Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nerida, Give Me Strength Part 2: A deeper, indepth reflection of a Mute Mermaid turned Moon Spirit

This picture was painted by the incredibly talented Eliza Baker. You can find her on DeviantArt HERE. As soon as her Patreon is up, I will edit this post and place it here too.

If you saw my blogpost yesterday about my RPG characters, then you are already aware of how my RPG characters were influenced by and later influenced my life. I ended up becoming an emotional wreck by the time I talked about Nerida/Neriluna and her part of the Chicago Changeling: The Fifth Star LARP. It was a tremendous and overwhelming experience and it's touched me harder than any other character I have ever played (sorry, Astrid!). Because of this, I think it is important to know what had inspired her creation, what she grew into, and what her overall legacy is in the world of the LARP.

First, some background:

Chicago Changeling: the Fifth Star took place in Chicago and incorporated elements of Chicago Folklore and other fairytale elements to tell the stories of people who've been taken from their homes, changed (to put it lightly), and how they handle coming back to the place they were robbed from. That is my pitiful attempt to phrase this LARP in one sentence. Attached to Chicago are four realms: The Charnel Realms (an urban twisted cityscape), The Emerald City (a totalitarian's utopia, with all the problems expected therein),  The Hunting Grounds (self-explanatory), and The Petty Ffiefdoms (a living fairy tale world steeped in misery and unhappy endings). The Changelings who had returned from the Realms, as required by a contract with the Fey in order to keep everyone safe, were part of Four Courts: The Autumn Court, The Winter Court, The Spring Court, and The Summer Court. The closest analogy I can think of the Courts is Hogwarts Houses: Autumn is Slytherin, Winter is Ravenclaw, Spring is Hufflepuff, and Summer is Gryffindor (keep in mind that these are a personal opinion and will probably be a hotly debated topic with me and my fellow LARPers for years to come... and you wonder why I love these people so much). Once every month, the Changelings would meet at the safehouse (The Palette and Chisel) and plot threads would continue. There was also much wine and food. It was like a TV show with no cameras or audience, and everyone was the main character in their own story. In between each session, we would send "in between emails", or IBEs, with each other to push forward plot threads and to keep things going. The STs (storytellers, think like Dungeon Masters for D&D) would reign in the chaos and keep the big picture in mind, not unlike what Joss Whedon was doing for the MCU (imagine Joss Whedon as a ST for a Marvel based LARP... go ahead, I'll wait).

This is as close to concise paragraph as I am going to get, so if you are still confused, its okay, I was too (and still am in some respects). But while knowing the context of the LARP is important, this article is focusing on my character and how she fits in to the world. And since she is part of me, I can explain that much more clearly. Keep in mind that I was a latecomer (I joined in session 14 out of 24, 15 out of 24 if you don't count my stint as a NPC), so I included the links to explain what I may not have been able to explain properly.

Origin Story: How Nerida Came To Be

Nerida blossomed out of a couple things, and I have organized them with these handy dandy bullet points:

- Anger at Sexism and MRAs   

I want to say this was during the height of Gamergate, but Gamergate took hold in January and I began discovering Nerida last August, so the timeline doesn't match up. My point being, though, is that something super awful was going on in August, the typical argument of "feminism is really misandry" popped up, and I poised the question "how would a misandrist actually behave?" and then that grew into me explicitly writing Nerida as a misandrist, which by the end, she went from hardcore misandry to very soft misandry.

- Lack of Body Positivity in Disney Films

Many of you have already heard my Little Mermaid body positivity rant, but for those who haven't, I will post it here: If you watch the Little Mermaid, you will notice in the background that there are mermaids of varying body types. The mermen, regardless of their body size, have their chests and stomachs bare. Naturally, you would expect this of the mermaids right?! NOPE. NOPE. Only skinny mermaids get the bare stomachs and cute seashell bras. Fat mermaids get to have the beginning of their fins go all the way up to their boobs.

I would like to point out that the lyrics in this section are "Poor Unfortunate Souls, in pain, in need, this one longing to be thinner, that one wants to get the girl, and do I help them? Yes indeed."

Those of you in the LARP may remember that before the introduction of the black dress, Nerida's costume was a scarf over her breasts, tye-dye leggings, flip-flops, and facepaint around her eyes. Her design, from the get-go, was meant to be a middle finger to the fatshaming in The Little Mermaid. I then got super cold and realized it would only get colder, so I added the black dress to her costume with the premise of not freezing to death.

- Genuine Affection for 1960's Pop Culture and The Hippie Movement

If you had met me when I was in junior high or high school, one of the labels I would've used to describe myself would've been "a hippie, but without the sex and drugs." I would've pointed to my tye-dye shirts (that I did myself, no less), my bandanas, my various possessions with peace signs all over them, and the fact that I was listening to the Beatles 24/7 as empirical evidence that I was born in the wrong time period and that I belonged with the flower children in the late 60's. Hindsight is 20/20 and I realize how much of an idiot I sounded like, but out of that love of the Beatles and tye-dye clothes grew a deep affection for 1960's pop culture and the hippie movement, in all its pros and cons (It should be no surprise to any of you that Across the Universe is one of my favorite films). For Nerida, I had decided that she would disappear in 1969 at 8 years old, so not only would she remember the 1960's, she would've heard every single Beatles album (with the exception of Abbey Road which was not released until 1970. She remedied this error upon her return to Chicago). For good measure, I also tossed in some Janis Joplin songs and some popular folk tunes from the time. None of them ever ended up being sung in game, but I have a playlist on Youtube of songs released before 1969 that Nerida would've known. I also looked up a list of 1960's slang terms in the hopes that I could incorporate it into her vernacular, but it didn't end up coming to fruition and I fell back into my own speaking patterns (at least, until I couldn't speak anymore, but that will be elaborated on in a later point). This was also the time of the Civil Rights movement and protests were erupting all around the country. I wanted Nerida to grow up in a home of two scientists (her mother and father) who had very liberal viewpoints and were allies. This would develop down the line for her. The 1960's was also the time of the space race when in 1969, man walked on the moon. (Dude, it just hit me that Nerida was taken the same year humans walked on the Moon... THIS MEANS SOMETHING). I talk more about space stuff a few paragraphs down, but let's keep in mind that at the time, astronauts were superheroes and you could buy "astronaut food" and moon walking playsets at the local store. Another thing were noting is that TV was still fairly new in the 1960's, and videotapes weren't a thing until the 1970's. As I was doing research, I found out that the reason films like The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the like are so popular is because they were aired on TV as part of "special events", like when ABC Family has Harry Potter weekends. So you have this generation of people growing up and watching these films in that context. Which brings me to my next point...

