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I admit it, I forged the letter from Quivers. And many years ago, I made up the Sugarspun Garden and wrote the hidden code into the skylark signs, knowing it would lure curious folk to seek me out. After all, don't I know more about the signs than anybody? And weren't there rumours that I was Old Tom himself, connected to the very place those signs led? So people came to me seeking answers. Or I'd befriend them first, and steer them toward the questions. Either way, the same outcome: kindly, wisely, jollying them along with characteristic good humour and charm, I led them on a merry dance until they found themselves... here. And though you discovered my secret... You came here, too. To my well.
~ The Amiable Vagabond, gloating over having ensnared you

The Amiable Vagabond is a minor villain in the 2019 game Sunless Skies, and one of many potential officers available to the player. A jovial old man with a long history in the skies, he gladly accepts a position on board the locomotive in exchange for a few sky stories, and proves immediately popular with your crew. However, as time goes on, it soon becomes clear that the Vagabond is on board the train for reasons of his own, and may not have the best of intentions when it comes to your health...

History

The Legend

As he later reveals, the Vagabond started out as a prospector known in history and folklore as Old Tom. Though much of his past is still unknown, it can be assumed that he began as one of the many inhabitants of the Neath, the vast underground realm in which Fallen London and Sunless Sea take place. As a citizen of Fallen London, he was most likely one of the many subjects of the Traitor Empress who followed his monarch through the gates of the Avid Horizon and into space.

With the British Empire rebuilding London in the skies and the Empress exalting in her victory over one of the legendary Judgements, the new society of Albion soon found a new resource: Hours, a crystallized form of time itself. Through the use of this substance, production could be accelerated, travel could be improved, and wealthy members of Albion's society could achieve immortality of a sort. Though the lower classes were quickly put to use in refining it into usable forms, actually finding this resource was a different story: Hours could only be found on asteroids floating across the High Wilderness, and with an entire Empire needing more of them, prospectors like Old Tom set out to make their fortunes.

Old Tom had no luck, however: for years on end, he combed the skies in search of the strike that would make him rich, but always turned up empty. Luckless, penniless and with nothing to his name, Old Tom journeyed deep into the Reach, a lush, wild realm of the High Wilderness with no sun of its own to enforce the law of reality, venturing beyond the areas that Albion had colonized - and finally stumbled upon a Well.

Essentially a black hole, the Well was a vast, unending whirlpool in reality orbited by ledges of black ice. Here, with no other option, Old Tom made a wish, begging anyone who was listening for riches... and to his surprise, something answered him. There in the darkness, he saw a glint of gold amidst a gathering of pale trees at the very bottom of the Well, and a voice "like lightning striking an oak" made him an offer. His wish would be granted... but only if the old prospector would pledge his life to it: for one year, he would have everything he'd wished for, then he would return to the Well and throw himself in.

The next month, Old Tom found the Mother of Mountains, a colossal landmass floating in a cold and inhospitable region of the Reach. He lost four toes to frostbite while journeying across the icy wastes, but in the process, he found that the mountain was riddled with veins of Hours. In a single stroke, Old Tom became the richest man in the Reach and founded the mining town of Lustrum, which serves as a hub of activity for prospectors to this day.

For a year, the once-penniless wanderer was staggeringly wealthy, living in a luxurious mansion on the slopes of the Mother of Mountains and emulated by thousands of eager young fortune-seekers across the High Wilderness. Then without warning, Old Tom inexplicably vanished; nobody was able to explain what had happened and nobody ever learned what became of him, for though he'd happily shared the tale of making a wish on the edge of the Well and earning riches as a result, he had not told them of what had answered him, nor did he mention the price he would have to pay in return.

This disappearance was enough to cement Old Tom's place in legend, and from then on, the Well that he had made his wish before was known as "Old Tom's Well." Despite the danger, countless other skyfarers have landed on the black ice ledges, hoping that their wishes might come true as well.

