Chapter the Twenty Fifth: The Uncivilized WorldVirgil chuckled lightly as the gate to the Bates estate closed behind us, "So, off to the Black Mountain Clan mines, are we? Who'd have thought our travels would take us to a place like that?"
The very thought of it made me so nervous I felt faint. "I... uh... I think we've got some time, don't you? No sense rushing off right away when there's plenty of other stuff to be done... right?" I tried to give a reassuring chuckle of my own, but it came out rather forced.
Virgil looked at me very strangely, "Are you all right? Don't you want to find out why the Molochean Hand has been after us?"
"Why, of course I do!" I insisted perhaps too strongly, "...but... uh... not just yet... is there a problem?" I've got to do it sooner or later...
Virgil looked at me for several moments before his face finally softened, "No. There's no problem with that. Where would you like to go?" Thanks, Virgil... I'm glad you understand.
I pulled out my map and pointed at the Lair of Bellerogrim. "I've been interested in visiting there ever since I read about it at the Zoological Society. While we're out East we could also swing by the Elven Ruins and pick up that funerary stone for Mrs. Pin...per...pat... whatever her name is. Can't tell one gnomish last name from the next anyway."
Magnus grunted, "Defiling graves now, are we?"
Thankfully, Virgil was willing to cover for me. "It's an archeological ruin, Magnus, not a cemetary. If you don't like it you're more than welcome to go back to the alley in front of P. Schuyler & Sons where we found you."
Once again, Magnus only gave a half-hearted grunt in response. Not a particularly sociable fellow, is he? Thinking about heading to the East, away from the Black Mountain Clan mines, already had me in better spirits. Just to be clear about things I summarized our plan, "So we'll take a trip to the Lair of Bellerogrim, then swing down to the Elven Ruins before stopping back in Tarant?"
Virgil nodded, "That sounds just wonderful to me, madam." With Virgil's blessing, that's just what we did.
The grasslands to the East rapidly turned from a vibrant green along the riverbank to a dull yellow. The farther away we traveled from the gray, smoke laden clouds above Tarant the clearer the skies became as well. I suspected the lands to the East didn't see much rain. The harsher the climate, however, the more attractive it becomes for lowlives, bandits, and other assorted rabble.
You simply don't have any idea who you're dealing with, orc. "And if I won't pay?"
C. None of the above. "I do not have 200 coins, good sir." I wasn't about to hand over 200 of my hard earned coins just to save a few orcs with more muscles than sense from a good stabbing.
Needless to say, the orcs did not survive the experience. I felt no shame in protecting what was mine. I didn't have to resort to violence to get it and I had no pity for those who did.
At last we arrived at Bellerogrim's Lair just after dawn of yet another sunny day. I was beginning to tire of the excessive sun and spending the day inside a dark cave sounded rather fantastic. Reading the plaque out front merely whet my appetite for knowledge, exploring the inside would hopefully satisfy it.
The cavern smelled of steel and dirt, having been an archeological dig site for quite a number of years. I imagined back when it was inhabited by a live dragon it would've smelled quite a bit more brutal. The massive skeleton in the center was quite the sight to behold and I spent hours just gazing at it, etching the memory of it into my mind. The bones were darkened, dirty, and cracked from the many years of exposure but it was remarkably solid considering its age. It made me shudder to think of what a fearsome creature a dragon would've been to encounter, and almost glad that this one was the last.
In exploring the rest of the cave I took particular note of a series of containers piled up in the far corner. I was most interested in pilfering their contents, but they were regrettably empty. Perhaps they'd been pilfered already by one or many like-minded individuals. It wasn't as though the cave had a rigorous guard on it. I was just surprised nobody had walked off with a giant femur yet. The thought was tempting, but I had too much respect for it as a museum exhibit to go quite that far. So very tempting.
As I pondered I slowly became aware of a narrow passageway on the far side of the boxes. Not being one to allow a mysterious passageway in an ancient dragon's lair go unexplored I set about clearing a path. They were far too heavy for me to move so I called upon Virgil and Magnus to help out. They broke open the boxes with their blades, making it easy to shove the remaining bits out of the way. Their blades got a little dinged up in the process, but it was nothing I couldn't fix.
Once the way forward was open I was off, nearly running down the passageway in excitement. I slowed quite a bit when I encountered the first little dragon spawn. It was no dragon, those had been extinct for years, but a dragon's brood was still nothing to trifle with. Curiosity, as always, got the better of me. I tried to slip by it peacefully. If it bites, I stab.
