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You've been sent to fetch water from the well, an arduous task that never fails to make your arms ache. <<linkreplace "On a hot day like this, you'd do anything for a bit of shade.">>On a hot day like this, you'd do anything for a bit of shade. The woods, vivid green and shifting in the wind, look particularly inviting. And the well is so close to the woods already. Just a couple of steps...
You stop yourself. There's a reason people don't go in these woods.
<<linkreplace "Remember your cousin.">>It's a shame what happened to your cousin.
A grouse he was hunting had disappeared into the woods, and he'd ran in after it. He came back three months later, long-haired and raving and rifle-less.
The worst came when it was time for him to go hunting again. A man needs to hunt the same way he needs to provide for his family, and your cousin couldn't do either. His wife does the hunting now, and they're the shame of the family, and you're not supposed to talk to either of them.
People don't go in the woods. They don't want to end up like your cousin.
<<linkreplace "Still, it won't hurt to look.">>You watch the woods for another moment, transfixed by the leaves. Unconsciously, you take a few steps forward. Then a few more.
[[You are only dimly aware of a blurry shape flying towards you.]]<</linkreplace>><</linkreplace>><</linkreplace>>
<<set $genderstage=0>>Bushes scrape at your legs and tear at your clothes, but you push past. As you wander through the woods, doing your best to remember what your gender looked like, you come to a river. A small fish swims lazily downstream, while an eagle, drifting in an updraft, circles above.
Did the magpie leave your gender here? You've walked so far already, that must be the case. Yes, your gender has to be somewhere around here.
Observe the eagle, flying forever. If it stops even for a moment, it will never be an eagle again. Watch the fish's easy movements, the way the river supports it. One of these is your gender — but which?
[[The fish.]]<<if $genderstage==0>>Your gender is
your gender<<elseif $genderstage==1>>Your gender is
missing<<elseif $genderstage==2>>Your gender is
$firstgender<<elseif $genderstage==3>>Your gender is
$secondgender<<elseif $genderstage==4>>Your gender is
<span class="strikethrough">$falsegender</span><<elseif $genderstage==5>>Your gender is
$thirdgender<<endif>>Flight quickly becomes a routine. Beat your wings, catch the wind, glide, repeat. As you fly, you scan the forest below you, looking for clues. Nothing seems quite right through your vision, warped and magnified, but two prospects do catch your eye.
The sun is bright, beautiful, and irrepressible. Its light bathes the world in a suffocating glare and glints off of a pebble in a creek, half a mile below you. The pebble, on the other hand, would be easy to ignore without the attentions of the sun.
Magpies love shiny objects, and both of these things sparkle like no other. Perhaps your gender is shiny, and that's why the magpie took it. Perhaps your gender is in view. But where?
[[The pebble.]]<<set $genderstage = 2>><<set $firstgender = "an eagle">>Perhaps your gender is an eagle. An eagle flies — it's as much a function of your gender as it is a requirement to substain it. Superficially, flight resembles freedom, but you know nothing could be further from the truth. Flight is a prison. To an eagle, flight is clothing, is makeup, is posture and voice and even hair. It doesn't matter how tired you are, every beat of your wings is a necessity. Without flight, you aren't acting like an eagle, and without that, you simply aren't.
Your memories are hazy without a firm identity to ground them, but you've felt this way before. Acted not because you wanted to, but because your gender demanded it.
Yes, that's right. It's all coming back to you now.
[[Your gender is an eagle.|yesEagle]]<<set $genderstage = 2>><<set $firstgender = "a fish">>Perhaps your gender is a fish. Perhaps you will wear scales, and slick back your fins, and the current will carry you downstream as it has your entire life. Swimming is the only and easiest obligation you have ever had — with the current to guide you, how could it be hard? You consider yourself lucky to have been born a fish, loved and helped along by the waters of your home.
Of course, if you ever tried to leave the river, the current would abandon you, and you would thrash and choke in the dry air.
Your memories are hazy without a firm identity to ground them, but this all seems familiar. Dimly, you recall the privileges of your gender — and the restrictions.
[[Your gender is a fish.]]Swimming is relaxing, but it sours quickly. You miss the world outside the water. You miss your lungs. Eager to move on from this body, you search for clues as you swim. Nothing looks quite right through your bulbous fish eyes, but you do manage to find two prospects — one above, one below.
The sun is bright, beautiful, and ubiquitous. Its light bathes your world in a suffocating glare and glints off of a pebble in the creek-bed below. The pebble would be unremarkable on its own, but there's something about the way the sun is fixated on it that gives it an otherworldly sheen.
Magpies love shiny objects, and these ones sparkle like no other. Perhaps your gender is shiny, and that's why the magpie took it. Perhaps your gender is in view. But where?
You glance up. It's a magpie, flying out of the woods at a frightening speed.
<<linkreplace "You turn to run.">><<linkreplace "Stumble, fall.">>From the ground, you hear a furious beating of wings as the bird reaches its target. You flinch, expecting the sharp sensation of talons, but the pain never comes. The wingbeats fade. The bird flies back into the woods as quickly as it came.
<<linkreplace "You stand up, and give yourself a quick once-over.">>Your clothes aren't torn, but they're covered in dirt. This isn't good. Walking towards the woods was bad enough, but with the state your clothes are in... you're in for the scolding of a lifetime. The woods are no place for a young— a young— you frown. What //are// you, anyway?
[[A girl.|fakeGender]]<</linkreplace>><</linkreplace>><</linkreplace>><<set $genderstage=1>>No, that can't be right. "Boy", "girl", those barely sound like real words, much less real genders.
