Chapter the Twenty Eighth: The Importance Of Being Kind To Your Fellow ManThe journey back to Black Root was thankfully uneventful, which gave me time to sort out all of my thoughts. I was still upset about seeing Jayna waste away in Dernholm, and even worse I was powerless to do anything about it. That powerlessness made me feel weak and vulnerable. I felt as though I should've been able to do more for the poor girl.
On top of that, I still hadn't fully made up my mind about Vollinger. I wanted to like him, and he certainly made himself likeable, but I trusted Virgil too much to completely ignore his opinion. I figured I'd have a good, long chat with Virgil on the subject when I got the chance. It was the least I could do for a friend. In the meantime I was just grateful that Vollinger was polite and didn't seem to mind my occasionally larcenous behavior.
He seemed fairly reliable, too. Although I disliked his use of guns, simply because I find guns distasteful, at least he seemed skilled with them and more than willing to fight to defend me. There wasn't a whole lot more I could ask out of a travelling companion. Not everybody in the world could be another Virgil, so perhaps I was just being overly picky. The extra help certainly couldn't hurt.
I headed directly for the train station upon arriving in Black Root, thinking to check up on the schedule and make my plans from there. Not halfway to the station, however, a woman grabbed Virgil's arm and cried out, "Liam?!"
Virgil stared at her perplexed and the expression on my face wasn't any more understanding. "Excuse me, madam, I would be grateful if you'd unhand Virgil."
She suddenly turned red, horribly embarrassed, "Oh, I'm so sorry! It's just... a friend of mine is worried about her missing son, and this young man here looked so much like him..."
There are problems that I can easily ignore, and this is not one of them. "You say her son is missing? What's his name?"
She started to regain her composure at my apparent interest. "Liam Cameron... do you know him?"
I shook my head sadly, "I can't say that I do, but I'm something of an adventurer these days... though I rather loathe the term. Perhaps I could be of assistance. Would you direct me to Mrs. Cameron's house that I might ask her about it?"
The lady seemed rather suddenly surprised, and frankly so did Virgil. Come now... is my willingness to help really that surprising? "Of course, madam. Her house is just down the street there, it'll be the first house on your right. If you don't mind, I'm going to continue my search..."
"Of course." I nodded to her politely and headed off in the direction she'd pointed. I found the house easily enough and knocked on the door. Before long a woman answered, not much older than myself. Her face showed clear signs of worry. "Mrs. Cameron? I came to ask you anything you could tell me about your son."
This was sounding rather concerning, though admittedly it wasn't exactly what I expected when I heard he was missing. "His workshop? I'm afraid I must have come along a different route."
She clutched her hands against her chest, "He's a tinkerer, like his father before him. Always working on some new gadget. He built himself a workshop about three day's travel into the woods, so he wouldn't be disturbed."
I was a bit confused, but I wanted to put this woman's mind at ease, "And you haven't seen him in a while?"
Strange happenings? That's not a good sign at all... "I see why you would be concerned. Would you like me to find him?"
She looked puzzled for a moment and took a closer look at me and my companions. She saw the dagger resting on my hip, Virgil's plate armor, and the gun poking out of Vollinger's pocket. She suddenly became very excited
I pulled out my map and handed it to her, "Here, show me on my map where his workshop is."
She looked it over carefully, "Oh. Here. It's right here," she said pointing to a spot just Southwest of Black Root.
"Very well, madam. I will bring you news." She thanked me once more and I departed Black Root straight for the workshop she pointed out to me.
The location she'd pointed to on the map was quite accurate and I found the workshop with little difficulty. I became very concerned on my arrival, however. The workshop seemed completely abandoned. The door was unlocked and slightly rotted, and the inside of the shack was in complete disarray. It would only make sense for an inventor's workshop to be cluttered, but it looked like it had been ransacked by thieves. That wouldn't be surprising for an abandoned shack out in the woods, but the shack wasn't supposed to have been abandoned. The only thing of note that I found was a journal lying open on a desk. I flipped through it, trying to find out what I could.
strange beasts. I must discover what has happened and try to set it to rights. Liam.
Jan 29, 1885. I have found it! After much searching of the forest, I found the demon light from which the beasts are emanating. It appears to be some type of vortex or portal. The beasts come forth from its interior with what appears to be no set order. I have some scrolls to disperse magick on hand. I pray they are enough to destroy the portal. Liam.