- Deep Love and Passion for Musical Theatre and Disney

Since age 15, I've been a hardcore musical theatre nerd. I was the only musical theatre nerd at my high school (apart from my awesome choir and music theory teacher who I still get pizza with every time she visits Chicago) and I was a T.A. for Musical Theatre History for two semesters at Columbia College. Musical Theatre is, surprising no one, an art from that means a lot to me and that I am very knowledgeable about. I may not be able to do complicated math, but I can explain how RENT basically changed the landscape for the modern musical and made Broadway and musicals relevant in the general public again AND THAT MEANS SOMETHING! But anyway... this is one point where I differ from my fellow LARPers. Because of the Emerald City and all the toltalitarian bullshittery therein, their views on the Wizard of Oz have been forever altered towards the negative. I, however, incorporated the Wizard of Oz deeply into my backstory. I made it her favorite movie (apart from the Disney films she had watched at the time). Somewhere Over The Rainbow becomes her background song during a battle with her inner demons and a spell the Architect (The Big Bad) has over her (and is the reason she eventually becomes mute). I have also been told on more than one occasion that I look like Judy Garland, which is a comparison that I wear with pride.

This picture was taken in July of 2011 (before my sophomore year of college) outside of a store called Rebecca's (that my family has nicknamed "The Princess Store") in Nisswa, MN. Fun fact: Judy Garland is from MN!  

That same YouTube playlist of the songs released before 1969 that I made includes various showtunes and Disney melodies. Later in game, when Nerida started saving young girls on the street, in exchange for taking care of them, she asked them to teach her a song in return. So, by the time she actually started singing, she had a wider range of songs to choose from. Which brings me to my next point...

- A Desire to Sing in Public Again

Nerida was always meant to be a character who broke out into song. I had incorporated that into her initial back story and design. I had not sung publicly since college and, either from my own anxiety and insecurity or actual beliefs from people at my school (probably more the former), I had deep doubts in my abilities as a singer and a performer. After consistent rejections from school shows, I just stopped auditioning at my college because I was not strong enough to handle it (I did, however, perform on and off with Redmoon and I was cast in a community production of Night of the Living Dead in MN the summer before my senior year, so that's something). Part of the reason I had decided to make her mute partway through game (except for her singing voice), was because when I could speak normally, I wasn't singing at all, and that wasn't why I made this character. So I took away her ability to talk, gave her a notebook and pen, and only used her singing voice for important situations or situations where it mattered, because then people would notice and it would mean something. One of my teachers in high school described me (to my parents, at least) as a "silent leader." I didn't talk very much, but when I did, people paid attention. And I wanted that to be a key part to Nerida as well. I sent a really insecure email to the STs saying that by the end of game, I wanted Nerida to mean something. By removing her ability to speak, it made her words, and by that token, her conversations, all the more important.

- References to Harry Potter and Outer Space

Even before I worked at the Planetarium, I had incorporated elements of outer space into Nerida's back story. All of the mermaids she lived with were named after stars (Solaria [Sun], Deneb, Mira, Vega, and Polarisse [Polaris or the North Star]) except for Luna, Nerida's mentor. I had made a couple references to the Moon over the course of Nerida's story: her mentor/mother figure was named Luna and that, while volunteering at the Shedd Aquarium, she had become close with a baby otter named Luna. I've also always been very interested in the relationship between the Moon and the tides, so when I decided that Nerida was going to become a spirit, being the Spirit of the Moon was a no-brainer decision. Also worth noting that the first set of kids Nerida saved, and then lost, were named after constellations (Cassie [short for Cassiopeia], Andi [short for Andromeda], Lyra, Ursa [I really wanted to make an Ursa Major/Ursa Minor joke with one of them being an older sibling or something, but it would've messed with the naming scheme I had], Carina, and Norma. I only hinted at it in the IBE, but I had imagined that Nerida and Andi had a similar relationship to Nerida and Luna. So, lots of space references. This got more intense as I had worked at the Planetarium and as Nerida became Neriluna, the Spirit of the Moon. The method of contact for Neriluna involved sending a "balloon rocket" to the Moon with a message in it, which was a direct reference to my favorite workshop to lead when I was at the Planetarium.

The Harry Potter references lie specifically in two people: Noxerian and Lumerina. These are two people who feature heavily in Nerida's backstory, I'll go into more detail later, but basically, Noxerian was Nerida's abuser and Lumerina was Noxerian's lover. Nox is the Harry Potter spell for "dark." Lumos is the Harry Potter spell for "light." They were desperate attempts to try and turn spells into names. It didn't work as well as I had hoped, but there we go.

- Trauma from Past Relationships and Exploring My Sexuality

This is a recurring element in almost all of my RPG characters: they are into women. They could be lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, whateversexual, the point is that they are never exclusively into men. (I would also like to point out that more often than not, I always portray a character who identifies as a woman, so yes, this is the gay way. There is no gayer way. This is the gayest way). Because I have only dated men (and some really awful men at that), my RPG characters become a safe way to explore other elements of me, sexuality included. I won't go into a whole lot of detail about trauma (that's a whole other blogpost of baggage), but needless to say, putting variations of my abusers in the fiction that I create is very much a healing process for me. It also became a very easy way to reinforce Nerida's misandry: Noxerian is the only important man in Nerida's back story (other than her Dad, but her parents don't feature much). Everyone else in the back story that is important is a woman. It's fair to say that up to this point, other than her Dad, the only men she has ever met have been the enchanted male slaves of her fellow mermaids. And when Noxerian is freed from her spell, he comes back and gets revenge. Nerida doesn't know how to handle this, and it heavily spikes her hatred of men because this is only reference point for men in general. Now, as I said before, she goes from hardcore misandrist to very soft misandrist and even makes friends with some men when she returns to Chicago, but she is very wary of them in the beginning, hence her hesitancy to trust The Queen of Spring Court ('king', 'queen', 'knight', and 'page' are titles and are not tied to a particular gender. The Queen at the time was a man. I'm avoiding character names because a) I have not gotten permission from my fellow players to reference them specifically and b) trying to explain the whos and the whys would require a whole blog post in it of itself and this post is already much longer than I was expecting.)

