Disclaimer: I do not own ICO in any way, shape, or form. ICO belongs to Fumito Ueda, his crew, and Sony Computer Entertainment. I make no profit in writing this story.
Reason for title: According to my Latin dictionary, "piaculum -
(neuter) propitiatory sacrifice, victim; atonement, expiation; remedy;
crime, sacrilege; punishment." Some of the chapter titles were taken
from the original soundtrack, while others I simply made up. At the end
of each chapter, I will explain the title for those who might be
Author's Note: How can I begin to describe what a lovely game ICO is? It's very simplistic, but that only adds to its beauty, I think. ICO is one of my favorite games of all times, if only because it touched me in a place not many video games do. My hope is that, with this novelisation, I can convey the same story that touched me so, to people who might not ever get a chance to play the game. That being said, I don't think any novelisation would ever be able to truly capture the spirit of the game, even if it was written by an exceedingly talented author. And I am by no means an exceedingly talented author. This is merely my humble attempt at exposing the story to those who have never heard of ICO - or perhaps showing a different take on the story to other die-hard fans.
A huge amount of thanks is due to Peter Eliot, author of the magnificent "Talking ICO: An Annotation," which can be found at GameFAQs. Without his annotation (or as my friend called it, "more like a dissertation"), I would most likely not appreciate ICO as much as I do now. I wouldn't have considered many of the finer points of the story, nor would I have treated it with the respect I think it deserves as a masterpiece of games. So, thank you Peter Eliot for writing your disserta- I mean, annotation.
I also ought to thank my brother, who helped me by beta-ing this, and leading me by the hand through the painful process of ripping some parts to shreds. I didn't always follow your suggestions, Brother (I guess I'm stubborn like that), but your help was invaluable to me. As usual.
Now. If you are new to the game, I suppose I might as well tell you now that ICO is a puzzle game. Thus, the majority of the game involves puzzles that are, quite frankly, boring to read if put down exactly on paper (it would read like a walkthrough). I've tried my best to alleviate the tedious nature of these puzzles, by cutting out parts here and there, and changing some of the architecture somewhat so it translates better into the written word. I've kept in the most memorable parts, I think (such as the windmill and the hall with the chandeliers), so fans of the game will still be able to smile reminiscently as they remember their adventures through this game. I've also tried very hard to make the battles interesting, because (as anyone who has read my FFX novelisation could tell you) battles are one of my greatest weaknesses.
I will be quite glad to receive any reviews that come my way, but I would very much prefer it if you could give me some kind of constructive comments, or at least something more substantial than, "great story, keep updating, bye." No piece of writing is perfect, and this novelisation is quite far from perfect, so I know you can find something that could have been written better. I reply to every review I get, but you'd really make my day if you could find at least one specific thing to comment about in every chapter.
Now, if you've read all that, you deserve a prize. I hope the intro will suffice.
Chapter One – Him
Ico blinked as the newly-risen sun glared down on his closed eyelids. Yawning, he lifted his hands to rub his sleepy eyes, and remembered that they were shackled together. He shook his head slightly, his gaze meeting the back of a horse's head bobbing up and down as it trudged along. All the memories of the past twelve hours or so returned to him then, and he shivered as he felt the silent, hooded rider behind him, who held the reins and kept Ico on the horse at the same time. A swift glance to both sides told him that the other riders hadn't left, either. They flanked his rider's horse, every bit as silent as their master. All three men – if indeed they were men – wore heavy black cloaks that covered their shirts of chainmail, as well as masks and hoods that completely obscured their faces. The two to either side also wore helmets with rough bronze horns that curved sharply downwards.
The morning was deceitfully fresh, the sun annoyingly bright and cheerful. Morning mist still clung about the ground, but the sunlight had already begun to dapple the forest floor gold, shining through the translucent leaves on the trees and reflecting off them with an almost ethereal shimmer. For all the warmth of the sunlight, though, the atmosphere around the three riders and their small burden was ice-cold.
Ico saw, with an unpleasant lurch of his stomach, that they were approaching the edge of the forest, and consequently, their journey. The three horses drew up a few feet from a sharp cliff's edge, where an old, ruined bit of masonry stood. It might once have been a gate or outpost of some sort, but now all that remained was a small square of broken stone flooring surrounded by crumbling columns. A short flight of steps led down to the very edge of the cliff, where what appeared to be a short wall stood. But it seemed a very strange wall, not reaching half the height of what few columns remained standing, and looked as well-preserved as the rest of the stone was ruinous. Ico wondered what this little ruin had been, and why it was so close to the cliff edge.
