Voices of the Shattered Sun – Mephandras

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“Tell us that story again, Roki! The one about the giant bear!”

“Yes please, tell it again!”

“Can you? Please?”

“All right, all right, settle down,” said Roki, folding the quilt and placing it in the oak truck at the foot of the bed. She pushed back a few strands of errant hair from her eyes and took a seat besides the three children. “But you’ve only heard me tell it a few hundred times. Wouldn’t you rather hear about Falstaad the Brave, or Glendi the Pale Bole, or…”

“No no!” cried little Mara. “The bear story again!”

“Yeah!” agree both Yris and Kraston.

“Okay, let’s see…” Roki rubbed her hands together. “How does it start again?”

“When you were a little girl, just as old as me,” Mara said. “You went out into the forest alone, just like Gramma said you don’t!”

“Yeah,” said Kraston, raising his arms in the form of a monster. “And you ran into a pack of vicious, man-eating wolves! They chased you and chased you until they cornered you against a big cliff, and almost ate you!”

Roki nodded.

“That’s right. I was only seven years old, and your gramma had let me go pick avaberries behind her old cabin. But I went too far into the woods and soon heard the howling of the wolves around me. I panicked and started to run, and that’s when they started chasing me towards the cliffs of Falas. Pretty soon there was nowhere else to run, and I kneeled down and shut my eyes just like this.”

Roki covered her eyes with her hands, and the children copied her perfectly.

“And that’s when the giant talking bear showed up!” yelled Yris, the youngest of the three.

“Now remember what I told you before,” Roki said as everyone’s eyes opened again. “The giant bear didn’t speak, exactly. Instead, it tried to show me a picture in my head, as if it were doing the thinking for me. Can you imagine that?”

“It showed you pictures in your head, like a picture book?” Mara asked.

“A bit like that, I suppose. The bear- well, it wasn’t a bear. No bear can grow that size. It was a mephandras, a terrible creature, fifteen foot tall on its hind legs with thick matted hair, scales on its hindlegs and shoulders the size of dinner plates, and teeth and claws like daggers. As the wolves closed in, I heard a loud, mighty roar. For a reason I’ll never know, the mephandras charged in front of me. It was trying to keep me safe.”

“And then it attacked the wolves! Raawwr!” Kraston swiped at the air, bobbing up and down.

“Not exactly,” Roki said. “The wolves attacked first. They leaped onto its back and tried to bite down, but nothing could penetrate its thick hide. It bit their tails and tossed the wolves away like they were dolls made of straw. It wasn’t long before the wolves ran away with their tails between their legs.”

“And the me… memandra didn’t eat you up,” Mara said, very matter-of-factly. “It was a nice bear.”

“It was a very nice bear, that’s right,” Roki said. “When the wolves were gone, it turned around and put its snout right up close to me and sniffed at me. That was when the mephandras put a thought in my head. It was a beautiful image of a quiet spring filled with colorful fish, surrounded by flowering fruit trees and long soft grass. I was scared at first, but the thought put me right at ease. I looked up into its deep red eyes and reached out my hand. Just before I could touch it, to my surprise, another creature appeared from the underbrush…”

“A baby bear!” said Yris.

“That’s right,” Roki said. “The mephandras that saved me was a mama bear. The baby was much smaller than the mama, but still much bigger than me. It came right up to me and started sniffing me… That’s when it found the avaberries in my apron. It licked them right up, and then it licked my face!”

“Eww!” said Mara and Yris, sticking their tongues out.

“Yucky bear spit!” said Kraston.

“That’s right!” Roki said with a smile. “The mama mephandras and her cub walked with me all the way to the edge of the forest and made sure that none of those awful wolves followed after me. I never went that far into the forest again, and that was the last time anyone in this village ever saw a mephandras so far down the mountain. The hunters didn’t believe my story about the mama mephandras at first… That is, until they saw the tracks from the scuffle. They tried to convince me that I was just lucky. But that mama bear saved my life, no matter what the hunters say.”