There were a few smaller elements that influenced my backstory (my inherent fascination with hypnosis and mind control, the fact that my boyfriend would refer to me as his "water nymph" when we began dating, thinking it would be hilarious to have a person with a strong vocabulary, but little to no writing ability [not hilarious at all, abandoned that super quickly], etc.) But I elaborated on the big stuff.

So now that I have basically heavily exhausted her building blocks, let's get into Nerida's backstory...


The following is copied from the email that I sent to the STs, typos and all. They sent me some questions, which I have italicized, and I answered. (I know I just went through all of that exposition, but honestly, the backstory came first, the research and analysis came after):

"When did you first come to Chicago?

1969. My parents, both Marine Biologists (unusual, but not totally unheard of) came here to study Lake Michigan. Apparently, there have been sightings of supposed extinct  or fabled aquatic life appearing and they wanted to study them.

What did you do before you were taken?

I was an 8 year old child. I really liked the Beatles and watched all the Disney re-releases when ever they were on TV. Particular favorites were Snow White and Cinderella, though I enjoyed 101 Dalmatians too. The Wizard of Oz was also a favorite film of mine, I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" constantly, much to my parents dismay. I wore a lot of tye-dye clothes and hoped beyond hope that I would grow up to be a mermaid [even if I am a nymph or siren, little girls aren't as familiar with those legends, so mermaid].

How were you taken?

My parents had brought me to a beach in Rogers Park, where a good chunk of the sightings had been. While they were investigating some seaweed, I played amongst the rocks, trying to skip the ones I had found. One of the rocks I was skipping, after about three skips, hit something. I took off my shoes and got my feet into the water to get a closer look. It was a mermaid. I screamed "I'm sorry." The mermaid noticed me and swam over. She smiled and took my hand and she said something. I can't remember what, but all I remember is that I wanted to follow her. I went with her into the lake, and somehow I could breathe. There was a bright light and even though I didn't know where I was, I knew clicking my heels three times wouldn't get me home.

In which realm did you serve your durance?

Thousand Petty Feifdoms.

What was your durance experience?

It started out okay. I was a bit of a land servant for a clan of mermaids, but it was less like I was a slave and more of a welcomed member. For each chore I did, they would give me something of theirs. As I completed each task, they would teach me how to sing, or give me a little more beauty, or extend my life a little longer, etc. Not to mention, when you live around mermaids, even as a land dweller, you begin to slowly become one of them. Eventually, right around when I was roughly 15 or 16, I had hit a peak in both beauty and vocal talent. I started being sent out to hypnotize innocent men and bring them to the mermaids for their enjoyment. I got so good at it that by age 17, my mermaid mentors granted me with a temporary tail and a few male servants. I was one of them, but I also had the advantage of going on land from time to time.

When I was 20, however, I became infatuated with one of the males I had enslaved. I looked through his things and found out he had a lady of his own and I felt bad trying to take his life away from him. I started giving him more freedom, letting him come and go as he pleased, letting him remember more things, etc. Things I shouldn't have done, but I felt guilty. One night after letting him go, he didn't come back. I thought maybe he had left me. It turns out he just wanted to bring back up. The next morning, an entire militia came. They rounded up me and mermaid mentors and brought us back to town. Unfortunately, these mermaids could not survive out of water (hence why they needed me) so after gagging on oxygen and feeling dry, they died next to me as I was brought back to the male's town. I witnessed them burn the bodies of my mentors as they tied me up and gagged me so I couldn't enslave anyone else. The man I loved came to me with a spell book he had gotten from his lady friend, and he removed my beauty, my near immortality (so I now will die of old age like any human does), and he significantly toned down the hypnotic quality of my voice, but could not remove it. He also cast a back up spell, as revenge, that if he ever needed me for something, I would be forced to comply [similar to Ella Enchanted, but it's not in effect 100% of the time and it only applies to him, not just anybody].

Since then, when I wasn't gagged and imprisoned, he would send me out as a kidnapper or assassin, but usually as bait or a distraction, slowly getting rid of his enemies and those who opposed him. I hated what he was making me do and I hated that I didn't have a choice. However, I started noticing loop holes in commands that were vague. If I could, I would send warning to people or do something to give the other side an edge or a small chance of escape. Not so much that he had noticed, but enough that he didn't catch on to what I was doing.

How has your durance changed you?

I am very wary and untrustworthy of men. I fear them and see them as beneath me. I am very protective over my  bodily autonomy and don't open up to strangers easily. Because my voice still holds some hypnotic power, particularly through singing, I don't speak very much. I'm very quiet. I've gotten pretty good, though not flawless, at finding loopholes in peoples' demands and if I can, I try and give the other party a warning or some sort of edge. I also feel very safe around or in water.

What Kith/Seeming are you?

Either an Elemental or a Fairest [I'll let you decide which one].

Who do you remember from your durance?
(I'll keep these without names so you can make them already established characters if you wish).

1. My Mermaid Mentors. (All the ones I knew well are dead, maybe one or two were on the other side of the portal at this attack).
2. Some of the more prominent male servants (all of whom who did not drown after the surprise attack were set free and sent to their homes.)
3. The man who I loved and who used me for his own gain.
4. His lady love. He would bring her in to "thank me" for letting him get back to her. She just smiled at my torment.
5. The people I had to attack, distract, or kill under that man's influence. Some of them remember me fondly because I let them get away. Some hate me because I hurt them drastically or killed someone important to them.

