The Kartoss Gambit: World’s Most Obvious Werewolf

I’ve had some other books recommended that I am at least 60% certain I’ll like, but I’m returning to Way of the Shaman, mainly because I don’t really have the kind of time to dedicate to the “tracking down what to read next” portion of this that I did back before my business started taking off. So we’re reading Way of the Shaman book 2, the Kartoss Gambit. The book doesn’t bother with a recap, so neither will I, but here’s a link to the table of contents for the last one if you forgot/missed it.

Chapter 1

I boldly stepped into the portal and prepared myself for long struggle with the Governor.

“I boldly did what I was told by an authority figure whom I dislike but am subject to.” I think I’ve got a different translation this time around, which may or may not be better than the last, but either way it is a translation and I wonder if the word used for “boldly” in the original Russian means something slightly different. It feels less like Danny’s channeling the ambition of boldness and more like he’s bracing himself to run a gauntlet.

I’m nitpicking a single word choice, though, and while normally I’d feel justified in picking nits on the opening line (this is the opening line, by the way), this is book two and was first released in 2015 (I think? That may be the publication date of the translation I’m reading, not the book itself), well into the rise of the online book market. I’m pretty confident that the overwhelming majority of people who read this line will have already read the first book, and if they got this far, they aren’t putting the book down because of one word out of place.

After a few paragraphs of Danny ruminating on how this is going to suck but he’ll get through it, dammit, and keep his special chess pieces no matter what the governor tries to pull, he gets a pop-up:

To the player located in a prisoner capsule!

The one.

You have earned ‘Respect’ with the Pryke Mine guards and are being transferred to the main gameworld.

You have the option of taking part in the adaptation scenario: ‘The Governor’s Castle’. Time to be spent at the location ‘The Governor’s Castle’: 2 months 26 days. Role taken: ‘Castle craftsman’. Conditions: eight hour work day, a weekly salary, the results of the daily labor go to the Serrest province; every seventh day is a holiday, development of crafting professions (up to level 30 inclusive) – at the expense of the Governor. Reward for taking part in the adaptation scenario: Respect with the Serrest Province, two items of the ‘Rare’ class.

Should you decline, you will be sent to a random settlement in the Malabar Empire and your reputation with the Serrest Province will fall to the level of ‘Hatred’. Do you wish to take part in the adaptation scenario ‘The Governor’s Castle’?

So apparently Danny can actually just tell the Governor to pound sand. He starts weighing the pros and cons of accepting the “adaptation scenario,” a weird bit of jargon which I can’t tell whether it’s something introduced in book one but translated differently or if that’s a brand new term. This translation has been much less 1:1 so far, which is good, but it might be a bit before I stop wondering about the seam.

Speaking of that translation, as Danny’s listing off the cons of accepting:

Second. There’s the close proximity to the Govertoad, even if just geographically.

I wonder how literal the “govertoad” portmanteau is?

Fourth. If I refuse, I’ll get Hatred with Serrest. This is a clear minus or rather a plus towards taking part in the scenario. There are just forty provinces in Malabar and to lose access to one of them is a very short-sighted choice.

Okay, there’s forty provinces in Malabar, but how big a chunk of the game world is Malabar? The whole thing is called Barliona, and Malabar is not that word, so presumably it is a component part of Barliona. Like, sure, World of WarCraft’s setting is Azeroth, but Barliona doesn’t mean anything the way World of WarCraft (or Guild Wars or The Old Republic) does. It’s a proper noun with no other meaning. All this to say, I expect Barliona is the name of the entire game world, and Malabar is thus just a piece of it. A major piece, though? After all, it’s not perfectly accurate to say that World of WarCraft takes place in Azeroth. You can also go to Outland and Draenor (which, yes, requires time travel). Malabar might be a sort of Prime Material Plane, consisting of some 80% of the game world, with just a few off-world demi-planes and the like making up the rest.

Basically, what I’m getting at here is that Danny’s bringing up the “forty provinces of Malabar” figure to establish why getting hatred with Serrest would be bad, but since I can’t remember any previous mention of Malabar, I don’t have the context to know if that’s reasonable at all. I guess I’ll just take his word for it.

I confidently selected the ‘Refuse’ sign, small as it was next to the larger ‘Accept’, and in an instant the world was filled with color, sound and the fragrant scent of a pine forest.