“The hunters didn’t hunt down the mama mephandras and her baby, though, right Mama?” Kraston asked with concern on his face.

“I don’t know, sweetie. It’s been quite a few years since the hunters have even seen mephandras tracks in the woods. I hope she and her cub are still okay.”

“I know they are!” Mara said, patting her knees with her hands. “If any hunter got close to the mama bear, she’d just roar and they’d all run away.”

“But the hunters have bombs and magick,” Kraston said. “The Guild Hall is made of mephandras bones, remember? They used to hunt them all the time in the old stories.”

“No way,” Mara insisted, folding her arms. “The mama and baby bear are still alive. I just know it.”

“Yeah, me too!” Yris said, copying Mara.

“I think so, too,” Roki said, patting Mara’s head. “If there’s anything that could outsmart those hunters, it would be the mama mephandras. The hunters didn’t get them all, surely. It makes me wonder where the mephandras could have gone.”

 

Basic Information

Anatomy & Morphology

The mephandras (or ursas mephandras) is a omnivorous species of megafauna that looks much like a feral bear covered in thick fur and scales. These quadruped creatures are known for their immense muscular strength and mass, often walking on all fours unless threatened or reaching upwards for a bite of fruit or leaves. Because of their size, the mephandras moves slowly and deliberately, spending up to 20 hours a day eating.

However, when particularly hungry, mephandras have been known to hunt the bighorns and elk that inhabit the rocky crags and deep woods surrounding Falas. When threatened or chasing prey, their speed and ferocity can be terrifying, exceeding 40 mph (64 kph) in a four-legged sprint. Their claws and teeth are long and razor sharp, and the spiked scales on the mephandras’ shoulders, back, and feet ensure few natural weapons can successfully pierce or stab. Their eyes are remarkably crimson red and reflect moonlight in the dark.

Genetics and Reproduction

The mephandras typically mates for life and every mephandras pair will breed every eight to nine years. The exact gestation period is unknown, but it is much longer than other ursas pregnancies. Because of the hard scales and spikes common in both male and female physiology, the act of reproduction is often a loud and violent affair, with entire trees at the site being torn apart and uprooted.

Ecology and Habitats

Native to the high mountain forests of Falas, the mephandras are used to bitter cold winds and climbing frozen crags. Unlike other arboreal bear species of lower altitudes, the mephandras is fiercely territorial. A pair of mated mephandras can “claim” hundreds of square miles, although interactions with other lone or paired mephandras isn’t uncommon. Tearing down trees and clawing at boulders are markers of territory, and the worse the damage, the closer you are to the mephandras den.

As Falas is filled with caves and crevices, you’ll typically find mephandras making their homes inside higher altitude “habitats”; not many mephandras live in the lower-altitude forests for very long. From their caves, they’ll descend into the forests to search and hunt for food, and are known to retreat back to their caves when in danger from hunters.

Dietary Needs and Habits

One of the greatest mysteries of Falas is how it supports (or used to support) its mephandras population. The mephandras is an omnivore, and seems to eat almost anything, from berries and fish to bighorners and roots. They have been known to eat the bark, cones, and needles of pine trees, though not in large enough quantities to completely strip the mountain of pine.

As the mephandras moves slowly to conserve its energy except in times of danger, hunting, or arousal, they are careful eaters, not wasting or giving up anything nutritious. Despite this, no mephandras has ever been seen eating a humil or ashanti corpse. Whether this is due to their understanding of running a risk of retribution if they did so or just a simple aversion to eating humil or ashanti meat is unclear.

Biological Cycle

As the mephandras live in a cold and mountainous environment that experiences little seasonal change, the only biological cycles that occur year-to-year are short periods of hibernation in the coldest months when food is scarce.

Every five to six years, mephandras shed their scales and spikes, allowing new thicker chitin to grow in its place. Discovery of large piles of scale and horn residue is a sure indicator of mephandras territory.

