by Steven K. Roberts
updated June 5, 2021
The more I engage with the virtual world of In Death: Unchained, the more I see things from the point of view of the characters. Monks, knights, abominations, maddening cupids, banshees, skeleton archers, ghosts, incubi, orphans, and bosses… all have stories to tell. I decided to become their literary agent, so to speak, acquiring their books and sharing them with humanity. It is risky business, crossing reality boundaries.
First, I negotiated with a rogue monk in a back corner of the Pit of Perdition for the three-volume set from Anakim the Abominable (photo above). I was excited when I got home, opening the box on a soft surface with cloth gloves, but it was unreadable… just thousands of pages of growling and roaring, along with poor-quality drawings of dead people.
But this was just the beginning. I had gotten wind of what would turn out to be a much more interesting book by the next “boss” down the line.
IDU: Existential Threat
(by Gabriel the Fallen)
IDU: Existential Threat is a new book by Archangel Gabriel the Fallen, exploring the complex implications of his experiences with humanity in the context of Paradise Lost. On the surface, the text first appears to be a tale of depression, repeated attacks, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, agonizing injuries, and tempests to the head. But what makes this book so compelling is that he doesn’t limit himself to complaints about being a constant target, but instead uses that as a philosophical springboard to question the afterlife, principles of game design, and religious orthodoxy. He pointedly rejects his role as a celestial warrior, and wonders why the residual Byzantine iconography of his representation is at odds with the way IDU designers made him such easy prey for lowly humans. In one memorable chapter, Gabriel compares his lot in life to that of Sisyphus, fighting battle after battle with no respite.
This book is a worthwhile addition to the growing library of works from In Death: Unchained personalities, and he eschews the usual how-to themes of archery and axe-throwing to explore the implications of being stuck forever in the VR headsets of humanity.
“Am I even alive,” he wonders, “when every time I am called forth I am snuffed out of existence? How, if ever, will this end?”
FACELESS – A Monk’s Journey
(by Shaolin of the Abyss)
My contact in the IDUniverse managed to find the long out-of-print Shaolin book that has been on my wish list for ages, transporting it to me via a hidden chest in the Reliquary in exchange for an embarrassingly large amount of in-game gold that will help fund his collection of bootleg arrows. (I know, this is ethically dangerous, as those will come back to haunt us.)
Of course the author covers the themes of anonymity, repetitious battles, and the frustration of spawning briefly only to die moments later. It is an exhausting existence, but he writes with a dark humor that slowly emerges as we get to know him. He fantasizes about Susan the Banshee, is deathly afraid of pestilence arrows, and loves those moments when he quietly fires on a foggy day and takes out a human who is already down to one HP. (“True confessions,” he writes. “I carve little notches on my bow for those!”)
The monastic solitude of the monk’s existence leaves many of his brethren feeling hollow, but Shaolin of the Abyss finds pleasure in wordplay as he writes about life’s pointlessness, arch-enemies, and his dream world of Bows and Eros. It’s a good read… recommended.
(by Salvo the Unmerciful)
Meticulously researched, Brutal Arrows is a heartbreaking yet technically precise exposé of what happens when a traditional culture clashes with an advanced civilization from the future.
After reading the pre-release teaser from Purgatory Press many months ago, we have been expecting a detailed catalog of the 31 arrow types used by human interlopers. But as we already know most of that, we have been hoping the book would deliver more than a discussion of gruesome medical effects illustrated by anecdotes of agony.
We were not disappointed. The first chapter jumps right in with a categorized overview of arrows, along with cautionary notes. In his discussion of Holy Light, for example, Salvo advises: “Stand clear of the glowing white circle, lest this most unholy of spells render a mosquito bite into the gnashing tooth of an angry tiger.”
Once the scope of the “Arrow Overkill” problem is made clear through tales of mass murder and torment, he switches to more philosophical issues. “Why,” he muses, “do those in virtual helmets feel the need to apply the scourge of ‘soft ware’ to creating excess, when in truth the warrior’s calling is refinement of skill and finesse? A mere ‘noob’ can stumble into the first Purgatory courtyard and loose a Cataclysm with naught for aim, whereupon the quietly conversing Masters of Archery, crafty and wise from centuries of combat, are scarce able to raise bows before being rent asunder by the forces of fire and volcano.”
