The Second Sky: The People of the Empire

The intro level to DROD: The Second Sky makes First Chemist seem like an important character, but he disappears after that. Presumably he has chemist business to attend back at the vats while Beethro ventures out looking for more answers. He’s replaced by an array of minor characters, the sort of whimsical and eccentric cast that’s become one of DROD’s trademarks. There are the Truth Vessels, occasionally catching up to report on their findings in their technical-sounding gibberish. There’s a Critic, who just shows up to make disappointed comments about your puzzle-solving — she’s kind of like the watchers from Journey to Rooted Hold, except that her complaints are ones you can’t act on: “Your sword is too big”, for example. (Perhaps a reaction to discussion threads?) On one level, a woman repeatedly pops in to inform you that you’ll never be able to steal her precious diamond doily. Beethro protests that he has no intention of even trying, although eventually her accusations arouse his curiosity about it. The Pit Thing is still around, as pit-thingy as ever.

And there’s a recurring antagonist, the first we’ve seen since the Slayer in Journey to Rooted Hold. In behavior, however, he’s less like the Slayer and more like the final bosses in all the other DROD games: instead of engaging you in combat directly, he keeps his distance, opening and closing doors to force you into traps. He’s the one who sends Beethro into the Gentryii dungeon. His name: First Archivist, leader of the faction that unleashed the Aumtlichs on the surface-dwellers back in The City Beneath.

He’s not the one who ordered that attack, however. He was Second Archivist back then. The previous First Archivist, the one who sent the Aumtlichs to war, is still around, but powerless and nameless. I haven’t yet learned exactly how or why he was deposed. Presumably it has to do with his failed attempt at genocide, but which is the factor that led to his downfall: the genocide or the failure?

At this point, I’m thinking the former, because the more we learn about the Empire, the more it turns out that they’re mostly not bad people, just weird and secretive and sometimes under the sway of Mothingness. Previous First Archivist’s attitudes may well be atypical; indeed, Halph’s big project for the Empire turns out to be a plan to save the surface-dwellers from an imminent cataclysm called “the Turning”. Beethro got off on the wrong foot with everyone with the whole “leave or we’ll send the Slayer after you” thing, but even he’s starting to mellow towards them. He cooperates with First Chemist without making snarky comments about it. Back in TCB, when Beethro briefly returns to Dugandy and discovers that his associate Bombus Gadhan is collaborating with the Empire, he flies into a rage, accuses Bombus of treason, and winds up fighting and then escaping from the Dugandy royal guard. When he returns to Dugandy again in TSS, it’s to sit down and talk to Bombus, and pool their knowledge about what’s going on.

So if the people of the Empire aren’t just automatically evil, we have to ask: why is New First Archivist trying to kill Beethro? If I understand correctly, the sole reason is that when they first meet, Beethro automatically assumes that he’s an enemy just like Previous First Archivist, and as a result is rude to him, then refuses to apologize. And while First Archivist’s response to this is wildly disproportional, it has to be said that Beethro could have spared himself a great deal of effort and grief (and deprived the player of some wicked puzzles) by just apologizing. Beethro has a talent for making trouble for himself. I kind of suspect that his slapdash efforts at saving the surfacers are going to collide with Halph’s at some point, leaving them both in ruins, like Guybrush and Elaine. But even if so, not all the blame will lie on Beethro. What we have, in both this hypothetical and in the plot generally, is a failure to communicate. And Beethro is at least making an effort in that department, what with learning a new language.

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