Monday, October 31, 2011

Pathologic: Day Nine, which informs the Haruspicus that there is a battle for the Order and ancestral lands ahead of him

(or, in which Kevin imbibes a potent cocktail of madness and despair)

The morning of the ninth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 356 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 454 people
Gone missing: 58 people
Number of dead at the moment: 4086 people
Number of infected total: 539 people

The town is dying. Less than four days remain.

Duke and I are beginning to argue. Not as our characters, but in real life. He can't believe that I am so naive as to trust anything I learn about the Plague from the barbaric Cult of Bulls. Look at the things they do, Duke tells me. Look at the things they make you do: ripping out people's organs so you can make antibiotics; delivering up the defenseless Vlad Olgimskiy to be cannibalized. It's rituals like those, Duke says, that are sickening the earth and bringing the Sand Plague on us. And you are helping them.

For my part, I am disgusted by Duke's sudden turn for the fatalistic. Unexpectedly, I find that I'm the one clinging to some last vestiges of hope. The town may be twisted and corrupt, but we can still save it. We can still beat this thing. I can't believe that after all we have gone through, after fighting tooth and nail to save the people of this wretched little town, Duke is ready to sacrifice everybody just to win. To me, it looks like he's giving up because it's easier to nuke the Sand Plague rather than cure it. But these people deserve life, if nothing else. Gesticulating wildly in my kitchen, I call him a fascist.

The thing is, neither of us is completely sure who's right. It's impossible to tell which of the townspeople are lying to us, but they can't all be telling the truth. Ever-shifting loyalties and agendas make it impossible even to determine who would have a reason to lie. Essentially, Duke's and my conflict is a case of the blind fighting with the blind. I'm fairly sure I'm doing the right thing, but Duke's arguments stick in my mind. Every time I complete a task for the Order, I feel a small twinge of anxiety. What if he's right?

If there's one thing I don't have, though, it's time to sort through the tangle of questions and worries. The game relentlessly draws me on as people keep dying and resources get scarcer. The proverbial cavalry has arrived, though their notion of keeping the peace involves shooting first and asking questions later.1 A summons arrives with the dawn, telling me to report immediately to the army's commanding officer, General Blok. He wants to know where I got the panacea.

On my way there, I pass the Clot, former home of Fat Vlad. It's dark and empty, and an Executor has been posted outside the door. When I talk to him, he refuses to let me inside. "This house belongs to the dead. You could have prevented this," he states flatly.


At the Town Hall, General Blok imperiously asks about my method of producing the panacea. He knows that the key ingredient is scarce, and he wants to get more for me—by whatever means possible. I don't like his tone and refuse to reveal my secrets. I have seen the way he operates. I can only imagine what would happen if he were to send his troops into the Abattoir to get me the auroch blood by force. He might destroy the only source of the precious blood. This oaf could ruin everything. Livid at my refusal to cooperate, Blok tells me to go to hell and kicks me out of the Town Hall. Unconcerned, I dust myself off and head toward the Abattoir to meet with Elder Oyun.

What does Blok think he's going to do with this thing? Shoot the Sand Plague?
Today I will have the first of my three trials to determine if I'm worthy to be a leader in the Order. I will also get a good, long look into the swirling abyss of madness that awaits me when Pathologic finally decides to play real hardball.

Oyun is as proud and truculent as ever when I catch up with him. Some auroch blood went missing from the Abattoir last night, and he wants me to track down the thieves. He suspects the Bachelor, of course. I am doubtful about that, but I need that blood even more than the Elder does. I agree to look into it, and Oyun tells me not to rest until I find the truth. He then has me drink a potion before I leave, saying something about how I will get really tired.

I'm almost out of the Abattoir before I notice that my exhaustion meter seems to be filling up unnaturally fast. By the time I'm halfway to the Bachelor's house, it's full. Panicked, I eat the lemons in my inventory (which decrease exhaustion at the expense of increasing hunger), only to see any positive effects nullified in a matter of minutes. Whatever the Elder gave me to drink, it's screwing with my body. I don't keel over immediately once my exhaustion maxes out, which is what normally would happen; instead, my health starts to plummet. I use up every healing item I have just to stay alive long enough to reach the Bachelor's.

The Abattoir is on the eastern edge of town, the Bachelor's house is on the western edge, and there's plenty of
plague in between.
But he's not there. The woman who lives with him tells me that he has been taken captive by the Dogheads of the Polyhedron. For some reason the Bachelor decided to help the children get their hands on some guns, then idiotically tried to double-cross them by giving them blanks instead of live ammunition. The Dogheads are keeping him in a cell in the factory district, just a short distance from the Abattoir. My heart sinking, I start retracing my steps east, but not before vainly trying to fix my exhaustion/health problem with a one-hour nap (it does no good). I cough up the last of my money to buy some thousand-dollar tourniquets at the nearest pharmacy. I hope they'll keep me on my feet long enough to get to the bottom of all this, even as I try to ignore the fact that I'm practically fainting with hunger.

The Bachelor's guards—are they actually adults, or just prematurely wizened children? Rumor has it that
this is what happens to Dogheads who leave the Polyhedron.
At the jail, the Bachelor's guards refuse to be talked into releasing their ward. Khan, leader of the Dogheads, wants his rifle ammunition, and the Bachelor stays put until he gets it. The guards say that the live ammunition is probably back at the Bachelor's house: again, on the other side of town. Upon hearing this, I become almost frantic. I don't have time for this. Pausing the game, I agonize for about two minutes, trying to think of a way out of this predicament. The tourniquets in my inventory won't keep me alive for long, and my health bar is shrinking so fast that I can actually watch it tick down, little by little. Even if my strength will hold out for the trip to and from the Bachelor's house, I'm going to have to start selling off inventory to buy more healing items, and then I don't know where the money to buy food will come from.

I just can't do it. I can see only one way out of this. I whip out my knife and pounce on the little guards, stabbing them to death almost before they can react. Then, out of habit more than anything else, I harvest their hearts, livers, and kidneys. My conscience protests that I've just done a terrible thing, but I can only give a weary internal shrug. I can't be virtuous anymore. I have to survive.

Despite the grisly scene, the Bachelor is grateful for my assistance. We don't have time to waste, he says—General Blok and his men are volatile, and we need to figure out the source of the Sand Plague before Blok just starts torching everything. The general has a personal grudge against the Inquisitor, and nothing would please him more than to see her die as a result of her failure to save the town.

It's an interesting revelation, but I have more pressing questions. Who took the auroch blood from the Abattoir? According to the Bachelor, it was a splinter group of Worms and butchers, perhaps hoping to brew their own panacea with it. Hoping that will be enough to satisfy Elder Oyun and earn some relief from whatever toxin he gave me to drink, I hare off to the Abattoir with the news.

Oyun doesn't take it well. He starts ranting about the other people in the town, about how they are messing with forces they don't understand. Oddly, even though the Worms have nothing to do with the Polyhedron, he starts railing against it and the Kains, saying that it's totally unnatural, an abomination on the face of the earth. It's the Polyhedron, with its impossible architecture and rumored mystical power, that has messed up the natural order and awakened the Sand Plague. If Oyun is to be believed, the Bachelor is placing all his hopes on the very thing that has caused the epidemic.