The riders began to dismount, so Ico slid off the black horse as well, his knees almost buckling under him from riding in the saddle so long. While the riders tethered their horses and checked their saddlebags, the boy strode closer to the edge, his hands still bound tightly together. Looking over, he saw that the cliff dropped sharply down for an incredible distance, before meeting the iron-grey waters of the bay. Ico slowly lifted his gaze to a grouping of four islands that jutted up from the water to the same height as the mainland shore. An enormous castle loomed up even higher, swallowing up what little space the islands had to offer, thrusting support columns deep into the sea floor, spanning bridges across the gaps in between the islands. Towers, bridges, buttresses, courtyards...all these Ico could see, mingled together like a mindless jumble that nevertheless had some undiscovered purpose. They crowded together and blocked each other from sight, yet there was a strange, beautiful order to them. It made Ico's mind spin just to look at it.
He noticed that the main gates stood wide open and wondered why, for there was no bridge connecting the castle to the mainland cliffs. How are we going to get to the castle, then? he wondered. For if the riders' very few words were any clue, this castle was their destination.
The chief rider, the one Ico had ridden with, placed a heavy hand on Ico's shoulder, turning him forcefully away from the magnificent view. He pointed wordlessly to a narrow path cut into the side of the cliff, which led from the small ruin where they stood down to a little wooden dock at the water's edge. The chief pushed Ico down the path ahead of him, and as the boy struggled down the steep and winding path, he could hear the iron boots of the riders crunching decisively behind him. Ico tried not to look down at the hungry waves gnawing at the cliffside, and he was extremely relieved when they stepped off the treacherous path and onto the creaky, soaked dock. The chief guided Ico into a small wooden boat and crouched down behind him. The other two riders crowded in as well, one standing up at the prow to push the boat along with a long, white pole.
Slowly, they passed along the channel towards the castle. Ico strained his neck to watch the great stone structure draw nearer and nearer, towering above them like a giant leering down on his prey. He had never seen anything so gigantic, or so hauntingly beautiful! They passed through several ruined archways that might have held up a part of the castle in their earlier days. The archways were covered with the remnants of once-magnificent carvings that had been worn almost completely away by the pounding of the surf. Far, far above them Ico could see long, rusted pipes running from one island to the other, and above that a thin bridge suspended over thin air, connecting two sections of the castle.
Presently a small cave mouth appeared ahead of them, and the rider with the long stick directed the boat into it. The sound of the waves slapping angrily against the rocks turned into the deeper, colder sound of water running through a cave. A wooden platform had been built alongside the water, and the horned rider who had up to this point remained idle leapt nimbly up onto this structure, disappearing from sight. Ico wondered briefly what would happen if he pitched over the side of the boat into the water, but he immediately realized this would only worsen his position. He could feel the chief rider's gaze on the back of his neck, and his hands were still shackled, making swimming to freedom out of the question. Ico sighed inwardly.
Their little wooden vessel gradually drew near an iron gate that blocked passage further into the cave. But even as they approached, it lifted with a grating sound and the rider dropped back into the boat, his task accomplished. The water extended for a short distance until it lapped up onto a stone shore at the back of the cave, the dark walls pressing the cold air close about them. The riders pulled the boat up onto this shore beside a spare boat identical to it, and clambered out. Hoisting Ico out himself, the chief rider turned to one of the others. "Get the sword," he said in his soft, whispery voice.
Shudders ran down Ico's spine as he heard the rider speak; it sounded like the voiceless murmur of a ghost, and Ico decided he rather preferred it when his captor didn't speak. The other rider hastened away into the shadows again as ordered, returning a few moments later holding a great sword sheathed in an ivory case. The chief nodded and led the way through a dark doorway carved right out of the rock. Once inside, Ico saw that they were inside a tall, tall tower, one that must have led straight up to the top of the castle. In the middle of this tower was a circular wall every bit as high as the tower, with two statues sitting side by side at its base, directly in front of the doorway. These statues were not much more than sharply-carved blocks with strange symbols all over them, but they almost seemed to have faces, very sad faces that touched and haunted Ico at the same time. He shivered and hung his head, not wishing to look at them. Yet his eyes were drawn irresistibly to them, and he noticed that smaller statues were set into the lower part of the larger statues. These looked like children hugging their knees to their body and resting their head on their knees. Two horns sprouted from their heads, completing this picture of the same forlorn, abandoned feeling that Ico had experienced his entire life.
The rider holding the sword stepped up to these statues and pulled the sword out of its sheath a few inches, so that a small bit of the blade could be seen. A bright flash of white shot from the exposed blade towards the statues, like a current of lightning that spread into every small recess of the statues' surface. It seemed as though the statues' eyes were glowing cold fear out at the riders and small boy, daring them to step further and warning them to stay away. But after a moment the statues inched apart, revealing a doorway behind them that led into a tall, round room that stretched on so far above Ico's head that he couldn't even see the top. The rider slid the sword back into its sheath and led the way into the room. The others filed in behind him.
Symbols like the ones on the statues adorned the floor, pointing in several directions as though they were signs of some sort. Ico wondered what they meant, until one glowed a cold greenish-white and the floor began to move upward. He felt his stomach drop into his toes as a strange sense of weightlessness filled him; he thought he might just float away at any moment. This thought was so terrifying that, had he been in any other company, he would have clutched at them for support. As it was, he did not, and they managed to reach the top in one piece, where they found the doorway blocked by the backs of two statues identical to the ones at the bottom of the tower. Ico's stomach lurched back into place as the floor came to a stop. The rider bared the sword a little again and the statues hurried out of the way.
