Chapter the Twentieth: Unpleasant Reminders Lurk Around Every CornerEven as the next morning dawned I was still quite rattled over the previous night's events. I was beginning to wonder if Matt de Cesare's paranoia was more than just a figment of his imagination. Things had been inexplicably dangerous since I started trying to search out those skulls. Perhaps there really was something extraordinary about them, and I had to give serious consideration as to whether I cared to continue pursuing them or not. At the very least I decided to put it off for awhile to give myself a chance to think it over.
Even if I did decide to continue looking for them I was going to need to better protect myself. I'd been travelling too far and too long with what meager equipment I'd been able to scrape together and I desperately needed better. That, of course, would require a great deal more money than I actually had. As if to answer my unspoken desires a woman in a dress rather similar to my own (though significantly cleaner and less torn) beckoned me over to the side of the street.
I approached her cautiously and she whispered to me, "I heard about you from Mrs. Garringsburg." She certainly had my interest.
"...and what would that be? I'm listening."
She held a finger to her mouth and shushed me frantically. "Shh! We can't talk here! Please, meet me at my house later and I will fill you in on my needs. I reside at 3 Lungsten Road. Good day." She turned and walked off, looking about carefully to make sure nobody noticed our conversation.
I was put off and even a bit annoyed at her cautiousness, but it was my hope that it meant the final result of this job would be a payment significant enough to offset what I lost to Sammy. The streets of Tarant were busy as usual, so it wasn't difficult to kill a bit of time browsing around the local shops and chatting politely with random passersby. When I felt enough time had passed I proceeded to the address the woman mentioned, the Pettibone residence.
What do you think I've been doing for the last couple hours? Taking in the fresh air purely for my health? "My discretion depends on what you are asking of me, miss...?" It wouldn't be wise to fully commit until I heard her request in its entirety.
Ah, the wife of a gnome. She was definitely loaded, all I had to do was convince her to part with enough of it. "Pleased to meet you. Now, about this job..."
Oh, woe is you. How dare she have something more fashionable. Stealing trinkets from the rich was not a problem and I was looking for a shortcut. "Would you like me to steal it for you?" I hoped that by cutting to the point I wouldn't have to listen to nearly as much of her pomposity.
What makes you think they'll respect you instead of secretly plotting to upstage you like you're doing to Mrs. Willoughsby right now? Ugh, nevermind. I don't even care. I hated the woman with a fierce passion, and could only think of the many ways in which I could obtain a fraction of her wealth... with or without her consent. My impatience began to show through in my speech, "Do you have something specific in mind?"
Robbing ancient elven tombs was a pricy proposition. Luckily for me there was bound to be plenty more valuables than whatever silly stone the woman wanted, but that was no reason not to try and extort the wench for whatever she'd give out. "That seems a bit dangerous, what are you willing to pay?"
She made a dissatisfied 'hrumph' noise as if mentioning price was offensive to her. "I would be prepared to offer you 250 coins for your troubles."
I may be broke, but that's an insult! She would've been slapped across the face for such an offer if I didn't have an interest in exploring those catacombs anyway. As it was I just needed to negotiate a bit. "That's not enough to risk my life for. 300 is my price."
The wife of an assemblyman quibbling over a measly 50 coins? I will rob you blind in your sleep out of sheer spite. You don't deserve to keep your damned money. "I suppose 250 will suffice." It was a bald faced lie, but I'd extract the rest of my payment one way or another.
You, madam, are a shallow, conceited, pompous plague on the otherwise fine, upstanding members of the Tarantian upper class. I actually despised most of the upper class, but compared to this woman they were saints. I had what I wanted for the time being, however, so I took my leave of her.
Unfortunately both of my remaining jobs were more dangerous than I was willing to take on with my patchy leather armor and the low tech blade Mr. Gurloes had made for me. I could rectify the situation with money, but getting money required doing jobs. It was a rather circular conundrum and I was growing desperate.
Ugh, does even desperation not have its limits? An uncomfortable feeling built up in the pit of my stomach as I entered the place. The filthy smells that struck my nose the moment I opened the door nearly made me gag. "Are you the Madam?" I asked the older woman that greeted me as I entered.
"That I am," she spoke firmly and confidantly. She was obviously accustomed to dealing with embarrassed men and naive, nervous women. I was unfortunately swaying a bit too far towards the latter for my liking. "Uh, so... could you tell me a bit about this place?"
