Part 28: Into the bandit campChugging along. I'm pretty far ahead of the updates, so unless I get even lazier I should hit my target date!
- Into the bandit camp
I strolled through the gates of the bandit forward camp. Sancho, one of the guards, stopped me and laughed. "Shit. Another new boy. Here for the gold, too, aren't you?"
"Gold?" I asked.
Sancho let out another laugh. "Quit trying to kid me! All the new boys who come here want into the mine. Don't think it's that easy!"
"How do I get to the camp?"
"Just follow the boardwalk! But if you want to get into the mine, you'll have to get past Franco. He expects all the new boys to slave away out here for awhile first."
"Tell me more about the mine..."
"I'll give you some good advice: If you want to get in there, get in good with Franco. He's the boss out here. He decides who's next to go in, but he'll only let you in if you don't goldbrick out here. So go to him and let him give you a job!"
"Where do I find this Franco?"
"He mostly hangs out in the court in front of the camp. Get in good with him or you'll wind up with a crappy job like me!"
"Do you have to hang around here all the time?"
The guard grimaced. "I'm supposed to check out all the new boys, to make sure that none of them are spies. But you can forget it. I mean, we're at the end of the world here - in the middle of a swamp. No one can find us, no one will find us - and why should someone go to the trouble of sending us a spy?" That was a good point. What kind of person would have been sent to spy on the bandit camp?
I traveled down the boardwalk across the swamp and found my way to a larger island amid the swamp. A ragged looking man was bent over nearby, seemingly picking some of the local flora.
I tapped the strange man on the shoulder. "What are you doing here? Are you looking for something? "
"Plants - I'm looking for plants. Most of the stuff that grows here can be used for something. Many plants have healing properties and you can smoke swampweed reefers. Before my time behind the Barrier, I worked as an alchemist."
"Why did they put you behind the Barrier?
"I worked with mind-altering potions a lot. One evening, my master Ignaz drank my 'experiment' instead of his wine." Miguel smirked slyly. "That rendered him temporarily... eh... unpredictable, and since then he's been somewhat confused." That explained a lot of Ignaz' behavior. Miguel continued. "The mages had me thrown behind the Barrier for that. 'Research into the forbidden knowledge' they called it."
While that was all very interesting, I didn't particularly care about his history. "What can you tell me about the camp?"
He shrugged. "Not much. I have never been in there myself. Only Raven's people were there from the beginning. All the others who came later, like me, have to wait until they need new people."
"When do they need new people?"
"Well, when they're missing some in there. If a digger gets himself eaten by a minecrawler, they let one of us replace him. Sometimes they also kill each other. But they've been better about that lately. Raven has controlled the access to the mine somehow, so that not everyone can get in at the same time. But I don't exactly know how that works. I've never been inside."
Miguel then went on to tell me that he'd train me, at a cost, in alchemy as well as sell some of his potions. I accepted, purchasing over a thousand gold worth of goods.
I moved further ashore. The entrance to the bandit camp proper came into view. A large set of stone stairs led into one of this valley's ancient cities.
I spotted a man idling a short distance before the entrance. He had an air of importance about him so I approached.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" he demanded. "Do you want to get into the camp?"
Franco quite rudely cut me off. "I don't care who you are. I'm Franco, the leader here. So, if you do a good job out here, I'll take you into the camp. Ramon, the gatekeeper, will tell you if they need new people in the camp. Talk to him."
I jogged up to the gate guard and immediately took notice of his outfit. They wore the armor of the Old Camp! The Old camp was the largest of the three camps back in the Valley of the Mines. Led by the tyrant ore baron Gomez, they were successful in controlling the island's trade with the outside world. Despite being hardened criminals, the elite of the Old Camp lived like royalty.
"Hey, what do you want? I can't imagine you have a permit for the camp." Ramon said.
"Franco sent me. He wants to know if anyone is needed in the camp."
"Yeah, we need someone. Another one of the guys kicked the bucket yesterday. That idiot tangled with Esteban."
"Who's Esteban?" I asked.
"The leader of the lower camp. He decides who gets into the mine. So tell Franco that Thorus wants a new man. Got it?"
My eyes widened. "Thorus? THE Thorus?" Another figure from my past had survived the Old Camp exodus and made their way here.
"Yes. THE Thorus. THE man who calls for new people. The man who decides if and when a new guy gets out of the swamp and into the camp. You aren't trying to tell me that you know him from earlier?"
I nervously played with the fur on my armor. "Well... yes..."
"Listen - EVERYONE knows Thorus. You aren't getting in - and I WON'T give him a message!" Ramon was growing quite irritated with my pestering and silently waved me off, visibly annoyed.
I reported back to Franco. Ramon was only twenty paces away. I was certain he'd been able to overhear, but nevertheless I told him.
"Thorus needs a new man." I said.
"Good. I'll take care of it." Franco turned and resumed his vigil over the swamp camp.
"Wait a minute, what about me?"
