Event's plot Soul Imprints

27.12.2022 10:40 / comments: 0 / view: 524 /

1. It was one of those country taverns where, even with a mug of ale, one should always keep one's gun ready and never sit at the same table with the local gamblers, who played by the rules they only knew how to play. However, one figure stood out among the mass of visitors, a swarthy middle-aged man in a neat black garment of expensive tailoring, with a neatly coiffed hair and a slightly twisted moustache. And this image was completed by small and strict round glasses, which emphasized his status, whoever he was. Looks like we're all set., - The stranger suddenly spoke, glancing at the new adventurers, and half of the tavern-goers immediately turned their eyes to him- Well, gentlemen and ladies. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is... - Before he could introduce himself, his speech was suddenly interrupted by shouts from the street. And then came a noise that did not bode well. What ignorance - The stranger snorted indignantly and shook his head disapprovingly, - Check it out, and I'll thank the innkeeper for his hospitality..

2. Outlaws. Not surprising-judging by the state of the roads here, the local lord seems to have neglected his holdings a bit, allowing the vermin to proliferate. But they'd picked the wrong time and place for their outlaw "fun". The streets around the tavern had been cleared, but parts of the village were already under the control of the enemy, whose sentries had even managed to occupy several of the towers. Perhaps I'd better knock them out of their positions before this contagion takes root...

3. They didn't seem to be expecting such a fight here at all. The main force of raiders had been defeated, but from the houses on the outskirts you could still hear the sound of looters prowling around inside, and the loud and clear orders of the commander in charge of the whole rabble were heard from behind their walls. It's time to put an end to his outrages!

4. The last of the raiders had retreated, but the battle was not yet over. Two more squads of commanders could be seen on the approaches to the village. Strange that they didn't attack all at once. Couldn't think of three? Or did the lot choose only one "lucky" one? Be that as it may, there will be reckoning for all!

5. How 'just in time' the local guards arrived. At least they'd clean up the mess they'd made. In the meantime, it was time to find out the details of the problems that had befallen the mysterious employer. I can see that this time I certainly did not go wrong in hiring performers, - said the stranger, who caught up with the adventurers, in a calm voice with notes of the typical aristocratic austerity, - So my name is Roderigo. Roderigo XLVII, to be exact. I am a majordomo-counterfeiter in the service of the notorious in certain circles, the Grey Baron. Don't try to understand - they don't know much about the intricacies of my craft in your... land. However, you will have the opportunity to fill this gap a little during the assignment. Perhaps not all of you, but some of you will, won't you? And now to the point. To be honest, I wanted to start by finding another "target". But since they found us, I suggest that the first thing to do is to look into the camp of my "dear workers". If the information I bought is correct, it's not far from here. Let's go. And don't let your guard down. There's an awful howl coming from here at night. And the locals talk of a terrible demon in the form of a white wolf with icy eyes...

6. The polar wolf is a harbinger of the imminent arrival of the Army of the Cold. The pleasant anticipation of the coming celebrations, however, overshadows the sense of awe in the face of their eternal enemy.. "What a marvelous creature., - Roderigo said with a note of admiration in his voice as he leaned over the body of the dead wolf, a strange gleam in his eyes, - I wish I had the coins with me. It would have made a nice addition to the collection of the gentleman.. No matter what he was talking about, you cant stay here any longer. Even though the leader had fallen, the howling was still going on, and the voices of the wolves were coming from all over the place...

7. You seem a little nervous, nothing to do about it, just a little nervous.. Otherwise, it would have been much more difficult to control this pack. Meanwhile, the smoke of the camp fire could be seen ahead. These "beasts" have more in common with dirty gnolls than with a pack of wolves. The first rogue who had cheated Roderigo had to be here somewhere. Perhaps the surest way to find him is to ask the local commander.

8. Somehow this bandit commander got it pretty bad. He can't even string two words together. And while the Imperials were trying, to no avail, to get anything intelligible out of the prisoner, Roderigo's voice suddenly rang out: There he is! The shirt guy! - The stranger stared to the far end of the camp, where an unassuming shirt appeared between the tents, - The rags, the calluses on his hands, the axe on his belt, you could see that he was a hard worker. Yet it would be a guess to what his trade is. Give me back my deposit, and it's done..

