ webs didn’t seem very sticky, though. When axis touched the bizarrely green webs with her fingers, they were exceedingly slimy, & slid right off. The green-&-red Trixters, on the other hand, did have webs that met Richard’s[39] description. In fact, axis found that handling these webs with her bare hands was not the right idea, as once she’d touched them, they refused to let go unless carefully scraped off.

The “rabbit-hole” not as it were, but as it is

There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural;) but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, ​burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

― C. L. Dodgson; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch. I; 1865.

axis continued descending the Eos, & was unsurprised to encounter even more predicaments involving anomalously mischievous products of the Toy Factory. On the 60th floor of the Tower, axis met one quite vexed Roly-Poly worker who was busy repairing the Eos. axis had previously met quite a few other Roly-Poly folx at work in the Toy Factory, & more frequently in the Eos Tower. Although they were otherwise ordinary human beings, they had exceptionally round heads & bodies, with flat ears, flat noses, flat lips, & no legs to speak of. Instead, the Roly-Polys simply rolled & hopped their way around; this conferred upon them an extraordinary balance that made their work on the Eos Tower far less dangerous.

In a concerned tone, the Roly-Poly described to axis yet another pocket dimension produced by yet another abnormal toy: this time, a Drumming Bunny. The Roly-Poly claimed that they’d investigated the “perforation” themself, but left the folded dimension as quickly as they could once they witnessed its contents: countless bizarrely aggressive Drumming Bunnies — more than the Toy Factory could ever produce. The Roly-Poly had then reported it to the Omega Sector authorities, & was told that Omega Sector Command would be looking into it very soon.

The actual response of Omega Sector Command, however, demonstrated the relativity of “soon”. It had been days, & the Roly-Poly was quite certain that the fissure was gradually swelling. Since axis already had unfinished business with Omega Sector Command anyway, she decided to make a quick trip to the bottom of the Tower to meet with General Maestro.

When axis arrived at the Omega Sector, Maestro was standing just outside of the Command Centre, having a brief walkie-talkie conversation with someone. Not wanting to interrupt, axis waited for Maestro to put the walkie-talkie down.

axisaxis: Hello, General.

axis had never personally spoken with any of the higher-ups of Omega Sector Command before, so she decided to accompany her greeting with a slight curtsey. The General responded with a salute.

General Maestro: Salutations. And with whom do I enjoy the pleasure of speaking?

axis: axis, at your service.

Maestro: [eyebrows raised] axis! I see! You’re the one who took care of that little Lycanthrope problem, yes?

axis: Yessir. I also collected their toenails, just in case you… wanted them. [pauses briefly] For science.

Maestro: Oh. Excellent…

axis dug the baggy out of her haversack that she’d used to store the werewolf toenails, & handed it to the General.

Maestro: Well, I’m certainly glad that we didn’t have to launch operation LOLASS. Saved us quite a bit of trouble.

axis: You’re very welcome. That’s not what I’m here for, however…

Maestro: Oh?

axis: I was informed by a certain Roly-Poly that Command had plans to investigate a certain aberrant fissure somewhere around the 88th or 89th floor of the Tower… Is that true?

Maestro: That’s correct.

axis: Are those plans… still in action?

Maestro: Yes. Well, let’s just say that the plans are still in the process of formulation.

axis: Hmm… Is there… any reason for that? The Roly-Poly with whom I spoke indicated that they’d already done some preliminary investigation of their own.

Maestro: Right. You see, that’s part of the problem. If someone has already entered through that fissure, & if that someone is accurate in their description of what they witnessed, then the state of that pocket dimension is almost certainly dire at this point. As a result, Command expects that a fully-armed squad of at least half a dozen men are going to be required to secure the fissure.

axis: Well… you have the SOSWTF, yeah? Can’t you form a squad from them?

Maestro: Oh, absolutely. That’s exactly what we initially planned to do. There’s just one slight problem…

axis: That is?

Maestro: [pauses] …Allow me to explain with an analogy. Suppose that you have a water balloon, yes?

axis: Sure.

Maestro: The latex of the balloon itself is the fabric of our universe, and the fluid — the water — that fills it is the material stuff, things, & energy that make up our sensible universe. Now suppose that a skilled balloontwister grabs one small part of the balloon, extrudes it ever so slightly, & twists it.

axis: Okay…

Maestro: That’s how these pocket dimensions are created. Locally, they appear like tiny microcosms of our universe, with similar physics. But they’re slightly warped around the edges, & they seem cramped because they’re really very tiny in comparison to the rest of the universe.

In reality, the balloontwister analogy is not quite right. The universe is constantly naturally creating these little pockets, but the naturally-generated ones are microscopic, & dissipate nearly as soon as they’re produced. In order to produce the aberrant pocket dimensions that we’ve been detecting around Lūdibrium recently, something has to inflate these microscopic pockets out of proportion, by forcibly — & with great expenditure of energy — blowing the “water” into said pockets.

The reason why entering & exiting such pocket dimensions is typically a bizarre & perilous experience is because the gap between the pocket dimension & the rest of the universe is a tight twist, which we call the “throat”. Somewhat like in the water balloon analogy, the geometry of the throat is vaguely hyperboloidal — actually, catenoidal.[40] The throat can, at least theoretically, be arbitrarily small at its tightest point, and the curvature of space within its vicinity is quite negative.

axis: …How do you know all of this?

Maestro: Dr. Kim’s been studying this stuff for a while now. We figured it’d come in useful eventually…

axis: I guess it explains, uhm, some of the things that I saw.

Maestro: You’ve… been through one of the fissures before?

axis: Once or twice.

Maestro: Well why didn’t you say so? We could really use the intel!

axis recounted the things that she’d experienced whilst going in & out of the pocket dimensions to recover Mac’s Maintenance Manual & to recover the Clocktower’s missing pendulum.

Maestro: Well, I’m… glad to see that you’re still all in one piece.

axis: Thanks. But what were you saying earlier about the problem with your plan…?

Maestro: Right. You see, if we want to send, let’s say, eight[41] of our men into the fissure that’s just outside of the 88th floor[41], with any kind of tactical organisation & discipline, then we’re going to be running into a few spatial problems.

For starters, it’s gonna be a real test of that wormhole’s capacity, and we’ve no particular way of knowing how large the throat is, nor whether the throat might be occupied — or partially occupied — by any matter. We also don’t know how large the interior is, nor how much of that space might already be occupied as well. The Roly-Poly who reported the fissure to us claimed that it was overrun by Drumming Bunnies, and that it seemed to be generating more. And finally, we know, based on Dr. Kim’s research, that these spatial throats can be somewhat perilous if one gets too close to a bit with a nasty curvature.

axis: I could take care of it for you, if you like.

Maestro: …Well, sending only one person in would certainly alleviate some of the foreseen difficulties. But I assure you that this is a very serious matter; we’d only send in someone who had extensive military training & experience.

axis: And you know someone who has more experience with these spacetime fissures than I?

General Maestro paused with reluctance.

Maestro: …I suppose not.

axis: Well then…

Maestro: [pauses] If you do attempt it, there’s one more thing that you should know.

axis: Yes?

Maestro: We’ve managed to gather small amounts of intel related to the entity that’s been producing these pocket dimensions. In particular, we know that some significant amount — possibly all — of the energy that it’s been expending in the process originates in Dark Crystals. If you can find any of these Dark Crystals that have been drained of their dark energies, please do bring them back with you.

axis: Sure thing. I assume that they just look like Dark Crystals…?

Maestro: More or less. With the energy drained out of them, they will have lost much of their inky colour & lustre.

axis was now quite convinced that she’d no good choice but to investigate the Drumming Bunny fissure herself. She headed right back up the Eos Tower, climbing all the way to the 88th floor. As it turned out, the crevice in question was just outside of the Eos Tower, placed roughly above one of its balconies. axis forced her way into the spatial mouth.

Thanks to her being in Lūdibrium at the time, axis was already toy-sized. As she went through the aperture, however, she felt her body being squeezed, squished, & squashed piecemeal as she was stuffed through the gullet of the twisted passageway. She felt herself bumping into some kind of soft object time & time again, but all that she could see were the sunny skies above the Eos, as they bulged & warped, erratically receding to the limits of her peripheral vision.

Then, as she could no longer see the universe whence she came, axis heard a new sound, like heavy rain beating down upon a giant canvas awning. As she emerged from the other mouth of the wormhole, she entered something like a tiny scale model of the 88th floor. She did not, however, realise this immediately.

Instead, all that axis saw was a sea of small blue caps, pinkish fur, & little toy drums. She landed directly in this sea, making somewhat of a splash as she did. This pocket dimension was, quite literally, full of Drumming Bunnies, nearly to the point of overflow. Even as they were piled up in mounds & mounds of tiny fluffy toys, the velvet hares dutifully continued to beat their drums & to march as best they could. axis could hear more than a dozen distinct drum hits every second, although they did not reverberate; the faux fur of the lagomorphs absorbed much of any sound that was produced within this pocket universe. As a result of her now doubly-shrunken form, axis’s voice was comically shrill & tinny.

As axis swam her way through the rabbits, she soon realised that they were quite easily quashed. Little more than a single forceful application of her pinwheel was sufficient to virtually “pop” a bunny-wunny, leaving behind only its toy membranophone. axis continued eliminating the miniature leporines in great multitudes, at great length.

axis in the Drummer Bunny’s Lair

Eventually, axis got to the point where some of the platforms, floors, & ladders of this sequestered dimension became usable. Although the space was absolutely littered with toy drums, a small few of the bunnies had also ceded some of the Dull Crystals that General Maestro had mentioned. These depleted crystals had the same crystalline structure as ordinary Dark Crystals, but their usual opaque black sheen had been reduced to a pale blue-greenish translucency. axis collected as many of the crystals as she could manage, & took a few of the drums with her as well.

Once every last bunny-rabbit had been annihilated, the phoney 88th floor was plunged into silence. axis carefully made her way back up to the ceiling again, haversack heavy with the weight of so many Dull Crystals. She pushed herself through this mouth of the crookèd interuniversal tunnel. As the Lūdus Lake skies slithered into her vision, her body was tugged, stretched, & expanded back into its larger — but still unnaturally small — form.

axis headed back down the Tower towards where she’d first met the Roly-Poly. Describing to the Roly-Poly her adventures in the folded lagomorph dimension, she presented the toy drums as proof. Thankful for her assistance in keeping the Eos tidy & safe, the Roly-Poly awarded axis with a Great Blue Helmet, complete with a bristled crest. axis thanked the Roly-Poly, wondering silently to herself what she’d do with such a bulky helm.

Octarchy

As axis continued down the Tower towards the Omega Sector, she was stopped once again by another Roly-Poly.[42] Although axis was half-expecting this Roly-Poly to point out yet another aberrant spacetime fissure to her, her half-expectation was half-mistaken; the problem that they presented to axis was perfectly mundane.

This Roly-Poly was having toy octopod problems. The Bloctopodes & King Bloctopodes inhabiting the lower half of the Eos Tower had been causing some trouble lately, including not only damaging the Tower concurrently with the Roly-Poly trying to repair it, but also thieving their trusty Screwdriver! Considering that the Roly-Poly had to continue their repair work, they had little time for dealing with the eight-leggèd pests. axis agreed to help by recovering the Screwdriver, & by thinning out the pesky Bloctopus population whilst she was at it.

Down on the 22nd & 23rd floors, axis saw quite clearly what the Roly-Poly was talking about. These floors were absolutely overrun with the octopods, each one made of a pink or purple plastic that was particularly bouncy & rubbery. Besides the obvious fact that each one bore eight legs, the Bloctopodes were so named for their blocky bodies, complete with square mouths that they could use to suck up, & then blow back out, small objects with surprising amounts of force. Even their inky eyes were rectangular in shape.

axis set about dismantling the Bloctopodes. As she did so, she searched them — & the surrounding area — for any signs of Screwdrivers or other manual tools.

axis vs. King Bloctopodes

Eventually, axis found that one of the King Bloctopodes was cleverly hiding the Screwdriver underneath its brittle plastic crown. axis returned the Screwdriver to its rightful owner, and brought back a few of the King Bloctopus crowns to prove that the plastic octopodal monarchs had been eliminated.

Out of this world

The Martians wore no clothing. Their conceptions of ornament and decorum were necessarily different from ours; and not only were they evidently much less sensible of changes of temperature than we are, but changes of pressure do not seem to have affected their health at all seriously. Yet though they wore no clothing, it was in the other artificial additions to their bodily resources, that their great superiority over man lay. We men, with our bicycles and road-skates, our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns and sticks and so forth, are just in the beginning of the evolution that the Martians have worked out. They have become practically mere brains, wearing different bodies according to their needs just as men wear suits of clothes and take a bicycle in a hurry or an umbrella in the wet.

― H. G. Wells; The War of the Worlds, book II, ch. ii; 1898.

axis finally made it all the way back to the Omega Sector. She returned to General Maestro, who was very pleasantly surprised to learn that axis had already taken care of the Drumming Bunny dimension problem. axis handed over a heap of drained Dark Crystals. Maestro thanked her, assuring her that Dr. Kim would be able to greatly advance his research with these specimens.

The Drumming Bunny problem was, however, not the main thing on the agenda of Omega Sector Command. As always, bizarre alien creatures roamed the plains & forests surrounding the Omega Sector, which axis assumed was the reason for the border zone between the Omega Sector & the 1st floor of the Eos. This border zone was really more of a checkpoint, because the Omega Sector proper had its own large fortifications that walled it off from the rest of Omega Island. The existence of the Omega Sector was thus, ostensibly, the only thing keeping the extraterrestrials out of the Eos.

Beyond the huge metal walls with multiple highly-secured layers of mechanised doorways, the Mateons ran about, unrestrained. Much like the Bloctopodes, each Mateon was an eight-leggèd creature. It was here, however, that their similarities ended. The Mateons were forced to wear transparent glass helmets in order to breathe within the atmosphere of a planet totally alien to them. Each one was beset with three eyes & a single cephalic tentacle, and they wielded strange weapons that operated vaguely like firearms, but really looked more like hairdryers.

The problem that Omega Sector Command was having was unrelated to the hairdryers, however. A number of SOSWTF members, as well as two Mesorangers, had been afflicted by a toxin as a result of direct contact with the Mateons — in particular, with their tentacles. The toxin was quite deleterious, and Rice — the Omega Sector’s resident medic — was going to need very many tentacle specimens if he was to have any chance of producing an antidote.

With much of Command’s forces incapacitated by the toxin, Rice reached out to axis for help. Rice claimed that they would need fifteen hundred tentacles in order to make an antidote. Certain that Rice had simply made a slip of the tongue, axis asked to confirm that fifteen tentacles would be sufficient. Rice insisted that they’d meant exactly what they’d said: at least one-&-a-half thousand tentacles would be required.

And so, axis made her way through the Omega Sector’s fortifications, presenting her Lūdus Lake passport to the guard, & allowing them to scan her thumbprint. The area contiguous with the fortifications had one or two small hills, & the occasional bumpy patch, but was by & large flat, grassy, & only lightly forested. At any given moment, axis could directly see dozens of Mateons at the very least, her vision stretching for some two kilometres at a time.

She wondered where all of these Mateons were coming from. Did they really land spaceships full of hundreds — thousands — of goofy purple betentacled alien critters, all on a foreign planet? Were they harvesting enough of the Maple World’s extraterrestrial-friendly natural resources to rapidly multiply? Whatever the case, axis was going to be here for quite a while if she was to collect 1 500 of their squishy indigo tentacles — especially if she was being careful to not poison herself in the process.

axis farming Mateon’s Tentacles

axis had been out here once before, but never for such an extended period of time. She was reminded of some of her first adventures, back on her home island of Victoria — especially the time when she farmed up thousands of Cursèd Dolls for Rowen.[14] Barring the ETs & the occasional metal fencing put up by Omega Sector forces, much of the wildlife — particularly the flora — of Omega Island had been preserved. Being out here for hours at a time, the interior of axis’s mind was coated with Omega Island grasses, punctuated by its conifers, & haunted by mushy triocular octopods.

