Nathaniel. An ordinary man, fired from an ordinary job as a hospital porter. He took up a junior clerical position at Glover & Glover, clocking in and out for meagre pay. In his spare time, he dabbled with long walks down strange streets, the occasional painting and tried his hand at unskilled labour to strengthen his body, for he feared wasting away his physical talents hunched over in bookkeeping.
Realizing that his funds from both sources were on par, he took more to the hauling job as it helped to chisel his body into something more herculean. He found a few odd books in a bookshop and took to reading them, following trails of strange history and gibberish… there was… something… about them. But it, whatever it was, stayed beyond reach, beyond the odd dream that offered fascinating glimpses and glimmerings of… something indescribable.
He met a lady named Violet, who expressed that she too had such similar almost-experiences. They met up a few times to converse, and someone, he could not remember who, proposed, half-in-jest that they should call their meet-ups a Society meeting and invite others who had encountered the same phenomenon.
“But what would we call this society,” asked the other, and the first replied, “The Society of St. Hydra.” The many-headed, ever-branching, searching for secrets beyond ken.
Honestly, little became of it, beyond a dead end expedition to a forgotten stone temple.
It was the book in the bookshop that was the key. Or at least, -a- key.
His search for ever-increasing physical prowess had plateaued, despite regular exercise, dock work that demanded everything of his muscles, early nights for good sleep health and ruminations on all things vital. The book whispered secrets of the Forge men, fueled by flame and stout as steel. He referred, cross-referred, took the secrets apart, put it back together again, practiced and studied. At some point, he achieved a Matchless Physique, godlike as Thor. If this was possible, what else lay beyond what was previously known?
Nathaniel had taken up painting as a form of expression of those odd moods and longings, a counterpoint to all that mindless muling for his pay to keep on living. He forgot to attend to his clerical job, and there was talk he would be in trouble if he ever returned.
He didn’t. He kept on painting.
Sometimes they sold, sometimes they didn’t. Mostly, they were paens to whatever existed in the gaps between the everyday. He felt his soul blossom open, but there was no response. His plaintive questions to the universe went unanswered.
Funds were a struggle. He existed on the borderline between bankrupt and bereft. To buy a book in the hope for scraps of revelation meant giving up the scraps of food for his one and only meal of the day. For a week.
He talked himself into sending his compatriots on a trip to a Forgotten Mithraeum – Victor had joined Violet by now, and both needed tickets and funding for the venture. There was hope that something precious would be found, but alas, both returned emptyhanded. Victor was sure that there had been a Hidden Door somewhere, but try as they might to uncover a passage, the cold, unblinking ancient stones of the temple simply watched and said nothing.
Nathaniel, too, said nothing when they told this to him. Merely walked away knowing he was down to his last cent. There was nothing for it now but to give up his days and nights to hauling on the docks, hoping for enough coin to keep going, and maybe, just some day, afford the luxury of another strange book.
The days blended into each other, his unpursued desire stillborn into a restlessness that set him a pacing, even as the dockmaster blew his whistle and demanded another cargo to be loaded or unloaded. His physique helped him do the work of two men, but on the contrary, no one thanked him for it. He received the pay of one, and the other mortal men eyed him, jealous, surly, and hostile for he was spoiling the benchmark of average, normal work.
The restlessness grew into despair of ever escaping this menial struggle for one more dawn, to be spent promptly head down and straining upon the ropes. The despair steadily bloomed into dread, a growing horror of this animal subsistence.
He fixated on trying to beat the clock, to earn just a little more than enough, for just one more book. He forgot his painting. He forgot even his fear and despair, throwing himself into his work repeatedly, cycle after cycle.
But it was a lie. A lie he had almost managed to fool himself with. Almost.
It was probably the night of the full moon. That night, in the unrelenting truth of its silver light, Nathaniel woke up from his dream of hope and realized he was still numb on waking. The dread thrice crushed his perfectly chiseled chest and had a death grip on his heart.
They say that he calmly turned around on the pier and instead of walking back home, walked off the end instead. He was not seen again.
Juliana, by contrast, was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. A Bright Young Thing. She merely stretched out her hand and money filled it, to be spent on whatever entertainments her heart desired – a night on the club, some antique book or curio, anything she wished.
That is, until her father died.
He left her a tidy sum as her inheritance though, so she was still of great means, but the tap had ceased to flow. It would be up to her now to maintain the pool of wealth and ensure it did not run dry.
Left to her also, was the odd rambling diary of a man named Nathaniel.
