Chapter the Thirty Second: Birds of a FeatherI stepped off onto the island and squinted my eyes against the blinding sun. I saw a rickety construction not too far down the beach: the paradise resort of the condemned. There was a man standing guard outside of it, but he didn't look like your average prison guard. His armor was tattered and dirty and he looked like he hadn't bathed in over a week - and smelled like he hadn't bathed in over two. I suppressed the urge to cover my nose when speaking to him, "I'm looking for the Black Mountain Clan. Can you help me?"
Of course you don't. I'm not so lucky that you'd just say 'oh sure, the Black Mountain Clan, they're the group of dwarves out back that came here about 80 years ago. Want me to fetch them for you? "Thorvald? Who's he?"
The man didn't seem to catch the tone of annoyance in my voice. "Thorvald is the leader of this enclave. He settles all disputes within its walls. But to get to see him you'll need to talk to Ogdin, his guard, first."
Why does Ogdin sound like a half ogre name? "Can I go inside then?"
Bloody hell, I do not like the sound of that. I do not like the sound of that at all. I clutched my axe closely and glanced at Virgil looking for some kind of assurance. He nodded at me comfortingly and Vollinger smiled, gently patting the stock of his rifle. I looked back at the guard, "Many thanks."
He held out a hand quickly as if he'd forgotten something, "Sorry, madam, one more thing. I must warn you about wandering outside of the encampment here."
Not enough big, strong, lecherous criminals to protect little old me? "Why is that?"
He seemed genuinely worried and I felt a little bad for doubting him. I couldn't let down my guard, though, not in a place like this. "We've lost quite a few people to a sorcerous beast that defies our guns. I myself saw a man eaten alive by the beast when his gun misfired."
Perhaps my overconfidence was starting to get the better of me, but there was no doubt in my mind that I could slay the beast. Not only could I slay it, I could slay it easily. I didn't even think before opening my mouth again, "Where is this beast? I'll kill it for you, for a price."
What I couldn't use I could always sell, and the amulet would make a nice 'thank you' to Virgil for sticking by me for so long. "It is a deal, sir." I took off away from the gates to the complex, determined to track the beast down before it got dark out. Once I got to a small river I crossed it and turned North, following the water's edge. After traveling for only a few short minutes I spied a rather distinct set of tracks upon the ground.
I readied my axe and followed the tracks carefully, my eyes nervously darting back and forth. I hungrily searched for the beast, eager to prove that I wasn't a woman to be trifled with. The tracks continued on for quite a ways, but at their end I found the supposed killer. It looked like nothing more than an oversized ape, and it sounded like one, too.
While some might've been intimidated by the stories of it I didn't even flinch. We'll see what they think of the woman that killed the 'sorcerous beast'! I crept closely to it and I could feel my skin tingling as I approached. When I drew within a dozen feet of it the tingle became an itch and as I slipped behind it for a careful strike it felt as though my skin was burning.
I sunk my axe into its flesh, much to its surprise, and it screeched out in pain. I was in pain, too, but perhaps it was this same pain that allowed such a beast to kill so many in the first place. If only I could press my attack I would be a hero to the residents of the penal colony, and I needed to be their hero if I wanted to avoid the wrong kind of attention. My axe relentlessly carved into the creature's flesh again and again, never giving it even half of a chance to turn around or escape my fury. In short order the beast was felled, its enchanted blood fizzling off of my masterfully constructed axe. Looks like my technology beat your magic, ape, but it was close - I will give you that.
I trudged back to the penal colony entrance, walking up to the guard with a confident swagger. "I've dispatched the sorcerous beast for you." I dropped the beast's severed head on the ground, watching it slowly roll up to the guard's foot. He stared at it incredulously for several moments before remembering that I hadn't left yet.
I tossed the amulet over to Virgil for safekeeping, at least until we could get it identified. I gave the guard a curt "Goodbye" and pushed my way through the wooden gate. Blood still dripping off my axe, Virgil bedecked in full plate, Vollinger clutching his rifle on my right, Terry snarling down below: that is how I made my entrance into the penal colony.
At first several heads turned towards the 'new arrival', especially noting my particular gender. I could practically see the unclean thoughts. Then, as they slowly took in more and more details of my arrival, heads turned away to stare off into the distance or simply at the ground, no longer certain what to make of me. It looked like the effort I put into such an initial impression was well worth it. Hands off, and that goes for all of you.
If I was going to find the Black Mountain Clan I needed to find Thorvald and I wasn't going to make good on my impression by aimlessly wandering around and asking clueless questions, so I set off to explore the complex on my own. I boldly walked straight into the first shack I came across and looked the inhabitant straight in the eyes.
