Chapter the Fourteenth: The Pursuit of Modern AcademicsMy first stop in the university district, aside from the previous night's visit to the zoological society, was the Tarant library. I enjoyed reading immensely and I was hoping to take out a good book to read in the bath later (carefully, of course). I nearly fell to the ground and wept tears of precious joy when I entered. The sight of all those books...
Of course they needed my address and such so they could track down any books that didn't find their way back. I doubted I'd have a problem making up something convincing. The books might have a few problems finding their way back, however. "Membership?" He launched into a memorized pitch about how wonderful their books were and how valuable such a membership would be for somebody like me. Yes, yes, I know all that. Get to the point.
I did read about Tarant having a King at one point, but I knew in the present day it was controlled by the Gnomish Industrial Council. In fact, if my memory served me well enough, the King's old castle was now the home to Tarant's foremost industrialist. "King? Tarant has a king?" Just because I'd read about it didn't mean I was against hearing it straight from one of Tarant's more intellectual citizens. I liked hearing about things from many different points of view.
Can't disagree with the old chap. That's the approach King Farad took as well, and it worked wonders for Caladon. "Go on."
How delightfully conspiratorial. As interesting as the story had been, I still didn't have a bloody clue what I had to do to get a membership. "Very intriguing story... now tell me about the membership." You've got books, and I want them.
Bloody hell! I can't very well pickpocket books... or can I? My shopping list was growing prohibitively expensive. "I... uh... I'll return later, good sir. Thank you for your time." I wanted to believe that I could buy the whole damn library for 1500 coins, but there really were an awful lot of books in there. I scowled as I left the library, heading over in the direction of the university while I was in the area. There were bound to be any number of fascinating subjects for study there, and I definitely wanted to take part.
As I entered it was impossible not to notice the peculiar looking gnome sitting in the entryway, obviously deep in thought. I didn't see anybody else around so I thought I'd get acquainted. "Hello, sir. Might I ask who you are?"
"Nice to meet you, Benjamin. Did you say phrenology?" Oh lord, that's where mindless quacks try to tell your future by feeling up your skull. They're perverse deviants if you ask me.
"Hmmm. Will you read MY head?" He's got no idea that I've been romping around in the sewers. This ought to be good for a laugh.
"Surely!" He announced proudly, "Here, if you'll just lower your head, and turn to the right..." Watch where those hands stray, gnome. I felt surprisingly uncomfortable at the obvious pleasure the gnome took in feeling up my head. Ugh... just stop already.
Jayna actually had to excuse herself so she wouldn't burst out laughing in front of the bastard. Virgil and myself could properly hold back until later. "Your powers amaze me, Benjamin..."
He bowed, and I stepped back a little bit lest he try to look at or grab anything. I didn't trust him one damned bit. "Yes, yes I know. But remember, it's not me, it's science! And phrenology is the science of the future...!"
It won't be once the rest of the population figures out it's a science of damned perverts. "Of course. What are you currently working on?" Jayna finally got all the laughter out of her system and returned, though she still let out the occasional snort.
I knew it. He's a damned pervert. Nevertheless, I was interested in what he had to say. I'd read about the twins, of course, and he wasn't entirely inaccurate in his assessment of them. I thought about tracking the skulls down as a possible decoration for Frederick's study. He did so appreciate such pieces of history. "Acquire them? Where can these skulls be found?"
Hmm... that sounds a bit damning. "Wait. You want me to rob a grave for you?" Then again, I'm already damned anyway.
Advances, yes... my purse is rather behind the times and could use some modern advancement, thank you very much. "Well, since you phrase it so eloquently... I'll do it."
Benjamin was getting far too excited, so I beat a hasty retreat. "The information in these skulls might very well unlock the final phrenological secrets... help us to gain insight into the workings of the human mind!" That doesn't change the fact that you're still a damned pervert. I ducked into the hallway in order to further explore the university.