The updated version of my map. The Polyhedron is actually a spike cruelly plunged into the earth,
and it looks like it may be interfering with the flow of sacrificial blood from the Abattoir.
This concludes my first trial, but Oyun does not give me any antidote. Whether it was my decision to kill the Bachelor's guards or my panicked attempts to reduce my exhaustion level, I screwed up somewhere, and my constantly draining health looks to be a problem for the foreseeable future. I sell some ammunition, then some medication, to purchase a health kit. Then I trudge on. Grimly, I suppose that I should be thankful that I treated my infection level before taking the trial.

Everything seems to be going to hell. I receive a letter from the Devotress telling me that she's found out about my white lie to her on Day Six. She knows that I think she's the avatar of the Sand Plague, and she doesn't care. "Saints and miracle makers are always stained with mud and blood," her note reads. She includes a list of her Adherents, saying that I have to care for them in addition to my own if I want her help in the next few days. I also receive a plea for help from Kapella, who says that my Adherent Spichka is in danger and, oh yeah, the quarantine fires on the town's outskirts have been extinguished mysteriously. If we want travelers to be warned away from our plague-infested hamlet, somebody needs to get them lit again.

The Dogheads, apparently growing bolder as the Plague escalates, wait in ambush inside Spichka's darkened house.
The rest of the day is a waking nightmare. As you can see from these screenshots, my hunger level is perilously high, but I can't do much about it because I have to sink all my money into tourniquets and health kits. This is also the first day where Pathologic's game design—specifically, my character's walking speed—begins actively chipping away at my sanity. I feel like I'm moving at a crawl as I walk to the outskirts to take care of the quarantine fires. I can see my health bar slowly ebb as my character ambles along with no way to move faster. And when I finally confront the outlaws responsible for the fires going out, any wound I incur necessitates a reload from the beginning because I have only enough healing items to compensate for the slow health drain—nothing else. I must have attempted to finish the day's final hours literally dozens upon dozens of times, growing more frazzled and irrational with each attempt.

When I finally succeed in killing the outlaws—among whom are Worms, regular townspeople, and the aged midgets—I feel almost no sense of accomplishment but merely a tired acceptance. By now I've been playing for at least five hours and, like my character, want nothing more than to go to sleep. When I report my success back to Kapella, I'm surprised to find both Spichka and the Inquisitor in her little room. The Inquisitor thanks me for relighting the watch-fires, darkly hinting that it was all a twisted ploy by General Blok to make her look bad. Spichka and Kapella also thank me, this time for keeping Spichka out of the clutches of his enemies. And here's where I learn what the children of the town are truly up to.

Kapella is setting the foundation for a new town, with new rulers. I had to save Spichka because he's going to ascend to the nobility someday. The town's children are not fools; they can see the toll that the Sand Plague is taking, and they are preparing to rebuild. Fat Vlad may be dead, the Kains may be going off the deep end, and adults everywhere are dying, but the children will pick up the pieces and avoid their elders' mistakes once the catastrophe has passed. If, that is, any of them are left alive by the end of it all.

I mull this over as I head over to the Bachelor's house to crash for the night. At least I have the ghost of a hope that I'm not struggling against these horrible difficulties for nothing. Once there, I talk to the Bachelor's landlady on a whim, and she suddenly hands over the rifle ammunition that the Dogheads had requested earlier in the day. Though I have no immediate use for 40 rifle rounds, I hold on to them tightly and avoid thinking about the guards that I killed. I don't have any money. These bullets are going to feed me in the days to come. And I am going to save this wretched little town if it kills me.

1 In the middle of the night, as I trudged back to my laboratory after doing some trading with a Worm out in the marshes, I ran into one of Blok's hulking, flamethrower-toting men. He flambéd me without hesitation before I got too close. Either the troops are terrible at following Blok's orders, or else they're a little too good at it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pathologic: Day Nine, on which the town is being occupied and the kids ask the Bachelor for help for the first time

At 7am:

The morning of the ninth day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 352 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 479 ppl.
Gone missing: 37 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 4311
Number of infected: 503 ppl.

The town is dying. Less than four days remain.

Today's Map - Note the infection is EVERYWHERE I HAVE TO WALK
I find myself safe in General Blok’s office. It’s already 2pm, I’ve gotten no sleep, and I somehow have five individual letters to answer.

When was there ever enough sun to have actual shadows?
While I’m relieved the General saved my life, his presence is unsettling. Rather than the old guards, we’ve got soldiers with rifles, and gas-masked juggernauts wielding massive flamethrowers. The General is paranoid of the Inquisitor—he thinks she’s manipulating everyone—and he wants to know I’m on his side. Of course, I’m on everybody’s side. And nobody’s side. This town is beyond “saving”. Victory is just a concept. Everyone is going to die, including me. Catherina Saburov, lying sick in her manor, foretold my death the moment I met her. Of course, I’m playing the pessimist.

Three Parks
The three leading ladies of the town are worried. Lara Ravel (“House of the Living” girl) wants a pistol for “self defense”. I go to Julia and she tells me Lara wants to kill the General; she’s convinced the military will overrun the town. Julia doesn’t want to see Lara kill the General (she’s got no chance anyway), so she offers herself up in exchange. I lie to General Blok that Julia is planning on killing him (at her request), so he puts her under house arrest.

Before I report back to Julia, I head to Anna Angel’s house—she tells me cryptically to give a small gun to Lara. I pocket the gun, head to Julia’s house to find five angry soldiers all hell-bent on killing me. I gun each one down (for some reason they decide not to open fire with their rifles) and take three fresh military grade rifles and rations from their corpses, then go inside and collect my reward from Julia: one of the precious few panaceas given out by Young Vlad. I head to Lara’s house, give her the gun (there’s no way she will kill the general), collect a second, then a third panacea from Anna. Mission accomplished.

I imagine something will go wrong, but it’s not my problem. If the general dies, my life is much less complicated. And Anna is ripe for blame, after all she’s done in the past. I’m covered.

The guards and exterminators are ruthless in their efficiency—if anything plagued moves past them, they turn the torch to it. And if my infection is past a quarter length, I become a target as well. I can’t properly relate exactly how frustrating getting around the town is, especially because the plague is mostly situated in the center, near General Blok.

These guys should have gotten here a long time ago.
In the past two days, executors have begun to appear outside the houses of different townsfolk. None of them are my adherents; I’ve kept in step with all the quests so far. These are the adherents of the Haruspicus and the Devotress. I’ve gotten passive aggressive notes from both of them asking me to take care of their list of adherents, though keeping track of every sick townsperson is out of the question. I simply don’t have time.

I feel as though I am fighting for my survival every moment of the day. I eat coffee beans to stave off exhaustion which depletes my health meter. And then, because my health is so low, I can't destroy my infection or strengthen my immunity, because taking pills shaves off a significant portion of my health. So, while running every errand, I have to do whatever I can to keep infection down, health up, all the while avoiding plague clouds and flamethrower-toting soldiers.

