Chapter the Thirty First: When the Dead Do Not Stay As SuchI was more than a little shaken after the events in the bar, so I rented a room at the inn for the night. A good night's rest did a wonder for my temperament and by morning I was ready to go again. I decided to investigate the nearby graveyard before seeking out Captain Teach. Everything I'd heard about the place suggested I should stay away, so naturally I was drawn to it. My curiosity hadn't gotten me killed yet, but it never stopped trying.
There was a peculiar looking man standing next to the entry gate into the graveyard, peering inside excitedly. He was rubbing his chin, so deep in thought that he didn't even notice the four of us approaching. I thought he looked more than just a little bit foppish, but thoughts of Ristezze weren't quite enough to keep me from the graveyard. "Enjoying the view?" I asked.
It wasn't exactly the response I was expecting. He was being intentionally curt, his voice a rather exceptionally poor mask for his annoyance with me. "Hello, sir. Might I ask your name?"
He crossed his arms and literally looked down at me. Nevermind masking his contempt, the bastard was almost proud of it. "My name is Geoffrey Tarrellond-Ashe. And who, might I ask, are you?"
"I am Samantha Colburn." Like clockwork, my thoughts again turned to old Merle. I was the worst tomboy of anybody at Merle's all-girls orphanage and she constantly scolded me for it. The dirtiest, least pleasant chores were always reserved for none other than me. I hated that woman right from the beginning, and time only made my hatred grow. "What are you doing out here anyway, Geoffrey?"
The shred of truth in the insult only infuriates me all the more. "I'm sorry? Perhaps I didn't hear you correctly..." I tapped my foot impatiently, half of a mind to deck the bastard.
He stared me straight in the eye and spoke rather firmly and directly, "I think you heard me just fine, madam. Now unless you plan on becoming less of an annoyance, I suggest you leave. Really, I have little time for your insignificant drivel..."
If I were a lesser person I would've stabbed you before you could finish saying 'annoyance'. "Is that an eloquent way of saying you've no purpose here?"
Actually, my upbringing was the one true thing you did mention... I just pretend I've grown out of it when dealing with polite society. The more I thought about it, the more Geoffrey started seeming familiar to me in some fashion. "And what is YOUR background, Geoffrey?" Although I was wondering where I knew him from, I wasn't particularly interested in his background at all. I'd only asked because he was going to tell me anyway and I'd hoped that, by showing some sort of interest, he'd take more of a liking to me.
Naturally, he was only too happy to oblige. "Mine? Oh, the usual... raised in Caladon, schooled in Tarant, summers off the coast of Cattan. I'm of the Falsburg Tarrelond-Ashes, if you know that sort of thing. I spent a few years in Tulla, among the old wizards... bloody boring bunch of old codgers..."
Oh yes, I quite know 'that sort of thing', even if I'd rather not. There was no doubt in my mind any longer, I definitely knew this man, back when I was a child. He was a spineless twit back then and I could see that nothing much had changed since. 'Noble' was hardly ever an appropriate term. He was starting to catch on to my contempt so I masked it with feigned interest, "I see. Which college of magick did you study?" I grew worried that he might've recognized my name, but he indicated nothing of the sort. Truly, I'd only recognized him when he mentioned his upbringing, and I was neither going to offer information about mine nor was he going to ask. I could count on that.
Whenever the teasing would go too far and I'd get in a fight with the boys Geoffrey was always the first to run away crying. I'm not sure I ever even got around to hitting him, he'd run at the first sign I was angry. I might've thrown a rock at him once, but if it actually hit I'm sure his parents would've had me beaten. That's just the kind of people the Tarrellond-Ashes were. "Interesting." Hardly. "So just what are you doing HERE?"
"Haven't you heard? Ashbury has a problem with its cemetary. Seems that they've got bloody zombies just sprouting up from the ground every night, and nobody knows why. I just happened to be travelling through here on my way back to Caladon, and I thought I'd look into the matter."
Not out of the goodness of your heart, I'm sure. "What do you think the problem is...?"
He leaned in closer to me and whispered quietly. I shied away a little, partly out of distaste and partly because I didn't want him to suddenly recognize me. "Well, just between you and I, there's quite a famous individual buried here in the Ashbury graveyard. A fellow by the name of Malachi Rench who was quite a necromancer in his time... wrote a few controversial texts, that sort of thing..."
