Chapter 061: Much Needed Rest
Saying that the tribune commanding the expedition was pissed off would be the understatement of the century. He lost an entire group, another one was massacred to the point when it no longer qualified as combat ready, and then his reserve group got absolutely wasted. Not to mention that his precious platinum badge lost both his feet and his pet warmachine.
At least I was out of the lecture, due to being the person that actually saved Melvar’s life. Even without feet he could still fight after he recuperates. There are even high level alchemical treatments that can regrow them if he has enough money (and time, since you need weeks or months for them to work).
Both mine (I was unofficially promoted to group commander due to our witch-hunter commander dying in combat and me saving the day) and Melvar’s group ended up fused to serve as temporary reserves, while the tribune quickly paid some local adventurers for replacing us in the field.
All I remembered was trembling behind cover and then having a single good idea, so I didn’t exactly agree with the tribune. Neither in that, nor in the idea to recruit locals that we were supposed to investigate for cult participation. Hell, if I were a Pentagram worshipping heresiarch preparing a cult for an uprise, infiltrating local adventurers would be the very first thing I’d do.
Is he trying to get some results in our mission before informing the Council about the massacre? They certainly won’t be pleased by someone losing about 30 adventurers, having fifteen more wounded and a platinum badge losing his feet. And according to the Crimson Blades network another group got kinda wasted by Hand of Freedom cultists, losing five more people and having ten more wounded.
In the Imperium he would’ve probably been visited by an inspector (or an undercover member of Raven Brotherhood, Imperium’s secret police). If he was proven to be incompetent, he’d be demoted, forced to pay a hefty fine, and maybe even sent to prison if he broke any laws. Here?
Well, if he screws up EVERYTHING like that and won’t even produce any results, he is in for a lot of trouble. The Masked Council might even just have someone strangle him to death to make an example.
Ugh. I guess the tribune’s attempt to cover his own incompetence was understandable. Though it’s hard to call it incompetence, really - it wasn’t his fault that an enemy completely outside of context showed up. If he knew of the Glitch presence in the area and then the massacre occurred it would certainly be his fault, but he obviously had no idea. If anything, I felt sorry for him.
Looks like we were going to spend next week at least in a manor full of wounded people. With the few that weren’t wounded remaining in a state of perpetual dislike for each other. What remained of Lybaer’s party had nothing but pure, unadulterated hatred towards Vasyr.
I hated to say that, but… it wasn’t Vasyr’s fault. He was a dick, but hiding the truth about Glitches made sense. I mean, what if that was some sort of weird event made by Robinson? What if Players were merely temporarily blocked somewhere, as a part of giving us that sweet tension and fear? In that scenario, the last thing the Crimson Blades might have wanted was causing panic. Panic that could make their Players act weirder and weirder (like refusing to leave the city) probably bringing them witch-hunters attention.
I wasn’t exactly sure how would they react to a large group of people claiming to come from another world while having supernatural skills on the level of guaranteed resurrection. Would they ignore us? Consider us the newest gambit in the Great Game? Start vivisecting us to discover the source of our resurrection?
That I hadn’t concealed the truth was mostly caused by the fact that my community was rather tight-knitted. I wasn’t egotistic enough to automatically believe that I’d divulge the truth if I ran a community composed of hundreds of Players and had to do that in the open. The ‘I think of myself as a person of higher moral standing’ wasn’t much of an argument. More like wishful thinking.
At the manor.
It was hell.
It is hell for most of the time, but it got even worse now. Day after day. In a manor. With people that did nothing but hate each other. There was no open fighting, but the perpetual disdain between Lybaer and Vasyr ruined the atmosphere.
Vasyr. I hate him. He’s like Varangian. He might act like a human, but inside? Monsters. All of them. People like them shouldn’t exist at all.
Well, we’re working on it. Hopefully we succeed.
No wonder I support Lybaer, even if not openly. Avhar and his playing politics. Vasyr wanted to hide the knowledge, probably to use it for his own gain, and then it blew up in his face, killing a lot of people that didn’t have to die.
They are all the same.
Sometimes I even hate Avhar. At this point, I hate anybody with power over me. They all have Radakar’s face when I look at them.