How did you escape? Did you escape alone?

After two years as his toy, right after he had me hypnotize someone's daughter so he could use her as ransom, we walked past the part of the forest where the mermaid haven I grew up was. To torture me, he brought me back there. I saw all the bodies of men who'd drowned themselves. I saw the scales of my mermaid mentors. I saw their trinkets and their beds. But I also saw a glowing light at the bottom of the lake. Without thinking, I jumped into the lake and began to swim towards the light. I couldn't hear him underwater, so his voice had no power over me. I could feel my legs turn into my temporary tail and I swam faster and faster to the light. The same bright light I saw as a child engulfed me and I appeared back in Lake Michigan at the present day (or whenever the game takes place) at the spot where I was first taken. I hope that little girl is still okay.

Two sentence description.

Nerida is a Spring Elemental/Fairest. She wants to be free to atone for the wrongs she has committed."

That, word for word, was the email I sent to the STs. And magically, it worked out fine. It is also worth noting that the names of characters came later, in an email named I HAVE NAMES FOR THE CHARACTERS IN MY BACKSTORY. This is a section of what I had typed for that email:

"Noxerian is the man I loved that put the spell on me and used me for his own gain. He's the head of the militia for the small town of Gretel. He has some magical ability, but prefers brute force.

Lumerina is his girlfriend that he got the spellbook from. She is an apprentice and  magic student of the Lady of Summer Apples (both before and after Devorah became her).

Noxerian is hoping to join the Lady's knights and army, and has been recruiting for her via either slaying her enemies or forcing them to join.

There were many mermaids at the haven, but there were six that I knew well: Solaria  (the leader, basically), Luna (the one I was closest too, my mother figure), Vega, Mira, Polarisse, and Deneb."

I'm not going to copy the rest of the email, but I will say that I explicitly wrote that the other enslaved men of the mermaids were the princes and heroes of other fairytales, with Noxerian being the exception.

I can't find the initial email or source I had written them down in, but Nerida's parents ended up being named Dr. Oscar and Harriet Fforresston, because.... I needed names and those were the first ones I could think of that were not names shared by friends or family of mine. I had also decided that they had done their research and worked at the University of Chicago, where Winter Court has their homebase.

Speaking of names, Nerida's has an interesting background as well: I was on a website looking up names for a sci-fi play I was writing to submit to a contest (it didn't win). I needed a name for an alien, so I looked up fairy names on Google (because fairies and aliens are totally the same thing, you guys) and I saw the name Nerida, which meant "water sprite.". It also rhymed with Merida, my favorite Disney princess. So I went with it. (I learned later that it is also very similar to Nereid, a moon that orbits Neptune, named for the god of water in Roman Mythology. Nereid's claim to fame is its ice volcanoes). In some sources that I have written/posted, Nerida also had a middle name: "Naiades." Naiad is a type of water nymph, picture posted below:
So if we were to put Nerida's name into a translator, it would literally read: Water sprite Water nymph Last name Katie came up with in desperation. That somehow doesn't have the same ring to it. So Nerida Naiades Fforesston it was.


 I'm not going to go into too much detail because I've decided not to use character names. This is because a) those characters are technically owned by the people who have created them and I do not have permission to use them and b) brevity is not one of my strong suits, as evidenced by this article length, and it would take years to describe all the characters and plot threads. So, here is a basic summation before the Big Bad came and fucked everything up.

Nerida had worked out a deal with members of the Winter Court: she would hypnotize/mind control people to vote against the Fifth Star of Chicago if they would assist her in the search for her parents. Nerida promised not to go and seek them out once she had received the information, but honestly, if she had received the information, who knows what would've happened. The Queen of Spring helped Nerida find an apartment in Rogers Park and Nerida began to volunteer part-time at the Shedd Aquarium. Nerida's parents had opened a bank account with her when she was a child, and over the years, they kept adding funds to it in the hopes of "giving her more resources." (I realize it's a flimsy excuse, but I needed a reason that she could pay for an apartment and food without having a paying job. She swims in the Lake, so she doesn't need to worry about transportation costs.) She rediscovered her love of potato chips and deep dish pizza. And she fell in love with another water elemental at the safehouse, one who rejected her, though they remained good friends from then on. A key part to Nerida (and eventually Neriluna)'s character is unrequited love, so in some ways, it's very fitting, though sad, that she never ended up with a lover, and to this day, Neriluna still pines for the water elemental.

Then the Big Bad came, fucked stuff up, and a year passes. This is email I sent to the STs regarding what happened during Nerida's year in the Shadow City. The context here is that the Big Bad, called The Architect, has created an alternate Chicago where everything is perfect. People/creatures that were not perfect were replaced with fetches (referred to as duplicates in the email.) This is the exact email I sent, typos and all, though characters I did not create (apart from the Architect) have been redacted.

"After realizing that escape would be futile, Nerida jumped into Lake Michigan and began swimming to the bottom, the Changelings behind her worried. Her tail formed and she found herself able to breathe, but without a plan. She began to cry, causing bubbles to float up to the top of the lake. The Changelings, some of whom were not aware of her tail (Nerida's new and wasn't exactly open with a lot of the Changelings) assumed maybe she had drowned or, if they knew she was a water elemental, faded and became part of the lake. They left, though Nerida could feel the presence of the [character redacted] in her dreams whenever she slept.

After about an hour, Nerida decided to swim towards the Shedd Aquarium, which was closed. It's one of the few places she knew best, including all the secret doors that she could hide out in. She walked in and saw all the animals behaving a little "too perfect." She went over to the otter pen to look at the otters. There was nothing in their eyes. All the animals had been replaced by duplicates. Nerida ran through the museum, through the main offices of employees, until she found a door that is usually closed off. She opened it with her volunteer key. It was an old classroom that seemed mostly intact, with a closet in the side and everything. The best part was the secret passageway that lead outside on to the cement just outside the Aquarium.