That name was familiar, too, though I'd heard it more recently: that was the owner of the supposedly haunted castle. Perhaps the rumors of its haunting weren't false after all. Then again, that just guaranteed the treasure to be found inside would be even more spectacular. I decidedly added the castle to my list of places to visit before leaving. "But if he's dead...?"
I didn't really have any patience for the haughty bugger any longer. He reminded me exactly what it is I hate most about dealing with noblemen: they love hearing themselves talk. "And so?"
"And so...? And so I want whatever the hell is down there! And I plan on finding out, just as soon as I can figure out a way to get rid of these bloody zombies..."
There was one perk that almost made dealing with noblemen worthwhile, however. They're always afraid to get their hands dirty, and all too happy to spend good coin to ensure they don't have to. "Perhaps I might be of assistance, Geoffrey."
"Done. I'll return when I've found it." I've fought zombies before. I can fight zombies.
I pushed my way into the cemetary without any hesitation. Geoffrey looked on excitedly. I could practically hear him rubbing his greedy hands together. At least I'm getting paid for helping the bastard. It was still daytime so there didn't seem to be many zombies milling about around the outside. There were certainly a few, but zombies are stupid and short-sighted, so they were easily avoided. I found a trap door in the far corner of the mausoleum leading down to a crypt, or at least what used to be a crypt.
It seemed like almost nothing that had been originally buried actually stayed dead. It didn't matter much to me, however. I was growing used to the walking dead as much as they might've unnerved me back when my journey first began. They went down easily, or at least most of them did. Some of them took a couple good chops to go from undead to re-dead. I didn't waste any time, I needed to find whatever I was looking for and get out before the next wave of zombies rose up.
I snuck through a narrow passageway into a hidden room far back in the crypt. The stench of rotting meat was overpowering and the wails of the damned issued forth with a renewed fervor. The dead that I found guarding that hidden chamber were a tough lot, mercilessly defending something. I was nearly surrounded by zombies at one point, but that was the very reason I never went anywhere alone. Virgil took out his own axe, a replica of Liam's axe that I'd made for him when we stopped back in Tarant, and he began vigilantly chopping his way towards me, thinking nothing of his own safety and only of mine. Vollinger took careful aim with his gun, making sure not to hit me, and the head of the zombie standing behind me suddenly exploded.
From off to the side another zombie latched onto my shoulder and took a great big bite, clamping down with supernatural strength. I growled and gritted my teeth, hammering it in the belly with the heft of my axe. It merely grunted, shaking off the blow. Face to face combat was certainly not my strength.
I heard another growl then and looked down to see my loyal new follower gnawing the zombie's ankles off with incredible tenacity. The zombie lost its grip on me and fell to the ground, now lacking feet with which to properly balance itself. I quickly salved over my wound to avoid a nasty infection while the dog tore into and fully through the fallen zombie's neck, decapitating it. Bloody horrifying, but I'm beginning to like this chap, and he seems to like me as well. I think I'll call him Terry.
When the zombies finally lay still on the ground I saw what I was looking for lying amidst the corpses: a tiny, white gem. I picked it up and tossed it in my purse, quickly heading in the direction of the exit. I approached Geoffrey with a sly grin, "Looks like I got what you couldn't, old boy. I've got it right in my purse here."
"Hmmm." I pretended to mull it over, although I had absolutely no interest in keeping the gem for myself. If I was too eager he'd drop the price. "Sounds good. Here you go..." I tossed the gem to him. In return he hastily counted out a sack of coins and handed it to me.
With a hollow "thanks" he wandered off, staring at the gem intently. I didn't really know what he intended to do with the gem and I supposed I didn't much care. I walked straight away from the graveyard, lost in thought for a moment. I was trying to convince myself that it really didn't matter to me what he did with the gem, it wasn't my responsibility. What does it matter, anyway? Anybody could've gotten it. At least it's not plaguing this town anymore. I did a good thing, didn't I?
I was interrupted when a halfling I happened to be passing by greeted me. "Can I help you, ma'am?"
I was caught so off-guard that it took me a moment to formulate a response. I hadn't really expected to encounter anybody so far from town proper and I was only beginning to realize I'd wandered onto the halfling's farm. "Er... you see... do you have any work I might be able to do for you?" Well, at least it's better than other things I could've said.
He thought about it briefly, taking in the group I was travelling with and mentally assessing our capabilities. "I do got one small problem. I just can't seem to take care of it. Maybe you could?"