Toothy noticed me going dark again and came closer, babbling something. I hugged him. Somehow… somehow he always feels when I start giving into the darker side and comes to cheer me up. Is that a part of this familiar business?
Well, the other’s didn’t get such a lovely familiar as I, so that might be the reason why they rarely summon them. Toothy is with me as often as it’s possible.
Isn’t he just adorable?
The rest were busy playing cards. I excused myself. It wasn’t that much fun for me. Sure, earning additional money was always nice, but… it got boring after a while.
Avhar noticed me standing there and seemed to came to an idea.
“Lena, now that I think about it, I think we need to resupply.” So, it’s another supply run for me? “Get the list and money from Layla and go to the village.”
Layla was our new witch-hunter overseer. Avhar seemed to know her from somewhere, but refused to elaborate. Witch-hunters. I hated them. They were a symbol of everything that was wrong in these disgusting city.
“Yes, master.” I hated this word. That I couldn’t avoid it and Avhar didn’t look very happy about me using it helped, but only a bit. Why was Simea the only person that got conveniently miracled out of her predicament? I don’t want to be a blood elf anymore. I hate it.
I volunteered a few times to get on the ‘supply runs’, because the trip to the village seemed a better alternative than staying in the manor. At least there was less hatred there. Villagers disliked us (as puppets of Ambryxis and people that ate off the much needed supplies, even if we paid for it), but at least there was less hatred.
Witch-hunters brought us enough money to pay generously for the food. According to Avhar, to avoid people getting too pissed off and selling us to the Hand. It was a good idea to dull the ‘THEY EAT THE FOOD WE LEFT FOR THE WINTER!’ with ‘Yes, but they pay us enough to buy it back from the merchant and still have some left.’ ”
Normally we would send several people, especially after the massacre, but nobody reported any contact with Glitches - or even the Hand - in the region, and the village started maybe two hundred meters away from the manor. And with the inventory I could fit everything on myself.
I’m not sure if I would try this trip alone after the nightfall, since something was obviously stalking the area. At least judging from the noises coming at night from the outside, the case of something massacring a traveller two weeks ago, plus a lot of mutilated animals found here and there.
But, according to Avhar, it was pretty normal in this world. Locals already consulted wild daemons (that told them that the thing wasn’t a threat to neither the village nor the manor), so they waited for it to pass. Or, if it actually killed someone native to the place, they would probably muster some money and pay adventurers to deal with it.
Just another day in this world. Sad, really.
Everything went pretty well. I even managed to buy some weird type of oat cookies that Vasyr seemed to love (I spat on them after leaving the hamlet). MASTER WILL BE PLEAS…
GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD.
I hate when this shit happens. I hatehatehatehatehatehate.
There was Lybaer standing beside a tree right before the manor. It was inside the guardian spirit’s sphere of influence, so there was much less snow than everywhere. Something about the tree being planted atop some family member grave which then caused said influence to expand and bullshit like that.
“Smoking again?” I commented when I got closer. “Not very healthy, you know.”
My mother died of lung cancer, so I knew that firsthand. He tried to do that inside, but Vasyr got the new witch-hunter to kick him outside because ‘he didn’t like the smell’. To me, they barely had any smell, so it was mostly Vasyr capitalizing on Layla’s obvious lack of experience in running an operation like that.
“I don’t think there are smoke-related diseases in this world, and if they are, I’m almost guaranteed to die from other causes much earlier.” Oh, yes. The pessimism. was pretty common amongst the parties that participated in the Stone Run Massacre (as people started calling it). NPCs seemed to cope with it the best, but Players from our party (or those that already knew about Glitches, like Vasyr) were a close second. The rest… weren’t in the best state.
For me, it still felt surreal. But, when compared to spending the rest of the life in the hands of Radakar - or any person as my ‘master’ that wasn’t Avhar or some similar person - death just… didn’t feel so terrible anymore.
“You are… the girl with the pet shadowlurker. From Avhar’s group, right?” I nodded. “What’s he like?”
Hmm. I smell something important happening. Why would he ask me, of all people? Is he interested in Avhar?
