The Warbler's Nest by Jason McIntosh.

Nice mysterious introduction.

Surely the reed bank counts as a wild place. While it gives you so much, you've never tended it, not really, not like you do with your garden. And you've certainly seen birds there. It's something like the forest, then, but much safer to search without attracting attention. So here you are.

The Warbler's Nest
A dark fairy tale by Jason McIntosh
Release 14 / Serial number 100930 / Inform 7 build 6E72 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/12N)
For more information about this game, please type ABOUT.

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> about

> About this Game
Instructions for Play
Contacting the Author

This game, a short work of interactive horror fiction, was written by Jason McIntosh for the 2010 Interactive Fiction competition (http://ifcomp.org). This version of the game is the same one entered into the competition.

"The Warbler's Nest" uses fairly ordinary IF game syntax. It may introduce some verbs of its own, but they are for the player to discover; none are unusual enough to bear mention here.

This work was crafted with Inform 7, a programming language and development environment by Graham Nelson, Emily Short, Andrew Hunter, et al.

Playtesters include Ruth Alfasso, Jake Eakle, Kevin Jackson-Mead, Joe Johnston, Mark Musante, and Doug Orleans.

Special thanks to the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction (http://pr-if.org) and its Grue Street writers' workshop, and to the denizens of the #I7 chat channel on ifMUD (http://ifmud.port4000.com).

The game's cover art is based on a photograph of a reed bed by Jan-Eric Nyström, shared under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.5 license.

This game is copyright © 2010 by Jason McIntosh.

Please press SPACE to continue.

> About this Game
Instructions for Play
Contacting the Author

> About this Game
Instructions for Play
Contacting the Author

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> x reeds
It's midsummer, and the reeds grow thick and green. Their tall, purple flowers are just starting to come in.

> x flowers
It's midsummer, and the reeds grow thick and green. Their tall, purple flowers are just starting to come in.

> x me
So many years on, and still just as God made you, underneath your simple homespun shift.

> i
You are carrying nothing.

> n
As you start back towards your home, movement among the reeds catches your eye: A little reed-bird flies in from the riverbank, and vanishes into the green.

> x bird
The bird dropped down into the reeds some distance away, near one particularly tall stalk, topped with a flower that's come in early.

> pick reeds
I didn't understand that sentence.

> get reeds
Many's the time you have come here to gather reeds for thatching, either for yourself to to trade with neighbors. But, that's not what you're here for now.

> x stalk
Carefully approaching the tall stalk, you discover the hiding place of the reed bird's nest.

The reed-bird goes about the business of feeding its young.

> x bird
A small reddish bird. It's perched on a stem beside its nest, feeding its young.

The reed-bird goes about the business of feeding its young.

> x nest
A basket-shaped nest of loosely woven brown grasses. It stands out among the bright green summer reeds, but they grow so thick that it remains well concealed regardless. It's just high enough off the damp ground to keep it safe from most of the crawling animals.

Squatting atop the nest is a single, large chick, squawkingly engaged in gobbling down the morsels the reed-bird offers it.

The reed-bird goes about the business of feeding its young.

The reed-bird darts away again, perhaps looking for more food for its enormous chick.

> s

Beach
A small bulge of sandy beach, providing a place to stand comfortably and access the river water clear of the reeds. The river to the south curves gently around it.

The river flows here, as it always has, clear and cool.

> s
You saw to your washing and all that before you began. Best focus on your task.

> x sand
Just bare sand, wet but too gritty to feed the reeds.

> n

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

One particularly tall stalk, topped with an early flower, marks the location of the reed bird's nest.

The chick, now fed, resettles itself atop the nest, preening a bit. As it does so, loose feathers and other bits of refuse drift down to join a pile on the ground beneath it.

> x pile
Collected under the nest is a small pile of bird-leavings.

You spy a small egg lying among the offal.

> x egg
A small, spotted egg.

> get it
Holding it, you now see that the egg's surface is webbed with cracks, as if it had been dropped.

> open it
Peeling away the topmost fragments from the egg's shell reveals the tiny body of a dead chick, unborn, encased in a veined and rotting yolk.

You manage to keep your grip on the shell, just the same.

> x nest
A basket-shaped nest of loosely woven brown grasses. It stands out among the bright green summer reeds, but they grow so thick that it remains well concealed regardless. It's just high enough off the damp ground to keep it safe from most of the crawling animals.

Squatting atop the nest is a single, large chick.

> save
Ok.

> x chick
(the large chick)
This bird has the plumage and shape of one that's hatched very recently. Oddly, though, it looks like a larger animal than you remember its parent being. It's so large that it doesn't seem to quite fit in the nest, instead squatting on top of it.

> get chick
(the dead chick)
Grimacing, you upend the egg. The dead thing and its murky goo tumble out wetly. You turn your head away, not caring to see what becomes of it.

The shell is empty now.

> get chick
You'd rather not disturb this nest. You've been living fine all these years considering the reed-bird a thatcher's friend, keeping the reeds free of worse nuisances.

