You take a breath, shielding your eyes from the light.
You've been wandering around the Desert, where the sand rolls for miles, empty, lacking even heat. In the distance, you can finally see other people; six others, away from you, are gathered in a peculiar fashion. Even though you can't quite make out what they look like, you decide to head toward them.
As you get closer, you see them in more details. A large, bulbous figure in red, turned away in the centre, a small boy in blue standing at the back, while a woman of red, white and blue rests herself on the floor, and a man-mosaic of colours off to the side, close to a girl in pink, looking as though she is about to collapse. None of them have noticed you.
[[Keep approaching. |The Family]]
(set: $fingersOff to false)
(set: $coins to false)
(set: $hum to false)You can see them all much clearer now, and the sixth member is now visible. He wears nothing but a black loin-cloth, and his skin seems to leak into the sands behind him.
The very fat man, dressed in a red jumpsuit, calls out to you.
The others all turn to look at you. The boy in blue takes one look and turns away again.
[[Call back. |A Welcome]]
[[Say nothing. |The First Mistake]]
(set: $harlequinOpinion to it + 2)
(set: $jesterOpinion to it + 5)
(set: $womanOpinion to it + 0)
(set: $acrobatOpinion to it + 5)
(set: $boyOpinion to it - 5)
(set: $groupOpinion to ($harlequinOpinion + $jesterOpinion + $womanOpinion + $acrobatOpinion + $boyOpinion)/5)"Hello!" You call back.
A small smile seeps across the man in red's face.
"What's your name?"
[[Call out your name. |My Name]]
(set: $jesterOpinion to it +2) The man in red scowls. The others turn away.
Should you turn back now? You've already turned them against you.
[[Shout your name. |My Name]]
[[Keep approaching. |Closer]]
(set: $jesterOpinion to it -1) Your mouth opens to call out your name. It struggles with the sound.
A breath of air leaves you. It seems you don't have one. No mind. Maybe the others will have answers.
[[Keep approaching. |Closer]]The fat man jogs up to you, red and puffy, in both face and body. He stops short of you, and opens his mouth to talk, when the excercise catches up to him.
He pants heavily, holding you at the whim of his outheld finger.
"Welcome!" he booms, as if he had not just struggled with breathing, "I'm so glad you found us! The others were beginning to think that we were lost here, but not me, ho no, not me. There is always at least a glimmer of hope, wouldn't you say?"
[["Not always." |The Truth]]
[["Yes." |White Lies]]"No?" He sighs, briefly, before picking back up, "No. There is always hope, else you wouldn't have found us." He chuckles lightly, "You're like our salvation."
Are you? You question yourself, "I wouldn't be so sure. I have no idea who I am."
"Well, then you're in luck! Neither do we!" He laughs at his own expense. "You're already one of us. Maybe you're not our salvation, but I'm still glad you're here."
At least one of you is.
"Together, we can find a way out of this mess." He beckons you to follow with his arm. "Come, you should meet the others."
[[Follow him. |The Others]]
(set: $jesterOpinion to it +1) "Exactly!" He chortles. "That's what I've been telling the others, but none of them seem to agree with me. Not all is lost, as long as we have each other!"
You open your mouth to respond, but he cuts in. "You should join us! It's more fun if we're together. Come, you should meet the others!" He gestures for you to follow him, and turns his back.
The facade falls, and his body slumps, exhausted, as he slowly leads you back to the group.
[[Follow him. |The Others]]
(set: $jesterOpinion to it +2) You approach the group, and their faces follow you. The little boy in blue scowls at you from behind blind eyes. He spits.
"Piss off! Don't need you here!" He jumps up and strides towards you. He strikes your shin with his foot, punctuating it with stinging words, "We're fine without you. We don't want you here."
He pulls back to spit again, but the man in the loin-cloth quickly strikes the back of his head.
"There's no need for that." He smiles gently at you with a maturity that betrays his youthful face.
[["Thank you." |Thanks]]
[["I'm sorry I offended you." |Apologies]]
(set: $boyOpinion to it - 1)"Oh, don't thank me. It's been hard for all of us." He puts his arm around the boy in blue. "He's got nothing. I can't tell if he's lost the most out here."
The boy pulls in tightly, closing his eyes, and turning away.
"I know he's frustrated, but to him this probably all feels hopeless."
The fat man chimes in again. "He doesn't have to treat our guest so horribly."
"They're not our guest!" The boy screams against the skin of the acrobat. "We don't want them here! They're just going to make it all worse." He trails off, sobbing, pushing himself deeper into the hold he has on the acrobat.