Feb 4, 1885. Alas! The scroll was a failure. It seems my technological demeanor has become such that even the smallest of magicks will no longer function in my presence. I sustained minor wounds doing battle with a beastly lizard creature. I must design a mechanical means of closing the portal. Liam.
Feb 7, 1885. I must make haste! I believe the contraption I have put aside may be my only hope! I have designed a mechanism that, when employed, should cap the portal, sealing it from this side. I need only make a few more adjustments and it will be ready. Liam.
Feb 10, 1885. It is ready! I have given it the simple nomenclature 'Magick Trap'. I have made two, one as a reserve. I leave immediately to seal the portal. I shall try my best to avoid the creatures roaming rampant through the wood. If I fail, I beg those who read this journal to return it to my mother in Black Root. May the gods preserve us. Liam Cameron.
I sighed, cursing myself for not having arrived sooner. I had so badly wanted to save the poor boy and I was all but certain he was now dead. Useless thoughts raced through my mind, like if I'd only happened by on my way out of Shrouded Hills I could've saved poor Liam. It did me no good to dwell on it, however. I picked open the lock on a nearby chest and pulled out the Magick Trap that Liam had invented, determined to do what Liam had given his life for. I set out on the path leading into the woods that Liam had marked to point the way to the portal.
I paused when I came across Liam's decaying body in the middle of the path he'd made. I could see the portal in the distance, and the malevolent creatures that surrounded it. It looked as though Liam had been wounded and tried to escape, but they chased him and finished him off here. I stooped down, collecting my thoughts for a brief moment. Rage overcame me.
There was a rather large axe lying on the ground next to Liam, clearly of advanced technological construction. The handle was made of solid, sturdy oak like many a quality axe, but the blade itself was even more marvelous. It seemed to be specially treated in some fashion, perhaps hollowed out with some kind of chemicals or machinery inside. The blade was warm to the touch and when I swung the axe it heated up red hot in an instant, searing and charring anything it touched. Yes... this will do nicely. Liam, I will avenge you. With my hands firmly gripping the oak handle I charged forward towards the portal.
The creatures set upon me near instantly. In addition to the ferocious lizards that Liam had mentioned in his journal there were also several strange, floating jellyfish. They were as fast as they were vicious and their tentacles were coated in a thick, acidic slime that burned the skin and tore holes in any clothing or armor they touched. They even ate through the electrically resistant plate I had made for Virgil.
Where have these horrendous beasts come from?! I dodged around their attacks as best as I could, which was unfortunately quite poorly. Whenever I could I buried Liam's axe right where it counted, splitting lizards in half effortlessly and burning through the membranes covering the floating jellyfish. For each beast that I felled another would crawl through the portal, horrible screeches issuing from their maws.
I knew not where they were coming from nor when the torrent would end, but I never gave up. I fought endlessly and tirelessly, chopping the creatures apart one by one as they came pouring out of the portal. My wounds were many and great, and I only survived thanks to Virgil's magickal efforts. I didn't even pause long enough from my onslaught to salve over my own wounds. Every now and then, amidst the gnashing of teeth and ripping of flesh, I would hear another shot ring out from Vollinger's gun and another beast would fall only to be replaced moments later. Liam must have been very brave indeed to attempt this task by himself.
At long last, after battling several dozen of the hideous creatures, their flow seemed to cease temporarily. Without hesitation I took the single moment of respite I had and placed Liam's Magick Trap over the portal. The portal wavered and flickered, twisting around uncertainly. Finally it shattered and over a thousand tiny bits exploded outward before being sucked back into nothingness. I stood next to the now closed portal on top of over a hundred corpses, victorious.
"Thank you, Virgil... Vollinger. I couldn't have done it without you two."
Virgil patted me on the shoulder gently so as not to aggravate my wounds. "It was the right thing to do, madam. Who knows what damage those creatures could've brought to Black Root or even Tarant if they got far enough."
"Indeed," Vollinger added, "One of those things could've invaded the very next inn we sleep in if we hadn't done something to stop them." I smiled at both of them weakly and began the slow and sad journey back to Black Root. I had to tell Mrs. Cameron what became of her son. She deserved to know, no matter how much I hated that I had to be the one to tell her.
Although journeying through the wilderness was no way to heal the wounds that plagued me, I would not slow my journey. Virgil helped out by healing me when he could, though his spells were often ineffectual. I supposed that I, too, was growing in my technological demeanor and soon Virgil would be unable to work magick in my presence at all. That was a grim thought. When I arrived at Black Root I went straight to Mrs. Cameron's house and knocked on her door.
