Part 29: The Bandit Camp interior, working for Esteban- The Bandit Camp interior, working for Esteban
Once inside, the first person to greet me was a digger named Senyan. Unfortunately, it wasn't simply done out of friendliness.
"Ah! Who have we here" Senyan said, grinning like an idiot, "Looky looky. There you are. I have good news and bad news."
"First tell me the bad news."
"Raven is looking for you. So are his guards. Actually, all the bandits are looking for you and if they find you, they'll kill you."
"A lot of people have already tried." I responded, as smug sounding as possible.
"Then your combat skills are as good as your craftiness. Coming into our camp in our armor is like the sheep coming to the wolves. Your life is hanging by a thin thread, son of danger."
"And whats the good news?"
"Well, I don't know why but you've made yourself a couple of powerful enemies. You can count yourself lucky that I recognized you and no one else. Because I am understanding and sociable."
I'd spent five minutes in the camp and I was already being blackmailed. "How much do you want?"
Senyen feigned offense. "Oh, no, please. I don't want to extort gold from you. I wouldn't dream of it."
"Then what do you want?"
"Recently somebody tried to get Esteban out of the way but he ran into the bodyguards. Go to Esteban and talk to him. Afterwards we'll talk again.
Before finding this Esteban, I wanted to look around and get to know some of the others here.
Just ahead, in front of the campfire, were two of the camp's mine workers. I walked up to the closer of the two.
"Hi." I said.
"Hi, I'm Lennar. Welcome to the digger's camp."
"Diggers? I thought this was the bandit's camp."
"Right, but the bandits are also only here to dig. So.."
Now that I was inside, I had the chance of being chosen to go into the mine. I wouldn't want the opportunity to make a fortune to go to waste. It was best I learned something about it."Can you teach me anything about gold mining?"
"Certainly, but if I teach you something, you'll be able to mine more gold."
"That's why I'm asking."
"Sure. But if you can mine more, it's only fair if I get a share of it."
"You might as well give me my share in advance. Let's say 50 gold pieces."
I withdrew a pouch of coins and handed it to the digger. "Good," he said, "Regular swings will take you forward. Don't overdo it - but also don't fall asleep swinging and don't always strike at the same spot - try to work around a good-sized nugget. Do that and you're on the way to becoming a master digger."
Just to the left of the campfire was a sickly looking, babbling man dressed as a novice of the swamp camp. I'd not expected to see him here. From what I'd heard, the Novices and Gurus of the swamp were all deeply affected by the death of the Sleeper.
As I neared, I could hear the novice muttering strangely to himself. "A dark cloud over the house... the one approaches. With blood... needed to call him... HE who sees me.. he who sees me.. oh no, go away, begone."
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"Green... green novice... I cannot find it..."
"How can I help you?"
"The green... the green novice will help the novice."
I recalled that, in the swamp camp, the cultists would enhance their abilities by smoking swampweed. They had several flavors, one of which was called green novice. I'd smoked plenty in my time behind the barrier, but I'd never actually learned to make it. Some of Fortuno's things were nearby so I began rummaging through them for some kind of clue.
I found what I needed in a nearby chest. Thankfully, Fortuno had thought to write down the recipe. Now I just needed to find a place to roll some reefers.
I walked up the stairs leading to the temple ahead and was surprised to see a familiar face.
"Hey, if you're looking for a decent trader here in the camp, then you just found him. My hut is right behind Esteban. So, if you need anything, come on by."
I didn't want to go anywhere near Esteban right now. My first priority was to get settled in and find a workbench.
I wandered back to the building near the camp's entrance.
On my way back, a panicked bandit stopped me.
"DON'T wake him!" he whispered loudly.
The bandit gestured to the sleeping man nearby. "If you want to do yourself a favor, then stay away from Skinner. The fellow is unpredictable. He killed the last guy who woke him up. Let him sleep, for everybody's sake."
"Are you a digger?"
"Because of the pants? No, I just wear them because they're comfortable. All I do here is cook meat stew. Here, you can try some - it'll make you strong. It's always important to train your strength - there are many dangers lurking out there. If you want, I can help you to get stronger."
Back at the campfire, I saw that another digger had arrived and was standing nearby. I approached and asked where to get a pickaxe. I was going to need one, after all.
"Go to Huno the smith. But even if you have a pick, that doesn't mean you can get into the mine. If you want to get in, you have to talk to Esteban. Don't even bother going to Thorus - he'll only let you in if you have a red stone."
"Tell me, what do you think of Esteban?"
Finn looked around nervously. "He's the boss here... he's... all right, I think. He always lets the good boys into the mine. The ones who know something about mining, I mean."
"And you know something about mining?"
"I'm the best!"
"What do I have to know about mining gold?"
"Well, there's something you should know. Gold isn't ore. There's one damn important difference. I mean, what woman would hang a chain of ore around her neck," he joked, "When picking, work from top to bottom. You can work the nuggets loose best that way. There are also diggers who do it the other way around - but that's far more difficult."