The Clot, Fat Vlad's manor, is locked up. It seems that, burdened with the weight of his guilt, he tossed himself to the angry masses in the Apiary. The executor taunts me, tells me I could have prevented it, then laughs in my face.

But what does it matter? He was a corrupt, fat old man. And, more importantly, he wasn’t my Adherent.

Miracle of Children
Victor Kain tells me his family will die from the plague after all this is over. He needs someone to preserve his legacy. That person will be Maria Kain. So much of this depends on the Polyhedron, though. So I climb the impossible steps and find Khan Kain, Victor’s son, down the Agate Hole. I need to investigate the Polyhedron, I tell him; I need to find out what’s really going on, and why everyone is so focused on the seemingly miraculous potential of this structure.

Tweens don't need codpieces. Just saying.
He says he’ll let me in, but I have to get him guns. He needs to be able to intimidate the General’s men. There are over a thousand children inside; all they will need to do is fire a few shots and scare them off. Of course, his entire idea is ridiculous. General Blok purportedly destroyed an entire fortress with minimal losses. There’s no way a tower of children could stop him.

However, I indulge him. I tramp back to Blok’s outpost, ask for a rifle, then give Khan the three soldiers’ rifles from earlier, my own, and Blok’s. Khan lets me inside the inner room.

I feel like I’m in a dream. The interior is gorgeous—rich velvet and light, and all the impossible stairs, writing all around. There are paper cranes hanging from the ceiling, stairways that lead to nothing: it’s fascinating. There are children, too, but nowhere near the thousand of which Khan spoke.

So if this whole place is made of paper, like they say, it's kinda like a huge origami, isn't it?
A few more things begin to make sense. Khan tells me the interior is a place of dreams. He talks about rooms of mirrors—and when I tell him I didn’t see any of this, that all I saw was stairs and walls, he scoffs. I’m too old to understand or to see, he says. When the kids grow up, they stop seeing it too.

As I said earlier, there was talk of the Polyhedron being a place of eternal youth. There was talk of the Kains’ “Inner Chamber”—in fact, it was in this Inner Chamber where Simon Kain was found at the beginning, infected with the Sand Plague. Is it possible that the Polyhedron, an anaesthetized and cold needle of a structure, could have injected the Sand Plague into the town, much like a syringe?

After discussing a few things with Kevin, I’ve learned that there are actually aged midgets wandering around town; in fact, one of his first quests was to kill a midget out on the steppe. According to the Dualsouls, these “midgets” are actually rejects from the Dogheads in the Polyhedron. With all the talk about eternal youth, and the sort of static atmosphere provided within the Polyhedron, is it possible that the children of the structure are actually older than they appear? That, if they leave the Polyhedron for long enough, they age rapidly?

There is one other facet: Khan. My impression of him (which has been conveyed by others as well) is that he is a child beyond his years. He looks like a young teenager, but he speaks as a grown man. The Kains have been very secretive throughout all of this. A few whispered hints of “reincarnation” and “rebirth”. Do they hope to be reborn in the innermost chamber of the Polyhedron?

And all of this becomes much more dire when I consider the town: in order to give dreams, perhaps youth, the Polyhedron needs fuel. Where does this energy come from? And more importantly, how can I harness it? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pathologic: Day Eight, on which the Haruspicus will discover who is the bearer of the secret mark

(or, in which Kevin gets a tour of the sausage factory)

The morning of the eighth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 244 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 417 people
Gone missing: 40 people
Number of dead at the moment: 3336
Number of infected: 503 people

Less than five days remain. The sanitary army will arrive tomorrow.

As always, the devil is in the details. My successful creation of the panacea yesterday came as a complete surprise, albeit a pleasant one; I had assumed that, with nearly a week to go, I would face a long struggle to find the cure if I found one at all. To have created the panacea so relatively early struck me as curiously easy, at least by Pathologic's standards. As the eighth day progresses, however, I realize that the worst part is yet to come. The blood that I use to create the serum is extremely rare (thanks mostly to the obstinacy of the people of the Abattoir), and a single flask of panacea is no cure at all when an entire town is clamoring for it. The Inquisitor predicts that the town will tear itself apart as citizens vie for a dose of the serum, of which there is not enough to go around. The question is no longer "can I find a cure in time?" It's "which people get to be cured?"

It seems that the game is going to make me choose who lives and who dies.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Each day I find myself writing something about how the Sand Plague has gotten almost unbearable, only to discover that things have somehow gotten even worse on the next day. Day Eight is no exception. Nearly every district in town now is either crawling with the Plague or convulsing in its wake. On previous days I could usually pass safely through an infected zone with some fleet footwork and a bit of luck, but now it is impossible for me to come out unscathed on the other side of an infected zone. Multiple plague clouds converge on me from different directions; arsonists, bandits, and the infected attack me on sight; rats chase me even into healthy districts until I stab them or seek refuge indoors. My gloves, boots, and facemask have all degraded to the point where they hardly shield me from the Plague at all (yes, in Pathologic even your clothing wears out, requiring expensive mending). I can't properly convey the deep, weary feeling of relief that sweeps over me whenever the green-hued air of an infected zone gives way to the normal browns and tans of a healthy area.

Oh MAN, we are screwed.
Even the buildings are diseased. This has been going on for a while, but today is the first day that I notice just how awful everything looks. Nearly every structure is covered in bloody sores, leading the Inquisitor to theorize that this isn't just some nasty bug. It's something elemental, a force of nature. Maybe it comes from the earth itself. She has already tasked the Bachelor with testing soil samples.

The Bachelor, for his part, thinks the inhabitants of the Abattoir are to blame. Whatever sacrifices they're making in there, whatever blood they're pouring into the earth, it's poisoning everything. Unsurprisingly, the Cult of Bulls isn't going to admit someone with such opinions into their inner sanctum, which means that once again he needs my help. I agree, though less from a desire to help him than from a desire to talk with Elder Oyun again. The Bachelor is beginning to worry me; in our conversations he seems increasingly detached from our battle with the Sand Plague. I sense that our goals and loyalties are gradually diverging from one another.

Perhaps sensing the Inquisitor's scrutiny, the Abattoir has closed its entrance, which means that once again I must do a favor for Mother Keeper to open it. This quest isn't as difficult as the last one I had to complete for her, but it's more disturbing in its implications. It seems that, despite my encouraging words to her on Day Six, the timid, soft-hearted Klara has disappeared, leaving only her cunning doppelganger to quietly spread fear around town. (Or maybe the Devotress everyone has been seeing is actually Klara, and my well-intentioned white lie did no good. Maybe the "doppelganger" is just some trick. Trying to pin down exactly what this game is doing with the Devotress character is a maddening exercise in confusion.) The Devotress has been appearing solely to the children of the town—my Adherents—and telling them frightening stories and riddles. Mother Keeper is scared of her, which does not bode well considering that Mother Keeper does not seem to be scared by anyone or anything else. She wants me to get the Devotress to tell her the end of the story that the Devotress has been telling to all the kids. There is an urgency to the request that suggests there's more behind it than merely a child's curiosity.