When, after an immense amount of effort, axis produced fifteen hundred Mateon’s Tentacles for Rice, they were finally able to produce an antidote. This was, of course, fantastic news for the Omega Sector, but it did not mark the end of axis’s Omega Island adventures.

The Mateons were far from being the only extraterrestrial beasts inhabiting the island. The Green Mesoranger, who had recently begun a recovery from Mateon poisoning as a result of Rice’s novel antidote, said that they’d only just begun to investigate the Plateons & the Mecateons of the Boswell Field. Although these alien critters were thankfully not toxic — at least, as far as anyone knew at the time — they possessed much more advanced technology. Rather than wielding a few flimsy hairdryers, the Plateons were fully armoured from tentacle to toe, riding around inside of sturdy flying saucers powered by alien technology. And the Mecateons were even worse: although they were flightless, they too were fully armoured, walking around stiffly in giant robotic suits equipped with laser-gun arms capable of launching two beams simultaneously — each one of which was already far deadlier than the Mateons’ hairdryers.

And so, it was up to axis to fight back the Plateons & Mecateons before they could amass into a large enough force to fight their way into the Omega Sector.

axis vs. Plateons

As axis was at work in the Boswell Field, she also collected several of the helmets & weapons of these aliens, both to show that they’d been eliminated, & perhaps more importantly, to further the Omega Sector’s research into their alien technologies.

axis vs. Plateons AND Mecateons

Vitamin K

C’est à la chaleur que doivent être attribués les grands mouvemens qui frappent nos regards sur la terre ; c’est à elle que sont dues les agitations de l’atmosphère, l’ascension des nuages, la chute des pluies et des autres météores, les courans d’eau qui sillonnent la surface du globe et dont l’homme est parvenu à employer pour son usage une faible partie ; enfin les tremblemens de terre, les éruptions volcaniques, reconnaissent aussi pour cause la chaleur.

C’est dans cet immense réservoir que nous pouvons puiser la force mouvante nécessaire à nos besoins ; la nature, en nous offrant de toutes parts le combustible, nous a donné la faculté de faire naître en tous temps et en tous lieux la chaleur et la puissance motrice qui en est la suite. Développer cette puissance, l’approprier à notre usage, tel est l’objet des machines à feu.

L’étude de ces machines est du plus haut intérêt, leur importance est immense, leur emploi s’accroît tous les jours. Elles paraissent destinées à produire une grande révolution dans le monde civilisé.


To heat also are due the vast movements which take place on the earth. It causes the agitations of the atmosphere, the ascension of clouds, the fall of rain and of meteors, the currents of water which channel the surface of the globe, and of which ​man has thus far employed but a small portion. Even earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are the result of heat.

From this immense reservoir we may draw the moving force necessary for our purposes. Nature, in providing us with combustibles on all sides, has given us the power to produce, at all times and in all places, heat and the impelling power which is the result of it. To develop this power, to appropriate it to our uses, is the object of heat-engines.

The study of these engines is of the greatest interest, their importance is enormous, their use is continually increasing, and they seem destined to produce a great revolution in the civilized world.

― Sadi Carnot, trans. R. H. Thurston; Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu et sur les machines propres à développer cette puissance (“Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire and on Machines Fitted to Develop that Power”); 1824, trans. 1897.

When axis reported back to Omega Sector Command, she ran into Kay at the bottom of the Silo. Kay was the Omega Sector’s chief technician, and axis felt like she’d never actually seen Kay at a time when she wasn’t hard at work. Kay was mid-fabrication, wearing full denim overalls, thick gloves, & a welding mask that dishevelled her carefully tied-up bright red hair. When axis came by, Kay paused, pulling up her mask to ask axis a question.

Kay: Kreetings!

axisaxis: [smiling] Hello, Kay.

Kay: Kouldst thou konfess of konfronting the kapablest of kyborg[43] ekstraterrestrials, kourageous aksis?

Kay’s manner of speaking was a tad kwaint.

axis: …I suppose I couldn’t, although I don’t think that I’m yet familiar with each & every extraterrestrial.

Kay: Konceivably. Kould I kommunikate, kwickly, the kind of kyborg who’s king?

axis: I’m all ears.

Kay: Konsider a kolossal kontraption, klad in kasting kobalt & krimson, kapable of katapulting krazy kablooeying kartridges kopiously.

axis: Well, that sounds quite alarming.

Kay: Kall itMT-09”. My kwest: kollekt its kombustibles, komprehend their komposition, & kreate a kontrivance to kapitalise on the konsumption of the kombustibles.

axis: And you’d like help collecting the fuel?

Kay: Korrekt.

axis: Consider it done.

In order to find this “MT-09”, axis would need to venture to its last known location: the furthest reaches of the Boswell Field, all the way by the shore of the Lūdus Lake. On a peninsula separated from the rest of the field by an inlet, axis spotted the giant alien robot.

In some ways, MT-09 was like a beefier version of the Mecateons. It stood at twice the Mecateons’ height, and wielded robot arms with larger reach & much more flexibility. However, unlike the Mecateons, it apparently wielded no firearms. Instead of two front-facing laser guns, the MT-09’s outsized backpack supported a pair of huge, upward-facing crimson antennæ. axis thought that its legs were comical: despite it towering at just over twice axis’s height, its legs were exactly modelled on those of the Mecateons, which already had worryingly twiggy legs to begin with.

When the MT-09 caught sight of axis (who notably didn’t look much like an extraterrestrial), it extended its arms to both sides, & axis noticed that said arms each terminated in crude pincers. Although the arms & “hands” were not so intimidating on their own, the extension of the arms was accompanied by activation of the twin crimson antennæ. The MT-09’s backpack crackled with chromatic electricity, arcking through the air as it prepared to attack. The bulky belly of the extraterrestrial bot opened via a metal flap, launching a single purple missile in axis’s direction.

axis leapt behind a boulder in an attempt to shield herself. The rocket-propelled missile struck the ground, its mauve outer casing shattering into three fragments that were flung away violently. As it shattered, the space around it fractured with galvanic mosaicry, & axis heard it as the trebly thunder of a dozen miniature lightning strikes.

Luckily for axis, Tylus had taught her lightning magicks to use as her very own. axis muttered the first half of the ritual under her breath, & brought out her pinwheel to use as a lightning rod. The next electrical missile that the MT-09 threatened axis with was almost wholly absorbed by the pinwheel, allowing axis the opportunity to make an offensive strike of her own.

axis dares to challenge the mighty MT-09!!

The cumbrous robot’s pilot was quite displeased to be struck so heavily, & at such close range. The MT-09’s arms moved inwards in an attempt to grapple axis, or at least to push her away. Perhaps regrettably, its arms were too unwieldy for this purpose; each arm was many-jointed, making them more like robot noodles than robot arms.

axis had no problems ducking beneath the arms to dodge them, & as she did so, she realised that the MT-09’s twiggy legs were about to come in very useful for her. She used her pinwheel to forcefully swipe at the robot’s legs from an angle, causing the entire thing to lose its balance. The alien critter operating the robot emitted a squeaky noise that was muffled by the fishbowl that sealed up its head. axis wasn’t sure if it was a squeak of anger, surprise, or exertion, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

The robot frame toppled almost in slow-motion, wildly flailing its noodle arms as it fruitlessly attempted to right itself. Ultimately, it landed on its back, slightly askew, with one giant antenna hitting the ground first. The ground shook as it was struck with a violent & weighty double thump, and the bot’s captain was ejected from the top of the frame, landing awkwardly on its side.

Furious, the MT-09 pilot used its eight squishy alien legs to right itself, rushing heatedly at axis. However, axis was able to restrain the alien simply by using a single outstretched arm to keep its fishbowl head at bay. She took the opportunity to prise open some of the panels on the robot, seeking the source of its energy. One panel at the top of its backpack revealed a fuel tank with the text “MT-09” inscribed into it. After pulling a pair of pins out with her bare hands, axis wrested the tank from the robot. Holding it up to her ear and shaking it lightly, she could hear that there was still a significant amount of liquid inside.

axis headed back to the Omega Sector to meet Kay, bringing the tank with her. This time, Kay was hard at work with her metal lathe, fabricating relatively long & thin plastic mechanical parts. Seeing axis with a fuel tank in hand, she turned off the lathe & moved her goggles up to her forehead.

Kay: Karriest thou komestibles of the kyborg king?

axis: Yes ma’am. Here you are… [handing the fuel tank to Kay]

Kay: Kool kyukumbers! Kouldst thou kharacterise the konditions of kollection?

axis described her encounter with the MT-09.

Kay: [awestricken] Krazy! I krave to know[45] how the kartridge kondukts elektrik…! Konsider my kyuriosity as a kwest to kome… Konkurrently, I kreate a kontrivance to kapitalise on the konsumption of the kyurious kombustible, as kovenanted.

axis: [smiling] I look forward to it.

The name’s Dogon. James Dogon.

An investigator for the Air Forces stated that three so-called flying saucers had been recovered in New Mexico. They were described as being circular in shape with raised centers, approximately 50 feet in diameter. Each one was occupied by three bodies of human shape but only 3 feet tall, dressed in metallic cloth of a very fine texture. Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed flyers and test pilots.

― Guy L. Hottel; “Hottel Memo” (memo addressed to the director of the FBI); 1950-03-22.

When axis left Kay’s workshop & went up the Silo, she ran across a man wearing an SOSWTF uniform. His dark hair was gelled up into many spikes, & he frowned as he eyed axis with great suspicion.

[spiky-haired man]: [curtly] Hey. You there.

axisaxis: [eyebrows raised] Yes…?

[spiky-haired man]: [eyes narrowed] You’re not one of those godless alien-worshippers, are you?

axis: [mildly confused] Erm… no?

[spiky-haired man]: Good…

axis: I reckon that even if I were, I’d’ve said “no” anyways. You seem quite hostile.

[spiky-haired man]: [pauses] …But you’re not, right?

axis: Right.

[spiky-haired man]: It’s preposterous, I tell you. There are people out there who choose to support the extraterrestrials who’ve invaded our planet. In spite of their unnatural poisons, their alien military technologies… Can you believe that?

axis: Well, I… suppose I haven’t run into anyone who fits that description. The Omega Sector doesn’t seem to be on good terms with the aliens…

[spiky-haired man]: Oh, they’re very real. Trust me. In fact, they have a secret headquarters out in the Kulan Field where they do their despicable, diabolical alien… things.

axis: Oh. L—like what?

[spiky-haired man]: …I don’t know. Probably stealing our supplies and given them to the aliens, or performing human sacrifice to propitiate the alien “gods”, or— or giving the aliens cute names & patting them on their damnable alien heads.

axis: Well, that sounds… awful.

[spiky-haired man]: It is…

axis: Pardon me. What, erm, did you say your name was again?

[spiky-haired man]: [saluting] Lieutenant officer Chury of the SOSWTF, at your service.

axis: I’m axis.

Chury: axis. Could you help me find Dogon’s HQ?

axis: “Dogon”? Is that just an anadrome of “no god”…?

Chury: …Yes.

axis: So… the headquarters of the alien-worshippers.

Chury: Correct.

axis: You don’t even know where it is?

Chury: Well. It’s in the Kulan Field. Probably.

axis was beginning to smell a distinct aroma of bullshit.

axis: Mkay. Is that… all that you know?

Chury: If I had to guess, it’s probably behind that big ol’ mesa on the outskirts of the Field. As far as I know, there haven’t been extensive investigations that far out on Omega Island — at least, not since the abominable aliens invaded…

axis: All right. I’ll give it a look-see.

Chury: [saluting] Godspeed.

axis had barely made her way into the nearest part of the Kulan Field before she was stopped by yet another man in a goofy suit. Judging by their black full-body suit featuring obligatory cat ears, axis recognised the man as a Mesoranger. The Mesoranger saluted axis with the signature Mesoranger miaow, & explained to her that he’d been having trouble keeping the extraterrestrial critters of the Kulan Field in check.

In spite of the Mesorangers’ seemingly nonstop daily efforts, their ability to defeat aliens was outstripped by the aliens’ ability to reproduce. The Mesoranger explained to axis that the Kulan aliens seemed to have something of a military–defensive strategy. In particular, Barnard Grays, the weakest & most numerous of the Kulan aliens, could be found in large numbers just outside of the Omega Sector; by contrast, other more powerful & highly-trained Kulan “soldiers” were less numerous, and could typically only be found deeper within Kulan territory.

Because the Barnards were most numerous, the Mesoranger requested axis’s assistance in eliminating them. axis experienced déjà-vu when she saw the Grays. Each Gray’s huge almond-shaped azure eyes were set into a saucer-shaped head that was gradually drawn to a point with a bright yellow antenna poking out. Their skinny humanoid bodies were flabby, and terminated only in perfectly hemispherical stubs where hands & feet could have been.

axis Eliminating Grays

axis found that the Grays’ greatest strength was simply that they yielded almost unlimitedly to any blow that she delivered. They tried shooting axis with giant collimated beams of pale light, but axis found that the light merely tickled a little. The Grays floundered, flopped, flipped, & flapped flaccidly as they sustained blow after blow from axis’s pinwheel. Soon, after sufficient striking, smacking, squishing, squashing, slapping, & swatting, the Grays simply surrendered.

The Barnards appeared to be a hungry lot; more often than not, axis found them chowing down on delicious-looking burgers. Or at least, axis thought that they looked sort of like hamburgers. Although the “buns” were strangely bumpy, lumpy, & clumpy, axis took this opportunity to try extraterrestrial cuisine for herself. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste much like food to axis. The texture was mealy, and wildly inconsistent in its density & toughness. The flavour wasn’t there at first, but axis soon found that it left a sour aftertaste and made her whole mouth sting.

Pseudo-burgers were not the only things in the Barnards’ possession, however. One of the Barnard Grays in particular possessed a strange DNA sample that reminded axis of the DNA samples that she’d previously collected on Kenta’s behalf.[46] When the Mesoranger saw the DNA sample, he took it from axis.

Barnard Gray’s Cell…?

The Mesoranger explained that the only reason that these “Grays” were here on the Maple World was because they were forced to flee their home planet, located somewhere within the binary star system of ζ Rēticulī,[47] as a result of that planet succumbing to widespread noxious contamination. Omega Sector Command had been attempting to collect the genetic material of the Grays, in order to assess the — potentially ongoing — alterations & damages inflicted upon the Grays as a result of their home planet’s toxins. It was widely suspected that the poison of the Mateons either was that toxin, or was a chemical response produced by the Mateons to defend against the toxin.

In the hopes of collecting more & varied genetic materials, the Mesoranger tasked axis with collecting “DNA” from the other sorts of Grays: Zeta Grays, Ultra Grays, & even Chief Grays. axis was mildly surprised to see that the so-called “Zeta Grays” were the exact same “strange flying-cape-clad extraterrestrial creatures” that axis had fought in Kenta’s zoo-laboratory, in order to stop them from pilfering Kenta’s experimental pheromones.

In any event, after even more Gray-slapping, the Zeta Grays gave up their genes as well:

Zeta Gray’s Cell.

axis was convinced that the Ultra Grays were just Barnard Grays with fancy gold-trimmed red capes — at least, until she noticed that their bright yellow antennæ were not spherical, but instead pentagram-shaped. It was unclear whether it was the capes, the stellar antennæ, or perhaps both, that were giving the Ultra Grays their ultra-goofy alien powers. They, too, had similar genetic materials:

Ultra Gray’s Cell…!

