A beaten man, a helpless voice, a sign of hope…
Malevolent follows Arkham Investigator Arthur Lester as he unravels the mysterious circumstances that have befallen him. In this, the Nineteenth episode of our series, Arthur wakes to find himself in the Prison pits - a deadly and unforgiving place within the Dreamlands. With the entity inside twisting the knife whenever it can, Arthur is pulled in many different directions until the prospect of escape becomes a possibility. Together, they must find a way out and seek answers to the questions they've long awaited... If you are enjoying this Podcast, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter to receive all Chapters as they are completed as well as the choices that you, the listener, get to make. Find out more here: https://www.patreon.com/TheINVICTUSStream
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PART NINETEEN - THE PRISON
Original transcript by Croik and Jack! Reviewed by Teakettle.
(BEGIN Part 19.)
(Ocean waves, growing louder. Someone walks along a boardwalk. Seagulls cry out as the water laps at the shore. An ominous rumbling builds up, and a young girl says ‘Run!’.
Everything goes silent.
Something heavy walks at a distance, accompanied by creature-like snuffling. Metal clatters to the ground, startling Arthur awake.)
ARTHUR: Was that…?
JOHN: I think so.
ARTHUR (yawning): I must’ve dozed off last night. Morning.
(He sits up. A melancholy tune starts to play.)
ARTHUR: What did they drop for us today?
JOHN: It looks like another leg.
ARTHUR: Brilliant. (He sits.)
JOHN: At least it looks cooked this time.
ARTHUR: Small graces.
JOHN (pleased): Oh! They’ve refilled the bucket as well.
ARTHUR: Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, thank you.
(Splashing water. Arthur drinks from the bucket.)
ARTHUR (relieved): Oh, oh, oh. (He breathes heavily, slurping.) That was the longest time yet.
JOHN: They’re trying to starve you.
ARTHUR: Just enough to keep me alive. (He sighs and stands.) Where’s the stone?
JOHN: By your left foot.
ARTHUR: Oh. (Arthur grunts in exertion as he picks it up.) It was four yesterday, so, uh. Uh, here, about?
JOHN: A little higher.
(The stone scrapes against the wall.)
ARTHUR: Well, there’s our tally. What are we at now?
JOHN (intently): 85 days.
ARTHUR: 85 days. Nearly three months.
ARTHUR (scoffing): Well, celebrations are in order, I suppose. (He sits down.)
JOHN: Well, did you – ?
ARTHUR: Not, not yet. I get to eat first.
(Arthur sighs and starts to chew.)
JOHN: I was thinking. If we use the water from the bucket on the dirt we’ve piled from the wall, we could make it into a much more solid step. I think that’s what’s needed to let it support your weight.
ARTHUR (chewing): We’ve talked about this. Without the water, then I –
JOHN (frustrated): You’ve just said it. They’re not going to let you die. They’ll refill it.
ARTHUR: John, I am barely clinging on here. He’s winning. You get that, right? I know it doesn’t matter to you whether –
JOHN: Stop. We agreed.
ARTHUR: Fine. (He continues to eat.)
JOHN: I’m not saying it isn’t a gamble. What I’m saying is, I think there may be enough clay within the dirt. If it dries, then we have a solid way to get out. You’re practically able to reach the top already with what we’ve made.
ARTHUR: Mm. Maybe. Look, let me finish, drink some more, and then we can decide. It’s – It’s a fifteen foot height to the edge.
JOHN (frustrated): So goddamn close we can practically touch it.
ARTHUR: Yes, but, we need to be ready for when we do get out. Those things, John, they’re not –
(Investigatory music plays.)
JOHN: I know.
ARTHUR: Do you really want all our work to go to waste? If we escape and end up back in this hole, or hell, in a hole that we haven’t dug pieces of the wall out and made this… step, or whatever you want to call it.
JOHN (calming): I know, I know.
ARTHUR (exhale): We need to be prepared. We’ve used almost all of Mr. Faust.
JOHN: He still has some use.
ARTHUR: I know. (He continues to chew, sucking his teeth.)
JOHN: Are you done?
ARTHUR: Oh. I needed that. It’s almost like they know what they’re doing. Starving me just as we’re making headway.
JOHN (down to business): Now, did you dream?
ARTHUR: I said when I’m done. Let me get a drink of water. (He gets up and sloshes water in the bucket, drinking it.) Okay. (He sighs.) I did dream last night. I was standing on a pier. (Gentle piano music plays.) The waves washed under me. They made a hollow clunk as they reverberated off the wooden pillars of the boardwalk beneath my feet. I could see the sun, as it set. The orange sky, deep and rich, like… I don’t know… egg yolk.
JOHN (attentive): Go on.
ARTHUR: The birds were loud, but I didn’t find them irritating. I could feel the sea air on my skin. My hair moved with the breeze. And when I turned, I saw… (He trails off with a sigh.)
JOHN: And what?
JOHN: What else? We agreed that you’d –
ARTHUR: We agreed that I’d tell you as much as I want to about my dreams.
JOHN: We agreed so long as Faroe wasn’t –
ARTHUR (suddenly furious): You agreed to never mention her name again.
JOHN (displeased): Fine.
ARTHUR (taking a deep breath): Anyway. Then I woke up, and I was here. (He sighs.) We need to leave this place. They’re feeding me less and less every day, bringing water infrequently. They want it so I can’t move, so I’m nothing but brittle bones and a soft mind to manipulate.
JOHN: Our plan is sound, Arthur.
ARTHUR: But you want to expedite it how?
JOHN: We’ve been carving enough from the wall using the bones we found to shape the dirt into a suitable incline. The only thing working against us is time. If we used the water from the bucket to harden the dirt –
ARTHUR: Nothing hardens here, John. It’s too damp, too dreary, too fucking dull.
JOHN: What does that have to do with it?
ARTHUR: I don’t know. I can’t see this place, but I can feel it. More than ever before, I… I can feel the mud walls, the thin, black roots, the stalactites that are hanging from the low ceiling above us. I’ve walked this circular prison a thousand times – sixty steps all the way around, never a corner.