When she walked out on to the cement, she saw a couple of young girls, one 6 years old and one 8 years old, being dragged away by what appeared to be their parents. The girls were crying and screaming "You aren't my Mom and Dad! HELP! LET US GO!" The parents were silent. They were heading towards the Planetarium. Nerida realized that the parents were duplicates, recognizing the blank stare she had seen on [character redacted]'s duplicate at the safe house. Nerida, without thinking about her own safety, pushed the duplicate parents into the lake and grabbed the girls' hands. She quickly brought them in through the secret passageway and brought them to the classroom. She calmed them down and got their names. "Andi", short for Andromeda, the 6 year old, and "Cassie", short for Cassiopea, the 8 year old.

Over the next 6 or 7 months, Nerida began to run a sort of "shelter for young girls" against the Architect in the Shedd. The number grew from 2 to 6. Along with Cassie and Andi, there was Lyra, 7 years old, Carina and her cousin Ursa, 9 and 8 years old respectively, and Norma, 7 years old. Nerida kept them well fed by talking with some of the cleaning crew and cafeteria staff, none of which were duplicates and were confused by the behavior of their coworkers. (To be fair, they were confused as to why a volunteer was asking for so much food and was sleeping in one of the classrooms, but they shrugged it off as Nerida had always been a bit strange and she wasn't harming anyone.) In her dreams, Nerida would speak with [character redacted] and would get occasional updates on the other changelings, particularly [character redacted], [character redacted], and [character redacted], but any news was welcome news. Messages or requests for items (like blankets, pads/tampons "just in case", stuffed animals, sweaters, pillows, heaters, etc.) were transferred through dreams, using [character redacted] as the messenger. Nerida would swim out and wait for the items to be dropped into the lake at the determined drop-off spots (and most of the time, they were sufficiently water-proofed). The children, in return of Nerida's kindness, taught her new songs (like Adele, Bruno Mars, Ceelo Green, as well as a few newer Disney songs) and didn't complain about the food. They complained about other things, but not the food. Nerida became particularly close with Andi because she was the youngest and because she was the most like her mentor Luna at the mermaid pond.

After completing one of her trips to bring back supplies, she saw the children circling something, being completely silent. When she moved the children out of the way, she saw the body of Noxerian with a bunch of seaweed (the same seaweed she had him use for her entertainment at the mermaid pond) stuffed into his throat and a tape recorder lying next to him. It seems that the children tried to help him breathe as they all had seaweed in their hands. Without thinking, Nerida dropped the supplies, grabbed Noxerian's corpse and the tape recorder, and moved into the closet, locking the door behind her. She could hear the children screaming outside, but at this moment, she didn't care. She played the recording:

Noxerian: Look, I don't know who in the Lady's name you think you are...
Architect: But I know perfectly well who I am. I am perfect. You are not.
Noxerian: Doesn't matter. The Lady will see the end of you. I'm too valuable to her.
Architect: Enter Lumerina.
Noxerian: Lumerina!?! What did you do to my fiance'?
Architect: I didn't do anything. Lumerina did it all herself.
*The sound of high heeled footsteps are heard, and then a large crash is heard.
Noxerian: My Lady! No!
Lumerina (with strong regret): The poison from the spring blossoms she liked to smell worked quicker than I had imagined they would.
Architect: You've done well, Lumerina. I will hold up my end of the bargain.
Noxerian: What bargain?! What is he talking about, my love?
*Lumerina begins to cry
Lumerina: He promised not to make a duplicate of you after he finished with you.
Noxerian: Duplicate!? Finished with me?!
Lumerina: I'm so sorry, Noxerian. He had a job opening... The alternative was to be erased and replaced.
Noxerian: You fucking bitch! All women are the same! Only care about yourselves. FUCK YOU!
Architect: I would prefer if you did not speak to my new employee like that. That will be all, Lumerina, you may wait outside until I am finished.
Lumerina: Thank you, sir.
*High heeled footsteps are heard, then a door is closed.
Noxerian: Well, finish me off!
Architect: Not yet, you see, you have something I need. A certain... oh, what's the word... power over someone.
Noxerian: I'm the general of the Lady's main army. I have power over a lot of people.
Architect: You were, not are. But that is besides the point. You see, I read through Lumerina's spellbook and came across a spell that she told me you had used on a certain changeling. Your only successful spell, I believe.
Noxerian: You mean that spell on that mermaid bitch Nerida!!!
Architect: Yes, I mean her.
Noxerian: She's gone! Run away!
Architect: To Chicago. Yes. I know where she is. And I need you to give me authority over her.
Noxerian: That bitch is alive?! Fuck no, I'm not giving you power over her. Do you know how useful she is?
Architect: I do. More than you understand. You see, you let your anger and revenge take over when controlling her. I mean, you used her well, but you spent time torturing her, making her afraid of you. I believe I can treat her better. Maybe even reward her for good behavior.
Noxerian: You can't have her.
Architect: I have my ways.
*The sounds of power tools and Noxerian screaming are heard. This goes on for five minutes. Then, suddenly, silence.
Architect: Now, Nerida is listening to this on a tape recording. She just has to hear your voice. Tell her that she obeys only the Architect now.
Noxerian (deadpan, almost robotic in nature): Nerida, I am no longer your master. The Architect is your master. You must obey is every command as you would me. Nerida, the Architect is your master now.
Architect: Thank you, Noxerian. That will be all.
*The sound of the Architect stuffing seaweed into Noxerian's throat is heard. Nerida hears Noxerian gasp, gag, and choke. Until there is silence.
Architect: Nerida, I speak directly to you now. At this point, you know that I know you're hiding out in the Shedd and that I can control you. I won't, yet. You see, I want to give you a chance to prove your loyalty to me. As I'm sure you've figured out, one of the main duplicate creation centers is at the Planetarium. I know you have young children with you. They need to be replaced. I will give you 7 weeks, 1 week per person, including yourself, to bring me the children. If you do so within that time period, I will reward you. I'm sure your mother and father would like to learn how good of a girl you've been for me.