The Truth

Unknown to all, Old Tom had discarded his old identity and returned to the skies, this time as a homeless "skylark." By this time, he knew his time was almost up, and he had no intention of sacrificing himself to the Well; during the preceding months, he had begun looking for a means of escaping from his obligations.

With his vast private fortune, Tom had eventually able to learn of a ritual that could create a scapegoat: if he could convince someone he knew to take part in this arcane rite, he would be able to sacrifice them to the Well in his stead. However, this solution would not last forever, and he would have to continue seeking out new scapegoats to feed the Well.

His new lifestyle would require him to be constantly on the move, which suited Tom perfectly: in his time as a prospector, he'd grown used to roaming aimlessly from place to place, and he preferred to live as a merrymaking skylark without putting down roots. And so Tom had cast off his name, vanished from Lustrum and became known only as the Amiable Vagabond, beginning an endless tour of the skies in search of prey.

By means of his charm, he would regularly ingratiate himself into the company of a fellow traveler and trick them into regarding him as a friend. Over time, he would give them an excuse to join him in the forests of what was now the Leadbeater and Stainrod nature reserve, and take part in his ritual: together, the two would drink a potion of the Vagabond's own creation, divided into two cups; the Vagabond's cup would delay his obligation to the Well, while his companion's cup - spiked with a calcified seed from the Vagabond's body - would transfer Old Tom's curse to him. Then, they would make the journey to the Well, where the Vagabond would throw his new companion into the void below. With his fate successfully delayed, Tom would then go looking for a new scapegoat.

His most common source of prey were his fellow skylarks: his charm made them readily accept him, and his knowledge of the skies gave him authority among them, eventually leading them to declare him their king. A downtrodden group, the skylarks believed in a utopia known as the Sugarspun Garden, in which they could finally settle down and rest forever in a grove where even the trees smile; unknown to them, this story had been invented by the Vagabond in order to lure in fresh victims, and was directly modeled on he things he'd seen on the bottom of the Well. Skylarks searching for the Garden followed the coded skylark signs littered across the High Wilderness, totally unaware that they were being led into a trap, until they joined the Vagabond's company and became his friend, companion and eventually, his next victim.

At other times, the Vagabond preyed on gullible captains: because of his skills and experience, Tom was able to make himself useful to skyfarers in search of fresh crew, and with the legend of Old Tom's Well known throughout the High Wilderness, many were greedy enough to be tricked into participating in the ritual in the hope that their wishes would be granted as well.

He was eventually joined in his efforts by his sister, a woman known only as the Lank Minister; the head of a cult known as the Psalmists, she worshiped the thing at the bottom of the Well as the Angel of the Pit, and made a home for the new society on the edge of the Well itself. Though disdainful of his use of the loophole, the Lank Minister did nothing to stop him and stood in witness to every sacrifice her brother made, though she secretly hoped he would have to pay his final price.

By the start of the game, the Vagabond claims to have lured a dozen skylarks and a dozen captains to their grave, and shows no sign of remorse for any of them.

A New Signaler

The Amiable Vagabond can be found at Polmear & Plenty's Inconceivable Circus in the Reach, where he offers to sign on with you in exchange for two Sky-Stories - the Vagabond having little use for money. As signaler, he gives you +4 to Hearts, +4 to Veils, and +1 to Affiliation: Bohemia.

He immediately makes himself beloved among the crew by cheering their spirits at every turn with bawdy jokes and lively songs on his fiddle, always being the last to bed and the first to rise. However, he can always be found discussing things one-on-one with a particular crew member, secretly checking to see if they can be used as a sacrifice in his stead.

If players want to learn more about the Vagabond, they will have to share more Sky-Stories with him: here, the player learns of the skylarks and is invited to their monthly gathering at Port Avon. Over the course of this party, you hear a rumor that a skylark by the name of Quivers has gone missing, having not been seen at any skylark camps or stations in the last few weeks. Unknown to you, he has become Old Tom's latest scapegoat, and is now serving as bait for the next one - you.