There were dalliances in those early days. There were enough funds to not worry about work for a while. She pored over the diary, then the books she had obtained as whims when money was no object, she learned Latin and read some more. She painted a little. Some of the books spoke of strange hedonistic Sensations, ineffable feelings achievable through… –Iä- nog kadishtu ‘bthnk ftaghu gotha … No, no- there are no words for this, no way to crystallize the symbols or the meanings, but only glimmerings, faint ephemeral may-be could-bes.
The more she thought (or perhaps it was less thought and more intuited) about them, the more the temptation grew to comprehend, to fulfill a restless need for more. If these Sensations were not for the mind to grasp, perhaps the body would.
Let us draw a veil over the proceeding days and nights. Juliana worked and labored at her pursuit of bodily sensation. There were walks and assignations; strange spices and scents at clubs, exotic tastings, departures from the merely unconventional into the outright bizarre. Some adventures even left her with coin at the end of it. Her physique grew lithe and flawless.
There came a point where this grew boring, and she decided to take up art, exploring the depth of her passions.
There were the odd duds, but by and large, her paintings – capturing all manner of fleeting reminiscences, contentments, dread, and other such sensations – were popular enough to be sold for additional funds. Her reputation and mystique grew.
Her public gallery showings were sporadic, but drew decent crowds. One stranger stood out like a cantankerous sore amidst the well-to-do and bourgeois. A constable tromped in and out, glowering, occasionally scrutinizing a painting as if it held some lost and stolen masterpiece on a layer beneath its surface. What he was searching for was hard to say.
Juliana never spoke with the detective. Nor did she speak to much anyone else. She had no friend nor follower. She circumvented her own path, her conscience was (relatively) clear, beyond the books she habitually bought and devoured in private. She found various snippets of lore in those books, which she would put aside and categorize, still finding them for-the-moment useless and wanting. The holy grail was still the redness of sensation that she sought.
It was slow but systematic going. Her funding troubles were minor, compared to Nathaniel’s woes as penned in his diary, but it still disturbed her that they were sporadic earnings. She had to remove herself from books and study in order to create another sale piece of herself. Perhaps it was time to seek out more mentally challenging work to speed up her understanding of these difficult texts?
Glover & Glover was still an institution in her time. Her brain, while running a little behind her mastery of her body, was still brilliant and adept enough that she spent very little time as an entry level clerk and rose to a more senior, better-paying position.
The problem was Mr Alden.
A small man with an even smaller mind, he reveled in the power of an extra prefix in his job title over hers.
He nitpicked stylistic choices, demanded overtime without extra pay, shoved work he disliked into her lap and then directed all blame squarely at her as “her job” while his job was to yell abuse in the confident presumption this would ensure the work be completed more rapidly (while still remaining perfect.)
Strictly speaking, Juliana did not need the job. She could have left and gotten by with her paintings and her bodily trysts.
And yet, the work sans an unreasonable superior was decently challenging, well-paying and promising. To wait for him to retire was too many intolerable years to consider. She took to walking the city streets to meditate on the problem, and the suggestion of a potential solution arose while making contact with some of the less savoury elements of her earlier experimental periods.
There was a bomb-maker who was the first to make the suggestion, upon overhearing her lament to a barkeep. “Perhaps if you were willing to fund an explosive device, said mechanism might find its way to his dwelling?”
She had coin to spare, and Mr Alden was a right nuisance that had stolen one too many lore studying hours from her. She pushed the funds over, and left.
Days passed as she waited with bated breath, hoping to read in the paper of Mr Alden’s demise. But every morning, the despicable man was still there, making her working life a hell.
On the fifth day, there was talk of a bomb that had attempted to have gone off, but the explosion was more of a firework squib, and Mr Alden had not been at home regardless. The police were searching for the suspect, but Juliana felt confident there was little to link her and the bomb-maker.
She put up with the abuse for a little longer while the notoriety of the incident died down, and then went searching in the City again.
She found some Professional Muscle, who swiftly assured her that Mr Alden would be no more.
Imagine her chagrin when she heard in the break room Alden bragging about how some thugs had attempted to accost him, and gotten themselves quickly overpowered then arrested. For he had been lunching with some important personages with their own bodyguards.
His fate was sealed now. Juliana resolved that it would be him or her. Either one of her Hirelings would succeed, or the Notoriety of her attempted criminal solicitations would bring her down.
