Part 56: Through the Halls of Haunting MemoriesPart 56 - Through the Halls of Haunting Memories
The first door we tried in this cabin of horrors almost burned our hand off while the second hid behind it a greasy hellspawn and only mildly less greasy literature, so we're very excited to see whether contestant number three manages to live up to the incredibly low expectations set by its predecessors.
Not at first glance at least, seems like a pretty ordinary dining area. And is that a laundry basket on the kitchen counter? Always have to expect the unexpected with these cultist types.
We're looking for a red-haired girl who Glory believes holds the key to the shrine we're trying to reach and purify, but this room seems like a bust on that front. Unless she's hiding in here?
Ah, there's that "well this is clearly a terrible idea" alarm going off in the back of our mind again. Might need to change the batteries on that thing, been going off all night.
Any chance at all we're just looking at some leftover steaks from yesterday's barbecue where everyone had a good time and absolutely nothing messed up happened to anyone involved?
Figures. Sure we can't just skip plans A and B and hop right to plan Napalm?
What the hell is this, Glory?
[Her voice is flat.] Ritual supplies. The Adversary prefers them aged.
At least it's not tomorrow's dinner. And if nothing else some kids we manage to free are gonna have valuable practical experience if they ever pursue a career in meat processing.
I get the picture.
I warned you that you'd see things you didn't want to in here.
You weren't lying.
[She turns away from you.]
Come on. Let's keep moving.
How do these stupid rooms manage to keep getting worse? Do we even want to look in this one?
Luckily the pattern doesn't hold and room number four does turn out be a perfectly ordinary dressing room and wash area. Unless the mirror is a portal to the bile dimension or something.
Instead of risking it we just grab an Advanced Medkit from the first aid cabinet on the wall and quickly move on.
And door number five?
This is the initiates' dormitory. The new arrivals are brought here. There's still hope for these kids, Rosa... Harrow hasn't had a chance to ruin them yet.
Good to know. We'll try to get them out of he--
That's definitely a name we've heard before. Hard to say whether this development is good or bad for us though.
Positive. Be calm, all of you. As long as you're here with us, nothing bad will ever happen to you.
Is that *your* Marta, Glory?
[She gives a curt nod.] Not mine. Harrow's. But she's the Marta from my story, yes.
What do you want to do?
Well, at least we've located our initial target. If she has the key then getting it should be as simple as taking her out, which'd definitely be a blow to the cult even if Harrow himself ends up getting away. We'll try to avoid making a scene though, at least until we've heard her out.
Maybe we can talk to her. Convince her to give us the key.
Maybe. But not here, and not now. Those kids in there - they'd all die for her. They already love her. That's what she does.
We can't risk confronting her in that room. If the situation turns ugly, any one of those kids will happily eat a bullet for her, and that's not what I came here to do.
You're right. We came here to save those kids, not get them killed. We'll wait until Marta leaves and follow her.
[She nods her assent.]
Alternatively, with the "kill Harrow" plan:
No, it isn't. But we came here to kill Harrow, and she's in the way of us doing that.
Yes, she is. But we deal with her *later.* I won't hurt any more kids voluntarily.
[The adolescent voice trembles out a response.]
A-all right, Marta. H-have a good night.
[A lovely, musical laugh pours through the vent.]
You too, dear heart. All of you.
So they haven't even met Harrow yet, that's good. Even if we can't save everyone, at least we might be on time for these particular initiates.
[Glory takes a deep breath, then releases it.]
The coast is clear. We can handle the initiates... they're just a bunch of scared kids. Without Marta there to egg them on, they won't try anything.
We could go in right now, but we still have a few rooms to look through and odds are we'll find something that could be relevant in trying to convince Marta to cooperate. So for now we'll step away and move on.
Alright door six, show us what you're hiding.
Just the garage as it turns out. Pretty sweet bikes, bet they appeal to a lot of potential recruits.
This van may as well be straight from the cover of a PSA about child abductors though, all that's missing is "free candy" scratched with a nail on the side.
I remember so many nights like that.
I remember how much I used to enjoy it.
In all of that time, nobody ever caught you?
Nobody ever seemed to care. These were street kids, remember - they didn't have money, or influence, or families. Nobody was out looking for them. To be honest, I don't know if anyone ever noticed that they were gone.
Sadly an unequivocally happy ending to this tale seems unlikely. Even if we could erase Harrow's cult from existence overnight, most of these kids did end up here looking for an escape from their own miserable circumstances, and those aren't going to just vanish the same way.
All we can really hope to do is try and save them from the worst.
Well, coming back here shows integrity, Glory. Most runners that I know wouldn't have done what you're doing tonight.
Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't have. You pushed me to do this. To find some semblance of redemption. I owe you for that.
Don't thank me until we're safely back in the Kreuzbasar. We still don't know how this is going to turn out.