Seemingly on a whim, the Vagabond has you stop by his old mansion in Lustrum, where he "finds" a letter from Quivers; supposedly having arrived just before he went missing, the letter claims that he has discovered the location of the Sugarspun Garden. The Vagabond feigns skepticism, but sets himself on a fraudulent quest to find Quivers in order to protect his subjects and rescue Quivers, all while taking you for a ride.

Having "heard" that Quivers was a member of a skylark band, he has you seek out a fellow musician by the name of Ratbite in the hopes of leaning more. However, Ratbite has been jailed for pickpocketing and is currently awaiting trial in London; depending on your stats, you can either use a Cryptic Benefactor to pull some strings and get her released, or break her out of jail yourself - though the Vagabond approves of the latter choice. Once Ratbite has recovered enough to be questioned on board your locomotive, it's discovered that Quivers was following the secret code concealed in the skylark signs, believing they led to the Sugarspun Garden; this next breadcrumb on the trail leads you to Achlys, where you find the final sign.

However, while the Vagabond chats with a drunken skylark - perhaps looking for a substitute scapegoat - a terrified Ratbite begs you not to trust him, revealing his true name. However, the Vagabond returns at this point, and here, the player is given a choice: you can either pretend that everything is normal, spurn Ratbite for spreading rumors behind the Vagabond's back (in which case she will leave your ship), or interrogate the Vagabond (which will cost you some influence with him and result in him lying anyway).

The Vagabond then reveals that the final sign has been leading skylarks to Old Tom's Well, and it is at this point that he finally reveals his true name to the player - though he naturally omits the deal he made with the thing at the bottom of the Well. Claiming that his sister is behind the sacrifices taking place at the Well, he recruits you on a quest to stop her once and for all.

Of course, he also lies and claims that he is normally forbidden from visiting the Well again, but informs you that there is a ritual the two of you can use...

Old Tom And The Well

What happens next is up to the player: if you have grown suspicious of the Vagabond, you can pay a visit to his sister at the Well; the Lank Minister will candidly reveal his plan for you - and even give you advice on how to thwart his ritual.

From here, you can actually confront the Vagabond with you knowledge of his attempted betrayal. Enraged, he denies any guilt for what he's done, showing nothing but contempt for seeing through his lies. You have him thrown in the brig, and though he puts up quite a fight, he is successfully handed over to the authorities at the next port. However, as he's taken away, he begins working his same charm on the constables delivering him to prison, to the point that they actually laugh at his jokes, and it's suspected that he won't stay jailed for long.

If you choose not to confront the Vagabond in favor of finding some other way of turning the tables on him, or simply do not question the Lank Minister at all, the ritual at the Leadbeater & Stainrod Nature Reserve will go ahead. As you experience visions of being transformed into a tree, the Vagabond sets out the two cups for you, and while he continues his ritual, you have a choice: you can simply drink the assigned cup, you can switch the glasses so that he drinks the potion meant for you, or you can empty both cups into a bottle and replace their contents with whisky. Whatever you do, the Vagabond doesn't notice anything untoward.

Your final port of call is Old Tom's Well. Here, the Vagabond takes you to the very edge and gloatingly reveals the full extent of his betrayal, gleefully offering you up as the next sacrifice to the thing at the bottom of the Well. What happens next depends entirely on your choices so far:

If you chose to drink the assigned cup, you are sucked into the depths of the Well as the Vagabond and the Lank Minister look on impassively. After a long drop, you find yourself at the bottom of the Well, where you find the copse of trees and the golden light Old Tom discovered so long ago: here, like all the other victims to take the blame for the Vagabond's deal, you are transformed into one of the many trees basking in the light, spending the rest of eternity worshiping in mindless joy.

