That hurt. That hurt much more than he would ever care to admit. Though he had to praise Lady’s ability to connect the dots.
He clapped. Lady mockingly bowed.
“Alright, well done, it was my mistake. But now what? Right now we are the only people in several kilometres radius. Well, us, second team and ship crew. We are the only ones available, who can help and resolve this situation.”
“I cannot die. I am a patient woman, I am capable of waiting another year or so.”
“And if no one comes by, then what would you do?”
Lady walked over to the pot.
“No more soup? Quite a shame… It was very good. Let’s make a deal, gentlemen. I cannot forbid you from running around my island and destroying my property. But I want you to investigate. Not the gas, or the shades, but the animal you saw last night. This is the only odd one out.”
“Wait, so you know about the shades? And then what do we do?”
Lady Edna hummed.
“I will share my information after I designate my tasks to you. As for what you do… I want you to bring the animal here. Either alive or dead - but I would prefer it alive, of course. Obviously, you are free to explore the land in whatever way you see fit.”
“What do you need it for, even?”
She giggled. Why was she turning into even more of a teenage girl with every second?
“That’s a sec-ret! I would also ask you to bury my body, but I am willing to wait. I would also like to borrow your doctor.”
Pat pointed at himself.
“Me? What for?”
“You said a Ghost has an item they are bound to, didn’t you? I want your help in finding it. Just follow me around, nothing difficult.”
“I can’t possibly follow a Ghost through a wall, my Lady.”
“I am dead, doctor, not stupid. We are going the normal way.”
Irfan stood up.
“So, what was the information?”
Lady looked at doctor’s backpack.
“You have most of it right there. But if you want to hear it from me… Then listen very close and leave your questions for later.”
She closed her eyes, cleared her (nonexistent) throat and began talking.
“We have arrived on this here Stone Maw Island almost five years ago. Me, Jack and small fleet full of workers, building materials, soldiers and such. This island was sold to me by Hektor Wolkur, Head of the House Wolkur back in the Capital. He practically gifted it to me - 100000 for an island? That’s one ridiculously low sum! Hektor packaged it as a gift for me and my husband - his son, Alexander. We were married for two years already, and I thought that our marriage was going well. That is, until one day his father sent me a letter about this place. The letter had everything I have already told you, and then some information about new source of energy - some gas that he called “Nature’s Gift”. Jack later called this gas “Nature’s Bane” instead, and he was absolutely correct. Either way, Hektor sent some contracts my way, set up some buyers. To cut to the chase - this island was beautiful, with blue leaves, rainbow flowers that changed their colors every single day… The place was a paradise, fitting for me and my husband…”
Lady Edna stopped for a while, gathering her thoughts, then continued on.
“...But then Alexander never arrived. We built everything - the facilities, the mansion. He never even acknowledged it.”
“I’ve heard some rumors… that one House leader’s son allegedly got a lover on the side, and divorced his wife in secret, by using his House influence. Just a rumor.”
Lady lifted up her head.
“Void devour him then, if it was really Alexander. I guessed it was something similar to that. Not like it means anything for me anymore...” She stopped for a second, then continued. “…Let us move on. So, after that, I decided to withhold Hektor’s share of profit. He was pissed, of course, but I sent him a letter, explaining my reasons. He never answered, but with his capabilities, sending a military ship to crush me would be a child’s play. That never happened. I found some buyers on the side, signed up another contract… And so, it was this way for all these years.”
“Then gas began to spread through island’s ecosystem.”
“Absolutely correct, Sir Joseph. We had no idea what was happening. Even Jack was completely stunned when the news reached him. Land was slowly dying around us, and we could do nothing to stop it. Incidents in the mine were happening more often with every month. Jack and me each sent a letter to different people, asking for help, but no answer ever came back. We were cut from the outside.”
“You had no ships on the island?”
“Ships were delivering supplies and leaving. If we needed a transport, we had to ask for it during their stay here. We have a hospital in the basement of the mansion, and it was more than enough for any problems we were facing back then. We had food stockpiled for years, also in the basement. The foundation of this mansion is gigantic, you wouldn’t believe, if you never saw it. Nothing helped us when shades came out of the woods one night. It was only one attack, but it was devastating enough. Thousands of them, maybe, I don’t know - I looked outside the window once, all I ever saw was fire. Everywhere. The main battle took place on the square, and when it went quiet, we thought it was over… but they came over to me instead.”
“And then you died, because this gas is very hazardous to any living being. Seems like all the different pieces coming together so far.”
“So far." Doctor pointed at the wall. "What do we do with with our still living friend outside?”
Joseph stood up.
“We will not turn our backs to it. Lady Edna, where is the basement?”
“Behind the very first staircase, on the first floor.”
“You want to check the basement, Joseph?”
Joe reluctantly rejected the idea.
