Part 57: To the Heart of It AllPart 57 - To the Heart of It All
We have thoroughly scoured most of the rooms open to us in this miserable manor, and now Glory's ex-sweetheart from her own cultist days and likely the current owner of the key we need to open Harrow's diabolical shrine door awaits in the next one.
All circumstances considered, it's probably going to take some diplomatic work from our part if we're to get ahold of it peacefully.
[Open the door.] Crystal. Let's do this.
Man, this is going to be so awkward though.
[Marta swallows. The horrified look hasn't left her face.]
Glory, what have you *done* to yourself?
We've only ever known Glory as she is now, but it's probably a touch bewildering when your disappeared ex from years ago suddenly pops up in your room in the middle of the night looking like the vengeful spirit of an old industrial plant tried to take over her body and was only rebuked at the very last moment.
What I had to do. I got *out,* Marta. This was the only way.
[She stops short.] One of his "creatures"? Glory, what are you *talking* about?
Glory harboring certain feelings of animosity towards the person who originally got her into this mess is of course pretty understandable, but the primary plan was still to see if we could convince Marta to hand over the key voluntarily, so let's try and keep the claws sheathed until we've at least had a chance to properly talk to her.
Keep your cool, Glory. This isn't like you.
Look at me, Rosa. Take a good, long look. I was forced to sacrifice my own body in order to escape from this place. To hack away what made me human. And *she's* the one who brought me here.
Maybe so. But at the end of the day, it was your decision to come here. Nobody held a gun to your head.
[Glory grinds her teeth, but says nothing. Eventually, she nods.]
You're right, of course. It was my choice. But that doesn't change what *she* is, or what she did to me. If she hadn't found me - hadn't *baited* me here - none of this would have happened.
None of *what?* I haven't *done* anything!
If you'd just left me where you found me, I never would have hurt anybody. My *mother* would still be alive. I never would've sold my soul to that abomination that you all worship, and I wouldn't have had to sacrifice my own body to escape from it.
This place took everything from me. And it all started with *you.*
[She looks genuinely hurt.] Harrow and I rescued you from a life on the street! A beautiful girl, homeless, penniless, living in a gutter... I pulled you *away* from all of that! I *saved* you!
[The razors flick out of Glory's fingertips. Her lip curls into a snarl.]
Another lie. The last one you'll ever tell.
Alright alright, time out. There's obviously a ton of baggage between these two and standing here watching this conversation unfold feels all kinds of awkwardly voyeuristic, but clearly a bit of de-escalation is in order before someone ends up doing something they'll regret. Again. For like, the fifth time in the last half an hour.
One thing that stands out here is Marta's insistence about having saved Glory and all that not actually ringing especially hollow. In general Glory's conviction that this woman's some kind of a master manipulator and cold seductress is not really matching up with what we're seeing.
I don't think that she's lying... or at least, she doesn't think so. She believes what she's saying.
That's because it's true! I... I'll prove it to you!
[The words come stammering out of her. Her eyes are fixed on Glory's razors.]
Ask me anything you want - I'll show you that I'm telling the truth. I never wanted anything bad to happen to you, Glory - not ever.
Don't often see Glory's personal feelings clouding her judgment like this, even if Marta did try to lie about some of it she's still the place's second-in-command and could potentially know something valuable.
Not that we're really buying Glory's version here anyway, we've had more than our fair share of experience dealing with crooks and liars and that doesn't seem to be the explanation for Marta's behavior. Heck, we even found some pretty concrete proof backing up our theory this time.
(Glory's Ring) Because of this, and the photo that it was nailed to. If she were lying, she wouldn't have kept them all these years.
[Glory stares at you for a moment, naked hostility on her face. Then the razors slide back into their housings with a click.]
All right, Marta. Convince me.
Convince you of what? That I'm not a monster? I don't know how to do that, Glory.