I stumbled into the university bookstore and nearly wept again for the second time that day. It was filled with books, but not just any kinds of books: it was filled with technological manuals. I excitedly skipped over to the salesman at the far end of the room, my eyes wide with joy. "Do tell me about your manuals, good sir!"
Yes, I must have them! Every last one! I tried not to let my excitement show, mostly because it would've been childish and I didn't want to give the wrong impression. Beneath the surface, however, I wanted to scream out of sheer excitement. "Hmmm. I think I'd like to purchase some technical manuals..."
My heart sank. I want it... even at that price I still want it. While I could've spent the money it would've been a substantial portion of what I had for merely a single book, and that one book would cost me half of what a membership to the library would cost. If it came down to a decision between two manuals or an entire library of reading material, I'd naturally have to go for the latter. Until I got some more money it just wasn't worth it, no matter how badly I wanted them. "Yes... but I don't believe I can afford to part with that kind of money just yet. I will return, I assure you."
Sullen, I wandered out of the room. The university was small and there was only one remaining room that I hadn't visited yet, so I peeked my head in curiously. Inside was a spindly looking elf with his face buried in a tome, a sign I took to mean I'd get along with the fellow just fine. "Greetings, sir. Might I ask who you are?"
The last time little Steven teased me he got thrown quite roughly to the ground. Merle made me wash dishes for the whole orphanage that entire week as punishment, but Steven never teased me again. I stole Merle's silver necklace for revenge and sold it to the general store the next day. "I am Samantha Colburn. Might I ask what exactly it is you do here?" Now that I thought about it, the man's name sounded somewhat familiar.
He seemed surprised at my interest, as did Virgil. Just because I hate practicing religion doesn't mean I can't enjoy studying it. "Me? Oh, I've been here at Tarant University for many years. Mostly I teach classes, but I still do a fair bit of research when I can find the time..."
My hunch was correct: the elf and I were going to get along just fine. I wandered over to his desk and sat down in a nearby chair, making myself comfortable. He didn't seem to mind the company in the slightest. "What sort of research are you doing right now?"
"I see. Could I ask you a few questions about the pagan religions?" I finally realized exactly what had seemed familiar about the man. I'd read his book! Frederick had a copy of it in his study and I found it a fascinating read. Ancient and vengeful gods made for the best stories.
He actually smiled at my interest and seemed more than happy to chat as long as I wished. "Of course, ask whatever you like."
I very nearly shouted at him, "Professor Buxington... are you the author of 'Pagan Gods of Arcanum'?"
Satisfaction at my recognizing him turned his gentle smile into a full out grin. "Yes, yes I am. Would you like a copy?"
"Absolutely!" I shouted excitedly. "I mean, I've read it... but I no longer have access to the... uh... library where it once was. I'd love to take the time to read it again."
"It's not a problem," he assured me as pulled a book out of his desk drawer and handed it to me, "Here you go. So you say you read it already? Did you like it?"
Well, actually I like most books. Though I am starting to like to chat with people about various things as well... "Oh, I found it fascinating really. Say, do you know if there are still temples to the pagan gods around? Your book never quite covered the subject, and I'm finding myself doing quite a bit of traveling these days. I'd love to pay them a visit if I can."
I started to grow increasingly excited. It was one thing to talk with an average person and hear their take on things, but chatting with an expert about the subject with which he is most familiar was a rare treat indeed. Doctor Gershwin didn't count. "That's wonderful, really! I would be very appreciative if you could write down their locations for me. I'm afraid I haven't had nearly the chance to study these things as you have, but perhaps experiencing them firsthand will partially make up for it."
He pulled out a pad of paper from a desk drawer and tore a sheet off of it, scratching rough directions on it with a pen. "This ought to aid you in your pilgrimmage, then. You also might want to take a look at that diagram I have on the wall there. We call it Mazzerin's Mystery."