He was a tired looking old man, his hands callused from hard work. He didn't seem to care one way or another for my bold entrance. I tried to keep my voice friendly, but firm, "Hello, sir. Might I ask who you are?"
The way he looked at me didn't suggest any kind of significant emotion, likely a sign of how long he'd been on the damned island. He was neither afraid nor was he aroused. "Greetings." I replied. "What is it you do around here, Norian?" At least you seem like one of the better sorts around here, though I'm sure you deserve to be here every bit as much as anybody else.
He shrugged, sighing and turning back to the table behind him. "Try to keep to myself, mostly. When I'm not doing that, I brew a little potato moonshine. Potatoes are about the only thing that'll grow on this god-forsaken island...."
I nodded understandingly, "I see. Must be quite a demand for strong drink, out here..."
If the look in his eyes had been any different then I'd have had to make a veiled attempt at looking aggressive. The way he looked at and spoke to me, though, I didn't figure he was asking anything untoward. "What sort of work are you talking about, Norian?"
"It's not a difficult piece 'o work. I trade with an old man by the name a' Maximillian who lives out in the wilds, beyond the village wall. Old Max ain't a bad sort, but dangerous... you know what I mean? I've owed him a jug of moonshine for a fortnight, but with all of the men disappearin', I've been scared to go out and take it to him..."
Something tells me that isn't going to be a problem anymore. Nevertheless, I could stand to be owed a favor around here. "Perhaps I might be of assistance?"
"I'll do so and return." I took the jug from Norian and slipped it inside of my purse. He didn't have the best business sense, offering me a jug to take the jug he'd just given me elsewhere. If I wanted to I could just take the jug and run off, and all I'd lose would be his good favor. Fortunately for him, all I was after in the first place was that good favor.
"Here's where old Maximillian was livin' the last time I saw him." Norian pointed to a spot on my map roughly near the middle of the island. "Tell Maximillian to give you a note confirming the delivery. You bring that back, and I'll give you a jug for yourself..."
"Fair enough, Norian. I'll see you when I return."
I stepped out of his shack and looked around, catching several cowardly men glancing in my direction before backing down under the baleful glare I sent back at them. I made a show of walking about the complex menacingly, sending a clear message that I wasn't afraid of those around me. It was little more than a huge lie, of course I was afraid, but if I let it show then I'd just be begging for them to try and take advantage of me. I shuddered thinking of what exactly that would entail. Reaching another shack on the other end of the complex, I barged inside.
The man inside was a lot younger than Norian and had streaks of black grease all over his hands and his face. He stared at me for several moments from across a table filled with broken parts and old junk. Finally he stood up and started swaggering in my direction. "The day be looking up, I think."
Virgil drew his axe and the distinct echo of a gun cocking echoed throughout the sparse room. "If you think I'm here for fun, think again," I replied coldly, "What's your name?" He stopped dead in his tracks, looking at me with a reconsidering glance before speaking.
"Hello, Jones. Why do they call you 'the Collector'?" It had better be related to that table of junk and not to your first impression of me, you'd be all too easy to make an example of.
He sounded nervous and defensive, "Because that's what I do, girl! I collect things... all sorts of things, all shapes and sizes and tastes and colors. If its to be had on the Isle, old Jones has got it. Get me, girl? Ain't no one knows better about the gettin' of things than Jones the Collector..."
Fair enough. I can tell you're afraid, but still you've got an attitude. Let's not push each other, shall we? "I think I get the picture, Jones. Do you trade as well...?"
Although I doubted he was as well stocked as my favorite junk man back in Tarant, it was always worth seeing about finding new parts. "What sort of things have you been collecting lately?"
Jones seemed a lot more at ease after we'd exchanged a few words back and forth, and I felt a bit better as well. I supposed I couldn't blame him for his initial impression, and he seemed to understand my point of view as well. "Oh... just about everything that washed up on the shore... old forks, and rusted pipes, and the occasional shoe or boot. You lookin' for shoes? I got shoes you wouldn't believe! None of 'em match, but out here... wait..." I could see the change in expression wash over his face as a realization suddenly dawned on him. "You new around here, girl? Lookin' to earn some goods, make a trade...?"
"It's a possibility. What did you have in mind?" It seemed like everybody wanted a favor on the damned island, although that was to be expected. I was all ears: it could never hurt to be owed more favors in case things went sour, especially if they went sour with Thorvald.
You've definitely got my interest, good sir. This is much more to my liking. It also sends me out of this godforsaken colony. "What do you mean by 'strange'? What's down there?"