Of course, that left just one Gray species that axis had yet to harvest genetic material from: the Chief Grays. In many ways, the Chief Grays were similar to their Ultra counterparts. However, they were even starrier, had much more elaborate capes, & were much more… elderly. If aliens could have facial hair, then the Chief Grays did. They stood with a deeply hunched posture, & required the use of a walking stick. axis almost felt bad that she was about to beat up an old man.

This “old man”, however, was no ordinary codger. When axis approached a Chief Gray, it feebly raised its walking stick into the air, yelled something in an alien language (axis presumed that it was something along the lines of “get off of my god damned lawn”), and hundreds of golden pentagrams rained down upon axis from above.

axis vs. the Chief Gray

The pentagrams were quite painful as they poked & bludgeoned axis. Each individual star was not so bad, but having so many rained upon her was a distinctly unpleasant experience. She slapped the venerable alien with her pinwheel, & in response, the Chief narrowed its eyes & shook its fist that wasn’t holding the walking stick. It made a grumbling noise, which appeared to’ve been heard by several nearby Barnards that subsequently rushed to the Chief’s aid.

axis had to fight off the Barnards & the old alien, all whilst being periodically pelted by painfully pointy pentagrams. Eventually, however, the old geezer conceded, & axis stole all of its goodies — which was a lot of goodies.

Chief Gray’s Cell‽

Not only did the Chief have some more genetic samples for axis, but it also had an electronic note full of alien secrets, & the bauble on the end of its walking stick made for a nice souvenir.

Of course, axis didn’t come out here into the Kulan Field to beat up old men — although it was a nice bonus. If she could find the mesa that Chury had mentioned, then she could investigate this so-called “Dogon’s HQ” for herself.

The easy part was finding the mesa. Although it was quite deep within the Field, the mesa was so large as to be impossible to miss. Using her pinwheel as an ad hoc anchor, axis climbed up the gentlest of the mesa’s escarpments.

Looking from atop the mesa, axis was somewhat disappointed to see little more than seven very tall, but very thin, metal silos. axis thought that this was a very unusual shape for a silo, as each silo was incredibly tall, but was nonetheless capable of storing hardly anything at all. Each silo was equipped with its own ladder that led directly from its base to its top. Curious as to what the purpose of these bizarrely thin silos could even be, axis tried the ladders herself.

axis looking for “Dogon’s HQ”

After some exploration, axis realised that one of the silos was unlike the others. The silo that was third-closest to the shore had a small red button on its very top. Naturally, axis pressed the button.

For a second, nothing appeared to happen, & axis was thus beginning to feel mildly disappointed. Then, she was suddenly whisked away.

Where exactly she was whisked away was unclear, but it looked like it was somewhere else on Omega Island. axis had an eerie feeling like she’d been teleported once again into a strange alternative dimension, but then again, maybe it was just the effects of something that she’d eaten.

In any case, at first, this new scene looked perfectly ordinary to axis. The ground was grassy, relatively flat, lightly forested with the usual Omega Island conifers, & there was only sparse evidence of extraterrestrial contact. There was, however, one peculiar phenomenon: a conspicuously-arranged trio of grassy pillars. When axis investigated, she found that these pillars were like the metal silos: exactly one of them had a small red button on its chapiter. Once again obligatorily pressing the red button placed before her, axis was whisked away.

Confronted anew with a triplet of pillars, axis was somewhat perplexed to see that all three pillars had identical buttons on them. Unsure whether or not there was any significance to the three separate buttons, axis picked one at random & pressed it. She was whisked away again, but this time, not to somewhere new. She was now back at the original trio of pillars, again with only one of the pillars possessing a button. Somewhat frustrated, axis pressed the button once more, and tried a different one of the three buttons at the second triad of pillars.

Now, axis was brought to a third triplet of pillars, again with one identical button each. She thought to herself that this was rather technologically elaborate for such a silly puzzle. Picking a button at random, she was returned to the first trio of pillars.

axis breaking into Dogon’s HQ!

All in all, there were eight triads. Bizarrely, the eighth & final triad was like the first in that only one of its pillars had a button. In the end, axis had pressed very many buttons, and been sent back to the beginning many times as well. She took notes in her journal to help keep track of which buttons didn’t send her back to the beginning: middle, middle, right, left, right, left, middle, left.

When she pressed the button on the eighth triad, she was teleported just in front of an alien flying saucer the size of a small house. It was not flying, & it had a staircase leading from the ground up to a closed hatch with a doorbell on it. Besides the doorbell, the hatch had no discernible mechanisms for unlocking it, nor even for opening it.

With no lock to pick, & not wanting to make enough noise to alert anyone who might be inside of the saucer, axis opted to steal their mail. Or something like that. The metal box outside of the saucer seemed to axis like it was a bit large to be a mailbox, but then again, maybe they were receiving very large packages. She carefully — & as silently as possible — prised open the door on the front of the mailbox with her pinwheel.

axis finds Dogon’s Report in their big dumb alien mailbox

This big dumb alien mailbox was mostly empty. Nevertheless, axis did find an electronic note inside, and even found a nifty 50-meso coin in the back corner! As she crawled back out of the mailbox, she accidentally hit her shoulder on the side of its doorway. The large metal box rumbled thunderously. Not wanting to stick around to see if anyone in the saucer might decide to investigate the source of that noise, axis quickly made her way back whence she came, with just three presses of bright red buttons.

Although she was still curious who — & what — was inside of that landed flying saucer, axis was satisfied to’ve made a crisp 50 mesos. After buying that perfume bottle from Chief Tatamo, she was really hurting for snack money. And the electronic note probably had useful information in it, or something like that.

axis was unsure whether or not she’d just been to “Dogon’s HQ”. She certainly hadn’t seen the word “Dogon” anywhere. On the other hand, its location agreed with Chury’s description pretty closely. axis returned to Chury and described what she’d experienced on the Kulan shores.

Chury: [putting his head into his hands] Holy smokes… A mailbox???

axis: Uhm, yeah, something like that. I mean, I’m not sure if it was a mailbox per se, but—

Chury: The aliens have been operating an entire postal service right under our noses!!

axis: I wouldn’t—

Chury: [pulling on his hair] Damn they are good!! This is worse than I ever imagined…

axis: Erm… Do you want the note? [holds the electronic chip out in one hand]

Chury: Oh, yes! [snatches the chip with hair-gel-coated fingers] This is an excellent source of intel, soldier.

axis: Y—you’re welcome.

Ζήνων

Many men had mocked Parmenides: Zeno mocked the mockers. His lógoi [λόγοι] were designed to reveal the inanities and ineptitudes inherent in the ordinary belief in a plural world; he wanted to startle, to amaze, to disconcert. […] If we meet a deep argument, we may rejoice; if we are dazzled by a superficial glitter, we are not bound to search for a nugget of philosophical gold. Fair metal and base, in roughly equal proportions, make the Zenonian alloy.

― Jonathan Barnes; The Presocratic Philosophers, ch. XIII; 1979.

By the next day, Dr. Kim had already decoded the message on the chip. To axis’s mild surprise, the chip that she’d pilfered did indeed possess valuable intelligence. In particular, it contained blueprints for a device capable of translating, in real time, between alien & human tongues.

Dr. Kim said that, although the majority of the components necessary to fabricate such a device — which he referred to as a “Wave Translator” — were readily available to the Omega Sector, many of them were not. The Wave Translator would require some alien technologies as well, & the only way to obtain those would be via theft. Given axis’s track record of stealing things from aliens, Dr. Kim left it up to her.

For many of these items, axis would have to venture back to the Kulan Field, & others were things that she’d pilfered previously. She required the Ultra Grays’ handphones, the Zeta Grays’ remote-controlled miniature flying saucers, the bauble on the end of the Chief Gray’s walking stick, & the bright yellow antennæ from atop the Grays’ heads.

Dr. Kim was pleasantly surprised to see axis back with the alien components much sooner than he’d expected. Within the week, Kay had fabricated a Wave Translator to the best of her abilities. Regrettably, the people of the Omega Sector were not exactly on speaking terms with the extraterrestrials, & so they had nothing to say.

That would soon change, however. There had been reports of a giant intelligent robot that was, apparently, roaming the Kulan Field & bullying the Grays. Although the Omega Sector may not’ve been sympathetic to the Grays, what made these reports intriguing was that the robot in question appeared to be of alien make, & no one in the Omega Sector knew where it came from.

Numerous conjectures had been put forth to explain the robot’s existence. Perhaps the robot had been created by one faction of aliens to terrorise another. Perhaps what looked like “bullying” was really just a training exercise. Perhaps the aliens had given the robot too much intelligence, & it had turned against its creators. Whatever it was, Omega Sector Command wanted to know.

General Maestro bestowed upon axis the honorary title of “diplomat”, & sent her out into the Kulan Field on a diplomacy mission to speak with Alien Gray. Maestro explained that Alien Gray was the coolest of the Grays, so if anyone knew what was up with the giant robot, it would be them. Equipped with the Wave Translator, axis would — at least, in theory — be able to communicate fluently with Alien Gray.

When axis caught sight of Alien Gray, she immediately realised why they were the coolest of the Grays. Unlike the usual bright yellow antennæ of the other Grays, Alien Gray’s wobbly antenna was a cool shade of purple. And more importantly, they wore a sweet pair of black shades over their extraterrestrial eyes.

axis approached Alien Gray with the Wave Translator in her hands. As she did so, Alien Gray already began to speak — but of course, it was all gibberish to axis. axis hastily turned the Translator on, positioning its pair of twin microphones & amplifiers directly between herself and Alien Gray.

axisaxis: Hello!

Almost as soon as axis said “hello”, a robotic-sounding alien voice spake out of the amplifier that was pointed towards Alien Gray.

Alien Gray: [pauses] What's your bag, cool cat?

axis was quite sure that the Wave Translator was malfunctioning somehow. She was neither holding a bag, nor was she a cat.

axis: Uhm, would you… happen to know anything about that big robot with the big fists?

Alien Gray: Zeno? Ah, it's kinda of a bummer, man. Seemed like a groovy dude at first. Then I guess someone goofed up the control panel... Bot went ape, got teed off or somethin'. Bummersville...

axis: Oh…

Alien Gray: Say, you don't look like any of those militants from the other side of the wall. You got a fresh look, man. I dig it.

axis: [smiling] Well, thank you. I’m glad someone finally appreciates it. [clears throat] So, have you… the aliens… been fighting the robot— I mean, Zeno?

Alien Gray: Yeah, it's a bad scene, man. Zeno's kind of a badass, so it's been gnarly out here.

axis: Hmph… Well, maybe I can help with that.

Alien Gray: Alright, rock on, man. Good luck to ya. Anyways, I got some other alien stuff to do, ya dig?

axis: R—right, of course.

Alien Gray: Colour me gone. Peace.

And, just like that, Alien Gray flew away.

axis inspected the Wave Translator in her hands. She was worried that she’d inadvertently damaged it on the way to the Kulan Field; that would explain the strange translations that it was producing. But it looked just the same as it did when Dr. Kim gave it to her.

In any event, axis reported back to Command. General Maestro & the others at Command quickly came to a consensus: if this “Zeno” was a creation of the aliens that’d subsequently run amok, then it was potentially just as much of a threat to the Omega Sector as it was to the aliens. Thus, the plan was simple: to destroy Zeno. To make the plan even simpler, axis was to be solely responsible for its defeat. axis was getting a bit fatigued of doing all of the Omega Sector’s work, but nevertheless agreed to at least vanquish Zeno.

When axis went looking, Zeno was in the prairie located fairly deep within Kulan territory. When axis entered within sight & earshot of the robot, it initially didn’t notice her — or at least, paid no heed. axis could see very clearly that Zeno was of alien make: like seemingly all of the aliens’ robots, it was absurdly top-heavy; moreover, the shape of its head, its single yellow antenna, & the golden star upon its forehead were all clearly modelled after the Grays. It was, however, gargantuan, and although its legs may’ve been diminutive, its arms were quite the opposite, possessing great bulk, & terminating in colossal metal gloves — each individual glove being nearly as large as axis’s entire body.

Then, as axis took out her pinwheel & cautiously drew closer to the automaton, it eyed her. Coming to a stop, Zeno spake in a monotonous robotic voice that boomed across the plain. Naturally, it spake in an alien tongue, & so axis once again hastily pulled out the Wave Translator.

Zeno: —nother foolish mortal. And a strange one, at that. What business have you on my prairie, purple one?

axisaxis: Excuse me, my name is axis. And I’m not purp—

Zeno: Such insolence. This is my prairie, & I name the objects within it as I see fit.

axis: And you couldn’t come up with something more creative than “purple one”?

Zeno: "Purple" is an insult in my language. I assure you that it was very clever.

axis: I’m in stitches.

Zeno: Is that what you came here for? To be an annoying bigmouthed pest?

axis: No. I came here to defeat you once & for all.

Zeno: Is that so?

axis: It is.

Zeno: If you were to do that, then you'd first have to move yourself to my location.

axis: Yes…

Zeno: I'm afraid that's impossible. In order to do that, you'd first have to move halfway to my location.

axis: …Okay? I shall walk the distance.

Zeno: But in order to do that, you'd first have to move halfway to that location. And in order to do that, you'd first have to—

axis: Okay, I get it. Don’t worry, I’m quite swift.

Zeno: I'm afraid not. Each halfway movement is a non-zero distance. Do you mean to tell me that you're capable of moving an infinite number of non-zero distances in a finite time?

axis: You’d be surprised. How do you think I got here in the first place, anyways?

Zeno: If I knew the answer to that question, then I would have prevented you.

axis: Doubtful.

Zeno: Besides, even if you could move to my location — which, as I've just shown, you certainly cannot — it would nevertheless be impossible to defeat me.

axis: I’m far stronger than I appear.

Zeno: I do not doubt you. But how do you propose to defeat me, exactly?

axis brandished her pinwheel & lit it ablaze.

Zeno: You'll be disheartened to learn that the pinwheel in your hand right now is only part of the same thing as I am. And I would not allow myself to strike myself with a pinwheel.

axis: [waving her pinwheel about at random] I can do whatever I want with my pinwheel, & you can’t stop me.

Zeno: On the contrary. You agree, surely, that this prairie only has so many things within it — not the least of which being myself, & the pinwheel.

axis: Uh-huh.

Zeno: Then the quantity of things that are within this prairie is limited; there are exactly as many as there are — no more, & no less. But if each of these things is its own thing, separate from the others, then between any two things, there must be some other thing that separates them — no matter how small. Perhaps it is the air that is the cause of separation between my body & the pinwheel.

axis: [somewhat annoyedly] Okay…?

Zeno: For that to be true, then at least two additional things would be required to separate myself from the air, & the air from the pinwheel. And so on, & so forth. So then there is no limit to the quantity of things that there must be within this prairie. The quantity of things is thus both limited & unlimited.

axis: And that’s a contradiction.

Zeno: Indeed.

axis: So then, the prairie must be only one thing, indivisible.

Zeno: Yes.

axis: And that one thing is me kicking your arse.

axis charged directly at Zeno, pinwheel still flaming. The automaton narrowed its eyes, & began curling the fingers of its gargantuan steel gloves in anticipation.

Just as axis was about to get within striking distance of Zeno, it punched the ground with one hulking fist. The incredible force of the punch sent grass & dirt into the air in waves, hurling axis away from Zeno. axis landed on her back, right back where she’d started.

Zeno: See? I warned you that motion is impossible.

axis picked herself up & ran again, but this time jumped over Zeno’s cleverly-placed ground punch. She swung wildly with her pinwheel, connecting with Zeno’s metallic chest.

axis engages the mighty Zeno in a duel…!