“He is…” MY MASTE… PISS OFF “...a decent person. Leads us well. Though he knows too much about the world and seems to do as little as he has do. But thankfully to him, he has both a sister and a wife to kick him in the ass if he lazes around too much.”
“You can know too much about the world?” He looked at me weirdly.
“Spend two weeks in the wilds with Avhar and you’ll agree with me.” I haven’t betrayed any ‘classified informations’, right?
“I see.” He remained silent for a while, still smoking the local equivalent of a cigarette. I was about to consider the talk finished and enter the manor when he finally spoke. “I actually wanted to know what side are you on.”
“Side?” MAS… Avhar is probably rather fine with me getting additional information… as long as I don’t give any in return. I know that much.
I got a rather lengthy answer. There were two factions among Ambryxis’ Players. Liberals, who thought that NPCs are equally ‘human’ as we and that this world was true. Extremists, that considered NPCs toys and thought that this was still a game gone horribly wrong.
Plus it was an even worse mess, because there were people that believed it to be a game, but being against going too far with the locals, and those that believed this world to be truth but not giving a fuck about locals.
Hmph. The only thing that really interested me in that was the approach on the matter among the Players living outside this place. I already understood that most of the people here were trash. Utter, and most likely irredeemable, trash.
“He still has doubts about this world, but I guess he is leaning towards the Liberals.” Heh. The word ‘liberal’ wasn’t something I associated him with, even if he at least tried to not be too loud about that. “The others vary, but mostly agree with him. And you?”
“Liberal, as well.” He was busy smoking for a while. I don’t remember him being so much into sudden silence like that before the Stone Run Massacre, so I guess it’s an aftermath of it. “We joined the Blades only to get companions. It isn’t easy to be a lone adventurer party. Especially in the Dragonspine Mountains.” That’s something we agree on. “Now I guess I’ll need to search for a new allegiance, especially since my party has two members left, and the guildmaster…”
He didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t have to. I understood him. Hmm. Potential recruit? I should tell Avhar, leave it for him to decide. I didn’t feel competent to make such decisions.
Let’s stay here and talk some more.
Few days later, in the manor.
“Don’t you think that Lena’s been spending a lot of time with Lybaer?” Simea seemed almost awfully curious about that. Sigh.
We were in our room (perks of being a party leader) in the manor. We sat beside each other on the bed, reading books. But, it seems, Simea can’t focus on doing that.
“It wouldn’t be the first case of a girl ‘comforting’ a man into a relationship. But I think you’re overthinking it.” If anything, they’re probably united in their hatred of Vasyr. No idea why, but I think that Lena hates him more than any of us thought.
Besides, I’m well aware why exactly she’s spending time with him, since she explicitly told me. Getting new members (after making sure that Lybaer in secret isn’t a Vasyr Lite) was always nice. Especially since we could use some insight into the liberals.
I didn’t even know they existed. I was left totally unaware of the division amongst the city Players. There were no mentions about that on the Nexuspedia. Was it because it was… well… a high tech wikipedia with some talking space? Or maybe there were rules against mentioning political things like that, ones that I wasn’t let into?
Ugh. Maybe this isn’t the only community ran by the Blades? That would explain a bit. Did Vasyr outwit me there? If yes, then getting access to the inner community of the Blades, even if Lybaer was then going to leave the Blades… even for a while… it might mean a lot.
I should probably stop treating Vasyr with nothing but disdain. I’m beginning to think he might be smarter than we all give him credit for. Why does such a person just have to be on the dark side?
The point was, I shouldn’t tell anyone about my newest scheme. Lena and me knowing the truth was enough. I couldn’t think of a way through which Simea and the others knowing about Lena’s mission to get closer to Lybaer could somehow sabotage the plan, but… I wasn’t going to take any chances.
Especially with Vasyr AND witch-hunters around. Even if said witch-hunter - Layla Makarran, coincidentally the technician that operated the lie detector when I was interrogated by the witch-hunters, so she knew I was a Chosen One - acted as if she considered me some sort of Superior Being.
The only way of me making her refuse something I said was to order her to defecate on an altar of one of the Gods. Or tell her to go kill herself. Telling her to go fuck herself might have been misunderstood (especially when coming from a Chosen One of Deviation) so let’s hope I won’t have to say that.
