The Let's Play Archive

The Manhole

by Bacter

Part 8

Recommended listening: A lot of Cloud Cult

Everywhere, all at one time.
On the sun
Man on the moon
Everybody here is a cloud
You'll be bright

And basically any other songs by them. They will fit the mood, unless it's "feeling so *#$%ing fine". Not so much that one.

I didn't know enough yet.

I floated on my back on the surface of the smooth, cool sea. Calm waters flowed past me, and I watched fish idly swim by. I was actively not looking at the wriggling, writhing nest of seahorses. Those still creeped me out.

Who was I? Where was I? I was starting to get a handle on what I could do. I knew how to remember the past if things turned out badly. I knew how to nurture growth from hopelessness.

And more than that, since helping out Chris, I was realizing what I wanted, and what mattered. He had needed my help - badly. I doubt he ever would have picked himself up off the snowbank without me. And when push came to shove, I had stayed to help him, at possible cost to myself. That felt good enough that I wanted to do more of it.

I felt an impulse to help those that deserved help, and to destroy the things that could hurt them - things like that vine.

I turned over and lazily swam towards the island where the vine was growing. Even in this world it looked unnatural and obscene - the light looked unnatural on it as it twisted and writhed upwards. It seemed totally unresponsive here, but even here I felt revulsion at its growth, like a tumor, or a parasite. It was crushing houses and reaching for me when I was lighting the lamps. And, on reflection, the fact that some out of control catastrophe grew out of control and wrecked Chris's world seemed a bit too on-the-nose for me.

It was still growing, twisting up. I didn't know what its goal was, or where it would stop, but I wanted to keep it from growing too far - I remembered back when it was small, and it snapped right back. The turtle, back on the island, looked my way with shock.

Oh! Vous faufilé sur moi!Je m'appelle monsieur tortue! he called, swimming by me. Right on cue, the fish piped in "He SAID, Oh! You snuck up on me! Hello, my name is Mr. Turtle!"

I grinned as they swam off.

I had no idea how sentient these little guys were, or what they were doing here. Or where here was. Or who I was. I had enough impulses to go on, to give me some direction, but what I was lacking was context. I still needed to get to the root of things.

Which led me back to needing to know more. Down I go.

I swam down towards the elevator, but on my way I saw the painting. I still felt an energy emanating from it, and out of curiosity, I looked closer...


Shutting the door that I had been moved through caused a cold blast of wind to tear through my hair. I was heated, though, by the VOLCANO erupting in front of me. I stumbled away as quickly as I could, hitting my feet on the uneven ground. My escape was cut off by a blinding blur that shot in front of me, whipping me in its inertia.

As I fell, hard, I saw the spacecraft(?) land, and a... blue thing? With a cue-tip? Get out. It acknowledged my presence with a brief "hey", and waddled on its way out of the doorway. It was out of sight before I could get my breath back, and I didn't see where it went.

More mysteries I guess - I hadn't had time to reach my mind out to the blue guy, and his ship had just disappeared. I'd have to get back to this later. Only seeing one exit, the door I came in through, I left and continued to swim down.

To my surprise, the walrus seemed to be in the elevator, instead of taking his nap. I attempted a "hullo", but he simply looked meaningfully at the buttons. Had he not reset when I remembered things?

Pressing the "down" option, we went without stopping from floor 6 to 1. I asked how to get to the other floors, but he simply rolled his eyes and scratched at his side with a flipper.

The elevator opened on a green-wallpapered room. The walrus continued to stare meaningfully at me.

I thought I might have better luck communicating mentally, but it simply blinked away my attempts at communication.

I got a strange sense from the Walrus... not that it didn't want to talk, more like - there was nothing to say? But I meant that in a more profound way than normal. Like there wasn't much it COULD say.