Zeno made several attempts at axis with its steel gloves, but was too clunky & slow for axis’s nimble movements. axis had fought another top-heavy alien robot previously: MT-09. Trying the same strategy again, axis targeted Zeno’s puny legs. Zeno fell forwards, but was quick to react to the loss of its balance. Moving its body weight onto its gloves, the lumbering automaton kicked outwards at axis with the strength of its arms & legs.

Although axis was forced to sustain the blow, she also simultaneously caught sight of a mangled electrical panel on the back of the robot’s neck. She picked herself up again, & extinguished her pinwheel’s flame, instead imbuing it with lightning. After dodging another punch from Zeno, she used its upper arm to pull herself up, wrapping her pinwheel around the back of its head & clobbering the panel.

A shower of sparks erupted from the robot’s nape. Almost immediately, axis heard Zeno cease whirring, instead creaking as all of its motors lost power simultaneously. axis hastily jumped off of Zeno as it toppled ponderously, crashing into the grass with a huge thud.

axis left the robot there, for the Grays to reclaim its parts.

Random access

“The horror of that moment,” the King went on, “I shall never, never forget!”

“You will, though,” the Queen said, “if you don’t make a memorandum of it.”

― C. L. Dodgson; Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, ch. I; 1871.

When axis returned to the Omega Sector to report the news, she found out that Zeno was not the last of the oversized robots. Dr. Kim’s assistant, Porter, mentioned to axis, by the by, the existence of a giant bot known as the “Rombot”. This automaton, however, was not the work of the aliens, nor was it an inhabitant of Omega Island — although it was close by.

On the 8th floor of the Eos Tower, there was yet another spatial fissure leading to a pocket dimension that was, as Porter described it, “unusually stable”. As a result of its stability, this folded dimension had already been explored a few times. The presence of the Rombot was the only particularly interesting aspect of this spacetime cavity, and previous investigations had successfully extracted & brought back one of its memory storage units.

The memory unit had, amongst other things, a blueprint for a special device — or rather, part of a blueprint. The device was, ostensibly, based on vaguely similar technology to that which powered the time machine at the top of the Helios Tower. The primary difference was that, instead of allowing its user to travel between points in time as if they were travelling through space, this device would allow its user to travel between disparate points in space, instantaneously.

Of course, the problem was that the blueprint was only partial. Kay in particular was very excited to fabricate such a device, but with so much of the blueprint absent, it was simply impossible. Porter indicated that the Rombot must have other memory units; not only was the blueprint on the single recovered unit a mere fragment, but the total storage capacity of the unit was meagre in comparison to the kind of data that it was storing. If axis could burgle the rest of the Rombot’s memory units, then the Omega Sector would have full access to the blueprint — & potentially to many other things, as well.

However, Porter warned axis that the Rombot was even larger & more powerful than either Zeno or MT-09. The Mesoranger who’d pilfered the one memory unit had got quite lucky with that memory unit’s placement. The rest of the memory units were almost certainly tucked away within the robot somewhere.

So, axis headed to the 8th floor to check this “Rombot” out for herself. At the dead centre of this floor was another spacetime fissure, but this one was quite transparent. axis could peer through the thing, & got an idea of what the pocket universe was like without even having to enter. So far, it looked more or less like a discoloured Eos Tower interior, populated by Block Golems & King Block Golems. axis stepped inside.

The Block Golems seemed perfectly ordinary, & axis was accustomed to encountering them within the lower floors of the Eos. They were certainly the largest of the Toy Factory’s creations by a long shot, but were otherwise toy bots, much like the Robos. They were wrought of plastic — yellow, or in the case of the Kings, a dark greenish-blue — and fashioned like huge toy bricks held together by bulky hinges & axles. Although they were indeed colossal, coming up to nearly twice axis’s height at their fullest extent, they were almost entirely — barring their motors & electronics — formed of hollow lightweight plastic, and so weighed shockingly little.

This warped version of the Eos was not only discoloured in a way that made its colours even more saturated, but had a somewhat different sense of scale. Although this pocket dimension had plenty of platforms & ladders, it was not divided up into proper floors like the actual Eos Tower was. Perhaps it was just the lack of division into floors, but axis thought that this space was a little stretched out. It seemed like everything — axis herself included — was a bit taller, & a bit narrower.

It took axis a minute or two of exploring the tucked dimension before she came across anything besides Block Golems. At the very top of this microcosm, thronged by an entourage of King Block Golems, there was a single taller figure.

The Rombot looked something like a black-&-yellow Block Golem, but larger & heftier. However, it was perhaps — unlike the Block Golems — not an automaton, or perhaps only semi-autonomous. At its vertical peak, there was a single Bloctopus sitting in a black leathery chair that was built into the Rombot itself. The Bloctopus’s eight plastic legs controlled the bot via a control panel awash with dozens of buttons & two joysticks. axis could now see what Porter meant when he said that the Mesoranger “had got quite lucky with the memory unit’s placement”: one memory unit was plugged directly into some kind of electronic device hanging directly off of the “head” of the Rombot.

axis pushed the King Block Golems aside, closing in on the Rombot. Now that she could see the Bloctopus more clearly, it appeared that the octopod was fast asleep, lounging in its control chair. axis tried to be stealthy, carefully standing on her tippy-toes & pulling the memory unit out of the Rombot’s head. As soon as the memory unit was disengaged, however, her stealth was compromised: the Rombot’s computer made a loud pair of beeps in response.

The Bloctopus’s rectangular eyes suddenly opened. It frantically looked around, & began furiously pressing buttons & moving joysticks. As axis went to put the memory unit into her haversack, the Rombot swung wildly with its giant blocky arms. One swing connected with the floor near axis’s feet, bouncing her into the air.

axis takes on the Rombot!!

axis took the opportunity to climb onto the Rombot’s plastic shoulders, swinging at the Bloctopus with her pinwheel. The octopod’s eyes narrowed as it faced axis & fired a miniature Bloctopus at her with its cannon mouth. axis was quick to duck her head as the octopodlet whizzed past her hair. Coming back with a precise thrust of her pinwheel, she succeeded in forcibly un-chairing the Bloctopus.

As the octopod tumbled to the floor, axis took a seat in the Rombot’s cockpit. Although she’d certainly no idea how to pilot the thing, the cockpit gave much easier access to the Rombot’s electronics. axis could now see various computer parts located beneath the control panel, in the back of the Rombot’s head. She found two more hard disks that looked more or less like the memory unit that she’d already taken, & so took those as well.

axis jumped out of the back of the Rombot, fleeing from the irate octopod, & leaving this pocket dimension entirely.

When axis brought the hard drives back to the Omega Sector, Kay found that all parts of the blueprint were now intact, allowing her to commence the fabrication process. Kay promised that if this thing really worked, then she would be sure to make one for axis’s own personal use.

In the revisitation of a bad dream

[T]he decisive point is this: that for every possible definition of a world time one could travel into regions of the universe which are past according to that definition. This again shows that to assume an objective lapse of time would lose every justification in these worlds. For, in whatever way one may assume time to be lapsing, there will always exist possible observers to whose experienced lapse of time no objective lapse corresponds (in particular also possible observers whose whole existence objectively would be simultaneous). But, if the experience of the lapse of time can exist without an objective lapse of time, no reason can be given why an objective lapse of time should be assumed at all.

― Kurt F. Gödel; “A remark about the relationship between relativity theory and idealistic philosophy”; 1949.

Even if it would take a while before Kay produced the spacelike teleportation device, & even if the resulting device failed to function at all, the Time Control Room at the Helios’s apex would still be there, whirring away as ever.

axis was once again encouraged to go back. Way back, to when the lion’s share of Victoria Island — including modern Perion — was a single huge rainforest named for Ellin, its faerie patroness. Most wouldn’t’ve yet been born, or would’ve been too young, to remember this era — unless they had elven blood in them.

axis certainly didn’t remember. Or rather, she wouldn’t’ve remembered, had she not the memories brought back with her through the time machine.[48] axis certainly wished that she didn’t remember.

And so, naturally, axis required quite a bit of convincing to so much as set foot near the damnable temporal contraption housed beneath the Helios’s spire. In something of a bad dream, axis was visited by the goddesses once again.

[goddesses]: Hello, axis.

axis was a bit irritated at the goddesses for speaking in chorus; it was rather loud, & she was really trying to sleep.

axisaxis: [sleepily] Hi… What is it?

[goddesses]: We’re afraid to tell you that we’ll be needing a ſmall favour from you.

axis: Mmm… Okay.

[goddesses]: You know how it is. The coſmos is ſomething of a meſs… A chaos… Sometimes moꝛtals are left to pick up the pieces.

axis: Aren’t you the ones responsible for the cosmos?

[goddesses]: Well. Nobody’s perfect.

Avaracia: Except me.

The other goddesses & axis rolled their eyes.

axis: Okay, well… Why does it seem like you always come to me? Aren’t there other mortals whose dreams you can visit?

The goddesses smiled.

[goddesses]: It juſt happened that way, ſweetheart. As pꝛopheſied…

axis: Hmph.

The goddesses exchanged glances somewhat awkwardly.

[goddesses]: We… need you to go back to the Ellin Foꝛeſt.

axis: No.

[goddesses]: We knew that you’d ſay that.

axis sighed.

axis: Do you remember last time? I do.

[goddesses]: Of courſe. But this time, the matter is… far moꝛe pꝛeſſing.

axis: I’m sleeping. Good night.

axis was dreaming already, so she dreamt herself up an imaginary bed to curl up in with her imaginary body.

[goddesses]: axis…

axis: [imitating snoring noises] Honk, shoo, hoooonk… mimimimi…

[goddesses]: …Do you know how time travel woꝛks?

axis: …Yeah. I step in the machine, go back in time, breathe enough poison mist to semi-permanently lose my grip on reality, & then come back to the present day. It’s a blast.

[goddesses]: But what of the things that you do whilſt you’re “in the paſt”? Do they affect the “pꝛeſent day” that you come back to?

axis: [pauses] …I suppose so.

[goddesses]: This is no fairytale, no legend, & no fiction, axis. You cannot change the courſe of hiſtoꝛy by going back in time. The Fates oꝛdain the weft of time once & foꝛ all.

axis: It’s not really “time travel” then, is it?

[goddesses]: It moſt certainly is. The events that befall the time-traveller were always already part of hiſtoꝛy. The ſwoꝛn — oꝛ dare we ſay, inexoꝛable — duty of the time-traveller is thus not to change the paſt, but rather, to make the pꝛeſent poſſible.

axis: [pauses] …And if they fail?

The goddesses paused awkwardly.

[goddesses]: We… don’t think that that’s poſſible. Although, the Fates are notoꝛiouſly cryptic & laconic when pꝛeſented with theſe kinds of queſtions…

In any caſe, we have the utmoſt faith in you, dear axis. And we pꝛomiſe that there won’t be any moꝛe poiſon miſts involved…

axis: [sighing] Fine.

[goddesses]: [smiling] Good luck. You won’t need it…

The next day, axis dutifully travelled all the way up the Eos Tower, through the town of Lūdibrium, past the Clocktower, & to the zenith of the Helios Tower. Karen greeted her as she entered the Time Control Room. axis returned the greeting, & continued towards the time machine — before Karen stopped her.

Karen: Excuse me. Where do you think you’re going?

axisaxis: Oh, I… came to use the time machine.

Karen: What’s your name?

axis: …axisaxis.

Karen put her reading glasses on, & flicked through a stack of papers in her hands.

Karen: axis… axis. Mkay. I see that you’ve previously been authorised, & that you’ve used the time machine twice before.

axis: That’s right.

Karen pushed her reading glasses onto her forehead, squinting at axis as if she were trying to verify her identity.

Karen: Have you an appointment?

axis: Uhm.

axis didn’t have to make an appointment last time. In fact, she hadn’t seen anyone else enter the Time Control Room at all within the past year, at the least.

axis: No?

Karen: You’ll have to make one.

axis: O—ok. When’s the soonest appointment that I can make?

Karen: [scrutinising a paper] Today at 13:00 is the first available time slot.

axis: [checking her wristwatch] It’s… 12:55 right now.

Karen: And you’d like to make the appointment?

axis: …Sure.

As Karen scribbled something onto her clipboard, axis made her way up the stairs towards the time machine.

Karen: Excuse me. Where do you think you’re going?

axis: I… don’t want to be late for my appointment?

Karen: You have five more minutes.

axis: Okay…

axis waited at the bottom of the Time Control Room with Karen for a full five minutes. Karen did a pretty good job of appearing busy the whole time.

Karen: [checking her wristwatch] axisaxis?

axis: Yes?

Karen: Go on in. Don’t be late.

axis finally made it to the time machine.

axis approaches the Time Control Room’s time machine once again…

axis could clearly see that the Retzes of the Helios had been chewing on the wires & cables of the time machine. She heaved a sigh as she walked within range of the machine’s temporal grips. Touching the giant crystal at the centre of the device, she was whisked off to another time.

Re-fugue

Entering pocket dimensions through fissures in the air was sometimes a bumpy ride, as axis knew firsthand. But in a way, it could be kind of fun. Going through a time machine, on the other hand, was very different for her. The ride was brief & violent, and she always ended up with a headache when she came out the other side.

In any event, axis did come out the other side, landing in the Altaire Camp set up within the Ellin Forest. Although axis had been to the Ellin Forest before, she’d only been within the Forest of Poison Haze region, & so she was somewhat surprised to be dropped into something resembling civilisation this time.

The first person whom axis encountered was a visibly pregnant elf woman with a gun holstered on her loosened belt.

[elf lady]: Oh — hello, there!

axisaxis: [smiling] Hello.

[elf lady]: [squinting slightly] I’m sorry, I—I don’t recognise you. Were you in the crash?

axis was now reminded of something that she’d read in the third volume of the Maple History. When the Black Magician first took a serious hold of Ossyria, many Ossyrian refugees fled to Victoria Island on crude airships.

axis: [pauses briefly] …N—no. I’m from Lith Harbour, actually.

[elf lady]: Oh, honey! You came all the way out east just to help us? You are such a darling. That explains the quirky accent! [smiles]

axis: Yep!

[elf lady]: What was your name, again?

axis: You can call me axis.

[elf lady]: Oooh! Exotic! I’m Yuris. [smiles] If you’re looking for something to do, my son Tess could probably use some help at the moment.

axis recognised the name “Yuris” from the letter that she’d delivered on Kyrin’s behalf. If this was Kyrin’s mother, then it seemed that Kyrin was soon to be born — although axis was unaware that Kyrin had a brother.

axis met the boy Tess on the western side of the refugee camp. Tess indicated that he was supposed to be doing something, but that he’d forgotten what that thing was in particular. Loha needed some kind of ingredient or tool to help feed Crawls with Balrog. Tess suggested that it was probably just Moss Snail Shells, & so sent axis to fetch fifty of them from the Mossy Snails.

axis vs. Mossy Snails

These moss-covered gastropods seemed structurally nearly identical to the snails that axis was familiar with from the “present-day” region east of Henesys. The main difference, besides their somewhat drab greenish-brown colouration, was simply that they were way larger. Like, way larger. Nevertheless, they were still no match for axis’s flaming pinwheel, and so axis was able to relatively quickly gather up fifty of their giant shells & roll them into the camp.

When axis brought the shells to Loha, however, she was confused & irritated. How was she going to feed the infant Crawls with Balrog with snail shells? Whilst axis was in the tent with Loha & Crawls with Balrog, she got an uncanny feeling from seeing, live & in the flesh, the infant version of the man who’d later be her very first combat instructor.

In any case, axis insisted that the snail shells were Tess’s idea. She pulled a Soft White Bun of El Nathian bread out of the snack compartment of her haversack and offered it to Loha. Loha thanked axis; the soft, melty bread would work well with Crawls’s toothless gums.