"Oh! That explains the lack of clothing..." I said sarcastically. How could I not know this was a brothel? Really now. I swallowed hard before continuing, "I'm looking for work..." Jayna squeaked and Virgil frowned at me.
Unusual? I may not be as young as I once was, but that's insulting! I tried consoling myself by downplaying it in my mind. It couldn't be too bad, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time. I don't have to do this. That was another time, another life. I'm not that desperate. All right, I am that desperate, but there has to be something else! 300 was an awful lot of coins for such a simple job and I found it very difficult to refuse, despite my personal reservations. "300 coin? I'll do it."
Ugh, what a disgusting woman. Enjoy it? You've got to be kidding. I didn't say a word, I just turned around and walked straight out of that awful place. Virgil stood directly in front of me and took on a rather harsh tone, "Samantha, I will not stand for this. This has gone entirely too far..."
"Your opinion is noted, Virgil." I tried to brush him off.
"I don't think you're listening to what I'm saying. I won't let you go through with this. We have more important things to be doing, like tracking down the owner of the ring and meeting up with Elder Joachim." He was more pleading than admonishing at this point.
You're not making this any bloody easier. "It doesn't make me any happier than it does you, so if you've got any better ideas I'd love to hear them. Look at our equipment, Virgil, it's atrocious! How else are we going to purchase better weapons and armor, more salves, and more supplies? I don't see the Panarii coffers opening up to the Living One's aid, do you?"
That had been too harsh. "Very well." He stepped out of my way, staring at the ground. His voice was barely above a whisper. "I will speak no more of it. You can do whatever you like."
I started to walk towards Mr. Franklin's residence when Jayna finally spoke up, "No, I think you were right the first time, Virgil. This isn't Dernholm, we ought to be able to find plenty of honest jobs if we look a bit harder."
I continued walking as I chatted with her. It pained me to think of it, but it was time I told her outright. "Perhaps you should do just that, Jayna. You don't need to accompany me for this. Neither of you do, really, but least of all you Jayna. You've got plenty of places to study here in Tarant. You certainly don't need to hang around me any longer."
She looked down at the ground sadly, "No, I... I feel so lost here. I don't even know where I would go without you. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
I suddenly felt mean for even suggesting it, although it was exactly what I'd been trying to suggest for the past several days. Struggling with Jayna and with my own unwillingness to carry out the task at hand was too much to handle at one time so I decided to let Jayna tag along just a little while longer. "You've done no such thing, Jayna. I appreciate your concern."
I wanted to say more, to reassure her and put her mind at ease. Not just her, but Virgil as well who seemed thoroughly unhappy with the situation. Most of all I needed to reassure myself that somehow what I was doing was really necessary, and going through with it wouldn't be nearly as bad as my mind had built it up to be. Why...? I thought I'd gotten away from this.
The three of us arrived at Mr. Franklin's residence and I stopped briefly to tell the other two to go away for awhile. "Um... wait here if you must, but the Bridesdale is just across the street... you can wait in the comfort of our room." If I delayed any longer I felt I would be unable to force myself to go through with it. I knocked on the door and a half ogre servant let me in.
If you're trying so hard to protect me, Virgil, then I ought to do what I can... even if this is the only way I can be of any use. I stepped inside the house and spoke to the gnome in front of me, trying not to look directly at him. "Mr. Franklin?" I asked cautiously.
No... dammit, I made a promise! I promised myself it would never come to this again! "Uh... yeah," I managed to squeak out despite my nervousness. A war was waging in my head and it was all I could do to concentrate on the room around me.
"Uh... just a minute..." My hands were quite literally shaking and I tried to think whatever it took to make them stop. Virgil's doing what he can, I need to as well. This is nothing I haven't done dozens of times already, what's once more? I tried to reassure myself, to push down the feelings that I thought I'd left behind years ago. I was unfortunately just then realizing that feelings like that never go away no matter how much time passes.
"...Yes?" Mr. Franklin intoned impatiently, raising an eyebrow.
"Uh... never mind. Let's get started, shall we?" It's only once more... just this one time... how can I refuse when Virgil and Jayna are counting on me? I'm the only one that can do this.
"Uh... okay Mister Franklin." I continued trembling and felt on the verge of tears, though it had little to do with the present. My mind was already wandering, already gone. Feelings from the past that I had tried to run away from came back to me in a huge rush. I began to sob lightly as I laid down, but I tried to hide it. I'd gotten quite good at hiding that sort of thing.
