Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pathologic: The story continues . . .

Hey all. If you've been reading through these posts, we'd like to thank you. It was an incredible ride, and one we've enjoyed writing about. We'll be posting a few more things in the coming weeks--including a look at the other endings as well as a dialog about our reactions and interpretations as players.

Also, there's a project continuing, in a similar vein, that chronicles the Devotress' part of the story. You can read about it at this link:

We'd love to hear your reactions in the comments--thoughts, rants, whatever. If you just randomly clicked on this blog, then by all means start reading from the beginning.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve—Endgame (Part 2)

(To read Part 1 of the Haruspicus's Day 12, go here. To read about the Bachelor's final decision, go here.)

My talk with the Developers at the Theater has empowered me, convincing me that I am more than just a toy at the mercy of unpredictable gods. Ultimately, I may be walking the Authorities' predetermined path, but it is I and no other who has been choosing how I walk it, and it will be I and no other who will decide the town's fate at the Cathedral. I am more than just my in-game avatar—I am the player, and my choices make all the difference.

The thing is, free will is a double-edged sword. It carries with it the responsibility to make right choices and the possibility of making wrong choices. I've done some pretty disturbing things over the last twelve days, and right now I am not at all sure what my final action should be. Of course, as a puppet I would not be responsible for anything I do. As a free agent, though, I'm responsible for everything I do. Total freedom can be terrifying.

So when I step inside the Cathedral on the evening of the last day and find the leading figures in this drama all waiting for me to make up my mind, anxiety suddenly hits me. This is it. "The Haruspicus's words shall be my words. His deeds shall be my deeds," I told the Developers. In a sense, then, the consequences of my choice will be very real. I personally will share Artemiy Burakh's victory—or his failure.

The Devotress's Argument

I choose to speak to the Devotress before anyone else, hoping to find out, at long last, what her angle is in all this. I learn precious little, other than that there apparently were at least two of her running around the town this entire time. "Perhaps I am not the Klara you knew before," she says. "There are a few of us, you know.... The face is the same, but who knows whose will is behind it this time?" This does not inspire my confidence in anything she suggests.

She suggests that it's not actually necessary to destroy the town or the Polyhedron. Whatever weird errands she has been running since Day 1, they have all been in service of forging a miracle that will preserve everything as it is while eradicating the Sand Plague once and for all. Her visits with Anna Angel and Catherina Saburov, the upsetting tales she told my Adherents, her offer of help yesterday with the Elder's final trial—all to bring about this supposed miracle.

This is all very confusing for me. Already I am disoriented—I was expecting something less heady when I first entered the Cathedral, and the translated dialogue isn't helping. The implications of this for what I already know are difficult to parse. The Haruspicus is a shaman of sorts, no stranger to the supernatural, but his is a mysticism of earth, flesh, and the harsh inevitability of death. The Devotress's talk of a miracle that can paradoxically save both the Polyhedron and the town is an alien concept. The Sand Plague did not arise spontaneously; it originated because of either the Abattoir or the Polyhedron. The only way to stop the Plague is to cut out its source. I tell the Devotress to keep her shadowy miracles and multiple personalities to herself and move on.

The Bachelor's Argument

As ever, the Bachelor is unbending in his contention that the town is a cancer and that salvation lies with the Kains and their Polyhedron. The only reason I think otherwise, he says, is that the Inquisitor has been lying to me, manipulating me to keep the town out of the crosshairs and her neck off the chopping block. When I ask him what makes him so sure of her cunning when I suspect her of nothing, he responds delicately that he's just better than I am at thinking logically. The Bachelor can be a bit of a prick sometimes.

Some of what he says makes sense to me: more sense than I anticipated, actually. I've been mulling over the revelation of my late father's involvement with the Polyhedron project, and I can't align it with my current beliefs. If my father, at one time the most important person in my Order, supported the Polyhedron's construction, shouldn't I as well? What if the Bachelor is right, and I've just been manipulated by everyone I've talked to? I have to trust someone if I am to decide, but maybe I've been trusting the wrong people all along.

The Final Decision

I talk to the Inquisitor, looking for confirmation of ... well, anything that I've heard so far. She seems cool and collected, deferring to me for a decision and not trying to guide me one way or another. I try to frighten her into giving something away by once again demolishing the fourth wall, speaking in my own voice instead of through the Haruspicus. It's a cool trick that I've discovered, and it does scare her ("Give me back my Haruspicus," she wails), but it gets me no closer to knowing what I should do. I turn to General Blok, pull up the options for my decision, and sit there, thinking.

I agonize for about ten minutes, turning over my options in my head. The Polyhedron has stirred up the Sand Plague. It's acting as a womb for some ... thing. I've thought it was the root of the epidemic for some time now. On the other hand, my father seemed to have no problem with it. Back at the Theater, one of the Developers told me that the town will always be imperiled by one thing or another: if not the Sand Plague, then war, famine, or plain old human depravity. Perhaps I should give up on the town as a lost cause and cast my lot with the Kains and their Utopia.

Then I remember the conversations I had with my Adherents this morning. They will grow up to be, in their own way, just as weak and selfish as their parents. They'll fall in love and rebuild their homes, scheme for power and double-cross each other, and eventually bring some new calamity on themselves. That is to say, they'll be human beings. Hotheaded Notkin, spacy Laska, bedraggled Mishka with her dreams of growing into a beauty—they deserve to live the normal, messy life that everyone lives. Unfortunately, the Polyhedron is a beautiful lie, with its false, unnatural promises of immortality and an earthly utopia. It's been siphoning the earth's lifeblood in pursuit of an impossibility. The lie must be destroyed and the lifeblood turned to curing the Plague if salvation is to be achieved.

I tell General Blok to train his guns on the Polyhedron and to fire at midnight, giving me enough time to herd the children inside to safety. Opening my journal, I write, "Will shall make my choice right." I push open the Cathedral's doors and step out into the clear night air.

I find myself back in the Theater, now cleaned up and closed down. A disembodied voice echoes off the walls: "We admit the victory of the Player." I am standing on stage, with little burlap dolls scattered around my feet. For the first time in the game, there is complete silence: no dour music, no industrial clanking in the distance. The only sound is my hollow footfalls on the wooden planks.

Up against the wall, I spy three life-sized dolls of the Bachelor, the Devotress, and the Haruspicus, all leaning against each other, huge among the smaller burlap figures. Here, at the end of the game, I feel a strange affection for the creepy little things. The Haruspicus figure in particular interests me. If that is Artemiy Burakh's body there against the wall, then what figure is standing before it? Whose eyes am I looking out of?

Mine, I realize. I, the player, Kevin, am quite literally standing onstage in the game. I've been there the whole time. The entire game was just a stage on which played out the drama of my decisions as a player. Maybe the town was all make-believe, but one thing was real: the choices I made within that imaginary world. Those decisions constituted the drama that took place here. Now the play is over.

