Part 34: Cleopatra Jones and the Rehash of Bad Faction ChoosingCleopatra Jones and the Rehash of Bad Faction Choosing
Last time we got a bunch of crap infodumped on us about a vaguely illegal settlement that has nothing to offer us and no one really knows it exists despite Disfavored and Scarlet Chorus forces being camped right outside it.
We're here because Sage Lexeme, Lantry's ex-girlfriend and fellow nerd who was never mentioned before, had some kind of text she wanted to show us.
A bunch of Bane escape this teleporter. It's super spooky!
I sure hope you didn't want to see anything related to these power struggles, water issues, or interrogate the locals! You will TAKE your infodump and you will like it!
I elect to put this off for a bit and explore the town.
We were told that part one of Lexeme's chronicle was down in the farm, so...
AAAGH! Look, I get what they're trying to do. The DLC - so far - is trying to explore the theme of factionalism from the perspective of the budding authoritarians who don't have the power of the empire behind them and are competing for real ultimate power. The problem is that it's just so clunkily handled, and we know that the game can do this better because it's reminiscent of the Ashe and Nerat struggles in Act 1.
In Act 1 we were under orders from our direct superior - Tunon, someone even the Archons fear - to get the stalled offensive moving again or Kyros kills everyone. Thus we have both professional and personal reasons to get involved, we have a history with both the Chorus and the Disfavored from the Conquest, and Ashe and Nerat have a vested interest in courting us to denounce the other to Tunon. They have something we want, they want something from us, and the game does a good job of setting up the history for each in a way that makes sense.
Here we have a settlement that can't even offer us a decent meal that doesn't smell like shit. I get that both factions want a Fatebinder to intervene on their side to legitimize their control of the Wound, but what are these guys going to offer us? Soldiers? The anarchist path is hilariously bad at pretending that the Disfavored or Chorus couldn't just...march back into Lethian's Crossing or wherever after we leave. Magic? Artifacts?
We literally have to make the choice based on the word of one guy, as far as I can tell. There's some supernatural mystery shit going on with Reef-Talon and the curse (we'll come back to this one) but we could seriously just turn around and leave and go back to our real fight, gaining control of the artifacts to build the myth of Cleopatra Jones, rightful heir of the Tiers. The only thing that could maybe help us with that is this chronicle Sage Lexeme promised, but does it really?
This is what we're looking for and it's the entire reason Lexeme decided to expose this secret settlement to a Fatebinder of Kyros - as I suspect the actual standing operating procedure is for us to report this to Tunon, who can tell Kyros so he can decide whether or not this place gets Edicted off the map.
You get no points for connecting the symbolism of pig shit and these writings.
: Now here's a subject close to my heart. Histories of the School of Ink and Quill! Who doesn't love a little autochronicle? Roll calls, minutes, graduation announcements, publication dates, and... letters? Oh my... I doubt Sages Corrun and Ostrek had any idea their correspondences would be immortalized for the records!
: I take it this brings back memories?
: Indeed! Some of these notes even have my name on them. Ah yes, here's my series on bird anatomy. I did that back in... 388?! Where have the years gone?
: Do those notes include the parts where you conspire to steal our magic?
: That seems more like Sage pillow talk than something they'd write down.
You know, for all the shit Eb gives Lantry about stealing Tidecaster magic, the first thing we had her do was turn over the Gravelight Sigil, which is the supposedly sacred sigil of the Tidecasters she was going to take to the grave. Eb is full of shit, and today we're going to see just how full of shit Eb really is.
: Thank you! We had to assume the Tidecasters might have spies. Come on now, we're running a bastion of magical hegemony, not some cult of sailors past their primes with magic and hand paints.
It behooves the reader to note that the Sages resisted till the end, required an Edict to break their fortress, and still fight the Overlord to this day while we trivially disposed of the Tidecasters in Conquest.
: So you knew Kyros was coming... how many years in the making is this School tradition of stashing texts throughout the Tiers?
: It was sort of an insult to suggest something was safer outside the Citadel than within it until... the first fall of Vendrien's Well? Back in 429?
: I'm suspicious of everything we find in this place. Take a closer look.
: How can I say no to that order? With a smug grin, the old Sage dives into the texts.
: Several minutes pass as Lantry pores over the pages.
: Anything seem incorrect?
: Anyone you know very well?
: [Let him keep reading]
If there's anyone who's going to find anything out of the ordinary, it's Lantry. He lived at the School, we did not.
: A relaxed smile sets across his face as Lantry exhales, wiping his sepia-stained hand against his cheek.
: Find something?
: Well there's a passage here that... isn't quite correct. See for yourself.
