“Each canvas is an impossible dreamscape. Kaleidoscope coils of thick impasto sketch forms familiar and strange. Are those dark shapes above the vast dome of Saint Fiacre’s stalactites, or teeth? Is that carmine smudge rising from the jungle canopy an errant brushstroke, or one of the Bazaar’s lofty spires?”
An art gallery has appeared on Hollow Street – one of London’s most insalubrious locales – and its collection is taking the city by storm. The rich and mannered brave the muck to catch a glimpse of coiling, idiosyncratic masterworks. But just who is the Recondite Painter? How did he come by his hallucinatory talents? And why, when you sleep, do you dream of paint, and of skin that is not your own?
And thus I found myself “waist-high in wafting spirals of wind-whorled wheat”… (This gave me a smile; judicious use of alliteration should be appreciated, methinks.) Apart from the foreshadowing, all this coiling and strange colours and fields and villages gave me strong Van Gogh vibes; perhaps this reveals my patchy knowledge of art history, but it did help me imagine the fantastical journey that the story describes, with its bizarre physics and startling images. I loved that part, and the evocative dreams as well. Overall, I enjoyed the general sense of variety and progression in the story, in addition to the things I learned. And although I played it in one go, I like how it allows you to do other things during the middle part, but at a plausible cost.
This is a strange circumstance in which I have nothing but praise for the events of the story, and nothing but baffled affront at the slant of the characters’ presentation.
So, the good: I’m always up for a reality-bending, dream logic hike into Parabola. That part’s really neat.
And the…odd: The fact that a body-hijacking snake seems to be trying to present itself as a victim, and it’s gaoler appears to desperately WANT to agree. It’s not just it’s very obvious in-character motivations for this-so many things in the story lined up in such a way I felt like the writing was pushing me to clap the man on the shoulder and give him a stirring, Superman-like speech about freedom being the right of all sentient beings. I did not do this. I threatened the man when he offered me violence, congratulated him on his audacity and left him to continue shrivelling apart the Fingerking. I have to assume he’s left feeling baffled and put out that some madman broke into his prison just to gawk at it like a voyeur at a freak show when he apparently just really wanted to be talked into a redemption arc despite lacking the moral courage to go through with it on his own.
My ruthlessness aside, why on EARTH would anyone with any knowledge of what the Fingerkings are like feel sympathetic enough to release the damn thing? It can and will take over innocent people to get what it wants, and it’s sitting there whining about a bargain made in bad faith? You can’t even make an argument based on enlightened self-interest to help the thing, the Ophidian Gentleman very pointedly noted that he isn’t authorised to make or keep any promises. And it’s not as though the thing makes any of it’s own, at any point.
And what the HELL is that parting line at the end meant to insinuate? Do the Fingerkings still seriously think anyone would expect GENUINE GRATITUDE from them without it being contractually obligated in fine print, after all these years of people digging up knowledge about the Fourth City? Is the Ophidian Gentleman naive enough to think any Londoner worth his salt is delusional enough to rely on the Masters for MERCY?
Honestly, I loved this one. I do hope I eventually get the chance to pick the artist up from Mr Chimes’ much as I wasn’t prepared to let him finish his work, I’d be happy to pay him to memorialise his comrades and weird neath colour paints are awesome.
It was really neat to see the Fingerkings through the sort of developed lens Exceptional Stories give to the non-human denizens of the Neath, to remember that they aren’t just snakes anymore than the Masters are just bats. Very cool.
With regards to the Fingerkings actions I tend to (foolishly probably) see their situation through a sort of colonial lens. That being that the Is-Not and Parabola are essentially the Fingerkings’ space. The Second City, the Fourth and London may have all tried to write over it in their dreams but they’re sort of the equivalent of British explorers tromping through other environments. Any one who goes there to drag dreams home, or try to conquer space, is basically just asking to be possessed and while I carry some sympathy for them, I struggle to lay the blame at the Fingerkings feet.
Also my dislike (and allergies to) both cats and devils, sort of throws me onto the snakes’ side by default, even if I’m not decisive enough to join the glass or anything like that.
I’m hoping the Conjurgation won’t mind too much that there’s a statue of a cat chilling in the Dome of Scales right now.
How much knowledge, though? For much of the game there is nothing but vagueness about Fingerkings and what they do; the sum total of my understanding until recently was “they are snakes in Parabola, they work through mirrors, they are dangerous, cats hate them”. I remember returning from my hiatus and, amid all the storylines that had been completed in the meantime (including the Ambitions), seeing with disappointment that “Embroiled in the Wars of Illusion” was left untouched. Unless the continuation of the Wars of Illusion is in Parabola? I’ve only just started on that.
Ah, the problem of Fingerkings and cats. I sympathize with the cat faction’s broad stated goal of protection against what is a very real threat of violation, but I also agree with others that the cats have some imperialist and warmongering tendencies. Things get thorny with the nature of what’s going on in Parabola, but sometimes I’d like to be able to draw a clearer line between “we are acting in self-defense” and “we are claiming this territory as our own”.
On the other appendage, the Fingerkings I find largely unsympathetic due to their methods and fundamental disregard for the entire concepts of “informed, uncoerced consent” and “autonomy”. That said, though, I can to some degree sympathize with their desire to experience the Is, if not the way most go about doing it, and immoral or not, the agonizingly extended suffering (whether or not that was exaggerated on its part, it was certainly suffering) of this Fingerking in particular wasn’t something I could stand for, either.
