The uniqueness of Fallen London through the eyes of my character, Alistair Newton.
But Sunless Sea is but another piece of a larger story for Failbetter Games. That story starts and ends with Fallen London, a web based game that much like its successor garnered attention for its writing and ambitious choice system. It’s the quintessential sandbox, allowing you to become whatever you want to be, free from the fetters of any other purported open world game.
I could write an article about how unique it is, but that wouldn’t work given the nature of the game. No, instead, I’m going to honor the uniqueness of the game but letting you experience the world of Fallen London through the eyes of my character. Everything you read in this story is something you can do in Fallen London, and every choice I make can lead to several paths.
“Pip pip, cheerio, guvna”, I say to the passing foreigner. I’m tempted to ask him for a lovely spot of tea and some crumpets but stop myself in time. It’s become a game for Londoner’s to play up the expectations of tourists by rolling out the funny accents whenever we pass one in the streets. The toothsome endgame comes in watching their face turn from of rainbows and lolli’s to a dreary macabre horror of a thief’s knife point.
The more hapless tourists descend into a more squalid trap of creatures from the other side, more interested in amassing souls to torment than material gain or the delight of taking a life.
There are few to warn the tourists and naive of this now sunken hamlet about the evil creatures that inhabit it. Even fewer will assist those that are past the point of saving. That’s my domain. I am Alistair Newton, the only detective in Fallen London. Do not be deceived, I did not inherent my mantle of Greatest Detective in London due to the low interest in the field.
Please, pull up a chair and sit by the fire for a while, won’t you? My tale is only at its dawn, fitting, considering the city itself is located several miles underground, in the dark reaches of Hell. No natural light dare enter these walls; the flame of methane gaslights has long become our surrogate sun.
As I entered my lodgings one afternoon, an old appendage nesting above a café, a box lying at my heels greeted me like an excitable puppy. On top of the box sat a note, which went into little detail about who left it. Instead, it simply said “you’re doing good work, here’s something for your troubles”. The box contained a bowler hat, but this was no ordinary hat. I sussed out the size, and determined that it would fit my crown perfectly, and after checking the lining for any poisoned tips, I tried it on. Words fail to adequately explain it, but the moment I put it on I felt a burst of energy, and then nothing. I blended seamlessly into the surrounding shadows. Upon taking off the mysterious gift, I returned to my normal state of being.
I’m not quite sure what the note refers to, however. If I may be so bold as to tell you my origins, you might understand yourself. You see, I’m not originally from around here. I got my start in life above the surface, in the realm of the mortal human. A rather daring adventure ended with myself in a prison deep below the earth’s crust, in a place called Fallen London. It’s the damndest thing. I don’t know how I got here, or what provoked my imprisonment, but I would find out.
I made my escape from the torturous hell by sweet talking the creature in the hood, I’m not sure as to what gender it encompassed, and I didn’t care. The hooded figure gave me a chisel with which I used to break the loose bars around the window. Upon tasting the fresh air, I jumped out and landed on a conveniently passing dirigible and finding myself in Ladybones Road. I escaped one hell, and found myself in another.
Only but a few months have passed since, and troublingly no one seems to mind. The constables don’t seem to be enquiring about my escape or searching for me. I expected my face to inspire the greater area with wanted posters, but I’ve been greeted with no luck on that front. No one, short of the hooded figure, could have known I resided there. Naturally I assumed this figure was behind the box, but afraid and perplexed, I knew not where their intentions lay. This led to an investigation into the identity of this figure, and over time that branched out into general detective work.
Eventually, I found myself coming into contact with yet another mysterious figure. Fallen London’s Mysterious Cloak industry is experiencing a boon it would seem. The figure asked for my help, requesting an audience at a neutral location, Caligula’s Coffee House.
When I arrived at the specified location, a mysterious figure startled me from the shadows. The Last Constable stood before me with her hands up, chuckling to herself. She styles herself as the last honest Special Constable in London, a title I respected given my own self-appointed notion of importance. She was blunt, telling me that she desired to bring down the shady criminal known only as “the Cheery Man”.
She debriefed me about the antiquated mob boss, whom she suspected was losing power, but still was dangerous. The Cheery Man had long since been the subject of hushed whispers and dreaded secrets; rumours abound that he controlled Watchmaker’s Hill, an equally infamous den of iniquity and danger. All human evils that occurred in London were orchestrated from Watchmaker’s Hill, led by The Cheery Man.