"You haven't done anything yet."
"I've done a lot, only YOU don't know about it!"
"Okay, you want a chance? You'll get your chance. Move your butt to Logan, the swampsharks are breathing down his neck. Help him finish off the beasts and you're as good as in the camp."
"Where do I find Logan?"
"If you're standing in front of the camp entrance, follow the rock wall to the left. It's a bit farther into the swamp."
Following Franco's terrible directions, I spotted what I assumed was Logan's camp. A single man stood watch nearby. From the nearby cave,I could hear the echo of someone's voice.
I chose to check out the cave first. A man sat alone in the far end of the cave. He seemed to be muttering obscenities to himself.
"Why are you sitting around here?" I asked him.
"I've got problems. At the moment, it's better for my health if I'm not seen in the camp."
"I had really good relations with some of the pirates, you see? I was always meeting the boys outside their camp and trading. Man! I bought stuff for half the camp: 'Tom bring me this - Tom bring me that. And then that bastard Esteban got in between."
"Esteban sent Juan - one of his boys. The bastard waylaid us. I was just about to make a deal with the pirates when he came out of the dark and knocked me down with two blows! Man, that guy is fast! But not fast enough. I was able to get away from him."
"And since the ambush you've been hiding here?"
"First I went back to camp and let Fisk, Huno, and the others know that they could forget their delivery. And that Esteban was behind it. If Esteban finds out that I told the others that HE was responsible, I'm dead. That's why I can't go back to the camp."
The conversation gave me a bit of insight into what was going on with the camp. I was also fairly relieved to learn that Fisk and Huno had both survived! While they were Old Camp members, they had both treated me fairly in my encounters with them and, when I was made outcast, still chose to deal with me.
I found Logan just outside of the cave.
"Look, a new face," Logan said upon seeing me, "Are you just going to stand around here, or have you come to help me?"
"Franco sent me. He says you could use some help. So, what's up?"
"The swampsharks are coming a little too close to me - high time to finish off a few of them."
"What do I get for my help?"
"Franco will let you rot here if you don't do it," The hunter growled, "If you want to get into the camp, you'll have to lend a hand. You won't get any farther here with just words. Besides, I can show you how to gut the beasts. But don't think Franco will send you straight into the camp just because we've had a little fun with the swampsharks here. There are people out here who have been waiting a long time to get in and the next one who gets in is me. It had better be."
I needed to be the one to get in, but I wasn't about to argue with him. I took him up on his offer for training and after his short lesson I felt confident that I'd be able to remove the teeth from swampsharks.
"Let's attack the swampsharks."
"You've figured out how to get ahead here. I'm pleased." Logan paused, turning his head toward the swamp. "Psst... do you hear that? Yeeaah, I hear them."
"I see - and what do we do now?"
"They're coming. They've got an appetite for a bite of human flesh. Well, we'll see WHO gets eaten here." Logan unslung his bow and turned to me. "Let's go."
About a half dozen swampsharks emerged from the swamps and began slithering toward us. Logan stood by the camp while I crept ahead.
After a short while we dispatched with the beasts. I returned to Logan.
"The only good swampshark is a dead swampshark! That will be a warning to their brothers!"
"All right, is there anything else to do? Otherwise, I'll take off."
"Do that. If you want to learn anything else you know where to find me."
I returned to Franco.
"I helped Logan." I said.
"Okay, so you fought the swampsharks - you're useful - at least more so than most of the guys here."
"So can I go to the camp now?"
"Listen - there's another thing I need you for. A few days ago, I sent Edgor into the swamp. He was supposed to get me an old stone tablet - but he hasn't been seen since. See what he's doing and bring me that damned stone tablet."
"So, WHERE do I find this Edgor?"
"Do you want the easy way or the fast way?"
"The easy way."
"Follow the path to the front gate. Sancho should be standing there. Go left from there and follow the boardwalk. There are ruins everywhere. He's sitting around somewhere there. I assume he was smart enough to build himself a fire. You should be able to find THAT."
"What about gold?"
"Do I get anything for my work here in the swamp?"
Franco smiled. "You want gold? Sure, how much do you want? Fifty gold nuggets? A hundred? I'll give you as much gold as you can carry." The smile turned to a scowl. "Who do you think you are? Are you trying to make a fool out of me? Push off and do something! Otherwise you won't get so much as ONE CRUMB OF GOLD!!"
I found Edgor on an island to the southeast. He'd set up a camp in the middle of some ruins, just as Franco said he would.
"How's it going?"
"You want to know how it's going? I'll tell you how it's going. First some pirates brought me here on a stormy night. Man, I barfed all over that nutshell. Then Raven locked up the mine because some idiots are too greedy for gold and then Franco became the leader of the hunters, killing anybody who's against him. I'd say it's going pretty badly."
"How did Franco get to be leader?"
"Quite simply. He killed fletcher. He was the leader of the hunters before. Fletcher was okay. Franco's just jerking us all around.