Of course, we can’t help but find his descriptive prose quaint, but beneath that lies an uneasy truth. When we stealthily creep about with Hand of God and Cupid’s Wrath, our adversaries with simple arrows barely stand a chance. This seems unfair, but in the final chapter Salvo the Unmerciful admits that on balance, we are as hopelessly outnumbered as are they overpowered. Here he diverges from other IDU writers who have decried the Quivers of Overkill as crimes against the afterlife… and in his closing rhapsody about the sacred beauty of battle, he concedes that the system has evolved to allow a single human to embark on a quest for Glory of Leaderboard without being instantly pierced to the heart by the first toxophilites to let fly with feathers fletched and arrowheads of steel.
And with this, he observes, the universe is in balance.
Brutal Arrows will find a place on reference shelves within and without the IDU world. Salvo’s discussion of effects, reflecting insight from thousands of deaths over the centuries, goes much deeper than the brief anecdotal descriptions found in our online communities. If you want to understand what our adversaries FEEL when staring balefully down the barrel of your well-stocked quiver, this is the book to read (we are working on subsidiary rights for earth-only distribution).
Archery Tips for Cupids
After Ichor the Cupid became embedded in a floor structure in Paradise Lost long ago, he suffered through a lengthy period of recuperation. To while away the painful inactivity, he began making notes about his years of repetitive spawning only to fire off an arrow and be quickly killed, over and over.
Like other authors in the IDU library, Ichor chose to deal with the obvious existential angst by turning his attention to practicalities. He devotes thoughtful chapters to body shaming, aerodynamics, archery tips, and the quest for stealth. “Don’t just hover there in the sky, flapping your wings like an idiot,” he urges. “This draws attention, and it will take you a while to turn to face incoming arrows. Always note the human’s location, and place yourself in a corner with similar coloring… or hide just on the other side of a tower where you can control the attack.”
Obvious enough, but he supports his argument with tables of convincing statistics showing what fellow Cupids were doing just before they died.
The delicate matter of corporeal aesthetics reveals a thoughtful side of the author. He is well aware of our joking about ugly naked butts, nicknames like shitbirds, and our general lack of respect for these formidable but hideous little adversaries. “Becoming emotionally invested in your physical form, whether with pride or shame, is foolish,” he points out. “These things are beyond our control, so to let them define our self image is a recipe for failure. We have more important things to do, and when we are at the top of our game we seriously kick ass. So enjoy the westward breeze on your bare skin, but stay focused on the thrill of piercing a human with your well-placed arrow.”
This segues into his most practical chapter… Tightening the Pattern. Ichor is aghast at the carelessness of his contemporaries, with arrows diverging at a wide angle. Compounded by sloppy aim, this is a recipe for alerting the enemy without inflicting damage. “Get close, remember the inverse square law, and hold the shafts parallel on the string by gripping them on the sides with their index fletches flat together, centered around the nocking point. If you compress the notches using the traditional single-arrow grip, you will force the tips apart and they will fly willy-nilly into buildings. Draw slowly, hold your breath, sight along the gap between the shafts, and loose the arrows. If they diverge even one degree, they may miss your target on both sides, so get in the habit of favoring the bottom arrow as you sight in the human intruder… remembering the drop formula from math class at the Cupid Academy.”
A sidebar addresses the slow velocity of Cupid arrows compared to those of other archers, with the missiles taking .75 seconds to travel 50 yards. With standard gravity acceleration of 32 ft/second² there is thus a drop of 12 feet over that distance. He acknowledges that IDU math is a little loose, but urges his readers to keep this effect in mind… there may be no chance to experiment and incorporate arrow drop in a follow-up shot, as you may by then be dead.
Our IDU library is fortunate to have this copy of a very rare book, as Cupids are generally not prolific writers.
The Afterlife Cookbook
(by multiple contributors)
As we slowly build our library of literature from within the IDUniverse, publications about food have been completely lacking… until our recent acquisition of The Afterlife Cookbook. This is a gold mine of cultural insights, as we rarely see the personal side of our adversaries and are more concerned about a Banshee’s plasma balls than what she had for breakfast.