Growth Rate & Stages

Newborn mephandras are hairless and scaleless, emerging from the mother about the size of a large dog. Mephandras litters are typically limited to two or three at a time, and are very dependent on the mother for the first two years of life for milk and protection (mothers can spend up to the first four months of this important period of time without food protecting their young). Mephandras cubs grow very rapidly, their thick fur and scales appearing within six to eight months. At a year old, a mephandras cub is six foot tall and prepared to accompany its mother to the forest to eat roots and berries. At three years of age, a mephandras will leave its mother’s care and search for a mate. The mephandras will usually find a mate at three to seven years of age, and remain with them throughout their entire lifetimes. Lone mephandras are rare but not unheard of.

Oddly, very few mephandras corpses have ever been discovered out in the open, and none have ever been tracked through their entire lives. It is unknown if mephandras can die of old age, leading some superstitious hunters to speculate that the mephandras might be hiding the secret to eternal life somewhere on or inside the Falas Mountains. What is known, however, is that mephandras never stop growing as they age. The oldest and largest mephandras to ever be hunted and killed weighed 22400 lbs (10160 kg) and stood 25 foot 7 inches (or 7.8 meters) tall.

 

Additional Information

Geographic Origin and Distribution

The mephandras was originally located in the forests and mountain ranges of the Falas Mountains in Antiell. This colossal land mammal served as the primary obstacle to the exploration of the Falas Mountain range since humils migrated to the Antielli continent 600 years ago. In recent years, however, no trace of them can be found, leading some hunters to believe that the species has slowly become extinct.

Average Intelligence

A fully-grown mephandras can be expected to have the intelligence of an adolescent humil or ashanti. Many stories have been told, however, of the unpredictable moods of the mephandras, ranging between mad and violent monsters with no sense of morality to peaceful and inquisitive creatures. Few patterns for these behaviors have been linked to sex or age, although one thing has been proven: hunters and poachers looking to separate a nursing mephandras from its young will have quite the fight on their hands.

Perception and Sensory Capabilities

The mephandras has sub-par vision but excellent hearing and sense of smell. What sets it apart from other mammals, however, are its mental abilities. Capable of broadcasting images and subtle feelings into the minds of other lifeforms, the mephandras use a minor form of telepathy to communicate. The images they broadcast vary wildly from mephandras to mephandras, leading some Ashanti researchers to believe it isn’t a rote “language” but an imperfect sharing of memories and thoughts.

For example, if one mephandras implanted the image of a waterfall in someone’s mind, it could hold many meanings: the waterfall could be a place of rest and refreshment, a meaningful landmark, or a place of danger. Context clues are usually the best way to discern the meaning, although some refined mentalists and psykin have been able to feel other currents of emotion beneath the images.

In conflict, the mephandras uses its abilities to flash multiple images in the minds of its enemy to confuse it. To prey such as bighorners and elk, this usually results in hesitation, allowing the mephandras the opportunity to attack. To unwary humil and ashanti hunters, it may cause a stupor of thought for a brief moment. No matter the target, this is a sure sign that an attack is imminent.


 

This was a fun one to write. I honestly did not have the Arzuros from Monster Hunter in mind when I imagined the mephandras, but it works just so well. I have plans to make them meaningful to the second act of Alyssum, so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t know if worldbuilding or just writing is more important to me at this point, because I want to get it all out of me.

Either way, if you want to read more about Voices of the Shattered Sun or Alyssum, check out my World Anvil page! I include more information in spoiler tags if you want to get a hint about what’s developing behind the scenes. I know, spoilers for most people are bad. But I’m a writer and want to know how things are built more than I care to read the story from beginning to end.

Backstage Tales – Connecting the Past to the Present

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I am a packrat.