JOHN: So what?
ARTHUR: So, I never want to come back here. And we’re not done with Mr. Faust’s femur. It needs to be sharper.
JOHN: The bone isn’t going to get any sharper, Arthur. You’re delaying and you know it. The truth is you’re scared that if we leave this place, we’ll end up back here. You don’t know what’s beyond this pit and so you’re finding excuses.
ARTHUR: I am not.
JOHN: I said it before, yesterday, and last week. You could climb out of here today if you wanted to.
ARTHUR: Then what is all this with the bucket and the clay?
JOHN: Cause you’re relying too much on them. The minute we have nothing to keep us here is the minute you’ll finally leave this place. You’re right, Arthur. He is winning, and you’re letting him.
ARTHUR (disgusted): Fuck you. I’m surviving.
JOHN: In this pit? In this hole of nothing, designed by those who wish to drive us mad? You’re clinging to the hole, like you cling to everything, unable to move on.
ARTHUR: That is not the same thing.
JOHN (inhale): No, you’re right. But you’re still letting your fear cripple you. We need to escape. A day isn’t going to change that.
ARTHUR (sighing, amidst melancholy piano): You think we can make it up with what we have, with as much as what we’ve done?
ARTHUR: You think Mr. Faust’s femur is as sharp as it’s gonna get?
ARTHUR (exhale): Those things up there. I didn’t have much of a say last time they captured us.
JOHN: I know.
ARTHUR: I’m scared, John. We’ve been in this hole, in this dream, for months. I won’t survive another failure.
JOHN: There’s always plan B.
ARTHUR (scoffing): Plan B? You’re kidding.
JOHN: We can’t pretend it isn’t an option.
ARTHUR: Plan B was something I proposed early on, before we dug up Mr. Faust. I-I-I didn’t think –
JOHN: It wasn’t a bad plan, Arthur, it was just…
JOHN: Yes, But is it any more risky than climbing out?
ARTHUR: Yes. Those things… I can hear them as they pass on patrols, they’re –
(He starts to walk.)
ARTHUR: Yes. Plus fighting one of those things one on one in this pit… blind? It –
JOHN: Fighting one may be an inevitability, Arthur.
JOHN: The long metal hook they use to collect the bucket –
ARTHUR (cutting him off): I know, I know. That’s presuming whatever is on the other end of it has a sure enough grip when we pull.
JOHN: And assuming that we’re strong enough to even overpower it.
ARTHUR: It’s not a great plan.
JOHN: But it could yield us a weapon. Regardless, that’s why it’s Plan B, Arthur. At least we’re finally talking about it again.
ARTHUR: I know.
JOHN (pleading): Look, we need to move. We need to leave this place. Your strength is fading fast. You’re mostly skin and bones. Climb out or let’s find a way to bring one of those things down here. Either way, we can’t afford to waste away in this pit.
ARTHUR (sigh): You’re right, you’re right. (He shifts.) Okay. Let’s.
JOHN: Finally. I’m glad you’re thinking clearly.
ARTHUR: I wouldn’t say that, exactly. It’s just – I think there is truth to what you’re saying, and I’m growing weaker every day.
JOHN: Alright. So, when?
JOHN (pleased): Yes, Arthur!
ARTHUR: Look, we have Mr. Faust’s femur. That’s all we have or need.
JOHN: Your clothes are all but tattered.
ARTHUR: I-I don’t care.
JOHN: Alright, Arthur. This still won’t be easy. The incline is high enough to jump and reach, but it will take effort, and with your strength all but gone…
ARTHUR: I know. But I want it. I can taste it, John. I’ve been a prisoner for so long, far before arriving here. I can do this.
(Arthur gets up and walks over.)
ARTHUR: Is this?
JOHN: A little more to your left. You’ll need to gain a bit of speed before you jump. Last time –
ARTHUR: Yes. Last time won’t happen again.
JOHN: But remember you need to pull up with both hands, and if –
ARTHUR: Yes, yes. I remember.
ARTHUR: You just remember to say jump before we hit the apex of the ramp.
JOHN: That was one time at the beginning!
(Suspenseful strings rise.)
JOHN: We can do this.
(Arthur walks, backs up, and runs.)
JOHN: Jump! No.
(Arthur hits something solid and falls.)
ARTHUR (breathless): God damn it.
JOHN (disgusted): Fucking hell, Arthur.
ARTHUR (affronted): Me?
JOHN: I did say jump –
ARTHUR: You said it too late!
JOHN: Enough! (A pause.) We both know the reason we’re not in sync.
ARTHUR: It’s the same reason we haven’t been in sync the first fifteen times we tried this. It’s because you don’t say “jump” on time.
JOHN: Fuck you. I said when you needed to jump.
(Melancholy piano theme rises.)
ARTHUR: It’s because you and I are…
ARTHUR: We’re not ever going to get back to that, John.
JOHN: I know.
ARTHUR: Too much has been said. Too much pain. Too many lies.
JOHN: I know.
ARTHUR: So we’ll try again.
(Suspenseful strings rise again. Arthur backs up and runs.)
(Arthur hits the dirt wall and falls again.)
JOHN (genuine): I’m sorry.
ARTHUR: It’s fine, it’s fine. Just – do me a favor.
ARTHUR: This time, just don’t say anything.
JOHN: Arthur, you –
ARTHUR: Nothing, please. I’m not saying it bitterly, I… Just let me try on my own.
(Grunting, Arthur stands again. The suspenseful strings rise again as he takes a breath, runs, jumps, and grabs the edge of the wall. Some dirt falls to the floor.)
JOHN (growling in excitement): Jesus Christ, Arthur, you have it! You’re holding on! Don’t let go! Pull yourself up! You can do this! (Earnest.) Arthur, you can do this. Leave all this behind, leave the pit behind, the Dreamlands! Focus on now. You can do this. Arthur, you have the strength, I know you do!
(Groaning in exertion, Arthur pulls himself over to the ledge. He breathes heavily.)