Along with the feelings of filth and hatred came disappointment; more with myself than anything else. I'd promised myself I would never return to a life where this was necessary and I not only broke that promise but I shattered it utterly. I felt weak and worthless. A few tears did escape and land softly on the pillow, but whether Mr. Franklin noticed I neither saw nor cared. It was then that I realized I could never really escape my former life no matter how hard I tried.
Discomfort overwhelmed me and I tried to focus on anything else that I could. As much as I felt my past was a burden I embraced it suddenly, trying to lose myself in it. It was the one thing I obsessed about more than anything else and I knew it would provide a more than ample distraction. Nervousness faded to depression and apprehension faded to apathy. I began to daydream of a distant past, recalling memories I had all but forgotten in the intervening years; memories that reminded me just how easy it is to repeat the mistakes of the past.
I was sitting in a dusty, dirty cell where I had been suffering for the last week. The guards had precious little sympathy for women and thieves, let alone both in one contemptuous little package. I refused to eat, determined to end my own life in the most painful way possible, and they hardly cared. If I wanted to starve myself they were happy to let me.
I dimly heard a single set of footsteps coming down the hallway nearer to my cell. They were confident steps, and arrogant, not like the cautious steps that the guards made when they came to tease me and toss my dinner at me. The creaking of fine leather could be heard instead of the clanking of metal plate boots against stone. I looked up weakly through the rusted, iron bars to see the very man who had me sent to jail in the first place.
"Frederick," I hissed defiantly, "come to taunt me like the guards? Come to brag about how you're the one that finally caught the thieving whore plaguing Caladon these past months?"
"That does sound like it could be a good bit of fun," he remarked sarcastically, "but it would only serve me in the short term. Instead I'd prefer to make a deal. Surely you'd prefer a warm bed and a meal over continuing to starve yourself to death in this rotten prison? You look awful."
My stomach groaned hungrily thinking about what he said and my body shuddered against the cold, stone wall. "What could possibly make you want to let me out of here after all the misery I've caused?"
He scoffed, "You're the most naive prostitute I've ever had dealings with. Look, I'm certainly not going to visit you here to procure your services, especially not with you looking like that. So I'm looking to get you out of here, clean you up, and then the way I see it you'll owe me quite the debt of gratitude."
"There's no shortage of whores in Caladon," I spat, "why would you go to such trouble for this one? What kind of a life is it you think you're offering me?"
"Wealth and respect afford many luxuries, not the least of which is bizzarre preferences for one whore over another. I may not be offering you the grand life you think you deserve, but it's better than death." There was a certain charm in his honesty that made me responsive to his offer despite my complete and utter hatred of him.
"I'm just going to rob you again and take off when you least expect it."
"We'll see about that." He smirked at me knowingly before turning and calling out to the guards. "Let her loose! I'll be taking her with me."
Slowly the memory faded and I grew more and more aware of my surroundings. I was still in Mr. Franklin's house, with no idea of how much time had passed. My dress was lying on the floor next to the bed where I had left it. The almost overpowering scent of a cigar was trying and failing to mask the scent of sweat that befouled the room.
It's finally over. There's no more reason to be polite. "Ugh! You pig! I'm leaving alright... to bathe!" Thank the gods it's finally over. I picked up my dress and hastily tossed it on.
"Augh!" I shouted, storming out of the room and the house. Virgil and Jayna were still waiting outside. Virgil looked up at me, sighing sadly, and Jayna simply stared at the ground. Tears formed in my eyes, gently dropping to the ground. It was my turn to speak so softly that they could barely hear, "I should've listened to you." It's over now, and I'll never need to do it again. Just this once, this coin is enough to get me started on building back what I had.
It struck me, then, what Virgil had said shortly after we first arrived in Tarant. "The free man is defined by what he does today. I'll look no more behind me..." There was more to Joachim than I really gave credit for. Virgil was trying to be a true friend to me in taking me to meet him, and I was being an irrational fool in expecting the worst.
Wordlessly, Virgil and Jayna escorted me across the street to the Bridesdale. Jayna kept me company while Virgil drew up a hot bath. I sat alone in that bath for hours upon hours, until night fell and the room grew black. The water was almost freezing cold by the time I got out and my fingers were so shriveled I could scarcely even open the door to let myself out. I slept a dreamless sleep, thankful that my mind finally allowed me to rest.