9. Roderigo: Excuse me, I forgot to specify one detail. He was needed alive. A dead one, in general, would also do, but I'm afraid the result would be worse...
Leaning over the shirt's lifeless body, the stranger fumbled for the wallet on the dead man's belt and, with a sharp movement of his hand, tore it off and began to look through the coins inside. At last he found the right one-the strangest of all, looking more like an empty gold piece-he tossed the purse into the hands of the nearest mercenary, and then placed the metal disc he found against the shirt's forehead. A few strange words, which sent a chill shiver through some of those present, and the billet was suddenly engulfed in a wondrous purple glow. The metal seemed to draw the soul out of the outlaw's body, and when it was done, the outlines of the robber's peaceful face and several cryptic runes appeared on the previously smooth surface. You see., - Roderigo suddenly said, taking the coin in his hands, - owever, this is not my worst work, but it lacks a bit of feeling. The emotion of contemplating life flying before your eyes, - he exhaled a little disappointed, and then added, - But so be it. Not every creation is a masterpiece. Let's go - now let's find the forester. According to the locals, this area should be quieter.

10. There was no sense of tranquility here. Though they were by no means the most dangerous of the imperial forests. A handful of beasts and a few spirits were enough for the glorious Heroes of the Empire. Meanwhile, while the Imperials were retrieving their well-earned hunting trophies, Roderigo suddenly heard the distant sounds of a flute and a mischievous chuckle coming from behind him. He turned around as soon as everything around him was a blurred set of colors, and his glasses were in the hands of a mischievous fairy. For a few moments there was more laughter. They began to sound everywhere, driving the stranger mad with their unknowability. It seemed it was time to bail Roderigo out of the shenanigans of the forest.

11. Oh, these forest fairies. Always when they get drunk on their nectar, there's no escaping them. But that will teach them how not to show respect for the dear guests of the Empire. The forest dwellers, full of indignation and displeasure, were quick to disappear into the thicket, and the cherished spectacles were returned to their proper place on the bridge of Roderigo's eye. The scene seemed to have made him a little nervous. He probably hadn't had an adventure like this in years. Or ever. Perhaps he should take a moment to catch his breath. It wasn't likely that those funnies and pranksters would be back again. Unless they find someone who dares to stand up for them.

12. It was naive to think that they would just swallow a grudge. But this was a turn of events for which true adventurers must always be prepared. Having finally dealt with the annoying forest dwellers and their patrons, the imperials moved on deep into the grove of lightly snow-covered trees. Suddenly the path was blocked by a group of grim figures. And a moment later several more appeared from behind the trees. Grinning wickedly and twirling their blades in their hands, they began to approach. Dirty thieves! Wasn't one of them Roderigo had mistaken for a woodsman? It's him! - suddenly said the stranger, noticing the sorcerer glimpsed in the crowd of enemies, - Or is it?. - he was immediately seized with doubts, - Thieves, you say? Who steals in bright red cloaks? Unless... - he thought for a moment, and then it was as if he had had an epiphany. A street magician! How could I not have guessed? It was him! That complicates matters... - Roderigo thought about it again, but then he remembered the situation and added. It's still someone else - you don't have to restrain yourself.".

13. A magician, then. - Roderigo muttered to himself under his breath., - Where can you hide, magician?.. - Ever since his encounter with the group of thieves, some intrusive thought had been haunting him. He continued walking, completely absorbed in his own thoughts, oblivious to everything. And he didn't even notice the mob of halflings ahead of him. Those forest dregs aren't exactly friendly enough as it is, and when they're ignored, they don't waste an opportunity to remind themselves of their importance...

14. A small obstacle in the way. It was too small to even notice. In the meantime, the stranger finally shook off the intrusive thoughts - and remembered why they'd come here in the first place. The heart of the forest stretched right before his eyes - and the ranger they were looking for had to be somewhere nearby. Mr. forester! - Suddenly Roderigo shouted - and his voice echoed deep into the forest, - I've come to clarify the details of our agreement! A moment of silence, diluted only by the howling of the wind wandering between the branches of the trees, and then suddenly an answer sounded: Who are you?. The voice echoed strangely, as if it came from everywhere at once, making it a little difficult to locate its owner.
Roderigo: We have entered into a contract to supply wild animals for an upcoming event of my lord, the Honorable Grey Baron!
Forest ranger: Oh yes! I've done everything...! Except they said they didn't want to play with you and your master!
Roderigo: Who "they?!
The forester: Animals! Who else?! What's wrong with you?! You don't believe me?! Ask them yourself!

