It's gone on for long enough. The truth must come out. No secret lasts forever.
This is a story that must begin at the end. On June 3, 2009, a group of friends, brought together by a quest to uncover one of the great mysteries in gaming met the worst fate imaginable. They found what they were looking for. Within a little over a week, two were dead. Another was insane.
The remaining five agreed never to tell anyone what they had found. Each would go their separate ways, never to meet or even speak to one another again. They spread a campaign of disinformation in their wake, a combined effort that would ensure that no one else would ever follow in their footsteps, no one would look, and the truth would never again be found.
The Cover UpEdit
The game was Shadow of the Colossus, for the PS2. Still a hot topic back then, a small but enthusiastic group of fans had gathered over rumours of a "Last Big Secret", hinted at by one of the developers. It was a fairly tight-knit community, driven by a single goal. The five, or perhaps it is better to say the eight of them, had been right at its heart.
After they learned the truth of the "secret", it wasn't hard to drive a wedge. Hints were dropped that the three missing members had simply lost interest in a futile quest. Dead end leads and red herrings were seeded. Some simply sowed the seeds of pessimism, or called the awareness of the developers over what players had and had not found into question. It hurt them to lie to the others. Though not as close as their own group, they had been friends, almost like a family in some ways. Still, it had to be done. No one should ever have found the secret, and it was important that no one ever find it again. It was for everyone's sake.
A Fatal MistakeEdit
Their plan might have worked. The truth might have stayed buried, they weren't as clever as they thought they were. People were saying that the secret was an area, the "secret garden", even before they started. It must have seemed obvious to support this conclusion, and let people think that the secret was already known. No one looks for things that are already found, after all. Maybe the fear had clouded their memory, or maybe it was that the search took them years. Otherwise, they might have remembered that theory had been disproven even before they started looking.
As it happened, someone noticed.
They were careful. Rather than calling out the poster, they examined their history. They saw when the change happened, looked for other changes around the same time. It didn't take long to realize something was wrong. When they made their challenge, it wasn't to the one who made the mistake. It was to a different member of the group, one who'd shown that they were the weakest link. Sure enough, they caved. What they told the interrogator was unexpected though. It was a story of friendship, determination, and tragedy, ending on a warm night in June all those years ago, when eight gamers found their virtual world led straight to the gates of hell.
The Truth Must Be ToldEdit
Sooner or later, other people would see past the lies. They would realize that the Secret was being hidden from them. What they wouldn't know is why. So they'd seek it out themselves. The clues aren't hidden. Something like that was beyond what the five could do. Their only hope was that people would forget...and it failed. Only one option remains. Consider this a warning. The truth about a secret you should never try to learn, because some things are better left forgotten. This is the truth.
Names aren't important, but people need to know who this story is about. That way they can feel something, and try to understand. So, names have to be given. Not real names, but names for reference to try to relate to. There was "Gabe", the young enthusiastic one. He didn't have many skills, but he was willing to try anything, and had plenty of time. "Marco" was the pessimist, quick to point out a flaw in any idea, but when he thought something would work, people listened. By and large, the leader was "Andy". He claimed to have a background in game design, and knew a little about coding. Then there was "Kaitlyn", the self-proclaimed "nerdy girl". Everyone liked her. "Dale" and "Victor" were brothers, and the rich kids of the group. They made it sound like their parents bought them two of everything, and even though they got kept busy with school work a lot, their ability to test things side-by-side was a godsend. Then there was "Lindsey"...the "mother" of the group. She used to be Andy's online girlfriend, but stuck around because she got genuinely interested, and ended up being the glue that kept them all together. The last one was "Hiro". He might have been Japanese. He never really opened up to the others, but he had a knack for noticing minor details everyone else would miss.
It started with Andy, Lindsey and Marco. Or really just Andy and Marco. Lindsey pretended to be interested, and she'd come up with an idea now and then, but she didn't really take an interest until later. For a long time the pattern was pretty set. Andy would suggest an idea, or rarely Lindsey, and Marco would shoot it down. Or, sometimes he wouldn't, and they'd try it, but find nothing. A lot of the time they found themselves going in circles. They were trying to figure out the "resonance of intersecting points" from the introduction, but they really didn't have much to go on. Other people were looking for the same thing and covering the same ground. It looked like a dead end. That was when they met Gabe.