I shrugged, "Perhaps. What are the details?"
Pigs? I've got zombie muck staining my shoes and you're asking me if I can slaughter a couple pigs? "Oh I'm sure I can handle it. What's the pay?"
He sighed, "It's not a big job. I don't think it's worth more than 50 coin. What d'ya say?"
I looked at him with a sideways glance, "I definitely think my time is worth 75 coins." That was a rather gutsy thing to say... I wander onto his farm and nearly beg him for work, then I go and negotiate price?
Looks like I'm starting to learn how to talk to people after all. "Agreed. I'll return shortly."
The pigs weren't far from where I was when the halfling startled me out of my thoughts. I could see them in the distance, gorging themselves on half-grown crops before the farmer could harvest them. Sorry, piggy, but the farmer and his family have to eat, too. As I expected, zombies were quite a bit harder to kill than pigs.
I returned to the good farmer and he shook his head, "Glad it was you and not me, madam. Here's your coin."
"It was no trouble at all, sir. Do you have anything else I might be able to do for you?" Easy coin was hard to turn down.
Good god, Merle would have a heart attack if she saw me now. "I think I could manage that. What's the pay?"
He grumbled, "They been botherin' me for a long while. And I can tell you for sure that I'll never be able to lift them myself... How's 50 coin sound?"
Now now... you know better than to offer me 50 coin again for an even harder job. "50?! For moving those things?! I'll do it for 100, not a coin less!"
I grinned, "I'll have them moved in no time!" I wandered out to the field, easily finding the first boulder. I stretched my arms and legs out carefully before attempting to lift it, glancing over at my companions curiously. They each tried to lift it in turn (excepting Terry, of course) and failed, glancing at me with disbelief. I handed my axe over to Virgil, bent my knees down at a sharp angle, and grabbed ahold of the massive boulder. It took every ounce of strength I had, but slowly the boulder did lift. I staggered my way over to the cart slowly and tossed it in. Vollinger wiped the sweat off his brow and Terry gave me a congratulatory woof.
I continued my task repeatedly until it was done. I was nearly exhausted, but at least it didn't take terribly long. There were only about half a dozen boulders in all and most of them were fairly near to the cart. I dusted my hands off and approached the farmer again. "All done, sir."
"Thank you, sir. I'll be on my way as well." I accepted his coins happily and headed off back into Ashbury proper, 675 coins richer. I suppose this adventuring thing is rather profitable after all, though it is quite a lot more work than theft.
I stopped briefly at a nearby washroom to clean up a bit after dealing with zombies, pigs, and giant boulders, although when I stopped to think about it I wasn't really sure what purpose that was supposed to serve. It made me feel better, but I had every intention of getting my hands dirty again right away. My next stop was the old castle on the North end of town and I had a pretty good feeling that it wasn't going to be abandoned, even if nobody 'lived' there.
Sure enough, I was greeted by some rather angry skeletons the moment I set foot in the door. A couple of them charged in my direction, swinging bony fists at me ineffectually. I sidestepped their attacks and shattered their bodies in only a single strike from my axe. The other two remained further back, firing crude and rotted bows and arrows at me. My chapeau saved the day yet again and I didn't have a scratch on me when I finished bringing them down. Terry gave an appreciative woof.
Carving my way through the army of bone soldiers proved tiring, but not overly difficult. Haunted didn't even begin to describe the damned castle: infested was a much more appropriate term. I raided closets, desks, and old chests taking everything I could get my hands on. I especially took the things that made me itch... those would fetch a nice price at a magick shop.
After cleaning out the entire first floor I tended to the few wounds my companions had suffered from stray arrows and I picked open the door to the basement. Locked doors always meant more goodies to follow, and I wasn't going to back down after the meager profit I'd made so far. The basement was eerily silent as I entered. Even my footsteps made no sound as the ground below turned from rough stone to upturned earth. It only made sense for a known necromancer to have a dirt basement.
As I crept through the narrow passageways I was continually assaulted by various skeletons and zombies that ran out from every corridor. There's something here... they're protecting it. Between the four of us present nothing much stood a chance at stopping us. Axes, bullets, and teeth were our weapons of choice and the armies of the damned that assaulted us fell easily under our assault. At last we came to a single room at the end of a maze of corridors.