> x shell
A small spotted eggshell, its surface webbed with cracks.

> look in nest
No eggs here. That big chick would leave them no room, anyway.

> put shell in nest
You'd rather not disturb this nest. You've been living fine all these years considering the reed-bird a thatcher's friend, keeping the reeds free of worse nuisances.

> n

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Something is wrong.

> x cottage
You have lived here as long as you care to remember. And alone, for long enough that its thatched roof is increasingly your own work.

Its doorway is to the east.

You realize what's wrong now. It's quiet.

You were so involved among the reeds just now that you hadn't paid it mind, but: the cottage is silent .

> e
The silence is strange, all right. But you haven't been out of the house that long, and don't plan on being out that much longer.

You chose to take up this task, and you'd best see it through... before facing what's in there.

> n
True, you are supposed to look in the wild places. But the forest? You know what lives there, and they don't need to know what you're looking for.

Best leave the forest until there's no other place to go.

> se
You take a few steps around the side of the cottage, but stop short when a soft sound breaks the heavy silence. A scrabbling, snuffling sort of sound, coming from behind the cottage.

It sounds like something alive.

The tailor gestured to some mushrooms growing near your garden. "Fairy ring," he said. "These grow where they gather and dance, in the forest, and also where they mean to meddle, in the places we live." Looking again, yes, the mushrooms did seem to have a sort of circular pattern to them.

"You musn't let them grow so near your home like this, first of all," he said. "as it makes them bolder."

"All right," you said, unsure why his voice seemed so heavy with concern. "I can just treat them like the weeds in the garden, then."

"Yes..." he said, and paused before looking at you again.

"There's something else."

You remain in the garden, and in the not-quite-silence.

> listen
The silence is not complete. Straining to hear, you can make out a scrabbling, a snuffling. Very soft, but in the stillness around your home, it stands out.

The sound is coming from the place behind the cottage.

> se
Hearing that scratching, snuffling sound again, you hesitate. All you're carrying is this eggshell, and you'd feel bolder if you held something a bit more solid. Something that would do in a pinch, if it came to it.

> e
The silence is strange, all right. But you haven't been out of the house that long, and don't plan on being out that much longer.

You chose to take up this task, and you'd best see it through... before facing what's in there.

> l
Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

> i
You are carrying:
a cracked eggshell (open but empty)

> ne
Hearing that scratching, snuffling sound again, you hesitate. All you're carrying is this eggshell, and you'd feel bolder if you held something a bit more solid. Something that would do in a pinch, if it came to it.

> w
You could start down the road now, but it would be getting on dark by the time you got anywhere. All that's in between is forest, and you've no business there.

> s
The wind shifts the reeds, hiding the bird's nest from sight. You still see the tall stalk marking where you found it earlier, not far away.

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

One particularly tall stalk, topped with an early flower, marks the location of the reed bird's nest.

> i
You are carrying:
a cracked eggshell (open but empty)

> x nest
You can't see any such thing.

> x stalk
You walk towards the tall reed, but find yourself confused as you draw near. This doesn't seem like the place you found the nest earlier. Looking again around the reed bed, you see a number of flowering reeds just as tall as this one, and that nest is nowhere that you can see.

For a handspan of a moment, the breeze settles, and the reeds' rustling stops.
And again, the silence from the cottage presses down on you.

> s

Beach
A small bulge of sandy beach, providing a place to stand comfortably and access the river water clear of the reeds. The river to the south curves gently around it.

The river flows here, as it always has, clear and cool.

> x water
This river has provided you water for as long as you've lived here, and of course sustains the reeds as well.

"But what do I do with it then?" you asked.

"Once it's revealed itself to you? That's simple," said the tailor. "Snatch it up, carry it out of your cottage, and throw it in the river."

You tried to accept this matter-of-factly, but you must not have done well. The tailor only shrugged. "Throw it into the river," he repeated, "and its own kind will come for it. Then they'll have to return what they took from you."
> swim
That's not a verb I recognise.

> get sand
This infertile stuff has little use to you, and certainly none now.

> s
You saw to your washing and all that before you began. Best focus on your task.

> n

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> search reeds
"Eggshells", he said. "You should find two, empty but mostly whole."

"Well," you said, "That's easy enough. Hod down the road has a hen, and --"

"No," he interrupted with a shake of his grey head. "You've got to find them in the wild places in between, where nobody lives. Not even them. Go out in the hour just before sundown, when they're not quite awake yet..."

Remembering, you look at the sky, reflexively.

Today the sky is a uniform middling gray. Overcast.

You part the reeds nearest you and peer at the marshy ground underneath them, but find nothing useful.

> n

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

> n
True, you are supposed to look in the wild places. But the forest? You know what lives there, and they don't need to know what you're looking for.

Best leave the forest until there's no other place to go.

> s

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> x reeds
It's midsummer, and the reeds grow thick and green. Their tall, purple flowers are just starting to come in.

> search reeds
You part the reeds nearest you and peer at the marshy ground underneath them, but find nothing useful.