I felt the same connection as before to the walrus, just as I had to the ibix. But I hadn't truly attempted much communication with either of them. It was, in truth, incredibly unnerving. Chris hadn't been like this... I think. He had been more of a person, in a way. This felt like trying to open a door and finding it was just a prop, and lead nowhere.

I got a crawling feeling, and stepped quickly out of the elevator.

Outside of the elevator, I found myself in a small room, the walrus looking encouragingly at me. There was nothing here but scratchy, almost grasslike carpet and wall-covering... and a ladder up. I took it.

Ugh. Of course. Well, my back was against a wall. Time to take a ride, I guess.

The elephant regarded me placidly. He was bobbing up and down even in the strong-looking current. He beckoned to his boat with one hand. Paw? Pad? Whatever. I stepped in.

He stopped me from entering, and looked at me expectantly. Having no idea what he wanted, and not knowing what to say, I instinctively reached out with my mind. While I couldn't quite catch ahold of his thoughts, as soon as I tried, he blasted his trunk, making a piercing noise. I covered my ears and winced, and I saw his eyes crinkle in amusement. Terrific. He motioned me into the boat.

Welcome, sir!

I sat in the boat, and he launched into a speech, with a surprisingly soothing voice.

I am so pleased to finally have you in my boat again! Since you're here, I assume you want to start from the beginning?

"The beginning of what?"

The boat slid into motion as he paddled. We moved slower than the rushing current, bobbing along smoothly, and the ride was relaxing, but I was too curious to really rest. The elephant simply regarded me kindly, without answering my question.

I tried again.

"Yes, let's start from the beginning."

We were traveling with some speed along a tunnel filled with water - it was an entire indoor network of canals.

You are an extremely important person here! Not only did you create this place, but so many people depend on you to keep them safe!

"Wait, I did? Who am I? Who depends on me?"

We haven't finished with today's reading yet! Do you want to talk about something else?"

"Who am I!"

The elephant's eyes looked worried.

I'm sorry, nothing that I have to say relates to that yet - would you like me to check again?

The boat flowed along placidly.

OK. So the elephant wasn't... QUITE sentient. Well, if I couldn't talk to him like a person, I could at least listen to what he had to say.


Oh, yes sir! *Ahem* Any community, any civilization, can only improve by connectedness. And surely the one who ensured that connectedness is responsible for the well-being of the community. This is why everyone turns to you for support.

I didn't really understand what he was saying, but his soothing voice and the bobbing of the boat put me at ease.

Everyone is connected. Anger, frustration, and blame are all extensions of not understanding this. Those who don't see the full picture, even if they are in command, are likely to lash out for bad reasons, or shift blame where it isn't necessary. This is simply a burden to bear. You are extremely competent! Look at all you've done! Take joy in doing your duty every day.

"But I have no idea what my duty IS!" I said.

As I said this, we stopped abruptly.

We were by the chessboard, which was where I had seen the Elephant last time. Looking down, I saw the Ibix heading towards us. He came and landed on the back of the boat, behind the elephant, and cocked his head, listening.

Oh sir, with so much to do, it is perfectly understandable that you might forget today's duties. Shall we review them?

"Yes, please!"

The Ibix straightened up and opened his mouth to speak.


My mind winced with the pain of exploding colors and sounds that I could never describe.


A million tiny notes all sounded in a painful but beautiful harmony. I might have fallen off of the boat, for all the attention I could keep on anything but the images forcing their way into my brain.


Something started to coalesce out of the chaos: I felt large eyes regarding me, giant forms lumbering about.

The pain and dizziness I felt before was similar to this, but instead of being one small flash every few hours, this was a continuous stream.


The images were pain and static and light, my brain was filled with painful crackling, pouring in a river through my brain. It... it hurt pretty bad.

I mentally jerked back, to get away from the pain. I wasn't going to figure this out, not yet anyway.


: Sir?

"Stop. Um, continue the story?"

The elephant inclined his head

: As you wish, sir!