"There's a few mage types around here, and they say that just gettin' within EARSHOT of the place screws up all their spells. Something down there that just don't agree with magick. Plus, old Deitrich brought me back a weapon from there the likes a' which I never seen. I'd go down myself, but they say it's crawlin' with beasts and what not..."
High technology, strange and unusual weapon, tough beasts... I'm in. "Hmmm. Interesting. What are you offering if I go down there?"
"I'll do so and return..." I gestured towards him with my map.
"Here's where the beach is..." he pointed, "and good luck to you! I can't wait to see what you dig up!"
Excellent. He even has confidence in my abilities. Well met, Jones. "I will depart immediately. Goodbye."
The very idea of such technology had me quite thrilled and so I decided to put off searching for Thorvald a bit longer. Besides, if both Jones and Norian owed me some small favors I might be able to find Thorvald without barging into every man's house in the damn colony. If I did that enough it was bound to end in bloodshed at some point. I headed in the direction of the gate when I spied another woman, the first I'd seen since setting foot on the island. I couldn't imagine what the woman had endured living here and so I struck up a conversation with her. "Hello, miss. May I ask what someone such as yourself is doing here?"
Rage welled up inside me, along with sympathy. "This is scandalous! You've been here your whole life?"
She nodded sadly, "Yes. It was not a bad life, as it were, until my mother died last year. She kept the worst of it from me. Since her passing I have become abused and treated like common property."
I can't imagine the details... no... I can, but I don't want to. "Can't you speak with Thorvald about this?"
Rotten bastard. Still... dwarf, you say? I suppose that's why the guard directed me towards him. "Yours is a most distressing tale. What can be done about this?" I will help you, even if I have to kill this Thorvald in the process.
She looked around carefully, making sure nobody else was listening. Luckily everybody had their attention diverted from me still. She whispered quietly into my ear, "There is a tribe of nomadic women on this island who have cast off the shackles of oppression these men have tried to impose on them. If I could escape from here, I believe they would allow me to join with them."
I nodded understandingly, "What could I do to help? Do you need me to escort you to them? I don't think the men will stop me, though they're welcome to try."
"It would be my pleasure to help you." For once I actually meant it, and it truly might've been the first time in my life that was the case.
She seemed about to cry. "Oh, bless you! Show me your map." I did so and she pointed to a far corner of the island, "Here is the location of the tribe, as far as I know."
"How do you know all this information? Why have you not yet escaped if you know this much? I don't understand what could possess anybody to endure such treatment..."
She sighed, remembering, "My mother used to tell me tales of these women when I was younger. She told me to escape and live with them if anything ever happened to her. Alas, I am not allowed to leave the encampment. I have tried before, but they always catch me. And then the punishment..." Tears started flowing out of her eyes and she rested her head upon my shoulder, gently sobbing.
"I am truly sorry. I will get you out of here as soon as possible. I promise you that." She silently nodded at me and began drying her tears so that the other men wouldn't notice. The sick bastards probably take joy in making her suffer. I turned and left the encampment. Looking at my map the home of Maximillian was almost directly on the way to the women's camp so I decided to make a quick delivery while I was out.
The island was deceptively large and arriving at Maximillian's house alone took nearly two days of travel through the wilderness. The sun was beginning to set as I arrived, but I gently knocked on the door to the shack anyway before letting myself in. The man inside was just standing up from reading a book, taking the spectacles off of his face. He was old, much moreso than I'd imagined when Norian told me about him. He held himself with a peculiar strength and dignity, weighing me with his eyes. "My name is Maximillian. Is there anything I can do for you, madam?"
To be perfectly honest, the man fascinated me. "I've brought you a jug of moonshine from Norian."
"Thank you. Might I ask you a few questions?" I only hope this is one of those times when my curiosity does not actually get me into unwanted trouble.
"Of course..." he nodded hesitantly.
"What are you doing out here?" Well, not one question in and the cat was already out of the bag. That was certainly one way to start.
I sighed. If I'm going to continue being so nosy I really need to learn some patience. "Every man has his secrets. Believe me, I understand..."
He seemed surprised, reappraising his initial impressions of me. His eyes wandered to my companions, and to the axe I carried. "You're right. Please, forgive my short-sightedness. No doubt you've things of value to share as well. Perhaps you and I might have something to speak of after all..."
I smiled warmly, taking a seat next to him and resting my axe unthreateningly against the wall. "I'd enjoy that. Tell me of yourself, Maximillian..."
