Chapter the Fortieth: Lying Is Only Slightly Less Despicable When For A Good CauseI journeyed to Falcon's Ache with little difficulty. I was almost looking forward to encountering some kind of Wisp on the way, even if it weren't a Vol'Ars Wisp, but it simply wasn't meant to be. There's plenty of time. I'll find one, I'm sure of it. I could easily tell when Falcon's Ache drew near: there was something terribly odd about it and I didn't realize exactly what it was until a fluffy, white bunny scampered across my path.
I looked after it suspiciously, almost tempted to chop at it just for good measure. It was pure white, however, so I decided to leave it be. Had it been blue I'd not have been nearly so kind. As I lowered my axe I realized the bunny's presence was quite the oddity, I'd scarcely seen even the slightest bit of wildlife since first entering the forest. That much made sense, the local creatures weren't used to intrusions by obnoxiously loud humans. Why, then, was this little bunny not afraid?
As I neared the lake that made up Falcon's Ache I saw other creatures as well, even a massive gorilla. I didn't really think to question the presence of a gorilla in a forest, but I knew then that I had to be careful. There were so many creatures living in peace with each other that normally would've been at each other's throats, and I trusted their instincts. There was more than just superstition that made this an elven holy ground and I took great care not to disrupt the balance of things.
I spied the altar to Ter'el in a small grove not far from the water's edge so I visited it briefly. I placed a Li'tani that I'd purchased from a street vendor in Ashbury onto the altar and said a brief prayer. Much to my surprise, when I opened my eyes the Li'tani was gone and I could feel a warm presence washing over me. Good heavens, and this is only the first of them! I'm onto something indeed! I wondered just how much professor Buxington had known, and how little he really told me. There was no way he could be unaware of what I'd just experienced.
Shaking it off, I tried to focus my mind on the task at hand. There was a group of men gathered around a campfire along the edge of the water and I wandered over to them, intent on getting them to up and leave. One of the men seemed to command some respect amidst the others so I singled him out and chatted him up. "Hello, sir. And who are you?"
Sammy, Sammy, son of... Merle, in her greed, had demanded that I begin selling my body. I didn't have any choice... I had to do it, or she would've turned me in. She stole all the profits I made, and I made it a point to steal from each and every one of the bastards that paid her for my 'services'. They wouldn't dare tell the guard they were paying off the orphanage caretaker to sleep with one of her girls.
The man I was speaking with crossed his arms and cleared his throat purposefully. I realized I'd been staring off into the fire. "I'm Samantha Colburn... a pleasure. May I ask what you are doing here?"
I looked at him with a very severe expression on my face. "Hmmm. We may have a problem here, Mr. Bench." I'd better make this good.
He seemed impatient, as if he'd been expecting some kind of trouble. "Oh really? And what might that be?"
"Unfortunately, you're not supposed to be here..." I had to choose my words carefully, his very job depended on his success here and he wasn't going to accept any old reason for leaving. Telling him it was elven holy ground was straight out, I knew a logger would never let cultural relations get in the way of his profit. I had to think of an even better excuse, one he wouldn't immediately dismiss. I knew precious little about modern logging operations, so it wasn't an easy lie to craft.
Mr. Bench stared me in the eyes angrily, "I see no problem here, stranger. In fact, I think I'm going to have to ask you to leave... this here is private property, and you're trespassing." He glanced back at the men he'd been chatting with moments earlier and they all nodded, giving me distrustful looks.
"I think I'll be able to persuade you otherwise, Mr. Bench." I said it in such a way as to try and throw him off guard, and not conform to his expectations.
"Uh..." my voice started out uncertain, but as the lie took shape in my mind I grew more confidant. I tried to sound as though Mr. Bench would be in dire straits indeed if he didn't hear me out. "You might think differently if you knew who I represent..."
He seemed to grow angry at that. "Who YOU represent? I see... let me guess. You're one of the blokes from Wextel Lumber, right? Wait... I see it all now... you're here to tell me YOU have legal rights to this land..."
It would've been too easy to confirm his suspicions, but I could tell he had an answer all prepared for me if I were to follow along. No, I had to be more clever than that. "You're half correct, but I'm not here from Wextel Lumber... I represent Gilbert Bates."
He seemed taken aback. Perfect. That's it, play along on my strings, little puppet... "Bates? BATES? What interest would Gilbert Bates have in logging? The man supplies the engines for our clear-cutters!"
I shrugged, "He's thinking of getting into the logging business... it could be quite profitable for him considering, as you said, he supplies the engines for the clear-cutters. He wants to cut out the middle-men, so to speak."
I pretended to grow impatient, treating the man like an idiot. "He sees an opportunity... are you going to question him?" There was an implication there that the man was so stupid he couldn't possibly understand a 'greater' man such as Bates. I almost couldn't believe what I was saying.