A foul lich stood at the end of the room, commanding his army of fresh zombies to attack. So here's where all the hapless adventurers end up, eh? What exactly are you hiding down here? The battle that ensued was brutal. I rushed in past the zombies and sunk my axe into the lord of the damned. He was too quick for me, however, and dodged out of the way just in time. You won't get rid of me that easy. I swung again and again, even faster and more precisely. Within two strikes the creature fell into a heap of bones and dust with a hideous wail.
At the noise of their master's death the zombies turned and congregated around me. They surrounded me easily with a speed uncommon among their kind. Age does make a difference, I suppose. That'll be useful if I ever want to become a necromancer. Surrounded, there wasn't much I could do to dodge out of the way. The zombies tore into me mercilessly, their nails raking across my flesh and their teeth piercing it. The pain was intense but I gritted my teeth, refusing to shout out.
Virgil saw the danger I was in, but knew he was powerless to help against such strong zombies. Instead he put down his axe and began chanting a spell. A blue aura surrounded his entire body and then flew at me like a luminous ribbon. When it got within five feet of me, however, it began to waver and eventually it simply fizzled out of existence. Damnation! Not now!
Nevertheless, he refused to give up. It took everything he had, and I could see the toll it was taking on his body, but he tried again and again until at last his magick surrounded me and stitched my wounds together in an instant.
Vollinger's gun rang out rhythmically, interspersed with the sound of reloading after each shot. Every time I heard the bang of his gun another pocket of gore would explode out from a nearby zombie. It took several shots to bring down a single zombie, but Vollinger persisted.
Of course, Terry helped out as well. That dog was nothing less than a vicious engine of death when it came to protecting me. His teeth tore into the zombies and rended flesh from bone, oftentimes chewing straight through the bones themselves and crippling the zombies. He was such a threat, in fact, that the zombies began ignoring me and turned their attention onto him. He howled in pain as one of them kicked him firmly.
Oh no you bloody don't. Everybody was trying so hard to protect me, and if I had anything to say about it I was going to help out, too. I swung my axe in wide, powerful arcs and ripped zombie after zombie into two pieces. I separated their heads from their bodies, or in some brutal cases I split them straight through the torso. My arms were tired from lifting the boulders, but they surged with strength at that moment and at last each of the zombies had fallen. I took only a moment to catch my breath before rubbing some salve onto Terry's wounds. Virgil healed himself up and I passed a bit of salve over to Vollinger as well.
At last I turned my attention to my hard-earned treasure. The room was practically cluttered with piles of gold, no doubt taken off of the fresh dead that I'd just dispatched. Inside of a nearby chest I also found what could only have been Malachi Rench's personal treasury. I found coins and potent equipment of a magickal nature, strong enough that I had to give it to Virgil for carrying. Silently, I cursed myself. Why do I keep dragging my friends into places like this? I felt ashamed, but at the very least the treasure we'd found would more than cover the costs of repairs, and restocking on potions for Virgil.
"Both of you... thank you. I'm sorry I brought you down into this place. Thanks for sticking by me." I looked down as well, "Thanks to you, too, Terry." He whined and I pet him on the head, feeding him another bit of jerky.
Virgil took his helmet off briefly, "Thanks? What for? It's my duty to protect you and that's just what I'm going to do. Nevertheless, you're welcome."
Vollinger stared off down the hallway we entered from, "Don't you mind me, madam. I'm happy to stick by you. If nothing else, you're quite the interesting woman."
I sighed and pet Terry just awhile longer before walking out past Vollinger. "Let's get a move on, then. I believe we have an ex-pirate expecting us."
"Yes, this is bound to be interesting." Virgil replied.
On the way down the docks, towards the dingier of the two ships docked in the harbor, I spied a rather conspicuous barrel with a padlock hanging off one side. Really, now. I popped the lock off effortlessly and rummaged around inside. There were a couple bottles of wine at the front, but vagrants didn't tend to use padlocks. Digging further I found a couple healing potions and a book that looked rather interesting. I kept the book and gave the potions off to Virgil. Who the hell locks a damned barrel? I wouldn't have even noticed if it weren't for that.
I continued onto the ship nearby and addressed the man standing at the front. "Teach, I presume? I don't believe we've had the pleasure of meeting."
Razor's Cape... the bane of Caladonian smugglers. They travel close to the shore to avoid detection, and half of them get massacred on the shallow rocks. "A pleasure to make yours, Captain. Mr. Bates told me you would take me to the Isle of Despair."