Not as bad as I used to be, mind you – when you’re in college, you tend to want to travel as lightly as possible (although that didn’t stop me from loading a few plastic bins full of books and knick-knacks until the boxes fell apart from the sheer weight). I have a really hard time parting with things that may have a low material value but a high emotional value, something into which I’ve placed a memory of a specific time and place. Among these things include a piece of obsidian in the shape of an egg that my dad got me from a rock store when I was little, the beaten-up instruction manuals for Warcraft 2 and Diablo 2 I used to read again and again, and my tiny, no-longer-functioning Playstation One Mini with a broken CD tray lid that I got bought from a pawn shop when I was ten or eleven along with a beaten-up but functional 4-disk copy of Final Fantasy VIII (yes, that was my first FF title, and I LOVE it).

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It looked a little like this. Classic.

Despite this, you might think I’ve grown pretty callous to some of these precious memory-objects. The very first piece of cosplay I’d ever put together was a Master Chief helmet from Halo 2, made pepakura-style with paper and slathered with plaster and spray paint. It hurts to put on, it fogs up immediately, and quite honestly, I’m not that big into Halo; if I’m not mistaken, that’s just the kind of project an early 2000’s teenage boy does. Ashamed of the attempt, I tried to throw it away, but my dad fished it out of the garbage and demanded I keep it. My skills have developed since this first helmet, but I see now how it’s a good idea to hang on to your early work if only to help remind yourself of how far you’ve come.

When I look at a particular piece of pottery I made in junior high that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator at home for many years, I try to remember what was going through my head when I assembled it. It has strange carvings and symbols that make it feel like it should have a lot more meaning than it actually does. I haven’t sculpted with water-based clay for many years, and wish I could spend a few hours making clay boxes and pots in a non-graded environment again. I remember my ceramics teacher (whose name I no longer recall) had an impressive collection of glazes to choose from, and they honestly made my work stand out.

Something I think I’ll regret until my dying day is losing my earliest writings and stories.  On my dad’s Power Macintosh, I would write fantastic stories about airship mechanics and giants and magic and what I thought was deftly written political intrigue. I would write dialogue that in hindsight sounded terribly hammy and over-the-top. I would have idea after idea, and start story after story, and it would always involve the same characters with different names, over and over, just a little different than before. I would let the Macintosh’s text-to-speech tell me my stories so I could hear them out loud, but I would turn it off the moment mom or dad came into the room. I don’t think I’d even shown them any of my writing until I was at college level simply because I was too afraid of what they would think of the things that came spewing forth from my head.

Hopefully they still exist in that old machine.

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Yup, just like this one. Classic.

It was from one of those stories that Aeo and Leon became characters, although in their original forms, Aeo had an older brother who cared for him, and Leon was a much younger gentleman than he is in Alyssum.

Do you hang on to anything from your early days that reminds you of better times? Maybe some things remind you of a time you’d sooner forget, but you can’t seem to throw it in the trash because of the psychological attachment you’ve created with it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with memory-objects. Not everything deserves the honorary title of “keepsake” or “family treasure”, but everything from old articles of clothing to files on an old Power Macintosh computer can stand as early mile markers on your journey. Some of these objects can trigger good memories, some can dredge up some really bad ones, and some took a lot of time to create or purchase.

Even names can hold special meaning for us. Supreme Leader Snoke may have insisted that they weren’t Sith in the latest Star Wars movie, but Kylo Ren had at one time been Ben Solo just like Darth Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker. Fortunately, I doubt most people change their names to go to the Dark Side. In real life, many transgender people change their names to reflect their new personal identities, and I can understand the desire to leave behind who they once were. Although I can’t find it now, I did recently read an AskReddit thread about the reasons people change their full names, and many people mentioned the Jewish tradition of taking on a new name after overcoming a serious illness or personal tragedy. Some who attempt to commit suicide set down their old names and pick up a new one as a way to dedicate themselves to a more hopeful and meaningful future.