As continued past the little dragon thing it did actually bite me, and quite hard at that. I was surprised at the strength its tiny jaws could muster. Damnation! I'm going to have to pick up some cleanser when I head back to Tarant. Before it could bite me again I slipped around towards the creature's backside and slid my dagger between its scales expertly. It growled and gurgled, then fell face first onto the cavern floor. I actually felt somewhat guilty.
Virgil wrapped a bandage around my forearm where the creature had bit me, scolding me for my brashness as he did so. I didn't pay him much attention, however, since my attention was focused on the half dozen more dragon men that heard their brother's cry and were coming at me for revenge. I didn't make the mistake of underestimating the little things this time.
I rushed them straight away, not giving them the chance to surround me. My dagger dropped another one clear to the ground every time it struck. One, two, three, four, I counted them as they fell. Virgil and Magnus drew their charged blades in my defense, overtaking me and attacking the creatures yet further into the cave. The sickening smell of burnt dragon's flesh arose in their wake, tiny little corpses filling the cavern lightly with smoke as they smoldered and cracked.
My guilt only worsened as we cleared away this tiny little piece of history, but on the other hand it wasn't like anybody was really looking at it with all those boxes in the way anyway. Besides, the average museum visitor probably wasn't quite as good at stabbing as I was. They also probably gave 200 gold pieces to every thug they encountered when traveling. I was just keeping the area safe.
As I turned the next corner I nearly bumped into another dragon creature, this one significantly larger than the last several. It stood at least twice my height and its wings stretched the entire width of the corridor. It hissed at me, a vile and horrifying sound that I would not soon forget. Fire erupted in its hands, spilling out of them and onto the floor. As they fell the flames began to take the shape of a man, eventually rising up to the height of the dragon creature itself. It may not breathe fire, but summoning a fire elemental is almost worse.
Kill the mage and the summoned creature disappears. I had no choice but to eliminate the dragon creature as quickly as possible. It was far tougher than its smaller brothers, however. I struck at it again and again from behind, each time my dagger striking true, yet still it stood when I was done. Blood poured from its wounds and stained the ground beneath it, but it turned and it was angry. Its claws raked against my stomach, tearing straight through my armor and inflicting nasty wounds. It grabbed ahold of me and bit my shoulder, teeth piercing leather, skin, and muscle... stopping just short of bone.
Virgil charged the damned thing while I had it distracted and lay bleeding on the ground. His sword pierced the holes that my dagger had made, sending electricity throughout the creatures body. It shuddered violently as Magnus joined the fray, slicing away at its outstretched limbs. It cried in pain for several moments before finally crumpling to the ground, twitching and smoldering like its smaller cousins. I pulled a salve out of my purse and began slowly applying it to my shoulder and then stomach. I seriously doubt any archeologists made it past that. I wonder what undiscovered mysteries could lay deeper in here? It was so very like me to lay on the ground, broken and nearly dead, wondering what might lay around the next corner.
The three of us fought many more dragon creatures as we pressed on through the winding caverns. I lead us down several dead-ends, requiring a not insignificant amount of backtracking to find whichever passage I had overlooked. There were stacks upon stacks of gold littering the floor in some areas, each of them like miniature dragon's hoards. I was only too happy to take them. I even discovered a few unopened chests, plundering loot of an unknown magical nature inside. I'll have to see what the gypsy woman says about this.
Finally, after all other options were exhausted, I found a small, unremarkable chest at another dead-end. Inside of it was an old, worn book that lacked any significant decoration. All the way back here and all I found was this book? I hastily read through it, excited at what it might contain.
travelling in northern mountains I found an old magickal scroll. This scroll described a spell of such obvious power that it would not surprise me if it had been hidden away purposely. Arcanum was not ready for such magick. She would be forced to adjust.
The spell changed a man into dragon form, giving him all the gifts and powers of that evil beast. But the scroll also required the blood of a dragon. There was only one dragon left in all of Arcanum... the great Dragon Bellerogrim... and I was fairly sure he wouldn't be very happy about making me a gift of some of his blood.
So I stole away to the secret temple of the Derian Ka and had them make for me the most terrible poison. Yes, the price was high... the damnation of seven generations of my family... but it was worth it! I had something with which to kill Bellerogrim. Now I had only make him eat it.
In the end it was a fairly simple task. I killed a crippled old farmer and stole his prize bull, which I fed well for a month and then coated with the poison. I led the poor creature to the lair of Bellerogrim, set it loose just outside the cave mouth and waited. Dragons when they are hungry think of little else. Believe me, I know the truth of these things now. The bull was eaten. Bellerogrim returned to his lair for a morning nap and died quite suddenly.