He took the bait, of course, and started acting horribly flustered. "Uhh... no, no... of course not! I'm not saying I'd question Mr. Bates' judgment! But what, exactly, are YOU doing here? I mean, this land is owned by Torringsdale..."
I shook my head at him as if I pitied him, "Well, Mr. Bates is contesting that in court as we speak..."
He stared at me, starting to regain his composure very slightly. "In court? I have legal documents here stating the validity of the Torringsdale claim! How could Mr. Bates contest this?"
I laughed lightly and he seemed so very suddenly unsure of himself. "Do you really think that legality is a concern of Mr. Bates?"
I grinned at him slyly, "Perhaps I could put in a good word for you... Mr. Bates pays his employees VERY well, you know."
He smiled and winked at me. "That, my friend, would be very much appreciated. I'm thinking that our little party here might have fallen into some difficulties... you know, hazards of the trade... perhaps a violent storm? And since we'd lost all of the provisions..."
I finished his sentence for him, "...you had to go back early. Very nice, William" I said it so condescendingly, as would be entirely appropriate for anybody who was actually in the employ of Gilbert Bates. Well, technically I was working for Bates, and by extension he would be quite pleased to have Mr. Bench pack up and leave so that I might get some answers about the Black Mountain Clan. It was odd how my lie was so close to the truth, yet still not quite right.
I had to actually hold myself back from laughter. "I'll say that you can always lie to..." Oh hell. I coughed quickly to cover up what I'd said. "I mean... RELY on Mr. Bench."
He clapped me on the shoulder in a friendly gesture, "Right! We'll get packed right away and leave. I'll look forward to hearing from you soon."
Yeah. Don't count on it. I waved goodbye to Mr. Bench with a smile and directed my travels Northward to the dark fens. I didn't like the idea of returning to Qintarra quite so soon, and I was more than a little bit excited to find the altar there. There was also the business of searching out that elven hunter fellow, but it honestly wasn't at the top of my priority list.
I nearly gasped when I reached the point that had been marked on my map. I'd heard the barest mention of lizard people in a few books I'd read, but I never suspected they actually existed. There were several colors of them, too, most of them being green or red. In the center of their little village I found the elven hunter I was looking for, trapped in a deep pit with lizards guarding the edges, spitting at him. This is not good.
I gathered my courage and wits about me and marched around the village looking for somebody I could hopefully talk with. I really did not want to have to resort to violence, especially since the damn things were as tall as the Stillwater Giant. I found a blue lizard parading around about a particularly distinguished tent and I figured he'd be the one to talk to. He hissed at me as I approached.
What the hell kind of a greeting is that? "I'm sorry?" I was incredibly annoyed. "Have we met before? I've never seen your kind..." Don't you DARE threaten me, or you'll find out just how great my 'power' really is, you thick-skinned bastard.
He hissed, "I know you, betrayer. I know ALL your faces, warm-blood. All the same. All liars and murderers. All bringers of death..."
As correct as he was, I didn't want to hear any of it. If anything, the accuracy of what he said angered me further. "You don't know who I am. It's presumptuous of you to say so." I seethed, desperately wanting to strike out at him but holding myself back for fear of validating his claims right then and there.
He spat at me contemptuously, "Kan Kerai senses your anger. Perhaps you wish to set yourself against me, warm-blood?"
No... I will not sink to that. I can rise above who I once was, I can be a better person. "Of course not. Maybe you should tell me what's going on here."
Enough with your damned threats already. Are you really that eager to have my axe buried at the base of your skull? "Pits with teeth... nets... are your people being hunted?" It was difficult to discern exactly what the lizard was trying to say through all of the hate spilling forth.
"Hunted?" He seemed surprised that I was not yet attacking him. In part, I was also surprised. "Yes... our women and offspring. The old ones. Now Kan Kerai will hunt. I have already captured the pale, sharp-eared warm-blood. Bound him with my power. You will be next. And then Kan Kerai will go to the warm-blood tree village, and burn it to the ground..."
Bound him with your power? You threw him in a damned pit. Give me a break. "You think the elf was hunting your people?" The lizard struck me as borderline delusional. I was half tempted to tell him to go right ahead and march up to the gates of Qintarra, just to see how far he got. I wasn't done with the city yet, though.
Again, he seemed confused. It occurred to me that I was the first real person he'd actually bothered to have a conversation with. "You mean sharp-ear? Pale warm-blood? We captured him, sneaking into our swamps, planning more death with his weapons and his strange ways. But Kan Kerai fell upon him, and my ways were greater than his, and I brought him back here... tied like the fruit of the hunt..."
Get over yourself. You think your primitive tribe really has greater ways than the elves? You really are delusional. "Have you ever had ANY problems with the pale warm-bloods before?" I tried to use his odd turns of phrase so he could better understand.