JOHN: You did it! Arthur, you fucking did it!
ARTHUR (crying): Oh my god. Oh my god. We’re out! We’re fucking out. (He starts to sob and laugh through his tears. Sad piano plays softly.) Thank you, John, thank you. That felt really good to hear.
JOHN: You deserved it. But we’re far from out of the woods.
ARTHUR: Right, right. Okay, okay. Oh my god. Where are we? Wh-what am I looking at?
JOHN: This massive cavern has a low roof, maybe ten feet above us.
ARTHUR: Yes, yes, but what’s around us?
JOHN: It is a massive field of stalagmites: large, jutting up from the ground, almost like a forest made of stone. They are maybe twenty feet wide at the base in some places. Surrounding all of them are large holes: prison pits like ours. The nearest one is a couple hundred feet away.
ARTHUR: Okay, okay, is, is there a way out?
JOHN: I’m not sure. (Eager.) I think there is! The far side of the forest.
ARTHUR: Alright, alright. Are there any… (His voice drops to a whisper.) Of them?
JOHN: Not that I can see.
ARTHUR: All the same, I think we’ll keep a low profile.
JOHN: Yes; there seems to be a thin mist that claws across the ground here. Obscures only some of the pits, so we’ll need to be careful.
ARTHUR: Which way?
(Arthur starts to walk.)
ARTHUR (whispering): What is that stench?
JOHN: I don’t know. Some of these pits –
ARTHUR: Can you see into any of them?
JOHN: No, but… I think I can hear movement in some of them. (From a distance, a creature growls.) We’re passing one to our right. The mist shrouds whatever is within.
ARTHUR: I loathe to think of what prisoners are kept here besides us.
JOHN (sudden): Stop.
JOHN: I see a guard.
(At a distance, shuffling footsteps are heard with the occasional groaning.)
ARTHUR: Oh, fuck. Oh, Christ.
JOHN: No, it doesn’t see us. It seems to be on patrol. I think – get down!
JOHN (urgently): Get down, beneath the mist!
(Arthur groans and drops to the floor.)
JOHN: Lay flat. Don’t move!
(The footsteps of the guards are louder. Something squirms on the ground close by. Insects scuttle.)
ARTHUR: What? What are we lying in? What’s moving?
JOHN: The ground is covered in small insects.
ARTHUR: Oh my god.
(The creature approaches, grunting. The insect noises remain present.)
JOHN: I think it’s passed.
(Arthur rises to his feet and begins to pat himself down urgently.)
ARTHUR: Fuck! Oh, god! I can feel them beneath my clothes.
JOHN: You’ll live. We’re almost at the entryway.
ARTHUR: Do they seem alerted?
JOHN: I’m not sure, but there are many, coming towards us… from around a stalagmite.
JOHN: We can cut across a pit!
JOHN: To our left, there’s a pit directly to the exit. There’s a wooden plank laying across it. A shortcut.
ARTHUR: Is it – ?
JOHN: There’s no time, Arthur! Move!
(Arthur starts to walk.)
ARTHUR: Oh, Jesus.
JOHN: Fuck, Arthur. You’re going to need to lay down on the plank.
ARTHUR: Oh, god.
JOHN: Trust me. The mist will hide us. Now!
(Arthur lies down on wood, shakily panting. The footsteps approach, and then fade.)
ARTHUR (whispering): Is this pit empty? (Some silt falls into the pit below.)
JOHN: I can’t tell.
(A strange voice emerges, about as deep as John’s.)
(A slap of suspense. Arthur gasps and starts to breathe fearfully.)
PRISONER: You are escaping.
JOHN: Arthur, I can’t see anything. Just a white mist that fills the pit. It could be anything.
PRISONER: Please, bring me water.
ARTHUR (shaky): Why? Who are you? What are you?
PRISONER: Please, just one small drink of water.
ARTHUR: Maybe I –
JOHN: Arthur, we need to leave. Go!
ARTHUR: I’m sorry!
(Arthur rises to his feet, breathing hard, and starts to move.)
JOHN: It’s right ahead of us.
ARTHUR: Is it clear?
JOHN: There’s a room just ahead, past this doorway.
JOHN: It looks to be empty.
(Arthur walks into an object. It’s metal, and clangs softly.)
ARTHUR: Wh – what is this?
JOHN: A drum, and bucket.
ARTHUR: Is there water in it?
JOHN (warning): Arthur.
ARTHUR: Just tell me.
JOHN: Yes, Arthur, but don’t be a fucking idiot. Whatever that thing was –
ARTHUR (interrupting): It didn’t seem dangerous.
JOHN: Those things are behind us. For all we know, they could be finding out that we are missing any second, and you want to head back, and give some prisoner water? Leave.
ARTHUR: I. (A pause.) I don’t want to be a monster.
JOHN (gentle): You’re not being a monster, Arthur. You are surviving. Leave this place, and don’t look back.
ARTHUR: I can’t. I know what it feels like to be trapped in a pit without anything.
(A melancholy piano theme plays.)
JOHN: Arthur, we both do.
ARTHUR: Yes. And it’s for exactly that reason I need to help.
JOHN (frustrated): Arthur, for fuck’s sake!
ARTHUR: Listen to me! (Water splashes.) I’m not ready to let this world trample over me. I’ve said it before, to your “better” half. I won’t let it win. Corruption of the heart is the same as… corruption of the mind. Both are trying to change me. (A pause, then urgently.) I can’t lose who I am. Then they win. (Quieter.) Th – that’s how they win. That’s how he wants to win. (Louder.) I am the captain of my soul.
JOHN: This isn’t a fight for your soul!
ARTHUR: It is, though. All of this is. Don’t you get that?
JOHN: The King is trying to weaken you, make your mind malleable, easy to coerce.
ARTHUR: The King is trying to win me, in whatever way he can. Trick my mind, berate my soul.
JOHN: And if those things should catch us and throw us back into the pit?
ARTHUR (reciting): From pole to pole.