I see a door to my right and open it, floating away from the Theater into a starry void.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pathologic: Statistics

If you wanted to see the rate of deaths throughout the game, I've plotted the numbers on a convenient graph. Click it if you dare. In the end, the consequences were slightly more dire for the Bachelor than for the Haruspicus--but just barely.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve, in which it will become apparent what all this was for (Part II)

I don't need to repeat what Kevin has written. The children are psychopathic gods, and this town is their sandbox. To them, this is a game (as it is to me, I note with some irony--both as the Bachelor and as his player). I'm a "toy who came alive"--a "scary puppet".

"Ask whom you want - you are a puppet. Your name is Bachelor. You are a scary clown.
When we play with you, you are always bad."
In my journal afterwards:

Yes, the pestilence has happened in the sand box . . . Anyway, but the hero--the hero is severely deceived: It seems all this time he thought himself a living person saving living people. This feeling, no doubt, added eagerness to him, helped him to reach the ending, even with some triumph.

Vain. This is all in vain. He is a puppet saving silly dolls in a painted small town. It is strange that the almighty Authorities were silent till now. Probably they are bothered, or simply want to go home for supper.


I wander the town, talking to my adherents one last time. They all speak of the destruction of the town, specifically the construction on the other side of the river. It is strange how, till now, both as the Bachelor and player, I have cauterized any emotional connection to the town. It isn't that I'm not properly "role playing" as the Bachelor. In fact, I believe I experience the emotional disconnect precisely because I'm playing the part of the Bachelor. Yet here, on the final day, my head is spinning. Up till now I've known precisely the answer. The town must be destroyed. Not as an act of apathy or aggression: the root of the pestilence is here, has been here all along, and will endure long after I leave.

The Devotress tells me I have to sacrifice something. That a stand must be taken. "One queen by all means wants to destroy a wonderful tower; the other one wants to exterminate as many people as possible for her own calm."

Each of the Haruspicus' adherents have the same thing to say. "One always has to fight for li[f]e, otherwise it's not real. You cannot tear off the umbilical cord that has been feeding us all since the world's creation. It has already found death almost everywhere."

The Kains are obsessed with the idea of the Utopia on the other side of the river. The children are obsessed with their lives ahead here, in the town stained with blood. I can't help the feeling of despair in thinking of each possible future. The instruments of death are both here: the Polyhedron and the Sand Plague. The roles they played in the horror I've witnessed are irrelevant. The true evil is in our own humanity. As long as humans live, they will desecrate. They will cheat, lie, steal, murder--they will waste and build and lay waste again and again. It is here, in this manufactured game of pawns and queens, that I have been shown--not told--the true nature of the human spirit.

As Kevin walks toward the Cathedral, the sky above blue with broken clouds, I have nothing more than the same yellow haze to which I've grown accustomed. Perhaps I played the game wrong. Perhaps I have been too pessimistic.

I have no idea what to say when I come to the Cathedral at 7pm. The Executor says that "All works in the interest of inevitability. You cannot hide anywhere from it. Evil conquers all." With I sigh, I open the doors and enter the sanctuary. There are Aglaja the Inquisitor, Artemiy Burakh the Haruspicus, Maria Kain and General Blok; all of them have something different to say--some piece of the puzzle. The Haruspicus is under the impression that I would destroy the town as a way of spiting Aglaja. Aglaja says "Here and now I suggest buying the happiness of several thousand for a small sacrifice, because Utopia demands sacrificing more and more. Even this Utopia."

On the Polyhedron, she remarks, “On a whim of the Authorities, the Miracle, casually embodied in the Polyhedron, has been violently rejected by the flesh of the town which has grown it up and fed it with the resources: people and hot blood. This flesh became for it simultaneously a bowels and a prison . . . And how is that you came to the town at this time? A hero by all attributes. Almost a miracle maker. The Authorities tried to manipulate you to defend the miracle—not the Kains; they are unfortunate and possessed. This is their role. They are puppets. But you—You want to become a slave again? The Authorities subordinate you to the plan.”

Is she lying? Am I being manipulated? Everyone in this town has an angle: The Inquisitor has her death sentence hanging over her head, the Kains envision their own paradise. The Haruspicus has his crop of children, all waiting to be corrupted like their forebears. The General only wants to see this place burn. As for me, all I want is to win. Not as a player, but as the Bachelor, at the edge of the board, finally empowered, no longer pawn.

Maria Kain takes me aside at the rear of the Cathedral. “I have already begun, my Daniel,” she says. “When night falls and the wind scatters smoke from the charred ground, and the dust and rubble are swept clean, you will see new constellations in the sky. They will shine down, and when they reach the merlons of the Polyhedron, a miracle will happen.”

“What will they be like? And how will you name them?” I ask.

“We shall see. But I expect the red shall prevail in them. Ruby, scarlet, crimson, violet, pink, claret, garnet—the colour of fire, stained blood. Perhaps you will even see something familiar in their structure.”

I imagine, in this scene, the Bachelor's expression as he listens to Maria. The brief hope her words give, even as she talks about her "Authority"--her place as mother in this town, giving birth to whatever Utopia she envisions. My pulse racing, I turn, walk down the steps, and speak to the General.

"So, Bachelor. Your decision was not made by calculation or self-interest; it was not urged by the circumstances, but only by your conscience. I have received the order to raze everything to the ground. But there is no such necessity. I am ready to believe you, having risked my life and honour, wherefore I am merciful. Where do I target my guns?" he asks.

The Final Set of Decisions
The general is wrong. In the end, I have only my own interests at heart. My modus operandi as the Bachelor has been calculation and manipulation from the beginning--a power play. Things have finally become clear. The Authorities are irrelevant. All I want--and have wanted--is my own victory. And that is, in the end, what all of this was for.

I am reminded of something Mark Twain once said. "Faith is believin' what you know ain't so." I look to Maria, smug and assured behind the general, then down at my choices. Utopia was always a myth. Moreover, I can't stand the thought of letting the Kain family have their own private paradise.

For a moment, I imagine the Bachelor spitting at Maria's feet, then looking to General Blok.

"It is enough to destroy the Polyhedron to stop the spreading of infection. There is no sense to destroy the whole town," I tell him.

Check and mate. Smug, I leave the Cathedral. The trains will leave soon. I can imagine the scenarios beyond. With the Architect's help, and proper planning, the Bachelor could very well return to the capitol and build several more Polyhedrons. Perhaps in healthier soil, with fewer variables, he could perfect the work that was started here and begin anew.