I finally track her down in the trainyard, interrupting a strange tête-a-tête between her and bedraggled orphan Mishka. The story she tells has something to do with a crystal flower that parasitically grows in a garden, killing all the normal flowers around it until nothing remains but crystal flowers. There's obviously a connection between the crystal flower and the Sand Plague, but it's hard to tell whether the Devotress intends her story as a cautionary tale, a fable to be emulated, or a glimpse of some unavoidable future. In any case, what I've heard will satisfy Mother Keeper, though I worry about leaving Mishka alone in that railcar with the Devotress. Why is she focusing so much attention on my Adherents?

Burakh Vs. the Elder

Ever since I received my inheritance on Day Two, I have had two goals for my time in town. The first was to find a cure for the Sand Plague and produce a panacea. The second and more enigmatic goal was to figure out the identity of the "Betrothed," the one to whom belongs a strange symbol that I found in my heritage box. Why exactly this is so important is a question that I have been unable to answer so far, though from today's title I have a feeling that I'm going to find out today. The Elder supposedly is the one who can tell me who the Betrothed is and why I should care.

This assumption hits a snag almost immediately. Elder Oyun seems to have decided overnight that he doesn't trust me, and he refuses to cooperate with my requests for more information and more panacea-producing auroch blood. When I protest that my heritage entitles me to those things, he scoffs that I haven't grown into my father's legacy yet. Whoever handed over my inheritance has been keeping things from me, including another special object without which I don't deserve so much as a cup of water from the Order.

When I confront Ospina about this, she says that she did it only because she's in love with me (?) and didn't want me getting mixed up with the Elder before I was ready. Leaving aside the sudden declaration of love (which might be a translation issue, her attempt to manipulate me, or both—I have no idea which), I'm furious that she kept something from me that hurt my position with the Elder. She claims she was doing it for my own good—there was apparently bad blood (no pun intended) between Oyun and my father, and things might have gone badly for me if Oyun had thought I was making a power play for his position as head of the Order. He is in a precarious position right now, Ospina says. The Oyuns are not a respected family as the Burakhs are, and he's the Elder only because Fat Vlad, who controls the Abattoir's meat-production operations, set him on the proverbial throne (perhaps as a sort of puppet ruler). Now that Oyun's sacrifices are failing to appease whatever force is causing the epidemic, many in the Cult of Bulls are calling him a fraud.

With that, Ospina hands me a talisman made of a bull's horn. This is the last piece of my inheritance, she says. I am still unhappy that she didn't give it to me earlier, but she has convinced me that at least she didn't do it out of malice. Besides, how could you stay mad at a face like this:

OSPINA QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The Inquisitor continues her terrible harvest. Is she at least beautiful?"
Back in the Abattoir, I present the talisman to Elder Oyun. It is not quite enough to convince him that I deserve full access to the Order's secrets, but he grudgingly agrees to reveal the identity of the Betrothed: the earth.

Well, maybe the town, too. Over the generations, the people of the Abattoir have been sacrificing bulls and pouring the blood into that huge pit I saw yesterday. They say that, down there in the darkness, the blood nourishes the earth, which is actually a living being they call an udurg: "a body that contains a world." The stuff I use to create the panacea comes from that underground reservoir. According to the Elder, the Sand Plague has come because something is interfering with the reservoir, either blocking or poisoning it. Contrary to what the Bachelor seems to think, the town and the earth beneath it form a symbiotic relationship. With its nourishment either drying up or becoming corrupted, the world is slowly eating itself, and the town along with it. This would explain why even the town's structures are being ravaged by disease. The only way to reverse this process and save the town, Oyun says, is to present some sort of sacrifice, to provide the udurg once more with untainted blood.

What must I sacrifice, then? I ask. But the Elder has clammed up again.

The alternate view of my town map. Notice that the hill on which the town rests
has been revealed to be a bull.
The Life of Fat Vlad

The Inquisitor is pleased with my findings—more than pleased, she seems downright giddy in her fascination with the idea of the udurg—and I settle in for an evening of scrounging for tomorrow's supplies. Funny how the wearying process of scraping together enough cash to meet the 800-dollar price tag on a loaf of bread, so onerous at first, is becoming almost mundane. I guess one gets used to anything after a while.

At around 8 pm, I receive a letter from George Kain containing some unsettling news. Now that the Apiary has been unlocked, its inhabitants have been calling for the head of Fat Vlad Olgimskiy, the man who had locked them up and left them to rot. Fat Vlad, perhaps shaken by the Inquisitor's presence, has decided to surrender himself to the mob. According to George Kain, though, he is not to blame. He's only taking the rap so that his son, Young Vlad—the true mastermind behind the Apiary fiasco—will be spared. Kain tells me that, as the only person with any influence over the butchers of the Apiary, I have a responsibility to go to them and make sure they punish the right guy.

I am at a loss. I've distrusted the elder Olgimskiy from the start, but even I don't think that he deserves whatever horrible fate the denizens of the Apiary have prepared for him. On the other hand, I have no reason to believe that Young Vlad is guilty either, and Kain, as a member of one of the rival families, could have ulterior motives for disposing of the scion of the Olgimskiys. I go to the Inquisitor with the news, telling her to throw the weight of her authority behind an investigation. She callously dismisses my concerns as beneath her and warns me not to tell her how to do her job. I am to handle this "petty" matter on my own.

Not knowing what else to do, I head toward the Apiary on the other side of town, hoping that I'll have an idea of what to do by the time I get there. No such luck. All too quickly, I am standing before Mother Keeper in her torchlit inner sanctum, with her waiting for me to deliver the guilty party into the Order's hands. I have three dialogue options:

1) Fat Vlad is guilty
2) Young Vlad is guilty
3) I refuse to help

I'm afraid to take the third option, which would keep my hands clean but also leave the quest unfulfilled. Failed quests can put my Adherents in danger, and I am also worried about losing whatever favor I've curried with the Order. The quest must be finished. My mouse hovers over Young Vlad's name, but then I remember his helpfulness, his knowledge of the town's secrets, my deep-seated distrust of Fat Vlad, and George Kain's questionable motives. I change my mind and, with a click, condemn Fat Vlad to the butchers' clutches. I feel like a coward.

Before I leave, I ask Mother Keeper exactly what will happen to the man. She replies that the Worms and butchers will take him into a back room that she is forbidden to enter. When they finally leave, Fat Vlad will be gone—vanished without a trace. I feel the hairs on my neck prickle. "Mother, do they eat him?"

The kid looks back at me in the firelight. "I am not allowed to go in that room, Burakh." Her expression does not change.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pathologic: Day Eight, by the end of which the Bachelor will be convinced not to expect anything good from the Earth.

At 7am:

The morning of the eighth day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 249 ppl
Died in the past 24 hours: 391 ppl
Gone missing: 59 ppl
Number of dead at the moment: 3128
Number of infected: 570

Less than five days remain. Tomorrow the sanitary army will arrive.

Today's Map
It’s a fundamental law of physics: Each action demands an equal and opposite reaction.