15. There was obviously something wrong with the forester. There was a distinct hint of madness in his voice. And since when could an ordinary Imperial forester command a pack of furious beasts? You see! - his voice sounded again, - They only want to play with me! Yes, yes, yes! Only with me!. A strange murmur rumbled through the forest, mixed with the crackling of branches touched by a strong wind. Someone or something was approaching. Then return the deposit! - Roderigo said without paying attention to what was going on around him. A deposit?! - The forester asked a slightly confused question, - He's... gone! Leave us alone! They're not welcome here! In an instant, the outlines of the natural scenery began to take on the appearance of forest spirits and furious shamans

16. What...? Where? How?.. - suddenly the forester's voice sounded again, but this time full of confusion and as if devoid of his former strength. Now it seemed to be easy to locate his hiding place, and a brief search soon yielded the expected result. But this "forest ranger" turned out to be a regular poacher. A slightly insane poacher. The animals didn't touch him for some reason, but he turned his crazy eyes on the strangers. It looks like you can't come to a good agreement...

17. Deprived of the support of the forest creatures, the wounded but still alive poacher leaned against the nearest tree and settled to the ground, resting his back against the trunk. "They just wanted to ... play. - He said confusedly, a moment later he was in the shadow of Roderigo, who was hovering over him. They could play countless times in my master's collection, - he said as he slipped his hand into the bag on the belt of the dying criminal and took out another "clean" coin, - And now you have to play - The stranger added and placed the golden disk on the poacher's forehead, repeating the familiar ritual. The madness and confusion in the outlaw's eyes were suddenly replaced by the horror of insight, and then his eyes faded forever. Roderigo grinned modestly at the result of his work. The impression did look rather... unusual. As if it were ready to come to life at any moment. Deceived and confused - too strong feelings for such a lowly soul. An unusual pattern. The lord will love it., - Roderigo remarked sternly, and then suddenly shifted his gaze somewhere in the distance, - It seems that my charms have attracted the attention of insatiable seekers of forbidden knowledge. Deal with them.".

18. Roderigo: Wretched creatures who think they know everything, but really know nothing. You know, I'm beginning to realize that this is the scourge of your... region. All these liars and cheaters are victims of their own ignorance. If they knew who my master was, they'd hardly risk messing with his humble servant. You, too, I see, are full of this defect. But your natural acumen allowed you to make the right choice. My master is the great Grey Baron. Organizer, collector, numismatist, patron of the arts - these are only the brightest of his sides. And most of all he likes to contemplate the torment of choice. You know, when the heart dictates to go in one direction, and the cast lots indicate to the other. Such moments are priceless to him. But you'll find out more about that. Or rather, your patrons... Wait! There's something wrong here. I expected to see a harbor or at least a fishing village. But not a cemetery. Are my informants mistaken? Just in case, check this place out. I'm interested in a veteran sailor. A big guy, with an eye patch and a nice white shirt. He was supposed to deliver some expensive overseas cargo. I knew at once that such a captain was not afraid of pirates, storms, or even the sea devil himself. I think you will immediately recognize him among the local abodes!

19. Roderigo: This one looks like... But no - too skinny and... dead. I don't like this place. I got a bad feeling about this place. I don't know if something bad happened to him. Maybe he didn't let me down of his own free will. You know how it is... You're on a boat, conquering the sea waves, and then one thing and another, and there's your corpse on the shore. And some necromancer is weaving his unholy spell over you
The strange, but moderately fascinating story of the stranger helped to distract me a little and pass the time while I looked around most of this gloomy place, when suddenly the picture I had described a little earlier opened before my eyes almost word for word. Except, perhaps, only for the presence of the seashore. On a huge pedestal lay the rotting carcass of a sailor of almost giant size, and above it the local necromancer was whispering something. Suddenly his gaze was fixed on the uninvited guests, and the throngs of reanimated dead came pouring in from everywhere.

20. The ranks of the undead thinned rapidly - and soon the necromancer abandoned the rest of his servants to distract the imperials, while he returned in despair to the pedestal to complete his arcane ritual. One forbidden word after another, until at some point the soul of the adept of death burst forth from his lean body, allowing it to fall dead to the ground, and then swiftly burst into the seafarer's carcass lying before it. A moment later, the angry roar of the revived behemoth swept through the cemetery, hungry for vengeance for its audacious interference with the ritual. And almost every single dead man, wandering aimlessly through the gloomy graveyard, answered its call.

