Chapter the Thirtieth: Human Sympathies Are Fickle ThingsBates' eyes went wide when I entered the room. "You have returned! Tell me, what news?"
I supposed that his utter shock excused him from the normal expectation of pleasantries, although the truth of the matter was that his wealth was all the excuse he needed. Instead of getting upset I merely smirked, smug in the satisfaction that I'd succeeded where his hired thugs had failed. I'd better take care not to let it go to my head, but a little satisfaction is certainly all right. "The dwarves were banished to the Isle of Despair because, uh..." I swallowed hard before continuing, unsure as to exactly how to phrase what I was about to say.
There really wasn't a gentle way to say it, but if I had my choice I preferred to stay on Bates' good side. He wasn't the kind of man to taunt haphazardly, no matter how much effort it took to hold myself back from putting him in his place. "They irresponsibly allowed their technology to spread to humans."
Not even you can run... I never did have the highest opinion of Bates, though I supposed I should have felt sorrier for him. For all his wealth he still couldn't escape his past any more than I could escape mine. "You would like me to go to the Isle of Despair?" Although the idea of it filled me with dread I had to admit I was quite curious about those dwarves. I'd survived the damned mines even with assassins after me, the Isle of Despair couldn't be that much worse.
Bates practically choked on his words, "If you would... I know I've already asked much of you, but an old man needs to put his mind at ease."
I sighed, becoming more interested in the blasted island by the minute. No matter how much I thought of it I couldn't imagine it would be any worse than the Black Mountain Clan mines. The island was just a penal colony, after all. Even the worst criminals in the world couldn't compare to Molocheans or rock golems. "Will your indebtedness run to more than 300 gold this time?" Cheap bastard.
He nodded unhesitantly. "Most certainly. I think this should cover any difficulties you incur along the way." He motioned to a nearby servant who presented me with a thick, cloth sack full of gold coins.
All right. You've convinced me. "Excellent. How do I get there?"
I raised an eyebrow at the mention of 'special' jobs. "And he will take me? Can this man be trusted?"
Bates crossed his arms firmly, looking down at me. "I trust him implicitly. There are rumors of a somewhat less than virtuous career on the high seas, but he's a good man should a difficult situation arise."
Right, a bloody pirate. However unorthodox, Bates' logic did make sense. I wasn't going to a grand ball, so an ex-pirate captain was bound to be more useful than if Bates had me traveling in a luxury boat. I'd had more than my fill of luxury travel, anyway. Cheap boats and dirty trains were it for me. "That is reassuring, Mr. Bates."
Not so afraid of assassins anymore, are you? I glanced over at the ogre, considering the offer. Certainly this beast had proven himself to not be a mere decoration, but there was still something about him that made me uncomfortable. I decided it was better to let Bates keep his bodyguard. The man did no good to me dead, and powerful friends were a nice thing to have. "Thank you for your generosity. I will apprise you of my findings."
Bates thanked me, then sat down in a nearby chair and dismissed me with a hand. With nothing else left to do in town I headed directly for the train station. I ignored the hateful glare from the ticket seller and purchased my tickets as quickly as their damned overprotective questioning would allow.
The train ride seemed slightly longer than the train ride to Black Root, but at least the company was pleasant. Virgil spent the time carefully cleaning off the plate armor I'd given him and it made me glad to see he appreciated the gift. Vollinger, too, was cleaning off a gift though I'd never have been able to make it if it weren't for his expertise in firearms. I'd felt quite uncomfortable making it, but observing his care for it put me more at ease. I treat them better than Bates would. They're here with me because they want to be.
At last we arrived in Ashbury which looked like Black Root's twisted cousin. The layout was different, but it looked almost exactly like Black Root would if it had belonged to Tarant for another fifty or so years. The electric lights were the most obvious sign. Ashbury also had a variety of purple wisps known as Love Lights. They were a gorgeous sight to behold, but I didn't believe any of the myriad of superstitions that followed them.
I was broken from my line of thoughts upon encountering a particularly foul gnome abusing a poor animal. The dog was just lying there helplessly while the man kicked it repeatedly. I ran up and grabbed the man by the arm, shoving him backward slightly. He glared at me with hatred and spat out, "Why have you interrupted me?"
"Why are you kicking that dog?" I countered.
You had better have a damned good reason for this. I'm not in a forgiving mood right now. "What did he do to deserve such treatment?" Even I was guilty of killing animals when it came to defending myself, I just couldn't believe that this poor dog that was lying there helplessly had attacked the gnome.
The gnome snarled, "The cur went right into my home and stole my dinner off the table! It's not the first time either! He's been skulking about for quite some time.... But I caught him this time!"
"That's no reason to kill him! He must have been hungry!" Does this man have no shame? No sympathy?
"I would think you would feel some sort of pity for the creature." The penalty for theft is hardly death. I would know.
"If it were that hungry it would go hunt its dinner down outside of town. Not thieve from me!" Thankfully, at my badgering, the gnome seemed to be ignoring the dog entirely and the dog was starting to shift around a little.
I played for time, hoping to allow the dog to escape since it didn't seem like I was going to convince this gnome to leave it alone. "Perhaps it is lost and knows no better?"