If this argument sounds familiar it's because we trotted it out against Arri at the climax of Act 1 when we pointed out they all used Kyros' currency - the ring - anyway. Lantry even jumped in to back us up!
: Is this describing a real event?
: It's uh... yes but... not exactly as I recall it though... I have written a lot of ink on myself.
: It was 425, and Sage Cavel was giving a lecture series - having recently returned from his expedition to observe the Forge-Bound and their ways. At one point, he discussed their teaching methods, so the Riddle of Rings came up as part of his lecture.
Remember, we found the document in the Vellum Citadel that the Sages were used as go-betweens for the Chorus and Disfavored. There was a lot of collaborating with Kyros before the war.
: At the time, I joked that the real 'Riddle of Rings' is 'aren't we already conquered?' and I launched into a not-entirely sober diatribe about Kyros' inevitable invasion and dominion.
: [Remain silent.]
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Hey, it's the lost chronicle, hidden in totally not symbolic pig shit!
: Can you take a look? This seems like bullshit.
: Hmmm....looks like it's been edited to show that the Sages supported my desire to surrender to Kyros, when they actually told me to shut the fuck up. Well, that's enough for today, this is disturbing.
This sheds a bit more light on what's going on. Sage Lexeme wanted us to see this pro-Kyros history, but we're still not sure what she expected in return or why exactly we're supposed to care about this. If we've seen anything of the Kyrosian regime, it's that it is perfectly happy to throw away useful assets in the name of maintaining control. The Sages are either fighting the regime right now or drafted into the Blood Chanters. If she's trying to get leverage to allow the settlement to survive, it's not going to work - settling in the Oldwalls is explicitly forbidden to the point Tunon will not allow Fatebinders there, and even Archons like Bleden Mark face consequences for going into the Oldwalls. Part of our job as Fatebinder is to maintain Kyros' false histories, we even have a talent called "Arbiter of Knowledge" for Kyros' sake! Tunon is perfectly capable of declaring certain knowledge forbidden all on his lonesome without this false history of the Sages.
There are more parts to find, so we will see where this goes.
Anyway, I've put off Wagstaff chat long enough. Technically you can advance by talking to either, but Wagstaff has a bunch of unique dialog with Eb and Jaspos is a generic fuckoff.
RPG writers: please stop doing this.
: Of all the shriveled barnacles to find... you?!
: [Step back, let them talk.]
: They fought the good fight, but fell to Cairn at the Well. In defeat, they were fed to the Voices of Nerat. I am all that's left. How about you? How'd you slither your way here?
: [Remain silent.]
: This one? She's with Kyros... it's sort of a long story. More importantly, what are you doing here? Not sure if my emphasis is on you or here...
You know what the funny thing is? From a resistance to Kyros standpoint, Wagstaff is doing a hell of a lot more than Eb is. Even Hagrivar is fighting Nerat from the inside, based on Nerat's trouble controlling him at the war council.
: [Remain silent.]
Sometimes you just gotta let people incriminate themselves.
Last Update posted:
: There's running water! If you don't mind a Bane attack now and again, this isn't the dumbest place to hide.
: Need me to give you two a moment?
: A moment? Hardly. I can't think of the last time Wagstaff has kept up his... banter, for more than a minute or two.
: [Remain silent.]
: [Remain silent.]
Oh, yes, I suppose we do have to render judgement, don't we?
: I assume someone pointed you towards me to speak for the settlement. If there are matters to discuss, then so be it. I may not like it, but I do lead these people... frankly, only because nobody else can. That stone-straddling fool, Jaspos, will talk himself into believing he's up to the task, but don't believe his bluster for a moment.
Note that no one besides us is on Wagstaff's little dick slapping island.
Moment of truth! We can, as far as I can tell, actually slaughter all the denizens of the settlement, but why? We don't even believe in Kyros' law anymore - as we realized in our last Oldwalls excursion, it's a sham, and the only believer is poor Tunon who has deluded himself that he is doing something good.
: For now, this settlement may continue to operate independently.
Shhh! Sirin! Not so loud! There are informers everywhere!
The moment is ruined by over-explaining what is clearly conveyed by dialogue.
Specifically, these guys got the one Fatebinder who's past giving a shit about the laws' intent. Now, Cleopatra is not special in this regard - Calio is chafing at the reins something fierce, and I'm certain that if she'd been sent in with the Edict of Execution she'd be pulling the same crap we are.
Contrast this rather polite speech with what Eb just showed us - a man yelling about going into brothels to slap the dick out of her mouth. We expect Eb to be rude and crude, we don't expect our leaders to be so easily baited.
: Let me guess... you need my help?