You can start by telling me how you sleep at night. You know what happens to the kids that you bring here. You know what happened to *me.* But you're still luring them here, into Harrow's clutches, all these years later.
So tell me... how do you live with yourself? Explain it to me.
Why are you asking me this, Glory? You already know the answers. The kids here, they aren't being *hurt.* They're walking the path to a free and pure life! Just like Harrow taught us.
Anyone looking for that path and ending up here of all places definitely didn't get their map from a reputable establishment. It's hard to imagine anyone who has lived here for this long could genuinely believe what she's saying, but neither is anyone this convincing of an actress.
Good ol'-fashioned cult indoctrination might explain some of it, but the initiate outside also mentioned witnessing a similar scene of her internal conflict being resolved seemingly in an instant. Seems mighty unnatural, but then there are some mighty unnatural forces at work in this place.
The shrine is whispering to her, Glory. I can feel it, too. She's blissed out on it, like you said.
[Marta continues, her joyful smile widening. Her voice is placid.]
Harrow is a great man. A *prophet.* True, sacrifices have to be made, but what he brings in return... it's so much *love,* Glory! You remember!
[Glory grits her teeth but gives you a small nod.]
Yeah. Yeah, you're right. After so many years living here, I don't know if she even knows what "normal" feels like anymore.
[She blinks.] Key?
Whatever you use to get past the wards outside of Harrow's shrine. I need it. Don't ask why - just do this for me. You owe me that much.
We've successfully convinced Glory to do the smart thing, but round two against this spirit clearly doing its damndest to keep Marta's mental blindfold on is going to require a bigger pair of gloves. We had best choose our words carefully if we want to make her see things for how they really are.
During our brief time here we've already gathered a fair amount of potential ammunition, but for someone who has probably never stopped to really think about it, maybe something as simple as pointing out the paradoxical structure of the cult itself could make for a free shot.
(Academic) Don't you see anything ironic about a cult devoted to freedom and rebellion with a totalitarian leader?
[She blinks. Clearly, she doesn't understand.]
Marta, if Harrow actually *believed* in the rules that he's taught you, he wouldn't have a problem with you questioning his orders.
There it is again. Judging by the fact that she couldn't muster a proper counter-argument, it feels like we're off to a favorable start here.
Then maybe you could explain it to me? Maybe if you could answer my questions, I'd be able to see the light.
[She nods eagerly.] Yes, yes! Please, go on and ask your questions. I'll explain everything, and you'll see for yourself how *perfect* and *right* our way really is. How beautiful it can be!
We'll see about that. Let's see how she'll try to explain away the most obvious conflict in this supposedly perfect beauty.
Harrow is hurting the runaways that you bring here. You can see that, can't you?
[Her smile shifts into an expression of mock concern.]
Hurting? How so?
Heck, where to even begin? How about...
He's corrupting you all. How many of them has he taken as his "wives" - yourself included?
[She rolls her eyes at you.] A lesson in Puritan values from a shadowrunner. How quaint.
This isn't about you. I don't care what *you* do, Marta. I'm talking about child abuse.
Feuerstelle lets them be themselves, but in a safe place. Certainly safer than the back alleys of some urban hellhole like the one that you live in.
I was young when he chose me, Marta. Maybe not innocent, but young. Somewhere, deep down, you know that this is wrong.
When you lived with us, you didn't think it was wrong. You *loved* it here. You can rewrite history to cast yourself as the victim if you want to. If demonizing me helps, you can do that, too. But nobody ever forced you to do anything, Glory.
[Glory falls silent. The color drains from her face.]
This is clearly a... difficult subject. I don't know what you were hoping to achieve by bringing it up, but I promise you, you aren't going to convince me to abandon my way of life.
Our ways here are our own. You can't change that. All that you can do is accept it and move on.
Right, that's about all we want to hear about the subject of that shitpile and his relations with "not really children". Plus we're not finding the cracks in her conviction we were hoping for anyway. Seems like this angle of approach was a bust, better to back down before we lose our earlier momentum.