Even if this man is a Molochean I sincerely doubt he's heard of the order to kill me. Sharing can't honestly hurt... "Of course. It began not long ago... Goodness, it was actually over a year ago now. I'm the sole survivor of the IFS..." I chuckled lightly, "many apologies, you've not heard of the IFS Zephyr, I'm sure. It was a grand flying machine..."
I regaled him with tales of what had been going on in the world as of late, and where my place was in that world. I told him everything, sparing no details. He listened intently, hungry for knowledge of what went on elsewhere. He didn't even flinch when I mentioned all of the killing I was responsible for, or the theft, or the wanton destruction of property for meager sums. It occurred to me then that I truly belonged on that island, I was just lucky that nobody yet realized it.
I swallowed hard. Brave? You think I'm bloody brave? I'm nothing but a coward... I ran away... I left behind my home, I stole from the man that took care of me, and I even... I committed the worst sin a woman can ever commit. Then, instead of living with it and accepting my punishment, I ran... you think I deserve praise? I don't even deserve to live. "My reasons are my own. Make no judgments concerning them..."
Maximillian sighed, sensing that I was troubled. "We've all our reasons, I suppose. I'm not a man to judge one way or another. But I do know that, in the end, a person is the sum of his or her actions. You will be weighed in the same manner..."
I didn't particularly want to talk about how I would be weighed in the end. No matter what, nothing I did now would ever make up for the sins of my past. "Why don't you tell me your story, Maximillian...?"
I nodded, listening intently. I'd been fascinated by the man from the moment I saw him, and if it made him feel better to tell his tale to somebody else then I wanted to be that somebody. It was his chance to unburden himself. "I've been to Dernholm, yes, and even done work for King Praetor himself." Maximillian continued his tale.
I see. The Cumbria I speak of was a much different place... far different than what it is today, I'm sure. I speak of a time when Cumbria was a powerful kingdom, when the elves and dwarves would come to her walls to pay tribute to her king. When the banners of the famed Dragon Knights were a thing to be respected and feared...
There's no doubt that Cumbria is but a shadow of her former glory now. The day came long ago when her fate was sealed. The day when technology began to rival magick, when the old ways began to fall to the new...
Cumbria resisted that change, and vehemently. My... the King at the time, Torren, was a wise and brave man, but set in his ways. He was cut from sterner stuff, but he was like stone... unwavering, but inflexible. He failed to see how Cumbria needed to grow, to change...
And so, he passed laws outlawing the use of technology in his lands, and set a ruling council of mage advisors at his side. For years Cumbria was still very strong and influential, but it was only a matter of time...
Cumbria was surpassed, both in commerce and in power. When mighty Tarant demanded the release of certain disputed lands, Cumbria was taught a harsh lesson. The armies of Cumbria were slaughtered, the Dragon Knights cut down by gun and cannonfire. The glory of older days was lost...
King Torren... was killed. He led the final charge of the Dragon Knights, and was shot as any common soldier. Unwavering and brave to the end...
With the death of Torren came a power struggle. There were those who believed that Cumbria should embrace the new age, to seek a better way and make her powerful again...
...but others thought differently. Some people cannot see the answer, even when it is laid before them in the form of a dead King. Torren had two sons... the older son believed in the new ways, and the younger son believed in nothing. And so, the mage council that Torren had put in place put their influence behind the younger son...
The older son was heir to the throne by birthright, but men will create all manner of evil in pursuit of power. The mage council, who controlled the younger son, brought false allegations against the older son, charging him with treason. He was taken in the night, and sent away to rot in prison for the rest of his days...
"I... I don't know what to say. I've no words..." Looking at the man I could see the longing in his bones, I could see his desire to return to his homeland and right the wrongs of the last several dozen years. He'd had a regal bearing about him since I very first entered his run down old shack, and it was a shame how and why he'd ended up in a place like this.
Maximillian patted me on the shoulder gently. "No words are necessary, friend. You've done enough to sit here and listen to my story. I've made peace with my past... life here on this Isle is harsh, but a man learns to live with himself, to accept what life brings."
I could sense the truth in his words, but also the misdirection. While Maximillian wasn't exactly lying, he didn't fully mean what he said either. "But it was so unfair... perhaps I could bring you home..."
I refused to back down. There were simply some injustices that I could not bear. His was a wrong that could be righted, no matter how difficult. If I could undo the wrongs of my past I would do so in an instant, helping Maximillian do the same was something that anybody would do in the same position. "But Cumbria... perhaps the kingdom still needs you..." Don't deny it, Maximillian. You know the truth in my words.
He sighed, finally realizing that I saw through him. "I can still feel her, you know... the stone walls of Dernholm, the rolling hills and vales, the trumpet blast of the Dragon Knights marching to battle. I wake up sometimes, and I forget where I am..."