To change gears here just a bit, I’ve been thinking about the connection to the past we all have and how we make choices based on our past experiences. The choices we make in our daily lives have to come from somewhere. Whether our choices are defined by the decisions our parents or our siblings made, or from the circumstances from which we were raised (good or bad, rich or poor, religious or not), the choices we make in the present and the destinations we’ll reach in the future are at least in some small way dictated by the past. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” after all, socially, consequentially, or chronologically. My past is made up of both voluntary and involuntary consequences. For example, on one hand, my very involuntary bipolar depression condition is hereditary, and has greatly affected the choices I’ve made. On the other, I am not fully defined by my limitations; my voluntary decisions to develop my writing abilities despite the difficulties in doing so has led me to employment opportunities where I can use my skills to serve others.

I am ruled by my upbringing as well. The choices I make reflect both the voluntary and the involuntary nature of my past. Anyone can attempt to ignore parentage and upbringing, but they have an effect regardless in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Even if I wanted to, could I separate myself from my past so thoroughly that I could act independently of any parental or generational interference? Without my memories or upbringing, for all intents and purposes, would I be a different person? Would that person be a better one than the one I am now because of the complete separation from a biased past? More or less capable of compassion? More or less detached from taking personal responsibility? More confident or arrogant? More self-conscious or mentally stable? Or just as capable?

What happens to that person when every connection they have to the past is suddenly cut? And what happens when an entire society of people suddenly forget something very important from their past in a single instance?

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Yes, two quotes in one article. Fancy.

For Voices of the Shattered Sun, I’m trying to work out two things that I don’t quite know how to deal with: what happens when a frightened slave boy is suddenly given nearly unlimited power over his captors, and what happens to a nation that collectively forgets everything it used to know about the war it fought with its fatherland.

The first one I can develop with time: Aeo is determined to not let his past define his future. Needless to say, Aeo had a name before he became a slave. Will he take on his birth name and forget his slave name, choosing to become someone entirely different? Or will he forge his own reality and refuse both his birth and his circumstances? I haven’t determined the complete circumstances surrounding it yet, but something is going to happen to Aeo (whether in Alyssum or one of the future connecting novelettes) that will cause his memories to be severed (think Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and what happened to Sora). Let’s just say that the Wound in Tiathys is more than just a hole in the ground, and Aeo is going to fall into it. The Wound is more like a hole in reality and time itself. No one ever comes back from the Wound because technically… no one’s ever fallen in. And if they had, they never were. Got it? *wink wink*

The second is a little tricky: what kind of event would be terrible and soul-crushing enough to make a royal power-hungry despot go from “fire every weapon of mass destruction we have at those bastards” to “we need to stop, bury this deep, and forget it even happened”? How would a nation even collectively forget such an event without waving a magic wand and suddenly it just happened (because that feels like a cop out). Answer: I don’t think it can happen without a very specific magic wand. What if the memory of that event were so destructive and so pervasive, the mental and psychological pain of the event would be passed down genetically through the generations of the men and women that witnessed it, waiting only for the right physical trigger to release or even spread devastating pain? Would that trigger be a word, a phrase, a sight, a sound, a scent, or…

…a flower?

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Ooooh.

*ahem* Pardon me. I just had an “ah-ha” moment. Seems I have some writing to do. What if psychometry weren’t a blessing, but a well-designed and very lethal poison? Who designed it, and for what purpose? Or, worse yet, is it just a natural phenomenon that happens to kill people with particularly painful past experiences? For those interested in the subject, check out the superpower wiki on psychometry as well as the TV Tropes page on the same subject.

Ooh, hee-hee, plans are brewing.

Names are symbols. Objects can trigger memories. There’s a reason a lot of story protagonists have meaningful names and carry or hunt for McGuffins. Some things I’ve been writing and some things that happened over the weekend got me thinking about the kinds of memories we place in objects, the choices we make, and how the past defines our present and our future, both good and bad.

But what did we really learn? That I can philosophize and type frantically on a keyboard. YAAAAY!!