[[What did you do wrong?|My Fault]]
(set: $acrobatOpinion to it + 1)
(set: $boyOpinion to it -2)You look at the boy in blue. He stares at the ground, tears welling up in his eyes. In one fluid motion, he spins and stamps his foot, screaming at the man in the loin-cloth "You didn't have to hit me!" His voice lowers, "They just don't belong here."
You don't belong here?
"Of course they do, they're just like us." The acrobat questions you. "Aren't you?"
[["I don't know."]]
[["I just want to leave this place."]]
(set: $acrobatOpinion to it + 2)He turns toward you as he continues walking, "The others will be so happy to meet you," he faces forward again and mutters to himself. "At least I hope so. They can be so //difficult//."
[["Who are you?"]]"I don't really know what I am. I was hoping I'd find answers with you, but now I just have more questions."
"This place isn't very good at answering any questions." The acrobat stares at you. "In fact, it just seems to make the questions harder to understand. But that's okay, I guess. Everything here has its purpose."
[[Even you.|Your Purpose]]
(set: $acrobatOpinion to it + 1)"We all do." The acrobat sighs. "I don't know how long we've been out here." He looks wistfully among the group.
"We'll make our way back soon!" The fat man chimes in again, now resting on a comfortable rock.
[["Back where?"]]"We're not really sure about that. I think we all came here together, but the little boy definitely disagrees with me."
He chuckles, before continuing, "He says that he came here alone, and he'll leave here alone, which might be true. On the other hand, the harlequin hasn't let go of the girl the entire time I've known him, so I'm pretty sure they came here together."
He stops, and turns toward you. "We're not going to be here much longer."
[["How do you know?"|Not an Answer]]"I just have a feeling." He says with a proud smile. "It's time you met the others."
Well, that wasn't really an answer.
[[Keep following. |The Boy in Blue]]The acrobat looks at you, trying to tell you something without his words. It's almost as if his face is speaking another language.
What could he mean?
[[Leave him. |Separation]]
[[Reach out for the boy.|Instinct]]You turn away. You have more questions, but who has answers?
[[Return to the fat man.|Camaraderie]]
[[Introduce yourself to the harlequin.|Trust]]
[[Approach the woman.|The Lady in Blue]]"Anywhere is better than here." The harlequin speaks for the first time. "We can't stay out here much longer. There's something wrong with this place. What kind of desert has no heat during the day?"
Only the Desert.
"There has to be some way out of here." The harlequin looks straight at you, staring through. "I'd give anything to get out of here. Maybe you can help." He's talking directly to you. "Come here."
[[Approach the harlequin.|Trust]]You have a purpose here? Even you're not sure what it is, but something calls to you.
It hums, it speaks to you. You shudder, and take a deep breath.
The feeling is gone.
The harlequin is staring at you. His eyes carefully watch you where you stand, perfectly still.
[[Snap out of it.|Nothing]]
(set: $hum to true)The man in red has made himself comfortable on a rock, near the centre of the group. As you approach, he beckons you. "Join me! Let's sit, you can tell me more about yourself."
The way he is sat prevents you from sitting upon the same rock, despite his invitations. You sit on the sand, sinking slightly into the cold.
"Now that you're comfortable, come, tell me who you are."
[["I don't know who I am."|Names]]
(set: $jesterOpinion to it + 2)You approach the harlequin, offering a greeting, "We haven't been introduced," but he cuts you off before you can continue.
"I know why you're here." He says. "You can get us out of here. I know it."
What is he talking about?
"Please, take this." He continues, passing something into your hand. "Just don't show the others. It's only enough for us."
You open your mouth to question him, but he quickly responds, holding the little girl close, "Don't say anything. Please."
[[Open your hand.|Passage]]
(set: $harlequinOpinion to it + 2)The boy spins, faster than you can react, and bites at your fingers. It's an animalistic movement, terrifying in its ferocity. He continues to snap, and you can't pull yourself away in time.
He bites down, and through your fingers. You scream out in anticipation of the pain, but the pain never comes.
His teeth come together and he tears. He spits your flesh and bone onto the sand, his glassy eyes fixed on your face.
Not one member of the group moves to help, instead staring, mumbling to themselves.
[[What is going on?|Help]]
(set: $fingersOff to true)As you curse the group for their inaction, the woman slowly stands, and walks up to you. She removes her scarf, loosing it from her neck, carefully tying it around the stumps where your fingers once were. A small smile cracks along her face, masking some great pain.
"I'm sorry." she whispers as she finishes the dressing.
"The little one. He doesn't know what he's doing. Just lashing out like that. He could hurt someone."