The recording stopped. Nerida feels herself tense up. She wished she knew where [character redacted] and [character redacted] were. She remembered them talking about finding a way to dispel the curse, because she is even more of a threat to the changelings now than she ever was before. Then she remembered that [character redacted] can travel through dreams. But the priority was to find a home for the children and their hiding place was compromised. In talking with [character redacted] in her sleep, she managed to work out which changelings could take the children or safe places the changelings knew where children could go.

Over the next 6 weeks, Nerida got all the children relocated to different spots. By the beginning of week 7, all the children were gone. Nerida began to cry again. She felt bad for Andi & Cassie and Carina & Ursa, who had to be separated from the only family they had left as each safe space could only take one child. Nerida went into the Lake and stayed there. She began sleeping a lot, trying to work out with [character redacted] and [character redacted] to break the spell in her dreams.

The week passes by. Nerida finds herself swimming back to the Museum Campus as the sun sets on the final day for reasons she can't quite explain. She looks to the shore and sees Andi in front of the Planetarium. Nerida gets out of the lake, trying to beckon Andi towards her. Andi doesn't respond. Once Nerida gets to the front of the Planetarium, she grabs Andi. However, when she looks in Andi's eyes, there is nothing. Andi has become a duplicate. Nerida realizes this and begins to run back towards the lake, but she gets blocked by Cassie and Lyra. She tries to run the other direction, only to be blocked by Norma and Ursa. Carina blocks the direction towards the Shedd and Nerida is surrounded. She looks to their hands and sees the scars from the seaweed. The Architect put something in the seaweed to compel them to come to the Planetarium at the end of their prescribed weeks to be replaced. The children open their mouths and say, in unison, with the Architect's voice: "Nerida, you should've listened to me. You've disappointed your parents. They were hoping you could save them from being replaced. Oh well." In that moment, two silhouettes walk down the Planetarium stairs. When they get past the shadows, Nerida is confused for a moment because she doesn't recognize them. But then all her childhood memories flood back to her: watching Wizard of Oz with her Mom, baking cupcakes and sweets with her Dad, going to the Shedd with them both, etc. These people were her parents. Well, copies of her parents. They had the same blank stare in their eyes that the children surrounding Nerida had. Nerida collapses to the ground in tears. Ever since her return to Chicago, she had been trying desperately to find her parents, but everywhere was a dead end. Now they were gone and all that's left of them are these shells. The duplicate parents grab Nerida by the arms and drag her up the stairs into the Planetarium.
Around the moon, down the stairs, all the way to the basement. They walk past the staff only doors, the security system disabled long ago. What used to be the executive lobby has been turned into a conversion chamber. Nerida is dragged from the conversion chamber to the "holding cell", which used to the employee locker room. Nerida is locked in. Lumerina's voice is heard over the loud speaker: "As further punishment for failing in your duties to the Architect's vision, you will be duplicated. You will not be killed, however. The Architect deems you as "useful." He just wants some back-ups should you fail again or if Noxerian's power transfer failed. Someone has to go eliminate the other changelings, and considering you've been traveling to some of their locations for supplies, you know exactly where they are. Your parents will be in shortly to bring you to the conversion chamber. Please don't try to break anything or escape."
"Time to go, my little water nymph." says duplicate Harriet. Nerida feels a sharp sting in her chest as the duplicate uses her childhood nickname.
"Soon, my sweet Nerida, you will be perfect. Like your mother and I." says duplicate Oscar.
"Soon, you will be part of the Architect's vision of Chicago. And we can be together again." say duplicate Harriet and duplicate Oscar in unison.
Nerida is walked to the conversion chamber. She is tied to one table as what can only be described as the person equivalent of a blank slate lays on the other table. The machine begins and Nerida's elements are slowly copied and pasted on to blank slate. Nerida notices that the machine is very noisy and there's a certain frequency that it works at. "Now Speak. Your voice must be copied." says the machine. Nerida opens her mouth, but uses her voice to match the machine's frequency and tone. Once she gets it exact, she slowly goes up the do-re-mi scale, miraculously bringing the machine with her. Once she hits the top of the octave, the machine explodes. In a fit of frenzy, Nerida unties her ties and runs out of the basement, with her unfinished duplicate chasing after her. Nerida runs through the accessible exit one floor up (it's closer than the Planetarium entrance) runs down the hill on the south side of the building and jumps into the lake. Her duplicate jumps in after her. Nerida's tail forms and she begins to pick up swimming speed, until the duplicate grabs her tail.
Nerida looks at her duplicate: patches of her are missing or incomplete, and she still has human legs. Nerida has an idea and decides to continue swimming to the bottom of the lake. Nerida swims and swims, getting deeper and deeper and deeper, until eventually the duplicate lets go. Nerida swims over to the duplicate and grabs it. The duplicates hands swing and begin choking Nerida in the water. Nerida grabs the duplicates' hands and forcefully tears them off. She then pushes the duplicate to the ground of the lake, and waits until all of the bubbles are gone. Nerida receives a quick shock and watches as parts of the duplicate electrocute underwater. She tears off the limbs of the duplicate, as well as the head, and buries them deep within the lake. Nerida then swims to the North as far away as she can go. When she reaches the surface, she's miles past Navy Pier and somewhat close to the beach in Rogers Park, where it all began and where she used to live after she returned. She sleeps in the waves. {character redacted] comes to her in a dream, Nerida warns that the Architect has taken Noxerian's power over her, and that he saw her go from safe place to safe place gathering supplies. She tells [character redacted] to tell the other changelings to find other safe places and that trying to protect mortals is a futile effort. Nerida says she is sorry for all the trouble she caused. [character redacted] tells Nerida about the plan for all the changelings to meet up in a few months. Nerida agrees to go. For 6-5 months, after that whole fiasco, Nerida stays deep in Lake Michigan, only coming up when needed."

For those who have stuck around this far, I appreciate you. But yes, Nerida's life basically got twisted upside down. I wanted to use the IBE to both tie up some plot threads (searching for her parents, etc.) and to heighten an existing problem (the obedience spell cast on her was now in control of the Architect) that would need to be solved. Naturally, in the next IBE, that problem was solved, and that is why she becomes mute.