I sleep until midnight and see the ending. The general orders the guns to fire, and the Polyhedron is blown to bits as the Authorities watch in horror. The town blossoms. The Haruspicus sits with the children, the streets are green, and the Sand Plague has retreated into the warm earth. This is, of course, not my victory: it belongs to Artemiy Burakh. The town has no need of me anymore. I imagine the Bachelor back at the Capitol right now, hard at work, and closer than ever to creating a Utopia.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve—Endgame (Part 1)

(or, in which the game shows Kevin what a REAL existential crisis looks like)

The morning of the twelfth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 337 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 635 people
Gone missing: 133 people
Number of dead at the moment: 7620 people
Number of infected: 535 people

This day is the last. Less than fourteen hours remain to make a worthy decision.

I have no idea what to expect when the game clock ticks over to midnight on Day 12. I've been getting letters from General Blok and the Inquisitor, who both tell me that I will be responsible for deciding the town's fate by the end of the day. All the backbiting and power plays and lying have resulted in a stalemate, and it's up to me to break it before the Sand Plague surges permanently out of control. The final council convenes at 7 pm in the Cathedral. By then I will have to have sorted out what, if anything, needs to be destroyed to save the town.

Until yesterday, this would have been an easy choice for me. But after hearing that my father was involved with the work on the Polyhedron and after discussing it with Duke, I'm no longer quite so sure that Petr Stamatin's architectural marvel is the root cause of the epidemic. I'm simultaneously eager and apprehensive about what will happen before this evening: eager because I'm finally going to get some answers, apprehensive because I don't know what ordeals await me before then.

Nothing could have surprised me more than what I see when I finally set foot outside my door in the morning.

The streets are utterly, eerily deserted. No children, no thugs, no infected—even the soldiers have vanished, with the exception of a couple of sentries who have inexplicably remained at their posts. I wander around for an hour, searching for any sign of life, but the only sound I hear is my own footsteps on the cobblestones. Even the Sand Plague is mysteriously absent. What's going on? When I talk to the Bachelor about it, he reacts almost with a shrug. He plans to tell General Blok to destroy the town. Don't you care that that will kill everyone? I ask. "Look around you!" he counters. "Everyone is already dead. The two of us is all that's left."

That's not entirely true, of course—there is the matter of the still-living Adherents, mine and the Bachelor's and the Devotress's. It seems that now is the time to cure everyone I can with the panacea I've been hoarding. I visit all 18 Adherents, curing the six who had fallen ill in the last few days. When I've finished, I have one flask of panacea remaining, and I finally allow myself the luxury of drinking it and purging the Plague from my body. After over a week of worrying and slowly hemorrhaging blood, I can hardly believe the sight of a completely empty infection meter.

This final journey through the town also affords me the chance to speak one last time with my Adherents. It's a goodbye of sorts. Whatever happens tonight, I probably won't see them again, and the eleven days I've spent helping them and worrying about them has forged a bond between us. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'll kind of miss them when this is all over. They're already preparing themselves for the future. With Kapella coming into her powers as a seer, she's told them what their lives will be like if the town survives today, and they're eager to share this information with me. Notkin will manage the warehouses and forage for supplies out in the steppe. Spichka will grow up to be a savvy leader and merchant. Mother Keeper will act as my right hand among the butchers of the Order. And poor damp Mishka says she will move out of her cramped railcar and blossom into a tall, raven-haired beauty. As I move from one child to another, hearing their hopeful stories, I'm touched. Surrounded as they are by the relentless despair of the rest of the game, these moments are startlingly, charmingly bittersweet.

Of course, this being Pathologic, nothing goes untempered by hints of darkness. Khan and Notkin persist in their feud and are already plotting intrigues against each other. Spichka sees this and plans on using their conflict to his own advantage. Mother Keeper says that part of her role as my right hand will be keeping the nobles-to-be from tearing each other apart. If I choose to destroy the Polyhedron and save the town, the children will raise civilization from the ashes, but it won't take much for them to return to the backstabbing ways of their forebears. In this place, nothing ever truly heals.

The exact spot in the trainyard where I woke up bleeding twelve days ago. I've come a long way since then, but some places look the same as they ever did.
After I finish with my Adherents, I don't know what to do other than wait for the meeting at the Cathedral to start. Then at 6 pm I receive a mysterious letter from "the Authorities" summoning me to the Inner Sanctum of the Polyhedron. Eager to see the interior of this building for the first time in the game (and find out who "the Authorities" are), I rush inside and am greeted with the same amazing sights that Duke saw on Day Nine: warm colors, strange decorations, vertiginous stairways. I descend to the very bottom, with crowds of children silently watching me. I step onto a complex design etched into the floor. Abruptly, I am transported to a courtyard in the middle of a featureless void, lit only by a single lamppost. Two children stand beside a sandbox, staring at me. I strike up a conversation with the boy, and that's when the bottom falls out of reality.

Note the subtle change in scale: These "children" are as big as I am.
All of this—the Sand Plague, the slaughter, people dying agonizing deaths in blood-spattered houses—has been nothing more than a children's game, two kids playing with dolls in a sandbox. The boy is amazed to see me standing before him, for of course the Haruspicus also was a doll, a prop moved from place to place within the model town. "You came to life!" the boy exclaims. "You have been doing whatever you want lately. It's impossible! You are spoiling the game!"

I read the words with a dizzy feeling. Is that all this was? All the things I was forced to do to stay alive, all the dark places I had to visit, all the random catastrophes that occurred day after day—it was just a charade, pointless. To these kids, they were just ripping the wings off flies and smashing sandcastles for kicks, but down there in their creation, people scrambled for salvation. And I have only been their tool, playing the part they wanted me to play. I open my journal to find a new entry scrawled there:
It seems that all this time he had been thinking that he was a living man, saving living people. That feeling, without doubt, added to his aspiration, helped him reach the endgame and even triumph.

In vain, all this is in vain ... He is a puppet, saving dolls in a drawn town.
Everything I've done, then, has been meaningless. I feel like a door has softly clicked shut behind me, stranding me in a dark room. (Duke, who was sitting near me at the time, can tell you that I kept saying "No. Oh, no" over and over.) My struggles to save the town only felt real because of the magic of the Polyhedron, which the boy tells me "brings things to life." "We only made the town," he says, "but it became a wonder all by itself. We put the dolls we didn't care for in it ... They were handicapped anyway."

"I'm not a doll. I am a human being!" I reply. It seems to be less a protest than a futile whimper.

The girl beside the boy agrees with him. "You were never loved, really. You have always been a scary doll, and playing with you wasn't much fun."

Not to be overly dramatic, but I imagine that this is what losing my faith might feel like: God is capricious and sadistic, and he doesn't give a shit about you. I turn to leave the courtyard.