“He hardly sounds like he’s losing power to me,” I interjected. She reinforced that it was merely a guess, and that she wanted to know if I would help her or not. Smiling at my agreement, she grabbed my hand. “Good, I’ll need all the help I can get tracking down my father.” Before allowing me the chance to respond, she disappeared into the shadows.
Perplexed, I made my way out of the coffee house ordering nothing. The strange elixir served there is refreshing, and has drawn crowds from far off. Of course that means it draws a considerable flow of echoes as well. My pockets were light, and I didn’t fancy filling them with the moist, overpriced flow of brown liquid.
As luck would have it, for me at any rate, I wasn’t the only one nursing a hollow coin purse. As I emerged from the shop, a man in tattered clothes and a loose sock with holes cut in for eyes wrapped around his face ran past. His shadow had a larger breadth, aged in features and red in face. The gutter snipes blocking his path lacked the foresight to stop the burglar and the charisma to cheer for him.
Springing to my feet, I hailed a cab and went the opposite direction of the commotion. Travelling through Ladybones Road, Moloch Street, and down a side alley no one bothered to name, I arrived just in time to see the thief, now without his thicker shadow, about to enter a consignment shop. Ordering the driver to increase speed, I leaned out the window slightly more than necessary for dramatic effect, and plunked the watch out from the thief’s hand before he even noticed my approach.
Unfortunately the budding young hero before you had nowhere to return the prize. I didn’t know the rightful owner, and I only vaguely remembered his features. After ten minutes of searching I gave up, and returned the watch to the first fat man I saw. He seemed quite pleased nevertheless, and thanked me for my service to the church, strangely.
I hopped back in the cab to return to my lodgings and ponder my next move. The Last Constable would surely act soon now that she has an ally, or so I thought. The situation with the Cheery Man had wrapped my attention so thoroughly I barely noticed the cab driver slip a piece of paper in my hand. I only noted it after I laid my key on the table and stared out the window into the darkness for twenty odd minutes.
I thought about the possibilities. Logic dictates it being the work of the Last Constable, however she had just spoken to me. Maybe she didn’t want to air whatever the note contained out loud. Paranoia grabbed me tight and I pondered the possibility of the robbery being staged to test my mettle. Seeing as how the watch fell into the not entirely correct hands, I expected the note’s contents to be of a less friendly demeanour than that of which the Constable demonstrated in Caligula’s.
As I crumbled the infernal reprimand, a sweet aroma tickled my nose. I noticed a sticky, golden substance adhere to my hand. As I unfolded the fused together pages, honey dripped from its edges, London’s most indulgent drug. Someone calling themselves the last honest Constable wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave honey residue on a note. Even realising I should be ever more cautious than before, I found myself ecstatic in the most morbid sense.
The honey addled fool who sent the message had half-crumpled it and almost threw it on my rug. I opened it with glee and read it aloud, before anyone listened to my stories.
“You have gained the Last Constable’s attention and that of half the thieves on Watchmaker’s Hill. Now you can adjoin my initials to the list. I am looking for junior detectives such as yourself, and you have caught the eye of one of my recruiters. If you’re as good as you claim to be, you should have no trouble in locating me.” So much for being the only detective in London.
My mind immediately set to work deciphering some form of code within the message itself. The Last Constable is of the female persuasion, Ladybones Road? Watchmaker’s Hill could be a clue, but surely a detective wouldn’t set up shop in enemy territory. Is the Honey a decoy, or is he really using the potent elixir? That would explain the need to contract work out to others.
Flinging accusations like the tabloids and deciphering nonexistent clues was a waste of time. The lone definitive clue was the honey, and even if it were a decoy, he had to procure it somewhere. The following evening I made my way to The Singing Mandrake, the de facto spot for poets, writers, drunks, and the local rat population, but now I’m becoming repetitious. If there was ever a place to find the sweet spice of life, it would be there.
The bar did not cease to function as I entered; nobody froze in motion to turn their eyes to the stranger’s presence. There were certainly a few backwards glances and the stiffening of upper lips, but it was hardly the dramatic entrance I hoped it would be. To liven the mood, I strolled to the stage with the kind of elegant stroll these types like and shoved the local poet to the side. He sputtered prose about his cat or some such drivel like a rapid fire blunderbuss; no one would miss him. I replaced his act with a poem of my own, detailing the light seeping through the cracks of the cave walls. How it washed upon my skin and made me long not for the surface world, but for death to take hold and cleanse me of my otherworldly afflictions not of god’s world, but that of my own creation. The nightmares that haunt me in a waking dream, the darkness that dances around my vision for eternity and then some.