A key element to freeing Nerida from the Architect's curse involved changing her "true name." This concept is going to be a bit too complicated to explain, so I will tell you the important parts: your true name is the core of who you are, your experiences, emotions, beliefs, memories, everything. If you edit your true name, like say, remove part of it (in this case, removing an obedience curse), your true name changes and you end losing part of you. My rationale is that the obedience curse removed Nerida's metaphorical voice, so for her freedom to come true, she needed to remove her actual, physical voice (barring singing songs that have been pre-written [I tried to eliminate the "I can say anything as long as I sing it" excuse). However, in order to get to that point, Nerida had to confront her demons, and she did so in the most Scott Pilgrimy battle I have ever written (no joke, I had various Scott Pilgrim battle scenes, but particularly the boss battle with Gideon Graves, in mind when I wrote this IBE).

To provide some faint context, inside Nerida's subconscious, she and two other Changelings journeyed through her mind until they found her core: a cathedral with a choir of construction workers singing. Nerida goes up the music stand and grabs the conductor's baton. Then it grew from there. Same disclaimer as before, this is exactly how I wrote it, typos and all:

"Nerida begins conducting the song. The construction workers follow her rhythm as they begin to sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from the Wizard of Oz. 

"Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby..." 

Beings shaped like Nerida's parents leap out from the left side of the cathedral and pounce on to the music stand. Nerida uses the baton and, after a brief hesitation, stabs them in their hearts. They turn into a puff of smoke and fade away. Nerida continues conducting.

"Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."

Beings shaped like Nerida's six mermaid mentors slither up from the bottom of the cathedral and begin to drown her in dream-material. Nerida calms down, grips tightly over the baton, and slowly slashes each one in half, leaving Luna, her main mentor, for last. After mouthing "I'm so sorry", Nerida slashes a perfect X over where Luna's heart would've been, and they vanish. Nerida resumes conducting.

"Some day I'll wish upon a star and wake up where these clouds are far behind me..."

A being shaped like Noxerian pounces from the right of the cathedral. His teeth sharpened like a lion, he attempts to bite out Nerida's vocal folds in her throat. Nerida shoves him off. As he jumps at her again, Nerida takes the baton and slices his throat open. He vanishes in a puff of smoke, but his blood on Nerida remains. Nerida takes a few deep breaths and continues conducting.

"Where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops, that's where you'll find me."

From the choir, the Lady of Spring Blossoms, the Lady of Summer Apples, and Lumerina jump out and surround Nerida. They begin chanting a spell in unison, surrounding Nerida in vines. The vine has a golden apple, an apple blossom, and little ball of light growing on them. Though she suffocates, Nerida uses what is left of her energy to use the baton. She breaks her baton arm out and stabs first the golden apple (the Lady of Summer Apples vanishes), then the apple blossom (the Lady of Spring Blossoms vanishes), and then finally the ball of light. Lumerina begins to vanish, but not before she scratches Nerida across the face, leaving scars. Lumerina vanishes. Nerida unwraps the rest of the vines, and continues conducting. 

"Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can't I?"

Beings shaped like the six children Nerida failed to save enter from all around the cathedral and surround. They cry "save us, Nerida. Save us from the Architect." Nerida pauses. She looks around at all the children. This is closest she had come to crying during this whole ordeal. She breathes deeply, pushes back her tears, and says "I'm sorry. I can't. But I promise to not let others share the same fate." In one fell swoop, she slashes the baton between all of the children, until she sees Andi. She grabs Andi, hugs her close, and stabs her in the back. All the children vanish. Nerida stands up, and continues conducting.

"If happy little blue birds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can't I?"

The choir vanishes, leaving behind on their masks on the steps. The silhouette of the Architect stands in the center, surrounded by the masks. Each mask is the face of someone from Nerida's past.

"Look at all the lives lost because of you, Nerida. All because you didn't do as you were told. Your voice didn't have any power until someone gave it to you, but it's clear you don't know how to use that power without abusing it. You're weak, Nerida. You'll never succeed. You and the Changelings are through. Unless you conform to my perfect vision." - Architect.

"I got news for, dickface: your vision is flawed. As long as we have power over ourselves, far as I'm concerned, you've already lost." - Nerida.

Nerida runs up the stairs, past the masks, jumps in the air, and slams the baton into the Architect's eye, shoving the baton deep into his brain. Nerida breathes. She stands up. The Architect, the baton, the masks, and the cathedral all vanish. 

She smiles."

After the battle with the inner demons, one of the two Changelings removes the obedience curse from Nerida's name, and her speaking voice goes with it. From then on, Nerida was mute. The first time her voice was heard was at a funeral for a character, and she sang the opening lyrics to "Those You've Known" from Spring Awakening.

When she wasn't singing songs, Nerida was responding to people by writing her responses in a notebook (which may become its own separate blogpost, if it does, I will link to it). Before she became the Spirit of the Moon, Nerida had taken up another task: protecting the young girls of Chicago from the fetches and the Architect.

Little Girls. Little Girls. Everywhere I turn. I can see them!!!

So, as I'm sure you're all wondering, where does a mute mermaid who has lost everything and now has her bodily autonomy and free back go from here?! Well, she becomes the Pied Piper of Little Girls in the city. I had decided (after a long discussion with one the STs after we both happened to be on the Redline at the time) that children could also identify fetches, so there was a rise in runaway children in Chicago as they were escaping family members who had become fetches. Nerida, I had decided, in her quest to never let what happened to the initial six happen to anyone ever again, would go up the homeless girls, provide them with food, water, pads/tampons if needed, sleeping bags, etc. and when they were willing, she would bring them to a safe zone created by another Changeling (since the safe zone she had created was compromised and Nerida didn't trust herself to come up with another safe zone.) I made the foolish decision of naming all of the children after people I knew in real life and gave them similar personality traits, because then literally every conversation about them and how I wasn't "giving them enough attention/love" hit a bit closer to home than I would've liked it to.