At least she understood I wanted the truth about me to remain secret. So she acted normal when in public. Damn, is she a Deviation worshipper? Would’ve explained her… servility, that she showed whenever I wanted something from her.
I’m still going to tell my party members the truth the second I’ll be sure that the plan either succeeded or failed. Even if it makes them upset with me for withdrawing important details from them.
“I’m not so sure about that, it looks… quite serious.” Simea said, interrupting my thoughts.
... Lena didn’t fall in love with him or something, right? It would be troublesome. I could order her to keep it professional or to not divulge any sensitive information or just ensure her loyalty to me, but that would be a great first step on the slippery slope towards damnation.
You don’t fight evil by becoming evil. The only major disagreement I had with khardism, to be honest. I understand the intentions and I know they make the world a bit better, but… not my type of religion.
First you make sure your ‘slave’ doesn’t betray you like that, and a few months or years later the Hall of Penance and Redemption starts looking like an asset, instead of a nightmare fuel. Absolutely nope.
Besides, we are on the bright side. If anything I know about the religious part of the Great Game is still valid, dilemmas like that might have been one of the uncounted little tests that every mortal is subjected to during his life, even without knowing.
Especially without knowing. If you are sure this is a test and act good expecting reward… well, you are probably acting right into the hands of the dark side.
Besides, being on the ‘right’ side, even against overwhelming odds, often ended up being rewarded even in life. Like refusing to cause an avalanche to bury an enemy army together with some civilians ending up with said army suddenly breaking due to infighting, retreating due to being scared of the possibility of an avalanche, or an avalanche happening on its own but in the way that actually didn’t reach the civilians.
‘Strokes of luck’, my ass.
“I’m seriously beginning to think about kicking you right where it hurts.” Simea pulled me back from the deeper parts of my brain.
Do I even want to imagine what does she meant by ‘right where it hurts’? Especially with the cases of females pulling a groin attacks on enemies (especially casters) every week or so?
“Sorry, sorry. I kinda fell into overthinking things.” I didn’t say ‘again’, but I could obviously see that this was she thought. Are we already on the relationship level of the unconscious telepathy? “I’ll look after Lena, just in case something weird happens. You don’t have to worry about that.”
“Yeah, right. I’m stop worrying. Like that could happen simply because someone told me not to worry.” Yeah, I understand that. Much more than I’d like t…
Some knocked on the door. My eyes met Simea’s and the titanic battle of willpower began. Unfortunately, I lost.
“Okay, okay, I’ll go.” Sigh. I’m approaching the level when I could describe myself as a hen-pecked person, ugh. At least, I think. It’s kinda complicated.
It was Layla.
“I didn’t interrupt you, did I?” I shook my head. “We have a job.”
One of the other groups managed to pin down a minor base of operations for the Hand. This - combined with brutal interrogations of the few unfortunate prisoners - gave the tribune some insight about the exact scale of the Hand’s control over the area.
The situation was bad.
We came expecting the typical sweep targeted at an organization busy sacrificing people and/or summoning minor daemons. Pretty much a bit bigger satanic sect from Earth, only with scientifically verifiable supernatural powers.
Instead, we came here in the day before an armed rebellion.
Hand of Freedom warriors were counted in hundreds… and were about equal in terms of skills with silver badge adventurers. Their elites were supposed to face gold badges. Not to mention having a lot of sorcerer-priests. The leadership was made of at least several platinum badge equivalents…
...and they were supposed to be led by an archmagician, but nobody really saw him or her.
Oh, and for an additional level of suckiness, they had access to some insanely good backer, at least judging from the amount of money and quality of equipment they used. Prisoners also mentioned something about “The Great Summoning” that was supposed to occur quite soon, after which the cult was going to begin its armed uprise.
Vanvyra was bound to fall in the first ten seconds of it, at least due to its leadership already being infiltrated. It wasn’t a part of the cult, but half of it was on the payroll of the Prophet/ess, the Hand’s mysterious leader.