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Backstage Tales – The Toymaker

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Fallout 4 is, naturally, one of my favorite games to come out in a very long time. If you expect violence in a game about surviving a radiation-filled post-apocalyptic world, then you wouldn’t be disappointed. After all, when grenades are handed out like candy and shoulder-mounted nuclear catapults are stashed just minutes away at your local National Guard depot, there’s gonna be explosions and flying body parts in your immediate future (possibly even your own!). But that’s not the reason I play Fallout 4, or why I enjoy games made by Bethesda Softworks in general. While gameplay and the explosions are simply fantastic for a modern role-playing game, I love to analyze works of gaming by their writing and the stories represented in them.

Fallout 4 (as well as it’s previous titles) revolve around family. You, the player, take the role of a young mom and dad living in the suburbs of Boston in the year 2077, you’re currently living a quiet life. Taking walks in the park, watching your brand-new black-and-white television, and taking care of your six-month old son Shaun… You know, life as usual. The social unrest in other parts of the United States seem distant, and the ongoing war with China is half a world away.

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Ah, Codsworth. You’re so handy.

That is, until the nuclear bombs fall. No one knows whether the Chinese or the US launched the first missiles, but it hardly matters — mutually-assured destruction is the name of the game. You, your spouse, and your young son rush off to the safety of Vault 111, where you’ll be able to wait out the horrors of total nuclear annihilation. Though terrible circumstances, you become the only survivor, the Sole Survivor, of Vault 111.

That’s the story you experience as the player of Fallout 4. But there’s another story that really reached my heart further along.

In downtown Boston is a small administration building surrounded by the larger skyscrapers of the city. This building used to be the corporate headquarters of Wilson Automatoys, a pre-war company in the business of creating modern nuclear-powered toys for children. Their biggest seller is the Giddy-up Buttercup, a mechanical horse that’s perfect for any little girl — after all, there’s not a girl in the world who didn’t ask their parents at one time or another for their own pony! And it’s priced at an affordable $16,000!

The creator of these toys is a man named Arlen Glass. As a successful toymaker, he spent many years of his working life at Wilson Automatoys. The inspiration for the Giddy-up Buttercup had come from his daughter, Marlene. And although it’s not stated, I like to imagine Arlen had made the very first prototype of the horse just for her.

Arlen worked hard. Too hard, in fact. Wrapped up in improving and designing his creations, he hardly set aside time to see his wife Cheryl and their young daughter. One too many nights at the office, he didn’t call, he forgot groceries. He even forgot Marlene’s seventh birthday party. Despite this, Marlene love her father, and created a holotape especially for him sharing her love and asking him to come home.

Cheryl: Go ahead.

Marlene: Hi daddy! When are you coming home? You work too much. I want you to read to me again. Mommy says you’re helping all the horsies find good homes. Take care of them, ok? I love you. Hmm? Oh, Buttercup says she loves you too. We miss you. Come home soon!

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The Wilson Automatoys Building, circa 2287

But no matter how hard you work, you know politics isn’t far behind you in a large company like Wilson Automatoys. Arlen’s perfectionism in his designs began to erode the patience of the brand-new president of the company, Marc Wilson. You see, he inherited Wilson Automatoys from his father, and apparently wasn’t too keen on running a simple toy factory. Not only were the sales of Giddy-up Buttercup dropping due to the poor financial state of the US, the pressure of the government on companies to aid in the war effort in China had afforded Marc a golden opportunity: Project SCYTHE. Instead of making toys, the company would instead manufacture landmines at their factory just outside Boston. From children’s toys to weapons of war… Anything to make money, right?

Marc was one of the few people who knew about the project. At first. Somehow, word reached Arlen’s ears, and he was understandably furious. At the next company board meeting, Arlen called Marc out in front of everyone for steering the company so far from its original intent. Some stood with Arlen. Most didn’t. In response, Marc fired Arlen outright. Security escorted Arlen out of the building immediately, and advised him to never come back.

