Part 1: Chapter One - Part 1THE SACRIFICE
Chapter One - Part 1
REEL 2: Artemiy's Arrival
Day One, during which, Haruspex is destined to turn from a rightful heir into a dangerous criminal.
Pain. All that his hometown has to greet Artemiy with is pain. Angry men with vengeance in their eyes seldom bring anything but pain, after all. Besides, none of these men seemed to care for Artemiy's grief or the doom that was slowly grasping this city. Has Isidore told only him? No, that would have been unwise and his father was a wise man indeed.
Letter of Inheritance
My son Artemiy,
Death will soon be upon me. I want to talk to you about your future and to give you all that remains in my possession, however little that might be.
I have to warn you, that, in the recent times, I took part in events most dark and, as my experience tells me, malevolent.
I took upon myself a great burden and my fate is out of my own hands.
Thus, if you refuse my heritage, with all its burdens that are brought upon it by my obligations, I will understand you and I won't denounce you.
I see that I have very little time left. Hurry. I want to see you for the last time.
I'm sorry that I've spent so little time with you.
Your loving Father,
P.S. If I'm not alive when you arrive, reach out to Vlad Olgimsky. He will help you settle in and will introduce you to the state of my affairs to the best of his abilities.
Pain wouldn't stop him - after all, he had to meet his father and reclaim his purpose. Besides, even if he lacked in purpose, his lineage gave him certain inalienable rights. Thus, when he found himself, at last, in peace with the corpses of the two of the men that have ambushed him, he decided to let nothing go to waste.
Having gotten lost in the work that his hands were made for, it took Artemiy a minute to notice the two looming figures ahead of him. Clad in long robes, and with long-beaked mask, they stood patiently - as if they had all the time in the world to wait for him.
Track 1 - The Steppe
Artemiy, not bothered by their expectant looks in the slightest, approached one of the waiting figures.
Well, Burakh it seems that you are almost dead. You have, at most, a couple of minutes to live something I'm warning you of with a certain solemnity, I must say.
One can't manage a whole lot in that amount of time...
You took a couple of blows to the head, and the locals around here have sturdy fists. Maybe you haven't noticed yet, but you have four knife wounds one of which is fairly serious. You've lost a lot of blood, and the local climate does nothing to help with the exhaustion. You don't happen have any heart problems, do you?
Now that you mention it, my heart IS my softest spot.
Your health is at nil. I don't think I'll be mistaken if I guess that you haven't eaten for several days and haven't slept at all last night? Your face says it all. That means that your hunger and fatigue also in a critical state. I wonder which one of these will be the one that gets you, in the end? What are you planning to do?
If my fate is to die, then I'll die.
Oh my, what a charming display of fatalism. Such phrases are ought to be spoken with a steeled gaze through a clenched jaw. Unfortunately, your jaw has been dislocated, so the ultimate effect is rather lacking. It is much more interesting to be a fatalist if one has an actual choice to make, wouldn't you agree?
A fair point.
In order to restore your health, you will need a medical kit. Bandages will stop the bleeding. Analgesic drugs will help you carry on.
And where will I get those?
You can take them or trade them from passersby. Kids will readily trade the most precious of things for something that others will consider to be garbage. And something else local drunks frequently carry some bandages with them in case they get in a scuffle. When the hangover strikes, however, they'll do almost anything for some bottled water. Things are rather tight with water around here.
Where can I find some of that precious water?
There's usually some in the water barrels around the city. You can drain it out of them into an empty bottle.
If I recall correctly, you're pretty hungry?
You don't have to rob the passersby for food, you know. There's a lot of produce being sold in the shops right now...although, with your reputation, I'd say that my advice isn't particularly helpful yet.
What exactly happened to ruin my reputation so completely?
A rather unfortunate misunderstanding. I wouldn't call it slander, not entirely but it does look like a false accusation, at the very least.
My comrade here can tell it better that is his role, after all. My role, on the other hand, is to tell you how to take care of your body.
I know how a body is built. I don't need that sort of advice.
Well, then go on! You have a number of glorious accomplishments ahead of you.
Go to hell.
