I force my aching bones to leave the house, pondering the wisdom of returning to the tower, braving the zombies to see if any of my belongings were left ungnawed.
Just as I exit, I catch a glimpse of a familiar silhouette flying northeast towards a snowy landscape.
There is another bird flying over the gap that leads to the tower and Ostcliff.
It’s a vulture.
I take the signs for what they are, and craft new tools, striking out in the albatross’ direction.
Sure enough, my guide leads me to another tower.
This time, with better forewarning, I make more elaborate preparations.
I set up a temporary camp, a base of operations from which to store items and make careful forays into the tower.
Inside, each floor contained strange cages of spiders and more horrific undead, distinctly magical in nature, for they seemed to summon an endless horde of monsters from unnamed dimensions.
Light seemed to interrupt the dark magics at work, slowing and then finally putting an end to the summoning.
Progress was arduous, for holes in the tower ceiling caused hostile undead to rain down from the floor above, rushing to the attack from every possible opening.
Dirt barricades had to be constructed and dug through, all gaps shored up, floor by careful floor. There was treasure too, guarded by these creatures – armor, weapons and magical things.
At what seemed like the very top, or perhaps the second-highest floor, I threw open a chest to find it most mercilessly trapped.
A great guardian golem roared in indignation, and my world exploded in fire.
Cobblestone shrapnel showered down, pattering against my helm and greaves.
Fortunately, a newly looted chestplate had protected me from the brunt of the blast, but the tower’s golem looked immensely strong and nigh impervious to the weaponry at my disposal.
I fled, dashing down flights of narrow stairs, as the guardian crashed its way through the floors in furious pursuit, blowing them up to fit itself through, leaving wreckage in its path.
Thankfully, whatever magics conjured it apparently bound it to the tower, for it did not give chase once I left the vicinity.
Traveling further along the heading the albatross flew, the weather grew warmer and the snow gave way to grassy plains.
I passed a few other smaller places of note.
A red finch and I shared blueberries from an overgrown thicket of bushes. The ruins next to it held an infestation of giant silverfish, but nothing of value.
An exposed bed of bubbling lava provided the opportunity for collecting some obsidian.
A lone building caught my eye against the horizon, but as I drew nearer, there were signs of disuse. Pumpkins lay unharvested in the fields.
It may have been a blacksmith’s once, but the furnaces and forges were cold.
Dust caked the interior, and there was naught in the chest but a wooden bowl and an egg that must surely have been rotten. I took care not to crack the shell, for I feared a righteous stink, and buried it in the dirt outside.
The cows had gone feral, though I wasn’t sure about the white horses nearer the horizon, whether they were once tame or had always been wild.
I wondered what had happened to the occupant. If he or she had left of their own accord, or whether they had met a more final fate.
With no answers forthcoming, I continued on my way.
Just as the afternoon was turning to evening, I reached another village.
There were more white horses here, roaming half-tamed among the villagers, who seemed oddly tolerant of the animals.
“They are sacred here,” was the answer to my idle inquiry. “The village is named for them. Weisferd.”
Night cut my conversation short, as the villager hurried home, and I took up residence at a local inn run by two brothers.
They seemed to find my insistence on keeping the visor of my helm as low as possible, and my refusal of food thusly, more than a little strange.
They weren’t very good conversationalists as a result, aiming suspicious looks at me and exchanging more wordless looks with each other, and I could get no useful rumors from them.
Besides, talking was almost impossible from the extremely loud neighing and whinnying of the white horse that was directly outside in the inn’s yard, fenced in with no exit, criss-crossing the small garden restlessly, its wish to join its free brethen plain and clear for all to hear.
“Taming it,” said one brother. “Work-in-progress,” said the other.
It wasn’t the most peaceful night I’d ever spent.
Morning wasn’t much better, because as I hastily opened the inn’s door to take my leave of the two wary brothers, a very hostile skeleton archer barged its way in, firing its arrows point-blank at me.
“Was it looking for you?!” One brother screamed as he dove for cover.
“Outside! Take it outside! NOT THE TABLES!” yelled the other.
It was the most incongruous bar brawl ever.
Despite being the victor, I left in a great hurry after that. I was afraid questions would be asked about how I managed to survive the hail of arrows. I -hoped- that most could be explained away by my armor, but I had a feeling a few had gone through me.
I didn’t want any of the brothers to get a close look, put two and two together and raise a lynch mob.
Outside, I sheltered against a back wall long enough to make myself humanly presentable once more.
In the town square, three villagers were standing in the middle of a large structure made of blackened bricks, looking extremely perplexed.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Are you all stuck in there?”
“We’re trying to figure out the best way to take apart this old smelter,” said one villager. “It’s an eyesore, and no one uses it since the blacksmith…” he paused, “…left.”
My eyes lit up, for I had been wanting a way to melt down some metals and make better tools, but hadn’t found the clay yet to make my own seared bricks for a smeltery. “I can help you with that,” I said, hoisting my pickaxe.
“The blacksmith couldn’t make a living here?” I asked the villager who seemed to have appointed himself the overseer, as I pried the smelter apart.
“Mmmmhm,” was his noncommittal reply. “You could say that.”
