Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Part 8: The Sisters

Following Adam’s death, The Princess Society changed quite a bit. No longer was The Princess just an idle object of fascination. She was a threat, and they realized their research could be a matter of life or death. Very quickly, The Society transformed into the way I knew it, a secret and close-knit community desperately scouring the internet for any new source of information on The Princess.

It’s reasonable to wonder, of course, why research continued at all. If attempts at negotiating with The Princess had been such a disaster, why try? “Establish communication” had always been one of the main goals of The Society, but trying to talk to such a hostile thing seemed incredibly foolish. It did to me, anyway, and I made sure to say as much. As it turns out, however, there was a reason The Society still believed communication was an option.

Shortly after Adam died, when the search for people with information about The Princess had been most intense, The Society came across someone with a very interesting (and very sad) story to tell. You see, years before Adam and Brian’s fateful misadventure, someone had already succeeded where they would fail. Someone had actually established open communication with The Princess.

She was a ten-year-old girl. She was also the first person The Princess ever killed.


Faye was never particularly into video games. She’d give them a try occasionally, but they just never caught her interest the way her books did. Her primary exposure to video games came from her little sister, Ellie, who had kept a Gameboy on her since she was six. Perhaps it was partly her sister’s influence which kept Faye away from video games. Perhaps she considered them “childish” because she associated them with her baby sister.

She would, in time, come to avoid video games for another reason.

On Ellie’s tenth birthday, their parents bought her a brand new Nintendo 64 console and a copy of Banjo-Kazooie. Faye was more than a little jealous. This was more than their parents had ever spend on her birthday presents. Still, she look of sheer glee on Ellie’s face as she tore the console out of the box made it impossible to stay mad. For all she could be a pest, Ellie was too cute to hate.

Ellie played that game religiously. 3D games were still new to her, so progress through the game was slow, but she didn’t care. She was simply amazed by the atmosphere, getting lost in a big 3D world and meeting new characters. Every now and then Ellie would run to Faye with a story about a new world she’d discovered or a scary enemy she’d narrowly escaped. Faye would generally just nod her head and continue to read. It wasn’t until she saw the drawing that she started to take an interest in her sister’s stories.

See, in addition to telling people about the games she was playing, Ellie liked to draw them. She’d made dozens of drawings of her Pokemon team over the last year, and a series of sketches posted above her closet catalogued her adventures in Link’s Awakening. So, when she started playing Banjo-Kazooie, she naturally had to draw a group shot of all the characters. Just as naturally, when she was done, she had to go bug Faye to look at it.

Faye glanced at the drawing long enough to seem interested. It matched the stuff she’d seen while watching Ellie play. There was Banjo, Kazooie, skull man, the witch, that other witch, one of those jinjo things…and a character Faye didn’t recognize. While most of the characters were grouped together in the drawing, one character was off to the side, peeking out from behind a tree. It was a girl, with red hair and a white dress, looking rather out of place.

“Who’s that?”

“That? Oh, her? I dunno. She shows up in the game, sometimes. Not sure what she does, yet. I think she’s an angel.”

“Huh.” Seemed strange, but then again Banjo-Kazooie was a strange game. It didn’t seem unreasonable that there would be an angel character somewhere in there.

As the weeks wore on, Ellie played the game more and more, continuing to draw as she went. Faye noticed, however, that the focus of Ellie's drawings was shifting. The other characters were appearing less and less, and the red-haired angel was becoming more and more central. Equally strange was that, no matter how close Ellie drew her, she never had a face.

Eventually, Faye just had to ask. “So, what does the angel do?”

“She’s not an angel, actually. She’s a princess. She told me.”

“Oh. Well, what does ‘the princess” do?”

“She helps me! She makes the bad guys go away. Also, when there’s a tough jumping part, she can make me fly to the other side. Once she gave me eggs, but I think she gave me too many because the numbers turned into letters and everything started buzzing. It was pretty funny.”

Faye’s eyes were starting to glaze as, to her, Ellie seemed to be launching into another one of her recaps. She quickly tried to change the subject. “Why doesn’t she have a face?”

Ellie looked down at the drawing, as though she hadn’t even noticed. She eventually smiled and said “She’s not done, yet.”