One could feel the crooked smile emanating from beneath the stranger's beaked mask. Artemiy did not like being toyed with, but he decided to humor the second stranger all the same. Something told him that the feeling of being toyed with is one the that he will grow accustomed to in the coming days.
Welcome to your native city, acolyte! You haven't been here for quite a while. I even doubt that you remember the bitter smell of tvyr in the local air. Hmm.. Know why you were attacked?
You were mistaken for someone else. They're looking for a killer. A very influential man was murdered this very night. People loved him. Not many children love a caring father as much as people loved the deceased. Don't judge them too harshly for their eagerness.
Maybe I should feel sorry for them, too?
They're naive. In small towns like ours reputation is everything. By it, you will be allowed in and by it, you will be carried out. Sometimes, even feet first. It's not like they'll take time to figure out the meat of matter. Empty gossip and slander is enough for you to be perceived as an enemy. Your reputation is at nil. Do be ready to bear the consequences.
What am I to do, then?
Rebuild your reputation. Now and, if it crumbles in the future, again. People are simple and weak. Today, they worship the one whom they've kicked and belittled yesterday. And tomorrow... well, what is there to say. In the end, any evil can be remedied and they will love you just as much as they hated you.
How do I rebuild my reputation?
Do good works. The town is small and rumours travel instantly, even if they transform many times along the way. Consider, also, the fact that it's mostly children that carry the rumours around and...well in the end, it will rebuild itself. In the future, don't be too wasteful with it it is a fragile commodity, after all.
What would bring down my reputation?
First and foremost, it depends on the number of living beings murdered by you. However, it also depends on how you've influenced the people, whose fates intertwine with yours. You'll meet these... special people around here. They're called Adherents. A superstitious custom, although they will be useful to you.
Who are these people?
They're about thirty people, one grander than the next. Everyone hates each other, everyone lies. Each and every single one of them deserves to live. However, some of them are incompatible with each other in order for some to live, others will have to die. Plan your actions accordingly.
How will I recognize these people?
Oh, that's not hard at all. All of them bright personalities, local celebrities, although not all of them are aristocrats. Some are homeless, some are radicals and some of them are little children. Adherents...to the state of a bigger, better perfection than the gray mass of simpletons.
I don't like you. I have no love for the prideful
Artemiy spat on the ground and took a last look at them before walking forward. They didn't turn.
Artemiy would have started heading inwards, into the city, but, remembering one of the masked men's words about his current public image, it seemed more prudent to take shelter in the nearby Warehouses and to let the situation run its course. It only took Artemiy a few steps to notice some locals, warming themselves near a bonfire.
It became clear to Artemiy that he wouldn't be able to get to the Warehouses without being spotted by them, so he made a run for it.
It didn't take them long enough to spot it, and the chase was on.
The fence was shoddy and quite small, but, with Artemiy's injuries, it took him a great deal of effort to climb it.
With little time to think, Artemiy ducked into the warehouse right in front of him.
The scene that greeted him was quite eerie.
The children refused to talk to him and only motioned in the direction of the stack of boxes in the corner. Artemiy made his way there and saw a boy - older than the rest and with a gaze that marks one as a clear leader. His eyes were inquisitive and unflinching, despite Artemiy's obviously haggard and menacing state.
Ah! A new figure in our little society? A fighter?
Doctor? We already have a doctor. Not that we asked for one.
You haven't had one quite like me yet.
You aren't one of Griff's men, though?
Who is this Griff ?
Griff is the leader of the local thieves. He's squatting on the northern side of the Warehouses, sells weapons, tvyr and all sorts of other trash. All killers and criminals are connected to him, that's how it is around here. That's why I'm asking you were you going to him?
A criminal? I'll show you a criminal!
Oh yeah? Just now, there were a bunch of people running through the Warehouses. They said that some sort of awful murderer, who's being chased around by the entire town, was trying to escape on a train, got ambushed, killed everyone and is now coming here. That's why I thought is it you they were talking about?
I was defending myself. They took me for someone else.
I believe you. Phew... You're in a bad shape... We would help you, but we were robbed ourselves. He took all the medicine too, as luck would have it. Toady is a right scoundrel. Traitor, thief, murderer and a bastard!
Who's that you're talking about?
