Author's note: The first thing I ever heard about the game Eversion was that it was a platformer with a distinctly Lovecraftian vibe. After seeing a number of play-throughs, I decided to take the Lovecraft vibe and run with it, hopefully resulting in a story with a decently substantial plot beyond "Save the princess and maybe go insane". Here is what resulted.
From the time of my youth, my mentor, one Cornelius Danver, had spoken to me of the layers of existence that underlie what we perceive to be reality, and had endeavored to study and explore these layers in their entirety, with the possible goal of uncovering the darkest and furthest truths of the universe. When I was twenty years old, he vanished under unclear circumstances, and as his only known next of kin I was fortunate enough to inherit his entire estate, which brought with it a voluminous library of books, many of which he had written as journals of his own studies. Before his disappearance I'd had only a passing interest in the substance of his studies, though everyone else in the small town we called home thought him a madman who needed to be locked up for everyone's safety. For this reason I told no-one of what I'd discovered in these eldritch tomes, which oft spake of the under-layers as one might speak of the layers of Heaven or the circles of Hell.
In fact, I was attempting to decipher one such journal, a well-worn, dog-eared notebook whose pages had started to yellow with age, so that I might transcribe its knowledge in a clearer format as a permanent record, when I heard a sharp, loud rapping at the front door. I secreted away the notebook and my own notes and trotted down the stairs to answer.
My caller, as it turned out, wore the armor and the blue-and-gold livery of the Royal Guard.
"Cornelius Danver?" he asked, peering at me closely.
"I'm afraid not," I replied. "I haven't seen him in over a year. Perhaps I can help you?"
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Zachariah Turnbull," said I. "I was his apprentice."
"In that case, I need you to come with me. His Majesty the King wishes an audience with you."
"On that matter?" I asked.
"His daughter has disappeared."
This statement gave me pause. It was well-known throughout the land that Princess Nehema was the only child of King Verity and Queen Prudence, born only after a long struggle with infertility and the consultation of many witches, healers, and sorcerers. I knew not the circumstances surrounding their ultimate success, only that some time before the birth of Nehema, the Queen had withdrawn from the public eye. Whereas before she had freely entertained guests are lavish parties and galas at the palace, afterwards it was as though she had simply faded from existence. Princess Nehema, meanwhile, had grown to be the most beautiful young woman in the land, sought after by suitors who traveled hundreds of miles for the simple pleasure of looking upon her face or hearing her voice.
I had likewise admired Nehema from afar, but I had never put in my name as a potential suitor; I had been too busy with my studies under Danver. However, if my assistance was requested in recovering her, who was I to decline?
"I will need to gather a few things," I said. "And then I will go with you."
"Be quick about it," the guard said. "His Majesty is not to be kept waiting."
I gathered my boots and overcoat, and after some consideration I added some basic traveling supplies, as well as the notebook I had been decoding, which I hid away in a deep pocket. When I came outside, I found that there were a further five Royal Guards waiting for me, in addition to their designated spokesman. They all looked to be on edge, and no wonder - Nehema was the only child of the King and Queen, and in the absence of a son she would be expected to marry and carry on the family line. I took the time to lock up, for I did not know how long I would be gone, and went with the phalanx of guards.
An hour later saw us in the shadow of the Royal Palace. Carved as it was from blocks of marble that, when they were new, must have been the purest white, age and weather had not been kind to it, leaving the stones every bit as stable but now a cadaverous gray, broken only in places by the cobalt pendants bearing the royal coat of arms, a great fleur-de-lis rendered in gold. We entered without challenge, and I was bustled in through the labyrinthine hallways to the great meeting-hall where I was to speak with the King. When I entered, propelled with a less-than-gentle shove by a guard I did not see - nor would my situation have been greatly helped by noting the man's face for later reprisals - I saw to my surprise that the Queen was there as well, sitting at her husband's right hand near the head of a long dining table that in happier times could have seated more than fifty esteemed guests. Currently, however, I was the only guest, esteemed or otherwise, that currently graced this elegant meeting-hall.
I looked to Queen Prudence, whose expression was distant and detached, as though she had only the most rudimentary awareness of her surroundings, and otherwise had a china doll's posture of enforced perfection, a straightness of spine borne of training and turned into unconscious habit. Her hair was black, shot with startling shocks of white without so much as a whisper of gray, and her expressionless face bore more lines and crevices than it ought to. Her hands were thin and bony and resembled vein-riddled and mottled spiders, and her clothing hung upon her slight frame as though they had originally been crafted for a woman fifteen or twenty pounds stouter. The overall effect of her appearance was that in her daughter's eighteen years the Queen had experienced fifty or more.