21. Helplessly floundering in the puddle of rot flowing from his own insides, the mighty zombie only delayed the inevitable. But the necromancer's trapped soul was reluctant to give up. Slightly squeamishly tossing aside the monster's falling off massive arm, Roderigo grimaced, but nevertheless slipped his fingers into the wallet dangling from his belt. Taking out a handful of coins, he found the one - and began his ritual. You don't have to be a master of the unknown craft to know how unique this one would be. Though the mere thought that such reasoning becomes something normal frightened a lot of people. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the place. Then there was that descending fog. Get out before it gets any thicker...

22. Roderigo: Unpleasant creatures. And I'm sure I've seen them somewhere before. Perhaps in the gentleman's collection? Curious... Well, next on my list is the preacher... All right, I can see you looking at me sideways. You must think I'm some kind of villain, practicing some kind of unknown witchcraft. In view of your ignorance, you're entitled. But let me tell you a little about my trade. And I'm not talking about serving as a majordomo, although there's a lot to tell about the endless manor, too. Today, even history does not remember who was at the origin of this art. In my family, its secrets have been handed down from generation to generation, starting with Roderigo I, who took them over from Sebastian CXXVIII. Unfortunately, old Sebastian could not have heirs. But he could not fail his lord either. So the Grey Baron personally chose one of the sons of his loyal servants so that this knowledge would not fade into oblivion. So it is on me and my whole clan the burden of guardians of such ancient knowledge. It may seem strange to you, but you can't even imagine how much responsibility has been placed on us. And how important it is to... Does that commoner seem strange to you? The color of his eyes is unhealthy.

23. Roderigo: Do you know what makes their rituals different from mine? They desecrate souls, making them suffer and decay. I preserve them in eternity for my master. Their masters seek to suppress the will, but the Grey Baron gives it a chance to reveal itself fully. Countless chances. Sometimes they even find the answers or redemption they seek. It all depends on the essence itself and its aspirations.
Roderigo's speeches were vague and cryptic, generating only more questions and leaving them without proper answers. The whole thing might have been fascinating, if not for the infernal heat that was increasing with each step. The situation began to "heat up" all too quickly-and soon the possessed were followed by those to whom they had voluntarily sacrificed themselves. A group of ritualists from the underworld, reaping the bodies and souls of their countless victims under the inexorable gaze of the mighty archdeemon reveling in the event. Whatever motives might have led the Imperials here, leaving such sacrilege on the sacred lands of the Empire was unacceptable!

24. The archdemon has fallen. It is only a pity that his unholy blood will not soothe this "burn" formed on the body of the Empire, but will only make it even worse. And yet the work was not yet finished. Horrified by the death of their hellish protector, the sectarians huddled around the demonic altar and began to hurriedly conjure spells. The space around them began to warp and fill with torrents of flame. Wait, that's him! - Roderigo suddenly said, glancing at one of the fallen monks, - Or is it?.. And while the stranger was trying to deal with his doubts, a portal from hell suddenly opened in front of him, revealing the image of the Inferno warlord. He looked around and immediately grabbed the leader of the sect by the chest, giving him a look of contempt. And then he shoved him forward, pointing his sword at the Imperial positions.

25. I guess I was mistaken after all., - Roderigo said, looking into the eyes of the defeated leader of the sectarians. These monks all look the same. A sullen face hidden in the shadow of the hood. Their souls have always been dark to me. You can judge him by your own laws. He doesn't have what I need. The verdict for what he had done was clear and undeniable, according to the strictness of the laws of the Empire. It was time to move on, along the alien's intended path. Some of the Imperialists were even curious as to whom he might have mistaken for a preacher if he confused him so easily with this wicked sinner? Meanwhile, the outlines of the demonic altar, though dissolved into the scenery behind them, could still be felt in the air. And along the way, there were the fleeing remnants of the underworld, diluted with time-wanderers.

26. Roderigo: You know, I'm beginning to find your... region quite curious. Despite my immature youth. I think I'm beginning to understand why my master was interested in it. Not that I doubted the wisdom of his decisions, but my first impressions were a little disappointing. Only the tavern-keeper and Lord Barel showed proper deference and hospitality. While many of his men behind the lord's back wished only to profit from our deal with him. When he returns from the tournament, it will be necessary to open his eyes to some of the serpents who have basked in the glow of his good fame. I hope that by that time, not without your help, I will have fulfilled my part of the bargain. I'm sure he'll want to thank you in return. By the way, those sectarians were part of our deal with him. His men were afraid to go into the middle of nowhere to deal with the problem. And here's another nuisance he asked me to fix. Crazy elementalist mages. Looks like our luck's changing. We won't have to waste any more time looking for them. We've met them before, but they were renegades. But here I sense the presence of a strong and hungry for magical knowledge.