Toady he's the scoundrel who completely justifies his namesake! A right sycophant, that one. One thing I don't get, though, is who he sold us out to to the thieves or to the Dogheads? He stole the most important thing from us - his comrades! A complete rat! And on the eve of the war, too!
On the eve of war with Dogheads. Rotten animal, a rat without a heart and soul, stole the most precious thing that we had, killed a friend... and deserted straight to our enemies! We thought he was our comrade! Maybe...maybe he was pretending from the start? Death - he deserves death...
What was it that he took?
A very important bit of medicine. A powder. They're very rare, because they're handmade. We don't know the recipe. They can be different some can heal, others kill. We had the last one we used it to figure out which ones are the healing ones. They look all the same.
And what do they heal, exactly?
Some time ago, there was this horrible disease around here. Came and went. Every time I remember I get shivers down my spine, it was that scary. It spread like a fire in a bedlam. We kept it around as a token... And he stole it! Left us to die! Backstabbing wretch!
And where is this fellow now?
Maybe, he's with his friends - the thieves. At first, he was hiding out in the steppe, but he's gone now. Maybe, he double-backed around. We lost him near the mound and then we had to run away because the thieves showed up. If you find the bastard, cut him into ribbons!
You're saying you want me to kill him?
Yes! The rogue doesn't deserve to live! Know what? I'll give you my revolver if you do it! If he's with a dog, though don't touch the dog. You don't hurt the dogs.
Okay. I'll have a chat with him if I find him.
Notkin marked the last known location of the doghead on Artemiy's map
Safe in the warehouse for a little while, Artemiy decided to make a note in his journal that he kept during all these years of his voluntary exile before moving on to meet this Griff
From now on, I am the eldest of Burakhs and the leader of the bloodline of menkhu - those who know the lines. I am an inheritor of my father Isidor, who has served and honored the Order better than any other menkhu did in the past decades.
It is vitally important for me to reclaim my inheritance. It will give sustenance to both my body and my mind. It will give meaning to my life, which has been, so far, both empty and meaningless.
I belong to a lineage of diviners of lines that open the body and connect the earthly to that which is below the earth. It is the duty of such diviners to serve the children of Bodkho, in interpreting the coincidences and in choosing the wiser paths. My existence on this Earth can only be justified by fulfilling this duty.
Who will I be if I break my lineage, if I won't tie my purpose with the purpose that my Father has bestowed upon me?
He also wrote down his thoughts on Notkin's request
"A Little Scamp backstabbed the street urchins"
Notkin, the leader of the gang of kids by the name of "Dualsouls", is begging me to find the traitor-doghead, who is hiding in the Steppe. Find him and kill him. I thought that Notkin had a kind soul when I met him, too... I think he'll come to regret his own blood-thirst soon enough.
Artemiy closed the journal and began to head out.
Outside, the darker gloom of the early morning was being slowly replaced by the town's usual bright fog that he remembered with such clarity.
He didn't get to take the scenery in for too long, because, quite suddenly, a passerby spotted him and gave chase.
Still, he had to make a run for Griff's warehouses, and hope that the man wouldn't chase him inside.
Navigating a maze of warehouses while being chased by an angry man is rather difficult, so the situation gave Artemiy a slight pause.
He did, however, find the right warehouse, in the end.
The faces inside were less than friendly, but the man did not follow him in.
The atmosphere around here was less than savory, too the loot on the table,
the makeshift throne,
the escort girl.
All these things would make the place downright homely for all the wrong sort of people.
Artemiy decided to not tarry long here and approached Griff.
The man looked about as unsavoury as the rest of the gentlemen in the warehouse, but there was a certain dexterity to his hands. The man had quite a bit in common with Artemiy much more than he cared to admit.
Well, it's pretty clear that it's best not to mess with you! Cheat you? Oh, absolutely, but that's where I'm drawing the line. If you ask me, stealing is more honourable than killing. You probably disagree with me, though - don't you?
And who are you?
What, they haven't told you about Griff? About the thief-king, the Big Storekeeper, the master of contraband...and other, shadier things?
Ah, so that's where I am...
Well, that's me! Welcome to the Thieves' lair. We deal, mostly, in contraband, which is why there's plenty of everything that is forbidden around here. Be careful, though buying our stuff can't be too good for you. If anyone finds out, no one will ever believe you, trust me.