“Oh, okay.” The drawing wasn’t finished. That made sense. Faye decided to make her exit before Ellie could begin another story.

Ellie never drew a face on that picture.

More weeks passed and Ellie was playing the game more and more. Faye was amazed Ellie hadn’t beaten it yet. This was more time than she’d ever put into a game. Her drawings had also stopped featuring anyone but the princess character, and her rate of drawing them was increasing. It seemed like there was a new drawing every time Faye came home from school or from hanging out with friends. Whenever Ellie was playing the game, Faye could hear her speaking quietly to the screen, but she’d stop the moment anyone else entered the room. Faye wasn’t the only one who’d noticed her sister’s odd behavior either. Her mother had mentioned a couple times that Ellie may be playing the game too much.

But, of course, her parents never interfered. Ellie was always the spoiled one, after all.

Eventually, Faye was too concerned to keep her mouth shut. She had to ask Ellie for some answers. It was strange, but she was almost nervous to confront her sister about it. She’d never felt scared or intimidated by her sister before, but something about how obsessed she’d become put Faye on edge.

“Why do you draw the princess so much?”

Ellie didn’t look up from her latest sketch-in-progress, “She says if I draw her, she’ll stop hurting me.”

A chill went down Faye’s back. Hurting her? What the hell kind of video game was this? How was it hurting her?

Ellie looked up and saw Faye’s chilled expression. “Hurting me in the game, silly!”

Faye let out a tentative sigh. She was only slightly relieved, but still just as confused. It was time for more questions. “Okay, if she’s a princess, what is she the princess of?”

“Somewhere else.”

“Somewhere else?”

“She doesn’t like to talk about it. It makes her mad, and when she’s mad she starts hurting me again.”

There was a mild twinge of fear in Ellie's voice as she said this. Even if she was only being hurt in the game, Faye could hear that something about this princess character had Ellie on edge.

“Ellie, it’s just a game. Maybe you should give it a rest, eh?”

“But she’ll be lonely!”

“Just stop playing for a little bit.”

“You’re not Mom! You can’t make me!”

“I’m a caring sister! I just think you’re taking the game too seriously. The princess isn’t real.”

“She is! She is real, and you can’t make me stop!” Ellie grabbed her sketch and stormed out of the room.

After this conversation, Ellie didn’t stop playing. If anything, she played the game more, and started playing at odd hours. Faye, chronic heartburn sufferer, would often wake up in the middle of the night only to hear the faint sounds of the N64 from the upstairs playroom. When not playing, Ellie seemed to avoid Faye, undoubtably remembering their last confrontation. Faye, faced with her sister’s obvious decline into madness…decided it was no longer her problem. She’d tried, and Ellie had refused to listen. So she had a crazy sister who talked to video games. So what?

Her sister, however, decided to bring the problem to her.

Faye awoke to her usual heartburn one evening to find Ellie silhouetted in her doorway. Faye was understandably startled at first but, when she flipped on the light, she saw Ellie had tears in her eyes. She looked absolutely terrified.

“I had a nightmare,” she cried.

It had been years since Ellie had done this. When they were both younger, Ellie used to come to Faye for comfort when she’d had a nightmare. At the very least, Faye got a nice scary story out of the deal. She’d always wondered why Ellie never went to their parents, but in the moment it never seemed right to ask.

Just as they’d done years ago, Ellie toddled up to Faye’s bed, sat at the foot of it, and summarized what it had happened.

“In my dream, The Princess…she showed me where she comes from. It was…it’s bad. It’s weird and scary and it makes her mad when she’s there. It’s like a kingdom, but it’s not. Nothing’s right. Everything’s broken. It’s full of people and things that are all blank like she is, but most of them can’t think right because no one gave them brains…or something. There’s no sky, no water, no grass, no…no…”

Ellie started to cry. This was certainly the most elaborate nightmare Ellie had ever described, much better than “There was a mean-looking jack-in-the-box with a gun!” Faye reached out a hand to comfort her. “It’s alright,” she said in as soothing a manner as she could.

But her hand was pushed away. “It’s not alright!”

“It was just a dream.”

“NO! I think…I think when I’m not playing…The Princess has to go back there! When I’m not playing with her or drawing her, she has to go back. It makes her so mad! I don’t know why it makes her so mad to be there!”