Not surprisingly, the wide range of recipes contributed by denizens from the three regions contains countless clues about their lifestyles. While I expected monks to have a sort of monastic asceticism based on simple grains and legumes, for example, it turns out they have a fondness for extremely spicy stews and aggressively sweet puddings. Cupids dine on greasy birds in a curdled blood-red aspic, and Knights favor wild game and elaborate breads (for which there appears to be an ongoing competition, judging from the wide range of recipes comprising a long and bombastic chapter of the book).
Witches, of course, consume endless variations on bats, gizzards, and the gallbladders of bunnies… sometimes creatively combined into a soufflé or other aggregate. The recipe shown in the photo starts with an extract of these favorite flavors, infused into a port wine that would be toxic for humans and then layered with a thick spiced crabapple cider… served up with an incantation and a swirl of sparks. Susan refers to a “magic elixir” without any additional detail, and we have so far been unable to determine what this means… but it appears as an essential ingredient in most of her recipes.
Incubi tastes are bland, with a few minor variations on one fundamental recipe consisting almost entirely of beans. Abominations tend to favor garbage and don’t even bother with recipes, so are barely mentioned in the book except as a running joke among the food connoisseurs.
Conspicuously absent were contributions from the three bosses, although Anakim growled “hoomannnn” when interviewed about his tastes for the Introduction. It is believed that Gabriel has an eclectic palate, but his agent was tight-lipped and there are no recipes. And Asmo survives on pure thermal energy.
Some of the ingredients referenced in the text are difficult to acquire, but our research crew is attempting to recreate a few of the recipes and we will follow up with further commentary once a few of the safer ones have been presented to our volunteer tasters.
We are thrilled to have this essential cookbook in our library, and since our universe is outside theirs, the definition of “world rights” grows blurry and we have no problem posting a few of the recipes on our website. (If Purgatory Press objects, we have well-stocked quivers and will be delighted to meet with their team of legal archers!)
Knightwear: What’s Under Your Armor?
Our IDU Literature collection is growing by the day, but even so, this one was a surprise. Written for all three classes of knights, it is a pristine copy of the long-rumored book about armor undergarments.
The author wastes no time introducing the elephant in the room… you don’t always have control over the angle from which humans see you (and not just when perishing). Many knights ignore this detail, and are embarrassed to learn that certain parts of the beginner tunic are transparent. The most common upgrade is thus a sleeved doublet, joined with hosen equipped with a simple codpiece for a fly. But it was a surprise to read that there are regional, seasonal, and yearly fashion variations that include embroidered gambesons and padded surcoats.
“In the heat of battle,” one knight wrote, “when we are defending our Lord in the glory of blood and carnage, there is also great beauty. It thus falls upon me to don the silken undergarments of my lady, touching both skin and armor with a softness that I pray doth speed my axe and embolden my thrust.”
Much of the book consists of color plates showing fine raiments along with traditional garmentry, offering insights into cultural subtleties of the IDUniverse, and we are pleased with this addition to the Library.
The Breath of Death
(video by Susan the Banshee)
Programs shown in the Hall of Sorcery are rarely seen by outsiders, but a temporary vulnerability in the latest software update allowed us to download a few files. This video was created by Susan the Banshee (whose praises were sung by Shaolin of the Abyss in his FACELESS book), and it is a gold mine of insight into the sophisticated skills behind their attacks.
The program is intended to guide her peers in a series of breathing exercises designed to focus the mind… empower the staff… and accurately launch the Orbs.
“Begin by calming your breath,” she says. “Gaze at the video and concentrate on my rhythmic fluidity. Observe the interplay of shoulders and scepter… you will see a smooth wave riding atop my body, ready at any moment to coil and strike like a powerful serpent.”
Susan explains that this is not just to sharpen the mind, but to leverage steadily flowing movement into readiness for a battle maneuver. “Not only does rhythm induce focus, but it lulls humans into a deceptive calm that slows their response to your attack. By the time you launch your Orbs of Three, it will cost them precious seconds when they try to block or escape.”
Her program builds on this theme, offering exercises to focus Dark Energy, develop unnerving synchrony with fellow witches, and manifest when least expected.