I drew his blood and became Kraka-tur... the most feared and terrible creature in all of the land. And now I am tormented again. Nasrudin and the Elven Council have found me, cornered me here in the lair of Bellerogrim. It smells terrible as the dragon is still returning to dust even after ten years. Why must they attack me? I am outnumbered! This is such an unfair set of circumstances! I have done nothing!
Perhaps I can slip out during the night...
I didn't know quite what to think after reading that. Although surely anybody I tried giving this to would proclaim it a hoax borne of my own addled mind I knew it to be true simply for where I had found it. The living dragon creatures and unstolen piles of gold were a testament to its veracity. So the ancient, hideously evil Kraka-tur was just a petty and wicked man out for revenge? The thing that struck me most about the whole thing was finding out just how Bellerogrim died. I looked at Virgil, "The gents at the Zoological Society will never believe this one."
He smiled quite genuinely, "You know, Samantha, I think you're right about that. Perhaps we'd best keep this to ourselves. Wouldn't want to spoil the mystery."
I smiled back, "Yes, you're right. I think I liked it better when I didn't know." Of course, being who I was, I always liked to know better than not... but still, it was quite sad what happened to the great Bellerogrim. This was one great mystery I felt better left unrevealed.
As I left the cave I began to feel very suddenly homesick. Although home was never too far from my mind it was the book more than anything that had gotten me thinking about it. I wanted to show it to Frederick, to explain to him where and how I found it. We would laugh over it, satisfied at the knowledge we learned from it. He would get up and place it on the shelf in his study. It wouldn't sit in some glass case, unread for years upon years. It would just be there on the shelf like so many other books, one little addition to his private collection.
I sighed longingly. If I were ever able to truly live out that moment I would first need to sort out all this reincarnation business and stop being chased by assassins. By the time that happened I would probably have amassed countless other books just like this one, and what a wonderful homecoming that would be. If Frederick will even take me back after what I did to him.
Magnus and Virgil eyed me almost suspiciously as we left the cave, heading towards the Elven Ruins. The sun shone down upon the plains as brightly as ever, but I didn't let it bother me any. I was excited at what we would find next, almost beginning to appreciate the adventure my life had become in recent months. I was very nearly skipping, and probably would have skipped outright if it wouldn't have worn me out.
I could see small tents about a mile out from where I had the Elven Ruins marked on my map, given the flat and near lifeless nature of the plains. The tents probably belonged to the archeological team that had discovered the ruins, no doubt they were still busy exploring and excavating it. As I drew closer I saw several men all huddled about the entrance to the ruins themselves. It wasn't until it was too late that I noticed the dead body lying on the ground between them.
I saw it coming and still just walked right in... if I don't shape up I'll be dead by next week. "Uh... nothing. I was just traveling the countryside... beautiful plains out here, you know?" If I had a pet dog even it wouldn't have been convinced.
The man who spoke to me squinted his eyes and tilted his ears back slightly; as he did so I noticed he and his three friends weren't men at all: they were of elven heritage. "I don't believe you. I will ask you once more, what are you doing here?" Damned haughty elves. They think they're so perfect.
I considered telling the truth, but then thought of how often that ended up getting me into trouble. Still, lies weren't getting me anywhere either and it was worth a shot. "I was sent here to retrieve something."
His hand shifted to the blade at his side, ready to draw it if he didn't like what I said next. "What do you mean, 'retrieve something'?"
Although I was certainly nervous, another part of me also felt rebellious. I was having trouble deciding between leaving peacefully or telling him where to stuff it. I didn't like threats, and I liked violent thugs even less, regardless of whether they were elves or orcs. In the end I decided I'd avoid a conflict if I could, but I wouldn't feel bad if things came down to stabbing. Stay back, Virgil. "Some rich society woman paid me to get a funerary stone." Yes, I'm just the messenger. This is that rich harlot's fault.
He growled menacingly, but his grip on his blade loosened. "So you just thought you'd come here and desecrate our holy ground?"
I didn't see the sign that said, 'Elven Holy Ground, Do Not Desecrate' "I had no idea. I just needed the money. I am truly sorry."
You don't have to ask me twice. I didn't like her anyway. "Mrs. Pettibone. She lives at 21 Lungsten Road in Tarant." It was funny how a nearby blade did wonders to jog one's memory.
"You're free to go, and you'd best be gone within the next two minutes." I still didn't like threats. When he wasn't looking I quickly jumped down into the tomb, hoping he wouldn't notice. Lucky for me, it seemed that he didn't.