> e
A few damp steps take you to a different spot within the familiar reed bank.

> search reeds
You part the reeds nearest you and peer at the marshy ground underneath them, but find nothing useful.

> w
A few damp steps take you to a different spot within the familiar reed bank.

> w
You meander a bit through the reeds, hearing their rustle as they brush past.

> w
You push through the reeds for a few yards, the damp earth squishing beneath your bare feet.

> w
A few damp steps take you to a different spot within the familiar reed bank.

> w
You push through the reeds for a few yards, the damp earth squishing beneath your bare feet.

> i
You are carrying:
a cracked eggshell (open but empty)

> x reeds
It's midsummer, and the reeds grow thick and green. Their tall, purple flowers are just starting to come in.

> x me
So many years on, and still just as God made you, underneath your simple homespun shift.

> x hift
You can't see any such thing.

> x shift
Your clothing.

"There," said the visiting tailor, finishing his work. "That will see you through for another year."

You thanked him, and saw him out, away from the commotion. After some time absently strolling around your little garden together, exchanging small news and pleasantries, he pauses, visibly uncomfortable.

"I travel quite a bit in my work, you know," he began, slowly. "And I've seen plenty of the mischief that the Small Folk can do."

"I... what?" you stumbled, unsettled by the strange subject change. He looks directly into your eyes for two beats before continuing...

> x shift
Your clothing.

> look in it
You find nothing of interest.

> get reeds
Many's the time you have come here to gather reeds for thatching, either for yourself to to trade with neighbors. But, that's not what you're here for now.

> n

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

> x doorway
You have lived here as long as you care to remember. And alone, for long enough that its thatched roof is increasingly your own work.

Its doorway is to the east.

> x roof
You have lived here as long as you care to remember. And alone, for long enough that its thatched roof is increasingly your own work.

Its doorway is to the east.

> search roof
The silence is strange, all right. But you haven't been out of the house that long, and don't plan on being out that much longer.

You chose to take up this task, and you'd best see it through... before facing what's in there.

> x road
(the road)
This road runs east and west, following the river. But it leads to no place very nearby. Surely you can find what you need in the familiar places by your own cottage.

> x forest
The green of the nearby forest seems thicker today. The shadows, thicker.

> n
True, you are supposed to look in the wild places. But the forest? You know what lives there, and they don't need to know what you're looking for.

Best leave the forest until there's no other place to go.

> w
You could start down the road now, but it would be getting on dark by the time you got anywhere. All that's in between is forest, and you've no business there.

> e
The silence is strange, all right. But you haven't been out of the house that long, and don't plan on being out that much longer.

You chose to take up this task, and you'd best see it through... before facing what's in there.

I'm stuck already.

> get on roof
The silence is strange, all right. But you haven't been out of the house that long, and don't plan on being out that much longer.

You chose to take up this task, and you'd best see it through... before facing what's in there.

> l
Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

Oh, this is what I missed. I thought I was in the garden, didn't realise it was a thing.

> x garden
This is where you tend the vegetables for your potage. Wooden stakes help keep the different plants in line. An uneven line of small stones mark off the little garden's borders.

> get stake
You pull one of the stakes out of the earth, and wrap your hand tightly around one end, holding like a club.

> get stones
You toss the stake aside.

You pull a small, round rock from the earth. Amidst worries of eggshells, you find comfort in its solid heft.

Taken.

> get stake
(the stake)
You toss the rock aside.

Taken.

> save
Ok.

> se

Behind your cottage
Another small clearing behind your cottage. You do not come here very often, or anyway not lately.

You could wander back into the reeds to the south, or return to your garden to the northwest or southwest. The road lies to the north, and the forest looms not just there but here, to the east, where an old fallen log juts into the clearing.

Two standing stones mark the earth here, along the rear wall of the cottage. One, waist-high, stands larger than the other.

You hear that snuffling noise again, from somewhere very near.

> x log
This ancient tree has lain on this spot since you first came here, and surely a lifetime or more before that.

Though dead, it's not a decayed thing. Rather, it's part of the living forest, and maybe the spot at which its reach comes closest to your cottage. It makes you think more of the little finger of a sleeping giant, whose body lies vast in the shadows of the wood beyond.

Near one end, a half-circle of milk-colored mushrooms bulge from the earth.

> x mushrooms
A circle of bulbous, sickly-white mushrooms, growing around one end of the ancient log. They look like malformed little people, their bodies twisted into stooped shapes underneath the large, fleshy caps they wear. Twisted maybe from pain, maybe from laughter.

From where you're standing, the log blocks several of the mushrooms from sight -- but that they lie in a circle is still clear enough.

When did this ring appear? Has it really been so long since

the dead thing falling out, wet, the earth swallowing it

you were last here?

> listen
You hold your breath...

The sound seems to be coming from behind the log.

The shuffling, grating noise stops, then resumes.

> x stones
One of these stones stands as tall as your waist. And then a small one, only ankle-high, but still conspicuous.

The shuffling, grating noise stops, then resumes.