Outside the Polyhedron, I am surprised to find that I feel defiant rather than listless or hopeless. When I receive a letter from "the Developers" calling me to the Theater, I immediately march off in that direction, passing the Cathedral, where the council is beginning. I don't know what awaits me at the Theater, but I'm already steeling myself against it. I still have a decision to make, and I am going to make it even if it does mean nothing.

I am surprised yet again. Inside the Theater, an Executor and a Tragedian are waiting for me. When I speak to the Tragedian, his tone is sad. We have the following exchange, in which I experience one of the most electrifying moments I've ever had as a gamer.

Tragedian: You see how sad our fate is. We are poor actors, who hoped you'd be the director of a new pantomime, because the old one is so boring. But you turned out to be a doll ...
Haruspicus: But I am not a doll.
Tragedian: Did I hear correctly? Who is speaking?
Haruspicus: It's me—the player.

The conversation that changes everything.
Up till now I was merely playing through the Haruspicus, pretending to be him, having my in-game avatar do and say the same things that I would do and say if I were there. In one swift movement, that slight remove is swept away. It is now I, the player, Kevin, who is talking to characters and deciding the town's fate. People talk about breaking the fourth wall, but even that is passive for the audience—they are still observers only. What if, instead of merely addressing the audience at the end of a play, an actor pulled a spectator on stage and he became the play's main character? It's no coincidence that I'm having this conversation inside a theater.

The Executor, meanwhile, speaks to me of free will. It all comes down to choices, he says. Why are you here? To stop the evil of the Sand Plague from spreading, I answer. But was the Plague the real enemy? "It's just as much a weapon for evil as a scalpel is for you," the Executor says. "The disease will leave, it'll devour itself. War will come instead, famine will come after war, heresy will come after famine." It's impossible to truly save the town from anything. The true evil is apathy, resignation to fate. I may be a plaything of the Authorities, but I am no slave. The Executor tells me that it's the difference between predestination and prophecy. Predestined, I have no choice in the matter; I move and speak the way I must. When I fulfill a prophecy, I have absolute freedom. I simply choose to walk along the road that has been laid before me. My path to the Cathedral for my judgment has already been set by the Authorities, but I, the player, Kevin, am the one who will enter and decide.

Clicking through the conversation, I feel thrilled, liberated in a way. Yes, I am responsible for him [the Haruspicus], I say. I will stay with him till the end. His words shall be my words. His deeds shall be my deeds.

While my meeting with the Authorities made me feel abandoned and powerless, my meeting with the Developers has filled me with a grim sense of purpose. I walk back to the Cathedral, noticing that the clouds have finally lifted and the sun is shining. Without the Plague-scarred buildings and the ever-present brown haze in the air, the town is startlingly pretty. For the first time in the game, it looks like a place that might be worth saving.

At the Cathedral, I tell another Executor guarding the doors to let me in. The Executor stands aside. "Enter, Haruspicus," he says. "The meeting awaits your decision. The Queens have paralyzed each other. A tragic stalemate is threatening the game at the moment. You are a pawn that's become a queen. Finish it, it is endgame!"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pathologic: Day Twelve, in which it will become apparent what all this was for (PART I)

At 7am:

The morning of the twelfth day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 378 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 648 ppl.
Gone missing: 122 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 7776
Number of infected: 512 ppl.

This day is the last. Less than fourteen hours remain to make a worthy decision.

Today's Forecast: Clear, with a 40% chance of artillery fire.
I walk outside and find the streets deserted. Everything has gone: the rats, the dirtied sheets, the plague clouds and leprous robed figures. The bandits have been exterminated. Every single district of the town has swept clean of any trace of the plague, save for the now-useless scarecrows which were once stationed at the entrance to each zone. I've received panicked requests from both the Haruspicus and the Devotress: their adherents are sick, and I'm the only one with enough panaceas to cure them.

First, however, I'd like to share some thoughts.

The decision I make today should be impartial: I've spent twelve days in this hell-hole of a town gathering information, making observations of its squabbling inhabitants, running errands, watching men die in the streets. Nobody is beyond judgment here. Yet I have a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. Maria (or Nina?) Kain's little diatribe yesterday did nothing to strengthen my resolve. Did I really call her "Dark Mistress"? And, really, have I been playing into the Kains' hand all along? They want the Polyhedron to construct a Utopia. They want the town destroyed as much as I--though they want it destroyed so that they can birth a new town, a new Utopia, on the other bank of the Gorkhon. Victor Kain tells me the new town will be larger, better, birthed from the cocoon of the Polyhedron. 

I'm sick of hearing everyone else's drivel about how the Polyhedron is unnatural. It's a tool. We have been making tools since we crept down from the trees: we made fire, cut stone, burrowed holes. These things are not "natural"--but it doesn't make them intrinsically evil. It's how they are used that determines that. The question all along has been this: what is the Polyhedron's use?

Despite the ominous colour scheme, I insist this thing is as harmless as a kitchen knife.
If the knife were in the hands of little kid.
The Polyhedron was created to preserve. It's more than a tomb. It revolutionizes our idea of the tomb: it turns our tombs into brief waypoints, regurgitates our consciousness, refracts the breath and light of the human spirit and pours old wine into new skins. Is this evil? I don't know if it is. The reality of all this, however, is that like any tool, the Polyhedron has been misused. It was thrust, unceremoniously, into the heart of the earth. And from this, one of two things may have happened: either the wound became infected, sending the Sand Plague upward through the man-made tunnels beneath the city, or the puncture stirred up a restless poison.

I am more inclined to believe the latter. The Sand Plague has struck before. It has been here from the beginning. If the architect had any knowledge of this, he might have chosen a better place to make the puncture. Is the Sand Plague a judgment? A fizzing antibody? It's pure science--a manageable result of a routine operation. We might find a harmless plot of land near the capitol, conduct some research, do some digging, and plug in a dozen more Polyhedrons with no repercussions. All this was nothing more than an experiment. We could do it better next time.

The Polyhedron is not evil. But after my chilling conversation with Maria yesterday, I am conflicted. It comes to this: The Polyhedron or the Town. Destroy the Town and a legion of Kains will build their own version of "paradise" no different from the current madhouse on the other side of the river. Destroy the Polyedron and the residents of this god-forsaken little hamlet will go on with their pagan practices: the children will grow into quibbling men and women. They will abuse the earth, pour poisoned blood and tar into the ground, and go on killing and expiring and expending.

In the end, nothing will truly change. So what does my decision matter?

This sculpture at the Kains' makes much more sense in light of Kevin's map.
I have enough panacea to save just one set of Adherents: either the Haruspicus' children or the Devotress' corrupt ones. It might as well be the children. I find, after administering several doses to the last of the sick, that I suddenly have a letter from the Authorities. It's cryptic and mildly passive aggressive, and for the better part of the day I pay it no heed. The General will need my decision at 7pm, promptly, at the Cathedral. 