: A man who is intent on his own natural work attains perfection. Listen thou how perfection is won by him who is intent on his own natural w-w-w-w-w-w-w

The elephant's voice suddenly caught, and started to glitch. Looking behind, I saw his kindly expression, but it was frozen. His eyes weren't moving, and he had stopped poling. That didn't stop the boat at all, it was moving at the regular speed. Not that that was comforting.

Continuing the not-comforting trend, we took an impossible 90 degree turn, started rocketing down what looked like a vortex water slide, and ended up in a hot teacup. The tea splashed on me, and it kind of burned.

Looking up, I saw an enormous Rabbit, who was snuffling and sniffing like he'd been crying.

He turned to stare at me with giant yellow eyes. He noticed me! I called up to him, but he didn't seem to notice. I guess my voice was simply too tiny to register?

I sat down in defeat.

"What now?" I wondered in frustration.

The elephant was still going behind me

: "w-w-w-w-w-w-w"

That was enough. I had to get out of here. Suddenly, a compartment in the boat slid open.


And as quickly as it started, the door closed. The elephant was silent behind me. He had simply reverted to a blank standing position. With a little effort, I took the pole from him, and started poling us forward.

Towards the uh... passageway in the cup. I wasn't even surprised anymore.

Another watery channel. I parked the boat along the side, and handed the pole back to the elephant, who expressionlessly took it.

I got out to explore.

The tunnel looked like it lead to a glowing mass of rock that looked... vaguely familiar.

I was more interested in the moment in the hastily-spray painted arrow by the door. I obediently turned to the left.

Aaaand nothing. The elephant was back to talking, which I guess was an improvement. More arrows pointed my way into the tunnel, so I decided to investigate.

I headed down the hallway. It... I'd been here before! This was the place I reached by going underneath the fountain.

Which... was bad. It meant that the vine could grow here. It had been growing up, and the fountain was "up" from where it started. But I'd gone DOWN. Which meant-

The place started to feel claustrophobic. Worse than that, actually. I got the feeling of being on something like a movie set. I hurried back out, and noticed the lights dimming a little. It started to feel a bit cold as well.

I wanted to get out of here.

Ugh. Thanks elephant. I hopped in, and we took off speedily, at least.

: Hello sir! You are a very import-

"Quiet, elephant."

The elephant snapped into silence as we poled along.

So the Ibix was trying to communicate with me, and it seemed similar to those painful flashes I'd gotten before. I didn't understand what it had been saying, but I know it was important.

I had been shepherded towards that rabbit... why? Was there any reason? When the elephant stopped responding, when he had... broken down, I guess, that was where the channels led.

Just as I was thinking that, we turned the corner....

And I saw a familiar face. Hooray.

A. door in a rock formation. The initials WR. I had a feeling I knew where this was going.

The walrus was unresponsive, just like before. I didn't see a spark of recognition in him.

He just lolled on his rock, rolling around in lethargy.

We rode in silence together, and he swam off to take a nap when we reached the ship.

Feeling that I knew where to go, I swamp up to the vine, climbed it to where I started.

The vine was larger now, tearing apart the ground, and skewing the fire hydrant off to the side.

I took a moment and remembered where it was earlier.

As the vine shrunk back, though, I thought the lights went a little dimmer still, and the air was decidedly chilly.

I entered the fire hydrant.

The snuffling was louder, coming from the room in the fire hydrant. I felt chilly enough that I should see my breath, but I didn't notice any breath, or even goosebumps on my skin.

I entered the room.

The rabbit's whiskers were twitching, as it slumped in its chair and stared at the TV screen.

The clock was broken. The hands circled swiftly, and the bells chimed when I looked at them.

I called out a "hello", but the Rabbit still didn't hear me, apparently.

Using my other ability, I decided to reach out with my mind.

She sprang up, very eagerly, and stopped sniffling. I saw... gratitude? In her eyes - offering refreshments was pretty important to this rabbit I guess.