ARTHUR: Nothing, that’s – that’s not for you.
JOHN: What’s not for me?
ARTHUR: My thoughts. Look, we’re getting water for that creature and that’s that. You can help me or hinder me.
JOHN: There’s a cup to your left.
(Arthur fills up the cup and begins to walk.)
JOHN: They’re still patrolling, but they’re deep within the stalagmite forest… on the other side of the pit.
(Shuffling, from a distance.)
JOHN: It’s coming up. The mist still bellows from within.
(Arthur walks onto the wooden board. It squeaks.)
ARTHUR: Here, my friend. Whatever creature you may be, no one deserves this fate.
(Suspenseful strings start to rise. The shuffling of the creature is audible from within the pit.)
PRISONER: Thank you, Arthur.
ARTHUR (gasping): How do you know my name?
JOHN (urgent): Arthur, we should leave.
PRISONER: It is a gift.
ARTHUR: A gift?
PRISONER: I am a cana. I know many things.
(A mysterious piano tune plays.)
JOHN: A cana.
ARTHUR: A cana? Wait, you… the trader told me of you, you’re… you can help me.
PRISONER: I can help you, Arthur Lester, as you have helped me. (The wooden board squeaks.)
ARTHUR: Wait, wait. Why are you here? Has the King trapped you here?
PRISONER: He does not know I am here. I am a prisoner of this place for reasons I have brought upon myself.
JOHN (warning): Arthur, the patrol.
ARTHUR: Right. Right, right. Look, look, can you help me? I-I’m lost and I... I just want to find a way to get home… get aw – get away from this hell. I… I can barely remember the sun.
(Some silt falls into the pit.)
PRISONER: Arthur Lester, your world awaits your return. Beyond this place, you’ll find a red lake. Beside it, the Ten Thousand Steps. At the top, a great city, but at the gates of the city, to their right, lay a path to the plateau. There the worlds are thin and you can barter passage home.
ARTHUR (sobbing): I-I-I can go home?
JOHN: Back to Arkham.
ARTHUR: P-Please. (The wooden board squeaks.) Let me help you out. L-let me find a way to –
JOHN: The board. If you pull back the wooden board, it will fall in.
ARTHUR: Right, right.
(Straining, Arthur pulls the wooden board. It falls into the pit with a loud noise.)
JOHN: That was loud, Arthur.
ARTHUR: I know, I know. Quickly, can you climb up?
JOHN: Arthur, there’s movement in the mist below. The board is bending with the weight of something climbing up.
ARTHUR: Here, take my hand.
(As the wooden board squeaks, a hand claps across Arthur’s palm.)
JOHN: Arthur, its hand is… webbed and wet.
ARTHUR (impatient): Yes, I can feel it.
JOHN (surprised): Oh, he’s small! Almost resembling a frog. Its large green eyes are narrow. Its hands and arms are long enough to reach forward but its feet are nearly at the bottom of its body. (The creature grunts.) I wonder if he drank the water or needed it for his skin.
PRISONER: Thank you, Arthur Lester.
ARTHUR: Thank you.
ARTHUR: Lorick. (They shake hands.)
JOHN: Arthur, we need to leave!
ARTHUR: Come this way. I think we’ve found a way out. I think –
LORICK: That is not the way out.
LORICK: Come this way. (It moves, grunting as it walks.)
JOHN: It’s leading us to the left, closer to the guards.
ARTHUR: If there’s anyone to trust.
(They walk together, almost as if on gravel.)
JOHN: We’re heading through the stalagmites, on the edge of the pits. It’s… wait!
JOHN: Get down!
(They both crouch as guards shuffle by.)
JOHN: Okay. It’s moving to the wall of the cavern, to our right.
LORICK: Through here!
JOHN (in amazement): There’s a passageway, nearly hidden!
ARTHUR: How –
LORICK: I know many things.
ARTHUR: After you.
JOHN: It’s tight.
ARTHUR: I’ll manage.
(Both of them manage to get through, grunting in exertion.)
JOHN: Oh! We’re out the other side. Arthur, we’re...
(A sad piano melody starts to play.)
JOHN: Yes. We’re standing on the outskirts of a barren field of stone. High above is the cavern ceiling. We’re still deep underground, but… the large wall behind us holds the prison. We’re free.
ARTHUR: Thank you. (Welling up.) Th – thank you, Lorick.
LORICK: Thank you, again, Arthur Lester.
ARTHUR: I-I have for the first time in my heart, hope. Thanks to you.
LORICK: Keep that hope close. It is attractive to those who dwell in the darkness.
ARTHUR (thickly): Will you come with us?
LORICK: I cannot.
JOHN: He’s departing, Arthur.
ARTHUR: Wait! Which way to the red lake?
LORICK: Toward the glistening pillars of ice.
ARTHUR (louder): Lorick! You said – you said you were in there for reasons you brought upon yourself? What did you do?
LORICK (departing): I helped another from your world escape this place.
ARTHUR (calling out): Who!? Lorick!
JOHN: Arthur, quiet!
ARTHUR: Fuck! Yes. Sorry.
JOHN: I appreciate your excitement but we’re not out of this yet. We have none of our things.
ARTHUR: Right. Damn.
JOHN: Start moving.
ARTHUR: Yes, I… (As if remembering, angrily.) No, fuck off with that. That’s not how we do things anymore, remember?
JOHN: Arthur I’m not –
ARTHUR: No, listen: I don’t take orders from you. That was the deal.
JOHN: I don’t care about that anymore!
ARTHUR: I do! I –
JOHN (interrupting): Listen to me. I want to get home. No matter what. Ego aside, past aside, Arthur. We have a way to get home.
ARTHUR: To my home.
JOHN: If you just need me to be your eyes, so be it. But you know I can offer more. We have a monumental task ahead of us.
ARTHUR (quieter): Then we eat it like an elephant.
JOHN (chuckling): Huh. Yeah, I suppose so.
ARTHUR: And we start by getting to that lake.
JOHN: Alright. Your left.
(Arthur starts to walk.)