Ice Pick Lodge labeled this game as a prototype of an epidemic simulator. If I pull back for a moment and assess what has happened—and where I’ve just found myself—I couldn’t be more horrified. I’m controlling a pixeled avatar, a stuck up researcher from the city, whose shoes I have easily filled. If I were to answer to friends for what I’ve said and done in this virtual sphere right now, I’d be ashamed. I’ve killed men in barbaric combat—just to try to understand the primitives of this godforsaken place. I’ve dodged murders, taken down roomfuls of muggers, and lied to everyone in this entire town, in exchange for the numerous lies that have been told to me.

If Ice Pick were to assess my decisions, I’ve failed. I came into this town as a representative of civility and objective truth, and I mucked the whole thing up. Rubin has disappeared. Hundreds are dead in the Cathedral, and my first reaction when I spoke to the townsfolk was relief that all this wouldn’t be blamed on me. Of course, this is human nature. In the end, we’re all meat—heat—desire, and we all want to survive.

I’ll explain the day as quickly as I can.

Black Market of Panacea
The Haruspicus and I have created a panacea, through my research and his alchemy. Several worms, holed up in the now-open Apiary, have begun to produce a false elixir and sell it for an exorbitant sum. When I confront them, they point a finger of blame to Young Vlad Olgimskiy and say he has bought all of the true panacea and is hording it for personal gain. When I visit him, he tells me that yes, this is true: he used the vast funds at his disposal to buy it all up, but only so that he could sell it for (basically) nothing to the women of the town—Lara, Julia and Anna. It seems that he’s had a genuine change of heart.

I hope those large bags are just full of dead cow meat.
Kevin has already written about the Apiary—he took a visit to that harrowing place yesterday—but I’d like to share some impressions. I enter the asylum greeted by the cries of madmen. Butchers and worms run to and fro on strange errands, and massive bags of rotting meat hang from the ceiling. Bodies litter the floors, and there are strange experiments going on in back rooms. This place is filled with the refuse of the human race.

I assume this is a painting of the Apiary--otherwise it's gotta be a communist propaganda poster.
Underground Decay
The panacea is not enough to stave off infection. Yes, it cures the infection completely, yet it’s not enough. The fact is that as long as the source persists, this infection will come back again and again, and eventually spread beyond this microcosm. There’s something—either from the Abattoir, the Polyhedron, the water source—that will continue to fuel the outbreak. There is a dry rot in the infrastructure, and we need to search it out.

The difficulty of each errand today will be exacerbated by the plague: it has truly reached its peak. To enter an infected zone today is almost certain death. Plague clouds materialize all at once, hemming me in, as brown-swathed infected pursue with a reckless abandon, knowing they will die. The remaining arsonists patrol the streets accompanied by knife-wielding maniacs, all of them ready and capable of ending me with one strike.

I investigate the water source first. Young Vlad has filled in the well in his place, rendering any research utterly useless. My only recourse is to investigate the Abattoir: something there is poisoning the ground itself, the Inquisitor is certain. To this end, I ask Taya (the “Mother Keeper” girl in the Apiary) to order open the gates. She tells me she might, but only if Big Vlad offers himself as a sacrifice for his crimes. He was singlehandedly responsible for the shut-in at the Apiary which allowed the asylum to become a breeding ground for the disease and killed hundreds. I’m convinced I still need Big Vlad, however, so the Mother Keeper gives me another task: I need to break into her old house (the same one Lara picked to be a “House of the Living” on Day 2) and recover her favorite rocking horse toy.

That's not soot on my nose. It's Sand Plague.
The mission is difficult; not only do I need to procure a lockpick, but the former “House of the Living” is impossible to navigate, filled to the brim with miasmic plague clouds. Choking, I rush up the stairs, grab the rocking horse and run back to Taya who says she’ll open the Abattoir for my inspection just before midnight tonight.

At half past eleven, I make my way to the Apiary, find the gaping tunnel before me and run through to the Abattoir. After wandering for a bit, I come upon a large room, where half a dozen butchers circle me and proceed to beat me up. In just the nick of time, a wave of soldiers rush in, gun down the barbarians and take me to the town center. On my way there, I’m treated to a cinematic showing lines of soldiers marching in formation—a stern-faced general at their fore. The army has arrived.

This is me about to get lynched.
Aglaja and Young Vlad
From my conversations with these two, I have come to an unsettling conclusion. Simply put, the town must be destroyed.

So much of this town is unnatural. After researching the Polyhedron (the dogheads—the gang of children who live there—came to my house) I have learned several interesting points. First: it is something entirely synthetic. None of the children who live there have been infected. People say it is a place of magical energy, that time is static. Some say it grants eternal youth. Some say that only the youthful can benefit from its strange magic. The Kain family talks of the inner sanctum as a chamber where a spirit can choose its path—this has something to do with Eve’s suicide, attempting to become “part of the Cathedral”. The Cathedral is so close to the Polyhedron—perhaps they are linked.

So yes: the Polyhedron is a miracle, a strange healing instrument of sorts. Yet it is an artificial, unliving thing, and it has paralyzed the earth. I zoomed out from my map today to see the town overlaid with the image of a bull—organs, intestines, spine, everything. And at the tip—the head—is the jagged, pointed, impossible Polyhedron.

I yelped when this came up instead of my map.
This was all steppe at one point—there were wanderers in yurts, moving across the surface of the land, briefly drawing from the resources, then moving on. Like symbiotes, they fed from the land in life, and with their death (and blood) proceeded to feed the land. Yet the town has changed everything. Trains arrived from far away bringing the oafish townsfolk, who built their structures piece by piece, attaching themselves to the land like melanoma.

The Haruspicus experienced the tunnels beneath the town as a sort of ventricle—as blood vessels through an abdomen. There are hundreds more beneath each house, beneath each manhole I pass on each street, all of them burrowed deep with cold, sharp trowels by greedy townsfolk. These aren’t blood vessels: they are carved wounds. We call the disease the Sand Plague because it comes from the earth, when in reality it is not a plague at all. The plague is the antibodies of the earth, and we are all parasites, sucking the life from the ground, poisoning its blood and flesh gradually.

The people of this blighted town are corrupt, squabbling animals, and they are only getting their just payment for the ways they have grossly abused the earth. Even the steppe folk have been corrupted, drawing inward into myopic ramblings of cultish earth gods and goddesses, upholding traditions that no longer have meaning, that will not shield them from the judgment. As I walk through the outskirts of the town, I can occasionally make out the remaining yurts covered in rust-colored scabs. No one is safe. Everyone is judged.

The Inquisitor describes this microcosm as a carefully wound and intricate mechanism, and something is throwing it off. The Polyhedron, with its odd stasis, has wound the clock to a halt, left the earth vulnerable and incapable of repair, while the Abattoir has gummed up the inner workings with whatever the Butchers are dumping into the system.

The Bachelor is a doctor. I am playing the role of surgeon. The true blight here is not the Sand Plague, but the cancerous growth of this town. The most logical recourse is to excise this tumor before it can spread. I don’t know what will make this possible, but I am assured the tools will present themselves in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pathologic: Day Seven, a fatal, crucial, and decisive day for the Haruspicus

(or, in which Kevin punches the Sand Plague right in its stupid face)

The morning of the seventh day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 181 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 350 people
Gone missing: 16 people
Number of dead at the moment: 2450 people
Number of infected: 450 people

Even together with the Inquisitor you will not be able to defeat this enemy. Less than six days remain.