On the eastern end of the camp, axis met Perzen. axis immediately assumed that Perzen was a magician, based on his choice of attire: a deep green baggy robe, trimmed with gold, & overlaid with a white sleeveless habit featuring a single golden star.

Perzen: Hello! How’re you going?

axisaxis: Hi hi! I’m… new here.

Perzen: I presumed as much. I’m Perzen, chief of magical operations.

axis: I’m axis.

Perzen: Well met. Are you a field operative, by any chance?

axis: [somewhat confused] Erm…

Perzen: Are you combat personnel, that is?

axis: …Yes.

Perzen: Excellent. I’ve been hard at work here maintaining the magical barrier that surrounds this camp, to protect it from external sources of dark magicks. In order to continue the maintenance, however, I’ll be needing more Forest Stones quite soon.

axis: Forest Stones? Like… rocks?

Perzen: Well… not exactly. As you know, this Ellin Forest is no ordinary forest; it’s a fairy forest. We might be here now, but before the crash, this whole forest was basically devoid of human & elven life. Instead, it’s just been a few fairies — not the least of which being Ellin herself — and the various flora & fauna. [makes a vague hand gesture]

axis: Yeah… I knew that…

axis actually did know that, although she neglected to mention that she only knew it from history books.

Perzen: Right. So, because there are so few fairies that inhabit such a large fairy forest, they need a way to protect, supervise, & care for large swathes at a time. The solution is the Forest Stone: an inanimate sentinel powered by fairy magicks. There are likely hundreds of them, if not more, spread throughout this very forest as we speak. Many of them are placed in trees & other plants, in fungi, in animals, & occasionally just placed on the ground. By this point, we’ve already found most of the ones that are on the ground.

axis: So you just… take them? Aren’t the fairies upset about that?

Perzen: Ellin controls this region of the forest, so the Forest Stones that we’re taking are all hers. Ellin has agreed to help us out for the time being. Ultimately, the plan is — hopefully — to expand this camp right here into a full-blown town wherein humans, elves, & fairies can coexist harmoniously. Athena wants to call it “Ellinia”, but… well. We’ll see how Ellin feels about it.

axis: Oh, I’m… sure she’ll be fine with it.

Perzen: Well, in any event, the Forest Stones may be quite small, but they’re easily recognised.

Perzen took a single Forest Stone out of his pocket, presenting it pinched between a thumb & forefinger. It was a green glowing sphere inset with a bright white, glistening pair of crossed equators. The stone quivered & pulsated of its own accord.

axis: I see.

Perzen: If you find any of these, be sure to bring them back to me.

axis: Will do.

Perzen: Oh, & you should go see Athena in the Conference Room, if you haven’t already.

The Conference Room was a small room carved out of a giant tree situated in the centre of the camp. Inside, Athena Pierce stood, reading over a parchment. axis had certainly never seen Athena as a young woman, although she surprisingly didn’t look all that much younger, thanks to her elven heritage. Still, the bags underneath her eyes had yet to form, & her hair was shorter, tied up smartly into a ponytail.

Athena indicated to axis that someone by the name of Shadrion — a fellow field operative — was in need of some help. Shadrion was just out northwest of the camp, attempting to clear Tree Rods for their lumber.

The Tree Rods were familiar & unfamiliar to axis. In many ways, they naturally reminded her of the Stumps that she was accustomed to seeing in & around Perion. But rather than tiny desiccated tree-stumps lacking any useful bark, these Tree Rods were more lush, larger, & vibrantly coloured. They were even covered in lively lichens, grasses, & flowers, and their bark was still thick, smooth, & firmly shaped.

Shadrion lamented to axis that it was going to take an incredibly long time to harvest a useful amount of lumber, but that wasn’t the part that axis was worried about. Shadrion joked that perhaps they should just set up residence within the trees themselves, rather than building housing with their wood.

axis farming Tree Rods with Shadrion

Shadrion also mentioned that the bark of these Tree Rods could prove useful, in addition to the lumber. The bark was really of a strange shape; although most of it was merely tree-shaped, it also featured elaborate offshoots that curled tightly into dark green spirals. axis thought at first that these must be oddly-shaped branches, but upon closer inspection, they were indeed made of substantially the same material as the bark. Shadrion claimed that they’d tried eating the bark, & subsequently found that it had analgesic effects. axis brought several of the curlicues back to camp, hoping that they could be useful to help Yuris with the pain of labour.

When axis arrived back at camp again, Yuris was having a different sort of pregnancy problem. She was having some intense cravings for citrus, but of course, no one in the refugee camp knew where such fruits could be obtained. axis paid a visit to Ellin, asking her if she happened to have any citrus fruits on hand. To axis’s surprise, Ellin had a sweet orange — but she wanted something in return. axis offered the Moss Snail Shells that she’d uselessly collected previously. Ellin shrugged & agreed to the trade. When axis got back to camp & gave the orange to Yuris, Yuris was very thankful. She zealously bit through the orange, eating it — rind & all — as if it were an apple.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Crawls with Balrog was not doing so well. Although Perzen’s magical barrier did a pretty good job of keeping dark magicks out of the camp, trace amounts of the Black Mage’s poison were making their way into the camp via contaminated items. Being a tiny infant child, Crawls was naturally more sensitive to the contamination, and he’d become noticeably ill as a result.

Perzen knew that an antidote to the poison existed within the Ellin Forest, but warned that it might be tricky to obtain. In the far southern region of the forest — the location of “present-day” Henesys — there were giant mossy critters; not Mossy Snails, but rather, Mossy Mushrooms. The dark brown spores of these bouncy outsized fungi served as a weak antidote to the poison. Still, they were located very far from the Altaire Camp, & what’s worse, they were almost certainly more dangerous than their mollusc relatives.

axis insisted that she was quite swift, & could obtain dozens of these spores in no time.

axis plucking the Mossy Mushrooms

When she arrived at the hilly region that was home to these oversized agarics, axis recognised some of the landforms — & even some of the vegetation — from what she knew as the Forest West of Henesys.

The mushrooms were indeed quite frightening, & they threatened to bludgeon axis with their huge mossy caps. But again, axis was able to subdue them with the use of her pinwheel, & she subsequently extracted a great number of spores from them. The spores were indeed a dark brown — almost black — & each one was nearly large enough to be as wide as axis’s little finger.

axis rushed back to camp, & when she got there, Sion used the spores to brew an antidote. Thankfully, the antidote seemed to work — although it had a rather unpleasant taste — & Crawls with Balrog recovered successfully.

Athena now told axis that she was needed directly out west of the camp. A field operative by the name of Rius was busy investigating the magical workings & the potential practical uses of the “Stone Bugs” that roamed that land. When axis arrived at Rius’s location, she learned that Rius was the only other magic-user of the Altaire Camp, apart from Perzen. Whereas Perzen was tasked with taking care of the camp itself, Rius was on research & investigation duty.

The Stone Bugs of this region of the Ellin Forest were, quite literally, enormous insects made of stone. Each one bore six legs, and had a tripartite body: head, thorax, & abdomen (including a tail). The strangest thing about them was perhaps that they were monocular — well, besides the whole “made of stone” thing. Unlike the other flora & fauna of the Ellin Forest, it was unclear whether or not these rocky hexapods were of natural origin at all. axis recognised the magic that animated these stones as the very same magic that animated the various Stone Golems of the Golem’s Temple & the Sleepy Dungeon.

axis assisted Rius in his research by crumbling the Stone Buggoes, & picking up their constituent stones so that Rius could examine the stones more closely.

axis crumbles the Stone Buggoes

데스토넨 II

When axis returned once again to the refugee camp, Athena had yet another task for her. Up in the far north of the forest, a field operative by the name of Destonen[49] came across a huge mountain — which he’d come to refer to as “Boulder Mountain” — that had a crude tunnel running through it. Unfortunately, the tunnel, & the region around it, were both thoroughly occupied by a population of colossal boars.

When axis came to the base of Boulder Mountain to assist Destonen, she witnessed firsthand that although the boars were certainly colossal, they nevertheless reminded her of the Wild Boars that inhabited “present-day” Perion. Indeed, the so-called “Boulder Mountain” — & the rock formations within its vicinity — were quite obviously the Rocky Mountains of Perion.

It was nigh uncanny for axis to be able to meet Destonen in person: someone she knew of; someone of great importance; & someone she couldn’t possibly have the chance of meeting, if it weren’t for time travel. Although axis recognised several of Kyrin’s features in Yuris, she thought that Destonen was even more clearly Kyrin’s parent: his eyes, hair, & smile were those of Kyrin; he wore an elaborate red covering atop his head; & the stubborn determination in his voice was unmistakably Kyrin’s. His weapon of choice was simply a pair of elaborate-looking knuckle-dusters.

axis vs. the Primitive Boars

The boars had a nasty habit of charging axis & Destonen, attempting to gore them with their enormous tusks. Destonen & axis fought the boars at great length — including axis briefly riding upon the back of one of the suids — before the way into the tunnel was sufficiently cleared.

Destonen: Thank you so much, again, for your help.

axisaxis: Of course. I, uhm… I guess I’ll start the trek back to camp now.

Destonen: [briefly bowing his head] Health to you.

axis: [pauses] …Destonen.

Destonen: …Yes?

axis paused for an uncomfortably long amount of time.

axis: …You will never know your daughter.

Destonen: Wh—

axis: Kyrin will be the leader of the Pirates, one of the most skilled & accomplished adventurers in the history of the Maple World, & a friend to many.

Destonen’s eyes began to glisten as he half-opened his mouth, straining for a word to speak.

axis ran away.

axis ran, the tears drowned from her face by the seemingly perpetual rain of the Ellin Forest. She ran until she could no longer run, collapsing under the canopy of the impossibly tall trees. She eventually made that trek back to the Altaire Camp.

When axis arrived back at the refugee camp for the final time, Kyrin was already born & Yuris was already dead, succumbed to the heinous poisoning of an unnamed assassin[50] — almost certainly a disciple of the Black Magician. The newborn Kyrin had been taken into Sion’s tent for nursing.

axis emptied out the four or five dozen Forest Stones that were in her haversack, & ran headlong into that same obscure location where the accursèd time machine had dropped her. Drenched, she reappeared in the Time Control Room with red eyes, a headache, & an indifferent glance from Karen.

axis did not belong in the past, & she never wanted to go back to the Ellin Forest ever again.


Footnotes for “Down the rabbit-hole”

  1. [↑] (ㄨˇ)(ㄌㄧㄥˊ)(ㄊㄠˊ)(ㄩㄢˊ); ⟨Wǔlíng Táoyuán⟩; modern Standard Beijing Mandarin /u˨˩˦ liŋ˧˥ tʰau̯˧˥ ɥɛn˧˥/. Sino-Korean 무릉도원; ⟨Mureung Dowon⟩; /mu.ɾɯŋ to.wʌn/.

    GMS typically spells ⟨Mureung⟩ as ⟨Mu Lung⟩, presumably from YaleMulung⟩. The ⟨L⟩ is due to Yale being a transliteration system, thus always rendering ⟨ㄹ⟩ as ⟨l⟩, even when pronounced /ɾ/. Both vowels are ⟨u⟩ in the Yale transliteration because ⟨ㅡ⟩ /ɯ/ is never preceded by a labial consonant, so ⟨ㅜ⟩ /u/ can be written as ⟨u⟩ instead of the usual ⟨wu⟩ in that case. The English pronunciation is thus likely /ˌmuˈlʌŋ/.

  2. [↑] (ㄐㄧㄡˇ)(ㄨㄥ); ⟨Jiǔwēng⟩; Standard Beijing Mandarin /t͜ɕjou̯˨˩˦ wəŋ˥/. Sino-Korean 구옹; ⟨Guong⟩; /ku.oŋ/.

    The in-game spelling in GMS is ⟨Guon⟩ (note that the ⟨g⟩ at the end is missing), because… r—reasons…?

  3. [↑] French bernard-l’ermite; /bɛʁ.naʁ lɛʁ.mit/; “hermit crab”, lit. “Bernard-the-hermit”.

  4. [↑] The Old Orgel actually is, as its pixel art depicts, a musical box. Its interpretation here as an organ — specifically a hand-pumped pump organ, more typically known as a kind of harmonium (H–S 412.132-8) — is a kind of multilingual pun.

    The original name of this item is: 낡은 오르골; ⟨Nalg-eun Oreugol⟩; /nɐɭk.ɯn o.ɾɯ.koɭ/; “old musical box (H–S 122.2)”. 오르골 is from Japanese オルゴール; ⟨orugōru⟩; /o̞.ɾɯ̟ᵝ.go̞ː.ɾɯ̟ᵝ/; “musical box”. In turn, オルゴール is from Dutch orgel; /ˈɔr.ɣəl/; “organ”.

    The point of confusion here is at the borrowing of the Dutch word into Japanese, although I couldn’t tell you the reason for the confusion. The corresponding article on Japanese Wikipedia notes that Japanese is almost unique (barring, of course, Korean, which borrowed it from Japanese anyways) in using this word to refer to musical boxes, pointing out that the word in Dutch is not orgel, but rather, speeldoos (also muziekdoos).

    Whoever localised this item into English was likely lost by this somewhat confusing etymological rollercoaster, and likely wasn’t much of an organologist, either. The result is that the name was simply not translated at all: orgel is not a word in English, and the Dutch speaker is left confused as to why the item icon looks like a traditional speeldoos.

    Choosing to interpret the Old Orgel as an “organ” anyways presents some physical difficulties. A musical box like the one depicted by the Old Orgel is very small indeed; even a hand-pumped harmonium is perhaps an order of magnitude larger. It’s unclear to me whether such a construction is really practically possible, and if it is, I’m sure it sounds… like ass. I’d still like to know how it’d sound, though…

  5. [↑] See also: the “capreolina takes a vacation in Victoria Island” section of pt. lxviii of this diary.

  6. [↑] See the “For the Goddess” section of pt. cv of this diary.

  7. [↑] In the “A. axis” section of pt. cii of this diary (see the “A most auspicious star, whose influence if now I court not, but omit, my fortunes will ever after droop” section of pt. ciii for the unscrambled version thereof), axisaxis completed POLLUTED! ⟨1—Evil Eye⟩ parts 1 & 2, and POLLUTED! ⟨2—Curse Eye⟩ parts 1 & 2. Considering that analogous questlines (all of which axis also completed in that entry) for so many other Sleepywood monster species exist…:

    …One wonders where the “kill 99, & then an additional 999, Cold Eyes” questline is. This questline would perhaps be called POLLUTED! ⟨3—Cold Eye⟩. This would thus be in line with the questlines for the other two “flavours” (if you will) of “Eye” lizards: 1—Evil, 2—Curse, 3—Cold. Or more likely, since the 3rd “POLLUTED!” questline is already the Jr. Boogie questline, POLLUTED! ⟨4—Cold Eye⟩. This would put Jr. Boogies (a level 35 species) at a difficulty level (read: minimum character level) intermediate between Curse Eyes (level 35) and Cold Eyes (level 40).

    Then again, if we look at the entire Sleepywood region, there are obviously quite a few species that are missing corresponding questlines of this kind, thus making Cold Eyes no particular exception. Moreover, Cold Eyes are associated with the Deep Sleepywood subregion of Sleepywood, unlike the species found in the existing questlines, which can be found elsewhere in Sleepywood[8].

    However, although Cold Eyes are indeed primarily associated with Deep Sleepywood, they are like Green Mushrooms[8], Horny Mushrooms, Curse Eyes, & Jr. Boogies in that they can be found on Victoria Island outside of the Sleepywood region: TDFUNIV is home to a nonzero minority population of Cold Eyes, alongside a majority population of Curse Eyes (& a nonzero minority population of Fairies, for whatever that’s worth…).