Good god, shut up already! "Hold a moment. Neither the elves nor I have done you harm..."
He stayed silent for several moments, a peace which I secretly relished. Finally, he uttered, "Yes. The words you speak are true, warm-blood. But..." he moved his hand to the crudely-forged sword he had hanging on his belt. "...that does not mean that you will not."
"Agreed." I said, perhaps a touch too emphatically. He obviously didn't grasp enough of the nuances of human language to really infer just how badly I wanted to hurt him. "I am called Samantha Colburn." I tried not to think about how old Merle found 'clients' for her new business, nor how many girls might have had to suffer the same fate as I did in the past. Now was clearly not the time to dwell on such things.
The lizard looked at me curiously and stiffly with movements that suggested he was terribly confused. "And I am Kan Kerai, chieftain of the Bedokaan. What brings you to our village, warm-blood? Have you come in defense of this... e-elf?"
I almost laughed at the uncomfortable way in which he pronounced elf. "Yes, among other things. I believe you are imprisoning him wrongly."
Not this again. Shut UP! "Please forgive me. I meant no offense. What has happened here?"
He thrashed his tail around the dirt with uncertainty, staring at me, "You would hear our story? Very well. As I've said, the Bedokaan have lived in the Dark Fens for as long as the seasons have turned, and for all that time we have kept to ourselves. We knew of the elves, but they harmed us not, and we accepted their natural place....
"Four winters ago, warm-blood came to our swamps, and set out things of death, and shot us with their weapons, and collected the bodies of the dead."
I arched an eyebrow at him, "Who were these warm-bloods? You said they were not elves..."
I nodded, paying attention to his story as he spoke. It seemed like I was actually getting somewhere in negotiating with the beast, but that didn't mean I could relax just yet. "I see. Men in wagons. Where did they come from?"
He hissed, getting angrier as he related his story. "From the south. They came from the south, over the mountains and into the Dark Fens. And the land cries out wherever they touch it. They know not the way of the land, or the cold-blood ways. Nor do they care.... My people.... They skinned them, Samantha Colburn. They skinned our elders and our children and our women, and then threw their remains into the swamp. No rites of passage, no guide to the snake-fathers..."
I suddenly understood his anger, and even sympathized with it. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have to endure such a thing happening to your own family. "Dear god... poachers. I'm so very sorry, Kan Kerai..."
And we were chatting so peacefully... "Make war? But it is only these men...!"
He cut me off, "Yes, but there is a price in warm-blood that must be paid. Men will die, and then all of their offspring until there are none left. Only this will quiet the fury of the snake-fathers. Elves are warm-blood. They will die as well."
I'm sure you'll get quite far with your band of 12 lizards. Good heavens, you really don't have any idea do you? "Please, you must allow me to convince you otherwise..."
"How, Samantha Colburn?" He hissed my name fiercely, but not hatefully. "I respect your words, and I see the truth in them, but how can you deny the evil of what has been done to me and my people? Do you disagree that a price must be paid?"
I shook my head, "No, but not all must pay the price. Let us talk about the elves..."
"That's wrong. The elves have their own code, different from that of men..." I was almost pleading with him, but I wasn't sure of how else to proceed. It was getting easier and easier to persuade men, but Kan Kerai was completely foreign to me. He couldn't understand any of the subtleties of my language.
He seemed confused, as I had somewhat expected. "What do you mean? Are they not smooth-skinned like men, hunt with weapons and wear clothes and speak fancy words? They seem to me the very same..."
Fancy words...? Ah, he must mean magick. That alone should tell him the difference between most elves and men. "Elves live in trees, men live in buildings of wood and stone..."
He started to grow angry, "These are small things, small differences. I speak of hearts and minds... the dreams of the warm-blood. It is there that elves are the same as men, in their hearts, in their words..."
I nearly growled at him. "No! You said the elves have words of power... men do not. Don't you see? There are many differences, some small and some much greater."
I sighed, feeling like I was finally getting somewhere. "That is because they, too, are tied to the land..."
"I see." Kan Kerai tilted his head peculiarly. "There is power in YOUR words as well, Samantha Colburn. Perhaps you are correct about these elves. But what of men? Why shouldn't Kan Kerai war against them?"
Go right ahead. Kill the damned poachers for all I care, but not all men are poachers. Hmm... It occurred to me that Kan Kerai's ideal of war was rooted in a misunderstanding. "Tell me of the cold-blood, what is it like..."
He stood up proudly, regaling me with tales of his people, "We beat of one heart, Samantha Colburn. We share the same knowledge, the same desires. To look into my eyes is to look into the very eyes of the snake-fathers. Do you understand? We are many, but we are one."
I nodded, finally beginning to make sense of it all. "Men are different, with different hearts. Sadly, some are dark..." And mine is no exception...