I wasn't familiar with the history between Teach and Bates, but I didn't need to be. Get two capable and unscrupulous men in the same room together and you don't have to think hard to imagine the plans they'll come up with. "Special" jobs indeed, Mr. Bates. "Thank you, Captain. Shall we leave at once?"
He tested the wind with his finger and winked at me, "Now be as good a time as any, lass. There be a strong easterly wind, and the waters are as glassy as I've seen 'em in a long time. I not be the superstitious type, but I'd be inclined to say it be a good omen..."
"I'm glad you think so, Captain Teach. Let's be off."
Bonus ContentThe graveyards in Arcanum are actually kind of fun to explore. Every tombstone says something, and many of them are amusing. There are a lot of repeats and not all of them are humorous, but here are some highlights from the Ashbury graveyard:
There's actually even a fan graveyard in a hidden location with the names of forum posters in it. Since I didn't find out about this game until long after it was released it doesn't mean much to me, but I'm sure it's pretty cool to the people that were really interested in the game during its development.
Also, you may have noticed I found a book...
unbeknownst to many circles, and it is this very aspect that I have labored over, carefully arranging his scrawl into something resembling flowing prose. I am pleased to present the first of many parts to come, in this, the Volume Obscura of Professor Frederick Von Hapsgood.
What I am about to relate defies conventional logic, to be sure, yet I can only stand by and insist to its validity. If you will cast this aside as the rambling of an ancient soul who perhaps should have been buried years ago, that is your judgement. Those that have either been in my employ or have been unfortunate enough to call me a friend know all too well that I do not dabble in fiction. With that futile disclaimer behind me, allow me to relate the events of my visit to Tarant, in the year 1792.
Bonfires of the downtrodden illuminated the horizon like morbid stars. Poor souls seeking any warmth they could muster. Snow blanketed the landscape in every direction, a freezing chill whipping past gothic structures. Even the gargoyles, rooted in their stone beds, seemed chilled to the bone. It was this auspicious weather that marked my arrival to Tarant in the dead of night, and while at first it appeared to be my lead story, soon it was discarded for the rather strange event that soon took place.
It began with an argument that grew louder as I grew nearer. An elderly man with more lines eroding his face than mine was engaged in a rather hostile tussle with a well-built lad. Of what they argued, I know not, for as I drew within range, the words de-evolved into physical attacks. The old man proved my initial suspicions correct when he unleashed tendrils of fire that struck everything but his opponent. Buildings erupted in flame, upside being more heat for a dreadfully cold midnight. Villagers ran in every direction, screaming nonsensical words, as the young nemesis of the old man unleashed a sword of steel.
If I were to get involved, it would have proved too late, as the next second found the young man cleaving through the old wizard with a deft and assured strike. I shall spare you the gruesome result that transpired next, save that it involved the severing of a head. I expected the corpse of the wizard to be ransacked for possessions, but the young man simply stuffed the head in a brown bag and ran off like an apparition, leaving me alone, surrounded by crackling buildings and a vacant street.
The headless body of the old
the horrific sensation of something moving within my backpack. Fearing the worst and knowing it to be so, I threw the backpack from my shoulder like one would throw a book featuring an uninvited spider resting upon the cover. To my horror, the flap of the backpack flew open and emerging with purpose was the very hand I had severed! There is no greater motivation than being pursued by a demonic hand, and it was this feeling that carried me blindly through the alleys of Tarant, too full of fear to even muster a scream of help.
Damn the dead-end that soon appeared, leaving me nowhere to go! The hand approached and I froze with fright, a feeling I wish upon no one. A statue I became, a human gargoyle of sorts, observing with dread as the hand drew near and began ascending my right leg. Before I could even contemplate my impending demise, the hand had absconded with my very own knife and this realization proved too much, as I then crumpled to the snow, fainting from fright.
The very act of awakening from such a nightmare was a treasure in itself, though the initial joy of the occasion was soon replaced with outright disgust, as near to me, jutting up from the snow, was my severed hand. Resigning myself to what I knew to be true, I looked at where I should have had a stump, only to find the old man's hand in its place, black steel finger full of silent mockery.
To this day I do not know the power residing within this hand. All attempts at prying and poking have met with zero information. I can only hope that this entry puts to rest the years of speculation as to how I came about sporting such an odd appendage. Of all the stories I have heard, none are more strange than the actual event. Isn't that always the case?
Professor Frederick Von Hapsgood, 1802