"Come back with me, Maximillian. It's not too late..." I urged.
I lightly banged my hand against the table, frustrated. "I'm sorry, Maximillian. I already know of Warren Pel Dar... he... he is survived by his only daughter, Lianna. I need say no more."
I saw naught but sorrow in Maximillian's face then. He let out a deep breath before continuing. "So... my old friend is dead. He shall be missed. But this Lianna... his daughter, you say? Tell me... what is she like?"
I placed my hand upon Maximillian's reassuringly. "She is a warrior, like her father... her skill and martial prowess is renowned throughout what remains of Cumbria."
"I will, Maximillian. I swear to you... I will do whatever I can to set right the wrongs of your past. Lianna will come for you, I promise."
He stood up and made his way over to the door, opening it for me. "I would greatly appreciate it, friend. For now, I would ask that you please leave me to think about this... and give me some time to mourn the passing of my old friend. Good luck to you, wherever your travels might take you..."
"Farewell, Maximillian. I may not see you again, but you will not spend the rest of your days alone here on this island. I swear it."
I left Maximillian's shack and glanced at my map in the dim light of the lantern hanging outside his door. It was late, but I didn't want Cynthia to suffer any longer than she already had. I struck off in the direction of the women's camp at once. One good deed after another, I'm becoming a regular hero, aren't I? Hah. That'll be the day. Me, a hero.
Bonus ContentAs an amusing little bonus I thought I would fail the quest you can get from the mayor in Ashbury. I plan on doing it the right way later, so I didn't save this or include it in the main story.
The problem is that everyone is arguing with each other about what to do. As Mayor, I have to find a solution that pleases everybody. [He shakes his head.] It is impossible!
Please continue, I am always fascinated with local politics.
Some people want the monument in the center of town, others want it near the entrance, and nobody knows how we will pay for it! Furthermore, there aren't any local craftsmen up to the task of building the darn thing if we could pay!
Is there anything I might do to help?
You know, talking with you just now has given me an idea.
Yes... if you could talk to the crowd, you know, draw them out while I take notes. Being an outsider, you could suggest things that I would never dare. If it works out and you can get them to agree to something, well then I'm the Mayor... and you were working for me. If it doesn't work out, well I can always say that you were obviously misinformed.
This sounds like quite the intriguing proposition. I will do it!
( enter the building)
There have been a lot of suggestions about where to put the monument. An improvement might be tastefully accomplished, but we are evenly split between two groups. The first group says that it should go in the town square, the other says it should go near the town entrance. What is your comment?
When I have a tough decision like that, I flip a coin!
And where do you propose that we get the money? How can the people of Ashbury afford such a luxury? I ask for your proposal.
The ladies auxiliary could have a sale of baked goods!
We don't have local artists talented enough to make a fine statue, so there is argument about who should receive our commission. If we cannot agree on the sculptors, then the project cannot proceed. Who would you recommend?
We would use cheap Orc labor, with supervision, of course.
Since the monument is going to be displayed outside, what materials do you suggest using? What kind of statue should we build?
A delicate marble statue, encrusted with gems, with gold inlay.
As an aside, I love how the Mayor says he'll be able to pretend you had nothing to do with it, then gets all pissy when you mess up. I like to think that messing it up is so that everybody can only blame the Mayor for such an idiot plan. I'm tempted to use the character editor to try this quest with a low int just to see how much funnier it gets.
Second Bonus: Requested by MuShRoOmFaCe
Additionally I have Dodge 5 (Expert), Melee 5 (Expert), Persuasion 3 (Expert), Repair 1 (Apprentice), and Pick Locks 5 (Expert). The only tech I have is still just electrical up to charged ring. Pick Pocket is actually 5 (or I'd never have been able to get Master), but I'm wearing gauntlets. I take them off when I steal stuff.
You can also see I've got character points saved up. After I get a character started I tend to just save points up until I need them, or until I can reach a certain plateau. I didn't have a very good charisma or persuasion right up to the BMC mines, but I ended up having a bunch of leftover points there and I realized I could hit persuasion 3, so I did just that. A good side benefit of this is when I inevitably forget about some detail and need to raise something I wasn't planning on raising. Persuasion would be a good example if I had forgotten about it (it's actually pretty handy on the Isle of Despair, but then again it's handy everywhere... one of the best skills in the game).
Also, the idea of an even more mayor quest amused me so I quick ran back to Ashbury and got stupid drunk, then talked to the mayor.
Ah well, there's plenty of other stuff that's funnier when stupid.