[["Thank you."|Recognition]]The woman looks shocked. She wipes her face, checking over her work.
"There's death out here." She gently rubs your wrist, the smile remaining. "Be careful, or it will get you too."
As silently as she came over, she gets back up, and walks away.
The fat man calls to you, "Hoi, come here!" He waves vigourously.
(set: $womanOpinion to it +2)As you unfurl your hand, you see two silver coins. The harlequin is watching you carefully, his eyes pleading with you to understand what he needs.
What does he want you to do with these?
[[Ask what he means.|Trading]]
(set: $coins to true)(css: "font-size: 200%;") [The Grim Circus]
By Callum Tai
[[Begin.|The Desert]]The woman is sat, uncomfortably, away from the group. She stares out across the Desert. "Why are you here?" She asks plainly. "It doesn't matter, I guess. You're here now, but you won't be able to help me."
"What do you need?" You ask.
Without looking at you, she wistfully responds, "I don't know what I want. I've lost everything. You can't bring everything back. It can never go back to the way it was."
[["Why should it?"|Changes]]
[["We can try."|Plateau]]
(set: $ladyOpinion to it + 2)"You think this is going to get you out of here?"
"Is it not enough?" The man looks panicked. "It's all I have. We have to leave this place."
The Desert isn't the right place for a child, he's right. Something feels //off// here.
[[What is this place?|What is the Desert?]]You pull yourself out of the trance. The hum is gone, and you can move again.
You can hear the others whispering.
[[What are they whispering about?|Separation]]
(set: $harlequinOpinion to it -1)
(set: $jesterOpinion to it -1)
(set: $womanOpinion to it -1)
(set: $acrobatOpinion to it -1)
(set: $boyOpinion to it -1)
(set: $groupOpinion to ($harlequinOpinion + $jesterOpinion + $womanOpinion + $acrobatOpinion + $boyOpinion)/5)"Change can be good," you continue, "it can make us better people."
"But how do we get out of this? How can being trapped out here help us? I just look out there, across the horizon, and there's nothing. This desert is me."
The Desert is everyone. It brought all of you here for a reason. Can it take you back?
[[What is the Desert?]]
(set: $womanOpinion to it -2)The lady looks through you and smiles. "We can go back?"
Her smile compels the lie that leaves you, "Of course. And I can help. You're not alone out here."
"I know that. But until you came along, nobody even cared. They pretend I don't even exist. This place it does that to people."
What does she mean? A place can't change people like that, can it?
[[What is the Desert?]]
(set: $womanOpinion to it +1)"I don't even have a name." You continue, "At least, I can't remember one."
"No matter," the man responds, "You don't need one. You're one of us now."
It's nice to belong, but doesn't this feel a little undeserved? You haven't done anything. You're just here.
"I see you're struggling here, but don't worry. It's not bad out here, the others just can't see the truth. I know you can, though. I trust you. There's something out here that will get us all home. And you're going to be the one to find it."
Something out here? In the Desert?
[[What is the Desert?]] (if:$hum)[You hear it again. That same hum, one that burns through you.](if:!$hum)[The Desert shakes at your question. A humming. A call. Why do you wait?]
It compels you. The girl. She is the key. She can get you out of here.
You're silent again. Quickly, you look for the girl, and you spot her. She has done the same, and is staring at you.
[[Approach the girl.]]
(if:$hum) [ [[Follow the hum.|Approach the girl.]] ](if:!$hum)[ [[Stay where you are.]] ]It hums again. You feel it. It shouts against your ignorance.
What are you doing?
She is the answer.
[[Go to her.|Approach the girl.]](if:$hum)[The hum has called you. You follow it's instruction.] As you walk up, the harlequin watches, tightening his hand around hers. He speaks for her.
"What do you want?" He scowls at you. (if:$harlequinOpinion < 4)["You won't lay a finger on her."]
The girl, shaking, looks up at the harlequin. "Please. Let me go." She softly speaks. She doesn't tug, but waits, patiently. "You're not leaving me here." The harlequin's face turns downward. "Please, I'll do anything. I need her.(if:$coins)[ Take me with her. I can't live in a world without her.]" He pleads into the eyes of the girl. "I need you."
[["I don't want to do this."|"I'm sorry."]]
(if:$coins)[ [["I don't think I can."]]]"This is what I am here for." You continue, "She's the key to all of this."
"How do you know that?" He screams back at you. "She's just a little girl!"
[["I don't know."|Unknowing]]"You can't?" The harlequin looks even more panicked. He grabs the girl even tighter than before. "I told you. I need her. I paid to get us out of here."
The group have noticed the commotion, and begin to head toward you.