Wait, what? Let me make sure this is clear: This passage is Danny refusing the governor’s craftsman scenario. Which, okay, sure, he’s just gonna go to the regular game world instead, but this was the last book’s cliffhanger ending! Oh, no, Danny’s gotta work under the thumb of this evil governor for three months, how’s he gonna deal with that? Book two, four pages in, psyche, that was completely optional and he’s not going for it.

Danny’s actual situation is that he’s in a village called Beatwick and needs to report his presence to the village headman. He meets up with a kid named Clouter who rolls a cartwheel straight into him. Apparently when the village blacksmith is too busy to pull out loose teeth, kids tie them to the wheel and roll them down a hill. And also, being a convict is playing merry Hell with NPC reactions to Danny, as the blacksmith immediately assumes Danny’s harassing Clouter and beats him half to death before Clouter tells him it’s cool.

After meeting with the village headman, Danny learns that he’s in the middle of goddamn nowhere, which serves as a vehicle for detailing the setting’s geography a bit more:

After the unification of all the countries took place and one language was adopted, the real world was split into five large regions, along the continents: Eurasia, Africa, Australia and the two Americas. In parallel with reality, five great continents were formed in Barliona, with each being divided roughly into three zones. For example, on our continent there was the Malabar Empire, Kartoss and the Free Lands.

Malabar is the player territory, Kartoss is the evil dark lord territory, and there are Free Lands on each of the five continents, vast, uncharted territories full of resources and minor outposts. Some of which may also be miner outposts. Free-to-play players, despite the name, rarely spend much time in the Free Lands, because the people who go out exploring them have exclusively sold the maps to powerful clans who can afford to drop a lot of money for them, or else the explorers just keep the maps to themselves altogether. This is not how MMO communities work. Mapmakers share their maps freely pretty much all the time. In fairness, more of the world’s economy (as in, the actual real world of the story) seems to be tied up in this MMO than normal, so profit motives intruding is not a completely unreasonable prediction.

The village has a wolf problem, and that’s Danny’s first quest here, given him by the headman before said headman hands him off for housing assignment. As the headman’s daughter Tisha leads him towards the house he’ll be staying at, he asks about her brothers – he knows there’s three from a family portrait:

“So the gates are guarded at night by your brothers? All three of them?” the thought of the painting with the smudge wouldn’t leave me alone – something was amiss here. From the time of my initiation I had decided to put more trust in my instincts.

Tisha’s face darkened, she fell silent and walked for a while through the village without saying a word. She then regained control of herself and said in a serious voice:

“No, not three, just two. But they only do it once a week. Never ask me about my third brother. I don’t remember him myself, but we do not speak about him in the family. All that I know is that he betrayed our kin and our homeland and father banished him from the family forever. Not a word more about him.[“]

There’s also a story relayed that someone carved fake claw marks into the town gate to make people think there was a werewolf, to try and scare some local juvenile delinquents into line or something, but the whole town got so panicked that he had to come clean about it. Now there’s, allegedly, a tradition amongst the delinquents of carving claw marks into the gate at night without getting caught by the guards as a prank. I say “allegedly” because I wouldn’t be surprised if the reveal here is that the “grey death” leading the wolf pack that Danny’s been assigned to kill is in fact a werewolf, it’s this mysterious third brother to be exact, and the whole “juvenile delinquents carve up the gate as a prank” thing is just a cover story. When Clouter talked earlier about trying to carve his own claw marks into the gate, he said he wasn’t actually able to do it under the nose of the night guard.

Turns out Danny’s staying with Clouter’s mother. I say “staying with,” but really it’s more like “tossed into the shed out back.” She forbids him from entering her house and the game gives him a pop-up promising to enforce it with parole violations (three of those and he is back to the mines permanently). He’s also got an issue with parole violations in that being outside city limits for 48 hours will get him teleported back inside with a violation added to his record, which is particularly an issue because this town has no bank, and the nearest town with a bank is two days’ travel away.

I had to make an arrangement with its leader to buy a scroll of teleportation from Beatwick to Farstead. The return scroll I could buy there. Judging by the distance to the town, the scroll could cost around eight or nine hundred gold. It’s quite a lot, but I had to get to the Bank of Barliona and get my hands on the possessions of my former Hunter character. There should be at least eleven thousand there just in gold, not counting all the leftover equipment. Although all of it was focused on boosting Agility, I could use even that. It would be like plate mail compared to what I had on now.