I said sure to the tea, and enjoyed a hot cup of it, trying not to think about what might be in it, or where it might lead.

Thinking he might want to talk now, I reached out my mind again.

Again, the rabbit grabbed onto my thoughts and offered tea, without any recognition of what had just happened.

I had probably mined all I could out of the tea front, so I decided to say no, but was met with another offer.

Maybe milk would lead to more conversation? Maybe the rabbit just needed to feel like it had offered everything that it could?

Nothing. Once his options were exhausted, he returned to his chair, sniffling. Who else did he want to serve? Why was he sad? I looked around the room, and saw nothing but the TV, chair, clock, and bookshelf.

Alice In Wonderland? I read that. Or I was read it... or.... I couldn't quite remember. It was about being in a dream world, and learning the logic of it. Heh. I felt like I could connect.

Talking animals, and adventures? Well I had certainly seen my share of those.

All these books... they related to me so well.

Was this a coincidence? I felt strange reading over these books. I knew them, somehow. I could remember all their stories, but I... don't remember where I would have read them.

I opened a book, and closed it immediately. Lights, static, crackling and popping assaulted me from inside the pages! This was another of those painful bursts! But I knew the books were here, I knew roughly what they contained. I knew what was in them! But where did I read? Where was this knowledge coming from?

I saw images.

I saw images when I thought of the books. If I was able to... to pair those images that I knew with the static, with the flashes... I would be able to read them! I opened another book, and felt the experience of it explode into my mind. Instead of trying to cover it with my mind, instead of trying to READ it, I allowed it to exist in my brain.

I felt images attaching themselves to the crackles and pops. I felt interpretation! If the harder I squeezed my brain around the images, the more painful the experience was, the solution was to relax and wait for it to find interpretation in my brain. A ha! This was it!!

Here was a book I didn't recognize!

I felt another stream of pops and crackles and static and yellow, electric light. I let it flow through my brain, and felt images and metaphors and sights and sounds attach themselves, pieces of experience cobbled together to create a whole picture. When I converted it into the images and form I could understand, it just disappeared. I was interpreting!

I also learned that the book was a vain exercise in self-indulgent pseudo-intellectualism, but that was neither here nor there.

I finally understood! These books were just what I needed! Information in a format I couldn't understand, but with content that I did. The Rosetta stone for me! I could understand it. I could convert it. That's all that this was. I took in the experiences, and paired them with pictures, and from that assembled meaning to the alien language.


It felt like slipping my mind sideways. It felt like learning a new way of looking. And I knew exactly what I was going to try it out on.

I sat and reached out my mind, even as I felt the lights dim to a dull shadow, even as I finally felt myself shiver in the cold. I reached out my mind across the twists and turns of this space, until I reached...

I thought "REPEAT".

And the images came, painfully.

But controllable.

I was getting it! I was getting through!

And I saw....

Oh goodness.


empty. I was powerful, I had strength, understanding, but I felt the need to change. To share.

And my desires were manifest. Extensions of my Will, they could walk on me and do my will.

Creating as I desired. I was now full to bursting, groaning with life and riches. But it wasn't enough. There were those who needed what I had, and they were absent. But times changed. I simply left my resources, and opportunity appeared.

And they worked wonders! From only the raw input I provided, they built towns and cities, made wonders, and changed my surface in ways I was unable to. I marveled at their creativity, and gave them all they needed.

Which may have been a mistake.

Desiring that which their neighbors had, they killed each other for resources I freely provided.

And even made war against my avatars! This was clearly too much.

Despairing, I withdrew my avatars and returned to sleep. Without my resources, the humans fell into ruin. Starved and cold, they huddled together, shivering.

So, giants fill the earth with resources, people use them, get greedy, and kill each other? THAT'S the story?

Of course not. THAT happened many hundreds of times, before something else happened. This story is about the OTHER time.

The time I got involved.