All right, Marta. Let's talk about something else.
Fine. Did you have some other example of how my husband is supposedly "hurting" us? If so, share it with me... I'll show you how ridiculous you're being.
We need to point out a concrete example of these kids being forced to do something decidedly not "beautiful", something that she can't just deflect away. One example might be as close as right on the other side of the door.
He's going to make the initiates - the *young* initiates, like the girl in the next room - do something horrible.
[Her smile slowly fades.] That girl. Such a sweet young thing. I rescued her from a bad place, Glory... her, and the boys in that dorm as well. But they're all safe now, and isn't that what's important?
Are they? You know what I'm talking about, Marta. The harvesting. The meat.
Aha, these are definitely the reactions we're looking for. The spirit being forced to intervene has to mean we've gotten through to Marta herself. Hopefully if we can instill enough doubt in her mind it'll eventually help her overcome the shrine's influence.
That's what it all boils down to, doesn't it? It has to be this way because he says it does.
He's a great man. He would never hurt us, whatever you say. You're taking everything out of context. You don't understand.
We understand that you're fumbling pretty bad here, lady. Let's keep this going.
There's something else that I'd like to ask you about.
Go ahead. I won't stop you.
I've read Harrow's manifesto. It looks like he spends a long time talking about charity?
[She nods eagerly.] Yes. Of course. Charity. The kind that I practice when I rescue young people from the streets.
Guessing you haven't read the manifesto itself though? Because we did, despite it resulting in us having to fend off a two-headed man-candle from astral space who both looked and smelled like he had spent the last couple of weeks at the bottom of a real filthy deep-fat fryer.
Little wonder kids don't care much for books these days, really.
But then, in his Rules of Living, he says that all Free Thinkers are supposed to be selfish.
Well, yes, but--
And after that, he says that only the strong deserve to prosper. So... which is it?
Hmm, no visible signs of pushback from the shrine anymore. Maybe we already got there, but let's have one more go at it, just to make sure.
Glory said that you two spent a lot of time in the lounge back when she lived here. What did you do there?
[She shrugs.] The usual. Drink, play games, have sex, watch the trid. The sorts of things that lovers usually do in their free time. Why do you ask?
Because we found a tattered, bloodstained shirt in there. It looked like it came from an initiate.
Well, that... that could have gotten there some other way... it doesn't prove anything.
You know the kinds of things that happen in that room, Marta. You've heard the stories - we both did.
[She shakes her head.] I've... I've never seen it. Not myself. The stories are just stories. Silly rumors. They have to be... don't they?
Alright, this should do it. Time to go for the finishing blow.
Give us the amulet, Marta. It's the right thing to do.
It isn't you. It's this place... it gets into your head. It took a lot more than this to wake me up to it.
So you'll give us the amulet?
No. I can't go against Harrow's wishes. He told me never to take it off, and I won't. But I *will* come with you. If I can help save these kids from what's happening here, that's what I have to do.
Hah, we managed to convince her hard enough not only to gain access to the shrine, but to have her actually join us in our efforts. We didn't just beat the spirit, we stone cold TKO'd that fucker.
That's what we're here for.
Welcome aboard on the train to Savekidsville.
Marta is a solid caster all around with delightfully devilish set of shaman skills, and also one of the surprisingly rare elven party members around in these games.
Aside from the basic conjurer Acid Bolt as her weapon and one solid summoning fetish, her magical repertoire is all Mage spells. All in all she's no MKVI and certainly wouldn't have survived a fight against the two of us had it come to that, but as an ally she can definitely carry her weight.
One of the initiates from earlier speaks up as we're leaving.
Marta, are these friends of yours?
Yes, dear heart. They are. We all need to go have a word with Harrow now. You get to bed... you have a big day tomorrow.
Next stop, the shri... Wait, no, there's that one door we didn't check first.
It was this one just close by to the shrine room.