JOHN: The ground is loose stone, difficult, pathless. Like the surface of a barren planet.
(Arthur starts to sniffle as he walks.)
JOHN: Are you… (Gently.) What’s wrong? (Sad music starts to play.)
JOHN: You’re crying.
ARTHUR (emotional): Yes. I-I… I can’t, I can’t remember the last time I felt… anything this, this good. (He sobs softly.) This hopeful.
JOHN: Yes. Well…
ARTHUR: Well, what?
JOHN: Nothing. Let’s find a way to get to that lake.
(Arthur continues to walk. Something like quick footsteps sound from behind.)
ARTHUR: What was that?
JOHN: I don’t know. It came from behind us.
ARTHUR: The prison?
JOHN: No, more to our right.
ARTHUR: Do you think – they have patrols on the outside or… or something?
JOHN: Very possible.
ARTHUR: You don’t see anything?
JOHN: No. Although…
JOHN: I feel like we’re being watched.
ARTHUR: Watched but not approached?
ARTHUR: Something hunting? I wonder what creatures lurk here, dwelling in the darkness as the cana said.
JOHN: We should wait and see if anything is following us.
ARTHUR (dismissive): No, no, no. We should keep moving, right?
JOHN: We can hide here. There are a few large boulders. If something is following us, we can use Mr. Faust if we need to. Otherwise we may be bringing something unintentionally with us.
ARTHUR (urgent): I think we should move.
JOHN: It’s your call.
ARTHUR: Fine, fine, we’ll wait. If we are truly done with this place, I want to make sure we’re not being tracked.
JOHN: To the left of us. There’s a large fallen stalactite. It’s on its side.
(He moves closer and crouches near it.)
JOHN: When you say you can’t remember the last time you felt anything, you mean…?
ARTHUR: I don’t know. I don’t know, I just, I felt… overcome.
ARTHUR: With emotion, John. I just felt like I couldn’t contain it. Is there anything following us?
JOHN: No, not yet.
JOHN: I’ve heard you lash out before, but I –
ARTHUR: And I, you.
JOHN: But –
ARTHUR: Don’t tell me you don’t understand why I felt overcome, John. Come on. You’re far from an idiot at this point.
JOHN: I’m saying… I’m trying to understand.
JOHN (frustrated): What that… feels like.
ARTHUR (also frustrated): What what feels like? Being overcome?
ARTHUR (exploding): Oh, fuck off!
ARTHUR: Don’t you do this to me!
JOHN: Do what?
ARTHUR: You don’t get it. (A sad piano melody plays.) It took everything for me to open up to you, and you threw it in my face. Don’t – don’t make me pity you.
JOHN: Arthur, it’s been so long, I’m –
ARTHUR (desperate): It’s been nothing compared to how long I carried that with me, how deep I buried that, how… how difficult it was for me to dredge up. You asked, and asked, and asked, and the minute I shared it with you – you… you threw it in my face.
JOHN: I’m sorry, alright? I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again.
ARTHUR: And what about Emily? You killed her for no reason – why? Why on earth did you – ?
JOHN (angry): Because I’m the fucking King in Yellow, Arthur! You wanted me to own it, and so I do. I didn’t remember what I was, but I knew she was beneath me. She was nothing but a tool, and one I couldn’t use. She was strong, I needed to be free. I needed to be in someone whom I could manipulate, to find out what I was and to find a way to escape!
ARTHUR: So you’ve been using me from the start.
JOHN: You always knew that.
ARTHUR: So you killed her, cause she was useless to you, and because you could.
ARTHUR: And you’re okay with that?
JOHN (quiet): No. No, I’m not.
ARTHUR (genuine): You’re not?
JOHN (over thoughtful piano theme): You view me without conflict, as if I am whole. As if I’m the person that I always intended to be.
ARTHUR: What is that supposed to mean?
JOHN: I am trying to become the thing I should've been a long time ago. It doesn’t come without blood. It doesn’t come without cracked ribs and broken bones. (Growling.) I am clawing my way, stumbling in the dark just as you are, toward a better version of myself. I am fucking up as I move there, but that doesn’t make me a monster. That makes me… human.
ARTHUR: You. (A pause.) Don’t –
JOHN: I don’t need you to care for me, and I don’t need your pity. But I need you to know I’m sorry.
ARTHUR (exhale): I accept your apology.
JOHN (back to business): Look, I don’t see anything. It’s possible that it was just shifting stones, or.
ARTHUR: Yeah, fair enough. Let’s move towards the, uh…?
JOHN: Glistening pillars of ice. They’re to our left.
(Arthur starts to walk.)
ARTHUR: Yeah. I can’t imagine what that would look like. Sounds quite… interesting, down here.
JOHN: This area is alien for sure. The pillars in question are massively tall, icy beams that connect the vast ceiling of this cavern with what I imagine will reveal itself to be the lake. They are frozen, like droplets from a giant fountain.
ARTHUR: These caverns must be entire worlds wide.
JOHN: This plane is completely its own creation. I don’t know where the dream ends and natural formations begin.
ARTHUR: I know that feeling first hand.
JOHN: The lake isn’t far from us, thankfully.
ARTHUR: And then it’s the steps?
JOHN: I wouldn’t be surprised if those are… well. I think I can already make them out. It’s difficult to see much, though the cavern does seem to have a soft violet light emanating from various corners.
(Rocks clack together. Arthur sharply inhales.)
ARTHUR: I hear it.
JOHN: Stay down. Get ready.
(Some shuffling. An oinking noise.)
JOHN: What the hell is that?
JOHN: I don’t know. It looks like… a large… cow.
(Light-hearted piano music. The cow snorts and oinks nearby.)
JOHN: It’s alone.
JOHN: It seems timid. Safe to approach. It’s maybe five feet tall from the ground and walks on all fours.
(Arthur chuckles, light-hearted.)
JOHN: It has plate-like bones jutting up from its back where patches of green moss-like fuzz cover it. Its face… looks part elephant, part ant-eater. Its beady eyes are dwarfed by massive ears, though… they look… intelligent. It has a mouth on the end of its long, trunk-like snout.