[She nods.] That's probably wise. We still have a long way to go. Speaking of which, we should keep moving.
Y'know what? You're right, you do.
[She rolls her eyes.] C'mon. Let's keep moving.
Two more doors left, though a mysterious small voice is telling us that we might want to go and confront Marta soon. Like, maybe right after checking this room.
Those voices belong to Harrow's acolytes. They'll have some magical training, and they like hurting people. You open that door, and we're going to have a fight on our hands.
How do you know that they're acolytes?
Process of elimination. Initiates aren't allowed in that room - it's one of Harrow's rules. On the rare occasion that an initiate is invited in, he usually doesn't come back out again.
What happens in there?
Could be something important in there then. Hate to risk a confrontation, but maybe they're more willing to talk than she thinks? They sound like they're in good spirits at least.
We're going in. Be ready.
Okay, unless these cultists have a real original take on a friendly handshake, we'll probably have to take the acid bolts as a "no".
(The best part is at the end so worth listening the whole way through.)
Guess managing to get through a cult compound without coming into any conflict with the actual cultists would've been too much to hope for. The acolytes have some basic magical abilities and a fair amount of HP but low armor and avoidance.
We move our acid-dripping body to a better position behind the piano and start firing back. Between the medium leyline and solid cover this is a very advantageous spot for us.
Glory activates her adrenaline pump and goes for an Eviscerate which doesn't quite finish the first Acolyte off, but does leave him bleeding all over the place and is also enough to stun him. A little surprising since 2 AP damage is not usually enough to make that happen on enemies, but we're not gonna complain about it.
Stupid healers, always undoing people's honest work. The other Acolyte whiffs an Acid Bolt in the meantime, overall they don't manage to accomplish much.
A second round of clawery leaves the stunned acolyte barely alive for now, but he's already doomed to a slow death from heavy bleeding. Sorry bud, but it's us or you and we're not going to pull any punches now that it did come to this.
The Acolytes have low avoidance and an unhealthy tendency to leave themselves exposed which makes them softer targets than they look, but this one manages to beat the odds and dodges two lethal 85% hit chance scratches in a row.
Not looking good for team cultists on their turn though. One spends their turn running away from Glory, one lands an Acid Bolt on us but deals 0 damage thanks to our cover bonus, and the third collapses on the floor and expires from blood loss as we knew he would.
As always Glory's handiwork is as effective as it is brutal. The acolytes clearly have enough power to terrorize ordinary people, but it's equally clear they aren't used to anyone putting up a real fight and even with a numbers advantage we are simply way out of their league.
Unfortunate, but they left us no choice in the matter. With Glory's remark about seeing something interesting not playing nicely with the damage numbers from our Flamethrower crit (strong enough to one-shot any of the cultists by the way), the brief clash is over.
Seems Glory was talking about this photo on the wall. Huh, looks awfully familiar.
Adds up with what we heard about Harrow's "preferences".
Is this a picture of you and Marta?
Yes. Taken during the early days, shortly after I arrived here. Harrow was holding the camera. He told us how sweet we were, and how happy he was to have us here.
[She shakes her head.]
This place... these people... I loved them so, so much. What a goddamned fool I was.
You looked good as a redhead.
[Glory's mouth twists into a joyless smile.]
Harrow certainly thought so. I did it for him, you know... a sign of devotion. All that I wanted was to please him.
Of course, now I realize what it really was. It was Harrow's way of marking me as his property. Like a dog pissing on a tree.
And what's this then? There are probably more practical places to store jewelry, so this probably hasn't been placed here by coincidence.
Glory, know anything about this ring?
Marta gave that to me on the day that this photo was taken. She said that she made it for me. I left it behind when I left this place behind.
Maybe Marta still has feelings for you. Stranger things have happened.
[She stares at you.] Haven't you been paying attention? Marta *never* cared about me. She was *bait.* It was her job to lure me here - me, and a hundred other kids like me. The ring doesn't mean anything.
Then why did she keep it?
Doesn't mean anything, huh? Guess we're about to find out soon enough.
The photo's not the only interesting thing in this room, there's also some red-stained fabric on the floor. Probably safe to assume it's not a towel used to clean up the aftermath of a particularly dramatic ketchup accident. Those bottles can be a real pain sometimes though.
[Her voice is soft and sad.] An initiate must have worn that in here. It's way too small for an acolyte.
Lovely. Even if most of them are ultimately Harrow's victims, this still makes us feel a little less bad about having had to take out those cultists.
Alright, there's one more door we haven't checked but we've probably seen enough. Time to go confront Marta while the initiates are still on their own.
Considerably less acid so far, maybe things'll work out.
You don't want to do that.
[Glory looks deep into the initiate's eyes, transfixing him.]
We're not here to hurt you.
Do you really think that you can get to that door before I get to you?
Like I said, we don't want to hurt anybody. We're just here to have a word with Marta. Alone.