27. Roderigo: These entities are quite curious. I hope we meet a few of them on the way back. I would work with them. If we have material... But still, I suggest that no one be spared. A deal's a deal. The Grey Baron never breaks his word. And I wouldn't dare tarnish the lord's reputation.

28. Roderigo: You know your business pretty well. I would like to meet the person who taught you all this. But I think I'll leave that honor to my master. My task is only to arrange the possible meeting with dignity. But back to our search. Look out for some monastery or chapel. This preacher must have a place of refuge here. And be on your guard. Given that Lord Burrell's men don't come here much, there's bound to be a lot of scoundrels around.

29. Though "rogue" is an overly mild definition for these ruthless cutthroats, Roderigo was right about one thing: there are too many of them here. They'd built a whole camp. It was probably worth a look. No one among the Imperials would be surprised if the preacher they were looking for showed up here, reciting obscene rhymes and drinking malt liquor from his throat. And even if he wasn't, the handful of shameless brigands would just get what they deserved.

30. There was no sign of the preacher, but something unusual caught my eye. A strange thief - nimble, strong, and all alone among a crowd of outlaws. Though their craft was similar in some respects, they usually did not trust each other, and sometimes even despised each other. But this one had come here all alone-and he felt like one of his own. What is it? - Roderigo suddenly wondered as he noticed something under the cloak of the murdered thief. Bending down and pulling back the fabric, he suddenly saw a suspiciously familiar silver brooch in the shape of crossed swords. He'd caught a glimpse of one just like it in Lord Burrell's castle. The filthy thief had dared to steal from a nobleman? Thankfully, he had his due now, and the stolen item could be returned to its rightful owner. As soon as the job is done. And if he manages to get out of this camp alive. The bandits seem to have drawn in all their strength to teach the impertinent visitors a lesson.

31. It was a good fight, but the enemy was stronger. And what is more important - much braver. As soon as the outlaw commanders flinched, their hordes fled. Those who were sillier fled into the woods, into the arms of wild beasts. Those who were smarter jumped on wagons and immediately made a run for it with a puff of dust. One could calmly praise a well-deserved victory. But is this the path worthy of the loyal followers of a true Hero of the Empire? No! Catch up and teach them a lesson! No matter how long it takes...

32. The chase lasted for what felt like an eternity. At least, Roderigo felt it was. And he seemed to know a lot about eternity. Though he clearly wasn't used to traveling at such a pace. And yet the bandits could not go far. Fortunately they did not care about horses more than about anything else important and meaningful in this life. And so their strength was sufficient only to reach the nearest positions of the huddlers at the bridge, whose ambush had at the same time been so successfully uncovered. Hey, what's going on over there?! - suddenly there was a shout from the other side of the canyon, - Caught who?! There was silence for a moment, and Roderigo, who looked out of the thicket, was suddenly surprised: There he is!. The stranger pointed to the rogue wizard flickering on the other side. Though in this light his cassock looks somehow different... - doubts began to overtake him again. Hey, why don't you say something?! - The robber-wizard shouted again, - You decided to squeeze a share?!
Roderigo: I'm not sure... Bring him to me. Or me to him. It's up to you. I'll trust your choice.

33. Roderigo: Still, no. Not at all like it up close. I think I can see a sad legacy of their hunting down there at the bottom of the canyon. I don't know what your laws say about it, but I'd recommend they be reunited. Forever.
The stranger's suggestion was sound, and surprisingly close in spirit to the laws of the Empire. It seemed that he was beginning to understand the glorious traditions of the land. In the meantime, it turned out that the safety of this bridge was one of the points of the bargain he had struck with Lord Barell. Too many fortunate coincidences in succession. But if that was the case, then it was worth scouring the countryside and eliminating the last pockets of outlaw sickness in the vicinity...