If you switched the cups, the Vagabond will have unintentionally offered himself up to the Well; no sooner has he reacted in open horror to his doom, the wind sweeps him away. In desperation, he tries to hang on the the edge of the Well, but the intense cold causes his fingers to snap off and send him tumbling into the void, where he is presumably transformed into a tree like his previous victims.

If you were able generate enough influence with the Vagabond, however, he will find himself unable to go through with the sacrifice and begs for more time to find a scapegoat. Neither the Well nor the Minister will take no for an answer, and the Vagabond is swiftly dragged away by the winds. However, you have the option of saving him at the last minute. Similar results ensue if you switched the cups, both resulting in a special ending:

The Dendrified Vagabond

Should you rescue him, Old Tom is dragged back from the edge, but his transformation into a tree cannot be fully prevented, and the old skylark is finally made to put down roots. By the time you take him back to your ship, he has been converted into a tree from the waist down, his right arm is a branch, and he must be kept in a planter in his quarters from now on. Despite his misdeeds and the fact that he is mostly immobile, you keep him around as he can still perform his duties (just) and nobody else will take him in.

From here, the Amiable Vagabond is promoted to the Dendrified Vagabond, giving you a +10 bonus to Hearts.

His transformation leaves the Vagabond a shell of his former self: everyone aboard knows of the crimes he has committed, and all despise him for it. From here on, Old Tom is left alone in his cabin except for your occasional visits, and he is pathetically grateful for even that. However, he cannot muster even the slightest bit of his old charm and good cheer: his transformed arm leaves him unable to play the fiddle, his immobility has stripped away the freedom that gave him his lust for life, and his humiliation has destroyed what little he has left. When you speak to him, he tries to reclaim his past glory, but stumbles over the words every time he tells a story and forgets the punchline every time he tells a joke, leaving him pitifully begging you not to leave when he runs out of things to say.

If your current captain dies or completes their ambition, the next can find the Dendrified Vagabond back at the Leadbeater and Stainrod Nature Reserve, desperate for anyone willing to take him in.

The Incorrigible Vagabond

If you chose to pour the cups into a bottle and did not spurn Ratbite, you have the option of giving the concoction to her on the way to the Well. Once you're on the edge, you can then reveal to Old Tom that you have prepared a substitute scapegoat in your stead, and propose an alliance: you will allow him to remain aboard your ship and give him as many scapegoats as he requires; in return, he will leave you alive.

Impressed and amused, the Vagabond agrees to your terms and the two of you leave for your ship, returning a short while later with Ratbite in tow. Once you have thrown her into the Well, the terms of the sacrifice are met, and your signaler can rejoin the crew - the Vagabond reflecting that the two of you are going to work well together.

From here, the Amiable Vagabond is promoted to the Incorrigible Vagabond, giving you a +10 bonus to Veils.

More jovial than ever, Old Tom is the life of your ship's parties and the darling of the crew. However, the stories he tell now have a slightly sinister, gloating edge, beginning with a heroic skylark looking for the Sugarspun Garden and ending in a grove of smiling trees. Not only is the Vagabond Incorrigible, but he shows no sign of regret for anything he's done.

Every so often, the Vagabond will approach you for his pick of the crew. If you agree to his terms, he will single out a crewman and the two of you will discuss the mystery of Ratbite's disappearance, eventually tricking the man into setting out on a quest to find the missing skylark - with the Vagabond's help, of course. The two vanish for a time: the Vagabond will always return alone and in a very good mood, set to play the same trick on another crewman not long from now.

However, if you refuse to uphold the terms of your agreement, you will have to pass an Iron test: if you fail, the Vagabond will strangle you. If you succeed, the Vagabond will be intimidated into leaving without a fight, and will happily return to preying on skylarks.

Regardless of whether you die or live long enough to achieve your ambition, the Incorrigible Vagabond will be found waiting for new captains in Port Avon.

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