Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pathologic: Day Five, which will give the Haruspicus a chance to seize the evasive Sand Plague

(or, in which things get Lynchian)

The fifth day has come.

Infected in the past 24 hours: 100 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 79 people
Gone missing: 22 people
Number of dead at the moment: 395 people
Number of infected: 107 people

You will not be able to defeat this enemy. Less than eight days remain.

So the first thing I do when I discover that I've been thrown into jail is get angry. More than a few swear words bounce off the walls of my apartment while I come to terms with what just happened. It seems unfair, but in the back of my mind I can't help thinking that this is what I deserve for getting too confident. It really, really hurts to lose those weapons and miss out on a quest reward from Notkin, but there's nothing to be done about it now. I have to find a way out of this new mess.

After the initial shock has passed, I notice that this is no run-of-the-mill prison like the one in the Town Hall. The Sand Plague is here, too. The two men standing guard are fine, presumably pumped full of immunity boosters, but the bodies dotting the stone floor—some of them living, some not—tell me that I can't take my time escaping. As if on cue, a plague cloud wafts through the bars of my cell and fills my lungs. My infection meter takes a jump.

Get out.

I get a couple more lungfuls of disease before I see that one of the corpses is close enough to my cell to be searched. I grab the dead man's revolver, gun down my guards, and start to head for the exit when the cries of the afflicted pull me up short. I turn back and, fumbling with bottles of morphine, give two of the men a peaceful death. I am uneasy about the ethics of euthanasia in this game, but having killed two guards, I desperately need the reputation boost that comes with a mercy killing. I rationalize it by telling myself that I couldn't leave them to die slowly in that plague-infested basement. It is better this way. Right?

The air outside the building is not much clearer than it was indoors. I'm in the factory district, which apparently is the latest breeding ground for the Sand Plague. My vision blurs and I actually stagger to one side as my fever climbs. Sadly, my antibiotic pills are useless to me now; in my weakened state the side effects would be just as deadly as the disease. I am in the late stages of infection, with my blood slowly beginning to hemorrhage from my body. With horror, I watch my health bar shrink, bit by bit.

I'm dying.

I have only one chance. My laboratory is just to the south of the factories, close enough for me to reach it before I succumb to the Plague. I have twyre there, along with brewing recipes left by my father. Vaguely, I remember reading somewhere in my journal that twyrine brews can be combined with infected organs to create an antibiotic mixture. It won't eradicate the disease, but it will hold it at bay, and the health penalties are lower than with conventional medicine. I burst into my lab and stagger over to a storage chest containing my herbs and recipes. I snatch a potent-looking one, cook it up, and mix it with an infected kidney left over from my adventures in Day Three. The result is "dead porridge," a foul-looking pale paste. Well, it's better than death, anyway.

By now it's late: almost 4:00 in the afternoon. With my infection back under control, it's time to turn my mind back to battling the epidemic, which means paying the Bachelor a visit. He's learned of my discovery about the steppe people having a low-level resistance to the Plague, and he wants me to get one of their hearts for him to experiment on. Once again, I am nonplussed at doing his dirty work, all the more so because of my connections to the steppe people. The Bachelor counters my protests by pointing out the necessity of doing this if we're ever going to produce a vaccine. What's one life measured against the entire town? With that he sends me over to Ospina to find out the location of a guinea pig, since (he says) he is too repulsed by Ospina's strangeness to make the trip himself.

OSPINA QUOTE OF THE DAY: "But why is nobody being buried? No creeping of carts, no sound of shovels in the cemetery? "
The antipathy is mutual. Ospina does not hide her anger that I am doing the Bachelor's bidding, saying that he is a "bastard" who "will bury us all." Nevertheless, she recognizes the need for a test subject, though she cloaks it in mystical trappings, as is her wont. A "twyrine bride" (the "stripper" from Duke's Day Five) has been brought forward by the Worms as a willing sacrifice to appease whatever natural force is causing the epidemic. As a Haruspicus, I have the divine right to cut out her heart.

