Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Neathy Mysteries

Penned upon the 10th of November, 2011

For a few years now, I’ve been playing Failbetter Games’ browser-based Victorian fantasy role-playing game, Echo Bazaar (you might have seen it discussed in Parlour Gamer, the last time I had the sand and nous to update the blessed thing.) Failbetter most certainly know what they’re doing – in terms of game concept, theory and design, they push the envelope to the cutting edge, which is presumably that of a letter-opener. Accordingly, the game has much to recommend it, visually, atmospherically, and socially. Its greatest strength is in its writing; Echo Bazaar is at once familiar and hauntingly alien, and succeeds in suggesting and gradually revealing a broad and detailed world without seeming artificial or arbitrary.

A large part of the fun is piecing together the clues, leads and half-explained references to get some sense of the big picture: what has happened to London since it fell beneath the Surface; the nature of the Bazaar and its Masters; the history of the Neath and its singular inhabitants; the recipe for Mrs Plenty’s Famous Rubbery Lumps. Some questions have been answered by the writers; others remain unsolvable in the game as it stands. I have accumulated some of my own theories below, with the notion that they may be of interest to Delicious Friends and perhaps contribute in some small way to continuing scholarship. I can’t pretend to have accessed every available source of information, and no doubt I shall revise this list as time goes on. Naturally, heavy spoiler warnings apply, and my suppositions should be taken for just that – pure, wild suppositions, half theory, half fancy. Caveat lector.

– London is the Fifth City. The Traitor Empress and her Consort are Victoria and Albert. Victoria sold London to the Bazaar in exchange for a cure for Albert’s mortal typhoid infection. This cure has had a curious effect on the couple, visible in their own persons but moreso in their children, who display a number of physical ailments. Those offspring particularly badly affected, with both physical and metaphysical deformities, are kept under lock and key in the palace cellars.

– A common mistake among Bazaar players is to confuse the Empress and the Duchess, and to conclude that the Duchess’s husband – the Cantigaster – is Albert. The Duchess and the Cantigaster are separate and distinct characters, though their story is similar, and is explicitly compared to the Fifth City’s monarchs’.

– The Fourth City was Karakorum, capital of the Mongol Empire. It was fell to the Bazaar in the fourteenth century CE. Its remains are relatively well-preserved and can be freely visited. Mongol artefacts, texts, and even surviving perishables are not uncommon.

– The Third City was someplace American; probably some centre of the Mayan empire. It fell approximately five hundred years before the Fourth City.

– The Second City was Alexandria, capital of Ptolemaic Egypt. It was sold to the Bazaar by Cleopatra to escape Roman conquest (under Augustus Caesar) and/or for a cure for Marc Antony’s poisoning by a serpent, one thousand years before the fall of the Third City. They now live in the palace as the Duchess and the Cantigaster. (Naturally, discussing an event so distant in time involves a degree of guesswork, even with an eyewitness account, and there exists evidence both for and against this theory. There is much material evidence for an Egyptian Second City, and the Duchess’ story fits the broad facts of the Cleopatra legend. This City is known not to have been considered a success by the Masters, which may account for a longer delay before securing another.) Note: This theory seems to have been disproven; see below.

– The First City was Jerusalem, capital of the Kingdom of Judah. It fell to escape Babylonian conquest (under Nebuchadnezzar II,) five hundred years before the fall of the Second City. (This is highly speculative. Little evidence exists of the First City’s identity – silver coins, references to cedar trees, and scraps of folklore, such as that it was “young when Babylon fell.” Jerusalem was rich in both silver and cedar in this period – indeed, they were emblematic of its lavish imports and great buildings. If we treat the fall of Jerusalem as the birth of the First City, then it would indeed have been young when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, less than sixty years later.)

– The Rubbery Men originate in another world, one which quite possibly bears different laws of physics to our own. They are assimilating, both culturally and physically, to life among humans. There are traditionalists, occupying ancient and eldritch forms in deep and dismal pools far from light of day, who insist that human manners and means are only to be used toward rubbery ends. This does not seem to be the dominant view in practice, though, well, who can say for sure?

– The Name of Mr Eaten is a secret best left unexplored.

Edit: It appears that, with fresh information emerging, my theories relating to the First and Second Cities can be regarded as quite exploded. Present scholarly consensus is that the First City was Nagar, in northern Mesopotamia, and the second was Akhetaten, on the Nile.

As I say, I shall no doubt add to this list before too long. Feel free to add your own queries, counterpoints or rebuttals below. Oh, and here’s my own profile there. You’ll notice, for extra recursion, I have a FrillyShirt in-game too.

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