: Depends on what you have in mind.
: There's an old rival of mine still out there, a Sage named Phoibe. He twists the rope on the end of his belt, grimacing. Yes, we're from rival schools, no, this isn't just a case of an unsettled score. I'd live and let live, but... she poses an actual threat to the Wound. She had knowledge of my plans to journey north to trace Cairn's path in these mountains, which may expose us.
: She could bring a slew of homeless Sages here - probably followed by a gaggle of spies. It's not worth the risk. She needs to die . His tone is matter-of-fact, almost casual. The problem is finding her. We had a mutual contact, Melitta, who used to spend this time of the year in Lethian's Crossing. If the two are still in touch, she'll be able to point you in the right direction.
This is all an act. We know this for two reasons - Mell described Wagstaff as lacking charisma, and Eb was able to get Wagstaff to show his true vulgar self.
: How do you know her?
Wagstaff slips up here. Remember, the official pretext is that the Sages will expose the Wound and bring spies with them...but like Eb, he can't hold back his hatred of the Sages and briefly slips back into his vulgar self.
: Is this Sage really such a threat?
You know, when you talk about women the way you talked about Eb it's no wonder they hate you. You're an asshole.
: I'm not going to kill someone before they've actually done anything.
: Not interested in doing your dirty work, sorry.
: [Leave] I've heard enough. That'll be all for now.
: I see. Well you know what it is I require, should you decide you wish to help us.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Oh fuck, not this asshole!
: Oh shit, are you the only survivor? Fuck! Fuck!
: Yup, the others all got killed! How'd you slither away!
: It wasn't slithering, it was, uh, crawling, yea! What are you doing with this trash?
: Keep digging your grave you little shit.
: I surrendered to Kyros like a bitch. What are you doing, coward?
: I fucking hid from the invincible conqueror who rules the entire world. Duh!
: So you're, what, restarting civilization from the ashes?
: No, people followed me here because I'm cool. I don't judge you for spreading the clap across the land like it was fertilizer, don't judge me!
: So should I leave you two to your romantic moment or...
: No, he can't keep his dick up!
: Cuz I saw your fuckin face, bitch! What about your husband, is he still fucking you in the ass?
: He died fighting Kyros, but what about you? I assume you're here to find new apprentices and fuck them. There's no quid pro quo harassment statutes in the Bronze Age!
: YES! SEXUAL HARASSMENT! But also, we've got a good thing going that that rude Fatebinder might ruin! Fatebinder, are you going to kill everyone?
: Ehhh, naaaah.
: I'm glad we don't hold these people to standards we don't even follow!
: Now that I have your attention, can you track down and kill this Sage lady? She's gonna bring all the illegal sage immigrants and drug car -, er, Kyrosian spies! This is totally not personal!
: FUCK THAT MAGIC STEALING HO!
: Yeah, uh, I'm out, bye!
: If you kill that skank I'll reward you!
Neither Eb, nor Wagstaff, nor sadly the Tidecasters come off very well here. If you bring Eb Wagstaff shows his true colors as a creepy Harvey Weinstein wannabe, if you don't he affects his vaguely professional mannerisms. Both Eb and Wagstaff casually refer to fucking apprentices which makes me suspect that the Tidecasters created what we would call a hostile work environment, and Eb referring so casually to fucking all these apprentices despite being a married woman and a mother doesn't reflect well on her.
Cleo levels offscreen at least.
Anyway, now that we've promised Wagstaff we're not slaughtering the Wound's denizens the merchants will sell to us.
They have some unique artifacts and some sigils.
Anyway, we were told that Jaspos is the other leader and maybe his quest is more palatable. We can talk to his apprentice and see what kind of man Jaspos is.
: How has apprenticing for Jaspos been?
: Difficult. Don't mistake me - I pledged to follow him, and my loyalty doesn't waver, but I damn well wish we just returned to the North as planned. Instead, I'm stuck inside these Oldwalls, surrounded by Bane and branded a traitor in Kyros' eyes. He scrapes a worn knife against a whetstone dangling from his belt.
: Jaspos didn't like my interest in leather working. I think he saw it as an insult to his craft. If I favored it so much, I should have sought apprenticeship with the Master of Tanning, right? Well, consider that ANOTHER thing I planned to do had we returned North.
: [Leave] I'll talk to you later.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Not that I'm disloyal to Jaspos or anything, but he's a fucking asshole who dragged me into this after constantly bitching about my leatherworking skills. Now I'm considered a traitor! It sucks, but he's stopped ragging on me after taking all the credit for my work feeding and clothing people.
So far I think Eldian is still the closest to a competent leader in Tyranny land.