> move log
Though it be dead, you can no more push this huge log around than you could a boulder.

You hear that snuffling noise again, from somewhere very near.

> look behind log
Tightening your grip on the stake, you peer behind the log, so that you can see the whole of the mushroom ring, and whatever else might sit inside it.

You see it. A skinny little man, wearing a... a fur coat, and a spotted cap? It's lying down, right in the center of the fairy ring, damn it all, and its tail twitches as it... oh.

You let go the breath you hadn't realized you were holding. No, it's not a little man. Though it is another sort of forest creature, true enough, and maybe no less wicked, in its way.

And that "cap" does catch your attention...

Heedless of your standing there, the stoat continues lapping noisily at the spotted egg, its paws grasping the shell.

> get spotted egg
The little animal isn't so absorbed in its meal that it doesn't hear you approach. It pulls its head from the egg to regard you just as you draw near. Then, quick as a flash, it's gone, swallowed up by the forest.

It has left its egg behind.

You pick up the eggshell from where the little animal left it.

"Once you've found those eggshells," the tailor continued, "what you do is -- this sounds strange, but that's the whole point, see -- you need to fill them up with water. Then you carry them, one in each hand, like they're the heaviest buckets, you carry them right back into your cottage, and you show them to him."

He paused then, but you only nodded, unsure what to say to all this.

> save
Ok.

> l
Behind your cottage
Another small clearing behind your cottage. You do not come here very often, or anyway not lately.

You could wander back into the reeds to the south, or return to your garden to the northwest or southwest. The road lies to the north, and the forest looms not just there but here, to the east, where an old fallen log juts into the clearing.

Two standing stones mark the earth here, along the rear wall of the cottage. One, waist-high, stands larger than the other.

> x larger stone
A large, heavy stone, roughly but recognizably marked with the sign of the Eye.

The ghost of an ache passes through your shoulders, remembering that stone's weight. It wasn't so long ago.

> x smaller stone
A smaller, thin, black stone, with the sign of the Eye chalked upon it.

...the dead thing, so tiny, sliding from the egg, out of your hands, into the earth...

No. Now's not for that.

> x mushrooms
A circle of bulbous, sickly-white mushrooms, growing around one end of the ancient log. They look like malformed little people, their bodies twisted into stooped shapes underneath the large, fleshy caps they wear. Twisted maybe from pain, maybe from laughter.

From where you're standing, the log blocks several of the mushrooms from sight -- but that they lie in a circle is still clear enough.

> get mushrooms
Pluck them up, like flowers? No.

> s

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> s

Beach
A small bulge of sandy beach, providing a place to stand comfortably and access the river water clear of the reeds. The river to the south curves gently around it.

The river flows here, as it always has, clear and cool.

> i
You are carrying:
the speckled eggshell
a stake
a cracked eggshell (open but empty)

> fill eggshells
What do you want to fill those things with?

> water
speckled eggshell: You dip the eggshell into the river, then stand back up again, careful not to spill any.
cracked eggshell: Careful not to spill any water from the other one, you crouch and fill the empty shell from the river. When you stand again, you hold two water-filled eggshells, one in each hand.

> save
Ok.

> n

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> n

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

You can see a rock here.

Just as you step free of the reeds, the cracked eggshell in your hand gives way. In two eyeblinks, it collapses on itself, the water spilling between your fingers and the broken pieces of shell tumbling to the earth, useless now.

You look up, then, to the doorway of your cottage. Well. You held two full eggs. Maybe that was enough?

Maybe it had better be enough.

Maybe it's getting late (another reflexive look at the sky, still gray as ever) , and maybe you are in the middle of something you don't fully ken, brought about by a man who isn't even here, and maybe you should bring an end to this before it gets any later.

> e

Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

But right now, all your attention is on the chair.

The baby sits on the chair, held upright by the blanket you'd tied before you began your search.

> x baby
Slackjawed, the baby stares at your eggshell with its dull, dark eyes.

> show eggshell to baby
You breathe, and gather yourself. Then you hang your arm down, making as if the eggshell is a heavy thing, hard to lift.

"Oh," you say, but it comes out as a croak.

"... Oh ," you say again, louder. "I have brought back the whole river for the potage, and it is such a heavy thing! Do you see?"

You then lift up the eggshell, straining, as if it were a pail, filled to spilling.

"I've heard different things," said the tailor, "but they all agree that changelings can't abide humans acting strange, and using eggshells in a queer way will always set them off. When a changeling sees such a thing, it can't help but to leap up and declare, 'Crikey! I'm two hundred years old, and I've never seen anything weird as that!' Or something of the sort, anyway. And that's how you know you've got a changeling."

"But what would I do then?" you asked.

"Once it's revealed itself to you? That's simple," said the tailor. "Snatch it up, carry it out of your cottage, and throw it in the river. Throw it into the river, and its own kind will come for it. Then they'll have to return what they took from you."

The baby looks right at the eggshell with its dark, dull eyes. Then it opens its mouth.

"Cuh," it says. "C-cuh... Cruh..."