Considering my current predicament, I don't think I care.
I already know who you are. After all, in my position, I have to know everything around me. You see, the night has been pretty rowdy. Those that got away from you went right past us. Asked us, if you weren't on of ours. I said no. They warned us that you were coming, and they will warn others, I'm sure.
Stupid misunderstanding they're all mistaken!
Oh don't worry, you picked the right way to enter this town. Here, it's murderers all around, no matter how you come in. Around here, in the Warehouses, shady folk have been squatting since the beginning of time... Murders, muggings, thievery we're used to everything.
What, you aren't the only ones squatting here?
Some kids were faffing around these parts. We didn't bother them why bother, after all? You give them a cuff on the nape, and they're gone. Well, they started getting serious. Got armed, tamed some dogs, started harassing our kind. I thought that that's where it would end, but then they started going after my merchandise! That, I won't tolerate.
What, you're going to declare war now?
First, I'll deal with one of them, the brash one. They had a traitor, he leaked some information to us what their plans were, stuff like that. Now, however, the little shit gave us all up! His and ours! Poisoned one of my guys, stole the merchandise and hid out in the Steppe, the scoundrel. We looked around, but never found him.
So what happens now?
Maybe you could help us out? It would be nice if you'd finish the bugger off if you find him. If you do, we'll help you in kind. Our way.
And where did you lose him, exactly?
Here, I'll show you where we got. He probably went further down towards the Abattoir.
Griff's directions pointed to the same place Notkin's did.
If I end up in those places I'll look for him. You know, folks around here don't like me very much. How can I explain them that I'm innocent?
Well, you've made quite a bit of noise, brother. They say, you killed a countless amount of people. They weren't looking for you from the very beginning, you know. You tell them a word and they'll believe it without blinking. Now, they're looking for some sort of a werewoman blaming all the sins on her, now. Yours too.
But they're still chasing after me, right?
Eh, they'll stop soon. Our guys are saying that out of the folks that were in the ambush at the station, only one survived. He's the only one who knows how your look. Getting ready to die, too, that one he's at the cemetery right now. You weren't kidding around with them. Finish the last one off and no one will know that you were the killer. That's how I see it.
Which way is this cemetery?
Ha! Whichever way you go! It's all cemetery around here... Here, I'll show you. There's a little lodge there, ask the little orphan inside graveyard keeper's daughter, God rest his soul. She'll tell you the rest, the kind soul that she is...
The graveyard was to the north of where everyone has last seen the Doghead traitor.
Thanks, I'll go take a look.
Before you go, folks-in-the-know told me that there's another ambush being prepared at the station. This time it's not the townsfolk, though, but more of a roving type. Watch out it might be useful, or it might be an early grave.
Oh? Interesting... How long are they going to be there?
No idea. I wasn't the one who sent them there. Hell, I even tried to dissuade them. Let's see them complain later, not that they'll get the chance. You get my drift?
Quite the slimy type, are you, Griff.
Seeing as he had a minute, Artemiy wrote down his thoughts on the Doghead traitor's relationship with the Thieves.
A Little Scamp backstabbed the smugglers
Griff is asking to find and finish off some Doghead. It's seems that everyone around here is taking me for some sort of a Ripper.
Artemiy closed his journal with a sigh. With the way into the inner town still locked for him by popular vote, Artemiy decided to travel out into the steppe. Maybe he'd stumble on the kid everybody's looking for, and it wouldn't hurt to check the Gravekeeper's lodge, see what the wounded fellow has to say for himself. He left the warehouse and wandered back to the railroad track that he was planning to follow out into the steppe.
The river that ran under the bridge wasn't particularly impressive nor deep, but Artemiy knew the swamp, to which the river led all too well.
Following the tracks led him to the Workshops that serviced the machinery that transferred the meat products from the Abattoir to the station for export.
Going on a bit further, he saw a tower a water tower, or so he guessed. Coming a bit closer to it, he saw a little figure taking shelter under it.
Sure enough, it was the wanted Doghead. Artemiy approached him, still not entirely certain what to do with him.