34. They clung to life until their last breath-and that breath did come. After a hard battle, the Imperials finally moved on. The mountain peaks loomed clearer and clearer ahead, but the damn preacher was still nowhere to be seen. "Magician! - Roderigo suddenly exclaimed, and the Imperials immediately noticed the band of thieves blocking their path. They looked far more dangerous and prepared than their predecessors, but the one standing at their commander's right hand stood out as the sorcerer began to weave his spell without any further ado...

35. Sorcerer Thief: The master does not forgive insults! You will not be able to blackmail him!
Roderigo: Excuse me? I just wanted to return a purse with important contents that I inadvertently dropped during our last meeting. You didn't happen to find it?
Sorcerer Thief: Pfft, the gold went to pay for the coinage machine. Some mad inventor in the bowels of the mountain needed your glitter for some alchemical research. You can go and ask for it back.
Roderigo: Thank you for the advice. I will do so.
The wizard fidgetily rummaged through the contents of the prisoner's bag, but the stranger still found one "clean" coin that had accidentally rolled between the folds. And his lips involuntarily gave out a restrained joy of anticipation... Some time later, as he left the battlefield, Roderigo continued to admire the imprint on the surface of his new "trophy. Ahead of the fortress! - suddenly there was a shout from the vanguard. He took his eyes off the coin and climbed to a nearby hill, looked over the walls of the fortifications erected among the rocks, and then said confidently: I can't see it, but I can feel it's definitely in there somewhere. Take these walls!

36. It was a miracle! The preacher he was looking for had indeed been found. A gray and inconspicuous excommunicated monk. But even his blessings did not help the defenders of this fortress to hold off the onslaught of the imperials. Surprisingly, there was also suddenly exactly one mysterious coin found in his bag. This was beginning to look a little suspicious. The stranger wasted no time himself, and immediately set to work
Roderigo: So many doubts and delusions. An eternity is not enough for this soul to find answers to all its questions. But my lord is patient... Now let's find our "alchemist. I hope he hasn't turned my coins into some strange slurry yet. And yes, I heard in the tavern that there are dragons around here. They say they're scaring away all the local eagles. They're something of a local landmark. They're flying around and they're a sight for sore eyes. I think if you chase them away, the locals will erect monuments for you. Or they'll name some alley after you

37. Roderigo: Imagine, in just a couple of hundred years, these tiny creatures would turn into enormous and powerful monsters. I'm even a little surprised that there are so many of these creatures in your... land. In many of the other... places I've visited, they've either long since died out themselves, or been completely exterminated. I fear a similar future awaits your... land. Enjoy coexisting with them while you can. Even if it means fighting each other. Before you know it, it will all be a distant and forgotten history... Who is this ancient and powerful entity?..
The stranger's attention was caught by the dragon priestess who had appeared ahead of him. He seemed to see something in her that no one else saw. But before he could even utter a respectful greeting, more dragons burst from the cliffs, seeking to tear the pesky strangers apart for the pleasure of his mistress...

38. Roderigo: How I would love to touch this soul, but I'm afraid nothing will be able to hold it in its entirety. Though even if it were a tiny part of her, it would be a jewel in the lord's collection...
And while the stranger was indulging in his annoying professional speculations, the imperialists had already reached the mountain cave, and soon plunged into the darkness within it. Suddenly, Roderigo felt a twinge of irritation and began to stare intently into the darkness. What rage. - with a mixture of curiosity and admiration in his voice, he said, - Cold and wild... Two souls intertwined by dark ties Meanwhile, the ominous silhouettes of the local inhabitants began to flicker in the gloom...

39. It's a challenge to meet even one snake-man, and no one has ever heard of them being able to work in pairs. Probably no one survived such an encounter to tell anyone about it afterwards. The cave was filled with hisses and hisses of dissatisfaction. One of the snake creatures slid forward, deftly dodging the Imperials' attacks and heading straight for Roderigo. It grinned, trying to bite its target, but a moment later, as if startled, it jerked back and disappeared into the darkness. The second one simply stepped into the shadows, vanishing into it in an instant. There was silence for a while, but soon the roar of the cave creatures was heard again...

40. After breaking through the hordes of subterranean creatures, the Imperials were finally able to break the resistance, and soon left the angry enemy far behind. The incredulous glances they received at Roderigo, but Roderigo didn't seem to care, or even to care at all, for answers. He didn't seem to be pretending but was genuinely curious about the stone walls and vaults overgrown with giant mushrooms. The air showed the settling remnants of greenish clouds of spores. And while the stranger was full of genuine curiosity, the imperialists knew full well what might lie ahead...