Ico found that they were in a huge hall made completely of stone bricks. Two staircases against the far wall led upwards to a landing with a strange round disk set into the middle of the floor. Two more staircases began on this landing, but they stopped only halfway to the top landing, where a long line of the sad-faced statues served as a great closed door. The riders, however, were more interested in the rest of the hall, and in the two large stone ledges that covered each wall and rose up almost to the ceiling. Lined up neatly along these ledges were a few score of strange, vaguely egg-shaped vessels about Ico's height. Odd symbols were carved into their faces, symbols that almost looked like two kneeling children with arms stretched out to each other. On the right wall, three from the right on the lower row, one of these vessels seemed set apart from the others. Its symbols glowed the same cold bluish-white that the statues had when they moved away from the sword.
Ico was rather curious about what these strange vessels were for, at least until the riders began to make their way to the one with the glowing symbols. The chief easily picked the boy up and carried him over to the waiting vessel. As they approached, the top of the vessel lifted, revealing its cold and empty interior. There was nothing inside except for two rings where one's wrists could be fastened, to prevent escape. It suddenly struck Ico that these vessels seemed more like upright coffins than anything else, and a horrified shiver passed through him. The chief lifted Ico into the glowing tomb, and fastened the boy's shackled wrists to the iron rings. As the coffin slowly closed over him, the chief's breathy voice murmured, "Don't be angry. It is for the good of the village." The lid shut with a small click, and Ico's world was shrouded in darkness. He could hear the riders' boots returning to the door with the statues.
A terrible, frantic fear swamped the little boy as he stood in the darkness of his coffin. They had left him alone, to starve in the cold darkness of the tomb, or to be devoured by creatures that only appeared in nightmares. He had to get out, he had to! Ico struggled desperately against his bonds as the riders stepped back into the antechamber that would take them back to their boat. The walls shook as the little elevator moved downwards, and Ico threw himself backward, hearing the stone underneath his coffin crumble to dust. The coffin wobbled, then slowly tipped forward out of its little niche and broke open on the stone floor. Ico felt something crunch near his wrists, and flew out of the little coffin. His head hit the hard stones with a tremendous force, and the boy lay still.
The cursed child. That was what they always called him. Though he had a name, no one ever used it. If they spoke of him at all, it was in hushed whispers, calling him only the boy. It was said that in every generation, one child was born for whom every evil could be blamed. Every lost crop, every dead child, every sick animal was ultimately his fault, because of the curse placed on their village. The legends said that this child would be known by the horns that grew from his head, the curving ivory horns, the hideous bull horns.
Every child-bearing mother prayed with all her might that her child would not be the one, but one in every generation was doomed to bear the horned child. This time, the woman had only time to murmur, "His name is Ico," before death claimed her. The boy's father saw the tiny stubs that poked out from the baby's skull, and knew that the misfortunes had already begun. Ico was passed from one reluctant woman to another until he was strong enough to go without a mother's nourishment, and then he was given only enough food to keep from starving. While the people of the village couldn't bring themselves to starve the boy, they secretly hoped that if they did not feed him, perhaps the curse would take itself away and find another vessel, somewhere far away. And how could they pamper the boy who had brought about drought after drought, bad harvest after bad harvest, disease after disease? Ico never meant to cause the horrible things that continued to happen, but he knew that it was an unavoidable effect of the curse.
Yet no matter how poorly they treated him, Ico grew into a strong lad, and the horns on his head steadily grew, curving upwards gracefully. The men of the village eyed these horns warily, eager for the day when they would be fully grown. For when his horns had finished their growth, they would finally be rid of this cursed child. They would be granted a few brief years of reprieve, before the pall of the curse fell on them once more. For Ico, it happened on his twelfth birthday. They bathed him, trimmed his jet-black hair, and dressed him carefully in the customary clothing for such an occurrence: a bright red shirt over his breeches, and the patterned green sacrificial cloth over his shirt. A white bandage wrapped around his head, the horns poking through, and strips of leather wrapped around his wrists. They put new sandals on his feet, told him to stay in the village square, and all hurried inside.
Ico watched as they bolted their doors and closed their shutters, and stood shivering in the chill twilight, rubbing his bare arms. Slowly, the darkness fell and clouds gathered overhead. The moaning wind carried the distant sound of hoofbeats to his ears, and eventually the three riders came into view. The chief rider dismounted, approached Ico, shackled his wrists together, and effortlessly hoisted the boy into the saddle. Remounting, he led the other riders out of the village where Ico had lived his entire life, and began the long journey to the castle.
So what do you think so far? Please review, if you've read this far! The title of this chapter might come across to you as dumb, but I like the idea. You'll see XD