He had really piqued my interest now. "What do you mean, 'deeper connection'?" The way he talked about it suggested a degree of uncertainty that only made me all the more excited. If even he were unsure of something then I would be thrilled to investigate it.
Come now, why so unsure of yourself? Speak in specifics already! Either that or admit you can't so I can figure this thing out. "I'm absolutely fascinated by all this. Do you think you might be able to explain the diagram to me?"
He cleared his throat, "Well, I'm not so sure. There is an excerpt from the 'Book of Twelve Powers' that might help to explain what it means, but no one has ever been able to solve Mazzerin's Mystery."
Yes! It's remained unsolved! A true, intellectual mystery. Although I was interested for my own reasons, in the back of my mind I also thought that this would make another fine story to tell Frederick upon my return. "Well, what about the excerpt?"
He opened a copy of his book that was sitting out on his desked and flipped to the very back, reading aloud from it, "...and the twelve powers, they are woven together, flowing inward. The road to truth starts with wisdom, but shadow first finds purchase in the heart. The road between them is marked with stones.
"And the gods, they are jealous gods, and often despise one another. Greed is spit upon by love without the protection of the shadow, and this serves as a reflection of the whole.
"Be steadfast. Four powers and then a fifth. Three fives and then the one. And glory to he who gains the blessing of the All-father, who will become as a god himself..." He looked up at me expectantly, shutting the book and setting it back down upon his desk.
"Let's look at the diagram." I said.
"The road to truth starts with Wisdom... that would have to refer to Terel, the elven god of wisdom. His symbol is that tree on the right, is it not?"
He nodded, pointing to the symbols along the counterclockwise line that connected them, "Yes, and that's Makaal, Alberich, Geshtianna, and finally Halcyon."
"'...but shadow first finds purchase in the heart. The road between them is marked with stones.' Moorindal, god of shadow, is on the left there... and there is a dotted line between him and the 'road starting with wisdom'. Do you think those could be the stones the passage refers to?"
He thought about it for a moment before responding, "Perhaps. Are you thinking of making a pilgrimmage to the darker gods, then?"
"Not just the darker gods. 'Four powers and then a fifth. Three fives and then the one'... if you look at the diagram that could refer to the three sets of five gods all connected by the circular lines. Each involves four lesser gods and then a greater god. The one must obviously refer to Velorien."
"Oh!" he exclaimed, "I think I see it now! So you think to visit the gods on the right starting with Terel, then the gods on the left starting with Torg. Finally, you'll visit the gods of the third circle starting with Alberich. After visiting Kaitan, you'd seek out the lost altar of Velorien."
"Precisely!" I shouted, "Do you think that's it? That's the mystery?"
He stared at the diagram for a bit longer before turning to answer me, "Your guess is as good as mine at this point. It's certainly a sensible way to interpret this diagram, though I can think of others as well. I certainly won't stop you if you wish to try it, and I'd love to hear about anything you might find. It's a lot of time to dedicate to a theory that doesn't seem to explain all of the lines in the excerpt, however."
"I'll do it. It looks like my business is taking me traveling quite a ways anyway, I can indulge my intellectual curiosities with a few detours here and there, can I not?" Virgil sighed.
The professor sat back down at his desk and began flipping through his book again idly. "I wish you luck in your travels then, madam. Do let me know if you find anything interesting. Especially if you were to locate the altar of Velorien as you seem to have planned. I've not had the pleasure of studying it."
"Of course, my good man!" I clapped him on the shoulder gently and strode out of the university, glancing at the sheet of notes the professor wrote for me. "Say, Virgil, if we do end up in Stillwater you can visit Joachim and I can visit Geshtianna. Deal?"
He groaned, "I suppose that does sound fair."
"Splendid! Now, let's get back to the inn for some rest." I was so excited thinking about the pagan gods that I didn't even notice I was wandering straight through the middle of a pack of orcish thugs. I was quite startled when the apparent leader of the brutes started speaking to me.