But what is a gender, anyway? You think. You used to have one. But lost it somehow, perhaps when the magpie— did it steal your gender? It must have. Yes, that's right. Your gender was stolen, along with your memory of it.
And there are other losses: trying to remember your family calls to mind only fog. Were they, too, connected to your gender? Do you still know the way home from here? Whatever else it might be, this much is clear: gender is something you can't go home without.
[[Yours is somewhere in the woods.|The woods beckon.]]<<set $genderstage = 3>><<set $secondgender = "the sun">>Perhaps your gender is the sun. Lovely, radiant, scorching. An object so bright and massive it cannot be ignored, cannot be evaded, and you exist always in its gravity.
Perhaps the movements of the Earth will conceal your gender. Perhaps you will not always be able to see it in the sky, and what hangs there will be a pallid reflection of the truth. But your gender will still be there, and you will still feel its pull. Always.
You're starting to remember more about your gender. The way it couldn't be extinguished by clothes or pretending, refused to go away on its own. The warmth you felt basking in it. And the searing shame you'd feel if your parents ever found out.
[[Your gender is the sun.]]<<set $genderstage = 3>><<set $secondgender = "a pebble">>Perhaps your gender is a shiny pebble. In sunlight, incandescent, but featureless and unremarkable on its own. There is no real identity there, just a mirror. If left to its own devices, your gender would be nothing at all.
You're starting to remember more about your gender. The way it looked on other people, the shape of it, the way you'd molded yourself to match. You'd always thought of your gender as an immutable truth, but now...
A cloud passes over the sun. The pebble darkens. You are alone in the woods, and your gender is a pebble, and there is no one around to tell you otherwise.
[[Your gender is a pebble.]]It's nice being a sun. Your light covers the forest, and for a moment you can see everything. The sky, the clouds, the trees. A magpie's shiny, messy nest.
Focusing closer on the nest, you can see a jumbled hoard of trinkets inside, mostly coins and jewelry, arranged in a circle around a large egg. Two items in particular stand out to you: a necklace and a watch. One of them is achingly familiar — it's what the magpie stole from you. Your gender, at last.
[[Take the necklace.]]
[[Take the watch.]]
Being a pebble is peaceful, if boring. Nothing bothers you. Nothing changes. Until things //do// change — quite rapidly, in fact — and a pair of sharp talons lift you up out of the creek and through the air. The magpie! It must have seen you sparkling from afar.
After a long flight, the magpie places you tenderly in its nest, where a mess of pilfered trinkets surrounds you. The magpie's hoard is mostly coins and jewelry, arranged in a circle around a large egg. Two items in particular stand out to you: a necklace and a watch. One of them is achingly familiar — it's what the magpie stole from you. Your gender, at last.
[[Take the necklace.]]
[[Take the watch.]]<<set $genderstage=4>><<set $falsegender="a necklace">>Taking the necklace, you are flooded with memories. This necklace is beautiful, delicate and frail: the perfect accessory for the gender it marks. You remember the day your parents gave you this necklace, the expectations that accompanied it. You remember the secret meanings behind every mannerism you ever learned. The gender the magpie stole is back in your head now, waiting patiently for you to become it.
...but it's not your gender. It doesn't feel like your gender. Your gender is $firstgender, or perhaps $secondgender, but it certainly isn't this petty trinket you've been made to wear for so long. No, you're something different, a work-in-progress waiting to be born. You look around the magpie's nest with perfect clarity.
Your gender is:
[[The nest.]]<<set $genderstage=5>><<set $thirdgender="an egg">>Your gender is an egg. Smooth and featureless, betraying nothing to the casual viewer. It will truly be an awesome sight — once it hatches, anyway.
You will sit with your gender, keep it warm, guard it well. You will wait patiently for the day that you can welcome it with open arms. Until then, you will carry it with you, the majesty of a gender not-yet-realized tucked safely away in its shell.
You feel a faint kick from somewhere within.
<<linkreplace "Your gender is an egg.">>Your gender is an egg, and one day, it will hatch.<</linkreplace>><<set $genderstage=5>><<set $thirdgender = "a nest">>Your gender is a nest. Ramshackle, beautiful, perched precariously in the treetops.
You will have to weave your gender one piece at a time, out of twigs and leaves and scavenged things. Every scrap you've ever touched. Everything you love, and aspire to be. Building it will be bitter, slow, and unrewarding, but eventually, your gender will stop being a messy bird's nest. Eventually, it will be a home.
<<linkreplace "Your gender is a nest.">>Your gender is a nest, and you will build it yourself.<</linkreplace>><<set $genderstage=4>><<set $falsegender="a watch">>Taking the watch, you are flooded with memories. This watch is large, heavy, and useful: the perfect accessory for the gender it marks. You remember the day your parents gave you this watch, the expectations that accompanied it. You remember the secret meanings behind every mannerism you ever learned. The gender the magpie stole is back in your head now, waiting patiently for you to become it.
...but it's not your gender. It doesn't feel like your gender. Your gender is $firstgender, or perhaps $secondgender, but it certainly isn't this petty trinket you've been made to wear for so long. No, you're is something different, a work-in-progress waiting to be born. You look around the magpie's nest with perfect clarity.
Your gender is:
[[The nest.]]This game was written by Carter Gwertzman, in the year 2021.
Props to Captain Greybeard's Plunder, //Attack Helicopter//, and anyone who's ever written something about the fae stealing your identity for inspiring the game that would later become this other game (I know what you're thinking but there's actually no connection to the magpie games). Also the teacher that made me read Faulkner and that one post on r/ambien for the title. And thanks to you, for reading this.