> z
Time passes.

"And if the baby isn't a changeling?" you asked.

"Well," said the tailor, with a smile. "I suppose it won't say anything at all!"

"Cuh... k-kkaaaaaAAA AAAAAAAAAUUUUAAAAAAUUAAA... "

The baby begins howling, just as it has been, most every day, and most of every day. For so long.

But... it didn't start until it saw the eggshell, this time. Does that mean something? Did it... did it work?

What happens now?

> save
Ok.

> show eggshell to baby
Once again, you hold up the eggshell, acting like it's a heavy thing. "See the eggshell? See how heavy?"

The baby continues to wail.

The baby's cries subside for a few heartbeats, then resume as loud as before.

> x cradle
A wooden cradle, simply but sturdily made.

Let's face it, I'm throwing this kid in the river.

> x baby
The baby cries and cries, its face twisted around its endless howling.

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The baby sits on the chair, held upright by the blanket you'd tied before you began your search. It thrashes and cries, but your knots hold.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> x table
Just a simple table, made of wood.

On the table is the pair of cold iron shears.

> untie baby
You see no way to do that while still holding onto that water-filled eggshell.

> show eggshell to baby
Once again, you hold up the eggshell, acting like it's a heavy thing. "See the eggshell? See how heavy?"

The baby continues to wail.

> drop eggshell
You dash the eggshell onto the ground. Bits of shell fly everywhere, and the water it contained sinks into the packed-earth floor.

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> untie baby
Reaching to undo the knots you made earlier, you notice that your hands are shaking. And though you don't think the knots are particularly tight, you can do no more than scrabble and paw at them.

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against the blanket.

> get shears
You toss the stake aside.

The iron seems startlingly cold as you close your hand around it.

> cut blanket
The cold iron of the shears bites into the blanket.

It was a hard birth. Not like the last one, but hard. Still, it ended with you holding the babe in your arms. Without words to describe how you felt, what you said was this:

Anda.

You really hadn't thought of a name before now, and all at once it seemed strange that you hadn't, though you hadn't really anyone to talk to about it. But at that moment you knew it was the right name. Anda, you said again.

The blanket now lies raggedly open on the chair, with the baby sitting atop it.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> touch baby with shears
I only understood you as far as wanting to touch the baby.

> get baby
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> w
The baby in your arms, you pause at the doorway, considering the darkening sky outside, the way the wind shakes the reeds.

The river that you know is there.

Your head rings with the baby's inhuman howling as a dark thought crosses over you. Could it be true? Could this baby really be a changeling?

Is it true?

(You take a step backwards, away from the doorway. For now.)

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

Talking should have responses.

> baby, hello
There is no reply.

> talk to baby
That's not a verb I recognise.

> sing
You know from experience that singing does little good now, while the baby is fully caught up in its crying fits.

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against your grasp.

> rock baby
You pause, catching yourself wanting to go through the familiar motions, in spite of all the confusion. So young, but still you've lost count of the days, the number of times you've lifted the baby, just to hold, or to hold to your breast. And weren't those some of the most quietly pleasant times you've spent with the baby, despite everything?

Quiet, yes, says the darker part of you. Quiet because that's the only time it doesn't cry, that and sleeping. And you hear thoughts darker still -- They cry and carry on so, because they're greedy, greedier than any human child would be -- but you know those words aren't yours.

For a moment, you close your ears to the cries, and you try to close your mind to what he had suggested, to the fact that you may have even felt some perverse disappointment to the fact that the baby hadn't leapt up and begun to talk in Goblin-tongue rhyme when it saw the eggshell.

But maybe that's all there is to it. Maybe it was all just a foolish suggestion from a foolish man.

Is this really your baby?

(You find yourself still holding the baby, uncertain and trembling.)

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> put baby in cradle
You pause, catching yourself thinking, in spite of all the confusion: the baby just needs to be put to bed, is all . And how many times have you thought that before! And yet, more than once -- often, in fact -- you've found yourself watching over the baby in its cradle, sleeping softly, and couldn't imagine yourself belonging anywhere else.

Oh yes, sighs the darker part of you. Very easy, because that's the only time it's quiet. That and when it's feeding.

But, no. Between the baby's wailing and... and everything else, you just can't...

There is something missing.

(You still hold the baby, uncertain.)

> feed baby
But, no. Between the baby's crying and... and everything else, you just can't...

There is something missing.

(You find yourself still holding the baby, uncertain and trembling.)

The baby shrieks and cries.

>
I beg your pardon?

> w
The baby in your arms, you pause at the doorway, considering the darkening sky outside, the way the wind shakes the reeds.

The river that you know is there.

Your heart sinks, battered down by the howling, all the months of it. But this is not how babies are supposed to act, is it?

You look again at the baby, at its twisted features, more twisted now from the constant crying. Could it be true? Could this creature be really not yours at all, but one of the Small Folk? A changeling?

Is it true?

(You take a step backwards, away from the doorway. For now.)

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The chair is empty, but for the now-open blanket.

