The Potentate of Jarburg

About halfway through Elden Ring, I realized that the player’s character is the villain of the story.

At some point before the story begins, a manifest symbol of divine order called the “Elden Ring” was shattered by nefarious means, and the rulers of the land fought over its shards. Whether because of the battles or because of the nature of the shattering itself, everything is now in ruins.

As an outcast “Tarnished” warrior who has returned to the magical Lands Between, your job is to retrieve the shards of the Elden Ring from the fallen rulers and thereby restore the Golden Order of the once-great civilization. At least, that’s what you’re led to believe.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that the society enabled by the Golden Order wasn’t so great. The ruling class built its civilization by subjugating other cultures in fantastically horrific ways. This isn’t subtext, exactly, but neither is it surtext – it’s simply the story told by the environment of the game.

You may think that perhaps, if you repair the Elden Ring and become the new Elden Lord, you’ll do better. You’ll burn the ruined vestiges of the old order and create a more just and fair society. The game defies this hope at every turn, however. For every kindness you attempt, you cause only more suffering.     

In more prosaic terms, almost every sidequest in Elden Ring ends badly.

The kind and modest Sorcerer Thops, who has developed a brilliant form of defensive magic, asks you to spare a key to the Academy of Raya Lucaria if you happen to find one. Should you do so, he is unprepared to face the dangers of the battleground the school has become, and he is slaughtered at his desk.

The gentle and noble Irina has fled from the besieged Castle Morne, and she asks you to deliver a letter to her father, beseeching him to join her instead of perishing in a hopeless battle. When you find Irina’s father, you learn that the castle was overtaken by the slaves he abused. Irina is slaughtered in your absence. This drives her father mad, and you are forced to kill him.

Meanwhile, Preceptor Seluvis, a member of the only group of good guys you encounter in Elden Ring, asks you to deliver a healing potion to one of your former companions. What this potion does is to turn her into a mindless “puppet.” This is an act of revenge against the woman’s adoptive father, with whom Seluvis has a feud that he never bothers to explain. It’s strongly implied that Seluvis uses his puppets as sex dolls, but this unsavory magic is necessary is help another female character. In order to save her from endless torture, you must agree to collude with Seluvis.

The only pure and wholesome place in Elden Ring is Jarburg, an isolated village filled with flowers and animate Living Jars. Living Jars are magical war machines that were abandoned because they happen to be extraordinarily bad at fighting. Should you visit Jarburg, you will be greeted by Jar Bairn, a young Living Jar who asks if you will become the Potentate of Jarburg. Jar Bairn will happily chat with you, and he has more lines than almost anyone else in the game. Aside from enjoying a few rounds of idle conversation, there’s nothing to do in Jarburg. There are no battles or treasures or quests, just Living Jars lazing about in the grass and tending to the flowers.

So the player will leave Jarburg – if they ever bother to find the village at all – and probably never return.

Instead, you’ll continue through the game, murdering and pillaging and destroying everything you encounter. Elden Ring doesn’t give you much of a choice. If you don’t kill something, it’s only because it succeeded in killing you first. You have to survive by any means necessary, even if that means leaving a trail of blood in your wake. In order to become the new Elden Lord, you must be utterly ruthless.

Along the way, you’ll bear witness to the atrocities committed by the former rulers of the Lands Between. You’ll gradually understand why this violence was necessary, and you’ll begin to realize that your own choices are limited. There is no happy end to this story, not for you or for anyone else.

So why finish the game, then? The former rulers are no longer in any position to subjugate anyone, and the formerly enslaved peoples are now free. Castles will crumble, and ancient cities will be forgotten, but the dead will finally be allowed to rest. Why not simply lay down your sword and allow the Lands Between to heal?

I am very bad at Elden Ring, which is an extremely difficult and punishing game. To make matters worse, no one in the game offers you real or meaningful guidance. On top of that, all of the guides available online are fragmentary, disconnected, and clearly written in haste. The artist Frankiesbugs is a veteran of the Soulsborne games, and she’s been patiently helping me find my way forward as we slowly navigate the Lands Between. Mostly we’ve been making silly jokes about the game’s shitty wizards and their appalling sense of fashion, but we wanted to try to create something a bit more serious that reflects the deeper themes of Elden Ring.

This collaborative comic is a tribute to a masterpiece of the medium that forces you to ask difficult questions with no easy answers. I have to admit that I may not ever finish Elden Ring, but maybe that’s okay. It wouldn’t be so bad to be the Potentate of Jarburg.

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You can follow Frankiesbugs on Twitter (here), on Tumblr (here), and on Instagram (here). If you like this comic, you can leave Frankiesbugs a tip on Ko-fi (here) and browse her creepy-cute Plague Doctor merch on Redbubble (here). If you’re interested in stylish gothic horror with a heart, please check out Frankiesbugs’s ongoing comic Necrobirth, which you can read on Tapas (here), on Webtoon (here), or on Tumblr (here).  

Watching from the Shadows

I contributed a story about Impa and Princess Zelda titled “Watching from the Shadows” to Goddess Reborn, a zine celebrating the female characters of the Legend of Zelda series. You can check out the zine’s Twitter account (here), and you can read my story on AO3 (here). Here’s a short description of the story…

Impa prepares to train Princess Zelda as a Sheikah warrior during the year following the fall of Hyrule Castle. Zelda is tired of hiding and eager to fight, so Impa shares stories from the past to demonstrate that there is wisdom in waiting for the right moment to strike.