Gabe might not have been the first one to notice some of the more obscure points in the game, but he was the first person to notice Andy and Marco. It started innocently enough, with a question. Had they noticed that if you killed one of the doves that showed up after a colossus was slain, it stayed dead? He had other ideas too, and things he'd seen. Shadow of the Colossus was his favourite game, and he played it all the time, just wandering the landscape and looking for things. They might have thought he was a little naive, but he brought a new perspective, and he was willing to follow up on anything Andy could throw at him, or anything he came up with himself. It was easier than arguing with Marco all the time.
Gabe even brought in more help. The two brothers, Dale and Victor, went to his school. They didn't have much time, but Dale was friends with Gabe, and he'd convinced them to have their parents give them the game for Christmas. With two copies and two systems, they could do something the others couldn't, and test things side-by side. That was when the group really started making progress. Of course, the brothers weren't available all the time. Their parents expected a lot of them, especially Victor, who was already in high school. Sometimes the two would fight. It was slow going. However, they made enough headway to get the attention of Kaitlyn. She was a huge Ico fangirl, and could recognize a reference a mile off. When she joined the team she made a huge buzz about possible connections to the original princess and being able to get to the castle off in the distance. It never went anywhere. What she brought was more important than that. If tempers flared, she'd crack a joke. When Marco was getting down on everyone about it being pointless, she could give a "think of the possibilities" speech, and even he had to admit to being excited.
Even Lindsey started to come around. The enthusiasm of the group was infectious, and she started talking just as much about what it would be like to be the ones to find something. She took it on herself to keep Kaitlyn and Gabe in check, but struck up a friendship with the other members of the group as well. She might have gotten a bit too friendly with Victor. They turned out to have a lot of things in common...favourite foods, bands, even similar views about the world. Andy tried to grin and bear it, but it was obvious it bugged him. He'd never met Lindsey in person, and the long distance relationship never really felt real. At least, that's what he said one day. When it came out that Victor and Lindsey lived in the same state, Andy was the one to break it off. Somehow, they managed to stay friends, and the search kept going, even if Andy was online less for a while.
Hiro was the last one to join. No one really invited him, he just found out what was going on himself. He had observations no one else had made, things he'd kept to himself until then. It wasn't said why he decided to share them with this group in particular, but it changed everything. Hiro was the one who really looked at things. It was him that mentioned that in early builds of the game, lizards were easier to catch, and gave more benefit, and how odd it was that the only thing you could do with maxed-out stats, that they'd made so much harder to obtain, was reset them to zero. He also found obscure things the developers had said...and two in particular stood out. The secret garden - that you needed all that strength to reach - was there for a reason, and that you were meant to feel bad about each colossus you killed. Those two facts would be the turning point for what was to come. Theories started flying. The Secret was something you could only do from the Garden. You had to not kill the colossi to get the Secret. Or you had to only kill certain ones. Everyone had an opinion, and the arguments lasted for days. Gabe was happy to try even the most insane ideas, much to Marco's grumbling.
Eventually, thanks to Dale and Victor, a pattern began to emerge. Certain things in the game that would change when done in certain ways. It was easy to miss. Some scenes would play out a little differently when things were done in certain ways. Not so much that it was obvious, and things played out basically the same, but lines of dialogue got shuffled around, certain animations would play instead of others. Sometimes a wordless scene would play out in a certain place if the right conditions were met, like a flock of birds bursting out to startle Agro, as Wander rode through an area. The group's excitement was palpable. Slowly, they began to piece together what had to be done, an almost ritual, carried out through the medium of the game. Doing it, they realized, could change the sequence of the events from the usual script.
After much discussion, an agreement was made. Dale, Victor, and Gabe would make the arrangements. The official story was that it was going to be a graduation party for Victor. Getting permission from their parents, they rented a cabin for one week, where the group would meet in person for the first time, and discover the "Last Big Secret" together. Everyone was certain it was a hidden ending. Though speculation on what kind was high, the prevailing theory, as championed by Kaitlyn, was that it would be a happy ending for Mono and Wander, needing no dialogue at all because they would just sit happily in each-other's arms, looking out at the castle from Ico as the screen faded. It was sweet, romantic, and entirely too perfect.
No Happy EndingsEdit
So, in June, the group finally got together. They had seven days of freedom before they had to go back to their lives, and a beautiful lakeside cabin to themselves. The plan was simple. They would use the first few days to get to know each-other in person, eat pizza, and play games. Wednesday was the big day. Then for the last three days they could celebrate their success of bemoan their failure, and decide where to go from there as they got ready to pack up and go home. For the first part of the plan, it went exactly as expected. Everyone had a good time, even the antisocial Hiro. They argued good-naturedly about pizza toppings, soda choice, snacks, and what games to play on Dale and Victor's widescreen T.Vs. Andy and Lindsey confirmed no hard feelings...and Lindsey and Victor tried to be romantic but found out that he looked too much like her older brother. They watched movies, stayed up late, and generally had all the fun a group of teenagers can have when they're all basically big nerds.