You can also see a stake here.

The baby's cries subside for a few heartbeats, then resume as loud as before.

> tickle baby
That's not a verb I recognise.

> look in cradle
The cradle is empty.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> look under table
You find nothing of interest.

> look on table
You can't see any such thing.

> i
You are carrying:
the baby
the pair of cold iron shears

> put shears on table
You put the pair of cold iron shears on the table.

> z
Time passes.

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against your grasp.

> get shears
Taken.

> put shears on baby
Putting things on the baby would achieve nothing.

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The chair is empty, but for the now-open blanket.

You can also see a stake here.

> put baby
What do you want to put the baby in?

> chair
That can't contain things.

> put baby on chair
You put the baby on the chair.

The baby thrashes in its cries, nearly falling from the chair.

Bug with untying here.

> x blanket
The blanket is tied fast to the chair, in such a way that it restrains the baby from slipping out.

> untie blanket
But the blanket is no longer tied up.

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> put baby in cradle
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

For a moment, you close your ears to the cries, and you try to close your mind to what he had suggested, to the fact that you may have even felt some perverse disappointment to the fact that the baby hadn't leapt up and begun to talk in Goblin-tongue rhyme when it saw the eggshell.

But maybe that's all there is to it. Maybe it was all just a foolish suggestion from a foolish man.

Is this really your baby?

(You still hold the baby, uncertain.)

> w
The baby in your arms, you pause at the doorway, considering the darkening sky outside, the way the wind shakes the reeds.

The river that you know is there.

Your heart sinks, battered down by the howling, all the months of it. But this is not how babies are supposed to act, is it?

You look again at the baby, at its twisted features, more twisted now from the constant crying. Could it be true? Could this creature be really not yours at all, but one of the Small Folk? A changeling?

Is it true?

(You take a step backwards, away from the doorway. For now.)

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against your grasp.

> put baby in chair
That can't contain things.

> put baby on chair
You put the baby on the chair.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> w
No, this isn't right. You must have done something wrong again. It was that broken egg, surely.

There's still time, surely. Maybe you will try the forest this time.

Maybe, when you get there, you'll just keep walking.

*** The End ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
undo
Inside your cottage
[Previous turn undone.]

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The baby sits on the chair. It thrashes and cries, clutching the opened blanket.

You can also see a stake here.

> i
You are carrying:
the pair of cold iron shears

> put shears in cradle
You put the pair of cold iron shears into the cradle.

> get baby
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

> put baby in cradle
For a moment, you close your ears to the cries, and you try to close your mind to what he had suggested, to the fact that you may have even felt some perverse disappointment to the fact that the baby hadn't leapt up and begun to talk in Goblin-tongue rhyme when it saw the eggshell.

But maybe that's all there is to it. Maybe it was all just a foolish suggestion from a foolish man.

Is this really your baby?

(You still hold the baby, uncertain.)

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> drop baby
You look at the door. Then you look at the crib. Your head rings with the baby's crying, and your thoughts feel clouded. You can't just drop it, but...

> put baby on table
You put the baby on the table.

> w
No, this isn't right. You must have done something wrong again. It was that broken egg, surely.

There's still time, surely. Maybe you will try the forest this time.

Maybe, when you get there, you'll just keep walking.

*** The End ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
undo
Inside your cottage
[Previous turn undone.]

> get baby
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

> kiss baby
But, no. Between the baby's shrieking and... and everything else, you just can't...

There is something missing.

A name.

(You find yourself still holding the baby, uncertain and trembling.)

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> anda, hello
Anda.

Yes.

You step back and look at the baby, at its face. Yes, its features are all twisted up by its crying, and yes, maybe they're a little strange just the same.

But the deeper resemblance is undeniable. Part of you wants to curse his cowardice for suggesting that it was any other way. But, there will be time for that later.

The rest of you, the whole of your heart, reaches out to the child. You know, as sure as the day it was born, that it -- that he -- is truly yours.

Anda shrieks and cries.

It's a boy? I assumed Anda was a girl's name, although admittedly only because it ends with an A. The internet seems to agree with me, though.

> put anda in cradle
Gently, you lower Anda into his cradle, then pull up the chair beside it and sit. You yourself can barely hear the lullaby you sing over his crying, but you know that soon enough he'll sleep.

And soon enough again, God willing, he'll grow. Growing is what babies do, and this is your baby.

*** The End ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, see some suggestions for AMUSING things to do, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
restore
Ok.

> l
Beach
A small bulge of sandy beach, providing a place to stand comfortably and access the river water clear of the reeds. The river to the south curves gently around it.

The river flows here, as it always has, clear and cool.

> n

Among the reeds
The familiar reed bank behind your cottage surrounds you, filling the damp space between your home and the river to the south.

> n

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

You can see a rock here.

Just as you step free of the reeds, the cracked eggshell in your hand gives way. In two eyeblinks, it collapses on itself, the water spilling between your fingers and the broken pieces of shell tumbling to the earth, useless now.