ARTHUR (laughing, approaching): What are you doing here?
JOHN: It seems to pay us no mind.
JOHN: This is still a creature of the Dreamlands, Arthur. Be careful.
ARTHUR (overlapping): Hey, hey, hey.
JOHN: It’s close now.
ARTHUR: Hey, hey!
JOHN: Its intelligent eyes are studying us.
ARTHUR: Hey, come on.
JOHN: It’s reaching towards us with its snout.
(The creature approaches amidst Arthur’s cooing. It is clearly quite heavy.)
ARTHUR: It’s okay. Come on.
JOHN: Apparently, it likes the insects that were crawling around on us. (ARTHUR: Ugh.) (Lightly exasperated.) Don’t pet it, Arthur.
ARTHUR: Oh, come off it. Here, big guy, come here.
JOHN: It seems to like it.
(It snorts happily.)
ARTHUR: Why are you out here, fellow?
JOHN: Oh, it looks like there’s a harness on him, as if it were a mule to pull a cart.
ARTHUR: Ah, a work… thing.
JOHN: I think it likes you, Arthur.
ARTHUR (laughing): I like him. (He pats the creature’s side.) Well, I suppose it’s time we leave. I’m not following you. Not after last time. Take care, big guy.
(Arthur starts to walk. Behind him, heavy footsteps follow.)
ARTHUR: It’s following us, isn’t it?
ARTHUR (gently, to the creature): No, no no no, no no no no. You need to stay here, big guy. (As if talking to a dog.) Stay. Stay! Stay.
JOHN: I don’t think it understands English, let alone your accent, Arthur.
ARTHUR (fondly): Shut up. Stay, big guy, we don’t have time to play, no, no no.
JOHN: It’s snuffling around the ground excitedly.
ARTHUR: Lovely, lovely. There must be a lot of grubs in the...
(The sound of the creature digging in the ground.)
JOHN: It’s unearthing something.
ARTHUR: What is that?
JOHN: I don’t know: a white, waxy root of some sort. I can’t tell in the darkness of the cavern but… but it may have leaves on it. Some sort of… vegetation, I suppose.
JOHN: I think it’s offering it to you, Arthur. (The creature squeals excitedly.)
ARTHUR: I-I –
JOHN: It’s waiting expectantly.
ARTHUR: Well, thank you. Er… big guy, or girl, or... I don’t have a name for you, uh. I like you –
JOHN (interrupting): Lilly. (Hopeful piano music plays lightly.)
ARTHUR: Li – Lilly? Where did that come from?
JOHN (quiet): Lilly.
ARTHUR: Okay. (He chuckles.) Lilly, you need to stay here. We can’t have you pacing around after us to, to –
JOHN: Its harness looks tight.
ARTHUR: Well, these things usually are?
JOHN: Cutting into her skin.
ARTHUR: Cutting in, eh?
ARTHUR: Back on earth, people use cows, horses, any number of animals, really, to do work.
JOHN: Of course.
ARTHUR: I find this place, though… the creatures here, they’re… they’re not like back on Earth. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that most things here deserve to be left to their own devices. Lilly, do you want to go free?
JOHN: It could put a target on our back.
ARTHUR: Any bigger than a prison break?
ARTHUR: Although, maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s just the ex-captive in me wanting to share the feeling of liberation with another.
JOHN: It’s your call. I support you.
ARTHUR: No one deserves to be a prisoner. Least of all something that didn’t do anything wrong. (Arthur pulls off the harness.)
JOHN: Thank you, Arthur.
ARTHUR: Go on. Goodbye, Lilly.
(Lilly wanders off.)
JOHN: Perhaps that was what she was hoping for. What are you going to do with that?
ARTHUR: With what?
JOHN: The waxy root in your hand.
ARTHUR: Oh, right! Um. I don’t suppose we should eat it?
JOHN: It would be very unwise.
ARTHUR: Right, well. Let’s just hold onto it for now. It is, after all, our only possession.
JOHN: The lake isn’t far now.
(Arthur starts to walk.)
ARTHUR: Right. (He sighs.) I hope she’s – ?
JOHN (gentle): She’s moving on, back to where we found her.
(Arthur continues to walk.)
JOHN: Yes. Lilly.
ARTHUR: Why? That’s the first I’ve heard you utter the name, let alone have it so readily on your tongue. Surely it means something, but we haven’t come across a Lilly to my memory, and we’ve been together for months now without a moment apart.
JOHN: That’s not entirely true.
ARTHUR: What do you mean?
JOHN: Lilly was… the name of a nurse, back in Harper’s Hill. (Optimistic piano music plays.)
ARTHUR: A nurse?
JOHN: Yes. You recall, I… (Troubled.) You were in a coma… and I wasn’t.
ARTHUR: You – she's the one who called you John Doe?
ARTHUR: You had a connection with her.
JOHN: Perhaps. It was a long time alone with my thoughts. She was the only other person I saw.
ARTHUR: I… I never asked, did I?
JOHN: You didn’t need to.
ARTHUR: No, but. Obviously that was a time that… changed you. You’ve mentioned a few times how that time affected you.((A pause.) Lilly?
ARTHUR: Why offer it up now?
JOHN: The name?
ARTHUR: Yes. You’ve obviously kept it close.
JOHN: It felt fitting. No use carrying a name around.
JOHN: Is there?
ARTHUR: I don’t know, John. I suppose… sometimes carrying a name around with you is… important. To remember who you are, or… what you want to be.
JOHN: I suppose.
ARTHUR: You don’t have to lose the name just because you gave it away. Or more importantly, you don’t need to forget the time, or, or what it –
JOHN: We’re here.
ARTHUR: Oh. At the lake?
JOHN: Yes; it’s still as glass, almost frozen looking. The shore is gravel, small stones that seem to fade into the blackness of the lake. The caverns above are a ceiling of broken bones, stalactites that jut down beside the icy pillars that support the roof. It is a sight.