Then came Wednesday. The "Day of Truth", as they called it. This was the moment that they had all been waiting for, and they set the whole day aside for it. They would need it, because the process had to be completed in one sitting, from beginning to end. It would take all the powerups in the game, and then losing them, not to mention completing specific requirements in the right order. Even knowing what to do, there were false starts. As the day wore on, though, everything began to fall into place, the birds flew, ripples raced across the lake, and it seemed like every part the Forbidden Lands were coming to life. It got easier the farther along they got, and everyone was in a state of anticipation. No one dared to speak.
Things got more noticeable as they got further along. Everyone took a turn with the controller. It began to seem more and more likely that Kaitlyn's theory was right. As they neared what would be the endgame, it became obvious what the game's subtle hints were leading up to. Lord Emon and his soldiers were being delayed by what they were doing. In this playthrough's ending, they would be too late to interrupt the spell. Wander and Dormin's pact would be fulfilled as intended. A collective breath was held by all eight as things unfolded, waiting to see how the uninterrupted version of the ritual was to resolve.
However, that was when everything changed. As he moved to the altar, Wander slowed. The sound of startled birds began to play incessantly. Gabe, complaining of a headache, was the first to feel something was wrong, but Andy just hushed him. The voices that made up Dormin's speech began to drone over the sound of the birds. A subtitle appeared, but from one of Emon's lines, "You were only being used." The mask appeared on screen for a moment, everything else fading to the backdrop that normally appears for the Game Over screen. There was a shrill, piercing sound, Wander's whistle, but louder than it had ever played before. When the scene in the temple appeared again, the black tendrils were surrounding Mono. Wander lay limply on the ground. Someone, it might have even been Kaitlyn, whispered "No." but the scene played on. Dormin's voice came again, louder and reverberating, almost no trace of the female voice it normally had as an echo. "The price you pay may be heavy indeed." the screen translated, "Souls that are once lost cannot be reclaimed."
By this point, the sounds coming out of the speakers barely resembled the game sounds any more. It was noise. The sounds of fire and Wander's screams mixed with the roars and cries of the colossi and other less recognizable sounds, making something that instilled fear on a primal level. Eight teens watched the screen, and none dared to move. The worst was yet to come. Images began to cut in on the screen. Scenes of decayed figures wandering through endless misty landscapes, of things that bore no resemblance to human beings savaging things that might once have been, of twisted and pale, corpse-like people, weeping in a single pool of light while all around them was darkness, and other images too terrible to describe. All of it with that mask appearing and disappearing over it as it flashed picture after picture, never letting up. All of it backed by those torturous sounds. Marco was the first one to crack. He shouted, "What the hell is this?!" ...and the game responded. Dormin's voice roared through the speakers. The words didn't appear on the screen, they didn't come as sounds that could be understood, but as a mental blow. It was like a knife slashing at the minds of the group as they stared at the screen.
They had wanted to know. The game showed them it's secret. It was for them to live with the consequences of seeking it out. In the days that followed, each found a different answer. Gabe became quiet and withdrawn. He played less videogames and took an interest in medicine. Marco didn't talk to anybody after that night. He left for home the next day...they found out later that he'd hung himself as soon as he got home. There was no note. Andy, faced with what they'd seen and the death of his friend, completely lost it. He started ranting about things in the shadows, and the end that was coming until his parents had him admitted to a mental hospital. Kaitlyn may have been the most broken of all, but she hid it the best. Behind an iron-stern mask, she made everyone swear to keep the secret, and hatched the plan to keep anyone else from looking. Dale didn't want to go along at first. He thought that they should confront the company. After what happened to his brother, he changed his mind. Victor started drinking...heavily. He'd been on the honour roll before that night, but some time in the the week following, he found a way to get his hands on some vodka. The police said he had a BAC of 0.18 when he crashed his car. At the hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival. Lindsey took it almost as hard as Dale. She dropped out of school with a week to go before graduation, and moved in with one of her friends. She'd never worried about what she ate before, but she became a total health nut. Hiro just went along with the plan. Beyond that he dropped off the radar entirely, appearing now and then online, but not keeping in contact with anyone.
That place... began from the resonance of intersecting pixels... They are memories replaced by ones and zeros and burned into discs. Red, green, blue--and a player with the ability to control beings created from light... In that world, it is true that if one should wish it one can make contact with the souls of the dead... But to trespass upon that land is strictly forbidden...