Harlot?! Those are some bold words for an orc. Don't think I'll feel the slightest bit sorry for stabbing you. "And if I don't?" I was actually a bit afraid of what might happen, but I refused to show weakness of any kind, and a part of me was petty enough to want revenge for his insulting me. It struck me as strange that I would've actually considered paying him if he'd asked politely, though perhaps I was expecting too much from an orc.
Now that bloody does it. I laughed nervously, "Ah, well, I'd love to pay but I'm afraid I'm a bit short at the moment..." My hand was already pulling a stun grenade out of my purse.
The thug shouted, "Then I'll take whatever you got from your corpse!" and leapt at me but I was already prepared. I lit the fuse on the grenade and dropped it, quickly diving out of the way as the thugs converged on where I'd just been. It took only a second for the hiss and bright flash of light to follow. The thugs stumbled around in a daze, unaware of what exactly I'd just done to them.
I didn't know how long their confusion would last and I didn't want to chance them running us down and stabbing one of us in the back. Especially not if poor Jayna fell behind.... I'm sorry you have to see this, dear girl, but it's better than you getting hurt.
I whirled around that alleyway like a ballet dancer... if ballet dancers carried knives and stabbed orcish thugs in the backs with them. It may have been unnecessarily brutal, but I just couldn't take the chance. In my anger I was vicious and merciless, stabbing them far more brutally than I'd ever stabbed anyone before. I severed muscles and splintered bone, crippling the beasts far before I had the decency to finish them off. If any one of you dares lay a finger on that girl the pain you feel now will seem like a a massage by comparison to what I'll do to you then.
None of them were even able to move. Before they regained sight and senses their hands were already no longer capable of holding weapons, and walking would've been quite a challenge as well. Pockets of blood nearly exploded as I plunged my blade in for the kill. Jayna squealed and buried her face in Virgil's robe when the orcish corpses began falling to the ground with wet thuds. Virgil didn't even lift a finger to help. He saw the look in my eyes and merely held Jayna, trying his best to shield her from the violence.
He walked ahead, taking her with him. I did my best to clean off the worst of the blood, but I was headed for the bath anyway and I knew the rest of it would wash off long before the smell of the sewers did. When I felt I was at least somewhat less horrifying I caught up to the two of them. I wanted to apologize, but I had no idea how to even say it. So sorry, if I didn't rip their entrails out and splatter them on the pavement they just might've done something drastic! I simply kept silent, letting Virgil continue to shield her from my gruesome visage. Eventually I walked ahead, and I was already in the bath even before the other two arrived back at the inn. You can't stay with me, Jayna. This is just going to keep happening. No matter what you think, I'm not a good person.
Bonus ContentSince Tarant is kind of boring and (despite what logic, the game, and my story would have you think) you don't actually need a library membership to read the library books, I'm considering posting the book stories in-between updates. Below is (in my opinion) one of the better ones, though it's easily also one of the longest.
Psychological Treatise On Intolerance
"an increased cranial capacity, are more intelligent than even the cleverest of orcish chieftains. Yet for these differences, they are seen as worse than orcs in our human eyes. Many humans simply do not wish to acknowledge that a clear-thinking person would willingly mate with the nasty, brutish, and hateful orc species.
"I realize, however, that this type of mutually pairing is not the most common case by which a half-orc is conceived. It is yet another sad fact of life that the majority of half-orcs are formed by carnal rape of a human female by an orcish male. It should be noted, however, that this proves nothing about the character of the orcish race, for many human males commit the assault of rape, and like orcs, do not limit this act just to their species. Many of you may remember the infamous 'Wool Raiser,' that nefarious bandit who kept many fearing for the safety of their sheep and other livestock.
"It must be known, though, that there are many mutually-consenting and happy couples of mixed orcs and humans! Even though mainstream humanity shuns and turns a blind eye to these couples, they do exist. My wife, who is of orcish descent, and I have been married happily for these past two-dozen years, and in that time she has borne me a pair of twins. It has been in the watching of the development of my two half-orcish sons that I have been able to gather the observations compiled herein this tome.