They had no idea of how widespread the cult was, and were just using it for schemes and assassinations. It didn’t matter if the cultists worshipped some Good-natured God or Pentagram - the Hand probably already had prepared lists of people to execute right after taking over, with most local elites on them.
Heck, it might have even been Shadow, despite being from Black Pantheon she/he had a major freedom fetish and absolutely loved causing and supporting revolutions.
On one hand, it sounded ridiculous. Few hundred combatants, even with an archmagician? Their ‘revolution’ was going to last about as long as it takes for the Ambryxis to send Black Hand, a few thousands soldiers and a thousand or so adventurers on emergency contracts to squash it.
Although they looked almost awfully competent. Plus “The Great Summoning” sounded about as ominous as it could get. Are these people preparing to summon something powerful? Something strong enough to cause troubles for Ambryxis?
I’d totally keep my fingers crossed for them, if not for the chance that the Prophet might be serving Pentagram. If he is going to summon some top-tier servile daemons of Pentagram, like a Transcendent Terror, Abyssal Lord or Annihilator, we are all going to miss Ambryxis.
Unless we manage to pull Yhrezerach (our resident friendly First Shard of Zealotry) from his hole, but even then, a battle between demigods is going to kinda level everything in the area. Probably including the mountains.
Alright, calm down. There is no way a demigod about to get summoned. Judging from the size of the cult, even despite preparations and being competent, they could at best muster an archdaemon. I haven’t heard about successful demigod summoning without having a batallion of archmagicians and the magical resources of a major country.
It’s still going to be a major pain.
While the tribune sends an urgent call for reinforcements, the forces already on site are supposed to cause maximum possible disruptions in the Hand of Freedom’s plan. Namely, raid several detected centers of operations of the cult, and pray that it will throw a wrench in The Great Summoning and the revolt plans.
There was one of them in the area. While we were still recuperating from the Stone Run Massacre, the situation was too urgent for us to laze around (at least in the tribune’s opinion) and we were supposed to raid the place.
The place in question, according to the local Adventurer’s Guild archive, was a ruined castle built in the almost picturesque valley up in the mountains. Great defensible position, though it was also supposed to guard the mine that was started nearby and make sure that nothing comes down from the mountains.
There was a pretty mean area to the northwest of the Stone Throne (as the castle was called). ‘Pretty mean’ as in ‘locals avoid the place due to rampant disappearances, cases of insanity amongst visitors, and various supernatural phenomena’.
In short - a magical anomaly. Or at least a place aetherwarped to the point of becoming dangerous. Those half-formed anomalies were often worse than normal anomalies, as you at least knew what to expect in them.
Stone Throne unfortunately fell. The whole area worked quite well for years, before something happened twenty years ago. People living there died. Or, more precisely, were murdered by something. Whoever the attacker was, he was quite thorough and quick. It wasn’t until two weeks had passed that someone noticed the lack of contact from the Stone Throne.
The adventurer party sent to investigate found nothing. At least until they descended into the dungeon beneath. The corridors were twisted in the form that was obviously unnatural, and much too large for the fortress above. They came to believe that something moved in after wiping out the population (and, most likely, overwhelming and destroying the guardian spirit). Whatever it was was strong enough to cover the place with its imprint, twisting it into the point of the dungeon becoming a separate plane of existence, more in the Dark than in Light.
Locals consulted wild daemons and asked servile daemons guarding over the nearest temples for a council. Then they sent a group of people with adventurer escorts to bury the bodies and take everything valuable from the surface buildings. Ever since the group returned (without losing anyone or even encountering troubles) the place was completely ignored, save for some bandits and hunters that sometimes camped inside for a night before departing to continue their voyage.
It fell into ruin. Though due to local belief that quality is more important than quantity in architecture (and some magically enhanced types of stone) it was mostly intact. Even if overgrown with vegetation, pillaged until nothing was left to steal, and a bit shaken after the earthquake that shook the area a decade ago. And even then, it wasn’t going to suffer substantial collapses until at least a century passes without repairs.
We couldn’t trust any locals, so we were going to surprise them with sudden departure and reach the Stone Throne before they manage to warn the Hand of Freedom detachment guarding it.
Let’s hope they’re Pentagram lackeys after all.