Artemiy wasn't a man easily disturbed, but something about the woven dog head was off - off enough to make him hesitate for a moment.
Who are you? What are you walking around here for? Gathering some tvyr, are you?
Are you human?
Rawr! No, not human! Ha-ha-ha! What, does it look like the real thing?
You better get serious, little guy. I've got some bad news.
Oh, so that's how it is. So, you're in league with them too? I don't believe it... Who sent you?
The one who sent me is very displeased. Wants your blood.
What are they mad? Why are they chasing me so hard? So what, so I played a spy for a bit...Worked around here and there... I'm sick of it! I don't want to rat out thieves to the Dualsouls, nor the Dualsouls to the thieves! I'm doing the right thing here.
Tell me why they want you dead and do it fast this is your last shot at mercy. I don't look kindly on traitors.
...It's all dumb. I stole something. The property is communal in our group, right? That means it's mine too. They would fight each other because of the powder anyway. You could say I did a good thing there. As for the dog...well... I was defending myself! Self-defense is sacred, you know?
Not very convincing.
Good man, please spare me! Saving a life will come back around to you, trust me. I can't tell you why I did it... it's too sick. But I won't do it again, promise!
Alright, alright get out of here!
Kids played for keeps in this town. Always have. Artemiy knew that, but even he didn't feel composed enough to be an arbiter of a child's life, no matter his sins. Not without a great need. The doghead didn't wait around for Artemiy to change his mind, not that he would have.
From here, he could already see the Graveyard's fence. He began to approach it in order to circle it around, when a small tent out in the steppe attracted his attention.
Artemiy wasn't caught off guard. After all, this was just one of the Steppe folk. The fellow looked at him with a certain knowing in his eyes.
I smell blood on you. You have with you the blood of someone who isn't here, isn't that right?
You have a sensitive nose. How much blood do you need?
No, I don't need any. Earth does. Earth won't take more than it needs to to grow as many herbs as you will take from me.
We are the worms in Bodkho's body, the gatherers of herbs, brown tvyr, rusted, black and blood tvyr, savyur, ukheghe, the white lash. All of them speak to us.
Does anyone in the town buy the tvyr?
There is a den in the Earth yes, a den where the people are drinking the liquid tvyr... A terrible man spends his days there, spends his night there he, the accursed one, buys the tvyr and perverts the children of Bodkho. Drives them to betrayal. Because of him, we had to kill our brothers-odonkhe, who sold our secrets.
Why won't you kill him, then?
He is very formidable, yes formidable. He is a mighty fighter, even if he is not a trained warrior. He builds homes. He is very brutal, yes brutal. None of the odonkhe could take revenge on him for perverting our sisters, for buying out our brothers. We tried to fight him, but he killed all the dissenters.
Some builder he is...
The herb sisters dance for him instead of serving the Earth. They please the vagabonds and give themselves to sin. He made this all happen for his own amusement. If you kill him, the old odonkhu will be forever grateful to you.
I'm not your killer.
Artemiy had to restore his name in order to think about breaking the townsfolk's customs in order to uphold the customs of the Worms. The Worm looked indifferent in the face of Artemiy's refusal at least, as far Artemiy could tell. It was, however, obvious that the Worm could prove useful in the future, in case Artemiy would need herbs.
Keeping that in mind, Artemiy went back and continued circling around the graveyard fence.
Soon enough he started seeing a towering outline break the fog.
A certain warmth emanated from that entrance - a warmth that Artemy knew all too well. With all his experience, it still didn't sit too right with him. He didn't tarry long and headed towards the graveyard.
The graveyard was quiet, but not without a certain vibrancy to it.
Taking the view in, Artemiy stepped inside the lodge. A peculiar sight awaited him in there.
The young woman's eyes were full of worry and, when she noticed Artemiy, a tinge of fear, though not without a hint of understanding.
I see you carry a great sorrow in heart. What is your name?
My name is Artemiy Burakh.
My name is Laska. I take care of the dead.
Aren't you too young for this job?
Why have you come here?
Who is this fellow lying here?
Don't kill him, please! This is the man who wanted to kill you! He attacked you there, near the Station. He says that you were the one who maimed him. He'll die soon, anyway he doesn't have much blood left...You won't kill him, right?