    And indeed, the hypothetical POLLUTED! ⟨4—Cold Eye⟩ questline appears to be scrapped content that was previously intended to be added into MapleStory. The Wanted : Cold Eye NPC can be found in the game data of many, if not most, or possibly even all, versions of MapleStory. Of course, it does not exist in-game, as that would require actually adding it to at least one map. Searching the WWW for this NPC, or for its Korean-language (read: KMS) counterpart, seems to reveal nothing other than simple game data dumps, e.g. “GM handbooks” & the like. Furthermore, there is a similarly unused(?) Wanted : Drake NPC.

    If we allow just a bit of speculation, I’d wager a guess that POLLUTED! ⟨4—Cold Eye⟩ and POLLUTED! ⟨5—Drake⟩ were intended to be added into the game for the logical reasons outlined above, but were scrapped before the game entered its beta phase, for practical reasons. For the purpose of these two questlines, the PC would clearly be expected to venture at least as far as TTLLI. That’s pretty far out there — particularly, firmly within Deep Sleepywood — for a questline that’s intended to sit alongside other, more tepid & accessible low-level quests. Moreover, going into Deep Sleepywood suggests producing even more of these The Rememberer quests, one for each of the Deep Sleepywood species… and that sounds like extra work!

    Still, the fact that the NPC data exists in GMS — and translated into English, at that — suggests that perhaps early (beta?) versions of KMS may have had these quests, or at least had them in the game data. Or, they were just translated in a batch with the other “Wanted” NPCs… If you have access to this kind of information, especially if your Korean is better than mine (extremely likely), do let me know! Because I’m a big fan of all of the quests that involve The Rememberer!

    The good news is that private server implementations may freely pilfer these unused NPCs to implement the quests themselves, as they see fit. 🙂

  8. [↑] Green Mushrooms are not primarily associated with the Sleepywood region, but rather, with Ellinia (e.g. TDFUNVI). Nevertheless, they spawn in considerable numbers elsewhere, including e.g. Swampy Land in a Deep Forest, which is populated by a plurality of Green Mushrooms, and is located in Sleepywood.

  9. [↑] Alternatively interpreted as (ㄋㄧㄡˊ)(ㄇㄛˊ)(ㄨㄤˊ); ⟨Niú Mówáng⟩; Standard Mandarin /njou̯˧˥ mu̯ɔ˧˥ waŋ˧˥/; “Bull Demon King”. I prefer (ㄋㄧㄡˊ)(ㄊㄡˊ) for the “guardian of purgatory” vibes.

  10. [↑] The Rememberer’s speech is based reasonably closely on well-attested Middle English (MidE) lexicography in roughly the period from 1175 to 1500. It is not, however, based on any particular dialect nor any more narrow time period. MidE existed prior to any serious standardisation of English orthography, so most of the words that you see here have at least one or two other possible spellings (as well as dialectal forms), & often quite a few. I refrain from the use of macrons entirely, as they were historically used as scribal abbreviations of — effectively — nasalisation (particularly, a missing ⟨n⟩ or ⟨m⟩ immediately after the vowel), but in modern renderings, they’re often used to instead indicate vowel length.

  11. [↑] The Modern English (ModE) descendent of MidE apertli is apparently, but its sense has shifted. The MidE sense is not “seemingly; reportedly”, but rather, “obviously, clearly, plainly”.

  12. [↑] Somewhat confusingly, ModE he (masculine, singular) and they (neuter, plural) are both he in MidE.

  13. [↑] BBB characterises this quest as a singleton quest (read: questline with only one quest) entitled “Fanzy the Mysterious Cat”. It also doesn’t include Fanzy in this quest, but only in the followup quest, which it calls “Fanzy the Amusing Cat”.

    BBB is technically correct in splitting these two quests into a pair of singleton quests (thanks, Necksawn!), but fails to give the quest names, instead using the questline names in their place. The questline names are correct, but the corresponding quest names are “Nella’s Dream” (QID 2103) and “Fanzy’s Red Furball” (QID 2104), respectively.

    BBB is incorrect in the sense that, in reality, talking to Fanzy is required in order to complete “Fanzy the Mysterious Cat”/“Nella’s Dream”.

  14. [↑] See the “A. axis” section of pt. cii of this diary.

  15. [↑] The talisman is a (ㄈㄨˊ)(ㄌㄨˋ); ⟨fúlù⟩; Standard Mandarin /fu˧˥ lu˥˩/. The way in which MapleStory uses 符籙 — including not just with Faust, but with some other undead monsters as well, most notably the Zombie Mushroom — is from their association with (jiāng)(shī). 殭屍 are sort of like Chinese-folkloric vampire-zombies, and the efficacy of a specially-made 符籙 supposedly immobilises such undead creatures.

    Zombie Mushrooms are the most notable 符籙-bearing monster species because they actually drop 符籙 when killed: the Charm of the Undead. Interestingly, this ETC item is known in both CMS and TMS not as 符籙 (nor the corresponding simplified 符箓), but as (ㄉㄠˋ)(ㄈㄨˊ); ⟨dàofú⟩; Standard Mandarin /tau̯˥˩ fu˧˥/. Here, 道 is an abbreviation of (Dào)(jiào) “Dàoism, Dàoist”, and 符 is “charm, talisman; sign; tag” — just like in 符籙. I don’t know why this is, as it seems that 道符 is the much less commonly used of the two, but I suspect that it’s just more readable. The character ⟨籙⟩ has a fairly impressive 22 strokes, and furthermore, it’s just not a very common character. It seems to typically, in isolation, be translated into English as “book”, although the more usual character for this sense is (shū), and ⟨籙⟩ seems to only really be used in the compound 符籙. Worse yet, its simplified form, ⟨箓⟩, is also used as the simplified form of ().

    The depiction of undead creatures (particularly, 殭屍) as having 符籙 stuck to their foreheads, hanging down vertically over their faces, is one of popular culture that pre-dates MapleStory.

  16. [↑] Although some parts of my interpretation here of The Old Tree questline are imaginative, this part is actually true, believe it or not. In describing Stumpy, Dances with Balrog says this:

    It’s a very old tree surviving all the years ever since Perion was covered with lush forests. As it weathered all the pains and tough times, its anger grew large. It was infuriated at the people destroying forests, and at the scenes of forests falling barren.

    In the end, the rage turned the tree into a monster. Now it’s nothing but a horrendous monster gobbling up nutrients from the soil.

  17. [↑] Being a mediæval language that adopted a script from a different — & not closely-related — language, Old Irish orthography is quite inconsistent between different texts, and even within a single text (see also: [10]).

    The French Wikipedia article that I’m quoting here paraphrases Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise : Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental (“Dictionary of the Gaulish language: A linguistic approach to continental Old Celtic”; 2nd ed. 2003; 2001). This book gives the two Old Irish radicals orb & orbe, with closely-related — but not identical — meanings. I was a bit skeptical, but couldn’t find very many good sources on the WWW for Old Irish vocabulary.

    Nevertheless, I did find that English Wiktionary lists orbbae /ˈor.be/ “patrimony, inheritance (of land)”, with the alternative forms orbae & orpe. Wiktionary also lists comarbbae /ˈko.ṽar.be/ (sorry, eSpeak NG can’t do /ṽ/…) “heir, successor, inheritor”, with the corresponding alternative forms comarbae & comarpe — this is etymologically simply com- “with” + orbbae. Delamarre lists this as comarbe, which is consistent with his listing of orbe: ⟨bb⟩ → ⟨b⟩; ⟨ae⟩ → ⟨e⟩.

    Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s In Dúil Bélrai lists orbba “heritage, inheritance, patrimony; native territory”. Relative to Wiktionary’s spelling, this would be ⟨ae⟩ → ⟨a⟩ (and no change in ⟨bb⟩), rather than Delamarre’s ⟨ae⟩ → ⟨e⟩.

    Wiktionary gives the etymology of orbbae as from Proto-Celtic *orbyom “inheritance”, in turn from PIE *h₃orbʰyom, from the root *h₃erbʰ- “to change allegiance/status/ownership; (in Celtic, Germanic) inheritance”. This would make it a distant cognate of the (rare, dialectal) English erf /ɜ(ɹ)f/ “inheritance, patrimony; inherited lot in a village; stock, cattle”, the Dutch erf /ɛrf/ “yard (of a house); heritage, patrimony”, the German Erbe /ˈɛr.bə/ “inheritance, bequest; heritage, legacy”, and the Latin orbus /ˈɔr.bʊs/ (dative/ablative plural orbīs) “deprived, bereft”.

    Middle Irish and onwards (Early Modern Irish, Modern Irish) seem to be more likely to use oidhre (also spelt ⟨oighre⟩; Middle Irish eigre) for “heir”, and oidhreacht (also spelt ⟨oighreacht⟩; Middle Irish eigrecht) for “heritage, inheritance”. These are from Latin hērēs /ˈheː.reːs/ via Anglo-Norman heir /e͜ir/ (whence also English heir, naturally), and appear to be unrelated to orbbae etc. The modern descendant of orbbae is forba, but its use appears to be literary and/or rare.

    I can’t find any sources — besides Delamarre — that distinguish Old Irish orb from a separate orbe/orbba/orbbae.

    It’s worth noting that there are several other notable descendants of *orbios which Delamarre lists, but which aren’t mentioned by the French Wikipedia article that I’m quoting here:

  18. [↑] See the “tara taran’ it up” section of pt. lxxxviii of this diary for more on the so-called “Tears of Kelvelos”.

  19. [↑] As far as I know, there are four species of 루이넬 in MapleStory:

    MoID name RR pronunciation gloss GMS name
    9500131 루이넬 Ru’inel /ɾu.i.ne̞ɭ/ Ru’inel Luinel
    7130000 Lucida
    9300044 여신 탑의 루이넬 Yeosin Tab⁠-⁠ui Ru’inel /jʌ.sin tʰɐp.ɰi ɾu.i.ne̞ɭ/ goddess tower-GEN Ru’inel Luinel in Tower of Goddess
    6230401 주니어 루이넬 Juni’eo Ru’inel /t͜ɕu.ni.ʌ̹ ɾu.i.ne̞ɭ/ « Junior » Ru’inel Jr. Lucida

    (NOTE: In my RR transliterations here, I follow Wiktionary by using an apostrophe rather than a hyphen for syllable disambiguation and/or syllable-initial ⟨ㅇ⟩, reserving the use of hyphens for morphemic breaks — regardless of whether or not the hyphen also happens to disambiguate syllables. Also note that, natively, word-initial /ɾ/ is typically [n] unless immediately followed by /i/ or /j/, but I write ⟨ɾ⟩ because 루이넬 is not a Korean word.)

    As you can see, GMS is inconsistent in its localisation of 루이넬: ⟨Luinel⟩ is a fairly straightforward Romanisation (although RR prefers ⟨Ruinel⟩ or ⟨Ru-inel⟩), whereas ⟨Lucida⟩ is clearly taking a bit of poetic licence.

    I assume that Lucida is from Latin lūcida; /ˈluː.kɪ.dä/; “(NOM\F\SG) bright, shining; lucid, perspicuous”. It makes some sense, given that lūcidus is popular for use as a specific name, but on the other hand, it’s a tad ironic, given that the monsters are almost entirely black…

  20. [↑] Athena has been syncretically identified with Minerva for a very long time now — ever since some time during the 2nd century BC or so. As a result, much literature treats the two as entirely synonymous, with Athena (& its variants, Athene, Ἀθηνᾶ, etc.) being the Greek-language version, and Minerva being the Latin-language version.

    Nevertheless, the two did exist separately prior to their syncretisation. I consciously maintain the distinction here largely because MapleStory kinda-sorta does, insofar as they use the names Athena and Minerva for two apparently unrelated individuals. This is not to claim that the folx at Wizet genuinely maintained a general mythological/literary distinction between these two mythological figures; more likely, this was just a simple act of recycling a pair of old Western names.

  21. [↑] Internally (within MapleStory’s game data), fa is referred to as pa; Korean has no /f/, so /pʰ/ is the closest it gets. Sol is sometimes so instead. Si is sometimes ti instead, especially with movable do. Classically, do is instead ut, from the incipit of Ut queant laxīs (probably(?) due to Paul the Deacon, with the melody perhaps(??) composed by Guido d’Arezzo).

  22. [↑] Eliza’s lullaby is written in mensural notation with Petrucci-style noteheads. This places the notational format & style somewhere vaguely around the year 1500, although mensural notation in general was used in Europe from about the late 13th c. through the early 17th c.

    I originally planned on using neumatic notation, as it’s even more old-timey (going back to like the 9th c.), and is designed for plainchant, which is monophonic just like the lullaby. This would entail the use of Gregorio, which is a fine piece of free software that appears to be the only engraving tool for neumatic scores that’s actually used these days. I mean, really; Gregorio is what literal Catholic monks use. Sounds cool, right? Unfortunately, neumes don’t really have a notion of rhythm, instead relying on the performers’ interpretations of the lyrics — and possibly(!) also an assumption of every note having roughly equal value — to provide some kind of temporal substance. Although I learned a few things about neumatic notation in the process, I ultimately realised that it’s simply not designed for this use-case.

    Anywho, because I’m using mensural notation anyways, the note values are adjusted to meet archæic mensural standards. Historically, written music in Europe has repeatedly come up with new, shorter note values by halving whatever the previously shortest one was. The original scheme is essentially based around the longa and the breve; as their names imply, the longa is the longer one, and the breve is the briefer one. To get an even longer value, there’s the maxima, which is twice the length of a longa. The longa is of course twice the length of a breve, and we can get even shorter than a breve by using the semibreve. This is a great little four-value system, but there’s just one problem: the longest value used with any significant frequency in modern musical notation is the semibreve (a.k.a. the whole note)! So of these four values, three of them are way super long!!

    The process of coming up with shorter values, and slowing down the typical duration (in seconds) of the old values accordingly, continued until we got to where we are today. Now, the basic unit is not the breve, but instead the semiminim (which is now called a crotchet or a quarter note), which is eight times shorter!! Thus, in my mensural notation here, I write what is really a quarter note in modern notation, instead as a semibreve (the hollow lozenge shapes that don’t have stems).

    Why not as a breve, you ask? Well, using a semibreve for this purpose is already old-fashioned enough. More importantly, it makes the mensuration sign fit more appropriately. Eliza’s lullaby is in 6⁄8 time, and the mensuration sign that I use here — which kinda looks like a letter ⟨C⟩ with a dot in the middle — corresponds to the modern signature 6⁄2, if interpreted literally. Thus, the necessary adjustment is by a factor of 82=4.

    The clef is a C-clef on the bottom line of the staff. Nowadays, G- and F-clefs are both more common than C-clefs, and C-clefs look a lot different. In mensural notation, C-clefs are the most common. Placing a C-clef on the bottom line is called a soprano clef in modern notation, and is basically never used anymore.

    I use the modern fermata notation because the mensural version looks pretty similar anyways, and I don’t know how to make LilyPond do mensural coronæ. It used to be called a corona, and Italian still calls it that.

    You’ll notice the lack of bar lines! Mensural notation has no concept of bar lines, and I’ve simply placed line breaks strategically to make the score more readable. The structure of this piece is very simple, so it doesn’t make much of a difference anyways.

    The ABC-notated version of the piece is written in the straightforward modern way, without any influence from mensuralisms.

  23. [↑] In English: /(ɹ)ˈsʊz, bɛɹˈsuz/. From French berceuse /bɛʁ.søz/, an ellipsis of chanson berceuse, lit. “song [of] one who cradles/rocks [a baby]”. In languages other than French, the term is typically used specifically for lullaby-like musical pieces written by composers, e.g. Chopin’s fairly well-known Berceuse, Op. 57.

  24. [↑] This recording of Eliza’s lullaby uses only the actual MapleStory “harp” (see e.g. Harp String ⟨C⟩) sounds, as ripped directly out of the game data. This recording is not possible to reproduce in-game, as the game places a kind of cooldown on NPC chatting, meaning that two notes in a performance must be separated by at least ≈1 500⁢ ms or so (see the “For the Goddess” section of pt. cv of this diary for another consequence of this behaviour).