The gnome raised an eyebrow at me, "Why are you wasting your breath babbling on about this worthless creature?"
Who are you to judge what has worth and what does not? How would you like it if I judged you worthless? "I don't want to see it hurt anymore..."
Now that bloody does it. I pulled my axe off of my back and gripped it tightly, "Perhaps I should show you how he feels..."
He held up his hands weakly, the blood draining from his face. "Uh... now... we don't have to resort to violence, right? Here. I'll give him to you. You seem to want the dog. Go ahead he's yours... I'll just be on my way..."
You're not getting off that easy. You should've thought about the need for resorting to violence before kicking this poor dog! "A little late for that, don't you think? Defend yourself!" The gnome let out a girlish scream as Vollinger cocked his gun. I swung my axe quickly, braining the bastard on the back of the head with the blunt side. He fell to the ground with a thud, instantly out cold.
I bent down to examine the dog when I smelled something foul. I glanced over at the gnome and immediately rolled him off to the side so I wouldn't end up standing in the puddle forming beneath his trousers. The dog licked me gently when I returned my attention to it and I carefully examined it to make sure there weren't any broken bones.
Healthwise he was fine, just starved and tired. I rubbed some fatigue restorer onto a piece of jerky I'd been carrying with me and I fed it to him. "There you go, boy. That ought to make you feel better." I stood up and looked at my companions. Vollinger didn't seem to care either way, but Virgil gave me a knowing smile. I took a stroll through town, but the dog seemed to want to follow me.
"What is it, boy? Do you still want some more jerky?" I tossed him another piece and he devoured it hungrily with a woof then continued following. I supposed it wouldn't do any harm to have him follow me for awhile so I thought nothing of it.
As I took my trip through the town a man stopped me. "Excuse me, madam, but you have the look of an adventurer about you. Might I ask you a favor?"
Ugh. Adventurer? Surely you don't mean me... He continued staring at me. I guess he does mean me. I shrugged, "I'm listening."
I nodded, "What does this have to do with you?" Or me for that matter?
He seemed to sense my apprehension. "er... I had contracted this fellow to use his 'technology' to improve an old set of plate armor I had."
That sounded familiar. "Why do you need my assistance?"
"You expect me to go in there for you?" If you think I'm wrestling with mechanical guardians for your sake...
"It's too tough for me, but a woman of your ingenuity could waltz right into his house and get my armor for me." He grinned, thinking himself clever for trying to flatter me.
"What do I get out of this?" Aside from the chance to pilfer any schematics or parts that catch my interest.
"I'll give you 200 coins for retrieving my plate." Ugh, do you honestly think that's a generous offer?
"Where is this house located...?"
He seemed embarrassed, "Ah, so sorry, it's this house right here madam."
"I'll see what I can do." And if I happen to find your plate I just might sell it back to you.
I snuck into the house almost disappointed that it was, indeed, unlocked. No less than three oversized, mechanical spiders accosted me shortly after I entered. I tried looking for an off switch to perhaps take them with me, but I didn't have a particularly good opportunity to find one. As soon as the first spider reached me it stretched several of its legs back and then snapped them forward with a force most humans could never muster.
It took me by surprise and struck me square in the leg. I nearly fell over from the impact and I was sure I would have a severe bruise if not a broken bone. I lashed out at it with the business end of my axe, chopping off several mechanical limbs in one strike. I hefted the axe once again and brought it crashing down on the robot's center, sending parts flying off in every direction. A small, red button labeled 'off' rolled up against my foot and stopped. I let out a distinct sigh and took to dismantling the remaining two spiders in a similar fashion. At least I'll get some parts out of them.
After raiding the desk and various drawers, chests, and containers for what few parts I could scavenge I climbed down a ladder hiding beneath a trap door in the corner. The basement was obviously more of a workshop than the house upstairs, housing complicated machinery and even a giant box that likely held a recently sold invention. As I wandered further into the basement the box very suddenly exploded outwards in a shower of splinters.
An automaton, shaped and sized like a human being, came charging at me with its mechanical arms swinging wildly. Frightened I dodged to the side of it and let loose upon its backside. I chopped at its legs, finding the metal used to create them significantly more solid than that which was used for the spiders. I struck at the casing of the engine inside of its chest cavity to no avail. Finally I brought my axe down in a vertical arc, and the creation stopped moving for just a moment, then completely collapsed.
With the way it fell apart beneath my assault I could only assume the construction of the device had been exceptionally shoddy. The materials were no doubt superb, but if it had been constructed well I would never have been able to inflict such damage on it. I decided against keeping the plate I was looking for. I had much more confidence in plate that I made with my own hands.
The plate wasn't difficult to find, either, once the automaton had been dispatched. It was sitting on a shelf nearby, collecting dust next to a schematic with instructions on how to build the automaton. I might've been interested in such a schematic if I hadn't already discovered firsthand how useless it was. I returned to the man waiting for me outside, carrying his oversized suit of mechanical plate.
Now that's just bloody rude. "I've decided to keep it." I lied, mostly out of spite.