: Ah, Fatebinder! That explains the ruckus. His voice is deep, a confident baritone that easily carries through the open air. Forgive my rudeness - masters of the craft rarely break focus if we can help it. Old habit. He smiles broadly, motioning you to come forward. Your arrival is unexpected, but my Forge is always open to servants of the Court.
In my experience, people who are actually good at a craft rarely describe themselves as masters, but we'll get to that in a second.
: Word has spread throughout the Wound. They say the Fatebinder will permit us to live. I am sorry you had to... experience Wagstaff - if you had spoken to me, we could have settled things without his insults and tantrums but I am glad an amicable decision was reached all the same.
We own a forge, dude.
: You may ask, but I make no promises.
You should note that despite Jaspos being a Forge-Bound master, that hammer and ingot icon is NOT the faction icon for the Forge-Bound.
Earlier in the game posted:
Jaspos is supposed to come across as a suave liar here - but he is a liar. Keep this in mind.
: We don't have the luxury of trading with the topside - it could attract the wrong kinds of attention. Instead, we craft what we need. In my case, I can make a wide variety of tools, but I can't make everything. When we were building the forges of Lethian's Crossing, I had access to some of the finest chisels, tappers, and abrasives... I carried only my travel kit with me when I found myself here in the Wound. I've been able to craft a few replacements, but to my chagrin, I haven't recaptured the craftsmanship.
This is another subtle hint that maybe Jaspos isn't nearly as good as he proclaims himself to be.
Knapping is the process of creating stone tools. I think he's putting one over on us guys.
: I will speak with Lohara.
: I'm sure this will be a simple matter for you, Fatebinder. Thank you for your assistance.
: What do you know about Reef-Talon?
: He holds a bowl of crushed rock aloft, squinting to examine its contents as he speaks. So you've heard. It's unfortunate what happened to her. Reef-Talon arrived a year after I did. Massive creature, one of the largest beasts I've ever seen. She never spoke of her past much, but we knew she was in flight when she stumbled upon the Wound with her cubs. He pulls a fragment out of the bowl, running it slowly between his fingers.
Interesting. She's not killing them, she's devouring them, and she has a curse that drives men mad. We'll get to what this implies if we actually run into Reef-Talon and the bugs don't eat our game.
: [Lore 48] That is no ordinary magic. How did she do this?
Pay close attention to Jaspos' dialog here. He is desperately trying to convey that he's a master - we masters don't break focus, his work is "meticulous perfection" (don't think too hard about his inability to create tools despite being a self-proclaimed "master toolmaker"), and he's making a big deal of trying to performatively work while talking to us. We've met at least two Forge-Bound masters, Lohara and Zdenya, and neither one of them bothered trying to convince us that they were masters - they just shut up and walked the walk.
Right now he's performative casting away the chips - but we're not a smith. We have no idea what this means. It's the equivalent of showing up to a job interview and spewing buzzwords because you're being interviewed by HR and not someone in your field. I hate people who do that.
: Even worse, those bestowed with magic slowly lose their gifts. He looks toward the Forge, a pained expression visible on his face.. Now they're just known as the Sleepless. All of their life and vitality robbed and spent. A terrible end, Fatebinder. Reef-Talon couldn't face her mistakes and she fled into the Oldwalls like a coward.
Again, this is all performative nonsense - Reef-Talon is the other, an untrustworthy beastwoman. Jaspos is a skilled and hard worker who heroically single-handedly keeps the place running. Tonves? Who? Praise Jaspos!
: [Leave] Farewell.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: Greetings, Fatebinder! I hope I don't seem rude, I have to work so hard for everyone in the Wound! I'm glad you spared everyone, but you should have come to me instead of that poopy man Wagstaff!
: Anyway, I have something I need to ask for, for the good of the Wound, of course. You see, I am a master toolmaker, but I fear I am missing the fine tools, and despite being a master toolmaker I can't remake these tools. Did I mention I'm a master toolmaker? Look, I'm working hard! Please go ask Lohara for my tools back. Isn't this a reasonable request? We can help you out, Fatebinder.
: Can you tell me about Reef-Talon?
: She appeared a year after I did, cubs in tow. She was a natural leader with of Beastmen, but also a marvelous healer - yet her touch drove men mad! Unlike me, a master wizard and smith, she acted on crude instinct! We're better off without her! She could take away valuable gifts, like mine! Then she fled into the Oldwalls like a coward! UNLIKE ME, A REAL LEADER AND HARD WORKER WHO WILL NEVER ABANDON MY PEOPLE! LET'S HEAR IT FOR MEEEEEE!