Ellie stood up and headed for the door.

“Ellie? Are…are you going to play the game now?”

“I can’t leave her there!”

“She’s not real!”

“Shut up!”

Ellie slammed the door behind her. It seemed Faye had lost another battle for her sister’s sanity. Her heartburn had calmed, at least. She tried to lay down and return to sleep.

But it wasn’t over.

Apparently, this door slam had been loud enough to wake their mother, who had decided it was finally, finally time for some discipline. At first, Faye just heard some muffled discussion from the playroom. This discussion, however, quickly escalated. Eventually, Faye could hear everything the two of them were saying.

“Elanor-Jane, you go back to bed this instant!”

“Mom, I have to save The Princess!”

“She isn’t real! How many times do I have to tell you video games aren’t real!?”

“But she is real! She’s not just in the game! She’s here! She’s right here! Look!”

“These are just drawings. They aren’t-…Oh…Oh, god. Ellie, did you draw this?”

“See? She’s angry, now! She’s real and you’re making her angry!”

“Ellie, just go to bed.”

“No! I have to help her!”

“Go to bed!”

“Nooo! Nooooooooo!”

The screaming continued down the hall as Ellie was dragged back to her bedroom by her mother. Near as Faye could hear, Ellie was tossed into her room and the door shut behind her. Though faint, she could hear her sister weeping. Occasionally, she would cry out something increasingly incoherent. One particular thing stuck with Faye for years afterwards:

“You’re just like them! They said she wasn’t real! They ruined everything, and you’re just the same!”


This last outburst proved too much for Ellie’s parents to ignore. In the following week Ellie was sent to a psychiatric care specialist. When this specialist found himself unable to “cure” Ellie of her “delusions,” he recommended the use of medication to regulate Ellie’s apparent hallucinations. Faye suspected that the recommendation might not have been entirely ethically-motivated, the relationship between psychiatry and the drug companies being what it is, but one couldn’t argue with the results. Within days of beginning her medication, Ellie’s behavior was like that of a completely different person. No longer loud, shrieking and scribbling everywhere, Ellie became very quiet and withdrawn. Most notably, she didn’t pick up her games anymore. Not even her Gameboy.

After a couple weeks, Faye worked up the courage to ask Ellie if she still believed in The Princess. Ellie considered it, calmly, coldly, before looking back up at her sister and replying “She’s not real.”

And then, one Saturday, Ellie was late for dinner.

Faye and her parents searched all over the house for her, calling her, looking out the windows. She was nowhere to be found. That is, until Faye realized no one had checked the playroom. Why should they have? Ellie never went in there, anymore.

Sitting on a couch, in front of a glowing screen, Faye found her sister. She was dead. Covering her body were bruises, cuts and welts. She had been killed in nearly the exact same way as Adam would be years later, but with one key difference. Unlike with Adam, there was no indication she’d tried to fight back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Part 7: The Fight

As they approached The Princess, all sense of welcome or friendship faded. The music began to distort, the notes becoming more and more drawn out until the soundtrack had become a dull electronic buzz. The textures flickered, and vanished, peeling the walls of the fountain away. The frame rate dropped to what Brian could only assume were single digits. And The Princess herself, once floating majestically above the fountain proper, became tilted at an awkward angle, her left arm vibrating wildly in a way that seemed to mimic the frequency of the horrible, whining music. Sometimes her head would move, too, but in a way Brian found difficult to explain after the fact.

Stepping up onto the pedestal, the game seemed to freeze for a moment. Brian hoped it would. He could tell no good could come of this. He didn’t want to ask The Princess anything. He was ready to pack up and go. Adam, well, Adam had been fairly silent this whole time.

Rather than let them go, the game resumed, presenting them with a text box and a single choice.


No question. No context. Just a choice. Brian stared at the screen, dumbfounded. Was this their first chance at communication? Was The Princess asking them something? Or no, perhaps they were supposed to ask a question. Perhaps they would ask something and The Princess would move the cursor, like a Ouija board. Yes, that was it. This was the-…

Adam selected “Yes,” almost immediately.

“What the hell, man!?”

Adam didn’t respond. The Princess, however, did.