You look up, then, to the doorway of your cottage. Well. You held two full eggs. Maybe that was enough?

Maybe it had better be enough.

Maybe it's getting late (another reflexive look at the sky, still gray as ever) , and maybe you are in the middle of something you don't fully ken, brought about by a man who isn't even here, and maybe you should bring an end to this before it gets any later.

> w
You could start down the road now, but it would be getting on dark by the time you got anywhere. All that's in between is forest, and you've no business there.

A night-bird calls out from the forest.

> n
True, you are supposed to look in the wild places. But the forest? You know what lives there, and they don't need to know what you're looking for.

Best leave the forest until there's no other place to go.

> se

Behind your cottage
Another small clearing behind your cottage. You do not come here very often, or anyway not lately.

You could wander back into the reeds to the south, or return to your garden to the northwest or southwest. The road lies to the north, and the forest looms not just there but here, to the east, where an old fallen log juts into the clearing.

Two standing stones mark the earth here, along the rear wall of the cottage. One, waist-high, stands larger than the other.

> e
True, you are supposed to look in the wild places. But the forest? You know what lives there, and they don't need to know what you're looking for.

Best leave the forest until there's no other place to go.

> w
Nowhere to go that way...

From here, you can return to garden in front of your cottage, waking around to the northwest or southwest. And you can always retreat back into the reeds to the south.

From the shadows to the north, you hear a twig snap.

> x shadows
You can't see any such thing.

> listen
All is quiet again.

> z
Time passes.

> z
Time passes.

The wind from the tall trees sounds more like muttering. You know it's not talk meant for your ears.

> sw

Outside the cottage
Your garden lies in this space in front of your home, long ago cleared from the reed bank to the south. You can see the road from here, and of course the forest beyond it.

The doorway to your cottage is to the east. You could also walk around the cottage, to the northeast or the southeast, towards the little clearing you know is there.

Silence, especially strange for this time of day, sits heavily in the clearing.

You can see a rock here.

> e

Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

But right now, all your attention is on the chair.

The baby sits on the chair, held upright by the blanket you'd tied before you began your search.

> show eggshell to baby
You breathe, and gather yourself. Then you hang your arm down, making as if the eggshell is a heavy thing, hard to lift.

"Oh," you say, but it comes out as a croak.

"... Oh ," you say again, louder. "I have brought back the whole river for the potage, and it is such a heavy thing! Do you see?"

You then lift up the eggshell, straining, as if it were a pail, filled to spilling.

"I've heard different things," said the tailor, "but they all agree that changelings can't abide humans acting strange, and using eggshells in a queer way will always set them off. When a changeling sees such a thing, it can't help but to leap up and declare, 'Crikey! I'm two hundred years old, and I've never seen anything weird as that!' Or something of the sort, anyway. And that's how you know you've got a changeling."

"But what would I do then?" you asked.

"Once it's revealed itself to you? That's simple," said the tailor. "Snatch it up, carry it out of your cottage, and throw it in the river. Throw it into the river, and its own kind will come for it. Then they'll have to return what they took from you."

The baby looks right at the eggshell with its dark, dull eyes. Then it opens its mouth.

"Cuh," it says. "C-cuh... Cruh..."

> z
Time passes.

"And if the baby isn't a changeling?" you asked.

"Well," said the tailor, with a smile. "I suppose it won't say anything at all!"

"Cuh... k-kkaaaaaAAA AAAAAAAAAUUUUAAAAAAUUAAA... "

The baby begins howling, just as it has been, most every day, and most of every day. For so long.

But... it didn't start until it saw the eggshell, this time. Does that mean something? Did it... did it work?

What happens now?

> get shears
You can't see any such thing.

> look on table
You can't see any such thing.

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The baby sits on the chair, held upright by the blanket you'd tied before you began your search. It thrashes and cries, but your knots hold.

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against the blanket.

> x table
Just a simple table, made of wood.

On the table is the pair of cold iron shears.

> get shears
You toss the stake aside.

The iron seems startlingly cold as you close your hand around it.

> cut blanket
The cold iron of the shears bites into the blanket.

It was a hard birth. Not like the last one, but hard. Still, it ended with you holding the babe in your arms. Without words to describe how you felt, what you said was this:

Anda.

You really hadn't thought of a name before now, and all at once it seemed strange that you hadn't, though you hadn't really anyone to talk to about it. But at that moment you knew it was the right name. Anda, you said again.

The blanket now lies raggedly open on the chair, with the baby sitting atop it.

For a strange moment, you think you hear the reed-bird calling again, outside. But the baby starts in again, wiping the sound from the air and your ears.

> get baby
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

The baby thrashes in its cries, straining against your grasp.

> w
The baby in your arms, you pause at the doorway, considering the darkening sky outside, the way the wind shakes the reeds.

The river that you know is there.

Your head rings with the baby's inhuman howling as a dark thought crosses over you. Could it be true? Could this baby really be a changeling?

Is it true?

(You take a step backwards, away from the doorway. For now.)