(I suspect being a prison abolitionist might colour my perceptions of this situation, also.)
All of that being said, then, I appreciated that I had the option to smash the mirror and at least end that torture without also essentially giving it carte blanche to go back to doing what it was before. I was a bit surprised/disappointed, though, that I wasn’t able to shade my reasoning behind the choice or persuade the Artist like you could with the two separate “release” options: I don’t mind the concept of him feeling betrayed by the action, but I’d have liked to know why it wasn’t an acceptable alternative to him. The Fingerking was killed by the action I took, so it being a further danger wasn’t a problem - was his issue with feeling thwarted in his retribution? The destruction of the painting itself, either because of the fame he garnered for it or the potential to recreate it to use again? The other endings might have more information on that, but the version I played gave me neither the opportunity to explain myself nor insight into why he was opposed to it (especially with the meta-knowledge that he could have been convinced to let it go free), which to me left that aspect of the ending feeling a bit unfinished, emotionally speaking.
There’s some indications scattered around to greater and lesser extent (across stories and content from other games), but the major thing about the Fingerkings is that they very much Want Your Body, in the most literal sense. The Artist wasn’t being metaphorical when he discussed his friends being no longer the same people.
Sometimes this is done through deals, although coercion (like with Devils) and the tendency to leave out or mislead regarding fairly pertinent details is a significant factor. Unlike the Devils, though, they don’t seem to always require or ask for any kind of permission at all - once you’re in Parabola and have acquired a certain bird, try offering it to them, and compare what the bird has to say on the matter with what the Fingerkings do.
This one was good, I really liked it. The POV of the snake is well-executed, and I really dig the scenery of being in the painting. It feels like dream-logic, and being bounded by the limits of the imagination that created the scene.
The moral dilemma is accentuated because we get the snake’s subjective experience of its un-becoming, priming us to sympathy before we find out how and why it is in that situation. I think the same situation presented in any other order (including interleaved) would not create such moral ambiguity.
I definitely felt the Recondite Painter wanted me to release him from the quest for vengeance he had put himself on, despite his protests otherwise. It’s a common trap in Exceptional Stories that the main NPC doesn’t have agency and the player makes the final decision, and while that’s what technically happened here it didn’t feel the same because I could still feel the NPC’s desires.
I’m predisposed against the snakes, but considered whether what was happening was crossing a line. Ultimately I felt that what the Painter was doing to the Convergence was “fair” in some sense. It played with fire, and it got burned. And having its empty skin become the decoration for a being on the other side of the mirror is, after all, very similar to what it would have done had it gotten the chance. The yearnings of the Fingerkings are sympathetic, but I can’t put aside the disregard they have for those with whom they would deal.
There were references to “Hollow Men,” a T.S. Eliot poem, which seemed understated and potentially easy to miss. I actually didn’t see the name of the Recurring Dreams quality until rather late in the story, because the custom Change message meant the quality name didn’t display when incremented. I assume this is thematically significant, but I’m not familiar enough with the poem to weigh in on it.
Very well put. With regards to the Fingerking’s methods, I’d actually agree. That said Fingerkings are certainly much easier to deal with than devils or flukes or the red-handed queen. It honestly frustrates me that they’re one of the few groups you’re genuinely able to put back and which present so few options for finding less alternative solutions (although I have never finished war of illusions so apologies if there’s stuff in there) given how fluid the Fingerkings deals and what they seem to count as acceptable bodies are (thinking of the crocodile here).
This was a really great ES! Parabola, art, mystery, and a moral conundrum all in one! Really excellent writing all the way through.
I’m at a point of knowing too much about the Fingerkings to give them anything they want, but also didn’t feel comfortable with the Painter’s intent. There was great power being wielded by an irresponsible hand, and my character has been burned too many times by that. Still, it took some hand-wringing before I ultimately decided to just smash the damn thing and end the misery on both sides.
Wow this was an utterly gorgeous story. While the writing was trying to make the trapped Fingerking somewhat sympathetic, considering the snake refused to make a deal out of principle. I do love the desperate character of this Fingerking, who is willing to do anything to be freed, but while the development of these beings is wonderful, I just can’t be sympathetic for them. These creatures are LITERALLY the fae. They make bargains with conditions that end up dragging people into tricks, despite never lying. I just cannot be sympathetic and basically immediately sided with the painter when given the chance to.
But apart from this very subjective nitpick, I utterly loved this story. It was simultaneously incredibly engaging and immensely heart-wrenching. I loved the story and the character of the Painter, how he finally managed to spin the words of the Fingerkings against them. They will be in reality, but not as they wanted to be. It’s such a wonderful and active tale where your little lie accidentally wraps you into a tragedy unlike any other. I especially love how, at first, it seems like the portraits you see around his rooms are of victims, people he trapped in dreams, when in reality they’re all his old friends and companions, stolen by the Fingerkings in their goals of existing.
This entire story is such a marvelous exploration of how these creatures work, and I’m so glad I got to see more of them just as they are, without the diametric opposition of the cats to push against them. It’s the same sort of active and clever story that reminds me distinctly of Lost in Reflections, just with more focus on the Fingerkings themselves. The beautiful imagery that reminds me distinctly of Van Gogh’s post-Impressionist works was the best possible setting for this sort of dreamlike world. Amazing work, FB. I hope to see more like this.