The jester is is the first to speak. "You were going to leave us here?"
"It was the only way." The harlequin responds. "I have to keep her safe. She's sick, this place will kill her."
The acrobat stands up. "So let her go." He points at you. "They're offering to take her somewhere safe. You can't keep her here. You're hurting her."
(if:$harlequinOpinion > 3)[Those words seem to have resonated with the harlequin. He looks down at his hand around the girl's wrist, and quickly releases it. The girl finally breathes in relief and tries to step toward you.] (if:$harlequinOpinion < 3)[The grip the harlequin has on the girl only gets tighter. "You will not take her."
The girl cries out in pain, and finally tries to pull away. "Please," she begs, "Let me go."
"I can't. I need you."]
[[Stay where you are.|Waiting]]
(set: $groupOpinion to ($harlequinOpinion + $jesterOpinion + $womanOpinion + $acrobatOpinion + $boyOpinion)/5)You slowly approach the harlequin. He stands deliberately between you and the girl. "Don't come any closer! I'm warning you."
(if:$groupOpinion > 2)["Stop this madness!" The jester cries out.
"You can't hold on to her forever. Let her go." The acrobat repeats. "We'll get through this, together."
"Not without her!" The harlequin snaps again. He looks at you once more. "Anything. Anything but her. Please."
[[You don't have a choice.]] ](if:$groupOpinion < 2)[You take another step. The boy stops you. "You won't touch her. She stays with us." His aggression is calmer now. "Together, we're stronger than you." His threat burns. (if:$fingersOff)["You already know what I can do. Don't make this worse for yourself."]
You have to grab her now. Do it.
[[Grab her.]] ]"I'm so sorry." You need the girl. "I need the girl."
"Well, you can't have her!" The harlequin is shaking, screaming. "I'll give you anything! Just don't take her. Please."
"It's too late. She needs to come with me."
"And then what?"
[["You can go home."|The End]]"I'm not sure that's all she is." Your words are cold. "She's the reason we're all here."
"You can't be serious!" The harlequin laughs, hiding his fear. "She's a little girl, that's all she is. She's nothing." He pauses, "She's all I've got."
The little girl looks up. "I'm sorry. You have to let me go."
"No, please." The harlequin begs.
"I need to go with him.(if:!$coins)[ Alone.]"
(if:$coins)[ [["I could take you both."]] ]
[["I'm sorry."|The End]]This is the only way. You know it now. She must come with you.
They're just in the way. Either you convince them to let her come with you, or you never leave this place. None of you do.
(if:$groupOpinion > 3)[ [[Reason with them.|The End]] ]
(set: $groupOpinion to ($harlequinOpinion + $jesterOpinion + $womanOpinion + $acrobatOpinion + $boyOpinion)/5)"What?"
"If you cannot live without her, you don't have to."
"Explain yourself." The harlequin stares at you.
"I can take more than one. All you have to do is ask." You're not sure where the knowledge you speak of comes from, but you believe it. It feels natural.
"I want to go with her. I need to."
"You would leave these people behind?"
"For her? Everytime."
"So be it." Your body moves on its own, taking two steps toward them. "Come."
The girl tries to turn back to say her goodbyes to the group, but the harlequin holds her forward, stepping toward you.
"It's all over." You touch their shoulders, and the others fade away, rippling against the landscape. The Desert is dark, emptied. Here they will find their peace. Alone.
The sand takes you. This journey is over. Your work is not.
(link: "Quit")[<script>window.close()</script>]"Without her, you can all leave." You look wistfully at the little girl, who steps toward you.
"It's okay." She smiles, wiping a tear from her eyes, turning to speak to the group. "I need you to go on without me. The longer you hold on, the harder this will be."
The man in the loin cloth speaks first, from a place of understanding. "It's okay, little one. We'll be okay."
"We'll see you soon." The fat man adds, waving as she takes one final step toward you.
"What will happen to them?" The little girl asks you.
You don't know.
Before she can change her mind, you reach out and grab her.
The light pulls away, and the group is gone.
"There's nothing." The little girl looks at you. "There's nothing here. Why is there nothing?"
You don't know that either. It doesn't matter. You can hear the hum. Your work is not finished.
You leave the girl, the sand taking you.
Your work is never over.
(link: "Quit")[<script>window.close()</script>]As you reach out to grab her, the group erupts in action, clambering to stop you.
Before any of you can touch each other, the sands pull you in.
The darkness swallows you, slowly realising the lack of air, the sand filling in the gaps in your lungs.
A hum calls to you. Salvation.
You have one choice.
[[Answer it.|The Desert]]