Look at those numbers—the death toll has quadrupled from yesterday. It's not exactly an auspicious moment for the government Inquisitor to come calling.

The executors, bowing to the Inquisitor. Not pictured: the town wetting its collective pants.
The Bachelor is worried. As the official leader of the hunt for a cure, he looks really bad now that all our best efforts have failed, and he readies himself for his appointment with the Inquisitor with the funereal air of a condemned man.1

I too am uneasy about the summons that arrives for me. While I know that I have done nothing that warrants execution—a punishment that the Inquisitor freely doles out—I also know that I have enemies in town who would love to put me squarely in her crosshairs. After all, I have been doing things—exacting vigilante justice on looters, consorting with weirdos like Ospina and the Worms, cutting open corpses on the street for their organs—that would look pretty bad when presented in a certain light. Unless I want to take a one-way trip to the gallows, I have to track her down and explain myself before she starts hearing tales. Thus begins a not-so-merry chase around town that takes up the greater part of the day.

The Inquisitor has set up shop in the Cathedral on the town's west side, but she's gone by the time I arrive for our meeting. A cackling executor tells me that she has thrown wide the doors of the Apiary and is there right now, taking note of the horrifying conditions under which Fat Vlad's prisoners have been living. Worried that my association with Vlad in the early days of the epidemic (was that really only a few days ago? it seems like ages) will come back to bite me, I hoof it over there as fast as I can, cursing every delay as plague zones sprawl across my path.

I thought the first section of the Apiary was disturbing, but I'm taken aback by what I find in the main part of the building. The only living Worms I'd seen up to this point were hanging out in the marshes, but there are tons of them in here, quite literally running around. Their frantic dashing back and forth, along with the unhinged, echoing shrieks that occasionally reverberate throughout the building, set me on edge even before I have a chance to explore. When I do, I find that the Apiary is laid out like a maximum-security prison, with multiple levels of cell-like rooms that extend up to the ceiling and are accessible primarily via catwalks. Unlike the rooms in the first section, these cells are not boarded up, probably because they are not occupied by stricken Worms gasping their last breaths into the dusty wooden floor. That does not mean, however, that the rooms are empty:

I also stumble across a larger back room that looks like it was being used for dissection and experiments. Was Stakh Rubin here?

Unfortunately, I've missed the Inquisitor, who has already moved on to the Town Hall to release some unjustly incarcerated citizens. I do however run into the Mother Keeper again, who has parked her adorable five-year-old self in some sort of temple room on the Apiary's third floor. She has resumed her duties as a spiritual leader in the Cult of Bulls, and as further thanks for my help yesterday with the pills, she tells me that I now have permission to enter the Abattoir. I thank her, but it's a privilege that I won't be able to exercise until I catch up with the Inquisitor. I make my way through the throngs of Worms and butchers and step outside into the free air.

Just a reminder: this shrine is presided over by a kindergartner.
By the time I reach the Town Hall, the prisoners have already been freed and the Inquisitor has moved on. It's the same story wherever I go—I'm always one step behind my quarry as she blazes a path through town, righting wrongs and meting out justice. According to George Kain, her zeal is due to the fact that she is facing her own inquisition back at the capital. She's been given one last chance: personally eradicate the epidemic here in town, or else face the hangman when she returns home. She has a very personal stake in what happens here. Interesting—I mentally file that information away before proceeding to the Cathedral, to which the Inquisitor has returned after her sojourn in town.

Our conversation is a little cold at first as we feel each other out; but my knowledge of the Inquisitor's tenuous position has emboldened me, and she seems impressed with my refusal to apologize for my actions. In any case, we both want the same thing (if for different reasons), so there's no sense in her stringing up a potential ally. The Inquisitor is an interesting lady, if a bit abstract in her manner of speaking. She talks a lot about duty and politics and life, which makes for a fascinating if hard-to-follow talk. She seems interested in the town beyond its relevance to her job and is quite knowledgeable about its bull-related nature religion. So knowledgeable, in fact, that she has made a discovery that's eluded the Bachelor and me. The human-bull hybrid (called an "auroch") that we thought a fantasy exists, it's alive, and its blood can be found somewhere in the Abattoir. She sends me to meet with the Elder of the Abattoir, newly returned, to see if I can wrangle some blood out of him.

I've been dying to see the interior of the Abattoir ever since Day 1, so I get over there as fast as I can. To be honest, I was hoping for something a bit more mind-blowing after all the build-up. The part of the Abattoir that I'm able to explore is basically just a gigantic cavern, populated by a mix of butchers and Worms (the latter of which are becoming creepier and creepier by the hour). The town's paltry remaining cattle are penned up inside, their lowing echoing off the dank stone walls. There is one feature of the place that intrigues me, though, and that's a large chamber that looks as if it's used for sacrifices. In the middle of the floor is a seemingly bottomless pit. I wonder what goes into it—or what comes out.

Part of the Abattoir, as viewed from a high platform. It's hard to tell from this shot, but there's a
pit on the right side. I have no idea where it leads.
The Elder of the Abattoir, Oyun, is waiting for me at the end of the system of caverns. It doesn't take long for me to realize that this guy is going to be trouble.

Yes, your neck tendons are very impressive. You can stop flexing now.
Something about the saturnine Oyun doesn't add up. Other members of the Order say that he tried to sacrifice an auroch last night to stop the Plague, but he botched it somehow. The Elder growls that he did everything right but that a couple of Worms sacrificed another bull at the same time and somehow messed everything up. Having been with those Worms last night, though (gathering the blood sample for the Bachelor), I know that this isn't true. Whatever caused Oyun's ritual to fail, it wasn't us. I can't decide whether some greater power was working against him, or he has some secret agenda of his own, or he's just plain incompetent. I file that away, too, and ask for the auroch blood, which Oyun hands over with plenty of dark muttering about how I don't deserve it. He orders me to come back tomorrow so he can test whether I truly am Isidor Burakh's heir. Sure, whatever. I pocket the vial and head for my laboratory.

I have a twyre recipe that I have used only once, to make another disgusting dead porridge and beat back my infection. It involved a few rare herbs, but it also reduced my infection to almost nil. If any recipe should be used with the rare auroch blood, it's that one. I brew it up, add the blood, and press "mix," holding my breath.

A brightly colored flask labeled "panacea" appears in my inventory. I carry it to the Inquisitor, hoping against hope. Evenly, she tells me that, yes, this is indeed the panacea we've been striving for all this time. I've done it. I've found the cure!

... Now what?

1 In Duke's playthrough, as you've read, the Bachelor is on much better terms with the Inquisitor than he is here. Why the difference? I can only speculate that Duke's heroic efforts on Day Five—particularly his costly liberation of the wrongly imprisoned citizens in the Town Hall—actually had a positive effect after all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pathologic: Day Seven, on which the Bachelor will be able to reveal the truth and obtain a priceless ally

At 7am:

The morning of the seventh day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 209 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 342 ppl.
Gone missing: 19 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 2394
Number of infected: 437 ppl.

