The Let's Play Archive

The Manhole

by Bacter

Part 3

Update 3: Idiotic disco spirit quest

Where was I? I felt myself fade away for a second there.

Oh, right. The drawer. I was going to - what? I heard the sniffling in the other room still, making it hard to think. The air seemed stifling in here. I knew I was going to do something. The... the manhole, no the hydrant.

My mind was... wandering. Having no clear idea where I was or what I was doing made me...


I felt frustrated. This place was obviously working on its own stupid logic, and I hadn't the faintest idea of what was going on. I put my hands on the cabinet and leaned over, muttering beneath my breath. To my surprise, the surface of the wood felt warm to the touch. The room seemed to swell and warp, as if it was a sweltering summer day. I caught my pulse racing.

On a hunch, I decided to try something.

I pulled open the drawer with the musical symbol on it. In the corner of my mind, I noticed that since I was concentrating on exploration, not my frustrations, I felt the room relax and slide back to its normal state - neither hot nor cold, not even a comfortable temperature - just a blank stillness.

The note's purpose was obvious, and my ability to adjust light levels and temperature had given me an idea. I was, for some reason, important here. My mind was necessary, it was like completing a circuit, it let things flow. Maybe I was even creating this place! Or maybe none of that was true. Time for a test.

I thought very hard about the most boring thing I could think of - the multiplication table.

I moved my hand out to touch the note, while repeating the mantra. 1x1 = 1, 2x2 = 4, 3x3 = 9...

Nothing. Nothing happened. Almost before that thought finished forming, though, I was suddenly aware of my hand, reaching out to touch the note. I couldn't help thinking about what it would probably do - after all, associations with musical notes were pretty obvious.

Right on cue...

That was obnoxious. So I could change things. I could make things happen, or not, almost by expectation. But did I have creative control? I touched the musical note and, instead of not concentrating, thought VERY HARD. I felt... something. My mind was scrabbling for something.

Suddenly, there was a click, and inspiration flowed!

That was... awesome! That was much better than I could have done with composition software. I was just hoping to make the music play a simple tune, but if I could do THAT, then I think I could handle a tune!

I was feeling much better than earlier. I felt a little like a hacker carving my will into the system - like I wasn't simply following a path anymore. I felt, in other words, like challenging this place as much as I could. Maybe I could get out of here that way. Following along by the nose was for suckers.

It was pretty clear what I wasn't supposed to do.

It felt like a challenge. A challenge I was going to accept.

I was falling! And then I hit ground. While standing up. It's hard to explain. Mind reeling, I felt a definite temperature for the first time since my anger fit. It was... cold. I shivered a little. There was a soft blue light shining from... behind Greek columns?

To my left I saw a doorway glowing red. When I moved closer I felt a blast of oppressive heat coming from it, and felt a sense of danger. I moved away from the door quickly. Something felt... very off about this place.

The marblework looked old, and sacred, I suppose. The cave entrance felt even older. It felt ANCIENT. I had a sense of weight about the place - if I had to guess, I'd have said it was a temple or sacred space built in a grove that had been significant long before anybody lived there at all.

And... in the middle of it? A tacky looking armchair. And a flower on a small table. And, what was this?

A channel changer? And a slightly grimy one at that. But one that was built for a very limited number of channels I guess.

Guess they don't get cable here.

I turned around and saw what it must have gone to.

I've never been somebody that's too concerned with ceremony, but this seemed profane somehow. There SHOULD have been a pristine atmosphere, and yet right in the middle of it was an entire entertainment system! TV, record player, and a collection of records.

Wanting a distraction, I set the remote aside and reached out with my mind to the TV.

Nothing. Not even a blip. It felt like trying to climb a smooth wall. My mind slid right off of the TV. I felt worse than helpless, and quite a bit more shaken than before. Why wouldn't my mind work on this stupid thing? Did it have something to do with the wrongness of it?

I was back on tracks again, playing someone else's game. Dejected, I pressed the power button on the remote.

Instead of static, an unmoving screen. Green-on-green, it seemed to focus on the manhole I'd seen earlier with the vine growing from it. What about the manhole? Should I have opened it? Was it good that I didn't?

I suddenly became worried that I'd missed something.

I decided to change to a channel.

What the HELL?

There was... a penguin there. It was clearly a video, not a still image, since it shifted a little and blinked from time to time, but it was clearly looking out at the viewer - at me. It felt like a vacuum, looking at that motionless face. I didn't even notice the roaring in my ears until I couldn't look away at all.

StAtIc PoUrEd In

Sociability, endurance, need, helplessness.

Those thoughts... those qualities. Pressed themselves in to my mind. I couldn't stop them. Gasping, I pressed the power button. Those thoughts were alien to me. My mind brushed up against another, and felt it. I felt shaken, but excited as well. I... wanted to try that again. I pressed another button.

A snuffling rabbit. It sounded familiar. It regarded the screen, tears in its eyes.

I was ready for the mind-blast this time.

Empathy, plenty, dependency, weakness

Keep going, I pressed another.

Static filled my ears

Peace, venerability, feeble-mindedness, stubbornness.

My brain felt like it was crawling.

Intelligence, perception, cruelty, disconnection

My mind hit a bump and tumbled forward - what on EARTH was this? But it was too late, and my thoughts followed the current...

Humor, loyalty, pride, foolishness

This was going off the rails. This elephant was in a uniform now - I would have felt indignant that this was the vision I was being shown if I'd had more time to think

Cleverness, politeness, fear, short-sightedness

At least we were back to real animals. I admired the long tusks but felt disconcerted by the glint in the eye on this walrus.