I visited Madam Lil first thing in the morning to collect on the payment I had most certainly earned twice over and then some. "I've seen to Mr. Franklin." My voice cut through the air like steel.
"No, it most assuredly was not. In fact, I think 300 coin is not nearly enough for what I've gone through." My eyes met hers and we stared at each other fiercely.
Finally, she turned her head slightly and gave me a shrewd look, "If you want more coin you're going to have to earn it."
"I'll not be doing any servicing any more, no matter the price. If you've got other work for me, then perhaps we can come to an agreement."
A girl? You think because I didn't enjoy Mr. Franklin that I would prefer a girl? I was insulted, but insults were preferable to prostitution. "No problem. Where can I find him?"
Well, at least he'll be easy to find. "I'll get on it right away." Perhaps the Madam wasn't as bad as I thought, just a bit on the eccentric side. There was no cause to delay in the task I'd been given since more funds would mean I could be a bit more spendy when I finally went shopping, so I paid Mr. Langley a visit.
"Madam Lil sent me to speak with you..."
Your reprehensible behavior only perpetuates the downward spiral of that poor girl's self esteem. "She wants her 400 coin. She says it's bad business to let it slide."
"I doubt she will be happy with half. Do you need some incentive?" It was as though he represented every man that had ever grabbed me inappropriately, or paid me a pittance for degrading myself for cheap thrills. A part of me wanted to stab him good and proper, but I knew it wouldn't change how I felt. Violence never made me feel any better.
If I leave you with money it'll be gone by the time you get your next payment. "I don't trust you, Langley..."
It wasn't worth hurting him over. "It will have to do. I'll be back for the rest." I took the coins from him and thought for awhile, traveling down Vermillion Road as I did so. 5 days... it'll take just a bit longer than that to travel out to Shrouded Hills from here and sell off this useless mine deed. I can collect my payment from Jongle Dunne, too.
I stopped just short of the entrance to Tarant, certain of what I was about to do but dreading it all the same. Jayna... I'm so very sorry, but this is goodbye. I can't take you with me.
Bonus ContentThe Orcish Question, Vol. 1
changes should be made. I am here to raise the question as to whether or not such changes would even make a difference.
Orcs are a tremendously vile, violent race. They are born and bred killers, every one. Allowing them within the city limits, even as day laborers, is asking for the worst sorts of trouble. Appeasing their appetite for violence with higher pay or better housing or less work will simply not work as they do not lust for property or position as we might; they lust only for blood.
We are at the dawn of a new age, an enlightened age. The wonders of Technology are improving the lots of every creature, bringing wealth to those who were previously but serfs. Orcs, by their very nature, are unfit for this new age. Our society is advancing rapidly. Unless Orcs advance as well, their predilection for evil will cause great strife.
I hear murmurs of concern and almost alarm from you, and I understand why. Orc labor is the backbone of many industries. Without their cheap and plentiful work, our way of life would be threatened. This then, is the Orcish Question. What are we to do? Orcs, because of their violent nature, will not fit into existing society, and yet we require their labor. We have two options, do we not? Change society to fit the Orcs, or change the Orcs to fit society.
As I have stated, the societal changes that have been proposed to date do not address the root cause of the problem. Improving their lot will not satisfy them as it would any other race. We either meet their need for barbarity by turning our factories into killing grounds or we look to the other option: changing the Orcs.
We must bring Orcs up to our current standard of civilization. I will be engaging in many debates and discussions over the next few months in order to determine the best way to proceed, and will address this august body again once a working proposal has been identified. Thank you for your time.
A letter to Mr. M'Oran, April 1884
My dear Mr. M'Oran,
Your points and concerns are well taken. In response to your musings I must simply submit that it is our duty, as enlightened and right-thinking members of our progressive society, to bring civilization to all species. This does not stem from mere altruism and a deep desire to improve the situation of the less fortunate - indeed, by spreading our mores and values to the world at large we shall be enhancing the peace and prosperity of all races, ours included.
It is our duty, I say. With
A letter to Mr. Radcliffe, May 1884
My dear Mr. Radcliffe,
You speak of the 'realm of the Gods' and of 'Natural Selection.' Both of these terms help us to explain and comprehend our helpless past. But what, I ask you, of the boundless future? The Gods made the world and us. But we are remaking this world. Why not remake ourselves as well? The era of rational and scientific thought is upon us! Let us not go backwards to our dark, superstitious past! Let us move boldly into the future!