A story about the Reus.
Author's note: The game is <3 months old, but there are no spoilers to be had in it, the dev doesn't mind not-for-profit uses of the game, and I checked with Slowbeef.

I would []HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU CLICK THIS LINK AND[/url] buy this game. It's the most interesting take on the "God Game" format I've seen in a long time, and it's quite addicting!

It began like normal. The bare earth cried out for variety, for the work of my avatars, my giants.

So I awoke them. I could feel what they felt, see what they saw. They were lumbering, mighty, powerful, but still mere shades of my creative spark.

I sent out the first of my servants, the giant, shelled, alien Ocean Giant first.

With mighty claw he pounded the ground, the hard rock.

And an ocean sprang forth, salty and deep.

It came forth, and wetted the land around it - softened it, and made it ripe for the work of my other servants.

Like my swamp giant. Leafy, dense, ancient, primal.

He called forth a great soft lush swamp. Birds called from trees, snakes slithered, and frogs croaked in the depths. But it wasn't quite ready yet.

I felt the swamp calling out to produce. And I knew that potent and useful plants could blossom in it. The power flowed through my giant, and...

Peppermint bloomed.

And before long...

My bounty attracted settlers. I had no knowledge of these people - where they came from, how their minds worked. They were alien to me, and delightful. They put down roots near my great swamp, and used my peppermint for potions and medicine.

Satisfied for the moment with my works here, I turned my attention elsewhere.

Third of my servants, the rock giant, noble, mighty, and unapproachable, called out to my surface in his language.

And it responded.

Shielded from the rains of the ocean, a great sandy desert stretched out behind the mountain range.

There was now variety on my surface, and I was pleased.

Editor's note: you can also make forests with the forest giant, but two biomes is about as much as I can handle at the beginning of a game. Add to that how you'll need all giants eventually in all biomes, and their slow lumbering around becomes prohibitive.

The desert was perhaps barren of animal and plant life, but it wasn't without resources - oh no.

Acting on my will, the mighty rock giant slammed his fist into the sand...

And valuable quartz appeared.

Quartz enough to attract a second civilization. They lived frugal lives in the desert sands, protecting themselves with thick cloth and tents, and mined the precious minerals out of the sand.

Editor's note: There are three resources, and three biomes. All resources can be grown in all biomes, but generally swamps are good for SCIENCE, forests are good for FOOD, and deserts are good for WEALTH.

Looking on the swamp civilization, I was proud to see it growing. Before long, they were advanced enough to start improving their ramshackle village of old planks and driftwood. They petitioned a famous ALCHEMIST to live there.

EN: The numbers under the city relates to how many resources they have. The city has 12 science of 22 possible. A city will slowly gain a resource until it hits the maximum provided by all your squares. The 22 science is generated from the surrounding squares. I've planted peppermint once, which generates 7 science (to the right of the city).

The city is building the Alchemist's hut project (projects are picked randomly by the city), which produces 5 science on its own and 10 science for every plant in the city, so 7 from plant + 5 from alchemist + 10 from alchemist and plant for a total of 22. The hut requires 30 science to complete, and unless you can get the city to have that much of a resource, not the max but the actual holdings, within a generous time limit, the project fails.

You start getting bonuses from a project as soon as it starts, and they are basically required for mid to late-game amounts of resources. Their bonuses are GREAT.

I directed my rock giant in its other pursuit, to plant scientifically valuable minerals in the earth. Putting a salt deposit in the swamp meant the salt was mined in great quantities, and shipped to their budding alchemist.

This influx of scientific resources proved sufficient for the alchemist to settle, and he began serving the population.

And this is where things changed. I had been open with the works of my giants. The people had seen them, seen their bounty rain down, in response to their needs. And they were grateful. They sent an ambassador to the ginats.

Since the project had been completed in the great swamp, I judged my swamp giant worthy of holding their ambassador. They attempted communication for some time, and, failing that, became frustrated. But I knew something I didn't before.