Ability, legacy, indolence, rudeness

It's eyes were red...

Freedom, insight, apathy, loneliness

It was ancient. It was other. It was... on a deck somewhere.

Destiny, safety, obscurity, meanness

At last it was over. I was out of buttons. Had I meant to do that? Was it my curiosity? Or was I made to press all those? One thing I knew, was that my earlier confidence had crumbled. I didn't understand why this place should be so much less responsive.

I looked at the record player, remembering my rush of elation earlier at being able to control the note from before. Experimentally, I reached out my mind. And grasped hold of something!

I felt... a weak connection, but something nonetheless!

And I...

...could make... work!

No matter how hard I tried, I could get the record player to play nothing new, or of my own design, just those three tunes.

At least... at least that was SOMETHING.

Taking some more stock of my new surroundings...

I REALLY thought twice before going through that door. The heat was intense even getting near it, and the cave walls looked like they were glowing red-hot.

That was it in this room. Except... what was up that ladder?

I could see the night sky and... something else. A tower, or-

AAA! A voice startled me back into the room. That voice... it was... I don't know what to say but wrong - wrong in the same way as the chair and the entertainment center. Profane, I guess. It didn't BELONG in a place like this. It crawled under my skin, it irritated me.

Author's note: yes, that is voice acted, but I'm going to wait for later to play it. You'll appreciate it when the time comes, I promise. It is very very hard to find the source of that voice if you don't go in the manhole first, and I have no idea what makes it happen. It's been something different every time, so I just flail around until something works.

I waited around for a while, and, seeing nothing change, headed up the ladder again.

It was clearly night outside. There was a pleasant cool breeze, and a smell like water nearby. I heard chirping in the distance, and felt a cool glow like moonlight.

The hole in the ground was at the base of a giant tower, made of enormous red and orange blocks. It radiated the same sense of ancientness as the temple room below, but it made me feel vaguely uneasy as well - like this was the site of serious and terrible things. I felt very small.

I felt an acute sense of vertigo looking around the tower. I saw a plant glowing faintly in the night, and... somehow knew it was the same plant, on either side of the tower. Was this... a curving of the world? I vaguely remembered something from physics, about the curvature of spacetime. Who was to say that this wasn't happening in wherever-this-was as well?

Anyway, it hurt my head, so I decided to head around one side of the tower.

A pool - I felt like this was the edge of the world. I felt like this was setpiece in some theater. I remembered being a child at an amusement park, and looking with some wonder at a miniature city they had built there. The idea of seeing a world's edge, of living in something not endless, had stuck in my mind, and that returned here. I could imagine nymphs or mermaids in the waters of this pool, saw myth in the carved statue of Poseidon in the back. I sat in the thick, rich, dark-green grass under the starry sky and contemplated.

Then the lights seemed to go out all at once. I smelled a stench like sulfur, I heard the sound of beating wings. In a panic, I thought only of returning to the hole in the ground, to getting out of sight!

I raced back around the tower

Felt the presence getting closer...

Then jumped back down the hole.

I want you to remember that this is utterly unchanged from the game. This is INCREDIBLE.

I saw the dragon. I heard his voice.

The stench was unbearable. It was OPPRESSIVE. The burnt biscuit spilled over the otherwise-pristine floor, and was swirled around by the slow motion of his tail.

The dragon reclined, stupid impossible chest hair curling out of his disco jacket. An idiotic grin was fixed on his face, and he seemed to be doing his best to recline in the chair, which was creaking and groaning, and must have been near crashing.

He leered at me over sunglasses, and his presence was stronger than mine. I nearly shook with anger. There was so much beauty here - the night sky outside, the insects in the grass, the song that I'd conjured up from pure determination. It was all nothing in the face of this idiotic dragon. I knew the dragon to be the presence keeping me from affecting the TV, or the stereo. It had COLONIZED this room.

And it was STRONGER than I was. If this had been the room in the hydrant I expect things would have been catching on FIRE, or... doing whatever the environment would do with a combination of anger and embarrassment.

I had half-decided that this place was some kind of spirit quest, or mental construct, or maybe existed only in my mind. Is THIS what I was given? Is THIS what I connected to, or what I would create? This, this idiotic trash?

Or did it NOT come from me? Was it originally another person? How did it GET here? It peered at me over its cheap, dollar-store sunglasses, and looked pointedly at the three records it had in the back of the room. Oh no. No, I wasn't ABOUT to play those.

It shifted impatiently in its chair. I felt like yelling at it, throwing something at it, but the blast of steam from its nostrils kept me quiet. I don't know how long I stood there, sullenly glaring at that dragon. I was more than a little shaken, so I'm sure I looked comical as well. Great.

After a while, it grew bored with me, and stood, looming over me until I backed away against the TV in fear. It laughed once, then, so help me I'm not making this up, somehow snapped its fingers (which were wings?) and just disappeared.

I recognized the voice from earlier. The room felt oily. The ancient temple was pretty well desecrated.

I felt like I had some purpose for the first time since I was here - I HAD to find some way to remove the dragon. I shook off feelings that there was a lingering feeling of condescending amusement, and...


- go through the scary red-hot door?

- try to go in the old tower?

- investigate the ancient pool?

- examine that glowing plant from before?

- do some stargazing?


- the penguin?

- the rabbit?

- the turtle?

- the ibis?

- the blue thing?

- the elephant?

- the walrus?

- the seahorse?

- the starfish?

Please pick one of each, and we'll carry on! Hopefully much quicker than last time!

Edit: Fixed the dragon Tindeck. If you missed it, listen to it!