By contrast, King Verity had a look of unbearable alertness upon his stony face, which I judged to be caused in equal parts by parental concern for the well-being of Nehema, and too many nights spent with too little sleep as a result of same. Sleep would not come to him for a long time, his face seemed to say, so it behooved him to travel as far as he could in the opposite direction from sleep in order to prolong the inevitable descent into exhaustion that would certainly come. Aside from this, his beard was expertly trimmed with the precision of a carpenter's level, and his gray eyes were fixed upon me in what was not quite a silent plea.
"I was expecting an older man," he said, by way of greeting.
"Master Cornelius was not available, Your Majesty," I informed him with a respectful bow. "I am his apprentice."
"What is your name, then?"
"Zachariah Turnbull, Your Majesty."
"And what has been your experience regarding his field, Mr. Turnbull?"
"I have been translating and transcribing his notebooks, Your Majesty. I believe I have a fair grasp on the topics he was studying."
Verity nodded slowly to himself. "How much do you know about the current situation?"
"Only that Her Highness the Princess Nehema has gone missing," I said, "And that you believe I can help recover her. Beyond that, nothing."
"Please sit, Mr. Turnbull," Verity said. "Food and drink will be along shortly. We can eat while I explain the matter to you."
I nodded and sat at the table. Shortly thereafter, a small army of servants brought in what would have been a modest meal in such a palatial setting, but which to me was a veritable feast - fowl, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, honeyed bread, and red wine. At Verity's nod I tucked into the food, taking care to temper my sudden ravenous hunger with what I knew of courtly manners, which I soon realized was precious little. Verity did not appear to notice or mind.
"Nehema is very dear to me," Verity said as I demolished the food. "Her birth was a hard-won miracle. We called in every resource available when it appeared that Prudence could not conceive. You cannot conceive of the agony we both felt - we both wanted children so badly, and not simply to guarantee the continuation of the royal line." He paused introspectively, appearing to sort through his thoughts and carefully weigh what he said next. "Two weeks after we had exhausted every healer and expert in the land, Prudence came to me and told me that she had begged another favor in order to help us gain the child we had so badly wanted." His expression hardened, and then grew mournful. "She had asked for help from the Fairies."
I had been in the process of swallowing a bite of food at this pronouncement, and at that moment it caught in my throat. I took a drink of wine, which had been sweet and delicious before but now seemed to have turned to vinegar against my tongue. Consulting the Fairies for help in such matters was beyond dangerous, but clearly Her Majesty's decision was borne of sheer desperation. I said nothing, waiting for him to go on.
"Nehema was conceived that night, but Prudence did not tell me the price until the following morning - that if our child was not married by her eighteenth birthday, that she would be taken to the heart of Fairy, never to return. Those were the last words Prudence ever spoke, to anyone. She has been silent these past eighteen years."
It was then that I understood the frantic search for a proper suitor for the princess-but by all accounts she could not find anyone she liked amongst the hordes of princes and nobles and hopeless romantics that had surged to the land to try to charm her. She had rejected every single one of her hopeful husbands-to-be-and thus sealed her own fate.
"What can I do to help?" I asked.
"Your mentor studied the eldritch art of eversion," Verity said. "I am given to understand that, which difficult and requiring much study, this can allow one to travel through the layers of reality, even into such places as Fairy, and from there possibly into its heart."
He leaned forward anxiously. "How extensively have you studied his notes? Can you travel into Fairy and rescue my daughter?"
"I... believe so," I ventured. I had become intimately familiar with Danver's notes on eversion, and while it was not exactly a simple matter to execute, there were certain points in the world where eversion was easier than others - and if I could find the right point to enter Fairy...
"the journey will not be easy," came a hollow female voice - and to my shock I realized that the Queen had spoken. To judge by Verity's expression, he was just as stunned as I.
I turned to the Queen. "Your Majesty," I said, inclining my head in acknowledgement. "What do you know of this task?"
She likewise turned and looked at me. Her eyes were sunken in their sockets, marked with purple circles the color of bruises. The skin of her face was sallow and nearly translucent.