Why? Maybe I ought to help him too, huh?
Why? You want to help? That's fantastic! You see how much blood he lost? He needs blood. I would give mine, but my blood is poisoned...and I don't have much of it anyway.
Poisoned? Poisoned by what?
Why...with tvyr, of course... You didn't know?
In any case, he needs a transfusion.
And who here can do that?
I know that there is a terrifying man living in Stone Yard who trades in blood. He is a trader, but he takes blood, too. He knows how. Should I show you where he lives?
And how will you perform the transfusion, anyway?
Don't worry about that. A lot of folks here know their way around blood. Now, if only we had someone who'd give blood.
Alright. I'll talk to your trader.
A menkhu serves the children of Bodkho even if they lash out against him. That is the way of serving the Order and Artemiy knew it. That what stayed his hand when he could strike down the little Doghead and that is what kept him from striking down the wounded man.
The Surviving Factory Worker
The last of those, who have ambushed me at the station is dying in the Gravekeeper's lodge. Hunchback, who lives in the Stone Yards, can give me blood to heal him. This could help in restoring my good name.
Artemiy closed his journal and began making his way back to his warehouses to disappoint Griff and to help Notkin learn the value of life. Even Artemiy was a romantic, sometimes.
Just like it hasn't in 10 years of his absence, the steppe hasn't changed a single bit since Artemiy walked through it an hour ago.
Nothing changed in the warehouse, either.
I found the puppy.
I let him go.
Now, that's a waste! A soft soul... Well, I don't blame you.
What, you think your bones are hard? Watch it. I'll break them just the same.
It didn't feel particularly good, but it felt good enough. He made his way to Notkin's warehouse.
Dualsouls' warehouse was also the same. Nothing changes in this place, does it?
I never thought that a scoundrel like this would show up right before the war...
I've met your traitor.
What'd you think of him?
Yeah, that's the truth of it. So, what'd you do with him?
I let him go.
What kind of a Ripper are you, then?
What made you think that I was a Ripper?
Eh, forget about it. Maybe, that's the right way. I'm already coming down myself couldn't breathe from anger before, you know. Killing would've been too much. Did you beat him up, at least?
You said it yourself don't hurt the dogs. He fit that criteria, in a roundabout sort of way.
The matter was finished with, and Artemiy took the time to dutifuly round out his journal entries about it
Mercy is the most honest of feelings. In my case, however, it's also useful. The law of highest justice will work I had a chance to prove my new reputation, but I didn't take it. I am not their killer.
Artemiy chuckled to himself as he left the warehouse. The day that started so painfuly was looking up, even if his health didn't improve by a whole lot - although it has stabilized. Besides, the rumours of his mercy are sure to be reaching the town about now, and that means that he can finally journey inwards in search of support. Father's letter mentioned Vlad Olgimsky, and that was whom Artemiy was going to visit first.
Artemiy finally left the station behind and made his way into the town.
There streets was relatively empty, but the few passersby that he saw gave him no trouble, aside from the occasional nervous glance full of knowing. Nothing Artemiy couldn't deal with. It took him a while to get his bearing, but, soon, Artemiy came out to the Olgimsky house.
In front of the main entrance, however, was a strange, scrawny figure that was looking at the door with expectant and obedient eyes eyes that were easily visible even while hidden behind the veil of the mask.
He turned to Artemiy when he approached the door.
You won't happen to be Vlad Senior, the owner of this house?
Do I look like him?
Actually no, not at all! But, perhaps, you're his representative?
You're unlucky, once again.
I am, you see, only a mere postman. I have for him a letter of utmost importance. They told me, however, that he will only show up at 11 A.M.
Did this letter happen to say anything about a certain Burakh?
I haven't read the letter!
Of course you have. The lie is visible even through that mask of yours.
Oh, all right. No, the letter only talks about a certain bachelor Dankovsky, who arrived into town on a personal matter although he will soon take it upon himself to hunt down the elusive murderer of Simon Kain!
Great, that's the last thing I needed...
With a sigh, Artemiy checked his watch. It was 10 A.M., and that meant that he had some time kill. Artemiy started walking the streets of the town, hoping that nobody would chase after him again during this peaceful entr'acte.