“Would be nice… but right now, I’d rather prepare for the next invasion. Irfan, you still got the keys, right? Let’s go find something useful in nearby buildings.”
Irfan stopped Joe.
“We know that this thing burns. Why not just destroy those trees and move out on the truck?”
“And torch the entire place?!” Pat objected right away. “It burns, it blows up, and it has covered the entire land! Use your head for a minute, and imagine the magnitude of forest fires and destruction that will spread around!”
Irfan lowered his head. He looked ashamed.
“Then, I think, we are ready. Pat, let me borrow your lighter.”
Doctor shrugged and reached out his hand with the requested item.
“Just don’t lose it, alright?! You know that we have only one, if there are no more in the storage. And give me a word - if your idea works, you will let me use whatever you come up with!”
“Sure, that’s no problem.”
So it was decided. Pat and Edna left to explore the mansion, while Irfan and Joseph went outside.
“Should we check this white building first?”
“That is smart.”
“What does ‘jackpot’ mean?”
“A huge payout in gambling.”
Joseph has never felt better in his life. They have found a warehouse. On the first floor, they stumbled upon cabinets full of work clothes, various tools and devices for all types of mining and whatnot, a lot of barrels filled with oil, and the most important part - they found a suitable protection against the entities.
“Look, the gas masks!”
“What’s… gas mask?”
“It protects you from inhaling dangerous substances.”
Irfan nodded, then jerked his head, then shrugged.
“If you say so…”
“Don’t worry, just do what I would do. If I can figure out how to use them…”
That was one tough task indeed. The filter part was big and was taking half of the mask itself. It looked like a giant round beak, with a flat end. The mask had additional straps near the chin and its length was extended to cover the entire neck. Figuring out how to connect straps properly took Joseph a while - unlike anything else, one was supposed to wrap them around the neck, crossed, on the designated rings, carved into the bottom part of the mask. It was weird and not straightforward at all, but he finally managed to put in on proper.
“I can barely hear you. You sound like you are drowning in the gutter.”
Removing it was just as annoying, but he managed to do it.
Irfan had horns, so a normal one wouldn’t fit. After rummaging trough the stash, Joe found two with what looked like two rings, surrounding holes that were covered with rubber outline.
“You can try it now.”
Irfan took the mask into his hands without any enthusiasm.
“Are you sure it helps?..”
“If it works properly, it should. Come on, let me help you…”
The hunter was complaining the entire way, but after several attempts, he finally learned how to put in on and take it off.
“It feels… weird. Uncomfortable. Like my head is squashed by something…”
“As it should. This is not an armor for casual wearing, but a protective tool. You are not supposed to wear it all the time, only when necessary. Also, let me grab a couple of filters…”
He saw a relief on Irfan’s face, before crouching after filters.
The warehouse had a giant hand-carried device with a drill at the end, lying in a corner. Joseph thought about using it, but the sheer size of the thing would require at least four people at once to even move it anywhere. So he scrapped the idea.
The thick wool jackets were there too. Joseph guessed they were used during the winter.
“You wanted to do something in the brick place, Joseph.”
Oh yeah, he was. He didn’t forget, he was just captured by the beauty and marvellous image of the drill.
“Right. Irfan, we are taking three masks… yeah, let’s take three for now. Hang yours on the belt. Like so.”
He used straps to keep the mask at his hand at all times. Irfan did the same, with crushing obedience. Joseph felt very regretful, but safety was way more important for now.
“Well then, let’s go visit our old friend.”
The old friend met them stoically, without saying a single word in greeting. Joseph pointed the hose outside, and pressed the trigger.
Nothing happened. He tried again.
“Huh… is this broken or something? How does that even work?”
He traced the barrel with his eyes. Nothing seemed out of place. He was no mechanic, and hoped that the device was working as indented, and it was him, who is the dumb one here.
“How… why?! How do you even work, then?!”
Irfan casually walked past the heated Joe and sat in front of him. Hunter squinted his eyes and reached his hand underneath the end of the exit barrel.
“Joe, you have missed this.”
He pointed at another trigger right near the end of the barrel, where hose was connected.
“Huh? Wait, how does that work, then? If it’s one person, he wouldn’t be able to-”
One person. One. Person. He was, in fact, the dumb one. Of course, since this world had less optimized technology in general, things could be working different. He never thought that it was supposed to be used with one worker holding the device, and another controlling the hose itself.
But that was even better. They didn’t need the hose anyway. So Joe removed it.
He pointed the device at the stone ground and pressed the front trigger.
The stream of water flew half-way across the square.
“Holy void. This is a very powerful weapon.”
As he kept continuously using it, the stream was getting weaker and weaker. Joe opened up the tank. It still had a lot of water in it.
And if it wasn’t the problem with water, then what?
He pressed the trigger on the handle. Then several times again.
Then he shot again.