The composition was nothing special, just something I came up with on the spot. Frankly I wasn’t expecting much, but the bar erupted with subtle applause and the lowering of upper lips and the raising of eyebrows. I followed the ode to nonsense with a few politically tinged jokes, demanding the crowd laugh, laugh damn you! Laugh they did. The room quickly shifted in my favour, and I garnered looks from lady and gentlemen alike that communicated a more tantalising interest.
One lady stood out from the rest. She resided at a table on her lonesome, and being a gentlemen, I couldn’t allow such a misdeed to carry on. At least, that was what I told her when I grabbed a chair beside her. My intentions were focused on the supplier of Honey, however I soon found myself with something much more beneficial. She spoke with boisterous ease about her exploits in the city, a tourist who avoided the usual traps, and the desire to fulfil her desires before returning home.
Yet when it came to the subject of just where home was, she became coy, merely suggesting possibilities and confirming what I already began to suspect. She was a spy for some foreign power or another, and the sudden realisation that she needed to play her cards to her chest led me to believe she wasn’t as intoxicated as she portrayed herself.
Why would a spy tell me as such? It felt as if moves in the great game began at that moment, and I was but a fragment being played with. Images of the hooded gaoler played in my mind, pushing aside the dancing darkness or whatever bollocks I came up with earlier.
I capitalised on her invitation, and promised to frolic in whatever sheets we could find, but first I would require another form of stimulation. She smiled, leaning her head to the side, and pointed me to a man on Watchmaker’s Hill.
The general area hardly came as a startling revelation, however the exact spot one might desire to indulge themselves was. The spy told me of a honey den located above the shop of a reputable watchmaker. I thanked her, and excused myself to use the restroom before heading out together. A pang of guilt almost seized me as I exited a rear window and hopped into the dark streets alone. Who will entertain the attractive, tipsy woman who desired sexual release?
As I climbed out the window, I made sure to bang my watch on the windowsill, entirely on accident, and decided it would be best to get it repaired at that exact moment in time.
With the knowledge of a honey den above the watchmaker’s shop, the requirement of the much publicised bouncer standing out front made much more sense. I wonder if anyone endeavoured to steal the platinum plated watches or gold hip chains he’d do anything to persuade the thief otherwise. He didn’t look impressed when I showed him my cheap watch, soured more still by the fact it didn’t break on its own but rather shattered at the hands of a careless owner.
I entered the shop to the cliché of tick, tock, tick, tock of the various watches and spotted the squat man behind the counter. Behind him was the only door in the room other than the one I had entered. I prepared a speech as I approached the counter, but he grabbed the watch from my hand. Without looking at me, he said he could repair it in ten minutes and that it would require fifty echoes. He entered the room behind him, taking the money up front, and closed the door quicker than my eyes could peak through the crack.
Glancing behind my shoulder to see what the oaf outside was currently fixated on, I ducked behind the counter and peaked through the keyhole. The watchmaker tinkered away at the broken carcass I brought before him. Compared to the other pieces in the room, my watch looked like a beggar. Beside the table stood an ascending staircase, leading to the sweet smell of nectar that further proved the spy a master.
I twisted the doorknob ever so slowly, and with a light foot and my gift from a mysterious benefactor adorned, entered the room.
The next thing I remember is finding myself on Moloch Street yet again, holding a scrap of paper with a loosely scrawled address pointing to the flats ahead of me. I smacked my lips and tasted no honey, but I reeked of it. Whatever happened in the den, I’m grateful I don’t remember.
However I will always remember what I saw when I came to. In one of the windows of the flats, a thin man peered out at me, his eyes hooded with dreams and his demeanour lacking. Still, he looked at me with sharp, inquisitive eyes barely visible under the curtain.
I took a single step before a tramp bumped into me. Normally I’d check my pockets for something missing, but on this occasion something found its way in. “Meet me at Caligula’s in an hour. Last Constable,” the note read. A smirk pulled at the corner of my mouth, and I looked up to the window of the honey addled detective. He examined me still, before turning his back and disappearing from view.
Time to live up to my moniker.