    In order to produce this recording, I made a very small SFZ (not to be confused with sf2) file (which you can find at kithara.sfz), converted the individual MP3 files of each “harp string” sound into WAV, and then used sfizz (see also) to render a MIDI file (SMF) of Eliza’s lullaby (obtained via MuseScore 4), with kithara.sfz as the instrument. sfizz doesn’t appear to be very widely used, so I ended up having to compile it myself. 🙄 Luckily it wasn’t too difficult, and the rendering basically looked like:

    sfizz_render --sfz kithara.sfz --midi eliza-s-lullaby.mid --wav eliza-s-lullaby.wav
    

    For some reason, this produced audio that was super quiet, and thus I fear that I lost some dynamics information (read: effective bit depth) in the process. The game data that I used were already abysmal enough quality to begin with, at a sampling frequency of 22.05⁢ kHz, and a truly depressing bitrate of 24⁢ kbits. Yes, really. 24. So it was destined to sound like ass anyways, I guess…

  25. [↑] GMS calls this NPC ⟨Scadur⟩, but a more standard spelling would probably be ⟨Skadr⟩ or ⟨Skádr⟩ (in mediæval runes: ⟨ᛌᚴᛆᛑᚱ⟩). This is monosyllabic (notice that the /r/ is not syllabic) /skɑːd̪r/. But in English, more likely disyllabic /ˈskɑ.dɹ̩/ or /ˈskɑ.dɜ(ɹ)/.

  26. [↑] /gwɛ.na.ɛl ʁiʃ/.

  27. [↑] I ended up completing roughly ≈75% of “Eliminating the Pirates” with this party, in a single session! Of course, I also completed all of the other PPQ quests. So, having the remaining ≈25% of this quest left undone seemed wrong.

    Then again, “Eliminating the Pirates” is — with little or no exaggeration — the actual worst quest in the entire game. I did quite a number of PPQ runs with various other random parties, hoping that I could convince any of them to let me get at least some Devoted kills. This did not work. Like, not even a little bit. And axis was starting to get a bit worryingly close to the triple-digit levels…

    Skjal (inject, inhale, insist, vvvv, Tetrin, DexBlade, Pitiful) mentioned Soblet in a conversation, suggesting that I could perhaps solo it — The Soblet Way™. Then, I realised that… actually, I probably could! Would I have to sacrifice just a little itty-bitty drop of my sanity to do it? Probably, yeah. But it seemed like it was worth a try.

    I ended up soloing the remaining ≈25% of the quest by making my OPQ mule sets do everything. I dragged my MPQ mule potpan along as well, so that I had a large enough party to go inside; but I ended up just killing her every time. There was no need to keep her alive, especially once I figured out that I could press the “OK” button on the death dialogue box whilst I was in the “you’ve been ejected from the PQ” map of the PQ, and it would respawn me into the same map, rather than back in town. I’m not sure if letting the ten-minute death timer expire whilst PQing would eject my entire party from the PQ (as a result of having an insufficiently large effective party size) or not. But it never happened, as ten minutes after potpan’s death was a little more time than I actually needed; I wasn’t clearing the PQ, but rather, just getting Devoted kills.

    Anywho, keeping axis alive was of course trivial. Moreover, she didn’t leech any meaningful amount of EXP, as the monsters that spawn in PPQ have bizarrely low EXP values — and again, I wasn’t clearing like… half of the PQ (recall that PPQ’s EXP reward is all at the very end). The part that I did clear was mostly Through the Head of the Ship!, a.k.a. stage 2. I was sweating pretty hard to get sets to clear this stage solo, and there were two or three runs where I cleared with a single-digit number of seconds remaining on the clock. There was a LOT of claw-punching involved, at pretty much all stages — including, sadly, the Lord Pirate’s Servant bits, which is where the Devotees spawn. I’m not sure if axis would have been better at, perhaps, stage 2, in comparison to sets. And I didn’t test it because my equipment is a fucking mess! Sue me!!

    A lot of the difficulty here was RNG-based. The monster spawns in Lord Pirate’s Servant are difficult to predict, & I assume are controlled by some PQ script. Worse, the time that it takes to clear stage 2 is almost entirely based on random monster drops (see the “You’d see me face down; beneath the silt & sands; buried by my thoughts” section above).

    In the end, it took six or so solo attempts, including a few mistakes here & there. But I did it!! (Phewf!!!) That’s well over an hour’s worth of solo “PPQing” — and, with any luck, the only solo PPQing that I’ll ever do…

  28. [↑] My spelling of Ría’s name with an acute accent is partly a fanciful Norse respelling much like ⟨Scadur⟩ → ⟨Skadr⟩, but also partly to distinguish her from the similarly mononymous Ria, who is (presumably??) unrelated.

  29. [↑] Cerebes is a corruption of Latin Cerberus /ˈkɛr.bɛ.rʊs/ (ultimately from Ancient Greek: ΚέρβεροςKérberos⟩ /ˈké̞r.be̞.ro̞s/). Because there’s only one Cerberus, it is always singular. Nevertheless, if we extrapolate from the fact that Cerberus is masculine and second declension, its hypothetical nominative plural would be Cerberī /ˈkɛr.bɛ.riː/ (in Ancient Greek: Κέρβεροι ⟨Kérberoi⟩ /ˈké̞r.be̞.ro̞i̯/). If we mangle this to get a similarly corrupted version, we might have singular Cerebes, plural *Cerebi (however you wanna pronounce that)…? So I just leave it invariant. 🙃

  30. [↑] 모래성 ⟨moraeseong⟩ /mo.ɾe̞.sʌ̹ŋ/ “sandcastle”, from 모래 “sand” + () “castle”. And ()pan⟩ /pʰɐn/ “board, plank”.

  31. [↑] Ormsby uses hack to translate rozin (Late Modern Spanish rocín) “old & useless horse”. The usual term in English is nag, but hack has the advantage of being an apocopic descendant of hackney. This parallels Cervantes’s use of rozin, vs. Rozinante (Rocinante = rocín “nag” + (-)ante(s) “previously, former; before, in front of; [deverbal suffix]”) as the horse’s name.

  32. [↑] Latin equivalent of English nothing but skin & bones, no more than skin & bones, etc.

  33. [↑] ON /ˈæːvintyːr/ “adventure; fairytale, tale, fantastic story”.

  34. [↑] The Trixter species are mildly inconsistent in their nomenclature. The “real” versions are Trixter (MoID 2230103) & Green Trixter (MoID 2230104). The “warped dimension” versions are Super Trickster (MoID 9100005) & Super Green Trickster (MoID 9100006).

    The somewhat abstract notion of a trickster /ˈtɹɪk.stə(ɹ)/ is common in mythology & folklore. This was likely the original name, with Trixter being a later sensational spelling (/ks/ as ⟨cks⟩ or ⟨x⟩ or ⟨ks⟩ or ⟨cs⟩) of the same. You’re not supposed to see the names of the “warped dimension” versions in-game anyways, so the fact that their spellings weren’t updated is irrelevant until you… try to look them up in a database.

  35. [↑] Grandpa Clock’s speech is EModE from roughly the late 16th c. to the early 17th c. Hopefully you understand now why he’s hard of hearing.

  36. [↑] This item, Toy Robot Sack (IID 2100018 in GMS v62, but reportedly IID 2100031 in at least one other implementation), has long since been removed from MapleLegends entirely. As a result, the hyperlink here to its MapleLegends Library entry yields a HTTP 404 response at the time of this writing. I leave the hyperlink there anyways, because it still fulfils half of its duty: although it’s not navigable, it still provides a kind of metadata.

  37. [↑] In English, the word aurora /əˈɹɔ.ɹə/ is — at least, outside of literary/poetic contexts — only used to refer to the aurora borealis (a.k.a. northern lights) and the aurora australis (a.k.a. southern lights). However, its more original meaning, Latin aurōra /au̯ˈroː.rä/ is “dawn, sunrise; (capitalised) Aurōra, goddess of dawn”, as reflected in many of its Romance descendants.

    Somewhat surprisingly, this makes it cognate with English Eos /ˈiˌɒs/ “Ancient Greek goddess of the dawn; (poetic) dawn”, as well as English east /ist/ “opposite of west”:

    • PIE *h₂ews- “to become light; to dawn”:
      • > PIE *h₂éwsōs “dawn; goddess of dawn”:
        • > Proto-Hellenic *auhṓs “dawn; goddess of dawn” > Ancient Greek ἠώςēṓs⟩ “dawn, daybreak; morning; east (as the direction of dawn); (capitalised) Eos, goddess of dawn” > English Eos.
        • > Proto-Italic *auzōs “dawn; goddess of dawn” > Latin aurōra “dawn, sunrise; (capitalised) Aurōra, goddess of dawn” > English aurora.
      • + *-teros “[adjectival suffix]” > PIE *h₂éwsteros “in the direction of dawn, east” > PGmc *austraz “eastern” > PGmc *austrą “east, eastwards” > PWGmc *austr > OldE ēast /æːɑ̯st/ > MidE est /ɛːst/ > ModE east /ist/.

    However, the related senses are not limited to “dawn (& deities thereof); east”. Many derived senses mean, perhaps somewhat confusingly, “south, southern”:

    • MidE est was also used to mean “a place in the south”, in addition to its modern meanings.
    • Proto-Italic *auzōs (as mentioned above) is a sibling or parent of Proto-Italic *austeros, whence Latin auster “the south wind; south” > Latin austrālis “southern”:

    My use of dawn here is, of course, as in “beginning”.

    Notice also the relation with Helios (the tower opposing the Eos): although etymologically a non-cognate, we have PIE *sóh₂wl̥ “sun” > later PIE *sh₂wél-(i)-yos “sun(?)” > Proto-Hellenic *hāwélios “sun” > Ancient Greek ἥλῐοςhḗlĭos⟩ “sun; east; day; sunshine; (capitalised) Ancient Greek god of the Sun” > English Helios /ˈhi.li.ɒs/ “Ancient Greek god of the Sun”.

    Thus, both the Eos & Helios Towers are apparently “east” towers — or, in the case of Eos, potentially “south”. And both are associated with the sun & its light. Simply drawing a relation between Eos and “east” would, at first blush, seem almost like a misnomer, as it’s apparently on the western side of the Lūdus Lake region. Still, this would seem to rely on a strong association between “moving a PC leftwards” and “moving a PC ‘westwards’ (whatever that means)”, which is questionable for various reasons, not the least of which being that MapleStory is side-scrolling. Nevertheless, the Lūdus Lake world map puts the Eos Tower on the left & the Helios Tower on the right, which is fairly strong evidence for the relative westerliness of the Eos Tower.

    Drawing a relation between both towers’ names and “east” invites confusion as well, as that would imply two “eastern” towers that are inexplicably on opposite sides of the Lūdus Lake.

    It would seem, then, that the most plausible explanations for these names are:

    1. Lūdus Lake as a whole is located in an eastern, southeastern, or possibly southern location relative to other part(s) of the Maple World.
    2. Wizet just randomly picked the names of two Ancient Greek gods.

    I don’t claim to know the literal intent of the anonymous Wizet employee(s) who came up with the names Eos and Helios, for obvious reasons. Either (1.) or (2.) is perfectly plausible, but it’s worth noting that there is very strong evidence for (1.), or at least some combination of (1.) & (2.): the Maple World map.

    Starting in GMS v49 (I use GMS as a reference here mostly because MapleLegends is based on it), the game began to include a map of the Maple World, along with individual “world maps” for various major locales (e.g. Lūdus Lake). This represented a major overhaul of maps (in the usual sense of map “visual representation of an area, showing the relative positions of places & other features”, not the MapleStory sense of “the map with ID 100000200 is Henesys Park”) in MapleStory. The map of the entire Maple World very clearly shows Lūdus Lake as being directly southeast of Victoria Island!!

    Of course, the release of GMS v49 also included the release of Leafre (& with it, 4th job), so this is relatively late. Thus, it’s entirely plausible that the true intent was a combination of (1.) & (2.), e.g. that the names were originally due to (2.), but the later addition of a map of the Maple World intentionally put Lūdus Lake southeast of Victoria in order to make sense of the names of its towers.

    Really, though, I personally don’t particularly care about the true intent behind these names & maps. If my pet theory (1.) is incorrect in the eyes of whoever came up with the names Eos and Helios, it’s no skin off my back. The interest to me is that these relationships can be uncovered through relatively simple understanding & research of linguistics, of MapleStory, etc., regardless of whether or not someone willed the relationships into existence in the first place. This is also what allows me to make oblique allusions that I have to explain in a lengthy footnote for all three (if we’re being quite generous) people who will actually read this. 🙂

  38. [↑] If you’ve read (and/or heard) English verse before, then it’s unlikely that you need much of an introduction here; these verses are short & straightforward.

    Nevertheless, when I wrote the “Though I’m a kind of rock, […]” riddle, I found that it can sound somewhat awkward (depending on how one reads it, I suppose), despite it being very regular in almost every way:

    • It’s written in strict iambic pentameter, which is the single most common metre (not counting “no metre” as a metre) in English verse.
    • It exhibits absolutely no enjambment; in other words, it’s fully end-stopped.
    • Its rhyme scheme is ⟨ABABCC⟩. This exact scheme is not super common on its own, but it’s nonetheless a perfectly usual sort of sestain, and has been used in English by many poets. It also has no unrhymed lines, and never delays the resolution of a line’s rhyme by more than a single additional line (symbolically: any ⟨A⟩ always takes either the form ⟨AA⟩ or the form ⟨AXA⟩, for some value of X).

    I soon realised that it can sound strange because, although it is fully end-stopped, two of the four sentences (to be contrasted with clauses) overlap the rhyme scheme in a skewed way. Representing the sentences, in order, as positive integers, we have:

    • 1A
    • 2B
    • 2A
    • 3B
    • 3C
    • 4C

    As you can see, sentence 2 starts in the middle of the ⟨ABAB⟩ heroic stanza section. This also causes sentence 3 to overlap both the end of the heroic stanza section and the beginning of the ⟨CC⟩ heroic couplet. It’s these two overlappings that can make the verse nevertheless sound stilted, although it’s perhaps a bit quaint. 🙂

    And, whilst we’re at it, Fanzy’s verse is written strictly in a derivative of heroic couplets that uses iambic tetrametre (probably the second-most common metre in English verse), rather than pentameter. The jester’s other two riddles are written strictly in heroic couplets.

  39. [↑] In the real version of this quest, Angelique gives the Sticky Spiderwebs to Richard — not the other way around. I’ve reversed the relationship here, for narrative convenience.

  40. [↑] A hyperboloid — specifically, of the one-sheeted variety — is basically the shape that you get when you vertically separate two identical coaxial rings, connect the rings with a series of vertical (read: normal to both, or equivalently, parallel to the axis) wires, and then rotate one of the rings about its axis. Rotating by 0° gets you a right circular cylinder, at 180° the throat collapses to a radius of zero (i.e. a single point), and going beyond 180° loosens the throat again, until arriving back to the right circular cylinder at 360° ≡ 0°. Equivalently, it’s the surface of revolution obtained by rotating a hyperbola about the line that perpendicularly bisects the line segment that connects its foci.

    A catenoid is the shape that you get when you put two identical rings together, soak them in soap, and then carefully vertically separate them. The soap film forms a catenoid. Equivalently, it’s the surface of revolution obtained by rotating a catenary about its directrix (which is parallel to its tangent at its lowest point).

    For really no good reason, I wanted to make General Maestro’s explanation here sound convincing in an almost “science fiction-y” sort of way. Because I… like making things more difficult for myself…? In any case, neck-like tunnels in spacetime that connect two otherwise distinct locations are a real thing in general relativity, typically referred to — loosely — as “wormholes”.