“This place seems large and prosperous enough for one.” I tried again.
“Strange goings-on happen in this place, is what.” He suddenly snapped.
But before I could get further with that line of questioning, my work was abruptly interrupted by a terrified scream from a nearby house behind me.
The distress was real, the words of the speech itself absurd.
“HELP! Help! There’s a POLAR BEAR on the ROOF of my house!”
All I had to do was turn around 180 degrees to find out that it was true.
“I guess I can help with that too.” I said, as I unslung my bow.
I got a decent enough fur pelt out of that errand.
Strange goings-on indeed.
The villager I had been questioning about the blacksmith had taken his chance to leave, so I finished up deconstructing the smelter in silence.
Night was falling again by the time I was done, so I quickly asked the other two villagers that had been standing by, with furrowed brows and in quiet, earnest conversation with each other, if I could shack up with them in return for my help.
“Yeah, sure. But hurry!” They said, as they pushed me along the path quickly and raced home at the fastest clip I’ve seen.
“Huh,” was my puzzled response. “Why the rush?”
“Shhh,” they said, as they crammed into a small house with what seemed to be two or three other villagers already inside. I barely managed to squeeze my way in. Then they slammed the door shut and bolted it.
The room was plunged into darkness.
“What the hell,” I said. “Don’t you guys have a torch? A lamp? Some light? Anything?”
“SHHH!” They shushed me.
I groped around in my pockets and my backpack in dismay, because I had run out of torches myself.
The lighted house over by the way was looking a lot more comfortable to spend the night in, rather than with these two paranoid or miserly souls, sitting in the dark.
“Ok, nevermind, I’ll stay elsewhere,” I said, as I groped for the door handle.
They blocked it with their bodies, pressed up against the door. “SHHHHHHHH!”
“Guys, this is not funny,” I said. “Let me out!”
I was pondering the wisdom of throwing a punch at one of them to shake them from their paranoia, but was worried about the repercussions, given the already suspicious brothers at the inn.
Then the banging and the thumping started.
A terrible cacophony of thuds and knocking against closed doors. The blood in my veins froze as I quit all protest and looked gingerly out the window.
Besides the zombies that I had been accustomed to seeing roam at night, there was… something else.
A black shrouded figure with a scythe, floating above the pavement, knocking insistently against the door of the lighted house.
Suddenly, sitting quietly in the dark with nary a lit candle seemed a lot less like paranoia and a lot more like common sense.
But then, I wasn’t an ordinary defenceless villager, was I?
I seemed to be turning into the hero of this tiny town.
I opened the window, as quietly as I dared, and drew a bead on the ragged robes with my bow.
And was suddenly struck with a chill down my spine, a foreboding sense of impending doom.
It was a long shot. Through a window. There was no guarantee I’d hit it.
There was even less of a guarantee that I’d kill it with a single arrow. (Almost none at all, in fact.)
I’d probably just make it really angry.
It’ll be alerted to the fact that I was over here, in this other house.
There were other defenseless villagers in this house too.
If it turned into a raging battle, the entire village would probably end up a casualty.
It hadn’t broken through the door yet. There were no terrified screams.
It did -sound- like a pretty solid door.
I eased back on the tension on the bow string. I’d wait. Only if the door broke down, then I’d act.
Maybe sunrise would burn this thing like the zombies did.
If the door held long enough.
Minutes crept by like hours and hours crept by like minutes. Tense and cramped, looking out a small window, I waited, and waited, and waited.
The sun rose.
The zombie caught fire. The black-robed figure disappeared in puff of purple magic.
I finally dared to breathe again, and joined the other villagers who had now ceased to block the door and stepped out into the morning.
Then I froze in shock as my gaze met the purple-eyed stare of the shade that I had met once before.
I blinked, and it zipped away with a whoosh, teleporting and appearing on the outskirts of the village.
It and I exchanged one more look that lasted a split second, and with another BZZZT, it was gone.
Had it been watching the whole night?
Was it the one that had set the other undead upon the village?
I didn’t think the frightened villagers scurrying about had the answers to my questions, or were in the best mind to answer them that very moment.
And to be frank, I was just as relieved to get out of Weisferd before I was forced to stay a third night.
I only hung around long enough for one more errand, a cemetery on the outskirts of the village was being plagued by a haunted suit of armor. A brief exchange of blows later, the unquiet ghost was laid to rest.
Then I made my way back home, carrying the pieces of my hard-won smeltery.
(Good lord, I felt like I was doing a whole series of MMO sidequests in Weisferd.
There was even a totally immersion-breaking bizarre comic relief one. Though I did walk past the presumably lost and long-ranging polar bear on my way into the village. When it ended up on the freakin’ roof though, I couldn’t pass it up.
By sheer random chance, the density of odd happenings in that village was crazily good.
By the by, the Enderman in the second to last screenshot is Photoshopped because I was really too shocked to take a screenshot when I opened the door and had that happen to me exactly as described. Two split seconds and it was gone. It was eerie as hell. That thing was out there -watching-.
I actually did stay another night to see if it would happen again and if I could get a real screenshot from that, but it didn’t. So yeah, whatever, that night is not cannon, not story.)