Does the original Russian use “plate mail,” I wonder? Did that inaccuracy immortalized by D&D somehow jump the language barrier? Plate armor is not a concept whose word Russian would’ve gotten on loan from English. Russia had actual, real knights long before D&D was printing equipment lists. Is this a fault with the translator, then (it is a common mistake in English, particularly with fantasy RPGs which tend to have a lot of D&D DNA)?

Deeper into his planning, Danny dumps his inventory onto his bed to see what he’s got to work with.

Then there were seven rings with a +3 stat bonus and four rings with a +2 bonus. They were the ones I failed to sell at the Pryke mine and were now outdated. There was no point of keeping them for later for a potential sale at an auction. Junk like this wouldn’t even sell for five gold.

So apparently these rings that made him such a god in the mine are actually low-level junk? He seemed pretty proud of them earlier, talked about how he was making out from his prison sentence like a bandit. Was that supposed to be sarcasm? He’s got items that are most of the way to the +10 bonus his level eighty-something hunter had, and he’s not even a quarter of that level now. I guess the bonuses on rings plateau super hard at +10? Or his hunter was hideously underequipped for his level?

Danny steps out into the night, but it’s uncharacteristically dark here in Bumblefuck, Nebraska, so that pits the kibosh on any plans to seek out mining spots before morning. Then a wolf monster ambushes him in the middle of town, like, ten feet outside his new shack, and tears him to pieces, leaving some familiar looking scratches on his door. So, confirmed: There is definitely an actual, real werewolf in this town. Odds are fantastic that it is this mysterious third brother.

On another note, though, Danny has died, which resets his levels to zero. That’s a huge blow, something he spent pretty much the entire last book-

Attention! In connection with your death, your level of Experience has been reduced by 30%. Current Experience: 199; points remaining until next level 1201

Oh, apparently death is no longer a big deal at all. I mean, the XP loss is an inconvenience and all, but he’s not losing his super special jewelcrafting powers that his proto-clan went so far out of their way to protect at the end of the last book. Was it mentioned earlier that the level reset on death was strictly a mine thing? Or is this just a retcon because we’re done with that plotline now?

Danny wakes up in a graveyard and asks the priest of the adjacent temple if there might happen to be any sinister werewolves related to headmen living or deceased lurking about.

[“]You’ve seen the claw marks on the gates, yes? The Headman had to make up a story, saying that he was the one that scratched them on – just to calm the villagers down. But every seven days the claw marks appear again. It’s just as well that the local kids got it into their heads that they are the ones getting up to this, so people stopped worrying. And the fact that every seventh night either a cow or a sheep disappears from the common herd – everyone blames the wolves for that. But no-one gives a thought about how wolves would get through closed gates.[“]

Wow, we are dealing with some pretty dull villagers here, aren’t we?

At the end of his spiel, the priest asks Danny to help track down the beast and put an end to its menacing of the locals:

Quest available: ‘Night terror of the village’ Description: Once every seven days a monster roams Beatwick, which brings trouble and destruction to the residents. Find out who is the night terror of the village. Quest type: Rare. Reward: +400 to Reputation with the Krong Province, +500 Experience, +80 Silver coins, a Rare item from Headman’s Stores. Penalty for failing/refusing the quest: -400 to Reputation with the Krong Province.

Oh, fuck you, Barliona. “Hey, random stranger, I know you just got absolutely stomped by the local monster that we’ve been trying and failing to catch for two years, but do you think you could help us hunt it down?”

“Sorry, Father, I’m kind of attached to not getting killed on a weekly basis for the next three months.”

The Krong Province shall not forget this grave insult!

Danny does actually accept the quest, though, and that is the end of the chapter. It’s established in a bit I glossed over that the werewolf has to be in the neighborhood of level 70 to have destroyed Danny as effortlessly as he did, and the chapter leaves off with Danny determined to get some leveling done. Right now he’s level fourteen, so I really don’t think outleveling this monster to kill it in a straight fight is an option, but hey, maybe this book is gonna do the Awaken Online thing where Danny gets eighteen levels every chapter.

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