Natural Selection, in theory, helps us to explain why Dwarves are short and well suited to mining and why Orcs are strong, vicious warriors and why Elves are well adapted to natural surroundings. It need not be a rallying point for those who are too timid to seize the future! Let it explain the past, but let it not hold us in stupefied awe of Nature when we have the means, the knowledge and the wherewithal to define for ourselves what tomorrow shall bring!
I foresee the day when we shall engineer magnificent edifices that reach to the very heavens! When we shall launch fleets of unsinkable ships! When we shall live free of disease! When the vast network of our rail lines brings peace and prosperity to every corner of Arcanum! Every day ingenuity and necessity meet to create new and greater technological wonders. Advancements in medicine and engineering and indeed every branch of knowledge bring prosperity to all.
If Orcs do not fit into this brave new world because of the bad hand Natural Selection has dealt them, then why not seek a medical or anatomical solution? Why wait for Natural Selection to provide us with an Orc that better fits our enlightened society? For their benefit and ours, we should act now! For all we know, the course of your precious Natural Selection would be to wipe Orcs from all existence! I ask you to explain how Natural Genocide could be more humane than my proposed solution!
Now as never before we not only understand our world but are capable of making great changes thereto. We have the power, the right, and the obligation to use this capability to bring peace and prosperity to Arcanum. Let us see if we can do better by the Orcs than Nature has! Let us solve the Orcish Question, and then move on to bigger and better things!
A new era dawns. We are no longer subject to the whims of Nature and of the Gods. Let us take our future into our own hands, and see what we can make of it! Let us step boldly into this brave new world!
society are headed. Such is exactly the cause of this ongoing debate. Perhaps there are social and cultural changes that can take place on both sides to ease the pressure, but I do not foresee these to be easy changes, either.
You question the ethics of a physiological solution. Your argument of the potential abuse of these techniques is specious; the same can be said of any form of power from Magick to mere brute force. The responsibility lies with those wielding the power to use it for the common good, and always will.
To ensure that we are speaking in the same terms, let me here attempt to define the Orcish Question. We need to agree upon the following statements before we can proceed.
Orcs are on the whole foul tempered and of a violent nature. The rapid technological advancement that Tarant is experiencing has created a new social order. Within this new social order, the races of Arcanum have aligned more or less to the best of their ability. Orcs are at the bottom of this new social order, are unhappy with their lot, and, in accordance with their very nature, may resort to violence if not forestalled. The Orcish question, then, is how do we resolve this potentially violent situation?
Some have suggested packing them all off. This does not strike me as the best solution, simply because it would deprive the Orcs of the opportunity which we all enjoy in this new enlightened society of advancing to the best of our abilities. If this is debatable, so be it. I do not think the Orcs would voluntarily stay in Tarant if such advancement weren't possible. Furthermore, the labor provided by the Orcs is essential to Tarant's economy. This is truly a shortsighted solution.
Some suggest working with the captains of industry to bring about better working conditions and better opportunities for advancement. This is well and good, however I am extremely skeptical that the true Orcish nature will be so easily mollified. Some suggest letting Natural Selection have its way, leaving the Orcs to their own devices to resolve the situation. I fear this could have nothing but a violent outcome. I reject this idea as being irresponsible. If we can do something, we should.
My proposal is to seek a Technological solution. Medicine and Anatomy may show us a way to relieve the Orcs of their violent nature. This violent nature no longer benefits them or us. To engage in such a programme of alteration would incur the changes that Natural Selection would eventually bring about, quickly and painlessly. For no doubt the violent nature of the Orcs is a needless vestige from a less civilized age. Bear in mind that I am not recommending this course of action in order that a race be molded into some image that I whimsically desire. If Orcs are to survive in the modern world, such changes must take place. If technology can bring them about more rapidly, I say let us not delay!
As for the practical implementation of such a programme, I would suggest, if experimentation shows it's possible, that we begin with volunteers. Surely the most intelligent Orcs can be persuaded with logic and reason that they and their descendants will only benefit from pacification. If the alterations are hereditary, then within a few generations the fierce, violent Orc may well be a thing only found in histories and storybooks, and the world a better and less volatile place.
Hamilton Demry, Esq.