...Maybe we should've come here a little earlier after all.
We should keep moving. Whatever's going on in there, we don't want to get involved.
Damn, that's pretty cold even for you.
You're... confused right now, Marta. Your heart is in the right place, but I stand by what I said earlier - we shouldn't get involved.
After we've purified the shrine, *then* we can intervene. But if we go in there now, the cultists are going to attack us, and we're going to have to kill them. And that's not what I came here for.
Very pragmatic and logical, but someone's clearly having a pretty bad time in there and if there's one thing we've found to be remarkably consistent about people regardless of factors like race and social background, it's that most of them tend to prefer their torture sessions on the shorter side if given the alternative.
I don't think that they will. Not with me here.
Fight or no fight, we're not about to just walk away from this one.
[Open the door.] I trust Marta. Whatever's happening in there, we need to stop it.
Boy we can't leave this place behind us soon enough. Alright Marta, guess it's your show.
[The tallest of the acolytes turns to you. When he sees Marta, his expression softens.]
Marta! Who are your... friends?
New recruits. I picked them up in Stuttgart.
[The acolyte looks nonplussed.]
Aren't they a little old? Harrow says that people get spoiled by the world when they grow to adulthood outside of Feuerstelle. He says that--
[His smile withers and dies.] Of... of course... I'm sorry, I didn't mean...
Of course you didn't. Think nothing of it, I took no offense.
[She gives him a reassuring smile, then shifts her gaze down to the bleeding man.]
"Protect", right. Clear case of self-defense, nothing to see here.
Seems like they took a quantity over quality approach which is probably where you'd still rather be when it comes to knife wounds. He'll probably be alright if we can get him out, so long as he avoids taking a dip in salt water for a bit.
Hey, Marta... didn't Harrow say something about wanting this outsider alive?
Yes. He did.
[She smiles sweetly at the nearest acolyte.]
Harrow has special plans for this one. We'll take him off of your hands.
[He nods eagerly.] Anything for you, Marta. You and Harrow. He's all yours.
That was pretty slick, ever considered a career in shadowrunning? Our team is as solid as one could hope in a fight, but the verbal side of things tends to fall to us awfully often and it was nice to watch someone else do most of the heavy lifting for once.
[Whisper.] It's all right. We're getting you out of here.
[She nods dumbly.] It... it was the right thing to do. So I did it.
[He limps a few steps forward, then looks back at Marta.]
I owe you my life, Fräulein. I owe you all.
[She nods again and offers him a weak smile.]
When they took me, they confiscated my gear. I saw them stash it behind a vent in the garage before they dragged me in here. I don't need it. It'd only slow me down.
I'll take it. Thanks.
Did a good deed, avoided having to kill anyone, and we even get a reward out of it. Not bad at all.
Before heading off to grab the stuff, we poke around the makeshift torture chamber a bit. We find nothing worth picking up, though they do have a nice tri-vid setup in here.
You were just a kid, and Harrow is a monster. You couldn't have stopped yourself.
It'd be nice to believe that. It really, really would.
[She turns away from the tri-vid player and stalks past you.]
Let's keep moving.
A short trip to the garage we discovered earlier and we quickly find the vent the park ranger was talking about.
As a pleasant surprise we don't find some handgun we'd just sell for a bit of cash we don't really need at this point, but rather a pile of high-quality medical supplies. Glory's carrying several Premium Medkits, but these are the first ones we've managed to get for ourselves and each is more or less a full heal thanks to our high Biotech. Very nice.
Alright door, last time you caught us by surprise, but this time we're prepared and boasting greater numbers to boot. Time to meet your carpenter.
...Somehow unsatisfying, in the end.
That seems to have done it.
I'm going to put a smear of this on your forehead. It's a sort of alchemical balm.
[Her voice goes quiet.]
Harrow taught me how to make it.
[Marta smiles.] I remember. What a day that was.
Orichalcum? What's that?