ARTHUR: Thank you, but I-I want – I want you to know that if Lilly is special to you, well…
JOHN: Well, what? We can see her again?
ARTHUR: No. Maybe? I-I don’t know. (He continues to walk.)
JOHN: Arthur. Do you still intend to find a way to separate us?
JOHN: Then there’s no need for empty platitudes, is there?
JOHN: The stairs start to our left.
ARTHUR: The Ten Thousand Steps. Mhm. I suppose this is going to take a while.
(Arthur starts to climb.)
ARTHUR (grunting): It’s not impossible you may end up with your own body, John.
JOHN (disbelieving): Yeah?
ARTHUR: I don’t know. I cannot fathom the nature of our separation yet, so. Who knows what that even looks like, but… perhaps you will.
JOHN: Perhaps I will what?
Arthur (sighing): I don’t know. Enter a cadaver, or something.
JOHN (sarcastic): Lovely.
ARTHUR: Look, look, I’m just saying that… if we get out of here… somewhat unscathed, then, then I suppose we have some time to figure out what the next step is, and that includes finding a way to separate us.
ARTHUR: Well, before the Dreamlands, before all of this, we followed Amanda Cummings to Harper’s Hill. (Thoughtful music plays.) She was Roland’s daughter.
JOHN: The detective who we think my book was originally meant to be sent to. From the rare bookstore.
ARTHUR: Yes; JD Ackerman, the bookseller. We think he meant to send your book to Roland.
ARTHUR (grunting in exertion): Anyway, we followed that lead to the island off the coast of Harper’s Hill, where we found a letter written by Amanda to Anna, and, after asking the tooth – uh, the, the seer – we found it was Anna Stanczyk. Both of them knew a lot about this world, its teaching… I think they also were in the house back in Arkham.
JOHN: But Amanda’s dead.
ARTHUR: Yes, but she wrote those letters to Anna as if she was expecting her to follow. It revealed all about the King in Yellow, and – and more!
JOHN: So we need to find Anna Stanczyk. You think she’s the next piece of this puzzle?
JOHN: And where do you suppose we start? After we leave the Dreamlands, I mean.
ARTHUR: Anna Stanczyk and her family! We were in that mansion back in the woods near Arkham. Just north of it, remember? W-where we brought the baby. We were there and we didn’t even realize it.
JOHN: Well, she’s no longer there.
ARTHUR: No, no, of course not. The mansion was long abandoned, but – but we didn’t think to look around for a sign of where she went. She was nobody to us at that point. We were only looking to get the baby back and leave that godforsaken place.
JOHN: So, if we get back…?
ARTHUR: If we get back, we return to the mansion, scope out clues, and try to find the place she could’ve gone to.
ARTHUR (sighing): How many steps is that?
JOHN: You think I’m counting?
ARTHUR (laughing): Well, how close are we to…?
JOHN (in awe): Whoa. The city.
JOHN: Yes. I hadn’t noticed but the tall gates of the city are at the top of this stairway. They’re not far, actually.
ARTHUR (sighing): Brilliant.
JOHN: I don’t think this is anywhere near ten thousand steps. Something seems odd about these steps. Some supernatural force seems to propel us. The cavern floor is far below us.
ARTHUR: Well, how many steps lay behind?
JOHN: I don’t know. I can –
THE TRADER (suddenly): Why are you following me?
JOHN (sharply): Jesus Christ!
JOHN: You again!
THE TRADER: Why are you following me?
(John laughs in relief.)
ARTHUR (frustrated): We’re not bloody following you! You’re behind us!
THE TRADER: Hmph.
ARTHUR (audible smile): Jesus Christ.
JOHN: It’s the trader, Arthur.
ARTHUR: I figured. What the hell brings you down here?
THE TRADER: Down here?
ARTHUR: Yes, underground.
THE TRADER (amidst his usual creaking branches): I go where I please.
JOHN: He looks the same as he did: a series of twigs and branches, a large sack on his back. I still can’t see his face, it’s covered by a hood.
ARTHUR: Where are you heading, anyway?
THE TRADER: Nowhere you need follow.
JOHN: He’s moving forward.
ARTHUR: Alright. Still trading?
THE TRADER: If the interest is there.
JOHN: He’s moving past us, climbing the stairs toward the city.
ARTHUR: Hey, wait!
JOHN (in amazement): There are thousands of steps behind us, Arthur.
ARTHUR (calling out) : Wait!
JOHN (distracted): These stairs aren’t as they seem.
THE TRADER: What?
ARTHUR: We found a cana!
THE TRADER: Good for you. Hmph.
ARTHUR (chuckling): Hey!
THE TRADER: What?
ARTHUR: Trade with us. Isn’t that what you do?
THE TRADER: Hrmph. What have you to offer?
ARTHUR: Uh. This? (He holds it out.) Would you like a waxy vegetable?
JOHN: He’s eyeing it as he would –
THE TRADER: How did you find this?
JOHN: He seems surprised.
ARTHUR: Wh – I… uh. A friend helped us find it.
THE TRADER: A friend?
ARTHUR (wryly): Yes, someone you have a bond of mutual affection for.
JOHN: He’s looking at you.
ARTHUR (chuckling): A cow-like creature, I don’t know. Lilly.
THE TRADER (skeptically): A lily?
ARTHUR: No, Lilly was her… look, do you want to trade or what?
THE TRADER: Of course! A tofflebol is a valuable item.
ARTHUR: Val – valuable?
THE TRADER: Very much so. People often request. They are rarely found, and only by Buopoths.
(The Trader walks, creaking all the while.)
JOHN: He’s walking to the side of the staircase. There’s a small outlet of paved stones, like a stopping place. Enough space for him to roll out his mat of wares. It’s bizarre. There doesn’t seem to be anything holding this staircase in place... and no railing.
ARTHUR: We’ll watch our step.
(The Trader unrolls his mat, jostling his items – metal, fabric.)