Zombies. Of course. What else could be in a tomb except zombies? I miss the good old days when the dead stayed dead. After my trip through the Schuylers' basement I didn't have any trouble clearing out the rotting elven corpses that tried to force me out of their tomb. As long as the tomb wasn't guarded by dragonspawn I would be fine.
I did spot the funerary stone that Mrs. Pettibone had been asking for and I picked it up just on the chance that she lived long enough to pay me. It was a horrible thought, but really I had no respect for the men that threatened me upon entry or the woman who so desperately deserved the last name her gnomish benefactor thrust upon her. Perhaps if those elves had asked nicely I would've gone away empty handed. They brought this on themselves. As for the woman, well, she was the one that asked me to show up in the first place. If harm came to her over that, so be it.
When I left the tomb the elves that had threatened me were gone. So much for Mrs. Pettibone, I guess. I'm not going to miss her. I knelt down next to the mangled body of the dead professor. He'd just been doing research, not trying to upset anybody... just curious to study history. Then those damned elves showed up and they didn't only kill him for his troubles, but it was obvious they killed him slowly and painfully. I placed my hand upon his forehead and shut his eyes. Rest now, professor.
I looked up at Virgil and Magnus, "Let's get back to Tarant. If we can catch up with those elves I don't think I'll feel so bad about stabbing them after all."
"Now that's more like it!" Magnus grinned, "I didn't think you had it in you!" Of course. He perks up at the first mention of violence.
We weren't more than a day's journey out from Tarant if we rushed things, the dull gray smoke just barely visible on the horizon. We didn't run, that would've been foolish, but our pace was a decidedly rapid one. I was nearly tired out by the time we entered Tarant, but I had enough energy left to check on Mrs. Pettibone and hopefully catch the nasty elves that killed that poor professor.
Sadly, I was too late. The door to the Pettibone residence was left wide open, and there wasn't a soul inside. There was no sign of a struggle, nor hints of blood anywhere... she was just gone. It was actually quite a frightening sight given that I had some idea of what had transpired there. I cursed the lost opportunity to punish the elves for their crimes more than I did the loss of just another pompous upper class gnome's wife. I slid open the lock on her chest and placed the funerary stone inside. I had no further need of it and this was as good a place to leave it as any.
Lost in thought, I began to wander around the streets of Tarant. I'd taken so long getting there that morning was beginning to dawn and it was actually quite pretty this early, what with the sun low on the horizon and the streets hardly as crowded as they would be in only another hour. I was upset about letting the elves go when I had a perfectly good opportunity to stab them, and that further descended into guilt at not having avenged the poor professor.
Hello to you, too. "You are in splendid form today Sammie."
When I thought about it I supposed it wasn't all bad that I ran into Sammie. On the one hand I worried for my belongings, but on the other hand he was the only person I could really go to for training. "Say, Sammie, what is it you do here again?"
I was admittedly curious, which wasn't a terribly uncommon feeling for me to have. "How did you become the Master?"
He looked at me as levelly as he could for being half my size. "My past is not open for discussion. Let's just say that practice makes perfect, and now that I am master of my profession, I can get anything I want. It is mine for the taking. Only now I find that the world is a very dreary and unchallenging place."
Well that was about as unsatisfying of an answer as you could possibly have given. "Very well. Sammie, I would like you to train me."
"I'm quite the expert, actually. Why, I've picked various keys out of the pockets of shopkeepers all over this city. Nobody's wares are safe from me at night."
He grumbled. "I see... Well, you certainly have the talent for it, I must admit. Though you will never be as good as I am..." He turned aside and pretended to stifle a fake yawn. "But training is such a bore! It is so dreadfully dull, it fatigues me just thinking about it!"
I sighed, prepared to spend a little coin in order to make some. "How much is this going to cost me?"
"Why do I think I am not going to like this?" Great. Now I'm Sammie's personal toy for amusement.
I supposed that I didn't have nearly as many issues with simply taking my clothes off as I did with what usually came after. Streaking around Tarant seemed like it could actually almost amuse me. It wasn't as if I cared overly much what the local populace thought of me anyway. The upper class hasn't liked me since I was born anyway, how is this going to change a damned thing? "Though I am certain I will regret it, I agree to do this thing."
He laughed and laughed as I agreed to it. If that's what it took to earn my training, then so be it. "Okay!" he started, "Strip naked, then run up and down Kensington Broadway. When you're done run around this plaza a few times for good measure. Then, I'll train you."
