Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pathologic: Day Three, during which the Haruspicus will be risking his life to solve the puzzles of the ancient writing of the steppe people

(or, in which Kevin gets an eyeful of the Sand Plague)

A random poster hung near the town hall. Take a good look, my lovelies. It's all downhill from here.

The morning of the third day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 42 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 39 people
Gone missing: 13 people
Number of dead at the moment: 117
Number of infected total: 46

Another night, another few hours spent defending townsfolk from the depredations of stab-happy thugs. My revolver has become so worn out that it doesn't even shoot straight anymore, and I don't have remotely enough money both to repair it and to buy food for the upcoming day. Fortunately, I've gotten pretty handy with knives of my own and can go toe-to-toe with thugs without suffering too many wounds. Having learned the hard way the importance of harvested organs in the town's shadow-economy, I now have no compunction about taking everything I can from the cooling bodies of the bad guys. They no longer have any use for it all anyway.

I'm on my way home to catch a few hours of sleep before daylight when I spy a figure running down the street ahead of me, pursued by another person. The pursuer catches his quarry and kills him/her before I can catch up, and when I arrive on the scene I can see why violence was called for. Facedown on the ground is the rag-covered body of an infected person. I'm not surprised, exactly—I've already heard that a quarantine is in effect now that the Sand Plague threatens to rage out of control—but the sight is unnerving, a small foretaste of what's to come. Then, remembering something the Bachelor mentioned when we first met, I put on my gloves and take a deep breath. Infected organs are necessary, too, if we're ever going to find a cure.

I have a busy day ahead of me. As soon as I wake up, Fat Vlad's daughter Kapella (who, as you'll recall, is one of my Adherents) informs me that Notkin (another Adherent) is in trouble. I find his hideout surrounded by thugs, whom I dispatch with great difficulty (I have to fight all four at once, and my knife is almost completely dull after last night). Inside the hideout, I find a terrified Notkin, whose brush with death has momentarily shattered his tough-guy act and left him touchingly vulnerable. I am surprisingly gentle in my interaction with him, telling him that "it's all right now." For all his brutishness, Artemiy Burakh apparently has a soft spot for children.

Other major figures in town are keeping me on the go with an assortment of errands. In a development that secretly tickles me, the Bachelor, once the town's darling, now finds himself hamstrung by the locals, who don't trust him to do his fancy city-doctor autopsies on infected corpses. I'm the one to whom they look for help. Meanwhile, Fat Vlad pulls me aside to ask a favor. It seems that, upon hearing of the outbreak, Fat Vlad has rounded up all the butchers who work for him, locked them in the Apiary, and thrown away the key. Three of them have escaped his clutches. He wants me to hunt them down and turn them in.

I've suspected from Day 1 that Vlad cannot be trusted, and this ruthless (and unilateral) decision of his immediately makes me suspicious. He assures me that he did it for the good of the town—if these people have contracted the Plague, why not isolate them and let them tear each other apart rather than endangering everyone else? I'm not convinced, but lacking anything more than a hunch, I agree to go along with him for the time being. For more information on the butchers' whereabouts, Vlad directs me to a familiar-looking house near the outskirts.

Next stop: Ospina.

OSPINA QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Perhaps it is better to be turned inside out?"
Weirdly, it seems that Artemiy feels some sort of kinship with Ospina. By way of greeting or perhaps as a sort of password, she recites the beginning of a folk rhyme, which I then complete for her. I learn that we are both connected to some sort of bull-worshiping nature cult of the steppes, a religion that is still practiced by the Worms who live outside town and who toil in the Abattoir, slaughtering (or sacrificing?) cattle. The strange object I received with my inheritance yesterday is a cattle brand, shaped like a symbol in the cult's language. Ospina can't tell me what the symbol means, but the three escaped butchers can. She's hidden them in safehouses scattered across town. She gives me the location of the first one, on the condition that I keep Fat Vlad in the dark. I readily agree. I may not be fully on board with whatever religious ceremonies are going on in the depths of the Abattoir, but the steppe people are my people and I'll be damned if I betray them to some conniving nobleman, whatever his plans are.

The butcher is holed up in a nondescript house right in the middle of the infected zone. I'm a little daunted, but I knew it would come to this. I pull on my gloves again, tie a handkerchief over my face, and plunge in, stepping over a pile of bloody rags at the entrance.

The infected zone is a nightmare. The air is tinged a sickly green. Shrouded plague victims mill about like zombies while rats chitter in the long grass by the sidewalk. Both pursue me if I come too close. One man lies on the ground in the fetal position, weakly struggling against the virus in his veins and clutching at me as I pass. I know that I should probably put him out of his misery with an overdose of morphine, but I can't bring myself to euthanize him and press on. Sitting in my computer chair, I find myself trying to breathe as little as possible.

Never mind, I don't want to know the secret of the symbol. In fact, I think I'll try again at getting that business degree.
The butcher's hideout is even worse. I can hear screams of agony from the dying in other parts of the house as I pick my way through the mess. I have to keep moving because clouds of plague-bearing mist frequently sweep through the house. These clouds seem almost to have a mind of their own, creeping around corners and roiling up staircases as if they are chasing me. At one point I get cornered and can only watch as a plague cloud envelops me. My vision contracts and blurs slightly, and I don't have to check the upper right corner of the screen to know that my infection bar has been activated.

Panicked, I rush out of that room into a bedroom across the hall and almost bowl over the butcher, who's just ... standing there.

I have no idea how he manages to survive in this place.
We have a hurried conversation amid the screams and the chaos, and I learn one final tidbit: I need to find a man known only as the Elder of the Abattoir. Only he can reveal the meaning of my symbol and (maybe) the identity of the Betrothed to whom it belongs. Who is he, what does he look like, how do I find him? The butcher doesn't know. All he knows is that the Elder of the Abattoir is not currently living in the Abattoir.

After all I went through to get here, I was expecting a little bit more.

The Abattoir is the thing in the northeast corner that looks like a giant heart. And I will probably have to go there.
I eventually make it out of the infected district, somewhat the worse for wear but at least alive and in no immediate danger. I visit Fat Vlad to pump him for information about the Abattoir (carefully omitting the location of the butcher, of course) and stop by the Bachelor's to drop off some infected organs for his examination. He makes the startling discovery that the Sand Plague is no longer active in the tissue; it apparently can't survive in a host after death. With proper quarantining, we can stop the epidemic before it gets out of hand. But for some inexplicable reason, the powers-that-be send out notices to the general public that do not include this information. Why are they lying to the townspeople? I don't know, but we're going to pay for it later.

I spend the rest of the day completing side quests and stockpiling supplies, readying myself for whatever catastrophe awaits me tomorrow. I'm feeling optimistic in spite of everything else—it's the first day in which I've been able to finish all the tasks that have been given me, and I feel prepared to face the next day. But around 7:00, I suddenly double over. My vision contracts and blurs, and my own labored breathing rings loud in my ears. I pull up my character screen to find that my infection bar has crept up slightly. I may have weapons and money and food, but the Sand Plague in my bloodstream is here to stay.

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