Sitting in front of the building was another of the camp's workers.
"You look like a digger." I stated.
"I AM a digger. The last time I was in the mine, I worked my ass off."
"What happens to the gold from the mine?"
"Thorus collects it and then distributes it. No one is allowed to keep what he mines. Everybody gets only a part of the gold - that way even the hunters and guards get their share. I think that's okay. Since we've had that rule, there have been fewer deaths, and the miners still get more than the guys who hang around outside."
"Why aren't you in the mine now?"
"I was in the mine long enough and slaved away until I was about to fall over. Now I need a few days' rest before I get my next red stone."
That was the second time I'd heard something like that. "What's the deal with these red stones?"
"That's something Thorus and Esteban thought up. Thorus takes care of the gold distribution and Esteban organizes the workers for the mine. Of course, he doesn't want to run to Thorus every time he sends someone to the mine. That's why he gives us one of these red stone tablets and Thorus lets us in then. It's like a pass."
If they were using what I thought they were for passes, then it was especially necessary that I was able to get into the mine. After saying farewell to Emilio, I walked into the building.
Of all things, a woman was working inside.
"Aren't you from Khorinis?" I asked. She had the look of a whore.
The woman groaned. "Don't remind me! My life in that city was horrible. While the ships with the new convicts kept coming in, there was still life in town. But all those other guys.. no thanks. Maybe it's because we're on an island." She shook her head. "Well, those days are over. I'm finished with Elvrich!"
"He's a wimp! When the bandits dragged me off, he didn't lift a finger to help me."
"What are you planning to do?"
"We'll see. For now, I'll stay here with Snaf, Fisk, and the others. Have you already talked to Thorus? Oh Innos, is that a hunk of a man! Excuse me." she laughed. "Let's get back to your question. I haven't' set a goal, I'm only drifting."
"What do you drink here?"
"We only have a little beer. The only beer on the island was brought by the Paladins. Just about the only good thing those fellows brought with them. Otherwise we drink booze. I've got moonshine, grog, and white rum. Hmm... you should try THAT - I got the recipe from Samuel. The old boy really knows his trade."
"You're not very fond of the Paladins, are you?"
"Those fanatical murderers in the pay of the Fire Magicians? No. That Lord Hagen occupies the city with his thugs, and everybody bows down to him. I didn't want to do that. I wasn't going to wait until they closed down the Red Lantern and locked me up."
"The paladins don't only fight in his name. Innos chooses his warriors."
"So? I believe it's the people who choose themselves. Still, your words amaze me. You almost talk like you were one of them."
The woman wandered off to clean some tables. I turned to the bartender.
"What's on the menu?" I asked. It'd been awhile since I ate some good food.
"I want to try a new dish - 'Fire strips in hammer sauce'."
"Hammer sauce?" I said. I'd never heard of such a thing.
"A sauce made from a hammer-hard booze. I have a recipe from a guy called Lou. You get the ingredients and distill the booze up on the alchemists bench, then I'll make a sauce of of it. What do you think?"
I shrugged. "Okay, I'll do it." At least it gave me permission to use his bench.
Snaf handed the recipe to me. "All right. Here's the recipe."
I turned away from the Bartender and noticed a familiar face in the corner. Logan, the one I'd hunted swamp sharks with, was here.
"How's it going with you?" I said. I'd not heard from him since he got sent in here.
"Well, at least I'm in now. Lucia brews some wicked liquor, but Esteban won't let me into the mine. At any rate, not yet. He's given me another job."
"And? What does he want from you?"
Logan leaned in closer and whispered. "There was an attempt on Esteban's life. He wants to know who's behind it. Esteban thinks that Snaf is involved. I'm supposed to keep an eye on him..."
Snaf had said that the work room was upstairs, but on my way there I noticed a locked door. While the others had their attention elsewhere, I quietly picked it and snuck inside.
It appeared to be storage. Barrels full of liquor lined the walls and a chest sat nearby. I crept over to it and opened it, revealing some potions and a recipe. I quickly pocketed them and walked back out.
Upstairs, I found the Alchemist's bench and worked on rolling some swampweed. I thought to make what Snaf requested, but it turned out that I lacked the proper alcohol. I'd need to make a trip back to the pirate camp eventually.
I left the bar and walked toward the blacksmith.
Two men worked the smithy. I approached the closet one.
"Do you deal in smithy equipment?" I asked.
"Huno has steel. I only have a few lumps of ore. But I won't give that up. It's the only thing I have of value."
"Do you work for Huno?"
"I wanted to make a bit of gold and took up with Huno. But since then, Esteban hasn't given me anything at all. He said he can't use me anymore. What else can I do but continue to slave away for Huno?"
Paul turned out to be pretty useless. I walked over to Huno.
"It looks like you're a master of your craft." I stated.
"I've heard that before... did you bring the steel?"
"Steel? No, I think you're confusing me with..."
"Hm... somehow you seem familiar. Do we know each other from somewhere?"
