Chapter the Twelfth: The Center of Technological InventionThe smell of dust and oil hung heavy in the air as we wandered out of the station after Jayna. Although Tarant was different and quite a bit dirtier, at the moment it was the closest I'd been to home in a very long time. I welcomed the filth, the rude strangers, and the myriad of unpleasant noises that pierced the afternoon air. Somehow those things which I had once grown to loathe were now a comfort.
I looked around outside a bit, wondering if Jared were on duty at this time of day. I took in the street lights and the busy citizens, and even stared at the tranquil little canal that ran alongside the street. My eyes finally settled on the man standing to my left. He wore a guard's uniform sporting a metal tag with the name "Jared" crudely embossed onto it, and the expression on his face looked as though his mother had just died. I pulled Wilhemina's note out of my pocket and handed it to him. "Hello, Jared, I'm not sure if you remember me; I'm Wilhemina's friend. I've traveled quite a ways carrying a particular note with me and I've taken good care of it so that I might deliver it to you here. It's addressed to you, from Wilhemina."
He took the note eagerly from my hands and read it, shaking nervously. He finished quickly and looked back up at me, "Wilhemina! Where is she?" As polite as ever, I see. You're welcome.
My heart nearly caught in my throat as I tried to force the words out. I'd never been terribly fond of Jared, but it was impossible to distance myself from the news I was trying to deliver. I'd been somewhat fond of Wilhemina and even I felt loss at her passing. Jared would never be able to handle it. "I'm sorry. She's dead."
The memory of the doctor's deep, soothing voice replayed in my head. No matter how soothing it had been, no matter how kind he was trying to be... I hated him. "I'm afraid there's nothing I could do, madam. The bullet pierced his right lung... there isn't a doctor in the world fast enough. He passed on just minutes ago. I'm terribly sorry. I forced the tears back, not willing to show such blatant weakness in front of Jared, and especially not in front of Virgil. "My condolences, sir. She was a fine woman and she..." I nearly choked; I was telling him the same things that everybody had tried telling me. "She passed before her time. I'm terribly sorry."
He dried his eyes on his uniform sleeve and looked up at me pathetically. His face was flushed red and his voice came out weak and uneven. "I know I've no right to ask this of you, but... could you do me a favor?"
I was having far more difficulty with the situation than I'd imagined. It was all I could do not to break down and begin sobbing right alongside Jared, but I simply couldn't. I sighed deeply, trying desperately to calm myself. I needed to get away from him, to somehow forget, but I didn't want to be completely unsympathetic. "Depends what it is you're asking."
This was too much. It wouldn't be the first time I'd seen a stonecutter about a tombstone, and the memories of the last time simply wouldn't leave me alone. No. I'm a new person, I have nothing to do with that other life anymore. I don't have to do anything I don't want to do. I don't have to put up with these memories! "I suppose you expect me to do this for free?" My voice was firm and cold, so distant as to be completely unaware of the pain that Jared was in.
"Madam!" Virgil objected, staring at me worriedly. Don't 'madam' me, Virgil! Jayna looked confused and worried, and I could tell the whole situation was making her sad as well. No... he wouldn't want it like this. I may be trying to run away, but even if I become a new person what is the point if I only become a monster?
Jared whined at me, tears starting to dampen his uniform. "I am afraid I have no money to offer. Please, I beg of you..."
"I suppose I can help you out, regardless." Virgil relaxed visibly and Jayna started to smile slightly. Just a little while longer... I have to hold it together. I'm not being myself right now.
"Oh, thank you... thank you, madam." Jared sobbed.
Do shut up. "It's no trouble at all, good sir. I will return later." I turned away from Jared and purposefully stalked across the street, putting as much distance between us in a short time as possible. I stopped on the other side to catch my breath, leaning up against a building and breathing in deeply, calmly, eyes closed.
Virgil put a hand on my shoulder gently. "Madam?" His voice was quiet and worried.
