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?|
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.
|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.
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.
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.|
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.