Even together with the Inquisitor you will not defeat this enemy. Less than six days remain.

Today's Map
As soon as I step out of Eve Yahn’s house a cinematic plays. It’s the Inquisitor—a slim, severe woman—ordering executions, followed by an image of the gallows. At this, I start to worry a bit. I have nothing to show for yesterday—no culpable source for the disease. I can only hope she’ll understand.

Tough . . . love?
Also, today is the day when everyone starts calling me oinon. I did a double-take at first; I thought they were calling me onion.

Truth, Lies, and Some More In Between
Not only is the Inquisitor understanding: she’s an admirer of my research. Three years ago, we met at an exhibition in which I resurrected dead tissue. Aglaja is confident in my abilities; moreover, she says I’ve been manipulated. “They” have sent me here on false pretenses in an effort to destroy my work and me. I can only assume she means the higher authorities, academia—all of them jealous of my brilliance. How convenient it was, she tells me, that the town’s sole medic would die on the first day (an almost negligible detail to me on Day 1). I was set up to fail in my fight against this enemy from the very beginning.

Don't let the cowering lackeys or blood-red throne confuse you: she's a teddy bear.
There have been three spectators in town disguised as Executors. They have been feeding rumors of the Shabnak, false information to the masses that has spread faster than the plague. I have to find them and collect their ledgers for Aglaja. This is not terribly difficult to do—each is situated in the heart of the three main districts.

One of the spectators has something interesting to say. He tells me not to trust the Inquisitor; she would like nothing more than to burn this town to the ground. She's wanted, convicted, and this is her last act as Inquisitor, and she would like nothing more than to bring ruin and shame to the higher powers. I take note of this as I grab his ledger.

Eve is Gone
As I scurry around town, I receive a disturbing note from Eve Yahn (my landlady-with-benefits). She says she can’t take any more of this—that she needs a sign of a miracle. Minutes later, I receive a letter from the Devotress blaming me for my mistakes; Eve has jumped from the highest parapet of the Cathedral, expecting to be saved by some miracle.

Andrey Stamatin, who owns the pub in the eastern district (which I frequent for coffee and roses) has some woes. I find from his entourage that he has gone to the swamps in search of Eve; he doesn’t know she’s died. Instead he’s gotten it into his head that the smooth-headed Worms have stolen her to become a “Bride of the Worms”—perhaps for sacrifice or something worse.

Cursing under my breath, I tramp down to the swamps. It’s not to far a detour on my way back to the Inquisitor. I arrive at a rust-red yurt to find a large posse of high-cheekboned butchers and worms, all of them thirsty for blood. After several failed engagements, I adopt a stealthier approach, draw my adversaries out to the swamp to wander after me, and rush to the yurt to speak to Andrei, who has discovered the horrible truth. Yes, Eve has died. There’s no getting her back, no hoax, no trickery. If I want comfort from now on, I’ll need to visit the tavern.

We should seriously check into whether or not this game has ever induced Seasonal-Affective Disorder. 
Andrey says one rather unsettling thing before we part ways. He tells me Eve jumped because she wanted to become “The Soul of the Cathedral”. Something about an Inner Chamber. I’m reminded of the Kain family’s talk of the “Inner Chamber” in which the late Simon Kain, the first diseased, died on Day 1 and 2 (another seemingly unimportant detail to me back then). At this point, however, I still don’t understand.

Truth, Lies, etc. (continued)
The Inquisitor is frustrated with the ledgers I collected. They are false. The numbers have been stacked; the information collected is off, somehow, though we don’t know which of the three is wrong. She tells me that I must arrest one of the three spectators. One tells the truth, one always lies, and the other one vacillates between the two. Right, Wrong, Neutral. I can’t help but think, as she sends me to discern which is which, that I’m being put through an elaborate test. She wants to see how trustworthy I am.

She said he did it of his own free will but . . . uh . . .
Look carefully at the hollow--there's a strange face etched into the roof of the Cathedral.
The details of the rest are inconsequential, of course. I find the traitor, take him back to the Inquisitor, and she orders him to jump from the top balustrade of the Cathedral to his death. She tells me afterwards that I made the right decision, and she’ll have more for me to do tomorrow.

A new "map"?
When I’ve finished, I look at my map to see a second drawing on the back. It’s the town from the side—a large, awkward hump on a hill. I don’t understand the meaning at all. The etchings at the bottom are like traced veins. I’m certain this will make more sense in the days to come.

Mask & Overall
I receive a letter from the Haruspicus asking for an executor’s mask and suit and spend much of the rest of the afternoon scouring the town and countryside for something, but nothing turns up. I must have missed something earlier. However, my wandering turns up two interesting things.

The culture of this place disgusts me. The townsfolk built their awkward little houses, now brimming with plague, when they ought to have stayed in their yurts. As I head north through the Tanner’s District, I come upon a Worm standing outside an empty pen. Curious, I ask him what he’s doing. He tells me the earth needs blood, and that by performing a special ritual we can nourish it. I want to know more, and he hints that I might be able to participate. I accept, and moments later I find myself hemmed in the pen, facing a bloodthirsty butcher with nothing but my fists to defend myself.

I panic, then relax and step forward. He delivers a crushing blow, nearly killing me, and so I step back, then forward, timing my punches just so. After a few minutes, he goes down. The worm, looking rather glum, tells me I didn’t shed enough blood, but he would give me the fellow’s pancreas as a reward. I take a sample of blood instead. It may prove useful.

Kevin constantly berates me for being “so prissy” but I just killed a man with my bare hands. There’s nothing prissy about that. That’s what this town is—it’s designed to make animals of men.

Horns. Everywhere.
The other image that interests me is in the cemetery. I hadn’t noticed it before, but most every tombstone has some sort of image of bulls upon it—in the form of horns. Bull horns everywhere. It’s a strange anthropomorphism. There’s so much talk about the Abattoir—the bulls in the fields and the infections—and now rather than cows in the pens, there are hundreds of human carcasses, stacked and canvassed. The people of this town are mere livestock on their way to the slaughter.

Pathologic: Day Six, by the end of which the Haruspicus will find out how important a role mythic beings can play in our lives

(or, in which hope takes a beating)

The morning of the sixth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 165 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 110 people
Gone missing: 23 people
Number of dead at the moment: 660 people
Number of infected: 311 people

Less than seven days remain. A governmental emissary will arrive tomorrow.

The Bachelor has bad news for me. Possibly because it came from a butcher instead of from the twyrine bride, the heart that I brought him yesterday failed to produce a vaccine for the Sand Plague. Evidently, the low-level immunity possessed by the steppe natives is more low-level than it is immunity—their blood produces effective antibodies but in such low quantities that eventually the Sand Plague will overwhelm the immune system anyway. Once again, the Bachelor's experiment fails.