In an instant, Link was screaming. The Princess had, upon being told “Yes,” slammed into him and propelled him backward, dealing a half-heart of damage in the process. She’d moved so fast neither of them had actually seen the attack. Brian nearly jumped out of his seat, but Adam just grimaced. The moment Link got back to his feet, Adam had him draw his sword and charge The Princess.

Link didn’t get far. The moment he neared The Princess, he became paralyzed. The Princess, now behaving like a Redead (scream and all), slowly advanced on the helpless Link. Adam mashed buttons to no avail, and soon The Princess was latched onto Link’s back, draining the life from him. Much as Adam struggled, The Princess would not let go. Also, in a turn Brian found quite disturbing, Link’s textures slowly disappeared while he was being drained. First his head, then his arms, then his body, down slowly until he was a blank white slate.

And with that, Link’s last heart disappeared. He collapsed to the ground, but there was no Game Over music. The camera just focused on Link’s blank white body, The Princess hovering over him. Adam finally broke his silence, not with words, but just a loud, guttural grunt of frustration.

Then, a couple seconds later, Link was up again.

There was no fairy in a bottle, or even animation. Link just stood back up with full health, though still blank white, and gameplay resumed. The Princess, in this instance, moved a few yards away to her original position above the Fairy Fountain. Adam smiled, charging Link at The Princess yet again.

For the next few minutes, Adam struggled to damage The Princess in any way he could. Any time he got close, she would latch onto him and there would be no escape. Link would die, revive, and the fight would start over. Arrows did nothing, the boomerang did nothing, and Nayru’s Love proved no defense. Close range weapons were out of the question, as unlike a Redead, there was no sneaking up on The Princess.

Adam was becoming progressively angrier and more intense with each death. His breathing became heavy, his face slowly contorting with rage. He began to shout at The Princess, calling her horrible things, describing the ways he would punish her the moment he figured out how to hurt her. By Brian’s count there were at least two inventory items Adam was prepared to shove up The Princess’ ass, neither of which were remotely suitable for such a thing. It has been speculated after the fact that Adam might have had some anger issues, and been the type of person who uses video games as means of venting aggression.


“No, there has to be something! There has to be! What haven’t I used?”

“We could just…”

“What haven’t I used!?”


At the very least, bombs got a unique reaction. As Adam hurled a bomb at The Princess, she turned and floated out of the blast radius. Immediately Adam chuckled. He tossed bomb after bomb, The Princess scurrying back and forth to get away. Adam’s intense gaze was replaced by a devilish smile as Brian realized he was herding The Princess into a corner, where she couldn’t escape. One final bomb landed at The Princess’ feet. Her model shuddered, spinning desperately to find a way out, and then…

BOOM! The Princess was face down.

“HA!” Adam shouted. In a moment, Link was set upon The Princess, hacking away with his sword. Each hit, The Princess flashed red, letting out a horrible series of distorted screams. A shower of blood-red particle effects shot out of her body with each slash of the blade, so many particles that game would slow each time, causing the blade to slowly and agonizingly slice through The Princess’ model.

Adam was laughing. He wouldn’t stop. He hammered the attack button as fast as he could. The Princess’ screams were becoming more distorted, more ear-splitting, and yet somehow more real at the same time. Brian says they didn’t sound like screams he’d heard from the game, but with the level of filtering, he admits they could have been just about anything. Either way, he couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed Adam’s shoulder.


Adam violently shrugged Brian’s hand away, looking at him for the first time since they’d started playing.


There was a brief silence, followed by a scream. It was Link screaming. The Princess had stood back up.

Thus began the second “phase” of the fight. The Princess had a new trick this time. If left alone, she would rapidly charge Link and bash him away, as she’d done at the very beginning of the battle. It was still a fairly simple matter for Adam to corral her into a corner with bombs, and then he set upon her again with his sword. Brian just watched in silence, unsure what to think. For all the mystique surrounding The Princess, this was feeling more and more like a standard boss fight.

The third “phase” of the fight caught Adam off guard. Multiple Princesses appeared around Link and formed a close circle around him. While Adam considered which one to attack, one of them rushed Link and knocked him to the ground, taking his last heart away. It was here the two learned that, if Link died and reset, he had to start again from the first phase of the fight. Annoying, but Adam was pumped by now. Brian could see the look of devilish glee on his face. He was loving this.