"I'm fine, Virgil." I opened my eyes and stared at him, gaining a much better grasp on my emotions than I'd had only moments before. "We've still got errands to run before the day's over, do we not? We'd better not dawdle for too long."
"Madam..." Jayna pleaded.
"Come along, Jayna. You don't want to get left behind in a big city like this. You're not used to how things work here." She nodded slowly and silently, following along as we went.
I found myself standing next to the office for the Tarantian. I nearly passed it by without a thought, but then... newspapers are always looking for help... a bit of work could get my mind off of things. I shook my purse to get an idea of its contents, then grudgingly entered the office. "Greetings, sir. Might I ask your name?"
"My name is Samantha Colburn." If I'd had proper parents I bet I wouldn't have been teased so harshly. It's easy to poke fun at the orphanage girl. I so often wished one of those little brats would have to put up with Merle for just one week and then I'd see if they ever teased me again. "I'm looking to make some additional coin and I was wondering if you had any jobs I could do."
His words echoed through my mind... We pay quite well. Anybody that thought I would refuse easy money like that clearly didn't know me well enough. "Well, I am the sole survivor of the IFS Zephyr. Does that qualify?" I smiled at him smugly, already knowing the answer.
500 did seem to be the going rate for me to answer questions. "500! You've got yourself a story, Mr. Wright! Ask away!"
He pulled out a pad of paper and began jotting notes as we spoke. I told him everything that came to mind. The deaths of the other passengers, the explosions, gunfire, and even the strange flying machines. He wrote it all down as excitedly as a small child who just received a new toy.
I'm not letting you go that easily. 500's just a start. This is Tarant! "Wait! I know you're in a hurry... but is there anything else I can do?" He thought about it for a moment and handed me a note.
"Alright. I'll be back soon." There were all kinds of jobs available for anybody who could work up the gumption to just ask. You didn't even have to be willing to break the law... though that willingness often made for far better profit with far less work. ...there isn't a doctor in the world fast enough. I forced the memory out of my mind and continued on.
Virgil nudged me quite hard as we crossed the street over to Mrs. Halster's house. "Madam, I'm not so sure that was a wise idea. We still don't know anything about those assassins."
"Oh hogwash, Virgil. We haven't seen them since Shrouded Hills. They've totally lost us by now. We're perfectly safe!" I was probably not treating the situation with the gravity it deserved, but I didn't want to take any advice from Virgil. I knew I was being petty, and that he was probably right, but there wasn't much I could do about it anymore.
He stared down at his feet and twirled his quarterstaff absent-mindedly. "If you say so, madam."
Jayna looked at me with wide eyes. "Assassins?"
"Uh... nothing to worry about, dear girl. It's in the distant past. Don't you worry about a thing." I wasn't really sure why she was still following me, but for the time being I certainly wasn't going to complain. I had to leave her behind some point, but I wasn't quite ready yet. She reminded me so much of Nathaniel that I just couldn't bear to let her go. I knew it was wrong, but as long as I remained in Tarant I allowed myself that little indulgence.
Mrs. Halster seemed to be expecting me when I arrived. "I'm here from the Tarantian, madam. Here you go," I handed her the note.
I DO accept tips. "Thank you, ma'am. Goodbye." I wandered back across the street to the Tarantian just in time to catch Mr. Wright locking up on his way out. "I have delivered the note to Mrs. Halster."
"Well done, thank you. Here's the 75 coin I promised. Now if you'll excuse me, I really must be going."
"Of course, Mr. Wright. Good day to you." He took off down the street at a full run. That's really going to come back and bite me in the ass, isn't it? Well, no sense worrying about that until it comes down to it. Where was I...? Ugh, the stonecutter's. It had been a long time since I was last in Tarant, but it was less confusing to me than most towns. I found East End Avenue easily enough and followed it all the way to the stonecutter's.
"It is my satisfaction to introduce myself to you, miss," he said as I entered his shop. "My name is Joseph. I'm the stone cutter here in Tarant. I make headstones and such."