She invited me inside before worriedly asking, "Do you have news of Liam?" She looked so hopeful, her eyes pleading to me for good news.
Unfortunately, I had none. "I am sorry. He was killed by one of the beasts roaming the forest."
I felt true sympathy for the poor woman. There seemed to be almost nothing I could say that would lessen the pain of her loss, but I had to try. "He died trying to stop the creatures. He was a hero!"
She didn't seem convinced, she could only focus on the pain she was feeling, "But they killed him and they still roam! His death was in vain..."
I shook my head and grabbed ahold of her shoulders, looking her straight in the eye, "No! Not in vain. It was his creation that enabled me to stop them."
Her sobs slowed and she started to look up at me more hopefully, "Truly? ...His death was not in vain?"
I assured her as best as I could, "If not for your son, this city would have been overrun with beasts!" Virgil nodded in agreement, as did Vollinger.
I accepted her gift gracefully, "Thank you. I am sorry for your loss. Goodbye." I left her to her sadness.
Despite my leaving I couldn't put her from my mind. The horror and despair in her voice when I told her the bad news was all too real to me. I wandered away from the town along the water's edge, lost in my thoughts. She wasn't the only one to have lost somebody dear to her, only she didn't look like she was about to run away from Black Root over it. Does it make me a bad person for running away? I already knew the answer.
Before I could have too much time to dwell on it I was jolted from my reverie by a strange little halfling wearing nothing but a loincloth. It was so absurd to encounter such a man so close to town that I rubbed my eyes and looked again to make sure I was not hallucinating. He looked up at me curiously, "Hello, youngling. Would you like to play a game?"
Regardless of how confused I was, at least the strange little man was taking my mind off of its previous train of thought. I welcomed that aspect of it, even though I had no idea what the hell was going on. I proceeded cautiously, "What kind of game, halfling?"
Although he technically had answered my question, I was only further confused, "What are the rules?"
He shrugged, "The rules? Rules? Well, if ye must know... I'll be asking you a question, and if ye be a'knowin' the answer, then the game continues. If not, the game is over. Agreed?"
I was never one to turn down a game of wits, but I had to be clear, "What do you mean, 'the game continues'?"
"Fine. I'm in." I certainly wasn't going to back down, though I suspected the strange little halfling's questions wouldn't be quite as easy as the ones I routinely answered in pubs. I was right.
The halfling grinned wickedly, "Ha! Good, then, we'll begin straight off. One question I'll ask, and one answer there be. The wise man will spot what the dullard won't see."
It took some thinking, but I arrived at the answer shortly enough. "A clock. Numbers are painted on its face, its hands have no bones, and the first timepieces were stone sundials."
"Correct!" he beamed, "Ye seem to be a resourceful one... would ye like to continue?"
I didn't even hesitate, "Of course."
"Thank you. I'll be on my way." Although the game itself intrigued me, I was ecstatic for the distraction it provided. I didn't need to be thinking about my past any more than I already had. I sought out the next strange halfling to continue the game, finding him easily from the first halfling's directions.
He looked me up and down as I arrived, silently judging me, "Ah... a true player. Not one we've seen in many years, and none so promising. Are ye ready for the next question, lass?"
This was all getting very interesting and also somewhat alarming. I cursed myself for my insatiable curiosity. "Yes. Please continue."
That didn't sound pleasant, though I hardly suspected anything he had to say would stop me, "What exactly are the stakes?"
He looked upset that I had asked. "No! I've said too much already. There are things not meant to be said, and the price for saying them is one I'm not about to pay... this world is home to things other than just you and I..."
I'm trying to get my mind off of the damned forest, already. "Whatever you say, halfling. Let's get started."
Death to one while birthing another made me think of the seasons, as when each one ends a new one begins. Shivering trees could only mean fall, so the answer had to be... "The spring."
"Thank you for the advice. I'll be on my way." I didn't come this far to stop now. I sought out the next strange little halfling to continue their game.
He, too, appraised me as I neared him. "So. It seems we have a smart one, eh? I've stood many nights here among the stones waiting for one such as you. And yet, I hesitate... I've seen many fail. You can still turn back..."
"I've come this far. Let's finish this." I wasn't about to be talked down, no matter what the price. There was a fair bit of overconfidence in my words, to be sure, but everybody has their flaws.