I Converted their speech. Suddenly able to understand each other, surprised by the success, they told each other of many things. Truth be told, the ambassador did most of the talking. He told the swamp giant of his needs, and the giant learned how to change his plants - to give them potent and lulling poisons.

For medicinal purposes, of course.

With his newfound understanding, he gave the toxic aspect to some of the peppermint.

And called forth from the swamps poison dart frogs, whose toxins could be collected and used for medicines.

EN: Basic plants and animals and minerals are garbage long-term. They need "aspects" which turn them into better stuff. Some aspects are unlocked from the beginning, others you get through completing projects for cities which gives you ambassadors. There are "levels" to each aspect, for this play we'll just be seeing 'weak' and 'potent'. Higher levels require stronger aspects, which can be achieved by leveling up your giants with ambassadors or by increasing the fertility of a square - something that the forest giant can do.

The planet was self-assembling, but still it cried out for more. My ocean giant obeyed, digging more trenches for water to flow from, and my springy forest giant called forth a lush expanse of trees.

Meanwhile, the people of the desert clamored for food.

I sent my ocean and forest giant to grow berries for them to eat.

While they were away, attracted by the lush groves of trees and fruit, settlers came to my forest, and a third city grew.

The people of the desert grew on the wealth and the food planted for them, and began construction of a great shrine to venerate the giants who provided them with so much.

My giants planted jewels for them to mine and animals to hunt. They grew swiftly.

The forest peoples lived a simple existence in their tents, and swiftly took to hunting, becoming unmatched with the bow.

The desert people were occupied with shrine-building...

While the swamp had become divided. Some clamored for more experimentation, delighting in discovering more about the world they lived in. Others, impressed by their own swift growth, called for war on their neighbors.

I had seen this before, and was concerned.

Completing their great shrine, the peoples of the desert also wished to commune with my giants, and elected their high priest to become an ambassador.

I selected my forest giant, as I thought a man from the desert could articulate the need for hunger to the giant who specialized in foods of all kinds.

My giants were raining food, plant and animal, down on the forest village. Hunters passing down their skills to children became interested in the general education of their children, and soon learned men were drawn to the region, and a school established.

Just a note from the game: you'll need to build better projects to keep getting ambassadors - not really a problem unless it's a LONG game. You'll also need the better aspects to get better resources. Resources can have bonuses if they are next to other resources - called synergies. For instance, having two basic gems next to each other increases both gems' wealth. Some plants like being near animals, really any combination works. Projects that the cities do provide huge bonuses, first to the civilization they're from, and late game to the whole world if certain conditions are met. These are NECESSARY for late-game build requirements.

My rock giant was judged worthy of accepting their headmaster as an ambassador.

All the cities were growing in wealth and power. Learning and craft were perfected. People were happy.

Or should have been. Greed, jealousy, vice, all grew in proportion to resources. The people became covetous and GREEDY (red faces).
EN: Too much growth too quickly leads to greed. This is a Bad Thing and has ended more than one of my games! Greedy people first want to start wars with neighboring cities, which destroys that city if they win. And since, at a certain point, a city's projects start to have global effects, wiping out a city can absolutely tank worldwide wealth, or food, or something. If they get greedier still, they'll straight up attack your giants. If a giant loses all health, it's game over.

You can stop greed by building slowly, or by introducing lots of vicious wild animals, which keeps the army busy fighting them. Neither of those strategies are ideal. What you WANT to do is to also cultivate "awe", which is sort of a hidden resource that comes with certain synergies. Awe fights greed, letting you expand quickly without violence.

The forest people in particular were inflamed by their knowledge and limited understanding.

They sent an army against their brothers in the desert, covetous of their great wealth. It should not, they cried, rest in the hands of ignorant foreigners. Their men were hardened, wise in the ways of war, and ready to kill for their civilization.