Her third time’s a charm City visit found a Hulking Fellow fairly smitten with her. “No problem,” he said, doing something with his knuckles in a clumsy but earnest manner, “I’ll wrap him up and thump him. My gift to you. He won’t trouble you again.”
He didn’t seem terribly competent, so in truth, her expectations were set low and her plans already extending toward a fourth search for help.
She was astounded when she realized the Hulking Fellow meant it literally. A knock on the door one night heralded him standing over a wriggling, gagged bundle. Mr Alden was her new Hapless Prisoner.
Thinking on her feet furiously, she persuaded him to stash Alden in a more secure location for the time being.
That night, her dreams were filled with insidious whispers speaking inhuman languages; flashes of visions – her licking the blood oozing from the larva-like bundle; flame coursing through the scarecrow form of Mr Alden; his bound body dessicating and withering on the vine, aging 39 days like prime beef, before … Oh, the possibilities…
The problem being, as she realized when she woke up in the clearer light of morning, that she didn’t actually have any concrete form of knowledge to perform any such rites as might require the use of a captive.
It was far more probable that Mr Alden would expire in his captivity (preferably far from here) under the care of that Hulking Fellow, before she might discover such a ceremony in the books she was perusing. Said books being paid for by the earnings of the job that she had better make haste to.
That day was possibly one of the best days on the job ever.
She feigned concern with the rest of them over the sudden disappearance of Mr Alden, then sighed with relief when his new and temporary replacement proved to be more than a “hands-off” sort. He simply told everyone at her level that he trusted they would do a great job, and then took his entire body off elsewhere.
The days and weeks began to go by without incident. She did her job, did it well, went back at appropriate hours and invested the pay and spare time into her sidelong study of esoterica.
Mr Alden became more of an afterthought, presumed dead by all, while a small secret part of Juliana smiled in secret, knowing his clock was indeed ticking down to the inevitable.
It was only a small part, however, because the work at Glover & Glover, sans obstacle became both lucrative and intellectually challenging. It took up more and more of her attention and focus, if not her time. The funds rolling in were keeping her in great stead, the work kept her mind occupied, and life became steadily more normal.
It was an immense surprise when one day, a problem at work demanded not just simple, logical reason, but for someone to care and argue for a particular resolution. Post-passionate argument (which was indeed victorious), Juliana looked up from her desk and realized: She liked it here. She loved her life. She was content.
Those books at home? There was little reason or need to read them. The knowledge would never amount to anything. This? This work? This desk? This office?
This was real.
One thing leads to another. I’ve taken to reading a little more in my blog absence, having little to talk about besides more Warframe, or more of the same in GW2.
I love anthologies, and randomly borrowed a bunch from the local digital library. I also love mashups of settings. (Case in point: A Study of Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight – an excellent interactive fiction game combining Sherlock Holmes and steampunk; Open Sorcery combining computers and elemental magic, etc.)
“Shadows Over Baker Street” is an interesting collection of stories that gloms together Sherlock Holmes with the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. What happens when the undefeatable intellectual capacities of the world’s premiere detective meets Things Man Was Not Meant to Know?
A lot of fun reads, that’s what.
It got my mind set directly on all things Cthulhu-ish. (Critical Role also recently did a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, so there’s something in the air lately…)
It’s a short progression from there into a Cultist Simulator game revisit. I briefly alluded to some experimental tries with it in an earlier post.
It took that many tries to begin to grasp the mechanics, but I’d failed to explore the actual content per se, being completely lost at the time. Since it had been a while, I decided to erase the entire contents of the save and start anew.
This time, I could start to explore some early game content and upkeep mechanism loops. Not at all well, for there’s a fair amount of RNG in some of the card draws and plays, but at least enough for me to begin to understand and start crafting and telling myself a story for these experimental lives, which I’ve elaborated on above.
This is still way early game, because I’m not making much progression on anything cult-related per se. I am evidently still missing some connections on how to progress on that front.
But at least I’m sort of beginning to understand how to survive and not immediately die or jump headfirst into a hopeless doomed spiral. (There’s plenty of traps for the latter that I will be falling accidentally into, without having to help it along. The second life, Juliana, for example, fell headlong into a Minor Victory “trap” that I was not at all expecting. The game suddenly declaring an ending quite baffled me. Still, it was all for the best, being 3am at the time. Civilization-like “just one more turn” this Cultist Simulator is, indeed.)
One thought on “Cultist Simulator: Two Lives”
I don’t think it’s for me, but this is a very interesting game concept. I like the story you made out of it, good read!