"Sure, from the old camp."
"The Old Camp... right... you're that curious guy. I thought you were dead."
"Yes, everybody thinks that. Who else survived?"
"A few. Some fled with Raven like I did. For a lot of others, the Old Camp became a grave."
"Tell me about your escape."
"Chaos broke out the day the barrier fell. Some hid - others fled, and there was plundering everywhere."
"What did you do?"
"I was about to leave the camp when it turned very bright very suddenly and a scorching pain ate through my skin. I'd been struck by damn lightning! It feels like I can still hear it. Later someone told me that Thorus found me and took me with him. "
I'd not been aware of the exact details of what happened after the barrier fell, so it was interesting to hear Huno's take on it. However, I wasn't here to chat. I needed to pick up a pick. I looked through the blacksmith's wares and found one I liked. I returned now to Fortuno.
The former-novice was still muttering to himself. I withdrew the reefer I'd made and handed it to him. "Here, take this Green Novice."
Fortuno lit up and immediately looked better. "Aaaahh.. My head.. who I am... Fortuno.. what.. what is wrong?"
That about summed it up. "So, tell me what is wrong with you."
"Once I belonged to the Brotherhood of the Sleeper. Everything was all right back then. Fine, we were all condemned criminals, but for us novices life was free from care. "
"Hey, I was a prisoner in the Valley of Mines myself. Tell me something new."
"I don't remember anything. Darkness lies across my mind."
"Come on, concentrate. What happened? When did you come back to your senses?"
"Raven.. I only remember Raven and.. and dark rooms."
"What about Raven? What did he do to you?"
He sighed. "I'm sorry. It's as though my mind were held prisoner. I don't understand it myself."
"There must be a way to refresh your memory."
"Yes... yes, maybe there is a way. The gurus knew of various forms of altering the spirit and the will. "
"Do YOU remember anything about that?"
"No, I'm afraid this knowledge vanishes with the gurus."
"Damn. Well - if there is a way to free your spirit, I'll find it. Do you need more swampweed?"
"Yeeesss, definitely. I will buy all the swampweed you can get your hands on. I'll even pay you more than Fisk. "
I took out a dozen reefers and handed them to the troubled novice. In return, he gave me 120 gold. It wasn't too bad of a deal.
I'd been putting it off for too long. It was now time to go meet with Esteban, the leader of the camp.
Esteban's hut was right behind where I'd met Fisk. "So you're the fellow who fought his way into camp." He said.
"That got around fast."
"Franco was a tough nut. No one messed with him. No one - except you. Just to make it clear, if you try the same shit with me, I'll kill you."
"I want into the mine."
Esteban grinned. "Of course you do. Then you're in the right place with me. Because everyone who digs in the mine gets to keep a hefty share of the gold and I hand out the red stones you need, so Thorus will let you in."
"Give me one of those red stones."
"Okay, but they aren't free. Normally, I demand a share of the gold the boys get for digging. How much do you know about mining gold, hm? You've probably learned a few tricks, right? If I give you a red stone, it wouldn't be because you're such a great digger. No, I have another job for you. "
"What sort of job?"
"One of the bandits planned to kill me. But instead, my guards kill him."
"He was hot for your job, huh?" I joked.
"He was an idiot! A thug without a brain. He never would have got the idea to attack me on his own. No, he was only fulfilling a contract. Someone else sent him."
"So I'm supposed to find out who was behind it."
"Whoever sent this assassin will pay for it. Find him, and I'll let you into the mine."
"How should I go about it?"
"Everyone in the camp knows about it. So you're playing with all your cards on the table. Try to find out who is on my side and who isn't and don't let the boys make a fool of you! Talk to Snaf. That fat cook picks up a lot.
Fisk's small stand was situated right behind Esteban. He'd probably already heard everything, so I figured he may as well be the first to be questioned.
"What do you know about the attempt on Esteban's life?"
"Listen, I don't want anything to do with that business, got it? I have my own worries. I'm a victim myself. "
"In what way?"
"I paid a lot of gold for my last delivery but it never came. Some swine made off with it. I've been robbed - probably by some of our own people!"
"What sort of delivery?"
"A packet of lock picks. Someone was supposed to get them from the pirates for me but a guy named Juan snatched it away from me. Including the gold I paid for it! The bastard is hiding somewhere in the swamp."
"Juan worked for Esteban?"
"What?" Fisk said, obviously faking surprise.
"Don't play games with me. You knew about it!"
"Fine. You're right. But I hope you also realize why I didn't tell you about it. Everybody in camp knows you work for Esteban. I don't have any desire to get dragged into this business just because you're hot for a red stone."
"I'm not really working for Esteban" I whispered.
"So? You want to pull the wool over the old swine's eyes? Then I'll give you some good advice. Keep it to yourself. When it comes to Esteban trust NO ONE - not even me, got it? Now enough about that - we don't want to be overheard! "
It was very late at this point. Everyone who I needed to quest was probably sleeping. I found an abandoned hut and slept until morning.