After a handful of deaths, Adam passed the third phase of the fight. Attacking the “correct” Princess would cause the others to disappear and the Princess to revert to her phase two pattern. How the “correct” Princess was determined seemed random. There was no “tell” or indication, but it seemed like one in every three or so guesses was always correct, even though there were many more doppelgangers.

In the fourth phase, flames began to appear on the ground. The Princess flew in circles around the room, twisting and turning wildly and firing fireballs in all directions. Only a Light Arrow could bring her down, and then there was only a short window to hit her with a bomb before she would take off again.

The fifth phase was like the fourth, only with multiple Princesses. There was no “correct” Princess this time. All of them had to be shot down with Light Arrows and bombed to proceed. On this phase the framerate would begin to suffer and the void surrounding the room would be tinged a flaming red. The music, such as it was, would also become slower and more hitched here.

The sixth phase caused the remaining textures of the room to erupt into a garbled mess of corrupted imagery. The Princess would fly high into the sky and begin dive-bombing Link repeatedly. Between the framerate and the psychedelic textures it was hard for Brian to even see The Princess. Adam remained focused, dodging left and right, finally tricking The Princess into diving into an exploding bomb.

Beyond that, Brian had a very difficult time explaining the phases of the fight to The Society. He recalls there were two more phases after the sixth, or at least two more phases he ever saw Adam reach. In these phases, the framerate and textures were so jumpy that it was impossible for him to tell what was happening. There may have been multiple Princesses, there may have been enemies summoned in at some point, and Brian recalls Adam having to use the Lens of Truth to do…something. This, however, was all he could make out.

As for how Adam could still play, Brian says Adam was in his own little world by this point. He hadn’t said anything since his previous outburst aside from the occasional scream of frustration or chuckle of victory. He was becoming increasingly enraged by his failures and increasingly sadistic in his moments to slash away at The Princess. Adam had figured out, at some point, that The Princess wouldn’t go into her next phase until a certain amount of damage had been dealt to her body, so he’d started purposefully using weaker and weaker weapons on her to draw out these moments as long as possible. He burned her, blew her up, thrashed her with a stick, crushed her with a hammer, and every time she would let out a shriek that sent shivers down Brian’s spine, red particles spraying everywhere.

It was too much.

Brian dove for the Nintendo 64. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to shut off the game. Fuck the tape recorder. Fuck this whole experiment. If The Princess had anything to reveal, it couldn’t possibly be worth it. As he grabbed the power switch, the room suddenly fell silent. The game hadn’t paused. All noise had just stopped. Brian looked up at the screen. It was The Princess, just The Princess, front-and-center on screen, seeming to stare down at him.

“Don’t turn it off.”

It was Adam who said it. Brian looked back to see a knife leveled at him. Adam’s face was cold and grim.

“Just leave.”

Adam stared at Brian, and Brian had no choice but to obey. He grabbed what games he could quickly shove into his backpack and ran out of the room. As he left, he heard the sounds of battle immediately resume behind him.


Adam’s mother found Adam, dead, a few hours later, once she’d returned from work. His body was sprawled over the back of the couch, badly brutalized but still chillingly recognizable.

Investigators found indications of blunt force all over his body, with impact points of varying size and shape. The bones in his arms and legs were heavily fractured, shattered in some places. While the breaking of the legs seemed haphazard and indicated a heavy struggle, the breaking of the arms looked systematic, as though he’d been held down.

In addition to the broken bones, numerous bruise marks indicated that nearly every part of him had been battered to some degree. Only his back was largely spared, as he was likely lying on it during most of the attack. There was also relatively little damage to his head and face, leading to speculation that his attacker wanted him to remain conscious.

Cause of death was determined to be brain damage from a combination of blood loss and suffocation. Several heavy blows to Adam’s chest had cracked the ribcage, crippling his heart and lungs. According to experts, none of the damage dealt to Adam’s body would have been immediately fatal, with time of death estimated at several minutes after the attack. The killer had brutalized Adam, then left him to die of his wounds.

Most puzzling to investigators, however, was Adam’s knife. There was not a drop of blood on it, and no fingerprints but Adam’s. The tip and edge, however, were dulled and slightly bent. It seems that, in an attempt to defend himself, Adam was thrusting the knife against something very, very hard.