He sighed, almost sadly. "Very well. What's done is done and can be no other way. Whatever the outcome, know that the stones and I and mine will remember you."
The whole thing was starting to sound quite frightening. I didn't get the impression that the halfling was joking. "Let's get to the question."
I immediately thought of fire when he mentioned the death of history, picturing the burning of books in my mind, I just had to make sure it fit the rest of the riddle before saying it aloud. Fire certainly caused plenty of wounds, but it could also be used to cleanse metallic implements before using them surgically. Fire did give life via its warmth, but it could also cause grave scars. It seemed to fit, "Fire."
I blinked, confused, "Thank you." I took the small, white gem from his outstretched hand and placed it in my pocket. It made me just a little bit uncomfortable to keep it in my presence so I knew it had a magickal bent to it. Confused, I traveled back into town and reserved tickets on the next train to Tarant. What would've happened if I answered incorrectly?
The train wouldn't be arriving for another few hours, so I took the time to chat with Mr. Ogg once more. We spent a few minutes catching up and exchanging various small talk before I finally broached the subject of training. "I've noticed that I tend to take more hits than I avoid when things get a little rough... do you think you could teach me a thing or two about dodging?"
He was all business on the matter of training, "500 coins." I handed them to him happily and he showed me a few tricks. After he went over it I felt quite a bit more confident in my ability to dodge blows.
"Who could train me to be a master of dodge?"
If I were to seek training from this mysterious man I was going to need all the information I could get. "Tell me more about this duel."
Garrick Stout, pompous master of melee. What an interesting tale. "Thank you! You have been most helpful. If you'll pardon me, I, once again, have a train to catch."
Not wanting my mind to wander any further than it had been recently I elected to take a short nap on the train ride to Tarant. Virgil chatted with Vollinger for awhile and it seemed like they were starting to warm up to one another even without my intervention. There were too many things to be positive about for me to continue thinking about things that upset me.
Once we arrived in Tarant I made a quick stop by the gypsy woman to ask her about the amulet I'd pilfered in Dernholm. For a small fee she assured me that it was a medallion of beauty and I went straight to Madam Lil's to recoup the fee I'd paid and much more. "Good evening, Madam Lil. I've brought your medallion."
I glanced at Vollinger briefly to make sure he didn't think I'd requested the latter option or anything silly like that. He didn't seem to really notice or care. "...as I mentioned before, I'd really prefer the coin."
She opened up her purse, counting out the full 600 coins and then handing them to me. After quickly double checking her count I handed her the amulet and she hastily snapped it around her neck. True to its supposed function it seemed to make her look all the more alluring, but in a very mysterious fashion. Perhaps that was a part of its magick, since I so often found myself compelled to sate my curiosity. Naturally she would seem more interesting to me if she looked somehow mysterious. I shrugged it off, becoming disinterested in it as quickly as I'd thought of it. Magick was of little concern to me.
"Virgil, I think I'm finally ready. It's time for us to investigate the Black Mountain Mines."
"Yes," he sighed heavily, "I think that would be wise." I just bloody hope we don't wind up like the rest of Bates' investigators.
Bonus ContentRequested by Schizoguy
Answering the first two questions incorrectly merely gives you progressively more harsh 'you suck' warnings.
Answering the third question wrong, however... well, it's not pretty.
A bunch of zombies with a rather wide spread of levels pop out of the ground, and the halfling himself attacks you (he's level 50). The toughest of the zombies are Gore Guards, well known for being some of the most pain in the ass zombies in the game. They can kill Samantha in about 2 hits, and they damage the armor of whoever they're attacking (much like the Araya in the woods).
Samantha tries valiantly to stave off the attack, but the halfling isn't even half dead after a full round of backstabs. I think this picture is a pretty classic "oh shit" moment. Since Samantha is totally surrounded, she can't sneak behind anybody to get a backstab off. Her strength isn't high enough to just deal massive damage outright, so she's pretty much fucked.
Schizoguy posted: "What would have happened had you answered incorrectly?"
Answer: Samantha would be missing her legs.
Although the halfling is dead in this picture, I know he died after Samantha did. The combat switches into real-time when the main character dies, however, which is like watching a bad rerun of the Benny Hill show.
Anyway, back to the screenshot, you can see that poor Virgil really doesn't have a chance in hell of making it through that alive. Indeed, he didn't. Vollinger's armless corpse is about to fall over to the ground, too.