However, at the apex of the Polyhedron, the door has opened again. I step inside, into the inner sanctum, and trace my way down the steps, deeper and deeper, to the very base. After a brief head-swimming blackout, I am greeted with this strange scene:

It's two kids in a garden standing behind a sandbox in which they have crudely modeled their own version of the Town and the Polyhedron. I've gone on and on about finding a "true adversary". And in the end, I don't believe it was ever the plague. Here, at the base of the Polyhedron, I may have found my adversary.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pathologic: Day Eleven, in which the Haruspicus falls into a trap, discovering that his dilemma connects two incompatible truths

(or, in which Kevin learns that he really needs to stop making assumptions)

The morning of the eleventh day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 334 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 621 people
Gone missing: 127 people
Number of dead total: 6831 people
Number of infected: 570 people

Tomorrow everything will be over

Welcome to "Martha Stewart Living," Pathologic edition. Up next, we prepare a lovely quiche made
from spider eggs that hatch inside your mouth.
"Tomorrow everything will be over." Ominous words, but I can't help but feel relief when I read them. By now I, the player, have spent at least 40 hours in this hellhole of a town, struggling not to let the game wear me down. I have teetered on the brink of irrational frustration with it more than once. And I have been at the controls as my character has done the unthinkable. I've killed the guilty and the innocent. I've dragged myself in threadbare clothing through neighborhoods buzzing with the Plague. Frankly, I am exhausted. If one of Ice Pick Lodge's goals was to evoke in me a physical and emotional response analogous to what my in-game avatar is feeling, they have succeeded with flying colors. No other game has ever made me feel this hopeless.

I am determined to save this town, no matter the cost. The Haruspicus does not compromise. Yet the Bachelor, with his talk of wiping the town off the map, is not crazy. He too has witnessed the Sand Plague's devastation. Whether tomorrow brings salvation or annihilation, it will be a mercy.

The town is in the final stages of collapse, with the Sand Plague saturating every district. Even the thin veneer of civilization has fallen away. Food and medicine prices are astronomical; starving citizens on the street beg me for money, but I literally have none to give them. The infected seem to sense that society is crumbling and now attack other people with abandon, often in groups. Near the theater I witness a soldier running from a pack of infected. They chase him down and overwhelm him. Military discipline is breaking down—everywhere I see soldiers breaking ranks and fleeing from their guard posts. General Blok has finally lost control of his army.

... which means I get treated to the following sight when I arrive at the Bone Pillar to save the bull that was there yesterday.

Nothing but a blackened hunk of charcoal remains of it. I can't believe my eyes. Do these imbeciles have any idea how much panacea I could have made from that bull's blood? The nearest disinfector, impassive in his haz-mat suit, tells me to take it up with a low-ranking officer called "Captain Patroclus," who commands a mutinous band of soldiers that has taken control of the military's armory near the trainyards. Patroclus, in turn, says that he was only following orders to destroy whatever possible vectors of infection he found. Whose orders? I ask. Not the General's, surely. No, Patroclus says. The Bachelor gave the instructions.

Of course he would. Seething, I confront him about it, only to hear the same old routine about the importance of the Polyhedron. Apparently the Kains have convinced him that Simon Kain is not even dead but has transferred his soul into the Polyhedron. At best, this is superstition—I've seen the body, and he looked pretty dead to me. At worst—given my epiphany from last night—this is an abomination against nature. The Bachelor won't budge, though. The panacea doesn't seem to matter anymore to him. The Polyhedron is our only hope, he says.

Sure, whatever. I leave him with his microscope and misconceptions and strike out to pay my daily doctor's visits.

More Executors have appeared around town, holding vigil over ill Adherents. Fortunately, they are all the Bachelor's and Devotress's, not mine, but I still feel responsible for them. They are people, after all, and deserve to live. For the past two days I've been giving them antibiotics to keep them alive, making the rounds every day. With time running out, my supplies getting short, and my fatigue increasing, I decide to start healing some of them outright. I don't want to spend any of my precious panaceas in case I need them for some dire emergency on the final day, but I do have a couple of medicinal powders made by the town's children. Even the Executors seems shocked when I propose giving doses to the Adherents. It will destroy the patient, they warn. The medicine will burn the Plague right out of their veins, but it will take some of the veins along with it.

I shrug. Petr Stamatin, the Polyhedron's creator, should count himself lucky to make it out of this epidemic as a cripple. I feel a small stab of pity as I dose him with the powder, but only a small one.

While making my rounds, I begin hearing rumors surrounding Elder Oyun and the trial he has planned for me. First I receive a letter from the Devotress, who calls me to the cemetery to meet with her. She warns me that the Elder is going to try to kill me with this final task. Honestly, this doesn't seem like such a big deal to me; he's practically killed me with the last two trials too. The Devotress seems to think this time will be different, though, and she offers to help me out—in return for a favor on the final day. I immediately turn down her offer. Whatever favor she might want from me, I think, it can't be anything good. She accepts my refusal coolly, making me wonder briefly if I should not have been so hasty.

After this, I call on Young Vlad to make sure he's not bleeding from his eyes or something. He seems agitated to hear that I'm meeting with Elder Oyun later. He says I should be careful. After all, Oyun is the one who murdered my father.

Wait, what? I thought he died of the Plague! Young Vlad just shakes his head and tells me to ask the Elder myself. Then he, too, advises me to watch my back during the third task.

Back in the Abattoir, Elder Oyun tells me that it's time to enter "the belly of Suok"—that is, descend into the depths of the earth—and indicates the deep pit outside his personal chamber. Once I know the secrets of the earth, I will ascend to the status of hierophant within the Order. Despite my simmering anger at the Elder, I have to admit that I'm madly curious to discover what happens down there. On Day Five I saw some crazy things just by climbing down a 15-foot-deep well. What's going on in the darkness beneath the Abattoir?

Here I must apologize to you, faithful readers. Because I never find out.

Seriously, doesn't anyone in this town know what a rope is?
Apparently my paranoia in refusing the Devotress's assistance screwed me over. I die instantly when I jump down the hole, and no amount of creative thinking can reveal an alternate path. The belly of Suok, the strange place where the living earth feeds on the Order's sacrificial blood, will be a mystery to me forever.

Suddenly enraged, I return to the Elder's chamber. I'm sick of his arrogance and his murderously impossible quests. This guy has been a thorn in my side for long enough. It's time for a reckoning. You are responsible for my father's death, I tell him. Explain yourself.

Oyun doesn't try to lie. He admits to killing Isidor Burakh, having stabbed him to death with the sharpened horn of a bull. He's not sorry, either. Isidor Burakh was colluding with the Kains in their Polyhedron project, trying to pour old blood into new veins. He was betraying the Order. Oyun says he would do it again without hesitation. I coldly tell him to put up his fists and prepare to die, but a small grain of misgiving has settled into the back of my mind. My father was involved with the Polyhedron, too? Why?