I was almost at a loss as to how to explain such a fundamental difference to him. "That is an important difference... men's hearts MAKE their dreams..."
He sat there quietly for a moment, thinking on what I'd said. "Interesting, Samantha Colburn. So these... poachers... as you call them, they dream an evil dream. And so they kill our people. But how am I to know that most men are not like them, that you are ALONE in your dream?"
That's an easy one. "If that were so, would they let one like me survive?"
He finally nodded, understanding. "No... nature is a harsh teacher. Even among the Bedokaan, if there is one who does not hear the snake-fathers, or see the cold visions, then he is cast out or destroyed. I would think that it is the same among warm-bloods."
I smiled at him, though I realized the gesture was probably wasted. Lizards didn't really smile. "It is. Men are evil, but many more are good..." I don't actually believe that, but you should if you want your tribe to live on.
Good heavens, finally. It's about bloody time. "And the elf? He will go free?"
Kan Kerai hissed gently, "Yes. He is free to return to his home... make sure to speak with him before you leave and tell him he may leave. I will make amends myself, and send gifts to the elves in the forest. You have made peace between us, Samantha Colburn..."
"Glad to be of service." At least if I've done one bloody good thing in my whole life I've done this.
Kan Kerai tilted his head at me, finally remembering an earlier portion of our conversation. "Tell me, Samantha Colburn. Why have you come to these strange lands? You are not of the forest elves, nor are you of the Dark Fens. What is it that brings you to us?"
Hmm, there's really no good way to say it briefly. "It is a long tale, Kan Kerai, but perhaps I can sum it up best by saying this: an ancient evil known as Arronax is threatening to return and destroy the world as we know it. I'm... well, this is somewhat related." I paused, thinking of just how little I knew of Arronax. I didn't know where the hell Joachim was during all of this, but if anybody could answer my questions it would be him. Chasing after the Black Mountain Clan in the meantime was just a distraction. I hoped that once I got people to stop trying to kill me, I'd be able to find out more about that whole Living One nonsense.
I didn't really wish to bring a magickally inclined lizard along with me, but I was grateful for the sentiment nonetheless. "I'll speak with him. Good day to you, Kan Kerai..." I took a few steps back and Kan Kerai nodded at me with a light hiss, then I turned around and walked towards the pit.
On my way to the pit I spotted a strange blue stone on the ground. I picked it up curiously and examined it, noticing that it seemed awfully familiar to me. That's when I realized it had to be heartstone. I'd read descriptions of it before but never knew where it could be obtained. I took out another sheet of mithril and, following along the schematic that Erick Obsidian had given me, I bent the light, pliable mithril around the heartstone in an unusual shape.
When I was finished there was no doubt in my mind what I'd just made. I would recognize this key anywhere. I suddenly could barely contain my excitement to get back to Tarant. I picked up a few more stones and approached the elven hunter just as he was climbing out of the pit using a rope ladder the lizards had dropped for him.
"I just might do that. Good day to you..." The hunter ran off in quite the hurry and I couldn't say I particularly blamed him. I had one more important stop to make before I, too, returned to Qintarra. I didn't know when I'd be back this way again and I'd gathered enough heartstones for a little treat.
I placed a heartstone on the altar and closed my eyes, praying briefly. It felt unusual for me to pray since I'd impugned religion for the majority of my life. Nevertheless, the heartstone had vanished by the time I opened my eyes and I could feel a warm presence around me. There's no doubt in my mind now, these gods are very, very real.
With that business taken care of it was time to return to Qintarra for my audience with the Silver Lady. I had no idea what exactly she would tell me, or if Raven would even let me in to see her without making me run yet more errands, but I was quite anxious to find out.
Bonus ContentSome of you might've noticed an unmentioned location in the last screenshots of today's update. That's because I played around in the Glimmering Forest, visiting a bunch of completely random locations that have little purpose other than to be really fucked up. Like so:
There was some magical loot in the chest at the top of this screenshot. At first the ogre ran away from me, but then he got angry that I was killing his monkeys.
All these kite were just kind of mingling by the fire. I did what any of you would have done.
A bunch of them ran off, but I chased them down. The ones I lost came back bravely, only to be struck down like the rest. Amidst them, one was called a "Kite Berserker". He dropped a toy.
Too bad I use axes, and I'm tech. Onto the next seemingly random forest oddity:
A campfire with a bunch of dead people and a "Fleshy Mound". I... don't even know what to say to that. I removed it from this world. None of the nobles seemed to be carrying anything valuable, though.
I also picked up a bunch of heartstones this update. For any of you playing along at home, I took screenshots of them because they're a giant pain to find. I would've taken pictures on the local map, but most of them are located just far enough away from the village that you get the world map instead of the local map. I found these traveling counterclockwise around the village, starting from Kan Kerai, so if you look for them in the same way you should hopefully be able to use the screenshots to help.