I was so focused on getting out of there as quickly as possible that I ended up coming off quite curtly. "Jared sent me. His girl has died and he needs a head stone. He can't leave his post so he asked me to come deliver you the message."
He said it with about as much emotion as 'please pass the salt'. Well, he does carve headstones for a living. I suppose he sees this sort of thing all the time. I don't envy the poor bastard one bit; it'd take a hardened soul to do that job. "I'll be going now." I pushed my way out of the shop hurriedly, walking quickly enough that neither Virgil nor Jayna could really say a word to me about anything. That was exactly the point.
I couldn't face Jared just yet, I had to give myself at least a few more minutes to calm down before he got me all weepy again. In order to kill some time I stopped into the zoological society on my way past. Intellectual pursuits had always interested me and it seemed like this entire section of Tarant was full of them. I made a note to visit it again during my stay.
There were only three exhibits but they were quite fascinating. In addition to the spectacular dragon's skull (which I marveled over for at least three minutes, carefully noting the lair on my map for later visitation) there was also a petrified egg and an ancient chest that had never been opened.
The plaque next to the egg read, 'This petrified egg was found in the lair of the Great Dragon. The child inside was only months from hatching before Bellerogrim was killed.' So close to avoiding extinction. Truly a shame. Not that I'd relish living in a world with hungry dragons.
The safe was also of a particular interest to me, though admittedly a less academic one. 'This ancient iron chest was unearthed in the lair of Bellerogrim. It seems to be older even than the dragon itself. No one has ever been able to open it.' Of course I pulled out my lockpicks, exploring the insides of the lock curiously. Truly it was like no other lock I'd ever encountered. I felt along the walls of the lock with my picks, mapping them out carefully in my head, trying to get an idea of exactly what kind of a key would open such a lock. I'd never seen anything like it and I was truly baffled. I nearly broke my damned picks just trying to gently press it open. It drove me mad not knowing what was inside, but I had to give up my attempts when the lady in the zoological society's reception room grew suspicious. I got out of there right quick.
My voice was like stone and I lacked the propriety to even look Jared in the eyes, instead staring past him to the plaque on the wall that read 'Vermillion Station'. "Good evening, Jared. I spoke with the stone cutter. He will be dropping by."
Jared nodded before staring back at the ground, "Please, leave me in peace."
Not even a damned thank you after all I've gone through for you. You're lucky I'm as out of sorts from this whole business as you are or I'd really give you a piece of my mind. My job finally finished and a well-deserved rest clearly in order, I strolled down Vermillion Road towards the Bridesdale Inn looking for a room.
The lady at the front desk was as friendly as anybody ought to be when providing a service. It's bad business to be rude to customers. I was glad for her pleasant disposition since I really wasn't in the mood to deal with anything else going wrong. "I will be in town a while. I would like a room for one week."
Although I did just receive a substantial sum from the Tarantian it still felt silly to be paying full price when I could pay the same only for the days I was sure I would be using. "You don't offer a reduced price for payment in advance?" At these prices I'll have to rob half the shops in Tarant just to stay here long enough to find out what I need to know about this damned ring.
I sighed and, unwilling to deal with it any longer, I handed the coins over to her. You cheap wench! I'm going to take those back from you.
I said, "Thank you," as politely as I could muster. Virgil, Jayna, and I headed to our room for the night to get some much needed rest. Not only had my sleep on the train been filled with painful dreams, but the entire ordeal with Jared afterward had really made me desperate to escape for a while. After we had all gotten settled I excused myself for a just a brief moment before returning.
I'll be taking those back, thank you very much. I was almost glad she didn't offer a discount. I liked free much better.
I prepared a nice, hot bath when I returned to the room, not even bothering to ask if either of the other two wanted to go first. Wordlessly, I slipped inside and simply sat in the tub. I barely even cleaned myself at all, even though it had literally been weeks since I'd last had the pleasure of a good bath. Instead, I buried my face in my hands and quietly sobbed.