41. Roderigo: I've heard of a place... a place overgrown with giant mushrooms. They say it was a glorious place. Once upon a time, when its glory was still in the shadow of history. If you don't mind, I'd like to take a little look around. I'd like to make a better memory of the place. Who knows what legends future generations will revere...

42. Roderigo: I hope this mushroom man didn't cause you too much trouble? Allow me to express my gratitude for this opportunity. As time passes, we encounter fewer and fewer things and phenomena that can surprise us. Such moments are worth treasuring, for each one may be our last. I doubt I'll see anything more impressive in the foreseeable future...
The Mushroom cave was behind us, and the gradually increasing mechanical noise ahead clearly indicated that the Imperials were on the right track. At last the view of the impressive and terrifying underground complex of mechanics opened up. I told you., - with indifference in his voice said the stranger, - What a banal picture. If you knew how many of these I've seen in other... places. Anyway... I can't avoid meeting the guards anyway. Either they can tell us where to find our alchemist, or... you know what to do

43. Looks like the mechanics aren't doing too well if they decided to hire this handful of goons to defend them. Unless they were counting on a double line of defense to hold back the advance of the enemy until the production lines were at full strength. They had to hurry, for every moment of delay risked filling this still relatively quiet place with more and more freshly assembled deadly machines.

44. What's going on out there? - suddenly there was a strange and slightly distorted mechanical voice that echoed throughout the complex, - The meat... I mean, the organic shield failed? Send a brigade and clean it up. I don't want any extraneous noise on the recording of the experiment., - The voice was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a click, but a few moments later there was another, - Is it off? You should at least make some kind of indicator. I have nothing else to do but to remember which way the toggle switch should be pointed. All right, start preparing the workstation and the seventh sample. We'll start soon..." No one in the empire could think of what it all meant. But what was really obvious was the approaching enemy detachment, led by the brigadier.

44. What's going on out there? - suddenly there was a strange and slightly distorted mechanical voice that echoed throughout the complex, - The meat... I mean, the organic shield failed? Send a brigade and clean it up. I don't want any extraneous noise on the recording of the experiment., - The voice was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a click, but a few moments later there was another, - Is it off? You should at least make some kind of indicator. I have nothing else to do but to remember which way the toggle switch should be pointed. All right, start preparing the workstation and the seventh sample. We're about to start...Is it off? You should at least make some kind of indicator. I have nothing else to do but to remember which way the toggle switch should be pointed. All right, start preparing the workstation and the seventh sample. We're about to start

45. Where one couldn't do it alone, two would probably do it. I guess that's what they decided when they sent reinforcements. The mechanical noise, meanwhile, was getting louder and louder as more and more new machines kept coming off the assembly lines. It was a problem that could not be ignored. In the meantime, the mysterious voice came again: So, recording 3-6-7-sigma. Beginning experiment number 4-7-tetta-alpha-mu-12. The first sample is an object of iteration 7 of Delta; a smooth metal disk of an unknown alloy (codename: "inomirium"). Beginning the reverse atomic transmutation procedure... Roderigo's face seemed to flicker with anxiety, but it vanished at once. He was still full of determination - and it was unwittingly transmitted to the units that accompanied him...

46. The rumble of flying pieces of machinery suddenly drowned out the noise of the explosion - and a column of smoke appeared far ahead. The resulting substance is not stable, - the same voice noted, - The experiment will continue after a short break... Hey! We need a mop-bot here... What do you mean, on maintenance? Still?! You lazy bastards! Then clean up your own bodies. And get two new assistants.". Something seemed to have gone wrong in the lab - and now its location was known. However, the way to it did not promise to be easy. And a sure sign of that was the eerie screeching of the twirling death-dealing saws of a mechanical monster guarding another assembly line.

47. Roderigo: You know what is most disappointing about these creatures? They don't have souls. That doesn't mean you can't work with their essences, but the rules require either getting the subject's personal consent to perform the ritual, or getting them to acknowledge your power over them. For example, by defeating them in battle. The first option is more preferable, but you often have to resort to the second one. With the mechanisms, it's too... ambiguous. However, it's too early to think about that. Let's go before this madman unleashes powers he can't control.