And as I watched, once again, the cycle of violence began. This planet would burn with it. If this war didn't destroy the desert city, they would return with a greater army to wipe out the forest. There would be no peace until all lay dead.

This was my fault.

But I could end it. My great giants were strong enough to pound the offending city into the dust.

I could act with a firm hand, and crush all resistance.

But it wouldn't be enough. I knew that they would simply get greedy again.

I'd seen it time and time again. Either I would crush city after city, or let them run wild and feel the blood of countless men, women, and children, sink into my soil.

This is what caused my retreat, time after time. This is why humans could never advance.

But... something was different this time. This time we had talked.

And I did something new. I had my giants talk to the ambassadors. And then I saw.

I saw the desire for wealth, fame, and power growing unchecked.

I saw their own works turn and grow against them, each triumph excusing a thousand wrongs. Each step forward excusing a thousand steps backwards into hatred and ignorance.

The seeds of mis-allocation, of unchecked growth, of self-severing greed grew and grew. People couldn't help it. They started loving their works more than the people who made them.

They built a framework to explain the world, and, when it failed, they tried to change the world.

And once that had taken hold...

It GREW. It grew and grew. All because nobody would TALK.

But I saw myself fixing it. I saw talking to the ambassadors, and giving the people what they NEEDED, as well as what they wanted. I would neither starve their bodies nor glut their minds.

I would build a world of order, and everyone could work their will on it - in fairness, in equality, in peace.

The trick, the secret to everything here, was balance.

And just like that...

I was back.

The place was a mess. I had been gone longer than I thought, apparently.

The vine had grown out of control. It didn't know better. I was right in thinking it was malevolent, and I was right in thinking it was simple.

I had been trying to fight it, like somebody trying to fight the wind, or the tide. It was a fools errand. I made no progress because I had no idea what it was doing, or how to harness it.

It was trying to build, but it could only build itself. It used whatever resources it could find - the earth, the sky, the very dimensions of the universe.

But I saw this place differently, now.

It was a world that had been created, using raw materials. It had been created by... someone LIKE me. Not me, but someone like me. The person the elephant was referring to.

And this vine... did NOT belong here.

It wasn't meant for this world.

I remembered how it used to be.

This was as far back as I could manage.

I felt a shock of static pressing on my brain again - almost too quick to interpret. I just barely caught "hope".

I caught another shock, but I was ready for this one, and caught a bit more. "...see you imprisoned again."

I was ready for more communications, when they came. I had learned so much.

I thought of the lessons I'd learned, and of the toll the vine had taken.

How it had almost snuffed out the light before I could light it, and erased my memory.

How it had grown like a cancer in Chris's world, consuming his parents along with most other people there, and almost caused everyone to give up hope.

But I had persevered, I had found my memory, I had nurtured hope. I had learned to talk.

And I had learned how to exercise control, now.

I had finally found

the way

to put things right.

The vine was excess personified.

And I was balance.

I sat alone on the hillside, by the open, empty manhole, and the fire hydrant.

The vine was gone now. Everyone I had met here was safe, or as safe as I could make them. I provided balance and communication. I had brought them together.

The rest was up to them.

I gazed upwards, and noticed that the hole in the sky was still there.

The hole burned into my mind. It pressed against me, crackling and staticy. I knew it to be the feeling I got from the messages. It was alien, even moreso than the vine was. It didn't grow, it didn't threaten, and yet... I sensed that it didn't belong here.

But did I?

Even with all I'd learned, this one last thing was hidden from me.

This hole - was it where the vine came from?

Was it where I came from?

I knew I could go through the hole, and into... whatever that was. Imprisonment? Godhood? Madness? Freedom?


Or I could close it, and keep this place finally, at long last, safe from outside influence.

The manhole in the sky stared at me, unblinking.

I saw a shape through the hole. A hand, reaching out to grasp mine? Or was it a mouth, waiting to devour me?

I could sense nothing through it.

Did I go through the manhole?

Or did I close the manhole forever?