Marc: Damn it Nate, where are you? After today’s meeting, it’s going to take a miracle to salvage the SCYTHE contract. And you decide to take the evening off? Look, I wanted to keep the old man (Arlen) out of it. But what could I do? He called me out in front of the board! I had to fire him! Where do you stand, Nate? Are you with me, or with him? I want you in my office Monday at nine sharp. We can discuss the contract, or we can discuss your resignation. It’s up to you.

Instead of abandoning his life’s work, Arlen went back the next day to try to speak to Marc, maybe change his mind about the project.

But that day was the end of the world.

When a nuclear bomb fell just miles away from downtown, the city immediately became an ocean of fire and chaos. Arlen tried to make his way back home, but by the time he’d arrived, his home was nothing more than a crater.

He never saw Cheryl or Marlene again. In the deepest despair, he curled up in the ruins of his home and waited for the radiation to end his life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Instead of dying, the radiation turned him into a ghoul. You see, in the Fallout world, if some poor soul is exposed to the right dose of radiation, it melts the skin and cartilage (meaning you lose your nose and ears, among other things), but grants an immunity from radiation and an unusually long lifespan. Perhaps immortality, in fact.

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The man (or ghoul) himself.

For over 200 years, Arlen lived as a broken shell of a man, wandering across the dangerous wasteland. One day, he discovered a new community outside Boston made of ghouls and humans called the Slog, and decided to take up residence, making toys for children that visited the settlement. After all that time, his work continued to be the only way he could get away from his past.

And that’s when the Sole Survivor (you, the player) comes into the picture. After exploring the ruins of Wilson Automatoys, you come across the holotape Marlene left for her father all those centuries ago. Then by absolute chance, the Survivor meets Arlen Glass, recognizes his name as the once-famous toymaker, and gives him the holotape. Arlen plays it, and gasps in tearful awe, hearing the voice of his daughter and wife for the first time in 210 years.

Arlen: It’s… been so long. I never thought I’d hear their voices again. You can’t imagine what this means to me.

She was right, you know. I did work too much. And now… I’ll never hear her voice again. I’ll never get to hold her. Kiss her goodnight. All I have left are the memories. And… this tape.

From one parent to another… Thank you.

As a parting gift, Arlen presented the Survivor with the present he could never give his daughter for her birthday: a small Giddyup Buttercup toy.

Normally this is where the sad story and the quest line ends. Later I learned that Arlen is supposed to make a solitary journey back to where his home once stood to say a final goodbye to Cheryl and Marlene.

But he didn’t get the chance in my game.

After giving Arlen the holotape, I went about exploring the wasteland, killing raiders, helping caravans and settlements, you know… the usual hero Minuteman stuff. One day, I returned to the Slog to see if I could help assist in building up the community. But the moment I approach, I hear gunfire. The Slog was under attack by raiders.

I grabbed my plasma pistol. My companion and I rush into battle, vaporizing the bad guys left and right. After just a minute of intensity, the battle was over. The Slog was saved.

But there was a single casualty laying on the ground in front of the workshop.

Arlen.

I paused the game and thought for a moment. I could reload the game, and he’d be alive again. I could use cheats to bring him back to life, and I could go on with the game as if nothing had changed. He was only an NPC in a game, after all.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I thought about how much Arlen had suffered though his life. Losing himself in his work. Missing his daughter’s birthday. Surviving through atomic fire when the ones he loved didn’t. Wanting to die, but living for centuries with nothing but memories and his work to sustain him. Then, through this chain of random happenstance, after a complete stranger discovered an undamaged holotape in a super-mutant-filled toy factory and chanced upon the Slog, giving him a chance to hear the voice of his long-dead wife and daughter one last time…

A stray bullet took his life.

But maybe, just maybe, he finally reunited with Marlene and Cheryl in a better place.

That’s my headcanon for Arlen. That’s why I play Fallout and Bethesda games. While some of their stories are hit and miss, it’s the connections of those stories to incidents of gameplay that make moments special. The Fallout world may be uncaring and dark, but human connections of love endure through the radiation.