So now we have a pretty good idea of what's going on. We've got miniature versions of Graven Ashe and Nerat - the parallels aren't complete by any means, but they're both heading up factions that control something needed for the Wound's survival, and they're both threatened by Reef-Talon. Reef-Talon is noteworthy for a lot of reasons - she's the first Beastwoman we've seen actually leading humans (even Kills-in-Shadow serves us), she's "devouring" the Bane, she has mysterious magical powers that have a mental element. So far it seems clear that Reef-Talon is exploring the themes of new knowledge and innovation caused by exposure to new ideas. The Wound is clearly under threat from the Bane, and we know from the rest of the game the Bane represent unknown circumstances outside the control of Kyros - and thus Reef-Talon's leadership role is extremely outside of the experiences of anyone in the setting, especially with a mixed population of equal humans and beasts. Eb is proud of how the Tiers supposedly treat the Beastmen well by...making them slave in wheat fields, and here we have a Beastwoman leading an entire settlement. Is it any wonder the humans are going insane after being healed? Reef-Talon's reign is a metaphor for implementing new ideas and running into unseen consequences, much like the Articles of Confederation implementing a weak central government and said government collapsing, or the French Revolution turning into a reign of terror. Ironically, by trying to abdicate to spare others the consequences of her leadership, Reef-Talon is proving herself the best leader out of all these idiots by actually trying to act in their best interest instead of looking for adulation or sex.
The problem is that Cleopatra still has no actual reason to care about any of this shit. I suppose we're supposed to care about Reef-Talon's powers...except the smart thing to do is to stay the hell away, because if we lose our magic Nerat impales us on a spike. None of these assholes can actually help us in our power struggle for the Kyrosian empire, and even thematically this is just Ashe vs Nerat vs the Slightly Better Rebels. Reef-Talon seems genuine, but we still haven't met her and there's no reason to assume she'd use her powers on our behalf. I guess we could look for the singing in the walls Sirin was curious about, but she hasn't really mentioned it much. Oh well. We're here, I guess.
We run into this lady near the cutscene Bane teleporter.
: Are the Bane constantly showing up like that?
: Welcome to our headache. The way the Bane come and go, you'd think the teleporters were beaded curtains.
: What's through that portal?
: How'd you get that name?
: Funny story, that. She frowns. There's a piece of advice they should give every new Chorus conscript, but don't.
: What do you do here, exactly?
: Whatever Wagstaff wants. Guess you can call me an apprentice. I can read, which is more than most can say.
Considering what we know of Wagstaff's creepy ways I think we are going to not inquire further.
: He's teaching you our ways? I'm sorry you have a fool for a teacher, but you have been given a great honor... do not squander it.
: So the blue is to honor Wagstaff?
: Exactly. Fucker iced half my gang with his spells, so now I fight for him. Those are the rules.
Unfortunately, those rules don't seem to apply to us, considering the sheer number of Chorus we've burned down.
: [Leave] I'll be going now.
TheGreatEvilKing summary posted:
: You here to fight the Bane?
: I take it Bane attacks are common?
: Yup. All day everyday, but the Beasts help out a lot.
: What's through the portal?
: Oldwalls. We haven't mapped it or anything.
: How'd you get the name?
: Ha ha! You asked the Voices for a name, didn't you! What a maroon!
: At least it wasn't something awful, like Ms Poopy Butthole or TheGreatEvilKing.
: What do you do around here?
: Whatever Wagstaff wants, and I'll leave the implication up to the reader. He's teaching me magic, though.
: He's a dumbass, but that's a great honor.
I'm not really sure if we're supposed to infer that Wagstaff is Harvey Weinsteining this lady or not. That is the impression I get from he and Eb talking about fucking apprentices, but he's a creepy piece of shit. You should join Cleo instead, we don't require you to have sex with anyone and we can teach you way more than just Tidecaster magic. Oh well, something tells me adding a new party member was beyond the scope of this DLC.
This merchant has the good shit. This is the strongest strength sigil in the game and was added by the DLC. Naturally, we buy it off him.
It's so strong, in fact, we can't really make reliable use of it. Oh well, next chance we get I'm hiring that respec fatebinder guy and dumping all our mage's weapons skills into Lore.
Decisions Lie Before Us!
Unfortunately, the DLC is designed so that we can't just fuck off into the teleporter and go look for Lexeme, Reef-Talon, and whoever else. We need to do one of these asshole's quests, and THEN we can talk to Mell about helping Reef-Talon instead of siding with these two idiots. Thus, we have two votes:
Are we doing the quest for Wagstaff or Jaspos?, and are we killing the target?
Do we betray our chosen leader for Reef-Talon?