For a strange moment, you think you hear the reed-bird calling again, outside. But the baby starts in again, wiping the sound from the air and your ears.

> w
The baby in your arms, you pause at the doorway, considering the darkening sky outside, the way the wind shakes the reeds.

The river that you know is there.

Cold, welcome certainty calms your heart and stills your shaking hands. Yes. Of course this isn't really your baby. Just look at it. Just listen to it, you think to yourself, and catch yourself almost laughing, giddily. As if you've had any choice but to listen, all this time!

It is a monster, a creature of the forest, come to play you for a fool, and it did. For a while. But God bless that tailor for knowing what to do.

And now you know what you have to do, too.
Holding the squirming, bawling creature at arms' length, you walk back out into the windy evening.

You wonder how the exchange will happen. Perhaps they already know that their trick is ended, and they will be waiting for you with your real baby. Or maybe you'll come back home to find him asleep in the crib; you're rather sure you've heard of that happening before. Either way, they'll have to return him, once you throw their false child back to them. That's simply how it works.

You can't help but smile, looking forward to seeing your child again, as you make your way south, towards the river.

*** The End ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
aaa hmm we don't get told what happens?
Please give one of the answers above.

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
undo

Please give one of the answers above.

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
undo
l
Please give one of the answers above.

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
restore
Ok.

> l
Inside your cottage
Here is where you've lived for so many years, a cottage much like any other, a fine place to rest after a day gathering reeds or preparing thatch. Here you have made meals beyond counting, always for yourself, sometimes for another. It contains scattered furniture -- the largest being a table against one wall, and a cradle not far from it.

The baby sits on the chair, held upright by the blanket you'd tied before you began your search. It thrashes and cries, but your knots hold.

> get shears
You can't see any such thing.

> x table
Just a simple table, made of wood.

On the table is the pair of cold iron shears.

The baby's cries subside for a few heartbeats, then resume as loud as before.

> get shears
You toss the stake aside.

The iron seems startlingly cold as you close your hand around it.

The baby shrieks and cries.

> cut blanket
The cold iron of the shears bites into the blanket.

It was a hard birth. Not like the last one, but hard. Still, it ended with you holding the babe in your arms. Without words to describe how you felt, what you said was this:

Anda.

You really hadn't thought of a name before now, and all at once it seemed strange that you hadn't, though you hadn't really anyone to talk to about it. But at that moment you knew it was the right name. Anda, you said again.

The blanket now lies raggedly open on the chair, with the baby sitting atop it.

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> kiss baby
(first taking the baby)
You carefully lift the baby, cradling it in your arms.

You pause, catching yourself wanting to go through the familiar motions, in spite of all the confusion. So young, but still you've lost count of the days, the number of times you've lifted the baby, just to hold, or to hold to your breast. And weren't those some of the most quietly pleasant times you've spent with the baby, despite everything?

Quiet, yes, says the darker part of you. Quiet because that's the only time it doesn't cry, that and sleeping. And you hear thoughts darker still -- They cry and carry on so, because they're greedy, greedier than any human child would be -- but you know those words aren't yours.

For a moment, you close your ears to the cries, and you try to close your mind to what he had suggested, to the fact that you may have even felt some perverse disappointment with the fact that the baby hadn't leapt up and begun to talk in Goblin-tongue rhyme when it saw the eggshell.

But maybe that's all there is to it. Maybe it was all just a foolish suggestion from a foolish man.

Is this really your baby?

(You find yourself still holding the baby, uncertain and trembling.)

> g
But, no. Between the baby's wailing and... and everything else, you just can't...

There is something missing.

(You find yourself still holding the baby, uncertain and trembling.)

The baby's wails reach a peak, rattling the bones in your head.

> anda, hello
Anda.

Yes.

You step back and look at the baby, at its face. Yes, its features are all twisted up by its crying, and yes, maybe they're a little strange just the same.

But the deeper resemblance is undeniable. Part of you wants to curse his cowardice for suggesting that it was any other way. But, there will be time for that later.

The rest of you, the whole of your heart, reaches out to the child. You know, as sure as the day it was born, that it -- that he -- is truly yours.

> z
Time passes.

Small game that mostly leads you through everything you're supposed to do in the setup, then gives you a choice at the end. It does what it does pretty well. My main complaint would be that it wasn't obvious which actions were going to cause an ending, which takes something away from the force of making you choose.

Personally I never really go much for this sort of multiple ending anyway. As soon as I realise that's how it works, I'm immediately planning to see all the endings, so it's just a decision about which to see first.

> put baby in cradle
Gently, you lower Anda into his cradle, then pull up the chair beside it and sit. You yourself can barely hear the lullaby you sing over his crying, but you know that soon enough he'll sleep.

And soon enough again, God willing, he'll grow. Growing is what babies do, and this is your baby.

*** The End ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, see some suggestions for AMUSING things to do, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
amusing
An illustrated afterword for this game is available on the web. Please visit http://jmac.org/warbler/afterword/.

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, see some suggestions for AMUSING things to do, QUIT or UNDO the last command?
>
quit