The scene suddenly changes, and I find myself in a part of the Abattoir I've never seen before. In the center of the room is a bull, and torches line the walls. My weapons have vanished, leaving me with only my fists to defend myself. Then the Elder storms into the chamber, and the fight is on.

He looks pretty intimidating, what with his sheer size and the bull's-head helm, but I'm surprised to find that he's not terribly challenging. Maybe I shouldn't be: after all, I've spent the last week and a half scrabbling to survive among infected citizens, lunatics, and murderers in the world beyond the Abattoir's doors. Compared to that ordeal, it's practically therapeutic to vent a little righteous rage on a single target. It's the first time in this game that I've faced a straightforward videogame trope: the one-on-one boss battle.

The Elder, with his long reach and crushing strength, beats me down a few times, but I eventually succeed in exacting my revenge. I have to admit, it feels pretty good. I ignore the new entry in my diary that says that the Elder's death is "a disproportionate sacrifice." By now I've killed dozens of people in this town, with fists, guns, and knives. One more hardly seems to matter at this point, especially considering the sorts of things of which the Elder is guilty.

I spend the rest of the day running minor errands for Kapella, who is solidifying alliances with the other children in preparation for their forging of a new society birthed from the ashes. On a whim I check in with Ospina (one of the Devotress's Adherents) to make sure she hasn't fallen ill. When she hears that I've eliminated Elder Oyun, she hails me as the new Elder of the Abattoir. "I, Us-Pae-Nah, bend my knee to you," she says, apparently using her real name for the first time. I have finally come into my birthright as the head of the Order of Bulls. I have blood on my hands, but perhaps that is fitting. In that moment I feel unabashedly victorious.

My sense of triumph wears off as night falls. Brewing up the last of my panacea in my father's old laboratory, I remember what Oyun told me about Isidor Burakh's complicity in the creation of the Polyhedron. Where once I was so sure of my path, I now have a seed of doubt. Even my father seems to have been convinced of the Polyhedron's importance. How could he do that, though, with the knowledge of what it does? Were the Kains manipulating him in their pursuit of "utopia"? Was the Elder lying to me? Or did my father—the most respected member in the Order—know something that I don't?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pathologic: Day Eleven, in which the Bachelor will discover the truenature of the Kain family

At 7am:

The morning has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 371 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 618 ppl.
Gone missing: 131 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 6798
Number of infected: 552 ppl.

Tomorrow everything will be over.

[I lost my map screenshot for today. The town is completely plagued or burnt out.]

Base of the Miracle
The Inquisitor needs a more in-depth look at the Polyhedron's architectural plans. She believes the structure—unnatural as it is—has somehow caused the epidemic. Perhaps something in the base will tell us more. This is preposterous, of course. I’ve been inside. It’s a wonder—a testament to human ingenuity. It shields from plague; it doesn’t spread it.

Andrey has the plans, so I head to the tavern. Of course he’s not there. He’s purportedly been arrested for his renegade hero routine yesterday. However, when I ask General Blok to recall his arrest, he tells me no such order was issued. A large faction of soldiers have staged a coup, and is leading Andrey to his death down at the southernmost part of the train tracks, just at the edge of town.

I follow the tracks to find a swarm of soldiers, all pointing their rifles at me. Unfazed, I walk through the ranks to the very end and address the officer in command. He’s some haughty everyman, and he believes I am the architect. I’m sentenced to death, he says; he’s taking control now. My pleas don’t matter, so I stall fortime by asking for a final smoke. He promptly knocks me out, and the world goes black.

Dude, you get the puppet avatar. There's no way you're getting out of this alive.
When I come to,I’m standing in front of a burning pyre out in the middle of the cemetery, stripped of all my weapons and medicine, shivering in the rain. I’ve only just oriented myself when several snarling attack dogs emerge from behind the graves and try to bite me. I jump onto the pyre, skirting the flames, and beat each dog’s brains in, then head to the gravekeeper’s house at the edge of the cemetery. After some convincing, the little girl Laska gives me some tourniquets and a butcher knife.

Two guards are stationed at the cemetery’s entrance. I stab one in the back, silently, then the other, take their rifles, and march cold-blooded back to the train yard. Everyone in this entire town—even the military—is an idiot. I shoot each soldier in the head before he can fire a single shot, then run to the patrol leader and shoot him squarely between the eyes. I take back every single thing he stole from me, then walk back to the Tavern in hopes that I might hear some news regarding Andrey.

The sop is waiting for me there. He tells me he’s surprised I didn’t ask about the base earlier. It turns out the Polyhedron is supported on a spring—a three hundred meter-long shaft, about five and a half meters in diameter, was drilled into the earth beneath the foundations of the town: a crystalline rose sprouted froma metal stalk. A sort of lever, weighted down by the foundations of the town itself.

The Inquisitor is convinced that this is the instrument which has stirred up the plague. Through some shift, the stalk punctured the clot at the heart of the town,which has sent plague up from the soil itself. This makes sense to her. But it isn’t good enough to me. Yes, the wound has stirred up the disease, but the disease has been there from the beginning. I have very good reason to suspect the Steppe folks and their pagan practices in the Abattoir. They thirst for blood. The worms always tell me they never have enough blood to feed the earth.

Who’s to say that the excess of sacrifice—the poisoned meat, the putrid flesh fed by these steppe barbarians—is not what originally created the plague? The Polyhedron was the one prick that revealed the infection: it was there all along. With modernization—with systematic and permanent housing, with wells digging into theground—the once-harmless practices of the natives, repeated ad infinitem in the same place, has become malignant.

Today's Pantomime was admittedly unsettling.
Preparations For Crowning
I take care of a few smaller tasks—saving several wrongly condemned men from a firing squad and suppressing some unsavory rumors about the Kain family. The most alarming quest of today concerns Maria Kain.

The Kain family continues to talk of dying, of suicide. They all seem to have gone mad. After some coaxing, I talk to George Kain, who talks of the Inner Chamber of the Polyhedron. It is a tomb, of sorts, and also a receptacle for the now-deceased Nina Kain, Simon’s love. Yet Nina Kain is returning, he says. The beautiful Maria Kain, who has loved me for quite some time, has accepted the soul of her mother.

Utter nonsense.Of course, Andrey and Peter have succeeded where I failed. I may have mentioned—the Bachelor and the Inquisitor met years before when an attempt to resurrect the human form was conducted in the capitol. It failed miserably. Perhaps, in this squat-hole of a town, it has not.