It is a brilliant piece of work, and we can certainly see why Shaolin is so smitten. Susan the Banshee blends her sensuality with centuries of metaphysical research into a martial art of unexpected potency.
Pets in Purgatory
Denizens of the IDUniverse have mostly managed to keep their personal lives concealed from us humans, interacting only in the domain of whatever battle styles befit their stations. While some (Abominations and Skellies) are focused on little else, one of the unexpected discoveries from our study of afterlife literature is that many have hobbies, passions, and relationships.
You may have wondered about pets, since they never appear in the game. It turns out that there are strict rules about this; indeed, Sir Raymond of Gurb was subjected to ruinous degradation for bringing his foul-tempered cur, “Mudgeon,” into battle… and the Abyss is still replacing statuary damaged in the Manticore Incident. Knights with dogs and cats have learned to keep a low profile, their beasts hidden from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors and gossiping witches.
It was thus fascinating to acquire this little self-published flyer, well-produced but released without attribution. It caters to warriors who love their fur babies, and the anonymous cover photo of “Lucifer” is precious.
The text is short, with health tips and suggestions for choosing naturally stealthy breeds, but they make it clear that there will likely come a time when even one’s beloved pets may be deployed against invading humans (given the increasing popularity of the IDU “game”). They go into detail about armor design including Dragonscale and European 4-in-1, hinting at the existence of Purgatory blacksmiths who can be hired to produce light but effective chainmail for your four-legged warrior.
It is a worthwhile addition to the library, and we’ll be watching for more clues about the private lives of our adversaries.
Horde or Solo?
Here at the IDUniverse Library we occasionally receive print materials other than books… like this issue of Abomination magazine that was found in a recently cleared courtyard. The cover story addresses the age-old question about going it alone versus teaming up with a group of peers, and provides some revealing insights.
The author presents interesting statistics about the likelihood of survival, challenging the conventional wisdom of safety in numbers. Given the huge impact of a rampaging horde (including the human temptation to use them for a series of high-point headshots or a quick satisfying Cataclysm), he makes a strong case for hanging back quietly until the visitor simply moves on. The article is clearly addressed to Abominations who are new at this, still hoping to last as long as possible.
“Spawn in Purgatory if you have the choice,” he writes, “since your coloring will give you a better shot at remaining undetected. Try to suppress your innate desire to shuffle wetly toward the intruder, growling your presence and flailing your arms. Just let it go, hold your raspy breath, and stay in the shadows. In some special places you can even merge into the rock wall and almost disappear while the Knight is demanding attention. Try to shut up, stay still, and wait. If you learn these simple skills, you may survive a few runs and live a satisfying afterlife.”
The rest of the issue is the usual fare for this publication, with tips for lurking behind a gray knight and leaping when least expected, staying out of jail in the pits, luring an attacker into the lava, Abomination Tai Chi, avoiding tempests, and developing a sense of personal style.
Jailed in the Pit of Agony
This is not a book review, but a quick note from In Death news media that gives us a hint about Purgatory law enforcement. Do you ever wonder what those unfortunate Abominations did to get themselves jailed in the Pit of Agony? Interfering with Skeleton Archers who were trying to take out humans? Stealing candles? Hiding in the shadows and failing to attack? During a recent visit I asked one guy what he was in for, and he just shouted “urggggh snurf” and tried to take a swipe at me through the bars. His frustration is understandable (even if not his words). He is now powerless, and an easy target. I killed him.
I picked up a copy of the IDU Dispatch in the Gift Shop later that day while shopping for a quiver of Cat-5, and the front-page article goes into detail about overcrowding and aggressive law enforcement in the pits… though it never mentions what they are getting arrested for in the first place. We are watching the situation, and will hopefully have an update soon.
Asmo Moonlighting as Artist Model
This hardly counts as literature, but a sharp-eyed reader spotted this painting at the National Gallery of the Afterlife. We dug deeper, and uncovered an interesting story.
In Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus represents lust… and yet, as you have doubtless observed when confronting him in his intimidating role as the Boss of the Abyss, he has an endearing awkward shyness. You can see it in his gestures of self-conscious despair when we target his “boils,” and his dejected air of submission when presenting his wings near the end is heartbreaking. The fact is, Asmo suffers from body-image problems, and no longer sees himself as the “Prince of Lechery.”