When I arrive at the appointed spot out in the marshes, however, the young woman seems anything but willing. She's been brought there by three butchers (one of whom I met on Day Three), and she pleads with me not to kill her. The butchers are unmoved. The earth demands a sacrifice, they tell me, and, as the heir of Burakh, only I can perform the rite and take the first step in stopping the Sand Plague. They watch me grimly in the firelight, waiting.

I hesitate, then refuse.1 The steppe people may be my people, but I am not going to take part in the barbaric sacrifice of an innocent just because they tell me to. Enraged, the trio attacks me while the woman flees into the darkness. I shoot them all before they can harm me and bend over their bodies, pulling on my gloves. These guys are natives of the steppe, too. Theoretically at least, they should have the same natural immunity as the twyrine bride. I hope their hearts will do.

As I slog through the marshes on my way back to the Bachelor's pad (heh), I receive a note from Fat Vlad's son, "Young Vlad," concerning the well that he has been digging to provide the town with untainted water. His laborers are refusing to work, claiming to see and hear frightening things in the underground caverns beneath the town. They won't say what, though, so Young Vlad turns to me to investigate the matter. I'm not particularly keen to poke around down there, but I do need the handsome sum he's offering in order to buy food for tomorrow. So down I go.

Immediately I can tell that something's not right. The earth surrounding me doesn't look like normal dirt; it's dark red and slick, as if saturated with blood. I'm apparently alone, yet despite the absence of other people there are lit torches installed at regular intervals. The soundtrack has changed, and it sounds muffled somehow. The throbbing music and smooth, circular tunnel walls give me the impression that I'm walking around inside some gigantic circulatory system.

I have a bad feeling about this.
For some reason Young Vlad doesn't throw down a rope, so once I'm underground I'm stuck there and have to find another way out. I set off through the tunnels, turning this way and that, and before long I am hopelessly lost. The network of caverns is surprisingly extensive, with numerous branching paths, dead ends, and loops, and my town map gives no indication of which way I should go. On top of that, I start to hear a deep voice chanting in an unintelligible language, dully echoing through the strange caverns. Combined with the music, the resemblance to the sound of a beating heart is even more pronounced. Spooky.

I'm just beginning to worry about how I will get out of here when the tunnel ahead suddenly opens up into a large chamber with a domed ceiling at least twenty feet over my head. In one corner is a small platform. A lone figure waits for me there.

What the HELL
This is the Rat Prophet, the pure embodiment of the rats' nature and power (!). The chanting I was hearing earlier? That was the Rat Prophet, mimicking the voice of my father (!!!). He knows a lot about my father and the Sand Plague, but everything he says is gibberish—I can't make head or tail of anything he says. Eventually the Prophet falls ominously silent, and, head spinning, I stumble to the other side of the chamber. There, a hatch opens upward, and I waste no time getting out.

I surface behind the theater, which also has become an epicenter for the Plague. As long as I'm here I figure I may as well check out today's play, but when I enter the theater I find that the director is already busy playing to a packed house:

Knock 'em dead
Back at Young Vlad's place, I hesitantly ask about the Rat Prophet, fearing that I am losing my mind. Young Vlad seems concerned, but he assures me that it was not completely a hallucination. Other citizens have reported seeing the Prophet as well. He seems to bestow his presence and dark knowledge on those who are attuned to the town and the earth on which it rests. Beyond that, Young Vlad knows nothing.

I feel like I'm getting in way over my head. With difficulty, I can at least cope with real-world problems, such as finding a cure or stopping looters. But there is apparently a cosmic, spiritual dimension to this as well, and I feel ill-equipped for it. Between my brush with death today and my weird entanglement with the Cult of Bulls, I worry that I may be cracking under the pressure.

1 This is apparently a departure from what happens in the Bachelor's scenario. I'm not sure what long-term consequences there will be for this.

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