"I shall now begin by giving the reader the stereotypical view of a half-orc, as taken as a direct quote from a recent editorial letter in my local newspaper, the Tarantian:
"Half-orcs are violent, quick to anger, and slow to forgive. They are only able to outsmart the dullards, the orcs themselves, and perhaps the occasional ogre. In any rate, a half-orc surely cannot hope to match wits with a normal human. Nor would a half-orc be able to pass as a normal human, what with their ghastly teeth and countenance."
"While the letter's author remarks about a half-orc's appearance are unkind, they are true. The majority of half-orcs are unable to pass as a normal human, due to their decidedly orcish features. The remarks about a half-orc's temperament are painfully true. Most half-orcs are prone to violence and fits of rage. I am convinced, however, that this violent outlook is due to not only a half-orc's upbringing, but is also directly due to the intolerance, ridicule, scorn, and outright hatred that they are treated with in society. The remarks about a half-orc's intelligence, however, are untrue, as a half-orc's intellect easily rivals that of a human.
"temper or refrain from fights. He refused to continue attendance of school again, saying that all he learned was 'how much the rest of the world hated him.' He went on to suggest that he might as well' hate it back.' He was especially vengeful towards humans for 'making him feel lower than chamberpot spillage.' His hatred towards humans grew to the point where he refused to follow my commands, his reason being that I was 'one of them.' At this point, Simon was barely fourteen.
"At fifteen, when Simon reached puberty, and some of his overtly orcish characteristics becan to more heavily manifest themselves, he found that the loathing directed towards him grew, as now there was no doubt as to the orcish half of his parentage, what with his increased growths of hair about his face and eyebrows, his gaining the more distinctive orcish canine teeth, and more importantly, his increased body and muscle mass. Simon put this increased muscle mass to good use, joining one of the numerous half-orc street gangs, and began to participate in crimes too numerous to count. He stopped returning home at the age of seventeen, when I contronted him with his actions. I have not seen my twenty-two year old son for five years. I can only hope he is still alive, and has not fallen prone to one of the numerous occasions of human mob anti-orc violence.
"Puberty hit Jonathon less hard. True, he manifested the same orcish elements physically, but since he had a much more reduced exposure to the public than Simon, he did not develop some of Simon's more destructive tendencies at this time, and instead continued his studies. Jonathon had a growing interest at the rise of Technology, and remarked to me many times that he would have liked to follow an education and career in this field, perhaps even attending the Athenaeum itself. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
"When Jonathon went out to find himself gainful employment, he was confronted with the same bigotry as Simon. Worse, in fact, because Jonathon applied for lofty jobs, ones that humans felt could never have been done correctly by an 'uppity half-orc.' The only jobs Jonathon could find open to him were menial ones, not requiring his intellect, but rather his muscles.
"Having an intellect was, in fact, a hindrance, for Jonathon knew that there was better employment available. As it was, Jonathon was forced to become one of Tarant's many street cleaners. Over time he became bitter, like his brother, as he was forced to endure the jeers of many Tarant city-goers as he carried out his work. He was also assaulted many times by gangs of young human toughs who delighted in 'showing him
"least are natural creatures to most humans. A half-orc must seem to be an abomination. But by continuing the oppression of orcs and half-orcs, our society is only cultivating a growing culture of violence, as half-orcs are forced to lash out at a society that refuses to recognize them as equals.
"Dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and even the arrogant elves are treated as equals, so why cannot our half-orc sons and daughters be treated in the same manner? How can we, as a society, hope to maintain peace in this rapidly changing era of conflicting old Magicks and new Technologies if we cannot even make peace with our half-orcish brethren? I feel that it is only a matter of time before this bitterness and resentment towards us explodes onto a much larger scale that the whole world will regret."