You're not going to hurt her?
No. Of course not. We just want to talk... we're old friends.
Uh... yeah. Yeah, okay. You do that.
[He takes a step back, then screws up his courage.]
But you'd better be telling the truth! If anything happens to her...
Don't worry, kid. Nobody's getting hurt tonight.
Well... no one who doesn't purposefully ask for it, in any case.
Before entering Marta's room, we have the opportunity to talk to the girl next to her door.
You used to live here, didn't you? I've seen your picture before.
We talking about the same picture here? Thought they only issued one-way tickets to the lounge for non-acolytes.
You shouldn't have been in that room. It isn't safe for initiates in there.
I... uh... it was a dare. Please don't tell Marta or Mr. Harrow. I don't want to get in trouble.
I won't. And to answer your question, yes... I did live here. I was like you. A scared kid, brought here by Marta for a chance at a new life.
I like Marta. She's so nice... I always feel safe when I'm with her. Most adults aren't like that. They either don't notice you, or they do for the wrong reasons. But Marta... she cares about us.
[There is a long pause, and then the initiate looks to you. Gathering her courage, she speaks.]
Can... can I ask you a question?
Someone asking us a question instead of the other way around? Definitely gotta take this opportunity, doesn't happen every day.
Go ahead, ask away.
Well... I overheard Marta talking with Mr. Harrow yesterday. I think that they were talking about our meeting with him - the one that Marta was just telling us about, where we'll learn to see the world in a different way?
Get the feeling we just might know the answer to this particular question. Ignorance sure is bliss though.
Well, Marta got real upset. Said, "They're too new, they're not ready, make the older ones do it." Stuff like that. But then Mr. Harrow said some other things, and then she calmed down again. When she left, she was smiling.
And so, I was just wondering... do you know what they were talking about? I want to make sure that Marta is okay, but I can't ask her about it, because I don't want her to find out that I was eavesdropping.
I think that I know what Harrow has planned for you. Have you ever opened the fridge in the other room?
No... why? Is that where we're going to make dinner?
Hey, this was our question! Though yeah, suppose if everything goes as planned then the truth doesn't really matter.
All right... but don't tell her that I told you? Please?
Don't worry. We won't. How long have you been here, by the way?
Almost a week.
[She shuffles her feet. Eventually, she looks up with a small smile.]
It's like I thought. Things have changed in the past few years.
Back when I lived here, Harrow would never have let such a fresh convert prepare a sacrifice. He'd wait until she was in so deep - until she felt so *indebted* to him - that she *couldn't* turn tail and run.
Easy to see what she's getting at here, why be overly cautious if you have reason to believe that nobody is going to get cold feet anyway?
The shrine. He's using it to brainwash the initiates faster than he used to.
[She nods.] That's what I'm thinking. Harrow's getting lazy, letting his captive spirit do the heavy lifting for him.
So what does this mean for us?
I'm still working on that. But I don't think that the shrine is just a tool for Harrow any more... I think that he relies on it. He's using it as a crutch.
[She cocks her head slightly, a thoughtful expression on her face.]
I think that he's let himself become dependent on the damned thing.
When she puts it that way, dealing with a supernatural force that can simply be eliminated might in a way be easier than undoing actual long-term indoctrination.
Good. If the shrine's influence is the only thing keeping these kids here, that'll make our job a lot easier.
[Glory nods, a fierce look in her eye.]
On that, we are agreed.
And what ultimately will come of this undoubtedly all kinds of awkward reunion? That's what we're going to find out next time.
Most alternate dialogue comes from doing things in a different order, such as talking to the female initiate before investigating the fridge, but the conversations around them aren't really different enough to include here. So we'll just cover a couple of things, first up is one potential conversation when approaching the initiates' dorm and overhearing Marta talking to kids without having investigated the shrine door first:
It's her. The girl who lured you here.
[She gives a curt nod.] That's right. Marta. The bait that Harrow used to draw me to this place.
What do you want to do?
[Glory pauses. Grits her teeth. Finally, she spits out an answer.]
I don't know. If she's still here, she'll be Harrow's number one... my old position. He had his way with all of us, but he was always sweet on Marta.
I don't know. If what you were saying is true, she's just as guilty as Harrow.
Yeah, she's guilty, all right. But we can't let ourselves get diverted like this. We need to deal with Harrow's shrine, and we need to do it fast. Killing Marta before we've even found the bloody thing isn't going to help us do that.
Also a Street etiquette choice for calming down the male initiate when entering the dorm:
(Street) If we wanted to kill you, you'd already be dead. You've lived on the street - you know how this works.
[Slowly, the initiate seems to calm down.]
Yeah. Yeah, you're right. But if you don't want to hurt anyone, why are you here?
We just want to have a word with Marta. A *private* word between old friends. Understand?
[He nods.] Yeah. Yeah, that's cool, I guess.