"going into fairy by any means will be dangerous," she said, in that same hollow, inflectionless voice. "you will not be able to trust your senses. what appears to be cheerful and friendly can instead be as deadly as a knife. even if you reach your goal, you may discover too late that it is the last thing you ever wanted to acquire. you will be offered food and riches to turn you from your quest-accept nothing from them, not even the smallest crumb of food, or you, too, will be lost."
I shivered at the sound of her voice; it sounded as lifeless as the echoes of a tomb.
"I… I understand, Your Majesty." I forced down another swallow of wine, unease coiling like a serpent around my stomach.
"If and when you return with Nehema," King Verity spoke up hastily, as though eager to counteract the sepulchral tones of his wife, "You shall be rewarded handsomely. Gold, jewels, even my daughter's hand in marriage."
I inclined my head respectfully, though the thought of marrying the beautiful princess set my heart to pounding. "You are most generous, Your Majesty."
"Now, finish your meal, and of course let us know if you will require anything for your journey."
"Of course, Your Majesty," I said. I endeavored to finish my meal, though the growing realization that soon I would likely be following in my master's umbral footsteps set my stomach to fluttering with nerves.
When I had finished, King Verity and Queen Prudence saw me off, directing me towards the road to the forest where the fairies were said to dwell. There, I hoped, I would find the first eversion point where I might enter the mysterious realm of Fairy, but I hesitated, checking over my supplies one last time. I realized that I had forgotten to request what may very well have been the most important item I would need on my quest, and I turned back to the King and Queen.
"With respect, Your Majesties," I said, bowing, "But may I have an image of Princess Nehema to keep with me on my journey? It may help me stay focused during the eversions."
The royal couple exchanged a glance, and as though Queen Prudence had been expecting just such a request, she withdrew a framed woodcut of Nehema from the bodice of her gown. I stepped forward and took it, but she seized my wrist in an iron-hard grip and leaned in to whisper in my ear.
"beware," she hissed, in that same toneless voice. "the universe holds beings far worse than Fairies, and fates far worse than death. i regret every day that i called for that favor. be watchful, so that the innermost layers do not consume you utterly."
With that, she released me, and I stepped back with the woodcut. My nerves were drawn tighter than ever before at her last words, but I was determined to see my quest through. I looked at the woodcut, and Nehema's entrancing face peered back at me. This, then, would be my anchor, my strength - the promise of seeing her in person when I finally found her and rescued her from whatever imprisonment currently held her.
I bowed to the King and Queen one last time and turned back to the forest. A narrow footpath led into the shade of the trees, and so I set off, following it. As I walked, I opened Danver's journal and consulted its pages for identifying eversion points.
Eversion points [it read] occur in places where the fabric between layers is especially thin. the trained observer can indentify these places if he knows what to look for-flickers of color where there ought be none, a change in temperature, or even disembodied sounds that have no certain origin. A disjointed feeling will invariably accompany these flickers of reality, as the observer is momentarily disoriented by this glimpse into the next world.
Once such a point is located and identified, the method for stepping through this point is simple - so simple, in fact, that people have been known to stumble through an eversion point without knowing it, only to become lost for years in a foreign layer of reality, and return invariably altered by their experience.
I considered these words at length, taking slow, measured steps along the path. I was aware that the sounds I'd expected to be associated with an old-growth forest like this - bird-songs, crickets, the cries of any number of animals - were entirely absent, leaving behind only the soft sussurration of the cool wind through the leaves of the trees around me
I shivered, but forced myself to keep walking. I strained my sight and hearing for any of the signs that Danver's journal indicated, uncertain if I would find them at all along the path. If I couldn't, the chances of finding Princess Nehema could very well be dashed before I even properly started.
Then I perceived-for just an instant - a flicker of another world. Bright colors dashed across my retinas like fleeing birds, accompanied by a ghostly whisper of beautiful, jocular music - singing and instruments alike. The flicker was gone almost before I had a chance to notice it, but I was sufficiently alert to catch it. I took a careful half-step back along my own path - and there it was again, as substantial as a drop of water, that bare glimpse into the next layer. I stopped where I was, excited by my discovery, and leafed through the journal for instructions on how best to address the eversion point. To my disappointment, I found none, but recalled his note that people have been known to fall through such points by accident.
My breath came in tight gasps as I considered my options. I willed myself to be calm, however. This was no time to lose my head. I closed my eyes, willing my mind into a state of stillness, and very carefully stepped sideways.
I felt the world around me turn inside out...
End Part 1.