"Franco sent me here about that stone tablet. Have you found it?"
"Man, I haven't even looked for it. All I know is it's supposed to be in this old building deep in the swamp. My inner voice tells me, 'Edgor, stay far away from old buildings deep in the swamp. I certainly won't risk my ass for that bum Franco!"
Unfortunately, I didn't have that option. "Where exactly is this old building?"
"Just go left past the big rock here. After awhile you'll come to another big rock. You have to go left or right past that one. I don't know any more, it was too long ago but the ruins are supposed to be on some sort of rise. All but hidden among plants. Maybe you'll get lucky and you won't find it."
I'd recalled what Logan had told me. Edgor knew how to safely remove the wings and stingers from blood flies I didn't care about the wings, but I'd heard rumors about the healing potential of concentrated bloodfly venom. I paid his fee and he half heartedly explained how to properly remove the stingers.
I went left from camp, making sure to evade swampsharks. I found myself on a large piece of solid land, much larger than the pieces that the bandits had taken for their own. I spotted a few blood flies and took this time to practice what I just learned. Once that was done, I continued my ascent up the hill.
At the top of the smaller hill was one of the teleporters that would take me back to the Water Mage's camp. I activated it with the stone I'd been given but did not go in at that time.
Further to the east I could see an old dirt path leading up a hill. I immediately knew that it was where I needed to go.
A large, ancient structure sat at the top of the hill. Despite its age, it was in excellent condition. The entrance was wide open. I walked inside.
I immediately realized what a mistake I'd made. Some sort of magical trap had been sprung. The statues in the room became animated and charged toward me.
After a long, drawn out fight that involved running in circles, firing arrows, and a good deal of retreating, I successfully dispatched the stone sentinels.
Within the rubble of a sentinel I could see a shining object. As I inched closer, I saw that it was a key. I took it and proceeded the loot the room of anything valuable. Old jewelry, potions, and scrolls were found, along with piles of old weapons.
At the far end of the chamber sat a small, locked chest. Using the key from the sentinel I was able to unlock it. Inside were two stone tablets. Aside from the coloration and text, they were similar in design to the other tablets I'd found.
On my way back to the camp I took a quick detour. Since I'd activated the teleporter I returned to the water mages' camp. I knew Saturas would want to see what I'd found.
I collected the next focus from Merdarion and then went off to find Saturas. I found him sitting in front of the workshop.
"About the relics..." I withdrew the green tablet. "What about THIS?"
"That looks good. Where did you find that?"
"This thing was lying in a building near the great swamp."
"That would have been the house of the healers. We don't know much about them. They seem to have been the first to disappear. Very good. The image of this city is becoming clearer, but we still don't know enough. In all, there must have been five of this sort of stone tablet hidden around here. Find them and bring them to me. Here is some gold as a reward."
I returned to the swamp and found my way back to Edgor to tell him of my success.
"I found the stone tablet!"
He yawned. "Really? You must be a brave guy. You've certainly earned your way into the camp."
Disappointed at the lack of a reward, I walked back to the camp.
"Here's the stone tablet." I told Franco.
"Good, very good. Raven will be pleased with you." Somehow I doubted that.
"What about the camp? Can I finally go in?"
"No, I already sent Logan in. He was ahead of you in the list. At the moment, there's no need for another man in the camp. Besides, I can really use you here now that Logan isn't here." Franco said, grinning wide.
That was enough. I had to get inside and this prick wasn't about to let that happen as long as I was so useful to him. "You swine!" I cried, scrambling for my blade. "I'll get you!"
"You miserable little wretch. You want to mess with me? Just you wait!" Franco reached for his own weapon.
Franco was angry and acting rashly. For the first half of the fight, I simply parried. I knew he would get tired and I'd be able to find an opening and that's exactly what I did.
With Franco gone, there was no one stopping me from going inside.
Well, except for Ramon.
"Hey, what happened down there?" He asked.
"I flattened Franco."
"So? Then now it's YOUR job to make sure the lazy dogs do their work every day."
"Hey, I'm not here to be bothered with the hunters. I want to enter the camp."
"Forget it. You did in Franco - now you're the leader. So do your job."
"If I'm the leader, then I decide who goes in next. I decided that I'M next."
Ramon laughed. "It isn't that easy. We haven't asked for ANYONE, so NO ONE gets in."
"Thorus can send a new leader for the hunters, then there will be a vacancy inside for me."
"You don't give up, do you? Okay, then move your butt inside. Thorus will be sure that the hunters won't have to live without a leader. What are you waiting for? And get yourself a pickaxe."
An angry looking guard stopped me on my way inside the camp.
"Hey, are you the new guy who knocked down Franco?"
I nodded, quite pleased that my accomplishments were already spreading. At this rate I'd be in the mine before I knew it. "Yes, why?"
"Because now I have to take over his job. You did a great job! Thanks a lot."
Carlos grumbled all the way out of the camp but the hunters were no longer my concern.