JOHN: He’s unrolling his mat again. I recognize some of this stuff. There’s a small, ornate metal box of some kind, which is new… and the stone we traded is here, too. The Crystallizer of Dreams, I believe he said it was.
ARTHUR: That may be useful.
(More shuffling and clattering.)
JOHN: Wait a minute.
JOHN (angry): He also has our things! The two books, the pallid mask, the tooth, your lighter, even our coin!
ARTHUR (angry): Where did you get these?
THE TRADER: I obtained them fairly.
JOHN: He even has the bag we were using. I think the other stuff is in there too: the hooks, the shaving kit.
ARTHUR: These were our items, and you stole them!
THE TRADER: Prisoners have no items.
ARTHUR: Give them back!
THE TRADER: I will trade you for this.
JOHN: He’s gesturing to the waxy root.
ARTHUR: This is valuable to you?
THE TRADER: Yes.
ARTHUR: Well, you just made the first mistake of trading, friend.
THE TRADER: We are not friends.
ARTHUR (faux-smarmy): Oh, we will be. I want the lot.
THE TRADER: The lot?
(Suspenseful strings rise.)
ARTHUR: All of it: all the things you took from us, and what you carry.
THE TRADER: You offer, I trade.
ARTHUR: No no no no no, my friend. You want? I take.
THE TRADER: Hrmph!
JOHN: I don’t think he’s used to haggling, but he seems to be considering your offer.
THE TRADER: Things you had, for the Tofflebol.
ARTHUR: No. The lot of it.
THE TRADER (growling): Hrmph! Hrmph.
JOHN: He’s getting angry, Arthur.
ARTHUR (frustrated): So am I! (Melancholy piano melody plays.) You could’ve helped us when we landed here. Instead you took advantage. You will give us what we want, or we walk.
JOHN: Arthur, careful.
THE TRADER: Your things.
JOHN: He’s putting our items in front of us. Including the bag we had, Arthur.
ARTHUR: And the rest.
JOHN (warning): Arthur.
THE TRADER: And what you traded.
JOHN: He’s put the Crystallizer of Dreams in front of us, too. Arthur, that’s plenty, let’s –
ARTHUR (intense): I said, the lot of it.
(The Trader growls.)
JOHN: Arthur, just take it!
THE TRADER (angry, growling) : One item more.
ARTHUR (calmly): Deal.
THE TRADER: Hrmph.
ARTHUR (chuckling): Cheer up, John. This is how it works back home.
JOHN (not pleased): Put all the things in the bag.
ARTHUR: Mask, glass, lighter. Ah! I’ve missed you all.
JOHN: The coin.
ARTHUR: In my pocket it goes.
THE TRADER: The tofflebol!
ARTHUR: Yes yes, let me choose my final item. Hm.
(Mysterious music rises.)
JOHN: There’s a glass jar of violet liquid. It looks thick.
ARTHUR: Unknown liquid? Pass.
JOHN: An oil lamp?
ARTHUR: Last one served us well. Let’s call that a maybe.
JOHN: A map?
ARTHUR: Also a maybe, but less useful now.
JOHN: There’s a small, ornate metal box. Looks like a jewelry box.
ARTHUR (soft): Strange.
JOHN: Yes, it has a picture on the top: a painting of a girl.
ARTHUR: A – a girl? How?
JOHN: How do you mean?
JOHN: She’s holding a red flower, maybe a rose. She has a –
JOHN (curious): Yes.
ARTHUR: Open it.
ARTHUR (Urgent): Open it!
(The music box opens. A familiar melancholy melody plays for some time. Arthur’s breathing begins to come in pants.)
JOHN: Arthur. Arthur?
ARTHUR (furious): Where did you find this?
THE TRADER: The Tofflebol!
ARTHUR (even angrier): Where did you find this!
THE TRADER: The city.
JOHN: He’s pointing to the gates at the top of the stairs. Arthur, what’s gotten into you?
ARTHUR: This. We’re taking this.
THE TRADER: The tofflebol.
ARTHUR: Take it!
(Arthur takes up their things, still panting hard.)
THE TRADER: The trade is done. Good luck.
JOHN: Arthur, what the hell has gotten into you? Slow down!
ARTHUR: You said it.
ARTHUR: You said it!
JOHN: What did I say?
ARTHUR (desperate): You said she wouldn’t be here!
JOHN: Said who?
JOHN (urgent): Arthur, stop! Stop! (Arthur stops walking. A melancholy piano piece plays.)
ARTHUR: This was her music box, John. That was our song. I-I gave this to her, and only her.
JOHN: Arthur, remember the cana said not to go into the city. He said to turn at the gates, to head to the –
ARTHUR (snapping): Yes, I know!
JOHN: Have you considered that the King might –
ARTHUR: The King didn’t know this! He didn’t know this! No one but she and I knew this.
JOHN: He could’ve dug it out of your subconscious.
ARTHUR: No, he couldn’t. The same way he didn’t know how Faroe died until I told you. I… (Sobbing.) She was buried with this, John. (He fiddles with the music box.) It shouldn’t be here. If this is here… then couldn’t she?
JOHN: I don’t know.
.ARTHUR: So – so what does that mean? We found Frank’s apartment in the middle of the desert, John, with his things, his books, his food. He was here. Wh-when I’m sure what is left behind of him is either dead or gone, back in the real world. So what does that mean?
JOHN: I don’t know.
ARTHUR: Me neither! But – but if there is any part of this path that we walk that has been preordained the way those masked cultists seemed to think it was, then… I can’t afford to not know.
(Arthur continues to walk.)
JOHN: The gates are directly in front of us: large heavy doors, with… his symbol carved in. I can see the path curve around the city walls. It leads up… It leads to a way home.
(He stops walking.)
ARTHUR: I have to try. I will never be able to live with myself if I leave this place without knowing for certain. That she wasn’t here, needing her father. (His voice grows thick.) Hoping and praying that I will show up and rescue her. You may not understand that, but I need to do this. (He sniffs.)
JOHN: I understand, Arthur.
(Groaning, Arthur pushes the doors open. He steps through.)
(END Part 19.)