We are running out of time. The town is descending into anarchy as the Sand Plague, unchecked by any sort of cure, continues to extend its tendrils throughout the town. Bodies litter the streets as bandits and arsonists clash violently with guard patrols. Every now and then an infected person slips through the quarantine because the guards are too busy fighting off looters. Impatient with the Bachelor's and my fruitless search for a vaccine, regular townsfolk have decided to take matters into their own hands. At a loss to explain the mind-boggling scale of this calamity, they're looking for a scapegoat to blame for the epidemic's onset. It's a good old-fashioned witch hunt, and the witch they've settled on is the mysterious Devotress.

Artemiy Burakh is many things, but a sympathetic listener he is not.
The Devotress hasn't done much to dispel the dark rumors surrounding her presence in town. Children say that they have witnessed her killing a man merely by placing her palms on his eyes and holding them there until he stops struggling. Others whisper that her hands can "turn people's souls inside out," healing or killing them at her whim. The stories of the "bone cannibal" have resurfaced and seem to point to her. The Devotress's response is to say that she is actually two people—the sweet-natured "Klara," and a doppelganger who frightens children and speaks only in sarcastic riddles—which doesn't exactly allay the townsfolk's fears.

Here's the thing though: I believe her. Something fishy indeed seems to be going on; I meet her in two locations over the course of the day, and there's no way she could have been traveling between them without me knowing. The doppelganger is holed up in the graveyard with poor little Laska and informs me that the Apiary (or the first level of it, anyway) is now open to exploration, though she gleefully hints that I may not like what I find: "Absolute hell. You'll see." Meanwhile, Klara is hiding at Anna Angel's house and seems abjectly terrified by her predicament. She says she doesn't even know what she's doing in town. She has no memory of how she got here and feels trapped by the chaos and odd phenomena swirling around her. The Rat Prophet has been appearing to her too, scaring her with ominous pronouncements that she can't understand. If I can get some solid answers out of the Prophet, she says, at least then she can face the angry mob with some certainty about who she really is.

Having been the victim of misguided, rumor-fed hatred myself, I feel for her and agree to help, even though the hatch to the Rat Prophet's underground chamber is still in the middle of a plague zone. Infected areas have only gotten more harrowing; in addition to the increased numbers of contagious victims milling about in the streets, plague clouds are even more prevalent. There's even a new kind of mist accompanying this next stage of the epidemic: brown and fetid, it actually chases me around until either it catches me or I reach a safe haven indoors. It's almost as if the Sand Plague is developing agency.

This seems like a crazy thought until I meet with the Rat Prophet. (It's amazing how open-minded one becomes when one encounters things like a tuxedo-wearing person with a rat's head and a subterranean lair.) According to him, this mess has never been a wholly natural occurrence; if I don't believe him, perhaps I should ask my good friend the Devotress. After all, she's the personification of the Sand Plague itself.

I immediately call him a liar, which he shrugs off with a "believe what you want" attitude. Honestly, I'm not sure what to think. I certainly have no reason to trust him. Then again, unlike the town's conniving nobles, he has no reason to lie. If he is telling the truth, then the townspeople are right to fear the Devotress. As I climb back out of the hatch, I wonder what I will tell Klara. In the meantime, though, she'll have to wait. The Bachelor has another idea.

It's a long shot, he admits, but it's one of the only options left. The experiment with the blood of the steppe people failed, but there are other natives of the steppe: the cattle. The animals have been bearing up quite well throughout this ordeal—none of them have died of the Plague or even contracted it. Maybe the cure will come from them.

The only problem is that almost no cattle remain in the area. Most have already been slaughtered to provide food for the town as it languishes under quarantine. The only people who might have an idea where to find more cows serve in the Order of Bulls and live in the Apiary and the Abattoir. Up to now those areas have been closed to us. However, the imminent arrival of the State Inquisitor has led Fat Vlad to hastily lift his dubious lockdown of the Apiary, and as the trusted heir of Burakh I can now get in and speak with the Order. In fact, one of my Adherents, known as the "Mother Keeper," is a leader in the Order. She can tell me where to find a bull.

The battered door to the first section of the Apiary. Looks like even the guard isn't too happy to be standing in such close proximity.
The Devotress wasn't lying when she said that the interior of the Apiary is hell. Debris and furniture wall off some hallways; other rooms have boards nailed across the doorways. Through the gaps I can see Worms and butchers curled on the floor, silently suffering through their infection. Screams keep echoing from the depths of the building, and they are not screams of pain—they're screams of madness.

My Adherent is waiting for me up four or five flights of stairs. Since all of my Adherents are children, I'm not expecting an adult. But I also was not expecting to see a five-year-old flanked by three bodyguards:

Meet one of the cult's prominent figures, a girl who has not yet learned how to read.
"Mother Keeper" does know of a bull I can use, but she wants me to do a favor for her first. She and her followers want to return to their shrine deep in the bowels of the Apiary, but that part of the building is crawling with the infected. If I really want to test that bull's blood, I have to bring her 50 doses of immunity boosters in the next nine hours. No pills, no bull.

To put that number in perspective, I've accumulated less than 20 of those pills over the past six days. Thankfully, I haven't been popping too many of them thanks to my innate resistance as a steppe native, but I'm still staring at only 13 doses in my inventory when I exit the Apiary. The pharmacies around town stock them, but only in small quantities. Children on the street sometimes have them for trade, but with the infected areas swelling in size, there aren't many children around either. Briefly, I entertain the idea of killing and robbing some guards, who carry large quantities of medicine on them at all times. I quickly quash those thoughts. The crime I committed on Day Two is still a raw spot in my memory. If I'm going to get those pills, I'm going to have to run all over town, check every single shop, and hope.

It takes a sizable chunk out of my funds, but I meet the deadline with only half an hour to spare. "Mother Keeper" blithely tells me to meet the Worms at a hill south of town. They will bring the bull. I will bring whatever optimism I have left that all this scrambling around was worth it.

After exchanging curt greetings with the Worms, I inject the bull with a sample of the Plague, then take a blood sample back to the Bachelor. I wait with bated breath while he examines the sample under his microscope.

Once again, the experiment fails.

The bull's immune system is the exact opposite of what we found with the steppe people. When infected, the bull's body is able to slow the Plague's growth to a crawl. However, without any way to fight off the small amount that remains, the bull will die, same as any other creature.

I had figured that I would be angry, or at least annoyed, that all my energy and sacrifice was for nothing as usual. The most I can muster after hearing the bad news is resignation. I don't think I was honestly expecting good news in the first place. The only option left is to find the blood of some bull-human hybrid that can both retard the Plague's reproduction and kill whatever's left, and, as the Bachelor helpfully points out, no such animal exists. There is no final cure. We're done.

Before going to bed, I troop over to Anna Angel's house to see Klara again. Expectantly, she asks me what the Rat Prophet said. I reply that he said she is not responsible for the epidemic, that she is here to help people. By now I've decided that the Prophet was right, but I lie for two reasons. First, I just don't have the heart to tell Klara that, knowingly or not, she has the blood of the entire town on her hands. Second, I'm afraid of what she might do if she resigns herself to being an angel of death. She can be on our side for the time being. We're going to need all the help we can get.