I won't post any of them here because you've had to sift through enough of them, but my IBEs regarding the kids were some of the most intense and the most frustrating, but overall satisfying IBEs I had. I got eerily specific with saying I had brought 27 kids to the safe zone (amended from girls because I had decided Nerida is explicitly biased against cis boys, trans and genderqueer kids are just fine as far as her soft core misandry is concerned) because a few days after Valentine's Day, I bought a pack of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic valentines. There were 27 of them and I sent a private IBE to the STs stating that the valentines were gifts from the kids. Then Nerida got attacked by her replacement fetch (who could swim now) and it was all awful, but the idea here was that I had bought these valentines and I was intending to bring them to LARP and hand them out in character to people. Then I got nervous about the whole prospect and now the valentines are for sale in my "Things I Am Selling" photo album on Facebook. But no, the kids became a very important part of Nerida's identity both before and after her transformation into the Spirit of the Moon. Which reminds me...

"My Girlfriend Turned Into the Moon." "That's Rough, Buddy."

When it came out that Nerida had volunteered as tribute against the wind of Chicago to sacrifice her life as it was and take up the mantle of the Moon (non-LARP people, just roll with me for the moment), there was a small bit of uproar. There were some Changelings who were just flat out not okay with it because "you're so young" (I had made her physically and mentally 22, but technically, she'd be 53 or 54).

There are a few things that influenced my decision, I will begin with the most petty decision and work from there.

I'm sure the STs remember receiving an email laced with insecurity and doubt about how by the end of game, I wanted Nerida to matter. I was so worried that because I had joined late and had missed so much (I didn't even sign the compact until the cast party) that by the end of game, Nerida would be interchangeable with a sexy leg lamp. I was determined by the end of game to make Nerida a major player, to make sure that the game would not end the way that it did without her, and becoming the spirit of the Moon was my way to ensure that it would be the case, that she would matter, that would become a major part of the canon and mythology. As I'm sure you can tell by all the paragraphs I have written, Nerida means so much to me and dammit, she was going to mean something to the game too.

One of the other reasons is that it makes sense: I had written space elements into her backstory from the getgo, and with my own inherent fascination with the Moon's ability to affect the tides and my general intrigue with hypnosis/mind control, it makes sense that she would end up becoming a giant rock in space and the Spirit that symbolizes insanity (to the point where the recording of the scientist to advertise the moon rock at the Planetarium would call you a lunatic for not wanting to check it out, a joke that took me way to long to get). So, after many tearful goodbyes and sending personalized recordings of songs to people through IBEs, Nerida defeated the wind of Chicago and became Neriluna, the Spirit of the Moon.

                                           Actual representation of Neriluna right now.

Neriluna's character grew out of need to be more playful than Nerida, who was consistently crying and singing sad songs of love and goodbyes. Neriluna was wacky, abrasive, self-centered, dancey, and while she was still sad, she had her moments of joy. One of my favorite things to do when I was by myself as Neriluna was to just start dancing around the room, incorporating whatever dance training I still have left in my body (thank glob I didn't accidentally knock over any art).

Her costume can be described in two words: sexy pajamas. I had a lingerie dress (that I tye-dyed, it was white when I first bought it), rainbow short shorts (that I also tye-dyed), fishnet tights (that did not live past the final game), fuzzy slipper boots, a gray sweater, a rhinestone choker, the scarf I wore around my bust as Nerida was now worn as a scarf, orbital earrings, and I wore my hair up. For the final game, I used a pen that had a flashlight attached to it (which worked well considering we were relegated to the attic of the Palette and Chisel and there were no lights.)

The only picture I have of myself from the LARP. I figured since it was the final game, I should probably get a selfie. The blotches are supposed to be craters, the lines are supposed to be Buzz Aldrin's footprint. I also used all of the glitter I had left and I covered myself in it.

Neriluna's role became that of support. When the big battle with the Architect came, she was there singing songs to motivate people (like a bard in D&D) and to remain in the sky as a beacon of hope. When the Architect's world began collapsing a flooding, she helped keep the tides at bay as much as possible. She still felt lonely, but she knew becoming the Moon would lead to that becoming a permanent status. She remained mute. My reasoning for that was "once something has been removed from your true name, it cannot be replaced." She still checked in with her kids, but she was a more ethereal being and became relegated to more of a Fairy Godmother role, and she knew by the time the kids had grown up, at best, she would be remembered as the "nice lady who sang pretty and smelled like fish."

My favorite memory from that final LARP game was when we stepped outside of the Palette and Chisel. It was the first time it was warm enough to step outside. The full moon was glowing (well, almost full, technically the full moon wasn't until that upcoming Tuesday, but whatever) and the other Changelings looked at me and said "Look, Nerida, you're full!", while another Changeling sang "Blue Moon" to me under the moonlight (a song that canonically Nerida's parents would sing to her as a child.)

This whole experience with the LARP helped me in so many ways. When I began, I was a ball of anxiety working a job that I hated and didn't have a whole lot of connections in Chicago. By the end of game, I was still a ball of anxiety, but I had connections now. I had a safety net. I was laid off from my job at the Planetarium the Tuesday after the final game, and I saw the people from LARP sending me all sorts of messages of support, offering to make me dinner, offering to hand my resumes to their bosses, even one who managed to help me snag an interview (that never ended up coming to fruition because of the current job). I was overwhelmed with emotion. Not that I didn't have friends while I was in college in Chicago, but a lot of them have either moved out of state or live a bit too far away for me to see them on a regular basis. This LARP and this whole experience helped me establish myself in Chicago as a resident, similar to working at the Fear Haunted House my freshman year of college.

My LARP friends have helped me in my times of need and have tolerated my incessant, nervous questions about how to adult and have welcomed me as an important member in their lives. I am so thankful to have found this community that takes me as I am, flaws and all. I look forward to playing with them again in September with "The September Project: The X-Files in Chicago." My 13 year old conspiracy theorist can't wait to expose the truths of everything. Her blogpost will come after the LARP concludes.

In the mean time, thank you for reading and for sticking this far. Have a trophy, you've earned it:

Thank very much for reading my rambling. This blogpost is now concluded.

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