Maria needs pledges from the two other female authorities in town: the young Kapella and, inexplicably, Klara the Devotress. I go to both of them and ask for a token of their fealty. Klara protests—she says that Maria will become a “sorceress queen”and make her own twisted version of a utopia from the town—a “violation of nature”, man’s own attempt to create the kingdom of heaven. I dismiss her; this is all a simple formality. I return to find Maria’s followers congregated outside her front door. They look mad. Everyone in this part of town has gone mad. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the panacea.

Her Entourage

She’s waitingfor me inside the tomb behind the Kain family’s estate. Rather than summarize,I’ve transcribed a conversation so strange that Ospina herself would be proud. [I have made slight adjustments for clarity.]

MARIA: It’s not me. Not your Maria anymore, but not the Scarlet yet. Nothing of me is here. Touch my flesh: your hands will touch the air only.
BACHELOR: Here are the signs of recognition from Klara and Kapella. They bow to you, Dark Mistress.

MARIA: Scarlet. But let it be so. That means that if a miracle happens – and by tomorrow only those who should survive by my plan live, and the ruthless Authorities will forget about us as before –we shall deny the severe law of life. And then the dream will triumph. And a new Utopia will rise.

BACHELOR: What do you call Utopia, Maria?

MARIA: It’s not the Tower, Daniel. It’s the town. We understand the word “Utopia” not as an ideal of prosperous trade,a perfect social system and political validity, but as a mystical fact of materialization of the incomprehensible, normally inaccessible to the profane person.

BACHELOR: Who speaks now by your mouth?These aren’t your words, and this is not your voice.

MARIA: Truly. You listen. This world exists, but is not given into human hands. Never. It is revealed only by delicate hints; in inevitably perishes under a straight sight. Mystery is its life; this world dies if it is enslaved.
BACHELOR: This is why the pestilence has begun?
MARIA: Probably. But luckily, even in the best adjusted mechanism failures happen. Sometimes the two worlds—mundane and utopia—touch each other! The antibodies collide! And contrary to the law of self-preservation they do not perish, but merge, forming a marvelous symbiosis. Thus is Utopia – a terrestrial embodiment of an unearthly miracle – achieved!
BACHELOR: And you chose to create this town? This is how an embodied miracle looks?
MARIA: Yes. We could build a magnificent town of rock crystal, sapphire walls, emerald roofs and ruby roadways, as you would expect from children’s fairy tales about magic countries. But here true life – living people of flesh and blood – exists. What surprises you?
BACHELOR: Why dirt and dullness? Why worn walls, brick-works, rusty beams and sewage manholes? Is this how Utopia should look?
MARIA: This is how it looks. That’s why it’s Utopia instead of a dream. It is even associated with the word “bog”. It needs dirt. A bog of peat bathed in a ruby sky. Utopia accepts even the basest humans, the unattractive terrestrial. Therefore: the bloody Abattoir, rotten fields, barracks, and impoverished slums. This is the land.
BACHELOR: Oh, so . . . 
MARIA: Utopia needs the Cult of Bulls, a living echo of the symbiosis between the world of beasts and spirits and the world of men. The animal nature lays the foundation of our civilization. Dirt, blood, manure, devouring each other’s skin and meat and bones: tools from which civilization, the commonwealth of creators, grows. 
BACHELOR: And where’s the miracle? 
MARIA: In the earth a miraculous merge of the Anthropophobic Steppe and the Human world occurred. This settlement transfigured from a society of devourers into one of creators. A true wonder was born. At its height, the Cathedral was built. But here we failed. 
BACHELOR: . . . And then you built the Polyhedron. 
MARIA: Yes. The Tower of the Riverbank has finally metamorphosed – a miraculous merger of worlds. The world of the possible and the world of the impossible. 
BACHELOR: If all this was so great, why the pestilence? 
MARIA: I do not know, Daniel. This is not our fault. The town has not sustained this tension, has not endured the heat. So we begin again. There is no death. We are not afraid of it. You see, I am dead and incorporeal, yet I am here. Like a restless soul doomed to return.

Her words leave me conflicted. I lurch back to my bed through plague-ridden streets. Over the past two days chaos has overtaken the town: I can’t go ten steps without seeing another bandit cut an honest man down, or see the plagued burned down in waves like fields at the end of harvest. The buildings are red and blotched. And above it all, in perpetual bloom like a concrete rose, lingers the impossible shape of the Polyhedron. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pathologic: Day Ten, which informs the Haruspicus of the fact that he stands before a choice that will determine his victory

(or, in which Kevin is forced to participate in the Pathologic Iditarod)

The morning of the tenth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 340 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 623 people
Gone missing: 139 people
Number of dead total: 6230 people
Number of infected: 516 people

Less than three days remain.

I wake up early on the tenth day, hardly able to believe that I survived the night. To my immense relief, the health-draining effects of Elder Oyun's potion from yesterday seem to have worn off—my health is dangerously low, but stable. The death toll, on the other hand, is rather disturbing: up by over 2000 in a single day. According to the rest of the casualty report, only 600 of those people actually perished from infection, which means that over a thousand people have died of other causes. As I walk through the lamplit streets, filled with murderous arsonists and trigger-happy soldiers, it's not hard to guess what those causes were. And there are two more days to go.

I know that I'm going to be facing Elder Oyun's second trial today, so I stock up on first-aid supplies and choke down another revolting dead porridge before making my way to the Abattoir. I make a couple of detours into the deserted districts where the plague has burnt itself out, searching the abandoned homes for food and emptying the last of my shotgun ammo into the looters who get in my way. I luck out and find a loaf of stale bread in a kitchen, which I immediately wolf down to stay conscious.

Elder Oyun greets me with the news that he's found the butchers responsible for stealing the auroch blood from the Abattoir. Well, "found" isn't exactly accurate. He knows who they are, but they have gone into hiding. It falls to me to locate them as part of my second trial. Oyun gives me another potion to drink, though this time I have the good sense to ask him what it does before taking it. It will make me ravenously hungry, he replies, which will help because "if you are hungry, you will find the scent of blood better." He tells me to visit the sacrificial mound south of town to consult with the spirits of the steppe, warning me not to eat anything until I have located the offending butchers. Remembering yesterday's ordeal, I make sure to listen. I fight down the panic when I see my hunger meter skyrocket and my health meter plummet. If I made it through the first trial, I can make it through this one.

The hill of sacrifice is empty when I reach it just before midday. I lie down on the stone slab at the top and wait for the spirits to do their thing.

Scenes like this are why I no longer play Pathologic right before bed.
When I awaken, I find the locations of the fugitives marked on my map. All three are hiding out in the marshes with the Worms. I use up another first-aid kit (having already spent the first to survive the trek south to the hill) and strike out for the first location.