Virgil adjusted his helmet to make sure it was securely covering his face. Magnus merely looked at me half in shock and half in horror, "You've got to be kidding me, madam. Surely you're not actually considering..."
His speech cut off just as I finished removing my dress. I folded it up neatly and stuffed it into my purse along with my gloves and shoes. Without waiting for the reasonable part of my mind to catch up with the impulsive, I took off.
First I traveled up Kensington all the way to the entrance of the Bates estate. The townsfolk gasped as I ran past and one particularly absurd woman even pretended to faint at my indecency. It wasn't long before angered shouts followed me as I ran.
I turned around and ran back down Kensington towards the general store at the city entrance. As the angered shouts continued Magnus began to vocally agree with the people shouting at me so as not to tarnish his precious dwarven reputation. I'll remember this, too, dwarf. You just wait.
The farther I traveled the stronger the insults seemed to get. I could swear that a few of the insults were even coming from Virgil himself, but it was hard to tell behind that helmet of his. At least it sounded like Virgil's voice. If it were him, though, I didn't suspect he actually meant it. We'd probably have a good laugh about all this nonsense later on.
Magnus repeated his protest as if saying it over and over again would somehow make it true. I passed back through Kensington Park to a particularly lukewarm reception. Tarantians were most certainly not happy to see me.
Even the guards were getting in on the 'fun' of shouting hostilities at me by the time I reached the bridge leading to the boil. I turned around and continued my nude parade back up the street towards the park once again. Much like the last time I turned around the insults only grew stronger on my second pass. Once the shock wore off people were more than happy to exclaim whatever came to mind.
"Ho there! Marching about with your nethers to the air is certain wenchery!" one man shouted. I was almost beginning to feel embarrassed. It was like the kind of bad dreams normal children always complain about. Having now experienced it I could say quite certainly that my nightmares were worse. I hadn't cared what people thought of me before and I saw little reason to start caring just then.
No, I hadn't realized! Oh dear me, somebody fetch me some clothing! My expositionary sojourn throughout Tarant was coming to its conclusion and for that I was glad. I did precisely two laps around Kensington Park as Sammie had asked of me before hastily pulling my dress out of my purse and slipping it on once again.
Sammie was laughing and laughing as I approached him. "Well then, have you had enough?" He could barely speak as he continued his laughing.
"Of course," I responded, "I am more than ready to stop this foolishness." More than degrading, it was unpleasantly cold.
Oh you had best be kidding if you want to keep pointy objects out of your kidneys. "What? Are you attempting to back out of our arrangement?"
"You have a twisted sense of Logic, sir. Good bye." It was probably the cold that was making me cranky, but upon later consideration I realized that Sammie was right. I truly had always found it more enjoyable to steal from those that I thought deserved it, and who deserved it more than a bunch of rich, smug, high society bastards calling me a pervert behind my back without knowing the first thing about me? If enjoyment was all it took to be a master pickpocket, then I'd been a master pickpocket for months. Now if only I'd realized that before exposing myself to anybody and everybody going about their morning stroll in the largest city throughout all of Arcanum.
Bonus ContentIn searching for some kind of bonus to include with this update I was reading through the book text file and I came across a book I recognized. I remembered that Magnus carries an almanac of lies... I mean... all things dwarven. Here you go, just remember that 90% of this is actually false (Magnus is quite possibly the easiest character in the game to lose):
Roan's Almanac of All Things Dwarven
digress. A dwarf's true name, his family name, is a sacred thing, a thing of mystery and power, according to their customs. Their names are symbolic, being a reflection of their very history, of who they are in this world. If a dwarf trusts you, he will perhaps impart his common name unto you, but if he utters his family name to your ear, you are blessed with the truest friend you will ever know.
One must be aware, when approaching a dwarf, of things one must never say or do. For while it is said that a dwarf's patience is as long as his axe handle, I know first hand the fury of a dwarven rebuke when one runs afoul of dwarven etiquette.
Never must one insult the beard of a dwarf. Next to his name, his beard is his most prized treasure. A dwarf is measured by the grandness of his facial growth, and to refer to it in less than reverential tones is to beg a beating.
Further, asking of a dwarf the name of his clan is tantamount to slapping him in the face. The name of his clan holds the sacredness of his own name tenfold in his heart. So do not ask, unless you wish to test his mettle, which I can in no way recommend. Lastly, never ask a dwarf about dwarven women. For some mysterious reason, their women are hidden away, and are never even whispered about amongst themselves. I myself made the nearly fatal mistake of attempting to ascertain whether the female of the dwarven species grew facial hair, and was fortunate to escape only severely maimed.