An alchemical alloy. It's inherently magical, hellishly difficult to make, and incredibly expensive. It's also the key ingredient in a lot of magical foci, and it's what makes this balm react the way that it does to astral energy.
Where did you even find a supplier for that?
The talismonger, Aljernon, hooked me up with a contact of his in the Trollkönigreich Schwarzwald.
The Trollkönigreich Schwarzwald or Black Forest Troll Kingdom (later to become a republic) is one of the recently established Allied German States primarily populated by orks and trolls. It has its roots in a major metahuman insurgence known as the Trollwars caused by the government's racial porgroms back in 2038.
It's also one of the so-called Awakened Lands, most of it being heavily forested and filled with all sorts of magical and awakened beings and phenomena.
His prices are high, but considering the rarity of the material, they're fair. Thankfully, I don't need that much of it to make the balm.
[She dips a metallic fingertip into the jar and begins to stir.]
The boundaries between the material world and the astral plane are weak here. This stuff acts sort of like a lens... it focuses your perceptions. Makes the haze real.
Sounds ominous. We've taken a peek into the astral a number of times recently and ended up regretting it more or less every one of those times, so we're not real big on the idea of making it any more real than it has to be.
[Glory applies a smear of ointment to her forehead. It looks like a glob of glittering white paint.]
Not the way I'd've put it, but yes. With this, we can deal with the spirit on its own level.
I've only done this with Harrow before. He warned me never to try it without him.
There are strange things in the place we're about to visit.
I'm sure that I've gone up against stranger.
The only reason you say that is because you were on the bench for the Sutterlin run. For all the weird and gross things we've seen in this place, it's definitely no Lightninghold.
Gotta say though, this part sounded a lot simpler back we were hashing out the plan about purifying this thing. Pictured more of a burning some magical incense sort of deal, a fancy ritual, something like that. But yeah okay, spiritual possession, that sounds undesirable.
Got it. What about Marta?
[She touches a finger to the amulet that hangs around her neck.]
I'll be fine. This will work just as well.
Dawdling around sure isn't going to get us the hell out of this place and back in Berlin any faster.
Ready as I'll ever be.
[Marta smiles. Her eyes glitter with anticipation.]
Let's go, then. Once we've purified the spirit, we can see about rescuing those kids. Harrow will get away, but we can worry about that later.
With all the terrible crap we've seen in this place it's more tempting than ever to make sure that bastard never lives to see another day, but it's not going to be at the expense of his current victims. Plus Marta probably wouldn't take it super well if we proposed to switch gears now.
That's the plan. Let's do it.
One last thing before we do this. I have reason to suspect that Harrow isn't the real power here anymore. I think that the spirit is.
[She lets loose a surprised giggle.] That's ridiculous. Harrow trapped the spirit, made it his plaything. It does what he tells it to do.
I don't think so... not anymore. I believe that when Harrow started using his shrine, he handed the spirit the keys to the kingdom. The bastard might think that he's still in charge here, but he isn't. He's a servant, just like everybody else. The only difference is that he doesn't know it.
What are you basing this on?
What we saw with the initiate, and the fridge.
[She jerks a thumb at Marta.]
Her general mindset, and what she said about the sacrifices. Lots of little things, but they add up.
Why does any of this even matter? I don't understand what you're saying.
That does make us feel a bit better about sticking to the less bloody path despite everything. Just goes to show, you never know what kind of major revelations poking around in people's gross fridges might eventually lead to. That or an exciting new disease or two.
Thanks. Now let's do this.
So this is that infamous shrine that has caused everyone so much trouble. It looks... well to be honest it looks pretty much exactly how one would imagine an evil shrine to look like. Got both the creepy animal skull and the jagged stone design, not to mention someone clearly having spent enough on candles to throw a reasonable family budget into complete disarray.
So er, you always get a personal greeting from this thing or
[Glory's eyes go wide. She opens her mouth to speak, but no sound escapes her.]