48. Finished? - Once again, the voice from the lab came back, - "Then let's continue. The second sample... What is it? There's something on it. Why isn't it marked in the logbook?! Fix it now! Make notes in items 1, 2, and 4, and make footnotes in supplements 2-alpha and 4-beta. Who do you think these protocols were negotiated for in the first place? Oh bolts and cogs, who do you have to work with...? Let me know when you're done.". It was all beginning to look kind of funny, except for the hordes of deadly machines around us. But this time the alien's face did show a note of unease. Something told me we had better hurry...

49. The laboratory was close by. And, surprisingly, it looked not like another building of strange architecture, but like an ordinary paved area near a lake of lava, filled with tables with strange equipment, between which the alchemist was nervously pacing. At last one of the assistants came up to him with a workbook in his hands. All set? - The alchemist asked, carelessly snatching up the notes, - I'll check it out He began to turn page after page, grumbling and muttering to himself.. Good, - The alchemist finally summed it up, - But the handwriting has to be smoothed out. Now let's continue. Where did I put the second sample?.. He must be stopped. It's urgent! - Roderigo said immediately. But that was easier said than done. Though the target was in sight, the path to it was blocked by several squads of mechanics and another assembly line that had been pushed to the limit of its production capacity...

50. Only a handful of opponents and one stern commander remained. The alchemist, for his part, was about to dip the sample into the vat of bubbling liquid when he was interrupted by Roderigo's cry: Don't you dare! Freezing for a moment and exhaling irritably, the dwarf-scientist stepped away from his experiment and looked at the strangers.
The Alchemist: I told you not to distract me at work! What a crappy day... Who the hell are you people?! A rival firm? What do you want?!
Roderigo: Mr. Alchemist, I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding. I would like to get back what was stolen from me. A bag of unusual coins.
The Alchemist: I earned it honestly - and I have the right to do whatever I want!
Roderigo: I wouldn't recommend continuing this experiment. And I'm afraid we're going to have to use force

51. There are hardly any left, - Roderigo exhaled disappointedly as he found his bag and looked inside, - But at least this one survived., - He added, taking one of the coins, which showed the profile of someone who looked a lot like him, but looked noticeably older, - The Grey Baron does not assign tasks that are impossible to accomplish-and always gives one of the most valuable coins from his collection to be sure it is returned to its place afterwards. I couldn't lose it.". The stranger's gaze slid to the recovering alchemist, and his shadow soon hovered over the defeated dwarf.
Roderigo: Is that all that's left?
The Alchemist: From the original samples, yes. But there are two more bags behind the table with the flasks. And there was a third one... somewhere...
Roderigo: Were you able to reproduce this metal?..
The Alchemist: Pfft! The basics of nursery alchemy.
Roderigo: This is amazing! Let me ask you, Mr. Alchemist. Would you like to capture your genius in eternity?
The Alchemist: Eternity, you say? There are so many things you can make up. And then forget - and make it up again! Oh, yes!
Looks like the two madmen found each other. But it was time to grab the loot and get out of here before the enemy launched some other defense protocol...

52. Roderigo: Amazing! To be honest, I hesitated for a moment, but they really are real. Or rather, they are real. I've never seen so many coins at once. Well, except in the Grey Baron's treasury. It's like a boundless ocean, filled with countless coins from every known and not only known... land. And yet, it seems the lord's collection is in for a serious addition. Would you care to contribute to his enduring legacy?..

53-70. Maker or Reaper? That's a good question. But is it so important? Does the answer affect anything at all? Does it give a choice? Is there a choice?..

71. Roderigo: How many new souls. The weak, the strong, the unique. You know, the Grey Baron is a true connoisseur of unique artifacts, but he can give even the lowliest of souls from the bottom of his treasury a chance. If that is his noble will. And yet some are truly priceless to him. This is one of them. The soul of Roderigo XLVI, my... predecessor and mentor. One day I too will have the honor of taking my place beside him, in eternity, a jewel in the master's collection. When my successor is worthy... But that is a long way off. He has much to learn, and I have many interesting encounters ahead of me

72-90. Maker or Reaper? That's a good question. But is it that important? Will it have any effect on anything? Does it give a choice? Is there a choice?..

91. Roderigo: Familiar places. Lord Barel should have returned from the tournament by now. I hope he's had a noble performance. And if his luck didn't favor him this time, the good news is sure to cheer him up. If you wish, I'll introduce you to him personally. I think he will be glad to see with his own eyes the glorious saviors of the lands entrusted to him.

92-97. Maker or Reaper? That's a good question. But is it so important? Will it have any effect on anything? Does it give a choice? Is there a choice?..

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