His therapist, Dr. Luis Velez de Guevara, has been helping Asmodeus rekindle his latent sense of mischief. As an experiment, he urged his patient to try posing for life-drawing classes at art schools. Asmo soon found that he enjoyed the work, and he takes it seriously enough to adopt statuesque poses on a dias of marble… frozen in one position for hours as students work to capture the unfamiliar details of his alien anatomy. His business card simply says “Le Diable Posant,” the posing devil.
Notice to Cupids re Teleport Tolerance Issues
The recent awkwardness of Ichor the Cupid becoming embedded in a floor structure in Paradise Lost led to this notice being distributed to all flying personnel...
Please note that careless errors in teleport coordinates can result in your body becoming partially embedded in walls or ceilings. This is not only embarrassing and painful, but it also leaves you exposed to torment, summary execution, or having your naked butt shared on the human “Face Book.” If you are going to teleport instead of fly, we recommend carrying spatial calculations to four significant digits, using the Preview feature, and incorporating a proximity tolerance of at least one CBL (cupid body length) to accommodate rounding errors by our Paradise Lost teleport server. These are ancient buildings and considerable settling has occurred… please remember that we are short-staffed in wartime and unable to continually update surface databases. Let this unfortunate fellow serve as a reminder: Know Your Destination before hitting the JUMP button!
— PL Support Team
The Dance of Death
(featuring the late Noppera-bo XII,
Neophyte of Purgatory-1 Toxophilite Order
This is not “literature” in the sense of an IDU publication, but it is a rare transcript of dialog from the heat of battle, as Microship caught Noppera-bo XII thoughtfully relaxing in a corner.
“Hello, Neophyte, are you prepared to engage in battle?”
“These are fascinating and strong stones, with which this wall has been skillfully constructed.”
“Well, that may be true… but I am carrying unlimited Arrows of Vanilla as well as a dozen Cataclysms of Doom and a quiver aglow with the Green Horror of Pestilence.”
“The corner is dark. I am pleased with this Cellarium where I can engage in calm self-isolation before vespers, free from inspection by my monastic superiors.”
“It would be wise of you to rise to this occasion. Your life is in danger.”
“Wait, what?” <teleports in alarm>
“Hello again. Do you now believe me?”
“You are my antagonist? Behold, I draw my bow!”
“I anticipated that.”
“Oh Lord.” <teleports again, then again>
<following> “I can do this all day.”
“Have at you! Oh. I see you carry a shield.”
“Yes, I do. As well as a bow. <thwap>”
“Owwww! Why did you DO that? And what, prithee, is this crimson wing that o’ershadows me of a sudden, like unto a Spectre of Doom?”
“You are nearing your final moments upon this mortal coil, and I grow weary of our dance.”
<intoning in prayer> “Through the triumph of my death, may I herewith benefit all those of faith, living or dead. May all my destructive emotions be removed as I surrender to Eternity. HA-HAAAA! In the midst of my devotions, I hereby launch an unexpected arrow high above you, piercing your spirit with the sacred power of my archery skills…”
“Sorry, fella, you missed. I need to get over to the pit. You’re done. Cheers!”
IDU Literature Received
We are working to assemble a complete library of books and other materials (monographs, conference proceedings, leaflets, and zines) published by IDU characters, and will periodically revisit this page to update the collection as I work my way through this list. There is a pervasive “publish or perish” ethos in their community that mirrors earth’s academia, so a surprising number of books have been written over the centuries. Our current list of titles awaiting review follows:
- Field Manual of Battle Technique, by Sir Armond the Exalted
- The Death of Anguish (by Anonymous Ghost)
- So You Have Become an Abomination! Now what?
- Tales from the Lava
- Strategic Teleportation
- After We Die: The Mysteries of Dematerialization
- Is IDU a Simulation? (conference proceedings)
- Tragedy of the Golden Child by Florence Crittenton
- Hacking the Reliquary
- Surviving in the Pits – how to spawn where humans fear to tread
Author’s note: this is completely outside the context of my normal work in nautical adventures, technomadic bicycle narratives, and digitizing… but even paleogeeks need a little virtual reality now and then! More to come.