This spot illustration was created by the magical and marvelously skilled Frankiesbugs, whose sharp and deadly work can be found on Tumblr, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

Hylia’s Chosen Knight

I had a horrible thought about the Legend of the Zelda mythology the other day. Demise’s curse supposedly follows the bloodline of the goddess Hylia, so all she needs to do to release Hyrule from an endless cycle of destruction is to stop reincarnating as a mortal. Why she insists on being reincarnated isn’t clear, but Skyward Sword strongly suggests that it’s because she loves Link so much. This is a little creepy…

…but I have nothing but unironic respect for ancient deities who behave like teenage girls!

Once I started thinking about Hylia being creepy, all sorts of interesting possibilities presented themselves. What if Hylia isn’t just a “goddess,” but also completely inhuman? What if she isn’t a sky goddess, but a being from beyond the sky? And what if it’s not necessarily Link she loved, but Hyrule? The idea of an eldritch cosmic entity who wants to become human because she loves the earth is beautiful. It’s also romantic, sort of like The Little Mermaid but endlessly apocalyptic.

Then I started thinking about the Sheikah, the group of people who have historically served Hyrule’s royal family from the shadows. In Breath of the Wild, the ancient Sheikah built incredibly sophisticated technology that is completely at odds with the otherwise medieval world of the game. In addition, their technology also features cosmic and sidereal motifs. What if the Sheikah always knew what Hylia was?

I was partially inspired by (this) comic about how potentially creepy Hylia is in Skyward Sword, and by (this) illustration of Zelda as subtly but undeniably monstrous. I’m fascinated by darker interpretations of the Legend of Zelda universe, and I would love to see more horror-themed Zelda art in the world. While I’m waiting for the sequel to Breath of the Wild to be released, I figured that I might as well create some myself.

Frankiesbugs is one of my all-time favorite horror artists, and I was beyond thrilled when she accepted my commission to draw this comic. She had the brilliant idea to model Hylia on Ebrietas from Bloodborne, who bears the sobriquet “Daughter of the Cosmos” and is theorized to have enabled the dystopian world of the game because of her desire to coexist with humans. Frankiesbugs also drew a connection between the iconic eye motif of the Sheikah and the possibility of Hylia having multiple eyes as someone who watches the earth from the skies – or as someone who always keeps watch over her chosen hero.

Frankiesbugs posts original horror art and video game fan art on Instagram, on Tumblr, and on Twitter, as well as on Teepublic and on Redbubble if you’re interested in wearing some creepy-cute graphic design.

The Magic of Fiction

I thought long and hard (so to speak) about the title of the book the Demon King is reading, but everything I came up with was awful. I decided to give up after “Dragon with a Hard-on” and just leave it up to the reader’s imagination.

This comic is written by me and drawn by Frankiesbugs, whose art is sometimes cute, sometimes creepy, and always stylish. You can follow them on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Tumblr for more comics, demons, and attractive people in fancy dress behaving badly.

The Shadows of Hyrule

Honey, everyone has a murder dungeon in Kakariko Village.

The joke is that, while the “evil” Yiga Clan is characterized as violent and bloodthirsty in Breath of the Wild, the “good” Sheikah Clan is canonically just as disturbing. They’re all magical ninja assassins. What do you expect?

These two characters are Sooga and Impa from the Breath of the Wild AU melee fighting game Age of Calamity, and this is fan art of the four-part Sooga/Impa fancomic Shadow Folk by Frankiesbugs on Tumblr. You can read Shadow Folk on Tumblr starting (here), or you can donate 1€ to download a PDF version (here). I have to admit that I never considered any sort of relationship between Impa and Sooga until I read this comic, but the art is stylish and beautiful and the story is a lot of fun.

The Ghost Shop

I just posted a short story about the Poe Collector in Ocarina of Time on AO3. It’s a spooky fandom treat for Halloween, and you can read it (here).

This story is about what it might have been like to live in Hyrule after the castle fell to Ganondorf, and I really enjoyed exploring the postapocalyptic environment. The story is also about standing up to power and the abuse of authority, even when it won’t benefit you in any way. Grand acts of heroism are all well and good, but it’s also nice to be too weird to care about what people think of you.

The illustration is by Frankiesbugs, whose creepy-cute art you can find on Instagram (here) and on Tumblr (here). They actually created two color variations, the one with the Halloween-inspired palette that I posted above, and a more Film Noir style version that I posted along with the fic on AO3 – and that they posted on Tumblr (here). It was difficult to choose between such gorgeous and stylish pieces! If you’d like to get a better understanding of just how brilliant Frankiesbugs is, you can check out the concept sketch I sent them (here). This artist’s illustrations have been one of my primary inspirations in writing Legend of Zelda horror stories, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them. You can read some of the horror-themed comics we’ve created together (here) and (here).

Hot Dad Ganondorf

I saw a screencap of (this tweet) circulating on Tumblr after watching the recent teaser trailer for the Breath of the Wild sequel, and this is where my mind immediately went. People in the Legend of Zelda fandom say that they want “hot dad Ganon,” but be careful what you wish for!

I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Frankiesbugs for putting up with my awful dad humor and drawing this silly comic. You can find more of the artist’s cute and creepy comics and illustrations on Instagram, on Tumblr, and on DeviantArt.

Crosswalk



This comic was drawn by Frankiesbugs (@frankiesbugs on Tumblr) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

This actually happened to me in Philadelphia in 2012. It was super creepy, and I still think about it sometimes. Maybe this is just me, but I’m not entirely sure that Philadelphia exists in consensus reality.