return of Super Adventure Box, this week Daum, the licensee and operator of Black Desert in the West, dropped an entire expansion on us out of the clear blue sky. There seems to be some rumor going around that MMORPGs are stagnating or even dying off. It's things like this, or the upcoming massive free update to EQ2 , or the one Blade and Soul just got, or Otherland, just to name-check a handful of games in which I have a personal interest, that get these kind of rumors started.
Got to be, because nothing says "ded gaem" like continual development and a pipe full of impressive new content, does it? Truly the Last Days are upon us.
Nevertheless, although all may be sunlight and rose petals this side of the screen, things seemed very different for my Tamer when she blew into Tarif at two in the morning. The sky was dark, the prospects sulfurous... but, here, let her tell the story.
In the usual way of things it was the middle of the night when I woke up. At least I was in my own bed, for once, safe at home in 5, Lynch Ranch, not bivouacking under a bush. The moon was full so, since everyone else was awake and working already (no-one ever seems to sleep but me - it's worrisome), I decided to set off straight away rather than wait for morning.
By luck I'd already been to the closed border with Mediah to the East a week or so back and for once I knew exactly where I was going. I left the horse at the stables because, honestly, I can travel faster without him and running is good for my stamina. Although, on the other hand, riding is good for my...riding...so it's a judgment call.
My cottage isn't that far from the new lands so it didn't take too long to get to the border. There wasn't much to see along the road, it being nighttime and all, but there was some evidence of the warming political relations between the territories (or whatever caused the border to open this time) in the steady flow of foot traffic and wagons heading back West to Heidel.
It was too dark to tell all that much about the landscape but I got the feeling that it was slowly changing, becoming drier, dustier. The thick undergrowth turned to scrub and the road to grit and sand. There was no sudden, jolting transition from West to East, just a subtle elision.
I stopped for a brief rest at a small village. Didn't get the name. Already the architecture looked odd and foreign. It felt like I wasn't at home any more. Not that I know where home is, since I woke up not knowing who I am, with that Black Spirit whispering in my ear.
Ah yes, the Spirit. He's a wonder, that's for sure. I thought he was something only I could see, although every so often, when I arrive in a new town, some local dignitary with a third eye or psychic powers will sense him and have a fit of the vapors. That's going to get me into trouble some day, I just bet.
And then I came to Tarif. I hadn't meant to go there. I didn't know it existed. I was just following the road, hoping it went somewhere. Roads usually do, although in my experience they're as likely to end in a ruin full of orcs as a welcoming inn. The sky was beginning to lighten as I came to the town gates so I could see a little. What I saw almost made me wish for the darkness back.
Oh, I'm not saying anything bad about Tarif. Well, nothing worse than I'd say about Florin. I have a strong feeling it wouldn't be clever to say anything bad about either of them. I mean, I'm sure the local Shai have a sound reason for pulling a Black Spirit around on a handcart in the dead of night. There must be one, right? That's not something you do for fun. Is it?
I was so stunned that at first I just stood there and gawped. Then my adventurer's instincts clicked in and I slipped into the shadows. It was two in the morning so it wasn't all that hard. Tarif was mostly shadows. Maybe it always is.
I followed the long-eared little deviant as he wheeled his cart through the alleys and back streets, the Spirit gibbering and mumbling in a skin-crawlingly familiar way. At one point we passed an open door and in the light that blazed out I could see candles laid out for a ritual. Objects were hanging motionless in the air. The ritual had probably already happened. Maybe that's how this Shai got his Spirit-in-a-Pot.
As dawn came on we arrived in the main square. No-one seems to sleep here, either. The streets were packed with people, trading and chatting and floating. Floating in the air. Doing back flips. I was starting to freak but I hadn't seen the worst of it yet.
As the sun set the hills alight and the streets began to glow I noticed an Inn. It seemed quite upmarket, with tables on a terrace and food already laid out, so I sat on a bench to take stock and breakfast, not necessarily in that order.
I looked around for the Inn Keeper. Then I saw her. In a manner of speaking. I saw her portrait on the wall. Some townsfolk were chatting. Chatting to the picture. The picture that wasn't a picture of the Inn Keeper. The picture that was the inn Keeper.
About this time I decided I'd catch my own breakfast after all. I made my excuses and bolted for the riverside. On the way I passed a smuggler, a man of a race I didn't immediately recognize, although if all his kin have a nose like his then I shan't be having any difficulty recognizing them in future.
He was operating in broad daylight (well, almost) with no regard to the law, even though guards were everywhere in the town, clinking in heavy chain mail, armed with vicious-looking pikestaffs. I get the general idea of what goes on here, I think.
So, this is Mediah as seen from Tarif, gateway to the East. The locals tell me it's a quiet place, not like the chaos and confusion I can expect further on down the road.
I can't wait.