He looked upset, and hesitant. "Please give it to me? I'll give you 250 coins."
That was considerably more to my liking. Polite and with an offer of greater payment, almost as an apology. "You have yourself a deal." I handed him the plate, accepted his coins, and stalked off. After only a short stay in Ashbury I'd already been subjected to a poor dog being tortured in front of my eyes - a dog that still refused to leave my side, no less - and mechanical creations that seemed quite intent on snapping any limbs I allowed to get in their way. It was high time for a drink.
"Give me two shots of whiskey and give them to me quick, my good man. The day has not been kind to me."
The bartender nodded understandingly, as they always do. It's practically their job to pretend to understand each and every drunk that walks through the door. Except for the ones lacking in coin, they didn't need to be understood. He placed the shots on the bar in front of me and I downed one immediately, staring at the other longingly. "What goes on around here, anyway?" I asked.
The bartender picked up the hint, "An old adventurer came through here last week. He said that he found some old ruins to the northwest, beyond the Grey Mountains. He said that in the ruins was an old altar made of solid gold!" I gave what he had said a bit of thought. I did remember that Kerlin's altar was supposedly north of the Grey Mountains, and it would make sense for it to be made of gold. That's probably what the adventurer had been talking about.
"What about a bit more locally, sir? Passing the Grey Mountains is hardly a trivial matter."
"A haunted castle, you say? Here, in Ashbury?" Hmm. Even if it's just superstition that'll keep most folk away from there. I could probably fill my pockets with the content of that old castle and nobody would even care.
"That's not all," he nodded, "I've heard that people have been seeing zombies around the graveyard. Zombies! I recommend you stay away."
"I'll drink to that." I downed the second shot of whiskey. Zombies don't just rise up on their own, though. That might be worth investigating. "Does anything happen in this town that doesn't relate to the deceased?"
I quietly noted the location on my map. "All right, does anything happen around here that doesn't involve zombies or passing adventurers?"
The bartender shrugged politely, "Well, have you run into Kendrick Wales? He's running around telling everyone that he's writing a book, but won't tell anyone what it's about!"
I guess when you've got rumors of the walking dead all other rumors tend to pale in comparison. "You've been most kind, sir." I got up to head out of the bar and perhaps check into an inn room for some rest when I was stopped by a man near the door.
Oh no, I'm not making that mistake twice no matter how much whiskey I've partaken in. "I'm sorry... you must have mistaken me for someone else..."
The man looked offended. He practically shouted at me and I could smell the stench of ale on his breath. "No, I'm sure of it... and I don't bloody well like being lied to, miss. Not at all!"
I tried to be insistent, to play the part of the innocent woman being victimized by yet another drunk. "I told you, I'm not that person..."
His sudden shout caught me horribly off guard. Shaking off his drunkenness like a decorative mantle, he leapt over the table at me, picking up a sword and swinging it in my direction. I gasped, trying to dodge out of the way, but my reflexes weren't up to the challenge. Virgil tried to shove me out of the way, but he was too far... too slow. I closed my eyes and nervously waited for death to come, but it never did.
I heard a visceral tear followed by a wet, choking gasp and I opened my eyes to see what had happened. The dog I'd saved had leapt at the man with incredible speed and instantly torn his throat out. The man gasped his last breath and fell silent on the floor in a thick pool of his own blood, dead in seconds. The dog whined and nuzzled against my leg apologetically.
I bent down and pet him lightly on the head. My hand was shaking and my words came out stuttered, "G-good boy... good... gooood dog."
Bonus ContentHere are some quick pictures of some extra stuff. First is Chukka. He's one of the least understood characters in the game in that it almost seems random whether you get him or not. Naturally, the one time I can get him I really, really don't need him.
I also found this particular alternate conversation path to be funny. The man asks you to go into the house because he's too weak to fight the mechanical creatures, and when you fight them successfully, but refuse to give him his plate... he attacks you?
Harry Joe posted: "Well, I finally caved in and re-installed. I'm playing 2 characters, one a solo mage who is raping/pillaging/burning everything in his path (and a lot of things that are not) and the second a Dudley Doo-Right gunslinger with quite the technological affinity (charged rings are a necessity).
I'm trying to avoid going too cheap on the techie, but on the mage it's unavoidable. I'm doing things in a similar order, and it's amazing to see how easy my solo mage blows past things that my techie and team has trouble killing.
I wish i could go through the game as if i never played it again though. You can only play through games like this so many times before you know too much about it."
Yeah, even with patches the game is still somewhat poorly balanced. For what it's worth, though, tech characters are often more fun. Maybe I'm weird, but I really enjoy grabbing a bunch of parts from different vendors and pumping out cool items. Not even really the weapons and armor, either, but the consumables. I really want to play again sometime specializing in throwing, explosives, chemistry, and maybe herbology. I'd add therapeutics to the list but it's useless at high levels (can't break stat caps).
The best thing about mages, aside from the decidedly 'easy' difficulty, is teleport. It's also fun to get your summoning as high as you can at a really low level and use it to level whore at the demon portal in the woods. You can get to at least level 20, maybe closer to 30, just after leaving Shrouded Hills, it's kind of insane.