    The problem is, I had a hard time finding any sources that gave specifics about the geometry of such wormholes — at least, in a way that made literally any sense to me. Go figure. I did find this paper (R. A. Konoplya; “How to tell the shape of a wormhole by its quasinormal modes”; Phys. Lett. B, vol. 784, pp. 43〜49; 2018-09-10; DOI: 10.1016/j.physletb.2018.07.025), but I’m not a physicist, and I can’t read it. 😵‍💫

    Fortunately, the English Wikipedia article Ellis wormhole conveniently describes the shape of said wormhole as a “catenoid”, meaning that I don’t actually have to understand any of the fancy general relativity symbols! 😃 Of course, this is only one (1) possible “wormhole” permitted by the framework of general relativity, but that’s good enough for me.

    Then again, I thought that it was best to at least use my rudimentary understanding of geometry to look at these two candidate “wormhole-ish” shapes. In 3 with Cartesian coordinates, the one-sheeted hyperboloid can be parametrised like so (note that this is not the only possible characterisation, nor even the only possible parametrisation):

    𝑥 = 𝑟 cos θ 1 + 2 𝑦 = 𝑟 sin θ 1 + 2 𝑧 = 𝑣

    This parametrisation centres the hyperboloid on the 𝑧-axis. The two parameters are and θ. is suggestively named for “height”, because it traverses the height of the surface (“goes through the wormhole”), and takes on any real values. θ is suggestively named for being an angle, and it takes on all values in the interval [0,2π). The constant 𝑟 is suggestively named for “radius” because it controls the “skirt radius” of the hyperboloid. The constant 𝑣 is suggestively named for “vertical scale”.

    As you can see, the 1+2 bit is what really gives the hyperboloid its shape — the sin and cos bits simply make a circle. This is exactly the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle with leg lengths 1 and , respectively.

    Don’t worry, though; there’s even more trigonometry to be had with the catenoid! Using all of the same conventions, one way of parametrising the catenoid is as follows:

    𝑥 = 𝑐 cos θ cosh 𝑐 𝑦 = 𝑐 sin θ cosh 𝑐 𝑧 =

    I’ve renamed 𝑟 to 𝑐 because it also appears in the argument to cosh, thus making the “radius” nomenclature not so appropriate anymore.

    The catenoid is notable for being a minimal surface. One way of characterising “minimal surface” is that all points on a minimal surface have exactly zero mean curvature. This brings us to one of the two things that General Maestro is actually talking about here (the other thing being the radius of the “throat”): curvature.

    The fact that the catenoid has zero mean curvature might give us the idea that its curvature is very gentle. Then again, it seems like the throat of the catenoid should have negative curvature, because in comparison to a cylinder, it’s clearly pinched; curving inwards. One way of generally characterising the curvatures of these surfaces is with their Gaussian curvatures (typically denoted by 𝐾). For the one-sheeted hyperboloid, that would be:

    𝑣 2 ( 𝑣 2 + 2 ( 𝑟 2 + 𝑣 2 ) ) 2

    And for the catenoid, that would be:

    ( sech 𝑐 ) 4 𝑐 2

    If we take a look at the one-sheeted hyperboloid, its absolute (read: unsigned) curvature seems to scale down quite swiftly with 𝑟 (very roughly as 𝑟−4), quite swiftly with as well (again, roughly as −4), and swiftly with 𝑣 (very roughly as 𝑣−2).

    If we take a look at the catenoid’s absolute (Gaussian) curvature, we see that it scales down with 𝑐 — particularly, as 𝑐−2. The sech function is a bell-curve-looking function that peaks at a maximum value of 1 — namely, when its input is 0. More specifically, it’s bounded to the interval (0,1] — and thus, so is its fourth power. Because sech decays quite quickly as one moves away from zero, and because we’re taking the fourth power of its result, the Gaussian curvature of the catenoid gets very close to zero, very quickly, as one moves past the throat.

    So… hmm. I’m not sure that that helped a whole lot, although we can at least rest assured that the Gaussian curvatures of both of these surfaces…:

    • …Are always negative.
    • …Approach zero very swiftly as one moves away from their throats.

    In the end, it was more instructive for me to simply look at the functions that are doing the heavy lifting in the above parametrisations!:

    • The 1+2 bit of the hyperboloid’s parametrisation is Θ(||). This means that, as we move past the throat in either direction, the hyperboloid looks like an infinite cone with an aperture of up to roughly ≈90°.
    • The cosh𝑐 bit of the catenoid’s parametrisation is Θ(𝖾||). This means that, as we move past the throat in either direction, the catenoid looks like a plane to which the throat is normal.

    This (plus the whole “minimal surface” thing) makes the catenoid one obvious choice for a wormhole geometry, and the one-sheeted hyperboloid… not as much. That’s not to say that you can’t somehow make a wormhole throat out of a hyperboloid. If one were to do so, the strategy would presumably be either:

    • Accept that the geometry of the two spaces that the wormhole connects will be hyperbolic.
    • Somehow “glue” the hyperboloid to the two spaces that it connects, presumably by using some smooth function.

    I think that the hyperboloid is an easier shape to geometrically understand, even if it’s not as nice for this purpose — it’s basically a glorified conic section. The catenoid, on the other hand, shows up very naturally in physics, but is usually characterised by some nasty hyperbolic trig functions. For this reason, I still mention the hyperboloid.

    If you’re unlike myself and actually know some geometry, and you know of a differentiable surface that is similar to a catenoid in that it has a “throat” of negative curvature that flattens out into quasi-planes (if you will), please do let me know about it!

  41. [↑] Of course, the 88th floor of the Eos Tower does not exist in-game per se. Map ID 221023400 is called “Eos Tower 76th〜90th Floor”.

    Nevertheless, I choose the “88th” floor here for two reasons. One, this is accurate to the actual placement of the portal that leads into the Drummer Bunny’s Lair (map ID 221023401; notice the inconsistent use of Drummer rather than Drumming) minidungeon. Moreover, the three “eights” in this sentence are chosen for their auspiciousness.

  42. [↑] Wizet really couldn’t’ve just given the Roly-Polys names, huh…?

  43. [↑] The cyb- in English cyborg is from Ancient Greek κῠβερνητῐκόςky̆bernētĭkós⟩ /ky.ber.nɛː.ti.kós/, making *⟨kyborg⟩ a more etymological spelling (& pronunciation, for that matter).

    Many Ancient Greek terms with ⟨κ⟩ immediately followed by ⟨ε, ι, υ⟩ were inherited by English via Late Latin & Mediæval Latin, where they had come to be palatalised (due to the influence of the following vowel) from [k] > [kʲ, c, t͜ɕ〜t͜ʃ〜t͜s, ɕ〜ʃ〜s]. The convention of using ⟨c⟩ (as opposed to ⟨k⟩) to transliterate this consonant resulted in the “soft ⟨c⟩” convention seen in English & various other Latin-script-using languages where ⟨c⟩ is usually something like /t͜ʃ〜t͜s, ʃ〜s, θ/ when immediately followed by close-front-ish vowels denoted ⟨e, i, y⟩ (usually…). English cyborg is thus /ˈsaɪ̯ˌbɔ(ɹ)g/[44], not */ˈkaɪ̯ˌbɔ(ɹ)g/ (compare English cyclops, where ⟨c⟩ is alternately /s/ and /k/). But, you know, gimme a break…

  44. [↑] Notice the use of /aɪ̯/ instead of /y/. English lacks /y/, so we have /aɪ̯/ by analogy with ⟨y⟩ in by, style, sky, etc.

    This is probably due to borrowings from Greek being learned borrowings based on written texts that have been transliterated in one way or another.

    Borrowings of /y/ from, for example, French are generally realised as the back(ing diphthong-ish) version /(j)u/ (somewhat mid-centralised to /ʊ/ immediately before /(ɹ)/ — q.v.), e.g. French légume /le.gym/ > English legume /ˈlɛgˌ(j)um, lɪˈg(j)um/; French duc /dyk/ > English duke /d(j)uk/; etc. This is because such borrowings happened historically & via oral transmission, and were then later subject to considerable phonological changes. The result was that /y/ had, by LMidE, merged with the diphthongs /iw/ (note that /y/ is basically */iʷ/!) & /ew/ (note that /e/ is, like /i/, also front & fairly close) into simply /ɪw/. The led to the development of /(j)u/ (note the switching of which part of the diphthong is more prominent) in most ModE dialects.

    The learned borrowings were borrowed via their spellings (& transliterations), thus frequently giving ⟨i, y⟩ in many contexts the pronunciation /aɪ̯/. This particular diphthong is the result of MidE // getting broken by the Great Vowel Shift.

  45. [↑] This one’s liable to sound weird, as a result of not starting with /k/, despite starting with ⟨k⟩. Somewhere in the transition from MidE to ModE, the syllable onset cluster /kn-/ (typically ⟨kn-⟩ in MidE, ⟨cn-⟩ in OldE) was reduced to /n-/. Compare also the reduction of /gn-/ to /n-/ in gnostic, gnome, etc., and the reduction of /-mb/ (in the coda) to /-m/ in comb, lamb, plumb, etc. English nevertheless overwhelmingly maintains old spellings, even centuries after such sound changes — which, in these cases, are phonotactical!

  46. [↑] See the “axs” section of pt. civ of this diary.

  47. [↑] Indeed, the name of this quest is “The History of Zeta Leticulan”. The word Leticulan here is the result of two mild corruptions: the word-initial ⟨R⟩ has been changed to ⟨L⟩ (likely just a quirk of Romanisation of Korean text that was borrowed from Latin to begin with), and Reticulan has been misinterpreted as either an astronomical designation, or as a plural. With the former misinterpretation, the corrected quest name would be “The History of Zeta Reticuli” (or “The History of a Planet of Zeta Reticuli”, or similar). With the latter misinterpretation, the corrected quest name would be “The History of the Zeta Reticulans”.

    The association of Grey aliens with ζ Reticuli is a result of the claimed abduction of Barney & Betty Hill by Grey aliens in the U.S. in 1961. Betty drew a map supposedly depicting the location of the extraterrestrials’ home, and ufologists later interpreted the map as depicting the very real binary star system known as ζ Reticuli. The English adjectival suffix -an was then applied to ζ Reticuli, yielding ζ Reticulan “inhabitant of ζ Reticuli”.

  48. [↑] See the “A most auspicious star, whose influence if now I court not, but omit, my fortunes will ever after droop” section of pt. ciii of this diary, as well as the “axs” section of pt. civ.

  49. [↑] In GMS, Destonen does not appear as an actual NPC until v235 (although of course he appears much, much earlier by name). This version represented an extremely large update that, amongst other things, included the so-called “Ellin Forest Revamp”. This revamped several aspects of the storyline, not the least of which being that Kanderune was replaced by Destonen, thus removing Kanderune — and, as it happened, Rius & Shadrion as well — from the game entirely.

    Destonen is NPC ID 2131010, & looks like this:

    Destonen ✜

    MapleLegends’s edition of the Ellin Forest storyline is a much earlier one, & is actually incomplete. To the best of my current knowledge (please do correct me if I get anything wrong here), there are virtually three different editions of the storyline:

    1. No Ephenia, No Destonen: This is the incomplete edition that is used by MapleLegends at the time of this writing. The storyline involves assisting the people of the Altaire Camp in various ways, but does not deal with Yuris’s labour & death, and also does not even mention Ephenia — the primary antagonist of the storyline — whatsoever.

      Note that MapleLegends’s implementation does not even include the interior of Boulder Mountain, meaning no Violent Primitive Boars (although MapleLegends did briefly have these; see “sorts does the Ellin ring questline” of pt. liii of this diary), & no Chao. This is in spite of the fact that Chao is one of the only bosses in the questline, & its defeat is a major milestone therein. MapleLegends’s implementation thus has no boss fights whatsoever.

    2. Yes Ephenia, No Destonen: This is the arguably “complete” version of the above. The incomplete storyline is left largely intact, but the player must additionally deal with the death of Yuris, & must slay Ephenia as the culmination of the questline. This edition does have Chao.

    3. Yes Ephenia, Yes Destonen: This is the new, revamped edition. The questline still culminates in slaying Ephenia. However, when the PC assists Destonen (rather than Kanderune) with clearing Boulder Mountain by slaying Chao, Destonen emerges from the other side of the tunnel to find a tent. Inside of the tent is Kirston.[50] Destonen is unaware of Kirston’s specific presence, but nevertheless senses that there’s someone in there who needs to be dealt with for the safety of the Altaire Camp, based on the dark magicks emanating from the tent. The PC knows that the tent’s inhabitant is the cause of Destonen’s death, & so warns Destonen not to disturb the tent.

      Destonen correctly believes the PC when they claim to be from the future, & believes the PC’s description of Kyrin in her later life. When the PC leaves, Destonen nonetheless fails to follow the PC’s advice, & a curse is placed upon him by Kirston. Destonen is then murdered by Kirston, & with Yuris also dead, the curse transfers (apparently via bloodline) to Kyrin & Tess. The siblings find out that the curse grows stronger the closer that they are to each other, and so are forced to split up & live on opposite sides of the world.

    Notice that the part of edition (3.) that involves Destonen more-or-less contradicts his original story. As explained in the “데스토넨” section above, at the time that Kyrin was an adolescent, it was believed by the leaders of Victoria (& thus, somewhat regrettably, by Kyrin) that Destonen could still be out in the Maple World somewhere, still desperately trying to find & vanquish the Black Magician & their disciples. In particular, (modern) Athena Pierce says this:

    Once Victoria found some peace, he asked me to take care of his newborn kid Kyrin before he left to track the Black Magician once more. That’s how she ended up growing up here in Henesys.

    As far as I can tell, there’s no way to make edition (3.) agree with this, so it really is a revamp. Athena specifies that this happened “[o]nce Victoria found some peace”, whereas in (3.), Destonen is already dead well before that happens. She also specifies that Destonen asked her to take care of “newborn” Athena, but in (3.), Destonen is already making his way through Boulder Mountain before Kyrin is even born. And finally, it seems to me that in (3.), Destonen did not leave “to track the Black Magician once more”; rather, he left for virtually the same reasons that any field operative would leave the Altaire Camp: as an exploratory expedition (in this case, to/through Boulder Mountain), to gather supplies, etc.

  50. [↑] The “unnamed assassin” is Kirston. I choose not to name Kirston here because:

    • His identity is, in this case, irrelevant.
    • He does not feature in MapleLegends’s edition[49] of the Ellin Forest questline.
    • Somewhat confusingly, Kirston does feature in MapleLegends (at the time of this writing), but only in the context of Pink Bean. In particular, Kirston is the NPC whom one talks to in order to commence stage 1 (the Solomon the Wise stage) of the Pink Bean fight.
    • I strongly suspect that Kirston will never feature within axis’s story ever again, as a result of all of the above points.

(…cnvpstdf…)

cnvpstdf

JoblessMS’s Mr. Moneybags NPC

Transcription of the above image

Mr. Moneybags: Hi yes it is me greedy Chinese man, the latest in a long tradition of Koreans depicting Chinese people as greedy and materialistic. Totally not racist at all.

So many Goldensoul Capes…

tara & Lvl1Crook get Echo of Hero inside of a Ravana fight…‽

Transcription of the above image

tarandus: wat
who just

Lvl1Crook: ?

tarandus: i got echo

Lvl1Crook: me too
wtf
sus gm

tarandus: ty gm
love u <3

d34r trying on Dark Shouldermail w/ MiIf

Transcription of the chatlog in the above image

MiIf: STRONG WOMAN

d34r: AHAHAHA

xX17Xx, Lvl1Crook, & axis herding CDs