The butchers are defiant when I confront them. Each of them tells me the same thing—that I can't get the panacea blood I need from underground, that I need to gouge out the tumor that's been growing on the land and harvest the blood from the wound. It sounds suspiciously like the scorched-earth policy that the Bachelor has been advocating, and I'm in no mood for it. I duel each of them to the death (again, reloading the game every time they land a blow and sap my ebbing health) and return to the Elder with the news. This time he gives me the antidote to the potion, presumably because I didn't try to artificially fix my hunger/exhaustion meters as I did yesterday. When I bring up what the butchers told me before I killed them, he says something about how I can't trust anything they or the Bachelor say about the Polyhedron. The Kains are trying to use it to achieve immortality through reincarnation, to "pour old blood into new veins," Oyun says, an idea as blasphemous as it is unnatural. He will say no more, dismissing me until tomorrow.

Before I have time to be surprised at how straightforward (relatively speaking) this all was, I receive a letter from the last person I would expect: Fat Vlad. It seems he's been granted a temporary reprieve by the mob in the Apiary, and he wants to speak with me before he is marched away to that forbidden room to face his horrible fate. I find him in Mother Keeper's torchlit sanctuary, surrounded by guards but otherwise looking much the same as always.

He has two final pieces of information for me. First, there is an auroch dying at the "Bone Pillar" near my late father's abandoned home, which Vlad recommends that I check out before any of the other powers-that-be find it. Second, Vlad cautions me to beware of his former underling, Elder Oyun. The Elder is fighting a battle with me, Vlad says, and he is not to be trusted.

Watching Fat Vlad in the flickering light, I feel a pang of remorse. For the first time in the game, I believe he's telling the truth. With his execution fast approaching, all lies seem to have gone out of him, and he decided to help me with what little time he had left. He has nothing else to say to me. I feel worse than ever about my part in his death.

He was definitely telling the truth about the bull at the Bone Pillar, in any case. The poor animal lies impaled on a spike and surrounded by shifty-looking Worms. According to them, this is an auroch, and what happens to it is up to me. I am to ask my Adherents—the children who stand to inherit the town—what I should do with it. I'd better hurry, though. It's already late afternoon.

Once again, the issue of my character's walking speed returns to bedevil me. My Adherents are scattered all over town—most of them at the far edges—such that there's no efficient way to visit them all. Add to that the hellishness of the sprawling infected zones, and I'm going to be pressed for time even without having to deal with the health issues from yesterday. I talk to Spichka first, since he's close by, then make the laborious trek to meet with Notkin on the south side of town. Both of them seem horrified by what I tell them and say that the bull needs to be removed from the spike immediately.

Mishka: "I have got wet and faded."
Mishka agrees, but she seems bothered more by something else. A few words about Mishka: she is easily the most pathetic character in the game. Sad-eyed and sickly, she leads a lonely life in her damp, claustrophobic railcar. Her parents died a long time ago, presumably during the first outbreak of the Sand Plague, and now she treasures the only memento she has of them: an ugly little doll made of burlap. Mishka hints that the Devotress took her doll out to the marshes because it was "hungry" and wanted to graze, but she never got it back. I feel so sorry for her (and so creeped out by the thought of the Devotress using her doll for who knows what) that I promptly agree to find it for her despite the time pressure I'm under.

I find the doll sitting out in the marshes, eerily alone. I don't have time to return it yet, not with nighttime approaching, so I stash it in my inventory and move on to the graveyard to meet with Laska. By now I have covered almost every area on the map and have to resort to chewing coffee beans to avoid keeling over from exhaustion.

To my dismay, Laska's not in the mausoleum that she apparently calls home. General Blok has arrested her for not allowing his soldiers to desecrate (or as he would put it, "sterilize") the graveyard. A teenage girl informs me that she's being held at the Town Hall, all the way up on the north side. (Haruspicus: "My legs are failing me!") Yet when I storm inside to confront him, it's not Laska standing next to him, but the Devotress.

What is she doing here?
Blok is losing it. He rambles on about duty and safety, pausing every now and then for little asides to the Devotress, asking if she agrees and if she thinks he's doing the right thing. He can't seem to keep his mind on our conversation and claims ignorance when I demand to know his reasons for placing a little girl under arrest. The Devotress is silent the entire time; she merely stands behind the general, watching.

Finally, Blok points me south again, where the army keeps its reserves of weaponry. I retrace my steps for the third time as I make the painfully slow journey, darkness falling around me. With the amount of distance I've covered today, I feel like I've run the Tour de France without a bicycle. (At this point, my notes for the day simply read, "THIS IS RIDICULOUS!! Running back and forth across town! AAAGH!!!") I pop the last of my coffee beans into my mouth as I stumble along, ignoring the hit to my health.

I find Laska locked up in a boxcar under armed guard. I order her released, by the general's authority, then ask about the auroch at the Bone Pillar. She adds her voice to the chorus calling for it to be released, and I make a beeline for the Bone Pillar in the northeast, hoping I'm not too late.

I arrive just before the bell tolls for 11:00. The Worms say that the auroch will be removed from the spike tomorrow morning, and each one hands me a vial of its blood: four panaceas' worth. I pocket them and head south one last time, to deliver Mishka's doll to her. Before I do, I take a short break to read the letter I received from the Bachelor this morning, who is still trying to convince me that the Polyhedron needs to be saved. The Kains have discovered the secret to eternal life, he says. I snort and disregard his argument.

Mishka is, of course, happy to see her doll. As a reward for my efforts, she hands me ... a vial of auroch blood? Where did you get this? I demand. From the base of the Polyhedron, she answers. Every now and then pools of blood will appear at the bottom, though nobody can say where it comes from.

Then my map changes.

My eyes move from right to left over the picture—from the veins of sacrificial blood from the Abattoir, to the sharpened stem that plunges down to meet it, then up to that blackened horror incubating within the Polyhedron. Suddenly, it all clicks into place. The Bachelor's letter, the blood at the base of the Polyhedron, the urgency of removing the spike from the suffering auroch at the Bone Pillar: everything is united. Maybe the Kains have discovered how to be reborn in the Polyhedron, but in order to achieve this they need fuel, nourishment for the soul within. In the words of Elder Oyun, they need to pour old blood into new veins.

The Polyhedron siphons the lifeblood from the earth, the earth sickens, the Sand Plague comes. A syllogism, deadly in its simplicity.

I hurry over to the Polyhedron as a thin drizzle begins to fall. Just as Mishka said, blood is pooled at the base of the stairs leading up to the Inner Chamber. I collect a sample, and it's exactly the same as the blood I received from the Worms at the Bone Pillar.

If I had any doubts before, they're gone now. I don't care what the Bachelor says or whom he's been talking to. If we want to eradicate the Plague once and for all, the Polyhedron—and that thing growing inside it—must be destroyed.